At the conclusion of Ch. 17….
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?”
“We’ve been handled again,” Spike muttered as they started down the street.
“I guess she has to make a living,” Buffy said, smiling her agreement. “Anyway, now I know what she is and why I was picking up those vibes from her.”
“And why she knew where you could find your slayers-only weapon.”
“And that. This time, I hope I can talk to her about it before something kills her.”
“I’m guessing she’s not gonna be as easy to sneak up on as the last one you met.”
“Yeah, she definitely gives off more of an I-can-take-care-of-myself vibe.”
They walked in the general direction of their home for a while longer, before Spike said, “Wonder how the chat with Wood is going?”
Buffy waved her hand. “Winston probably just did his thing and convinced him you walk on water and he should be your new best friend.”
“Don’t need a new best friend,” Spike muttered, even as he agreed with her. “But you’re prob’ly right, love. Winnie will have him eating out of his hand.”
“Let’s to find out,” Buffy said, making an abrupt turn in the direction of the Magic Box.
They got to the shop just in time to see Giles locking it up.
“Going out of business already?” Buffy said, laughing when he jumped.
He shook his head, saying, “I sincerely hope not. However, I have dinner plans for the evening. I’m sure if anyone wishes to make a purchase, they will return tomorrow.”
“Anya’s letting you do that?” Both Buffy and Spike stared at him, earning themselves an embarrassed glare.
“Let me remind you that this is my shop,” he huffed, then admitted, “And since I am taking Anya out to dinner to celebrate her remaining human in this time line, she is fine with it.”
Neither Buffy nor Spike was able to completely hide their laughter, adding to his disgruntled expression.
“Was there something you needed?”
“No. Not really. I was just curious about how you and Winston got along with Robin after we left.”
“Did Winnie work his magic on him?”
“I believe they’ve gone off to spend some time talking about magic and souls. Perhaps over beverages.”
“Well, I hope Winston can convince him to leave Spike alone.”
“I don’t think you should count on it, although I’m sure Winston will do his best to let him know that Spike has done a lot of good and that we will not support any vendetta he may have.”
“’Preciate that, Rupert,” Spike said. “Not like it was in our time.”
“So you keep telling me,” Giles grumbled. “If I apologize to you… again… would you consider apologizing to Robin Wood?”
“Already told him I wouldn’t, didn’t I?”
“You said you wouldn’t apologize for winning the fight. That’s fair. But suppose you expressed some sort of remorse for having murdered his mother?”
“I didn’t ‘murder’ her! We fought to the death and she lost.”
Giles sighed. “You’re right. It was a poor choice of words. However, I’m quite sure that is how he sees it right now. Anything you can say or do to soothe his anger and perhaps turn him into an ally rather than a potential enemy could be very useful to all of us.”
“I’ll think about it,” Spike mumbled. “He’s a good man in some ways… just a bit too focused on making me pay.”
“Please do think about it. If that was all you wanted, I’ll just be on my way.”
“Have fun,” Buffy said, barely managing to hide a smirk.
Spike didn’t even try to hide his, just said, “She’ll be expecting orgasms you know.”
Giles sent Spike a look that had him stepping behind Buffy, even as he laughed at the reaction.
They stood on the sidewalk and watched Giles leave to get his car.
The talk with Max began pleasantly. He and Winston had joined Spike and Buffy in their apartment for drinks and snacks.
“I like what you’ve done with it,” Max said as he gazed around. While he lived in the building, and could go wherever he chose to, his preference had always been to give his trusted tenants as much privacy as possible. So, he very rarely used his ability to drop in on tenants unnecessarily, and he hadn’t been in Buffy and Spike’s basement apartment in some time.
“Thanks,” Buffy said, gazing around at the newer furnishings and art that they’d added. “Too bad it’s not related to that place we spent our honeymoon… then we could make it bigger. Not that it needs to be!” she hastened to add when Max look slightly perturbed. “It just right for us. I didn’t mean we aren’t happy here!”
“That’s good to know,” Max replied with a gentle smile. “I was beginning to fear you’d brought me here to tell me you were leaving.”
“Ohmigod, no!” Buffy said, while Spike growled his agreement. “No, that’s got nothing to do with what we need to tell you. I was just…. Buffy foot-in-mouth disease is alive and well.”
Spike came to her rescue. “What this little meetin’ is about, aside from just enjoying the company of one of our favorite people, is to fill you in on what happened in our time. It looks like keeping Buffy alive and well, wasn’t quite the silver bullet we hoped it’d be, and some of the same things are goin’ on again, so we want you to know what’s what.”
“Will you need my assistance again, then?” Max asked with mild curiosity.
Buffy shook her head. “We hope not. I mean, the wards you can put up, yeah, probably life-savers, but the First Evil is—”
“Is it raising its head again? In spite of your current state of uninterrupted life and health?”
“Uh. Yeah. Kinda? I mean, we took care of Caleb, so he’s not killing any more potentials, and he won’t be here to kill anybody else…. But the First is still popping up pretending to be dead people and trying to start trouble. And when I went to get my scythe, I had to fight Bringers and a Turok-Han to do it. So, we just don’t know. In our time, things got so bad here that everybody left town—even non-evil demons. We just thought you should have a heads-up in case you want to…. I dunno. We just wanted you to know.”
“Well, I would think engaging with the… Turok-Hans? and Bringers would be much more in Winston’s area of expertise than mine, but of course if I can be of any assistance….”
“We just don’t want you getting blind-sided if things get really bad again.”
“And I appreciate that thought. I do. But I suspect I’ll be just fine. I have a great deal of faith in you two… and Winston.” He beamed at them. “If you don’t mind sharing, what about the time you came from is different from this?”
“Oh. Wow.” Buffy blinked. “Well, for starters, Sunnydale is just a big hole in the ground, with the hellmouth buried under all the debris.”
“Oh dear. And how did that happen?” Max looked surprisingly not surprised, but whether it was because of Sunnydale’s demise, or because he’d already known about Spike’s role, it was hard to tell.
Spike raised his hand without looking up at Max. “Had a little help from an amulet from Wolfram and Hart that the poof brought Buffy.”
“I see,” Max replied, shooting a look at Winston. “And in your time?”
Winston peered at him suspiciously, but it seemed like a genuine question.
“As far as I know, pretty much the same thing happened. Buffy and Spike, with the assistance of Willow and the activated slayers, closed the hellmouth down for good.”
“But at the cost of a whole city?”
“Had to keep those ugly buggers in there somehow,” Spike said as if he’d been accused of being irresponsible.
“Oh, indeed. I didn’t mean to imply that you did something wrong, only that it was quite drastic. Perhaps you can avoid quite such a calamitous remedy this time around—given the steps you’ve already taken, and that you’re so much better prepared now.”
“Considering that Spike burned to crisp to do it, and I thought he was gone forever… yeah, I’m all in favor of doing it some other way,” Buffy said wryly, moving closer to Spike and putting her hand on his leg.
“And there you may have it,” Max said. “Without the extra boost the First had from the imbalance between good and evil, it may well be reduced to sending minions in hopes of simply overwhelming you.”
“You mean, with Caleb gone, all we have to worry about is an army of Turok-hans? Oh yeah. No problem.” Buffy rolled her eyes, but gave Max an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Max. I didn’t mean that.”
“Of course you did,” he said, laughing softly. “As well you should. What I’m suggesting may be happening doesn’t mean that you aren’t still going to have a struggle on your hands. Or that Evil will not continue to be rampant in the world. But you now have some tools you lacked until almost too late in your time, as well as some knowledge you didn’t have then. Whatever decisions you have to make, you will already know what things worked and what didn’t, and what else you need to watch out for.”
Buffy shook her head. “You make it sound so simple. Like we can do this without anybody pulling the town down around his ears.”
“Was a bit of fun, actually….” Spike’s quiet aside to Winston had them smiling at each other while Buffy and Max glared their disapproval. “But much too harsh and unnecessary,” Spike added quickly. “I’m sure we can find a better way this time.”
“Almost a nice save,” Buffy muttered. She stared at them hard. “If we can find a way to do it without mass destruction, that’s going to be the plan,” she said. “Have you two got that?”
“Yes, love,” Spike sighed.
Winston just schooled his face into serious lines and nodded his agreement.
Max’s quiet chuckle did nothing to improve their moods, but with Buffy glaring at them the way she was, neither Spike nor Winston was inclined to argue with her.
“I feel quite sure that if an army of Turok-hans is somehow released on Sunnydale, you will both have quite as much mayhem and destruction as you desire,” Max said. “In fact, if the First Evil has somehow managed to raise such an army, you may have to think seriously about that spell Willow has mentioned that activated all the potential slayers all over the world.”
“She told you about that?” Buffy asked. “I mean, it was great, and it worked and all, but….”
“But you aren’t sure you want to do it this time?” Max asked. “I would think you’d be quite happy to have an easier life.”
Buffy made a face. “I’m not sure how easy a life it is when you’re supposed to be in charge of a gazillion teenage girls who all just got superpowers.” She sighed. “But you’re right. There’s something to be said for not being ‘the one girl in all the world’—or even one of the two, if we count Faith. If there was a way to tweak that spell and weed out the ones who won’t make good slayers, or who really don’t want to be slayers…. Something to worry about later, I guess. Right now, I need to start training the three I’ve got, while making sure the Bringers don’t kill them.”
Max raised an eyebrow at Winston. “Surely they are as well protected as possible?”
He nodded, saying, “Yes, their homes, parents’ cars, and to some extent the school itself, are all warded. And Willow is working on wearable amulets that should help keep them safe.”
“You warded the school? With the hellmouth under it?”
Winston looked embarrassed. “I did what I could. Obviously, the hellmouth is what it is, so the protections I could offer were very limited. Only Amanda and Abby actually spend time there. Mel was home-schooled by her watcher and has no desire to attend high school. She’s a little older than the other two, so we’ve allowed her to make that decision for now.”
Max stood up. “I appreciate your taking me into your confidence and sharing so much with me. And I will certainly be giving some thought to the current and potentially future situations. Obviously, if I can be of any assistance, I am at your service, but I suspect you will all do just fine without my interference.”
“So, you don’t want to go live somewhere safer?” Buffy stared at him dubiously.
He smiled gently. “I truly like Sunnydale. Even when that nasty old man was running it and hoping to move on to a higher level of demon-hood, I still liked it. I have my friends here, my home,” he gestured at the building above their heads, “and the run-of-the-mill vampires and demons that make life dangerous for so many denizens simply do not worry me. I feel quite safe here.”
With another smile at everyone, he let himself out and pulled the door shut behind him.
“Nice to know Max isn’t worried about what comes next. Not sure if I’m chuffed that he thinks so bloody highly of us, or worried that if we yell for help, he’s going to brush us off and tell us to handle it.”
“Yeah. He thinks we won’t need him. No pressure there!” Buffy exhaled and stared at Winston who was still looking at the door out of which Max had left. “What do you think, Winston?”
He brought his attention back to them. “I think we have some high expectations to live up to,” he said. “Welcome to Master Maximillian’s school of hard knocks.”
It wasn’t more than a week later that Buffy returned from a training session with the three potentials, stopped in to say hi to Max, and found Robin Wood standing in the office.
She greeted him politely, but with suspicion. “Did you need to see me for some reason? I’m pretty sure my phone is on.”
He looked slightly uncomfortable, but stood his ground. “I was just checking with the building management to see if they were aware that a vampire lives in the basement.”
“We’ve lived here for more than three years. Don’t you think he would have noticed by now?” Buffy rolled her eyes while Max hid a small smile.
His smile changed to a small frown as he realized that he may have been taken in by Robin’s friendly demeanor.
“Buffy? Is this a problem?”
“It’s fine, Max. Mr. Wood here is just a little confused about Spike and how evil he is now compared to what he was a few decades ago.”
“Should he go on the not-a-guest list with the other ones?”
Buffy stared at Robin, who was obviously trying to make sense of what he was hearing. She sighed and nodded.
“That’s probably the safest thing to do for now,” she said. “We’re still working on sorting things out, and having to worry about him trying to stake Spike is a distraction I don’t need.”
“No problem,” Max said with a smile. He turned to Robin. “If you’d asked your question, I would have told you that not only am I well aware of what Spike is, but he and Buffy are among my favorite tenants. I’m sorry to hear that you might wish to harm one of them.”
“C’mon, Mr. Wood. I’ll walk you out,” Buffy said, holding the door open. Her intent was clear, and Robin reluctantly followed her out.
“Call me Robin,” he muttered as he walked down the stairs behind her.
“Okay, Robin,” she said, turning when they reached the sidewalk. “So, does this mean you still want to dust Spike? ‘Cause, you know, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, and it would be better to know we had another soldier if or when we might need one, rather than that we’ve got another enemy to watch.”
“When my own mother is telling me I need to stake the vampire that killed her, I tend to take that pretty seriously.” Robin attempted to defend himself.
“You do remember what I told you about the First, don’t you? That isn’t your mother. It might look like her, and sound like her, and even know things you think only she would know, but it isn’t her. It’s the First Evil trying to use you as one of its pawns.”
“There are no ‘buts’, Robin. It’s trying to use you. Spike is an important part of what I need to keep the First Evil in hell where it belongs. I’d love to think you were on our side, but he’s more important to the mission than you are.”
“Is that a threat?”
Buffy shook her head. “It’s just a fact. Do with it whatever you want to. But stay away from Spike. For your own good and everybody else’s.”
“You can’t protect him forever. Whatever this unnatural thing is between you, you can’t protect him from me.”
Buffy shrugged. “I probably don’t need to,” she said without explanation. “It will just be easier on everybody if we don’t have to watch his back all the time.”
“Everybody who understands how important he is to this year’s mission, yes. Everybody.” She turned her back and continued around the side of the building to her own door.
Robin watched her go, frowning when he couldn’t seem to follow her. He turned to look back up the stairs to the main office, but found he couldn’t go back up there either. With a curse, he began the walk back to his car, vowing to do more research on the First Evil and William the Bloody, as well as look into the owner of the building he now seemed to be barred from entering.