The next meeting of the adults involved, was all about what Winston and the Coven had been able to achieve, as well as what Wesley had shared with Giles. With the addition of Lisa and Sara, it was a bit crowded in the Magic Box, so they were spread out around the training room with Giles and Winston standing near the door.
Winston went first. “As most of you know, the older women in the Coven are now aware of, not just my little adventure, but also Spike and Buffy’s unusual arrival. Our goal being to keep the First Evil and its army of Turok-Hans safely sealed into the hellmouth. However, while keeping Buffy alive and un-resurrected has made some major changes for the better, it has not been enough to prevent the First from attempting to manifest into this realm. The Coven is working more closely with the Council and trying to help them recognize the danger and be alert for any sign of the First’s minions.”
Giles picked up the thread. “Wesley has been talking to his contacts at the Council headquarters. He’s added his voice to mine when it comes to the importance of keeping all potentials safe, as well as increasing security in their building. At this point, we can only hope that those measures will be enough to keep the Council building and its people safe from an explosion. But we cannot assume it’s going to work. Even if we had any sort of specific information to give, it would be difficult to do so without explaining how we came by it.”
Buffy could see Lisa’s forehead wrinkling as she tried to understand what the men were talking about, and knew she was going to have to explain about herself, Spike, and Winston sooner rather than later.
Winston was saying, “Wesley has made some inroads as far as contact with the man I know well in Council Security, and it’s possible we may be able to convince him to be suspicious of anyone wandering around the complex who may be an intruder. Of course, if the First has got to someone within the Council, it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to notice until it’s too late.”
“Oh wow,” Buffy said. “I always assumed it was Caleb, or some other evil minion that set that bomb. It never occurred to me that the First could have gotten to somebody who works there.” She frowned. “I don’t know why not though. I’ve always thought some of them were evil….”
“Yes, well, your opinion of Travers aside…” There were matching snorts from Spike and Giles. “… a complex that large has employees that no one notices. Cleaners, maintenance staff, minor clerical workers…. While I’m sure the initial hiring process is fairly rigorous, who knows what may have happened in their lives since then that may have made one vulnerable. No one would think twice about seeing some of those people in most parts of the building.
“The premises are warded fairly strongly, and the Coven has increased those to the best of their ability, but, again, they would be warding against intruders, not someone already permitted there.” Winston exchanged guilty looks with Giles.
“We should have thought of that before. An employee would be the most likely culprit.” Giles said in rueful agreement, obviously dismayed at not having thought about that possibility himself.
“They could check auras!” Willow spoke up quickly, eager to be helpful. “The coven has people who can read auras like Tara can.” Willow sighed lightly, but shook her head when Xander patted her hand. “I’m fine,” she said. “Just haven’t said her name in a while.”
“That’s an excellent idea, Willow.” Winston beamed at her. “I’ll call Althenea immediately and ask her to send her sensitive members around the building to read staff auras. It would have to be subtle, they’ll have to have a legitimate reason for wandering around, but they could….” He walked off, pulling his phone out and muttering to himself.
“Thank you, Willow,” Giles said. “I’m not sure that would have occurred to me.”
Willow shrugged. “When you’ve lived with somebody who sees auras the way the rest of us see what people are wearing, you get used to it.”
Sara beamed at Willow. “A perfect blending of magical talents and instinct to protect the slayer line.”
Willow flushed, trying ignore the way Giles was staring at her. “Well, that particular talent isn’t one I’m very good at, but I know there are several women in the Coven who are.”
Lisa raised her hand somewhat timidly, but with a serious expression on her face. “If Winston already knows someone in Security really well, why is he going through Wesley? And what does Buffy not dying have to do with it?”
Buffy glanced at Spike, and then around the room, realizing that this was the perfect time to let Lisa in on where they had come from… and why. She exchanged looks with Giles, who gestured to the floor in front of him. With a sigh, she stood up and walked closer to Lisa.
“Okay, it’s time we let you in on something—”
“Is this where you explain why you know so much about things that might happen if you don’t do one thing or another?”
Buffy rolled her eyes and asked imaginary people on the ceiling, “Why do we even bother to try to be secretive when we’re surrounded by smart people?”
There were understanding snickers all around, including from Lisa. “So, are you from the future or something?” She waited, her smile saying she was expecting to hear “or something”. It faded as Buffy just stared at her silently, then nodded her head and sat down again. “Wait? What? You’re from the future? All of you?” Lisa stared around at the small group of people she thought she knew.
“No, not all of us,” Giles said quickly. “However, Buffy, Spike, and Winston are. They were each sent back—separately and by different people—in order to prevent their future world from coming to pass. In that world, now barely more than a year from now, the First was eventually defeated, but not until several months from this date, and at great cost. Its minions were quite active all over the world, killing potential slayers wherever they found them. We assume it was in an effort to end the slayer line. Among the terrible things that happened was the almost complete destruction of the Council of Watchers. So our problems are two-fold—”
When Spike coughed, he paused. “All right, it’s possible our problems are many. However, we’ve been able to change so many things in the past several years, including removing Caleb from this earth so early, that we cannot be absolutely sure of what will come next.”
He paused again. “Buffy, would you like to continue?” She sighed again, but nodded and joined him in the middle of the room.
“Here’s the sitch, Lisa. Everybody in the room knows some of this because we’ve had to explain why we do some of the things we do, but nobody knows all of it. And I hope you never have to…. But, to bring you up to speed: I was sent back to try to keep from dying in a jump from Glory’s tower.” She shook her head, “Giles can fill you in on that later. It’s over and done with this time. The point is, the Giles who sent me back, the people who sent Spike back, and the almost-but-not-quite-the-same Giles and the Coven that sent Winston back a little later, all thought that the First was able to become so strong because I… died, but then was resurrected months later.”
“One hundred and forty-seven days….” Spike could be heard whispering.
She sent him a warm smile, then continued. “So, we were kinda counting on that not having happened this time to mean the First wasn’t going to be able to get so strong. It was all about keeping the balance between Good and Evil, and if I wasn’t resurrected, the balance would be okay.” She made a face. “It looks like it wasn’t quite that simple. The First is still trying to rise into our world, its creepy minions are still killing potential slayers, it still gave Caleb some powers he didn’t need to have, and when I went to get my scythe—” She sent Sara a smile. “It was being guarded by Bringers and a Turok-Han. And the First is already talking to people, trying to start trouble.”
She walked over to stand by Spike and take his hand.
“In our time, it was so strong that what it took to shove it back where it belongs was for Willow and me to use the scythe’s power to activate every potential in the world, including the ones down in the hellmouth with me, fighting all the Turok-Han’s the First was releasing. And we were losing…. until Spike, who was wearing an amulet that we don’t have this time, was able to channel sunlight through his soul and destroy them all.”
She beamed at him, squeezing his hand tightly. “He was my champion, and he saved the world.” She turned her gaze on the people staring at her in various degrees of shock. “And he died doing it. The light destroyed him along with the Turok-Hans, and it also destroyed Sunnydale.” She waved her hand around to indicate the shop and the surrounding town. “In our time, all of this is nothing but a big crater in the desert.
“That’s not gonna happen this time,” Buffy said firmly. “I’ve got the scythe, Caleb is history, and we’re trying to keep as many potentials alive as we can. But make no mistake, if I think we’re going to need them, there are going to be a lot more slayers in the world. And sooner than a last battle. I’m not losing Spike this time….”
She stopped talking and waited while the conversations flowed around her. While Giles knew most of what had happened, and why, and Sara had been told about Spike’s world-saving sacrifice, it was the first time most of them had heard about what led to their future in quite so much detail. She walked over to stand by Giles in case he wanted to ask her anything.
Winston returned from his phone call and stared around at the whispered conversations going on.
“Did I miss something?”
“Slayer laid it out for them as to what led to the futures we came from, and how she’s not goin’ to allow it to go that bloody wrong this time. Think some of it was news to more than just Lisa.”
Winston nodded. “I imagine it was. I’m not sure even Rupert has truly grasped what sort of disaster we are trying to avert, nor how hard we’ve been working to replace all that was lost and changed.”
“I wish Wes was here to have heard all that. It would have answered a lot of his questions.” He glanced at Winston. “So, how’d the phone call go?”
Winston winced. “I forgot what time it was there, so I had to begin with an apology, but once she was awake, Althenea thought it was an excellent idea and she will implement it forthwith.”
“Forthwith, huh?” Spike snickered.
“Mind your manners, William Pratt, or I’ll tell Xander about your poetry.”
Spike just laughed and waved Willow over so that Winston could tell her how her idea was received.
He joined Buffy and Giles, who were explaining to Lisa why they didn’t want to share the information with Abby or the other potentials just yet.
“It’s not that we don’t trust them… but we don’t really know them all yet, and in our time, the First was able to appear to them as another potential and get everybody all worried. Some of the girls can handle things better than others…. That’s something I have to work out before I think about doing that spell again. Just because somebody can be a slayer, doesn’t necessarily mean she should.”
Lisa frowned. “How did the First appear as one of the girls?”
Buffy sighed. “She was dead, but we didn’t know it yet. So, they had no reason not to listen to her.”
“It sounds like there was a lot of dying going on….” Lisa said.
“You have no idea,” Buffy said tersely. “No idea at all.”
She took a deep breath and shook herself.
“This time, I’ve got more help—” she gestured at Winston “—and the girls that are here are very well protected. And the watchers of other potentials have been warned about Bringers and anything else that might be targeting their girls.”
“Like the vampires that attacked Abby,” Lisa said, frowning.
“Like them. Somebody in LA put out word it was open season on potential slayers and we don’t know yet if it was Caleb or somebody else.” She smiled around the room. “We’ve come this far, we’ll take care of this. It might be an all hands on deck thing like it was for Glory, but we can do it. Beginning with keeping a close eye on the hellmouth.”
“You know who was really responsible for William the Bloody, don’t you?”
Robin rolled his eyes, but couldn’t resist indulging himself with the sight of his mother and the sound of her voice. He tried to remember it wasn’t really her.
“Whatever vamp bit him,” he snapped. “Why don’t you leave me alone?”
“Because, baby, you promised to avenge me. And if you can’t or won’t do it against the vampire that did me in, you could go after the next best thing—his sire and the one who talked him into going after slayers.”
“I thought he was sired by Drusilla the Insane?” Robin reluctantly responded, wondering where this was going.
“Who was made insane first, and then sired by Angelus. And he took over William’s training because Drusilla was too flighty to make a good sire. Make no mistake, Angelus was the reason Drusilla and Spike turned out to be such powerful and evil vampires. Or, Angel, as he calls himself now when his soul is there,” his mother finished with an uncharacteristic sneer.
Suddenly she was gone, and in her place was a dark-haired woman in a flowing white gown, spinning around him. “My William was a good boy who loved his mother,” she cooed. “He even wanted to bring her with us! But Angelus took him in hand and taught him how to be the best vampire. Taught him to rip and tear and make the dollies bleed….”
Robin gawked at her. “Are you….?”
“I’m Spike’s sweet princess. Or I was until that nasty Slayer took him away. But Angelus made us both what we were. If you want to know who was really responsible for your mother’s death, look at the Slayer’s first vampire lover….”
Drusilla disappeared just as his mother had, and Robin sat down and shook his head. With daily visits from the First as his mother or Snyder and the visits as Angel, he was struggling to remember that he was having conversations with only one being, and that it was Evil personified. He pulled his laptop toward him, and began researching Angelus. An hour later, he pushed it away, convinced that, in this case, the First had not been lying, and that Buffy’s first vampire lover had indeed been something she shouldn’t have allowed to live.
Wesley delivered his next report in person. Winston’s attempts to keep him up to speed with phone conversations had turned out to be frustrating for both them, and they determined he needed to be where he could ask questions of whomever he needed to. With Sara’s permission, he joined them at the Slayer/Guardian house for a relaxing drink near the pool. He’d watched in wonder as the group of potentials splashed and frolicked before settling down on big towels to work on their tans in the still-warm autumn sun.
“I admit to feeling more than a bit gobsmacked to learn that Guardians have existed all this time without the Council knowing anything about them. It doesn’t seem possible.” He seemed offended on behalf of the Council he hadn’t worked for in years.
“The Council of Watchers isn’t quite as infallible as they’d like to think they are, and the fact that they initiated and continued to practice that barbaric test is proof positive of why Guardians were needed. However, once there were so few of us, we had to go into hiding, which meant we could no longer exert even moderate influence there.”
“But you did at one time?”
“Many generations ago, there was always one Guardian who was a member of the Council of Watchers, but of course it was difficult to explain when she didn’t age at the same rate as her colleagues, and eventually we weren’t able to continue to replace people before they could attract the wrong kind of attention. Suspicions were raised, and we had to keep a low profile after that. It’s much more difficult to guard your potential or your slayer when you can’t be around her, and our numbers gradually dwindled until I was the only one left.”
She sighed and shook her head. “It was, it seems, even worse in Buffy’s timeline. I’m not at all clear on why it was different there, or why I am now the remaining Guardian rather than the woman she met so briefly in her time, but perhaps that’s just one of the things that changed when she didn’t die.”
“Did you know that woman?” Winston asked.
“Perhaps,” Sara said somewhat sadly. “I certainly knew one or two like her. But none of them was able to live long enough to be active in this time.” Her eyes flashed briefly. “Had Caleb encountered a younger version of a Guardian, he might not have found it so easy to disable her.” Her expression didn’t bode well for anyone attempting to harm any of the girls she was currently watching over, and Winston smiled at the contrast between that look and her normal, smoothly sophisticated and unruffled appearance.
“I don’t doubt he could have found her a more formidable challenge,” he said, nodding his head at her.
“Indeed,” Wesley said. “If I were still a member of the Council, I would apologize on their behalf for driving you into hiding.”
Sara smiled at him, but shook her head. “It was our choice. Perhaps not the best one, given what Buffy’s time seems to have been like, but what’s done is done and we have an opportunity to make things better now.”
“Speaking of the Council,” Winston said. “What do you have to tell us?”
Wesley took a deep breath. “Between what your Coven friends have been discussing with Council Security, based on what their ‘seer’ has told them, and the information I’ve managed to share with my own Security contact—”
“You’ve spoken directly to them?” Winston interrupted.
“Your future friend has. He’s been able to convince his superiors that there is a viable threat to the safety of the both the artifacts and the personnel in the complex and many of the books and records are being moved to a more secure place that will protect them in the event of a fire or something else. So, we’ve done what we can there. They seem confident that they can keep the personnel safe, but they are working with the Coven’s aura readers just in case.” He shook his head. “It’s really been quite difficult to emphasize the danger without anyone catching on to our knowing things we really couldn’t possibly know. But we’ve made progress.”
“That sounds very positive, why did you feel you needed to come here in person. Not that we don’t enjoy your company and aren’t glad to see you,” Winston hastily added, “but it seems there might be more?”
Wesley shook his head. “Can’t put anything past you, can I?” He smiled. “And yes, there is a bit more. But it is still just an excuse to come for a visit. Angel is… it’s more than a bit tiring being around him all the time. I could use the break to speak with more reasonable people.”
“Don’t tell me he is still obsessing over Buffy’s marriage to Spike. It’s been years since he first learned they were living together, and almost as long since she found out that he’d claimed her so long ago. Surely, he understands her very justifiable anger at him?” Giles stared at Wes in disbelief.
Wes sighed. “I’m sure he does. But somehow, the idea that she is with Spike just infuriates him, and he is convinced that Spike has done something reprehensible to cause her to prefer him. I almost think we should bring him in on their secret just to shut him up.”
“That would have to be a decision for Buffy and Spike to make,” Winston said. “And if they don’t trust him….”
“I don’t blame them, to be honest,” Wes said. “Sometimes I’m not sure I trust him….” He glanced at Winston. “Didn’t you say that in your time you see a lot of me?”
“We do. Or, at least we were seeing a lot of you before I left. Apparently you were apprehensive about Angel’s actions and his takeover of Wolfram & Hart’s Los Angeles office.” He smiled. “Although you did seem quite impressed with the resources you found there.”
Wes shook his head. “I don’t doubt they have resources that could be very useful, but I can’t wrap my head around the idea that Angel would accept that deal, nor that Gunn, Fred, and I would be willing to go with him. It’s just mind-boggling to think he would make that kind of deal with what is basically our nemesis.”
“I wonder if Buffy’s defeat of the First Evil might have had anything to do with it?” Giles offered. “Or the sudden presence of slayers all over the world? Perhaps the minions of evil might have found themselves spread too thin, and hoped that making a deal with a vampire, even one with a soul, might buy them some leverage?”
“That’s certainly an interesting thought,” Winston said. “It’s going to be fun watching how things play out in this time line—and where the Pratts and I will find ourselves fitting in to this new future.”