“You mentioned the Coven’s aura-readers,” Giles said. “Have they learned anything?”
“Well, yes and no. They’ve learned that there are more than a few employees at the Council complex with troubling auras. Many of them work for the… less scholarly and visible departments and in more physical areas.” Wesley looked slightly uncomfortable as he tried to avoid mentioning Council departments that Sara might not be familiar with.
“You mean the bodyguards, the weapons and self-defense department, and the ‘wet teams’?” Sara said, without her usual serene smile. “Employees whose job description might include causing harm to other humans?”
“Yes,” Wes said with relief, nodding his head at her. “The Council does have some employees whose job descriptions may require them to be willing to harm other humans…. However, their auras, while not as bright as they could be, did not indicate any really deep evil influence.”
“So no one who might be willing to set off a bomb that would kill many of their co-workers?”
“Not that they’ve noticed so far. There have been a few people who recently quit, but the Coven isn’t sure how they can observe those former employees without giving it away that they are looking for someone. They’re working on it, though. And Winston’s future friend in Security is also looking into their employment records and reasons for leaving.”
“We’ve allowed the leaders of the Coven to know about those of us who know exactly how bad it can be, I wonder if we may want to consider if and when to think about letting the upper echelons of the Council—Travers, for sure, and my friend’s superior officer—know how we are so confident there is something to worry about?” Winston raised an eyebrow at Giles.
“Again. We cannot make a decision like that without input from Buffy and Spike.” Giles spoke even more firmly than he had the last time it was mentioned. “We should probably bring it up when we see them later tonight. We’ll need to all be in agreement as to who we tell, what we tell them, and which of us does it.”
“In the meantime,” Wes said, “I’m not sure that Angel isn’t thinking about coming up here again. I’ve told him what a bad idea it would be, but all that’s done is make him stop talking about it. I’m fairly certain he’s still planning a trip, although I’ve no idea what his intent might be.”
Sara gave an unladylike snort. “Whatever it is, it can’t possibly be a good idea. William has been surprisingly patient with him, in my opinion.”
There were murmurs of agreement from the men present.
Winston said, “Angel should probably be grateful that Spike lets Buffy make the decisions for them. And, if I’ve understood her correctly, that she feels it is her right to stake Angel if it comes to that.”
Giles nodded. “Yes, when Spike and I expressed our anger at Angel for the silent claim he’d put on her, I remember quite clearly her saying the line formed behind her. She is the injured party, after all, and is more than capable of making him pay for it.”
Wes laughed. “She definitely is. When we came up here so that he could ‘sort her out’, she gave him a good reason to get into the car and leave, now that I think about it. I don’t think he’d realized how strong she is now. Or how angry she was at him.”
When the girls moved out of the sun and into the house to change, the three men realized they’d spent most of the day enjoying the pleasant surroundings, and with apologies for taking so much of Sara’s time, they excused themselves and left to have some dinner before meeting Buffy and Spike later in the evening.
“Let me think about this for a while,” Buffy said, after Giles mentioned what they’d been discussing earlier in the day. She glanced at Spike who was nodding his agreement. They both turned to Winston. “What do you think?”
He shrugged. “I come from a future sufficiently different from yours to have more faith in the Council’s basic interest in fighting evil than you and Spike may have. However, I agree that telling Travers and others a great deal about your timeline, including that Rupert is now head of a Watchers and Slayers Council, might not be in anyone’s best interest. Not unless we can find a way to do it without telling them that you’ve replaced them and are using the Council’s resources as your own. If we can do that, it should be all right.”
“If we succeed in keeping them from being blown to pieces, that change in leadership won’t actually happen this time. That could be a strong selling point,” Giles pointed out.
“If they don’t disappear,” Buffy said thoughtfully, “there also won’t be any change in the way the Council is run. Whether I activate all the slayers or not, they aren’t going to want to suddenly make it into the Slayers and Watchers Council. If it’s just me, they’ll probably go back to wanting to get rid of me, and if there are suddenly hundreds of slayers, they’ll just want to make more watchers so each one has somebody telling her what to do.” Buffy’s face took on a doubtful expression.
“Remind me again why we don’t want them to blow up?” she asked no one in particular. Only Spike was grinning at her.
“I thought we’d settled that we couldn’t allow all those deaths when we could probably prevent them?” Giles said with a worried frown.
“I know, I know,” she grumbled, then sighed. “I don’t really mean we shouldn’t try to save them, but I’m seeing a downside I hadn’t thought of before. I don’t necessarily want to go back to being in charge of that many other slayers, but I don’t want a bunch of tweedy old men to be in charge either.” She smiled around the table. “No offense to any tweedy old men currently present.”
“None taken,” Winston said with a small smile, which grew wider when he caught the disgruntled looks on Giles’ and Wesley’s faces.
“The Slayer has a fair point,” Spike said, his words and the expression on his face indicating whose point of view he was taking. “She and future you and Red were working on setting up something that was going to benefit the slayers and the world. Same thing in Winnie’s future world, except with the Coven added to the mix. If the current Council of Wankers can’t see the good in that, we might not be creating the best future we could.”
Giles and Wesley exchanged frowns.
“It is a fair point,” Wes said. “There’s much to be said about having a functional Council with all its resources, but there’s no question that it isn’t fair to the girls it uses up.”
“It isn’t,” Buffy said firmly. “And I don’t intend to go back to a world where that is still happening. I don’t want to destroy the Council and kill all those people, but we’re going to have to come up with something to get them to see sense. That might be the best reason I can think of for activating more slayers—they’d have to listen to me—us.”
Giles shook his head. “In all honesty, I cannot imagine the Council agreeing to your activating all the potential slayers in the world.”
“We’re gonna work on that part of it. I don’t want any girls who don’t want to be slayers, or don’t have what it takes to be a good slayer. Maybe we can come up with something—only the ones I’m training maybe, or only in small groups. So other slayers aren’t called unless there’s a vacancy? I dunno. I’m thinking about it, and you guys should think about it too. Think about what kind of tweaks would be needed to make it workable.”
She fixed Giles and Wesley with a Slayer’s steely glare. “And I’m not planning to ask permission, if it comes to that. In the meantime, I don’t want them to know about me if we can avoid it. That’ll just lead to questions about our time, and they aren’t going to like the answers.”
The men all nodded, Winston said, “Once we’ve talked about it what the spell needs as much as we can here, I’ll take it to Max and see what the magical parameters will need to be.”
“Let’s make it a priority, okay? Just in case things go to hell in a handbasket sooner than we expect them to. And make Willow a part of it. She knows she did the spell in our times, so she’ll be expecting to be included in planning the spell.”
As had become a habit, Robin was driving around Sunnydale, holy water and stakes in his car, looking for vampires. If he was hoping to find Spike alone, he was disappointed every time. The few times he saw the hated vampire at all, Spike was in Buffy’s presence or with someone else from her unnatural assortment of friends and helpers. He still couldn’t decide how he felt about that. If nothing else, the idea that his mother may have lived longer had she been able to surround herself with normal humans or witches to assist her when needed bothered him more than he wanted to admit. “The Slayer works alone” was something he’d heard his whole life, either from his mother herself, or after her death, from her watcher. He had a vague memory of accompanying her one night, perhaps not when she was patrolling, but for some other reason.
But he did remember that a vampire had found them, and his mother had fought with it briefly after hiding him behind a trash can. She soon grabbed him by the arm and hustled him out to where there were more people. When he asked if she’d dusted the vampire, she just shook her head. “I’ll get him next time, baby. Don’t worry. He’s way too cocky for his own good.” As it turned out, the “next time” came much too soon, and didn’t go her way.
He shook the memories off and continued his slow ride through town, slowing even more when he saw Buffy emerge from a cemetery gate by herself. He waited, but when she continued down the sidewalk without any sign of Spike or anyone else, he pulled up beside her.
“Buffy? What are doing out here alone?”
“Uh…. patrol? Slaying? You know, those things I do?”
“You don’t usually do them alone.”
“Well, not now I don’t, that’s true. But I did, and have for years. Sometimes the Scoobies are with me, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes Spike is with me, sometimes he isn’t. I still patrol by myself sometimes. Can’t afford to get lazy or careless.”
“If he’s not with you, then where is he? How do you know he isn’t killing people?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I’m his wife, Robin, not his personal guard. I know he isn’t killing people because I know him. Even if he didn’t have that soul, he wouldn’t be killing people, because he’s one of the good guys now. He’s a champion who helps me save the world.”
“He’s a killer. Who you allow to live and walk around innocent people. You should have dusted him years ago, along with your other vampire boyfriend.”
“What do you know about Ang—oh, that’s right. You think you’ve been talking to him, but it’s been the First.”
“I looked him up. He was a monster.”
“He was. You have no idea how much of a monster he was—speaking of times Spike helped me save the world….”
Robin frowned, but didn’t ask her to explain, just continued speaking. “And yet he walks the streets of Los Angeles. He’s never had to pay for his crimes.”
“Actually, he has. That was the point of the soul the gypsies cursed him with. As long as he has the soul, he’s sorry about all the things he did. He can never be happy.”
With that, she clearly tired of his disapproving look and his words, and she waved good-bye to duck into another cemetery, leaving Robin to stare after her.
“We’re taking the girls out tonight. They need some real-life practical work.”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “Fine with me, love. What brought that on?”
“If and when I have to activate them, I want them to be trained and experienced. They’ll be way ahead of the game if they’ve already staked a few vamps.”
“You want me along? Was in our time, usually, but—”
“Of course I want you along.” She giggled, remembering feeling him for broken ribs in front the potentials who had thought she was putting her hands where she shouldn’t. “I promise not to molest you in front of the girls this time.”
He chuckled along with her. “Oh, I dunno. Could be they’d learn even more from seeing you feeling me up now.”
“Yeah. No. Not happening this time. You don’t have sore ribs for me to worry about, and these girls already know about us, so no need to make sure they know how important you are to me.”
“That’s disgusting,” Angelus snarled, watching Spike joking and laughing with the potentials as they took turns trying to stake an unfortunate vampire they’d caught just emerging from the grave. When the vamp shook the last attempt off and tried to move away, Spike, Buffy, Willow, and Winston blocked all his possible escape avenues long enough for Mel to drive a stake through his back.
With a triumphant “whoop”, she accepted the congratulations of her fellow potentials. Unaware of the onlookers, the girls crowded around Spike, looking for praise. While he went over with them what they’d done well, and what could have been better, Angelus continued to snarl.
“What’s disgusting?” Robin had long since given up trying not to engage with the First. He just accepted that some of what it said probably wasn’t true, but enough of it was that he should pay attention.
“I didn’t raise him to be the Slayer’s lapdog. Look at him! The Slayer of Slayers, reduced to congratulating normal human girls for dusting a fellow vampire. I’m ashamed of all the time I put into making him the killer he should be. If he could just get rid of that soul he picked up somewhere, he could go back to destroying slayers as he’s supposed to….”
With a small popping sound, Robin’s companion vanished and he was left by himself in a Sunnydale cemetery watching the vampire that had killed his mother trailing after Buffy and her girls as she led the potentials deeper into the graveyard in search of more new vampires to practice on.
It occurred to him that, in spite of the stake in his pocket, it wasn’t a very good idea for him to be hanging around where he could encounter vampires before Buffy’s eager potentials did. He turned and went back to his car, still contemplating how to make Spike’s sire and mentor pay for the sins of his children.
“How did the girls do last night?” Giles asked Winston as they relaxed over coffee.
Winston shrugged. “If I’m honest, I don’t have anything to compare it to. I know Buffy’s been working with them, and even the previously untrained ones seem to have some ability with weapons and self-defense. But without her speed and strength…. I don’t know. They all seem perfectly willing to attack vampires, but of course they usually have numbers on their side, as well as those of us with other skills standing close by in case anything goes wrong.”
“There’s nothing like knowing you have supernatural and magical backup to provide confidence and courage,” Giles said with a wry smile.
“Plans for the day?”
“I believe when Spike gets here, we will—ah, there he is.” Winston stood up as Spike emerged from the stairs to the basement.
“Am I late?”
“No, no. I was just telling Rupert that we were planning to recheck the hellmouth today.”
Spike cocked his head at Giles. “You’ve got Anya to run the shop for you. Why don’t you come with us? It’ll do you good to get out and about.”
Giles was obviously trying to hide how pleased he was to be included.
“I suppose it might, at that. Although I’m not sure that visiting the hellmouth in the basement of the school could be considered ‘out and about’.”
“We’ll stop at my favorite bar on the way back,” Spike said. “Your treat.”
Grumbling about mooching vampires, Giles went to tell Anya he was going out for a while. She pouted briefly, but was quickly distracted by a customer who needed a dozen big candles that evening. While she was trying to talk the woman into buying matching candle holders, he slipped out the back door with Winston and Spike.
Angel glanced up from his desk to see Dru seating herself on the leather sofa across the room.
“Dru? Drusilla? What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to tell you that your precious slayer is refusing to let my dark prince come to me. I want you to fix it.”
“She let him trick her into a claim, and now she thinks he’s hers. He was just being a bad doggy and trying to make her weak, but she worked her wiles on him, and now he won’t leave. Or kill her. He was supposed to kill her.”
“He tricked her into the claim? I knew it! I knew she couldn’t have changed that much in just a few months. I’ll kill him!”
“I don’t want you to kill him, Angelus. I just want you to make him take the enchantment off so he can come away with me.”
“He’s going to die, Dru. I’m sorry, but this is too much. Go turn yourself another prince. This one’s going to be dust.”
He stood up and left his office, telling Gunn he was going to be gone for the rest of the night, and possibly the next one. And that he should get Drusilla some blood from the refrigerator so she wouldn’t try to eat him. He was muttering about how long it would take him to get to Sunnydale, and missed Gunn’s bewildered, “Drusilla? Sunnydale?” as he headed for the alley where he parked his car.
Gunn frowned, but peered cautiously into the office, seeing no one and shaking his head. He said “hi” to Wes as he entered the lobby, but told him to be careful in case Drusilla was in the building.
“I thought Angel wanted to see me about something. And what would Drusilla be doing here?” Wes took out a stake and stared around the hotel lobby.
“Well, he just left in a hurry. And he said he won’t be back for another day or so.”
“Where was he going?”
“He said something about Sunnydale and Spike, but he also told me to get blood for Drusilla, and I haven’t seen her, so I don’t know what he’s doing.”
Rather than clear anything up for Gunn, Wes ran to the door of the office, glanced in, asked, “Did you see her go in or out?” When Gunn shook his head, Wes ran out of the lobby, already dialing his phone.
There was no answer at the Magic Box, and he knew Giles rarely took his phone with him, saying if he wanted to talk to people while he was out, he wouldn’t go out, he would just stay home where they could find him. He dialed Spike and Buffy’s number, but got no one there either. Finally, after another fruitless call to Winston, he reached Willow.
“Oh, thank God, I thought the entire town had turned off their phones!”
“What’s up, Wes? Do you need me for something?”
“I need to warn Spike and Buffy that Angel’s on his way there, and it looks like the First may have been pretending to be Drusilla. I’ve no idea what she could have said, but whatever it was, it can’t be good.”
“I’m right here, Wes,” Buffy said as she took the phone from Willow. “He’s on his way here?”
“That’s what Gunn heard him say when he left. He said Angel was in a hurry and muttering about Sunnydale and Spike.”
“Okay, thanks for the heads up. I’ll get hold of Spike and make sure he stays close to me until we find out what’s going on.”
“Be careful. If Dru, or whatever it was, said the wrong things, he may think he’s rushing up there to save you from something Spike did or is going to do. I’ll leave now, so I can help you calm him down, but he’s going to be there long before I will. ”
Buffy sighed. “Maybe we should have told him about us, just so something like this couldn’t happen. Oh well. We’ll deal with it when he gets here. Thanks, if you decide to come, just go to the Magic Box. We’ll probably all end up there at some point.”
She hung up and shook her head. “Just what we need right now, a jealous Angel who thinks he’s riding to the rescue.”
“Do you need me?”
“Thanks, Will. I think we’ll be all right. Winston’s with Spike, and it’s going to take Angel a while to get here. You might want to check with Giles and wait with him in the Magic Box.”
Knowing Spike didn’t have a phone with him, Buffy sent a message the only way she could.
Spike? Spike! Answer me. Where are you?
What’s wrong, love? Winnie, Giles and I are just leaving the school. We were checking out the hellmouth again. Now we’re going to take Rupert to our favorite bar.
What’s wrong is that Wes called to say he thinks the First was there—as Dru—and whatever she or it said to Angel, he took off for here in a big hurry.
All right. It’ll take him a couple hours. I’ll meet you at home.
Okay be careful.
More like never, but this time, do it!
She felt his chuckle and relaxed a little.
“I guess they’re okay. They were checking the hellmouth again. Maybe the First is trying to get Angel to kill Spike, or something. I don’t know. It’s so hard not knowing what’s going to happen now.”
“Guess you got kind of spoiled the past few years, huh?” Willow said, grinning. “Now you’re just like the rest of us.”
“Very funny, witchy woman.” Buffy shared a soft laugh with Willow. “I guess I’d better get home. Oh, by the way, Max is working on some tweaks, so if you have to do the spell to activate the slayers, it won’t hit anybody who isn’t mentally or physically able. So, you might want to talk to him about it and see how it’s coming. Just in case we end up needing it.”
Willow made a face. “I think Max still doesn’t like me. I can’t blame him, but….”
“I don’t think Max holds grudges, and he knows how far you’ve come. It’ll be fine. And Winston’s going to bring you into it. But I’ll talk to Max first if you want me to.”
“It’s okay. I’m a big girl now. And Sara is his old friend, so she can put in a good word for me.”
“Sounds like a plan.”