Spike and Winston took advantage of the morning daylight to run by the hellmouth to check on it. They let themselves in and hurried to the unsealed opening. As expected, the fire was long gone, and the ashes of the device for holding Angel had apparently fallen into the large hole in the floor. Moving extremely carefully, they approached the edge and peered in.
“What are you two doing back in my school?”
They whirled to see Robin standing at the entrance to the area. He was staring at them, anger and curiosity clearly visible on his face.
“Checkin’ to see what’s going on here,” Spike said. “Buffy needs to know if there are any more of those ugly buggers tryin’ to get out.”
“This is my building,” Robin said with a stubborn glare. “You have no right coming down here.”
“Your building is up there,” Spike replied, pointing overhead. “This sub-basement belongs to your best mate, the First Evil. You remember it, don’t you? The one trying to get you to kill me so I’m not around to help Buffy?”
“I doubt a slayer of Buffy’s obvious talents needs help from something like you,” Robin sneered. He turned his attention to Winston. “And what about you? Did you come back to set my building on fire again?”
“If that’s what’s required,” Winston answered in his usual calm manner. “With luck, it won’t come to that.” He glanced at the ceiling of the cavern and asked Spike, “Did you say it was straight up?”
Spike nodded. “Was a mite busy at the time, but according to Buffy it’s a straight shot from here to his office.”
“Hmmmm.” Winston gazed from the open hellmouth to the ceiling. “So, nothing between here and the sun but one room and the roof?”
“I see where you’re going with this,” Spike said with a grin. “And, yeah, pretty much. The new basement is between here and there, but I don’t believe there’s much in there to worry about. Not as I recall, anyway. We could take a look on the way out, just to be sure.”
“I want you both out of here. Now.” Robin said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it doesn’t sound like anything I want to see happen in my school. Hellmouth, or no hellmouth, this is still my building to protect.”
“Yeah, well, I’d say you’ve done a bloody lousy job of it so far,” Spike said, gesturing to the large hole in the floor with the charred edges. “If you’d left that sealed up, we might not be in this fix.”
“We’ve seen all we need to see,” Winston said, turning his head as he did so and flicking a ball of fire toward the hellmouth. The flame dropped into the hole, disappearing from sight, but bringing outraged snarls from the opening. “Let’s go.” He pointed at Robin. “You may want to remove anything you really care about from your office. And try to keep this area locked… from the outside.”
Without explanation, they went past Robin and up the steps to the main basement. Robin shrank back when Spike gave him a toothy grin, then recovered himself and glared back. He pulled out his stake, but quickly saw that Spike was not going to turn his back on him, and that Winston was waiting at the top of the steps where he could watch. Spike was up the steps and following Winston out of the building before Robin could recover enough to reply.
“You missed your chance, Baby.”
“He was expecting it,” Robin replied, not bothering to pretend he didn’t know what was actually speaking in his mother’s voice. “And the man who throws fire was watching me.”
“Ah yes. Him. He may turn out to be more dangerous than the Slayer and her undead consort. You need to find out more about him.”
“How the hell am I supposed to do that? And why should I? I’m not one of your minions.”
“Don’t count on that,” the First snarled, morphing into Caleb again.
Robin spun around and went back up into the school, hesitating briefly at the entrance to his office, but then shrugging and entering. He remembered Buffy telling him it was directly over the hellmouth, but aside from making it easy for the First to speak to him, he couldn’t see how that was relevant to the mysterious conversation between Winston and Spike.
The vampire continued to puzzle him as he seemed to come and go with no regard for the sun that should have been so fatal to him. Buffy’s hurried explanation that Spike’s soul meant he didn’t catch fire as easily as most vamps was only semi-convincing, but the fact that Spike seemed to be close friends with a powerful magician did more to convince Robin that Spike had some sort of mystical protection.
In spite of himself, he began to imagine ways he could learn more about Buffy’s companions, particularly the one who could apparently control fire.
Buffy’s conversation with Sara about eliminating any girls who weren’t physically, mentally, or emotionally slayer material went better than she might have expected. In spite of her initial shock at hearing that in Buffy’s time there were multiple slayers, she seemed to have given it a lot of thought since then.
“And you were training all these girls?”
“Well, yeah. I mean so far, it’s just me and Faith. Oops! I guess it’s just Faith now. Oh well. She knew what the plan was, so she must have been okay with being the head slayer….” Buffy gave herself a little shake. “Too late to worry about it now. Anyway, Giles was working on finding us a place to put everybody and also be able to train them. Apparently the Council has a lot of money, so he was looking into some old schools that might be available, and he said something about a castle in Scotland….” At Sara’s raised eyebrows she said, “No idea. I think because it was kinda remote, and big enough to stash a lot of people and with lots of room? Anyway, the idea was to have a centralized place to bring the new slayers, get them trained, continue their educations if they were still in school, and then find good places for them to live once they were ready.”
“Do we know how that worked out?”
Buffy shook her head. “Nope. It was still just a plan when they sent me back. We were making do with whatever we could find close to London for training, and more girls were being found all the time. I guess by now, there are trained slayers stationed all over the world. But that’s not exactly what I’m thinking about doing. I mean, it is, but I only want girls who want to be slayers. Max is going to help Willow design a spell to use for any girls who don’t want to be, or that we can tell won’t be very good at it, even if they’re pretending to want it.”
“Do you have any girls like that in your current group?”
“Probably. I don’t think Rosita is very interested in getting her powers or killing vamps and demons. She knows her stuff—her watcher did a good job—but she really doesn’t like the idea of fighting and killing things. I think she’d be a candidate for the spell to remove her slayerness.”
“It’ll be important that the spell removed any hint of her ‘slayerness’ as you put it. If it doesn’t, those girls will still attract vampires and demons, but they’ll have no idea how to defend themselves…or they’ll be incapable of doing it, even if they were already trained.”
“Oh my god! I didn’t even think of that! That needs to be part of the spell for sure!”
“Yes, an important part. If you don’t mind, I’ll call Max immediately and explain why it’s so important.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, sure. Go ahead. It’ll probably sound better coming from you anyway.”
While Sara went to her office to make the call, Buffy smiled at the sales clerk and wandered around the store, wondering how someone trained to be a Guardian of slayers ended up running a bridal shop. She turned when she heard her name, and responded to Sara’s beckoning hand. They remained standing in the hallway where Sara could keep an eye on the store, but they wouldn’t be overheard by her sales staff.
“We’re all set. Max completely agrees that the girls who don’t want to be slayers need to be given that choice, and to be taken out of the pool of potentials or activated slayers in such a way that their lives won’t be in danger.”
Buffy nodded. “I guess the trained ones will be a little different from normal teenagers, just because of what they know about vampires and the weapons training they’ve had. But they should be able to adjust.”
Sara took a deep breath, exhaling with a sigh. “If you actually do activate all the potentials, we’ll need more Guardians and watchers. I can’t handle hundreds of girls, even with Willow’s assistance, nor can Rupert manage that many, even if the Council has some trained watchers they can put into the field.” She cocked her head at Buffy. “What are they doing about that in your time?”
Buffy frowned. “Well, Guardians, nothing. As far as I know, the one Caleb killed was the last one. But watchers, yeah. Giles is planning for the school to train watchers as well as slayers. He seems to think he can find them somehow. And he’s rounded up all the ones he could find, that weren’t at the Council building when it blew up, to help train them.”
“If I might suggest—and I’m saying this only in the event that you do the activation spell—someone with slayer training, but who does not care for a, possibly very short, life of violence, might make an excellent Guardian or watcher.”
Buffy stared at Sara with admiration. “That’s a great idea! They’d be perfect for it. Maybe not the ones who weren’t being raised by watchers, but some of them might want to be part of it anyway. I love that idea!”
Sara stared hard at Buffy. “You’re expecting to do this, aren’t you?”
Buffy gave a guilty shrug, then admitted, “Yeah, I guess I am. I just don’t want to change the future as much as I would be if I didn’t do it. I mean, what if I get killed in a couple of days? We don’t even know where Faith is right now, and I totally forgot to ask Wes or Angel if they’ve heard from her. There wouldn’t be an active slayer!”
“So, you didn’t mis-speak when you said if you died, it didn’t mean one of the girls would become chosen?”
“Nope. That first time I died sent the line off in a different direction. We got Kendra, who Dru killed, and then Faith. And nobody else was called when I jumped off Glory’s tower, so Giles is sure it goes through Faith now.” Buffy frowned. “And, come to think of it, I probably was technically ‘dead’ for a few seconds when Warren shot me. Willow pulled the bullet out and healed me up. And it still didn’t activate anybody else, so….”
Sara appeared thoughtful. “That does put a different face on things….” She took her attention off Buffy as she noticed two different girls and mothers entering the shop. “But I have to get back to work now. I’ll give this some more thought.”
With her usual ability to quickly switch from Guardian to bridal consultant, she walked down the hall, her smile already in place as she greeted the first pair of shoppers. Buffy left by the back door, confident that Sara would be on her side if and when they did the spell.
When she got home, she found Spike and Winston sharing a beer with grins on their faces.
“What did you two blow up?”
“Nothing!” Spike said. “And we’re shocked that you think we would do something like that, aren’t we Winnie?” Spike put on his best hurt expression, but Winston’s snicker spoiled his attempt at innocence.
“Right. Because creating mayhem isn’t what usually makes you two happy.”
“I think we should probably be offended,” Winston said, but his smile spoiled it.
“Just for that, we aren’t going to tell you what we did,” Spike sniffed. “You’ll just have to guess.”
Buffy rolled her eyes as she went to the fridge and took out a yogurt. “Whatever.” She turned to look at Winston. “I thought you’d be upstairs with Max and Willow?”
Winston finished his beer and stood up, putting the bottle on the kitchen counter.
“I should probably go back up. I’m giving Willow a ride home. They didn’t need me while they were working on the spell to take the slayer powers and auras away from girls who shouldn’t have them. Or don’t want them, I guess. Or both. Anyway, it didn’t involve me, so I came down to help Spike with his little problem.”
Buffy glared at Spike, who was waving his hand at her. “What prob—where’s your ring?” Her eyes widened in fear.
“It’s right here, love,” he said, holding up the ring that was conspicuously missing its gem.
“Where’s the gem?” Buffy’s expression was softening as she began to suspect what they’d done.
“It’s right in here. All safe and sound.” Spike pointed to his side. “Tucked behind a rib and wrapped in something that isn’t fat.”
“It’s fat,” Winston said, laughing.
“Not fat. Vampires can’t get fat.”
“Vampires can have fat if it was there when they were turned,” Winston said a straight face and the air of someone who has peered inside many vampires.
“You’re full of shit,” Spike growled, but he laughed at the same time.
Buffy interrupted the banter to ask, “So Winston put it inside you?”
Spike nodded. “First we checked it out by putting a few little things in other places. When they all stayed put, Winnie magicked the gem out of the ring and put it where it isn’t likely to get cut off or lost.”
“Thank you,” Buffy said simply, smiling her gratitude at Winston.
“My pleasure,” he responded. “Don’t want to lose my mayhem-creating partner. And now I’d best get back upstairs. Do we have a plan for this evening?”
“Just regular patrol, I guess. I want to see how well the girls do against Bringers if we find any. And I want to dust any Turok-Hans we find too. We got three last night, so I’ll be curious how many come out tonight. If the numbers keep going up, then we’re going to have to move soon.”
Winston nodded and waved as he went out the door and around to the back of the building to meet Willow.
“So, you’ve decided to do the spell, have you?” Spike kept his question casual, but he watched Buffy carefully.
“I think so. I don’t want to go back to the way the world is now—with just me and Faith, wherever she is, all that stands between it and evil. This is the major hellmouth, but it’s not the only one. There are small ones all over the world, and when we close this one up, who knows where else Turok-Hans might start popping up? We’re going to need slayers. Instead of activating one girl and putting her where the main action is, we can have groups of girls living near hellmouths, all ready to send any ambitious demons right back where they belong.”
“You’ve given this some thought.” He cocked his head at her.
“A little, maybe,” she mumbled. “I have ideas. The Council isn’t going to like my ideas, but if I have a whole bunch of slayers behind me, they’ll have to listen. The Coven already likes Winston, so they’ll be on our side.”
“You’d think by now the Council of Wankers would know better than to argue with you.” He grinned at her proudly.
“You’d think,” she agreed with her own grin.
That night’s patrol and training session was going really well until the Bringers the girls had been fighting quite successfully suddenly disappeared, leaving an ominous silence behind.
“Slayer….” Spike said, staring into the darkness.
“I feel them,” Buffy responded, hefting her scythe. “Girls, get behind Willow, back-to-back in a big circle. Use your swords and aim for their necks. Or just try to keep them away from you. Work together and don’t get in Willow’s way.”
“Not a good time for Winnie to take off.”
“It’s his night to have dinner with my mom. I guess he and Giles decided to try to keep up appearances. We’ll be all right. We’ve got Willow, you’ve got a sword, I’ve got the scythe, and the girls know what to expect.”
Buffy’s words were more confident than she was actually feeling, but she stepped forward, weapon at the ready. Spike was at her left, game face on, but a sharpened sword in his hand. The five Turok-Hans they’d sensed appeared quickly, two circling around to attack the potentials while the other three charged Buffy, Spike, and Willow. The one that chose Buffy seemed to have some knowledge of what the scythe could do, as it worked harder to lure her away from her place in front of the potentials than it did to getting close enough to actually engage her.
Spike’s weapon seemed to be unexpected by his attacker, who snarled in surprise and rage when Spike lopped off the arm reaching for him. He followed up quickly, taking off the creature’s other arm before swinging the sword through its neck. He took a brief moment to savor the dust, before glancing toward Buffy, who had already backed her opponent away from the potentials and into a space where she could quickly decapitate him. They turned their attention to the situation behind them, to see Willow sending flames from her finger tips, trying to keep the attackers there away from the sword-wielding girls. She was able to keep them at bay, but not to set them completely on fire as Winston would have, and she was having to protect herself at the same time.
The remaining Turok-Hans seemed oblivious to the fact that Buffy and Spike were now free to join the fight. In their fury at Willow, they now concentrated on getting to her. Suddenly, one of them broke off and, moving so fast as to seem to be teleporting, it was behind Willow and leaping at Kennedy, who, to her credit, met the attack with her sword. However, the Turok-Han’s speed and strength was more than a match for Kennedy’s normal human responses, and she went down with a cry, the Turok-Han reaching for her throat in spite of the sword he’d impaled himself on.
Kennedy’s cry distracted Willow, who turned to look, giving the remaining attackers a chance to leap at her. Spike was already there, pulling one creature off before it could do any damage, and throwing it far away, allowing Willow to concentrate on the other one and throw all her power at it. With being able to concentrate her power on one place, she managed to send the Turok-han to the ground, writhing in an attempt to smother the flames licking around its body. It was soon surrounded by angry potentials who quickly realized the flames were too low to put them in danger and they egged each other on until Abby reached forward and cut it’s head off to the accompaniment of cheers..
Spike saw that the one he’d tossed away from Willow appeared to have been weakened by all the flames it had been subjected to. He ignored his weapon in favor of going vampire to ugly vampire with it. With the experience he’d already had of using his fighting skills and wits, he was soon able to break it’s neck with a satisfying crack! and leave it on the ground for one of girls to slice it’s head off. Which Mel did, with great glee and a triumphant shout.
Spike gave her a thumbs up as he turned back to see what Buffy was doing. As he’d expected, she’d pulled the Turok-Han off Kennedy, sword still in his chest. Buffy grabbed the sword’s hilt and twisted the blade, trying to cut the vampire’s heart out. She wasn’t able to fully remove it with the awkward long sword, but she did manage to do enough damage that the Turok-Han’s roar of rage was cut off when it crumbled to dust.
“Huh,” Buffy said, handing the sword back to a shaken Kennedy. “Good to know.” She ignored Kennedy’s staring and walked back to Spike.
“Job well done,” she said. “But let’s get the girls home so we can talk about what just happened here.”
He nodded his agreement and trailed behind as Willow led the potentials back toward the Guardian house with Buffy.
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