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Mask and Mirrors by pfeifferpack
Chapter 17
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Chapter 17

'Too perfect, really,' Spike thought as he made haste towards the hospital pharmacy. "Benny Boy even set himself up with the drama queen performance earlier. Nothin’ like a history of rage on top of serious stress. Course, in this town no one looks too far into cause of death anyway.' Spike smiled at the head-in-the-sand attitude in Sunnydale as the lock clocked open. The hospital records had been easily opened on Willow's computer and the incident reports on Ben after his abrupt dismissal had been a goldmine for the questing vampire. Lots of talents from his evil Big Bad days were coming in handy. 'Some skills never lose their usefulness,' he thought as he put the lockpick back in his pocket. ‘Should take up cat burglary.’

With a wide grin, he pocketed the vial of Kaon CI and a syringe large enough to bring panic to the most manly of Marines. The only part of the plan left was for Spike to shadow the half doc/half loon-god until he could get Ben far enough away from others for the potion to do its deadly work.


"I just hope I can keep Xander from being too impatient," Anya's voice rang out. "He should be understanding though. He's the one that's always after me to do things like a proper human, after all."

Willow stifled a giggle at the ease of getting Anya on board for a long engagement. "Oh, I think Xan will understand. I'm sure he'll want your wedding to be just perfect and not rushed at all. Guys don't always get how important all that stuff is, but Xander is really considerate that way." Willow fought the urge to check her nose to see if it had grown during that last statement.

"Indeed. In my day, a proper betrothal was a time for the couple to get to know one another better while all the various legalities were completed. Many a marriage was still being conducted based on property and bloodlines, at least in the upper classes," Anne added with a nod. "Such things took time."

"Well, I suppose I could try for a twelve to eighteen month timeline that all the etiquette books called for," Anya said thoughtfully. She bit the side of her lip in concentration as she reviewed all she had discovered during her research day. Finally, she smiled brightly. "Oh,at least that will give me time to make sure Giles can get me that sixpence to put in my shoe! I like that custom. Anything that is supposed to bring wealth is something I don't want to miss!"

Anne laughed at the acquisitive girl. "Don't forget it's supposed to ensure a wealth of happiness and joy, not merely financial gain."

"Don't forget the idea of having ribbon pulls for the bridesmaids! Maybe some of your old wish-granting will work on those too. I hope my charm will have something I really want for its wish," Willow teased.

Anya had looked up nearly every wedding custom from the past two centuries for details she hoped to incorporate in her grand wedding plans. Willow was pretty sure this wedding was going to rival
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s before all was said and done. The young witch only hoped for a happier marriage for her oldest friend.

Anne ventured some words of encouragement. "Yes, I believe you shall need at least a year or more to fully prepare a decent wedding. I'd be honored to help in any way you would like, my dear."

Anya practically beamed with excitement, "Oh, that would be great! I don't have a mother. Well, actually I do, but she's been dead for over eleven hundred years and she wasn't much for the whole mother/daughter thing even then….." Anya trailed off with a faraway look in her eye. It was clear that, like all the rest of this group, she was a person with a deep need for mothering. "Anyway, it would be wonderful if you'd help me do this right. For Xander, you know. I want to make him

"See, not even married yet and she's trying to "make" me something," Xander said with a smile as he swooped down and kissed Anya soundly. "Besides, I already AM proud of you, An. Any guy would be."

Anya blushed brightly at the unaccustomed praise. "Xander, I don't want to disappoint you, but it may be a while before we can put together the wedding of my dreams." She completely missed the quick flash of relief that crossed her beloved's face. "Naturally, you'll continue to receive nightly orgasms--I'm not that interested in old-fashioned morals where sex is concerned! But the wedding itself is going to take at least a year to plan. All the bride magazines say that! There are even timelines and calendars and everything. It's very regimented actually."

Xander felt a burden was beginning to lift and smiled brightly. "Just like the Army. And I think Napoleon said it best: 'An army marches on its stomach.' I believe dinner is ready to serve, ladies, if you'll follow me."

"But you can't march on your stomach! Crawl maybe, but who wants an army that crawls?" Anya tried to puzzle out the expression to no avail. "Sounds cowardly to me."

The women headed for the dining room in quest of the source of the wonderful aroma wafting through the house. Willow took a deep sniff and looked in hopeful approval at Giles as he entered carrying a covered cassarole dish. "Please tell me you did the cooking, Giles. I had Buffy's tuna noodle surprise last week and it took a couple of days to even face food again."

"HEY!" Buffy huffed, "I followed mom's recipe." At the raised eyebrows of Dawn and Willow, she amended, "Okay, I may have used regular chicken broth instead of cream of mushroom for the sauce, but it was still soup. Besides, the tuna was 'Chicken of the Sea'. I don't know what the problem is."

Dawn laughed. "It would have been even better if you hadn't put the noodles in before you went out for the day. A slow cooker and noodles don't mix…that is, unless you wanted it to taste like
tuna/chicken-flavored library paste."

"Ha ha, laugh it up, brat," Buffy replied indignantly. "At least I know not to deep-fry peanut butter marshmallow thingies like you did."

The group gathered around the dining room table and began to pass the plain but tasty dish Giles had concocted. "I vote Giles chief cook, even if I have to agree to be bottle washer," offered Xander.

Anya paused in pouring the wine from the bottle to her glass and looked at it thoughtfully. "Not a bad idea, Xander. I suppose there is a refund for properly cleaned bottles somewhere. I don't think it will bring much, but every little bit helps."

After everyone finished their chuckle at Anya's comment, Giles cast a serious look at Willow. "The hospital called while you were out."

"Tara!" Willow looked ready to bolt. "Is she okay? She hasn't taken a turn for the worse, has she?"

"Calm down, Willow. The news is quite good actually," Giles reassured her. "In fact, they are willing to release her in the morning. I had to assure them there would be plenty of help for her aftercare, but they were more than happy to make her hospital bed available for another."

Willow grinned and poured some wine for herself from the bottle Anya had passed to her. "So this is a celebration for real then!" There was a celebratory clink of glasses as they all toasted to renewed hope for the future.


Ben was sulking in the corner of the Bronze and downing his fourth mug of frothy forgetfulness when the frustration of his lost career caused him to slam the brew down on the table, breaking the mug and sending beer flying every direction.

"Hey, mister," the comely waitress admonished, "I have to clean all that glass up without getting cut. Doesn't pay to have open cuts workin' a night shift in this town."

Ben glared at the girl with no real sympathy. "At least you've GOT a job, menial as it is."

"If you're unemployed, you'd better not be runnin' a tab," the girl quickly demanded.

"Oh, I can pay. May not tip, but I can pay," Ben grumbled.

A couple of the regulars weren't too happy seeing their favorite overworked waitress being dissed and decided to step in. "Yo, Mary, this smartass giving you grief?" His partner in pool sharking nodded his agreement to take care of the uppity jerk insulting the sweet girl.

"Nothing I can't handle," the pretty girl smiled. "Thanks though."

Ben was looking for a fight and this looked like the perfect opportunity to hit something with all his pent-up anger at his fate. "I wouldn't let a skank like you handle any part of me. I'm a doctor; don't want to catch something I might pass on." The surly former doctor glanced from under lowered lashes at the two knights of the pool table to see if he had achieved the result for which he had been angling.

Mary's eyes clouded with tears. She was a sensitive soul, not really cut out for dealing with mean drunks. If tuition weren’t so high, she would have handed in her apron months before. "I …. I…"

Before she could respond to Ben's nasty insinuations, the shaggy-haired hero who had been silent earlier executed a beautiful left hook that knocked Ben from his chair. In short order, the fight spread as the combatants crashed into and through tables. Ben was giving as good as he got, throwing punches right and left, never caring where they landed.

From his front row seat on the balcony, the smirking vampire thanked his lucky stars for short-tempered, aggrieved interns. 'Really, the bugger's makin' this way too easy.' Spike watched carefully for the inevitable arrival of the lumbering hulk of a bouncer. He had to grin
as the not-so-good doctor was lifted by his collar and unceremoniously tossed out the back door into the alley. "Show time."

Spike moved with vampire-enhanced speed out the front door of the Bronze and around the side to the alley. No chance for Ben to have recovered and gotten far, but Spike didn't want Glory to make an appearance at this show.


The talk had been lively and upbeat at the dinner table and Buffy was feeling more relaxed than she had in months. Between Willow's promise to program RoboBuffy to do a great job no matter which place finally offered a job and Mrs. Pratt's plan to rescue Xander from his impulses, it was shaping up to be a hopeful day. Even Spike's news that he might be onto something where Glory was concerned gave Buffy reason to be cheery. Even if she still doubted Dr. Wilkinson had any knowledge about Glory, Spike seemed sure and that was good enough for now. Maybe the bad luck that had begun even before her mom had died was finally turning.

Giles leaned back in his chair and decided to share his plans with the group now, as they were in such high spirits. "Willow, I have been giving much thought to the things Anne had to say to you after your misuse of magic the other day. I'm sure you have as well."

Willow's spirits dampened at the reminder. 'Goddess, I hope he's not going to tell Tara what I did. She'd really be disappointed in me.'

Giles could see the thoughts and guess at their content. "I don't plan to tell Tara how out of hand things became. This is not about blame, Willow. It's about dealing with the problem before it gets worse. I quite agree with Anne that the real issues with you are internal and I make no claim to being able to assist there. However, she is also correct in her surmise that I DO have some experience with magic that gets out of hand."

Willow blinked back tears of relief and gave her full attention to what the Watcher was saying. Truth be told, her walk on the dark side had frightened the young witch as well.

"Once we have settled this whole Glory debacle and Tara is fit for travel, I would like to take the two of you to the coven that helped a young, impulsive and rebellious lad to regain control of his life. The coven is in Devon and Athenea is one of the most powerful witches alive today. I believe that you and Tara would benefit greatly by training under her instruction." Giles watched the emotions play across Willow’s face and completely missed the distress on Buffy's.

"You're leaving me?" Buffy felt as if the floor had fallen from under her. She’d just lost her mother. Now her father figure too? "Giles, I need you! You're my Watcher. You can't just up and go to England, leaving me here on my own!"

Giles looked startled at Buffy's conclusion. "Of course not, my dear! I wouldn't think of leaving you for any great length of time. I will, however, need to escort the girls and make arrangements for their training. I might also make a short visit to London to handle some personal affairs. All in all, it is more like a longish vacation."

Buffy's look of relief was tangible. "Oh, thank God! It's just that I can't handle losing another person just now, Giles."

Willow then had her turn at hurt feelings. Fortunately, Buffy noticed. "Will, I know you and Tara will only be gone a short while. Hey, school's your thing; I kinda expected you to go somewhere for a while anyway. Besides, I know you'll be back as soon as possible. It's just the men in my life who go away and never come back."

"You needn't worry," Giles reassured her. "You haven't really needed a Watcher in a long time." He held up a hand to forestall the disagreements to that statement. "No, it is true. You have far surpassed anything I might teach you. However, I cannot bear to walk out of your life. You are more than the Slayer to me and you know that full well."

"I know. I'm just used to being left." Buffy spoke so softly no one but Giles and Anne heard her plaintive comment.

"Well, that is one point in William's favor," Anne remarked. "He would never abandon those he loves."

Buffy looked a bit startled at Mrs. Pratt's comment but couldn't think of any reason to disagree with that lady's assessment of Spike's character. No matter how much Buffy wanted to be able to discount Spike's positive traits, there was no way she could ever see him being disloyal to someone he loved. Even Dru had to toss him out several times before he finally moved on.

Giles was still talking of his plans to Willow, oblivious to Buffy's mental checklist of Spike's positive qualities. "Naturally, we will need to be certain that Tara is fully recovered before heading over, but I don’t imagine some time in the countryside will do her any harm. Point of fact, I can only see this as benefitting Tara, physically as well as increasing her natural powers."

"Oh, yes, Tara's magic isn't as flashy as Willow's, but there's lots of power in her too," Anya added. "You people could use her ability to read auras. I'm surprised you haven't tapped into that already. She's a talented healer too."

Willow was torn between irritation at having her skills referred to as ‘flashy’ and pride that Anya recognized the specialness that was Tara. Pride in her lover won out and she graced Anya with a genuine smile of appreciation.

"Indeed," Giles agreed. "We haven't properly used many of our resources." He looked pointedly at Anya. Much of what Anne said to him in their discussions had been considered more than once. "I
believe that, with the proper training, Willow and Tara's unique relationship with magic will complement each other perfectly. Each can both enhance, yet temper, the other."

"If that means we're the perfect couple, I could have told you that," Willow said with a smile.

"Indeed, there are several perfect couples here," Anne looked at Xander and Anya, "and some potentially perfect ones as well." She looked pointedly at Buffy. "Speaking of which, do any of you have an idea where my wayward son has gotten to?"


Ben lay where he had fallen, or rather where he had landed upon being tossed. He shook his head to try to clear the blood that was trickling into his eye. He saw the pale hand that was extended to help him up and grasped it gratefully.

"Could just finish up what they started, I suppose. That would just force some kind of investigation though and I'm aimin’ for discreet here." Spike smiled coldly at the confused
drunk. "So I'm just gonna stick with the original plan and put you down peaceful-like." Spike plunged the needle into the befuddled man and depressed the plunger, shooting the carefully measured fluid into his victim.

Ben looked at Spike in confusion, "What did you do to me?" He could feel his heart speed up as his breathing became more difficult.

"Mite young for a heart attack, but I'm guessin' the Sunyhell canoe-maker won't waste much autopsy time soon as they see how your heart went spastic. Potassium's nice and natural, after all. Always shows up in the lab reports." Spike answered the dying man.

"By the time you get on the slab, they'll just see the heart attack, not the Hyperkalemia that came first. Just had to make sure it was concentrated enough to do the trick. Didn't want some Jessica Fletcher wannabe to get too curious."

Ben slumped to the ground, even as his eyes rounded in understanding.

Spike had considered making it harder for forensics to determine cause of death, but finally decided that if lethal injection was good enough for the California Department of Corrections, it would be good enough for an imprisoned hell god.

"Bit of potassium chloride and problem solved the old-fashioned way….murder most foul!" Spike could hear his demon chuckle in approval. "Might take fist and fang off the menu, but can't keep a true Big Bad from using his noggin'." His deep chuckling, "Bwahahahah," would have made Vincent Price proud as he lay Ben's body on the cold pavement.


"You know, we haven't talked about the future and your plans," Buffy said, looking straight at Anne.

Anne, thinking Buffy had taken offense at her mild matchmaking attempt, blushed brightly. "My dear, I wouldn't presume to interfere with either you or William. I hope you were not offended by my observations. You have been kindness itself to me ever since I popped up in your parlor."

"No, no! I'm not offended," Buffy rushed to reassure the lady. "Besides, everyone else adds their two cents in about my love life, why not you too? At least it's different cents." Buffy laughed
lightly. "I just meant that I haven't talked to you yet about an idea I've been playing with."

Buffy looked at Dawn and saw the hopeful look on her little sister's face. "I know you might want to be a modern independent woman and all, but if you think you could put up with us here, we sure could use your influence. I'm not ready to be a mom to anyone, much less a bratty teenager. Would you consider staying here with us…not just for a while…but like family?"

Anne thought she might weep in gratitude. Ever since her arrival, she had found herself drawn to these young people. The urge to mother them nearly overwhelmed her at times. And now to receive an invitation to do exactly that! Well, she was moved beyond the telling.

Buffy rushed to cover the quiet. "Not that I want to dump all my responsibility onto you or anything," she reassured Anne. "Just…well, I miss Mom too and somehow your being here has made it easier to cope. I wouldn't expect you to try to take her place--no one could--but it would be kinda like a wiser aunt or something with you here."

Anne couldn't help the single tear that escaped as she nearly whispered, "Thank you, my dear girl. Nothing would make me happier. I shan't try to run roughshod over you…any of you. I should enjoy
being useful, however. Some skills never go out of fashion. I may not be prepared to become a modern career woman, but I do know how to be maternal."

Dawn nearly leapt from her seat in excitement. "So you'll stay?"

"Yes, for as long as you wish me here," Anne promised.

Dawn whirled to face her sister, "Thank you, Buffy! WOW, does that mean Spike's gonna live here with us too? That's awesome!"

Buffy blinked in surprise. She hadn't thought it all out that far….or HAD she? If she were honest with herself she would have to admit the idea of the former bane of her existence becoming a member of her household held a certain appeal.

Anne picked up on the tension Dawn's outburst had ignited. "William is a grown man. Neither would he impose his company on another's household. He lived with me in order to care for me in my illness. Now, thanks to that lovely young doctor, I no longer will need such nursing."

Buffy's head jerked up in horrified astonishment, "Ben is Glory! That's what Spike was saying to me. Ben IS Glory! I don't know why I couldn't remember that before now."

All eyes were on Buffy as several voices echoed, "Ben is Glory?!"


Thank you all for your patience as I struggle with RL and really, really irritating computer problems! Very soon all should return to normal. Happy you are still interested.

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