Chapter Notes:

The changing relationships of now face the baggage of tomorrow. I think this is a chapter a lot of you have been waiting for.


Chapter 12: Lost Pupil

November, 2000

From the Watcher's diary of Rupert Giles

22 November, 2000
I continue to be fascinated by their partnership. Much of their communication is silent- eye contact and nods- occasionally supplemented with monosyllabic murmurs. How much of this is prearranged signals and how much is a simple matter of knowing each other extremely well, I'm unsure.

In truth, I am sure of very little where they are concerned. I know they have suffered great trials that have changed them into virtual strangers to me. I know I trust them more than they trust me. Both these facts bother me greatly. Trusting Spike is a foreign condition, but one I find myself adjusting to more readily than I would have imagined. Perhaps it is because he is so different from the vampire I knew. Perhaps it is that Buffy has such unwavering faith in him. Or perhaps I've begun to see that the man behind the demon has a voice in matters. He has evolved, and I find myself respecting that.

I still struggle to reconcile these two versions of Spike in my own mind, however. The differences are as pronounced as the differences between Angel and Angelus. And yet, I find something unsettling in even making that comparison. This is not the first time the idea of Spike being cursed with a soul has occurred to me. I've had some suspicions from the day I met this time traveling version of him. What unsettles me is not the idea of an ensouled Spike, but of an ensouled Spike at Buffy's side, caring for her as obviously as he did the night she first fought Glory. It reminds me of a mistake made once before, of trust and care placed in the shakiest of hands.

Admittedly, Spike is proving himself trustworthy, protective, and -by Buffy's own word- is encouraging a stronger relationship between me and my slayer. I should be thrilled with these changes in him. But what if he has in fact been cursed? What happens to her -to all of us- if the curse is broken? Why is she not asking herself that question? Has she forgotten our experiences with Angelus? Has she forgotten Jenny?

*~*~*

“No, you're not listening to me. I am certain Tara would be able to detect by aura reading if anything like that were amiss. I believe your problem is personal, Willow, not mystical.”

“I'm listening, but I don't understand why you seem to be ok with Spike weaseling into her life like this. First, he moves into her basement. Then she goes on a date with him. With kissing. And now she's asking his opinion on her mother's care. It's too weird, Giles. Admit it. I mean, why should he have any say in whether Mrs. Summers comes home or stays in the hospital while she's waiting for surgery?”

He held his glasses up to the light, checking for smudges. “Do you consult Tara on important matters?”

“Well, yeah, of course. But what does that have to do with--” Her bluster faded. “Oh. You're saying they're acting like a couple.”

“I'm saying Buffy is a grown woman who can make her own questionable decisions.” He glanced at his watch. “Now, if you'll excuse me, the delivery from the lumber yard will be here any--”

Willow held up a hand to stop him from walking away. “I didn't tell you everything. I think there is something mystical going on, and somehow Tara can't see it.”

“Oh?”

“I tried a few thrall breaking spells. They didn't work. So I decided we needed an insurance policy, to make sure Spike doesn't turn on her, doesn't betray her to Glory.”

Giles put his glasses back on to give her a hard look. “What did you do?”

“Nothing. I tried something, but it didn't work. I don't know why. Something might be blocking me. Or my equipment is wonky. Maybe he's already teamed up with Glory, and she's blocking the spell.”

“Willow, what did you do?” he asked again.

“Well, um, I have an orb of Thessulah...”

*~*~*

When Xander arrived at the Magic Box, Giles asked, “How is Anya?”

“Tired. Cranky. Bored. Dawn's staying with her tonight, so I can get these shelves rebuilt for you. Ahn's still not used to operating with one arm in a cast and sling. She'll adjust in another couple days. The main thing is to get her back to work before she goes nuts and takes me with her.” He put down his toolbox and circular saw beside the sawhorses and lumber in the training room. “I'll be here all night.”

“I'm in a hurry to reopen, but not so big of a hurry that you--”

“I am. Ahn really wants to get back to work. Soon. Besides, Dawnie only agreed to stay one night, and I think Buffy had to talk her into that much. Go home, Giles. You look beat. I'll be fine.”

“You'll keep the door locked?”

“Except when the pizza guy shows up.” He waved toward the door. “Go. Get some rest.”

Giles tried to not look relieved at his dismissal. “Alright. I'll see you in the morning. Please be careful.” He left the shop, but he didn't go home.

*~*~*

“You didn't tell me everything,” Giles accused the man who opened the door.

“Obviously. But what else do you need to know?”

“The truth. What did you do to deserve such a punishment?”

“Eh? You wanna run that by me again?”

Giles brushed past him. “We're having this conversation, Spike. Playing dumb won't get you out of it.”

“We're having what conversation? You been hitting the bottle, Watcher?”

Giles sighed in exasperation as he entered the living room. He stopped short when he saw Tara sitting on the sofa with a spell book open in her lap. “Tara? What are you doing here?”

“Hi, Mr. Giles. I'm helping Spike and Buffy with a demon tonight.” She repeated his question in a teasing tone. “What are you doing here?”

“To be honest, I'm wondering why the three of you have been lying to me. You had to have seen it-- Wait. Where is Buffy?” His question was promptly answered by the slamming of the back door.

“Stupid fucking vampires!” The refrigerator door opened and closed. “Spike?”

Spike kept his eyes locked on Giles'. “What'd I do this time?” he called.

“Not you, but pretty much the rest of your species.” Buffy followed his voice, appearing dirty and disheveled in the living room doorway. “I got vamp-mugged on my way home from the butcher's shop. Business must be slow at that bitey bordello up on Fifth. I recognized a couple of them, hanging around the butcher's back door. They have three fewer mouths to feed now, and your dinner's in the fridge. I'm really in the mood for a little arson right now. ...By the way, is there a reason you and Giles are giving each other death glares?” Neither man spoke. She looked to the sofa. “Tara? Fill me in?”

“Mr. Giles was asking what Spike did to deserve some punishment.”

“Huh? Giles, what are you talking about?”

“Buffy, it's time to tell me the truth. What happened to make Spike get his soul?”

The blood drained from her face. “Giles, I-- we-- we don't talk about that. It's ...personal.”

“Ah, so that's it.” Spike crossed his arms over his chest. “Tell us what you know, Watcher.”

“Will you reciprocate?”

Spike looked uncomfortable. “Maybe not in detail, but yeah.”

“Willow has been trying to help you, Buffy. She made some futile attempts to break Spike's supposed thrall over you.”

Tara sighed. “I told her not to waste her time with that stuff. She wouldn't listen.”

“Then she decided the best method for keeping Spike's loyalty to our cause -presumably in lieu of the romantic involvement she witnessed- was to curse him with his soul.”

“Like the brooding Poofter?! What the hell is she thinking?”

The slayer grumbled, “That I shouldn't have a sex life, apparently.”

“Buffy!” Tara admonished. “You're getting as brazen as Anya!”

“She rationalized that -despite Spike's recent behavior- you would not risk repeating history.”

A snicker went around the room.

Giles glared at them and sank into a chair. “From Willow's perspective, the reasoning is sound.” He addressed Spike. “Cursing you could force some distance between you and Buffy, and would likely make you want to expose any ulterior motives in remaining close to her during such a dangerous time.”

“But it didn't work.” Buffy leaned against the door frame. “And now she knows.”

“Not yet. Willow believes she either has a faulty orb of Thessulah, or she's being blocked by some unidentified counter magic. I have a better understanding of the mechanics of what she's attempting. If that soul were out in the ether, the orb would have found it, whether it could be returned to its owner or not. The logical conclusion, then, is that the soul in question is either being forcibly contained somewhere -which is unlikely- or has already been restored.”

The back of Buffy's head tapped the door frame in time to her words. “Dammit, dammit, dammit.”

Spike raised an eyebrow at her. “Yeah? How do you think I feel? It's not you she's gonna expose.”

“She could bring down the whole mission if she doesn't back off. She's well on her way to figuring out we aren't who we say we are. ...Tara, any Willow-wrangling ideas springing to mind?”

“Nothing ethical.”

“Might have to put the ethics in the drawer, pet, if she gets too close.”

“I know. And you know what you're asking me to do.”

Buffy studied Tara's expression. “Let's table that for now. We'll cross that bridge when it catches fire.”

Giles followed her gaze. “I see the soul isn't the only thing that's been omitted. What else did you fail to tell me, Tara?”

“I... um...”

“I wasn't cursed,” Spike interjected, earning a grateful glance from Tara. “Went out and got the thing myself. Don't know yet if I'll lose it when that time comes back around. You had a theory -you from our time- but weren't certain. In another year and a half, it might be gone, unless I try to get it again.”

“Is it wise to keep you so close, then?”

“It didn't change as much as you might expect,” Buffy put in quietly. “Not in good ways, at least. I've asked him to consider letting it go.”

“You've what?!” Giles was back on his feet. “Buffy, have you lost your mind? If the soul is released again without the chip to restrain... You know better than to be so reckless. The repercussions...”

Buffy stepped close to Spike's side. “Giles, do you even know what the big, scary repercussions would actually be?” She counted off on her fingers. “One: the nightmares might stop. Two: he'd be able to move more freely among other demons. Three--” She held up her other hand. “Hang on, I'm thinking. I'm sure I can come up with something scary. Give me a minute.”

“I think you've made your point, love,” Spike whispered.

“No, I don't think I have. Oh, wait! I know what number three is! He'd have one less thing in common with his grandsire... Not that there's very much in common to start with. You getting me, Giles?”

“Yes, I believe I am. You're allowing an emotional attachment to inhibit your judgment, blind you to a danger we all know quite well. We've worries enough, with Glory about. Another ensouled vampire at your side is a liability you can't afford right now. You need to be reasonable about this.”

Those words stuck a chord in Buffy. In seconds her demeanor shifted from mildly irritated to barely contained rage. “Liability?” she repeated through clenched teeth. “Reasonable? How dare you say those words to me. You didn't get kidnapped, tortured, and thrown off the top of a tower while trying to protect my sister. No, you thought it better to threaten to kill her. You left me when I needed you most. Spike didn't. And when you finally stopped by to play Watcher, you conspired to have my most reliable support murdered. From where I'm standing, there's only one man in this room who needs his soul worked on, only one man who's a liability, and it's the one with a pulse.” She spat the last word, leaning forward with her fists clenched and shoulders tensed for a fight.

Spike put a restraining hand on her arm. “Love...”

Giles shifted his weight. “Buffy, I haven't done those things. I'd like to think I wouldn't. I'm not the person you're so angry with.”

“Not yet, but you're damned close. You walked in here accusing Spike, making assumptions, proving you don't trust me to--” She quoted with a sneer, “'make the difficult decisions.' I know where this road goes, Giles. I've seen the crosses on the walls.”

Spike tightened his grip on her arm. “Buffy, love, take it easy.”

“No.” She jerked her arm free. “I can't. You may be all stoic about it, because you never expected mutual trust and respect with him, but I did. I was trained to it. I relied on it. And then it wasn't there.” She turned her focus back to Giles. “It took me too many years of thinking you'd come back around to being who I thought you were, too many years of thinking I was the problem, for me to figure out the simple truth: My mortal enemy is a better ally than my watcher.”

Buffy stormed out of the room and up the stairs, leaving Spike, Giles, and Tara staring at each other.

She came back down a minute later, brandishing a sword. Spike called to her as she wrenched open the front door. “Where are you going?”

“Out. I need to go kill something.”

“Don't forget--”

“Slime attacks. I know.” The door slammed behind her.

Tara held up her book. “What about the containment spell?”

“Mood she's in, the Queller doesn't stand a chance, even without our help.” Spike ran a hand through his hair and dropped onto the sofa beside her. “Bloody hell. Was hoping she'd hold out a little longer.”

“That was intense.” Tara laid aside her book and rubbed her temples. “It really got that bad?”

“By the time we left, it was a little shop talk, and naught else. If we hadn't been in a war, it'd have been nothing at all. But the general needed her soldiers.”

Giles frowned. “If you saw this coming, Spike, I would have appreciated a warning, before the volcano erupted... Though I'm finally beginning to understand why she's been keeping me at arm's length.”

“Only reason you're that close is 'cause I asked her to.”

“It seems she's not willing to give me a second chance.”

“Second chance was years ago, Watcher, even from your perspective.” Spike looked up at the watcher and spoke in a low tone, “I'm gonna have to ask you to leave, Rupert.”

Giles nodded. “I suppose you do. It's clear Buffy doesn't want me here right now.”

“You wouldn't let that stop you, that much I know. But she's not the one asking you to go. I am.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but Tara interrupted. “This is Spike's home, too, you know.”

A few seconds later, the front door slammed again. Tara cringed. “Are we going to regret that?”

“Got through a hell of a lot without him, and got put through hell of a lot because of him.”

“So in other words, probably not.”

*~*~*

Giles poised his pen over the next line of his watcher diary as he reread the preceding entry. With a sigh to himself, he began writing.

26 November, 2000

Not for the first time, I fear this may be my last entry, or nearly so. I don't believe my slayer is likely to die tonight, nor is the Council likely to send anyone to “rein in” myself or my slayer, as they've repeatedly threatened for nearly two years. Buffy and I, as well as Faith, have been classified as “rogues” for quite a while. The fact that we are all three breathing is a testament to their uncertainty. They really don't know what to do about us. There is some humor to be found in that, though I'm finding it difficult to laugh tonight.

This evening, my suspicions about Spike's soul were confirmed, though not in the way I had imagined. He does in fact have it, but apparently by his own choosing, and not via that curse concocted by Jenny's ancestors. The reasoning behind such an unprecedented act was not offered. Both time travelers were tense and tight-lipped about the matter.

I admit I bungled my way into the conversation, but I still don't understand exactly how it ended the way it did. Buffy's temper exploded in my direction. She laid years of wrongs at my feet -wrongs I have not yet even committed- and left in a snit. And then Spike threw me out of the house (verbally, not physically), with Tara's support.

Tara was noticeably less surprised than I at Buffy's rage. At one point, she also seemed to be participating in that perpetually “half spoken, half implied” conversation that has so marked my interactions with Buffy and Spike since their arrival in this time. I don't know what to make of that, except that perhaps she has been told far more of the future from these two than I have, that she shares in their secrets.

I doubt such a privilege will be offered to me, at least not anytime soon. Buffy has been honest with me about her distrust, even openly comparing my future self to Quentin Travers. But until tonight, I did not even begin to understand the depth of her disappointment in me, or the depth of her wish to protect Spike from me.

I never thought we'd be here again, my slayer and I, standing on opposite sides of a line, with a vampire between us. As I've previously written, this time traveling version of Spike is not someone I find myself wishing to oppose, but relying on the inherent instability of a soul's grip on a demon is not something with which I can ever again be comfortable.

It was easier to trust his reformation when I thought it possible he had merely made good use of the time he carried that microchip, when I could believe he'd made himself an ally without any outside personality influences. Learning that the changes in him are attached to a soul brings the question of Spike himself back into play, and -without the chip- it's a treacherous game.

In saying so, perhaps I have made enemies of them both, depriving myself of their foresight, and ruining what may have been my last chance at a strong, adult friendship with my slayer... and her very unusual paramour.

Giles heard the back door slam, and the hum of Xander's saw in the training room came to an abrupt halt. He opened his office door to listen.

“Hey, Buffster. Eww! What did you get into?”

“Slime monster. I'm on my way to the hospital to check on Mom, but I need to clean up first.”

“Dead slime monster?”

“Dead slime monster.”

“Good.”

Giles listened to the water running in the bathroom until the restarting of the saw drowned it out. He stepped out of his office to find the bathroom door wide open, and Buffy's head under the sink's faucet. He stopped in the doorway. “Can we talk?”

She tried to raise her head instinctively, banging it on the faucet. “Ow! I didn't know you were here.” She continued rinsing her hair for a moment before she answered. “I really don't want to.”

“I do.” Giles fought to keep his voice low. “I don't understand what happened this evening. I'm not even certain I should. What I do understand is that you've been seething with resentment against me since your arrival, holding me responsible for crimes I have not committed. I don't think it's very fair.”

“You assumed Spike's soul was a punishment. As soon as you found out he had it, you assumed I was endangering everyone by sleeping with him.” Buffy pulled her head away from the sink and reached for the towel she'd brought from the training room. “That's not very fair, either.”

Giles watched her dry her hair, waiting until the towel was no longer blocking her face to speak. “I know Spike is not Angel, but I can't shake my concerns.”

She hung up the towel and ran her fingers through her damp hair. “And I know you haven't done all those things I was yelling at you about. But those thoughts are stuck in our heads, in both cases. Neither one of us seems to be able to get rid of them.”

“It appears we're at an impasse.”

“Actually, I think we're at a stopping point.” Buffy reached into her pocket and pulled out two keys, already separated from her key ring. She handed them to him. “Your apartment and the Magic Box. I was going to leave them on the counter, but since you're here...”

“Buffy, this is not what... I don't think this is the answer.”

“This is a small town with a big Hellmouth, and only one magic shop. Plus, we have a lot of mutual friends. It's not like we'll never see each other again.” She brushed past him without making eye contact. “Take care, Giles. I'll see you around.”

Giles was still standing in the bathroom doorway, holding the keys loosely in his hand, when the hum of the saw stopped again.

“No more hair gel from hell?”

“Nope. But I think the smell is lingering. Here, sniff.”

“Eww, yeah. Maybe it will be better when it dries. By the way, where's your undead shadow tonight?”

“Spike's not my shadow. Why do you ask?”

“Well, with Dawnie over at my place tonight, I thought you two might be... together.”

“We had planned to patrol together, but I went out on my own instead. He's probably gone out by now. I'll see him in the morning.”

“I have a hard time figuring you out lately, Buff. You and Spike-- hella weird, just to put that out there, but sometimes you act like his girlfriend, and sometimes like his slayage boss. Hot and cold. I mean, the rest of us are getting that, too, but I wonder if he's getting the worst of it.”

“Holy crap. Is Xander Harris worried about Spike? Did hell just freeze over? 'Cause Glory is going to be super pissed if it has.”

“I'm not worried about Spike. I'm worried about you. If you two are just patrol buddies with occasional kissage, maybe you should just say so. Let yourself off the fangy hook.”

Buffy's hollow laugh echoed against the training room walls. “You know what? I'd be more inclined to take demon dating advice from someone who wasn't trying to hide the demon he's dating.”

“Ex-demon. Also, not hiding.”

“A demon's lifetime, a demon's memories, a demon's mind. And you think shoving her into the human world should make it all fade away. Do you love her for her, or for what you think she should be?”

“Whoa, whoa! Where did that come from? And how are we talking about Anya?”

“I'm getting a lot of stuff off my chest tonight. Cleaning house. And you're evading. Tell me, do you really want to be with her, Xan?”

“Well, yeah, of course I do. Do you really want to be with the bleached menace?”

“Yes, I do. Lock the door behind me, will you?”

Giles returned to his desk.

As a rule, a slayer does not outlive the records of her exploits in the diaries. They are meant to die together. But then, Buffy has never been one to follow the rules. The Council knew that, learned from Merrick's reports and diary entries what kind of girl had been called to the cause. I suspect that is why she was assigned to me. My own youth was full of rule-breaking and general rebellion. Perhaps the Council thought I would see myself in her, and be understanding. More likely, they thought I'd be forceful in correcting her free-mindedness, knowing from experience where it may lead.

I wasn't forceful. I was understanding. And then, it seems, I wasn't. At some point in the future, I wasn't there for her when I should have been, wasn't the ally she needed. I abandoned my charge.

She can't see past those yet unmade mistakes, can't continue the ruse of being comfortable in the watcher-slayer paradigm. It isn't normal for her anymore. I suspect it hasn't been for quite a long time, something for which I have my future self to blame, perhaps also my past and present selves.

And so my charge has abandoned me.

*~*~*

Joyce opened her eyes, focusing them on the figure beside her bed. “The flashing one,” she murmured.

Buffy leaned forward in her chair. “What did you say?”

“One shimmers in green; one flashes in white... You aren't the one who was here.”

“No,” Buffy said gently. “Dawnie was here this afternoon. Is that what you mean?” She glanced over her shoulder to make sure they were alone. “Dawnie is the one who shimmers, remember?”

“Between flashes, you're the one who was here, the real one.”

Buffy fell back in her chair as understanding dawned. “Oh.”

“Where is the original?”

“I'm the original, Mom. You might be seeing a little... time displacement, but it's still me.”

Joyce ignored her. “Where is the original?” she shouted. “Stop flashing! Show me the real one!”

A nurse came in and prepared a needle with a sedative. “It's alright, Mrs. Summers. Just relax.”

“White flashes! Where's the real one?”

Buffy backed out of the room. She stumbled to a row of chairs in the corridor, and slouched into one, her head bowed and mind racing.

Someone sat beside her. “There's a little too much pressure on certain parts of her brain right now. Her perception of reality is very... fluid.”

“I'll say.” Buffy looked up. “You again. What did we screw up this time?”

Whistler took off his hat and waved it in front of his face. “Not showering after getting slimed by a Queller, for one. What makes you think you screwed up? Regretting ditching your watcher already?”

“The last time I saw you was when Anya got hurt because me and Spike...”

“Were thinking about yourselves instead of the mission.”

“Is that why you're here tonight? To drop a hint that I need to keep Giles around for the mission?”

“Summers, I'm not here to talk about your watcher daddy issues. Get a shrink.”

“So why are you here?”

“Just so you know, I figured out a while ago that glare is code for 'Go away.' Lucky for you, I take hints about as well as you do.” Whistler settled his hat back into place. “Actually, this is a pep talk visit. I kinda came down heavy on you last time.”

“What? Implying we were tanking a world-saving job? Nah, that wasn't heavy at all.”

“Yeah, you've definitely been around Pratt too long. Your sarcasm used to have duller teeth.”

“Since it was directed at you, I'll take that as a compliment.” She waved a tired hand. “Go on, pep talk away. I can take it.”

“You aren't tanking it, kid. You're doing ok. Just keep your eyes open, find the big picture.”

“See? This is why I always want to pummel you. Our big picture, the reason we came back, was to stop my resurrection, preferably in the 'not dead Buffy' way. Then you tell me we don't even know what the big picture actually is. What the hell do you expect us to do with that lovely bit of trivia?

“I see I've picked a bad night. I should have known you didn't let it all out on the watcher.”

“Oh, I keep a special reserve of rage set aside, just for you.” Buffy struggled to keep her volume low. “I don't think you're even capable of appearing without some kind of bad news. I certainly haven't seen any proof of it. Hell, when you brought Tara in, which should have been your redeeming moment, it came with a side of Giles-style nagging and 'by the way, we can yank people out of heaven, too!'”

“Bloody hell. You again.”

They looked up to see Spike approaching. “Hey. You're just in time for a very twisted PTB pep talk.”

“I'm trying to tell you, it's not that bad,” Whistler said as Spike sat on Buffy's other side.

Spike sniffed. “Slimed?”

Buffy sighed. “Yes, yes. We have a consensus. I need to wash my hair. Demon slayed, by the way.”

“And she dumped her watcher faster than you can say 'emotional baggage.'”

She threw a glare at Whistler. “Thank you. I never could have managed tell him so eloquently.”

“Damn, Summers, you are in a mood tonight.” He addressed Spike. “Like I was telling Miss Sunshine And Roses here, you guys are doing ok, for the most part.”

“He's leaving out the part where he reminded me we don't know what our mission actually is, and he still hasn't offered to tell us, because -and I'm just guessing at the reasoning here- he's an asshole.”

Spike looked at Whistler. “Nothing personal, mate, but if the slayer decides to off you, I'm just gonna sit back and enjoy the show. Right now, I figure you've got about two minutes 'til curtain.”

Whistler glanced at Buffy's clenched fists. “You're probably right... So that fiasco at the Magic Box was a warning. You lose your focus, get reckless with your foresight, people get hurt. Lesson learned.”

“The hard way,” Buffy grumbled. “...Oh. That was the point.”

“You're thinking ahead now, and it shows. Tonight, you all told the watcher he was expendable, and you did it with an eye to the future, considering the consequences. You're ready for the big leagues.” He leaned forward. “Your idea of the mission, what you view as the big picture, isn't far off, it's just a touch too narrow. Look at the sources, the hows and whys of events, not just the events themselves. It's a lot easier to catch the stone in mid-air than to try to contain the ripples.”

In a flash of blue, he was gone. Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Huh?”

“He's talking about the ripple effect, love. The idea is, if you throw a stone into a still pond, the stone sinks out of sight, but the impact ripples outward 'til it changes the whole pond.”

“And that means what? That we're looking at the wrong stone?”

“That we're looking at ripples, when we think we're looking at the stone. It's not the resurrection that needs stopped, so much as the causes of it.”

“My death. We knew that.”

“Sure, if you don't jump, there's no need for the resurrection. Simple chain. But the source of the resurrection, the 'hows and whys' of it being possible, still exist. It doesn't have to happen to be possible. So if the resurrection is a ripple, what's the stone?”

The prompting made Buffy bury her face in her hands. “Ugh. Two things I hate: philosophical questions and cryptic demons.”

Spike pulled her hands away from her face and held them until she looked up at him. “You know the answer, love. You know where the problem is. You've known it since the night you crawled out of the ground. What's the stone, Buffy? And who threw it?”

*~*~*

The walk home was quiet, each focused on their own thoughts. When they entered the house, Buffy went straight to the phone. She dialed an international number she'd memorized in the summer of 2002. “Hi. This is Buffy Summers. I'd like to arrange a meeting with Althenea Grace.”

*~*~*

After showering off the Queller slime odor, Buffy came downstairs and crawled into bed. “So I never did ask about your night. Did you guys go to the vineyard?”

“Yeah. Broke in, showed her around. No trap door to go below the cellar. Preacher must've put that in.”

“That sucks. That was my best point of reference. The Bringers found the scythe about twenty yards from the door. They basically dug a big cavern down there.”

“Assuming the cavern wasn't already there.” Spike put his book on the nightstand. “Pretty sure it isn't under the casks, at any rate. If I remember the door right, twenty yards puts the scythe 'bout five or six yards outside the cellar wall.”

“You think we can go straight down?”

He shrugged. “Maybe. Get Glinda to try to dowse it for us, make sure we're right. The three of us should go together next time, compare memories, have her search for it.”

“I should have been there tonight.”

“That was the plan, yeah? At least you got the Queller. Seems like it was a close shave, though.”

“My hair doesn't still smell like slime spit, does it?”

He kissed the top of her head. “Apple blossoms and vanilla.”

“Good.” She bit her lip. “About the thing with Giles...”

“Don't think I've seen you that brassed off since Red dropped us into our first bounce.”

“Stuff boiled over, stuff I've been sitting on for a while. But I didn't say anything tonight I didn't mean.”

“I know. That's why I told him to leave right after you did... Was the thing with Wood that set you off, wasn't it?”

“Giles was saying things that sounded so much like what he said to me that night, I just snapped. How did you know?”

“You mentioned crosses on the walls. Glinda asked about it later.”

“How much did you tell her?”

“Everything relevant, from 1977 on. She was surprised you didn't come down on me for biting the bastard. 'Course, I was in the same boat for a while, before I understood why.” He looked at her. “You'd have finished the job, in my place.”

“It would have been justified. Simple self-defense.” Buffy let her head sink back into her pillows. “Whoa. I never thought I'd say that out loud. I'm not supposed to think that about a human, let alone say it.” She closed her eyes. “I'm a bad slayer, Spike. I've broken a lot of rules, and I don't seem to be able to stop. And tonight, I broke up with my watcher.”

“Just a little falling out. You'll patch it up.”

“I saw him later, at the shop. That's what Whistler was referring to, not my tantrum upstairs.” She held up a hand. “Don't freak. I kept it peaceful. No shouting. No violence.” The hand dropped. “I tried, Sparky. I really did. I just can't do it. Neither can he, apparently. When he looked as us in the living room tonight, he saw a time traveling version of the Angelus scenario, playing over again, Jenny's body in his bed, being tied to a chair with Dru standing over him, and all that. I could see it on his face.”

“The old man still doesn't know who made sure he lived through that, does he?”

“Probably not. And when I look at him, I see someone who tried to hurt people I love. I know he meant to serve the greater good, but I don't agree with his interpretation of what that is.” Buffy opened her eyes and climbed out of bed. “I think I need a snack. I'll be back in a few. Want anything?”

He shook his head, and watched her go upstairs. “Is that what you meant, Cassie?” he whispered.





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