Chapter Notes:

How much do you know? How much do you say? What do you choose to hold back?


Chapter 20: Connective Issues

January, 2001

“Shouldn't you be scampering off by now?” Spike mumbled against his pillow. “Sun's been up for a while.”

“New Year's resolution,” Buffy mumbled back, not opening her eyes. “No more scampering.”

“Not holding my breath. ...Not that it matters.”

She opened one eye to glare at him. “It's way too early for vampire humor, Sparky. Shut up and let me sleep.”

“Nope. Time to scamper.” He shoved her out of the bed. “Go.”

She barely managed to land on her feet. “Hey! What the hell?”

“Had a chat with Red last night, while you were with Rupert.”

“I know. I saw you guys dancing and talking. So? What's that got to do with you being a jackass first thing in the morning?”

“You should be there today. Make the effort.” Spike pushed back against her attempts to get back into bed. “I mean it, Slayer.”

She threw a pillow at his face. “I'd love to know why you've gotten so pro-Willow all of a sudden.”

He threw it back. “Maybe 'cause I've spent a lot of time where she is, on the other side of your walls.”

Buffy withdrew, frowning. After a moment's thought, she put on her robe and started for the stairs. “I really hate you sometimes.”

He rolled over, settling back to sleep. “I hear you.”

*~*~*

“So do I need to ask why you two disappeared last night?”

“The wedding night had to start sometime.” Buffy looked around the dorm room. “Where's Amy the rat?”

Tara added another book to the box she was packing. “She's already been teleported to Devon, to be de-ratted and rehabbed. If we ever see her again, it will probably be a while.”

“Good. She's a list of Willow magic problems all by herself. Thank god for Althenea.”

“Elsa, actually. Amy's going to be her -pardon the pun- pet project. So about the wedding night...?”

“Geez, Tara. I thought Anya was bad about pushing for details.”

“You know what I'm asking, Buffy. You guys did have that talk beforehand, right? Like before you actually signed the marriage license?” Tara closed the box and picked it up, struggling with the weight. “Ok, this is a slayer box.”

Buffy took the carton of books from her with ease. “I told him I wasn't ready, and it turns out, he already knew. It felt good to say it, though. And he appreciated hearing it. Which pile?”

“Those are moving in with me. Right side of the door.” Tara began pulling the candle holders from the top of the bookcase. “Count that as a lesson, Buffy. Saying stuff is a good thing.”

“You're as bad as he is,” Buffy said as she tore pages of newspaper to wrap the candle holders. “Wanting me to be all talky and stuff. I apparently only get talky when I'm tipsy.”

“How's that?”

“I spilled a lot of thoughts out on Giles last night. Heavy thoughts. Slayer stuff, mostly. And the stuff that breaks a slayer from her watcher. ...He's leaving tomorrow, too.”

“I suspected that would happen.”

The tearing stopped. “You aren't surprised?”

“Buffy, you don't need a watcher. You know that. You've said that. It was only a matter of time...”

“Isn't everything?”

Tara rolled her eyes at the interjection. “If you aren't going to keep him around as a watcher, even in a limited, advisory capacity, he has no reason to stay.”

“I asked him to stay, for the others. He didn't seem to even consider it.”

“He doesn't look at the rest of us as his kids, Buffy, even if some us of think of him in that role. You were the assignment that brought him to the States. You were the person he got fired for, and that he stayed for after. It's not about the group for him. It's about the slayer at the center of it.”

Buffy began tearing paper again. “And I'm the one breaking up the group, sending them both away.”

“You're the only one who could. The only one who could make those decisions, and the only one who could make them willing to go.” Tara climbed onto Willow's desk chair to reach the last of the candle holders. “That doesn't make it wrong to do it. He'd stay for you if you asked him to. You know he would. It's not like the first time around. And Willow wouldn't have even considered leaving if she thought you couldn't get by without her.”

“That's about you, Tara, not me. She knows I have you for witchy stuff.”

“That's not the only way she thought she was needed.”

Buffy was opening her mouth to reply when the dorm room door opened. “Hey, baby. Would you like to break for-- Buffy. I didn't expect you to be here.”

“I thought you guys might want a hand packing up. Your books are heavy.”

Willow shifted her weight. “Well, thanks. I was going to take Tara to lunch before I took the next load of stuff to my parents' house. ...Will you join us?”

“I wouldn't want to be the third wheel at your last date before you leave.”

Tara stepped off the chair. “You wouldn't be. I'm taking my girl out tonight. Why don't you guys go ahead? I can have this finished by the time you get back.”

“Are you sure, baby?”

She waved them toward the door. “Bring me back a sandwich or something.”

With another look at her girlfriend, Willow shrugged. “Ok, we'll be back in an hour or so.”

Buffy shook her finger at Tara as they headed out the door. “Don't lift anything that can wait for me.”

*~*~*

Willow unlocked the passenger's side door, and Buffy climbed into the car. “How did you talk Xander into loaning you his car?”

“I told him he could either let me have the car for the day, or have to haul all my stuff to my parents' house himself after work. He practically threw the keys at me.”

Buffy laughed. “I wonder when his lunch break is?”

Willow started the car and looked at the clock on the dash. “Now-ish, actually. We should have time to catch him. What did you have in mind?”

“Traditional Scooby lunch, with dessert.”

The driver grinned. “The deli next door to the bakery.”

“I've had daydreams about pastrami on rye with a lemon filled doughnut. It's been forever.”

“Why haven't you gotten them?”

“I don't know. I guess it doesn't seem right without you and Xan.”

Willow tried to look solemn and spoke in a slow, serious tone. “I hereby officially grant you two permission to have pastrami in my absence.”

Buffy bowed her head over the dash. “Thank you, my liege. We shall fill your chair with only the worthy.”

“My beautiful proxy?”

Buffy bowed again. “We shall endeavor to teach your lady the wondrous ways of the doughnut.”

They broke into giggles.

“I'm glad you and Tara are finally starting to get to know each other, you know. I guess I haven't been acting like it. ...And I'm actually impressed that you've started hanging out with Anya. How do you put up with her?”

Buffy shrugged. “I try to appreciate her perspective. It's pretty different.”

“I'll say. Sometimes, it's like she's not even trying to fit in with the group... or with humanity.”

“That's the best thing about her, Wils. She's her own woman, playing the social game by her own rules. Honestly? It's kind of fun. You never know what's going to spill out of her mouth next.”

Willow glanced at her passenger. “You don'tmind hearing random tidbits about Xander's sex life?”

“And she doesn't mind hearing stuff about Spike's in trade.” Buffy laughed at a memory. “Now, when we went Christmas shopping with Dawnie, that was a challenge. Anya's lack of filter between mind and mouth versus a teenager who is just old enough to be super curious.”

“How did you survive that?”

“I just kept telling myself, 'Mom doesn't have to know, Mom doesn't have to know.' Of course Dawnie dropped the ball, gave Mom a hint as to the line of conversation. I tried to cover it, make it sound like a passing comment instead of a long conversation, but I know Mom saw right through it.”

“I would have loved to have seen the look on her face.”

“She shifted into denial mode. You know, 'my kids are innocent little children,' that sort of thing. Then Spike came to her rescue, got her out of the conversation. I think she wanted to kiss him for his great timing.”

Willow pulled into the parking area near Xander's work site. “I asked her about you two. I don't know if she told you.” Buffy shook her head. “I wanted to know what made her ok with the whole 'you and Spike' thing. She's happy that you're happy.”

“I'm just glad she puts up with the arguing.”

“I should have been, too. I should have seen that you're happy. But can you blame me for freaking out a little? You're--” Willow gulped. “--sleeping with Spike.” Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but Willow held up a hand to stop her. “I'm working past it. Really. I'm even starting to get it. But I should have been hearing about it from you, from minute one. I should have been sitting at the Espresso Pump, drinking a latte and listening to you spill your guts about the guy you were interested in, before the first date ever even happened. I might have had to pretend not to be horrified, but I should have had the chance to listen. ...There hasn't been any gut-spilling, haven't been any lattes. And now I'm leaving, and I don't know what to do about it.”

“I do.” Buffy opened her car door. “On your second day back, after you've had a day with Tara, the three of us will have pastrami and doughnuts. Then we'll send Xander away, and go get some lattes.”

“And in the meantime?” Willow asked, stepping out with her.

“I have the sanctuary's phone number, Wils. We'll do some old-fashioned, high school style gut-spilling, talking all night.”

Willow wrinkled her nose as they headed for the foreman's trailer. “How's that going to work with an eight hour time difference? As it is, Tara and I are struggling to plan a phone date schedule.”

“I'm a slayer, which is mostly a night job, living with a nocturnal creature who thinks he can also pull off being a day-walker, and ends up napping a lot. And I have friends and family who are mostly on 'nine to five' type schedules, for whom seeing 2am is reserved for special cases. Do you think I have any understanding of day or n--” Buffy was drowned out by the electronic beeps blasting through the speaker attached to the outside of the trailer. She leaned against the structure, waiting on the noise to stop. “--Of day or night anymore? My sleep schedule is so far gone, I've taken up napping, too. Trust me, we'll still be able to have occasional binge bedtime phone calls.”

Willow leaned with her, watching the group of men entering the trailer and exiting through the door nearest them. “Won't that be expensive?”

“Not to us. If Spike's going to rag on me for napping like he does, he can pay for international calls at weird hours.”

“I'm not sure I follow the Buffy logic.”

“Buffy has logic?” Xander asked as he came down the trailer steps. He jumped over the bottom of the railing to join them beside the building. “That's new. Where'd you get it?”

“Spike's wallet, apparently,” Willow answered.

“Thanks, guys. I love you, too.” Buffy feigned a pout.

“Are you done with the car already, Wils? I thought you said you'd need it all afternoon.”

“We're here for an official Scooby lunch date.”

“Oooh! Pastrami and Bavarian cream!”

Willow shook her head as they walked back toward the car. “You two are never going to learn. The perfect combination is pastrami and a strawberry jelly, powdered.”

*~*~*

Buffy looked up from the notepad in her lap. “Hey, Mom. What's it like to be back amongst the employed people?”

Joyce dropped into a chair and kicked off her shoes. “Exhausting. It's going to take me a little while to get back into the swing of things.”

“They offered you two months of part time, to ease back in. You should take it.”

“No, I need to get some more money flowing into this house.”

Buffy tapped her notepad. “I'm working on helping you with that, right this minute. And there is another source, you know.”

“Another source who is likely to outlive us all. He'll need that money later.”

“Mom, a master vamp can get whatever he needs, handed to him on a silver platter, if he plays his cards right. Don't worry about Spike. Also, you aren't going to -excuse the phrase- drain him dry.”

“Buffy, if I may ask, how much is there?”

“Well... There's been some pretty heavy real estate investing over the last hundred years or so... Um, let's just say that if you wanted the rest of the mortgage to disappear overnight, it wouldn't hurt him to make it happen.”

“Us, love,” came a voice from the kitchen. “Wouldn't hurt us.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Stop eavesdropping, Super Ears!”

Joyce called toward the kitchen. “Hi, Spike! What smells so good?”

“Enchiladas Verde. Should be alright if Nibblet didn't under season the chicken again.”

“Hey!” came another voice from the kitchen. “Not everyone thinks food should require a fire extinguisher.”

“Eh, maybe I'll just throw some chile powder into a mug of that swine venom to make up for it.”

“Eeeewww! Buffy! Make him stop talking!”

“I'm pretty sure that's impossible,” Buffy called back.

Joyce leaned back in her chair, a relaxed smile spreading across her face. “It's good to be home.”

“I thought you hating the arguing?” Buffy asked.

“Sometimes, you and Spike get a little too crude and loud. But this--” she waved a hand toward the kitchen. “--This is normal family bickering. I like it.”

“Except that there's a serious lack of normal in this family. You're the only one who qualifies.”

“The normal part isn't what matters, Buffy.” She closed her eyes. “Just listen.”

Buffy stopped fidgeting with her pen and listened for a couple of minutes. “Cooking noises,” she whispered. “Something about roasting tomatillos... And a guy in her art class. He's giving her advice on talking to the boy.”

Joyce nodded slowly. “And she's listening. And learning more about cooking than I've managed to impart on either of you.”

“We just like to eat.”

“I noticed that.” Her smile ended in a sigh. “At least I know my girls won't starve.”

“What do you mean?”

Joyce lowered her voice until it was barely audible, in case Dawn overheard. “Spike told me a little about how things... become. He never mentioned me, even in passing. He did refer to Dawn in a way that implied he was used to playing the role you hear him playing now, that you both were. You know all the details of my finances and insurance plans. The household ran perfectly smooth while I was in the hospital. I'm not a fool, Buffy. I can add up the obvious. ...How long do I have?”

Buffy gulped. “You're making a big assumption,” she whispered back.

“That sounds a lot like confirmation.”

“I'm going to try to stop it.”

Joyce opened her eyes and reached for her daughter's hand. “If you can't, it's ok. I'll know you tried.” She saw tears forming and moved to sit beside her. Buffy grabbed her in a hug. “Oh, honey.”

The sudden lack of conversation from the living room brought Spike out of the kitchen. He found the two women embracing, both of them teary-eyed. “Buffy? Everything alright?”

She nodded as she pulled away. “Mom... Mom figured it out.”

“Oh.” He sat down on the edge of the coffee table in front of them. “Gave it away, did I?”

Joyce wiped her eyes. “Sort of. You both did. You're both a little too fond of spending time with me, and a little too good at keeping things in order around here without me.” She looked him in the eye. “You'll take good care of my girls?”

“'Til the end of the world.”

“Spike!” came Dawn's voice from the kitchen. “I'm not ready to fly solo in here!”

“Which might be tonight, if you don't get back to the kitchen,” Buffy said with a sly smirk. “She'll try to set the house on fire.”

“Bloody hell. Not again.”

Joyce watched him hurry out of the room. “I'm going to do myself a huge favor and not ask.”

Buffy patted her hand. “Smart move.”

*~*~*

Dear Mr. Travers,

It has come to my attention that I am an anomaly among slayers beyond the age of majority, in that I am not being compensated for my guardianship of the Hellmouth financially. In my research, I have found no fewer than five adult slayers in the twentieth century alone that have received a generous monthly stipend from the Council of Watchers, to allow them to support themselves in practical ways, because the calling inhibits attempts to do so through normal human methods.

I cite for you specifically the case of Slayer Nikki Wood (1974-1977), as I see many similarities in her situation to what mine is and may soon become. While I do not have a child, my mother has recently suffered a bout of ill health, and her future health is not assured. She has a minor child, my sister Dawn, who would fall under my exclusive care should the worst happen, and who is partially under my care now, with my mother's health still in question. Like Miss Wood, I am in need of support for myself and a minor who does not deserve to suffer because I was called as a slayer.

As an aside, I thought you would be interested to receive an update on the current status of the Sunnydale Hellmouth. Of late, there have been no attempts to open the Hellmouth. Vampire and demon populations are manageable, slightly lower than usual, owing to some highly productive extra patrols. However, it is worthy of note that the Hellgod Glorificus is in town, and would like to see me dead.

I look forward to hearing from you regarding the monthly stipend.

Sincerely,

Buffy Summers, Slayer

*~*~*

Miss Lydia Chalmers-

Would love to talk about your thesis in person. There might be a chance for you to come to the Hellmouth in California sometime soon. Take it. Offer to be the Council's representative. You show up without those wankers in tow, I guarantee you an interview. Contact the Slayer. She knows where to find me, and will assure your safety for the duration of our meeting. Hope to see you soon.

-William the Bloody

*~*~*

Dawn nudged her sister awake. “You guys must have had a doozy of a fight last night. How did I not hear it?”

“Huh?” Buffy rolled onto her back and squinted at the sunlight streaming through the window. Her hand instinctively went to the unoccupied space beside her, and a surge of panic shot through her. She relaxed just as suddenly. “Oh, yeah. He's downstairs.”

“Yeah, I figured he would be. The question is, what are you doing upstairs?”

“There wasn't room for all three of us, and it's too bright for Spike up here.” Buffy waved toward the window as she yawned. “Hell, it's too bright for me.”

“Three? Is this like one of those conversations you try to make Anya stop when I'm around?”

“Dawn!” Buffy rolled out of bed. “Nothing like that!

She went into the bathroom. Dawn was waiting in the hall when she came out. “Ok then, like what?”

“Like Tara having a bad night. She came to us to talk, and fell asleep in our bed. She was so tired, I didn't have the heart to wake her up and send her upstairs, so I went myself. No big deal.”

Dawn followed her down to the kitchen. “You left another woman in bed with Spike. On purpose.”

“It's Tara, Dawnie. They aren't exactly each other's types.” Buffy started the coffeemaker and filled a mug with pig's blood. When she turned around from putting it in the microwave, she added, “I'm just glad she isn't alone, that she has us to come to.”

“Willow's been gone for a week. Even I know Tara being so upset she needs to come see you freaks in the middle of the night isn't healthy.”

“It's hard being apart, even when it's for a good reason. A bad night now and again is totally understandable.”

“How would you know?”

“Um, I'm just guessing. You know, based on what Tara was talking about.”

Dawn pointed to the microwave. “So you're going down to wake him up?

“No, he's awake now.”

“How do you know?”

“Just a feeling.”

The microwave beeped as the basement door opened. Spike came into the kitchen, still looking sleepy. He dropped onto a stool. “Morning, love. Morning, Bit.”

Buffy filled a second mug with coffee and put both on the counter in front of him. “Pick your poison.”

He took them both, and gave Buffy a grateful smile. “Keep that up, and I might have a different woman in my bed tomorrow morning.”

“I hope so. If for no other reason than it will mean Tara's not so upset. I don't know how to help her.”

“Ok, how did you do that?” Dawn asked her sister.

“What'd she do?”

“Buffy knew you were awake. That's why the blood was warmed by the time you got up here.”

“It's not a big deal, Dawnie. I just knew, that's all.”

Dawn glanced at Spike, who looked tense. “Well, somebody thinks it's a big deal.”

“Nah, Bit. Was just thinking 'bout Glinda. Had to wait a while on a girl to come home to me once, too.”

“Dru?” Dawn asked.

He flicked his eyes at Buffy, who was pouring herself a cup of coffee. “Someone else. Bloody long wait. Spent some nights at the bottom of a bottle. The nights between, what kept me going was having something else to do, someone besides myself to worry over.”

“You're saying Tara needs a new hobby? Or maybe a puppy?”

“He's saying it's time to put our witch to work.” Buffy grinned. “Operation Decoy?”

“ And stocking the bunker. Maybe working on some defenses, see if she can do Red's bubble thing.”

“Yeah, that would be good. It's not Glory proof, but it's knight proof. An extra batch of mini spheres could be handy, too. They're all scattered around. What we need are some we can have on us.”

“Make it two batches, and we could get a golf ball launcher.”

“Ooh! I like that! They're just the right size for it, too. But priorities first. We need better protection on the house, something we can have prepped, then put up in a hurry.”

“Ah, I see what you're thinking. Don't want to tip your hand, love?”

“And I don't want to use the bunker until it's necessary. I'm sorry, Spike, but-- ”

“It's a one-shot deal, most likely. I know.”

“Wait. What? Decoys, bunkers, bubbles, knights, and golf balls? Are you guys even speaking English?”

“Not exactly, Dawnie. We're just warming up our battle plans.”

Spike raised one of his mugs. “Welcome back, General.”

Buffy raised her mug. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”

“How was your honeymoon?”

“Pretty good, but it's time to get back to work.”

Dawn looked from one to the other as they sipped their coffee, waiting on one of them to laugh, or at least say that ridiculous conversation was only a joke. They didn't. Instead their eyes drifted away from each other, as they lost themselves in thought.

Spike broke the silence. “Told you so, Slayer, but you wouldn't listen.”

Buffy looked up from her coffee. “Huh? Told me what?”

“Weren't you just saying you think there's a chance-- Bloody hell. Never mind.” Spike stood up and drained his mugs, one after the other. “Gonna go wake up Glinda. Got an idea for her first project.”

*~*~*

Dear Miss Summers,

In the case of Miss Wood, and in the other cases you referenced, the Slayer in question worked with the Council, and under the direction of a watcher. Neither is the case for you. In fact, it has come to our attention that Rupert Giles, who has been acting in a watcher capacity at the California Hellmouth since the termination of his employment with the Council two years ago, has relocated to his home on our side of the proverbial pond.

Now, if you would consider accepting a new watcher, and resuming your position as the Council's active Slayer, the conversation about a monthly stipend may progress. Until those circumstances are met, you are not an employee of the Council, and not entitled to monetary compensation.

In the meantime, we intend to dispatch a team to check your fitness for the duty to which you are called, and would appreciate updates about your encounters with Glorificus.

Quentin Travers

Chairman, The Council of Watchers

*~*~*

“Whistler!” Tara called toward the ceiling. “I need to talk to you!”

A flash of blue announced Whistler's arrival in the dorm room. “Not the most elegant way to summon me, but I guess it will do.” He looked at the boxes stacked in the corner. “Going someplace, Maclay?”

She stopped pacing. “Those are Willow's. I'm so glad you showed up.”

He sat in her desk chair. “Wow. That's not something I'm used to hearing around here. Summers and Pratt don't exactly welcome me with open arms. But they're why I'm here, aren't they?”

“How did you know? Better question: How did I not know the bond between them was more than just an emotional connection? And why didn't anyone tell me? Buffy's never said a word about it, and Spike didn't either... until yesterday.”

“It's called denial, kiddo. She's a pro at it. And he's damned good at playing along to keep the peace.”

“He's not playing along anymore. He asked me for a bonding suppressant, and recommended a book.” Tara pointed to the volume laying open on the bed. “But I'm confused by a couple of things.”

“Ok, so the gist of it is, some pairs of demons -if they're well-matched- will choose to mate, to bind their fates together. As in, one dies, the other dies. Meantime, they gain each other's strengths and are connected more or less at the brain and nervous system. You know, feeling what each other feels, sensing each other's thoughts, stuff like that. The details vary by species, of course, but--”

Tara held up a hand. “That much, I'm clear on. I get fuzzy on the cross-species aspect of the situation.” She sat on the edge of the bed and held up the book. “Sixty two pages of bonding suppressant spell variants, covering all kinds of demons, but not one word about different species choosing each other.”

“Because they don't.” Whistler gestured to the book. “The vampire version is all you'll need. A slayer's demon is in the same general family, descended from the same Turok Hans.”

“The ancient vampires they told me about?” She frowned. “Buffy's related to them?”

“Ever wonder why slayers can sense vampires, but no other demons? We can all sense our own kind, kid. And since all of the modern descendants of the Turoks are human hybrids of one type or another, they have less control over the mating than a lot of other species. Basically, the demon within chooses, and takes the rest of the person along for the ride. Driven by instinct, that sort of thing.”

“Fuzzy point number two: The bond is supposed to take a long time to develop, right? And even longer in hybrids? Time traveling or not, they haven't been together nearly enough years to reach the point of...” She fidgeted uncomfortably. “You know.”

“The inner demon asserting itself, and having to deal with the instinct to make a claim?”

Tara nodded and flipped to a bookmarked page. “According to this section on delayed claims, the bond isn't strong enough for accidental telepathy until right before the instincts start to take over, but it's rarely a problem, because by that time, a pair has had many years to either agree to mate or begin taking suppressants.” She looked up. “You and I both know that Spike and Buffy haven't been together long enough. By even the most generous definition, it's been less than three years.”

No one, not even the bosses, expected it to go this fast, not until your little girlfriend -the 2003 version, that is- used their bond to keep them together as she moved them through time.”

“I saw the magic wrapped around it... Was that not supposed to be there?” Her frown returned. “Did Willow do this to them?”

“She sped up the bond's development. Big time.” He took off his hat and turned it in his hands. “It was bound to happen, yeah, but not right now. Eventually, Mr. and Mrs. Denial would have been in this situation, anyway, if they kept putting it off. You know, assuming...”

“They both survived their war with the First,” Tara finished. She studied the expression on the demon's face. “They weren't expected to, were they? One of them was going to die.”

“Probably. Their best chance of winning the battle that was coming was a weapon Angel had brought them. Either one of them could have used it, but the plan was for it to be Pratt. It was a suicide run, but they both knew it was the best odds for winning the war.”

Tara rubbed her forehead. “So what they call 'Plan A' would have broken the bond.”

“Not necessarily. You know as well as anyone, death can be undone.”

“But there's always a price to pay, like with any magic. I'm still waiting to see what mine is.”

“You're paying it, kiddo.” Whistler nodded to the boxes in the corner. “Consider that your down payment. The price for Pratt would have been a short term assignment to helping Angel. He'd have gotten back to her in a few years. The idea was, he'd pay the debt off before the bosses put the two of them to work.”

“I'm sure he would have loved that. Just talking about Angel makes him crazy. Wait. What? Put them to work? What Althenea told them about a possible agent assignment for two immortals... She was right?”

He shook his head. “That crazy old witch knows too much. But no claim, no follow up. Summers is still mortal without it, and that's not exactly what the bosses want.”

“So what if it went the other way? What if Buffy changed the plan and took the weapon for herself?”

“Her price would have been a change within herself. She would have come back with her demon way more evolved, strong enough to influence her personality and make her cross the line from 'mostly human' to 'mostly demon.' They'd likely mate quickly if it went that way, with her demon all charged up like that, and we'd be looking at a totally different ballgame.”

“Changing her like that, though... Buffy would never accept it.”

Whistler chuckled. “It's amazing what dropping a prophecy or two into the distant past can make people willing to accept. The bosses even pulled that stunt on me once, with that Angel and Acathla business. That's how I got tangled up with Summers in the first place.”

“So this was going to happen, no matter what.”

“Most likely. When they decided to go with their Plan B, the bosses were surprised, but thought it was for the best. Among other perks, it would buy them a few years to get their act together and stop pretending their demons hadn't already chosen. No one counted on Rosenberg pushing the schedule by taking a magical short cut.” He shook his head. “Man, I'm glad she's finally getting some training.”

“Me, too. It's hard, though.”

“It'll be worth it, kid. You already know that. So, anyway, the Great Procrastinators have run their Rosenberg Special Six Hour clock out, ignoring the bond until it can't be ignored anymore.”

“Spike says she isn't ready. As in, they haven't even had a real conversation about it, just a few sideways mentions here and there. I thought we were talking about the human marriage when we had that 'not ready' conversation, but apparently, the demon marriage is what she was worried about most.”

“The human marriage is a footnote by comparison. This is bigger, and she knows it.” Whistler put his hat back on. “It's not her own commitment that scares her, though. It's his.”

“Buffy's afraid a claim would be a death sentence for Spike.”

“That's about the size of it.”

“I guess I should go ahead and order supplies for the suppressant spell, then. As much as they argue about her death contingency planning, he's not likely to be able to change her mind on that.”

Whistler grinned. “Maybe not right now, but he will. Give it time, kiddo. They'll give in eventually.”

“And in the meantime?” Tara held up the book again. “Is it ok to do this to them? You know, if he can't talk her into not needing it?”

“The spell is safe. Those two geniuses can hang out by a river in Egypt a little longer, if they insist.”





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