Chapter Notes:

Past, present, and future are constantly intermingling, and the shadow of the untrained witch is long enough to cover all.


Chapter 21: Unwilling Witness

January, 2001

Buffy's words came in time with the motion of her fists. “What. The hell. Is wrong. With. You?”

The skinny vampire growled through his fangs. “I'm hungry!”

She kicked him to the ground. “I'm not talking to you.”

He tried to trip her as she came toward him, wielding a stake. She stepped back to avoid it, simultaneously giving him a chance to regain his feet. He threw a glance around. “Then who? You're not some kind of nut, are you? I've heard this town's got a lot of crazy these days.”

“Welcome to the Hellmouth,” she replied with an eye roll, slipping her stake back into her waistband and attacking him with her fists again. When he tried to back away from her, she let him. “Feel that?”

“What?” The vampire frowned. “Oh, that. Man, Slayer, I think you've got bigger problems than me. If you want to go deal with it, I can just get out of your hair.”

“Sorry, bub. We have to finish this.”

“It's Eddie, actually.” He threw a jab at her face, that she easily blocked. “And you're willing to prioritize me over that? Thanks. That means a lot, coming from a slayer.”

She kicked him in the gut, sending him back a few steps. “You're welcome.”

He called out to their unseen audience as he moved in for another attack. “I don't know who you are, but you should know: I'm not sharing my first slayer.”

Buffy closed her eyes, giving herself a small challenge as she blocked the young vampire's onslaught of weak punches. “Eddie, that master signature is William the Bloody.”

“Whoa. The Slayer of Slayers? He's famous.” He called out again: “Am I being scouted for something? He's watching, right?” He attacked Buffy with renewed vigor. “No offense, Slayer, but I'd rather have you be my first than his third.”

She laughed. “He's not here to steal your spoils, either before or after you kill me.” She grabbed his wrist as his fist came toward her again, giving it a pull as she raised one knee to lift his body weight, flipping him over her shoulder. He landed on the ground with a grunt. “Because I have news for you, Eddie: You're not going to kill me, and neither is he.”

“You sure 'bout that?” came a voice. “Some days, it's tempting.”

“Yeah, Slayer, are you sure?” Eddie jumped to his feet behind her and lunged for her throat.

She turned around just as he was about to grab her shoulders and gave him a hard punch to the chest, sending him flying. “Oh, I'm pretty sure. In fact, if he doesn't spit out what's on his mind, I might just kill him.”

“Would you just dust the poor git already?” asked the voice. “Starting to feel sorry for him.”

Buffy opened her eyes and moved toward where Eddie had landed. His darting eyes gave away that he was looking for a way out. “Please don't run,” she requested. “I'm really not in the mood for it.”

He scrambled to his feet as she neared him, and began to back away, matching her slow pace. “You know, Slayer, you really don't want to waste your energy on me, not if you have to deal with William the Bloody next. Save your strength. I'll just go.”

“He's right, love. Don't wanna wear yourself out before I have a chance at you.”

Buffy rolled her eyes at the innuendo. “Eddie, a vamp with bravado that has a thirty second shelf-life won't last very long. You have to be able to take a few punches, and still come up smiling. You've already shifted into full-on Chicken Mode, complete with lack of fangs.”

Eddie stopped backing up and touched his own face. “Huh. When did that happen?”

“Bloody fledges.”

“Hey!” Eddie called to the voice. “I'm no fledge! I was turned three years ago, thank you!”

“You're still a fledge,” Buffy said. She was now standing in front of him, not moving any closer. “And I'm genuinely surprised you've lasted this long. Three years, huh?”

Eddie nodded and tried to back up another step, before realizing why she'd stopped pursuing him. He hit the wall of a crypt with a whimper. “Uh-oh.”

“What were we doing three years ago, Slayer?” The voice sounded very close.

“That's a matter of perspective. You were either trying to kill me, or trying to help me.”

Eddie looked confused. “Ok, so you two definitely know each other.”

“Well enough.” Spike jumped off the top of the crypt, landing right next to Eddie, still cowering against the wall. Spike gave him a look of disappointment. “You're an insult to the species, Fledge. Slayer, if you don't stake him soon, I'm gonna do it.”

“I don't know. The longer I let him live, the more you'll talk. You've said more in the last five minutes than you have in almost two days.”

“Dust him, then we'll talk.”

She looked Eddie over. “I want insurance. If Eddie makes you stop brooding, Eddie lives.”

“I don't brood!” Spike looked from one to the other with a sigh. “Alright, then. Have it your way.” He started to walk away. “Fledge, come with me.”

Eddie's eyes widened. “Really?” He looked at Buffy, who waved him on. “Ok! Great!” He scrambled away from the wall, hurrying to catch up to the master vampire. Buffy followed them at a slower pace, taking the time to enjoy the quiet, starry night.

*~*~*

“This isn't what I had in mind,” Eddie said, as he was tied to a metal folding chair. "I thought we were going to hang out. Maybe trade slayer stories?”

“I've already seen yours. It was depressing.”

The hatch opened, and Buffy came down the ladder. “Hey! What's she doing here?”

“She thinks having you around will make me talk. I'm humoring her.” He nodded toward the open drawer below the bed. “Love?”

Buffy found a bandana in the drawer and tossed it to Spike. “Sorry, Eddie.” She kicked the drawer closed and sat on the bed.

“For what? What exactly is going-- Mmm!” The young vampire's words were cut off as he was gagged.

“The lady requested your presence. She said fuck all about your conversation.”

“So what's on your mind?”

Spike sat on the bed beside her. “Mostly the conversation you've been avoiding.”

“Let me guess: You want to talk about it.”

“I want you to stop pretending we have a choice. The conversation's officially overdue, Buffy, and you know it.” He ran a hand through his hair. “But I can't seem to suss out how that happened so fast.”

Buffy shrugged. “We're involved. Weirdness must follow.”

Her casual attitude caused him to raise an eyebrow. “You know what's happening to us, don't you?”

She looked at her hands, her flippancy fading. “Yeah. I thought we'd have a few more years, at least. But it's already starting. ...I didn't realize it until we were filling out the marriage license, but you never actually told me your middle name. I just knew what initials to have engraved on the pen. The information was already in my head. …And then there's the apple juice thing. Tell me what you know.”

“You used to drink apple juice from a rocks glass at your parents' parties when you were little. Thought it made you look like a grown up.” He shrugged. “What of it?”

“Spike, I didn't tell you that story. I've never told anyone that, and I doubt Mom told you. But when we were at Willy's on Christmas Eve, you made a joke about it. And then yesterday morning...”

“You felt me waking up, didn't you?” She nodded. “And I could've sworn I heard you say something to me, but you never opened your mouth.”

A blue flash drew their eyes away from each other. “Do you two geniuses really think it just started manifesting in the last few weeks?”

Buffy's brow furrowed, and she started to stand up, but Spike held a hand in front of her. “It's alright, love. Think we might want him around this time.”

Whistler smiled. “This is great. I like this. You're the second person today to be happy to see me. You guys are starting to like me, aren't you?”

Buffy raised her hand. “I still hate you.”

“Well, two out of three ain't bad.” He jerked a thumb at Eddie. “What's with the hostage?”

“He's a...” Buffy wrinkled her nose. “He's kind of a conversation starter.”

“What? Like an art piece?” Whistler took an empty chair from the table and put it near the bed. He straddled it, facing the couple. “You guys are a little weird. You know that, right?”

“Nibblet tells us that all the time.”

“Man, if she knew half the story... So anyway, no, it didn't start manifesting Christmas Eve. That was just the first time it was obvious enough for you two thick heads to make note of it. It started manifesting as soon as you came back in time. Thank your other witch for that.”

“Willow screwed up a spell? Gee, I never could have seen it coming.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “What did she do to us?”

“She used a binding spell around your auras and -by extension- your bond, so she only actually had to move one of you through time, and the other would be dragged along without her having to worry about keeping you together.”

“Me,” Spike whispered. “She must've focused it on me. That's why you were late arriving on the last bounce, love. You landed--”

“A few steps behind. As usual.”

“And that binding spell sped up the maturity of your bond, big time. I came to see you when you'd been settled into this time for what? A day? And it was already manifesting.” He noted the confusion on Buffy's face. “You don't actually think it's normal that you two have entire conversations that aren't much more than eye contact and a nod, do you?”

Buffy looked uncomfortable. “We just know each other really well...”

“You mean you can get a feel for what each other is thinking when you focus on each other. Face it, kiddo, you two have the whole telepathic bond thing, prepped and ready. It's just waiting on you to open the door.”

“I'm not ready for this,” she whispered.

There was a bright blue flash, and Buffy found herself in a small, cluttered bedroom, sitting on the edge of a very different bed. She looked around. “I know this place.”

Whistler sat on the overstuffed recliner near the bed. “You ought to. You two had a pretty big moment in this ugly little room.”

“The abandoned bungalow on Hillcrest.” She frowned. “Where's Spike?”

“Still in your bunker, and doesn't even know you're gone. Same with the hostage. But this place isn't abandoned, kid.” He jerked a thumb toward the hallway beyond the bedroom door. “The owner's watching TV in the living room.”

“And why exactly are we in his house?”

“To talk.” Whistler leaned forward in the recliner. “You said you're not ready for the claim.”

“I'm not. Whistler, it's been less than a year since I visited the Shadow Men, since I found out exactly what it is...”

“What? That you're part demon? Pfft! You suspected it for years before that. It's the only explanation that makes sense. What else explains a slayer's power? A slayer's senses?” He gestured to the bed behind her. “Snuggling up with the undead for comfort when your world is crashing down around you?”

“'Drawn to the dark,'” Buffy quoted with a shake of her head. “I hate it when he's right.”

“Tough cookies, Summers. That's your life, and you've known it for a while now. As for not being ready, I call bullshit. On both of you. Your vampire is sneaking around, trying to support your idiotic hesitation by talking to your witch about suppressant spells to buy you some time, but that just makes you both fools, wasting time and energy putting off the inevitable.”

She nodded slowly, rising to her feet. “Yeah. Sure. Inevitable. And I'm supposed to believe it's necessary?” Her fists clenched at her side.

The demon stood up to face her. “Come on. Just hit me and get it out of your system. You've been wanting to do it since we met. May as well stop waiting on this, too.” He dodged the first punch, barely. “Hell, why not take him as your mate? You've already married the man once! Make it count this time.” He ducked again, and glanced behind him, making sure he wasn't about to fall over the recliner.

Buffy jumped at the opportunity. Whistler hit the floor before he'd even turned around, “No.” she looked down at him. “I'm not going to be the one to kill him. There's got to be another way.”

Whistler vanished, leaving Buffy standing alone in a stranger's bedroom. She started to walk out of the room, but found the doorway blocked by an invisible barrier. “You've made your point,” she whispered. “You're in charge... for the moment. Now let me go back to him.”

There was another flash, and Whistler was again sitting in the recliner, wearing no evidence of their altercation. “It wasn't my doing. It wasn't the bosses, either,” he said quietly. “Some demon couples are just good matches. The bosses want to make use of it in your case. That's all there is to it.”

“The timing's fishy as hell, Whistler. Willow and Giles -the two people who would freak out the most- are barely gone. We've been married less than two weeks. I'm not buying that this is a coincidence.”

“Well...” Whistler hesitated. “I may as well come clean on that. I put an emergency telepathic block on you at Christmas, trying to buy you just a little extra time. You'd just decided to get married, and I was hoping for a rapid leap to round two. So much for that daydream. Instead of letting the human marriage lead to something, you used it as an opportunity to declare you still won't talk about the claim.A few of the more obvious exchanges made it through before I put the block in. I guess I wasn't fast enough. I got lucky, though. You two talk to each other so much, you didn't immediately notice the information wasn't passed verbally, and just assumed you'd forgotten mentioning it.”

“Like the apple juice thing. And that he was christened William Henry.” Buffy sighed and returned to her seat on the edge of the bed. “I've known this was coming for a while now. He's probably known it a lot longer. Spike's always a little ahead of me on the relationship stuff.”

“Then do something about it, already.”

“No. Just because I've got enough demon in me for it to choose a mate doesn't make taking that mate a good idea. If you haven't noticed what I do for a living...”

“Save the world? With your lieutenant?”

“I die. A lot. Whistler, I could deal with becoming an immortal. I think I could adjust to that, eventually. But I need another method. A claim puts Spike in too much jeopardy.”

Whistler choked back a laugh. “Pratt's going to fight beside you, no matter what. Even if he didn't, you and I both know living a safe life isn't his style. Even by vampire standards, that one courts danger on a professional level. You have that in common. Summers, you're a vampire slayer. You know better than most that even immortals have to kick it eventually.”

“I refuse to be the cause for Spike,” she whispered. “I've read some stuff. I know demon mates have some advantages, but the 'the death of one is the death of the other' clause is a major drawback.”

“Take the risk, Summers. This is the path you're on. You just have to come out of your denial and walk the damn thing. So you don't have the time you thought you had to get settled into the idea, since this stuff usually takes a lot more years to get to a critical point.” He shrugged. “It is what it is. Rosenberg yanked your time cushion by sending you back. Ironic, huh?”

Buffy exhaled a long breath with a shake of her head. “Freakin' Willow. Again.

“Yeah, but only the timing is her fault. You were going to have to make this decision eventually.”

“I was hoping we could at least get through May of 2003 before I had to deal with this. Hell, May of this year might be good enough. If I knew for certain I wouldn't have to jump, wouldn't have to worry that I'd either kill him or...” She fell back on the bed and addressed the ceiling. “I know he blamed himself for it. I think he still does, still thinks it was his fault I jumped. But it was my fault, really. I should have gotten to the platform soon enough to help him with Doc. I was too late.”

“Newsflash, Summers: Shit happens. That's just the way it went down. You aren't responsible for it coming down to a choice between you and your sister, and neither is Pratt. As much as he might think you're Slayer Number Three on his body count sheet, you aren't. And as much as you might think that was a suicide jump, it wasn't. You both played it out as best you could, and that's how the cards fell.”

“Luck. Not fate,” she whispered, sitting back up to face him. “But it was when I came back that things changed between us. Was that luck, too? I'm still not buying it.”

“You were a little more in touch with the inner demon when you came back,” he said. “A little more aware of it. That's all.”

“My inner demon should not have chosen a mate, Whistler. Ever. I'm a slayer. Born to die young.”

“That crazy old English witch you brought out here? She was right about you. You haven't been a true slayer since before you even met your chosen mate. Your record may be pretty awful, but past isn't prologue for everything, kid. Things can change. Luck can change.”

“Yeah. It can get worse. And here I was hoping that wasn't possible.”

Whistler stood up and pulled her to her feet, putting them face to face. “I know you think of me as the messenger of doom, but you need to listen to me, for once: That vampire is desperate to offer you immortality, and he'll ask the second you even hint you might say yes. The bosses aren't going to stand in your way. But they aren't going to offer you an alternative, either. Either you take him up on the offer he wants to make, or you're a short term asset, who gets the award for shooting herself in the foot.”

“For choosing not to risk dusting Spike with my bad luck?”

“For choosing to spend your life doped up on suppressant potions instead of letting your instincts lead you to greater strength, and a chance at some serious longevity. What was it you said to the watcher? That Pratt kept you alive when you were facing the First Evil? Let him stay on that job for another century or two. See how it shakes out.”

“Stupid demons,” she grumbled. “A slayer and a vampire, choosing each other? It's a disaster story.”

“No, genius. It's a natural fit. You've been listening to Watcher's Council garbage too long.”

She shook her head. “I should have shooed him out of town years ago. He'd have been safer that way.”

“You can keep talking yourself in circles of denial and regret if you want to, but it's not going to go away. Have the conversation, Summers. Make a decision.”

“My name isn't Summers,” she whispered. “Not for long, anyway.”

“Yeah, well, maybe that means something.” Whistler studied her profile. “You two have gone through a lot of crap, together and apart. And time after time, you chose each other over other options. Other people. Other priorities. Give in to the recurring theme.”

“I'll think about it.” She sighed. “How much time do we have?”

“Ah, the eternal question...”

“I'm not in a joking mood, in case you haven't noticed.”

“Before it becomes a problem? Not much. Days, a couple of weeks at the outside. When I said I put in an emergency block, I meant 'emergency' in a very real sense. Rosenberg's magical shortcut really did a number on you two, and it's catching up, big time. The clock's ticking.” Whistler smirked. “Well, not this very second. I hit the pause button in here and your bunker as soon as you started on that 'not ready' bullshit. Stopped time. The only question I have for you now is, how much do you want him to know about this little chat?”

Buffy was silent for a moment. “All of it. Give him all of it.”

“And the hostage?”

“Yeah, sure. Whatever.”

A blue flash returned them to the bunker, standing between Spike and Eddie. They were both perfectly still. Another blue flash came, and Whistler was no longer standing with her. The vampires began to move. Buffy bit her lip, watching as Spike stood up, shaking his head. He looked at her for a long time, working through the memory he'd just been given, and hoping she'd speak. When it became obvious she was waiting on him, he broke the ice with “You could have let me have the first punch.”

“Sorry. I've known him longer. I called dibs years ahead of you.”

“So we're having this conversation, now? Finally?”

“The impossible conversation,” Buffy muttered. “Did you know the Council thinks the connections, the bond, the instincts -all of it, really- is total bull? Their literature says mating is just a long term relationship between demons, with that one dangerous little string attached.” She halfheartedly pumped a fist in the air. “Way to go, Council.”

“Could be less dangerous than you seem convinced it is. The upside of being bound straight through to the dusting is that it could be a long ways down the road.” He shifted his weight. “So your hope for another way to stay with me for the long haul...”

“Denied. Apparently, my only ticket to immortality comes with the caveat that staking you is suicide.” She gave him a playful shrug. “I guess that's one way to tone down our fights.”

Spike raised an eyebrow at her attitude. “Always when you're stressed,” he mumbled. “You either get sassy or silent. Haven't ever seen you find a middle ground.”

Her smile faded. “I'm trying not to freak out, you know. I'm trying to act like it's totally ok that I thought I had at least a few years to consider this, to see how things play out, and it turns out, it's a few days.” She took a long, slow breath, then straightened her shoulders, adopting the stern expression he knew as General Buffy. “Ok,” she said, her level voice masking any sign of emotion. “Let's talk this through. How does this play out over the next week or two?”

He followed her lead, matching her straight shoulders and crossed arm pose. “Say we do nothing: We could be driven to do it. It's animal level stuff we're talking about, love. Instincts.”

She shook her head. “The Guardian said I'd get to choose. This doesn't sound like a choice.”

“Three options: You say no, and we get Glinda to suppress the telepathy and mute the instincts, and plan to keep renewing it, likely every few months. You say yes, and let the chips fall where they may. Or we can put a hell of a lot of distance between ourselves and hope we don't eventually go mad.”

“I'm going to make a judgment call right now and take Plan C off the table.”

“Got my vote.”

“Tell me about the suppressant.”

“A good witch, like we got, can do it, easy enough. Risk is in if it's not strong enough. It wears off too fast, instincts take over, and we do it, anyway. Go overboard at the outset, trying to cover for that risk, Glinda could block more than she means to.”

“The basis of the bond. Fabulous. Ok, so Plan A is iffy.”

“You could accept me, love. Then it's you and me, looking at a few centuries or so of fighting, shagging, and talking, but with every awareness of each other heightened. I get hurt, you'll know it. You get a craving for drunken noodle, I'll know it. Wanna talk privately in a room full of people or from the other side of the world? All it takes is a little focus.”

“Unless I continue my lovely little habit of kicking the bucket. In which case, I take you with me.”

“You know I'm up for that risk. Have been for years.”

“Obviously. That's why you're still running around with the death prone slayer. That doesn't make it smart.” She shook her head at him. “I'm well aware that you and caution are loose acquaintances, at best, Spike. I was avoiding the conversation in part because I already knew there was no way I could talk you into seeing this my way, into agreeing that it's a stupid risk to take.” She looked him in the eye. “Plan B isn't perfect, either, no matter how cute that hopeful expression on your face is.”

“You gonna let me at least ask this time, make a proper proposal?”

“It might be better for you if you don't.”

“So that's a 'no,' then.” The hopeful expression was rapidly fading.

“I'd like to be asked, actually. I think I'd love it. But I haven't decided yet, and I might end up saying no. I'd... I want some time to think about it.” She gave him a demure smile. “Will you ask me later?”

“So you do want me to ask you?” Spike narrowed his gaze at her. “What the bleedin' hell goes on in that head of yours?” He paced the floor. “Half of what you say makes no sense at all, and the other half only a little. You treated getting married like it fell somewhere between a chore and a joke, and two weeks down the line, you decide you want ritual and tradition, and time to think about it?”

“Tell me how getting married changed things between us?”

He didn't have an answer.

“That's what I thought. This would actually change stuff. Big stuff. Big, permanent stuff.” She stepped closer to him. “And there are other factors at play here, Spike. This obviously isn't the end game with Whistler. If it was, he wouldn't have put a temporary block on us. Hell, he wouldn't have talked to me about it at all, just let the stupid instincts decide for us sometime in the next week or two. Althenea's right: He's looking at the long term with us. This is just a step on the road for him. Do we really want to help that little weasel?”

“We can take this step without signing on to be his dancing monkeys. We do this or not, it should be about us, not the bloody Powers and their Earthly Minion wish list.”

“And what if I still have to jump?” She fought to keep her emotions in check. “It's dangerous. I'm dangerous. To you. And I'm still not ready for you not to be here, even if I'm gone.”

“Buffy--”

“I don't know if I can go into this, putting you at that kind of risk. I'd rather make you a widower than a dust bunny.”

“I'm voting for neither.”

“Admit it, Sparky: I'm right about this. We both know you're a hell of a lot safer if you never ask the question, if we stay doped up on suppressants and never discuss this again.”

“So no, then. You don't really want to be asked. You've already decided to reject me.” He tensed his jaw. “So what was all that rigamarole 'bout not deciding yet?”

“What I want and what I need are two different things. I need to know you'll be here. No matter what happens, you have to survive me, Spike. That's how it works.”

“This about me or the mission, love?” Spike asked quietly.

“Both.”

The long silence that followed was broken when Eddie managed to knock over his chair. Buffy lifted it to set it upright. “Sorry, Eddie. I should have staked you an hour ago.”

“Mmm! Mmm!”

She took off the gag. “Again, please?”

“Please, let me go! I don't wanna be anywhere near an immortal slayer!” Eddie looked up at Spike, his eyes wide. “Oh, god. Could you walk in the day?”

Spike shrugged. “Suppose it's possible. Wouldn't count on it, though.”

“Huh. I hadn't thought of that,” Buffy murmured as she untied the knots of rope.

Eddie shook off his loosened restraints. “Thank you! Thank you! I promise, I'll get out of this town. You'll never see me again.”

She laughed. “I've heard that before.”

“I thought I meant it at the time, love.”

“No, really! I mean it! I'll never tell anyone I even visited the Hellmouth.” Eddie was on his feet, his hands raised in surrender.

Buffy dropped into his vacated chair. “Now I don't even want to stake you. You're kind of helpless. It wouldn't be right.”

“Heard that before,” Spike murmured. “Ends about as well as me staying gone.”

“Hey! We took care of you... sort of.”

“Sort of. And then you found new ways to torture me. Do yourself a favor, Fledge. Get gone before you look into her eyes one too many times.”

Buffy reached out to grab Eddie's narrow wrist before he could take the advice to run. “Hang on a second. Where are you going?”

“Out of town. Away. Far, far away.”

She studied at him for a moment, an idea dawning. “If I let you leave here, you can stay in town, safe from us. But there are two conditions. One: Humans are off the menu. Butcher's blood. Period. Non-negotiable. Two: You'll be around to take care of odd jobs in the demon world for us from time to time.” She gestured to Spike. “You can talk to the people he can't.”

Eddie seemed to be thinking about this. “But I like warm blood,” he whined.

“The mighty hunter.” Spike rolled his eyes. “He's never gonna behave, love. He may be a sad excuse for a vampire, but he still is one.”

“That's what they said about you after the chip.” Buffy looked at the young vampire again. “Doesn't he remind you of someone?”

“Andrew, a little.”

“Yeah. I think it's in the whine.” She addressed Eddie. “There's a microwave and a refrigerator, right over there. There's sewer access over there. You can come by to use them.”

He looked around with hungry eyes. “Can I stay here, too?”

Buffy looked to Spike for approval of the idea, but his focus was on Eddie. He seemed to be looking over the fledgling for the first time. “How old were you when you died, Fledge?”

“Fifteen.”

“Just a kid, then. And living on the streets, were you?”

“How'd you know?”

“You got the look of a bloke hasn't known a home for a while.” Spike waved a hand. “Alright, then. But if you're going to nest down here, there are ground rules.”

“Like what?”

Spike pointed to the only bed that wasn't simply a mattress on the floor. “That's ours. I get even a whiff of you on that bed...”

“I gotcha.”

“And you take damned good care of this place. Bedding doesn't get mildewed. Food and blood don't sit around rotting. We need it to stay ready to house a group of humans in a pinch.”

“I can keep it clean.”

“One other thing: Me and the missus might like the place to ourselves once in a while. Some nights, you might have to settle someplace else.”

Eddie fought back a smirk. “I understand. No human blood. Clean... whatever this place is...”

“We call it the bunker, these days.”

“So no human blood, clean bunker, I sleep over there.” He pointed to the mattresses on the floor. “And I come and go when you need me to. Is that it?” His eyes started roving around the room again, taking in the size of the space, the bookcases full of supplies, the television, microwave, and refrigerator, the easy sewer access. “I'll do it.”

Buffy slowly released his wrist. “Ok. But the first body that can be associated with you will be the last. Are we very, very clear on that point?”

“Oh, yeah.” Eddie waved a hand casually as he moved to the kitchen area. “That's fine. As long as it's warm, I'm happy. Is this microwave new?”

Spike raised an eyebrow. “Minion sire of a minion sire,” he mumbled.

“He's what?” Buffy wrinkled her nose.

“It's not just the body that's weak. It's the demon. Barely had enough blood to turn him, from a vamp who'd had the same. And there's something else... You notice anything about his signature?”

“Nothing special. Why?”

“Probably 'cause I'm here.” Spike headed for the sewers. “Answer again in a minute.” He walked out of the bunker, leaving Buffy studying the young vampire left behind.

She watched Eddie walk around the room, inspecting the makeshift kitchen, pushing against the plastic on the bookcases to touch the items inside, bending low to push his hands against the mattresses, testing their softness. She focused her senses, feeling Spike's distinctive signature growing distant, moving toward the edge of her range, leaving Eddie's the only one near her. Her eyes grew wide with realization. “Eddie, when exactly were you turned?”

“March of '98. In Ventura.” He sat down on the mattress nearest the corner, looking pleased with his choice. “That's where I'm from.”

“But your sire was from Sunnydale. That's the only way...”

“Really? Cool! How do you know?”

“Because you're descended from a clan whose only presence in the entire western US at that time was at the Hellmouth.”

“Hey! That's a pretty cool trick. Do you know my sire's name, too?”

“I was hoping you did.”

Eddie shook his head. “I just know she was kinda pretty.”

Spike reentered the bunker. “You sense it, love?”

“He seems like he's related, but that's definitely not a true Aurelian signature.”

“No, too weak for that. I couldn't even feel the connection 'til I focused on him. Suspect he was turned by an Aurelian's minion.”

“He doesn't know who his sire was, Spike. He only knows it was a woman, who made it down to Ventura in March of 1998. Which of the three of you had female minions back then?”

Spike returned to his seat on the edge of the bed. “We all did, but Dru is out of the running. Only women she turned here, you and Kendra took care of.” He looked across the room to Eddie, who was lounging comfortably on his chosen mattress. “The kid is either from Peaches' minion line... or mine.”

“Fifty-fifty shot.”

He turned to find her also staring at the fledgling, but with her mouth set in a hard line. “Love, there were a lot of minion sires over the decades. This may not be the last time we run across the results. You gonna be able to make your peace with that?”

Buffy sighed. “It's not that. I don't expect 120 years of murder and mayhem to disappear into the ether.” She sat on the edge of the bed beside him. “But I just realized... We'll have to take care of him. Blood money, money for other stuff, checking in on him to make sure he behaves, playing his moral compass because his is all screwed up... I don't know if I can do it again. No offense, but you were exhausting.”

“Kinda hoping he won't wear you down the same way, Mrs. Pratt.”

“I'm being serious, William.”

“You want serious? How's this: That kid over there may not know his own history, but someone, sometime, told him some of mine. He respects me. Understands his place in the hierarchy. He also already knows I'm married to the slayer, and might eventually be her mate. He's not just looking at us as benefactors, Buffy. He's looking at us as leaders. His leaders. Last time you came here, you talked about me not taking advantage of being the master in town anymore. Well now I am, love, and you're in it with me. The current master of Sunnyhell's got a minion. And so does the mistress.”

She fell back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. “I couldn't have hooked up with nice, normal, human guy?”

Spike scoffed. “You tried that. And you were bored to tears.”





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