Chapter 23: Friendly Detachment
“What do you know, Precious? What can I dig out of you?”
Spike's roar of pain brought Buffy awake and gasping. She reached across the bed, finding it empty. She dressed in record time, grabbed the first weapon she thought of, and sprinted up the stairs in panic. She flung open the back door and took off running, with images still flashing through her mind.
She nearly ran into Spike in the alley between the back yards. He held out a hand to stop her before she made him drop the bag he carried. “What is it? Is it Dawn?”
“You,” she gasped. “You're ok. I was sure... I felt... Pain... Glory...”
Spike eased the scythe out of her hand. “Can it keep 'til we get to the back porch?”
She nodded, still trying to catch her breath. “Just... just stay close.”
He shifted the scythe and bag to one arm, and put the other around her as he walked her home.
Most of the newly purchased pig's blood went into the refrigerator. The rest went into a mug. While it was in the microwave, Spike poured a glass of milk for Buffy. By the time he brought the mug and glass out to the porch steps, she was breathing normally again. She related the dream. “...It was so real. I heard you scream, and when I woke up, I was sure she had you again.”
“That wasn't a dream, love.”
“I know. It was a memory. Yours.”
“Not one of the more pleasant ones.”
“I felt it. And I kept seeing and feeling more of it after I woke up. Your escape plan was to get yourself literally kicked out? That's crazy.”
“Eh, it worked.” Spike looked up at the sky. “No wonder I was feeling peckish. It's nearly morning. You know what day this is, don't you?”
“The day that shall not be named,” she said in a warning tone. “Just mentioning is like an engraved invitation to badness.”
“It's also the day Glinda suppresses our connection.”
“I think I'm going to miss it. Not the torture flashbacks. That part sucks. But the little glimpses of insight, knowing what you're feeling or thinking once in a while... It's nice.”
He looked at her. “And the idea of being able to know all the time, and having some control over the memory exchanges besides, isn't enough to change your mind?”
“Not right now.” Buffy looked up at the softly lightening sky. “I'm sorry, William.”
Spike looked back up, too. “The last night before things change,” he whispered. “Reminds me a bit of the other 'last night.' The night before we left.”
“We argued over putting photos in your coat pocket, were asleep long before the sun came up, and you were the one who woke up from a nightmare. I fail to see the similarities.”
“Not what we did, love. The tension in the belly. The unsaid words. The sinking feeling of putting all we have into a witch's hands, and hoping for the best. ...Telling ourselves it's all about the mission, all about the greater good, that putting ourselves last is the right thing to do.”
“It was. And it is. The mission is what matters.”
“I know.” He gave her shoulder a playful nudge with his own, trying to break the tension. “You might not believe it, General, but I know a bit about these things. Got some history with slayers.”
She smiled. “I think someone might have mentioned that, once or twice.”
“Even talked one of 'em into marrying me.”
“How the hell did you manage that, Lieutenant?”
“A few hard years of fighting, shagging, magic, and waiting.”
“You really are a glutton for punishment.”
Tara poured the potion into two glasses and set them inside the circle. Slowly, she stood up from the basement floor. “Are you absolutely sure you want me to do this?”
“And you're sure about the potency?”
“Then we're ready. I'm going give you guys a few minutes alone before I begin.” She went upstairs.
Buffy watched her go. “Why'd she leave?”
“Wants to give me one last chance to talk you out of it, I'm guessing.” Spike sat in one of the club chairs. “Must think I'm more persuasive than I am.”
“Oh, you're pretty persuasive, Sparky. How do you think we got into this mess?”
“We got into this because I don't know when to walk away, won't let things go.”
Buffy crouched on the floor in front of him and took his hand. “That's one of the reasons I love you. You're just as pig-headed as I am. We're a hell of a match.”
“Who's getting sweet at bad moments, now?” he asked with a smirk. He used their joined hands to pull them both to their feet. “And I love you, too. ...Even if you are the most stubborn, infuriating person I've ever known.”
“I needed to say it again.” She looked into his eyes. “I may not feel like saying it for a while.”
“Might be mutual.”
“Should we tell her to ease off the potency?”
“Only if you're willing to risk uncontrolled memory flashes in the heat of battle if it doesn't take... and maybe not having a choice about when and where we go to Plan B.”
“I know. It's take control or hit the stop button. No middle ground.”
“Never seems to be, for us. ...Buffy, I gotta ask, if only because I haven't... Is there any way around this for you? Any way you'll accept me as your mate now?”
“There's only one way,” she whispered. “If you can look me in the eye and tell me, with one hundred percent certainty, that I won't make you a dust bunny in May.”
“I'm not gonna let you jump. You know that.”
“You say it, and I know you believe it, but that doesn't make it impossible. Things could go pretty much like they did the first time, and the portal still opens, with you too hurt to do much of anything. And that's not the only way I could die. I could fall. I could take one too many Hellgod punches to the head. Glory could grab my scythe from me. Anything could go wrong, and then it's game over. ”
“The power a claim would give us, drawing on each other's strengths, might be just the thing that makes the difference.”
“And if it's not enough? I need you here. Alive... ish. Not just for me, or for us. But for Dawnie. And the rest of the world. Remember why I wanted back up on the time travel expedition in the first place? You are my ultimate Plan B, Spike. If everything else goes wrong, you're the final backstop, the one thing I can count on.”
“Love, you're not gonna make me a widower.”
“But if I do, I die knowing you're still on the job. If we don't do this--” She pointed to the glasses Tara had left on the floor. “I lose that. I lose the right to say I did everything I could to save the world. I need you to have my back, Lieutenant. Just like always. Even if I'm dead.”
He kissed her slowly, gently, putting every bit of feeling he could into it. When he pulled away, he trudged upstairs and into the kitchen. “Glinda, it's time.”
Tara sighed. “I was hoping...”
“Me, too. Come on. The general is waiting.”
Dawn slowly backed away from the front door and closed it.
Joyce came into the hall. “Who was that?”
“Vampire,” Dawn answered. “A vampire just came to our door and asked if the slayer was home.”
“That's certainly unusual.”
“Oh, it gets better. He told me he was a vampire, and not to invite him in. Then he said to tell Buffy and Spike to bring weapons, and that he'd be waiting on the porch.”
“Do vampires experience suicidal thoughts?” Joyce mused.
Dawn pointed to the door. “This one apparently does.”
“I think I'd better wake them.”
“What's with them today, anyway? They were asleep when I came home from school. They each came up to raid the fridge at different times, and went right back to bed. Are they going into hibernation or something?” Dawn followed her mother down the hall. “Maybe this is her way of avoiding her birthday, and Captain Nocturnal is just along for the day-sleeping ride. But it's been dark for two hours. At least he should awake by now.”
“I heard the back door just before sunrise. They must have had a difficult patrol. I'm sure they'll be fine tomorrow.” Joyce headed down the stairs. She turned on the lamp on Spike's nightstand. He winced at the light so close to his face, then settled back to sleep. Buffy didn't flinch. Joyce watched them for a moment. They were dressed and curled up together on top of the quilt, as if they had been too tired to even turn down the bedding. She felt guilty for waking them, but also felt obligated. “Spike,” she whispered. “Spike, wake up.”
“Joyce?” he mumbled, not opening his eyes. “Nibblet ok?”
“Dawn is fine. But I need you and Buffy to wake up. There's a vampire on the porch, asking to see you both.”
“Hmm. Probably Eddie.” Spike's eyes popped open. He shook Buffy's shoulder. “Buffy! Wake up! Eddie's here.”
She rolled onto her back. “Ugh. I'm in no shape for a fight.” She opened one eye to look at him. “And neither are you. Can we wale on those cult freaks in the morning?”
“One of us can.”
She rolled back onto her side. “That's fine. So long as I don't have to do it tonight. I'd probably get killed anyway. Today's my you know what.” She felt him get out of the bed behind her, but was already dozing off again.
Spike reached for his boots, but had a second thought. He led Joyce back upstairs barefoot, not even bothering to run a hand through his sleep tousled curls or straighten his half-tucked in t-shirt. He opened the front door. “Fledge.”
“Spike, hey. You look kind of rough. Are you ok?”
He glanced over his shoulder at Joyce and Dawn, hovering nearby. “Our witch took care of things today,” he whispered. “Left us exhausted as a side effect.”
“Oh. That sucks, 'cause those knights you wanted me to watch for have shown up. They've made camp outside of town. They don't seem to be doing much yet, just settling in. They're really like the knights in old stories, though. Horses and chain mail and everything!”
“Yeah, yeah. I know.” Spike reached for his coat, hanging beside the door, and fished some cash out of the left interior pocket. “Hire a couple of demons to keep an eye on them during the day, and give you an update at sundown. Come back tomorrow night, show us to the place then. Alright?”
“Ok. I got it.” Eddie took the money and started down the porch steps. “See you tomorrow!”
Spike closed the door and headed back toward the basement stairs.
“Who was that?” Dawn asked as he passed her.
“Just our minion.”
“Our minion? Spike, you didn't... You couldn't...”
“Indirectly. The kid might've been turned by a minion I made a few years back. Not sure. He's answering to us now, at any rate.”
Dawn followed him down the stairs. “Ok, the history is almost understandable. But how is he answering to Buffy? Is it because she's the slayer?”
Spike went around to Buffy's side of the bed and lifted her sleeping body enough to work the quilt out from under her and drape it over her. “It's because she's my wife,” he whispered.
Dawn watched him walk back around the bed and crawl under the quilt with Buffy, curling up behind her with an arm wrapped protectively around her outside of the quilt, looking very much like a normal human couple, not an infamous killer guarding a superhero while she slept. “You know, sometimes, I think I get you guys. Being in love is the great equalizer, isn't it? It makes you just like everyone else.”
The only response to this teenaged epiphany was a faint “Guess so,” from Spike, who was already drifting back to sleep.
“Goodnight, Mr. and Mrs. Pratt,” Dawn whispered. She turned off the bedside lamp before she went back upstairs, closing the door behind her.
Spike opened one eye. There was a woman sitting on the bed beside him, watching him. “Yes?”
“Are we at least still friends?” she whispered.
“I bloody well hope so.” He opened the other eye, and looked up into hers. “Not feeling much for me this morning, eh?”
She shook her head.
Spike closed his eyes again. “Guess we're back to where we were, then. Don't think the potion did quite as much to me. Still a few steps ahead of you.”
“So... the option of chaining me up with Dru to get through to me is back on the table?”
“You know, Slayer, if you want me to chain you up, all you have to do is ask.”
“Spike!” she rebuked with a smile. The smile quickly faded. “It might be a while, you know, before I feel like... But if I try to start things up for the wrong reasons, I need to know you'll turn me down. We do not need to go down that road again.”
“Never have gotten good at saying no to you.”
“Promise me you'll try. Really try.”
Spike shrugged. “Eh, I guess I could go elsewhere. Mae or Lydia might go for it. I know Trixie would.”
“I'm going to have to stake you before this is over, aren't I?”
“I promise to try. Now get back under the covers and have another nap with me.”
“Buffy! Your minion is back,” Dawn called from the hall.
Buffy turned off the television and ran to the top of the basement stairs. “Spike! It's time to take the twins out for a test drive.”
He came up the stairs a minute later, and handed her one of the scythes. “You sure 'bout these, love? Remember, those wankers are human.”
“Sides of the blades. Blunt force. Give them a few cartoon birdies around their heads. I mostly just want them to understand who they're messing with.”
“And if there's an accident? One of 'em doesn't get up later?”
She used her scythe to point at Dawn. “She's worth it.”
When Eddie came home to the bunker, just before sunrise, he opened one of the large drawers below the bed and dumped a half dozen newly acquired swords into it. “I wish I could fight like that,” he said to himself. He pushed the drawer closed and went to the far corner of the room to fall into his own little bed, exhausted from his first battle at his master and mistress' sides.
“You think any of 'em are dead?” Spike asked, closing the latches on the oak case.
“There's a couple I'm not sure about.” Buffy kicked off her boots.
“How're you faring with that?”
“They want to kill Dawn. They're the enemy. It's that simple.”
“For your sake, I hope so.”
“It really is.”
Lydia met Dawn outside of her school at precisely 3:35pm. “Good afternoon, Dawn. Your sister asked me to see you to the university campus.”
Dawn shifted the book bag on her shoulder. “Ok, but I want to run home first, to change clothes before I start hauling boxes and stuff.”
The watcher shook her head. “I'm not to allow you to go home this afternoon for any reason.” She faltered under Dawn's suspicious gaze. “I'm, um, sorry, Dawn. I've been assured all will be explained, provided I follow directions.”
So you don't know what she's up to, either?” The narrowed eyes relaxed. “Welcome to the club. Alright, let's go to Tara's.”
“Who are you?” She sniffed at him. “A vampire with a soul? Eww!”
He didn't reply.
“And why do you smell like...?” She sniffed again, her eyes widening in realization. “Oh! Buffy likes to play footsies with the enemy, does she?” She turned to Buffy. “That's kind of kinky. I almost respect you for it.”
“Get out of my house,” Buffy growled through clenched teeth.
Glory turned back to Spike. “Did you know your little love toy took my Key, Vampire? And she won't give it back! I bet you know where she put it, don't you?”
“Leave him out of this. This is between us.”
She softened her tone, nearly pleading. “You can help me out, Vampire. Be a good demon. Rise above your weak, half-breed heritage. Tell me. What little secrets has she whispered between the sheets?”
Spike crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head.
“I could drag it out of you, you know,” she said, almost regretfully, turning her focus back to the picture frames on the mantle. Buffy's sharp intake of breath grabbed her attention. “Oh, we don't like that idea much, do we?” She leaned in close to Buffy's face. “I could make your undead snuggle bunny disappear on the wind so easily, you'd be jealous of the ability, Vampire Slayer.” She pointed the fireplace poker at Spike, and then at the photos. “I'll kill him. I'll kill your kid sister. I'll kill your mom. I'll kill your friends. ...And I'll make you watch when I do.”
Buffy stared at the intruder, her face a stony mask.
“Just give me the Key. You either have it or you know where to find it. Obviously, this is a one-time-only deal. The next time we meet, something you love dies bloody. Or slowly, if I choose your pet vampire.” She put down the poker. “It's time to accept reality, Buffy. You know you can't take me. You know you can't stop me.”
Spike and Buffy watched her leave the house in silence. When Spike finally spoke, it was with another shake of his head. “I think she's gonna kidnap me again. This time on purpose.”
Buffy marched out of the living room and down the basement stairs. After a moment's pause, he followed her. By the time she opened the case on top of the dresser, he was at the bottom of the staircase. She tossed one of the scythes into his hand. “I dare her to try.”
“So something did survive the suppressant.”
“Enough.” She brought the other scythe out of the case, and studied the blade at close range. “I'll show that bitch how to peel an apple.”
By the time Joyce drove from the gallery to Tara's dormitory, the sun had set. She parked the Jeep beside Xander's car in the building's guest lot, and was almost to the door, when she heard a metallic scraping sound. She jumped and turned to see a nearby manhole cover sliding open. Buffy climbed out of the hole, and reached both hands back inside. She was holding the scythes when she straightened. Spike climbed out of the hole behind her and kicked the cover back into place as one of the weapons was returned to him. They turned in Joyce's direction, marching purposefully.
“Shouldn't be hanging 'round at dusk alone, Mum,” Spike said as he stepped past her to open the door. He nodded for them to go through while he held it. “Never know what kind of monsters might come out of the sewers at night.”
The joke failed to earn a smile. “Something's wrong,” she said. “We were supposed to meet here to help Tara move, but you two look like you're ready to kill something.” She gestured to the scythes as they climbed the stairs. “Unless you plan to use those to cut packing tape?” Her eyes widened. “Oh, god. Where's Dawn?”
“Here. We had Lydia pick her up from school.”
Joyce sighed with relief. “Then what is it?” She looked at their faces as they approached Tara's open door. “What happened?”
The group packing up the dorm room turned at these words, their conversation coming to an abrupt halt. “Uh-oh,” Xander said when he saw the pair walking in with Joyce. “Those are some serious faces, with some serious weapons.”
Spike closed the door behind them. “Harris. Ladies. We need to talk.”
“Glory came to the house today,” Buffy began.
“Oh, my!” Lydia exclaimed. “You aren't hurt, are you?”
Buffy shook her head. “We're fine.”
“So that's why you had Lydia pick me up,” Dawn said. “You were afraid she'd come back later.”
“So what did she want?” Anya asked.
“Just to talk. She told me I'm a bug, I'm a flea. She could squash me in a second. She threatened all of us with horrible deaths. Only she didn't hurt anyone. She came into my home, and we had what in her warped brain probably passes for a civilized conversation. Why? Because I have what she wants. And she's just tipped her hand. If she thinks flat out asking for the Key is a viable play, she's getting desperate. Lydia, see what you can find out about how the Key would need to be used. I think Glory's on a deadline. We need to know when it is. Maybe we can wait her out. And see if you can get any more information on her weaknesses, anything we can use besides the Dagon's Spheres.” Buffy lifted her scythe. “And the twins, of course. Start with the swords of the Knights of Byzantium. I'd like to know if we can make use of what we already have.”
“You have their weapons?”
“Six of 'em,” Spike said. “Stored in a safe place. We'll bring you one to look over.”
Lydia adjusted her glasses. “I'll see what I can do. Of course, I'm dependent on the library Mr. Giles left for you until my own books arrive. They'll be shipped next week, with the rest of my belongings.”
“You've found an apartment already?” Joyce smiled at the watcher's nod. “That's wonderful, Lydia.”
“Anya has been extremely helpful. I've leased a flat in the building she and Xander call home, in part because she introduced me to the manager. She's also secured permission from Mr. Giles for me to take a part time position at the Magic Box, to simultaneously relieve the burdens on her shoulders and provide me with an acceptable reason to be there for hours on end, accessing the private collection.”
Dawn looked at Anya. “That's actually a really smart idea.”
“Well you don't have to look surprised,” Anya replied with a mild pout.
“I'm not,” Buffy said.
The pout turned into a vindicated grin. “Thank you, Buffy. I'm not surprised when you're smart, either.”
During the snickers that followed, Buffy made brief eye contact with Tara. Receiving a subtle nod, she said, “Tara, can you set us up with some form of protection for the house before we all head over there to move you in?”
“Well...” Tara pretended to be thinking about it. “I can put up wards to warn us of approaching demons. I'm not sure it will work on Glory, but it would certainly be effective against anyone she sends.”
“Like a barrier?” Joyce asked. “Like uninvited vampires encounter?”
Tara shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. A barrier spell would be a continual power drain on me, not something we can leaving standing. Home protection wards are more like alarm systems. You'll hear the sounds of ringing bells if a demon gets near the house.”
“What about Spike?” Dawn asked. “Is he going to set off the alarm every time he comes home?”
“Wards like this don't cover vampires,” Tara assured her. “They don't need to. The only way a vampire can enter is if he's invited by a resident.”
“And one of you Summers ladies just had to invite Spike in, didn't you?” Xander joked.
Buffy shrugged. “Hey, when someone offers to help you save the world, the least you can do is invite him inside to talk about it.”
Xander looked confused. “Uh, Buff? What are you talking about?”
“I was invited to the house three years ago,” Spike said from behind her.
“Angelus and his stone monster?”
“Um, yeah.” Buffy looked uncomfortable with the conversation she'd accidentally started.
“Who'd you think kept Dru and Peaches from killing Rupert?”
“Does he know that? 'Cause I sure didn't. And I'm the one who hauled him out of there.”
Buffy shook her head. “Until just now, we've never told anyone. Mom's the only one who knew we'd made that truce, the only witness.”
Lydia's eyes were on Spike's. “So your partnership is not a new arrangement?”
Buffy glanced over her shoulder, stealing Spike's gaze from the watcher. “Not exactly.”
“So do you still see a connection between our auras?” Buffy asked Tara as they walked toward the house.
“Of course. It's a part of you both. A permanent part. It's just not as bright and glowy now.”
“Are you sure it's still there?”
Tara patted her friend's shoulder. “You poor dear. Nothing feels quite right these days, does it?”
Buffy shook her head. “It's worse than that. It feels like it used to, like the bad old days of knowing he has some feelings for me, and not being able to reciprocate. I just feel sort of numb and hazy where Spike's concerned. ...Why didn't the suppressant effect us both the same way?”
“Because it's not an off switch, Buffy. That's the simplest way to describe it, but that's not the actual mechanics of how it works. It's more like shifting things into reverse, turning back the clock on the bond's development.”
“Emotional time travel?”
Tara chuckled. “I guess you could call it that. That's why, if a pair stays together, but doesn't want to mate, the suppressant ritual has to keep being repeated. The bond bounces back to its natural stage of development as the effects of the potion and spell fade. In your case, the development wasn't entirely natural, but the principle holds.”
“And our bond developed unevenly before... Spike's always been a few steps ahead of me. Now he's back to being the only one on the road at all.”
“Do you really think there's nothing left on your side?”
“Maybe a little, but it's like... It's like what I feel for you, or Xander, or Anya. I care about him, and feel protective of him, but mostly in a 'friends' sort of way. There's not much more than that.”
“Maybe that's a good thing.”
Buffy frowned. “How exactly is that good? And weren't you with Eddie in the pro-claiming camp?”
“I was. I am.” Tara waited for Buffy to let them into the house. She started pulling prepared bags of herbs out of her bag as soon as the door closed behind them. “But you guys were only sort of friends before you died, and barely friends when you first came back. This time around, you get to be friends first, and maybe even enjoy the journey for a little while. It could be good for you.”
“Dating. You're talking about dating.”
“I think we're a little past that, Dr. Ruth. Like three years and two wedding rings past that.”
“The rings, I'll grant you. But even those are in storage. And the rest? It never even happened, and now the bond between your auras looks like it didn't.”
“Until it bounces back. Also, wouldn't that be pretty awkward?”
“Give it a shot, Buffy. It could be fun.” Tara opened a spell book to a page she'd bookmarked the week before. “You know that die-hard romantic you married? He'd love getting to start all over with you, in a better way, and you know it.”