Chapter 30: New Foundations
“Buffy, you have to tell him. Before it happens.”
Buffy fell back on the bed that used to be her own. “I knew I shouldn't have told you.”
Tara turned away from the vanity to look at her. “You can't come to me for advice and then get all moody when it's not the answer you want to hear.” She turned back to the mirror. “Has anyone ever told you, you're kind of obnoxious when you're sleep deprived?”
“Worse words have been used.” Buffy frowned at the ceiling. “That's the other thing. I need sleep. Good, restful, Spike-cuddles sleep. The kind of sleep I've been pretty short on lately and that I definitely won't be getting after I get thrown out and have to crash at the bunker with Eddie. Which is what will happen if I tell him.”
“No, that's what's going to happen if you don't tell him,” Tara explained slowly, as if trying to convey the obvious to a child. “If you tell him -upfront- what's going to happen, he'll be ok with it. If you don't, and break your promise, I'll be mixing up another batch of sleepy juice and you'll be in divorce court.”
“My opinion stands. You're the worst Dr. Ruth ever.”
“I'm being serious Buffy. How many promises has he ever asked from you?”
“Besides the truce and the whole 'in sickness and in health' thing? Um... Not very many. Why?”
“Don't you think maybe he saves it for important stuff?”
“Technically, he didn't ask for this promise. I volunteered it.”
Tara threw up her hands. “That's even worse!”
“What's even worse?” Willow asked, coming into the bedroom.
“Buffy the Sleep Deprived Slayer apparently left her good sense in the washer with Mr. Pointy.”
“Hey!” Buffy said to the ceiling she was facing. “I said I was sorry about that. Like, five times.”
Tara shook her head sadly. “I really liked that sweater. You're just not good at domestic stuff, are you?”
“Some stuff. Just not cooking. ...Or putting my stakes away.”
“And maintaining a marriage?”
“I'll vouch for the stakes. Jury's still out on the marriage,” Spike said, coming to the doorway.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Buffy grumbled.
“And we'll talk about the cooking. ...Sun's setting. Should head out soon. You birds about ready?”
Willow ran a hand through her hair and looked at Tara, who was putting on her shoes. “I think so.”
Buffy sat up on the bed. “I need to run downstairs for a second before we go. Dawnie?”
“Just about to check on her.” He studied her tired eyes. “You gonna sleep tonight, love?”
Willow watched as Buffy and Spike left the room. One bound for the stairs, one for the closed door across the hall. She turned back to Tara to find a worried expression focused in the same direction. “What are you thinking, baby?”
“That they're both terrible actors,” Tara whispered. “They're trying so hard to act like this is any other day.” She glanced at the framed photo of her own mother on the wall. “It really isn't.”
The mourners began to drift away, walking in twos and threes across the darkened cemetery to their cars, after offering hugs to Joyce's daughters, and handshakes to the son in law most of them had never met. The Scoobies were the last to go.
Lydia gave Buffy a warmer hug than anyone had thought her capable of. “When you're ready to get back to work, let me know. I have some ideas for you. They'll keep for the moment.”
Xander wrapped her in a bear hug that put Lydia's unexpected warmth to shame. “Love you, Buffster. I'll swing by tomorrow.” He bit his lip before stepping away. “And don't tell anyone I did this.” Next to her, Xander pulled a surprised Spike into a friendly hug.
Anya whispered to Buffy as they embraced, “I don't really understand this part of the ritual, but if shopping this weekend will make you feel better, call me. Ok?”
Giles' handshake with Spike ended with Giles' left hand clapped over their joined right ones. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, pulling his hands free and stepping away with a nod. Next, he took Buffy in his arms. “I'll look in on you in a day or so, alright?”
He got the same reply as everyone else: a simple nod.
When the four residents of the Summers house and their house guest were the only ones left at the graveside, Buffy stole a glance at her wristwatch. She spoke for the first time since before the casket was lowered. “Tara,” she whispered. “Will you and Willow take Dawnie home, please?”
“Of course.” Tara put her hand to Dawn's back to lead her away.
Dawn resisted. “Wait. When are you guys coming home?”
Spike read the expression on Buffy's face, a strange mix of mourning and tension. “In a li'l while, Nibblet.”
She hesitated, still resisting Tara's nudging.
He gave her a stern look. “Dawn. Go. We'll be home later.”
After one more look at the patch of disturbed earth, Dawn turned away, to walk home in the dark between the witches. When they were out of sight, Spike turned to Buffy. “No one left 'round but us, love. You wanna tell me what it is you're waiting for?”
She pulled their wedding rings out of her coat pocket. “The second I give you the go-ahead, right?”
He looked at the smooth titanium bands in her palm. “Yeah... But why this second?”
She put her ring on and offered him his. “Because I never told you about this night. I should have, and I didn't. But I'm telling you now, before I break a promise.”
Spike cautiously slipped on his ring. “What promise?”
“The one I made about not coming home wearing a certain scent.”
It took him a moment to catch her meaning. “Angel's coming to see you.”
Buffy nodded. “Any minute. The first time, he found me here alone. I thought about sending you with Dawnie, and letting it play out the same, except things wouldn't be good when I came home.”
“No, they wouldn't,” he grumbled. He looked at the ring on his finger. “But this counts for something.”
“I hope so.” She sighed, her focus shifting back to the grave. “Mom would be thrilled.”
“I know. She wasn't too happy about the hiding.”
“You had that in common.”
“Some days, Buffy, there are enough crumbs to count as cake.”
“I'm just glad she never knew what we made Glinda do to us, that we made getting married...”
“ A farce. It's ok. You can say it. It's a marriage of convenience. For now, anyway.”
“Told you I knew you weren't ready. Accepted it.”
“But you still want...” Buffy turned back to the grave. “See? This is exactly why I wanted Whistler to be wrong. We needed her around to help make sense of things, to throw a little Mom wisdom into the conversation, to straighten us out. We needed to have the time to talk to her, tell her about ourselves, the real us, and get hugs from her we didn't deserve. We needed her to be there for Dawnie, to see her graduate, and find her calling, and make terrible dating decisions along the way.” She looked up, tears forming in her eyes. “Who's going to make hot cocoa and make our problems feel small and manageable? We know what it's like without her, Sparky. The whole house is colder. We need her.”
Spike wrapped his arms around her and held her close. “Guess this is where we come in, love. Keeping the house warm for Nibblet falls on us now. See her through school, stake her Halloween date, and watch her turn the bloody Council on its head when she joins.”
“You thought she was going that direction, too?”
“Was pretty obvious, I thought.” He kissed the top of her head. “I'll make the cocoa, and you'll make her problems manageable. Deal?”
She sighed against his chest. “How can I do that? I mean, I'm not even sure it's manageable, and I've already been through this.”
“Then we tell her that.”
“You've been listening to Tara's hint-dropping, haven't you?”
“We already know how much the Bit can handle, love. We've seen the junior watcher in action.”
She thought about this for a moment. “I guess you're right. And she probably deserves to know.”
“I once read another obituary,” came a voice from the shadows. “That had William Pratt listed under 'survived by.'”
Spike and Buffy pulled apart, and turned toward the voice.
“It was a newspaper clipping, faded and torn from being carried around for almost a decade.”
“So you read it before you burned it, then?” Spike asked bitterly. To Buffy, he explained, “Elise's.”
“13 March, 1874. Margaret Elise Pratt, aged seventeen years, of scarlet fever. Daughter of the late George William Pratt. Survived by her mother, the former Anne Hartley, and her elder brother...” Angel shook his head as he stepped into view. “I never thought I'd see another obit with you listed as a survivor, Spike.”
Buffy looked disgusted. “You burned Elise's obituary?”
“It was a different time. I thought I could get Dru's fledge to let go of his grip on his human life, to the human world.” Angel shrugged. “So much for that idea. Today, he's listed as a surviving son in law.”
“Yeah. Kinda happened when I married her daughter.”
Buffy looked at Spike out of the corner of her eye. “Wipe off the smug smirk, Spike. This is not the time.” She waved him away. “Go check on Eddie or something. You're just going to make this worse.”
“Hell no, Slayer. I'm staying for the whole show.”
Angel stepped closer, his fists tightly clenched. “What have you done to her, Spike?”
The smirk held. “You want the whole list? Could be here a while.”
“Guys, don't start. Can we at least be civil? For Mom?”
“Spike's never been one for thralls, Buffy. Most likely, he's gotten a witch's help to make this happen.”
Buffy made the mistake of making eye contact with Spike, and they both gave in to the urge to laugh. “Sorry, Angel. It's just that... there have been a couple of, um, magic incidents over the years. They've had a little influence. But it's ok.” She held up a hand. “Really, Angel, it's fine.”
“Buffy, do you understand what you've gotten yourself into? Spike doesn't have a--”
Spike stepped close to Angel, locking eyes with him. He waited a minute for the surprised look to dawn on his elder's face. “What were you saying, Peaches?”
“So that's what was different about you the last time I was in town. I knew something was off.”
“Getting a bit slow on the uptake, old man?”
Angel ignored the insult. A knowing smirk spread over his face. “So, not much of a married life, huh?”
“Fantastic, in point of fact. Told you, it's a long list.” Spike matched the smirk with his own. “And half of it was before. Some of us don't need it quite the same as others, you know.”
Buffy's voice was a warning. “Down, Sparky. There's no need to rub it in.”
“It's not a curse?” Angel asked. “Then how...?”
Spike finally broke eye contact, turning away with a shrug. “Find the right shaman, you can get whatever you want, if you survive what the bastard puts you through along the way.”
“You sought it out. On purpose?”
“He did,” Buffy said quietly, as Spike returned to her side. “The idiot went out there, put himself through hell, and came home a different vamp.”
“Came home,” Angel echoed.
He stared at Buffy, taking in her calm demeanor. She had shown no signs of taking up his concerns for her well-being, only laughed them off. She didn't look to him for protection, or even comfort. In fact, she looked very comfortable right where she was, with Spike beside her. They were a couple of feet apart, not touching at all, but seemed to be presenting themselves as a single unit, a united front.
Angel frowned when he noticed her necklace, expecting to see some source of mystical interference hanging around her neck. Instead, he recognized the ring Spike used to drive him crazy with at the factory, tapping it against the arm of his wheelchair to the wandering tunes of Drusilla's humming. It wasn't a mystical object. It was a personal one.
“Came home,” he said again. He relaxed his fists. “I guess those two words explain everything.”
Her volume was still low. “They do.”
“So this is real.”
She nodded again.
“Yes. Willingly married to-- Dammit, William! Would you please stop looking so smug?”
Angel looked back and forth between them, watching the exchange of almost playful glares. “Buffy... I don't know if you know this, and maybe you're too human for it to matter, but things can happen between two demons who...stay together for a long time... if they're um, well-matched... and...”
“Bloody hell, Peaches. The woman's not stupid. We're under a bonding suppressant spell right now.”
“Only mostly,” Buffy added. “It's starting to wear off.”
There was another long silence as Angel took in this information, his last shreds of hope ebbing away.
“Really?” He said when he found his voice again. “You're chosen mates? You two?”
She chuckled. “Yeah, I know. Who would have seen that coming, right?”
“But it takes a lot of years together to get to the point of needing a suppressant, if you don't, you know... decide to not need it.”
“We've had more time than you think. Plus, one of the aforesaid magical incidents sped things up.”
“Love, you're not thinking of telling him...”
“Yeah. No. Well, maybe we should.” Buffy answered, her eyes still trained on Angel.
Spike watched her brow furrowing in thought. “Something you wanna run by me, General?”
“Just thinking ahead, Lieutenant,” she murmured. “Say the decoy goes into play. If the primary is kept out of sight...”
Spike matched her expression as he caught her meaning. “...Then the illusion stands a better chance of holding.” He shook his head. “Not fond of it. Out of our sight like that.”
“But also out of range.”
“Grant you, but still safer with us.”
“Safer with you, at any rate. Probably.” She turned to look at him. “I'd like to have the option, and this is a way to put it on the table. ...Also, it would make us make sense to him.”
“He's family, Spike.”
“Family's pushing it, love.” He flicked his gaze at Angel. “But for the other...” He sighed. “Alright.”
Buffy's expression eased into a smile. “You suck at saying no to me.”
“Which is how I got into this in the first place,” he grumbled.
“Got into what, exactly?” Angel asked, having watched the vague conversation with a frustrated frown.
Spike nodded to Buffy. “The two of us... We're not who we look to be. Got ourselves sent into the past to fix some things, to save the world. ...Time travelers, Liam. We're from the future.”
Angel blinked. “Not possible.”
Buffy stepped close to him. “I haven't slept much in the last few days, so ignore the bags, but look at these eyes, Angel. Tara says the eyes give us both away, almost as much as our auras. Do these look like the eyes of a young slayer, only two months out of her teens? You've already looked at Spike. You can tell it's not just the soul. Something's different about both of us, and you know it. What you're seeing is two people who have stood on the edge of the end of the world, and jumped back here to try to save it.”
He studied her eyes. “What happened to you?” he eventually whispered.
“Among other not fun things, the First Evil rose.”
“Oh. The First. That's... That's...”
“As bad as it gets,” Spike finished. “We were fighting a war, and it wasn't going so well.”
“General and Lieutenant... That's not just a joke.”
“It's a little of a joke. Mostly not. Those are the roles we know. The words just keep us lined up in the same train of thought. You know, when Spike's not using 'General' as a code for calling me a bitch.”
“Caught that, did you?”
“Ages ago.” She rolled her eyes. “Pig.”
“So what was that conversation about, anyway? I couldn't get much from it.”
“Short and sweet, love,” Spike murmured.
“It's a simple request, Angel. If things get bad here, I need to be able to send someone to you, for protection. A few days stay. A week, tops.”
“You're not going to tell me who or why, are you?”
“We're in dangerous waters, Liam. The less said, the more likely it goes better than the first time.”
“How bad was it the first time?” Angel asked, taking in their serious expressions.
Buffy pointed to a cluster of willow trees on the far side of the cemetery, barely visible in the darkness. “When it was over, I was buried over there.”
There was the briefest of pauses. “Ok. I'm in. Count me as your back up protection detail... General.”
Buffy looked at Spike. “See? Second Front isn't all that bad.”
“Remind me of that the next time you play delivery girl for his shiny bauble of doom.”
“That was meant to be a compliment, you know.”
“Angel, be glad you got out of her clutches. The woman thinks a death sentence is a compliment.”
Eddie looked up in surprise at the third person to descend the ladder. “Is that...? Are you Angelus?”
“Call me Angel.” Angel stepped closer to the minion, concentrating on what his senses were telling him. “You're right. He's definitely one of ours.” He addressed Eddie. “Tell me what you know of your sire.”
Eddie shrugged. “Nothing. It's just a vague memory of a pretty girl's face. I-- I was high when I died. And I never saw her again. She didn't even wait for me to rise.”
“That's not much to go on. Spike and I both tend to go for attractive women.”
Buffy smiled. “Compliment accepted.”
“And crazy ones,” Spike added.
The smile was gone in an instant. “Hey! Are you comparing me to Dru?”
Angel frowned at Spike. “Are you trying to start a fight?”
“Usually,” Buffy answered for him. “That's kind of how this works.” She added under her breath, “Hellmouth High Basement Crazy, anyone?”
“Tying your friends up in your own basement with a demon?” Spike mumbled back.
“Outside influences,” she argued.
He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Ok. Fair point. But I'll still never top your crazy.”
“That's really not saying much.” Spike turned to Eddie and nodded to the sewer entrance. “Let us have the place to talk for a bit, Fledge.”
“Sure.” Eddie turned to go, but Buffy's voice stopped him.
“Hang on a sec, Eddie. We haven't checked on you all week. You're probably out of money by now.”
“No. Xander came by to give me a little cash. He said you guys were having a hard time, and our drinking night was canceled this week. He said I might not see either of you for a little while. Then Clem stopped by to talk about flowers... Sorry to hear about your mom, Buffy. I've been there; it sucks. I hope you feel better.” He gave her a quick hug and then slipped out into the sewers.
“Strange minion,” Angel muttered. He looked around. “What's with the bomb shelter motif?”
“This is just another one of our back up plans,” Buffy explained. “Our emergency bunker, complete with live-in caretaker.”
“You're not messing around with this time travel stuff, are you? You're planning everything.” Angel frowned. “But Joyce...”
“I couldn't stop it. ...I tried.”
Seeing her emotions beginning to surface again, Spike stepped close to her. “Love, we knew from the start...”
She nodded and leaned her head against his shoulder.
Angel watched the interaction with a deep feeling of loss. “I guess I can see it. ...You guys. Together. It's a shock, but you've probably had a lot of time together to get you to this point.”
“Not nearly enough.” Spike dropped a kiss on the top of Buffy's head. “Guess this is as good a time as any to ask, Liam. We gonna have any trouble with you, when the other marriage happens?”
“Buffy? Are you sure about this? Bonding suppressants can be repeated, as many times as you like.”
“I know. But I'm... I'm not going to want it for very long.”
“You understand what this means for you, right? You'll be a little like us. Timeless. Any hope for even a slightly normal life goes out the window as soon as you stop aging.”
A slow smile formed over her face. “I think I'd actually forgotten that.”
“Told you the memory boost did sod all for you.”
“Angel, the whole 'Buffy's going to live like a human when-slash-if she grows up' thing was a childish, unrealistic daydream. I've outgrown it. It took me a while, but I got there. “'Normal' was never in the cards -or the PTB's plans- for me, not even normal by slayer standards. I've finally accepted that.”
After another long silence, Angel sighed. “Alright. Buffy, come here for a second.”
She gave Spike a questioning glance, receiving a nod of encouragement in response. She met Angel in the middle of the room.
He put a hand to the scar he'd left on her neck, less than two years ago from his perspective. “I will not consider this valid for challenge. I make no claim to you for myself, only for my family.” He paused, looking at the eyes of a seasoned warrior in the place of the youthful, lovelorn ones he had known. “William,” he said, his focus still on Buffy. “Your demon chose well. Take good care of your mate.”
Impulsively, Buffy threw her arms around Angel's shoulders and hugged him, nearly pulling him down to her level. “Thank you,” she whispered.
He held her tightly. “And I'm so sorry about your mom. I know how much you loved her.”
During the walk home, Buffy broke a long silence by commenting, “He thinks we came from like, ten or twenty years in the future, doesn't he?”
“Safe bet,” Spike agreed. “Best that way. Wouldn't accept things so easy if he knew it was only three.”
“So we're not going to tell him?”
Jinx bowed before his god. “Most... Highest One, my deepest apologies. I could not come closer, for fear of being noticed by the slayer's vampire, but I am certain of what was meant.”
Glory leaned back against the edge of the bathtub, closing her eyes. She snapped her fingers. “Spit it out, already.”
“I heard only a few words, Great One, only that the slayer wishes to send someone to the tall man for protection if you draw too near. Why would anyone need protection, or to be hidden away unless--?”
“Unless my Key has itself tucked inside a flesh wrapper.” She sank a little lower into the water, a pleased smile on her face. “Hmm... This is good.”
Tara was sitting in one of the club chairs, quietly reading a book, when Buffy and Spike came downstairs. She looked up at their arrival. “Did he show?”
“Well, someone got advance notice, at least,” Spike grumbled.
Buffy dropped into the chair beside her. “He showed. It actually went surprisingly well.”
Spike sat on the edge of the bed to pull off his boots. “Told him we're travelers, got him to agree to house Nibblet if things get too hot up here. What's she up to, anyway?”
“Sleeping. Willow, too. You guys were gone a wh--” Tara did a double take at the sight of Buffy's left hand on the arm of the neighboring chair. “Huh. It's about time.”
Buffy shrugged, not having anything to say to that.
“Did it help? Having them on?”
“I guess so. But he looked a little heartbroken. I kinda felt sorry for him.”
“Of course you didn't.” Buffy rolled her eyes. She explained to Tara, “Someone thought this was a great opportunity to gloat.” She leaned back against the chair, closing her eyes. “How's Dawnie holding up?”
“Not in any danger of the Bit playing this out like the first time, are we?”
“She'll be ok, I think.” Tara shook her head. “Willow seems to be behaving herself, and the books that include those kinds of suggestions have been... misplaced.”
Spike raised an eyebrow, waiting for an explanation.
She chuckled. “Wow. I must be sneakier than I thought. I was sure you would notice.” Her smile turned smug. “Am I the only one who thinks the spice cabinet shelves have seemed a little shallow lately?”
“They're at the back of the spice cabinet?” Buffy frowned. “I hadn't noticed.”
“Youwouldn't,” Spike grumbled. “Far as you're concerned, that cabinet's mostly decorative.” He nodded to Tara. “Well played, Glinda.”
“Yeah. Smart move.” Buffy sighed, her eyes still closed. “So now what do we do?”
“Keep moving forward, love. It's all we can do.”
“I mean about Dawn,” she whispered on another sigh. “Not just Glory stuff. Life stuff. Raising a teenager. You guys might have noticed that I didn't do such a hot job with her the first time around.”
“You aren't on your own this time.” Tara reached out to take her friend's hand, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “We'll make Joyce proud of all of us.”
“I hope so.” Buffy heard movement, and opened her eyes to find Spike crouching on the floor at her knee, reaching for her other hand.
“Give the Bit another day, then we'll tell her, get us all in this together. We can let Glinda be right on this one, and--”
“Hey!” Tara gave him an exaggerated pout, trying to lighten the moment. “I'm right a lot, thank you!”
“Usually.” He threw her a smirk and trained his gaze back on Buffy. “The four of us will make it manageable, love. I promise.”