Chapter Notes:

"Where are we going?"  "Right back to the beginning."


Chapter 31: Past Revelations

March, 2001

Dawn jumped up from the dining table and hurried to the living room to answer the ringing phone. She returned just as quickly, offering the phone to her sister. “It's Cordelia.”

Buffy traded glances with Spike before accepting the phone and taking it back to the living room as she lifted it to her ear. “Cordy? What's up?”

Dawn returned to her seat beside Willow. “You guys sent Angel home extra broody, didn't you?”

“Maybe a little,” Spike said with a smirk, casting a glance at the ring on his finger. “God, that was fun.”

“Evil,” Tara murmured.

“I've never denied it, pet.”

Buffy returned to her chair at the dining table two minutes later. She wrinkled her nose at the food on her plate, suddenly finding her appetite gone.

“How's Angel taking it?” Willow asked.

Buffy's eyes were still on her plate. She answered distractedly. “As expected. Locked up in his room, brooding. Or pouting. Whatever you want to call it. He'll be ok in a few days.”

“Then what's the problem?” Spike asked, looking at her worriedly.

“The demon corpse he brought home with him.” Buffy looked up. “Guys, he was in Sunnydale long enough to see us, crash for the day at the mansion, and hit the road at sunset. Less than twenty-four hours, total. And he still managed to pick up a stowaway in his trunk. He killed the demon as soon as he noticed the heartbeat. From the description, it sounds like she was one of Glory's minions.”

Dawn laughed. “You know a god sucks when her best lackies are bailing on her.” She noticed the serious faces around the table. “What?”

“Dawnie, she may not have been trying to get out of town. She may have been trying to keep track of Angel,” Tara explained.

Willow pushed her food around on her plate thoughtfully, barely noticing the movements of her fork. “Maybe I shouldn't go back tomorrow, after all. It sounds like Glory's getting desperate.”

“No,” Buffy was quick to respond. “You should finish your course. If Glory thinks Angel is of any use to her, this could be good news. It means she's probably nowhere close to identifying Dawn.”

“Are you sure you don't need me?”

“We'll be ok, Wils. I'm sure of it.”

“You don't act sure.”

Buffy shrugged off her friend's concern. “The call just surprised me, that's all.”

As the conversation drifted in another direction, the time travelers stole worried glances at each other.

*~*~*

Dawn was almost ready for school when there was a knock on her bedroom door. “Come in,” she called, putting on her socks.

Buffy and Spike came into the room. Three mugs and a glass of juice were placed on the nightstand. Spike closed the door behind them. They sat on the edge of the bed, a noticeable space between them.

Dawn frowned. She pushed aside her sneakers and stood up from the floor. “What's up? This looks like a talk, and I only have ten minutes to finish getting ready, so make it quick.”

“You can go back to school tomorrow, Bit. Decided you'll need an extra day.”

“But before the funeral, you guys said I'd have to go back today.”

Buffy bit her lip and patted the space between them. “Come sit, Dawnie. This is a talk.”

“The marriage was a little secret, Nibblet. Time we trusted you with a big one.”

Their serious expressions distracted her from any feelings of joy at finally getting her foot in the Scooby door. “Um, I don't think I can take more bad news right now. Is there any chance this could wait for like, a year or two?”

Glances were exchanged by the pair on the bed. “It's... It's not exactly bad news, Dawnie. It's just... We haven't been honest with you. We told you all about who and what you really are, but we didn't tell you all that stuff about us.”

Dawn pointed. “Slayer. Vampire. You're not about to tell me it gets weirder than that, are you?”

*~*~*

Six feet hung over the side of the bed. Six eyes gazed at the ceiling. A box of tissues sat on Spike's chest. He pulled another one out and handed it to the girl beside him.

Dawn dabbed her eyes with the tissue. “So that's what you said in the backyard the other night really meant. You were apologizing for not being able to...” She swallowed. “Why couldn't you?”

“We have a guy,” Buffy explained quietly. “An agent of the PTB. We call him our handler. He told me I couldn't save her, but I hoped he was wrong. He never told me why. Tara says it might just be that we can't undo a natural death, that it was supposed to happen.” She sighed. “I don't know, Dawnie.”

“Tara knows?” Dawn shook her head against the comforter. “Of course Tara knows. That explains a lot of stuff. Tara knows everything, doesn't she?”

“Pretty much. She's a traveler, too. She just traveled... separately.”

“It figures. You were all holding out on me.” There was another long silence. “You kept talking about being there when it happened. You weren't there the first time, were you?”

“No,” Buffy whispered.

“So Mom died alone before. You changed that.”

“I didn't change anything that counted.”

“You were there.” Dawn fell silent for a minute. “I'm really mad at you right now, you know. If you were going to break the rules to tell me, you could have done it sooner.”

“Dawnie...”

“No. You should have told me what was coming. ...You should have told me you took away the sister I knew and replaced her. I deserved to know why -overnight- you were practically a different person. Because you are.”

“But I'm being a better sister this time. I'm really trying.”

“You didn't give me a chance to know that. You should have...” Dawn took a long, shuddering breath. “You should have let me be there, too.”

Buffy's sniffle brought Spike out of his silence. “Bit, while you're stewing this over, do me one favor.”

“Yeah?”

“Remember that you didn't have to lose her twice.”

*~*~*

Spike leaned against the living room door frame, watching the women in the middle of the room.

Dawn gave Willow an extra squeeze and pulled out of the hug. “I need to see that photo album the second you get home, ok? Including Hadrian's Wall?”

“Definitely.” Willow's smile faded into concern. “You'll be careful while I'm gone, right? You won't let Glory get her stinky paws on you?”

“Nah.” Dawn gestured to her housemates. “That's why I keep these guys around. My personal bodyguard squad.”

Willow was smiling again when she hugged Buffy. “You'll call if you need me?”

“We'll be ok, Wils. Just wait and see.” Buffy pulled out of the hug. “This will all blow over before you even buy your plane ticket. Meanwhile, stay out of trouble. Don't try any risky spells. Ok?”

“I don't know, Buff.” Willow touched the ring hanging from Buffy's neck. “Sometimes the risky spells have interesting results.”

Buffy raised her hand. “The 'Will Be Done' thing had nothing to do with it, I swear.” She lowered her hand. “Be safe?”

“You, too.” Willow turned her gaze to Tara as Buffy stepped back. “I'm missing you already.”

Tara gave her girlfriend a brief kiss and a long, lingering hug. “Same here. But I'll call you in a couple of days, ok?”

“It's a date. Love you, baby.” After another kiss, they broke apart. Willow picked up her small suitcase and looked across the room to Spike. She looked like she was trying to come up with something to say, but struggling.

He interrupted her waffling with a nod to the mantle clock behind her. “Ten on the nose, Red. Any second, now.”

Tara gave Willow one more quick hug and stepped away, leaving Willow, suitcase in hand, standing alone in the center of the room.

A few seconds later, she disappeared in a flash of white light.

Dawn couldn't mask her sigh of relief. “Holy cow. Is this what every day is like for you guys? Fighting to keep your mouths shut around people who don't know?”

“Pretty much,” Buffy answered with a shrug.

“Might be easier in some ways, if Red's best friend were actually putting in the effort to not shut her out more than necessary.”

“Hey! Didn't you see the hugging? And the talking? There's effort! There's all kinds of effort!” Buffy turned to head out of the room, not even waiting on a response.

He glared at her as she passed him, and followed her out. “Half measures, at best. And don't even try to throw that conversation back at me, Slayer, or we won't need to have it again.”

Buffy's voice carried from the kitchen. “Please! I don't believe that for a second!”

Dawn sat on the arm of a chair and leaned sideways against the back of it. “They're starting to act more normal. Maybe that's a good sign.”

Tara sat in the chair across from her. “A sign of what?” she asked with a crooked smile.

“I don't know. Maybe that we'll be ok? You know things are ok when they're bickering. I know Mom said she hated it, but she smiled at it, too. I think she missed the arguments when they stopped. I know I did.”

*~*~*

An hour after Willow was teleported out of the living room, Dawn came down the basement stairs and stopped a few steps from the bottom, sitting down to watch through the railing. “You're pretty good at that.”

“Years of practice,” Buffy murmured, her focus divided between holding the one-armed handstand and ignoring the tickle from the end of her upside down ponytail brushing against her elbow.

“In jeans and chunky boots?”

“It's more challenging this way. Also, more practical. If there's one thing we learned from our last months in our own time, it's that there's no point in training exercises a girl can't use in the field.”

“You didn't happen to make a note of any winning lottery numbers before you came back, did you?”

“1045227684,” Buffy recited.

Dawn wrinkled her nose. “I think that's too long to be a lottery number.”

“Spike's primary checking account. Well, ours, now.”

“I'll try to remember that. Do you know the routing number, too?”

“Very funny.” Buffy slowly brought her left hand down to the floor and lifted the right hand away.

Dawn watched the switch, waiting until Buffy seemed stable to speak again. “Tell me more.”

“Like what?”

“The mission. You weren't very clear. Why September of 2000? Why not any other time, ever?”

“We couldn't interfere with the monks making you, and we needed to get close to this time.” Buffy took a slow, deep breath. “I'm trying to concentrate, Dawnie. This is actually harder than it looks.”

“Then answer the question.”

“I died saving you from Glory,” she whispered. “And there were... repercussions to me being brought back. So the plan this time is that I save you another way.”

“So this is about me.” Dawn leaned her forehead against the stair railing. “Or is this about you?”

“It's about Willow's magic, mostly. She was untrained in our time, and did some line crossing.” There was a long pause. “Not most. All. Everything comes back to Willow's power. That's what he isn't saying about the mission. She the reason we're even here... Because I chose not to give her more power.”

“What who isn't saying? Also, huh?”

There was a blue flash in the room. Bells began to ring all over the house. Buffy, her concentration shattered, crashed to the floor. At the sight of the intruder, and the sound of the bells, Dawn scrambled up the stairs, yelling for Spike.

Spike came running, pushing Dawn away from the stairs when she reached the top. “Hide,” he ordered. He ran downstairs. A second later, his voice stopped Tara's rush down the hall. “Glinda! It's Whistler!”

Tara stopped running. With a few murmured words, the ringing stopped. Then she continued to the basement, with Dawn on her heels. They found Spike and Buffy standing in the middle of the room, glaring at the demon.

“Can't you call in advance or something?” Buffy rubbed the shoulder she'd landed on when she fell. “A little warning would go a long way.”

“Yeah, Summers. Let me just get my cell phone out. What's the international code for 'I'm not from this plane of existence' again?”

She reached for the elastic band in her hair, releasing her ponytail and slugging him in the shoulder in one smooth movement. “At least get the name right.”

“Fine, Mrs. Pratt. You want a warning? How about this: Every time one of you decides to do something game-changing, or have some big epiphany, I'm probably going to show up. There's your warning.”

Spike leaned against the foot board of the bed. “What'd we do now? This about telling Dawn?”

Whistler waved a hand at the pair standing at the bottom of the stairs. “Nah, she's alright.” He turned to look at them for the first time. “Wow. Nice work, Maclay. The two of you are a near-perfect match.”

“Thanks. I was going from memory.” Tara gestured to the demon. “Dawnie, this is Whistler.”

“He's an asshole,” Buffy explained. “And has just admitted he's crazy, too, since he sees the glamour.”

“This is the handler we told you 'bout, Bit. Whistler, Dawn Summers.”

“'Case agent' is the title, if anyone cares. Pretty cute kid, for being what you are.”

Dawn was visibly unimpressed. “Uh-huh. Buffy's right about you.”

“Didn't answer my question, Whistler. What brings you?”

“The light bulb finally going off in your woman's head. She's just identified the mission.”

Spike raised an eyebrow at Buffy. “Yeah?”

She leaned against the foot board beside him. “Willow.”

“We already knew that, love. Her loose cannon magic caused a lot of our problems.”

“More than that, Spike. She's the reason we needed a Plan B. And she's the reason we are how we are. We're not just catching Willow's stones. We're wading in her pond. We always have been. ...I think I actually figured it out when we were talking to Angel about magic incidents the other night, but I just pieced it together consciously a couple of minutes ago.”

Spike nodded. “The Will Be Done spell, the binding magic around us, sending us back at all...”

“The resurrection, pissing off Glory enough that she hunted us down and ended up identifying Dawnie,” Buffy continued. “Which led directly to the jump.”

“The aftermath of the shooting, bringing Buffy back a second time... Warren.” Tara shifted her weight. “So that's why I got added to the party. I thought your bosses let me come back because I wanted a second chance, and Buffy and Spike might need another witch. You brought me back because Willow was my biggest regret, and this is about her.”

“It always has been. That's why you're all here,” Whistler said. “From beneath you, it devours.”

Buffy shuddered. “I really wish people would stop saying that.”

“What does that mean?” Dawn asked. “What does any of this mean?”

“It means...” Spike squinted at Whistler, his head tilted in thought. “It means Plan A was a worse idea than we figured. The ripples from it would have been bad enough that we'd have had to be sent back anyway. Am I right?”

“It's about power,” Buffy whispered. “The power I almost gave her, the power of the legacy.”

Whistler looked around, making a decision. “Brace yourselves, everyone. We're going for a ride.”

Spike and Buffy stood upright, taking their weight off the foot board. They looked at each other, silently conveying their concerns.

Whistler chuckled at the interaction. “Are you sure you made that potion extra strength, Maclay?”

Tara shrugged. “Well, I thought so, but it's wearing off early.”

“What potion? Where are we going?” Dawn asked.

A wave of Whistler's hand triggered another flash, changing the basement around them.

“Right back to the beginning.”

The basement was stripped nearly bare, the cozy bedroom wiped away. A square table sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by simple wooden chairs, a naked light bulb hanging above. The laundry area in the far corner was piled with laundry baskets, one of them full of blood-stained cotton bandages. The punching bag was unmoved, but it was noticeably more beat-up, its middle held together with duct tape.

Dawn giggled when she saw the rough sketch taped to the punching bag. “Is that Angel?”

Tara looked. “Probably.” Her gaze was drawn to the only sign of habitation left in the basement. Shackles hung from chains anchored to a cinder block wall. A worn-looking camp cot was shoved against the same wall. Buffy's alarm clock and a large, gaudy necklace sat on the floor at one end of the cot. Two pairs of boots had been tucked under the other end.

Dawn stopped studying the room to watch her sister and brother in law, who had their heads tilted to the ceiling, listening with expressions of awe on their faces.

“Someone's awake,” Buffy whispered. “I think I hear the girls whispering. Are they all up there?”

“Three dozen heartbeats, at least. Packed to the rafters.”

“We're home, Spike!” She gripped his hand, smiling widely.

“It's just an illusion, kids, just a prop. Don't get too excited. The real deal is long gone, anyway. We've got some storytelling to walk through, and this will help.” He turned to Tara and Dawn. “Glow Girls, welcome to May 19, 2003, 2 am. Well, a decent re-creation, at least.” He turned back to Buffy and Spike, who had finally stopped looking up. “And one more thing.”

Another blue flash changed their appearances to a thin, haggard, war-weary pair who looked much less out of place in the dreary basement.

“Wow, Buffy. You look awful,” Dawn commented.

“Gee, thanks.”

Spike looked over the woman beside him. He ran a hand through the shorter, lighter hair as he studied her tired face. “Been a while since I've seen you here, love.” He looked around the room again. “Been a while since home's been like this.”

“You're not looking your best these days, either, Sparky.” Buffy followed his gaze. “Whistler, this illusion doesn't happen to extend over the whole house, does it?”

He shook his head. “Just here. This is where the decision was made.” He waved toward the cot. “Go on, play it out for us. We're going to walk through it, a step at a time.”

“Is that really necessary?” she asked, wrinkling her nose.

He jerked a thumb at Dawn. “You want her to understand who you are and why you're here, don't you? This will help with that, too. Tell us the story.”

With shrugs to each other, Buffy and Spike went to the cot. He stretched out on his side, with his back to the wall. She curled in front of him, her back to his chest. His arm draped loosely over her. They stayed there for a moment, enjoying the familiarity of the situation.

Buffy slid out of his grasp and regained her feet. “I couldn't sleep. I walked over here...” She crossed the room to a spot near where she'd had her first dance as a married woman. “I was staring up at the sky through the window, and the First came to me. As Caleb. There was the usual bluster and noise, nothing really noteworthy... Until I said I wasn't afraid of it.”

An image of Caleb appeared at her side as she turned to face Spike on the cot. “Then why aren't you asleep in your dead lover's arms? 'Cause he can't help you. Nor Faith, nor your friends. Certainly not your wanna-slay brigade. None of those girlies will ever know real power unless you're dead. You know the drill.”

“That was piece number one of it offering me Plan A: The girls are powerless,” Buffy whispered. “But I caught something else, the first threads of Plan B, in the subtext: It wanted me to think no one could help me, and that my death was necessary. Which probably meant the exact opposite was true, that me surviving was key.”

The image beside her shifted into Buffy herself. “Into every generation, a Slayer is born. One girl in all the world. She alone will have the strength and skill to... There's that word again. What you are. How you'll die. Alone.”

“And that was piece number two: I'm alone. Technically, Faith and I are alone, but the concept holds. Dawnie, Plan A was to use the power connected to the scythe -there was only one in our time- to make every Potential slayer the real thing. I was going to supercharge my army. The First Evil handed me the idea on a silver platter.”

The taunting voice continued. “Where's your snappy comeback?”

“You're right,” Buffy said to the image.

“Hmm. Not your best.”

Buffy's voice stayed low, in contrast to the chirpy image of herself. “Plan A was solid in my mind as quickly as that. As soon as I'd decided I'd ask Willow to do the job, it vanished.”

The image beside her disappeared.

“Good riddance,” Spike grumbled from the cot.

“Willow,” Buffy repeated. “It wasn't just me taking the Plan A bait that the First wanted. It was how I would have to do it. I'd just decided to hook up a recovering magic junkie with enough PTB magic and demon essence to power a millennium of slayers. And the First left. Mission accomplished. I can't believe I didn't realize this at the time.”

“Don't be hard on yourself about it, love. Neither of us had gotten a full night's sleep for the better part of a year. Weren't exactly at our sharpest.”

Dawn looked back and forth between the two of them. “That's why you look so run down?”

“Yeah. But that's nothing compared to Plan A, Nibblet. Suspect the general, was gonna be looking at a lot more sleepless nights.”

“What about you?” Dawn asked.

Spike pointed to the amulet beside Buffy's alarm clock. “This was probably going to dust me.”

Whistler nodded. “That's how it was most likely to play out: Pratt out of the picture. The rest of the survivors scattered all over the globe. Fifty-fifty shot on Rosenberg. She'd either turn over a new leaf with that weapon in her hands, or go off chasing the dragon after, trying to find the high she got from the scythe... through the slayers she acted as conduit to.”

“Oh, god,” Buffy whispered. “The girls.”

“And talk about catching the First's interest.” Whistler shook his head. “All that slayer power running loose would make the crack in the door from the resurrection spell turn into a wide open gate, complete with red carpet. Rosenberg would either be the hero that turned it around, or... Well, instead of a misogynistic preacher, round two would be led by a slayer-hunting witch.”

“Plan A could have been a total disaster.” Buffy looked sick. “Putting that much power in her hands would be risking her recovery and the balance of this plane, all in one shot. And I almost did it.”

“You once said there was a plan to fix it later if we went with Plan A. What was it?” Spike asked.

“If Rosenberg stayed on the straight and narrow, she would probably have eventually implemented your Plan B to correct the imbalance. If she went wild, the bosses were willing to do it themselves.” Whistler grinned. “That's where I came in. I thought the odds would be better if we didn't wait to see which way she went, and just skipped that middle step. Let a time jump happen before the balance was altered again, to back before it was altered in the first place, and stop focusing on just one player. Rosenberg may have been pivotal, but no one operates in a vacuum.”

“You wanted to put me and Spike in play early.” Buffy wrinkled her nose. “You planted Plan B in my head?”

Whistler chuckled. “I didn't have to. You were right on the edge of thinking of it, anyway, but the train of thought was going to be interrupted. So I stepped in, right between the moment the First left and Pratt woke up from that nightmare. I hit the pause button in here, just like I did in your bunker a couple of months back. It was only about thirty seconds, but it was enough time for you to think of it.” He waved at her. “Go on, walk us through the rest.”

“In those thirty seconds...” Buffy closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she trained her focus on Spike. “The First had said I was alone, but the defining feature of my tenure as the slayer was that I wasn't. I was watching Spike sleep, and I remembered when he had told me the same thing.”

“A slayer with family and friends,” Spike murmured. “Ties to the world.”

“Keeping me alive,” she whispered. “But at that point, there was only one person actually still doing that, and it wasn't any of the Scoobies. I suddenly realized whose power it was I really needed, and what that power was. It wasn't slayer power, delivered by a still unstable Willow. It was the power of experience, the power of memory.” She addressed Spike. “When you told me I was just waiting to die, you were right. You knew from experience, from seeing it in Nikki. And it put you ahead of the game.”

“Didn't help. You still jumped.”

“But it could have helped, if things between us had been just a little different then. Now, I guess. And all of the Scoobies could have helped, if we'd known was was coming. I realized what an amazing advantage memory can be. Plan B formed from two thoughts in those thirty seconds: That conversation about me and Nikki, reminding me of what an edge memory and experience had given you over the rest of us, and what Anya kept saying about her visit to the Eye of Beljoxa.”

“'We did this.'” Spike quoted. “She meant mostly Red.”

“I should have seen it then. It made me think of the resurrection, and how stopping it would have a huge impact on everything, but I didn't see the big picture.”

“Love, as exhausted as we were, I doubt seeing the big picture was even physically possible. But enough of the idea had taken root, eh, Whistler?” As the demon nodded, Spike sat up on the cot. “And after that pause, my nightmare woke me up?”

Buffy smiled. “I won't embarrass you by telling everyone what you yelled out in your sleep.”

“Thanks.” He lowered his head, then looked back up at her. “Weird dream. Buffy? Something wrong?”
“No... Yeah. I just realized something. Something that really never occurred to me before. We're going to win.” Buffy grinned. “You and me, Sparky. We're going to save the world.”

Spike stood up and walked toward her, matching his memory. Another blue flash came, just as he reached her, and the basement was once again the home of a cozy little bedroom, alive with color and warmth. Its residents had lost their war-weary appearances. “That was the first time you ever called me that.”

“I'm still waiting for you to kick my ass for giving you that nickname.”

“Eh, you know what they say. All's fair...” Spike looked around. “This is a bit better, isn't it?”

Buffy tilted her head toward the ceiling. “Any heartbeats?”

“They're all safe in their own homes, love. Don't even know who we are, not even Amanda.”

“Why is Amanda different from the other girls?” Tara asked. “You've never mentioned her.”

“She's a local.” Buffy's smile turned soft. “Sweet, innocent Amanda. You two got to be pretty close, Dawnie. You even kicked off your friendship Scooby style, with a vamp dusting at Sunnydale High. I hope you meet her again.”

“I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of this.” Dawn dropped into a chair. “Whistler, if Spike and Buffy were going to have to come back in time to fix things anyway, what's the difference? Why not not make time stop in our basement and just let it play out until Willow or the Powers had to send them back?”

Tara took the seat beside her. “Dawnie, they would have had to send different people back. All the stress and worry, and bad memories they had to bring back this time? There would have been a lot more of all of that, and a lot of time apart, most likely. They wouldn't be the team they are right now. I suspect--” Tara looked at Whistler. “They would have been far less effective.”

The demon smirked. “Timing is everything, kids. A few seconds pause in a basement, at just right moment? You don't even have to plant an idea. It takes root all on its own. Need a pair of on-again off-again lovers -who also like to beat each other up- on a heavy, team job? You want them when they're at their closest, the point in time when they're finally passing the frequent risk of killing each other in fits of temper, but before they've had years of separation to change them. All the pieces fell into place on this one. It was the right move, and the right time. It shifted the odds in a big way.”

“And that's the other thing I've just realized tonight,” Buffy said. “Willow has been behind nearly every single twist and shift that changed things between me and Spike, most of it unwittingly.”

“Except the grenades,” Spike muttered.

“Oh my god! Are you never letting that go?”

“There were grenades?” Dawn asked.

Tara sighed. “Dawnie, they can't decide who's washing the dinner dishes without arguing. Do you really think they could manage a break up without some sort of destruction?”

Dawn looked scared. “You... you broke up? ...Does that mean you will again? Like, get divorced?”

“Weren't married then, Bit. Everything was different.”

“No, Dawnie. There won't be a divorce. A good ass-kicking once in a while, but no divorce.”

“It was your own fault, you know. If you'd told Rosenberg the first secret you two shared, things would probably have gone differently through your entire original timeline. What was it you said to her the night we met? 'You wouldn't believe me if I told you?'” Whistler shook his head. “If you'd told her, you'd have made the first step toward getting your best friend on the right side of things. She'd have been a help to the relationship, in a different way. Who knows? Maybe you would have ended up married and not blowing up your original love nest.”

“And that's your mission, isn't it?” Spike narrowed his gaze on Whistler. “Us.”

Buffy matched his focus. “Althenea was right. You're not here for the mission. You're here for us. Our mission is about keeping Willow in line -and me not dying, of course- but yours is about what she's changed for us over the years. What she's made us... and what we'll become.”

“It's still about Rosenberg, kids. Even when it's about you. Some of what she's pulled where you two are concerned needed to happen, one way or another. Some things still do.” Whistler pointed at Buffy. “But you might have blown it, Pratt. And now I have to come in to play clean up crew.”

“And here we go. More cryptic demon shit.” Buffy balled up a fist. “I'm going to have to hit you harder this time, aren't I?”

“Don't bother, love. He doesn't even bruise.”

“At least I'll feel better.” She gritted her teeth. “Ok. Spill.”

“Well...” Whistler hesitated. “You may have caught one stone too many. ...Drusilla may be wrong.”

Spike looked horrified. “The jump.”

The demon shook his head. “The other thing.” He glanced at Buffy. “She knows. She doesn't know she knows, but she does.”

“Speaking of blowing it.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “More with the cryptic. Every time you're on the verge of being tolerable...”

Whistler grinned. “Fine. Let's be straightforward about it. Have a look.”

In another blue flash, Buffy and Spike were gone.

Dawn was on her feet. “Where did they go?”

“Ask the right question, Summers.”

Tara, still staring at the space where Buffy and Spike had been standing, gulped. “Dawnie, I think the question is 'when.'”

“When?” Dawn squeaked.

“2036. Well, the most likely version of 2036, anyway.” Whistler headed toward the stairs. “They'll be back when they've figured it out, which should give us plenty of time to raid the kitchen. Come on, Glow Girls. I have a little assignment to talk to you about.”





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