Chapter Notes:

Sometimes, it's all in the little things.


Chapter 33: Slipped Words

March, 2001

Whistler was behind the kitchen island, pouring drinks, when Spike and Buffy appeared in a flash of blue. He put two glasses in front of the stools. “The Glow Girls have just gone to bed. I honestly thought you'd be gone longer.”

Buffy climbed onto a stool. “We had to hurry. I don't trust you to be unsupervised around anyone's liquor cabinet.”

Whistler chuckled and leaned over the counter. “So you remember what I said about an Englishman's kitchen?” He gestured to Spike with his drink. “I take it back.”

She laughed. “Another thing I never told Giles. He'd be deeply insulted if he knew.” To Spike she said, “I'll explain later. Just know the liquor stash you and Mom built up has been complimented.”

Spike sat on the other stool. He held his glass up to the demon. “Thanks, Whistler. Think I need this.”

“So what did you think of the twins?”

She took a sip of her drink. “I like them. They're both a little too much like their father, but...” She shrugged. “Fortunately, I usually like him, too.”

“Such a charmer.” Spike threw her a halfhearted glare before addressing Whistler. “You said we caught one stone too many... So the scam is, we get Red straight, we don't get the kids, is that it?”

“Because magical screw ups that change the game with us always come from Willow?” Buffy added.

“The twins aren't actually a screw up. Rosenberg will mean to make it possible, and work her ass off to figure out how to do it.”

“So we're going to ask her to do it?” Buffy shook her head. “That doesn't sound too smart.”

“No, she's going to mean it for a... surprise. The catch is, now, when the idea comes, she won't be sure it would be a welcome surprise, and might back off on the follow through.”

“What's changed to make that happen? Those coven birds push a certain point too hard?”

Whistler shook his head and pointed at Buffy. “She knows.”

A light was slowly dawning on Buffy's face. “I did it, didn't I? I made her think I might not want kids.”

Spike raised an eyebrow at her.

“I made a joke, when I was half-awake, about you being so exhausted, and that waking you would be like having a cranky, fangy toddler around, so we should let you sleep... 'cause no one in this house wants that.” She shook her head. “It was just a stupid joke.”

“It was enough to make her likely to question the idea later,” Whistler said with a shrug. “Sometimes, it's all in the little things, kiddo. And Rosenberg's got a worrier's memory.”

Buffy's glass hit the counter. She spoke through gritted teeth. “I'll make her forget I ever said it. Bounce me back a couple of days, if you have to. I'll undo it.” She looked Whistler dead in the eye. “Just tell me how to fix it. Anything. I'll do it.”

Whistler leaned back. “Whoa. I guess the soldier and the playboy really made an impression.”

Spike's gaze was on Buffy. “Think you've woken the Mama Bear within, Whistler.”

Buffy tapped her fingers on the counter. “What about Tara? Couldn't she do the same thing Willow would have? I'll help with the research.”

“Something like this... It's a bit further than Maclay's ethics are likely to bend. Rosenberg is a different story. She's always going to be a touch too flexible in the ethics department. Usually, that's a bad thing, but once in a while, that flexibility is useful.”

“If not Tara, we'll find someone else. Someone would be willing to make it possible.”

Spike put a hand to her shoulder. “Love, relax. It's not gonna be a problem.”

She whirled on him. “Like hell, it's not.” She pointed at Whistler. “This asshole just introduced us to our kids, apparently for the sole purpose of saying we probably wouldn't have them. And you! You're not willing to fight for them? Since when is William the Bloody not willing to fight for anything? Especially something important? If that conversation at the Folly was just talk, and you don't really want Anne and Henry, you should probably say so right fucking now.”

Whistler knocked back the rest of his drink. “Oh, yeah. That's definitely a Mama Bear.”

Spike kept his volume low, trying to calm her. “Buffy, he said Red's flexibility is useful. He sent us to meet them, when he didn't have to.” He stole a glance at the demon, who was pouring himself another round. “The Powers want the kids to happen, love.”

Whistler dropped an ice cube into his glass. “There's a hell of a lot of potential there. Good genes.”

Buffy leaned her elbows on the counter, her face in her hands. “And I blew it with one sleepy comment. I officially hate time travel. We were better off not knowing.”

“Maybe you blew it. Maybe. She might still follow through with her grand scheme when the time comes. You've just lessened the odds of it. Meanwhile, we need to talk about other options, in case Rosenberg playing the literal witch doctor doesn't end up happening.”

Spike rubbed Buffy's back comfortingly. “That would be a start.”

“Option 1: When you're ready to take the plunge, I send you back to a time when it was naturally possible, and bring you back to your present when there's a pair of buns in the slayer oven.”

Buffy lifted her face from her hands. “What did I just say about time travel?”

“Would require merging me in,” Spike said quietly. “The human in question...”

“No Casanova, he. That's a bit of an open secret. But there's the rub. I can't merge in someone who doesn't exist in that time, so the missus goes in as is. And if I merge you in...”

“One way ticket,” Buffy finished. “Like the jump we made last year.”

Whistler waved a hand. “I can get around that. What I can't get around is the fact that I'd be merging in with priority to the human, for the obvious reason. You think that soul and this woman have tamed the demon? Wait until your human self is given precedence. That's flat out subjugation.” He took a sip from his glass. “And I'm assuming you'll have taken care of the ridiculously delayed claim by that time, so you should expect some side effects on that score while you're there. In simple terms...” Whistler pointed to Buffy. “Un-merged slayer demon looking for her mate.” He pointed to Spike. “Merged-in mostly human who isn't holding up his end of the connection. Not the world's best recipe for what you want to be baking.”

Spike and Buffy looked at each other for a moment, then turned to face the demon again. “Plan B?” they asked together.

“Speaking of delays, you might want to have Maclay run a check up on you.” Whistler shook his head. “Option 2 is a dark magic practitioner who plays in neutral territory, willing to work with anyone, even super-powered white hats like you two. There aren't a hell of a lot of them in the world, that would be both willing and able to hook you up. ...But William already knows one of them.”

“Damn.” Spike drained his glass and pushed it across the counter to be refilled.

“No. You can scratch that right off the list. He is not going through that again.”

“It's an option, love. 'Sides, I expect to be headed down his way in a year or so, anyway. Can ask if he'd be up for the job later.”

She shook her head, resolute. “You don't need to go back there. For anything. Ever.”

“Hang on, something's not right.” Whistler narrowed his eyes on her as he pushed Spike's full glass back to him. “You got that memory, didn't you? Before Maclay tamped down the connection?”

Buffy bit her lip, and slowly forced herself to nod, not daring to make eye contact with Spike. “Not all of it. Just pieces.” She shuddered. “Including the scarabs.”

“And you didn't tell me?! Dammit, Buffy! What other nightmares of mine are you carrying 'round?”

“Well, you know I got the thing with Glory...”

He clenched his jaw. “What else?”

She seemed very interested in her fingernails.

“Buffy...” Spike growled. “Talk. What did you see?”

“A body... on a pile of broken concrete and brick.”

“The tower dream. Bloody hell...”

She pushed her empty glass toward Whistler. “I'm still too sober for this conversation.”

Spike's glass was promptly emptied again and pushed beside hers. “Same here.”

Whistler looked from one to the other as he refilled their glasses. “Hoo, boy. Now we're in it.”

“Could have told me you'd seen it.”

“It doesn't change anything that I have.”

“It does if you felt...” Spike drained his glass in a single gulp and passed it back to Whistler.

“Everything.” Buffy's empty glass hit the counter just as quickly. “What does that change?”

“That you know. You know why I can't let it happen again.”

“Because you won't want to survive it. Dawnie may not be enough to keep you going a second time.”

“Might have to break that old promise. Best not to let it get that far. So I won't.”

“And if it does... For Dawnie's sake, Sparky, I need to know...”

“Dru's pretty sure, love.”

“Dru's pretty sure about the twins, too. And here we sit, trying to figure out how to make it possible.”

“So you did know about them. Nice of you to clue me in.”

She looked meek. “Well... I mentioned it when I figured it out... to Henry. I think he was just confused. On the plus side, he didn't ask who I was talking about.”

“It's a plus that my semi-human son, who looks so much like me, probably knows Drusilla?”

“Well, if you put it that way...”

Spike reached for his freshly filled glass, chugged the contents, and handed the glass back to Whistler.

Buffy echoed his movements again. She watched as Whistler poured them each another round. “I first saw you at a bar,” she whispered. “We had our first face to face conversation outside of that bar.”

“There a point to this flashback? 'Cause I'm more interested in the flashback you weren't alive to participate in.”

“I just realized, I met Henry exactly the same way.”

A slow smirk spread over Spike's face. “Anne was beating on some fledge. She darted a few steps back as she dusted him, just as I got close, the ashes blowing between us. It was so familiar. Couldn't help myself... 'Fore I even knew who she was, I clapped for her.”

Buffy broke into laughter. She pointed at Whistler. “You totally set us up.”

“When are you two geniuses going to figure it out? I don't have to.” He pushed their drinks toward them. “Most of the time, I'm just along for the ride. I didn't set up this three year jump. You did. All I did was make sure the idea had time to take hold. I'm not the one who's going to raise a lady killer who trolls for his next victim at a local watering hole and a demon hunter who habitually jumps away from her prey to dodge the dust.” He took a swig of his own drink. “The poor kids are going to get it honest. Gotta feel sorry for whoever they marry, though. They'll think constant arguing is a sign of a healthy relationship.”

The pair on the stools looked at each other. “So the 'we won't screw them up too badly' theory...”

“Out the window already.”

“Well, as long as we're agreed on something.” Buffy took a sip of her drink. “Any other options?”

“Option 3 is, if the time comes for Rosenberg to make a decision, and it looks like she's not going to do it, I send you forward before the scales tip too far. You grab the twins and jump back.”

“Oh, hell, no.”

“Absolutely not.”

“That's off the table.”

“I'm not kidnapping my own bloody kids!”

Whistler chuckled. “Ok, so you've agreed on three things tonight: Yes to the kids. Yes to ruining them. But no to kidnapping them.”

Buffy took a sip of her drink. “Pretty much. So?”

“First, I think three is a record. Second, that means you don't have to make any other decisions anytime soon. If you're willing to consider the first two as options if Rosenberg backs down, you can sit back and relax. If she doesn't surprise you, you can move this along at your own pace. I just needed to know where you stand right now, so I'd know if I should watch her decision-making closely when the idea dawns. Also...” Whistler emptied his glass and set it down. “This was a good opportunity to send in the ringer, to get Henry and his mother talking again. Nice work, kid.”

He vanished in a flash of blue. Buffy emptied her own glass and reached across the counter for the rum bottle. “Is it any wonder I hate that guy?”

Spike reached for the bottle of Jack. “Bloody puppets, we are.”

“I'll say. In addition to the PTB's handler from hell, we just got seriously played by Dawn and Tara. He had to have told them what was going on while we were gone, at least a little of it. And a few decades down the road, they helped him out. Mostly Dawnie. She knew to ask if I was marked, Spike. Why would she know to ask that, unless she was in on it?”

“Worse than that, love. We were likely in on it. Don't know if we were actually in Moscow, but I've got doubts as to whether we were out of touch. Easy as that lot teleports about, seems likely we could have gotten there. Willing to bet we knew what was going on, and stayed out of sight on purpose.”

“Hmm... We only interacted with the twins and the two people we left here with Whistler.” Buffy downed the shot of rum she'd poured into her glass. “That's not a coincidence.”

“Hell of a lot of trouble, just to remind us to stay on our toes with Red. Something's off about the whole thing, if you ask me.”

“Definitely another step on the road for the little weasel. We're dancing monkeys who don't even know the song.”

Spike watched her pour herself another shot. “Coke bottle's right there, Slayer.”

“Nah, this is fine. I guess the upside is that keeping us on our toes wasn't the only reason. I apparently helped Henry fix things up with his mum.” She smiled proudly.

“You're his mum, love.”

“Not yet. And I hope, by the time we get to that point, I'll have done a better job of staying on good terms with him than other me did. We can fix that, too, right? It's not a weird paradox thingy?”

“For a woman who says she hates time travel, you're awfully good at using it to advantage.”

She swallowed the shot in her glass. “Damn right I am. It got me married to you, didn't it?”

“You're never that sweet sober. Think you've had it, Slayer.” He reached for the rum bottle.

Buffy snatched it first. She poured herself another shot. “One more round. For a toast.”

He poured a shot into his own glass. “What're we drinking to?”

She lifted her glass. “To Anne and Henry.”

He lifted his. “And their poor, buggered parents.”

*~*~*

Dawn was staring at the kitchen counter when Tara followed her into the room. “I'm not sure this is good. They definitely came home at some point last night... but that was a new bottle of Captain Morgan. And that bottle of Jack Daniels was almost new.”

Tara frowned at the bottles, then slipped down the basement stairs, coming down just far enough to peek through the railing. She came back up and closed the door as quietly as she could. “It looks like I'm going to be skipping class today, Dawnie. My escort is finally sleeping.”

Dawn began preparing a bowl of cereal. “I should be so lucky. Xander will be here to pick me up in fifteen minutes. But then, Xander hasn't been getting two hours a night and time traveling.”

*~*~*

Dawn came in the front door and dropped her book bag at the bottom of the stairs. She found Spike sitting on the sofa, reading. “Nibblet.”

“Hey. How was your trip?”

He put aside his book. “You played your role just right.”

“You aren't going to tell me anything about it? Whistler didn't give us much to go on.”

He shook his head. “And don't pester your sis about it, either. It'll all come out eventually.”

“Where is she?”

“Went back to bed an hour ago.” He gestured for her to sit. “How was your first day back?”

Dawn dropped onto the sofa beside him. “Rough. Most people are being super nice, like they're walking on eggshells around me. It's almost harder to take than the people who are saying stupid things. I just want them to act normal, you know?”

He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “What kind of stupid things?”

“Well, a few boys wanted to know details, like exactly what happened in Mom's brain, and a couple of them implied they thought it was genetic. You know, like I might have an aneurysm, too?”

“Gits. Did you punch 'em for it?”

She shook her head against his shoulder. “I don't live in your world during the day, Spike. I have to just ignore them... or flip them off when teachers aren't looking.”

Spike chuckled and kissed the top of her head. “A better person than me, Nibblet.”

“And some of the girls were asking questions about you and Buffy. I guess they read the obituary, because they wanted to know stuff. Like why I never mentioned my sister was married. Like how far along she is--”

“You wanna run that by me again?”

“My sister is barely twenty and newly married, in a wedding that was kept quiet. They assumed you knocked her up. Stupid, right? And I really, really wish I could tell them she's actually about 23.”

“I know, Bit, but we can't. Too many people know already. Seems like more do than don't, some days.”

They were silent for a few minutes, each in their own thoughts. Dawn tilted her head up to look at him. “Tell me about the first time. Did we have a talk like this?”

“No.” Spike leaned his head back against the sofa. “First time around, the Scoobies rallied around you and your sis, a bit like now. But Glinda was just the quiet bird at Red's side. Lydia wasn't here. Rupert had to step in to keep you out of trouble... 'cause Buffy was completely shut down. Did all her grieving on the inside, didn't spend much time with you at all.”

“What about you?”

“Did my grieving alone, too. Was on the outs with the lot of you at the time.”

“Buffy's still kind of shut down,” Dawn said quietly. “I can tell she's trying, but sometimes, she acts like nothing happened, and sometimes, everything makes her cry.”

“Different reason this time. She thinks we could have stopped it.”

“But Whistler said you couldn't. I'd think he would know.”

“Buffy wanted to prove him wrong. ...Doesn't like that bloke much to start with. Him being right about something like this? She's gonna make a habit of punching him hello, wait and see.”

“Can I help?”

“I hope you never have to spend much time with him, Bit. His kind only comes into lives they want to change. They seek out people they want to use.”

“Do you think that's why Mom had to die? Do you think they needed her for something?”

“Don't know. Hope so.” He sighed. “I'd like to think we're done with losing people for no reason.”

“The girls you guys talked about... Some of them didn't make it?”

Spike nodded against the sofa cushion, his mind on graves dug in the backyard. “Potential slayers. The general's army. One day, we'll tell you about the girls, Bit, all of 'em. The ones still alive when we left, and the ones we lost.” He lifted his head. “Meantime, don't you have homework?”

Dawn pressed closer to his shoulder. “I don't feel like doing homework. I think I'll just stay here.”

“Stay for now. But after supper, you get your books, and we'll help you get through it, alright?”

“You're supposed to be the bad influence, Spike. You're supposed to say 'forget the stupid homework.'”

“No, I'm supposed to be your brother in law, and help your sis keep you outta trouble.”

“Until Dad takes me away,” Dawn grumbled. “I'm sure he'll show up anytime now.”

“Nibblet, your sis is gonna try for custody, and your father's not gonna fight it. Last time around, she got to keep you, barely.”

“Barely? Like Dad could still take me? Or foster care?”

“Better odds this time. Ever ask yourself why we were in a rush to get hitched?” Spike wiggled the fingers of his left hand in her line of sight, from where his wrist rested on her shoulder, drawing her attention to his ring. “These were custody insurance, Bit. A show of stability. We got married for you.”

*~*~*

Ben tilted his head back against the head rest. “Jinx, she said no. Whoever it is Buffy's involved with, I think she's serious about him. She made it very clear she's not interested in me anymore.”

“But you must try again! Glorificus wishes to know more about the girl and her friends.”

Ben frowned at the demon in his passenger's seat. “What would she want with Buffy? Or her friends? And why now?”

Jinx opened the door of the parked car, but was grabbed by the arm and held inside the vehicle.

“Tell me what she's up to,” Ben demanded, tightening his grip.

After a moment, Jinx closed the door. “The girl is the slayer. It is she who protects the Key.”

“Little tiny Buffy is the slayer? And Glory thinks she'll tell me where the Key is? She's out of her mind.”

“Glorificus only wishes to know where the slayer's friends live. Braxa has not returned from her scouting assignment, so we must learn by other means. Glorificus also wishes to spend more time with the slayer's beau.”

“So Glory wants to know where to find Buffy's friends? And she thinks the Key is her boyfriend? Is that what you're saying?”

“No. Glorificus wishes to know of one specific friend. A tall young man with dark hair. As for the beau, she says he cannot be her Key, because he is a vampire. But he is close to the slayer. He lives in her house. He must know the identity of the Key.”

Ben's eyes widened. “The boyfriend is a vampire? Who lives with her? And you think I can just get her out on a date as easily as that?” He snapped his fingers. “Do you know anything about how dating works?”

“Glorificus is wise, friend. Wiser than you think. If you cannot learn the tall man's location, you will bring the girl home. We will fetch the vampire. It would be dangerous for us to attempt to take them together. Once Glorificus has both, she needs only to make one suffer to make the other talk.”

Ben shook his head. “No. I'm not going to lure Buffy into a torture trap. And Glory's really lost it if she thinks I can woo the slayer from her vampire without getting myself killed. Either one of them could send me to the morgue.”

“Her Greatness' might will protect you from harm, as always,” Jinx said, his tone nearly reassuring. “This is all she asks of you. Charm the girl into spending some time with you, so that you might learn of her friend, or take her home to meet your sister.”

“You really don't get it, do you? You don't charm a girl who has a live-in boyfriend. I didn't even know she had a boyfriend until recently, let alone a live-in!”

“You must try, friend. You must! Time grows short!”

“I'm aware of that. Get out of my car, Jinx.”

“But--”

“If you want to take the vampire, that's your business. If you're going to attack Buffy, count me out.”

Jinx started to get out of the car.

Ben's voice followed him. “But if she becomes available, let me know.”

*~*~*

A low voice whispered in her ear. “If you wanted to be the sort who waits up for her husband to come home, you shouldn't have married a vampire.”

Buffy opened her eyes to find Spike sitting beside her on the sofa. “If I had any sense, I'd have staked you years ago, and waiting up for you wouldn't be an issue.” She yawned. “What time is it?”

“Coming up on four. That bloody lizard took a while to chop up.”

“You went after Doc. Cathartic?”

“You have no idea.” Spike smiled, shaking his head. “Hope it takes this time.”

She noticed the scythe in his hand. “I see you took one of the twins out for the job.”

He raised an eyebrow at her.

“We have to come up with a new name for the scythes, don't we?”

“Definitely.” He stood up and took her hand to pull her to her feet. “Come on. Let's get you to bed.”

She yawned again as she stood. “You couldn't have made that offer last night, when I was drunk?”

“Wasn't making any offer but sleep.” He led her toward the basement, still holding her hand.

“You used to be fun. It's been at least a week since you even flirted with me.”

'Bloody hell. Now she appreciates it.'

“I've been appreciating it for quite a while now, thank you.”

Spike brought them to a sudden stop at the top of the basement stairs. “You heard that?”

“What? Your grumbling? ...Oh. Dammit. So much for extra strength.”





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