Chapter Notes:

Some plans have shadows. Some plans have echoes.


Chapter 35: Healing Soldiers

April, 2001

Xander let himself in and closed the door behind him. He heard Spike's voice from the living room.

“Harris?”

“Yeah. How'd you know?” Xander came into the living room to find Dawn and Spike playing cards at the coffee table.

“Hey, Xander!” Dawn greeted.

Spike tapped the side of his nose in explanation. “Send the blokes my regards. Gonna have to beg off this week.”

“Hey, Dawnmeister. Why?”

“On duty all night. Buffy's out of town.”

Xander sat down on the sofa. “Where'd she run off to?”

“Slayer vision quest with Rupert. Gin.” Spike laid out his cards.

“And that's supposed to be mentioned like it's as casual as a trip to the grocery store?”

Dawn threw down her cards. “Ok, I give. I bow before the Gin champ. How about a board game? I can see if Tara's ready to take a break from writing that Sociology paper.”

“Sure, Bit. But don't hassle her if she says no.”

Dawn stood up. “Xander? Do you want to join us?”

“Sorry, Dawnie. It's Wednesday. I'm on my way to Willy's.” Xander watched her run upstairs, then turned back to Spike. “So... vision quest?”

“Slayer's hoping to get some answers 'bout a few--”

Bells started ringing all over the house. Both men jumped to their feet.

Before Xander reached the weapons chest in the corner, the front and back doors flew open. Glory's minions swarmed in, as fast as their feet could carry them. Spike found his path to the basement -and thus the scythes- completely blocked. He turned back to Xander, hoping to get a sword thrown to him, but Xander was going down under a flurry of punches from the only minions who were not focused on restraining the vampire.

Jinx called to his compatriots. “Careful! Leave the slayer's toy in tact. Glorificus will want to inflict his wounds herself.”

Spike was bound and gagged in a matter of seconds. As he was dragged backwards out the front door, struggling wildly, he made eye contact with Tara, who was coming down the stairs.

She backed up from the landing, out of sight, her heart racing. “Oh, goddess. Not again,” she whispered.

As soon as the alarm stopped, Dawn came out of Tara's room, where she'd been hiding. “Tara?”

“Pack a bag, Dawnie. Take your school books. We're going to Lydia's.” Having issued this command, Tara ran downstairs to check on Xander.

“What the hell just happened?” He asked, pulling himself up off the floor. “I think I just got beat up by a bunch of ugly garden gnomes.”

“That's one way of putting it. Are you going to be ok?”

Xander rubbed his cheek. “I think so. Where's Dawnie?”

“Upstairs. Xander, they've taken Spike. Are you ok to drive?”

*~*~*

The first slayer stood on the other side of the fire, peering through the flames, like a cat stalking its prey in the grass. “You walk this path with your own shadow.”

“I know,” Buffy said. “I've been here before. I'm hoping for something other than 'Death is your gift,' this time around.”

“Death will bring you to your gift.”

Buffy frowned. “Um, yeah... That's not a hell of a lot better.”

“Forge strength from your pain. Touch the demon within.”

“Hmm. My inner demon. That kind of is my strength. At least, that's my understanding of it.”

“You fear it, fear to draw from it. Respect its value. Let it roar. Challenge what should not be.”

“Uh-huh. You know, between you, the Guardian, Dru, Althenea, and freakin' Whistler, I've got a whole lot of cryptic garbage rattling around in my head. Can someone be straight with me, for once?” Buffy stood up from the rock on which she was perched, visibly irritated.

“Death will bring you to your gift.”

“You may call yourself a guide, but the only place you're guiding me is right back to the crazy clinic. Death will bring me to my gift, huh? Whose death? Mine? 'Cause I've been down that road, a few times. I'm kind of over it. And if someone else's death brings the gift, I vote no. We're all walking away from this thing, alive and kicking. I'll tear Glory apart with my bare hands, if I have to. I did not go through all this again just so it can fall apart now. So what's the gift? Another year of mystical psychobabble?”

The first slayer was suddenly right in front of her, nearly nose to nose, looking into her eyes.

Buffy didn't flinch. “Come on, give it to me straight. What. Is. The. Gift?”

“You already know. Power. The power of memory. The power of experience.”

“Well, I'd say death has already brought me that. That's the reason I'm here, walking this path with my own shadow. Quoting my 2003 thoughts doesn't answer my question.”

“Forge strength from your pain, call upon the demon within. Let death bring you to your gift.”

“So 'no' on the straightforward. 'Yes' to repetitive cryptic shit. Wonderful.”

“Your question has been answered.”

The first slayer vanished, as did the fire. Buffy looked at the sky and sighed. “I should have known better. Clarity really is too much to ask for.” She turned and trudged back across the desert.

*~*~*

Xander slammed on the brakes when he saw the metallic glint of a car off the side of the road. He threw the sedan into reverse, backed up a few yards, turned, and sped off the road, across the packed dirt and sand, coming to a stop a few feet from the red convertible.

Giles waved away the dust cloud with his hand. “Xander? What on Earth...?”

Xander slammed the car door closed behind him. “Where is she?”

“You've been in a fight?” Giles squinted at Xander's face in the light provided by the sedan's headlights. “Is everyone alright?”

“Not exactly. Questing time is over. Which direction?”

“I'm right here,” Buffy said, coming around a cluster of brush, just beyond the headlights' reach. “What's up?”

Giles looked over at her, surprised. “Buffy! So soon? Was your quest successful?”

Xander had no patience for the preliminaries. “Spike's been kidnapped.”

“Damn! I should have known! ...That something would happen.” She opened the passenger's door of Xander's car. While he ran back to the driver's side, she said to Giles, “Screw that guide and the horse she rode in on. Drusilla makes more sense. Let's go.”

She slammed the door behind her and Xander's car sped off toward the road. Giles' convertible was soon behind it.

*~*~*

The phone ringing jolted Lydia from her dozing at her desk. “Hello?”

“Lydia, it's Xander. We're back at Buffy's. I've just called Ahn. She's on her way downstairs to your place to stay with Dawnie. We need you and Tara here ASAP, to gear up. We're racing the sunrise.”

“Um, alright.” Lydia rubbed her eyes. “Where are we going?”

“General Buffster plans to stake out Glory's front door.”

*~*~*

Xander fidgeted with the crossbow and looked up at the staircases. “Are you sure we're in the right place?”

From her position in the center of the lobby, Buffy nodded. “We, uh, did some minion stalking. You know, turning the tables. This is the place.”

“But we're not going up?”

“Nope. We wait. They'll come to us.”

“Are you sure?”

“I'm sure they'll come.” She pointed to each of the staircases in turn. “And I'm sure those are great choke points for them coming down, and choke points for us if we go up.”

*~*~*

An angry kick sent Spike flying out of the apartment and into the hallway. He pried open the elevator doors and fell down the shaft, landing with a groan on top of the car. “Don't be late, love,” he whispered. He rolled to the side to pull open the ceiling hatch.

*~*~*

A crossbow bolt hit Murk in the shoulder. He tumbled down the stairs. His compatriots ran past him as he rolled, dodging arrows, and coming face to face with a primly dressed woman stationed near where he came to rest.

She blocked their path with her sword. “Hello. You must be the minions I've heard so much about.” One of them raised his own blade toward her. She looked down over the rims of her glasses at her challenger. “I do hope you've prepared for this.”

With a sword fight blocking their path, some of the other minions on that staircase opted to jump the railing into the lobby. Others ran back upstairs to come down the other flight, dodging flying crossbow bolts from a middle-aged man and a younger one to do so. Two of those who made it to the lobby floor unharmed soon found themselves struggling to move, as their swords and daggers were suddenly very heavy.

The woman standing by the lobby door with her hands raised gave them a crooked smile and a lighthearted shrug. “You could always disarm.”

The blade of a dark green scythe cut through the neck of one fast-moving minion as he neared the elevator. Buffy called to the younger of the crossbow-wielding men, “Xan! Fall back! Cover Tara! Lydia! Status!”

Lydia, now with three opponents, and dangerously close to being in range to be tripped by the injured Murk, gasped out. “Tara! A little weight, please!”

As Buffy took on another minion trying to get to the elevator, she called, “Giles! Elevator! They're after their prisoner!”

Tara shifted her focus from the pair she'd incapacitated in the middle of the lobby to two of the three fighting Lydia. As their raised swords clattered from their hands, Giles ran toward the elevator.

The recently freed pair rushed at him. One went down from a crossbow bolt through the back of his leg, care of Xander. The other stopped abruptly, two steps from the elevator door, when the scythe flew past his head and embedded in the wall beside the door.

Its owner was only a second behind it. She pinned him to the wall, her forearm pressed to his throat as she pulled her weapon free. “Go upstairs,” she said with a dangerous glint in her eyes. “And tell her magnificent skankiness to keep her grubby paws off my vampire, or I'll show her what 'Hell on Earth' is really like. And it will be just as slow as she promised for him.”

Beside them, the elevator opened, and Giles rushed to Spike's side.

Buffy tapped the minion's cheek with the edge of her blade, drawing a line of blood. “That's the deal I'm offering. One time only, of course.” She stepped back, letting him scamper away.

He called out to his fellows, and they ran back toward the stairs, dragging their injured up with them.

Lydia, Xander, and Tara stepped around the dead minions and dropped weapons to gather at the elevator.

Buffy stepped into the car as soon as the last survivors disappeared up the stairs, handing the scythe off to Tara as she passed her. She crouched down to put her arm around Spike's waist and one of his arms over her shoulder. Slowly, she brought him to his feet. “You look like hell, Sparky.”

“You're late,” he said, wincing in pain.

“Actually, you are. And you're still heavy.”

The crowd stepped aside to let them exit the elevator. As they followed the slowly moving pair out, Xander said to Tara, “Am I the only one who gets the feeling they've done this before?”

Tara avoided eye contact. “Wha-- What do you mean?”

“Like she's come to his rescue like this before. He's not surprised she's here. She's not surprised he's injured. And she carries him like she's had practice.”

“Xander, if you were in his place, would you be surprised if Anya came to get you, proverbial guns a-blazing?”

He considered that for a second. “No, I guess I wouldn't. But I think she'd be a little more emotional about it. Buffy's just... not. I mean, I know better, but she acts like she wasn't even worried about him.”

Giles fell back a step to join them, having been listening. “When people start calling Anya 'General,' Xander, your argument might carry some weight.” He watched Buffy ease Spike into the backseat of Xander's car. “She compartmentalizing as best she can, given that her lieutenant is also her husband.”

*~*~*

Spike passed out on the sofa almost immediately after being placed on it. When he came to, a pair of gentle hands were cleaning the wounds on his chest and stomach. “Glinda?”

“Hey,” Tara said with a soft smile. “Someone put some holes in you.” She helped him up into a sitting position and offered him a mug. “You probably need this.”

“Thanks, pet.” He took a sip of the warm blood, and nearly spit it out. “What the...?”

“She insisted.”

“Where is she?”

“Um, I'm pretty sure Buffy's having a post-battle panic attack on the back porch.” She stopped him from getting up with a hand on his shoulder. “The sun's out, and you're in bad enough shape as it is. She's offering you a gift to help you heal, Spike. Just accept it.”

*~*~*

When Giles stepped onto the back porch, Buffy was sitting on the top step, her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. “Buffy?”

She lowered her hands, but didn't look at him. Her voice was hard. “If this is the liability speech, you need to get out of Sunnydale before I get to my scythe.”

He nodded slowly at that warning, and leaned on the rail, looking out at the backyard. “I came to check on you, not to chastise you.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“I know you aren't past it, Buffy. I'm not going to ask you to pretend that you are. I would, however, appreciate the benefit of the doubt on occasion.”

“Sorry, sorry. I'll try.” She gestured to Spike's usual place on her left. “Will you sit?”

He joined her. “The last time we sat here together, the conversation ended with you running off to see Drusilla.”

“Ah, the logical one. The seer that makes the most sense.” Buffy shook her head. “The spirit guide didn't give me anything useful, just more word salad. As nutty as Dru is, talking to her was easier.” She shrugged. “Maybe my expectations are lower for her.”

“Low enough to leave without a stake?”

Buffy threw him a lighthearted glare. “Now, don't you start, too. As it is, Spike's never going to let me hear the end of that one.”

“As well he shouldn't. What did she say to you?”

“Which one? Spike's sire, Princess Crazytown? Or my ancestor, Ugh the Cave Slayer?”

Giles smothered his smile. “Um, either.”

“'Death will bring your to your gift.'” She checked his face for a reaction. “Nothing? 'Forge strength from your pain.' Nothing? Ok, how about this one -this is from Dru- 'Yearning for it, for the battle that never began. As good as dead.'”

Giles' eyebrows lifted at the last quote.

“See? I told you she makes more sense! She followed that up with yelling at me to stop seeking it, by the way. I think Dru sees that I get homesick sometimes, and that it's not good for me... or Spike. I don't know, maybe she thinks it could bring the death wish surging back into my brain.”

“You aren't thinking of... letting go again, are you?”

“Don't look so worried, Giles. I'm fine. I'm not going to jump.” Buffy dropped her face into her hands again. “Ugh. Now I sound like Spike.” She looked up at him. “That just means I have no intention of dying this time. I expect you all to be stuck with me for a very long time. At least, that's the goal.”

“I certainly hope so.”

There was a long silence. When Buffy spoke again, her voice was a whisper. “Dru doesn't think I'm going to die. The spirit guide really wasn't too clear on the matter. We've changed a lot of stuff, Giles, big and small. But that rescue mission early this morning? It was almost identical to the first time.”

“That's why you had us take up posts in the lobby. And how you knew Spike was in the elevator.”

She nodded. “Waiting for the minions to come looking for him was our best chance of getting him out without getting one of us killed. So I let Spike bring the fight away from Glory herself, just like he did the first time.”

“Fortunately, he had the same idea. We all managed to escape unharmed, save for the prisoner himself.”

“He'll be alright soon, if he doesn't throw a fit about taking his medicine.” Buffy pushed up her shirt sleeve to reveal a bandage on the inside of her forearm.

Giles frowned. “Buffy, you really shouldn't have. No matter your relationship, that's a poor precedent to set.”

“It was a tactical decision, Giles. I need him healed up and ready for war.” Her voice dropped back to a whisper. “As for precedents, it won't be the last time, but it might be the last time there's a knife and a coffee mug involved.”

Giles gulped. “Oh, dear lord. Buffy, you know better than to allow that. Feeding from you--”

“Not feeding.”

His jaw dropped when he caught her meaning. “You can't mean...?”

She nodded again. “Probably soon. I'm not totally sure I'm ready, and the timing is terrible, besides. So we're waiting. After this Glory thing is over, most likely. ...I told you the plan was for me to be around for a long time.”

“I-- I thought you meant a human lifespan.”

“And now you know why the PTB is so far up in our business. Spike and I are going to be long-term assets. Maybe even agents.” She looked up at him. “I've been wanting to tell you, for a while now.”

“Well, I'm, um... I'm grateful you've chosen to take me into your confidence. I understand such matters are not generally spoken of outside the family. Perhaps you trust me more than you think you do?”

“Maybe. Maybe you're still a part of our family. I just wanted you to know.”

“My slayer will outlive me, by a substantial margin.” Giles shook his head with a soft smile. “You never were fond of the rules of this grisly business of ours. I should have known you'd end up breaking all of them.” He studied her face. “I do hope that worried look is for another reason.”

“It is. We knew Glory had taken an interest in Spike, but the timing of her follow-through really bothers me. When she took him the first time, it was while I was on my vision quest. Did one of her minions just happen to spot me on my way out of town? Was the timing a coincidence? Or is this a warning that the end game this time around is going to look a lot like it did before?”

“An omen?”

“More like the natural cycle of events. Glory's desperate. She's pressing buttons, trying to see if she can get any useful info. A vampire is a good target for her. She's far less likely to accidentally kill him before she gets him to talk.”

“Is that why she took him the first time?”

“No, the first time, her minions thought he was the Key. There was a big misunderstanding with a robot and--” She shook her head. “Never mind. The point is, in that timeline, after her minions screwed up, she kept him to try to get him to talk. Since she already knows he's not the Key this time around, she probably had him snatched with that goal in mind.” Buffy chuckled. “Of course, if she had any sense, she wouldn't be trying to coax Spike to talk to her. The first time around, he bruised up her ego. Judging by the fact that he used the same escape plan this time, I'm betting that ego is smarting as we speak.”

“You aren't in the least concerned that he--”

“No,” she answered quickly. “I know better.” She paused, sorting out her thoughts. “But I also know that if this end game is going to look even a little like the first time around, I need to get my ducks in a row.” She looked him in the eye. “Giles, if I don't make it this time, I'm not sure Spike is going to be able to hold up his end of the deal. He took it so hard the first time. This time, I won't be coming back, and he and are significantly more... invested in each other now.”

“You think he might... um...”

“Take a morning stroll? Yeah, I think it's possible. I need a promise from you. If I die, and Spike can't bring himself to stay, you have to let Tara take the lead, and back her up. She knows our plans. She knows where the things that are written down are stashed, and she knows what isn't written. She'll need you to help with Dawnie, and your support when she breaks Faith out of prison.”

“Buffy, do you think it's likely we'll lose you?”

“No, I really don't. Not anymore. I'm determined to get all of us out of this alive. Even if things end up kind of similar to the first time, I think we can pull it off. But if I'm wrong? I don't see Spike doing too well as a widower. At the very least, you'll be regretting not buying stock in Jack Daniels. It could take months to pull him out from the bottom of the bottle, assuming he ever comes out at all.”

“The argument you had at Christmas, about Faith. This is what it was really about, wasn't it? ...Oh.” Giles' tilted his head toward the sky as realization set in. “You've been preparing for the possibility since your arrival in this time, haven't you?”

She nodded. “Spike hates my contingency planning, with a fiery passion. For a cynical old vamp, he's got a weird streak of blind optimism about some things that even my determination can't match.”

“I think his optimism is about you.”

“Which could be a big problem, if it turns out to be wrong. Giles, I need to know you'll be here if I'm gone, standing behind Tara, helping her to get the Scoobies back on track and carry what's left of my family through, whether or not that still includes Spike.”

“And if you're not gone? If all goes well? I don't mean to be crass, Buffy, but you've given me no reason not to wonder if I'll be tossed aside when everyone survives. I think I deserve to know where our relationship stands. Am I but a soldier you've taken into confidence? Or am I actually a part of the family?”

“If Spike and Dawn are safe in your hands, no matter the situation...”

“They are.”

“I hope so. And I also hope you want to stay close to us when this is over. I think... I think I've missed having you close.” Buffy took a deep breath, restraining her emotions. “I never did thank you for being there, helping us get through the stuff with Mom.”

“Your lieutenant requested I stay. Again. More appropriately, your husband requested it.”

Buffy managed a small smile. “What did I tell you?”

“That he's always watching your back?”

“Always.” She stood up. “I should probably go check on him.”

Giles stood with her. “Before we go inside, may I ask you a personal question?”

“Um, I may not answer, but ok.”

“'Sparky'?”

She laughed. “It's just a nickname.”

“It's a ridiculous nickname, even by the low standards of a vampire known as 'Spike.'”

Buffy shook off her smile. “Giles, when Spike first came back after getting his soul, he wasn't quite right in the head. Honestly? He was Dru-level crazy. He kept referring to his soul as 'the spark.'”

“Ah, so 'Sparky' refers the soul.”

“No, 'Sparky' refers to the man who fought to get it. And when the world was crashing down on us, he willingly accepted an assignment where having the spark would likely cost him his life, because it would serve the greater good. 'Sparky' isn't just a term of endearment. It's also a sign of respect, a way of calling him Champion.” She turned and went inside, with Giles close behind her.

They walked into the living room to find Spike slouched on the sofa, sipping from a mug. “So how's Glory's favorite chew toy?” she asked.

“Bit better. Someone slipped a surprise into my mug.” Spike held up his mug. “This is round two. Glinda got it from the fridge 'fore she went up to bed.”

Buffy sat down beside him and propped her feet up on the coffee table. “There's plenty more of round one, you know.”

“Slayer,” he growled. “Once was enough. Shouldn't have even done that. Need your strength up.” He nodded to Giles as the man took a chair near the sofa. “Rupert.”

“Yours, too. Hence the offer.”

“Be alright. Give it a day or two.”

“I should have done this the first time.”

“Eh, I got the first real crumb instead. I think it balances out.” Spike drained his mug. “You two have a good chat out there?”

“Yes, I believe so,” Giles said. “I have a better understanding of the situation now, of how things stand, both with Glory, and between to two of you.”

Spike focused the eye that wasn't swollen shut on Giles as he took in his meaning. “Love, think you can give us a minute?”

Buffy looked from one to the other, then stood up. “Ok, but keep the manly 'protect the little woman' talk to just talk, or I'll kick both your asses.” She lifted Spike's empty mug from his hand. “More?”

“Yeah, guess I need it. But this round had best be from the butcher, Buffy.”

“Fine, fine. Heal slower if you want.” She rolled her eyes. “I'm going to make a pot of coffee. Giles?”

“Please. None of us slept last night, and I think it's beginning to show.”

As Buffy left for the kitchen, Spike pulled himself from his slouch into a more upright position, trying hard not to groan in pain as he did so. “Alright, Rupes. Go ahead. Get it out of your system.”

But Giles' tone was not angry. “I assume you've discussed the risks? She's mostly human, Spike.”

“What risks? That accidental turning hogwash?” Spike waved a hand dismissively. “Council fairy tales. Likely written for no other reason than to keep their slayers on the straight and narrow. Bloody good thing Buffy's done more research on it than you have.”

“I'd hoped that wasn't a possibility.” Giles shifted in his seat. “You'll, um, see that she's happy?”

Spike tilted his head at the watcher. “You making up for not having a fatherly chat before the wedding?”

“Maybe. Forever is a long time, Spike.”

“Figured that out when your grandfather was in short pants, Watcher.”

“Buffy doesn't have that perspective.”

“She'll manage. Something Althenea said to us... Buffy's led the kind of life that gets her comfortable with the idea. She meant mostly me, but I figure Peaches played a role in that, too.” He studied the furrowed brow across from him. “She'll manage, Rupert,” he said emphatically. “The first generation or two of funerals might be rough, but I'll see her through. It'll get easier as we go along.”

“I hope so.” Giles looked down at his hands in his lap as he sorted his thoughts. When he looked up, his focus was on Spike's left hand. “If I may ask, why even bother with a human marriage? Next to this, it's nearly meaningless.”

“Eh, well, I'm awfully fond of calling that woman my wife. Has a nice ring.”

“I'm being serious, Spike.”

“The human marriage wasn't for us, not really. Did that mostly for the Nibblet's sake.”

There was a moment's pause. “For custody. You were planning ahead.”

“Buffy had a hard time keeping the Bit the first time 'round. A husband who happens to come with a fat bank account can make all the difference in the world.”

“When will you know?”

“Hearing's next week. 'Less by some miracle Hank Summers has decided to be a bloody parent, looks like we're gonna get to keep our girl at home, where she belongs. Did well on the Social Services visit.”

“Should I plan to attend, as someone who can speak to the characters of Dawn's potential guardians?”

“Should I worry 'bout what you'd say?”

Giles was chuckling when Buffy came back into the room, carrying two full mugs. “Black, two sugars. Swine, 98.6. What's so funny?”

“I was just offering to be a character witness at the custody hearing.”

“Oh, god.” Buffy's concerned expression matched Spike's. “Should I worry about what you would say?”





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