Chapter Notes:

Some ripples become waves.


Chapter 39: Broken Armor

May, 2001

“Here's how it's going to work, guys. Two teams of four. One witch per team, for emergency barriers. One vamp per team, for sewer navigation. Lieutenant, home or shop? Your call.”

“Shop's closer. Can hit there and detour home to back you up.”

Buffy nodded. “Sounds good. Plan B is simple everyone: If anything happens, do everything you can to get back here alive. And protect the witches as much as possible. We aren't going to see the end of this without them, I can pretty much guarantee it.”

Spike lifted the scythes from their case and handed her one. “Fledge, you're with Buffy. Rupert, I'm guessing you want to be on the shop team?”

As Giles nodded, Anya raised a hand. “Me, too.”

Xander looked at Buffy. “I guess that puts me with you.”

Buffy addressed the witches. “Ladies?”

“Take Red, General. She's not keen on following my lead.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow at Willow in a mimic of Spike's well-known silent skepticism that made the witch's frown at being called out deepen considerably.

“You're on board here, aren't you, Wils? Because if you aren't, we will get to a phone and ask Althenea to teleport you back, right now. No questions asked.”

“I'm here to help, Buffy. Really.”

The skeptical look was slow to fade. “Ok, then. But you're not going to be walking behind my lieutenant. Tara, shop team.”

Giles sucked in a breath at the familiar phrasing, hearing in those words how precarious Willow's position had suddenly become.

Buffy continued with barely a glance at him. “My team: We're staying on the surface as long as possible. If I'm spotted, it'll suck, but pointing out that we're hiding underground would suck more. We aren't going to stay long, guys. We'll get the lock box, glance around to see what else they may have dug up, and head back.”

Spike addressed his team.“We'll take the sewers. Get into the shop from below. Go in, grab the diaries, hightail it to the house. Slayer, leave the manhole cover nearest the house ajar if it's safe to come up?”

“That works. If the cover's closed, we're already gone, running or walking.” Buffy looked around. “Any questions?”

Heads shook all around the room.

“Willow, drop the barrier.”

Willow raised her palms, and the hazy blue barrier dissipated with a faint fizzling sound. She reached out to Tara, drawing her into her arms. “Be careful, baby. I love you.”

Tara returned the hug rather stiffly, but whispered “I love you, too” in her girlfriend's ear, in an attempt to ease the distance between them.

Xander followed their lead, pulling Anya into a hug and kiss. “Be safe, ok? Stay close to Spike.”

Anya gripped him tightly. “I will. I love you.”

Spike and Buffy were the only couple that didn't embrace. They looked each other in the eye for a long moment. “Just a quick recovery run, right?” he asked.

“Yeah.” She shifted her weight. “No big deal.”

“You still look like hell.”

“You, too.”

“Got a bad feeling in my gut...”

“Ditto.” Buffy shrugged. “That's the job.”

“If the shop's clear, we'll give Nibblet a ring. Safer than calling from the house.”

“Good idea. Redial, and all.”

The silence stretched between them.

“If the box is compromised...” She began.

“I know. But I'm still not gonna let you...”

“I hear you.”

Giles cleared his throat, drawing their attention to the six pairs of eyes watching them.

Buffy started toward the ladder. “Let's go.”

*~*~*

As they walked through Restfield's open gate, Willow giggled, in an obvious attempt to break the tension. “Usually, when we're marching off to do something dangerous, we're walking into a cemetery.”

Xander threw an arm over Eddie's small shoulders. “But we still have a vamp in tow. Just not either of the ones we're used to.”

“At least we've stayed in the family. Distantly,” Buffy responded distractedly. She was carefully watching their surroundings. “Eddie, you're my super ears tonight.”

“I'm listening. So far, so good.”

“So are you going to tell us why you wrote down all that stuff?” Xander asked. “Giles, I get. Occupational habit. But you never write much, let alone enough notes to fill a box. ...How big is this box, anyway?”

“Small. One day, Xan, we'll explain everything,” Buffy murmured, glancing over her shoulder.

“Funny, Spike once said something kinda like that to me.”

“Me, too,” Willow said with a frown. “What are you guys hiding?”

Before Buffy could come up with a reply, Eddie grabbed her sleeve. “People around the next corner.”

She nodded for him to walk ahead, and held up a hand to stop Xander and Willow. “I always hate this part,” she whispered as they waited. “Sending young kids out...” She shook her head, realizing who she was talking to. “Never mind. Head injury. My brain's still all wobbly.”

“Yeah. I'm wondering if you need to go back to bed, Buffster.”

“My headache agrees with you.”

Eddie stepped back around the corner, into their line of sight, and gestured for them to approach. “All clear,” he whispered when they were close. He grinned. “I kind of like this. We're like the spies in the movies. This is a really cool job.”

“A cool job,” Buffy echoed, remembering her conversation with Henry. She sighed. “Some days, it is, Eddie. But others? You're sneaking into your own house, and hoping to get back to a cemetery alive.”

*~*~*

Buffy unlocked the back door. She took a deep breath before opening it, bracing herself for a mess. She looked over her shoulder as Eddie ran back around the house. “Are we clear out there?”

“Yeah. I didn't see anyone out front. I left the manhole cover in front of the next house sitting a little off.”

“Alright, then.” Buffy took another deep breath and opened the door. “Come in, Eddie.”

The four of them walked into the kitchen to find a bowl of potato chips sitting abandoned on the counter, and everything else clean and tidy. They toured the rest of the main floor. In the dining room, a pile of maps were strewn about on top of the sideboard, but everything else looked normal. In the living room, the weapons chest was open, but not emptied. The room was otherwise perfectly neat.

“Some ransacking,” Willow mumbled.

“They've put it back together,” Buffy said, studying the carefully fanned stack of magazines on the coffee table and the perfectly straight rows of photos on the mantle. “A little too well. They want us to think they were never here.”

“So, we're thinking trap?” Xander asked.

“Either that, or she doesn't want us to see how desperate she is. According to Lydia's research, the lunar alignment she needs is going to pass soon. Xan, look around upstairs. I'm betting you'll see signs of Dawn having packed in a hurry, whatever mess Spike made in Tara's room when he packed her stuff, and everything else will be perfect. Eddie, watch the front. Wils, the back. I'll be downstairs. We need to get out of here. Fast.”

Buffy ran down the basement stairs, the jarring motion aggravating her lingering headache. As she expected, dresser drawers and wardrobe doors were wide open. Everything else appeared to be in place, save the cordless phone on the middle of the bed. She traded it for her scythe and hit the redial button as she crawled under the bed. By the time she crawled back out, she had ended the call, having received no answer at the Magic Box.

“That had better be a good sign.” Buffy threw the phone back onto the bed and retrieved her weapon. She gave the room one last look, then switched the quote prints near the nightstands. “That'll be a good 'welcome home' for him,” she whispered with a smirk. She ran back upstairs with the lock box in hand.

Xander was returning from the second floor when Buffy reached the hall. “You called it, Buff. Exactly. It's a little spooky, to tell you the truth.”

“Agreed. Eddie, how's it looking?”

Eddie turned from the front door. “I thought I heard something a minute ago, but I'm not sure.”

Xander clapped a hand on the vampire's thin shoulder. “Are you ok, buddy? You look nervous.”

He nodded. “I can handle this, Xander. Don't worry.”

Buffy turned to call toward the kitchen. “Wils?”

“Nothing out back.”

“Eddie, run out and close the manhole cover. Meet us in the alley between the backyards. If you run into trouble out there, go below and head toward Main street. Try to find Spike's team.”

“What about you guys?”

“We're going out the back. We'll wait in the alley for a minute, but if you don't show, we'll assume you've hit the sewers, and keep ourselves moving. Ok?”

“Ok.” Eddie put his hand on the door knob. “Are you sure?”

The look in his eyes made Buffy gulp, images of other scared young faces flashing through her mind. “Kid, if you're not up for maybe finding out what that noise was, don't be afraid to say so.”

“Um, no. I can do it. But what if you need an escort down below again? You got pretty lost before.”

“We'll manage. Just take care of you, ok?”

Eddie nodded and exited the house. He heard the front door lock behind him. He hurried out to the street, and was about to kick the manhole cover back into place, when a metallic chinking sound made him turn around.

“The Key is the link. The link must be severed. Such is the will of God.”

He brought forth his fangs, hoping to scare the knight away long enough to make a run for it.

The knight barely flinched. He raised his sword as he spoke. “Demon.”

Eddie had just enough time to scream out Buffy's name before he was beheaded, some of his ashes falling through the gap between the manhole cover and the street.

“The demon was going into the sewers!” the knight called to his comrades. “That may be where the girl has hidden the Key!”

In the backyard, Buffy turned around at the sound of the scream, and the abrupt disappearance of the weak Aurelian signature from her senses. She addressed her companions without looking at them. “Run.”

Willow and Xander, too loyal -or too curious- to be obedient, followed her as she edged along the side of the house, stealing a peek at the street.

The three of them watched as chain mail-clad knights filed down the ladder, into the sewers. A heavyset, middle-aged man stood nearby, gesturing to another manhole down the street, presumably directing the rest of his followers to join the others below. “Oh, god,” Buffy whispered. “Spike's team is headed straight toward them.”

“Do we intercept or lead them away?” Xander asked.

She thought for a second. “Lead them away. I like that.” She led them through the backyards to a neighboring street, and they climbed down into the sewers. She followed the echoing sound of men in armor marching, moving as fast as she could with her human companions.

As they approached a tunnel intersection, just behind the marching soldiers, Willow pushed Buffy aside to take the lead. “I have a better idea.”

Buffy grabbed her friend's arm to yank her back before she was spotted, holding her with the same hand that held her scythe. “What the hell are you doing?” she hissed.

Willow frowned at the pressure of the scythe handle against her bicep. “Helping.”

“That doesn't answer my question, Willow.”

Xander reached between them, placing his hand on the one holding Willow as a hint for Buffy to relax her grip. “Come on, girls. Ease up. Wils, what did you have in mind?”

“Making sure they can't get to Tara before we do, since you guys have dangled her on a hook until they're snapping at her like hungry sharks.”

Buffy's hold didn't loosen. “Specifics!” she demanded.

“I--I can make them not be able to walk for a few minutes, keep them still. Geez! When did you get to be so, so--”

Xander cut her off before she could finish. “That sounds like a good idea. ...Doesn't it, Buff?”

Buffy pulled her hand away from Willow. “Go ahead. It can't hurt to try.”

With a nervous glance at Buffy, and a grateful one at Xander, Willow stepped out into the main drainage line. “Hi, guys!” she called. The men at the back of the two columns marching down the tunnel began to turn around. The witch waved her hand at them. “Ambulans statuasque cum pedes lapis.”

The loud clanking of marching men in armor abruptly stopped, as the knights found themselves suddenly unable to walk.

Willow turned to her friends with a proud grin. “See? Helping.”

“Latin?” Buffy asked.

“Uh-huh. I made their feet heavy.” Willow gestured back the way they came. “Shall we?”

“Wils, you're a genius. I'm sorry I snapped at you.” Buffy didn't wait for a reply for her apology. She immediately led them hurrying back through the connecting tunnels, and around to the front of the long line of men, who were calling to their priests in panic.

The fearful calls shifted into quiet chanting at the sight of Buffy. “The Key is the link. The link must be severed. Such is the will of God.”

The middle-aged man leading them pointed his sword at her. “You consort with demons and witches to protect that which the Beast seeks. You would bring unimaginable chaos to every plane of existence.”

Buffy handed the lock box to Xander and stepped close to the man, pushing his sword down with her scythe, hooking it under the curve of her blade. “Listen up, Gregor--”

“You know my name. You have a seer among your little band, do you, girl?”

“Not exactly. And you will address me as 'General,' or I will make moving your feet the least of your worries.” She pushed her scythe further along his blade, until her own was resting against the hilt of his sword, and she was toe to toe with the man. “The Key is a human now, Gregor, an innocent. She doesn't deserve this -being hunted and threatened. Glory is a different story. She deserves everything we can throw at her. We're going to end this, and soon, but with a dead Hellgod, and a living Key.”

“Slayer?” came a voice from the tunnels behind her.

Buffy called over her shoulder, “Fall back!” She turned back to address the man before her. “You have a choice. Join us, and carry with you for the rest of your days the honor of having helped bring down one of the worst of the Hellgods. Or you can keep chasing me. But fair warning, Gregor: The next time I have to turn around to face you as a pursuer, this blade is going through your neck as fast as the one that took out Eddie.”

As Buffy turned away from him, she lifted her scythe, releasing his sword. He swung at her the second he had the opportunity, but she'd been expecting it, and ducked, rolling out of his reach. She didn't even glance back at him as she regained her feet. Instead, she addressed Willow as they walked toward Spike's team. “How long, do you think?”

Willow shook her head. “Not long. Another five minutes, tops. Self-defense spells aren't really meant for 'one witch versus an entire army' scenarios. It kinda ruins the effectiveness.”

“So we really don't want to hang around with Club RenFaire?” Xander asked.

“As a general rule, no,” Buffy answered. She led them around a corner, following her senses toward Spike. “Next left. They didn't go far. Wils, can you put up a wall behind us?”

Willow turned around and raised her hands to the tunnel junction they'd just passed through. “Just so you know, if I'm not here to maintain it, this will be short term, too.”

“That's fine. We won't be here when it fades.” When the barrier was up, they continued around the next turn in the tunnel. At the sight of the other team, the tough, stern attitude Buffy had been wearing finally dropped away. “Let's get out of here,” she whispered.

Spike looked at her expression, then to the two who were walking with her. “The fledge...”

“Gone.” Buffy pushed past them, not looking anyone in the eye.

Spike joined her, with Giles close behind. The other two couples followed, holding hands as they walked, silent celebrations of their safe reunions.

“Buffy.” Spike put a hand on her shoulder as they turned down another tunnel.

She shrugged him off. “I'm not in the mood to talk about it, Spike.”

“It's not the same thing, you know,” he whispered.

“No, no. Not at all. This one actually had some minimal superpowers, not just the promise of them.”

“He also chose to be here, chose to help.”

Buffy stopped, turning to face him. “And see how well that worked out? Molly was eager to help, too. She ended up just as dead as Annabelle, who probably had the right idea in the first place.”

Spike glanced over his shoulder at their companions. “You're right. Shouldn't talk about this just now.”

“Oh, no. Can't let the fragile humans find out Eddie's not the first, can we? They might realize there's no way he'll be the last. Death is my gift, right?”

He took her by the shoulders and gave her a harsh shake. “Shut up! I don't know what got knocked around in your head to get your tongue so loose, but it stops right fucking now.”

She looked him in the eye. “Until they start dying on your watch, Sparky, you can go straight to hell.” She broke free of his grasp and marched ahead.

Spike's growl of frustration echoed through the tunnel. “You forget who helped you train them? They were under my care, too, you bloody martyr!” he called after her. “And so was Dawn!”

She turned, walking backwards for a few steps. “And again: See how well that worked out?”

“Walk it off, Slayer,” he growled, his fangs bared and amber eyes flashing in anger.

“Or what?” She stopped moving. “You'll kick my ass? Bring it.”

“Do you one better. I'll drive up to the pen and fetch your replacement myself!”

Buffy waved to the group standing behind him. “Go ahead. Detour to grab Dawnie while you're at it. She's the lynchpin of the whole thing. Then you can run off to Gilroy and leave me alone!”

“Gilroy wasn't my idea, and you know it!”

Her brow furrowed. “Gilroy,” she whispered, echoing them both. She held up a hand, stopping the argument. “Spike... The message.”

He shook back into his human mask, blue eyes lighting up with realization. “Bloody hell. Why didn't we think of this sooner?”

“You thought so, too?”

“No other explanation that makes sense.” Spike waved to their friends. “Come on. Let's get you lot back. I gotta hit the road.”

“Uh, guys?” Willow asked. “What's in Gilroy?”

“An inscription on a wall,” Buffy answered.

“And how would that be of help?” Giles asked as they walked.

“Because there's a reason he went looking for it,” Spike said. “And we never found out what.”

“The only logical explanation is that it's not a single message, sitting there for centuries. If it were, no one would need to seek it out. The message itself could be shared as easily as the location. It's got to be mystical, a message that changes. If we're wrong, it will be a reference to one of these.” Buffy held up the scythe she carried. “If we're right, it could be a tip we need right now.”

“The only sources of a message about a scythe would be the Powers or the Guardian,” Tara murmured.

“What guardian?” Xander asked. “And who went looking for it? And when did this happen?”

Buffy and Spike traded glances. “It didn't,” she whispered. “But it's worth a shot.”

Spike stopped in mid-step, listening to something. “Red, I hear marching. You mind putting up another barrier for us?”

“Sure, in exchange for some explanation of this conversation.”

Buffy threw her a glare. “Later. Right now, let's just not let those jokers kill Tara, ok?”

Willow's eyes went wide. She turned around and held her palms up to the tunnel behind them. Everyone turned to watch, then immediately turned around again, as a manhole cover near Buffy and Spike flew open, and Glory jumped down into the tunnel.

“I guess Snuggle Bunny didn't crack your code as easily as I cracked your skull.”

Anya tightened her grip on the sword she carried, her eyes darting around nervously. “Bunny?”

Glory squinted at her. “No... Not you...”

Buffy raised her scythe. “Did anyone ever tell you you're kind of slow? You totally missed your chance to get me at home.”

“As fun as knocking you around is, girly, you're just the yappy little watch dog. What I want is behind the garden gate. I was waiting for you to open it.” She squinted at Tara, a bright smile forming on her face as she approached. “There you are! I have been looking all over for you!”

Both scythes were swung at her, but she darted safely between them, faster than Spike and Buffy could compensate. Giles was shoved aside, falling against the rounded tunnel wall with his satchel full of diaries landing beside him. Willow and Tara tried to throw a barrier between themselves and Glory, but couldn't move as fast as the Hellgod. Tara's hand was pulled from her girlfriend's grasp as she was yanked away.

In a flash of blinding speed, Anya and Xander were knocked to the tunnel floor, the lock box landing at his feet. There was a booming sound as Glory broke through the fading barrier between them and the knights, dragging Tara along with her. Buffy was hot on her trail, with Spike and Willow close behind. They came to a sudden stop when they saw the knights lying dead in the tunnel.

Gregor moaned in pain as his blood joined that of his comrades on the tunnel floor. “The Beast... She has the Key,” he rasped out. “What have you done?”

Buffy crouched beside him. “You've all been chasing a fake. The real key is hidden away.”

“Clever little band you have, General.” He winced. “My men...”

“All dead, or nearly so. You don't have much time left, either.”

Gregor slowly reached for her hand. “You swear you'll destroy her?”

“Glory, yes. The Key will live. And I don't give a damn what your god has to say about it.”

“For the sake of all that is and all that will be... Be as righteous as your title proclaims.”

Buffy took his hand and placed it against the cross hanging from his neck. “I used to wear one of these, Gregor. I stopped when I realized righteousness matters less than survival.”

The man attempted to reply, but his ragged breathing took on a gurgling undertone.

Buffy stood up. “I'll leave you to your prayers.” She walked over to her friends, who had all caught up by then, and ushered them around a corner, out of sight. As soon as she'd joined them around the turn in the tunnel, she slammed her open hand against the wall. “Dammit! So much for Plan A.”

“Plan A?” Anya asked. “Should we assume that was Tara not getting kidnapped right in front of us?”

“We were hoping to run out Glory's clock,” Buffy explained quietly, as she let herself sag against the wall she'd just attacked. “Tara has been pushing for a Plan B: letting herself be taken to force the skank into a vulnerable position.”

Willow wiped at her tears. “What?! Tara wanted to be kidnapped?”

“Best way to get Glory off guard,” Spike said. “Let her think she's won, then go in for the kill.”

“Does that mean you know where she's taken Tara?” Xander asked.

Buffy shook her head. “Not exactly. But I know where we'll find them later. And she won't harm a hair on Tara's head until then.”

Anya frowned at the calm expressions of slayer and vampire. “So we aren't freaking out about this?”

“Depends on how much time we have.” Spike tilted his head at Buffy. “Love, I can guide them back.”

Buffy moved toward the nearest ladder. “I'll meet you there.”

“Where are you going?” Giles asked.

“I need to do some quick recon work. I'll see you at the bunker.” She gestured in the direction of the two long columns of bodies around the corner. “I have no idea what to do about that.

“Scavengers will see to it.” Spike smirked. “All kinds of things live near Hellmouths, you know.”

“So I've heard. And you're still the worst of the bunch. Be careful.”

“You, too.” Spike led the remains of the group away as the manhole cover closed behind Buffy.

*~*~*

Xander looked up from the hand held video game he was staring at. “Sorry. Did you say something?”

“I'm mumbling to myself, mostly,” Willow answered. “I just feel so... so out of the loop.”

He shrugged. “You've been gone a while.”

“I mean with Tara. She didn't tell me she was putting herself on the line like this, volunteering for all of this. I didn't even know she had it in her.”

“She's tougher than she looks, Wils. She's been keeping Buffy and Spike on their toes like a pro.” He sighed. “And I kinda think they need her right now. I don't know what that argument was about, but it was weird. Who are Molly and Annabelle?”

“I don't know, but the thing about going to Gilroy was even weirder. And the growly Buffy mood swings are really starting to freak me out, besides.”

“I wouldn't call it mood swings, exactly,” Xander said. “I think maybe it's the difference between 'General' mode and 'Buffy' mode.” He shrugged at her confused look. “I'm not saying I understand it, but that's what it looks like. When Spike got kidnapped, she was really mad about it, but she ran the retrieval operation like, I don't know, Patton or somebody. Calculating and commanding. That's just kind of how our slayer works, these days.”

“Oh, the stories I could tell you about Patton!” Anya said, joining them at the table. “There's a man who left more than his share of scorned women in his wake. And they all thought STDs were the perfect revenge.” She sighed. “Fun times.”

Xander shook his head with an indulgent smile. “Save the funny STD vengeance stories for later, Ahn. I don't think anyone is up for it tonight. Later would be better. Ok?”

She tilted her head at him. “You don't want cheering up?”

“Not right now.” He leaned over to drop a kiss on her cheek. “But thanks for trying.”

Willow looked over her shoulder to survey the bunker. “Where did Spike go?”

“He went up into the crypt to wait for Buffy,” Anya said. “We've been back almost two hours. Giles is starting to freak out. He's pacing outside the sewer entrance.”

Xander didn't look as if he shared Giles' concern. “She probably just wanted a little time alone.” His gaze drifted back to the game on the table.

“You know,” Anya said, pointing to it. “Those things work better if you hit the power button.”

“It's Eddie's,” he whispered. “I'm not sure what to do with it. Maybe Clem would like to have it.”

Willow studied his morose expression. “You were kind of friends, huh?”

“Kind of.” Xander shook his head at himself. “I never thought I'd see the day I mourned a vampire.”

“Me, neither. Maybe it's because he was so young looking and harmless?”

“Maybe.” Xander pushed away his thoughts and looked up at her. “What about you, Wils? You must be super stressed. Can we help?”

“Only if you can explain to me why Tara thought making herself bait and not telling me about it was a good idea.” Willow's gaze dropped to the table as tears welled up again. “It's like I don't even know her anymore.”

Above them, the door to the crypt opened, and Buffy stepped inside. She frowned at the sight of Spike sitting on a sarcophagus, and pointed back at the door. “Um, should I have kicked that open and come in here threatening you?”

“That depends on what kind of memory you're in the mood to replay.”

She closed the door. “At this point, I'd be willing to replay last night.”

“I spent half of last night listening to your breathing and heart rate, afraid you'd slip into a coma.”

“I rest my case.”

He nodded to the empty space beside him. “Temporary back porch?”

“Why not? It's not like we've never talked in here before.” She put down her scythe and climbed up onto the sarcophagus.

Spike looked around the bare crypt. “Yeah, but things were different then. How's the tower looking?”

“Coming along. Tomorrow night.”

“Think Glinda will hold out ok?”

Buffy nodded. “She can handle it. Do you still want to run up to Gilroy?”

“Can't hurt. Won't have to wait out the day with the DeSoto, like I did with the bike. Should be back before noon.”

“Did you call Dawnie?”

“Rupert did. She and the little watcher are alright. Peaches is still on walkabout someplace, though.”

“It figures. The one time he could actually be useful.” Buffy shook her head.

“That's what I said. ...You'll be alright?”

“I won't sleep well while you're gone, if that's what you're asking.”

“I mean about Eddie.” He tilted his head, studying her. “You ready to talk?”

“Not really. But I'm sure everyone downstairs wants to talk about Molly and Annabelle.”

“If they do, they're not asking me. There's a lot of staring at the lock box, though.”

“Where are your keys?”

Spike shook his coat pocket, jingling his keyring within. “Counting on Rupert to keep Red from trying to open it any other way.”

“After tomorrow night, I guess it won't really matter. You know, assuming I live through it.”

“Think it's time to put that worry away. Bit's hidden out of town. Glory thinks Glinda's gonna open her portal. Told you so, didn't I?”

“You can say 'I told you so' when we're at home, chucking the contents of the box into the fireplace.”

He hopped off the sarcophagus and stood in front of her. “Not everything, Mrs. Pratt. There's a copy of our marriage license in that box.”

She scrunched up her face, pretending to look disgusted. “Do we really need to keep that?”

Spike chuckled and kissed her wrinkled nose. “Such a romantic. I hear you.” As her expression shifted into a smile, he moved down to her lips, giving her a long, gentle kiss before stepping away. “See you tomorrow.”

She watched him cross the room in silence. She whispered “Sparky” just as he reached for the door.

He turned around.

“It scares me, how similar it all is. It's like we haven't changed much at all. And we've already lost one person. I don't like this.”

“So far, we've changed what matters most. And Whistler hasn't stopped by.”

“I hope you're right.” Buffy tried to resurrect her smile. “So if they mutiny while you're gone...”

“I know where to find you.”

“I love you.”

“Know that, too.”

The door closed behind him.

Buffy fell sideways onto the sarcophagus and rolled onto her back, sighing heavily. She was still staring at the ceiling when Xander opened the hatch.

“Hey. Where's the former resident of this cheerful little hole?”

“Out of town. He'll be back in the morning.”

He closed the hatch behind him, to give them some privacy. “Are we going to get some explanations sometime soon, Buff? I was willing to let a few of the weird things you said pass, thinking your brain was still concussed and stuff. But unless Spike got a matching head injury we don't know about, something isn't right.”

“Right? Well, that's a matter of perspective.” Buffy's eyes were still on the crypt's ceiling. “But then, so is everything. Mine and Spike's perspectives... They're different.” She turned her head to look at him. “I can't do anything more than promise you that when you can be told, you will be. I'm sorry, Xan. That's all I can offer you.”

“What's in the box?” he asked, coming closer to her.

She turned her gaze back to the ceiling. “What we told you. Notes about the Key.”

“Buff, it's more than that, and everyone knows it. Eddie got dusted for whatever is in there. I think I have a right to know what it is.”

“The last best chance to save the world,” she whispered.

“From Glory? Is there some kind of secret weapon in there?”

“From the Scoobies.”

Xander jerked in surprise. “Uh, what?”

“The hardest thing in this world is to live in it,” she said quietly. “To live with the choices we make, to survive the repercussions... Sometimes, they just aren't survivable. So yeah, there is a secret weapon, sort of. But it's not in the box. That's just where the evidence is hidden.” She turned to look at him again. “It was necessary, Xan. I hope... I hope when it all comes out, you'll understand why it was secret, and you'll forgive us for hiding it.”

“I might be able to give you a forgiveness estimate if I knew what this was all about.”

“20/20 vision,” she whispered, looking at his eyes. “It will be worth it. Eddie would have agreed.”

“What will be worth it?”

“Saving you. Saving all of us from becoming people we wouldn't want to know, living in a world we wouldn't want to live in.”

Xander looked at her askance. “So my concussion theory is making a comeback.”

“Right now, it doesn't have to make sense. We know what matters: Dawn is safe. Tara knows what she's gotten into.” Buffy sat up. “And tomorrow night, we're going to take Glory down.”

“You seem pretty sure we're going to walk away from this.”

“Spike's sure. That's good enough for me.”





Please login or register to review.