Chapter 43: Eighty Proof

October, 2000 (flashback) / May – June, 2001

“Are you awake?” Buffy whispered into the darkness of the safe house basement, kicking off her shoes.

“Wasn't expecting you tonight. Thought you were going to Captain Cardboard's flat after patrol.”

“I stood him up. He's on his own tonight.”

Spike's snicker came and went quickly. “He's gonna start asking questions, you know.”

“I really didn't want to go over there again. The expectations when I do...” She joined him on the mattress on the basement floor, pulling up some of the mismatched blankets he'd kicked away.

“I know, love. But you've still got to sell the lie a couple more weeks, if this is going to play out right.”

She snuggled up against him. “I'd rather be here with you.”

“Yeah, yeah. You'd rather not tell your lies with your body.”

“Not only that... Spike, I'm not speeding up the break up just for myself.”

“Is that so?” He wrapped his arm around her waist, and pulled her closer.

“Well, you know, he's not nearly as snuggly.”

“Thanks, Slayer,” he grumbled. “That's what every vampire longs to hear.”

She giggled. “I'm so on to you, Spike. You're a big, snuggly, teddy bear.”

He pulled away and rolled onto his other side. “Take it back, or go home to your own bed, Goldilocks.”

Buffy rolled over and draped her arm over him. “Nope. Sorry, bub. You're stuck with me.”

“I've heard worse news in my time. You know, world wars and such.”

“Jackass,” she grumbled, but she was still smiling. She snuggled against his back. “G'night, Sparky.”

Spike grasped the hand at over his waist. “G'night, love. And I am not a teddy bear.”

“You so are. That's the one thing Harmony got right. Blondie Bear.”

He released her hand and pretended to try to push her arm away. “Go shag your soldier, like a good little slayer. No one wants you here.”

“Liar.” She held him firmly as she giggled, refusing to break contact. “You do.”

“Not the point.”

“It kinda is.”

*~*~*

“We'll see you in a couple days, sweetie. Travel safe.” Tara pulled out of the hug and stepped back, just in time for a flash of light to take Willow back to Devon. “Finally,” she said to the empty living room. She winced in self-reproach, wishing Willow's departure hadn't triggered such a deep sense of relief. The tension and questions were completely understandable, she assured herself. But she still felt guilty at being glad to see her girlfriend go.

She went upstairs, intent on digging the book on demon claims out of the back of her closet. As she passed Dawn's closed bedroom door, she heard music. She paused to listen, quickly identifying The Ramones. “We'll have something to cheer you up soon, Dawnie,” she whispered to the closed door. “At least, I hope we will.”

Thirty minutes later, Tara threw open her bedroom door. “Buffy!” she shouted.

Bells began to ring all over the house. Buffy came running up the stairs. Dawn came out of her bedroom, her red eyes giving away what the CD she'd stolen from the basement had been drowning out. They rushed into Tara's room together. Buffy punched Whistler as soon as she reached him.

He stepped back. “Hey! Is that any way to say hello?”

“No,” Dawn answered for her sister. “That's how to say goodbye. You aren't welcome here. Go away.”

“You're getting good at mimicking your sister's glare, Summers. And that's not something to be proud of. Have a seat, ladies. We should talk.”

“We don't have any reason to believe you'll tell us the truth,” Tara said, tapping her foot. “We'll figure this out on our own, without your interference.”

Whistler's eyes shifted from woman to woman, finally landing on Buffy's closed fist. He raised his hands. “Fine, fine. Have it your way. But all you're doing is making things harder on yourselves. You're barking up the wrong tree, kids.” He flashed out of sight, and the bells stopped ringing.

“You know,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “I learned how to read the opposite meaning from the First Evil. You'd think that skill wouldn't come in handy with the PTB.”

“Well, it's starting to look like it has.” Tara picked up the book she'd been reading. “You were right about your aura, Buffy. It doesn't look like the book says it should. Your bond may not be broken.”

Dawn's red eyes widened. “Tara, are you saying Spike isn't...?”

“She's saying he's going to come back.”

The smile on Dawn's face was quickly tamped down by Tara's shaking head. “Don't get your hopes up, Dawnie. We're in PTB territory, and they work on their own timeline. This could take years to happen.” She bit her lip. “Assuming it even does. Buffy, this could be a side effect of the binding spell Willow used on you guys, for all we know. The bond could actually be broken, and I just can't see it because the magic around you altered it so much.”

Buffy's confidence was unmarred. “It isn't broken, Tara. I can feel it. And that means some serious PTB interference is going on. There are plans in place. My aura is the proof.”

“I'll grant you, it's very strange if the bond is still intact, but Buffy--”

“It is. It's not just leftover binding magic, and it isn't my imagination. I know it.” She focused on her friend. “You know it, too. Whistler told you there were contingency plans when you two talked about the amulet. That has to mean something. There's something we can use in all the cryptic crap that's been thrown at us. I just have to figure out what.” She turned and walked out of the room.

Dawn watched her go. “So now what?”

“Now, we wait,” Tara said quietly. “If she's wrong, she'll face that in her own time.”

“And if she's right?”

“If she's right, the Time Scoobies will be back in business.” Tara took a deep breath. “Brace yourself, Dawnie. Right or wrong, this could be a very rough road she's leading us down.”

*~*~*

Buffy looked up from the sink, where she was washing dishes. “You don't think I'm wrong, do you?”

“No, I don't.” Tara leaned against the counter beside her friend. “But I think we all need to go into this accepting that you might be. I don't want to get Dawn's hopes up. Or mine, really. And I want you to be able to survive the disappointment.”

Buffy turned her attention back to the pan she was scrubbing. “My personal bad penny, Tara. One way or another, Spike always comes home.”

Tara studied her friend's hard expression. “General, even if you're right, it could be years.”

“So I'll just have to hurry things along.”

“How?”

“I'll figure something out.” She looked up from the sink. “I know I'm right about this, Tara. We're going to get him back.”

“Conviction is a great thing to have, when it's justified. But right now? It isn't. Not with only a couple of comments from Whistler -who obviously isn't entirely trustworthy- and a strange looking aura to go on. Sweetie, there's a thin line between hope and denial. Until we have more, I'm not sure what side of that line we're on.”

*~*~*

“Hey, Angel,” Buffy said into the phone. “How are you?”

“Hey. I was wondering if you were going to call me back. Are you ok?”

“That's a loaded question.”

“I thought you might want to talk.”

“Even though it's after midnight, and I'm more loaded than the question?”

“You're drinking? Buffy, that's probably not a good idea.”

“Yeah, well, neither is crying on your shoulder, but I'm doing it anyway.”

“You don't sound like you're crying.”

“Figuratively, Angel. I haven't gotten around to literally yet.”

“That's... kind of surprising.”

“It's amazing what half a bottle of Jack a night can do. It's one hell of a numbing agent.”

“I could come up there, if you want. Give you a literal shoulder, for literal crying. You know, so there's less need for... Jack Daniels? Really?”

“I just want you to talk to me.” Buffy took a sip of her drink. “How's the LA demon hunting business?”

There was a long silence. “Small talk? About work? Really?”

“Right now, I wouldn't care if we talked about baseball scores. What are you guys up to?”

“Trying to track down Dru, for one. The odds are...”

“...She's probably not taking it well,” Buffy finished. “I still don't get how she didn't see this coming. She didn't drop a single hint about it when I talked to her, not that I could translate, anyway.”

“You've talked to her?”

“A few months ago. You have contacts in China, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Start looking there. That's where she was headed in February.”

*~*~*

Willow trees shifted in the wind, surrounding a gravestone. The bright light of morning flashed between the drooping branches. A curvy young woman leaned against a tree trunk. “We aren't supposed to be here,” she said to the man sitting in the grass. “And neither is she.”

I doubt I ever was.”

Only the right half the stone was visible through the shifting branches. 'Pratt. -2001.'

The mission is what matters,” the woman said softly. “It's always been that way.”

And I was just a piece of the puzzle,” he murmured. “Maybe I was never meant to be anything more. ...Things just got so complicated.” He ran a hand through his dark hair. “Some days, they still are.”

It's a new kind of life together she's offering you, the same change she offered me: the friendship you never had, the friendship you needed all along.”

I hate it when he's right.”

The wind picked up, swinging the branches more wildly. The left side of the stone became visible. 'William H. 1852.'

Both people turned to look at their unseen audience. “Go home,” the man commanded.

Use what you've been given,” the woman said. “The twins must be wielded.”

The man stood up, his long coat swirling around him in the shifting wind. “We will stand with you.”

The woman's voice dropped to a whisper. “You think you know. What you are. What's to come. You haven't even begun.”

Buffy's eyes opened. She stared at the basement ceiling, running the dream over in her head, trying to piece it all together. “I hope I'm reading that dream right, Sparky,” she whispered to the darkness. “It's a guessing game, like all the other cryptic garbage I hear. Only this time, I don't have you around to talk it out with. I could be way, way off base.”

*~*~*

The receptionist who answered the phone sounded very young. “Garrison & Hope. How may I direct your call?”

“Is Lucinda Varnes at her desk?”

“She is. One moment, please. Oh. Wait. I'm supposed to ask who it is before I transfer. Sorry. Um...” There was a sound of rustling paper. “I don't remember how I'm supposed to ask.”

The caller giggled. “Don't worry about it. Tell her it's Buffy Pratt.”

“Pratt! Oh gods! I buggered the introduction on her biggest account?! I'll be sacked by day's end!”

“I doubt that. Can I ask your name?”

“I'm Denise,” the young voice said with a whimper. “The almost-former new receptionist. What are you going to tell her?”

“Denise,” Buffy said gently, “I'm going to tell Mrs. Varnes you're trying very hard to learn your job. Now, will you transfer my call, please?”

“Oh! Of course! And thank you!”

When the hold music stopped, a much more mature voice came on the line. “My apologies for keeping you waiting, Mrs. Pratt. Our new receptionist was a bit too flustered to give me your name clearly.”

Buffy giggled again. “She's trying, though. I hope you'll be patient with her.”

“Oh I intend to be, dear. But some of the other partners may not be so kind.” Lucinda sighed. “She truly is the sweetest girl, but a bit scatter-brained. I'm sorry to have exposed you to her.”

“It's ok, Mrs. Varnes, really.”

“Now, now, dear. I told you months ago to call me Lucy. That's what William calls me. Most of the immortal clients barely remember my name at all. I'm just the person managing their estates for a generation, before the next one comes along. I do like being remembered.”

Buffy smiled against the phone. “Lucy it is.”

“I haven't heard from either of you since we added you to the deeds, dear. What can I do for you?”

“William's favorite house isn't leased out, right?”

“As per usual. I have the caretakers in every quarter, but no one else has set foot in the place since the first year I had his account.”

“What would it take to have it ready for occupancy?”

*~*~*

Willow finished unpacking and tucked her large suitcase behind the vanity to get it out of the way. She dropped into the vanity chair. “I hate flying. Teleporting is so much better. But I had to get the rest of my stuff, and wrap up a few things. Also, my passport would look really funny, being in the US with my last entry saying I'd entered the UK.”

She gave Tara a big smile, trying hard to be cheerful. “So now that that's out of the way, you and I have the whole summer to catch up. Do you want to go to the beach? Or take a road trip along the PCH and visit a lot of beaches? I've been cooped up in cold and cloudy for the better part of five months. I need sunshine and some quality time with my time-traveling girl. Let's hit the road.”

Tara bit her lip, hesitant to shoot down Willow's obvious attempt to erase the tension between them, but unable to support the idea. “Sweetie, I'm not sure this is the best time for me to leave Buffy. I think I should stay with her. At least for a while.”

“Oh.” Willow's cheerfulness abruptly disappeared. “I guess you're right....” Her eyes lit up again. “Hey! Maybe it would cheer up Buffy and Dawn to go with us? We'll spend a few weeks working on our tans by day and doing silly girly things by night. Let's go tell them to pack their bags!”

“Why don't we give Buffy a little time before we start springing those kinds of ideas on her, sweetie? It's only been a week.”

“Come on, Tara. She's got to get out of the house more, start recovering. There should at least be ice cream and girl talk time, if nothing else.”

“It's not like a break up, Willow,” Tara said quietly. “You can't treat it like one.”

There was a long silence. “There are some spells that might make her feel bett--”

The response was firm and abrupt. “No.”

“Aren't you even going to talk about options with me?”

“No, I'm not.” Tara softened her tone. “She doesn't need her mind altered. She needs time. Promise me you won't interfere, and won't push her.”

Willow's brow furrowed. “It's not like I wouldn't talk to her about it first, you know. I do know I'm not supposed do anything mood or behavior-altering behind a person's back. Don't you trust me?”

“I-- I do. But we shouldn't even discuss anything like that unless she asks for it, ok?”

“We could at least get some ideas together, and ask her if she wants to try one.”

Tara struggled to mask her irritation. “This isn't any different from your beach trip idea. You're trying to set the pace for her, Willow. Grief doesn't work on a schedule, and certainly not on someone else's.”

There was another long pause before Willow hopped up and plastered on another forced smile, trying again to break the tension. “I need a shower. I think I still smell like airport.”

The effort earned her a soft smile. “Stale air and dirty luggage?”

“Maybe with a side of stress sweat and grimy taxi.”

“Spike could probably tell you if you were right,” Dawn said from the doorway. “In really funny, kinda gross detail, maybe with a crazy story about stealing a cab or something.”

“Oh, Dawnie.” Tara held out her arms, inviting Dawn into a hug. “I miss the stories, too.”

Willow watched the pair of them embracing, feeling completely left out. She turned and went across the hall to the bathroom without another word.

Buffy came upstairs the second she heard the shower running. “Good. I was hoping it was Willow in there. I wanted to talk to you guys. Alone.”

Dawn and Tara broke apart, looking at her with surprised expressions. “I know that face,” Dawn said, wiping her damp eyes. “You've made a decision.”

“More like I've made the first steps toward figuring things out. But yeah, there's definite decision-making going on.”

Tara's voice was gentle. “Buffy, maybe you shouldn't be making many decisions at all right now.”

“I'm fine, Tara. Really.”

“Oh, so you habitually only sleep a few hours a night and drink like a fish? I'm sorry. I hadn't noticed that before.”

“The little weasel was right about one thing: We've been a terrible influence on you. You've gotten sarcastic.” Buffy shook her head. “And we're going to keep influencing you, if I have anything to say about it. So here's the game plan: Step one is to follow through on that little felony we talked about.” She held up a fat manilla envelope. “Charlie came through with the goodies. Step two is to leave the country.”

“And why would we be leaving the country?” Dawn asked.

Buffy grinned. “I finally saw what the leverage is. It's been staring me in the face for days, but it took a dream for me to catch on.”

“Not the spectator dream, I hope,” Tara said. “Anything that makes you wake up screaming is not a good thing.”

“Nope. A different dream. Much quieter.”

Dawn still looked like she didn't trust the smile her sister wore. “So what's been staring you in the face that you didn't see?”

“You two. Whistler gave you an assignment.”

“That time jump forward?” Tara shook her head. “Buffy, he didn't tell us much. We know what year to expect you, that we need to get you and Spike together at home, and then leave you alone to figure out why you were sent. That's really all we know.” She frowned. “Wait. Why were you sent, anyway?”

“Because there's a certain part of mine and Spike's future that the PTB is counting on. That's the leverage. Whistler let something very important slip that night: They need us. Both of us. There aren't any alternates they can use for a job we're going to do sometime in the future. And that job is important enough that the PTB is willing to jump through some pretty complicated hoops to make it work out if it doesn't happen the way they expect. There weren't just contingencies for the amulet, Tara. There were contingencies for that specific job. Putting us right in the middle of the biggest reminder of it is the perfect first step.”

“Leverage,” Dawn repeated. “You're going to strike a deal with them?”

“No, I'm going to force their hand. What do you say, Time Scoobies? Are you ready to get back to work?”

Dawn and Tara exchanged glances. Dawn shrugged. “Ok, I guess. But it's going to be weird with just the three of us.”

“Four,” Buffy said. “There's another Time Scooby in need of initiation. This trip is the perfect start.”

*~*~*

Tara knocked on the door to the little purple office as she opened it. “Giles?”

He looked up from his reading as she entered. “Tara. Good morning. Please, come in.” He cleared a small stack of books from the neighboring chair and gestured for her to sit.

She closed the door behind her and sat down, looking him over carefully. He looked as though he'd been there all night. “Did you get caught up in your reading?”

Giles gestured tiredly to the books in front of him as he took off his glasses. “Watcher diaries. My own, mostly. A few others, including Bernard Crowley's last volume.” He lifted the slim paperback he'd been reading when she walked in. “Miss Chalmers' thesis.”

“It was published?”

“When she finished it in 1997, it was given a limited printing run, for distribution amongst field watchers. The Council believed it to be important for all watchers associated with Slayers and Potential Slayers to be as aware of the threat of William the Bloody as possible. My copy arrived in Sunnydale too late to be of any use, of course.” He gave a hollow laugh. “And see where that's led us.”

Tara bit her lip as she surveyed the volumes before him. “Does it help? You know, rereading all this?”

The glasses were laid across an open diary as the owner rubbed his eyes. “No. I may as well be reading the Brothers Grimm. Even my own words... They feel like fairy tales. The name and the description are obviously referring to the same vampire, but none of this matches the man I knew.”

“I imagine not.”

“The man I should have known,” Giles amended as he pushed aside Lydia's thesis in favor of one of his own diaries. He gestured to the page. “He was in town for a day or two in late 1998. I was away, so everything I know about it is secondhand information. Has Willow ever told you about the incident?”

Tara nodded, smiling. “Buffy's version of events is the funnier story, though.”

“I'm inclined to agree. After that visit, something was different about Buffy. It took me months to coax the truth from her, but when I finally did... Apparently, Spike had given her some sound advice about Angel, and she'd made a passing attempt to take it.” He lost himself in thought for a moment. “I should have seen it then, shouldn't I? That he wasn't what all the stories told me he was? A cold, slayer-hunting monster?”

“Giles, I don't know how much you've worked out of our original timeline, but I died before Spike left to get his soul. Did you know that?”

“I'd suspected as much, but some aspects of your timeline are still a bit unclear to me.”

“And yet, when my memory was restored, I wasn't surprised by the way Spike was, or that Buffy was standing beside him. The soul changed him, for sure, but Buffy wasn't exaggerating when she told you it wasn't as much as you'd think.”

“It was her, wasn't it? Bringing out the humanity in him?”

“They brought it out in each other. After the resurrection, she wasn't herself. Our Buffy never came back from heaven, Giles. Not really. But the pieces of her that did? He found them. Spike is the one who helped her learn to laugh again, to cry again, to try to live again. They made each other miserable on an epic scale, don't get me wrong. But they also made each other a little warmer, a little more human.”

He looked up at her, worry etched on his features. “So what happens to her now, without him?”

Tara reached across the desk and began closing books. “You aren't a watcher, Giles. Stop trying to analyze the situation like one. That's not what she needs from you.”

He picked up his glasses in time to prevent them being closed into a diary. “Tara, I don't know what she needs from me, if anything. She hasn't come to me, even once. And I refuse to constantly hover around the house, crowding you all at a time when giving you space seems the kinder act.”

She took a deep breath, readying herself to explain her errand. “She needs-- We need you to go home.”

There was a moment of stunned silence. “Oh. I see.”

“No, you don't. We're going to need someone around to help us get by in a foreign country. You're not only from the right country, you're from the right city. And, since Xander and Anya won't be dropping by to check on Buffy every day over there, you won't feel like you're crowding us to do some check-ins yourself.”

Giles leaned back in his desk chair. “Why in heaven's name would you girls go to Bath?”

She broke into a smile. “How much do you know about the campus of the new Watcher's Academy?”

“I've toured the area, more than once. They built it southwest of town, amongst some farms, in close proximity to the local Hellmouth. I understand there were problems acquiring the land for the campus. Some of the land had been held by the same family for generations, you understand, and the owners were reluctant to let it go, even at the generous prices offered by the Council.”

“Some of it wasn't the same family, Giles. Some of it was the same person. For generations.”

“Well, that was suspected, of course. One expects demons to be amongst those gathered near a Hellmouth, even an insignificant--” He tilted his head back against his chair, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. “I should have known! The missing corner of the campus!” He brought his eyes back to hers. “There was one farm owner whose estate management agency wouldn't budge on a scrap of land from the northern edge of his property, wouldn't sell for any price. The agency is local, and known to be a demon-friendly firm. Garrison & Hope, I believe it's called. The name of the farm didn't mean anything to me at the time, but now that you mention it...”

Her smile turned into a grin. “Who else would happily fight the Council on something so small? And would want to own land near his home country's only Hellmouth?”

“He thought it was hilarious, didn't he?”

“Spike wasn't exactly a fan of the Watcher's Council, you know.”

“I noticed. He left her a farm?”

“No, he left her a bunch of houses, and the farm. But the farmhouse isn't leased out, like the land is. He was saving it for himself. We plan to spend the summer there.”

“May I ask why?”

Tara hesitated. “Um, we just need to get away for a while.”

“Understandable.”

“And we need you with us. That includes Buffy.”

“The last time you came to me to talk about Buffy, it was to ask me to stay.”

“I know.”

“And later, Spike did the same thing. Twice.”

“I know.”

Giles took a deep breath. “When are we leaving?”

*~*~*

Faith picked up the phone slowly, her focus on the tired, bloodshot eyes on the other side of the glass. “Well, at least it wasn't you,” she said into the handset. “Who?”

“I'm leaving town for a while, Faith. About that question I asked at Christmas...”

“It's a lot to ask for, you know. Just for break coverage.”

“I'll be coming back, but not for the job.”

Faith squinted at her. “Are you done, B?”

“It's not my job anymore. It's yours.”

“And you're sure about doing this?”

“I'm sure.”

“Alright. ...Step away from the glass.”

*~*~*

In the back seat of Xander's car, Faith wiggled around, changing into the clothes they'd brought her. When she was settled, a manilla envelope was passed back to her by the passenger. “Faith is your middle name now. I hope this is ok.”

She dug through contents of the envelope. “Carina Faith Jameson. I can live with that. Passport, social security card, Mass. birth certificate... Nice. I don't have to hide my accent... California driver license... Where's this address?”

“Congratulations, Faith. We're neighbors,” Xander said from the driver's seat. “You'll be crashing with the current Sunnydale watcher until you get settled. You'll like her. She's cool.”

“She's no Gwendolyn Post,” Buffy added. “She's a Scooby, not a boss. Also, not evil.”

“That's good.” Faith held up the license to study it. “This is some quality work. Who's your hook up?”

Buffy turned around to watch the road. Xander stole a glance at her, then looked up to catch Faith's eye in the rear view mirror. “His name is Charlie. He's a friend of a friend. I'll fill you in later.”

“You can do this, Faith,” Buffy whispered. “The Scoobies will be behind you. I've been promised you'll get a fresh start with everyone, and full support. You're the slayer. You deserve to be treated like it.”

“What about you?”

“I have to have Dawnie home before school starts, of course.”

“And for the summer?”

“England. An old farmhouse just outside of Bath.”

*~*~*

“Maybe I should come up there for a couple of days.”

“No, Angel, you shouldn't.”

“This is the third night in a row you've been slurring when I called. Are there any sober nights?”

“Well... There are some 'not very drunk' nights,” Buffy hedged.

“That's a no.” Angel sighed into the phone. “Jack Daniels again?”

“With a splash of Coke. I haven't gotten brave enough to drink it straight yet. I'm getting there.”

“Yeah, I really need to come up there. Someone's got to keep an eye on you.”

“That's all anybody around here does. They freakin' babysit me. They make sure I eat. They make sure I sleep. I don't dare drink more than a tiny bit before they've all gone to bed... most days. They're treating me like some fragile little kid just because...” Buffy sighed and fell back on the bed to stare at the basement ceiling. “And it sucks.”

“They're worried about you. We all are. And I don't think the liquor is making anyone feel better.”

“It's doing its job so far. Jack's a kick ass numbing agent.”

“You could try sobering up long enough for it to sink in. You know, accept it.”

“I really can't.”

“Can't which? Sober up or accept it?”

Buffy hesitated, silently talking herself into telling him the truth. “Angel, before long the numbing magic of booze might be the only thing keeping the the little mate-seeking slayer demon in check.”

There was a long silence. “The suppressant is wearing off.”

“It has been, since before. It's just getting obvious now. ...Great timing, huh?”

“So the bond definitely isn't broken.”

“Apparently not. Way to go, PTB interference, right?” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Sometimes, when I'm sober, get all twitchy and start walking the house, like I'm looking for him, even though I know better. This is going to sound really weird and creepy, but sniffing his coat sometimes calms me down.”

Another silence. “Buffy, this situation is pretty unprecedented. I mean, I've heard of chosen mates who try distance instead of suppressants. The long term results are usually... um...”

“Madness. I know. If this doesn't get fixed fast, just call me Dru Two.”

“And you really think running off to England is the answer?”

“It's a step in the right direction.”

“I should get the number before you go. What city? What hotel?”

“Angel, do you really think I need a hotel? You should know where I'm going. You named the place.”

There was a pause. “William's Folly.”

“Uh-huh.”

“If you have access to the farm... He put your name on all the deeds and accounts, didn't he?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Spike's rich widow is richer than I thought.”

“Yeah, probably. Being at the Folly is my first piece of leverage.”

“What comes after that?”

“Oh hell, I don't know. I'll figure it out when I get there.”

“Buffy, something like this should take research, planning, and more research. Just charging ahead like this...” Angel sighed again. “Well, you know exactly who it reminds me of.”

Buffy sat up on the bed and refilled her glass from the bottles she'd left open on Spike's nightstand. “'Death will bring you to your gift,'” she quoted to him, not for the first time.

“I still say that's vague enough to mean almost anything. Your spirit guide could have been talking about the damned money, for all you know.”

“Or maybe someone is bitter because he's nearly twice as old still didn't invest when land was cheap.”

“I was... busy. And it's not like I knew what the housing markets would look like by the time I hit 250.”

“Oh my god. Angel is pouting. I really, really wish I had this conversation on tape.”

“I need to start calling you during the day, when you're sober. Twitchy might be more tolerable.”

“Pfft! You know you enjoy these late night talks.”

“The only thing I know is that they keep you out of trouble. Someone needs to watch you while your human babysitters are sleeping. These phone calls are as close as I can get.” Angel paused again. “I can go out to Bath with you. All you have to do is ask.”

“I know, and I appreciate the offer. But no. I promise to give you the phone number to the farmhouse the second I have it. The estate agent is going to have it hooked up before we arrive.”

“I guess that will do. I worry about you, you know. It's not just the drinking... You're not really yourself right now, not even the version of you I met in March.”

“Yeah, well that's what happens when... Have I mentioned this sucks?”

“One of these nights, you're going to have to say it out loud, Buffy.”

“I'd really rather not.”





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