Chapter 48: Living Leverage

July, 2036 / July, 2001

Henry walked out of his bathroom with a towel around his hips. He stepped into the tiny kitchen, pressed the 'start' button on the coffeemaker, and headed back toward his bedroom.

There was a man at his bedroom door, closing it. He held a finger to his lips for silence and ushered Henry back to the kitchen.

Once there, he turned to face the intruder. “What the hell are you doing here, Doyle?”

Doyle nodded in the direction of the bedroom. “Checking out last night's conquest, for one. Very nice. What's her name?”

Henry ran his hand through his damp hair. “Melissa. Or Marissa. Maybe Clarissa. Something like that.”

“You're a real class act, you know that?”

“What's it matter? I'm never going to see her again. Now do you want to tell me what you're doing in my flat at seven in the morning?”

Doyle leaned against the counter. “You were right, you know, when you told 2001 Buffy the only thing you have in common with your dad is your looks.”

“Did my mother send you here to nag me? I already told her I'd start dipping my toes in the business. I've even started taking defense classes with a trainer at the gym. What else does she want from me?”

Doyle grabbed two mugs from the dish rack and filled them with coffee. He handed one to Henry and continued as though he'd not been interrupted. “Spike's all about commitment. To lovers. To family. To causes. To a hard fight, a bad bender, or just having a damned good time. You name it, he's all in. You? You just float around on the edges, never committing to anything or anyone.” He jerked a thumb toward the bedroom. “That's a great example. You seduce a woman, draw her in with his eyes, take her into your bed, and then do the one thing he's never done to any of his, in all his time: Forget her.”

“At least none of mine have ever needed body bags.”

“If you ever say that to his face, kid, you're going to need one.” Doyle took a sip of his coffee. “He buried your mother once, and he's never gotten over it.”

Henry lowered his mug from his lips. “He what?

“2001, the first time around. She was dead for a good long while. As for the second time around... Well, let's just say they took turns.”

“Dad... dusted? Back in '01?” Henry shook his head. “What? How is that even possible?”

Doyle shrugged. “Your parents' lives have never been simple, Henry. You know that.”

“So you've stopped by, out of the blue, to feed me a guilt trip about my dating habits and fill my head with horror stories from the family business. Is it any wonder I think my mother sent you?”

“No one sent me. I'm here because we need to have a little chat about Buffy.”

The irritated expression quickly shifted to one of concern. “Mum's alright, yeah? Where is she?”

“In 2001, about six weeks after she lost your father.”

There was a long silence as Henry caught on to the implication. “Bloody hell...” He shook his head. “'Port out of here for a few minutes, Doyle. I need to wrap up my date and get some pants on.”

*~*~*

When Doyle appeared on the back porch at William's Folly, the first thing he saw was a pair of bare feet, propped up against the railing. He looked down. Buffy was on her back on the wooden porch, her eyes hidden behind a pair of oversized sunglasses. “You did notice the sun's about to set, didn't you?”

She jumped, startled. She pulled her sunglasses low enough to look up at him over the frames. “Hi.”

“Hi. How's the hostage?”

“Fine. He's in the kitchen with Tara and Dawnie. Are you here to wave the PTB's white flag?”

“Sorry, sweetheart. No news on that front. But I did work on getting those strings pulled. Took a couple of days, but I made it happen. I broke into your forward jump file again, arranged for intermediaries to get another version of myself to go in and set it up, and then had to wait for the intermediaries to report back and brief me, and set up the transfer.” He leaned back against the railing and rubbed his forehead tiredly. “Long days. Firecracker, if you don't want to kiss me in the next two minutes, I quit, 'cause there'll be no pleasing you.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Can you run that by me again? Another version of you?”

He shrugged. “I can't travel myself on an under the table op, you know. I'd get caught.”

She pushed her sunglasses back into place and relaxed back against the porch floor. “Aah! There it is, that old, familiar, sinking feeling of dread. Complicated, cryptic, and probably dangerous. I think I've been teleported back to Sunnydale.”

Doyle chuckled. “You want simple and clear? I managed to arrange a visitor for you, someone who might make the waiting easier, maybe even help you out if you decide to storm the castle. Most importantly, someone to help you out with that leverage angle.”

“Is the subtext that it's someone who will distract me from my urge to slay Whistler?”

“You don't really want to stain that hardwood floor with blood, do you?”

“I don't know... I could put down towels or something. I really like this house, including the floors.” She shrugged against the porch floor. “Maybe a tarp, or a--” Buffy suddenly became aware of a very familiar signature, tingling at the back of her neck. She gasped. “Oh my god. Doyle, you didn't...”

“And it might get me in a little hot water. But from the look on your face, it's already worth it.”

She hopped to her feet and squealed loudly. “You're amazing!” She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “You earned that. And then some.”

He grinned. “Yeah, it was worth it. See you soon, Firecracker.”

Doyle flashed out of sight, just as someone walked up the porch steps. “I told you you'd love it here, didn't I?”

Tara and Dawn rushed outside at the sound of the squeal, and stepped onto the porch in time to see Buffy tackling a young man in a hug, almost knocking the suitcase from his hand. Dawn frowned at the sight. “Buffy? Who is this?” She gasped as they broke from their hug and turned to face their audience. “You-- You look just like...”

The man sighed. “Yeah, yeah. I know. A chip off the old Spike. Yet another reason to stay the hell away from the business. The last thing I need is to catch the attention of one of his old enemies.”

“And yet, here you are, not staying out of it. Again,” Buffy said with a smirk.

Tara was studying his aura. “Who are you? ...And what are you?”

He gave her a smile that was achingly familiar. “You look great, Tara.” He looked at Dawn, shaking his head. “Dawnie as a teenager. Bloody hell...It's like seeing old photos come to life.”

Buffy gestured in introduction. “Tara, Dawnie, this is your nephew, Henry.”

“Nephew?” Dawn squeaked, still staring at the stranger.

“Um, yeah. We met during that forward jump a few months back.”

Tara nodded, suddenly understanding. “So that's why you and Spike wouldn't talk about that trip.”

“Your future kid?” Dawn whispered. “But that's impossible.”

Buffy gave her sister a wry smile. “That's what we thought, too.” She began to lead them into the house, then stopped. “Henry, how much do you know? I mean, about why you got sent to 2001?”

“Doyle filled me in, just before he dropped the 'do you want to pack a bag before you leave' bomb on me. I'm kinda wondering why I've never heard this story.”

“I'm sure there are reasons.” Buffy opened the back door, and led them through the laundry/mudroom to the kitchen, pushing her sunglasses up to the top of her head as she went.

Whistler looked up from his chair, frowning at the sight of the newcomer. “Henry Pratt? What in the name of all that is Meant To Be are you doing here?”

Henry put his suitcase down and looked over the little demon. “So this is Whistler, eh?”

Buffy frowned. “You don't know him?” She sighed in relief at his shaking head. “Oh, thank god.”

Whistler glared at her. “What's that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Buffy said, returning his glare. “I'm happy my children won't have to put up with you.”

“Children? Plural?” Dawn sank into a chair. “Tara, I think I'm ready to start stealing Buffy's whiskey.”

“How about some juice instead?” Tara asked, already opening the refrigerator. “I'll steal the liquor.”

Henry sat down beside his aunt. “Yeah, Dawnie. I have a sister.” He looked up at Buffy. “And here I thought the whiskey was always Dad's.”

“Dad,” Dawn echoed in a whisper. “You mean Spike... Holy crap. I've fallen into the Twilight Zone.”

“No. This is the real world, Summers. But someone needs to explain to me what the kid is doing in 2001,” Whistler grumbled. “I wasn't told this was supposed to happen.”

“We don't have to explain shit to you, demon,” Buffy growled. “Shut up.” She gagged Whistler and went to a cabinet to get some glasses. “Rum and Coke, Junior?”

“Yeah, thanks,” he said, rising to his feet. “But in a minute. I want to check out the old place, see what it used to look like.”

“Take your time.” She pulled an ice tray out of the freezer as Henry left the kitchen. She looked up to find Dawn staring at her. “What? It's not like he doesn't know his way around. He grew up here.”

“Buffy, you and Spike are going to have kids.”

“Yeah, and that's one of them.”

“How?”

“I thought you were too mature for that conversation, Dawn.”

Tara snickered. “Buffy, you know that's not what she meant.”

“We don't actually know the 'how' yet. But guys... Doyle bringing him here is a huge deal. Do you understand what this means?”

“We're on the right track,” Tara whispered, her gaze on the bound and gagged demon at the table. “If Henry still exists, the same Henry you met a few months ago... His timeline still stands.”

“I told you so, Tara.” Buffy grinned. “One way or another...”

“Hey, Mum?” came a softly accented voice from the hall. Henry came to the kitchen doorway, shaking his head. “Sorry, force of habit. Um, Buffy? Where are all the photos? The mantle's bare.”

“They're all still on the mantle in Sunnydale. We're only visiting.” Buffy poured rum into a glass and waved it at him. “Any chance I could ply you with booze until you tell me what year we move here?”

He raised an eyebrow, giving her a look that was far too familiar for comfort.

She shuddered. “Never mind. I think I'm going to need all the rum for myself.”

Tara frowned at her. “The whiskey isn't enough?”

“Bloody hell.” Henry came fully into the room and took the glass from her, adding a generous quantity of Coke. “My mother, the alcoholic. Doyle said you weren't yourself just now. Is this what he meant?”

“Don't start with me, kid. I still have your entire childhood ahead of me, ready to ruin.”

“Don't remind me.” He rolled his eyes as he returned to the table, bringing with him the juice Tara had poured for Dawn. “What say, Dawnie? Can I move in with you when the old slayer gets to be too much of a tyrant?”

She looked at him. “You're still freaking me out way too much for joking around, Henry.”

“'Cause I look like my dad?”

“A little, but the more I look at you, the more I see the differences. For starters, I think you have Buffy's weird ears.”

Buffy put down the bottle of whiskey she was holding to pat at her ears. “I do not have weird ears.”

Henry laughed. “I think the first time you told me I had Mum's ears, I was nine years old. I drove her mad for weeks, sneaking up on her to snap pics of her ears, taking some of my own, and showing them to everyone to ask opinions.”

“That's great, Dawnie.” Buffy swallowed a shot of whiskey. “Give my kid a freakin' complex about his ears years before he's even born.”

He turned to look at her. “Did I not tell you this time travel stuff was confusing?”

Tara looked up from the take out menu she was studying. “Welcome to the club, Henry. You're a Time Scooby now, assuming you weren't already. ...Do you like Thai food?”

“Like I had a choice, growing up in this house. I think Dad would give up on human food entirely if he couldn't get a green curry once in a while. And Mum would live on drunken noodle, if you let her.”

“Some things never change,” Dawn mumbled. “My usual, please, Tara.”

“Henry? That makes you the only person I have to ask.” Tara reached for the phone.

“Anything with some heat will suit, thanks. I'm fond of drunken noodle, myself, if you want an idea.”

“Rum and Coke and drunken noodle?” Tara shook her head as she dialed the phone. “I bet you're a fan of soft pretzels and doughnuts, too.”

“Better than getting my taste in snacks from Dad, isn't it?” Henry pointed to his teeth. “These only have one setting.”

“And for these small mercies, we are grateful.” Dawn took a gulp of her juice. “I don't think I could handle any extra layers of strange right now.”

Buffy brought her glass and bottle to the table. “So the lying asshole over here--,” she gestured to Whistler with the bottle as she sat down. “--implied you and your mum patched things up after I met you.”

“Yeah, when she got home from Moscow, we had a little chat. I told her I'd be willing to get knee deep in the craziness once in a while, just to try it out.”

Buffy dropped her forehead to the table. “Dammit. That wasn't the part of our conversation that was supposed to stick. Your dad must be throwing a fit.”

“Yeah, a big one. He's pretty well convinced I'm going to get myself killed. But how did you know?”

“We talked about you, while we were still in your time. He made me promise me not to push you into the business... And I kinda didn't tell him I already had. This is going to end in a brawl, isn't it?”

“I wasn't around for it, but Aunt Tara said it was one of the bad ones, broken bones and such.”

“Oh, goody,” Dawn muttered. “They aren't going to outgrow the domestic violence.” She looked at Henry. “Yes. You can move in with me. For your own safety. Bring your sister.”

Henry patted her shoulder. “It's alright, Dawnie. I was only joking about moving in. Neither of them ever hurt us. Unless you count Anne's combat training, and she sure doesn't.”

“What about you? Didn't they put you through the same training?”

Buffy lifted her head. “That's what the fight is going to be about. Buffy's a terrible, pushy mother.”

Tara hung up the phone. “I'm going to run out to pick up dinner. Dawn, keep an eye on the hostage. Henry, keep an eye on your terrible mother.” She shook her head. “You know what I mean.”

As she left the room, Henry got up to pour himself another round, taking Buffy's bottle with him. “Aunt Dawnie? Do you want a refill while I'm up?”

“You're freaking me out again, Nephew,” Dawn grumbled. “Can we pretend I'm not your Aunt? At least until I'm older than you?” She shoved her empty juice glass toward the edge of the table. “Yes, please.”

“And bring that bottle back, Junior, or I'll give you the ass-kicking you've been missing.”

Henry picked up Dawn's glass and threw a smirk at Buffy. “I'm immune to your threats, you know. I've been hearing you say things like that to Dad since I was too young to remember, and he's still around.”

“Yeah. In your time,” Buffy said belligerently. She got up and retrieved the whiskey bottle herself while he was pouring juice into Dawn's glass. “Right now, not so much.”

“So I guess this is the reason Mum never told me about all this. She's probably embarrassed about turning from casual drinker to lush in the space of six weeks.”

“Pfft! Weeks? More like an hour.”

“Dawnie!” Buffy gave her sister a wide-eyed glare. “He doesn't need to know that.”

Henry returned with his and Dawn's glasses. He put them on the table and sat beside Buffy, turning her chair towards his. “I don't get all the time travel stuff, but I know this: You were right about the bloody mailman. If I'm here, this kidnapping scheme must work out, right?”

She poured herself another round. “Eventually. Either that or Plan B goes into play. Meanwhile, this is getting me through.” She took a drink. “At the very least, it's leaving me numb enough to look at you without crying like a baby.”

He sighed. “Maybe Doyle should have sent Annie for this.”

“Still the same eyes,” Buffy whispered. “Same smile. Same Aurelian -ish signature.”

“That's kind of the point though, isn't it?” Dawn asked. “You know you'll still have Spike's kids, so you don't have to numb things out anymore.”

“And right now,” Buffy whispered, “I have to face one of them, knowing how easily their lives could have been undone, because Spike and I got cocky. We were so sure we'd covered all the angles on this, we missed the obvious: that his life was on the line, too. And since then... Well, I'm not super proud of how I've handled this.”

Dawn shrugged. “You've had a couple of pretty bad ass moments.” She waved a hand toward Whistler. “That growly speech for Doyle to take to his bosses was pretty awesome, for one.”

“That's the other embarrassing part,” Buffy whispered. “I let my emotional state take control of the situation, let the demon drive. I know better than that. Hell, Angel even warned me it might happen.” She shook her head. “Everyone keeps hinting that I'm cracking up, and I'm starting to think they're right. Even if this is going to work out, I lost control of myself... of my emotions and my demon.”

“You know why,” Henry said quietly.

She shuddered and took another drink. “Please don't use those words. You have no idea what they mean to me.”

“Actually, I do.” He put an arm around her shoulders. “They mean 'It's called love, stupid.' I bet you can't name one of your codes I don't know. 'You look like hell.' 'One good day.' 'Dancing monkeys.' 'Second front.' 'Crosses on the walls.' 'Sparky.' 'You're late.' 'Woodchuck.' 'Let it roar.' I could go on. There are dozens of them.”

“We taught you the whole language,” Buffy said, her frown easing into a smile. “Not just 'I hear you.'”

“That puts you ahead of me,” Dawn said. “I know 'Sparky' refers to Spike, but I don't know what else it means. I've heard some of the other stuff, but I don't know the translations for those, either.” She wrinkled her nose. “'You're late' has a secret meaning?”

“It means 'I'm so glad to see you.'” Henry laughed at the expression on Dawn's face. “You always call the code 'Speaking Pratt.' You two had a good, sisterly row about it when Anne and I were starting school. You were convinced we'd use the code in public and get ourselves into trouble.”

“Was I right?”

Henry smiled at a memory. “Yeah, a little. And now that I think about it, this conversation might be why that row happened... We'd 'Speak Pratt' in the schoolyard, so no one would understand us. Some thought we were a bit touched. Some thought it was a twin thing.”

“You and Anne are twins?” Dawn furrowed her brow. “So that's why Buffy and Spike stopped calling the scythes 'the twins' right after Whistler sent them on that jump. It was because they met you guys.”

Buffy nodded. “That particular code got awkward in a big, fat hurry. We had to drop it.”

“Sort of,” Henry said with a smirk. “And no, I'm not going to tell you what that means.”

“You're evil.”

“I got it honest.”

*~*~*

At the sound of a knock on the front door, Henry pushed aside the book he was reading and jumped up from the dining table. “I'll get it!” he called toward the kitchen on his way to the door. When he opened it, he stared, open-mouthed at the man on the other side of the threshold. “Giles? Bloody hell...”

Giles dropped the armload of weapons he held. They clattered against the stoop unnoticed, as the watcher matched the stare. “I was about to say the same thing.” He squinted at the familiar face, took off his glasses, and squinted again. “You can't possibly be... No. You aren't. But...”

“But I look an awful lot like him, I know. I hear it all the time.” Henry sighed, long accustomed to these sorts of first meetings with people who knew his parents. He stepped out into the afternoon sun to gather the weapons. “Sorry for the staring. It's been a while since I've seen you.”

Giles put his glasses back on and crouched to help. “If I may ask, who are you?”

“The nearest thing to a grandson you're going to get.” Henry grinned at the expression on Giles' face. “And a Time Scooby, I guess.” He paused, waiting as the watcher's expression changed. “Are you putting it together now?”

“Dear lord. You can't mean...? Spike and Buffy will...? And you're from...?”

“Exactly.” Henry led them into the house, calling ahead of him, “Dawnie? Where can I dump a pile of sharp things? Your sister didn't bring the chest.”

Tara came into the hall, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel. She took one look at Giles and threw a glare at Henry. “You answered the door, didn't you?”

He shrugged. “I wasn't thinking, just answered it out of habit. Where's Dawn?”

“Ok, so apparently the impulsive stupidity runs in the family.” Tara took the weapons from Giles' arms. “Dawnie's out back, stretching. Since you had your nose stuck in a book, she said she'd take your training session.”

Henry followed her to the dining room, and they deposited the array of weapons in an empty corner.

Giles followed them, looking like he was still trying to organize his thoughts. “Tara... I am understanding this situation correctly? This young man is actually...?”

“Henry Pratt, half of the dirty little secret Buffy and Spike kept to themselves after a time jump they made a few months ago.” Tara watched as Henry's attention drifted back to his book on the table. She rolled her eyes. “Henry, you're supposed be out back. Dawn will take the next session, like she's supposed to. Don't think I haven't noticed her covering for you with Buffy.”

“Bloody hell, Tara. I always figured it took me and Annie a few years to turn you into a nagging mother hen. You're already good at it.”

“It only took about a month of living with your parents.” She shooed him out of the room. “Go.”

Giles sank into a chair as Henry left the dining room. “Spike's son,” he whispered. “Oh dear lord.”

Tara sat down across from him. “So the last twenty-four hours have been interesting.”

“I see that.” There was a long pause. “This means he's definitely coming back, doesn't it?”

We think so. As for the Powers, plans could still change. But so long as Henry's here, we know they haven't.”

“How is Buffy handling this... visitor?”

“Well, it's less of a shock to her, since she met him -at this age- back in March. I'm hoping he can help.”

“I'd assume, given his frankly impossible parentage, he's not entirely human? He'll be useful if this becomes a battle situation?”

Tara giggled. “Yes and no. Henry's not human, but I have no idea what to call him as far as species, given that neither parent is entirely human nor entirely demon. Unfortunately, power and experience aren't the same thing, as you well know. I gather he's been more interested in books and women than fighting, up until he met this version of his mother.”

“His mother,” Giles echoed, shaking his head. “And who is Annie?”

“My future daughter,” Buffy answered from the doorway. “Twins. Hi, Giles.” She glanced around. “Way to go, Tara. You finally got Junior away from the books. He's been locked up in here all day. I thought I was going to have to drag him out by force. How did you manage it?”

“Nagging.” Tara shrugged. “It works on you.”

“Just don't start trying to work on his love life, Dr. Ruth. I'm pretty sure there are things we don't want to know.”

Giles turned wide eyes on Buffy, his mind racing with the possibilities. “Buffy, exactly how much of a demon is he?”

“Oh, he's worse than a demon, Giles. Far more dangerous. He's a young, good-looking, single guy who has money, a nice apartment in New York, a cute accent, and is very casual about picking up women in bars. He's undoubtedly got a serious body count... of the notches on the bedpost variety. None of us should risk finding out the number.” She shuddered as she turned to head down the hall. “Not if we're going to have to change his diapers one day.”

Giles rubbed his forehead. “Tara...”

“You need to get into Buffy's whiskey again, don't you?”

“He looks like Spike and called himself my grandson.”

She stood up. “I'll take that as a 'yes.'”

*~*~*

“Bellator Ostium!” Tara shouted excitedly. “Bellator Ostium!”

Dawn called from the kitchen, “Giles? Is she having a seizure or something?”

Henry was the one to reply. “Dawnie, get Mum in here. We've found a way in.”

*~*~*

“Angel Investigations.”

“Hey, Wes. It's Buffy.”

“Hello, Buffy. Angel's out right now, but I can ask him to call you when he returns.”

“Actually, can you just give him a message for me?”

“Certainly. ...Is everything alright?”

She took a deep breath. “I don't know yet. It might be. Soon.”

“I have a pen. What's the message?”

“Plan B is viable. The general is willing to risk the tantrum for a good soldier.”

“He'll know what that means?”

“He will. Thanks, Wes.”





Please login or register to review.