Chapter Notes:

Of doubt, determination, and dusters


Chapter 49: Dead Languages

July, 2001

“Bellator Ostium,” Buffy murmured again, still trying to memorize the words. “Warrior door.”

“According to this text, the only known attempt to use it was in 1425, and it was a failure.”

“Who tried it?”

Giles shook his head. “There's no name, species, or details given. The person is referred to simply as the Militantis Vindex, the militant avenger.”

Henry looked up from his book. “I think that makes you qualified for the second attempt, General.”

“Qualified to fail, you mean.” Buffy stood up and went to the sideboard, to pour her first drink of the night. “Whatever went down in 1425 was probably bad enough to scare off anyone else who wanted to try.”

“Buffy,” Tara said from her seat across from Henry. “I doubt the original Vindex was a time traveling slayer who had stared down the First Evil itself.”

The phone rang, but was answered from another room before anyone could make a move toward it. “Having teenagers in the house means never having to answer the phone when you're busy,” Buffy murmured distractedly. “The world may be ending, but you can always count on Andrew or one of the girls to answer the phone.”

“Sweetie,” Tara said gently. “Wrong war.”

Buffy came out of her thoughts with a jerk. “Sorry. Just sinking into the feeling of battles I'm likely to lose. Familiar territory.” She drained her glass and refilled it. “Traveler or not, slayer or not, I still might not be strong enough to get through.”

Dawn walked in with a phone in her hand. “And just in time, too. It's your unwilling AA sponsor.”

Buffy took a sip of her second drink. “Did he get my message?”

Dawn offered the phone. “I don't know. Your boyfriend. You talk to him.”

Henry frowned as Buffy took the call out of the room. “Tell me that was a joke.”

Dawn laughed at his expression. “Geez, don't freak. I just like ragging on her for spending more time talking to Angel now than she did when they were dating. ...You do know they dated, right?”

“Unfortunately.” Henry shuddered slightly. “And that he put that scar on her neck.”

Tara reached across the table to put a hand over his. “It's weird for you, isn't it?” she asked. “Being confronted with your mother's history this way?”

“Mostly it's that any other vamp...” He shook his head. “I'm not sure I can explain it. She's Dad's, you know? They belong to each other. That's supposed to mean something. Before this version jumped into my time a couple of months ago, I didn't even know she and Angel had ever been a couple, let alone that.

“The claim thing's kind of a big deal, huh?”

“Yeah, Dawnie.” Henry went to the sideboard to pour himself a glass of water from the pitcher. “I wouldn't exist without it.”

Tara bit her lip. “Don't say anything else about that, Henry. There are certain rules to time jumps. One is, you don't tell anyone anything that could seriously impact the future unless you've considered the consequences and are confident it's safe. The other is that you accept that secrets and lying are part of the game. We don't know exactly how you're going to become possible, and we probably shouldn't, not yet.”

“Fair enough. I'll lie to you, then. The stork dumped me and Annie at the front door by mistake.”

Buffy returned to the room and took a seat at the table. “Angel's booked on the red eye to La Guardia. He'll wait out the day there, and take the next one to Heathrow.” She leaned back and closed her eyes. “I'm starting to wonder if this is a mistake.”

“Involving Angel usually is,” Giles muttered.

“Not that.” Buffy waved her hand casually. “The whole thing. The warrior door we got so excited about before we found out no one has ever actually been able to use it.”

Dawn sat down beside her and tapped on a page of notes. “I don't see anything here about the Vindex having help, Buffy. You have us.”

Buffy opened her eyes and looked at her sister. “I've had help before, Dawnie. I almost always do. And they haven't all survived. What if all this gets me is a longer body count sheet? What if you get hurt?”

Dawn shrugged. “I'll hide behind Angel, if I really, really have to. The PTB brought him back from hell. I don't think they want to dust him.”

“That's comforting,” Henry grumbled, leaning against the sideboard. “Bloody Angel isn't expendable.”

“Henry, please stop being so cranky about Angel.” Tara sighed. “You sound just like your father.”

“Which tells you all you need to know about if Spike is ever going to grow up.” Dawn laughed. “He's probably been listening to Spike's endless Angel rants his whole life.”

“Giles,” Buffy said tiredly. “Why didn't you tell me not to get involved with Aurelians back in '97? They make dysfunctional families look good. And now I'm stuck with them forever.”

“I don't believe I referred to the order by name in my warnings. However--”

“And you're going to make more of them. That we have to put up with,” Dawn threw in.

“Hey! I'm standing right here!”

Buffy's forehead hit the table with a thump. “Oh, god. Almost the same words. Almost the same accent. Almost the same face. ...I'm having flashbacks to a different dining room full of books... in 2003. Yep, we're doomed. No question.”

Tara threw glares at Dawn and Henry. “You two do understand that Angel is going to be on a plane tonight, right? That means that if you make her want to get drunk, you have to stay up with her.”

“I'm fine, Tara,” Buffy mumbled from against the edge of the table. She slowly brought her head up. “I just need to get my tubes tied and put Dawnie up for adoption.”

“Hey!”

Giles laughed with them, unable to mask his amusement at seeing the future family dynamics already taking shape. He struggled to sober his expression. “Buffy, if Angel is to be joining us, there's a certain logistical matter to be considered.”

“That I have to invite him into the house? No big. If he pisses me off, I drag him outside to beat the crap out of him while Tara undoes the invite.” Buffy's gaze drifted to Henry. “Actually, when this is over, we should undo it, anyway. If I don't get us all killed, Junior and Annie will be young and helpless in this house one day. And you really never know what the future holds with Angel.”

“I was referring to the need to locate a demon friendly butcher shop. Up until now, we've not had need of one.”

“No worries. I know a place.”

Giles pulled off his glasses and frowned at Henry. “How exactly--? Oh. Of course. You grew up here.”

“And he's obviously no stranger to seeing pig's blood in the fridge,” Dawn said.

“Swine venom,” Buffy and Henry murmured together.

He laughed. “I guess he's been saying that for a long time.”

“Since he started drinking it.” Buffy sighed and got up to join him at the sideboard, refilling her glass. “It's all in your head, isn't it? His words. They're rattling around in your head, just like they are in mine. Sometimes, I can't hear anything else.” She took a drink. “I thought I knew what it meant to be haunted. Now I get it.”

“You'll be hearing him again, Buff,” Dawn reassured her. “Plan B is definitely going to rattle cages.”

“I'm afraid,” she whispered. “Afraid that's all it will do. That we'll storm the castle, and when it's over, I'll still be waiting. Still be haunted.”

The dining room fell silent as everyone struggled for fresh words to combat Buffy's lingering doubts.

“I guess this is what he meant.” Henry put down his glass. “It's in my suitcase. I'll be right back.”

“What's in your suitcase?” Buffy asked.

But Henry was already out of the dining room and jogging up the stairs. He returned a minute later with an envelope in his hand. “When my parents got home from Moscow, after I had that talk with Mum about joining the business, Dad gave me this. He said to open it when you needed him. I thought he meant my mum, and didn't understand what he was trying to do. They're always in touch, you know? So I figured it was some kind of Scooby ritual, an initiation. I guess I was sort of right.” He offered the envelope to Buffy.

She took it with a shaking hand, and ran her fingers over the words 'General Pratt' in familiar script. “It's almost enough, without even opening it... Something tangible to tell me this all works out...”

“Am I not tangible enough for you?” Henry faked offense, trying to get her to smile.

It worked. “Point taken... You know, except for the whole mailman concern.”

He scoffed. “Yeah, because that's likely.” He noticed the confused looks coming from the table. “If you don't open that envelope soon,” he stage whispered, “your future dalliance with a postal worker is going to be all over the Scooby grapevine.”

She smacked his arm with the envelope. “Would you shut up? They might actually believe you.” She tore open the envelope before any questions could begin.

What's the difference between something given up and something taken? I know you remember.

There's still one thing in the world I'm sure of, and that certainty is still justified.

Lt. Pratt

She read the note three times, soaking up every word, every letter, every artful stroke of the pen. When she looked up, she was smiling. “Those are the words that should have been rattling around in my head.” She put the note and envelope on the table. “What did I tell you, Giles? My lieutenant always has my back. Always. 46 days in, and he's still talking me through.” She threw Henry a smirk as she headed out of the dining room. “Mailman, huh? Thanks for the delivery.”

“Is this a paradox or a bad joke?” he asked, approaching the table. The note was passed around, finally ending up in his hands. He read it with a frown.

“Does that look mean future Spike used a code you don't know?” Dawn asked.

“Yeah... I can't make heads or tails of this.”

Tara shrugged. “I guess it only matters that it means something to Buffy.”

Buffy smacked Whistler on the head as she passed by his chair in the kitchen, bound for the back porch. “For the record, you know squat about giving pep talks.”

She closed the back door behind her and leaned on the porch railing, looking up at the night sky. “Thanks, Sparky,” she whispered. “I think I needed that.”

*~*~*

“Doyle!” Dawn called toward the ceiling. “Scooby meeting!”

Doyle appeared in the dining room in a blue flash. “You people adopt newbies in a hurry, don't you?”

“You said you wanted to help. That's adoption papers, around here.” Tara handed him an open book. “So teleporting the scythes is going to be way simpler than I thought.”

He frowned at the book and handed it back. “What is that? Ancient Sumerian?”

“Sumerian Renaissance era, actually,” Giles said. “This dialect is only about 4000 years old.”

“Oh. Only. Yeah, I'm gonna need a translation.”

“In simple terms, Doyle, this is the root of all modern teleportation spells.”

“So how does that help? I can already teleport with the best of them. It's those shiny toys of Firecracker's that are the hitch. Speaking of, where is she? Don't these meetings include slayers?”

“She's out back with Henry, making sure she lands in divorce court in a few decades,” Dawn answered. “Training.”

“Maybe I shouldn't have brought him,” Doyle muttered to himself.

“He's been good for her so far.” Tara picked up the translation notes she and Giles had been working on. “Ok, so someone from this plane could teleport the scythes, no problem, right?”

“You mean you? No offense, Witch, but you don't have that kind of power.”

“I don't need a lot of power. I can do what you can't: Interact with the scythes. I've used their power before. I'll have to link my teleportation spell to you to keep us all safely together, and landing where you need us to, but we'll be moving with independent power sources.”

“I aim, we both fire?”

“Basically. I'll move the weapons and Whistler. You'll set the destination and move the rest. It's two separate teleports, but mine will be tied to you, so everything and everyone gets to the same place at the same time.”

“I think I'm getting you.” Doyle took a seat at the table. “Earthly teleport for the scythes and the power source they block, agent teleport for every--”

The slam of the back door interrupted them. “You're as bad as my mother!”

The four at the table turned to listen to the voices from the direction of the kitchen.

“I will be your mother.”

“And you're getting your practice in, is that it?”

“It's not my fault your stupid parents didn't force you into training. And it sure as hell isn't my fault you're too freakin' slow to dodge an obvious punch!”

“Bloody hell... Do you plan to blame the mailman again?”

“You know what, Junior? Forget it. You're out. I'm sending you home before you get yourself killed. Doyle! Come get this pseudo-human and take him back to his cushy life in New York!”

“I'm in the middle of a meeting, Firecracker!” Doyle called.

Buffy and Henry followed the voice to the dining room. Tara was the first to start laughing, with Dawn and Giles quickly following suit.

Henry pulled his hand away from his nose. “It's not funny! I think she almost broke it.”

Buffy dropped into an empty chair. “No, it's not funny. Doyle, I mean it. Send him home.”

“No. Don't.” Henry took the seat beside her. “I can do this, Buffy. I need to do this.”

She studied him for a moment, beginning to understand. “This isn't your fight. This isn't even your lifetime.”

“It is if they decide to keep him too long... or for good.”

Tara shook her head at Henry. “No, that's not going to happen. If it were, you'd have already disappeared. So would that note you brought.” She looked at Doyle. “Right? I mean, his timeline wouldn't exist anymore if Spike weren't coming home, would it?”

Doyle shrugged. “All I know is that the odds are still in favor. If they flip the other way, yeah, the kid disappears.”

Buffy's focus was still on Henry. “There are other ways to earn their respect.”

“None that really matter, and you know it.”

She touched the bruise coloring in around his eye socket. “You look like hell,” she whispered.

“I hear you.”

There was a long silence. Finally, Buffy nodded her consent. “Alright, you can stay. But Rule Number One and Lesson the First. Do you read me, Junior?”

“Yes, Mum.” He shook his head. “Sorry. Buffy. Hard habit to break.”

“And you will stay behind me. Is that clear, too?”

“Buffy--”

“No argument. You aren't ready for the front lines.” She stood up and started out of the room. “Dawn, I think you and I can fit in a round before lunch.”

As soon as she was gone, Dawn turned to Henry. “Speaking Pratt again?”

“'Rule Number One: Don't die,'” Giles quoted from an old memory. “Buffy's joking version of the Slayer Handbook. She once told me she used a variation of it to help Faith during the Kakistos affair.”

“And 'Lesson the first' is from something Dad once said to her about taking out a slayer,” Henry explained. “It means to always be armed and ready. That's two thirds of what my Aunt Tara calls 'the battle blessing' and Annie calls 'standard orders.'” He looked thoughtful. “I'm guessing this situation is the origin of the third part of it. It will probably be added soon.”

“And the other stuff?” Dawn asked. “'I hear you'?”

“'You look like hell' means 'I'm worried about you,' Tara said. “Willow got that out of them after Glory tried to bash Buffy's head in.”

Henry stood up from the table. “I'll let you get back to your meeting. I'll go back out, Dawnie, try to soften her up a bit for you.”

“Henry?” Dawn looked up at him, still waiting for an explanation.

“It means 'I love you, too.'” Henry turned to leave. “But they've never told me the story behind it.”

Doyle followed him into the hall. “I know the story.” His low voice brought Henry to a stop. “I may not be their case agent, but I've had a couple peeks at their file.” He leaned against the hallway wall and looked toward the front door. “Simple terms? It's about a wish that never came true, in either timeline. A wish that no one would die on a rickety tower in Sunnydale.”

Henry turned and followed Doyle's gaze to the coat rack by the front door. “That's Dad's old coat, isn't it? The legendary duster they both talk about like it's a dear, departed friend?”

“That's the one.”

There was a long silence. “I'm tearing her up even more by saying it, then. Is that what you're trying to tell me? That I shouldn't say 'I hear you' while Dad's gone?”

“I didn't tell you to guilt trip you. I told you so you'd stop and think about why the coat is here and Spike isn't.”

Henry furrowed his brow. “Clearly, he wasn't wearing it when he dusted. ...Oh. You're saying that wasn't an accident. That he knew. ...He figured out that the wish wasn't going to come true.”

“That would be my first guess. At least, he probably suspected it. Spike's had that coat a lot of years, Henry. It's been a piece of his reputation ever since he took it from the original owner. It's his battle uniform, his image, and a symbol of his strength. And for some reason, he took it off in the middle of a fight. Doesn't that sound odd to you?”

Henry leaned against the opposite wall. “You think he left it for her.”

“The last thing I did before I died was leave something behind for a girl I was in love with.” Doyle shrugged. “It's not exactly unheard of. I think Spike took his coat off before he climbed that tower, just in case she needed it. ...Kid, did your parents ever tell you about the time the coat spent in storage?”

“Yeah. When Dad first got his soul back. He didn't wear it for months. And when he finally did, it was to prove he was still a fighter, and get Mum back from some...” He turned to look at Doyle. “You're saying it's a symbol of his strength to her.”

“Why else would he leave it behind? I think you can do a bit more than deliver time traveling mail to bolster Buffy's morale.” Doyle nodded toward the coat rack.

Henry's eyes grew wide. “She'd kill me. Or she'd at least make me wish she had. Do you have any idea how I've heard them talk about that coat? The bloody thing is practically deified. Dad still misses it, and it's been gone longer than I can remember. I'm not going anywhere near his sacred leather legend.”

“You want to prove to her you're strong, yeah? That you're tough enough to be here? And she needs Spike's strength, now more than ever. Who better to remind her it's still here than someone who literally has some of it? If you ask me, Henry Pratt, this seems like a good time to find out if the legend fits.”

“This is the reason you chose me over Annie, isn't it?”

Doyle shrugged one shoulder. “She was probably busy, anyway.”

Henry stared at the coat for a long moment. “It looks a bit too big for me.”

“It's a bit too big on Spike, too. That's never bothered him.”

“Summer weather is far too warm for such a heavy coat.”

Doyle shoved him toward the coat rack. “Pretend you're a vampire.”

“Doyle, she's going to beat the hell out of me for even touching it.”

“No, she's going to respect you. Put it on. Show her you're tough enough. Try being your father's son, just this once.”

Henry hesitantly reached out to run his hand along a leather sleeve. “Other coats have come and gone over the years, but none of them mattered like this one did.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Dad's second slayer trophy. The only one I've never seen.”

“Well, it's not as though he can lose the other two. Scars can't be left behind in Brazil.”

Henry pulled his hand away from the coat. “Brazil? That's where he lost it? Is that why he hates the place? Something happened down there, didn't it? Something other than the break up with Drusilla.”

Doyle waved a hand. “Another story for another time. Forget I said that. I've been snooping through the files too much. Go on, try it on.”

After taking a deep breath, Henry took the duster from its hook and slipped it on. “I feel ridiculous.”

“You don't look it. You look like your Dad. Especially with that slayer-induced shiner you're sporting.” He jerked a thumb toward the back of the house. “Go. Remind her where you come from... Junior.”

With one more uncertain glance at the agent, Henry made his way through the house and out the back door. He found Buffy leaning on the porch rail, staring up at the cloudy sky.

She did a double take as he stepped up beside her, then turned her gaze back to the clouds. “You didn't earn that,” she said quietly.

“I'd like to try.”

“I already said you could stay.”

“Don't let me stay because I want to. Let me stay because I can help.” He took a deep breath. “Let me stand with you, Mum, not behind you. I'm the closest thing to Dad you've got. You need me.”

“I need you to live, Henry. As far as I know, only three people before you have ever worn that coat. And we've racked up six deaths among us. Stay out of the club.”

He gestured to the coat. “This was Doyle's idea, for the record.”

“I guessed as much. Everyone else knows you're taking your life in your hands by even touching it.”

“Myself included.” Henry shifted a little, unaccustomed to the feel of the heavy duster hanging from his shoulders. “How the hell did Dad fight in this thing? It weighs a bloody ton.”

Buffy broke into a soft smile. “Like a master. God, I miss seeing him fight. Fists and fangs are fun, but spins and kicks, that coat swirling around him... Just beautiful. I know that's not a word generally associated with his street brawler style, but there's art in the dance. In the power, the rhythm, the raw brutality of it. The coat just gives it extra flair.” She glanced at Henry. “You probably don't get it. I guess it takes a killer to appreciate one.”

“I've never been much of a brawler, myself.”

“I figured that out ten minutes after I met you.”

Henry leaned on the porch railing. “But I'm not weak.”

“I know.”

“I can earn the right to fight beside you, just like he did.”

“No, not like he did. Sparky crossed a line as old as time, fought his very nature, his own reputation, and -worst of all- me and my proverbial demons.”

“Ok, so maybe I can just learn to throw a few good punches, instead. Remind you what it looks like to see the dance?”

Buffy broke out of her thoughts with a laugh. “I guess you can try, but I don't have a century or so for you to catch up. We're going in tomorrow.”

“Crash course, then. Show me what it takes to stand in for your lieutenant. I've got the looks, the bloodline, and the coat. That's a start, right?”

“You're not wearing it tomorrow, for the record. This is a one time only thing.”

“I probably couldn't deal with the weight in a fight, anyway. ...Doesn't change what matters.”

“No, it doesn't.” She studied him for a moment, taking in all the similarities and differences. “Home is in the bloodline,” she whispered. “Spike is in the bloodline.” She took his hand, leading him out into the yard. She backed away from him and dropped into a fighting stance. “Come on, Junior. Let's see if you're as tough as you look.”

*~*~*

Dawn opened the front door of the farmhouse and looked at the man under the umbrella, standing in the morning rain. “I guess the crappy weather around here is useful, after all.” She called over her shoulder. “Buffy! Your AA boyfriend is here! Should I invite him in?”

“Come in, Angel!” Buffy called. “It's about freakin' time!”

Angel left his suitcase and umbrella by the door and followed Dawn to the dining room, where a final research session was wrapping up at the long, rectangular table. “Sorry I'm late. I was waiting for better cloud cover. Hey, everyone... What the hell?” He took a step backward at the sight of a familiar-looking stranger ...who felt like family.

Henry sighed, accustomed to this sort of reaction. He held up a hand to stop Dawn from trying to scramble together an explanation as he stepped around the table to the newcomer. “It's alright, Dawnie. I've been dealing with moments like this for half my life.” He offered his hand. “Angel, I'm Henry, the other time-traveling Pratt.”

Angel shook the young man's warm hand slowly, studying him at close range. “You're... And you look so much like...”

“His father, William the Absent,” Buffy finished. “Come on, Angel. Back to your senses. We need to get moving, and you're a day and a half behind on your briefings.”

Angel struggled to tear his eyes away from the man before him. “I have a million questions.”

“They'll keep.” Henry gestured to Buffy. “You should know not to cross that look. Learned that lesson before I could write my own name. The general's on duty, Angel.”

“Smart kid,” Tara muttered, smothering a grin.

Henry chuckled. “'Never piss off a slayer you don't plan to kill,' Dad always says. 'It won't end well.'”

“He'd know,” Dawn muttered.

Buffy glared at them. “That's enough out of you, Junior. You, too, Dawn. Finish up. We're leaving soon. Angel, come into the sitting room with me, and I'll get you caught up.”

“Yes, General,” Dawn and Henry said, together rolling their eyes. They returned to their chairs, snickering.

“If you two smart asses don't behave, you'll both be put up for adoption. Hell, all three of you, just to make it easy.”

“Mum! You wouldn't!”

“I'm only teasing.” Buffy waved toward the table. “Get that Sumerian translation verified and get ready to go. I'll get Angel up to speed.” She led her guest to the sitting room and dropped onto a sofa. “So now you know why I drink,” she said with a smirk.

Angel sat beside her. “All three?”

“Henry has a twin sister. Anne.”

“Ah.” He leaned back against the cushions. “So the leverage you talked about, related to this house...”

“Is that we found out a few months ago we'd be raising our kids here, kids the Powers want to exist. Whistler bounced us forward, and we met them as adults.” Buffy put a hand on his shoulder. “Don't take it personally that I didn't tell you. Spike and I didn't tell anyone. But Doyle decided to bring the leverage to me by dropping off Henry in this time to help us, so now the secret's out.” She withdrew her hand. “Honestly, though? I wish he'd brought Annie,” she added in a whisper.

“Because Henry looks so much like Spike?”

“Partly. It's not easy, seeing such a similar face right now. ...And partly because this is a prime situation for getting Henry killed. Anne could handle it. She's fully trained, and experienced in the field. Her brother is a total novice. He refused training, playing the 'normal human' game his whole life -as far as I can tell- until very recently.” She sighed. “The kid's in over his head, Angel. He's not ready for this stuff. Dawn's got more training behind her than he does, which isn't saying all that much.”

“He's got some power, though. I can sense it. He's family. He can hold his own.”

“I hope so.”

“And he's no kid. How old is he? 24? 25?”

“I don't know. We don't know exactly what year we traveled to, what year the kids were born, or if they even age like humans. I'm guessing 24 or 25 is about right on the age, but I'm not sure. It's better not to ask, you know?”

“Yeah. I guess I get that.” Angel shook his head. “What the hell are the Powers thinking by encouraging Spike to breed?”

Buffy released her tension in a laugh. “I have no idea. One the first things I ever said to Henry was that the world doesn't need another one.”

“You got that right. And you...”

“Yeah. Someone else who probably shouldn't be breeding. I think the Powers are high on something.”

“That's not what I was going to say, Buffy. I meant you as a mother... while trying to understand why in the hell you won't choose to adopt.”

She laughed again. “Because where Buffy goes, so goes the strange. And eventually, that strange is going to be two not-exactly-human kids with Spike's blue eyes.” Her expression sobered, and she took Angel's hand. “I need to ask a personal favor.”

“Anything.”

“Henry thinks this is a shortcut to earning his mother's respect as a fighter. He wants to go home a hero, to look his parents and sister in the eyes as a warrior. But he's out of his league.” She bit her lip. “Spike compared Henry to his human self, but he was only half right, as far as this goes. Remember William when he was a fledge, Angel. The human elements are strong, and there's inherent power, but there's no experience to back it up. And for Henry, there's not enough untamed demon to make up the difference.”

“I'll keep an eye on him.”

“Thank you.” She gave his hand a squeeze before pulling away. She sat up. “So here's the deal: We've found a gateway we can use. It's called the 'warrior door,' and should take us directly into the Powers' primary dimension if we can get through.”

“If?”

“It's only been attempted once before, and it didn't go well.”

Angel rubbed his forehead. “You were sober when you came up with this plan, weren't you?”

“Impossible odds is kind of what I do.” She gave him a smirk. “Or have you forgotten my time traveling, biologically impossible son is across the hall?”

“I don't think I'm capable of forgetting that, though it's tempting to try...”

She laughed. “Anyway, the place is guarded, but I think -with all of us together- we have a chance of getting through. Once we take down the sentries, we should be able to walk right into their home turf, bypassing the heavenly planes altogether. Bellator Ostium is supposed to lead straight to the top.”

“Aside from the 'it's never been done before' odds, this still sounds too easy.” Angel leaned forward to study her expression. “What's the catch?”

“The gateway is in Hong Kong.”

“And how exactly are we going to--” Angel's words were cut off by a voice from the dining room.

“Hey, Firecracker! Are you ready? I thought we had a date?”

“In a hurry to get fired, are you?” Buffy called back, laughing at the expression on Angel's face.

“Are you kidding me? Sweetheart, I'm bucking for a promotion!”

Angel's mouth was open in shock. “Doyle's here? As in, working with you on this?”

Doyle came to the sitting room doorway and leaned against it with his arms crossed over his chest and an easy smile playing over his face. “So that story I once told you about a vamp and a slayer turned out to be the wrong story. The way I figure it, this is probably the way it should have gone all along, with the two of you sitting on a couch at William's Folly, chatting like old friends.”

Angel glanced at Buffy. “Yeah... Maybe so.” He stood up. “It's really, really good to see you.”

The two men met in the middle of the room in a hug. Buffy slipped out of the room, leaving them to their reunion.

*~*~*

Tara opened the back door in time to hear Buffy whispering to herself. “Day 48. It's time to come home, Sparky. I need you here. The PTB knows it. And they've been warned. If they aren't going to listen, we're going to make them.”

“You know there will be repercussions from this, though, right? We're all willing to do it, Buffy, but we also know we aren't the ones blowing a chance to become juiced-up, teleporting agents.”

Buffy turned around. “No, just me. I doubt this will come back on anyone else. Spike will probably still get the offer. He's valuable on this plane, and they know it. Doyle might get a slap on the wrist, but he'll be fine. He says the worst they could do is kick him back to heaven, and they'd be giving up a good asset to do it. All I have to do is get the rest of us in and out of there without anyone getting hurt, and everyone's free and clear.”

“What about you? Are you sure you're ok with the long term angle to this?”

She shrugged. “I guess I was never meant to take the 'higher purpose' road, after all.” She straightened her shoulders, her casual attitude fading into a look of fierce determination. “Because I'm sure as hell not backing down. And I'm not waiting one more day. I need him back. Now.”

Tara smiled. “Ok, then, General. Let's go get your mate.”





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