Chapter 51: Standing House

Date Unknown / July, 2001

In the master bedroom at William's Folly, Spike gave the lump under the quilt beside him a nudge. “Wake up, love.”

“Not unless the house is on fire,” the lump mumbled.

“You sense that, don't you? A vamp in the house?”

“Just you.” The lump didn't move.

“Times two, love. You've got a date to keep.” He nudged her again. “Now, Buffy. The ghost of '01 is here.”

“Stupid time travel,” she grumbled, rolling out of bed. “You couldn't have made this jump in the morning? Or when I wasn't so exhausted?”

“Like I had a bleedin' choice.”

Buffy made her way down the upstairs hall in the dark, to the man standing in Anne's bedroom doorway, watching her sleep. “Hey,” she whispered.

He turned to look at her, smiling. “You're late.”

She fought back a yawn. “You're from 2001. You'd say that to any version of me you met right now.”

“Yeah, probably. I guess your mate told you 'bout this visit.”

“He kicked me out of bed for it, too.”

“Dad?” came a sleepy young voice from inside the bedroom. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, pet,” Spike said softly. “Your mum and I are just talking. Go back to sleep.” He closed the bedroom door and let Buffy lead him to the top of the stairs, where they sat down together. He looked her over, concern in his eyes. “You look like hell, love.”

“You'll understand when you get to the week I've had. Lots of chaos. Not a lot of sleep.” She got up, went to close another bedroom door, and returned to the top of the stairs. “We don't need Henry to wake up in the middle of this conversation.”

“The kids are alright, yeah? This chaos...?”

“They're fine. It's cute that you're worried, though. They have their own time's Spike for that.”

“Time's a big question, right now, all the way 'round. ...I don't even know how long I've been gone. Can't remember anything after the tower, but I have the feeling time has passed.”

“It has. You've been doing jobs for the PTB. I don't know what, or when, or even on what plane. All I know is that this visit is the only memory you're going to take back with you.” She sighed. “And that I'm supposed to prepare you for the shock you'll get when you come home. The game has changed while you've been gone.”

“You're alright, aren't you?”

She chuckled. “Don't worry about me, Sparky. The old slayer still has some fight left in her. Just be glad you can't have a heart attack.” Her expression sobered. “With all of the wiped memories, we don't know if this is your last stop before you go home, or if you're still weeks away. So, in case you're still on dancing monkey duty for a while longer, I'm going to give you a heads up.”

He straightened his shoulders, visibly bracing himself. “Right then, General. Run it by me.”

“There are crosses on the walls, Lieutenant. Care of the PTB. They never had any intention of making us agents.”

“Never figured they meant to coddle us, love. But we've been working on the idea that we'd get a boost of agent mojo to make future wars a bit easier to handle.”

“No such luck. After the Glory fiasco, they wanted us for one thing, and one thing only. Risking our lives to fight their battles was just an extra bonus for them. And after they get that one thing, they won't give a damn about what happens to us. They're using you, just like they use other non-agents. A means to an end.”

“What one thing?” He followed her gaze to the closed bedroom doors. “No.”

“Yeah.”

“The Powers want the kids to happen,” he whispered. “Bloody hell. Nothing more than breeding stock, are we?”

Buffy gestured to the doors. “That's who they actually want as agents, Spike. We got played. Big time.”

“I guess it could be worse,” he murmured, settling into the idea. “At least they'll be able to teleport out of a fight and have the fun of reminding their parents they haven't got a clue.”

“I said they want them as agents,” Buffy whispered. “I didn't say they'd get them.”

“Far as I know, love, there's nothing can keep those ethereal buggers from getting what they want. If they want to give the kids the teleporting and injury immunity Whistler's got, they'll give it to them. Best we can hope for is that the perks will make things safer for them, same as we hoped for us.”

She shifted her weight. “There is one thing that can keep the twins from becoming agents: Having a pissed off, scythe-waving slayer for a mother.”

Spike was suddenly on his feet. “What the hell did you do, Slayer?” he growled.

She stood to face him. “I'm not the one who made the decision. I just started the confrontation... with an unbelievable combination of people helping me. My weirdest army ever. Henry refused to work with them, and--”

Spike pointed at the door Buffy had closed. “The same Henry who looks about eight years old?”

“No, the same Henry I met in New York.” she put a hand to his chest. “It's ok. We got a better offer.”

Amber glinted in his eyes. “Better than our kids being able to teleport themselves out of danger?”

She bit her lip. “I think so, in the long run. Spike, I haven't seen Whistler in years. The only interaction we have with any type of higher being -giving us assignments or popping by for visits- are people we trust enough to ask to babysit. I don't know everything about the kids' futures, but I know this: They'll never be toyed with and lied to like we were. They'll never have to fight battles they don't want to fight. When Henry meets early 2001 me in New York, it'll be a step toward leading him to understand us better, not manipulate him, as the Powers intended.”

Spike's irritation with her was rapidly fading. “Manipulate him?”

“We were sent into the future so I'd unwittingly push him into joining in the business, to make him willing to prepare for the agent work they wanted him to do.”

He slouched against the hallway wall. “It's a lot to take in... What was the better offer?”

“We got our old First-era jobs back... sort of.” she grinned. “Who watches the Watchers?”

“The Guardian, why?” His eyes lit up. “We're working for the old broad who gave us the scythes?”

“For a while. These days, we're working for her successor, actually, as protectors of the slayer line. There's more to it than that, and the successor herself is only part of the arrangement, but the gist of it is, we travel a lot, guarding the lines of Potentials from harm.”

“By travel, you mean planes and cars...” He looked at her hopefully. “Right?”

“I mean time jumps and teleporting.”

“Was afraid you'd say that.” Spike gave her a curious look. “You said these were people we trust, but you're not giving me any names.”

She grinned. “I wouldn't dare ruin the surprise. Not for all the warehouses in Hong Kong.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like there's a story there. And I'm guessing there's an even better one to explain all the other heartbeats in the old place? We're not collecting stray Potentials again, are we?”

“Of course not.” She grinned. “You finally got your dream house, Spike, complete with a big family.”

“Scoobies.”

“Slayer Scoobies, Time Scoobies, various friends and associates. For some of them, this is a place to crash when they have to come to the UK. For those of us who travel a lot, and/or frequently bounce between houses, the Folly is home base. The house is almost never empty for more than a few days at a time, even when we're living elsewhere.”

He studied her expression. “I'm trying to remember the last time I saw you so happy. Seen you this tired a thousand times, but never this happy about it. Whatever it is my Buffy and I are heading into... I think it suits you.”

She smiled. “It does. It's strange, confusing, and occasionally dangerous, but it's good.”

He pushed away from the wall. “Glad to hear it.” He pulled her into his arms. “Tell your mate to get over it,” he whispered in her ear. “I could really use this right now.”

She wrapped her arms around him. “He knows. Don't worry, Sparky. You'll be home soon.”

Spike disappeared in mid-hug, the flash of blue light momentarily blinding Buffy. She shook it off and went back to the master bedroom. “He's gone,” she whispered as she crawled back into bed.

Her mate rolled over to face her. “You left out a lot of warnings.”

“I think 'weirdest army ever' covers a lot of ground, don't you?”

“No, but I think you really liked seeing my jaw drop to the floor like a bloody cartoon.”

“Maybe a little.” She grinned. “Ok, a lot.”

“Evil,” he grumbled.

“I learned from the best.” She snuggled up close to him. “But at least you bought the bit about not having Potentials in the house. He's so not ready for that.”

“Hell, I'm still not.” He brushed her hair back from her left temple and kissed the faint scar he'd revealed. “Wish you'd have let me see this, at least. Told me what was coming.”

“That wasn't your fault, Sparky. I didn't want to worry him about something he can't prevent. It will just make it harder when it happens.”

“I would have liked a warning.”

She sighed. “Me, too. But it couldn't be stopped, and worrying them about it won't help.”

“I'd have gladly taken worrying about it ahead of time over what we got.” He held her tightly. “Still the scariest days I've ever known.”

*~*~*

Just below a haphazardly built tower in Sunnydale, on top of a pile of broken concrete and bricks, a blue flash brought a figure into the midday sun. He was dressed in a black t-shirt, faded black jeans, and scuffed steel-toed Doc Martens, all of which -along with his unnaturally blond hair- began warming and smoking in the bright daylight before he even understood where he was.

He made a run for the scant shade of a nearby building, where he stopped to get his bearings while he patted his shoulders and the top of his head to make the smoldering stop. He recognized the location, but worried at the silence around him. He was completely alone, as if his arrival had been unexpected.

He watched the clouds for an opportunity. When one shifted between him and the sun, he ran for the sewers, bound for home, sure someone would be there.

No one was.

*~*~*

Xander walked into the house and marched straight to the kitchen phone, clenching his fist in anger. He pulled a business card out of his wallet, and dialed the number for Sunnydale Ace Plumbers.

“Hi. This is Xander Harris. I'm calling about the re-pipe job that was supposed to start at 1630 Revello Drive four hours ago. I'm at the house right now, and I'm apparently the only one. ...Well, of course Mrs. Pratt didn't answer the phone! She's not here! That's why I'm listed as the contact on the account! ...Fine, but I had better see some signs of work being done by this time tomorrow, or there's going to be hell to pay! ...Thank you!”

He ended the call and looked up to see someone standing in the kitchen doorway. His mouth dropped open. His anger was gone in an instant, overwhelmed by his shock. “Holy shit.”

“Nice to see you, too, Harris.”

“You... You... were dusted.”

“Noticed that. Looks like the bloody Powers aren't done with me yet.”

Xander's eyes were still wide with surprise. “I-- I guess not.”

“I've walked the house. Bunch of Bit's things are gone from her room, closet's half empty. Glinda's room looks about the same, a lot of stuff missing. And the basement...” Spike ran a hand through his hair, struggling to keep his emotions in check. “Some of my books and music got left behind, but most things... A lot of our clothes, the scythes, one of the prints from the wall, most everything else, really, is gone. The scents are faint. No one's been living here for a while.” He looked around at the tidy, slightly dusty kitchen. “Harris... Why did they leave?”

“Well, while everyone is gone, the plumbers are supposed to be here -right now, actually- doing a full--”

“Full copper re-pipe.” Spike tilted his head at the ceiling, smiling in relief. “Of course.”

“Yeah, Buffy told me about the flooding. We scheduled this to get ahead of it.”

The smile quickly faded. “So you know.”

“That you guys are time travelers? We all do.”

“But why take so much? And be gone so long beforehand?”

“The Buffster needed some time away after...” Xander shook his head, still trying to stop staring. “Wow. Um, yeah. Dawnie and Tara went with.”

“Where?”

“They're spending the summer at the Folly.”

Spike nodded to the phone Xander still held. “Ring the sanctuary. Tell Althenea I need a favor.”

He returned to the basement, looking around for anything left he should take with him. Even his duffel bag was gone. He smiled broadly when he noticed the switched Oscar Wilde quote prints near the nightstands. “Were you expecting me, love?” He switched them back before he went upstairs.

Xander was just getting through to the switchboard operator when Spike reentered the kitchen. “Althenea Grace, please. ...I'm calling on behalf of William Pratt.” He looked at Spike after he was put on hold. “I'd say I'm surprised you don't have a bag over your shoulder, but take it from the guy who carried the shipping boxes: She didn't leave much behind.”

“Bedroom's bare as a hotel,” Spike agreed.

Xander turned his attention back to the phone. “Um, Miss Grace? Hi. This is Xander Harris... Yeah, he's right here.”

Spike took the offered phone. “Althenea. Spike. Won't insult you by telling you why I'm calling. ...Appreciate it. Might need a return trip later on, passport stamps and whatnot. ...Thank you. Owe you for this. ...Yeah, I can do that. Thanks, pet.” He ended the call and put the phone on the counter. “Althenea wants Red to call her sometime soon.”

“I'll pass along the message. I take it you're about to take the Witchy Express to England?”

“That's the idea. Said she'd send me straight to my girl.”

Xander grabbed Spike in a hug. “Damn, it's good to see you again.” He stepped back. “Pass that on to the Buffster for me?”

Spike nodded, just before he disappeared from the kitchen in a flash of white light.

*~*~*

Spike appeared at the mouth of an unfamiliar alley. He looked around at the people crowded on the adjacent corners, staring at the bright light shining through an open door at the other end. He could hear a woman singing. “Dru?” He tilted his head at the sky. “Althenea, that's not the woman I meant you to send me to.” He followed the sound.

He stepped inside, taking in the sight of Dru dancing before the source of the light, large demon corpses scattered about, and a familiar demon bound and gagged, sitting on one of the bodies. The instant he closed the door behind him, the light flashed brighter, and a group of people tumbled through it to the dirty floor, knocking Drusilla off her feet. They were nearly all showing signs of minor injuries, and all were covered in smudges of dirt and sprinklings of what appeared to be plaster dust.

“Ow!” Dawn glared at the gateway as she stood up. “Thanks for the warning! Jerks!”

Tara helped the Guardian her feet. “Are we all in one piece?” She looked up to see someone standing near the door. “Oh goddess... I think we got their attention.”

Angel subtly took Drusilla's arm, so she wouldn't ruin the moment by approaching.

“Oh, dear lord,” Giles murmured. “It worked.”

Doyle grinned. “It looks like you knocked it out of the park, Firecracker.”

Buffy turned from pulling Elise off the floor to face what they were all looking at.

Spike surveyed the group in awe, his jaw hanging loose. 'Dru. Peaches. Rupert. The Irish bloke who used to work for Peaches. I thought he was dead? Nibblet. Glinda. The Guardian who said we'd never see her again. Bloody hell. If that isn't Junior at Buffy's side...' Spike's wandering gaze froze at the sight of the teenaged girl on Buffy's other side. His jaw dropped. 'Impossible...'

The Guardian nodded slowly in acknowledgment of his obvious shock. “Three who should not be have become many who must be. The house thee has built with her has stood, Vampire.”

“I'm getting that,” he whispered. “You all...? All of you...?”

“The, um, general has proven herself a very capable recruiter,” Giles explained awkwardly.

Spike shifted his gaze back to the woman standing between his long dead sister and his future son. He finally found his strength of voice, and gave her a smile. “Hello, love.”

Buffy remained unmoving, still staring at him.

Henry gave her a nudge, but she didn't respond. So he took the lead for himself. “Welcome home, Dad.” He started to step toward Spike.

The movement snapped Buffy out of her frozen state. She gripped his arm to stop him. “Henry, wait. I don't know if I can trust my senses right now.”

“Well, I can! That's not a mirage.” He looked at Angel. “Right?”

“Not a mirage,” Angel agreed.

But Buffy had already pulled the dagger from her waistband. “I need you to touch something,” She told Spike, trying hard to keep her voice calm and even.

Most of the group looked at her in confusion. Dawn spoke their thoughts. “Uh, Buffy? I'm pretty sure this is a 'run into each other's arms' moment, not a 'weird requests' moment.”

Spike was unsurprised by the request. “It's alright, Nibblet. Be more worried if she didn't ask.” He held up a hand, catching the dagger as it was tossed to him.

Buffy sighed in relief as the weapon was tossed back to her. She returned it to her waistband. “You're late, Sparky.” She swallowed hard to keep her emotions in check, shaking her head slightly as she spoke. “God... You are so late...”

“Actually, you are.” He tilted his head at her, studying the damp shine in her eyes. “Miss me, Slayer?”

All Buffy could do was nod and swallow again, determined not to cry.

But Spike couldn't keep his focus from drifting back to Elise. “Love... What have you done?”

Buffy put an arm around Elise's shoulders, forcing a smile. “Oh, we just talked an agent into defecting, sort of. We're hoping to get her into field work.” She shrugged. “She probably should have been assigned to us in the first place. At least to you.”

Spike stepped closer. “Agent? So not out of... You're sure you didn't pull...”

“Excuse me, Elise. I need to take care of something.” Buffy pulled her arm from the girl's shoulders and handed her weapon to Henry. She stepped between the siblings' pending reunion to land a hard punch on Spike's nose. “How fucking dare you even imply--” She ducked under his reflexive swing at her shoulder, countering it with a blow aimed for his jaw that barely missed. “You stupid son of a--” She fell back a step when he managed to hit her in the side, right on the wound she'd received earlier.

Tara intervened before the next punch was thrown, her whistle echoing through the warehouse. “You two couldn't manage a romantic moment if it would save the world, could you?” She shook her head at Spike. “You keep making stupid comments like that, and you'll end up very, very sleepy, Spike. You know better than to think we'd...” She shuddered. “Never again.”

“I'm glad I'm not the only one deeply insulted,” Buffy grumbled as she lifted her shirt to check her injury. “Jackass.”

Dawn broke the tension in the room with a loud laugh. “Definitely not running into each other's arms!”

“No, but somehow...” Giles broke into a smile. “This sort of greeting seems appropriate.”

Elise took a step backward, disturbed by the casual violence and the wave of laughter sweeping the room about it.

“Sorry, love. Shouldn't have even thought...”

“Next time, I'll dust you myself.”

Angel threw his hands toward the ceiling. “Now she can say it!”

“Maybe she just needed to sober up for a couple of days,” Henry mumbled.

“Your whole childhood, Junior. Don't forget that.” Buffy threw him a threatening glare.

“This is so going to end in Aunt Dawnie to the rescue, isn't it?” Dawn said with a chuckling sigh. “Elise, I might need you to bail me out once in a while.”

“To bail you...?” Elise looked worriedly at the other teen. “I don't understand.”

“Help me rescue our niece and nephew from their weirdo parents.”

“Oh, of course. Gladly.” She looked at Spike. “Will that be necessary?”

“I don't think it's Spike you have to worry about, Elise,” Angel said. “The crazy, house-destroying, retired slayer with whiskey breath, now that's a different story.”

Tara shrugged. “It seems to be working for her so far, even the safe-cracking.”

“Henry, give back my scythe. I need to thin the herd. You people know too much.”

As laughter overtook the crowd again, melting away more of the accumulated tension of their adventures, Elise stepped toward Spike. “William?”

“Yeah, pet. Sort of. ...How much do you know?”

“I, um, was given a briefing. I understand what you became after my passing, and much of the life you've led. The name they call you by, though...” She shook her head. “William, it's atrocious.”

He shrugged. “Earned it.”

“And foisted it on the rest of us,” Angel muttered to Drusilla, who giggled.

“It's still better than 'Sparky,'” Dawn said, earning a look from her sister.

“No, it isn't.” Giles smiled. “And he earned that one, too.”

“If you're all through giving me hell 'bout my name,” Spike growled with a flash of amber in his eyes. “Wouldn't mind being greeted like you actually missed me.”

Tara and Dawn exchanged grins. “Wrinkle the t-shirt?”

“Absolutely.” They dropped their weapons and led the charge, tackling Spike in a shared hug.

Henry hugged him next. “I think I'm starting to get it.”

“Get what?”

“You and Mum. And everything.”

A moment later, Spike was shaking Giles' hand. “Welcome back, Spike.”

“Thanks, Rupert.”

Doyle's handshake came with a smirk. “There's a rumor going around. Word is, you might have finally figured out how you're gonna walk in the sun.”

“Working on it. Got the right ring this time, for a start.” Spike lifted his left hand, and immediately dropped it. “Wait... Is that some way of telling me it's not just a possibility? That's definitely gonna be one of the perks?”

Doyle backed away with his hands raised. “You didn't hear it from me.”

“She's missed you,” Angel said as he abruptly changed his handshake into a hug. “We all have.”

“Feeling alright, Peaches? Someone hit you over the head?” Spike pulled back from the unexpected hug in suspicion.

“I just thought... Maybe it's past time we started acting like family.”

“Yeah, definite head injury.”

Elise's shy smile was replaced with a look of surprise and a yelp as she was snatched into a crushing bear hug. “Been wanting this for a long time for this, 'Lise. A long bloody time.”

While they embraced, the Guardian exchanged a few whispered words with Tara, traded nods with Buffy, and quietly walked back through the gateway.

Spike pulled away from his sister, expecting to have his arms promptly filled with 110 pounds of slayer, but she wasn't among the crowd around him. She was standing alone, quietly watching the reunions. “Love?” he asked as he approached her.

“You're alright, aren't you?” she asked. “We didn't... screw this up? Repeat history?”
He shook his head. “Nothing like that. Don't worry 'bout me, Slayer.”

“Good. Whistler confirmed you were working, but you can't trust a damned thing he...” Her gaze landed on the demon in question, sitting calmly on the corpse of a headless demon. He wasn't struggling against his restraints or trying to speak around his gag. “Huh.”

Spike followed her gaze. “I see you've upgraded your guestage.”

Buffy broke into a grin. “You have no idea how much I've missed having someone around who knows that word.” The grin faded when she realized why Whistler was so still. She put her hands on her hips. “Dru! I ask you to hostage-sit, and you put him in a thrall? That's just... lazy!”

As another chorus of laughter echoed through the warehouse, Drusilla shuddered. “I could hear its lies through its muzzle,” she explained. “Twisted stories of lost years coming.”

Buffy sighed, her irritation abating. “I know. He's full of shit. But you really should snap him out of it.”

Drusilla wrinkled her nose at the demon, looking disgusted. “As I dance away.” She stepped close to Buffy and whispered in her ear. “Be as you're called. Be as a daughter.”

“I will,” Buffy whispered back as her cheek was kissed. “And thank you for your help.”

“As a daughter,” Drusilla whispered again. She went to Henry and put a hand to his bruised cheek. “Little William seeks the wisdom of the ages.” She kissed his other cheek. “Always ask the sire,” she whispered with a giggle. “That's where it hides.”

She returned to Whistler just long enough to jerk him to his feet and snap her fingers in front of his face as she danced toward Spike, who had been watching her every movement near his family carefully, his jaw tensed.

“Do I want to know what part you had in this, Princess?”

She giggled again. “The pixies sent me for a visit home.”

“Home?” He glanced around. “Not even sure where we--” He tilted his head back with a smile of realization. “A warehouse in Hong Kong.”

Drusilla gave the smiling mouth a light kiss as he brought his face back down to hers. “Home is in the bloodline, sweet William.”

She was humming as she danced out of the warehouse and disappeared into the night, though the muffled noises coming from behind Whistler's gag were loud enough to drown out her song.

Buffy rolled her eyes as she approached the demon. “I never thought I'd have a guestage so annoying he'd make me miss the original.” She pulled off the gag. “What?”

“You should be missing me by now, Pratt! You won! The bosses have capitulated. Now cut me loose!”

Buffy spun Whistler around to untie the knots at his back, releasing the other scythe. Once she had it in hand, she turned Whistler around, holding the blade close to his throat, her voice a low growl. “Before you go, let's be clear about one thing: I'm done with you. You can take your scheming, lying, and manipulation to some other poor puppet. I'm through. If I ever see you again, you go home in pieces. No ropes. No waiting. I won't even do you the favor of letting you be unconscious for it.” She pulled the blade away and stepped away from him. “Go back to your masters, minion. And tell them to stay the hell out of my way.”

“Oh, they'll get the message. They'll also be hearing from me about making me spend two weeks with you before they gave in.” Whistler disappeared in a flash of blue light.

“Two weeks?” Spike asked, smiling admiringly at his wife.

“16 days, actually.”

“Yeah,” Angel said with a shake of his head. “And she's been 'letting it roar' pretty much the entire time. I kinda feel sorry for Whistler.” He looked around at the astonished eyes boring into him. “Come on! How many of you have had to deal with Buffy at her worst?”

Tara and Dawn raised their hands. Spike gave Angel a pointed stare. Giles cleared his throat.

Henry laughed. “Please! I think everyone here knows I win, if by nothing else but quantity of years.”

“Watch it, Junior. You don't have to exist, you know,” Buffy growled.

“After today, I think you've lost that argument. Also, about sorting out that trauma? I know you two better than that.” He gave her a sly smirk.

She raised the scythe she held at him, trying to look menacing as she fought back a smile.

He raised the other one. “Even match.”

A laugh went through the group. “Not even close,” Dawn said.

Without even a glance at Spike, Buffy tossed her weapon over her right shoulder, sending it flying into his hand. By the time he had settled his grip on it, she'd easily moved to Henry's side and snatched the other from him. “So did you mean it? Throwing your axe down up there?”

“I don't know. Maybe. Does it matter?”

“Not right now, and hopefully never.” She put a hand to her growling stomach as she turned to address the group. “Is anyone else starving?”

There were nods and murmurs all around.

Spike shrugged. “I'd kill Angel for a green curry and a pint of swine venom about now.”

“Pfft!” Dawn scoffed. “You'd kill Angel for a pretzel stick!”

Over the next wave of snickers, Buffy pointed her scythe at Spike. “Don't even start on Angel tonight, bub. I've got dibs on all your fight-picking for at least a week's worth of backyard brawls.”

Doyle looked at Angel. “You never would have survived her.”

“She's already killed me once... sort of,” Angel murmured.

Giles sighed. “Buffy, do try harder next time. Need I give you another speech about your sacred calling?”

Spike raised an eyebrow at the watcher. “Yeah, Rupes, 'cause there's still a chance in hell you'll end up with a proper, normal slayer.”

“I don't know. Maybe one more speech would finally bring her around.” Henry chuckled. “Hey, Doyle? Tara? What say we head home? I could stand a little drunken noodle, myself.”

Dawn calmed her laughter and looked around as everyone began to gather together. “Wait. Where did the Guardian go?”

“If she has any sense, she's changed her mind about giving the Time Scoobies any kind of power,” Buffy said, moving to stand beside Spike.

Tara smiled wisely. “She'll be back to see us in a few days, once things have settled down.” She took Doyle's hand. “I really, really hope you haven't been fired.”

“Same here.” Henry said. “You're my ticket home, too.”

“I guess it's time to find out. Tara, you got Elise covered?”

Tara nodded, murmured a few words, and the warehouse was deserted in a flash of blue and white light. The gateway flickered and dimmed. The demon corpses disappeared just as the last of the light faded away.





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