Chapter 53: And Always
July 2036 / July 2001
Henry appeared in his New York apartment and picked up his phone from the coffee table. He frowned at the time and date displayed. Only a few hours had passed since Doyle had teleported him back in time, not the week he had experienced. Shaking his head, he placed a call.
“Hey, Tara. If Mum and Dad are available, can you 'port them out to my place? ...Nothing's wrong. I've just gotten home from, um, well, remember that warehouse in Hong Kong?” He chuckled at her response. “Yeah, that was a pretty wild initiation. Leave it to Mum. And leave it to all of you to keep it secret this many years. But don't tell them why I want to see them. ...Thanks, Tara. I owe you one.”
When Spike and Buffy appeared in the living room on a flash of blue light, Henry was standing at the small bar in the corner, pouring drinks. “Hey, Dad. Hey, Mum. Have a seat. I want to talk to you about something.”
Trading glances, they sat on the sofa. 'You don't think he's already gone back, do you?'
'Not likely. Hasn't even been two months since we jumped into this time.'
'Sparky, he looks like he's healing up from a fight.'
'Could just be his overpaid defense instructor's been rough on him.'
Henry joined them, placing their drinks on the coffee table before settling into an armchair. He held up his Captain and Coke, silently suggesting a toast. Spike lifted his Jack on the rocks.
Buffy smiled at the shot glass of whiskey she'd been given, understanding the message. She raised it to her son. “To Day 48.”
“To Day 48,” he echoed.
“Been waiting your whole life to say thank you,” Spike said quietly.
“And I've been waiting just as long to say I've never been disappointed in you.”
Henry put his glass down. “You mean it, Mum? Angel had to bail me out a couple of times during that fight in the warehouse.”
“Honey, I've known since before you were born you'd grow up to be a man who would pick up a weapon and fight when it was for something important, that you'd prioritize family over your own safety. I've had no reason to be disappointed.”
“So all that stuff about me being spoiled and lazy...” Henry dropped his head against the back of the arm chair and looked at the ceiling. “Of course! You had to keep the set up I'd told you about, so it would play out the same for me. You've been preparing for this for years!”
Spike shrugged. “We had to, Junior. Couldn't risk you not going back when Doyle asked you to. So we planned it out, building up a conflict, putting some tension between you and your Mum, Glinda selling you a story about a rough fight after Moscow... You gonna be able to make your peace with that?”
“Do I have a choice?” Henry laughed. “That's what I get for getting involved in the family business.”
Buffy laughed with him. “The joke's on me. The first time you used that phrase to me, I thought you were talking about standard slaying. It wasn't until after you left the Folly in '01 that we found out exactly what your understanding of the family business was.”
Henry picked up his glass again, and took a moment to study its contents. “About that...” He looked up at Buffy. “I'm in. All the way.”
“I know,” she said softly.
“Caught that memo, a few decades back.” Spike gave him a sly smirk.
“I'm going to jump back to you guys again, aren't I?”
“More than once,” Buffy answered. “After you get further along in your combat training, of course. That part, I actually did mean. You really aren't ready for the front lines. You aren't going back out in the field with us -any time's version- until you get some skills under your belt.”
“Eh, I guess that's fair. Say, do you two happen to know any bad ass brawlers who could teach me?”
Spike held up a hand to stop their laughter. “Need to be clear on something, Junior: If you ever decide you want out, say so, and it's done, right then. Let the ripples come. We'll deal with it.”
Henry shook his head. “I won't back out. Not now, not after I've walked your history, seen some of what you've gone through, and even helped you write the third part of the battle blessing.”
Buffy grinned. “Rule Number One, Lesson the First, and Always.”
“Later is fine. ...Look at me. Later is fine.”
“Are you sure? I know this isn't the answer you wanted.”
“I'll tell you what I know, Slayer. I know I got all the time in the world for you to catch up...”
The basement stairs faded away, and Glory's tower loomed overhead. Buffy saw herself, fighting with Glory on the scaffolding. Xander, Anya, and Giles were swinging swords at the little demons surrounding them, using the sides of the blades to push back the wandering crazies. Willow was leaning against a brick wall, her head pillowed by a balled up leather coat. Buffy looked up, squinting at the platform. She could just make out Spike and Tara, standing near the edge. Something came up over the edge the platform, but she couldn't make out any details. Spike turned around, putting his back to Tara. Buffy screamed out a warning, her voice overlapping with Tara's, but it was already too late.
In the pre-dawn hours of what would have been Day 50, a familiar, anguished scream echoed through the farmhouse at William's Folly. “Spike!”
Dawn and Tara immediately climbed out of their beds and stumbled into the upstairs hall, both stopping just short of the master bedroom door.
Tara frowned. “Wait. Why are we still doing this?”
Dawn matched her expression. “I have no idea.” She pointed to the door. “It's so his turn.”
Inside the room, Spike reached out to Buffy, but she pulled away and rolled out of bed, not even looking at him. She was dressed and out of the room in seconds. She brushed by Dawn and Tara in the hall. “I'm fine, guys. Really. Go back to bed.”
She went downstairs, finding Angel at the kitchen table, sketching out an image of a man tearing a whole in a wall with an axe. He looked up as she grabbed a whiskey bottle. “It's almost morning, you know.”
“I don't care.” She sat at the table and took a swig straight from the bottle. “It's back. Again.”
“So I heard.” He put down his pencil. “And look at this wonderful opportunity, just sitting in your lap.”
“Go to hell, Angel,” she grumbled. “I'm not telling him about it.”
“So you're just going to put it off until you start accidentally sharing it, and deal with the fallout then?” Angel nodded toward the hall, making sure she knew she'd been followed downstairs.
She glanced in the direction of his nod. “I honestly don't give a shit right now.” She took another swig. “And I didn't come down here so you could nag me. Help me fix it. I need to make it stop.”
“Fixing things is what you do, remember? Even if you have to bend the rules of existence to do it.”
“Yes, and fixing things with misdirected rage is such a good thing,” she nearly whispered, hoping to avoid the strong ears of their audience.
Angel lowered his voice to match, setting the volume of the conversation. “It worked, didn't it?”
“Clearly, it was worth it.”
Buffy took another drink. “If it hadn't come back, I might agree with you. I was hoping for a clean trade. You know, get the man, ditch the dream.”
“Maybe it will stop coming back if you stop resenting it.”
She glowered at him. “I used to like you.”
Angel grabbed the bottle and took a swig. “Ditto. And then you grew up and decided shutting people out, drinking like a fish, and tearing apart houses were fun hobbies.”
She stared off into space. “Yeah... And there's more destruction pending.”
He followed her eyes, misinterpreting her focus. “Oh god, Buffy. Not the Folly. You wouldn't dare.”
She took the bottle back. “Of course not. I'm a drunk, not an idiot.”
“A place in Sunnydale. A little history that bears repeating, in a better way.”
“More traveler work.”
“Not exactly.” She smirked. “You really don't want to know. I promise.”
He studied her as the smirk faded. “Can I give you some advice?”
“Is it going to be the same advice you gave me the last time we had the spectator conversation?”
“Buffy, if you let it out, talk it out, maybe it will go away. Even if it doesn't, you won't be carrying it alone for long, anyway.” He locked his eyes on hers. “You need to warn him before he sees it himself. You know that. In fact, I'm willing to bet that's half the reason you're still putting off the claim.”
“He's been back less than two days, Angel. That is not putting it off.” She sighed. “Also, you're in the house. Wouldn't that be weird?”
“I'm leaving at sundown tonight.”
“Gee, thanks. Take my excuses away, why don't you?” She took another drink.
“You're hellbent to start off your immortal life in drunken denial, aren't you?”
She brought the bottle down to the table with a thump. “You were the only poor sucker I ever meant to share that with. I don't want to subject anyone else to it, least of all Spike.”
“Thanks. I feel special.”
“It was meant to be a compliment, Angel. ...Ok, not really. I kind of meant the 'poor sucker' part.”
He took her hand. “Then here's a new piece of advice: 'Shed your guilts, Vindex. The nightmare ends when you allow it to.'”
“Quoting PTB minions will get you nowhere with me. ...Unless you want to get punched.”
Angel rolled his eyes. “My point is that you should stop feeling guilty about it. You made good use of it. We both know all the planning and book theft in the world wouldn't have been half as effective without the angry, impatient, mate-seeking demon putting some extra fire in your belly. And that dream was some damned good fuel for it... even if it did make you a little crazy at times.”
She withdrew her hand and took another drink. “Being useful doesn't make it right, Angel.” She studied the bottle. “You know, I was looking for the bottom of this, so I could crawl inside. But maybe I should just jump in now. Drowning is easy.”
“Buffy! No drowning jokes. That's just... wrong. You weren't this morbid when you were younger.”
“Seriously, Angel? You're freaked out about that?” She waved a hand at him. “Please! That's nothing compared to being buried long enough to decompose. I wasn't embalmed, you know.”
“Would you stop, already?” He slapped her lightly on the head with his sketch pad as he stood up. “Talk to him, Buffy. That's an order.”
“I don't take orders from anyone, least of all you.”
“Well, you'd better get used to it. Because very soon, you're going to have to.” He shrugged. “You're supposed to, anyway.”
“Uh-huh. Playing the elder card never worked on Spike. What makes you think it'll work on me?”
“Wishful thinking? ...Come on, Buffy.” He gave her a pleading smile. “Obey me. ...Just this once?”
Buffy snickered. “What kind of precedent would that set? You might expect me to do it again. Also, Spike would be really disappointed in me.”
“Probably... And I think I would, too.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “I'm going to get some sleep. Do I need to hide the liquor before I go?”
She shook her head. “I'll be ok.” She put a hand over his. “Thanks, Angel. I really needed a talk.”
“Anytime. You know that.” He walked out of the kitchen and shrugged to the man in the hall. “Sorry, William. Best I could do,” he whispered as he passed.
Spike came into the kitchen and sat down at the table with her. She pushed the bottle in his direction without a word.
“Guess you've got plenty of self-loathing under your belt now.”
“It didn't take long.”
He took a drink. “Gotten back into the habit of running to Angel when you need a shoulder, I see. Was hoping that would stop, with me home.”
“There's stuff only he knows. I'd rather keep it that way.”
There was a long silence. Buffy took the bottle back and had another swig.
“Glinda told me about the spectator dream, love. What did you save only for Angel's ears?”
The silence stretched out again. Slowly, she looked up at him, letting the anger she still carried from the the nightmare show through. “That I haven't forgiven you for leaving me like that,” she whispered.
Spike reached for her hand, snatching her wrist before she could pull away. He stood up. “Come on, Slayer.” He pulled her to her feet.
“Out.” He led her out the back door and to the middle of the fenced in yard. He took a step back away from her and dropped into a fighting stance. “Get it out of your system.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Spike, this isn't what I need.” She turned to go back into the house, but he punched her in the shoulder. She whirled around, reflexively swinging her fist as she went, barely missing his face.
“Yeah, it is.” He drew her into the fight with a series of rapid jabs, one of which hit her near the eye. He dodged a retaliatory punch aimed at his nose. “If you wanna be mad at me, Slayer, be upfront about it.”
Her next punch slammed into his cheek with brutal force. “Fine! I'm mad at you, ok? You said you had all the time in the world, and then you were gone!”
Spike fell back from the punch, but came back swinging.
Buffy easily dodged the attack. She hit him again. “I never thought you'd lie to me like that! Never!”
“That's the worst I've done, is it? You sure 'bout that?”
“Oh, I'm sure. I had almost 48 days to analyze and compare. You've never pissed me off more than when you left that way. There. I said it. Are you fucking happy now?”
“I'll tell you what, Slayer. I'll make a real effort not to get myself staked with my own bloody weapon next time! Will that suit you?”
“It's a damned good start!”
“What the hell else do you want?”
“To make the stupid spectator dream stop! I didn't want you to know!”
“Know what? That you were brassed off at me? Is that all?” Spike stepped back from her, shaking his head. “You think I couldn't tell you were hiding something? Hell, I was afraid there was something in all those chats with Angel. Guess I was half right.”
“What else was I supposed to do, Spike? Throw this shit on Dawnie? That would be cruel. With both you and Mom in just a few months... No way. Should I have told Tara I had a bad case of Dead Partner Rage Issues? That might actually be worse. So yeah, I talk to Angel about this stuff. I needed someone with some connection to you who wouldn't think I was wrong to be mad at you. Who better?”
“Was hoping you'd be rethinking that question by now. I'm right here, Buffy.” He pointed to himself. “You oughta be talking to me.”
“Did you expect me to just come out and say it? What? Like this? Shouting at each other in the dark while the bruises color in?” Buffy threw up her hands. “Of course! It's us. There is apparently no scenario in which we're anything but dysfunctional.”
Spike crossed his arms over his chest. “Seems to be working so far. You're finally talking.”
“I've been talking. To you. Every day I could. For years.”
“Not about what was going on while I was gone.”
“I'm sorry, did I imagine the last two days of everyone catching you up on what we've been up to?”
He stepped close to her, and tapped the side of her head. “I meant in here, love.” His hand moved down to rest over Angel's scar on her neck. “Thought you were finally ready to let me in, for good this time.”
Her volume dropped. “I am. I mean, that's the idea...”
“So why the walls? Why the Ice Queen Slayer flashback?” he whispered. “Why am I only getting the whole story when I force you into telling it?”
“Because.” She swallowed back her emotions. “You didn't deserve my anger. You went out like I did, on that tower, protecting an innocent. And you weren't mad at me when I went.”
Spike laughed. “You think so, do you? Think about that time, love. I was just starting to get somewhere with you, just starting to make a little headway, and then you were gone.”
“You knew it was coming. You knew I'd been standing in the middle of Death Wish City for almost a year. ...And you still blamed yourself for it.”
“Yeah, well, not getting caught off guard by that bloody lizard apparently isn't my strong suit.” He shook his head. “But you were supposed to be the hero, Slayer. The great Champion who could find a way around anything, even dying. And there I was, standing over your grave every night... Wondering why the hell I'd fallen in love with a woman who didn't want to live, wondering if it ever even crossed your mind that you were leaving me behind.”
“It did,” she whispered.
He tilted his head at her. “Yeah?”
She looked away. “But I still wish you didn't know how mad I was at you.”
“Make you a deal, love: Neither one of us gets anywhere near that bloody tower ever again. No more leaving. No more anger. We'll never even set foot in Sunnyhell again, if you want. The Hellmouth has a slayer, and a full team of Scoobies. The Bit can go to school anywhere. Anything you want from the house can be shipped.”
Buffy took a step backwards. “Hang on. You're actually serious.”
“Really think I'm done with that town. ...Aren't you?”
“Spike, Dawnie's going into her sophomore year. I moved during my sophomore year, and it sucked.”
“You burned down a gym and got called to the Hellmouth. Not the same thing. She'd get a better education here, anyway. And I can tell you're happier here. You haven't been hiding that.”
“What about Willow? Shouldn't someone keep an eye on her?”
“Let her own time traveling bird do it while they're playing kiss and make up. Glinda's got a whole coven at her back for help.” He held up a hand, anticipating her interruption. “And before you start, the rest of 'em will get along just fine. Harris and Anyanka will have their sprog and get hitched... or not. Either way, they'll make and live with their own messes. Lydia can do her job and watch Faith. Rupert's already local to us, though I gather that's not set in stone, what with the shop and all.”
“What about Warren, Andrew, and Jonathan? Do we pawn them off on Faith, too?”
“She's the slayer now. Likely she'll be their target, anyway. As for saving Andrew from himself... Slayer's already been to prison, isn't that punishment enough?”
Buffy played her ace. “And you'd miss a chance to see Cecily? ...Oops. I mean, Hallie?”
Spike tensed. “How did you know?”
“Research. From a couple of extra books I grabbed during the Watcher's Academy break-in. See what happens when you leave me with too much time on my hands and a set of lock picks?”
“Gonna be paying for those 48 days for years, aren't I?”
“Uh-huh.” Buffy pointed to herself. “Rage issues and boredom. You are so, so screwed.”
“I've got no need to see her, love.”
“I sort of do. There could be gloating.” She grinned. “And you'd miss your chance to gloat, too.”
It took a moment for realization to set in. “Finn.” A slow smile spread over Spike's face. “You know, that could be fun...”
Seeing that he was starting to soften on the matter, she made him an offer. “Give Sunnydale three more years, Spike. After Dawnie graduates from Hellmouth High, we can move around wherever and whenever.”
“Here? We know we'll land here eventually, just a matter of when... I mean, when you want to...”
She tilted her head in an unconscious mimic of him. “Are you asking what I think you're asking?”
He tried to look casual about it. “Just wondering how many years down the line you had in mind 'fore we started looking at our options.”
“There's no rush on the twins, Sparky. I won't be getting any older.”
Spike broke into a grin. “I love hearing that,” he whispered. “Knowing I get to keep you.”
“Me too. ...Assuming I don't get shot next May, of course.”
“Bloody hell.” He ran a hand through his hair, his smile erased by a look of pure dread. “I don't think I can take another year of this.”
“I'm not going to impose another dust bunny clause, but it is a concern.”
He looked up at the sky, then back at Buffy. “Let's make it simple: I'll take the bloody bullet for you. Glinda's, too. Problem solved.”
Buffy smiled. “Aww. That's kind of sweet.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “I do have my moments, Slayer.”
“Or we can get back to Sunnydale and keep things from getting that far. There's still a little more work to be done, Lieutenant.”
“Three more years, General.” Spike nodded his agreement. “And Plan B?”
“Why do you think there's a Plan B?”
“'Cause there always is.”