Xander and Andrew tried to fit one board over the shattered foyer window, but it was too wide by two inches. Frustrated, Xander tossed the piece of wood through the front door and dusted his hands.
"I'm telling you, she's under a spell," Xander said.
"Obsessive much?" Dawn said.
Xander shook his head. "Did you see her reaction when she mentioned Angel? Cool as gazpacho. The old Buffy would have never..."
"What," Dawn said. "Chosen Spike?"
He slashed the air with his hand. "Never," he said.
"He's changed," Dawn told him.
"Old song. Still not catchy," Xander said.
"I kinda like Spike. Even though he did once bite me..." Andrew chimed in.
Xander put down his hammer. "It's not that I don't like Spike, or couldn't given the right circumstances. No, strike that, never could. Point is: that thing is up there right now. It isn't him. Can't be him. Doesn't even act like him. But he's up there, with Buffy. Who knows what unspeakable things it's coercing her to do..."
Dawn looked incredulous. "Coercing Buffy?"
Xander wilted. He walked down the steps and hefted the scrap of wood onto his shoulder. "I'll just stick to hammers and nails," he said. "But something's not right, and it begins and ends with him."
Upstairs, Buffy said, "Is that all you got?"
"Oh, I'm just getting started," William said.
"Good, because... getting a little bored."
"Oh. Oh. Do you have any... tens?"
"Go fish," Buffy said.
She faked a yawn. He stifled a laugh.
"Do you have any Jacks?" she asked.
"No," he said. "Wait. Yes."
Buffy rolled her eyes in a way that would have made Dawn proud. "Are you cheating at fish?"
"Old habits, luv," William said. He passed her the Jack of Clubs. "Besides, my game's poker."
"Well, we're short on cash and don't have kittens, so..."
"We could play for other things," he said, flicking a flirtatious glance her way.
William looked at her over his cards. "Not what I meant," he said.
They stared at each other, then both smiled.
William said, "Bet you never had this much fun with the Immortal."
Buffy gave him a speculative glance. "Card games weren't his thing. He did other things..."
"I'd rather not hear about," William cut in. He fanned his cards. Then said, "But did hear about."
"Did you?" she said, looking pleased.
William's expression was not full of happy. "I did," he said.
Buffy avoided his eyes. "It was great, you know. Learning from Andrew that you were among the living again. And with Angel. And in Italy. Ah, the laughs we had over..."
"That was a whole life ago," William said.
"You could've called. Sent a postcard."
"Word was, you had moved on," he said, carefully annunciating his words. "Didn't want to get in the way of that."
Buffy stared hard at him. "You have a lot of nerve to say that to me," she said.
William pushed back in his chair, fighting the urge to get up and stalk around the room some more. Buffy watched him, watched his face for fleeting signs of remorse or regret, but all she got was the furrowed brow of stubborn resolve. Fine, she thought, she could play that too. She could be as stubbornly resolved as he ever was.
"Your turn," William said, coolly.
"Twos," she said.
William said, "Why did you leave Rome?"
Buffy kept to her cards. Stubborn resolve, she told herself.
William continued. "The Immortal's quite the catch. Three hundred plus years, they say. Picture of suave. Rides around in his limousine saying 'ciao!'"
"He left," Buffy said.
William pursed his lips, but said nothing.
Buffy nodded. "We were attacked, and he left."
"You don't keep your neck so long by sticking it out for others now, do you?" William said. "Got any sevens?"
"Fish," she said.
"Whatever," Buffy said, going for breezy had-a-summer-fling tone, "We had our fun. It's not like he was perfect. And what's with the whole 'There can be only one' thing anyway. That's, like, so last year."
"Who attacked you?" William said.
"But Rupert thinks it's bad enough to gather you all 'neath his wings..."
Buffy scoffed. "He thought London would be a good location for a school," she said.
William leaned in. "There are other Slayers could run that school. You could run yours in Tuscany, or Paris or Wichita if you wanted."
"Threes?" Buffy said, lamely.
He passed one to her. She put down a set.
"And Willow, and Xander, back from their various pilgrimages," William said.
"Give me your Aces," Buffy said.
"Go fish. Rupert knows, and I'm thinking you do, too."
Buffy drew. "I got what I asked for," she said, showing him the Ace of Spades.
He glowered darkly at her.
"The attack in Italy, Buffy. The re-group, the protection to hide this house. Something is going on."
"I don't even know what you mean," Buffy said.
"It means you're still a player, Slayer. That's what I mean."
Buffy flashed him a look of alarm. "Just stop... talking," she said.
William was nodding. "You can hole up here all you like, host your dinner parties and play your card games. But how long can you hide?"
Buffy tried to get up, but she was chair bound due to her knee.
"You're off base, William," she said. "I'm not THE Slayer any more. Merely one of many."
He rested his elbows on the table and bent close. In a harsh whisper he said, "And I'm here because of a wish."
She yelled, "Why do you always do this, Spike?"
William winced. He sat back in his chair. She'd stung him, invoking his old name. She could tell by the way the muscles in his jaw flexed, the way he pursed his lips. It hurt.
A dead stillness passed between them. The sirens of various emergency vehicles still sounded all around, but they had moved off to other parts of the city. It was raining again, giving the whole Flat an under-the-blanket feel.
Quietly, William said, "It's what I do, Slayer. Call it a calling."
"Gimme your eights," Buffy said.
Buffy drew. When she put her card into her hand, William could see that she was shaking. Just slightly, but it was a tremble more than what was comfortable. When she spoke, her voice wavered, too. If scaring her was what he'd meant to do, he had done the trick.
She said, "You think you can just show up here all deus en machina and deliver us your insight? I've fought for the last seven years to get here where it's safe, and somewhat normal. And there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of other real-life, fully-amped Slayers out there who can wear out the mantle for a while..."
"Buffy," William said, sternly. "It is all about you. Deal with it."
Buffy shook her head. "No. Can't be."
"Can't it? Now we have Angel & Son and the Seven Mystery Mirage Men, plus a major earth tremble. You think that's all just some odd coincidence? Oh, maybe Angel's looking for cookies..."
Buffy glared. "Angel has his own agenda," she said.
"Always. But never without some grander purpose. Give me your Kings."
She slid one across the table to him. King of Diamonds. He put down a set.
"So we find him. And we ask him. If he knows anything, he'll have no reason not to share," Buffy said.
"We, Slayer?" William said, searching her face. She didn't look up from her cards.
"It's your turn," she said.
"Of course, we. You think I go all Bridget Jones any time he shows up?" Buffy said.
"If history repeats," William said.
"Give me your fives."
William frowned. "Got three of those," he said.
"I know," she said.
"I was holding them," he said.
Buffy put down her set, and she was out. She showed him her sleepy smile.
"We'll find him," she said. "We'll start in the morning. I'm tired of talking about this tonight."
"All right," William said. He stacked the cards in a nice pile and placed them back in their lacquered box.
Buffy got up on her own and limped to the bed. She lay down and he followed, curling up beside her. Buffy rested her head against his shoulder like it was the most natural thing ever. Soon, Buffy's breathing let him know that she'd crossed over into dreamland. But William lay wakeful for a long, long time.