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No Power in the Verse

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Prologue: One

 

 

California 2003

The Hellmouth

 

‘Ease off, we’re clear….’ Faith said, as she realized they’d really made it out. She gripped the green vinyl seat in front of her tightly to keep from being flung around while Robin brought the bright yellow school bus to a screeching halt in the middle of the hi-way that lead out Sunnydale, California.

The road was uncommonly deserted for this time of day.

Robin was in bad shape, but he’d managed to drive them out of the town that was collapsing into itself and put the bus in park before he passed out, his injuries suddenly getting the better of him. 

Buffy, clinging to the brake lights on the roof of the bus and through the sheer force of her will, had not been thrown from the top as it came to its full stop. As soon as it did, she vaulted off the roof and shuddered with shaky relief while she gained her footing. Hearing engines in the distance, she turned curiously and glanced around the bus to see what they would be dealing with next. 

Army trucks were hurtling toward them. 

‘Great’ she thought absently.

They were going to only have a few moments before the trucks arrived. After that it would be a toss-up on the good news – bad news scale. Not…what they needed right now. Definitely something none of them should have to be dealing with at all, especially in the wake of all that had just happened.

The power structure of Universe had literally changed in the last 10 minutes and she…they, had been the ones to change it. It was all just a little heavy, at present.

Dawn flung the Emergency Door at the back of the bus open. Smiling broadly, she scrambled out as relief tsunamied through her. She threw her arms around her sister and squeezed, unconscious of the pain Buffy was in. Dawn had been sick with panic when the bus had raced away without her sister on board. The nausea had doubled when she caught sight of Buffy running for her life across the rooftops of Sunnydale trying to escape the collapsing town. At the last possible moment, Buffy had launched herself into the air and aimed for the bus. When Dawn heard her sister land on the roof a split second before driving out of the town proper, relief inserted itself where the panic had been. She’d been through it once before and didn’t ever want to live through it again.  She thanked the Goddess silently that Buffy wasn’t dead and squeezed her tightly again.

‘It’s a miracle any of us are even standing here,’ Dawn thought, shakily.

Then she realized that Spike and Anya weren’t with them anymore and the sickness of grief, something she knew too well at 17, invaded the pit of her stomach to replace the fear. She clutched her sister even closer and thought, ‘Everyone leaves. It twisted through her middle, harder this time. ‘Anya…Spike…’ whispered through her mind and she swallowed hard, willing herself not to cry.

Giles walked around the open door at the end of the bus to join the Slayer and stared in consternation at the giant gaping crater in the earth that was once Sunnydale.

‘I don’t understand…what did this?’ he sputtered.  

Buffy pulled herself from her sisters embrace turning to look at the crater.

The pain she was in, was honestly coming from everywhere. It showed itself as it washed over the blood smeared plains of her face. The wound in her side, the bruises all over her body, her bloody knuckles, all of it ached horribly, but it was insignificant to the pain in her chest where her heart should be. 

‘Like it’s been sucked out.’  She thought, foggily. 

‘Spike.’ She answered Giles, collecting herself slightly. 

She walked toward the edge of the crater and acknowledged to herself that he was down there.  He was down there with her mother and Anya and she’d left him…’left them,’ there.  She’d seen Anya’s mangled body, sliced nearly in half, lying in a pool of blood while she ran out of the building.  She mentally shook her head to clear the image

‘Xander…’ she thought. Pain twisted in her chest while she thought of how he was going to take it. Numbly, she stared at the gaping maw in the ground, unable to process it. The white noise in her ears and head was consuming everything except her most basic thoughts.

‘I left them.’ She accused, guiltily.

She didn’t even know how many yet.

‘They’re all down there. With home…with him.’

He’d saved them. Those of them who were left.

‘Not many.’ She reminded herself, as if she could forget.

He’d saved them and the world. He’d channeled the sun through that entirely too large, gaudy, mythical champion necklace that Angel had brought her. He’d used his soul to do it and dusted thousands of Vampires, including himself, in the process, he’d saved them all.  

He’d done it only moments ago.

He’d been there with her and now he was just…’gone.’

Like mom, there one minute and gone the next. 

Dawn hesitantly walked a few steps with Buffy to the edge of the crater. ‘Just to look.’ She argued with herself. There really wasn’t anything left to look at and as if the Universe had needed to make its point, the ‘Welcome to Sunnydale’ sign fell morbidly into the hole. She stopped walking and stared at the place it had just been. It was almost as if it couldn’t stand to be parted from the rest of the town. It might have been a bit of comic relief, if grief were not consuming her so fully at the moment. 

Buffy knew how the sign felt.  She knew it was stupid. It didn’t stop her from contemplating hurling herself in after it for a moment…it was only a quick moment.

The rest of the Scoobies and anyone else not mortally wounded were making their way off the bus. They aimlessly milled about right in the middle of the deserted Hi-Way, lost in the trauma of all that had happened in the last hour. Raw emotion held each of them hostage while they attempted to pull themselves together while simultaneously falling apart.

‘So, did you see?’  Xander asked Andrew, grabbing at his arm, preventing him from joining the others at the back of the bus. 

Andrew shook his head in shamefaced denial refusing to look Xander in the eye. He didn’t want to have to tell his friend what she’d done. ‘I was scared.’ he stammered, trying to make his way past Xander. ‘I’m sorry…’ he mumbled.

Xander stopped Andrew forcefully with a rough hand to the shoulder.

‘Did you see what happened?’ he demanded, insisting on being answered. 

‘I mean, was she…?’ There was a thread of hope in his voice.

Pain flashed in Andrews downcast eyes as the memory of a fierce and brave Anya barreled through his mind on its loop once again.

‘I’m standing in front of Xander spattered in her blood.’ He acknowledged to himself, weeping. He really didn’t want to talk to Xander, but the very least he could do was put his friend at ease. Choking, he marshaled his courage, lifted his head, squared his shoulders, looked Xander in the eye and did his best to honor her.

‘She was incredible…’ he praised, the truth of it shining in his eyes.

Xander quietly accepted what he already knew. ‘Anya is gone.’ The pain of Andrew’s words burned and roared through his soul quick and violent. His lips quivered and he covered his reaction with a hollow smile for Andrew’s sake.  

‘She saved my life.’ Andrew answered, in disbelief.

Xander, squeezing Andrew’s shoulder in hollow reassurance, didn’t buckle under the weight of finally knowing. It wasn’t Andrew’s fault she was dead, but the reality was, she was gone and it was hard to be understanding. ‘Someday I will get past it,’ Xander promised himself, without speaking. For now, though, the pain was fire in his guts. So, he did the best he could.

‘That’s my girl. Always doing the stupid thing.’ he said proudly, lips trembling. 

Shrugging through the tears brimming in his eyes he turned away before his resolve faltered and he slugged Andrew, whose own tears were threatening to fall.

He just couldn’t take Andrew’s tears right now.

Andrew, nodding his acceptance, knew they would revisit this someday and whatever happened between the two of them, he knew he deserved it.

Back on the bus, Faith was doing her best to keep Robin with her. He was drifting in and out of consciousness and his coffee brown skin was much too cool and slick. That was worrisome.

‘It’s not bad,’ she lied baldly, forcing him to focus on her.

‘You just sit here. I’ll get someone to look at it,’ she assured him, quickly turning away to find Violet.

‘Hey…’ he gasped, stopping her, struggling to speak, ‘Did we make it?’

She turned back to him and kneeling so he could see her, she put a good face on it for him. 

‘We made it.  We won.’ She nodded at him and smiled haltingly. 

It was all she could manage without her voice cracking. 

Hearing her say they’d won was all he needed to hear. A contented smile briefly washed through the dark pools of his eyes and then he was just gone. Eyes that had been filled with peace and life an instant earlier were now glassy and vacant. 

Faith’s heart dropped out of her chest. 

He’ll be back. Just wait a second.’ She coaxed herself.

Staring into his charming, oftentimes fascinating face she patiently willed him to breathe. She waited and then determinedly waited another beat. Nothing. Resignation and regret overtook her then. She reached to close those soft, endlessly expressive eyes and the future that she’d given a few tentative thoughts to slipped through her trembling fingers. 

Abruptly, Robin pulled in a ragged breath startling her and happiness coursed its way back into her nervous system while he took a few more breaths, forcing his body into the rhythm of staying alive.

‘Surprise,’ he gasped out and smiled at her. 

He was tired and seriously wounded, but he was back…for now.

‘Thank G… thank everything.’ She thought with pleasure, knowing that it was going to be okay. That he would be okay and that he wasn’t going anywhere. She took up the mantra and repeated it a few more times willing herself to keep believing it.

Robin, focused on breathing and thought about what his mother, who he had seen in the light a few moments ago, had said to him.  He’d wanted to stay with her. It had been so long since he’d seen her and all he’d wanted to do was stay, but she’d refused him. She’d sent him back and told him to fight, because he hadn’t lived yet. So, he was back and there was Faith, encouraging him to keep breathing with that sassy crooked smile of hers. He noticed then, that for the first time in a very long while, it reached her eyes. 

Violet arrived to check over his injuries. Faith moved so Violet could work on him and she stepped off the bus. She needed to find Xander, she had to tell him about Anya, but as she stepped off the bus, she stopped to listen as Andrew told Xander what happened. It hurt her to hear it. They’d lost a lot of Slayers today and it was hard to accept that Anya was gone too. She’d seen the ex-demon’s body as she ran from the collapsing building. They hadn’t been close, but she’d enjoyed being a witness to the woman’s relationship with Xander. If those two could find love with each other, there was hope for her.  She shook her head and forced the feelings away. Feelings weren’t going to do any of them any good right now. They had the rest of the day to get through and she could hear trucks in the distance.

‘Couldn’t be anything good…’ She thought.

Willow approached just as Xander turned away from Andrew. Faith looked on while Willow read the tortured expression on her oldest, dearest, bestest, friends face. Tearfully they reached for and held each other tightly, if silently, taking care to not upset the other. They held each other until the pulverizing grief had passed over them and they were once again numb enough to get through the next few minutes. They went to join Buffy and the others at the back of the bus next to the edge of the crater.

Andrew stared after them and Faith followed the pair to the edge of the crater, taking it in fully for the first time. ‘Holy shit…’ she thought, but said, ‘Looks like the Hell Mouth is closed for business.’ She knew after what she’d seen between Xander, Andrew and then Willow, the only thing that was getting them through the rest of this day without someone having a mental break was going to be heavy sarcasm.

‘There’s another one in Cleveland.’ Giles informed her.  

Everyone turned and glared at him.

‘No way in hell was she moving to Cleveland.’ Faith thought.

‘Not to spoil the moment.’ Giles added sheepishly. 

He bent to pick up a rock that was glinting in the sunlight. He was already worried about what was next. He could hear trucks coming towards them and he knew the others could as well. It had already been a hell of a day. He desperately wanted a cup of tea and he had absolutely no idea of what to expect the next few days. It was all just, unprecedented.

‘What had just happened?’ He just didn’t know. He tossed the rock into the crater.  

‘We saved the world’ Xander said, as if answering Giles unspoken question and changing the subject all at the same time. It was a hurried attempt to stave off his brain destroying grief, now that he was truly getting the full view of the nothing that was left of his life. And besides that, he always set the tone when things got too heavy and things were definitely too heavy. No way was he going to let Faith step into that roll. It was literally the only thing he had left in the world.

‘We changed the world’ Willow replied, in her correcting tone.

‘I can feel them, Buffy. All over. Slayers are awakening everywhere.’ 

The spell she had used to turn the potentials into full-fledged Slayers had been so powerful that the light of the Universe had flowed through her and had momentarily turned her hair pure white. It had been the most amazing experience of her life.  All over the world girls who may have been called to be the Slayer were now in fact full-fledged Slayers. She really could feel all of them coming into their powers.

‘Evil, has been put on notice.’ Willow thought, stolidly.      

‘We will have to find them.’ Dawn said, taking her verbal cues from them.

‘Yes.’ Willow agreed, pushing positivity as well. ‘We will.’

This pain was so much more than physical. They’d suffered through loss before, but it was different this time. They’d just lost everything. Through the smog of anguish, they didn’t fully understand what it all meant for them yet, but right now they would deal with it in the only way they knew how.

Laughter and hope.  

Perseverance had gotten them through each time the loss was too heavy to bear. It had brought them through Jenny and Joyce and entire year without Buffy, when their unhealing wounds lay open pouring out their grief. They each, in turn, hoped it would be enough this time, because…’damn.’   

‘Yes, because The Mall was actually in Sunnydale so there is no hope of going there tomorrow.’ Giles teased, recalling the conversation they’d had not 30 minutes before in the hallway of Sunnydale High. They’d been quaking with fear and in need of a little lighthearted banter. ‘What should we do tomorrow when we are done with this little chore,’ seemed to be the perfect tension breaker.

Buffy smiled uneasily and ignored the burning pain from the wound in her side. The sensation from the wound told her it was already healing. The burning pain in her heart, however was different. She would need her family to help heal it. They would get through this with each other, just like they always did. It was going to take some time, but they would be okay…someday.

‘Maybe…’

The trucks were so close. The moment this bubble was shattered…

‘Spike…’ her heart grieved, wishing everything would slow down.

‘We destroyed The Mall? I fought on the wrong side!’ Dawn joked bravely, while she stared all the way down to the bottom of the crater. Her mother was down there she mused while listening to the silly banter go on around her. Of course, mom was in her coffin and had been for years, but none of that mattered to her peace of mind. Her mother was down there with the monsters and it was eating at her. She shook herself a little forcing away such dark thoughts with the reminder that she had to be strong…’for Buffy.’  

‘All those shops gone.’ Xander chimed in. ‘The Gap, Starbucks, Toys R Us. Who will remember all those landmarks and tell the world about them?’

‘We have a lot of work ahead of us.’ Giles sighed.

‘Can I push him in?’ Faith laughed, as she gave Giles a little shove.

‘You’ve got my vote.’ Willow laughed.

‘I just wanna sleep yo! For like a week!’ Faith forced a laugh again.

‘I guess we all could. If we wanted to.’ Dawn offered.

‘Yeah! The First is scrunched! So, what do you think we should do, Buffy?’ Willow asked tentatively. 

Buffy numbly stared out over the nothing that used to be her home.

Faith added, ‘Yeah, you’re not the one and only chosen one anymore. How does that feel?’  

‘Yeah, Buffy, what are we gonna do now?’ Dawn asked, her gaze still followed her sisters out over the open space before them, just now realizing that they didn’t have a home anymore. 

Buffy thought over the last several minutes. They’d been pushing through the detached hysteria brought on by the adrenaline rush of their own survival and the crushing reality that lay before them. Reaching. Trying to work themselves into a better state of mind. The atmosphere was fragile and one misstep would have each of them succumbing to the actuality, that they were staring into a giant hole in the ground that held everything that defined each and every one of them. It was all so much dust now. The smallest thing would have them, well her, screaming into the void, weeping out the incalculable pain swamping her soul.

Softly, through the timber of Dawns voice, Buffy heard Spike’s command reverberate in the core of her body and she couldn’t help but smile for the love it brought with it. 

‘Go.’ 

The power of that love flooded through her and tears filled her already glassy eyes.  

She was going to live.’ 

She was going to take the Gift that he had given her and make him proud. 

She was going to LIVE.

The trucks coming toward them were not going to change that.

Chapter Text

Two

 

California 2017

 

Once upon a time Riley Finn had loved Buffy Summers and apparently, even after this considerable passage of time, he still had unresolved feelings for her, of a sort. It could be the only explanation for what he was doing right now. He’d been married to Sam, by all accounts an incredible woman, for seventeen years. So, he had to wonder at his motivation for racing toward the Slayer at the moment. There were other things, ‘pressing things,’ that required his attention. He should be doing them right now. Honestly, if he really wanted to get down to it, he wasn’t sure if his actions were based on softer feelings for the Slayer, or if they were based on the fact that he might finally get the chance to prove to her that he was as capable of saving the world as she was.

‘Maybe it’s both.’ He nagged himself.

Either way, the longer he thought about it the more he understood that, he really didn’t know why, but the reason wasn’t the point. Sure, it was irrational, but he still had to go and get her himself. He hoped he wasn’t too late. 

Still… ‘I could have sent another unit after her.’ He chastised himself again.

The last time he’d been to Sunnydale during his own timeline, had been nearly two decades before, and his Unit had been working its way through Peru killing demons. They’d received word while in Peru that the Sunnydale Hell Mouth was going to Geyser and the Slayer didn’t have it under control. It had been a jarring surprise to hear that Buffy was in fact alive and further that she didn’t have a situation under control. That was unheard of. They’d hauled ass double-time to get back state-side in time to help, but they’d been too late and things had been wrong ever since. 

Riley had been a grunt back then, but he’d pulled his weight, made the brass look, and it had paid off. He’d made Commander and things went a bit differently under his command. He was pro-active. While other Commanders had been content to wait and see how things played out, Riley shook the tree to see what would happen.  A trick he had learned from the Slayer herself.

Part of the reason Riley landed the Commander gig and most of the reason he was still alive, was based on the amount of time and experience he’d accumulated working on the Hell Mouth. Some with the Slayer, some without. Because of that experience, he’d clocked more time in the field during major disturbances than anyone in the entire Initiative. And during all of that time, the most important lesson he’d learned was that evil had an agenda and it waited for no one.

This fact alone, had the time lines in chaos.

He’d…they’d, spent the last decade fighting against this current threat and even though they fought it every day, they were no closer to ‘winning’ than the day they’d first pulled on the uniform. However, if he could somehow manage to gain just one step on The Senior Partners, they could win once and for all. If he was smart quick and fast, today could be that day…’possibly.’

The problem lay in, that it never mattered how many times they made the jump back, nothing they did ever stopped ‘all of it’ from happening. They’d tried and made a real mess of things in the beginning. They’d wasted a lot of time correcting major screw ups. In the end though, the outcome was always the same, but the details were just a little different from the last time.

The problem? Well that was easy. It was everything.

Time, dimensions, players, energy, intel.

There was never enough time or they weren’t in the right place to utilize the time they had, the intel was entirely wrong, only half of the usual players would show up, and once they spent 48 hours in another dimension to come back and find that six months had passed. None of this mattered to the Powers That Be since for them time was relative, unless they were using their energy to power the jumps. Every time they used their power, they had to recharge their batteries. All of these mistakes cost a lot of energy and as everyone knows, energy isn’t limitless.

All of that aside, today was different.

Today the entire game had changed and honestly, it was disconcerting as hell.

Something huge had happened somewhe…time…. ‘Sometime.’ He corrected.

Two weeks ago, The Powers That Be watched as a shift in “all of time” transpired without warning. The time lines simply began to converge at a single point in history. May 20th 2003 Sunnydale, California. In the last two days, time, which was normally fluid, had begun to solidify.  It wasn’t as unpredictable from one timeline to the next. While this could be good for them on occasion, it brought on a new set of challenges. Chaos in the time lines usually meant they could come and go as the pleased, relatively undetected even if it did make things difficult for them in other ways. The Senior Partners now knew every move they were going to make before they made it from previous experience. There had never been much wiggle room for error. Instead of flowing with time, they were now in a race against it. He just wished he knew what had happened to cause it. They were going to have to be spot on accurate the next few campaigns.   

'Might as well hurl a rock into the ocean.’  He thought sourly.

Dragging a hand through his hair and worrying at the corner of his mouth with his teeth he reasoned that he had a good arm, but that wasn’t really the point was it. Wind resistance and the tide would always play a role in accuracy when you hurled a rock into the ocean. If the intel he’d been getting this morning was to be believed, the Apocalypse had started. 

This wasn’t one of those run of the mill types either.

Those started every other month.

Nope, this was ‘The Apocalypse.’

You know, the big one.

The one that they sell copies of at Barnes and Nobles.

‘Yeah, that one.’ He sighed.

Lucifer, yes, that Lucifer, had finally been able to bust out of Hell long enough to get something going and it had something to do with the Sunnydale Hellmouth. It had taken a while for Riley to wrap his head around Lucifer. He’d never believed in the whole evil angel myth, so it had come as quite a shock to his system to learn that the fallen angel was in fact not a myth. He had a bit of a meltdown when it all came home to him and he realized that it wasn’t bullshit after all.

Lucifer…was real…’so weird.’

Riley was pretty smart and he was tough. He wasn’t a punk and he’d been in the fight for a long damn time. He thought that he knew just about all there was to know when it came to dealing with the Supernatural, until he’d been handed a brief on Sam and Dean Winchester. They’d been fighting Lucifer…the literal Satan…while they were children.

They were badasses.

It was shocking for Riley to discover that what he thought he knew about fighting monsters amounted to a pile of baby shit in comparison to the Winchesters. Those boys had knowledge he couldn’t have ever hoped to acquire on his own, about fighting the good fight.  Furthermore, they’d lost almost everyone they called family while doing it, and they still got up and did it every day.

They’d lost themselves as well. A few times. At least from what his brief had said.

Riley learned that they’d fought, died, and been brought back to life more times than could be counted. They’d been captured, possessed, imprisoned, forced to live in hell, escaped, suffered loss, and had given their all to defeat the evil in the world and each time they’d won. 

‘If that was what you wanted to call it.’ He thought sardonically.

After everything that they’d been through and accomplished without any help from the Powers That Be, Riley had taken matters into his own hands and approached the Powers, (who’s assistance he’d been able to gain through a lot of hard-won battles) on their behalf.  Surprisingly they didn’t have any answers for him about the boys, but they’d agreed to lend the boys their assistance when they could.

‘They had rules they had to follow after all.’ He thought in annoyance.

Once the Powers got involved the boys won a few more here and there. Again, if you wanted to call it winning. At least the Powers had been able to get the book keepers lay off of them and somewhere along the way an angel…a real angel, began working with them.

This morning when he’d gotten his first report on the timeline situation, he discovered that someone was playing merry Hell with all of his carefully laid plans. It would all be a bust if he couldn’t get a handle on the situation quick.

A few months back when the brother’s efforts to get an escaped Lucifer back into his cage in Hell had failed and the evil angel had successfully begotten a child on a poor unsuspecting woman.  She had then maddeningly, disappeared.  With one thing and another throughout the year, the baby, Anti-Christ had been born and somehow, the kid had been born as an adult. 

Don’t ask him how it all worked, it didn’t matter. 

What mattered was the Winchesters had finally managed to acquire the Anti-Christ, whose name was Jack, and had the boy…man…it…living with them. They were hoping to be a good influence on him. The whole nurture vs nature thing. Further the angel Castiel, had made promises to the…to Jack’s mother.

Promised to take care of him, shelter and teach him. Keep him away from his ‘father.’

Riley had relaxed a little then and thought maybe it would be okay.

I should have known better.’  He grated at himself.

Jack had just pulled a disappearing act on the Winchesters.

Bonafide Apocalypse imminent.

Those guys had been in the “grab your ass and hold on” thick of it this morning, when he’d gotten the morning reports. It was total anarchy. As far as he was concerned, with Lucifer still on the loose, Jack’s disappearance, and the time line convergence they were looking at the perfect storm. It was Armageddon. Suit up and make your peace.

‘This is not a drill.’

It had been his habit to get up before everyone and quietly check the time lines since the anomaly. Not only had the boy disappeared, but this morning in 2017 was in absolute chaos. It was as if no one was out there fighting at all. The good guys had sustained massive losses since the beginning of the year.

Riley abruptly realized it had taken him until right this very second to understand, this was the reason he was going after the Slayer himself and why he’d decided to call it.  He was going to fight, he was going to win, and he wasn’t going to give up any of the assets he had to any damn evil angel or his kid.

‘Ludicrous.’  He muttered, just as he did every time, he thought of Lucifer.

Working at it he forced the unbidden panic coursing through him to bridle while he’d made his way through the base to The Machine.  He wasn’t usually this out of sorts, but he wasn’t usually working this blind either. There had been some hope for a little while when it looked like everything might work out, but that was all “time under the bridge” and there wasn’t any more of that to be wasted. He wasn’t at all sure how many more jumps the Powers would be able to give them in the coming days and that was a key worry.

During the recent Election the Powers had lost an essential stronghold and the result was their actual powers were failing. There just wasn’t enough good happening in the world right now and as a result it was taking them longer to recharge after each jump. He’d become spoiled over the last near decade with ability to use the Powers That Be nearly at will, for traveling between timelines. The ease with which they all could change a timeline as if they were changing a subway train was at an end. Right now, they could barely afford to travel at all and it was going to take a ton of the Powers remaining energy to accomplish this jump alone. Not to mention, there would have to be another soon after that. It took a hell of a lot of energy to move so many people all at once. Which was another reason why it was time to gather everyone together and stop fucking around with it. He couldn’t really be in two places at once anymore and his resources were depleting rapidly.

Riley had not gotten this far in the game by being slow witted. He’d quickly formulated a plan for the intel he’d received this morning before the sun had ever come up over the eastern border of the desert. It was time to make something happen for the good guys! He’d spent the rest of the morning making his world move and moments ago, he’d finally received the update he’d been stalling the last 30 minutes for. The Winchester’s been scooped up by Bravo team and were on the way to the base.

Riley had left instructions with Base Command on how to proceed once they arrived. There was about to be a whole lot of chiefs and not enough Indians on base and that always tended to gum up the works.

B-team had been lucky not to get their asses handed to them. Sam and Dean had been through hell. Literally. Both of them. They didn’t trust anyone and they were hyper-vigilant.

Riley was impressed with his guys right now.

Acquiring the three of them together…’lucky.’

As a result of getting all three of them, Bravo had needed to stop what they were doing and get them back to the base and into containment damn quick. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been any luck in locating the Sheriff the brothers worked with.

So far it had been the only snag. 

Jody Mills was a badass. More importantly she was family to the brothers. They didn’t have many people left in their lives and she was one of them. If there was a chance for them to keep her in their lives, he was going to do his best to make that happen.

Besides, they were going to need her later.

Odds were, they were going to be almighty pissed-off and not inclined to be cooperative when they woke up, which was why they were not still on the hunt for her. Hopefully, Riley could smooth some of that reaction out when he explained the situation to them in 2003, but first things first.

He was going to get the Slayer. 

He hoped he was in time.

He walked faster. 

Alpha Team were already strapped in and he was the last to arrive.  He took his seat next to Sam, stuffed his mouthpiece in and helped the tech’s get him strapped in. When they were done, he reached out and gave Sam’s hand a squeeze. Shortly after he felt the pressure and he bit down on the mouth piece. There was a pop, a noise that sounded like an explosion, and then it was over.

When they walked out of the machine they were still on base, but it was 2003.

Chapter Text

Three

 

California 2003: The Hell Mouth

 

A bright yellow school bus blocking the road at the entrance to Sunnydale. They were going to have to stop and move it, before they could get into town. However, the closer he got the better he understood, they weren’t going to be going into town. 

‘Well, that’s new.’ He thought, stunned, followed up by, ‘Too late.’

There wasn’t any part Sunnydale left. Where a town should have been, there was nothing but a…pit.  

'It makes sense about the time lines now.'  he thought. 

The flutter of panic in Riley’s guts was acute and struggled for calm. His mouth fell open at the panorama laid out in front of him. It felt like his chest had just caved in on itself. He tried desperately to breathe through his wide-open mouth, but wasn’t able to suck in even the slightest breath.

‘She can’t be dead. She just can’t.’ his disbelief raged.

He needed her for his plan to work. If there was no Buffy, there was no plan.

‘She’ll be there!’ He snapped at himself. ‘Christ! Get a grip…’

He was determined to regain control of his shrieking emotions. They’d be stopping soon and his team needed to see him fully in control. Obviously, they were seeing what he was seeing and they’d be just as freaked out over it as he was. He couldn’t have the chaos that would reign if even one of his guys gave in to the absolute cluster fuck in front of them. He needed to show them that he was not only in control of himself but of this…situation as well.

Even if he was dying inside.

They were a little closer now. He could see, people in the road ahead.

 He could see…It was her. Almost as suddenly as the meltdown began it ended. He relaxed and pulled in a steadying breath and blinked most of the dizziness away. That was her standing in front of the bus, waiting. He knew it was her even after all of these years by her body language. Her hands were on her hips and all of her weight was on her left foot cocking her hip to the side.

He hadn’t seen her in years, but he knew it was her and he knew she was pissed.

Buffy watched the trucks roll to a stop. ‘Well that’s just perfect.’ She scowled.

She knew with no doubt that he’d be with them. She also knew ‘The Initiative’ would have known what she’d been dealing with here and no one had come to help. No one had even offered to help. She was furious with them for showing up now. 

‘It’s too late now.’ She seethed in raw fury

She hadn’t known that it was possible to feel this angry and this numb at the same time.

‘There they are, just sitting there in their trucks like a bunch of weirdos.’ She fumed.

She hoped they felt as horrified by the sight in front of them as she had been.

‘Girls are dead. Anya is dead. Spike. Town’s destroyed.’

She was really going to have to be careful about this anger and not let it turn to hate.

It was obviously way too soon to think about letting it go, but it was already making her feel out of control, violent and frustrated. She swallowed hard and resolved to set a good example for the new Slayers. She almost rolled her eyes out of her head thinking it, but she managed not to and waited impatiently for what would transpire in the next few minutes.

Inside the lead Humvee, Riley said, ‘This is Commander Finn,’ into the mouthpiece of his headset. ‘Under no circumstances is anyone to fire their weapon. I repeat, there will be zero gunfire. However, these folks don’t need to know that you are restricted.  Again, you will maintain trigger safety. Safeties on now. I want one truck on perimeter look out. Fall out.’

Commander Finn didn’t like to be called Colonel. It created too much separation between him and his men, but Colonel he was and had been for more than a decade. The Commander stepped out of his transport and waited for Sam and Graham to fall in behind him. As soon as they were in position, he approached the Slayer who was…’bleeding from a hefty gash in her side.’ 

‘That’s not good.’ He worried and the fluttering panic returned.

There were two active teams working all over the country right now, in 2017 gathering Slayers.  He was going to need The Slayer to train them if they were going to survive the rest of the year. He needed her alive. Having her bleed to death wasn’t part of his agenda.

He stopped several feet away from her and rolling his shoulders, bolstered himself. The Scoobies and what were probably several former potential Slayers stood behind her. He knew that Willow had worked her magic not even an hour ago and they were all Slayers now. That aside, he could see that Buffy was pissed, so a mix of diplomacy and command was going to get them getting stupid with each other. He put his game face on and pulled the visor of his helmet up exposing his face and willed his voice not to shake.

Graham and Sam followed suit behind him, lifting the visors on their helmets.

 There was no reaction from her at all.

He grimaced. ‘Is this everyone?’ he asked her simply.

‘You’re late.’ she said coldly.

Graham, who’d never liked Buffy took a threatening step forward.

Sam’s arm shot out, lightning fast forestalling the stupidity Graham been about to partake in. She’d promptly caught sight of Faith hawking him. They needed Graham just now and couldn’t afford to be without him because of a broken leg or jaw over his own ego. They also couldn’t afford for this to turn into a shit show. Sam knew Faith. She knew that this Slayer would hurt Graham for the fun of it. 

Faith, was ready to get it on the second she’d realized it was the Initiative.

She hated these guys and didn’t need an excuse to kick some jar head ass.

Hell, she’d do it for the exercise.

She’d actually been expecting the first sign of trouble to come from Soldier Boy’s little wifey, but surprise it had come from the bestie instead. She’d been on Graham the instant he’d flinched and if he took another step, she was gonna light him up. The asshole was glaring a hole through Buffy for some reason and she didn’t like it one bit. She shifted her weight threateningly back and forth on the balls of her feet, grinning at him. He wasn’t even paying attention to her. Little Wifey hadn’t taken her eyes off of Faith though.

'Not a problem.' she thought, with a smirk.‘If he even blinks, they’re toast.’ 

‘Faith, you good?’ Buffy called to her. 

It was a warning to the commando creeps. Faith had a reputation for being unpredictable when she was provoked. B was making sure that Riley knew they were working together now and were ready to take on his entire team if it came to that. She shifted her weight again, planted her fists on her hips and smiled even more menacingly at the cute, stupid guy. 

‘Five by five, B.’ she answered, cockily. 

Buffy smirked and raised a perfectly waxed eyebrow at Riley in challenge. Neither of them said anything more. It was Riley’s move.

Riley keyed his mouthpiece, ‘Alright, this is everyone, check for and triage the injuries then get them loaded double-time. He commanded.

Riley’s troops broke rank to get started, and every single Scoobie and new Slayer who’d trickled off of the bus crouched into fighting position, ready to do battle at the command. Riley lifted his hand to twirl a finger above his head and to Buffy’s consternation every single soldier under his command stopped to aim their loaded assault weapons at her, her friends, and the unarmed girls. 

‘Faith…’ Buffy exhaled, flicking a resigned glance at her.

‘You sure, B?’ Faith asked, ‘Come on, we can take these guys!’ she grinned.

Buffy nodded and Faith reluctantly stood down after gaping at the Boss Lady for an instant. She shrugged when B didn’t budge then signaled the rest to stand down as well.

Buffy saw Riley swipe a hand through the air and the tense moment was over as his men stood down as well and got busy carrying out the previous order to triage and load the wounded. Dropping her hands she walked the few steps it took to reach Faith and said in a hush, while gesturing at the flurry of activity going on around them, ‘Handle this for me while I find out what is going on?’

Faith jerked a quick nod of assent and got to work. ‘Get Robin off of the bus gently, he’s hurt.’ She dictated as she walked past the Wifey, who hadn’t stopped eyeballing her, to coordinate and organize this mess with Giles.

Buffy watched Faith go then went back to Riley. ‘Something’s very…wrong here.’ She realized. The Riley she knew would have never pointed a gun at her or Dawn in sincerity. He wanted something from her. She knew same as ever, that in theory they were safe with him, but she also knew with certainty he would’ve forced her to come with him just now if she hadn’t relented. Obviously, he needed her help with something and had come to get it no matter the consequences. Just as obviously, he hadn’t come to help her close the Hell Mouth. She knew instinctively that he’d known something of what she’d been dealing with here and he still hadn’t come to help her. It was all wrong. She could feel it. Something was way different with him. She was just going to have to be patient until she could find out what it was and what he wanted. There was always what Riley told her and then there was the truth. She came to a stop in front of her ex-boyfriend, rested her hands on her hips and winced in pain as she bumped the wound in her side. ‘Make sure you get all of our gear off the bus,’ She gritted sharply, echoing Faith’s tone. ‘It’s all we have left.’

Riley nodded saying nothing. They stared at each other in the middle of the chaos happening all around them. She waited for him to start explaining. He stayed quiet. It annoyed her. She shrugged and walked away, deciding she was too tired to play. He’d tell her what he wanted eventually. Riley watched her go.

Sam came to his side and followed his gaze. ‘So, that went well,’ she sighed.

Nodding, he grimaced, then shifted his weight to look at his wife intently. He was about to break trust with her. It wasn’t a decision he’d come to lightly and he hoped that she would forgive him for it later. As Commander he knew that this larger plan was going to be met with protest the moment, he unveiled it, so he was keeping it on need to know status. The fewer people who knew what was going on, the fewer opportunities for screw ups.

He marshaled his courage and bit the bullet so to speak.

Using his 'Commander voice' with his wife, which is something that he rarely did, for obvious reasons he said, ‘I need you to oversee getting Angel to the base this afternoon. I want you to bring the Winchesters as well. I need to see all of them together while we are here. Agree to anything Angel asks for. Take the Helo and whoever you will need to get it done as soon as we get back to base.’ He murmured, then slipped past her to feign busyness elsewhere.

He knew he might have to explain about this side trip later, but he was hoping that she would simply do what she did most of the time and follow along. She knew him well and could guess what his motivations were most of the time.

Sam watched her husband walk away. ‘Damnit.’ She grouched. He was keeping things from her again. Every damn time he started saying ‘I need’ she knew things were fucked. She cut her eyes at the Slayer as she stomped away to look for Johnson. She needed a Pilot. ‘Damnit.’

Riley’s soldiers stood by and kept their guns at the ready the entire time it took to load everyone into a transport. The moment Buffy had an opportunity, she was going to make Riley sorry for that. Her people weren’t resisting and none of them needed this kind of crap after all they’d been through already today.

‘What the hell is that about anyway?’ She grouched. 

She’d known immediately they didn’t have a choice about going with Riley when Sam had forced Graham to stand down. If that doofus had forced a confrontation with her, there would have been an all-out brawl that would have ended with Riley not getting what he’d come for. Not only that, Sam was tense and worried about something else, which was fully evidenced by the game of chicken she’d just played with Faith. Further, all of this had been met with Sam’s trepidation instead of annoyance. It was all wrong, wrong, wrong.

‘Damn!’

Buffy declined the offer to ride with Riley so they could talk and instead chose to stay with Dawn and the others. She didn’t want The Initiative too comfortable with their decision making just yet. She would find out what this was all about at the same time everyone else did or when she had more information to make a smarter decision about it. She may regret that later, but right now it was her play. She wondered when Riley had become Commander of the Unit. That was going to have a lot to do with how they dealt with each other.

Lots of questions to be answered. 

Even working double-time it had taken nearly an hour to get everyone triaged and loaded. The wound in her side had already scabbed over, but they cleaned and bandaged it nonetheless. Physically she was going to be okay. All of the other bumps and bruises would be gone by morning.

She’d been filled in on Robin and Rona just before climbing in one of the trucks. 

Robin couldn’t stay conscious for more than a few minutes at a time and Rona was still coughing up blood. The girl had gone down hard and Buffy wasn’t sure she was going to make it. There wasn’t any precedent about healing from a mortal wound received before you became a Slayer.

 They drove non-stop through the desert for the next hour until they stopped to show their credentials at the gate of the Military Base they’d arrived at. The next stop they made saw them inexplicably loaded, trucks and all, onto a C-17 Airbus.

‘Where the hell, is he taking us?’ she wondered.

Once the cargo door on the massive plane was closed, they were no longer held at gunpoint. They were however, being yelled at to get out of the trucks and find a seat and get buckled in, double time. The massive plane’s engines were making it difficult to hear anything over their hum, but for once, the girls followed protocol, kept their mouths shut, and watched Faith for direction. They didn’t even say thank you for the water, granola bars, and blankets they’d been given. Granted, most everyone was deliriously tired from battle, terror, grief, and their bodies new rapid healing feature.

Buffy had planned to talk to the girls…’the Slayers’ she reminded herself, while they were traveling, but that had been a mistake. She hadn’t anticipated the the incredibly loud hum the engines made. Furthermore, the white noise was providing the perfect environment for sleeping.

The new Slayers had wolfed down the granola and water, snuggled up next to each other in pairs like puppies and were asleep before the plane even began to taxi.

‘It’ll have to wait.’ She resolved. 

‘Get some rest, everyone.’ She mumbled, needlessly, taking the seat next to Dawnie.

As soon as she sat down, Dawn curled into her. Buffy threw the blanket she’d been given over the two of them. Dawn wadded her blanket into a ball, resting it on her shoulder for them to use as a pillow. Buffy tucked the shared blanket up around Dawn’s shoulders then laid her head against the balled-up blanket closing her eyes.

The moment she closed her eyes, his face took shape behind the lids. 

Dazzlingly, deep blue eyes shining at her, from the sculpted features of his face. The conviction of his decision holding her in place, as she took his hand, hoping he would change his mind and come with her. It was in that moment she’d known that she loved him. Truly.  

‘No, you don’t.’ he said. The words echoed in her ears.

It played on a loop.

It was the conviction, the certainty in his voice that kept the tightness that had taken up residence in her throat present. The memory of that certainty was making it nearly impossible to keep swallowing down the tears that insisted on pooling in the corners of her closed eyes. He shouldn’t have died believing that she didn’t love him. She swallowed harder and forced herself to get her emotions under control. The last thing everyone needed, was to see her crying. Besides, if she started crying, she wouldn’t be able to stop and she absolutely couldn’t show any weakness right now. 

‘What are we going to do without him?’ 

Her heart pushed insistently at her for answers. 

‘Because I do…I really do love him.’  

She’d only allowed herself to think about really having him, all of him, for the first time a few days ago. The certain knowledge that she was going to die soon had forced her to be real with herself. To stop being childish and be grow the hell up. After that, she’d been able to acknowledge to herself that he’d had her attention all along and that in some way she didn’t completely understand, she’d wanted him in her life since…forever.

When she realized it, she felt as stupid as Scarlet O’Hara.

She thought about how much she’d relied him. It had been more than anyone…especially after her mom had died. She didn’t know if it was because mom had liked him so much or if it was because he had liked her mom. Either way, she knew that he was grieving her mother the same as her. During that time, he’d been her rock. He’d come through for her time and time again, no matter what and she’d treated him like dirt.

‘Now he was gone.’ 

She’d wasted all they’re time, being an idiot. She’d wasted it and she hated herself for it

She shook her head stiffly against the memories, never more thankful for the engine noise that covered the short sob low in her throat. She had to stop thinking about this, or she was going to crumble. She pushed hard at it, insisting she needed to sleep. She smoothed out the plains of her face and used the meditation technique Giles had taught her to clear her mind, pulling in a few cleansing breaths and slowly the fog of sleep dropped over her. The last thing she remembered before sleep claimed her, was thinking,

I really to have to stop calling these Slayers, girls.’ 

She didn’t dream, thankfully. 

Dawn, who’d been watching Buffy’s fitfulness flicked a worried glance to Giles. He’d been watching as well. He grimaced what was supposed to be a reassuring smile at her and urged her with a nod of his head to sleep, then pulled off his glasses and cleaned them with the edge of his blanket.

 

***

 

The C-17 had been in the air for 20 minutes. All was quiet and Riley was able to get away from his duties and go see Sam.

He knew she was going to have questions for him, but he also knew that she would wait until later this evening if she was going to press him for anything so it was safe to see her now.

She was in the small galley next to the cockpit. She was alone, so he slipped in behind her taking her hips in his hands and turned her to steal a quick heated kiss.

Like everyone else she’d been feeling the strain of the last several days and it was evidenced by the tell-tale crease in her forehead. 

Sam Finn had leaned into her husband’s kiss and borrowed some of his strength. She was going to need it for what she had to tell him. She’d been through all of the new intel from that morning just as she knew he had done before he came in the room. Things were worse than she’d expected. It was as if no one was out there fighting back.

It used to be that even with the Internet getting information on strange or weird occurrences was damn difficult, but recently there’d been a tidal wave of news stories about strange happenings. Entire families were disappearing, people had stopped going to work, there were loud noises like trumpets waking people in the middle of the night. Fires, earthquakes, tsunami’s and the amount of celebrity deaths had become unnerving. She knew that they were dealing with the Apocalypse, but it seemed like things had picked up 1000-fold since just this morning. She was going to have to tell him now. The way things were going, she may not get a chance for the next few days.

Riley interrupted her thoughts.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, reading the fear in her eyes.

‘Do you want the bad news first, or the really bad news first?’ she replied.

‘Sam…’ he warned.

‘I’m pregnant.’ She said, tears welling in her sable colored eyes.

She felt vulnerable and helpless enough as it was so it made her angry that the first thing she did was begin to cry after the words had flown from her mouth.

Riley, felt like a shipping container full of bricks had been dropped on him. His ears were ringing and he was quite speechless while staring incredulously at his wife’s crumpled face.

He was totally unaware that he had gone sheet white.

He was certain that he’d ever felt this terrified in his life and had no idea what to do or say. He simply stood their frozen, guts twisting themselves into knots, while his brain was screamed random sentences at him. None of which were joyful. 

‘What? What did she say?

Ask her to say it again.

NO! Don’t ask her to say it again!

Lucifer and his son “Jack” are both loose on the planet.

HOW did this happen?

Oh God! When did this happened? T

he Apocalypse has begun.

My wife is pregnant?’

This morning before the jump he’d thought the best-case scenario for this cluster fuck was going to be that they all died fighting side by side to save as much of humanity as possible from The Satan, until back-up arrived. 

'All of the plans just changed.’

Several moments had passed and he realized that he hadn’t said anything to his pregnant wife yet. She’d just watched him completely melt down inside his own head while tears coursed down her cheeks. She had to be as terrified as he was. Still, he needed a bit more time to process. 

‘So, what’s the really bad news then?’ he asked ignoring the bad news for a tic.

He'd let her know that it was all going to be okay with the offhanded joke, but she really needed to give him a minute. 

Sam’s mouth fished open and closed a few times while she made peace with the fact that her rock couldn’t deal just yet.  

She knew that it was going to be easier for him to focus on one thing at a time for the next few hours.

‘He looks like he is going to faint.’ She observed, letting her husband slide for now. After all, she’d needed a few days to process the news as well.

Although, she thought that she’d decided to wait until after today to tell him about the baby, it looked like maybe, her insecurities concerning the Slayer had gotten the better of her. Since picking up the tiny blond woman this morning all she could think about was telling him. She wasn’t going to say any of that out loud to him though. In fact, blurting out that she was pregnant now instead of after, probably didn’t have anything to do with Riley sending her to LA on a routine mission only moments after seeing Buffy for the first time in years with all of her youth still intact and leaving them alone together at all.

‘It just slipped out…’  She reasoned. 

She was only six weeks along, but she’d had the blood test. There were no false positives with the blood test. This little bean was a sure thing.

Riley was watching her expectantly…waiting for something more. ‘Oh…’ She got back to the really bad news.

‘The ugh, the…the Circle of the Black Thorn,' she cast about, trying to get focused and mentally preparing herself for the next few minutes, 'They've um...started making some interesting moves. Alpha, has broken into the Dollhouse again. That could be disastrous and just a wee bit concerning, since Echo is on this plane still in Faith mode. As it is now, she’s been reprogrammed to defer to Buffy, but with the remote wipe/upload capability we're sitting ducks as long as she's on this plane. Alpha would like nothing better than to get some payback on us. If I were you, I’d make sure someone is watching her at all times.

Also, the Anti-Christ has just disappeared. Like poof, literally, he is just gone.’ She winced at his expression, mistaking what it meant.

‘Not done yet.’ She said, squeezing his hand. 

‘Centralia, has begun to crumble. As of 90 minutes ago, the topsoil was disappearing at the rate of 50 yards an hour. It’s spewing carbon into the air at a rate they can’t even calculate. The mine is roughly 3700 acres, at a depth of 300 feet.  There is no way to know if it is related to this morning’s events or how it is going to play out, but it should reach the boarder of the Cleveland Hell Mouth in about three months’ time if this pattern holds.

‘Or right on time, depending on how you chose to look at it.’ He thought. 

‘Right now, the consensus is that the heat generated from it will make a cozy place for Moloch. Not a Moloch demon, mind you. 'The' Moloch, and brace yourself, Baal as well. I've read several prophecies concerning both of them since we boarded. It is a toss-up if they are the same or separate entities.’ She complained, running her free hand through her hair.

Riley listened attentively, but he wasn’t at all happy that she knew Jack was missing. He’d been trying to keep that a secret until at least this evening.

‘She was quick.’ he mused. 

The news that The Old Ones were about to start battling each other for territory was disconcerting as hell.  He didn’t know how he was going to get her to keep quiet about all of this for now, but he was going to have to figure it out. Maybe he would just make it an order. Probably not the best idea since he’d already done that today. He just needed a few minutes to…think.  

‘Baby, I don’t know what to do.’ She said, plaintively. ‘We’re not battling some errant demons that have been stirring up a pack of trouble on a holiday weekend. This is it. We are up against the Senior Partners and their bosses if The Circle have started making moves.’

He twisted the cap off of his water and drank deep. He needed to think quick apparently, because she was in go mode.

‘Speaking of the Senior Partners...I can’t believe I forgot this. You are not going to believe it and please don’t freak out, but Angel has taken over at Wolfram and Hart already.’

Riley rocked back a step choking on his water.

‘FUCK!’ he exploded, after gaining control, then demanded, ‘When, did this happen?’

‘Not long. Ten days, maybe in this time line.’ She answered, calmly.

‘Why am I just hearing about this now! Why are we on a plane to Nevada, instead of LA? Christ! I thought we HAD intel God damnit! We were right there!’

‘This explained the huge crater in the ground.’

 Everything screaming through his head came to a halt at his wife’s voice.

 ‘Don’t you yell at me, Riley Finn,’ she warned. ‘Have you forgotten that we are loaded down with two Slayers, one of which is actually a Doll. A Watcher, a Witch, and 12 or 13 potentials turned Slayers, some of whom are injured. A hand full of civilians and oh yes, let’s not forget to mention a highly unstable key to another dimension, tucked inside a pain in the ass teen-age girl. You keep your goddamn voice down!’ she commanded, with a glare and then ranted to herself, 'He thinks he's the only one a little stressed around here today? Is that it?'  

He wasn’t listening to her. He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach and his brain was screaming SHIT! SHIT! SHIT! He was going to have a complete mental break, right here, right now. It was going to be impossible to get to Angel now and they needed him. It was more time they didn’t have. ‘You're right. We need to be in Nevada.’ He relented. ‘I gotta think. There is too much. I…I can’t do all of this. I can’t keep it all straight in my…’ he bit of the last part of that sentence having forgotten momentarily to exude control.

‘We're going to help you.’ She assured him calmly, giving his hand a squeeze.

He grunted.

‘Right now,’ she began, in her, I'm managing you tone, ‘You're going to eat something and take a nap. In 40 minutes, you are going to do verbal battle with your ex-girlfriend. From what I remember she has you beat in that category. You also need to remember that she's the Slayer and she's very pissed off at you right now. Also, I'm not going to be here to save you from her.’ She reminded him seriously.   

He snagged a ham sandwich and some more water out of the fridge, then followed her below while he sorted through the maelstrom in his head. They both found a seat and buckled in. She held his water while he fooled with the wrapper on the sandwich. After a second, she handed him the water back to him, took the sandwich, opened it, and handed it back to him. 

‘So, I am a father?’ he asked, taking a bite.

‘Yep.’ She affirmed.

‘I’m terrified.’ He said.

‘Me too.’ She admitted.

He turned to look at her and she read the joy and terror in his eyes. 

‘Thank you.’ he smiled taking another bite out of his sandwich. 

She leaned against him, laying her head on his shoulder.

‘By the way, you are grounded. Someone else can go to LA.’ He said.

She squeezed his arm, then let it slide. If it was easier for him that she was out of the field for now, so be it.

He finished eating, then they slept until the change in air pressure woke them up. 

They were home…sort of.

Chapter Text

 

Four

 

Nevada 2003

           

Buffy had no idea what she’d been expecting when they landed, but this, definitely had not been it. They were in the middle of the desert, surrounded by the military.

 ‘Joy.’ She thought, sarcastically.

It was nothing runways and hangers as far as she could see and not much else. She’d managed to get a good look around, as it had taken time to get everyone unloaded and inside.  Each one of her girls…Slayers, she corrected herself (and there were precious few of them) were in bad shape.

Stupidly, she’d thought they’d be taken to a hospital or a hotel somewhere and that they’d see doctors or at the very least a nurse upon landing. She’d entertained the idea during the unloading process that they’d have a chance to eat something more substantial than a granola bar soon, or have a chance to wash off most of the blood the majority of them were covered in. She’d thought at the very least there would be chairs!

She’d been wrong.

She scowled at the tiny room they’d been led into again. It was little more than a holding cell and was barely large enough for all of them. They were practically piled on top of one another.  She’d whirled around after stepping into the diminutive room to demand something be done about the situation when Graham, smirking at her, had closed the door in her face.

Five hours later a seething Buffy banged on the heavy steel door once again.

She’d bruised her fist from pounding on it several hours ago, but so far all of the pounding, hadn’t done anything to quell the fury residing in her. Someone had come to take Robin and Rona to see a doctor shortly after they’d been locked in, but that had been eons ago. Giles had tried to get her to give it a rest with the pounding, but she wasn’t listening, they needed out of this room. She needed to check on her injured people and the rest of them needed water, food, a restroom for God sake!

She raised her fist once more to pound away at the door when it opened.

On the other side was an irritated looking Graham.

She blinked in surprise when the door opened and then she smashed her bruised fist into his nose, busting it. She felt better already and laughed, ‘Ha!’ at Graham, unable to help herself.

The rest of the room’s inhabitants shoot to their feet and hurried to the open door to stare in fascinated amusement at the scene in the hallway.

Buffy, leaning over the sprawled figure of Graham demanded, ‘WHERE IS THE BATHROOM!’

Faith and Kennedy stood stoically behind her glaring at the bleeding Soldier.

Xander and Dawn were behind them…providing back up.

Soldiers that were nearby flocked threateningly around the door.

Buffy warned them off with the look of all-out war she was casting at them.

Kennedy and Faith, following the Boss Lady’s lead, did the same.

The soldiers took a few wary steps back, their sense of self-preservation telling them they had no desire to tangle with three Slayers or more, at once. 

‘You get these people to a bathroom! Then you get them something to eat and a shower. If you can’t get them to a shower you get them to sink so they can wash this blood off. DO IT NOW.’ She commanded in a deadly tone, then followed up with ‘As of now, this little game is over.’

The soldiers looked down at Graham, who was still sprawled in the floor holding his bleeding nose for confirmation. He nodded, then stood up leaving a bloody hand print on the floor. Once he gained his feet, he stupidly wiped a sleeve across the bottom of his nose making a mess of his face.

‘The Commander wants to see you.’ He gritted, nasally.

Faiths eyes twinkled at the sound and Kennedy dropped her amused gaze to the floor. Buffy pressed her lips together so she wouldn’t laugh at the ridiculous noise. The silence up front hadn’t stopped Dawn from snorting a giggle though.

Buffy had broken Grahams nose. Smashed it all over his smug face. She’d meant to break it. The crunching sound had pleased her immensely and suddenly the bruises on the balls of her fists didn’t hurt so much. She couldn’t stifle a grin any longer and gave into it. Graham’s eyes were already turning black.

Turning back to look through the door way she said, ‘Giles, you’re in charge. Faith, you’re on point. Willow, Xander, no one goes anywhere alone. They try to separate you, you fight.’ She instructed. 

‘You want me to come with you, Buffy?’ Kennedy offered.

‘The Commander wants to see Buffy only.’ Graham interjected.

Buffy didn’t say anything else, she just turned to follow Graham. She wanted to see the Commander too. Graham was just standing there not moving, like a big dumb oaf. Rolling her eyes, she motioned for him to make with the snappy already.

‘Psh…GO!’ she ordered, with a jerk of her head.

He did…reluctantly.

She could see that he itched to give her a go and had been thinking about it. She smirked at his back while she followed him. ‘Any time you feel froggy, little man.’ She thought at him. One more misstep out of him and she wouldn’t just knock him on his smug little ass. She would give it a serious kicking.

The odd thing was, he knew she could do it, but he continued to press her. They’d spared in the past and he’d always lost, which was why his behavior was so unusual. The dislike between them had always been mutual and wasn’t a new thing, but he’d never stepped out like this. She was glad to see that it looked like he was remembering that she wasn’t anyone he wanted to mess with.

They walked for what seemed like a month and then took a left at a hallway that appeared to be exactly like the thirty others they had walked past. Fortunately, they’d reached their destination in the next few steps, because she’d resolved that if they walked for even another minute, she was going to head back and Riley could come to her. 

Graham opened the door and held it to usher her into an empty room.

‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ She bit out, taking in the windowless room.

‘This thing is going to be a giant waste of my time.’ She predicted, wishing for a shower.

Graham followed her in and closed the door gesturing for her to take a seat at the table. At least it wasn’t an interrogation room. It was a run of the mill, ugly, grey meeting room which boded well for whatever was going to happen next. She’d run the gamut of reasons while pounding on that holding room door as to why the Initiative would be bringing her in. The least of which was, they were going to try to pin the destruction of Sunnydale on her.

Almost immediately Sam opened the door, took in Graham’s appearance, flicked a surprised glance at her then stood aside to allow the two guys who were with her and…in shackles into the room.

‘Well…here we go.’ She thought.

 Sam pointed at the chairs on the opposite side of the table from her and told the guys to take a seat. They did. Both of them curiously sized her up, taking in her blood covered clothing and disheveled appearance then both casting quick glances toward Graham before looking at each other pointedly and sitting down.

‘Sam and Dean Winchester, meet Buffy Summers. Buffy, that is Sam on the left there and this is Dean.’ She said, gesturing at the brothers in turn.  

‘Sam and Dean are hunters.’ She explained.

‘Hey!’ Buffy exclaimed excitedly. ‘I know who you guys are!’

She was sitting up a little straighter in her chair now.

‘Your dad is John Winchester, right?’ she asked, hopeful they would say yes.

They didn’t say anything. 

‘I have totally heard of him!’ she went on.

She ignored the fact that she hadn’t gotten an answer from either of them.

‘These guys are totally famous!’ Buffy said, beaming at Sam. 

‘And they are really cute!’ she decided, but kept that to herself, because they were kinda young, too. 

Dean quirked a smile, cast a quick, shy, downward glance, then rolled his shoulders slightly at being told he was famous by the Slayer. Sam frowned at her, looking uncomfortable.

‘Guys,’ Sam began, ignoring Buffy’s outburst. ‘Buffy is the…’

‘Slayer.’ Dean finished for her.

A smile split Buffy’s face. ‘You’ve heard of me?’ she asked shyly.

She cast her eyes toward the floor then looked at Dean through her lashes.

Sam jerked a look at his brother and kicked him under the table.

‘Ow! What?’ Dean grouched loudly at him.

Sam was really angry. He glared at his brother pointedly and shrugged, indicating that ‘what’ should have been obvious. His jaw clinched, his eyes narrowed, and his chin jutted out slightly toward his brother.

It was all Winchester speak for, ‘SHUT UP!’

Sam, already beyond annoyed, felt it double when Dean pulled a ‘whatever’ face at him. He was missing critical classes. Finals were in two weeks and Jess had no idea where he was right now. She would’ve gotten out of bed this morning to find him gone without a word and no note. She was either going to be worried sick or super pissed. Either way he was in trouble with her and Dean, was being a…’douche!’  He’d gotten out of bed because of the noise he heard coming from the kitchen. That was the last thing he remembered, until waking up on the floor of a moving truck, to see his brother trussed up next to him. Now Dean was sitting there, all googly eyes over some girl and running his mouth. ‘Beyond annoyed.’ Sam thought and huffed irritably.

Dean rolled his eyes and turned back to the Slayer who was, ‘HOT! Smokin hot!’ He was having a major fan boy moment. The Slayer was sitting across from them. The one girl in all the world, blah blah blah, whatever. SHE was famous and she’d heard of him, them, and Sam was sitting over there all worried about school and his girlfriend. ‘Psh…dweeb.’  

‘Well, this was just perfect.’ Sam thought in amazement, and adjusted her gun belt. It was getting heavy. It had taken her and Riley years of working together to even get wind of the Winchesters and here the Hunters and the Slayer had known each other by name. ‘Just perfect. Is anyone even working with us at all?’ she wondered.  

‘Hi…’ Buffy said, shyly, suddenly self-conscious of what a mess she was.

To cover her discomfort she turned to Sam, um, Samantha…

‘Well that was going to get confusing really quick.’ She realized.

‘So, she quipped, should I call you Samantha now?’ she grinned at her.  

Sam gave her a bored look and ignored her.

Buffy tried again, ‘Why am I here, Sam…antha?’ she asked, rather pointedly. She’d had enough of waiting for Riley to get this show on the road. She was hungry, tired, and she wanted a shower. ‘Right now.’ She thought, impatiently.

‘We usually just call him Sammy.’ Dean offered, hooking a thumb at his brother.

Sam-my kicked Dean twice as hard under the table this time.

‘DON’T call me that!’ He demanded. ‘Sammy is what you call a child.’

‘Which, is what you are!’ Dean barked, lunging at his brother threateningly. ‘…and OW!’

Buffy’s eyebrow rose and she tossed an incredulous glance at ‘Samantha.’

‘Riley is on his way.’ Was all the woman said in answer.

Sam Finn was actually a bit shell shocked by the day’s events. When they’d left 2017 this morning, they knew what the situation was and had a pretty good idea of how to correct it so they could finally win this thing.

In the space of a morning the world had gone to shit.

She’d just spent the last five hours arguing with her husband on what might be the best course of action now and Graham had acted like a genuine asshole, leaving Buffy and her people in a holding tank while he’d gone to collect the Winchesters himself.

She really didn’t want to be in the room when Riley found out that Graham had probably derailed any cooperation they could have hoped to receive from the Slayers. Her husband was hanging on by a thread as it was. Graham, literally looked like he was going to snap into two separate pieces. She, was alternately starving and feeling like she had to puke. Further, she didn’t want to be here dealing with the antics of these people who were little more than teenagers no matter how capable they were. She wasn’t in the mood to put up with anymore shit today, least of all Buffy Summers. 

Buffy rolled her eyes at Samantha’s reply then turned back to the brothers. ‘So…’ she chirped sassily, ‘What are you fellas in for?’ and grinned. The door opened and Commander Finn walked into the room. Her entire demeanor shifted instantly. She noticed that Riley looked…tired, and then thought, stubbornly, ‘but that was in no way going to save him.’

‘Hey…’ he said, in greeting as he shuffled tiredly around the end of the table. 

He cast a quick irritated glance at Graham, taking in the soldiers busted nose.

Graham stiffened and shuffled his feet to a more rigid position.

Riley looked down at Sam and Dean and snorted his exasperation. Tiredly he half smiled at them, ‘I’ll get those cuffs off of you if you promise me, I won’t regret it.’ He offered.

The brothers didn’t say anything. 

‘Well, at least hear me out before you try to kick my ass.’ He grinned.

Graham’s posture became even more rigid and his jaw ticked in annoyance.

Sam and Dean glanced at each other. Sam shrugged at Dean who nodded then said, ‘Yeah…alright.’ His voice was hard and no nonsense now that he understood he wasn’t here for a meet and greet with the one and only all-powerful Vampire Slayer. Sammy was right he needed to button it up because as of right now he didn’t have a clue a what was going on.

Sammy cast an ‘I told you’ glance under raised eyebrows at him.

To which he replied with a silent, ‘Yeah, yeah…whatever.’ Glance of his own.

Riley gestured at Graham to take their cuffs off.

 Buffy took the opportunity to quip, ‘What about me? Can I kick your ass?’ She turned to the brothers and said, ‘I got first dibs.’

Deans eyes sparkled with barely concealed amusement. He liked the Slayers brass.

Graham shot a murderous look in Buffy’s direction but removed the shackles.

Riley ignored Buffy.

She grimaced at him and pouted, ‘How was she supposed to irritate him into doing what she wanted him to do if he ignored all of her sassy Buffy banter?’

Riley began pulling equipment off of his utility belt, while Graham worked at the Winchesters shackles. As he laid the items on the table he said, ‘I am glad you guys are here, I really need to talk to all three of you.’ 

Buffy noted that he said this as if they’d been invited instead of hauled in against their will. She also noticed that Samantha remained standing as Riley, grunting in apparent pain took a seat.

Was he injured? she wondered.

Graham finished with the cuffs after and eternity and Riley dismissed him, which didn’t set well with the soldier at all. He gathered the cuffs and stomped out of the room.

‘I know you’re mad and have no idea why you are here, but hear me out.’ Riley began.

‘Not until you say sorry.’ Buffy tossed out, interrupting him.

Riley looked at her and without any attitude at all and tiredly said, ‘I’m sorry.’

All of the angst she’d been prepared to toss at him to make him pay for keeping them locked up for hours without a bathroom or water, went out the window. Not that there was a window, but that wasn’t the point. Riley was serious. She decided that she would only be a small pain in the ass, instead of a giant pain in the ass. At least for now, anyway. ‘Alright…then, so what’s going on?’ Buffy said, haltingly.

It took Riley nearly half an hour to run down the situation to them. She didn’t understand half of what he’d said and didn’t believe the other half. He’d omitted obvious chunks of information and when pressed for details, he refused to elaborate further. The entire thing had annoyed her just as she was beginning to calm down and it had reignited her natural instinct to be uncooperative. ‘Time travel and the Anti-Christ. Who did he think he was talking to?’ she snorted and laughed at the notion disbelieving it. Everyone turned to look at her and she shrugged awkwardly. ‘What? You can’t tell me you believe this.’ She asked the brothers, who surprise, didn’t say anything at all.

Buffy looked at Riley again and took a hard look. He’d just told her that he was actually fourteen years older than he was supposed to be. He looked stressed and he did look…older, but that could just be fatigue, she reasoned. She looked at Samantha who had crow’s feet and wisps of grey through her hair.

‘No way!’ her brain denied again.

Dean, having learned his lesson, kept his mouth shut, was thinking, ‘Time travel? Psh…who does this guy think he’s talking to? It’s crap!’ He cast an amused glance at Sam, and shrugged dismissively.

 Sam knew exactly what his brother was thinking, same as him, ‘Armageddon…crap.’

Buffy, having had enough of the subterfuge, decided to take matters into hand.

‘Riley,’ she began, pulling a hand tiredly through her hair ‘It’s been a really long day, enough already. Just, tell us what you want. Or, at least…tell us the truth this time.’ She insisted.

Riley just stared in challenge, waiting for her to accept what he’d told her as fact. He knew all he needed to do was wait her out. He held her gaze as he waited and it was hard not to look away but he held on. There’d been a time when that stubborn, defiant, glint in her incredible green eyes would heat his core and he couldn’t wait to get her alone for a while. He lost the eye contact battle with that thought and dropped his gaze to the table in front of him. To cover it, he sighed and shifted in his chair.

Buffy looked at Dean and said, ‘I’m not sure if you will believe any of this or not, because for some reason neither of you are talking, but today my boyfriend, my home, and my friends were swallowed up by the Sunnydale Hell Mouth. Do you even know what a Hell Mouth is? Never mind. The point is, I’m tired, grief-stricken, probably suffering from PTSD, I need a shower and I got stabbed…clean through.’ She said, pointing to the wound in her side. 

‘Get the picture?’ she asked them.

She got nothing from them in return. ‘Shock.’

‘Fine.’ She went on. ‘I’m all out of patience with trying to understand any of this. So, I just want to apologize to you both about this beforehand. Okay?’ Nothing from either brother still. ‘Alright then, don’t say I didn’t warn you.’ Pulling in a huge lung full of air she turned to Riley and blasted him, ‘TELL ME…IN ENGLISH…WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON! I JUST AVERTED THE APOCOLYPSE! YOU WERE LATE…BUT YOU SAW IT! SPIKE IS DEAD!  HE DIED SO HE COULD FINISH IT! SO WHY ARE WE HERE AND WHAT IS WITH ALL THE CRYPTIC?’

By the time she’d finished she was standing, palms flat on the table leaned half way across it. All of the men in the room were leaning away from her and were wearing uncertain expressions. Graham burst into the room and Riley held up his hand to stay the man at the door.

Samantha had given in to the grin she’d been trying to stifle at the beginning of the outburst for only a second. She had the stoic expression she’d worn most of the day, immediately back in place at the news that Spike was dead and that, “he’d been the one to finish it.” By the time Graham had burst into the room a sense of foreboding had overtaken her. If it was true about Spike, they had their answer to why everything was utter chaos. She wasn’t sure that Riley had picked up on all of what was being said throughout Buffy’s outburst.

‘Buffy, say that again.’ She asked, moving to stand next to her husband.

‘Say what again?’ Buffy asked. She’d nearly gone full Wax-On Slayer, just now. These people better get their listening ears on. She wasn’t in the mood to repeat herself all night. ‘Geeze.’

‘Please explain about Spike. Say that part again.’ Sam requested.

Feeling more self-conscious instead of annoyed now that she realized that she was going to have to explain more indepth, she stammered, ‘Oh. Well, Spike…okay, look…Spike, he’s my boyfriend okay and I just found the courage to love him. So, he was an EVIL Vampire, but he fought for his soul and got it back so he would be good enough for me to love him.’ She babbled, then shrugged awkwardly.

They stared at her; consternation clearly written on their faces.

Seeing that they didn’t understand, she haltingly continued, ‘See, he wore Angels champion necklace and died to save all of our asses in an inferno that we barely escaped from. He’s dead. Anya too, and countless others. He saved us all. See? He’s a hero…a champion.’ she finished, matter of factly, love and pride making her voice stronger by the time she’d finished. The tears she’d been forcing back all day reappeared and brimmed bright in her eyes threatening to spill over her lashes. She swiped at them quickly refusing to let them fall.

Riley, in a flash, understood that he, being consumed with the events of the last several hours, had seriously missteped. He needed to fix it now. He turned hopefully to his wife, standing behind him. Her expression, told him everything he needed to know. He was moments away from blowing it. Panic had been his only motivator throughout the day. He was on the right course but the panic had nearly caused a catastrophe. He was in 2003 not 2017 and he was going to have to work a miracle. Buffy was traumatized...obviously, and should be. There was a hole where Sunnydale used to be. He was so desensitized to things anymore that he forgot that not everything is business as usual. He’d forgotten that sometimes people needed time. A lesson he’d been reminded of just a few hours ago when his wife had told him she was pregnant.

Unfortunately, time was something ‘…of which they had none of’ but he was going to have to make at least a few minutes worth. It always came back to time. He didn’t understand about a lot of things yet, especially where and how Spike fit into all of it, but it didn’t matter. He would soon. An apologetic Riley said, ‘I…am sorry, Buffy. I wish we hadn’t been late. Yes, there is a reason. I’m sorr…what do you want me to do? What can I say to you?’ he asked sincerely.

‘Well, you can start at the beginning.’ She answered.

Riley laughed. He couldn’t help it. It was time. There was no beginning.

‘Why don’t we start with…Spike has a soul?’

‘He had a soul.’ She replied. ‘Now he is dead.’

Riley shifted in his seat and dragged a hand down his face.

‘Okay, explain this to us…please.’ He asked carefully.

So, she did. She explained that Angel brought the Champion Necklace to Sunnydale intending to wear it so they could defeat The First Evil and seal the Hellmouth once and for all. She’d accepted the amulet and sent Angel home telling him she needed him in LA in case The First got past her. In short, Spike would wear the amulet...

‘Okay…how is it that Spike, you mean…Angel didn’t wear it?’ Riley asked. He was still confused. Angel ALWAYS wore the damn amulet. She had to be getting it confused, not him.

‘Didn’t you listen to a word I said? Spike got his soul back. He went to Africa, completed the Demon Trials and won it back. For me. He’d been fighting side by side with me since you put that chip in his head, but he...I didn’t trust him. I didn’t listen to him when I should have.’

Tears fell down her cheeks in the silent room. She was tired of holding them back.

‘Everything was a mess then, but he knew what to do to fix it. He is my champion. He was always my champion. That’s why I chose him to be the one to end it. I just didn’t know when I did, that it would…end him.’ She sniffed.

Dean, who’d been engrossed in the story cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. It was a fascinating story. He didn’t believe a word of it, but it was fascinating.

Samantha tapped Riley on the shoulder and moved him over taking the seat next to him finally. Her husband needed a break and she’d finally figured out where everything had gone wrong. As far as she could tell, unless they could get to Angel soon…they were all fucked.

‘You are in danger.’ Sam said, without preamble and reached across the table to place a hand on Buffy’s arm.

Riley closed his eyes in consternation and groaned. He was really irritated with his wife just now and it shouldn’t be such a big deal to tell someone they are in danger.

Ignoring Riley’s little family drama, she quipped, ‘Danger smanger. I’m danger girl. When am I ever not in danger?’ If she’d those exact words once she’d said them a hundred times. At least they were finally getting somewhere. She laid her head against her chair back and feigned boredom.

‘You’re in the, you’re dead, kind of danger.’ Samantha added.

‘Been there done that. When, where, how?’ Buffy said, pretending to be unaffected.

‘About three months from now, Rome, Ambush.’ Riley answered.

She nodded acceptance and sat up. Now they were getting somewhere.

‘Dawn is with you.’ Sam interjected. ‘She’s dead too.’

‘We’re here to save you. I need you...’ Riley stammered. He was trying to decide what he was going to say and how to say it. ‘The world needs you. We can’t…win this thing without you.’ He finished.

Buffy only half heard him. She didn’t know what would happen if Dawn died. Supposedly, if Dawn died it activated her key. They didn’t know what Dawn was the key to, just that it was another kind of dimension. The plot got thicker and thicker and she still didn’t know what thing they were up against. However, they’d finally gotten her attention.

‘As far as I can tell right now, your death will be in retaliation for some pretty serious action that Angel is beginning to take in LA against the Senior Partners. Or, at least that’s the way it was this morning. It seems that there’s been a major, ‘disturbance in the force’ if you get my meaning…and, this time it looks like it’s Angel’s fault.’ Riley explained.

 ‘No, I’m not getting you, at all. You still haven’t told me anything substantial and we have been in here forever. I don’t understand any of this. Why do I have to keep saying that to you…and, retaliation for what?’ she complained.

Riley started to say something, but Sam stopped him, and moving him out of the way said, ‘My turn. Buffy, can’t you see what’s happened?’

‘Hellooo! Is this thing even on?’ Buffy mimed tapping a microphone.

Then Sam, realization dawning, understood that Buffy didn’t see, because she really didn’t know. ‘Um…What did Angel tell you he is doing in LA anyway? Did he tell you where he got the amulet?’

Riley had turned sheet white. ‘They’d all been duped.’

Buffy gave Samantha the eyebrow. ‘Ugh…’

‘Okay, never mind. We’ve got big problems.’ Sam said, looking to Riley.

Riley knew then that they’d all been duped by the Partners, and Angel was in on it, only the Partners didn’t know that it was them who’d been double duped. He didn’t even really understand all of it yet, it was so confusing. Just that there had been a lot of duping going on the last few days and that Buffy and Spike had just thrown a wrench in amongst all of the duping.

He had no idea where Angel stood in all of this.

Angel had maybe actually tried to do the right thing or he had maybe known what the consequences of the amulet would be.

Riley decided to err on the side of caution and began explaining to Buffy quickly as he stood and clipped tools back onto his belt. ‘Angel has taken over a law firm in Los Angeles called Wolfram and Hart. It’s…an evil law firm.’ He began breathily. ‘By that, I mean they’re there to serve clients who are evil. He’s obviously lost his soul again, because he would’ve never given you that amulet otherwise. We need to leave here right now.’ He finished, turning for the door.

Sam…antha, stood to follow him, gesturing for Buffy and the Winchester’s to follow.

‘Wait! Wait just a minute!’ Buffy demanded.

‘What do you even mean?’ she barked incredulous.

‘First of all, there is no way that Angel has gone to work for an evil law firm. Second of all, Riley, he intended to wear that amulet himself. And, third…he’s not even a lawyer.’ She yelled.

Riley heatedly turned back to her and argued,

‘Yeah…but he didn’t wear it and you don’t have to be a lawyer to be evil, even though it helps! You said you told him no. He would’ve counted on that if he knew that Spike had a soul. How did he take the news that Spike had a soul? Was he surprised by it or did he know already?’

‘I don’t understand what your issue with Angel is all the time.’ She retorted.

‘Stop, both of you.’ Samantha yelled.

‘Maybe a Vampire really did dust himself to save us all.’ Dean contemplated. His dad was never going to believe any of this. One look at Sammy confirmed that he didn’t believe any of it. He wondered how many Vampires with souls there were in the world. He wasn’t buying any of this time travel bit either. He shifted in his chair to look at Sammy. He couldn’t believe he was going to do this.

Sammy saw it and shot him a warning look, but he ignored it. 

‘So…what are we doing here, then?’ he said, interrupting the argument that was going on. ‘What is it that you want from us? As far as I can tell, you people don’t have half a clue as to what’s going on, or what to do about it. I’m sorry, but I ain’t buying all this crap about time travel and Vampires with souls either. Do you people think we were born yesterday? As far as I’m concerned you people are all loony. So, tell us what you want and let us out of here. Sammy’s got school and if you can’t tell he is just itching to get back there!’ Dean said, pulling his mouth together in irritation and throwing his hand in the air.  He’d lost his patience entirely with these nut jobs.

Buffy gestured at Dean and said, ‘I’m with him. Mostly on time travel.’

Turning to Dean she said, ‘The whole Vampire soul thing…it’s totally true.’

‘Whatever.’ Dean answered, waving a hand at her dismissively.

Riley needed to convince these three of the reality of the Universe in the next few minutes. He scrambled through his tumultuous brain searching for an answer and explanation that would get them on board. Suddenly he knew. Sitting back down at the table he pulled a phone out of his vest pocket and slid it across the table to Buffy.

‘Call me.’ He instructed. ‘Put it on speaker.’

‘For God sake.’ She grumbled.

She snatched up the phone, flipped it open and dialed the number by heart.

It rang four times, the usual.

‘Hello!’ the person on the other end of the phone yelled.

It was Riley, who was sitting across the table from her.

‘It’s Buffy.’ She said into the phone, nonplussed.

‘Oh my God Buffy, just…we are almost there, hang on! Just hang on!’

‘Riley, let me speak to Sam.’ She said, shaken.

‘Hello!’ Sam yelled into the phone.

‘Sam, it’s Buffy. Tell me the first thing you ever said to me.’

Sam in this time line stood across from her nodding.

‘What?’ Sam on the phone asked, confused.

‘Tell me…the first thing you ever said to me.’ Buffy said louder.

‘OH! Sorry, I couldn’t hear you. I, ugh, I asked you ugh, ‘what exactly are you doing with my husband?’ She said, quickly.

 ‘Put Riley back on, Sam.’ Buffy said.

‘I’m here.’ Riley said taking the phone. ‘We’re only an hour out, Buffy. Just wait for us to get there and we can help you.’

‘Tell me what happened in the library at UC Sunnydale when we met.’

‘What does that have to do with anything?’ Riley asked.

‘Just tell me.’ She pushed.

‘You dropped a book on my head.’ He answered.

White light exploded behind her eyes.

‘Don’t come, Riley. It’s too late.’ She snapped the phone closed.

Suddenly the memory of this conversation flooded Riley’s mind. He remembered vividly what it had felt like when Buffy had snapped that phone closed. It was terrible and heavy. Sam felt it as well. That was something new. Nothing like that had ever happened before and they both wondered what it meant.

Buffy stared at Sam and Dean. The whole phone thing had been fairly compelling. She could see that neither of the boys were convinced as of yet, but she was. There was no way that either Riley or Sam could’ve known the way that was going to play out. They couldn’t have known what she would ask the people on the other end of that phone. Besides, she knew it was Riley on the other end. She knew just from the way his voice sounded when he was stressed out.

‘I think we need to hear him out.’ Buffy said, to the brothers.

Riley nodded to her in thanks. He reached into his vest again and pulled out a shiny, slim, rectangular box. It had a glass front on it. He touched the glass and it, came to life. He held it up so they could each get a better look at it. ‘This is an iPhoneX plus. It isn’t out for mass production yet, but I know a guy.’ He said, as if they should know what the hell he was talking about.

Samantha stared at him astonished. He was seriously taxing her patience.

‘Anyway…’ he continued sheepishly, ‘This is the phone that I use every day and short of using The Powers That Be to take you to 2017 to prove time travel to you this will do nicely. Now, it won’t work exactly the way it is supposed to here in 2003 because there isn’t a network to support it yet, let alone a wi-fi connection, but pretty much, it’s just like having a computer in your pocket.’ Riley began pushing the tiny pictures on the screen. He showed them photos of all kinds of things and places they’d been. When he began to explain how the phone worked Sam-my leaned in to see better it. Riley knew he had the boy then. It didn’t take long for Sam-my to understand the gist of it and he started nodding in agreement with the things Riley was saying.

It was all Greek to Buffy and she didn’t need to be convinced any further. She did wonder why you needed a phone to take pictures when cameras were so readily available, they even sold disposable ones.

‘Psh…weirdos.’

‘Okay.’ Sam said, surprising Dean. ‘You’ve convinced me. That tech isn’t supposed to be available for at least 15 years, so you have my attention. Tell us what is going on. All of it. If you hold anything back, we will know. We aren’t idiots, despite what you think. I’m not sure how you think Dean and I can help you, but if we can we will.’ He finished, nodding at Dean.

‘Well, pretty much, I just wanted you to meet us and meet Buffy. I’m hoping to avoid a conflict with you when we go back to the future…ugh, later.’

Buffy couldn’t help it, she snorted and cracked up.

Riley chuckled and said, ‘Okay, fine I could have said that differently.’

‘Great Scott!’ Dean barked out, then blushed self-consciously.

Everyone dissolved into uncomfortable giggles.

‘Okay, fine, you’ve met us “Doc,” now what?’ Dean gruffed out soberly.

‘Nothing.’ Riley answered.

‘You’re free to go. I mean, we’ll take you back of course. Home that is. You’re in the middle of nowhere.’ Riley offered.

‘Actually, I could stand to hear some more.’ Sam-my said, leaning in.

Everyone turned to look at him. He shrugged, ‘What? I could.’

‘I thought you had classes.’ Dean reminded him.

‘I…want to hear more about Wolfram and Hart.’ He answered.

Sam-antha started talking before Riley had a chance to stop her.

‘Wolfram and Hart is a cover for The Senior Partners. It’s literally, evil incorporated.’ She began. ‘If you’re…say, a corrupt political official by the name of Senator Helen Brucker, your law firm would be Wolfram and Hart.’ 

‘Senator Brucker is evil?’ Sam questioned her skeptically.

‘Who are the Senior Partners?’ Dean asked, diverting that conversation.

‘Well, they’re the evil equivalent of The Powers That Be.’ She answered.

‘That doesn’t tell me anything.’ He replied.

‘I know.’ She said, glancing at Riley again.

‘What, you want my go ahead now?’ he clipped and sat back gesturing for her to go ahead.

‘The Senior Partners are three all-powerful demons. The Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart. The Powers That Be are, to the extent of our knowledge, two enlightened beings that exist just outside the mortal realm. The Senior Partners exist on a different vibration than all of the rest. They control the world through a very powerful and diverse group of lackeys who do their bidding, under the name of, Circle of the Black Thorn. In return, the Circle are imbued with power and they live very decadent and cushy lives.

The Circle are THE power and authority on this earth. They’ve been able to successfully keep The Old Ones locked out of this realm since…well, no one can remember when. Before you ask, yes, The Old Ones are exactly who they sound like. The Partners retain their power through the evil the Circle promotes, manufactures, and sell to humans. The evil that humans then act out creates the energy needed in order for the Partners survival. It’s a circle. See?’ She asked.

They nodded each in turn.

‘And the Powers That Be?’ Sam asked.

‘The polar opposite.’ She supplied. ‘They are not exactly angels. They fight on the side of good. They are not as powerful as the Partners, but there are still people doing enough good in the world that they are able to remain in the fight and help us occasionally.’ She offered.

‘Are you just going to tell them everything?’ Riley barked at her.

Everyone ignored him.

 ‘What do you mean by vibration?’ Buffy asked.

‘Think of it as a different dimension and you have the gist of it.’ She said.

Buffy nodded absently. ‘Dawn.’

‘Well it seems to me the solution is obvious.’ Dean offered. ‘We just go to LA and kill this Angel and problem solved.’

‘We’re not killing Angel.’ Buffy stated flatly.

‘No? Why not?’ Dean challenged.

‘Because I said so.’ She shot back.

‘Look, we don’t have any idea what Angel is up to, but we need to find out. I can assure you that he isn’t evil. You’re just going to have to trust me on that. It doesn’t matter what it looks like he’s doing, he’s making a play. Angel brought me the amulet because he wanted to help me win…’ she trailed off, now that she was thinking about it. Doubt was beginning to set in, and she didn’t like where it was taking her. ‘How…how did Angel even end up working for an evil law firm!’ She yelled. ‘Had he really given up Angel Investigations? And he was what, a lawyer?’

God she was tired.

‘How?’ she barked, again!

‘Well, in the beginning they tried to get to him through Cordelia. Then they tried to use you, but they were only successful when they used his son as leverage.’ Riley said, by way of explanation.

She blinked at Riley several times waiting for him to elaborate. When he didn’t, she cocked her head at him as if to hear him better, and said, ‘Excuse me?’ because there was no way, she’d heard that correctly.

Riley shrugged at her not understanding what she wanted.

‘You said… “his son.” She answered.

‘Yes, his son, Conner.’ Riley responded, frankly.

It was Samantha’s turn to groan.

‘What…son?’ Buffy said, coldly.

Sam put her hand on Riley’s and shook her head no.

Buffy exploded out of her chair. ‘Didn’t we just have a conversation about cookies? How can you have a conversation about cookies and completely fail to mention that you have a son? Further, HOW…does he even have a son? And further still, WHO…oh yes…who, did he have this son with? That’s the question isn’t it?’ she ranted! She stalked back and forth in the confined space three steps at a time.

‘I thought the other one was your boyfriend.’ Dean said.

‘He was.’ Buffy snapped.

Dean was seriously confused.

‘If the other Vampire was your boyfriend, why would you have the cookie discussion with this Vampire?’

Buffy ceased her stalking and whipped back to glare at Dean. ‘You know about cookies?’ she questioned.

‘Psh…everyone knows about the cookie analogy.’ He scoffed.

‘None of that is important.’ Riley interrupted.

‘Maybe it isn’t to you…heh, but…’ she trailed off, nodding indignantly and reassumed her stalking.

Dean thought it was pretty damn important too as he added, ‘He wouldn’t have the cookie discussion with her if he had gone all evil.’

Riley looked at Dean shaking his head and shooting him a grimace. ‘How would you know?’ he argued.

Dean shrugged at him, ‘I just do, man. Look at her. You don’t talk cookies with someone like her unless you plan on being there when they are done.’

‘He’s saying he wouldn’t sabotage her now, Riley.’ Sam said, trying to get the conversation back on track since they’d completely lost the thread to discuss Buffy’s relationships.

‘What do you mean?’ Buffy questioned her, hotly.

‘I mean, that in all of the time lines it’s the same. It doesn’t make any sense that he would turn against you this time. Further, Angel has taken over Wolfram and Hart a full ten days before he was supposed to. This tells me that the Circle thought they could get rid of both of you at the same time. The problem this time is, I’m almost 100% certain that you changed things at the spur of the moment. Well, I mean, actually, it was probably Spike that changed things, but the Circle, secure in the knowledge of Angel’s commitment to you…just went about their business.’

‘What does that have to do with Angel’s son and cookies.’ She barked.

‘Nothing.’ Sam answered, rationally.

‘We’ve always just assumed that it would be Angel that would Shan Shu because of the prophecy. So…okay, stick with me now. There is a prophecy that says a Vampire with a soul will give his life to save the world and he will get to become human again. None of you had any way of knowing that the amulet would kill Spike. You just thought it was a tool to help him win.’

 ‘Okay, fine, they weren’t going to talk about Angel’s son.’ she fumed.

‘At any rate, Spike closing the Hell Mouth has inadvertently changed the outcome of countless battles to be fought over the next fourteen years and apparently that’s a good thing for Lucifer because he is out of his cage in hell and running amuck through 2017. He’s actually sired the Anti-Christ who is little more than a teenager, and in a snit, the kid has disappeared.’ Sam blurted out, finally losing her patience and being over all it. She was more than a little breathless. She felt like she was going to faint. ‘This is why we are here. We need you to come with us and fight.’ She would deal with her husband’s anger later. Enough was enough. She had just dropped the whole parcel on the table for them to sift through. She needed some air and some food. She needed to get out of this room. ‘Now, are you in or what? Because we are out of fucking time.’

‘Lucifer…’ Sam-my repeated, having gone pale.

Samantha could see that she’d just lost all three of them in her desperation to get started.

‘I…need some time, I need to think, I need to talk to Giles.’ Buffy balked.

Samantha sighed heavily, got up and left the room.

Graham stepped in as she left and closed the door. 

Buffy was super agitated. She was tired and hungry. She didn’t understand how any of this time travel thing worked and YES…okay fine, Angel has a son, that they aren’t even going to talk about. All of the information she’d been given swirled through her thoughts. Abruptly she had a thought and her body tingled with hope. Her mouth dropped open and possibility flooded through her. ‘Hey! Why don’t we just…’ She saw that Riley could see where her thoughts had taken her. He was shaking his head no before she could finish the sentence. Buffy read the regret in his eyes. She knew then if he could have, he would have.

‘It doesn’t work that way.’ Riley said softly. ‘We can’t change it.’

‘But…’ she began to argue.

‘Only the Powers can do that and they won’t. If one single thing goes wrong it will create a new ripple. Ripples are dangerous and we have to keep them to a minimum until we know we can win. The only place we can affect any real change is in our own present with the knowledge we gain. We have no idea what to expect when we get back because of what has happened already today.’

‘Then what are you doing here?’ Sam-my asked angrily.

‘Like I said before. I wanted you to meet us now. I can’t really tell you anything because it would change the outcome of too many things over the next decade. I can tell you that I did eventually get you some help, right after I learned about you. I can also tell you that right now in 2017 you are sitting in a cell waiting for me to get back. I can also tell you that after we leave here today, you won’t see us again until 2017. I can tell you that you both put up a hell of a fight today and my main motivation for bringing you here today is to avoid that, as it was a huge waste of resources time, which as you know, we’re nearly out of.’ He sniffed.

‘Also, we came to collect Buffy and Angel and take them back with us now, because we are going to war soon. Unfortunately, acquiring Angel has suddenly become very problematic.’ He finished.

The door opened and Giles walked into the room. Samantha followed him.

‘He’s all caught up.’ She stated matter-of-factly. 

She gestured for Giles to take the seat next to Buffy.

He did. Then, pulled off his glasses and gave them a swipe. 

‘How can I help.’ He said, in his crisp British accent.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Five

 

Nevada 2003

 

Two hours after Giles had joined them, they were fairly clear on the in’s and out’s, do’s and don’ts, minute intricacies, and finer points of time travel.

Mostly.

By the time Riley had come to the end she was cooked and hadn’t cared anymore. The only way she was going to put her mind at rest about the whole thing was through action. She’d stood up, stretched her body, and declared,

‘I need a shower and some clean clothes. I can sleep on the plane, but I would really like some food before any of that. I can be ready to leave in two hours. Giles, you and Faith are in charge of the girls. I can’t put them in the field so soon after today.’ She said.

‘Whoa…whoa…Plane to where?’ Riley questioned.

He’d stood as well and held his hands up to indicate that she needed to stop.

‘We need to go to LA and talk with Angel.’ She answered reasonably.

‘We can’t just go barging into LA, Buffy.’ He countered.

‘Why not?’ she asked.

Riley shrugged exasperated and looked at his wife.

Sam and Dean were with Buffy. If there was evil to fight, get started.

‘Because if we announce our presence now, we will lose.’ He said, practically.

‘Oh, okay, no big, we can just call him and have him meet us somewhere.’ she countered.

‘We can’t call him. Harmony has instructions to screen all his calls.’ Riley explained.

‘Har…? You mean, Harmony works for Angel. You really know how to leave out the details. I thought you said you had told us everything.' she acussed. 'Obviously not.'  she thought irritably, then added, 'Leaving out Harmony and a son is not telling us everything, Riley. Besides, I can handle Harmony.’ She said confidently.

‘You are not going to LA, you are not calling LA.’ Riley said frankly.

‘You gonna stop me?’ She challenged.

‘If I have too.’ He replied. ‘What don’t you understand about being a mark?’

‘A wha…?’ she shook her head, confused.

‘A mark.’ He said again. ‘You have a price on your head. You're in danger. We're here to make sure that you don’t die before you can be of some use. You're not leaving this base until it's time.’ He said, ending the discussion.

‘Buffy…’ Giles interjected. ‘You aren’t thinking this through. If anyone should go to LA, it should be Faith. She would have a better chance of…’

‘No…’ she answered stubbornly.

Giles huffed out a tired breath and pulled his glasses off to rub at his eyes.

‘Buffy, you should know, that once you're dead a few months from now, it's a free for all on all of those new Slayers. They don’t have teachers or Watchers or the Council. Thousands of young girls all over the world are going to die horrible, gruesome deaths. It’s a done deal.’ Riley explained ominously.

‘Fine.’ She answered. ‘Faith still isn’t going.’

‘This isn’t the end of it.’ She maintained stubbornly, if silently, then asked, ‘So, what’s your plan?’ 

‘Recon…for now.’ He answered. ‘Once we know more, we will make some decisions. We’d hoped to reach you both today before…before any of this, but as you know we were ten days late. Fortunately, we kind of know what is going to happen next, but we’re not for sure.’

‘Fine, give me the basics…short version.’ She’d insisted.

‘It’s always a variation of the same thing. Angel shows up, helps you defeat the First and goes back to LA to fight evil. Three months later you and Dawn are dead. However, the whole, 'Sunnydale is a crater' thing, is new.’ He explained.

‘Okay…’ She relented. ‘I get it, but I’m telling you, I know what evil Angel feels like and trust me…he’s not.’ She said with authority.

Riley pulled another phone out of his vest and slid it across the table toward Sam-my, ‘I'm leaving this with you. I'll use it to get in touch when it’s time. Keep it safe. We're going to need you and you're going to need us. I have someone waiting to take you home now.’

Everyone stood up.

‘Don’t forget…May 2017. Be on the alert for us.’ Riley said, again.

With that the meeting was over.

Buffy was taken to a small kitchen where she’d finally had some food. She didn’t remember what it was. She had a shower after that and while washing the blood off her body she had herself a good cry. When she was done, they took her to her family. They were in a large, cold, grey room that she had no way to describe.

'Bleak maybe? Was it a bunk room?’ she wondered.

It was a large room full of bunk beds, but there were also round tables with metal chairs. There was a huge TV on the wall as well, but it wasn't on.

There wasn't a soft place in the room except for the mattresses on the bunks and she’d held serious doubts about their softness.

She realized, after walking into the room, that she hadn’t even asked Riley where they were. She only knew they were in the desert.  

She didn’t even know if they were still in California. She sighed, feeling stupid. At least she was able to tell them that they wouldn’t be in this room for long.

Her people stared owlishly while she stood in the doorway silently, taking in the room.

After a moment she pulled in a breath trying to decide where to get started.

Probably, ‘Sorry gang, it was all for nothing, I didn’t know we were in an Apocalypse twofer…my bad,’ shouldn’t be it. 

She shook her head knowing that she couldn’t do it to them and having made that decision, she sucked it up and talked to her people.

‘The way it’s been explained to me,’ she started, ‘Is we're staying here tonight. In the morning we will be moved to comfier accommodations.’

Kennedy’s hand had shot into the air almost before she could finish the sentence and not waiting to be acknowledged she started asking questions.

‘I’m not taking questions right now.’ Buffy said, when the questions stopped. Kennedy was going to be a good Slayer, but she was so damn annoying.

‘Tomorrow, after the move, we'll have a…"Slayer meeting." I'll bring you up to speed about where we go from here, at that time. What you need to know about tonight is this, we're on an Army base. We're being detained here for the time being. We're not at liberty to move through the base as we please at this time. Pretty much, we're confined to this area until we're told otherwise. Understand?’ she asked, and wondered when she started using Army speak.

All she’d got back in answer was nods.

She thought she ought to say, 'thank you,' or 'good job,' or 'glad you made it,' but at the time, she just couldn’t manage it.

All she really wanted was to lay down and sleep. She knew that Dawn wasn’t going to let her get away with that though.

‘That’s it for now. Dismissed.’ She said. 

Everyone stayed put and stared at her. It was unnerving.

‘Faith, Willow, Xander, and Dawn…Giles and I want to see you please.’ Buffy said, hoping that would get the others moving, then turned to go back out the same door she had come through.

When she opened the door a guard snapped to attention. ‘Ma’am. Is there something I can do for you?’ he’d asked, succinctly. 

‘I need to have a private conversation. We're going to have it out here.’ she answered, then looked over her shoulder at her family gesturing for them to come out into the hallway.

Kennedy was with Willow. She had a death grip on her hand. 

‘Yes, Ma'am.’ The soldier said and stepped away letting them through the door.

Kennedy started forward into the hallway with Willow and Buffy said, ‘Not you, Kennedy. I need to talk to my family and I'd prefer for you wait until the Slayer meeting to get your information with the rest of the girls.’ she said, pointedly. 

Kennedy’s mouth had dropped open in protest, but she didn't get an opportunity to voice her objection. Willow shrugged away from her, then pecked a kiss on Kennedy’s mouth and stepped through the door. The new Slayer was fuming as the door closed, leaving her out of the discussion.

‘That girl takes entirely to many liberties.’ Buffy thought catching Faith’s eye. 

Faith reading the expression on the Buffy's face nodded her understanding. Buffy didn’t have a problem acknowledging that Kennedy was Willow’s girlfriend. She did have a problem with the fact Kennedy felt that her relationship with Willow, meant that she was entitled to inner circle information.

‘Girl survives one Apocalypse and thinks she’s all that.’  Buffy complained to herself. 

Kennedy had just rubbed Buffy the wrong way from day one and she didn't want to deal with the girl in any capacity right now. She didn't know what it was about her that Willow was so attracted to. Kennedy, certainly wasn’t Tara and she sure as hell wasn’t OZ,’ but for some reason she made Willow happy enough. 'That should be enough for you to accept the girl.' Buffy chastised herself, but she just couldn't get around the girls abrasive attitude. 'And that's it isn't.' she thought to herself again, 'Kennedy was Heather Duke! The most obnoxious Heather of them all.'  

Well, at least she'd gotten that sorted out. She rolled her eyes at herself. 

Just then, Willow threw her arms around Buffy and hugged her fiercely. The rest followed and they huddled into a tight cluster, strengthening each other through their shared grief and love for one another. After a while, even Faith relented and joined in. Since leaving Sunnydale early that day, this was the first opportunity they'd had to be alone with each other. The first few moments they'd had when no one was dying. When no one was kidnapping them. When they weren't waiting for the next thing to go sideways. They were alone together and the shock of the day had finally worn off enough that the grief had settled in and made itself comfortable. So, they stood together bolstering each other and being strong for one another while they cried it out.

The guard seemed to understand what was happening and had the good sense to step away and find a box of tissues for them.

When he returned with them, they peeled away from the huddle, thanking him, and wiped away their tears away while collecting themselves.

After that, Buffy and Giles explained about all they'd learned and the tears started again. It was, in a word, disastrous. 

 

 

***

 

Twelve Weeks Later

 

The morning after they'd arrived "on Base" had dawned glaringly bright, too early, and sweltering hot.

After a so-called breakfast, they loaded themselves into trucks and drove into the desert to their comfier accommodation.

It didn’t take long to get to, as they didn’t go far, but it was so miserably hot.

Comfier, to the Army, obviously meant something the polar opposite of what it meant to the rest of the world.

While not exactly comfy, they'd been able to spread out, finally. That in itself, had been wonderful since they’d already been living on top of one another in Sunnydale for weeks.

The two trucks they’d taken pulled to a stop in what appeared to be an actual neighborhood. It had reminded Buffy of something she'd see on an episode of The X-Files. Eight, average sized, single story block houses, formed a square around a central court yard. There wasn’t any vegetation to speak of, but the entire complex was covered by sand colored camouflage netting. It was attached to 30 foot poles and hoisted into the air. It actually did a surprisingly decent job of shielding their living area from the beating sun, or satellites, or both probably, she’d speculated.

They'd piled out of the trucks and clustered around the picnic tables and benches that were set up in the court yard. It was actually covered with a roof and there were ceiling fans to keep the air moving underneath. When they were all assembled, Riley explained that they'd be staying in these three-bedroom houses together, until such time as he "knew more about the situation". He'd further explained that he or someone else, would brief Buffy daily and from there they'd form a plan of attack when an opportunity created itself. Until then, everyone should pair up, choose a house, (they were all the same) get together a list of needs, and make the best of it. He then promised to "see to it" that they got what they asked for, within reason. 

No one moved when Riley finished speaking and dismissed them, they looked to Buffy and waited for orders. She’d had to hand it to these girls…'Slayers.'  They’d learned their lesson about who was in charge over the last week. That was going to make things much easier in the coming days. She’d nodded and everyone dispersed. Buffy, Giles, Dawn, and Faith bunked together and Xander, Robin, Willow and Kennedy were next door to them. Andrew bunked in with Rona and VI and she wasn’t sure about the rest. The houses were clean and furnished even if those furnishings were sparse.

Dawn and Buffy shared a room so Giles and Faith could each have their own. They had their meager belongings scattered around and Giles had his books and most shockingly, his record collection. He hadn’t brought all of his books, only the important ones, but he'd brought his entire record collection. She’d just rolled her eyes at him when she saw it. The most pressing problem they’d had since they'd been in that house, was how to keep the record collection from melting in the desert heat.

'Well…after the meltdowns and full-blown temper tantrums of course.'  She shook her head at the memory.

After the third nearly full-blown insurrection, she put the kabash on the outbursts. She couldn't really blame them, if she’d had the energy, she might have had a meltdown too. However they’d tested the limits of her patience the morning Cho Anne, screaming at her house mates in Mandarin, had summoned her from three houses away. Buffy had marched out of her own house, down the the short street and barged into the house making all the noise first thing in the morning, without even knocking first. Once inside, she flaked completely out on everyone.

‘There’s a lot more to get through ya know, so just chill! You all are the biggest bunch of crybabies ever! You this! You that! You want! You need! Why, why, why? Shut-up! You think this is pleasant for anyone? I'm tired of listening to your incessant whining! SO, SHUT-UP!’ She’d screamed, then slammed out of the house to leave it's occupants to stare silently after her.

By the time she stomped off to reach her own house and slammed her own front door, she knew she was going to have to apologize for her own regrettable and rash behavior.

It was the most she’d said to them, other than the daily briefing, since arriving out there. As far as she’d been concerned, she’d given her last speech before leaving for the Hell Mouth, or so she’d thought. She hadn't been concerned in the least with dictating anyone's behavior anymore. The girls were Slayers and they were going to have to start acting like it. They were going to have to start learning how to deal with things the way she had.

Giles had put up with that kind of bad behavior out of her and honestly, she had no idea how he’d done it.

However, in her defense, there'd only been one of her.

While she sat in the room she shared with Dawn fuming, she calmed down and forced her to acknowledge that she’d had Giles to keep her focused and centered. Giles had helped her through her fears and given her confidence when she hadn’t believed in herself. Maybe if she’d been doing her job, the new Slayers wouldn’t be acting like such big babies.

She’d leaned forward, elbows on her knees, and buried her face in her hands. 'Crap.' she muttered.

The door opened and sweltering heat poured into the room before the door closed again. She pulled her hands over her eyes and through her hair to reveal Faith, hands on hips, asking her with her expression if she was ready to go to work yet. She’d nodded at Faith, accepting that she'd been a slacker and 'fighting teenagers' were her responsibility, so, they’d gotten to work. The next day saw a training regiment implemented, chore sheets created, and order restored.

They'd all been too tired to complain much after that.

All of that had been nearly twelve weeks ago.

Buffy hadn’t seen Riley, who’d been in LA, this entire time, since the morning he'd brought them out into the desert to wait for him. He stayed true to his word though and contacted her every day with an update. As such, she’d been able to help him a little and they’d nearly had Angel once, but out of the blue a freakish entourage of people had shown up and they’d had to scrap the snatch and grab they'd spent a week planning. 

Robin was still recuperating, but he was nearly fully recovered. He injuries were healed over, he was just regaining his strength at this point. 

Sam came out once a day to bring supplies and have lunch while they'd talk about what was happening. Buffy had decided that the visits were more of an opportunity for her and Sam to become more comfortable with each other, than to talk strategy, and that was okay. That was something that needed to happen. During one such visit, Sam had finally revealed to Buffy that she was pregnant, but asked her to keep it between them for now. Sam obviously knew that it was going to become really apparent soon, but wanted to keep it quiet nonetheless. So things had gone in rhythmic, synchronicity for weeks, until a few days ago. 

Sam had driven out early in the morning to deliver the bad news, that through a series of truly terrible events it became clear to that Angel hadn't sold out to the circle after all, and was in fact, going to take them out. Fred had died from the serious infection she’d contracted. Now, Angel was on the war path and for some unknown reason Riley needed Andrews help.

'Of all people. She still didn't know the particulars of all of that.'  She mused, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. 

In the beginning, it really looked as if Angel had sold Fred out to gain entrance to The Circle.

Buffy had never believed it, but it looked really bad. She’d met Fred once and she knew to her depths that Angel wouldn’t have had anything to do with her death.

She’d been loudly confrontationally vocal about it.

There had to be an explanation for what had happened, but when he was initiated into the Circle afterward it had looked really bad.

She stuck to her conviction, though.

Unless he'd lost his soul, there was no way, he would have sold Fred out to the Circle. She didn't care what it looked like.

Riley had then stopped calling her every day with updates then.

He'd opted to stay in LA to see if they could take Angel out and Buffy had known that was what he was trying to do. 

She’d tried to leave the base for LA then but Sam had found her in no time and convinced her to stay and trust Riley.

Buffy had relented, but only because she didn’t want them to lock her up.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before they had answers. ‘Duh…she’d tried to tell them.’  

Sam had come out to give her the full report and instructions to, ‘Pack up and be ready to move in a few hours.’

They were all going to the future before the sun came up the next morning.  

So, here they were smack in the middle of their last window of opportunity and one way or the other they were leaving. 

Ideally, they'd get to Angel in time for him to cease and desist on the Circle. If not, they would cross that bridge when they came to it.

So, she’d spent the rest of the day mundanely supervising her Slayers to travel to the future. She felt like a crazy person, every time she’d thought those words.

They packed up their few belongings and Giles’s books and records in preparation to head back to the 'main campus' in a few hours.

It had been Willow’s idea to bring all of Giles’s books and for all of them to pack a bag and stow it on the bus…'just in case.'

Buffy had no idea who’d decided to bring the record collection, but Giles had sworn it wasn’t him.

Either way, it had been intuitive. They didn’t have a lot, but they each had something of home with them and it had helped them a lot while they'd been out there.

It hadn't taken them long to pack.

Soon after they'd finished, they loaded everything and everyone into the trucks to head back.

They'd spent the rest of this day in a "state of readiness" with the assumption that Riley's mission had failed.

‘In a holding pattern.’ Sam had called it.

None of them had any idea what to expect from the rest of the day or next several days.

She knew she was ready to get off this base and get back in the fight. The only thing there had been to do out there was train.

So that’s what the Scoobs and the Noobs had been doing.

These girls…Slayers were bad asses. As much as she disliked Kennedy, the girl knew how to kick some ass. She was going to be an amazing Slayer, despite the silly nick name.

It was simply fated that the new Slayers would be called Noobs.

Things were changing rapidly. She was going to have to remember that the nature of time, was change.

She'd come to understand a lot about 'time' over the last twelve weeks. What you could and couldn't do with it. If time was fluid, she didn't understand why it had boundaries.

Twenty minutes ago, she'd gotten her first look (maybe it was her first look) at the time-machine.

She didn’t think much of it. It looked like a carnival ride.

You know the one. Its disc shaped and holds you in place with centrifugal force.

They, (her, Faith, and Giles) were standing outside the machine waiting. 

She was leaned against the railing, Giles was sitting on a crate of books and Faith was smoking. It was disgusting and smelly. 

When she was done, she ground the butt out with the heal of her boot on the floor and said, ‘See you on the other side’ and went into the machine. 

Giles nodded at her and glanced at Buffy to see if she was ready to go inside as well. 

‘I'm going to use the bathroom. See you in a sec.’ she answered his questioning glance.

Chapter Text

Six

 

Somewhere On A Back Road In Middle America : 2017

 

The 1967 black, Chevy Impala that Dean called his Baby, flew along the cool damp pavement at well over the posted speed limit. Dean tapped out the staccato beat of the song that blasted through the classic cars enormously expensive stereo system. Sam bobbed his head and mumbled along with the lyrics. It was one of their favorites,

‘They call me the breeze, I keep rolling down the road…well now they call…’

Music always helped to get them in the right frame of mind when it was time to work a case. As it was now, they were desperate for the distraction this case was providing.

Sam dazedly pondered the recent mishaps they’d been through while he stared out the window. They’d utterly failed at retrieving Mom and Jack from the alternate reality they’d been sucked into. Not only that, they’d needed to be saved by Jody and the girls. As if failing their objective and needing to be rescued wasn’t bad enough, Kaia had been killed during the effort and they weren’t dealing with it well at all.

They needed a win…soon.

Obviously, he and Dean had been in dark places before, but this was shaping up to be one of the darkest yet. Recently, it seemed like everything they touched turned to crap, and in the aftermath, they were being batted right back into play.

‘They were tired.’ He allowed.

They’d been putting a brave face on it for a long damn time now, but they were so tired. Dean was suffering over Mom and he was suffering over Jack. Sam suffered over Mom as well, but he still had hope they were going to get her back. Sam hadn’t given up on that yet, not the way Dean had. The only way to get Dean through this was to work, so when he’d come across this case, they jumped on it.

Someone was murdering witches and they’d just discovered who it was. They’d seen Arthur Fix, clear as day on the CCTV feed Sam had hacked in to less than an hour ago. Shortly afterward, Daniella, knowing who they were, approached them on the street begging for help. The only way to get a jump on the situation was to jump in with both feet. Daniella, was now riding silently along in the back seat. They were going to a safe house that was tucked back in the woods along the outskirts of town. The area witches kept it for emergencies much like this one.

The song on the ancient mix tape changed as they pulled into the dirt driveway of a small, white, clapboard house.

‘Gonna catch that train at midnight, I don’t care where it’s going…’

The song ended abruptly as Dean put Baby in park and turned off the engine. They sat in the shady dimness surrounding the house for several minutes and waited, listening to the woods around them.

Sam was alert, but still lost in thoughts of the past while Jessica’s sweet face rolled through his mind. He thought about her a lot lately and it had taken him a while to puzzle out why she’d been so present in his thoughts and dreams of late.

It had eventually come to him.

He’d been living with her and about to interview for law school when the event that they didn’t talk about had occurred.

He’d been abducted right out of the house and had woke up on the floor of a truck next to an unconscious Dean. They’d been flown to and locked up in a military facility for several hours while having one of the most ridiculous conversations he’d ever had in his life. He hadn’t thought about it in years.

Torture, possession, death, trauma, all of those things tend to make a person lose track of things they’d never put much stock in anyway. Further, they’d never had so much as a whiff of those soldiers again. 2017 was already half over and they hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the ‘Initiative.’

They truly hadn’t ever discussed what happened. There hadn’t been time or even the inclination. After arriving back in LA they’d been focused on finding dad and he’d been mourning Jess. Thoughts about the Initiative and some mythical future had faded from their minds in all of the chaos that ruled their lives over the next several years. They simply worked and looked for the demon that had killed their mother.

Dean had kept the phone the soldier had given him for several years, even though it was there amongst their possessions they never discussed it. It had gone in the trash the day Dean resigned himself to the reality that he wouldn’t be getting Sam away from Lucifer and out of Hell. That was the day he’d done what Sam had told him to do. He cleaned out Baby, parked her in the garage, thrown the phone in the trash and took up the domestic life and never looked back…mostly.

Satisfied that they were alone, Dean opened his door and got out of the car.

Sam and Daniella followed.

She unlocked the door of the house and they entered the tiny space. It was one room.

Kitchen, table, bed. It looked like it had last seen an update in the 40’s.

It was desperate for a good cleaning.

Once settled inside, Sam said,

‘Okay, we trust you about as much as you trust us and we followed you here, so what’s going on?’ he spoke plainly.

Daniella explained.

Dean as usual required proof.

Daniella pulled the scarf she was wearing away from her neck to reveal horrible, deep, slashes all around her throat, and explained.

‘This, is how he tortures you. Slow cuts, with a red-hot knife.’

Dean was convinced and asked, ‘Did he have a British accent?’

‘Yeah, why? Do you know…’ Daniella confirmed then trailed off.

Sam pulled a phone from his jacket.

‘Is this him?’

‘Yes.’ She confirmed, again.

She babbled a few more sentences ending with,

‘No one can know where I am.’

Dean, pulling a plan together, disagreed.

‘Hmmm, well, about that…I was thinking the opposite.’

As darkness fell, they lit the house up like it was Christmas and Dean had Daniella make a few calls to let friends know where she was hiding and that she was okay. The trap was set. All they had to do was wait.

At 9PM on the dot, a tear gas canister hurtled down the chimney and into the house. Fix burst through the door seconds later with a machine gun and gas mask. He shot the place all to hell and when he was done, he was promptly hit with a tranquilizer dart.

He comically grabbed for the dart then fell to the floor immediately.   

While Sam and Dean were distracted with the job of getting Fix trussed up, three new players dressed head to toe in black combat gear surged into the room.

The boys had only expected Fix and were now caught completely unawares.

One of the black clad figures produced a glow stick and waved it at them.

Dean had pursed his mouth, lifted a skeptical brow and prepared to say something truly smart assed and witty, along the lines of ‘took you long enough,’ but he never got the chance.

The brothers and the witch hit the ground much the same way Fix just had.

The soldiers were trussing up the brothers as a Humvee roared into the yard.

‘What about the witch?’ was asked.

‘Bring her, we may need her.’ Was the answer.

‘Call command, tell them we are en-route.’

The entire operation was over in minutes. The brothers were dumped into the transport, the keys to the sweet ass car were dug from the pocket of the blond brother and seconds later they were racing away. The only thing left on site was Fix, who would have to catch up to them later.

They were on the clock, with no time to waste.

First Sargent Dixon watched the incoming satellite feed of the park from several blocks away in the safety of the Mobil Command Unit. Bravo Team were liberally positioned throughout said park and Dixon was certain the angel was going to show this time. He’d been right. Castiel just approached the sandbox, in the children’s playground. The sandbox cleverly disguised the door to Heaven.

A drone he’d sent out earlier, hovered high overhead. He dialed it in to pick up the conversation that was happening between the two angels. Castiel was asking if the angel he called Duma, had seen Jack. She’d referred to the Anti-Christ as a Nephilim and replied that she hadn’t.

‘First Sargent…’ Goodman said, drawing his attention.

Suddenly two more angels appeared in the sandbox.

‘Shit.’ He swore.

‘First Sargent.’ Goodman said, again.

‘What is it?’ Dixon gritted, not taking his eyes from the screen.

‘We have Homeless wandering into the arena.’ Goodman informed him.

Making decisions at light speed, Dixon calmly said into his mic,

‘Move on my go.’

He keyed off his mic and waited a beat more.

‘Mark…’

The angels in the sand box moved aggressively to take Castiel.

‘Go.’ Dixon commanded.

The small playground filled with soldiers.

‘Down…’ Dixon commanded once again.

The soldiers dropped to one knee on cue.

‘…and strike.’ Dixon said.

The homeless man had just walked into the clearing, taking in the scene. He’d begun to yell at Castiel, but had been too late. A large metal tube struck the ground and everyone in a 50-yard radius not kneeling, fell to the ground.

Castiel was rushed at from all sides, Jackson made it to him just as he was beginning to stir. The soldier touched the bright blue wand in his gloved hand to the angel’s temple and he was out for good. Well…for long enough anyway, but they had to hurry.

Jackson hauled the angel over his shoulder and double timed it out of the park. The truck was hauling ass toward him thankfully. He didn’t want to have to use the wand any more than necessary. It was a good tool, but its power made him nervous. He’d just used it to knock out an angel for Christ…ugh, Pete, for Pete sake.

Jackson rounded the end of the transport and dumped Castiel in. Climbing in after him he banged on the side of the truck, signaling it to go. It tore off like a bat out of hell. Within minutes they rendezvoused with the Mobil Command unit. Mobil Command had been masquerading as a Boars Head deli truck while they canvassed the quiet town the last few days.

Moments after that, the angel was safe in containment.

They could all breathe a bit easier. For a few minutes at least.

Dixon called in to report the success they’d had.

He was informed during the call that the Winchesters had been picked up the night before and were already on base. They were now in the middle of countdown. Orders were to get back to base ASAP. Dixon responded in the affirmative and began to place a call to the rest of his team to bring them in when his phone rang.

‘Dixon…’ he said, by way of answering.

‘First Sargent, Little Red Riding Hood is complete.’ Was the response.

‘Excellent news. Head back to rendezvous point double time. Clock has started. We won’t wait for you if you are late.’ He reminded, Brown.

‘Copy that, First Sargent. Brown, out.’

Chapter Text

Seven

Los Angeles 2003

 

‘Personally, I wanna slay the dragon.’  Angel said. Pulling up his sword, he crouched into battle position.

The demon horde the Senior Partners had unleashed, advanced at a saunter down the alleyway behind the Hyperion, where Angel Investigations used to reside.

They took their time, calling out menacing threats and taunting the Vampire with descriptions of what they were going to do to him as they came.

They intended to make his torture last. 

Fine by him. ‘Bring it on assholes!’ he taunted back. He was so ready to go Berserker on their asses. 

Illyria threw her head back and laughed, feeding off of Angel’s violent energy.

She stood shoulder to shoulder with him, bringing her fists forward, prepared to fight to the death beside him.

Anticipation of the great battle ahead radiated through her. She nearly glowed with excitement. She hadn't gone to war in an eon and she was going to enjoy this death immensely.

She hated what this world had become and couldn’t think of a better way to end her suffering than in the heat of battle. 

Spike, clinched his jaw, throwing caution to the wind and followed the others. He didn’t have anything to live for anymore and he’d already died once this year.

‘Bloody bring it on, you Wankers!’ he yelled, adding his voice to Angel’s. 

Gunn, fell to the ground behind them. He wasn't long for this world and he knew it. His injury could be healed, but it was painful. There was no way he'd be able to fight with it. He closed his eyes and made is peace, knowing he'd be dead in a few minutes. 

Suddenly over the cacophony Angel inexplicably heard Connor’s voice.

‘Angel! Angel! Dad!’ the boy shouted as loud as he could.

Angel cast an incredulous glance behind him to see his teen-age son standing on the other side of the fence in the alleyway.

The boy was with what could only be described as an army, dressed entirely in ninja like flat black riot gear.

Meaning flack vests, helmets with full face shields and assault weapons.

Nonplussed at the scene before him, he yelled, ‘Connor! I told you to go home! What are you doing here?’ 

‘Dad, you have to come with me now!’ Connor commanded, yelling and gesturing frantically toward the end of the alleyway.

Suddenly, the 12-foot-high, chain link fence between them, slid with a crash to the ground and the ninjas with his son surged forward to take up flanking positions.

Angel turned away ignoring them. ‘Kinda busy here, Son! Get out of here right now! You are going to get yourself killed!’ He demanded over his shoulder, then resolved to keep his eyes on the horde.

‘It’s over, Dad! Look at Gunn! You have to come with me now!’ he screamed, trying once again to get through to his father.

Despite his stubborn resolve, Angel looked at Gunn. The man was in bad shape and deep down he knew that Gunn wasn’t going to make it out of this alley alive.

'Hell! None of them were going to make it out of the alley alive. That had been the entire point!’  he raged.

He'd hardened his heart against Gunn over Fred. He held the man responsible and hadn't really given a damn if he lived or died. He didn't care if any of them lived or died at this point, but Connor was here now and it made him apprehensive, indecisive, and unable to focus on anything except getting his son away from here. None of that would do in the midst of this kind of battle. He was ready to die and take some of these bastards out while he was doing it, but he couldn’t do that with his son here. He had to get the boy to safety. Sure, the kid was a hell of a fighter, but he wouldn't wager Connors survival on Spike, Illyria, and himself. 

Everything was happening so fast. There wasn't time to debate it.

Two of the ninja's wrapped their arms around Gunn who was sprawled on the pavement and with difficulty, hauled the big man off the ground.

‘Hey!  Where are you taking him?’ Spike shouted at them as they jerked Gunn mobile. 

Gunn groaned in pain and both soldiers paused to stare at Spike a moment glanced at each other, then turned and began to drag Gunn toward the end of the alley. 

Spike blinked at Angel in confusion then shrugged…later, he decided. ‘Come on. You know we can’t win here.’  He motioned practically toward the retreating soldiers, ‘…and they’ve got Charlie Boy.’

Illyria placed her bright blue hand on Angel’s arm effectively breaking the magnetic hold the advancing horde and coming battle had on him.

He really wanted to kick some of that demon ass. ‘They have it coming to them.’  He swore bitterly. 

‘Angel…’  Illyria prompted. She recognizing the stubborn set of his jaw for what it was. Battle-lust. ‘I want some payback for Wesley, but let’s get it on a better field.’ she pressed. 

Nothing would have made Illyria happier to stay there and brawl to the death, but her death did have to mean something. She nodded at him convincingly.

‘AGH!’ he screamed down the length of the ally. Cords of muscle bulged in his neck while he screamed out his frustration.

He needed payback for both Fred and Wesley. Staring furiously into the aqua blue eyes of the demi-god that had stolen Winifred’s body from her, he reluctantly nodded his agreement.

The decision made, they turned and fled horde that had taken notice of all of the activity and given chase in earnest, roaring its fury as it gained on them.

The drizzle of rain and falling ashes made the pavement slick and Spike nearly lost his footing as they ran full bore toward the end of the ally.

Connor was there waiting, ‘GO!’ Angel screamed and the boy scrambled into the truck as the trio reached him.

The the dragon circled above the Hyperion which was fully engulfed in flames by the time Spike flung himself into the back of the truck.

Even though the rain had intermittently soaked the city throughout the day, streets and buildings burned freely all around them. Thankfully, the city was deserted, because that was the only thing that was going to save the people. They were truly running for their lives as the trucks raced through the empty streets. Without warning, a massive explosion rocked the area around them and the truck nearly tumbled from the combination of shock wave, wet pavement, and taking a corner at breakneck speed. 

A rocket launcher from the cover vehicle behind them, had just taken out the dragon. They all stared in morbid fascination as flaming pieces of the massive creature tumbled from the sky.

The noise it made while it rained down on the pavement was disgusting.

The truck went into another slide as it rounded the last corner off of the city streets and barreled down the ramp to the I-10 west bound to Santa Monica. 

At the end of the ramp, was a tide of small pixie like demons that ran toward the trucks, screaming a war cry that sounded like the air being slowly let out of a balloon.

The driver didn't stop.

Demon pixies were crawling all over the truck in seconds and the audible crunch and thump of those that fell under the trucks wheels was sickening. They were peeling pixie demons off of the sides of the truck and throwing them back into the street as fast as they could. The little bastards had several rows of pointy teeth like sharks and Spikes jacket was covered with them while he feverishly worked to keep them off of Gunn, who wasn't conscious. 

They were several miles down the road now and the crunching had stopped so they'd made it through the minuscule flood and were now only dealing with the clingers.

Angel and Connor swept the demons from Spikes back just as he snatched two more demon's, who'd begun to gnaw at Gunn's wound, off of the fallen man's body. Neither of the little piranha's cared to be dragged away from their meal and one sunk it's teeth into Spikes hand. He bellowed indignantly and threw the one not biting him into the street, then he wrenched the biters teeth out of his hand, grabbed it by its legs, and with all of his strength slammed it's tiny body into the side of the truck. It's slimy insides were forced outside and the putrid smelling gore splashed all over the two soldiers in ninja suits. A smile split Spike's face when they flinched in disgust, then he carelessly flung the tiny broken body over his shoulder. It splatted on the pot hole ridden asphalt as the truck continued to rocket down the deserted freeway. 

In the now actionless truck bed, Angel grabbed Connor and shook the boy. ‘What were you thinking! What are you doing here? You could've been killed!’ he shouted into his face. Then, relief pouring through him, he pulled his son into a smothering embrace. 

Connor let it happen and reveled in the rare contact, smiling. He stayed there a bit longer then a moment, then squirmed out of his father’s arms when the awkward feeling set in.

Angel, lifted an eyebrow, expecting an answer to his question now.

Connor, seeing that his father was seriously angry, stammered, ‘Well, see…’  then began, gesturing at the soldiers.

Riley took off his helmet to save the kid. He really needed to be the one that explained to Angel exactly what was going on.

The moment his helmet came off, Spike demanded, ‘What the bloody hell are you doing here?’

‘No, what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be dead.’ Riley countered.

‘Long story,’ Spike said, conversationally. ‘You see…’

‘Spike…shut up.’ Angel barked, then shifted his attention to Riley. He took over the questioning and ground out stiffly, ‘What are you doing here and why did you bring my son into the middle of a war with a demon horde.’

‘You know Captain Cardboard?’ Spike scoffed. Presently, the fact that Angel had met Riley took precedent over any son he had in Spike's mind.

Riley’s jaw ticked at Spike’s name for him.

Angel cast a quelling glance at Spike, ‘Yes.’ He gritted, through thinly veiled rage.

Angel turned to glare at Riley once again giving him a thorough looking over, taking in the boyish face and large frame. He definitely still wanted to kill him. 

Probably shouldn’t. She wouldn’t like it at all.’  he thought, and it irritated him. 'Why should I care what she would or wouldn’t like?  

In a flash, Angel’s memory played out the scene between him and...'what's his name'  the last time they’d met. First in an alley surrounded by dead soldier boys in Sunnydale and then again in Buffy’s dorm room at school. He’d wanted to rip the kid’s head off and kick across the quad. Spike pulled him out of his thoughts, which was probably a good thing. 

‘Poncy git.’ Spike sneered at Riley, choosing a side. ‘I never understood it.’ 

‘Dad, you need to listen.’ Connor interrupted, demanding Angel’s attention.

‘Fine. What’s going on?’ Angel humored his son, pulling his unapproving gaze from “Captain Cardboard.” 

Why couldn’t remember the guy’s name?

‘Ricky? Ronny? Robby?’ 

He left it for now though and gave Connor his full attention.

He quietly admitted to himself that he was relieved his son was here with him and unscathed.

Connor began explaining, ‘Well, it’s the beginning of the end of the world. If we're going to save it, we can’t die in an alley fighting an inconsequential demon horde, Dad’ he scolded.

‘There was that word again, Dad.’  Spike puzzled over it but didn't ask, surprising himself.

Riley set his helmet aside and pulled off his gloves. ‘We’ve been trying to reach you for months, Angel. Unfortunately, we’ve been prevented from contacting you during each attempt’ he began.

‘Well, you’ve reached me now, so, explain.’ Angel snapped.

‘When you took out the Circle this evening you started The Apocalypse.’ Riley said, without preamble.

‘What! Another one?’ Spike exclaimed, incredulous. ‘I’m not wearing the shiny do-dad this time. You can forget it, yeah.’ He complained crossing his arms over his chest stubbornly, making his refusal plain for all to see. He didn’t care what was at stake. Angel could have the hero bag. Fat lot of good it was doing him. There was a demon horde chasing them and a new Apocalypse. They weren't even done cleaning up from the last one yet. 

‘Shut-up, Spike.’ Angel said again, then he demanded, 'Explain better...’ of, 'what was this guy’s name?'  He thought again, loosing he patience with the situation all together. 

Rage echoed though him. He wasn't getting answers fast enough. He’d just been robbed of the payback he’d been looking to exact. If Cardboard dude didn’t start making sense soon, he was going to lose patience with him too. The thought that he’d been replaced in Buffy’s affections with this…guy, wasn’t helping make a case for whatever it was that he wanted.  He could deal with her distracting herself with Spike. He knew she could never be serious about Spike. She’d been serious about Cardboard though and that had his demon screaming for the whelp’s blood. 

‘The events of this evening have started The Apocalypse.’ Riley began.

‘Yeah, you said that. Tell me something you haven’t said yet.’ Angel said, forcibly pulling his thoughts away from tearing the guys throat out and heading back to the city to get his revenge. ‘Say something that explains why you would endanger my son. Something that explains why you would come to LA and pull me out of a fight that frankly, I’d been looking forward to. And, and…where are we going?’ He finished, exasperated that he was the only one doing any talking.

Then, the four of them stared at Cardboard, waiting.

‘Airport,’ Riley said, answering the easiest question first.

Angel growled low in his throat, the small bit of patience he’d exercised gone and leaned slightly forward, barely managing not to launch himself at the guy.

Riley, correctly sensing that he was in imminent danger talked fast, ‘I "hauled" you out of that fight, because you were about to die and I need you to help me save the world. This isn’t an Apocalypse. It’s The Apocalypse. The Senior Partners have had their fill of you and your time is up. They're no longer willing to play games with you. They want your dust. I don’t want them to win, so we came and got you.’ Riley explained, and was a bit cocky as he finished.

‘Why did you have to drag Connor into it? I might kill you for that alone.’  Angel yelled pointedly, more because he was angry than to be heard.

‘Two reasons. First, it was the only way I could be sure to get your attention and get you out of that alley and second, if I hadn’t, Connor would be dead right now. He was next on their list and then you. Not just that, before the night is over, most of LA will be destroyed. There's nothing we could have done to stop it.' he explained.

The truck veered hazardously off of the freeway onto National Blvd. not bothering to stop for lights, cars or pedestrians. There were a few cars on the road in Santa Monica, but not many and right now, it was every man for himself. The convoy of trucks swerved in and out through and around the traffic at a speed that would be deadly if there was the smallest mistake. The occupants of the truck held on as they wove in and out, effectively cutting off their ability to talk. At the end of the street there was a dead end. The driver barely let off the gas and the tires squealed as it banked left and made the turn. 

Riley banged on the roof of the truck, 'Wrong way!' he yelled.

'Trust me Commander!' the driver yelled back.

All at once, there was a deafening bellow from behind them. Everyone turned their attention toward it. The horde was almost on them again. It swarmed over buildings and across roadways, not hampered by the same movement restrictions the convoy of trucks had to navigate. Suddenly, the driver yanked the truck hard to the right, over the curb and sidewalk through a chain link fence that went flying over their heads. They ducked instinctively and the fence landed on the hood of cover truck behind them. The fence got caught up in the trucks wheels, tangled, then it was being dragged behind the truck. Sparks flew from the chain link because of the friction the dragging caused and the gun mounted in the truck ratcheted out 50 cal rounds at an uncountable rate. Two black clad soldiers used their side arms to shoot climbing demons off of the chain link fence and finally, the giant troll fell. The impact the creature made, caused the trucks to bounce over the Tarmac they'd just driven onto. They were at the deserted Santa Monica airport. A smart pilot had ignored the usual flight pattern and a C-17 sat at the near end of the run way waiting, engines fully powered up. The hatch was down and the lead vehicle screamed inside, followed by them and the cover vehicle, that was still dragging the chain link fence. The plane was already in motion before the cover vehicle came to a complete stop. Soldiers fell over the sides of the trucks and took up positions at the open hatch. They fired at everything, keeping the horde back while the C-17 picked up speed.

Soon they were in the air, then over the pacific, then circling back toward land. The soldiers worked to free the chain link from the hydraulics so they could close the hatch, but it was caught fast. Graham, taking matters into his own hands, started the truck, put it in reverse and sent it flying out the back. It plummeted to the ground and landed in the middle of the dwindling horde that still gave chase even though they were in the air. They saw the fireball from the explosion it made as the hatch slid closed and everyone who was still with them, finally took a breath and relaxed for a second, taking stock of their injuries and being thankful to be alive.    

After a moment, Riley said, 'So…let’s go.’ and motioned for them to follow him.

No one moved. This stalemate lasted a few beats, then Connor broke the tension and moved to follow Riley. The decision being taken out of their hands, they followed as well.

Going up a short flight of stairs, Spike was surprised to see a small galley and sitting area just behind the cockpit of the plane. It wasn't spacious by any means, but it was big enough for the seating and a small kitchen and a bar of sorts. His keen eyes landed on an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels. Snatching it off the 'bar,' he twisted the lid off and pulled a healthy swallow straight out of the bottle.

He'd needed that.

Deciding that he'd need another...soon, he kept the bottle, found a seat, slouched into it, plopped his booted foot on the seat across from him, pulled another swallow off of the bottle and tuned everyone out while he thought about everything that had just happened. Including, but not limited to, the fact that Angel has a son. Furthermore, If they were in an Apocalypse, where was Buffy?

'Why was Captain Cardboard picking up Captain Forehead instead of the Slayer?'  He wondered, then drank off of the bottle again.

There was some nonsense about time travel and the Powers and so on being discussed. Apparently, none of the events that had just happend mattered at all.

'Prattle prattle prattle…'  he thought, a  bit fobbed off to find out that his grand sacrifice was all for naught but piss all.

That was probably making his girl weak in the knees every bleedin time she thought about him. What was he even on about?  She wasn’t thinking about him. She was in Rome have a grand time dancing the night away with The Great Poofter himself. Which was all well and good, just so'd everyone knows, he didn't care anything about it. He was going to sit here and get piss drunk and bugger the lot of them.

‘Psh…’  he slurred the thought, the whisky already doing it's job.

All he knew for certain was that he was going to sit here quietly and prepare the way for him to get really shit face drunk. Sure, this one bottle wouldn't last long, but that didn't matter. He could get more and it would last long enough that he wouldn't have to be witness to those two Nancy's sniffing around each other with their growling and preening. He took an extra long drink and the song that had been stuck in his head for months got louder. The minute he'd made the decision to tune them out, he felt 'easier,' so, he bobbed his head and hummed while he drank, thoroughly entertaining himself. "I staggered back to the underground And the breeze blew back my hair I remember throwin' punches around And preachin' from my chair..."

Graham came in, 'Commander...' he said, then waited before speaking. Riley got up and stepped out. 

Angel looked at Spike, shook his head, then thought about what could have kept Illyria eerily silent during the entire ride to the airport while the discussion had gone on all around her.

He was having trouble gauging her mood and it was making him uneasy. ‘As if there weren’t enough going on right now.’  he thought, casting another glance at Spike.

He couldn’t be worrying about the moods of a grieving, narcissistic demi-god and Spike too.

He decided to ignore Spike and focus on Illyria.

They were truly going to miss Wes for many reasons admittedly, not strictly for the loss of his friendship, but the way he’d been able to navigate Illyria’s moods. Just now he felt the loss of his friend twist keenly in his guts. Illyria turned sharply to him and gazed at him in that unsettling reptilian way of hers. She narrowed her eyes and studied him this way a few more moments then came to sit with him, while Riley distracted himself for a few more minutes.

‘I'll make them pay for what they have done to Wesley with you.’ she said. Her words were cold and methodic. The she added, ‘You needn’t worry about my actions. I'll stay with you until it is done. It's what he would have...wanted.’

Angel’s jaw ticked as he held her gaze and nodded at her once. He knew there was an alliance struck between them now and was fairly positive that she would keep her word to him.

It was "Cardboard" that was going to be the wrinkle. If she felt Card‘RILEY! That was his name…stupid name!’ …if she felt Riley’s decision making was less than superior, it was 100% guaranteed fact that she'd split off and do whatever she felt was best. ‘She’s a loose cannon’. he thought, not for the first time. He was going to have to make this clear to the Whelp at some point. He looked over  Gunn, who was being patched up and thankfully given some pain killers. Hopefully, wherever they were going he’d be getting some better care. Thirty minutes ago, he knew what the future held for him. Thirty minutes ago, he’d known that right about now, he was going to be dead. Now there were things to think about, things to consider. He still wanted to jump out of the plane and head back to the alley, but he glanced at his son again. ‘Suck it up.’  he said to himself, then changed the subject ranging around through his head when Riley came back into the compartment.

'Sorry.' the whelp said, then went on explaining the "situation" to them.

By the time they landed Spike's bottle was nearly empty. The plane had rolled to a stop and he staggered out of the hatch and followed drunkenly along behind the others as they went.

After a moment he began taking in his surroundings and slowed to a stop. He wasn't going any further. This felt like the Initiative. 

'Of course it's the Initiative you dolt.' he chastised himself. 'You been on a plane with them for forty-five minutes.' 

‘What is this place?’ Connor asked.

'Leave it to kids to ask the pertinent questions...' he snorted.

‘Area 51,’ Riley answered, then motioned, ‘This way.’ Riley was halfway to the door when he realized they weren’t following him. ‘No aliens, I promise.’ he called.

He left them standing there and continued inside. After a tick they followed, like he knew they would. 

A medical team met them at the door and immediately took control of Gunn. They checked him out while continuing to move with the others through the facility.

Eventually they stopped at the infirmary to get a better dressing on his wound, some antibiotics and saline. They finished in no time flat and they were on the move again. 

Riley yelled ‘Report!’ as they hustled out of the infirmary. 

In a blink a woman in uniform appeared at Soldier Boy’s side. She talked quickly and succinctly running down the "current status" on any number of things, of which Spike paid no attention whatsoever. However, after walking a bit further the scattered personnel he’d started to take notice of began to cluster about them and while they walked, he fell back, not liking the sensation of being herded through the giant facility.

Soldier Boy seemed to have sensed that everyone who was supposed to be with him was and he picked up his pace. They walked briskly and followed along after him like puppies.

Spike had no reason to trust the Initiative and feeling the pressure to bolt dropped back further even though he wasn't getting a sense they were in danger. Angel walked with Riley and they talked non stop until Riley pushed through a set of double doors which brought the group to a stuttered halt. Once they were open, the doors were held from the other side of the doorway  and he could see into the massive room, just ahead of him. When he saw it, curiosity got the better of him and he flowed through the doors with the rest of the crowd.   

 ‘Huh.  Looks like a bloody carnival ride.’ he thought dumbfounded.

 

 

Chapter Text

Eight

 

 

Buffy had just taken her first step toward the bathroom when the double doors that lead into the cavernous room they’d been waiting in, burst open.

Angel and Riley walked through followed by thirty or more people.

Her thoughts went immediately to, 'If Angel's here it means they failed.'  She pulled in a resigned breath. Her heart sank into her stomach she looked back at Giles who’d gone ashen. Faith reappeared in the door leading into the machine.

Turning back, Buffy saw Gunn. He was injured and looked terrible. He was in a wheel chair that was being pushed by a teenage boy about the same age as Dawn. His pants were covered in blood and his torso was covered in a hospital gown. Next to them was a blue woman in a skin tight, red leather, super-hero suit. She was literally blue. It gave her pause as she wrapped her head around it.

‘I’ve seen a lot of things in my time, but a blue woman…’  she mused, then was distracted as the rest of the group trundled through the doors.

There was a few staggered pauses as the entire group worked it's way through the door. She pulled her eyes away from the blue woman and looked at the rest of the group. It was just soldiers and Angel's people. She worked her eyes over the crowd and was getting ready to turn her attention to Angel, who'd made his way to the machine when a shock of bleach blond hair at the back of the room drew her attention instead and effectively cut short anything she'd wanted to say to Angel. Her brow furrowed as she looked harder, then thought briefly 'you're seeing things.'

The group continued forward and just as she was about to turn her attention to Angel once more, the group of men split as they walked. It was just enough for her to see a whisky bottle and black leather. Her breath caught she and took a tentative step but it faltered. She ignored everything other thing in the room except the way the whisky bottle swung as it moved steadily toward her.

Her eyes traveled back up the arm and then she saw the face attached to it. ‘Spike?’ she choked, then tried again louder, ‘Spike!’   

The group of men heard her and parted turning to look at him. She could see him clearly now, her Slayer senses confirmed that it absolutely was him.

She started to shake her head in confused denial, 'How is this even possible?' she asked herself.

He 'sensed' her in the room before he heard her. He stopped walking, tore his eyes away from the machine, and looked for her in the confusion of the room. 

All at once the black sea of humanity blocking his path parted and he saw her. She was looking at the whisky bottle in his hand. 

Her eyes traveled up his arm and met his.

Caught completely off guard he shoved the whisky bottle in his hand at the man standing next to him and started toward her.

The song in his head abruptly changed for the first time in months, "To find you, I'm gonna drown an unsung maaaaaan!"

His Slayer, launched herself across the room at him and his head tilted quizzically as she sprinted past an open-mouthed Riley and Angel.

Having reached a very confused Spike, Buffy flung her arms around his neck, then welded her mouth to his knocking him to the floor. She was now sprawled on top of him trying to kiss away the last three months of pain and regret. She wanted to kiss everything away all at once. She wished mostly that she could speak, but she couldn't. Instead, she wrenched her mouth away from his and simply demanded of him, ‘How!’ then claimed his mouth in another blistering kiss not letting him answer. 

Spike dug his hands into her hair while the song played, 'to find you, I'd suffer anything and be glaaaaad.'  He cupped her head with his hand and rolled with her so she was on her back.

The motion broke the kiss and he smiled down at her, ‘I missed you too, Pet. No time for a show now though.’ He smiled cheekily at her, then pecked a kiss on the end of her nose and deftly lifted them off of the floor, turning with her to shield her body with his. He drew her body to his tightly, holding her as close to him as was possible. He didn’t like the stares they were getting and knew she wouldn’t either. There was also the fact that he wanted her to himself if only for a moment. He rubbed a silky strand of her hair between his fingers and inhaled its aroma, gave a small shudder and gathered her even closer to him. In his wildest dreams he would've never expected his Slayer to great him the way she had in front of their entire world. It made him feel like a god. If she allowed it, he was never going to let go of this woman again.

Buffy skimmed her hands down his muscled chest and wound her arms around his waist leaning into him. She was shaking like a leaf in a storm and she held onto him as if he were going to be snatched away from her by the wind at any second. ‘Spike, oh my God, you are here.’ She breathed in wonder, then cried into the shelter of his cool embrace, ‘How are you even here?’

‘There, there, luv.’ He whispered, ‘It's a long story, but I’m here. I'll not be leaving you again. So, what do you say we do a bit of time-travel and then I'll give you a proper hello and tell you all about it.’ He teased in the suggestive whisper. She nodded her head refusing to let go of him and he slowly stroked her hair giving her another minute. He soon realized that she wasn’t going to let go of him so he took control of the situation and scooped her up and carrying her into the machine.

‘We are short on time, Kitten.’ He explained as she pulled back to look at him questioningly.

She nodded and laid her head back on his shoulder at his answer. Buffy was in her soft place and everything was going to be okay.

She selfishly snuggled into him as he sauntered past everyone who stared after them in astonishment. He strolled through the entrance of the machine with her in his arms like he owned it. She could feel his entire countenance howling in victory as he strutted past the onlookers with her tucked safely in his arms. His bravado made her chuckle and it strangely made her feel very womanly and cherished. It was an entirely new feeling that surprisingly didn’t have any shame or uncertainty attached to it. She decided that she liked it. 

Once inside he settled her into a seat, then glanced around at the others for reference and fussed over her, while getting her strapped in properly.

He smoothed her hair, wiped a tear from her check, taking time to let her get used to the idea that he was about to move away from her. When he was satisfied that his ministrations had the desired effect on her, he sat down in the seat next to her and strapped himself in. She reached for his hand as soon as he’d finished. The others, who’d followed in bewildered silence, settled in as well.

Shortly, there was a series of recorded commands. A count down accompanied each task.

Last, they were instructed to put in the mouth piece they’d been given and not to touch anyone but themselves.

After inserting the mouth piece, there was intense pressure, a loud pop, followed immediately by something that sounded like an explosion which caused everyone to scream and then it was over.

Then, the recording was telling everyone it was safe to take off their seat belts and leave the machine. 

She turned eyes that had gone huge with terror toward him. She’d been terrified that he'd disappear during the procedure.

She scrambled out of her seat in a flash, yanking out the mouth piece and dropping it. She dragged the back of her hand across her mouth to wipe the excess saliva away and then she was straddled across his lap kissing him again. She felt as if the few seconds they’d been separated had been an eternity and it was too much for her to endure. Spike kissed her back as if nothing at all was happening around them, sliding his hands under her rear, he pulled her center close enough against him to rest against his belt buckle.  

After Xander, called out ‘get a room,’ he stood with her and once again maneuvered her away from their prying eyes. He pushed her up firmly against the bulkhead of the machine, pressing his body fully against hers, his coat and body shielding her completely from view.

She came up for air and pulling her mouth from his and demanded, ‘Explain.’ then ran her fingers over his kiss swollen bottom lip after having made the demand.

‘Well…you see…’ he began in his way... 

‘The short version.’ She laughed, then leaned in, to simultaneously snuggled him closer, then push him playfully away.

‘Right then.’ He dropped a kiss on her forehead and feigned a thought process to tease back, ‘The short version…’

She rolled her eyes at him.

‘Okay then, my soul, such as it is, was trapped in the big gaudy jewelzit. Someone, don’t know who, mailed the trinket to Angel. We’re not clear on that part of it at all. Suffice it to say when he opened the package, I was in it. I flowed out of the jewel and poof, there I was. I was a ghost for a while, but someone, don’t know who, found a way to get me back in my body and here I am. Shortest version I can do, Luv.’ He finished, shrugging. 

She blinked at the explanation, then saw the shadows of frustration cloud his eyes at her response. She hadn’t meant for it to come across as if she didn’t believe him. She was just trying to make sense of it. To diffuse the annoyance and cover her mistake she frowned and said, ‘Ghost?’ He accepted the olive branch she’d extended and went into a bit more detail. 

When he finished, she said, seriously, ‘I'm, beyond…don’t you ever die again.’ Then pushed out her full bottom lip to let it pout ever so slightly.

‘Too right, that!’ He exclaimed, mesmerized by the protruding glossy pink lip. ‘Already told Soldier boy, m’not wearing the bauble this go-round.’ he explained, staunchly.

‘Absolutely not.’ She agreed nodding, then kissed him wildly again. When she was done, she asked again, ‘You were really a ghost? Is that why you didn’t let me know you were…back?’ She asked pointedly.

‘I…’ he stammered, looking guilty, then said, ‘Did you know that Angel has a son?’ 

Riley began shouting orders into the chaos that reigned around them. They both flicked their eyes to him signaling that was the end of the reunion for now.

‘Later then?’ Spike said, kissing her mouth softly.

‘Yes.’ She replied annoyed with him, unwilling to let him go, but there was a flurry of activity unloading the machine.

They picked up a crate of Giles books and carried them to a nearby 'transport.' They started back to the stack of crates when Riley yelled, ‘Report!’

Buffy popped her head up to see what was happening, someone she hadn't seen before was talking to Riley.

She shot a look at Angel, who was standing with Giles and Faith. He looked...more than interested in what Riley was saying. Angel shot his eyes to hers.

‘That wanker is always yelling ‘Report!’ Spike quietly confided to her, coming to stand with her.

Riley saw that he had her attention and grimaced at her.

Buffy started toward him as they were nearly done unloading everything anyway. She knew the look he was wearing. It wasn’t good.

'I'll be right back.' she called over her shoulder. 

Angel started toward Riley as well. He reached Riley first.

Everything happened really fast after that.

Riley, as was his habit kept the particulars of any operation on a need to know basis. It just wasn’t his was to give too much information freely.

She knew this like she knew it was Tuesday and should've known to expect a surprise somewhere.

When she reached him, he was telling Angel there was nothing new to report, but she knew it was a lie. She could see it written all over his face.

She turned to look for Sam, realizing that she hadn’t see the woman in hours. When she turned back to Riley, he was wearing his helmet.

She twisted and looked back over her shoulder to Spike who’d stopped what he was doing.

She knew he could read the urgency in her eyes, but before he could move Riley waved a gloved finger in a circle above his head and then there was nothing.

Chapter Text

Nine

 

Riley had known one thing for certain when he’d rolled out of his rack in LA the morning they'd taken Angel.

He was done taking chances.

He wasn’t waiting around any longer to see if things fell out in their favor. He was going to be a father and that had changed everything, especially after the last few days. He knew they'd hate him. He knew they'd each have an opinion about what he'd done. He knew there'd be consequences, but he wasn’t going to play this game with piss poor field position any longer. They had shot an honest to God dragon out of the sky! He shook himself at the memory.

They’d watched it plummet to the ground while Angel berated his son for being in the wrong place.

He’d thanked anyone and everyone involved with the creation of rocket launchers when he’d heard the massive beast’s body pieces smack the ground at free fall speed. For the millionth time in the twelve weeks since they'd been in LA he’d thought, ‘I’m going to be a father…’  as it rained down, splattering the ground. The mantra had been on loop and one way or the other, he was going to give his child a world that was free of monsters and god damned dragons. A world in which his son had two parents who could focus on being parents, not demon horde slayers!

‘Or daughter.’ He’d reminded himself, belatedly.

He and Sam had fought hard and dirty. They’d sacrificed their youth, and had given up the best years of their lives to ensure the safety of strangers.

He was done with it.

He was going to finish this damn thing once and for all and he didn’t want to hear anymore arguments, or suggestions, or ideas about how if they stayed and fought, maybe they'd win this thing.

He wasn't going to think of the thousands of lives they could save…'maybe.’ 

‘Nope.’ 

He only cared about one life at this point and 'maybe,' wasn’t good enough.

All of the years they’d put in and they’d never asked for anything in return for their sacrifice. They did the work because it needed to be done. They didn’t own a home or take vacations, because the god damned evil never took vacations. Hell, he’d never even seen his wife in a dress. It was time that Sam was compensated for everything that she’d put on hold.

Baby Finn, was the beginning of the end, for Lucifer and the rest of the evil.

He’d been the one to make the decision to do whatever it took to destroy the deeply embedded power structure on Earth and they were all just going to have to live with it. Going after Buffy and Angel, had been an iffy decision, but necessary for the win because he knew he could count on them to fight. However, Buffy had already begun to exert her authority over the others and they were backing her. It wouldn’t have taken her long to gain complete control of his mission and he couldn't allow that. In the future, they'd have to come understand that she wasn’t the one in charge here. He was. 

The niggling apprehension and guilt he’d felt over what he’d done, was immediately over ridden by the fleeting thought that he should've listened to Graham, who'd suggested that everyone go into containment the day they arrived on base. If he'd listened to Graham to begin with, he was certain, well, maybe he was certain...he wouldn’t be feeling so conflicted about his choices now.

‘You did it for Sam’s peace of mind.’ He reminded himself.

Riley recalled the moment he'd walked past Buffy, into the middle of the room, pulled on his helmet and gave the signal for the rest of Alpha to follow suit. When they had, he waved the go-ahead finger, high in the air over his head and instantly everyone in the room not wearing the specialized helmet dropped to the floor. Everyone. Vampires, demi-gods, humans…everyone. The wands were amazing tech and had saved them a bucketful of headaches. Graham had called "all clear" and Alpha team pulled their helmets off and got to work. He only had two hours at the most to get everyone loaded, so, containment would have to wait until later. Which was why, if he'd listened to Graham, they wouldn't have been so pressed for time. He remembered thinking that, the were "lucky to be dealing with only these few,"  as they worked feverishly, pulling flight suits onto the prone bodies of the few who were unconscious. Almost everyone, including Sam, had been travel-ready (in containment) and loaded before mid-afternoon that day.

In total, he had three deep space ships. One of which he was loading now. The other two had been in orbit for months already.

The Initiative, in partnership with SpaceX, and The Powers That Be, had spent the last twenty months traveling through time and across the world, acquiring all of the girls who'd become Slayers in an instant. It had been a massive undertaking and had sapped nearly all of the Powers remaining strength, but it was done and his army was safe. Riley preferred the word acquire. It had a better connotation to it than the word kidnap, but essentially, that is what he’d done with the help of the Powers, Elon, and the rest of the Initiative. Each ship that SpaceX had provided to the Initiative had hundreds of Slayers on board and none of them had come willingly. There simply hadn’t been time for the conversations it would take to convince that many people that the world and their lives were in eminent danger. The actual number of Slayers on each ship was closer to a thousand. There were few hundred other personnel on board as well. Pilots, engineers, mechanics, doctors, actual rocket scientists, regular crew, techs, and plain old civilians made up the nearly 1500 passengers that were on board. It would have taken years that he didn’t have to convince that many people he wasn’t crazy. So, he used what he did have. Man power, motivated people, and ships.

‘Use what you have.’ He’d thought, dragging a cryo-tube out of storage.

Most of the civilians on board had been bargained for by his crew and technical people. It was easier to get people to do what you wanted them to do, if they were happy. Unfortunately, that extended only to the technical people. There weren’t adequate facilities or resources to bring 1000 families on board. That was going to be a problem for him later, but the Slayers would understand once they were back on Earth.

‘They'd see there'd been no way around it.’ He thought, but still unconvinced. 

Chances were, their families would still be alive since the war wouldn’t begin in earnest for a month or so once they arrived back on the planet’s surface. He just needed to keep the Slayers safe, until then. So, that was what he was doing. Keeping these Slayers safe and protected for the next three years before the war began. Furthermore, he and his men would get the rest they needed. The Powers would have the rest they desperately needed and everyone would be ready and able to fight when he returned them to the surface. That's what was important. He had everything he needed to win now. If he kept reminding himself of that, he'd be okay. 

‘No one on Earth will be expecting us.’ He defended himself.

The Senior Partners will think they’ve won and in the mean time they would all sleep for the two years needed, in order to accommodate their resources, food, water, air, and after those two years were up, he and Buffy would train this army and plan a strategy for the remaining year in the safety of space. It was a perfect plan. With this army, he was going to take out The Partners, the Old Ones, Satan and his kid…‘All of them.’  He vowed, finally able to step past his guilt. When they were all dead and he was finally done, the Earth would at long last be a place for humans to live and raise families in peace. Then, and only then, he'd wake up his wife and they'd raise their child. He was going to use every single resource he had to make it happen and that meant for now, they all had to sleep. His wife and child would sleep and be safe while he prepared a place for them.

This...was his mission now.

Graham had helped, while Riley stripped Angels clothes off of him, then struggled to load the Vampire into his tube. He was huge and weighed a ton. They really had no way of knowing what the effects of g-force, no oxygen, zero gravity, and cryo would be on a Vampire living frozen in space for the next three years, but they didn’t have time to debate it, much less research it so in a tube he went.

This was a learn as you go type of situation. 

Riley had seen Graham lose his patience after losing his balance for a second time while attempting to hoist Angel gently into a tube. His second in command jerked the big vamp off of the floor, then unceremoniously dump him into the tube instead. He didn't take any time to arrange Angel's limbs into a comfortable position either, just left them all akimbo leaving Riley to situate him, then attach the monitor leads. He stomped across the compartment and went to work on Illyria's leather jumpsuit next, unlacing the blue demi-god’s red leather bustier. Having deciding there wasn’t time to mess with it, he pulled out his knife and ran it through the laces, letting it fall away.

‘Graham…’ Riley scolded, shaking his head no. 

Graham, had shot an annoyed glance at him, but put the knife away. Then, with difficulty, he'd pulled all of the leather off, put the clothes in a vac-bag, then after sealing it, rested the bag between her feet and closed the lid on her tube. Graham had been with Riley since the beginning and Riley could see that the stress of the job it was starting to take its toll on his friend. The soldier had been his right hand for a long time and was in need of this rest as much as Riley was. He'd been concerned about his friend, but hadn't understood why until Sam had taken the time to explain it to him. They'd had a long talk after the incident in which he’d left Buffy’s people in a holding cell for hours and hours. Riley had been genuinely perplexed over that incident. His wife had explained that people got comfortable in a position over time and began thinking they were the only one who knew what was best in certain situations. 

‘Sam had been right. She was always right.’  He mused as he worked.

Graham had been taking certain liberties instead of following orders or anticipating Riley's wishes and he didn’t really know what to do about it. Another reason he was relieved they were finally going to get this break. Maybe after the long rest, Graham would be more like himself. Riley thought through a few other incidents and came out of the thoughts knowing deep down that the last thing he wanted, was to lose Graham to the suck. He relied too heavily on him...'maybe that was a part of the problem.'  he considered.

Riley had thanked Graham for helping him drag Angel’s tube to the charging portal, then said, 'If you can bring her on your own, we'll do Illyria’s tube next.'

'Sure, I got it.' Graham said.

While Riley had programmed the settings on Angels tube. He remembered beginning to feel pretty damn excited, because they were almost done. While he'd waited for Angels tube to pressurize, he’d thought about the first time he encountered Elon. Elon Musk was a simple guy for all that he was intensely curious and driven about literally everything. The man was a Bonafide genius, no doubt about that.

‘Furthermore, he’s insanely wealthy.’ He’d thought, double checking settings.

Elon was so smart that Riley wasn’t 100% sure that he was fully human. The pair of them had hit it off instantaneously.

They weren’t best friends or anything like that, they just understood each other.

Riley understood what Elon’s intentions were straight away, because they'd been the same as his.

He'd been Team E, ever sense hearing the first plans Elon had to take over the planet and run the bad guys clear out of the system. Elon was passionate about a lot of things but he had dedicated himself to saving the planet while moving humanity into the future. Unfortunately, the problem Elon kept running into, was that the planet and therefore the governing structure was overrun with demons. He couldn’t make any progress because of it and it disgusted him.

Clyde Rossum, sprang to Riley's mind now as well. Clyde Rossum, was a shyster and everything that was wrong with the world. He'd been responsible for the development of the Dollhouse, through the Rossum Corporation. Rossum was a start-up that Elon had been involved with, when he’d just been setting out in the world. Once Elon learned the truth and understood what its purpose was, he’d been just as disgusted as Riley, but by then it was too late. He was in too deep and unable to extricate himself from it completely. When Riley discovered Elon’s involvement with Rossum there’d been a bitter confrontation between the two of them, but eventually Elon had been able to offer proof that he’d been duped. Riley eventually made peace with what Elon had been doing with the money that Rossum made for him. No matter how hard you fight against evil, there is always splash back. Rossum was Elon’s splash back. It took money to do what he was trying to do and much like Angel, sometimes you have to get dirty to clean something up. In fact, Riley had just done that very thing. Even though it would be worth it in the end, there would be splash back. He didn't care anymore as long as Sam and Baby Finn would have a clean place to live.

The Dollhouse, as it had been explained to him, was an alternative to prison. It offered 'certain' people who made serious mistakes, a five-year life choice of indentured servitude in exchange for prison.

After the five years were up, you walked away with a clean record and a suitcase full of money. All you had to do was 'lease' your body to them.

Rossum had spent billions upon billions of dollars developing something called a "personality imprint program."

Essentially, Rossum could download your entire psyche and memory, then erase who you are from your memory completely. When you were basically mindless, they could input another entirely different personality into your memory, turning you into an assassin, or a barista, or a whore, a mother or even United States Senator Helen Brucker. It didn't matter what you wanted, if you had the money, the Dollhouse had a Doll for you.

This thought process brought Riley to the issue of Faith.

‘Use the tools you have.’ He reminded himself again, pushing away the stab of guilt he felt.

He was going to have trouble on his hands when or if they ever found out that Faith wasn’t really Faith. The Faith that he’d put in a tube a short time ago, was actually Faiths twin Caroline or her Dollhouse call sign Echo if you’d rather. Either way, that truth would come out sooner or later and when it did, there would be questions to answer. 

Caroline, Faith's twin, had been adopted by a fairly well to do family, while the girl’s biological parents had kept Faith. The family had been unable to afford to care for both children. Truthfully, they couldn’t afford any children. The father had eventually disappeared while the mother drank herself senseless every day.

‘It would've gone better for Faith if she been adopted as well.’ He thought.   

The 'real' Faith never woke from the coma that Buffy had put her in and was presumably at the bottom of the Sunnydale crater.

That was a long story. Suffice it to say, Faith had it coming.

A few years after Faith was put into a coma by Buffy, her sister Caroline got herself into a bit of a situation, that ended with her owing five years to the Dollhouse. Riley had seen Caroline’s file on Elon’s desk, thinking it was Faith. He’d been corrected when he asked Elon when Faith had recovered from her coma. Confused, Elon began questioning Riley. They soon determined that it was irresponsible of them to let an asset like a Slayer go to waste and they paid the Dollhouse a tidy sum to download Faith. The first time they’d uploaded Faith into Caroline however, things had gone terribly awry. Caroline, or Echo rather, had ended up spending a few years in a real prison as Faith, to satisfy the authorities after the fiasco that had ensued in Sunnydale.

The Dollhouse had eventually been able to fix the glitch that had allowed Echo to operate off script and Elon had made generous use of bribe money to the prison system. As a result, they still had use of the Doll in Slayer mode whenever they needed her. He wasn’t certain, but he thought they were free and clear with her now. At any rate, Rossum was for sure unaware that she was out of prison at this time, or he would've had that to deal with as well. 

Elon, having gained the attention of The Powers That Be because of Rossum, was treated to a surprise visit from them. The Powers were notoriously unhelpful to anyone who came to them looking for help. However, the opposite was true if they came looking for you. Which is exactly what happened with Elon. The Powers introduced themselves to Elon upon seeing him strive for genius, noting that his crusade against evil wasn’t rooted in greed. Elon was a forward thinker and the Powers liked that about him. He wasn’t wishy washy about what needed to be done in order to achieve an optimal outcome. In other words, he didn’t let his human emotions stand in the way of true progress. They’d watched from afar as he struggled unsuccessfully to extricate himself from Rossum and then again as he’d used the money he’d made from Rossum, every cent, to fight the evil in the world.

He hadn’t let his human emotions beat him. He turned with the wheel and used its energy to make the changes he wanted to see. 

So, the Powers pledged to help him, within their limitations, by increasing his knowledge and understanding of 'hidden things' so long as he swore to use the wisdom toward the betterment of mankind, the advancement of society, and the good of human kind. He’d agreed immediately and they’d begun to teach him in that moment, explaining how to get the right people in his corner. He learned how to pull strings in just the right way and it had been invaluable counsel. The Powers were responsible for getting him to build the time machine and cryo-tubes. The Powers knew where Elon’s true passion lay, but once achieved it had to be viable. So, they’d told him, without really telling him, how to build the machine and the tubes. There was a limit to what it is they could physically do, to help, but they could encourage and plant seeds. Because he was a brilliant mind, it didn't take much to get his mind flowing in the right direction. Were it not for the success of either of those things, he would've given up on the ships. The Powers had needed to teach him a few special tips about space travel. Things that he couldn’t have yet understood on his own about artificial gravity, bending space, hyper drives and that kind of thing. The only thing the Powers had helped with 'physically' concerning the ships, was hiding them from discovery until such time as Elon needed them. They'd kept them hidden from sight while in plain view of the entire world. They just made them, unnoticeable. It had required very little energy on their part and worked like a dream.

Riley had been stunned when Elon had explained how much time it would take for the ship's to leave Earth’s atmosphere. It only took the Space Shuttle about eight and a half minutes to break Earth’s atmosphere and reach close earth orbit. Elon’s ships were much, much larger, huge, in actuality. It would take 15 to 17 minutes depending on weight and two minutes was an eternity when considering Earth's rotation. It was imperative they left on time and that didn't leave room for discussion or voting or anyone else's opinions.

The plan, after breaking atmo, was to orbit the Earth once, make the final preparations for an extended stay in space, then move on to anchor position. It would take a little more than four days, using as little fuel as possible for them to reach the moon. Using gravity, they'd then swing around to the dark side to join the other two ships, where they'd anchor into the moon’s rotational orbit. Then hide in the reflective haze that the sun created bouncing off of the moon’s surface and use the ships solar panels to power the ship for nearly the next three years while they slept.

We were at a point in human evolution where it shouldn’t have been possible for these ships to exist, yet here they were.

The Powers had appeared out of thin air while Riley was checking over Illyria’s tube. It startled the bejeezus out of him every time they did it. Something seemed to be wrong with Illyria's tube and he'd been distracted with that and hadn't noticed the ripple that always seemed to accompany their arrival. The tube kept registering that the Demi-God was awake, even though the tube was obviously engaged, and he'd resolved to put her in a new one when he turned to see them intently watching him work. Together, they'd stepped forward, waved a hand over the tube and the read out corrected itself. 

'Thank you.' Riley said, then suddenly, he heard Buffy's raspy voice calling his name, he turned to see that she was awake and trying to free herself from her buckled in position.

Graham had removed her flight helmet and then had gone to get her tube, leaving her unattended. 

‘Riley! Where's Spike?’ she demanded.

'What is it with her and that damn Vampire?’ he wondered.  

Being occupied with the Powers at the moment, Riley called Graham back into the compartment, then gestured toward Buffy when he appeared.

Graham turned to see Buffy struggling with her 'seat belts' and Riley had seen as the man had grinned maliciously at her. He'd walked at a clip toward the Slayer and with a touch of a handheld wand, she was unconscious again. Then, Graham had hauled the unconscious Slayer into his arms and thrust her into the waiting tube he'd prepared for her. He'd stripped her clothes off while Riley finished his conversation with the Powers. They'd told him to keep an eye on Graham, because just now, he was considering putting his hand over the Slayer's mouth and smothering her to death. 

Riley had shot a worried look in Graham's direction and saw that they'd been right. He watched Graham change his mind and reluctantly close the lid of Buffy's tube, then roll it into position with the others already in this compartment. Riley thanked the Powers for coming and for the warning. He was going to have to keep Graham close to him. He knew that they only thing wrong with his friend was the stress. It had gotten to him the same as it had Riley. They'd both be better after the rest. The Powers, when he'd asked, said they'd come to make sure that everything was okay with the ships, but after this, he wasn’t sure that had been the reason at all. They were never much for small talk, but lingered all the same and made sure to remind him to group the tubes into family units, such as they were, together. So, he’d parked Buffy next to Giles and Dawn and plugged her in. Seemingly satisfied then, the Powers interrupted him and saying their good-byes took their leave.

When they'd gone and Graham was busy elsewhere, he went back to Buffy.

Taking a moment took look at her still, quiet, face he thought quickly through the major events in his life over the last fifteen years. This Slayer, was a part of almost all of them.   

The Chief Engineer for their ship, Dan came in to check over their work, then announced, ‘We’re ready to proceed whenever you are.’

He pulled himself from his thoughts and finished programming her tube.

He watched as the frost coated the inside of the tube and thought, 'We're right on schedule.'  but answered Dan by saying, ‘We’ve just finished up.’

Dan gave them a nod and said, ‘I guess we are ready then.’

Generally speaking Riley wasn’t afraid of much in life, but it had taken every ounce of his courage not to have a mental break as the ship he was on left the Earth’s atmosphere. He hadn’t expected to be so terrified. The only thing holding him together during it, was the fact that Graham was sitting next to him. He hadn’t really focused on or thought about the reality of leaving the Earth’s surface at all until the moment was upon him. He’d been singularly focused on the task, which was why he'd been missing things (Graham) here and there. He'd pulled in a deep breath and got ready for the ride of his life knowing that he was going to hate every second of it. 

It had taken four days to achieve moon orbit. The flight crew had done an amazing job and now everyone with the exception of Dan and Riley were safe in their tubes. Graham had elected to stay awake with Riley through the four-day voyage all the way up until half an hour ago. Riley was encouraged to see that his friend had seemed to relax and mellow as they traveled. Dan and Riley had spent the day helping the remaining crew get settled into tubes, then had spent hours checking and double checking, the rechecking the double checking for continuity.

Finally, Dan had flipped a coin when each insisted that the other go before him. Riley won the toss and now he was the only awake. It had taken him two days to gain the courage to put himself in the tube. It was unnerving if he spent too much time thinking about being out here in the black, essentially alone, trusting a machine to keep them alive, so, he'd set that aside and instead focused on what was really bothering him. He'd struggled over these last several days with his decision making, but being out here in the relative safety and silence had helped order his thoughts. He sat with Sam while she slept and talked to her. He explained himself to her and told her his fears. He said all of the things he couldn’t say to her if she were awake next to him. 

He thought about putting Spike out the airlock a couple of times, but the Slayer would never forgive him for it. He felt zero guilt or remorse for that thought at all, but no matter how much he hated him, he needed the Vampire. So, he made peace with and accepted whatever his issues with Buffy or rather with them being together were. He reasoned with his ego, telling it that if he’d not gone back and pulled her from Sunnydale, she’d be dead by now…so he guessed that was something. Fourteen years was a long time to carry an unrequited torch for someone.

‘It’s time to move on.’ He thought firmly.

He stripped out of most of his clothes, put them in a vac-bag and sealed it, climbed into his tube and attached his leads, hit the buttons in sequence, set his pod to open three weeks before everyone else’s, then slid the lid closed. He couldn’t believe how tired he was. He’d expected this freezing process to hurt a little, but it didn’t. He was asleep. Peaceful. It was good.

Illyria opened her eyes after it finally got quiet. She was still having a little trouble staying asleep, but it would come.

She didn’t know yet, how any of this would end, but the foolish boy had let her see his plan. 

Now, she could control it. He wanted to save the Earth for the humans and he would.

Once he had, she would rule them and it would be just like before.

She closed her eyes and wiggled the body she was wearing into a more comfortable position and told herself to sleep. 

‘All it would require was her patience.’ She reminded herself as she drifted away, letting the cold do it's job.

Chapter Text

Ten

 

Miranda 2522

 

Mal loved being on Serenity. It was the only place he was truly happy and safe. The freedom and safety the old rust bucket had provided him had been the dearest thing in the world to him for a damn long time after the war. The others loved Serenity as well, but they needed to step off of her occasionally. Get some fresh air, real gravity, and solid ground under their feet. Not him. He had gotten used to rationing, rebreathed air, parts falling off of her, and the occasional artificial gravity malfunction. However, he had to admit that when they were home, the endless supply of hot water was fairly choice. 

‘This giant shower is pretty great as well.’ He thought.

He lifted the heavy mass of Inara’s hair and laid it gently over her shoulder so he could wash her back. He soaped his hands and ran them over her shoulder blades and neck working his way down to her hips.

The curve of her back was utterly beautiful. 

Where it met her full round behind, he worked his thumbs in tight little circles helping to relieve the stress in her muscles there.

It had taken him weeks, well…months, see…generally speaking, Malcolm Reynolds was a lummox about women.

He didn’t understand them.

He wasn’t clued in to how they worked at all.

Not to say that once he was able to get one to pay attention to him, he was completely hopeless. 

‘M’not Jayne for pity sake.’ 

It was just the trying…that it took, to get to that part.

Well that was the struggle wasn’t it.

He didn’t have a lot of patience for foppery or making something out to be something it ain’t. Inara’d had time to get used to his ways and she tolerated him fairly well.

Now.

It had taken a while though.

It had taken him even longer.

He knew what his short comings were and Inara being who she was, well, he just hadn’t been able to see a way to it…between them…that is.

He'd been mad infatuated with her from the moment he’d laid eyes on her. 

She’d come to rent one of Serenity’s shuttles from him. 

Which was her job, wasn’t it?  Every man t’ever look upon her was supposed to become infatuated with her. She was a Companion after all. A Guild Registered Companion, at that. Settin his cap for her woulda been nothin but a folly. 

‘Still, the harder he fought it, Dong Ma?’ 

They were always at each other’s throats there in the beginning too. There hadn’t been much truce to speak of between them at all. He hated her being a Companion. She hated him, for hating her. Finally, she couldn’t take his venom anymore and she had moved on.

Him being a petty criminal and chased over half the hell begotten ‘Verse hadn’t helped the thing between them much either. It had been okay for him to call her a whore, but it hadn’t been okay from her to call him petty.

He’d locked that shuttle up after she left and the crew had walked on egg shells for months afterward. 

He soaped his hands again and ran them down her slender, graceful arms and back across her shoulder blades again.

‘Mmmm, that feels lovely.’ She said, rolling her neck.

He didn’t say anything, he just kept skimming his hands over her body.

Inara was an uncommon woman even for a Companion. He’d stared at her slack jawed before he could get himself under control, the day she’d come to rent the shuttle. Just looking at her had made him feel insignificant and useless. He’d hated that his reaction to her had been to have his inadequacies mirrored back at him.

When she decided to come back to Serenity after their big run in with the Alliance, he had been beside himself with joy and self-loathing, alternately. He was still the same great oaf, see? Inara was used to men who treated her like she was the Queen of the whole Gaisi de ‘Verse and he’d had zero learnin on any o’that. 

It had been his good luck one afternoon to happen upon Simon looking up ‘fun date idea’s’ on the Cortex for him and Kaylee. Normally he would have stuck around and teased the Doc about it a bit, but he scurried off to his quarters and got busy with the learnin himself.

It had saved him in her eyes as far as he was concerned.

He’d had no idea whatever, that you could learn about women on the Cortex.

 He knew you could order a woman on it, not that he ever had, but he didn’t know that you could learn what a woman really means when she says,

‘No, I’m not mad, everything is fine.’

He’d been gob smacked to discover it.

After a bit he’d come to understand that it wasn’t really the words themselves you needed to listen to, although that was part of it. You had to listen to the nuances in what a woman says, to suss out what her meanin is.

However, it is recognized throughout the entire ‘Verse that if your woman says to you in a blasé manner that, ‘It’s fine’ you are well and truly humped.

He’d spent endless hours on the Cortex learning everything he could find on how to woo a woman like Inara. Everything from what fork to use, what tie to wear, and what certain kinds of flowers represented. She had graciously put up with his attempts to become more Gentlemanly, until she’d finally lost patience with the whole thing. Eventually, she’d sat him down, got him good and drunk and had taken proper advantage of him.

They’d never looked back.

Thinking about that night right now was causing a not unpleasant disturbance in his nether region. He pressed himself against the length of her glorious back wrapping his arms around her waist and ran his soapy hands in gentle circles over her flat stomach and her incredible full breasts. He pressed a kiss to the sweet spot behind her ear and slid a soapy hand between the juncture of her luscious thighs to seek out that little…’

‘Hey Cap’n, Zoe is back! You need to come down to the pad right now and see this!’  Kaylee yelled into the intercom. 

The both of them nearly jumped clean out of their skin at the intrusion. 

Shenme f! He swore in Mandarin. I am going to rip that Gorram thing out of the wall…’ he growled, while Inara giggled her head off then collected herself. 

‘This is your fault.’  She accused.  ‘If you would let us spread out a little more, you would have your privacy.’ She scolded him, practically.

‘No...’ he said, shaking his head plainly indicating to her that there would be no further discussion on the matter.

Inara rinsed and turned the water off making to step out of the shower.

‘Here now!’ Mal objected.

‘You heard her, you have to see this. Scoot!’ she shooed him smartly tossing a towel from the rack at him then pulled another for herself.

She bent at the waist and wrapped her hair in it.

Mal swallowed.

She peeked back at him, flirting audaciously, then pulled her robe on and walked out of the bathroom and into the common room.

Mal followed, with naught but the towel she’d tossed at him wrapped around his waist. He burst into the room on Inara’s heels.   

‘Dong Ma! Kaylee. We're…busy.’ He complained.

Kaylee blushed and hurriedly turned her back to her Captain.

‘I…I’m sorry Cap! I woulda waited…’ she spluttered, ‘but this isn’t something that should oughta be put off. You just, gotta come now.’ She explained plaintively, gesturing at the door.

‘Fine! Ten minutes.’ He barked.

Kaylee left quickly.

Her embarrassment subsided the moment she crossed the threshold.

Mal and Inara retreated back to their room and got dressed. Not long after that they were down at the landing pad to see what was what.

Truth told, nothing could have prepared him for what greeted him down there.

‘Well, where did you say you found it again?’ he asked Zoe, confused.

‘I was coming back from Three Hills, Sir. I was using The Rim to swing past the far side of Georgia to save fuel on the way home just like always. I was just about to slip in and there it was. Just floating out there. I towed it home, by the way. Safe to say towing it used twice as much fuel than I would have saved leaving it. It still has power. I left it in low orbit though, because honestly, I’m not sure it would make it through the atmo. There are more on it, Sir.’  Zoe finished.

‘More…than this?’ he gaped at her.

‘Yes, Sir.’ She nodded.

‘Probably, 1200 in all.’ She confirmed resting her elbows on one of the tubes. ‘All alive from what I can tell. I’ve never seen anything like it. I was afraid to even touch it at first and almost went right on by, but all the scans we ran came back negative breach. The doors hadn’t been opened since the day they were sealed. It’s the damnedest thing, Sir.’

‘You say the departure logs are from 2017? Zoe, that is impossible. That’s, that’s…more than…than…’ Mal was trying to do the math in his head.

‘More than 500 years.’ Simon supplied, helpfully.

Mal gestured at him in agreement then frowned dumbly.

‘Zoe, why did you choose to bring just these down?’ Inara asked her.

She waved a hand at the clear glass tubes and they all looked back at them.

‘These were grouped together and separate from the rest.’ Zoe answered.

She waited a moment before she said or offered anything else. She wanted to make sure there weren’t any more questions before she dropped the confetti bomb on them. When she was satisfied that they were all consumed with the puzzle she let the excitement bubbling through her take over.

‘This isn’t all of it.’ She said, pointing at the tubes. ‘It’s completely full of supplies as well. You're not going to believe it when you see it. We're so incredibly rich that you're not going to be able to calculate it let alone fathom it.’ She smiled brightly enjoying the perplexed looks the were sharing.

She'd saved the best for last and had everyone’s attention now. She knew that Miranda had already made them rich, but money in hand was a different kind of rich. It was the best kind of rich.

‘Rich?’ Jayne, bored with the entire discovery thus far pipped up, twisting around to look askance at her. ‘How rich?’

Zoe’s eyes sparkled with glee as she explained to them in detail what was up there waiting on them and they were dumbstruck.

Jayne bolted off of his chair and crammed his hands through his hair. He was so excited, he felt faint. ‘How much ammunition?’ he demanded, shaking.

‘Jayne, there is so much, that if we were to count them one at a time it would take us a week.’ Zoe laughed harder and clapped her hands when he collapsed into his chair and cried.

At once the rest of them finally understood what Zoe had just explained to them. 

They had an antique spaceship loaded to the point of groaning with pristine condition, 21st century firearms and there was ammunition to go in them.

They were beyond rich.

The amount of wealth they had with a single one of those firearms, couldn’t be calculated.

One minute they were speechless the next minute they were singing, laughing, and dancing through and around all of the cryo-tubes in the cargo bay of Zoe’s ship.

They’d not given much thought to the tubes in the last five minutes. Everyone was daydreaming of what they were going to be able to accomplish with that kind of money.

Everyone except River. 

River was leaning over the tube of a young blond woman.

Her ear was pressed against the glass. She concentrating on something only she could hear and then she whispered, ‘Don’t cry.’

Gently, she crooned the words as she stroked the glass tube, over and over. ‘Don’t cry anymore.’ She sang, then promised, ‘We are going to take you out of there and make you happy again.’ 

The others stopped celebrating one by one to watch River interact with the tube. She sang the soothing tune for several bars, then noticed the celebration around her had come to an end.

Her eyes opened and she stood up. ‘She’s first.’ River insisted pointing at the girl in the tube.

Any discussion they might have had about not opening 1200 cryo-tubes ended there. Simon nodded his agreement and they got busy unloading Zoe’s cargo bay. They talked as they worked. It was going to take time to open 19 these cryo-tubes not to mention the nearly 1200 currently in orbit. They universally agreed they wouldn’t be opening all of those tubes at once. They also agreed that they would open them in the order that River decided.

Which made River happy.

For now, it would be just this girl so they could get some information, then they'd proceed from there.

There weren’t enough people to take care of the needs of 19 people who had been in cryo-tubes for the last 500 years, let alone 1200. 

They're going to have health issues and disease screenings to deal with. There was also going to be the whole learning to walk and talk again.

Not to mention the emotional trauma of being frozen for half of a millennium.

They were looking at a whole set of interesting challenges. Simon was giddy at the prospect of so much work.

Kaylee got to work rigging up a power source that could run the ancient tubes without destroying them and Simon decided it would be easier to complete most of the health screen while the woman was still asleep. They would thaw her out slowly, keeping her sedated while he ran the screens and administered the more than 50 vaccinations she was going to need. All of that was taking a considerable amount of time.

While Simon did his part the rest of the crew brought the tubes down to the surface, all 1200 of them. They hooked them up to Kaylee’s power source and it worked like a charm.

River had gone around to each of the tubes becoming more animated and excited as she went from one to the next babbling about them being monster slayers, astronauts, and such.

No one had any idea what she was going on about.

The original inhabitants of Serenity had been on Miranda for the better part of the last three years. While this had been a good thing for all of them so far, it tended to get lonely sometimes.

They’d had a big dust up, with the Alliance over River that ended with Mal and the rest exposing the crimes The Alliance had committed against her and the citizenry.

The shadow government had been out for their blood after that.

There hadn’t been a safe place for them anywhere in the Verse.

They were being chased across entire planetary systems by Assassins, bounty hunters, and those blue handed freaks.

Each time they stopped for fuel, food, or repairs, someone or sometimes a whole bunch of someone’s, came for them.

Life had become entirely too dangerous and after Hobie had been born, Zoe insisted they couldn’t keep taking those kinds of chances. 

The boy needed a safe place to grow up. A place with fresh air and soil. They had been sitting in Serenity’s kitchen discussing solutions to their problem when River solved it for them.

‘Miranda.’ She said simply.

The last time she’d uttered those words she'd brought hell with them. This time they brought sanctuary.

They’d been to Miranda already and knew what to expect. They'd have to deal with the devastation of the PAX, to forge a comfortable living space and it would take time.

G23 Paxilon Hydro-Chlorate, had murdered the entire planet and created the 'Reavers.'

PAX was a populace calming chemical that the government had added to the air processors. It calmed the population so much, that they’d just laid down and starved to death for lack of motivation.

Except for the ones who didn’t. 

The PAX had the opposite reaction on a small percentage of the population. Reavers, as they were called, became the new definition of rape, pillage, and burn. 

The PAX drove them mad and turned them into beast men.

Fortunately, nearly all of the Reavers around Miranda had been destroyed in the skirmish with the Alliance.

There were still some here and there around the planet, but the Reavers never came to the surface of Miranda.

It was like they were afraid of it. 

The Alliance never came close to Miranda, let alone land on her. No one landed on her. The entire verse knew for a fact that the only creatures left on Miranda were the Reavers. 

They new that, because every time Jayne and Zoe went on a supply run, they got drunk and told bars full of people that they'd been told by Alliance it was true.

After a decade of being abandoned, the air had returned to normal, the entire Verse had been warned off, and Serenity’s crew finally had a safe home.

It had been the perfect solution.

Slowly with a lot of work, they were able to funeral the bodies of the dead that the Alliance had simply left and made a home for themselves. 

They’d chosen what was once a small eclectic neighborhood of a few tight blocks and large park to make their own.

Once they'd done that, they explored the planet.

What they discovered was shocking.

They knew from their previous visit that The Alliance had abandoned the planet entirely, they just didn’t realize to what extent.

The Alliance left and never ever came back.

What the Crew hadn’t known before their exploration, was that in addition to the people, the Alliance abandoned they'd left the wealth as well.

It wasn’t just an entire planet full of dead bodies.

It was an entire planet full of fuel, food, medicine, machinery, and water.

They couldn’t hope to use the resources they’d acquired in 100,000 lifetimes.

The only thing there was a shortage of, was live people. 

Eventually, they brought Kaylee’s parents out and a few of her cousins. Zoe had an Aunt and Uncle and she brought them. They brought some of Nandi’s girls who wanted to retire. Petaline’s son Jonah was a constant playmate for Hobie. There were a few more kids here and there, as well. They brought the few survivors from Shepard Book’s commune.

Things on Miranda ran smoothly. When they did eventually get stir crazy, and they did, they used the abandoned identification software at the abandoned government bureaucracy building to forge some new government I.D.’s. Then they'd hop on one of thousands of abandoned cruisers that were littered about like fallen leaves and toddle off to Ariel for a few weeks of fun. 

Every once in a while, they'd find someone to come back with them.

There were about 40 people living good Gorram lives here and with the incredible fortune Zoe had found on that derelict, their families would be able to for centuries to come.

Food and medicine did have expiration dates after all and fuel tended to run out eventually, but it wasn’t a worry any longer for the foreseeable future.  

After struggling for such a long time, it sure had been nice these last several years just to be able to live normal.

Just be folks. No one trying to rule over them and encroach on a man’s freedoms.

Long as men followed along the laws of common decency, no one should oughta be telling them how to live.

That was why even though no one was saying it out loud, adding 1200 people they’d never met to their population was making them a little antsy. 

It had taken about a week to get everything ready and then another week for the vaccines to do their work and another still for the testing, but Simon was finally ready to wake the girl up. 

‘River was so excited, she could barely sit still.’  He chuckled to himself.

The girl, who was actually more a young woman, had been thawed out for three days already and her brain activity was excellent. He’d kept her under sedation though…just in case. He felt confident that everything was going to be fine.

Well, he was cautiously optimistic.

Everyone had wanted to be here when she woke up, but he’d put his foot down. Only River, Mal, and himself would be in the room when she woke up. It was going to be confusing enough for her as it was. He’d already told Mal and River no questions right away. She would need time to orient herself and get her senses aligned with her surroundings.

Answer questions only was the protocol until she evened out.

River was sitting on the counter and Mal had propped himself against the wall. Simon had been bringing her up slowly over the last 20 minutes or so. All at once her eyes were open. She bolted up from the bed and started to scream frantically, as her feet touched the floor.  

‘She should NOT be able to do that!’ Simon exclaimed.

Mal stepped toward her, she sighted on him and leveled him in one punch. 

River slipped down from the counter and slowly came toward her while Simon checked on Mal. River cocked her head to the side and listened to the girl’s mind, hard. She spoke English, that was lucky. She was looking for someone.

‘Spiiiii…’ she mouthed, trying to form the word.

River nodded at her and smiled. She motioned silently for the girl to follow and she did. River brought her around to the other cryo-tubes in the lab. She stopped at the one that had the man with the blond hair in it. Only, he wasn’t a man, he was something else. The girl saw him and frantically began looking for a way to get him out of the tube. 

River stopped her from pulling it open shaking her head no. 

‘Ta Hui si de.’ River said, softly, forgetting already that she spoke English.

The girl looked at her puzzled.

‘He will die.’  River tried again.

The girl screwed up her face stubbornly.  

River knew that the girl was going to slug her any second.

‘No…’  River said calmly, shaking her head again.

‘Listen to me, if you open the tube, he will die. The tube, is keeping him alive.’ 

The girl looked down at the, tube tried to talk, then collapsed.

Simon had gotten Mal on his feet just in time to see the girl try to speak, then hit the floor. They picked her up and put her back in the bed, then strapped her down. Simon checked her over for broken bones and lumps on her head.

When he was done, he turned back to River to make sure she was okay.

‘He’s next…’ she commanded, pointing at the tube the not man was in.

Chapter Text

Eleven

 

Buffy was still unable to sleep all the way through on most nights. You’d think that after 500 years a bodies rhythm would have changed in some ways, hers unfortunately had not. She crawled out of the bed, dragged on the clothes she’d been wearing earlier in the day, pulled open the closet door, shuffled through her bathroom and left to go 'on patrol.' It wasn’t actually patrolling, but you couldn’t convince her body of that.

She wandered down the stairs of her new home, teasing herself about the eons it took to get from the bedroom to the front door. Having finally made it to said door without having to stop for food or water she went out, not bothering to lock up. She pushed the button on the elevator, the bell dinged immediately and the door slid silently open. Getting in, she pushed the button again. It took more than a sec to get to the bottom. It wasn’t that the elevator was slow, it was just a really large building.

Two weeks ago, Captain Reynolds had come into The Kitchen while she was having lunch and told her to go and pack her things then meet him outside of Simon’s Lab in two hours. When she started to ask him what was going on, he’d told her to trust him and follow orders. So, she’d done just as he’d 'requested' and was standing outside of the Lab waiting with her meager bag of belongings when he arrived.

‘Come on.’ He waved, for her to join him.

She got in his 'car' and he drove her through five neighborhoods across the north side of the city. He talked about random things the entire way. Most of what he said, she already knew from Community Dinner, but she just let him talk. She became extra curious about what was going on when he drove past the warehouse holding all of the cryo-tubes without stopping. When he’d told her to pack then headed out in the direction of the warehouse, she’d assumed she was being moved into the warehouse. It made since. She’d been walking back and forth between the warehouse and the Lab every day. Maybe he’d decided it was better for her to be there than in town.

‘I have been a distraction.’ She’d thought, considering the reason for the trip.

The warehouse theory had gone out the window as they sped past. He drove just a bit further and on approach, pointed out two luxury, hi-rise apartment buildings to her.

Stopping, he parked his tiny, sporty, open roofed, two-seater in front of the west building, and said, ‘Grab your bag and follow me.’ Then got out of the car.

She complied and he explained while they walked inside, that he was giving her and the rest of her people both buildings and the surrounding neighborhood.

She’d stammered ‘Wha…what?’

‘This way there’s enough room for all of you to spread out.’ He gestured, waving his hand around to indicated...everything.

‘I don’t understand…’ she said, as they waited for the elevator.

So, he explained further as he took her to her up the fifty floors to her new home. ‘We’ve been able to funeral most of the bodies out of this building in the last week, but you’re going to have to help us finish up. I've left The Signal unmanned for too long and that is dangerous for us.’ He moved quickly and she had to scramble after him while he said that she'd be entirely responsible for the upkeep on the building. He’d also said that they were “free to do what ever you wanted to with the buildings and the neighborhood” but he would “hold her personally responsible” if she let the area “fall into disrepair.” The "area" was roughly a mile square and she’d been overcome with apprehension as she had no idea how to begin to keep up something this huge! So, yes, there'd been apprehension for sure, but the gratitude followed soon after when he'd walked her into the palatial penthouse and said it was hers.

'Boy was there ever gratitude.' she smiled to herself. 

While she road the elevator down, she acknowledged that she wasn't really alone. She'd have help eventually, it just didn't feel like it sometimes.

The penthouse she was living in, was huge, taking up fully half of the top floor of the building. It was big, but warm and beautiful, unlike one of those cold L.A. type party pads that were all chrome and white leather sofas. She'd seen right away that it had been someone’s home at one time. Her favorite feature was the windows that went from floor to ceiling and they were south facing. It couldn’t have been more perfect for her. The bell on the elevator dinged, the door slid open, and she walked out into the perfect night.

She’d gone East the last three nights, so she elected to follow the moon tonight and turned West. She was pretty sure that her inability to sleep was the silence she was drowning in.

Any 'normal' person would have said, that it was because she was living in a cemetery. ‘Psh…how is that different from any other day…ever?’ she scoffed.

She opened the door of the first house she came to and went inside. ‘Anyone home?’ she called morosely. They were all at home, sitting in front of the static filled TV.

She backed out of the house and went to the next one. ‘Knock knock.’ She called, opening the door. No answer. She went inside. No one was home, so she stayed.

While she went through the house room by room, she looked for the things she needed. Putting the scavenged items into a suitcase that she dragged along behind her and moved on to the next house and the next one. At the end of the street she went into the shops that bordered the neighborhood and continued on with the 'shopping trip.' She wandered here and there for a good two hours then turned the corner to go to the big shopping district. She needed sheets and towels and didn’t like the idea of used ones.

Captain Reynolds had told her the name of this city was Garrison. He had explained to her that oddly, all of Miranda’s city’s and towns were named for famous people named Miranda.

Miranda Garrison, had been a famous actress from the United States on Earth That Was. He explained that, ‘Her most famous roll was as an aging spurned housewife in the movie…’

‘Dirty Dancing.’ Buffy supplied, cutting him off with a smile.

‘You know the movie?’ he asked.

‘One of my favorites.’ She replied, then told him about watching it with her mom and Dawn whenever they needed "girl time."

They'd make popcorn and pile onto the couch. Half way through they would order pizza and eat ice cream while they waited for it to be delivered. It was a good memory.

‘What’s pizza?’ the Captain had asked her.

‘You mean, there isn’t pizza in the future?’ she asked, despondent.

‘Apparently not, since I don’t know what it is.’ Captain Reynolds responded.

‘It really was all for nothing.’ She quipped. She was definitely going to have to teach these people about pizza!

An interesting thing about Miranda, was the way the cities were laid out. She’d been given a square mile of housing because the neighborhoods were all self-contained. However, Miranda’s city planners had taken it one step further. All of the neighborhoods were personality themed and kitschy. It was making her shopping super easy. Tonight, she was shopping for Dawn, Spike, and Giles so she skipped the super sleek modern neighborhood, the traditional red brick neighborhood, the New England Beach Town neighborhood, altogether and went straight for the Soho neighborhood. She had no idea what these mile square neighborhoods were really called, but this was what she called them. She had to cut through the pastel New England Beach neighborhood and cross over a freeway to get to the main shopping district that was nearly two miles away. She left the suit case she was dragging behind her on the corner. She could come back for it later as it was slowing her down, so she left it and she set off to get the new sheets and towels she’d initially come out for.

Walking at a clip she made the last turn before walking out of the sweet pastel neighborhood and halted in her tracks. In front of her, was what looked like a Vespa scooter. It was Sea Foam green and it was love at first sight. She walked to it slowly, not daring to hope. Joy hit her like a tidal wave. The keys were in the ignition and it was plugged into a charging station. She turned the key hesitantly and her joy was complete…the scooter started. She had no idea how to drive it, but she’d seen others doing it all over Serenity Township.

Sliding onto the scooter, she mimicked what she’d seen over the last few weeks and for the next hour, she taught herself to drive.

When she felt confident enough, she took herself to the Mall, for lack of a better description, and got the sheets and towels she’d been after. She also picked up a few outfits, some odds and ends and a bigger suitcase. It occurred to her as she was leaving, that she needed helmets. She picked out a sparkly lavender one, for the pure joy of it, and a fire engine red one.

She was done for now.

Dragging the suitcase behind the scooter she swung back to where she’d abandoned the other one, transferred everything she’d gathered into the larger case, then drove her new…new to her…scooter home. The sun was beginning to come up as she arrived back at her building, but that didn’t mean anything. She plugged the scooter in and took their things upstairs. When the elevator door opened, she ignored to door to her place, went down the hallway considering names for her scooter and opened the door to the neighboring penthouse. She laid the suitcase down on the floor and carefully took out the tea set, sheets, and towels she’d found. She rinsed the tea set in the kitchen sink, put the sheets and towels in the washer, and went back to her place taking the suitcase with her. Once home, she opened the door of a beautiful bedroom with walls that she’d painted teal. Laying the suitcase down once again she opened it and pulled a very plush orange wool throw blanket out of the suitcase and arranged it just so on the incredible four poster bed that dominated the room.

When she was done, she stood back, taking in the room, making sure that it was indeed ready.

Deciding that she was satisfied, she flipped the light off and went out the door, bumping the bedside table as she went. She’d knocked over the framed picture that sat there. Righting it, she closed the door and dragged the suit case up the stairs, through her bathroom, into the walk-in closet. Flipping on the light, she pulled the suitcase onto the bed that was in the closet and opened it again. There were several black t-shirts, and a pair of boots, as well as a bottle of black nail polish. She emptied the rest of the contents and put everything away in her drawers. Closing the suitcase, she brought it back downstairs to the front door, then went out of the apartment and back down the hall. She was carrying a box of tea that she’d missed in the clutter of the suitcase. Once inside she put the tea in the kitchen, next to the rather masculine tea set she’d rinsed out and arranged on the counter earlier. Washing machines on Miranda were interesting as well. They didn’t use tubs of water and detergent to clean clothes, they used heated mist. As the unit was an all in one, the load she’d put in, was dry already. She folded the towels and carried them along with sheets upstairs to the bedroom and made the bed.

When she was done, she went to the window and looked out.

It was still several hours until time to go, but she knew there was no way she was going to sleep. She pulled the key to her scooter out of her pocket and left the building again.

‘Maybe Poseidon…’ she thought, taking in the sea foam green.

It wasn’t any time at all until she found herself in Simon's Lab tucked between the tubes that held Spike and Giles. It was a seat she’d begun to occupy increasingly, over the last week.

She was terribly lonely for her friends and family, but mostly, she missed Spike. She’d become used to his presence when she felt this alone in the world. Whenever she felt that no one understood what she was dealing with or going through, he’d always been there, making sure she knew that he was with her. Even when they’d been so called enemies, he'd step past their differences to lend her his support. She missed him so much she ached with it and she wanted him out of this damn tube!

She thunked her head against it in frustration. It didn’t matter what she wanted as usual. Patience had to be the order of the day.

‘You didn’t come this far in life by being impulsive.’ She reminded herself.

She rolled her eyes, ‘Psh…maybe I have.’ She challenged.

The point she was trying to make to was, ‘this is no time to be impulsive.’ 

‘There are major decisions to make…’ she mumbled.

For the last two months, she’d been here alone, except for the residents of Serenity Township. Over the course of the two months, she’d had numerous conversations with the townspeople, the Captain, and Dr. Tam, who’d begun directing her to call him Simon every time she used his title. The Captain had introduced himself to her with his full name, but mostly everyone simply called him Captain with the exception of Inara who called him Mal, and Zoe who unfailingly called him, Sir.

Buffy stuck with Captain.

The point was, that even though she had company, she was lonely and wanted her family. She wanted to be able to say someone’s name and not feel awkward about it. She wanted to yell across a room, "Xan…tell Will I need her to pick up Dawnie for me."  Even though she never called Dawn, Dawnie. That wasn’t the point. She wanted her people. She wanted all of them and she wanted them right now. She thunked her head on Spike’s tube again, then rubbed the spot as she’d thunked too hard. Shifting, she leaned her back against his tube. She didn’t know how she was going to be able to wait for another month to pass before getting him out of this tube, but she was just going to have to find a way to live with it. Figure it out. Tough it out. She was just going to have to do it. She pouted, not liking the idea at all.

As much as she wanted Spikes strength and reassuring shoulder to lean on, what she needed, was Giles. She needed his level headed, unemotional, solution-based personality to solve the problem for which they found themselves currently. She was even thinking in Giles speak, that’s how much she needed him. She needed Spike too, but she needed him to look her in the eyes and tell her that everything was going to be all right. Ideally, he'd do this after Giles explained to her how she was supposed to make it all right for everyone else. Most all of the time she’d been desperate to hear someone tell her with certainty that it would definitely all work out, after Giles was done terrifying her to death. She needed Spike to remind her of what she was capable of and it was liberating to be able to admit these things to herself. She needed to be reminded sometimes of just who she was, because yeah, she was the Slayer, but she was a human woman too. Sometimes she forgot, and needed to bask in his reassurance. That wasn't weakness. That was balance. She always did better when she was balanced. 

Regardless of what she wanted, now wasn't the time.

Now, was the time for her and Giles to put away their differences and figure out how to explain to 1200 strangers that they were going to be okay. How could she explain to Spike, Dawn, Willow and Xander that it was a mess, but that they were going to be okay? She needed Giles for that. She shuddered in involuntarily fear and pressed her lips together, swallowing hard to push back the damn tears pooled in the corners of her eyes anyway. There were 1246 people in the tubes and she had no idea how to tell them they were no longer on Earth or even in their own star system. How do you tell someone they haven’t taken a breath of fresh, uncirculated, un-rebreathed air in more than 500 years?

‘How?’ she moaned. The unshed tears slipped over her lower lashes and her stomach turned.

It wasn’t just the 500 years, or not being on Earth any longer. It was so much more. It was the 'holy crap trifecta.'

Seriously.

Essentially, there wasn’t an Earth to go back to. The official story was that the Earth got "used up, " but all you had to do was read between the lines of the Official History to know the real story.

The demons won. Full stop.

After hearing all about Earth the was, Captain Reynolds would explain to them about his Alliance problems. Then, he'd explain about Miranda’s problems.

It was just too much, because all of these things were now their problems and just one of the things was enough to break a person. It had actually taken her weeks to accept and acclimate to the reality that this was now their existence. She’d hit a really rough patch and gone off the deep end for a few days, refusing to get out of bed or eat, but eventually her sense of self preservation and River’s constant questions about Dawn had forced her to pull it together. Since then, sitting between these two tubes had helped to keep her focused. She swiped away the tears and shifted her body again, struggling for comfort against Spikes tube.

'It's just like him to be this comforting and this uncomfortable.' she thought, with a giggle.

She willed him to sense her presence and spontaneously wake up, taking the decision to leave him in the tube for another month, away from her.

She sighed and shifted again, her thoughts drifting to the day she’d been defrosted. It was so embarrassing to her now. No doubt about it, Captain Reynolds was a dead ringer for Caleb. Caleb was the priest that the First Evil had been using against them on Earth. He’d been responsible for so many deaths, that when she’d seen Captain Reynolds, she’d acted on reflex, laying him out with one punch. The Captain had since forgiven her, but in that few minutes it had been touch and go. Friendship and understanding bloomed quickly between them, once she’d explained herself and they understood one another. He'd admitted to her recently that he’d been skeptical of her story in the beginning and that was why he’d ordered Simon to do a full mental evaluation of her. She’d of course passed with flying colors.

The Captain however, had remained skeptical of her story and unconvinced of her mental health until he’d witnesses the first sparing session between her and River.

She didn’t blame the Captain for his doubts, she had doubts of her own. She’d been told the most fantastical story about what had happened to her, and had been expected to believe it. So, yeah…she got it. How would you react if you’d been minding your own business and had suddenly been given the responsibility of 1247 souls? Furthermore, the only one who could tell you anything about them swore to you that she was a Vampire Slayer and that demons were real. That was asking the impossible of a man who didn’t believe in God!

Which was why, he thought she was full of it, until…the day she’d spared with River.

That day, she and Simon had been in the Lab getting to know one another better when he’d related to her the story of his sister’s genius, captivity, mystery illness, their time on Serenity and her psychic tendencies. Buffy told Simon it sounded to her like these people were trying to make River into a Slayer. She’d asked Simon if they could try something. He’d agreed and brought River to her. By the time the sparing session was over the entire community had come to watch. Furthermore, it seemed that both she and River had been in desperate need of the workout. River had impulsively hugged Buffy after the workout and then skipped off to The Kitchen.

While she was there, she ate a huge dinner, then went to bed and slept like a rock, according to Kaylee’s momma.

River’s behavior for the next couple of days, had been completely out of character. Simon told Buffy that River definitely seemed more relaxed than he’d seen her in years. So, she scheduled a work out session with River once a week now and that was good for the both of them.

The Captain had come to see Buffy the very next day and they’d had a serious re-discussion on many subjects then.

When it was over there was an easy peace between them and she found that she liked the Captain very much. He reminded her of someone, not Caleb, but she couldn’t place it just yet.

After they began getting to know one another she found that he wasn’t intimidated by her and didn’t have a mocking attitude toward her because she was a woman. He was a good leader with one thing on the agenda. Keep his people safe. He was intensely protective of his 'crew' and he was the absolute authority on Miranda. His people followed his directives faithfully. Not because they were afraid of him, but because they trusted him. That boded well for her and her people.

She’d been full of questions about Miranda and he’d answered every one. The questions ranged from how an abandoned planet was able to maintain it power source unattended for twelve years, to hydro-farming, and what they did with all of the dead bodies. If he didn’t have an answer, he got her one. She’d been formally introduced to the Community during the 'bi-weekly dinner' and most of her questions were answered during those times. For example, when she’d asked how it was possible that everything on Miranda was functionally still intact, it had been explained that the planet ran on solar, wind, water power, that had never been interrupted.

Where she came from, Solar power was something that people used in their residences to keep their pools warm. There'd been a lot of talk recently about Solar power, but she’d been a little distracted with the Initiative, a new sister, her mother dying, Glory, being dead herself, being pulled out of Heaven, and barely having enough time to recover from that before having to save the world from the Apocalypse…again. So, she’d never never taken the time to educate herself on the finer points of Solar power, let alone considered using it to run an entire planet.

When she’d tentatively asked what happened when they removed people and their personal belongings from their homes Simon carefully explained the process to her. It was different than what she was used to, and ultimately, she’d decided it was sort of…beautiful. They didn’t bury people or cremate the people here. The person, along with their most personal possessions were vaporized.

Not saying that was the beautiful part, obviously.

Essentially, they were broken down into carbon and became star dust once again. She liked it. It made sense to her. 

The concept and explanation about Hydro-farming and how it works, made her eyes glaze over. All she knew was that it was possible, but only if you had sterilized water, pest free something or the others, autotrophies and there was something about chlorophyll and introducing minerals and bacteria funguses into the water.

Maybe…that was how you did it? Whatever…they food grew, they ate it, it didn't taste any different.

She'd been told that River had taught Kaylee what it all meant and Kaylee perfected it. 

She'd also been told that River, was a genius on the scale of probably the smartest human being to ever live. Each day that proved itself out to be accurate, from what Buffy could tell.

If River was a walking encyclopedia, Kaylee was the wiz woman of taking that knowledge and making it function better.

There’d been a lot to learn and understand. Trust had to be gained on both sides, but ultimately, she trusted Malcolm Reynolds with her life.

She wasn’t his crew yet, but she knew someday she would be. When that happened, she knew that he trusted her with his life too.

It would take a while longer, but they were already completing each other sentences.

There was a lot of information to be shared between them still. A lot of decisions to be made.

If she was going to maintain the Captains trust, she was going to need Giles help in knowing the right thing to do. No matter how much she wanted Spike.

Case in point, she couldn’t even trust herself yet.

She’d gone to the warehouse in a desperate rage not long after she was defrosted and stood over Riley’s tube screaming at him. She deliberated about what it was she was going to do with him for a long time that night. She’s wanted to haul him out of that tube, beat him bloody and shove him back in it. During the lowest most terrifying point of that evening, she thought of simply unplugging him and letting him die. Luckily, she’d been able to force herself to leave the warehouse that night.

She didn’t go back for a few days.

If Giles had been here with her, he would've been the voice of reason. He would've explained to her that Riley likely had a very good reason for all of this.

On the other hand, if Spike had been here with her, he would've driven her out to the warehouse and cheered while she gleefully pulled the plug on Riley’s tube.

Afterward he would have gotten her good and drunk to celebrate. She loved, understood, and fully embraced this quality in her Vampire...at times. 

However, 1245 people…ugh beings? People beings? ‘Whatever…’  They couldn’t afford a misstep like that on her part.

Granted, there was unfinished business between her and Giles, but they would see it through as always.

There had to be a clearing of the air between them.

Especially now that Spike would be firmly in her life.

Somehow, she was going to have to make Giles to understand that she valued him and his opinion, but that fact didn’t give him cart blanc on every aspect of her life.

It had been a constant struggle between them always.

She had things she needed to say to him and she was certain there would be things he wanted to say to her as well. He was going to get the opportunity soon.

Simon had just strolled into the lab.

She ran a hand over the smooth surface of Spike’s tube.

She missed him, wanted him, and was ready to have him home with her. She was fully aware and under no delusion that it wouldn’t be any time at all before she wished she could stuff him right back into his tube, but right now his being in the tube was a physical hurt to her.

‘Soon…’ she smiled at the tube.

‘Oh, hello.’ Simon said, finally noticing her.

‘Hey.’ She answered, on a huge sigh.

She was excited, apprehensive, and happy.

It was time to bring Giles home.

Chapter Text

Twelve

 

Giles did surprisingly well physically, after waking up.  

It had taken him a little bit longer to get his faculties about him since he was an average human, but he’d come through all of the testing, vaccines, and physical therapy well enough.

When he moved into his new home, it had helped that his books and things had been there waiting for him.

Buffy had decorated it and arranged the furniture the way she knew he would like it. She'd hunted up a wardrobe for him as well.

As expected, he’d spent a few days alone in his apartment after his initial conversation with Captain Reynolds and Buffy. They’d left him alone to deal with the new reality for the most part. They ate lunch together every day, but it was mostly silent. When he ventured out of the house on his own for the first time, he seemed to be dealing with the unfamiliarity of his surroundings much better.

In total, it had taken him three weeks to really pull himself together.

His first big outing had been the bi-weekly dinner that Captain Reynolds people had for their community.

He’d been welcomed, then introduced to the people of Miranda.

At one point during the dinner, he'd endured an ordeal of a conversation with a man called Jayne. When it was over, he’d been more than ready to go home, but he’d ended up chatting amiably with a lovely woman named Zoe for an extended period instead.  

As the next few weeks passed, Buffy finished the work on the home that she had made for herself, Dawn, and Spike, same as she had done for Giles. She didn’t know how Spike was going to feel about her decision to move him in with her and Dawn, but she hoped he would get used to the arrangement quickly.  

It was going to be interesting to see what kind of a roommate he turned out to be, let alone boyfriend.

There was all the time in the…world, to find out though.

After acknowledging the gulf of years between the past and present, it wasn’t the reality of time that she struggled with the most, but their location. 

‘How do you just…move on?’ she wondered for the millionth time.

She and Giles were having the usual silent lunch one afternoon, when he’d looked at her and said, ‘I don’t have a purpose any longer and I’ve no idea what to do about it.’ 

She knew exactly where he was coming from. She felt completely adrift.

She had laid her hand on his and smiling at him explained, ‘Giles, you are always going to have a purpose. It’s just a job you're out of at the moment.’

He laughed then. A real laugh.

‘Quite right, you are.’ He replied quietly, once he'd sobered. 

‘We'll figure it all out.’ She reassured him, not quite believing it yet, because he was the one who was supposed to be reassuring her.

‘We are going to have our hands full with all of these Slayers.’ He admitted.

‘And how!’ she exclaimed, lamely.

‘Who do you think we should bring up from the tubes next?’ he asked.

She recovered herself immediately. This was the moment she'd been dreading all day. She didn't want a confrontation with him.

‘Giles, you know I'm not going forward one more moment than absolutely necessary without Spike, now that you are doing better. I know you have misgivings about that, but as we have discussed before you need to keep those thoughts to yourself. I love you and respect you, but I need him in my life. The sooner the better. Our problems, will be our problems. We'll handle them. I need you to trust that he's necessary and essential in my life.’ She answered him.

Giles nodded his understanding of those words, but didn't say anything.

‘I want time alone with him for a while so we can get things ironed out between us without any outside interference. We've had a mountain of other people’s expectations to overcome. Pretty much, I'm done with that. I didn’t know how important he was to me until he was gone. We have a lot to work through. So, it's just going to be the three of us, until we can present ourselves as a united front for everyone. We don’t have the luxury of petty differences here. We have this place as a home through the good will of a man who didn’t have to take us in. I refuse to bring unwarranted chaos into his life.’

Giles arched a brow at her.

‘You know what I mean, Giles. We can’t control 1200 people if we are constantly fighting among ourselves. Yes, I selfishly want time to get comfortable in a relationship with Spike but there's also the obligation to the Captain that we present a well-adjusted, united front to our people as they're brought out of Cryo. Our behavior will be their guide. In this way, I'm hoping to limit the ways we harass the Captain.’ She concluded.

‘Spike it is then. Would you like to discuss who to wake up after him?’ Giles asked.

‘Yes.’ She replied. ‘It’s important, and as you well know, it is a process.’ Buffy said.

He nodded considering her words and waiting as she continued.

‘We need to wake up people who can acclimate quickly and in turn help to get the others acclimated as well. We’ve been here nearly two months already and so far, it’s just me and you. I was thinking we should wake up Faith, Willow, and as much as I hate the idea Kennedy together. I'll be able to handle Faith. You can deal with Willow. She and Kennedy will rely each other more than us anyway. The brothers should be next. Then Xander and Andrew. I'd like to wake up Dawn soon after that. I'm hoping by then I'll have the extra time I'm going to no doubt need, to spend with her. After that, we'll probably be able to wake up eight at a time. Gradually increasing the amount of people we'll be able to wake up, get housed, and get working.

There are a lot of us and we will be taxing on the resources these people have. We're going to need to get some larger gardens going immediately. Go on supply runs. That kind of thing.’  She finished.

‘You don’t won’t to wake Angel up with Faith?’ Giles asked, carefully.

‘I think that waking Angel up will cause me aggravation that I don’t want to deal with at this time. I…had a hard-enough time trying to explain everything to you. We're going to have our hands full with Kennedy, Faith and Dawn. We don’t have to be in a hurry. I feel like the better acclimated we are, the easier it's going to be for people later. Right now, we still don’t have a lot of answers. I think we should have a strong grasp on…on…all of…this…before we start waking up strangers. We're going to go slow. I'll wake up Angel, when I feel ready.’ She waved a hand to indicate literally everything while she talked.

‘I don’t agree.’ Giles stated, calmly. He took off his glasses and gave them a polish. ‘You underestimate the bond Faith has established with Angel. You'll have difficulty with her if you refuse to bring him up until later. I know that you don’t like the connection they have forged, but at this point it isn’t any of your business. In my opinion you'll be able to deal with Angel, easier than Faith.’ Giles said frankly. ‘I think it is imperative that we bring Angel up next so he can help Faith acclimate. Let him deal with her. This will free you up to work on more pressing matters. There's going to be tension between the three of you, whether you believe it to be true or not. It's important to get it dealt with away from prying eyes, if you want, as you say, to present a united front to the others.’

He finished with a gentle but authoritative air and put his glasses back on tucking his hanky in his trouser pocket giving her time to think about his words.

After a moment he flicked a glance at her to gauge her reaction. 

She didn’t like it, but she knew he was right and besides, what was the point of insisting to River that Giles be here with her before anyone else if she wouldn’t heed his advice. 

She huffed out a resigned breath, ‘You're right.’ She relented.

Giles, surprised, nodded and they discussed it for a while longer as they finished their lunch.  Afterward, they cleaned up the dishes together, then Giles went home.

After he’d gone, she went through the house making sure everything was just so. She checked the freezer for the umpteenth time to make sure there was enough blood in it. 

There was. 

She took several of the bags and put them in a small cooler.

She checked herself over in the mirror then left the enormous apartment.

As usual it was ominously silent outside. There were no insect sounds or birds or animal noises. Just silence.

She’d been using a scooter of sorts to get back and forth between the two neighborhoods. She climbed on and took off. The small electric engine made a noise that was close to deafening in silence that surrounded her. It usually took her about ten minutes to ride over to Simon's lab, but she’d made a habit of stopping at the big warehouse they were using to store the cryo-tubes each day to talk her sister and her friends. Simon told her that science had proven that even though they were frozen they could sense the presence of loved ones. She’d stopped to talk to them every day after that. She usually stayed as long as she wanted, then went to the lab where Spike was, but she was anxious tonight and only stayed a few minutes. Tonight, she was going to get Spike back. She didn’t know what to expect or how it would play out. She just knew that she was tired of speculating and she wanted him with her.

Simon had been confused about why it had to be done at night.

He’d become both fascinated and horrified by the concept that someone could burst into flames in sunlight while she explained the lore to him.

He grudgingly told her then, that they'd brought both Spike and Angel off of Zoe’s ship in the daylight. She’d nearly passed out at that news and then curiosity overtook the both of them. They had an intense discussion about what the tubes might be made of. Obviously, it had to be some kind of UV resistant glass. They’d kicked around a few other theories and decided whatever the case may be, it was best to do it at night. 

‘Better safe than horrified.’ She thought as she putted along.

Simon was already at the lab when she arrived. He’d been there for a while and they only had a few more hours to wait.

‘Simon, when it is time to open the tube you are going to have to leave the lab and lock it.’ She said. She’d put off this conversation as long as she could.

He looked at her puzzled.

‘I don’t want you to be concerned, because there isn’t a reason…to be concerned…I just don’t know what state he is going to be in. I'd prefer it, if your first impression of him wasn’t a negative one. It’s important to me. It would be to him as well.’ She explained.

‘Are you sure you are going to be safe? I…know you don’t want me to be, but I have to say I am. Concerned…that is.’ He clarified, echoing her.

‘I'll be fine.’ She assured him, crossing her heart. ‘Safe as a baby in its mother’s arms. Swear. I just don’t know if he'll be starving or not. The hunger thing was different with Giles and me because we're human. I don’t know how it is going to be with him. I have blood in this cooler for him, but I might have to smack him around a little before he gets it in his head about where he is allowed to get his dinner from. It’s the main reason I didn’t want anyone else in here either. It might be touch and go the first few minutes.’ She finished, truthfully. 

‘Okay, it’s your call. What should I do if it all goes badly?’ he asked, curiously.

‘It won’t, but if it does, have River put a stake in his heart.’ she said frankly.

Simon's eyebrows hit his hairline and his mouth O’d in surprise.

‘Okay then.’ He stammered.

Buffy went to Spike’s tube to look at him, while Simon collected himself. 

‘I’m here.’ She said to the glass, laying her hand on it.

Suddenly Spikes eyes were open.

The pupils set in those beautiful blue irises focused on her.

She sucked in a surprised breath, ‘Oh!’ she exclaimed. 

He narrowed his eyes at her and then took in his surroundings.

She could see the questions play across his face one after another.

‘Where is he? I’m gonna kill him!’ he shouted at the glass causing it to fog.

‘He has breath…and it’s warm?’ she thought in confusion.

He smashed his hand against the glass tube looking for a way to get. He pushed and pulled at random sections of the glass, causing the tube to rock unsteadily.

‘Get me out of here!’ he roared.

‘Simon, leave now.’ Buffy instructed calmly.

‘Lock the door behind you’ she called over her shoulder, reminding him.

Simon scurried out of the lab quickly locking the door on the way out. He kept watch through the window on the door as Buffy slid the latch of the tube open. The Vampire sprang out of the tube much the same way she had jumped from her bed. He was out of control stalking through the lab ranting. He stopped suddenly, walked to Buffy who was calmly standing there, arms were folded over her breasts watching him. Spike pointed a finger at her, spoke harshly and leered at her menacingly. Then, the strangest thing happened. Buffy leaned forward and kissed the tip of the finger Spike was pointing at her.

The Vampire stopped yelling immediately.

He took half a step back and Buffy moved forward stepping into the space he’s just vacated. She wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her head on his chest.

She’d taken him by surprise.

His arms hung in the air around her, not touching her at all. He stood stock still looking down at her that way for several seconds then wrapped his arms around her and buried his nose in her hair. 

Just like that, the dramatics were over. 

Simon smiled, and walked away from the lab.

‘I have missed you so much.’ She whispered to him. Her lips brushed against the fabric of his worn black t-shirt as she spoke. ‘Everything is so…’ she sighed. ‘I have a lot to tell you and I swear, I want to tell you all of it, but right now I just want you to hold me. Then I want take you home with me.’ She squeezed him tightly. 

Spike continued to stroke her hair and breathe her in.‘Love her hair.’ He sighed. ‘Okay, Luv. If that’s what you want.’ He agreed immediately. ‘Ugh, where’s home?’

She smiled against his chest then started giggling. The giggling turned to laughing and then the tears started. She’d held on. She’d stayed pulled together. She’d put one foot in front of the other every single day. She’d stayed focused and strong for Giles. She practiced what she was going to tell the others every day. What she would say about where they were. What had happened. Especially to Dawn.  They might have been asleep for 500 years, but in their minds, they’d only closed the Hell Mouth a few months ago. Now, here she was, her arms wrapped around her safe place and she could be selfish and weak for a moment. She knew it wasn’t fair, but it had been so long since she’d felt like she could have an emotion about anything.

Spike had no idea what was going on so just let her cry. He did the one thing that he always did perfectly. He was there for her.

He smiled, as that melody from The Talking Heads ran through his thoughts. ‘Same as it ever was.’

He took in their surroundings as he held her. They were in a lab, obviously, but nothing in it looked remotely familiar. Something was definitely wrong if he was standing in a lab holding a sobbing Slayer. He supposed he could wait for her to tell him what the bollocks was going on, but that wanker Finn better not show up before she stopped crying. He was going to bloody make that Poof sorry and he didn’t want to have to stop what he was doing to attend to Soldier Boy.

The memory of watching his girl hitting the floor played through his memory.  

‘Captain Cardboard was in for a good going over.’ He promised himself. Just now, he stood there with her while she cried it out.

She was just about finished up when he pulled back to get a look at her. ‘Yeah?’ he asked.

She nodded at him and started to laugh again.

‘Here now. We’ve been down that lane, Luv.’ He smiled and kissed her forehead. ‘To the house then?’ he asked.  

‘Are you hungry?’ she asked.

‘Famished.’ He admitted, ‘But I can wait.’

‘It’s just that, I have blood for you here. I mean, I have blood for you at home too, but what I really mean is that you don’t have to wait.’ She stammered.

Spike nodded and watched her curiously thinking about what a domestic thing this had been for her to do. He knew that somehow, he was going to be judged on any decision he made here.

‘Thank you.’ He said. ‘It was good of you to bring it. I think though, we'd be more comfortable back at your place?’ he asked.

‘Not my place, our place.’ she said. ‘Me and you…and eventually Dawn.’

He took that in and nodded, the question written clearly on his face. He didn’t ask it. Just exactly what he wanted to ask would take a little more thought.

He decided that he would take her at her word for now. He didn’t have any faith that she even knew what she was on about at the moment. He looked around at the room again and then at the tube he’d come out of. Whatever the buggering hell was going on, it was big. 

He pulled his gaze from the tube and said, ‘Where is the Nibblet?’ Curiosity poured over of the question.

She opened her mouth, then closed it, then opened it again.

‘Buffy,’ he said seriously, ‘Where is Dawn?’ he pushed her for an answer.

‘She…she’s just down the street. It, well it would be easier for me to show you, but if I show you, we'll spend the rest of the night talking and you'll…well, I don’t know what you'll do. I don’t want to spend all night talking. I want to spend all night, doing something...else.’ she trailed away from the run-on sentence shyly, looking up at him from under her lashes.

‘Oh…’ he said in surprise. 

‘I promise we won’t talk all night. I want to do the something else you want to do as well, but I think if I know now where she is I can concentrate on you instead of worrying about the Nibblet…yeah?’

‘Okay, but…you promised.’

She cajoled sternly, giving him her most serious side eye. 

He hooked his arm through hers and they left the lab.

Chapter Text

Thirteen

 

Ariel 2522

 

Lucifer or Luke, as he’d been calling himself over the last 200 years or so, had been the most beloved, most beautiful creature in all of Heaven, until he’d been unceremoniously tossed out on his ass by his father for daring to be bold. The old man had no vision and was being romantic and foolish about his pet creation project. Human beings were a disgusting race of lower beings, with zero respect for their betters. They went about their everyday lives with the delusion that they were the masters of their universe instead of the slaves they actually were.

Father made laws, they ignored them.

Father gave them a beautiful place to live, they destroyed it.

Father taught them how to worship and respect him and they mocked him as being a suggestion, a figment of their ancestor’s imagination.

When Luke had observed for himself, Father’s relaxed discipline for his creation, he became incensed, taking it upon himself to meet out punishments for the habitual offenders.

Father had demanded that he cease and desist, so he had.

Afterward, he’d decided that he was no longer going to follow Father’s laws if Beings lower than himself weren’t expected to follow them.

He’d struggled with it in the beginning, but had eventually gotten a taste for misbehaving.

Ultimately, Father had confronted him about his transgressions. They’d argued furiously and Luke had challenged Father, saying he’d had enough of the double standards and for this, he’d been thrown out of Heaven. His ability to enter his Father’s hallowed halls at will had been revoked. The doorways between Heaven and Earth had all been barricaded against him. Being cast out had been a heavy blow and he’d wallowed in misery for a time, but he’d endured it.

After a few millennia he’d begun to feel more optimistic about his prospects of regaining admittance into Heaven and eventually wresting control of the entire place from Father.

That has been until Sunnydale. A couple of Vampires and an insignificant blond girl had screwed him big time!

Yeah, he was still bitter about it. ‘So…?’

After Sunnydale, he’d had to deal with the damn Winchesters every time he turned around.

He’d be well rid of them for a while and then they'd miraculously reappear to lay waste to everything he’d been able to accomplish during their absence.

The last time he had to suffer their interference they’d destroyed several years worth of his hard work and then they simply vanished. I had been as if someone had swept them off the face of the Earth. Jack had inevitably arrived on his doorstep, full of accusations and demands, insisting that he produce the pair, but Luke didn’t have them. The Earth was in such turmoil then, that Jack had been forced to accept that the Brothers and Castiel had either died or abandoned him. Jack should have expected them to move on after his own disappearing act. The boy was his son after all. Jack stayed with him after that. He didn’t have a choice. The Archangel Michael, wanted his grace and was pursuing him ruthlessly. Every minion in hell wanted his throne for themselves and the lunatic Big Empty had begun to pursue him and Jack in earnest. Earth was over-run with players. They were truly between a rock and a hard place. Eventually, he’d been driven so far underground, they’d been forced to flee the planet or spend the rest of existence in a cage. 

Humanity had destroyed Earth at an unprecedented rate. No matter what strides he’d made to gain control and force a modicum of order, he was eventually thwarted by something. He was convinced by the perfection of his grace, that the only way to save any planet, was by turning the pesky humans into the servant class for which they’d been intended. After several millennia, it was still his number one goal and not as easy to accomplish as one might believe. Here on Ariel he still had immortality, but he was no longer Lucifer, or the more descriptive, Great Satan, if you will. Most of his powers, while not depleted, didn’t work at full capacity because of the Earth paradox. Were he to return to Earth, his power would be at full strength. He had no doubts about the matter. The best as he could figure, his powers were specific to Earth’s planetary system. Now, instead of being the second most powerful entity in all of Father’s creation, he was merely a Being with powers on the level of a fictional comic book character. Also, he’d become allergic to strawberries. It was humiliating.

The closest he’d come in a very long time to getting exactly what he needed to regain Fathers attention had been in the ruins of the Earth derelict ship that had simply manifested itself in the system one day. When he’d gotten word of the ship, he’d ordered it brought to him straight away. Obviously, he knew now that had been a mistake. The ancient ship had virtually disintegrated as it passed through Ariel’s atmosphere, killing the ancient humans who slept in it. Nearly everything on board had been destroyed, but he’d been lucky in that quite a bit of the Rossum Labs equipment and data had survived the crash. For the last 20 years he’d had the best minds in three systems working to rebuild what might had been lost forever. Once working through the damaged data and rewriting the code, they’d been really close to an actual breakthrough in the 'Doll' program but that damn Doctors EMMP wand had put an end to it and he was back to square one…again. 

He despised humans.

He’d paid the Tam’s a fortune for their daughter. He owned her and he wanted her back. He was tired of waiting for her. He was tired of the setbacks. To date, she’d been their most successful subject. It had been a very exciting time until that damn brother of hers had interfered.  It wasn’t enough to simply steal the girl from him, he’d gone and destroyed all of the research and data as well.

‘When I catch up with him, I am going to peal him.’ Luke promised himself.

Just now, he was busy tolerating the excuses that fell from his advisers’ lips like rain.  Larry couldn't necessarily be considered an adviser, he was more of an imparter. It was his job to impart information. Recently there'd been too much in the way of excuses and not enough information. Luke was anxious for good news and not getting any was making him impatient. Bad things happened when he became inpatient. He couldn’t afford to be impatient. It always took too long to get back into Jack’s good graces whenever he had a 'slip' of patience. He worked at being cool headed now, but he might as well pray for all the good that it did him.

Righteous fury boiled through him. The closest he’d been to acquiring River Tam in the last four years was so much dust in the wind, because some idiot lackey had killed the Operative who’d let Malcolm Reynolds escape, before they’d been able to convince the man to tell them anything worth knowing.

It was vexing. 

River Tam, was the key to everything. He had to have her. River and the Doll program was the key to his father’s forgiveness and acceptance. He could get this thing right. He knew it. He'd eventually regain the technology needed to animate the empty flesh and then Father would see. Dolls were the solution to all of their problems. Then if 'dad' wouldn’t be reasonable, well he'd just have to make him regret it.

As it was, this was the second time he was going to have to build the entire program from scratch and it stung. He didn’t like to think about the first time he’d lost everything. Jack had discovered what he’d been up to and had done a bang-up job of destroying the labs. It had taken him a inordinately long time to get back into his son’s good graces after that. He wasn’t in the habit of groveling, but it had been necessary, so, he had. His son was the Antichrist after all. If any of 'this' was going to be a success, he had to have the boy on his side. So, with that, he’d learned a valuable lesson. He, had to stay far away from the actual work. Now, instead of a visible presence that kept progress rolling along, he was forces to dangle the carrot of power in front of soft minded humans and let them do all of the work for him. The best part of that was, it never paid off for them and he had to be satisfied with that.

Larry the Imparter, had stopped speaking finally and was waiting for instructions. Luke pulled himself out of his thoughts and said, ‘All I hear are excuses.  What is it going to take to find one small spaceship?  I want all of our efforts redoubled. There is someone somewhere who knows something. The ship has a crew. Who are their families? Offer a reward. Find me something! I want my weapon.’ He instructed lazily.

‘Yes, Lord. I understand.’ Larry said, bowing and backing out of the room.

Jack came in while Larry was backing away.

‘Hi Larry.’ The boy said, conversationally.

‘Hello, Young Master.’ Larry said, then left the room.

Luke was smiling broadly as his son gained the dais he sat upon. He patted the arm of the chair next to him indicating that Jack should come and sit calling,

‘Hello, my boy! What have you learned today?’

‘Dad, I'm hardly a boy anymore.’ Jack complained.

‘Maybe so, but you will always be just a boy to me.’

Luke smiled warmly at his only son. He could see that Jack wasn’t sure, but thought there might have been a double meaning behind his father’s words. Jack had an insatiable thirst to understand humans. At least once a day they debated why humans behaved the way they did. Usually in the evenings before dinner Jack would bring him the good and the bad news stories of the day from the Cortex and they would discuss what they thought might have happened during the events, based on what was reported.

Luke loved these conversations and used them to twist Jack’s basic understanding of humanity. When there was an incident that was especially upsetting to Jack, Luke would covertly order the culprits to be punished. Later when Jack would come to him with news of the punishment, Luke would tell him it was because the culprits had sinned and 'Karma' had caught up with them. 

Jack wasn’t quite there yet. The boy’s human side was strong and he had an abiding need to find the good in people. It was only a matter of time and tenacity though, and there was an eternity of time.

Chapter Text

Fourteen

 

Miranda

 

Spike slipped his hand into Buffy’s as they walked.

‘It isn’t far.’ She explained.

He’d expected they were walking to their destination as usual, but once outside he discovered they were not going to walk at all. She’d stopped next to some kind of crazy looking scooter, inserted an odd looking key and slid on handing him one of the two helmets resting on the seat.

He stared at her quizzically, not moving.

‘What?’  she asked, thrusting the helmet at him again.         

‘Not bloody likely, Pet.’ He scoffed, eyes twinkling.

‘What?’ she insisted, looking down at the scooter.

He lifted his scarred eyebrow at her.

‘I've been driving it all over! It’s perfectly safe.’ She swore and held her fingers up in the Girl Scout promise salute.

‘It’s not safe if you are drivin it. I’ve seen you drive. Bloody, hell on wheels, that is.’ He said pointing at the scooter.

‘So not!’ she exclaimed, in mock insult. 

An old memory of Principle Snider in the back seat of her mother’s car popped to mind. ‘Summer’s! You drive like a spaz!’ he’d declared.

‘It’s too true, Slayer!’ he laughed and his shone with mirth while he looked animatedly over his shoulder and down the street. ‘I don’t see any little old ladies, or puppies about so at least some are safe.’

She slugged him in the arm. 

He flinched away from her rubbing at it, laughing harder.

‘Do you want me to drive?’ He asked through his laughter.

‘As if! You don’t know where you're going!’ she fussed, then pouted.

‘It’s safer to walk then.’ He teased, her further.

'Spike, just get on! If I wanted to kill you, it wouldn’t be in a tragic scooter accident.’ She rolled her eyes, exasperated, then flushed pink at his bold perusal.

'There she was.There was his girl.’  He thought.

Spike set the small cooler bag down, snaked his hand through the length of her hair resting it on the nape of her neck. Using his fingers as if he'd pushed a button, he tipped her head back just enough to turn her lips up to meet his, then kissed her warm lips so softly, that she shivered and leaned into him. He deepened the kiss at her response, then they stayed that way until he felt that he’d said a proper hello, breaking away just before it got indecent. She leaned against him and let him hold her. It was heaven. He rubbed his cheek against the silken strands of her golden hair and simply existed in the moment until she pulled away. 

When she did  he could see the worry plainly in her eyes. He knew from that and their surroundings that everything was crackers. He'd been witness to every emotion the woman had ever had at one point or another, but he'd never seen this before. It took a minute for him to suss out that it was resignation. Whatever was happening, she'd accepted it and it must be bad, because it was obviously going to take some time for her to feel comfortable enough to tell him about it. She would, eventually, but she didn't want to. He was certain of that and not much else.

'She’s breathtaking.’ He thought with a sigh and trailed a finger over her lips.

The action chased the worry from her eye and replaced it with warm emotion that caused them to shine. He felt the warmth he saw there wash over his body and sensation made him weak.

‘I love it when your eyes sparkle that way, Kitten. It does things to me.’ he confessed in a husky almost whisper, and slid onto the back of the scooter.

Once he was settled, he ran his hand over her thigh, settling it on her hip, then recalled that just now, he’d been so transfixed by her luminous eyes, he almost hadn’t bothered to notice the heat he'd felt momentarily trickle through his cool body. Buffy’s body never failed to react to his touches or the timber of his voice. Every part of her responded to him whenever he spoke to her 'in just that way.' He realized now, that he'd mistaken the heat he'd felt then, for the heat pouring off of her body now, instead of his own.

He wondered if she could feel it as well. 

Buffy was practically ablaze with desire as Spike settled his hand on her hip and snugged in close to her. She knew without a doubt that he could sense her need for him. Just now his thumb grazed the underside of her breast and her body bloomed with need once again. Knowing that he could feel what he was doing to her only intensified the ache she felt in her core. It was heady, acute, and felt absolutely right. In the past this sensation, this 'physical reaction' to him had confused her, made her feel off balance, strange, and a little afraid.  

‘Not tonight though.'  she thought, she thought as she turned the scooters key. Tonight, all she could think about was giving herself to him and getting him back in return. 

While they bumped along, he took in the scenery. He had absolutely no bleedin idea where they were and it was starting to creep him out. Everything in the place was new and gleaming but the pungent smell of old corpses permeated everything. His only guess was that they were on some sort of 'campus' for lack of a better word. Even the sky was different.

‘It’s a mystery.’ He decided, letting it go for the moment, because they'd arrived. As she parked, he thought ‘Well, that didn’t take long.’ 

She'd pulled in at warehouse‘Deserted, obviously…’ and he followed blindly, through the unlocked front door.

She called ‘Lights.’ and the lights flickered on while they walked.

‘That’s a neat trick.’  he thought, acutely aware of the nervousness that now replaced the heat pouring off of her like a river.

They traversed a long corridor and came to a heavy steel door with a combination pad. She opened the door without entering a combination and held it open for him as they went through. In the darkness thousands of indicator lights bounced small beams of colored light off a multitude of reflective surfaces. He stopped walking to stare in consternation at the massive room. It was full of tubes, just like the once he'd come out of. The room, was the size of a football stadium. Nothing, could have prepared him for it.

‘Light’s’ she called, as they moved deeper into the room.

Suddenly, he could see everything, not just shadows and reflections. He turned to her nonplussed and after a tick gazed out over the scene again.

Buffy put her hand in his and pulled him along after her. He hadn’t been able to utter a word as they moved through the room. She stopped at a small group of tubes separate from the others. He could see they contained Angel, Willow, Illyria, and there was the Nibblet, through the frosted surfaces of the tubes. No Giles, he noticed. He walked through the tubes noting the occupant of each. They looked peaceful and that gave him a small bit of comfort. He jerked to a halt upon seeing the eternally mused ginger red hair of Oz.

‘What the bollocks, is going on here, Buffy? And…where is Giles?’ he asked.

No small amount of worry and confusion clouded the bold features of his face while he rapid fired questions at her. Maybe a small bit of panic, she noticed as well.

‘He is already awake.’ She answered with a heavy sigh, landing on the simplest question to answer first.

Spike walked back to Dawn’s tube. Buffy followed, but before she could offer him anymore explanation about the situation Spike ground out, ‘If Giles is out of this damn thing, why is Dawn still in one.’

She answered him with what she thought was the truth, ‘I don’t want to wake her up until I have...the time, I'm going to need to be with her. To...be there for her.’

He turned to her, he planted both of his hands on her shoulders and turning her to face him. She vaguely registered that his hands weren't cold on her skin.

‘Buffy…what the bloody hell…?’ he demanded, realizing that everyone but the two of them and Giles, apparently, was in one of those blasted tubes. He hadn’t seen anyone else and this damn 'city' and he knew instinctively, that it was because it was empty...except for the dead. He couldn't see them, but he knew they were there...somewhere.

‘I don’t know.’ She said honestly, shaking her head. ‘The last thing I remember is waking up to see Riley and Graham dumping that blue lady there into that tube. Then Graham, did something to me, he touched me with a blue glow stick thingy.’

Spikes jaw got a thorough work out, while she talked. He flicked a curious glance at Illyria and wondered, ‘How…did they get her in there?’

‘That’s…it.’ She said.

‘He was going to kill Graham. Tear his head off, and drink him if he so much as laid....’  he fumed. ‘Where are Soldier Boy and his lackey now?’ Spike asked.

She pointed and said, ‘There. Don't forget you promised me.’ She reminded him.

He ground his teeth in anger. He needed to leave this room. He needed to punch something. He needed answers. He needed…a lot of things. His minds silent rantings trailed off as he took in her uncertain, defeated, and...lonely green eyes. ‘I did promise. Let’s go, luv.’ He sighed, pushing down his anger. It could wait. She needed him now.

‘Thank you.’ She answered.

She called for the lights and they went out the way they’d come in. Ten minutes later she parked in front of a hi-rise apartment building. 

There were strange looking 'cars' all around the building that looked more like futuristic golf carts than cars and more of the scooters. There were vehicles everywhere, but no traffic. Everywhere he looked there were odd looking but familiar objects. He was doing his best not to think about the ominous silence all around them. There was simply no noise…at all. Not even the ambient noise one expects in a city. He slid off the scooter, gathered the bag she’d brought to the lab and hey went into the building. She led them to a lift and once inside pushed the button for the top floor where they were then whisked upward at unimaginable speed.   

‘Giles shares the top floor with us.’ Buffy explained. It was the first thing she’d said since leaving the warehouse. ‘He is on the east side of the building. We are on the west.’

She almost blew it by saying that Miranda rotated the same as Earth but she covered saying, ‘I thought you would prefer it that way,’ instead. ‘Willow, Kennedy, Xander, Andrew, Faith, Robin will be the floor below us.’ She continued as the lift stopped and the door opened. They stepped into a cavernous living room of floor to ceiling windows. ‘Don’t worry about all of that glass, there are shutters.’ She offered.

He took several more steps inside and turned back to her puzzled. ‘This is ours…it’s our home? We live here?’ He asked, pointing at the floor.

She shrugged in answer and nodded. 

The room had been decorated in warm neutral tones. It was soft and homey and resembled the house on Revello in many ways except for one. It was a penthouse and it was mammoth. He walked toward the windows and looked out. There was an entire city down there and every square inch of it was dark and empty. His demon didn’t sense a single living creature out there. 

‘Were they in China?’  he wondered.

‘Come on. I will show you the rest.’ She said.

Pulling his attention away from the window she ushered him around a small wall that only suggested the two rooms were divided and through a short hall. 

‘This is what I am calling the war room.’ She said. 

It was floor to ceiling windows just like the other room. It was a wide-open space with seating clusters here and there. An enormous dining table that could seat 24 people took up a massive section of floor with plenty of room to move around it. It did nothing to diminish the area of the room. It was done in the same warm neutral's as the entrance way room. Toward the back of the room to the right was the kitchen. On the far wall there was also a bar. A proper bar and it was fully stocked, he noticed jubilantly. 

‘I figure we can hold meeting’s in here.’ She called from the kitchen. While she warmed him a mug of her blood, she waited for him to ask the same questions she had. 

‘Meetings about what?’  he wondered, staring out over the empty city again. ‘Buffy, where are we?’ He needed to know what was going on. His Slayer had bags of her own blood, that she'd just warmed and brought to him in a mug. He could smell that it was her in the mug! He was reeling now, 'What the bloody hell...Okay, yeah, a promise was a promise, but she had her blood in bags for him.'

‘Miranda.’ She answered, then insisted, ‘No more questions.’

‘I’m not drinking that, Pet.’ He said, taking a step back.

‘Spike’ she sighed.

‘No…’ he reiterated.

‘Please eat...I need to get your clothes off of you.’ She made 'pretty please' eyes at him.

He wasn’t an idiot, there was no way...

She could see that he was going to be stubborn. She could be stubborn too. She thrust the mug at him then reached down to take his hand and put the mug into it.

Every part of him went rigid while she looked up at him and the over warm surface of the mug scorched his palm. He swallowed hard, wrapped his hand around the mug then quickly downed the contents. His entire body convulsed when the liquid hit his tongue. It was her, no doubt about it, but something was...different. He swallowed a few more times wondering at the taste, considering what it could be.

‘The Doctor made it.’ She explained, prompted by his frowny face.

‘Oh.’ He nodded. ‘So, not yours?’

‘It’s mine. He made it from a sample of mine.’ She explained.

She took the mug from him and went back to the kitchen asking him if with a gesture if he wanted another.

He shook his head no.

He’d been hungry and the blood had helped with that but he didn’t want anymore. It was odd. He should have been feeling the urge to gorge himself. It was her blood after all. She’d gone through all the trouble to make sure he’d have something to eat and he wasn’t even chained to anything. 'She had it made.' he reminded himself. This...had to be in the Twilight Zone. She’d already told him twice this evening that she intended to have him and that he lived here with her. He blinked as she handed him another warm mug of her blood. She’d done it while he’d been lost in his thoughts.  

'We have to be at some strange facility in China.' He thought, and looked at her hard. ‘Maybe she’s a robot?’  he considered, looking at her harder. She wasn’t.

It was perplexing, just like everything else so far this evening. He reached out and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, running it through his fingers while he drank her blood. He really didn’t want it, but finished it all the same, then went to the sink to rinse the cup and his mouth out. Something was wrong and they weren’t going to talk about it until later. As and added bonus was she was stressed and worried, but had accepted whatever was going on as fact. For all of that, the entire scene as it had just played out, was strangely domestic and relaxed. 

‘Yeah. This was all peaches.’  Making the decision to keep things light until she no longer looked so defeated, he asked, ‘You want to show me the rest of the place?’

‘Our bedrooms are back here.’ She said, leading him out of the kitchen.

‘This is Dawn’s room.’ She said, swinging the door open.

It was perfect. The walls were done in in a deep teal. The shades over the windows were a shimmery purple and there was an orange scarf thrown over a cream coverlet on the bed. The room looked like the Grateful Dead’s tour bus. It was bright and happy. The floor was a dark wood parquet. She had her own bathroom and there was the incredible view of course. There was a television on the wall and a picture of the Nibblet, Joyce, and Buffy on the table beside the bed.

‘It’s perfect, she’s going to love it.’ He smiled.

Buddy nodded, smiling in agreement. It was perfect. She’d spent weeks on it. Pulling the door closed, she gestured toward the staircase at the end of the hall. He followed her as they went up. At the top of the stairs, was a wide walkway that over looked the main portion of the house. She opened a door that was situated half way down on the left side of the walkway and entered the room there.

It was immense as it encompassed the entire top floor of the Penthouse. Dark wood, sand colored furniture, neutral tone accessories, cream carpet, and variations of cream fabrics ran throughout. Everything about it was warm, soft, and comfortable.

‘This is our room.’ She explained, walking in.

There were no floor to ceiling windows, he noted.      

‘Our bathroom through here.’ She directed.

Clean, bright, chrome, white, no bad memories. Just like a bathroom should be. 

‘This is your room.’ She said, pushing open the door where a walk-in closet should have been.

She flipped the light on to reveal the space she’d made for him to sleep during the day. She’d painted it entirely black. There was a bed, the sheets were red, a telly, some bookshelves, and clothes. 

'She’d, gotten him clothes…he liked them.' he realized.

‘Do you like it?’ she asked, tentatively.

The bloody Slayer...was being domestic and soft, and looking for his approval. Right in this moment, he was positive that he was still in one of those damn tubes, dreaming.

’Yes. Thank you, Pet.’ He stammered, nearly speechless. No bloody idea what the bollocks was going on at all, but he liked it.

He supposed everything was going to be alright. At least it was alright for the moment.

'Maybe. If the light appearing in her eyes out of nowhere just now is any indication.'  He thought.

Everything she felt always played out in her eyes and for the last two hours she'd been pulled in so many different directions it had been hard to keep track of her. As far as he could tell, they were in any danger. There wasn't anything pressing happening this evening, other than touring their palatial penthouse, in an empty city full of dead people...and Giles. He leaned forward drawing her to him so he could kiss her and pushed the door to the small, windowless room closed in once smooth motion.

‘It’s always been you.’ She whispered, before he could kiss her.

He jolted at her words. The demon buried deep in him howled, but his soul basked in her words. They’d buckled his knees and were like thunder in his chest. He could swear he’d just felt his heart beat.

He dug his hands into her silky hair, before he could kiss her again, she said, ‘I left you there.’ Her voice cracked and said said, 'I shouldn’t have.'

Stepping into him and sliding her arms around his neck, she pulled him to her. She brushed her velvety cheek against his jaw line and rubbed her slim, fit, body sensually against his.

She felt him tense and tipped her head to look into his excessively blue eyes. ‘I will never leave you again.’  She vowed.

She pressed her mouth to his sealing the words to him for all time. The kiss was a sacred promise akin to a wedding vow. She poured everything she’d ever felt for him but never had the courage to say into it. Sliding her hands down his torso, to the hem of his black t-shirt, she tucked them inside resting them on the taut muscles of his stomach. She deepened the kiss into something expectant and passionate. Gliding her hands over his chest, she tugged the t-shirt up his body.  He helped her pull the shirt over his head and dropped it on the floor. He groaned when she kissed his chest where his heart was trying desperately to beat. Her flaxen hair had fallen forward and it skimmed lightly across his skin tickling his taut nipples.

The sensation was heaven.

She was momentarily distracted by the warmth of his body. He wasn’t exactly warm, but he wasn’t cold either. It wasn’t even the slightly cool she’d become accustomed to. He was oddly sort of tepid. Her mind told her that he’d just eaten and that could be the reason for it. What ever the reason, now wasn’t the time to contemplate it she admonished herself. She had things she needed to say to him tonight. Body temperature wasn’t on the discussion menu. 

‘You have always pushed me to acknowledge what I want for myself and I know now, that it has always been you.’ She breathed the words against his skin, licking at the straining muscles of his throat.

His body bucked in response to the caress.

‘Thank you.’ She whispered softly. She nipped at his earlobe then licked the slight pain away. ‘I want you to keep teaching me how to say yes, to the things that I want. Yes, to myself and yes to you.’ 

She brushed her fevered body tantalizingly against his, teasing another kiss across his lips. She didn’t pull away when her shyness threatened to derail her. She allowed herself to accept the way touching him made her feel, and empowered by it, she flicked her tongue across his full bottom lip. Following her instincts, she simply allowed herself to act and slipped her hand down his body to gently squeeze his erection through his jeans.

The moan caught deep in his throat slid out of him. The last shred of willpower to stay still and allow her free reign, burnt away in the heat she had created. ‘What you do to me, Slayer.’ He choked out.

She’d intoxicated him with her touch and he was drunk with wanting her. 

Buffy’s confidence redoubled at the sound she’d been able to wrench out of him and her fever bright eyes glittered with knowing. She basked freely in the feeling of power she’d cultivated and let it course through her impassioned body unchecked. It was a potent sensation and her exploration of his body became more adventurous.

He had not thought it was possible to get any harder than he’d been only a second ago, but those eyes flashing trust and promises at him like he was everything in the world to her had him full to bursting and they were fully clothed. Her innocence had always been an aphrodisiac to him, but her invitation…no, that wasn’t quite right, it was her 'provocation' that was driving him mad. He wanted to be inside of her, on her, around her. He wanted all of her, all at once, right now! He shook with the need that was pushing at him but he forced himself not to move while he gathered the threads of his shredded control. He was over stimulated and needed to pull himself together before he wrenched all of her clothes off and found himself hunched over and rutting into her with abandon. He should be able to do this. He should be able to make love to her without behaving as some untried school boy. She wasn’t asking him for a quick roll in the crypt. She was asking him for the man he’d promised her. He was bloody well going to give her what she wanted. The trouble was, he didn’t know what she wanted right now because she was a giant quivering nerve and it was wreaking havoc on his senses. It might be that he was simply over thinking it. It was Buffy. He knew her better than she knew herself. Which, was what she’d been telling him.

She’d started unbuckling his belt while he’d been lost in his thoughts. He took a step back and gathered her hands into his, then stepped forward again, forcing her to take a step back, where she found herself pressed against the closet door. He lifted her hands above her head holding them there. Heat surged through her entire body. A signal that he’d done the right thing.  He moved in to kiss her, pressing the full length of his body against hers. It was a soft kiss that denied the urgency bubbling between them. He skimmed his palms down her arms and stepped away from her again to buy himself some time. He needed assert some restraint over his raging hormones and get some control over the situation.

She moved, bringing her arms down to encircle his neck once more, but he stopped her. He shook his head no, he pushed her arms above her head again. 

She strained slightly forward and groaned in frustration. 

He pressed a finger to her parted lips, ‘None of that now.’ He chastised softly. 

Her glassy green eyes held his and he could see the momentary confusion there. He leaned in, careful not to touch her heated body with his and kissed her reassuringly. He tucked a finger inside her blouse as he pulled away and the button popped open. He dipped a finger inside her cleavage, then very slowly popped the rest of the buttons allowing his fingers to brush against her warm flesh. He thought about what he wanted to happen between them over the next several moments while he did this. As he did, she held very still keeping her arms above her head where he'd put them. She was here, telling him that he was the one. She’d said things to him in the last few minutes that he’d prayed to hear from her lips but was convinced he never would. He wanted her right now more than he could describe. He wanted to possess her the way a man did with any woman he craved to distraction, but…it was more than all that. It had always been her. From the moment he’d seen her, it had been her. Even while wearing the Gem of Amara and trying to kill her, it had been her. Carrying a shotgun through town when desperation to be rid of her had taken hold of him, it had been her. She’d been in his blood and he’d never been able to shake her. Now, here she was, offering herself to him and it was real. He pushed the folds of her blouse open and ran his fingers along the lacy edge of her bra. It was white and there were tiny bows where the straps met the cups. 

‘I like this.’ He murmured to her softly. Pulling at the cup, he slid his hand inside and brushed the tips of his fingers over her taut, pink nipples. 

Her eyes fluttered closed, she shivered with the effort it took to stay still, then licked her lips. 

She heard the noise he made as her tongue wet her bottom lip. It was a low, "mmmm" from deep inside of him and she felt the blush of wanting him flow over her skin.

Spike watched her flesh turn a rosy pink and thought he'd never seen anything so beautiful in his entire existence. He couldn't hurry now, even if there was a stake to his heart. He wanted to see it again and again. Stepping into the space between them, he lifted her hair away from her neck and placed the softest kiss on her pulse point there. Laying his tongue against it, he laved the spot and let himself feel the thrum of her blood against his mouth. It was the sweetest torture and he swelled again.

Buffy couldn't stay still any longer. She thrust her hips against him and skimmed her cheek along his jaw bone again, but she was careful to stay where he had put her sinking into what he was making her feel. He was trailing a row of kisses to her breast but he’d moved away when she began to squirm in earnest, when she was still again he lowered his head to her other breast. He pulled at the lace with his teeth catching her covered nipple, tugging at it firmly, but gently. She moaned and her eyes flew open flashing her incredible need at him. 

He loved her spirit. Loosing the the nipple he said, thickly, ‘There’s my girl.’ and he lowered her arms, slowly pulling her blouse off, letting it fall to the floor and the adorable bra soon followed it.

He trailed his fingertips over her torso, causing goose flesh to rise where ever he touched her. ‘Your skin is like warm velvet.’ He whispered in her ear and slowly circled a finger around her navel. 

Her muscles tensed and released as he made the circles. Before, their sexual encounters had always been quick and urgent. More like an endurance race than an emotional release. Tonight, was entirely different than anything she’d ever experienced. She’d not had a coherent thought since he’d maneuvered her against the door. It was nothing but wave after wave of heat and need. He was driving her mad with his fingertips and she didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to comply. He planted the tiny kisses as he licked a trail across her collar bone, under her chin to her lips. She focused on breathing and staying on her feet, while desire washed over her senses again and again. She hadn’t felt him unfasten her slacks, merely registered the cool air on her legs as they pooled around her ankles. He was brushing light kisses over her mouth. Teasing her with a whisper of his lips. She felt him tug at her white lace panties and started to help him take them off.

‘Don’t move, luv.’ He instructed, his voice soft and thick with want.

She stopped instantly and he slid his hand inside the elastic band of the tiny panties then slipped strong soft fingers through her slick swollen folds making small tight circles across her clitoris. She shook her head straining but unable to remain completely still and sucked in a frenzied breath at the contact, then tumbled into him losing all control or any thought that had been governing her body. 

‘Look at me, baby.’ He commanded softly, pressing slightly harder.

A small cry came from inside the curtain of her hair when she didn’t comply, he stopped making the small slow circles. She whimpered in protest, but lifted her head off of his chest and pressed her back and shoulders against the door once more. The moment her half-lidded eyes caught his again, he slipped a finger deep inside of her. Her mouth fell open as pure pleasure washed over her, but before she could make a sound, he took her mouth in a kiss that buckled her knees and slipped another finger inside of her. He held her body upright with the weight of his and she came all over his fingers. He pulled his mouth from hers and watched her body flush a deeper pink and then bright red.

She shook hard with the force of her release and he thought again that she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Watching her respond to him was intensely satisfying. 

‘Come to me, baby.’ He crooned to her. ‘I wish you could see yourself right now. God woman you are so beautiful.’ he said, stroking his fingers in and out of her, watching while she unabashedly did what he'd asked her to and came again. She dragged in a great lung full of air and his name flew from her mouth, blowing the strands of her hair around her flushed face. Her knickers were pooled around her ankles, knee’s slightly bent inward, her body shaking hard, while she gripped the door knob to hold herself up, and all the while her eyes held his. He wanted her badly. Wanted to flip her around and sink into her, but couldn’t stop taking in the sight of her. He’d done this to her. He wanted to beat his chest and howl at the moon. He was so hard he could hammer nails with his cock.

He pulled his fingers from her as she finally collapsed against him, then and scooped her up turning for the bed. He laid her out on it like she was a Goddess then crawled between her legs and buried his mouth in the juncture there. Her body arched up off of the bed and a guttural moan of surprise keened from her. She was talking to him, but there wasn’t any sense to her words. 

‘I do, yes, in my system, in my blood, please, right…there, yes, oh…oh…more’ she babbled breathlessly, then digging her hands into his hair arched further, trying to hang on but lost herself in the next wave that broke over her. When she came back to herself her body trembled uncontrollably and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.

He'd gathered her into his arms, her back pressed against his chest he held her securely to him. He'd pulled the soft throw blanket on the corner of the bed over her and tucked it around her, nuzzling to spot behind her ear, dropping kisses there, whispering to her as everything he felt for her poured out of him, 'love you...help me...beautiful...want you...never leave.'

After she’d fallen asleep and he held her to him, unable to understand what he'd ever done in his miserable life to ever be where he was right at this second, he realized that in the throws of the orgasms he'd given her, she’d been repeating his words from long ago back to him.  He was in her system. The realization, made him shudder and it terrified him.

Every single fear, want, need, every single thing he'd ever felt because of her settled over him. It scared him even more than what he knew now that she felt for him. 

He let the fear and panic work it's way through him. He'd wanted this, he reminded himself. 

Wanting something was vastly different than the responsibility of having something.

He'd promised her a man. She'd finally accepted and now he had to deliver. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Fifteen

 

Kaylee stretched and she rolled away from the solid warmth of Simon to turn off the alarm clock. She’d already been asleep and hadn’t heard him come in last night. The day before had been spent with her parents and River in the strawberry patch.  Well…not only the strawberry patch.  She’d spent a good amount of time at the hydro-farm as well. The strawberries were sweeter if they grew in the dirt.

She’d come to love working at the farm, but the strawberry patch was her pet project. Farming wasn’t as easy as engines, but she enjoyed the challenge of working at and tending something until you achieved the best possible result. So, farming was sort of like engines. You had to tinker with it.

When she came home the day before, she’d been worn out.

She took a shower and went straight to bed.

She rolled back to Simon and snuggled into his sleep warmed body. He draped an arm around her and turned slightly toward her, burrowed in closer, and dropped a kiss on the top of her head as he came fully awake.  

‘Good morning, Mrs. Tam.’ He croaked, through his morning breath.

‘Good morning, Husband.’ She replied.

She snaked an arm across his naked body giving him a slight squeeze. 

They’d been married for about three months now.

So far, all either of them had to say about marriage except for the obvious, was that it was an adjustment.  They seemed to be doing okay with the adjusting, but it was only because neither of them was truly selfish.

Which, so far as they could tell, was what marriage really was.

Just because neither of them was selfish, didn’t mean that they didn’t want a thing or…some things though, because they did. Want certain things.

It was…an adjustment. 

They never really argued. They mostly tip toed around issues until they were resolved or accepted to their mutual satisfaction. Neither of them dealt well with confrontation, so they didn’t fight. It wasn’t worth the uncomfortable feeling they had with each other afterward to bring up something that annoyed them.

Although sometimes, it was difficult for each of them to let a thing go.

Take the coffee maker for example. Simon liked it where it was, but every time Kaylee tried to cook something, she had to move it.

This was for a few different reasons. 

First, it took up a lot of work space on the counter.  Second, she had move it when she cooked, or there was always a mess splattered all over it if she didn’t.

Simon, never moved the pot if he cooked anything.

So, she ended up having to wash down the pot, every time he cooked.

Both of those things made the placement of the pot troublesome for her, but he liked it there.  So, she left it. It was a little thing, but it was just one more thing she had to deal with during the day.

As for Kaylee, she thought since Simon didn’t use all of his side of the closet, she could use the space he didn’t. Their closet was enormous.  As a result, he had to run an iron over his shirts every day because she never left enough room for them to hang without being smushed.

This meant that every day his shirts were wrinkled and everyday he had to re-iron shirts that he’d already ironed. It didn’t take him any time to do it really, but he’d done it once already.

He wished he could just take a shirt out of the closet and put it on. 

It was the small things like these, that they were adjusting to.

‘So, what do you have planned for the day?’ she asked, snuggling him.

‘I’m…not sure.’ He answered, uncomfortably.

‘I…we…woke up the blond…ugh, Spike last night.’ He stammered, waiting.

‘What?’ she demanded!  ‘I…you told me you would let me…’

‘I know what I said.’ He cut her off, ‘But it was for the best to do it this way. Buffy asked that it just be the two of them. It was the proper thing to do.’ He insisted.

‘Oh…here we go with the proper thing again.’ She complained.

‘You wouldn’t like strangers gawking at you were reuniting with me if we’d been separated for 500 years. To my way thinking this was the prop…correct way to do it.’ He adjusted. 

‘Anyway, you will get to meet him soon enough.’  Simon said, defensively.

‘Cap’s not going to like it.’ She replied knowingly.

‘I will talk to Mal. If he feels that strongly about it, he can be there for the next one, but you would think getting punched in the mouth twice now, would clue him in that he needs to give Buffy a little time to explain the way of things to her people. They need a minute to understand that he isn’t who they think he is.’ Simon explained reasonably.

‘Mmmm, I guess.’ She relented, yawning.

‘What did you do yesterday?’ he asked changing the subject.

‘Spent most of the day at the farm, but I worked in the strawberry patch a little as well.’ She fibbed. ‘I figure if we are going to have all these extra mouths to feed, we better start looking at where to put the expansion.’  She said, yawning yet again. 

She was really tired.

‘Kaylee, there are three other hydro-farms in the city.’ He stated.

‘Be that as it may, we don’t have enough hands to work them.’ she replied.

He nodded in understanding and pondered the situation for a minute.

‘Maybe, we can do supply runs, until we have enough hands to run them?’

‘Could be.’ She said.

‘How many of the farms do you think need to be planted? All four or would just the two be enough?’ he asked.

‘Well, probably just ours and another fully planted.’ She answered.  ‘At some point, even though I hate to say it, we are going to need livestock. These people were ravenous meat eaters. I looked it up.’  She said.

‘Well, they might have been, but it was horrible for them health wise. They are going to need to make changes to their diet if they plan on living on Miranda. We can’t have that kind of whole sale slaughter going on here constantly. It wouldn’t be good for River.’ 

Kaylee tried not to roll her eyes and failed.

She stopped herself from saying something smart and thought about what he was saying. It had merit, even if he had misunderstood her. She didn’t mean they should open a slaughter house, for Pete sake. Just that they were going to need some meat. She was thinking ahead.

Kaylee had learned almost from the beginning that her sister-in-law would be one of the main focus’ of their lives. She’d signed on for it anyway and had never regretted it, but River had grown so much over the last several years. Despite what her husband thought, his sister didn’t need him as much as she had before. Fortunately, that meant there was time for the two of them that had never been available before and Kaylee enjoyed not having to plan each day around River’s needs.

Simon however, had difficulty with the loosened reigns and allowing River some freedom. He was really struggling with the transitioning out of constant observation of River for her own safety, to a more relaxed role. River was 21 now and chaffed at Simon’s vigilance. She did still require a small bit of daily supervision, but it wasn’t anything remotely close to what had been needed in the beginning. 

Occasionally, Kaylee did find herself reacting negatively when Simon over reacted to simple things like meat.  It was a knee jerk thing.  She knew he was right and that what she was feeling was merely a learned response to behavior she’d developed during the rough patch they’d been through a while back. 

‘I…you are right.’ She acknowledged, letting it go.

One day he would see that River really was okay and that it was time for her to take her next steps in life. She just hoped that one day was sooner rather than later. She pulled herself out of her thoughts, Simon was saying,

‘Buffy’s been adamant about waking her people up slowly. Mainly because of the shock to the system and the strain on our resources. She certainly doesn’t want to wake up 100’s of teenage girls without a way to take care of or manage them. It is her intention to wake up the adults and her strongest people first. I am sure that once we explain the situation to them and they’ve adjusted, they will be happy to learn what needs to be done and help with the gardening.’ He offered.

Kaylee strove for patience.

‘That sounds like it will be…helpful. It’s not just food though, Simon. It’s everyday things as well. Toothbrushes, birth control, shampoo, laundry sheets, and those things that we use every day that we don’t even think about.’ She reminded him.

He nodded, ‘I get it, Kaylee. It’s a big job, and you are asking me for help. I realize, that I have been caught up in the…fascination of it all. I will focus and help you and the others with the rest.’ He promised.

‘Good. Because God knows the Cap’n won’t pull himself away from patrolling The Signal long enough to take notice of what’s happening himself.  I wish he could see that we are safe and that he can take a breath. Enjoy this life a little.’ She said, wistfully.

‘Don’t be so hard on him, Kaylee.’ Simon said, uncharacteristically supporting the Captains habits. Something he always did when Mal’s behavior was what would be the most beneficial for River. ‘What else is he supposed to do? He just wants us to be safe. After some time passes, he will relax.’ Her husband explained, ironically. ‘Besides, we don’t know…we aren’t 100% certain if what Buffy says is true and there is an army in those tubes. If there truly is, he might relax before then.’

‘Simon!’ River barged into their bedroom, complaint ringing in the air. ‘The blond one isn't in his tube!’ she accused.

‘River, what have I explained to you about knocking?’ he sighed running a hand over his sleepy face. 

Kaylee caught a case of the giggles. Casting a glance at Simon, she waved River over and patted the bed for her to sit down. She really did love her sister-in-law, after all.  A smile crept across River’s lovely face and she skipped over and crawled up into the bed between them, motioning for a pillow the same way a baby demanded a bottle with little fisting motions.

Simon flung one at her. 

She caught it deftly then tucked it between her and the bed resting the weight of her body on her elbows and palming her chin.

‘It’s no wonder she…’ Simon trailed off as Kaylee ordered, ‘Hush!’ 

‘Don’t be cross with Simon, Mei Mei. I didn’t get to meet the Vampire either.’ Kaylee soothed.

River was still immature in many ways, but over the last several years, they’d worked with her tirelessly and for the most part she lived a fully functional, normal life. With the stable, nearly worry-free environment they had in Miranda, River had been able to overcome many of the difficulties she had faced. She’d been able to grow and mature. Now, she was just like any other woman in her early 20’s with a few exceptions. Since they had allowed her free reign when they’d first come to Miranda, she still struggled with things like personal space and privacy. She’d seen just about every one naked and in a personal moment, at least once. It had been especially difficult to break her of barging in on non-family members. Kaylee remembered the first time Simon had ever punished his sister. What a debacle. She’d been sitting in the bathroom watching Zoe’s uncle shower, when his wife had walked in. That had taken some masterful smooth talking on Simon’s part. River hadn’t done anything like that in years though.

‘How’s my folks this morning?’ Kaylee asked. ‘Have you had breakfast?’

River had moved in with Kaylee’s parents after she and Simon were married. Kaylee’s mother explained that it would ease the transition into married life, saying "Newlyweds needed their own space." 

So, River had moved in with Kaylee’s parents. 

‘Psh…’ she'd scoffed at the time not knowing how right her mom had been.

‘They’re fine. I had an apple.’  She said, swinging her feet in the air.

‘River, I am going on some supply runs, wanna come with me?’ Simon asked.

‘Yes.’ She nodded. ‘I want to wake the girl up.’  She added.

Kaylee and Simon glanced at each other.

‘It’s not time yet. Her sister wants to wait.’ Simon explained.

‘She worries, but she shouldn’t. She hears her.’ She said, cryptically.

River played with the tassel on the decorative pillow he’d thrown at her.

‘Why do you say that?’ he asked.

‘She worries what will happen, but it will be okay.’ She said, positively. 

He thought through what River was telling him. They’d learned to listen when she said things like this. He'd mention it to Buffy, but he knew in the end, he'd respect Buffy’s wishes. Mal had given her power over those decisions anyway. Which, had been the right thing to do, obviously. However, he'd like to talk to Buffy and see if they could get to the bottom of her fears when it came to her sister. Right now though, he needed to get up and get the day started. Get some of his own breakfast. Maybe a little more alone time with Kaylee.

River quirked her mouth at him. 

‘Damn. She’d heard him think that.’

‘Why don’t you go and find Jayne and ask him if he wants to come with us tomorrow. Tell him what we are going after. He will love that. Meet me back here later and I will take you with me when I go to check on the tubes. When we're done with that, we're going to go and help Kaylee at the farm. Sound good?’

River nodded slyly, skooched off of the bed and said, ‘Bye.’ She stood outside of the door and listened intently as Kaylee started giggling. Soon after the moaning started. She was still really confused about what Simon called intimacy. So many emotions and thoughts. So many feelings. She thought she might like to try what Simon and Kaylee were doing. 

‘Someday.’

She turned and left to go find Jayne.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sixteen

 

Spike had worked through his anxiety while he'd watched her sleep for the last several hours.

'She must've needed it.' He thought, not for the first time and unsure now if he meant sleep or the physical release. From what he'd read in her eyes and body language he wasn’t really surprised that she had slept this long, whichever the case may be.

She was going to wake up soon though. Her breathing had changed and she’d rolled into a different position several times in the last few minutes. Her nose had twitched as well. 

'She smells me.' he thought, absently. 

These were all tell-tale signs that she was waking up. He thought he would get up and get her some water, but he wanted to be next to her when she woke up.

'It can wait.'  he decided.

All night he’d watched while she slept and listened to the utterly silent city outside. There wasn’t a peep to be heard. Even Giles was silent. 

It was one the first question he was going to need answered. Where were they and what could have gone so wrong that there were 100’s and 100’s of tubes in that warehouse, with people in them and she didn’t want to talk about it. It made him wonder how many other warehouses like the one he had seen there were. He'd tried to puzzle it out on his own a few times through the night, but most of what he’d come up with was preposterous. He’d given up eventually and just watched his Slayer sleep, focusing on what he did know.

Just as he had predicted, her eyes fluttered open. It took her a few beats to get her bearings. The room was almost completely dark, except for a sliver of light that peeped under the door.

While she could see better than the average human, she still needed a moment to blink the sleep out of her eyes. As soon as she had she reached for him. He took her hand in his and laid it on his bare chest. She slid it over his heart, her thumb brushing back and forth over his nipple. He'd worked himself out of the shirt sometime through the night to get more comfortable. He wasn't used to the heat his body was making and combined with hers, he'd needed the cool air on his skin. The warmth of his body was something he'd need answers for as well.

‘Hi.’ She murmured shyly, tucking her body in close to his.

‘Luv.’ He answered, softly. 

She was just awake and she wanted him already. He knew from the heat that washed over her, when he’d laid her hand on his chest. He started to ask how she’d slept, but she cut him off.

‘I want you.’ She said, softly.

After having no release the night before, dealing with the perplexing but arousing warmth, and spending the night watching her breasts rise and fall with her breathing, he was fully erect and aching to accommodate her without needing to be convinced. He groaned when she palmed his erection immediately after her announcement and began to stroke him through his jeans.

‘I want you now. All I have been thinking about for weeks is having you. I can’t wait any longer.’ She complained. Every molecule of her body was urgently appealing to him and he wasn't moving yet. He was still mostly dressed. She worked at his belt and then the button on his jeans. When she had it unfastened, she pulled the flap of his jeans and the zipper followed the motion. She deftly slid her hand into his jeans, tangling her fingers in his pubic hair tugging at it gently. 

‘Oh God.’  He breathed, 'Buffy...wait.' He swallowed,and stilled her hand with a palm to her shoulder. He gently pushed her back on the bed and stood up once she was lying flat. 

Buffy began to protest the moment he'd rolled out of the bed, but quieted when he quickly divested himself of the rest of his clothing and cracked the door of the small space open a bit so he could see her body. If this was going to be anything like last night, he didn't want to miss anything. A small grin tugged at his lips while he took in her naked, sleep warmed body, then he rejoined her in the bed. 

As soon as he did, she curled herself into him again.

‘Buffy…’

She put her lips to his, stopping whatever it was that he’d been about to say. All she wanted, was to put the past behind them and get on with the right now. Talking wasn’t going to do that. Sure, she had things that she wanted to say to him, but there were things she wanted him to understand and not another moment was going to pass between them, without him knowing what those things were. She needed him to know and accept what it was she was giving him. The only way she could think of to tell him those things, was to show him. No more telling her that she didn't mean it. She crawled on top of him and kissed him, and then kissed him again, willing him to understand what she was trying to say to him. The kisses were like prayers of thanks to the Universe. They were gentle but intense. They were binding and urgent. Slow and deep. She kissed him like she was starving and his lips were food.

After each and ever one she told him again, ‘I love you.’ She licked his bottom lip and looked at him the curtain of her hair enclosing them and breathed against his mouth, 'I love you, Spike.' 

He'd been stunned speechless, by her intensity.

He let her make slow exquisite love to him. She's started with her hand, stroking the length of him slow and soft while she kissed him. He buried his hands in her glorious hair and stopped sharing kisses with her to instead, feast on her mouth. His soft moans of pleasure escaped through his kiss swollen lips and when he was on the brink of losing himself, he rolled with her, slipping between her legs, letting his length graze her slick center.

She clung to him nearly senseless with wanting him. 'Why was he waiting.' she cried restlessly.

‘Please…’ she panted.

He nearly exploded against her. All of the times that he had fantasized and prayed to hear that word come from her mouth rushed at him. He pushed himself slightly deeper into the opening between her legs. He wanted her so much he was shaking. He didn’t plunge into her. He took a minute and got himself under control. He kissed the pulse in her throat. He licked, and sucked at it, finally laying his tongue against it. Taking all the time he needed for control. The quick beat making his erection throb and bounce. It was glorious. 

When Buffy couldn’t take the pressure anymore, she arched toward him and pulled his hips trying to force him inside.

His control was firmly in place and instead of surging forward he slipped slowly inside of her inch by silky inch, taking his time.

They both groaned in pleasure and when he was completely inside her, they held each other reveling in the completeness of the connection.

‘She feels like forever.’ He thought, shuddering, as her legs wound around his waist. 

This was something he’d wanted his entire existence. To love someone who loved him in return and he knew she loved him because she hadn’t stopped telling him since the first kiss she'd pressed to his lips. Even now, she was breathing the words into the hollow of his throat.

‘I…love…you.’ she shuddered.

He raised himself on his elbows to tell her the same and saw that she was crying. 

‘Buffy?’ he began pulling away, thinking he’d hurt her, but then he saw it in her eyes.

‘I love you. Always. It’s always been you.’ She smiled, shining at him.

He understood then. For all of the times he had behaved foolishly. All of the times they’d fought. All of the times she’d denied him. For the bathroom… She was telling him it was time to leave all of it in the past. In an unexplainable miracle they’d gotten a second chance. No way was he going to waste it. Very slowly, he rolled his hips and slid into her again.

She sucked in a lung full of air breathing his name. It sounded like an explosion in the small room. Every nerve in her body had her focused on him. He pushed into her with painstaking slowness, over and over again, loving her with all of his long-neglected tenderness. His spoke his love and deepest fears to her as he pledged himself to her. His voice was rough with the truth he spoke. 

‘I love you. I love you so much, that it hurts. Losing you was like a stake in the heart. I can’t ever do it again, luv. If you leave me, don’t tell me, just bloody kill me.’

‘Never again.’ She panted, shaking her head. ‘Never again.’

She wouldn’t stop saying it. ‘I love you.’ She said meeting each of his thrusts.

‘You smell like sunshine and you feel like honey. I crave the way you pour over me. I love the way your eyes glitter when you are happy, when you challenge me, tease me, when you're mad at me, it makes me so hard that it’s a torture. I love the way you say my name when you want me. Makes me feel like I could conquer the bloody world. Makes me feel like a man.’ He said, not looking away from her and pushed into her with that delicious continuous slowness. 

‘I am yours.’ He promised.

 push

‘…and I am yours.’ She answered.

They bound themselves completely to each other with their words.

Increasing his rhythm, he made love to her in earnest then. She’d wrapped herself around tightly around him and they synced. He was cradling her body, one hand under her bottom and one behind her shoulder. She held his eyes so she wouldn’t lose herself too soon. He was thrusting into her with complete abandon, but he kissing her with absolute reverence. She was the most satisfying experienced that he'd ever had. Everything about her generally drove him to the edge, but most of all hearing her voice say the things he’d always wanted to hear say was binding him to her in a way nothing else could have. It was poetry and passion and real.

‘Yes, there, that’s it. Oh…oh please. Do it...baby., oh God...push harder, Spike please...’

She was coming to him. He could feel her tightening around him.

‘The way you fill me.’ She said, between gasping breaths.

He felt like he was going to die if she said anything like that again. Pure love, turned to insatiable lust had formed a haze around them.

Her eyes were glassy, her breasts blushed their tell-tale soft pink. 

‘She’s so close.’ he thought, thrusting deeply.

He could feel the pull of her soul, joining with his and knew right away that something very different was happening to them.

‘This is all of me…take it.’ She said, and her eyes looked all the way into him. 

He knew what she was asking for then. To see him…all of him.

He let his demon loose and his fangs dropped. 

‘Oh…oh my God,’ She moaned, arching into him. 'Please, she prayed silently. Then said, You are so beautiful. So close, please…please…please…’ She said, lifting a hand to caress his demons face.

He shuddered, nearly insensible and looked at her in question, making sure it was what she really wanted.

She started to come, she couldn't stop it. Her body arched against him and her eyes began to flutter closed.

‘Don’t...oh God, don’t look away, please. Look at me!' he demanded. 'I want to see your eyes. Show me those beautiful green eyes right now.’ He grunted, driving heavily into her.

She focused on him and didn’t look away thank God. It was driving him mad and he bucked into her wildly.

She came so hard that if he’d had breath in his body, she would have sucked it out of him. He forced his demon away but continued to thrust deeply inside of her while she shuddered convulsively.   He had resisted his demon’s urge to throw his head back and howl and instead demanded that she look at him. Her soft, glazed eyes smiled to see the smooth face of William replace the demon in him. He poured his soul into her then collapsing between her breasts to listen to her pounding heart and ragged breathing. 

‘Love you so much.’ She repeated, dragging a hand through his curls. Happy tears ran freely while she held him. The force of her emotions wouldn’t allow her to stop touching him. She caressed him, hugged him, kissed him while he lay spent between her thighs. She felt complete for the first time in her life. She was done with everything that had come before. As far as she was concerned, all there was between them anymore was this moment and whatever came after it. She should probably actually say that to him. 

He didn’t want to move. He felt like he could stay here for eternity. God what a woman. The things she did to him. To his mind, to his body. He was ever a romantic, but she made him feel like Ares.

‘Are you hungry?’ she asked, after a moment.

‘I’m feeling a bit peckish, yeah.’ he replied.

She nodded, kissed him, and slipped from the bed. She’d been gone all of 10 seconds when he heard her.

‘Whoa! What the hell are you doing here?’ she demanded.

He’d cleared the bed and was standing in the kitchen before she’d finished speaking. They were both completely nude and River was standing there looking innocent and guilty at the same time.

‘I…wanted to meet him.’ She said by way of explanation, pointing.

Buffy turned to see nude a Spike, hand clutched over his privates.

‘Well, as you can see,’ Buffy began, stepping in front of Spike to cover him and trying not to giggle ‘we're not prepared for company. So, you need to go and come back later.’ she instructed.

All at once she realized that Spike was standing in the kitchen and she panicked. Sunlight was pouring through the floor to ceiling windows and he wasn’t on fire. She’d actually realized it before she’d finished inviting River to leave and come back later. Her mouth popped open to protest as he walked tentatively toward the glass. Spike became more and more excited the closer he got to the window.

‘He wasn’t on fire!’  he brain screamed at him. ‘I don’t get it, Luv. Are the windows UV blocking?’ he asked, in awe of the view.

She stared after him astonished. ‘I…don’t know!  Simon did say they brought you off the ship in the daylight.’ She’d blurted the sentence out before she could stop herself.

‘Ship?’ He questioned.

‘Spike, I don’t think…’ she stopped abruptly. She could see that she wasn’t going brush that statement away without answering him right now. Her mouth was open and she tried to find the words she needed for an answer but she couldn’t stop screaming ‘Stupid!’ at herself.

‘What ship?’ he demanded.

‘We need to get some clothes on.’ She said ignoring his question anyway. 

‘You won’t burn from the Ultra Violet Ray’s.’ River offered.

Buffy had turned to leave but stopped walking and stared hard at River.

‘Yeah? How so?’ Spike demanded.

‘Because they bend differently in Miranda’s atmosphere. Also, the sun is different here. You're going to find it’s like that wherever you go in this system, except for Kalidasa and probably Georgia.’

Spike looked at Buffy for an explanation he'd understand.

‘She doesn’t know why.’ River said, shaking her head.

‘River, we really need for you to go now.’ Buffy said quickly. ‘See ya later.’

‘Alright!’ River yelled in a huff. She spun, her hair fanning out behind her, stomping away in a huff. 'Everyone is always so irritable!'

Buffy didn’t wait for River to leave. She ran back upstairs. Spike followed talking to her back the whole way.

‘You gonna tell me what’s bloody going on now, Pet?  Who was that?  Whole sodden city smells like death and is empty as Jesus’ tomb, but for us, Giles next door and one girl. Who, not to mention, has seen all of me before we’ve even been introduced proper like. Not to mention that all we talked about were ships, and bloody UV rays that suddenly bend differently?’ He air-quoted. ‘And, just who in the bloody hell is Miranda?’ he yelled again.

‘Well, I had a plan. A good plan, but now it’s all kablooey.’ She shrugged. ‘Just…put your clothes on. We're going to see Giles.’ She ordered hurriedly, pulling on a pair of stretchy athletic type pants and a t-shirt. She washed her face and brushed her teeth and was ready to go in minutes. 

While Spike dressed, she waited and paced nervously.

Thank God for vacuum sealing she thought as he appeared in their bedroom.

There was her Vampire. 

Black pants and t-shirt. Red button down. Boots. Black leather duster.

‘I’m gonna need some answers soon, Luv.’ 

She nodded and reached for his hand, ‘Giles will explain.’ She said, nervously.

‘Buffy, I don’t want Giles to explain. He tried to kill me a few months ago and I haven’t given him a pardon yet. I don’t scare that easily, Pet. I’m a big bad Vampire, remember? Now, tell me what’s got you so spooked.’ He said, gently squeezing her hand for reassurance.

‘I…it’s just, you will believe me if Giles is there to back me up.’ She stuttered. 

He stared at her puzzled.

‘Let’s…let’s just go see Giles if we need too. Okay?’ he tried.

‘My girl is utterly terrified.’ He realized. 

‘Buffy, out with it.’ He insisted, then.

She sat down on the bed and dropped her head into her hands. He kneeled down in front of her. She was starting to spook him. There wasn’t much that could rattle her. Maybe he needed to be a little less cavalier about…whatever this was. 

‘Hey,’ he said, placing his hands on her knees, ‘I don’t know if you are afraid of me, or if you are afraid of…well, I don’t know what you are afraid of, but I promise you, okay, don’t be afraid of me.’ He coaxed.

She looked up at him with wide haunted eyes. Words frozen on her lips.

‘Right…’ he pulled his mouth in frustration. ‘Look…spill it, Summers.’

‘I’m trying.’ She choked.

He lifted a doubtful brow and shrugged, then waited. He pulled in a breath and his chin jutted out. He was going to stay patient and wait for her. He could see that she was running through what she wanted to say to him. He had stayed patient as long as he could stand it.

‘Buffy…’

‘We aren’t on Earth.’ She blurted.

He blinked at her, stunned. ‘Say again…’ he stammered.

She just waited for him to process what she’d said.

He stood, went to the window, yanked the curtains open and stared out.

Turning back to her he gestured out the window as if to say,

‘What the hell is this then?’

She started talking then. She said it the same way it had been said to her.

As if he should just understand what he was being told.

Three minutes later they were standing at Giles front door.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Seventeen

 

‘We're on a terraformed planet called Miranda. We're virtually alone. There are about Forty people who live on the entire planet, not including…us. All of us.’  She said, voice shaking. 'We...we’ve been kidnapped, as best as I can determine. I…I don’t know because...I haven’t been able to really get past the rest of it...everything else.’ She finished in a near whisper, while she watched his expressions change rapid fire while she talked. He'd run the gamut from confusion, to shock, to anger to shock again. He'd reacted the same way Giles had, the same way she had.

‘What, everything else?’ he asked quietly.

Then they told him the rest of it. It was a difficult discussion, but her Vampire had only freaked out once. That was when she told him that she wasn’t going to pull Riley out of Cryo so he could kill him.

They'd been talking and arguing the talking some more for hours when there was a knock at Giles door. Startled they sat in the pregnant silence unsure of what to do about it.

It seemed like a normal occurrence, for someone to knock at the door but everyone they knew was either frozen in a tube or sitting in this room.

‘Hello?’ Called the voice on the other side of the door after several moments.

Buffy looked to Giles and shrugged.

Spike, huffed out a breath and was at the door before Buffy could stop him. He pulled it open to reveal Captain Reynolds on the other side.

Inara was with him.

Spike took one look at the Captain, vamped out, drew back a fist and punched him square in the mouth.

Mal fell backward into Inara and they both tumbled to the floor in a whirl of fabric from Inara’s dress. She gave a startled screech as Mal became tangled in the voluminous dress.

Buffy reached Spike and hauled him off of the Captain just before he was able to bite him.

Captain Reynolds was vehemently screaming in Chinese, none of which Buffy understood, as she helped the Captain and then Inara to their feet.

Inara was scolding the Captain over top of his screaming as she brushed herself off and straightened her clothes. ‘I told you to wait and let me, but you never listen!’ she accused.

Mal wasn’t listening to her. He was peppering Buffy with questions. ‘What the hell is that?’ Mal gestured furiously, yelling the question a few times while Buffy moved to stand in front of Spike who was still vamped out. It was complete chaos in the entry way of Giles’ apartment.

Giles having had enough of it already put his fingers to his lips and gave a piercing whistle. Silence ensued directly after.

‘Yes. Well now, that’s better isn't it.’ He said calmly, pulling off his glasses and giving them a polish.

Whenever this happened, it was Buffy’s cue to take control of the situation. 

‘Spike…settle down.’ She commanded him sternly. ‘I know that you were caught off guard and you didn’t mean to punch Captain Reynolds in the mouth.

'Who the bloody hell is Captain Reynolds?' he mocked.

'Captain Reynolds is in charge here and we...'reside' here because of his generosity, so can it.’ She finished, in her 'I mean it' tone. ‘I forgot to mention that our benefactor looks just like Caleb because I was distracted by you not being all...on fire and stuff. Otherwise I would've mentioned before now.’ She finished lamely. 

Spike had put his demon face away by the time she’d gotten to the words benefactor and was now merely looking very angry. He doubled his effort to chill out and relaxed his body by rolling his shoulders and shifting is weight into a less threatening stance. 

Satisfied that he wasn’t going to attack the Captain again, Buffy turned to face Mal and Inara.

Walking to them she said, ‘I'm so sorry. I didn’t warn him yet and… it was an accident. I was distracted by an interesting development and completely forgot.’ She explained.

Ever eloquent, Mal lifted a finger and pointing at Spike barked, ‘What the hell is wrong with his face!’ 

Inara deftly stepped past Mal and said, ‘What he means to say is, we're sorry for dropping in unannounced. We have some things we would like to talk with you about. May we come in?’

Buffy, looking for the answer, turned to Giles who was already coming to the door. 

‘Yes. Please, do come in.’ He invited, gesturing for them to enter the house. As the couple walked through the front door into Giles spacious living area he asked, ‘Would anyone care for tea?’

Inara was delighted to be offered tea. It was her deeply held opinion that you could learn a great deal about a person by the way they offered and prepared tea. 

‘That would be lovely, Mr. Giles. Please, allow me to help you.’ Inara said.

Giles, as usual was tongue tied by Inara’s incredible beauty, but as was her way she’d soothed him and made him comfortable in his own kitchen again almost immediately. By the time the tea was done she knew that Mr. Giles was loyal, cautious, driven, and broken. Depending upon who’s side he elected to be on, that made him either an incredible asset or very dangerous. Inara had been in Mr. Giles company before but she’d been unable to observe him alone in a comfortable setting. She found she liked the man. He was educated, had impeccable manners, and he loved Buffy like a father. He wasn’t keen on her relationship with the Vampire however, even though he was making every effort to accept it.  

‘Mr. Giles, you make a lovely cup of tea.’ She complemented him while she arranged the tray.   

‘Yes. I mean, thank you. One does try ones best.’ He replied, stiffly and retrieved a box of English style biscuits from the cupboard. 

'The Lord only knew where they'd come from.', he thought.

Next, he produced a small plate, piled some of the treats onto it and giving Inara a tight smile they returned to the others, with Inara carrying the biscuits and Giles the tea tray.

Back in the living room Buffy had just given Spike a vicious kick to the ankle.

‘Ow!’ Spike protested and rubbed the smarting area vigorously.

Buffy shot him a serious side eye and gritted at him to ‘Behave!’

This had been an awful way for Captain Reynolds to meet Spike and she was worried. She’d been counting on him making a good first impression in order to gain the Captains support for him. She knew she was going to have trouble with the others when it came to Spike and she wanted him to have every advantage. Spike had a chance at a fresh start if he could just get the support he needed. Too much opposition always made him uncooperative and confrontational. She didn’t want that for him here or for their relationship. She wanted easy and normal.

Spike having seen the worry slide across her face after his scolding, immediately set about putting her at ease.

He stood, turned to Mal and said, ‘Captain Reynolds, please allow me to voice great regret at my actions and accept my sincerest apology. I was startled by your appearance, but that isn’t an acceptable excuse for my ill manners. I hope I didn’t do any lasting damage. I feel like a cad for having knocked you down and causing your lovely companion to be sent sprawling to the floor and humiliated as well. I shall endeavor to convince you of my good character from this moment forward and it is my deepest wish that if you accept my apology, we may become dear friends.’ And then, he sketched the Captain an honest to goodness bow.

Giles stood stock still in the middle of the room with the tea tray, mouth hanging open in shock. He recovered himself after a beat and put the tray down just as Spike, turning to Inara bent his knee, and kneeled in front of her.

‘Lady, please forgive my callus rudeness. I pray you are unhurt and I humbly beg your forgiveness.’ He bowed his head then and waited for Inara to respond.

‘Huh…’ Was all that a stunned Mal, could offer.

Inara, ever the lady, reached out and taking Spike’s hand and lifting him from his kneeling position said, ‘Think nothing of it. It was an accident and all is forgiven. Please, call me Inara. ’  

Spike stood and bowed deeply to her. He looked ridiculous playing the gentleman in his combat boots and black leather jacket, but he’d made a lasting impression on everyone with that apology.

Buffy was quite literally, beaming at him. 

‘Lady, your gracious nature humbles me. I thank you. My name is William, but everyone calls me Spike. You may call me either.’ He finished, taking the plate of cookies from her and escorting her to a chair.

Once she was seated, he placed the biscuits on the tea table and took a seat next to Buffy who glowed like a happy beacon and taking his hand in hers and gave it a significant squeeze. 

In the ensuing silence, a bewildered Giles, jerked himself into action, pouring the tea and the conversation began.

‘Buffy,’ Mal began, ‘I was concerned when River appeared today carrying me a tale that Spike here was all awake and she’d seen him nekkid as a cod fish in your kitchen earlier today. After the last ten minutes or so I have the understanding of why you took it upon yourself to change the parameters of our agreement. What you need to know now, is that River has been reprimanded for barging in on you. She has a tendency to do this. It won’t be the last time. She struggles with personal boundaries and we can only apologize for it ahead of time and ask you not to get too rankled with her over it. Also, it might be a good idea to lock your door for a while.’ He said, then changed the subject. ‘The next thing you need to know is that when we have an agreement, I'm expecting you to stick to it. If you have a concern, all you need do is come to me and discuss it. If you take it upon yourself to change things up after an agreement without consulting me again, we're most likely going to have a problem and I don’t want that. Are we clear?’ Mal finished sternly.

No one spoke. 

Giles and Inara sipped their tea and waited to see what was going to happen.

Buffy could feel Spike tense with each word Captain Reynolds had spoken to her, but she had a death grip on his hand and had nearly crushed it in warning. Spike responded by schooling his face and body language into passiveness. Taking a page out of 'William’s' book, she said, ‘Captain Reynolds, I…appreciate, you not being very angry with me and for your understanding, concerning my fears and misgivings. I know we had an agreement and that I've...damaged your faith in me by breaking my word. I promise you, it won't happen again.’ She replied sincerely, taking time to choose her words carefully.

Mal nodded his acceptance. ‘It’s all water under the bridge now. Like I said, I understand it…now, just don’t go thinking I'm going to be so understanding again and we'll be square.’ He nodded at her and changed the subject again. ‘Now next item. We're curious about who you'll be wantin to bring out of Cryo next. We've been working overtime trying to get extra crops going to feed all of you. We just need to know how many you're looking to bring out so we can work on a schedule and be prepared.’

‘I'm glad you have asked.’ Buffy said.

‘Giles and I were talking about this the other day. He brought up a few things that I hadn't considered and we think it is best if we wake Angel up next. This will give us the extra time you need for crops as unlike Spike, he doesn’t eat food at all. Further, we'll need Angel when it is time to wake up Faith. They have a close relationship and things will be easier for her, if he's present.’ Buffy explained all of this while ignoring the glare Spike had leveled at her when she’d told Captain Reynolds it was her intention to wake Angel next. She pulled her hand out of his and leaned forward to continue.

Spike grunted at her.

Angel not needing human food isn’t the only reason I need to wake him up next. If I wake him up next, we have the benefit of privacy. There is going to be some drama with him. Unfortunately, it's unavoidable as there is...history and unresolved issues. I'm hoping to spare us all from having it play out in front of everyone who loves us, as well as a bunch of strangers.’ She explained.

‘What kind of history?’ Mal questioned.

Buffy sighed, wishing she wasn't going to have to explain.

‘It wouldn’t be such a big deal if he weren’t such a bloody big poofter.’ Spike interjected.

‘So helpful.’ Buffy scolded Spike again and thought, ‘So much for first impressions.’

Chastised and remembering himself, Spike stayed silent if petulant.

‘Isn’t it obvious, Mal?’ Inara said with a significant glance.

‘No...it isn’t...or I wouldn’t have asked.’ He clipped, as if his asking should have made this obvious.

‘It’s alright, Inara. I can talk about it.’ Buffy assured her.

To Mal she said, ‘Angel and I used to be in a "relationship." She said, and air quoted the word relationship.  

‘I was...very young and it was very serious. He lost his soul due to the serious nature of our…attachment.’ She said, blushing furiously while she stumbled around through her vocabulary before settling on the word attachment. Once she’d uttered the word, she wished she’d chosen just about any other word for sexually active. She realized they were waiting on her to elaborate on that bit of information now. ‘I…suffice it to say that it ended bad and I had to kill him.’ She blurted, quickly.

No one said anything. The explanation just hung in the air like a bad smell. 

Mal looked to Inara who said nothing. He looked back to Buffy who said nothing. He looked to Giles who nodded in the affirmative at the question in the Captains eyes. He looked at Spike for confirmation. When he got it his mouth dropped open to speak, before he could, Buffy said in a rush,

‘When I did, it sent him to Hell dimension. He got a reprieve from the Powers the Be because of a prophecy and they sent him back to…us. Angel is Spike’s...grand sire. There is a lot of…well, let’s just say that it’s all very sordid. I mean, I can go on, or you can tune in daily until we get some of it resolved. Also, there’s the added bonus of us being here partially, because as per usual, Angel went all Anakin on The Circle.’ She finished and glanced awkwardly at Spike who was grinning at her with great amusement. 

‘What?’ she mumbled. ‘I spent a lot of time around Andrew before becoming a Popsicle.’ She blushed, then grouched, ‘Shut up.’ 

‘Now who is being an embarrassment.’ He quipped at her, superiorly. 

Mal raised a hand stopping her litany and the interplay between them, because he didn’t want to have to try and suss out what the hell an Anakin was. Furthermore, he didn’t believe anyone came back from a hell dimension, because the hell she meant didn't exist. He knew that because he’d been to Hell. It was located at the floor of Serenity Valley.

‘Doesn’t anyone stay dead where you’re from?’ he asked seriously.

‘Occasionally.’ Buffy offered frankly, then said, ‘Mostly when we get the spell right. I’ve been dead twice.’

Mal focused before he was able to get dragged down the rabbit hole and said, ‘That should be enough, I think. We'll make sure and give you some privacy. Is this, Angel going to want to punch me in the mouth the first time he sees me as well?’ Mal questioned.

‘Yes.’ Answered all three of them answered in unison.

‘I see.’ he replied. He was getting a headache and he needed a minute.

‘It’s for the best, Mal. You have to give them some time. If there are problems Buffy will come to you and ask for help. She wouldn’t knowingly endanger us. Isn’t that right, Buffy?’ Inara said confidently.

Buffy nodded her agreement, and said, ‘Absolutely.’ And she meant it.

Inara smiled supportive understanding at Buffy.

Mal sat silently considering.

Buffy, pushing ahead addressed the other question. ‘While it's true that there is benefit to waking our people one by one, it isn’t practical. We need a way that we can get these people back into their lives as quickly as possible. So, we’ve decided we're going to bring our "crew" in two large groups to begin with. I'm not afraid to admit that this thing is bigger than me. I'm completely daunted by the idea of all of these people and more than once I've thought we should just leave them there where they are safe, happy, and none the wiser.’ she confided.

After a beat Giles said, ‘I have something I'd like to discuss with you. As Buffy has said, she has concerns regarding our numbers. She isn’t the only one who’s been concerned. As you've watched us, you've come to understand that adjusting to the "new reality" is a lengthy, upsetting process for us. With that being said, we're adult…'people' and it with as difficult as it's been for us, there are hundreds of teen age girls just down the road, with no one but strangers to help them adjust to all of this. We at least have each other. These children are 500 years old, but still going through puberty, as well as being newly transitioned Slayers and they are completely alone.’ He said compassionately.

Buffy sucked in a breath, ‘What…what do you mean they're alone, Giles?’

‘Well, I've been going down to the warehouse and finding out what I can about the individuals in those tubes. Zoe gave me the ships log. All of the information we could possibly want about who these girls are, is in it. The records are meticulous. There are several family groups that make up astronauts and pilots, a few engineers, as well as the members of The Initiative, but for the most part, it’s just the girls and they're here alone. They're from all over the United States, Canada, and South America. They don’t even know each other, Buffy. I'm…’ Giles stopped speaking.

Buffy had gotten to her feet in a fury and begun to pace through the room. Spike watched her carefully, the Slayer was dangerous when she was this angry. 

‘Are you telling me, that Riley has 'abducted' hundreds of teenage girls from their families. They don’t have any family with them?’ she asked, furiously. 

As many times, as she’d been to the warehouse in the last weeks, not once had she ventured out into rows and rows of tubes. She’d been single minded with her visits. She went to talk to Dawn, or Willow. To tell Xander how sorry she was about Anya again and again. The visits had been for the soul purpose of saying everything she’d needed to say to them so when she woke them up, she could be there for them. It hadn’t occurred to her that all of those people were strangers to each other. She thought back to the moments after she’d been transported through time. She’d hadn’t heard most of what Riley had been saying before she slept for 500 years. She collapsed back onto the sofa next to Spike nonplussed. There was an army of Slayers in that warehouse and they’d just become her responsibility. That is what he’d meant when he’d said he needed her.

Giles was talking, but all she heard was her own self screaming that she was going to kill Riley. She wished now that she’d let Spike have him.

Giles spoke a bit louder to draw her in, because she’d drawn Captain Reynolds attention.

‘It is my suggestion that we wake only 100 souls a year. We do it by region, age, and interests. Eight girls a month after we bring out our people and the family groups. We're going to need jobs and activities to keep them busy. It’s a massive undertaking. The youngest girl down there is 10.’ Giles said through barely leashed hostility.

‘Giles, if we only wake up 100 girls a year it’s going to take more than a decade.’ Buffy reminded him.

‘Yes.’ He agreed, ‘But, it’s for the best. Consider that we don’t know what the long-term effects Miranda is going to have on any of us. Just today Spike didn’t burst into flames. We don’t know what the gravity of this planet will do to our bodies. We don’t know if the atmosphere will give us cancer. We just…don’t know. If things go well, if they change, we may be able to increase that number as we go along. For now, though Buffy…’ he trailed off.

Her mind was still reeling with the information Giles had just imparted.

‘You're right.’ She acknowledged. ‘It’s sound logic.’

‘I'm glad you think so, because I agree.’ Mal stated.

‘Me too.’ Spike said, just so he'd have something to say.

'Also, maybe you wanna explain why this, Riley, would abduct a bunch of girls.' Mal added.

‘They aren’t just a bunch of girls. He abducted an army of Slayers, Mate.’ Spike said.

Mal frowned at Spike in question.

‘They're like me. Probably some are like River. We won’t know of course, until we wake them up and talk to Riley himself.’ Buffy elaborated.

‘There's an army of you all out there?’ Mal questioned, stunned.

‘Yes.’ Buffy confirmed.

Mal flicked a glance at Inara and at once became both relaxed and animated. He wanted to talk to Zoe...right now. ‘So, lots of plans to make.’ He said and slapped the flat of his palms on his legs and redirected the subject back to the schedule. After a bit more conversation and hammering at it, Mal and Inara said goodnight. 

Soon after Buffy and Spike excused themselves. 

Giles cleaned up the tea and thought about the myriad of things that always occupied his thoughts. When he was done, he turned out the lights and went to bed alone.

As he lay there, he thought about Jody Mills before drifting off.

Chapter Text

 

Persephone

 

Badger sat alone in the small, dingy space he called an office on the south end of the Evesdown Docks. He was peeling an apple after having taken a wave from Larry.

Larry was a putz.

Lucifer, oh wait…excuse him

Luke

he corrected himself rolling his eyes mocking the name as he cranked the handle of the apple peeler. Badger had an affinity for apples his entire life. He supposed it was the symbolism and mystique that surrounded the fruit that drew him, as well as the myriad of tastes. There were so many varieties. Almost as many as people. He pulled the Granny Smith hybrid, his favorite, off of the peeler and took an inordinately large bite of the fruit, juice running down the stubble covering his chin.

Luke…had summoned him a full month before schedule.

Twice a year Badger had the privilege of hauling himself to off to Ariel to check-in and have a pound of his flesh removed…just for good measure. 

Being summoned early couldn’t be anything good.

Badger had come to hate his existence.

Once upon a time, he’d lived on Earth…happily.

He had a job he’d loved then, starting out as a lowly demon, but working hard he’d eventually earned the title King of the Crossroads. They had called him Crowley then and Crowley had banked more souls than anyone to earn the title King of the Crossroads.

With a bit more work and some luck, Crowley ended up becoming the King of Hell. And he’d been damn good at it. Crowley had the world by the bollocks back then.

Now look at him.

Back then, Crowley had seen to it that Luke was safely tucked away in the pit of Hell while he became the greatest ruler Hell had ever seen. Even better than Luke…in his opinion. Those had been the Salad Days and it had been well in his soulless existence, until the Winchesters had come along and ruined everything.

He despised the Winchesters…now. He couldn’t believe that he ever worked with them let alone considered them allies or friends. He’d been so brain washed with the idea of being a part of their team he’d sacrificed himself with an Angel Blade to send Luke back to his cage in the pit and thus sealing him there for all time.

He’d been an idiot. 

The bloody Winchesters had created that mess to begin with and what did he get out of it?

That’s right, nothing!

Well, a little something, but it had amounted to nothing in the end. The memory was so old it should have been, but wasn’t entirely faded. The image of Dean’s eyes, the color of the deep forest at twilight, came unbidden to him.

Damnit.

He could feel the warm fullness of Deans mouth pressed against his in the memory. The electric sensation that surged through his body as he’d leaned forward on impulse and kissed him lightly. Badger’s entire body responded to the memory of his tongue flicking out of his mouth and sliding into Dean’s, when the man hadn’t shoved him away. On the contrary, Dean had stepped into the kiss pushing him up against the Impala. Their bodies pressed tightly together as Dean took control of the situation. The tall beauty had him melting into a puddle in the middle of a parking lot with the intensity of the kiss. Dean had slid a hand between them and…

Badger shot to his feet, adjusting his erect pizzle through the grungy tweed of his trousers and threw the core of the apple into the trash. This wasn’t a memory that he needed. He needed to remember what came after. A whole lot of nothing. A whole lot of disappointment. A need and longing for something that could never happen again. A perfect moment that came to nothing except his voluntary death.

He’d decided to die based on the ruin his life had become after that. He had nothing. No job, no home, no Hell, no respect, and no Dean. It had been easy to make the decision. He’d sacrificed himself and had been blissfully dead and unaware of anything, happily sleeping away in the eternal darkness of the Big Empty.

Until he wasn’t.

He woke to find himself naked, immortal, and powerless in field at dawn.

Not even a year had passed.

His life had been literal Hell ever since.

Badger had tried to kill himself a million ways since then, including walking into Rocket Wash in hopes that something other than the Colt, an Angel blade or a Demon blade would do the job.

It didn’t.

He’d been charred to a literal crisp and it had taken him nearly 20 full years to recover fully. It had been beyond painful and he recalled nothing of the time except the pain.

Pulling himself from the miasma that the wave had sent him into, he bellowed for Tiny, then left the giant man in charge until his return. He left for home then.

He kept a shithole apartment close to the office and used it for most everything, but it wasn’t home. This is where he quickly went to change into something a little less noticeable then, hopped the monorail across town. 

Home, was a luxurious Penthouse that was hell and gone to the other side of town from the Evesdown Docks. He kept it for the times when he needed to separate himself from the squalor and filth he lived in daily.

It was the only place he could go to be himself.

Fergus.

Not Badger and certainly not Crowley.

One of those was an errand boy and the other was the former King of Hell.

He was neither of those things when he was at home.

At home, he was simply Fergus MacLeod.

The trip across town had been quick for the time of day. He punched the combination into the lock and strode through the dim apartment and into the immaculate bedroom, stripping off clothes as he went. He shit, showered, and shaved then dressed himself in a sleek, black silk suit, cut in the style popular to Londinium. It cost more than the average sod made in a year and fit him like a second skin. Once dressed he sprayed on some ridiculously overpriced cologne that was popular and not too gauche. Afterward he got a mani/pedi, then dinner.

At precisely 14PM he walked through the door to the club.

If he had to answer a summons from Satan a month early, he was going to enjoy himself before he left. There was no way to know if he were ever going to leave Ariel or what fresh new hell would be required of him.

Fergus had exquisite manners. That fact alone could have brought him any company he wished, but he was also well groomed, impeccably dressed and had very expensive taste. He didn’t frequent establishment’s that took money at the door for entry. No, that wouldn’t do at all.

This had the distinction of being a members only, club.      

He checked his coat and surveyed the room as he sauntered to the bar. He recognized a few faces, but lucky him, there were plenty of men he’d never seen before.

The bartender arrived immediately after taking his seat.

‘Bourbon neat.’ He said, politely.

The drink arrived and there was time to take a single sip, before he was joined by an older gent. The man was just as impeccably groomed as Fergus, with salt and pepper hair.

Unfortunately for the Gent, Fergus had a type. This wasn’t it.

They talked amiably for several minutes. When Fergus showed the man no interest other than the conversation the man, thanking Fergus, took his leave. He sat alone at the bar a few more minutes and survey the room behind him through the mirror. He’d nearly given up after a while and thought be might go slumming when he walked in. He was 6’1” blond, broad shouldered, green eyes, not the right green, but green none the less, square jaw, drop dead gorgeous and oh my, a light dusting of freckles.

He didn’t react to the god like gorgeousness that had set the room buzzing. He knew how to get what he wanted and it wasn’t to wait in line with all of the other bees.

It took about an hour, but he had an opportunity and he made the best of it.

The two passed an eventful, if not a perfectly satisfying, evening together.

Fergus was back home before the sun came up.

He showered, slept, packed, and was on an Alliance transport before lunch.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ariel

 

Badger had been forced to sit and wait on Luke for nearly six hours now.

It was a game he was used to playing. He’d fiddled around on his phone until he grew bored with it then stared at the wall for a while. He wasn’t a moron, he knew how to move things along when he wanted to, but that would be speeding himself along to certain misery. Deciding that he was rested enough and in the right frame of mind to manage what came next, he leaned his head against the wall and pretended to sleep. Larry showed up the moment he began fake snoring and ushered him off to see the Lord and Master.

He almost forgot himself and rolled his eyes.

That would have been disastrous. If Luke thought he was amused, or bored, or if Luke thought Badger had any thoughts at all other than how he could serve him, this meeting would go very badly for him.

He’d learned over the centuries of time how to get through these meetings in a timely manner and come out of them without losing anything other than a little blood. Blood was blood, he could make more. A soul was something he no longer had, so wasn’t in danger of losing it. Anything else he had to lose wasn’t worth keeping. You couldn’t really lose something if you accepted that it was gone already. So, he thanked Luke for everything the Arch-Angel did to him, no matter how despicable. If you didn’t play, you couldn’t lose.

Before he’d come to this acceptance, he’d been full blown crazy, but anymore all of this rolled off of him like water on a duck’s back. It was truly awful while it was happening, but he simply didn’t carry it with him afterward any longer. He checked it off as you would of a list of completed items and tossed it away, moving on to the next item. Besides, it wasn’t as if he didn’t have it coming. You can’t be the King of Hell and expect to walk away from that scot-free.

Larry hadn’t said a word to him as they ambled toward Luke’s office. He supposed the man thought it made the atmosphere more cryptic. Maybe the man thought Badger was below his conversation. Either way, one night when the man was old and alone, Badger would slip in for the fun of it and have his way with him. He had time on his side and time was the great equalizer, wasn’t it?

They’d reached the office.

Larry opened the door and stepped just outside, leaving him in the hall.

‘Mr. Badger is here to see you sir.’

He imparted the information as if Badger had just popped by for a quick visit.

‘Wonderful!’ Luke boomed.

Larry stepped aside and motioned for Badger to enter.

‘Hey! Hey there!’ Luke called to him jovially.

Larry stepped out, closing the door behind him silently.

Badger gave Luke a small disingenuous smile, ‘Lord.’ He bowed in greeting.

‘I am glad you were able to get here so quickly! Sit…sit down! How are things on Persephone?’ The Arch-Angel’s smile was over bright and creepy.

He didn’t sit. Luke wanted something from him. He almost shivered when fear rolled through his gut. It was just as he’d thought. Something…nothing good…was afoot and bollocks, just now he’d waited too long before answering.

‘Well, Lord. Thank you for asking.’ He answered, after collecting himself.

‘Shit…’

He hadn’t offered anything more. He was blowing it.

Luke, pulled a frown and waited.

It took him a beat too long, but he began talking finally. He related a few of the more salacious scandals that had taken place on the Evesdown Docks over the last six months as precisely as he could. He didn’t embellish, or offer opinion.

That was folly.

He simply told the stories as he knew them to be, but much the same way as the day time dramas of old. He told them with flare.

Luke chortled with disturbing delight at the accounts.

‘…and business?’ he interrupted when he’d tired of the stories.

‘The Alliance is ever vigilant Lord, but they are never completely successful at eliminating the criminal element in its entirety.’ He answered, honestly without answering. It wasn’t a secret between them that the Alliance was Luke’s creation.

‘How about Malcolm Reynolds, have you seen him lately?’

Luke had finally come to the reason for this meeting.

Like an idiot, he’d hesitated.

‘No, Lord.’ He answered, cursing himself. What was with him today?

‘Mmmm,’ Luke replied.

This was a puzzle. Badger schooled his face to impassiveness.

‘I want you to find Reynolds for me.’ Luke instructed.

He covered his agitation with a deep bow, ‘Yes, Lord.’

While he was bowing and scraping his mind was screaming.

‘Gorram it! Find Mal Reynolds…why didn’t he just ask him to find the door to the next Universe. It would be easier. Bleeding Christ!’ he swore inwardly.

He didn’t rise until Luke began speaking again.

‘See, that is what I like about you Badger, you just, understand what I want and agree to deliver. Point of order though, I don’t want you to do anything, except find Reynolds and tell me where he is. I will take it from there. Capiche!’

Asking was redundant and Badger didn’t answer.

‘See Larry before you go, he will have everything you might need to assist you. I expect to hear from you soon.’ Luke said, flicking his fingers at Badger urging him to go.

Badger, stunned, bowed deeply again and left the room. He was nonplussed at being sent packing so abruptly. He’d just gotten here and was being sent away without having even been flogged. He didn’t know whether to feel gypped or what.

‘Luke must really want Reynolds.’ He thought, walking to the door.

The moment he exited the room he was set upon by giants.

‘Ahhh…there we are now. The Universe wasn’t off its axis after all.’

They beat the literal piss out of him for the next hour. When they were done, they dumped him into the street to make his way painfully back to his hotel. It took two days for him to heal up enough that he didn’t want to die when he went to the bathroom. Two days after that he boarded and Alliance transport for Persephone and home.

There hadn’t been any money, connections, or resources imparted to him by Larry, merely a serious kicking of his arse. He was going to end up footing the entire bill for this goose chase. The worst of it, he hadn’t seen Mal in six, maybe seven years. He was going to have to put out some feelers. Trouble with that, nothing was going to be reliable. Everyone and their half-sister had been looking for Reynolds since that big dust up he’d had with the Alliance. The water was a fetid, stinking mess. He doubted the man was even alive. Didn’t matter. One way or another, he had to find him. It was going to take forever and he would probably have to do all of the work himself.

‘Bollocks…’ he complained.

Chapter Text

Twenty

 

Miranda

 

Zoe Washburne had never expected to fall in love and get married when she’d left home and started out on her own in life. She certainly never expected to have a child. She was career Independent military, just like her father and she’d fully expected to live and die as a Grunt in the Battle for Independence. If it hadn’t been for the Captain, she would have. A lot about her life was different since the war. Since meeting the Captain. Since learning the definition of loyalty. Since Serenity Valley.

‘A lot of things except one...’  She'd still do whatever it was the Captain asked her to do. The last order he’d given her was to keep an eye on the new comers. And she had. She’d done her job to the letter and had been prepared to take all of them and dump them off on Ariel or Persephone just as soon as the Captain made his peace with it. But that isn’t what he’d done and he’d surprised her with it. She’d spent a long time thinking on the Captains decision not to off load those folks the first chance he got. It had taken a while for her to understand him about it. If you'd asked her in the beginning if she thought he’d make them family she would have laughed in your face, but she hadn’t spent this much time with Malcolm Reynolds not to trust his intuition. However, everything in their lives was different now. The Captain was different. Don’t misunderstand her, she still trusted him to get her through tough times and dangerous situations. The problem was there hadn’t been a dangerous situation in a while and maybe he was slipping. She just didn’t know yet.

Jayne was sitting next to her while the Captain delivered the new revelations concerning their new neighbors. The longer he talked, the more skeptical she became. Sometimes she wished she’d left that damn ship where she’d found it. Her thoughts wandered while the Captain continued. After Wash was murdered by the Reavers she’d been so consumed with putting one foot in front of the other, that Hobie was two years old before she realized that she was able to walk out of the fog she’d been living in. So, she understood what the Captain was going through. It had been a tough day when Inara had told them she was sick and would die eventually. Having Wash snatched away from her in a moment was quick and dirty and it nearly killed her. She didn’t know how the Captain was going to be able to endure watching Inara fade away.

‘That's what has him distracted.’ She thought, as she listened to him.

The Doc, being who he was had gotten to work only moments after hearing the news that they'd lose Inara eventually. It was a fact, and one that not even the Doc could do anything about. He had her on a regiment of medication that, while it wouldn’t extend her life, it would improve the quality of it. She was going to have a fullness to her days right up until the last weeks of her life. The Doc was a miracle worker that way. Even now it was hard to remember sometimes that Inara was sick because of the magic he was working.

The Doc had been the one to tell Zoe she was pregnant. He'd told her before they’d even been able to extricate Wash from his chair on Serenity. He’d done the test as routine procedure before giving her antibiotics and pain medication for her injuries. She’d barely heard Simon when he told her because she was still in shock over losing Wash. It took several weeks for her to fully grasp or even acknowledge her condition. She’d been welding panels back onto Serenity after the battle with the Alliance and she’d thrown up. That was the day it had finally registered. She was going to have a baby. She was going to have Wash’s baby. She’d kept the news to herself until she could no longer hide the ever-expanding bump in her middle. They were thankfully back in the air by then and had gotten back to what gingerly passed as a normal existence, so there'd been some joy and something to look forward to. Her pregnancy had gotten her and the entire crew through those horrible months. After Hobie came all of the grief was overshadowed by the joy of a new life on Serenity. He’d blessed them all with the one thing they were in desperate need of. Hope, and with it he’d healed them all.

River and Mal had taken over the piloting duties once Serenity space worthy again. River had shown real aptitude for handling Serenity. She wasn’t Wash, but she was Gorram close. Wash had taught Zoe how to pilot Serenity in case of an Emergency so she filled in on an a as needed basis. Over the last several years, she’d become grateful for the gift Wash had given her in the basic ability to fly and navigate since Mal had essentially landlocked them for the time being. He didn’t leave Inara for long periods of time and he had only been off the planet without her three times since they’d taken up residence on Miranda. Zoe was going to be eternally grateful for the freedom that being able to pilot allowed her.

All of these things had happened in such a short period of time and stress like this was bound to have an effect on anyone, even strong natured folks like them. She didn’t know how to approach the subject of her concerns with the Captain. It went against her nature to question him because she trusted him. But she was going to have to, because it couldn’t be possible that what he said was in all those tubes was true.

Jayne was even skeptical and he was notoriously gullible.

‘I can see that you ain’t buying it.’ Mal said to the two of them ‘But I am telling you that it is too true. We have an army…of…of, Super Girls.’ He said, trying desperately to describe them.

He went on for a few minutes more and Zoe couldn’t take it anymore. ‘Sir…please, you can’t believe this.’ She said, softly.

‘All I'm saying, is that…well, I don’t know what I'm saying…yet.’ He allowed.

‘All you're saying Mal, is that we have an army of Super Girls.’ Jayne said.

Mal pointed at Jayne as if he were a genius. ‘Exactly!’ Mal exclaimed.

‘What are we going to do about it?’ Zoe asked.

‘I don’t know…yet.’ He said, but it's going to be fun to find out.

Chapter Text

Twenty-One

 

Buffy had spent the last month having loads of sex. When she wasn’t having sex, she was helping Giles in the Cryo warehouse, going on supply runs with Kaylee, and looking for just the right ‘things’ to help make reality a little more palatable for the people who were about to have their lives turned upside down. During this time, the first argument she and Spike had was about Angel. No big surprise. She was trying to find him a place where he would be the most comfortable. A place that his son could live in as well, because after all the boy was here. Connor, Angel's son, had actually turned out to be a blessing to her peace of mind once she spent some time thinking about him. It meant that Angel had someone when so many of them didn't.

She'd spent a little time thinking about why Angel hadn't mentioned that he had a son when they'd been talking about their future. Buffy loved Angel. She did. She couldn't deny that she did and she always would love him. Always be 'in love' with him. He was going to be a part of her life until the day one of them died. The fact was, that Angel had done the right thing for them the day he'd left Sunnydale. It wasn't enough to simply be in love with someone. The two of them would have broken themselves on each other trying to make it work between them. You had to have something to offer someone other than heartbreak. Once she'd made peace with it, she set the baggage down and walked past it. That wasn't a magic eraser or anything. The baggage wouldn't simply disappear, it would sit right where she left it, the point was, she had no desire to pick it up again. No matter how much she loved it. 

She’d settled on the basement apartment in the building opposite her own for Angel and Connor. It was perfect and had reminded her of his place in LA. It was dark and industrial just the way he liked, but she’d been careful to put touches of home and softness through the space as well. All in all, it was roomy enough to house Angel and Connor comfortably until they decided to venture out and find their own spaces. 

The fight she'd had with Spike had been because he'd become slightly jealous of the amount of time and care she’d put into finding and renovating the space, but he'd relented when he saw that she’d been doing the same thing for Faith. She'd put Faith in the same building with Angel. She'd have the guest room at Angel's for her transition, but her apartment would be on the floor above his, unless she decided she wanted the Penthouse. Once Spike understood what she was doing, he'd gotten into the spirit of it and began to help. After a while, it had become a game of trying to outdo each other, by finding just the right thing for someone. By the time they'd finished Angels apartment, Spike had made love to her in nearly every room. It was silly of him, and her, but it made her feel so...content, to grant him these silly things. 'So it's silly, big deal.' she smiled to herself. He loved knowing that he’d had her nearly everywhere. In the middle of the night. In broad daylight. On a park bench. In the middle of the mall. It didn't matter. He said it made every place theirs and he'd carry those memories with him when they were no longer be able to because they wouldn't be alone anymore.

How could she say no to that?

Just now, They were putting the last touches of Angels place together when he asked her what time they were going over to the lab.

Simon had been in the process of waking Angel up all day and it was almost time to go and get him.

‘I’m going over as soon as we leave here.’ She answered.

Spike wasn’t deaf, he’d heard her right, but he’d play the game. ‘Do you want to get some dinner before we head over?’ he asked lightly.

‘Spike…you're not going.’ She insisted, hands on her hips. 

‘I’d like to know how you think you'll stop me.’ He gibed.

‘Spike…’ she began, but he cut her off.

'Listen here, girl. You're my girl. I’m not ever putting up with Angel breath again. Yeah?  Hear me…I…am…going. End of discussion.’ He turned and walked out of the apartment. He had memories in there that he wanted to keep in pristine spank bank condition. He wasn’t about to ruin them by having an argument about Captain Forehead’s place in his life, in the wankers own living room. 

‘Fine, but if you make a mess I’m telling!’ she called after him complaining.

‘What…and damage my brand new, lily white reputation?' He wisecracked, shooting and evil grin at her.

When they arrived, Mal, Zoe, River, and Jayne were waiting for them. 

‘What’s all this?’ she wondered as they approached on her scooter. She’d eventually relented and let Spike drive. Sliding off the back, she realized that she hadn’t seen Zoe or Jayne since she’d introduced them to Spike. She felt Spike tense when he saw the assemblage in front of the lab, but it could've just been his response to her reaction of seeing them there. She’d know in a minute.

She pulled off her helmet and plastered a smile on her face while walking to meet the group. ‘Hi. How are you all tonight?’ She asked as if nothing were wrong. 

Spike stuck close to her and nodded a hello as well. ‘Good to see you again, Captain.’ Spike said.

He then greeted each of the Captain’s crew in turn with a nod to each, ‘Zoe, River, Jayne. Evening. What can we do for you?’ he asked, getting to the point. 

‘Well, we didn’t know if you were going to have any trouble tonight. We wanted to come and let you know that we'd be here if you needed us. We'll keep our distance. Be secure in that. All you have to do is yell though and we'll come running.’ Mal explained, helpfully.

‘Captain, I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but I'm sure that there won’t be any problems. However, what you might consider a problem isn’t necessarily what we'd consider a problem. Please stay back unless Spike or myself asks you specifically to intervene. Angel is a 'souled' Vampire but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be dangerous if he feels threatened or provoked. Remember that he is going to be disoriented and possibly ravenous. He doesn’t handle his hunger as well as Spike does. It may take him a minute, but he will gain control. If he doesn’t, Spike and I will control him.’ She directed.

‘As you say.’ Mal nodded in deferment.

With that Buffy and Spike went inside and Mal and his people followed. They took up residence in a waiting area down the hall while Buffy and Spike went into the lab.

Angel's tube was already in the room and Dr. Tam was checking the readings on the tubes computer once more. He smiled a warm hello when they entered the room and said, ‘He looks good. I'm certain that medically he is going to be okay. I heard you come in so I've already started the sequence and will be leaving shortly. If he's anything like Spike, it isn’t going to take long for him to wake up.’ Simon said.

‘He’s nothin like me, Doc.’ Spike quipped sarcastically.

Simon smiled nervously and didn’t respond. He handed Buffy a timer and said, ‘It’s roughly 5 minutes give or take. Good luck.’ He said, and left the room locking the door behind him.

Buffy turned around to give Spike his orders and he grabbed her up and planted a very passionate kiss on her lips.  She whacked him on the shoulder and dragged her mouth away from his.

‘Knock it off. No antagonizing! You were able to wake up in relative peace. I know you can’t help yourself, but please, for me, don’t turn this into a shit show.’ She requested.

‘Language!’ he teased.

‘I mean it.’ She responded.

His eyes glittered a teasing challenge, but he relented to reassure her. ‘No worries here, Luv. I'm on my best behavior.’

She pecked him a kiss of thanks and turned to the Cryo tube to see Angel staring at her. ‘Where's Connor?’ he croaked.

Buffy walked to the tube slid the latch open and smiled down at him. ‘Good evening, Sleepy head.’ She teased.

‘Connor?’ he asked again.

‘He's asleep. I'll take you to him soon.’ Buffy replied, vaguely.

‘Where am I?’ he asked.

‘You are in Dr. Simon Tam’s lab. Let’s get you up out of here and we can talk. I'll fill you in as soon as we get you some blood and clothes.’ She said.

Angel looked down, he was naked. ‘How?’ He wondered, confused.

Spike arrived with a warm mug of blood and handed it to him.

Angel took one look at Spike then asked Buffy, ‘What’s he doing here?’

‘He’s bringing you blood and helping me. You aren’t exactly lite.’ She said.

Angel took the mug, sipped it, and jerked his eyes to Buffy's, 'This is human.' he said, pushing the mug at her.

'Yes. It's all we have. I'm sorry. You're just going to have to deal with it for now.' she said.

Angel stared down into the mug, then downed the contents in two swallows.

When he was done, he wiped his hand across the back of his mouth and handed the mug back to Spike who graciously went for more. 

This wasn’t Buffy’s blood. Spike had drawn the line at giving Angel her blood. This blood came from donors. Spike was unsure of who they were. He brought the mug back and handed it to Angel again. This time he drank it like a 'normal' Vampire. Buffy was saying that she'd answer all of his questions once he got some food, a shower, and some clothes on. An hour later all of those things had been accomplished.

Buffy, Spike and Simon were discussing Angels strangely calm reaction to waking when he reappeared in the lab freshly showered. Spike and Buffy had both been combative while Giles had been merely disoriented. Angel was listless and he’d been caught by surprise at Simon's presence upon his return. Angel should've known someone else was in the room before he entered it. It was as if his Vampire senses were turned off.

Angel stopped rubbing his hair with the towel and draped it over a shoulder waiting for someone to tell him what was going on.   

Buffy stood and went to him. ‘Angel,’ she said, pulling Simon forward, ‘This is Dr. Simon Tam. He's been taking care of you. We have some questions we want to ask you.’

‘First of all, where am I?’ Angel asked again.

‘You're at the lab.’ She answered again, then asked, ‘Angel, what was the last thing you remember?’

‘You mean after you and Spike made a spectacle of yourselves?’ he quipped.

She wasn’t going to argue. She ignored the remark and barreled ahead. ‘Yes.’ She said and waited.

Capitulating he said, ‘The last thing I remember is watching Connor fall to the ground. There was some kind of…I don’t know, blue light stick, sort of like a wand or a staff kind of thing, then someone tazed me.’

‘Okay. I have a lot to tell you, but first you have to meet some people. They've been waiting a while so I'm going to bring them in. Listen, I know that he's going to look exactly like him, but Captain Reynolds is not Caleb.’ She said smiling.

‘What?’ Angel asked, confused.

‘The bloke is a dead ringer for the preacher, but it ain’t him.’ Spike cut in.

Angel, just looked more confused.

‘All you need to know, Nancy, is don’t hit him, he’s bloody tired of it.’ Spike added. 

‘Fine. I won’t hit him.’ Angel assured them.

Moments later Mal and the others came through the labs sliding glass door.

Angel took one glance at him and went on alert. He rose slowly, looked at Buffy while pointing at Mal and said, ‘What the hell is this?’ 

‘It’s just like I said, this is Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Generally, he just goes by Captain, but his friends call him Mal. I need you to sit down, Angel. There's a lot to tell you and you're not going to like or believe any of it.’ She explained frankly.

Angel complied and sank back into his chair. He was still wary and wouldn’t hesitate to throw down, but it looked like he wasn’t going to have to. Right now, at any rate.

‘Okay, I'm sitting, explain…’ he commanded.

‘Riley…’ she began, only to be interrupted.

‘I don’t like him, Buffy. As a matter of fact, I'm liable to tear his head off when I see him.'

'Get in line, mate.' Spike interjected.

Angel ignored Spike and talked over him, 'He dragged Connor into the middle of a demon horde, then dragged us out to the middle of the desert. After we got there, he knocked my son unconscious, you…everyone really. He used those wand things and then the ass hat tazed me. I need you to know right now, he's in for it and I don’t want to hear anything about it. I'm justified on his reckless disregard for my son alone.’ Angel clipped out indignantly, letting her know that it wasn’t open for discussion.

‘Yes, Angel. Let’s talk about your son, who you failed to mention at any time over the last couple of years.’ She said pointedly. 

Spike, crossed his arms over his chest leaned back against the counter and smirked at Angel. Every thing about his expression screamed, 'You're in for, Mate.'

He was sublimely pleased, nearly giddy with anticipation that Angel was about to be on the receiving end of a good tongue lashing and it definitely wasn’t going to be the pleasant kind.

‘Ugh…’ Angel fumbled, sufficiently chastised.

‘Are you done blustering now?  Can we focus?’ She complained.

‘I would've told you about him, but…’ he stammered.

‘Save it. Listen,’ she commanded and sat down. ‘This is an unbelievable story. I've told it two times. First to Giles and then to Spike. As we go forward you'll understand the significance of that.’

She pulled in a deep breath and sighed it back out. Spike, disappointed that a verbal battle between the two hadn’t ensued pulled a frown and went to sit with Buffy. He sat as close to her as he could and rested his arm familiarly across the back of the sofa, challenging Angel through body language and attitude to make something of it. Buffy shot him a quelling glance and he reluctantly pulled his arm from behind her placing it on her knee instead. She rolled her eyes and huffed annoyed sigh then decided to ignore him. The muscle in Angels jaw ticked. River, was fascinated. There was so much emotion flowing between the three of them that she couldn’t tear her eyes away. She drifted away from her group and sank down on the other end of the sofa hurriedly glancing between the three of them as not to miss anything.

When they paused and turned to look at her, Jayne spoke up and gesturing at the girl said, ‘Heh, don’t mind River none. She’s just curious about y’all. No harm no foul. Go on there, Buffy I'm getting tired of standing around here already.’ He gruffed.

‘Thank you…Jayne.’ Buffed stumbled. It was the most she’d heard the big man speak. Usually he just grunted. She knew one thing for certain, she never wanted to get in a fight with him even if he was only human. She knew he was deadly simply from the way he moved. She turned back to a bemused Angel and said, ‘Okay, just try to hear me out. I'm not putting you on, telling tall tales, or any of that. You're not being punk’d. Okay?’

Angel just stared at her.

‘Okay. Fine. We…have, we've been duped. Ugh, double crossed even. Riley has basically kidnapped us…’ she said frustration rang through her voice, at having to tell this story again.

‘Buffy, where are we? I’m not stupid. Riley is military. I have Vampire hearing. There isn’t anyone out there.’ He gestured toward the door. 

‘Not a lot of anyone’s anyway. Are we in prison? Underground? What?’

‘No, we are not in any of those places.’ She assured him. 

‘In fact, we are not even on…Earth.’ She said plainly.

‘What is that, some kind of metaphor?’ he snorted.

‘No, that is some kind of, what I just said.’ She stated simply.

Angel blinked at her and waited for clarification, noting that River watched him intently.

‘Who are these people?’ he asked, changing the subject.

‘I’m glad you asked. I told you their names. Do you need them again?’

He shook his head no.

She nodded, ‘Captain Reynolds is the authority of this settlement. We're on a planet called Miranda in the Burnham quadrant of the Union of Allied Planets...’

The explanation trailed off as Angel stood then strode through the lab, on his way out the door.

‘Angel, wait.’ Buffy called.

Mal stepped in front of Angel, put his hands up and said, ‘You need to stop. The lady...’

Angel punched Mal in the face and moved for the door. Mal, stumbled from the force of the blow and plowed into Zoe and Jayne who stood on either flank. Zoe caught Mal and righted the Captain, getting his feet back under him, as Jayne moved to grab the huge Vampire and was knocked several feet away with a straight arm to his chest. All the while Buffy yelled for them to let him go.Spike and River cleared the sofa and ran for the door when it was clear that he wasn’t going to be deterred. Angel used his Vampire speed was gone in a blink. Only Spike was able to keep up and he didn’t have far to go. Angel was standing just outside the entrance to the building staring into the night sky. Angel heard Buffy arrive and then the strange girl who wouldn’t stop staring at him. Mal and the other burst out of the doors behind them. Buffy whirled around with her finger in the air in a ‘just wait!’ gesture her expression conveying her urgency. Zoe crossed her arms over her chest and Mal bent over to catch his breath.

River, smiling walked to Angel and looked up with him while Jayne merely stood next to Zoe looking angry and menacing. 

‘I’m sorry.’ Buffy said cringing. ‘I tried to tell you to just let us handle it.’

‘I don’t recognize any of this…’ Angel said, pointing at the stars.

Zoe, looked past Buffy to Angel who was staring into the night sky. When she realized he wasn’t going to be a problem she did her level best not to let her mirth overtake her. Her hands planted firmly on her hips screamed that she was totally annoyed, but the twinkle of humor in her eyes gave away her actual amusement and she finally gave up trying to put a good face on it for the Captain.  She patted Mal on the shoulder saying, ‘Sir.’ Her tone indicated to him that she intended to take her leave and she turned for home. 

Jayne followed her. 

Mal’s mouth dropped open and he stuttered, ‘Here! Where are you going?’

‘Home.’ Zoe and Jayne answered in unison.

‘Hobie needed to be in bed and hour ago.’ Zoe called as she strode away.

‘I need to clean Vera.’ Jayne said, shrugging.

‘Well…’ Mal stuttered.

‘Night, Sir.’ Zoe called again. Jayne waved a hand over his shoulder in farewell.

Mal turned back to Buffy then. Thinking of Inara at home, he said, ‘So, I can see that you have this well in hand. I'm just going to head on back to Inara then. You, ugh…you come see me tomorrow. We'll talk then. Ugh…alright, then. So…River, lets…go.’ he trailed off and haltingly turned to go. He paused, thought better of saying anything more, gave a little wave, and this time he actually left. River followed, peppering him with questions he didn’t have answers for.

Buffy and Spike glanced at each other, bemused by the Captain’s departure. They shrugged at each other and Buffy turned back to Angel. He was still staring at the sky. 

‘Come on. Let’s take a walk. I'll bring you to Connor and on the way Spike and I will explain everything to you.’ She said laying a hand on Angels back.

Chapter Text

Twenty-Two

 

Giles had been working non-stop for the last 20 hours and he couldn’t be more grateful for the work. These last several weeks especially, he would've gone completely daft were it not for the detailed record the Initiative had kept for each person they’d put into a tube. It had eventually become more and more clear to him that a crime had been perpetrated against these people and he’d run the gamut of emotions over it. After it had become clear to him what had happened, he needed a break. Initially he wasn’t entirely sure if he was grateful to be out of his tube or not. Some days he gave into the soul crushing desolation of their circumstances and other days he fought against it, but immediately after discovering what Riley had done, he'd locked the warehouse and went for a walk.

For a few weeks. He’d needed to think about what to do.

Buffy had busied herself with Spike and after the conversation they’d had he hadn't wished to bother her with anything just then. His first impulse had been to bang on her door and tell her everything, but he’d thought better of it. He needed a grounded, secure, well adjusted Slayer. He wasn’t going to get that if he'd gone to her with it while she was working her way through her issues and emotions. He knew it was petty but occasionally it felt like she’d abandoned him here with all of this.

At least she and Spike had taken it upon themselves to prepare places for their people. It'd been comforting to him to have some of his belongings in his new place when he’d arrived there. She’d done a fair job of creating a space for him and it had been a completely out of character thing for her to have done. He reasoned that it hadn’t been done for her and knew that she must have been intensely homesick and lonely. The conclusion of which was, he could get through this patch on his own.

‘For now…’ he allowed.

During his time off, he’d made a point of getting know Miranda’s other inhabitants and even began to forge relationships with them. So far, he got on with most everyone tolerably enough. 

He and Zoe had begun to eat lunch together a few times a week. Inara was a lovely, captivating, educated woman. He enjoyed her company immensely. He like Captain Reynolds as well too. Even though he was obviously a military man, he wasn't insufferably so. The man was trustworthy, which was why he'd opted to tell Buffy about the nightmare of the tubes when the Captain had been present.  

Giles heard voices in the front of the enormous room and popped his head up expecting to see Angel. He did. Buffy was with him and Spike followed.

‘She’s brought him to see Connor.’ he realized and closed up the file he’d been working on. It was the Sheriff’s…again.

He leisurely made his way across the massive room in order to say hello. He didn’t rush, knowing that he needed to give the Vampire a little time to adjust to the sight of so many tubes and accept that his son was in one of them. Heaven’s knew he’d needed a minute the first time he’d seen this room. As he came closer, he could see that Angel was agitated and making demands of Buffy already. No doubt he wanted his son out of the tube he was in right away. Now even. He could see as well that Buffy was letting him have his melt down, but when he made to open the tube Spike moved to stop him. For this he got a vicious punch. Buffy had moved to stand in front of the boys’ tube then. Giles picked up his pace. The last he thing he needed was those three fighting in this room.

Buffy, tired of trying to reason with her extra-large ex, knocked him on his ass then yelled, ‘Because it will kill him, you big, dumb, idiot!’ 

Angel glared up at her from the floor.

Spike tested his jaw wiggling it, ‘That one has never had a wealth of brains.’

‘Shut up, Spike.’ Both Angel and Buffy said in unison.

They each got a glare from him and he stomped away, sulking and muttering. 

Giles reached out to Angel who took his hand and was pulled to his feet.

‘Thanks.’ Angel murmured.

‘Buffy is correct you know. You can’t just haul the boy out of the tube. You'll do irreparable damage to his nervous system. The fact that the boy is Dhampir isn’t enough to keep the harm you'll do him at bay.’ Giles finished, pulling out his handkerchief and giving his glasses a swipe and letting the information sink in.

Angel grimaced not liking what he heard but nodded acceptance. ‘How soon can I get him out of there?’ Angel asked.

‘Well, that is another discussion in itself, Angel. Connor isn’t a priority for us at this time.’ Giles stated baldly.

Angel opened his mouth to give Giles an ultimatum but Giles cut him off. ‘I'm sure you have very good reason for wanting your son out of that tube. However, you need to stop reacting and turn around. We have a situation here. One that requires us to use delicacy and intuition. We have a schedule that we're not deviating from when it comes to bringing all of these people out of these tubes. You haven't been awake long enough to consider all of the issues that we're facing at this point and time. Frankly, I need you to stop acting like a school boy and listen to Buffy.’ He finished and walked away muttering to himself about time.

Buffy stared after her former Watcher as he went back to what he’d been doing when they arrived. She’d never seen Giles so cold. Well yes, she had, she’d just forgotten what it looked like.

Angel stared after him as well.

Spike joined Giles as he strode past and the two of them disappeared into the rows of tubes.

Angel turned back to Buffy incredulity spread across his face. She shrugged at him letting him know that ‘it was what it was.’ 

‘Let’s go.’ She prompted. ‘I'll tell you the rest while I walk you home.’

Chapter Text

Twenty-Three

 

Giles and Simon, having taken complete control of the cryo-project as they were calling it, tried to lock up the warehouse by engaging the combination lock on the door after the incident with Angel. Giles wanted to be there whenever anyone but him or Simon was in the building. Buffy put the kabash on that. She was in and out of there a few times a day and so was Angel. Giles was going to have to engage the trust mode on his robot brain. She understood where he was coming from, but she was as impatient as Angel was to see the people they loved. It was still a month before they were going to wake up the Scoobs. Faith was next and the Winchesters were two weeks after that.

Faith was actually this morning.

Spike had just pulled them into the labs parking lot. Angel, having heard them coming, waited for them. Buffy slid off the back of the scooter and pulled her helmet off.

‘Hey.’ She said in greeting.

‘Hello, Buffy.’ He said, ignoring Spike.

‘Giles here?’ Spike asked, not caring that he was being ignored.

‘Inside already.’ Angel answered, deciding against being petty.

They stood awkwardly together, not saying anything more.

Spike took Buffy’s hand and brushed past Angel to go inside. They walked down the long corridor and stopped at the bank of windows that made up the wall that bordered the corridor.

Faith’s tube had been brought down two weeks earlier and it looked like everything was ready. Giles noticed them and waved them inside.

As soon as they were in the room, Giles said, ‘Simon is ready to start. We were just waiting on you.’       

‘Well, here we are.’ Buffy shrugged, obviously.

She noticed that Captain Reynolds appeared to have learned his lesson finally and wasn’t in attendance. Spike took her elbow and gesturing offered her a seat.

She loved that he did those little things. He’d always tried to do them before, but she’d never allowed him to. She was glad now that he hadn’t stopped. It did wonders for his boyfriend status.

A distracted Simon, shuffled back into the room. ‘Oh! Hello.’ He smiled shyly.

Everything Simon did seemed inordinately innocent. The way he spoke and his facial expressions were full of life’s wonder. Like he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Everything seemed to be a surprise to him. He was careful with his language, as not to hurt people and when he inevitably did it was more out of curiosity than malice or animosity. 

They each said their hello’s back to him and then they got started.

So far, each of them had a different experience waking up. If her theory held true, in a few minutes Faith would reexperience her last memories of being awake. Buffy and Spike were angry. Giles was babbling. Angel was concerned for Connor. She couldn’t be certain, but she thought Faith was still inside the machine when the incident had happened. She’d been supervising Robin’s transfer out of the machine so her first questions, would more than likely be about him.

Simon lifted the lid of Faith’s tube and waited.

When she didn’t wake up immediately, Angel went to her.

‘Faith, are you awake?’ he asked. There wasn’t any response. He put his cool hand on hers and gave it a shake.

‘Faith…it’s time to wake up.’ He encouraged.

Faith’s eyelids fluttered open, then closed again.

‘Faith, time to wake up.’ Angel said again, only slightly louder this time.

She opened her eyes then and kept them open, focusing.

‘Angel? Hi…’ she said. Her voice was groggy and it cracked.

Simon handed him the water he’d been fetching when they’d arrived. Angel took it and offered Faith a sip.

‘Just a sip and slowly.’ He coached.

She had the barest sip and he pulled the straw from her mouth. She watched it go and frowned in protest, leaning forward to try and catch it between her teeth before it disappeared entirely.

Angel distracted her by asking, ‘How do yo feel?’

She looked up at him puzzled, considering her answer. ‘I don’t know. Did I fall asleep?’ she was very confused.

Simon stepped forward again at the question and watched her intently. Sometimes when River became disoriented, she asked that question as well. It set off all of his alarm bells, but he decided he was being ridiculous. This was Faith, a complete stranger. Not River, his sister. Maybe Kaylee was right about him needing to take a little time away. He didn’t know how he could do that now, but it didn’t mean that she wasn’t right. Still, he answered Faith's question the way River liked him to answer that question and invariably, whenever he did, she became instantly lucid, then went on about her day.

‘For a little while.’ He said, tentatively.

Faith’s face became even more confused, and she said, ‘Shall I go now?’ Already sitting up in anticipation of the answer.

‘Not just yet. We want to talk to you a little first. Is that okay?' He asked.

Faith, now that she was sitting look past Angel and Simon to see Buffy, Giles, and Spike behind them. Suddenly, her entire memory reengaged itself and her demeanor changed.

She swung her legs over the side of the tube and made to get down, and said familiarly, ‘Hey, B.’ 

‘Hey.’ Buffy said in return.

‘Go slow.’ Angel instructed her, ‘Your legs are going to be weak.’

She paused looking down then at her surroundings finally. Questions clouded her face and she looked up at Angel for answers, clutching the blanket wrapped around her tighter.

‘Have I been sick?’ she asked.

‘No.’ he shook his head.

‘What is this thing?’ she asked, gesturing at the tube.

For the next hour, the four of them explained. They also consoled, placated, apologized, promised, fetched tissues and more water, and finally took her out of the building so she could understand. It was mid-morning, full sunlight, and neither Spike or Angel had burst into flames and turned to dust. That was really all it had taken to convince her. She’d sat down on the ground and sobbed then.

They all sat with her and waiting it out. Angel wrapped an arm around her and pulled her to him and she’d let him. They’d been out here a while now. Buffy had witnessed Faith in bad shape before, it was nothing like this. She knew exactly how Faith felt. They all did. Usually in this kind of situation one of them would crack a joke, but there was nothing funny about this. You're never prepared for the news that your entire planet has been destroyed by demons because you failed to do your job. She thought about how many more times she was going to have to do this and almost started crying too.

When there wasn’t anything left but sniffles, Angel said, ‘We thought it would be best if you stayed with me for a while. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but this way you aren’t alone.’ He explained.

‘Where else would I stay?’ she chuckled through the last few sniffles.

‘Well, there's a place next door to me that is empty. You could stay there.’ he explained.

She thought about it for a minute and then said, ‘If you don’t mind, I’d rather not be alone right…Oh my God!’ she exclaimed abruptly, cutting her sentence off.

‘Crap…here it comes.’ Buffy sighed.

‘Robin…where is Robin?’ she demanded.

‘He’s in a cryo-tube.’ They all answered in unison.

Faith visibly relaxed. ‘When are you going to take him out?’

‘Soon.’ Buffy said, ‘It’s a process. It takes two weeks to a month depending on the person for the entire process to be completed.’

Faith nodded, appearing to have accepted that explanation. ‘Is there anything to eat? I'm starving.’ She said, changing the subject.

‘Angel, do you have any food at your place?’ Buffy asked.

He shook his head sheepishly.

‘I guess we are going over to the kitchen then.’ She declared.

While they were walking, they answered more of Faith’s questions. Or, they tried to rather. Just about half way over to the kitchen they saw Captain Reynolds.

Faith stopped walking and her entire body went on alert.

‘Oh bollocks!’ Spike complained.

Angel immediately wrapped his big body around Faith’s, pinning her arms down to her sides. Buffy stepped in front of the furious Slayer and began talking.

‘It’s not who you think it is. Remember what I said? That's Captain Reynolds.’

Buffy was yelling over top of Faith’s screaming to be heard, but she wasn’t listening. She fought Angel like a deranged cat. He was able to hold onto her, but just barely. Eventually she was going to get away. Buffy kept talking to her trying to talk her down, but Faith wasn’t having any of it. Mal having noticed what was happening stopped what he’d been doing to watch what was going on. He was carrying an arm load of laundry baskets and had just taken a step forward to come and investigate.

‘I would run, Mate!’ Spike called to him, shaking his head and waving him off.

Mal stood there a beat longer and then went about his business.

Faith was still screaming threats and obscenities at the Captains retreating form and demanding that Buffy, not ‘just stand there, KILL HIM!’

‘Faith, that isn’t Caleb!’ Buffy insisted.

Suddenly, Faith grabbed the side of her head, screamed in pain, then fainted. Everyone waited in the abrupt silence for her to come too or stop faking, but she didn’t. Angel scooped her into his arms and turned back for the lab at full speed. The rest followed, running after him. Giles and Simon showed up a few minutes later, out of breath. The first thing Simon did was dope her. Then he began issuing orders.

‘We are going to need a transport. Someone, get one.’ He said, taking vitals.

‘I’ll go.’ Giles offered.

‘I know where there is something.’ Spike said, going with him.

Simon had been making preparations to bring the 3-D Neuro-imager from the hospital that was 10 miles away, to the lab, but he just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. He’d explained that it would be easier for him to have it at the lab when he wanted to run tests on River. Mal had agreed, but they didn’t really have the man power to move when he had brought it up. In the mean time he’d been getting the space he was going to need for it, ready.

‘Where are we going?’ Buffy asked him.

‘Hospital.’ He answered, hooking Faith to a portable vitals monitor.

Once that was done, they slid her onto a Gurney and wheeled her out of the building. Spike and Giles arrived with a delivery van and helped load her into it. Everyone piled in and Spike climbed back into the driver’s seat and took off. Twenty minutes was an eternity. Spike had driven like Hell was chasing them and with no one on the roads it had still taken them twenty minutes to get her into the imager. Simon fretted the entire time they waited for it to come on-line. Angel placed Faith gently in the chair when the hologram above the chair sprang to life and then they waited.

Simon didn’t talk while he worked. It was fascinating to watch him move the hologram with the motion of his hands. He turned the image of Faith’s brain this way and that while they looked on.

They could all plainly see what he was looking at. One section of her brain was completely quiet, like it was asleep. The other, looked like a lightning storm.

‘I’ll be back.’ Simon said, without preamble and left the room. He wasn’t gone long and when he returned, he was carrying three syringes. He cleaned Faith’s arm with a swab and got ready to administer the injection. He paused just before jabbing the needled into her muscle, looking as if he’d remembered something, then asked, ‘It…is it going to be a problem, if you…smell her blood?’

‘No.’ the Vampires answered in unison.

Simon nodded his understanding and administered the injection. The other two followed in quick succession. When he was finished, he stood back to watch the hologram.

‘Now what?’ Angel asked. He couldn’t take the not knowing any longer.

‘We wait.’ Simon answered.

So, they waited. They watched the hologram, they watched the walls, they picked at their nails and scratched itchy places. They paced in circles or back and forth between rooms and occasionally inspected a medical instrument. It was torture.

After fifteen minutes Angel asked, ‘Wait for how long?’

Simon’s mouth fished open and closed a few times. It was obvious that he didn’t have a readily available answer for the question. He stumbled through a few non-committal sentences and then giving up simply answered, ‘Until she wakes up. Everyone is different.’ He shrugged.

Angel was aggravated. It looked like he was going to start an argument.

Giles stepped in and suggested, ‘Dr. Tam, why don’t you explain to Angel about our Alliance troubles. I'm sure that he's had the basics explained to him, but it might help him if you were to elaborate on the subject while we wait. On Earth, you see, it was Angel’s job to help people who found themselves in predicaments similar to yours.’

‘I…thought he worked for an evil law firm.’ Simon blurted, baldly.

‘It wasn’t evil.’ Angel complained.

Spike scoffed and Buffy said, ‘Psh, yeah…right.’

‘Okay, it was evil, but what I meant was, I didn’t work for them.’ He resisted.

‘You did!’ Spike insisted, laughing at the denial.

‘Alright! Fine…I worked there, but I wasn’t evil. Satisfied?’ he adjusted.

Buffy, smiling at Simon pointed at her nose.

‘It was, complicated. I was trying to eradicate the evil from the inside so I could retire. You worked there too!’ He finished, pointing at, and accusing Spike.

‘Yes, well, that wasn’t a very good plan now, was it?’ Giles said, frankly.

Angel chaffed at the remark and they’d lost Simon.

‘Giles, that’s not fair.’ Buffy chastised.

‘Thank you!’ Angel exclaimed and gestured at Giles waiting on an apology. 

He didn’t get one.

Simon, throwing Giles a bone stepped into the tense silence to diffuse it and said significantly, ‘Well, you see, 'my' troubles with the Alliance are 'our' troubles with the Alliance and they have to do with River. As far as the Alliance would be concerned you are all now associated with the 'Criminal Fugitives' from the Law, Dr. Simon Tam and his sister River Tam. Who, as it turns out, the Alliance considers to be their property.’ He then proceeded to explain to Angel, and in some parts the others as well, everything they’d gone through. From the battle against the Alliance, to losing Wash and Sheppard Book. Then River revealing her abilities and finally the broadcast to all of the Allied planets about Miranda and the Reavers and how afterward, they were hunted even more zealously than before.

‘So, what are you doing about the Reavers?’ Angel asked.

‘Nothing.’ Simon blinked. ‘We stay clear of them, unless we want to die.’

‘And this…Alliance, isn’t doing anything about them?’ he questioned.

Simon thought for a moment about how he should answer the question. ‘If they did anything about it, it would be an acknowledgement of guilt and that we're right. If we're right, we're not Fugitive Criminals from the Law.’ 

The four of them sat in silence while they contemplated that bit of information. It wasn’t setting well with any of them. Giles pulled of his glasses and cleaned them. Spike glanced to Buffy and shook his head in consternation. Sometimes people really disgusted him. She nodded back at him, trying to console him with her softening eyes. It was a disturbing story. Angel was angry, but that wasn’t a new response for him, he was always angry.

‘Why, does the Alliance want River specifically though?’ Giles asked.

‘As best I can determine so far, they were trying to turn her into a weapon. As I said, she has limited pre-cognitive abilities and she's deadly in combat situations. From the experiments that were worked on her they were largely successful in turning her into a killing machine. They might not have pursued her as hard as they did if I hadn’t also destroyed most of their data when I took her, making it impossible for them to duplicate her or him or whoever.’

‘Nice one, Doc!’ Spike laughed.

The rest of them smile at Simon as well and a grin twitched at the corner of his mouth. It was the first time anyone but River or Kaylee had ever praised him for what he’d done. Most of the time their lives were in danger because of what he'd done, so no one had ever thought to say, ‘Way to go, Simon!’ It felt good and he let it...at least for a moment.

‘I got lucky.’ He demurred.

‘How did you end up with the Captain?’ Angel asked.

‘He was on Persephone, taking on passengers. We needed a ride.’ Simon said.

Faith stirred in the neuro chair. The conversation was over.

‘Faith…’ Simon said quietly, not wanting to startle her. The confusion was still with her.

‘No...that’s...not my name. Did I fall asleep?’ she said, sounding even more confused than before.

'There's that question again.' Simon noted, and he responded just like he should, ‘Yes, for a little while. Your name isn’t Faith?’ he asked.

She looked up at him and he could see the disorientation swimming through her eyes. He watched her pupils closely for any indication that she was still in pain or that she might faint again.  She blinked a few times then said, ‘I…yes, I am Faith.’

He smiled and nodded that she was correct. ‘Faith, do you remember who I am?’ he asked.

‘Yeah, you’re that doctor guy, ugh…Simon.’ she said, the confusion clearing from her eyes.

‘That’s right.’ He replied. ‘I'm doing a few tests to discover why you had such a bad headache after coming out of your cryo-tube.’ He explained.

‘Oh…, well, okay. I guess…that’s alright.’ She allowed.

‘Good. Can I ask you to lay back in the chair again?’ he requested.

Faith did as Simon asked and he got to work again. It was immediately evident that the medicines he’d given her had done their job. Her brain activity was much more even from what could be determined at a first glance. He was quiet once again as he worked. Eventually he centered on the section of brain that was associated with memory. He pulled the holographic image of the area into the main point of focus and enlarged it so that everyone, including Faith could see it.

It was quite a novelty for her to be looking at the workings of her brain.

Simon had seen damage similar to this before, with River. ‘Have you ever suffered any kind of traumatic brain injury?’ he asked.

Faith flicked a glance at Buffy and they held eyes.

Buffy stepped forward. ‘I…threw her off of a building once. She was in a coma for several years.’

Faith looked to Simon for his reaction. Just as she thought. Horrified. It made her chuckle. ‘Trust me, Doc. I had it coming.’ She joked.

Simon’s mouth hung open while all four of them cracked up. He was speechless.

'Who are these people?' his brain screamed, involuntarily. 

Every time he talked to any one of them, he came away not understanding how the human race ever survived for this long. He decided not to comment on the particulars of that story and instead went back to his diagnosis. 'Well,’ he stammered, ‘That isn’t…this… I, it…’ he stopped, sighed and started again. ‘I've seen this before, only different. You see, Alliance doctors cut into Rivers brain over and over again stripping away her membranes. The scarring she has is similar to this, but not exact.’ He said pointing.

No one said anything.

‘Faith, your brain wasn’t sliced in to, it looks more like electro scarring in your memory center. It’s as if your memory has been erased over and over again and your surrounding tissue has developed a sort of callus.’ He explained.

‘But…I have my memory.’ Faith answered, perplexed.

‘I know.’ He answered. ‘If you don’t mind, I'm going to keep these images and continue to work at finding an answer for you.’

‘Sure.’ She chirped, shrugging offhandedly.

‘For now, you look good. The medicines seem to have worked. You seem to be stable and less emotional. I'm going to let Angel take you home, with the promise that you'll come and see me immediately if anything happens.’ He instructed.

‘Also,’ Simon said, pulling a bottle from his pocket. ‘I want you to take two of these, every six hours. They're a simple anti-inflammatory. Also, I want you to come and see me again in two days, barring any major incidents. Okay?’ he finished.

She nodded her understanding. ‘Yes.’

‘And another thing. You can’t try to attack Captain Reynolds again. He doesn’t like it and will probably put you in the lock up if you try anything.’ He said.

Faith remembered all at once then.

Jerking her head to look at Buffy who was already talking she said, ‘Sorry!’

‘I told you, he looks just like him. They could be identical twins. You have to listen to me when I tell you things for a while. He looks like him, but he isn’t anything like him at all. You're going to like Captain Reynolds.’ Buffy explained.

‘Okay…’ Faith grouched.

Buffy went to her and gave her a quick squeeze. It was awkward, but well intentioned. ‘No problem.’ She said.

‘I’m still hungry.’ Faith said, climbing out of the chair.

She resisted the urge to ask, ‘Should I go now?’ as she did.

Chapter Text

Twenty-Four

 

The cryo-schedule ran on the Community Dinner schedule.

Every two weeks all of the inhabitants of Miranda came together to share a meal and they were introduced to whomever had been defrosted last. It was something that was important to them as a community, the meal, not the defrosting, and as such, had been carried over from the crew’s time on their ship, Serenity. The community had been renamed, Serenity Township in homage to the beloved ship, that no longer left the ground. It was to dangerous to take Serenity anywhere anymore as she was emblazoned on 'Wanted Posters' then length and breadth of the entire 'Verse. 

Tonight, it was Faith's turn to be formally introduced to the community during the Bi-weekly dinner tradition, in the same way that Buffy and the others had. Then, in the morning, they'd trundle down to the lab to wake Sam and Dean Winchester and Jody Mills. From there they'd spend the rest of the day working through the acclimation process.

‘Things were getting interesting now.’ Buffy grimaced.

So far, everyone that had been brought out of a cryo-tube, she knew how to deal with. She’d met the Winchester brothers briefly in 2003 and it had been weird, to say the least. Essentially, they were strangers who hunted demons for a living. Just for kicks Giles had added the extra strain of throwing a small-town Sheriff into the mix. The Brothers were going to need someone other than themselves and complete strangers to be with them. If it was a choice between a Sheriff and a literal angel, it had to be the Sheriff to begin with. Buffy understood the logic behind it, but it was still going to be a tense few hours.

‘What could go wrong.’ She sighed.

‘You look delicious.’ Spike said as he came into the bathroom. He stood behind her taking her hips firmly into his hands and watched while she swiped some blush over her cheek bones. He used his left hand to slide her hair, that really needed a trim, over her shoulder and then kissed the long curve of neck that continually enticed him. 

She leaned back, brushing against him, wiggling her bottom playfully.

He tightened his hand on her hip firmly and coiled the silky strands of her hair around his finger, giving it a slight tug. ‘None of that now, or we will be late.’ He drawled in a scolding tone that implied disapproval, but wasn’t meant to be taken seriously at all.

To show how much authority the tone held with her she wiggled again.

‘Insubordinate.’ He growled into her ear.

She grinned and slipped away from him.

He followed, as always.

Recently, they’d acquired a car of sorts. It reminded them of an enclosed golf cart. It was small, but big enough to carry other passengers. Spike, ever the gentleman opened the door for her, closing it once she was settled. Giles came through their building’s heavy glass doors and joined them. They didn’t listen to music while riding together in the car anymore, because they couldn’t agree on what to listen to. Giles and Spike would end up in an argument about The Ramones vs Deep Purple or some such thing that she didn’t know anything about. Then it was awkward for days afterward. So, they didn’t listen to music, they just rode along in the non-musical awkwardness. She didn’t know what she was going to do about these two. As far as she could tell there wasn’t any animosity between them, they just didn’t have anything to say to each other. She supposed she should just let it go, but it was still really important to her that they at least were civil with each other.

She turned and asked after Giles got settled, ‘Are we all set for tomorrow?’

Giles didn't look at her, ‘Yes, I think so. The, ugh, Brothers, the tubes were moved to the lab yesterday morning.’ He said, without elaborating.

She tried again. ‘I am a little concerned about how to get them through this. I don’t know them.’ She admitted.

‘We'll just have to look to Simon for the answers.’ Giles deflected. ‘He didn’t know you and he managed to get you through it quiet well, I think.’

‘Why hadn’t she thought of that?’ she wondered.

Spike circled around and pulled up in font of Angel’s place. She hopped out to let them know they’d arrived. Before she could knock, Angel opened the door and Faith stepped into the opening. She was wearing a sundress of sorts and it had a tiny floral print on it. Buffy was shocked speechless for a moment while she took Faith in. She’d never seen her in anything so girly. Buffy was unconscious of the fact that she was staring at Faith and it had made the woman uncomfortable. Angel cleared his throat to cover for Buffy.

Faith made a frustrated gesture at the Slayer and said, ‘What?’

‘Ugh, what nothing! You look really nice!’ Buffy exclaimed. ‘I like it! And they will too…’ she added, in a confiding whisper.

Faith grimaced and fussed with the dress while they went back into the car.

When they were all in, Giles said, ‘Faith, I must say that you look rather lovely this evening. It’s quite a fetching picture you’ve made.’

Faith mumbled a thank you at Giles and Angel elbowed her in an ‘I told you.’

‘You look very fetching tonight as well, Buffy.’ Spike said, shoot an irritated glance at the back seat in the review mirror.

At once the men in the backseat complimented Buffy’s appearance.

She chuckled in lighthearted amusement, thanked the backseat, then took her Vampires had in hers giving it a loving squeeze.

Then, Buffy nervously coached Faith the entire drive to The Kitchen. The 'Kitchen,' was formerly a cozy neighborhood diner that had been converted for the community’s use. It served as a pantry, meeting hall, and a place to drop in for lunch if you weren’t eating at home that day. It was kept orderly by a woman named Petaline. She had two assistants, Emma and Johnny and these three had taken on the task of preparing the bi-weekly meal that everyone gathered for.

‘Everyone is going to want to say hello to you. They've been counseled not to pepper you with questions and to wait for you to offer information about yourself or to strike up a conversation. Don’t get me wrong, they want to know everything. If you're feeling chatty you'll find yourself down the rabbit’s hole before you know it. So be aware of that. They'll introduce themselves and welcome you. They'll offer you this or that. All you have to do this evening is say thank you. You don’t have to commit to anything social. It’s just information.’ She finished as Spike parked the car.

'Thanks, Mom.' Faith teased. 

'You're welcome.' Buffy deadpanned. 

No one else had offered anything. They just let Buffy do her thing, since she'd done the same thing for them.

All of the Community Dinners so far had been Vegetarian affairs. Tonight, was no different. Dinner had been some kind of potato dish that was wonderfully spicy. Kaylee claimed that someone named Shepard Book had taught her how to make it and in turn she’d taught Petaline. The mention of Shepard Book had changed the mood of the diner slightly until Kaylee related a story the Sheppard had told during a dinner like this one a long time ago. Buffy noted that this crew operated much the same as the Scoobs. They used humor to power through their heart aches. Faith noted it as well and cautiously let herself sink into the experience. The evening went well. Better than Buffy could have expected. She saw a side of Faith that she’d never seen before and was impressed with the way Faith, who was normally extremely anti-social, was able to navigate through the evening.

Except for the clean-up crew, their group was the last to leave the building. While they said goodnight to Captain Reynolds and Inara, Buffy the Captain know that it was safe to come down to the lab in the morning when they woke up the Winchester Brothers if he wanted to.

‘We might need the back-up. They don’t know us and we don’t know them. I have no idea how they are going to react to us. Especially when they meet Spike and Angel.’ She elaborated.

‘Oh! Right…these are the guys that were the demon hunters.’ Mal recalled, flicking a glance at Giles.

‘Yes.’ She agreed.

Faith was standing behind Buffy and she stepped out to speak to Mal. ‘Captain, I just want to say I am sorry about the other day, again.’

‘No worries there.’ Mal assured her.

‘Well, thank you for that.’ She answered quietly.

They left then and got everyone dropped off. Giles wanted to be dropped at the warehouse, so that was where they’d left him, then Angel and Faith across the courtyard.

As Buffy and Spike rode the elevator up to their home, they made out like school kids.

When the car came to a stop, Spike picked her up and dropped her over his shoulder. She giggled hysterically while he tickled the backs of her legs all the way to their bedroom.

Chapter Text

Twenty-Five

 

On Miranda, much like Earth’s 12-hour segments, the day was split into 15-hour segments. As a result, the sun came up hours and hours before it was time for them to get out of bed.

Buffy had never been so grateful for a walk-in closet. They slept in it exclusively.

‘Spike,’ she called to him for the third time, ‘are you coming?’

‘They're waiting on us! We're late!’ she added in complaint.

‘Ugh…’ her Vampire grunted.

It just occurred to her, that she didn’t have a pet name for Spike. Granted, Spike was a nick name, but not one she’d given him. He had a laundry list of cute little things he called her, but she’d never really been the cute boyfriend nick name type. He called her Goldilocks and luv...all kinds of cute names. Maybe she'd start looking for something cute to call him. Just now she heard him rummaging through the closet for something to wear. She needed to do the laundry. He was on cooking, she was on laundry and she was slacking. Mainly because whenever she was in the house, he had her in the bed. She thought about that a little and decided that she wasn’t really slacking as he stumbled out of the closet door. He had his pants pulled on, but the button and zipper weren't done up and the patch of curls there peaked out.

‘Ooops,’ she really needed to get on that laundry.

He was carrying his shirt and boots which he dropped on the floor next to his sink in their shared vanity. He quickly washed his face and ran his wet hands through his hair causing the length of it to explode into a riotous mass of curls. He frowned, pulling a comb through the two-toned chaos. Spike’s hair hadn't been cut or been bleached in 500 years and it needed both. His natural color was a dark sandy blond that she actually liked, but wasn’t used too. His bleach blond, slicked back look was bad boy sexy, but that wasn’t who he was deep down.

‘I kind of like it.’ She offered, pointing at his hair.

‘Yeah?’ he asked, skeptically.

‘Yeah.’ She nodded, then said, ‘It’s up to you, but I'll help you, if you want to bleach. I like it either way.’

The doorbell rang.

‘Giles.’ They said.

‘Hurry.’ She said, and went to answer the door, she pulled and before it was open she said by way of greeting, ‘Almost ready.’ 

There was...a group of men on her doorstep…and a woman. ‘What time is it?’ she wondered in confusion, but all she managed to say was, ‘Ugh…’ 

Spike appeared behind her and had the same reaction she did.

‘Spike, go and get Angel, tell him and Faith to meet us here.’ She instructed and stepped wide as Spike left, offering, ‘Come in.’

Giles, Captain Reynolds, Simon, Dean, Sam, and Jody trailed in the door. She ushered them through the entry way and into the war room.

Spike was back before they could get sat down and said, ‘On their way.’ as he walked past a visibly pissed off Buffy.

Having made the decision the few moments he was gone to do his best to diffuse this already volatile situation, Spike thrust out a hand to the tall one.

‘Lad’s as tall as a tree.’ he noted, and said, ‘Hello, Mate. Name’s Spike.’

Sam lips tightened, not wanting to respond. He cast a painful glance at Dean who shrugged at him. Sam took Spike’s hand then. He was surprised to find that it wasn’t cold. ‘Hi, Sam Winchester. This is my brother, Dean.’ He offered, gesturing at Dean. 

‘Spike.’ He said to the other brother introducing himself and offering his hand to shake.

Dean took Spike’s offered hand without hesitation, maintained eye contact and said, ‘Hello.’

‘This is Jody Mills, our friend.’ Sam said, gesturing to the solidly built, curvy, very attractive, middle aged woman standing between the brothers.

Spike took the woman's measure. She had an adorable pixie hair cut that had gone salt and pepper. The dame was sexy as hell. And dangerous. He grinned at her. He couldn’t help it. She wasn’t going to be swayed by his handsome face, which was fine with him. He wasn’t going to be distracted by her wholesome, drop dead gorgeous appearance either. She'd stake him in a heartbeat and he knew it. He liked her immediately. ‘Hello.’ He drawled, flirting with her anyway and offering his hand.

She snorted her amusement, then shaking with him said, ‘Hello.’

For now, he was on his best behavior. His Bird was in a murderous rage and it wouldn't do for him to stir up a hornets nest.

Buffy, was boring a hole through Giles with the laser beams shooting from her eyes. He'd just put Spike in terrible danger once again by surprising them at home! Without backup! Against two hunters, a Sheriff, and a Captain, who’d taken on the entire Alliance pretty much by himself. What's more, he knew it. He'd done it on purpose. She had no way of knowing how long the brothers had been awake, what they'd been told, or anything. It had been done this way, so Giles would have the opportunity to make sure that the discussion regarding Spike, went the way he wanted it to. As evidenced by the way the three newcomers approached Spike.

'What was it going to take for Giles to get on board?' she fumed. She was really angry, and that was putting it mildly. ‘Angel better hurry.’ 

She took a steady breath, reaching for calm, missed her mark entirely and clipped out directly, ‘Everyone, take a seat.’ pointing not gesturing at the seating as it wasn't an invitation.

She hadn't used her "hostess with the mostest tone" at all and a blind man could have read her body language.

‘I have to say that I'm…surprised to see you awake and at my house.’ Her tone sharp enough to cut steel. She'd remained standing, in the position of authority, hands on hips. She’d pivoted casually while speaking making sure that everyone in the room understood, she knew exactly where they were and wasn't in the least threatened by their arrival.

‘Well, Giles and I, and Simon as well, we ugh, we thought it might be a good idea to give the fellas here, a bit of a heads up before we tossed them into the pool.’ Mal explained sheepishly, gesturing at Sam and Dean.

‘Uh huh…and who proposed this plan?’ she asked, turning toward Giles knowing exactly who to blame.

‘It was my idea.’ Giles said, taking responsibility.

‘Why am I not surprised?’ she said, hotly, not even looking away from him as to not lose her temper completely since she had "company." 

Giles began to say something more, but she cut him off, ‘That was rhetorical. You're well aware they already know about Spike and Angel.’ She snapped.

‘Yes…well,’ he stammered.

The doorbell rang cutting off what he’d been about to say.

‘Come in…’ she called, instead of going to the door.

Angel and Faith strode into the room.

‘So, what’s this?’ Faith asked, confrontationally. ‘We’ve been up for hours waiting to do this thing. What? You don’t trust us or something?’ She accused.

‘Yeah,’ Dean swaggered up from the sofa, ‘something just like that.’

Faith sized Dean up. ‘You want a go big boy? Fine by me, let’s head on outside. There isn’t anyone here who is gonna stop us.’ She challenged the room.

Jody and Sam stood up then. Faith and Angel looked them up and down.

‘Damn, boy.’ Faith said taking in Sam, ‘My mistake. You’re the big one.’ She smiled at Angel and elbowed him, giggling, ‘You know what they say about the big ones.’

Angel smiled a real smile. He was so excited he was about to bust. He really needed to hit something. ‘Yep.’ Was his only reply.

‘Alright now Faith, that’s enough.’ Giles said, interrupting the standoff.

‘No, Giles.’ Buffy countered. ‘You don’t get to start something and then decided when it’s enough, so maybe you wanna sit down and be quiet.’ she went to stand between the brothers and Angel and Faith then said, 'Sit. Down.' She didn't wait to see if they'd complied, she spun on her heal at Mal, then bit out, ‘You might want to explain yourself and what's going on here...better.’

‘What’s going on here…’ Dean barged in, but didn’t get to finish.

‘I didn’t ask you.’ Buffy snapped, pointing at Mal, ‘I asked him.’

Faith stomped over to stand directly behind Buffy, arms crossed, Angel followed.

Spike, stayed right where he was. He knew his Slayer.

‘Well…’ Dean stammered, trying again.

‘Zip it, or I will Zip it for you.’ She said with a snap of her fingers. She’d conveyed the commanded with deadly seriousness. No bluff at all. 'Now, sit.'

Dean hesitated only a fraction of a second then sat without another word.

He’d pursed his lips but kept his mouth shut instead of telling the Slayer to make him. He huffed in protest, rolled his shoulders and thought about the odds. Two Vampires, two Vampire Slayers, against the three of them. He didn’t like the odds. Finally making up his mind, he sat. Sam and Jody who’d been waiting on his decision, gawked incredulously, but sat as well.

Mal took this as the signal to start explaining again. ‘It’s just like I said. Giles came to me with his concerns and I agreed with them. We thought it would be…’

‘You thought…the three of you?' She bit out, pointing at Giles, Simon, and Mal each in turn. She wanted Giles to understand what he’d done and drove her point home. ‘Captain, you have an agreement with me about these people.' she said, gesturing at everyone in the room who wasn't Mal or Simon. 'You don't have an agreement with Giles. If you want to renegotiate our agreement, that's fine, but you don’t get to change things up, without talking to me about it first.’ She commanded, making her point by throwing his words back at him.

Zoe and Jayne stepped into the room as she finished speaking. ‘She’s right, Sir.’ Zoe offered, stoically.

Buffy threw her hands into the air, ‘Anyone else coming to visit today?’

‘You're right. I should've talked to you about it first.’ Mal agreed.

Zoe lifted a perfectly shaped brow at the Captain, understanding instinctively what this had been all about. He never capitulated to anything unless there wasn't an alternative and that only happened after someone was bleeding. 

‘It won’t happen again.’ He added.

Buffy noticed that he didn’t apologize. ‘Great, now if the general pissing contest is over, does someone wanna catch me up? Zoe and Jayne, please sit down.’ She offered pointing to an empty sofa.

She went to sit with Spike. He ran a finger over the back of her arm, letting her know that he was with her. She was vibrating with anger and it would be a while before she'd be able to calm down. Giles had undermined her authority with his idiocy once again. He’d clouded the trust she might have gained by casting doubt on Spike and Angel and therefore casting doubt on her judgement. This was not over between them by a long shot. For now though, she had to try to salvage this disaster. She took a breath working hard to get past her raging anger. She needed to show these three people, that she and therefore the rest of them as well, were able to work and live in peace with them.

She listened as Simon began to fill her in.

The brothers and Jody had been awake since just after the Community Dinner. They’d had just about 12 hours to get acclimated. They’d already been to their new digs. The two apartments that Buffy had assigned them were two floors below hers. It had been their idea to show up unannounced. Dean explained that it would help them work though some of their misgivings about the Vampires.

Dean and Sam weren’t 100% at ease by the end of the conversation but, they’d decided against burning the building to the ground…for now. There was a lot more to learn and get through the next few days. Spike had actually been the one to allay a large portion of their fears. Angel had asked what he and Spike could do to make them feel more at ease.

Spike, having taken a page from Buffy’s book had not allowed the question.

He’d cut Angel off and said, ‘No, Granddad. They're just going to have to trust us.’

Buffy agreed and Spike, just to make a point knocked back a whisky.

After that, they simply talked like normal people.

Buffy taking the opening Spike had given her began to tell them about the Scoobs. She told them how long they’d been together. Funny stories. Personality traits. How smart Willow was and how even though Xander was accident prone, he kept them together and from being hurt themselves. She told them the truth about Dawn and how even though Andrew was super annoying, he was one of them now. The others had joined in the story telling including Faith which was so unlike her. They talked about the bad times as well and how Spike had come to be alive. Spike, to Angel’s chagrin told everyone how Angel had been turned into a puppet during a case they’d taken investigating a children’s television show. Angel finished the story by telling everyone that he’d still kicked Spike’s ass, even though he was a puppet. Dean and Sam reciprocated with stories about Cas that were hilarious. Jody with stories about her girls, Alex, Claire, and Patience. Mal talked about his crew.

They’d laughed and gotten to know each other better, which was all she’d wanted. A chance. If they’d been on Earth, they would've ordered a pizza by the time they got to the puppet story, but they weren’t. Spike surprised the newcomers and a few others by going to the kitchen to make a vegetable tray for them to snack on. He’d further surprised them by eating the vegetables. Once the food was gone, they’d been at it for over five hours. The visit was finally over and everyone went home.

Angel and Faith could hear Buffy giving Giles a royal dressing down as the elevator made its way to the ground.

‘B's pretty pissed.’ Faith stated the obvious.

‘Yep.’ Angel concurred.

Chapter Text

 

Twenty-Six

 

‘Look, all I'm saying is maybe that watcher has issues that don’t really have anything to do with Vampires. He didn’t seem to be all that concerned about the other one, the big one, ugh…Angel. He's living with a Slayer too and that didn't seem to bother him. It’s all the same thing, criteria...or whatever. Right? Only...he's only complaining about Spike.’ Dean argued, grasping for the words he wanted and getting half of them wrong.

Now, he was waiting for a response to his argument from Sam. He didn’t get one. So, he went on.

‘I think, we gotta start asking ourselves what his motivation is, because I’m not buying that it’s a Vampire issue anymore. Especially after what we just saw. I mean, the dude ate enough vegetables and dip to feed a horse, Sam! And…did you notice that he’s not cold?’ Dean added. ‘She told us all about these two years ago. Remember? That they both have souls, they kill demons, and they don’t bite or feed off of humans.’

‘That we know of.’  Jody interjected.

Sam gestured at Jody in ‘What she said’ body language.

‘Fine, that we know of.’ Dean allowed, in his loud, gruff, annoyed voice that filled the room, then said, ‘Sam, I don’t understand. Usually, you’re the one telling me not to be so uptight about stuff.’  

‘Maybe I'm a little concerned because you have a history of giving Vampires a pass…on occasion. Look how that turned out.’ Sam replied.

‘Yeah…Sam, look how that turned out. You're here and we got Bobby back, for a while.’ Dean said, getting pissed.

‘Okay, easy guys.’ Jody moderated. ‘Maybe, we should just get some sleep. We’ve had a long day and we've got a planet to explore tomorrow. And…seriously, I can’t…we're on a different planet and you guys are arguing about two Vampires who are in the same predicament as you. Our heads are not in the right place guys.’ she said, imploring them to settle down.

No one said anything for a tick and let her words sink in.

‘Jody is right. We have a lot to think about, but honestly, I’ve lived in hell and been possessed by Satan. This really isn’t such a big deal in comparison. We’ve had to live in alternate dimensions and this isn’t the first time we’ve had to deal with time travel issues. Well, I guess technically this isn't time travel, but it doesn't really matter does it. We're 500 years in the future, does it matter how we got here? We're here and we're not going back. We're going to have to make the best of it. At least Jody, has the girls down there in tubes and Cas is down there as well. It could be a lot worse.’ Sam said, putting a good spin on it. 

Silence…

Mom and Jack weren't on that list of people.

It hurt.

They just let the silence be while they worked through it for a minute.

Sam had been as careful as he knew how to be while he talked. 

They stayed quiet for as long as Dean could take it, then he exclaimed, ‘Look at this place! Does this TV work?’

Sam answered with an amused chuckle, ‘Captain Reynolds said it would once they figured out how to hook the building up to the Cortex. In Internet years…or, I guess Cortex years the tech is ancient. It shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out and there is bound to be a manual somewhere.’

Dean merely blinked at his brother then teased, ‘Nerd.’

‘I'm going to bed.’ Jody laughed. ‘I'm right across the hall if either of you have a nightmare and need me.’ she teased and got up to leave.

Both men got up to hug her good night. She squeezed them hard, then left. Behind her she heard Dean say, ‘First door on the right is my room!’ and then he made a run for it.

Jody laughed at the bumps and bangs as the door to the apartment closed. She walked the ten steps across the hall to her own place and pushed the door open. She felt around on the wall for the light switch but then remembered, ‘Lights.’ She called. The lights came up and she took in the apartment. It was nice, that was for sure, but it wasn’t very homey. She supposed she'd wait for the girls to wake up before she started personalizing the space. She didn’t know what she was going to do here every day. Her whole life was being a small-town Sheriff and hunting the occasional monster that came through town. She didn’t have a job or a purpose. Of course, the girls would need her and God knew that she was going to need them, but eventually they'd find out where they fit, in this knew life.

'The boys will need you now and again as well…' she thought absently.

She went down the hall to the Master bedroom and climbed under the covers fully dressed. She was asleep in minutes.

 

 

***

 

 

‘I warned you…’ Inara chastised Mal.

‘The girl is strong willed, that’s for sure.’ He said.

‘Mal, she’d not a girl, she’s a woman.’ Inara corrected.

‘Fine, she’s a strong-willed woman. I went along with it, mostly because I wanted to see how it would play out. She’s not just strong-will ‘Nara, she considered what happened tantamount to mutiny. And truth told, after tonight, I’m not worried about the Vampires anymore, I’m worried about the Librarian. He’s a dissenter and it’s ain’t the first time. It was too easy for him, like he didn’t have a single qualm about it. And the other Slayer, she is ready to throw down at a moments notice. She reminds me of Zoe. Not as poised, mind you, but she’s loyal. She just came to it though.’ he said, thoughtfully, then told Inara the history between the two Slayers and the two Vampires, then said, ‘So, you can see where my thoughts are. This slip of a girl had two Vampires and a Slayer that used to hate her, eating out of the palm of her hand. I…trust her and I trust her folks. All of 'em even the Librarian. He's a trouble maker, but he falls in line when the going get's tough. I feel like no matter what ever happens, they'd stand with us. She’s got spunk and honor and she don’t take no shi…ugh, crap.’ He explained. 

‘You can say shit, Mal.’ Inara chuckled.

‘I know...’ He replied, his tone self-conscious.

Inara turned out the light on her side of the bed and rolled to Mal. She backed up to him and spooned in, putting her cold feet on top of his warm ones.

Mal rubbed them vigorously with his own to help get them warm. Her being cold all of the time was a side effect of the medicine the Doc had her taking.

‘I had lunch with Kaylee today. She said the other farm would be ready to go by the time there were enough people to work it. She also said she came across a huge stash of seeds. There were watermelon seeds in it.’

‘Really?’ Mal asked hopefully.

‘I wouldn’t lie to you about watermelon, Mal.’ Inara laughed.

Mal loved watermelon! 

 

 

***

 

 

‘Oh! My gosh, Simon! That was a terrible thing to do!’ Kaylee exclaimed.

‘I know that…now!’ he admitted.

‘Is everything…I mean, was there a fight?’ she asked, concern lacing her tone.

‘No, well, not a physical fight. I mean, I was terrified the whole time and I barely spoke a word. She…basically challenged Mal and she told Giles and Dean to sit down and shut up. I swear to you, everyone did exactly what she told them to do. It was…something to see. I’m not sure if they were afraid of her or if they knew they’d really messed up. Either way, I'm never, going to do anything like that again. I'm going straight to her, if that kind of situation ever comes up again. Do you remember a long time ago how you told me that River had really scared you at Niska’s. This was like that. I believe that if Dean had even flinched, I'd be over at the lab right now, setting broken bones and sewing stitches. The really disturbing part was Spike. He never showed the slightest bit of worry. He just sat there calmly…like he was bored. Like they had it all under control.’ Simon fidgeted. 

Kaylee handed him the glass of water he'd asked for and he took a big drink.

‘Don’t ever do anything to cross him and…I don’t want you alone with him, ever. He laughed, like he was having fun.’ Simon confided.

‘Surely not!’ Kaylee exclaimed, scandalized.

‘He did. Stay away from the other one too. He just stood there motionless behind Faith and glowered. And then, the most bizarre part of it all…my hand on Grey’s Anatomy, they all sat down and chatted like none of it had ever happened. I'm having serious reservations about waking the rest of these…people, up. They out number us by about thirty to one, Kaylee.

‘Yeah…but, Simon, you have to remember that only two of them are Vampires, who’ve been nothing but nice to us. And this wouldn’t have even happened if Mr. Giles hadn’t done what he did. I mean, Buffy is mad because of exactly what has happened. You don’t trust them now and neither does those two brothers or that Sheriff.  Mr. Giles cast doubt on them when they're in a new place with new people and no good can come out of that. Buffy was countin on a fresh start for them. See? Mr. Giles has ruined that. And besides, River would've done told you if there was anything to fear from them by now.’ Kaylee said, convincingly. 

Simon considered his wife’s words. She was usually right when it came to River. And people… ‘That…is true.’ He allowed.

‘Time will tell, but I don’t think we have to worry about them.’ Kaylee added,  then asked, ‘Time for bed?’

Simon nodded.

Chapter Text

Twenty-Seven

 

 

Zoe dropped Jayne off at his house after the ambush at Buffy's that evening, saying ‘See you soon,’ then doubled back to wait for Angel and Faith outside of their building. She hoped she could help smooth things over between the Angel and the Captain with some time. That had been a bad scene back at Buffy’s apartment. She’d known, without having to be told, what Mal’s motivation had been. He'd been testing the waters, looking for reactions, but it had almost been a disaster. She didn't think any of them had anticipated the reaction they'd gotten except for Mr. Giles. Somewhere in all of that Mr. Giles had wanted everyone to see what had happened. She wasn't exactly sure why just yet. She knew without a doubt that they were being manipulated, she just didn't know to what end, yet.

Zoe had a budding friendship with Angel. She liked him, he was quiet and stayed to himself. He…understood things.

Okay, fine.’ she'd admitted while she stood there waiting, it wasn't a 'budding' friendship. They were friends.

They weren’t 'that kind' of friends. Just simply put, friends. It had happened almost instantaneously and now, she was glad for the friendship.

Zoe didn’t begrudge Mal the time he spent with Inara. It was just the opposite. She wanted the Captain with Inara every second he could be with her, but she missed her friend more than she'd expected. She'd never to wish for this situation to be any other way unless it included a healthy Inara, but that would never be. Inara would be gone someday way too soon. When that happened, it would be terrible and unbearable, but she'd be there for him, just like he'd been there for her.

Just like always.

During the war, she and the Captain, had always propped each other up when it got brutal. He'd kept her alive and saved her life more than once. She'd walk through hell with the Captain if he asked her too and not think twice about it. He was her strength after Wash died and lately, she was just lost without her friend to lean on. It was hard, sometimes, for her to see him and Inara together, because they were so happy. It wasn’t jealousy, she was truly happy for them. She was happy for him. It was just that the light they had between them was so bright, it was hard to look at. It made her miss Wash even more and she was so lonely for him. She was lonely for the way he'd look at her.

‘Like I was everything.’  she remembered.

And Wash had wanted Hobie so much. She'd just started to believe there was good in the 'Verse again. Then they took him from her. 

Zoe stayed planet side with Hobie as long as she could, but she wasn’t used to being on the ground. Zoe had been vessel born and being still had always been hard for her.

It was extra difficult now, because Miranda reminded her about everything Wash was missing. He would've loved it here on Miranda with her and Hobie.

They would've struggled over this in their marriage, but their love for each other would've won out in the end. As it was now, she stayed on the ground as long as she could and then she'd have to get herself into the black. She was better in the black, it was normal. While she was out there, it was just the two of them and he wasn’t missing. The excuses she used to take these trips always consisted of getting supplies that weren't 'readily available' on Miranda, which had been hard to justify, because everything was readily available on Miranda.

Except the things that weren’t. Like, information or meat and cheese.

Even with Mal patrolling The Signal day and night, there was never enough information to keep them safe. The Signal provided the information that the Alliance wanted you to have.

A dive bar on Persephone, provided the information they needed. So, she’d used it as her number one excuse when she couldn’t take the stillness any longer. 

Then, she’d load up grab Jayne and go smuggling.

When she couldn’t leave and the figurative walls began to close in on her, she'd jump into an abandoned cruiser and head out to one of the thousands of empty neighborhoods and scream her guts out. She’d scream until she fell into and exhausted heap on the ground. Which, ironically, was how she and Angel had become friends. He’d been out to do a little of his own 'screaming' when he'd heard her. When he found her laying on the ground sobbing, he’d thought she was hurt and had come to help her. She’d taken a swing at him for his trouble and he'd apologized, backing off and leaving her alone. She’d felt guilty about it the next and had gone to see him. Mostly, she didn’t want him to tell anyone what he’d seen and felt guilty.

"Don't worry about it. I understand. I was out there doing the same thing." Angel had admitted, in the spirit of getting to know her. He explained the difficulty he was having adjusting to his new life and how in the past, he'd go out and kill demons and beat up criminals, to deal with things he couldn't control. No longer having that physical release for his pent up frustration taxed his peace of mind and sent him out most nights to run it off, scream it off or whatever it took to get it out of his system. "That was how I found you." he said.

Zoe had talked to him then. She'd surprisingly opened up and told him about...everything.

For the last six weeks she’d been able to stay planet side because of him. Whenever they began feeling restless, smothered, stifled, they'd sneak off and spar. He let her beat the crap out of him. It was extremely therapeutic for her. But only her. It was pretty one sided.

Angel had asked her about the Reavers during one of their talks and while she’d explained, she could see the desire to 'hunt,' burn like a blazing fire in him.

After meeting Faith and seeing the caged fear in the Slayers eyes, Zoe knew right off that they were kindred. Faith was an army brat and during that conversation was when the idea had first occurred to her. After seeing the way she and Angel were together, the idea cemented itself. They were going Reaver hunting. They'd do a little smuggling as well. She talked it over with the Captain, then spent a few days hunting up just the right transport. One that was small enough for her to handle alone, yet big enough for speed, and one she hadn’t used yet. She found one fairly close by, then spent the afternoon over at the Citizens Bureau making new Ident-Cards for all of them, registering the ship to her, and getting it in the system. Everything was ready after that. All she needed was Angel and Faith. So, she’d been sitting on Angel’s porch when they got back from Buffy and Spikes place that evening and laid the plan out to them. The pair of them had jumped at the chance to go exploring and packed a bag almost before she could finish telling them what she wanted to do. Jayne had packed an arsenal that took nearly 45 minutes to load and then they were off being pirates.

That, had been two weeks ago.

While they were traveling Zoe and Jayne taught them the quick and dirty basics of smuggling, gun handling since they fought mostly hand to hand combat. They’d gotten rip roaring drunk together and had gotten into one hell of a bar fight that almost landed them in detention. Faith could hustle serious pool! The trip, had been exactly what everyone of them, had needed! They were back in time for Community Dinner with information, of both kinds, and meat and cheese to boot. Which in a very real sense was going to make them heroes.

Zoe was, happy, if not content, for the first time in a really long time. So much so, that she’d put off going to see the Captain and went to see Hobie first.

Her son noticed that she was truly happy to see him and he hugged her tight saying he loved her. Something he’d been shy of doing lately.

‘When did he get so big?’ she wondered, as he squeezed her neck.

Chapter Text

Twenty-Eight

 

‘Honestly, they could be anywhere, Buffy.’ Giles offered. Spike had made a passable lunch for them, that wasn't protein spread over flat bread and he wanted to eat it instead of answer this question again this week. With a sigh, he offered as further explanation, hoping this would be the end to it, 'It isn’t unheard of, you know...for either one of them to disappear without a moment of notice when they're unhappy.’

'Wha...So, they get to just take off? I'm unhappy, I didn't just take off without a word!' Buffy argued, stubbornly. 

Even though the purpose of them getting together was to discuss the next round of 'wake ups' it looked as if that were going to be put on hold.

Giles ignored her ranting and finally ate his lunch. 

The problem was, Buffy had called Angel a few days ago to let him and Faith know that they were going to have this meeting, but he'd never answered. When she'd started looking for him, she'd realized that both he and Faith were missing. Eventually, she'd called the Captain to let him know that they were missing, but he hadn't answered either. Which seemed odd to her because she'd been helping Sam work the 'bugs' out of the Cortex, with daily conversations from the Captains Seat. Which is what she'd been calling the room where Captain Reynolds spent most of his day, 'monitoring' something he called The Signal and teaching Sam all about it. The Cortex wasn’t exactly a phone, it was a face phone. You could see the person you were talking to, like on a TV screen. Sam had imparted a particularly funny story to her about the way he'd eventually taken the much handled, begrimed manual that the captain had been teaching him from and read it from cover to cover in the space of an afternoon. Soon after that, Sam began teaching The Captain about the Cortex and The Signal and that was the reason they had phone’s now. There had also been something about using the satellites and how he’d reprogrammed them not to stream anything to go out, only to come in. This way anyone passing by, like Reavers or Alliance or just a passing ship couldn’t hear us. Like we were cloaked or something. So, the day after Sam got the satellite to work phones, they got TV too.

Anyway, she didn’t really know how any of it worked and didn't care, just so long as she could use it. And she could and had been. Most days during lunch her and Sam would 'Facetime' (that's what Sam called it) each other and talk about their day so far. The last time she'd 'Facetimed' him, he'd told her that Kaylee had brought Dean and Spike down to the farm early in the day and quickly gave Dean the tour he’d asked for after finding out the Kaylee was an engine freak same as him.

Spike and Dean had sort of gravitated toward each other over the last several days. They shared a love for music and somehow didn’t end up in the same arguments that Spike and Giles did, even when Giles was present. It had done Giles a world of good to see Spike in a casual setting like that without someone treating him like a pariah. Jody had been spending almost all of her time with Giles and her working on population solutions. They’d had several in-depth conversations about what they were going to do with approximately 800 teenage girls, who were going to need guidance and love. Discipline and understanding. Jody had brought up things that hadn’t occurred to either of them. Things like education and feminine hygiene supplies. No brainers that got lost in the massive scale of the other problems they faced.

None of this was the point though. The point was, that Angel and Faith were missing and Captain Reynolds was avoiding her.

She'd eaten her lunch in silence while thinking all of that through and considering where they may have gone. However, determined not to let the day go to waste, she pushed aside her annoyance, then cleared the dishes away so they could get down to business. While she rinsed the dishes to put them in the dishwasher there was a knock at the door. Come in, both she and Spike shouted across the expansive Penthouse, causing both Giles and Jody to jump. Just as she wiped excess water off the counter and dried her hands, both Dean and Sam emerged in the kitchen. Buffy threw the dishtowel down on the counter and leveled an irritated stare at Sam, who shuffled his feet nervously and looked at the floor to avoid her gaze.

'He doesn't know where they are toots, so just settle down.' Dean imparted with a cocky wave of his hand, dismissing her questions before she could ask them.

Buffy narrowed her eyes at him and would have given the both of them a piece of her mind, but they ignored her completely. Sam said hello to Giles and Jody while Dean and Spike 'fist bumped' each other in greeting, then nosily dragged a chair each across the bamboo flooring, falling into conversation as they sat. Buffy watched all of this from the kitchen and had the thought that she'd let this go for now, but soon, there would have to be an understanding about certain things. 

Spike turned to her during a lull, and smiled softly giving his head a slight tilt to beckon her to them. She 'gave' a little and went to sit with him. 

Soon were discussing the tentative schedule for bringing the rest of their people out of the Cryo-tubes. Jody was moderating this discussion as far as Buffy could tell, but she wasn’t doing a very good job it. Buffy had elected to sit back and keep quiet for a while. She intervened just as it was about to get heated.

‘I think, that there are enough of us now, if Angel and Faith ever come back, that we can wake all of our people. There's no need to wait longer.’ she said.

‘Not, Illyria.’ Spike interjected.

‘Correct. Not Illyria. Or Dawn. Or Riley and his crew as well.’ She added.

Spiked rolled his eyes at that. He didn't have a problem with leaving Illyria in her tube, or Riley and his people, it was leaving Dawn, that he objected to. 

‘You think so?’ Giles asked.

‘Yeah. I think we’ve been over thinking it a little.’ She said.

‘That hold true for the Nibblet as well.’ Spike prodded.

‘Spike…’ she huffed out jerking around to glare at him.

He held his hands up in a gesture of surrender.

‘I just want to wait until we're all here and doing as well as can be expected, so that we can be there for her. I'm going to need help with her. We're barely hanging on ourselves someday.’ She explained to the others.

Giles nodded that he understood while the rest just listened.

‘You don’t give the ‘bit enough credit, big sis. She was a trooper while you were dead. Much better than me.’ He confided.

‘Be that as it may, it’s still my call.’ She reiterated.

The doorbell rang. They both got up to answer it.

‘I’ve got it.’ He insisted.

Buffy sat down and pulled an exasperated hand through her too long hair. She really needed a hair cut.

Simon came in with Spike trailing after him.

‘Doc’s here.’ He announced, as if she couldn’t see that for herself.

Simon took in the scene before him. Awkwardly he said, ‘I…just wanted to come and let you know that Angel and Faith are back.’

‘They are? When did they get back? Where were they?’ She peppered him.

‘I…didn’t talk to them, I just saw them.’ He answered.

‘Thank you, Simon! I appreciated it.’ She answered, getting up from the table.

Everyone else stood with her.

‘Doc, why didn’t you just call?’ Sam asked.

‘The wave box at the lab isn’t working.’ Simon answered.

‘Well, I'll come with you and see if I can fix it.’ Sam offered.

Giles and Jody had already started toward the door, ‘Yes, let’s see if we can get a few things done and meet back here in an a few hours when Angel and Faith can join us. We can all go to Community Dinner from here?’ he finished, with a questioning glance around.

Everyone agreed and headed out. Buffy stayed behind to make up with Spike.

‘I’m sorry.’ They both said at the same time.

‘I have my reasons.’ She said.

‘I know. Want to share them?’ he prompted.

‘Not right now…?’ she asked, tentatively.

He nodded his disappointment. She saw it and laid a serious kiss on him.

‘It’s not like that.’ She promised, then added, 'I still have work to do after I yell at them. I have to meet with Captain Reynolds as well and tell him what we've decided.'

Spike wasn’t convinced by her explanation so she laid another scorching kiss on him. He kissed her back finally.

After a minute he set her away from him. ‘Go on. I'll see you in a while, Luv.' 

Chapter Text

Twenty-Nine

 

Angel emerged from his shower to pounding on his front door. He wrapped a towel around his waist and used another to scrub at his wet hair while he made his way through the basement apartment of the 50 story building he'd been ensconced in. He’d taken to locking the door with the combination key pad the third time he woke up to find River standing over his bed watching him sleep. He had a feeling that it was the girl at the door now. He yanked the door open to yell at her for pounding on it.

‘Different girl.’ He muttered and held the other towel over his naked chest.

Buffy’s mouth fished open and closed a few times, totally flustered. ‘Uh…’ she choked. ‘Ummm…’ she tried again.

Pulling her mouth into a tight grimace, she looked away from his chest glancing down. Big mistake.

‘Oh…oh God. His…um…the bulge…’  Her brain screamed at her.

All…of Angel, was pressing against the wet towel wrapped around his waist.

‘It’s leaving nothing to the imagination…’ she noted against her will. 

He shifted his hips and she couldn’t look anymore. She closed her eyes then shook her head even more flustered, trying to purge the image that was burned onto her retinas.

It wasn’t working.

She jerked her eyes to his as it was the only safe place for her to look. Only to discover that it wasn’t. His deep brown eyes were boring right through her bright green ones. Practically right to her core. His amused expression told her that he knew exactly what had just happened and she turned crimson with embarrassment. He lifted his amused brow at her which effectively broke through the tension of the moment. Disgusted by the entire incident she threw her hands in the air, rolled her eyes and breathed out a rough breath of annoyance.

‘Where…have you been?’ she demanded, with a stammer.

‘Hello to you too.’ He said, ignoring the question.

‘Hi. Where?’ she clipped, maintaining eye contact through sheer force of will.

Faith came to the door. ‘Why all the noise?’ she asked tiredly.

At least she was fully dressed, Buffy noted unamused.

‘Where, have you been? I've been worried sick about you two!’ She yelled to cover her embarrassment, shock, and…something else she absolutely wasn't going to acknowledge.

‘We were with Zoe. Didn’t anyone tell you?’ Faith answered, sleepily.  

‘NO!’ Buffy shouted.

Angel was standing in his front door, practically naked and Faith was standing there barely dressed like it wasn’t even a big deal.

‘She looks like she just rolled out of the bed.’  Buffy didn’t know why, but she really hated it. She hated it a lot.

Angel was mumbling through something that she wasn’t paying any attention to while she stood there in stupefied bewilderment staring at them.

‘You need to get out of here!'  she screamed and herself. Turning to leave she said, ‘Thanks, a lot.’

Instead of leaving she stood there a few more beats contemplating whether or not to ask just what was going on between the two of them. This, she realized in time to save herself more embarrassment, would be ridiculous as he was in a towel at the front door and Faith was in skimpy pajamas. She decided on, ‘Gotta go. See you at dinner.’ and hurried away.

‘Buffy!’ he called after her. 

She didn’t stop, just picked up her pace. Thank God, Spike wasn’t with her. Her face was burning. She knew, the reaction she was having to a half-naked, soaking wet, glistening Vampire ex-boyfriend and her arch nemesis having sex, was due to the fact that she and Spike had been struggling the past few days. They'd argued before she left and he was frustrated with her. She’d not taken the time she needed to switch gears and get herself situated...so to speak. 'Yeah...that's it exactly.' she agreed, lying her face off and practically running back to the Penthouse. 

She was a flustered mess and was going to have to get a handle on herself before she went back home. What the hell was wrong with her anyway? She was madly in love with Spike. There wasn't a single doubt about that fact. He more than satisfied every whim or need she had and the things she felt and said to him were said and felt honestly. 'So...what...the...hell?' she berated herself. 

She arrived back at her building and went straight up to Giles apartment to get the time she needed to chill out. So what if she and Giles had really had it out and were tip toeing around each other. It wasn't the first time they'd had a fight like this and it wouldn't be the last. She go to see him on the pretense of smoothing things over with him further. She was still out of sorts over the Angel thing when she arrived at Giles door and instead of knocking just barged in and began complaining.

‘Ohhhh…oh my god…’ she blurted, hand covering her mouth. She was too late to conceal her sudden and unannounced appearance.  

Giles and Jody, who were locked in a seriously hot embrace, sprang apart and Giles had to turn his back to the door as he was nearly undressed. Jody, clutched her open blouse closed and her mouth dropped open in surprise. Jody was doing her best to say something…anything, but nothing at all was coming out. Buffy, having had her second shock for the day, about faced and left. She walked straight down the hall and went inside to find Angel with Spike. 

‘Apologize for what, Mate?’ Spike was saying.

Both Vampires turned to her.

‘What are you doing here?’ She demanded, stunned to see Angel. 

‘I came to apologize.’ Angel said for the second time in as many minutes.

‘Accepted.’ She barked, then said, ‘See you at dinner.’

Buffy opened and held the door that she'd just walked through inviting him to leave. Angel nodded and went through the open door, his disappointment evident.

‘Apologize for what?’ Spike, who was very confused said again.

Buffy swung the front door closed after him. When she heard the elevator door close, she went to Spike and she picked up where she’d left off earlier. She was all hands and tongue.

Spike had nearly fallen for it. He dragged his mouth away, ‘I thought you had work…’ he said suspiciously.

Ignoring him, not allowing him to finish what he was saying, she pulled him to her and attempted to kiss his lips off again.

He detached himself from her like she was sticky, ‘What’s happened?’

‘I took the rest of the day off, which is what I should've done earlier instead of leaving the house. Now, I’m sorry, so kiss me. Like you mean it.’ She demanded, rubbing against him.

She was having a hell of a time getting the image of a wet towel encased bulge that Faith was standing next to out of her mind. She determined the best way to do that, was replace it with an even bigger bulge. Further, she was never ever going to acknowledge what she’d seen in Giles apartment only a moment ago. Not ever! 'So gross!'  she cringed mentally. The man was like her father and there he’d been, in the living room, trousers around his ankles and pitching a tent in his boxers! ‘UGH!’ Buffy screeched mentally and stopped kissing Spike then. She had to…she had to do something to scrub the images of the last 30 minutes from her mind.

‘Let’s go.’ She said and dragged Spike to their bedroom.  She needed absolute darkness. It worked. 'Thank God!' she breathed, while Spike lay atop her, layering himself over everything.

What she’d hoped to be a fifteen-minute stress reliever, turned into a tour de force.

They were running around their bedroom like maniacs now trying not to be late for Community Dinner. It was frowned upon to be late, as she’d quickly learned. She’d been strenuously lectured to by The Kitchen staff the one and only time she’d been late.

‘So, are you going to tell me what that was between you and Angel today?’ he asked, nonchalantly. 

‘Don’t start.’ She answered quickly, running her brush through her hair.

‘I’m just wondering what is was that he needed to apologize for.’ He needled.

‘He just made me angry. Taking Faith and disappearing like that. I mean, how do I know that they aren’t going to pull another stunt like that? I mean, we don’t even know where they've been this entire time. What if they just go off like that again?’ she complained.

‘Why do you care so much?’ he asked, digging.

‘Because, what if, I don’t know! What if they get lost?’ she spluttered, indignantly.

‘They aren’t going to get lost.’ he said, as if she were silly.

‘They might.’ she insisted, absently.

‘Neither of them is your responsibility. Besides, Zoe goes with him everywhere. She’s been gone for two weeks as well. They were all together, bet on it.’ He said, pulling her brush through his hair.

‘Why should I bet on it?’ she asked, curiously. 

‘Because Zoe is back as well. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed the two of them all cozy and chatty during Community Dinner! That isn’t very astute of you, Slayer.’ he poked at her.

‘Whatever…’she swatted at him playfully. ‘Kiss me, we gotta go!’

She turned for the door, pulled a frown...and thought, 'no I haven't noticed.' 

Chapter Text

Thirty

 

Petaline, was thirty years old and a single mother. She had almond shaped, dazzlingly bright green eyes, a square jaw, full lips, a voluptuous body, and she’d outdone herself for Community Dinner.

Zoe was back and she’d brought cheese with her! Not to mention meat and other goodies. Petaline couldn’t believe her luck! Tonight, the new comers would be introducing those two men to everyone. She’d already seen them from a’ways off and she was hoping a least one of them would be worth a second look. Just is case, she was wearing her best dress. It made her boobs look amazing.

That one’s so tall he’s likely to scrap his head on the door jamb.’ She thought.

Petaline hoped to catch the attention of at least one of them. Jonah was getting to be a handful and he did need some male influences in his life. What he really needed was a father. Maybe that was getting a little ahead of herself, but the fact remained that the boy needed a man in his life.  She didn’t want to have to leave Miranda to find him one. She’d built a good life for them here and there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for an ex-whore from the border worlds.

Life wasn’t easy for a whore and it was even worse for an ex-whore. And not everyone had the opportunity to go to the Companion Academy. Nandi had companion training and had taken her in and taught her and the others what she knew. The woman had been like the mother Petaline never had and she’d provided Petaline and the others a home and what safety she could. 

She had loved Nandi for it. 

Nandi knew Inara from the Companion Academy. Nandi always said that some just weren’t cut out to be Companions, just like some weren’t cut out to be whores. Nandi and everyone she worked with had fallen in between those to titles.

Petaline had been with Nandi for five years when Rance Burgess came to town, throwing his weight and money around. Soon he had the whole town eating out of his hand. He owned and controlled almost everything.

Everything except Nandi.

Nandi refused to sell to him and Nandi’s girls refused to work for him. He warned away Nandi’s potential customers and made life hard for them, but Nandi didn’t give in.

Rance had unfortunately taken a liking to Petaline the moment he’d seen her and that is when the trouble started. Rance busted in to Nandi’s place and hauled Petaline away with him. She’d been able to get away from him, but she’d come away from the incident, pregnant with Jonah.

He’d come back out to get Petaline a few times after she got away, but Nandi been able to keep her out of his clutches. They thought they’d gotten rid of him finally, but he tried one more time and discovered that Petaline was pregnant. After that he was relentless. Rance didn’t have any children and he was an old man. There was no way they could keep this up. Every week he devised some new plan to get Petaline. Nandi called Inara and struck a bargain with her for some help.

Captain Reynolds showed up a few days later.

Nandi had been killed in the confrontation between the Captain and Rance. Petaline was so distraught she’d killed Rance Burgess. It didn’t matter to her that Rance happened to be Jonah’s father.  Rance was a despicable person and she knew that he would never stop trying to steal Jonah from her. She’d made the quick and dirty decision that she wasn’t going to be looking over her shoulder he whole life and she shot Rance point blank. 

Even if Rance had agreed to let Petaline keep her son with her, she would have shot him. There was no way she was ever going to let Rance influence her child.  She’d done what she thought was best.  She knew that she was going to burn in hell for murdering the man, but she just didn’t care.  She’d done the right thing for her son.

‘He’d had it coming.’  Petaline reminded the nagging thought. 

Belinda Burgess had been miserable as Rance’s wife, but that had not kept her from enjoying his protection or the lavish lifestyle he provided her. It wasn’t far off the mark to say that Belinda had been left in a precarious position when her husband had died at the hands of Petaline, and unfortunately, she hadn’t taken Belinda into consideration. 

Rance had promised Belinda the child Petaline carried and suddenly she had neither child nor husband. Furthermore, it had not taken long for the vultures to descend upon Belinda. Opportunist had begun trying to steal all that Rance had acquired soon after she’d buried him and on a lawless, slaving planet like Santo there wouldn’t be any help coming.  It didn’t take long for Belinda to find her backbone and when she did, she came out to Nandi’s Place to collect her son. The collective occupants of Nandi’s Place had managed to warn her off, but Belinda was back a few days later. 

They fought a full out war with Belinda for almost three years and Petaline finally had to take Jonah and hide. She tracked down Inara and the Captain made the offer to take her and whoever else wanted to go, back to Miranda with him and the rest was history.  Lucy and Johnny had decided to come at the last minute.  The four of them had adapted to life on Miranda immediately. They were used to being isolated on Santo. They weren’t isolated here though. Jonah had a playmate in Hobie and an entire planet to explore. She had new friends in Kaylee and Inara.  Life on Miranda was good, if a little creepy at first.  Even now they ran across a body occasionally. 

She noticed that Buffy had finally arrived.  Nearly everyone had been seated by the time she’d shown up. 

‘Food is probably going to be cold before we can get it served.’ she mumbled.

As soon as Buffy and Spike were in their seats to room got quiet and everyone but the Captain bowed their heads for a moment of silence. The moment of silence was over quickly so they didn’t annoy the Captain and they quickly brought the food to the buffet. Community Dinner night was fun and noisy but not overly so. Even with the newcomers they managed to keep things pleasant. As usual just before time to clean up and do the dishes, which was a collaborative effort, the Captain stood up to open the floor for discussion and sharing.

‘Petaline, you three outdid yourselves. This meal was delicious!’  he praised. 

The room made sounds of agreement and thanks.

Petaline laughing said, ‘Captain, you say that after every dinner!’

‘That’s because every dinner it’s true!’ He responded. 

‘Thank you!’ She replied, blushing slightly slipped down into her chair. 

‘Also, I just want to say formally, that we are happy to have Sam, Dean and Jody join us here on Miranda. We hope that after they get situated, they make the decision to stay with us here permanently.’ He said, to the guests of honor.

‘Usually,’ Mal said, ‘This is the portion of the evening when we let everyone who has something to say have a moment to give it voice. Tonight, you are going to have to wait until the next Dinner to say it.

There are going to be things happening over the next month that you need to be aware of.

Things are about to change forever here.

As y’all well know there is a warehouse full of folks right down the road from here, and we've been hard pressed to find a solution as to what to do about them. 

After a lot of worry and discussion we finally have a plan. 

Buffy and Giles are going to tell you what the situation is, in its entirety. Some of you are going to have questions, you are going to have misgivings, hell you may even be mad.

I'm going to ask you to trust us.

I'm going to ask you to hold your questions until the end.

I'm going to promise you that we are going to do our level best to do the right thing for everyone. 

So far, y’all have been accepting and welcoming to the newcomers and I have to say thank you for it. 

I'm encouraged that we haven’t had any problems between us and that is something for this bunch. 

I'm going to let Buffy and Giles take over now. 

Well, not take over, but I am going to let them talk now. Mal gestured awkwardly for them to join him in the front of the room.

Buffy glanced at Giles who was sitting across from her with Jody. She couldn’t help herself, she blushed hotly after making eye contact. 

Something she’d been able not to do, all the way through dinner.

Jody dropped her head to stare intently at her lap and Giles pulled off his glasses to give them a good going over. 

As he pulled them off, he said, ‘Yes, well…’ It was all he could manage.

Buffy took the hint, went to the front of the room and plunged in. 

‘Hello, Everyone.’ She began. 

She glanced over the room smiled haltingly as her gaze landed on Angel. He was sitting with Zoe. She cocked her head staring at them and lost her train of thought. 

‘How have I not noticed that before?’ she wondered.

She glanced at Spike, who was smirking at her knowingly. 

‘Psh…’ she thought. ‘Had she been entirely wrong about Angel and Faith?’

Buffy remembered herself and pulled her thoughts together quickly. 

‘I want to start by saying thank you. Thanks to all of you. You didn’t have to take us in. You could've left us out there, but you didn’t and I will be forever grateful to all of you for that. With that being said, life here has been a huge adjustment.  It hasn’t been easy for any of us. We're coming along slowly and your patience with us hasn’t gone unnoticed, so thank you again.’ 

She smiled genuinely at the people who made up the community.

‘What I'm about to tell you is really difficult. It’s hard for me to even…I mean, I still can’t believe what I'm about to tell you. As you all know, Giles has worked tirelessly down at the warehouse to determine what, has happened to us. What he’s found out is shocking. A crime has been committed against us. While it is true that there are some families in those tubes, most of them are teenage girls who have been stolen from their families by the Initiative. They're here alone because of Riley Finn.’ She said significantly.

Giles rocketed from his seat and came forward. He’d no idea she would do this.

The room erupted in raised voices. 

Questions flew at her so fast she didn’t even hear half them. ‘Everyone, please, I’m not finished yet.’ She called out.

Giles had reached her and had begun calling for quiet as well. He got it by simply by talking and not stopping. The room got quiet and they began to listen.

‘The Initiative, was a covert military unit that hunted, captured, and performed experiments on demons and other creatures. Now, I am aware that you have been told certain things and that you know some of us are…different. I know that some of you do not believe the things you have been told about demons. You don’t believe they are real and you equate them in your mind with Reavers. I can assure you that demons are real, as can several people in this room.’ Giles said, then handed the room back to Buffy.

Her voice stronger than before, she went on, ‘What you need to understand about demons from Earth is that some are evil and some are not. Some demons are as docile as kittens. I've not asked Angel or Spike to make it clear to you about who they are as of yet, even though you know that they are Vampires. You know that they have souls. You know that having a soul has cured the evil that turned them into demons. I wanted you to have the opportunity to met them, get to know them, and learn that you can trust them, before you ever saw those demons. All of that has happened. Angel…Spike…please.’ She motioned for them to come to the front.

Both Vampires reluctantly made their way to the front of the room.

‘Now that you know who these Vampires truly are, we're going to show you who they aren’t. These Vampires are demons but they're not monsters. We're going to prove that to you now.’ she said.

Buffy took a step back and Spike and Angel Vamped at the same time.

Chaos reigned in the small room once again.

‘So, now you know for sure, that demons are real.’ Buffy shouted.

The people were angry and yelling at her.

‘Everyone, you need to get quiet and let me finish.’ She yelled again.

Captain Reynolds stood up when people began to leave the room. ‘Everyone needs to sit down. Right now.’ He stated.

That was all it took. He simply spoke and his people complied. 

She wished that she was able to instill that level of respect in her people. 

‘I know everyone is creeped out, but you’ve been living with these two for months now. Ain’t no cause for panic at this late date. Besides, if I thought that any of y’all were in danger I woulda put these people out the air lock. You know it’s true. Now shut up and sit down. We ain’t noways close to bein done and I am getting antsy for home.’ Captain Reynolds barked, then sat back down.

‘I’m sorry for freaking you out, but I needed you to understand that these men might be demons, but they're not monsters. They just showed you their demons and you are perfectly safe. No one has been hurt. And now, you know that these things you’ve been hearing about are real. Now that you know, you have a small understanding of why a man would abduct an army that he meant to use to save the world. I'm not making excuses for him. What he’s done is beyond forgiveness…’ her voice cracked. She stopped and covered her mouth with her hand.  It trembled slightly. She hadn’t realized how hard it was going to be to say these things.

‘Anyway,’ she deflected, pulling herself together.

‘You just need to understand that Riley had his reasons for doing what he did and we will deal with him. You're going to hear stories when we start waking these girls up about how they were stolen away from their families. We don’t want an angry mob showing up on our doorstep, demanding that we hand Riley over. Because that isn’t going to happen. Ever. If you try that, you will have to deal with us, and we're trying very hard to avoid that.’ she said, authority ringing in her voice.

‘That isn’t going to be a problem.’ Mal interjected.

Buffy nodded her thanks at him. ‘If you have been doing the math, you know that it is going to take 10 years to bring everyone out of the cryo-tubes. We decided collectively to do it this way because 1247 people would be an incredible drain on this communities’ resources. However, tomorrow morning we will be bringing the rest of our family members and friends, except for my sister, out of the tubes. There are enough of us awake now, to help with acclimating our relatives into this new reality. At least three of our people were severely injured when they were put into the tubes and we have no way of knowing what will happen when we bring them out, so we are asking for your patience and understanding. If all goes well, they'll all be here in two weeks when we gather for this meal.’ She finished.

Giles stepped forward again, ‘That is all that we have for you tonight.’

‘Thank you all again.’ Buffy reiterated.

Chapter Text

Thirty-One

 

Petaline made her way slowly through the line of people saying goodnight to the newest members of the community. All three were really good-looking people, but that Dean was really something to look at. She didn’t thing she’d ever seen anyone so handsome as him. And that Buffy, had almost ruined her chance to introduce herself to him tonight! What with all those theatrics and foolishness after dinner. It had taken her the last 10 minutes to get Jonah to asking those Vampires to "make that ugly face again."

She was so embarrassed she wished for the floor to swallow her up and now, she was at the back of the line!

She’d put together a small basket of this and that for the new people to take home with them. Nothing too much, some apples, smuggled cheese, a few Fruity Oaty Bars, and a couple of cans of Blue Sun soda pop. She was hoping that she didn’t make too much of a fool of herself. She hadn’t flirted with a man for longer than she could remember. Just now, she wished that she hadn’t given Jonah that entire can of Blue Sun to get him to hush. He was chasing Hobie and making enough racket for three kids. It was almost her turn and she didn’t want to get out of line to reel him in again.

Right after this thought, she heard the crash and then her child screaming. She dropped the basket she’d been holding and ran to him.

When she got to him, one of those Vampires, the big one, was there.

Jonah was covered in blood and the Vampire had a towel pressed against his nose. He had Jonah head tipped back and was telling her child that he was going to be okay.As she kneeled down, the

Vampire…his name was Angel, she remembered now, passed the boy to her saying,‘I think it might be broken. The Doc left already, but I can go and get him, or I can carry the boy to the lab, whatever you would prefer.’ He offered.

Dean arrived, carrying the basket she’d been holding and it momentarily distracted her. After a tick she gathered herself and said, ‘Let’s take him to the lab.’

‘Do you know where Simon lives?’ Angel asked Dean.

‘Yeah. I got it. We will be right there.’ Dean said.

Dean noted the blood all over Angel.

‘It'll be fine.’ Angel assured him, and left The Kitchen.

Dean watched them go and then left to get the Doc. He still had the basket in his hand.

Angel walked with the screaming boy as quickly as he could without sending his mother into a panic.

They got to the lab and Angel laid Jonah on the table. He washed his hands clean of the blood, got a clean wet towel and handed it to the boy’s mother, and then sat down to wait for Simon.

‘Thank you so much! I don’t know how to repay you for this kindness.’ Petaline gushed.

‘No need. I'm just glad I could help.’ He answered, honestly.

‘I mean it. Thank you.’ She was feeling guilty for being judgmental.

Angel smiled at the woman indulgently, then they sat quietly and waited.

After what seemed to be an eternity, Petaline just couldn’t help herself any longer and asked, ‘How…did you become…you know…a Vampire.’ She whispered Vampire.

Angel groaned inwardly, ‘No good deed…' he thought, irritably, but answered, 'That's a story, best left for another time.’ sending a pointed glance at Jonah.

Petaline nodded her disappointment, but decided to try another question. ‘Well, how old are you?’

He knew there was no way he was getting out of this conversation. He should write a brochure or a pamphlet or anything really. FAQ’s about Angel and distribute them at the next Community Dinner they were to be subjected to. He didn’t know why he had to even go to the thing, he didn’t eat. Buffy said it was mandatory for everyone thought and he guessed for now that made it a law. He realized that he was brooding and hadn’t answered the woman. He thought about pretending that he hadn’t heard her, but if he didn’t answer she would only ask again.

‘I was 26 when I became a Vampire. I am now 790.’ He answered.

‘How does a Vampire get a soul back?’ she asked.

‘Yeah…definitely a pamphlet.’ He decided. ‘Number one thing, I hate to talk.’

‘A gypsy cursed me.’ He answered.

Dean and Simon both entered the lab.

‘Oh, thank God!’ Angel breathed out in silent relief. ‘I'm gonna go.’ He said.

‘Thank you for getting them here, Angel.’ Simon said.

‘No problem.’ He answered. ‘You can get them home?’ He asked Dean.

‘Sure.’ Dean agreed, marking that Angel had wanted to make sure they got home okay.

Simon looked Jonah over and declared that his nose was in fact not broken, just bloodied. He gave the child some good ole Ibuprofen and a lolly-pop said they were good to go home. He was glad that he didn’t have to spend the next several hours in the lab, because he had to be down here bright and early in the morning and he wanted some quality time with his wife. The next few days were going to be crazy busy. They were going to wake up Fourteen people all at once. He wished he would've objected to that many, but he was trying to stay on the Slayers good side since the last incident.

Dean watched Angel go, then handed Petaline the basket she'd dropped.

‘Thank you, for bringing the basket. I actually put it together for you to take home with you.’ Petaline said, motioning for him to keep the basket. ‘By the way, my name is Petaline.’

Simon called ‘lights,’ as the exited the building and said goodnight.

‘Goodnight, Dr. Tam. Thank you for everything.’ She called.

Simon waved absently as he raced away.

‘That is my son, Jonah.’ She added, when Dean didn’t say anything.

Jonah's nose  was feeling much better, but he was suffering the effects of an entire can of Blue Sun and a lolly-pop. The child was never going to get to sleep this night.

He was scampering all around them and investigating everything that he encountered.  

Dean was mesmerized by the child’s energy. Eventually he realized that they were standing in the middle of the street and he hadn’t answered the woman or spoken a word to her.

‘Dolt…’ He chastised himself.

‘Well, um, hi. My name is Dean, but you probably already know that.’ he said, like a big nerd.

‘I do.’ She smiled, and turned toward her home and began to walk.

Jonah followed along the way that children do. Pretending to ignore the parent until they get too far away for comfort and then they scramble to catch up.

The lab was only a block from The Kitchen and Petaline’s house was directly behind it, so she walked slow. They wouldn't have time for much of a conversation otherwise.

Even walking slowly, they'd come to her door much faster than she'd wanted.

‘Would you like to come in?’ she asked, shyly.

‘I would.’ Dean admitted, ‘but it’s late and you probably have to get Jonah cleaned up and in bed. I…enjoyed meeting you. I'm sure we'll see each other again soon. Goodnight.’ He said.

He looked back once, as he walked away.

Chapter Text

Thirty-Two

 

Zoe rang the doorbell at the Captain’s house. It was late, but she was expected. Inara answered the door. She was wearing a beautiful teal silk robe that set off her exotic natural beauty to perfection.

‘Hello there.’ She greeted Zoe with and affectionate, if not exuberant hug. ‘I'm sorry we didn’t get an opportunity to talk during dinner, so I'm thrilled that you're here. You look amazing by the way. Did you take a spa day while you were away? You haven’t looked this relaxed in quite some time. You're going to have to tell me the name of this spa that you went to.’ Inara said, as if she knew something.

She continued to chatter as they moved through the house. It wasn’t common knowledge, but she hadn’t been well while Zoe had been gone, so she was a little starved for female company. Any, company really.

‘No spa day. It was just a great trip. I'm happy with the outcome. I was able to get us a lot of things we can use, including a walk-in freezer full of meat and cheese.’ Zoe confided.

‘And it was delicious! Such a surprise. Thank you for bringing it. While you were gone, Kaylee went down to assess the other farm. While she was there, she found a stash of seeds and in the stash, were watermelon seeds.’ Inara exclaimed.

‘Does the Captain know?’ Zoe asked.

‘Yes. He's very excited.’

‘I can’t wait to get my mouth around some of those juicy melons!’ Mal called.

He came into the room wearing what amounted to a kimono.

Zoe and Inara couldn’t help themselves, they cracked up.

‘What?’ he asked, not catching on.

‘Melons.’ Inara giggled.

‘What, are you wearing? Sir…’ Zoe quickly added.

‘I mean fruit!’ he said, exasperated.

‘And this outfit?’ Zoe challenged, what do you mean by this?

‘I like it!’ he defended himself.

‘Me too, Sir.’ Zoe, sobered.

‘Let’s go and sit down.’ Inara laughed. ‘Tea, Zoe?’

‘No. Thank you. Come and sit.’ Zoe answered.

‘So, you have something to tell me?’ Mal inquired.

‘I do, Sir. I ran into Badger while we were on Persephone. He asked me if I knew where to find you. I told him you were dead. He proceeded to follow us all over Eves Down. It turns out, he's been asking for you all over the system and paying for any information that could lead to you.’ Zoe explained.

‘He has…well, what does he want?’ Mal asked.

‘He says, he has a job for you. I told him you were dead and that I would be happy to take on the job for him. He declined the offer, but had us followed as I said before.’ she reiterated. 

‘He didn’t offer anything else?’ Mal asked, curiously.

‘No, but he is sure that I can lead him to you. I might've, it not for Angel and Faith. We knew, that if it came down to it, having River along with us occasionally for her psychic and fighting skills was good. Angel is better, and with Faith, the two of them together are unstoppable. We had three tails on us and the two of them dispatched all three within seconds.’ Zoe confided.

‘What else can you tell me about them?’ Mal asked, excitedly.

‘Well, for starters, I like them. Both of them. I trust them with my life, Sir. Already. Their instincts about people and situations are spot on. They have a close relationship, but they aren’t sleeping together. I don’t think they ever have, either. She trusts him and she doesn’t trust anyone. She’s a bad ass, Sir. Like a Bonafide bad ass. River won’t be able to beat her. None of us could match her in sparing. Not even the Vampire. Also, she can hustle pool like nobody’s business. All of that tough talk isn’t just talk. She’s been through hard times and Angel got her through them. That’s where the trust comes in. You wanna get to her, you have to go through him. Same as the other two.’ Zoe finished.

‘And you’re sure there’s nothing physical?’ he asked, skeptical.

‘If there is, they're masters at hiding it. Not even body language was present. There isn’t any flirting between them and she flirts with everyone. They complete each other’s sentences and there is nothing even remotely off color, even when they're sure no one is watching or listening. They're just talking, like folks.’

‘Sound’s like us.’ Mal remarked, minus the flirting. He amended.

‘That it does.’ Inara agreed.

‘Okay, well, next trip, see if you can find out what Badger wants. Also, I’m curious. Did I have a nice funeral? Were there lots of mourners and flowers?’ Mal wisecracked.

Inara slapped out at him playfully and Zoe got to her feet.

‘Night, Sir.’ Her amused long-suffering evident in her tone.

‘Zoe, someday you are going to have start calling him Mal!’ Inara insisted.

‘Maybe. Not today, though.’ She called as the front door clicked closed.

‘You better go and lock that, or River will be in bed with us before the sun comes up. Don’t forget to add the pin onto the regular lock or she will have it open for sure. Bring water!’ She said, as she left the room.

‘Bring water!’  he thought.

That meant she was feeling stronger and he was 'taking her meanin.'

He hurriedly locked up, turned out the lights and made a pass through the kitchen to get water when he heard the screaming child outside. He put the glass down and yanked the shade covering the kitchen window up. Petaline and Angel were hurrying down the street and the big Vampire was carrying Jonah. The child had blood all over him. Inara raced into the kitchen to see what all of the commotion was about. They looked askance at each other and then went to get dressed to see if everything was okay. They no more than got out the front door and there was the Doc as he waved goodbye to Petaline who left.

‘So, nothing too awful then?’ Mal looked at Inara suggestively.

She giggled as she told him to hurry with the door.

Chapter Text

Thirty-Three

 

Buffy stood at the vanity, brushing her teeth, which was different in the future as well. You sort of lasered the plaque from your teeth and rinsed your mouth. So far as she could tell, much of the future was every day chemical free. That aside, she felt like lately, she spent most of her time grooming herself. She had to. Every time she had herself looking half way decent, Spike pinned her against the bedroom wall for thirty minutes and then she had to start over again. She smiled at that thought around her toothbrush, then rinsed it and her mouth.

Reaching for her towel she called, ‘Spike…are you up?’

They were due to pick up Sam, Dean, and Jody soon. She’d promised to take them to the warehouse this morning. Jody was anxious to see her girls and had insisted that they be included in this round of wake ups. She was the kind of woman that made Buffy miss her own mother. They’d had an intriguing conversation last night comparing the lives of a small-town Sheriff, Hunters, and Slayers. It seemed odd that while the Winchester brothers and Buffy had known about each other, their paths had never crossed. The Senior Partners were sneaky that way. 'Were' being the operative word. Now they were nothing. She’d never understood power mongers. '

Destroy humanity! Rule the Earth! It's stupid. If you destroy something, how are you supposed to rule it? Duh...' she pondered. 

‘Babe?’ she questioned, wondering if he was up. They had a long day ahead of them. After the last few, she was ready for a break, but she wasn't going to get one.

According to her doorbell, they had a visitor. 

Spike opened the closet door saying, ‘I’ll go.’

Buffy stopped him. ‘I’m done. I’ll get it.’

She pecked a kiss on his mouth and turned to go.

He swatted her behind and said, ‘Aye!’

She turned back to him smiling and he scooped her up and kissed her proper. It made her toes curl and cheeks flush.

He set her down and grinning wickedly he said, ‘What you do to me…’

Everything below her belly button convulsed and her nipples tightened. ‘You're evil.’ She breathed.

‘MmmMm, sweet talk...’ He teased, unmercifully, catching his lower lip between his teeth. He looked her over like she was lunch, his brilliant blue eyes glittering seductively. She nearly launched herself at him when he ran a hand down his taught stomach and gave the bulge in his pants a squeeze.

The doorbell rang again.

She groaned in frustration and clenched her thighs. ‘Coming!’ she yelled, and left the bathroom.

‘Not yet you’re not.’ He called after her.

After refusing to stop in the kitchen to hydrate, she made it to the front door just in time to stop Dean from getting on the elevator. He quickly stepped out and the doors closed behind him. Buffy drew her confused brows together, running the list in her head, trying to remember if she'd agreed to meet with him, or if she'd forgotten something. Deciding that she hadn't she said, ‘Hey, we were coming down to get you in a few minutes. Spike is still getting dressed.’ and pulled the door wider for him to come in.

‘Oh, well…I knew that.’ He offered.

'Okay...' She said, curiously and waited for him to continue.

‘I ugh…just wanted to talk to you first. Before we, ugh…go down to the warehouse.’ He stammered and fidgeted, running a hand over his chin.

‘Sure.’ She replied, gesturing because he still stood in the hallway. ‘Come in.’

He walked uneasily through the door and deeper into the Penthouse. Buffy sensing his unease, covertly locked the front door.

‘Let’s talk in here.’ She gestured to the war room. Last night when everyone had gone their separate ways, she’d been sure that everything between the different factions gathered around the 'war room' would be okay. Now, with a surprise visit, from a visibly nervous Dean, she wasn’t so sure. As they entered the truly megalithic room, they each took the seat closest to them. 'So, what’s up?’ she asked, casually.

He didn’t answer, just stared at her.

Her eyebrows shot skyward. ‘Look…’ she started to give him the badass Slayer speech.

Dean cut her off. ‘So, I know that last night was a bad scene. Honestly, this entire thing is a bad scene. I need you to know, that I don’t feel right about what went down.’ He said.

‘Okay.’ She nodded frankly, then sat confidently back in her chair and asked, ‘How do you mean?’

‘Like, there is some bad blood going on between you two and the guy with the glasses. I need you to know that I don’t want any part of it. A lot has happened to me and Sam since the first time we met you. All I remember, is that you weren’t right because the Vampire was gone. I wanna know once and for all if you are under his thrall, or whatever. Based on what I remember about before, I'm not convinced you were faking that. So, was it or is it thrall?’

‘She’s not under my thrall, Mate.’ Spike answered for her as he came down the stairs. ‘It’s just the opposite. The Slayer here, has me twisted so tight around her little finger, that when my demon had finally had enough of it, the bloke surrendered and did the only thing it could do. It went out and got my soul back for her. There’s no thrall in that, Boy. That’s passion.’

‘Spike’s a poet.’ Buffy explained, with a confiding grin.

‘Oh.’ Dean said, not having the foggiest notion what she meant.

‘So, are you, or aren’t you?’ he asked Buffy in confusion.

‘I’m not.’ She confirmed, thinking not for the first time that Dean really needed to have things spelled out to him. Just to be obtuse, she grinned and said, ‘He's, definitely in my thrall. Not that it's any of your business.’

Dean held his hands up in surrender, ‘Hey, alright then.’

‘You ready to go down to the warehouse?’ she asked, standing.

‘No. Ugh, there is one more thing.’ Dean stammered.

‘The reason for the visit, Luv.’ Spike said, taking the seat next to her.

‘Okay, yes.’ Dean gruffed.

Buffy sighed. Getting to know people was so difficult. ‘Okay, look. I know you don’t know me, but next time you want something, just ask me. No need for all of the subterfuge and stuff.’

‘Okay, then.’ Dean said, dragging his chin in a deliberate nod and began with, ‘So, there is a redhead down at the warehouse.’

‘She’s not for sale, Mate. Besides, she plays for the other team.’ Spike cut him off.

‘I’m not trying to buy…I know she’s gay! Okay…listen, this girl is my best…’ He didn’t get to finish again.

‘You know Willow?’ Buffy asked, confused. She didn’t understand what he wanted. Willow was her best friend.

‘Who is Willow?’ Dean asked in bewilderment. He needed to ask about this before Sam came looking for him.

‘Willow, is the red head, and she’s 'my' best friend…actually.’ Buffy answered.

‘I think he means Violet, come to think of it, Pet.’ Spike said.

‘Oh…’ Buffy felt silly and blushed, ‘What about her?’

‘You say her name is Violet, but she is a ringer for Charlie, who…look, it’s a long story, but what do you know about her? Violet…I mean. Sam and I really need to know if she’s our friend. The last time I saw her, I mean, my Charlie was in 2015 and she was dead in a bathtub. I realize that this Cha…Violet is from 2003 and that was long before I met her…, but I just need to know if she's my Charlie. Understand?’ he asked, hopefully.

‘So, how can I help?’ Buffy asked.

‘Well, how did she end up with you?’ Dean asked.

‘Well, if memory serves, she had a watcher, but he was killed and the Watchers council sent her to me.’ She said. ‘I don’t know anything about parents.’

‘Watcher’s council?’ Dean asked. ‘Not thinking on parents just yet.’

‘Giles, is a watcher. He’s actually my Watcher. It means teacher. He watches over me. Violet had one as well. All of the ‘Potential’s’ had one, but if the girls came to me, their Watcher had been killed. Most likely their parents and families as well.’

‘You’re telling me that Charlie is a Slayer?’ Dean asked.

‘No. I’m telling you that Violet is a Slayer. I have no idea who Charlie is.’ Buffy explained.

‘Can we wake her up today?’ Dean asked.

‘No, that won’t be happening. We're on a schedule, first of all, and second of all, it’s a process that takes at least two weeks, minimum.’ She explained.

‘But…’ Dean started to argue then stopped. ‘…it’s a process.’ He sighed.

Buffy quirked an understanding nod at him.

‘Does Sam know you are here?’ she asked.

‘He…already told me it’s a process.’ Dean complained, gruffly.

‘Right!’ Spike boomed, getting to his booted feet, ‘Shall we?’

‘Buffy?’ Giles called through the locked front door.

‘Let’s go.’ She said.

Chapter Text

Thirty-Four

 

Two Weeks Later

 

Buffy was nervous and excited and…sick at her stomach. On one hand she was anxious to see her friends, but on the other hand she wished she could leave them where they were. Asleep, happy and clueless. The only thing she remembered from being in the tube was searching...searching for so long. Giles said he’d dreamed of his entire life. Spike said that he couldn't remember what he'd dreamed about. That was probably a good thing.

‘Why can’t we leave them in there?’ Buffy asked, the dread in her voice was thick.

The room had been unsettlingly quiet and they turned to her.

‘Because…just, because.’ Faith answered, tightly.

When you think about the people you know, your friends and acquaintances, it never really seems like it’s that many people. But, if you put them in tubes and line them up in a smallish room, fourteen is a huge number. She stood up and rubbed her sweaty palms down the length of her slacks again, then rested them on her hips. She paced around the furniture scattered through the room, unable to sit any longer. It was almost time.

Jody watched as Buffy worried a crease into her forehead. She knew how the young woman felt. She was doing her best to keep her guts from twisting themselves into knots, but she was losing the battle. She lifted trembling hand to rub at her forehead, unconsciously check to see if she had a crease there as well. She went to stand over Clair’s tube and laid a hand on it. Taking a deep breath she tried harder to still her shaking body. Unbidden, thoughts of the day they were taken flashed through her memory like still pictures. She’d thought they were all going to die. One minute they were sitting down to a meal with Donna and the next, the dining room was invaded by soldiers, covered head to toe in black combat gear. There hadn’t been any time to react at all. They’d been saying grace and then there was nothing.

Sam, who’d been watching her, came to put an arm around her. He squeezed, and said ‘We'll get through this. Together. We did. It'll be easier for them, because they have all of us.’

Jody leaned her head against his broad chest. On anyone else her head would be on their shoulder, but he was just so tall. It made her smile. She loved this kid like he was her own son.

‘True.’ She allowed.

Dean tapped on the glass tube that held Castiel. ‘Aren’t you awake in there yet?’ 

‘He’s not a fish, Dean. Stop it.’ Sam chastised.

‘I know that, Sam…’ he grouched. Turning to Cas he raised his voice and leaned over the tube, ‘He’s an Angel, who doesn’t even need to sleep! Cas! Wake up!’ Dean insisted, then smacked a hand against the glass again. He was tired of waiting. ‘Cas!’ Nothing happened. He looked back at his brother and shrugged.

Angel was concerned about Gunn. He was unsure if he was going to be okay, but more than that he was unsure how he was going to react to his… Did he still consider Gunn a friend?

He didn’t know.

He was concerned about him, but he was still violently angry with him over Winifred. He’d been trying to keep that to himself and work through it the best he could, because when it came right down to it, Gunn wasn’t the one responsible for Fred. It was him. He’d put them all in a position to be tempted and Gunn hadn’t been strong enough to resist. He was angry at Gunn for being human and he just couldn’t see a way to get past it. He knew he was being unreasonable, but obviously it didn’t matter.

'At least today he's a friend.'  he thought, then looked at Connor to change the conversation he was having with his conscious and grimaced, 'Not much better.' 

Giles had come to tell him a week after he’d come out of a tube that Connor’s adoptive parents were in the warehouse. Angel didn’t know whether to be grateful or furious. He'd just have to wait on Connor. It amazed him how much everything could change, but it was all still the same and it was all just nothing at the same time. He felt Faith watching him. She gave him a quick reassuring nod meant to say everything would work out. ‘Psh…’  he thought.

Faith kept calm by lying to herself, 'Everyone in this room is on pins and needles,except for me.’  She knew she was just as alone here as any one of those girls down at the warehouse, but for some reason she was here in this room. She hadn’t bothered to look into any of the tubes, she’d just come in and sat down to wait it out with everyone else. She sat on a counter, swinging her feet impatiently, wishing she was anywhere but in this room.

Simon came in carrying a handheld computer of some kind and now he stepped into the middle of the room and announced, ‘Okay, I think we can go ahead and lift the lids.’

'Finally!' Faith, thought, her stomach churning with apprehension.  

There was the slightest hesitation from everyone, then Jody lifted the lid of Claire’s tube. She’d spurred the rest of the room into action and soon all of the tubes were open. It was going to require just a few more minutes patience, but they should be waking up soon after that. The first awake was Castiel. He sat straight up, startled and as to be expected confused. He rubbed at his eyes a little to focus and then sighted on Dean, who was beaming at him. Dean grabbed his friend and gave him a bear hug laughing uncontrollably. Castiel, not understanding what was happening, hugged his friend and patted him on the back uncertainly. When Dean finally let go, Sam, tears standing in his eyes, took his place. When he stepped back to tell Cas, how good it was to see him, he never got the chance.

‘Why am I naked?’ Cas asked.

Four tubes down, Kennedy was already out of her tube coaxing Willow awake. Buffy was at the tube directly next to Willow’s, doing the same with Xander. Giles was on the other side of Xander, helping Oz to pull a blanket around his waist. Faith slid down off of the counter and went to stand at the end of Robin’s tube. He was awake, but hadn’t sat up yet. Simon was asking him to take his time getting up and to please let him know if he felt okay. Kaylee was next to Simon with Gunn and she was making the same inquires. So far, they both looked to be doing very well. Robin finally sat up to see Faith at the end of his tube. His handsome face split into a heart stopping grin. She felt herself get a little lighter to be on the receiving end of it. Spike was patting Andrew on the shoulder. The guy was talking non-stop and it hadn't occurred to him yet that Spike was supposed to be dead. For Andrew, it was a nervous thing that Spike had picked up on a long time ago. He didn’t attempt to answer any of the question. He just let the boy talk and surprisingly didn’t get frustrated with him and tell him to shut up. Zoe helped Rona, who’d been badly injured to her feet. Once out of the tube she went straight to Violet who was sitting up in her tube. Violet didn’t look confused but there were tears running freely down her cheeks by the time Rona reached her. Rona had been completely healed by the time she’d been put in a tube, but Violet had watched her fall to the ground as they left the time machine. In the time that it took for her to fall as well, she thought her friend had died.

‘How are you? Okay?’ Buffy smiled at Xander.

‘I have to pee.’ He blurted, honestly.

‘Okay.’ She laughed. ‘Can you stand up?’

He didn’t know why she’d asked that and looked askance at her.

‘Here, sit up.’ She instructed.

He looked down then. He was naked, but had a blanket. He'd ask later.

She helped him then as he pushed himself up off of the bed and then let his legs hang over the side of the bed. Buffy had him sit there for a few beats and then he slid off the tube.

He was a little wobbly on his feet, but he could stand.

‘Okay, slow.’ She said, and helped him to the bathroom.

Willow had gained her feet and Kennedy brushed the hair away from her eyes and kissed her. Willow wrapped her arms around Kennedy. They stood that way a few minutes while she got her bearings. Kennedy helped Willow take a few steps. She'd just taken her first few solid ones and Kennedy had let go of her so she could stand on her own. Willow saw Xander walk into a bathroom across the room and intended to go there and wait for him. She'd taken three or four steps, when Oz walked out from between the tubes and into her path. Giles was behind him.

Oz stumbled to a halt and blinked, unable to believe she was there, in front of him. He held her eyes with his and watched while they brimmed with tears. Willow swallowed hard and then they were holding each other. They’d been like magnets. It was like in the movies. She’d just drifted to him and he’d enfolded her into his embrace. She felt like 'peace' in his arms. He turned his head and buried his nose in her hair. After what was surely only seconds, he opened his eyes to find a very perturbed Slayer glaring at him. He didn’t care. Taking his Willow’s face between his palms he kissed the top of her head reverently. When he pulled back to smile at her wonder was written all over her face.

‘Hi.’ He said, simply.

Willow burst into wracking tears and leaned into him again. While she leaned against him and sniffled, the relief that he was there, with them washed over her. She had been so worried about him while she slept. She'd had terrible nightmares of the most horrific things. She squeezed him tight and then heard Xander say, ‘Oz?’ They broke apart then and Xander hurried over gathering the both of them in a big bear hug to.

‘Oh my God! Oz?’ Xander said, swaying back and forth with them. He let go momentarily, stepped back and asked, ‘Dude, where are we?’ 

Oz, being Oz said nothing.

Xander spun around remembering that Buffy had woke him up. Intending to ask her where they were, he got sidetracked having glimpsed Giles and said ‘Oh! Hey Giles! Ugh, do you know where we are?’ Giles came forward and Xander scooped them all into another hug. Spike standing behind Xander with Andrew, smiled at the pile and pushed Andrew at them. Xander seeing Andrew, reached out to grab him into the pile as well. Faith and Kennedy were left to stare after them.

‘Don’t get jealous.’ Faith said, as she sidled up next to Kennedy. The girl was fuming. ‘That is never going to be for us.’ Faith explained.

Kennedy stubbornly pushed past Faith to join her girlfriend.

At the other end of the lab the same scene played out with Jody and her girls and Connor, who was sitting up but had not left his tube yet, had allowed Angel to hug him briefly. The once quiet room was now filled with voices.

Faith had gone back to Robin's side once Kennedy stopped making a spectacle of herself. She was waiting on Simon to finish with him. 

‘How is he?’ Buffy asked, Faith quietly as her and Spike came to check. 

‘Doc hasn’t made any noises that concern me. Yet. That little Star Trek thing he is using should be able to tell us something in a few minutes.’ Faith answered.

Buffy nodded and squeezed Faith’s hand, giving her a little smile. Things had been cautious between them the last few days, and Buffy had been doing her best to remember that this was a new start for everyone. Even her and Faith. She was trying to be smart about things, and she let what happened the day before go. Spike was right, what happened with Faith and Angel wasn’t her business.

Faith quirked a noncommittal grin at Buffy. She didn’t have anything to be happy about yet. She’d already learned this lesson. Never count your chickens before they are hatched. However, she was hopeful that things between the two of them had settled finally. The other lesson Faith had learned was that, she might be a Slayer, but Buffy was THE Slayer. Faith had ensconced herself in the number two position and that was where she was going to remain. Any Army brat worth a damn knew that there had to be a hierarchy. After some thought, she’d made up her mind that she didn’t want any part of being in the lead. Especially now. She’d had all of the ‘being responsible for lives’ that she could deal with.

Buffy stopped to talk to Rona and Vi, ‘You guys good?’ she asked.

They both nodded.

‘I feel okay. I'm tired oddly, but okay.’ Rona said.

‘I’m good.’ Violet answered.

‘That is good news. Doc will be by to see you shortly.’ Buffy said, turning to leave.

‘Where are we?’ Violet asked.

‘In a minute.’ Buffy promised.

Alex was taking Patience and Claire’s vitals again. ‘Just to be sure.’

Buffy looked over at Cas. He’d folded his sheet around him like a toga. It amused her for some reason.

She could hear the question start to reverberate through the room already. She’d thought she was going to have a little more time.

Suddenly everyone in the room stopped what they were doing to look at her as Xander had just shouted across the room to her, ‘Hey, Buff, where are...we?’ and trailed off in shock. 

‘Crap…’ she swore, inwardly, not more than three minutes had been allowed to pass. 

‘Hey…’ Willow said, casting around.

‘Double crap.’  She swore again. Here it comes.

‘Where is Dawnie?’ Willow asked.

‘She’s still asleep.’ Buffy explained, vaguely.

Willow nodded in ‘Oh…’ drawing her eyebrows together in confusion.

‘Why?’ Xander prodded, Willow's shoulder pointing at Spike. 'Ugh...am I seeing things?' he asked rubbing his good eye.

Spike crossed his arms over his chest and gave her the ‘I told you’ face. ‘Because I didn’t want to wake her up, until all of you were awake…’ she answered Willow, vaguely.

'Any minute now...' she thought. 

She’d confused both Willow and Xander with that answer.

She huffed out a sigh and turned to look at Angel who gave her a slight nod, then Faith who pointed back at her.

They were both basically saying, ‘this is your circus.’

She looked to Dean then who gave her one nod and moved to stand with her.

She looked back at Simon who had both Gunn and Robin out of their tubes. He gave her the ‘stall’ finger.

She turned to Giles and waved him to her. 

Xander finished rubbing his eye, focused, stared at Spike hard, then yelled in a scared squeaky voice, 'HOW THE HELL IS SPIKE HERE!? ARE WE DEAD?! HOW...BUFFY!?'

She was on. ‘Everyone, can you gather around and get comfortable. We have a long story to tell you and you are going to want to be sitting to hear all of it.’ She began.

Everyone moved to get settled and Simon and Zoe brought Gunn and Robin.

 

 

***

 

 

It went…just about as well as could be expected.

The lab had dissolved into complete pandemonium several times and Rona had actually shrieked when Mal came in to introduce himself and deliver his part of the acclimation process.

'As if I hadn't just explained it to her it moments earlier.' Buffy thought, irritably. 

Faith had needed to grab the new Slayer to keep her from running from the Lab. It was clear after that, about only a third of the information was getting through and they had to start over. Andrew had just sat quietly with tears running down his face for the entire hour she spoke. Jody had one hell of an argument with her three girls. Castiel had left the room immediately after hearing that he wasn’t on Earth.

Dean had waved it off as a non-concern. ‘He'll be back shortly.’ And he was.

All of this, had been the reaction the news that they weren’t on Earth and there'd be no going home, as well as the appearance of Captain Reynolds and Castiel’s announcement that he knew all of this was true because he was an angel. She'd not even told them about Riley or the tubes, Spike or Angel, or even the particulars of Miranda. She was exhausted and just as she’d been able to get everyone marginally calm, Cas had come back and boldly asked, ‘Why is everyone on this planet dead?’

‘Cas!’ Dean yelled in his 'damnit' voice.

‘What?’ Cas asked perplexed.

Dean threw his hands in the air, exasperated.

‘Should I not ask why we're on a planet full of dead people?’ Cas said, confused.

Dean threw his hands into the air again, then turned to yell at the wall. ‘No, Cas! You shouldn’t. Okay?’ He said, whirling back on his friend.

Sam just glared at Cas, disapprovingly. Cas, totally perplexed sat down and stayed quiet.

‘Ugh, what does he mean, everyone is dead?’ Kennedy asked.

Dean looked at Cas then, his expression was screaming ‘See?’ as he gestured wildly toward Kennedy. Cas, still not understanding looked completely innocent and vowed to himself to stay quiet.

‘Okay, not everyone is dead.’ Buffy interjected.

‘Yes, they are.’ Cas disagreed, immediately disregarding his vow of silence.

‘Cas, just…be quiet.’ Sam groaned.

‘Okay, let me rephrase,’ Buffy said, ‘not everyone in this town is dead.’

The room blinked at her owlishly.

‘Maybe you can explain why we’re are the only one’s alive, then?’ Robin persisted, giving her an opposite talking point. 

She turned to Captain Reynolds for help. He obliged her.

‘My name, is Captain Malcolm Reynolds and this is my planet.’ He began, then rolled out the rest of it.

The Alliance, the G23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate, the dead people everywhere. He didn’t sugar coat it at all.

They were absolutely going to make a video after this. She didn’t want to watch anymore while terrified people stared back at her, not believing anything they were being told.

‘So, what are we going to do?’ Alex asked.

‘Well, that’s the question isn’t it.’ Jody answered, then added, ‘They’re not finished.’

Buffy and Giles explained about Riley and the tubes then.

‘Is that all of it?’ Robin asked, meaning Spike and Angel.

No, Buffy shook her head sympathetically and had Dean and Jody explain to the girls about Spike and Angel.

Cas had ended the epic argument by stating that Angel had a soul that crippled him with guilt that made him harmless and that Spike, was almost entirely human.

That bit of information had effectively shut everyone in the room up.

In the silence Cas said, ‘You have more to fear from wild kittens than either of those two, so be quiet now and listen.’ 

Spike groaned in exasperation, ‘Great…that's just great!’

When all of the information that it was Captain Reynolds responsibility to deliver was finished, Buffy barreled into Riley and the tubes. When she was done, it was like she’d broken them. They were to stunned to speak and the numbness was contagious. All except for Xander who was pacing. When he tripped over a chair leg stopped pacing and actually stomped his foot.

‘Where is Riley now?’ He demanded.

Buffy swallowed hard. This was the part she didn’t want to do. She didn’t react to the betrayal written on Xander’s face. Xander had been Riley’s staunch supporter and he wasn’t taking this news well.

Taking mercy on her, Giles answered. ‘Both Riley and his wife are still in tubes.’

‘You get his ass in here, right now!’ Xander freaked out, gesturing wildly, then went on a 10-minute tirade, voicing every single thing they’d all been thinking.

'Leave it to Xan...'   Buffy sighed.

He finished it up with the furious demand, ‘So…get…him…in…here.’

‘We won’t be waking Riley up, for quite some time.’ Giles said, calmly.

‘Why not?’ Xander yelled!

‘And who are you to make that decision?’ Claire challenged Giles.

‘I made that decision.’ Buffy stepped in, taking the heat for Giles.

‘And who are you?’ Claire challenged a second time.

‘She’s the one who’s in charge.’ Jody answered, for Buffy quickly.

Buffy stepped in to the silence Jody's answer had provided. ‘You may or may not like it, but I'm in charge of you and every other person in a tube. All of you, answer to me and I answer to Captain Reynolds. That’s how it is. If you don’t like it that way you can go back into the tube, until we can figure out a solution for you. As the Captain told you. This is HIS planet. You're a guest here. He's appointed me to be his liaison. I'm sure you can take that up with him at a later date. I'll abide by whatever he decides, because like I said, we're his guests. That means, WE'RE HIS GUESTS. We’ve been given two hi-rise apartment buildings and the surrounding neighborhood for our personal use. You are not free to take anything you want. At this point and time, you been assigned units. After a while, we'll look into spreading out a little, but for now you're all living together. Trust me, it helps.'

‘Why?’ Claire asked.

‘Because,’ Angel answered, already tired of this girl. ‘She was here alone. While we were all in our tubes oblivious, she learned all of this alone, with no one to help her through it.’

No one said anything more after that. They just looked at her solemn expression while considering what Angel had said. 

After a beat or two, Buffy nodded her thanks at him.

‘If you think you're ready, we're going to walk home. These apartments are ready for you to use. Everything you need for your daily life is already inside. Spike and I have done what we could to make it homey for you.’ she explained, then paused, 'And one more thing. Spike and I are together. We live together. Dawn will live with us when I wake her up. If you have misgivings about this, keep it to yourself.’ She’d looked Xander fully in the eyes while she said this.

‘Duh…’ he answered. ‘Let’s go. I want to take a shower. Do I have a shower?’

‘Yes…you have a shower.’ Spike answered, from the back of the room.

Jody, I know you wanted to wait for your girls before you did any personalizing. Just so everyone knows, in a few days, we'll go out. If you make a list, we can get you anything you might need. The TV’s work finally and Sam’s slowly but surely getting the 'wave boxes' sorted out. Ugh, wave boxes are video phones.’ She added.

When she was done, she waited to see if there was going to be anything else.

When it was clear there wasn’t, she said ‘Let’s go’ and got up.

Chapter Text

Thirty-Five

 

Buffy felt like a realtor. As they walked en-mass to their building, there wasn’t a vehicle big enough for all of them to fit in to, she talked on points of interest and did her best to keep everyone moving.There weren’t a lot of questions once they’d left the lab. In fact, they looked like a bunch of kids gawking at Santa’s Winter Wonderland in the Mall while they walked. So, they gawked, she talked. 

‘The weather on Miranda,’ she robot chirped, ‘is mostly always mild. It isn’t too hot, or too cold. It's nearly always perfect. The way it was explained to me, is that Miranda was meant to be a luxury homestead. Almost everyone who lived here was employed in some capacity by the Blue Sun Corporation. Blue Sun is a giant conglomerate. Their headquarters is located on Meridian which is also in this system. There will be more on that later. I know it doesn’t seem like now, but it'll be important for you to know these things.’

They walked through the streets, between buildings whose landscaping had become overgrown and taken over the plots they sat upon. It was fascinating and terrifying all at once, like watching a tornado or a tsunami. You couldn’t look away, but if you let your mind dwell on what was inside for too long, it began to have serious repercussions for your psyche.

Buffy talked on as they walked. ‘Right now, there is one active farm, but there are four total, in this city. Everyone takes a turn working at the farm. Everyone.’ She stressed the word everyone as she thought it. ‘Kaylee runs the farm. You're going to like her. As we add more of us to the Community, we become a bigger drain on Captain Reynolds people. Eventually we'll have enough people to work one of the farms for our exclusive use. Until then, we survive because of the generosity of Serenity Township.’ She sipped from the water bottle she carried, then offered some to Spike.

He sipped at it as well. It didn’t go unnoticed, which had been her motivation.

‘In two weeks, we'll join Captain Reynolds and the rest of his people for something they call Community Dinner. It’s exactly what is sounds like. You'll all be formally introduced to the entire population of Miranda at that time. It’s done this way to allow you time to acclimate to your new life and for the citizens of Serenity to get used to the idea that you are over here.’ Buffy explained.

‘How is it, that you were the first one awake?’ Kennedy asked.

Buffy stopped walking and turned to answer Kennedy. ‘It’s mostly a story for later, but the short answer is that River decided.’

Kennedy looked away from Buffy, not liking the answer.

‘You'll meet River at the dinner in two weeks. She is Dr. Tam’s sister.' then thought, ‘If not sooner…’  considering Rivers breaking and entering abilities.

Turning she pointed ahead of them and said, ‘Those are our buildings.’

Murmuring rippled through the group as they realized she’d pointed at two luxury hi-rise condominium style buildings that could have rivaled anything that Las Vegas could have dreamed up.

‘Captain Reynolds and his people were able to get most of our building…ready for us…to stay in, but it’s going to be up to us to finish it, as well as get the other building ready as well. It isn’t going to be easy, but we'll just have to do our best to get through it.’ She coaxed.

‘Why?’ Patience asked, without thinking, ‘I don’t understand…’ She trailed off, blushing hotly, at being the center of attention.

Violet confused as well looked to Rona, who leaned in and whispered, ‘It’s full of dead bodies.’

‘Oh…’ Violet’s mouth dropped open and flicked a glance at the building.

Rona pursed her lips and grimaced, waiting, thinking that she'd been an idiot to say this now, ‘We're going to be okay. Hear me?’ Rona said, giving her friend a shake.

Violet sank to the ground and sat in the middle of the street anyway, she was going to melt down, right here, right now.

Dean, with Buffy following pushed their way through the group to get to her.

‘Violet, listen to Rona, we're going to be fine.’ Buffy assured her.

Violet was shaking her head in denial. Her mouth was open but no sound was coming out.

Rona kept saying, ‘Look at me…’ but Violet couldn’t tear her eyes away from the 50-story building that she’d been told was full of bodies.

Dean could see that neither of the were getting through to her. He crouched and slid a hand under Violet’s chin, turning her face to his. ‘Hey, I swear to you, that we're going to be okay.’

He held her eyes with his intense gaze that softened as the tears standing in her own finally slid over her lower lashes to splash on his hand. He drew his mouth together in a grim line and held on tight to his resolve to be there for her. This was his friend, only she didn’t know it yet. He’d be damned if he let her down again. ‘Celeste, I promise you, that you are going to be okay.’ He whispered.

Violet’s reaction was immediate. Fear stampeded through her and she scrambled away from Dean quickly.

‘What did you do?’ Rona accused, shoving at him.

‘How…?’ Violet choked out.

Dean pushed himself upright and held his hand out to her in as much of a non-threatening manner as he could. He hadn’t meant to scare her. He just wanted her to trust him. He should've known better. Sam walked to Violet slowly and explained. ‘We…met you, before…we were friends.’ He said softly. Violet turned away and ran then.

Rona started after her, but Buffy stopped her. ‘Let her go, Rona. Spike will keep an eye on her. She just needs a minute.’

‘She is freaking out.’ Rona countered.

‘I know…trust me, I know.’ Buffy answered, reassuring the Slayer.

Buffy turned to Spike, but she hadn’t needed to say anything. He was already following Violet, when she looked in Vi's direction.

Buffy turned back to Dean. ‘I thought you were going to wait to say anything to her, if anything at all.’

‘What?' he defended himself, 'You saw her. I was trying to put her at ease.’

‘Well, good job there, Tony Soprano.’ She answered.

Dean scoffed, then decided to ignore it altogether.

‘Let’s go everyone.’ She prompted. Encyclopedia Buffy stayed quiet until just before they arrived at their building. Spike and Vi were waiting for them in the court yard off the front entrance. Buffy didn’t go to the Slayer, she let Spike and Rona handle it. ‘We're all on the top floors. Everyone except Angel that is. He is in the basement of the other building with Faith. Connor you're staying with him for now, so we are going to say goodbye to you here. Spike is making dinner for everyone at our place this evening and we're expecting you in just about five hours. See you then.’ Buffy said as they turned to split off without waiting for a reply.

Conner sent a mock salute toward her back. Spike and a visibly calm Violet joined them and the group made its way inside.

‘There are two elevator banks. One for the lower floors, one for the upper floors. These are ours.’ She said, gesturing to the bank on the right. ‘We’re going up to forty-seven first.’

Everyone loaded into the two cars and went up. Buffy was explaining to her group the same thing that Giles was telling his.

‘Almost all of the units are three bedrooms and three bathrooms, so everyone will have their own private space. We’ve left the furniture and kitchen equipment in the units, but everything that was of a personal nature to the former occupants has been removed. Things like clothing, shoes, bathroom items, mattresses, pillows, sheets and towels, were all brought in new from the abandoned stores. So, please rest assured that we did our best to help you not feel so awkward.’ she explained.

Andrew said, ‘Thank you, Buffy. It’s means a lot that you thought to do that.’

Andrew had been so quiet, Buffy had nearly forgot that he was there. ‘You’re welcome, Andrew.’ she answered.

The elevators came to a stop. Everyone in both, emptied out into the hallway.

‘We've learned that it's best for the first month that no one lives separately. We understand that it will be an adjustment, but no more so than while we were living on the base. After we get better acclimated to Miranda, we can branch out and begin to live on our own once more. So, we think it’s for the best to keep the groups the way they were on base.’ Giles explained, it his elevator. The cars stopped at the tip of the building and the occupants spilled out into the hallways. Once they were together in a group again, Buffy went on directing and explaining. 

Violet, Rona, and Andrew you're here.’ Buffy gestured.

‘Charles, Robin, and Xander, you're here.’ Giles offered, pointing at the apartment diagonally from the Slayers and Andrew.

‘So, head on in, get settled and meet upstairs for dinner.’ Buffy instructed. ‘Everyone else, let’s head up.’ Giles said, pushing the button on the elevator. Those still in the hall crowded into the cars again and then they were headed up. The elevator came to a stop and Sam, Dean, Cas, Jody, and the girls got out.

‘Dinner in five hours, check.’ Jody said making a checking motion with her finger and smiling at Giles as he stepped back into the elevator with Buffy.

When the door closed you could have cut the silent tension with a knife. Willow, Oz and Kennedy did their best in the enclosed space, but Kennedy just had a knack for making everything awkward. She was clutching Willow’s hand and crowded Willow so completely it was like the witch was wearing a blanket. Anyone who didn’t know Kennedy would have chalked it up to fear of the unknown, but the way she cut her eyes at Oz every few moments gave it away as jealousy. Buffy to this day didn’t know what it was that Willow saw in Kennedy, but having had enough of the girl already today, she did what she could to set Willow at ease by changing the unspoken subject. She was just going to have to figure out how to make her peace with the Slayer, but as of yet, she'd been unable to come to it.

‘Willow, can I ask you and Kennedy to come upstairs with Oz and the rest of us. Giles and I have something we want to talk to you and Oz about.’ Buffy said, turning to him.

Willow nodded, Kennedy grimaced.

‘Oz, you're going to bunk in with Giles for a while, until…well, just until.’ she shrugged. She didn’t have to spell it out for him.

The elevator stopped and the door on the top floor.

‘Can’t it wait?’ Kennedy complained, bristling at Oz.

‘If it could, we wouldn’t be asking.’ Giles explained.

‘It’s okay. We can go for a little bit.’ Willow cajoled.

‘Fine.’ Kennedy whined.

They left the elevator and went single file down the hall to Giles’ place,  Willow, having been able to finally extricate herself from Kennedy, went through Giles front door and exclaimed, ‘Oh my gosh! Giles! It totally looks like you live here!’ Giles couldn’t help it, he chuckled at Willow’s exuberance. He’d missed his former student terribly and despite the horrid girl she was involved with he was extremely happy to have her here in his home.

‘Yes. Well, Buffy…’ he gestured at the Slayer, ‘She did most of it, but I’ve added a few things here and there.’

Willow made a happy circle as she looked at everything and then realized, ‘Wow! This place is huge! And…Buffy, you did this? Joyce would be proud!’

Oz made straight for the record collection, nonplussed. ‘Giles, how, did you get your record collection here, intact?’

‘That is one very long story.’ Buffy teased.

‘I’m sure. Looking forward to hearing it.’ Oz replied, in his mellow toned way.

Kennedy interrupted the conversation, having reclaimed Willow’s hand. ‘So, what did you want to talk about that couldn’t wait until later?’

Everyone stared at her rudeness. Willow pulled her hand free and sat down.

Kennedy sat on the arm of Giles sofa hovering over her. It, annoyed Giles. ‘Kennedy, wouldn’t you be more comfortable sitting on the sofa?’ he asked.

Not taking the hint she said, ‘I’m fine.’

‘That’s it!’  Buffy grouched inwardly, huffing out a strong sigh she rolled her eyes and said, ‘Kennedy, get off of the arm of that sofa.’ ‘I sound just like someone’s mother.’  Buffy thought, sourly.

‘Whatever.’ Kennedy mumbled.

Ignoring her, Buffy said, ‘Will, we have run into sort of an interesting anomaly. As you saw, Spike and Angel don’t burst into flames in the sunshine here…’ she began.

‘First…’ Giles interrupted her, ‘Buffy, why don’t you sit down as well. I need a cup of tea. This day has been dreadfully long already. Anyone else? Tea?’ he asked.

Kennedy had successfully gotten on his nerves and while he knew it was petty, he couldn’t stop himself from forcing the girl to sit there and behave herself until he’d decided it was time for her to go.

‘Sure, Mate.’ Spike answered, ‘Need some help?’

Giles blinked and it was only a fraction of a second, but he'd hesitated, ‘Certainly not…anyone else?’

Everyone declined the offer of tea. While he was gone, instead of moving ahead, they made small talk. Sort of.

‘Oz, where have you been all of this time? More importantly how did you end up in one of those tubes? I can’t tell you how happy I was to see that you were here with us.’ Buffy said.

Oz looked uncomfortable while he tried to pull together his answer, but he was Oz, he always looked that way. It took him several seconds. If you didn’t know him, you'd think he was being evasive, but it was simply his way. He always thought before he spoke. ‘I…was in Northern California. Up near Redding.’ He answered.

Willow was listening intently. She needed to know this.

‘I heard about what was happening in LA and what had happened in Sunnydale. I was making my way south to come and offer what help I could give. I ran into Riley, coming into LA. He was staking out the Wolfram and Hart offices, trying to get to Angel. I told him it wasn’t a problem, I could go in and let Angel know that Riley wanted to see him and no more problem. Next thing I know I am waking up naked in a room full of people I haven’t seen in a few years. I’m in a tube, on a different planet, in a different solar system, and it’s 500 years later.’ He answered Calmly.

‘You were coming to help?’ Willow asked, quietly.

‘Yeah.’ He said, as if she should have known the answer.

A tiny smile crossed her lips. Holding her eyes with his, he mirrored her happiness.

‘What were you doing in Redding?’ Kennedy gritted.

It wasn’t so much the question, it was the way she asked it. It startled him and she’d finally pissed him off. He inhaled and deployed the first step of his calming tactics. Not a moment into it, he realized that there was no need. He was agitated, but there was no outward show of that agitation. The hair on his hands didn’t even stand up. He was really confused right now. He’d been annoyed at the way this, person, had been manhandling Willow for the last several hours, but that was it. He was merely annoyed. There was nothing else. He reached for his wolf, but it was like, it was asleep or something. No, it wasn’t asleep. It was right there, but… He tried again, and nothing.

‘I don’t…’ he started as Giles came in carrying the tea.

Giles handed a mug to Spike.‘He put blood in it,’ Spike groaned. He didn’t want the tea now and set it aside in time to notice Oz’s strange behavior.

‘What?’ Willow asked Oz. She leaned forward, concerned ‘Are you okay?’

‘Yeah.’ Oz nodded, letting what had happened go. ‘I was…I was living on a commune, that was built on a nature preserve. Like minded people who didn’t want to endanger humans, lived and worked there.’ He answered, distractedly.

‘Yes, but what happened just now?’ Spike prodded.

Oz pulled a frown and cast and uncomfortable glance at Kennedy.

‘Ignore the silly bint.’ Spike pushed.

Giles snorted, ran a hand over his mouth to cover his smile and pretended that his tea was hot.

Oz laid his head against the back of the very tall chair that he was sitting in and closed his eyes. He wouldn’t have called Kennedy names. She was just feeling insecure, and while that was taxing on a mood, it was something that should be dealt with kindly. It was a perfectly normal response for her to have to Willow's ex. He pulled himself out of his thoughts and hauled in a breath so that he could answer diplomatically without causing Willow anymore distress than possible. ‘Okay, so…Kennedy annoyed me, slightly. Whenever I have those kinds of feelings, I have a protocol that I go to immediately. I started to use it, but…I didn’t need to...?’ He quirked an eyebrow, questioning his own statement. ‘I mean, history tells me that I was doing what needed to be done, but nothing was happening. My knuckles didn’t even get hairy.’ Oz explained. 

‘Interesting.’ Giles said, setting his tea down to give his glasses a wipe. After cursory wipe, he pulled out a notepad and started scribbling while everyone watched him. He marked the silence and looked up to find the room watching him. He folded the book closed and put it away. ‘What? If we're going to figure any of this out…’ he began.

Giles, focus. Buffy teased, cutting him off.

‘Right…So, you didn’t feel anything? Or was it that nothing happened?’ Giles asked, picking up his tea cup again.

‘I didn’t feel...anything.’ Oz answered.

‘Will,’ Buffy said, turning to her best friend. ‘Make Spike’s tea cup move.’

Willow glanced at her curiously, knitting her brows together.

‘Just try it.’ Buffy urged.

Willow quirked an ‘okay,’ answer.

She reached out and twisting her hand in a smooth upward motion said, ‘Resurgemus.’ Nothing happened. She tried again…still nothing. ‘Uh! What?’ she complained, then doubled down, demanding of the cup, ‘RESURGEMUS!’  There was a ripple across the top of the tea, but that was all.

‘It’s okay. You’re probably just tired and out of sorts.’ Kennedy offered, then stood up pulling Willow after her. ‘If it’s alright with you, were going now.’ Kennedy tugged Willow along out the door.

‘Does she even know where she’s going?’ Spike asked.

‘No…’ Buffy answered.

‘I’ll be back.’ Spike said, getting to his feet.

‘Don’t be long, Arnold.’ She teased. ‘Remind them about dinner.’

After Spike left, Oz asked, ‘How long have they been together?’

‘Not long.’ Buffy answered, then giggled, ‘Or centuries, depending on how you look at it.’

Oz ingested the information.

‘Kennedy is the first person Willow has been with since Tara.’ Buffy offered.

‘She doesn’t…seem like Willow’s type.’ Oz said, diplomatically.

‘Tell me about it.’ Buffy groaned.

‘The girls a right pain in the…’ Spike interjected coming through the door.

‘Spike…’ Buffy cut him off in warning.

‘Right.’ He rolled his eyes.

‘So, I hope you don’t mind bunking in with Giles.’ Buffy said again.

‘How long do I have until the…’ Oz began.

‘Follow Giles. It’s all taken care of.’ She instructed.

‘Right this way.’ Giles gestured.

Giles opened the door to the downstairs bedroom. Inside, was a regular bedroom, but there was also a cage.

‘We didn’t know what to expect, so we just prepared.’ Buffy said.

‘The full moon is in two days’ time. We thought it would be for the best to keep you here with us, where we could handle whatever happens.’ Giles said.

‘Thank you.’ Oz said, stunned. ‘I was worried about it. I mean, I can control when it comes out, but it’s like you said, we don’t know what is going to happen. So, what’s it like, being in the sun?’ he asked Spike.

‘Honestly, it took some getting used to. The only thing I'm really having a problem with is the constant eating. I'm always hungry and booze doesn’t help it. I actually get inebriated if I drink too much now. I’ve gained 10 pounds eating vegetables. I have to actually work out. Other than that, it’s all peaches.’ Spike answered.

Oz nodded, keeping his thoughts to himself.

‘We’re going.’ Buffy declared. ‘See you for dinner.’ She reminded Oz.

 

 

***

 

East Building

 

‘I’m gonna take a walk.’ Faith said, peeling away from Angel and Connor as they approached their building. She cut a surreptitious glance at Robin who followed along after Buffy, who was still talking as she took them into the building opposite from theirs. She watched him until he turned to look back at her. She didn’t wave or acknowledge that she saw him there. She didn’t want him to know that she noticed him at all. She wasn’t done being mad at him.

‘So, it’s been 500 years. So, what! It still felt like yesterday.’ She railed.

When Buffy had put her in this building with Angel, she hadn’t known what to think or how to feel about it. Angel had helped her see clear to Buffy’s reasoning, as usual. How is it that Buffy knew her, better than she knew herself?  Buffy was right, she would have been crazy inside of the first day next door with all the joiners.

She didn’t know why she always thought everything that Buffy did was a jab at her, she just did. She needed to remember that Buffy had tried her level best to befriend her in the beginning and she’d been the one to screw it up. Faith sort of understood that she was simply jealous of Buffy. B had everything Faith never did and that was a big problem for her at one time.

She’d made a decision to move past the pointless disdain she had for the Slayer while they’d been on base. Since then, Faith had felt more in control of herself while she was sharing space with Buffy.   

She shot another quick glance to Robin he was still watching her. She turned left at the corner of her building and out of sight. She was on a mission to a). give Angel and Connor some time alone and b). find some black leather pants.

She’d had all of these mom leggings she was going to put up with as of now.

She’d been through every house in the first fifteen blocks of this neighborhood, yesterday and it was all full of the same thing, house after house. She’d even stopped in a few stores while they were on Persephone, but had come up empty in each place. Giles told her there was a Mall a few miles away, so once she’d got out of sight, she turned West and started to double time it. While she jogged, she kept pushing at the memory of their last night on the Initiative base in 2003. She didn’t want to think about it now. She had not wanted to think about it the day after either. She picked up the pace a step and kept pushing, but the memory wouldn’t be denied. She hadn’t seen him all day as she’d been busy with the Noob’s. Just before dinner, she’d caught a shower and had just finished getting cleaned up when he arrived at the door. He’d taken her by the hand, and led her to the playground behind the houses on the second street over. He’d turned the playground into a very private, romantic oasis.  In the cooling evening, he placed a blanket and pillows on the ground and had lit candles, placing them on the perimeter so there was just enough light, and he’d brought a bottle of wine they’d drank out of camping cups. She’d been taken off her guard at the scene laid out before her and stopped short, pulling her hand out of his. He’d caught her though, and convinced her to stay.

It had taken the entire evening, but she’d finally relaxed enough to enjoy it a little. He’d danced with her. She’d sat leaned against his chest, while he brushed her hair. He talked with her about his life, her life, music and food. All of those things that other people talked about while they were on a date.  He never made a move. He didn’t even press her for a kiss. When she yawned, he stood her up and walked her home. When they got to the door, he brushed a feather light kiss across her lips, told her that he’d had a good time, then sent her inside alone. She’d had no idea what to make of it while she watched him walk away through the window. She was annoyed by the entire thing. He’d gotten her all ready to go and then left her hanging. That kiss, had left her wondering what it might be like to have him kiss her like that again. The problem was, she really wanted to find out, but men never wanted to kiss her that way, then hang around. She’d learned her lesson about getting feelings involved in sex a long time ago.

Have the sex, avoid the feelings. Safest way to go.

She was mad, because she knew how this was going to end up. Robin had stirred up all of these feelings in her, because it was his thing. Once he’d gotten his fill of it from her, he’d make some lame excuse about not being ready for anything more and leave her hanging…again. Nope…not this girl.

He wanted to get it on and get out, that was cool, but he needed to leave the emotional bullshit out of it, because she wasn’t the one he would settle down with eventually. She knew it, and he knew it. So why the game? Her feet pounded the pavement while she ran. She shoved hard at all her thoughts one last time and was successful.

She concentrated on her breathing and just ran.

 

 

***

 

           

‘So,’ Angel said, going down the flight of stairs, just past the elevator bank in their building. ‘We are down here, but if you want, we can put you in a unit on this floor.’

‘Dad…’ Connor said, testing the word. ‘I really, have no idea what I want.’

Angel stopped moving to look at his son. He liked the sound of the word Dad in relation to himself coming from Connor. He’d been robbed of the chance to be a father to the boy, but he remembered vividly what it was like to cradle his newborn son in his arms and sing him to sleep. Shaking himself from the memory he said, ‘Well…I guess we…you can figure it out as you go.’ Angel said, hesitantly.

Connor nodded at his father thoughtfully and hesitated to go through the open door that the Vampire was holding for him. He’d been raised by that lunatic Holts, that he still loved in some weirdly loyal way, to hate this Vampire on principle, but he didn’t. He’d been conflicted about that for a long time. He quickly thought about what Angel had done in LA and knew that he’d been wrong about this guy on so many levels. He’d been manipulated into hating him. Maybe it was time to make up his own mind about who Angel was or wasn’t. He knew for sure that he wanted to know his father better, but he wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t hold him to a higher regard than his parents and that would be unfair. Thoughts of his parents pulled him from thoughts about Angel.

‘I’m curious…I mean, not to spoil the moment of you bringing me home with you, or anything, but…my parents. Do you know if they made it here?’ he asked.

‘What do you mean?’ Angel asked, still holding the door.

‘Well…the deal I made. With, Riley. I agreed to come and get you, if he swore that he would send someone after Lawrence and Colleen.’ Connor replied.

‘I…don’t know.’ Angel answered, crestfallen, and started down the stairs.

‘Dad…’ Connor said, again.

Angel stopped, then turned back toward his son.

‘Either way, I want to stay here with you.’ He confided.

The smile that didn’t come to Angel’s lips was fully evident in his eyes. ‘I’d like that.’ He replied, and they went down the stairs.

‘Also, just a question.’ Connor began, ‘Why are we in a basement across the street?’

Angel opened the door to their apartment and they stepped inside. ‘Buffy…wanted me to feel like I was at home.’ He answered.

Connor, turned a circle taking the place in. ‘Well, she did a good job. This looks just like your place.’

‘She did.’ Angel agreed.

It reminded him heavily of the basement apartment he had when it had been just him, Cordy and Wes at the office, before moving to the Hyperion. It was industrial grey walls instead of bare brick, but she’d warmed the space up with woven rugs, darkly stained furniture that had Asian inspired designs and several low light lamps scattered throughout the main room. There was also a heavy bag, hanging from the ceiling and three yoga mats on the floor. There was a kitchen, but it was minimalist.

‘Does this TV work?’ Connor asked, pointing at the extremely large flat screen.

‘Not yet, but I'm assured that it won’t be long.’ Angel answered.

Connor grinned.

‘There are three bedrooms here, but I don’t think Faith will stay much longer, so if you like her room better, you can have it when she goes.’ Angel said.

‘Where is she going?’ Connor asked.

‘She’s…a loner, but where ever she goes, it won’t be far. Are you, hungry? Tired? Do you want to get a shower or do you just want to sit and chill?’ Angel asked nervously.

‘I…yes.’ Connor grinned answering all of his father’s questions at once.

‘I brought food in yesterday. Let’s see if there is something you want.’ Angel offered.

Chapter Text

Thirty-Six

 

Buffy, was sort of enjoying doing something as regular and grown up as hosting a dinner party. Granted, she was 523 years old, but she’d never really given a dinner party before. In reality, she was just glad to have something to do that distracted her from the soul crushing boredom of the last few weeks. They'd been in a holding pattern with nothing to do but wait out the time it took to get the rest of their friends and family out of the Cryo-tubes. She guessed she should have been happy for the down time. Starting the next week, it would be nothing but work for a good long while. There were plans to be made. Strengths and weaknesses to be determined. Buildings to be emptied. In the next year, they had a crew of astronauts to wake up. Families to introduce to a new planet. There would be new history, science, math, technology and medicine to teach them. Thank...God? Thank someone... they were all geniuses. Someone was going to have to 1000 teenagers ready to live. It couldn't be her. She'd barely gotten through calculus. According to Giles, the crew of their ship, were doctors, pilots, mathematicians, mechanics, with specialties in things like nutrition, radiation, problem solving, extreme environments, structural engineering, chemistry and a litany of other attributes. Who knew! In order to be aggressively sought after as an astronaut the more practical knowledge you had about everyday living like electrical, plumbing, and problem solving the better equipped you were for space missions and survival. She'd been fascinated during the entire conversation. While she'd been thinking about all of this, she'd bantered back and forth with Spike about her abilities to function day to day that didn't include Slaying. Something that no longer took precedent over everything else in her life.    

‘Thanksgiving, doesn’t count!’ She argued with Spike.

‘Oy, I got shot with arrows! Now, it doesn’t count?’ He plead his case loudly.

She rolled her eyes at him while she stirred, the bowl of veggies, coating them with the herbs she'd chopped.

‘I suppose the bear doesn’t count either.’ He asked. ‘Point, Spike.’ He air tallied.

‘I didn’t mean that it…’ she started, playfully defending herself.

‘Mean what, Luv? I was almost eaten by a bear! It counts.’ he argued dramatically.

‘I didn’t mean it that way.’ She said, shifting her eyes away from him. ‘I just meant that it was the last one I attempted and it wasn’t a success.’ She reminded him.

‘Not even a little!’ he laughed.

She laughed with him. ‘I am hoping that this one is, because I sort of like doing it.’ She shrugged.

‘You aren’t feeling cooped up a bit?’ he asked, searching out her mood.

‘I didn’t say that. I just…I'm trying to make the best of it. It’s been a difficult adjustment to make. I wake up no matter what to go and patrol, only there isn’t anything to patrol. While that is a good thing, my mind and body are feeling useless and restless and any other kind of '-less' you can think of.’ She confided.

Spike had stopped what he’d been doing to watch her. Not for the first time this month, he’d thought about the very thing she was talking about. He’d already become worried about how long they'd able to keep up with this domestic tranquility before going completely barmy. There was only so much shagging a person could do before they needed to get out of the house and kill something. Her increased restlessness told him that time was coming soon and he had a sudden idea and hours of time before their guests arrived.

‘Do you, need me for…anything? I've got to take off for just a bit?’ he questioned.

She stopped putting the pretty teal place mats on the massive dinning table and turned to see what he was up too. ‘Ugh…not that…no.’ she answered, curiously.

‘I need to…do something.’ He drawled, vaguely, watching her reaction closely.

‘You need me to help?’ she asked, hopefully.

‘No, it’s sort of a…I can handle it.’ He said, cryptically.

‘Okaaay.’ She said, drawing out the word suspiciously.

‘It’s just a thought I had. I will be back in a tic. Ugh, where is that big suitcase?’

‘What are you…?’

‘Surprise, Luv.’ He answered, pecking her a kiss.

‘It’s in the foyer closet.’ She answered, pointing at it.

‘Be back soon.’ He called, and was gone in a blink.

Moments later he was over at The Mall, as Buffy called it. It wasn’t really a mall. It was a massive, mile square building. Instead of it housing 100’s of stores it housed only one. Sort of like box stores on Earth, only considerable larger. The Blue Sun Shopping Complex, was what the name on the building said. You could get everything from a tooth brush to a tiger skin rug inside. He didn’t bother parking, he just drover the small car he’d acquired into the building and drove it straight over to the sporting goods section. He got out of the car and proceeded to load it full of ‘sporting goods.’ Paint ball guns. Paint balls. Air soft riffles and handguns of every type and description as well as pellets. There were bows, with blunted arrow sets. There was foam covered martial arts staffs and batons. There were also tennis balls and rackets.

'Those were going to be fun. Why had he never thought of those before?' he wondered.

He took all of it then mad his way over to the toy section. It was Nurf heaven. He was going to have to make two trips. There was actually a Nurf 'carpet bomber.' It was glorious. He was having the best time with just the shopping! He loaded the minuscule car as full of Nurf guns and ammo as he could, then headed out. If he was fast, he could get back here in time to get the rest. He was speeding down one of the main aisles to the exit when Faith stepped out into the aisle way.

She was tugging at a pair of black leather pants and looked up to see him. She gestured and turned as if to say, ‘how do I look.’

‘Nice.’ He grinned.

She looked past him to the contents in the car and laughed.

‘Wanna help?’ he inquired.

‘Hell yeah!’ she exclaimed.

‘This is just a start. If we hurry, we can be set up before dinner.’ He said.

‘I’m with you.’ She answered and slid into the front seat with him.

There were able to finish and get back in time to get another load. She had to find a vehicle to put all of the soccer balls and basket balls in, but they were able to successfully get everything loaded and distributed in that trip. By the time they were done, they were both grinning like idiots.

As they got ready to go their separate ways in order to meet back in time for dinner, Faith said, ‘No alliance after dinner, yo. It’s every man for himself.’

‘Too right that.’ Spike agreed. ‘May the best Vampire win.’ He grinned wickedly.

She laughed, 'Not if I see you first.'

On that, they slapped each other a high five and split up.

When he arrived back home, Buffy looked askance at his empty hands.

‘Surprise, Luv.’ He repeated. ‘Need a shower. You?’ he asked.

She grinned and followed him upstairs.

The first to arrive was unsurprisingly Giles. The last, just as unsurprisingly was Angel and Connor. Faith trailed in with them as well. Catching sight of Spike, she shot him an anxious grin. Buffy, having seen it looked at him curiously.

‘Let me guess. It’s a surprise?’ she asked.

He wiggled his eyebrows at her in response. As with all parties, there was the awkwardness in the beginning of not knowing everyone.

It didn’t last long though, thanks to Xander. ‘So, this is everyone?’ he asked.

No one said anything.

‘Okay then.’ He said, in trademark Xander, rubbing his hands together.

‘I am going to suggest that we do this Round Robin. My name is Xander…’

Everyone groaned.

‘Ugh…’ Buffy stepped in, ‘I am going to suggest that we do this while we eat.’

‘Oh! Right!’ Xander said, grinning nervously.

‘So, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Plates and things on this end, and then, ugh…food. Then find your seat at the table. I have assigned them, that way we get to know each other a little better.’ She stammered.

Everyone broke away at that and began to form a line, then fill a plate.

‘Angel…’ she motioned to him. ‘I have you taken care of, it’s in the nuker.’

‘Thank you.’ He said, quietly.

He went to the microwave and there was a large non-descript thermos bottle of already warmed blood. It was very well done of her, in order to help him not feel so conspicuous and for the others not to be weirded out by his meal.

Everyone took their seat and began to eat. After a few minutes of please pass the salt and butter it got uncomfortably quiet. That was when Buffy said, okay Xander, go ahead. Xander’s head popped up from his plate, there was sauce on his chin. Buffy wiggle her finger at her own chin to indicate that he needed his napkin. He self-consciously swiped at the sauce and then swallowed.

‘Okay, ugh, I’m Xander Harris…’ and got tongue tied.

Buffy smiled and took over. To the group she said, ‘I've known Xander since high school. He lost his eye during our war with The First Evil. He’s funny, a wiz with a hammer and he’s my ‘go to’ for just about everything. I can’t tell you how many time’s he’s pulled us out of a pinch. He was once in Dracula’s thrall. It was very amusing. Get him to tell you about it sometime.’  She gestured to Willow then, deciding that she would take over the introductions, it would just be easier this way. ‘This is Willow Rosenberg, my best friend since high school. She’s crazy smart and the most powerful witch on record. She once skinned a guy for being a jerk, but don't let that scare you away from her. She's super nice, just don't push her too hard. She makes cookies to apologize when she messes up. This is Giles. He’s my watcher, he was our school librarian, he carries a complete set of encyclopedias’ in his brain as well as entire library on demon lore. He’s British, his first name is Rupert and he once made out with my mom on the hood of a police car.’ She grinned at him.

‘Buffy, really! ‘Giles exclaimed, pulling of his glasses.

‘It’s 100% true.’ She teased him. These people are affectionately referred to as ‘The Scoobies’ since they have always helped me fight the demons and ghosts on the Hell Mouth. This is Kennedy. She is Willow’s girlfriend and she’s from New York?’ Buffy stumbled in the introduction needing to be reminded if that information was correct, she looked askance at Kennedy who nodded in the affirmative. ‘She’s going to be an amazingly good slayer. I don’t know her that well. We’ve been a little to sleepy the last 500 years to get to know each other better. Before that…we were trying to save Sunnydale. This is Andrew. He’s a pop-culture virtuoso and can quote all the Star Wars movies verbatim.’

‘Not…Attack of the Clones.’ He offered shyly.

'Fine, not Attack of the Clones.' Buffy agreed.

‘This is Violet…’ Buffy began.

Violet shot from her seat, startling everyone.

‘I’m…I’m from,’ the girl glanced at Dean. ‘My real name, is Celeste Middleton. I'm 18. My name might be Celeste, but I prefer to be called by my first name, Violet. My parents…my father died when I was 12, my mother is in a…I mean, my mother was in a coma. I was at a sleepover and they were killed on the way to come and get me. My watcher introduced himself to me later and then I lived with him until he was killed. He sent me to Sunnydale and that was when I met, Buffy. I…don’t want to say anything more for now.’ She said, sitting. She’d never looked away from Dean the entire time she spoke.

‘Okay. That’s okay. Thank you, Violet.’ Buffy said.

‘I’m Rona.’ The girl said, getting to her feet. She was sitting across the table from Violet. ‘I’m 17, I’m from Chicago. I grew up in the system. I survived the Hell Mouth.’ Rona turned to look pointedly at Buffy. ‘…and I want to know where Cari, Chao-Ann, Colleen, Dominique, and Shannon are. 

‘They are in the warehouse.’ Giles said, answering the question for Buffy and effectively cutting off that line of questioning.

Everyone had turned to Giles and Rona was just about to press the issue, but Faith stood up. ‘I’m Faith,’ she said, bringing in the back up. ‘I’m the number two Slayer. I’m from Boston. I'm 523 years old and I make that look good. I’m a smoker, but damn if you can find a cigarette around here. My interests are…wait, it isn’t that kind of group meeting is it?’ she chuckled and didn’t say anything else, sitting down after giving everyone a shrug. 

Buffy rolled her eyes, but was smiling at Faith and pulled the attention away from the ‘number two Slayer’ and back to herself, saying, ‘This is Robin. His mother was a Slayer. He was the Principle of Sunnydale High. He’s from New York City and all around…really. He’s a good guy. If you need an ear to bend, you can count on his. This is Spike. As you know he’s a Vampire. He's…’

‘I’ve got this, Pet.’ He said, stepping in.

‘No! We will be here all night!’ she laughed, playfully. ‘His real name is William, he’s from London. He’s 648 years old. He's one of only two Vampires to have a soul. We live together, he’s my boyfriend.’ She acknowledged out loud, flicking a quick glance over Angel then around the table. ‘He’s generally good natured, but can be an ass if he is having a bad day. Like anyone really. You're safe. He does drink blood on occasion, but all you need to know about that, is that he won’t drink yours. He also eats food, as you see.’

‘Questions?’ Spike asked, looking around the table.

No one said anything. Buffy continued. ‘This is Oz. We met in high school. He’s quiet. Stoic really. Incredibly smart, the way all stoic people are. He’s an amazing Base player. He’s Willow’s ex-boyfriend from high school and he’s a Werewolf. I’m Buffy. I’m the Slayer. I’ve made a deal with the man that owns this planet. We can live here as long as we understand that I answer to him and you all answer to me. All of the rules, are his. It’s the chain of command. Anything you have problems with, we will work on, but ultimately, it’s his house. I have a sister, Dawn. She's still at the warehouse. She's a key to another dimension. I'll let her tell you the rest of that at a later date. Angel, you have the floor.’ Buffy finished, taking her seat.

Angel stood, to introduce himself and his people. He would've rather had Buffy stake him than be forced to tell people who he was, but it was necessary so he sucked it up and managed not to stammer as he said, ‘My name now, is Angel. I have a soul, like Buffy said. My real name is Liam. I was born in Galway, Ireland, but lived in the United States for half of my life. My sire was Darla. I am Spikes grand sire. I am 724 years old. This is my son, Connor. That…is a long story that I don’t want to get into. I stay to myself.’ He finished, sitting back down.

Buffy gestured to Connor, who didn’t stand.

‘My name is Connor. I’ve had a few different names. I'm Angel’s son but I was adopted recently by the Reilly’s. However, I think that I'm just going to be Connor Angel from now on. I’m 16. I'm what you call a ‘living Vampire.’ I was born to two Vampires, so I'm sort of a pure blood. I have all of the pro’s of being a Vampire and none of the con’s. I have speed and strength but I don’t need blood, don’t flame in the sun. That kind of thing. I'm told that my adoptive parents are in the tubes down at the warehouse. I was born in LA but was raised in a Hell Dimension, which is the reason for my age discrepancy. Technically in year years I'm only two, or 502 I guess, but because time passes differently in other dimensions I lived on Quar’toth until I was 15. My mothers name was Darla. I…that’s all.’ He said, dropping what he’d been about to say. He sensed his father’s discomfort at the mention of his parentage and was just in time to see Buffy shoot a murderous look at Angel.

Connor gestured hesitantly to Jody to take over, but Buffy turned to Dean and said, ‘Dean…your turn.’

Dean turned to Sam and said, ‘This is Sammy…’ Sam dropped his head and sighed. ‘Sorry…this is Sam.' Dean said, significantly, with a little eye roll. 'Ugh, he’s a Hunter. So am I. That means we hunt and kill demons, Vampire’s, witches, Werewolves and anyone else being a menace to human society. We vanquish ghosts, ghouls, and malicious spirits, Angel’s who’ve gone rogue. Sammy is a wiz on the computer and all kinds of other stuff as well. Ugh...he's Lucifer’s perfect vessel and I am Michael’s, but that doesn’t mean anything on Miranda.' he said, waving it away, 'That was just something that we were dealing with before some douche bag kidnapped us, leaving our Mom and Jack stranded.’ He was losing his cool, so he adjusted taking a breath and brought it back. ‘So, yeah, he’s a smart guy who worries too much. He’s 34, we’re from Kansas. I'm 39, I like pie and beer. I hate flying, so yeah, that is going to be interesting. I got zero notion how any of this is going to work at this point.’ He gruffed out shaking his head and gesturing with a brushing motion of his hand. Rallying, he said, ‘This is Cas. He’s an angel. He’s…how old are you, Cas?’

‘I’ve never considered the question before. I was old when the Earth was created.’ Cas answered vaguely.

‘Hold up…’ Faith said, interrupting. ‘What do you mean, he’s and angel?’

Cas turned to an astounded Faith, ‘I’m technically a Seraphim. It’s still an angel, only I am sort of 'upgraded.'  

‘What’s the difference?’ Rona prompted.

‘Well…I’d say it’s my abilities. I'm able to do things that other angels can’t. Although, at this point, I'm unsure of what abilities I do or don’t possess at the moment. I mean, as I told Sam and Dean earlier, I can feel my grace, I'm just unable to know if I'm fully restored.’ 

‘What kind of powers do you posses when you are on Earth.’ Giles asked, curious.

He always knew the correct question to ask, Buffy marveled.

‘I can heal mortal wounds. I can warp reality. I can detect lies. I can read minds. I can smite beings by revealing my true form to them. That kind of thing.’ Cas answered, casually.

Everyone at the table was focused on Cas. No one was fidgeting or eating or drinking. The room had gone motionless with the shock of being in the presence of a real Angel.  

‘Can you cure diseases?’ Buffy asked hopefully, thinking of Inara.

‘Unfortunately, no. I regret that I can’t. Only an Arch-angel can cure disease.’

‘Oh.’ Buffy said, her disappointment heavy.

Cas turned to Jody then, ‘Your turn.’

‘Hi. My name is Jody Mills. I was a Sheriff in Sioux Falls, North Dakota. I’m 41 years old. I…met Sam and Dean when they came to town working a case. It was Zombies. My husband and son died during the course of the case. I’ve since become a Hunter and moved on with my life. I’ve built a new family in the form of these three women. This is Alex, my daughter. Adopted. I took her from some Vampires that were using her as a blood slave. Despite a rough beginning, things evened out and she’s gone to nursing school. Alex doesn’t like to Hunt, but she can. She isn’t incapable of taking care of herself. I realize that you two have souls and that we should all feel safe, but I’m telling you now, I will stake either one of you in an instant if I think you pose a danger to any one of these girls at this table.’ She said, looking back and forth between Spike and Angel.

‘That won’t be necessary.’ Buffy said, interrupting Jody’s diatribe.

‘Say’s you?’ Claire challenged.

‘Yes. Say’s me.’ Buffy confirmed, 'If anyone needs staking, I'll be the one to do it...and you are?’ She asked, taking the wind out of the girl’s sails.

‘My name is Claire Novack. I’m 20. I’m a Hunter. I’m friends with Sam and Dean. Jody is my mom. Cas is wearing my biological father’s body. I was cured of being a werewolf. I’m from Pontiac, Illinois and I’m gay.’ She blurted all at once.

When she was finished everyone turned to Patience, who blushed furiously.

‘I’m Patience Turner. My Grandmother was Missouri Mosely. I’m 18. I am psychic. I’m new to Jody’s family. We lived in Sioux Fall’s she shrugged.’

‘You’re next.’ Buffy said, pointing at Gunn.

Gunn looked like everyone felt. Defeated, sick, depressed, unhappy. ‘I’m Charles Gunn. Everyone just calls me Gunn. I’m from Bad Land’s LA. I used to work with Angel.’ He answered, in a barely audible whisper.

That was all he said. Angel winced. He wanted to comfort Gunn but couldn’t, he was still too angry.

‘So, earlier today,’ Spike began, ‘It occurred to me that we are an active bunch and we are used to being able to work out our issues with a little rough and tumble or a good fight. While the stress has been in abundance and there isn't nearly enough rough and tumble to go around I propose some mock violence a game if you will. So, while you were getting settled Faith and I took it upon ourselves to remedy the situation. Let’s tidy up, shall we? Then we will take you down.’ He finished.

Chapter Text

 

 

‘What are you up to?’ Buffy asked.

'Let’s clean up first.’ He grinned.

She stood up, ‘Well, you heard him. Let’s clean up.’ She took her plate to the sink. The others followed. Xander was on rinse duty while Spike loaded the dishwasher. Everyone else pitched in to help put the food away so they were done in literally 10 minutes. There was chatter, but it was stilted. The notion of getting to know each other was present, but hadn’t latched on completely yet.

Which, as far as Spike was concerned was perfect. ‘If you’re finished, go ahead and head downstairs. We will meet you outside in a few minutes.’ He instructed.

Slowly, everyone began to drift away from the small clusters they’d formed while waiting on the others to finish up the last bit of wiping down of the counters and stove and so on. Xander turned off the water, wrung out the cloth he’d been using and draped it over the faucet. Instead of using the dishtowel next to the sink, he dried his hands on his clothes.

‘So, see you downstairs then?’ he asked Buffy.

‘I’ll go with you.’ She answered.

Xander gestured, ladies first, but Spike stopped her from going.

‘Ugh, actually, Buffy…can I talk to you for one second?’ Spike requested.

Xander sighed and went without her.

‘Sure. What’s up?’ She cajoled, hoping he was going to tell her the surprise.

‘You should go up and change your shoes.’ he said, with a gesture at them.

She looked down at the sandal’s she was wearing, curiously, then pulled her mouth into an argumentative purse. She stayed that way a moment while she contemplated if she was going to press him for answers.

‘Tick tock, Girl.’ He pointed at his wrist, feigning a look at his watch.

‘Trust me, you’re gonna love it!’ he promised.

He looked like he was fit to bust.

She couldn’t help it; his excitement took hold of her making her laugh.

‘Okay, weirdo. I will be right back.’

She turned to go and he swatted her behind. She whirled back to smack at him playfully. He’d expected it and slipping an arm around her waist, scooped her up and held her against the wall. Startled, she opened her mouth to haul in a breath and he kissed her thoroughly. When he was done, he set the dazed Slayer on her feet.

‘I love you to distraction.’ He breathed, slipping a hand into her hair. He used it to position her mouth just so, and kissed the words she’d wanted to say right out of her mouth. When he’d had his way with her lips, he slipped away from her and left.

‘Boots.’ He said, grinning wickedly at her.

Every nerve in her body was attuned to him. ‘You are in for it later, Mister.’

Her eyes glittered at him in challenge.

‘God’s she’s beautiful.’ He thought, adjusting his erection.

She turned away, satisfied that he was just as affected by her as she was by him. She ran quickly up the stairs to their bedroom, not 100% certain that he wouldn’t follow her. She quickly pulled her boots out of the cubby they lived in and some socks. Pulling both on and getting them laced up in record time, she ran to catch up. When she yanked open the front door, it was to find Faith waiting for her.

‘Hey.’ She said, caught up short, pulling the door closed.

‘Hey, B.’ Faith smiled. ‘I just wanted to talk with you really quick. I just…See, we are in a situation here and I just want you to know that I am with you. So, see, Spike and I we ran into each other today and I know that he is all yours. I just wanted to give you a heads up that we spent some time together today. I am totally not trying to get in your way with him. It would be pointless. That boy is mad for you. That’s not the point though, I just wanted you to know that I helped him. I didn’t want you to be taken by surprise. See?’ Faith stammered, trying to explain before the elevator reached the ground.

‘Okay.’ Buffy nodded, a bit confused.

‘Okay. Good. So, see, Spike and I have arranged a little stress reliever. Not just that though. These people, well they don’t know who you are. Furthermore, we don’t know who they are. I’m not about trying to teach them a lesson, or anything. That’s not what this is about. This is just about getting to know who these people are. Also, there are lingering issues with everyone. Issues and pent up…frustrations. See? We should, ya know, get a handle on these things before they get out of control.’ Faith spoke quickly.

‘Faith, make a point.’ Buffy, said maintaining her patience, but starting to worry about what they had cooked up.

‘It’s all gonna seem like it’s a game, a way to blow off some steam, but it’s also a genius way to let these people know who’s in charge. Which, is in no way me. It’s a playful way to make a point. They need to understand that whether they like it not, there is a power structure in place.’ She knew she’d just totally botched the explanation from the angry look on Buffy’s face.

The elevator door opened.

‘What have you two done?’ Buffy demanded, hands on her hips.

‘Let’s go and have some fun!’ Faith said, ignoring her, stepping out of the elevator.

‘Wait…’Buffy said, suspiciously. ‘What. Did. You. DO?’

‘It’s just a Nerf War, B. Come on! It’s gonna be great!’ Faith pulled away.

Buffy watched her go calling after her, ‘Nerf war? What the hell is a Nerf War?’

Faith stopped before getting to the front door, turning back to her. ‘You don’t know what a Nerf War is?’ Faith asked, astounded.

Buffy shook her head.

‘Nerf guns?’ Faith questioned.

‘You mean those toys, right?’ Buffy asked.

An excited grin split Faiths lovely face and her eyes sparkled. ‘Yeah!’ she nodded.

Understanding dawned, and Buffy’s grin matched Faiths.

‘That’s sneaky…and really smart. Good job!’ Buffy praised.

‘I know, right! Now, let’s go and have some fun.’ Faith prompted.

‘By the way…’ Buffy said, once more getting Faith’s attention, ‘Nice pants.’

A true smile lit in Faith’s eyes. ‘Want some?’ she grinned.

‘Duh!’ Buffy answered.

‘Tomorrow. Shopping for sure.’ Faith said.

They flowed out of the big glass doors that fronted the building and joined the others just in time to hear Spike finish explaining what was going on. Everyone was cheesing mad grins. Kennedy was actually bouncing on the balls of her feet.

‘It’s just like summer camp.’ Andrew observed, uncomfortably.

‘…so, nothing is inside the houses, and nothing is hidden too well. It’s all out in the open. There are balls of all shapes and sizes and foam-covered sparing equipment. In addition to Nerf Guns in every size, shape, and color imaginable there are also paint ball guns, but you will have to search them out a bit harder. There are back packs with some of the guns in them, but not all. You will find random magazines laying out in the open. Nowhere is off limits except for indoors. No teams. You can partner up with one person, but no teams. No hitting above the shoulders. It’s every man for himself.’ Spike grinned, wickedly.

‘Any questions?’ Faith asked.

No one said anything. Faith, Spike and Buffy taking that as their clue, took off running.

‘In bounds is only the first five blocks and the park at the west end of the streets.’ Faith called over her shoulder as she ran.

The entire group watched them run away.

When the trio realized no one else was running they stopped and turned back to the group. Spike took a few steps back toward them, his hands stretched out to ask the question, ‘What are you doing?’

‘Don’t just stand there! He’s going to get all of the good stuff!’ Faith insisted.

‘Go!’ Buffy, pushed.

When no one moved, the two Slayers and the Vampire that ate vegetables took off once more. They stared at each other dumbly and suddenly, the spirit of the game settled over them.  They'd just watch Faith pick up a Nurf Blaster, and rapid fire every foam dart in the gun at Spike's bleach blond head. He yelled indignantly as the projectiles peppered the back of his head and fell to the ground bouncing away.

The stunned group scattered every which way into the early evening after that.

'That got them moving.' Faith said, as they jogged, then waved and said, 'See ya later.' as she broke away from Buffy and Spike.

She found a quick hiding place and hung back to watch and observe as the 'troops' ran past her, chattering away as they went.

It played out just the way she and Spike knew it would. The troops weren’t supposed to cluster together, but they did.

‘Take the strong one’s first and the weak will sort themselves.’ She mused, while she spied. 

Gunn, bringing up the rear, wasn’t running and she wasn’t surprised. He was sauntering toward her. Anyone who thought the man was weak did so at their own peril. He didn’t say anything to her as he sauntered past, just flicked a quick glance at her and kept moving. Angel and Connor were still standing back in the courtyard in front of Buffy’s building. Suddenly, she realized suddenly that Cas, was standing next to her. So much for the covert information gathering.

‘Aren’t you going to play?’ she asked him, trying to deflect from her true purpose. Then she remembered that he could hear her thoughts, and thought 'Well...crap.'

‘I…don’t think it would be fair for me to participate.’ The angel explained, ignoring her attempt at subterfuge while he stared at Gunn’s retreating form.

Faith nodded and shrugged, then waved for him to come along with her, ‘Maybe, but come on anyway, you can watch with me.’ She replied. In the short time the exchange with the angel had taken Angel and Connor jogged past them.

Cas did as she asked. He wasn't quite sure what was going to happen with this girl. He needed to talk with Sam and Dean about it. 

The Noobs were three blocks away and already screaming and shooting at each other.

She and Cas stepped in to jog along with Angel and Connor. Faith took a swipe at Connors head, ruffling the boys hair as she caught up to him.

‘Better watch out kid! I’m not too happy with you stealing my battle partner.’ She teased.

‘Yeah, well…’ He stopped short.

She’d pushed at his shoulder in a non-aggressive, playful little nudge, and spun away distracting him with the smack talk. While he was looking to give it right back to her, she’d pulled up the Nerf rifle he’d been reaching for. Turning back to him, she pumped the lever on the toy and took aim and pulled the toys trigger. A bright orange foam projectile flew from the gun and hit him squarely between the eyes. Stunned that she’d managed to hit him already his hand flew to his forehead. He glared the promise of mock 'murder' at her. Faith waggled her eyebrows at him and lifted the rifle to fire again. Connor charged her. With a playful squeal, she fired two rounds in quick succession then spun quickly away from the boy and took off, yelling insults at him as she went. Cas, trailed after her and Angel smiled to see he son actually playing. Gunn watched from the rocking chair on a porch two houses from the corner they’d just jogged past. He remembered back to the times he’d  fed Connor or rocked him to sleep, or learned how to burp him when they’d all lived together in the Hyperion. With the memory came the subsequent reminder of everything that followed after. He didn’t join in the fun, but he watched it at a distance, because he didn’t know what else to do.

Cas mulled over a few of the continuous thoughts that roamed through his head while he jogged along through the affluent, but at the same time quaint and homey neighborhood. They were in. He wasn’t certain yet, but he thought that the energy on this planet had a very slight influence over all of their moods. It was to be expected that the energy of the planet would be influenced by the fact that it currently served as massive graveyard and not much else. There weren’t enough people planet side to counter balance that energy yet. He tuned into Miranda again. Yes. It was definitely there, but it wasn’t actively working against the living energy of the human’s present either, so that was a plus. It was more likely the humans were tuning into Miranda’s frequency. At present it didn’t pose a threat to the people living here, but it was important to clear out as much of the defunct energy as quickly as possible. That was mostly because there was as much happening with the living creatures on this planet as there was with the dead. The dead were obviously dead but their energy, as sleepy as it was, lingered and that would eventually cause problems. The bodies needed to go to their rest, and soon. Case in point, Faith. He was disturbed by what had been done to the woman. She was convinced of who she was and that her name was Faith, but her silent mind had two other names as well. Right now, there wasn’t anything to fear from Miranda, but the possibility for a serious issue with the planet at a later date was probable. He needed to think on the situation for a while before he made any decisions on what to do or say about it. If he’d learned one thing while living in the human world, it was not to make snap decisions.

Buffy ran with Spike until they came to a two story, old fashioned red brick home. It had a deep, covered front porch. The ends of the porch were covered in lattice and thick flowering vines that reminded her of Wisteria had grown over the entire front of the house. Spike scrambled up the vines on the side of a porch and onto the roof of the house.

‘What are you doing?’ she yelled at him in a whisper.

He dragged his pinched fingers across his mouth in the universal sign for, ‘zip it!’ and pointed at the base of the tree she was standing next to. She nodded at him seriously, fully engaged in the game, running her finger across her mouth mimicking the zipping motion. She bent down to pick up the back pack that had been left there. Unzipping it, she reached inside to pull out a giant Nerf magazine fully loaded with red tipped orange foam bullets. The bag was full of them and two smaller hand gun style Nerf pistols. She looked up at her Vampire shaking her head at him grinning. He motioned for her to get up the tree again. She snatched the orange and yellow rifle off of the ground, noting that it already had a full clip in it. She slid it through the straps on the back pack, resting the gun in the V created between the straps and the pack itself, then pulled the pack on. Once it was all adjusted, she made her way up the tree and got settled in. She didn’t have anything to do now but wait. She had a clear view of the roof Spike had climbed on to and was able to see that he had cleared the vines away from the back side of the house, leaving the slanting roof clear of debris. He had all sorts of boxes and buckets sitting in the recessed dormers that lined the back of the house. She could hear him bouncing a tennis ball on a racket in the silence and motioned for him to be quiet.

She was distracted by the early evening sun that was glinting off of the lake that was behind them. It was really something to see. Everything about Miranda was unique. The ripples in the lake were blue and purple instead of golden orange and yellow and the tree she was sitting in had broad leaves that reminded her of Cigar Tree, but the leaves were much broader and there wasn’t a seed pod. Surprisingly, it was fully grown after only 20 years and towered over the big house that it grew next to it. Miranda was a beautiful planet. She needed to remember to take in its sights more often. She heard noise up the street and turned back to see what was happening.

One block north of them, Jody and Alex were skulking around the side of an enormous, yellow brick house they’d had to of watched Andrew and Xander run past only seconds earlier. The guys had teamed up and were now stopped in the middle of the road arguing loudly with each other. Buffy could see everything that was going on from high up in her perch and knew exactly how the entire thing was going to go down.

‘Xander’s about to get his butt kicked.’ She thought shaking her head. She wondered what had ever convinced him to team up with Andrew.

Alex and Patience had tip toes across the street opposite Jody and Claire and were in the process of creeping up them. Jody nearly jumped out of her skin when Alex silently tapped on her mother’s shoulder. ‘What are you doing here?’ Alex scolded her sister in a whisper, then reminded them ‘We are only supposed to be in twos. I’m with Mom, you are with Patience.’

‘Psh…whatever. Who says we have to follow their rules?’ Claire scoffed.

Jody frowned at hearing this. ‘It’s a game, Claire. Follow the rules or it’s cheating.’ Jody informed her.

Claire ignored her mother. The four of them peaked around the corner.

Patience had to stifle a giggle. ‘Xander looks ridiculous and adorable.’  She observed.

The guys were arguing loudly while they attempted to strap on protective gear.

The little one, ‘Andrew’ she remembered now, had two ammo belts crisscrossed over his chest. He had a bright blue and neon orange Nerf shotgun pointed face up, wedged between his feet while Xander, who was wearing a neon green and black bike helmet adjusted the straps of Andrew’s ammo belts so that they hung comfortably around the little dude’s body.

Xander stopped what he was doing and turned sharply to look where she’d clapped a hand over her mouth and ducked. Patience had nearly given them away. He squinted and peered hard at their surroundings as if the penetrating glare he was projecting would somehow help him to see things that were hidden. Satisfied there wasn’t anyone spying on them, but wrong about it, he turned back to Andrew who’d pulled his shotgun to the ready and began levering the slid to force air into the toy. Xander spun his friend around in the opposite direction so he was facing away from them and continued to work on the ammo belt.

These guys might look like buffoon’s, Jody thought, but she could tell that they’d seen some serious action. She could here Andrew’s matter of fact chatter again. She recognized it for the nervous energy it was. He was speaking with stilted authority on a subject in which she and her girls had argued many times over.

‘All I am saying, is that we never even see John Connor in action. We’ve just been told by Arnold and Kyle Reese that he was a bad ass.’ The little blond man argued while he continued to pump air into the enormous gun he held. ‘Ricco, on the other hand…was the real deal.’ He nodded.

‘Johnny Ricco was a love-sick fool who lost his girl to a fly boy named Xander.’ Xander spun Andrew back to face him and gave him the ‘duh’ face. ‘How’s that for irony?’ Xander asked pointedly.

‘Well…OW!’ Andrew swore, loudly. He dropped his gun, had flying to his head. He ceased whatever argument he’d been ready to make as a blue foam, orange tipped Nerf bullet blasted him in the ear again.

Xander spun again to look in the direction the foam bullet had come from, and was now knew that he had heard something. Andrew instinctively stepped behind the big man’s frame. Instantly, they were peppered with a rainbow of the foam projectiles. Xander spun again only to be hampered by Andrew, who was practically standing on top of him now. He spun once more, rolling off of Andrew’s body in a football move and simultaneously reached out to grab a handful of his friends’ shirt, yanking him along with him.

‘John Carter was tougher than either of those guys!’ Claire yelled after them.

She was laughing uproariously while she and Jody and her sisters fired foam bullets at them.

‘Who is John Carter?’ Andrew gasped, running as fast as he could.

Alex and Patience gave chase firing foam bullets wildly, but gave up quickly and made their way back to Jody and Claire. Claire’s laughter was cut short when a tennis ball struck her squarely between the shoulder blades. Two more followed in quick succession. She’d barely had time to register the first ball when the next two landed.

‘Hey! Knock it off!’ she yelled, casting about looking for the culprit.

Jody grabbed her and hauled her back around the side of the big brick house, where they ran into Rona and Violet. Claire wrongly assumed that it was one of them who’d nailed her with the neon green balls.

She glinted a murderous glare at Rona and all out warfare ensued.

Violet let out a blood curdling scream as she fired with abandon. When she was out of bullets, Rona took over while Violet reloaded. Jody and Claire who had exhausted their magazines ran away screaming with mirth in the direction they’d come from. Rona and Violet, who were completely replenished gave chase.

As soon as the women cleared the cover of house, they were bombarded with tennis balls and racket balls. There were so many it was like rain. Spike looked like a whirlwind hurling the balls. The young women stopped running and stumbled around comically trying to shield themselves from the rubber rain.

‘They look like they are on an episode of Benny Hill.’ Spike snorted.

‘Look! On the roof. Bleach blond hair! Get him!’ Alex exclaimed.

Buffy had been doing everything she could to stifle her giggles, but things had gotten serious when Spike began hurling tennis balls wildly at the four women, which now included Rona and Violet who’d gotten caught up in Spike’s blitzkrieg. He was having so much fun and it wasn’t something that she’d ever seen him do in their life before. Since being on Miranda she saw more and more of it every day and happiness had transformed him into something else.  He threw the balls until he ran out and the street was littered with the bouncing balls which were now all rolling toward the enemy. Buffy, sensing that the gig was up, hung her rifle over her shoulder and scrambled out onto the huge long branch of the tree she’d been hiding in and jumped onto the roof with Spike.

While she’d been making her way to him, the others had been busy gathering the balls. She had only seconds to make the roof, warn Spike and get away. The first ball whizzed past her head as she dropped to the roof. She’d been wrong about Spike being out of balls. There were four more five-gallon buckets of balls on the roof! Balls were now raining down all over them. Spike couldn’t have cared less. He was pouring bright, neon pink paint balls into the huge reservoir of one of three paintball rifles. Finishing, he handed her the gun he’d just finished loading and curious about what was happening out front, he popped up to see what was going on. A blunted arrow flew at him and he narrowly missed the whizzing twig. He saw Alex waving Rona and Violet to cover on the porch directly across the street.

Alex was pointing at him and he could hear her telling the Slayers where he was. He’d been busy listening to Alex, reading the field, and counting adversaries when he was struck with a blunted arrow, right in the middle of his forehead!

‘Aye!’ he shouted indignantly, stomping to the crest of the roof, ‘You could have put my eye out!’ he complained. ‘Nothing above the shoulders!’

The women cheered victoriously as he yelled at them.

‘You’re the one who gave them arrows!’ Buffy hissed at him, annoyed.

She wasn’t happy that he’d come very close to being seriously hurt.

‘Arrows are a bad idea!’ she grumbled, launching herself to her feet. 'No one shoots my boyfriend in the face!'

The girls having grouped together and landing a blow on Spike had become emboldened in the seconds after and had flooded into the street and were firing foam bullets at the roof. Claire, caught up in the moment surged ahead of the others, let out a warrior yells and unloaded on the roof. It was to be her doom! Buffy pulled her Nerf rifle from behind her leg, took aim. She’d pumped so much air into the full auto rifle that she’d be able to empty it without having to stop before her magazine ran out. She waited for the girl to get a few steps closer and then unloaded on her. White foam bullets with blue tips snowed down on Claire like a blizzard. The girl, not yet having realized her mistake skidded to a halt, pulled her mega blaster up into firing position and pulled the trigger. That was the moment she knew she’d made the classic mistake of not reloading. Two bullets flew lamely from her gun which was also not primed for firing. She ducked and covered her head to no avail and dropped to the ground, curling herself into a ball.

Alex and Jody reached her just as Buffy ran dry. Alex dropped to a knee to cover her sister while their mother went to pull her from the ground. Buffy was trying desperately to jam a new magazine into the gun, but it was catching on something. Spike, seeing her problem, stopped loading the paintball guns, grabbed his own Nerf rifle, stood, and deftly stepping in front of his girl offered her cover while she reloaded. He let the pretty nurse have it, starting at her ankles, working his way up, and ending with her chin. He was deadly accurate with the thing and shortly he was completely out of bullets. Buffy having finally seated the magazine ducked under Spikes leather clad elbow, pointed the rifle to let loose again but was struck with a rubber dodge ball to the side of her head. Spike grabbed her and spun with her, the next rubber ball hitting his back. He dropped to his ass and they slid down the roofs incline on their butts until the gained the dormers lining the back of the house.

Faith and Castiel stood back to watch the fun from the cover a hedge row. They’d split from Angel and Connor who were circling around the back of the house Spike and Buffy had stationed themselves on. Dean, Sam, and Robin were inching their way toward the Slayer and the angel. Faith waited two more seconds then turned and pinned the trio with a penetrating stare, ‘Don’t make me open a can of whoop ass on you guys.’ She threatened. Robin stopped moving and held his hands in front of Sam and Dean who were on either side of him, effectively stopping their forward motion.

‘She’s not armed.’ Robin warned, not taking his eyes off of her.

‘Sounds like her problem.’ Dean grinned.

‘You ever fought a slayer?’ Robin asked, skeptically.

‘Ugh…’ Dean offered.

‘Exactly.’ Robin said.

He took two steps back and said, ‘This way.’ He turned them toward all of the commotion on the next block.

Cas turned to look at Faith curiously.

She quirked a grin at him. ‘Come on, Handsome.’ She said, following the others, but keeping well back.

‘Spike! Look…’ Buffy said, pointing at the five people coming up the street.

‘Now it’s a party.’ He grinned, and handed her the paintball gun he’d just filled. ‘Let em have it, Pet.’

She looked at him dumbly. She didn’t know how to use this thing!

‘Flip this switch, aim, pull the trigger.’ He instructed.

She gave him a quick nod and turned back toward the street. She crawled quickly back to the crest of the roof and peaked over to see that everyone on the ground was talking with each other. Jody was showing a racket ball to Dean. The Hunter glanced quickly at the roof, scowling. She and Spike were in big trouble. She made up her mind fast. Standing she braced her booted feet on the crest of the roof, took aim, and just as Violet took notice of her, she pulled the trigger. Bright pink paint balls began rocketing out of the rifle. She’d taken aim at Dean first and blasted him with five bright pink dots before he ever registered that he was under fire. The assembled group scattered in every direction and Buffy sprayed paint balls wildly. No one was safe. In seconds the seven people on the ground who’d begun to conspire against them had at least three bright pink paint dots on their body. Dean had so many he looked like he had chicken pox. Buffy watched victorious while they scrambled for cover. She dropped down on her side of the roof to cover while the other regrouped. She handed the now empty rifle back to Spike. She was grinning like a mad woman. Spike really was a genius. She hadn’t even known how much she needed this. Well, she knew she needed it, just not how much fun it was going to be.

‘Thank you.’ She breathed happily at him. ‘You are a genius!’ She grabbed him by his neck kissing him.

‘No time!’ he said pulling away from her. He’d finished filling the rifle she’d handed him and he handed it back to her.

‘Put it on.’ He instructed.

They could hear the others regrouping out front. She slung the rifle over her shoulder, but before she could get it settled Spike scooped her up and jumped off of the roof. She squealed in surprise like an idiot. He’d just startled her is all, but she’d given away his plan and dropped her paint ball rifle. Their feet no more than touched the ground when they heard, ‘Are they still up there?’ It was Kennedy.

‘Where the heck had she come from?’ Buffy wondered.

She attempted to turn back and retrieve her paint ball gun, but Spike took her hand and jerked her forward saying, ‘Leave it! I know where there is another one.

‘That’s cheating!’ she laughed.

‘Duh! Vampire!’ he reminded her as the ran through the back yard of the house next door, around the far side and onto the sidewalk.

They could hear Nerf guns cocking and laughter out front. Seconds later there was the tell tale screaming and pounding feet accompanying the laughter. The girls had already regrouped and reloaded and were being or giving chase by the time Buffy and Spike made it to the neighbor’s yard. They nearly made it to the street when they ran smack into Rona and Violet. Completely startled, Violet began screaming her head off so loudly that it was alerting everyone all the way back on Earth as to her present whereabouts. Instantly Spike and Buffy were wedged between the two slayers and Alex and Patience. They could her Sam, Dean, Jody and Claire hurling tennis balls at each other in front of the house they’d jumped off of moments ago.

Rona swiped at Violet yelling, ‘Stop that screaming!’ The fledgling Slayer then hoisted her rifle and begin firing foam bullets at Spike who used his Vampire speed to bat them away. Violet had cut off her screaming comically and did as she was bid immediately. She fumbled around with her rifle too long to do any damage though and the 'Mills Contingent' began firing at them from less than 10 feet away. Buffy and Spike were now caught in the firestorm of foam bullets and she was having a glorious time. Spike had stopped batting the projectiles away and simply watched as she laughed and began to wave her Nerf gun back and forth, firing with abandon, not even bothering to take aim. All of the women were screaming with laughter, baiting each other with insults, and firing away. He hated to stop her from the fun she was having but he could hear that the others were coming now and it was time to go. He picked up Buffy and jumped over Rona and Violet, clearing them, effectively leaving the path clear and open between the other women.

‘Get them!’ Claire yelled spotting them as they ran away.

Buffy was laughing so hard tears were pouring from her eyes when they stopped a few blocks away. Spike spun her at the end of his fingertips, then rolled her into his arms in a ballroom dance move. When she met his chest, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him for all she was worth. She climbed up his body resting her knees on his hipbones pulling his hair in order to bring his head far enough back to loot the sweetness of his mouth with her own. Spike slid his hands around her behind to support her and then he let her have her way with him. When they were in danger of pulling off all of their clothes in the middle of the street, she pulled her mouth away from his.

‘I love you.’ She said breathlessly, then slid down his body, making sure to rub every inch of her against him. She bit the corner of her lip and looked at him through her lower lashes once her feet hit the ground.

‘Oh, Slayer. You are very good at being naughty.’ He teased.

She tilted her head and actually batted her eyelashes at him, then smiled like a simpering coquette and playfully spun away from him.

He growled low in his throat as she twirled. ‘He loved this game.’

He smiled, and watched her tight little ass twitch as she walked away from him. She picked up speed as she heard him take his first few steps. A few more steps and she was running.

‘Oy! Where you going?’ he called, jogging after her.

She turned to grin at him wickedly. ‘You started it.’ She called, back. She faltered a step as she did. Angel and Connor had just witnessed everything that had passed between them the last few moments.

Spike saw the trepidation pass over her face and turned to see what had her looking so uncertain. ‘Angel…’ he swore, silently. ‘You get your eyes full, Mate?’ Spike challenged, visibly annoyed.

Angel ignored him, never taking his eyes from Buffy who, even though she was blushing furiously, had spun her paint ball rifle to aim it at Connor who’d taken aim at her with his Nerf gun. It wasn’t a Nerf to be taken lightly though. It was enormous and had four drum style magazines attached to it. There were probably 500 bullets in those drums. She looked from Connor to Angel and back at Connors Nerf gun again. Her eye brow hitting her hair line, the question on her face obvious, ‘This is your kid?’  It said, in amusement. 

Angel’s face never wavered in a hint of anything, but his eyes shone with pride and unconditional love. The Vampire never gave away anything, but it was always there in his eyes if you knew what to look for. In the next second, Faith and Castiel flowed around the side of the corner store they’d been observing from. They looked like a couple of bad asses. Castiel’s tan over coat bellowed out behind him and Faith’s leather pants fit her like a second skin. Neither of them had a weapon of any kind and it made them seem extra badassy. The tense atmosphere of the standoff with Connor was over with their arrival.

‘Where are they?’ Angel asked, pulling his eyes from Buffy’s.

Connor dropped his gun at his father query, finally.

‘Two blocks over.’ Spike answered. 

‘What’s the plan?’ Connor asked.

‘Cas and I are just observing, so don’t count us in.’ Faith answered.

The four of them nodded acceptance.

‘Follow me.’ Spike said. He pushed his way through the group and through the back yard he and Buffy had been headed for.

The six of them turned and hauled ass following Spike. He was headed for the small playground four blocks away.

‘In here!’ Xander wheezed, as he and Andrew ran through the open gate in front of them. They were in a tiny playground. It was surrounded by the tall hedges that were so popular throughout the entire neighborhood. Willow and Giles were sitting on the swings, trailing their toes through the grass chatting amiably. Willow popped around at the ruckus her best friend since kindergarten and Andrew made as they clamored through the gate hauling it shut behind them. They stopped abruptly pilling up on each other, sweeping their eyes over the ground in the enclosed area. Andrew’s mouth dropped open. It was littered with hundreds of ‘weapons.’ There were Nerf guns in every shape and size, paint ball guns of every variety, boxing gloves, fencing foils, staffs with big pillows on the ends, actual pillows, foam nunchucks, balls of every imaginable shape and size, and to his amusement toy bow and arrows with suction cups on the end or the arrows.

‘Hey, guys!’ Willow called.

Xander spun to look at her.

‘I see you’ve been enjoying yourselves.’ Giles cracked, taking in their paint spattered clothing.

‘Those ‘girls’ are vicious!’ Andrew exclaimed, pointing a rattled finger through the open gate.

Not even a second later, Claire and Alex laughing, burst through the gate behind them. However, their attention was drawn away from a frantic astounded Andrew and on to the new commotion coming from the opposite gate. Sam and Dean had just crowded into the playground and they were loaded for bear.

‘Well, well, well. Who do we have here?’ Dean swaggered to a stop, taking in the scene. He comically hooked his thumbs into the waist band of his athletic pants.

‘Ugh, it’s me, Willow.’ The witch answered. ‘And, ugh, this is Giles and Xander. You just met us. Remember?’ Willow stammered nervously, casting a glance at her two-foam bullet pea shooter.

Sam looked at his brother and shrugged. ‘I don’t remember these people. You?’ He asked, skeptically.

‘Nope!’ Dean boomed, palming his Nerf Shot gun and cocking it.

Buffy, Spike, Angel and Connor had come through the front gate just in time to see Willow reply that ‘they’d met her less than an hour ago.’

‘So, you two huh? Well…you don’t look so tough.’ Willow said, with bravado, sliding off of her swing, pointing her pea shooter at Dean who promptly doubled over with mirth. Giles followed her lead and slid off of his swing then pulled the huge, fully auto, two barrel magazine Nerf blaster strapped across him from behind his back. He didn’t move otherwise, he just waited Dean out.

It was the calm before the storm.

‘Well…we're...’ Dean said, then halted whatever he'd been about to say and rolled his shoulders reflexively. His eyes looked over Giles' massive Nerf gun, then he elbowed Sam, ‘The Librarian ain’t playin. Don’t take your eye off of the witch.’

‘Yeah, well, we’ve all heard about tough guys before, right Giles.’ Willow prompted for back up.

‘Yes. Exactly.’ Giles concurred, nodding and shooting her a quick glance.

Spike swung to look askance at Buffy, who slid a hand over her mouth to keep from giggling.

Willow looked hilarious with the two shot, bright red pea shooter pointed at Dean. ‘When did Red, grow a set of danglies?’ he crowed.

‘Willow’s always had…never mind. Pay attention!’ she blushed.

Andrew took a worried step back, putting Xander between himself and the brothers. He could hear the next uproar approaching them and they all turned to the gate at the far end of the playground. Rona, Violet, Jody and Patience ran through the gate screaming like they were being chased by the Devil himself. ‘They’re coming!’ Violet caterwauled. Not even a second later it was clear who, was coming.

Oz and Robin ran through the gate after them. They were growling and howling like a couple of hyenas and Robin shouted, 'Wrong! We're here!'

‘Excuse me! We were in the middle of something here!’ Dean boomed.

Willow had turned her head away from the tense standoff with Dean when the girls crashed through the back gate in the midst of the classic school yard game of ‘the boys chase the girls.’ She’d become twitchy when Oz burst through the gate right behind them and accidentally squeezed the trigger on her little pea shooter. She’d landed a perfect shot right on the end of Dean's nose, just as the word ‘here’ left Robins mouth. Having startled herself, Willow dropped her gun and her mouth formed a perfect O of surprise.

Oz, smiled at Willow's shocked expression from across the park and a wave of intense longing washed over him.

'Oh...now you are in for it!' Dean promised, Willow. He pulled up his gun and took aim. Sam dropped back a step to cover him and Rona said, ‘Yeah? Well, guess what?’ She'd already leveled her Nerf at Dean, squeezed the trigger and shot Dean right in his man parts at least twenty times, before he even knew what hit him. ‘Ugh!’ he gasped, and promptly fell over, before getting off a single shot.

‘Oh my God! Rona! What the hell?’ Violet yelled, laughing despite her shock.

‘So not cool…’ Andrew mumbled, in commiseration with the groaning Dean. 

Sam unloaded on Rona and that was it. Faith and Cas strolled into the playground to see Dean on the ground, hand between his legs groaning, Sam standing over him firing foam bullets as fast as he could. 'Are you going to live?' he yelled. 'If you are, I could use some help here!' Startled by Faith and Cas' arrival, Claire whirled and fired two shots at Faith, who merely raised an eyebrow at the younger girl.

In the next breath, it was total pandemonium.

Foam bullets rained down on every surface in the tiny enclosed space. Sam helped Dean off the ground and he gingerly adjusted himself then joined the fray. When the entire assemblage was covered head to toe in multi colored dots and the foam bullets were exhausted, balls of every size from ping pong to basket flew through the air. Later, no one could recall who picked up the first foam covered staff, but soon all of the balls had been batted out of the park and the hand to hand combat started in earnest. 

Faith had gone straight for Claire in the beginning after the girl had shot her and they were still battling it out. Her sister Patience had tried to help Claire in the beginning and had landed a blow here and there. Faith having had enough of the annoying little twit, swept the girls legs, taking her out.  Half way through her fight with Claire though, Faith had decided that she like the scrappy little brat and took it easy on her, simply enjoying the fight. 

Willow and Xander played at sword fighting with the fencing foils while Andrew and Giles stood by cheering one or the other on good naturedly. Castiel had joined in the watching after a few moments while the rest tossed balls at each other and tried to shield themselves while simultaneously attempting to reload the Nerf guns. Kennedy and Vi shot each other with Nerf bullets while less than six feet away from each other, tears of mirth poured down their face. Having exhausted themselves through wild laughter and shenanigans they began to drop to the ground one by one. They lay on the grass heaving in great lungs of air, and wiping tears from their eyes.

Soon, all that were left in the game were the big players.

‘I’m not sure that this should go on much longer.’ Cas said to Giles worriedly.

‘Nonsense. Look at them. They are having a wonderful bit of fun.’ Giles disagreed.

Angel zeroed in on Gunn and advanced. Gunn saw him coming and picked up two foam covered batons and settled into battle stance. When Angel attacked, it was with full force. Gunn parried the first five blows, but Angel landed the sixth, knocking Gunn to the ground. Angel seemed satisfied to have knocked the big man down and moved on to Sam. Gunn watched him go. He pulled himself up off of the ground, brushed himself off.

‘Maybe, you were right.’ Giles said.

Buffy had noticed the exchange between Angel and Gunn as well, while she playfully spared with Robin. When she landed and accidental blow to his ribs with her inattention, he pulled up short and begged off. She’d been able to pull most of the impact of the punch thankfully, but Robin was human and she’d still hurt him. She turned and watched with concern as Angel went to take on Sam. She would have continued to watch the exchange between them, but Jody approached her with two of the pillow-ended staffs and tossed one to her. What ensued was a damn good workout.

‘This woman is in tremendous shape!’ Buffy thought, hauling in a breath.

Then told her so as she blocked an overhead blow. Jody should have been just as exhausted as the others, but she wasn’t. It was impressive. Buffy countered the next blow and kept the action going between them.

‘Is that all you’ve got old man?’ Sam taunted Angel, grinning maniacally.

They were locked in a serious baton battle. Angel used his Vampire speed to straight arm Sam, knocking him on his ass. Startled Sam lay on the ground blinking up at the huge Vampire. Angel, realizing that he was coming off too aggressive, quirked his mouth in apology and helped Sam up. They shook and Angel handed the foam-covered baton Sam had dropped back to him. They fought in a more Gentlemanly fashion until Sam ran out of breath.

‘You’re a good fighter.’ Angel offered.

Sam was bent over, hands on his knees gasping for air. He held a hand out to Angel in a waving gesture and grinning replied, ‘Likewise.’

Conner, Dean and Spike had had been having a real go at each other when Conner had become distracted by Sam’s words to his father. Dean hit him in the guts with the baton in his right hand and the kid went down. As soon as the boy had scooted out of the way, Dean and Spike settled in and got down to business. They kept in mind that they weren’t out for each other’s blood, but each was determined to win.

Xander and Willow hugged each other good naturedly and laughing collapsed to the ground next to Oz and Connor to watch the Slayers, Hunters, and Vampires duke it out. Conner scooched over to sit with them and Patience joined them shortly after that. Alex, Robin, Kennedy, Rona, and Vi sat together on the opposite side to watch as well. Dean had just swung in a full circle, aiming his padded staff full force at Spikes head. Spike caught the staff yanking it from Dean’s grasp and swinging it back at him. Dean got his arm up in time to keep from getting cracked in the head and Spike pulled what would have been a killing blow in any other situation, reminding himself that this was all for fun. Dean, not realizing the Vampire had pulled the blow, charged. Spike easily side stepped the Hunter, but Dean, expecting it slid intending to take out Spike’s legs. The Vampire seemed always to be one step ahead of him. Spike, employing sportsmanship walked to Dean and extended a hand to him in offer to help him up. Dean considered taking it and decided against it since it would have been the end of the battle. Instead, he bounced to his feet. Spike pulled a smirking, knowing grin at his opponent, his hand still extended. He liked this guy. A lot! Dean reached out to shake, but Spike could see the challenge glint in his eyes. He was ready for it when Dean attempted to throw him over. In this moment both of them learned what they’d been looking to learn about the other. Dean wasn’t a quitter and Spike might be reformed but he wasn’t any punk ass bitch. Spike reached to help Dean off of the ground again. This time Dean took the hand that was offered to him.

The others had been standing around chatting while the alphas had their fun.

Xander and Willow were talking about the impossibility of Miranda and that it was going to be an adventure the next several years. Willow was excited and a little nervous to learn all there was to ‘learn about a new solar system.’

‘Sure, because we don’t have anything else to do, I guess.’ Xander agreed.

Buffy stopped blocking Jody’s shots, now that she’d taken the woman’s measure and advanced, taking control of the fight. Claire took notice when the change happened and left Faith to help her mother. The moment her back was turned Faith knocked her on her ass. The action drew Jody’s attention and Buffy swept the woman’s leg with the staff and finished with a mock killing blow. When Jody gave the signal for surrender, Buffy immediately dropped the staff and smiling, extended a hand to help Jody up. Faith stalked over to Claire and hauled her up off of the ground.

‘Never take your eye off of your opponent, little sis.’ Faith taunted, as she set set the girl on her feet.

Alex and Kennedy had joined Willow and Xander halfway through their conversation about Miranda, just about the time Claire, who she’d called a warning to, got knocked on her ass.

‘That girl is a hard case.’ Alex said, turning to Patience as if she didn’t already know it. ‘It’s, just awful about all of these people, though.’ Patience said. ‘Well, I’m not sure I believe it all.’ Alex replied.

‘I can assure you, it is all completely true.’ Giles said, having heard her. The Watcher kept one eye on the action though.

‘Mmmm…’ Alex answered, noncommittally.

‘That was invigorating.’ Jody said, as she walked with Buffy to sit on the sidelines.

‘I’m going to be sore for sure tomorrow. You are going to have to show me your work out routine for sure.’ Buffy said, laughing.

‘That was fun.’ Dean exclaimed, now that it was over.

‘Agreed.’ Spike smiled, and said, ‘Drink?’

‘Absolutely!’ Dean answered.

‘Are you okay?’ Angel asked Claire.

‘Fine.’ Claire scowled.

‘Well, we'll all sleep well tonight. I’m headed back.’ Giles announced.

‘I'll walk with you.’ Jody said, joining him.

‘I'll come with you.’ Claire offered.

‘No. Stay and make friends.’ Jody insisted pointedly, then turned away from her daughter to join Giles. He held a hand out to her when she reached him. She took it and he looped her arm through his once they were on the other side of the gate. Everyone in the park stared after them curiously.

‘Huh.’ Xander said, incredulously.

‘Gross…’ Patience whispered. Everyone turned to look at her. She blushed.

‘So, did someone say something about booze?’ Faith prompted.

That was the cue for everyone to head home. Buffy linked hands with Spike and they left through the gate they’d come through.

They could expect Giles, Jody, Sam, Dean, Angel, and Faith at the house shortly after they arrived home. 

Spike had explained to her on the way to the park, that they entire thing was meant to be an exercise in trust. 

The evening had been a success. 

Chapter Text

PART TWO

 

 

Miranda 2527

(Five years later)

 

‘Well, we are going to have to wake them up at some point.’ Giles added.

The assemblage murmured its agreement.

Buffy, frustrated, threw her hands into the air. ‘Why did Giles always do this? These are things that needed to be discussed in private, not in the middle of Assembly!’ She was super annoyed now and didn’t do anything to hide it.

‘Once again,’ she began pointedly, tossing a frustrated glance at Giles, ‘My answer is the same as always. The only reason you want them awake, is so you can demand answers that you’ve already been given.’ She explained, strongly.

‘It ain’t your decision to decide if we get justice or not!’

A young girl stood and shouted from the back. Her name was Lily. She had bright red curly hair and freckles. She was adorable and couldn’t have been more than 15.

Faith stepped forward extending a hand, indicating to Buffy that she had this.

‘That is where you are wrong, Lilah.’ She offered in a no-nonsense tone.

‘My name, is Lily!’ the girl offered, sassily.

Ah, the teenage angst. They were all going to OD on it.

‘Whatever…’ Faith replied, in her whatever tone.

‘Faith…’ Buffy said, under her breath.

Faith extending her finger, asking her with the gesture to just, ‘hang on.’

‘My point is…Lily,’ she said the girls name with emphasis, letting her know that she heard her, ‘is that it IS her decision, as you are well aware. That woman, is your leader. She IS the person who makes those decisions.’ She said it again.

The authority in Faith’s voice echoed through the now silent room. You could have heard a pin drop in the hall. The chubby red headed girl with adorable freckles sat back down, abashed. Faith walked to the center of the floor where Buffy was and stood behind her and just off of her right elbow. The picture it made sent a crystal-clear message. Faith was second in command, and she didn’t put up with any crap. Just to drive the point home, she pointed to Buffy again and said,

‘Buffy makes the final decision in all things. You can tell her your thoughts, feelings, or ideas about anything, but ultimately, it’s her call. YOU don’t have a say in what that call is, or isn’t. Got it?’ Faith drilled.

That room stared sullenly back at her.

‘GOT IT?’ she challenged.

The Slayers stood as one to attention.

‘Yes, Ma’am!’ rang through the room.

‘Good!’ Faith drilled. ‘Now sit down and show the woman some respect!’

They did as they’d been ordered. Faith turned and nodded nearly imperceptibly at Buffy.

She gave her second a small tight smile. She wished Faith was a little more level headed. She would love to delegate some of the decision making to her. As it was, she’d have to be satisfied that her former nemeses had taken to her second in command duties so well. She kept things moving and the girls in line. That meant Buffy didn’t have to deal with Kennedy at all. She really should notice the silver lining more often. Once Faith had established the Chain of Command, the Noobs had fallen in line and things ran smoothly. She wasn’t so caught up in her own issues to mistake that Faith had her own challenges, but Kennedy, Claire, Violet, Jody, and Rona keep things at a dull roar for her.

Buffy stared out over the 250 faces that were waiting for her to continue.

‘So, as I was saying, I don’t have any plans at this time to bring anyone from the Initiative out of cryo. You all know the reason why. We are still trying to get established here and we need to have Community Guide Lines, that have been set in stone before we introduce a Military Force, capable of wrecking everything we have worked so hard for. Furthermore, Captain Reynolds is in agreement with me. We CANNOT put the safety of his people at risk. This is his planet. We are here through his generosity. I am not about to make any decisions that would betray his trust in our ability to govern ourselves, because you have an all-consuming need for some kind of justice to be acted out. My suggestion to you, is to content yourselves with the reality that he isn’t awake and living the same life you’ve been given the opportunity to live. Now, this is the last time I will address this subject. Group leaders, please make the Noobs aware of this when the question inevitably arises from now on. Play them the video of this Assembly if need be.’

The group leaders nodded their understanding.

‘On to New Business.’ Buffy declared.

‘We have been through discussions with Captain Reynolds, Dr. Tam, and your teachers. We were lucky to have so many well-educated people among our numbers. We have decided that this is the right thing to do. Anyone who wants to go to College or Job Training off planet is going to be given the opportunity to do that. We have been ironing out the particulars of how it can be accomplished and I am happy to say that we have a plan. Dr. Tam and River have extensive knowledge in how to go about making this happen.  There was discussion about what age you should be able to do this. That determination is it will be just as if we were at home. Eighteen will be the age of majority and twenty-one will be legal. This means that the first four groups are going to be of age in the coming year. Anyone wanting to venture off planet, needs to get with their group leaders to request information and begin making plans. Willow and Jody have put together quick Q&A screens so you can research directional points.’

She paused, catching her breath and getting a sip of water. No less than 50 hands shot into the air.

‘You.’ Buffy said, choosing one of the newest arrivals. She was probably 13.

‘Who can I talk to about changing my chore rotation?’ she asked, sheepishly.

‘Are you sick?’ Buffy asked.

‘No.’ the girl answered.

‘Are you hurt?’ Buffy questioned her.

‘No.’ Came the answer.

‘Are you physically unable to do the tasks you’ve been assigned?’ she sighed.

‘No.’ the girl answered again.

She had to answer this question every month. The girls around her giggled knowing the answer.

‘You may not change your chore rotation, unless you are sick, hurt, or are physically unable to do the task you have been assigned.’ Buffy dictated. ‘Your group leader has absolute authority on this. Are there any questions concerning New Business?’ she asked. A few hands. ‘Please direct all questions not pertaining to New Business to your group leaders. If they can’t answer a question for you, Faith will have an answer for you as soon as possible. Now, is there anything else at all concerning New Business?’ she asked again.

The few hands that had gone up, came down with the ‘group leader’ direction.

‘That’s it for me. Faith is going to take it from here.’ She said, then nodded to Faith and left the room.

Behind her she heard Faith say, ‘This Assembly is adjourned, please bring New Business to group leaders three days before our next Assembly at 13:45 AM in two weeks’ time. Thank you, everyone. Dismissed.’ She concluded.

Buffy left the building to the noise of 200 or more teenagers dispersing. Once outside she got on her beloved green scooter that she’d finally named Orion. Spike had told her that Orion was Poseidon’s son and that in Celtic, it meant pale green. Honestly, it seemed fitting. Here she was living on a distant planet, riding around on her pale green scooter, living with a Vampire and ‘raising’ hundreds of teenagers to be ‘hunters.’  She pulled on her helmet, started Orion, and headed for the Penthouse.

Her and Spike didn’t stay at the Penthouse often anymore. It was so big and not their style at all. Sure, it was decorated in her style, but it was just too big, too busy, and to close. She much preferred the smaller, cozier, one story cottage that she’d come by one day when she had to get away. They were generally at the Penthouse when there was a lot of work to do. Thankfully it was on a schedule. There was always the Com-Din, the next 12 people out of cryo, and the Slayer Assembly. It was all scheduled together, so for five days they stayed at the Penthouse and they got nine days at home. They still worked at home too, but it wasn’t as overwhelming. Waves and computers were extra handy when it came to the amount of time she had to spend on communication. She pushed away the memory of the melt down she’d had after being woken up by someone pounding on their door for the fifth time when she’d been without sleep for several days. It hadn’t been pretty.

She’d just come back from her first off planet Reaver Hunting experience and she was exhausted. The emotional toll of knowing that this was something that had been ‘done’ to average, everyday people by their government, settled uneasily over her. It was one thing for Vampires to turn people into Vampires and another thing entirely for human beings to turn humans into demons, or devils, or she didn’t really know what they were. At any rate, she’d behaved badly and after it was over, Spike suggested they find a place away from everyone where she could decompress.

So, Dawn stayed at the Penthouse by herself most of the time and seemed to be fine with it. She was 21 now after all. A grown woman. Age didn’t make Dawn grown. She’d grown up while they were ‘on base’ before ever coming here. She’d grown up in those last days in Sunnydale when they stared down into the crater of their once home. Dawn, was in a word, mature. Against all odds, she’d walked through the raging fire of adversity and become an extremely mature woman for her age and Buffy, had to be counseled by Spike continually that she wasn’t a child. It was actually Inara, who’d helped her with this issue more than anyone. Buffy had overheard a conversation that the former Companion turned surrogate mother was having during a Com-Din with Giles, who hung on her every word.

She said, “I have to remember not to treat all of the girls as if they were the same. They have different levels of maturity that has nothing to do with their ages. This is why I advocated for not keeping the girls together based on their ages, but on their maturity.”

Buffy, was extremely guilty of lumping the Slayers together based on their ages and back round. Once she’d had several conversations with Giles and Inara about this, Inara had agreed to take over ‘sorting’ the Slayers into ‘houses’ and assigning them a group leader. This one small decision, had lightened the work load and calmed the atmosphere in Building One considerably.

It had also improved Buffy’s relationship with Dawn. She stopped helicoptering and started observing. It took about three months for the dust to settle between them and now, even though Buffy still struggled, she’d managed to leave Dawn to her own decisions and only offered advice when it was asked for, or, when she just couldn’t keep her mouth shut.

As she puttered along, she thought over what it is she was going to say to Giles when she talked with him. Much the same as her, Giles struggled with not being in a position to make all of the decisions for them anymore. He struggled with having one job to do and maybe that job was nothing sometimes. Jody spent her time split between her apartment and his, but just lately she’d been spending more time at her place, which should have been the first clue that Giles was going to be restless and fussy. Maybe, that should be the focus of her conversation with him, instead of telling him not to contradict the agreed to protocol in open assembly. She was all for freedom of speech so long as he didn’t exercise it in a hall of underage Slayers who were hard enough to handle without throwing in a dash of anarchy for the fun of it.

She seethed over this and decided that, ‘Yes. I need to find out why Giles was being so contrary, before I jump all over him.’

She pulled Orion into her reserved parking space, right next to the door of Building One, took her helmet off and laid it on the seat. She smoothed her hair, that she’d had cut into a shoulder length bob without bangs, because it was fast and easy, and went inside. Once upstairs she let the door to the Penthouse bang closed behind her and called out, ‘Dawn?’

‘In here…’ Dawn called back.

‘Hey.’ Buffy said, with a sigh, pulling the strap of her cross-body bag over her head and dropping it to the floor next to the front door and sliding her shoes off. Dawn didn’t like ‘mess’ all over the house. Everything had to be left at the door. She felt her back pocket, making sure she had her Wave and padded into the kitchen, her sock feet making little brushing sounds on the floor as she went.

Dawn met her at the breakfast bar and they hugged each other.

‘I missed you this morning and you weren’t at the Slayer Assembly.’ Buffy said.

‘Yeah…’ Dawn shrugged, and spun away, her hair fanning out behind her said, ‘I’m not a Slayer.’

Buffy pressed her lips together as her sister took a juice pack out of the fridge and thought, ‘What was that I was just thinking about Dawn being mature?’  Which, wasn’t fair, because her tone had implied censure. Dawn was right. She wasn’t a Slayer and Buffy, needed to remember that just because she was somewhere, didn’t mean that Dawn needed to be there too. She huffed out a breath and pulled a strand of her hair out of her eyelashes, thinking, ‘Try this again.’

‘Well,’ she said, significantly and in a tone that in fact didn’t sound like ‘try this again’  If you'd been there…you’d know…that off world college has been approved by the Council and the first meeting to discuss schools is in a few days.’

‘I know.’ Dawn said, confidently as if this wasn’t ‘news’ to her, then sat down at the breakfast bar taking a condescending sip of her juice.

‘Oh…’ Buffy said, in answer.

‘Yep.’ Dawn said, sucking the juice pack dry. The empty sucking noise sounded like thunder in the space between them.

Buffy sniffed and brushed at her hair again. ‘Let me guess…Sam?’ she asked, placing her irritated palms flat on the bar, she began her calming exercise.

Dawn, saying nothing, let her expression answer the question, then nodded in the affirmative when her sister finally looked at her. She was thinking, ‘duh…’ then decided to have a little bit of fun with it. ‘He told me last night, while we were in bed cuddling after amazing sex.’

‘What’s this then?’ Spike asked, coming into the kitchen. ‘He’d been eve’s dropping and the last was his cue to intervene. Dawn didn’t know when to leave well enough alone sometimes. He pressed a kiss to his Slayers temple and said into her ear softly, but loud enough for Dawn to hear, ‘I can rip his head off…if you’d like, Luv.’

His breath next to ‘that spot’ made her shiver and she adjusted her attitude.

‘Very funny…the both of you.’ She answered drolly, her eyes flashed amusement and she sent her sister a quick jerky grin. ‘Sorry.’

‘I told you she’d never believe that.’ Spike grinned at Dawn.

‘Well, duh. Not after you distracted her. It was fun though. I would have given her that answer no matter who she guessed.’ Dawn teased, laughing.

Buffy slid off of her stool, walked past Dawn and pinched the back of her arm.

‘Brat.’ She chastised on the way to the fridge to get her own juice, since Dawn hadn’t offered to bring her one.

‘Ow!’ Dawn howled. ‘I’m telling!’

Buffy pulled the juice out of the fridge and regained her seat all the while giving Dawn the same attitude back that she’d given only moments earlier thinking, ‘Geeze, now who’s being a big baby.’ It didn’t matter, Dawn was ignoring her and she and Spike were chattering away in a language that only the two of them understood. She hadn’t had time to learn any new languages, even though Spike had tried valiantly to teach her.

‘What do you think I keep you around here for anyway?’ she’d quipped, teasing him the last time he'd tried to teach her a few words in Mandarin.

He’d played his part by grabbing his crotch and chasing her through the cottage all the while telling her exactly, in graphic detail why she kept him around and it wasn’t “by all damn for the bloody sandwiches!”

She couldn’t seem to get her mind to slow down the last several days. All she did was work and problem solve. Giles was more hindrance than help lately because he was fussy too. His constant fear mongering opposition and anarchy-based idea of freedom was causing a serious problem for her. Sure, she liked freedom, everyone liked freedom. Captain Reynolds had taken over Miranda and based on freedom, but even here there were rules, because the threat of the Alliance was REAL! Even Mal understood at least the most basic idea of societal structure meant someone was in charge and the people in charge made the rules no matter what the majority wanted.

The rules kept everyone safe.

Thank goodness she’d had Dr. Rhea Seddon (who was on the Council) and her Husband, Bob, who everyone called ‘Hoot’ to turn to when this had been a serious topic of discussion a few years ago. They had literally been life savers. Especially, Rhea. Rhea hadn’t steered Buffy wrong in the four years she’d been out of the tubes. An astronaut, who was the payload commander on the ‘ship’ that brought them here, she was by trade a surgeon and nutritionist who’d worked mainly with cancer patients on ‘Earth that Was’ in the years before Hoot, a pilot, had taken a job with an entrepreneur named  Elon Musk who owned a company called SpaceX that was privately funded and not under the direction of the United States Government.

Rhea, by designation of ‘Payload Commander’ was in charge of all ‘care’ concerning the ‘payload,’ which just so happened to be human. Whether astronaut or Slayer, it didn’t matter. Rhea was the authority when it came to who, when, and why someone was taken out of cryo. She also surmised that the Mission Commander, Dan Wetherbea should make the decision about what part of his crew should be taken out of cryo, if ever. The discussion had lasted for months and if it hadn’t been for Rhea, they would all still be stumbling around blind. Dan might have been the Mission Commander, but he had explained that Rhea was absolutely right when she'd asserted that the last thing they needed was a bunch of ‘Grunts’ roaming around consuming resources and generally being of no help whatsoever since, being on Miranda, there were no demons to ‘slay.’ Which, had effectively ended the discussion about pulling Riley out of cryo and subsequently relegated Giles (not on the Council) to an “assistant” there-by becoming what Dean called ‘butt hurt’ over it, ever since.

Level headed Rhea, had been the one to teach them all what needed to be done in order to be self-sufficient and therefore not a drain on Serenity Townships resources. It took a year and a half of constant work and struggle, but Rhea and the rest of the ships crew and families, as well as the Scoobs, had come together with an understanding of what it was they were facing. By the time they brought the first ten girls out of cryo, there was community stability by way of a farm, a school, a hospital, a kitchen. Now, the first group of ‘kids’ were getting ready to move away from Miranda and go to college, including Rhea and Hoot’s two oldest kids.

Buffy had learned a lot from Rhea, as someone always did around highly educated, highly motivated people. She’d never actually considered what went into becoming an astronaut, but discovered in one of her very first conversations with Rhea, that knowing how to fly a space ship, while obviously important, wasn’t the main focus of being an astronaut. In fact, the more things you knew how to do, like electrical engineering, plumbing, doctoring, and general problem solving, (which was truly the most important skill) were things that were highly sought after. Along with a basic understanding of some serious math. These abilities more than anything made an able-bodied person, an astronaut.

Being able to ‘calculate’ an outcome, had made Rhea an invaluable resource for guidance when it came down to the, ‘what to do next’ discussions, because even though the crew were the work horses, it was Buffy who was still the Diplomat and decision maker. She was the face of her Community and everything they did, had to be cleared with Captain Reynolds. Since she knew what he expected at all times, it always came down to her to make the decision.

If Buffy could have experienced being the President of the United States for a day, she imagined that her ‘job’ on Miranda, was much the same.

There were 700 more young girls to wake up, soothe, educate and send off into the ‘Verse before they could focus on acclimating men, whose only job it was to fight and kill, to their new lives as farmers, teachers, mechanics, and who knew what else. For the life of her, she couldn’t understand why Giles didn’t see it. She registered the silence in the room. Both Spike and Dawn were staring at her, curiously.

‘What?’ she blinked, focusing and hauling herself back into the moment.

‘I said, that I was thinking I should go to the Companion Academy on Sihnon.’ Dawn said.

‘You can’t.’ Buffy said, seriously. ‘Inara said the girls go there when they are little better than…you’re teasing me aren’t you?’ She narrowed her eyes at Dawn who answered with, ‘Duh…’

‘Where are you, Pet?’ Spike asked.

‘I just…everywhere. I’m everywhere.’ Buffy answered, rubbing at her temple.

Spike turned to Dawn and nudged her elbow with his, ‘Tell her what you want to do, Nibblet.’

‘Londinium.’ Dawn answered. ‘From what I’ve heard, it’s the most like home.’

Buffy’s mouth pressed into the firm grim line again, but she nodded. She’d been learning from Inara to keep silent until it was her turn to talk. Rhea and Inara had no doubt been huge influences on her in the last several years, but she hoped that she was becoming someone her mom would have been proud of. Joyce, had been a wonderful mother, but too much had happened in the few years between her parents divorce and becoming the Slayer for all that Joyce had tried to teach her, to sink in. She knew now, that she'd been given a gift in Inara and Rhea and she employed those lessons as best as she could.

‘I’m not exactly sure where, what or any of that yet, but I thought I’d just get started with the basics. I considered nursing or even becoming a doctor, but the best school for that is on Ariel. I considered it, but I want to start on Londinium and see how it goes.’ Dawn said, talking over Buffy’s thoughts.

The very next thing that came to Buffy's mind was, ‘Depending on where they were in orbit cycle, it could take two weeks to get to Londinium. This…frustrated Buffy. In every aspect of her life she’d become a strong, decisive woman. Except with Dawn. She’d learned to keep her mouth shut, but still struggled with her ‘fear of the unknown.’ She’d been nearly crippled with fear at the thought of bringing Dawn out of cryo, wanting to spare her the trauma of Miranda, and had a serious fight with everyone over it.

‘At what point will I let go of this?’ she wondered.

Not for the first time, she understood that this was what parents went through. True, she wasn’t Dawns mother, but technically she wasn’t Dawns sister either. None of that mattered. Dawn, was hers. Dawns well-being, was her responsibility. Or, had been at one time. She had to start learning how to step back from it and let Dawn be the master of her own life.

‘So, what do you think?’ Dawn asked, knowing that her sister had been drifting again. She didn’t really need Buffy’s permission or approval, but this was a big deal. No matter how hard she worked to keep in mind that Buffy was her sister, not her mother, it still felt like Buffy was her defacto mom, more than her sister, so it mattered to her that Buffy was on board.

Buffy drew in a steady breath and against all odds managed to say, ‘I'm going to miss you awful, but if you think that this will make you happy, this this is what you should do…I think.’

Spike, managed to keep his expression neutral, not giving into the need to express his incredulousness over that acceptance speech only by the skin of his fangs.

Dawn, however, wasn’t so lucky. Skepticism played over her features and through her body language. She leveled a look a Buffy and said, ‘Yeah, right…’

‘I mean it.’ Buffy countered. ‘If this is what you really want, I will be happy for you and I will work to make it happen. Just…promise you will keep in touch. Every day. No excuses.’ She managed a tight smile at the end.

‘Really?’ Dawn asked, hopefully.

‘I don’t know what more you want me to say, Dawn. Am I thrilled you are going half way across the ‘Verse? No. Of course not. I’m selfish and I want you here with me annoying me every second of every day so I have something to complain about. My heart doesn’t want you to go, but my head says it’s the right thing to do.’ She finished with a shrug and dabbed at the corner of her eye where a small reservoir of tears had begun to pool.

‘Thank you.’ Dawn said, sliding down off of her stool she came to hug her sister. ‘You sounded like Mom, just now.’

Buffy nodded. She knew. It was almost verbatim something Mom had said to her once.

Spike crossed his arms over his chest and watched. This was the first time he really considered that the Nibblet was truly going to go off out into the great big ‘Verse alone. The more he thought about it now, less he like it…but, he didn’t get a say. He gritted his teeth, then sucked at them in agitation. He hadn’t been expecting his girl to give into the idea that little sis was leaving so soon and had only given the matter cursory consideration.

‘Maybe there’s some way…’ he thought, then pushed it out of his mind. If his Slayer could manage her feelings about this bloody situation, he could too.

Dawn pulled herself out of Buffy’s embrace, ‘We have time. There is about four months to get ready and take care of everything. I’ve already applied to schools. Sam…actually did help me with that. That’s how I knew that it would be approved. Did you know that Sam has mad hacking skills? No one is going to know that I’m not legit unless they really go digging. River helped as well. She knew all of the right things to say. I am actually really excited. I mean…I look good, but not too good. Ya know. I'm me, but with the right answers. I’m not taking a spot from someone else is what I'm getting at.’ Dawn babbled.

‘I know what you're saying, Dawn. Trust me, you aren’t the only person in the ‘Verse who has had help with their Transcripts. You're a special circumstance. This isn’t ‘cheating.’ Buffy smiled, reassuringly.

‘Okay. Good.’ Dawn nodded, thoughtfully. ‘So, who else do you think will go?’

‘Well, probably Jody’s girl. Not Claire and not the nurse. The other one, the psychic. What’s her name again?’ She asked.

‘Patience.’ Dawn offered.

‘Yeah…her, but I have no idea where she may go.’ Buffy said.

‘I know that Rhea’s oldest two are going, but keep that to yourself. As a matter of fact, keep all of this, including your own plans, to yourself for a little while longer. Three other kids that belong to the Flight Crew have also asked about going. You will more than likely see everyone at the seminar. It’s right after midday meal, by the way, at The Kitchen in Serenity Township in two days.’ Buffy explained, then added, ‘I have no idea what these kids could learn off planet that their rocket scientist parents can’t teach them…’

‘It’s not about that…’ Dawn began, interrupting. ‘It’s about life experience.’

‘What do you have planned for the rest of the day?’ Buffy said, changing the subject before the conversation could deteriorate.

‘Just...working on some more submissions with Sam. I promise that we didn’t lie about my grades or experiences…’ Dawn began, thinking that Buffy was just getting around to being irritated over Sam being the one to help her with school stuff, then trying to lighten the mood she teased, snorting indelicately at her own joke. ‘Maybe I will study hacking.’

Buffy rolled her eyes, then said pointedly, ‘Seems to me like you could stay right here and learn everything you’d ever need to know about that…’

Dawn shrugged as understanding made itself apparent and wanting to forgo the argument, she said, ‘Probably. Anyway, let’s get to the important part. Shopping! Everything available on this planet, is 17 years out of date! While we don’t know the difference here, they are definitely going to know the difference on Londinium. So, what do you say? Wanna shop with me?’ Dawn asked, giving her sister a nudge.

‘I…suppose. Although, I still prefer the mall, to this ‘on-line’ thing. It’s so weird.’ She said.

‘I don’t know. I kind of like it.’ Dawn confided, ‘You have to admit, that hologram thing is cool. Just pick the outfit and step into the projection. SO cool!’

‘I guess.’ Buffy agreed, just to be agreeable.

‘I guess I can cook, while you ladies shop.’ Spike offered.

‘Oh! Do we have meat?’ Dawn asked excitedly.

‘Depends.’ Spike answered.

‘I am dying for Double Meat Palace!’ Dawn said.

Normally, this would have brought on a violent protest and an emphatic ‘NO WAY!’ from both Spike and Buffy, but that didn’t happen.

Spike looked at Buffy and said, ‘I have an onion and if you want, potatoes too.’

A happy grin split Dawn’s face.

‘Burgers, Fries, and a Bloomin Onion it is…’ Buffy smiled indulgently. ‘Go and get your computer and we will shop for a while.’

‘Oh, that isn’t what I meant. I meant, let’s go to Ariel and do it up right.’ Dawn said.

Spike stopped moving toward the kitchen and gave his full attention to his girls.

‘Oh! Ugh…I’m not sure…’ Buffy stopped talking as she caught the look on Spike’s face.

He was right.

‘Ya know what, if you want a shopping trip before heading off to college, you get a shopping trip. Miranda will just have to take care of itself while we're gone.’ Buffy said, emphatically.

Spike, nodded at her once and went into the kitchen.

‘I still think you should get your computer and we can shop right now too.’ Buffy said.

Dawn said, ‘Awesome!’ and disappeared into the hallway.

Chapter Text

Dean slung his duffle over his shoulder and checked the bunk he’d been occupying on the massive long-haul, Blue Sun cargo craft for anything he might have missed. They’d been using the ‘ground score’ ship over the last month to smuggle a year’s worth of goods back to Miranda. When he was satisfied that he’d left nothing behind, he backed out of the space into the corridor, bumping into Steve as he maneuvered the over sized duffle through the small door, then slid it closed.

‘Sorry, man.’ He mumbled, to ‘their’ pilot as he pivoted to see who he’d run into.

Dean had been teasing Steve about being ‘their’ pilot for a few years now. Their group had used other pilots on their ‘missions,’ but Steve Frick was a badass. After they’d used him the first time, they made it clear to everyone that working with them superseded him working with anyone else. Basically, they kept him and now he was theirs. Zoe had mentioned during one extended drinking session that she’d only ever known one other pilot who was better than Steve.

She of course meant her husband, Wash.

Dean was sorry that he’d never gotten the opportunity to meet the guy. By all accounts, Wash had been an awesome dude. He couldn’t imagine that he was a better pilot than Steve, (just keepin it real) but he kept that to himself. Steve, was the best fit for this crew all around as far as he was concerned.

First of all, Steve was single and didn’t have any kids. That alone, put him in the plus category. Second, nothing rattled the guy. On his first trip out, they’d been chased by an ass ton of Reavers. The dude stayed cool as a cucumber when it counted and, in the end, they’d taken out all of the Reavers.

They’d been lucky to have both Buffy and Faith on that flight, but Zoe, Kaylee, River, and Claire had been with them when they’d been ambushed. Sure, all of those women were bad asses in their own right, but it had been a damn lot of Reavers and Dean didn’t like to think of what would have happened to them if they’d been caught unawares and boarded while ‘in the black.’

Steve, had out done himself that day. Flew that ship like the wings were attached to his back and against all odds, got them on the ground safe. Once they were on the ground, it had been a free for all. The only person to take an injury had been Zoe and thankfully it wasn’t more than a scratch.

Zoe had a kid, but she didn’t let it get in the way of her job and he trusted her more than he normally would have because of it. When they were on a mission, Hobie always went to stay with Alan and Candi, and Zoe was fully present in the mission knowing he was well taken care of. Alan was an astronaut. Jack of all trades really, who’d started this mission on Earth as an Operations Specialist. He’d volunteered for the ship that he and the rest of us civilians had been hijacked to, believing that he was doing the right thing. Now, he taught all the little Slayers how to do Math, Navigation and Mapping, the basics of software programming, and how to repair H-Vac systems. His wife, Candi was a ‘group leader.’ It meant that she had charge of no more than 15 teenagers, plus her own two kids. Her job was to make sure that she nurtured and cared for kids with no parents by making sure they did their homework, home chores, community service assignments, brushed their teeth, ate their veggies, and went to bed on time. She also did all the shopping for them. She had an assistant that helped with that, but Dean didn’t know who it was.

‘You going to see Petaline right away or do you wanna toss a few beers?’ Steve asked, as they walked toward the cargo bay.

‘Nah, man. I have to go see Sam. I didn’t see him before we left and I have…unfinished business with him. Besides, Petaline and I broke up about three months ago. She, doesn’t want Jonah idolizing me for killing Reavers…. from what I gathered at any rate. I mean, it’s a little late for that now. The kid is going to be fascinated by Hunting whether I’m around or not. It’s not like the little dude is a brain trust. What else does the kid have to be excited about? Farming isn’t an exciting career and there isn’t a football team…’ Dean snorted.

He paused at the stairs at the end of the corridor and gestured for Steve to go on ahead of him. Below, in the cargo bay, Angel, Connor, and Zoe talked with each other while they waited around for the unloading to begin. Cas and Claire had come to a stop just behind him and Steve and he gestured for them to go on ahead as well, while he watched Jayne, Kennedy, and Rona greet Mal and Kaylee through the open cargo door. Once Cas started down the stairs, he made his decent as well. The cargo bay was piled to the ceiling on both sides of the space. In the middle was an area large enough to maneuver several fork-lifts in and out of.

Finding this ship had been lucky. They’d come across it in a port city that was about 250 km from Serenity Township. It was disturbing to him that no matter where they traveled, they found more of the same. Dead. It was convenient having things like a giant corporate cargo ship and a genius hacker for a brother, but the number of dead was hard to ignore when they traveled away from the small space they’d managed to make their own on a planet that could support, and did at one time, half a billion people.

Dean pushed the troublesome thought away, as there was nothing he could do to change it and got back to the topic at hand. They’d just hijacked a year’s worth of goods from the biggest distributor of goods in the entire ‘Verse. Walmart was baby crap compared to Blue Sun and According to ‘everyone in the know’ this was a necessary thing. The Council, such as it is, had been debating, planning and executing this mission since the doctor lady Rhea had brought up the fact that ‘these kids’ needed a life and that meant college and moving on.

That meant off world.

The debate raged between the different factions, but the result was, pull off a big heist, get the Alliance riled up and looking for criminals in all directions except a bunch of girls headed off to school. So far, it was working. He didn’t know how or why it was working, it just was. It was the old, ‘Wizard of Oz’ trick.

The only problem he had with this plan, was they were going to be stuck planet side for a good while once the kids got off to school, just in order to let things simmer down. No falsified documents, ship manifests or Ident numbers, no nothing they would need to take off and do some spur of the moment Reaver killing. Which was why this heist had been so large. In the next few days, on top of the heist, they were going to have to hack the Alliance servers to update all of their systems when the Alliance updated their security systems as well. It wouldn’t be a problem, Sam was a genius and he had all kinds of genius help, but once it was done, they were stuck here until things cooled off. Fortunately, Sam had anticipated this already and back doored his way into the Alliance servers on Londinium and things were taking care of themselves as far as ‘basic’ travel was concerned…or, at least that is what Claire had told him when she’d talked to Sam a few days ago.

Dean, having reached the door of the cargo bay, held out his fist and said, ‘Later.’

Steve bumped the offered fist with his own and like the true nerd he was said, ‘Alligator.’

It never failed to bring a smile to Dean’s lips, until today.

Steve, frowning, watched Dean walk off towards the sexy little red number he drove at break neck speeds all over the empty planet. He’d always heard Dean refer to his car as ‘Lola.’ He wouldn’t have named the car Lola; he would have named the car something really sexy like Sasha or Ava if he’d found it first.

He watched in envious fascination as Dean approached the car and grouched out, “Lola, open the trunk.” The small space that constituted the trunk on the car opened and he slung the duffle off of his shoulder and into the compartment.

“Lola, close the trunk and open the driver’s door.” Dean commanded.

The lid to the trunk slowly slid closed while the door on the driver’s side lifted into the air. Once Dean was inside, the door closed and the dash board lit up. The car’s computer began talking immediately.

‘Hello, Dean. I trust you had a pleasant outing. The time is 4:37 PM and the temperature on the dock is 22.2222 Celsius. The temperature in Serenity Township and Newcomersville is also…’

‘Yeah…shut up.’ Dean commanded.

The computer immediately silenced.

‘I don’t need you to tell me any of that. Also, it’s 72 degrees, not some 22.2 whatever, freakin Celsius…okay. So, just shut up and drive.’ Dean said.

‘Certainly. Shut up and drive. Please provide a destination, Dean.’ Lola said, serenely.

‘Just…take me wherever Sam is.’ Dean growled in frustration.

‘Certainly. Taking you, ‘Wherever Sam is.’ According to his GPS, Sam is…’ Lola began.

‘I don’t…need you to tell me where Sam is! Just drive! You know what, better yet, I will drive. Relinquish…’ Dean growled again.

This time, it was Lola who interrupted Dean.

‘Dean, I must caution you against this action. You are…’

‘Lola, I swear, if you tell me I am tired, I am going to yank your power pack. Turn on the manual drive. NOW…!’ Dean yelled.

‘Manual drive engaged.’ Lola said.

Dean put the car in reverse, backed out and started into town.

‘Shall I play music, Dean?’ Lola asked.

Dean thought about what he wanted to listen to for a minute. He had no idea what was wrong with him. He was restless and had been irritated for the last two days. He mulled it over a little and then realized that his mood made perfect sense. This trip had been all about the smuggle, not the hunting. He hadn’t gotten to kill or vanquish anything while he’d been gone and likely wasn’t going to get to for a long time either. They hadn’t even gotten to beat up any Alliance jar heads or ‘real criminals.’ Not even a decent bar fight!

‘Would you still like me to play music?’ Lola asked, interrupting his inner diatribe.

‘Yes…damnit. Play…Bad Company! On Random.’ He barked.

‘Playing, Bad Company, on random.’ Lola parroted.

Dean accelerated as soon as the music started and Paul Rodgers began to sing,

‘I take whatever I want, and baby I want you…’

Dean began to relax immediately and then to bob his head and sing along. By the time it got to the chorus, it was as if Lola’s ‘flight mode’ had been engaged. The first time he’d exceeded the posted speed limit in this car, the computer had taken control of the car and hadn’t given it back until it had reached the destination he’d given it. He and Kaylee had disassembled that feature immediately then reprogrammed Lola to do as she was told. After he’d made sure that Lola knew who was boss, he’d fallen madly in love with her. Or, love-hate. She still talked too much to suit him, but she’d seduced him from the jump. His reaction to her had surprised him, because she was red and sleek but curvy and sexy as hell. She reminded him of a Hot Wheels car he’d had when he was a kid.

He screamed around a corner as the song changed.

‘Oh, I…I love to rock steady…’ He loved this song and sang louder. Entirely in the moment, he pressed the accelerator harder and the saucy little two-seater went faster. Half way through the song, his thoughts started to wander. He still sang while he drove, but he thought, 

‘Maybe it isn’t that I didn’t get to kill anything or get in a bar fight. Or Petaline. Or, any of that stuff with Sammy before I left. Maybe, I am just feeling…useless. Stifled. Hell, I don’t know!’

He was just… ‘I know what I’m just…’ he said out loud.

He clinched his jaw and tried to push the nagging thoughts away and just drive.

It didn’t work. He talked to the road in front of him.

‘I just need to get good and drunk and wrench on something for a few days. Listen to music and drive too fast. Eat bad delicious food. Sleep too late and wake up with a hang-over anyway. Not shower for a few days.’ Nodding to himself as he spoke the list out loud, he finished with, ‘Manly things!’

He huffed out a huge sigh then said, ‘Yes…I know I need to go and see Sammy!’

Honestly, he’d rather eat dirt. He loved his brother and he missed him, but…

‘Yes, I was an ass the last time he saw him. So what…’ He thought.

Dean held no disillusion that, if it hadn’t been for the hunting, he and Sammy would have remained on the completely separate paths they’d been on. It was no secret that they were polar opposites. They had the Arc angels to prove it. Not that Arc angels were any pillars of the community, but that wasn’t the point. They were different as night and day and if dad hadn’t gone missing, Sam would be some hot shot lawyer with a wife and a bunch of kids, while Dean would have ended up eaten by something at some point. That isn’t the way things happened though.

Having made up his mind he asked, ‘Lola, where is Sammy?’

Lola, broke into ‘Ready for Love’ and said, ‘Samuel Winchester is at, ‘The Signal.’

‘Thanks, Lola.’ Dean said, ‘Resume.’

‘Resuming, ‘Ready for Love’ by Bad Company.’ Lola said.

Dean wasn’t surprised that Sammy was at The Signal.

‘I’ll have to wait.’ He thought, and turned Lola away from town, remembering to check her charge, he looked at the dash, then remembered to just ask, ‘Lola, what is your charge?’

‘I have a full charge, Dean.’ Lola answered.

‘Good.’ He thought and took the next turn just as aggressively as the last several.

Just about the time Paul broke his heart with a song about a girl named Anna, he discovered himself in Newcomersville, in front of Building One. He supposed it was fate. Even as he parked, he knew it was stupid for him to come here, but he knew he could find Spike here and in actuality, she probably wasn’t even here. Considering what time it was, she was probably busy.  

‘Off somewhere doing…whatever it was she does.’ He thought, trying to be convincing.

As he stepped off the elevator, he almost turned around and left. He could hear the music and laughter coming through the door, but the smell of something amazing stopped him in his tracks. It was a glorious…amazing…smell that reeled him forward like he was a fish on a line. All the way to the door he argued with himself that he ‘shouldn’t interrupt,’ but knocked anyway.

He couldn’t help himself.

It wasn’t the food. He knew deep down it wasn’t the food that forced him to knock. He, needed, to see her. It was like a compulsion. He’d valiantly fought the fight to not think about her, but the moment they were planet side, he’d lost the battle. She was hovering just past all of the other crap he’d been purposefully shoving in and out the forefront of his mind, but all he’d been able to really think about, was her.

Now, here he was at her door. Determined to make a complete ass of himself.

Maybe, he’d be able to pry Spike out of the house and away from Buffy for a few hours, without it turning into a thing. He just…needed, to get drunk with his friend and blow of some steam. If he could do that, everything would be okay.

He flinched, then grimaced and growled low in his throat as the door was yanked open.

It was Faith. She grinned at him in that way that annoyed him so much, then waved him inside. ‘We’re in here. Don’t forget your shoes.’ She said, pointing at his feet. He stopped and heeled his shoes off.

‘Thank God I remembered to put on clean socks.’ He thought.

‘What took you so long to get here?’ She asked, in that pointed teasing way that was uniquely hers.

He didn’t answer, just started toward the kitchen.

She followed, grinning from ear to ear behind him.

Oz, Willow, and Xander were in the kitchen when he eventually made his way into the space. This joint was enormous! The floor space in the kitchen alone was the size of a basketball court! He looked surreptitiously around the room. She wasn’t in it. He breathed a little deeper and let go of the tension that had been building in his shoulders since he’d parked. Suddenly, his perusal of the room stopped as he noticed what Spike was doing.

There was an onion soaking in a bowl of ice water and another in a pot of hot grease that Xander was tending. Spike was slicing what amounted to a mountain of potatoes into spears. He knew what was happening here and all thoughts of intruding flew right out of his head as he prayed for an invite.

Oz, stood, and walked to him hand extended as he’d took in the room, and said, ‘Hey, Dean. Long time no see.’

Dean took Oz’s offered hand and shook it. ‘Likewise, brother.’

Willow, looked stricken, and sighed 'almost' imperceptibly. She managed a small smile and wave in his direction then flicked a quick glance at Oz as he turned away to make room for Xander to greet him. He wondered ‘what the hell that had been about’ as he said hello to Xander and shook hands with him.

Oz had felt Willows reaction to Dean’s presence more than he’d seen it and sent her a tight smile, knowing that she’d be leaving soon. If Dean was here, it meant that Kennedy was home.

Willow, struggled to keep her conflicted emotions off of her face. She wanted to spend the evening with her friends and had been looking forward to it more than anything. Even now she wanted to be here, more than she wanted to go home to spend the evening with her girlfriend who’d been gone for over a month. She didn’t know what it said about the relationship that she’d rather stay here than go home, but she understood that it was significant. She and Kennedy had barely spent any time together at all before the latest ‘cycle’ of Reaver killing and smuggling. In fact, they rarely even slept in the same bed together anymore and hadn’t had sex with each other since before the last two off world cycles. Even so, while Xander was shaking Dean’s hand she did the responsible thing and slid off the stool she’d been using. If she didn’t go, Kennedy would simply come looking for her, and then everyone’s evening would be ruined, not just hers.

‘Buffy! Dawn! I’m leaving…’ Willow called, then added, ‘Kennedy is home.’

Buffy and Dawn thundered into the kitchen playfully, protesting.

‘NO! You can’t go! Look at ALL of those potatoes!’ Buffy complained.

Dean, sucked in a breath, steadying himself when she came into the room. He took the opportunity provided by Willow’s untimely departure to collect, then manifest a cool exterior. It was nearly impossible. They were hugging each other and taking forever to say good-bye to his eternal relief. When Willow finally pulled away, he said, ‘See you later, Willow.’

‘Dean!’ Buffy exclaimed, finally taking notice of him. ‘You’re back! …and you’re here!’ She smiled brilliantly at him as she came to give him a hug. ‘It’s good to see you!’ she added as she pulled away from him.

Dawn waved at him from the doorway, smiling awkwardly, and said, ‘Hey…how was your trip?’

‘Successful.’ He answered, with a slight nod.

Then with a fidget he rolled his neck. The tension there had taken up residence again.

Spike, having finally freed up his hands waved and said, ‘Beer, Mate?’

‘God, yes! Thank you!’ he answered, enthusiastically.

Spike turned toward the fridge, but Dawn jerked into motion and said, ‘I got it.’

Buffy, all business said, ‘Were there any problems or complications?’

‘Nah…’ Dean answered, a little too blasé, then quipped, ‘Not unless you call not getting to kill anything or beat anyone up a problem.’

Buffy swatted at him playfully, ‘Boring, huh?’

Behind her, Dawn twisted the cap off of Dean’s beer and laughed, sidling past Buffy she handed the beer to Dean.

‘Thank you.’ Dean said, softly, taking the offered beer and immediately pulling a deep drag off of the bottle. ‘I needed that!’ he thought, as the ice-cold liquid hit his tongue.

He lowered the bottle to find Dawn still in front of him and she was saying, ‘I wonder what you consider to be a complication.’ And then she giggled awkwardly at her own joke. When no one else did, she self-consciously made her way back to the doorway and leaned against it. She dropped her gaze to the floor and kept it there for the next few seconds while she let the blush cool on her cheeks.

‘He always made her feel so flustered and she had no idea why.’ She thought, picking at her nails.

Dean, considered what Dawn had said in the silence, trying to formulate an answer and help her save a little face, but he couldn’t. Buffy actually saved the situation from becoming truly awkward by saying, ‘Well, you obviously know that it’s Burger night in the Penthouse. So, you’re gonna stay and eat with us, right?’

‘I thought you’d never ask.’ Dean accepted, with a smile. ‘Can I help with anything?’

‘Nope. Have a seat.’ Buffy said, gesturing to the stool that Willow had vacated.

Xander, having once again stirred the batter into a smooth paste that looked like pancake batter, pulled the onion out of the water and held it upside down to let it drain thoroughly, then placed it into the batter, face down and let it sit there. Once it was in the oil, he placed the one he’d set aside to cool and the counter with the dip that had been made from scratch and everyone dug in. Even Dawn, who having recovered from her embarrassment, set aside the towel she’d used to wipe up the excess water that had splashed onto the counter. She pulled a petal off of the onion, dragged it through the dip and popped it in her mouth.

‘Mmmm! So good, Xander!’ she said, while chewing.

Buffy, slid onto the stool next to Dean. The song on the play list changed and suddenly, everyone was singing along, and swaying to the beat. Even Dean.  

 

Oh, oh, come on, oh, yeah
Well I tried to tell you so (yes, I did)
But I guess you didn't know, as I said the story goes
Baby, now I got the flow
'Cause I knew it from the start
Baby, when you broke my heart
That I had to come again, and show you that I'm real

all those times I said that I love you
(You lied to me) yes, I tried, yes, I tried
(You lied to me) even though you know I'd die for you
(You lied to me) yes, I cried, yes, I cried

(Return of the Mack) it is
(Return of the Mack) come on
(Return of the Mack) oh my God
(You know that I'll be back) here I am
(Return of the Mack) once again
(Return of the Mack) pump up the world
(Return of the Mack) watch my flow
(You know that I'll be back) here I go

So, I'm back up in the game
Running things to keep my swing
Letting all the…

 

When the song was over, Buffy said, ‘I had no idea you like R&B!’

‘Hey…everyone…likes Mark Morrison.’ Dean said, seriously, ‘Even Spike. I’m not limited to rock. It’s just my preferred genera.’ He explained, thinking about the first time he’d heard pop music and gave it a chance and then he thought, ‘I wonder whatever happened to Taylor Swift?’

‘You tell anyone, and you’re dead.’ Spike said, pointing at his friend.

Dean grinned mischievously then said, ‘Maybe we can make a deal…later.’

‘It’ll depend on the deal, Mate. I can deny all of it if the price is too steep.’ He teased.

The playlist tripped to ‘Hey, Ya!’ and the dancing started all over again.

Everyone pitched in with the preparations and the cooking began in earnest. He and Dawn set the table together. Xander dropped the next onion in the hot oil, Spike flipped the burgers on the Industrial stove that dominated the space and when it was supposed to happen, everyone stopped to ‘Shake it like a Polaroid picture,’ then went straight back to the task they’d been performing.

‘This…was exactly what he’d needed.’ He realized.

In the time that it took for Salt -n- Peppa to ‘Push It,’ Missy Elliot to ‘Work It,’ and Montel Jordan to sing ‘This Is How We Do It,’ the food finished cooking, was served while it was hot and while they ate, Mary sang that it was a ‘Family Affair.’

They ate fully half of the meal without talking, savoring every mouth full.

It had been so long since he’d had a burger and fries. Real…food. It was bliss.

When they were done, Dawn said, ‘You know what this meal needed? Milkshakes.’

Everyone groaned with a laugh at the double entendre.

Faith took it a step further, all at once pushing back from the table she crossed her legs, touched her finger tips to her knee, pulled her shoulder in, then dropped her hands to the arms of the chair and her feet flat to the floor, she pushed her lower body from sitting position in to an arch and sang, ‘La la…la, la la…la’ then shimmied her milkshake and twitched her hips in a nearly perfect impersonation of Kelis. Then dropping her head back to laugh loudly at everyone’s scandalized expressions, dropped back into her chair.

Xander, never being one to be robbed of the comedic spotlight, jumped up out of his chair and did a hilarious impersonation of Faith. She took it good naturedly, jumped out of her chair again and suddenly there was an impromptu dance off right there at the table. Laughter rebounded off of every wall in the penthouse. When things had settled down to a dull roar again, Dawn said, ‘Oh! I know, it needs pie and ice cream!’ she added, turning to reveal the surprise desert to the room.

All Dean could do, was think he was…at least, fourteen years older than her. She was getting ready to move off to college and start her life, but he wanted her and couldn’t help himself. He knew he needed to stay away from her and let her do her thing. Knew it, like he knew his name was Dean, but sometimes, when she said things like “We need pie and ice cream,” or she found the same odd things funny that he did, he knew she was it.

He let his heart tell his head reckless things like ‘she’s it.’  It also said things like, 'throw caution to the wind…it doesn’t matter how old you are...she's of age, and look at the way she looks at you.'

When he thought these things, he felt like a lecherous creep, but he couldn’t help himself. He liked her so much. He liked her as a person. He liked that she was a big dork and her blush, made him crazy. He loved that she and Sammy liked each other and got along well…that they were, friends. 

This…was what the problem was. 

‘I was jealous.’ 

There…he admitted it. Sue him. He was jealous.

He’d been a real jerk to Sammy because of it and Petaline had seen it. She cut him loose before he hurt her, using Jonah as an excuse, and thank God she did. Sammy had of course told him he was being an idiot, because, as he’d pointed out, “Obviously there’s at least ten years between us, Dean!” Which, had brought home how much of pig he was being so, he got flustered, told Sam that “he was stupid” as a defense, then left town. 

Things hadn’t been right between them since.

He had the urge to tell Dawn right here and now how he felt. In front of everyone. 

'That's...a terrible idea.' He told himself unconvincingly.  

To keep his mouth shut, he grabbed his beer, took a massive swallow and with a mighty shove, pushed all of that out of his head. He needed to get a grip on himself. He set the empty bottle on the table. No one had noticed his agitation, thankfully. ‘No Diggity’ began to play. ‘Geeezus! He couldn’t win!’  He actually stopped breathing when he sighted on the pie and dropped back into his seat, ‘Say it isn’t so!’ he demanded, forgoing the beer he’d started after.

‘Oh! It’s so…and, it’s cherry.’ Buffy confirmed.

He groaned out loud.

‘I concur.’ Oz said, offering Dean his fist to bump.

Dean bumped the fist he’d been offered while Dawn blew his mind.

‘I made it myself.’ Dawn added, shyly, ‘The ice cream too. I’ve been practicing.’

Dean nearly wept. She was the perfect woman. He was going to give in and tell her everything, college be damned. Not only could she make pie and ice cream; she wasn’t limited to dance music. The woman had extensive knowledge of classic rock and grunge. She was…gorgeous, smart, kind hearted, but didn’t take anyone’s crap. He like the way she dressed and wore her hair. Her eyes and hands and lips. ‘God her lips.’ He thought, and almost groaned again.

All of this was going through his mind as Dawn served the pie and ice cream. Xander and Buffy cleared the diner dishes and Spike worked his way around the table and sat down next to him. Faith, in a very un-Faith-like gesture went to the fridge and pulled three beers out, then joined them. While she was gone, Spike asked, ‘So, was this just a friendly visit, or did you have something…on your mind.’

‘Ugh…yeah, I did, actually. I wanted to see if you wanted to take off and go ‘exploring’ for a few days. I need to tie on a good drunk or two, break some shit, work through some shit, maybe blow up some shit.’ Dean confided.

Spike stared at his friend levelly, ‘Why don’t you just tell the ‘Bit, you can’t think about anything but her and you don’t want her to go?’

Dean shot a startled then disgusted look at Spike and said, ‘Ugh, because that would be selfish. Okay, sure, I can’t think about anything but her, but…she still has to go.’ He said with a nod that meant, ‘that’s final.’

‘Good answer, Mate.’ Spike said, then added, ‘I could hang up the apron for a few days and go on a tear. It will have to be next week though. Too bloody much happening right now. There is the seminar thing for University and Buffy and the Nibblet are hot to go to Ariel for a shopping trip, so I’ll have free time coming up. When are you looking to go?’

‘Soon as you are free.’ Dean answered, then asked, ‘Are you okay with…’ he gestured back and forth between himself and Dawn.

‘The Nibblet…’ he paused looking for the right words, ‘She thinks you’re the sun that rises over her giving her life purpose, thus the name Dawn. I wouldn’t dream of getting in the middle of that. It’s between you two. All I am saying, is she needs the opportunity to get out there on her own for a while. I’d rather you didn’t do anything to deter her from the course she’s mapped out.’ Spike said.

Faith plopped down into the chair on the other side of Dean, ‘So, what’s this about taking off for a few days then?’

‘No girls allowed.’ Dean grouched.

‘Sounds like you two can’t go then.’ Faith shot back, good naturedly.

‘Don’t count Faith out.’ Spike began, ‘Her stones are way bigger than Angels and probably yours. Not mine, mind you. She also has a devilish criminal aptitude. It might be fun to have her along. Not 100% clear on her fortitude, but back in the day she wasn’t a tea totaler.’

‘Are your stones really bigger than Angels?’ Dean teased.

‘I don’t know, you’re going to have to ask Buffy.’ Faith said. Pushing back from the table she mimicked tossing a basketball with the follow through, ‘Whoosh! Nothing but net, baby!’

‘Daaaamn! The number two doesn’t pull her punches!’ Dean laughed.

Spike narrowed his eyes and sucked his teeth in annoyance. ‘You wanna go or not?’

‘Yeah…sorry. That was sort of a low blow, ‘scuse the pun.’ Faith said, then looked at Dean and said, ‘I don’t know anything about Angel’s stones…and never will. It isn’t like that between us.’ She said, looking pointedly at Spike as if to say; and you know why. ‘We just have each other’s back.’ She followed up.

Dean nodded in response, surprised that she’d taken the time to explain, then said, ‘I suppose it would be alright if you went with us.’

‘Went with you where?’ Buffy asked, picking up the plates on that end of the table. Dawn followed behind serving the pie and ice cream.

Dean, declining to answer, shoveled pie and ice cream into his mouth and died of ecstasy while Spike explained, ‘Dean needs a getaway.’ He said, over Deans comical moaning.

‘A getaway from what?’ Buffy pried. ‘Not pie…obviously.’ She said, frowning at the scene the hunter was making over a slice of pie.

‘We just need to go and do guy things. We’re going to go while you and Dawn go to Ariel for shopping. Spike explained, then as an after though remembered to say, ‘Faith is going with us.’

‘Faith needs to do…‘guy things?’ Buffy asked skeptically.

‘Yeah…’ all three answered with a nod.

‘Mmmm.’ Buffy grimaced, then as if it just occurred to her she added, ‘If I am shopping and Faith is off doing ‘guy things’ who is going to be in charge?’

‘Pet, there are any number of people here to keep things moving. You don’t have to be here every second of every day…’ he said, throwing her words to Dawn from earlier in the day, back at her.

‘Yeah, B.’ Faith said, trying to be convincing. ‘Rhea and Inara. Dan. Angel for muscle. It will be fine.’

Buffy considered it for a minute. No one tried to sway her while she thought it through. They’d learned from experience that pushing at her too hard, shut her down and she rejected everything out of hand. So, they stayed silent. Chances were that they’d do whatever they wanted once she was gone anyway, but to keep her in a good frame of mind, they just waited.

‘I suppose it will be alright.’ She said, echoing Dean.

She was uneasy with her decision, but she chastised herself over it telling herself to stop being so controlling and foolish. She’d been wanting to delegate and parcel things out a bit more. This was her opportunity to test that out. Still…she looked at Spike and said, ‘You realize that it’s going to be almost a month before we get any real alone time then?’   

‘He grinned wickedly, ‘Not a problem, Luv. I can make alone time for us anywhere.’

‘Gross.’ Dawn croaked, and set pie and ice cream down in front of Faith and Buffy. Xander followed carrying his own and a plate for Oz, who sat down next to Buffy. Dawn sat down next to Faith and forked into her own dessert, then said around a mouth full of pie, ‘Just what I want to hear about during my dinner. My sisters ‘alone time.’

‘Come on, Little Sis. That’s the fun stuff!’ Faith teased.

‘I know…I just don’t want to hear about it in relation to my sister and her boyfriend who are really more like my parents…it’s gross.’ She argued, while she ate her pie.

In that moment, everyone in the room knew that Dawn was still a virgin and they were all strangely elated by the realization. Virginity was simply a state of being and wasn’t really the point. It just meant that she had yet to fall in love and they were all remembering what it felt like to fall madly in love for the first time.

‘I guess, if you put it that way, it makes sense.’ Faith grinned, glancing around the table.

Everyone but Dean was grinning like a maniac. Dean was looking at her like she was something precious.

Dawn, was entirely oblivious to the fact that she was the center of attention. She was enjoying her pie and considering that she hadn’t become offended or even jealous by Faith’s antics or intention to go and do ‘guy things’ with Spike and Dean while she was shopping with her sister. Dean had a girlfriend, so... Of course, that had never stopped Faith from acting like a big ‘Ho’ before, but she also knew that Dean couldn’t stand her.

‘Maybe that’s taking it too far…’ Dawn thought, licking ice cream off of her spoon without a shred of self-consciousness. 

He simply didn’t prefer her company. She knew that because she’d overheard him say it. Also, Petaline would take Faith’s head off. That woman didn’t put up with any crap. Dawn decided to remind Faith that she was sidling up to the wrong guy. She looked at Dean, who was watching her and asked, ‘How’s Petaline?’ As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wanted to haul them back in. All at once, she realized that Dean looked uncomfortable and that there was no way he’d been to see Petaline yet if he was here asking Spike to take off and go do ‘guy things.’

‘What…what’s he doing here?’  her brain slogged for an answer as she glanced at the other people around the table, who were just as clueless as she was. She pressed her lips together and dropped her eyes to her lap. Thank God no one was looking at her, they were all looking at him. HE was looking at her though and she felt terrible. ‘Please…someone change the subject!’ she wished silently, knowing that she’d put her foot in it again.

No one did.

Dean ran a hand down his face and sighed, answering gruffly, ‘We…broke up.’

Dawn’s head shot up and she caught his eyes with hers.

‘A few months ago…’ he confirmed.

Dawn swallowed hard. ‘Crap. This is why he’s here.’  she realized, and blushed hotly. ‘He’s going to talk to me about it.’

Dean continued explaining, while looking right at her. ‘She said that…she didn’t want Jonah to idolize someone whose job it was to… ‘kill things.’ She said that his ‘real daddy’ was a mean bastard and she didn’t want Jonah growing in an atmosphere that idolized mean…’ he paused then said, ‘a violent occupation.’ He finished, glossing over the fact that Petaline had called him a ‘mean bastard.’

‘When did the silly Bint tell you this?’ Spike asked, angry for his friend.

'Word...' Buffy said, chastising Spike for his descriptor.

Spike shrugged, 'Sorry, Mate.'

Dawn steeled herself for the answer that was coming, because she knew.

‘At the first of the month Com-Din in Xiatian.’ Dean answered.

‘Yep, that was the first day of Summer when she’d worn her brand-new dress and he’d complimented her, saying how nice she looked. Petaline had overheard and as Dean had moved away, she’d shot a filthy look at Dawn and mouthed, ‘slut’ at her. Petaline had been rude and nasty to her ever since.

‘Imagine Petaline calling her a slut!’ she grouched, uncharitably thinking that Spike could call her whatever he wanted as far as she was concerned.  

Dawn had simply steered clear of the woman and dismissed her anger telling herself that she’d be moving off planet for school and the Petaline wouldn’t have to worry about how nice Dawn looked in a new dress ever again. She could focus her nasty looks on the next girl Dean complimented. Only now, the stupid woman had broken up with him…

‘Over his job.’ Dawn interjected into her runaway thoughts, feeling stupid for thinking it was her all fault when obviously it wasn’t. Either way, this…wasn’t good! She was all set to go to school! The room was utterly silent while they absorbed what Dean has told them.

‘I’m…sorry.’ Dawn offered, feeling horrible guilty and super excited all at the same time.

She shot up out of her seat and gathered the empty pie plates taking them to the kitchen to start the dishes. She needed a distraction and to settle down before she made a fool of herself. Nothing had happened to indicate he was here to see here. Right now, they were making plans for the next several days that didn’t involve her at all.  She kept silent and got lost in the work so no one could see how flushed she was.

Eventually she had to stop what she was doing because Oz said, ‘I’m out. I have the next two days off, so if you decide you want more company get ahold of me, otherwise, I’ll see ya when I see ya.’ He said with a curt wave and left.

Faith stretched, rubbed her stomach and said, ‘Ditto everything Oz said.’ And followed him out.

Xander stayed a few more minutes, drying the last of the dishes and helping to put them away. Then it was hugs for Buffy and Dawn and he headed out as well.

As soon as he was gone, Buffy said, ‘Dawn, can you lock up? I am bushed.’ Buffy said.

‘Sure.’ She answered.

Buffy hugged her, ‘Thanks. Goodnight.’

Buffy hugged Dean too, ‘I am sorry about Petaline, but I am glad you’re back and it was really great to be able to spend the evening with you. Come back any time you want. The door is always open.’

‘Thank you for everything. I had a great evening.’ Dean reciprocated.

‘Night, Mate.’ Spike offered, then followed Buffy out of the kitchen. Before he even cleared the doorway, he had Buffy by the waist. He hoisted her over his shoulder, swatted her behind and one second they were there, the next they were gone.

‘So…are you…hanging out a while yet?’ Dawn asked, tentatively.

Dean drew in a slow deep breath. He’d rather die than leave.

‘Do you…mind? Are you tired?’ He asked instead of answered.

‘No. I’m up. If you leave, I am just going to watch a movie by myself.’ She shrugged.

‘Can I…have another piece of pie if I stay?’ Dean asked, with a grin.

It made Dawn grin too. Actually, it was the little tiny dimple in his right cheek that was making her grin back at him, because it usually never appeared, unless he was happy about something.

She had the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. His entire body had gone rigid while he grinned down at her like a big idiot and she grinned back like he’d just asked her to Prom.

‘I guess.’ She shrugged with a flirt and turned toward the kitchen.

He followed like he was attached to a tractor beam.

‘So…what do you want to watch?’ he asked her as she lifted pie onto a clean plate.

‘Not…Rom-Coms! If you are into those, you might as well just leave now.’ She said seriously. ‘There is a time and place for Rom-Coms. Mostly, alone in your room or with your bestie. Personally, I like action movies. The last one I saw was Batman Begins. Oh my gosh! SO good! I am working my way through, year by year. I’ve only made it to 2005. So far, Batman Begins is one of my favorites from that year. I understand that there are two more…is that right?’ She babbled, wrapping the remainder of the pie back up and handing the plate with a huge piece to him.

‘Can she be for real?’ his brain yelled at him for confirmation. ‘It’s one of my favorites as well, and yes…there are two more. Have you seen Constantine yet? Keanu Reeves in it.’

‘No…’ she admitted, ‘but, it’s on my list based on the simple fact that if Keanu is in it, it can’t be bad. Should we watch it?’ She asked, with a laugh.

‘I think you are going to love it.’ Dean said, by way of answer.

‘Constantine it is. Do you want another beer? I’m going to have one.’ She said.

‘Sure. Thanks. I will get the movie set up.’ He said.

He set his pie on the coffee table, and by the time she was settled on the couch he had the movie cued up. She handed him his beer and then a miraculous thing happened. He sat down next to her and forgot all about the pie on the table. She handed him a throw pillow and he tucked it into his bad hip. It made him realize that she knew about it. His entire countenance warmed at the realization.

They no more than settled in, and got quiet, when seconds into the film Dawn nearly jumped out of her skin. A man had walked directly into the path a car, totaling the car completely while the man, holding the Spear of Destiny wrapped in a NAZI flag, walked away without a scratch. Dean’s body had gone rigid again because ‘in the moment’ Dawn had grabbed at his leg and so far, she hadn’t let go. He laid his hand over hers, gave it a slight squeeze and left it there for the duration of the movie.

When the movie was over, Dawn’s head rested on his shoulder. She stirred, pulling her had from his finally and lifted her head off of his shoulder. She stood up and he followed her, mimicking her stretch twisting back and forth at the waist. Neither of them had moved in two hours and they needed to get the blood moving again. Even though in that two hours they hadn’t talked much or done anything but hold hands and cuddle, there was an obvious connection between them now and they both shined with it.

‘It was really, really good!’ she said, into the silence, pushing up on her tip toes and reaching out above her head to lengthen her stretch.

‘Well, I know I liked it.’ Dean said, then changed the subject saying, ‘I…when I came here tonight, I was…it’s out of character for me to talk about…feelings.’ He said, taking a breath. ‘I…enjoyed my night here with…you. I enjoyed dinner and all of that other stuff too, but I want you to know that I’d have been perfectly…content to sit here and do nothing else but watch this movie with you.’

He struggled with the words and felt ridiculous 

…ly, happy, to be telling her this.’ He chastised himself.

Dawn read the significance of what he was saying to her in his tone. She’d been watching him, for four years. She knew him. She knew that he blustered, and grouched around and all of that other stuff. She also knew that he was hilarious and she wanted him. Simple as that. He…reminded her of Spike sometimes, except Dean, would never unabashedly wear his heart on his sleeve the way Spike did he’d always fight the instinct to let his emotions simply flow. It made perfect sense to her why she could barely take her eyes off of him. He never seemed to struggle when he wanted her to see him though.

‘All I know,’ she said, staring up into his green eyes, ‘Is that if you leave here tonight without kissing me good-bye, you are dead meat.’

‘Dawn…’ he started, ‘I want to kiss you more than anything, but…14 years…’ he said.

She drew her mouth into an angry pucker and glared at him.

‘Don’t you dare ruin this night by being stupid.’ She said.

He couldn’t help himself, he smiled. In a million ways she was awkward and unsure of herself and in a million others she was completely in control of herself and what she wanted.

Not over thinking it, he leaned down and brushed his lips over hers. Her mouth was soft and warm and her lips parted slightly in surprise. He put everything he wanted to say to her into the kiss. It was solid pressure on her mouth, but he didn’t shove his tongue in when her lips parted. He kissed her reverently and felt something inside of him reach out to her. He knew she felt it too, because she moved closer, pressing her body against his.

He laid his hand along her jaw line, gently cupping her cheek in his palm he caressed the softness of her skin with his thumb. After another moment, he pulled his lips from hers then breathed against them and said, ‘I think, I am completely in love with you.’

He felt her smile in the palm he had pressed to her cheek and leaned into the panic that raced through him after being so honest with her and himself. He rested his forehead against hers and they stayed that way for several beats.

‘I know. I’m in love with you.’ Dawn admitted. ‘I have been, since the first time I ever saw you. Of course, then it was just a crush on the cute old guy, but…ya know.’ She teased with a giggle.

‘You, are going to be so much fun.’ He said, and pulled her completely into his arms. He pressed another kiss against her temple. I have to go, but I will come by to see you tomorrow. I will text you in the morning and let you know what my day looks like and what time I am free. Hopefully we can coordinate?’ he asked.

She nodded and snaked her arms around his waist. Really not wanting him to leave she laid her head on the broad expanse of his chest and murmured, ‘Okay.’ Then didn’t let go of him.

So, they stood there just holding each other.

After several minutes she said, ‘Tuck me in?’

‘That’s…not a good idea.’ He admitted, gruffly hating himself for saying it. ‘Besides, you have to lock up.’

‘Oh…right.’ She remembered.

She didn’t seem inclined to let go of him and while that made him really happy, it was also making it really hard for him to leave. Furthermore, he had no idea what he was doing. Normally, he would have been doing whatever it took to get an invitation to tuck her in. Now, he was practically overcome with joy just to be standing in the dark holding her.

‘Who the hell am I?’ he laughed at himself. Finally, he pulled away from her and said, ‘It’s going to be a long day tomorrow as it is. Let’s pick this up after some sleep.’ 

She nodded, her eyes glassy with contentment and walked him to the door.

He leaned down and pressed another kiss to her lips and once again felt the pull from deep inside him. The pull insisted that he wrap his arms around her and breathe her in and become part of her. He’d never felt anything like it before and he wanted it. He slid his hands into her hair and deepened the kiss. Under his palms he felt heat bloom in her body and alarms bells went off in his head screaming ‘danger’ as his body responded to hers. He pulled away and said in a husky whisper, ‘See you tomorrow.’ Then forced himself to walk out the door.

Dawn pushed the door closed then leaned against it. She hugged herself and couldn’t help the smile that wouldn’t go away. When she heard the elevator ding through the door, she turned away from the door to go to her room. Buffy was standing there in a shorty silk robe, hair practically standing on end, holding two glasses of water with a bemused expression. Dawn stopped short, then unable to keep quiet, ‘squeeed.’ Buffy, returned the squeee as her feet cartooned up and down joyfully in place. Neither said a word more than that. Buffy hustled back upstairs and Dawn went to her room.

In the elevator Dean alternated between total peace and wanting to puke. He’d either sleep like a baby tonight or be awake for the next four days. It was a toss-up. He thought of the feel of her lips pressed against his as he left the elevator. He probably needed to take the long way home. He remembered the way it felt to have her lithe frame pressed against his. He rolled his shoulders and fought the urge to get back in the elevator as he walked out of building one and went to his car.

Oz, was nestled into the shaded area behind the pool located between the two buildings the Noobs inhabited and watched as Dean went to his car and drove away. A small slightly envious smile creased his face as he thought, ‘Good for them.’  He liked Dean and it was obvious to anyone with eyes that he and Dawn adored each other. He shifted in the lounger he occupied and enjoyed the one novelty he never tired of. Being able to enjoy Miranda’s full moon without turning ‘wolfy’ was just one of the perks of being here.

‘Being alive is another.’ he thought drolly.

Chapter Text

 

Over the last four years, Kennedy and Claire had become best friends. They’d bonded almost immediately over their favorite subject, Buffy. Willow had caught them early on during one such conversation where the both of them were ripping Buffy to shreds and had lectured the both of them soundly. Claire had mocked Willow, calling her a ‘goody two shoes’ of all things. Clearly, Claire had no idea who Willow was. Later, when Willow and Kennedy were alone at home, they’d argued over the subject again. Why would Kennedy want to be friends with someone like Claire in the first place and furthermore, something she hadn’t brought up at the time, but had stuck with her ever since, why hadn’t Kennedy stuck up to Claire and defended her when Claire had mocked her?

It was just one of the things that she always seemed to revisit whenever she was irritated with her girlfriend. Like now. Willow had left Buffy’s when she’d wanted to stay more than anything, only to find Claire in her apartment when she got there. Then, instead of leaving when Willow got home, Claire had stayed for hours. It had really pissed her off. Claire had spent the last month with total access to her best friend and couldn’t be bothered to leave her and Kennedy alone for the evening. She should have told Claire to leave, or heck, she should have just gone back up to Buffy’s, but she hadn’t done either of those things. She probably would have gone back up to Buffy’s if she wasn’t certain that Claire would have invited herself along just to be purposefully obtuse.  

Four hours had passed before Willow had given up that Claire would simply leave and she said, ‘I’m bushed, I am going to bed.’ Then she left the room without saying anything more. It was another hour before Kennedy came to bed. When she did, she found Willow, propped up in bed reading a book. She still preferred books to tablets. It was the 90’s kid in her she guessed.

‘I thought you said you were tired.’ She said, accusingly.

‘I am.’ Willow said, not looking up from her book.

Kennedy stomped passed the bed, pulling her clothes off as she went, letting them hit the floor. Willow’s jaw clenched at the laundry all over the floor instead of in the hamper. Kennedy had closed the door to the bathroom and was brushing her teeth. Willow kept reading, choosing to ignore the mess on the floor.

When Kennedy came out of the bathroom and walked past the mess she made without picking it up, Willow closed her book and said, ‘Aren’t you going to pick up your clothes?’

Kennedy didn’t answer her, she just slid into the bed. ‘How long are you going to read?’

‘As long as I want.’ Willow answered in annoyance.

‘I thought you were tired.’ Kennedy pressed.

‘I am. I want you to pick your clothes up and put them in the basket.’ She said, calmly.

‘I’ll get them in the morning.’ Kennedy answered.

‘I want you to get them now.’ Willow insisted.

Kennedy studied her girlfriends face then slid out of the bed, letting her irritation over the subject show clearly in her attitude, and picked up the laundry. When she was done, she got back into the bed. ‘Are you going to turn the light off, or not?’ she clipped.

‘I’m reading.’ Willow answered, not looking at her.

Kennedy drew her mouth into a fierce frown and got angry. ‘What is your problem?’ she asked, confrontationally.

‘I don’t have a problem.’ Willow evaded, innocently.

‘Obviously you do.’ Kennedy countered. ‘You said you were tired and rudely abandoned me and our company to come to bed, but when I come in, you’re not asleep. You’re reading. Then you pick a fight with me over clothes on the floor, then you won’t even put your book down and go to sleep with me.’

Willow was furious. She’d tried not to be, but she was.

‘First of all, I didn’t ‘abandon’ you, or our so-called company. I left a dinner party at Buffy’s to come home and see you and spend some time with you, but dim-witted Claire didn’t even have enough common sense to take herself home and let us have the evening to ourselves! Furthermore, you didn’t even ask her to go. You know, that I don’t even like her and yet you continue to be friends with her. Do I ever try to get between the two of you? No. I don’t. I don’t even say anything bad about her, because she’s your friend. I don’t get the same courtesy though, because the two of you are constantly bad-mouthing Buffy. I am tired of it and for your information, I’m telling you now, that I don’t want to hear any more of it. Not ever again. Also, I don’t even want Claire in my house. I don’t have Buffy here out of respect for you, So, I think it’s the least you can do. From now on, if you want to hang out with Claire, you’re going to have to do it at her house.’ Willow fired out indignantly.

Kennedy sat in open mouthed astonishment and then she got angry and blustered, ‘All I am ever saying about Buffy, is that I am an adult woman. Buffy, is not my mother. Further, we haven’t been in a situation where we are facing a horde of Hell Vampires or Krathlak demons, or even a gang of unruly Yarbnie’s in a damn long time! Okay! I don’t need a ‘leader.’ I don’t need a curfew. I can choose my own chores and I don’t need anyone, least of all Buffy, telling me what I can and can’t do.’

‘See, all I hear is you saying you don’t have to follow the same rules everyone else does. Also, you might want to wait until you are invited to go somewhere, instead of just, inviting yourself along. Did you ever think of that? Huh? And, you had a curfew, because at the time, you were a group leader.’ Willow shouted over her, having never been this pointed with her girlfriend before.

Willow pushed her argument into the same space where Kennedy obviously was. It was the same place she always was when they argued about Buffy. All the way back to several years ago when Kennedy barged into a Council Meeting and made an ass out of herself when she’d argued childishly that the Council wasn’t the boss of her. Willow was entirely done with this conversation. She needed some space. Kennedy had forced her into saying mean things and was now winding up for an epic showdown with her over the last comments she'd made and she was just…done. She simply didn’t have it in her to go through the argument or even the motions.

She didn’t want to be in this relationship anymore. 

‘It’s so one sided.’ She reminded herself.

Like right now, Kennedy was talking and Willow had no idea what she was saying, because she’d tuned her out. Something that she’d been doing so much, that she wasn’t listening even when Kennedy wasn’t complaining. Willow cocked her head to the side and took in her girlfriends angry, twisted, expression and she was absolutely certain that she’d had enough. Without another word she got out of the bed and walked out of the apartment.

A stunned Kennedy stopped yelling to watch her go.

As the door closed behind Willow’s retreating body, she heard Kennedy yell, ‘It’s after curfew!’ in a nasty voice.

Willow pushed the button for the elevator and hoped that Kennedy just stayed where she was. She didn’t want to have to go upstairs to get away from her, but she would if she was pushed to it right now. She was so frustrated and over it.

The door to the elevator opened and thankfully Kennedy stayed put.

As the elevator made its way to the bottom, she thought back over the last several months. Kennedy had always been a complainer, but in the past, when it was just the two of them alone, they had conversations and enjoyed their time together. They talked. Discussed actual topics. Agreed on movies and music and she thought that they liked each other.

‘Maybe this situation is all your fault.’ She considered.

She’d noticed the incessant pot stirring in the beginning and had ignored it, needing the distraction that Kennedy had provided. Maybe she did only recognized Kennedy for what she was in hindsight, but that didn’t mean she had to continue to accept things the way they were. Kennedy was mean and selfish. It reminded her of the way Faith had been in the beginning. They’d all tried to be understanding of Faith back then and just look where that had gotten them. That’s right! In a mess. Well, Willow had just spent a lot of time being asked to be understanding, because Kennedy was alone. Kennedy didn’t have any family. Kennedy was hurt.

‘Fool me once…’ she grouched.

Miranda had been a huge adjustment for everyone. She knew that because she was living it too! It was like Kennedy had forgotten all together that, Willow’s family was gone too. Willow’s home was gone too. Furthermore, her magic was gone. Well, it wasn’t gone, it just didn’t work. Regardless, Willow had stuff too! She wasn’t always complaining like a big baby all the time!  This had all happened to her too, ya know! She was really angry too! It wasn’t like Kennedy had a monopoly on who was allowed to be upset and angry. Kennedy never acknowledged that she even knew if Willow was having a bad day, anymore!

She never asked, ‘How are you today?’

She never…anything!

And the worst part of all of it, it was starting to rub off on Willow.

Just look! She was so angry right now!

She’d also stopped asking Kennedy if she was okay, or how her day was going weeks ago. She’d stopped reaching for her hand and didn’t kiss her goodbye anymore. Willow stopped coming home early and she stayed places until the last minute to avoid being alone with Kennedy because of all the complaining!

By the time the elevator stopped and the doors slid open she was truly furious.

She could see that it was dark outside. She didn’t really know where she was going, but she stepped out of the elevator and started walking anyway. She went through the building’s lobby and out the side door. Once outside she decided on the courtyard in the back of the building by the pool. She thought about pulling all of her clothes off and jumping in and cool off. She didn’t. She walked past the pool on the way to the courtyard. It was a full moon and the light reflecting off of the water and the light-colored pavers had the area almost completely lit up, but she was headed for the bench that was tucked deep in the shadows under some flowering shade trees. She’d made it almost all the way to the bench but stopped just before reaching it.

Oz was there.

He quirked a smile at her, and gave a little wave, then watched her curiously while she decided what to do. She looked torn about whether to stay or go and he realized she was upset.

Willows insides had fluttered at seeing Oz and her entire body tensed up. She didn’t know if she should sit down or go back inside. She wanted to sit with him, but she didn’t want to intrude on him either. She also didn’t want the argument that it was going to cause with Kennedy.

‘Hadn’t she just decided that she was breaking up with Kennedy?’

Also, also…she wanted him. She really wanted him.

Oz, having registered her indecision, got up to go saying, ‘Here, stay. I have been out here for a while now. I can go in if you want to be alone.’ He offered her the bench with a gesture.

‘No.’ she held a hand up to stop him. ‘I…just didn’t want to intrude.’ She countered and turned to go back inside.

‘I…was just, looking at the moon.’ He said quickly, getting her attention.

She stopped and turned back to him. She didn’t know what to say to him, but he’d unknowingly made up her mind for her. She didn’t want to go. Honestly, she wanted to be here with him more than anywhere. She sat down next to him and looked up at Miranda’s enormous moon. They sat there in companionable silence for a few moments.

‘It’s impressive.’ Willow commented.

‘Yeah.’ Oz replied.

‘Does it…bother you? Not being able to shift, I mean.’ She asked, hesitantly.

‘Maybe, a little. I…mean, it doesn’t bother me.’ He was babbling and stopped.

‘Oh…’ she said, haltingly.

‘I mean, I don’t get stressed out over not being able to change. So, I guess, no…it doesn’t bother me. I mean, like now. I’m out here, enjoying it and you’re here. So…it’s not really like I have lost…’ he didn’t finish the sentence.

Neither of them said anything for a beat and then he turned to face her.

‘I…didn’t mean it…like that.’ He apologized.

She pressed her lips into a grim line and looked at her scuffed shoes. She rubbed the toes together scuffing them even more and didn’t say any of the things she was thinking. She wanted so much for it to be the right time, but she didn’t think she could take it if it wasn’t.

Oz stood up to leave.

She panicked and blurted…

‘It’s funny about how the moon and people are no longer a problem…’

Oz, stopped moving and came back to her. He held her eyes with his and saw the answer he’d been hoping for. Overcome with his emotions dropped to his knees in front of her, ‘God…oh God Willow…I…’ he said, laying his head in her lap, unable to stop himself from doing so.

She ran her hands through his hair and slowly lifted his face to hers.

‘There…were just so many…things, Oz. So many things that there were no solutions for. Things that were our fault and things that weren’t. So, yes…it was awful and we hurt each other so much, but do you think we could just let it go now?’ she asked, softly, recalling that she’d had this same kind of conversation with Tara once. She sighed. It had taken a long time, but eventually she’d realized how much Tara had reminded her of Oz. Maybe that wasn’t fair to Tara, but it just didn’t matter anymore.

‘I missed you so much, Willow. I want you so much. It’s just…do you remember?’ He asked and gently skimmed the back of his hand down her cheek.

‘You’re still with me, Oz.’ tears slipped from her eyes.

He wiped them away saying, ‘Your hair isn’t even blue.’ And he grinned.

The smile in his voice undid her and she shuddered with want as he slipped his hand away from her cheek and around to the back her neck, pulling her to him.

‘Wait…’ she stopped him.

‘If we are going to do this, it has to be right. I have to talk to…’

‘Your girlfriend?’ Kennedy snapped!

Oz dropped his head sighing and stood up.

‘I’m gonna go and let you talk.’ He said, quietly. 

He squeezed her hand and turned to go.

Kennedy stepped into his path.

‘She, is mine!’ The Slayer’s voice was hard and menacing.

‘If she was, you wouldn’t have to tell anyone.’ He said.

Oz stepped around a stunned Kennedy and said over his shoulder, ‘I think I am going to wait over there, if you are okay with that.’

Willow nodded. This wasn’t going to take long.

Chapter Text

Over the next several days Buffy had it out with Giles, several times. The whole community knew what was going on, or rather, anyone who was privy to what the entire thing was about, knew what was going on, because they hadn’t been quiet about it. It had even carried over into the college information seminar that had been put together. Faith and Angel had to intervene and separate the pair. Giles had been sent down to the warehouse as his presence wasn’t necessarily needed at the seminar. Buffy had needed an extended break and after a few hours, the seminar resumed and even finished close to on time. Once the seminar was over, she and Dawn got clearance to take their shopping trip and were gone for several days while the gossip over the whole thing raged. Thankfully, Zoe kept several craft on stand-by for strictly ‘generic flights’ only. So, transportation hadn’t been a problem and they’d been able to leave sooner rather than later.

One of the first things to happen as a group effort between the two communities, was to clear out the Reaver threat that orbited around Miranda. The ships themselves were still operational and in orbit, they were just devoid of Reavers. This bit of Genius had been Sam Winchesters idea and was the real work horse of their security force. The main job at The Signal was to keep the wall of Reaver ships looking operational to the rest of the ‘Verse. It worked like a charm and allowed small trips like ‘gratuitous bonding shopping’ possible. As such, Angel hadn’t insisted on accompanying Buffy and Dawn as they traveled once he found out Spike wasn’t going along. He’d done what Buffy asked of him and stepped up to fill in while she was gone instead. It meant that Faith could take her sabbatical as well and she’d packed up and taken of with Dean and Spike the same day.

When Angel understood what the college seminar was all about, he’d asked Connor if he’d considered leaving Miranda to return to school. The boy, as he still thought of him even though he was a grown man now, admitted that he’d considered it briefly, but dismissed the idea ‘for now.’ Connor had explained that for the moment he was content with his life and the responsibility he felt for the community satisfied any desire that he had for larger rolls, in which he envisioned for himself. Angel had asked him about this several times and had gotten the same answer every time. Usually when he asked him about school, the subject of Connors adoptive parents, the Rilley’s came up as well. Connor’s answer was always the same concerning them as well.

The question was, ‘did he want them brought up from cryo and introduced to the community.’ The answer was always, ‘No.’ The explanation for this being, ‘There are people down there who can be of more use to the community than a banker and a socialite. We will bring them out when the time is right.’

Angel let it go after that, making up his mind not to ask the boy again.

Just now, he and Connor were in the middle of teaching Group 12 how to break a choke hold. The kids in Group 12, mostly girls, were between the ages of 14 and 16. As luck would have it, this was one of the more mature groups, but teenagers were still teenagers and there was still some giggling and chatter. Even so, they’d been able to get a lot accomplished today.

That was until Krista, one of the youngest, made a classic mistake and dislocated her thumb. She was crying buckets of tears and wouldn’t let him look at it, let alone touch it. Angel had motioned for Connor to come and take over while he Waved the infirmary. Alex answered on the first ring, listened intently, then let him know she’d be right over. She’d made it to the practice field over at the small private school they’d taken over for the communities use in less than five minutes. Krista ceased her wailing and Angel decided to finish the class by explaining to the rest of the group exactly what Krista had done wrong.

Connor sat with Krista and kept up a bit of chatter by pointing over at his dad and explaining to Krista what he was telling them. When he saw Alex walk onto the practice field from his periphery he turned and gave her a careful smile. In return, she’d given him a slight almost imperceptible smile of her own, but her eyes flashed a pure pleasure at him that belied her perfunctory, professional, ‘Hello, Connor.’ Then, turning her attention immediately to Krista she said, ‘So, how did this happen?’

Krista didn’t say anything, just began to cry again, because she knew that in a few moments, Ms. Alex was going to hurt her. Not only that, according to what Ms. Alex was saying, it was going to hurt worse since she hadn’t let Angel or Connor take care of it right away, reasoning that the swelling would make it more difficult to move back into place.

Connor kept silent and let Alex work, knowing that she wouldn’t hurt the girl more than necessary and the preamble had been for the benefit of the other girls who’d finished with their class and instead of leaving, were once again gawking at Krista. Taking note that she had an audience Alex continued on with her lecture saying that if, “Krista hadn’t been so stubborn, she could have saved herself some pain and grief. Furthermore, there wasn’t a single reason not to trust Angel or Connor as she’d trained both of them herself and they were just as capable of treating the Boo Boo’s as she was.”

Krista nodded abashed understanding and Alex motioned for Angel to go ahead and shoo the girls away. There was a secret to the treatment she was about to use and she didn’t want her tried and true method getting out and becoming common knowledge. She’d swear Krista to secrecy afterward.

Holding out her left hand to Krista, Alex said, ‘I want you to rest your wrist in my hand.’ Krista looked alarmed but Alex reassured her, ‘I am only giving you a stable place to rest your hand while I look at it.’ She promised.

Looking a little calmer, Krista nodded and gingerly placed her wrist in Alex’s hand.

Alex stayed still, letting Krista get used to the contact. After a moment she craned her head to look over the dislocated thumb instead of moving Krista’s hand, opting to keep it perfectly still thereby, gaining Krista’s trust.

‘Okay, well, that doesn’t look so bad.’ Alex said, without any inflection. ‘Tell you what, I am going to use my finger tip to see if it’s just dislocated or actually broken.’ She said, showing Krista her pointer finger.

Krista shot worried eyes at Alex again.

‘I promise, that I wont press or hurt. I just want to touch.’ Alex said, wiggling her finger.

Krista nodded her okay.

‘Alright, now, I want you to look at Connor while I do it, because I don’t want you to get nervous and jerk your hand away because that will hurt and it will hurt bad. Understand?’ Alex confided.

Krista pulled in a deep breath, nodded, then placing her trust in Alex, she looked at Connor.

He smiled and held her eyes with his. Bolstering her courage, he said, ‘You’re doing great!’

Alex moved in and barely touched the tip of her finger to Krista’s thumb then pulled back.

Krista, startled, pulled her eyes back to Alex who’d gained her complete trust, by doing exactly what she’d said she would do and not hurting her.

‘Well, I really don’t think it’s broken, but I am going to feel it again, just to make sure. Okay?’ Alex asked, waiting for Krista’s permission to touch her. When the girl nodded her agreement, Alex reminding her said, ‘Okay, look at Connor. Be a good girl and don’t jerk your hand.’

As soon as Krista looked at Connor, Alex tightened her grip on Krista’s wrist and quick as a wink, twisted the thumb back into place. Then pulled her hands quickly away from the girl, resting them in her lap. It was over before Krista even registered what had happened.

The girl hauled in a startled breath, jerked her eyes back to Alex and glared at her accusingly, unable to believe that Alex had just lied to her. She was so appalled that the woman had broken her trust so quickly after gaining it, that the quick, acute pain hadn’t even bothered her. When Krista realized what Alex had done and that her hand felt much better, she pursed her lips and at smiled at having been duped for her own good, but still said, ‘You tricked me.’

This was usually when Alex, hiding her expression, reached into her bag and pulled out the popsicle. She did that just now, handed it to Krista, then toughened her resolve. This was always the worst part. She’d learned pretty quickly, that they could kill two healing birds with one stone when it came to these small injury situations.

Krista laughed, reached for the Popsicle almost taking it, then burst into tears.

‘Crap.’ Alex swore inwardly.

No matter how many times she’d done this, it was always hard for her to watch when the realization passed through her patient’s eyes. Usually, when kids got hurt, they had their mother to kiss away the sting and give them a cookie or a Popsicle afterward.

These girls didn’t have their mom here and the Popsicle brought that home in a big way every single time she employed it. Kids were incredibly resilient, but they needed opportunities to process their grief and their feelings. If you’ve ever tried to get a teenager to talk to you about how they feel or what they are going through, you know it can be a daunting task. Alex had figured out that you have to catch them in the moment. If you can force the moment and help someone work through and resolve something, she felt like the push was worth it.

These opportunities had manifested themselves in several different ways, but the most effective so far, had been the ‘all better popsicle.’ The moment that Krista remembered that it was something that her mother would have done, the flood gates opened, and Alex had an opportunity to help the girl work through the Boo Boo that wasn’t visible.

When Krista’s sobs had subsided once again, Alex asked if she was ‘Okay?’

Krista nodded her head.

‘Do you want to talk about it?’ Alex asked.

Krista shook her head no, which was okay because Alex had been expecting it and was ready. ‘I bet your mom was amazing.’ Alex said, pushing slightly, then in a soft voice added, ‘I would love it if you would tell me about her someday.’  

Krista nodded again and wiped at her tear stained cheeks.

‘She was and I miss her so much.’ The girl confessed and her voiced cracked with emotion.

‘I know.’ Alex said, in her own confidential tone, ‘I miss my mom, too.’

Krista looked at Alex confused.

‘Jody isn’t my real mom, she just, sort of took me in.’ Alex explained, building the bridge of common ground.

‘I never knew my real mom.’ Conner interjected, quietly, thinking about his adoptive mother for the first time in years. She was still down in the warehouse in a cryotube and for some reason he only half understood he was content to leave her there.

Krista jerked a glance at him as well.

When Connor looked at this girl with no mother, felt like a jerk for leaving his adoptive mother in cryo instead of asking for her. He mostly knew why he was leaving her there and thought more about it while Alex and Krista talked. He hadn’t really felt anything about the Reilly's being down at the warehouse until just now and he supposed that was because he didn’t want them interfering in his relationship with his father. Over the last few years, he’d grown to respect his father and he cared about him in a way that he was just beginning to understand. He knew that his father, Angel, loved him and he was very close to loving him back. Maybe he did love him. He wasn’t sure if what he felt was love or not. He’d slowly been learning what real love was over the last five years. He understood that it was a feeling, but he’d had to learn that it didn’t feel the same for everyone. It felt different for each person you felt it for. Which was why it had been so difficult for him to understand to begin with.

What he felt for his father was a warm affection and finally a sense of loyalty. All of that had taken a while because it was something that he’d associated with Holtz and couldn’t separate from the man who’d raised him. Then, there was Faith. They had a camaraderie that was sort of intimate with the same feeling of warmth and loyalty he felt for Angel but it wasn’t as…intense. He was protective of Faith, but then that feeling wasn’t as intense as what he felt for Alex. He imagined what he felt for Faith, was what it might be like to have a sister. What he felt for Alex, was sharper and much more acute than what he felt for either Angel or Faith. It was warmth, but considerably hotter and his chest ached when he couldn’t see her every day. Dawn had told him that was definitely what love felt like, but how would she know? She’d never even had a boyfriend before.

He and Alex had been dating for a little more than six months. It wasn’t the ‘normal’ kind of dating. He didn’t buy her dinner or take her to the movies, like he knew dating to be. It was more like ‘Miranda’ dating. They went to Com-Din together, then watched movies at home.

They’d done that a few times. Mostly, they had lunch together or walked together on their dates. He’d kissed her a few times and then there had been a serious make out session, but soon after that, he’d been off world for a month and there hadn’t been a repeat of that since he’d been back. He’d had to remind himself not to press the issue, but he remembered the intense feelings she made him feel and liked it. They were more than just a need for physical satisfaction. She made him think about things he’d never really thought about before and it made him cautious while he figured out what it meant.

Alex reached out to hug Krista after she tapped off the girls freshly wrapped hand. The conversation was over and Krista was smiling so that was good. Instead of throwing the popsicle stick away, she’d tucked it into her back pocket and he thought that it was a ‘strange thing for her to do.’

‘By Connor. Thank you for…helping.’ Krista said, awkwardly.

He smiled and waved, then said, ‘Any time. I will help you with the move when you aren’t sore anymore so we won’t have a repeat.’

Krista nodded then hurried away to her next class while Alex cleaned up the first aid mess.

Connor bent to help her.

When they were done, Alex said, ‘Walk me.’

Connor nodded and they walked back to the infirmary together.

They were quiet while they walked and that was okay. Sometimes they didn’t talk.

He reached for Alex’s hand though and she squeezed when his hand slid into hers.

When they reached the infirmary, she pushed up on her toes and kissed him good-bye.

‘Do you want to eat together later?’ he asked.

She nodded, ‘Wave me.’ Then went inside.

Conner turned, then jogged back the way her came to find his dad.

They should probably talk about Lawrence and Connie.

Chapter Text

Forty-Two

 

Sam and Dawn were sitting in front of a giant bank of monitors in the server room of what had once been, the First Alliance Bank of Miranda, in the now ‘Serenity Township’ location. The first time Sam had sat down to ‘The Signal,’ it had been located in the spare bedroom at Mal and Inara’s house. It was there that he’d poured over Mr. Universes’ ‘set up’ and learned everything he could about it.

There was no doubt, that Mr. Universe had been a Tech and Hacking genius, who’d loved to amuse himself by hacking into data bases all over the ‘Verse, then providing himself with Certification’s and Degrees for everything ranging from Political Science to Restaurant Management. He also enjoyed certifying himself for things like Pilots Licenses or Medical Licenses. Could he perform any of the tasks he had degrees or certifications for? Likely not, but that wasn’t the point and didn’t matter, he simply liked the way the certificates looked hanging on the wall, ‘all official like.’ To hear Mal tell it, every time Mr. Universe walked past the wall of framed Diplomas, Certifications, and licenses he knew he was the most prolific Hacker in the ‘Verse and the proof of it hung on the wall for all to see.

Mr. Universe’s hacking manuals, were worth their weight in ammunition. Everything Sam had learned from them, he’d been able to improve on, because as it just so happened, Sam wasn’t a slouch when it came to Tech or Hacking. He’d been able to use everything he’d learned from Mr. Universe, to keep them safe and virtually invisible to the Alliance. He’d moved The Signal to the First Alliance Banks server room when he needed the power boost that would allow him to control the empty ships that formed a sort of ‘asteroid field’ around Miranda every day. To anyone looking in their direction it appeared that Miranda's low orbit was over run with Reavers and that kept everyone away.

That had been several years ago. Lately, all Sam did was work on were college transcripts. It seemed like something that would be an easy job when you told someone that was what you’d been up to when they asked, but he’d underestimated the monotony and the amount of work that creating transcripts for seven people would be. Not to mention 1000. For the foreseeable future, his job was going to be creating not just an educational footprint for everyone who wanted to go to college, but an actual footprint in order to move freely about the ‘Verse and not be detained.

They’d run out of ships to take in and out of core planets eventually. It would be good not to have to create a slap dash Identity for someone every time the wanted to travel off planet. He’d eventually get some more help with this, but for now, it was his focus. River and Simon had been an invaluable resource to him when he’d begun building the transcripts, but had gone back to their regular routines as soon as he’d been able to work without them.

Dawn had come in a few hours earlier and was doing research for her second-year schooling. Having helped him considerably with the first year and seeing the amount of work that it took, she’d opted to get started on the next years load and he was grateful to her for it. They’d submitted several applications to schools on Londinium and she’d been accepted to all of them, but had chosen Oxford, New Cardiff. The school wasn’t above her abilities. Dawn was a smarty pants compared to her sister and she would, he had no doubts, excel while she was there.

In fact, Dawn had spent so much time at The Signal over the last year that she’d begun to pick up on how to manage The Signal herself and spelled them occasionally, when either he or Mal needed a break. No easy task, but she seemed to just pick up on things right away. She didn’t struggle to hold on to the information once she’d learned it. That in itself was a gift and would serve her well at school.

Mal, who could be found sitting behind his own bank of monitors had a hard rule that anyone wishing to access the Cortex off world, had to do it from this room. It was the most secure way they knew of to monitor who, if anyone might be tracking their signal and if they got an alarm one of them would be there to scramble the tracker right away. Sure, it was paranoid, but at least Mal could sleep at night for a few hours without waking in a cold panic. He eventually trusted Andrew enough to let him take the overnight shift when he’d proved capable of handling several alarms one evening. Andrew had been amazing and had kept them from becoming well and truly humped. Mal was at his computer bank now, listening to Dawn and Sam banter back and forth about schools, classes and what if’s. Mal had giving Dawn insight on things that weren’t clear to her about Londinium or other aspects of living in the ‘Verse and had gotten to know her so well that it was easy to forget that she wasn’t exactly technically human. It was hard to believe that she wasn’t though.

Just now she was chattering away asking for advice on what kind of jobs she would be suited for. Certain jobs like, ‘lobbyist’ or ‘chemist’ would mean not only specific schools but the best schools for chemistry were on Ariel, not Londinium. She wanted to give herself options, but the more she researched the more she found that if she wanted to pursue nursing, which she was leaning towards heavily, she’d have to do that on Ariel. While, if she wanted to be a teacher or a paralegal or heck even a lawyer, she’d need to stay on Londinium.

‘So, I guess what I am asking is, which do you think I’d be better at?’ she said. Then not allowing either of them to answer, she said, ‘What if I want to have kids? How long does it take to become a lawyer, then become successful at it?’

They had figured out that sometimes Dawn just needed to think out loud. When she was nervous, like now. She didn’t need them to give her answers, really. She’d come to them on her own if they let her talk.

‘Did I tell you that Patience is moving in with me? We got a really great apartment close to campus. I hope she will be a good roommate. I’ve seen her room at home with Jody, and thankfully she isn’t a slob and like me doesn’t like a lot of clutter. She hasn’t really settled on her next step after first year either.’ Dawn said, and sighed heavily getting quiet.

She exited the search engine she was in and logged out, deleting her history and back tracking to do her ‘wipe.’ She was over stimulated and frustrated. She was trying to make some decisions for the next year, but she didn’t have all of the information she needed to do that. What if she hated Londinium six months from now and wanted to come home and forgo school altogether? She’d committed to at least a year at Oxford with Patience and it would be crummy of her to back out in the middle of it. What if Patience decided that New Cardiff wasn’t for her and wanted to come home. What if Dean decided that he had to come with her? There were too many what if’s!

‘Sam, if I decide on being a Lawyer, do you think I’d be a good one?’ She asked.

Sam knew that she wanted an answer, because she’d asked him directly. He turned away from his key board and thought about what it was she was asking him before he answered right away.

Dean, who’d come to pick Dawn up, stopped short of coming into the room and waited just outside the door to see what Sammy’s answer would be. He needed to know what Sammy thought.

‘Honestly, I don’t know. You are good hearted, Dawn. I’m not sure if you are able to put yourself into a position on a daily basis, where you are dealing with people who…don’t make good decisions. I think…that if you were to try other aspects of being a lawyer, say actually writing laws, you’d have a shot at being a decent lawyer.’ Sam answered honestly.

Dean nodded, thinking that it had been a damn good answer. He waited several beats to see what Dawn would say. When she didn’t say anything, he risked a peek around the door frame.

Dawn, sat and considered what Sam had said, seriously. She didn’t get flustered. She’d asked a serious question and he’d given her a serious answer. Instead of responding, she tried to ask another question she wanted a serious answer to.

‘Do you think that…’ she paused, searching… ‘I mean, I don’t want you to betray any kind of brother code or anything like that, you may have with Dean, but how…I mean, I’m leaving soon. Do you think that…’ She sighed out a harsh frustrated breath, she wasn’t framing the question right and it was possible that is was something she shouldn’t be asking anyone but Dean about.

Dean had made up his mind to announce his presence and save all of them from the awkwardness of what she was getting at, but Mal broke the silence and guessed at what it is she was trying to ask.

‘Listen here, Sunshine. What you have to know is this. If the two of you are meant to be together, no amount of speculation about ‘what if’ will hinder or make anything happen. Right now, you have steps you need to take to put your life on its path. You can’t worry about what Dean is or isn’t going to do. He’s a grown man whose already had an opportunity to make his life decisions and trust me, he knows you need to be given the opportunity to do the same. I see the way he looks at you. Man isn’t going anywhere, so don’t make decisions about your life based on what is happening in his. Dong Ma?’ Mal said, matter of factly.

Dawn took all of that in as well. Dean waited. Now, he was invested in what she’d say.

‘I guess, you are right about that.’ She nodded. ‘I was just wondering, if I decided to stay on Londinium and he decided that he wanted to come and with me there, what…I mean, how…ugh!’ she groaned in frustration, then blurted out, ‘I mean, what kind of jobs can he do? What is available for him there? I mean, he can’t be like Spike and just take care of me like a house husband! He would hate that! Happiness requires more than that and more than love. It takes more than wrapping yourself up in someone else’s life! What kind of life could Dean have for himself on Londinium? I mean, he knows how to do more than just hunt monsters…right? I mean, you can do this…’ She said, to Sam gesturing at the massive bank of computers.

‘Ahhhh…now I understand.’ Sam said.

Dean was rooted to the spot. He couldn’t wait to hear this.

‘Dean…actually, knows a lot about a lot of things. Like, he’s an excellent mechanic. He can build or repair just about anything you want. He is a damn good investigator. On Londinium, he could make an entire career out of personal security. There is always a need for that, especially in New Cardiff. Dean underestimates himself frequently, but he is a quick study. If he didn’t want to work on is own there is also police work or he could actually, and this isn’t a bad idea, go to work for the Alliance and be sort of an inside man for us there…’ Sam said.

‘The hell you say!’ Mal interjected, putting the kabash on that line of discussion, even though it was a damn good idea, he realized after the outburst.

‘…and,’ Sammy continued, ignoring Mal, ‘If neither of you wanted to finish school or work for the Alliance, you could always open a pie shop, or come home. There’s always mountains of work to do here.’ He finished.

Dawn pondered all that had been said and there was silence.

Dean, having heard enough, yelled as he flowed through the door, ‘Sammy! Have you seen…’ and paused, as he turned into the room then said, ‘…my girl?’ Smiling at her.

‘Hi…’ Dawn said, standing up to greet him, ‘We were just talking about you.’

He pecked a quick kiss on her mouth.

‘Yeah? I bet it was about how handsome I am.’ He teased her.

‘Nope.’ She said, grinning, and teased, ‘We were mapping your entire future.’  

‘Oh, good! I’ve been envious of that one apron Spike wears. The one with the red ruffle.’

Mal, peered around his bank of monitors, ‘Spike wears an apron?’

‘It has cherries on it.’ Dean, snorted in confirmation.

‘I will have to store that bit of information away for later.’ Mal said.

Dean turned his attention back to Dawn, ‘You ready to go, or do we need to stay a bit longer?’

‘I’m ready. Where are we going?’ she asked, confusion spreading over her face.

‘It’s Nerf Night.’ Dean answered.

‘Ohhh, I totally forgot.’ She said.

‘You coming, Sammy?’ Dean asked.

Sam had given up trying to get Dean to quit calling him Sammy. He did it so much, that other people were starting to do it as well. Protesting had taken so much time and effort and he’d let it go. ‘Not just yet. I have a few more things to do before I can leave.’ He answered.

‘Roger that. See you later. By, Mal.’ Dean said with a short wave.

He slipped his hand into Dawns, leading her out of the room.

‘Bye…’ she called, trailing after him.

‘Bye.’ They called to the retreating forms, never taking their eyes from the screens.

Sam was happy for his brother. Since he and Dawn had started dating, Dean seemed, calmer? Maybe. Definitely happier and more…relaxed? Was that the word he wanted? Maybe it was ‘content.’ Even with Dawn leaving for school soon, he seemed to be okay with it. Like her going to school was somehow just…a chore that needed to be done. Sam lit on the word he wanted then. It was ‘settled.’ That was the word that most closely represented what he’d been trying to say. Not that Dean had ‘settled’ for Dawn, it was that Dawn had an effect on Dean that ‘settled’ him. There was a stillness about him that had never been there before.

Sam pulled his eyes away from his bank of screens and said, ‘Thank you, for answer Dawn and not letting me stumble through an answer for ten minutes.’

‘It was my pleasure. It does my heart good to see your brother looking so settled.’

‘That’s exactly the word I just thought of when I was trying to decide what was different about him today.’ Sam confessed.

‘Yep.’ Mal answered, then added, ‘Personally, I don’t think Dawn will stay away from her sister long. She may go to school and actually finish, but when she’s done, she’ll come back here.’

‘You really think so?’ Sam asked.

‘I surely do.’ Mal answered.

Kaylee suddenly burst through the door, breathing heavy as she’d been running.

‘Cap, come…it’s Inara.’

Kaylee moved back from the door as Mal bolted out of his chair, turning it over.

He ran out the door and Kaylee followed.

‘She’s in the lab.’ Kaylee called out.

‘What happened!’ Mal yelled over his shoulder.

Kaylee was keeping up, but she was breathing even harder. She would have called Mal to meet them at the lab, but there was that hard rule about ‘No Waves in the Server Room.’

‘We were at the farm. She wanted veggies for stir-fry. She just collapsed. I’ve never been so scared, Cap.’ Kaylee said, breathless now that they’d reached the lab, she let Mal, run on ahead. While she concentrated on breathing, she pulled out her Wave and pressed the contact for Zoe.

‘Pick up, pick up, pick up.’ She chanted as she opened the door, now that she could breathe without gulping air, and went into the air-conditioned building. She paced back and forth in front of the big window that bordered the lab and the corridor. She could see Mal, sitting next to Inara talking to her, while Simon ran scans on her prone form.

Zoe finally answered the Wave.

‘Hey, Kaylee. What’s up?’ she asked.

‘Zoe, it’s Inara. Get River and Jayne and get to the Lab. Cap’s already here.’ Kaylee said.

‘On it.’ Zoe said, and waved off.

She pulled her hair back and secured it as she rolled out the front door, Hobie and her Aunt, watched her go, quizzical expressions passed over their faces.

Hobie ran to the door to watch his Mother. She stood on the front porch and yelled at the house next door, ‘JAAYNE!’

Seconds after Zoe bellowed, Jayne, having recognized Zoe’s tone for ‘trouble,’ burst through the front door of his own home, carrying Vera.

‘What! What is it?’ he said, glancing around in a panic.

‘It’s Inara. She’s…sick.’ Zoe said, realizing that she didn’t know if that was right or not. ‘Find River and get to the lab.’ Zoe instructed, as River appeared behind Jayne on his porch.

Zoe, started but happy to see River coming out of Jayne’s house said, ‘Good. Let’s go.’

There wasn’t any hesitation and they were at the lab within minutes of Kaylee’s phone call.

Hobie, knew instinctively that whatever had happened was serious, and that he had to wait at home until his mother came back and told him what to do. It might be nothing, but she’d trained him to follow protocol when his spatial awareness told him something was wrong. He ran upstairs and changed his clothes, pulled his pack out of his closet and put on his sturdy boots.  

Kaylee was nearly frantic by the time Zoe walked into the building. Inara hadn’t moved in even the slightest and she could tell by the look on Simon’s face, that things were really wrong.

‘She’s not waking up.’ Kaylee said, as Zoe came to her.

They all looked into the lab from behind the glass. The worry in Kaylee’s tone told the others everything they needed to know. Simon was way too serious and Kaylee could see it. She started breathing hard again and suddenly, she got very dizzy. The front door opened and Kaylee swiveled to see Alex and Vi come in. The moment Kaylee turned, her head swam and her knees gave out. She started for the floor.

‘Kaylee!’ River, who was behind her exclaimed. Wrapping her arms under Kaylee’s as she went down, River cushioned her sister-in-law’s fall with her own body.

‘Oh my God!’ Jayne yelped, going to his knees.

He helped River arrange Kaylee’s body so she wasn’t bent at the waist and sandwiching the volleyball sized belly there, covered by the overalls that she usually wore at the farm.

Vi, laid a hand on Alex’s shoulder, ‘I’ve got this, go on inside.’ She said, jerking her chin at the lab.

Alex went.

‘How did you know to come?’ Zoe asked Vi.

‘Sam called. Luckily we were at the warehouse and not the infirmary.’ Vi answered. ‘Do you think you can get me a glass of water and a cool cloth while I run her vitals?’ Vi asked.

‘Absolutely.’ Zoe said, getting up to do just that.

Alex scrubbed and talked. ‘What do we know, Simon?’

‘She’s had a seizure. Kaylee said she collapsed at the farm. She is stable. Kaylee was able to get her the injection almost immediately. It…’ Simon considered his language, but covered the action by looking at his scanner. He didn’t want to have to upset Mal any more than necessary. ‘It doesn’t appear to have been very bad, but it’s serious enough.’

That should keep Mal calm until they could talk later. Inara could likely process everything she was hearing in her subconscious. It was best if Mal stayed calm and continued to talk to her.

‘I feel like, from what I’m seeing right now, that her body responded perfectly to the injection and needs to sleep it off.’ Simon said.

‘Is that why she's so still?’ Mal asked. ‘It looks like she’s barely breathing.’

‘But she is breathing.’ Simon countered, then explained ‘A lot of energy is expended when someone has a seizure. She just needs to sleep so her body can recover. The best thing you can do, is what you’re doing. Just keep talking to her.’

Mal nodded and began murmuring to his wife again. ‘I’m here. You’re safe. Doc is taking good care of you. Just rest.’

Simon took a breath now that he knew Inara was 'okay' and looked over at the window to give Kaylee a nod and let her know that she’d done good. Everyone seemed to be huddled around something on the floor. He started for the door, but Alex stopped him. ‘Kaylee fainted. Vi is with her. She is fine.’ She explained. Simon, undeterred went to his wife. Mal turned toward the window at Alex’s words and stood to go to Kaylee.

‘She’s truly fine.’ Alex reassured Mal, taking in his stricken expression. ‘She just got a little over excited. Stay with Inara and keep talking to her. They'll have Kaylee in here in just a minute.’ She finished.

‘The baby?’ Mal asked.

‘Probably, fine as well. Simon will look at her.’ Alex said.

Mal sat and took Inara’s hand in his. This was the second seizure this year. Simon had told him, told all of them, when they started coming regular, she’d go downhill fast, then slip into a coma before she passed. Right now, they had anywhere from a year and a half to three years before they lost her to the coma.

Zoe came into the lab and sat down on the other side of the bed.

Mal looked up at his right hand, completely expressionless.

‘Kaylee’s awake. She’s fine, just fainted. They are bringing her in.’ Zoe said, quietly.

Mal nodded, ‘She ran to get me, then ran all the way back.’

‘That would do it.’ Zoe said.

‘How is she?’ Zoe asked meaning Inara.

‘Doc said it was a seizure. She’s sleeping, not unconscious. Scan seems to say she’s fine…for now. We'll know more when she wakes up.’ Mal said.

Zoe took that information in and processed it. This was the second one of these this year. Her stomach clinched with dread. Simon had been clear about what to expect. Zoe didn’t say anything, just sat with her best friend and waited. There wasn’t anything to say anyway. This was the beginning.

Kaylee shuffled into the lab and made for the bed beside Inara’s. She sat on the edge, then with help laid back and wiggled herself into a more comfortable position. When she looked at Mal, he was watching her. A frown creased his brow and he didn’t look to pleased with her.

‘How is Inara?’ Kaylee asked, keeping her voice steady.

‘Doc said you did good getting her that injection quick as you did. Thank you.’ Mal said and swallowed hard. ‘Doc’s taking good care of her now. You just rest up and let us worry about you and Inara. Once both you and ‘Nara are up out of the bed, you and I are going to have to have a conversation about running while you’re seven months pregnant.’ Mal scolded.

Kaylee, abashed, kept quiet and closed her eyes tears leaking from the corners while she thought about what Simon had told them about Inara and what to expect when things began to take the turn.

Jayne and River, stood in the hallway staring through the glass. They each wore worried expressions the same as everyone else. Rivers heart was beating a rapid staccato and she felt like she might hyper-ventilate.

Jayne took her hand solidly in his. ‘It’s going to be okay. Look. If it wasn’t okay, there'd be a lot more action happening in there.’ He explained soothingly.

River saw the logic of it. She could also see that while he was concerned, he wasn’t worried or afraid. Jayne processed things differently and because of that, she calmed a bit and her breathing slowed.

‘See. There you go.’ He encouraged. ‘You know, your brother can’t have you falling out and giving him something else to worry with right now. You can do it.’ He coaxed.

She could do it. ‘Thank you.’ She said, leaning against him.

She heard him clearly think of the way she could ‘thank him’ and she nudged him with her elbow. ‘I can hear you, ya know.’

‘I know.’ He said, in the same quiet tone she’d used. ‘Why do you think I thought it?’ he said, nudging her back.

River smiled impulsively then quickly wiped the smile away. They still didn’t want anyone to know. It was easier for them if no one knew. She didn’t know why that was, it just was. The others wouldn’t approve of her and Jayne for some reason. Well, mostly the reason was Jayne, she had no idea why though. Jayne was no different than any of the other men on this planet. Especially when it came to sex. He was just…more honest about it than the others.

‘So, okay, he behaved like a caveman, but Simon had the same thoughts about Kaylee as Jayne had about her, he was just less honest about those thoughts.’ River thought, while holding Jayne's hand.

Simon wrapped up his caveman thoughts in pretty manners to please Kaylee, because that's what Kaylee liked. Jayne didn’t do that and River found it refreshing. In a world where she was always trying to understand why people thought one thing, but did another, it was nice to know that when Jayne thought something, that was exactly what he meant. River didn’t insist that he wrap his thoughts in pretty words when he talked to her and he liked that about her a lot.

Just now, Jayne was thinking, if she was still upset he could help her work the rest of that anxiety out with either a trip to the practice field, or hot sweaty monkey sex. It could be her choice.

‘How about both?’ she said, quietly.

Jayne didn’t say anything or even think, he just turned and walked out the door, clearing the rest of his mind for sparing.

River followed.

Once on the practice field he’d built for them, in a stand of tree’s behind his house, they sparred away the rest of Rivers anxiety. Jayne was so good at clearing his thoughts when they sparred that sometimes, he was able to get the upper hand over her and subdue her. Whenever this happened, she always rewarded him by letting him be in control of the hot sweaty monkey sex.

It was a fun game the she enjoyed just as much as he did.

River loved Jayne and he loved her, but it wasn’t this intense, all consuming, big deal of a thing like what Spike and Buffy had. Or even like what Angel felt for Buffy. That was another thing that really confused her. She didn’t understand the three of them at all.

Spike loved Buffy and he loved Angel, but wouldn’t admit that he loved Angel. Buffy loved Spike and Angel, who’d she had her first time with, and she thought about that all of the time. It was a secret that she thought about it though. She secretly wished she could have both of them, but since she’d had to pick between them, she’d picked Spike…for very good reasons, and she didn’t regret her choice at all. Angel loved Buffy so much, that he always made the wrong, or bad choices, when he had to make choices about her. He also loved Spike, but he would rather die than admit that. He loved Spike and he hated Spike, because he loved him.

As far as River was concerned, all three of them were stupid for not seeing what the truth was and moving in together. None of them were perfectly happy because of their own stupid jealousies. Granted, Buffy and Spike were happier than Angel, but they could have be happier all together.

Jayne felt strongly about the fact that he had been her first time. It made him feel possessive of her and he liked to kiss her on the mouth because of it.

‘Feelings are so weird.’ She thought, distractedly.  

Jayne took advantage of her distraction and had her pinned to the ground in a wink.

He loomed over her and smiled down at her while he gathering her wrists into one of his big hands and pinning them to the ground over her head.

‘You know what this means…’ he said, humor tinging his voice.

He leaned in to kiss her and as his lips touched hers, his free hand slid into her shirt and he began to tickle her. River immediately began to scream and squirm. By the time he pulled his mouth from hers she was laughing hard and trying to roll herself into a protective ball, while begging him to stop. He did, but then stretched his big body out fully on top of her torso pinning her in place. He kissed her in earnest then. She wrapped her legs tightly around his waist and ground herself against the hot bulge in his tan work pants. It made him groan and he bit her bottom lip, pulling at it not exactly gently. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled her lip from between his teeth. Lifting her mouth level with his ear, she told him exactly what he wanted to hear.

‘I want you inside me. Hurry.’ She said, huskily, then flicked his earlobe with her tongue.

Jayne laid his palms flat on the ground and pushed, lifting them off of the ground.

River held on, wrapped around him just like a spider monkey.

He carried her through the stand of trees and in through the back door, then he climbed the steps all the way to the third floor of the house where they could be as loud and rambunctious as they wanted to be with no one being the wiser. Once ensconced in their little cave, River pulled Jayne's t-shirt over his head, dropping it to the floor. He reciprocated with hers and soon they were naked and he was inside of her, moving with the strong, sure strokes that River preferred to the slower gentler pace they’d started with in the beginning of their relationship. They never talked much during sex, except to give each other instruction. River knew almost everything Jayne thought all of the time anyway and she wasn’t afraid to tell him what she wanted from him.  

They were breathing hard now and sweat rolled down Jayne’s big muscular body, she knew he was getting close and he hoped she was too.

‘Almost…’ she breathed, ‘Almost there…just a little…more.’ She panted.

He held on until he felt her entire body, tighten around his, thrust into her a few more times and came with her.

‘Agggg…’ he groaned against her jaw line, his body stilling then going rigid. After a beat, he flexed his hips once then twice more.

River clung to him, still wrapped tightly around him. Eventually, her body released him and he slid from her. Moving to her side, he rolled her body, then positioned her flush against his chest, then wrapped his big frame around hers, spooning her. They lay there in silence, recovering themselves and their breath, bodies pressed tightly together and dropped into blissful sleep.

To their dismay, they slept right through Nerf Night. Something they’d been looking forward too. They were a formidable team and their absence didn’t go unnoticed. The next night at Com-Din, Dean asked Jayne in front of everyone where they’d been.

Jayne, flustered and never one to have been good with words anyway, said defensively, ‘Not that it’s any business of yours, but we were...sparring.’

Everyone who’d heard him say it, wondered about it.

Plus, that Psychic, Patience, knew he’d been...mostly...lying. River heard her pluck it right out of his head.

Then River thought at Patience that she needed to keep her mouth shut.

Patience thought back, ‘I’m the least of your worries and wouldn’t say anything anyway. The whole room is wondering about it. Including your brother.’ Then tilted her head in Simon's direction.

River glance at her brother and sure enough, he was looking right at her.

‘La shi…’ she muttered.

Chapter Text

Forty-Three

 

Angel left Com-Din without saying good-bye to anyone. He’d had enough of people for a few days already and needed to get away. Thankfully, everyone was back planet-side, Com-Din was over and the next round of people coming out of Cryo didn’t require his presence or assistance. It meant he’d have the next two weeks to himself. He needed it. He wanted it. Besides that, it was necessary. He had to try and figure out what was happening with him. It was dangerous to do that with humans everywhere. Another wave of nausea washed over him and his palms and upper lip, actually got sweaty. He just needed to get in the car and go before he vomited.

He’d vomited that morning, again. It was becoming routine. He couldn’t keep anything down and had almost decided to stop trying…which, made it dangerous for him to be around humans. He felt certain that he wouldn't attack anyone, but he had to make certain that he wouldn't. He’d asked Simon already if he’d changed anything in the synth process and had been assured that he hadn’t. The blood itself couldn’t be the problem. In fact, it was the same pig’s blood that he’d become used to on Earth and had been drinking here on Miranda, since he’d switched from the bagged human blood that Buffy had made for him in the beginning.

He rested his hand on the roof of his car and took a beat to settle his stomach by taking some breaths and swallowing…and nope, his stomach twisted and he bent over to vomit the contents of his stomach out on the pavement of the parking lot. As soon as his stomach was empty the cramping stopped and the sour taste on the back of is taste buds cleared. He spit a few times to finish clearing his mouth, but yes, the sourness was gone. While he stared at the mess on the pavement, he considered going back inside to get a bucket of water to wash away the foul mess splattered at his feet, but more than wanting to be courteous he didn’t want the attention that having to explain what the water was for would bring him.

As luck would have it though, he wasn’t lucky enough to escape notice.

He stood and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, hoping that blood wasn’t all over his mouth or chin while Xander jogged over to him.

‘Hey, man. You okay?’ Xander asked.

‘Yeah…’ he answered, shortly, then, ‘Yeah, I just…have an upset stomach.’

He opened the car door, hoping to make this fast and not have to answer questions. Xander held the top of the door indicating that he wanted Angel to stop and reassure hi further. Angel didn’t want it to turn into a thing so he smiled, then laid the hand he’d used to open the door on Xander’s shoulder.

‘Gonna head home and brush my teeth. My mouth tastes bad. Then I’m gonna lay down.’

Xander nodded, looking worried. ‘Yeah. Okay. So, look…call if you need anything.’

‘Sure.’ Angel answered, then got in the car.

Before he could away, Faith, Robin, Gunn, and Andrew stopped in front of the car. They all saw the puddle of blood vomit and looked at him. Faith, waved to her companions, called ‘good-bye’ and jogged around the car, seating herself in the passenger seat.

‘I’m glad I caught you. I thought you left already. By the way, did you puke blood all over the parking lot?’ she asked, as he pulled out of the lot and drove away.

‘Yeah…I’m just a little nauseous.’ He deflected with a gesture.

Robin materialized next to Xander and they watched while Faith and Angel turned out of the parking lot of the meeting hall, they’d had to move Com-Din to when they’d out grown The Kitchens space. He looked down at the vomit again.

‘Is that…’ Robin began.

‘Blood vomit? Yeah…’ Xander answered, concern laced his voice.

They both starred at the mess, considering what it meant.

Gunn and Andrew left the walkway joining them to inquire about what was so interesting.

‘Is that…’ Andrew began.

Xander and Robin both nodded, ‘Yeah…’

‘Huh…’ Gunn said, then twisted to watch Angel’s departure. ‘Interesting.’

‘Has he ever thrown up before?’ Robin asked.

Xander, Gunn, and Andrew shook their heads or shrugged as was relevant.

‘I’ve never known it to happen…’ Gunn paused, considering, then continued, ‘Except, one time when he was infected by the blood of a Mohra demon. It was before my time, but Cordy told me about it. The demon’s blood restored his humanity, blah blah blah, he went to the Oracles to ask about staying a Vampire for reasons…the next day, all the food he ate, came back up. Cordy said it was a real mess.’ Gunn explained. ‘There was this thing about how no one was supposed to remember that he’d been human, but Cordy made him spill…his guts.’ Gunn shrugged at the pun.

‘Yeah…but, he’s a Vampire now and that’s blood, not food.’ Robin pointed out.

‘True.’ Gunn agreed.

Xander considered everything Gunn said. The time was fuzzy in his memory, but if it was before Gunn and during Cordy…he stopped trying to puzzle it. ‘Maybe we should ask Buffy about it.’ Xander said, not sure that it was the best idea, but he was concerned. This wasn’t normal.

Giles and Jody saw the small group starring at something on the ground, looking like they were having a serious discussion about whatever it was they were looking at… ‘was that…blood?’ Curiosity got the better of him and he diverted his and Jody’s path, going to find out what was happening.

Coming to a stop, Giles asked, ‘Is that…?’

Everyone nodded in answer.

‘Whose…’ he began.

‘Angel’s. He threw it up.’ Xander said.

Giles jerk his gaze to Xander.

‘He threw up is dinner or he’s throwing up blood?’ Jody asked for clarification.

‘Ugh…’ Xander said, not having considered that Angel might be throwing up his own blood.

Everyone looked as Jody, but no one had an answer.

‘Well, I guess we better get Alex and go and ask him.’ Jody said, practically.

‘Right…’ Giles seconded. ‘Let’s, ugh, we will reconvene at Angel’s apartment then?’ he asked, glance at each of them in turn.

‘Should…do, do we all need to go and make Angel’s business our business?’ Robin asked.

‘I rather think that a Vampire unable to hold down blood or vomiting blood is concerning for the entire community.’ Giles countered.

‘I just…he threw up, it’s no big. He probably just has an upset stomach…’ Robin argued.

Giles considered what he wanted to say next. Anytime something ‘knew’ or not normal happened with a Vampire, it wasn’t ‘no big.’ He knew from experience that the slightest change, meant something. He opened his mouth to explain that, but Jody spoke instead.

‘Don’t get involved if you’d rather not. No one’s going to hold it against you.’ Jody said, the to the others, she continued, ‘See you at Angel’s.’ She turned away from the group and Giles followed.

The group dispersed after that.

Xander and Andrew rode together, Robin and Gunn followed.

Buffy and Spike were having a good, if long, day. They’d been unable to clear out of Com-Din until almost everyone had gone, but they were almost back at the penthouse now and they were both in good moods. She chalked that up to the fact that they were going to go home in the morning.

Spike bobbed his head and sang along to the ‘happy medium’ play list they’d compiled. They were listening to something that Dean had given them and had given the distinction of being one of his favorite ‘new’ bands. It was something they all did. It was 500 years from their mental present, but they spoke as if they resided in that mental present even after five years. The band, Royal Blood had released How Did We Go So Dark, in Dean’s 2014. Buffy didn’t usually listen to music that was this heavy, but she liked everything she’d heard from this band and so did Spike. Hence, ‘happy medium.’

After the drama of the last several weeks she had every intention of residing in the happy medium for as long as she could. She was looking forward to spending the rest of this evening with Dawn, Willow, Oz and probably Dean, then disappearing behind the walls of their well-hidden secret spot. Now that Kennedy had moved out of Building One, (she and Claire were roommates now and they’d moved into Building Two), Willow wasn’t as invisible now as she had been before Kennedy’s departure.

Kennedy and Claire had avoided everyone like the plague during Com-Din this evening and that had been just fine with…everyone. Last year, Buffy had overheard Claire and Jody arguing. She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but they were arguing in the lobby of the Cryo warehouse. That hadn’t been much she could do about it. Claire, wanted to move off world and Jody, who was on the Council, told her that it would another year before it even came up for discussion.

‘But rest assure,’ Jody had told the girl pointedly, ‘The only sanctioned reason for living off planet at this point, would be to attend college.’

Claire had slammed out of the building, not liking that answer at all.

Buffy had spent the next week considering in her day dreams that Claire, who was always at odds with her, should be allowed to live off planet, if for nothing more than to make Buffy’s life easier.

As Spike drove, she realized that Xander and Andrew were in front of them. She should invite them for the evening and then it would be just like the old days…minus Giles, but add Dean. She considered what she really wanted for the evening for the next few moments then decided that maybe she should ask Dawn first. The penthouse was technically her house now. She pulled out her Wave and sent sister a quick text.

‘Awesome!’ Dawn replied.

Buffy turned off the music to ask Spike what he thought.

‘Eh! I was listening to that!’ he protested.

‘And I will turn it back on, I just wanted to run something by you. Dawn is good with it. I want to invite the old gang over for a few hours tonight so we can spend some time together before we go home in the morning. Especially since we don’t have to be back for two weeks.’ She said.

‘Yeah…alright.’ He agreed with a shrug.

‘Thank you.’ She said, pressing a happy kiss to his cheek.

She turned the radio back on and Radioactive by, Imagine Dragons came on.

‘I’m not sure about this song.’ She admitted, talking over the opening.

‘It’s complete twaddle, but for twaddle it’s likable.’ Spike answered.

‘That’s…a fair assessment.’ She agreed.  

They danced in their seats as they rode.

They followed Xander all the way back to Building Two. Buffy pointed, indicating that Spike should follow even though she frowned over why Xander had pulled into Building Two.

‘Follow?’ Spiked asked, perplexed by it as well.

She nodded. A frown creased her features as she saw Giles and Jody, Robin and Gunn already out of their cars and waiting for Xander and Andrew. Spike pulled in and parked next to Xander.

Buffy said, ‘Wait here.’ She got out and went to Xander who looked nervous.

‘Hey Buff…ugh, maybe it’s…a good thing you’re here.’ Xander said.

‘I was coming to ask you and Andrew up to the penthouse to hang, but maybe you better explain why you look like you’ve seen a ghost.’ Buffy said, looking past him to Giles and Robin.

‘That sounds like fun and preferable, but maybe you should come with us instead.’ He said.

‘What’s wrong now?’ she said, unable to keep the irritation from her voice.

‘Angel vomited…blood, earlier.’ Xander blurted.

‘Oh…’ she answered, the frown deepening.

Neither said anything for a beat.

‘Was it his blood or…food?’ she asked.

‘That’s what we are about to go and find out.’ He explained. ‘You coming?’

Buffy would rather eat dirt that deal with another crisis tonight. Especially one concerning Angel. She looked over her shoulder at Spike who was watching her intently and sighed. She pressed her mouth into a grim line. Feeling her evening slip away she made up her mind. Spike, seeing it, muttered, ‘Bollocks’ then turned the car off and got out.

‘What is it?’ he asked walking toward her.

‘Angel is throwing up blood.’ Xander said.

The news hit Spike like a bolt of lightning. He wasn’t able to keep it off of his face.

Buffy, seeing his…disquiet, gave him her full attention.

‘Spill…’ she commanded.

‘Let’s…hear what Peaches has to say first.’ He countered.

‘Spike…’ she breathed threateningly.

‘I’d…rather not have a bloody audience, Pet.’ He said, flicking his eyes at Xander.

Buffy was fully irritated now. Not only was she going to have to get into an argument with Spike, but she was probably going to have to get into an argument with Angel and when that happened she’d have to moderate the argument that it caused between Spike and Angel.

Spike, seeing her fatigue and watching her inner dialogue took mercy on her.

‘I…can’t keep any blood down. Actually, I haven’t even…been drinking blood for a long time now because of it.’ He admitted. ‘Well, not actually because of it, but…I just, don’t want it.’

Stricken and nonplussed she said, ‘How long?’

Spike shifted his weigh and glanced evasively away from her, really not wanting to answer.

‘Please…’ she coaxed, instead of threatened.

‘Bugger.’ His jaw clinched, followed closely by his heart. She always got exactly what she wanted with that softly spoken, ‘please.’ The last of his stubborn refusal drained away and he answered her. ‘Years…’  

Buffy’s mouth dropped open in shock. ‘How many years?’

‘Four.’ He croaked.

‘Baby…?’ She said, disbelief ringing in her tone.

He didn’t say anything just offered a sheepish shrug.

She struggled with what to say next, what question to ask next. Struggled to understand why he would keep something like that from her. She realized belatedly that…he wouldn’t…just keep a secret like this from her unless… She got scared then and crossed her arms protectively over her churning stomach.

His girl looked like she was going to faint. He needed to do something quick. He placed his hand over hers, ‘I’m okay. I…should have told you, but…I’m sorry, okay.’

Buffy shook her head, unwilling to be soothed yet.

‘I promise, I am fine…unless, I drink blood. Then I throw it up. I don’t crave it. I don’t think about it. I don’t even seem to need it.’ He said.

‘Then…I don’t…’ she stuttered.

‘I just eat food.’ He said.

She was very confused. She…nodded that she heard him, but she was deep in the puzzle, trying to figure out what it meant. When she thought about what it meant, that he couldn’t eat, her stomach twisted and she started to shake. All at once, the full reality of the situation settled on her. She jerked her head to stare at Building Two. After a beat she looked back at him and her heat began to thunder in her chest….‘she couldn’t lose him…them…she couldn’t lose them both…either one of them.’

‘Kitten…’ Spike coaxed soothingly, ‘I’m fine.’

Buffy’s bottom lip began to tremble. It had been five years since she’d had to face anything more traumatic than teenagers learning they’d been kidnapped 500 years ago and they didn’t have health insurance at their age. She was utterly terrified at what this could mean.

‘Promise me.’ She whispered.

‘I promise.’ He swore, looking into her eyes.

She saw and knew that he meant it and calmed a fraction.

‘Buffy, are you coming?’ Xander prodded.

She stared at Spike and waited.

‘Let’s go.’ He said, having had enough of that look on her face.

He grabbed the love of his incredibly long life’s hand, spinning her around. He pulled her along with him as he marched up the long walk to Building Two’s entrance. He pushed open the door to the stairwell, located in the back of the lobby and went down. He came to a stop at Angel’s door and hammered on it. It opened instantly. Angel stood on the other side of the threshold with a large duffle, his duster and keys. Xander and the rest of the group, trooped to a stop behind Buffy and Spike.

‘Did you, or did you not, sign away your claim to the Shan Shu?’ Spike demanded.

Angel looked at the assembly on the other side of his door. ‘What is this?’ he asked.

‘Answer the question.’ Spike insisted.

Buffy looked up at him wondering, ‘What the hell? Angel would never do that.’

Angel didn’t answer. He simply stepped forward in attempt to muscle past Spike.

Spike, not having any of it, put his hand on Angel’s chest and stopped him.

‘We’re going to talk, me and you.’ Spike said, seriously.

‘Spike, get your hand off of me before I rip it off.’ Angel threatened.

‘No!’ Spike growled. ‘You’re going to answer me. Are you, or are you not in the middle of Shan shu?’ Spike pressed, then gave Angel a shove, knocking him back a few steps.

‘What…are you talking about?’ Angel asked, unsure.

‘I’m talking about you puking blood, Mate. How long has it been going on?’ Spike pushed for an answer again.

‘I’m leaving. Now. Move.’ Angel said, declining to answer and successfully shoving past Spike this time.

Buffy stepped into his path.

Angel stopped instantly.

‘What is he talking about?’ She asked, softly. ‘Did you? Sign it away?’

He didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. His eyes told her everything.

‘Angel, no…why?’ she choked.

Spike saw the pain of the truth in her eyes and jealousy ripped through him.

‘Because…I had to.’ He said, so low it was barely audible.

It was quiet for a beat.

‘Then why are you puking blood?’ Spike asked, not believing him.

‘I don’t know, Spike!’ he said, whirling on him.

‘Angel, can we please sit down and talk?’ Giles asked in his calm coaxing way.

‘I don’t see the need…’ Angel began.

‘Because, after we’d been here a few weeks, I couldn’t keep any blood down either. If I drink blood right now, I will puke it up in an hour. I don’t crave it. I don’t need it. I eat food exclusively. Do you want to eat food?’ he rapid fired all of this.

‘Not particularly.’ Angel shrugged, uncomfortable now that he’d heard what Spike had to say. He crossed his arms stubbornly over his chest, indicating that he was cooperating under duress.

Spike took a few steps toward his Grandsire and weighed his words carefully.

‘I…breathe. Sometimes without thinking about it. I just, catch myself doin it and remember that, it’s something that I do now.’ Spike sniffed at the confession, then deciding that it had to be done, ran a hand through his hair that was now his natural shade of sandy blond, then looked at Buffy and said, ‘Lately, my heart will beat…depending…’ he didn’t finish that statement.

Everyone, including Buffy stared at him in astonishment.

‘You take no blood at all?’ Giles asked.

Spike pulled his lips together in a smirk and shook his head, ‘Nope.’

‘I…don’t understand.’ Giles said.

‘He Shan shu’d.’ Angel offered by way of explanation.

‘Am I supposed to understand what that means?’ Giles asked.

‘Didn’t you and Wes ever talk?’ Angel asked, flustered.

Giles pulled his glasses off and cleaned them.

‘Fine. I think, Spike Shan Shu’d because of Sunnydale. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. I was probably shown a ‘fake’ of the prophecy and as proof of my loyalty to the Circle of the Black Thorn, I was told that I had to sign away my claim to it. So, I did, thinking that it wouldn’t matter anyway because I was going to be dead in a few hours. Spike, didn’t have an opportunity to complete the transition because he died in Sunnydale. Then he came back as a ghost, then didn’t have time to complete the transition after helping to ‘save’ the world a second time because he was unceremoniously thrown into a cryo tube for 500 years. Now, here we are on a planet that doesn’t necessarily recognize Earth specific magic. I’d say that he is almost entirely human, but not completely.’ Angel finished, like he’d been giving a lecture.

‘What does that have anything to do with why you are throwing up blood?’ Buffy asked.

‘I’m…not throwing up blood, I mean, I am, but it’s not mine, it’s food.’ Angel answered.

He started walking then and said, ‘I’m going.’

‘Angel, please…wait.’ Giles called, ‘We need to understand…’

Angel didn’t. He pushed past everyone and left.