Chapter Notes:

As promised! For those worried about Darla's death, uh . . . I have to confess, I never watched Angel the Series at all, not even the cross over event episodes, so I wasn't sure when Darla died again, just that she did. If you are one of those who loves Connor, assume he still manages to be born eventually (maybe Angel lied to Cordy and Darla's not actually dead yet - yeah, let's go with that. He's hiding things. Again) . . . And for those worried about Dru - her little rant really did mean she wasn't coming to Sunnydale. The only Dru you'll be seeing is some temporal Dru.

Enough rambling! Enjoy :-)

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CH 9

Spike crashed hard when he returned to his crypt, the fight having taken enough out of him to allow sleep to overtake him quickly. When he woke, daylight was filtering in through the thick, dirty glass of the crypt and he realized he was sleeping on the couch in his full kit. Being as vampires didn't sweat, it normally didn't concern him to wear the same clothes two or three days in a row, but this set had several nasty tears, courtesy of the ugly bugger he'd demolished the previous evening, so he stumbled down to the lower level to strip and shower before donning a fresh set of jeans and a tee. He considered the bed briefly, but knew he wasn't anywhere near knackered enough to sleep now – he'd only think about Buffy.

Distraction was in order, and since he was a little flammable to go seeking a fight at this hour, the telly would have to do.

It took Spike several minutes to figure out why every bloody channel on basic cable was playing a soddin' romance movie – and that it wasn't just the Powers rubbing salt in a very fresh wound. Not that he appreciated the irony of his lady-love discovering, and running from, his feelings the night before Valentine's Day.

Spike stabbed at the remote, silencing the drivel on the screen, and laid back on the sofa. God, this was such a mess. He was such a mess. Wanting things he shouldn't even want, being something it shouldn't be possible for him to be. And all because of her. What was wrong with him that he always chose women so far above him? Why couldn't he be happy with someone normal? Why did he always turn himself inside out trying to please women who would never be pleased?

Cecily, Drusilla, Buffy . . . none of them would ever be his. He wasn't good enough for them. He'd let the Bit's intimations of a relationship in her timeline give him false hope, but deep down he knew the truth. Couldn't imagine a universe in which any woman loved him, certainly not Buffy.

"Spike?"

Everything in him froze at the gentle, questioning call. After a moment he gave a tentative sniff.

Smelled like his slayer. Certainly didn't sound like her though. There was a tenderness to the tone that she had never demonstrated with him and no half-shouted love confession would be enough to put it there.

Hesitantly, he opened his eyes and found himself in an unfamiliar living room.

"Hey, you in there?"

He almost closed his eyes again. Buffy was beside him. Right beside him. Her soft, warm form pressed into his side. Some program was on the telly, but they weren't either one paying attention to it. Buffy was peering down at him with mild concern and he knew with sudden, painful, surety that they were together in this reality. Knew because he could feel what this Spike felt. This Spike was absolutely secure in his relationship with the Slayer. Which meant this had to be a time anomaly of some kind and it was definitely of the parallel universe variety.

Troubling thing was, there was no bloody bubble that he could see, and this was no vision either. He wasn't dreaming or seeing, he was physically here – he knew, because the partially healed gash on his leg from the night before was stinging where his jeans rubbed against it, and his body was still a touch achy from the encounter. He was here, body and mind, but he wasn't in the driver's seat. Some other Spike's thoughts and feelings were mingling with his own, becoming stronger every moment, and when his arm tightened around the Slayer's shoulders and his head ducked to press a kiss to the top of hers, he had no control over the actions.

If he was inside one of the bubbles he wasn't sure he ever wanted to leave. Still, the rational part of him knew that the woman in his arms was not his Buffy. She was similar, certainly, but she wasn't the woman he was in love with and she never would be.

He wished he had the power to close his own eyes. If he couldn't see her that argument would have so much more power. His hand toyed with the ends of Buffy's hair and she snuggled into him with a contented sigh. Parallel Universe Spike felt nothing but contentment, but Spike was tormented with the agony of what would probably never be in his reality.

Soddin' parallel universes – worse than the Bit with building up his impossible hopes.

Still, at least now he could confirm with definite certainty that they were catching glimpses of parallel universes. Felt kinda slow for not catching onto that bit sooner, actually, what with some of those visions he'd had. Doubted he'd been in the Slayer's bed at that possessed house. Supposed he'd have to check with the Bit, even if it was embarrassing.

Parallel Buffy kissed his chest and then faded away, and Spike found himself back on his sleek black couch alone, the telly silent and black. Disappointment and relief flooded him in equal measures.

He'd been planning to lie low a few days, give the Slayer time to work through his confession, give himself time to sort his thoughts. Painful though that little universe jump or whatever might have been, it did give him reason to hope, yeah? If in some version of the world he had been with Buffy then maybe, maybe he had a chance in this one. God, if it was even possible . . . Hope warred with a ridiculous jealousy of his possible other self, before he pushed both irrational feelings away.

Couldn't lie low now. He had to tell the others. Maybe not the details, but Red needed to know her theory about alternate realities was spot on. Not to mention that bit with the full body immersion was probably important. He'd wager it had something to do with that building power theory. Did seem like the next logical step in that progression, some sort of alternate universe possession. Hated to think what the next step might be.

A sudden, terrifying thought occurred to him. Every time he'd had one of these "parallel" type instances it'd been triggered by what he was thinking about. Was it possible Red was wrong? What if this wasn't about alternate dimensions or possible timelines? Maybe this warlock, or demon, or whatever it was, was capable of mixing their desires in with actual events. If so, to what end?

Damn it. They didn't have enough intel. Every theory they posed was just a shot in the dark. Humans knew a piddling bit about time, and most demons knew less. How were they ever supposed to suss this out?

One thing was certain, casting more questions into the thing was only gonna muddy the waters further. Had to have a solid theory before he took this to the Scoobies. Which meant he needed to go through his journal again.

It was as good a way as any to avoid thinking about Buffy – the one he knew, who'd never love him, and the one from his trip through the looking glass, who seemed to.

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Spike loved her. Spike loved her. Spike loved her.

Buffy repeated the words over and over in her head, but even after two days they still didn't seem real. Or, okay, maybe it wasn't so much it didn't seem real as it didn't seem as though it should be possible. Because as truly wig-worthy as the statement was she couldn't bring herself to disbelieve it.

Spike was fully capable of love, soul or no soul. It went against everything Angel and Giles had taught her, but she couldn't deny its truth. She'd seen it in action with Drusilla. She'd believed him in love with Dawnie. She couldn't deny his ability now just because it turned out that she was the object of his affections.

So it was probably true. But, damn it, it made everything all confusing and difficult. Why couldn't Spike be a normal vampire? Why did he have to be so human? It must be because his sire was insane. She'd done it wrong and he was broken. That had to be it.

Which still left her right where she'd started. Soulless, evil-on-hold, Spike –William the Bloody, Slayer of Slayers, one quarter of the Scourge of Europe– was in love with her.

She didn't know what to do about that. The few times in her life she'd found herself the object of undesired attention she'd always just avoided the guy, but she couldn't avoid this guy. She needed him. The world needed him, if her sister was to be believed, and she wasn't selfish enough to screw the world for her own comfort.

Still, she couldn't shake the thought that Spike was most dangerous when he was in love. It seemed like most of the really demon-y, evil things he'd done during their acquaintance were all for the sake of Drusilla.

Of course, he'd also helped her stop Angelus and Acathala for the sake of Drusilla.

So maybe he could be dangerous on her side? That didn't even make any sense. Dangerous for her side? Maybe he could channel that willing-to-do-anything-for-the-woman-I-love thing into something useful and world-saving.

Which, if she thought about it, was apparently what he'd been doing since . . . well, at least since November when they'd had that conversation about belonging.

But if she knew what was really motivating him –that it was her– and she let him keep doing it, wasn't that like using him? She remembered Dawn yelling at her after Tara's birthday, telling her that how she treated someone was a reflection of the type of person she was, not what type of person they were. Yeah, that had struck a serious nerve. She was ashamed to admit that her sister had a point.

So did that mean she had to kick him off the team? That seemed counterproductive. Frankly, they needed all the team they could get right now, dealing with whatever the heck they were dealing with. At the same time, she couldn't lead Spike on just to keep him fighting the good fight. That would definitely be using him.

Maybe if she made it clear she saw him as nothing more than a friend? If he still chose to stay and help that was on him, right?

There was a flicker to her right, about even with her dresser, and Buffy did her best to ignore the forming time bubble. She already knew what it was going to show her – at least the general gist. Over the last two days the bubbles had started appearing with more and more frequency, though thankfully still only when she was alone – she hated to think what would happen if one showed up during class, and every one she saw played a different variation of the same show: Buffy and Spike, together. She'd even had a few good old fashioned visions about the two of them. She had no way of knowing if any of them were the actual future, a possible future, some alternate present, or something else altogether. She didn't even know why she'd seen so many of them –at least two dozen– over the 48 hours since Spike's inadvertent confession. Or why they all revolved around the same subject, when before they'd seemed fairly random. Was it because she was thinking about it? Or were the Powers trying to send her a message?

God, she hoped it was the first one. Spike had been helpful, and she hadn't hated him for a long time now, but the thought that they were destined to get all groiny was still wigsome.

The time bubble over her dresser disappeared with a faint sound, like a deflating balloon. Buffy's relief was short lived as a second bubble manifested almost immediately above her bed. She was a moment too late in turning her head and found herself caught up in the vision against her will.

Oh, now that was new.

In the center of the bubble was Spike, but this was Spike as she'd never seen him. His hair was longer, foppy with a wild sort of curl, and more honey-gold than blond. There was no scar trisecting his dark brow and the leather duster was nowhere to be found. Spike wore a white shirt and brown pants with . . . suspenders? Spike was so not a suspenders kind of guy. The view in the bubble panned back to reveal a wide stone lane and old architecture in pristine condition.

Also, this was the first bubble in two days that didn't seem to have her in it.

Drusilla danced into view. Her hand trailed along Spike's shoulders and came to rest over his unbeating heart. He smiled down at her and Buffy clamped down on the feeling that was definitely only disgust, not jealousy, because she'd never be jealous of skanky Drusilla, or of anything involving Spike.

The look in Spike's blue eyes was infinitely tender.

"Hello, dove," he murmured. "An' where have you been off to, hmm? Not getting into trouble?" There was something both protective and indulgent in his tone.

Dru batted her lashes at him. "If I have, will you punish me?"

"Do you want me to?" Spike asked. He grasped her upper arms, playful.

"Bad dog." Dru snapped her teeth at him. "You know only daddy gets to punish his girl."

Spike expression darkened with pain at the mention of Angelus, but when Dru looked up at him once more he quickly cleared his expression, instead smiling at her gently.

"Of course, luv. But maybe you and I could play until then." He slid his hands down to grasp hers lightly. "Got a nice little room all set up for the day." He nuzzled the side of her face. "Rose petals and champagne. Nothing but the best for my princess."

Dru giggled and Buffy almost had to look away. It hurt to see how hard he tried, and how oblivious she was. But if the point of all this was to prove to her that Spike could love, she wished someone would tell the Powers she'd already gotten that memo.

"In a moment," Dru said. "Dance with me first?"

"Of course, my ripe, wicked plum. Fancy a waltz, sweet?"

Drusilla hummed in approval and Spike spun her on the cobblestone street. After a moment they were less dancing than swaying in one another's arms and Buffy almost turned away. Before she could, she was caught by something Drusilla said.

"Hold me, my sweet prince. Now, before the Sunshine comes and steals you away."

Buffy didn't know how she knew, but there was definitely a capital 'S' on that sunshine. Hadn't Drusilla called her that once?

Spike's hold on his insane sire tightened. "Know better than to go into the sunshine, luv. Not gonna dust on you."

Dru shook her head. "But the Sunshine isn't up there, it's in here." She patted his chest and then touched his temple. "It walks about, searching, and it burns, but doesn't turn you to ash." She frowned. "Would turn me to dust, the little Sunshine, if she could catch me." She looked up at Spike, a touch bewildered. "But not you. Why is that sweet William? What have you done to make the Sunshine love you? Why do you want it to?"

Spike pulled her back into his protective embrace. "The sunshine's got nothing to do with me," he cooed soothingly. "Promise, sweetheart, I'm all yours."

"For now," Dru murmured into his chest. "But one day the Sunshine will take you away. She'll steal all of my bits and make them new. And you'll want it. Want her."

Whatever Spike's response might have been, Buffy would never know, because at that moment the bubble faded away.

Buffy was left feeling somewhat like she'd intruded and distinctly unsettled.

That looked suspiciously like a scene straight out of the past. Spike's past. Though, she supposed it could be an alternate present or even future, where the industrial revolution never happened. Hell, if these things were showing alternate presents and possible futures, who was to say they didn't show alternate pasts too? She could have been unwilling witness to some other Spike's early vampire days.

But it could very easily have been her Spike's actual past. Especially considering what Drusilla had said. Bubble-Spike had been understandably confused by Dru's babble, but Buffy had a sinking suspicion she knew exactly what Dru was talking about. Spike had been swallowed up by the sunshine. He was helping the side of light, practically living on human time, and he loved her.

God. He loved her.

She was the sunshine and she was going to burn him right up, she knew she was. Because it didn't matter what he was or what he was becoming, she couldn't love him back. Not ever. He was a vampire. He'd made a name for himself killing her kind. She made a name for herself killing his. He shouldn't want her and she couldn't want him.

But he did. Apparently in a lot of parallel universes and possible futures he did, if her lovely "this is your life with Spike" tour was even halfway accurate.

So what was she supposed to do about it?

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Dawn was going to go insane. Literally. Stark, raving, mad. Bonkers. Looney tunes. She was going to dive straight off into the deep end. It had been almost a week; she needed to talk to one of them. Needed to. But she was terrified that if she did it would only make things worse. Spike and Buffy needed space. That meant she had to let them come to her. Even if it had been a freakin' week. And it wasn't like she knew what to say to them anyway – either of them. The one thing she'd carefully planned out down to the last detail was now officially screwed. And why? Spike understood the plan; he knew where he stood with Buffy. He'd been being so good. And on the night a much younger Dawn would have inadvertently spilled the beans to Buffy, Spike did it himself?

That couldn't be coincidence.

Which meant the Powers definitely weren't ignorant of her little field trip. And they were meddling. Did that mean they supported what she was doing? Or were they playing a clean-up game now?

Dawn flopped down on her back on the bed. "A little guidance might be in order," she told the ceiling bitterly. "Us mere mortals are running blind down here."

The ceiling, of course, was quiet. There was no flash of light, no voice to indicate the arrival of a messenger. Nothing.

When the phone rang, Dawn rushed to answer it, nearly fumbling it to the floor in her haste.

"Hello?" she asked, breathless.

"Bit. I need to see you."

It was only Spike, and she immediately felt silly for thinking it could be . . . What? What exactly had she been expecting? Cordelia with a vision? An automated message from the Powers? When had it ever been that easy?

But, hey, Spike wanted to see her. That was a plus.

"I can be over in," she glanced at the clock, "10 minutes?" It was still daylight, so she'd be safe.

"Right."

He hung up on her.

Okay then. That probably meant she should start walking now. She pulled a hoodie on over her lightweight sweater, and wondered if she should worry. He'd sounded off, but not in the "I'm considering going out to watch the sunrise" sort of way. She'd heard that tone on him before, it was much emptier – hollow. This had been more on-edge. Panicky, maybe? Except it wasn't quite that either. The only time she'd ever heard Spike panicky was in her fake memories of the Thanksgiving he'd spent chipped and tied to a chair in Giles' living room.

"A bear, you made a bear!" he'd yelped then.

Yeah, he didn't sound panicky. Maybe urgent was the word she was looking for.

Buffy's door was closed. Dawn wasn't sure whether it was safe to mention Spike's name yet, so she didn't bother to tell her sister where she was going. Not like she was a kid in this timeline. Mom was still at the gallery so Dawn scribbled a note and stuck it to the fridge. She didn't know how long she'd be gone, so she told them not to hold dinner for her.

She slipped outside and practically ran the distance to Spike's crypt. At this time of day the sun was on the backside of the crypt, but she was still careful when she slipped through the heavy door.

"Bit," Spike spoke, close behind her, as she closed the door and she jumped.

She spun around, hand over her heart. "Spike!"

He looked terrible. His hair was a riot of Cupid's curls, like he'd just gotten out of bed, only from the wild look in his eyes he hadn't been in bed – possibly in days. Vamps didn't generate body odor, any scent on them was picked up from their surroundings, so it was difficult to tell by smell, but judging by the flaky remnants of gel in his hair she didn't think he'd showered recently. The many wrinkles in his clothes implied he hadn't changed either.

The only time she'd ever seen Spike unkempt, outside of during a fight, was when they'd found him crazy in the high school basement after he'd won his soul. But then, she hadn't seen him after Buffy rejected him in the original timeline. Hadn't seen him for days. Who knew what he'd been doing during that time? Spike wasn't generally a brooder, like Angel, but he was an emotional man.

She gave a tentative sniff and noticed with relief that the smell of alcohol was missing. He wasn't drinking then. That was a good sign, right?

"Spike? Are you okay?" Clearly he wasn't, but she didn't know how else to phrase the question. Asking if something was wrong would be downright insulting when she knew something was.

"What?"

She ran her gaze pointedly from his head to his toes and back and he looked down at himself, vaguely surprised.

"Oh. That. Was busy."

Busy? She'd never heard someone call wallowing in rejection "busy" before, but it wasn't like vampires kept much of a calendar generally, so maybe this was busy in his mind.

"You said you needed to talk to me," she reminded him. "Is this, umm, about the other night?" Way to vague it up, Dawn, she mentally chastised. Still, she didn't want to be insensitive. If Spike needed a shoulder she was all he had.

He ran his hands through his hair in agitated fashion and she realized that was the cause of its unruly state.

"Right," was all he said.

He took her hand and led her to the sofa. Once there he waited for her to sit and then reached over to the end table. A moment later he thrust the familiar dream journal into her hands.

Okay. Not about Buffy then? Or was this going to be one of those "which future is it" interrogations? Anya had already tried that, and Dawn was determined to keep most of it to herself, but it probably wouldn't hurt to clarify a few things for Spike. Actually, the one she really needed to clarify things for was Buffy, but she wasn't sure her sister, ever the queen of denial, would stay in the room long enough for it to happen. But it wouldn't hurt to give Spike some hope right now.

The couch dipped as Spike sank down beside her and flipped the journal open to a fairly early page.

"I think it's feeding on our thoughts," he said.

"What?" It wasn't what she was expecting to hear, and for a moment she had no idea what he was talking about before she realized "it" must be whatever big bad was creating these time disturbances. Not that the context made his statement much more understandable.

"I'm not sure it's actually showing us real parallel universes or possible futures or whatever. I think it might be creating these visions from our minds."

Buffy practically ran from his confession and he spent the week working out new theories on the current big bad? Obsessive distractive much?

"Oo-kay. Why?"

"Look." He flipped back to the first page. "You remember that first conversation we had when you arrived? You told me about the Initiative and the chip." His finger trailed down the page and then stopped. "That day I dreamt I was locked in a bright white cell." Without waiting for her to follow he flipped to another page. "Then, when we were outside the Watcher's –after the Indians, and Peaches getting thrown out on his arse– I saw myself tied to a chair inside the flat."

"I didn't tell you about Thanksgiving," she protested. She hadn't wanted him to know how badly the Scoobies had treated him. A clean slate was a rare gift and she intended to take advantage of it.

He raised a brow. "I can read between the lines, pet."

Yeah, he'd always been very good at that.

"There are more," he said. "Won't go through them all, but, near as I can figure, most of these time hiccups have happened while I was thinking about how it might have happened, either in your original timeline, or in some vague future."

He might just be searching for distractions, but he brought up an interesting point, Although, she frowned, he made it sound like these incidents weren't time related at all, which couldn't be right, because they were clearly centered around the changes she had made. "That doesn't make sense. If they aren't actual disturbances in time why would they get worse as I made more changes?" And why were so many of the early ones accurate to her first life.

He shrugged. "I'm far from an expert, and I'm not saying the changes to the timeline aren't fueling these things, I'm just saying maybe they're being given some direction."

"By our fears?"

"And our wishes."

That kinda made sense. Maybe. She'd have to research more, compare notes with the others, but it was as possible as any other theory that had been posed. But even so, why the urgent phone call? They were going to have a Scooby meeting later in the week anyway.

"Okay, I follow. And I see how that's possible. But even if that's true, I don't see how it makes much difference in the end. It's not like showing us our fears can hurt us."

"Not just showing anymore, Bit."

"What does that mean?"

He ignored her question. "There's more. They're getting stronger again."

"More frequent, you mean? I know. I ran into a few bubbles on my way here. I think maybe there are enough, um, time ripples, maybe? Anyway, I think there've been enough changes that the bubbles are happening even without my deliberate interference now. Like, you know, enough people step two steps to the right or the left and even though they're tiny changes they add up, like grains of rice in a pot of water: individually they're tiny, but when you add enough eventually it all boils over."

Spike was looking at her with a puzzled expression.

"What?" she demanded.

He shook his head. "Nothing. Just realized the terrible food analogy thing must be genetic." He held up a hand to stop her protest. "But that isn't what I meant. Not that you aren't right, but I mean stronger not just more frequent."

"You mean a bubble actually broke through? Like Willow was talking about?" That could be bad. Really bad.

"Something like that, I guess. Or I was in one."

"You touched a bubble!" Stupid vampire! After they'd been through all the reasons it was a bad idea for Buffy to touch one he'd gone and done it himself? It made her so mad when he acted like he wasn't as important as the rest of them, like he was expendable. He was not expendable.

"Didn't," he refuted. "There was no bubble. Or if there was it came down right on top of me. But I'm thinking this was something else. At any rate, whatever it was, I was in it and it was real."

"Real how?"

"Not a dream, or a vision. I could physically interact with it. As me. Or, well, it was my body and I was conscious. Wasn't driving though."

"You were possessed?" she asked. "By other-Spike?"

"Something like that. Possessed by the entire alternate reality."

"Which means?"

"Which means they're starting to manifest. Don't know why the possession bit. Maybe they're not strong enough to break into this world on their own yet, need an anchor, so to speak. Maybe it's something I've not even thought of, we've not thought of. Don't know. But surely you can see where this is headed. A few days ago it manifested one of my wishes right down on top of me. What if it had been one of my fears?"

Oh God. It was the Lucky 17 nightmare all over again. Or at least it could be.

And that was more frightening to her than anything Spike had actually said. It could be. Or any one of a hundred other things could be. They didn't know, and for all their dream tracking and bubble watching and information exchanging they were no closer to knowing than they had been three weeks ago. There just wasn't enough information and she didn't know how to get it. What she wouldn't give to have Andrew's brain to pick right about now.

"Okay," she said, with a calm she didn't feel at the moment. Panicking was not going to help. Besides, historically speaking, the time changes seemed to always start with Spike –probably because his life was the thing she'd changed most– so if he'd only just experienced his first possession, or immersion or whatever, they probably had some time before it became a widespread issue. "Okay. I see your point. We'll talk about it at the next Scooby meeting. Can you organize all this in the next couple days?" She waved at the journal.

Spike nodded. "Got a good start."

She gave him another critical once-over. "Yeah, about that. You've been up ever since then? The manifestation, or possession, or whatever?"

Spike squinted over at the VCR clock. "Uh, yeah. Guess so."

"Have you changed clothes?"

He shook his head.

"Showered? Eaten?"

Somewhat sheepish now, he shook his head again.

She took the journal and gently, but firmly, set it aside. "Do those things first. You don't want to look like a crazy man the next time Buffy sees you. You know what she'll think of that. Especially after what happened."

Spike winced. "Dirty pool," he muttered.

"True," she corrected.

Their eyes locked and they had a brief, silent battle, but Dawn was right and Spike knew it, and she knew he knew it, and he knew that too, so in the end he rose grudgingly to his feet and stumbled, with far more grace than the word implied, to the ladder that led to the lower level.

"I'll be back some time tomorrow," Dawn said.

Spike paused and threw her a curious look.

"To compare notes." And to check on him. Not that she was going to tell him that.

He gave her a knowing look, but didn't say anything more. He dropped down the hole and a moment later she heard the water running.

She gave his journal once last look before she pushed to her feet with a sigh. Time to go start reviewing her own notes again. She never thought she'd say this, but she was seriously starting to sympathize with Buffy on that whole research thing. She was tired of research.

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Chapter End Notes:

Aaaaaaaaaaand - next post on Friday, followed by one pretty early next week since the next chapter leaves off in the middle again. Actually, you'll probably have two posts next week also, since there's a bit of a mini-arc coming up. Thanks for reading,

reenas-as