Dedicated to Taste Like Special, RAGAnne, and Rinso for the continued reviews and support.
Pay close attention to details in this chapter, especially in that last scene. You may or may not find it interesting to, at some point, revisit the post-Adam Slayer dream in Make the Clock Reverse.
Foreshadowing. Foreshadowing everywhere.
Spike was in The Magic Box taking care of gettin' the place closed up for the night. Since Giles had the slayers out of town, they'd all agreed, with Glory around and likely to use the shop for magic dodads if she saw the need, it wouldn't hurt for him to be there. Harris and the witches were helping Dawn with her homework back at the Summers' house, where Spike and Anya would be headed once she decided she'd counted the till enough times. Spike sat on the table, a cigarette propped in his mouth as he flipped through a book of Latin scribblings. Weapons against sin this, Dagon Sphere that...
Dagon Sphere? That was the—
Spike's thought was interrupted when the door to The Magic Box broke from its hinges and crashed inward. Three ugly-faced Lei-Ach demons walked in like they owned the place. Spike slipped into game face and thudded to his feet all at once, looking to Demon Girl at the register. She secured the cash in its drawer before she started to back up.
"Are they poker buddies of yours?" she asked.
"A Lei-Ach? Stupid gits couldn't tell a Full House from a Royal Flush if their lives depended on it, pet." He put himself in front of Anya, remembering his promise to his Slayer: Keep 'em safe. He had this. "Shove off," he shouted at the Lei-Ach. They continued advancing. Spike shrugged. "Was worth a shot."
Spike lunged, tackling one of the Lei-Ach to the ground. He decked it in the sores a couple of times. When Spike saw the others making their way to Anya, he snapped his demon's neck and jumped to his feet. Spike roared, and the other two turned to him. While they were distracted, Lady Vengeance picked up a nearby urn of something or other and smashed it over the head of one of the Lei-Ach. Spike rushed them, but the pair ran off toward the training room out back, and Spike listened as the back door to the shop closed. He put a hand on Anya's shoulder.
"Spike!" Anya pointed behind him.
Spike spun about, his duster sweeping the floor. That was when he noticed the small fire in front of the table. He yanked one of the blankets he used to travel in daylight from the table, slapping it against the book his still-lit cigarette had fallen onto in the mess of everything. Once the flames died, Spike frowned down at the ash-covered book.
"Well, Rupes isn't gonna be happy about this, is he?"
"Who the hell sent those Lei-Ach?" Anya demanded. "And they broke the door!" she shrieked, gesturing wildly. "What are we going to do about the door?!"
Demon Gal was right. Lei-Ach were marrow-suckers. Had about as much brains as a Fyarl demon. All about the brute strength. Made for good minion-types. They were likely to be in funeral homes or somethin'. Or hospitals, maybe. Scavengers, nowadays. Around sickly types.
Buffy and Faith had been wandering around in the desert for some time now. They'd left Giles with his hokey pokey and magic squash or whatever. A cougar and a wolf had appeared just as the sun was starting to set, and the slayers were still tracking them.
"I've seen this place before," Buffy said. All it was was sand, and it was dark out now when she was used to sunlight, but something about it...
"From the slayer dreams, yeah," Faith said. Her thumbs rested in the pockets of her jeans. Buffy thought that she had to be cold out here with just a tank top and jacket. Buffy was wearing a fuzzy turtleneck and she was chilly. But Faith didn't even mention it. "Kinda from the greatest hits."
"Yeah." Buffy played with her hair tie, waiting for the animals to just pick a spot for epiphany-having already. "Faith, why did you come back? And for something that pretty much amounts to some good ol' Summers family drama?"
Faith laughed, keeping her focus straight ahead. "To be fair, B, your family drama has reached dimension-tearing levels here." She paused, tilting her head at Buffy and narrowing her eyes. "And Xander said you needed me. Didn't give it a lot of thought. Am I gettin' you don't want me to be here?"
"No, that's not... Thank you, for being here." Buffy sighed. Faith feelings were complicated. Buffy felt kind of guilty that she didn't do more to help Faith when she got to Sunnydale the first time, when she killed that guy. She was pissed that Faith had turned on them, had almost killed Angel, had almost gotten Buffy killed along with everyone else. And yet... No one else could understand on a deep-down level the burden of slayerhood. Plus there were the layers of awkward about their history together. Ergo, complicated.
"Yeah, well. You know me." Faith ran her hand over her long, loose hair. "All about the good deeds."
The cougar and the wolf came to a stop. A bonfire had been lit, with a collapsed tree trunk next to it. The slayers shared a look between them and then re-focused toward the fire. The spirit animal thingys were gone, and only the fire and tree trunk remained. Buffy and Faith approached the fire and sat on the trunk. Buffy rested her hands on either side of herself, leaning away from the heat. Faith leaned forward, folding her hands and staring at the heart of the fire.
Before he took Anya to the Summers' home, Spike had found his notebook with the stuff about the future in Rupert's hidden drawer under the register at The Magic Box. It'd been a couple of hours. Joyce and Dawn had both gone up to bed. Harris and his bird had gone home, as had the lover Wiccas (after re-securing the protection spells they'd put up around the place). He'd reviewed what he'd written when he'd first been popped back here by the Powers That Bugger. It wasn't a whole lot to go on.
Now he was trying to jot down the things they'd used against Glory the last time. So far, he had "troll hammer" written with "Red + Demon Girl" next to it, and "Dagon Sphere" with "B-Bot" next to it under that. He really, really hoped the Bot wouldn't be necessary. It wasn't something he was exactly proud of, or wanted to have to drudge up, especially with Harris and Rupes finally not giving him a hard time about being with Buffy.
Spike snapped to attention on the couch, fumbling to close the notebook. The eldest Summers stood in her bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, a China cup in each hand. "Joyce. What are you still doin' up? Not feelin' well?"
"Not really, no." Joyce sighed, approaching Spike and holding one of the cups out to him. He nodded thanks, tossed the notebook next to him on the couch, and accepted the tea. "The new pills the doctors have me on help the headaches more, but I'm up vomiting every other night." Joyce curled up in the armchair, taking a sip of her beverage. "The tea helps. Willow and Tara brought it by one day."
"Yeah." Spike scratched the back of his neck. "This do-gooder lot is helpful like that."
"I'm also doing some overtime mother worrying."
"Dawn did her homework." Spike sipped some of the tea. Tasted pretty awful, though he appreciated the hint of burba weed that was familiar to him. "Should be off to her beddy-bye."
"No, um... Buffy, I mean. Being off in the middle of the desert for whatever slayer ritual Ru... Mr. Giles has her involved with." She sipped her tea, biding her time. "They didn't say when they'd be back?"
Spike shook his head, setting his tea on the coffee table. "Hard to schedule out when the Powers That Be will impart their wisdom. They can take care of themselves. I'm sure they'll be fine."
Joyce fell silent, sipping on her tea a couple of times as her gaze wandered around the room. Finally, she stared at the notebook next to Spike. "Writing love poems?" Joyce raised her eyebrows, smirking even as she finished off the last of her tea.
"Love... uh, no! Psh, love... Do I look like the poet type?" Spike rolled his eyes for good measure then, when Joyce didn't answer, began to pick at the polish on his nails. Joyce didn't pick up on the big things sometimes, like bein' mother to the Slayer for instance, but damn if she didn't have the occasional good instinct. "Just some notes I wanted to make. About demons, and such. Help Buffy, if I can."
Joyce opened her mouth, placed her cup on the side table, and grinned.
"The way the two of you watch out for each other, how much Dawn looks up to you... I'm happy to have you around, Spike."
Spike licked his lips. "Bit looks up to me, does she?"
"I got a call from her school principal the other day. Apparently she was defending another student and called the bully in question a 'gormless tit.' I hardly think she picked that one up from Sabrina the Teenage Witch."
"I've gotten calls about worse with Buffy." Joyce grimaced. "That Principal Snyder was especially awful, though."
"If it makes you feel any better," Spike said, "he got eaten by the mayor when he turned into a giant demonic snake on graduation day." Spike picked up his notebook, flipping it around in his hands to keep himself busy.
"Well, I would never wish death on a man..."
Spike pursed his lips and raised his eyebrow.
"Don't tell me you've never wished a vamp'd get a hold of your ex." Spike couldn't deny the thought crossing his mind once or twice. Berk never came to even check on the girls when Joyce died last time 'round. Spike shivered, the way he did any time Joyce's death came to mind while he was looking at her, guilt clawing at his gut, like there was nothin' he could do to save her.
Joyce tightened her lips and glanced off to the side.
"Why don't you try 'n get some sleep?" Spike said. "I'll stay up a bit longer, see if the Slayer comes home before Dawn's gotta get to school. I promise, anything goes wonky you'll be the first one I wake. I'll make a huge ruckus and everythin'."
Joyce rose and walked toward Spike. He thought, for a moment, it'd be to take his cup away. Instead, she kissed his forehead. Spike was a little taken aback at how easily a woman more than a century younger than him always managed the maternal touch.
"You get some sleep, too, Spike, alright?"
Joyce turned and started for the stairs. She got as far as the living room's threshold before Spike snapped to his feet and cleared his throat.
She turned to him, her expression serious and searching.
"I promise, you don't have to worry about 'em. No matter what. Your girls'll be just fine."
Joyce smiled, then continued up to bed.
Buffy was starting to nod off when she saw a figure on the other side of the fire. She stirred herself awake. At first, from the way the long dark coat moved, Buffy almost thought it was Spike. As the fog of exhaustion lifted from her a little, she realized her mistake. Faith jumped to her feet, stake in hand. Buffy reached out, grabbing Faith by the forearm. But by the way Faith was staring, Buffy thought she'd figured it out, too.
"I know you," Faith muttered.
"You're a slayer. The Slayer Spike... You were in my dream," Buffy said. Faith sat back down beside her.
"So, what?" Faith said. "We're havin' some kind of freaky deaky group slayer dream again?"
"This is the form, baby girl," the Slayer with the afro and Spike's coat said. "I'm the guide."
"Points to Giles," Faith muttered out of the corner of her mouth. "I thought for sure he'd gotten one knock to the brain too many with the vegetable rattle in the desert thing."
"We, um..." Buffy took Faith's hand, suddenly a little wigged by talking to the mystery guide taking the form of the dead girl who came a couple of decades before them. If things had fully gone as prophesized with The Master, it might have been Buffy's form talking to Faith.
"Look," Faith said, squeezing Buffy's hand. "We've got questions 'bout being the Chosen Two. Thought maybe you could give us answers. That true?"
The Slayer nodded.
"Um..." Buffy took a breath. "Slayers don't work with people a lot, right? And I've got these friends and a family and a boyfriend. I'm just afraid... I'm afraid being the Slayer might take them away from me."
Faith broke her hand away from Buffy. "I don't even know that I can have friends," she whispered. "Forget about the mom, kid sis, and boy toy."
The 70's Slayer nodded, folding her arms across her chest. Her torso was still mostly covered by the flame of the bonfire. "You're afraid the Slayer half means losin' your humanity."
"Does it?" Faith asked. She clasped her hands together, leaning forward, toward the fire.
"You are full of love. You love with all of your soul. It's brighter than the fire ... blinding. That's why you pull away from it."
Her full attention laid on Faith suddenly. "Love is pain, and the Slayer forges strength from pain. Love... give..."
Now she turned to Buffy. "Forgive. Risk the pain." She came around the fire, only enough that it was no longer blocking her. That was when Buffy noticed it: The Slayer's hand was on her very pregnant stomach. Could slayers even get pregnant? When did one live long enough to even try? And why was she showing up pregnant this time? She hadn't been in any of the slayer dreams. "It is your nature. Love will bring you to your gift."
"Huh?" Buffy and Faith said together.
"It's simple, girls. Love leads you to your gift."
"I don't understand." Buffy's nose crinkled. "Am I getting a gift?" Maybe it'd be something to help fight Glory. Or maybe she'd already gotten it; maybe the gift was Dawn.
"Or are we givin' somethin' to someone else?" Faith added.
The Slayer form retreated behind the flame again, so her stomach was no longer visible. Now she concentrated on Faith, like Buffy wasn't even there. "Death. Death is your gift."
Faith's face twisted up. "Death?"
"Is your gift."
Faith's eyes lowered, like something had just occurred to her.
"Do you mean... Like, slaying?" Buffy tried. She had no tolerance for the cryptic. "We kill lots of demons."
The Slayer didn't even pretend to hear Buffy, still focused all the way on Faith despite the fact that Faith was staring at the sand under them. "Little Miss Muffet is still countin' down from 7-3-0, baby girl" the Slayer said. "You just need to listen. You already know."
And, before Buffy could say another word, the guide was gone.