Tara replaced the wooden idol of some fertility goddess or another on the table in Joyce's art gallery, her movements slow and gentle as though she were dealing with a living child. Anya made a mark on her clipboard, her eyebrows all scrunched up as she stared at the thing. As the pair of them started talking about inventory and Eugene Boch, Spike walked into the back room, to do what he was here for: lifting heavy crates to the front of the store for the ladies to paw through and then return again. Slayer had patrol with the Slayerettes. Joyce had offered to do this with the good witch and the ex-demon, but Spike insisted she take some time with her youngest instead. He didn't want her exerting herself any more than she had to, had to find a way to help her. Spike plunked the crate down so hard behind Demon Gal that she yelped and Tara's hand flew to the part of her fuzzy peach sweater covering her heart.
"Sorry," Spike grumbled.
"What's wrong?" Tara asked. Never demanding or forceful, just genuinely curious.
"Yeah," Anya added, her voice chipper as she opened the crate and handed a jewelry box to Tara. "You've been walking around here like a damn ghost all night." The little witch's face twisted up, all uncomfortable and embarrassed. "Well he has," Anya muttered, returning to her checklist.
Spike couldn't tell them. Buffy didn't want him to, and that was what mattered. It was tearing him up inside, how withdrawn she'd gotten since he and Rupert had delivered the news to his poor girl. It was too much for her to deal with over the course of the whole year last time around; now she got to experience it all in a matter of twenty minutes. That sort of thing was bound to screw with her. Spike was oddly happy to know that she was with Harris and Wills tonight. They'd back her up, sure, but they'd been a comfort to her for years, too, and without the betrayal of having brought her back from the dead or sided with the wannabe baby slayers and kicked her out of her house, she could still find that comfort.
Spike decided to voice something that had been on his mind, on and off, that wasn't Buffy's to tell: "Anya?"
"Yeah, Spike?" Anya chewed on the end of her pencil, glaring at her list like she wanted to enact some kind of vengeance upon it.
"You were a demon."
The girls exchanged a look, then Anya answered: "Right. For over a thousand years. Why?"
"I just mean..." Spike rubbed at his nose, attempting to look like he couldn't care less. "You had to get paperwork done, right? So you could pass off as human?"
"Well, yes. D'Hoffryn knew someone in town. Damn it."
"What?" Spike asked Anya. He turned the garnet ring Buffy had given him before they fought Adam around his finger. Tara smirked at him, something entirely too knowing in her eye.
"I need to cross-check something in the back room. Hold on." Anya skittered toward the room Spike had just returned from. "Don't count anything without me."
Tara narrowed her eyes at Spike, waiting for him to speak. Even without her aura-reading magics, the girl was too damn clever.
"How 'bout you, pet?" Spike said. He slipped his ring off his finger and then back on again. "You don't happen to know a local Wicca priestess, do you?"
The sweet witch shook her head, suddenly occupying her attention with the goddess statue on the table. "Um, no. But, uh, if it's what you're looking for... Willow mentioned, once, something about going online to get certified to..." Tara raised an eyebrow. "Perform ceremonies, that kind of thing."
"Uh. Huh. And, uh, would that include..."
"Marriage?" Tara nodded without taking her attention from the statue.
"Does she know yet?" the Wicca asked. "Buffy, I mean."
"'Course not," Spike muttered, scuffing his boot on the floor. God, the soul had turned him into a ponce... Now he was lyin' to himself. He was always love's bitch, soul or no soul.
"Well, I suggest you scare the biggest ring out of the jeweler that you can," Anya suggested as she came back to the front of Joyce's gallery. Spike merely blinked at her. "What? Were you planning on actually purchasing one? That's not a very vampiric thing to do."
"Spike's different," Tara protested with a whisper. "Like he, um, doesn't eat us? Vampires are all about the eating people."
"I got a plan," Spike said. "Just..." He growled, throwing his head back. "No one warn the Slayer, yeah? Some bloody surprise it'd be if you lot asked her to marry me 'fore I did."
Spike needed to look through all his old junk. There were only very particular items he cared about taking with him when he and Dru would switch cities. This something was, along with the New York slayer's coat and Miss Edith, one of very few things that they'd managed to get out of Prague. Now it was just a matter of siftin' through Buffy's things and finding where he'd stashed it a few weeks back.
A week or so later, Spike kicked his feet up on the coffee table in the Summers' living room. He sunk in on his end of the couch, taking a sip of just-too-hot blood from his mug. Dawn had wanted to watch some boy band crap, but he'd vetoed that right quick. He might be a good boy for the Slayer, not snack on the locals and playing babysitter and all that, but there was a limit of what a man could tolerate. So, instead, Dawn rolled her eyes on Spike's choice: Enter the Dragon.
"How much longer is this thing anyway?" Dawn groaned. She rested her cheek on her hand.
"What? Would you rather be learnin' 'bout the Industrial Revolution, then?"
Spike tried not to stare at her. It was one of the reasons Buffy didn't want to tell the others... She didn't want to freak the kid sis out. Hell, last time the Scoobies found out and Dawn caught on not too long after, so Slayer had a point. But it was sodding insane. He had all these memories of Dawn—not just from before he was sent back, but from this new timeline.
Spike had to stop thinking when the word "timeline" came up. Time travel was almost as headache-inducing as the chip had been in its malfunctioning days. "Now, you see that?" Spike said, pointing at the TV screen. "The way he's breakin' the mirrors, giving himself more of an advantage? That's what you call resourceful." Spike remembered one of Buffy's lessons to the potentials, about following instincts and regaining control of a situation. His girl was always a master of the fight.
The Bit huffed. Spike had memories about her from this time around, too—last Christmas she'd been the one to bring him hot cocoa when they were unwrapping gifts; when the Gentlemen came to town, Buffy had to come check on her at her little friend Janice's place; Dawn had been with Joyce and Anya at Rupert's when Adam made the Slayerettes sick, and had begged Spike over the phone to go with them to beat up Captain Cardboard for luring Buffy into The Initiative. Spike remembered these things, even though he knew it was all the monks' meddling. Spike rubbed his nose. Didn't matter. It was all real enough. He was just overthinking things.
"Hello? Earth to Spike? God, no wonder you and Buffy are together. You're both such airheads."
Spike sat up, glaring at her. "Oi!"
"What's so important you gotta go around insulting a fella, Niblet?"
"I asked what you were doing in Buffy's room... Is it your room, too, now?"
Spike offered a non-committal, one-shouldered shrug. Buffy knew, now, how likely it was Joyce'd be sick soon. They'd convinced her to get to hospital tonight when her head was hurting, but Buffy was still readying herself to stay on Revello Drive on a more permanent basis. Spike wasn't sure where that left him, exactly, except that he slept here every night for the past couple of months, and he kept a lot of his stuff in Buffy's room. It was the sort of thing that would freak his girl out if anyone brought it up before she realized he'd moved in.
"But you were, like, tearing the place apart last Wednesday before I went to school. Did you... lose something?" The Bit tilted her head, squinting over at him. Spike hoped she wasn't starting her nasty klepto habit already. He thought that'd only become an issue around the time she learned she was the key.
"I was lookin' for something, yeah. Don't see how it's any of your business." Spike chugged his blood, watching her out of the corner of his eye.
"Well, I mean..." Dawn pouted, thinking for a second. "I thought I could help. And besides, I should keep an eye on things like my sister's weirdo vampire boyfriend searching through her stuff."
"Don't trust me, do you?"
Spike would be lying if he said he wasn't a little hurt. Buffy and Harris had told him, at separate times, that when Dawn had first been blinked into existence they suspected she a bit of a crush on Spike, which he thought accounted for some of why she didn't hate him. But they'd done a lot of bonding, that summer that Buffy was gone. The others were off being arrogant wankers and working on trying to bring the Slayer back. It was Spike and Dawn who comforted each other, trying to pass the nights with movies or late chats when they expected Buffy to walk through the door, or (worse yet) when the BuffyBot would come back from a "patrol."
"No. No, I do." The girl's shoulders sank. "It's just... No one tells me anything. I'm just Buffy's kid sister." Dawn rolled her eyes. "Everyone thinks she's so special 'cause she's the Slayer. I could totally kick vampire ass if I had a training room and a watcher and stuff."
"Right you are, Platelet." Spike tucked his now empty mug on the floor next to the couch. "You're a Summers woman. Got enough steel in ya to take down half the Hellmouth, slayer blood or no." And she had slayer blood; just not the whole package. It might make it easier to... God, Buffy was going to throw him through a wall if she ever found out. "How 'bout this? If you can keep your trap shut..." Dawn's eyes lit up, and she leaned so far forward on her seat's cushion she was about to tumble over. "Then I'll train you, a'right?"
She made a shrill girly noise that Spike took as a yes, especially when paired with her clapping hands.
"We'll start with this," Spike said, pointing at the TV.
"Bad kung-fu movies?"
"You wanna learn about fighting or not? Bruce Lee's a classic, alright? We're lucky enough that there's a marathon." And that Buffy wasn't back yet. She'd been gone a couple of hours now. What was taking her so long?
Buffy staked the vamp (turned some time around feathered bangs), no problem. She was walking through Restfield, twirling her stake along the way to keep her hands busy. She hadn't seen any fresh graves on her way in, but she thought she'd give it another once over just in case. Buffy thought it was taking a higher kill ratio lately for her to feel like she was making any kind of dent. She wasn't sure if she was wigging about Dawn and Glory or if it was a natural slayer thing or what. Eventually, she'd need to talk with Giles about it.
Buffy paused, grinning at the crypt closest to her... Spike's crypt. Checking over her shoulder, Buffy decided to slip in. Things were pretty much the same (the armchair, the little TV, the stone coffins). But none of Spike's little stuff—his books, his candles—was in there. That's when she noticed the slab over the tunnel entrance was shoved to the side. Buffy gripped her stake tighter, edging forward. Her demon senses were going off, but it was super dull. Before she could take a minute to figure that out, A huge figure emerged from the tunnel entrance, its skin all pale and saggy. Buffy raised her stake when the demon turned to her.
"Ah!" it shrieked. Apparently it'd been holding a bowl of popcorn, because the thing spilled all over Spike's floor, the plastic bowl flying into the nearest open coffin. Buffy lunged, but the demon held up its hands. "Slayer, wait!"
"Oh yeah, what? You're gonna tell me that you're not trying to hurt my boyfriend?" Had to be why the thing was here. Someone had a grudge, against her or Spike, and was trying to hurt Spike for it, only Spike hadn't spent a night here in... huh. The popcorn was a weird touch, though. "Just tell me... Do you work for Glory?"
"Who?" The demon shook its head, its ears flopping. "Look, Slayer, I wasn't trying to hurt Spike. We're poker buddies."
"Poker..." Buffy took a step back and lowered her stake. "At Willie's?"
The demon nodded hard, a goofy smile slapped on its face. He extended a hand. "Clem. Hi."
"Buffy," she responded. She shook his hand, waiting for some kind of a trick. But they let go without an issue. "So still I ask: What are you doing here? Spike's not around right now."
"Oh, I know. I'm watching the place for him. Make sure no one tries to take the place over. Or wreck it. Those Initiative guys? Totally insane."
Buffy couldn't help a giggle. "Putting it lightly. Look..." Buffy swiped some hair away from her face. "Just... Don't break anything, alright? You don't, like, eat local virgins or anything, do you?"
Clem grimaced, shaking his head. "I don't know that I could kill a pig if you asked me to, not to mention a person."
Buffy looked him over. She had her doubts, but Spike and Angel were part demon and they still managed to be decent, and Anya had been one, too, and now she was all normal shop girl. She'd have to double-check this guy's story with Spike when she got home. "I should probably get going."
"It was good meeting you. Spike never stops talking about you."
Buffy cracked a smile before turning and leaving Spike's crypt. A weird fog had settled over the cemetery. Buffy shivered, wrapping her arms around herself. Now some serious demon tinglies were going off, and it wasn't that Clem guy she'd just been talking to. Buffy started for the edge of the cemetery, hoping to find a spot that was less with the blocking her view.
"You're quite the impressive huntress. Such power."
Buffy spun around. Some tall pale guy with long dark hair was approaching her. God, she hated it when vamps were monster movie junkies. So many shades of lame. "Hey, it's just another day on the job." She waved toward herself with a quick swivel of her hips. "Care to step up for some overtime?"
"We're not going to fight," the vamp said. He had some kind of accent, but Buffy couldn't place it.
"Do you know what a slayer is?"
Buffy licked her lips and crossed her arms over her chest, never losing track of her stake. "Who are you?"
"I apologize, Buffy Summers. I assumed you knew. I'm Dracula."
Buffy's jaw dropped, but then she couldn't help a huge grin, or the fact that her eyes got real wide like she was looking at Santa Claus. "Get out!"