The Guardian of the Future was completely certain that he was never meant to see the image that he witnessed. And if he was, then he should appeal for better benefits and faster career movement. It would probably have been better if he had seen that future before he met and became friends with Chloe Sullivan. That way, the picture of her burned corpse would not haunt him the way it did now.
Had he not been afraid that those images would hound his nightmares, then he would not have stayed through the proud and irritable way that this silver haired vampire shook his head. This Spike even had the gall to say, "You already said no. I've had enough no's in my couple hundred to refuse you now."
Chris' eyes narrowed in frustration. "You're not even the one I need. I need to talk to the woman. She's the only one with any remote connection to the future I'm supposed to prevent," Chris argued, and wished to heaven someone would push away the night very quickly to fry this asshole.
"Well," the mousy female behind Spike pitched in, transforming before Chris' eyes as she approached, with her voice dropping lower and her bearing becoming grander, "that's because the half-breed would have been dead by the time."
"That's right," Chris agreed. "I don't need him. But I want to talk to you, because you're going to be a handful."
Spike's face screwed. "You're insane! How young are you exactly? You were probably born around the 1980, weren't you? Disgustingly young and ignorant bloke," he muttered.
"I was born 2004, but that's none of your business. What's your point?" Chris demanded.
"Well bugger this!" Spike exclaimed, throwing up his hands. "They're bloody 'ell given the fate of the world to an overgrown one-year-old!"
When the vampire would have walked away, Illyria held up a hand on his chest to prevent him from moving farther. The vampire glared; Illyria returned the favor. She turned to Chris and smiled coldly. "Forgive his temper, but you can understand," she said it not in question or in plea, but as a statement. "You have here before you ancient wisdom and whatever he has gone over the centuries, but both our futures are in the hands of someone who should still be in diapers."
Chris closed his eyes tightly, because he needed patience and all the help he could get. If these two were arrogant enough to claim eons of experience that he could never hope to achieve before all hell broke loose in Alexander Luthor's future world, then he should take what lessons he could get.
"What is so wrong about my approach?" he asked.
"Where will I even start!" Spike yelled.
Illyria immediately held up a hand to silence him. She turned to Chris, and stunned him to rapt attention with ice blue eyes. "You're going immediately to the time you need to prevent, like an avenger. You are no avenger, guardian. You are a protector."
Spike looked at the boy's face, as emotions passed swiftly as he took in Illyria's words. "Look at me, kid," he said to make it shorter. "Don't just to the time when everything's done. There's no use crying over spilled milk. Trace the source, and then nip it in the bud."
Chris grinned and held out his hands to both, when they reached for his hands, they spiraled out of space and time.
The three of them were squeezed in on the backseat of Chloe's convertible as she drove recklessly through the cornfields. They focused intently on the young woman as she spoke on speakerphone.
"I'm on my way!" she said, chuckling.
"Why didn't you wait for me?" asked the voice on the line, which Chris immediately recognized as Lex Luthor's. He relayed the information immediately to his companions, who had no idea what the importance of the man was in the greater scheme of things.
"Whose fault is it that he had to attend another meeting when we were supposed to leave?" Chloe parried.
"I'm signing contracts that will ensure you get your dream wedding," he teased.
Chloe rolled her eyes. The three could see her from the rearview mirror. "I'm not going through another spiel about your choice of investment, Lex."
"War is where the money is," he defended. "My money is going into the effort that we become well-equipped to defend the nation against terror."
Chloe smiled this time, "If you say so." Chris' heart sank, because he just knew then, with the instinct born of being half Halliwell and half whitelighter, that the weapon that would kill the young woman was created with Lex's money. "Just hurry up and follow me, okay?" Chloe said into the phone. "I'll see you soon."
Chloe reached for the power button on the phone to turn it off. When she reached the edge of Smallville, she turned the car towards the Talon, which Spike promptly recognized as the same coffeehouse they were in a few hours ago. Chloe grabbed a few thick books from the front passenger seat, alighted from the car and strode into the Talon purposefully, with no hesitation. It was the stride of confidence, and Chris took it as something borne out of knowing that she belonged. It helped of course, that the Talon effectively belonged to her this early in her engagement.
The three sat on a table close to the one that Chloe chose to sit in. She dumped the books on the table and waved to the red-headed woman at the counter, who motioned that she was coming.
Two blonde women were seated in the booth behind them, and Chris' sharp ears caught the conversation in the background.
"I talked to Michael," one voice whispered. "He says he's sure about what he's doing."
"Good for him," the other voice mumbled.
"Don't you get it, Maria? It's insane to join, when he's clearly completely distracted about you."
Chris heard the brief shuffle, and waited for the movement behind him. The red-headed woman embraced Chloe and said, "Wait a minute. I'll tell Maria I'm taking my break." She turned to the booth and signaled.
"I have to go, Iz. Martha's calling me."
And then Chris focused now on Chloe's vibrant face as she flipped through the pages of the binder and showed pictures of gowns, flowers and venues to the older woman. For the first time since eavesdropping on Maria, Chris saw the slender young woman as she passed by their table. When Maria reached Chloe's table, Martha grabbed her arm and introduced her to Chloe again.
"Congratulations!" Maria warmly greeted. "I heard about your engagement. It was impossible not to."
Chloe shook Maria's hand. "Thanks, Maria. I'm ecstatic. I hope Lex has given you a raise since you've been working here for so long."
"Oh no problems there!" Maria assured the young woman. "I'm getting more than enough, although I wouldn't mind if you will give me another one," she joked.
"These humans are fools," Illyria murmured, "to believe that such thin disguises can hide their true feelings, that laughter hides the pain."
"The chit ain't doing a jolly job of it, eh?" Spike added.
Martha squeezed Maria's arm and told Chloe, "Maria has been adopted by the town."
"That's good to hear," Chloe said. "It's a tricky business, getting embraced by a small community."
Maria nodded, smiling. She glanced at the booth that she left, and turned back to Chloe and Martha. "Why don't I go grab a cup of coffee on the house for you? You're going to own all those beans anyway." She went over to the counter to prepare the drinks.
Chris saw the taller, more voluptuous blonde as she passed by them on the way to the counter as well. She and Maria shared a few more minutes of tense discussion. Chris saw the tense set of Maria's shoulders as she listened to what the other woman had to say.
"You notice that? Who is she?" Chris whispered rhetorically. As far as he could connect, the Michael that the two women talked about was the general in Lex's future, who Lex wanted killed when he hired Illyria.
They spent about an hour more watching for clues that never seemed to lead anywhere else but to what they already knew.
Everyone turned when the door opened, and Chloe pushed her seat back and rushed towards the new arrival. Without turning, Chris could tell who it is. He did not need to watch the way Chloe threw her arms around her fiancé, or the way Lex immediately wrapped his arms around her and took her lips in a breathtaking kiss. All this, he knew would happen, given the raw pain of the future world.
Instead, he watched the café manager at the counter, to see the reactions of the young woman who would soon become Mrs Luthor.
Maria De Luca dried coffee mugs with a clean towel as she watched the reunion with a smile. In her eyes, he saw no malice or contempt.
"Why did he marry Maria?" It was not a matter of reliving memories, because the two women were worlds apart from each other. "If Maria was so unhappy as Lex's wife, why didn't she leave him?"