Tanks were first introduced towards the end of the battle of the Somme; however, they were (mostly) an epic failure. They broke down on the battlefield, or poisoned the soldiers inside with poor ventilation. Despite that, they were declared a huge success. Originally called something else, TANKS was meant to be code for the secret new weapons, which were being transported to the battle in large crates, but the name stuck from the get go. Cool, huh?
And I fixed my gaffe with the usage of 'Sir', thanks to those who pointed it out!
It was time to face the Watcher. Spike had been surprisingly tractable, agreeing without a single protest to try to find the information she wanted, leaving her to wonder if he was hatching some evil plot and merely stringing her along.
Not much she could do about it. Either he'd show up in Maurepas tomorrow night with the skinny or he wouldn't. As long as he didn't show up with Dru and Darla in tow, it wouldn't much matter. Buffy could steal the tank and play at GI Jane on her own if she had to.
Patting her hair, she was glad it had still been light out when she'd left to find Spike, preventing her from changing into pants as she usually would. With one final pat, she stepped into the small parlor at the boarding house. A tall, thin man in a wool suit arose. She had expected him to resemble Wesley, but beyond the build, he didn't favor his descendent, what with his curly, dirty blond hair and dark eyes.
"Mrs. Barrowman! It is a pleasure to see you."
"Hello," she replied, completely unsure of how to act. Watcher. And British. So go for stuffy. "I trust your health is well? And the journey comfortable?"
He gave her a tight-lipped smile. "As well as is to be expected during this dreadful war. Your companion, Miss Gladstone, said you were visiting an ill friend?"
"Yes." He waited for her to continue. Don't let babbling Buffy take over… "I… wasn't expecting a visit from you. Did I miss a letter?"
"Forgive me. I should have sent word ahead. Unfortunately, the Slayer was unavailable, so I have come in her place. I should have the threat of the Heliwr o'r Boen in hand within a few days."
By tomorrow night, I'd guess. "What… is your plan?" He started to speak, but Buffy cut him off, not wanting to hear a long, boring explanation. "Do you have any useful spells?"
Sir George looked put out at her rudeness, but he recovered himself. "These first few days will simply be for gathering information…" He went on, but Buffy knew all she needed to. He wasn't going to be much help to her, not without some kind of spellbook. He still didn't know she was a full-on Slayer, therefore he wasn't basing his strategy on utilizing her strength and skills. And that was how it was going to stay.
Plan: One – get a hold of his books, see if there's anything useful. Two – send him on a wild goose chase far away from Maurepas.
"Sir," she said when he'd ended his spiel. "I have heard some news, just today, which points to the location of the person who summoned the demon being near Flers. Perhaps Doctor Reynolds could help arrange for you to stay there tomorrow and look around?"
"Why, that is good news. I shall ask him at once."
Buffy smiled. "And in the meantime, perhaps I could look through some of the books you brought with you? See if I find anything useful?"
"An excellent plan as always, Mrs. Barrowman. I must say, your remaining in the employ of the council has worked out in both our favor."
And that explains me having my own money. "I just want to be helpful."
Buffy hauled the books Sir George had provided to her room, breathing a sigh of relief to see Edith looking like her usual self, with the exception of the small bandage on her neck. "You okay?"
The Slayer watched her carefully. "Really? 'Cause you could have died tonight. Modern woman or not, it's a little scary."
Edith shrugged. "I am trying to not think about it. For now. I've met the monster, and I've survived, and…" She'd begun to slump, but now she straightened. "We have more important things to attend to."
"Okay. But… promise me we'll talk about it. I've almost died, and it's something that you can't ignore and hope you'll forget. Heck, I have died." She frowned, her brow creasing. Twice now. "And I guess I haven't really dealt with it."
"Well, I came here. Instead of dying properly. So… there was living in a whole new reality to deal with instead."
"After we have eradicated the threat, we shall deal together."
Looking down at her hands, Buffy said quietly, "I'm glad you're my friend, Edith. Without you, I think… well, it would have been hell, coming here."
The other woman enveloped Buffy in a hug, her soft curls bobbing against the Slayer's cheek. "And I am glad you are my friend also."
"Friend enough to slog through these boring old books with me?"
"Until the candle burns out."
Doctor Reynolds was distant to Buffy all the next day, finding excuses to avoid her every time she tried to talk to him. Eventually Edith took him aside. Whatever she said to him, it must have sunk in, because he didn't scurry away the next time she neared him.
"Hey," Buffy said softly, when they had a quiet moment. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I didn't know how to make you understand."
"You didn't try."
"True. I didn't."
"And Edith – Miss Gladstone's life was endangered because of this."
Buffy refrained from pointing out that working in a war zone was far more dangerous to Edith's health. "I know. And I feel terrible about it."
He looked her in the eye. "You should." Buffy swallowed. "But I realize it was a mistake, and there was no malicious intent." He chuckled dryly. "Under other circumstances, I would prefer to hold my grudge a few days longer, but I do not have that luxury at the moment."
Lips twitching, Buffy offered, "Well, you could just put it on hold. Pick that grudge right up again after we kick some demon… hindquarters."
"Perhaps. Now on to other matters. Am I to presume that you would like your watcher out of the way tonight?" At Buffy's nod, he said, "Do you think that is wise? Sir George is a valuable resource, and will be far more effective at any magical countermeasures you wish to employ than myself."
"Trust me on this. No matter how awesome you think your pal is, it'll take him days to accept both that I'm a Slayer and that we need Spike to do this, despite what my Slayer dreams say. He'll try to put a halt to us finishing this tonight. And he can't. It's got to be now. Plus, Watchers? Heavy on the book knowledge, low on practical experience. They're usually worse than useless in an actual fight."
His eyes narrowed. "This Spike. We need this monster, you say. How about after? Will you slay him after the mission is complete?"
"Did Edith tell you everything? About how I know him in the future?" He nodded. "Then you understand I can't promise you I will. He is a monster, and he is evil, but I think I need to let him be. I'm afraid to change my timeline so, well, permanently."
He didn't answer, only shuffled his papers, refusing to look at her. Finally, just to break the silence, Buffy said, "Well, at least one more part of my dream makes sense. Spike attacked you and Edith, and you were both okay, just like I dreamt."
"You knew this would happen?"
"I didn't know…" she backpedalled at his fearsome tone. "Just clues, remember? I mean, in the dream you guys were eighty years into the future when he attacked, which is not how it happened last night, obviously."
He ran his hands through his hair. "Let us see the spells you and Miss Gladstone found," he said, his voice flat, and Buffy knew the grudge would be back full force tomorrow.
He was there. He was there, alone, waiting for her, and the relief she felt was so palpable, she couldn't help but bounce a little as she neared. Spike bit his lip, the crinkly smile she rarely saw coming out to play. "Hello, sweetness."
"You got good news for me?"
"Mmm. The best. Bloke's decent at simple spells, but word is this is the most complicated thing he's ever managed. He's not likely to put up much of a fight, magic-wise. And the source of the juju is most definitely in the stone tower."
Buffy considered that. "Smash'em bash'em ought to work then, no problem."
"I expect so."
She chewed her thumb. "Okay. We're going to do a real simple spell to try to loosen any magical reinforcements on the tower, and then I'll send my magical team home. You and I will be up after that. Say an hour?"
"Could wait right here."
Shaking her head, Buffy said, "You're going to have to skulk somewhere else for a bit. The doctor, he's not feeling very forgiving at the moment, and Edith is kinda nervous too."
"I'd not hurt her!" he protested.
"Spike. You're evil. You think they're going to take your word for it?"
Buffy wasn't even sure that she took his word for it. But he seemed to have chosen loving her as his course of action, and as Angel had said long ago, once Spike started something, he didn't stop. Ever. It was enough for her to trust that he wouldn't hurt her friends, not tonight at least.
She thought again of their confrontation in the cemetery, of how he'd dug his knife into the soft stone while they'd talked. She'd gone back later to examine the headstone, curious to see what he'd been so intent on carving into it, her hand flying to her mouth as she read the words he'd inscribed.
I will make her proud.
So. Yes. She trusted him now, stupid though it was.
Not that she would tell him that.
Rubbing at the back of his neck, Spike gave her a crooked grin. "Oh, right. Evil. Good point. Don't be starting the fun without me now."
The three of them stood together on the side of the road, next to the hospital ambulance. The doctor's vehicle was rumbling, waiting to whisk him and Edith away. Buffy had a sudden moment of panic, an overwhelming feeling that this was it. She wouldn't be seeing them again. Bits of the prophecy came to her, phrases like kiss of death and lost no more. They made her nervous.
Without warning, she threw her arms around Edith and Doctor Reynolds, holding on tight. "You guys…" she said, and she couldn't continue. Edith hugged her back, while the doctor patted her uncomfortably on the shoulder, all British and proper.
"Thanks," Buffy whispered. "For your help."
"Of course," the doctor said gruffly.
Edith searched her face. "I'll see you when you get back?"
Buffy smiled. "Of course."
She'd offered to be the distraction part of the team, luring the soldiers away while Spike disabled them from behind, but she hadn't counted on Spike being just as distracted.
"It's just a little leg, vampire. Nothing you haven't seen before." Spike swallowed convulsively, his Adam's apple bobbing in his pale throat as she walked towards him. Buffy snapped her fingers in front of his eyes. "You going to be okay there? Want to trade jobs?"
His eyes slid away from her face and down to her exposed legs once more. He was as bad as the vamps who'd first seen her wear her radically shortened skirt. "S'not decent," he choked out. "Shouldn't be around the men like that, they might-"
"What? Get grabby? You think I can't handle them?"
"Right. Never mind." He dragged his eyes back up to her face with a visible effort. "So we're on?"
His reaction made Buffy feel wicked. And daring. She hooked a finger in his collar, tugging him along behind her. "Come on, Big Bad. Let's go wreak some havoc."
She could hear him swallowing behind her. "Bloody hell. You're something else, Slayer."
"And don't you forget it."
They'd almost reached the edge of the camp when Spike slowed. "Hold up, there's a tank right here. Why don't we grab this one?"
"It's not a tank." Buffy didn't pause, even though she sensed him falling behind. He'd figure it out soon enough.
"It is too a sodding tank, Slayer! I see it with my own two eyes. I-" His voice got muffled for a moment, and then she heard his boots crunching on the road, hurrying to catch up to her. "Your lot do that?"
She gave him a mischievous grin. "Neat, huh? The glamour on the ambulance was Edith's idea. Hopefully they'll think we abandoned the tank, give us enough time to get far away. Besides," she teased, "thought you were up for something a little more challenging. Wouldn't be any fun if it were that easy."
He grinned back at her. "You give Slayers a bad name, love."
Sheah. Just wait 'till you meet Faith.