12. And Miles to Go

"You think we've seen the last of 'em?" Faith murmured, head pillowed on Buffy's knee as they curled around each other in the infirmary. They'd taken some bad hits before Striker distracted the Cat Five long enough for Kaiju Slayer's pods to eject, and while Slayer healing was taking care of the physical injuries, the post-Drift hangover was the worst it had ever been.

Buffy shuddered, casting her mind back to those final psychedelic moments in the Anteverse as she traced her fingers over the tattoo on Faith's arm. The human brain wasn't built to interpret what they'd seen there, but she did remember the smaller not-kaijus watching them fall, and the sense of an enormous, affronted mental presence bearing down on them. "Willow and Illyria were the ones that set the spell up, and they knew what they were doing; it took them long enough to find a way around the resistance effect. The Breach won't open again, and the Old Ones guarding it are dead. But we bloodied their nose pretty bad. It might take awhile to find a way, but they'll be back."

"Maybe we should have given Wolfman's crazy boss the okay," Faith snorted. "Might be nice to actually have a warning the next time."

"Yeah, but Drifting with a kaiju?" Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Nobody knows what would happen, except maybe Illyria, and there's no way we're asking her to do it."

"Not arguing there," Faith shrugged. "Have him find a Drift-buddy, then, for safety's sake. There's gotta be someone else willing to do crazy shit in the name of Science! In the meantime, though- he's coming here, right? I've heard a lot about the guy, but never met him."

"Yep. Stacks said we wrapped the bodies of those Cat Fours intact, before that gold-toed scavenger out of Hong Kong could get a boat out. Newt and his lab partner, Dr. Gottlieb, should be on the next flight. But I don't know if Oz is coming, too; he said it depends on how a certain conversation goes."

"You think they'll stay with the program long-term, if the higher-ups don't cut the funding?"

"Stacks won't let 'em, and I think they will," Buffy said, then sighed as she finally noticed the wash of unease overlaying Faith's mood. "But that's not what you really want to know, is it. Are we going to stay with the program?"

Faith swallowed, sitting up to look Buffy in the eye. Physically, she'd always appeared stronger than her sister-Slayer, but emotionally, she'd always been more vulnerable. "Well. Are we?"

"Of course we're staying. Who'll look after the boys if we don't?" Buffy smiled wryly, making an effort to infuse the words with a feeling of home: of each other; their Jaeger- they could build another; and the people they'd claimed as family.

Theirs from the jump, not just hers. That was worth holding onto.

"All right, then. Just so that's clear." Faith finally relaxed, and curled back up again, radiating peace.


"You're a werewolf?" Newt blurted in surprise, staring at his and Hermann's captive programmer slash clandestine goods supplier slash lab assistant. He took a second to verify that he really had heard what he'd heard- Hermann's expression made a good confirmation of that- then burst with questions. "What? Since when? How? Is it like the stories? Do you really change shape every full moon? Does-?"

"Oh, good heavens. Don't tell me you believe him," Hermann interrupted, sounding as scandalized as he always did when Newt discovered something really cool that couldn't be neatly verified with logic or equations. "Who ever heard of a werewolf with- with- blue spiky hair, and black nailpolish, and- he was in here with us on the full moon, just three days ago! Honestly!"

"S'true, though," Oz- as he was known to Newt, though Hermann usually insisted on calling him Mr. Osborne- shrugged, glancing between them in amusement. "C'mon, Dr. Gottlieb. You believed me when I told you the kaiju were actually the foot soldiers of ancient demon gods. Are werewolves really that much more of a stretch?"

"He believed you," Hermann objected tartly, pointing at Newt. "And I... well..." he spluttered further, then deflated a little. "There was the small matter of proof... your friend Ms. Rosenberg was really quite persuasive..."

"Is that all?" Oz grinned, his expression somehow, well, toothier than before. "You want proof?"

Newt gasped at the sight, about to explode with excitement. "Oh, wow, it's like nothing changed but somehow everything did. How did you do that? It's like my hair's standing on end! Hey, is this why people always talk about getting the chills when ghosts are around? Is this, like, a supernatural effect? I was never close enough to a live kaiju to compare it, and no one's ever confessed to being a creature out of myth to me before. But, wait, if this is a supernatural thing, how come you don't make my hair stand on end the rest of the time? Are you just, like, the most Zen werewolf in existence? 'Cause I don't think I've ever heard of a fairy tale where..."

Oz laughed, holding his hands up. "One question at a time, man. And you can ask me on the plane- we'll have plenty of time on the way to the Shatterdome."

"Oh, lord; don't remind me," Hermann sighed. "Fresh kaiju remains in the lab. I assure you, if it weren't for the chance to study the final readings from the Breach on the original equipment..."

"Don't worry, doc, I'll make sure the chalk stays on your side of the line and the entrails stay on his," Oz reassured Newt's finicky sort-of friend. They had been getting along a lot better since Oz had shown up to keep the coffee coming; Newt didn't want him to stay behind.

"I'll be on my best behavior, I swear," he promised, too.

Hermann shook his head in disbelief; but Oz smiled approval.

Good. He had so many questions...


Herc inclined his head to Mako as they left the Kwoon, headed for their separate duties: she to the bay to work on Striker Eureka, and he to LOCCENT to play second to the Marshal while he convinced the UN the Jaeger program was still necessary.

Mako returned the gesture, giving him a pleased, knowing smile framed by the blue highlights in her hair, and he couldn't help but smile back- despite the blood rushing to his face, and other parts southward. He wouldn't be able to put her off much longer at this rate, but he was intent on making them both work for it; given the gap in their ages, the thorny mess his wife's death had made of him and his relationships with his family, and the fact that her adoptive father was his closest living friend, he thought it best to take things slow and sure.

She seemed to be enjoying it all as much as he was, though- as if it gave her a chance to prove to herself and everyone else that she was fit to partner one of the most elite pilots in the service. Frankly, he felt it was the other way round- but he didn't mind her appreciation, not one bit.

He gave her retreating form one final, lingering glance, then turned... right into the path of the Marshal.

"Sir," he blurted, feeling a bit like a kid caught with his hand in the biscuit jar.

Stacker stared him down, gaze deadly serious. "You know what she is to me," he said.

"I know," Herc winced. "Believe me, I know. But she's eighteen now- and this isn't just a crush."

Stacker nodded, slowly. "I suppose she hasn't really been a child since Tokyo... and I know what Drift compatibility does to relationships. If she's seen everything, and still wants- well, I can't stop her. But I also know it takes two to make any partnership work, and we both know you're capable of letting problems fester rather than solve them. If you let that happen with Mako..."

Herc swallowed; he deserved that. "No, sir," he replied, firmly. "I hope I've learned from my mistakes."

"Good," the Marshal nodded; then relaxed his shoulders, abruptly Herc's friend again. "Let's hope your son has, as well. How is it, having the Beckets as next best thing to in-laws?"

"Not a dull day goes by," Herc admitted, wryly. Privately, he thought it was the best thing that could have happened to them; Raleigh Becket seemed much more present these days, less locked up in his own head, and Chuck was much less self-centered. "But they'll be fine. The rest of us, though... you do realize this effectively makes you their grandfather?" He raised an eyebrow.

Stacker gave him a startled look, then stalked away, muttering under his breath about what the world's coming to.

Herc chuckled, then followed behind, nursing a spark of optimism that had been absent in his life for far too long.


Raleigh had spent most of his free time hanging out with Chuck since closing the Breach, or handing Mako things while she worked on the Jaegers. But he still made sure to stop by and see Buffy and Faith on a regular basis; they'd seemed at loose ends right after losing Kaiju Slayer, and until the funding question was settled there was no telling when they'd be able to pilot again. He knew what that was like.

They'd been keeping pretty busy, though, spending time with the PPDC personnel coming in for meetings and research related to Operation Doorknocker; the ISWC had connections everywhere, it seemed, and it had been a long time since they'd touched base with some of them. The L.A. Marshal's visit had been especially distracting as he'd brought his tech chief- Buffy's sister- and all their little ones along; they were all adorable, foul mouthed little shits, and had repeatedly pestered Raleigh and the other pilots on base for stories and autographs. The little guy with the spiked hair that came in with the scientists, too; there'd been a lot of hugging and indignant exclamations the day he'd arrived.

In the midst of all that chaos, it was perhaps not surprising that it took Raleigh awhile to notice how quiet Yancy was being, gradually speaking less and less, fading to a watchful presence more like the muted ghost-Drifts of their Gipsy Danger days than the dual identity they'd lived since. It wasn't until he went from breakfast to bedtime one day without hearing a single disembodied comment that he realized something serious was going on.

Yancy? he asked, worry sparking along his nerves. Yancy? What's wrong?

Yancy hesitated, but finally came forward, presence muted and thick with... regret? It's time, little brother. They said I had five years, but there's no sense putting it off. You're going to have to get used to it eventually.

The next thing Raleigh knew, he was standing in front of Faith and Buffy's room, breath coming short and a roaring in his ears.

"Raleigh? Raleigh, calm down. What's wrong?" Buffy asked, expression alarmed as she opened the door to let him in.

"He said-" Raleigh began, then had to take a deep breath to keep from choking up. "Yancy's been getting quieter lately, and when I asked why, he said someone told him he'd only have five years. That I was going to have to get used to- to being alone now," he blurted.

"Oh, honey," Buffy replied, eyes going wide as she clapped a hand over her mouth. She glanced over at Faith; Faith shook her head, but then reached out to pull him close, sandwiching him between her and Buffy like they'd done right after Knifehead when Yancy's change of state and the absence of Gipsy Danger had been raw, bleeding wounds.

"Don't be a moron," Faith said, gruffly. "It was a fuckin' dream, not holy writ! But even if it was- we've made a whole damn career out of defying prophecies. You don't get to break our record. You're harshing our happily ever after, here."

Raleigh felt Yancy's stifled hope at the words, amid his own surprise; what dream? When had that happened? And how had Yancy hidden it from him for so long?

"You mean that?" He wasn't sure which of them was asking.

"You don't get to give up that easily, you jerk," Buffy shook them, then pulled them close again.

They held on for a long time; until Raleigh's face was dry again, and he felt a little less like he was about to shake to pieces. Maybe the shrinks had had a point when they'd said he'd never grieved properly. "This dream thing," he finally said. "Was this...?"

"Right after, when you were still in surgery," Faith sighed. "You know we're not exactly normal, right? You've never asked, but you have to've noticed. And part of what that means is that sometimes we dream- true dreams. But that whole seventeen-eight-oh thing? We figured it matched the science nuts' theories about the Breach- not whatever bullshit the psychologists fed you about 'traumatic constructs'."

Raleigh nodded slowly. "Didn't need to ask. We knew all we needed to know," he said, then let out a long breath. "Are you sure?"

"We're sure," Buffy nodded, firmly. "Now go find your copilot; if you've been ghosting on and off the way we have this last week, he's probably worked himself up pretty good by now."

"And how would that be any different from normal?" Raleigh snarked back. But he knew she was right; it would be a dick move not to at least check in with him.

Chuck's door opened easily at his touch- so, he had been waiting. He'd taken off his shirt and shoes already, but not his jeans and tags, sitting on one edge of his narrow bed and scratching Max's ears. He looked up at Raleigh's entrance, but for once didn't joke; just gave him a long, considering look. "Well?"

Raleigh shut the door, then sat down on the other side of the bed; he didn't feel like looking anybody in the eye at the moment, but pressed back to back like that, he thought he might be able to talk. But the faint post-Drift connection strengthened at the touch, short-cutting the explanation for him: raw emotion flashed between them like bolts of plasma fire until Chuck took a shaky breath.

"You know," he said, heavily. "When Sydney was attacked... Dad had a choice. He was told there was only time to save one person. Me... or mom."

That hadn't yet come up in the Drift; but it explained so much. "Chuck..."

"...Anyway," Chuck cleared his throat. "I don't want to talk about it- but I get it. Grief fucks you up."

I'm so sorry, Rals, Yancy added.

None of them said anything else. But they didn't sleep apart that night, either.

It wasn't their happily ever after. But it was a start.


Spike looked up- and up- at the giant skull looming over the Boneslums. He hadn't seen a live one of the things up close since San Francisco, but the demony aura of a kaiju was unmistakable, even pared down to just its ivories. "You sure we're in the right place? Lot of deluded folk inside, but they all smell human from here."

At his side, his blue-tressed companion gave him a frosty look. "We do not come to slay; we come to make them aware to whom they owe their allegiance. The worms that nest within the shell of the Reckoner believed it to be the messenger of an angry god, and prayed for mercy. But the Old Ones have no mercy; they know only conquest. These shall be better off in my care."

Spike frowned. The Kaiju War had altered Illyria- or a better phrase might be, reverted her- in ways that often left him uncomfortable. In L.A., after helping Angel defeat the Wolf, Ram and Hart, she'd been well on her way to learning how to behave like a human. But she'd watched the first kaiju level San Francisco up close and personal- and reacted more like an offended ruler defending her turf than one of its residents. Afterward, she'd made it her purpose in life to exterminate them.

Not that plenty of others hadn't shared that purpose... and not that she ever went directly against any of the principles Watcher Boy tried to teach her. She even still moonlighted as Dr. Burkle from time to time, helping Red's crowd come up with more intellectual ways to defeat the enemy. But there was none of that abortive attempt at humility left in her... and some of the things she said were downright disturbing.

What if she'd only gone along with Buffy's plans to clear out the competition? This wouldn't be a bad time and place to start her own takeover bid. With the Breach closed, fresh minions awaiting in yonder temple, and the Hong Kong Shatterdome personnel mostly attending the party in Alaska, who would stop her?

Spike had fought at Illyria's side the whole time Buffy had been stomping around in her battle suit, doing his bit to thin out the lesser demons battening on the chaos. Partly because all the Scoobies, even the Niblet, had moved on without him- but partly because of such questions. Someone had to stay close enough to try and keep the former Old One from deciding to make mass murder her new favorite party trick, and she rarely listened to the others.

"The next time they attempt to claim this world, we will be ready," she added, firmly.

And maybe she only meant what she said? A bloke could hope.

Spike dropped his contraband cig, crushing it out under his foot, then cracked his knuckles. "Then what are we waiting for, luv?"

Illyria strode toward the door of the temple, blue hair whipping behind her like a flag in the wind.