All About Spike
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Things Present – Things Past
By Estepheia and Marcee

Part 33 - Watchers' Counsel

Edward St. John Willoughby was unable to sleep. Whenever he closed his eyes he saw Louisa before him, her eyes dead and accusing. His work had killed her. His work and the secrecy he was sworn to.

It was his work to train and guide the Slayer. But he had almost gotten Maeve killed during her Cruciamentum. It was his work to make the world a safer place for women and children. But he had failed when it came to protecting his own wife and children. The irony of it all left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Was this God's punishment for his presumptuousness, Willoughby asked himself, for trying to bring Maeve back to life? Not only did the spell fail to bring his charge back to the world of the living, it dragged another Slayer out of her time and away from her friends and family. Worse, after failing Maeve, he'd failed Buffy, too, by allowing the Council to send her up against Angelus before she was ready for it. And then he had failed his family by leaving them unprotected, when he should have anticipated that the infamous Angelus would come for them.

Willoughby looked at the little bottle that sat on his bedside table, a draught based on poppy syrup provided by Director Hartford's physician that was supposed to dull the pain and help him sleep.

Hartford. The director's mistrust had been palpable. The future Slayer had been careless. Too forthright, too self-confident, too unlike Maeve. If Hartford's suspicions were not soon alleviated, Buffy would be in grave danger.

Willoughby threw back the covers and got out of bed. With great difficulty he shrugged into his dressing gown. Clumsy from his injuries, he fumbled with the door handle and let himself out of the room and into a dimly lit corridor. He made his way downstairs.

The door to the library was ajar and light was seeping through the gap. There were muffled sounds of papers being shuffled. Apparently Crawford was still working. The Watcher quietly slipped past and into the adjoining room.

The billiard room was dark and smelled of leather and tobacco. Willoughby considered lighting a match, but with his left wrist broken and in a cast and his right arm also injured and in a sling, that did not seem feasible or even advisable. Therefore, he whispered a word of power and a cold insubstantial light danced in the air before him, about as bright as the flame of a candle. Its gleam caught the facets of several crystal bottles filled with whiskey and brandy. Willoughby felt tempted, but controlled the urge to drown his guilt. Instead he approached an ugly painting depicting St. George and the dragon. Behind it was a switch. It operated a secret door. A part of the wall paneling swung open. Willoughby stepped through and entered Hartford's secret library. He quickly located the spellbook he was searching for. He hid the book under his dressing gown and went back to his room without being observed.

As he sat on his bed, staring at the dusty old tome, he wondered if Buffy's friends from the future were really coming for her. She certainly expected them to. But Willoughby couldn't help feeling like time was quickly running out.

***

*Amazing what catching a few z's can do for you.* Having slept through the whole afternoon and evening, Buffy felt ready to tackle the undead world again.

"Tadaaa!" she stepped out from behind the parav-- *what's-it-called?* - from behind the screen. Buffy twirled around gracefully. "How do I look?"

Charles Willoughby sat perched uncomfortably on a chair, visibly embarrassed at being in a girl's room while said girl was getting changed. "Are you... are you quite certain you wish to leave the house like that?" he stammered, blushing.

Buffy looked into the mirror. Charles's dark suit and coat were a perfect fit. Buffy decided that she looked good in men's clothing, smashing even. A bit like Barbara Streisand in `Yentil' - only better, and younger. A lot younger. *Barbara, eat your heart out!*

"Okay, maybe these aren't the type of pants I'd pick out for myself, but, hey, at least I won't trip over my hem or have a corset suffocating me. That's a plus when you're trying to stay alive..." She stopped herself, when the memory of the boy's mother came back. "Oh God, I'm so sorry, I'm such a ditz... I didn't mean..." She stammered crestfallen, angry with herself for being so self-absorbed. She took a deep breath. "Look, I know what you're going through, know how hard it is to... to lose someone..."

The boy seemed on the verge of tears but bravely fought for composure. To Buffy, he appeared quite collected for someone so bereft. *Now there's something these Victorians are really good at: bottling up their emotions.* From her own experience, Buffy knew the boy's grief was probably still dulled by shock. The real pain was yet to come.

"I'm not good with the comforting and stuff, but if there's anything I can do... just let me know," she babbled. "Right, I gotta go. Can't keep Hartford waiting much longer. Will you be okay?" She put a hand on his shoulder.

Charles nodded slowly.

He watched as the Slayer opened the lid of her weapons trunk and stuffed several sharpened stakes into the pockets of her coat.

"You will kill it, won't you?" Charles asked her, his voice thick. "That thing... that monster that killed Mother, promise me that you will destroy it."

*Been there, done that,* Buffy thought sadly, wondering for the umpteenth time if she shouldn't have killed Angelus when she had the chance. Louisa Willoughby would still be alive. Maybe killing Angelus and changing history would have resulted in a happier world and a happier Buffy, one who had no memory of killing her lover with a sword and sending him into hell for god knows how long...One whose mother was still alive...One who didn't die...twice. *Okay, enough with the wallowing,* she told herself firmly.

"It's... it's not as easy as that," she finally said, trying to be truthful. "Even if I did, it wouldn't bring her back, you know. She'll still be dead. I'm sorry. Believe me, one day Angel-- he'll be sorry for what he did..." but she realized the young man wasn't listening anymore.

"Still be dead," he echoed dazedly. Then his gaze sharpened and he said the dreaded words. "Then help me bring her back! There must be a way."

"No! Don't even think about it!" the words came out before Buffy could help it. "You don't want her to come back wrong. Where she is now, it's a good place. Believe me, I know. I've been there. If you really love her, you wouldn't do that to her."

In spite of his youth Charles Willoughby wasn't dumb. "Been there?" he echoed. Then he paled, remembering the conversation with his brother about demons and possession, about Maeve being different. Involuntarily, he got to his feet, knocking over his chair. "You're not Maeve," he blurted out. "You are something else. What are you? A demon? Are you dead? Are you a ghost who has enslaved Maeve's body?"

"Dead?" Buffy mumbled with a sigh, "Not currently. Ask me again in 120 years or so."

Carefully avoiding any move that might cause the boy to freak, Buffy sat down cross-legged on her bed. *Okay. No running away from this,* she realized.

She took a deep breath. "Okay, this may be a bit hard to believe..."

***

[Falling into blackness. Eyes that are bottomless pits. Something unspeakably dark is lurking, waiting to devour him, swallow him whole... He is running, but his feet are not moving. He is trapped. And she is coming for him!]

///Horatio!///

Bateley woke with a start. He felt nauseated, parched, ravenous. There was a sharp pain on his neck. *Oh God no!* For a horrified second he was certain that his greatest fear had finally come true, but then he could hear his own heart beating, fluttering like a frightened bird. He touched his throat with trembling hands. A bandage. *Still alive. I am not turned into one of them. Thank Heavens!*

The raven-haired vampire... She hadn't bitten him, but slashed his throat with her nails. Her eyes! She had mesmerized him. He remembered.

He gradually became aware of his surroundings: first the bed he was lying in and then the tangy smell of incense that wafted around him. He was in an expensively furnished room that was lit by a kerosene lamp. An arcane symbol of healing was painted on the ceiling above his head, and Bateley knew there was a matching symbol beneath it as well. This was one of three chambers of healing in the Council's private clinic. There was a young man sitting next to him, reading the Times. Bateley knew him as a Watcher-in-training.

///Horatio!///

Bateley sat up.

"Are you alright, sir?" the Watcher-in-training asked respectfully, lowering his paper.

Bateley blinked. *Yes,* he tried to say, but no words came out. He touched his bandaged throat again. It was then that he remembered something the Council healer had told him, when he had been conscious earlier, albeit in a state of fever: his voice, gone! For good. *Dear Lord!*

///Horatio! Can you hear me?///

Bateley nodded slowly. *Edward?*

"Do you need anything, sir? Something to drink, perhaps? Water?"

Bateley nodded again. The young man got up, poured water into a glass and handed it to the injured man. Director Bateley took it and sipped slowly. He passed the empty glass back and leaned back into his cushions. Closing his eyes he listened intently to the voice inside his head.

***

*So now that makes two people who know what's the what. Let's just hope the rest of the Council don't get wind of time-travel-Buffy...* Buffy pondered, after she walked Charles to his room and headed for the stairs. After telling him the bare facts, she had found herself talking about Mom, and how Dawn had done that spell, and how hard it was, and then she and Charles had both cried a little, and in the end Buffy had promised to find a way to bring `real Maeve' back. *Hope I wasn't lying on that one. What if she's dead and I'm stuck here forever? Or what if she doesn't want to come back? What if she likes my life better than hers? I guess I wouldn't blame her.*

Ever since her friends had brought her back she'd felt like the whole world was a big Let's-make-Buffy-miserable conspiracy, like fate was pulling her chain. She'd felt outraged. Actually, no - she'd been too numb, too dead for anything as alive as outrage. After being dragged into the past she'd felt pretty much the same. Except with less of the numbness and more of the outrage: Willoughby had botched a spell trying to save his Slayer, okay. But who got caught up in it? Buffy. Who else.

At the time she hadn't really thought beyond the why-me. But now she did: Why here and why now? How come she'd ended up meeting Angelus and William? Was it really just coincidence or sheer bad luck?

*If only Giles were here,* Buffy thought, as she made her way downstairs to tell Hartford that she was ready for patrol. *Maybe he'd know what this is all about. Help me figure this out...*

Maybe, there was something she was supposed to do before she was allowed back? Maybe fate had brought her here to fix things....

She silently hurried down the stairs. Too bad she had no one to help her with this. Willoughby was caught up in his own private tragedy. She wanted to help him, not burden him with difficult decisions. She'd talk to Bateley - Watchers knew stuff and, compared to Hartford, who so reminded her of Quentin `I'm an arrogant asshole' Travers, Bateley was kinda okay - for a Watcher. Plus, Willoughby seemed to trust him. Buffy sighed. Bateley was out of reach in a private hospital run by the Council. If only there was someone she could talk to... Someone like Giles or her friends or... or even...

Spike! Her heart skipped a beat and she came to a skittering halt. But then she recognized William. He was in the process of putting his coat on.

"Miss McKenna!" William exclaimed. He froze in mid-movement, ogling her.

Buffy walked up to him, feeling strangely self-conscious in her manly outfit. *Well, I'm sure Spike would approve of the look,* she thought with a hint of defiance. "Mr. Crawford," she said, stepping closer to him. "You're up late," she stated, making it sound like a question.

"Oh, um, I was working late, there was this translation, you see, quite fascinating," William said, struggling nervously with his coat and blushing for no good reason at all. His heart was pounding madly in his chest.

"I... um ... I wanted to thank you," the young woman said awkwardly. "You know, the hot chocolate..."

"It was nothing," he said dismissively. *Oh God, stop staring at her legs, you fool!* He took off his glasses and polished them with nervous determination.

It was such a Giles-y gesture that Buffy couldn't help smiling.

It was very strange standing next to this almost-Spike look-alike. *It's so hard to believe that Spike...came from...this.* He smelled all wrong, no leather, not tobacco, no booze. His hair was wrong, his clothes... But his eyes were the same shade of blue.

If Buffy had thought she might see William's soul in there - well, no such luck. No matter how hard she looked, there was nothing in there that she hadn't already seen in Spike's eyes before.

"So..." he said, and put his glasses back on. He glanced at the front door, but made no move to leave yet. Something about the young woman compelled him to stay.

"So..." Buffy echoed. This reminded her of high school, what with the awkward conversations and the beating around the bush ...

"How are the boys holding up? It must have been quite a shock for them," William asked, his interest genuine.

"It was," Buffy agreed. And as curiosity got the better of her she blurted out: "Did you ever lose someone close?"

There was a sad look on his face. "I was about Charles's age when Father got killed. He was buying artifacts for the British Museum in Africa. A few years later Henrietta, our oldest sister, died of a fever."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Buffy said, meaning it. "I lost my mom, a little while ago. She got sick."

"My sincere condolences."

There was another silence.

"I expect you will be staying upstairs tomorrow night?" William asked, apparently not yet ready to finish the conversation.

"Why? What's tomorrow?"

"Mrs. Hartford is hosting a very distinguished dinner party, before she and her guests depart to attend the court ball. I believe the event has been planned ever since the Royal Ball was announced six weeks ago."

"Oh." Buffy said. "Royal, huh? Well, no one invited me, or if they did I don't know anything about it, so I guess I won't be around to embarrass myself royally." She grinned. "Can't say I'm heartbroken over missing another one of those dinners. Having to sit with all those snooty people makes me too sick to eat anyway. How `bout you? Are you going?"

"Good Heavens, no, that would hardly be appropriate. Those guests are very illustrious. I may be distantly related to Mr. Hartford, but I am still in his employ. I will join the guests later, to answer questions about Mr. Hartford's book collection." He tried very hard to make it sound as if he was looking forward to the opportunity to show off the treasures in his care. *As if anyone is going to be interested in the new first editions or the Egyptian papyri. Vulgarians!* William knew he'd just sit around and feel out of place in his shabby suit and his lack of social standing.

He suppressed a sigh. But then his spirits lifted. Suddenly there was a strange faraway look in his eyes. *Cecily.*

Her presence was the only thing that would make the whole evening worthwhile. He knew she was on the guest list. Anticipation (and a certain amount of dread, too) made his palms sweaty. *Oh dear Lord, if only I had not promised Victoria I would try to approach Cecily, to finally reveal my secret but heartfelt feelings to her.* He swallowed. "Well, a promise is a promise," he said.

He blinked, startled at the sound of his own voice.

"And you're telling me that because?" Buffy asked.

"Forgive me, I seem to be in the habit of talking to myself. Quite inexcusable." He was all in a fluster but the young woman just waved her hand. "No biggie," she said. Which was probably supposed to reassure him.

"I... I had better get home," William said, "It's almost midnight."

"Oh, right, that late, huh?" Buffy said, affecting a yawn. "Good night, then."

He picked up his hat, gloves and cane and bowed politely. "Good evening, Miss McKenna." He opened the front door and stepped outside.

"William?"

"Yes?" He turned around, surprised at the sudden intimacy. The young woman was biting her lip and regarding him intently.

"You're a smart guy, right?" she said. "You read all kinds of books all the time. Tell me, do you believe in destiny? That whatever you do the outcome will always be the same? That we're just like playing out our roles in some big production?"

"My dear Miss McKenna, legions of philosophers throughout the centuries haven't been able to answer that question. Schopenhauer for instance..."

"I'm not interested in Slop-en-what's-his-name. What do you think?"

He paused to think.

"Personally, I like to believe we are masters of our own fate, that our thoughts and our passions determine our paths. For how can we aspire to anything higher if everything that befalls us is preordained?" He toyed nervously with his gloves. "Frankly, I find the possibility that we might be mere pawns, ruled by fate, too frightening to contemplate."

"That's a no, right?" Buffy said after it had taken her a moment to decrypt the garbled words.

William nodded earnestly. "That's a no. Good evening Miss McKenna."

+++

"Good evening, Harper," Buffy said warmly, as she stepped out of the house.

"Good evening, Miss," the coachman replied. He opened the door and she climbed inside the carriage. "Thanks." - "My pleasure, Miss."

Richard Hartford, Buffy's new - hopefully temporary -Watcher, was at her heels and took the seat beside her. He gave her a disapproving glance and rapped his cane against the roof of the carriage. Moments later, the vehicle was on its way.

It didn't take Buffy long to decide that she didn't like Hartford Junior. The way he was scrutinizing her and scribbling into his notebook was creepy. It made her feel like an amoebae under a microscope. Except for the swarming and the multiplying, of course.

"So, where are we going?" Buffy asked.

"You'll see," was all the Watcher said.

***

Four hours and an almost-cramp in her calf later Buffy was getting impatient. *No that's not true, I lost my patience hours ago.* "What are we doing here again? Other than waiting for the wind to blow the other way..." she asked. They were crouched on a roof overlooking a cheap hotel in a shabby east London district. The stench of the nearby river was unlike anything she'd ever smelled before, and she'd been around lots of smelly things in six years of slaying.

"We are waiting for them to come back to their lair."

"Them?" Buffy echoed.

"Angelus and his brides," Hartford informed her at last.

"What! You drag me all across town for this? Haven't you learned from last time? I can't take them out, not as long as they're together. They're too strong."

"You will do as you are told," Hartford said coldly.

As she kept her eyes trained on the building across the road, Buffy couldn't help but wonder again, if this was what she was here for, in this horrible century: to stake Angelus and his women. Maybe fate was giving her a second chance to fix things after failing to save Mrs. Willoughby? Maybe Buffy was meant to dust Drusilla before she could murder William Crawford and turn him into a monster who killed thousands?

*Giles! Where are you when I need you?*

+++

"Not now," Xander mumbled, vaguely aware of a hand on his shoulder that was giving him a firm shake. "We can have sex later, when I've had coffee, okay?"

"I'll take that as a threat," a male voice could be heard. "Shall I?"

"Gah!" Xander woke with a start. He'd been lying curled up on the bare ground, his back pressed up against a wall. Now he was staring wide-eyed into the familiar face of Spike, who was crouching next to him. "Spike! You're back," he blurted out. Relief made him grin insanely.

The vampire raised a questioning eyebrow and snickered as he rose to his feet. "Always knew you're a bit of a poof."

"Huh? Who are you calling--" Xander mentally replayed his words and paled. He raised his hands as if to stave off an amorous advance. "Anya! I was thinking of Anya. I thought you were her!" He babbled nervously, as embarrassment colored his cheeks. He scrambled to his feet.

"Besides, if I were gay," he added, feeling more confident standing up and looking down on the smaller man, "I could certainly do better than a neutered dead guy who chases after Buffy like a pathetic lovesick puppy dog."

"Neutered." Spike echoed, balling his fists.

"Neutered." Xander repeated.

Spike shook his head dismissively and relaxed. "It's almost sunrise," he said matter-of-factly and passed Xander a handful of coins. "The loony ladies should be safe now. Give'm this and they can buy papers and maybe cheap passage to the states. They're better off there. No one's ever gonna notice they're not playing with a full deck. America's full of loonies."

"Hey!"

Spike just gave him a piercing glance. He pointed to a bundle. "Brought some clothes for `em, too. Satisfied?"

Xander looked at the silver and gold coins in his hand, at the bundle, at the vampire, at the women who were sitting up, evidently woken by the exchange and then back at the vampire again.

He opened his mouth, closed it. Tried again. "Thanks, Spike," he finally said.

The vampire just gave him the cold shoulder.

***

"I believe we can expect them to return to their lair any minute now," Hartford said for the fifteenth time. And added. "It's almost sunrise."

*If he says those same words one more time...* With difficulty, Buffy wrestled down the urge to throttle the Watcher.

***

Twice they passed a constable in blue uniform who was patrolling his beat, carrying a billyclub and a bulls-eye lantern, but in their conservative outfits Spike and Xander elicited only polite nods instead of a thorough frisking.

"What happens next?" Xander asked, when they emerged on a busy street, where carriages were noisily driven past.

"We hail a cab and go see Buffy, you moron."

"And then, fang-face?"

"Then we wait until it's time for all of us to go home. Back to the good old 21st Century," Spike said patiently, as if talking to a five year-old. "Easy as pie."

***

"Any minute now," Richard Hartford repeated, peering at the gray sky.

*Watcher-wannabe.* Buffy just shrugged and nibbled on a cuticle. *God what I wouldn't give for a nice mocha latte. And a bagel or two. Isn't it time for breakfast yet?*

***

The sight that greeted the day shift of St. Luke's Hospital was enough to make several orderlies bring up their breakfast.

In the ransacked office, a pale Dr. Burton unlocked a safe with trembling hands. He took out a sealed envelope. He broke the seal and pulled out a few folded sheets of paper, then read the instructions carefully.

Afterwards, the alienist stepped outside his office to pass some of those instructions on to his staff. Particularly the order that no one, under no circumstances whatsoever, was allowed to leave the building until further notice.

Then he quickly went back to his desk, composed a message and sealed it. He stepped outside the building, hailed a cab, handed the driver the envelope and generous payment, and ordered him to deliver the message. "Make haste, man!" he shouted after the retreating vehicle.

***

"Well, I can't see anyone hurrying back inside, can you?" Buffy asked sweetly. *Thank God!*

"I do not understand this," Hartford stammered. "Our informants..."

"Uh-huh. Your Council guys, you know the ones who do all the legwork, they didn't by any chance check the hotel reception, did they? You know, like, ask some questions maybe?"

"...Um...not exactly..."

"Let me guess," Buffy said, "this is your first mission. Ho boy, have you got a lot to learn!"

***

"...After studying the Slayer's actions carefully, as requested, it is my opinion that the Slayer performed her sacred duties with great courage and to the best of her considerable abilities. She not only saved several good people, among them small infants, from those abominable creatures, she also saved both Watchers present from certain death. While it is regrettable that the infamous Angelus and his demon brides were able to escape destruction, this is not entirely unanticipated, as several prophecies pertaining the Line of Aurelius have indicated that Angelus and his get may well play an important role in things to come. I have no reason to fault the Slayer in any way. She proved herself righteous, resourceful and dedicated. It is my firm conviction that the Slayer is still true to her calling, etcetera etcetera Director Horatio Bateley."

Arthur Hartford snorted and let the papers drop on his desk. Something about Bateley's preliminary report was odd. The handwriting looked authentic, even though shaky. And the words themselves seemed inconspicuous. Bateley always sounded more pompous in writing than in person. Even the odd hour at which the report was delivered was not unusual. It was commendable, but not unexpected, that Bateley would deliver his report as soon as he was able to.

Hartford poured himself a brandy and lit another cigar, not without the obligatory *Damn those stupid doctors.*

Enveloped by tobacco fumes and the fragrance of the finest French cognac he sat and pondered, when suddenly there was a knock on the door of the study.

"Yes?"

The butler appeared, holding out a silver tray with a sealed envelope.

"Sir, a cab just delivered this message. It is marked urgent."

Hartford took the envelope and opened it. When he'd read the first few lines he dismissed the butler with a nod. He stubbed out his cigar, then got up and walked to the telephone, one of a handful of unlisted apparatuses the Council used. "Diogenes Club, please," he said into the black mouthpiece.

While he waited for the operator to connect his call it finally occurred to him what had seemed strange about Director Bateley's report. Not once throughout the whole long letter had Bateley used the Slayer's name.

+++

The first several minutes in the back of the carriage were spent in uncomfortable silence. Xander's eyes were glued to passing scenery, not that it was at all interesting to him. In fact, to Xander, 19th Century England couldn't be anymore boring. Everything was gray. Granted, there were several shades of gray to choose from - but nevertheless, he felt like he was trapped in an old black and white movie. *What's so great about London, anyway?*

"Huh?" Spike responded.

"Oh, did I...did I just say that out loud?"

Spike pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows.

"I was just wondering what was so great about London? I mean, everything's dirty and gray and people just assume that if you're naked and surrounded by bloody dead people, you're insane."

Spike grinned.

"And I meant bloody as in bloody," Xander went on. "You know, literally bloody. Not bloody as in stupid British slang."

"Almost forgot how much I missed this place. Easy pickings, you know."

Xander looked disgusted.

"Besides," Spike raised the blinds on his side of the car, "in London, s'easy to travel during the daylight hours."

Xander tilted his head to peer out of his window and up at the sky. With the smoke and soot that filled the air, it was hard to figure where the old colorless buildings ended and the sky began. No wonder vampires liked it here...no sun. *How depressing.*

"Good thing, too," Spike continued. "Else I'd be crispy right about now."

"Speaking of naked," Xander started.

"Were we?"

"How come you didn't get arrested for indecent exposure?"

"First of all, there's nothing that could be called indecent about it," Spike answered slyly. "And secondly, I was clothed."

"What? How?" Xander just shook his head and sighed. "So not fair." He self-consciously tugged at the tight collar of his new 19th century shirt. "Why did they send YOU?"

"I volunteered."

"To get into Buffy's good graces, no doubt," Xander mumbled. It was out before he could suck it back in. * Good job, Xan-man. Repeat after me: Don't. Insult. Your. Ticket. Home.*

Fortunately, this time the bleached menace paid no heed to his abuse. *Phew.* But the conversation had come to a screeching halt. For the next five minutes the two men silently stared out of the windows. All kinds of questions were running through Xander's head, until he finally swallowed his pride and resentment.

He lowered his voice, and with a touch of melancholy asked, "So, um, how's Anya taking all of this?"

"Alright, I guess."

"Is she okay? I mean, is she...is she worried?"

"Probably just concerned about where she's gonna get her next bout of rumpy-pumpy."

Xander spun toward him with anger in his eyes. "Hey, you can trash me all you want, Spike, but you will not insult my fiancé."

"Fiancé now, is she?" He grinned at the confused and angry man beside him. "Congratulations." He patted Xander on the shoulder. "Bout time you made a commitment to the lady. If I were her, I'd have left you ages ago. No, wait. If I were her, I would have gone after the sexy blonde vampire."

Xander wasn't sure whether to feel annoyed or grateful or both. "Uh, thanks. I guess. Actually, nobody knows yet. You're the first person I've told."

"Aw, I'm honored. Just make sure the ceremony's at night, okay?"

"Yea, if she's still waiting for me when I get back." He looked down at his shoes. "If I get back."

"Look, Harris, your demon-girl is worried about you. Waterworks and everything. She loves you and you love her, and you're gonna get back to her and one day you'll have little ex-demon crossbreeds and maybe you'll even name one after me, okay?"

"That'll be the day," was Xander's automatic reply. But then the human smiled sheepishly. "You really think so?"

"Sure thing, monkey-boy."

"What about Willow? And Giles? I mean, what happened after I, you know...fell?"

"The witch is still kinda beat-up. And Rupert? Imagine he's busy finalizing our return trip right about now."

"It's too bad we're not there to help, huh?" Xander realized how stupid that sounded just a little too late.

"Well, Cordy and the poof showed up," Spike rolled his eyes. "As if things couldn't have gotten any worse."

"Cordelia's back in Sunnydale?"

Spike nodded. "With the Nancy-boy in tow."

"Why?"

"Visions or something..." The vampire shrugged it off. "Don't know why he always has to get all puffed up, acting like he's everyone's bleedin' savior."

"He's trying to atone for his sins. Something you wouldn't understand," Xander explained. *Although, I have no idea why I'm sticking up for Angel of all people. People? He's not even a person! And what is Cordelia doing with him, anyway? Are they together? Ew! Why do I even care?* "At least, he doesn't need a government chip in his head to tell him not to eat people."

Spike studied him intently. "You think if I didn't have this chip in my head, I'd eat you? After all we've been through? That hurts." The vampire jibed.

"Well, I am a nummy treat, aren't I?"

"Indeed."

"Are we there yet? I have to pee."

***

"Okay, let's see," Spike said, when the carriage pulled up. He eyed the building speculatively.

"Let's see what?" Xander asked.

"Let's see if anybody's home. Go. Knock. Ask for Edward Willoughby. Giles said you're not to talk to anyone else. Unless you want a bunch of bleedin' Watchers to lock you up and ask you a few probing questions about the future, of course."

"Definitely had enough locking up and probing to last me a lifetime, thank you very much." Xander said and got out of the carriage. Then a thought occurred to him: "What about you? Aren't you coming?"

"Yeah, that's a good one. Drag me into a Watcher's household. Brilliant plan, bricklayer."

"I guess you're kinda difficult to explain." Xander admitted.

Spike just smirked.

"So, what are you going to do, oh irritating one?" Xander asked.

"Find a room. Lie low. Keep my nose clean. Stay out of trouble," Spike lied with ease. "I'll let you know where I'm staying. So you know how to find me if you need me. Say hello to Buffy for me."

Xander nodded, not entirely happy to let the vampire out of his sight. *Not entirely happy to be left by myself.* But the prospect of seeing Buffy again far outweighed all other worries. He walked up the stairs, gripped the brass door handle, knocked and waited.

And waited.

He took a step backwards and looked at the drawn curtains. He took another step back. Somehow, the house seemed to be deserted. There wasn't even smoke coming from the chimney.

"Say Spike, are you sure this is the right address?"


Continued in Part 34 - Step by Step

AN: According to my sources, the first telephone book ever was published for London in 1880. It lists 255 entries. So, yes, there were telephones in 1880. But not many.

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