Chapter 18: Plans
They didn't sleep that night. The Potentials, including three new ones that Giles and Ethan had found, were shown the bathroom, introduced and then shooed into the living room where they talked quietly with the others, TV on, shooting looks into the kitchen that 'The Scoobies' ignored. Xander eyed the close quarters and knew something had to be done about it - but later. First, they had to talk. He and Spike and Derio and Oz hauled in lawn chairs from the porch and Buffy gathered up mis-matched dining room chairs that she'd found at a garage sale so they could all squeeze around the kitchen table, knees bumping and elbows poking. Tara and Dawn were firmly set between the wolves and Spike and Xander.
Dawn had put the kettle on and Giles and Ethan had opened their luggage and were hauling out a huge stash of contraband goodies.
"Jeez! What'd you guys do, rob a grocery store?" Xander asked, shuffling through various brightly colored boxes and tins.
"We were shopping when - when we had to leave... Let's get some tea made and then we'll tell you what happened." Giles sounded tired - depressed - and Ethan stroked his back gently for a moment and then slid something across to Spike.
"Ripper said you liked these," he grinned, and Spike eyed the tube of Jaffa Cakes with barely-concealed delight.
"Ta ever so, Watcher - can't find these here too easy." He was already picking at the end, undoing them, when Giles opened up a package of tea. The scent of it filled the air - heavy, smoky, and rich.
"What'dja get, Spike -what's that, Mr. Giles, it smells -"
"It smells nice," Tara said, and Giles smiled at her.
"It's tea, Dawn. Souchong, to be precise."
"Bring enough to share, then?" Spike mumbled, his mouth full of cake. Xander snagged one out of his hand.
"Only if you share."
"Oh, plenty for all -" Giles dumped another armful of things and they spent the next ten minutes fixing tea, getting glasses of milk or juice, and sorting through the goodies.
"Wow, one of you has a sweet tooth," Buffy said, opening a box of Cadbury's 'Heroes' and peering inside at the display of mixed chocolate candies.
"That would be Ripper." Ethan was opening some crackers and spreading Marmite with gleeful abandon. Dawn was watching him closely, her new favorite - 'Kipling's French Fancies' - held close to her chest, out of Buffy's reach. Ethan seemed to be his old self; a little heavier, a little tanned, a sparkle of mischief in his eye. His magic was back, only now it was a fairly pleasant low-grade tingle that you could feel only when you were very, very close to him. Nothing like the out-of-control seething that had so set Spike and Derio on edge and Xander was grateful for that
"I was just thinking that you girls would like some treats," Giles said, but his voice was still so tired - so soft. He only picked at the lavish spread.
"Oh! Sandwich time." Oz was looking delightedly at a jar of Green's Mango Chutney and another of Branston Pickle. "You'll like this, Derio," he added, holding the chutney out for inspection and Derio read the label with interest. He was nibbling a cracker spread with the strong, salty marmite, trying to decide if he liked it. Dawn, Tara, Buffy, and Oz had all rejected the spread already.
"I got some roast beef and stuff at the store." Tara hastily wiped chocolate off her lips and got up to help Oz raid the refrigerator, and Spike rummaged for his flask and poured a bit in his tea. Xander had tried it before it was adulterated with whisky and decided he'd like it iced and sugared better. The looks of shocked horror on the three expatriate's faces had made him laugh.
"Okay, so...we've stuffed our faces - and my god this is good!" Buffy crunched her last bit of toast and ginger preserve and licked her fingers. "Now we really need to know what's going on. First, though - where's Willow? Is she coming?"
Giles paused for a moment, tea-cup halfway to his mouth. "Willow...is still with the Coven, Buffy. She - wasn't ready to leave."
"They wouldn't let her leave," Ethan chimed in, and Giles glanced sharply at him but nodded.
"So - she's not coming back? Ever?" Dawn asked, and Giles reached out and patted her hand.
"Now, I didn't say that, Dawn. She's simply not able to come back yet. Her magic became very unstable when she -"
"When she killed that guy and tried to kill Xander, yeah. Is she gonna go to prison?" Giles blinked at Dawn and Spike chuckled, but Xander could feel the tension from Oz - and his own unease - at the thought of Willow in prison.
*Maybe she SHOULD, though...she did murder him -*
*Him who'd already killed once and tried to do it again? No, Red-witch got THAT right, if nothing else.* Spike was firm in his opinion that Warren had got what he deserved - had, in fact, lucked out completely because he hadn't suffered anything like what he would have suffered under William the Bloody.
"Be glad she's not here, Bit. She's done enough, don't you think?"
"Spike -" Buffy looked like she wanted to argue - or tell Spike to shut up - but Tara put her hand on Buffy's wrist, stopping her.
"He's right, Buffy. Even if it's n-not what we want to hear. She let it - control her and she thought she could ignore the warnings. H-Here especially - that's d-deadly."
"The coven has, for all intents and purposes, stripped her of most of her magic. Nothing that wasn't done willingly!" Giles held his hand up to forestall Buffy and she slumped in her chair. "They can't actually take her magic away - it's a part of her, just like your powers as the Slayer are a part of you. But with her consent they - bound her ability to use it. She's - going back to the beginning and relearning things the way she - she should have. If I'd had paid attention and taught her." Giles looked down at his tea-cup, defeat and sorrow evident in the slump of his shoulders, and Ethan leaned into him, comforting silently.
"When were you supposed to do that, Giles? When the Master was trying to kill us all or when the Mayor was or when Angelus was? I mean, I can see the huge gaps in your schedule where nothing was going on and you could have spent hours with Willow." Xander was angry but he struggled to keep the anger at a low level, hating the thought of Giles blaming himself for what Willow had done.
*He will NOT feel guilt over this! Willow didn't have to do any of the things she did and I am NOT going to let him think it's all his fault!*
*Probably won't change how he feels, love...*
*I have to try.*
"Xander, I... I may not have had - a lot of free time, but I should have paid more attention -"
"Don't do that, Giles. Please don't make yourself to blame. You aren't - none of us think that." Buffy's voice was soft but Giles flinched as if she'd shouted at him and sighed - looked up at them all.
"I'm afraid I shall always feel - a certain responsibility - for what she did."
"Waste of your time, mate, and you know it. You got her out of here and away from the family and that's all that matters." Spike wasn't in the least concerned about Giles' guilt - that was glaringly obvious in the link - but he didn't like Xander's distress - a distress Oz shared. "And natterin' on about it won't help. She's not here, can't help us, that's all we need to know. Why are you two here like gypsies with those girls in tow and about three sets of clothes between you?" Giles blinked and glanced over at Ethan, who raised an eyebrow.
"He's right, really. More important things to talk about, Ripper."
"Yes...all right... Well - you know about the Bringers? And that - they're killing potential Slayers all over the world?" The group nodded, settling in to listen. Xander leaned over into Spike, anticipating the strong arm that came around him and sighing in contentment. Dawn back in the link, and Tara there and not there, as well - some sort of ripple in the air that wasn't quite the same but that was her, without doubt. It felt good - felt right - and even the Slayer-buzz had been pushed to the background as the girls had dropped off to sleep and they'd concentrated on other things.
*At least Willow's safe,* Xander couldn't help thinking, and Spike pressed his mouth into Xander's hair and kissed him. Maybe Willow wasn't his best friend anymore, but he didn't want another Hellmouth casualty in his memories, either.
"The Council headquarters is gone and...so are most of its members. I'm sure there are a few, here and there, who survived but..." Giles took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes tiredly - rested his forehead on his palm for a moment. "We have feelers out, contacts in the occult world and...other places. Hopefully we can find what's left. For all intents and purposes, the Council is no more. Even if we start it again - it will never be the same." He sighed and straightened and put his glasses back on. The rest of them sat in silence, contemplating his story. The Council gone, and so many potentials dead... The Bringers had tried to kill Giles and Ethan, as well, as they'd gathered the three girls they'd known of and fled to the Hellmouth.
*Not bad that the bloody Watchers are gone, though. Bastards have been hounding me and mine for too long.* Spike, of course, would find the blood-red lining in any cloud, and Xander had to smile at him.
"The First believes it will be unstoppable if it kills every member of the Slayer line... And it could very well succeed if we do not find a solution, and soon. Its resources, I'm afraid, are vast." Giles looked around the table and Xander did, as well. Shock and fear and resignation on all the faces, except for Spike who was carefully blank, smoking a cigarette and leaning back in his chair. Ethan leaned over and picked up a battered rucksack and upended it on the table. Several books, manuscripts and loose papers slid out, mixing with the crumbs of McVitie's Dark Chocolate Digestives and Fry's Peppermint Cream wrappers.
"This is all that's left. Ripper and I - we broke into the Council headquarters two nights before it was destroyed."
"Well aren't you the little Artful Dodgers," Spike murmured, and Ethan grinned at him, his fox-smile swift and toothy and full of glee.
"Oh, since the coven fixed my magic it was laughably easy. We took everything we could find on the First."
"This is everything?" Buffy was poking at the meager pile and Tara had opened a book and was paging through it, frowning. Dawn leaned over to look and smiled.
"Hey! I can read that! In hoc est
vera et fidilis fabula... Herein is written the true and accurate
history..." Dawn frowned and bit her lip. "...cuius quod non
possidit nomen...of that which has no name... Oh...quod antequam
veniebat, quod primum erat. Manui sacra scripta...
of that which came before, of that which is the First. As recorded by
her sacred hand..." Dawn looked up, eyes wide. "Wow." There
was a moment of silence and then Giles cleared his throat, making an effort.
"Very nicely done, Dawn. You've been keeping up with your studies, I see." Giles smiled softly at her, pleased, and she smiled back.
"Yeah. I call Spike and he helps me sometimes and - and Tara and I have been emailing with Wesley and Fred."
"Wesley? How nice of him to help. I don't think I've met this 'Fred' person?" Giles got up and poured more hot water, fussing with the tea-ball.
"No, Fred's a girl. She helps Wes and everybody. She - well, it's a long story but Fred's really smart. Her and Tara chat for hours."
"Do you now, Glinda?" Spike asked, mouth curling up and eyebrow cocked and the four of them could smell the intense blood-scent as Tara blushed behind her hair. Her presence - her aura - rippled around them.
"She was in a h-hell dimension for five years and sh-she's kind of shy so I talk to her. She's really smart - she knows all about c-chemistry and - and physics and stuff." Dawn looked over at Spike and mouthed 'crush' at him and Spike winked at her.
"You'll have to invite her up, Glinda, once we deal with this so-called First. Have her meet the family." Tara gaped at him and then snatched her own tea-cup and fled to the sink.
*Not nice, vampire-mine.*
*Not BAD. You know she'd want us to meet her fancy.*
*You don't know that she - fancies - Fred!* Spike snorted, fishing for another cigarette.
*I think she likes this Fred a lot,* Oz thought, and Xander sighed, shaking his head but smiling, too.
"Yes, well, perhaps we will get to meet this - Fred person. Someone from L.A. is going to be coming up in a few days and - and they'll be bringing Faith.
"What? But she's in prison!" Buffy hastily lowered her voice after the first loud word, casting a glance into the living room. The Potentials slept on.
"And Angel is getting her out. The First can get inside of there as easily as it can anywhere else, and I believe we need as much strength as possible to fight it. Wesley has...come to an understanding with her, and he was happy to tell me that she very much regrets - everything."
"She'd better," Buffy grumbled, snatching a piece of chocolate-covered honeycomb from the Hero box and biting it in half.
"Now - in further news..." Giles sat back down and stared at the flask that Spike was holding out - took it finally and poured a large dollop into his tea-cup. "Thank you. Oh - Ethan, yes -" Ethan took the flask and did the same, except his tea-cup was empty and he poured quite a bit more. Spike growled.
"Now - you're all right," Ethan muttered. He bent over his suitcase again and pulled out a bottle which Spike snatched with a hiss of triumph.
*Ah! Glenfiddich - and Cask Strength!* "Ta, mage," Spike said, cracking the seal.
"In further news," Giles said, a little louder, and Xander snickered. It was feeling like one of the Scooby meetings from so long ago. The jangled nerves and frayed tempers and fear that had been a part of their lives since they'd decided to come back were all slowly ebbing away.
*We're tired, we're stuffed with chocolate and we're...a little hysterical. But yeah...feels good.* Oz - who was probably the furthest from hysterical anyone could possibly get - smiled over at Xander, his hand unconsciously twisting one of Derio's dreads between his fingers.
*Feels good, yeah. Family,* Derio chimed in, and Xander nodded.
"Ethan and I have discussed this and we have decided that the best people to help us gather up Potentials and surviving Council members, and deal with the Headquarters, would be Drake's family. In fact - before we left England we contacted Arthur Pembroke - his grandfather - and arranged for him to begin excavating the Council building. With luck they'll be able to salvage...something."
"How are they going to find Potentials, Giles?" Buffy asked, and Giles smiled slightly.
"The Council had actually found a spell that could locate them and had been using it. It was pure luck that I stumbled across it while we were gathering our information on the First. We used it to find the three we brought with us, and then gave various family members the location of others. They're so widely spread, really, that it's much easier for them to go where the girls are then to send just one or two people shuttling all over the globe."
"Wow. So we've got a whole army of people out there...do they know about the Bringers, Giles? Do they know - they're in danger?" Giles looked at Xander over the tops of his glasses, and *darkman* was in that stare.
"I made it quite clear what we were up against. They are...prepared. Apparently being an archeologist isn't as - academic a pursuit as you might imagine."
"Hey, don't have to tell me - I watched all the Indiana Jones movies," Xander said, and Ethan snorted softly, grinning. Spike tipped the bottle of Glenfiddich up and took a long swallow.
"So how many more girls you think we're gonna get, Watcher?" he asked.
"Well - we had...seven, right before we left, not including these three. And there may be more. We need to do the spell periodically and make sure we're getting them all."
"Gonna be tight in here," Xander murmured, and Spike sighed heavily.
"Gonna be more than tight. Right...only one thing for it, then." Spike pulled out the cellphone Buffy had given him and dialed a number. *Gonna be like a bloody psycho ward in here, is what it's gonna be...* he grumbled. Everyone watched him and Xander shrugged at the questioning look Giles sent his way.
*Any idea?* Oz asked, and Xander shook his head.
"Know you're not asleep, you wanker - Oi! Batvamp - Slayer needs a favor."
"I know you're gonna be here in a couple of days - that's the point. Bring the keys an' the deed to the house on Crawford Street, yeah? Why? 'Cause we need it, that's why... Can't imagine why you'd want to do that - oh! Except that you're an ignorant paddy who couldn't give a fuck about - You miserable fucking bastard -" Xander snatched the phone from Spike, glaring at him, and handed it to Buffy, who stared for a moment and then took it, wincing as she held it up to her ear. They could all hear Angel shouting something, possibly in a demon language.
"Angel? Yeah, it's me. Uh - well - what Spike said about the house...?" She looked over at Spike, who raised his eyebrow at her and then took another swallow of the whisky. "Yeah, we need it." Buffy got up and went back to the bathroom, presumably for a little privacy, and Xander whapped Spike on the arm.
"Why did you have to get him all pissed off? He might not let us have the house."
"Don't really need him to bring anything - I've still got keys, and wolfling could rig the electric up in half a mo'. Just thought I'd -"
"Piss Angel off. Yeah." Xander leaned over and kissed Spike hard. "Smart idea, though. We'll never fit seven more girls in here."
"What's this house, then?" Ethan asked, and Giles, Xander and Spike all told him, in bits and pieces, the history of the Crawford Street house. Oz and Derio had got up and were putting various food items away and Tara was washing up cups and spoons. Dawn, who'd been yawning steadily for a half-hour was now asleep, slumping sideways in her chair and Xander caught her and held her, smiling as she murmured something in Latin and made a funny little 'sleep face'. The sky outside the windows was starting to lighten when Buffy came back into the kitchen and handed Spike his phone.
"He'll bring the things we need - he said he'd have Cordelia call and get things turned on tomorrow... They're getting Faith out tomorrow, too - Wesley and Gunn." Buffy smiled at Xander and Dawn and slumped down into her chair. "The house is kind of a mess over there. I look in sometimes...it seems to draw things." She pushed her fingers back through her hair and rubbed tiredly at her eyes - yawned into her hand. "We'll need - god - cots or mattresses or something, and - sheets and stuff..." Buffy yawned again and then Xander did and then Giles, and they all smiled blearily at each other.
"We'll sort that all later, Slayer. I've got some contacts, and the - and Angel does - we'll get it done."
"It's filthy over there," Buffy said, and Xander laughed.
"This is where my immersion in pop-culture is a benefit. I know the 'wax-on, wax-off' speech by heart and I'll bet cleaning the Crawford house would be a great way to start training the Potentials." Buffy stared at him and then laughed, her thin, tired face losing its pinched look, and Xander had to explain The Karate Kid to Ethan and Giles.
"Okay guys - I'm so tired I'm seeing double. Xander, would you bring Dawn up to my room? Tara - you can bunk in with us, let Giles and Ethan have your room and - uh -"
"The four of us can share Dawn's room," Oz said, leaning against Derio and blinking sleepily. "We can always change and sleep on the floor if we have to - all the same to us."
*Or squash into Dawn's bed,* Spike thought, and even though the mental picture made a hot little flash of want skitter through Xander's groin he immediately squashed it.
*No, no, no. No profaning of Dawn's room or Dawn's bed. Stop that!* he added, when Spike grinned and made a lewd little noise down in his throat.
"Okay..." Buffy yawned again and Tara patted her shoulder.
"I'm going to go clean up and - stuff," she said, and went slowly away upstairs. There was a general stirring as everyone got up and Buffy got clean sheets for the beds and Spike lit up a final smoke.
*You all right? You didn't hunt...*
*Be fine. Do it tomorrow - well, tonight, really. Just tired. Need help?* Xander nodded and let Spike brace him as he pushed himself to his feet, maneuvering Dawn so he could carry her upstairs.
A half an hour later they were finally settled, the curtains firmly closed and Oz and Derio curled around each other in a nest of quilts from the van. Spike was on his back, his hand idly stroking Xander's back, unease in the link.
*Oh just...* The link flashed with images - Angel, mostly, and Xander caught a bit of what the First had said to Spike in Seattle.
*Want to talk about it?*
*No. But the Watcher's gonna want to drag every last syllable out, isn't he?* Spike sighed and hugged Xander close - closed his eyes. *Deal with it then. Go to sleep now, yeah? Love you...*
*Love you, vampire mine...*
"So he's a vampire with a soul, but not like your soul, his was a curse from some - gypsy sorceress?" Drake looked fascinated, pen poised over a worn leather notebook, and Spike lit a cigarette and huffed smoke irritably toward the ceiling.
"He's a vampire with a bloody great stick up his arse is what he is. Don't you want to talk about something else? Demon-girl was saying you learned a new trick in the bedroom." Drake blushed beet-red.
"Uh - no. I mean yes, we did but no, I don't want to discuss it. Maybe take Anya out for a drink later, she's dying to tell someone and I'd rather it not be my mother." Cecilia Pembroke and a cousin - some boy about nineteen - were arriving in Sunnydale that evening with a Potential. His great Aunt Portia Pembroke had already come and gone with a Potential from China who had no English, apparently, but had screamed quite nicely when she'd seen Spike - game-face and snarling - facing off with Kennedy. Again. Spike sucked a quarter-inch of his cigarette to ash and contemplated her sourly. The girl had decided her mission in life was to ride Spike's ass and even though it had only been two days Spike was on the brink of killing her - or at least just making her very, very sorry. Xander and Dawn and Giles, of all people, had averted catastrophe so far, but Spike's patience - which was already cobweb-thin - was about to snap. Drake was saying something and he dragged his mind out of a pleasant little fantasy of showing Kennedy just what those spiral nails were good for to listen to the man.
"...Anya insisted on telling me everything she knows about Angelus and his...well, about everything he did before he was souled."
"Did she now? Tell you anything 'bout me?" If he couldn't do what he was imagining, at least he could talk about it.
"Ummm...yes." Drake looked faintly green and Spike chuckled - slung a companionable arm around his shoulders.
"Don't worry, mate - I'm temporarily on the side of the...bloody angels. So no worries, yeah?"
"Yeah." Drake sighed and capped his pen - tipped his head a little, listening. A car was coming up the drive.
"Well, that's either Anya with more cleaning supplies, my mother, Angel, Buffy..."
"Think that's all that's out," Spike said, wandering over to a window and trying to peer out without getting burnt. Over the past two days the Crawford house had been cleaned to within an inch of its life, including the windows. Buffy and Dawn had gone to get more blinds and curtains but there were still some windows left unblocked. Most of the Potentials were currently upstairs doing a final cleaning in the bedrooms and the three bathrooms - two up, thank Christ, and one down - and Xander, Oz and Derio were in the garden pulling out three or more years worth of dead plants and storm-debris. 'Fire hazard', Oz said, slipping images from two weeks of wild-fire fighting in Colorado into the link. Giles and Ethan were in the basement; patiently unraveling one of the many spells Dru had left on the house. Most were warding spells - and they shivered over the family like sparks and silvery ice - but they were tangled and messy. Dru's reaction to the new house and to Angelus' goading, and she'd splashed her power far and wide. It made for gaps.
"Slayer it is," Spike mumbled, feeling that twisty little itch in the back of his skull. If he concentrated, he could tune out the Potentials - they weren't nearly as strong. A few moments later the two sisters walked in, weighed down with supplies for the windows. There was a shriek from upstairs and everyone turned their gaze ceiling-ward.
"Guess somebody found something else," Spike said, smirking, and went languidly to see what was what. The cleaning had unearthed all sorts of things left behind by Angelus, Dru, and himself, as well as the various vamps who'd come with Spike and Dru after the Anointed One had burned, and the other vamps Angelus had made while trying to use first the Judge and then Acathla to end the world. So far they'd turned up a lot of human remains, some dodgy spell components, a few books that had had Giles running for Holy water and Ethan cackling and rubbing his hands like a mad-man, and a set of vamp-strength manacles that Spike had personally commandeered and had plans for later.
*Thank gods there room enough for us to be private. Never knew my boy could be so shy.* Xander wasn't actually all that shy, but he knew too many people at the Crawford house and didn't want to have to look Buffy or Giles or, gods forbid, Dawn in the eye the morning after when he'd been screaming for Spike to fuck him now. *Have to ask Glinda to put a little...muffling spell on the room. Ease his mind a bit and then we'll see what we can do with those chains.* Spike got to the top of the stairs and saw Tara coming towards him holding a small trunk in her hands, an expression of resigned horror on her face.
"Oh, Spike! Could you - take this? It's -it's -" Spike took the trunk, the faint stink of corruption telling him exactly what it was. More of Dru's 'doll parts'.
"Anything for you, pet. 'Bout done up here?"
Tara smiled wanly and wiped her hair back out of her eyes. "Yeah, j-just about. There's a store room at the end of the hall -"
"Best not, pet," Spike interrupted, a sudden memory of what was in there springing to mind. "Me and Xan'll take care of that later, yeah?" Tara peered at him and then paled slightly as his words sunk in.
"Oh - yeah, okay. Th-thanks, Spike."
"Course, Glinda." Spike tucked the trunk under one arm and reached out to tuck a lock of hair behind Tara's ear. *She looks tired. Think I'll tell the Watcher she needs to do some research...give her a little break.* Tara had been taking up a lot of slack - she'd confided to Oz that she felt a little useless, because she wasn't a Potential, her classes kept her from doing a lot research or anything else, and she didn't think her magic was actually strong enough to help. *Got enough magic in her to crack the world in two if she wanted to, but she never would... Keep her safe...*
*Pack safe,* echoed from the garden, all of them in agreement.
"Come down with me, let's get a drink, yeah? Niblet made some lemonade this morning, looks almost right." Tara smiled and sighed and nodded, and they headed downstairs. Spike was going to take the trunk to the back door and let Xander have it - add it to the pile they were amassing in a dry cistern to be burnt later, when the wind died down.
Nearly to the bottom of the stairs and they could both hear voices - footsteps. Someone else coming, and it wasn't Anya or the mother. The Slayer-tingle was suddenly off the chart and Spike went reflexively into gameface, snarling. He dropped the trunk on the stairs and grabbed Tara, shoving her behind him. The front doors swung open and a dark figure stepped through - swaggering, grinning, and looking ready for a fight.
"Faith," Spike growled, and the dark Slayer looked up at him, eyes narrowing.
"William the Bloody - looks like this is going to be exciting after all."