Chapter Nine



“Are you coming or not?” Buffy asked over her shoulder. The question was rhetorical; she knew Spike wouldn’t stay behind.


“Shouldn’t we get weapons?” asked Spike dubiously, glancing back at the house.


“We’re not patrolling, we’re just walking,” Buffy told him—not for the first time. “I’ve got my emergency stake. We don’t need anything else.”


She continued walking, and Spike hurried up to catch up. “So patrolling’s later?”


Buffy rolled her eyes. He was like a dog with a bone, if the bone involved swords and battle axes. “We don’t have to patrol—I told you, this isn’t the Hellmouth.”


“And there aren’t any scary beasts or world-shaking apocalypses?” Spike clarified. He just wanted to be sure, what with the world’s tendency to end and all.


“That’s right.”


Spike walked beside her in silence for a moment. “So this is a perfectly nice, normal little town, sounds like.”


She made a sound of agreement.


“So why are you here?”


Buffy stopped in surprise and looked at him. “Why am I here?” she repeated. He just stared at her curiously. “Where else would I go?”


Spike shrugged. “Dunno. But I can’t really see you just doing nothing.”


“I’m not doing nothing, I’m—I’m being normal,” Buffy insisted, exasperated. “I’m going to school and—and being a person. Like other people.”


“So you’re not patrolling?”


“Well, not often—”


“So you do patrol sometimes?”


“Now and then—”


“But nothing big?”


“Right!” said Buffy with relief. Spike could be pretty dense when he wanted to be, which was whenever he wanted to annoy her. But, ha! Without the one-in-all-the-world weight on her shoulders, she was very nearly unannoyable. Or something like that, but an actual word that made sense. “But nothing big ever happens, so I don’t have to patrol a lot.”


“How many Slayers are there now?”


Buffy blinked at his abrupt change of topic. “Uh, I don’t know … thousands?”


“You … don’t know?” repeated Spike. Seemed a mite cavalier to him.


“Well, we’re trying to find them,” Buffy defended. “Willow helped the Council of Watchers—there aren’t many of them, but they’ve re-formed—set up a guidance spell to help locate new Slayers, so the Watchers are out making with the locating.”


Hmm. Made sense, but … “Why’s Giles with you?”


Why was he with her? What kind of a question was that? “Wha—what? Why wouldn’t he be with me? Where else would he be?”


“With one of the thousands of Slayers who doesn’t have a Watcher, and actually needs to learn about fighting and researching and all that rah-rah, go-team, fight-evil stuff,” Spike said dryly. “Instead of, say, the only Slayer in the world with an assload of experience, who does what she wants anyway.”


Buffy stared at him for a moment without answering, then resumed her walk, mumbling under her breath.


“What? Didn’t catch that, love, human hearing now, remember?”


“I didn’t ask Giles to stay,” Buffy muttered.


Okay, maybe that was a sore point. “Never said you did,” he soothed. “Just wondered.” After a minute he added, “Where are the other Slayers?”


“Wherever they want,” Buffy said without looking at him.


Spike raised his eyebrows. “And Rupert was okay with that?”


Buffy hesitated. “Actually, uh, he didn’t like the idea.”


Spike was unsurprised. “What’d he want to do? Have some big Slayer factory like at your place last spring, only super-sized?”


“Something like that,” admitted Buffy. The very thought of it made her ill. She’d told Giles again and again how she felt about it. She told him the girls needed their families, their friends. Needed lives. That pulling them away from that was obscene, that they’d become automatons, like Kendr—


Okay, that wasn’t fair. Not to Kendra, or to all the other Slayers who were just like her. Just like her because that’s all they were allowed to be.


And just like her because they were dead.


Spike had been right when he’d said, years before, that her family and friends tied her to life. Without them she would have stopped caring, stopped trying. She would have been an automaton, like Kendra, or a psycho, like Faith.


She would have been what she was like after she’d been resurrected, only sooner.


She couldn’t let that happen to all those girls. They’d argued about it for weeks, but finally Giles had given in. The girls could choose. “There’s a training program for the new Slayers, in England, but it’s voluntary,” said Buffy. “Some of them are there.”


“How many?” Spike asked.


“Not many,” Buffy admitted.


“Can’t blame ‘em, really,” Spike said.


“Yeah,” Buffy sighed. “The ones who don’t go through the program, the council tries to fix them up with local martial arts and weapons experts, so they’ll know how to take care of themselves. And there’s a—a—” Buffy broke off, her face pinkening. It sounded a little stupid—okay, more than a little. “A website for Slayers, so the girls can—shut up!” she demanded as Spike began guffawing. “Stop laughing!”


Spike turned away from her in a futile effort to get his snickering under control. “I’m not laughing,” he lied. “I was—appreciating the magnificence of the sunset.”


“With laughter?” Buffy scoffed.


“I’m extremely appreciative,” Spike choked. Buffy glared at him, but he didn’t see it. After a moment he was composed enough to face her again. “So, a website?” he asked, as if he hadn’t been laughing at the idea.


Buffy ground her teeth. “It’s a way for everybody to share ideas and strategies, and bitch about being chosen, and argue about who’s stronger, and get all bond-y and stuff,” she said. “I mean, what’s the alternative? A big Slayer school? No one would be happy, and pretty soon they’d all hate each other, and hate slaying. That will come soon enough by itself,” Buffy added with a trace of bitterness.


Buffy resumed walking, stomping a little. What to do with the Slayers had been argued so many times that Buffy was sick of it. She wasn’t right about everything—she knew that, no matter what Dawn said—but pulling the girls away from their families and putting them into some kind of a big Slayer factory would have been her worst nightmare as a teenager. They were finding them and trying to help them. If the girls didn’t want to go to through the Slayer training program the council had set up, that was fine. If they didn’t want to slay, that was fine, too. No one was making them do anything.


They’d been drafted for a reason, and that reason had passed.


“I almost—” Buffy broke off abruptly. She’d never told anyone, and nobody needed to know. She felt guilty even thinking it.


“What, pet?”


Buffy hesitated. “After Sunnydale—after it was all over—I looked at the survivors. They were all so excited. I mean, they were happy to be alive, but it was more than that. They were all jazzed about their neat new superpowers, and the feeling of invincibility, and I knew it wasn’t going to last. Pretty soon they’d start to feel it.”


“It?” queried Spike gently. He was pretty sure he knew where she was going. He usually did, as long as he wasn’t the subject.


“The responsibility. Duty pressing down on you night and day until it’s crushing you. And nobody can help you, no matter how hard they try. And then they’re angry that they can’t, like it’s something you’re choosing, and then they can’t take it anymore, and you’re alone. Ultimately, you’re alone. So I thought—if Willow did it, she can undo it.”


“Un-Slayer them?”




Spike studied her. “Why didn’t you?”


She didn’t answer for long time, and they walked in silence. “When I turned eighteen, the council put me through this test,” she finally said.


“Test? You mean like with Glory, when they asked your friends and your sexier enemies how you were doing with the slaying?


“I mean like they drugged me so I lost my strength, then released an insane vampire who grabbed—okay, long story short? They took my Slayer power and then made me fight a vampire.”


“They took your power?” repeated Spike. He couldn’t imagine it—the Slayer without her power? Buffy without her power? He couldn’t picture it; he’d always seen her so confident. Knocking gods around, dispatching ghoulies without breaking a sweat. Throwing him across a room and kissing it better. Or not, sometimes. She’d never been just an ordinary girl to him. Didn’t know why she’d want to be.


“It was—awful,” she said softly. “To have that power and then lose it. I didn’t want them to know what that was like. You can’t imagine how horrible it was.”


Spike eyed her. “That I can,” he said, his voice even. Had she forgotten his chip so soon? He’d been leashed, turned into something tame. Unable to kill even to feed, to say nothing of killing for entertainment purposes. Of course, now he could hit people all he wanted. They just probably wouldn’t notice.


She swung to face him, surprise and a trace of embarrassment on her face. She couldn’t believe she’d said something so stupid. He’d adjusted to it so well—after a rocky beginning, he’d adapted as if it were his natural state. Even with the restraint, she’d known he was powerful and dangerous. A force to be reckoned with, despite what she’d sometimes said. “I’m sor—”


“Doesn’t matter,” Spike dismissed diffidently. “So tell me, what’s the point of this definitely not-a-patrol walk?”


Buffy smiled tentatively. “Just thought you might appreciate a little time away from the others,” she said. “You’ve been around them for a whole day and a half—I was concerned your head might explode or something if you didn’t get a break.”


Spike nodded and didn’t answer. Buffy glanced at him thoughtfully, wondering if he bought it. Yeah, it was nice to be away from the house sometimes. God knew, there were so many people around it felt like Potentials 2: Electric Boogaloo.


And if they were alone—if they were away from the others—the thaumogenesis demon wasn’t around. Not hiding in one of them, at least. If it attacked when they were alone she wouldn’t have a problem dealing with it. But in the house—well, it was so big it took a few minutes to cross. And a lot could happen in a few minutes, especially to someone who, instead of the strength of a vampire, now had the strength of a short, skinny guy.


“And,” Buffy added. “I’ve found a place that serves a great bloody onion.”


“A … what?” Spike asked, slightly repulsed.


“Isn’t that what you like, a blood—blooming onion,” Buffy corrected.


Spiked eyed her. “You know, there was a time when I would have enjoyed a bloody onion. I mean, a regular blooming onion, but dipped in—”


“That’s enough!” Buffy said.


Spike chuckled and relented. “Okay. Lead on, McDuff.”


Being contrary, she immediately halted. “Spike?”




Buffy hesitated. “Are you … glad you’re alive?” God knows, she hadn’t been the happiest little resurrected girl in the world.


“Yeah, pet. Real glad,” he told her, smiling faintly.


She startled him by taking his hand, and tentatively squeezing it.


“So am I.”




Willow barely touched dinner. Andrew had made it—baked ziti, which she’d once dreamed of eating in Italy with John Cusack—and it smelled good, but her stomach was in knots and every time she tried to lift a forkful to her mouth her throat closed up.  


The others ate like nothing was wrong. Even Kennedy, who kept sending her glances when the rest weren’t looking. She knew something was wrong; why shouldn’t she? They were lovers. They sensed things about each other, right? Like when someone was sick, or blue.


Or when things were ending.


Suddenly Willow wasn’t in the house on Laurel Drive, but in Xander’s long-gone apartment, with Tara sitting beside her. Willow, suddenly realizing that Tara was breaking up with her, and desperately trying to change her mind. Willow saw herself wring the concession out of Tara that they’d give it a week, and saw herself cling to it like it was a life preserver.


For the first time Willow felt, sharply, what Tara must have been feeling, and nausea overwhelmed her.


“Excuse me,” she muttered, shoving back from the table and hurrying from the room. The others stopped mid-bite and stared after her, and before she’d even cleared the room she could hear another chair scrape along the floor and knew it was Kennedy, following her.


Willow was shamefully glad that she reached the bathroom before Kennedy caught up with her.


Willow shut the door and locked it, leaning against it in relief. It was pathetic to be so happy to be away from your girlfriend, right? Yay for locks.


No, it was more than pathetic. It was wrong. Kennedy—she was special. An Amazon, a warrior. Willow was still amazed that Kennedy had been drawn to her.


But that didn’t make things any better. She was glad she’d known Kennedy, glad they’d been together. But she wasn’t glad anymore, and she was sick of pretending. She didn’t love Kennedy. The woman she loved was buried in the same hole in the ground as Joyce and Anya and Grampa Harold, and Willow hadn’t even had a chance to mourn her properly. She couldn’t pretend things were okay between her and Kennedy anymore.


They’d never been okay.


That was it. She wasn’t going home that night. Not to the apartment they shared. That was Kennedy’s. The house on Laurel was Willow’s home now.


Willow turned on the faucet and patted cold water on her face, willing herself to calm down. She’d be relieved, later. After she’d hurt Kennedy. After she’d made her cry and shout. After Willow wished she hadn’t said anything, she’d be relieved. They both would. Kennedy had to know it wasn’t working. They argued, and she sulked, and Willow smiled fake smiles, and there was all this tension. Deep down, they’d both be relieved. They would.


Kennedy was waiting when Willow opened the door. “Are you all right?” she asked, frowning.


Willow tried for a confident smile, but it melted off her face. Who was she kidding? This was going to be rotten, and nobody was going to be relieved. Kennedy was going to be upset. She was going to make a scene. Everybody would come in to see what was wrong, and Willow wouldn’t break up with her, because she wouldn’t want to embarrass Kennedy in front of them. Maybe it should wait ‘til they got home.


Looking into Kennedy’s face, Willow knew she could tell herself that every night and put it off again and again. In five years, she’d still be telling herself to wait until they were alone. “It’s over,” Willow heard herself say, as if from a distance.


“What?” said Kennedy in surprise.


Willow flinched. “It’s—us. It’s over.”


For a moment Kennedy looked at her, stunned. Guilt rushed at Willow, and she shut her eyes against the sight of Kennedy’s hurt expression. When she opened them Kennedy’s face was as clear and blank as the Bot’s. “Okay,” said Kennedy, her voice just a little thin. “You’re the boss.”


She turned and walked down the hall without another word, and then Willow heard the snick of the front door shutting quietly.


After a moment Willow released the breath she’d been holding. She stood in the hall a few more minutes, as if something were going to happen. The ground start shaking perhaps, or the wind rattling. Or more likely, Kennedy coming back in and demanding to know what Willow meant by over.


But nothing happened, and Willow finally went back to the dining room. She cleared the table with Dawn and Xander, then helped Giles load the dishwasher while the others went off to watch TV. Nobody asked where Kennedy was, or why Willow was so quiet. It was as if they knew.


Willow wandered out the front door and walked to the sidewalk. She peered down the street, eyes straining. She couldn’t see Kennedy, of course. Even if Kennedy had been hopping backwards on one foot, she’d be home by now.


Willow hated not having someone to talk about it. Why did Buffy go out? Why did Buffy pick tonight of all nights to go out with Spike, instead of staying home like she usually did? Sure, Spike had just come back and everything, and maybe they wanted a little alone time, but sometimes other people needed Buffy time, too. Especially Willow, especially when she’d just broken up with her girlfriend.


Well, it’s not like Buffy knew you were going to do it, her nice, rational brain pointed out. You didn’t even know you were going to do it tonight. If you had, you would have packed a bag, right?


Bleh, thought Willow in discontent, wandering back to the front step and sitting down. Her brain was right as usual. But this … this was just so sudden, and she wanted to talk to someone about it. But she was being selfish, wasn’t she? She had a whole houseful of people to talk to. Kennedy—Kennedy was alone in Santa Rita. She’d only really had Willow. Now she had no one.




Willow started at the sound of her name, then relaxed as she realized it was just Xander. “Yeah?”


“Is everything all right?”


Willow turned to face him. “Everything’s fine,” she said weakly.


Xander looked skeptical. “You sure? ‘Cause you don’t really sound that fine, on the Brace-Goldsmith Fineness Scale.”


“Kennedy and I broke up,” she said without preamble.


Xander looked at her curiously. “Whose idea was it?”


“Mine,” she sighed.


He nodded, dropping down beside her. “Would congratulations be inappropriate?”


Willow winced. “Xander—”


“I know, I know,” he said, waving his hands. “But you don’t have the look of someone who just ended a perfectly happy relationship.”


Willow crinkled her forehead. “How do I look?”




“I’m not relieved, this is a very emotional time, and a very serious one, and I can’t—can’t just be—god, I am relieved,” mumbled Willow guiltily, dropping her head into her hands. “And I shouldn’t feel this way!”


“Why not?”


“Because Kennedy’s out there, feeling bad, and I’m the reason why,” Willow said forlornly.


Xander chuckled and pushed a wing of brilliant red hair behind her ear, then dropped his arm around her shoulders. “You’ve always wanted to make things right,” he said. “Like when we couldn’t keep our hands off each other, you wanted to make sure we didn’t ruin what we had with Cordy and Oz, and tried to fix it.”


“Look how well that turned out,” muttered Willow, recalling the disastrous aftermath of her de-lusting plan—Spike had kidnapped them, Oz had broken up with her temporarily, and Cordelia had dumped Xander for good. He’d been alone then, the same way he was alone now.


“Yeah,” murmured Xander, lost in recollection for a moment before returning to the present. “But if we were meant to be with them, they’d still be here.”


“Kennedy’s here.”


“Just because someone’s here doesn’t make it right.”


Willow folded her head into the crease of Xander’s shoulder, wrapping her arms around him. They’d both lost a lot. They all had. “Just because someone’s not here doesn’t mean it was wrong,” she said softly.


Xander squeezed her shoulders. “Remember what Buffy said, way back when we were in high school? That our love lives were doomed because we lived on the Hellmouth?”


Willow smiled faintly. “Yeah. She was kind of right, wasn’t she?”


“Yeah. But we’re not on the Hellmouth any more.”


Willow studied him. “What do you mean?”


“I mean we’ve got a chance at a new life here. It’s time we started living it.”


“Easier said than done,” Willow sighed.


Xander was silent. She was right. She usually was.


What the hell was it with all of them? Willow was hung up on Tara, he on Anya. Buffy living like a nun and then hooking up with Spike again. It was like they were just going through variations of their old lives. There had to be something more.


They just had to learn how to find it.

Chapter Ten
Chapter List