The soul stone exploded in Rupert's hand. He clutched his wrist and cried out.
Time slowed down for Buffy. She crouched and sprang. Vaulted across the table. Slammed a kick into Willow's head, sending her flying back toward the stairs. Twisted and changed her trajectory and landed next to Dawn, square-on to Willow.
Willow was out cold.
Time sped up again. Buffy put a hand under Dawn's elbow and pulled her out of her seat.
Two steps forward, and Buffy stood over Willow, close enough to disrupt any casting motion. The adrenaline surged, about thirty seconds later than Slayer reflexes had, and Buffy had to lock herself under iron control. Her urge was to Slay. To Slay with bare hands. She wouldn't yield to it. Rupert thought Willow could be saved. Control.
Buffy's peripheral vision saw Anya doing something with Willow's bookbag, Tara helping Giles to a chair, Dawn coming closer with the phone handset to her ear.
Willow stirred. Slayer-focus on the enemy. Buffy's stance shifted. Knees bent, center of balance low and forward, hands in striking position. Willow looked up at her, and Buffy's heart froze. There was no friendliness in that expression, no sign of her cheerful friend.
"I won't kill you," Willow informed her.
"I did good work with you, and I'd rather not waste it. You better keep your pet librarian away from me, though. I won't hesitate with him. Thinks he's the hero. Thinks he can come in here and make everything better and have everybody eating out of his hand again, after he abandoned us here--"
"Woah. Somebody's got issues."
"You're not grateful, are you," Willow said. "I gave you life again, and all you did was complain."
"You ripped me out of heaven."
Willow smiled. "I did. I defeated a god to do it, too."
"Doesn't look like you won to me."
"Wrong point of view. Wrong god. Horus and I have an understanding. Your pretentious nameless trinity-god was weak."
Buffy felt another little flare of outrage, but she just shook her head. "This is crazy, Will. Why are you doing this? Rupert only wants to help."
"Help by taking away what I've earned. Help by controlling me. Limiting me. He's jealous of me, you know."
Buffy's eyes widened. "No, he's not. But... ah, screw it. Willow. What now? What are we going to do? I can't let you hurt people."
Through this entire conversation Buffy had not wavered or relaxed. She was still ready to strike, and willing to do so. Behind her she could hear Anya talking to Rupert, and Dawn on the phone. The emergency people would be there soon, and the standoff would have to end somehow. Willow seemed to realize this as well. She reached a hand out for her bag, lying against the bookshelf at her back. Buffy kicked it aside and resumed ready stance, even closer to Willow than before.
Willow shook her head. "You can't stop me."
"From doing what?"
"Anything. Magic is amazing, you know that?"
Willow stabbed out her hand, and Buffy felt a huge force pressing her chest backwards. She dropped flat, and it rushed over her head. Something behind her smashed. Time slowed down again as the Slayer reflexes engaged. Buffy did a spin, lashing out a foot and kicking the backpack even further away from Willow. Up on her feet, and now she had to dodge a stream of books fired out from the shelves.
Willow ran. Buffy chased, but she smacked hard into the emergency personnel in the Magic Box doorway, and was down in a tangle of people and medical kits. She rebounded to her feet in an instant, thought about continuing after Willow, then gave it up. She didn't know what she'd do with Willow if she caught her, anyway. Slay her? No. She had to talk to Rupert.
Who was hurt.
Buffy picked up the EMT person she'd flattened and practically carried the poor woman over to where Rupert was sitting at the tarot table, hand elevated but streaming blood. Tara had open the first aid kit from behind the register and had done some basics already. The EMT took over smoothly.
Buffy knelt beside Rupert and held his good hand. Time to distract him from whatever the EMT was doing. His face was white and he was shaky. But he held it together enough to ask her a question with his eyes.
"Gone. I saved her bookbag. There's something in it she wanted."
Rupert nodded, and sucked in a breath. He turned his face further away from where the med-tech was plying the tweezers. Buffy watched curiously. She had lost the squeamishness years ago. And normally Rupert had an iron stomach, too, when he was pulling demon claws out of her back. He was only a baby about his own gore, then. She squeezed his good hand, his left hand, and kissed the back of his neck. He responded by saying a bad word in another language.
"Hey. I can go hold somebody else's hand if you're going to talk like that."
"Sorry," he said, not sounding sorry at all. But his face was sweaty and his breathing was shallow. Buffy knew what to do from long experience with feeling exactly that way herself.
"Talk to me. Tell me about what you read in the Pergamum Codex, that, uh, that fascinating fantasy novel with all the demons and stuff."
"Bugger all, that's what I read in it. There's nothing to read. No prophecies about, er, fantasy heroes of the sort you're interested in."
"Sir? Mr Giles?"
Buffy looked up. A policeman. Buffy exchanged a tiny nod with him. The officer was somebody she'd seen before on her patrols. The Slayer had an understanding with the Sunnydale police, now that they weren't being run by a demon-wanna-be.
"Can I ask what happened here? It looks as if there was some kind of altercation."
Buffy opened her mouth, but Rupert beat her to it. "No, no, nothing of the kind. I was holding a glass trinket in my hand, one of the hand-crafted items we sell in the store. I must have squeezed, and it fractured. Pure accident." The EMT did something, and he winced. "I'll be lodging a complaint with the artist. This is most unacceptable."
The officer cast a slow glance over the books strewn across the floor, raised his eyebrow, then seemed to give up. Probably he was imagining having to write a report describing demons; better to participate in the mass collective pretense. He said something into his radio, then rolled out the front door.
The EMT snipped off some gauze, and taped it down.
"Okay, sir, that's the urgent injuries dealt with. We're going to get you to the hospital now to get the rest of this cleaned up and bandaged up. All right?"
Rupert growled, but nodded in assent. They wouldn't let him walk to the ambulance, of course, but wheeled him out. On impulse, Buffy grabbed Willow's backpack and zipped it shut. She slung it over her shoulder and followed them through the door to get a ride in the ambulance to her favorite place in the world, Sunnydale General.
At least this time everybody was going home again afterward.
A couple of hours later, Xander picked up Buffy and Rupert from the hospital in the Cherokee. He had along with him Anya, Dawn, and a big bag of takeout Chinese. Rupert rode home in the back seat sandwiched between Dawn and Buffy. If he hadn't been full of painkiller he would probably have been grumpy about all the attention. His hand was fine, or it would be once about four million nasty cuts had a chance to heal. He had a bottle of antibiotics and a bottle of Vicodin, which Buffy had taken charge of.
Anya kept up a steady stream of distraction, recounting the dollar amounts of the estimated damage done to the shop by Willow, which wasn't all that bad. Nothing had broken except for some garden gnome repelling ornaments. Mostly she was grousing about the time she'd had to spend picking up books to make the shop look tidy enough to be attractive. Rupert made noises at the proper moments. Buffy met Xander's eyes in the rear-view mirror. He was worried.
When they got to Revello Drive, he drew Buffy aside for a quick update. They stood in the hallway, whispering to each other, while Dawn and Anya got Rupert set up in the living room. Buffy told Xander what had happened with Willow, what she'd said, and Xander just shook his head.
"Buff, she isn't the same. Something changed with her this summer. Or not so much a change, as a... I don't know how to put this. A side of Willow that's been sat on all her life. Her whole life, she's had somebody like Cordelia stomping on her. Or somebody like you in the way. Natural leader. No, don't shake your head, you know it's true."
Buffy made a face. It wasn't by choice, but Xander was right. He hunched his shoulders and stuck his hands into his jeans pockets.
"She really took charge when you were, um, gone, you know? Giles was already checking out. I think she liked it. I thought it was good for her, believe it or not. She was kinda, you know, growing up into a big Willow."
"So why'd she bring me back, if she liked things without me?"
Xander shrugged. "Got me. Maybe she thought she'd be in the Giles slot. You know, calling the shots in a behind the scenes way."
Buffy rolled her eyes. Rupert was the chief advisor, not the shots-caller, even back when she'd been in high school. It sort of made sense, though probably it wasn't the whole explanation. And who knew? Maybe Willow had done it to test herself. Or because it seemed cool. Or because she genuinely felt the world had needed a sane Slayer who wasn't a jailbird, since the Slayer succession had now been proven to go through Faith. Maybe Willow herself didn't understand why.
Just then the front door opened, and Tara stepped in. She froze in the doorway when she saw Xander and Buffy, then gave a jerky little hand wave to them both. Buffy thought it was time to make it clear that Willow's sins were not Tara's sins, and she was grateful to Tara for taking care of Dawn over the summer. Buffy opened her mouth to say something, but Tara walked past them into the dining room. She didn't speak at all.
"And that's a big huh," Buffy said.
"Ooookay," Xander said. "I am now wigged big-time."
Dinner was creepy because of Tara. She was way too calm. Robotic, almost. She did her part of the chores afterward, but without her usual cheerfulness and care for Dawn. Buffy could see Rupert's alarm. He pulled her away from the dish-washing, in fact, for a group chat in the living room. Tara followed him, calmly.
The group was assembled there. Xander was holding Willow's backpack and flipping at the zippers. Anya was pacing near the television. Dawn made room for Buffy on the couch.
Tara came into the center of the room and stopped. "Oh! You have Willow's backpack. Good. I'll take that."
Xander held it out reflexively. Tara grabbed it and made a beeline for the front door. Buffy got up to chase.
"Tara. Stop." Rupert's voice was commanding and stern. He raised his good hand. Buffy felt the power move, and Tara stopped. "Give that back to me."
"But Willow needs it," Tara said, reasonably. "It has her homework in it."
Buffy took the backpack from her. She had to tug, and for a second she was afraid Tara would fight her. But then she released it and slumped.
Rupert spoke, gently. "Tara, where is Willow?"
"I don't... I don't know." Tara looked confused, and distressed for a moment before the calm spread over her face again.
Rupert took the backpack from Buffy, and zipped it open. Dawn cleared off the corner of the coffee table for him, and he dumped it out. Notebooks; a Badtz Maru case containing pens and highlighters and mechanical pencils; a history textbook, which was probably the thing that had been making it weigh a ton; a stapled draft of a lit paper on Virginia Woolf, with notes in Willow's tiny handwriting. And other things: a baggy of herbs, a cigarette lighter, a box of strange incense, a metal pipe with a wire mesh baffle, a leather-bound spellbook that Buffy touched with a finger then recoiled from, a few crystals of various types, and an odd polished rock with a leather cord threaded through a hole in one end. In the outer pocket was a little statue of a falcon that Buffy also refused to touch. And then Rupert pulled out a dried branch of herb, with a scrap of paper tied around it.
"Lethe's bramble," he said.
He unrolled the paper, and his face changed. He snatched the lighter and ignited it, and carried the burning scrap over to the fireplace. Tara froze in place, and began shaking and shuddering in a horrible way. Buffy got behind her and held her up with hands on her shoulders. It was over as fast as it started. Tara's head dropped, and she shivered in an entirely different way. She drew in a deep breath. Buffy let go.
Rupert took her hand in his good one. "Tara?"
"Giles. Mr Giles. She... Willow..."
"She's been tampering with your memory."
Tara shook her head, as if to clear it. "She's been... more than that. Memory. Controlling. She--"
Rupert drew her over to the sofa and sat with her. "Tell me about it, please."
Tara was confused and mixed-up at first, then she settled under Rupert's calm questions. Things fell into place in her head, and her memories sorted themselves out. And Buffy saw something she'd never seen before: Tara in a cold fury.
Willow had been tampering for months. She'd got her start with the mind control spells early, almost before Tara had fully recovered from Glory. She'd brought up the topic of the resurrection spell right away, and Tara had been upset, and said she'd need to discuss it with Giles. She'd been worried. Willow's reaction had been to nod, and smile, and cast the first memory spell.
She'd worked hard to convince the other three that the resurrection needed to be accomplished. And she'd done what she had to, to keep them from mentioning it to Rupert or to Spike. Or even to Dawn: Dawn and Buffy had already learned about resurrection spells and their dangers. She'd cast minor persuasion charms on Xander and Anya both.
Xander looked heartbroken. He was huddled in on himself in the armchair. Buffy felt bad for him.
Anya, for once, did not make a lot of noise or tell stories about what she'd done to similar offenders in the past. She merely moved to stand behind Xander's chair. She folded her arms. Her face had gone stony and cold. The two of them had never liked each other, Buffy remembered. Maybe Anya's instincts had been better than Buffy's own.
"I was so stupid," she said. "I should have known. I should have been aware. I should have-- should have called on my connections to deal with her."
Rupert spoke. "Anya."
"What do you want, Giles?"
"Anya, you must promise me not to take revenge yourself. You must promise me you'll allow Buffy to handle this."
Anya cocked her head and considered. "If she promises me she will."
"I will. I'll do the right thing, Anya. All of you."
Whatever the right thing was. Buffy thought it had been good that Willow hadn't tampered with Dawn. She might not have been able to keep herself under control.
Anya nodded at last. "I trust you. It's your job."
Rupert relaxed. "We'll need to examine the three of you for residual spells and get them all cleared away. Can you take charge of that for us, Anya?"
Which was probably good psychology, because Anya relaxed finally. It was something she could do.
Next the gang trooped together up to Willow and Tara's bedroom. Rupert was wary of booby traps, but Tara walked in, unconcerned. It was nearly empty: all of Willow's clothes were gone, all of her magical gear. Only Tara's things remained. Tara looked desolate. Abandoned. Shed like last year's fashion. For some reason the sight of Tara holding back her sniffles made Buffy angrier than anything that Willow had done the whole time.
"Where will she have gone?"
Xander answered, because Tara was too upset. "Probably her parents' place. They still have a house in town, and sometimes show up there, even."
Soon after that Anya and Xander left, and Dawn stayed with Tara upstairs. Buffy pushed Rupert onto the couch. He was looking exhausted and white in the face.
"Are you gonna take your pills?"
"They make it hard to think. I need to think, right now."
But Rupert looked as if thinking were beyond him, as if one more burden would overwhelm him. Buffy read the label, fumbled with the cap and did not crush it in a moment of Slayery frustration, and shook out one little white pill. She handed it to Rupert, along with her bottle of water. Rupert's eyebrows came together for a moment, and she thought she was going to have to gear up to fight him. Then he sighed and swallowed the pill.
"I think there's still glass in my hand."
"Can you magic it out?"
"Tara might be able to help it along. It'll work itself out naturally."
Rupert settled himself more comfortably on the sofa, book in one hand, the other hand resting across his chest. Buffy poked at the litter of objects on the coffee table. Strange things. She didn't like touching some of them, like the falcon statue and the book.
"Is Willow doing drugs?"
Rupert shook his head. "No, not in the recreational sense. Everything in that bag was for magic ritual. You're reacting to some of the objects. Why?"
"They feel wrong. Unclean. Like touching them would contaminate me."
"Dark magic, then. And advanced magic, if she's trying rituals that require altered states."
"Rupert, can't we call somebody? Get some more guns here? The Council?"
"I'll try. But you might not like their solution. They're likely to shoot first and worry later about what was truly going wrong."
Buffy frowned. She didn't approve of that. Willow deserved another chance. Another infinity of chances, if Buffy could get her way. Though she wasn't sure how. She had to get a chance to talk to Willow in a unstressy situation. Probably without Rupert there.
Buffy could tell he was, though. His face had lost that pinched look, and had smoothed out. She stroked his hair. He sighed, and leaned his head back against the cushions.
"Going to be bad, Buffy. Can't see any way through it."
Buffy tilted her head. "No argument about Tara already owning Willow's soul?"
Rupert snorted. "As if a real god would pay attention to petty arguments like that. There are rules, but they have nothing to do with human laws. She offered him a soul. He's going to take a soul. An exchange of power. She willingly gave him control."
"Why? That's why I don't get."
"I understand only too well. 'Tis magic that hath ravished me. Oh, Willow." He closed his eyes for a moment, and his expression was strange. Longing, then a flash of shame. Then he opened them again and met Buffy's gaze. He was serious now, and the line between his eyebrows was deep. "Her soul, I fear it's lost. Can't fight gods, Buffy. Not the likes of us."
Buffy knew he was right about that. Buffy kissed his forehead, hoping to make that line go away though she knew she couldn't. She stood up.
"Speaking of fighting stuff, I gotta patrol. Quick one."
Dawn appeared just then, with a stack of textbooks and assignments. She thunked herself down next to Rupert on the sofa. "If you're gonna be my brother-in-law, I'm gonna take full advantage of your brains."
Rupert smiled at her, and sat up. He looked pleased, so Buffy left them to it.
Spike was waiting for her when she got outside, hovering under the maple tree next to a pile of butts. Buffy nodded to him, professional greeting, and they both took off across town. Buffy needed to run a bit, to work off the energy she'd built up from sitting three hours in the hospital waiting room. Spike stayed right with her, jogging in his Doc Martens exactly like somebody who never had to worry about blisters. Not that Buffy did either. Not for more than a few hours, anyway.
They found their first vampires loitering behind the Bronze. They took turns punching and staking, tossing the vamps back and forth between them.
Spike stepped back to watch her finish the last one. "How are things with Red?"
Buffy staked it before she answered. "Open war. She hurt Rupert and I had to kick her in the head. Then she started tearing up the store. She took off. Also, very bad stuff with memory and control spells on Tara and maybe Xander too. Total morality meltdown."
Spike swore. "Moving fast, then. Is it what Rupes thought?"
Buffy nodded. "It's pretty awful. Rupert thinks Willow is damned."
Spike looked at her, face blank, then strode off. Buffy followed. "I'll welcome her to the club, then, shall I? Teach her the special handshake."
"Don't be stupid. You're not damned. Not unless you want to be."
Spike snorted. "Demons don't go to heaven, do they. So it's not a topic I'm interested in. Conversation over."
"Okay. This is gonna sound strange, but I think you're wrong. I think they do. I think I met some. And I know one who does missions for the big guy."
Spike stopped short, and Buffy nearly smacked into him. "Don't. Don't do it, Slayer."
"Don't build me up like this. Don't break my heart again. I'm damned, and that's the end of it."
Buffy stamped her foot. "No, you're not. Don't believe it. I've been there. I know what I saw, who I talked to."
Spike transformed and bared his fangs to her. "In case you missed it, doll, I haven't got a soul. What's there to send to heaven?"
"I have no clue how it works. Different rules for demons, maybe? Humans go in as their souls. Demons get in another way." Buffy watched Spike's face closely. "You're scared. I can tell. Scares you spitless."
Spike made a show of pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. He tipped his ridged forehead up to the blank sky and blew smoke. "Don't be daft. Let's go kill something, Slayer. Pfah!"
Buffy opened her mouth to tell him what she thought of that, then closed it again. No point with Spike. If he was ever going to understand it, he'd understood it already and was just pretending not to. He needed time to process.
"Vamps dockside, I think. I haven't been there much."
He was at her heels all the way across town, even though she pushed it. It felt nice to do some running, work out the kinks and kick out the jams and do a few frontflips just because. Buffy kept the reflexes and the muscles under control most of the time, but it was nice to let rip at night when nobody was looking. Pure joy of movement, of feeling the world stream past you, feeling your body do what it could do so magnificently. Reflexes and balance and muscles all united in one perfect leap to the top of a fence, and the flip over to the other side. The joy of battle, of killing what she had been sent by the Powers to kill. Buffy Summers, defender of humanity. That was what she was.
The docks were crawling with vamps, and conversation had to take a back seat to a few quick fights. They got back to it eventually, as they canvassed the warehouses, striding through the alleys between them sniffing out the demons.
"Rupes learned anything about your sprog?"
"No. Pergamum Codex has nothing, he said. He's asked the Council to look."
"Don't think he'll find anything in the standard monkish ravings. The demons have their legends, though. Was thinkin' about this while I was sitting in the crypt around noon, all insomniac-like. He might have a chat with the Great Poof's pet Watcher. He's gone all obsessed about prophecies and children."
"Wes? What's up with him?" Spike turned his back on her, and Buffy was instantly suspicious. "Spill it, Spike."
"It's more what's up with Angel. And no, I'm not going to tell you his secrets. The great poof will have to tell you himself. If he dares." Spike muttered the last.
Buffy sighed. She'd been hoping not to have to talk to Angel just yet. That was a whole big ball of waxy worms that she didn't want to deal with. She knew she'd have to. Angel had to know she was back, and he had to have an opinion about it. She'd have to deal with another storm of emotion rained all over her, by somebody who'd been grieving and had suddenly to cope with turning off the grief.
A few days ago it would have felt impossible. Just another burden that living had loaded onto her back. Now, it felt annoying but do-able. And face it. She still cared for Angel. Just not the same way as before.
"Yeah, okay. I'll ask him. Rupert's sorta pulling his hair out."
The next few minutes were occupied with a fast and furious vamp fight, some good old-fashioned dusty mayhem of the kind Buffy had recently learned to appreciate. She broke a nail during the fight, and settled herself on a pile of crates afterward to pout and file it down. It happened every time.
Spike paced back and forth in front of her, puffing on another one of those cigarettes. She wondered if Slayers suffered from second-hand smoke.
"You're gonna hafta quit smoking around me when I get pregnant, you know. Whenever the prophecy wants us to." Buffy made a face.
Spike inhaled deeply, and blew out the smoke in a long thin stream. He had a ecstatic expression on his face that Buffy knew he'd put on just to annoy her. Then he stepped square in front of her, and gestured with the butt.
"Slayer. A word of warning, if I may."
His tone put her on alert. It wasn't like Spike to be so formal. Buffy put the emery board away and gave Spike her complete attention.
"Prophecy's a right bitch of a mistress, Buffy. Don't spend your life looking over your shoulder at her. Just live. Seen too many blinking fools lose everything. Not take chances, take chances they'd shouldn't have, all from thinking prophecy would take care of them."
Spike kicked at the crate she was on. It was killing him to say this to her, she thought. He'd felt more for her than she'd realized. Whether it was the chip, or how long he'd been around as a vampire, or something else, Spike wasn't typical.
"If you and the Watcher want the sprog, go have the sprog. Don't wait for prophecy to give it to you." Spike shook his head. "That's more than enough. Can't believe I said even that much."
Spike spun and was gone in a whirl of black coat tails.
"Drama queen," said Buffy, to the night air, but there was no rancor in it. She felt bad for Spike. She considered patrolling some more. She cast her awareness out into the night, seeking the undead. A quiet night. No vampires nearby, other than the rapidly-dwindling spark that was Spike. Home, then.
Rupert still up when she got back, sitting in the living room writing in his journal. He had his piles of books out on the coffee table. The rest of the house was quiet and dark. Buffy locked the front door behind herself, then went over to kiss him. His chin was raspy, but Buffy was besotted enough to enjoy it. It was still strange to her, when she stepped back from it: I'm kissing Giles! He tastes good! But he did taste good, and feel good. Warm, solid, alive. He held a piece of her in his guardianship, and she could feel that support all the time now.
She pulled away and stuck his glasses back onto his nose.
"In bed. All homework done. She's really quite diligent. And her French accent is improving wonderfully with a bit of practice."
Rupert looked happy about that, and Buffy pouted at him. He'd once told her to stop speaking French in his presence lest his ears go on strike and overturn cars in the streets of Paris. He showed no signs of noticing however, but went into the kitchen, where the light was on.
"Hot chocolate?" he said, over his shoulder.
Buffy followed him into the kitchen, pout forgotten. "With little marshmallows?"
Rupert gave her a look. He'd been making hot drinks for her after patrol off and on for five years. He knew how she liked her tea as well as she knew how he liked his. He made her hot chocolate now the way he always had: milk, cream, cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and a dose of Watcher hand-stirring. His right hand was all wrapped up, but it seemed to be bothering him less.
"Tara did a working on it. Nudged it along. A simple healing."
Rupert sighed. "No, I suspect not. At least not at the moment. She's deeply hurt, and I can't blame her."
He poured cocoa from the pan into a mug, then carried it over to her. He sat next to her at the kitchen island and watched her drink. He had a little smile on his face.
The smile grew. "Just you. Thinking about you. And that vision. Of the two of us and, oh my, I can hardly say it. Our child." He laughed. "I never thought I would. I thought it was something I'd had to sacrifice, to be what I am."
Buffy nodded. Yet another thing they had in common. "When do you think it'll be?"
"Sometime quite soon, I thought. Not years away, anyway."
"Yeah, that was the feeling I got, too."
"Also, that whatever else was happening around us, that was a moment of pure peace. Just the three of us. I was nearly in tears, I think, to watch you."
"It was a weird feeling. My body was strange. But good. It felt good. Everything. The baby, you, all that sunshine." Something occurred to Buffy. "That doesn't happen here. That room isn't in this house. Not in Sunnydale at all."
"No, it didn't. Doesn't. Won't. Er."
"So... what? Do we pack so we can move?"
"No. Instead we're open to going elsewhere when the opportunity arises. Prophecy is strange, Buffy. We mustn't let ourselves focus on it to the exclusion of everything else around us."
"Spike said something like that tonight. Only with more swearing. Oh. And he said something else. He said you need to talk to Wesley. He's obsessed with kids and prophecies for some reason Spike wouldn't tell me. Something to do with Angel."
"Oh. Fascinating. There are prophecies I've read about the son of a vampire. I wonder-- I should ring Wesley."
Rupert scratched the back of his head and went into think mode. Buffy let him do it while she washed up the cocoa things and made sure the kitchen was shut up for the night. Rupert followed her upstairs, still distracted by whatever was going on in his head.
They were still in Buffy's room, with its too-small bed. They undressed for bed. Rupert had a routine which she'd already sussed out: pockets emptied, jewelry removed first. Then shoes and socks. Then pants. He put everything into the hamper as he took it off. No piles of dirty clothes bed-side for Rupert. He'd gotten as far as the trousers and his underwear. The blue tails of his oxford shirt went nearly all the way down his butt. He folded his trousers, and bent to lay them across the hamper. For a moment he mooned her. Buffy giggled.
"Men. Are silly-looking. All that... stuff. Dangling."
Rupert made a chuffing noise, but didn't dignify that remark with a response. He occupied himself unbuttoning his shirt. He was using his right hand at least partially. Whatever Tara had done had sped things up greatly. He folded the shirt then put that into the hamper as well. He moved around her room nude, for the minute it took him to take his pajama bottoms out of his suitcase. He seriously needed a drawer. No. They seriously needed to move into the big bedroom, with the king-sized bed. Buffy would break the swap news to Tara tomorrow, as gently as she could.
Buffy marveled at the sight of her Watcher, naked and unworried about it, walking around her bedroom with his blue jammies in hand. It wasn't sexy or unsexy or anything like that. It was domestic, is what it was. It was the two of them u-turning in life. A week ago, he'd been in England and she'd been in a shellshocked haze. And now... blue stripy pajama bottoms, tie pulled tight and double-knotted by a slightly clumsy-handed Rupert, and her cute purple satin-ish nightie dropped over her head, her hair brushed out with a few quick strokes, and then watching somebody else brush their teeth in the bathroom while you moisturized.
Domesticity. This was good too, like running and fighting and being the Slayer had been good earlier. Like eating dinner had been good. Buffy got into bed between clean sheets, all made up tight, and decided to like that, too.
Rupert slipped into bed next to her and turned to put the light out. He turned on his side to face her, but didn't make any moves. Probably he was still too hurty.
"Hey," Buffy said.
"Mmm," he said. He kissed her, then settled himself back on his pillow.
"Rupert? Are you religious?"
He pulled back to study her face. "Not formally. Though I-- What brings this question to mind?"
"Something I was talking about with Spike." Buffy shook her head. "I was trying to figure out the rules of Heaven."
"No one knows how the Powers work."
"You believe in them, though."
"Believe is the wrong word. I know. As do you."
"Yeah. I kinda got the direct feed. But how do you know?"
"Angels walk among us too, Buffy. We are allowed to know it only rarely, but they do."
She looked at him steadily. "You met one."
He was gazing up at the ceiling, not looking at her. "Once."
His voice was odd, and Buffy decided not to press it. Later, she'd ask again.
He rolled over to face her. He rested his hand on her shoulder. "How are you doing, Buffy? Truly."
Buffy decided to go for honesty. "Mostly lots better. I have moments when it's, I dunno, like everything around me is all black and I feel like giving up."
"It's been said that when one is cut off from God, everywhere is hell. To be deprived of bliss, having tasted it." Buffy could hear him tiptoeing as he said it.
"Yeah, that's true. It was like that." She nestled up to him. "But it's not hell any more. That's the weird thing. Now, knowing He, They, whatever, want me here... it's different. I know I've got a job, a thing to do, and this time I know they appreciate it."
"Oh. That's... that's good."
"More than good. I've got you. Serious benefits."
Serious benefits, serious rewards, because what the Powers were asking them to do was serious stuff. She touched the ring on her left finger, the one that meant Rupert would marry her, that they would be allowed to have a kid. Allowed to live to see it grow up? Allowed to be happy with it? Who knew? Buffy went to sleep turning over the question of how to defeat a god.