Chapter 16: Courage with Coconuts

“So,” Buffy said cheerfully as she slid into the bench behind the table. “What's the what? Dish me! How do you like London? And working with Giles?”

Willow took her time settling her olive suede jacket and brocade bag over the back of her chair. The bar was bright, crowded, modern and noisy, each table a bright primary-colored dot, walls hand-painted in huge abstract purple swirls over gold. She'd suggested a quiet little wine bar, but Buffy had reminded her that the smell of wine made her sick, and they'd both fallen silent for a bit, remembering Caleb. Willow then proposed that they walk a bit, until they found a place that appealed. After a few blocks of window-shopping, Buffy's eye had been caught by a flash of neon. “This one looks like they'll know how to make a good strawberry daiquiri,” she had noted, and so they'd made their way in, Buffy flashing her Californian blondeness at the host and getting a flirty grin and a corner booth in return.

“The New Council is going to be so great, Buffy. It's going to work for the Slayers, not controlling them and manipulating them. With Giles setting all the new policies, no Slayer's ever going to have to put up with what you did.” Willow turned to the approaching waitress, a towering brunette in a short skirt. “Um, one strawberry daiquiri, and a pina colada, please.” While Buffy had wine issues, strawberries made Willow think of Rack, something she tried hard not to do.

“Giles and you,” said Buffy.

“Giles and me what?” Willow asked quickly, wondering if Buffy had gotten a million times more perceptive since she'd last seen her.

“Giles and you, setting up the New Council. From what I hear, you're a pretty big cheese there yourself. You're the, I don't know, the Stilton to his Cheddar. Or something.” The drinks arrived, and Willow handed over her Council credit card.

“I'm debriefing the Senior Slayer on recent developments in Rome, so this is a business expense,” she grinned.

Buffy took a long sip of her drink, and adjusted the drape of the fringed tweed blazer she wore over her lacy camisole. “Senior Slayer? I think I like that. It doesn't make me sound old, does it?” Willow shook her head. “So how is Giles? Working too hard, worrying about everyone?”

“He's good. He's really, really good.” Don't babble, Willow told herself sternly. “You know, he's great to work with. I've taken on a bunch of projects, pretty much anything involving magic, so I think he's less stressed since I got here. So tell me about Rome! What's up with that Immortal guy?” I am such a chicken, she thought. Pretty soon I'll be growing feathers.

Buffy twirled a lock of hair around her finger as she spoke. “He's okay, but it's just fun for both of us. I like him, but…I don't want to get attached. I was just getting past that whole Spike thing, figuring out how I felt. Those last days in Sunnydale…it seemed like maybe we could start over, that he was different and maybe I could be different too.” She paused, staring past Willow to the crowd of expensively dressed Londoners flirting at the bar. “Then I find out from Andrew that he's alive, in L.A. with Angel, and I'm freaking, first because he's back and how weird is that? And then more freakage because he hasn't tried to see me so maybe everything I've been thinking about me and him is wrong. And then Giles shows up and ooops! Spike's dead again , plus Angel's dead, and they're both big damn heroes….”

Willow nodded encouragingly, not sure what to say. She had no clear idea how many revelations Buffy could handle in one night without major head explosions, and very little enthusiasm for finding out.

“What I'm saying,” Buffy continued, “is that I'm not sure I'm really over Spike. I think I really am over Angel, because we got to say the stuff we needed to say to each other. I hate that I'm never going to see him again…but with Spike, there were so many loose ends left it's practically fringe.” She sipped moodily, then sat up straight and did her best perky smile. “So what's new with you? Seeing anybody?”

Willow took a big gulp of her drink, and a deep breath. Unfortunately, she did both at once, and the resulting coughing fit took several minutes, leaving her face as pink as Buffy's daiquiri.

When Willow was no longer gasping, Buffy grinned. “Okay, judging by the reaction, I'd say that's a yes! Good on you, Will! So tell me all about her. Is she English? Somebody at the Council?”

“English, yes.” Now or never, Willow thought. And never's not really an option. “Council, also a yes. She—not so much.”

“She, not so… ? Oh! You're seeing a guy?!”

Willow blushed a bit. “Well, um, bi now. I mean, I guess I always was, but…anyway. He's a little older than me, he's incredibly smart, and um, I just fell in love.” She was starting to enjoy herself a little.

“How much older?” Buffy asked. “Like I have a right to ask! But, not a vampire, right? Or a werewolf, or anything?” She finished her drink. “And how bizarre are our lives that I'm asking that?” She waved a hand at the passing waitress, who responded with the international sign language for ‘another round, coming right up.'

“Hey, we're Sunnydale girls.” Willow polished off her drink. “No, he's one hundred percent human,” she grinned. “Trust me, I've checked.”

Buffy turned unexpectedly serious. “I'm glad for you. You seem, really happy. Happier than you've been in a long—”

“So, you ladies feeling lonesome this evening?” A tall, slightly balding man interrupted. “Can I buy you a round?”

“No!” Two voices spoke in unison. The man wavered, but managed to stay upright, even in the face of a Slayer Death Glare. Willow turned to him and said, “We're old friends, and we're just catching up, so thanks but no thanks.” He muttered something about Americans, and Buffy's glare intensified as he wandered off toward the bar.

“I hope some American vampire-chick eats you for dessert tonight,” Buffy said. said. This set off a fit of giggles which lasted through the arrival of the second round of drinks.

“So, when do I get to meet this mystery man of yours?”

“Actually, you already have.” Pina Coladas, Willow thought. Courage with coconuts.

“Really? When?”

Deep, liquid-free breath. “Um, in Sunnydale. Sophomore year, in the library.” It was actually kind of fun watching the revelation cross Buffy's face, Willow thought.

Buffy closed her mouth and shook her head slowly. “You and…Giles? You and Giles.”

“Me and Giles. Surprised us too. But it's really good. It's big with the happy.” She watched Buffy's face anxiously. “You're not gonna be all freaked with this, are you? Because Giles was kinda worried about that, but…” Buffy reached across the table and laid her hand on Willow's.

“Um, surprised, but…” she paused, “not in a bad way.” Willow let out a small sigh of relief. “I love you, and I love Giles, and so if you're happy, I'm happy. Although, majorly weirded out, but it's all good.” She sipped. “I always thought of Giles as, like, our parents' generation.”

“Well, technically he is,” Willow said reasonably. “But you know, we're not kids any more. And frankly, with all the stuff we've been through, I feel a lot older than twenty-two, so the age thing—we just don't think about it.”

“So, tell me all, how, when, but like, no details because it's Giles and…wait a minute.” Buffy's attention focused, laser-like, on the balding man. He was weaving toward the door, hand in hand with a dark-haired girl. “That guy.”

Willow turned. “The one who wanted to buy us a drink?”

“Unbelievable. The chick he's leaving with is a vamp. My spidey-sense has been twitching, but the Joan Collins shoulder pads from Hell are a dead giveaway, pardon the pun.” She sighed and rummaged in her purse. “I can't get one damn night off. Ok, you want to stay here while I do a quick staking? And order me another round, I'm going to want it.” She stood, tucking the stake unobtrusively under her jacket.

“Nothing like a strawberry daiquiri to wash the taste of vamp dust out of your mouth,” Willow said, smiling. Buffy made her way through the crowd, impressively steady on her high heels. Slayer metabolism, Willow thought. She motioned to the waitress.

“Another round?”

“Um, one more daiquiri, and a glass of ice water, please.” She leaned back in her chair, suddenly feeling the alcohol in her system. She was pretty sure Buffy would still want to tease Giles, but at least she wasn't upset.

Of course there was still the Bill Givenson Factor, but that, thank Goddess, was Giles' problem.


Chapter 17: Stakes and Fakes

Buffy looked up and down the street. “Like I need this,” she muttered to herself. She spotted BaldGuy and his Eighties-Vamp; he was clearly drunk, and she was pretending to be, steering her hapless companion toward the nearest alley. Slayer senses on full alert, Buffy followed them into the narrow space, the streetlights barely illuminating scribbles of graffiti.

“Not here, pet, lemme take you home….”the man was mumbling. The vampire, a dark-haired girl in heavy eyeliner, was was holding him against the brickwall, and he was clearly starting to find her strength and insistence disconcerting. Buffy slipped the stake into her right hand and tapped the girl's shoulder with her left.

“That outfit is so over, babe. And so are you.” Not my best quip, she thought, but hell, I'm on vacation. The vampire turned, snarling, already in game face, and swung a fist. Buffy grabbed said fist in her free hand, and efficiently staked her with the other. The man gaped, then sneezed through the cloud of vampire dust.

“Where'sh she….what was that?” It wasn't worth explaining, or even making up a remotely plausible story, Buffy decided. He was so drunk he wouldn't remember it in the morning anyway.

“Trust me, you don't want to know. Catch yourself a cab home and get some sleep, ‘kay?” She hooked an arm through his, walked him to the curb, and waved, hoping to hail a taxi. She was looking to her left and jumped with surprise when it pulled up on her right, but she pushed the still-dazed man toward it and he climbed in without protest.

As she turned to head back to the bar, a familiar figure on the other side of the street caught her eye. That confident stride was unmistakable, even without the black coat, and the face… “Spike?” she whispered, taking a step back. Then she shouted, “SPIKE!” she The man halted in mid-stride, as if he'd heard her, but then shook his head and continued on his way.

Don't be stupid, she told herself. There must be a ton of guys with high cheekbones like that. Spike is gone. It's just all these English accents making you think about him.

But she watched him through the passing traffic, until the man who couldn't be Spike disappeared around the corner. Slowly, she turned back toward the bar where Willow was waiting for her.

Dawn clicked her cellphone closed and tucked in back into her purse. That was different: Giles wanted her help, rather than Buffy's. And she certainly was—how had he phrased it?—“uniquely qualified.” She felt sorry for the guy, but it did feel good to know that she wasn't the only person walking around with a head full of fake memories.

Giles hadn't told her much about him: just that he worked for the Council, and appeared to be in his early thirties, but his memories had probably been created no more than a couple of months ago. He had just found out, and was having a difficult time accepting it. Well, duh! There was more to it, but Giles said he wanted to tell her and Buffy the whole story in person. She's told Giles sure, of course she'd be willing to talk to the guy—Bill somebody. People could say they understood how it felt, but that was bull. She wondered what he really was—another chunk of mystical energy, like her, or something else?

Even better, Giles had offered to come in to Oxford with her, and show her around. He knew people working there, and he could introduce her to actual professors! While the Head of the American school in Rome had been optimistic about her chances of getting into Oxford, she knew she'd feel a lot more confident with Giles at her side.

She heard a click, and the hotel room door opened. Buffy tossed her bag on a chair and flopped down on the other bed.

“So how was your evening?” Dawn asked.

“Fine. Um, let's see. Dusted a vamp, thought I saw Spike, Willow and Giles are in love. And I passed a really good shoe store, we'll have to check it out if we have time tomorrow.” Buffy kicked off her shoes.

“Okay, Buff. Fine. You don't want to tell me what you talked about, then don't. I'll just get it out of Willow when we have lunch. And Giles is taking me to Oxford, so there.” Dawn marched past her sister's bed into the bathroom and shut the door just a little harder than necessary.

Buffy giggled.

“So, what seems to be the trouble, Mrs. Clark?” Dr. Phipps leaned forward in his seat. He hated clinic hours, but he did his best to look open and interested and compassionate,, despite the beginnings of a headache. Mrs. Clark had frizzy gray hair and heavily rouged cheeks that matched her red lipstick; it might have looked clownish if not for her worried expression. The woman beside her, in contrast, was dressed simply in jeans and a gray tee-shirt, sitting very still and looking blankly into the distance.

“It's not me. It's me daughter, Sylvia.” She motioned toward the young woman, who showed no reaction. “She's had a bit of a rough time recently, so I popped by her flat for a visit. I was bringing her a cake I'd baked. And she didn't recognize me! Her own mum!” Mrs. Clark twisted the handle of a battered purse between her hands. “She doesn't know who I am, she doesn't know her own name, she's got, what-do-you-call, ambrosia. Sylvia, darling...” She turned to her daughter, who gave her a blankly pleasant smile in return.

Another amnesia case? Dr. Phipps thought to himself. Good Lord, it's like one of those American shows on the telly. In medical school he had been taught that genuine amnesia was extremely rare, but three of his colleagues at King's Hospital had mentioned seeing cases within the past few weeks. None had fit the standard profile of recent head injury, either. He began the checklist of questions, addressing them to Mrs. Clarkson rather than the unresponsive Sylvia, who stared into the middle distance, her features expressionless.


Chapter Eighteen: What Andrew Found on Page Four

Buffy and Willow emerged from the tube station into wan November sunshine. Willow looked around, getting her bearings, then pointed. “This way.”

“Wow, you're getting to be a real Londonian, if that's a word, ” Buffy said admiringly as they turned down a quiet residential street of townhouses and wrought-iron railings. “I still get lost in Rome. And it doesn't help that my Italian sucks.” She looked around, taking in the graceful old buildings. “You like living here?”

“I do, ” Willow replied. “It's weird. It's nothing like Sunnydale, but it feels more like home than anyplace I've lived since then. ”

“That's looove, ” Buffy said in a teasing voice.

Willow grinned. “Could be.” She gave her companion a sidelong glance. “Getting tired of Rome? We could use you here, you know. Giles really wants to centralize the Slayer and Watcher training in England. You could teach the new Slayers a lot.” She stopped in front of a gray stone building, whose 18th-century façade was only slightly marred by a discreet wheelchair ramp along one side. A brass plaque beside the front door identified it as the Whitestone Rehabilitation Institute. “This is it.” As they climbed the front steps and rang the bell, she looked at Buffy again. “Think about it. As you saw last night, this town has some great shoe stores, not to mention me.”

The door opened, and a middle aged woman ushered them into a high-ceilinged foyer and spoke briefly with Willow. She introduced Buffy, then led the way up the sweeping staircase. “Private rehab clinic,” she explained. “Expensive, but the Council is paying for it. The First blew up the old building, but the Swiss bank accounts were left intact.” She knocked on a door with a brass number affixed to it.

“Come in, ” called Andrew. He looked up. “Willow! And, and, um, hi, Buffy.” A notebook slipped from his lap as he began nervously backing his wheelchair away from the door. “Um, glad to see you…and I really, really hope it ‘s mutual.”

Buffy laughed. “Relax, Andrew. I'm not here to kill you.” She gave him an evil grin. “Even if you deserve it. But Kennedy would be pissed at me after all the trouble she went to keep you alive.”

He let out a sigh. “Thanks. So, welcome to London! Hi, Will! Did Giles tell you I called?” The two women sat down on the bed, whose yellow coverlet matched the woodwork and the curtains. The room, while not huge, was spacious enough, nearly as big as the hotel suite she was sharing with Dawn, and more stylishly furnished.

“He did. Said you found some information? Although you're supposed to be working on getting better and using the new leg and all, not Council stuff,” Willow replied. “How's that going, by the way?”

“Pretty good. I have the final fitting for cyborg-leg tomorrow, and I've been doing hours of physical therapy every day. I've been getting around on crutches, but when I'm tired, I use the chair.” He spun in a small circle. “But I've been reading the papers, too, down in the Day Room. Where's my notebook?”

Buffy picked it up from the floor and handed it to him. Newspaper clippings were neatly taped to each page, a date scribbled at the top of each. “So what's the what?” she asked. “Do the papers here cover vamp attacks? That'd be a change from Sunnydale-on-de-Nile.”

“Sunnydale-on..? Oh, right, I get it.” Andrew laughed. “No, there's nothing here that's obviously supernatural.” He looked down. “Maybe I'm just making something out of nothing.”

Willow's tone was businesslike. “Well, let's see what kind of something you're making. Because, hey, your something could nothing, but it could be something.” He smiled at her. Willow's power intimidated him, but never when she was with him; it was only in her absence that he was able to think of her as a witch with awesome control over The Force. Buffy, on the other hand, scared him more than he wanted to admit.

“Okay, um… there seems to be a pattern, lots of cases of amnesia being reported here in London within the past few months. Actually, a reporter at one of the um, less reliable papers noticed it. The story was pretty sensational, but I thought it sounded possibly of mystical origin, so I started going through the back issues of the Times and some of the other papers. And I checked in the library here, they've got medical books and stuff, and amnesia's actually pretty rare.” He handed the notebook to Willow, who leafed thoughtfully through the pages, Buffy looking over her shoulder. The first article was a few months old; it described a prominent businessman found wandering in Hyde Park, unable to recall his own name. Subsequent articles, organized chronologically, told similar stories of people admitted to clinics and hospitals with unexplained memory loss.

“Here, hand it over---” He flipped through the pages, then gave the notebook back to Buffy. “That's the one that got me started.” The story, dated three weeks earlier, gave some statistics about the standard incidence and common causes of amnesia, noted that few of the reported cases fit the classic pattern, then speculated in dramatic fashion about terrorist attacks and drugs in London's water supply as a possible cause. The back of the page, Buffy noted, appeared to be a photograph of a busty young woman wearing only a pair of low-rider jeans and a smile.

“Well, this reporter's got some seriously trendy paranoia going,” Buffy observed, “but yeah, looks like something could going on. Good work, Andrew.” He grinned at her, and she grinned back.

“So you'll take it to Giles?”

“Sure,” Willow said. “Maybe we can talk to some of these people, or their families, see if we can find any connections. Or I could take the traditional approach.” Andrew looked at her curiously. She grinned and cracked her knuckles. “Hack into the medical records, look for patterns there.”

The conversation moved on to other topics. Buffy passed along Dawn's gift of chocolate and her promise to visit. Andrew asked Willow about various Council employees he had worked with, and soon they were engaged in vigorous gossip. Since Buffy had never met the people they were gossiping about, she wandered over to one of the two tall windows and looked out overlooked the quiet street, thinking about Willow's suggestion.

She had gone to Rome in order to distance herself from everything related to Slaying. She had felt free, open to possibilities, for the first time in years, since the day she had met Merrick, her first Watcher. Lately, though, she had found herself patrolling the Roman streets without planning it, secretly regretting the city's lack of vampiric activity. Giles claimed it was due to the the Vatican's influence, back when he had recommended Rome as a place to start a post-Sunnydale, vampire-free life. Looking at the tiny park below her, an oval of trees and grass surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, she wondered if she could feel at home in London. Could she make a life here that included Slaying, but had room for other things, too? Or would the British accents around her keep bringing back too many memories?


Chapter Nineteen: In Trafalgar Square

London is never silent, but the poorly-lit streets are quiet, and he is enjoying the echo of his footsteps, their confident rhythm. He can move as silently as mist when he chooses, but for now, satiated, he wants to announce his presence, hoping that some drunken fool who fancies himself a tough will try to start something. Nothing like a nice bit of violence to top off an evening. The dark-haired woman clinging to his arm giggles, and he reaches down to affectionately pinch her bottom. Suddenly she stops, letting out a low moan. Something's happening, in her head at least.

“Oooh, doesn't he want you! All dark and red and bloody, my sweet boy. He thinks you're tasty!” She shivers, and he pulls her closer. “Don't let him touch you! He'll take all our years, all our pretty nights, all the screaming. He wants to eat them all up!”

“Hush, Dru. No worries, love. I'm the fella who does the eating ‘round here.” He looks into the dark pools of her eyes, and in their blank depth, sees a familiar place. If he can just find the sense in her nattering, and keep her this side of hysteria… “Tell me, pretty princess, who wants a taste of your William?”

She is rocking back and forth now. “He's hungry. All the bad you've done, for him it's meat and potatoes and rich red wine like blood, he'll eat it all up like a big dog, and you'll be all empty…” Another moan, and he knows he'd best be getting her home before he has to knock her unconscious and carry her. Getting on for dawn anyway. He kisses her, hard and fierce to bring her back to now, and she looks up at him and whimpers, lost. “Take me home, my Spike?”

“Yes, love, we'll go home.” An arm around her waist, he steers her into the open space of Trafalgar Square, where the moon, just visible behind Nelson's Column, sheds a cold light. A tall, pale man is lounging against one of the great bronze lions, but Spike ignores him and hopes the damn fool has the sense to do the same. No time for a scrap when Dru's in one of her states.

But the damn fool clearly has no sense. He is crossing the plaza now, at a leisurely pace which puts him directly in their path. Without stopping, Spike punches him in the head as they pass, glad that Drusilla is on his left side, away from the man. As expected, the fellow drops like a stone.

Unexpectedly, he gets up.

“William the Bloody!” Spike spins around at the sound of his name. The bloke's no vampire, but any human would be concussed at the very least from that blow. A demon perhaps? In any case, a worthy opponent. Drusilla sinks to the pavement, muttering and rocking, her hands fluttering. It'll be a day or two before she makes any sense again, he knows, but still, he can't help relishing the chance for a fight.

“So how'd you know my name?” Spike strips off his army greatcoat and lays it down beside Drusilla, who clutches it gratefully. He circles around, fists up. “If you know who I am, you know you'd do well to run away now. Or you'll get what you deserve.”

The man smiles coldly. “I know who you are, and what you've done. A trail of blood and gore to be proud of. I just want a word, and then I'll run off, if you like.” He reaches out his hands, which have a lurid greenish glow, reminding Spike of the radar displays on a submarine.

Drusilla's shriek is high and piercing, distracting them both. “NO! Don't let him touch you, don't let him touch you, no, his hands, his hands….” She degenerates into babble again, but Spike knows a warning when he hears it. Right then. He pulls a long knife from the sheath in his boot, and quickly jumps the few granite steps at the base of Nelson's monument. Keep out of arm's reach, that'll make this fight a bit more of a challenge. His eyes turn yellow, and his grin shows red-tinged fangs.

He lashes out with a high kick to the chin, and the pale man falls backward but rises from the ground, silent and seemingly unharmed. They circle each other in the moonlight, leaping from the backs of the huge lions that guard the column, Spike trying to draw his opponent away from the weeping woman. A slice with the knife, but the man pulls back, tries to sweep Spike's legs from under him with a roundhouse kick, and it's an old trick, won't work, Spike jumps, instinctively grabs the fellow's shoulder as he spins, and suddenly long white fingers are clutching at his temples and a curious blankness is slipping over him…

Drusilla is suddenly behind the man, pulling his head back by the hair, and the three of them grapple for an instant in a strange embrace until Spike's knife hand comes up to slash at the grasping arm. The green glow is blindingly bright for a moment, then blinks out like an electric switch as the hand releases its grip on Spike's head and drops to the paving stones. The man's face goes even whiter as he looks down at his truncated limb. If there's one thing Angel taught him it's how to recognize weakness, and Spike grins as he severs the other arm. It feels weirdly boneless, like slicing through a sausage, and Drusilla is backing away from the white, bloodless hands with a look of horrified disgust and begins to shriek, high and wordless, unnerving even to her companion. The pale man shakes his head once, in disbelief, then falls limply to the pavement.

Spike shakes off his game face as he grabs Drusilla by an arm, putting a hand across her mouth. Her cries stop abruptly, then turn to the whimpers of an exhausted child. Oh, she's bad, he thinks; its' a good job they fed well tonight. “Well, that was a bit of fun, but the night's not young anymore. Let's go, love.” He pulls her across the plaza to a side street, aware that the sky is growing lighter, not bothering to pick up the greatcoat. London's still got plenty of demobbed soldiers, he'll just steal another next time he's hunting.

Bill woke, gasping, all at once, and without realizing it, reached up to touch his forehead, his teeth, to reassure himself that he was not…

Switching on the lamp, he tried to even his breathing. He found the familiar setting of his bedroom comforting; everything was where it belonged, neat and known. His eye passed the stack of files on his desk, the incomplete history of William the Bloody taunting him. Surely that's all it is, he thought. Read that stuff before you go to bed, serves you right if it seeps into your subconscious.

Though he hadn't read anything about a fight in Trafalgar Square, or cutting off someone's hands. The details were not fading as dreams usually do in the moments after waking—they remained, distinct and disturbing, more like memory than dream.

He pulled on his dressing gown. No point in trying to go back to sleep, he decided. Time to make some tea.


Chapter Twenty: Giles Speaks of Destiny

“This place is pretty slick,” Buffy observed as she and Willow walked past a row of cubicles. “I always sort of pictured the Council as all dark paneling and old guys. This looks like a law firm.” She ignored the whispers and the eyes that followed her. Willow had warned her that she was a legendary figure to the staff, but if there was one thing being a pretty American girl in Rome could teach you, it was how to feign obliviousness.

“The New Council—no longer stuck in the Middle Ages!” replied Willow. “Giles is really looking forward to seeing you, so I'm just going to drop you off at his office. I've got a conference call in an hour, and I want to get online and do some digging first.” They stopped. “Don't tease him too much, okay?”

“I promise I'll be nice to your boyfriend .” Willow sighed theatrically and continued down the hall. Buffy suppressed a giggle, and didn't wait for a reply to her knock before opening the door.

“Buffy. Oh, it is good to see you again!” Giles rose from his desk and crossed to her, looking younger than she remembered from their last, tense meeting in Rome. He took in both her glossy blonde surface, stylishly dressed, perfectly made up, and the traces of exhaustion and lingering sadness underneath. She was thinner than he would like, but that was the style these days, he supposed.

“Giles!” Buffy wrapped her arms around her Watcher's neck, and was pleased when he returned her hug with enthusiasm. She still thought of him as her Watcher, she had realized, and always would, no matter how much things changed. She grinned at him. “So, I hear you're finally getting some? And with a younger woman, no less?”

Giles laughed, though he could feel himself blushing, and wondered just how much mocking he would have to endure. With his hands on her shoulders, he held her at arm's length, searching her face. Her smile was mischievous, but he saw no anger or discomfort in her eyes. “Well, yes, actually I have fallen in love with Willow. I hope that you…you don't…” Christ, he thought, he'd be ninety before he stopped blushing and stammering.

“I'm glad.” And the trust between them, broken and mended and broken so many times, was back, as strong as ever. “So, now can we drop the subject of your sex life, and never, ever speak of it again? If you guys are happy, go for it. I've missed you. And oh! I think I had a Slayer dream last night!”

Suddenly he was all Watcher. “A Slayer dream? Do tell me about it.” She sat on the leather couch, and taking a legal pad from the shelf beside his desk, he sat beside her. Her hands traced patterns in the air as she described a wide plaza on a moonlit night, huge statues of lions, a central column. She didn't recognize it as any place she'd seen in Rome,, but she had clearly seen Spike and Drusilla. Spike had fought with a man whose hands had an odd green glow.

“I'm not even sure it was a Slayer dream, because usually they're about the future and this was definitely the past. It was like I was seeing a memory, or an old movie.” She pauses. “I'm thinking early 1950s, probably no later than '55.”

Giles wrote on his pad: 1950-55, Spike, Trafalgar Square? Green hands. “How can you be so sure of the date?”

“What Drusilla was wearing. The cut of her dress, and the hat.” He turned to her, raising a questioning eyebrow. “History of Fashion, sophomore year elective at the U. of Sunnydale. I wrote a paper on Dior's New Look and its influence on postwar fashion. Got an A-minus.”

“The benefits of a good education,” Giles responded, smiling. “So, how did the fight end?”

“The guy grabbed Spike's head, and his hands were glowing, but then Dru jumped him. Then, big eww moment, Spike cut the guy's hands off. They didn't bleed, but they stopped glowing, and he collapsed, and Spike and Dru just took off and left him there.” She looked down at her lap. “I've had a bunch of dreams about Spike lately, but this one was different.” In a very quiet voice, she added, “Giles, I miss him. I'm having a really hard time with the fact that he was back in L.A. and he didn't call me, because that means he never really believed that I loved him. And I know you don't want to hear this, but I did, at the end. I loved what he'd become, I loved that he'd done that for me. After everything I did to him, all the ways I hurt him…and he died and he came back and he never really believed that I loved him.” When she looked up, her eyes were dry, but a well of hurt was behind them, deep and gray. Giles put his arms around her, wondering if the news he had to tell her would make her pain more or less. In either case, he had to say it, and she'd just provided a perfect opening.

“Actually, Buffy, I need to talk to you about Spike. There have been…some developments.”


“Buffy?” Giles looked with concern at his Slayer. He still thought of her as his Slayer, always would, he had realized, no matter how much things changed. She was curled in the corner of the couch, her Italian shoes on the floor and her stockinged feet tucked underneath her. Slowly, she looked up at him.

“So he's back, but he's not. It's him, but he doesn't remember me, or Sunnydale or anything. Giles, what am I supposed to do with this?”

“I don't know,” he said gently. “But I couldn't very well keep the information from you. He may or may not regain any memory of his life as Spike. Willow's trying to find out more about the spell that was used. I've also asked Dawn to speak with him; she's one of the few people that has ever had a false past implanted, so to speak. I haven't mentioned his identity yet to her yet, only his counterfeit memories.”

“Yeah, I guess talking to Dawn makes sense.” Buffy sighed. “As much as anything in my life does. I tend to forget that most of her childhood never really happened, but I don't know if she does. You will tell her about his, um, Spikiness, beforehand, right? She's got her own history with him. I know they got pretty close the summer after—after Glory.”

“Yes, but I did want discuss that with you first. I have made plans to take Dawn on a visit to Oxford tomorrow, I expect she told you?”

“Oh, yeah, she told me.” Buffy's short laugh was lacking in humor. “She doesn't want me to come with her. I think if she could go off to college and not tell me where, she'd be happy. I mean, I get it. She wants her own life, away from Slaying and the Council and all this. I thought I did too. But I can't get away from it, ever, can I? It's….”

His arm around her was reassuring. If she couldn't leave it behind, at least she wouldn't have to do it alone. “No, I suppose not. It's your life, Buffy. It's my life too. Neither of us chose it, but there it is.”

“I think we did this conversation already. In the courtyard at Sunnydale High. You were going to be a fighter pilot, right?” She laughed. “I was thinking about modeling, which is every fifteen-year-old L.A. girl's ambition.”

“Fighter pilot or grocer.” Giles took her hand in his. “It's an old, sad truth, Buffy.” His face was serious, but his eyes were full of mischief. She waited for him to explain it all, to sum things up, in his old, wise, British-Watchery way.

He took a deep breath and said, “Destiny sucks.