A short time later, the group was ready to ride to town and Buffy found herself saying a quick goodbye to Spike before they parted company for a while. Neither had spoken much about what had happened when they were alone tonight but it hung in the air, like a pregnant drop of water about to fall. She wondered why she had not let him do what he intended, knowing her life might be a lot less complicated because he was not in it. However, even as the thought crossed her mind she remembered what it was like to make love to him, the raw, unbridled passion he inspired in her that made her feel more terribly alive then she had felt since her resurrection. A part of Buffy knew that it was more than just lust that had made their coupling so wonderful. There was something more that made her feel safe in his arms that told her without doubt that he would never hurt her, would never leave her and he would die for her if he had to.

She had craved all these things from Angel and still he had left her, never giving her a choice in what was best for her own happiness. She had sought the same thing from Riley even though she felt less for him than the confused feelings she had for Spike and he too had gone. Spike would never leave, not as long as there was hope that she might love him back. It was a good feeling to know that his heart was so much in her keeping, even if she did not know what she intended to do with it. They all knew he loved her because he had come all this way to rekindle her existence, even at the cost of his freedom as a vampire. It surprised her to see the admiration in their eyes for him, even from Giles because a vampire would do so much for the slayer he loved.

"You gonna be okay here by yourself?" She asked quietly as the others prepared to leave, conscious that they might be watching her.

"Sure," Spike answered, somewhat surprised by the warmth in that inquiry. "I’ll just keep the healer on his toes." A perfectly mischievous smile crooked the corner of his lip.

"Leave the man alone," Buffy replied, unable to keep from being affected by his mood. "He’s got enough troubles."

"And you?" He looked at her with concern. "You gonna okay with your great, great grandsire?"

Buffy cast a glance over her shoulder at Ezra who was slipping on his red coat, unaware that she was stealing a glimpse at him. "Yeah, I can’t believe I’m related to that guy but I should be okay."

"He’s a good bloke," Spike pointed out. "A little wordy but his hearts in the right place most of the time, when its not in his wallet."

"Maybe he used to be part vengeance demon," she joked, recalling how Anya, Xander’s fiancée who upon leaving her vocation as a vengeance demon had developed a voracious appetite for money and the acquiring of it.

"I don’t think he’s quite that bad," Spike joked.

"Is it me," Buffy replied as she noticed Vin and Tara in deep conversation, "or is Tara a little friendlier with Vin then she ought to be?"

"Its not you," Spike sniggered. "I reckon the tracker makes the witch hot."

"Ugh!" Buffy glared at him for his choice of words, "can you be any more tactless? Maybe Tara’s being nice. You might have warned him that she’s gay." She pointed out.

"Luv," Spike stared at her, "in this age, he wouldn’t even know what that means."

"Well explain it," she said impatiently, not wishing Tara to be placed in an awkward position because of Vin’s affection. Besides, she was being seriously freaked seeing Tara with anyone else other than Willow. Ironically a few years ago, she would have been freaked about seeing Willow with another woman but then no more than Willow would be if she knew what Buffy and Spike had been getting up to lately.

"Explain it to him?" Spike raised a brow. "I don’t fancy getting shot pet. Bullets may not kill me but it will still bloody hurt. Besides, you don’t talk about that sort of thing in this time, especially to men who used to shoot people for looking at them cross eyed. Its all meant to be in the closet unless of course you’re French although in France who could tell? They all sound like a bunch of poofs anyway."

"Once of these days I’m gonna have to get you to explain to me this thing you Brits have with the French." Buffy remarked and leaned forward, planting a soft kiss on his lips, uncertain of why until she had done it.

Spike stared at her for a moment because it was so personal, like something one would do to a person who meant a great deal to them. "What was that for?" He asked mystified.

"I don’t know," Buffy shrugged, wishing he would not pay so much attention to it. It was not as if she had never kissed him before. She had just felt like it. "Just don’t get too used to it."

"I know, I know," Spike rolled his eyes but he could not deny his heart was dancing. "You won’t ever do it again."

"Yeah," Buffy said coyly as she drew away from him. "Just as long as you know."

+ + + + + + +

As the procession returned home to Four Corners, Chris found himself inching his horse along side of Mary’s. So much had happened in the last few hours that they had barely a chance to talk about what was happening. Chris could not believe she had ridden all that way to warn him of Angelus. She had to know that the vampire might still come after her once she had breached the safety of her home and left herself wide open to his attack. Of course he knew she cared, even if she did not say it out loud. He felt it and he hoped that she knew the feeling was mutual.

"It’s been a long night," Chris said as they rode alongside each other.

"To say the least," Mary smiled at him. "I think I will be glad when things return to normal although this whole thing has been educational."

"I don’t know if I would call it that," Chris said dryly. "I don’t think I wanted this much of a glimpse into the future."

"I’m wagering, neither does Ezra," Mary glanced at the gambler who was riding double on Chaucer with Buffy. Both of them looked so much like each other and yet seemed poles apart. Mary could not imagine how Buffy could be Ezra’s progeny. The young woman seemed so terribly serious when she should have been at an age where life was just beginning.

"Mary," Chris looked at her seriously. "I’m grateful you came after me. It was downright foolish and dangerous but I’m glad you did."

Mary looked as if she might protest but instead settled down to accept his gratitude more graciously, "you’re welcome." She smiled. "For some reason you’re the only person I know who can make enemies anywhere, even supernatural ones." She teased.

"Well its a talent," Chris said with a straight face before breaking into a grin.

"Any other talents I should know about?" Her brow raised in question.

"A few," he grinned. "But I think we should get to know each other a little better first."

"Mr. Larabee, I am intrigued." Mary laughed not at all disturbed by the suggestion in that statement but then she had always walked the dark side when it came to her feelings for him. "Why don’t we try supper first?"

And for the first time, Chris found that he was amenable to the idea. "That sounds nice Mary," he said honestly, realizing in recent days that it mattered telling the ones you cared about how much they meant because it so much worse if they did not exist at all.

+ + + + + + +

"They’re so into each other," Buffy remarked as she rode behind Ezra, glancing in Chris and Mary’s direction.

"If you mean there is a certain chemistry between Mr. Larabee and Mrs. Travis, I dare say that you are right," Ezra agreed. Buffy was not the first person to speculate about the relationship between the gunslinger and the newspaper editor. The rest of the seven had done it on occasion with Buck even making some pathetic attempt to play matchmaker that ended with him having half his moustache shaved off by one very irate Mr. Larabee. It was the last time Buck made such an effort even though he had been properly warned by the others that things with Chris and Mary would progress when they were ready for it to do so.

"So what’s stopping them?" Buffy asked. It was the first time she and her ancestor had engaged in any real conversation since her arrival. Even now, she felt uncomfortable that it was he she was riding with and not Spike. She kind of liked how it felt to hold Spike on horseback because there was a romance to the whole thing that she would die before she confessed to the vampire.

"Well Chris lost his wife and son some years ago in a fire and I do not think he’s quite recovered from that loss," Ezra explained.

So that’s it, Buffy thought to himself. That’s why he looked so sad when he thought no one was noticing. Buffy did not know what it was to lose someone in that way but she knew something about loss and could understand Chris’ reluctance to give his heart away again. "It takes a long time."

"I do not doubt that but sometimes, one has to take a gamble." Ezra pointed out.

"I don’t gamble," Buffy retorted. "I can’t afford to."

"I noticed that," Ezra replied and noticed Buffy stiffening immediately.

"What does that mean?" She demanded huffily. "I’m the Slayer! I can’t take chances or people will die. People have died. You have no idea what my life is like."

"Rather sensitive on the issue aren’t you?" Ezra remarked innocently.

"I can’t help it," Buffy felt a little embarrassed for that outburst. "You have no idea what I’ve been through."

"I don’t doubt that," Ezra agreed. "But you if you would care to take some advice from someone who has lived in difficulty, I can tell you that it gets no easier. Sometimes it becomes more impossible than you can believe but that is life my dear, it is not made to be easy or difficult. It just is."

"Can argue with you there," Buffy sighed in agreement.

"He loves you, you know."

Buffy’s eyes opened with surprise not expecting him to say that. "That’s none of your business," she retorted hotly after a moment.

"Perhaps not but it is true. I am aware of what he is and as much as I dislike the fact that one of my descendants might find happiness with one of his kind; I also have to remember that you are the Slayer. Mr. Giles tells me that it is your vocation until you die from it, that there is no release from the duty. Life is short my dear girl, even more so for you. How you chose to live it is entirely up to you and I do not think that you should be burdened by the path of those who came before you. Live your life, as you would choose not as anyone expects you to live it. I followed my mother’s path because I did not think I could be anything else," Ezra retorted, pausing a little when Maude’s name came into it. "It never occur to me that I could be anything that I wished, not until it was too late. My course has brought me to Four Corners and I have a second chance of being something better, something happier, I would give you the same advice."

"You want me to love Spike?" Buffy demanded, incensed that he could ask of that of her when he knew nothing about what Spike had been and how he had tried to kill her.

"No," Ezra shook his head and revealed he was capable of a few surprises still. "I want you to let him go if you do not."

"What....." Buffy gasped.

"You heard me," Ezra said sharply, unaware that he was rekindling a memory of a similar conversation Buffy had once shared with Xander on the subject of Riley. "If you love him, embrace what he offers you for I have no doubt that he would surrender everything for you and love like that, is fleeting and it is precious, no matter what the source. There are those who spend their whole lives searching for that feeling and never find it. However, if you do not love him, let him go. He is tortured by the unknowing. Anyone can see that. He lingers in hope because you give some semblance of it and that binds him to you."

"I don’t know how I feel about him," she responded weakly.

She had not been able to talk to anyone regarding her feelings about Spike. She was certain that anyone in Sunnydale she confided to about their relationship would undoubtedly be horrified that she was even considering the idea. After all, Spike had been her mortal enemy for so long and his murderous impulses were only kept in check by the chip that was presently in his head. Willow had so many troubles on her plate at the present that Buffy could not bring herself to burden her best friend with her confidence and Xander? Xander barely tolerated Spike at all and the mere suggestion of there being a relationship between her and the vampire would most likely cause Xander to stake Spike just to save her from herself. If Giles were here, perhaps she might confide in him but Giles, not the one who was talking with Tara and Vin as they rode to town, the father figure who had been her tower of strength for most of her teenage years, was gone. Still, it did feel good to talk to Ezra about it and it appeared as if he really wanted to listen.

"All I know is that lately, he seems to understand the things I go through better than anyone else. He’s taken care of Dawn and protected her. I know that if anything happened to me he would continue to look out for her."

"It appeared that your relationship might be closer than that." Ezra pointed out, not wishing to say outright that he noticed their intimacy but not wishing to ignore that fact either since they were having this honest discussion.

Buffy knew exactly what he meant and while her cheeks flushed with embarrassment at his discovery of their sexual proclivities towards one another, it also felt liberating not having to lie about that either. "He makes feel alive," she admitted. "I don’t know why but he does. When I’m with him I don’t feel so empty but it makes me feel ashamed."

"Because he is a vampire and a killer?" Ezra asked.

"Yes," Buffy nodded somberly but knew she was not being fair on Spike. She had loved Angel even though he had done far worse as Angelus. "I don’t know. I’ve loved someone else who had for a time been far worse than Spike but this is so confusing."

"Maybe this has little to do with him and everything to do with you," he pointed out, sensing her insecurity. "Perhaps if you allow yourself to care for Spike you might find yourself completely lost in him and that frightens you."

"I’m not afraid," Buffy pouted but she knew he was not far wrong either.

"Of course you are," Ezra brushed aside that remark because he knew better. "You would not be human unless you were."

"I’m not quite human," she reminded. "I’m the slayer and what about you? How come there’s no woman in your life? How am I supposed to get born if you don’t even a girlfriend?" She asked, unable to deny that she felt a little better even if nothing had been resolved. Still, talking about it to someone had been liberating.

"The right woman will come along in due course," Ezra chuckled, glad that he was able to give her something to think about. "And if I am at all lucky, she’ll be filthy rich."

"Superficial much?" Buffy retorted in disapproval. "I thought you old fashioned guys liked to bring home the bacon."

"I am not chauvinist my dear," he grinned. "If you had time I’d introduce you to your great, great, great grandmother Maude and you’ll see that you come from a long line of headstrong women. Besides I have no difficulty being kept."

"Ewww!" Buffy laughed, smacking him on the shoulder. "You’re setting me up for severe dysfunction here, Ezra. Making me think about my ancestors having anything to do with sex or being kept is giving me the serious wiggies."

"Obviously resulting in your massacre of the English language," the gambler retaliated dryly.

"We’re a lot more hip in the future," she declared. "Most of the time when a guy likes a girl, he just goes up to her and says – hey you have a thing, I have a thing, let’s do the thing together." She burst into a wide grin as he looked over his shoulder at her.

"Thank god for the times I live in," he shook his head in disapproval. "Although I suspect that if given the choice, Mr. Wilmington would love it."

"Why?" She asked curiously.

Her interaction with the seven men had been limited. Most of her time had been spent in the company of Chris Larabee, a serious brooder who would give Angel a run for his money, if the chance for such competition were ever had. However, the man had a presence about him, a grim determination that demanded obedience and loyalty from those who followed him. Even Buffy was not immune to it. She could tell that the men he rode with would follow him through any calamity because he was their undisputed leader.

Vin on the other hand, was a tragedy waiting to happen. Buffy wondered if the tracker had any idea of how things would be if they succeeded in this plan to rid Four Corners of the ‘family’. The time line would repair itself and the Tara he knew would disappear. Giles had spoken to her about the consequences of what they were attempting to do and though Buffy did not like this at all, there was nothing they could do to change it. Tara and Giles would have no idea that anything had happened when they finally returned to the future. In fact, the only one who would be hurt by all this was Vin. Tara would have no memory of him because she never met him. Vin seemed like a nice guy who did not give his heart often and Buffy could tell that this was going to hurt him a great deal.

Buffy still had difficulty believing that this gambler with his airs and erudite speech, who put even Giles to shame at times, was related to her. He just seemed so unlike her and yet in the last few minutes, she had found it easier to confide in him then anyone else in recent months, except for Spike of course. However, he had also given her food for thought especially about her relationship with the vampire. She had no idea what her feelings towards Spike were yet but she could not deny that whatever they might, she was afraid of losing herself in Spike. It was an easy thing to do when the passions he awakened in her ran so hot. Still it had been good being able to talk about Spike to someone who would not judge her and she wondered what fate had in store for the gambler in the future. If she ever returned home, she was determined to find out.

"Short, sweet and crass is Buck’s way. I am sure he would be as successful with women in your time as he is in Four Corners." Ezra retorted.

"Quite the ladies man huh?" Buffy guessed by his remark.

"To put it mildly," he said sarcastically.

"What about you?" She asked, "you’re sort of okay looking for an older guy and that accents got to be a trip. How come you don’t have a girl friend yet? You know you need one if I’m gonna get born." She teased.

"Older guy?" Ezra cast her a look. "I’m only a decade or so older than you, my dear."

"Sorry," she chuckled. "So how come you’re not attached? I thought you were supposed to marry young in this age."

"I am not one to jump quickly into my relationships. I am certain when the future Mrs. Standish comes along, I shall know her."

"Why great, great, Grandpa Ezra," Buffy grinned, enjoying the frown that appeared on his face at that description. "You’re a romantic."

Ezra stiffened. "I am not."

"Are too," she insisted. "You talk about your true love being rich and all but you’re really a romantic!"

"Stop that," Ezra grumbled. "Stop that immediately or I shall ride to a monastery and live out my life as a monk."

"Great, great grandpa’s a romantic," she continued to tease in a sing song voice with Ezra shaking his head in annoyance and muttering under his breath;

"Never a vampire around when you need one."

+ + + + + + +

"We should have left," Darla stated within the confines of the Landers home at the same time the Slayer was torturing her ancestor. "Now we’re confined here until dark."

"It doesn’t matter," Angelus said confidently even though the events of the night had hardly been of his choosing. William was at the moment nursing some rather bad burns to his face because of Holy Water, an occurrence that Angelus believed he wholly deserved for allowing their prisoner to escape. Still, Angelus could not deny confessing a certain admiration for the preacher and his escape. He would have never have thought that Josiah would be sly enough to turn a cup of water into a weapon.

"Doesn’t matter?" Darla stared at him in astonishment, unable to believe he was underestimating their situation or the threat that they now found themselves in. "They’ll come back here during the day now that they know where we are."

"They can’t kill us," Angelus said with a confident smile as he sat comfortably in the wing chair within the parlor of the house. "Did you not notice that?"

"What do you mean?" Darla asked not understanding.

She paced the floor before him impatiently, waiting for an answer and wondering how this situation could have escalated to what it was. They should have left days ago, not remained, attracting more and more attention. As strong and capable as they were, vampires thrived in anonymity and this exposure made her uncomfortable. It was bad enough that Angelus was known as the Scourge of Europe and that their constant travelling was necessitated by his brutal and sadistic murders. He was never satisfied with victims that no one would miss. He wanted challenges and his efforts to play with his latest obsession before the kill had given him a particularly fearsome reputation known by those who did not even wish to believe in the existence of vampires.

"When they fought us, there were moments when they could have killed us and yet they did not. Do you not wonder why?" Angelus responded.

"Because we are better than them," Darla hissed in answer, as if there was any reason to think anything else.

"You and I perhaps," Angelus was willing to concede. "But Drusilla and Spike are younger, they don’t have the skill we do. Larabee could have staked him through the heart but he was careful not to. I wondered why at the time and last night when I followed William and the preacher, I overheard the Slayer and the one that looked like William. It makes perfect sense."

"It does?" Darla wished he would hurry up and explain. She did not like riddles.

"Yes," Angelus grinned. "They’re from the future and they can’t kill us because we have something to do with them in the future."

"You mean, someday Spike will turn against us?" Darla exclaimed in shock. "I don’t believe it."

Spike was young, brash, fearless and savage but he was not traitor. The only thing that made him different from any vampire she knew was his love for Drusilla. Vampires were not meant to lose their hearts to another as Spike did for Drusilla. While Darla felt deeply for Angelus, they both knew that if either of their existence were threatened, it would be anyone’s guess who would sacrifice each other for their own self-preservation. That was the way of things and it was expected. However, Darla noted that it was not so for Spike, the opposite, in fact. Spike would give up his life for Drusilla. Darla suspected that more of his human soul remained than was normal although how that had come to be was anyone’s guess. Perhaps the demon that inhabited his body had found kinship with the human he had been and they had forged some kind of alliance.

"Believe it," Angelus retorted, remembering the conversation between the slayer and Spike’s older version. It was precious. "He falls in love with a Slayer."

Darla’s eyes widened. "With a slayer?" The very notion was absurd. "How can that be! It’s not natural!"

"I do not know," Angelus confessed. "However, they need to keep us away from Standish because he is sire to the slayer that has come to Four Corners from the future. That is why they are so keen to protect. If we kill him, then she dies."

"And this other Spike?" Darla asked, trying to wrap her mind around this incredible tale.

"He came to stop his younger self, our Spike, from killing Standish, so that she could live. However, we have some part to play with all of them someday because they cannot kill us. If we were to kill our Spike, the one from the future would die too." Angelus explained, loving the delicious irony of it all.

"He was always a romantic," Darla shook her head in disgust. "We have to do something. Drusilla said this Slayer was going to take you and William away from her and see me dead. I won’t allow that." She stared at Angelus purposefully, demanding compliance in this matter.

"Neither will I my darling," Angelus rose to his feet and crossed the floor to reach her. Placing a gentle hand on her shoulder to still her pacing, he lowered his lips to hers and devoured her mouth with hungry passion. For a few seconds, Darla reacted in the only way she could, becoming lost in the power of his sensuous lips. He kissed her hard and forcefully before sliding his lips to her ear and whispering. "We’re going to Four Corners tonight and we’re going to find them all. We won’t let the Slayer tear us apart. Even if we have to kill everyone in that damn town to do it. I promise you that me love."

Darla listened dreamily, allowing him to undo the laces behind her dress and savoring the feel of his palm as it met bare skin. "I hope so," Darla murmured mistily, "its not like we have never done it before."

"Aye," he replied sliding towards the join between her neck and her shoulder, delighting in the alabaster cream of her skin before he slid off her dress. "And this time, we have the blood of a slayer to sweeten the experience and rid ourselves of William once and for all."


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