Ground Work

[Timeframe: just after the final episode of "Buffy", 'Chosen', and after my fics
'Transitions' and 'When The Dust Settled'.]


In a quiet corner at the back of This Time Round, two identical witches were
having a conversation.

Given they were identical, the only way to tell them apart was this: Tara was in
modern-day New Age clothes, while Gaia was in something that looked to be a
cross between modern-day New Age and first-century Rome (which was... unusual,
to say the least).

They were chatting quietly, when they were interrupted.

"'Lo, wicca."

The pair of them jumped like startled rabbits.

"S-Spike?!" Tara squeaked.

"Nails?!" Gaia eeped.

"Wrong guy, luv." Spike told Gaia, before turning to Tara. "Going to tell me who
your friend is?"

"Um. Er." Tara said. "Um. This is, um, this is, um, Gaia, my, er, counterpart
from, er, 'St. Pudentiana the Fairy Bane'. Um, Gaia, this's Nails's original,

"...Hello?" Gaia tried.

"So you're Gadzikowski's wicca." Spike said. "Huh. Would've thought you would've
painted yourself blue, at least."

"Um, well..." Gaia stammered. "Er, not so much, um..."

"So how'd you end up here?" Spike asked Tara. "Aren't you supposed to be with
Bu- the Slayers and everyone?"

"Um..." Tara said. "They got out?"

"Yeah." Spike said.

"Where are they?"

"They're okay - or they were, last I knew." Spike said. "Thing I want to know is
what're you doing here?"

Tara focused herself, some of the tension easing from her. "Um, well, the truth
is, um, you remember Amber?"

"Could hardly forget a lady who looked like you, now, could I?" Spike said,

Tara plunged on. "Well, um, she offered me - well, us, Gaia and me - a time out,
a space of our own. I mean, we really didn't have anything holding us back home,
so, um, we accepted."

"Didn't stick around for the off?" Spike said. "Can't say I blame you."

"We did." Gaia said.

Tara nodded. "We, um, we decided that in the end, we wanted to stick round, be
there when it ended. So, um, Amber gave us both PLOT Devices for, um, when we
wanted to come."

"Didn't exactly make yourself known, did you?" Spike said.

"No." Tara said quietly. "But you knew I was there."

"...Yeah, we did." Spike said finally. "Sorry 'bout that, pet."

"Don't be." Tara said. "You needed to get ready."

"...Yeah." Spike murmured. "...So how long did you stick it out?"

"Until it started coming down." Tara said. "I had to see it through to the end,
Spike. Had to know it was over."

Spike stared at her. "Never thought you had it in you, love."

Tara actually smiled. "Neither did I."

She sobered. "Once it started coming down, that was it. I opened the PLOT Hole
and jumped for it.

"Gaia and I met up outside, we decided we needed to wind down, relax... and
that's pretty much when you came in."

"Uh-huh." Spike said, as he digested that. "So what're you gonna do now?"

Gaia took a breath. "Well, we've, er, we've accepted positions at the local

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Counselling?"

"Kind of." Tara said. "PSE and Combined Magic. We start in September."

"Didn't know you were teachers..." Spike said.

"We're not." Tara said. "Well, we haven't passed a course, or anything, but..."

Spike simply gave her a *look*.

Tara coughed. "Um, well, basically, Amber recommended us, and um, well, we
seemed to impress Mr Maxil enough in the interviews, so, um... he took us on."

"Yeah?" Spike said. "Seems to me Amber's been doing a lot for the both of you.
What's the catch?"

Gaia gave him a querying look. "There wasn't a catch..."

"Uh-huh. You're telling me she did all that for you out of the goodness of her
heart?" Spike said.

"Hearts." Gaia corrected without thinking.

"Whatever." Spike said. "Just being altruistic, was she?"

"...You were at the Telethon, Spike." Tara said. "I don't know how you can say

"Apart from the fact she got a major image boost?" Spike said. "Come on, luv.
These days, publicity practically pays for itself."

"I doubt it, Spike." Tara said. "When I met her, publicity was the last thing on
her mind - well, publicity for herself, anyway."

"Everyone has an angle, luv. It's just a matter of finding out what it is."
Spike leaned forward. "So what's her angle on you?"

"Nothing, Spike." Tara said. "If she has one, I don't know it. Besides, I really
don't see what she gets out of it."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "What, apart from trying to reach all-new heights in

"*SPIKE!*" Gaia and Tara exclaimed.

Spike shrugged. "What? I'm just saying..."

"That's just _disgusting_, Spike!" Tara said, outraged. "_I_ certainly don't
swing that way, and I certainly hope Amber wouldn't, either! Doing it with
someone who looked just like you..." She shuddered. "_No._"

"Not me, either." Gaia said. "Sappho, _yes_. Narcissus, _no_."

Spike raised his hands in mock surrender. "Okay, okay. Can't blame a fellow for

"Yes you can." Tara said, folding her arms. "And while we're on the subject...
what _are_ you doing here?"

"Me?" Spike affected a look of careful innocence. "I'm just stopping off here
'til Peaches' show starts up. No big deal."

"What about Buffy?" Tara asked.

Spike's face went suddenly, terribly blank. "We said 'goodbye' once already,
wicca. If you think I can say it again, you've got another think coming."

Tara flinched. "I'm sorry, Spike. I didn't know."

"No." Spike shook his head. "Left myself wide open on that one, didn't I? What I
get for playing it cool. Should have known better."

"...Do you want to sit down?" Gaia offered tentatively.

"Thanks, luv." Spike said, taking a seat in the booth. "But yeah... I can't go
back again. Not yet. Maybe not for a long time.

"Who knows? Maybe she'll show up on Peaches's show." He chuckled humourlessly.
"Ought to be fun."

He folded his arms. "What about you two? Thought you'd be out there fighting for
Red and whatshername."

"Genuissa." Gaia said. "It's Genuissa."

"She moved on, Spike." Tara said finally. "No matter what others might think of
Kennedy - or Ceannaideach - they're the ones Willow and Genuissa decided to be
with in the end.

"Besides... Willow already had to choose between Oz and me, and that was
difficult enough. That's not a choice I want to push on Willow or Kennedy."

"Very self-sacrificing." Spike observed.

"Hardly." Gaia said. "We had enough trouble trying to hold onto what we had of
ourselves without trying to make ourselves into martyrs."

Spike's mouth *twitched*.

Gaia and Tara stared at him.

"Just had a thought." Spike said, composing his face. "You two didn't actually
_see_ the episode, did you?"

"...Well, no." Tara said. "I said."

"So, you didn't actually _see_ how it ended, yeah? Why everything started
crashing down?"

"I thought that was the Hellmouth closing." Tara said. "Unless you can tell us

"Oh, no worries on that." Spike said. "Closed good and proper, underneath
several thousand tons of rubble."

"That would do it." Gaia admitted.

"So what are you not telling us?" Tara said suspiciously. "You were at the end,

"Oh yeah." Spike said. "Saw the whole thing, everything coming down round us.

"All 'cause of me."

Gaia and Tara gawped.

"Y'see," Spike went on, getting into his story, "the Poof'd brought this
amulet - said it had some sort of cleansing power, something that'd give
strength to the right person. Couldn't be a normal human, though - someone with
a human soul, but stronger than human."

Gaia and Tara's mouths were now literally hanging open.

"Poof wanted it to be him, but the Slayer said 'no way'." Spike continued. "Sent
him off to get ready if we lost.

"Well, that, and he still had a series coming up.

"So she chose me to handle the job.

"Did a pretty good job of it too, if I say so myself."

"_You_ were-" Tara said.

"Yeah." Spike said. "Me."

"Then what happened?" Gaia said.

Spike was quiet for a moment.

"...Y'know _why_ it has to be someone stronger than human?" he said finally.

"Tell me." Tara said.

"Because it kills whoever uses it."

Tara gasped. "You... /died/?"

"Yeah." Spike said. "Not the first time, no... but I gotta tell you, it was
definitely the most satisfying."

He smiled, a true and open smile. "Brought the whole place down with me."

"That's what you meant." Tara whispered. "When you said you'd said 'goodbye'.
That's what you meant."

"Yeah." Spike said. "Said goodbye. The _last_ goodbye."

"But if you're dead..." Tara began.

Spike shrugged. "Joss'll find a way. He usually does."

"...But back as _what?_" Tara said. "This _is_ Joss we're talking about here."

Spike smirked. "Yeah. MDO had that problem too, so Amber stepped in to sort it

"...Say _what?_" Tara said incredulously.

"You... _met_ her?" Gaia echoed.

"Yeah." Spike said. "Nice lady, but you knew that already."

"You have some nerve, Spike." Tara said, glaring at the vampire. "All that
bullshit about whether she was being altruistic or not..."

"Well, _you_ didn't know I'd met her." Spike pointed out. "Just thought I'd play

"He gets destroyed in an ultimate act of self-sacrifice, and he _still_ finds
the time to play games." Tara muttered. "How petty can you get?"

"No-one said having a soul made you nice." Spike said. "I mean, let's face it,
once you save the world, nothing _else_ you do that day's really gonna measure
up, so I figure I'm entitled to cut loose a bit."

"And take out your frustration on _us_." Gaia said.

"What did I say about having a soul?" Spike inquired. "'Nice guys not required',
remember? You two should know that."

"Gods..." Gaia muttered. "He's so much like Nails it's _scary_."

"Not sure I'd say _that_, wicca," Spike's voice said. "But nice to know you're
still thinking of me."

Gaia and Tara _blinked_, stared at Spike, whose mouth had fallen open at hearing
his voice come from thin air, and then looked up into a face that was, to all
intents and purposes, completely identical to Spike's.

"...Nails?" Gaia said finally.

"No other." Nails said. "Gonna introduce us?"

"Um. Er." Gaia said. "Um, well, these are the people we're based on - this's
Tara, my counterpart, and this's Spike, who's, um, well, yours."

Nails considered this as he looked Spike over. "You don't say. Never would have

Gaia turned red.

"So _you're_ the fairy." Spike said.

"And you're the bloodsucking demon." Nails said pleasantly. "I was expecting a
bit more 'grr', but I suppose you have to take what you can get."

"Har har." Spike said. "Stolen any babies lately?"

Nails's eyes narrowed. "_Eaten_ any babies lately?"

"Nails-" Gaia began.

Spike opened his mouth to retort... then clamped it shut.

"What's the matter?" Nails said. "Lost for words?"

"Nah." Spike said. "Just realised. Only thing I _can_ take the piss out of you
for is being a fairy. 'Cause I go any further, I start ripping on _me_."

Nails opened his mouth, then closed it.

"...Oh _bollocks_." he said finally.

"Takes all the fun out of it, doesn't it?" Spike said. "C'mon, take a seat."

Nails sat down.

"Hey, barkeep!" Spike yelled to Harry at the bar. "Get us a couple of beers over
here, will ya? And none of that poncey American stuff, either! I want the real
thing!" He stopped to consider for a moment, then shrugged. "What the hell, I'm
feeling generous. What do you two want?"

"Apple juice." Gaia said firmly.

"Me too." Tara said.

"_Apple juice?_" Spike echoed. "Your funeral..."

He turned back to Harry. "And two apple juices, too!"

Spike finally turned to his counterpart. "Amber bring you in?"

"Yeah." Nails said grudgingly. "Thought I'd stay over till Centurion Forehead's
show started up again."

Gaia and Tara exchanged looks that communicated far more than could ever be

"'Centurion Forehead'." Spike snickered. "Gotta tell him _that_ one..."

Nails eyed Gaia. "So what're _you_ doing here?"

Gaia sighed, and launched into the story again, as Harry brought the quartet
their drinks.

"Got a place to stay?" Nails said, once all stories had been exchanged.

Gaia nodded. "We got a place a few weeks back."

"..._We?_" Nails inquired.

"We're housemates." Gaia said. "Nothing else. And if you make even the
_slightest_ innuendo about this, the both of you are going to end up with boils
in a very unfortunate place."

Nails held up his hands placatingly. "Okay, okay..."

"How about you?" Tara asked. "Where're you staying?"

"Got a few places to check out." Spike said, leaning back. "Can always stay in a
hotel, meantime."

"Same here." Nails said.

They looked expectantly at the witches.

Gaia rolled her eyes. "If you two want to stay with us, why don't you just

"More fun this way." Nails said.

"Of course you can stay. We'll be happy to put you up." Tara said. "On one

"Yeah?" Spike said.

"Both of you pay us rent, and a quarter of the monthly living expenses."

"WHAT?!" Nails and Spike blurted in unison.

"We hold lease on our house." Tara intoned. "If you want to stay, you're going
to have to pay your own way. And don't claim you _can't_ - the two of you only
gamble _pets_. With all the stories you do, there is no way you don't have the

"So. Either stay with us and pay rent, or find a place of your own."

Nails and Spike were dumbstruck.

"No fair!" Spike protested. "We're not staying that long!"

"No?" Tara said.

"_No._" Spike said, affronted. "We can find our own place. Not like we wanna end
up leeching off of you."

"That wasn't what Mr Bran told me." Gaia said.

"Knew I should've told him to keep quiet..." Nails muttered. "Wait a minute, I

"Of course, the fact our very existence pisses off the Watchers wouldn't have
anything to do with it..." Spike snarked.

"Maybe so." Tara acknowledged. "Either way, as long as you two stay with us,
you're paying."

"Yeah, I can see..." Spike muttered under his breath.

"Sorry?" Gaia said.

"I'm thinking, I'm thinking..."

"What if we _don't_ pay?" Nails inquired.

"Then you find yourselves with an incurable case of the boils." Gaia said.

"That's extortion." Spike accused.

Gaia stared him down. "That's because we know you."

"I want to see what I'd be paying for first." Spike said. "Like to _know_ what's
worth us getting blasted with boils."

"Deal." Gaia said.

"O-/kay/." Nails clapped his hands together. "Let's go, shall we?"

"All right." Tara said.

They pushed their chairs back and stood up.

"Um, Spike...?" Tara said.


"Paying the bill?"

"Didn't say _I'd_ pay..." Spike began.

He was cut off short by the expression on Tara's face, which promised boils on a
very personal part of his anatomy in the near future.

Grumbling, he slouched over to the bar and grudgingly paid up.

Tara's mouth quirked momentarily.

_Then_ they left.




Summary: The story of how an unlikely quartet first met.

'Joss' is Joss Whedon, who created "Buffy", and who wrote/writes for both
"Buffy" and "Angel".

"Buffy", "Angel", Tara and Spike are Joss Whedon's/Mutant Enemy's.

"St. Pudentiana", "Genius", Gaia and Nails are Paul Gadzikowski's imaginary
screen canon counterparts.

This Time Round created by Tyler Dion.

Harry is the BBC's.


Copyright 2004 Imran Inayat