Chapter Notes:

Some gifts can't wait until Christmas.


Chapter 15: Tree Trunks

December, 2000

Joyce admitted Anya to the house with a smile. “How is your arm, dear?”

“Itchy. How's your brain?”

“Anya!” Dawn admonished from the stairs.

Joyce laughed. “Much better, thanks. I'm glad to be up and about again, that's for certain. I've grown so tired of lying in bed, I barely want to sleep at night.” She led her guest into the living room, with Dawn trailing behind. “Have a seat, Anya. Buffy is almost ready.” She returned to her desk, where she'd been sitting before Anya had knocked on the door.

Dawn crossed her arms over her chest. “Mom, what are you doing?”

“Trying to figure out this insurance form and paying a few bills.”

“You're supposed to be resting.” Dawn called toward the stairs. “Buffy! Mom's doing stuff again!”

“I'll be down in a minute!” Buffy called back.

Joyce stuck her tongue out at her younger daughter. “Tattle-tale.”

“The doctor said to rest.”

“I've had just about all the rest I can... take.” Joyce seemed distracted by something she'd noticed on the piece of paper in her hand. “What...?” She glanced up to see Anya and Dawn watching her closely. “Um... So do you girls know what it is you're shopping for?”

“Not really,” Dawn admitted. “I have a basic idea of what I want to get for some people, but for others, I'm waiting on inspiration to strike.”

“Xander is getting clothes,” Anya answered promptly. “Some for him to wear at work, and some for me to wear at home.”

Buffy, coming down the stairs in time to hear this, rolled her eyes. “We are not taking my sister to any of those stores, Anya. Let's just get the clothes Xan will wear on this shopping trip, ok?”

“I'm not a baby, Buffy. I understand the concept of sexy lingerie.”

“Let's keep it limited to a 'concept' for a little longer, please,” Joyce murmured, still staring at the paper.

Buffy joined them in the living room just long enough to kiss her mother on the cheek. “Spike's downstairs if you need anything. Get some rest.”

Joyce nodded and exchanged goodbyes with the three young women. As soon as they'd left, she took the surprising piece of paper from her desk and marched down to the basement.

Spike was lounging on the bed, reading. He looked up at her arrival. “Joyce. How're you feeling?”

She held up the paper. “What is this, Spike?”

“Looks like a bank statement.”

“This line, right here.” She pointed. “I seem to have developed the amazing ability to make large deposits from my hospital bed.”

“Congratulations. There are worse superpowers to have.” He dropped his gaze back to his book.

“Don't you dare play coy with me, William. I know you have to be behind this.”

“Call it rent.”

“Rent?! For an unfinished basement? This is three mortgage payments!” Joyce looked at the deposit again. “Actually, this is exactly three mortgage payments. How did you know--? Oh, well of course you had to have a co-conspirator. I'll deal with her later.”

“Leave her out of it. Call it rent and your Christmas gift. Happy?”

“I can't accept this, Spike. I'm coming home tomorrow with a cashier's check.”

“Your jailers are letting you out?”

“Finally! But only for a few hours. And don't change the subject.” She waved the paper around. “What are we going to do about this?”

Spike shrugged. “You can accept it graciously, or I'll take your first born in trade.”

“Very funny.” She dropped into a chair. “And I think you already have her. Things are going well between you, right? I haven't heard much yelling lately.”

“Been saving the worst of it for patrol, so you could rest.”

“I'm really starting to hate that word.”

*~*~*

“Evening, Glinda. Safe to talk?” Spike said into the phone.

“Yeah. I'm alone. What's up?”

“You get your hands on the stuff for that dowsing spell yet?”

“Three days ago. I told Buffy. She didn't tell you?”

“No. Shouldn't be surprised, though. She's all caught up in gift shopping and such, not thinking of much else. Seems to want to make a big deal out of Christmas this year. Trying to make her mum happy, I think. Didn't even say a word against inviting Rupert when Joyce mentioned it.”

“Well, the reasoning is sound. You know, just in case.” Tara sighed. “If I'd known what she knows, I'd have gone a little nuts about the last Christmas with my mom, too. ...What's she up to now?”

“Climbing on the front porch roof, hanging lights. Can hear her cussing from the living room. Likely to break her neck up there, messing with those bloody things.” He shook his head. “It's been a while since this place was gussied up for the holidays. Didn't even think it mattered much to her.”

“I take it you guys didn't get to do much celebrating last year?”

“Short version? I spent Christmas chained up in a cave, with a twitchy Turok Han and the First dressed up like Dru... when it wasn't looking like Buffy.”

“Ouch! Ok, so not a good Christmas.”

“Haven't been much for religious holidays since I was living. Just another reason to hate 'em.”

“The holiday may not mean much to you, Spike. But do you think maybe Buffy's not just going all out for her mom? Maybe she wants to have a normal-ish Christmas with you, too? Something better than the last one?”

“Wouldn't take much,” he grumbled.

“You know what I mean. And maybe you should try to participate?”

“You're hinting for me to go gift shopping, too, aren't you?”

“Uh-huh. Tomorrow, though. 'Cause I'm guessing you called to try to schedule a field trip for tonight?”

“Yeah. If you've got your stuff, we oughta go out there again, get a feel for what the excavation will be like. I can coax Santa Slayer off the roof, drag her along with us. If we're lucky, she won't find another watcher to scream at 'fore we go this time. ...Red gonna notice you're gone?”

“Probably not. She's locked up in her own dorm room tonight, writing out another pro-con list.” Tara sighed. “I'm glad she hasn't switched her focus back to you, but the obsessive streak is continuing, just with something else now.”

“So no decision yet.”

“Not yet. Spike, I'm starting to worry. What if she says 'no'?”

“Then those coven birds will likely take charge of her, anyway. Like it or not.”

“Oh. I see. You're with Buffy in the 'I don't care if they restrain her' camp. I was hoping to not be out voted on this.”

“Pet, we can't just let her run loose. You know that. Even if Whistler's playing a bigger game -and it sure as hell seems like he might be- he's right on that score. Red's gotta get under control 'fore she goes wild, one way or the other.”

There was a brief silence. “I know you guys are right, but I still feel like... I don't know? A traitor?”

“Greater good, Glinda.”

“I know, I know.” She sighed. “You'll pick me up?”

“Yeah. We'll see you in a bit.”

*~*~*

Tara finished the spell and looked up. They were still arguing. She made a notation on the floor plan sketch in her notebook. She gathered her other supplies and put them back in her satchel. They were still arguing. She leaned against a cask and waited.

“I'm telling you, your perspective is off! They're going to move this big cask! It was about six yards further that way. So the trapdoor would have been right here!”

“They don't shift those giant things around on a whim like the armchairs in your living room, you stupid chit! They're right where they will be! That puts the bloody door right here!”

“If you were right, the cask you broke would line up with the trapdoor, almost exactly. I'd remember that. It lined up with where Caleb was standing when he killed Molly and shoved in Xander's eye!”

Tara winced. “Ouch!”

“And that was about four yards from the cask he threw me into. So the trapdoor was right here! That damned memory boost did you no good.”

“That makes no sense. I remember the scythe was about twenty yards that way from the door, which would put it--”

“In the foundation of the bloody building! Six yards further east, and it's outside that wall.”

“There's no way it's that far over! You don't remember, because you only came down here to fight. I was here after, alone, and I walked it.”

“You remember why you were alone? 'Cause you left me some twisted love child of a thank you note and a Dear John and slipped out while I was still asleep!”

“Hey! I put a lot of thought into that letter!”

Tara sighed. “Oh, dear. Here we go.”

“I've known you a lot of years, Buffy. I know what your primary school scrawl looks like when you're in a hurry. If you had taken your time--”

“Fucking hell. Now I'm going to get handwriting lessons from a leftie. How's that going to work? Mirrors? Oh, wait...”

“My penmanship is miles beyond yours, and you didn't have to learn to write with teachers rapping your knuckles raw with a ruler five days a week!”

“That's because you're so old your teachers still believed in Dark Age superstitions about you left-handed freaks. The truth is far simpler. You're just backwards! And you have zero capacity for measuring distances!”

Tara cleared her throat. “Are you two finished yet?”

“I am not backward! And I seem to recall you actually complimenting my handwriting once, when you were digging in the lock box.”

“And I should have taken it back the next time you asked me to translate mine!”

“Well, some of us were educated in English before we learned Sanskrit! But to be fair, Sanskrit is actually easier on the eyes!”

“If my handwriting is so unreadable, and my notes are so twisted, why did you come home that night?”

“Because you asked me to!”

“Oh so you could read it.”

Tara tapped her foot.

“Fortunately, I had all day to figure it out. You know, after you went off to play the solo hero.”

“I'm the slayer! That's the job!”

“No, you've just got a bloody martyr complex!”

“Are you kidding me? Martyr complex? This from the vamp I had to forcibly drag off a stone cross before he went up in smoke?!”

“Hey! That doesn't count! I was nearly out of my gourd at the time!”

“You're telling me! You were so nuts, I wanted to hunt down that shaman myself, so he could undo it!”

“Why the hell didn't you?”

“I was busy! Or don't you remember that very active Hellmouth you were living on until I brought your crazy, mind-jacked ass home?”

“Bollocks. Just admit you had no idea what to do and were winging it, as usual.”

“Fine! I had no idea what to do with a man who had nearly destroyed himself for me. There. I said it. Are you happy now, Sparky?”

They stood perfectly still, staring at each other, for a long time.

Buffy broke the silence with a whisper. “And I still don't.”

Spike ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “You wanna take a trip to Africa this summer, see what we can do about it?”

“To get rid of it, or make sure you don't lose it in a time shift thingy?”

“Honestly? I don't even know.”

“We'll go when you do.”

“And if it goes in the meantime?”

She smirked. “I'll still call you Sparky.”

Tara shook her head. “I'm so glad I was dead for all of this.”

They turned to look at her, finally remembering her presence. Buffy smiled sheepishly. “Um, so, did you do the spell? Was I right?”

“Nope.” She held up a hand before Spike could gloat. “And neither were you.” She waved toward the stairs with her notebook. “Come on, let's go outside.”

They followed her upstairs and out the door they'd left propped open when they broke in. Once behind the winery, Tara flipped on her key chain flashlight and pointed it at her sketch. “Ok, so here's how it breaks down. Buffy, your estimates put the scythe directly under the foundation, right under that window.”

“Told you so,” Spike interjected

“Spike, your estimates put it directly behind us, under that old oak.”

“No way,” Buffy said. “There were no tree roots dangling overhead down there. It was all stone.”

“The spell I did to detect a mystical power source put these four scorch marks on the page. The three big burns are us, in the winery. Here's me, and here's you guys. The light scorch line between you is the energy of your bond, which I totally didn't expect. The little burn I circled is right below where we're standing now, about halfway between the two estimates you gave me.”

“Oh. So I guess we were both wrong.”

“About more than one thing. Buffy, there's no way that area is completely stone, not with that giant tree so close by. It has to have roots down there. That means dirt, not solid rock.”

“It was a big, stone cavern, Tara. Trust me, my memory is not failing me on this one.”

“Maybe it's the drop you don't remember right, love. Could be it's further down than you thought?”

She shook her head. “No...” She turned around to look at the oak tree. “Spike, do you even remember this tree?”

“Come to think of it, no. Bringers tend to kill every living thing around their nests, though.”

“It might have died, sure. Like the one near the front door did. But I don't even remember a fallen tree here. Something's not right. It's not the same.”

“Maybe the scythe's surroundings were altered to protect it from the Bringers?” Tara offered. “That seems like something the Powers would do, right?”

“Maybe... At least the Guardian lady would.” Buffy studied the grass at their feet thoughtfully. “I had to King Arthur it out of the stone. They couldn't pull it free. It would only respond to a slayer. ...If it's in loose dirt right now... Stand back, guys. I want to try something.”

Spike and Tara backed away a few feet. Buffy knelt in the grass and slowly put her open palm against the ground. The earth around them began to shake. Spike and Tara backed up another couple of steps. The earthquake intensified, with audible rumbling. Dirt, sod and small rocks flew out of the ground. Buffy closed her eyes tightly and turned her head toward her shoulder, but she kept her hand where it was. Spike pulled Tara close to him, and tried to shield them both from the onslaught with his coat.

When it stopped, Tara hurried back to the slayer's side. “Buffy? Are you alright?”

Buffy was still kneeling in the grass, filthy with the dirt that had burst out of the ground ahead of the prize she now held, its curved blade glinting in the moonlight. She was staring at it with a puzzled expression. “It's not the same,” she murmured.

Spike came to kneel beside her and looked at the weapon, familiar in every aspect -except its dark green color. “What the hell are they playing at? Trying to confuse us?” As he leaned over to study it more closely, his palm came to rest on the ground. The quake started again. “Oh, bloody hell...”

“Tara? I thought you only saw one power source down there?”

“Yeah, and I thought you said the scythe was red,” Tara answered over the rising rumble from the earth. She ran toward the oak tree, seeking shelter from the coming debris storm. “Buffy! Come on! You don't have to go through it twice!”

Buffy stared after her for a moment, but elected to remain still. This time, when the onslaught came, she tucked her head behind Spike's shoulder. When it stopped, she turned back to the scythe still held under her right hand. Beside it, under Spike's left hand, was another dark green scythe.

They were still staring at the twin weapons when Tara came back from behind the oak tree. “Ok, so also not red.”

Spike took both scythes as he stood up. He walked over to the oak tree and dropped them near the base, a few feet apart. “Try the spell again, Glinda. Unless you fancy putting your paw on the ground, too?”

“Uh, no. Thanks. I already feel like I've been through a tornado.” She pulled her satchel off her shoulder. “We'll just see what we can find out the dirt-free way.” While she was setting up the spell, Buffy and Spike staked out places in the grass that were away from the scythes and the hole they'd left in the ground.

“I really need a shower.”

“Yeah, you do. You come out of your grave looking that bad, Woodchuck?”

“What did you look like coming out of yours, Mosquito?”

He shrugged. “Hungry, most likely. Ask Dru.”

“I think I will. I probably won't understand the answer, but it could be a fun conversation.”

“You think she'll show up here again?”

“Probably. Aurelians seem to like Sunnydale.”

“We're a posh bunch. Won't hang out in bloody Cleveland, but we do love a good Hellmouth. Dru's fond of the energy. Me, I like the scenery.”

“Rows and rows of headstones?”

“Mostly the bird that likes to walk between them.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah.” They traded sly smiles.

“So what are you going to do when your girlfriend comes back to town?”

“You going someplace, love?”

“Hey!” Tara called over to them. “If you two are finished flirting, come check this out!” She flipped on her little flashlight again when they were standing on either side of her. “Ok, so there's the original burn mark, from the first spell. Nothing new showed up, so I think the hole you just made is empty now. Here's three new large burn marks, corresponding to our positions, with the scorch between you guys. The oak tree is here. Do you see what I see?”

Buffy squinted at the page. “Two little burns with a smudge between them?”

“That's not a smudge. That's a lighter burn, from the energy passing between the scythes. I guess they must have been too close together when I did the first spell for me to see it. But with them separated... Guys, those two scythes are connected to each other, just like you are.”

Buffy went to the tree to retrieve the weapons. She tossed one into Spike's hand. “Get your stuff together, Tara. We have one more stop to make before we go home.”

“Really, Buffy? It's really late and I'm desperate for a shower and some clean clothes.”

“You'll want to see this. If this goes like last time, as soon as these things came out of the ground, a temple-slash-tomb thingy appeared just outside the southern border of Restfield cemetery.”

“Whoa.” Tara hurriedly refilled her satchel and slung it over her shoulder. “And no one will mind if we go in there all dirty?”

“We're going to meet the Guardian of the slayer line. I'm pretty sure she's seen young women in all kinds of rough conditions over the years.” She looked at Spike. “You might be her first vamp, though. Run your fingers through your hair a few times, try to knock some of the dirt out.”

“Bad?” he asked as he raked through his hair.

“It's almost its natural color.”

*~*~*

They stepped into the tiny, candle-lit structure and were promptly greeted by a tall, elderly woman with long white hair, streaked with silver. “Welcome, travelers.” She gestured to three cushions on a curved bench. “The heaven sent witch, the vampire who defeated his nature, and the slayer who isn't The Slayer. Please, sit. Three who should not be, arriving together. History should note this moment.” She knelt on the floor in front of them, and held out her hands. “The weapons?”

Buffy and Spike handed over the scythes. The Guardian held them for a moment, then handed them back, each to the other one. Buffy frowned as she accepted the scythe Spike had carried in. “They aren't the same?”

“One is yours. One is his. You will come to know them.”

“Expected a red one, encased in stone. Instead, we got two green ones, that flew out of the dirt. Can you explain that?”

The Guardian frowned at Spike. “You expected a weapon for her, but not for yourself?”

“Yeah, that's about the size of it.”

“Are you not allies and partners?” The Guardian seemed confused. “Are you not each other's best weapons of war? Should you not be equally equipped to protect each other?”

“Not complaining, pet. So long as I don't stake myself with it, it'll suit me fine. Just wondering 'bout the changes.”

The Guardian ran her hand along the handle of Buffy's scythe. “Red is raw, fiery. Untamed, unfocused. It stands alone in a barren world. Green is life, connectedness, stability. A tree of two trunks, twisted together for greater strength.” She looked at their faces. “You didn't notice? Look again.”

“Trees and paint colors aside, are they they same as the one from our time?” Buffy asked. “Conduits to PTB power and slayer demon essence?”

“Just the same. Power from both your plane and mine.”

“Well, that answers that question. I had been wondering if you were just another kind of PTB agent.”

The Guardian smiled, letting loose a low, raspy chuckle that surprised her solemn audience. “Not exactly, my fallen slayer. The Guardianship of the Lineage operates... separately, in many ways.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Like a PTB branch office?”

“I suppose that's an accurate description.” She turned to Tara. “You don't know why you're here.”

“I came with my friends. ...Is that ok?”

“Today, your path is with theirs, a path of partnership, of friendship. When you transition to your next path, you will find this time not wasted, but an honor you have bestowed upon each other.”

Tara nodded slowly. “I think I understand. Thank you.”

The Guardian turned back to Buffy and Spike. “You both fear you will never know rest, never know peace. You will. You will also know war and worry. That is the path you were born to. No respite in life is eternal, particularly for warriors.”

Buffy bit her lip. “Um, speaking of eternal... There's a theory that the PTB might want some extra time out of me. I was wondering...”

“You will have the opportunity to choose, if he offers you his time.”

“When,” Spike quietly interjected. “Not if.”

“I'm asking about other methods.”

The Guardian rose to her feet. “You will not see me again. My duty is to the slayers, and those who watch them. You are not of the lineage, are above my duty. I came only to see the weapons found. I wish you well, travelers.” She gave them a slight bow as they rose to their feet. Each returned the bow and offered thanks before exiting the tiny structure.

Tara looked behind them and watched the building disappear. “Wow. Sometimes, it's worth putting up with the arguing. I had no idea this night would turn out this way.”

“Only sometimes?” Spike threw an arm around her shoulders as they walked away. “Come on, Glinda! You know we'll always keep things interesting.”

“Or at least yell out tons of future blackmail material for you,” Buffy said with a shrug. “We're potentially lucrative. Well, Spike is. I'm broke.”

Tara laughed. “You're entertaining, at least. I think I can live with that.”

*~*~*

Xander pulled into the driveway just as Buffy was coming outside to check the mail. She met him on the porch. “Hey, Xan. What's up?”

“I stopped on my way home from work to see your mom, but the Jeep is gone.”

“She's at the grocery store. Her second solo trip out of the house since her surgery, and it's food shopping the week before Christmas.” Buffy shuddered. “She should have let me go with her.”

“She'll be fine. If some old biddy tries to grab the last turkey, she'll just whack her with it.”

Buffy laughed as they went inside. The sound of an argument drew Xander to the dining room.

“I'm telling you, the Canadians took that hill. I was there -a few hours before the Americans even showed up, for the record. They were late for the party.”

“Only you would think of a battlefield as a party.”

“Not the point.”

“No, the point is that if I don't answer based on the book, I'll get the question wrong!”

“The bleedin' book is wrong! By the time you lot got there, it was nearly over. But then, that goes for the whole damned conflict, doesn't it? Doubt your book points that out.”

Xander looked at Buffy, who had followed him. She was calmly ignoring the pair at the table as she sorted through the mail. He waved to get their attention. “Hi. What's the hubbub?”

“World War I,” Dawn answered. “The old fart thinks he knows better than the people who wrote the textbook.”

“I do. Didn't see any of them out there, getting their hands dirty.”

“Because they aren't older than the dirt!”

Buffy tossed a bright red envelope onto the table. “Christmas card from Dad.”

“What's the postmark?”

“Madrid again.” Another envelope hit the table. “William.”

Dawn picked it up. “Spike, since when do you get mail here? Or anywhere?”

Spike snatched the envelope and handed it back to Buffy. “Put that one with the bills, love.”

“My mother is not going to open your mail.” Dawn rolled her eyes. “Hello, federal offense?”

“First, I'm not an American citizen. Second, I think there's an exception for the deceased, Bit.”

“Female handwriting.” Dawn glanced at Buffy. “Young female handwriting. You see that, too, right?”

“I see it.” Buffy shook her head in mock sadness. “And I always figured him for a hard-core monogamist. I should have known.” She fought back a laugh.

“Wait.” Xander looked around the table. “So there's another woman, she knows where you live, and Buffy's not mad?” His eyes narrowed. “So there isn't actually anything serious between you two?”

Spike gestured for Buffy to hand back the envelope. “Bird's name is Jenna. Works for my banker.”

“Ah. Hence having the address.” Dawn nodded, understanding . “Somebody has a crush?”

“Somebody is in charge of handling my money.” Spike tore open the envelope and pulled out a cashier's check, which he handed to Buffy. “Bottom of the pile, love.”

She frowned at the amount. “You know she won't accept this.”

“She will when she sees what's above.” Spike shrugged. “Managed to talk her into accepting the rent money, didn't I?”

“That wasn't rent, Spike. That was the mortgage for the entire first quarter.”

Dawn frowned. “You know how much the mortgage is?”

“Well, yeah! I've paid--” Buffy caught herself. “--attention to stuff. You know, so I can help Mom.”

Dawn started to close her history book, but Spike's hand blocked her. “Aw, come on. We're just hanging out and talking. And Mom will be home soon.”

Spike waved Buffy and Xander away. “Out. The Bit's got an exam tomorrow.”

“No gory stories!” Buffy said over her shoulder as she led Xander out of the dining room.

“It was a bloody war, Slayer. They weren't firing rose petals.”

Xander watched Buffy arrange the bills on the desk, carefully sliding the check below the envelopes from the hospital. “So where did Spike get a bunch of dough all of a sudden?”

“He had it squirreled away.” She turned a couple of envelopes to make the bill pile look more natural. “This one is going to start a fight. Once, she'll accept it. Twice in a single month?” She shook her head. “Mom's always complaining about me and Spike arguing, but the fact is, everyone argues with Spike. Including her. And this one is going to be a doozy.”

“My money's on your mom. She's pretty tough, even if she did just have brain surgery.”

Buffy fell into a chair. “You have no idea how stubborn Spike really is, Xan. Mom will yell and threaten and maybe even throw something at him, but he's not the type to give in. He's tenacious.”

“Well, that explains why you fight with him so much. You know, aside from the whole 'he's an evil vampire' thing, which I hope accounts for a lot of it. You're stubborn, too.” Xander took the chair across from hers. “That's why I'm trying not to get in your way with this thing too much. I know I'd lose.”

“You would,” she said quietly.

“I'd also have to fight with Anya about it. She seems to like the idea of you two being together. She said -and I quote- 'Spike has been a good influence on Buffy. She's much less annoying now.'”

Buffy laughed. “I notice she didn't say anything about him being less annoying.”

“I don't think she thought he was to start with, which puts her in the minority.”

“More like unique. 'Minority' implies at least one person in the world agrees with her.” Her smile faded. “Tell me seriously, Xan: what are your thoughts, besides 'don't fight it, you'll lose'?”

Xander looked at his hands. “I don't understand it at all, Buff. It was like someone flipped a switch one day, and poof! You and Spike aren't enemies anymore. Then he moves into your house, and the next thing I know, you two are acting like a long-term couple. It's all kind of left my head spinning. I do have one question, and you don't have to answer it if you don't want to.” He looked up at her. “Was Spike living downtown before he moved in here?”

Buffy bit her lip. Her words came slowly. “Yes. But I never cheated on Riley. I went to Spike's place to talk, and to sleep. I... I find his presence ...comforting.”

“That's not a word I ever would have associated with William the Bloody.”

“I used to think the same thing, before I really got to know him. He's not all fangs and British curse words, you know.”

Xander frowned. “I really don't.”

“Maybe you should try to find out?”

*~*~*

Spike intercepted Xander on his way out. “Harris, I was wondering if I might ask a favor.”





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