Chapter Notes:

Of cake, cookies, and the sweet taste of a small victory


Chapter 22: Power Shifts

January, 2001

Dawn marched out of the kitchen and into the living room. She thrust a piece of paper at Buffy. “Forge Mom's signature and deposit this, or I will.”

Buffy frowned at the cashier's check. “It's cold.”

“Because he put it in the freezer!”

“I guess that's fair. The last place she put it was in our mini-fridge downstairs.”

“And before that was the coffee canister.”

“And his sock drawer.”

“Her bathroom mirror.”

“The scythe case.”

“And before that was a solid week of coat pocket trades and the whole pillowcase fiasco.” Dawn threw her hands up in frustration. “Neither one of them will give in, so we're going to have to do something about it, before they drive us crazy.”

Buffy sighed and glanced up at the clock on the mantle. “I think I can make it to the bank before it closes.”

*~*~*

Spike rolled away from her with a frustrated growl. “I guess not, then. Your mind is elsewhere, love.”

“The telepathy again?”

“No need for it. Know that look a li'l too well. You're not with me right now.”

“I'm sorry.” Buffy sat up against her pillows and pulled up the quilt. “I'm just thinking about Willow.”

“Great timing for that. Changing teams on me?” He settled against the headboard beside her.

“Not like that... I'm thinking about her screwing up that spell.”

“Bloody hell. Which one?”

“The one that got us Olaf's hammer. We have no way of recreating the accident she and Anya had that brought him here. If we can't get him here, we can't get his weapon.”

“Can do without the hammer, Slayer.” Spike waved to the case on top of the dresser. “Got the twins with us this time around.”

“Do you think that will be enough?”

“Willing to bet they'll slice Doc up into a few dozen pieces pretty well. And they've got some power behind 'em. Should be good for taking on the bitch herself.”

She snuggled close to him. “You seem awfully sure we're going to make it through this.”

“All I know is, I'm not gonna let you jump.”

“I hear you.”

*~*~*

Buffy woke up from her dream with a start. She reached out for Spike, and shook him awake. “Sparky?” she whispered.

“Yeah?”

“Don't go back to that demon shaman. Please.”

He opened his eyes. “What? Where's this coming from?”

She shifted to her side to face him. “Don't go there for me.”

“And if I wanna go there for me?”

She bit her lip, her mind on the images in her dream. “Just promise it won't be for me. I don't think I can handle... Just don't. Please. Don't even go unless you really feel like you have to.”

He reached out to turn on the bedside lamp. “You gonna tell me what brought this on?”

“Um, I don't know. Maybe the thing with Eddie has got me thinking. No chip, no soul, and he's still a nice guy. Sort of.”

“If you're comparing me to some minion sire fledge, Slayer...” Spike's eyes flashed amber.

“This isn't about your ego.” Buffy fought back the urge to roll her eyes. “Eddie's choosing to behave himself.”

“So far. No doubt he'll bugger it up eventually.”

“Probably. But you chose to turn your life around, too. It was a little less of a free choice for you, though. ...And it wasn't right.”

He frowned, trying to piece together what she was saying. “The chip wasn't your fault, love.”

“The soul is. And some days? I'm not sure I can live with that.”

There was a long silence before Spike turned the lamp off again. He pulled her close. “One day, love,” he whispered. “Maybe we'll both be proud of it.”

*~*~*

Dear Mr. Travers,

I was called to a sacred duty as a teenager, given power beyond that of a normal human girl, upon the death of the last one to be called. I risk my life night after night to help rid the human world of the demons who would cause it harm. I stand guard over the mouth of Hell, and am willing to die to ensure it stays closed. I don't know what dictionary you're using, but I'm pretty sure that makes me the active Slayer.

Whether the Council claims me as its own or not, I am the Slayer. And you can afford to keep me in battle axes and cheeseburgers. Do you think I don't know you just blew millions on a new watcher training academy near the Bath Hellmouth? Or that your archive vault has more gold than paper in it? Come on, let's be honest with each other. It's not about money.

It's about power.

You see my request for a monthly stipend as an opportunity to exert some influence, retake the reins I've been holding more or less since I was called. But they aren't your reins to take. They belong to me. I fight the battles. I lead the soldiers into war. I have the essence of ancient demons, of the Turok Hans, running through my veins. (Yes, I know that, too.)

I have the power. I am the Slayer. You have money and books, mostly sitting around, gathering dust. Just like the watchers who handle them. And no Slayer to help. Don't you get bored? You guys are out of the game unless I let you in. Well, here's your chance.

If my financial needs are met, I'll consider allowing Council help. In the meantime, you can keep your team. I have my own.

Magic: I have a damn good witch on hand, and another one on call, as well as the entirety of the coven with whom the latter is currently cloistered, learning greater control of her already significant power.

Research: I have at my disposal the memories and experiences of a 150 year old vampire and an 1100 year old ex-demon, as well as a fairly vast library (both physical and virtual) of books on demons, prophecies, rituals, and history. I also have a certain ex-watcher on call, and connections to another. What I need to know, I can usually find out.

Muscle: In addition to the witches, the vampire, and the ex-demon, there's a human man who has clocked more field time than any dozen current employees of the Council combined could claim. Plus, there's me. And I'm kind of a bad ass.

Now, if you would like to send a single watcher to join my team, in an advisory capacity, I will accept one, on a probationary basis. I officially request Miss Chalmers, for her background as a researcher. If she is not available, at least send me someone who can handle a sword. I've got a Hellgod in town, gearing up for a fairly epic showdown. What I need most is good soldiers.

It really is this simple: Help me out, or stay out of my way. I don't have time to play political power games with you , Quentin. I've got a world to save.

Buffy Summers

The Slayer

“Uh, Buff,” Xander said, handing back the letter. “I'm pretty sure this is the official request form for another wet works team.”

She folded the letter and slid it into an envelope. “Let them come. I'll kill them, if I have to.”

“Whoa.” He stepped away from the desk.

“I mean it, Xan. There are some lines I have to be willing to cross, when it's necessary. If they stand between me and winning this war, they're the enemy. Species is a non-issue.”

Downstairs, Spike nearly dropped the boot he was putting on, as he felt a sudden wave of barely contained rage wash over him, with images of a wall covered in crosses, and a man slouched against it, bruised and beaten, bleeding from the neck. The point of view shifted, and he saw himself, standing just outside the door, with his back to the room. He shook away the images, put on his boots, and ran upstairs.

“I don't know, Buff. That seems like a pretty harsh way of looking at things.”

“What's harsh is knowing there's a chance some of us will die, not doing everything in my power to mitigate that risk, and having to look the survivors in the eye when its over. Let alone having to face myself. If Travers decides to send his wet works guys, or anyone, he's welcome to do so, provided they are here to help, not hinder. If they're going to get in my way, they'll be given two choices. They can leave under their own power, or leave via mine.”

Xander looked up to see Spike standing in the living room doorway. “You alright, man? You look like you've just seen a ghost.”

“Sort of. You ready to head to Willy's? Clem's joining us again, and there's a kid I want you to meet.”

“Yeah, whenever you are. I'm just hanging out, trying to keep the Buffster from turning into something scary, and apparently failing.”

“Be ready in a tick. Slayer, can I see you in the kitchen?”

Buffy followed him to the kitchen. “What's up? Are you worried about Xan and Eddie hitting it off?”

“You just slammed me with your memory of Wood's garage, complete with your impulse to kill him,” he whispered. “It's getting stronger, Buffy. We either put a stop to it, or we take control of it. Can't put it off much longer. I need a decision.”

“I'm working on it, ok?”

“Well, work faster. Anytime now, your mum's gonna start noticing the bitten through pillows in the rubbish bin, or catch you bringing home the replacements. Getting to the point I'm wondering if I need to move to the bunker.”

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Alright, alright.” She opened her eyes. “You'll have a decision by sun up.”

*~*~*

“Ok, guys, this is where I go my way.” Clem threw an arm around Spike's shoulders, pulling him into a half hug. “It's been fun.”

Spike pulled away, chuckling. “Sure you're alright to get home from here, mate?”

“Yeah, yeah. I'm fine. It's only another block, and the worst thing in this neighborhood is my cousin Tinker's wife. She's like a cross between a pitbull and Mack truck... with a lit stick of TNT in her hand. You think your woman is scary. She's just a slayer. You should hear some Rowena stories.”

Xander couldn't control his laughter. He struggled to breathe. “We're-- we're on for next week?”

“Sure! You guys want me to bring Tinker? He didn't get the brains in the family, but you'll like him.”

“Bring him!” Xander caught his breath. “Let's have some Rowena stories. I think I'll like not being the only guy with a crazy woman at home.”

Spike raised an eyebrow. “Harris, have you met Buffy Summers?”

Clem waved his goodbyes and turned down a side street while all three were still laughing.

Xander and Spike turned the other way, toward Xander's apartment. “Speaking of crazy Buffy, can I ask you something?”

There was a moment of hesitation. “What's on your mind?”

“Whatever it is that changed about her this past fall, that made her start getting all cozy with you and all quiet with everyone else... there was something else. The vocabulary changed. She started using words like 'war' and 'soldiers.' Do you know what's up with that? It's oddly... formal for Buffy.”

“It's appropriate, though.”

“Yeah, I'll give you that.”

“You ever think that what changed about her might have just been a little growing up? Slayer sees the job for what it is: a series of battlefields. It's not the romantic hero bollocks she tried to pretend it was when she was younger.”

“I guess that makes sense.” Xander fell silent, busy watching his slightly unsteady feet.

“What'd you think of Eddie?” Spike asked, as they neared Xander's apartment building.

“Eddie... Eddie's a new experience. I've never met a vamp who made me want to pat him on the head like a little puppy. Does he even know how to kill people?”

“The kid was turned three years ago, so I figure he's got some bodies behind him. Not all that many, considering he's already put on a bit of weight since he started getting his from the butcher.”

“He's put on weight? He's still so skinny... I'm not surprised Buffy didn't stake him. I think I might hesitate, too. He's just so.... so...”

“Pathetic?”

“Yeah.” Xander frowned. “I kinda wonder how she even managed to fight him.”

“Wasn't much of a fight. I was watching, you know. The kid tried to act tough, but he's kinda terrible at it. Buffy was blocking him with her eyes closed, and did more pushing away than actual beating on him. And he was still so scared, he couldn't keep his fangs out.”

“Aw, poor kid.” The frown returned. “See? This is why I shouldn't hang out with you. I'm supposed to want the 'poor kid' in a dust pan. You're seriously messing with my world view, Spike.”

They came to a stop at the entrance to Xander's building. “That mean you're out for next week?”

“Oh, hell no. First, guys to hang out with are scarce in Scoobyland. I'll take what I can get. Second, Clem's made one too many references to Tinker and Rowena. I'm dying for some stories from the horse's mouth. If Tinker's coming, the only way I'll miss it is if the world's ending.”

Spike chuckled and nodded toward the building. “Think you can manage the stairs?”

“Um... I think I can manage the elevator?”

“Give Anyanka my best.”

“Tell the Buffster I'll see her tomorrow.”

*~*~*

Joyce looked up at the sound of the back door closing. “Buffy? Is that you?”

“Just me, Mum.” Spike came into the living room. “What are you doing up? Everything alright?”

“I'm worried about Buffy. She said she was going for a walk, by which I assumed she meant a patrol, and that was four hours ago. It's coming up on two o'clock. You haven't seen her, have you?”

He shook his head.

“And you don't seem worried.”

“Slayer's just got something on her mind, needs to work it out. She'll be home in the morning. Go on to bed. I'll wait up for her.”

“You're sure she's alright? We don't need to go looking for her?”

He shook his head again.

“Is this a time travel thing?” Joyce whispered.

“Not exactly.” Spike waved toward the stairs. “Off with you now. Don't worry about Buffy. She's survived the likes of me. She'll be fine.”

*~*~*

Buffy came down the basement stairs slowly. She stopped on the bottom step and sat down. “Plan B is a go,” she said. “With one adjustment.”

Spike put his book aside and looked over at her, overwhelmed with competing feelings of relief and deja vu. “What's that?”

“Later,” she whispered, her gaze on her shoes. “Is that ok with you?”

He went over to the stairs and crouched in front of her. “Later is fine.” He took her chin in his hand. “Look at me.” She slowly brought herself to make eye contact. “Later is fine,” he repeated.

“Are you sure?” Buffy's eyes shone with unshed tears. “I know this isn't the answer you wanted.”

“I'll tell you what I know, Slayer. I know I got all the time in the world for you to catch up. And if you let me, I'll give you just as much time for anything else you want.”

A slow smile broke over her face. She threw her hands in the air. “Now I get the official asking stuff! It figures.” She leaned back on the stairs, her weight on her elbows. “Is that how it works, now? You get sweet when I give you crumbs instead of cake?”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Maybe I've gotten used to living on nothing but crumbs.”

“Hey! You got cake! You got lots and lots of cake.” She gestured into the basement. “This bedroom looks like a big ol' hunk of cake to me. Not to mention the part where I freakin' married you, with the goofy carrying across the threshold, and everything. That's some serious cake.”

“You're never letting that go, are you?”

“It's goofy. It's archaic. And you wore a ridiculous shit-eating grin the whole trip down the stairs.”

“Might've been better if we'd taken advantage of the time after, instead of arguing about dancing.”

“Alright, fine. You want to take advantage of the next 'time after'?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Demolition. The night after you get the whole damn cake, you and I are going to the safe house basement, and we are not taking the stairs. Argument pre-show totally encouraged.”

He grinned. “It's date. ...For when?”

“After I make damned sure you aren't going to be a widower or a dust bunny.”

*~*~*

Eddie jerked awake at the sound of the hatch opening. A woman came down the ladder. He jumped to his feet. “Uh.. hello?”

She turned around when she reached the floor. She gave him a kind, slightly crooked smile. “You must be Eddie. She started toward him, her hand extended. “I'm Tara.”

He cautiously shook her hand. “You're one of the humans this place was made for? Like Xander?”

“Yep.” She looked around. “This is the first time I've been down here since Spike finished it, though. When he showed it to me, it was still half empty.”

“If you call this finished. I think I'm going to add some stuff. He said I have to keep it clean and ready for use as a bunker. He didn't say I can't fix it up a little.”

Her smile widened at this sudden burst of confidence from the young vampire. “Like what?”

“Well, I want to get all the beds off the floor. Just simple little frames, you know? Nothing fancy. And I want to get a second table for the kitchen area. One for cooking and counter space, and one for eating and stuff. And if I can make a couple of holes in the walls over there, I can run pipe, and put a sink in the kitchen, so I don't have to take a dishpan to the bathroom to fill it up anymore.”

“Eddie, do you even have the skills to do all of this? You're very young.”

“No... But Spike did the plumbing in the bathroom, and Xander has woodworking tools. I think, if I keep going to Willy's with them, after a few weeks, they'll let me talk them into helping.”

“It's ambitious,” Tara said, looking around the room again. “I really wish you luck, but there's something else you need to consider.”

“What? You think Buffy wouldn't like it? She likes this place. Maybe she doesn't want it changed.”

“Buffy likes this place for how it was, Eddie. Before it was a bunker. She likes it for its memories. That's not what I'm worried about.” Tara pointed to the bed. “Do you know what's in those drawers?”

Spike said it was weapons, but not to get into them unless I had to.” Eddie's sly expression gave away his youth. “He's protective of their bed... you know?”

“Yes, I know.” She fought back a chuckle at his wiggling eyebrows. “But you need to understand why we have weapons here. If we have to come here, use this place as the emergency bunker it was intended to be, our enemies might come here, too, looking for us. There could be... destruction. It may not be liveable afterward. That's why Spike didn't bother fixing it up too much.”

Eddie's smile fell. He looked around the room with suddenly sad eyes. “But... But this is my home now. Where would I go?”

Tara gave into the urge to put an arm around the fledgling's thin shoulders. “We would find you another place.” She guided him to a chair and took the one beside him. “We aren't going to put you out on the street, Eddie. So long as you keep your word, we will take care of you. Do you understand that?”

“We? You, too? But you're a human.”

“So is Xander. And he had drinks with you, didn't he?”

“Xander thinks I'm a dumb little kid. It's like he doesn't even know I'm a vampire.”

“He knows, dear. He just... doesn't think you're scary.”

“I'm probably not. Buffy doesn't think so... And speak of the slayer.” He nodded toward the ladder.

“I see you guys have met.” Buffy skipped the last rungs to jump to the floor. “Eddie, do you have any news for me?”

“Right now?” he whispered, with a glance at Tara.

“Tara is the only exception to the rule. She knows pretty much everything. But she's the only exception until we tell you otherwise, ok?”

“Ok. So I met a R'Onchai demon. She's really nice... and kinda hot, but she's too old for me. She knows some people, and she introduced me around. No one has seen any knights, but they'll tell me as soon as they do. We have a meeting place set. Not here.”

Buffy smiled. “You're really doing great, Eddie. Have you been hunting?”

His eyes lit up. “Yeah, but not in a bad way.” He scrambled to his bed and picked up an object beside it. It was a hand-held electronic game. “Some moron left it on a park bench. I just had to buy batteries.”

Buffy fought back a laugh. “You really are just a kid, aren't you?” She pulled an envelope out of her pocket. “There's a little more this week, but you understand what you're supposed to do with it?”

“Leave some at the cemetery caretaker's door,” he recited. “With a note thanking him for the electricity and telling him I'll keep helping with the bill if he doesn't look into it. ...Are you sure that will be ok? Wouldn't it be better not to say anything at all?”

“It's better not to steal from him. Don't worry. The man is from Sunnydale. He'll figure it out, and he'll let it pass.” She handed him the envelope of cash. “We're keeping you from your sleep. Tara, are you ready to go?”

Tara was beside the bed, pulling items out of her bag to put in one of the drawers. “I just need to add a few things to the stash. My order came into the Magic Box today -the supplies I've been waiting on, for your... situation. I bought a few little extras while I was at the shop.”

“Your situation? She's the witch?” Eddie asked.

“That's our witch. We have another, but she's out of town right now.”

He frowned. “What I heard when I was tied up... You only need a witch's help if... Oh. I was sure you would... Never mind. I guess it's none of my business.”

“I'd be inclined to agree, except that we pretty much forced you into making your business.”

“That's ok, Buffy. But wouldn't you be happier if you were claimed? It sounds amazing.”

“It might be totally amazing, Eddie. And I hope I find out sometime later. But I might have to die to finish a big job I have coming up, and I don't want to take Spike with me. Do you understand?”

“I get it. You're a slayer. It's dangerous... Not from me, apparently, but from other demons. So it won't be as dangerous after this big job?”

*~*~*

They were passing through the front gate of Restfield cemetery when Tara finally said what was on her mind. “He's right, Buffy. The job isn't going to get any safer after Glory. Is she just an excuse?”

“I just have to get past the jump, Tara. Everything, present and future, hinges on the jump.”

“So you're sure about having me do this?”

Buffy nodded. “I'm sure. Monday?”

“Alright. I'll come over after my morning class. You do realize what day that is, right?”

“Please, don't say it out loud. Something terrible will happen.”

“Buffy, you're cutting off your connection to Spike. Something kind of terrible is going to happen.”

*~*~*

Joyce pulled the Jeep into the driveway just as a conservatively dressed woman in her thirties was coming up the walk. The stranger paused on the front porch to wait for her. “Hello,” she said in a clipped English accent when Joyce joined her on the porch. “You must be Mrs. Summers. My name is Lydia Chalmers. I'm Buffy's new watcher. Is she home?”

“I don't know, but you're welcome to wait for her if she isn't.” Joyce opened the front door.

They were greeted by a scream, coming from the kitchen. “Buffy! Save me!”

The two women exchanged looks and followed the sound.

“Absolutely not. You deserve it. But I think water-boarding goes against the Geneva Convention.”

“Good thing for the crown it doesn't have to answer for me. 'Sides, drowning's easier.”

“No! Don't to it!”

“Speaking as someone who's drowned, it's better if you partially drain her first, just enough to knock her out.”

“Buffy!” Dawn cried. “Not helping!”

“Nah. She probably tastes like monk magic and Cheetos.”

The two women at the kitchen doorway saw Buffy standing on a counter stool, retrieving a rubber spatula that had somehow gotten caught on the overhead light fixture. Spike, wearing the signs of having had flour thrown at him, was carrying a flailing Dawn over his shoulder while he ran the faucet at full blast, filling the sink. Joyce cleared her throat, drawing their attention.

“Oh, crap,” Buffy whispered, scrambling to the flour-covered floor.

Spike turned off the water and gently put Dawn back on her feet. “Nibblet,” he said quietly, his eyes on the new arrivals. “Best get the broom.” He brushed at his t-shirt, creating a little cloud of flour around them both.

Dawn glanced at her mother's angry face. “Yeah, cause I think we're going to need it for you.

Buffy threw the spatula at her sister, then offered her hand to their guest. “You must be Lydia. It's nice to meet you. I'm Buffy. This is my sister, Dawn. And this is--”

“William the Bloody, the Slayer of Slayers,” Lydia finished, staring at the vampire.

Spike tilted his head slightly and gave her a soft smile. “Hello, pet.”

Buffy threw him a glare. “Save the charm, Spike. I think that boat has just left the dock.”

He kept his focus on the watcher. “I don't think it has.”

Lydia blushed under his gaze. “Um, well, this is very interesting.”

“That's not the word I was thinking of using,” Joyce grumbled. “Dawn, clean up this mess on the counter. It's obvious there's no saving... whatever that was going to be.”

“Buffy didn't want a cake, so we were making cookies.”

“Sure, that's cookie dough. I'll try to believe you. Buffy, get the broom. Spike, put the kettle on. Let's just pretend we're normal enough to receive guests. Please?” Joyce led Lydia to the living room, and offered her a chair. “I'm so sorry. I think they have a button in their brains that turns them into children the second anyone comes to visit.” She sat on the sofa. “But I suppose I should be grateful they were just having fun. More often than not, it's Buffy and Spike's fights our guests have to endure.”

Lydia looked uncomfortable. “Mrs. Summers, is the vampire a resident of this house?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, my... Mr. Travers warned me Buffy is an unusual slayer, with an unusual arrangement with some of the locals, but I assumed he meant human locals.”

Joyce frowned. “I'm not sure I understand what you mean by an arrangement.”

“She's talking about the Scoobies,” Buffy said, coming into the living room. “I think I'll sweep the kitchen when the cranky old English guy quits walking around, fussing over making tea, and the giggling little hellspawn stops brushing flour from the counter to the floor.” She took the chair across from Lydia's. “Most slayers don't have a team, Mom. They work alone, and they die alone.”

“That sounds terrible! I'm glad you haven't had to live that way.”

“Me, too. I'd be long dead without the Scoobies' help.”

“Slayer,” came Spike's voice from the kitchen. “You wanna do introductions tonight?”

Buffy shrugged. “Lydia? Would you like to meet the team?”

“I suppose I should.”

Buffy called back to the kitchen. “Make the call.”

*~*~*

Dawn closed the front door and carried the food into the dining room. She handed the bags to Tara and Joyce, who began setting out their Italian feast on the table. “Spike, that delivery driver apparently works for both Uncle Linguini's and Little Bangkok. He said to tell you your Thai girlfriend sends her love.”

“So much for the hardcore monogamist.” Xander laughed. “But seriously, I like Mae. She's sweet.”

Anya frowned. “Don't you start flirting with waitresses too, Xander Harris. Buffy might not mind her boyfriend making eyes at every third woman he meets, but some girls do.”

There was a tense silence as every eye shifted to Lydia, who looked shocked. She looked at Buffy. “That is why he lives here?”

“Not exactly,” Dawn said, drawing the watcher's attention away from her sister. “The main reason he moved in in the first place was to help protect me. I'm the Key Glory is looking for.”

“That's the mission right now, Miss Chalmers,” Tara said softly. “Protecting Dawnie. That's why I'm setting myself up to be a decoy Key.”

“You're what?” Xander asked. “Does Wils know about this?”

She shook her head. “She'd never have gone to Devon if she knew. I'm going to wear a glamour that only the mentally unsound can see, that makes me look like Dawn does to them.”

“It's going to take a lot of power to pull off, so Glinda's gonna use the twins to get some extra mojo.”

“The twins?” Anya asked.

“That's what they call those matching scythe things,” Dawn explained.

“I've agreed to let Tara move in with us for the duration,” Joyce added. “It's important that she appears to be under Buffy's protection.”

“I'm going to make sure I'm seen escorting her around town by Glory's minions,” Buffy said. “And not seen with Dawn much at all outside of the house. Spike will be Dawn's escort whenever it's dark, and her protection at home when I'm asleep or out someplace. We're also moving into a split patrol schedule, so one of us will hit the cemeteries while the other stays home.”

Anya glanced at Xander, who still looked worried. “I guess that puts us on daylight Dawn duty.”

Buffy gave her a smile. “Thanks. I was going to ask, as soon as we told you the decoy plan. Xan? Are you on board, here?”

“I don't know, Buff. Wils made us both promise to take care of Tara for her while she was gone. I'm pretty sure offering her girlfriend up to a Hellgod isn't what she had in mind.”

Tara reached out to him. “Xander, this was my idea, and my choice. We'll tell Willow when it's over.”

“And what will we be telling Willow if you end up dead or on the short bus to crazy town?”

Tara tried not to flinch at the memories. “That I was willing to take the risk. That I wanted to help.”

He sighed, easing into the idea. “I guess it's a safe bet no one told the G-man, either?”

“Oh, hell no,” Buffy said. “Giles would have a major wiggins. Don't you dare tell him about this unless we reach a point where we have to, Xan. He'd get himself and Willow teleported back faster than you can say 'shoot the messenger,' and they'd let us all have it, at Wils' full witchy capacity.” She looked around the table. “We're all in this, guys. And we're all going to take some risks. Tara is just choosing to take one of the big ones.”

“Playing decoy or putting up with the bickering mortal enemies on a full time basis?” Dawn asked.

“Both,” Joyce said with a chuckle. “Tara, I hope you're as patient as you seem to be.”

Tara shrugged. “I can handle these two. My summer job in high school was at a daycare.”

“Hey!” Buffy and Spike said together.

As the laughter died away, Lydia asked quietly. “What can I do to help?”

Buffy looked extremely pleased at this offer. “Thank you. Welcome to the Scoobies, Lydia.” She raised her water glass to the watcher.

Spike followed suit. “Congratulations, pet. You've just been adopted.”

Tara lifted her own water glass with a quick smile at Buffy and Spike. “You asked the magic question.”

The rest of the group raised their glasses. “To the new watcher in town,” Xander said. “May she be as good for us as the last one.”

“And far less prone to concussions,” Anya added.

They all drank to the the blushing woman. Buffy put down her glass. “So how good are you in a fight?”

“I'm actually quite proficient at-- Oh! I'd nearly forgotten! Excuse me a moment.” Lydia pushed back her chair and hurried to the living room, where she'd left her briefcase. When she returned a minute later, she handed Buffy a sheet of paper, folded in thirds. “He said you'd understand the message.”

Buffy opened the paper, and a check fell into her lap. She picked it up, and her eyes widened. “Wow. That's more than I expected.” She handed the check to Spike and read the letter.

Miss Summers,

Miss Chalmers is in fact excellent with a sword.

Quentin Travers

Enclosed: Battle axes and cheeseburgers

Buffy gasped. Then she laughed out loud, deeply and heartily. She handed Xander the note. Then she pushed back her chair, stood up, and danced with joy. “Woo hoo! Capitulation! Capitulation!”

“Buffy!” Joyce rebuked. “Sit down!”

She kept on dancing, not caring at all that everyone was staring at her. She made a lap around the table, giving excited shoulder squeezes to everyone she passed. “Nope! I've been waiting years for this moment. I'm going to enjoy it.”

Xander put down the note. “I guess it pays to blackmail the bookish types. That's what that stuff in your letter about the vault and the academy was, wasn't it? Blackmail?”

“A little bit. And I didn't even have to play my trump card!” Buffy took Dawn's hand and pulled her to her feet. “Dance, Dawnie! Dance! The slayer finally has an income!”

Xander joined them on the next lap around the table, doing the cha-cha to Buffy's repeated chants of 'Capitulation'. “I'm doing this for Giles, for the record. He'd be dancing, too, if he were here, after Travers fired him for the crime of giving a damn.”

“Come on, Spike!” Buffy urged. “This is a party moment!”

Spike kept his eyes on the table and put one hand up beside his face, pretending to hide in embarrassment. “I don't know that woman,” he muttered.

“Sure you do. In the biblical--”

“Anya!”





Please login or register to review.