Chapter 34: Solid Bonds

April, 2001

Dawn came into the kitchen to grab two cans of Coke out of the fridge. “What are you making?”

Tara looked up from her work. “Lemon bars. My mother's recipe. She always made them for me when I needed cheering up. I thought you and Buffy could use them.”

“We definitely need something. Going through Mom's stuff... Well, it's kind of a sucky way to spend a Saturday.”

“I know, Dawnie. I've been there.” She dropped an eggshell into the garbage can. “That's getting a little full. Do you mind taking it out before you head back upstairs?”

“Sure, it'll give me an excuse to stay down here for a couple extra minutes.” Dawn put the cans on the counter, tied the bag closed, and took it outside. When she came back in, she had a strange look on her face. “Tara?” she asked, as she replaced the trash bag. “Did you know there's a pillow in the outside trash can? It looks like it's been ripped open... possibly by fangs.”

“Oh, no! Already?” Tara shook her head, remembering herself. “Um, Dawnie, why don't you wash your hands and take your Coke up to your room? And send Buffy down here for me, please?”

Dawn's confused expression turned suspicious. “What's going on?”

“Um, I think I'll let Buffy explain it to you, but I need to see her first, ok?”

As soon as Dawn had gone upstairs, Tara went down to the basement. “Spike! Wake up! Now!” she ordered. “Or I'll stake you myself.”

Spike rolled over and opened his eyes. “Glinda? You've been around the general too long.”

“No, but apparently you have.” Tara crossed her arms over her chest. “Get dressed and get upstairs.”

“Something wrong? Nibblet ok?”

“We just need to have a little talk. And I do mean now.”

She left as quickly as she'd come, finding Buffy in the kitchen. “Sit,” she ordered, pointing to a stool.

“What's up? Dawnie came down here for some sodas and came back all wigged out and saying you needed to talk to me.” Buffy climbed onto a stool.

Tara held up one finger. “Wait. I want to yell at you both at once.” When Spike joined them in the kitchen, she pointed to the other stool. “Sit.”

Spike and Buffy exchanged looks. He sat. “What the h--”

“I just had Dawnie take out the kitchen trash. Guess what she found?”

Looks were exchanged again by the pair on the stools.

Buffy bit her lip. “I guess we need to talk to her, huh?”

“As soon as I'm done with you, you'd better.” Tara looked from one to the other. “You lied to me.”

“Told you it was wearing off, Glinda.”

“Well, I can see that. Your bond has been getting gradually brighter for weeks now. But you failed to mention you were starting to lose control again. How long?”

Buffy looked uncomfortable. “Um, about a week, now.”

“And let me guess: You don't want to give in, but you don't want a renewal, either?”

“Not too fond of the suppressant...”

“You're not supposed to be, Spike. That's kind of the point.”

“I was kind of hoping round one would last us until this Glory mess is over.”

Tara rolled her eyes at Buffy. “You already knew it hadn't. If I'm going to do another round, I need to do it tonight, so you two will be awake by the time Dawnie and I leave for school Monday morning. Or do you think you can last until next weekend?”

Buffy and Spike traded looks again. He turned to Tara. “You have enough stuff for another go?”

“I do. I replenished my supplies when your bond started lighting up sooner than expected.”

“We'll do it tonight, then.”

Buffy frowned at him. “Are we even going to talk about this?”

“Already know your answer, love. The dust bunny clause is still in effect, yeah?”

She nodded reluctantly. “But can we make it a little weaker this time, Tara?” She reached for Spike's hand. “I don't think I can take any more 'numb and fuzzy.'”

“Of course. But you'll talk to me if it starts wearing off before you're ready next time?”

They nodded.

“I guess that's all I can ask for.” Tara returned her attention back to her mixing bowl. “Go on upstairs. I think another ceiling chat is in order.”

*~*~*

Tara answered the front door to find a pudgy, middle-aged woman standing on the porch with a briefcase in one hand, and a file folder in the other. “Hi?”

The woman smiled. “You must be Mrs. Pratt.” She tucked the file under her arm and offered her hand. “I'm Mrs. Kroger, from Social Services.”

Tara shook the woman's hand. “It's, um, nice to meet you, but I'm not Buffy.” She broke the handshake and gestured for the woman to come inside. “I'm Tara Maclay. I'm a friend of the family. Will you join me in the kitchen? I'm in the middle of some baking.”

Mrs. Kroger followed her into the kitchen. “Do you live here, Miss Maclay?”

“For now. It's a short term arrangement, but it might become longer term.” She sniffed at the contents of her mixing bowl. “Mmm. I love that bright, lemony smell. This will cheer them up.” She looked up at Mrs. Kroger. “Buffy and Dawn have been working on going through their mother's room all morning. I've done that job, myself. It's not easy.”

“Is that where they are? I'd like to meet the family.”

“All three of them are in Dawnie's room right now, having a ceiling chat.”

“A what?”

“Um, that's kind of what they call their family meetings. They lie across Dawnie's bed and stare at the ceiling while they talk.” Tara shrugged. “That's just the routine that's developed. Buffy and Sp- William have their back porch dates for serious stuff. Serious talks that include Dawnie are ceiling chats.”

Mrs. Kroger made a notation in her file folder. “Hmm...”

“Um... Can I ask what you're writing? I didn't say something bad, did I? Does their attorney need to be present for this visit? Should I call him?”

“Their attorney knows a surprise visit is part of the process. The Pratts and the home life they offer Dawn must be reviewed before custody is assigned, even if Mr. Summers does not contest it.”

“Ok. I'll... I'll just get them for you. Why don't you come into the living room and have a seat?” Tara led the visitor to the living room, then went upstairs. She knocked on Dawn's bedroom door. “Guys? We've got company.”

“Thought I heard another heartbeat,” Spike said from inside the room. “Be down in a few, Glinda.”

“Now would be better, William.”

On the bed, Spike said to the ceiling, “When has she ever...?”

“Only if it's an outsider,” Buffy answered from Dawn's other side.

Dawn turned to look at each of them. “We'll be right there, Tara,” she called.

“I'll be in the kitchen if you need me,” came the response from the other side of the door.

Dawn sat up. “It's ok, I think I've got the basics. You two are freaky. You know that, right?”

“You're telling me,” Buffy said, joining her. “An itty-bit of slayer demon is not supposed to cause this much trouble.”

“Slayers have been causing a hell of a lot more trouble than this for thousands of generations, love.”

“You'd know,” Dawn said, opening the door. “You've been around that long.”

Spike made a playful lunge at her. She ran out of his reach, laughing as she led them downstairs. Her pace slowed as she entered the living room, and saw the stranger studying the pictures on the mantle. “Um, hi. Who are you?”

The woman turned around. “You must be Dawn Summers.” She looked up at Spike and Buffy entering the room as Dawn hesitantly shook her offered hand. “Mr. and Mrs. Pratt?”

Buffy and Spike exchanged glances, relaying their surprise at the familiar face. “That's us,” she said.

“I'm Doris Kroger, with Social Services. I'm doing a pre-hearing welfare check for Dawn's case.”

Spike gestured to a chair. “Have a seat. Get you anything? Tea? Coffee?”

“I'm fine, thank you. Your, um housemate, Miss Maclay, tells me you were having a family meeting. What was that about?”

Buffy sat on the sofa with Dawn. “Oh, um, we mostly were talking about Mom. Dawnie and I have been going through her clothes, trying to decide what to keep, and what to give to charity. Aunt Darlene might want a few things...”

“Yes, of course. It's been nearly a month now, hasn't it?”

“Three weeks,” Dawn said, as Spike took the seat on her other side. “Why?”

Mrs. Kroger pulled a page from her folder. “Your grades for the last month.”

Buffy frowned. “Report cards aren't due, are they?”

“No,” Spike said, reaching for the offered page. “I think Doris here has the inside scoop.” He read over the information. “Very inside. Bit, you hadn't said how that Count of Monte Cristo paper went over.”

Dawn shrugged. “I'm supposed to get it back on Monday.”

“It's already been graded. Look at your Literature grade.” Spike showed her the number.

She fell back on the sofa cushions with a smug smile. “I'm officially awesome.”

“Except in World Geography. We need to have that talk about South America, again?”

Buffy snickered. “You're in for it now, Dawnie.” To Mrs. Kroger, she explained. “William has traveled the world. Extensively. He's been trying to help, but someone isn't listening.”

“Is it my fault the stories are more interesting than the locations?” Dawn asked.

Spike threw her a glare and handed the paper back to the social worker. “We'll talk about it later.”

Mrs. Kroger returned to her notes. “I have here that you're employed by the Council of Watchers, based in London, Mrs. Pratt. Is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“What sort of work is that?”

“It's a... private security firm. I work locally, though.”

“And you, Mr. Pratt? There isn't an employer listed.”

“Isn't one to list,” Spike answered. “Made my money in real estate. Income's from leasing out what I already own.”

“So you're essentially retired? So young? That's impressive.”

Dawn swallowed hard, trying to force herself not to laugh.

“Got more than enough, and more coming in. No worries 'bout putting Dawn through university.”

Mrs. Kroger referenced her notes again. “I see that. You've just paid off the mortgage on this house... all at once.” She looked up at Dawn's squeak of surprise. “I'm sorry. I thought Dawn would know.”

Buffy shook her head. “It wasn't meant to be a secret. We just hadn't really advertised the fact that there's that much money readily available.”

“Well, I knew you guys were trying to help Mom with the money stuff, but I didn't know... All at once? Really?” Dawn looked at Spike. “You live like you've got twenty bucks in the bank.”

“Which is why I could afford to help Mum,” Spike said. “Gave her as much as we could con her into taking, for the mortgage and hospital bills.”

The three on the sofa watched as Mrs. Kroger made some notations in her folder. “And what are the childcare arrangements? Who is Dawn's primary caretaker?” She looked at Buffy.

Buffy pointed to Spike. “William, mostly. I work partial nights, and some days. I have a really irregular schedule. I'm home a lot, but at... inconsistent hours. Tara is here to help cover any gaps that come up. Another friend of ours has a stable day job, and usually takes Dawn to school on his way to work, to make mornings easier on us. If an emergency comes up, we have a few different friends' homes that are open to Dawn at a moment's notice.”

“I see.” Another notation. “And you two are newlyweds?”

“We are.”

“Do you not find caring for a young teen intrusive at this stage of your relationship?”

Spike and Buffy both frowned at her, without even a glance at each other. “I never even thought of that,” Buffy said. “Should we?”

“Family supposed to be a problem, Doris?” Spike asked.

Another notation was made, and the folder was closed. “I believe that's all the questions I have for you today.” Mrs. Kroger stood to leave.

Buffy and Spike stood with her. “What--” Buffy gulped. “What is your recommendation going to be?”

“As far as I can see, Dawn is in a stable home, where her basic and financial needs are being met, and will continue to be. Her education is being prioritized. Her emotional well-being, even in what is a trying time for the entire family, is being seen to, to the extent that I heard her leave your um, 'ceiling chat' laughing. Barring a request for custody from Mr. Summers, I see no reason the court will have to stand in your way.”

Dawn stood up. She grabbed Buffy and Spike's hands excitedly. “Really? They get to keep me?”

“Dawnie, it's not official...”

“Just a recommendation, Bit. We'll celebrate when its real.”

Mrs. Kroger shook each of their hands in turn. “It was a pleasure meeting you. Mr. and Mrs. Pratt, I'll see you at the hearing. Dawn, work on your geography.”

Buffy saw Mrs. Kroger out, trying very hard not to express any strong emotions. When she came back to the living room, a huge smile broke across her face. She shook her head at Spike. “I should have married you three years ago.”

“Yeah, that would have gone well.” Spike's scoff was mitigated by his relieved smile. “So? Worth it?”

“So far, so good.”

“This is totally an omen, guys,” Dawn said. “Do the demon marriage thing. The human one is working out great!”

Spike locked his eyes on Buffy's. “Wish it were that simple, Bit. I really do.”

*~*~*

Tara kicked her feet up on the sofa, enjoying the silence of the house. Dawn had gone to bed, and the suppressant spell had knocked out Buffy and Spike soon after. She answered the phone on the first ring.

“Hello?”

“Good morning, baby.”

Tara smiled against the phone. “Hey, sweetie. But it's not morning here.”

“I know, I know,” Willow said. “But I'm looking at a bright, shiny morning through my window right now, and those are kind of rare around here. No wonder Watchers are so grumpy. They come from a country with too many clouds.”

Tara giggled. “We can't all be from California. What's your day going to look like?”

“Bryn and I are taking a trip to London to play tourist. Well, I'll be playing tourist. She knows the city pretty well. I haven't gotten nearly enough photos for my album yet, what with all the time I spend studying, taking classes, meeting with tutors, and meditating. I don't have a ton of free time. You know, I think 'sanctuary' is a misnomer. They should call this place 'witchy boot camp.'”

“But you're still getting something out of it, right? You don't regret going back?”

“Of course I don't. I'm starting to feel like I could be the super white witch of Sunnydale, and save the world with the flick of my hand. You know, if saving the world doesn't make the elements go all wonky and start a thunderstorm... So, do you remember that beach day we had right before school started?”

“That storm wasn't all Dracula's fault, was it?”

“Nu-uh. For now, you're still the super white witch of Sunnydale. But I'm working on stealing your title. You don't mind, do you?”

Tara giggled again. “Of course not, silly. You've always had more power than me. I'm just glad you're learning how to use it. We'll both be super white witches one day, if you keep up with your studies after this semester.”

“You know I will.” Willow was silent for a moment. “About that... I'm thinking of spending more time here. You know, after my course ends next month.”

“Oh.”

“Don't wig on me, baby. I'm definitely coming home for the summer. But I feel like... like I need more. I might come back next summer. And maybe over some vacations during the school year, besides. You and I could both come out here for winter break. And next June, we could spend a little time with a tutor, and spend the rest of the summer soaking in some cloudy UK scenery together.” Willow bit her lip at Tara's silence. “I was hoping for a little excitement.”

“Willow, sweetie, a week or so might be fun, but the whole month of winter break? An entire summer? You know why that's not possible. One of us has to be here to support the slayer.”

“Buffy can call us if there's an emergency. Trust me, Tara. Hellmouth summers are not that bad. Christmastime is usually kind of quiet, too. She'd be fine. ...Or do you not want to go?”

“I-- I don't think I'd want to be away from them for weeks or months on end, to be honest.”

“Them? You mean the Scoobies?”

“I mean Buffy, Spike, and Dawn.” Tara looked around the living room. “I know I've only been living here a few months, but I think... I think this is where I belong right now. The only thing I need now is to have you home with us.”

There was another tense silence over the phone line. “Wow,” Willow finally whispered. “I thought things were a little different when I came home for Joyce's funeral, but it was such a weird time, you know? I didn't realize... You're suddenly more of a Scooby than I am.”

“I wouldn't say that. But I've never had this strong a sense of... of family, I guess?” Tara stood up and wandered to the mantle to study the double row of picture frames. “I like it. With Joyce gone, the four of us have really banded together, even more than before.” She ran a finger along the edge of a photo of a younger Joyce holding a baby Buffy in her arms. “'My heartless, ungrateful children,'” she murmured.

“What?”

Tara turned away from the mantle. “Just a joke Joyce made right before... She counted us all as her own. It was nice to have a mother again, even if it was only sort of, and only for a little while. And after, it's-- it's been nice to still have that feeling of family. I'm happy here, Willow.”

“I thought you were only living there to help protect Dawn, and be magic support while I'm away.”

“I am. I mean, that was the idea. And I don't know how things will change when this Glory thing is over. But I think I want to stay here. And I think I'll be wanted.”

“Oh.” Willow's voice wavered slightly. “We're not getting a dorm room together in the fall, are we?”

“I don't think anyone would object to you moving in with us. I haven't talked to Buffy and Spike about it, but I'm pretty sure they'd be on board with the idea.”

“That's a little weird, Tara. You know that, right? Buffy's been my best friend for, like, four years. And you would be the one asking to move your girlfriend in.” The waver became more noticeable. “I suddenly feel like I've been gone for years, not months. Am I the outsider, now?”

“No, sweetie! Of course not. You're still an original Scooby, still a pillar of the group. It's just that...”

“I'm a friend. And you're family.”

Tara bit her lip, trying to think of some way out of the mess she'd talked herself into. “That's not what I meant.”

“Yeah, I think it is.” Willow sniffled.

“Sweetie, please don't be upset. It's not a bad thing that I've gotten close to them with you away. Would you rather I be lonely?”

*~*~*

Dawn woke to the sound of a slamming door. She climbed out of bed and followed the sound down the hall, letting herself into Tara's room. She found the witch on the bed, crying. “Hey. What's wrong?”

“I had a phone date.” Tara sniffled. “And I think I said too much.”

Dawn grabbed the tissue box from the vanity table and joined her friend on the bed. “Like time travel too much? Or magically drugged up super people in the basement too much?”

She took a tissue from the offered box. “Like I like living with you guys too much.”

“Well, that just makes you crazy. There's nothing wrong with that. You fit in with the crowd.”

Tara laughed through her sobs. “It's almost like-- like Willow wants me to be all alone, just waiting on her to come home. ...And I think she wants sort of the same thing for Buffy.”

“Don't be stupid, Tara. She just doesn't get the whole time traveler thing, doesn't know that you guys are all like, secret undercover agents, working together to change history.” She handed Tara another tissue. “Buffy and Spike talked to me about the bond between them like it's something they just kind of have, like it happened to them when they weren't looking. I think... I think other stuff works like that, too. You three didn't become best buds on purpose. It just sort of happened while you were working together.Willow should get that. I mean, that's kind of how the original Scoobies came into existence. She'll be ok with it, eventually.”

“And what about you?”

Dawn raised her eyebrows. “Seriously? Do you have any idea how nuts things would be around here, if it was just me and the high-strung super freaks in the house? I'd have to run away from the excess of demony weirdness and bizarre arguments about penmanship. You're the sane sister I've always needed to balance out Buffy.”

Tara laughed again. “I thought you said I was crazy, too?”

“Comparatively?” Dawn faked a shudder. “You're the normal one.”

Tara pulled Dawn into a hug, still giggling between sniffles. “Thank you.”

*~*~*

In the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, Spike awoke to find Buffy sitting on the bed, staring at him. “Don't tell me,” he mumbled, closing his eyes again. “Just friends?”

“I think... I think I'm still in love with you.”

“You don't sound too sure.”

“How are you?”

“A hell of a lot more sure.” Spike sighed. “Doubt we'll get much time out of this round, love. Seems like our in-house witch eased up more than a little on the potency.”

Buffy slid down to curl up against him. “It'll last long enough. I don't want a round three.” Her hands began to wander. “In the meantime, I wouldn't mind if you made me as sure as you are.”

*~*~*

“Mr. Giles,” Lydia said haughtily. “I believe I've made my stance perfectly clear on this matter. You are Buffy's watcher. The transfer of guardianship must come from you.”

Giles stood from his desk chair. “No, Miss Chalmers. You are in the employ of the Council, and Buffy is officially designated to your charge. The ritual would have no effect, coming from me.”

“You know what?” Buffy put her hand to the office doorknob. “Forget I mentioned it. Let's just skip it.”

“No,” Giles insisted. “If you feel the need to consult your spirit guide, you will do it. Miss Chalmers will be glad to assist.”

“I would, if it were my place to do so, Mr. Giles. Despite my standing on paper, I am merely a consultant to Buffy. Her guardianship is yours to relinquish.”

Buffy looked back and forth between. “You two work it out, then. I'm staying out of this.” She left the purple-walled office, closing the door behind her.

Anya finished speaking to a customer by the candle shelves and joined Buffy at the counter. “What's with the watcher cat fight? It sounds like they're pulling out the full snobbery in there.”

“They are.” Buffy rubbed her forehead with her fingertips. “I've apparently triggered a custody battle over who gets stuck with me.”

Anya pulled her purse out from under the counter. She smiled hopefully. “Would retail therapy help?”

“Either that, or a good, stiff drink.”

“Why not both?” Anya looked at the clock on the wall. “The store closes in two hours. The sun is about to set, so Spike will be on duty. Let's go.” She tapped on the office door as she opened it. “Lydia, can you close up for me tonight?”

“Um, yes, of course.” Lydia frowned at the purse over Anya's shoulder. “Where are you going?”

“The mall and Willy's.”

“Not necessarily in that order,” Buffy said from behind her as she reached for the phone. “Let me make my check-in call, and we'll get out of here.” She dialed home, and waited for the call to be picked up.

“Hey, Dawnie. How is everything? ...Good. Can you get Spike for me? ...Thanks. ...Hey. If things are cool at home, Anya and I are going to have a little girl time tonight. It's been a while, and I think I need it right now. ...It's nothing, just the watchers playing out some twisted British version of my parents' divorce. It's making me want to run away from home.” She laughed at his response. “I will, I promise.” She ended the call and turned to Anya. “Slayer officially off duty for the evening. I can run away, so long as I actually come back.”

“Is he worried about you or the debit card?” Anya asked as they headed for the door.

“If he's smart, both.”

*~*~*

On Tuesday evening, Buffy and Tara came home to a quiet house. “Spike?” Buffy called. “Dawnie?”

There was no answer.

They carried their grocery bags to the kitchen, where they heard Spike's distinctive chuckle coming from the back yard. They followed the sound outside, and stopped at the porch railing to in time to see Dawn's attempt to kick Spike end in her foot being shoved back hard enough to cause her to lose her balance.

She landed on her back on the grass. “Ow!”

“Don't bring your foot up until you're close enough to make contact,” Buffy advised from the porch.

Spike offered his hand to pull Dawn to her feet. “Get close, and be quick, or it'll never land.” He backed away from her and gestured for her to attack. “Again.”

Tara stole a glance at Buffy, who was watching the training session closely. “She's not a Potential Slayer, is she?” she asked quietly.

“Nope,” Buffy whispered back. “That was verified in our time. But she might be a future watcher.”

“So she'll need the practice, anyway.”

“Watcher or not, she wants to be a Scooby. The training will be good for her.” Buffy kept her eyes on the pair in the yard. “I waited too long to start training her the first time. She resented it, I think, especially after I started spending all my time on the Potentials and neglecting the training I'd finally started with her.” She raised her voice to call out, “Aim for his nose, Dawnie!”

“Bugger off, Slayer! Bit, you land the next punch, or I'll kill your sister.”

“No, you won't.”

He brought forth his fangs and gestured for her to attack. “Pretend you believe it.”

Dawn screwed up her face in concentration before throwing her fist at him. He easily avoided the attack, smoothly stepping aside before she made contact with his shoulder.

She was visibly frustrated. “I'm not getting anywhere with you. Maybe I should spar with Eddie.”

“No, you'll spar with me and Buffy. You get to be the best by fighting the best.”

“I could work my up,” she offered hopefully.

“And get complacent in the meantime.” Spike called out to the porch, “Slayer, how many nights were you on patrol before you found something stronger than a minion fledge?”

“Three.” Buffy came down the porch steps as Tara went inside to put away the groceries. “And all I had for training was Merrick's workouts,” she continued, coming to stand beside Spike. “I didn't have any challenges for practice. Just the real deal. Life or death.”

“And superpowers to go with it,” Dawn added. “That definitely makes a difference.”

“Superpowers aren't everything, Dawnie. Practical knowledge and experience are most of it, actually. Superpowers didn't teach me to know when to duck, how to bring a really big demon off his feet, how to outsmart an enemy, or how to pick my battles. Sometimes, the best time to fight is tomorrow.”

“Unless you get bored,” Spike added.

She rolled her eyes. “And that's something else superpowers didn't teach me: how to deal with Spike.”

“Which is why Mum had to bail you out the first time we fought,” he mumbled, sending Dawn into giggles.

“I'm never living that down, am I?”

Spike shook his head, grinning widely.

Buffy shrugged. “At least I wasn't cocky enough to be twirling a staff around, giving away my best secret in a fist fight.”

“Seems I had reason to be cocky. Nearly had you, anyway.”

Dawn frowned. “What secret?”

“This idiot,” Buffy jerked her thumb at Spike, “was twirling a staff in his left hand, right in front of me. Not being dominant on the same side as 85% of the population is a huge asset, because it gives him a natural element of surprise... Or it would, if his ego wasn't the size of Kansas.”

“Says the slayer who was cocky enough to throw down her weapon, and nearly died for that mistake.”

“Ok,” Dawn looked back and forth between them. “So keep an eye out for lefties and don't throw down my weapon. Got it. What else?”

Buffy's leg shot out and hooked Spike's ankle with a jerk, sending him stumbling, barely keeping to his feet. “The element of surprise is kind of important.”

He regained his footing with a growl, and whirled around, slamming his fist into her stomach with enough force to knock her back a step. “That, and not standing still.” He bounced on his toes, waiting on Buffy's retaliation, but when she returned to his side, she didn't attack. “Love?”

She shook her head. “I figure you owe me that, since I've got some bad news for you.”

Dawn took a step away, putting some distance between herself and two of them. “Uh-oh. This is the part where the real fight starts, isn't it?”

“Giles is going to be the one to take me. ...And he wants to go tomorrow night.”

“Damn! He couldn't have picked any other night of the week?”

Buffy offered him a big, fake grin. “I love you?”

“Small comfort,” he grumbled around a reflexive smile.

She lightly punched his shoulder. “Jackass.”

Spike threw an arm around her shoulders and leaned over to kiss her temple. “Only teasing, love. You know I don't mind that much. You'll bring us back some answers?”

“If I can.”

“Good enough, then.”

Dawn frowned at them. “So you're not going to fight?”





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