She tossed and turned, never quite waking, never quite swimming up to the surface. Sometimes, there was warmth at her back, sometimes beneath her cheek. Sometimes there were arms around her, or she felt hers around someone else. A heart beneath hers, and then she felt someone else’s cheek against hers. None of it was enough to wake her. The sun did that.
She’d had a restless night, and blinked blearily around the little room. Sunlight. Spike. Spike? Oh, shit! Vampire! Sunlight! Where was she? It wasn’t her room at home….She blinked again, her brain slowly waking up. Spike, a beam of light suffusing his body. Sunnydale collapsing into the ground, the yellow school bus, the scythe…
Spike was completely unconscious, sprawled out on the bed like a beached starfish. No wonder she’d had a restless light----he was spread out like a smug tomcat. Must get bigger bed, she thought. She glanced doubtfully around the little room, which had been acceptable as a single-person room. Her bed was a full-size. A king-size bed would leave a little teeny space around the edge of the bed, and provide all-too-visible evidence of her priorities.
With a sigh, she sat up and stretched. She glanced around for her robe, but it didn’t look like it was where she’d dropped it. Stifling mutters about men who picked up---somebody had done it, and she doubted it was the Easter Bunny---she got up and assessed the damage. What had he done, gotten up in the middle of the night to abscond with her bathrobe?
The bathroom hamper was full, and the toilet seat was up. Her bathrobe was in the very bottom of the hamper. She shook it out, shaking her head disapprovingly at the toilet seat. Vampires, humans, centuries of tragedy, star-crossed lovers, Heaven, Hell---and he still leaves the toilet seat up. It had to be part of the male DNA. Never had to worry about the toilet seat when he was a vampire, she thought. It was so odd being able to be annoyed about something that wasn’t life-threatening that she stopped brushing her teeth and thought about it. Good? Bad?
Life, she thought. Wow. Life had been a hobby, and Slaying her job. Now it was the other way around.
She tiptoed past the bed on her way to the living room, but she could have stomped past, blowing on a trombone and it didn’t look like he’d wake up. The sunlight gilded his cheekbones and mussed hair and made him into Adonis. Not fair, she thought. In the morning, she looked and felt like Raccoon Woman, the somewhat-less-than super superhero. He had longer eyelashes and a smaller behind than she did. Damn the man.
She sank down on the couch with a small smile on her face. Man. Like her, he was mortal. And somehow, it seemed like that had removed whatever barrier there had been between them. With it went the feeling that they had no time. It just made no sense at all.
Nothing made sense. There was just no explanation for what was going on, and she wasn’t sure she wanted one. Wasn’t it possible to just relax for a while?
Of course, the answer to that was a brisk No.
My long distance bills are going to be murder, she thought, but her fingers were already dialing. For a moment, she paused. It doesn’t have to be about advice, she thought. This is just a friendly call about fake IDs and new identities. Yeah, that’s it. On the other end, someone picked up the phone on the second ring. “Well, hello, Buffy.”
“Caller ID is a scourge,” she grumbled. “I never get to pretend to be the pizza person anymore.”
“Were you really going to try that?”
“I’m not saying anything,” she muttered. “Your batteries on that thing might run out.”
“Ah. It’s nice that you have time for hobbies.”
She could practically hear him rolling his eyes. It was comfortingly familiar---a little too familiar, actually. The last time he’d gotten precisely that dry tone in his voice it had been provoked by a miniskirt that was both short and colorful. She reminisced fondly. Ah, the good old days, when breaking a rule meant facing fashion ostracism. Those were the days. She missed his disapproval, she realized suddenly. It gave her a boundary of sorts, marking the far edge of possibility. When she tried to set her own, it felt like she had to build them with sand, where Giles’ seemed made out of granite.
To set those limits, Giles drew on an impressive selection of gestures, phrases, and the dreaded dry tone of voice. He had such an extensive repertoire of dry tones that they almost seemed to require some sort of Olympic commentary. “Jim, would you look at that? An eyeroll with amazing rotation and a clean shoulder shrug. He’s going to knock the German team right out of the top spot. I’d give it a perfect six oh.”
With some difficulty, she dragged her attention away from the imaginary Giles in her head, who was glaring down a panel of Olympic judges. Unaware that Buffy’s brain had put a number around his neck as he stood before the judging panel---Buffy noted that the East German judge was wearing the most God-awful Pucci-inspired muumuu---- he had continued to talk, and she scrambled for indications as to what about. “I’d call more often, Buffy, really I would, but I’m so busy here that---“
“Want some help?” The fact that her offer came with the non-negotiable presence of Spike---and removed him from the police sights----was just a bonus. Helpfully, the vision of Giles competing in the sarcasm event at the Olympics faded away.
“Oh, I’d love a visit, Buffy, really I would, but the fact is that I don’t even have anyone here to whom I could delegate anything.” He paused, and she heard a cautious intake of breath. “I’ve no doubt you’ve been too busy to consider your next move, but…”
“Actually, I have been considering it,” Buffy said. “My next move. What you said. About the whole Watching thing.”
“Ah.” He sighed and she heard noises. There was the crackle of paper, the snap of something, and she realized he’d been switching the phone from one ear to the other so he could write something. Giles, multi-tasking again. “And?”
“Well, I didn’t reject it,” she said cautiously. “It’s just that….Giles, I don’t know if I could do the job the way you do it.”
She counted the seconds to gauge exactly what his silence meant. Two seconds he was just waiting to say something sarcastic. Three meant he was torn between sarcasm and seriousness. Four meant he was going to say something both serious and sarcastic. Five meant he’d taken what she’d said and run with it, and enthusiastic hypotheses awaited her—doubtful in this case. If he got as far as ten seconds, she knew he’d either thought of a reason the whole idea was screwed up but salvageable or else was completely untenable and didn’t know how to break it to her. Fifteen seconds meant dire news.
At two and a half seconds, he took a deep breath and sniffed. “Does this mean you’re actually considering the idea and want to try it or have reconsidered entirely, and want to back out gracefully?”
“It means I don’t know if I could be as good a Watcher as you are, and I don’t want to be like those awful football players who go on to coach and never win a game and get fired and then sell cars and become bitter and drink beer all the time.”
The silence that time stretched to seventeen seconds, and she held her breath the whole time.
“I’d recommend whiskey, actually,” Giles said finally.
“I said I’d recommend whiskey, not beer. At least not American beer.”
“In your rather impressive assessment of the condition of American athletics, you specified beer.”
“So I did. And?”
“Well, Buffy, it’s just that you’re free to forge your own model now. No other Slayer has ever been in a position to retire. If you choose to perform your obligations wearing a spangled pink tutu, there’s no one who can gainsay you because you’re the first. Of course, generations of Slayers-turned-Watchers will curse you for instituting a reign of pink-tutu-wearing----“
“I’m honestly at a loss as to whether this means you’re thinking about it and tending to regard it seriously, or whether you’re just looking for an escape.”
“A little of both.”
“How dangerous is Slaying now? With all of us? Can we back each other up effectively, or is still liable to result in tactful death certificates and unpublicized funerals and---?”
Giles took a deep breath suddenly, and she realized what he had to be thinking of. She’d never asked about her own funeral or how the details had been handled.
“How did you know about that?” He asked quietly.
“I didn’t.” It was impossible not to shrug as she said it. Death, even her own, was part of the job. “Lucky guess. Dawn couldn’t have handled it, and Dad wasn’t around, was he?”
“Ah.” That level of bluntness required spectacle-rubbing, she was sure. “Well, no, not immediately, he wasn’t.”
“It’s okay, Giles. But that was then. This is now. Is that what I’d face, being a Slayer-turned-Watcher?”
She heard a soft intake of breath. “It’s never going to be---“
She waited. “Safe?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s never going to be safe. But it’s not as dangerous.”
“Ambivalence,” Buffy said dryly. “It’s a many-splendored thing.”
“What is it that you want me to say?”
She sat in the comfy little living room and looked around. Yes, it was comfy, but that was principally because it was kind of boring. Nothing threateningly original stuck out and made you wonder about the person that rented the apartment. No, there was nothing unique about it. No weapons chest from Xander sat in the corner, and the furniture was new and unscarred by demon attacks or vampire boyfriends. No demon mask that raised the dead----or just looked like they could. No stakes lurked under the couch, discarded during make out sessions with the vampire boyfriend. It could have been anyone’s apartment, and she could have been anyone’s girlfriend. “I want you to say that….I won’t lose anyone else.”
Giles stayed silent a full twenty seconds, or about two dollars’ worth, Buffy calculated. “I can’t guarantee that,” he said finally. “I can’t guarantee anything.”
Well, isn’t that a wonderful change of pace, Buffy thought glumly. She tried to think of something else, and it just wasn’t coming. “What can you guarantee? Anything?” That came out more bitter than she expected.
“I can only guarantee you the best training that I can provide, and my eternal support. We could find you a flat in London, make sure all your paperwork’s in order, and from there on, you will have to forge your own way. It’s up to you to decide how to eventually relate to the Slayers who you would guide. But if it’s any consolation, you will have a unique understanding of what they’re going through, and they’ll be able to count on you far more than you could count on me.”
Her throat tightened. “You know that’s not true. I counted on you.”
“I should have quit with the Council a great deal sooner than I did. I’ll always regret that.” The question is, Buffy thought, why are you regretting this now? Will that be me, with every mistake I make? Is it all about regrets?
“Hah!” She exclaimed. This conveniently enabled her to avoid a sniffle. “But then there was all that back pay.”
“Minus taxes,” he countered grimly.
“You mean, you haven’t, uh--given yourself a bonus since then?”
“That would be unscrupulous.”
“Never mind,” Buffy said. “Don’t incriminate yourself or anything.”
The silence this time was comfortable. “You do have to take credit for this, Buffy,” he said quietly. “Slayers can now consider retiring and becoming Watchers. They could pass on their training to their daughters.”
“Oh, boy.” This brought up an entirely unforeseen vision of herself at sixteen or so, arguing with her mother about how her mother’s teenage pastimes held no allure for Buffy. Dawn had been cloned or created from Buffy’s own blood, and her interest in Slaying was minimal.
Blood, she thought. Blood, why is that important? Slaying, splinters--the last blood she’d spilled had been her own. She snapped back to the conversation with a tiny head shake at her own distraction. “Uh, Giles, not to change the subject….”
“Which of course means you’re going to do precisely that.”
“Yes, I am. The police came back.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The police came back. The Sunnydale police. They think that Spike killed some of the Potentials.”
“That’s extraordinarily stupid, Buffy. Of course he didn’t.”
“Well, you know that, and I know that, but getting them to know that is going to take a two by four and some extra brain cells.” She picked at the sofa cushions. “Did you send the ID stuff for Spike?”
This time it was Giles’ turn to fidget. She could practically hear him twitch, and it was bittersweet. Funny how that had slipped her mind. She’d forgotten that already, what with the weeks of separation. He fidgeted when he felt bad. This was entirely different from the way he fidgeted when he was impatient, irritated, or just plain exasperated. “Well, no, actually, Buffy, I hadn’t. I asked him about his real name, and he wasn’t….cooperative.” Many interesting synonyms were enclosed in that curiously-stressed word. “As it happens, it’s probably to his advantage not to provide me with his real name.”
“Well, you can’t look up his old yearbook pictures,” Buffy said thoughtfully.
“Buffy,” Giles said acidly. “They didn’t have yearbooks back then.” She knew perfectly well that whatever they were called, Giles had intended to find Spike’s and no doubt whip out the pictures at the most embarrassing moment possible. “But after thinking it over, it really does make it easier. I can find any name, provide it to Spike, and once he’s back in England, simply give him another and guarantee that he vanish from the record entirely.”
“Er…how long will that take?”
“Hm,” Giles said. “A day to find a name---the Council was good about aliases---and perhaps three days after that to express it to you. Can you hold the police off till then?”
“Can they arrest him, do you think?” She did not mention that she’d hoped he’d already been looking for a name. She felt rather jealous of this Council business that had usurped her from her position in his priorities.
“I shouldn’t think so,” Giles said. He sounded startled at the thought. “Spike didn’t do anything, so there’s no evidence that he did do anything---“
“Except saving the world,” Buffy said quietly.
“Well, that’s not something the Sunnydale Police department would know anything about, would they?” He cleared his throat and managed to sound irritated while doing it. Only Giles, Buffy reflected, could manage to pack even the most ordinary of gestures with annoyed significance. It must be something they taught in Watcher School, she thought. Instantly her mind conjured up something like Hogwarts, and she recoiled at the notion of long horizontally-striped scarves. They make your hips look so big.
“No, their expertise lies in arresting the nearest person,” Buffy said dryly.
“Well, if they’re pursuing him like this, one has to wonder why they’re so persistent.”
Buffy hesitated. “They always used to give up when somebody stood up to them,” she said. And I was always the one they were after, she thought. You were always the one that stood up. “I did tell the one guy to go away, thought,” she said. “It was very Watcher-like.”
“Well, I always used to get into trouble, and you always used to push the police around.”
“Really, Buffy, that’s at least the second time you’ve indicated that my methods were less than professional.”
“Oh, you were professional,” Buffy said. “I’m just not sure which profession, though.”
Giles’ voice was so dry it was positively arid. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I’m just keeping in practice. What if there’s nobody there to snark at him the way I used to?
“Hold them off a bit longer, and we’ll be fine.”
“One big happy family.”
“Well, I shudder to think what that makes me.”
“What did you say that one time? Something about an uncle?”
“Ah, yes, a rakish uncle. I think I might have mentioned debonair.”
Buffy smiled to herself. “Rakish uncle, it is. Just, uh---could you fax that stuff, do you think?”
“Oh, good Lord,” Giles said. “And I’m looking right at the bloody thing, too. A day then, Buffy. Just hold them off for a day or so.”
“I’ll try,” Buffy said doubtfully. “Not like I might have much choice.”
“You don’t,” Giles said.
“That was reassuring.”
“I try to be. Must go now, Buffy.”
“Bye,” she said quietly.
Why did that sound so pessimistic? She thought. She stared at the phone for a moment, wondering if perhaps they should check into a hotel room to get away from the police. Then there was the novel concept of getting a lawyer. It might be worth it just to see the look on Angel’s face when she asked him for professional assistance.
“Giles again, huh?” Dawn said behind her, and Buffy jumped slightly.
“That’s me, the psychic sister.” Dawn set her cereal bowl down on the coffee table and blew on her cup of tea. “So what’s going on?”
“We need to get Spike a name and a lawyer, although I’m not sure in which order.”
“Can I be around when you ask Angel for the lawyer?”
“I’m not sure I, ah, want to ask Angel to use one of his---er-----“ Minions was the word that kept coming to mind. “---lawyers,” she finished. “I don’t know if I want to do that.”
Dawn stirred her cereal vigorously and maneuvered the maximum number of raisins into one spoonful. “Why? Because they’re evil lawyers?”
“Isn’t that kind of redundant?”
“Maybe. Angel sure hasn’t offered the family-and-friends tour though, has he?”
Damn, Buffy thought. Leave it to Dawn to make her think about something she’d been happily avoiding. “I just don’t want to be one of those exes who keeps asking for favors, though.”
“Who cares? As long as they’re not sexual favors because then---ew.”
Buffy made a face. It seemed depressingly elderly to realize that the thought of sex with Angel now made her think of leftovers long past their prime. “I sort of thought you and Angel were---weren’t----“
“Well, weren’t you and Angel sort of getting along?”
“What?” Dawn was shoveling cereal into her mouth like a Teamster who’d been on a hunger strike. “I don’t hate him, if that’s what you mean. But I don’t trust him, either. And if I don’t trust him, I can’t exactly like him, can I?”
Buffy looked down at the sofa cushion. “Do you trust me?”
“Really? You do?”
“Of course, doofus. You’re my sister. If you screw up, I can just yell at you. If I yelled at Angel, he’d either disappear or turn evil.”
Well, that was an interesting take on redemption, Buffy thought. “What about Spike?”
“I don’t know,” Dawn shrugged. “I don’t know whether it’s good or bad that I might be able to beat him up now. Because then anybody could.”
“I wouldn’t let him hear you say that.”
“Which part? The part about I-don’t-know or the part about me-being-able-to-maybe-beat-him-up? Or maybe-anybody-being-able-to?”
“All of the above.”
“Oh. Well, how about this? He’d like this.” Buffy braced herself. “ I’m going to blackmail Angel.”
Buffy grimaced at her. “Did you not get spanked enough when you were a little glowy pre-adolescent Key?”
“Probably. Plus I’m bored. Besides, it’s a guaranteed job. Why bother looking for work when I can just----“
“-----live off the proceeds of your career as an extortionist?”
“I just want a job.” Dawn poked dubiously at the now-empty bottom of her cereal bowl. She lifted the bowl to her lips as if it were a tea cup and slurped the remaining milk down. “But who wants to look for one?”
“God, Dawn, were you born in a barn?”
“I don’t know, really. I mean, do we really know where I was born?”
“Good point. However, still not getting the whole blackmail/extortion thing.”
“I was just thinking, you know----I need a job. And Angel just won’t say anything about, you know, his big promotion. Or demotion,” she added thoughtfully. “Whatever it was. But he sure has enough time to play poker when he should be working.”
“Maybe he’s keeping, uh---vampire’s hours,” Buffy said.
“Maybe. But he just won’t talk about it.”
“Maybe,” Buffy said tactfully. “Maybe it’s none of our business.”
“What about Cordelia then? Isn’t she a friend?”
“She was,” Buffy said. Well, okay, in a ‘you’re-in-another-city’ so I’ll let go of all the stuff you did to me in high school kind-of-way, at least till the re-union. She deflated slightly as the thought suddenly occurred to her: What if there’s no re-union for Cordelia?
“Well, why wouldn’t it be our business? Fighting evil and stuff. Besides, I want to see the look on his face if I show him a Polaroid of Spike without a shirt or something.”
Buffy just stared at her, shaking her head. “You what? Of what? Of who?”
Dawn stirred her tea. “I figure he’ll either want to see more, because then he can brood more, or else he’ll offer anything to make it stop. So, either way----employment.”
“I always knew little sisters were demons,” Buffy remarked. “Now it’s been proven.”
“Come on, you mean you haven’t wondered?”
“What Angel’s reaction to Spike would be?” Buffy asked, then answered her own question. “He kind of sort of knows. But it’s not an issue I really want to press, you know? Sleeping dogs. Exes. Same diff.”
“Yeah, says the girl who had to get a doctor’s note so she couldn’t dissect a frog.”
“Hey, at least I didn’t flunk it like somebody I know.”
“Hey, Apocalypse, remember?”
“That was your excuse for everything in high school!” Dawn exclaimed. “So not fair.”
“Hey, Slayer, world-saving, sorry about that.”
“So what are you going to use for an excuse now?” Dawn asked curiously.
“Oh, boy,” Buffy gulped. “I have to think up all new-excuses.” She thought about it for a minute, and the reality of it hit her completely. I don’t have any excuses anymore. There was no justification for not being normal, not now, not any longer. Oh, boy.
Watching, she thought. “Dawn,” she said cautiously. “What do you think about England?”
Dawn sipped her tea and then stuck out her tongue and flapped her hands at the heat. “Ow. Why? Merry Olde? Cool accents. Bad teeth. Austin Powers. Er—Princess Diana. Um…King Arthur. Is there going to a be a quiz or something?”
“No, I’m just thinking of home-schooling you.”
“I wish. I could study in my pajamas and read books about demons all day. Are the demons and stuff in England really cool and old, or are they just the kind we’ve got here?”
“I,uh, don’t really know.” Buffy took a deep breath. I’m not that lucky. “What would you think about going to England and doing just that? You know, studying with Giles, stuff like that?”
“With Giles? Is he running a school now or ----Oh, wait. You want me to b a Watcher? Or something? What? This is confusing.”
“Giles suggested that I could be a Watcher. You could ask him about you being a Watcher, too. I, uh, never really thought about it.”
“You could have asked, you know,” Dawn said coolly.
“I could have asked if you wanted to be a rodeo clown, too, but----“
“Okay, okay---Wait, you just don’t want me to be an extortionist. Hah!”
“I’m more altruistic. I just don’t want Angel to be the first vampire in history to have an aneurysm.”
Dawn looked around, thinking about it. England----very interesting. Well, okay, anything would be more interesting than LA, which she hadn’t liked the first time around. Being the sister of the girl who tried to down Hemery High had not been good.
Goofing off, she thought. Maybe boys with English accents. Castles? Touristy stuff. “Er---is this like a big significant moment right now, where I have to decide?”
“No,” Buffy said.
Dawn raised her eyebrows and gestured for Buffy to spit it out. These gestures involved creative pantomiming.
Buffy took a deep breath. “Tomorrow is.”
Continued in Chapter 14