Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
Monday, May 20th, 2002
Buffy's hand came up to cover Spike's lips as the first tentative knock on the bedroom door, scant feet away from where she was pinned against the wall, was followed by Tara's voice.
"Buffy, Spike, are you guys up?"
The slayer bit her own lip until she could regain enough control to speak, as Spike continued to demonstrate that he was very much up, his movements lifting her repeatedly off the leg that had been intermittently touching the ground rather than being hooked over his hip.
"I was just about to start breakfast and I didn't know if you guys wanted any."
"We're, em, just coming..." Buffy called back with difficulty, pressing down even harder over Spike's mouth to prevent him vocalising the snicker she could read in his eyes. "Stick ours in the oven and we'll be down as soon as we grab a shower."
Any attempt at discretion was for nothing, however, as the pair crashed to the floor in a clattering tangle of limbs moments later.
A bleary-eyed slayer looked up from the couch when Tara made her way through the living room. "Are those guys always that noisy, or were they just trying to kill the girl who hasn't slept in forty eight hours?"
Tara smiled, and then went on to check the contents of the fridge and the kitchen cupboards as she answered. "It kinda depends... Normally, there's one sorta noisy one, just after they go to bed and then they try to keep it down a bit. Then, other times, I think they seem to forget they're not alone and it gets to be sort of a competition... He makes her scream so she tries to make him yell even louder..."
"And it doesn't bother you?"
"Not since I invested in some earplugs... and it shouldn't be an issue once they get the conversion done on the basement."
"And what does the kid make of it all?"
"I think compared with how Buffy was... before... Let's just say she likes to see her sister happy."
"That doesn't sound like the poison dwarf I remember, running to Joyce every time Buffy skipped a class."
"Heyyyy! Taller than you, and I was like twelve or something and you and Buffy kept ditching me.
Have a good night's sleep, F? Or did mom come back and haunt you for holding her hostage, seeing as how you were sleeping in the very spot where she died?" Dawn asked as she stalked through the living room on her high horse.
The pyjama-wearing teen grinned as Faith visibly blanched. "Guess nobody told you that last night, huh? Darn shame."
"I think the things that were going bump in the night were a bit more corporeal than your mom, twiglet," Faith drawled to hide her discomfort.
"Going boink, don't you mean?" Dawn pulled a couple of pieces of bright yellow foam from her pocket. "Gee, and I didn't think to offer you any of these, either. Or wait, no, I did remember. I just decided not to. Aren't I the poor hostess? But wait, that would be with guests rather than unwanted escaped murderers."
"Dawnie..." Tara's voice was a gentle reprimand. "Faith came here to help."
"Yeah, great, and she did, so isn't it time now for her to go? Or wait, maybe it would be more fun to wait till the police get bored leaving messages on the answering machine and come round in person? I mean... Buffy would have to tell them that you were holding us hostage because if she said that we had an escaped felon as an invited guest, I'm thinking it wouldn't be good for the custody issue."
"And I'm thinking," Buffy spoke from just behind the younger Summers. She was fully dressed but her wet hair had simply been drawn into a ponytail. "...That since my sister seems to have been replaced by some sort of evil changeling that maybe the custody thing isn't the whole big issue that I might have thought it was. Capisce?" Buffy asked in her best "firm mommy" voice.
"Allll-right," the teen grudgingly conceded.
"So? Are you okay for school today or not?"
"Tomorrow?" Dawn pleaded. "It's not like I really got a chance to do any of those assignments yesterday and last week of term half the teachers won't even be teaching anything anyway."
"You stay home today and you will spend the whole day on those assignments until it's time to go see Mr Hamilton, who I must call later this morning, 'cause Spike will watch you while I'm out... and there won't be any visitors tonight, either, unless they're all finished."
"Deal," Dawn agreed so easily that Buffy suspected that there was unlikely to be more than a couple of hours work needed on the outstanding homework, but then from what Buffy remembered of the last week of term even if she was in school it seemed likely that she would learn more about hangman than anything else. "So where ya goin'?"
"I've got some errands to run, just little bits and pieces... and I said I'd try to go see Will. I shouldn't be long if I borrow Spike's car. Anyone heard from Wes or Giles this morning?"
"Aren't you supposed to have a qualified driver in the car with you?"
"Are you my little sister or my mother? Go make yourself useful and call Xander and tell him he doesn't have to take you to school today. Wes? Giles?"
"Nada," Tara replied. "Should there be?"
"Would have been nice. I'll take a stroll across the street after breakfast, see if there's any news." She shrugged as if it were no big deal, as if treating it lightly would mean that a girl's life didn't depend on what the former watchers and their estranged organisation had achieved and what they could achieve over the next few hours. "Spike and I had another vision last night. Only, this time, if the council can pull it off, there's a chance we might be in time... But then we are talking about the council... And it seems like if this girl was already in training, she'd be kinda distinctive... so it really shouldn't be taking them like six hours to find her... not unless she's like me, where the council didn't catch up until after I was called... but then, it doesn't make sense that The First can find baby slayers that the council can't... or does it?"
"No word, I'm guessin' then." Spike appeared from the basement, barefoot and wearing only jeans and a royal blue shirt that he had yet to get round to buttoning, the sound of the washing machine churning in the background revealing what he had been doing. "...An' your council couldn't find their own arses half the time without a road map."
"Heyyy!" Both slayers objected in unison, not to his assessment of the council's competence but to any implication that they might be connected to it.
Buffy pulled away from in front of the house. She had left this call till last as she had suspected the house's tenants would not be early risers. The morning had been eaten up, having already spent an hour with Willow and another half an hour with the florist, arranging a little wedding day surprise for Spike. It had been three years since she had been to the house and in the intervening period she had exchanged only an occasional word with any of those she had hoped still occupied it. Still, it had seemed like the best lead she had... There had been only one other possible avenue of investigation if this one hadn't worked out... And it wasn't as if she couldn't justify the visit under the guise of wedding preparations... It was just that her mission seemed a little more urgent given the present circumstances. She just hadn't expected the trail to lead to Canada, but then, an email would reach there just as easily as anywhere else and if she was right, then the guy she was looking for would have come back even if he'd been in the African jungle or watching penguins in an Antarctic igloo.
"So do you want to tell her the good news or shall I?" Wes asked the other former watcher, as the DeSoto pulled back up alongside the house on the other side of the street.
"Which good news would that be?" Giles asked, tipping back the last quarter inch from the bottom of the crystal whisky tumbler Wes had provided. "The fact that the mystery of the missing candidate was solved when we discovered that up until four hours ago she was actually every bit as blonde as Spike? Or the fact she, her watcher and every other council member and identified candidate in the entire world are either en route or being rounded up for Quentin's invasion of Sunnydale?"
"Well, since Nathan only discovered her new and exciting hair colour when he picked her up to go to the airport as part of the general exodus, I would say that the two pieces of news were directly linked."
"Either way, I think as both her most recent and her longest serving watcher that the news should come from me." Giles placed his empty glass on Wes's new coffee table and began to move toward the front door.
"What I don't understand," Wes said, "is what Quentin hopes to achieve from this. Surely bringing all the candidates here will simply make it easier for the First to concentrate its efforts?"
"I long ago gave up trying to work out what Quentin was thinking when he does anything. The reptilian brain is just too far removed from our own."
"Let's just hope that there's more behind his plan than the possibility of irritating Buffy to death and thereby activating a new slayer."
"He's trying to irritate me to death. That's it! Next vision, we just keep our mouths shut... And where are they going to go, huh? And does he really think he can give that whack job the poison to kill my boyfriend one week and then turn up on my doorstep the next? And you," Buffy sniffed Giles' breath. "...It's barely lunchtime and you've been drinking spirits already."
"W-Well," Giles stuttered defensively. "It's not like it's every day you find out that your all time least favourite employer is following you all the way across the Atlantic... and it was just the one. You Americans really take this paranoia-."
"Keep it up."
"Wh-What are you suggesting?" Giles gave Buffy a puzzled stare.
"I'm suggesting that you go with Spike. You take the two bottles of single malt that I bought this morning and the Jack Daniels for when you're past the point where you can appreciate the good stuff..." She held up a hand as Giles appeared to want to interrupt. "Spike gave me a shopping list of possibles and I gave the cashier at that upmarket liquor store on Freeman a good-sized chunk of plastic, so if you want to complain, tell Spike his taste sucks, not me. Angel stayed over at Spike's place last night and he's agreed to stay until you guys at least try to sort out your differences... And since the only time I can remember you loosening your damned English stiff upper lip without having repeated sex on the hood of a police car with my mom, was the time you tried to drown your sorrows at Spike calling you a retired librarian, I'm advocating that you and Angel get roaring drunk with Spike as referee and fight or bond or whatever it is that drunks do until this is settled. And since it would appear that the British are once more a comin', I suggest you do it now, before Quentin has a chance to catch you with the hangover."
"Mom? And Giles?"
Buffy realised her mistake when Dawn's bewildered voice carried through from the dining room where she had been working on Spike's computer, whereas, even as Spike abandoned his supervisory role and came through to join them, his look of shock rapidly turned to one of affection, even if he couldn't help but shake his head in disbelief.
"Knew the lady had wicked style. Still unconvinced about her taste in men, though. Hope you at least bought her flowers."
"You? With mom? In public?" Dawn wasn't about to let this one drop.
"What? No! ...Well, not really... There was only the policeman there and he was still out cold from when I punched him... and I thought we agreed that you were never going to mention that in front of Dawn. There were circumstances. Ethan-."
"What's he got to do with-." Dawn's face curled into an expression of total disgust. "You boffed mom when you were a demon? What if we'd ended up with some tufty-eared, horny little brother. Did you even think about that? Did mom even have a choice? I mean, fine if like Marie or whatever where it's like a lifestyle thing in a proper relationship, but you were horny for one day and you just-just... with mom?"
"Of course she had a choice and-and it wasn't that time. It was the b-band candy."
"The band candy? That was only supposed to make everyone act younger... not make you jump on my mom like some sort of gigolo. I'm a teenager - you don't catch me having sex on top of police cars."
"Right, Buffy... Single malt, you say? Capital plan. I'll just wait outside while Spike says his goodbyes and fetches the orbs, shall I?"
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