By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
going to fuck this up.
Spike slouched in the comfortable
embrace of his beat-up armchair, turning his shot glass round and round
in his fingers. Willow'd been gone for an hour, and the litany in
his head hadn't let up for a second. The whiskey warming his belly
was starting to get lonely and hint that it could use some company.
He cast a longing glance at the bottle of JD on top of the refrigerator.
His fingers clenched on the armrest, gripping the layer of ancient fabric
and cotton batting so tightly that the wood frame beneath creaked under
the pressure. He didn't want another drink; that would imply needing
another drink which would imply nervousness which would imply he had something
to be nervous about. Which he didn't.
He wasn't going to fuck
He sank further into the chair and
glowered into the depths of his empty glass. Not like it was the
end of the world, or the beginning of it. Bit unexpected, was all.
What the hell had Wills been thinking, yanking the chip out of his head
without a by-your-leave? Bloke had to work up to something like that.
Not that she hadn't done him a favor, not that he wasn't grateful--balls,
he was bloody well overjoyed--but he'd have liked a little warning, and a
chance to talk it over with Buffy first. He set the glass down on the
crypt floor. What had Wiccagirl meant, telling him not to mention it?
This was no time for modesty. No, he'd tell Buffy right off and they'd
chat it out. Everything nice and civilized--they could do that, couldn't
they? A snarl twisted his lips at the memory of their earlier argument.
Self-righteous bitch'd probably decide he'd had it pulled on purpose and--
With a rumble of disgust
Spike heaved himself to his feet and padded downstairs to change into jeans
and...anything not a black T-shirt. But he'd been hitting his meager
supply of non-funereal colors hard lately, and all he could find clean
after ransacking both dresser and wardrobe (five black T-shirts, two plain
black button-downs, three patterned black button-downs, one black turtleneck)
was the godawful black-grey-white variegated knit pullover Dawn had given
him just before her Dad had shown up to take custody. Probably nicked,
which thought, no matter how dutifully he tried, still made him feel more
pleased and proud of her than disapproving; would have been a crime to
pay for a thing like that. Wasn't the reaction you wanted from an
honorary white hat, was it? He'd have to do better than that.
Make himself do better.
The pullover made him look like an
undead zebra, but it would have to do. Spike yanked it on over his
head, laced up his boots, and started for the tunnels. Two steps
into the echoing passageway he pulled up short and turned back to his bedroom,
and hauled from beneath the bed the army surplus duffle wherein was stuffed
a haphazard selection of his dirty laundry. He'd been meaning to hit
the Wash N' Go one of these nights, but Buffy had a washing machine, and
it was easier to have an existential crisis with more variety in his wardrobe.
It should have happened at night,
he thought as he made his way through the tunnels. He'd have known
what to do at night. He'd have been one with the darkness, sure, strong,
utterly confident in his decision to...what? Once upon a time, and not all
that long ago either, he'd had it all planned out, what he'd do when the
chip came out. Whole thing choreographed down to the last scream and
witty remark: the stalk, the fight, the victory, the last shared look encompassing
his triumph and the Slayer's utter defeat before his fangs tore the life
from her throat. He'd put a lot of thought into the epigram he'd paint
on the wall of the Magic Box with her blood once he'd drunk his fill--something
from Donne, perhaps. Then he'd kill the whelp and the Watcher and
turn the witch, who'd make a smashing vampire, and take her to Brazil, there
to hunt up Drusilla and flaunt his new conquest in her face until she realized
what a stupid cow she'd been to cut him off. His dark princess would
beg him to take her back, and he'd punish her for a suitable length of
time before doing so--Dru'd love that part--and then they'd be off, the
three of them, traveling the world and leaving a three-deep trail of corpses
'Course after hanging about
Sunnydale long enough, he'd had to change the plan around a few times.
Shag Buffy within an inch of her life, so she'd realize what she'd been
missing, and then kill her. Right. Much better that way.
And maybe he wouldn't turn Red after all--she'd been right considerate, unlike
the rest of the Scooby tossers. Maybe he'd leave her warm and breathing
instead, get Dru to do that thrall thing. And Buffy--he'd leave her
alive to appreciate just exactly how badly he'd beaten her. Besides,
Joyce would get all teary-eyed if he killed her daughter, and he couldn't
do that to the woman who made the best cocoa in Southern California.
Though he'd definitely kill Harris. And then go on a spree the likes
of which Sunnydale had never seen, flood the mortuary for a week.
Yeah, that was the stuff. Or--yeah, this was it--he wouldn't do anything
at all, just keep up the helpful act, and when the truth finally came out
he'd turn to Buffy with a smug look: Yeh, love, it's been out for months.
Told you I could be good and she'd fall into his arms and he'd give
Harris the punch in the nose he so richly deserved...
...and now? The nose-punching
still sounded good. Chip coming out didn't change a thing--just like
he'd told Buffy, just like he'd told Angel, just like he'd told himself,
he could do the right thing, chip or no chip. He could. Long
as he could hold still long enough to suss out what the right thing was.
What the hell was wrong with Willow? She'd been off, definitely
off. Up to something. Something fucking brill for him, but something.
Spike curled his fingers into a fist and watched the play of muscle and
tendon under the pale skin as he strode down the long echoing tunnel, a
feral grin spreading across his face.
No more backing down from the likes
of Shaun and David if a bet went bad, no more skulking, no more hiding.
No more veneer of bravado plastered over rage and terror when some redneck
bastard decided the little English guy was easy pickings. Not that
he'd pick fights. Absolutely not. No swaggering into the Fish
Tank and pounding the biggest, most thick-headed lunk in the joint into hamburger
just because he could because... because why? Oh, yeah, it was wrong.
Or so he was told. Though it would be fun. 'Cept it wouldn't
really be in the nature of a fight, would it? More of a test.
See if Wills had really done what she'd said she had, because after all
this might be some sort of Wiccan practical joke, mightn't it? And
absolutely no luring said thick-headed lunk into the alley and...
A noise down the tunnel caught
his ear. A splash, a chittering--Spike set the duffle gently down
on the damp concrete of the walkway which ran above the sluggish stream
of effluvium in the channel below. His nostrils twitched, his keen
sense of smell sifting out the strong rank scent of Rattus Norvegicus from
beneath the even less savory odors of the sewer. He let his breath
out in a long hiss and slipped into game face, dropping into a crouch.
He ghosted down the tunnel, boots feather-light on the pavement--how many
times had Angelus thumped him for making noise, those first few years? If
he had a quid for each beating he'd own Microsoft by now. But it had
paid off--he might be a bit rusty after buying his dinner at the butcher's
for the last two years, but a century and more of hard-won stalking expertise
wasn't forgotten that easily.
Ah, there it was. Spike's whole
world narrowed to the sleek brown shape nosing along the base of the wall.
The rat hadn't heard him yet; it bumbled along, sniffing for tidbits, licking
the condensation which trickled down the tiles and provided a slightly less
tainted source of drinking water for the creatures of Sunnydale Underground.
He could hear its heartbeat over the low gurgle of the sewer if he concentrated,
a swift fierce patter of life. It sat up on its hindquarters and bared
strong yellow teeth in defiance at the world, and Spike grinned right back
at it--You and me, mate, survivors. I just plan on surviving a
little longer than you will . Spike swerved to avoid the pencil-thin
shafts of sunlight filtering down through the holes in a manhole cover overhead,
running the tip of his tongue over his fangs and reining in the hysterical
giggle that threatened to burst from him at any moment. Christ, if
anyone saw him now! William the Bloody, Scourge of Europe, giddy with
joy at the prospect of killing a rat!
He pounced with infernal speed, skidding
across the concrete with arms outstretched and fangs bared. The rat
had time to react, just barely, before his fingers closed on it. It
squealed and twisted in his grip, incisors sinking into the flesh of his
hand, and Spike struck back just as swiftly and viciously, fangs piercing
thin, foul-tasting hide and penetrating deep into the warm flesh beneath--
No pain. Oh merciful heavens,
no pain, no blue-white forked-lightning shocks shattering his skull, no
nothing but sweet hot living blood on his tongue. Not the teasing,
chip-aborted taste he'd gotten at Halloween, not the reheated, days-stale
leavings of someone else's slaughter--this was life itself coursing down his
throat for the first time since Dru'd killed that college boy for him, and
a million times better because he'd made this kill himself. Even if
it was just a sodding rat, and objectively speaking tasted like shit.
Spike snarled as the creature twitched and stilled in his grasp and the flow
of liquid bliss slowed to a trickle and ceased; there wasn't much more than
a swallow or two in a rat. Licking every trace of crimson from his lips,
he tossed the cooling corpse into the sewer and looked hungrily around for
more. Stand very still, and listen... yeah. There.
Fifteen rats and one stray
Pomeranian (well, stray in the sense that he'd reached out of a sewer grate
and snatched it) later, Spike ambled up to the bottom of the ladder leading
to the manhole on Revello Drive, painfully full and blissfully happy.
With any luck, in about ten minutes Buffy would be rubbing his tummy while
he drowsed off his over-indulgence with his head in her lap--surely she
was ready to make up by now. He patted the slight bulge in his normally
board-flat stomach with a satisfied belch. Considering he was going
to have to make a dash for Buffy's front door to achieve this nirvana, perhaps
he'd gone a bit overboard, but killing the things was such a damned kick
it was difficult to stop. Spike hitched his laundry over one shoulder
and set out up the ladder.
He was absolutely, positively not
going to fuck this up.
Buffy and Dawn might regard Doris
Kroger as a bureaucratic fiend in human form, dispatched to torment them
with forms in triplicate, but Willow had never minded Dawn's social worker.
They'd met several times over the summer, while Dawn had been staying with
Willow's parents and Giles had been trying to track down Hank Summers in
Milan or Zambezi or wherever he'd been. Mrs. Kroger was a plump fortyish
woman with a pouf of henna'd hair and a fondness for polyester pantsuits,
whose perpetual air of vague apology masked a pair of very sharp eyes.
She reminded Willow a little of her own mother, except less strident and
actually interested in what you were saying. Of course, Willow had always
gotten along better with adults than with people her own age, and now at
last her own age was getting to the point where getting along with adults
was reason to rejoice rather than an occasion for another visit to the guidance
But most of all Willow
liked--nay, worshiped with an abiding passion--Doris Kroger because she
was arriving in something less than forty minutes, and all attention would
focus on her.
There was a burning spot right
between her shoulderblades, just in that spot where you couldn't reach to
scratch. It was the accumulated weight of who-knew-how-many accusing
searchlight stares following her, all of which knew exactly what she'd done--never
mind that there was no one else in the living room. Her insides were
a yarn-ball tangle of guilt and worry which would have done Miss Kitty
Where was that annoying dark
voice when she wanted it to soothe her conscience and dismiss her fears?
She hadn't done anything wrong, she reassured herself. Spike had wanted
the chip out for ages. And he was all domesticated these days, just
a big ol’ bleached-blond teddy bear with fangs. Wasn't he? Willow
took a firmer grip on the handle of the teacup she was setting out.
The gilt on the rim was slightly worn, revealing the austere white purity
of the china beneath. "Aurum in integrum restituere," she whispered.
Power flowed and curled within her, smooth as film noir smoke, banishing
doubt and fear. As her thumb traced the curvature of the rim, a slim
perfect line of gold followed behind it. It glinted in the afternoon
sun and for a second Willow felt happiness of the sort she would never,
ever wish on Angel.
Is it not worth a few
small errands, this power? the ebony voice inquired, faintly amused.
It was almost a relief, not
to be alone in her own head. I'm not doing this for the power
, she protested. I'm doing it to help restore the Balance.
Laughter, deep and dark and
bitter as Aztec chocolate, flavored with blood and cayenne.
Yes, but the power is no less sweet for that, is it? her invisible
companion said. You need not lie to me. Or to yourself.
Only to them, as is necessary for their comfort. You deserve power,
Willow Danielle Rosenberg. You were born for it. Do not shy
from your birthright out of fear or false modesty.
The images burned in her
mind: what she could do, who she could become. Vampires exploding
into incandescent clouds of dust at a wave of her hand, demons abasing themselves
at her feet. She strode fearless through the streets of Sunnydale...
or why not L.A.? Paris, London, Alexandria, Harvard, M.I.T., Cambridge, the
Bodelian, Stonehenge--ancient repositories of mystic knowledge thrown open
to her eager eyes by obsequious men and women in tweed and sensible shoes--
It's Willow Rosenberg! It's such an honor, Miss Rosenberg...
A web of spells traversed the globe through glittering fiber-optic cable,
slender silver threads converging wherever she was, carrying her will across
oceans, magic and microchips fusing into a ecstatic new whole. Mom
and Dad, finally impressed, finally noticing. Tara, proud and loving
at her side-- I taught her everything I know, but of course she's taken
it far beyond... The Hellmouth not only sealed but destroyed
forever. Buffy wouldn't need to patrol; she could have the normal
life she craved, and Willow, she could have...
Anything she wanted. Everything
she'd denied herself by remaining in Sunnydale.
Willow squeezed her eyes closed
and shuttered her mind and heart. It was only a partnership of convenience.
Tonight she'd perform the last of her agreed-upon services and be free.
Or mostly free. There was still the minor problem of her own magics
being unreliable, and she wasn't so naive as to think that the force she
was dealing with would allow her to tap infinite power for the rest of her
life without demanding further little agreements. But with the power
she had at her disposal, surely she could find or create a spell to fully
heal her own abilities. She'd keep her bargain until then, and no longer.
It wouldn't take long. She was sure of it.
The front door blew open and
Buffy came sweeping in, flinging her purse at the couch and her jacket at
the coat rack. Willow, setting the platter of cookies on the coffee
table (chocolate macadamia nut, extra forgive-y) was momentarily transformed
into a single over-stressed nerve fiber, heartily twanged by the slamming
of the door. Her fingers spasmed and the platter slipped from her hands
and clattered to the surface of the table. A handful of cookies slid
off the edges. "Buffy!"
"At last report." Buffy
strode into the living room and planted both fists on her hips, surveying
the condition of the battlefield: carpet vacuumed, sofa cushions denuded
of cat fur and Miss Kitty banished to the basement, from whence occasional
plaintive yowls could be heard. Photos and knickknacks had been dusted
and arranged for maximum wholesomeness, Joyce's good tea set arrayed upon
the newly-polished surface of the coffee table. Buffy's pearly teeth
fastened on her glossy lower lip; there was a tension in her that hadn't
been present when Willow left for school that morning. Had the
interview gone badly? "I guess it'll have to do," Buffy muttered.
Like you were such a big help
cleaning, Willow thought a trifle resentfully. "If you're really
worried, Buff, we can do a teensy glamor--"
The look that flashed
through Buffy's sea-colored eyes was mildly appalled. "Thanks, but--"
Her eyes went flinty grey as they zeroed in on Dawn, galloping downstairs
in yet another change of outfit. "Dawn, it's barely three-thirty--why
are you home already?" Her face went pinched and shrewish in Unpleasant
Buffy Expression #36, and her voice could have cut glass. "This interview’s
eighty percent of the final as far as The Kroger’s recommendation to the
judge goes, and you're cutting classes on the very day--"
Dawn did a freeze-frame
halfway down the stairs with one foot in mid-air, gearing up for a full-on
ear-grating whine. "I am NO--" She cut herself off, dropped her foot
to the stair-step and took a deep breath. "No, I'm not," she said
in carefully reasonable tones. "They let us out early because there
was a demon in the cafeteria. Some kind of snakey thing. It
swallowed one of the lunch ladies and went to sleep all over the jocks'
table. The janitors were poking it with brooms to see if they could
get it to hack her up." She teetered back and forth on the stair-tread,
staring at the toes of her sneakers and playing with a lock of her hair.
"I know today is important, Buffy."
"Oh." Buffy ran a hand over her forehead
and down over her eyes, as if she could wipe the stress-lines off her face.
"I mean... I know you know. Sorry. I'm overly caffeinated."
"'sall right," Dawn muttered.
She clumped down the remaining stairs, eyes downcast save for one shrewd
look at her sister. "He asked you, didn't he?" she said. "And
you got into a fight about it, didn't you?" Buffy blinked.
For a second there was naked pleading in Dawn's eyes. "I can do it!
I'll practice every day--I've been watching both of you, I know some stuff
already, sort of--please, let me help!"
"Spike told you about--oh.
You mean the fighty stuff." Buffy pressed her fingers to the sides
of her nose for a second and turned away. "We'll talk about it later.
I'm going to go upstairs and clean up. I'll be back down in a minute."
There was a ground-in weariness of
a sort Willow hadn't seen for some time in the drooping lines of Buffy's
shoulders as she went up the stairs. Dawn might be off on the details,
but Spike had said, back at the crypt, that they'd had a disagreement...
come to think of it, she hadn't heard that particular tone of defiant bluster
from Spike in quite awhile, either. The voice slipped back into her
head, oozing between the cracks in her thoughts like that black oil on the
X-Files. This had better end soon; she was running out of creepy similes
fast. They feed off one another. For good or for ill
The vampire thing considered, Willow
hoped that wasn't meant in an ickily literal manner, but she could see the
sense of it. There was a connection there, always had been--maybe
a Slayer/vampire thing, maybe just a Buffy/Spike thing, more likely a little
of both--and while the connection itself couldn't be easily broken, their
mutual trust in it, and in each other, was a new and fragile thing.
The two of them could tear one another down with the same ease that they'd
built one another up, these last few weeks.
Just so. A weapon, at
Willow sat down on the nearest
arm of the couch, crossing her arms over her chest and huddling in on herself.
She wasn't cut out for this sneaky stuff; she had a horrible urge to race
upstairs and spill everything to Buffy, or dash into the kitchen and beg
Tara to forgive her for whatever she hadn't done yet. Buffy's psyche
was a mass of half-healed wounds that ached at every change of the emotional
weather, and the largest and achiest had 'ANGELUS' tattooed on its butt.
If she and Spike were already on the outs about something, discovering that
the chip was gone might lead Buffy to panic and create a net increase in
the quantity of vampire dust in the immediate vicinity before Spike could
try to explain.
Assuming Spike even wanted to explain.
Oh, God, what if he went right out and killed someone? Her
heart started to hammer in her chest and the air in the room grew progressively
shorter on oxygen. What if he grabbed some innocent six-year-old
and sucked them dry and--it would be all my fault--it--
How so? the ebony
voice asked with crisp disdain. You gave him a gift. If
he abuses it, that is his folly, not yours.
Yeah, but... It
was past time she got more information out of Mister Mystery. how
is what I'm doing for you going to fix the Balance?
You are an exceptionally
intelligent woman. All acts have consequences. Surely you've
divined that for yourself by now?
Willow fiddled with the teacup.
Pink roses in old-fashioned garlands bedecked the sides, below the rim of
gold. Curing the crazies was obviously a gold star on the good side
of the ledger, and removing their threat to the rest of the population of
Sunnydale was even better. Using Dawn to power the spell... well,
that was a little iffy. But Dawn wouldn't be hurt by it. That
wasn't good or bad, not really, just... pragmatic. Removing Spike's
chip...on the surface of it, enabling a vampire to prey upon humanity again
was a bad thing. Except, she told herself firmly, Spike wasn’t exactly
Joe Average Vampire these days. She was just giving him a chance to
prove what he’d been saying for months--that he’d changed.
You're growing warm
, the voice replied, amused.
She didn't feel warm. Willow
shivered, and went out to the kitchen to help Tara.
Dawn had never quite figured
it out. Vampires, no problem. Hellbeasts, nothing to it.
Ancient mystic orders bent on world domination, piece of cake. But
put Buffy, who could charm and bully equally effortlessly when she was
in Slayer mode, in the presence of some mundane authority whom she had
to impress, and her sister fell apart like an overcooked macaroni casserole.
Of course, that had been before the whole dying-and-coming-back-to-life
thing. Post-resurrection Buffy had plodded through the first stage
of the guardianship paperwork with grim, listless efficiency. Buffy
was neither grim nor listless today--June Cleaver on crack, more like.
Dawn wasn't sure which was worse.
Dawn could only guess that the fight
with Spike was throwing Buffy off her game. Like, into the next ballpark.
She'd been jittery all through the tour around the house, answering questions
with flood of too-cheerful babble which would have done Willow proud.
Now she perched with ramrod-correct posture on the opposite end of the almost
unrecognizably spruce couch--exactly far enough from Dawn and from the
arms of the couch to discourage anyone else sitting on it. Despite
cosmetic repairs (shoving Volumes 8, 15 and 22 of the 1979 edition of the
Encyclopedia Britannica underneath the saggiest spot) it had yet to recover
from its stint as Vampire Nookie Central, and made frightening sproingy noises
if you shifted the wrong way.
The Kroger was seated across the room
in the overstuffed armchair, leafing through the pile of paperwork on her
lap. She examined each document with excruciating care, as if she
hadn't read them all six times before. Dawn was inured to the process
by now, but Buffy had yet to build up an immunity. Mrs. Kroger
looked up and inquired, "So, Ms. Summers--there are two other adults in
the house besides yourself?"
Buffy had changed back into her interview
clothes--sensible skirt and blouse and pumps, very respectable, very adult,
very, very not-Buffy--and the wide, gleaming smile plastered over her face
was scarily reminiscent of Spike's long-disassembled robot version of herself.
"Yes. Willow and Tara." One hand escaped from its primly folded
station on her lap to flutter in the direction of the kitchen, where Willow
and Tara hovered in the doorway, ready to airlift in supplies or fresh troops
if necessary, Tara serene in the face of bureaucracy and Willow sporting
a pair of small worried lines between her brows. "Because we're the
Mrs. Kroger blinked.
The Stepford Slayer smile winked out.
"You know, because it takes a village to raise a...uh... cookie?"
She thrust the heaping plate of chocolate macadamia-nut at the social worker.
"They're homemade." It apparently struck her that this was not necessarily
an endorsement of quality, and she amended hastily, "But not by me.
Willow made them, totally by herself. Though I'm not saying I can't
cook, I can. People just keep asking me not to."
Dawn suppressed a groan and
hastened to pour Mrs. Kroger tea from the rose-garlanded teapot. What
had happened to the All-Business Buffy who'd railroaded Dad into signing
over custody? The argument with Spike must have been a doozy.
There had to be something she could say that would come off as well-adjusted
and healthy-family-like rather than like a total brown-nosed suck-up.
This teapot. Mom got this teapot from Grandma. And you see
that little chip on the foot? I did that when I was eight and pouring tea
for Mr. Gordo and Brown Bunny. I'm connected to this teapot.
OK, technically as of a year and a half ago I was a blob of green energy with
no teapot connections at all, but now I am. Connected. And
you can't just--
"No thank you, dear, I'm trying
to cut down." Mrs. Kroger declined the cookies with her usual
vague smile and sipped her tea as if to reassure them that she didn't mean
anything personal by the refusal. She set the teacup down and pulled
a pen from behind one ear. "Let's see... you originally filed your
application for guardianship last spring after your mother's death, is that
right?" Buffy nodded, a nervous head-bob that made her resemble a
dashboard ornament. "Your father was out of the country and unreachable
at the time..." She glanced at Buffy with the look of mild inquiry
Dawn had grown to dread over the summer. "But the first application
was cancelled due to your death?"
"Er." Buffy attempted
a light, carefree laugh. "The rumors of my... uh. Yes.
But obviously, not dead, so here we go again." Mrs.
Kroger pursed her lips at the police reports (touched up after the fact
by Willow Rosenberg, hacker extraordinare) and the doctor's affidavit (supplied
by a physician with untraceable but persuasive connections with the Council
of Watchers, one thing the Council had cooperated on). It all affirmed
that Ms. Summers had suffered a head injury in a fall at an abandoned
construction site. Ms. Summers had survived the fall and wandered
away in a daze before her friends arrived on the scene and summoned the
police, all of whom assumed that the small, slight, blonde corpse mangled
beyond recognition by the fall was Buffy Summers, until she miraculously appeared
on Halloween, having finally recovered her senses.
Dawn watched Mrs. Kroger's eyes flicking
back and forth across the close-typed pages. She'd practically memorized
the thing; heck, she'd supplied some of the juiciest details of the cover
story, and it was all she could do to keep from reciting it under her breath
as Mrs. Kroger read through their literary effort. The doctor’s report
was full of catchy jargon like 'post-traumatic amnesia' and 'flattened affect'
and ended with a comforting assurance that Ms. Summers was currently healthy
and in full possession of her faculties. So far the Sunnydale tendency
not to inquire too deeply into anything that whiffed of weirdness was working
for them. "And you don't remember anything about where you were over
"No." This was more or
less true. Buffy wove the fingers of both hands tightly together
once more. "The doctor said it was a post-traumatic... shock... thingy.
Is there anything else the judge is going to need to see to transfer my
sister's custody back to me? Dad's not contesting--"
"Mmm, yes, I see that.
Our main concern is that you don't have a job at present." Mrs. Kroger
peered at Buffy over the tops of her glasses. "So--"
"But I'm looking!" Buffy protested,
a note of panic peering over the concrete embankments of her good cheer.
"I had an interview this morning, and I have two more later this week.
I just haven't--"
"I was just going to say," Mrs.
Kroger leaned back, her smile growing somewhat fixed, "that your household
qualifies for several varieties of government aid."
Buffy, thoroughly derailed for a second,
just gaped at her. "You mean... what do you mean?"
"Job counseling services, certainly.
Also financial aid services, food stamps--"
"Food stamps? You mean--Welfare?
" Buffy got out in a mortified squeak. "Oh. No.
I couldn't--I mean, I'm sure we can get by without--I mean--"
"Of course if you find a job in the
next few weeks it won't be necessary, but I'm going to leave you the forms
just in case." Mrs. Kroger handed Buffy a sheaf of papers, and Buffy
took them in a shell-shocked daze, obviously still stunned by the dreaded
vision of Buffy Summers, Welfare Mother.
Mrs. Kroger folded up her reading
glasses and replaced them in her purse. "You seem to have all your
paperwork in order--your hearing is set for the twenty-first. Your
father's nominated you as your sister's guardian and waived requirement
of service, so--"
The front door shook under a thundering
volley of pounding, and the distinctive odor of singed vampire filled the
air, temporarily drowning out the cookies. Dawn jumped to her feet,
but Willow was ahead of her, sprinting for the door and flinging herself
spreadeagled against it, more as if she wanted to hold it shut than in preparation
for letting someone in. She opened the door the tiniest of cracks and
peered out. "Spike!" she yipped, as if this were the last person she'd
expected to see. Well, in the middle of the day, maybe... nah, this
was Spike. "We're busy!"
"Ducky. I'm smoldering."
Spike applied his superior strength to the door and Willow was scooted backwards
across the carpet. Spike elbowed his way through the door and toppled
over the threshold, duster pulled over his head, trailing smoke and dirty
socks behind him. He dropped his laundry in the foyer with a thump
and shrugged his coat back into place with a catlike air of 'I meant
to do that.' He was looking particularly disheveled and human
despite the wisps of smoke, and the faint flush in his cheeks meant he'd
been feeding very recently. Willow clung to the door, staring at
him in round-eyed apprehension, like he had spinach in his teeth or something.
Doris Kroger (and everyone else, for that matter) was staring too--though,
due to the combination of the duster, the striped pullover, and Spike's
usual collection of jewelry no straight man alive or dead ought to be allowed
to wear, more in an "Oh my God, look at the fashion victim!" way than in
an "Excuse me, why is that man on fire?" way.
Spike had obviously forgotten all
about the meeting with Mrs. Kroger. Confronted with the assembly
in the living room, he squared his shoulders, flashed his on-the-pull smile
at the social worker and rose above his sartorial handicaps by sheer force
of charisma. "Hullo, all. Didn't mean to interrupt. Came
over to use the washer, and--" His eyes locked onto Buffy's in one of those
gazes that excluded the entire rest of the universe. "Something's come
Buffy gave the vampire a narrow-eyed
once-over to ascertain that, for once, he wasn't engaging in double-entendre,
and whipped out the blinding smile again. "Mrs. Kroger, this is Spike."
Dawn winced at Mrs. Kroger's sedate blink; undoubtedly 'Spike' ranked number
three on the Top Ten List of Bad Boyfriend Names, right below 'Killer' and
'Fang,' though well above 'Ripper' and 'The Butcher.' "Spike...er...Williams.
He's...uh..." Buffy's eyes glazed over in critical terminology meltdown;
you could see the read/write errors piling up. "We're seeing each
other. He was a big help with Dawn over the summer."
"Right," Dawn agreed.
"He's always very responsible and law-abiding and--" Buffy elbowed
her in the ribs, and Dawn shot a glare at her--What?.
Spike warmed up the smile and caught
Mrs. Kroger's eyes in the we-are-the-world look for a second--which, if
Dawn was any judge, thawed The Kroger more thoroughly than a ream of signed
testimonials. "Pleased ever so." He bent over and murmured urgently
into Buffy's ear, "We really need to talk private-like, pet. Can we--?”
He gestured towards the kitchen.
Willow went into a coughing
fit which prompted Tara to come over and thump her on the back in concern.
Buffy rose briskly to her feet, irritation with Spike setting flight to
her earlier nerves. "Spike, in case it’s escaped your notice, I'm in
the middle of something important." She latched onto his collar and
headed for the front door, tugging him after her. "So if you'll just
marshal all your lame arguments about the job for later, I'll--"
Dawn frowned. Job?
There was way more going on here than some argument over whether or not
she could patrol. Buffy was freaking, Willow was freaking, Spike was
failing to freak only because outsiders were present and he was hoarding cool
points. The vampire dug his heels in and resisted tuggage. "Not
about that , love. It's important. Very, very important."
He was talking to Buffy, but looking at Willow, eyes brimming over with question
marks. For a moment Willow's eyes were riveted to the toes of her
sandals, but then her head came up defiantly and she smiled, a tight hard
smile stuck somewhere between anger and determination. Whatever
Spike was asking, she wasn't going to answer.
Buffy, her attention still on
Mrs. Kroger's reactions, hadn't noticed the exchange. She nibbled
an impeccably manicured thumbnail, obviously coming to the conclusion that
there was a slayage emergency--why else would Spike be interrupting now?--which
would require her to dash off to the rescue, and simultaneously dash their
hopes of Mrs. Kroger making a favorable report to the judge at the
custody hearing. Annoyance, resentment and resignation warred in her
eyes for a second before resignation won out. "OK," she said at last.
"But make it fast." She turned back to Mrs. Kroger. "Would you
excuse us for just a moment?"
Another vague blink, in the
space of which, Dawn was sure, Spike's height, weight, shoe size, and the
exact shade of Clairol Ultra-Light Blond he favored were cataloged and
submitted to the Social Services Dubious Associates Database via telepathy.
"Certainly. Take your time, Ms. Summers."
"Come on, then, Spike, and let
me know what can't wait another hour." Buffy stalked off towards the kitchen,
and without looking back waved at the duffle and added, "And bring that
with you. The world can live without exposure to your Tigger jammies."
"Oi, now, I don't--" Recalling
the presence of The Kroger, Spike clenched his jaw on his intended rejoinder,
snatched up his duffle and trotted after her sister. There
was an uneasy silence punctuated by the sound of two pairs of feet descending
the stairs to the basement, and two voices muffled to inaudibility by intervening
layers of drywall and cinder block. Mrs. Kroger sat with plump implacable
majesty, her bright starling eyes darting insatiably around the room.
Dawn leaned unwarily forward to snag a cookie and the couch SPROINGed at
her; guilt froze her in place with one hand outstretched.
Footsteps, ascending. "...don't
have time to play around now, Spike!" Heavier
footsteps, booted, following. "Buffy, love, you've got to listen to
Lighter feet, halfway up, pausing,
turning. Dawn imagined arms folding to the accompaniment of tight-lipped
Buffy-disapproval. "What? You what?"
Silence. Buffy's voice,
sheathed in ice. "Hello, you have reached the end of Buffy Summers's
patience. When you actually have anything worthwhile to say, please
leave a message at the sound of the beep."
Footsteps, heavier, booted,
descending, with something of defeat in their cadence. And lighter
feet ascending once more. A second later Buffy emerged from the kitchen,
huge fake smile an insufficient mask over too-bright eyes and the angry
tremor in her shoulders. Dawn blanched. There was a difference
between normal Spike-and-Buffy sniping and a real fight, and this was it--hurt
lurking within those eyes instead of irritation. Buffy seated herself
upon the couch once more, re-folded her hands, and smiled warmly at Mrs.
Kroger, all unease burnt away in the wake of her anger. "I'm so sorry
for the interruption. I'm afraid Spike doesn't always take things
as seriously as I'd like him to. Now--you said something about job
"We need more tea," Dawn whispered,
seizing the teapot and heading for the kitchen, heedless of the sofa's agonized
complaint. Halfway there she realized she was still carrying her
filched cookie, but there wasn't any graceful way to turn around and put
"Dawnie!" Willow grabbed for
her wrist as she whooshed past, heading for the basement stairs. "I
don't think that's a good idea right now. He sounded pretty cranky,
Well, duh. Dawn
rolled her eyes. Anyone who went tippy-toes around Spike when he was
in a bad mood might as well give up talking to him at all. Willow should
know the drill by now. "It's OK. I have a Ph.D. in dealing with
cranky vampires." She left the teapot on the kitchen island and racketed
down the stairs without slowing; the tawny forty-watt glow of the basement
light was brighter than the candlelight in Spike's crypt, and she could
take those stairs blindfolded. She made plenty of noise. Spike
would hear and smell her coming regardless, but it was only polite to give
fair warning when intruding on a sulk.
The muted whoosh of the washing machine
filling up drifted up to her ears. Spike was slouched in a sunshine-yellow
vinyl beanbag chair, remnant of Joyce Summers's swinging 70's days.
He leaned back against a pile of flood-damaged boxes, and a handful of styrofoam
pellets trickled out through several small tears in the beanbag's sides,
reminding Dawn why it had been banished to the basement to begin with.
Three weeks after they'd first
moved to Sunnydale, Mom opening the front door to find Buffy swinging it
at a shrieking Dawn's head, and the living room carpet spangled with tiny
white pearls... Another non-existent memory of her non-existent
life. Everything I remember doing with Spike is real. She
could hold on to that.
Spike left off flinging his remaining
clothes into haphazard piles (darks and darkers) as Dawn hopped off the
last step of the stairs, and looked up at her with a frustrated snarl.
Dawn ignored it. Spike's rages came and went with the force and speed
of summer monsoons--by the time you got properly scared, he'd be flipping
channels and demanding to know why the bloody hell you were cowering in the
corner with a cross clutched over your head. Or you'd be dead.
Either way, you might as well skip the cowering. She pulled up a box
of her own and sat down. The mildew-stained cardboard sagged beneath
her weight. "So. What's the panic? You all right?
You look kinda green."
"Your sis does that to me." Spike
shot a venomous glance up the stairs, tossed the last pair of monster-goo-encrusted
jeans into their proper pile and oozed further down into the beanbag.
He let his belt buckle out a notch and closed his eyes. "Nah, I'm
fine. Overdid a bit at lunch."
Dawn snickered. "I didn't think
that was possible." She extended a magnanimous hand and offered him
the cookie. "Want dessert?" There were rules to everything:
if you wanted information, ply Buffy with shoes, ply Spike with grease and
sugar. At least until you were old enough to ply him with alcohol.
Spike opened one eye, surveyed the
cookie with disfavor, and closed it again. "Ha bloody ha. In
the future, remind me that ten's my limit." Something about that statement
made him snap out of his incipient torpor. Both eyes shot open, blue
and cold, and dark brows dipped together over his nose. "Didn't stop
me saying that," he muttered. "I had five too many rats for lunch."
"Rats? Yeurch." Dawn curled
her tongue in distaste. "I thought rats were, like, too gross even
for trailer-park vampire cuisine. Mr. Kohlermann having a pig's blood
"Not exactly. Normally I wouldn't
touch rat if you paid me, but this was a bit of a special occasion."
Spike took a deep breath. "I k--" The word choked off as if someone'd
cut off his air; Spike's face contorted and cords of muscle stood out on
his neck with the effort, but nothing came out. He slammed a fist into
the stack of boxes, panting. "There's got to be a way--" He
leaped to his feet and began prowling the basement with frenetic energy.
Pieces clicked into place. "You're
under a spell."
Abject gratitude lit Spike's eyes.
"Got it in one!"
"A rat-eating spell? Is
that why Buffy's all ticked off? Lips that touch rat will never touch
"Gah. No!" He stopped
and smacked his fist into his palm. "Pen and paper!"
Dawn cast about for a second.
"Oh! Wait!" She dove into one of the boxes and emerged with a tattered
cigar box full of broken crayons and desiccated Magic Markers. She
shoved it at Spike. "Here."
Spike grabbed a red crayon and dropped
to his knees, scribbling out on the flap of one of the cardboard boxes 'I
CAN KX##~~...' "Fuck!" he snarled and began again. 'W!77oooH TOK Th~^v^v...'
"ARRRGGGHH!!!" Spike smashed the box to flinders, scattering mis-matched
Legos and a selection of headless, chewed-on Barbie dolls across the floor,
and knelt in the wreckage, chest heaving.
"Okay, you can't talk about it or write
about it," Dawn said, trying to project calm. "Can you nod yes or
no? It's something you need to tell Buffy, right?"
The vampire tensed and nodded.
Lightning failed to strike. "Now we're getting somewhere," Dawn said,
rubbing her hands. "Is it dangerous?" Spike hesitated, brows
twisting, and raked both hands through his already-unruly hair. At
last he nodded. "Is it happening soon?" Headshake. "A long
time from now?" Another headshake, accompanied by rising frustration
in his eyes. "It's already happened?" Vigorous nod. "Is
it something Buffy needs to do something about?"
Again a hesitation, but before Spike
could determine which answer he wanted to give, the door at the top of the
stairs opened and Willow stood backlit in the opening.
"Do you two have something to share with the class?"
Dumb, Willow. She should
have known trying to scare Dawn off talking to Spike wouldn't work; Dawn
had never been properly afraid of the vampire even when he'd been dangerous.
And she couldn't exactly hint that he wasn't un-dangerous any longer.
She stared at the uninformative surface of the basement door with one hand
on the cool worn brass of the doorknob and twisted another knot in the flowered
gauze of her skirt. Her fingers tightened, and the knob turned.
"Do you two have something to
share with the class?"
Two pairs of blue eyes, one
large and warm, one narrow and chill, gazed up at her. Haloed in
the light of the bare bulb, Dawn sat enthroned in cardboard, arms folded
across her bony knees and her face rapt with the bizarre game of Twenty
Questions she was conducting. Spike was pacing like Rilke's panther,
caught mid-turn as Willow opened the door. Dawn scrambled to her
feet, her upturned face blossoming with a smile of relief at sight of Willow.
Spike looked up as well, but there was no smile in his eyes, only wariness.
"Willow!" Dawn cried. "Just who we need to see. Spike's under
some kind of spell and he can't talk about it but there's something important
he needs to tell Buffy, and--"
A rivulet of perspiration trickled
down her temple, stinging in the corner of her eye. She couldn't do
this. Willow Rosenberg had never told a successful lie in her life,
she was worse at it than Spike was, she wasn't cut out for sneaky--
Willow raised a hand, feeling
the rush as her eyes went onyx. "Dawn," she said softly, "Be still."
She couldn't handle sneaky.
But as she'd slowly come to recognize over the last few years, she could
handle power. The girl froze in place, her lanky adolescent form half-way
to standing, her eager mouth open. Dawn, interrupted.
Spike took one look and all the muscles
in his shoulders bunched; he whipped round to face up the stairs, both hands
clenched on the bannisters, seeming all of a sudden a great deal larger
than he really was. The ice-chips of his eyes bored into Willow's,
full of fury--but more puzzlement. "Will," he growled, sandpaper-rough,
"what the fuck are you doing? Why won't you let me tell Buffy about--"
He gestured at his head. "What've you done to Dawn?"
"Nothing," she said, harder
and faster than she wanted to. "Nothing. She's fine. Just...
stopped for a minute. Do you really think I'd hurt her?"
Spike's cheeks hollowed.
He hooked his thumbs into the belt loops of his jeans and rocked heel to
toe, saying nothing for rather longer than was comfortable. "I'd've
said no, yesterday."
Willow felt heat rise in her
own face. "Well, I wouldn't!" she snapped. "I just don’t want
anyone to know I took your chip out. I've got my reasons, all right?"
"Feel a bit less dodgy if I knew what they
were. Now Buffy thinks I’ve wandered over to cock up her tea party
on a lark, and I can’t tell her different.” The anger in his eyes
was layered over an inner bruising. “If you've messed me up for good with
her, Red, I swear I'll--"
Cue scary background music--Spike’s
Theme, menace in a minor key. "What, kill me?" Her voice was too
shrill, and Willow forced it to a lower register. "Come after me
with a broken bottle? Doesn't take you long to fall off the wagon,
does it, Spike?" She felt a twinge of anger not her own in the back
of her skull: her silent partner hadn't liked her saying that--why?
The power surged up within her, wordless reminder that she no longer needed
to fear Spike in any sense.
He flinched and dropped his eyes--was
the surfeit of blood in his system at the moment enough to justify the
shamed tinge of red at his eartips? "Wouldn't do that," he muttered.
“Not to you. Not nowadays." He met her eyes once more.
"You understand that, don't you, Will? It's not...I just wouldn't."
There was a subtle note of pleading in his voice.
You have no need to play on
this creature's shame or his sympathy for your own safety. Neither
of which qualities he has any real claim on.
"I know." Willow kept her own voice
level in the face of another flare of anger from her invisible companion.
It could just suffer; it needed her, or it wouldn't have gone to all this
trouble to get her. She could afford to test her bounds a little.
She and Spike had always gotten along, give or take an assault or two; there'd
been a time when his assurance that she was bite-worthy had delivered a
real ego-boost right alongside the abject terror. "Mrs. Kroger's leaving
at five-thirty and we're going to go over to the Magic Box and meet the
others at six to go over the crazy-catching plan. Go on up and I'll
The planes of his face shifted as
he gazed up at her, demon-ridges coming to prominence. A thought-swift
blur of motion and Spike was beside her on the stair. Willow had time
to draw half a startled gasp before the cool weight of his hand fell on her
shoulder. She jerked her head up to meet the lambent golden eyes only
inches away from her own, the pupils flashing red in the dim light.
His voice rasped against her ear like a cat's tongue. "Anyone else
pulled this with me," he murmured, "Or with her," he jerked his head
down the stairs towards Dawn, "and they'd be picking my teeth out of their
jugular by now. You might want to think about that."
It wasn't even a threat. Just
a statement of fact, one of Spike's not-so-subtle reminders: Hello,
vampire . God, those fangs were terrifying up close, inch-long
upper canines, half-inch lower canines, rip-saw rows of incisors in between...she'd
seen what teeth like that, powered by inhuman muscle, could do to human
flesh, seen mangled bodies and bloodless faces in the corridors of Sunnydale
High. They had fun. What did it say about the
infinite capacity of the human mind to trivialize that her primary reaction
these days was Wonder how long Spike had to practice talking through
those things to get rid of the game-face lisp?
"You can't kill me, Spike," she said,
a little breathless with the enormity of the realization. Hello,
incredibly powerful witch. "You couldn't even if you wanted
to." Spike's eyes reflected the truth of her words, made her reckless.
"But I could kill you. And I haven't. Instead I gave you a
nice early Christmas present. You might want to think about that."
For once, Spike's face was unreadable.
"I will, Red. I will." He turned, his features sliding back
towards humanity again, and walked up the stairs. The open door framed
him in light for a moment and he looked down at her. “You really would
have made a smashing vampire.” Then he was gone. Willow sagged
against the railing with a little whoop of hysterical laughter
. She couldn't afford to give in to it for long. She straightened
and trotted downstairs.
She halted among the remnants of the
Summers girls’ childhood, gazing at the motionless figure of Dawn and nudging
red and yellow plastic bricks aside with the toe of the Birkenstocks.
What now? Things were moving too fast, events banging into each other,
bumper cars out of control. Dawn had figured out too much for comfort;
should she erase the memory of her conversation with Spike? There
was Lethe's bramble in her room upstairs, and the spell was a simple one.
She could run up and get it now, and hope no one came down here while she
was gone. Or she could let Dawn tell her everything, and pretend to
investigate... Willow groaned; she could see this devolving into a farce
all too quickly. Why is it so important no one know I took Spike’s chip
The dark voice within was silent.
It had said all it really needed to say; do these things, and power is yours;
refuse and I take it away. Except she wasn’t doing it for the
power, and why did that sound as lost and uncertain in her own ears as
Spike’s I wouldn’t do that, not nowadays? Willow ground
the heels of her hands into her eyes. She couldn’t think about that
now. There were too many ways Spike could get around the spell she'd
laid on him. Unless... she laughed, relief washing over her.
She could erase his memory! She should have thought of that
before. He couldn't tell anyone how the chip came out if he didn't
Buffy was still grilling Mrs. Kroger
about job prospects in the living room when Willow slipped past and ran
upstairs and into her and Tara's room. She grabbed the bouquet of herbs
in the jar on the dresser--tansy and heal-all, fennel and columbine; there's
rosemary, that's for remembrance; we need the opposite of that--and extracted
the sprig of bramble. Purple bristles on a faded green stem, prickly
to the touch. Clutching it in on damp palm she stole downstairs once
No one looked at her. Spike
was in the living room now, exerting his charm, such as it was, on Mrs.
Kroger, while Buffy looked on with the air of the Russian judge about to
award his performance a 6.5. Willow slipped past, back to the wall.
Tara gave her a worried look as she raced through the kitchen, but Willow
smiled and waved and mouthed 'Getting Dawn!' and was down the basement stairs
before she could be questioned.
The sweet musty odor of the herb filled
the basement as she crumbled it beneath Dawn's nose and whispered, "Obliviscere."
The broken fragments caught fire in her palm, consumed by cold blue witchlight.
Power tingled and sparked in the air around them, rising like embers on
the smoke of the burning. Dawn’s nose twitched. Willow lifted
her hand again. "Dawn, ferre!"
Dawn sneezed and lurched into motion,
immediately lost her balance, and staggered into the beanbag chair, cracking
both kneecaps on the floor. "Ow!" she yelled, rolling over and clutching
her knees. She looked up from her hedgehog-ball of pain to see Willow
staring down at her and her cheeks went red. "I tripped on something,"
she said with a defensive hair-toss. "Not normally Superklutz."
She sat up and rubbed the worst-bruised knee. "Ow... why am I in
the basement?" One hand went to the back of her head in a tentative
search for painful lumps, always the first possibility in Sunnydale when
one found oneself in a strange place with memory loss. When her fingers
found nothing, she grabbed the nearest box and levered herself to her feet.
"Omigod, Mrs. Kroger! How long have I been down here? Buffy’ll
"Not long," Willow reassured
her, extending a helping hand. "You came down to check on Spike’s
washing.” She walked over to the machine and held up a small plastic
scoop half-full of blue liquid. “See? Forgot the fabric softener,
and you know how hard he takes laundry mishaps.” She opened the lid
and poured the Downy into the reservoir. “You didn’t come back up
right away, so Willow to the rescue. Mrs. Kroger's still upstairs."
Dawn stood rubbing her head for a
moment. “I should get back.”
She leaped deerlike for the stairs,
and Willow shouted after her, "Dawnie! Wait! How would
you like to go along with us tonight? Just to make with observiness?
"Really?" Dawn paused on the stairs,
looking stunned, for real this time. "You've got to be kidding.
Didn't Buffy totally freak out when Spike asked her--" She frowned, confusion
welling up in her eyes as her thoughts ran into the blurry, ragged edges
of missing places in her mind. Willow watched closely; it was the
nature of the human mind to fill in gaps--she'd learned that in the part
of the psych class before the professor had gone insane. It was so
easy to coax a mind into filling in the blanks... "Spike and Buffy
had a fight," Dawn said with more confidence. "About me learning to
patrol. I came down here to talk to him about it." She frowned.
"And the laundry, I guess."
"That was a good excuse," Willow
said. "Look, I'm completely with Spike on this. Sunnydale's
a dangerous place full of dangerous beasties, so Dawn with the kung-fu grip?
Great idea. Hence the invite."
Dawn bit her lip, tempted. "Won't
Buffy have a spaz fit?"
Willow grinned. At least
something was going to be easy. "What Buffy doesn't know won't hurt
us. I can disguise you so you won't be in any danger. Sort
of a variation on the glamor spells Buffy's using to patrol incognito,
except it'll just make you..."
"No, too many side effects.
Just unnoticeable. You know, like Hitchhiker's Guide?
A Someone Else's Problem field. Villainous types can see you, they
just won't think you're important. Heroic types likewise."
Dawn considered this, her eyes
lighting up and an answering grin spreading across her face. "Sounds
cool. When do we do it?"
Willow pretended to think about it.
"Meet me down here after Mrs. Kroger leaves. I'll cast the spell,
and make sure you get into the car when we drive over, and don't get any
doors slammed on you. Once we're at the Magic Box, if you just hover
and don't say anything, no one will realize you're there. You can
watch the whole thing, get a good first-hand look at the crack world-saving
team in action. Sound good?"
"Sounds fantastic," Dawn crowed, whatever
minor worries she'd had about her lapse lost in the excitement of the new
plan. "I'd better get up there, before Buffy implodes. See
As the younger girl dashed off
up the stairs, Willow's sight doubled for an instant and instead of Dawn's
familiar coltish grace she saw an intricate mandala of green, shimmering
and pulsing in the darkness. Power. As much power as she herself
was now tapped into, but fallow, useless--the engines of Creation, harnessed
to a go-cart.
Tonight she’d change that.
She walked over to the washing machine
and leaned into it, folding her arms and pillowing her head on its vibrating
surface. Another mission accomplished. It was all coming
together. Whatever was to occur tonight would steady the teetering
Balance, and save Buffy from whatever obscure but doubtless unpleasant fate
awaited the person who'd upset it... Willow Rosenberg, Big Gun, would have
saved the day once again.
Maybe, for once, she'd get a
Continued in Part 27