[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part one of two

Episode Two: Terms of Engagement

by adjrun
Everlong (acoustic) by The Foo Fighters

Amado Mio by Pink Martini
(The Date)

Shoutouts: To the entire DL crew for the inspiration, and for letting me play. To the newbies, for sharing my fear. Special thanks to cousinjean, for the support, Luke, and the suit; and to fenwic, queen of constructive feedback -- she lets me know what's working, and helps make the iffy stuff come together. Also thanks to my husband, for letting me be obsessed with this the last few weeks, and for understanding that the obsession isn't over.


*
Xander slammed into the magic shop. Anya was dusting counters, and Willow was curled up with a book in the corner; both looked up when he entered. Xander nodded a quick greeting to both, but didn’t break stride until he reached Giles at the counter.

“Okay, we have to do something.”

Giles looked up from an inventory sheet. “About?”

“I go in there, I’m frosty, I’m ready for action. And then Drac looks at me cross-eyed and whammo! Butt-boy again. Of course, this time,” Xander looked knowingly at Giles, “at least I wasn’t Head Butt-boy.”

Giles grimaced. “So kind of you to point that out.”

“‘Hey, Buffy, how’s it’ – and then he looks at me funny and I’m all ‘Yes, master, no master.’” Xander shuddered, as much angry as he was creeped out. “As God is my witness, I will call no man master again. The really experienced guys at the site? Not master carpenters. Nooo. Super carpenters. Jackie Chan, fighting while liquored up? Not drunken master. Drunken kick-ass fighty guy. The word ‘master’ has officially been removed from the Xander language.”

“Xander, I understand your distress, and, well, share it; but really, there’s very little that can be done.”

“So, give me the scoop on ‘little’,” Xander demanded.

“Well, there are a series of mental-strengthening exercises which can increase one’s resistance to vampiric influence.”

“Great! Sign me up.” Xander rubbed his hands together. “I’ll strengthen my mental to the point where I can bend spoons, using only the power of my mind.”

Giles shook his head. “Unfortunately, one can utilize them only if one is a Watcher.”

“H-wha?”

“I’m sorry, Xander, but the exercises are linked both to the oath a Watcher takes and to his or her mystical link to the Council created by said oath.”

“Whoa. Wait a minute,” Xander said. “You’re a Watcher. So, you have access to this super-secret mental ‘No Vamps Allowed’ trick. But last night? You were Dracula’s meat-puppet.”

“Yes, well, to put it bluntly, I’ve been slacking off.” Giles shrugged his shoulders. “Last time, when he appeared, I didn’t have access to the Council’s resources. And I thought it a reasonable assumption that he wouldn’t return to Sunnydale. And, if you haven’t noticed, I’ve had all my Watcher’s duties, plus a whole bloody business to run.”

“Got it.” Xander raised his hands. “Jeez, Giles, defensive much?”

“…chanting like some wanking crystal-wearing loonie.” Giles muttered. “Oh, yeah, I have time for that every day.”

“Okay, Giles, I’m feelin’ your pain.” Then Xander shouted, “I ate bugs, Giles! Bugs! That wriggled and tickled and giggled inside me!”

Giles shuddered. “Here. Have a mint.”

Xander took the box, and popped two mints in his mouth. “You too, huh?” he asked, as he handed the box back. Giles shoved three or four in his mouth, shaking his head.

“There aren’t enough mints in the world…”

“So what am I gonna do, Giles?” Xander pleaded. “I don’t want him in my head again. Ever. If I have to wear a football helmet wrapped in tinfoil to keep him out, I’ll do it.”

“Well, as amusing as that might be, Xander, I’m afraid it will have no effect.”

“No other option? No charms or amulets?”

“None that are effective, or pleasant-smelling, no.”

Xander shrugged. “Fine. I’ll join the Watchers.”

“Oh, well, Xander, I don’t think…” Giles stopped for a moment. He stood there, looking more and more puzzled. “Wait a moment. I should be telling you that this is a horribly bad idea. Why don’t I think that this is a horribly bad idea?”

Xander’s eyes widened. “I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about becoming a Watcher, and then I said it. It just sounded right, Giles. It actually feels right.”

“Whoa. Hold it.” Anya grabbed Xander’s sleeve. “Suddenly you want to be a Watcher? Since when?”

“I’ve always wanted to help Buffy. It just hit me, just now, that it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

“Help Buffy? I thought you were over that little fixation.”

“No, not help Buffy, well, yes, help Buffy. But not just help Buffy. Fight the good fight, battle the forces of darkness. Do something important, and meaningful.”

“Well, people need apartment complexes. Apartment complexes are important, Xander. And you’re far less likely to get dead working there!”

“Come on, Anya,” Xander said. “I do the whole apprentice Watcher thing anyway: I help Buffy train, I help fight evil, I make food runs during research. I may as well get paid for it.”

“How much does a Watcher make?” Anya turned to Giles, her arms folded. “Xander makes excellent money in construction, plus medical and dental.”

“Oh. I believe an apprentice Watcher’s salary starts at, in American dollars,” Giles did some quick calculating in his head, “around $68,000 a year? Plus benefits, of course.”

Xander tried to repeat the figure Giles had mentioned, but suddenly couldn’t pronounce consonants.

Anya nodded, grudgingly. “My. That is substantially more than he currently earns. So why do you live in such a dinky little apartment, if you make money like that?”

Giles smiled his slightly embarrassed smile. “Really, Anya, that’s not your concern.”

“Well then!” Xander’s voice was still pitched slightly higher than usual. “See, honey, it’s all good. Mission in life, and more money.”

“Still, high potential death factor,” Anya said. “But, I guess, if it’ll make you happy…”

Xander grinned hugely. Then he picked Anya up in a bear hug, and swung her around while she squealed. “Xander!”

“You know, Xander. While I am loath to dissuade you from what may truly be your vocation, I feel it is incumbent upon me to bring something to your attention.” Giles paused. “You will be constantly challenged to face one of your greatest nemeses.”

“Vamps. Feh.”

“No, bookwork. You have to study to become a Watcher. A lot.”

Xander looked slightly crestfallen, but then his expression hardened. “It’s worth it. Don’t try to scare me off, Giles. I’ve made up my mind, and a massive pile of dusty tomes won’t change that.”

“Very well. Let me go contact the Council.” Giles left the room, still bemused at his delight in Xander’s decision.

Anya was still in Xander’s arms. He kissed her, quickly, and said, “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For being cool with this. For letting me go ahead with this even though you’re scared.”

“I am scared,” Anya nodded. “If you get dead because of this, I’ll kill you.”

“Noted,” Xander replied. “I promise not to get dead because of this.”

“Thank you.” For the first time since his decision, Anya smiled. It was a halfhearted, little smile, thought Xander, but it was a start.

“Hey Will! Did you hear the news?” Xander asked. “Gonna be a Watcher, do Watcher stuff, learn the Watcher secret handshake…”

Willow looked up from the book she wasn’t reading. “Yeah. Good for you.” Then her gaze slid back down to the book in front of her. “She’s grumpy today,” Anya confided. “She’s been curled up in that chair all day, with that book. And I haven’t seen her turn any pages. I think she’s freaking out.”

“About last night? And the thing with – and –“ Xander stopped. He remembered the previous night: how he, Willow, and Anya had just stared at each other outside Dracula’s castle. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement between them, that this new information was just a little too much to process. It was easier to let it go that night, to get Giles home and make sure that he was okay. “Understandable. I’m still trying not to think about it, ‘cause thinking makes me wig.”

Giles came back into the room, his Watcher’s Journal in hand. “Good news! The Council appears to think you qualified to attempt the Watcher initiation. They will be promptly sending me a copy of the current Watcher initiation rituals.”

“Watcher ini--?”

Giles cut Xander off before he could finish his question. With boyish enthusiasm, he said, “So, as you will presently be joining our esteemed society, I thought it beneficial for you to assist me in the documentation of Buffy’s exploits. It’s never too early for a Watcher to learn to express himself clearly and cogently in written communication.”

Xander looked at Giles. “You want me to tell you what happened after you were knocked out, so you can add it to the Watcher diary?”

“Exactly!” Giles beamed, and picked up his pen. “As thorough an account as possible, if you please.”

“Okay, well, Spike punched you out—“

“Yes, I knew that part—“

“And then he challenged Dracula, all friendly-like, to see how strong Drac’s hold was on Buffy. Spike snapped her out of the trance, and Buffy got Drac to release us. Spike cut me loose, and the girls and I hauled your unconscious butt out of there while Buffy threw down.”

“How did Spike break Buffy free of the thrall?” Giles asked, scribbling frantically.

“He kissed her.” Willow’s voice sounded hollow, as though she was farther away than the chair in the corner.

“What?” Giles’ pen stopped.

“He kissed her.” Anya said. “Thoroughly. And she kissed him back.”

“Yeah.” Xander smiled weakly. “I was freaking a little myself. But it worked, so… And then, we were dragging you home to put ice on your eye.”

“I – wait, I’m missing something here.” Giles looked shell-shocked. “Why would Spike kiss Buffy?”

“Well, maybe…” Xander thought for a second. “Maybe he was trying to gross her out. You know, nausea at Spike lips breaking Drac-thrall?”

Anya shook her head. “That wasn’t ‘grab-kiss-shock her out of it’. That was ‘Hello, lover. Remember me?’ The way his hands cupped her face? The way her fingertips gently settled at his waist? They way he looked at her when he broke off the kiss? They’ve done this before. And liked it.”

“Please, Anya.” Giles winced. “Spare us the graphic detail. We get your point.”

“Do you?” Anya countered. “Giles, that kiss was hot. They kiss like they’re having sex. Lots of sex.”

“Oh dear lord,” Giles whispered.

***

Buffy entered the Magic Shop, with Spike a few steps behind her. She tossed the battle axe in a nearby trunk; then she pulled a stake from her inside jacket pocket and tossed it after the axe.

“Guys, we have officially hit a lull. Nothing for the last week, fun little Dracula interlude last night, nothing tonight. I swear, if not for the Madlibs, I would’ve fallen asleep out there.”

Giles, Xander, Willow and Anya sat at the table, looking at her. She took a few steps toward the table, but stopped. Something was a little off in the room, making her feel slightly uncomfortable.

“So, sorry I didn’t stop by earlier, before patrol. I was running late, and thought I’d just get it done. Tomorrow night, I swear, you’re all in. Group patrol. Nonexistent vamps, beware.”

Nobody said anything. Xander glanced at Anya, who crossed her arms and looked resolute. Willow’s eyes were huge as she stared at Buffy. Giles laced his fingers together, and took a deep breath.

“What’s wrong?” Buffy looked at her friends. “Bad news? Is Dawn okay?”

“Buffy. Uh, no. That is, nothing’s wrong with Dawn.” Giles was nervous; he had taken his glasses off, and now seemed unable to look at her. “We do, however, need to speak with you. Something – something has come to our attention that is, frankly, a little disconcerting. We were rather hoping that you could somehow refute this allegation, or, perhaps, reassure us that the information I received was, uh, spurious or misconstrued–“

“Giles. English. Not watcher-speak.”

Spike touched her shoulder. “Buffy. The kiss. They know.”

Now none of her friends could look at her.

“Yeah,” Buffy said. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”

“So,” Spike said, his voice full of forced cheer. “I’m gonna take off now, but I’ll catch up with you guys really soon. It’s been fun.” He backed towards the door, and was reaching for the handle when Buffy’s voice stopped him.

“Spike. Sit.”

“Yeah. I don’t think so. If I wanted to sit around and listen while people tear me a new one, I’d – well, I’d stick around here. But I don’t, so I won’t.”

Buffy turned to face him. “Spike, please. I want you to stay. This is something that you need to be part of.”

Spike looked at her for a long moment. His face betrayed nothing of what he was thinking, and for a second Buffy was sure her plea had failed. In an instant, the decision was made, and he shot her a quick grin. He grabbed a chair from the table, and then turned it around, straddling the chair and propping his elbows on the back. Then, lighting a cigarette, he said: “Fire away.”

“Good. Well then.” Giles searched for something, for a way to ask the question he didn’t really want an answer to. His mouth worked, silently, starting and then rejecting question after question.

“Buffy. Are you…?” Willow’s voice trailed off, and she looked back down at her hands.

Anya was losing patience. “Well, if nobody else can ask it, I will. Buffy? Are you having sex with Spike?”

“And if I am?” Buffy shot back, defensive.

Anya said, in a matter-of-fact tone, “That would be bad.”

Spike smirked. “Obviously, you’ve never had sex with me.”

“Ew.” Xander shuddered. “So not going there. She meant it would be stupid, Buffy.”

“This coming from Xander, Mr. Prudent Relationship Guy?”

“Buffy!” Giles protested.

“What?”

“Please!”

“Look,” Buffy shot back, “I’m the one getting attacked here.”

“Fine. Buffy, I don’t know another way to say this.” Giles stood up quickly, and turned away. “Even, even considering a relationship with Spike is dangerous, and foolhardy.”

“It’s not considered.” Buffy was getting really angry, and there was steel in her voice. “It’s done. Spike. Me. Relationship? Done deal.”

“Are you insane?” Giles was trying not to yell, and failing miserably.

“Yes! Probably!” Buffy yelled back.

Xander broke in, doing his best to be rational. “Buffy, you’ve been in a relationship with a vampire. With Angel. It didn’t work. It can’t work.”

“Bollocks.”

Xander pointed a finger at Spike. “You shut up.”

“No. Your argument is a piece of crap. She loves one vampire, it doesn’t work; therefore, no relationship with a vampire will work. By the same logic, she dated the Milk-Fed Soldier Boy, that didn’t work, scratch all men off the list. That leaves, what, certain human-compatible species of demon, or turn Wicca.”

Willow looked up, stricken.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that, pet. Just making a point.” Spike waved a hand and smirked. “Please, continue. This is fun. What else is wrong with me?”

“Well,” Xander searched for a response. “You’re a smoker. Buffy said she’d never date a smoker.”

“Kissing a smoker is like kissing an ashtray,” Anya affirmed. “Not that I’ve ever kissed an ashtray, mind you.”

“Look,” Buffy worked to regain control of her emotions, to rationally explain her decision to her friends. “I have spent the last three years being afraid. I was afraid that letting someone in, that letting myself love someone, was giving him a free pass to break my heart. …I’m not saying it’s perfect, and I don’t know if it’s forever. But now – right now – I’m in love, and I’m happy. And that’s enough. For me. Please – please – can that just be enough for you?”

There was a long beat of silence. No one quite knew what to say, how to respond to Buffy’s declaration. Finally, Willow spoke. “No.”

“Willow?” Buffy realized she was crying.

“No, Buffy. It’s not enough.” Willow’s voice was full of hurt and outrage, her eyes hot with tears. “How could you do this? And how could you not tell me about this? How is that even possible?”

“Will. I couldn’t tell you. I tried so hard. I just couldn’t get the words out. You’re hurting so bad, you’re missing her so much. How could I tell you that I’ve fallen in love?”

“No.” Willow stood up, the quick motion knocking her chair to the floor. “I can’t deal with this right now. Suddenly, you love Spike. You don’t know – you can’t imagine –“

“Willow, please,” Buffy entreated, as she walked towards Willow to comfort her.

With a gesture, Willow slammed Buffy into the opposite wall. Her face was contorted with rage, and pain. “ …While I’m dead inside, while nothing is good, nothing will ever be good again. Have sex with Spike. Lie to yourself that it’s something real, something true. Lie to yourself that you’re in love. Love is dead, Buffy. It died when she – God! How can you --?”

Willow broke off and ran to the door, sobbing hysterically. She threw it open and fled into the night, the door banging shut behind her.

“Buffy, you hurt?” Spike was already at her side.

“I’m fine, I’m just a little shaken,” Buffy replied. She pushed herself to a sitting position. “Oh, God. Poor Will. I knew she was hurting, I knew it. But I let myself believe her when she said she was okay. We have to…”

“Xander, go after her,” Giles urged. “Make sure she’s all right.”

Xander crossed to the door, but stopped as something grabbed his attention. “I can’t.”

“What? Why?” Anya asked.

Xander turned towards Giles, shock and concern evident on his face. “The door. It’s fused shut.”

***

Dawn padded downstairs, heading to the kitchen. It was 10:30, and Buffy wasn’t back yet. Dawn wondered idly if she should be worried, and then dismissed the thought. Buffy was still in insano-protecty mode, and would let her know if anything bad was going on.

Dawn pulled the milk jug out of the fridge and poured herself a glass. She yawned. Technically, she should have been in bed an hour ago. But then, she thought, technically she had been in bed at 9:30. Lights out and everything. Taking a flashlight under the covers so that she could finish re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? It wasn’t breaking the rules unless she got caught.

Her Driver’s Ed permission slip was on the island in the middle of the kitchen. Dawn picked it up, idly wondering if she should just chuck the whole idea. It’s not like there would be a quick fix for getting over being the school freak. It would be nice to drive, though. To feel like she was in control of something.

Wait a minute. Dawn had filled out the form yesterday. The only blank line had been the one at the bottom, the one where parents had to sign. There now, in flowing script, was a name: “Buffy Anne Summers”.

***

Giles examined the doorframe intently, occasionally referring back to the mystical text held open in his hand. The door had melted into the jamb, and was now one seamless unit. He muttered a few words under his breath, but stopped immediately when the door began to glow red.

“Well, it appears we’re stuck here,” he sighed.

“Can’t we, I don’t know, kick down the door, or crawl through a window or something?” Anya offered.

“Unfortunately, no.” Giles replied. “The spell is suffused throughout all of the exterior surfaces of the building, including both roof and floor. It will thwart any attempts to breach the barrier, and may also result in rather severe physical injury. On the bright side, however, the spell has a finite duration.”

“Which is?” Xander asked.

“Uncertain. Definitely within the next seventy-two hours.” Giles looked at Buffy sheepishly.

“Three days?” Buffy couldn’t keep a note of panic out of her voice. “We can’t be in here that long. Willow needs us! We have to get to her, have to do something. And Dawn will totally freak if I’m not home.”

“Can something non-living get through the barrier?” proposed Spike.

“No good.” Giles replied. “The barrier would stop a vampire as quickly as a human.”

Anya snapped her fingers. “The phone. At least, we can try to call out.”

“Great. Yeah. Let me give it a shot.” Buffy stood quickly. “I’ll call from the training room, if that’s okay. If it works, I’m gonna try to reach Will.”

“Yeah,” Anya said. “I’ll come with you. I don’t have anyone to call or anything. I have to pee.”

Buffy and Anya went into the backroom. The three men just stood there, trapped in an awkward silence.

“So. Giles. Sorry for the …” Spike made a punching gesture.

“Oh, yes, as I’ve never been knocked out before…”

“Right. Well…” Spike reached an internal decision. “Giles. Xander.”

They looked at him. Quietly, Giles asked, “Yes?”

“Look. I realize I don’t deserve to be with Buffy – that nothing I can do will ever make me worthy of her.” Spike shrugged his shoulders. “But I love her. I love her so much that her concerns are my concerns, her values my values. I didn’t even have values, and now, boom! Full set of hers, here, in me. I love her enough to strive to become a man worthy of loving her. And, miracle of miracles, that appears to be enough for her. She has given me the incredible, amazing, earth-shattering gift of loving me, and allowing me to love her. What could possibly make me want to bollocks that up?”

Giles took a minute to consider what the vampire had said. “I know that you believe what you’re saying. And I don’t doubt that you love Buffy, Spike.” He sighed. “But it’s not so easy to believe that a vampire with no soul, with no physical inducement to be good, can choose to be good. It contravenes everything I’ve been taught to believe, as well as everything in Watcher manuals or histories.”

“Granted.”

“Still, your behavior during these recent, uh, altercations with Glory and Dracula would lend some credence to your assertions.”

Xander said, “Plus, the way you’ve helped us makes it slightly easier to believe you.” He narrowed his eyes. “Slightly.”

Giles flashed a look of thinly veiled irritation at Xander. “Yes.” He sighed. “I suppose that trusting Buffy should mean trusting her judgment here.”

“Nah. I admit, her taste in men can be a bit dodgy.”

“Please, Spike, I’m trying to rationalize a way to work towards accepting this… Here. I propose we have a bit of a probationary period. A trial period, as it were, wherein we work to gain each other’s trust. And some increased contact, so that I can keep an eye on you. Perhaps that will result in my favorably revising my opinion of you, and lessen my opposition to this liaison.”

Spike nodded. “Yeah. Hell, I had to prove myself to the Slayer, this should be old hat. What do I need to do?”

“Well, for starters, I will need an extra pair of hands here at the shop.” Giles gestured to Xander. “Xander has decided to pursue becoming a Watcher. I’ll need some assistance with the initiation ritual. Also, potentially with some of the training.”

“No. No, no, nosirree, no.” Xander shook his head repeatedly. “It’s bad enough that I have to go through some whackadoo initiation ceremony. I do not need the pulseless one laughing at my humiliation.”

“Done.” Spike nodded, and started to grin.

Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose, and cleared his throat. “To be honest, Spike, I can’t say when the probationary period will be over. I don’t know if I’ll ever trust you. But here, because of her, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. It’s the best I can do, I’m afraid.”

“What he said.” Xander pointed at Giles. “Only, less benefit in the doubting.”

“One more thing, Spike.”

“Yeah?”

“Buffy loves you. That means you have the potential to really hurt her.” Giles voice was as cold and hard as Spike had ever heard it. “Don’t.”

“Or you’ll kill me, yeah,” Spike replied, shaking his head a little. “Well, wait in line.”

“Oh, I won’t kill you, Spike. I will, however, ensure that you exist in perpetual agony until the end of my days. And before I die, I will enlist the Watcher’s Council to continue that torment until the end of the world. You could beg for death, for your pain to stop. And the only response to your pleas will be further excruciating pain. Are we clear on this?”

Spike met Giles’ gaze squarely. “Fair enough.” An agreement, a détente, had been reached.

“Yeah!” Xander broke in. “I knew I wanted to be a Watcher!”

Spike shifted focus to Xander, and took a step towards him. “So you want to hurt me, Harris?”

“I wouldn’t say no to the job. Hell, my job satisfaction would go through the roof.”

Spike took another step towards Xander, and was now mere inches away. “But what if I like it?”

A look of panic flashed across Xander’s face, and he took a step back. “Uh, you’re just messing with me, now, aren’t you?”

***

Willow was curled in a fetal position in the center of her bed. Great, wrenching sobs shook her slender frame, and her fists clenched spasmodically.

Something reminiscent of black smoke began to gather a few inches above Willow’s body. It swirled and writhed above her, showing glints of green and purple and brown.

“Oh, God, baby, I miss you so much,” Willow crooned.

“I know, I’m sorry, I know,” the mist seemed to reply.

***

“Okay, the phone line’s working,” Buffy said as she reentered the room, Anya following her. “I called Dawn, and she knows that she’s on her own for, well, tonight at least.”

“Any luck reaching Willow?” Xander asked.

“Machine. I left a message.” Buffy gave a halfhearted smile, but she was holding back tears.

Xander crossed over to her, and put his hands on her shoulders. “Buff, we’ll track her down. We’ll make sure nothing bad happens to her.”

“Something bad’s already happened to her.” Buffy’s lip was quivering slightly.

“Then we’ll help find a way to make it better.” Xander smiled in reassurance. “Whatever we need to do, we’ll do.”

“Yeah.”

“Buffy,” Spike spoke up from across the room. “If you like, I’ll go talk to her. Not tonight, obviously, and, heh, not until I’m pretty sure she won’t set that ‘ball of sunshine’ spell on me. But, you know, declare my honest intentions, let her threaten to kill me if I hurt you, that sort of thing.”

Buffy smiled at him. “Nah. I need to do it. She needs an explanation. And some groveling. And probably chocolate. You know, it’s weird, but… it was something Willow said that got you and me together.”

“Umm,” Anya said, “the way Willow stormed out of here? That really didn’t look like somebody playing matchmaker.”

“It wasn’t that straightforward,” Buffy replied. “I was scared out of my gourd to admit my feelings, even to myself. But Willow – we were talking about Tara, and she said I shouldn’t screw around with letting people know I love them. That fear just wastes time, keeping you apart from the person you love. And I do love him. It’s not just sex, or some weird bad-guy fixation. It’s big, old, wonderful, messy, terrifying love. And I’m not going to apologize for it. Keeping it a secret? Yeah. That was unfair to everybody – to you guys, but especially to Spike.”

“You’ll make it up to me,” Spike said, with a hint of a smile.

“I’ll make it up to everybody… In individual and friend-appropriate ways, of course, and Xander, don’t think I didn’t see that leer.” Buffy paused. “I really am sorry I didn’t tell you guys. But now you know – this is how things stand. And there really isn’t anything you can say to change that.”

“Look, Buff, I’m not going to say I like the thought of you and Spike together,” Xander said. “I don’t. Vampires, bad. Long-standing belief of mine. But if you’re in love, I’m not gonna beat you up about it. Plus, well, I can’t beat you up.”

“Buffy.” Giles caught her attention. “You should know that, while you were in the other room, we’ve come to a bit of an agreement.”

“Yeah, I caught some of it,” Buffy replied. “Probation, helping you with Xander, don’t hurt Buffy. Anything else important?”

“No, that pretty much covers it.” Giles nodded.

“Good, thanks. For trying at least. I know it’s asking a lot.” Buffy said. She took a few steps across the room towards Spike, but stopped. “Oh, but, the part I missed is, help you with Xander with what?”

Anya replied, “Xander is going to be a Watcher.”

“No.” Buffy looked stunned. “Really?”

“Umm, yeah.” Xander said. “You’re okay with that, right?”

“Are you kidding? This is fantastic!” Buffy crossed back to Xander and hugged him, hard.

“Okay – ribs…” Xander laughed. “Ow…”

Buffy let him go. “So what do you have to do? What does it take? You don’t have to go to England or jump through flaming hoops or anything, do you?”

“Haven’t a clue. Giles said something about initiation rituals…”

“Initiation rituals? So, what, Giles, it’s like a fraternity?” Buffy asked.

Giles took off his glasses. “Well, yes, I suppose that’s a fair analogy. More mysticism, less public drunkenness and nudity, of course, but the comparison is apt.”

“Wow,” Xander said. “The closest I’ve come to being in a fraternity is my ‘I Eta Pi’ sweatshirt.”

“But we’ll know more specifics tomorrow, and I’ll fill you in then,” Giles said. “In the meanwhile, as we aren’t going anywhere, I suggest we just settle in for the night.”

“Okay,” Xander said. “Not really much else we can do.”

Buffy walked over to Spike, and wrapped her arms around his torso. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

“I heard what you said earlier, when I was in the training room. About loving me?”

Spike winced. “And?”

“Who knew? My evil vampire boyfriend is a great big schmoopie-bear.”

With a glint in his eye, Spike brushed his lips along her jawbone. Then he whispered in her ear, “You’ll pay for that, Slayer.”

Buffy shivered a little, and nuzzled his neck. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Giles cleared his throat. “Please, Buffy. This is going to be a difficult enough adjustment, without constant visual reminders.”

***

Buffy woke slowly, the ambient light of morning teasing her towards consciousness. Even before she was fully awake, she was aware that something was different. She was not in her bed, she thought drowsily. Oh, right, stuck in the Magic Shop. They had to sleep on the mats in the training room. Not exactly comfortable. And the pillow beneath her cheek was – she raised her head a little – Spike’s left shoulder. She had slept the whole night like this: her head on his shoulder, her hand resting on his chest, her leg slung across his hips.

She raised her head a little more to look at him. He was awake, and looking at her.

“Morning.”

“Hey!”

“Ssshh. Everyone else is still asleep,” Spike whispered.

“You’re still here?” Buffy matched his whisper.

“Yeah, well, trapped in the Magic Shop will do that to a bloke.” He grinned, but gently. He was enjoying the moment as much as she.

“I’ll just have to get us stuck here more often,” Buffy said. “I kind of like waking up like this.”

“It definitely has its perks,” Spike replied. “I’m all warm from you, like the blanket you wrap ‘round yourself at night.”

“Mmm,” she agreed, shifting her weight so that she was lying on top of him.

“Buffy?” Spike suddenly looked intent, and a little unsure of himself. “Now that it’s official, you and me, all public knowledge and stuff…”

“Yeah?”

“If we can get out of here before then, are you free tonight?”

“For, like, a date?” Buffy asked.

“Umm, yes. No Slayer stuff, mind you. Taking my best girl out for a night on the town, that sort of thing.”

Buffy smiled. “I think I can fit that into my schedule.”

“Y’can?”

“Yeah.”

Spike kissed her.

“And I’m free tomorrow night, too.” She bent her head to kiss him back.

Then Spike pulled away from the kiss. “Okay, off.”

“No,” she protested, “Don’t wanna.”

“Buffy, I’m already… uncomfortable. We’re getting close to embarrassingly obvious.”

“Oh. Oh! Well, color me blushing.” She hopped to her feet. “Probably not the way we want to wake the others.”

“No, I think not.” Spike stood, a little more gingerly. Buffy took his hand.

“Come on. Let’s see what Giles has for breakfast around this joint.”

Half an hour later, Xander and Anya were also awake. Buffy had searched high and low for coffee, but had to settle for tea. The four sat at the round table in the magic shop, drinking tea and eating shortbread cookies from a massive tin.

Giles shuffled out from the practice room, looking bleary eyed and rumpled.

“Oh, God, I hate sleeping on the floor.”

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s idea of a picnic,” Anya said.

“Yes, well, I’m old.” Giles poured himself a cup of tea, and grabbed a cookie. Then he asked, “Anyone use the computer this morning?”

“Anya checked her stocks,” Xander replied, “so the thing should be all fired up.”

“Goody.” Giles crossed to the computer, taking huge slurps of tea.

“Giles, Xander just told me what his starting salary would be,” Buffy said. “So why do Watchers make serious money, and the Slayer gets bupkis?”

“Oh. Well it’s all a vast conspiracy, really,” Giles answered. “An attempt to keep power in the hands of a bunch of old, fuddy-duddy, megalomaniacal misogynists.”

“The man is trying to keep you down, Buff,” Xander added.

“And now you’re the man, Xander,” Buffy replied. “And not in the good way.”

“Here it is!” Giles waved a piece of paper that had just come out of his printer. “The Council just e-mailed me the procedures for Watcher initiation. We can start today, if you like.”

“Well, that’s a good sign.” Xander had a slightly nervous look on his face.

“That they were willing to send it?” Buffy asked.

“That it fits on the one sheet of paper,” Xander replied.

“Actually, the miraculous bit is that they were willing to send it via e-mail at all,” Giles remarked absently, as he perused the list. “Not because it’s some arcane and confidential mystical ritual, mind you. It’s just – e-mail.”

“Darn these newfangled technological thingamabobbies!” Buffy snarked.

“Yes. Precisely.”

“Why do you need a list anyway?” Spike asked. “You Watchers don’t strike me as the type to embrace innovation. Ritual and tradition good, and all that.”

“No, I don’t imagine the procedures have altered in centuries, actually.”

“Then shouldn’t Xander just do what you did, and Bob’s-yer-uncle?”

Giles smiled, but seemed a little uncomfortable. “No, not really. You see, as my father was a Watcher, as I came from a long line of Watchers, in fact, I entered the Council under special circumstances.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “You were a legacy?”

“Well, yes…”

Buffy looked at Xander. “See? Frat boy.”

“So what does Xander have to do?” Anya asked.

“Let’s see.” Giles perused the list. “Mystical proof that one hasn’t sold one’s soul to a dark force, that’s easy to accomplish. Recent physical. Completion of the Watcher personality profile and the ‘Why I Want to Be a Watcher’ essay. Ritual of Phobos—bugger, that is unpleasant. Basic Mysticism Competency Examination, don’t worry, any moron can pass that— ”

“Yes,” Xander broke in, “But what about this particular moron?”

“You’ll be fine. Basic Combat Skills Assessment – Spike, you can help with that one –”

“Always happy to hit Xander – ”

“Oh. Oh. Now, this will be a hurdle.” Giles looked up from the sheet of paper. “You have to have slain a vampire.”

Xander nodded, slowly and seriously. “Just the one?”

“Oh, I think ‘one or more’ will work in this instance.”

“Good. Because that might have been a deal-breaker.”

Giles couldn’t help it. He chuckled. Then, “Well, you do need affidavits from two witnesses to the slaying.”

Xander snorted.

“In most circumstances, that’s rather difficult to accomplish,” Giles protested.

Now the whole table was laughing. Giles shook his head, and then gave in, laughing with the rest.

“Hey! Hey! Look!” Anya pointed at the front of the shop. “The door! It’s a real door again!”

***

Buffy stood in front of Willow’s dorm room, debating whether she should knock or just go in. Finally, she rapped her knuckles against the front door. No response. Buffy waited, and then knocked again.

“Willow? Willow, it’s me, Buffy. You in there?”

The door swung open about a foot. Willow stood there, in the doorway, gazing blankly at her.

“I can’t talk right now.” Her voice was strangely emotionless, as though she were numb, or drained.

“But, Will, umm, okay, when would be a good time?”

“Thanks for coming by.”

“Willow?”

The door was shut in Buffy’s face.
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