"I can't remember the last time I saw a movie in an actual theatre." Buffy cradled the cordless phone between her ear and shoulder as she rummaged through the grocery bags. Giles had brought Dawn home, carried in the shopping bags, and then announced he was heading over to the Coven to discuss some important matters, which naturally left her to put away the groceries. A chore she despised, and one which annoyed her even more this time as she imagined just what those important matters were. Her mood would have been completely ruined, if Brad hadn't decided to call.
"It's great that we have a date." Brad's enthusiasm was clear over the phone.
Buffy cringed, but quickly kept herself from jumping down his throat for making fun of her when she remembered that Brad had no way of knowing about her recent Dr. Seuss affliction. "Yeah. A date. I think I've forgotten how to do that,” she said teasingly, arranging several containers of yogurt on the shelf of the refrigerator.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to remind you."
Buffy chuckled. "Anything that doesn't involve the word 'disaster' sounds good to me." She shook her head, remembering that the last actual 'date' she had been on was with Robin. And that date most definitely met the definition of disaster. She paused, as her free hand closed around a jar of spaghetti sauce.
"Uh, you're giving me an awful lot of leeway here, Buffy,” he chuckled.
“Oh, I wouldn't be so sure,” she said. “I'd say dating has pretty much been a code word for disaster. At least for me.”
“Actually, I can kind of relate." Brad's voice brought her back to the present. "I've had my fair share of dead-enders myself."
“Hopefully not as lethal as some of mine,” she muttered to herself.
“What's that?” Brad asked. “I think the phone cut out there for a second.”
“Oh, I was just agreeing with your choice of words,” she said. “So you sure you wanna take another stab at it?”
“I'm holding on to the hope that we'll be able to break the trend. Whatcha say? You up to the challenge?" Brad asked.
"I don't know," Buffy joked. "It could get pretty ugly."
"I can take it if you can."
Buffy smiled. She had always wondered what it would feel like to be an ordinary girl, flirting with some guy on the phone, and making plans for a Saturday night. Now she knew. And she could definitely get used to it. "Okay, tomorrow at seven then. But consider yourself warned. No money back guarantees, and I don't carry hazard insurance."
Brad laughed. “Gotcha. See you then."
"Yeah. See ya." Buffy smiled and hung up the phone. As she went to put the sauce away, she noticed Dawn standing in the doorway.
"See who?" Dawn asked, heading straight to the fridge. "Oh! Was that Mr. Greenjeans?" Dawn poked her head into the refrigerator, carelessly moving things around as she searched for an elusive snack.
"Shouldn't you be up in your room, tormenting a book or something?" Buffy asked.
Dawn emerged with a soda, and placed it on the counter. She then started rummaging through the rest of the unpacked groceries. "Geez, Giles never buys any real snack food.”
Buffy placed both hands on her hips. "That's why we send him. At least when he does the shopping, food with some nutritional value makes it into the house."
"Gee, I don't know what we're gonna do when he starts working again.” Her over dramatization was lost on Buffy. "Hey, maybe Xander could do the shopping?" Both girls were silent as they imagined sending Xander to do the grocery shopping.
Buffy shuddered. "No. Absolutely not." Her tone brooked no further argument. "So studying,” she transitioned less than smoothly. “Aren't you supposed to be doing some?"
"I just got home,” Dawn whined. “I need some brain food." She popped open her soda and took a long drink.
Buffy strode to the refrigerator and jerked open a drawer. "Here," she said shortly, slapping an apple into her sister's hand. "You always think you're so smart. This should be more than enough to feed that brain of yours."
Dawn stared at the apple with contempt. Buffy slammed the refrigerator door and stood in front of it with her arms folded, blocking access like a guard dog. Resigned, Dawn bit into the fruit. Satisfied that her order was being carried out, Buffy returned to the task of putting away the food.
"And you're going to have to fend for yourself tomorrow night," she said absently. "I've got a date."
"A date?" Dawn raised an eyebrow. "Should I call 9-1-1 now or just wait until the bodies start piling up?"
Buffy glared over her shoulder. "Ha. Ha."
"Well, you know. The last time you had a date... ," Dawn trailed off as Buffy turned to stare at her. "Uh, quiz Monday," she ad-libbed quickly. "Yeah. I'm a little nervous about a quiz... that I have on Monday." She gave a quiet sigh of relief as the Slayer turned back to the groceries. "So, since you're gonna be guy-groping tomorrow, can I meet Liz at the library and study there?"
Arms filled with cans, Buffy turned to the cabinets and began stocking the shelves. Cursing her lack of height, she stretched up on her tiptoes to reach the second shelf.
"There will be no groping!" she growled defensively. "And Library time is acceptable. But only during daylight hours."
Dawn was about to whine, but Buffy managed to cut her off with a preemptive shush.
"Don't even! You know the rules. No unsupervised evening jaunts. Or is your selective memory acting up again?"
"Liz's mom can give me a ride home," Dawn compromised.
Buffy paused, thinking for a moment. "All right. But only as long as Liz's parents corroborate your story. And I want at least one book checked out from the library as proof. And you come straight home right after."
Dawn huffed in annoyance at all the conditions of her momentary freedom.
Buffy turned and gave Dawn a piercing stare. "I mean it, Dawn.”
“Fine.” Dawn was less than enthused, but took what she could get. “You want me to cross my heart and hope to—,” she stopped, her hand mid-cross over her heart. "Let's just say I promise and leave it at that."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "All right. Then you can go."
"Gee thanks," Dawn said as she headed out of the kitchen with her soda and half-eaten apple. At the door, she spun around. "Have fun guy groping," she said, before dashing from the room.
"There will be no groping!" Buffy shouted after her.
Ethan smiled at the humming laptop computer, the archived version of the Whispering Pines Gazette glowing on the screen. "Just look at what I've missed! The Slayer has gotten herself a little sister, and apparently, the Sunnydale real estate market has taken quite the plunge. Of course Ripper's going to pick a house with a murderous history to move into." He shook his head, making a tsk-tsk noise. "A little impromptu vacation and the world just falls apart without me. I should really pay more attention to local events.”
Pushing the chair back from the hotel desk, he wandered the hotel room with an almost giddy excitement. Catching sight of his old friend and realizing his target had special protection, had forced Ethan to reevaluate his plans. "Dawn Summers. Sister of the Slayer, complete with comprehensive school and medical records. Almost as if history had been rewritten to include you," he mused. "You must be very important indeed, little one, for the Slayer and her dutiful Watcher to take you in as one of their own."
Ethan returned to the desk and scrolled the web page down to an older issue. He stared long and hard at the image of his old friend.
"Such a crafty boy, Ripper… wrapping yourself in a cloak of mediocrity." He scoffed at the thought. "It doesn't suit you. And your past always manages to come back to haunt you, doesn't it, old man? Usually with me leading the charge, of course,” he added with a chuckle.
Still laughing, he grabbed his jacket and left the room.
"Perhaps a movie?" Jo suggested. "Something deep and meaningful, with just the right amount of romance combined with overpriced and under-buttered popcorn?" She gave Giles a nudge of encouragement with her foot as the hammock swung back towards him. He stood patiently in the damp grass. Since the sun had appeared after several days of rain, everyone at the coven was taking advantage of the sunny day, even if it was to just swing lazily in a hammock. Smiling warmly at her playfulness, he shook his head regretfully as he shoved his hands in his pockets.
"I'm afraid I've sworn off theater popcorn ever since Xander enticed me into trying something he referred to as his 'slasher specialty.'" His voice carried a tone of mock remorse. "It consisted of equal parts chocolate covered caramels, something revoltingly referred to as gummy worms and popcorn." Giles gave a shudder at the memory. "Scarred me for life. In fact, I believe I actually lost a tooth that night."
Jo gave a peal of laughter. "Such sacrifices must be made to enjoy life. You need to learn that lesson, Rupert!" she teased. She gave him another playful nudge with her foot, pushing him off balance. Stepping back to regain it, he straightened and ran his fingers through his wind blown hair.
"And I gather you're the person who's going to educate me," he asked, gazing down at her as she lazed about in the hammock on the Coven porch. His green eyes sparkled over the rim of his glasses.
She smiled. "You work too hard, Rupert. You need to take your mind off the Coven and Council business. They'll still be there tomorrow."
"Given the record thus far, I'm not so sure." His smile was bleak. "Fine. Tomorrow night then. We'll go to a movie, although I haven't a clue as to what is playing." He gave the hammock a helpful push when it began to slow.
Jo smiled at his thoughtfulness. "I will act as entertainment director for the evening," she promised. "All you have to do is supply me with your company." She nudged him again with her foot, and this time he caught it, holding her and the hammock mid-air with his hands. A rush of heat moved up her leg as he gently glided a finger along the bottom of her foot.
"It will be my pleasure," he said smiling. "I'm hoping to go over a few of things with Elspeth tomorrow. I'm certain it won't take long, and then I should be ready for an evening of entertainment under your direction." Giles' eyes glinted with mischief. "Perhaps there'll even be time for a cup of tea afterward."
Jo's heart began to race at his suggestion, and then her breath caught as he slowly leaned down and pressed a kiss to her lips, his warm hands still caressing her foot. The kiss was tender, his lips moving softly against hers. Before she could deepen it, he pulled away, with a grin.
"Until then," he whispered, as he abruptly gave her foot a gentle shove and stepped back.
“Rupert!” Jo shrieked as she swung back quickly. His only response was a chuckle. The hammock swung back and forth clumsily, as he made his way across the grass. As the hammock slowed, Jo touched her fingers to her lips and watched him leave.
She missed his touch already.
Ethan kicked the hotel door closed with the heel of his shoe. As it slammed shut, he tossed his shopping bags onto the bed. It never ceased to amaze him just how tiring shopping could be. After a quick check of his email inbox, he rummaged through one of the bags and pulled out a smaller one.
"Bloody stuff's getting pricier every day." He ran his fingers through his dark locks and with a push of the spacebar on his laptop, soothing music began to play. He moved to the bathroom, carrying the small paper bag and unbuttoning and loosening his shirt on the way. As he flipped on the light switch, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. The image triggered a sly grin. “You're still a fine looking chap!” he congratulated himself out loud, but as he continued to unbutton his shirt, his grin turned grim at the sight of a small mark along the base of his neck. He turned away from the mirror abruptly.
He took out some small plastic orange-tinted bottles and set them out one-by-one on the counter. Three little vials of medicines that promised, but rarely provided, relief from his troubles. He was about to go through his daily chore of swallowing down the worthless prescriptions, when a thought gave him pause. The useless pills did little more for him than what a good bottle of tequila could do. Why not dip into his newfound energy source and see what it had to offer?
Ethan returned to the bed and dug deeper into the shopping bags, this time pulling out various articles, including candles, herbs, and powders. As he sifted through the items, he chuckled at how many small towns had such resources available. If people only knew what these innocent looking items were capable of. But then again, ignorance was his shield.
After about fifteen minutes of preparation, he dimmed the lights and sat himself down on the floor, positioning himself in the center of a roughly shaped, blue powder-drawn triangle. With a few flickers of his trusty lighter, the candles were alight. The flames danced, casting dark shadows over his eager features. He hadn't attempted this spell before, but it was a simple incantation and with any luck, it would give him more relief than choking down those worthless pills. Another flick of the lighter set the small bundle of herbs crackling, and he dropped them into the bowl in front of him.
"Now... ," he smiled. "... talk to me, my lovely."
"... two terminals, one positive and one negative." Dawn was on her bed, reading her notes aloud in an attempt to drill the information into her brain. She had to do well on this quiz. If she brought home a stellar grade, Buffy would have to finally give her some leeway. "Electrons from the negative terminal are drawn to the positive terminal." A wave of dizziness spilled over her, and she closed her eyes for a moment to try to clear her head. It seemed to work, so she continued. "These electrons are created from a chemical reaction within the battery. Connecting these two terminals provides an energy source."
A loud slam sounded as a picture fell from the wall and crashed to the wooden floor. Dawn practically flew off of her bed. Hedwig had become quite the klutz lately. Dawn had already lost one of Buffy's good glasses and one of her own CD's, although the details surrounding the damaged CD seemed highly suspicious. Dawn hadn't ruled out Buffy as a suspect in the case of the smashed Jewel 'Intuition' CD.
"Hedwig, you scared me." She got up and went to the window to crack it open. "What's with you lately?" Just as she got the window right where she wanted it, it slid closed. "I like it open a little,” she said, opening it again. “I know it's a bit nippy but that shouldn't bother you." She made sure it stayed open this time and then returned to her bed and her books. Just as she got back into a comfortable studying position, she felt her head swim with a dull pain. It passed fairly quickly though, so she continued without getting up for aspirin.
"Unless the battery's terminals are connected, a battery will hold its charge. But as soon as you connect the terminals..."
Just as suddenly as it had passed, the ache returned. Only this time it was piercing. Dawn clutched her head in pain and blacked out.
"Did I tell you we got the Madison job?" Xander walked around the table dealing out plates like they were playing cards.
"That's great." Buffy checked the cookbook a final time before plunging her hands into the flour, butter and milk mixture. "I told you those photos of the bookcases you did for Giles would close the deal."
"And you were right." Xander wandered over and peered down into the bowl. "Is it supposed to look like that?"
Buffy scowled at him. "What's wrong with it?"
He leaned his shoulder against the refrigerator. "Nothing. Nada. Not a thing."
"Xander - "
"No, really." He smiled innocently. "What do I know about making scones?"
The ringing of the telephone interrupted whatever Buffy was going to say in response.
Xander walked across the room and scooped up the receiver. "Hello."
"Good evening, this is Carrie Whedon. May I speak to Buffy Summers? It's concerning her sister, Dawn."
"Just a minute." Xander lowered the phone. "Carrie Whedon wants to talk to you about Dawn."
"She's the school nurse. Will you talk to her?" Buffy lifted her flour-coated hands. "I'm sorta stuck."
Xander lifted the phone. "This is Xander Harris. Can I take a message for her? She's trying out a new recipe and just between you and me, interrupting her now could mean a trip to the emergency room for all of us later. "
He ignored the squawk of outrage from the woman in the room with him and listened to the laughter of the one on the other end of the line.
"Mr. Harris, I'm glad to meet you, even if its only on the phone. Dawn talks about you all the time."
"Call me Xander and let me tell you now that whatever she's said, it's not true. I have no idea how that police car got into that swimming pool."
"She said you always make her laugh. I think I know why."
"The Dawnster is a good audience."
"I was calling to check on Dawn and see how she's feeling. I didn't have a chance to talk to her today."
Xander looked at Buffy. "She wants to know about Dawn."
"She upstairs studying. She said that she didn't have a headache today and she promised that from now on she'll remember to eat lunch."
Xander relayed the information.
"That's wonderful. Please tell Miss Summers if there is anything I can do that she's shouldn't hesitate to contact me."
"Thanks, I will. We appreciate you looking after Dawn."
"She's a lovely girl and I just want to make sure she's ok.” There was a small hesitation. “Well, goodbye, Mr., um, Xander. It was a pleasure talking to you."
”Thanks for calling.” Xander kept the phone close his ear until he heard the click on the other end. Then he smiled and hung up. "She seems nice."
Buffy turned the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and began to knead it. "Dawn likes her. She said she wasn't nearly as scary as the school nurse in Sunnydale."
"I hope not." Xander opened a drawer and began to rummage for forks and knives. "The nurse in Sunnydale was a professional wrestler during the summer while school was out."
Ethan's body seized up as a swell of potent energy moved through him. As it did, it stung every nerve ending alive and flooded his mind with euphoria. Every ache he'd had, dulled; every tensed muscle, loosened. He'd done it. The spell worked to perfection, thanks to his precious fountain. If this young Summers' energies were rich enough to bolster a spell from such a distance, he couldn't even fathom the wondrous feats he could perform if he were closer, much closer. He jumped to his feet in excitement, but the blood rushed to his head, and he wavered for a moment. Once he regained his balance, he moved to the bathroom.
The minute he stepped out of the triangle, the relief vanished. It was gone just as quickly as it had come, but at least it was a start. He directed a resentful finger towards the bottles. "Soon, I won't be needing you lot anymore."
Accepting temporary defeat, he took his medicine. Then, with a heavy sigh, he started to undress, deciding a hot shower would help ease some of the deeper aches. And he needed to ponder the discoveries of the day. While he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his new energy source, he needed to consider how to handle his old mate Rupert Giles, the man who had condemned him to years of solitary confinement, scientific manipulations and experimentation.
As Ethan tossed his shirt to the floor, he caught another glimpse of himself in the mirror. The needle tracks down his arms made him look like a junkie and the rest of his chest was a mismash of various scars and brandings the Initiative had given him over the years. Disturbingly, he couldn't remember how or why he had received all of them. He thought perhaps that the sharp cut on his lower left side had come in the second year, but he couldn't remember what they had been digging for. Or maybe it had been an implant. The cause of the angled slice under his belly button also remained a mystery to him, even if it burned now and then late at night. Those government boys had done well in reprogramming his memory to forget exactly what they'd put him through and the pills helped keep the pain to a tolerable level. But it didn't matter. Despite the army's best efforts and the temporary relief from the drugs, he'd never forget the pain and the lost years. He couldn't forget, wouldn't forget.