For Rinso, RAGAnne, and Taste Like Special!

Next chapter = some fluffy goodness. Then some plot/strategy stuff after that. And some mega super-duper fluffy goodness after that. See ya next week! ;)

Chapter 18

Joyce was putting away groceries in the kitchen with Buffy. She stuck the milk in the fridge. "Sweetheart, why don't you go grab your sister? We'll go out to eat and celebrate, anywhere you like."

There was a lot to celebrate: Her mom was healthy for the moment (though Buffy and Dawn and Spike were all obsessively checking up on her); Buffy and Spike were getting married; Spike finally told her that he and Faith had torched the guy who was responsible for cutting Dawn over Glory's portal in Spike's less-than-happy timeline. Things were of the good. When that happened on the hellmouth, you sure as hell partied.

"Can this place have chocolate involved somehow?" Buffy grinned. "I'm thinking something in the realm of chocoholic lava explosion of sugary coma."

"Sure," Joyce laughed. "Is there anywhere in town where Spike can eat, too?"

"What, like a cash blood bar? Nowhere I'm taking my mother and sister, no." Buffy rolled her thumb over the pearl in the ring on her finger. Even Spike hardly went to Willie's anymore, except to cheat in poker against Clem and some other demons. "Besides, if the place we go to has deep-fried onions on the menu, he'll be good to go."

Joyce crushed the last empty paper bag and stuck it in the trash. "So the Doublemeat Palace then?"

"Good god, no!" Buffy started for the stairs. "Can you call Xander and tell him to send Spike over when they're done looking at tuxes with Anya?"

"I'll get right on that!" Joyce called back.

Buffy reached the top of the stairs. Dawn's bedroom door was open. "Dawnie?" Buffy stuck her head in. The room was empty, the only sign that Dawn had been home the diary on her bed and the backpack tossed on the floor. Buffy tried their mom's room next, and found nothing. She'd check the bathroom in a minute. First she wanted to grab her garnet necklace. When she opened her bedroom door, Dawn was sitting on the edge of Buffy's bed.

"Oh, hey," Buffy said. "Mom wanted me to tell you..."

Dawn lifted her head, staring at the wall. Her face was red and her cheeks were covered in tears. That was when Buffy caught sight of the black notebook in Dawn's hands. Buffy felt her eyes open so wide they stung, and a breath caught in her chest mid-inhale.

"'Bit is not the Slayer's real lil sis,'" Dawn read from the book. "Glory wants the kid's blood to spill into her portal and go home. Once there's even a drop of the stuff, Dawn's gotta die to close the portal again.'" Dawn tilted her face toward Buffy, her lip trembling. "I'm not your sister?"

"Oh god. I didn't want to tell you. I thought—" Buffy reached for Dawn's shoulder, but Dawn scrambled up to the headboard, curling her legs to her chest with her back to Buffy's pillows. She clutched to Spike's notebook for dear life.

"Leave me alone!" Dawn shrieked, more tears spilling over. She was scared and freaked. She shouldn't have found out that way, but Buffy thought she'd have more time, that she could tell Dawn about this once she was safe and Glory was taken care of.

"No." Buffy sat on the end of the bed, giving Dawn space but not abandoning her, either. "Not until we talk about this."

"I don't want to talk to you. You can stop pretending you care about me. I'm just another annoying part of your job."

"If you think that, you don't know me at all," Buffy said. "I love you. That's not some magical side-effect. You're my sister. It doesn't matter how you got to Sunnydale." Buffy reached out her hand, palm up, an offer that she wasn't going to push. "Dawn, you are my earring-stealing, planning-proposals-behind-my-back, chocolate-milkshake-inhaling little sister, and I love you."

Dawn sniffed, eyeing Buffy's hand. Finally, dropping the notebook, she rested her twitching hand on Buffy's. Spike had been nudging Buffy to tell Dawn about this since the Scoobies found out, but Buffy wanted to cut Dawn a break, to let her just be a kid for a while longer. There was no guarantee she'd really recover from this news.

"Did you know?"

"Did I know what?" Buffy asked, gripping Dawn's hand in hers.

"When you asked me to be your Maid of Honor. Did you know? Or what that the monks' spell, too?"

"I knew. I've known for a while. So has everyone else. And I still want you to be. My Maid of Honor, I mean."

Dawn let Buffy's hand go and scooched down the bed. Still curled up in a ball, she leaned against Buffy's side. "Is it because you want me to wear a hideous dress and take photographic evidence to use against me later?"

Buffy wrapped her arm around Dawn's shoulders, combing her fingers through her sister's hair. "Oh, totally."

"I knew it."

Buffy laid her head against Dawn's. "If... If you want to know more about this stuff, you can ask Giles, or Spike. He's all with the future knowing, especially when it comes to Glory and the..."

"The Key?"

"Yeah."

"Buffy?" Dawn wrapped her arms around Buffy's waist, snuggling against her shoulder. She seemed so much younger just then, like when she was seven and their cat ran away, and so much older, too. Too much weight had been placed on the girl's shoulders. Buffy could relate.

"Yeah, Dawnie?"

"I still think you're an airhead."

"See, and here I was going to tell you that Mom wants to take us out to dinner and I scored us guaranteed chocolate-y goodness for wherever we go."

The both of them just sat there a while, holding each other, listening to the silence. Dawn was going to have a hard time of it. Buffy knew that. She just hoped that between her and her mom and the Scoobies, they could figure out a way to make it hurt less for Dawn.

XXXXX

Buffy and Faith were not happy.

They sat in The Magic Box, Faith with her feet kicked up on the table. Buffy, just to keep her hands busy, was whittling a new stake. It never hurt to have extra stakes around, or to be holding something pointy and threatening when Quentin Travers was in the room. Giles was off picking him up from the airport in LA, and they were due back any minute. Faith seemed to have the same idea about sharp things, because she was rubbing a cloth over her knife, shining it. Buffy had to threaten to kick Spike's ass to keep him from tagging along. She didn't need the extra worry of him decking Travers for saying something stupid. Instead, he was back on Revello Drive playing Life with Dawn, Tara, Wills, and Joyce.

Travers had info on Glory beyond the documents Spike had snagged from that house he'd burned down, so they needed to get said info out of Travers, by threats if necessary. Buffy kind of hoped it was necessary, if she was honest. A good ass-kicking was just what the doctor ordered. She especially wanted to know more about the Dagon Sphere, because if she could send that with Dawn to school every day it'd be a load off her shoulders.

"So how's the rugrat doin'?" Faith asked.

"Huh?"

"Dawn."

"Oh. Yeah. Um, she's been, like, blowing off homework and stuff. Mostly just sits around the house staring off. We've been trying to cheer her up. Spike even offered to take her on a patrol, but she went up to bed instead."

"Gotta be hard," Faith said. She glanced at Buffy. "Knowin' you don't really belong. Even if people try to make it easy for you, never really is, is it?"

The door to The Magic Box opened. Travers walked in first, Giles after him. The slayers tensed in their seats, Faith's feet thudding to the floor.

"Yes, well," Giles said. "I have a salesgirl to help me see to all of it. Quite knowledgeable. In, er, monetary concerns and such."

"Miss Summers," Travers said, approaching the table like he owned the place. "Miss Lehane. Lovely to see you both again."

Buffy and Faith exchanged side glances, both of them holding their lips tight shut. Then they each acted at once, like they'd coordinated it ahead of time: Buffy pitched her newly carved stake at the wall to their left, where it stuck in at about head level. Faith took her knife and stabbed the table with it, letting it stand there on its own. Then the two of them blinked up at Travers.

Buffy smirked. "Did you have a nice flight, Quentin?"

Giles' mouth puckered and his eyes got real wide like he had a whole lemon stuck down his throat. The Watcher's Council really brought out the repressed British type in him. "Uh, would you like some tea, perhaps?"

"Not right now, Mr. Giles. Perhaps we should all have a seat."

"Look at that," Faith said. "B and I are ahead of the game." She ran her tongue over her dark lip gloss, then looked Travers up and down.

Travers sat across from Faith, Giles next to Buffy. When the slayers only blinked at him, Travers pulled a file from his coat and rested it on the table. Then he folded his hands, leaning forward. All very deliberate, trying to pretend he was the one in control here.

"I understand you're looking for information on Glorificus."

"The Dagon Sphere, especially," Buffy said. There had been a book that mentioned it, but it'd gotten wrecked when some Lei-Ach demons attacked Anya and Spike. "I want to know what it does to her."

"Well, I happen to have all the information you might need right here," Travers said, patting the top of the file. His lips curled up, the way the grin met his eyes betraying something really bad going on.

"So B," Faith said, tilting her head toward Buffy but not taking her eyes from Travers. "What's the bet on the catch here?"

"Hmm." Buffy twisted up her lips. "I'm going to wager they either want our first borns or a free year's subscription to Tweed Weekly. How 'bout you, F?"

"Huh. I was gonna guess fashion advice. Call me optimistic."

"Buffy, please," Giles whispered. But, when Buffy looked to him, he was fighting back a smile.

"It's good to see the slayers finally cooperating," Travers muttered. To show off, he opened up the file and flipped through a couple of pages, slowly, before closing it again. "And that's all we ask here—cooperation."

"So what's the terms? We're not stupid," Faith said, her voice getting a little deeper the longer she spoke.

"We wish for you—for all three of you—to work, officially, for the council again."

"Okay."

Giles and Faith both stared at Buffy. Faith opened her mouth to say something, but Buffy stood up and continued.

"So here's our terms: We join you guys again. You give us the Glory info." Buffy folded her arms across her chest. "You pay all three of us a salary so we can dedicate ourselves to the slaying and still, ya know, eat and replace demon-wrecked clothes and stuff."

Travers nodded, his lower lip stuck out. "All perfectly agreeable."

"Wait," Faith said. She stood up now, too, the slayers side-by-side and not showing a single chink in the armor. "That's not all."

"It's not?" Buffy whispered. They probably should've figured this out before Travers got here. God only knew what Faith might demand.

"We get to run the show," Faith said. She looped her thumbs in the waistband of her black leather pants.

Travers chuckled. "Excuse me?"

"You haven't, uh, seen action in years." Faith ignored Giles' laugh-turned-cough. "We're the ones on the front lines. We get to make the calls. Like who we work with, and what we do."

Faith was arguing for them to keep working with the Scoobies. For the watchers to stay out of the way with Dawn. For their freedom. Buffy wanted to high-five Faith right then and there, but that might not be professional.

"We can accept your input as the authority in most matters," Travers said. "But we do have an issue to discuss in the matter of your associates."

Buffy's jaw locked and her nostrils flared. She should've known it'd never be that easy. "So who do you want to stop slaying? The two powerful witches? The ex-demon who's on first-name basis with more demons than the council's forgotten? The guy who's been at this gig of his own free will since he was failing math in high school?"

"No." Travers sneered. "Actually, it's the matter of your vampire associate."

"Angel?" Faith asked, her face screwed up. "Tall, dark, an' pasty's still in LA."

"No." Buffy took a step forward. "Spike."

Giles, noticing the immediate danger Travers had just put himself in, stood, laying a hand on Buffy's arm. He lowered his head, an assurance in his expression that they didn't have to take this deal, or do anything she didn't want to do.

"Blondie Bear's part of the package," Faith said. "No Spike, no deal."

"William the Bloody is a variable we cannot risk," Travers said.

"Spike," Buffy shot back through gritted teeth, remembering the nickname had come from jerks making fun of Spike's poetry, "has a soul. He fights with us now."

"Does this reverse any past indiscretions?" Travers had the balls to stand up. "Enough that you are willing to dedicate yourself to him in matrimony?"

Buffy's mouth hung open when she turned to Giles. "You didn't." Giles shook his head.

"When a William Pratt suddenly has a social security number in Sunnydale and a Tara Maclay applies for justice of the peace status, the pieces are not difficult to assemble, Ms. Summers."

Buffy felt all of her insides clench. She was the Slayer. She needed the information in his file. Spike knew a lot of the future, but he didn't have a play-by-play of everything. They had some stuff on Glory, but it didn't help all that much. Dawn was at risk. They all were.

She couldn't give Spike up. She always had to sacrifice everything to this calling. But her fiancé, her sister, her friends... They were the only reasons she kept fighting every night, kept getting up in the morning.

"Get bent," Faith said.

"Mr. Giles," Travers said, turning to the second oldest person in the room. "Perhaps you could convince your slayers to be reasonable and..."

"I think Faith has summed up our feelings quite succinctly, actually." Giles removed his glasses. "I'm not... I'm not entirely a fan of Spike, either." Buffy raised an eyebrow at her watcher. "He steals my Wheetabix all the time and never replaces it," Giles whispered. Then he cleared his throat, re-directing his words to Travers. "But Spike has helped us keep..." Giles took a breath. Buffy knew he was swallowing down the mention of Dawn. "He has given us foresight, helped us in countless battles, and has worked tirelessly to be of service to my slayer. If she says that he is non-negotiable, then he is not."

Buffy felt her eyes well up but, for Travers' sake, fought it back. Giles really was in her corner for everything. She could hardly contain herself.

"Listen," Buffy said, her voice brighter for Giles and Faith having her back. "The Powers That Be were the ones that sent him back, soul and memories and all. You got an issue with my fiancé, you can take it up with them."

Travers' lips thinned to a point of non-existence. He nodded. Faith held up her hand, and Buffy obliged her a high-five. As Travers sat back down with the file in front of him, Faith leaned over to Buffy's ear, keeping her voice low.

"Damn, B, I had no idea you had balls like that on you." Faith tapped Buffy's arm with her elbow. "Must get it from Joyce."