Author's Note: Oh Boy...where do I start...
This is the end...of Taste of Juliet...the final chapter...but THERE WILL BE a sequel...eventually.
Huge thanks go to Holly without whose friendship and encouragement (and awesome betaing skills) I would never have let this story leave my head, let alone my computer. Holly, I love you to bits, thank you so much. It means more than you could ever know. Thanks also go to enigmaticblue, who picked up her fair share of my grammatical crap and kept me from embarrassment.
Next, Mandi at Vampire's Kiss, the very first person to take a risk at posting my story. My first reviews at your site knocked me out...literally! And your banner skills are definitely my gain...I love everything you've ever made for me.
Also bloodshedbaby for inducting me into her site, and her amazing enthusiasm.
Lastly, thank you my gentle viewers...(snicker)...the readers got me the rest of the way, and your reviews lighten my heart.
Now sit back and enjoy, always keeping in mind that their WILL be a sequel, as well as a new story within the next couple of days...so keep your eyes peeled.
"Are you bloody kids mental?"
Spike sat forward, hands flexing through his hair and on the verge of tearing out a couple of sizeable chunks. All chatter stopped and focused upon him, and all of a sudden he shrank back not entirely comfortable with being in the spotlight, even if that had been his regular position over the past weeks.
"Well excuse me, Dead Boy Junior, but try and see this from our side. We've never been excluded from the action; always been part of the plan, the follow-through, the muck-up, and hey, even the hospital run, particularly for yours truly. So don't go getting down on us for feeling a little miffed that Big Vamp Daddy-O and Pappa Giles went and had all the fun. Where's the Apocalypse? Nada! Bupkis! All out, Senoritas! They didn't even take photos. We now just have a supremely boring summer ahead of us." Xander slumped back in his seat, defeated.
A second later and Spike followed posture. "Yeah. Always like my vicarious spots of violence. Then he took hold of that whole Faith bird situation and adios. Back to L.A. Ponce never could share."
The crowded room nodded with him in sympathy, their earlier feelings of betrayal slightly dampened by the vampire's obvious misery.
The Scoobies had thrashed their way into Giles's place the moment the sun had set, bringing maps, laptops and other paraphernalia deemed important in the take down of a monster of Frankenstein proportions. Their nervous energy, laced with giddy excitement, came to an abrupt end when Spike announced that Adam had bit the big one-due to the dynamic duo of Angel and Giles- and that the "'kiddies' should all calm themselves down so some of us can honour the broody one in peace and bloody quiet!"
Their simultaneous deflation was almost comical, and Buffy nearly felt sorry for them, until she got that twinge that reminded her that she had been kept in the dark about the mission as well. Admittedly she had other things on her mind at the time. Like possessive-primitive vampire boyfriends who found it necessary to invade her body with every physical implement he possessed. But still, she wasn't used to sitting on the side while others took over her job. Actually, it was kind of nice, once she really thought about it. But it better not ever happen again.
Thinking was really taking over her night, though. They had all chosen to relocate to the Summers's house, thanks in large part to access to lots of soda, chips, and the important technology like a current television and DVD machine. These points were so far up on Giles's abode that the move had brooked no argument.
So, though some movie off the 'newest release' shelf was currently flashing on the screen, no one paid it the smallest bit of attention while the argument of everyone's worth within the Scooby Gang raged on. The occasional comment from Buffy was enough to divert everyone's attention from her introspective stance, except for the veiled knowing gaze of an almost-healed Spike, and she allowed herself to dedicate some of her attention to the things that bothered her.
There was something about Angel that gave her a sense of unease; that sent chills up and down her arms whenever she remembered that look in his eye, the slump of his body, the shadow of darkness that seemed to cling to him from the moment he had renewed acquaintance with Spike. She was afraid that his jealousy might begin to push him over the edge, or that he might take risks with his soul. She wasn't sure though. There had been no vision detailing events with Angel, so she was in the dark as to what to expect with him. She only knew that something was wrong, and it bothered her. It bothered her a great deal.
She felt quite overwhelmed with how easy it had been to eradicate Adam, and with the special project out of the bag- so to speak- the Initiative problem was pretty much wrapped up and no longer her concern. The ease of the whole thing made her feel slightly ill. It was Buffy's normal experience that things did not go so easily. She felt monumentally torn. Was this the Powers That Be rewarding them for many years of service by allowing her and Spike to change the events of the world? Or was something very big about to go 'Boo', and knock them all out of their ivory tower?
Her reverie was interrupted with Giles affirming the time for a little housekeeping. His big flowery, monotone speech left Buffy feeling like she was strolling through liquid air- slow and weighed down- until she heard the word 'magic'. And another of her concerns seemed about to be dealt with, bringing her lethargic mental abilities sharply into focus.
"I have made arrangements for Willow and Tara to take instruction at the Coven in England. Apparently they have felt a growing force from Sunnydale for quite some time. They were a little, um, annoyed, that I haven't sought their advice earlier than now." Giles rubbed his glasses in embarrassment, quickly tucking the hanky back in his pocket and propping the glasses on his nose when his colour softened and he was ready to continue. "I know that you probably think that we are being extreme with sending you out of the country, Willow…"
"I don't understand why I need that much help, anyway."
"It's all very well to master the basics, but you have already made some very damaging mistakes and need to learn control. You would never embark on any of your science experiments or…ahh…computing whatsimajigs…without the proper knowledge and instruction. Would you?"
Willow bowed her head and accepted his wish. Then, in normal Willow perkiness, she looked on the bright side and thought of all that England weather and culture- not to mention magical atmosphere.
Giles sighed in relief, having achieved one of his goals, and sank back to let the others have their moment. What with all the bruised egos from being left out of the fight he was positively bewildered and exhausted.
Once they had all settled down again and turned to focus on the movie that was more than half way over, Buffy continued to think of the things that bothered her. She had to finish up college for the year and she had already missed so many classes. Not to mention that one of her Professors was dead. And as luck would have it, she was doing well in Professor Walsh's class. The pout that settled on her lips was quickly seized by an attentive Spike, his eyes having remained on her rather than the movie, her troubled facial expressions building a cloak of unease around her that he was hesitant to cross.
He sucked her pouty lip into his mouth, his playful tongue flicking it gently before letting it 'pop' from between his lips. His playfulness earned him his reward and she smiled at him. She took his hand, looked into his eyes briefly-though long enough to identify his concern- then tucked herself into his side so that he could no longer plainly see her face.
With the loss of his scrutiny, she returned to the bigger problems, and admittedly the one she had continued to put off all night. Glory and Dawn. A sense of foreboding had captured her earlier, or probably from the moment that Angel had left with Faith. It escalated in power whenever she thought of the Key that was to become her sister.
She wondered if her knowing would ultimately change events, so that there was either no Dawn, or a Dawn but not with Buffy as her protector. Or perhaps Glory was onto her, knew that she would be able to kill her because of her knowledge of Ben. She actually felt fear curl into a ball in the pit of her stomach at the possibility that Dawn was not to become her sister, that her mother's illness would be a burden for her alone to carry.
Bigger yet, was her own death off the cards now? The image of her falling from a weak, shaky tower into a shattered flat of electrical energy made her shiver and she couldn't help the reaction of her body against Spike. Knowing that he would know, she wasn't surprised when he tightened his arm around her almost crushing the air from her lungs, and knew that he also was afraid. The tingling at her neck told her that her fears and been transferred to him; that he felt, and knew. Her death. It would be their preoccupation next year, she felt sure.
Joyce Summers, a glowing picture of health, entered the room loaded down with a tray of drinks and more snacks, and took an alarmed step back as the offerings were pounced on by what she could only describe as a rather alarmingly hungry bunch of young people. She shared an amused smile with Rupert, then took a chair and became immersed once again in the story on the screen. Buffy was sure that no one actually knew what it was all about.
Buffy looked around the room, taking in her mother, her Watcher, her lover, and friends, and rejoiced in the family that she belonged. Once she hated the burden of being the Slayer, but now she acknowledged that by being this she had captured to her the most extraordinary group of people.
She was blessed.