Lydia replaced the phone handset and turned to face Giles.
When she didn't speak for a moment, he raised his brows in question. "Well?"
She sighed. "I've managed to expedite Peter's deportation. He and his lackeys will be dealt with at London HQ. Most of the other Council hierarchy had no idea what he was up to, nor do they approve of his actions. I believe the exact words Sir Charles used were that he will be 'severely reprimanded'."
Giles' smile took on a decidedly wicked bent. "Excellent," he said in a satisfied tone.
Lydia wasn't sure she wanted an explanation. She unobtrusively straightened her glasses, looking a little sheepish. "I'm, um, I'm to be made temporary head of operations."
"A position you well deserve." Giles reached up and began plucking her hairpins out one by one, he preferred her less straight-laced. "I can't think of anyone better suited." He curled a freed lock of wheaten hair around his finger. "When do you leave?"
"You…" He paused and frowned. "I beg your pardon?"
Lydia pulled away. He really was the most distracting man. "Buffy and Spike were correct in their allegations that the Council serves no purpose as it is. It's ludicrous for us to be sitting in a comfortable boardroom on the other side of the planet, espousing defunct theorems and participating at our leisure. It hardly puts us in a position for any Slayer to take us seriously. I can certainly see why I wasn't." She grimaced in self-deprecation. "I was so…"
"You were exactly what you were taught to be," Giles said softly. "It is to your credit that you were able to see past the hypocrisy and deceit, to make up your own mind and exert your own agenda. Your loyalty was to your Slayer – as it always should have been."
"Dawn will always be my first priority," Lydia agreed. "As Buffy is yours."
Giles gave her a small smile. "She's far outgrown my guidance, I'm afraid."
Lydia shook her head. "I think not. You're her family, Rupert, just as much as Spike or Seth, or any of her friends."
"You are the most extraordinary woman," he murmured wonderingly. "I'm so glad you're staying."
She reached out and squeezed his hand. "So am I."
Dawn glanced up from sharpening her sword when the training room door opened.
Angel. Great. Perfect. Just what she needed.
Although she'd come to terms with her feelings for the vampire - and the underlying crush persisted despite her desire for it not to - he still wasn't someone she wanted see right at that moment.
"Hey," he greeted softly.
"Yeah, hey." She ducked her head, ostensibly returning to the task at hand, but really taking the opportunity to hide behind the curtain of hair that fell forward. She recoiled in shock when it was brushed back, and blinked up into those deep, dark eyes.
"I'm proud of you, you know," Angel told her, tucking the strands behind her ear.
She rolled her eyes. "Like that makes a difference."
"I realize that it doesn't, but…for what it's worth."
"Yeah. Whatever. Thanks, I guess."
The vampire stared at her for a long time, to the point of making her uncomfortable. She squirmed under his scrutiny.
"I, uh, I'm leaving for LA in a couple of hours. I just wanted to…"
"Say goodbye. Yeah, I get it." Dawn gave him an airy little wave. "See ya."
He sighed. "Dawn…"
"Again, what? What is your problem? I get it, alright? I don't need you coming in here, trying to be my friend, and giving me the big let's-keep-in-touch speech, when I'm not actually going to see you anymore."
"Says who?" he asked. "I get all kinds of cases that need consultation. So does Buffy. We liaise a lot."
Angel actually cracked a grin at that. "It's not. What I'm proposing here is…I want you to act as my liaison. I mean, it won't be full-time, so it shouldn't interfere with your schoolwork too much, and you could travel back and forth between here and my agency, and even with the Hellmouth closed there's a lot of slaying that still needs to be done, with plenty of opportunity for…"
Dawn watched him talk, really taking the time to see him as he truly was. It was inspiring. Angel had made mistakes, it was true, but his past didn't matter. Not anymore. What mattered was the here and now. And, after everything he had said to her before about not being worthy, now he was here asking her to take Faith's place.
Other than that initial cursory glance at the file, she hadn't really been interested in the other Slayer's life, and she was ashamed of how dismissive she'd been. He'd been right to be so angry and disappointed. She hoped she was above that kind of selfishness now. Slaying was her calling, her destiny. She knew what she had to do.
"You know, for someone who doesn't breathe, you can do a mean run-on sentence."
He latched onto her positive tone eagerly. "Does this mean you're going to say yes?"
"Maybe." Dawn smiled. "Besides, I really want to meet this mysterious Cordelia of yours. She's gotta be something special if you chose her over the nubile young Slayer hotness that is me."
It took him a second to realize she was teasing. "Yeah," he deadpanned. "That was tough."
She nodded. "Hardest decision of your life."
They grinned at each other, finally at peace with who they were and where their lives were heading. It was time to move forward.
Seth popped his head out the door, checked in both directions, and then ducked back inside the room. "'S all clear," he said in a hushed undertone. "Spike's downstairs."
He hustled out along the hallway, every inch of his tiny body radiating supernatural stealth.
Buck followed on his heels, shuffling his feet, one thumb firmly positioned in his mouth and a plastic dinosaur hanging by its elongated neck from his other hand. "Where w'goin'?" he mumbled around the digit.
"Shhh," Seth hissed. "We's huntin', alright?"
Buck stared placidly into his friend's burning golden eyes, then shrugged. "'Kay."
Seth focused on the doorway to the guest bedroom – the former haven of Buffy's teenage years – and a little frown of concentration formed between his brows. The air around him began to crackle with energy. He made a little stop-start motion, rocking on the balls of his feet and pushing the air with his hands as though making an abortive attempt at an attack, and the crackling energy carried on the forward momentum without him. The door flew open, hinges buckling under the onslaught and the wood splintering.
Buck blinked. "Dat's broke," he said.
Seth contemplated the mess. He'd just wanted to show Butt his cool new power and now he was gonna be in trouble again, maybe even grounded. He heard his father moving downstairs seconds before his voice echoed up the staircase.
"Hide," he whispered, and they both made a run for it.
Buffy came into the house and collapsed onto the sofa, wearily tossing her purse onto the coffee table. "Man, Anya just pops them out and gets right back to business, doesn't she?"
Spike looked up from the book he was reading. He was acting as calm and casual as possible, not of a mind to raise a ruckus about the Nip's latest shenanigans just yet. That would come later. "She's doin' alright?"
"Better than Xander." She pointed a finger at him. "He said he still owes you for the gaping head wound, by the way. Revenge, apparently, will be sweet."
Spike shrugged. The day the whelp got the better of him was the day he deserved the getting. "So, they decide on a name yet? Done naught but quarrel about it, the two of them."
"Well, since she wasn't a boy and they couldn't use the one name they had agreed on - 'Cash', if you're wondering - Anya was all for calling her 'Capital'." When Spike's brows shot up, she nodded. "Scary, I know, but I kid you not."
He closed the book and peered at her cautiously, taking in the beloved features one by one; twinkling green eyes, pursed lips. Not kidding, his skinny white bum. There was no way she was telling the whole story here. "Uh huh. Well, here's hoping the whelp put his foot down on that one."
"They…" Buffy pressed her lips together harder, losing the struggle to keep a straight face. A little hiccup escaped before she spoke again. "…Compromised."
A pause, and then she tossed out the punch-line to her little private joke. "Free Enterprise."
Spike's expression said it all and Buffy exploded into laughter.
The vampire shook his head, outraged. "Free Harris?" he burst out. "Are they completely daft? She sounds like a bloody political campaign!"
By this point, Buffy couldn't even speak. She howled and doubled over onto the arm of the sofa, one hand slapping the cushion at her side, tears coursing down her cheeks.
"Oh, man, I so had you!" she hiccupped, wiping her cheeks. "No, thankfully they followed the logical train and progressed from 'Free' to 'Liberty' and that's what stuck. Xan's been calling her 'Libby'." She sniffed and then began giggling to herself again. "'Free Enterprise'."
Spike watched her, his own face breaking into a grin as her merriment bubbled up inside him. God, she was beautiful when she laughed. He felt himself falling in love all over again, getting that good deep-down kind of tingle. Felt himself getting…well, a bit nauseous actually. He frowned. That was odd. He had the constitution of an ox, hadn't been sick since…since… Oh, bollocks.
He blanched. "Uh, pet?"
Buffy sniffed again and wiped at her cheeks. "What?"
"Got somethin' else you want to tell me?"
She just looked at him with her heart in her eyes and gave him a serene Mona Lisa smile. "Oh, I think you can figure it out."
"Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family."
- Anthony Brandt