It begins where these sorts of things always do--in the night time, with a creature at home in the shadows meditating on passion and obsession and madness and the warm seductions of the dark. Or, to be less Bulwer-Littonish, with a vampire lurking outside the home of his target, wondering what it would take to lure said target out to play.
Spike was well aware of his tendency towards overwrought melodrama, especially when he had too much time on his hands. Sometimes, though, it was amusing to paint extravagant mental pictures. Like Buffy suddenly turning to him and crying, "You're everything I want in a man! You're gorgeous, strong, dangerous. You'll help me look after my family, and I bet you're a better lay than Angel, too."
OK, so he had a rich fantasy life. Sue him.
Then there were the other pictures: the look in Xander Harris' eyes changing from deep distrust to cautious intrigue. Something tragic happening to those wretched clothes of his. A sidelong glance that told of thoughtfulness instead of disgust.
It could happen, and there were better odds of that happening than his Buffy-fantasy coming true. Which was why Spike was lounging on the roof of the building across the street from Harris' apartment, hoping that tonight Harris would forget to either close the curtains before his shower or not wear a towel in the privacy of his own home. It was too early in the evening to occupy the small balcony outside Harris' window. That was reserved for sleep-watching and sleep-whispering--which was coming along well, come to think of it. The boy twitched very pleasantly when Spike whispered to him out of the dark. Once there might even have been the return whisper of Spike's name. If only Spike had a way of finding out what Harris was dreaming of.
He idly twisted the amber stud that pierced the top of his right ear. Time to poke Ripper about a permanent fix to the chip. One of the reasons for their LA trip was to check on surgeons, psychic and mundane. The mundane ones all heard what the Initiative doctor had said and were reluctant to second-guess someone with first-hand knowledge. The psychic surgeons were less pessimistic, but the ones willing to work on a vampire were all over on the sleazy side. Not that Spike really objected to sleaze, but if he paid someone he wanted them to stay bought, at least until he decided to kill them and get his money back.
The best of the psychic surgeons all mentioned being under contract and that they'd need to get approval for independent work. When they mentioned the name Wolfram & Hart, Ripper had politely broken off talks and retreated. Something Buffy had learned from Angel made the ex-watcher think a little harder about getting involved with a demonic law firm. Still, if the price of getting dechipped was a bit of cooperation with an organization that apparently existed for the primary purpose of bothering Angel, Spike was willing to chat terms.
From the apartment below him came the sound of the late TV news signing off. Spike straightened and stretched. Xander would be heading to bed soon, virtuously getting his sleep so he could be fresh for work in the morning. Depending on how many beers he'd downed while watching the news, he should be out cold in ten minutes.
He easily dropped the two stories to the ground and sauntered across the street to Xander's building. The wind shifted, and he paused. Demon in the area. One of the big, dumb, break stuff up sort. No worries, so long as it found somewhere else to play--
Wood smashed with happy crunching sounds somewhere nearby. Somewhere quite nearby, like in Xander's building, on Xander's floor.
"I don't bloody well think so," Spike snarled, and began to run.
Xander stared at the remains of his front door, then at the large, blue-green figure standing in the doorway. The tentacles on the creature's head coiled up tightly in what looked like chagrin.
"I'm sorry," it--he?--said. "I don't know my own strength at times."
"What?" Xander finally managed.
"I didn't mean to announce myself quite so violently."
"What?" That still covered useful ground, and he wasn't getting a good answer yet.
The demon nodded. "Of course, I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself. I'm Reinhart, and I'm here to face you in honorable single combat for the love of the fair Anyanka."
And still the explanation makes no more sense than the questions. "Honorable . . ."
Reinhart shrugged. "I understand your confusion. I was simply going to come here and rip out your pathetic human lungs for daring to consort with someone as fine and glorious as Anyanka, but she has told so many stories of your courage that I couldn't simply remove you as impertinent human scum. Anyanka believes you are worthy of her, and so I must prove myself even more worthy by destroying you honorably."
"Destroy me . . ."
Reinhart reached through the doorway and poked Xander lightly in the chest. He only staggered a little. "There, the challenge has been given. I await your convenience."
OK, you've just been challenged to a duel to the death by a seven-foot-tall blue-green guy with muscles in his fingers that would make any beer can crusher proud. Quick, grasshopper, what do you do? Xander took a deep breath.
"So. A duel."
Reinhart smiled broadly. "Yes, honorable single combat."
"Right." Xander felt his survival instincts--along with the memories of all those Three Musketeers movies--kick in. "If you're the challenger, that means I get the choice of weapons and time and location, right?"
"Weapons?" Reinhart looked at his hand, then flexed his fingers. Claws popped out. "Why do we need weapons?" he asked in honest bafflement.
Xander held up his own hands. "Humans don't come with claws."
"You don't? How do you fight, then?"
"We use weapons."
"Oh. Well, then, a weapon is fair. I'll wait here while you fetch one."
"That's OK, you leave me your number, and I'll get back to you as soon as I've found a weapon. I'd hate to make you wait."
Reinhart beamed. "That's very considerate of you, but there's no bother. I had no other plans for tonight."
Well, Xander definitely had plans other than dying. "We need, uh, witnesses, right? Let me call somebody." Like a Slayer or something.
Reinhart sighed. "If you must. As beings of honor, though, the word of the survivor as to what happened should be sufficient."
"You'd think, but standards are slipping everywhere. 'Scuse me a sec."
As he started to turn, Xander thought he saw someone standing in the shadows down the hall. He was distracted, though, by Anya suddenly appearing behind him in the living room.
"Reinhart, what are you doing?" she demanded.
Reinhart hit his knees so hard the floor shook. "Fair Anyanka!"
"Hmph. Halfrek said you were coming here to kill Xander. You can't do that, I won't let you." She smiled at Xander. "Hi, Xander."
"I did not come here to kill your Xander," Reinhart explained.
Anya relaxed. "Oh, good. Halfrek was talking so fast I must have misunderstood her."
"I came here to challenge this human to honorable single combat in your name."
She stared at him for several moments, then turned to Xander. "He did?"
Xander nodded. "'Fraid so."
"Men." She blinked and looked back at Rinehart. "For me?"
"For you, Anyanka. You have an attachment to this human, and I cannot in honor woo you while he exists. Therefore I shall remove him from my path."
Xander did not like the way Anya was fighting a smile. She shook herself out of it, though. "Well, I don't want you honorably single combatting my Xander. You'd smoosh him, and I like him unsmooshed."
Reinhart sighed happily. "You are as kind-hearted as you are beautiful. However, the human has nobly accepted my challenge. I'd hate for you to be upset by our struggle, so perhaps you could go someplace more pleasant and await the survivor."
Anya glared at Xander. "You accepted his challenge?"
Xander tried very hard to keep up with events. "I didn't accept anything. He just showed up and I've been, well, maneuvering matters."
Reinhart began to frown. "But, sir, you have established the weapons and the need for witnesses. Why are we deciding these things if you haven't accepted my challenge?"
"Um . . ."
Anya took Xander's arm. "Excuse us," she said to Reinhart, and she towed Xander into the bedroom.
As soon as the bedroom door closed behind them, Xander looked round hopefully in case he'd left the cordless phone in here. "Damn, not here."
Anya started pacing. "You accepted a challenge from Reinhart? Are you nuts?"
"He was just going to rip out my lungs for being an impertinent human who doesn't deserve to be anywhere near you."
"He said that?"
"Dammit, Ahn, don't look so happy about that."
She managed to lose the grin. "Sorry."
"The only reason he decided on a duel was because all the stories you've been telling convinced him I'm honorable--for a human. What have you been telling them?"
"Nothing but the truth. They wanted to know how I became a demon again. I told them how you saved my life. They were very impressed."
Xander had to look away from the love and pride on Anya's face. Did they all sit around some break room somewhere, the vengeance demons, swapping tales of creative punishments and making plans for the weekend? Did demons get weekends?
"So--is Reinhart a vengeance demon?"
"No, he's an accountant."
"There are demon accountants?"
"You seem surprised."
Xander shrugged it off. "We've got work to do here. Why don't you go distract Reinhart while I call Buffy."
"I've got a demon at my front door threatening to rip out my lungs. Of course I'm going to call in the professionals."
"But--it's none of her business."
"None of her business?"
"You agreed to the duel. You can't drag the Slayer into it."
Xander went over and put his hands on her shoulders. "Ahn, I'm not facing that guy in single combat. Him, big demon with claws. Me, squishy human."
Anya nodded soberly. "Yes. Human. I keep forgetting for some reason." She frowned in thought for several moments. "Still, you accepted a duel with a demon. There are rules. Witnesses are one thing, but it would go against a lot of rules if you pulled the Slayer into demonic business."
He gave her a reassuring smile. "Then they can just deal with the rule breaking." He went to the nightstand to check for the phone. "It's not like I care what demons think of me."
Several seconds' silence went by. "Xander?"
"Does the not caring apply to all demons?"
"Pretty much, why--"
He turned and jumped. Anyanka, Patron of Scorned Women, gazed back at him, sad yellow eyes looking out of a heavily veined face. Tears grew in her eyes.
"Say my name," she whispered.
She shook her head. "My real name."
"And I am?"
That one was easy. "The woman I love."
A smile flickered there and gone. "And what else?"
He felt his stomach go into freefall. "A demon." She nodded sadly. "What I said, it doesn't apply to you--"
"It should. Because that's what I am, a demon. Who sometimes looks like a woman. You gave that back to me. But part of you wishes you hadn't."
A tear escaped, following the line of one of those blue veins. Anya wasn't supposed to cry. Demons weren't supposed to cry. Those faces weren't supposed to look so sad. Xander took a step towards her, but his sub-brain shrieked "Stay back! Demon!" He hesitated.
She closed her eyes. "You hate looking at this face, don't you."
"Don't, please. Right now I still love you. Don't make that change."
Her human face flowed back, and Xander hurried to pull her into his arms. He chanted his apologies in his head, where vengeance demons couldn't hear. Anya wrapped her arms around his waist.
"It was a lovely fantasy, wasn't it?" she said. "That somehow we might make this work? I'd hoped . . ."
He rested his face on her hair. "Me, too."
He leaned down to kiss her. Partway through the kiss, she let her face morph back into its demon form. He jumped, just a little, but didn't let her go. With this being good-bye and the last time, somehow he didn't mind so much.
Anya pulled away first, and she briskly wiped the tears off her face, then off Xander's. "There is a way to get out of the duel. You tell Reinhart that you concede the point, and . . ."
He nodded. "I let him have you."
She drew herself up. "You let him have the chance to have me. This only gives him the opportunity to woo me. And I take a lot of wooing." Xander cocked his head knowingly at her. "Sometimes."
"Will I still get to see you?" he asked wistfully.
"We shouldn't have sex anymore." She sighed. "I will miss that."
"I--actually wasn't thinking about sex."
"Have you been sick?"
"Ahn . . ." He swallowed hard. "I'm going to miss hearing you talk." She leaned against him, and he pretended he didn't hear her sniffing. He hoped she was pretending the same thing.
"I'll still be at the Magic Box," she finally said. "If you ever need something magicky. Or I might need new shelves or something."
This time Xander pulled away. The human Anya was back, but it was time to stop thinking of her as his Anya. "We'd best deal with Reinhart."
The big demon got off his knees at Anya's reappearance, but he looked very confused when Xander told him there was no need for a duel.
"You are giving the fair Anyanka up?" Reinhart frowned. "Without a fight? Are you spurning her? Or are you merely a coward?"
"I can still get that weapon, dude," Xander glared. "This is Anyanka, Patron Saint of Scorned Women. Do you think anyone gets away with spurning her?"
"No, of course not," Reinhart said quickly. "Then, you are afraid to fight me."
Anya smacked him in the arm. "Don't you call him a coward. He stood up to an army and to Glory. If he doesn't want to fight, then he has a very good reason."
Despite his uneasiness at hearing her talk about Glory, Xander couldn't help smiling at her. "Thank you, Anya."
Reinhart looked back and forth between the two of them. "Then--you are free, Anyanka? You are no longer tied to this pathetic human?"
Anya looked wistfully at Xander. "No. I'm no longer tied. And he's not pathetic."
Reinhart straightened triumphantly and looked at Xander, but whatever gloating remark he was planning faded at the stare the human was giving back.
"She may not be tied to me," Xander said firmly, "but I hear one word, one syllable, that you are not treating her the way she deserves, and this duel is back on. And you won't want to put large bets against the impertinent human scum."
For several moments, Reinhart only gaped, then he bowed in acceptance. Xander nodded back.
Anya checked her watch. "Gosh, I have to get back to work. I left this Argentinian businessman dangling by his large intestine--"
"Anya!" Xander protested.
She smiled at him, took half an automatic step towards him, then quickly turned to Reinhart. "I'll see you back at the office." She disappeared.
Reinhart was left staring at the place she'd been. "But . . ."
Xander had to laugh. "Welcome to the magical fun house ride that is Anya. Good luck." And that hadn't been walking on broken glass to get that phrase out.
"Yes." He shook himself. He studied Xander. "I now see why she considered you worthy of her. Farewell, honorable human." He bowed again, then disappeared himself.
Xander stared at the hallway and at his smashed front door. "Yeah, honor. That and three bucks gets you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Doesn't fix my door."
He contemplated getting his tools, but shrugged and headed off to bed. Maybe he'd get to sleep before the shock wore off.
Out on the landing just down from Xander's apartment, Spike smirked as he finally lit a cigarette. "Day by day," he murmured, "bit by bit, another piece of your soul gets chipped away. Not far to go now."
Whistling softly, he headed down the stairs. Let Xander have the wretched night's sleep he had coming. Spike could wait
Buffy checked her class list as she strolled the cemetery. She heard faint movement in the bushes every now and then, but whenever she looked, she was alone. Maybe she should be checking hunting grounds, not spawning places. Willow hadn't mentioned any recent burials of suspect corpses, so Buffy didn't have any reason to stay in the cemetery. Even Sunnydale people knew that strolling was best done in parks and streets.
Visitors, on the other hand . . .
"Good evening, Mr. Travers."
She turned and looked at a nearby grove of trees. Quentin Travers stepped out, chagrined.
"Good evening, Miss Summers. What did I do wrong?"
"The branches kept catching in your clothes, you're not quite in good enough shape so you're breathing too hard, plus I could hear your goons following you." She glanced at other bushes. "They are yours, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are. Though I prefer the term 'colleagues' to goons'." He whistled briefly, and his colleagues came out of hiding, crossbows ready. Travers turned back to Buffy. "I would have sworn you were distracted by your reading."
"We call it multi-tasking. I can listen for nasties while picking out my fall classes."
Travers shook his head, smiling. "You have no idea how truly special you are, do you?"
"Huh? I mean, excuse me?"
"A Slayer at University. It's unheard of. There have been potential Slayers who have gone, of course, but never an active Slayer. Till you. I don't know how you manage."
"If you ask my mom, she'll point to my grades and say I don't. Manage." She thought seriously for a moment. "My mom's always fought for me to have a normal life, and for her that means college. She still thinks I'm going to have a future. And just in case she's right, I'm going along with her."
"A remarkable woman, your mother. I'd like to meet her, if I may."
Buffy stopped walking. "That--is a bad idea. She doesn't much like you guys. I think it has something to do with your letting her get kidnapped by an insane vampire after you'd convinced my Watcher to take away my powers. I still have some issues about that as well."
Travers nodded. "I understand completely. However, I would like a chance to mend matters. If nothing else, I still would like to speak to everyone about the events last spring."
She frowned. "You aren't expecting everyone who was involved in that to be available, right?"
"Yes, I am aware that two of the main players are unlikely to give formal statements. Still, you and the others should be able to give a good account." He thought a moment. "The restaurant of my hotel provides adequate meals. Perhaps you and the others could be my guests the evening after tomorrow? Eight o'clock?"
Her mother's lectures on etiquette kicked in. "I don't know if the others have plans, but I'll let them know."
"Excellent. I shall see you then." He nodded and turned to go.
"Mr. Travers, may I ask you a question?"
"Certainly, Miss Summers."
"Why are you still here? When I saw you a couple of weeks ago, I thought you were in a hurry to get things--taken care of."
Travers' mouth tightened. "Yes, I thought matters would be resolved by now as well. There have been complications."
"Are you sure you want to know? Considering what we're planning, after all."
Giles' final death . . . "Maybe not details. But what kind of problems?"
The look he gave her was faintly proud. "I'd hoped we could take him by surprise, but I haven't even seen him yet. We seem to keep missing him. I don't have enough men with me to contemplate going to their lair, but London is reluctant to send reinforcements."
"Why? I thought this was a priority."
"It is. The Council, however, has heard disquieting rumors of some sort of unrest among older vampires in Europe. Something political."
Buffy stopped and stared at him. "Vampires have politics?"
"The older ones do. I believe they get . . . bored with simple carnage. There is organization among demons, Miss Summers. The Hellmouth is too volatile for the--civilized demons and vampires to be comfortable here, plus they prefer more sophisticated pleasures than are available in a small town."
"Somebody told me that in LA there are demon nightclubs and bars. And some Minoto I met talked about going to join their family in San Francisco."
Travers frowned. "You have been mingling with demons on a casual basis?"
She started to answer, but suddenly she was unwilling to bring the Convent of St. Eugene to the attention of the Council if they didn't already know about it. And if Travers hadn't noticed Willie's bar by now, then he wasn't watching very well. "Sometimes I talk before I slay. Aren't I supposed to?"
"Not all the friendly creatures are harmless. It can be very difficult to reconcile which demons are a threat and which are not. It takes a great deal of study."
"If it's trying to eat me or the world, I generally decide it's a threat. If it just wants a latte, I give it the benefit of the doubt."
She grinned and shrugged. "It's a Hellmouth thing. We probably get that more around here than you do in London."
He was still frowning. "Perhaps."
"Anyway, I'll let everybody know about your dinner invitation. Day after tomorrow, eight o'clock."
Two days later, Joyce's Land Rover, with Tara at the wheel, pulled up at the porte cochere of the Lodge at Sunnydale. How a luxury hotel survived next to the Hellmouth was one of the smaller mysteries, but Buffy suspected that a good percentage of the clientele were not as human as some.
Joyce was able to get out of the vehicle on her own by now, but she leaned on the door a few moments.
"What's wrong, Mom?" Buffy asked.
Joyce glanced at Dawn, who was chattering to Willow and Tara. "Do you really think she should be here? I don't know what kinds of questions they'll start asking about her."
Buffy took her mother's arm. "Whatever they ask is old news. She was the Key. But Glory is gone, and if Dawn is still the Key it doesn't matter. It's all old news. And we don't have to answer any questions we don't want to."
The valet came and took possession of the car, and the women went into the lobby. Willow looked around. Violin music played softly in the background as well-dressed people moved about. "I thought Xander and Anya were meeting us here. They did know it was tonight, didn't they?"
Buffy looked around as well. "I told him it was. I even managed to talk to him instead of his answering machine. He didn't seem thrilled, but he didn't say no."
Dawn was doing her best to act mature in the elegant surroundings. "Maybe it's taking him a while to get cleaned up after work. Have you ever seen him after putting up drywall?" Buffy nodded in agreement.
They all paused in front of a large mirror to check themselves before going on to the restaurant. Dawn plucked unhappily at her dark skirt, then glared at the others. Even Tara, who regularly lectured about the frivolousness of fashion, looked grown-up and sophisticated. "I look like a kid," she muttered.
Buffy poked critically at her own hair. "That's because you are a kid."
"Girls," Joyce said sternly before Dawn could finish pulling her foot back for a good swift kick. "Now come on, we don't want to be late."
Tara reached for Willow's hand. "What kind of questions is he going to ask?"
"I don't know," Buffy said. "He wants to know what happened with Glory. That's all I know. And with two of the major witnesses not available, it's up to us."
The maitre d' at the door of the restaurant gave them a courteous smile. "Good evening, ladies. How may I help you?"
Joyce took command of the formalities. "We're dining with Mr. Travers."
"Ah, the Summers party? This way, please."
Quentin Travers was waiting for them in a private dining room with a round table heavy with crystal and silver spread across the white table cloth. Travers rose to his feet as soon as he saw them. "Ladies, good evening. Thank you for joining me." He held his hand out to Joyce, who hesitated just long enough before taking it.
"Good evening, Mr. Travers," she said cooly. "A pleasure to finally meet you."
He smiled faintly. "And I, you, Mrs. Summers." He gestured to the seats. "Please, won't you be seated?" He held Joyce's chair for her at the place to his right. Buffy sat next to her mother, with Dawn beside her. Willow and Tara took seats on the opposite side of the table from Travers. He glanced at the two empty chairs to his left. "Aren't Mr. Harris and Ms. Jenkins joining us?"
Buffy cleared her throat nervously. "They're supposed to. Xander may be running late from work."
"Ah, yes. The rest of you are students between classes, am I right? And you, Mrs. Summers, have an art gallery here in town. I'm glad to see you've recovered from your illness."
Joyce nodded politely. "Thank you. I'm impressed with the records you keep on us all." Her smile had sharp edges.
Dawn nudged Buffy. "I don't think she likes him," she whispered.
"I don't think so either. Sh-h."
Two waiters came in to fill water glasses and to inquire after drink orders. Joyce and Travers agreed to let the sommelier choose the wine. After a stern look from Buffy, Dawn settled for iced tea, like the others.
Willow craned her neck to look out of the room. "There's Xander."
"Excellent," Travers said, getting to his feet again.
Xander's hair was still damp at the ends, and he'd gone the sport shirt and slacks route than attempting anything more formal. He nodded to everyone as he entered the room. "Sorry I'm late. I had to help with some paperwork."
Travers held out a hand. "Not at all, Mr. Harris. The others only just arrived." He winced slightly as Xander shook hands, and he flexed his fingers as he indicated the empty chairs. "Is Ms. Jenkins coming?"
"No, she isn't." Xander took the seat next to Willow, leaving the empty chair between himself and Travers.
Willow frowned. "Did she have to go, um, out of town again?"
"I don't know. She just left a message saying she wouldn't be able to make it." He focused on sipping from his water glass.
Travers sighed. "That is too bad. I was definitely looking forward to speaking to her about the events this past spring."
Xander only nodded and told the waiter he'd have the iced tea as well.
Travers resumed his seat and looked around the table. "Now that all of us are here, perhaps we can begin our discussion. Shall I just tell you what the Council has heard and you can correct the story as needed?"
Everyone looked to Buffy, who shrugged and nodded.
"The last report I received stated that Glory was still searching for her Key. The stories that have filtered back say that your group abruptly abandoned Sunnydale and went to find refuge at a convent in the mountains rather than continue the fight against Glory here. May I ask why?"
Buffy once again found herself spokesman. "My mom had a relapse, and Glory was starting to work her way through the Scoobies, looking for the Key. I couldn't protect everybody, so when we found out that there was a definite deadline we decided to hide somewhere until after the deadline. After that, her Key would be useless to her and we could figure out another way to stop her."
Travers nodded. "A sensible plan."
"Ben, a doctor who was looking after my mom, told me I needed a break and that I should take my family out of town."
Xander leaned forward. "Glory's Ben told you to get out of town? I thought it was your idea."
She shook her head. "He kept trying to stop her, so he decided to help."
Travers frowned. "Glory's Ben? You accepted help from someone affiliated with the hellgod?"
"It's not like we knew," Buffy said sharply. "We didn't find out till Glory showed up at the convent. Look, you know how Glory was bound to a human? That human was Ben. The two of them kept changing back and forth."
"So what happened with this Ben?"
"He, um . . . he died. And Glory died too."
Buffy sighed. "Giles killed him."
Travers sat back. "I see."
"You know about Giles?" Xander asked.
Travers nodded. "It's why I'm here."
Willow gasped. "I thought you were just here to see Buffy. You're here to see Giles, too?"
He smiled just a little. "Not see, no."
"But--he helped us."
"He was a Watcher, Ms. Rosenberg. One of our most effective, I've finally realized. It is a violation of everything we believe in to leave him in such circumstances."
As Willow blinked in shock, Travers turned back to Buffy. "So, Glory's alter ego gave you the idea to wait out the deadline elsewhere. How did you know about the convent?"
"Giles again," Buffy shrugged. "He'd been there before. They're really sweet up there, they took us in even with Glory on our trail and two vampires with us."
Travers was tapping a finger restlessly on the table. "Why did you think it was a good idea to take two vampires with you?"
"We needed the strength and their knowledge. Without them, we wouldn't have made it."
The waiters returned with the first course of dinner. Travers allowed them to eat for several minutes before continuing with the conversation.
"Tell me about the Knights of Byzantium," he said to Buffy. "I doubt the version we received from them is particularly unbiased."
Xander put down his fork and closed his eyes. Willow reached over and squeezed his hand.
Buffy glanced at Xander very briefly. "You heard all this from the Knights?"
"We received one version of the tale from them. One of our contacts in Fresno heard rumors in the demon underground and gathered the reports. The main points are consistent, but the details vary widely. Was it a dozen or two hundred Knights there that night?"
"A couple of dozen or so, I think. It doesn't sound like that many, but when they're all armed and pissed at you, it's a lot of guys."
Travers nodded. "What happened with the Knights?"
Buffy did her best not to look at Xander again. "I'm not really sure. Dawn and Giles and I were in another dimension."
Travers perked up. "Yes, I am interested in hearing about that--but I do want to get my information on the Knights clear first." He looked at Joyce. "Mrs. Summers? What do you remember?"
Joyce shrugged. "I was hiding in the chapel most of the time. It's really quite an amazing place."
"I'm certain it is." He turned to Willow and Tara.
"I was pretty out of it, too," Tara volunteered. "With my mind, well, being--somewhere else."
"And I was too busy trying to figure out how to get her mind back," Willow added. "Oh, and stopping the fire arrows that the Knights kept shooting in at us."
Travers leaned forward. "How did you do that?"
"With magic. It took me a little bit to figure out that I couldn't just shatter them, because that just spread the fire around. I wanted to put up a barrier, but that would have stopped Buffy and the others coming back if they needed to." Willow sighed. "I wanted to go with them to Sqaon, but I had to stay so I could help Tara get better."
Tara took her hand and smiled proudly. "You were very wonderful." Willow shrugged and smiled bashfully.
Travers blinked a moment, then focused on Xander. "Mr. Harris? You seem to be the only witness left."
Xander took a slow, deep breath. "So what story have you heard?"
"We've heard so many different stories. I'd like to hear yours."
He looked up and met the other man's eyes. "Why?"
Travers blinked again. "Excuse me?"
"Why do you want to know the details? Isn't it enough to know that we won? Again? When everyone expected us to fail?"
"We're Watchers, Mr. Harris. We watch. We take notes, we keep records. The past informs the future, but we must remember the past for that to happen."
Xander made no effort to disguise his hostility. "And what if we don't want to be in your records, Mr. Travers?"
"Mr. Harris, you already are. Wouldn't you rather the records contain the truth?"
Xander smiled very faintly. "Truth. Interesting concept. Often over-rated."
Travers leaned forward. "There is a phrase: History is written by the winners. You are one of the winners. What would you have history say of what happened?"
Xander closed his eyes again as his breath became shaky. "The Knights came. They threatened us. We held them off all night. Just before dawn, their General and a few others snuck in. Before it got any more interesting, Glory showed up. And it got messy."
"That's it?" Travers asked after a few moments' silence.
"Isn't that enough? That's what happened."
"Well, yes, but how did you hold off a small army? How did the General get in? What happened to them all?"
"They died," Xander snapped. "Every single damned one of them." His smile was predatory. "If you want gory details, you could always ask Spike. I'm sure he remembers everything."
"Yes. Quite so." Travers took a sip of wine before turning back to Willow. "Ms. Rosenberg, you were working a great deal of magic that night."
Willow shrugged. "Well, it was mostly very simple things, redirecting the arrows, putting out the fires, things like that."
"How long have you been studying?"
"About three years now."
Travers paused before his next question when the waiters came back to refill glasses and bring more food. When they left, he resumed his questions. "And you are self-taught?"
"Pretty much. Ms. Calender, our high school computer teacher, had some notes and books, and--and Giles would answer questions and--and stuff."
"Yes," Travers said in a grim voice, "Rupert always did have a knack for that sort of thing. You and Ms. McClay have been studying together?"
Willow nudged Xander for snickering. "Yes, we have."
"Had you ever done anything like that portal spell before?"
"Oh, no, nothing like that. It was amazing. Giles knew the spell, and Sister Agnes had a book in her library that we used to fine tune the spell so it would go to the right place. Anya had been there, so she was a lot of help in getting it right. Giles and I cast it, then I closed the portal after he and Buffy and Dawn went through. He said he could cast the portal to get everybody back."
"This was at the beginning of the evening, after the Knights arrived?"
"Um hm. They were after the Key, so we had to get Dawn somewhere safe away from them." She stopped, looking guilty.
Travers smiled. "I already knew about the Key, Ms. Rosenberg. All the stories were quite clear that it was the Slayer's little sister who was the target of all the attention." He turned to Buffy. "Did you know, when we were here last, about the identity of the Key?"
Buffy nodded. "Yes, we did."
"We would have been happy to help protect her."
"She was given to me to protect. And I didn't want you treating my little sister as a test subject."
Travers nodded, then looked at Dawn herself. "Ms. Summers, you've felt no ill effects from being the Key?"
"Um . . . " Dawn glanced at Buffy and Joyce, then back at Travers. "Uh uh. I feel fine. I feel like I always have."
"Like you always have?"
"Mr. Travers," Joyce said, "what is the first thing you remember about Dawn?"
He thought for a moment. "When I received the report about Buffy being the next Slayer, it mentioned her family, you, Mrs. Summers, her father and her sister, Dawn." He blinked. "But that's--"
Joyce nodded. "It's like that for all of us. Her aunt in Ohio sent a birthday card, and the school district just sent me the enrollment package for her."
Willow grinned at Dawn. "You wanted to cut off my hair the first time I babysat you."
"Did not," Dawn muttered.
"Then what were those scissors for, missy?" Dawn didn't answer.
Xander glared at her. "And somebody who shall remain nameless but whose name rhymes with prawn kicked my butt at foozball at her twelfth birthday party at the Chuck-e-Cheez."
Dawn blinked. "You said you let me win!"
"I lied! You think I wanted to admit a twelve-year-old beat me?"
She bounced in her chair. "I really won? All by myself?"
He sighed. "Yes, you really won." Dawn squealed in high-frequency glee.
Travers watched everything gravely. Joyce watched him. "We did everything we had to to protect her and the world from Glory," she said. "It wasn't easy, and it really isn't anything we like talking about." Travers glanced at Xander, who was smiling as Dawn gloated. "Can't you let it go?" Joyce added.
"I suppose it can wait till another time. Excuse me?" he said a little louder. The rest of the table fell silent. "Ms. Rosenberg, Ms. McClay, I'm very interested in how you solved the problem of Glory interfering with Ms. McClay's mind. It's unheard of for anyone to recover from that."
They discussed Tara's recovery through the rest of the meal. Travers answered a few questions from Joyce about the Watchers and the training of Slayers, but they managed to keep it civil.
After dinner, he and Joyce shook hands as they gathered their things to leave.
"If you ever have any other questions you'd like to ask, Mrs. Summers, please don't hesitate to call me." He handed her his card.
Joyce tucked it into her purse. "I'll do that. Thank you for dinner, Mr. Travers."
The others followed her out, saying Thank You and Good Bye. Dawn caught Travers' eye on her and ducked between Buffy and her mother as they left.
Travers watched them go, then turned back to the table. From among the flowers of the centerpiece, he pulled a very small tape recorder. He rewound the tape, played a few seconds to make sure of the recording quality, then tucked the recorder safely into his pocket.