Summary: A young Watcher learns a lesson about life.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for violence and themes.

Time Frame: The night after the last scene of "Checkpoint." (spoiler alert!)

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.



EAR FULL OF CIDER



Buffy walked softly down the path, her keen senses intent on noting any potential attackers. Occasionally, she would her the sound of a kicked stone or snapped twig from about fifty yards behind her, and she would turn and direct a truly lethal glare at the three tweed-clad men who were there.

After Buffy had laid down the law with Travers and the other Watchers, they had obediently vacated the magic shop, but Travers had very politely asked Buffy if it would be acceptable for observers from the Council to come along on her patrol the next night for "educational" purposes. Taken aback by the polite, genuine nature of the request, Buffy agreed to let Travers and his assistant come along with Giles. . .a courtesy that she was beginning to regret. Muttering in annoyance, she shut the distractions out of her mind and continued to search for opponents.

"It does seem rather quiet around here, Rupert." Quentin Travers spoke quietly, checking his pocket watch and looking ahead at the slender figure of the Slayer as she slipped around a group of trees.

Giles nodded, then replied, "Between Buffy's previous efforts and the probability that the presence of Glory is causing some of the more survival minded demons to leave town for the time being, she may not run across any demons at all tonight-"

"Guess again, Rupert." The three men turned as Spike slipped out of the shadows like a leather-clad phantom. He grinned at their momentary unease, then elaborated, "I spotted a group of four vampires crossing the park going the other direction. . .Buffy's heading right for them."

"My word. . .four?" The question came from David Walters, Travers' assistant. He seemed to be in his early twenties, with sandy brown hair and blue eyes, and a physique that looked like a weightlifter's. "That's a bit much, isn't it? Shouldn't we go and help her?"

Giles smiled at the younger man's concern, while Travers seemed ready to deliver a lecture about the duties of a Slayer. Spike laughed and replied, "Watcher. . .they did explain to you what a Slayer is, right? It's four vamps, none of them more than a year or two old, and unarmed. . .I'd guess that Buffy won't even chip her nail polish before she gets their dust all over that fashion ensemble of hers."

Giles raised an eyebrow, noting quietly that Spike, in his usual biting manner, had just rather thoroughly flattered Buffy. He gave Spike an annoyed look, then turned to Walters and commented, "Your concern for Buffy's well being is admirable, David. . .but I agree with Spike's tactical analysis. Buffy should have little trouble with these vampires. . .still, we should stand by in case something unexpected happens and we need to intervene--"

"Never make it there in time, Rupert." Spike's voice was matter of fact, and Giles saw a glint of something unidentifiable in his eyes as the vampire continued, "I caught a look at her from the shadows a few minutes back. . .she's got that look. . .the one she had when she beat me while I was wearing the bloody Gem of Amara-"

Travers and Walters blinked, and the younger man whispered, "You had the Gem of Amara. . .and Miss Summers beat you in spite of it?"

Giles bit his lip to avoid laughing, and Spike glared at him and replied, "Yeah. . .let her Watcher tell you the story later. . .when I'm not around to hear him snickering." Spike looked away and continued, "Anyway, I wouldn't go near her in this state, even without this bloody chip in my head. . .my guess is, if you ran over to her when the first punch was thrown, they'd all be dust before you got there."

Giles and Travers were silent, but Walters could not restrain himself: "I'm willing to believe that Miss Summers is an extraordinary Slayer, but you go too far, sir. No one can defeat four vampires that quickly without weaponry that she just isn't carrying."

Spike raised an eyebrow and replied, "Really? Well, Watcher, I've got fifty dollars here that says that all four of those vampires are dust twenty seconds after the first blow is thrown by either side."

Giles gave Spike a dirty look, and Walters was speechless for a moment before turning to his mentor. Travers was silent for a moment, then commented, "I have no objections if you wish to take the wager, David. . .it could be an excellent learning experience."

Walters nodded and looked over at Spike, stating flatly: "I accept the terms of your wager, sir."

Spike rolled his eyes while Travers turned to Giles and requested, "Rupert, would you serve as timekeeper and hold the stakes?"

Giles nodded and pulled out a stopwatch while Walters handed him a fifty-dollar bill. Spike stayed motionless until Giles looked pointedly at him and prodded, "Spike. . .the money, if you please."

Looking annoyed, the vampire handed over the cash and Giles placed both bills in his coat pocket as he looked ahead and saw that Buffy and the vampires had just caught sight of each other. They crept closer, and were about fifty feet away when the vampires closed the gap to Buffy and the lead one threw a punch. . .Giles started the stopwatch.

Buffy blocked the punch, then knocked the vampire on its back with a lightning fast sweep kick, staking it immediately afterwards, then rolling away from the other three as they tried to attack her from behind. She went directly into a backflip, startling and confusing the vampires as she landed next to a tree and broke off a large, dead branch. The three charged at her, only to be surprised again as Buffy leaped over a branch about ten feet off the ground, grabbing it with one arm and sling-shotting herself back to the spot on the ground directly in the middle of the three baffled vampires.

* Jab * * Jab * * Jab *. . .* Poof * * Poof * * Poof *


Giles clicked the stopwatch off, and for fully ten seconds there was silence. Giles recovered first, and looked down at the stopwatch. He blinked, then read the result: "14.8 seconds." There was no response, and Giles looked up at the others. Travers, for once, was showing visible emotion. . .fascination. Walters' expression was blank with shock. Spike's expression was unlike any that Giles had seen on his face before, and he was trying to decipher it when the vampire blinked and reached out for the cash that Giles was handing to him, commenting, "Easiest money I ever made."

"You should be ashamed of yourself, Spike," replied Giles, putting his stopwatch away and looking at him with mild disgust. "You took advantage of him. . .I would have insisted on a fifteen second limit."

"What part of 'I'm evil and don't play fair' isn't clear, Rupert?" Spike laughed, then frowned and commented, "Wait a minute. . .you would have lost even with those terms, Rupert."

Giles looked over at Buffy, who was brushing dust and leaves off of herself, and there was naked pride in his expression and voice as he replied, "Yes. . .I would have."

"All right. . .I've had it!" Buffy's loud and audibly irritated voice echoed over to the four surprised figures, and all turned to her. She fixed a lethal stare at Spike and continued calmly, "All right, Spike. . .since you've had your fun and exploited me in order to get your blood and cigarette money for the week. . .get lost."

Spike threw a mocking salute at the Slayer and departed, though Giles noticed that his gaze lingered on her for a moment longer before he vanished into the darkness as abruptly as he had appeared from it.

Buffy turned her head slightly and addressed the two visiting Watchers: "Are you here to watch me Slay, or to make barroom bets? Keep it down back there. . .some of us are trying to work." Travers and Walters nodded, and Buffy called out to Giles, "Come over here, Giles. . .I need to talk to you for a minute."

When Giles had moved off, Walters turned to Travers and asked, "You knew that she would do it, didn't you? The 'educational experience' you had in mind. . .was for me."

Travers nodded, then his expression softened as he replied, "I was fairly certain. . .and I certainly would not have bet against her." The older man looked at his protégé, noting the lack of comprehension there, then continued, "David. . .there was a Broadway show many years ago called 'Guys and Dolls'. . .in the show, one of the characters repeated some advice his father had given him: 'One of these days in your travels, you are going to come across a guy with a nice brand new deck of cards, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not take this bet, for if you do, as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an ear full of cider.'"

Walters was surprised at the rather informal nature of his mentor's story, but nodded as he absorbed the lesson in it and asked, "So, what you're saying is that it was foolish to not suspect that Spike was pulling a confidence trick on me when he offered that wager?"

"That goes without saying, David," replied Travers, giving his protégé a reproving look. He looked ahead to where Buffy and Giles were apparently deeply in conversation, then continued, "However, the more important lesson is the logical extension of the advice I just repeated, and why I would not have accepted the wager regardless of the terms." He took a deep breath, then concluded, "While having a bit of cider squirted in your ear once may be considered a valuable learning experience, having it happen again. . .the night after she did it to you before, is folly."

As Walters nodded in comprehension, Buffy laughed loudly and whispered in Giles' ear, causing him to laugh as well. As one, they looked back at the humbled Watchers, and Buffy called out, "Let's get going. . .the night is young." The Slayer and her Watcher walked off side by side, and the two visiting Watchers followed silently.




As before, comments are welcome and desired.