"Hi everyone," said April as Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Tara came into the house, all of them looking around warily. "Have you had a good day? Mine has been excellent."
"Did you read the books?" Willow asked cautiously.
"Yes. They were very interesting and informative. I decided that I like free will, so I'm exercising it by giving you all presents."
"That's nice," said Buffy uncertainly, "what sort of presents?"
"I asked Anya what she liked best about being human, and she said orgasms and money and chocolate. You are all adults and can make your own orgasm arrangements, with the exception of Dawn who is too young, so I have decided to give you money. You can use that to buy your own chocolate."
"Err... that's very good of you," said Willow, "but where did you get it?"
"The money came from Warren."
"I have decided that he was not a good boyfriend, and deserves to be punished for the way he treated me. He is not very imaginative, I found it easy to trace the false names used for his bank accounts, and guess the passwords used to access them."
"That's illegal, April."
"I haven't stolen the money, I have compared his real assets and income to the figures reported to the Internal Revenue Service, reported the discrepancy, and claimed the appropriate finders fees. The accounts have already been frozen, you will receive the rewards as soon as the tax audit is complete."
"Wow," said Dawn, "How much are we talking about here?"
"Approximately seven thousand two hundred and eighteen dollars and twenty three cents. Each. Possibly more, depending on outstanding transactions."
"What?" asked all four women incredulously.
"Approximately seven thousand two hundred and eighteen dollars and twenty three cents. Each. Possibly more, depending on outstanding transactions. Since Dawn is a minor her share will have to be paid into her college fund; I have made appropriate arrangements."
"That's amazing," said Buffy. "I don't know what we can do to thank you, April."
"Oh, I am taking a share for myself. I can't eat chocolate, but I will need money for electricity and clothing and other expenses. Now that I understand the importance of money I realise that If I am to be a person I can't continue to live at the expense of others."
"Wow, you're really getting into this free will stuff, hope you'll continue to like it. But don't worry about the money, you've helped us a lot, you and the Buffybot. And not everyone has Anya's priorities."
"Thanks," said April, "but as I develop my own interests I expect that I will need my own space, I need to start thinking about setting up my own home. And for that I will need money."
"Can't argue with that," said Willow. "Anyway, we're all going to the Bronze tonight, would you like to come?"
"Thank you, but I think I would prefer to spend the evening reading and recharging. There are still many books in the house I have not read."
"Okay, if you're sure."
"Thank you. Would you like coffee..."
Willow and Buffy followed April into the kitchen, both looking slightly dazed. Tara said "Dawn, we'd better get that talisman."
Dawn nervously said "right," and led her upstairs.
"What's this about, Dawn?" asked Tara.
"It's not just the talisman. I... I've been taking things. From shops, and the Magic Box."
"Oh. Can you tell me why?"
"I don't really know, it's just... I was feeling really lonely, even before Mom died, the way everyone was acting around me was so weird. And I just started, I guess, just taking things. So that I'd feel... real, I guess."
"Do you think you'll still want to do that?"
"I don't know... not if things are coming back together again. You and Willow, and Buffy being more honest about Spike."
"Dawn, you can't tie your hopes to other people that way. Things could still go wrong.. with Buffy and Spike, or with Willow and me. We all love you, whatever happens, but you've got to understand that this isn't a perfect world, and things may not go as smoothly as you like."
"Okay, do you want to show me what you've got."
Dawn went to her jewellery box, and took out the tray to show an assortment of small trinkets underneath. Tara looked and sadly said "Dawnie... those are my earrings."
"I know. I just couldn't seem to see things like that without taking them."
"What about the rest?"
"These are from The Magic Box, those are from other shops. And that's Willow's talisman."
"I guess you've been busy. Look, you keep my earrings for now, let me have them back when you're ready. Why don't you wear them if you want to, if anyone asks I've loaned them to you. I'll take the rest and find a way to get them back to their rightful owners."
"Everything. What good is this stuff anyway? You don't even risk wearing the ordinary jewellery, as for the magical stuff... well, it's not doing you much good, is it?"
Dawn sighed. "Okay."
"That's good, Dawnie. Why don't you get dressed for the Bronze, I'll take care of this stuff. See you downstairs. And pick something nice to match the earrings, okay?"
They hugged, and Tara went down for coffee.
"Spike?" shouted Buffy, "You in here?"
"Coming," said a voice from the bowels of the earth. A moment later Spike popped out of the trap door in the floor of his tomb. "Here for some more fuel for your guilt-trip, Slayer?"
"Here for a quick shag then?"
"Want me to pummel some monster then?"
"What the hell do you want then?"
"Well, I thought you might like to come to the Bronze so that I can introduce everyone to my boyfriend."
"What, you've got yourself a Captain Cardboard replacement?"
"Spike... oh, the hell with it." Buffy pulled him close and kissed him, then said "I meant you, you idiot."
"What? Bloody hell..."
"This whole business about Willow's parents kinda freaked me out about keeping things secret, then Dawn worked out I was seeing someone and wormed it out of me. Willow and Tara know too. And I'm tired of hiding things. So you might as well start acting like my boyfriend and come along to the Bronze tonight."
"How the hell do the witches know?"
"They got back together this afternoon, that sort of made me tell Dawn."
"Okay... so you want me to be your official boyfriend. I guess I can go for that, but why not celebrate here?"
"Because Dawn wants to see Xander's face when I tell him, and I sort of owe her one for pushing me into this... and I'm not sure I can do this if we don't do it tonight."
"Xander.... oh yeah, what are we waiting for? Come on, Slayer, let's get down and boogie. I want to see the whelp squirm!"
"Okay, let's go. Oh, one thing..."
"Dawn says you won't be a perfect boyfriend, and I should make allowances. Now she's probably right, but I just want to remind you that allowances only go so far. I'm going to be letting you into my life, and if anything happens to hurt Dawn or my friends or anyone else as a result you're going to be history. Understood?"
"Understood... Hey, I guess that proves you really are my girlfriend."
"You just started nagging me. Historical bleedin' moment."
"Let's go, boyfriend."
"Okay, that's the Doublemeat Palace taken care of," said Kay, putting his neuralyzer away as he got back into the car. "They're remembering Buffy working a double shift today. I even took care of the time cards."
"Now tell me why you're being so nice," said Jay.
"Because she needs the money, and we need her help."
"Okay.. Back in the seventies I had a thing going with a Slayer for a while. I know what her life must be like, working minimum wage because she has to keep running off and can't keep a better job. I feel a little sorry for her."
"Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Provided it doesn't affect the job."
"Don't worry, it never has so far."
"Okay. Hey, while you were in there I checked the computer, made sure that nobody's invading Earth or anything while we're stuck in the boondocks. It says that there have been three attempts to steal the car since we got here."
"Boondocks, remember. I know it'd be a couple of dozen in New York, but even three is on the high side for suburban California. Especially when the camera record shows that two of them are that guy Warren, and the third was that sidekick we caught. Those guys are beginning to bug me a little. Oh well, we've got two, how hard can it be to find the third?"
"It isn't really our job, slick, although we'll do it if he comes our way. Let's get back to the Rosenberg place and look through more of the records."
"Any word from New York on the deneuralyzer?"
Warren woke slowly, and gradually realised that there was something wrong. When the doctor knocked him out he'd been in a comfortable surgery, now he was in a dingy room with peeling wallpaper lying on a bare mattress. He ached all over, but his arm and leg weren't hurting more than the rest. He tried to sit up and felt dizzy and nauseous, but eventually managed it, and realised that there was something pinned to his shirt. A note.
Meers, your bank has refused to transfer the funds to cover your treatment. You owe us $6500. You have one week to pay, if not we take the other kidney.
Warren struggled to his feet, swaying, and checked himself in a broken mirror. There was a long dressing on his side and back, which he suspected was over his left kidney. Or where it had once been...
"What's this about, Buff?" asked Xander, as he and Anya joined Buffy, Willow, Tara, and Dawn at the Bronze.
"Well... short version, finding out about all the lies Willow's parents.. whatever.. told her made me decide that I wanted to get rid of the lies in my life."
"I've been seeing someone... I thought you guys might not like it, so I kinda kept quiet about it."
"Do you mean an orgasm someone?" asked Anya.
"Okay, yeah, you could put it that way."
"Why shouldn't we approve? It's not like you're getting back together with Angel, is it? Oh god, please don't say you're getting back together with Angel. I still have nightmares about last time."
"Relax, Xander, it isn't Angel."
"Dracula's come back and this time he's buying flowers?"
"And it isn't Riley again, I hope?"
"Nope. Haven't heard from him since he left."
"So who is it? Why won't we approve? Someone we hated at school? You've decided you're gay and you're dating Cordy?"
"Nope, still straight."
"So when do we meet this mysterious friend?"
"When he brings back our drinks from the bar."
"Hello whelp," said Spike, sitting down beside Buffy and putting a tray of drinks on the table.
"I wouldn't sit there if I were you," said Xander, "Buffy's boyfriend'll be back from the bar in a minute and..."
Buffy and Dawn watched his face, and waited as the penny finally dropped.
"...holy crap, are you out of your mind?"
"Eighteen seconds," said Dawn, checking her watch. "Willow wins."
"Are you out of your mind?" said Xander again, but louder.
"Nope," said Buffy. "Spike and I have been seeing each other for a while, we decided not to hide it any more."
"Are you out of your mind? He's a vampire!"
"You remember what happened with Angel?"
"Sure. It didn't happen with Spike. No soul to lose, remember?"
"It didn't happen? Past tense didn't?"
"What can I say, whelp," said Spike "it's a little late to object."
"This is great," said Anya, "Now you'll have a boyfriend to sit with at the wedding. Except I'll have to change the seating plan, darn it."
"Buffy," said Xander, "what if the chip goes wrong? He'd kill you in a second."
"No he wouldn't," said Buffy, "he can already hurt me if he wants to, for some reason the chip doesn't think I'm human."
"It's the resurrection spell," said Tara, "Willow and I agree that it modified your vital signs and aura just enough to confuse the chip."
"So that's what it is," said Spike, "I thought it meant she'd come back with a bit of demon in her."
"No," said Willow, "just Buffy with a deep magical suntan, sort of."
"Disappointed?" asked Buffy, pouting. Spike answered by kissing her.
"What about the rest of us?" said Xander. "Dawn? Willow and Tara? Anya and me?"
"You know how Spike looked after me when Buffy was gone," said Dawn, "how can you be so cruel? The chip didn't make him do that!"
"Spike helped all of us this summer," said Willow, "He could have let any one of us be killed a dozen times if he'd wanted to."
"Do you think they're gonna break for air any time soon?" Dawn whispered to Tara, watching Buffy and Spike.
"Well," said Tara, "Spike doesn't need to breathe and Buffy has Slayer endurance so my guess is it may be a while."
Xander said "So the rest of you are happy that Buffy is dating this... this..."
"Demon?" asked Anya.
"Yes. NO! Oh... the hell with it. You want a drink, Anya?"
"I'm not sure I want anything of yours right now, Xander."
"Xander," said Dawn, "Mom liked Spike. A lot more than she liked Angel. And you know that mom was a good judge of people."
"Anya, Dawn," said Willow, "you can't blame him for being concerned. But Xander, would you rather see Buffy with someone like Parker?"
"Well," said Xander, "if I have to pick between the undead and the slime I guess... I guess I'll go with the undead. At least I kinda know where I am with Spike."
"That's better," said Anya, "Spike, Buffy, Xander wants to apologise. Hello? HELLO?"
"Sorry," Buffy said eventually, a little breathlessly, "got kinda involved there."
"Xander?" asked Anya.
"I'm sorry... I guess. Spike, Buffy, I hope that you two will be happy together. Spike, if you hurt Buffy or Dawn or anyone else you're dust."
"I mean it."
"Okay... I guess I can take that as an apology. Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt Buffy or Niblet."
"Okay. You guys want a beer?"
"Thought you'd never ask."
"Spike, are you coming in?" Buffy asked a couple of hours later, after the others had gone inside the house.
"D'you want me to?"
"Sure. I want to spend time with you but I need to spend more time at home, that means you're going to be spending time here. But we're all gonna have to be up pretty early tomorrow, Dawn's got school and Willow, Tara, and I wand to see if the MIB guys can get Willow's memory back."
"Good thing neither of us need much sleep then."
They went inside.