“Nose in a newspaper? Willow, it’s a new look for you,” Dawn teased.
“Xander brought it. Figured I’d take a look-see at what the normal townsfolk are up to these days,” Willow shrugged and turned to the next page.
“Anything interesting in the, my-biggest-problem-is-whether-to-order-the-grande-or-venti-frappachino, world?”
“Well… nothing noteworthy in the apocalypsey sense of the word but another bank was hit. That makes 4 in barely 2 weeks.”
“Hey, First National… isn’t that one where Buffy applied for a loan?” Dawn asked, pointing over Willow’s shoulder to the headline.
“Yeah, the very same, and got a great big rude ‘denied’ for her troubles.”
“Serves ‘em right, then,” Dawn grumbled and took a seat next to the contemplative redhead. Xander came out from the kitchen with a tray overflowing with snacks and drinks. Trailing behind was Anya, carrying a handful of videos and a board game.
“Yeah, I love it when karma kicks metaphoric keester,” Willow admitted with a smile. “Still, doesn’t it seem really off to have a vacation from the usual Hellmouthy suspects and then, out of the blue, there’s this uncharacteristic burst of crime?”
“Better bursting with crime than with the other type of traumatic trouble we’re way too used to,” Xander said with a crooked smile as he stretched out on the floor. “At least Sunnydale’s finest are earning those policeman’s balls I hear are all the rage these days. Besides, Buffy needs a break, so it’s working out nicely. Speaking of which, where is the her Royal Slayeress this fine evening?”
“She’s picking up dinner at a certain fast food establishment,” Willow said in a less than enthusiastic tone.
“Hmmm… what a co-inky-dink that the evenings feast will be provided by a business that just so happens to be next on her rapidly shrinking list of professional prospects,” Xander observed.
“Double Meat Palace?” Dawn groaned.
“In all its un-royal and greasy glory,” Willow cringed.
“Do we actually have to eat what she brings home?” Anya asked, obviously repulsed by the notion. “I mean, I can take pizza and discount sushi. I can even handle the occasional overcooked burrito, but unidentifiable meat products bathed in mass produced saturated fatty sauces? I have to draw the line somewhere. It’s just not healthy.”
“We can give it to Giles,” Dawn said with a shrug.
“He hated that place,” Willow said.
“Maybe he won’t remember,” Dawn suggested, much to everyone’s surprise. “Come on, like none of you thought of it. I got him to eat one of my breakfast creations yesterday, the peanut butter and jelly grilled sandwich. He liked it.”
“Not surprising, coming from a man who used to survive on Marmite pudding and Weetabix. Aim lower, Dawn.”
“Anya has a point. Giles n-needs healthy meals. I know we’re trying to make him feel comfortable and all, but for the sake of his recuperation we really need to put our united foots down with his self-appointed diet of pizza and chips,” Tara said. “Maybe if we introduce him to an occasional salad. You know, actual whole foods made from actual raw ingredients. Has he even seen a carrot since the hospital?”
“Only the expensive kind sparkling in Anya’s engagement ring.” Xander smirked. “Where is Giles, anyway? Isn’t it just about evening stroll time?”
“Reading in his room,” Willow informed him with a smile. “Ever since Dawn got him rolling, he won’t let up on the journals.”
“Giles can read. *I* taught him to read,” Dawn proclaimed proudly.
“For the upteenmillionth time, yes Dawn, we know all about your tutoring prowess. Why don’t you go get your star pupil and have him join us for some family fun?” Xander gave her a nudge and she hurried off. “So, back to the local crime spree. Will, you thinking Sunnydale’s gone legit in its unlawful transgressions?”
“I don’t actually. Did you read these articles? There were unusual circumstances to each reported robbery, things that couldn’t be explained, or at least that the witnesses didn’t want to explain. And the pattern doesn’t make any sense. Little mom and pop shops are being victimized just as much as banks and museums.”
“Doesn’t sound so demonic to me. What’s sounding the otherworldly alarms for you Will?” Xander asked.
“Quite a few artifacts were stolen; things that could be used for spell castings and demon raisings. And in some instances, the suspects were referred to as inhumanly strong, which is kind of a red flag. I think Tara and I might play Columbo and go check out some of the locations tomorrow to figure out if there are any connections between them.”
Anya removed the lid to the box and began to prepare the colorful board on the table, carefully placing the cards and the various game pieces in their proper locations.
“I see we’re playing Anya’s favorite game again tonight,” Tara said with as much forced enthusiasm as she could muster.
“What better way to teach Giles about life than to play the exciting board game representing its wholesome triumphs and tribulations?”
“Anya, you know there are a wide variety of quality family oriented board games just waiting for a turn on the Scooby table,” Willow suggested.
“But this is the game of ‘Life’. Somehow I don’t see Giles learning life lessons from ‘Hungry Hungry Hippos’ or ‘Chutes and Ladders’.”
“Here’s a wacky suggestion, since you have Giles-sitting duty tomorrow, why don’t you save the board gaming for then. Real, quality one-on-one time with the G-man?” Xander asked.
“I have other activities planned,” she said as she finished setting up the board.
Xander snickered as he tore open a bag of cheesy chips. “I think you’re just sick of losing to him. He murders you every time with those flash cards.”
“Only because they are entirely unfair and biased!” Anya objected.
“Toward middle-aged head trauma survivors,” Xander said sarcastically. “Yes, it’s a crying shame.”
“No, they are biased against those formerly of demon descent. Those crude shapes could easily represent symbols from other dimensions or eras. If someone had informed me of the humanly predisposed rules…”
“They’re a learning aid, Anya. There are no rules. It’s not a competition,” Tara explained, clearly amused. “But you do quite well anyway.”
“Honey, I’m home and I have the bag-o-heart attack to prove it,” Buffy announced as she came through the front door.
Giles came hurrying into the living room with a journal wagging in his hand.
“Behold, the inexplicable phenomenon. He spends all day hermitting away in his room, reading, then with the first sign of Buffy… he appears,” Xander smiled. “Who needs a dinner bell when you have the siren song of the Buffster?”
“What is a Watcher?” Giles asked and the gang went silent, all looking to Buffy.
“Buff, I think you’re up,” Xander said.
“Hey, look at this… dinner!” She announced uneasily, gesturing with the fast food bags and shuffled quickly into the kitchen.
Giles’ outstretched hand displaying the journal fell to his side and he let out a frustrated sigh.
“I’m not hungry,” he mumbled under his breath as he watched the others follow Buffy into the kitchen. But after a defiant moment, he joined them.
facts of life
“Today, I’ll be tutoring you in the fascinating world of free enterprise. It’s not something you can learn overnight so we’ll have many exhaustive, all-inclusive sessions on the topic. We’ll start out with the basics; dusting, sweeping, restocking, then we’ll build our way up to the more stimulating facets of business, such as profit and acquiring great deals of it.”
“Okay,” Giles wandered around the shop, exploring all the strange trinkets and odd scents that seemed to inhabit every shelf. “This is a magic shop.”
“That’s right. Very good, Giles,” she smiled proudly.
“My magic shop,” he continued.
“Actually, we’re partners so we both claim ownership. But you’re more of a hands-off, overseas investor, silent partner co-owner.”
“Does that mean I’m not supposed to talk?”
“Not at all. You used to speak frequently and at great length about the business and how it should be run. I would nod politely then do it the right way. Shall we get started?” She suggested happily and took up a folder from the counter.
“Okay,” Giles responded indifferently.
“This is a special order slip. See…” Anya drew her finger along the title printed at the top of the form. “O...r…d…e…r s…l…i…p. And this…” she held up another crumpled sheet of paper, “This is an invoice, sometimes referred to as a bill. I don’t care much for these. Besides, I think they overcharged me on the toad stones in this particular shipment. Here, you can hold it if you like. Can you say invoice?”
Giles nodded distractedly as he took up and examined a small statuette. “What is this?”
“That’s Cybele, a fertility goddess. Now over here we have…”
“She’s rather small, isn’t she?”
“What?” Anya responded sharply. “No, it’s a charm, Giles. A representation of a goddess worshiped in Phrygia.”
“A goddess of fertility?”
“Yes. Now back to the forms…”
“What is fertility?”
She sighed, shaking her head in frustration. With a breezing tone, she rattled on, “It’s all about ovum and sperm and children or the lack thereof. It’s a very messy, boring subject. But look over here…” she took up a leather bound book and opened it before him, gesturing along the page like a promotional model. “Oohhh… a ledger. See the numbers and how they accent the green vertical lines of the columns? Now we want this number to be black. Red is bad, like blood, you don’t want to see that.”
“Do you have children?”
“No, but it is customary for women of childbearing age to succumb to the pressures of society and willingly enslave themselves to the sacred burden of motherhood. Although the responsibility bears a heavy fiscal cost and will most likely irreversibly damage my pleasant appearance, I am told it is a blessing and joy that Xander and I will share together in the not too distant future. Now, back to the books…”
“Do I have children?”
“Not that we know of. There was some confusion over Spike at one time but that was brought on by a spell. It was a wacky time for all involved, let me tell you. We were actually under the perception that you and I were engaged, of all things. Luckily the spell was broken before we took things too far.”
“Spike? Too far?”
“But don’t you worry,” Anya continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “You could still have children if you’re ever able to find a willing partner. Of course, you’ve never been successful in keeping a long lasting relationship. There was that short affair with your orgasm friend but that didn’t really count.”
“I don’t recall her name. Quite pretty. Stylish dresser. Scared easy.”
“Hi-ho, you two,” Xander announced as he came through the Magic Box door with the accompanying ring of the bell.
“What’s an orgasm?” Giles asked, greeting him with an innocent smile.
Xander’s jaw dropped open as he considered the possibility he’d misheard. A quick look at Anya removed that comforting doubt. “Way to make with the small talk, Giles. Anya, sweetheart, I can only assume this is your doing?”
“I was tutoring Giles in the exciting and fast-paced world of retail.”
“Which naturally tumbled into the topic of orgasms?”
“Yes, it did,” she defended quickly.
“I get that everything comes back to sex in your strange, six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon way, and I appreciate that on a purely hormonal level but really, Anya… it’s only been a couple weeks and already with the birds and the bees?”
“I think your children would enjoy a pet bird. You might like to rethink the bees, though,” Giles said as he examined another small statuette.
“Our children?” Xander squeaked. “Is there something you’d like to tell me, Anya, or were you waiting to spring it on me at the baby shower?”
“I’m not pregnant, Xander,” she responded with irritation. “I certainly would inform you if I were. Having children is a very important plateau to reach in a stable relationship and not to be taken lightly. And there are many other steps we’ve yet to cover. Very important steps that are necessary to avoid…”
“Right,” Xander interrupted. “Well… thanks bunches for opening this can of worms. Think I better commandeer the hook and teach Giles how to fish in the back room. Meanwhile, you try not to relate everything to sex for all of fifteen minutes.”
“I already told you it wasn’t my fault.”
“Come on, Giles, time for us to have a man-to-man talk in the big boys room,” Xander began to guide him away by his arm.
“Is Anya joining us?” Giles asked.
“Nope, she doesn’t have the required equipment for this particular discussion. Think you’ll get the picture shortly. Not shortly… in no way is it short. I meant ‘in a moment’, you’ll catch on in a moment. ” Xander shook his head as he held the door open for Giles. “Man… I can’t believe I’m having to give you this spiel.”
“Buffy said the same thing.”
The door closed as Xander sounded a puzzled, “Say what?!”
“I don’t like this,” Jonathan whined, struggling to finish buttoning his business suit within the restraining confines of the van. “We’re deep in rebel territory, here, and I get the icky feeling the force may not be with us.” He grimaced as his elbow bashed into a fuzzy signaled monitor.
“Who needs the force when we got all the blasters we need to make a full on assault,” Warren grinned, recklessly waving around his Glock 22 pistol as he focused in on the suddenly cleared monitor. Andrew adjusted some dials, reaching across a row of digital readouts within the crammed pack space of the van.
“Now’s your chance, the blond bimbette is solo.” Warren prompted.
“But wonder if the chaos guy shows? What if he tipped them off again? I don’t like this. It’s probably a trap,” Andrew sniveled.
“Rayne is clueless. Besides, with the ugly amount of green we donated to the local chapter of Blood Drinkers of America, he’s as good as type O negative even as we speak.” Warren flipped a few switches, changing camera locations on the screens. ”Shortround said he needed a special ingredient for his masturbating spell…”
“Stop calling it that. It’s a Mastablé Blading spell,” Jonathan objected.
“Whatever, Jon-boy needs some special sauce for his mojo magic and this just happens to be the place cornering the market. So we’re going it undercover,” Warren smirked as he nodded to Jonathan. “Think you can handle it, double-o-zero?”
“You mean I’m going in alone?” Jonathan choked nervously.
“You’re the patsy… I mean, patron,” Andrew said slyly, exchanging a knowing glance with Warren.
“Fine, let’s get this over with.” The shorter man sighed discontentedly. He pushed open the van doors, hopped out and turned back with apprehension. “Wait! Check communications?”
“Yeah,” Warren agreed quickly, slammed closed the van doors and positioned himself at the wall of techno-gear.
Jonathan gripped the collar of his jacket and lifted it, guiding an inconspicuous microphone closer to his mouth. “Check one, check one, check, check, check…”
Andrew pressed his hand to his earpiece. “Check, check, receiving… we are receiving… check, check…”
“Got it! That’s enough!” Warren interrupted with a frustrated shout and after a soothing breath, continued in a calm tone, “Com-link established. Proceed with extreme caution. Will advise.”
With a gulp of breath, Jonathan headed across the street.
“Any questions? Giles, you still alive in there, you’re looking kinda lost?” Xander asked, watching as his wide-eyed friend paced the length of the hard wood floor of the training room. “The corndog metaphor was too much, wasn’t it? I knew it. I shoulda kept it simple; baseball metaphors and Playboy magazine, the way every hot-blooded, testosterone-infected American boy should learn.”
“Erm… I, um… well…” Giles stammered with each pace. “I thought I was British.”
“So you’re saying cricket woulda been better?” Xander shrugged, uncertain. “Please tell me you got the whole physical in-n-out of it. Or lie to me… give me something, here.”
“Yes, I understand that. It’s just…”
“Did we…” he tripped over his words, gesturing with his hands as if to fill in the blanks.
“Buffy and you?” Xander yelped. “No! I mean… not that I know of but I can say with almost complete certainty and naive optimism that ‘no’!”
“B-but…but I loved her?” He asked nervously, hoping for answers.
“Yeah, of course, Giles. You guys were really close. You’d have to be, right?”
“I loved her,” he repeated, wanting confirmation.
“We all love her. What’s not to love? Buffy is our friend, like part of our family…”
“I-I love her.”
Xander stopped cold and glanced up to the worried face pleading for reassurance or at least, understanding.
“Loved… her…” Giles mumbled as his gaze shifted to his feet. He peeking up guardedly, almost as if ashamed then quickly looked away as his hands began to fidget with the unraveling seam of his t-shirt.
“Giles?” Xander encouraged him gently.
“I wrote about her in my journals; pages filled with nothing but her. So many words I don’t understand, long words written in small writing that is hard to read. But I read the feelings there. I feel the feelings there.” He gulped in an anxious breath. “I think I loved her. I think maybe I still do.”
Xander stared for a long moment, trying to grasp the admission without jumping to conclusions and completely losing it.
“Okay.” He gulped in a breath, trying to remain calm to avoid worrying his vulnerable friend. “Um… rewind a little. Let me get this straight. Giles, when you say ‘you love her’, do you mean you ‘love her’, like you would a pet schnauzer or chocolate or a good comic? Or do you mean ‘in love’ like… well, like ‘in love’?”
“I don’t know. How do you know you are ‘in love’?”
Xander couldn’t help but smile at the question. Everyone wants that answer at some point and yet it is so hard to come by. He took a deep breath and thought of Anya for inspiration.
“It’s difficult to describe. For one thing, you think of her constantly. Always wondering what she’s doing or how she’s feeling and if she’s thinking of you. You miss her when she’s not there and can’t get enough of her when she is. When you look into her eyes, you see the man you want to be and that she wants you to be. That is ‘in love’.” Xander offered a crooked smirk. “But you may want to get a second opinion on that.”
“I don’t know the man she wants me to be. I don’t even know the man I was.” Giles’ lips parted as if to speak again then pressed together in a sad sort of smile.
“God, Giles… I don’t know what to say. This is… this is, man, I’m shell-shocked.”
“Is it bad? It’s bad, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not. It’s just… wow.” Xander let out a long breath. “I know Buffy loves you, Giles, we all do. But as for the ‘in love’ flavor of love…” he shook his head apologetically. “I just don’t know what to tell you. One thing Buffy was never very good at was admitting her heart. And right now, I don’t think she’s listening much to it.”
“What should I do?”
“I wish I knew, big guy.” Xander shrugged and walked up to his friend, giving him a kindly pat to the arm. “But until we figure it out, how ‘bout we start with a shave?”
“I can’t sell you brethre root with the pendant of Criestia,” Anya said bluntly. “It’s just too volatile.”
“I can pay any price,” Jonathan’s voice quivered. “Name it.”
“I’m sorry but I have a responsibility as a provider of mystical ingredients and…”
Jonathan’s attention was diverted to the panicked-stricken voice of Andrew sounding in his earpiece, “Abort mission! Abort mission!”
“Stay on target!” Warren commanded.
“But you’re the only shop that has it,” Jonathan urged.
“Just what would you need those two items for anyway? Are you doing some sort of curse?” Anya questioned suspiciously.
“She’s found us out! Abort mission! Abort mission!”
“Stay on target!”
“Perhaps I can compromise. I can sell you the brethre root but we’ve recently had to adopt a background check and waiting period procedure for certain dangerous items due to a shortsighted mistake on behalf of an associate of mine.” Anya retrieved a paper from a drawer below the register and handed it over to her customer. “But if you complete this form, I can process the request and get back to you in a timely manner.”
“Agent’s cover has been compromised! Let’s get out of here!” Andrew screeched over the transmitter.
“Fine! You whimpering jack-offs, abort mission, already! We’ll go to ‘plan b’,” Warren grumbled.
Jonathan turned tail and ran out the Magic Box door, scampering across the street and leapt through the open back doors of the black van. With a squeal of tires, the vehicle tore off down the street just as Anya peeked out the window to note the license plate.
“Well, yet again, that was a stunning failure,” Warren shouted as he steered the van at a perilous speed through down town Sunnydale. “What’s with you two, anyway? You’re freaking out over nothing.”
“Nothing? That was the belly of the beast, back there,” Jonathan insisted, brow dripping with sweat. “Wonder if she’d wised up and called in the Slayer?”
“So what’s ‘plan b’ anyway?” Andrew asked, settling into the passenger seat. “Is that the one with the life-size inflatable sex doll and the spirit possession spell?”
“Shut up… just shut up! Damn amateurs!” Warren grumbled as he made a sharp turn, sending Jonathan crashing into some of the electronic equipment. “Plan b is the failsafe. I’d hoped we could manage this without losing any more cash but it’s obvious I need to get some real players in the game, someone who actually has the photon torpedoes enough to get the job done.”
“What do you mean?” Jonathan asked, finally clawing his way into one of the back seats and strapping in.
“We’re going ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ style with a little help from our friends,” Warren sneered in anticipation.
“But we don’t have any friends,” Andrew corrected.
Warren flashed a steely glare.
“Money can’t buy you love but it can sure as hell buy you a herd of sociopath, demonic, blood-pack, gang-bangers thirsty for the blood of the Slayer and her piddly little sidekick squad. Come the next full moon, the Magic Box will be under new management and the first order of business…” Warren chuckled wickedly, “Take out the local town hero and her retardo Watcher once and for all.”