“Any real witch would know the Wiccan New Year’s in October, not December,” Willow grumbled from her seat at the round table.
“Shh!” Anya hissed, glaring at Willow. “You’re supposed to be helping, not driving customers away!”
Willow rolled her eyes, looking around at the handful of customers who were perusing the various items on sale in the Magic Box. She scoffed at one guy who had a book of—what else? —love spells in his hand. “That guy wouldn’t be able to pull off a spell, even if he had all the right ingredients.”
“Yeah, because you’re the expert on that lately,” Anya muttered sarcastically before hurrying away to help the customer they’d been discussing.
“Hey!” Willow protested to her retreating back. “What's that supposed to mean?”
Xander cleared his throat, looking up from the book he’d been pretending to read during the exchange.
“Well, Will, you’re spells have been known to go a bit wonky a time or three.”
Willow frowned. “A few spells go wrong, and everybody forgets about the ones that went right.”
“No one’s forgotten anything,” Xander assured her with a kind smile.
Willow lifted her lips in a tiny smile; so tiny it would’ve been missed if he hadn’t been staring at her. Xander’s smile disappeared as quickly as hers had, and he wondered what was going on with his oldest friend. She had been much quieter than usual lately, and he attributed the change in behavior to her break-up with Tara. The fact that Spike had seemingly taken up residence in the house she lived in couldn’t be doing anything to alleviate the stress Willow had been under recently.
His line of thinking was brought to an abrupt halt as Buffy and Giles entered the main room from the training area. Buffy stretched her arms over her head, smiling at them in greeting. Willow barely noticed them though, her attention diverted to the front door where Dawn had just entered with Tara in tow. No one missed the look of panic that crossed Willow’s face.
No one had much time for greetings before Anya rushed over, more than happy to be giving them all assignments. She and Giles were expecting a rush of customers for their New Year’s Eve sale, and they’d all been recruited to help out.
“Dawn will be behind the counter with me,” Anya started, looking at the younger girl. “We don’t want to tempt your inner Bonnie-sans-Clyde, so you can take orders and wrap gifts.” Dawn’s eyes were downcast at the mention of her previous indiscretions, but she nodded her acquiescence. “Xander, you and Buffy can do any heavy lifting we need, like bringing up more stock from the basement. Willow and Tara, you two can use your knowledge of witchcraft to help customers, and more importantly, persuade them to buy things!”
Neither of the witches looked happy with their job, but Anya didn’t give anyone time to disagree with their assignments. She led Dawn away from the group, already filling the girl in on what she’d be required to do. Tara moved away from the small group quickly, planning on keeping as much distance from Willow as she could.
Buffy sank down into an empty chair, pouting. “I wish I hadn’t let Giles talk me out of patrolling tonight.”
“Giles is standing right here,” he reminded her. “And missing one night of patrol won’t kill you.”
“I might die of boredom though,” she muttered.
“I’m sure Anya can find some task for you if you’re that bored.”
Buffy was up and out of her seat before Giles finished his sentence. “Uh, no. I’m sure I can find some way to keep myself busy. Oh, look,” she said, already walking away from the table. “That lady looks like she could use some help lifting that incredibly heavy looking box…”
Giles smiled, happy to see Buffy beginning to act more and more like her old self. He took the seat Buffy had vacated next to Xander. “It’s driving me mad that we haven’t been able to get a single lead on who could’ve done this to her,” he told the other man.
Xander pushed away the book in front of him. “No one saw or heard anything other than the explosion that destroyed any evidence that could’ve led us in the right direction. No surveillance cameras in the alley…I mean, c’mon a bank really should have them…and without Buffy as a witness, the helpful men and women of the Sunnydale police force have pretty much stopped working the case.
“What more can we do?”
Giles sighed, taking off his glasses. “I’m afraid there isn’t much we can do. If this was an attack on Buffy, they’ll be sure to strike again, and this time we’ll be ready.”
“Or we can hope it was a nice, normal bank robbery gone wrong?” Xander asked even though he knew better.
“Not much that goes on in Sunnydale is normal,” Giles reminded him. “Especially not where Buffy is concerned.”
“Don’t these people have lives?” Buffy groaned, leaning her tired body against a bookshelf. “They should be somewhere else, doing something New Year’s Eve-y.”
“Fortunately, they’re not,” Giles told her with a bright smile, more than happy with the turnout. “Anya and I would like to thank all of you for helping tonight.”
“Yes,” Anya agreed from behind the counter. “You all helped me and Giles make lots of money.”
Buffy couldn’t suppress her giggle at Willow’s eye roll.
“Yes, and to show our appreciation, pizza’s on us,” Giles offered, taking a few twenties out of Anya’s till. Anya didn’t look happy, but for once kept what she was thinking to herself.
“Are there even any pizzerias open this late?” Dawn questioned, coming out from behind the counter where Anya had kept her prisoner all night.
“There’s one by the college,” Willow told them. “Buffy and I used to order from them on nights when we’d stay up late slaying and studying.” She stood to give Giles the information and help him place the order.
Xander made quick work of plugging in a radio and put on some party tunes before flipping the ‘open’ sign on the door to ‘closed’. He instantly regretted not locking up when Spike came sauntering through, exhaling a cloud of smoke right into his face. Spike paid no attention as Xander went into a coughing fit, strolling past him and into the shop.
“Spike, you came,” Dawn noticed happily, a big smile on her young face.
“Yes, Spike, you came,” Giles repeated, not an ounce of joy on his much older face. “How lucky for us all.”
Spike ignored the jab. “Yeah, well, not a whole lot goin’ on out there tonight. Staked a few vamps ‘fore I headed down to Willy’s. Tried to get some info out of a few blokes I know ‘bout what happened to the slayer. Either they don’t know a bloody thing, or they’re not talkin’.”
“That was very…helpful…of you,” Giles replied, sounding as though it pained him to admit.
“Yeah, ‘t was, wasn’t it?” Spike shot back, looking very happy with himself.
“You’re just in time for some pizza,” Buffy interrupted them.
“Good, I’m starving. Could probably eat the delivery boy, I’m so hungry.” He smirked, cutting off Giles, who was undoubtedly about to reprimand Spike. “Calm down, Watcher. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. We all know I couldn’t eat him, even if I wanted to.”
By the time the pizza arrived there were only fifteen minutes left until the New Year. Everyone had wound down from the busy day and was enjoying their pizza in various locations throughout the shop. Buffy, Willow, and Xander were seated at the round table, laughing about how upset poor Amy had been to learn Larry was not only gay, but had also been eaten by a giant snake. Of course, Buffy couldn’t remember any of those things, so Willow and Xander were gladly filling her in. Dawn was seated on the counter, happily watching the others enjoying themselves for what seemed to be the first time in a long while. Giles and Anya were finishing up paperwork in between bites of pizza, and Spike and Tara had found themselves seated on the steps closest to the front door.
Spike and Tara were busying comparing notes on living in the Summers’ household. Spike chuckled when Tara told him about the ridiculously long showers Dawn took, making him glad he didn’t shower in the morning.
“So,” Tara began, her voice quieter than it had been seconds earlier. “How long have you and Buffy been sleeping together?”
Spike choked on the pizza he’d been swallowing, garnering the attention of everyone in the room. He glared at the blonde as she slapped him on the back. She gave him his beer, which he promptly used to help swallow the food lodged in his throat.
“What did you just say?” he croaked, intending to sound more threatening than he was able to at the moment.
Tara smiled. “You heard me.”
“Are you daft?” he asked, still trying to deny what she obviously already knew. From the look on her face, he knew she had him figured out, and his voice reflected the defeat he felt. “Who told you that?”
“You just did,” she told him, and he didn’t know who he wanted to throttle more, himself or her. “But I’ve had my suspicions for a few days now.”
Spike took a swig of his beer, wishing he had something a bit stronger. “Care to elaborate?”
“I’m not sure I should be telling you this, but I think Buffy remembered…whatever happened between you two.”
Tara watched the disbelief play across Spike’s sharp features. “Did she…did she tell anyone else?”
“No. She doesn’t even know if it’s an actual memory or not.”
“Why didn’t she tell me?”
“I-I think she was confused and wasn’t sure who she could talk to.”
“If she didn’t tell you it was a memory, how’d you figure it out?” Spike asked, looking at her with a hint of suspicion in his blue eyes.
“I put two and two together. Nobody else wants to admit it, but she’s been closest with you since the accident. After she told me…I figured subconsciously she remembers.”
Tara felt sorry for Spike. He looked so torn. Then he said the last thing she expected to hear from him.
“You have to tell Giles.”
Tara furrowed her brow, not sure she heard him correctly. “What? Spike, no.”
“And why the bloody hell not? Her watcher, and her doctors, they should know she’s startin’ to remember.”
Tara looked around to make sure they weren’t drawing attention and found Dawn staring at them inquisitively. Hoping to put Dawn at ease, Tara smiled her way before answering Spike. “Do you really think Buffy and not the one sitting over there with no memories, would want Giles to know about this?” She felt bad when she saw how insulted Spike looked, but he needed to hear her out. “I’m not saying you two being together is anyone’s business, but do you want Buffy to get her memories back and stake you for telling everyone?”
Tara was right. It wasn’t his secret to tell. Maybe he would’ve threatened to tell her friends before all this, but not now. Not when she couldn’t begin to grasp the significance of telling. “What do we do then?”
“I’m assuming since Buffy didn’t know it was a memory that you two haven’t been…you know…since the accident?”
“What? No, of course not,” Spike answered before grumbling, “’S not even really Buffy.”
Tara was surprised by the sadness laced through his words. She was beginning to think she’d seriously underestimated the way the vampire felt about her friend. “Of course she’s really Buffy. She’s just not the Buffy we’re used to.”
“Don’t really see the difference.”
They both looked up as Xander fumbled with the radio, changing the station to one broadcasting the countdown. Dawn hopped down off the counter, joining Giles next to the table where her sister and friends were seated. Only a minute and counting left until the stroke of midnight, and Spike knew they’d all be wishing for the same thing.
“Three, two, one! Happy New Year!” Buffy chanted along with her sister and friends. She pasted a smile on her face as Giles embraced Dawn, placing a fatherly kiss on the top of her head. Xander embraced his fiancée for a much steamier kiss, while Willow glanced briefly, sadly, toward Tara.
Buffy sat rooted in her seat, unable to keep from staring at Spike as those around her celebrated. She knew she couldn’t just get up and kiss or even hug him. For one thing, he wouldn’t appreciate it anymore than her friends would. Although, maybe it would help Spike’s case if they knew how furiously he’d been refusing her advances.
It probably wouldn’t make a difference.
The party didn’t last much longer. Both Giles and Dawn tried unsuccessfully to hide their ever-growing yawns. Giles didn’t want to be rude and Dawn was trying to appear older because she could so stay out late with the adults. In truth, it had been a busy day for everyone with the exception of Spike, and they were more than ready to call it a night.
“Better get going ‘fore Niblet here turns back into a pumpkin,” Spike teased, and Dawn glared at him as only a teenager could.
Buffy hugged Tara, wishing she’d been able to spend more time with the other woman tonight. Tara returned the hug, hoping she hadn’t just majorly violated her friend’s trust, but knowing even if she did, she did so with the best of intentions.
“Need a lift home, Tara?” Xander asked, not wanting her walking home by herself so late.
“If you don’t mind that would be great,” she accepted with a smile, more than grateful for the offer.
“Ready to go, Dawn?” Buffy asked her sleepy sister, whose nod was accompanied by a yawn.
Spike followed the sisters out of the shop, calling over his shoulder, “Coming, Red?”
Willow stuffed supplies she’d gathered earlier in the day into her large purse, before hurrying to catch up with her housemates.
The walk home wasn’t long, but the crisp January night was cooler than usual, and as usual Dawn hadn’t dressed properly. Spike could feel the girl shiver when she brushed against him. Without asking, he draped his prized leather duster over her lanky frame.
“Thanks, but I don’t want you to be cold,” she told him, half-heartedly because she was already much warmer.
“Vampire,” he reminded her, lighting up a cigarette. “Don’t get cold.”
She made a show of waving a hand in front of her nose. “Human,” she mimicked him. “Can definitely get lung cancer.”
Spike chuckled, taking another inhale. “Sorry, bit. Promise if you do get the big C, I’ll turn you, alright?”
“Ew.” She hid her smile from him because she secretly liked that he wouldn’t mind having her around forever.