"Happy Halloween!" Buffy watched what she hoped was the last group of children walking away from the house with a chorus of "thank you". The candles in the jack-o-lanterns she had set out along the driveway leading from the house to the street were just about burnt out. Over a dozen pumpkins had been carved with an array of faces ranging from scary to downright comical. A boom box with a CD of scary music and sounds was playing by the door. If she never heard it again after tonight she'd be happy. It seemed like a cool idea when she'd thought of it, but it had gotten old.
Xander had the scary movies ready to go in the other room. The pizza had arrived just before the last trick-or-treaters. They were looking forward to their first quiet night in a while. Things were better but still busy for the slayer. Word evidently did not travel fast that the slayer was back in her usual form. But tonight was Halloween, a night noted for being quiet in the demon world.
The past two months had been crazy. Packing, moving, painting, organizing, unpacking, arranging and rearranging furniture, and cleaning – it never seemed to end. And in between it all she had to patrol while Dawn had school, homework and her job. Dawn and Connor had rooms at opposite ends of the second floor. As far as she could tell while they had feelings for one another neither was sure what to do. Buffy preferred it that way, and knew Angel agreed. Neither was your average kid their age and she hoped they'd take it slow.
"Come on, Chief," Buffy called, slapping her thigh with her hand to get his attention. The black and tan Rottweiler puppy loped toward her clumsily. What he lacked in grace he made up for in enthusiasm. He was so tiny it was hard to believe he would get to be one hundred pounds or more. At just over twenty now it seemed a long way to go in the short span of a year. She unfastened the hook from his collar and was greeted with kisses as she bent over him. She hated to admit it, but she loved having a dog. "The trick-or-treaters have all gone home, it's time to watch movies and get scared," she murmured as she carried him indoors.
She set him down on the floor and watched as he trotted into the room where the others were. He was so adorable! She had known as soon as she saw him he was the one for her.
"Finally," Xander said, opening the pizza box lid. He rubbed his hands together, ready to dig in. "I thought they'd never stop. Who comes out here anyway? I sure didn't when I was a kid."
"I don't know. Parents willing to drive their kids. Curious neighbors. No one's lived here for years and all of the sudden here we are." Buffy shrugged and took a seat on the floor in front of Angel. She found a comfy position right in between his legs and grabbed a piece of pizza. "Let's get this party started." Chief curled up beside Buffy just on the other side of Angel's feet.
The high school kids seemed to take the jack-o-lanterns still being lit as an invitation and their relaxing night of movies and pizza was interrupted a time or two. The high school kids didn't get into it like they had when she was in high school. A few were barely even dressed as anything. Obviously, Sunnydale High didn't have Principal Snyder to make them participate.
Dawn and Connor were the last to ring the bell. Dawn, dressed as a punk rocker straight out of the 1980s, spilled the pillowcase full of her trick-or-treating loot in the middle of the floor. Chief was startled out of his nap and quickly went to investigate the foreign objects on the floor. His nose was really going to town. She imagined it was a smorgasbord of new smells for him.
"Dawn, did you hit every house four times or what?"
"No, but I think we covered every house, apartment and business in Sunnydale. And the later it got, the more they gave me."
"No candy, Connor?"
"He was a stick in the mud. He wouldn't put the Jason mask on I got for him. So I told him he couldn't participate."
Buffy laughed lightly. "I would have done the same thing. Angel had a built in mask, but we never got the chance for him to use it."
"Well," Buffy said. It had been a while since she'd thought of their one Halloween together. Xander, Dawn and Angel knew the story but Connor didn't. She was all for telling him stories that cast Angel in a good light. And so she related the story of the Halloween back in high school when they'd all turned into their costumes.
"Poor Angel," Dawn said. "He had no idea why Buffy didn't know him." If Dawn felt weird about talking about memories that she really hadn't experienced she gave no sign of it. Buffy was proud of her that she continued talking about the memories planted in her. With their mom gone, those memories were all Buffy had left. It made her feel not so alone knowing Dawn shared those memories, too.
"Of course, Cordelia remembered who she was, too. She was all over that. I'll never forget the spell getting broken while we were in that warehouse. All those kids were so frightened and if the spell had been broken a minute later Spike would have gotten his third slayer."
"I went to stay at Janice's house. I remember I had no idea why you sent me there instead of taking me with you. I ended up falling asleep there. I think that was the plan, though. Mom was off somewhere so you and Angel could be alone."
"Finally," Buffy said wistfully. They had danced around their attraction to one another up to that point. That night was when they dove into the relationship thing with their eyes wide open. "It was the first night we'd even had a chance to be alone."
"And we all know how well it works out when you two are alone," Xander quipped from his spot on the couch. All eyes looked at him and he shrugged. "What? It's true. Well, almost anyway. I admit I was surprised you two were able to keep your hands off one another after Angel came back. I thought for sure we were going to have Angelus running around again in no time. And now this stuff. I shudder to think what might happen in the future at some point when you two get with the advanced smooching."
Buffy laughed. "Advanced smooching?"
"Well, yeah, I mean, Dawn's here."
"And I know why Angel lost his soul. And you weren't so cryptic after you walked in on them."
"I was scarred. I never knew someone's ass could be that white. I ran away because I needed to find some shades to stop the blinding light!"
"I guess two hundred fifty years or so of no suntanning will do that. Would tanning beds smoke you I wonder?"
"I'm not going to try it. And you didn't see my ass."
"I know, but it was worth saying it to hear Buffy and Dawn get all huffy with me," Xander said and laughed. Buffy breathed a little easier. She hadn't been sure if Xander was seriously provoking a fight tonight. "I told you guys, I'm okay. Someone must have a perverse view of how things are supposed to be. I'm never going to consider him my best friend, but there's no law that says I have to love who my best friends love."
"Thanks I think," Buffy said, not sure that what Xander had just said had been entirely complimentary.
"Anyone want that last slice of pizza? Connor, you didn't eat much. You're a growing boy, you need nutrition that is pizza pie goodness," Xander said doing his best, most exaggerated Italian accent. "Cheese, tomato sauce, meat and veggies. All very good for you," he said, bringing his fingertips to his mouth and kissing them in a well known Italian gesture.
"No, thanks, you can have it, Xander."
"You sure? I know Buffy and Dawn won't eat it, they eat like birds. I'll arm wrestle you for it or something if you don't want to appear too anxious."
"Wouldn't wanting to wrestle you for it seem anxious?"
"Good point. Okay, no arm wrestling. I'm going to count to ten and if you haven't taken it, it's fair game. I'm being mighty generous here. Working construction is long hours and lots of physical labor. Builds up quite an appetite."
"You can have it. Dawn and I had something to eat at the mall."
"Tasty treats. Something for everyone to eat and enjoy heartily. I approve. Good move. Girls like choices."
"I wouldn't take much wooing advice from Xander," Anya said. "Now be quiet. Aren't we supposed to be silent when watching movies?"
"Yes, honey, I'm sorry," Xander said, draping an arm around her shoulder and patting her there. Buffy wasn't sure the gesture was supposed to be endearing or demeaning. She looped her arm around Angel's leg, resting her head against his thigh.
Six sets of eyes shifted to the clock when the doorbell rang again. It was late. Far too late for a trick-or-treater. Chief padded to the door, more than familiar with what the sound meant and let out a bark just in case the six humans sitting right by him hadn't heard the sound that rousted him from his nap.
"I'll get it," Buffy said. She was the Halloween spirit girl anyway. She had insisted on the jack-o-lanterns, the cheesy music and buying treats to give away. She picked Chief up, he was prone to sneak out the door if they weren't careful, and opened the door. She was expecting a late night group of college kids or something.
"Buffy? It's really you."
"Will, we've been talking on the phone for months."
"I know, but I think there was a part of me that didn't really believe it was true until now."
"What are you doing here? Why didn't you or Giles call?"
"We wanted to surprise you. Did it work?" Giles asked as he stepped out of the shadows. He looked as debonair as he always did in a suit and tie. His hair was a little shorter, a little grayer but he resembled the distinguished Englishman she'd met years ago just the same.
"Giles," Buffy said, not having seen him she'd been so focused on seeing Willow again. She looked different, more mature. She imagined losing Tara and Buffy both had done that. She leaned toward Giles and gave him a kiss on the cheek, then did the same to Willow. "Come in. We're just watching movies. There's no pizza left, but I'm sure we could find something for you to eat if you're hungry."
"We're fine, Buffy, really."
"Yeah, I'm not really hungry. Nerves and all," Willow said, almost sounding shy. "Nice touch with the jack-o-lanterns. Look at you, all festive."
"I wanted to make with the spooky spirit. Do you have bags?"
"Uh, yes," Giles said, indicating the group of suitcases off to the side.
"We'll get them later. Come in."
"Xander, you're never going to believe who's here," Buffy called from the foyer as she led Willow and Giles into the great room.
There was so much commotion, everyone excited at seeing Willow and Giles that there wasn't a chance to hear who was saying what. Only Connor seemed unaffected by the latest arrivals to the house, but of course he didn't know Giles and Willow.
Once they were settled, the bags brought upstairs, and food had been thrown together the eight of them sat down to watch the rest of the movie.
This was good, perfect even. Xander and Anya were buying Buffy's house. Evidently, the construction and Magic Box businesses were thriving because they were able to come up with enough of a down payment. Buffy was glad that the house she had spent so much time in was not going to be in the hands of complete strangers. She would even be able to visit, though that didn't seem too likely. Xander seemed infatuated with their big screen TV and the spaciousness of the mansion in general.
Connor and Angel were living under the same roof and seemed to be getting along without much trouble at all anymore. Angel talked to Buffy often in the privacy of their bedroom and she knew he suspected there would always be a lingering doubt in Connor's mind about whether Angel killed Holtz. He believed, however, that Connor logically knew that he didn't, it was a matter of letting go and accepting the fact that the man he'd grown to love and trust had ultimately betrayed him.
Buffy carried some dishes into the kitchen, not surprised that Giles followed her.
"You've done quite a bit with the place."
"Uh, yeah, it's coming together nicely." Buffy crushed the pizza box, threw away napkins and cups before moving to the dishes Giles and Willow had used. "Are you okay being here?"
"Yes, thank you for asking."
"Are you sure? You could use Mom's house if you aren't."
"No, no, I shouldn't be here long anyway. Willow just wanted a chaperone I think, in the event no one wanted her here."
"Is she okay?"
"As good as she's going to get. She's spent a lot of time healing and learning more about her art. She's hesitant to use it at all now, so she's gone to the opposite extreme that she was. She'll have to get back on the horse eventually, but it's up to her when she does it and how much."
"How long are you going to stay?"
"Until I'm sure she's okay."
"And then you go back?"
"Yes, I enjoy being back in England, Buffy. I'm relieved you're back, of course, but you and I both know you stopped needing a watcher quite some time ago. At least one that's on the scene all of the time. With computers the way they are, it's not as if I'm a great distance away really. Angel and Dawn mentioned you'd like some books to put on the shelves in the library."
"Yeah. Whatever you think would be the handiest for us to have around here."
"I'll put some together when I return and bring them to you."
"You don't have to do that. Two trips has got to be costly."
"Let me worry about the financial angle. Admittedly, it'll give me a good reason to check on Willow a little while later and ensure she's still holding up okay."
"She was that bad?"
"On the brink of ending the world bad, yes."
"I'm sorry I wasn't here."
Giles smiled then, that smile he got when she said something funny that she didn't quite get. "As it happened, it was only Xander we needed. Muscle didn't solve the problem, Spike tried."
"Well, I'm glad to know I'm not needed for every world ending struggle."
He smiled again, his eyes piercing hers intently. "You look beautiful. Radiant, really. Love suits you."
"Thanks," she said, feeling a little shy at being under such scrutiny.
"I'm glad it's finally working out for you, Buffy, really. You deserve it, I never believed differently despite what you may think."
"I know, Giles." They both grew quiet then, neither seeming to know what else to say. "So, what do I do with Willow?"
"Do with her?"
"Well, yeah. Am I supposed to watch her? Follow her? Check her room for signs of something?"
"My best advice is to be her friend. She needs to know you and Xander still love her."
"Of course we do."
"And accept her despite what she's done. I know you do and deep down she knows as well, but she's uncertain of anything these days."
"I'll do my best. I just wish there was more I could do." She walked to the fridge to grab a can of Diet Coke. "Are you sure you're okay staying here, Giles? I mean, no one would blame you if you didn't want to."
"I'm fine, Buffy. It was years ago and I'll be fine. I appreciate your concern."
"You're welcome. It occurred to me tonight that no one's ever been concerned about you. You worried about all of us but none of us really thought to do the same to you."
"My girl is growing up, but I assure you it's part of the job."
"Well, it sucks. We both get crappy deals."
"Hear, hear," he said with a smile, draping an arm around her. "Let's go back and join the others. Xander said something about Dracula being the piece de resistance."
"I'm not sure what that means, but yeah, he brought like three different versions of it."
"Wonderful," Giles said dryly.
"Angel and I weren't too thrilled either, but you know, it's Xander. He thinks he was being clever and witty or something."
"I'd vote for the ‘or something'."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com