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This story is No. 4 in the series "That the autumn leaves were turning". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Buffy and Willow head into the Womble Burrow

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > Childrens/Teen(Current Donor)vidiconFR15525,9101194,29817 Jul 1125 Mar 12Yes

The cost of success

Author’s Note:

Thanks very much to my Beta’s, Letomo and EllandrahSylver.

The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that. And you can thank Twilightwanderer for the Abbott and Costello.

yourself be heard.

Speech: “Who’s on first.”

Thought: *What’s on second.*

The final chapter. Explanations will come in the next story. Reviews are, as always, very welcome.

Chapter 5: The cost of success

Millie Dyer sat in her wheelchair and looked at the couples dancing, laughing, and talking. She looked at the drink in her hand and bitterly at her thin, bony knees.

“You don't look very happy,” a soft, cultured British voice spoke.

Millie looked up to see Emma Knight sitting down beside her. “Come to commiserate with the useless cripple, have you?” Millie asked bitterly.

“I don't know, see any around here? It's been a while since I last had a good, condescending commiseration,” Emma craned her neck, looking around.

Millie scowled. “Ha ha, very funny.”

“I don’t think so. There's nothing funny about being in a wheelchair. But that doesn't makes you useless,” Emma replied placidly, sipping her drink,

“Oh, I'm not? I suppose you didn't hear all that lot comparing kills?” Millie gestured at the chattering Slayers and glared at Emma to refute her.

“And? You killed zombies. Well, destroyed them. I fail to see what actual numbers have to do with your ability, I mean, it was your skill with a flamethrower that did in the last physical remnants of the Casarua,” Emma countered.

“It was already dead!” Millie shouted, slamming her drink down on the table, the contents sloshing over her hand. A few others looked up at her yell, but they quickly returned to their conversations.

“Dead? Hardly. Diminished, yes, but it could have gotten together that ectoplasm quite easily and then we might have to fight it all over again,” Emma smiled, sipping her own drink again.

“Oh? We? I doubt I'll ever be taken anywhere again, not the way I am,” the bitterness and grief seeped into the girl's words and Millie took a large gulp of her soda.

“I doubt that. Mr. Harris was drawing up plans to integrate you in the patrol schedules,” Emma assured Millie.

“Really?” Millie blinked.

Emma nodded, located Xander and waved a hand, insistently. “Yes. And he'll tell you himself.”

Xander walked up to the small table where Millie sat, a broad smile on his face, his eye twinkling. “Miss Knight, Millie, good evening.”

“Mr. Harris, would you explain the schedule you've been drawing up for Millie?” Emma requested.

Xander grinned and sat down. “Sure. Haven't got it with me, but I've got the rough outline.”

Emma rose and put a hand on Millie's shoulder. “Oh, and for the record, I don't think anyone willing to face a lethal enemy while unable to walk is any less courageous than someone doing so with full use of their limbs.”

Millie nodded, her eyes on Xander’s face. Emma smiled a little grimly and quietly walked away.

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George Kirrin was standing uncomfortably in a corner, looking at the dancing and talking and eying the exits. When Emma Knight approached she stiffened and took up a posture that was as close to a defensive stance as Emma had ever seen in anyone not immediately ready to do lethal harm.

“Good evening, Miss Kirrin,” Emma greeted the Slayer politely.

“Good evening, Dr. Knight,” George replied, equally politely, but with a curtness in her voice that would make most people smile and leave. Emma didn’t.

“You seem unhappy,” the older woman noted.

“Whatever gave you that idea?” George asked, voice dripping irony.

“The general air of glum gloominess,” Emma replied.

“Glum gloominess? Have you been infected by Buffy?” George asked suspiciously.

Emma smiled. “No. Willow. I assume this has to do with the fact that the creature assumed the shape of your biggest fear? And that you weren’t immediately able to overcome your fear and destroy it utterly?”

George glared. Emma nodded. “I thought so. Miss Kirrin, fear is a strange thing. I do not know what happened on Orkney. I do not want to know. But whatever happened, you overcame it. It read your fear, and it created a form and kept it. It did so because the form gave it power, an ability to defend itself. After all, a similar form once before almost destroyed a Slayer-”

“It took from my mind what it needed to kill us! You cannot tell me that means nothing!” George spat. “People were hurt! J-just like the first time...”

“Yes, but they would have been hurt anyway. I think they might have even been hurt more badly,” Emma noted, “and I doubt it means what you think it means. Come on.” She took George’s arm and led her from the corner to where Willow and Buffy were gazing lovingly into each other’s faces, an occasional hand or finger gently stroking a cheek, when they were not resting on the other’s knees.

“Buffy, Willow? Have you ever encountered a being before that used your own fears and nightmares against you?”

The two young women were startled out of their contemplation and looked at the angry looking George and the gracious older woman by her side.

Willow and Buffy exchanged looks and started to laugh. “Actual size!” Willow managed.

“He was definitely a guy! Four inches means a foot!” Buffy added and the girls nearly fell to the floor with laughter.

George was about to stalk away in a huff when Emma grasped her arm again. “And it used your fears to fight you?” She asked of the two giggling girls.

“Well, yeah, and lots of other people’s…” Willow responded blithely, then she saw George’s clenched jaw. “Oh, I see.” She scooted over, pushing Buffy, and patted the couch. “Sit, George. And we’ll tell you all about it. And then we’ll tell you why what happened is not your fault. Oh, and about a boy called Billy, who made nightmares come true.”

George sat. “Nightmares?”

“Yeah,” Buffy nodded. “That was ugh-tastic. I was a vampire. So you see we’ve got experience at his sort of thing you didn’t have. And even then it managed to get through enough to rattle us a bit. Now, sit still and listen to the tale of Gachnar, Lord of Fear…”

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Spike stood looking at the three young woman on the couch and sipped a glass of whiskey. None of that Bourbon for him, the real stuff, from the old country.

“Commodore,” Emma Knight spoke quietly.

“Been makin’ the rounds, haven’t you?” Spike nearly snarled. “Warned her away from me?”

Emma blinked. “Actually I told her to talk to Buffy and Willow about the times their minds were invaded and their fears used against them. But if it will make you feel better I’m sure I can make a sufficient case to make George keep a long distance away from you. She is, after all, a properly brought up young lady with no notion whatsoever of what you are doing to her and therefore likely to think it’s some vampiric trick. And then she will carve your heart out with a wooden spoon,” she concluded, swirling her drink in the glass.

Spike grunted. “What?”

“The girl is obviously attracted to you, but confused. In my day gentlemen would try and resolve that confusion, if they were of the same mind. I suggest you do so, as soon as George feels a trifle better about how she handled herself in the Quarry,” Emma told him firmly.

Spike smiled. “Really? Help resolve her confusion, eh?”

“In a gentlemanlike fashion,” Emma stressed. “I’m sure that many people here will deal with you quite harshly should you do otherwise.”

Spike looked at the black-haired girl on the couch and smiled. “Beginning with George herself.”

“Good. Don’t drink too much beforehand. If she dislikes the smell of cigarettes, I doubt she’ll like the stink of alcohol on your breath,” Emma instructed, before wandering away.

Spike looked at her retreating back and then went to the bar for a glass of water. 

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Dawn was looking daggers at where Xander was talking to Millie and Heidi, and she didn’t notice when Emma Knight stood right next to her. “Jealousy isn’t pretty, especially when it’s unfounded,” Emma noted.

The soft voice started Dawn out of her rather gruesomely violent thoughts and she flushed. “I’m not jealous,” she declared quickly.

“And I’m wearing a Tutu,” Emma replied. “Really, he’s not interested in them that way, Dawn. He’s there to help them, talk with them, debrief them. Not to woo them. He may flirt a little, but he’ll never take it anywhere.”

Dawn bit her lip. “But they’re all special! All gorgeous!” 

Emma snorted. “I’m quite sure I heard a lot of jealousy about the fact that Xander managed to entice you into a relationship from among the junior Watchers even in the short time I was here. Along the lines of ‘why does he get the hottest babe in the Council?’ So forgive me if I ignore that last bit. And as for the first, don’t be ridiculous. You’re the Council Archivist. I doubt they would have given you that position unless you were competent, supremely competent even. And considering your age, that makes you very special. This insecurity does not become you,” Emma’s eyes narrowed. “Did you go down to the quarry after the battle?”

“Yeah, I wanted to see it. And he wouldn’t let me fight,” Dawn pouted.

“And he was right not to. You were given training but you’ve not kept it up. If you do not train, you are a risk to all the others,” Emma pointed out. “Now, tell me. What are the powers of a Casarua?”

Dawn rolled her eyes. “They can animate the dead, obviously and manipulate things telekinetically. Buffy thinks they can call on the memories of the things they killed, human and animal and possibly demon. And they manipulate emotions and fears and…oh,” the girl looked rather sheepish. “It got to me, didn’t it?”

Emma nodded. “Yes. It plays quite well on our collective insecurities even now. However, your behaviour towards Director Harris previous to our descent into the Casarua’s lair was unacceptable.”

Dawn bit her lip. “I know. I messed up, didn’t I?”

Emaa smiled gently. “Not too badly, not yet. But if you try and use your relationship with him again to get favours of that nature, you will undermine his authority as Director of Operations and your relationship,” Emma explained. “And I strongly advise you get your act together and apologize, and then ask for training sessions at times when you can attend, if that is the problem.”

Dawn blinked and bit her lip, harder this time. “Yes, Ma’am.”

Emma grinned. “And I’m sure some of those sessions will end in interesting ways, too.”

Dawn made small, embarrassed sound, but she smiled too.

“Now go over there and tell him you love him and are sorry,” Emma gave Dawn a little push and with a final backwards glance the girl left to talk to her boyfriend.

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“George? Can we talk?” The voice startled the three young women and Spike raised an eyebrow. “Losing your touch, Slayer? Time was no one could’ve sneaked up on you. Anywhere.”

Buffy nodded. “True. Just goes to show that all things can get better. What do you want with George?”

Spike gave her a hard look. *Did her lip tremble with suppressed laughter? Was that a wink? Oh, bloody hell.* 

“Why, hello Spike. Excuse us for a minute, George, Buffy,” Willow smiled brightly and dragged the surprised vampire off to the side. She still smiled at him, but there was a steely glint in her green eyes. “Fair warning, Spike. George is one of us, and she scared and hurting. You hurt her, I hurt you.”

Spike snorted. “Is this like that shovel speech you gave Captain Cardboard? It’s not really doing it for me.”

Willow smiled. “I’ve been working on my Fiat Lux spell…”

Spike blinked and grinned. “Hell, yeah, Red, that’s what I’m talking about… Which reminds me…” he strode back to the couch and nodded at Buffy, then pointed his chin at Willow. “When you get around to spanking Strawberry Cheesecake here for sending in the sun with an ensouled vampire Champion around, can I watch?” he leered at Willow, who stood gaping and blushing.

Buffy groaned, flushing almost as red as Willow. “Spike! Go away!”

George, red as well, rose from the couch, grabbed Spike and dragged him of to the corner she’d been standing in before. “What the Hell are you thinking?” she hissed at him.

Spike blinked. George never used language. Her mother didn’t approve of it. “Errr, just teasing, love.”

“Teasing? Teasing? You call wanting to look on while Buffy spanks Willow teasing?” George bristled. “That’s just what I should’ve expected for a-a depraved roué such as you! And don’t call me love!”

“Oh? And what’s it to you what I do with the Slayer and her Witch, Miss Kirrin? Or should I say the Honourable Georgina Kirrin?”

“What is it to me? What is it to me? You bloody well kissed me! Right where everyone could see! You kiss me and then you talk like that to other girls?” George shouted. “HOW DARE YOU!”

Spike stepped closer, crowding her into the corner further, grabbed her wrists, pulled them to his chest, and George with them, put a hand in the small of her back, bent his neck and lightly pecked her lips, all in the space of seconds. He withdrew his lips and looked at her.

“I may joke like that, but when I kiss you, you’d better believe it’s not a joke,” Spike whispered at her, “It’s deadly serious.”

George was looking at him, eyes wide in shock and her mouth hanging open just a trifle as well and he ducked his head and kissed her, really kissed her and saw her eyes close and felt her hands relax from the fists they were in and lay themselves flat against his chest and then… They noticed how absolutely quiet things had become.

The only thing that could be heard in the room was the squeaky noise of Giles polishing his glasses and going “Dear Lord.”  

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Emma Knight sat in the stark and impersonal living room of her borrowed quarters and looked at the bare white wall. She had helped defeat an ancient and terrible evil and helped right a terrible wrong. And yet she did not think she was fully trusted by the people she worked with. They had secrets and those secrets might one day 'come to bite her on the ass' as the Americans had it.

Emma’s gaze wandered from the wall to the table where her weapons lay: the fine steel rapier and Main-Gauche Xander had provided her with, seven throwing knives, a snub-nosed Webbley. All clean and ready for use. A small bottle of sleeping pills, drawn from the Royal London Hospital's infirmary. Emma Knight had fought and felt alive. And downstairs, at the party, they were celebrating. She’d talked to most of them, yet no one had noticed when she left, initiated a conversation. The second she was out of sight, she was forgotten. No one had noticed her slip out of the room.

Emma had helped destroy the Casarua. And still she sat alone, in her borrowed room, in her borrowed clothes.

She leaned back and started to make a mental list of advantages and disadvantages to living.

As her second cousin had run the family company into the ground after her disappearance the Kirrin Corporation had bought it, lock, stock, barrel and patents. She was supposed to be dead and all her accomplishments were those of a dead woman. She was barely tolerated by the few people alive today who knew the truth. She had no relatives. Her only friend was Steed. And he was old. She could wait until he was dead, she supposed, but the notion held no real attraction. He would understand. This was not her life, not her time, this was not her country.

She had no money, no identity and no future. It was time to acknowledge that and remove the embarrassment that was Emma Knight.

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Rupert Giles smiled as he walked between the groups who were celebrating being alive. The after-Slay party was a way for the young ones to get rid of the tension and the fear. To reaffirm that they were alive, despite their calling or chosen profession.

Millie Byer was in her wheelchair, dancing with Heidi. Giles wasn’t completely sure what Emma had told her, what Xander had spoken about, but she was happier than Rupert had seen her since they’d discovered her in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. His hand tightened around his drink when he recalled how they had found her, drugged to the gills with the doctors insisting she was insane, ravening on about vampires and Bringers. It had led them all to be so careful around her, to keep her safe, ensconced in the Armoury, Headquarters, and her specially adapted flat in The Building. And now Millie Byer could go out and slay vampires. And show just how good she’d gotten with the crossbow. Giles smiled and wandered on, his eyes touching groups of friends and colleagues. 

Dawn and Xander were dancing. Very close together, foreheads touching. To them the entire dance was probably a long, languid form of foreplay. Giles winced at the thought and directed his attention elsewhere. Buffy and Willow were together on a loveseat in the corner, one of Willow's hands held in both of Buffy's. Willow still looked drawn and tired from she had done, the magic she'd had to perform to help destroy the Casarua. They were whispering and had eyes for no one else. Giles did not doubt that soon they would leave, head up the stairs to their flat and find comfort in even closer physical contact.

Spike was sitting on another couch, George by his side, both looking uncomfortable at the amount of emotion they had shown earlier, slightly embarrassed and yet unwilling to let the other out of their sight, unwilling to let go of each other’s hand. Giles shook his head ruefully, amused. “Lady Kirrin is going to be very disappointed that she won’t get any grandchildren after all.”

Giles made a complete circuit, and then another, and looked round the room, his face getting worried as he failed to find the person he was looking for. He tugged at the bandage around his arm and the sling. He had a green stick fracture, courtesy of a Zombie Nazi, and the children were insistent he wear the blasted thing. He sighed and made his way to the foyer and thence to the door. “Bebe, did Dr. Knight go to bed already?”

The young Slayer and door guard shook her head. “Yes, Dr. Giles. She went up about half an hour ago.”

Giles tried to scratch his arm through the bandage again and sighed. “Very well, should anyone ask, I'll be trying to find her.”

Bebe nodded, Giles left. A few minutes later Xander made his way over to the desk. “Hello Bebe, where's Giles?”

“Dr. Giles is looking for Dr. Knight, Director Harris.”

Xander sighed. Bebe had been well trained by her mother to always be polite. It extended to calling him sir and well anyone in authority really, was addressed by an honorific. It could get very irritating. Then he blinked. “Where did she go?”

“Upstairs, Director Harris,” Bebe supplied helpfully.

Xander bit his lip and then nodded decisively. He went to the door of the ballroom and waved a hand. Buffy and Willow, seeing his gesture, rose and came over, as did Dawn, who was looking around as well.

“Xander, have you seen Miss Knight?” Dawn asked as soon as she was close enough. “I wanted to talk to her, thank her.”

“No. And me too,” Xander looked at the two elevators and the staircase. “Should we go up? Giles went after her as well…”

Buffy shrugged. “Fine by me. I wanted to ask her to help train the younglings and teach a few physics classes. I know she’s overqualified, but we need one and she knows about everything, so…”

Willow perked up. “Oh, yes, that would be nice and then we can talk about the relations between potions and chemistry.”

Xander chuckled and took Dawn’s hand. “Well, anyway, I’m going up to talk to her. I want her for the same reason Buffy does. I think she’d be perfect, if she’s willing.”

Dawn leaned in and nibbled his earlobe, whispering something that made him blush and Buffy groan. Dawn looked at her sister and blushed as well.

“Stupid Slayer hearing,” Dawn muttered, before dragging Xander towards the elevators.

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Rupert Giles was worried. He’d knocked and rang the bell and there had been no answer. She’d been quiet, withdrawn. No more than a few fleeting, sad grins. She had fought like a demon and had wandered through the after party like a ghost setting its affairs in order before finally passing on. With a curse he put his fingers to the lock and muttered the words of the opening spell. Sweat broke out on his forehead. It had been a tiring day and his reserves were low. The door opened and Giles stumbled into the room. The sparsely decorated sitting room was empty of her presence, a few weapons set out on the table. He hastened to the bedroom. It too, was empty but a window was open. A quick look showed that the bathroom was not in use. He hesitated before opening the door to the linen closet. There were some clothes, nothing else.

He rushed back to the sitting room, looked around and saw the envelope on the mantle, the neat handwriting marking it ‘Steed’. He looked at the weapons, his eyes widening in realisation. He took three steps, grabbed the envelope and tore it open, cursing his splinted arm. The single sheet of paper inside rustled in his trembling hand.

My Dear Steed,

When you get this letter, I will be dead. Do not worry, I’m intending for it to be painless. My time is past; I should have died the first time. And though I appreciate all that you did for me and I know that my choice will hurt you, I want you to know that I cannot go on. I have no use, no purpose, no existence here. I cannot be who I was and there is no room for someone like me in today’s society. George has the benefit of her family, the benefit of being a Slayer. And heavy though that burden, that Duty is, it is better than nothing, better than the endless days spent wondering, fearing if I will ever again have purpose, worth. Sitting alone in a white chamber while all around me people laugh and sing and strive to make the world a better place. It is time for me to go old friend,

Goodbye, your Mrs.Peel

Giles swore and ran to the open window of the bedroom. He noted the drainpipe and where it led, then fumbled for his phone, trying to dial a number that was programmed in.

“Giles? What’s going on? Where’s Miss Knight?” Dawn’s voice asked.

Giles whirled round and saw his children gathered in the doorway, looking confused. He thrust the letter at Willow, who took it.

“We’ve got to find her!” he frantically exclaimed.

Willow’s eyes widened as she read the letter. “Fear. Oh… That evil thing got to her! Buffy, run to our place and get my maps of London and my Emergency bag!”

Buffy nodded and took off. She was back in minutes, and Willow and Dawn had cleared of a space on the table. Xander stood in the corner holding the rapier and Main-Gauche.

Dawn spread the map while Willow took out her components and began the incantation. Giles hurried into the bathroom and returned with a hairbrush. Willow took a few of the hairs, put them in a bowl and watched them dissolve into nothing. The words rushed out of her mouth as her anxious eyes searched the map. Then a single blue light flared up, near the river. Not far, as the Slayer ran. Buffy nodded, sprinted to the bedroom and was out of the window before anyone could protest.

Giles ran out of the apartment, closely followed by Xander, Willow and Dawn. They took the elevator to the parking level and piled into the SUV nearest the door, Giles was accelerating up the ramp before Dawn had fully closed her door.

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Buffy ran, as fast as she ever had. No faster, probably. Her bond with Willow was strong and her strength was increasing as she grew older. And there had been a desperation in Giles’ voice and face, a loss that had not been there since Miss Calendar had died. He’d obviously felt attracted to Miss Knight, even if he hadn’t asked her out or anything. If she died, it would be another reason for Giles to remain alone, to wallow on the solitude he’d affected since the death of Jenny, and yes, Buffy admitted it, her mother. There had been something there, even if it hadn’t been a relationship. Respect and friendship with another adult, one who understood. Something he must crave, on some level.  Buffy was not going to let her Watcher suffer another loss like that, not again. Not if she could help it.

She arrived at the location of the blue dot, the Millennium Bridge, the Memorial to the Firemen who’d died. A slim, silent figure was sitting on the wall by the water’s edge, ready to drop the few meters. Buffy recognized her and grabbed her, hard. A small, white plastic bottle fell out of the startled woman’s hand, into the river below.

“Oh no you don’t!” Buffy growled. “You are not allowed to kill yourself, is that understood? You’re smart and clever and hot and you’ve got a life to live! Get that?”

There was no reply. Then as Buffy started to wonder if the woman was too angry at her interference to speak, it came. “Hot?” There was definite amusement in Emma's voice.

Buffy made a gargling noise. “I errr… I-I…”

“You can appreciate the beauty of the male and female forms without the excesses that drove Miss Harcourt-Johnson to abandon Miss Rosenberg?” Came the gentle question.

Buffy blushed. “How did this get from me rescuing you from suicide to you questioning me on my appreciation of anyone's form?”

There was another moment of silence. “I think that has to do with half the bottle of whisky I drank. And my sense of the ridiculous,” Emma seriously replied, before hiccoughing.

Buffy grinned and then carefully moved to sit by the older woman. “You still gonna jump?”

“Probably not. Well... It depends. What life do I have to live?” Emma asked, rather owlishly as she slugged back another mouthful of whisky.

“Well, we'd like for you to teach Slayers and Watchers and Willow wants to get into the similarities between chemistry and potions with you,” Buffy told her.

“Ah. So I would not be required to fight demons?”

“Required, no. But I doubt you could keep away. Xander sure never could,” Buffy shrugged. “And we were stupid enough to try, too.”

Emma pursed her lips. “Didn't appreciate that, did he?”

Buffy winced. “No, not at all.”

“I see. Anything else?” Another swig on the bottle.

“Well, you can talk English at Giles. I think that we might break him some day when we really get into Valley speak,” Buffy supplied.

Emma giggled, a most unnatural sound. “Poor man, I shall shelter him in the comforts of my Oxbridge accent.” 

A car drew up, hard, by St. Paul’s and four people tumbled out, Giles in front. He reached the wall in seconds, but drew up self-consciously as he came nearer. “Miss Knight?”

“Dr. Giles, so kind of you to come by. Miss Rosenberg, Miss Summers, Mr. Harris. Want a sip?” Emma extended the bottle.

Giles took it, eying Emma carefully. “Might it be an idea to descend from that position and come home?”

“Home? What home? My flat was sold off, my father's house is a now the office of a bunch of arseholes who've no idea what it is to work, only to push money around and I barely know my way around London anymore. Where is home?” Emma challenged.

“Home, Miss Knight, as the old and admittedly trite saying states, is where the heart is. Home, is where you make it,” Giles told her gently.

Emma shivered. “Is it? And how do you build one on the ruins of an old one?”

“Carefully, and with great respect, like the National Trust would,” Giles explained.

“Ah. Know any restoration experts?” Emma asked, eying the bottle.

“All of us. We've all had to rebuild, sometimes more than once,” Giles answered, gesturing at the others.

“I see. Well, I suppose I could try,”

“And we'll help,” Giles put his hands out and steadied her as she turned, then clambered down from the wall.

“Well then. I suppose I've got another life to give for my country,” Emma smiled at Giles.

Xander laughed, the tension in his shoulders released now she was away from the water. “That's an American line.”

“It is nevertheless an appropriate sentiment,” Giles noted.

Emma nodded. “Very. Do you people pay salaries?” she asked, hopefully.

“Certainly. We'll go over the contract tomorrow,” Giles replied.

“Not too early. It may take a while to recover from the liquor.”

“I think I can promise that,” Giles smiled.

 

The End

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