Special thanks to Ainon for her beta skills; I own practically nothing.
Willow was learning a lesson about determination.
“Bottie! Stop! I’m not going –“
“Yes you are!” Her face set in grim determination, the Buffbot dragged Willow down the Watcher’s Headquarters hallway. Kennedy, trying not to look too amused, trailed along behind them.
“But I told you how I feel –“ Willow again tried to protest.
“And I told you how I feel. This is important, Willow!”
Kennedy, who hadn’t spoken since the robot forced open the door to the room she and Willow shared, couldn’t hold back anymore. “Bottie, aren’t you supposed to obey humans? Don’t you have three rules, or something?’
“Asimov’s Rules of Robotics were never programmed into me. I was built for –“ She paused, glancing back at Kennedy, who could swear the robot blushed. “Well, you know what I was built for.”
“I’d have thought Spike wouldn’t want you to get out of his control.”
“Spike never thought too far in advance,” Willow explained, giving up on trying to free her wrist from Bottie’s iron grasp. “Fine! I’ll go! But it’s just not right.”
As they approached the door to the dining hall, a commotion erupted from the other direction. Another group approached, but they were wrestling around so much that Kennedy wasn’t sure how many. She didn’t have any trouble telling who the loudest voice belonged to, though.
“I am going to kick your collective asses!”
“Hi, Faith!” Bottie said, as the two groups met at the door.
Faith, her clothes disheveled and hair in disarray, stopped in the act of kicking out, and craned her head around. “Hi, Bottie.”
Faith was in midair, held up by numerous arms wrapped around her. Kennedy started to make a crack around how Faith should like being groped so much, but she still wasn’t sure just how serious the other slayer was about the ass kicking. Robin, Xander, Dawn, Kara, Vi and Chao-Ahn had been occupied in taking Faith where the slayer didn’t want to go. Xander and Chao-Ahn looked intensely uncomfortable about it, while Robin was grinning widely.
Kennedy instantly realized this group wasn’t enough to get Faith into that position involuntarily.
“Fine, I’ll go,” Faith said sullenly, and when the others let her down she began straightening her clothing. “Jeez, you could have asked.”
“We did,” Dawn reminded her.
“Well …” Faith glanced at Willow. “If Red’s going in, I am too.”
Willow took a step backward and collided with Kennedy, who goosed her. Squealing, the witch jumped and almost ran into Xander, who steadied her.
“Don’t worry, Willow, it won’t be so bad.”
“Not for us.” She started to turn again, but Kennedy had been expecting it, and took her lover’s arm. “You’re supposed to be on my side, you – you – gooser.”
Xander took the other arm, and they steered Willow through the double doors before them.
Tara – or rather Tara’s spirit, or ghost, or whatever – stood just inside the door, her hands on her waist as she watched the group come in. As usual, Kennedy’s heart skipped a little when she saw Willow’s former lover. Strangeness had been the hallmark of her life, recently, but sometimes she couldn’t help thinking she was competing with a ghost. Literally.
“I could hear you through the door,” Tara admonished. “Even with all this.” She gestured behind her, where the dining hall tables were rapidly filling with people – mostly chattering young slayers.
“I’m not a party type of a person.” Seeing the looks her remark generated, Faith shrugged. “Not this kind of party, anyway. Family and … stuff.”
Tara’s expression instantly softened. “Well, it’s important to Buffy. And to Buffybot, and others here. So …” She gave Willow an appealing look.
“I’m going.” Pouting a little, Willow moved further into the room.
Andrew and Jason had just emerged from the kitchen, hauling still more food toward the already laden serving tables along one wall. Xander and Dawn moved off to help them while Vi and Chao-Ahn, deciding the job they’d been drafted for was over, drifted off toward the other slayers. Kara started that way too, then paused to turn back to the others.
“I understand Faith, kind of,” she told Willow. “But why are you so against this?”
Kennedy tensed. She hated this speech.
“It’s wrong, Kara. We cheated them, stole from them, took their land and gave them diseases, killed them – and we’re celebrating it? This shouldn’t be called Thanksgiving. It’s more like … Slaygiving.”
“Oh!” Buffybot clapped her hands. “Slaygiving! I like that!”
“Bad example,” Willow muttered.
Buffy – the real Buffy – hustled by, pausing just long enough to give Willow a hug. “You came! I know you would. You too, Faith.”
Buffy, Kennedy decided, was doing a way too creepy impression of her robot double.
It didn’t stop, either. “Quick, everybody find a seat, we’re ready to start. The food needs to be hot!” Buffy rushed on, herding the younger slayers toward the tables.
“What’s with her?” Faith asked.
Robin shook his head. “Something about traditional Thanksgivings. You’ve been out of town, so you haven’t seen her this week. She’s been like a kid digging through Christmas presents.”
Soon, Kennedy found herself separated from Willow. Someone – Andrew, rumor had it – had come up with the idea of seating all the watchers and staff at a long table set up at the front of the room, with the slayer tables lined up at right angles to that one. Most of those slayers who had families had gone home, taking a long weekend from their “special school”, but the dining hall was still crowded, because Buffy had made sure no one was in the field on this day. Xander had returned from Africa, Giles from England, Richard and Chao-Ahn from the Phillipines, Willow and Kennedy from the East Coast –
Kennedy shook her head as she took a seat near the far end of one table. Buffy must be nuts, going to this much trouble for one holiday – a holiday many of those in the room had never celebrated. Willow sure wasn’t thrilled about it.
At the center of what Kennedy had come to call the Watcher Table, Giles stood. Ranging to either side of him were Robin, Willow, Xander, Dawn, and everyone else who wasn’t a slayer, including Tara. Buffy and Faith – wisely, in Kennedy’s opinion – had decided to take seats with the rest of the slayers.
Tara, Kennedy noticed, was at the opposite end of the table from Willow. She wondered if that was planned. If so, she wasn’t complaining.
She also thought it wise that they were going to be serving themselves, rather than being served. A number of them had pitched in to make the food, and she thought they deserved a chance to enjoy it with everyone else.
Giles, looking comfortable in a button up red sweater, waited until everyone was settled before rising to his feet. I wonder, Kennedy thought, how comfortable he’d be if he realized how much he looks like Mr. Rogers right now?
Giles paused, his gaze sweeping over the tables of slayers, each with an empty table service before them. Kennedy was suddenly filled with a sense of deja vus, as if she’d seen this same moment somewhere before. But she didn’t dwell on it long, because the scent wafting over from the food table grabbed her attention away.
“Welcome, everyone,” Giles intoned. “I’d like to thank all of you for coming, and especially those who decorated the dining hall for today, and prepared this food for which we shall be, of course, properly thankful.”
His audience applauded; a few whistled, which made the elder Watcher grimace. “While Buffy served as the main cook, Andrew especially deserves credit for his organization, and for designing our table layout.”
Andrew, who was sitting near the end of the table, suddenly stood up and clapped a wizard’s hat onto his head. “Welcome to another year at Hogwarts!”
Giles gave him a blank look.
An instant later the room erupted into laughter, then cheers. Looking immensely pleased with himself, Andrew took a bow and returned to his seat.
Just as the laughter died down, Tara murmured, “I guess that makes me Nearly Headless Nick.” Kennedy had the impression the spirit hadn’t meant to be heard, but her words brought another round of appreciative laughter. Even Willow tittered, although a little nervously.
For a long moment Giles stared at Andrew, while a slow flush spread up the Watcher’s face. Then, he turned away and went on with his speech as if nothing had interrupted it.
Beside her, Kennedy heard Kara whisper, “I bet Andrew had this planned from the moment Buffy brought up the feast idea.” Kennedy turned in time to see Bottie, who was sitting at the end of the table with Kara and Dana, nod brightly.
“I don’t get it,” Dana said.
But an explanation would have to wait, because Giles kept his remarks short, and then Buffy stood. “As much as I appreciate Andrew’s little scheme …” She gave Andrew a look that told everyone she wasn’t very appreciative, at all. “I think we’ve made a mistake with the seating arrangements. Most of us here don’t have families, or our families are far away. So, we’ve become a family. I think, after we’ve gotten our food, we should just sit wherever we want.”
As the guests got up, row by row, to go through the serving line, Kennedy exchanged a look with Willow and breathed a sigh of relief. She and Willow had been spending so much time together that Kennedy had assumed she’d enjoy a little time apart from her girlfriend, but she’d found herself yearning to be closer, even if separated by just a few tables. Guess the honeymoon still isn’t over.
Sure enough, as soon as Willow got her plate (the head table voted to serve themselves last), she made a beeline for Kennedy’s table and scooted in between Kennedy and the Buffybot. Buffy took Willow’s place at the head table, sitting with Dawn and Giles, while Faith moved her chair to sit beside Robin. In fact, there was a general redistribution of bodies all around the room, and the noise level escalated with the sound of cheerful voices and clattering silverware.
“Excuse me.” Richard, the first watcher recruited after the destruction of Sunnydale, sat down at the end of the table beside Kara, his daughter. Bottie gave him a bright smile, and Dana a nervous frown. Without a word, Kara reached over and took a turkey drumstick off Richard’s plate, while he pretended not to notice.
Watching that made Kennedy feel – well, she wasn’t really sure. She paused in eating to nudge Willow. “Did you call your parents?”
“What?” Willow, who had been gazing down sullenly at an all vegetable meal, looked away. “They hate Thanksgiving. You know … poor Native Americans.”
“I think they prefer to be called American Indians,” Bottie told her. “Spike said they lost and everybody should just get over it.”
Willow glared at her. “I’m going to turn you off.”
“Don’t do that!” Dana half stood, looking panicked. “She didn’t mean it!”
“Willow was just kidding,” Kennedy assured her, although at the moment she wasn’t certain of that. “She knows all that was in the past, and today should be about remembering what you’re thankful for. Don’t you?”
“Yep,” Willow told them.
“Some of my ancestors were Cherokee,” Richard put in. “So, as the native representative here today, I give us permission to have fun.” Kara rolled her eyes, then reached out to steal his roll.
Then Kennedy became aware of another person hovering nearby, and looked up to see Tara standing uncertainly a few feet away. She wanted to join her friends, Kennedy realized – Bottie, Dana, and Kara, who she’d become especially close to over the last several weeks. The problem was, the only open place at this end of the table was directly across from Willow and Kennedy.
Little bit of history going on, there.
Willow glanced up. Her eyes widened.
Although Willow had that deer in the headlights look, it was Tara who appeared ready to flee. “I, um –“
Okay, so it’s weird. So what? Aren’t all family gatherings kind of weird, by nature? Waving an arm, Kennedy gestured toward the empty spot. “Sit here.”
“Thanks.” Tara took the seat and folded her hands, looking anywhere but across the table. “It’s, um, nice.”
Oh, this is pathetic. “It’s too bad you can’t eat, Tara. The food’s great.” That was followed by a chorus of agreement from those nearby, some of whom were watching with great interest.
“Thanks, I helped make it.” Tara squirmed a little, then added, “If I concentrate, I can smell it.”
“That’s good.” In the corner of her eye, Kennedy could see Willow spooning the food in as fast as she could. “Slow down there, sport.”
“Sorry!” Willow dropped her silverware.
Oh, brother. “So, you must have a lot of free time. Or do you have to sleep?” I’m trying to make conversation with my lover’s dead ex-girlfriend.
“I sleep, kind of; it’s like … floating for awhile, and getting a recharge. But now that I’m more solid, it’s hard to find an actual place to sleep, because – well – because I’m solid.”
“You should have a room,” Kennedy told her. “You’re a watcher, and the watchers get rooms, right?” While the others murmured in agreement, Kennedy turned to her left. “Willow, don’t you think Tara should have a room?”
“I –“ Willow turned a wide eyed look to Tara, a look that actually focused on the spirit for the first time that day. “Yes. You should have a room. Um, I’ll make the arrangements.”
“Oh, you don’t have to –“
“That’s what friends do.” Pushing her plate away, Willow took a deep breath. “Because – well, we should make new Thanksgiving traditions, shouldn’t we? Ones that don’t involve chasing indigenous peoples off their lands.”
From the end of the table, Richard said, “We don’t get to do that after football?”
“Shut up, dad,” Kara hissed.
“So, I was thinking, we should celebrate Thanksgiving by being thankful for friends. And life. And … stuff.” Now Willow slid a sidelong glance toward Kennedy. “Because, you know, it’s nice to have friends being friendly, and family being family … ly.”
All right, that’s it. Kennedy threw an arm over Willow’s hunched shoulders, their first physical contact they’d had since entering the room – since seeing Tara., “What she’s saying is, even though very bad things happened with you two in the past, she’s thankful you’re doing all right now, and that you’re here. Even though you can’t have her back. Girlfriend wise.”
Now Tara gave that gentle smile that charmed everyone, including Kennedy. “Is that what she’s saying?”
Kennedy looked to the others for confirmation.
“Yep,” Buffbot told them.
“It’s all in the subtext,” Richard agreed.
“Friends are friends forever,” Kara added.
With that, Kennedy reached out to grasp Tara’s hand. It was surprisingly real, if a bit cool. And when Tara squeezed back, Kennedy decided the nervous conversations and uncomfortable subject matters were over.
Dana gaped at them. “You’re lesbians?”