Author: Tim Knight

Title: Working Girl

Copyright: August 2001

Rating: PG (Mostly some humor, but a little action, hehe. . . .)

Spoilers:

Buffy:
Season 2 until Phases.

Highlander:
Season 5 until Season finale.
Richie Ryan lives and Season 6 does not take place.

Keywords: Buffy/ Highlander/ extremely minor mention of Charmed.

Summary: Knowing that she'll eventually need a "day job" to make her own way on Earth, Shaw Hunter decides to get a part time job before summer vacation rolls around. Since she's gotten training in antiques from Connor MacLeod and Steve St. Wolf, she applies for a position at Lawrence Antiques behind Steve's back, wanting to get the job on her own merits. She gets the job but, knowing that this is the Hellmouth, you can expect that the first day at work will be anything but boring.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties and copyrights are the property of their respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant, and no money will be made from this story. This story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.

The characters Shaw Hunter, Ulric Johansen, Jessica Smithson, and Brenna are mine. Anyone wishing to use them may contact me at doobytim@aol.com.

The characters Steve St. Wolf, Wazuki Churchill (as pathetic as he is <G>), Robert Lawrence and Carol Lawrence are property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at steve711@concentric.net.

The character Robin Goodfellow and Liam Danahure are property of Mike Weyer. Mike can be contacted at SWERJ321@msn.com.

Author's Notes: This story takes place in the first week in May 1999, a month after For Every Action and just after Homecoming and Immortal Kombat.

Dedications:
First, to Steve, for his enthusiastic approval of this little tale. He likes the idea of having Shaw be a working girl. He seems to forget that her boss is also Steve St. Wolf's boss, so the Wanderer can't give her orders here <G>.
Second, to Rebekah, she who will be called Editor, for beta reading this story and hopefully getting many, many giggles over Shaw having a job. You can also "thank" her for the "measurements". You’ll know what I mean when you read it.
Third, to Mike, for Robin and Liam, and for helping me decide how we were going to make good use of Shaw's employment in future stories, hehe.

Here are the changes from your normal shows that may play a part in this story:

Buffy:
1. Due to her drowning at the hands of the Master in Prophecy Girl, Buffy is Immortal.
2. Passion and Becoming never took place, so Jenny and Kendra are alive and well. Jenny is engaged to and living with Giles at this point. Kendra is attending UC Sunnydale and living in the Summers home.
3. Faith is a good girl, never went bad, and lives in the Summers home. Otherwise, she’s the wild and crazy Boston girl we all know and love.


Working Girl

Part 1: Help Wanted
(You Know The Old Phrase, "If Something Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Usually Is?"
Does Anyone Ever Take That Hint? No, I Didn't Think So Either. . .)

Lawrence Antiques
Sunnydale, California
4 May 1999

Carol Lawrence looks through brochures from several of antiques galleries across the United States, searching for anything her customers might be interested in buying.

< Sotheby's, Skinners, Bucklands. . . > she goes over the list before slapping them down on the counter. She just can't get into it since she's frustrated over another matter. < Admit it. You're frustrated because you've had the ad for the part-time position out for a week, and you have no one suitable. I might as well face it, Robert and I are going to be stuck with some teenybopper cheerleading type who wants to work the register and look pretty, but has no qualifications. >

She thinks back over to when she'd proposed hiring a part-time worker, not only to help out in the store, but also to help take up the slack when their employee, Steve, went on his "other" job, which she still feels a little less than comfortable with. She has been able to accept it, for the most part, because she knows Steve truly cares about people, and he's become such a good friend that she didn't want him to leave.

< But still, it's uncomfortable at times, > she thinks to herself. She shakes her head to dismiss the negative feelings. < See, Carol? Getting frustrated over this is only depressing you. > She considers her options and finally decides something. < I'll keep the position open until Friday. If no one else applies, I'll just have to decide on one of the three who actually applied. >

*****

About two hours later, Carol's in the office when she hears the bell over the door tinkle, signaling that a customer has entered the store. She quickly stands up, neatly stacks her papers on the desk, and heads out to greet her customer.

She walks out and takes in the young woman who's walked into her store. The attractive teenager stands about five and a half feet tall and has a slim-hipped figure that actually has Carol feeling envious. The woman is wearing a conservative white one-piece dress, white hose, and a pair of sensible heels. Her thick mane of black hair is bound up in a blue scrunchy, creating a ponytail that falls to the halfway mark of her back. She intensely scans the items on display with a pair of hazel, almond-shaped eyes that, for some reason, make Carol think of the Orient.

After letting the woman look around to her heart's content, Carol smiles and moves to assist the young lady. She asks the girl, "Can I help you with anything?"

The woman looks at Carol and gives her a full smile. "Yes, I believe so," she answers kindly. "I discovered that you had a part-time position available. I would like to apply for that position."

Carol's smile freezes in place as she tries to stifle a scream. < Great! > she snaps in her thoughts. < Another 'Princess' who wants an easy job of punching register buttons for the summer. >

Carol figures that the girl doesn't understand the idea of working in her store; there's actual work, physical labor, to be done. Of the ten people who've actually come inquiring about the opening, only three left applications, but none of them have the slightest qualifications. So she's not hopeful about this little girl, either. < Emphasis on 'little.' She can't weigh much more than a hundred pounds, if that. >

Still, Carol decides to give the kid a chance, against her better judgment. "I see," she finally says to the girl. "You're more then welcome to fill out an application, and the position is still open. But do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"

"Please," the teen says pleasantly.

< Well, she's game, I'll give her that, > Carol grudgingly admits. < Well, let's get right into it. > "Do you have any experience?" the co-owner of the store asks.

The girl's eyes drop a bit as she answers. "This is the first time I have sought any form of employment, Mrs. Lawrence." Before Carol can ask a second question, the woman firmly states, "But I have had several months of training in the field of antiques, at least as far as looking over their condition, appraising various pieces, and researching their histories. My teachers tell me I am a thorough researcher, but I must be truthful with you; I have no experience with the fiscal portions of the field. My teachers are both of the opinion that there is no better training than practical experience."

Carol is surprised by the girl’s claim and pleased with her honesty. She decides to see if the applicant truly knows anything about antiques. "Please wait here," she says. She goes into the office and brings out a manila folder. Carol pulls out several photographs, looks through them, and selects one. She hands it to the girl and says, "Take a look at this, and tell me what you think."

The young woman looks at the photo very closely. After thirty or forty seconds she says, "I would need to see the vase itself to come up with a specific value. . ."

"Can you give me a ballpark figure?" Carol asks politely. "A general range?"

"Perhaps," the woman says neutrally. Glancing at the picture again, she reports, "By the style and apparent age, I would place the vase in the middle of the Ming Dynasty. But as I said, without seeing the piece itself, I can only give you a rough estimation. Based on this photograph, I would say. . . twenty-five to thirty thousand pounds." Off of Carol’s puzzled look, the girl’s cheeks turn a bit blue. "That would be approximately. . . thirty to thirty-six thousand American dollars. My apologies."

Carol dully says, "I--- thank you."

"That is," the woman says as she hands the photo back, "*if* the piece is a genuine Ming."

Carol grips the picture in surprise. She dryly asks, "I beg your pardon?"

The woman, all business, nods at the photo. "The price I mentioned holds if the vase is a genuine Ming. A reproduction from the Manchu era would only be worth up to. . . eleven thousand pounds, which roughly equals thirteen thousand in American currency."

Carol just absorbs this with surprise. < I don’t believe it. Not only does she bracket the price that Steve sold this piece for two months ago, but she considers the possibility that is might be a later piece. She *has* had training. >

The shopkeeper looks back to the girl, who patiently waits for Carol to ask her another question. Carol buys some time by putting her photos back into the envelope. She sets them on the counter and asks, "Do you have any other qualifications, Miss?"

The woman considers the question and thoughtfully answers, "I do have some basic computer skills, and I assist in the library at school for one hour each day. I have my latest report card with the names of my teachers, if you wish to contact them for their opinions."

"May I see it?" Carol asks. The student looks through a folder and pulls out the object she was looking for. Carol accepts the report card and looks not only at her grades, but the teachers’ comments as well. < 3.2 grade point average; she’s an honor roll student. She has Jenny and Rupert as teachers, and they give her glowing comments. > Carol then looks at the top of the sheet. < Shaw Hunter. All right, Miss Hunter, you’re intelligent. But are you willing to work here? >

Carol sets Shaw’s report card on the counter and asks, "Do you have any additional qualifications, Miss Hunter?"

"If it matters, I am multilingual," the woman replies. She pulls out a second sheet of paper and says, "If you require proof of my linguistic skills, I can provide verbal and written samples. Mr. Giles, Ms. Calendar, and Mrs. Livingston can provide their own confirmations, if you desire them."

Carol idly looks at the sheet until she realizes just how long it is. Her eyes go wide as she reads some of the languages listed on the sheet. < Celtic. . . Gaelic. . . Latin. . . Arabic and Hebrew? Navajo?!? My GOD! > She looks at the girl for any trace of deception in her eyes but sees only honesty. Still, she remains skeptical. She asks, "You wouldn’t mind if I call the teachers you mentioned?"

"Of course not," Shaw agrees.

Carol’s starting to feel like she’s not in control of this job interview. She has the girl’s qualifications and contacts, but she tries to get more information. "Is there anyone else I can contact for references?"

The young lady nods and starts naming names. "There is Father Ulric, my guardian. I can give you his work and home numbers. There is Connor, my sponsor and kinsman. I can give you his business number, but he lives in New York City, thus the difference in time zones."

"Very good," Carol says, tapping her chin. "But can you give me any names of people who might be more. . . objective?"

The girl reluctantly says, "Principal Snyder, I suppose. I am sure his opinion of me would act as a balance to anything my teachers say."

Carol blinks and says, "I said ‘objective,’ Miss Hunter. I didn’t say ‘scathing.’ Believe me, I wouldn’t ask for his opinion on the Pope, let alone a child. Do you know anyone else?"

Shaw’s eyes move around as she thinks. She brightens and says, "Agent Stalking Rattler. He is the Agent with your Immigration department who handled my case last winter."

"So you *are* a permanent resident?" Carol asks. When her applicant gives an affirmative answer, she takes down the Agent’s number. She then asks the question that she believes will make or break the girl’s chances of getting hired. "Miss Hunter, how much can you lift?"

The girl’s eyes go blank. "Lift?"

"Yes," Carol informs her with a smile. "There is physical labor involved in this job, so I need to know how much you can lift." < Here is comes, > Carol thinks. < She tries to collect herself, then politely says, "I’m sorry. . ." >

"It depends upon the mass of the object," Shaw replies, startling the co-owner. "Also, the size and shape of the piece would also play a part." She squints in concentration and says, "I can bench press one hundred and fifty pounds on a weight machine, but my exercise regimen usually focuses more on tai chi and running."

"Oh, all right," Carol says in a tinny voice as she tries to get back on track. She looks the girl over again, focusing on her arms. She comes to the realization that this young woman might be thin, but she’s certainly not weak; now that she knows what to look for, she sees that this girl is in fine physical condition. "All right, Miss. . . what days would you be available for work?"

Shaw folds her arms and thinks. "The only day I am *not* available is Tuesday. Also, I travel to visit family here in California one weekend a month. It sometimes varies, but usually it is the second weekend of a given month. I can balance my schedule as needed."

Carol just watches the child as she rattles off answer after answer. She’s impressed, but gets the feeling that this is just too good to be true. She wonders what she’s missing, but asks, "Is this your normal attire? Heels sometimes aren’t the ideal footwear for unloading deliveries."

To Carol’s surprise, the Hunter girl looks up at the sky. "I told Jessica this was a mistake," she sourly says to No One in particular, "but no, I had to take her advice and dress up for this."

< Dress UP? > Carol repeats in her mind. An idea forms in her head and she asks, "What do you usually wear?"

Shaw mutters, "It depends upon the occasion, but I prefer clothing that is functional." She swiftly adds, "I have clothing that others consider ‘fashionable,’ but I will have to ask my friends which, if any, would be appropriate for working. In simplest terms, Mrs. Lawrence, I lean toward function. It is just my way."

Carol searches her face, seeing that the girl thinks she’s just blown any chance she has at getting hired. But it’s not the case; the woman respects her honesty.

< So she isn’t a fashion plate, > Carol thinks in relief. She rests her hands on the counter and says, "I appreciate your honesty, Miss Hunter. I’ll be honest; you’re the only person who’s had any qualifications for this position. I’d like you to fill out an application, so that I can look it over and compare it with the other applicants. But I’d say the odds are in your favor."

"Thank you," she says with a nervous smile.

Carol goes into the office and brings out an application. As she starts to fill it out, Carol watches the young woman and thinks over what she knows. She likes and respects the girl’s honesty and respectful attitude. She decides to ask some questions to get to know her a bit. "So, why did you decide to apply here?"

Shaw looks up at Carol. "The only other places I considered applying were the town library and Summers’ Art Gallery. The former has no openings left, and Mrs. Summers’ gallery is more of a gallery than a true antiques store. This was the best choice for me."

Carol smiles and nods in thought. "Do you have any credentials?"

Shaw stops her writing and begins looking through her purse. After digging around for several moments, she hands Carol a California driver’s license, a work permit, and her recently issued Social Security card.

Carol thanks her and adds, "I’ll go make copies of these and then I’ll look it over. Could you wait here for a second?"

Shaw just nods as Mrs. Lawrence walks off.

*****

Robert’s taking down notes on items he’s considering putting in the front of the store when his wife walks in, a bright smile on her face. She walks over and plants a kiss on his cheek.

"Why are you suddenly on cloud nine?" Robert asks with a grin.

Carol holds up the bundle of papers she’s carrying and says, "I have a young woman who’s perfectly qualified to take the part-time position. I want you to look over her application and credentials, and give me your opinion."

Robert frowns at her and says, "The last time I heard you talking about applicants, you were screaming how they’re all, and I quote, ‘bleached blonde, suntanned, cheerleading ditzes who think the job consists of standing around and looking better than our antiques.’ Now, you’ve found someone with half a brain?"

"Robert," Carol says icily, "this young lady has months of actual fieldwork training, just no experience with the business practices. She priced that Ming vase we sold in March within two thousand of the selling price. She’s computer literate, and takes classes from Jenny Calendar. I have glowing recommendations from her, Rupert Giles, and her other teachers. And she speaks several languages."

"Is she a bookworm?" Robert asks with a grin. "Or is she a debutante?"

"Try a teenage girl who confessed that fashion isn’t everything to her," Carol says to stop Robert’s gentle mocking. Her temper settles and she adds, "Robert, I’m telling you, she’s perfect. If we don’t hire her and she goes to apply at Joyce’s gallery, Joyce will snatch her up in a heartbeat and I’ll never hear the end of it."

Robert looks at the papers in his spouse’s hands, then at her lovely face. "You think she’s right for us?"

"I do."

"Fine," the former spy says with a shrug and smile. "Hire the kid."

"But. . ." Carol says in surprise, "you haven’t even checked her credentials."

"Carol, if you think the young lady’s qualified for the job, then I trust your judgment," Robert tells her. He gives her a light peck on the cheek. "But just so you know, I’m going to owe Steve five bucks. He said you’d pick a female so that you’d have someone to talk to."

"What did you bet?" Carol asks with folded arms.

He sighs dramatically. "I told him you’d pick another stud like me to ogle over."

"MEN!" she snaps. Carol turns on her heel and storms out of the warehouse.

*****

Carol walks into the store and sees Shaw looking at the merchandise once again, probably to pass the time and control her nerves. When Carol comes in, the young student looks up, nervousness in her eyes.

Mrs. Lawrence smiles at her and asks, "When can you start?"

Shaw blinks as her mind registers that she has the job. She thinks for a second and says, "I could start this weekend, Mrs. Lawrence. That is. . . if that is acceptable."

"It’s fine," Carol assures the nervous junior. "Can you be here at ten a. m. on Saturday?"

"I can," Shaw replies before a trace of uncertainty flashes in her eyes. "What type of attire should I wear?"

"I know that we have a delivery on Saturday," Carol says, going over the itinerary in her mind. "But none of the items are too large. I’d suggest some jeans, a polo shirt, and some tenny treads if you have them."

"Yes, I have some," the green-eyed teen says happily. "I. . . thank you, Mrs. Lawrence."

"If you’re going to work here, Shaw," Carol tells her with a glint in her eye, "I prefer Carol."

Shaw looks a bit uncertain, but silently nods and smiles as she leaves the store.

*****

Carol walks back into the warehouse. She hugs Robert from behind and says, "She starts on Saturday."

"Good for you," Robert jokes. He turns around and asks, "Happy now, Carol?"

"Yes," she replies sharply. She playfully smacks him on the arm and says, "She seems like a nice girl, Robert. I think you’ll like her. I think Steve will, too."

"I hope she doesn’t spend all her time staring at him," he jokes. Before she can answer, he adds, "I’d like to know what questions you asked her. Also, was it still daylight out when she walked in?"

"What does that have to do---" she snaps before it hits her that he’s teasing her. "Stop it. She walked in, and none of those things, that we don’t want to know the names of, that Steve set up to keep vampires and demons out even blinked. She’s not evil."

"All right, Carol," her husband chuckles. He glances at her lovingly and says, "As long as she’s human, I won’t rib you about it."

Carol rolls her eyes. "That’s it. You’re taking me out to dinner tonight."

Robert starts to protest, but Carol gently places a single finger over his lips. She leans in close, and seductively whispers, "If you know what’s good for you, bucko, you’ll keep your mouth shut until closing time."

With that, Carol turns and saunters off, leaving Robert to admire her form but not allowed to comment on it.

*****

Part 2: Weekend Plans And Keeping Secrets
(Working Girl Gets The Third Degree)

McDonald's Restaurant
Sunnydale, California
4 May 1998

Jessica Smithson is waiting for Shaw when she catches sight of her as she walks up to the entrance of Sunnydale's Mickey D's. She swiftly realizes that she won't have to ask her friend whether or not she's gotten the job at the antiques shop, if the look on her face is any indication.

She decides to meet Shaw halfway. As they meet, Jessica grins and says, "You got the job."

"How---" Shaw begins as she blinks in surprise at Jessica's intuition. "How did you know?"

"Come on, girlfriend," the redhead jokes. "I saw it on your face all the way back there." She points at the street for emphasis and says, "You're practically glowing."

That "glow" turns blue as Shaw blushes. Jessica laughs and says, "Hey, I'm glad for you. Look at it this way; you beat the rush and got something you'll be good at. At least *you* won't be flipping burgers this summer."

"Neither will you, as I recall," the dark-haired junior counters with a lopsided grin. "Since you 'stole' the chance for me to work at the town library."

"Damn straight," Jess gaily replies. She'd managed to snatch the last summer opening at the library only four days earlier. "So when do you start?"

"Saturday morning," Shaw answers with a smile. Jessica watches the Scot raise an eyebrow (that she still couldn't tell if it was copied from Leonard Nimoy or the Rock) and say, "Also, Mrs. Lawrence suggested that my work outfit consist of a polo shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes."

Jessica catches the subtle message in her comment. < I don't' have to dress up, > the girl thinks dryly. She giggles and says, "Bet you ten bucks it didn't hurt you during the interview."

"No bet," Hunter says. She then smiles and says, "I appreciate your help, Jessica."

"I still wonder why you came to me and not the others," the blue-eyed junior asks, dropping a hint.

She watches Shaw sigh dramatically. The woman turns to her and explains, "Because I have certain. . . reasons that I wanted to get this job based on my own merits. Not the least of which is that Buffy's boyfriend works at that very store. I do not know that I would have gotten the position on my own qualifications, had I mentioned Steve's name."

Jessica makes an "ah" of understanding. She chuckles. "You know, Shaw, one of these days your sense of fair play will get you into trouble." She grins and says, "C'mon, let's order. I'm hungry."

The two walk into the fast food restaurant to get their food.

*****

The girls place their orders and sit down. Jessica orders her usual cheeseburger, small fries, and Diet Coke. She watches as her friend sits down with a quarter pounder, fries, and a large orange juice.

The flame-haired woman shakes her head and sighs. "I swear, Shaw. I don't know how you can eat that thing. It's going to go straight to your hips."

"I would agree with you," Shaw says with a glint in her eye, "if I had any hips to speak of."

"Smartass," Smithson growls, to which her friend just grins. She decides to change the subject back to their summer jobs. "I talked to David last night. It looks like he'll be working at the hardware store."

Shaw considers that information. "Well, you both agreed that it would be steady work. His grandfather runs the store, after all."

"Yes, I know," Jessica says, fingering her drink. "We were just hoping there'd be an extra opening at the library."

"I understand," comes the reply. Jessica waits for Shaw to finish a bite of her burger. The immigrant than says, "You want to make out in the biography section."

"SHAW!" Jessica spits, shocked over her friend's comment. She sees Shaw take in her wide blue eyes and open jaw, and start laughing at her. "Very funny, Hunter!" She stares daggers at Shaw. "I'm serious about that job, Shaw. You know how much Dave and I want to become English Lit teachers. Working in the library would get us some experience before college."

The way she pleads her case registers with Shaw. She nods to Jess and says, "I am sorry, Jessica."

"You've been hanging around Faith too long," Jessica says with a tiny grin. "Or maybe your cousin's boyfriend."

Shaw snorts. "Or Liam," she grumpily sighs. Jessica picks up the contrast in her tone and the strange shine that comes to her eyes.

As Shaw nibbles at some fries, Jessica's mind puts the pieces together. She lets a sly grin spread across her face. Putting her elbow on the table, she rests her chin on the palm of her hand and idly asks, "Shaw? Who's Liam?"

Shaw has started to take a sip of her orange juice, but Jessica's question freezes her, lips wrapped around her straw. Jessica's smile widens as he question penetrates Shaw's confusion.

"Let's try again," the Lit group leader purrs, having trapped her group partner. She watches the Scot's hazel eyes dart back and forth like those of a cornered cat. Once again, she asks, "Who's Liam?"

*****

Shaw tries unsuccessfully to find a way to dodge Jessica's question. The redhead patiently awaits an answer, so the Slayerette finally gives in to the inevitable.

She sighs in resignation, leading Jessica to sweetly say, "Dish, Scottie. *Everything*."

< Goddess help me, > Shaw begs before giving an answer. "Liam is a man I met a couple of weeks ago. He is Robin's best friend, who dropped by for a visit but subsequently decided to stay in Sunnydale."

Jessica frowns at the short, evasive answer. "Details, girl. You can do better than that."

"Jessica, there is honestly nothing to tell," the half-elf protests. She takes a sip of her juice to buy herself some time, but the seventeen-year-old is having none of that.

"What does he look like?" she asks with sadistic glee. "What's he like?"

Shaw's head droops. Looking back at Jessica, she asks, "You will settle for nothing less than everything, will you?" Jessica gleefully shakes her head. The ranger thumps her hands against her forehead in exasperation. "Jessica, I have only known him for two weeks."

Jessica grins and sings, "Hunter's got a BOY-friend!"

"He is NOT by boyfriend," Shaw hisses, looking around to see if anyone is eavesdropping. With a cold glare, she snarls, "Fine. Liam. . ."

"Leee-uhm," Jessica repeats, mimicking Shaw's accent. "I bet he just looooooves the way it rolls off your tongue."

Shaw's head crashes into the table, sending Jessica into a giggly fit. The elven fighter looks up at her friend, who's immensely enjoying herself.

"Are you *quite* finished, Jessica?" Shaw asks in a low growl. When the other has gained control of her mirth, Shaw says, "Thank you *so* much. Now, if you want to know what he looks like. . . Liam is only an inch or two taller than me, and weighs about one hundred and thirty pounds. He has green eyes and a very unruly mop of red hair."

"Sounds almost like you're talking about Oz," Jessica observes with a wink.

"Hardly," the ranger grumbles at her. The woman leans back and says, "He is arrogant, brash, impulsive, stubborn, and short-tempered."

"So much for *opposites* attracting," Jessica says before biting off a chunk of her cheeseburger.

"I beg your pardon?" Shaw asks with folded arms.

"Oh, let's just say that except for that arrogant part, I'd say you were sweet on yourself," Jessica grins at the frustrated classmate.

"I am NOT SWEET ON HIM!" Shaw snaps out loud, causing people to look in her direction.

"Methinks the Lady doth protest too much," Jessica says, cocking her head and looking intently at Shaw. "Shaw, I'm sorry, but I can see it in your eyes. A double bowl of Frosted Flakes with three tablespoons of sugar wouldn't be as sweet as your eyes say you are for this guy."

"Jessica," Shaw says in a low voice, "we have not even been on a single date, let along become 'an item.'"

"Not one?" Jessica asks in doubt. She folds her arms on the table. "How much time have you spent together?"

Feeling like the buck she'd seen caught in the headlights of Mark's car in Pennsylvania the previous summer, Shaw says, "Other than group activities, we have not gone out together." < I do not count patrolling as a date, evidence provided by Xander and Cordelia to the contrary. >

"You haven't gone out *alone*," Jessica repeats. When Shaw nods her head, she jabs with, "But when in the company of others. That's called double dating, Hunter." When Shaw moans in despair, the intuitive redhead smirks and declares, "Yep. You have it bad, Shaw. Very, very bad. He's your boyfriend all right. So how'd you meet?"

Rolling her eyes, Shaw wishes Jessica hadn't asked THAT question. < We met when an Immortal sorcerer from another dimension attempted to invade Earth, which led to us being on the front lines and participating in a massive battle between the sorcerer's interdimensional army and the combined forces of the three largest fairy kingdoms in this section of the multiverse. > "As I said, he was visiting Robin," is her verbal answer. She shrugs and says, "As I said earlier, he is staying here. He likes being near his best friend."

"Oh, and a certain Highlander with hazel eyes, black hair, and a body to die for didn't factor into the equation?"

Shaw just sourly glares at Jessica, who continues to give Shaw the third degree and enjoy herself at the priestess' expense.

*****

Johansen/Hunter Residence
Sunnydale, California
4 May 1999

Ulric answers the door and sees Amy and Willow standing on his porch. The Catholic priest gives the girls a friendly smile and says, "Good evening, girls. Please come in."

As the girls walk in with bags from various stores, Amy turns to Ulric and asks, "How are you doing, Ulric?"

"I am well, Amy," the cleric answers with a gentle nod. "May I assume you are here to see Shaw?"

Willow grins with a look of mischief. "Yeah, we brought her some stuff to wear this weekend. We've got a pool party and barbeque at Steve's on Saturday, and we want to make sure she's got the right clothing."

"For what activities?" Ulric asks with a dry chuckle. "I don't seem to recall her being the type to wear something excessively revealing."

"Don't worry," Amy grins at him. She holds up one bag and informs him, "We just got stuff that *anyone* can wear to a summer party and she will have NO room for protests or excuses."

"Just the same, I wish you good luck," the Father says, knowing something that the teens don't. "She is in the back yard, so don't let me keep you."

"The back yard?" Willow asks, slightly confused. She feels a tap on her shoulder and looks at Amy, who's grinning.

"She does the obscuring spell on herself and works out on the patio," the senior witch informs the computer student. "She does it since she has room to move for tai chi and stuff."

"I would be careful if I were you," Ulric dryly suggests. "She was carrying a most unnerving type of staff with knives at the ends when she walked out."

The girls stare at him as he gives them a tiny smile and walks toward his room to work. They then look at each other and shake their heads as they head toward the back door.

*****

The Slayerettes stand at the sliding glass door, seeing nothing in the back yard except for the maple sapling that Ulric had let Shaw plant there in March.

"Where is she?" Willow asks. She then notes, "What if she sees us with the bags and hightails it out of here?"

"Nope," Amy answers with a grin. She casts a quick spell and looks around. "There she is. Just a second."

Amy casts a second True Sight spell and touches Willow, letting the redhead see Shaw through her spell designed to hide her from casual sight. It's not invisibility in the strictest sense; rather, it's a form of camouflage that makes people "ignore" what's in plain sight. However, it's also not as effective as invisibility, letting lower power spells penetrate it much easier.

"Whoa," Willow says as she watches Amy's cousin go through her routine.

Shaw has her eyes closed, yet is going at full speed, twirling a kau sin ke around like it's a normal quarterstaff. Also known as a Chinese pole arm, the kau (for short) starts out like a wooden staff. But the similarities end there; at each end of the staff is a metal blade, about the size of a dagger, making the weapon capable of both blunt attacks and stabbing jabs. Mounted in the middle of the weapon is an inverted blade shaped like a crescent moon. The two Amazons watch as their teammate spins, jabs, blocks, and kicks while wielding the two-handed weapon. After about ten minutes, she slows down to a halt, breathing hard while standing on the patio.

Amy grins and begins clapping her hands. She's rewarded by Shaw's eyes snapping open and turning towards the sound. She comes up into a guard position until she sees the two giggling witches standing just inside the back room, and drops her arms while looking up to the sky in supplication.

Willow grins and opens the door, gracefully stepping out onto the patio. "Nice form, Shaw," she says approvingly. Looking at the kau, she adds, "You know, you might try finding one of those without the daggers. You could just sharpen the ends and stake vamps with them."

"And totally ruin the balance of the weapon in the process," is the half-elf's reply. She wipes some sweat off of her forehead and tries to gain some control of her breathing. "But I assume you are not here to discuss Oriental weapons."

"Or dress," Amy jokes. She forms an "okay" sign with her fingers and says, "Nice outfit."

Shaw squints in puzzlement until she looks down at herself. She's wearing a long-sleeve, white cotton karate gi which is knotted up with a white belt. Added to that are red spandex tights, white cotton quarter socks, and a pair of what appear to be dancing shoes. She shrugs and says, "This is what I wear for working out at home."

"Speaking of what you're wearing," Willow breaks in, holding up her bags, "we picked up some stuff for you to wear to the pool party on Saturday."

Amy grins and pulls out a couple of items. "Yep," she tells Shaw, "we got you a t-shirt with a vee neck, so you can show off some of your assets to Liam." She then holds up a pair of blue jean shorts. "And we got you some *short* shorts that are SO cool! We didn't pick up any sandals or flip-flops for you, since you've got a couple pairs. It'll let you show off parts of your body, but drive that Irishman so crazy since you won't be in a bathing suit like everyone else. Of course, if you *really* want to tease him," Amy continues, "you could wear a bathing suit, tell him you're wearing a bathing suit, and wear that cool red silk robe you bought in April. The way that thing hugs your body would have him wanting to unwrap you."

Shaw stares at them, switching her gaze from one senior to the other. She doesn't want to tell them that their effort, even done behind her back, is greatly appreciated but wasted. Finally, realizing she has to let them know, she sighs and says, "I cannot go to the party, Amy."

Willow's smile disappears, but Amy's rolling her eyes in disgust. "Here we go again!" she snaps at the priestess. Amy stares her cousin down and says, "Shaw, this is starting to get really, really irritating. Just get together with Liam and get it OVER with, already!"

"This has nothing to do with Liam," Shaw retorts in frustration.

Willow giggles and says, "Right, Shaw. Everyone knows you're sweet on him. . ."

"I am NOT sweet on him," Shaw growls like a perturbed cat.

"Yeah, right," both girls say with identical grins plastered on their faces. Amy then takes up the offensive. "Look, cuz. We know you like him. We know he's *crazy* about you. Just admit you're in love. Saves you a lot of time and US a lot of grief watching you two make fools of yourselves."

"I agree that he is crazy," Shaw says, putting one hand on her hip while standing the kau sin ke on one tip and holding it. "But how can you think that he is in love with me after only knowing me for two weeks?"

Amy offers the first answer. "There's the thing about him calming you down before the rescue."

"Robin wanted him to make me enraged," Shaw counters.

"There's the whole 'sneak kiss' thing when you were chasing Shang Tsung," Willow reminds her. "And with you punching him in the jaw instead of kicking him in the. . . you know."

"And *you* told me how good it made you feel," Amy says, pointing at Shaw.

Willow looks between the two. "You guys never told me that," she accuses, speaking to both Madisons. "You never said how good that kiss made you feel. Come on, spill."

"Later," Shaw orders. She stares at Amy and says, "I was just saying that because I had never been kissed in that manner before. As it was, he pissed me off. That is why I punched him in the jaw. That offers no proof the he is in love with me."

"Right," Amy snaps. She then grows a frown and demands, "Then if he doesn't love you, why does he go around shouting 'I bloody *LOVE* this woman' every thirty seconds whenever you're anywhere in his sight?"

"He is Irish," Shaw states, using Liam's own argument against him. "That makes him insane."

"Excuse me!" Amy snaps. "I'm half-Irish!"

"Making you only half-insane," the half-elf grins back at her relative. "Robin handled the rest."

"Oooooooooh!" Amy snarls, gripping the bags quite tightly. "Fine. You're playing Stubborn Girl. Well, that doesn't get you out of going to the barbeque this weekend."

"I cannot go, Amy," Shaw sighs once again. < I actually forgot about it, but I am not going to give up this job. >

"Don't tell us that you don't want to spend time with us," Amy tells her. She taps her foot on the ground and adds, "You've spent the last two weeks coming up with every excuse in the book to avoid hitching up with the leprechaun."

"Yeah, Shaw," Willow said, giving the ranger her infamous "resolve" face. She set the bags down and folded her arms. "I can't wait to hear what excuse you come up with this time."

"Well?" the blonde witch says, waving an arm at Shaw for her to answer. "Give us one damn reason at all you can't spend some time with Liam at Steve's this weekend."

"I am working," Shaw says with a sigh. < Goddess, they are going to pester me for details all week! Blessed Mother, what have I done? >

Amy's about to counter Shaw's excuse but stops before she can begin. She just dumbly looks at Shaw and dully asks, "Work?"

"She hasn't used that one before," Willow says with widened eyes.

"Wait a minute, Hunter," Amy says, trying to make sense of this. "You're working. Saturday. Working, as in a *job*?"

"Yes, I start Saturday morning," the priestess answers, knowing that she's just digging herself a new hole for interrogations. "Thus, I cannot go to the party."

"If you get off early enough, you can still come," Willow points out.

Shaw shrugs and says, "I do not know what time I will get off, Willow. But perhaps you are right. I simply forgot about the party---"

"Wait a minute, wait a minute, WAIT A MINUTE!!!" Amy shrieks. She gasps, "Shaw, you got A JOB?"

"For the second time, yes."

"Wh-- when?!? How?!? WHERE?!?" the Amazon witch babbles.

"Today. I applied. And you will not find out from me," Shaw answers in order. She looks at Willow and says, "And do not think to follow me Saturday afternoon or use magic to follow me, since I have ways of hiding my destination."

"Like having that psycho horse of yours go 300 miles an hour again?" Amy asks sourly, remembering her first trip in Sharillon, the elvensteed that Shaw had used in the past. When Shaw had returned, the steed, just as long-lived as Earth elves, had been reunited with her former rider. Shaw had conned Amy into taking a ride with her while Sharillon was disguised as a car, neglecting to tell her that on a straightaway, elvensteeds in vehicular form could reach nearly half the speed of sound. Needless to say, Amy vowed never to let Shaw "drive" again. "Go ahead, lay down the challenge, cuz. We'll find out where you're heading. But as for the party, you just admitted you can go if you get off early enough."

Willow smiled and pulled out the shirt that Amy had mentioned. "Now, the shirt. . ."

"That thing looks to be a size too small, Willow," Shaw says, admiring the short-sleeved shirt despite the irritation over their attempts to speed up her relationship with Liam Danahure.

"Please, we know what we're doing," Amy protests. When Shaw gives her a dubious look, she says, "It's TWO sizes too small."

Shaw moans.

*****

Part 3: Punching In
(The Wanderer Meets His New Coworker)

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
7 May 1999

As the Scooby Gang prepares to head out for their assigned patrol routes for the night, Buffy comes over to Shaw and Willow, who are donning their battle armor and personal weapons.

"Will," the Slayer says, "you, Oz, Liam, and Shaw will patrol the Main Street area tonight. Make a few sweeps and hook up with me, Steve, and Faith near Weatherly. We’ll make a run by Willy’s then call it a night."

Willow nods in acceptance. "Okay, Buffy. We’ll see you later."

"Thank you, Buffy," Shaw adds as she buckles her armor into place.

Buffy grins and leaves, leaving Willow glancing between the two and wondering what’s going on between them.

"Shaw," the Wicca asks her teammate, "why did you thank Buffy for assigning us like that? You’ve been trying to avoid Liam. . ."

"You are incorrect, Willow," Shaw interrupts as she places a plastic hair band on to keep stray locks out of her eyes. "I have been trying to avoid being pressured into a relationship with him." She looks at her best friend and sighs. "But, despite Buffy’s best attempts to keep the pressure off of me, Amy and Cordelia are starting to drive me insane with their daily badgering."

Willow squints in puzzlement. "What about me? I’ve been teasing you, too."

"But you restrain yourself," the half-elf replies to clear the air. She fingers her wakizashi and tells the redhead, "Look at the job I am starting tomorrow. Amy, Cordelia, Xander, and Faith have not given me a moment’s peace on the matter." A quirky grin comes to her face. "And I am hoping that the sword you received last week will give me some of what you call ‘brownie points’ that will keep you from pressing the issue like they have."

Willow giggles at that and spares a glance at the sword she recently received from Shaw’s elven grandmother via the trade agreement forged between the Tuatha Du Danaan of Earth, the Tel’Quessir of Evereska and, through their agents, the island of Evermeet, home to the elves of Toril.

One of the imports to Fairgrove is metals; being unable to touch anything made of steel or iron, the elves in Georgia receive some amounts of raw and finished mithril and adamantine, two of the hardest metals known on Faerun. In return, the moon elves of Shaw’s birthplace receive Earth-crafted magical lore, spells, and items, with other mundane items also being exchanged between the elven races.

Willow’s sword has an adamantine blade, one of the few sent through whatever dimensional portals are being used by the elves. The short sword’s blade measures twenty-six inches in length and has a wicked looking blade meant to intimidate opponents. The blade is double-edged, starting from the wide tip, narrowing near the middle, and expanding to the barbed area near the sharp, narrow crossguards. The sword is designed to be used for both stabbing and slashing attacks, making it deadly in all forms of combat. The hilt is seven inches long, being made of bone with mithril caps connecting it to the crossguards and pommel. The pommel itself is crafted of brass shaped in the form of an eagle. The hilt’s length makes the sword intended to be used in a one-handed style, leaving Willow with one hand free for spell casting. The entire weapon measures out at a total length of thirty-four inches, designed for those who rely on speed and agility rather than pure physical power. The finishing touch on the weapon is the engraving on one side, a single word in flowing Elvish script; ETRIEL.

< Sword sister, > Willow thinks to herself. < Shaw’s grandma really knows how we feel about each other. >

Willow thinks about the note sent to her with the weapon, which details the enchantment laid upon it by Dalrania herself. The blade was enchanted for increased sharpness which, when added to the edge on the blade forged from the finest metals in Faerun, make the sword named "Sword Sister" capable of severing the limbs of any opponent with sickening ease. In the hands of a warrior with the abilities of an Amazon, the mystical blade truly is a deadly weapon.

The redheaded computer expert smiles as she buckles the weapon at her left hip. She knows that if Shaw didn’t already have a personal blade like Feasellityar, it’s unlikely that she herself would be carrying this shortsword crafted by the half-elf’s ancestor. Still, the witch figures that Shaw’s grandmother is doing what she can to cement the good start to the relationship commenced between her and her newfound granddaughter.

"No such luck with Amy, huh?" Willow asks with a giggle.

"Of course not," Shaw laments. Dalrania’s note to the Mielikkian indicated that the weapon being crafted for Amy (commissioned by the Bladesinger herself) will not be ready for a few weeks. "Hers will apparently take longer. Not to mention the one she plans for Cordelia if she can work out an agreement with the Fairgrove forgers." The priestess shivers. "An elven-enchanted katana made of mithril or adamantine is a frightening thought, Willow."

"Right," Willow agrees before switching back to her original line of thought. "So, you don’t mind Liam patrolling with us?"

Shaw blushes but doesn’t notice; Willow certainly does. "No," the woman admits, "I do not mind. So long as he controls himself."

"Fat chance of that happening," Willow giggles at Shaw’s discomfort. "Come on, Shaw. He’s not THAT bad, is he?"

"That is not what I am saying, Willow," the half-elf admits. Her blush deepens, and now she knows it but can’t do anything to stop it. "He shows off all the time with his magic. It is. . . distracting."

"He does it to impress you."

"I know," Shaw mutters while looking at the ceiling. She lets out a deep breath. "I just. . ." Shaw waves her arms helplessly as Willow just watches her with a sly grin. "All right," the elven fighter moans. "I AM impressed, to a point. And yes, I like Liam." Willow just continues to grin at her teammate, and Shaw finally capitulates. "Fine! I like him. Very much. And I am attracted to him. But I am NOT in love with him."

< Yeah, right, > Willow giggles to herself. Satisfied with this "progress," she says, "You do realize what’ll happen when Liam hears that."

Shaw’s eyes go round with desperation. She’s frustrated at Liam’s wild behavior, barely restrained because Shaw wants time to develop any relationship between the two of them. < If he was told. . . > Shaw gulps and whimpers, "Willow, you wouldn’t."

Willow struts around Shaw, her green eyes calculating. She taps her chin a few times and says, "I suppose I could be persuaded to keep quiet. . . for a price."

Shaw narrows her eyes. She growls at her best friend, "I cannot believe that you are going to blackmail me, Willow."

Willow’s smile becomes demure, but the projected innocence doesn’t fool anyone. "I didn’t say blackmail. But since you brought it up. . ." Shaw rolls her eyes in frustration, so the Amazon says, "I promise it won’t go past the two of us."

Shaw stares at Willow for a long time before hissing, "What do you want?"

The computer expert folds her arms and leans in close. Her eyes sparkling with amused satisfaction, she whispers, "Where do you start working tomorrow? Straight up."

< I should have known, > the pagan wearily thinks. She glances at Willow and asks, "You will tell no one else?"

"Cross my heart," she swears with the smile of one who knows she’s won. "Dish, Hunter."

"When *you* call me by my last name, you are having far too much fun." Shaw briefly wonders if telling Willow will be worse than having Liam know that she’s very attracted to him, but decides to take the lesser to two evils. She quietly mutters, "I will be working at the antiques store."

Willow’s mouth opens a bit as she digests the news. She looks at the door and back at Shaw. "Does Steve. . ."

Shaw shakes her head adamantly. "No," she states without hesitation. "Willow, I wanted to get this position based on what *I* can do, not on Steven’s reputation. It was bad enough that I gave her Connor’s number. If she had called him, I think I would have been hired for my connections, not my ability."

Willow considers the explanation before nodding in understanding. She gives Shaw a supportive smile. "Okay. I see it’s important to you. I hope you have a good first day tomorrow and I’ll see if I can run interference with Amy."

The girls share a laugh before heading out on patrol. Willow sends a devious glance Shaw’s way as they leave.

< Should I tell her? Naaaah. I’ll surprise her. >

*****

Lawrence Antiques
Sunnydale, California
8 May 1999

Robert is driving up with Carol to open the store on what is likely to be a busy Saturday of shopping by the people of Sunnydale. As the owners of the shop pull into the parking lot with their car, they catch sight of a young woman standing outside the front door, nervously shifting from one foot to the other and glancing at her watch.

"Is that our new clerk?" Robert asks, despite the obvious answer. A smile curves his lips as he tells his wife, "She seems a bit high strung, if you ask me."

"Don’t you dare tease her, Robert Lawrence," she warns him. "The poor dear’s going to be anxious enough as it is, without you ribbing her from the start. Please, be nice to her."

Robert snaps his fingers in pretend disappointment. "Oh, all right, dear." He glances at his watch and sees that it’s only nine-twenty. "Well, she’s prompt, I’ll give her that," he chuckles as he kills the ignition. "Should we go in, or wait and see how much more eager she can get?"

Carol smacks Robert on the chest with the back of her hand. "Let’s go in so you can meet her. Honestly, Robert, I think you’ll like her."

"I’m not sure, dear," the former spy says, picking on his beloved. "You told me she wasn’t a ‘Princess.’ Seems to me most young men might stop in the store just to sneak a peek at her. I hope she didn’t just have her nails done, poor kid."

Carol glares stilettos at her husband as she reaches for the buckle of her seatbelt. < Ohhhhh, just try something, Robert. I dare you. >

*****

Carol and Robert walk around the corner of their building and approach the impatient new girl. Her face lights up with relief as she sees the Lawrence’s approach. Carol takes the lessened tension as a good sign. She smiles at the new hire and says, "Good morning, Shaw."

"Good morning, M— Carol," Shaw stumbles, remembering Carol’s preference. She gives Robert a slight nod and an appraising glance. "Mr. Lawrence."

"Please, call me Robert," he tells her with a slight grin. Sensing his bride preparing to pounce if he picks on her, the man says, "I see you’re eager to get to work."

Carol pounces. "Oh *no* you don’t!" she snaps in defiance. "We don’t open for half an hour, Robert. She can relax with us a bit until ten o’clock. We can talk and get to know her better *without* you having her lug stuff around. And when we do open, I will show her around, *not* you."

Carol’s husband fights to hold his laughter in. < You said I couldn’t pick on her, my dear. You said nothing about yourself. > "And what about the labor that comes with the job. You did tell her about that, didn’t you?"

*****

Shaw’s head bounces to and fro as Robert and Carol trade verbal thrusts and parries. Realizing that Robert is trying to needle Mrs. Lawrence, the half-elf swiftly comes to the aid of the woman who granted her this opportunity.

When the male shop owner mentions labor, Shaw asks Carol, "You did not tell him?"

The Lawrence’s, startled by her question, both rivet their gazes upon her.

"Tell me what, Ms. Hunter?"

Shaw flashes him an innocent look. "When Carol asked me how much I could lift, I told her that I could bench press over one hundred pounds."

"One hundred and fifty," Carol corrects the new employee. When Robert stares at the little thing in doubt, his wife salts the wound. "She was just being modest."

Robert takes the girl in a second time, taking care to notice everything. She returns his gaze with eyes that currently exhibit a trace of amusement over the banter. Her hair is braided back into a tail that is held in place with a hairpiece of some sort. She’s wearing the same type of outfit worn by Robert and Carol (and probably suggested by his bride), and he takes note of her thin yet firm arms and legs, also noting that her blue jeans are not only new, but specially made; an extra seam, coupled with her obvious condition, indicate that the young woman’s used to physical effort. He also recognizes the posture and subtle attitude of a born fighter, which raises a red flag in his brain before he sighs in mental disgust.

< I’ve been living in this town for too long, > he badgers himself. < She could just as easily be a dancer. She has the lines for it. > He eventually nods in satisfaction that this Shaw person can indeed pull her own weight. < Pun not intended. > "All right, Carol, you win. Let’s go in and get ready to open."

Shaw watches as Carol just keeps her silence, accepting the "moral" victory.

*****

As Robert goes into the warehouse to turn on the lights in that part of the store, Carol handles the front. After making the shop somewhat brighter, she moves to put the cash drawer in the register, allowing Shaw to watch her go through the pre-opening ritual while giving her simple instructions on the easiest ways to perform the routine. After bringing out and installing a fresh roll of register tape, she leans over the counter and watches as the novice worker examines several of the pieces already on display.

< One might almost think she’s shopping, > Carol privately giggles as she watches the admiration in Shaw’s eyes over some of the antiques. < Or she’s just memorizing every detail. > She stops to consider that. < Oh, no. God, please do NOT tell me she has an eidetic memory on top of everything else! >

Shaw finally finishes her strolling and looks to her employer for any instructions. Still having twenty minutes before opening, she waves her over.

"Shaw, relax," Carol instructs her with a friendly smile. "I promise, we’ll ease you in to the routine. Don’t worry."

Shaw’s lips curl a bit as she glances at the floor. "I seem to remember a phrase about throwing someone into the deep end of the pool?"

Carol loses control of her mirth, giggling under her breath but unable to stop her shoulders from shaking at Shaw’s comment. She tells the teen, "Yes, but I don’t want you to be swamped on your first day. We’ll start off light and gradually bring you into the system. This way you’ll have an idea of how things go and hopefully we’ll avoid having you running around like a chicken with its head cut off."

Shaw just nods in agreement. She says, "Thank you." She looks up and asks, "You said something about the inventory system you use?"

< She’s eager, all right. > Carol runs her fingertip along her lip as she thinks about it. < All right, let’s see how you handle it. > "We have two systems that we use, just to be safe." She brings out a ledger and sets it on the counter. She opens it up and lets Shaw lean in to get her own look at the book. "We use this to keep track of the inventory in both areas of the store." She points to two columns with checks in either one, but not both. "This tells us if a specific item is on display here in the front of the store, or stored in the warehouse. If someone wants an item they don’t see, this will tell us if we have it in stock." She closes the book and motions for Shaw to follow her. Carol leads her into the warehouse and indicates a computer terminal with all the trimmings. "This is our computer system, which we use to run our website and handle out of state and international orders. Our other employee, Steve, usually handles this. But since you have some computer skills, I don’t see any reason not to let you have a crack at it eventually."

Shaw smiles in anticipation. Her brows furrow a bit. "So you keep two sets of records in case one of them is somehow damaged?"

"That’s right," Carol says with approval. "If the power goes out or if the computer crashes, we have the paper records. If the ledgers are somehow lost, we have the hard drive on the computer."

"Prudent," the girl mutters to herself. Carol smiles at the unintended compliment.

"Oh, one request if you don’t mind?" When the raven-haired teen nods to her, Carol says, "Please remember that all of our prices are in dollars and not British pounds."

Shaw stares at her for a second before she realizes she’s being teased. She just nods and returns the smile a bit. A door opening snares their attention and the women see a tall, young man walk in, taking off a leather jacket.

Carol grins and looks to her new employee. "Come on. I want to introduce you to Steve."

"But. ." Shaw says before Carol takes her hand and leads her over to the muscular ex-Green Beret.

As they walk up, Steve looks up from his conversation with Robert and smiles at the two women. Carol sees Robert grinning at what he figures will be the dashing of a young woman’s sudden fantasies.

Carol greets her senior employee and says, "Steve, I want you to meet your new coworker." She glances at Shaw and says, "Shaw Hunter, meet Steve St. Wolf."

*****

Steve grins at the now less than sure Shaw and asks, "Shaw. How do you like it so far?"

Shaw’s eyes flash as the Wanderer sees her realization that he *knew* she’d be here today. She frowns at him and asks in a resigned tone, "How did you find out?"

As Robert and Carol get the point that their two employees already know each other, the Immortal gives her a lopsided grin. "Jenny and Giles told me that Carol had called them to follow up on one of their students who’d applied for a job here. When they told me and the kids started buzzing about you having a job, it wasn’t that difficult to figure out the puzzle." He smiles as her eyes start to grow frustrated. "Don’t worry, we kept it between the ourselves. So you don’t have to worry about the gang showing up and embarrassing you."

"Blessed Mother be praised," Shaw responds before she can stop herself.

"Right," Steve echoes humorously.

At this point, Carol butts in. "Wait a minute. You two know each other?"

"Of course," Steve tells her with a smile. He nods at Shaw and says, "She’s friends with Buffy and her friends, and works in the library with Giles. But you knew that already, didn’t you?"

"She didn’t tell me she knew you, Steve," Carol replies in shock. She turns and asks the blushing girl, "Why didn’t you tell me you knew Steve?"

Shaw just asks, "Would you have given me this position if you knew this?"

Carol nods and assures her, "In a heartbeat."

"That is why I did not tell you, Mrs. Lawrence," she says in a small voice.

"What?" the befuddled wife asks. Steve and Robert chuckle, leading her to glare at them with hostile intent. "What’s so funny?" she demands.

Robert and Steve share a glance. Steve nods, so the former covert operative explains to his beloved. "Dear, what this young lady’s trying to say is that the reason she didn’t tell you about her knowing Steve and his friends is because she wanted you to hire her because of HER qualifications, not Steve’s word."

Steve sees Carol send a look Shaw’s way, to which the young warrior just nods her head, but raises it to give Carol the sight of the honesty in her eyes.

"You wanted everyone to have an equal chance at the job," Carol realizes, to which Shaw gives her a second nod and a soft, "Yes."

Carol just ponders the information for a time before smiling. "I understand, Shaw. It’s nice to see someone who’s willing to get something on their own these days. You know, even Steve didn’t get hired on his own merits."

"Excuse me?" Steve asks dubiously, having a reputation as one of the most reputable dealers in the world. "Then just how was I hired?"

Robert, seeing a chance to get one over on the CIA agent, responds by saying, "I only hired you because Duncan recommended you."

"Gee, thanks," Steve says as Carol brings her hand up to cover her smile. He decides to change the subject. "Well, we open in five minutes. Shouldn’t we get started?"

"Steven," Shaw says, gaining the Texan’s attention, "I thought Robert and Carol were the employers."

"They are," Steve admits; they are technically his bosses.

"Then this is the one place where you do NOT give people orders," she idly notes before turning to the one who does give such instructions. "Carol, what would you like me to do first?"

Carol gives the men a victorious sticking out of her tongue. "Right this way, Shaw," she says, moving to lead the woman back out front.

*****

"I told you we should’ve convinced her to hire another man," Steve tells his friend.

Robert waits until the ladies are out of earshot to turn to the Wanderer. "Steve, can I ask you something?"

Looking at the strange expression on Robert’s face, he nods. "Of course."

"Does she work with you?" he asks, jerking his head towards the front of the store.

Steve lets out a sigh and thinks of how to answer Robert’s question. He glances at his boss and says, "You know, I figured that’d be the second question you asked me."

"What else do you think I’d ask you?" the owner questions out loud.

"Whether or not she knows what goes on in this town," the demon hunter answers in complete sincerity. "And I’ll answer both questions, provided you promise not to tell Carol, for two reasons."

"Those being?" Robert asks, sensing the seriousness of Steve’s request.

"First of all, you noticed Shaw got this job by playing fair. She also doesn’t want to be a pity case," Steve begins. "Secondly, there are things that Shaw doesn’t consider to be top secret information, provided people know the truth about things that go bump in the night. Chances are, Carol will figure out the same thing you did. Shaw will give her what information she wants to give. Until then, this doesn’t leave the warehouse."

Understanding, Robert gives Steve a single nod. "I’ll keep it to myself."

"Good." The Wanderer leans against the wall and decides to begin his explanation that will hopefully be somewhat tactful. "To answer the question I posed, yes. Shaw knows about vampires and demons. The twist to that plot is that she had prior experience that proved their existence to her long before she ever came to America, let alone Sunnydale."

Robert doesn’t need pictures or subtitles to figure out where Steve was going with this. "Who did she lose?" he softly asks.

"Her grandparents," comes the answer. "She lost them and two-thirds of her own blood before she fought her way loose. But it was too late for her family."

Mr. Lawrence thinks about that but is puzzled by the mention of her grandparents. "What about her parents, Steve?"

"That leads to the answer to what you asked me," St. Wolf responds. He looks Robert in the eye and tells him, "Yes, Shaw is part of my team. But I can honestly tell you, Robert, that Shaw was receiving training almost from the time she could walk. I’ve only given her about eight months of instruction."

"And just where did a seventeen-year-old girl get Special Forces training like that you have access to?" the older man demands.

"From her father and grandfather," the Knight informs the questioner, "who were SAS."

Robert’s head slowly turns toward the area where his wife and the girl they’re discussing are opening the shop up for business. He thinks about what he saw in the young woman and realizes that he was right when he saw a fighter. He glances back at Steve. "And she joined you by choice?"

"Yes," the Immortal confirms, "but for more than one reason. One reason is that she wanted to be part of something more than revenge. So you don’t have to worry about her being on a vengeance trip. Hooking up with our group killed that part of her. Another reason is that she had the skills to do this, and she wanted to protect others as well as her friends and family."

"She has family here in America?" Robert asks in surprise.

"Shaw has several cousins on both sides," Steve says, a grin spreading to his face. "Three of them you already know, and what you know about them should put to rest any fears you have about her character."

The mortal man stares at Steve in doubt. "What cousins of hers do I know?"

With a smirk that irritates Robert, Steve says, "Two are Scottish Highlanders who live in New York and Seacouver."

Robert’s jaw opens at the revelation. He says, "Steve, Duncan’s told me his horror stories about Connor’s sense of humor. Please tell me she takes after Duncan."

"She does, at least emotionally. But you’re out of luck with the sense of humor. She’s not quite as bad as Connor, but she’s a teenager, so that makes up the difference."

"A female MacLeod," Robert groans before Steve’s chuckles infect him as well. Sharing laughs at the Highlanders’ expense, Robert adds, "What did we do to deserve this?"

"Oh, I wouldn’t worry," St. Wolf mentions, idly toying with his jacket, "She considers herself more of a Madison than a MacLeod. Which is good for both our sakes."

Robert laughs at the second joke until Steve’s verbal trap springs itself. He stops and glares at the fighter before commenting. "Amy?"

"Yep," Steve says with diabolical glee. "Trust me, if you see them standing together and look carefully, you’ll see the resemblance. But Amy’s the reason that Shaw decided to stay here."

"Oh?"

Steve’s smile becomes gentle. "Of course. For one thing, Amy is a woman. There are things Shaw can talk about with another woman that she wouldn’t speak of with either Duncan or Connor. Secondly, Amy’s a lot closer to Shaw’s age than the others. That’s why they’ve bonded to the point that they’re more like sisters than distant cousins."

"That sounds like the MacLeods," Robert observes with a wink.

"They’ve been a good influence, except for Connor’s sarcastic side."

"Okay," the ex-spook concedes. "You’ve made your point. She stays."

"Thanks," he responds. "You won’t regret it, Robert; she knows her stuff." He turns to get to work, but gives his superior one last shot. "Besides, I need *someone* young and spry to help me out around here."

*****

Part 4: Punching Out
(And I Don't Mean A Time Clock. Also, Working Girl Gets A Guest)

Lawrence Antiques
Sunnydale, California
8 May 1999

Carol leads Shaw back into the front of the store, leaving the men to get to the heavy work. Carol walks over to the door and checks her watch. Seeing that it's only five minutes to ten, she figures it doesn't make a difference today, so she flips the sign hanging on the door to "OPEN."

Carol turns to her new employee and sees an eager young woman ready to work. But the things said between her and Steve has raised some questions in her mind. She knows Robert well enough to assume that he's asking Steve some hard questions right now, but she decides to be a little more diplomatic with Shaw.

She walks over to the register and gets ready to begin the workday. She looks up at Shaw, who's watching intently, making Carol smile inwardly. < God, she's ready to jump the second I say something. > She decides to jump right to the subject in order to determine what the teenager knows about Sunnydale in general and Steve in particular.

"Shaw," she asks carefully, "can I ask you something?"

The girl's quick on the uptake. She gazes at Carol and asks, "Is this about not telling you that I knew Steven?"

"Well. . not as far as the application goes, no," Mrs. Lawrence replies. She folds her hands on the counter and asks, "But. . . just how 'well' do you know Steve?"

"Very," Shaw answers, looking to Carol to be as careful as she is. "I met him in September and we have become good friends. Is that what you wished to know?"

Carol is hesitant to tread here, but needs to know. She says, "I suppose what I'm asking is, do you know what he did before starting here?"

The hazel eyes watch her carefully for several seconds before she decides something. She looks around to make sure no one's about to walk in and softly says, "You know about certain. . . nocturnal activities that we take part in?"

Carol's temper blows, but she manages to keep from screaming in anger at Steve. She hits the counter with the base of her hand and snarls, "I cannot believe he did this to another child!" Carol starts to head back to the warehouse, but with surprising speed, Shaw cuts her off, a hard look in her own eyes.

Carol is taken by surprise by how swiftly the girl moves, as she is stopped by the surprising determination showing in the child's eyes.

Shaw puts an arm against the wall, bracing it so that Carol can't barge past her. Carol starts to speak, but Shaw's eyes soften, looking startled by her reaction. She slowly lowers her arm, and glances at the floor before softly speaking.

"Will you at least allow me to speak about certain things before you condemn Steven?" she asks in a quiet voice. "There are. . circumstances that make me a different case than Amy and the others."

"Amy?" Carol asks, wondering why she brought that name up. "What's so special about her that you mention her specifically?"

Shaw covers her cheeks with the palms of her hands and runs them down her face. She glances at Carol and then at her purse, which is sitting behind the counter. She walks over and starts digging through it. She pulls out what appears to be a portable photo album and opens it to the second or third page. She slides a photograph out of the book and sets the book down. She walks over to Carol and holds the photo out, saying, "This might begin to explain a bit, Carol."

Carol glances at Shaw while reaching out to take the photo. She looks at the picture and sees two teenaged girls smiling back at her. One is Amy Madison, who Carol's met on occasion. The other is Shaw. Carol looks both girls over, and she can see how certain features of their faces match up. She looks at Shaw, a silent question being asked. Shaw answers with a single nod, her face touched by a light smile. Surprised, Carol quietly hands the picture back over to its owner.

"You and Amy. . ."

"We are cousins, through great-great-grandmothers," Shaw says, putting the picture back in its proper place. "My ancestor was an American who traveled Europe and settled in Scotland. I think you know the rest."

"I think so," the shop owner answers, a bit of humor in her voice. It subdued when Carol then asks, "But what does this have to do with Steve doing what he's done to you?"

Carol watches Shaw's shoulders slump. The seventeen-year-old turns back and says, "Carol, I was learning the fighting arts from my earliest days. My father and grandfather were members of the British military, specifically what you call Special Forces." Carol's eyes blink once, and Shaw nods. "Yes, I am an 'army brat.' Or as Amy once put it, the 'Tomboy from Hell.' I was learning how to defend myself a long time ago, as well as to take care of myself, should something happen to my father. I am sure that you understand the dangerous nature of such a career."

Carol nods, knowing all too well from many sleepless nights, wondering if her husband would come home from a mission. She asks, "So Steve didn't begin training you?"

"Far from it, Carol," Shaw answers, sighing a bit. "When my father died on a mission, I went to live with my grandparents." She looks uneasy, an old pain showing in her face. She looks at Carol and hesitates. "As for Steven's defense, he did not initiate my training, Carol. He merely continued it."

Carol shakes her head in determination. "But Shaw, what he fights. . ."

"I knew about vampires before I ever stepped foot on American soil, let alone here in Sunnydale," Shaw hastily continues. She sighs and stares at Carol, who can tell that she's trying to decide whether or not to confide something in her.

Carol wonders aloud, "Shaw, if it's a personal matter, I'll understand if you don't want to talk about it."

"Thank you," the young woman replies. She looks over at the door and says, "I am sure that Steven is answering the same question from Robert, so I am sure I can trust you, based on what he feels about you." She turns to Carol, looking surprisingly formal. "It was a vampire that killed my grandparents, Carol."

Carol's hand shoots up to her mouth, and her face falls as what Shaw just told her sinks in. Shaw sighs and says, "While I still miss them, I have left the past behind me. The grief, the anger, the. . . need for revenge." She looks at Carol, a pleading look on her face. "I would be dead now, if not for Steven, Buffy, Amy, and the others, especially Amy. To me, there is no difference between Amy and the others. They are my family, and joining them. . . Carol, I will be frank with you. I was filled with anger when I came here. But seeing why the others do what they do, it turned me from someone who wanted to kill every vampire walking, into someone who wanted to protect the people I now call my own." She glances at the floor and says, "I am happy here, Carol. Happier than I have ever been, even since my grandparents were alive. If you are going to judge Steven, please judge him for his role in making me the person I am today, not for putting me on a path that I chose to walk a long time ago." She looks back at Carol. "I come from a family of fighters. But unlike my father and grandfather, who fought and died for Queen and country, I get to fight for the world itself." She smiles a bit. "And while I may question Steven's orders more quickly, and more often, than anyone else, I still call him friend and brother."

Carol is stirred by Shaw's passionate defense of Steve, as well as her admission that she was once filled with anger, which she can understand, if she lost her entire family. She nods softly and says, "I see. All right, Shaw, I won't kill him."

"Thank you," she says gratefully. "But I do not mind if you put him through Hell. Someone must bring his ego down occasionally."

Carol bursts into laughter. After regaining control, she says, "I have to do the same to Robert on occasion, so I know what you mean. Care to help if it becomes necessary?"

Shaw grins devilishly.

*****

By eleven o'clock, Carol is working on some paperwork while Shaw dusts off some of the pieces in the storefront. She occasionally glances at the first day girl and sees how careful Shaw is with the antiques, although she smiles when she sees the young woman lingering on certain pieces, admiring them as she handles them. She grins, wondering if the girl will try to spend her paychecks on the pieces they sell.

< I wonder if she collects? > Carol thinks. She calls out. "Shaw?" The worker's head snaps up, inquiry in her eyes. "I was wondering, do you collect antiques? I see the way you look at some of the pieces, and I'm afraid you might use all of the money you earn here to buy some of them."

Seeing the teasing in her voice, Shaw shakes her head. "No, Carol. I simply appreciate the history of these pieces. That means more to me than the monetary value. I do have a small collection, but only of certain items. I prefer collecting antique swords and books, much like Connor and Duncan."

"Ah, I see. That's nice," Carol grins, having had Shaw confess to being cousins to the MacLeods earlier. Before she can say anything more, the bell above the door rings as some people walk in off the street. < The grind begins. > She smiles at Shaw and says, "Once more into the breach."

"We few, we happy few," Shaw finishes, startling Carol. Shaw cocks an eyebrow at her employer's surprised look and says, "I am British, Carol. I read the classics."

"Smart alec," Carol mutters with a smile. She looks over to get a view of the customers and sees Paula Haversham, a frequent customer who lives in the richer district of Sunnydale, as well as, to her surprise, Willow and Sheila Rosenberg. She looks to Shaw and says, "Shaw, why don't you help Mrs. Rosenberg? I'll take Mrs. Haversham."

Shaw nods, a bit of frustration on her face. Carol wonders what the problem is until she sees Willow grinning at her with a look of mischief in her green eyes. She thinks about what Steve said about the others not embarrassing her on her first day on the job, and realizes that Shaw's secret wasn't as well kept as originally thought. "Have fun, Shaw," she says with the lightest touch of friendly sarcasm.

Carol turns before Shaw can shoot her a pleading glance to switch customers, smiling at Willow, who goes to see (and bug) her friend.

*****

Shaw decides to attempt to take a professional attitude with Willow and her mother. She folds up the dust rag she's been using and places it in her back pocket. She walks up to Sheila Rosenberg and greets her. "Mrs. Rosenberg, may I help you?"

Willow's mother, a noted child psychologist, blinks at the girl's recognition. She peers at the half-elf and asks, "Have we met, young lady?"

Shaw shakes her head and says, "No, Mrs. Rosenberg, but I know Willow. We attend school together. And I have seen you before."

"When?" The woman asks in surprise. "I'm certain I've never seen you before."

Shaw glances at Willow and says, "I visited you at the hospital back in January. When someone broke into your house, Willow called, and I came to see if you and she were all right."

"Oh," Sheila says, trying to regain her balance. She looks Shaw over and asks, "How do you know my daughter?"

Shaw smiles at Willow, whose own smile has faded as she wonders what will happen in this meeting. Shaw answers, "Well, to be honest, Willow is a major reason that my grades in computer class are so high." Sheila looks at Willow, who just grins. "She offered to tutor me when I came here, and I accepted. We have become friends since then."

Willow mouths a silent "thank you" to Shaw, who now focuses on Sheila. "Is there anything I can help you with, Mrs. Rosenberg?"

Sheila glances at Willow, who's smiling at her mother. She turns back around and says, "My father's birthday is coming up, and I'm looking for a present for him. My daughter suggested that we find something along the lines of an antique."

"I see," Shaw says with a smile. "Did you have anything specific in mind?"

"No, I'm afraid not," Mrs. Rosenberg says with a bit of frostiness. "I was hoping that Mrs. Lawrence might be able to find something in time." She glances over to where Carol is talking with her own customer. "But I suppose you'll do."

Shaw arches an eyebrow while Willow pales at that remark. Shaw simply nods in answer. "I hope that I will be able to help you. And I understand about you preferring Carol's help. Wanting the person with more experience is only. . . logical."

Shaw smiles as Willow's eyes narrow at her wording. Shaw ignores her and asks Sheila, "Do you have an idea as to the traits you wish this gift to have?"

Sheila thinks about the question for a few seconds. "Well, I'd like something of a Jewish nature. Preferably from the early part of this century, and it should be appropriate for his religious beliefs."

"Very well," Shaw says with a composed face. "I will look through our inventory and see if we have something of that nature. If not, it might be possible to find something through other businesses. I know that Carol and Robert have contacts with other antiques dealers. Surely one of them would have something appropriate."

"Th-thank you," Sheila says.

"I will check the list right now," Shaw says kindly. "If you will excuse me?"

"Oh, of course," Willow's mother agrees.

Shaw moves off to the counter, pulls out the book Carol showed her before the day began, and starts looking through it as Sheila and Willow watch her.

*****

Sheila looks to Willow and mutters, "That girl obviously has some issues."

< Oh no. Here we go! > Willow moans to herself. She looks at her mother in faked confusion and asks, "What do you mean?" < The doctor is in. >

"Well, for one thing," Sheila says, "she has no respect for her elders."

"No respect? SHAW?" Willow says in disbelief. "How can you say that after talking to her for only two minutes?"

Sheila nods over toward Carol, who's showing off a Louis XIV armoire to Mrs. Haversham. "For one thing, that girl refers to her employers as if they're on a first name basis. She should be calling them Mr. or Mrs. Lawrence, not Bob or Carol."

"She didn't call him 'Bob,' Mom," Willow corrects, knowing it's a risk to try to point out mistakes made by her Mom. "She called him Robert. Believe me, she's very formal."

"She is?" Sheila asks, sparing a momentary glance at the girl searching through the inventory books. "I find that hard to believe."

"Well, look at Buffy's boyfriend, Steve," Willow says with surety. "Shaw's been in Sunnydale for months, and we still can't get her to call him Steve. She still calls him Steven. And then there's that whole 'no contractions' thing." When Sheila's eyes furrow in bafflement, Willow giggles. "Shaw only slips into using contractions when she's nervous or flustered."

Sheila's eyes bounce between Shaw and Willow for a few moments. She turns to Willow and says in Hebrew, ||That sounds strange, especially for a teenager.||

Willow's eyes flash as her mother switches to another language to talk about Shaw in front of her. She glares at Sheila and says, ||Mother, she's very polite and formal.||

||That's my point, dear,|| Sheila counters in her "professional" mode. ||That's not how teenagers act, in my experience.||

||Mother, Shaw's not like teenagers you've handled,|| the Wicca redhead assures her. < Lucky for Shaw. >

||I know, dear.|| Sheila looks back at Shaw, who's now looking through a book with pictures of antiques. ||I've never known a teenager who was polite and formal like you say this girl is.||

||Mother, that's not fair!|| the witch growls, trying as hard as possible to hold her temper. ||First, you're complaining about her not showing respect to her elders, now you're complaining because she does show it.||

Sheila is oblivious to the weaknesses of her own argument, something not that uncommon in Willow's experience. ||I think it's strange that she would be formal like that.||

||Shaw's not like other teenagers.|| < Understatement. >

||I'm glad you agree with me,|| Dr. Rosenberg says with a smile. ||She is strange.||

||She is NOT.||

||She's too formal for a teenager.||

||She's British!||

Sheila stops at that counterargument from Willow. She squints and says, ||I know what a British accent sounds like, Willow.||

Willow groans in despair at trying to get through to her mother. ||Mother, she comes from a military family, and she traveled all over Europe and Africa when she was little. It mucked up the accent. Her father and grandfather were soldiers. That's part of why she's so formal, the whole orderly military upbringing thing. And she's also British, which really makes her different from American teenagers.||

Sheila purses her lips and says, ||I see. Well, I still think she needs some form of counseling. I can sense these things.||

Willow rolls her eyes while smothering a scream over Sheila psychoanalyzing one of her teammates. She's about to give it another futile try when Shaw's voice stops her.

"Mrs. Rosenberg, I believe I have found something appropriate," Shaw offers from behind the counter.

Willow follows her mother over and the two look at the picture that the ranger hands out to the elder woman. It looks like a rod of some sort, with a gold cap on one end, and a hand carved of ivory or bone on the other, the index finger pointing outward as if to point something out.

Sheila looks the picture over and says, "This is what Rabbis use to read the Torah at the synagogue."

"I know," Shaw replies, causing both women to look at her. "I have an interest in ancient history, so I know what this item is for. Does it meet with your approval?"

"Yes," Sheila says, showing some grudging respect for the girl. "I think it'll do nicely. How much is it?"

Willow watches as Shaw glances in another ledger and then at Sheila.

Shaw says, "Five hundred dollars. The piece is from the 1850's, thus it is nearly one hundred and fifty years old. Somewhat recent, but it is in fine condition, according to the notes Robert and Carol have here."

"Cool!" Willow gushes.

Sheila considers the picture and the price quoted for the piece. She says, "Very well, I’ll take it."

"Of course." Shaw smiles at Willow’s mother, but Willow can see it doesn’t reach her eyes. "I will retrieve the piece for you. I will return as soon as possible."

Willow watches Shaw head for the back and turns to her mother. "See, Mom? She’s willing to do the work herself instead of just letting one of the men do it. What do you think of that?"

"Very strange," Sheila mutters with a shrug. "Especially for a teenager."

< Why do I bother? >

*****

A few minutes later, Shaw walks back out, carrying a cotton towel which has the item chosen by Willow’s mother wrapped inside of it. She carefully lays it on the counter and undoes the towel.

"Please be careful and do not touch the ivory, so as not to stain it," Shaw asks politely. She watches Sheila pick up the item and look it over with a critical eye, trying to find any imperfections.

"It’s nice," she concedes.

"Yes, it is," Willow says, her eyes rolling at her mother trying to play Chris Jussel.

Shaw waits for Mrs. Rosenberg to finish her overview. Sheila hands it over to Shaw and tells her, "I’ll take it, Miss. Do you take credit cards?"

Shaw sees Willow grinning at her, and she nods in assurance. "Yes, Lawrence’s takes MasterCard, Visa, and Discover Card." When Willow’s jaw drops at Shaw’s prompt answer, she says, "I made sure to ask Carol of this before I started this morning." She looks back over to Willow’s mother and asks, "Mrs. Rosenberg, would you like me to put this in a box for you? It will make for easier handling."

"Oh, thank you," she says, looking surprised at the girl’s thoroughness.

"You are quite welcome," Shaw replies, taking the item and placing it back on the towel. She goes to the back to pick up a proper box and brings it out to the front. She assembles the box and begins putting paper tissue into it to hold the item and keep any scratches from forming. She says, "This will only take a moment. Oh, and Mrs. Rosenberg?"

"Yes, Miss?" the mental specialist asks with a small grin.

"I call Robert and Carol by their first names because they were most insistent on it," Shaw tells her.

"Oh, I see," Sheila says until she gets the idea of what Shaw was telling her. She looks at the priestess with a look of offense. "Young lady, it is rude to listen to other people’s conversations."

Shaw places the antique in the box and closes it. She takes it over to a table and takes out some twine to tie the box shut. She says, "I know, but I believe that it is also rude to talk about someone in front of them by switching to a language that you assumed I did not speak." She turns back to the counter with the wrapped birthday present, seeing that Sheila is stammering in protest. Shaw takes out a receipt form and says, "But you are correct in one thing; I do seek counseling with Dr. Greene." She glances at Willow’s mother and asks, "You do attend religious services together, do you not? He has spoken of you before."

The woman’s caught off guard by Shaw’s comment about Sydney. "He has?" she asks.

"Yes, Mrs. Rosenberg," Shaw says as she fills out the receipt for the piece. "He often comments on what a fine young woman Willow is turning out to be."

Willow cocks an eyebrow, but holds her fiery disposition down despite Shaw making her mother look foolish. She looks at Sheila puffing herself up at the comment about Willow, so she lets it go. < For now. >

Shaw finishes her writing and looks to Sheila. "Do you wish to pay for this by credit, Mrs. Rosenberg?"

"Yes, please," Sheila says, taking out a Visa and handing it over to Shaw. She watches as Shaw swiftly goes through the routine of processing the credit request. "You’re good at this. How long have you been working here?"

Shaw looks at her watch. "Less than ninety minutes."

Sheila’s eyes go wide in shock. "This is your first day?"

"Yes," Shaw answers, a smile touching her face. "I am lucky in that I catch onto some things very quickly." She nods as the credit approval comes through. She hands the card back to Sheila and says, "Such as languages. Sometimes, it is like they stick in my memory as if by magic."

Willow’s eyes go wide, but Sheila doesn’t get the joke between them. She says, "That’s nice." She picks up the package and says, "Thank you, Shaw. Willow, let’s go."

"Is it all right if I hang out for a bit?" the Amazon asks eagerly. When Sheila cocks an eyebrow, she says, "I just want to make sure Shaw’s doing all right. I can walk home and go to the pool party from there."

"Well, if you’re sure. . ."

"Mom, I’m a senior in high school. Trust me, I think I can handle myself for a couple hours," Willow sighs. Sheila reluctantly nods and leaves, leaving Willow in the store.

< Here it comes, > Shaw wickedly thinks. "Get it over with, Willow."

Willow turns on Shaw and hisses, "Are you NUTS?!? She could’ve gone ballistic and you might’ve lost your job!"

Shaw places the receipt in the cash register and takes the dust rag out of her pocket. "And I could have reacted less professionally to her remarks, which show her to be, well. . ."

"Disrespectful, I know."

"I was going to say, ‘scatterbrained,’" Shaw finishes.

Willow clenches her jaw and says, "Lucky for you. She won’t even get your putdowns."

"Which makes it less than worth making the effort," the woman grins to Willow’s dismay.

"Ohhh, I’m gonna get you for this, Shaw," Willow vows. "And saying that Sydney talks about her. . ."

"He does, Willow," the woman replies softly. She pauses, a look of caution on her pale face. "I said that he has spoken of her. I will not say how he speaks of her."

Willow just glares at her. Carol walks up and says, "Where’s your mother, Willow?"

"Oh, I convinced her to let me hang here," the Wicca says. "She thinks I want to keep Shaw company, but I just wanted to ditch her once she bought Grandpa’s birthday present."

Carol looks at Shaw, surprise in her eyes. "You made a sale?"

Shaw nods, but freezes and looks at Carol. She winces and asks, "Was I wrong to do so?"

Willow smiles at how Shaw’s squirming, but Carol smiles and shakes her head. "No, it’s okay. I’m going to get something for Mrs. Haversham to look at, so please keep an eye on things for a few minutes. I’m glad you handled the sale without any problems."

She walks toward the back, oblivious to the looks shared by the Slayerettes.

*****

As the time nears two o’clock, Carol and Shaw talk about general things, such as their backgrounds, interests, Shaw’s schooling. Shaw thinks about how she and Willow shared Shaw’s lunch break together, and how Carol was surprised to find out that Shaw was going to be late for the party at Steve’s house that afternoon. Carol offered to let Shaw get off at three, an hour early, but she declined, emphasizing that she had already made it clear that she would still attend, albeit a little late.

"So are you going to attend college when you graduate?" Carol asks, genuinely interested in getting to know her new employee better.

Shaw cocks her head. "As of right now, I am leaning towards continuing my education. I still have a bit of time in my junior year, as well as summer vacation, to finalize which universities I want to apply to." She rolls her eyes and says, "As it is, I am already getting ‘subtle’ suggestions from some of the others."

Carol giggles at the stressing of "subtle." "Who and where?" she asks gleefully.

Shaw smiles and buries a laugh. She starts ticking off fingers. "First, the others say that UC Sunnydale will be a good choice for me, particularly if I want to stay here. Staying in California, near most of my relatives, does hold some appeal."

"Family’s important to you," Carol notes with approval.

Shaw nods. "Which leads us to my beloved kinsman, Connor." Carol laughs. "Connor has told me of how his co-worker and girlfriend, Maxine, balances working for him with earning her Master’s Degree at New York University. Maxine has also told me of the school." She bites her bottom lip before finishing. "There is also Trinity College on the East Coast. One of their professors, Sydney Fox, was told by Connor of my interest in ancient history. She told him that all I had to do was ask for an application, and she would do what she could to find a place for me in her class, should I wish it."

"Trinity and NYU are good schools, Shaw," Carol tells her. "You should look into them."

"I plan to, but not for a few months. I have enough on my plate as it is," she says with a smile. < School, patrolling, the Mayor, and now a job. > "But it gives me some preparation for handling life later on."

"Good for you," Carol says with a laugh.

The two women are distracted when the doorbell jingles. They turn to see a young man wearing a sweat jacket and blue jeans looking around furtively. Carol smiles and goes to assist him, but Shaw feels the hairs on the back of her neck rising. She notes the way he holds his hands in the pocket in the front of the jacket.

She starts to call Carol’s name but it’s too late. The man pulls out an old Colt .45 and shouts, "PUT YOUR HANDS UP!"

Carol’s jaw drops in shock as she looks down the barrel of the gun, while Shaw clenches her fists and restrains herself from going into a fighting stance. The holdup man holds the gun on Carol with both hands and snaps, "I said put ‘em up!"

Carol does so, looking very frightened. The man points the gun at Shaw and says, "Put ‘em up, bitch!"

Shaw does so, anger flashing in her eyes.

The young man holding the gun glares at Carol dangerously. "Is there anyone else here?"

Carol swallows. Shaw beats her to the answer, saying, "There are two others in the warehouse." She ignores the shocked look that Carol shoots in her direction.

"You!" he shouts, pointing the gun at Carol. "Tell them to get out here. NOW, or I put a bullet in Pretty Girl here."

Carol worriedly moves to the door leading to the warehouse, leaving the robber and her employee staring at each other.

*****

Carol opens the door and calls out to Robert. "Robert, we have a man with a gun out here. He’s got Shaw hostage."

The men look up in surprise, Robert over the holdup, Steve over the fact that someone got the drop on one of his students. Robert says, "Steve, go out the back and get the police."

"No!" Carol cries out. "He knows there are two of you. If we don’t do what he says, he’ll shoot her!"

Steve curses under his breath. < Damn it! Who the Hell would hold up an antiques store? > "We’d better do what he says. I’m sure you’re covered by insurance."

"True," Robert says, his body holding the same determination that Steve’s does. "I’m more concerned about the people than the money." He looks to his wife and says, "Tell him we’re coming out."

*****

The man holds the gun, which is pointing directly at Shaw’s forehead. "You’d better pray your bosses don’t try any crazy shit."

Shaw cocks an eyebrow and shrugs as best she can, with her hands in the air. "You may be right," she says dryly. She closes her eyes and begins talking under her breath.

The man just smiles, thinking about how easy this job is going to be.

Shaw finishes her prayer and looks up at him as Carol leads Steve and Robert into the main area. The man’s eyes go wide and he backs up, keeping plenty of distance between himself and the men. Shaw takes a good look at the man and his gun as he shouts, "YOU!!!"

"Yeah, me," Steve says. "When did you get out?"

"You know him?" Carol asks in shock.

"Oh yeah," St. Wolf snarls. "This is the moron who tried to rip off the McDonald’s on my and Buffy’s first date last year."

"Oh God," Carol and Robert moan.

The gunman’s finger shakes as he points the gun on Steve. "Oh, I want to blow your ass away, mother fucker. But I’m pressed for time." He waves the gun toward the office. "In the office, NOW! All of you!"

He herds the four workers toward the office, pressing the gun against Carol’s back to prevent Steve from taking him out again. As he pushes her inside, he backs up to maintain some space from the Immortal.

"I’m locking the door, so don’t try calling out or playing the Lone Ranger," he warns the men, Steve in particular. "I’m not stupid. So, just to make sure you aren’t dumb enough to risk someone’s life, I’m gonna take one of the bitches with me." He looks over Shaw and Carol and smiles, a dark look on his face. "Which one, though?"

"I will go," Shaw says before anyone can protest.

"SHAW!" Carol shrieks, gripping the half-elf’s arm. "No! Let him take me."

"It will be all right, Carol," Shaw assures her. She focuses on the nutcase holding the gun at them and in a firm voice, says, "Take me."

The man’s eyes gloss over for a second, a look noticed only by Steve. They clear up and he grabs Shaw’s arm. He roughly drags her out, holding the gun to her temple. "Try anything," he snarls at the two men, "and this cutie ain’t gonna be so cute anymore."

He pushes off from her and says, "Close the door and lock it."

Shaw shares a look with Steve, who doesn’t react. She closes the door, cutting each other off from view. She then locks the door with the key taken from Carol. As soon as it’s locked, the thief grabs her right arm and jams the gun into her ribs. "Come on, sweetheart," he grunts. "Let’s go empty out the register." He force-marches Shaw toward the front.

Shaw rolls her eyes while thinking, < Oh, please help me! Someone help me, please! > She then groans to herself. < I have been hanging with Faith too long. >

*****

Carol whirls on Steve. "We have to do something!"

Steve nods and pulls out his cell phone, handing it to Carol. "Call the cops, tell them what’s going on."

Carol takes the phone and Steve turns to Robert. "We’ll wait a few minutes, then break the door. I hope you don’t mind installing a new one."

"That kid’s more important than the door, Steve," Robert says. "But why’d she let herself be taken?"

Steve just jerks his head at Carol, who’s waiting for the police to answer her call. Robert just nods in appreciation of Shaw not trying any heroic tactics and putting his wife at risk. "Ten minutes."

*****

The armed robber gives Shaw a shove, putting her behind the counter. He stays in the front, giving himself room and holding the gun on Shaw. He takes out a cloth bag and throws it on the counter. "Put all the cash in there. ALL of it."

Shaw silently nods, trying to pretend that she’s afraid of the gunman. She opens the register and starts taking the money out slowly, as if to ensure that she doesn’t drop or miss any of the bills. "Should I start praying again?"

"Why not?" he laughs. "You can ask the Big Guy to keep that shithead from trying anything stupid. It’ll only be bad for you, since I’m taking you with me."

Shaw stops and glares at him. "You will have the money, why do you need me?"

The man lets a sneer cross his face. "Because that Rambo wannabe won’t try anything if I’ve got a poor, innocent, defenseless little girl like you as a hostage. Besides, maybe I’ll have some fun on the way out of the country. . ."

Shaw’s eyes narrow and she begins talking under her breath. The man chuckles, thinking that she’s praying that he’ll not take her prisoner. She finishes putting the money in the sack.

"Put the money in your right hand and put your left hand up," he orders, pointing the gun at her face. "NOW!"

Shaw slowly does so, putting her left hand up in the air. She subtly turns her body a bit to the left, but it’s unnoticed by the robber, intent as he is on the money-filled bag.

He leans over the counter, holding out his left hand while still pointing the gun at her. "Hand it over, girlie!"

Shaw slowly puts the sack in his left hand. Once it touches his hand, she says, "Freeze."

The man seems to pause in his movements for a second, but it’s enough time for Shaw to strike. She grabs the man’s outstretched left arm with her right and yanks him forward. As the paralyzed man tips forward, Shaw’s left arm flies forward with a left cross thrown straight from the shoulder. Her fist solidly connects with his jaw, a slight cracking sound coinciding with the impact. The statue of a gunman falls backward, crashing to the floor with a solid thud that rattles Shaw’s teeth.

The half-elf calmly walks around the counter and over to the prone criminal. She opens his right hand and takes the old Colt out of his possession. She grimaces at the poor condition and places it on the counter. She then walks back to the would-be robber and kneels over the man, who’s still staring at her face through the stars in his vision.

*****

Wazuki Churchill stares dizzily at the fine looking dish that just knocked his block off. She kneels over his body and smiles at him with a touch of amusement.

As he tries to focus on her, rather than the stars dancing in his eyes, he sees the smoldering anger in them, as well as disgust.

"For future reference," she says in a cold, accented voice, "if you plan on robbing people for money, it helps if you know how to disengage the safety mechanism on your weapon of choice."

That’s the last thing Wazuki hears before the black-haired girl rears back and throws a fist into his jaw. The foiled robber blacks out, the unconsciousness thankfully keeping him from feeling the pain of his broken jaw.

*****

Part 5: Sunnydale’s Finest
(And The Cops Show Up, Too. Also, Detective Stein’s Got A Headache THIS Big, And It’s Got Bad Ass Wicca Written All Over It)

Lawrence Antiques
Sunnydale, California
8 May 1999

Carol looks up at Steve and Robert. "The police are on their way. They’ll have someone here as soon as possible, or so they say."

Steve and Robert share her doubtful thoughts. Steve glances at Robert. "Long enough?"

"Give it another minute," the co-owner decides. "Then we’ll go after him."

"Right," Steve says before turning to Carol. "Carol?" She looks at him. "Hit number one on my speed dial and call Buffy’s house. We’ll need some backup."

Carol nods and reopens Steve’s cell phone to call her friend Joyce’s house. But before she can press the button, the sound of a key being inserted into the lock stops her, drawing her attention as well as that of her husband and friend.

She watches Steve and Robert take up positions on opposite sides of the door, waiting for whoever is letting themselves into her office. She holds the phone, ready to use it as an impromptu missile weapon.

The lock clicks and the doorknob turns slowly. Before the person standing outside opens the door, a voice comes through the wood.

"If you try to play Kato to my Inspector Clouseau, Steven," an accented female voice calls to them, "you will be singing soprano for days to come."

Carol and Robert look at Steve in confusion despite realizing it’s Shaw who is speaking. Steve just sighs at her comment.

"Very funny," he mutters.

Now the door swings open to reveal their new hire, standing there looking none the worse for wear. She smirks and says, "Thank you."

Upon realizing that she’s all right, Carol rushes forward and hugs the girl, startling her. "Oh thank God you’re safe!" She steps back to look at the puzzled woman, holding onto her shoulders just to make sure she’s not hurt. Her concern can be heard as she asks, "Shaw, what happened? Where’s that bastard who took you?"

"Lying on the floor." Upon Robert and Carol’s stunned looks, Shaw makes a show of rubbing her wrist and says, "I knocked him out."

"WHAT?!?" Robert and Carol stammer in response. Carol babbles, "HOW?!?"

"With a pair of crosses to the jaw," the girl tells them with a shrug as if it were nothing.

Carol watches Steve walk up to her. "I suppose it didn’t occur to you to not risk your life?" he demands.

Again, a smirk comes to her face. "First of all, I think it was safe to assume he was not a threat in a fighting sense, yes? Not after the way you and Buffy handled him last year." Steve stiffens, but nods yes. "Secondly, I am surprised you did not notice, as I did, that the safety on his gun was engaged. That removed any threat except for his state of mind, which I think is moot at this point."

Carol watches the byplay, looking at Steve as he shakes his head. "How did you get him to stand still long enough to hit him?"

"The usual way."

"What’s the usual way?" Robert asks her, his words being mirrored in Carol’s thoughts.

Shaw cocks an eyebrow. "How much threat do most people consider a short, thin, teenage girl to be?"

Despite her jangling nerves, Carol laughs at that. "That’s telling him, Shaw." She looks at Steve and Robert. "I don’t suppose you two would mind doing the mop up duty and watch that bastard until the police get here?"

"With pleasure," Robert snarls in anticipation of getting his own shots in on the foiled thief. "Flip you for first blow, Steve."

"No, I’ll back you up," the younger man tells him.

As they walk out, Carol tells Shaw, "Shaw, can you come here for a second." The girl walks up to her. Carol says, "How bad does it hurt?"

Shaw’s eyes flash as she gets Carol’s question. "A bit. He was off center on my left cross. Luckily, I am ambidextrous, so I can still write and perform my job."

"Come on," Carol sighs, walking over to the first aid kit she and Robert keep in case of an accident. "Let’s get it wrapped up."

She doesn’t notice the sagging shoulders of her new employee.

*****

Steve and Robert find the front of the store in surprisingly good order, the only things out of place being the man laying in a sprawled heap on the floor and the .45 on the counter. Steve walks over and looks at the gun and nods. "She was right. The safety’s on."

"What an idiot," Robert mutters as he kicks the limp robber. He bends down to check the man and notes bruising on the jaw. "Steve, I think she broke this man’s jaw."

"Shaw likes to be thorough," Steve says in resignation. He leaves the gun on the counter and walks over to where Robert’s standing up. "Still wondering about whether or not to keep her on?"

Robert glares at him before the two break into chuckles. "No, smartass," Robert admits. He looks back in the direction of the office. "She’s a little spitfire, isn’t she?"

"Blame her great-grandmother," Steve jokes. He smiles at Robert’s look of curiosity. "Heredity. Her great-grandma was an Irish redhead."

Robert confesses, "I don’t get you, Steve."

"You’ve heard the phrase, Irish temper." Robert nods. Steve grins wider. "You’ve heard of redheaded tempers." Robert nods again. "Combine them and pass it down three generations."

Robert just laughs and shakes his head. "Trust you to turned an armed robbery attempt into a stand up comedy routine." Steve’s rejoinder is cut off by three people bursting into the store, guns raised.

"Put your hands up NOW!" the single plainclothes man shouts. When Steve and Robert glare at him, he shouts again. "I said NOW!"

"Detective," Robert starts with a snarl, "you know who I am, and I assume you know who my employee is. You know full well that we aren’t the robbers, so put your toy away."

Dave Stein’s jaw clenches, but Steve notes the nods given to him by the uniforms. They holster their weapons. The female officer says, "Detective, it’s obvious they took out the thief."

Stein’s eyes narrow before he yelps in pain. Everyone watches as he doubles over, grabbing his head with one hand and moving his gun to the side. Eventually, he straightens back up, glares at Steve in futile rage, and puts his gun away. He turns to Robert and demands, "Tell me what happened here!"

Robert bristles. "I’m not sure I like your attitude, Detective."

Stein starts forward but is stopped by the male uniform. "Detective, do you want to take the perp and the weapon into custody? We can handle the interviews."

Stein glances at Churchill, the .45 lying on the counter, and back at Steve. He grins and nods to the officers backing him up. "Sure."

The male comes up to Steve, who sees the name Patterson on his tag. "Officer," Steve greets him warmly.

"Mr. St. Wolf," Daniel Patterson offers with the same warmth. "Would you care to tell us what happened?"

Steve begins telling the story, knowing that Robert’s doing the same with Wanda Carstairs, Patterson’s partner. He tells them about Churchill coming in, holding the gun on the women, locking him, Carol, and Robert in the office, and taking Shaw hostage. Before he can get to the part about Shaw knocking the man out, Stein comes over, a sick smile on his lips contrasted by pain shining in his eyes.

"Guess what, St. Wolf," Stein says with false good intentions, "seems to me that you’re going in with the perp."

Patterson whirls on his fellow officer. "What makes you say that, Detective?" he demands in disbelief.

Stein glances and nods at Wazuki. "Seems that St. Wolf knocked out Wazuki, here. But what’s strange is that his jaw’s broken." Steve watches Stein look him in the eyes. "Now, knowing how accomplished you are in the martial arts, and how easily you handled him last year, you should’ve been able to stop him without breaking any bones. So let’s see, we have felonious assault, reckless endangerment, and, oh yes. . ." He looks at the gun. "Disturbing evidence at a crime scene."

"Now wait a minute!" Robert shouts, having heard what Stein’s trying to pull. "That piece of shit tried to rob my store!"

"And he’ll be arrested and charged," Stein shrugs in triumph. He glances at Steve and snickers. "But with the evidence contaminated, I can’t be sure that any decent judge would tolerate such a violation of Wazuki’s civil rights."

Robert’s about to get medieval when Carol’s voice asks, "What’s going on here?"

The five conscious people in the room turn to see Carol and Shaw standing there, baffled looks on their faces. The uniformed cops glance at how Carol’s protectively hovering over the other girl, whose left hand and wrist have been wrapped up in an Ace bandage. Carstairs and Patterson promptly put two and two together and their eyes go back and forth between the injured girl and the woozy, handcuffed Churchill.

Steve sees that Stein also notices the bandage around Shaw’s wrist. Steve smiles and mockingly asks the corrupt cop, "Did I forget to mention that you have two other statements to take?"

Stein glares at the grinning Wanderer, wishing he could shoot the Spook. Steve watches as Stein yelps again, apparently suffering from a very painful headache.

"Or not," Steve shrugs. He glances at the uniforms. "Would one of you do the honors?"

Wanda asks Shaw, "Miss, would you care to give us your statement?"

"About what?" the girl asks her.

"About what happened here," Wanda elaborates.

Shaw nods. "I kicked his ass."

Wanda is caught off guard as everyone save Stein cracks up at her "statement." Unable to fight a good chuckle herself, the officer says, "Can you elaborate, please?"

Shaw tells the story from her perspective and clearly denotes, with a small grin in the Wanderer’s direction, how the infamous Steve St. Wolf was locked in the office while the "little girl" Churchill took as a hostage laid him out with two punches.

When she finishes, she sees Stein glaring at her, hate in his eyes. She innocently asks, "Is something wrong, Detective?"

Seeing his dreams of arresting the source of his misery dashed, the Detective snarls, "Do you realize how much danger you put the public in? I should arrest you for being a menace to public safety."

"For taking out such an incompetent thief?" Shaw asks doubtfully. She glances at the injured robber and says, "I would think that other robbers would thank me for removing their competition."

Carstairs and Patterson snicker, but stop when Stein shoots them a glare. He turns back to the unimpressed Steve and Shaw, trying one final threat. "Do you really expect me to buy that it was her," he says pointing at Shaw, "that took out a gunman and not you?"

"You check the gun for fingerprints, you’ll find hers on them," Steve grins. "Which will bring up the question, ‘How did her fingerprints end up on the gun if she wasn’t the one who disarmed him?’ I’m sure you remember that Shaw wasn’t in the room when you arrived. So that rules out the possibility of me being the only one who handled the gun."

"How do we know you didn’t plant it?" Stein says, a gleam coming back to his eyes.

"Look at the condition of the gun," Steve says with distaste. "It’s in crappy condition. I have my standards."

His headache growing worse once again, Stein is nearly foaming at the mouth. "And just what am I supposed to charge him with, if this girl stopped him from robbing you?"

Shaw answers his question. "Attempted armed robbery, carrying an unlicensed firearm, attempted kidnapping, communicating a threat to kill Steven, communicating a threat to rape me, what I am sure are multiple parole violations, and I assume your Barrister can find all forms of conspiracy charges to lay upon him."

"Who’s Barrister?" the shaking Stein asks in dumbfounded disbelief.

Robert chuckles. "That’s a British term for lawyer, Detective. I think what the young lady is saying is that the District Attorney will have all kinds of fun working out any plea bargains with your suspect. Now if you don’t mind, could you please do your job and remove this piece of crap from my store? We have work to do." He then glances to the uniforms. "Thank you, officers."

Knowing what he’s really thanking them for, Carstairs and Patterson nod their own thanks and share a glance and grin with Steve behind the depressed Detective’s back. Stein just snarls in disgust and gives Shaw and Steve glares of fury before moaning and reaching up to his head again.

The uniforms lift the moaning Bonnie and Clyde wannabe and take him out of the store, followed closely after by the balding detective. The four antiques workers wait until thirty seconds after the cruisers depart to relax and let their guard down.

"God, I’m glad that’s over," Carol breathes in relief. She feels Robert hug her from behind and melts into his embrace, still shivering over the attempted robbery.

"Me too," Robert agrees. He kisses her scalp and glances at Shaw and Steve, who wait for him to say anything. "I can’t believe he was serious about charging you two."

Steve grimaces. "He’s had it in for me since last year," he explains. "And he’s hated Buffy even longer. Even giving him Jack’s card doesn’t get the point through."

"And he’s the Chief of Detectives?" Carol asks in disbelief. "Why?"

"Because any others are honest or killed by vampires," Shaw answers in sorrow. When they look at her, she goes on. "Good officers either try to help someone being attacked or have no knowledge of the vampires beforehand."

"Which leads to them getting killed," Steve finishes.

"Thank God for you and the kids," Robert tells Steve, who smiles in appreciation. He sets his head on Carol’s shoulder. "You want to close up for the day, sweetheart? I’m sure people would understand."

"Absolutely not," Carol answers with fire. She turns in Robert’s embrace and stares him down. "I am not going to let that buffoon make us close down. This is my store and we’re staying open. That’s that."

"Your store?" Robert echoes with a smile. Carol frowns at him. "Just kidding, dear."

"Don’t start or you’re paying for dinner tonight, bucko," Carol teasingly warns her husband. She points at the warehouse. "You and Steve have work to do. So get your butts moving."

"Don’t we deserve a break after what happened?" Steve protests good-naturedly.

"No," Carol counters with a mock frown. She points at Shaw. "She did all the work. Besides, Steve, you only have a half-hour left, I’m not letting you slack off on my work clock. You can be lazy and party at your own house."

As Steve and Robert "sadly" trudge into the back of the store, Shaw calls to Steve, "As Americans would say, ‘Sucks to be you,’ Steven."

"Shut up, Hunter."

Carol and Shaw share a laugh at his expense.

*****

At three fifty-eight, Shaw takes her rag and puts it in the pile of cleaning supplies to be cleaned or replaced. She glances up at Carol, who’s helping out a customer.

< I should wait until she is finished, > Shaw decides. < It is common courtesy. >

The half-elf walks behind the counter and sets her purse in a place to conveniently pick it up once she leaves and keeps an eye on the two other customers, who are just looking around. Carol finishes up and glances around. Seeing Shaw, she walks over to her.

"Shaw, it’s four o’clock. Aren’t you going to the party?" the woman asks.

Shaw shrugs. "I just wanted to be certain you did not need any more help before leaving."

Carol’s eyes light up as she smiles. "That’s very nice of you, but Robert and I can handle it from here." A worried look comes over her face as she glances at Shaw’s bandaged wrist. "Shaw, I truly hope you’ll reconsider staying here."

Shaw blinks. "What?" she asks in surprise.

Carol’s plea spills out, "I know today was a horror show and a half, but I swear to you that this job is not normally like this! I can understand if you never want to set foot in here again, but I just want you to know, I hope you’ll think about staying." She shivers at the thought of day in general. "Shaw, I like you and I know Robert, he’ll love the idea of having such a fiery woman like you working here. And since you know Steve, I know he’d vouch for you." She looks into Shaw’s eyes, looking like she’s all but ready to drop to her knees and beg. "Will you consider staying here?"

Shaw is surprised at Carol’s assumptions, but thinks about it from her boss’s point of view and understands why she would think that Shaw would resign after her first day. She smiles at Carol to reassure her. "Carol, I want to work here. I am not going to give up this job. I would say that I have earned it, however strangely." Her smile grows wider at Carol’s blink of shock over her making light of the robbery attempt. She shrinks a bit from Carol and admits, "I was afraid you would not want me to remain here after my. . . display earlier. I do not exactly fit the accepted mold a young woman, whether properly British or teenaged American."

"I’m glad, Shaw," Carol giggles and feels a great deal of relief. She shares a smile with Shaw as she tells her, "Then Wednesday, five o’clock?"

"I will be here," Shaw grins.

"Good," Carol nods, taking on a "professional" posture. "I’ll see you then." The look melts into a relieved smile. "Now go enjoy yourself.

*****

Part 6: Alter Egos
(Wherein Working Girl Splits Into Party Girl And Gossip Girl)

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
8 May 1999

"Hey, Shaw?"

Shaw turns toward the voice, her hair flying about in a scattering of wavy locks. She sees the person who called her and smiles. "Yes, Buffy?"

The Slayer comes up, a worried look on her face. "Uh, I don’t suppose you’d mind telling me what happened at work today?"

Shaw glances around, spying Willow sitting next to Oz, and Steve flipping burgers over at the pit with Frank Iverson, who’s spending his vacation in Sunnydale to get away from the grind of New York. Shaw feels sorry that Cassandra couldn’t join him, having a deadline to meet in two weeks. She leans into Buffy and whispers, "Who told you?"

"Steve did after he got home." The Slayer glances in her honey’s direction. "But when I asked him how work was, he just growled something under his breath. What happened?"

Shaw starts to answer but is interrupted by the arrival of Xander, Cordelia, Robin, Amy, and Liam. Xander gives her a typical smile and asks, "So what’s it like being Working Girl?"

"Spill, cuz," Amy adds with a gleam in her eyes. "Will gave us the 411 that you’re selling old stuff like Steve. How’d it go?"

Shaw glances at the expectant crowd, seeing that she was going to have to reveal the details of her first day on the job. She looks to Amy and Cordelia. "Can I trust the two of you to relay this to the others, so I do not have to spend the entire party playing, Gossip Girl?"

Most of the others jerk at Shaw’s joke, the exceptions being the snickering Xander and Liam. Xander playfully slaps the ranger. "We’ll be on it like lice on rice, Working Girl. Details, Hunter."

"Very well," Shaw says with evil mischief in her eyes, "just remember that you asked for it." She pauses to make sure that they, and any others within earshot, can hear her. "In my first six hours, I met Robert and Carol; found out that Steven, Jenny, and Giles knew all along where I was going to be working; allowed Robert and Carol to know my ‘official’ background; cleaned several antiques; made my first sale while insulting Willow’s mother; shared lunch with a certain Bad Ass Wicca; talked to Carol about my plans for college; had the man that christened Steven and Buffy’s relationship, by having them kick his ass on their first date, try to rob the antiques store; had a gun jammed into my ribs; allowed myself to be taken hostage for all of two and a half minutes; used two Command spells to freeze the robber; knocked him out and broke his jaw, spraining my own wrist in the process; had that stupid Detective Stein wanting to arrest me and Steven for doing his job; and had Carol begging me not to quit after the first day on the job I had."

Everyone she’s just shared the details of her day with stare at her for several silent breaths before Cordelia turns to Amy.

"And you thought the Restless One’d be bored out of her skull," she drawls.

"I thought you were a clerk," Robin notes with a raised eyebrow, "not Security."

Shaw shrugs and puts her hands in the pockets of the shorts Amy and Willow bought her for the party. "Being multitalented was part of what netted me this job."

"Good point," Xander says through a mouth full of cheeseburger before Cordelia smacks him. "Ow!"

"Don’t eat with your mouth full, Dweeb Boy," the Amazon warrior snaps. "Or you won’t be touching these lips anytime soon."

Xander nods frantically and swallows his food. "Yes, ma’am!"

"See," Cordelia says proudly, "that’s how to keep your man in line."

"If you like ‘em that skinny," Buffy giggles, sparing a look at Steve. "I’m going to kiss the chef and get him on the dance floor. Anyone wanna join me?"

Cordelia glares at Xander. "Why not? Beats watching Mr. Table Manners here eat like a fool." She and Buffy leave the stammering Xander alone.

"Hey!" Xander protests, moving off to get back into Cordelia’s good graces.

Amy finally gets her jaw closed. "I can’t believe you had that type of day, Shaw," she says in disbelief. "I don’t know what it is. . ."

"Hellmouth," the others answer.

She stares them down. "Whatever." She looks at Shaw again. "You sure you’re okay?"

"My wrist healed up within two hours, thanks to my ring," Shaw answers easily. "It was frustrating having to wear the bandage Carol put over it." She smiles though, at the thought of Carol’s concern. "She is a nice woman. And I enjoyed the day, save for the robbery attempt."

"Good for you," Robin nods. He turns to Amy as the stereo system starts up with a new song. "Would you care to dance, my dear?"

Amy smiles, her blue eyes twinkling. "I would be delighted."

As her cousin and her boyfriend walk to the space serving as a dance floor, Liam is the only one left with Shaw. The leprechaun runs his eyes up and down her body, taking in the most perfect mix of moon elven complexion and Celtic hair he’s ever seen… < Okay, so the only mix of moon elven complexion and Celtic hair I’ve ever seen. > He chuckles under his breath. < Let’s hear it for interdimensional relationships. > He turns back to business, taking in how Shaw’s tight t-shirt hugs her upper body and shows off parts he never thought he’d see so soon after arriving in Sunnydale. He checks the high-cut shorts that give the ranger the illusion of long legs and the DKNY espadrilles with the ankle-wrapped straps. The leprechaun, having been married over two hundred and fifty times, has his calculations done in less than five seconds. < Yep. 34b-20-34. Ahhhh, lassie. . . > Regaining his composure and gulping at the sight before him, the red haired Irishman clears his throat to get her attention.

Shaw blinks, having forgotten Liam was still next to her. She arches her eyebrow and asks, "Yes, Liam?"

"I was just wonderin’, lass," he said with that roguish grin, "if’n ye’d like ta share a dance with me."

Shaw’s lips purse for a second. "I would say ‘yes,’ if I thought you could dance to American styles."

"W-w-w-what?!?" Liam sputters. "I’m a bloody GREAT dancer!"

"You told me you use to hang out with the Lord of the Dance," she says with a smile. She glances at the kids dancing to a rock and roll song. "I am quite sure he would never stoop to the low level of dancing to such styles. Are you saying you do?"

"What about you?" he accuses her, green eyes flashing.

Shaw cocks her head and puts her right hand on her hip. "I am a woman. I am allowed to change my mind as the whim suits me." Her smile widens. "Besides, I have practice at this type of dancing, and not that insane ‘PBS pledge’ routine that you and Robin did when you first arrived."

Bristling at her jab at his dance number two weeks ago, not to mention her teasing of the talent he takes great pride in, Liam sputters until he snaps, "Of all the bloody arrogant, insolent. . ." He blows his top and shouts, "Ye’re a stupid, arrogant, tasteless Malarite!"

Shaw’s eyes widen at being called a Malarite. She gets in Liam’s face, emerald eyes locking onto emerald eyes. "And you are a senseless, meddling, irresponsible moron!"

"Well, at least I’m not an arrogant, haughty, ‘oh, look at me, I’m the Hunter, I’m so above you all,’ half-elven pain in the ass!" Liam shoots back.

Shaw’s breath starts coming out in short, angry snorts. "If you wish your ass to be in pain, I can arrange that."

"Oh please!" Liam shouts in mocking of the girl that represents one of his main reasons for staying in Sunnydale. He snaps his fingers. "If I wanted, I could take you any day of the week, lass."

Shaw’s eyes widen in skepticism. "In battle or. . ."

"I’m the tops in either one," Liam boasts proudly, his chest puffing out.

Shaw barks in laughter. "In your dreams."

"You couldn’t handle my dreams!" Liam barks back.

Shaw waves her arms as if she’s giving up on him. "I’ve never met a more infuriating man!"

Liam waves an arm at her. "And I’ve never met a more irritating woman!"

"Really?" Shaw asks in anger.

"Really!" Liam says in anger.

Shaw shouts, "FINE!"

Liam shouts, "FINE!"

Shaw and Liam turn away and head in opposite directions, the leprechaun bursting through the gate to the driveway, the half-elf barging in through the kitchen door. On a perfect cue, the gate and door slam shut, causing everyone to wince at the sounds of the impacts. There’s a long pause as everyone wonders what set the two off this time.

From the portable dance floor, a theory is offered.

"They’re in love," Robin says.

"Yup," Amy goes.

Xander adds, "For certain."

Cordelia nods in agreement. "No doubt about it."

The four look at each other once more, thinking about what they’ve just said.

They all plead, "Gods help us all."

The End

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