The sun had just set on Sunnydale. Tara sat at one of the tables set up on the patio of the Espresso Pump, listening to Dawn vent her frustrations.
“ . . . and then she turns to me and says ‘Why don’t you go to the movies or something?’” Dawn said. “She’s all ‘here’s a couple of bucks, call Tara. Bye.’ She so wanted me out of the house!”
“Oh Dawnie, I’m sure that’s not true; you know Buffy likes spending time with you . . . “
“It is so true! She had something else to do, something more important than me, and she wanted me gone. She says I’m her first priority but she doesn’t really mean it. She never acts like it. And you know that’s the truth.”
Tara took a drink of her coffee, trying to think of a way to reassure the younger woman without betraying any of Buffy’s confidences. She caught sight of someone out on the sidewalk and leapt at the distraction.
The currently blond ex-demon turned at the sound of her name, spied the other girls and waved. She wove around people and tables as she made her way over to Dawn and Tara.
“Hello Tara. Dawn. How are you this evening?”
“Hi Anya,” Dawn mumbled, still finding it difficult to look the other girl in the eye since her stealing had been discovered.
“Hi Anya. Did you just close up the store? Want to join us for coffee?”
“Yes,” she said with satisfaction. “I just concluded another successful day as a merchant. Of course I had to do it alone.” Anya pulled up a chair and sat down. “Xander was supposed to help me but ended up running off to Buffy’s for some big important meeting. Willow’s been barred from the magic shop since the discovery of her secret stash. So I had to close up all by myself. Again.”
“See, I told you she was trying to get rid of me!” Dawn declared triumphantly. “They’re having another one of their special little meetings, to which none of us is ever invited.”
Tara tried to reassure her. “I know it can be frustrating at times Dawnie, but they don’t do it on purpose.”
“Tara’s right, they don’t do it on purpose and, if you ask me, that’s part of the problem. They don’t realize they’re leaving us out because they rarely think about us to begin with. They just assume we’ll always be there to kill something or provide orgasms.” Anya noticed Dawn looking at her incredulously. “Of course, that’s not why you’re there, Dawn.” Anya frowned at her. “Why *are* you there?”
Tara recognized the insulted look on Dawn’s face and jumped in before the other two could start arguing. “We’re all an important part of the Scoobies.”
“No, we aren’t! We’re not really part of the group. I mean, c’mon Tara, be honest. Don’t you ever feel that -- outside of your interactions with ‘The Original Scoobies’ --” Dawn made quote marks with her fingers to emphasis her words, “you don’t really exist?”
“Well, sometimes, yeah. But they don’t mean anything by it. Really.” Tara tried to defend the other three. “It’s just . . . they’ve been together so long and been through so much. They’re . . . “ Tara searched for the right words. “ . . . well, they’re just them, you know? The Gang.”
“I want to be part of the gang too,” Anya insisted. “I’m marrying into it, aren’t I? You would think that would be enough. We should all be part of the gang.”
“Well I’m tired of being the little sister all the time. Let them have their gang. We deserve to be more than bit players. I say we forget them and form our own gang!”
“Our own gang?”
“What?” Tara asked hesitantly. “Can we do that?”
“Sure, why not? It’ll be great. C’mon guys, say yes?” Dawn pleaded. “We could spend time together and do stuff. We could have our own thing. Please Tara?”
“All right, I guess. If you really want to,” Tara said in an effort to placate Dawn.
“Anya?” Dawn turned to her, forgetting about her previous embarrassment in her growing excitement.
“I am interested in belonging. But before I say yes I would like to know exactly what gang membership entails.”
“It’s simple really. You’ve already met the membership requirements. You’re here with us, locked out of another Scooby meeting. And don’t worry – there are no membership fees.”
“No fees? Very well then, I’m in.”
“Cool! We have a gang!” Dawn clapped her hands and bounced excitedly in her seat.
“Yes, but now what?” Anya asked. “Gangs should do things. They have plans. Rules. And we need a name.”
“A name? Rules?” Tara asked, surprised that Anya was taking the idea seriously.
“That’s a great idea, Anya! We can decide on a name and then come up with some -- “ Dawn broke off when she saw Spike walking on the other side of the street.
“Spike! Spike!” She jumped up and waved to get his attention.
Spike saw Dawn waving and crossed the street to join them. The girls cringed at the sudden sound of screeching brakes as Spike strode into the street, disrupting evening traffic. Dawn laughed as they watched Spike flick his cigarette at one of the cars stopped in the middle of the street. The owner leaned out his window and yelled at Spike and then quickly ducked back in and rolled up his window when Spike turned to look at him.
“We should definitely have Spike in our gang, don’t you think? He’s tough and he wears cool leather jackets and he’s in the same boat we are. Besides we don’t want to overwhelm people with our chick power; we need a guy.”
“Speak for yourself on that last part Dawnie.” Tara drawled. “Personally I’m all over the chick power.” She noticed the other two staring at her blankly. “What? Nobody ever gets my spicy talk! Spike would. You know what Dawn -- you’re right. He’s definitely in the gang.”
“I agree.” Anya nodded her head. “I believe we’ve just voted in our first new member. Hooray for us.”
“Ladies.” Spike stole a chair from another table and sat down, sweeping his leather duster out behind him. “What are doing here, sitting all by yourselves? Don’t think I’ve ever seen just the three of you together.”
“We’ve formed a gang.”
“What . . . you three?” Spike was torn between apprehension and amusement. “Gonna take to the streets, are you?”
“It’s a very important gang.” Tara added.
“Congratulations Spike.” Anya smiled at him. “We’ve voted you in.”
“You’ve voted me . . . ? Um . . . okay.” He shrugged. “Not doing anything else tonight. So what kind of gang is this, then? Do we need motorcycles? ‘Cause I already have one of those.” Spike rubbed his hands together gleefully. “Do we get to strike terror into the hearts of the local shopkeepers? It’s been a while since I’ve indulged in a good spot of looting. You know, now that you mention it, I’ve been thinking of upgrading to a color TV . . . ?”
“Spike!” Dawn laughed. “It’s not that kind of gang. We’ve just decided that we’re tired of being second-string players and we’ve formed our own gang. In this gang all members matter equally.”
“Dawn is correct. We are tired of being considered less valuable just because we didn’t watch our high school principal get eaten by a big snake. Some of us are smart enough to know better than to stick around for an impending apocalypse.”
“You mean it’s just the four of us? The others aren’t part of it?”
Dawn could see that Spike was tempted and decided it was time to push him over the edge. “Nope, just us. They’re all over at the house right now, having one of their the-sky-is-falling meetings. A meeting to which we weren’t invited. Again.”
“They’re having a meeting? Something going on?” Spike looked disgusted. “I swear she never tells me anything! The whole damn world could come to an end and I wouldn’t know it until I got my bloody invite to the after- hours party. Well, sod ‘em. All right. I’m in. So what’s this new gang of ours doing?”
“We were just about to figure out what to call ourselves,” Dawn said.
"Right . . . any ideas for a name?" Tara asked the others.
"How 'bout the Fang Gang? We're a gang and I have fangs, so . . ."
"Fang Gang? Puh-leaze . . . how lame is that." Dawn rolled her eyes.
"You're the only with fangs, Spike," Tara said.
"I've never had fangs; not even when I was a demon."
"Fine." Spike sulked. "Why don't you lot come up with something then."
"I have a name . . . we can call ourselves the Spike Girls."
Evening traffic seemed exceptionally loud as silence reigned at the table following Dawn’s suggestion.
"You know . . . like the Spice Girls, but instead of Spice we have Spike. And . . . and we're all girls, right? Well except for Spike of course, but he gets his name in the title so it's ok . . . um, right?" Dawn’s voice trailed off as she looked at the others.
"I didn't like the Spice Girls . . . I found them to be extremely irritating,” Anya frowned. “And I’m not really interested in sounding like one of Spike’s groupies.”
"Uh, yeah Dawnie. I wasn't really a big fan of them myself."
"Spike?" Dawn turned to him.
"But why not?”
“Cause they suck.”
“No they don’t. I mean, they're a music group and you like music. And . . . " Dawn searched for some way to convince him. " . . . and they're English – just like you!”
Spike glared at her, outraged. "They are *not* just like me! And you call that music? You wanna hear real music, you need to listen to the classics." Spike pointed at her. "Sex Pistols didn't need no fancy sound machines, did they? And Joey Ramone - he did just fine without all the pretty lights and pictures."
"I think -- "
"But -- "
“Maybe -- “
"We could call ourselves the Fantastico Four." Tara suggested.
"Isn't there already a Fantastic Four?" Anya asked. "I wouldn't want to be confused with them."
"No, not the Fantastic Four. The Fantastico Four. In honor of Miss Kitty Fantastico -- she could be like our mascot."
"I don't know Tara. It still sounds kinda like the Fantastic Four and they're not very cool. I mean it's not like they ever did a movie or anything, you know?" Dawn said.
"Dawn's right." Anya agreed. "Besides I don't think we should name ourselves after cartoon characters. It is just a little bit too similar to what certain other people call themselves and we are trying to get away from that, remember?"
"Fine then Anya. Do you have any ideas?" Tara asked.
"As a matter of fact I do have an excellent idea. I think it gives us exactly the image we're going for -- very strong and bold and important."
"What is it?"
"The Mighty Dollars."
Silence again fell at the table as the other three exchanged glances.
"You know, on second thought, we don't really need a name, do we?" Dawn asked them.
"No." Tara nodded in agreement. "No, I think we're just fine the way we are."
"That's right. We bloody well know who we are, we can just call us . . . us."
“Fine then.” Anya huffed. “You don’t have to like my name. Although it’s not like yours were any better.”
Spike looked like he was about to argue. “Uh . . . perhaps we should just move directly on to the rules?” Tara said, in an effort to keep the peace.
“Rules? I don’t know about that – not too big on rules myself.”
“Don’t think of them as rules, Spike.” Dawn smiled at him. “More like things certain people do or don’t do that we don’t like to do or not do that our new gang won’t do . . . “ Dawn paused in confusion. “Or will do, as the case may be . . . Oh, whatever. They’re not rules, ok?”
“Oh, yeah. Ok.” He thought about it for a moment. “Hey I got one – no hauling off and popping folks in the nose for no damn good reason.”
“Good! That’s a good one. Now my turn,” Dawn said. “No eye rolling or reassuring pats on the head or shoulder. What am I – a puppy? Don’t think so.”
Seeing that she had everyone’s agreement, Dawn turned to Anya. “Ok, now it’s your turn – what would you like your rule to be?”
“Let’s see – I know! All members of the gang should show the proper respect for capitalism – it is, after all, the cornerstone of any productive society. That’s my rule.”
Dawn smiled and nodded at Anya. “Good job! Ok, that just leaves Tara – “
“Wait! I have another one.” Anya interrupted. “No making fun of ill- timed, if well-intended, honesty.”
“You can’t have two rules – you have to choose one,” Dawn told her.
“Why can’t I have two?”
“We should keep things simple. We don’t want to make things more complicated than they should be,” Dawn explained.
“But you have two.”
“No I don’t”
“Yes you do. You have the rule about being a puppy dog and now the rule about the number of rules. That sounds like two rules to me.”
“But the rule about the number of rules isn’t my rule; it’s everybody’s rule. So it doesn’t count as my rule. I only have one rule myself. You have to choose which rule you want to be your rule, see?”
“No. That doesn’t make any sense at all.” Anya pouted.
Dawn, Tara, and Spike stared at her, waiting.
Seeing that no one was going to back her up, Anya sighed. “Oh, very well. Let me think.” She considered her options. “All right, I choose capitalism.”
Spike smiled sardonically. “Big surprise that, luv.” He turned to Tara. “You’re up pet. What’s your rule going to be?”
Tara smiled. She was really beginning to get into the spirit of things. “I want my rule to be no talking down to others; especially no baby talk – that’s so irritating. Also, no making up weird words or phrases that make no sense and no one understands.”
“Oh, that last one is really good – I hate that. Why twist things all around? It really does make the kind of sense that’s not, you know?” Dawn said.
“Wait a minute! That sounds like two rules to me.” Anya protested. “You said we could only have one rule each.”
“Oh . . . yeah. Well, how about if we share rules? Shared rules can be different because they affect more than one person; like the general rule about the number of rules. Can we do that?” Dawn asked Anya.
“Who am I going to share with?”
“You can share with Spike.” Tara pointed out.
“C’mon Anya, please?” Dawn pleaded.
“Oh, very well then. You can have your shared rule.” Anya turned to Spike. “We need to come up with a rule of our own to share.”
They stared at each other, silently considering their options.
“I have it! No mocking people just because they used to be a demon,“ Anya gestured to Spike, “ . . . or currently are one.”
“That’s a bloody good one – I’ll go for it!”
“Good, so that’s . . . , let’s see, . . . one, two, three . . . ok, that’s six rules. I think that’s enough, don’t you?” Dawn asked her gang.
The rest all nodded in agreement.
“All right. We’ve gotten the rules taken care of. We should have a mission or something, don’t you think? I mean, now that we have our gang together what are we going to do?” Dawn asked the others
“I dunno.” Spike shrugged. “Fight the big evil I guess.”
Tara looked at the others. “Do we even have a big evil? Seems like things have been really quiet lately -- just run-of-the-mill vampires and demons. And there haven’t even been that many of those.”
“Yeah, you’re telling me. ‘S not even challenging anymore.”
“What about those three guys?” Anya chimed in.
“What guys?” Tara looked around the table.
“You know, the three nerds that went to high school together and have decided to band together and take over Sunnydale.” Dawn proceeded to fill her in on the recent activities of the Nerds of Doom.
“I didn’t know about them. I swear nobody tells me anything anymore.” Tara huffed.
“Oh yeah. I’d forgotten about them. I’m having a real hard time taking them seriously. Too many years of feeding sorry gits like that to Dru, most probably. She always did go for the young and nerdy ones for some reason . . . “ He looked around at the women, “Uh . . . except for me, of course.”
“What, you never ate a nerd?” Tara teased him.
“I most certainly did not! I have standards, you know, and those wankers would never have measured up.” Spike smiled at Tara, turning on the charm. “Pretty little bits like you three were much more my style.”
Anya twirled a strand of hair around her finger. “Dracula said almost the exact same thing to me once,” she sighed.
“So if there’s no big evil to fight – what are we going to do?” Dawn thought about it. “I mean this is Sunnydale – once you finish off the monsters there’s really not much left.”
They contemplated their options in silence.
“We could play miniature golf.” Dawn suggested.
“Miniature golf?” Anya perked up.
“We are not playing miniature golf! I mean, come on -- Me? On a miniature golf course? I bloody well don’t think so. What if someone saw me? I have a reputation to maintain. Certain people may have forgotten but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m still the Big Bad.”
“Spike’s right. He’s really not the miniature golf type.” Tara got a devilish twinkle in her eye and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Besides, I’ve noticed lately that he seems to be prone to getting cramps. He probably shouldn’t play any sports; we wouldn’t want him to pull a muscle or anything.”
“Ok, miniature golf is out. So what else is there for out-of-work big evil fighters to do?” Dawn asked.
“Well, it is Friday night. I could get us in a poker game – you ladies interested?”
“Uh . . . Spike?” Tara said tentatively, “I don’t know if demon poker is really a good idea for Dawn . . . ”
“What -- are you kidding me? She’d be perfect.”
“You bet! Cute little thing like you – they’ll drop their guard. And I figure -- what with all the stuff you’ve nicked lately -- you’ve probably developed pretty quick fingers. Always a plus in a card game.”
“You think I’m cute?”
“Can we play for money again? Not kittens. Money.”
“No! No poker.” Tara watched Dawn pout. “Maybe it’s me but somehow cheating at demon poker just doesn’t yell ‘Beware – big evil fighters have arrived’. We’re supposed to be deciding what our purpose is, remember?”
“Well, if you ask me, we don’t need a purpose; we’re fine just the way we are,” Anya said. “Besides, there’s a carnival at the new high school tonight. Sounds to me like it’s going to be much more fun than an evening spent dodging flying demon goo. They’re going to have rides and games and stuff. As a local merchant I was asked to contribute door prizes.”
“Did you give them anything?” Dawn asked.
“A box full of slug candles and chicken feet.”
“Remind me not to buy any raffle tickets.” Spike grumbled.
“A carnival sounds like fun – what’s everybody say?” Tara asked the others.
They all agreed enthusiastically and got up to leave.
“Hey guys! Whatcha doing?”
They turned at the sound of Buffy’s voice and watched her walk up with Willow and Xander.
“What are you guys doing here?” Anya asked.
“Yeah – you finish your big important meeting?” Dawn glared at Buffy.
“Decide how you’re gonna save the bleedin’ world again?
“Ha ha,” Buffy said sarcastically. “Not quite. I thought I saw a demon army last night when I was out patrolling. Turns out they’re just filming some monster movie. So, no big. We ended up just hanging out and having pizza. But it was getting kind of boring, so . . . “ she shrugged.
“Well, enjoy the rest of your evening. We were just leaving.” Spike settled his duster around him, patting his pocket to make sure he had his cigarettes.
“You guys are leaving?” Xander looked at Anya. “But we just got here.”
“You can have our table, if you like,” Tara said sweetly.
“Yeah. Have fun. Bye.” Dawn said, giving a brief wave.
The new gang turned to leave.
“Dawn.” They turned back to see Buffy frowning. “I think its time for you to head on home. It’s getting late and you have school tomorrow.”
“Actually, Buffy, tomorrow is Saturday. I don’t have school on Saturdays. Unlike you, who ditched so many classes you were practically a Saturday School fixture.”
“Dawn!” Buffy rolled her eyes in exasperation.
“Oh Buffy, don’t get upset with her. She didn’t mean anything by it.” Willow patted Dawn’s shoulder reassuringly. “Right Dawnie? C’mon, whaddaya say?”
“Anya! I’m right here. Where are you going?” Xander ran after Anya to stop her from leaving.
“Sorry Xander, I’m busy. You’ll just have to entertain yourself.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“Well, I don’t know. Go count your tools or something. That always seems to make you happy. Or you could go home and lecture to the walls on proper human behavior in a condescending manner. I’m sure they would benefit greatly from your tutelage.”
“Tara, are you leaving?“ Willow reached a hand out, as if to stop Tara from walking away.
“I thought we had talked about meeting for coffee or something. I’m free. We could do it now.”
“Did we? I’ve already made other plans. Sorry, I must have forgotten. I’ve been having problems with my memory lately.”
Buffy drew Spike off to the side.
“So, I have a bit of free time right now. I thought we could go, you know, patrolling.”
She gave him the look that said patrolling really meant ‘sex’.
Spike looked at her. “Sorry pet, already have plans.” He dropped his cigarette, then paused to crush it under his boot. “Maybe some other time.”
“But I have time now and I don’t have anything else to do. I just feel up to a bit of, you know, patrolling. As a way to kill some time.”
“Nope. Sorry. Tell you what Slayer – you still have that massage thingy you got for your birthday? Why don’t you run on home, give it a spin? That oughta kill some time.”
Spike turned his back on Buffy and smiled at Dawn, Anya, and Tara. “Come along ladies. The night is still young.”
Dawn smiled back. “Big doings still to do.”
Anya linked arms with Tara. “Valuable prizes still to be won,” she said as she and Tara moved out onto the sidewalk, leaving Willow and Xander behind without a glance.
“C’mon bit.” Spike slung his arm companionably around Dawn’s shoulders. “Let’s go win ourselves some prizes.”
“You’ll win me a prize? How?”
“They probably have a shooting gallery and I’m in the mood to knock off a coupla ducks . . . ”
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