Kennedy came sliding down the hallway from the front door on her socks. "Wheee!"
She smacked into the side of Andrew's chair, catching it before it tipped over. "Hey!"
"Wheee!" Dawn smacked into Kennedy's back, causing her to fall against Andrew. The chair tipped over landing all three of them on the floor in an almighty crash.
"Hey!" Snapped Andrew again, louder this time but muffled by the weight of both Kennedy and Dawn on his head.
"Hey yourself," Kennedy replied, getting to her hands and knees which sent a giggling Dawn even further to the floor. Standing, she grabbed Andrew by the wrist and yanked him up too.
"I'm so glad Giles insisted on getting all the floors polished before he went away," Willow said dryly. She picked another plate from the drainer and started to dry it.
"That's probably why he wanted it done before he went away, because he knew all the fun we'd be having with it," Xander said. "When's he going anyway?"
"Tomorrow afternoon." Andrew rubbed the side of his head where it had connected with the kitchen floor.
"Shh." Willow put her finger to her lips to quiet him down.
"She can't hear us Will, she's upstairs in the shower."
"Just let's not talk about it. This can't be very easy on her and I don't want her upset by us being big-mouths." Willow dried another plate.
"She's a big girl. I think she can handle it."
"If you want a return to sulky, miserable, not-very-nice Buffy then go ahead and say something. Personally I don't."
Kennedy slid up the hall again and caught hold of the back of Andrew's chair to stop herself before she smacked into the kitchen cupboards and Willow. Leaning over, she gave the witch a quick kiss. "I'm with you, baby. Buffy's actually tolerable now, let's keep it that way."
Willow scolded her with a finger wagged under her nose, but she couldn't help smiling just a little.
"You people talking about me again?" Buffy's voice came down the stairs followed by the Slayer herself.
"Nu-huh, not me, not us," Willow said quickly.
Dawn whizzed down the corridor on her socks heading for Andrew's chair, the kitchen cupboards or Willow, which ever got in her way first. Turned out to be Buffy, who caught her sister around the waist. Dawn's momentum and the slippy, polished floor meant they did a half circle together before they stopped fully.
"I so have to try this." Xander kicked his shoes off and hurried up the hall.
"Dawn, does this look like a skating rink?" Buffy asked, not letting go of her.
"Kennedy did it too!"
"Cheers, rat," the young Slayer smirked.
Buffy smirked too; Kennedy and Dawn had seemed to be getting each other into scrapes all week, but the sliding thing did look like fun. If only she was Dawn's age again and could get away with stuff like that.
"Tell you what. Slip and slide as much as you like, but let's keep it for non-busy times like straight after breakfast when everyone's in here so we can avoid any..."
"Geronimooooooooooo." Xander slammed into Andrew's chair, tipping it so hard that he went over the top of the blonde man and both of them flew into Buffy and Dawn. With Buffy's arms still around Dawn's waist, she didn't have time to catch either of them or even react before all four were bowled into Kennedy and then Willow whose slippy hands lost their grip on the stack of plates she'd been about to put away and flying crockery crashed to floor around them.
Everyone had picked themselves off of the kitchen floor and after rubbing their sore spots and mock-glaring at Xander, they carried on as normal.
Xander was sheepishly sweeping up the broken crockery when a car pulled up outside. He stopped to look out the window and Kennedy, who was sitting at the kitchen table, got up to look too.
"It's a taxi," he said.
"It is. Wonder who..." She cut her words off when she saw who was getting out of the back doors. "So cool."
She ran out the back door barefooted, 'ouching' as the pebbles dug into her soft flesh, and grabbed Rona in a Slayer-strength hug. Rona returned it chuckling.
"Are you really that happy to see us?"
"Are you kidding? This place is so dull I'd be happy to see my old math teacher," she quipped. "Not that there isn't other reasons I'm happy of course. It'll be good to have the gang back together."
Vi finished paying the driver and accepted her own hug from the short Slayer. "Yeah well we've got some news that should make things more exciting."
Xander had come down the back step from the rear door and smiled widely at the two ex-potentials.
"Good to see you girls. Come on in to the house of madness."
They grinned and dragged their bags past him and in through the door.
"Make yourselves comfortable," he offered. "Juice, tea, soda?"
They both chose sodas and sat at the kitchen table looking weary but happy to be there.
"So spill?" Kennedy asked sitting across from them. "What's the excitement?"
"We need to speak to Buffy; really, she'd know what to do," said Vi.
"Buffy's taking Dawn to school right now, but she shouldn't be long," Xander said.
"Okay well it's like this: we were in Cleveland waiting to get a bus and Rona wanted a burger..." Vi began and paused for drum roll.
"Okay, gotta say dramatic tension is really building after that statement," Xander said.
"We found some vampires. A lot of vampires," Rona finished bluntly.
"How many are we talking?" Kennedy's interest was piqued; she was itching for something to do.
"Lots." Vi looked around the kitchen, taking in its family-like feel, even though they'd only been living here a little while. "I think I counted about twenty."
"I'm thinking closer to thirty, but it was dark and they were all sorta clumped together so it was hard to tell." Rona looked around the kitchen too, hoping someone had left some food lying around.
"We were going to try and do something ourselves but then when we saw how many there were..."
"No, you did the right thing," Xander told them.
"Yeah," Kennedy agreed, sounding official. "A dead Slayer is a useless Slayer."
Rona raised an eyebrow. "Well yeah."
Giles came from the front of the house, his shoes sounding loud on the wooden floor. He called ahead of him. "Post is here...and what was that God-awful crash I heard while I was in the shower?" He came into the kitchen, his eyes still on the envelopes in his hand.
"That would have been me." Xander raised a hand, sheepish again.
Giles looked over at him with a small smile and a raised eyebrow. "Ah that explains everything," he said dryly.
The Watcher turned, surprised at the sound of Vi's voice, but he quickly recovered and, smiling warmly, stepped to the table and shook first Vi's hand and then Rona's. "Hello, it's good to see you both. Did you find the house okay? We're a bit hidden away out here."
"Yeah, well the difficult part was getting to the cab with out turning into vamp food," Rona told him.
"They found vamps, Giles. Sounds like it could be a whole pack of them." Kennedy filled him in.
"Ah, well I guess you'd better give me the details." He went to brew some tea, stepping carefully around the big piles of broken plates while giving them a bemused look.
Xander followed his gaze and jumped up to finish the job. "I'm on it."
Giles offered the back of his head a rather strained smile before saying to Kennedy. "There's a letter in that pile for you."
"Is there? Cool." She went to flip through the envelopes on the counter.
Giles poured his tea and returned to sit at the table himself. "Right girls, why don't you start at the beginning and tell me everything you remember."
Buffy pulled slowly up to the curb at the front of the school. "Someone'll be here to pick you up at three, okay?"
"I might be able to catch a ride with Fen, she goes my way anyway," Dawn said, making to get out of the car.
"No, someone'll pick you up, just to make sure." Buffy was firm.
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Please Buffy, don't do the whole over-protective thing again. I know things were bad and I handled it all wrong, but it's been a whole week and nothing's tried to eat me, sacrifice me or...come on to me since. This school is safe now, safe and boring."
"Thanks to you," Buffy said with a hint of pride in her voice. "Not that you're ever allowed to pull something like that again," she finished sternly.
"I know, I know, I know," Dawn asserted, before turning wide, innocent eyes to her sister. "So can I catch a ride with Fen? Her car is way cooler than this thing."
"No Dawn, someone'll pick you up. It's not an over-protective thing, it's a guilt thing. My guilt...for neglecting you."
Dawn rolled her eyes again. "Great, so to make up for your guilt I get stuck with quality time in crappy mom mobile."
"Hey!" Buffy said, hurt.
Dawn winced at the tone. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. I'm all for quality time. You don't have to feel guilty though Buffy, you were all heart-broken and stuff. I remember how crazy I was over RJ," she smiled, "and that was just a spell. You were going through it for real."
Buffy smiled at her with out speaking for a moment, then she nodded. "Thank you."
"Oh God, I just brought it all up again, didn't I? Willow told me not to..."
"Dawn it's fine. Now go to school before you're late." Buffy made a shooing gesture with her hands.
"Yeah the last thing I want is another day of detention." Dawn kissed her on the cheek and opened the car door...quickly she swung it shut again. "Quick, drive, go around the block."
Buffy sat there confused. "What? No, why?" Peering out the windshield she looked up the sidewalk and saw a vaguely familiar figure walking down. "Ooh isn't that the weird boy who helped you?"
"Yes, now go before he sees us."
"Because otherwise I'll have to walk into school with him and every time I see him since then it's been all weird and awkward."
"Like when I tried to thank him and he just didn't care, but he didn't leave either, he just stood there staring and I stared back and it was a whole stupid staring thing and Fen made fun of me and it's been like that in class and the halls ever since, and I don't need to start my day like that." Dawn was breathing heavy by the time she'd got that sentence out.
Buffy was barely paying attention. "I should really go and talk to him, find out who he is...or what he is."
"No, you can't!" Dawn squealed as they both watched him pass the car and head up the path to school.
"Why not, it's my job to deal with non-humans," Buffy pointed out.
"Not anymore! You're retired, remember?"
Buffy pouted. "Oh yeah. Still it could be, like, community service or something."
"Buffy, you can't go terrorizing my fellow students. You're not the school counselor anymore."
"I guess you're right." The blonde turned to her sister. "You can do it, not the terror part, just speak to him, find out what his story is."
"Did you not just hear me say I can't speak to him? That he's weird?"
"No. Now go on, I just heard the bell."
When Buffy entered the kitchen thirty minutes later it was to quiet chaos. Books were strewn across the large kitchen table with Giles and Xander pouring over them. Willow had pulled a tall stool over to the counter and was working on her laptop from there.
"Okay, this doesn't bode well," she said with a smile. Secretly she was pleased at the sight of a research party, not for the actual research of course, but it did bring back fond memories.
The blonde Slayer jumped at the two voices coming out of nowhere and looked around for the source. Vi popped into view.
"Hey, where'd you come from?" She looked around Xander's chair to see Rona resting against the bottom cupboard, a big book on her lap, her eyes half closed. She looked up long enough to give Buffy a little wave.
"It seems that we have a new threat on our hands," Giles told her.
"Threat? Ha! We laugh in the face of threats."
"Yes Xander. Rona and Vi encountered rather a large group of vampires last night."
"Are you guys okay?"
Vi nodded, Rona grunted or it could have been a snore. "Long flight," Vi explained. "We were pretty scared. We thought we were following one, you know, but it turned out to be a lot more than one. We've told Giles everything."
"Yeah so now we're doing the usual. Checking the 'What's on...' Pages for undead day trips and the like," Xander filled her in. "Word has it that the Hellmouth Annual Holiday may be coming up and all the vampires are bringing their families out here to have picnics and watch the evil fireworks."
Giles gave the young man a stern look. "When you have quite finished, I'll get to the point."
Xander held up his hands, palms out, in a placating gesture and went back to his boring book. Buffy sunk down in the chair next to him and gave Giles her full attention. "Hit me Giles."
"Buffy, do you remember the circumstances under which Spike first came to Sunnydale?"
Buffy paled a little and took a moment before answering. "Uh...yeah. It was to kill the Slayer...to kill me."
"No, I'm sorry; I meant what was going on at the time, the important calendar event that we were researching when he first made himself known."
"Ooh, ooh I know," Xander piped up. "It was parent teacher night at school. Spike gate-crashed."
"Yeah. Mom hit him over the head with an axe, it was so funny," Buffy joined in.
"Joyce was the best," Xander agreed, smiling fondly.
"The Feast of St. Vigeous?" Willow asked from the counter.
"Who?" Xander asked and Buffy together. Vi looked on with equal confusion. Rona snored quietly on the floor.
"The Feast of St. Vigeous," Giles confirmed. "A night when..."
"No I remember," Buffy said. "It's coming back to me. Something about a vampire crusade that traveled around leaving a blood bath behind them. Well we stopped it once, when I was just a little bitty Slayer, we can stop it again."
"We never actually stopped it before though. Spike pounced before the big night and you decimated the Master's numbers so much it never happened," Willow reminded her.
"Oh yeah, but still..."
"Buffy, I'm afraid that's not all. This year the Feast of St. Vigeous lands on the same night as La Notte Aumentera."
"And that is..?" Asked Xander, beating Buffy to it by a split second.
"Loosely translated it means 'The Night He Rises'."
"Who?" Buffy got there first this time.
Giles shrugged. "As of yet I have no idea. According to my very rough copy of the Mesopotamian calendar, La Notte Aumentera is the one night in one hundred years that the stars and planets are in perfect alignment with..." He paused and looked at each of them in turn.
"With...?" Four people asked simultaneously.
"...The Hellmouth. The power surrounding the Hellmouth will be extremely great on this night, making it very easy to open. I think these vampires are planning on raising someone, or more likely, something, very important."
"Something like this Vigeous guy?" Buffy asked.
"Possibly, but while St. Vigeous was certainly bad in his day, you have defeated vampires far more capable than he. I believe they will attempt to raise some demon far stronger than that to help them celebrate their feast. Maybe more than one. With half of our books gone, swallowed by the earth, there is very little I can be sure of, which is why it is essential we don't let them get as far as that."
"So what do we do?" Vi asked. "I mean, where is the Hellmouth around here? Is it under the high school again?"
"No it's not, it's..." Buffy suddenly realized she didn't know where the Hellmouth was in these parts. She looked to Giles only to see that he too looked blank with a side of embarrassed.
"Looks like Top Watcher doesn't know everything, after all," Xander quipped.
"No, but I still know more than you," Giles shot back. "The location of these places isn't made public knowledge, not even to the Watchers of Slayers. As you all know they are highly dangerous places and it's not unheard of for Watchers to go bad. I wasn't even aware of the exact location of the Sunnydale Hellmouth until that tentacled beast ripped up the bloody floor in my library," he sighed in frustration.
"S'okay Giles, I can look up the Council records and get it from there. They'd have maps and stuff wouldn't they? I mean, someone must know where it is." Willow started tapping on her laptop.
"You have access to the Council's confidential files?" Giles asked.
Willow smiled sheepishly. "Well yeah, just a little something I was working on over the summer. I was going to tell you, but I..."
"But you...?" Giles prodded her.
"I was waiting for a chance to show Buffy the files they've got on her first. You know, in case you didn't let me."
"They have files on me?" Buffy sounded nervous and excited.
Willow nodded with pure excitement. "Uh huh. Pages and pages." She sobered when she looked back at Giles. "Are you mad at me?"
"Hm, what? No, actually I'm delighted. This will make setting up the new order that much easier, I'm just wondering how..any of it's left. I was still in London when the bomb went off, the building was decimated and when I was there a few weeks ago it didn't look much different."
Willow shrugged. "They must have had back-up files some place else. It's not unusual." Rona happened to give a much louder snore just then. "Shouldn't we wake her up so she can go to bed?"
"No beds yet. The sleeping barn is all finished but the beds haven't arrived yet," Xander explained.
"But you knew Vi and Rona were coming today," Giles said.
"Which is why the barn's done," retorted Xander, slightly annoyed. "You ordered the beds, not me."
"I never ordered the beds," Giles responded. "No one told me I was ordering the beds."
"Guys, did anyone order the beds?" Buffy asked.
Both men turned defiant faces towards her.
"Just great," she said rolling her eyes.
Vi stood up. "It's okay, really, we can sleep anywhere. It'll be just like old times. Except without the fear of imminent death, except there is." She shrugged and used her foot to shake Rona awake.
"Mmmgggl Get off my camel." Rona woke up to everyone staring down at her. "What?"
"I never touched your camel," Xander assured her seriously.
"Just don't get me started on the sand." She struggled wearily to her feet. "So do we know what the vamps want yet?"
"To bite us and drink our blood." Buffy said helpfully. Rona just blinked at her. "On top of that we think they want to raise some demon or other to play Santa." More blinking.
Xander got up from the table. "Why don't I show you mine and Andrew's room and you can get some shut eye while Giles phones up about those beds? When you wake up we can fill you in on the plan." He started up the kitchen stairs and they both followed him gratefully.
Giles glared after him, clucking his tongue, then with a sigh he went to find the telephone book. While he looked through it for the number of the nearest and cheapest wholesale furniture store he reminded Willow about looking up the site of the Hellmouth.
"Will do, Giles," she assured him. "Me and Buffy are just going to let Kennedy and the girls know what's going on."
He nodded distractedly as he dialed the number through.
Willow and Buffy left via the back door, giggling.
"One day Xander is going to make Giles' head explode, I just hope I'm there to see it," Buffy giggled.
"I don't. The size of Giles' brains, they'd go everywhere." Willow wrinkled her nose at the thought.
"True. I hadn't thought of it like that," Buffy said.
Willow strode ahead of the blonde around the flower and herb patch, which was flourishing now, and through the hedge out into the back field that they had set aside for training.
Kennedy spotted her girlfriend coming through the gap in the hedge and called out a hello.
"Kennedy. We've got a code red," Willow called back.
Kennedy nodded and started to walk over; as she did she slipped an envelope out of the waistband of her shorts. "Hey guess what I got in the mail. A letter from F..." She looked up in time to see Buffy come through the gap and her words stalled for a second, but she rallied. "Fate."
"Fate?" Buffy asked confused, while Willow made frantic and very obvious hand gestures meaning put the damn letter away.
"Uh, yeah, you know, like the Lotto numbers," Kennedy improvised while shoving the letter back in her shorts and crumpling the envelope in her hand.
"Fate sent you a letter with the Lotto numbers in it?" Buffy asked dubiously. "Well I hope you win." She sauntered on past Kennedy to debrief the rest of the girls on the little they knew so far.
Behind her Willow was shaking her head in reproof and Kennedy was silently arguing "What the hell was I supposed to say?"
Buffy took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was nice that her friends cared enough to try and protect her, even though it wasn't necessary. If Faith wanted to write to Kennedy and not her then, well, screw it.
Faith walked through the metal gates into the cafeteria, grabbed a couple of trays from the stack at the end of the counter and got in line.
"I'm starving," Janey said from right behind her.
Faith smirked at her cellmate over her shoulder. All week they'd been training in the mornings and she had been filling the new Slayer in on details of her Calling and the little blonde was starting to act and think like a Slayer now, or as much as one that had never seen a real, dead vampire as it was possible to be. But she was also still the shy, scared seventeen year old thrown into a maximum security prison for an accident that she had been in the week before.
Despite this, her youthful exuberance just kept slipping out. It was a refreshing change to the general day-to-day despair that usually choked the place.
Faith grabbed some plates from the women working kitchen and inspected them both before placing the biggest on Janey's tray. "We'll grab something to eat, keep our energy levels up, then we go exercise. We can't really spar out there in front of everyone but we can do chin ups, or I don't know - play some B-ball, there's always a few pick-up games goin' on."
"Can we run laps?" Asked the eager youngster.
Faith laughed. "Sure. Might look a little funny, but hey, who cares right?"
"Its not like you have to worry about that Faith, you'll be out of here in a few days, so who cares what anyone thinks." Janey sounded sad and it made Faith frown. Faith saw the blonde's knuckles go white as she gripped the tray.
"Don't break it." She said in a low voice nodding to the tray. She saw Janey consciously make herself relax and continued. "Anyway, there's no guarantees. Things might go belly up on Thursday and you'll be stuck with me for the next ten plus years." She pointed out a table and they made their way towards it.
"That's not likely though, is it Faith. I saw the way you were smiling after the appointment with your Lawyer yesterday."
Faith shrugged. She couldn't deny that Gunn'd had nothing but good things to say when he had visited. It seemed like the appeal was coming along nicely and the court appearance was just going to be a formality. Unless, of course, they got a judge and jury that just really didn't like her or any of the people representing her. Or if she fouled up between now and then, got herself in trouble and sent to solitary or worse. That would pretty much confirm the judicial system's opinion of her as being rotten to the core and her good girl routine an act to get away with her crimes. But if she kept her nose clean for just another two days and won the jury over with her sparkling personality then she might just manage to pull off her own miracle snowstorm.
She spoke over her shoulder to Janey who was trailing behind her through the tables. "Yeah well if I go I'm gonna make sure you're not far behind- ooof." Faith's head snapped back to the front to see what she'd banged into.
Lolitta had caught the edge of her tray and pushed it back hard into Faith's stomach. She looked like she thought it was a great joke. Faith's mind started up the mantra 'Two more days, two more days, two more days' as she looked calmly back at the madly grinning Italian-American woman.
"What?" She asked, trying to keep her voice even and not failing too dismally.
"Just catching up with an old friend. Word has it you'll be going soon. I wouldn't want you to leave without something to remember me by."
"And what would that be Lol?"
Lolitta looked up at the ceiling for a second as if seriously considering the question before meeting Faith's steely gaze with a shark-like grin. "Oh I dunno, I was thinking some broken bones, maybe a dismemberment or two."
Faith shook her head in a pitying way and tried to walk around her without a word, but the bigger woman still had a firm hold on her tray and now pushed it hard into Faith's stomach.
Faith felt the edge of the tray dig into the skin under her breasts but she didn't move backwards, it was like pushing against a solid wall.
Lol's grin turned to a snarl. "I don't know what happened to you Wilkins to make you think you're so much better than the rest of us, but it's a lie. You were scum the day you first walked in here and you always will be. Weak, pathetic scum." She hissed and slapped her palms on the underside of the tray causing it to tilt upwards and spill its contents over the dark Slayer. Hooting and clapping broke out around the cafeteria.
Faith very slowly let the now empty tray fall from her hands before she had a chance to bring it down on Lolitta's fat, ugly head and took a step back out of reach. For the other woman's safety.
Janey had no such qualms. Already drunk off the power of the Slayer and juiced from training all morning, she surged past Faith and nearly managed to punch Lolitta right on the nose before the dark Slayer took in what was happening and grabbed her loose collar, dragging her back sharply.
"Hey chill, she's not worth it," Faith said calmly, the muscles in her arms were standing out with the force of keeping Janey at her side.
Lol and her pals were laughing openly and quite a few inmates at surrounding tables were joining in. Before Faith had made her escape most of these women had been scared of her, or at least respectful enough to look the other way when she was around, but the balance of power had shifted. They'd all either seen or heard about how she'd been taking regular beatings from Lolitta and they figured she'd gone soft. She was no threat to them now.
Janey was still struggling to get out of her grip and Faith snapped. "Will you cut it out and stand still!" before shoving her behind her out of the way.
"Aw, isn't that cute? Wilkins has got herself a little guard dog." Lol mimicked reaching out to pat Janey's head.
Janey knocked her hand away growling. "Don't touch me."
Which just made Lol laugh even louder.
"Guess Faithy needs protection now she's too weak-assed to look out for herself," said one of the henchwomen who had been standing watching the show with apparent amusement, although it was difficult to tell if she was smiling widely or the victim of an horrible disfigurement.
The other one chimed in with: "Such a pretty little bitch though. She's wasted on that piece of s..."
"Shut your mouth, ape-woman, before I come over there and help ya," Faith cut her off.
"Like you could." Hooted Lol. The commotion had gathered most of the cafeteria around it now,and finally two guards began wandering over to see what the fuss was all about. Lol saw them over Faith's shoulder and decided it was time to make a move. She walked away from the scene, through the tables, and as she did she called back over her shoulder. "Be seeing ya, Wilkins, don't think you're going without getting a kiss goodbye."
Faith shook her head at her retreating back and looked down at herself. She seemed to spend more time covered in food in here than she could remember doing as a baby. Not that she could remember all that much about feeding times as baby what with the baby-sized memory and the general lack of baby food, but she'd seen pictures.
Everyone else had turned back to eating, leaving Faith and Janey just standing there when the guards arrived.
"You, Wilkins, are a mess. Go get cleaned up. You're due outside in ten minutes. You, eat. Unless you both want to spend the afternoon in your cell." The guard issued instructions and the two women complied.
Faith cleaned the mess off her top, muttering to herself the entire time. "If I don't get out of here come Thursday, I'm gonna break her big, bumpy nose all over her fat, screwed up face and I'm gonna make her beg me to hit her a little harder just so's she can get knocked out and forget about the pain."
Screwing up all the rage she felt twisting inside her, she pushed it down into a little pocket inside herself and tried to relax. One way or another she'd be releasing it soon enough. She just had to wait until Thursday. Until then, she had to keep herself calm and ignore Lolitta's taunts. She gripped the edge of the tiny metal sink so hard the stainless steal buckled under her fingers. Keeping her hands clenched that way she looked her reflection in the eye and breathed out deeply. She could do this.
Rona and Vi were still sleeping peacefully upstairs, Andrew was out for a walk with Goorzar the demon baby, Dawn was still at school and the sounds of the four new Slayers being put through combat training by Buffy and Kennedy floated through the open back doors along with a pleasant breeze.
The atmosphere in the kitchen complimented this nicely with just the whispery sounds of old pages being turned and the tap tap tap of fingers on keyboard buttons.
Xander smiled at Giles as he got up from the table to fetch a beer from the fridge. Giles returned it warmly, feeling quite content in the serene space.
A moment later the book on twelfth century middle Eastern cults he had been browsing through jumped out of his hands to land with a crash on the table in front of him, as a heavy "Nirvana" base line rocked its way through the kitchen.
Giles' glasses almost flew off his face to join the book as he spun around in his seat to glare at Xander who was still at the fridge jigging in time to the music while sipping on a beer and tearing chicken from a plate.
"Xander what on Earth do you think you are doing?"
The young man looked at Giles like he was stupid. "I was hungry. Did you want some?" He held the plate with the chicken on out to him.
The English man waved it away like it was emitting poisonous fumes instead of yummy ones. "I meant with the radio. A little warning next time would be nice; and turn it down, none of us is deaf, although we may be after that racket."
Xander looked over at Willow, who shrugged, then leaned over to flick the volume button down a few notches. "I just thought, you know, it's not like we're in a library doing this stuff anymore, or like we have customers or neighbors to worry about. We could let loose a little bit.
"Let loose on your own time," replied Giles picking up the book and trying to find his place in the small writing that covered the pages.
"This is my time," Xander retorted.
"Then if you can't use it sensibly use it elsewhere. Some of us are trying to work out what kind of monster is going to be trying to kill you all in a few days time."
Xander threw himself back in his chair. "Sorry," he muttered sarcastically before opening a book at random and reading from it in between sips from his bottle of beer.
Giles clucked his tongue but said nothing more.
The carpenter shifted in his chair so his good eye was facing Giles. "What do you mean, trying to kill 'us' all, where's the 'you' in that statement?"
Giles' glasses came off for a cleaning bout before he answered and focused once again on the page. "I'll be in L.A. of course."
"You're still going?" he asked surprised.
"He needs to go Xander, he's a character witness." Willow said quietly. She'd had this conversation with Giles even before the new vampire threat had come up.
"Yeah but, I could see why before, a flight to L.A. courtesy of Wolfram and Hart, a couple of nights in a posh hotel, plenty of time to see the sights, but now we have something important going on; don't you think that should come first?"
"And you think this threat is more important than Faith's future, her life?" Giles asked, genuinely curious.
Xander's look was his answer.
"Everyone deserves a second chance, Xander; surely after all these years you have learned that."
"She had her second chance and she blew that too." Xander said steadily, his eye not leaving the older man's. "Maybe she deserves a third chance somewhere, but not here."
"Breaking Buffy's heart is not a reason to condemn the girl for ever, Xander. She should be here with us. This is where she belongs," Giles insisted. "At least for the time being."
"Well we'll have to agree to disagree." Xander tried to shrug it off. "It's not like she's got much chance of getting out anyway what with all the things she's done."
"Actually Wesley says she has a pretty good chance, especially with her place..." Giles trailed off unsure whether to tell Xander everything.
"Go on Giles, he'll have to know sometime," Willow encouraged him.
"I'll have to know what?" Xander's head turned from side to side so her could see first Willow and then Giles.
"When, or if, she is released she has been offered a place here. Officially, I mean. Letters have been sent to the court through Angel's law firm. There is a greater chance of her being released if she has somewhere positive to go on to. A loving family, an institute of learning, anywhere that increases her chances of staying on the straight and narrow."
"In other words, somewhere exactly like this," filled in Willow.
"Yes. It would be one of the conditions of her parole I believe that she stays with us for a certain amount of time."
"And you really think that would make her hang around if she didn't want to?" Xander almost laughed. "Hang on a minute, does Buffy know about this offer, these conditions?"
Giles nodded. "Yes, but she's of the same mind as you. That Faith will leave as soon as she gets bored."
"And Buffy's okay with that? Her staying here I mean?" Xander asked incredulously.
"When you hurt Anya and she turned back into a vengeance demon again and wanted to liquefy your entrails, did she ever stop loving you?"
Xander looked like he might burst into noisy sobs at the mention of Anya's name but he got Willow's point and nodded somberly before finishing his bottle and going for another.
Willow looked guilty for causing Xander pain, but shook it off. In her opinion Anya wasn't mentioned anywhere near enough to be healthy. He drank and he worked and he partied and he tried to act like the same old Xander, but a part of him was just not there anymore and he seemed happy to live like that. No, maybe happy was the wrong word,; more like resigned to living like that. Okay so when Tara had died she'd tried to end the world, which some would say was unhealthy, but at least she hadn't bottled it up and pretended everything was okay.
Turning back to the screen she spotted something of interest , finally. "Giles, I think I've got it."
He looked up at her. "A location?"
"Not as such, but a map reference, C-11, and then a link to another site. Hang on I'll click on it." She did and they all waited to see what came up. "Okay. Here's a map. Right. C-11."
Giles and Xander had both come to stand behind her. She pointed to the relevant square on the screen and they were all disappointed.
"Nothing," she said in disgust. "It's just plain open ground."
"Hey look, here we are," Xander said excitedly, breathing alcohol all over Willow. He pointed with his finger to a property marked on the map as "Sunset Camp."
"And there's the village." Giles pointed to another square just to the south-east of the camp.
Willow pointed her slim finger to another area just north of that. "And there's Dawn's school."
"So we know that the Hellmouth is somewhere between those three points, more or less in the middle," Xander summed up.
"Yes unfortunately that's still about fifteen square miles of ground to cover, some of it hilly and some of it wooded," Giles reminded them. "I think a group of us should head out now and try to pin-point it further."
"Right, well I'll round up the troops and bring the truck around," Xander offered.
Giles' eyes flickered to the bottle still in the younger man's hand and then back up to meet his eye. Moving his mouth into a smile as he did so. "No Xander I think you should stay here in case of...just in case the beds arrive." Giles reached for his jacket as Willow powered down the laptop and reached for her own.
"You said they were arriving tomorrow," Xander said suspiciously.
"Yes but Tuesdays are probably a slow day," he improvised. "And it would be a shame to miss them."
"Andrew's still out too and we can't leave the house unlocked with no one here." Willow added as she followed Giles out the back door. "We'll be back soon."
Xander drained the beer before reaching into the fridge for another. "The house wouldn't be empty. Vi and Rona are upstairs," he muttered sulkily as he ripped some more chicken from the bony carcass and spun the radio dial back up to high volume as the new truck disappeared around the side of the house loaded with girls and Giles.
The man-hole cover in the middle of the street lifted slightly and two yellow eyes peered out.
"It's still light outside." The owner of the eyes said in a thick European accent.
"That's what the cloaks are for." This voice was American, East Coast. "Now get out, it stinks down here."
The owner of the eyes thrust the cover up and away from the hole and jumped out and ran like hell for the shelter of some nearby pines.
Three other figures all jumped out after him and dashed in the same direction. The three huddled together in the late afternoon sunlight. Their cloaks were a deep midnight blue that covered them from head to toe, with just a gap in the heavy material for them to see through.
"Is this the place then?" Asked East Coast guy.
Another cloaked guy with an effeminate pitch to his voice said. "I don't know, it doesn't look very evil. It looks too pretty to be evil."
European guy looked around at the,indeed very pretty place they'd found themselves in and sniffed. "I've no idea. Carlos and Elgan were supposed to be checking all of this out but they had a run in with the Slayer."
"There's Slayers around here?" The East Coast guy had lost some of his brashness now and was sounding a little worried.
The fourth figure had yet to speak but she decided now was the time to do it. "A Slayer will not matter to our plans. Once He rises an army of Slayers couldn't stop us."
The effeminate guy laughed. It was high-pitched like his voice and guaranteed to grate nerves. "An army of Slayers. Everyone knows there's just one. Where do you get these ideas, Mellusa?"
"Actually there's two," said East Coast guy, sure in his knowledge.
Mellusa's yellow eyes rolled beneath the cover of the cloak. One day she'd get decent minions, although if He rose she wouldn't need minions, the whole world would be laying at her feet.
The European guy got her attention and, parting some branches of the tree they were nestled against, he pointed through to the big stone building behind the scattered lines of gravestones. "Do you think that could be the place?"
She gave it an appraising up and down before running gracefully to the deep recess which served as a porch. The other three followed her obediently. "Could be," she agreed looking up at the rich carved stone work that formed the arched roof, looking for a sign that this was the place.
"Hey Mellusa," said the camp guy, pulling the welcome mat aside and wiping his fingers distastefully on his robe.
She looked down to see what he had found and there on the wide, stone porch step was a symbol very much like a deformed goat's head. She pushed the hood of her cloak back for a better look. In a circle around the symbol were the words,
Praecaveo cunctus adiunctor intro hic quantas via hades!
The dot below the exclamation mark was a blood red stone which was in the place of the goat's eye. Mellusa smiled. It would have been a nice smile if it weren't for the fangs.
"This is the place. This is the place He shall rise. Let's get the others prepared. Tomorrow night...we feast!"
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