"Quick, she's waking up."
Janey thrashed about on the bed but there were hands holding her down, two pairs of them and a ...something across her chest stopping her from sitting up.
"No. Get off; get off of me... please."
She kept her eyes tight shut against the glare of the light. The beam, the beam was making the light, the beam Rik had come out of. She had to get away.
She struggled harder and felt and heard a snap as the restraint across her chest broke. She rolled to the side, opening her eyes as she did so, yanked her arm away from whoever was holding it and kicked out at the person trying to hold her feet.
"Get that damn needle in her!"
Her whole body ached like one big bruise but she pushed it down inside herself; all that mattered was getting away. Janey was about to push off of the bed and roll to the floor when something stung her neck. "Ouch!" She swatted at it but there was nothing there. She made it to her feet, but she didn't have time to put weight on them before they turned to Jell-O and went out from under her. She crumpled to the floor, crying. 'What have they done to me?' she thought before she slipped back into sleep.
"Should you have put that in her neck like that? Isn't that a bit dangerous?" The nurse looked a little worried as she picked herself up from the floor at the foot of the hospital bed.
"No more dangerous than she is by all accounts. Look, just get her on the bed and strapped down again. And more straps this time people, let's not repeat our mistakes." The doctor made some marks on a chart and made ready to leave the room.
"I can't believe how much better she's doing since last night. If she carries on at this rate she'll be as good as new in a few hours. Why do you think that is?" Prattled the nurse.
"I don't care, let's just get her out of here and make her someone else's problem as soon as damn possible."
"Giles, I just remembered about this." Buffy walked into the Watcher's bedroom holding a lump of hardened paper-mache.
Giles looked up from his suitcase to inspect the object in her hand. "Ah well, that is very fortunate indeed. Heaven forbid you would forget..." he prodded it, "...that."
She pouted. "I took it off some vamps last week but with all my self-obsessing and then Dawn's little adventure I forgot to tell you about it."
Xander was sitting on the bed. Reaching over he took the lump from Buffy's hand. "What's it supposed to be? A tail-less mouse?"
Buffy snatched it back. "It's a map, or at least it was until my jeans went in the wash," she admitted sheepishly.
Giles sighed. "Do you remember what it was a map of, any details at all?" He carefully folded a sweater and put it neatly into his case.
"Couldn't understand a word of it, but..." She dragged the word out leadingly. "I'm thinking that with everything that's going on, vamps plus maps probably has something to do with our new cult threat, and if it is, it's probably a map showing where the Hellmouth is."
Giles placed a couple of shirts on top of the sweaters. "Yes, you are probably correct."
"It's a great pity it's now useless." He took the lump from her and threw it in the bin.
Buffy huffed loudly. "I thought you were packing last night, aren't you two supposed to be on your way to the airport by now?"
"I have a little time yet. I came upstairs to pack last night and then remembered an interesting text I had on Jupitus and I got caught up in reading that."
"Must have been a riveting read," Xander said.
"Actually it was more nerve wracking than riveting, and by the time I'd finished reading and cross-referencing with the notes I already had, it was time for Willow and I to do the ritual. I assume she told you the bad news."
"Yep I got the memo. It's all happening tonight. Kennedy's out back putting the girls through their paces right now and Willow's gone into Cleveland to get the supplies she needs to do the spells."
Giles turned from his suitcase to fully face his Slayer. "Buffy, I know you can look after yourself and you no longer have to fight alone, but if you need me in this, if you want me to stay, then I will."
"Giles, it's okay."
"I mean it Buffy. I don't know what else I can do that between you, you can't manage, but if there is something then I'll stay and do it. I hate leaving you, all of you..." He turned to look at Xander. "...in the face of something so dire."
"Don't sweat it G-man, Team Slayer have it all sewn up. You should probably get back to packing; I think there are some of your clothes still in the wardrobe."
Buffy giggled and then gave Xander a puzzled look when he winked at her.
"Very amusing, Xander, I am barely taking the essentials."
"Essential to what, Giles? You're going for two, three days tops. How many times are you planning on changing your outfit?" Xander leant over the suitcase, inspecting the contents. "I mean you're going to L.A., so you don't need the sweaters for a start." A brown knit sweater came flying out of the suitcase to land further up the bed.
"Xander! What on Earth are you doing?" Giles spun around to glare at him.
Xander looked back innocently, which made it obvious he was up to something.
"Giles, he didn't touch it." Buffy told the older man. She'd seen the sweater go flying and Xander's hands hadn't moved from his lap.
"Don't be ridiculous," Giles spat. He moved to pick it up and put it back.
"And you're going to be in court most of the time wearing a suit, so do you really need three pairs of jeans." The young man continued as two pairs of jeans came flying up to smack Giles on the chest and slide back down to the bed.
"And thermal socks at the beach." A pair of socks bounced off the ex-librarian's head.
"Xander, how are you doing that?" Giles asked slowly and carefully as if he was reasoning with a time bomb.
"Doing what? I'm just helping you out." Something else came flying out of the case towards Buffy and she instinctively plucked it out of the air.
"Ughhhh." She dropped the item as if scalded. "Giles, you are way too old to be wearing underwear like that." She rubbed her hands on her pants and shuddered.
"Thank you for that," he said annoyed and reached down to pick the offending item from the floor. "Now can we leave my pants out of this and concentrate on why Xander suddenly has the power of telekinesis."
"I have no power, telete...kinis or otherwise." Xander splayed his hands and held them palm up, just as Giles' toiletries bag flew through the air and out of the door.
"Oh dear Lord we have a poltergeist." Giles moaned. "As if there isn't enough going on to keep us busy. Well now I have to stay. I can't leave you to face the end of the known world and an angry spirit by yourselves, it wouldn't be right."
Buffy looked determined. "No Giles, you have to go. We can deal." She started to throw his clothes back into the case with abandon, chucking in his alarm clock, his passport and the remote to his television as they got in her way. Just as quickly they were thrown back out.
"Buffy stand back, it's dangerous," Giles called as he ducked one of his dress shoes.
Buffy caught as many items as she could and rammed them all back in. "No. You're needed in L.A. If you don't go it could critically damage Faith's appeal. She's counting on you. Xander will you stop giggling like a little girl and help." She slammed shut the lid and sat on it
"Buffy this is serious," Giles tried to explain.
"No Giles. Nothing is serious except the appeal... well that and the end of the world thing, but one angry spook isn..." She cocked her head to one side, listening. "Did anyone else hear that?"
"Hear what?" Asked Giles.
"I thought I heard a ...There it was again, a sort of mumbling."
"Buffy I can't..." Giles began but Buffy wasn't listening as she jumped off the suitcase and threw open the lid.
"...do, y cuuld a suffacaated ina thaa grogy box." Was heard plainly by all of them.
Buffy's eyes narrowed and she poked around in the mess of clothes, after a second she pulled her hand back out.
"Don squis sue tight, don squis sue tight."
"Here is your poltergeist," she told Giles holding it up in front of him.
"What is it?" The Watcher peered closer.
"Its one of our housemates," she said, he still looked blank. "A Pixie."
He looked at her like she was mad. "Pixies don't ex..." He didn't finish the sentence. "Well I guess they do after all."
"I can't believe you didn't know. You should have seen your face." Xander was trying to control his giggles but without much luck.
"Your plan, I assume." Buffy thrust the Pixie at Giles and rounded on her best friend.
He nodded. "You were so funny," he told her, "trying to get all the stuff back in as fast as Gawen was throwing them out."
Buffy pushed him off the bed and he hit the floor with a thud and an 'ow' muffled by the carpet.
Gawen was sitting in the palm of Giles' hand swatting at his prodding finger. "Git offa mey, yow grogy bigga."
"It's fascinating," Giles said. "I can't believe no one told me."
"Thought you knew,." Buffy replied. "They're around a lot. They pop up here, they pop up there."
Xander picked himself up off the floor, somewhat sobered by the impact. "Thanks Gawen, that was way worth the bruises," he said rubbing his elbow.
"Xan-bigga, yow don foget mey berre." With that he jumped off Giles' hand and disappeared.
"You paid him to do that?" Buffy was putting Giles' clothes back in the case again, no more neatly than the first time. "Come on, get ready," she instructed her Watcher.
"I like to think of it more as bartering. Liquid goods in exchange for services rendered, that kind of thing." Xander grinned.
"Well take this down to the truck or I'll render your head from your body," she told him.
"Yes Ma'am." He saluted before grabbing the case and leaving.
When they were alone Giles asked. "Are you sure?"
"For the last time, I'm sure. Now go!" She gave him a kiss on the cheek, handed him his small carry-on bag and pushed him towards the stairs.
"And bring her back to me," she muttered under her breath as he descended.
Faith was out of her cell door as soon as it was unlocked. "Okay Gary, where is she?"
The guard had already moved on to the next door and didn't bother looking up. "Where's who?"
"Janey, my cell-mate. You remember her. Blonde, blue eyes, makes your tongue flop out every time she passes you," she prompted sarcastically.
"I told you last night when you asked. She's in the infirmary."
"Why's she still there?"
"Maybe she's still sick." He opened another door and swung it open.
Faith followed him down the line. "Well what's wrong with her, you must know something?"
"All I know is that she was found in the showers yesterday and she was sick. Do I look like fricken doctor to you?"
"No you look like an ass," she told him.
He grinned. "What's it to you anyway Wilkins?"
Faith hesitated. "Well you know, she's young, someone's gotta look out for her in this place."
Gary turned to face her. "Drop the good citizen act Faith, I don't got a say in whether or not you get out tomorrow."
"It's not about that," Faith said, exasperated.
"Well then it's real sweet you care so much." He smirked at her. "But you should be looking to the future, not wasting your time worrying about someone who hasn't even got one."
"Yeah whatever!" Faith stomped away.
Buffy followed the sounds of grunting to the training field. She slipped through the gap in the hedge and watched as the paired off girls sparred with each other. Kennedy was barking out instructions while pacing back and forth along the hedge, her keen eyes picking up every fault in stance or technique.
Vi spotted Buffy, and ducking and rolling away from a round-house from Alison, made her way over to the senior Slayer.
"She's good isn't she?" The red-head nodded towards Kennedy.
Buffy nodded. "She is, but she needs to train herself. There's going to be no time tonight to have anyone on the sidelines shouting orders. We'll all be in the thick of it."
"Kennedy's not really a sidelines sort of person, she can take care of herself, you don't need to worry about her."
"I worry about all of you," Buffy said sincerely earning her a smile from Vi. "Now let's see our coach put her money where her mouth is."
Vi returned to where Alison was waiting for her and Buffy strode towards Kennedy, stooping to pick up a blunt stake from a box of them along the way.
"Kenn, you need to train too." She flipped the un-sharpened wood to the other woman. "Stake me!"
Kennedy grinned wide. "I thought you'd never ask." She lunged immediately.
Buffy rolled her eyes, grabbed the out-stretched wrist before it came anywhere near her and with a tug and a sharp twist of her hips, sent Kennedy flying through the air.
"That's the best come back you could think of?" She complained. "Did I teach you nothing?"
The brunette tucked her head in and rolled to her feet effortlessly. Spinning on the spot, she said: "Well I was saving this one."
Her blunt stake was already zipping towards Buffy's chest before she finished speaking. Buffy caught it inches before impact. "Nice try... Oomph!"
Kennedy had followed her stake like lightening and now both Slayers were grappling on the floor for the upper hand.
"That was just the distraction," Kennedy grunted.
Faith had to wait until after breakfast before she could ask around anymore about Janey, not that it did any good seeing as everybody claimed they didn't know a thing. It wasn't long before there was only one place left to ask.
Faith sat on the outskirts of the rec room pretending to be engrossed in a magazine while she watched Lol and her cronies play pool on the other side. They'd spotted her ruse instantly, but that didn't matter because it wasn't them she was trying to fool. She couldn't deny that it irked her though to see them laughing like idiots at her, trying to call her out.
It didn't work; she had more patience now and plenty of reasons to use it.
It paid off an hour later. It was time to go to work and a couple of guards had come into the rec room ready to escort the women to their various work stations. Lol didn't work, because Lol didn't do anything she didn't want to, but Max and her ugly twin were both in charge of slopping out the guards toilet block.
Lolitta laughed her pals off and racked up another game of pool with a muttered, "Losers."
"Wilkins! You gotta another day on laundry, so get your ass out here."
Lolitta looked up as the female guard bellowed for her enemy, then looked around the rec room to see where the brunette bitch had gone to. She was nowhere in sight.
"Sheesh Ruby, keep it down. Some of us are trying to concentrate." Lolitta lined up a shot and got it.
The guard, Ruby, glared at the Italian-American. "Keep it up, Mancinelli, just keep it up. One more strike and I can have you thrown in solitary for a week, and I can't wait." Irate, she forgot about looking for Faith and stomped off.
Chuckling, Lolitta went back to her game.
There were only a few inmates left on the wing now. Those that for some reason or another were excused from labor duties and it was as peaceful as it ever got. Faith was almost reluctant to disturb it. Almost, but not quite.
With a last glance left and right for guards, she snuck out of the cell she'd been hiding in and was behind the larger woman in an instant, the second pool cue was in her hands and she held it tight against Lol's throat from behind.
Lolitta made choking noises as Faith walked them slowly backwards and through an open cell door. "Nice and easy and I won't crush your windpipe." Faith cooed in her ear, not bothering to disguise the joy this moment was bringing her.
The cue wouldn't fit through the door sideways, but stopped against the door frame allowing Lolitta enough room to wriggle free.
"Damn and that was such a cool move too," Faith commiserated with herself. "Oh well." She grabbed a thick handful of the other woman's dark hair and yanked her backwards into the empty cell. "Not quite as artistic, but you gotta do what you gotta do."
She swung Lolitta around by her hair until her back hit the wall between the bed and the toilet. The Italian-American shot a thick, meaty fist towards Faith's face and she slapped it away without effort.
"What did you do to her?" Faith asked.
Faith punched her lightly in the stomach and Lolitta's foul breath rushed out making Faith wrinkle her nose.
"Let's try that again, shall we. What did you do to her?"
"I ain't scared of you Wilkins, you're not gonna do anything to me." Lolitta pushed herself off the wall and stood defiantly in front of the Slayer.
Faith pushed her back against the wall with a hand to her chest, she raised her other fist to strike. "You wanna place a bet on that, Digby?"
Grinning Lol replied. "Yeah, let's."
"Everything alright in here, ladies?" It was Gary, the guard.
Faith dropped her arms to her sides and stepped back. Tilting her head back and nodding slightly in response, she said: "Five by Five, ain't that right, Lol?"
The bully stepped forward with a big false smile and cupped her large, sweaty palm around Faith's cheek, squeezing it then giving it a few playful slaps for good measure. "You betcha, Faithy," she said sweetly, with extra tooth rotting sugar on top and strolled out of the cell.
"Wilkins, you should be down in laundry. Get moving. Chief wants to see ya later; you don't want him getting any bad reports today, do you."
Faith spun on her heel to face the guard and sucked it up. "No Sir." She replied and left quietly. 'Damn that was too close.'
Willow and Xander pulled into the driveway at the same time, Xander in the car and Willow in the truck.
"Giles catch his flight okay?" Willow called over as she slammed the door.
"Yep, still don't think he should be going though. If this thing is as bad as he thinks it is, then it's hardly the time to abandon ship." Xander caught up with her as they walked around to the back of the house.
"We can handle it, Xander. We're as prepared as we would be if he was here and it's not like we haven't dealt with stuff without him around before."
Xander smirked. "Yeah and that always works out so well."
"Fine, be pessimistic if you must, but keep it to yourself. Buffy doesn't need to hear it."
Xander nodded. "So did you get what you need?"
"Uh huh. I can't wait until I can grow most of this myself though, it will save me a fortune, or well Giles," she added sheepishly. Together they pushed through the gap in the hedge to the training field. "Not sure how I'll grow 'Eye of Newt' though."
"Well, I think you just have to grow the newt, and then the eyes just pop right out when they're ready," Xander said with a smile.
"Okay, that's gross." Willow grimaced.
"I'd have gone with hot."
Willow looked at him confused. "Huh?"
He pointed, she looked.
"That's not hot, that's my girlfriend!" She backhanded his chest.
Kennedy looked up from where her head was clamped between Buffy's legs in a scissor grip. "Thanks a bunch, Sweetheart."
Buffy noticed her best friends were staring at them and released her grip on the younger Slayer before bouncing to her feet. "Hey guys," she greeted, grabbing Kennedy's hand and hauling her up too. "We were sparring."
"So we saw, looks like you were putting on quite a show," Willow said, indicating the other Slayers standing around watching.
"It was a, sort of, a demonstration," Kennedy said. She turned to the other girls. "Right, teams of three. Take it in turns to attack the individual in pairs."
Xander grinned. "You want to demonstrate that again, I'm not sure I got it all."
Willow slapped his chest again.
"Hey, that hurts you know."
Buffy smiled apologetically at Willow. "I guess it got a bit out of hand, I'm feeling all pent up with something-or-other." Off of Willow's look she quickly amended. "Not that. Just frustrated, but not in a good way or... I'll tell you what, I'm just making this sound way worse so I'm just gonna... " She looked around for inspiration and found none. "Go for a jog or something."
She saw the look that passed between Willow, Xander and Kennedy. "What?"
"Are you sure that's wise, Buffy?" Willow asked. "Maybe you should stay and... "
"...Not go off on your own when you're miserable and we have the end of the world happening tonight." Finished Kennedy, matter-of-factly.
Buffy started backing away. "I'm fine, not miserable, just wound up and I need to . . . wind down. I'll be back in a few hours, okay." She turned and sprinted across the field towards the back lane.
"Do you think she's okay?" Willow looked between her girlfriend and Xander.
Xander shrugged and Kennedy rubbed at a bruise forming on her cheek. "Certainly nothing wrong with her physically."
Willow patted her shoulder comfortingly. "Poor baby, that's what you get for wrassling with someone who isn't me." Kennedy rolled her eyes and turned back to the new Slayers. "I'm going to do this spell. Wanna help Xander?"
"Sure, why not." He followed her into the house.
Janey woke up and everything was white light. 'I'm in a beam' was the first thing she thought, but after blinking her eyes a few times her vision adjusted and she realized it was just a big spotlight hanging above her.
She was lying on a bed covered in crisp white bed linen and the spotlight was directly above her face. She tried to sit up but she couldn't and she felt too drowsy still to fight it. Slowly her hands patted their way down her body and she could feel the thick leather strap pulled taut across her shoulders and another just below her breasts. She only had the use of her forearms so she couldn't reach further than her waist but she was pretty sure that her legs were strapped down too.
She was just trying to recall everything she'd ever seen about alien abductions and was moving her head from side to side to look for suspicious probes when she spotted the woman, human as far as she could tell or possibly wearing a human mask, come in through the door.
"You're awake already. That shouldn't even be possible. You're a very lucky girl." The woman bustled up to her.
"I'm so lucky I'm strapped to a bed," Janey responded. Feeling her strength returning, she pulled a little at her restraints, testing them. "Where am I?" She demanded.
"You're in the infirmary dear. Now lay still and I'll get these straps undone." The nurse started unclipping the leather from the bed. "You were thrashing around so much when you were out, we were worried you'd tip yourself and your bed straight to the ground and do yourself even more damage."
Janey let that information sink in. "The infirmary?"
"Yes dear. You were brought in last night, don't you remember? You may have some concussion lingering. Just lay still and I'll get you a glass of water. The doctor will be by soon to examine you."
The nurse disappeared to the end of the ward and Janey used the time to sit up. She was dressed in just one of those horrible hospital gowns, the ones that left your ass showing, but that wasn't surprising since she'd been buckaroo naked when she'd been jumped. She rubbed her head, it still ached a bit, but otherwise she didn't feel too bad. She stood up cautiously and stretched.
"No, no, no dear." The nurse hurried back over with a plastic beaker of water. "You must stay in bed until the doctor gives you the all clear. You took a nasty bang to the head when you slipped in the shower."
Janey almost laughed; that was original. "I'm fine, really... " The nurse was looking at her funny and making her nervous, she coughed to hide it. "Um, do I have any clothes to change into?"
The nurse gave her a small smile and handed her some clothes that had been placed beside the bed. "You were pretty cut up when they brought you in. The guard said there were some broken tiles and you landed right in them. Is that true dear?"
Janey nodded. "Yeah, that must have been it. It's all a bit fuzzy." She turned her back to the nurse and shucked off the robe and quickly slipped into the prison uniform provided.
The nurse had taken the opportunity to examine her back. "Well it looks all healed now."
Janey turned back to her when she was fully dressed. "Can I go back on the wing now please?"
The nurse grabbed some paperwork from the end of the bed and ticked a few boxes. "Well I guess." She handed the blonde a pen. "Sign here to say you've discharged yourself. I gotta say dear, most of the women would milk a hang nail for all its worth rather than going back out there."
Janey handed her back the pen. "I'm not like most women anymore."
Buffy turned off the back lane pretty quickly after leaving the house behind her and headed instead along tracks made in the brush either by rabbits, or maybe demons; you never knew in Hellmouth towns. She didn't need the plodding of feet along well manicured lanes and strips of asphalt. She needed a real work out to take her mind off things it would do her no good to think of.
The ground was fairly level for a time and she felt the sweat rise as she jumped fallen logs and dodged boulders and thick, wiry bushes full of thorns. At one point she jumped high and used a hanging branch to swing across a stream without breaking stride.
The rough path she was following through the trees started to slope downwards and she relished the burn in her muscles as she picked up the pace, her legs reaching for a longer stride to accommodate it.
Inside, her mind was rushing as fast as her body, although it seemed more of an uphill struggle.
She knew she had more important things to be worrying about, like impending disaster, but the only thing swirling around in her chaotic brain was the nagging feeling that she should be somewhere else.
Logically she knew that the the Raising and St. Vigeius were more important than supporting a woman who didn't even want her support, but logic sucked. So did vampire cults. So did Faith.
The appeal was tomorrow. It had come around so fast and Buffy wasn't ready for it yet, and how utterly self-obsessed was that thought? Her lover ... ex lover ... whatever; was stuck in that hole of a prison waiting for tomorrow and Buffy wished that she had a few more days to prepare.
Buffy had known about the place at the school, ha, which had been offered to Faith right from the start. It was one of the first things Giles had told her once the cat was out of the bag. She'd already had a month to accept it and she thought she had.
Knowing that she would be seeing her in less than forty-eight hours if all went well threw thought straight out the proverbial window. Knowing she was more scared that everything would go well than she was that it wouldn't threw her sanity right out after it, and not just because the sentence didn't even make sense in her own head.
What if Faith hadn't changed her mind since the ill-fated prison visit? Buffy was clinging to the idea that Faith had only pushed her away so hard to protect herself from too much disappointment. The idea that once freed, because that was going to happen, Faith would find it in herself to drop her walls once and for all.
Now Buffy was fast convincing herself that Faith just wasn't that interested in her. Why wouldn't she let her come to the appeal? She could have sat at the back; somewhere Faith couldn't even see her. Buffy knew the whole Angel gang were going to be there and so was Giles; what difference would one more make? She was only little.
Buffy ran on, picking up the pace as her mind did.
'And what do I even say when she gets back here?' She thought worriedly. 'Maybe I can just avoid her until she makes up her mind about what she wants. Or maybe I should confront her straight away with it. Let her know I'm not messing around, not just here for her to play more games with. Maybe I shouldn't mention that right off the bat; maybe I should wait and see what she says. Yeah 'cause Faith has always been big with the sharing, if I don't pry it out of her we'll probably spend the rest of our lives living in adjoining rooms without ever discussing Us.'
And the worse thing, the very worse thing, about it all was that she wouldn't even know until late the next night. The appeal wasn't until the afternoon and L.A. was three hours behind Cleveland. Giles had promised he'd call as soon as he knew, but he'd also said that the thing could go on for hours. If the vampires didn't kill her tonight, the waiting might kill her tomorrow.
Her sneaker caught on a tree root or something and she flew superman style down the slope for ten yards before impact with the ground knocked the wind out of her and set her off in a forward roll that it took a couple of revolutions to check. Back on her feet she looked around panting and was relieved to see no one had been around to watch her clown tumble, except maybe a few squirrels, but she trusted them not to say anything.
She leaned over with one hand on her knee and another on a tree trunk and got her breathing under control. There was a barbed wire fence just a little further down the slope and she was pleased she hadn't rolled into that, 'cause ouch. She turned and leaned her back against the tree and wiped her sweat soaked brow with an arm to stop the moisture from dripping into her eyes.
"How do I know what to say when I don't even know how to feel?" She asked the world at large. "A part of me wants to kick her stubborn little butt and the other part of me wants to ...do other stuff to her stubborn little butt."
She let her head fall back against the tree and gazed up into the fluttering leaves. "Why does life have to be so complicated? Why can't everyone just grow up, meet the boy or girl of their dreams and live happily ever after? Why does it have to be such hard work all the time?"
She answered herself seeing as no one else was going to. "Because, Buffy, you want your happily ever after to be with your mortal enemy - ex mortal enemy - and you expect 'simple' to factor into it."
A squirrel scurried along a branch and stopped just above her head. It rubbed its tiny front paws together and chattered away at her in its little squirrel-y language. Another one she'd never learned.
"Oh shut up, like you know anything," she snapped at it irritably before running at the wire fence and jumping it.
The other side was made up of road. She looked left and right, decided she didn't know where she was so it didn't really matter and started jogging left, continuing downhill.
Five minutes later she jogged onto Boudenver's main road.
"Buffy need cool, refreshing beverage," she decided. "To cool over-heating brain."
She looked through the plate glass window of The Mouth. It wasn't all that busy at this time of day, she could pop in and get a milk-shake, have a rest at one of the tables before jogging home.
Or there was the shop a couple of doors down. They sold bottled water which would probably be healthier.
Her eyes scanned the rest of the street to see what else was on offer to the thirsty consumer and they lit up when they came to rest on a brightly painted wooden sign hanging at the end.
"Liquid refreshment here I come," she smiled.
She dug her cell out of her shorts pocket as she walked nearer, pressed a speed-dial button and waited for someone to pick up at the other end.
"Hey Will, it's me. Um, I've got a few things to do in town so I won't be back for a while. Can you pick Dawn up from school for me? Only if it's no trouble though, if you're busy I can text her to get a lift with her friend - she'll be over the moon."
Her free hand rested on the ornately carved wooden door ready to push it open.
"Are you sure? I don't want to ...okay, well thanks. I'll see you soon." Buffy flipped her phone shut and pushed her way into the cool dim interior of Barnies.
Xander popped the top on his bottle and closed the fridge door before joining Willow back at the table.
"So what did the Buffster want? Did she run so far in all her frustration that she's too tired to run back?"
"Nope, nothing like that. She just wants for me to pick up Dawn for her. I think she just needs some time to, y'know, de-stress or something. She's probably worried she'll go all grrr on us." Willow had gone back to arranging the spell ingredients she needed. "Right, are you ready for this?"
Xander took a long swallow from his beer, set it to the far end of the table and rubbed his hands together. "Just call me Mickey."
Willow giggled. "Okay Mickey, what we're doing is a cross between your average locator spell and the demon finding spell with a little splash of something extra so that the power is drawn to the Hellmouth and not just lots of little demons. The three together are little more complicated than usual, but it's nothing I can't handle," she said smugly, before lighting some candles on the table and spreading the map out neatly in the middle.
"Will, I don't mean to rain on your flashy light parade or anything, but shouldn't you be able to just go 'Poof' and know the answer? We are kinda on a time shortage. If this thing's going down at Midnight, then that only gives us eleven hours give or take to stomp it."
"No I can't just go 'Poof'. Not if I wanna stay natural anyway." She pointed a finger to her hair. "Now are you ready. Less talking and more getting ready to sprinkle, okay?"
He nodded and had some more of his drink while he waited for the signal to pour his sand over the map.
Willow finished chanting dramatically and there was a fizzing sound. She gestured at her best friend and as one they sprinkled handfuls of fine powder over the map of Boudenver. Lots of little lights appeared.
"Well what do ya know. We did it." Xander excitedly toasted her with his bottle. "Yay for us."
"No we didn't." Willow looked over her notes again and checked the labels on some of the baggies she had collected. "We missed, or I missed, the little something extra. This is just a standard demon finder." She waved towards the map, still glowing with bright yellow pinpricks in places. "There's not even a big clump anywhere near Pleasant Creek which might indicate the Hellmouth."
"There sure are lots of little ones though."
Willow shook her head. "Sunnydale looked like Christmas in Times Square compared to this." She checked her list of ingredients again. "Okay, I think we'll try a little Harewort, that really brings the evil out."
She emptied a sachet of yellow-green seeds into a beaker, added a little water and lit her Bunsen burner underneath. "This time we're going to make a mist. It'll leave the beaker when it's ready and swirl around over the map." Willow did an imitation swirl with her hands. "Then it will touch down on the map exactly where the Hellmouth is. In theory."
"What does it do when it touches it?" Xander asked.
"We'll know when it happens." She put two bags and a small plastic pot in front of him. Indicating with her finger she instructed, "First this one, then this one and lastly this one. Got it? Put them in as the color changes, you'll see what I mean."
"Why can't you do it?" Xander wasn't too happy about the idea of magical responsibility.
"I need all of my concentration for the chanting."
They composed themselves. Xander picked up the first baggie to be ready as Willow started her chant. The water and seeds in the beaker had begun to boil resulting in a thick yellow-green cloud of steam. As he watched fascinated it began to turn a darker green.
Fumbling slightly with the small opening he finally managed to get a pinch of the fine powder between his fingertips and sprinkled it into the beaker. There were a series of tiny pops, sounding like miniature explosions a long way off. The color was a deep grass green now and it wasn't changing yet, but the liquid mass was bubbling away hypnotically.
A minute later it still hadn't changed color. Xander looked from it to Willow, who was chanting with her eyes closed, and back again. He wanted to tell her it wasn't working but knew that interruptions in a spell casting could be dire. He wondered how many other people in the world could claim that knowledge, or use the word dire in an everyday sentence. He finished his beer while he was waiting and wished he could get up for another one, but the fridge was at least two foot away and he was supposed to be watching the beaker.
Still no change in color. He looked up at Willow again. She was off with the fairies still. Keeping the little plastic container in one hand so he didn't forget what was next, he slid off the chair careful not to disturb anything on the table. If Willow was aware of his movement she didn't show it.
He quickly moved to the fridge and opened it, but kept his eye on the beaker while his hand groped around inside for a bottle. Damn! He knew he had one in here somewhere.
The mist was getting thicker and spiraling up into the kitchen and was that a slight bluish tinge it was taking on? Xander stuck his head inside the fridge grabbed the beer his fingers had been inches from and hurried back to the table.
It was a definite blue now. He popped the top on the plastic pot grabbed a pinch of the tiny dried brown leaves and let them fall into the blue boiling mass.
Instantly the beaker let out a high pitched squeal, and Xander almost dropped his now open bottle onto the table. Willow's chanting had grown louder and the contents of the beaker turned a brilliant orange.
"Damn!" Xander muttered. He put his beer down, it nearly tipped but he stopped it and pushed it away from him. "Which bag is it?"
There were half a dozen scattered about the table top. Surely it would be the one nearest him. He picked it up eagerly, but it looked a lot like the first one he had sprinkled in. He picked up a few more that were closer than the big bunch but none of them looked like the one Willow had pointed to. A quick glance at Willow showed her with her head thrown back silently screaming the spell words into the kitchen. It would have been scary had he not once witness a big snake come out of her mouth.
Suddenly a little see-through bag on the floor caught his eye and he stooped quickly to pick it up.
"It has to be this one, that's why I didn't see it before because I knocked it onto the floor."
The orange liquid was glowing brightly now and the mist was wrapping its tendrils around empty air, creating twisted shapes that hurt the eye.
As quick as he could, Xander poured some of the... well, what looked like mouse droppings so best not to go there, into his palm and tipped it into the beaker, careful to stand back and away from the steam.
He didn't stand back far enough. A shock wave hit him and he fell back against the kitchen cupboards. Glass smashed and Willow gave a scream as her chair tipped backwards and hit the floor.
Kennedy rushed into the kitchen and scanned around for people. She'd heard Willow scream, but the air in here was thick with orange smoke and it was difficult to see anything.
"Willow, are you okay?" She called out.
"She's here, she's fine," Xander assured from somewhere on the floor. "Open a window."
Kennedy opened the big windows above the sink; by the time she'd turned back the air had cleared a little. She moved over to where Xander was helping Willow stand up.
"You okay?" She asked again, easily taking Willow from Xander and walking her over to one of the still upright chairs.
"Yeah, I'm... I'm fine. I guess the spell was a bit more violent than I remember. It's never had quite that much kick to it before." Willow sat down gingerly. "I must have gotten some of the ingredients wrong, or maybe I messed up the chant a little. Why's there beer all over the place?"
"My bottle smashed when the spell hit." Xander started to quickly clear it as he reluctantly fessed up. "Look Will, I don't think it was the chant, I think it might have been the ingredients."
"How could you know something like that?" She asked, curiously.
"Because I, well I sorta... see, I kind of think I may have got one wrong," he stammered.
"How? I put them all in order for you." Willow frowned at Kennedy who was trying to wipe at her face with a damp cloth. "What?"
"You have orange soot all over your face, baby."
"Oh." She let her girlfriend clean her face up.
"They sort of got out of order. It's possible, that is, it could be possible that I put the wrong one in last." Xander cringed under her glare.
Irritably Willow looked back to Kennedy and took the proffered hand mirror without looking into it. "So not only did you nearly get us both exploded and stinky beer all over the place you also just wasted time and ingredients because you couldn't count to three."
"Hey..." Xander started to protest, but Kennedy cut him off.
"Willow, it's a little worse than that. Look in the mirror."
Willow did so. "Oh my... Where are my... EYEBROWS!"
Faith was trying to tame her hair a little before the lunch bell rang, she had a meeting with the big chief after and she wanted to look her best. The steam in the laundry room always caused it to frizz a little and she hated it.
She cranked the tap and waited until the water cleared, wet her fingers and pulled them through her dark mane a few times. Realizing that she'd done the best she could, but not happy about it, Faith turned off the tap and was about to leave the cell when the door was opened from the outside.
"J, where the hell you been?" Faith breathed a sigh of relief to see the younger inmate back in one piece.
"Infirmary." Janey shrugged and went to the small, cracked mirror that the brunette had just been using. There were a couple of yellow smudges across one eyebrow and another patch below her bottom lip, but otherwise all the evidence of her beat-down was gone.
"Well, what happened?" Faith asked impatiently. "Musta been pretty bad to keep a Slayer down over night."
Janey kept her back turned as she answered. "I slipped in the shower."
Faith burst out laughing. "Yeah, good one, bet it was the flying pig that had you distracted right?"
The blonde didn't respond and Faith calmed down, frowning again.
"What really happened? You can tell me."
"I just did tell you. That's what happened."
Faith grabbed the blonde by the elbow and made her turn around. "Cut the bullshit, J, I know it had something to do with Lolitta and her Pitt Bulls so just spit it."
Janey pulled her arm free and retreated a few steps. "It was nothing important, just a misunderstanding..."
Faith interrupted her. "Misunderstanding my ass. She's got no call to be messing with you. It's me she wants..."
"Faith, it had nothing to do with you, and I'm fine anyway so will you just forget about it?"
"No I won't forget about it. If they wanna piece of me, then fine, I can handle it, but you should not be getting dragged into this." Faith ran a hand through her damp hair, trying to straighten it some more, while she thought what to do next. "I'm gonna go settle this once and for all," she decided and was all set to leave the cell and find Lolitta, guards or no guards.
It was Janey's turn to grab Faith's arm. "No! It's my problem, not yours. I don't want you getting involved."
Faith shook her hand off roughly. "Too late."
"Faith you can't do anything to her. What about tomorrow?"
"But she... I can't let her get away with hurting you J, you're in my care, it's not right."
"But don't you see? By going and having it out with her, you're just playing straight into her hands. That's just what she wants." Janey looked away for a second before meeting Faith's eyes again. "She told me they were going to get you too; you have to stay out of her way until you go to court".
Faith was about to argue some more, but the door was pushed open again and one of the female guards was standing there. "Come on Blondie, the Governor wants to see you."
Janey was escorted from the cell and Faith sat down on her bunk. She'd lost her appetite and her fists were itching all thanks to Lolitta Mancinelli.
Willow frowned at the little stubby pencil Kennedy was holding up to her face.
"Kenny, I realize we haven't been together all that long, but please tell me you know my eyebrows were never black, well except that one time, but usually not."
"It's all I have." Kennedy pointed out. "I can go and raid Buffy's room if you like?"
"Couldn't you just do a glamor or something?" Xander asked. He was standing over by Goorzar's chewed box; firmly in the demon dog, uh ape, house.
Willow considered it, but then shook her head. "I could, but I shouldn't. It's part of the: 'Magic for personal gain' package I'm trying to stay away from." She sighed and hopelessly run her fingertips over the bare skin her eyebrows once occupied. "I can't pick Dawnie up like this," she grumbled.
Xander stopped leaning against the wall and stepped closer. "I'll go."
Willow turned to him, causing Kennedy to withdraw her hand quickly, lest she poke her in the eye. "No you can't Mr. Boozy Breath."
"I've only had ... " "Save it for someone who isn't concerned about your liver and my face." The pale crescents above her eyes stood out even more as Willow's face grew red.
"What's your face got to do with me having a drink?" Xander's annoyed tone matched his best friend's. Willow angrily poked a finger at her forehead. "What do you think?"
Kennedy quietly rose from her kneeling position at Willow's feet and retreated towards the back door. "I'll go get Dawn."
Xander and Willow ignored her as they faced off over the kitchen table.
"I'm sick of this." Xander banged a palm down on the smooth wood. "Any time anything goes wrong around here it has to be because I had a drink..."
"This is because you had a drink, Xander. We were in the middle of a spell, obviously a very sensitive one, and you were too drunk to do your part."
"I am not drunk, and anyway, you know I'm no good with that magic stuff, it's beyond me."
"You only had to count to three."
"Yeah well maybe that's beyond me too, what can I say? I'm sorry I blew your eye-brows off. Are you happy now?"
"Oh yeah, now I'm happy. Your most sincere apology has caused all the little hairs to grow back where they should be."
"Sarcasm doesn't suit you, Will."
"Yeah well being a drunk doesn't suit you!"
"Well what can I tell ya, it must be in my genes." He turned and left through the back door. "Kennedy wait up."
"Where are you going?" Willow shouted to his back.
"To piss some more up my family tree, see ya." And he was gone.
Willow stood with her palms flat on the table and fought back tears. She hated fighting with Xander, she always had, but his drinking, his painted over depression, were driving her crazy. How could she help him if he wouldn't even admit to there being any help needed?
Brushing some strands of red hair out of her face she looked down at the map, wondering what she could try next to locate the Hellmouth.
"Oh shoot ..." There, right in the centre of Pleasant Creek, which was nearly central to Boudenver, though you wouldn't know it unless you were told, was a cross neatly burned into the paper map. "... it worked!" She slouched into the nearest chair with a quiet, dejected "Yay."
Janey sat in the hard, straight-backed chair and watched as the 'big, white chief', as Faith called him, adjusted the blinds at his window and turned to sit in a padded leather seat across from her.
"Janey. We both know you didn't slip in the shower. Please do not insult me by suggesting otherwise. I know the, uh, residents here have a certain code of honor amongst themselves, but we, I, can't make the system any better unless people are honest with me. Now please, tell me who attacked you?" The head of Stockton Correctional Facility had a surprisingly gentle voice for someone in his position.
The prison governor sighed deeply. "Whoever did this to you is extremely dangerous. If you keep quiet, it only gives her the opportunity to do it again."
"There's nothing wrong with me, you can see that."
He shook his head slowly from side to side. "Not now, no..." Janey could see him trying to work that one out. "You were lucky there was no lasting damage, someone else might not be so lucky."
Janey thought about Faith, hoping she wasn't gunning for revenge while she was stuck here in this office. There were worse things than getting beaten up.
"I need to go," she said.
For the first time in the meeting, the Governor's tone turned cold. "You'll go when I say and not a second before, and if you insist on trying to hide the culprit from me then you will be sat in that chair a very long time. Do you understand me, young lady?"
"Yes sir," she answered sullenly.
"So, start talking."
Janey sat there, staring at the wall just past his left ear.
The Governor tapped his fingers on the desk while he waited. When it was obvious she wasn't going to talk, he blew out an exasperated breath and changed tack.
"Faith Wilkins is your cell-mate, is that correct?"
"She hasn't, before her recent vacation, been allowed to share with anyone for some time. After what happened to her last cell-mate, well we decided it was best not to put her in that situation again.
"The decision to place you in with her came from higher up in the system than I, it most certainly would not have been my recommendation, but the powers that be wanted to determine just how much of a people person she has become before unleashing her back into society." He chuckled. "You could probably sue them, you know, if you wanted to."
Janey was beyond confused. "What are you talking about? Why would I want to sue the Powers That Be for putting me in the same cell as Faith?" She thought about it for a moment, she didn't really understand all this higher power stuff yet, she didn't think Faith did either considering she always glossed over those details of the Slayer History, but... "I should probably send them a gift basket or something."
It was the Governor's turn to look confused. "You enjoyed your time in the infirmary, that much?"
"I don't remember my time in the infirmary, apart from leaving it." Her brain finally caught up with what he'd been saying before. "They were testing Faith by putting me in with her?"
"Yes, and I'm sorry for it. I tried to tell them it wasn't a safe idea, but..."
"Are you kidding? If it wasn't for Faith, I'd probably be dead or insane by now."
"Well you needn't worry anymore. All you have to do is tell the truth and you'll be moved to another cell immediately and I promise you, she won't be able to..."
He wasn't listening to a word she was saying.
"You think Faith beat me up?" she asked, incredulous.
"I understand you are scared of her, but you really don't need to..."
"Faith didn't beat me up!" Janey shouted over the top of him.
"She didn't? Are you sure?" He looked completely bewildered by this turn of events.
"Of course I'm sure, it wasn't Faith, it was, well never mind, but it wasn't Faith. Faith is the only person here I'm not afraid of." 'Because she's like me,' she thought.
"Really? But I thought..."
"Seriously, you thought wrong. I've heard stories about her past from Faith and she's told me some pretty scary stuff, but Faith wouldn't hurt anyone, not now. Do you really think she'd be dumb enough to beat me up a couple of days before her court case?"
His expression clearly said "Yes".
What he said instead was: "I don't even know how all of this came to court again in the first place. Faith isn't the worst inmate we've ever housed but she was far from being a model prisoner before her little escape. For that alone, she should be serving another two years, not getting out twenty years early. It's those Wolfram and Hart bastards..." He suddenly realized he was talking this way with an inmate and not a colleague and shut his mouth with a snap.
"Maybe she's really changed and just wants a second chance," Janey offered.
"Or maybe she just really wants to get out of here. I hate to imagine what is so hellishly diabolical out there to be worth the amount of self-control she has had to employ in recent months." He shook his head again, clearly mystified with it all.
Buffy twirled the umbrella around in her turquoise drink. "So Alex, you're a humble barman by day, but a super-cop by the cover of darkness. That's quite the double life you're leading." She smiled up at him.
Alex cleaned the bar in front of Buffy with a drip cloth for like the fiftieth time, it was quite sweet how attentive he was being.
"Well I'm not so much a super-cop. I'm more just a ...cop. There's not much super to me." He grinned.
"Well I think you're pretty super." Buffy slurped the last of her cocktail noisily through her straw. "And may I say, that's a fine..." she leaned across the bar, one hand on the sparkling surface to steady herself, and reached for him, "...uh, chin of hair, you've got going for you." She giggled slightly and tried to stroke his beard, but he backed out of the way, self-consciously.
"Thanks." He tried to think of something else to say. "So you, ah, you like men with beards?" He asked, kinda hopeful.
"God, no." Buffy started laughing and totally missed the barman's hurt expression. "I like my men naked." Slowly she gripped the edge of the bar and blushed as her brain caught up with her mouth, with a grimace she dug herself deeper. "I mean face naked, obviously, naked on the face not on the body, like Faith is." She finished her babble and stared miserably into her empty glass.
Confused and intrigued, Alex took a step back to the bar. "This Faith, she has a hairy body then?"
Buffy's head jerked up, her eyes flashing. "No of course not. Faith has a beautiful body. Everyone knows that," she snorted.
Realizing he'd overstepped a mark somewhere, but having no clue where, Alex offered a tentative, "Sorry."
Buffy gave him a sad smile. "Don't be, it's not like you've seen it. Well not yet anyway. Give it a couple more weeks." She rested her head on her arms, thoroughly dejected. "Can I have another drink?"
Alex jumped to it. "Certainly." He rushed away from her to fetch the drink wondering if he should phone his new friend to pick this girl up. It wasn't that she was drunk, she was just really, really intense. If he put one foot wrong with this girl he had a feeling he'd get more than a glare, and he couldn't seem to keep his foot out of his mouth around this crazy new bunch.
Kennedy and Dawn arrived back in time to find a harassed Willow trying to organize the delivery of twenty pine bed frames and eighteen mattresses.
"But why would we order a different number of mattresses to beds?" she was trying to reason.
"I don't know," the delivery man replied calmly, "but you did and here they are." He waved his arm around to encompass the chaos. "So now you need to sign for them. And the guy on the phone said there'd be people here to carry it all in. We're short staffed today and I'm not doing it all alone."
Kennedy joined her girlfriend on the gravel driveway. "What is it Willow?"
"Well the beds are here, but not all the mattresses and I didn't know they were turning up, no one called to tell me, and now I have no idea what to do with them all. Andrew's inside trying Xander's cell but there's no answer and he was supposed to be here to deal with all this. Giles left everything with him and I don't know where he's put it." Willow seemed close to panic point and Kennedy put an arm around her.
"Xander's at Barnies, I just dropped him off."
"Figures," Willow muttered, but Kennedy just kept talking.
"We don't need all twenty mattresses tonight anyway, let's just get what we've got into the dormitory and Xander can worry about what's missing when he gets back."
"Someone's gotta move them." The delivery driver reminded them. "And you need to sign or I can't leave any of them."
"We have to sign even though you got it wrong? Shouldn't we wait until it's put right?" Willow asked, looking at her girlfriend.
"Well you just said you can't do that right now, and company policy dictates..." His eyes glazed as if he was reading from an inner script. "... that there will be no delivery of goods without a customer signature to confirm that said delivery has been made. We gotta cover ourselves you know. Without your signature we have no authorization to take your money."
"So you are worried that we're going to run off in the middle of the night with twenty beds and then you won't get paid?" Dawn asked, joining the conversation.
The guy nodded. "The world is not an honest place." He leaned heavily against his van, getting comfy, but was startled back to attention when Kennedy let out a shrill whistle.
"I could phone your superior." Willow threatened meekly.
"Go ahead. He tells me you can have the beds without signing then you can have them." He shrugged and Willow looked pleased about her break-through.
Kennedy grabbed the clip-board out of the guys hands and signed on the dotted line.
"Kennedy!" Willow couldn't believe she'd just done that.
Kennedy handed the guy back his board and started to organize the Slayers that had come to her whistle. "We've more important stuff to worry about than the beds. We can pick up whatever else we need tomorrow, if we still need them." She gave Willow a look that clearly added the words "After tonight" to the end of her sentence.
The Slayers, in twos, picked up the beds and started to carry them out the back to the sleeping barn.
The delivery driver watched. "So what do you need all these beds for anyway?"
"We have a big family." Kennedy explained straight-faced as she grabbed one end of a bed and gestured for him to grab the other. "Come on." She added when he was slow to comply. "We haven't got all day."
Mellusa looked at her wonderful robe hanging on the back of her door. It was magnificent. The rich reds, blues and greens would really bring out the yellow of her eyes later that night. She stroked the crushed velvet material lovingly before looking over her shoulder to the other vampire in the room.
"Sally, it is nearly time. Help me to prepare."
Sally moved forwards and deftly helped Mellusa out of her expensive but plain black dress and into the fabulous robe.
"So then, after a night of wonderful love-making she just ups and go's." Buffy lamented, picking apart a slice of lime.
"Uh-huh." Alex was blushing the blush of the completely embarrassed, but Buffy didn't seem to notice, or maybe she just couldn't see it under all his yucky hair, he thought grimly. He really wanted another customer to come in and save him, but it was still early and he didn't have much hope.
"And now she's coming back probably and I'm supposed to just deal with it, which... I mean of course I'm happy she's getting out of prison, but..."
"Prison?" Alex inquired weakly.
"Yes, but she didn't do it. Well okay she did do it, but she's better now, I think. What do you think I should...?"
There was a bang at the door. Why the hell would anyone knock on an unlocked bar door? Alex was about to call out 'come in', but Buffy shh'd him.
"S'okay, I'll handle this, it might be monsters." She giggled a little and winked. Placing one hand on the bar she started to climb down from her stool. She nearly made it but the banging came again and her foot slipped landing her on her ass on the sticky floor. "Oh Gross!"
Alex looked over the bar to make sure she was okay. She was, in fact she was already getting to her feet when the door to the bar burst open and Xander weaved his way into the dim interior.
"Hey guys, heh heh, I was trying to get through the wrong door." He pointed back towards the double doors; one was latched from the inside but the other wasn't,. He swayed wildly.
"Xander what are you doing here?" Buffy asked. She took a step forward, wobbled and decided to stay where she was and clutch tightly at the stool she'd just fallen from. "And you're drinking!" She accused. "After we talked about the you ...with the drinking..." Buffy covered her mouth too late to hide the noisy burp. "...whoops."
The bottle Xander was carrying waved around in the air without his consent. He stopped walking and frowned at the hand attached to it, but that didn't stop it sloshing about. He centered his attention back on Buffy.
"Yeah well so are you," he pointed to her half empty glass on the bar. "And you're supposed to be saving the world tonight, missy, I'm not," he reminded her cheerfully.
Alex looked from one to the other.
"Good point." Buffy clambered back onto her stool and patted the one next to her invitingly.
Xander accepted. "So what are you doing here? This is my sanctuary from the madness. I can't have the madness following me." Xander griped, but there was no oomph to it. "Beer please, Al, and one for yourself and the Buffster?"
"You can't drink the bottle in here, buddy," Alex mentioned apologetically.
"Sure thing." Xander handed his half empty bottle over to the barman. "Don't like the stuff anyway." He confided. "I just went in to the shop to get some mints and it was calling my name." He accepted the beer Alex pushed in front of him while patting his pocket for some money. Pulling out some notes he giggled. "I think I forgot the mints."
Buffy was paying no attention. "Can I have another of those green thingies instead of a beer? I probably shouldn't mix my drinks, y'know, I don't want to get drunk." She hiccuped to Alex. "I have a lot to do tonight."
"World Savage!" Xander grinned at her and slapped his palm on the bar top.
"You know it, baby," she said back, sucking up some more of her drink.
Alex watched the pair of them chatter nonsense to each other while he swiftly drank the beer Xander had just bought for him. Luckily he didn't have to be on duty tonight.
Janey closed the door respectfully behind her. Thank God that was over with. She hadn't told the Governor a thing about what had happened, but he'd gone on and on about Faith. It seemed like he was itching for a reason to have her appeal canceled and he was the one person who could do it before tomorrow. If the big white chief filed any kind of bad report against Faith the appeal could be snatched out from under her without ever getting to court.
A guard was waiting outside the door to take her back through the dull corridors and barred doors to the wing, she gave him a little smile but he just ignored her and walked off, expecting her to follow.
They were nearly back on the wing, only one corridor left to walk down. It was all cupboards and closets full of supplies down here, and one rest-room block - guards not inmates.
Her guard escort had just finished locking the gate at the beginning of this, when his walkie-talkie buzzed to life. He pulled it from his belt and listened. Janey couldn't make out a word with all the static but the guard was obviously trained in these things for he swore at whatever he heard and started unlocking the gate again.
"I gotta go see to that. Walk straight to the end and get the guy at the other end to let you out. You want to hide in one of these cupboards be my guest, but be warned they all get locked at night." He left it at that and went back through the gate, locking it behind him and disappeared.
Janey huffed and made her way down the hallway. Why would she want to hide in one of these closets? As some part of a brilliant escape plan? Yes, it would have to be very brilliant with steel bars blocking either end. Everyone in here automatically assumed she was a criminal; it was starting to get her down. She'd never had so much as a detention in her old life. She'd never... and suddenly she was being pulled off to the side
"Get off... " She snapped, digging her heels in to stop her from being dragged out of the corridor and into the dark. "...me." It didn't work. She kept her balance but couldn't avoid going through a door she didn't remember being open. She pulled her arm away and tensed, expecting the worse, just as a meaty hand was clasped over her mouth.
"Why am I even handcuffed, it's not like I've done anything wrong. I'm getting my God-damned golden handshake." Faith moaned as she was escorted along the corridors towards the Governor's office.
"It's the rules," the guard said. It was Tony.
"Then how come Janey wasn't handcuffed?"
"Janey ain't a troublemaker like you."
"Aw come on Tony, ya know you're gonna miss me," Faith drawled.
"Don't make me laugh. Who'd miss you?"
Faith sneered and gave him the bird before walking into the Governor's office.
"So basically you just came in here to steal my friend," Xander said, continuing an argument that had been going on some time.
"No I didn't. I came in because I was thirsty." Buffy leaned back on her stool for a stretch and broke into giggles when she nearly fell off the back.
"Uh-huh, yes you did. Just like you stole Willow from me back in tenth grade."
"I did not steal Willow from you!"
"You've still got Willow." Buffy shook her head at him. "Dumbass."
"Yeah, but she's not the same. She's all... " He waved a hand around while he tried to think of a suitable word. "... not the same.," he settled on.
"Nothing's the same," Buffy agreed.
Xander nodded morosely. "And Faith."
The blonde looked at her best friend. "Huh, what's not the same about Faith?"
"She used to be mine too, until you told her it was wrong."
Buffy stared at him in amazement; slowly the tips of her mouth turned up and she was grinning. It wasn't long before her sides were aching with laughter. "Is that what she told you?" She panted when she could breathe again. "Is that how she let you down gently?"
"Well no, she didn't really so much as say anything. She more just put her hands around my throat and squeezed, like this." He mimed the action. "I didn't really need the 'Can we just be friends?' speech after that." He finished his beer with one mouthful. "But I know it was all your fault."
She slipped off her bar stool and kissed the side if his head. "Thanks Xander, that was just what I needed," she told him sarcastically. "Know what I need now?"
"I'm on it." He pulled some more money free from his pocket and called Alex over from where he was hiding in the corner for some reason.
"Actually I was thinking pee, but..." she clapped him on the back with enough force to tip his stool forward and make him cough, "... good idea."
The beds were in the barn just before the heavens opened and dumped a whole load of water on Boudenver. Everyone at Sunset Camp went running back to the main house before they were drenched.
"We can make the beds up later," Willow said, quickly moving to put the stove on to heat the kitchen. That rain was cold.
"Yeah, it's not like any of us are going to get an early night anyway," Vi agreed.
Kennedy stood looking out of the kitchen window at the downpour. "Means we can't do any more training either, unless we want to get wet doing it."
"What about the training barn?" Dawn started to make hot drinks for everyone.
Andrew helped her. "Xander said it still leaks."
"The sleeping barn doesn't leak, does it?" Alison shivered. They'd only been out in the rain a couple of minutes but she was still wet all over. "I'm going up to get changed."
A couple of the other girls followed her up, Rona brought up the rear. "Me too, I'd hate to die of pneumonia before I can get my butt killed tonight."
Andrew answered everyone's looks. "No, the sleeping barn is fine, me and Xander checked."
"Speaking of Xander, how's he going to get back in this rain?" Dawn set drinks down around the table.
"Ask me if I care," Willow grumbled, sipping at her tea.
"Okay, well what about Buffy?" Dawn tried again.
"Yeah, she's been gone ages," Kennedy agreed. "And if she's still out jogging she might need someone to go get her."
Willow dragged herself to her feet. "I'll try her cell."
"Buffy don't beat yourself up over it, there was nothing you could have done." Xander patted a sobbing Buffy gently on the back, which was shaking with the force of her crying.
"It is... my... fault." Her words came out haltingly as she tried to catch her breath. Once caught, she used it to wail even louder. "It's my entire fault, if I hadn't..."
Xander interrupted her. "No, Buffy. Faith made some bad choices, now she has to cope with the consequences. She'll be fine, wait and see."
"But... but... but I made her do it an' ...and then... she... sh... she..."
"Alex, can I have another beer when ya got a minute?" Xander lost interest in the Slayer for a second when he realized his glass was empty again.
The barman warily made his way over. The bar had gotten a little busier in the last hour and he'd been able to keep away from his new friends, which had been good seeing as Buffy hadn't stopped crying since she arrived back from the restroom. Alex didn't have a clue what had happened in there to get her in such a state.
"Buffy, are you okay?" He asked cautiously as he placed a beer in front of Xander.
Buffy her tear-stained face from her arms and peered blearily at him. "I could... could use an...another drink," she decided after thinking about his question.
"Are you sure?"
"Don't I look s...sure?" She asked defiantly, her words lost theyir threatening edge when combined with puffy red eyes still leaking water and a trembling lower lip.
Alex nodded and fixed her the green cocktail she'd been enjoying for the past few hours.
Buffy let her head drop back to her arms satisfied and kept up her tale of woe. "I shouldn't have forced her to...to...to..."
Alex mouthed, "Is she okay?" to the dark haired man at her side.
"Sure, a bit broken-recordy at the moment, but she'll pull out of it," Xander said, sipping at his drink.
"So this is all over some girl? This Faith girl?"
"If I hadn't pushed th...things..." Buffy babbled to the bar top. "She wouldn't have... we could have... but I did an-an...now she..."
"Yep." Xander leant his elbows on the polished wood and got comfy for a chat with Alex. "They kind of have this bond, which Buffy suddenly wants to explore, but then Faith had to go away for a while..." He stage whispered behind his hand even though Buffy was still talking on oblivious to him. "...to prison." He switched to speaking normally again. "Her appeal is tomorrow, so fingers crossed," he finished without crossing his fingers.
"But I need her!" Buffy wailed particularly loudly, causing a few customers to look over to them.
Alex cleared his throat and started wiping down the bar top in front of him. "Xander, tell me if I'm out of line here, but are you running a gay commune up at that camp of yours?"
"What?" Surprised by the question, Xander sat back in his stool a little. "I'm not gay!" He turned to Buffy for her agreement and flinched to find her staring straight at him aggressively. "I'm not," he said weakly.
"You haven't listened to a word I've said, have you?" She snapped at him, furiously wiping the tear tracks from her cheeks as she glared.
"Yes I have," he lied.
"Don't give me that crap Xander. Jeez, why do I even bother?" She swallowed the cocktail in front of her and climbed down from her stool. She nearly slipped when her butt left the padded seat but Xander reached out an arm and steadied her.
Once on her feet she pushed his arm away irritably. "I don't even know what I'm doing here. It's not like any of you even care about Faith and me anyway. I should go where I'm needed..." Buffy gestured about her aimlessly as she talked, or ranted as was the case.
"How about staying where you're wanted instead," Xander said carefully. "Doesn't that sound like a good idea?"
"Huh, wanted; don't make me laugh." Buffy did laugh, but it was a chilly sound. "I hear you talking you know, all the time. Kennedy isn't the only one with Slayer hearing; you people seem to forget that, but I can hear you too. You're all sick of me whining; well I can make it stop."
"What's slayer?" Alex asked, but Xander waved a hand to shush him.
"Okay Buffy, you're giving me a major wiggins here. You have mad scientist written all across you, like you're planning on taking over Metropolis." Xander reached out to touch her arm again. "Just calm down and talk to me."
"No the time for talking is passed Xan, you guys don't want me here and maybe Faith doesn't want me there, but she needs me... even if she doesn't know it." Her voice softened. "She needs me, Xander."
Xander slid off of his stool and stood in front of her. "But no, 'cause we need you too. You need to stay and fight the vampires. Faith will be okay, she has Giles."
"Vampires." Alex had a chuckle in his tone; Xander waved his hand at him again.
"I have to go to her Xander; I can't let her face this alone."
A high pitched ringing made all three of them jump and drew more stares from the other patrons.
It came again and this time just Buffy jumped, then giggled slightly. "That tickles." She reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell.
She pulled it close to her face to make out the caller ID and it rang a third time, vibrating Buffy's hand. It slipped from her fingers and bounced off the sticky floor.
"Damn," she muttered.
Xander was staring down at it too. When it rang for a fourth time and vibrated loudly against the wooden boards, he asked, "So are you gonna answer it or just watch it?"
"Oh yeah." Buffy leaned down and scooped it up, toppled forward and grabbed at Xander to stop herself. Leaning her head on her best friends arm, she pressed the green button on her phone. "Hello?"
She looked up excitedly. "It's Willow."
"Oh cool, say hi from me," Xander began. "No wait, on second thought, don't."
Buffy spoke into the phone again. "Xander doesn't say Hi." She looked back at her drinking buddy. "Are you and Willow arguing Xan? Why didn't you say something?"
"Well I tried," he started casually enough, "but I couldn't be heard over the Faith monologues!"
"There's no need to be like that," she snapped back.
From the phone came a tinny voice yelling. "Buffy. Buffy. Buffy. Buffy if you don't talk to me right now, I'll turn Dawn into a rabbit."
Buffy panicked a bit and quickly put the phone back to her ear. "I'm here, Will, I was just distracted by Xander being a spaz." She listened quietly for a second before saying: "That's a good idea Will, but there's one little problem with it." Pause. "Well that's kind of the thing; I won't be able to do that..." Pause. "Will, before you get mad, can I ask one more tiny, teensy little favor from you, pretty please?" Pause. "Can you give me a lift to the airport when you get here? Ooh and bring my credit card, it's in..." Buffy pulled a face and held the phone away from her ear.
"...your butt out in the rain and sober up, I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Do not have another drink, do not pass go, do not do anything but wait for me. BOTH OF YOU." Willow slammed the phone back into its cradle on the wall and turned to the rest of the room, eyes rolling. "I swear those two will be the death of me before any big baddie is." She moved to the coat closet in the hall and started pulling on a waterproof jacket.
"What is it, Willow?" Kennedy asked.
"I don't know, but I know I'm not happy about it. Buffy's with Xander and they're both drunk."
Dawn joined them in the hall. "Buffy's drunk? I knew it was worse than she was letting on. Was she crying? I want to come too."
"Dawn, sweetie, it'll be easier if you stay here, please? She wasn't crying, I don't think. Stay here and I'll bring them both straight back, I hope." Willow reached for her car keys.
"Well it's not like I'm gonna argue is it? You might turn me into a bunny," Dawn grumbled.
"Oh Dawnie, you know I would never..." Willow gave up, there were more pressing matters. "I wouldn't mind if you came though," she gave Kennedy a hopeful smile. "If that's okay, it's just, I might need a hand restraining her."
"Restraining her from what?" Dawn asked sounding even more worried than before. Kennedy just quirked an eyebrow.
"I think she's planning on going to L.A." Willow answered and left via the front door.
Kennedy grabbed a coat, shrugged at Dawn and hurried after her girlfriend.
"So she wants to head west for the appeal?" Kennedy asked over the squeak of the wipers working full speed.
"She wanted a lift to the airport."
"But you're not going to give her one."
Willow shook her head as she strained to see the dark road through a curtain of rain.
"How could she do this, go and get drunk, tonight of all nights?" Kennedy grumbled from the passenger seat.
"She'll be okay when she needs to be," Willow said positively.
"I hope so, because she's not going to be any good to me if she can't stake straight."
Willow turned and smiled indulgently at her girlfriend, before frowning at the rain again. "We're gonna get wet tonight," she grumbled.
"I get why you're getting dragged home like a naughty teenager. You're trying to jump ship, which as metaphors go is actually a pretty good one tonight." Xander pulled his coat around him tighter and sloshed about in the puddles. "But why do I have to come too?"
"I don't know," Buffy admitted. Looking up cheerfully she added. "Hey, you could come to California with me."
Xander looked at her as his mind turned the idea over and over. Eventually he said: "No, I can't. I don't have any money to pay for a ticket." He looked disappointed. "Maybe next time."
"I'll pay, I have lots of money on my card. I think." Buffy hopped up and down on the spot, mindless of the splashes she was creating. "Come on, it'll be fun. We can be like Faith's cheerleaders or something."
Xander started warming to the adventure. "Okay, but I draw the line at pom poms, and we'll have to cheer real quiet, what with it being court an' all."
"Well I didn't mean like real cheerleaders obviously Xander, you goof. I just meant we could be the support team from Sunnydale, but not from Sunnydale, cause y'know, we don't live there any more, because..." Buffy looked up at her best friend, stricken. "Xander, Sunnydale's dead."
He nodded his head. "Good," he replied emphatically.
Xander wrapped his arms around his drunken blonde friend. "It's okay Buffy, let it out. Then we'll go see Faith and she'll make it all better." Not that he really believed that.
She nodded her head against his chest and he heard a quiet "Uh-huh" of agreement, before a car pulled around the corner, the headlights completely blinding his good eye.
Faith looked around the office with a sniff; she bet more money was spent on this guy's curtains than building the entire west wing of Stockton.
The Governor was standing at the window, looking out across the highway behind the prison and talking on the phone. Faith walked further into the room and sat down in the straight-backed chair in front of the desk and waited.
The Big White Chief put down the phone with a muttered "Always the same people." He picked up some files he had rested on the window sill and louder said: "Please take a seat, Faith."
She scrambled up as quickly as she could, but he was already turning around. She froze halfway up and then sank slowly back to the seat. If he noticed her faux pas he didn't mention it.
"So you go to court tomorrow, Faith?" He began.
"Yes sir," she replied, fidgeting nervously with her hands in her lap.
"I believe it is expected to go well."
"So this will probably be the last time I see you."
He looked at her for a long time. "Faith, I've known you for nearly four years now and I have never heard you use the word sir before."
She looked up sharply.
"In fact if you are not careful I might think you were trying to sweet talk me."
"I'm just being respectful. Sir," she spat.
"Well it's nice to know you finally learned how to do that." The Governor smiled at her. "Your record has been quite exemplary since you came back." He flicked through a file folder. "I would much like to know what happened on your little break to cause such a turn around."
"And if I had three days, I'd tell ya," she promised. "But I don't, so I guess you'll have to wait for the movie." She smiled to take the sting out of the sarcasm.
He nodded at her. "I imagine it will be of titanic proportions."
Faith frowned. "Nah. There's no boats in it."
"I meant big; very big."
"Oh." She looked down at her clasped hands then back to him. "Can I go now?"
"Just one more thing. What can you tell me about your cell-mate's little slip last night?"
"Nuthin'," Faith replied sullenly. It was, after all, the truth more or less.
The Governor cleared his throat before speaking again. "I had assumed it was you..."
"What? No! I didn't..." Faith protested her innocence fervently as she started to rise from her seat.
He held up a hand to silence her. "Sit down. Janey was adamant that you had nothing to do with it. In fact she sang your praises quite highly. You should be proud of her." He sighed. "However, if I get any idea that she is lying to cover for you, I will go to the appeal board and cancel any hope you have of leaving any earlier than the date currently stamped on your file. If I'm honest, I don't know why I haven't already."
"Well if that's how you feel, why don't you just go do it now?" Faith sunk lower in her chair but her eyes remained glued to his, the fire in hers threatening to burn his out.
He smiled at her again. "No, I'll let you have your day in court and if all goes well, then you have my best wishes for the future." His face grew stern. "But remember, please, that I have been in this game for a long time and I have a lot of friends in both high and low places. If I hear your name mentioned again, in either circle, then we will be seeing each other again. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yeah, if I get so much as a parking ticket for the rest of my life, you'll happily see me on the chair," she snarled at him.
"That's right." He nodded amiably at her. "You may go now."
She got up and made for the door without another word. She only turned back when he spoke again.
"Faith... good luck."
She nodded at him and went through the door.
The car pulled to a stop in front of them and Xander pulled away from Buffy and walked towards the driver's door.
"Hey guys," he greeted when Willow hopped out and Kennedy came around the hood. "I'm glad you're here. We were worried we might get wet." He ran his palm over the front of his hair and the released water ran down his forehead to meet what was already there.
Kennedy chuckled but Willow kept her frowny face going. "Get in the car Xander, we need to get home."
Xander didn't move and Buffy swayed over to stand at his side.
"Willow!" She welcomed the witch cheerfully. "Thank God you're here. We can go now. Did you remember my passport?"
"You don't need your passport Buffy." Willow spoke more gently to the Slayer than she had to Xander.
"I don't?" Buffy checked.
"No, of course not, Buff. We're only going to L.A." Xander reminded her.
"We?" Kennedy asked. "You're both going now?"
"No," Willow said firmly. "Neither of you are going."
Xander kept quiet but Buffy squared drunkenly up to her friend. "Yes I am. Are. We are I mean."
Willow's look was clear.
Buffy continued regardless. "Well I'm going. And you can't stop me."
Willow's expression didn't waver. Xander went and got in the car, ignoring everything else.
"I'm a grown Slayer and... and resolve face isn't going to stop me." Buffy stood defiant.
"I'm not taking you to the airport," Willow informed her.
"Then I'll walk." Buffy turned on her heel, only stumbling slightly, and walked off into the rain.
"Buffy!" Willow shot a desperate glance at her girlfriend.
Kennedy heaved a big sigh and took off after Buffy at a brisk pace. The alcohol was wearing off slightly in the cold deluge which meant Buffy was walking quite quickly, but Kennedy still caught up to her before she'd gotten very far.
Walking next to the blonde she said, "Buffy. You can't do this now. Go to L.A. tomorrow if you really have to, but not tonight."
Buffy kept walking, staring straight ahead. "You don't need me. It's just vampires. I pass the duty of head Slayer on to you. Enjoy it. I'm going to support my... friend."
Kennedy shook her head and droplets fell. "No you're not. Stop being a brat and start being sensible for once in your life. If you walk to Cleveland in this, you'll die of pneumonia or something."
"Back off Kennedy, this has nothing to do with you. Go back to your girlfriend and let me get on with it." Buffy didn't spare her a glance as she strode on.
Kennedy grabbed Buffy's shoulder. "You are not going to L.A.!"
Buffy tried to shake her hand off, but it turned out that sober Slayer beat drunk Slayer,because Kennedy was able to keep her hold.
"Get off me now." Buffy turned around and lashed out a fist, which Kennedy managed to dodge narrowly.
"That's it. I'm declaring you certified."
"What?" Buffy asked irritably confused.
"I'm head Slayer now, according to you, and I'm putting you under house arrest. You're not fit to be out alone," Kennedy smirked.
Buffy got up in her face. "Oh, you so are not, little girl," she told her.
Kennedy shook her head pityingly and rushed her shoulder into Buffy's middle. Buffy gave a little eep of surprise as she was lifted into the air and over Kennedy's back.
"Put me down right now, you bitch." Buffy kicked and punched at Kennedy's back but Kennedy took no notice. She just held on tighter and marched back to Willow.
Once in front of the red-head she dropped Buffy to the ground. "If she tries to run again, I'll go get her, but otherwise, I'm out." Kennedy told her before climbing back into the car to talk to Xander.
Buffy jumped weakly back to her feet and Willow backed up a step when she saw her pissed expression. "I've had just about enough of her," she warned angrily. Looking back at her friend, she asked. "Are you taking me to Faith or not?"
Willow's expression softened finally. "Buffy, I'm not."
"Because I don't think it's a good idea, on all levels." Willow took a couple of steps closer to her friend. "What's this all about, Buffy? You didn't want to go earlier."
Buffy sobbed once but got it under control. "Yes I did, Will, I just didn't think I could... or should. But now I get it. I have to go because then Faith will know I care and everything will be alright."
"She knows you care, Buffy."
"How can she? I go for one bad visit and I can't handle it so I run off to get drunk for a week. I am so not the person to be lecturing Xander," she realized. "I should have stayed..."
"I hate to be the one to say it, but she didn't want you there." Willow said cautiously. "Isn't that why you left anyway?"
Buffy waved it away. "She didn't know how to say she wanted me there, I should have just known."
"You can't go Buffy. You'll only get hurt again. Not to mention the inappropriately timed vampire rising thingie. The Slayer kids need you to look out for them. Kennedy needs you too, we all do. Please don't go."
Buffy had started to sob openly again and Willow's heart melted. She gathered her best friend in a tight hug. "It's okay Buffy; it's going to be okay. I promise."
Willow hugged tighter and winced a little as the gesture was returned. "Yeah I do. I'm a witch, we have a, a thing where we know stuff."
"What if she doesn't get out, Will? What do I do then?" Buffy cried softly into Willow's neck.
Willow rubbed her friend's back, soothingly. "Then you go visit her," she replied simply. "And if you want plane company, I'm always available."
"'Cept now though, right?" Buffy bawled
"Now's not really a good time, no." Willow's knees nearly buckled as Buffy's legs went out from under her. Gripping even tighter, she managed to slow their fall to the puddle-y tarmac.
Buffy cuddled even tighter as they sat on the slick road, water seeping through their pants from below, and cried her heart out.
"S'okay, Buffy. Really, it'll all be okay," Willow tried to calm her. 'Knew I'd get wet tonight,' she inwardly groaned and cringed at the damp coldness on her butt.
It took a minute for Buffy to recover herself enough to form words but Willow still couldn't understand the muffled sentence. When asked to repeat it, Buffy moved her head a little away from Willow's neck.
"I want to kill some vampires," she repeated in a growl.
Buffy sat at the kitchen table in fresh clothes. She had a towel wrapped around her wet hair and she clutched a mug of black coffee tightly. She grimaced at the bitter taste with every sip, but she took her medicine without complaint.
"So you're not going now?" Vi asked timidly.
Buffy just shook her head.
"Well that's good. I feel better about this knowing you're going to be there. Y'know, 'cause you got us through the last one okay."
Buffy smiled at her, trying to ignore the ache of her head. Not for the first time she was weighing up the pro of being able to sober up quicker than a human, against the con of getting the hangover quicker. It was a pretty even match. Maybe the hangover thing was ahead by a head. "I'll be there, but you could do it even if I wasn't. You need to have more confidence in yourself," she told Vi.
Kennedy came in to the kitchen carrying an assortment of weapons. "We leave in one hour. Hopefully we'll get there before them and will be able to make some sort of ambush, but, Willow thinks they'll get there early too. The ceremony Giles thinks they'll be using takes some time to set up apparently. So go get ready."
All the Slayers in the kitchen, with the exception of Buffy, started up the kitchen stairs.
Rona's answer to an unheard question drifted back down. "Yeah, she's a proper Buffy-wanna-be, now, huh?"
Kennedy shook her head. "As if," she muttered. Looking up her eyes met Buffy's. "You okay... for tonight, I mean?"
Buffy nodded. "Yeah." She looked down into her mug and then looked up again. "About earlier. Thanks for what you did..."
"It was nothing."
"No, it was something, and it needed doing." Buffy paused. "If you ever do it again though, I'm putting you on enforced bed-rest."
"I said 'House arrest'," Kennedy corrected cockily.
Buffy smirked. "And I'm saying bed rest. You're a smart girl; I'm guessing you get the semantics." She looked back down at her coffee, smiling a little when she heard Kennedy huff "No way" and leave the room.
There was a click and a light came on. Janey looked around as best she could. They were in the guards' bathroom; there were sinks along one wall and a couple of stalls. It didn't smell too pleasant. It smelled kinda like the food they served.
"Stand still and I'll let go," said Lolitta. "After all, we want to make you feel comfortable." The dark woman stepped around to face Janey. "Now tell me, what did you tell the big guy about your unfortunate little accident last night?"
"Nothing," Janey replied honestly. She knew the other two were behind her, she could hear them breathing. If she had to, she would fight to get out of here. If she ended up back in the infirmary she had no clue what Faith would do about it.
Lolitta grinned, it wasn't friendly. "Yeah well sorry sweetheart but I don't believe you."
"It's the truth."
Lolitta sucked some air through her teeth. "And I want to believe you, I really do, but I don't..." There was a clicking noise and Janey's eyes dropped to the flick-knife pressing into her stomach. "Y'see, I don't like taking risks."
Janey felt her arms being seized from behind, she gave a half-hearted struggle but her attention stayed on the knife.
Lolitta carried on talking. "Now Faith; Faith is different. I don't mind taking the time or the risk involved in dealing with her because, in her own pathetic little way, she's worthy of it. I don't know why, maybe it's chemistry." She smiled like a shark with bad teeth. "You, on the other hand, mean nothing to me; sorry but that's the way it is. You, Janey, are merely one of life's little inconveniences; something my uncle taught me how to clean up before I could use the potty, so..." she stepped even closer.
Janey's eyes went saucer-like and she struggled hard as the big woman swiftly brought the knife up to her throat. She was able to yank her arms free, but when the cold blade touched her skin she froze.
"You sure you're up to this Buff?" Xander asked as he leaned against the kitchen counter watching the girls saddle-up.
"Well I woulda preferred a little more notice, but I work well under pressure." Buffy looked up from tying her sneakers.
"You want me to drive?"
"No Xander I need you to stay with Dawn. I don't want her in the house by herself. If we can't stop this rising thing then the vamps could own this town by sunrise. I need to know she's with someone who can get her safely out of town."
"I'm coming with you."
"Dawn I really don't think you are." Buffy directed the girls in picking up the bags of stakes. "Load them into the back with you. Make sure you fill your pockets; you can't always make it to a 'power up' spot in time." She picked up a similar bag filled with stakes, a cross bow was sticking out of the top. "You ready Willow?"
"Come on Dawn; let's leave the superheroes to do their job." Xander wandered back through to the living room but Dawn stayed by the back door.
"Xander," Buffy pleaded with her friend not to make a fuss and get all needy now; if the stars were right, they really didn't have the time.
"I thought we we're gonna spend quality time together?" Dawn said with her arms crossed.
"Quality time doesn't involve halting the spread of evil and layers of dust. Unless of course we're in you're bedroom. And by evil I mean the tide of used plates and dirty laundry and by dust; well that's pretty self-explanatory."
Willow and Kennedy came down the kitchen stairs and Buffy started out the back door ahead of them.
"You shouldn't even be in my room," Dawn moaned from the step.
"And I have no desire to be in there, which is why I'm not, but Vi and Rona don't have the same luxury so clean it up." Buffy threw the weapons bag she held over the side of the truck and hopped in after it. She hunched over on the bench seat and pulled her hood up to shield herself a little from the heavy rain.
Dawn sighed. "How does she still find time to nag when she's saving the world?" she asked as Willow and Kennedy left.
"Years of perfecting her time management skills." Willow hurried around to the driver's side and climbed in.
Kennedy got in the passenger side. "She's almost retired; soon all she'll be doing is nagging you."
Dawn groaned and shut the back door.
Edna Maple was standing next to the fresh fruit stand in Boudenver's General Store, squeezing peaches to see just how fresh they really were whilst keeping her back to Owen so he couldn't see her distrust. Headlights turning into the street caught her eye and she looked through the window into the rain-slicked evening. "Garth."
Her husband was talking to the old shopkeeper about the price of a new carburetor for their old Buick and was so involved in the conversation was he that she had to call him twice just to get his attention.
"Garth, I'm speaking to you. Look at them now."
Her husband and Owen turned to the windows just in time to see a brand new truck roll by with a bunch of girls in the back.
"What do you think they're up to now?" she asked.
"Illegal immigrants," Garth said promptly. "They're smuggling girls across the border under the cover of darkness to sell them as slaves." He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "To the sex slave trade."
Edna rolled her eyes but smiled affably as she said: "Garth, you do have some strange flights of fancy."
"How else would you explain a truck load of young girls bein' driven around like sheep?" Garth asked.
The shopkeeper looked at his watch and frowned.
Handcuffed, Faith was led back through the drab corridors to her wing. She felt let down and she didn't know why.
It's not like she expected to get a big bunch of flowers off the old guy or anything, but he'd dirtied her whole appeal somehow in one conversation. She'd have liked to dismiss what he'd said as an empty threat, but she just couldn't be sure. And Slayers were always working somewhere outside the law. Hell, wasn't it even illegal to trespass in cemeteries after dark? That's why they had the big gates. She knew Buffy'd had plenty of brushes with the Sunnydale PD, and she was the good one. How much fun was getting out gonna be if she had to spend the whole time watching her tail?
The guard stopped outside a door halfway down the last corridor. "I gotta take a leak. Stand here Wilkins and don't move. Unless you wanna come in and help me hold it?"
"You wouldn't be able to handle it," Faith sneered and leaned against the wall to wait, her handcuffed wrists hanging in front of her.
He went into the restroom chuckling and the door closed behind him with a thump, followed by another thump, this one slightly muffled, then a third thump and a clatter.
Faith's head cocked at the noises. "What did he have for lunch?" she muttered to herself.
The truck drove slowly into Pleasant Creek, the headlights cutting bright tracks and making the rain-drops sparkle.
As Willow looked for the turning to the church, shapes began to move in the darkness of the trees around them.
"Will..." Kennedy's hand that held the stake gripped it harder and her other hand readied itself on the door handle, ready to push it open.
"I see them." Willow's knuckles turned white on the steering wheel as she saw the vampires coming out of the trees. "At least we know we got the right place now."
"There's...there's..." Kennedy tried to count the massing indistinct figures, but... "...There's a lot."
Willow nodded. "Let's do something about that." She turned the steering wheel sharply left.
Outside the cab, on the bed of the truck, Buffy exchanged looks and nods with Vi and Rona and all three pulled out their stakes. There were more than what they'd thought, probably at least ten more than they'd spotted behind the Double-Meat Palace.
The new girls were nervous. Buffy could see Miranda's hands shaking, the stake she held quivering right along with them. Alison looked calm but she was bouncing just slightly on the balls of her feet. Buffy wasn't sure if she was just eager for the fight or if the vamps had just triggered her pant-wetting reflex. Vampires had that effect. Demons after all were big, scary looking, scaly things; who wouldn't want to kill them looking like that? Vampires could pass for human right up until they bit you.
The truck swerved to the left and everyone in the back had to grab the sides to save being thrown off the truck. There were a couple of bumps in the road. 'Or until you drive over one of their friends and piss them off,' Buffy concluded as nearly one hundred yellow eyes turned their way and hissing and snarling was all around.
"We just hit someone," Kate said. "Shouldn't we stop?" She didn't sound very convincing.
"That wasn't a someone. It was a something," Rona told her.
"A couple of somethings hopefully," Vi added.
"Okay," Buffy said, standing up straight again as she looked around them. Willow was taking them away from the creatures now, making to swing the truck around and play another game of bowls. "Everyone got their buddy?"
Kate moved closer to Rona and Alison stood up next to Vi. Miranda grabbed a hold of Buffy's jacket.
"Good. Cici, you're going to help Willow, right? As soon as you get a chance jump in the front. I don't know what she'll need you to do, but you probably can't do it from here."
Cici nodded nervously.
Willow had turned the truck around and was heading back into the thick of the vampires.
"Right girls, this is it. When your buddy says jump, jump!" Buffy pulled her jacket sleeve free from Miranda's fist. "Use your clingy hand to hold another stake, it will do you more good than a handful of natural poly-blend."
Miranda took her advice and grabbed up another length of sharpened wood.
Rona and Kate had jumped over the side of the van just before the truck plowed into the vampires again. In the confusion of headlights and scrabbling bodies they melted into the darkness.
Willow added to the confusion by blaring the horn loudly, hurting the vamps sensitive ears, and Kennedy used the passenger door as a weapon, repeatedly opening it and smacking it into the crowd.
As Willow pushed through the crowd, Buffy picked a vampire up over the side. She staked it before throwing it back. It showered dust over its fellows.
"Now!" Yelled Buffy, grabbing Miranda's arm and leaping over the side.
Faith had been waiting for ages outside the toilet block and the guard still hadn't come out. She moved to the door. "You fall in or something Tony?" she called loudly. There was no answer. She banged on the door. "Look dude, I know being around me must be really frustrating for ya, but this really isn't the time to be taking care of it, ya know?" She joked.
"Well would you listen to that, Janey? Sounds like it's my lucky day." Lolitta growled softly in the terrified blonde's ear. "Now I can frame her for his murder..." She nodded at the unconscious guard on the floor. "...Oh, and yours of course."
Lolitta pulled the sharp blade downwards across the skin of Janey's face.
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