Act Three, Part A
Buffy lay there on the grass with Kennedy sprawled on top of her and gave herself a second more to cringe before she opened her eyes. Hiding behind her eyelids wasn't going to get them out of this uncompromising situation.
She groaned when the first person she saw was Reece - the too full of himself cadet - grinning down at her. Of all the people...
He had opened the door to the training barn just as Kennedy had barreled them both into it; his hand was still holding the handle.
"Don't tell!" Kennedy murmured urgently into Buffy's ear.
'Really not planning on it,' Buffy thought as she pushed on the younger slayer's shoulders. Staying as they were wasn't likely to quell any rumors that Reece might feel like starting.
"I didn't mean to interrupt your... personal time." The smirk was plain in his voice even if Buffy was avoiding looking at him. "But Mr. Giles is back from the airport and I was hoping we could begin our physical training soon."
Kennedy pushed herself to her knees, one either side of Buffy. "Yeah, sure, I was just about to come and find you anyway."
'At least he's keen," thought Buffy, still on her back for the moment. 'That means he has at least one redeeming feature, right?'
"Cool, 'cause the sooner you guys start with the training, the sooner we can get to the cinema," Dawn piped up from somewhere outside Buffy's line of sight. "Not that training isn't important, you know, for you guys who are going to be Watchers, but life can't be all training, training, training. Sometimes there has to be movies. Even the Karate Kid took time out of what was basically a movie about training to do other stuff, like going to the movies and falling in love and..."
Buffy twisted her neck to look up at her sister. "Dawn, suck in some oxygen, your lungs will thank you for it."
Dawn shut her mouth and her cheeks turned pink with embarrassment.
Reece was looking at Dawn with a smile on his face, but it wasn't the usual sardonic twist to his lips he aimed at Buffy or the charming yet insincere smile he readily gave Giles and anyone else at the camp he considered important.
It looked genuine, warm and altogether too friendly.
Buffy didn't like it any better than all his other expressions. Maybe it wasn't the training he was so keen to get on with after all. And taking Dawn to the cinema wasn't - in her eyes anyway - a redeeming feature.
Dawn seemed to notice him smiling at her too, because she blushed an even brighter pink and focused on something else to cover her discomfort. "What were you guys doing to each other in there anyway, with all the banging?"
Kennedy jumped to her feet, looking anywhere but at anyone, and finally giving Buffy the room to sit up.
"Uh, nothing, there was no banging, we were just..." Buffy began, she was starting to blush herself now.
"Even the best of the best must practice the Art," Andrew said solemnly from behind Buffy, and she just knew he was pronouncing art with a capital A.
Buffy got to her feet too. Normally she could barely tolerate Andrew's ramblings about the force and the like, but today it was his redeeming feature.
Buffy nodded, making a big show of agreeing. "That's right. We have to stay one hundred percent if we're going to train you guys to be any good at helping us."
"Absolutely," Kennedy nodded along. "Nothing like a good work-out with Buffy..." she winced at her words, but it barely showed, "...to keep me on my toes."
"Right." Reece drew the word out as he looked from Buffy to Kennedy and back again - taking in their flushed features and wrinkled clothes. "That must have been some work-out; that is, I mean, you must have been going at it pretty hard in there." There was twinkle in his eye that made Buffy's stomach sink. "Maybe I can watch sometime - it might be... educational." He drew that word out too.
Kennedy sneered at him and looked ready to punish his audacity with her fists, but for once Buffy erred on the side of caution and played along.
"Sure, we can set up a little demonstration for you and Naomi some time if ya like. It's probably a good thing if you get to see how quick and agile a slayer can be in the heat of the moment. I'll talk to Giles about it."
After all, these kids were going to need all the help they could get. Reece and Naomi would be getting Slayers to watch before either of them hit their nineteenth birthdays, which according to Giles was at least ten years younger than the average; Wesley was the exception and look how well he'd done his first time in the field.
As much as she loathed the idea of getting up on stage and demonstrating her mad skillz - as Faith would say - the more slayer-insight the two of them had under their belts before being sent off into the big, evil world, the better for everyone... especially their slayers.
Unsurprisingly, Reece had taken the words agile and heat and twisted them for his own amusement.
His blue eyes twinkled, "Well, ladies, you certainly look like we caught you in a heated moment." He smiled disarmingly and Buffy wondered just how many poor girls had fallen for his sweet-talk, to give him this level of confidence at eighteen.
Buffy turned away, not bothering to answer and realized that Dawn was staring at Reece now, looking extremely hurt. She hated seeing that expression on her little sister's face, but at least this time it had a silver-lining. The sooner she realized Reece was happy to use his patter on just about anyone, the sooner she'd see he was a poop head.
"Training has to be intense, or else it won't prepare you for anything," Kennedy said irritably. "And if you think you're going to get off easy over the next couple of months because you're a guy training with a bunch of girls, forget it. These girls are going to flatten the grass with your ass every single day until you're good enough to stop them. And don't think that's going to happen over night."
"Okay darling," Reece shrugged good-naturedly, still smiling. "So why don't you start training me to handle a girl with super-powers?"
Kennedy's jaw stiffened and Buffy knew she was reining in the urge to punch his perfect nose. Dawn on the other hand seemed ready to punch either her or Kennedy on the nose for taking his attention away.
Buffy almost laughed - maybe it was a Summers' women rite of passage or something. Laughing at her sister's fierce expression would not have helped though and relief came from an unexpected source. She hadn't even realized Craig was with them.
"Why don't you get on with the training instead of talking about it; or else we're never gonna make it to the pictures in time."
"You're coming too, Rayne?" Reece's charm dropped, but the smile stayed. He looked like Elmer Fudd - a very hot Elmer Fudd - after he'd just been told it was open Bugs season.
"Yeah. What of it?"
"Nothing." Reece held his hands up placating, though his tone was all sarcasm. "I'm just curious: Did you summon the nerve to ask Wellsy out? Or did you bat your eyelashes a lot and stuff your wish-pillow with scribbled notes of his name until he asked you?"
Buffy shared a look with Kennedy. Both of them were happy to let this carry on as long as it meant the heat was off them. Buffy didn't really know Craig well enough to have formed an opinion of him yet and sticking up for Andrew was only something she was prepared to do as a last resort - like just before he was about to get killed or something.
"Training field. Ten minutes," Kennedy instructed Reece. "I'm going to find Naomi."
As she walked away, Buffy wanted to follow, but the house possibly still had Faith in it and she wasn't quite ready - better this than that at the moment.
Reece nodded after her, as Andrew echoed, "Wellsy?"
"I meant you, before you start getting your knickers in a twist." Reece smiled and it was a hell of a lot pleasanter than the smile he'd been directing at his fellow countryman.
Buffy turned in time to see Craig scowl.
"I've never had a nickname before," Andrew blushed. "At least, not a nice one."
"Dawn said your surname's Wells. Seemed like quite an obvious one, but if you prefer Andy, doesn't bother me. No more syllables after all." Reece grinned at him.
Andrew grinned tentatively back. Craig's scowl got scowlier.
Buffy looked more closely, at his scowl in particular. Before she could put her finger on what was bothering her, Kennedy came out of the back door with Giles and Naomi.
"Reece, come on," she called over.
Reece nodded towards the trio before turning to Dawn, and her little sister's eyes lit up immediately.
"Two?" he asked, touching her forearm with his fingertips and even Buffy could feel the magnetism from that one simple number.
"Uh huh," Dawn grinned at him. "Have fun training."
"Training is always fun," he grinned back at her. "It's the real thing that has me wanting to hide behind nanny's apron."
As he walked away, Giles called over. "Craig, come and join us please? While you're here you may as well learn a thing or two."
Craig sighed but didn't hesitate in following Reece. As he walked, he looked back over his shoulder, asking, "See you at two, too?"
Andrew nodded eagerly, but couldn't seem to do more than that as he stared at Craig. Craig winked at him, and Buffy thought for a second that Andrew was going to fall over.
"I thought the English were all prudeness personified, but you wouldn't know it to spend five minutes with these kids," Buffy said to know one in particular before rounding on Dawn. "Reece is bad news!"
"Excuse me?" Dawn gave her the typical 'You are not the mom of me' look. Buffy was pretty much immune to it now, especially in circumstances like this. "You don't even know him."
"Yes, I do. Well enough, anyway," she countered "And even if I didn't, I know guys his type."
"You mean you know Watchers," Dawn said with more anger than Buffy felt was really necessary. "You can't tar all guys... Watchers... with the same brush."
"Why not?" She shrugged.
"Because it isn't fair. It's like saying all Vampires are evil, which isn't true because Spike was good in the end, and Angel is good... sometimes."
Buffy shook her head slightly. Dawn could forgive Spike everything, given time, probably due to the bond they'd forged while she was dead - a bond Buffy had never fully understood or even tried to once she was back among the land of the living - but Dawn never seemed to be able to forgive Angel for the six months of terror Angelus had put them all through.
"Angel and Spike are the exceptions, you know that. Every other vamp - evil."
"Well maybe Reece is the exception to evil watchers!" Dawn said triumphantly, as if she had deliberately led Buffy to this exclamation.
"No," Buffy calmly disagreed. "Giles is the exception, and possibly Naomi, but not Reece."
"Whatever." Dawn flicked her hair back over her shoulders in a dismissive gesture. "You're just saying that because Giles is your watcher."
"Yeah, but Naomi isn't. And why are you getting so defensive for anyway?"
"I'm not," Dawn insisted quickly. "I just don't like the way you always assume all Watchers are bad. Reece is good; he finished joint top of his class, and he knows everything about demons, well nearly everything, more than you anyway, and he's cool too. Have you ever thought maybe that's what the Council needs?"
"More cool?" Buffy raised an amused eyebrow.
"People who aren't eighty," Dawn accentuated. "People who are still in touch with what it's like to be a teenager now. People who are prepared to make new rules to suit the modern Slayer's needs instead of blindly following rules that were set down before girls were even allowed to have needs of their own! People with the brains and the vision and the energy to bring the Council into the twenty-first century!"
Buffy waited a beat after Dawn had finished her impassioned speech - just in case there was any more - before asking, "You really get all that from Reece?"
"Oh... whatever," Dawn repeated as she threw her hands up. "I like him and he likes me and do you know how often that happens to me? Never! So I'm going out with him this afternoon and that's just something you're going to have to get used to."
"Oh really?" Buffy pulled her best mom pose out of the box, with her left hand on her hip and her chin jutting forward just enough to be authoritative, but not enough to make her look like a chicken - yes, she'd practiced it.
"Yes, really." Dawn's own pose was that of the defiant teenager - the same one Buffy had unconsciously fallen into a million times when she was younger and in the middle of a battle for independence with her parents.
"Reece and I are going out this afternoon," Dawn repeated. "We're meeting Fen down by the lake at two, and Andrew and Craig are coming, so it's not like I'm even going to be on my own with him. And we're just going to be watching a movie, not smoking crack in back alleys, and we'll be careful." She paused to see if her level-headed words were working on Buffy. "You can even give me a curfew - no earlier than nine! - and I promise to stick to it, but... you can't stop me from going." Her strong, reasonable tone wavered at the end, like she wasn't so sure about the truth of that statement but if she was going down, she was going down fighting.
Buffy fought an inner battle. She wanted to stop Dawn from going completely now - just for the hell of it - but her little sister was right... in a very small way.
She could stop her from going out, very easily - they had thick metal shackles in the training barn now after all - but she shouldn't.
Dawn was fast becoming a mature young woman. She was growing up quicker than Buffy had, if she was honest. Although whether that was because Dawn had nearly always been surrounded by older company, or because of the harrowing things she'd had to endure at a younger age, Buffy wasn't certain.
Dawn had a right to make her own mistakes.
If they included Reece Highbury it was unfortunate, but all Buffy could really do was be on hand to pick up the pieces afterward - and she was pretty sure there would be pieces to pick up.
So she fixed her sister with a serious stare. "Okay, you're right. Go, have fun, but be careful. I mean it, Dawnie. Watcherness aside, guys like Reece are generally bad news - and I know this because I've fallen for them myself," she added, hoping it would create some empathy. "I really hope I'm wrong, but... Just remember you're a smart, attractive young woman with your own mind. You do what you want, not what he wants - okay? Just take it easy and stay in control. Have fun, but just not too much fun - no matter how smooth his tongue is."
Dawn looked at her a little funny and Buffy winced inside. 'Great, now I'm accidentally giving her ideas! Mom's turning in her grave to reach for the sex- education manual so she can whap me over the head with it.'
Obviously she'd said the right thing for once though. Dawn's posture relaxed. "Okay, I'll have careful, in-control fun and to start it all off, I'm gonna go watch the show."
Dawn's smirk was evil, proving that no matter how overwhelmed she was with her giant Reece-crush - she could still see the fun-factor in him get his butt kicked by fifteen year old girls.
Maybe she'd be okay; or maybe she was just hoping for a chance to kiss his boo-boos better afterward. And seeing as where Buffy was hoping someone would kick him - that was a very bad thing.
Buffy stared after her as she tried to come up with ways to incapacitate Reece that couldn't be traced back. On hearing agonized shouts coming from the training field, she had a feeling Kennedy might be taking care of that for her.
"I don't like that guy," Andrew muttered, like maybe Reece would be able to hear him from two hundred feet and a hedge away. "I've been trying to tell Dawn he's an agujero del extremo ever since he arrived, but she just won't listen."
Buffy smiled at him. "I have no idea what that means, but thanks; and don't take it personally. She thinks she's in love, so, unfortunately, she's deaf to any and all criticism. There's nothing we can do about it."
She started walking towards the house. She was going to have to go in and face the music sooner or later. Andrew walked beside her and from nowhere Goorzar the baby demon appeared and put her paw into his hand. Despite herself, Buffy smiled at the cuteness.
"If he hurts her..." Andrew started off bravely, but it fizzled out before he could finish the sentence.
"Don't worry about it, if he hurts her, there won't be enough left of him for you to..." she trailed off wistfully as she spotted Faith through the kitchen windows.
Faith was sitting alone at the kitchen table, her teeth tearing into a slice of wholemeal bread. There were another two slices beneath the one she was eating, but... God! How hungry did she have to be to eat dry bread like it was the best meal ever?
Despite the baggy sweater of Buffy's she was wearing, it was easy to tell just how thin Faith had gotten since the demise of Sunnydale. Not that she needed to see, Buffy had been able to tell last night when her hands had spent hours moving over every inch of Faith. Where once she had been sumptuous curve and toned muscle, she was now lean and hard and angular. It had a certain sex-appeal in its own right, but Buffy just wanted to feed her up and get her back to the glowing peak of health. She wanted to see the vitality burning in those dark beautiful eyes again.
She felt a flood of shame wash over her as she realized she hadn't offered Faith anything to eat the night before when she arrived, or this morning when they'd woken up. It had never entered her mind. Buffy's stomach was full and she'd just assumed Faith's was too, but of course it wasn't! How stupid was she? She didn't have a clue when Faith had eaten last, but she knew for sure it hadn't been in the last twelve hours.
Buffy's first instinct was to rush in there and cook her lover a three-course meal, but she didn't really know how. She could cook, she'd even made a whole Thanksgiving meal once, but it was usually a big affair whenever she tried to make something more exciting than microwave pizza, involving several failed attempts and lots of washing up due to the food being burned right onto the bowls.
Usually her specialty dish was heating up whatever someone had left for her to heat up; and that gave her a brainwave.
"Andrew, can you do me a favor?"
"Of course Buffy, what is it?" His eagerness to help made her feel a bit bad about her general attitude towards him, but she shook it off.
Andrew had spent nearly a whole year making her life hell - a year of her life that was plenty hellish even without his input. Yes he was making amends, but that didn't mean he got an easy pass into the gang. If he wanted in, if he wanted forgiveness, he had to work for it - and this was a good place for him to start.
"Can you cook something for Faith?" she asked quietly, looking through the window again.
"Oh sure," Andrew sighed with relief, making her wonder what he had thought she was going to ask him to do. "What do you want me to cook for her?"
"Uh..." Buffy thought about it for a minute as she gazed at Faith. Healthy or fattening - which was the way to go? "I don't know; she just needs to eat."
"Okay, never mind. I'm getting a pretty good idea of what you Slayers need in your diets now. I'll come up with something," Andrew promised.
"Okay." Buffy fished in her pocket and came out with a crumpled twenty dollar bill. "I don't know how far this will go, but make whatever you want."
She tried to hand the money to him, but he shied away. "I have enough stuff in. I don't need to go buy anything."
"Consider this hush money," Buffy gave him half a smile. "I don't want her to know I asked you to do this and I don't want you just to make her lunch today. I'm talking breakfast, lunch and dinner until she's back to full strength. Are you okay with that?"
"Uh huh." Buffy handed him the bill and he took it this time, stuffing it into the back pocket of his beige cargo pants. "But what do I say when she asks why I'm mothering her?"
"Anything you want as long so I don't get a mention," Buffy cautioned him again. In truth she couldn't think of an answer herself, but Andrew was good with the tall tales, he'd come up with something when he had to.
He looked pained for a second, but then determined as he looked through the window at Faith. He tutted when he saw her slices of bread. "That's not going to do her any good. I'll go make her a proper lunch."
"Andy?" He'd been almost at the back door, his stride purposeful, when Buffy called after him. "Thank you."
He looked worried. "Aren't you, like, coming in too?"
"Um?" She hadn't planned on it.
She'd more planned to hang around in the shadows so to speak for the day; maybe longer. Making sure Faith was okay from afar, while having as little to do with her as possible.
The things that Faith had said to her in front of the parole officer had hurt - and that just added to the pile of hurt that had already landed on her life ever since she'd considered the possibility of being in love with Faith.
She'd never expected things to be easy, but she hadn't expected them to be quite this hard either. It had been five months, and five months was a long time to still not know if you were going to be rejected or not. So until Faith told her where she stood once and for all, she was not getting any of the Buffy-bonuses that usually came as part of a relationship package deal - and that included her witty and delightful conversation.
"I think I'm just gonna..." she started.
"I'm not going in there if you don't!" Andrew said in a rushed whisper. "We don't know what kind of mood she's in and I don't want my first clue to be my spleen getting ventilated with my own paring knife."
"She's not going to stab you, Andrew!" Buffy whispered back angrily.
"You don't know that! Just because she wouldn't stab you or anyone you love doesn't mean she wouldn't stab me. What if the parole officer made her really angry? She might not consider me under your protection."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "She's not going to not stab you because you're under my protection, you moron, she's not going to stab you because she doesn't stab people, anymore.
"Yeah, well, I think you should just make sure she knows that." When he saw that she was about to refuse he held his pointer finger up like an exclamation mark. "Hey, I'm doing you a favor, the least you can do in return is watch my back while I'm facing the oven."
Buffy glanced through the window again. Faith wasn't getting any plumper while they stood out here arguing at the bottoms of their voices.
"Fine, come on then..."
She stomped past him and the demon to the back door, totally missing his sneaky smile of triumph.
Faith had been on her own in the kitchen for a while when she heard voices outside the window. She looked up, vaguely interested, as she popped another piece of bread into her mouth and smiled when she saw it was Buffy.
The smile only lasted as long as it took to remember the bitch's attitude earlier in the day. She'd have happily seen Faith get dragged back to prison by Deb Devenrowe and was probably going to be disappointed to find her still there.
She thought about taking her bread and going to a different room, but she had a limited knowledge of what rooms were in bounds for her and for all she knew Giles had outlawed eating in front of the TV - he probably wasn't a big fan of crumbs all over the furniture.
Buffy wasn't coming in anyway; she was just standing outside with Andrew. They were talking, but Faith couldn't hear what they were saying. She didn't know if they were deliberately talking quiet so she couldn't hear or if the pair of them often whispered secrets to one another and weren't even aware that Faith could see them.
Trying to forget about them, she looked back down at her bread as she pulled off another chunk. It was fresh, but that was all it had going for it. She'd found other food, plenty of other food - she'd had a good snoop and the cupboards and the fridge were well stocked - only she hadn't known what belonged to who and just helping herself to the good stuff felt like stealing. No one had explained the house rules to her yet and Xander had been as helpful as a chocolate stake.
Buffy and Andrew were still just outside the window and it looked like they were arguing now. It was kinda funny, watching people argue with the sound off, but as she saw Buffy about to glance in the window, Faith quickly ducked her head and bit into her last slice of bread.
She kept her head down as she heard the back door open. Time to see if Buffy's mood had improved.
She looked up, smiling in greeting as the blonde came through the door first. "Yo, B."
"Faith." Buffy was holding the door for Andrew, but she smiled back at Faith. It looked kinda awkward but it was better than a frown. "No cuffs, so I assume you have some good news for me."
Faith shrugged uncertainly, "Good if you consider me living here for the foreseeable good."
The curtness of the words did nothing to stop Faith's wide smile of surprise. Buffy allowed her smile to grow a little too, but then looked away.
"It's not all good..." Faith was about to tell her how the meeting had gone when - from her perspective - hell broke loose in the kitchen.
Andrew, who she hadn't even acknowledged yet, suddenly yelled: "Goorzie, no!" - Whatever the hell that meant - and out of the corner of her eye she saw Buffy spin around to see what was going on.
A dark squat figure jumped at the blonde, making her step back and pull back her arm like she was ready to swing at it, but for some reason she hesitated too long. Long enough for it to use Buffy like a springboard to land square in the middle of the table - its long, wide feet made a slapping sound on the wood.
Faith was moving by then. She had no weapons on her and she didn't know the kitchen well enough to know where some might be found. Hand to hand was the way it was going to have to be. She saw the demon - it had to be a demon - make as if to leap back off the table towards her and she moved first - throwing herself over the pitted wood to grab it.
It was damn quick though and leaped up and over her; she turned her head in time to see it balance on the back of her vacated chair, but as the chair started to tip over it launched itself upwards to the top of the refrigerator.
Faith turned that way herself and tripped on the fallen chair; she had to stick her arms out to stop herself head-butting the fridge door. Kicking the chair out of the way, she reached up and got her hand around the demon's thick ankle just at it tried to hop onto the top of the cupboards out of reach.
She pulled its leg and it screeched. Swinging one of its long arms down, its hand smacked her repeatedly on the back of her head. It didn't hurt at first, but by the fourth or fifth smack Faith let go of the leg and ducked away. Sensing its minor victory, the thing squealed even louder than before and jumped up and down on top of the fridge excitedly.
Faith cracked her neck, eyes not leaving the furry little demon and then, too quickly to be anticipated, she leapt for the top of the fridge herself.
It was an easy jump for a slayer to make, but just as her feet touched the smooth plastic surface, the demon squealed delightedly and made it up onto a row of three cupboards. It ran along them to the far end where it perched, looking back and daring her to follow.
As it saw she was giving chase - she went the floor route, not the cupboard one - it developed a bad case of hiccups but they didn't slow it down. It leapt from one row of wall-mounted cupboards to another with Faith close below, but then it had run out of high up surfaces to stay on.
With a leap that Faith found impressive even as she was cursing it, the demon jumped from its current cupboard and stretched out its long arm so that it could grab the lampshade hanging from the middle of the ceiling.
The thing had obviously been counting on its momentum taking it all the way to the back stairs; what it probably hadn't counted on was the light fixture being ripped from the ceiling thanks to the added weight.
A square foot of plaster fell and sparks rained down - singeing the demon's hair. With a terrified wail, it hit the edge of the table and bounced off to the floor.
Faith jumped clean over the table, looking around wildly for the creature and finally spotted it crouching beneath a pine sideboard, deep-set orange eyes stared out at her dolefully.
"Goorzie bad gurl," it rasped softly, making Faith - who had been about to reach under and drag her out - stop in surprise.
The thing could speak?
That was when she realized only she out of the three humans in the room had been chasing the fur ball around like an idiot. The whole thing had lasted less than two minutes which hadn't left her time to analyze why Buffy and Andrew were arguing instead of helping, but now, with Andrew skidding past her on his knees to gently reach under the sideboard, she tuned into Buffy's yelling.
"Andrew! Look what she's done now! If you can't keep her under control, you shouldn't let her in the house. Giles is going to kill you, and her, and Faith!"
Andrew wasn't even listening as he tenderly coaxed the demon out. "Come on sweetie, that's it. It's okay, let me see if you're hurt."
Faith turned her head quickly to Buffy. "Why me too? What did I do?"
"You got her all excited," Buffy snapped, looking at the bits of ceiling all over the kitchen table.
"I thought I was saving us from a demon attack," Faith pointed out.
Sparks were still falling intermittently from the hole in the ceiling, any minute now there was going to be a fire. She looked back down at Andrew. The demon was sitting on his lap now, looking very guilty in a bad puppy kind of way and letting the geek check her over for burns. It met Faith's gaze, bared its big teeth a little and hiccuped quietly, and despite its demonic monkey face, she was sure it was trying for a repentant smile.
She shook her head, bemused and amused. "Where's the electrical box, we need to turn the power off now."
"In the basement, under the stairs." Andrew was still fussing over the demon.
Faith went to the door behind the kitchen stairs, the one she'd seen Xander use earlier.
"Here." She turned and Buffy was standing there, holding out a long handled flash light. "Goorzar's little Tarzan trick has probably blown the power for the whole house."
As Faith took the flashlight, the two of them shared a small smile before Faith nodded once and went through the basement door.
Xander jumped up at the loud crash from downstairs and then started to run from Willow and Kennedy's room to see what had caused it. He wasn't even on the landing when he noticed the dying buzz and vibration of the brand new mains operated wallpaper steamer in his hand.
Standing in the doorway, he gave it a look. Flicked it off and back on again. Still dead. It couldn't be broken. He'd only had it a few hours and he hadn't worked it that hard. Leaning over, he pressed the switch for the bedroom light. Nothing happened. He walked out onto the landing, a frown on his face, and tried the light switch there. Nope.
"Okay, who's done what to my electricity?" he shouted down the stairs. "It had better be demons! If anything less than demonic destruction is the cause for my lack of juice up here, I'm quitting and moving to Barbados." He started down the back stairs. "Gonna go make beach huts in Paradise. Island Slayers will be all sexy and tranquil and tranquility means less broken furniture and less fire damage."
He spotted the hole in the ceiling when he was halfway down and let his gaze to the debris and dust covering the kitchen table.
"Oh no." Was it so bad that he just wanted to keep on going out the door and not come back for a long, long time? Would he be classed as a deserter? Maybe he could plead to having an unstable mind - right now it didn't even feel like a lie.
"Who? How? And why do they want me in an early grave?" He asked, now at the foot of the stairs.
"It was a demon. You just said it had better be a demon or you were leaving," Buffy spoke up quickly. "And, well, a demon did do it."
"Really? And it just happens to be able to disguise itself as one of you, right?" he asked sarcastically.
"Um, now that you mention it," Buffy nodded her head towards Andrew.
Xander looked at the younger man sitting on the stone floor in disbelief, and then he knew who the culprit was. "Oh for the love of... Andy, she pulls a chunk out of the ceiling, blows all the power and you let her wear the lampshade like a trophy hat?"
"She was scared," Andrew defended her, standing up with Goorzar still in his arms. She had her long hairy arms around his neck, her head resting on his shoulder as she looked up at Xander with big guilty eyes.
"I don't care if she was peeing with fear down the front of your t-shirt. Do you know how much extra work this is gonna be? And why? If she wants to play monkey there's like a billion trees out there to swing around on - so why bring my electrical cables into it?"
"It was kinda my fault too." It was Faith speaking. He turned to where she'd just emerged from the basement, carrying one of his flashlights. "Me and the little furry freak were sorta sprung on each other and..." she gestured at the mess on the table.
"She's not a freak," Andrew protested. "And the fault was more than a little yours. You were the one chasing her around."
"Faith was just sitting there eating until the demon lost it and started bouncing around the kitchen," Buffy snapped at Andrew.
"Goorzie was just saying hello, Faith was the one acting aggressively," Andrew snapped back.
"Goorzie's idea of saying hello is aggressive!"
Xander looked from one to the other as they argued. Andrew was defending his demon baby and Buffy was defending her demon girlfriend - although not in the literal sense this time. (Not that he could see that many differences between Buffy's ex literal-demon boyfriends and her current not-literal-demon girlfriend) - And neither of them was going to back down while they felt they were standing on the moral high ground.
On any other day it might have been amusing to watch, today he had too much to do and neither of them were helping. Even Goorzar - still in Andy's arms - looked like she was rolling her big orange eyes as her daddy and her auntie Buffy continued to argue over her
Xander found himself looking at Faith, surprised she wasn't arguing her own case.
She was staying out of it completely, not even looking like she was listening as she used both hands to push the fallen ceiling to the edge of the table in as neat a pile as she could manage.
She noticed his attention. "I turned the main power off 'cause there were sparks falling."
"Okay; thanks." He went to get the dustpan and small brush from under the sink so he could clear the table.
She took it from him and did it herself, making quick work of it and dumping the crap into the garbage pan by the back door.
"Thanks," he said again, surprised.
"No problem." She shrugged and handed the dustpan and brush back. He didn't like her being so quiet. He didn't like her much full stop at the moment, but this quiet, helpful, pleasant Faith was just plain creepy.
"Well she shouldn't be inside if she doesn't know by now how to behave." Buffy was still going.
"You're only saying that because you don't like her." Andy countered. "And it's not like she's destructive all the time. The last forty-eight hours have just left her a bit excitable - she had pixies hanging all over her on Saturday night, how would you like...?"
"So did I and I didn't like it at all, but I'm not the one swinging from the fixtures and fittings!" Buffy shot back.
Faith glanced at him, raising an eyebrow at the mention of the pixies. Seeing the opportunity for more Pixie-related fun in the future, Xander just shrugged like he didn't understand either.
"She's just a little highly strung still and Faith charging after her like that probably gave her flashbacks..."
"Okay, enough!" Xander held his hands up. "Andrew, you know how hyper Goorzie gets when she meets new people and you knew she was still strung-out from the Pixie invasion, so what the hell were you thinking bringing her into the kitchen when Faith was around? Don't you think it might have been a better idea to introduce the two of them outside - where we have more than enough open space to go nuts in?"
"I wasn't thinking," Andrew muttered under his breath, hugging Goorzar a little tighter.
"And Buffy," Xander rounded on her now and she looked surprised. "You couldn't take two minutes out of screwing Faith's brains out to explain a few things? Like, how we have a pet demon so try not to slay her? Or, how we have a bunch of teenagers living here so don't walk around naked in the mornings?"
Buffy stared at him for a second or two, not impressed, but then sheepishly she looked over to Faith. "I really wasn't thinking either."
He looked at Faith next, wanting to chew her out too. He had, in his opinion, a dozen reasons to be mad at her, a dozen reasons and more to not want her there with them at Sunset Camp, in Boudenver even. This wasn't even close to being one of them.
"Faith..." She was waiting to hear what he had to say, not looking like she was actually going to care what it was, but like she was trying to do the polite thing and listen anyway. "Stop being so... normal persony - it's freaking me out!"
She smirked at him, saying nothing.
He sank down in a chair and gave the hole in the ceiling with the wires sticking out a gloomy stare. The hole he could repair easily enough, but the electrics... He was as much of an electrician as he was a plumber. He glared at the little monster to blame and she hid her face in Andrew's shoulder, turning just enough to peek out at him and then quickly hiding again when she realized he was still glaring.
"Yeah, you can hide," he admonished the baby. "I still have the stair you broke Saturday night to fix yet and now this. I should take it out of your allowance."
"She doesn't really get an allowance." Andy made a good start on a hole for himself.
"Then it should come out of your allowance."
Andrew laughed nervously; Xander didn't crack a smile. He was still pissed at him for being who he shared a bedroom with and therefore the one on hand when he decided to have his big gay kiss moment. The whole bedroom-sharing arrangement thing was only meant to be temporary anyway, so how come six weeks later he was still being greeted by a weedy Spiderman every morning?
"I have to make lunch!" Andrew spun from Xander's glare and went to the refrigerator. He started to pull out the leftovers from the day before when he realized, "We don't have power. How can I cook when we have no electricity?" For some reason he was asking Buffy.
"I don't know," she shrugged. "Light the fire and warm it up over that."
Xander rolled his eye. "Or you could have a cold lunch. Since when do you do a cooked lunch anyway?"
"I... just felt like it," Andy wasn't very convincing, but Xander didn't care.
He wasn't hungry yet and as soon as he knocked off for the day he was planning on heading to Barnies for the evening - he could eat there.
He wanted a beer now, now that he'd thought of it. He knew there was a six pack of Coors in the refrigerator and a couple of cans of Heineken. He could grab one now, no trouble, and take it on up with him to sip at while he worked.
It was tempting, but before he could decide whether or not it was a good idea, the magick room door opened. He wasn't the only person who looked up in surprise as Willow poked her head in.
"Hi guys." She looked a bit uneasy with everyone's attention. "What's going on?"
"Have you been in there this whole time?" Faith asked.
"Yeah. I was busy updating my herb database and then my laptop went poof." She was still mostly hidden by her door, only her head was visible to the people in the kitchen.
"You made it disappear?" Faith frowned.
"No, not that kind of poof. All the stuff on the screen just suddenly vanished, and I thought at first that one of the words I put in kinda mixed badly with other words I put in, and made it disappear. So I've been trying to get it back. Except, when I started reading through the FAQ's in the Wicca's Web and Windows Guide, I realized my reading light had gone out too."
"Your didn't hear all the bangs and crashes?" Buffy asked incredulously.
"I had my headphones on," she smiled suddenly. "I found some Dingoes Ate My Baby on iTunes."
Xander looked sharply at Buffy, who had spoken like sarcasm was her first language.
"Um, yeah. I'd forgotten how good they are."
"You mean you'd forgotten how good Oz is?" Buffy continued.
Did Buffy know that Willow had kissed Oz? More to the point, had Willow kissed Oz? It had looked like it from where Xander had been standing, but he hadn't actually seen any actual kissage. He'd been prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt; Buffy - who hadn't even been in the room - obviously wasn't.
"I don't know what you mean." Willow's eyes darted from left to right as she tried to see who else was in the kitchen.
"Sure you do. Oz makes a guest appearance and all of a sudden you remember just how much you used to like him, how much he understands you like nobody else, how he makes you feel when he looks into your eyes..."
"Stop it! It's not like that." Willow came fully out of her magick room now, her hands out, imploring Buffy to stop. "I mean, it was exactly like that, but I didn't want it to be." She frowned. "How did you know anyway?"
"I didn't, I was just teasing," Buffy smiled, but there was still something in her voice that sounded recriminating. "I didn't expect to be right; I thought you were really into Kennedy."
"Oh Gaia," Willow covered her face with her hands. "I am! I didn't mean to let him kiss me. It just happened! How do I tell Kennedy? She's already jealous, how do I get her to believe it was just an accident?"
"First of all, I'd stay away from the word accident." It was Faith that offered the advice. She walked to the short counter that half separated the cooking side of the kitchen from the eating side and hopped onto it. Buffy was standing in front of it, just to her right. She gave Faith a quick glance but didn't say anything. "You can't accidentally kiss someone. You can fall on them so's both your mouths are touching, but that's not kissing and that's probably not what happened with you and Oz either."
"Can you keep your voice down?" Willow hissed.
"I'm not talking loud," Faith chuckled.
"I know, but keep it down further. Kennedy could be anywhere and slayers hear really well, as you would know, so... please?"
"I don't know where Kennedy is," Buffy blurted. Xander glanced at her. She was licking her lips nervously. "Before anyone asks."
Andrew turned to give Buffy an odd look. "She's in the training field with the cadets and slayers."
"Oh yeah," Buffy mumbled. "I forgot, what with all the big news about you kissing Oz!"
Willow made a whimpery sound in the back of her throat and Xander glared at Buffy. What was her problem today? He didn't have to think too hard before he came up with the answer: Faith.
Buffy looked away uncomfortably.
"It'll be alright, Will. Kenny will understand - you just made a mistake. You fluked... and it's not like you're the only person ever... today, even." As Xander felt a cold unpleasant shiver squiggle down his spine, he saw Andrew cringe lower over whatever cold dish he was preparing. Faith chuckled from the counter top. "Okay, I'm having a beer."
He went to the fridge to grab a cold can. One wouldn't hurt and it wasn't like he didn't deserve it after everything he'd been through since waking up that morning. He was impressed he hadn't stopped at Barnies for breakfast instead of The Mouth after his freakin' flukin' with Andy.
And he'd made progress with the burned bedroom already. Most of the scorched and smoke-stained wallpaper was steamed off. The big red poppies that Kennedy had never liked now lay in tattered strips on the floor. The bed was mostly just a charred and soggy pile of wood and mattress, he'd stamped on it to get the pieces as small as possible and then rolled it all up in the burned through carpet. The resulting lump of destruction was too heavy for him to shift on his own, but he was hoping to rope a couple of the newbie slayers into carrying it to one of the outhouses later.
He popped the ring tab on the can and went to sit opposite Willow, who was so distressed over her indiscretion that, for once, she didn't judge him over his lunch time drinking.
"What do I say to her?" she asked again, wringing her hands together in her lap. "I never meant to mess this up."
Buffy was normally the one who stepped in on this kind of relationship thing. Once upon a time, she'd have had her arm around Willow, comforting her and telling her everything was going to be okay.
Right now she just looked awkward. She tried from afar though. "Maybe you should just keep it to yourself. After all, no one in this room is going to say anything because we all love you and don't want to see you and Kennedy break up over something as silly as just a little kiss that didn't mean anything and never would have happened if other certain people didn't suddenly happen to show up and confuse things and make you feel like, hey, maybe they should be more considerate of your feelings instead of carrying on all free-as-a-bird as if you were... okay... with it." Buffy trailed off, her awkwardness intensifying under their confused stares. "So all in favor of keeping it zipped?" She was the only one to hold her hand up.
Willow shook her head. "I can't. I have to tell her or the guilt will eat at me; I just don't know how to tell her without making her want to leave me."
"He kissed you, right?" Faith asked. She was eying Xander's beer and he was trying not to notice. Willow nodded. "Then tell her that. Tell her he kissed you and it took you by surprise and as soon as you realized what he was doing you told him to stop. You did tell him to stop, right?"
There was silence for a second and then Willow said, "Yeah, I did, just not quite as soon as I realized what he was doing. There might have been like a three minute delay on my stopping reactions."
"So you kissed him back?" Faith clarified. Willow nodded mutely. "Then, sorry Red, but my quick fix solutions ain't gonna get you through this one. If you kissed him back then you obviously still have something for him. Painting over the cracks and telling Ken it was all a big mistake is only going to make things right until you get the urge to kiss him again."
"I don't want to kiss him again," Willow stressed.
"Yeah and I bet you didn't want to kiss him before you kissed him earlier, but something in you obviously changed its mind when he kissed you."
"Since when are you an expert on kissing?" Buffy asked irritably.
"You don't think I'm an expert kisser?" Faith teased. Sitting on the counter, she was close enough to tap the side of her foot against the blonde's thigh.
Buffy pushed the foot away, blushing lightly. "You know that's not what I meant."
Faith shrugged. "I'm no expert, but I remember a time you kissed me when I didn't want you to, a couple actually."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Buffy asked, her voice tight with embarrassment.
"Nothing, I just love seeing your cheeks get all red and rosy, B. Makes me wonder where else that heat might be spreading to." She winked at Buffy.
"Yeah, well... get used to wondering because that's all you'll be doing for a long time," Buffy told her and then turned to the rest of the kitchen. "And for the record, the times she's talking about - the me kissing her times - she never took much convincing to kiss me back, and anyway - she started it."
Buffy stormed from the kitchen, slamming the door behind her. Xander took a sip of his beer.
"And here I was thinking this was all about me," Willow joked weakly.
Faith slumped on the counter, looking at the recently slammed door for a beat. Taking a deep breath, she said. "B just summed up your problem nicely. When she kissed me, she was trying to convince me I should stay and make a go of it with her; and I wanted to punch her in the face for pushing me like that. Never did though." She smiled. "See, I'd get kinda preoccupied the second she did and forget that I wasn't supposed to be enjoying it." Sighing, she added, "Kissing her meant way more than any screw I ever had - too many damn feelings involved. Kissing's dangerous."
'Thanks a lot,' Xander thought, but kept it to himself. "So how does all of this help Willow?" he asked instead.
"Dunno. Can I grab a beer?"
He wanted to say no on principal, but then he remembered how she'd turned the power off and cleared the table - mostly - it was still covered in a layer of dust. "Fine, but what you drink, you replace."
Not that anyone else stuck to that rule. She took one of the cans from the fridge and came back to sit next to Willow at the table as she opened it.
"Just tell Ken you screwed up and you're sorry." She took a long slow swallow of her beer, savoring it. "And if she's not happy, just take some clothes off and say it again."
"Is that what you're going to do with Buffy?" Willow didn't sound too pleased with the advice.
"Maybe, I dunno." Faith took another pull on her beer.
"You have a lot of making up to do there," Xander found himself saying. "I don't think the quick fix of taking your clothes off is going to be enough to make Buffy forgive you."
"Yeah, what gave that away?" Faith rolled her eyes. "If it was, me and B would be holdin' hands and skipping through a field of daisies right now."
"Skipping through daisies?" he chuckled. "You haven't been in love since you were like, twelve, have you?"
"I haven't been in love, period." She finished her beer and crunched the can.
"Well, the daisy fields are mostly metaphorical," Willow smiled. "And the skipping. The holding hands is real though; and nice."
"Thanks for the info." Faith was smirking, but she seemed actually touched by Willow's return of advice.
Xander narrowed his eye as he looked at her. He'd been trying to figure out her game all day, but he couldn't. Was she not playing one or was she just clever enough to fool him? The second option was pretty likely, and that wasn't low self-esteem talking, but history.
"Lunch is served," Andrew announced from behind them and placed a big plateful of pork salad down in front of Faith.
She grinned up at him as he handed her a knife and fork. "Enjoy Faith. It's not as fancy as the big welcome home meal Buffy prepared for you last week. But, well, we had to eat that last week or it would have spoiled; and no one knew if you were ever going to be coming home or not so there didn't seem a lot of point in saving it." He seemed to realize he was babbling. Shutting up, he grinned encouragingly at Faith. "Go on and tuck in before it gets cold ...er."
Xander looked from the piled up plate of food, to Faith as she stuck the fork in and lifted a huge amount up to her mouth, to Willow who looked as put out as he felt.
"So where's our lunch?" he asked in disbelief. Seeing Faith eat was making him hungry.
"Um, I didn't think you'd have time to eat," Andrew said hesitantly. "And anyway, I have to go get ready to go out."
He went quickly up the back stairs. Goorzar followed him.
"What do you mean you're going out? I thought you were gonna help me this afternoon?" Xander called after his retreating back, but Andrew disappeared without answering. "Typical. Goorzie causes me all the work and her parental guardian won't even make time to throw some cold cuts on a plate for me."
"What did Goorzie do now?" Willow asked. He pointed at the ceiling and she looked upwards, spotting the hole and the damaged cables still hanging from it. "Oh boy. That explains why the power's out. What made her do that?"
Faith held up her hand, the other was still forking food into her mouth at an alarming speed. She was eating like she hadn't in a month; if she didn't slow down she was going to choke on a lettuce leaf.
"What did Giles say?" Willow asked next.
Xander gave a tight smile. "He hasn't seen it yet, but I betcha he says 'shove a plastering utensil up Xander's arse and he'll do it as he goes!'"
Willow giggled, which hadn't been quite the sympathetic reaction he'd been hoping for, but that probably had more to do with his pronunciation of ass than his predicament.
"I guess I better call the electrician before he can ask me to." He got up to get the phone from the wall. "See what little victories he has me shooting for now?"
When they'd first moved in, Giles had insisted they get an electrician to give all the sockets and the lights a once over. If they were going to pretend to be a school, they had to have the official paperwork saying the building was up to code. The number for the electrician they'd used was still on the pin board next to the phone and right next to the plumber's number, although Xander had called him so many times in the past week that he knew that guy's number by heart.
While he stood waiting for the line to be picked up, he opened the fridge to see what was in there food wise. Hmm, nothing appetizing was dancing around waiting for him to notice it.
Beer it was then.
Buffy squeezed through the gap to the training field. She wasn't really that interested right now in how the cadets were doing - Giles and Kennedy had it covered - but she needed something to take her mind off of Faith and just walking around wasn't doing it. It was either this or head down to Barnies, and that hadn't worked out so well the last time. Being a crying, gibbering wreck when Faith was a few thousand miles away was one thing, but being one when she was just down the road and could wander in at any second - that was another, badder thing.
Her humiliation levels were already high enough. Why did Faith have to be so casual and jokey about them all the time?
It wasn't that Buffy didn't appreciate the casual, jokey side of life, she did, she thrived on it even. She just would rather do without it when it came to her and Faith's relationship because that was enough of a joke to begin with without filling it with extra funnies.
She sat on the grass, well away from all the action but close enough to spot any mistakes Reece made. Kennedy was putting the cadets through the same routine she put herself and the new slayers through every morning. Her own Watcher had taught her the moves when she was like nine or something.
Buffy had done it a few times and it was good. Mostly focusing on improving stamina, balance and strike speed, it certainly got the heart pumping.
Kennedy was leading the show while Giles stood on the sidelines making notes. Occasionally he'd call out to either Naomi, Reece or Craig - who was holding his own at the back - an instruction that would enhance their techniques. It made Buffy smile nostalgically.
Dawn was also watching the training session; well, mostly watching Reece's every move. Now and then she doodled on her notepad instead, probably hearts filled with Reece's name if she was anything like her big sister at that age.
Who was she trying to kid? If she had a notebook on her lap right now, the page would be covered in hearts bearing Faith's name. No! She gave her brain a bolstering shake. There would be no doodling of Faith's name, ever. Or at least not until she came across Faith doodling her name. So yeah, never.
Buffy watched Kennedy go through a series of shadow stakings, spinning first one way and then the other with some fancy footwork, and wondered what the hell she had been thinking earlier.
True, Kennedy was attractive, and there was something about her - a quality she found hot in Faith that she couldn't even put a name to, and Kennedy had it too. Maybe it was the mysterious allure of only ever letting people know your first name. Whatever it was, it had never made Buffy feel hot for Kennedy before though.
No matter what it was, it wasn't enough to go around jumping the other slayer, not even after sparring. Sure the hormone craziness was a fact that slayers couldn't away from, but it usually took more than a little scuffle to get her in that state. Thank God, because it would be just too embarrassing if she got horny every time she trained with Giles or Xander.
No, there was only one conclusion: she was a slut. It was a hard truth to face, Buffy had always tried to keep a fairly tight rein on her morals, but there was just no denying it now. She'd slept with Faith five minutes after her arrival last night when she should have just tossed her back out the bedroom window; she'd kissed her best friend's girlfriend this morning, and now she was staring at Naomi's long, tanned legs and little red shorts...
Buffy looked away from the eye-catching cadet with a groan.
How would Kennedy react when Willow told her about Oz? Would she flip out without listening to reason or put it into perspective with her own illicit kiss? It had meant nothing, it was nothing.
Kennedy had admitted to being in love with Willow earlier, a fact her best friend apparently didn't know yet. Would it have made a difference if Willow had? - would that have been enough to provide the surge of self control when she'd needed it? Would Kennedy still feel the same way once she knew her girlfriend had cheated; once her fear was a reality?
Buffy pondered these questions with a heavy heart. She hadn't been there for Willow earlier, no support, no understanding, and she knew it was because of guilt. Guilt so bad she couldn't even let herself imagine how Willow was going to feel if she found out. Except it seemed her imagination wasn't waiting for permission on this one and Buffy could see those brilliant green eyes flashing with hurt and pain, and the quirky lips built for happy-faces turning down and trembling with disbelief.
"I think that will be enough for one day." Giles shout cut through Buffy's thoughts.
'Oh thank God,' Buffy thought, getting to her feet and dusting off the back of her shorts, happy to be distracted from the guilt trip.
"You've all done tremendously well and I imagine you shall feel some aches and pains in the morning. Remember, that just means it's working," Giles continued to call out cheerfully.
"Plenty of Bengay tonight, you'll be fine," Kennedy called. "I have a good idea of your abilities now so Giles and I will have a word and then assign Watchers to their most compatible Slayers in the morning. Tonight you five slayers are going out to patrol Boudenver alone."
"What about Faith?" Rona asked. "Won't she want to patrol tonight? She must be itching to do some dusting after months of being locked up."
Kennedy passed the question to Buffy with a sidelong glance.
"If Faith wants to join you, she can," Buffy told them mildly. Not that she was planning on mentioning that to Faith. "But it's not like this place is overrun with vampires. I'd be surprised if you get one staking between you tonight."
"So yeah, just the slayers are going out tonight, but by the end of the week, the cadets will be patrolling with their assigned slayer five nights a week. I'll draw up the rotas. So you all better go enjoy your afternoon off." Kennedy gave Dawn a conspiring smile as she walked swiftly past her.
Buffy caught up. "Want any help with the assignments?"
"No need, I think Giles has pretty much worked out who he wants with who; he only asked for my input to be polite."
"Okay," Buffy squeezed through the gap in the hedge after her. Giles hadn't asked her, not even to be polite. "Look, about earlier..."
"It's okay," Kennedy interrupted. "I'm gonna tell Willow that we kissed."
"What?" Buffy stopped walking.
Kennedy turned to face her. "I thought that's what you wanted?"
Buffy gave a distressed whimper.
"Tonight, I'm going to take her out. I'm going to explain how jealous I was feeling, tell her I did a really stupid thing because of it and that I'm really really sorry, and then I'm going to tell her I love her." Kennedy frowned at the grass. "I don't expect it's going to be as smooth sailing as I'm hoping and I'm not quite sure how to tell her I love her yet. I mean, 'I kissed Buffy, but I love you' probably won't come out sounding the way I mean it to."
"Do you have to bring my name into it?"
"Yeah, I'm kinda hoping your betrayal will overshadow mine."
"I'm joking. I'll say I kissed 'some girl', but if she asks for more, I'm not going to lie. After all, the whole point of putting myself through this is so that I can be honest with her."
"Why are you and Wills so down on keeping secrets these days?" Buffy huffed. "I thought secrets were supposed to be sexy."
"What's Willow keeping secrets about?" Kennedy looked worried.
"Um... nothing that I know of." Buffy shook her head innocently and started for the house again just as a battered grey van pulled up into the yard.
Buffy didn't recognize it so she stopped to see who was visiting.
Oz jumped out of the driver's side, and even though Kennedy was a couple of feet behind her now, Buffy sensed her stiffening.
"Hi Oz," she gave him a brief smile. She didn't have any problem with him at all, but she couldn't deny he'd caused a major disruption in the household already whether he'd meant to or not. "Back again, I see."
"Buffy." He smiled back, completely ignoring Kennedy's glare. "Just dropping off Robin and I need to speak to Giles about Eric staying at mine tonight. His parents are happy enough, I think - they're pretty freaked out - but they want an official sign off from someone they've met already."
"Can't say I blame them. Some strange man comes by and wants to invite their little boy for a sleepover," Kennedy smirked nastily. "If it were my son, I'd be suspicious too."
"He's seventeen, not that little," Oz shrugged.
"Yeah, but you still want to chain the boy up - that probably seems a little perverted in most people's..."
"Robin, hey!" Buffy enthusiastically greeted the man who was now out of the van and standing with them. "How are you? Giles mentioned you were joining us out here. Have you settled in yet? Sorry about being stuck in the boys dorm, we're way short on space at the moment."
"Buffy, hi. It's good to see you." Robin smiled warmly and came over to kiss her on the cheek. "Although, I'm kind of surprised you're so pleased to see me."
"Why?" Her pleasure at that moment came solely from the fact that he was standing between Kennedy and Oz, breaking up their snippy bickering; but generally she liked the well-spoken, many-muscled demon fighting son of a slayer very much. Sure they'd had their difference of opinion over Spike, but it wasn't like she couldn't understand his point of view on that one - it was just that his vendetta was a couple of years too late in coming.
"Well," he began. "I saw Faith earlier and she agreed to grab a pizza with me later, but Willow gave me the impression you two were an item now. I get the feeling she was just trying to warn me off again for my own safety..." he chuckled softly "...but if we're going to be working together - you and I - I'd rather not have anything like this between us. So..?"
Buffy's face had fallen as soon as he'd mentioned Faith. She'd pretty much forgotten all about their little tryst. Actually, she hadn't forgotten about it all, but she had marked it as unimportant.
After all, she'd won, right? Faith loved her. Okay so she hadn't said it so many words yet, but she wouldn't have come back if she didn't, would she? It was just a coincidence that Faith had gone missing for a week and then turned up the day before Robin did, right?
He was asking her permission, again. She could tell him to forget it, tell him he'd missed his chance, that he'd never had a chance in the first place and he was just making himself look like a fool for chasing the un-catchable slayer. Buffy should know, Faith had been making her look pretty foolish for months.
Or she could forget telling him anything and just punch him out, throw him in the back of Oz's van and pay the occasional werewolf to drive him a few thousand miles away and leave him there.
She mustered a smile instead. "Hey, if guys want to go out for pizza together... Have fun!" she finished brittle-bright and walked off, shaking slightly.
Robin looked confused and was about to say something else but Buffy just kept walking until she was out of sight around the side of the house.
"Why the hell didn't you tell him to back off?" Kennedy had followed her without Buffy realizing. Good, at least that meant she wasn't clawing Oz's eyes out. "He practically said he wouldn't make a move if you didn't want him to, so why didn't you tell him you didn't want him to?"
"Because," she hissed back, "if she wants to go out for pizza with him, then it's because she wants to go out for pizza with him. So what's the point in me caring enough to stop them?"
"Uh, because you do care?" Kennedy reminded her.
"Not a good enough reason."
Xander crow-barred the last of the charred floorboards out and chucked them to the side of the room out of his way. The hole left was about five foot by five foot - the size and shape of Willow's bed - meaning for once luck was on his side and he'd bought more than enough new boards. He shone his flashlight into the hole he'd made, checking for any internal damage, but the area between the floor and the ceiling below looked clear.
They'd gotten away lucky really. Half the house was timber; it could just as easily burned to the ground the day before. It was thanks to the Pixies' quick thinking with the hose that it hadn't. Although the fact it was their fault in the beginning made that all kinds of void.
This part wouldn't take that long now.
The water damage done by the Pixies was superficial, it was mostly just personal items that had taken a drenching, and with the smoky wallpaper steamed from the walls the room hardly looked like the scene of a blazing fire.
It would still be a few days before Willow and Kennedy could move back in though. The painting alone would take a day if he didn't get any help, and with Andrew making himself scarce and the Pixies gone underground, that was looking likely.
Damn it, he wasn't a painter and decorator; he was a carpenter!
He looked at the freshly treated floorboards lying in a pile and smiled. For an hour or so at least he got to be just that, a guy working with his wood.
He smiled at his mental innuendo and, pulling off the heavy duty gloves and the rubber safety glasses he'd used while pulling up the burnt boards, he tossed them aside for the time being. Then, kneeling between the pile of boards and the hole, he set to work.
It only took as long as fitting the third tongue into the second groove, and he was in the groove himself. The beer he'd brought up with him was forgotten as he checked the stability of what he'd done so far and reached for the fourth board, comfortably focused on what he was doing.
That was why he jumped at the unexpected voice coming from the open door.
"Watcha doin'?" Faith was leaning on the door frame.
"Milking a goat. What are you doing? Other than following me around the house?"
She laughed. "I'm not following you. Everyone's either busy or scarce, so I came exploring."
"I'm busy too," he pointed out. The fourth board fit where he wanted it to perfectly, but it lost some of its pleasure with an audience; with this audience.
"I can see that." She came further into the room and squatted on the other side of the hole. "You need any help?"
"No thanks, I'm good." He told her through gritted teeth. Why wouldn't she just go and bother someone else? Like Buffy for instance, that was who she was supposed to be bothering.
"All that complaining about the amount of work you have, and when someone offers to help you turn 'em down?" She shook her head. "No wonder no one listens anymore."
The fifth board wouldn't fit into the groove properly and Xander knew whose fault that was. "Fine, what do you know about fitting floors?"
"So what? You were just planning on donning a swimsuit and handling my tool... handing me my tools," he corrected quickly. "Not the first thing I said."
She chuckled, looking down into the shallow hole instead of at him. "Truth is I'm not too sure what I'm supposed to be doing around here. I figured Giles would give me a job to do, something to earn this salary he was talking about, but he doesn't seem in a big hurry to do it."
"I thought you'd want to spend every minute with Buffy." He got the board in at last. "Make up for all that time you guys missed together."
She didn't answer straight away; when she did it was casually. "B's busy, I guess."
"But you do want to?" He asked. "I mean, you came back here 'cause you wanna be with her, right? Not just to screw with her some more."
His tone wasn't friendly, but hers was as she answered, "Wantin' something and makin' it work are two very different things, Xan, but if it happens I'm assuming some screwing is gonna be involved."
He looked up at her. She was smirking, but it looked kinda uncomfortable on her face. Like she was really regretting coming in here after all, but wasn't gonna make it easy on herself by walking away.
If she wasn't so full of bull, it might have been admirable.
"I think you know that's not the kind of screwing I meant, although you are equally notorious for both."
Faith laughed quietly. "Once upon a time I'd have considered that a compliment."
If she was waiting for him to ask 'What about now?' she'd be waiting a while. He slotted floor board number six into place with no trouble. He was glad he'd asked Ronnie at the lumber yard to cut these down for him now. He had the buzz saw to do it, but this way saved him a lot of time on prep.
"I'm going to screw with her mind," Faith protested, the silence getting to her. Xander looked up sharply. "I am! And she's going to screw with mine." She sighed with cynical amusement. "She already is. And from the way I hear it, it's supposed to happen. Are you really telling me you and Anya never drove each other crazy?"
"Of course we did. Being in love means being crazy most of the time. But it also means sticking around and being there when it gets crazy. Not taking off and leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces."
"Isn't that what you did when you...?" she bit her lip.
"What?" Xander stopped in the act of sliding another board into place to glare at her. With even more anger, he repeated: "What?"
"Nothing." She looked away at the pile of scorched wood by the wall.
"No, say what you were going to say," he insisted roughly.
"I wasn't saying nothing, man, just..." she glanced back at him and maybe it was the look in his eye that made her shrug slightly and carry on. "I heard from a few people, Anya included - you walked out on your wedding day. You're a bigger asshole than anyone ever thought you were." She paused when Xander smiled darkly. "Big freaking deal - the chick was still diggin' you long after, so why get so pissy with me?"
Xander shook his head. When he got up from his kneeling position, his legs ached for a second. He went to the window sill to get his beer.
"You've never cared about anyone in your life so I wouldn't expect you to understand."
She was standing on his good side so he saw her flinch back a little out of the corner of his eye.
"I don't think you know me as well as you think you do," she replied.
"And whose fault is that?"
"Don't tell me that's what this is all about? You're still mad because I didn't make you my boy toy all those years ago?"
He turned to face her. "You did make me a toy all those years ago, but that's not what this is about."
"Then why have you been giving me a hard time since I got here?" Faith asked, like she really didn't know. "I thought we were okay back in Sunnydale - I know we weren't exactly exchanging friendship bracelets or nothing, but you weren't giving me this much shit either."
"You hadn't just broken Buffy's heart then!" He knew straight away that he shouldn't have just shouted that. It wasn't his place to tell Buffy's business, but he'd started now. "Having to spend months watching her cry over the likes of you kind of takes its toll on my friendliness. We'd all pretty much come around to the idea of you being here by the time your appeal started," he was lying, he was the only one who'd ever really voiced any dissent to the idea - and he hadn't come around by the appeal date, he'd just been resigned to fate. "But then you went and broke her heart all over again. In fact, you've got a hell of a nerve even showing your face around here after that supreme stunt of selfishness."
"Angel said you'd be a dick about it," she sneered. Standing, she left the room without another word.
Xander threw his empty beer can at the opposite wall in frustration and watched it bounce off and drop to the floorboards.
"Well that made me feel a ton better," he sighed, scooping the can back up again and chucking it onto the pile of burnt crap next to the wall.
He wanted another beer now, the first two having whetted his taste buds so to speak. They were downstairs though and that was not somewhere he was going for a while.
It was probably best to let the dust settle before he ran into Faith again, and he didn't want to run into Buffy in case she was pissed at him for telling Faith stuff he shouldn't have. And he didn't want to run into Giles and face the question of when he could fix the new hole in the kitchen ceiling, or whatever task the Watcher felt was the highest priority right that minute. All in all it was safer just to stay in the bedroom and keep working.
So kneeling back down, he picked up the next board and tried not to think about how the beers in the fridge were calling his name like a flock of baby seagulls.
A half hour later Xander was singing quietly to himself as he slotted in the last new floorboard: "Place it down, wiggle it around, ninety-nine pieces of wood in the floor..."
"Oz, hey. Get all the wolfy stuff sorted out?"
"I think so. His parents coped by knocking him out last night just as the moon came up."
"With a sleepy-head dart?" Xander asked wiping his tools off with a soft cloth first, he put them back in his bag.
"No, with an iron poker. When he started to change they kind of... freaked out, expecting a repeat of the night before I guess and so they whacked him. Now I don't know who's more scared - him or them," Oz explained as he looked around the room. "He's gonna stay at mine tonight - I have a cage."
"Won't you be using it?"
"I won't change tonight."
"Oh right. I forgot, you're like Teen Wolf now. Everyone's favorite cuddly werewolf." It was time to start painting. The ceiling needed doing first - he hated painting ceilings and now he had two to do - but he didn't know if he could be bothered with it today. "And speaking of cuddling - what's this I hear about you getting smoochy with Will this morning?"
Oz didn't say anything. When Xander turned from looking through his tins of paint, he half expected to find the shorter guy gone, but he was still standing there.
"She told you?" he asked, frowning ever so slightly.
"Well, sort of, but you forget I walked in on it. I knew something was going on, something always is when Willow moves that fast away from someone."
"You would know," Oz said mildly.
"And now so do you," Xander nodded. "Dude, there is nothing I'd like better than to see the two of you back together... if Kennedy wasn't around. But she is... and I'm sorry man, but I don't think Willow has any plans to break up with her. She's pretty upset by what happened this morning."
"Upset?" Oz asked, coming to stand next to Xander by the paint. "I didn't mean to upset her. I thought... This morning, it wasn't just me, she was there with me. I could feel it."
"And I believe you," Xander shrugged. "But, you know, there are times when two people kiss and it feels right, until you realize that it's wrong, oh so so wrong, and so you stop, but by then it's too late, right? You've already kissed and the damage is done and all's that left is to gargle mouthwash until the cows come home," Xander rambled; half to himself as he pried open the lid of a can of white emulsion.
"Yeah," Oz said, like he understood completely. "Except I don't want to gargle."
The quiet that followed the simple sentence gave Xander a deep sense of foreboding, and he almost didn't want to ask, but... If he could take Faith on and come out the other side with all the same body parts he went into the verbal battle with, then luck was obviously on his side. And if he was lucky, he'd be wrong.
"You want her back, don't you?"
"I walked away once without a fight, Xan, and it was the hardest..." Oz looked through the wall. He may have been a man of few words, but he wasn't often lost for them - Xander found himself listening when he should have been shutting him down flat. "It felt like the right thing to do then; it doesn't now."
"Okay, Oz, I'm gonna deliver the cold splash of reason here," Xander stopped stirring the white paint with a six inch wooden stake and stood to face the other man squarely. "Willow is gay, she's a les-b-ian," he pronounced the word slowly. "Believe me; I spent the better part of a year constantly hearing about it. And you're a lot of things, my friend, but female isn't one of them."
"She didn't seem too gay when she kissed me earlier."
Xander exhaled, loudly, "And I didn't seem too straight earlier, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna suddenly get a stylin' new wardrobe and learn how to shake my thang on the dance floor."
Oz ignored that; which was probably just as well 'cause Xander didn't want to have to explain. "Then if I'm wrong, it won't take long to find out and no harm done."
'Now why don't I believe that?' Xander wondered as he poured the white emulsion into his brand new paint tray.
"Here at last!" Andrew sing-songed from the back seat.
Dawn looked out of the passenger window excitedly as Reece carefully pulled the car into a parking space by the waterfront. In truth, Lakeside was about as exciting as its name was creative, but after so many boring weeks of spreading her time between school, the camp and Boudenver - this was a big afternoon out!
She'd been down here a total of one time. The week they'd moved in she'd come down with Xander and Willow to check it out. They'd all agreed it was nice but that they'd probably spend most of their time off in Cleveland - the novelty of living so close to the big city was appealing to all of them after growing up in small town Sunnydale.
Somehow that had never happened. Dawn hadn't even been to Cleveland since they'd passed through looking for directions two months ago. She didn't have her license yet and the guys were always either too busy or too miserable to drive her in. She and Kennedy had talked about a night out a couple of weeks back, but Buffy had put the kabooshski on that one - apparently Dawn was too young to go clubbing in the city without her big sister and because her big sister didn't want to go clubbing in the city - neither could she.
It hadn't been fair, and Dawn had been prepared to stage a walk-out protest and head off anyway, but Kennedy had ended up being busy with Willow, and Dawn had ended up spending the evening playing Go Fish with Andrew.
"So, this is it?" Reece asked, looking out of the windows himself as he turned the engine off.
Giles had said they could use the car because no one had been available to give them a ride. Reece had his UK driving license so Giles had handed over the keys with about a million instructions on what to, and not to, do while driving. He probably wouldn't have allowed any of them to drive at all if they'd been going any where more adventurous than Lakeside, but as it was they'd seen about six cars on their way, and two of those had been stationary.
"It's not much, is it?" Craig was sat in the back with Andrew, also looking around.
Dawn felt herself color up a little with embarrassment. She'd asked Reece out on a date - well not really, but it still was a date, sort of, hopefully - and then she'd brought him here! To this dinky little resort on the edge of Lake Erie, when he was probably used to cool places like London.
"It's lame, I know," she said, feeling stupid for her excitement earlier. "I mean I know it's lame and I come from Sunnydale, which was about a square foot bigger than here," she joked weakly. "Not exactly the cosmopolitan environment you're used to."
Reece chuckled. "Until I joined the academy at fourteen, I lived in a farm village about a square foot smaller than this. One road, one post office, one pub. My nanny had to drive twenty miles a day just to take me to school and back."
"And I live on a council estate in North London: three stabbings, two burned out cars and an armed robbery a week," Craig said dispassionately as he climbed out of the back of the car. "If that's what you mean when you say cosmopolitan, I'm happy to have a little lame for a change."
"Oh, okay." Dawn smiled a little, feeling a bit better about it.
Reece grinned at her - making her feel a lot better about it - and got out of the car too.
She looked over her shoulder at Andrew as Reece and Craig both slammed their doors shut. "You're quiet."
"I'm nervous," he admitted quietly. "I was only really asking Craig to come along so he wouldn't feel left out, but now it feels like a... a date; and I've never been on one before."
Dawn took a second to digest the fact that Andrew liked Craig.
It was no secret that Craig had a crush on Andrew - Craig might have been keeping himself hidden for the past week, but his crush had been right out in the open. Andrew had seemed pretty tense with the interest. Now she realized the tension had come from a different source to the one she thought.
For a second she thought about teasing him mercilessly, but that would have to wait, there were bigger things to deal with.
"I'm nervous too," she admitted back. "I wanted to ask Reece on a date and then he invited himself, so I don't know if it's a date or not. And I've never been on one before either - not really, not without magic jackets involved - so I don't know how to tell if it's real or if I'm just going to make a big fool of myself."
They sat there with strained smiles, but when it was clear neither of them were knowledgeable enough in this subject to give the other advice, Dawn opened the passenger door and climbed out.
"Dawn, hey Dawn!"
She turned at the sound of Fen's shout and relaxed as she saw her school friend running over, the various buckles, chains and bracelets she always wore sounding almost like exotic wind chimes.
"Sunny D, you're late!" Fen scolded, out of breath from the running. She swept some long blonde hair from her face as she panted. "Even later than the late you said you were going to be. I've been sitting outside the ice cream place for twenty minutes on my own. I'm not naturally stick thin like you; I can't be left unattended outside an ice cream place for that long..." She spotted Reece standing on the other side of the car. "And hello."
Dawn felt her smile drop a little. Fen was obviously smitten at first sight - hardly surprising, Reece was gorgeous! - But what if he liked her too? It wasn't like she knew how he felt about her, and as she'd said to Andrew the date thing had never been made clear. If he thought they were just out as friends, there was nothing to stop him from making a move on Fen.
"Hello." Reece flashed her a bright smile and came around the front of the car to shake her hand politely. "Dawn's friend, I presume. I'm Reece, and it's my fault Dawn's late. I wanted to take a shower after training."
"Oh, he has an accent," Fen made a 'going weak at the knees' face at Dawn.
"Yeah, I noticed." Dawn tried to keep the smile on her face with difficulty. "English."
"I can tell," Fen grinned at her before asking Reece. "So what were you training for? Soccer?"
"Martial arts," Reece explained, flashing Fen another smile before winking subtly at Dawn.
His winking at her would have been a more thrilling event if he hadn't been flirting with her friend at the time.
"Fen, this is Andrew, who I was telling you about." Dawn beckoned him and Craig over. They'd been standing on the other side of the car just watching.
Reluctantly, Andrew wandered round, with Craig trailing behind looking puzzled.
Oops, she'd forgotten their whole being on a date thing. Still, she had invited Andrew for Fen; it wasn't her fault he'd decided to invite the guy crushing on him too.
"Oh, cool." Fen looked at Andrew, giving him the once over and obviously not finding him as appealing as Reece - duh! - "How's it going?"
"Good question," he muttered before giving her the brightest smile he could muster. "But it's a pleasure to finally meet you, Fenella. Dawn's told me much about you."
"But she didn't tell you Fenella's my last name; that's kinda weird. I normally start with names when I'm telling people much about someone."
Andrew blushed, "I, ah, might have forgotten that small detail."
Fen grinned, "Fen's fine anyway. And your boyfriend, do you remember his name?"
Andrew started spluttering, but Craig just calmly held out his own hand. "Craig, and we're just good friends - although I'll admit that's not my choice." He winked at Fen, who grinned back. "Do you have a first name that goes in front of Fenella?"
"Not one I let people call me."
Dawn knew it, but only because the teachers at school didn't care what Fen preferred to be called. She wouldn't embarrass her friend now though.
"Shall we get in line for tickets?" Dawn gestured across the road to the cinema.
It was a small place with only one screen and it showed about six different movies a day - each one starting half an hour after the last one ended. Dawn didn't even know what was showing when yet, but she didn't want to dawdle on awkward introductions for too long. Buffy hadn't given her a curfew in the end, but she knew if she was too late back, there would be consequences- and getting grounded in front of Reece would be the total suck.
There were no dissents, so the five of them crossed the street together. Fen pulled on Dawn's arm until they were lagging behind a little.
"You brought me two gay guys? I tell you we need to spice this afternoon up and you bring me the rainbow twins? Are you always this evil or did I offend you somehow?"
"I didn't know," Dawn whispered back. "I mean, I only invited Andrew, and I didn't know he was into Craig at the time. I'm not even sure he knew until he kissed Xander this morning."
"Your pseudo-bro is gay too? Damn, why is it always the good looking ones?"
"Xander's not gay!"
They reached the doors as Reece pulled one open and stood back to let them pass. Andrew and Craig went through first without giving him a look; Fen gave him a flirty smile as she waltzed through just ahead of Dawn.
Dawn rolled her eyes as she passed him. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." He walked in behind her, staying by her side as they waited in line. "So what do we all want to see?"
It turned out choosing a movie was easy if only because of the limited choice. The new release Craig, Andrew and Fen wanted to watch was age restricted and not showing until late evening. Blood, guts and violence wasn't Dawn's cup of tea. She'd seen way too much of the real thing to enjoy the glorified cinematic version. She chose the latest Jim Carrey comedy, Reece backed up her choice and as it was a much earlier showing - they won.
Reece was ahead of her in the line. While he paid, she dug through her little bag for her purse. By the time she'd found it - full of her latest research assistant money - he'd finished and was smiling at her.
"What is it?" she asked timidly, lost for a second in his dreamy eyes.
"It's a ticket," he said, holding it up so that she could see the long rectangle of card he was trying to hand her. "You give it to the usher at the door, and he lets you into the pictures."
"Oh, thanks, I mean, uh, thanks." She took the ticket from him. "How much do I owe you?" She fiddled with trying to get her purse open.
"Not a thing. It's a thank you, for choosing the same film as me. If you'd sided with the rest of them, I'd have been stuck watching two hours of Action-Man killing unbelievable alien monsters with a tiny little machine gun."
"I thought all guys liked action films with the macho vests and macho-er machine guns?" Dawn grinned putting her purse away.
"The classics sure," he smiled that heart-winning smile again. "And I'm not exactly on the Dead Poet's end of the movie goer spectrum either. Think somewhere between Die Hard and Sixth Sense and that's where my tastes lie."
"Oookay," she shook her head slightly at him.
"You didn't have to pay, I was going to pay." Andrew was saying from behind them. "You're on holiday, and I asked you, so if anyone should be paying, it should be me."
"I got to the booth first," Craig chuckled, waving away the money Andrew was trying to give him.
"So take the money now."
"But I want to... to do something nice for you," Andrew said quietly, aware there were lots of strangers around them.
"You already did. You asked me to come with you," Craig reminded him. "And I'm going to run out of money soon enough so make the most of me being able to pay for stuff, alright?"
"Fine." Andrew tried to look sulky as he stuffed the money back into his pant pocket.
"So I'm the only one paying for my own ticket?" Fen demanded, looking at it with disgust. "God, I've never felt more alone," she wailed dramatically.
"Actually, I paid for mine, and Reece paid for his, so... you're not the only one." Craig grinned at her.
"Oh thanks, that helps," she told him with mock sincerity.
Dawn smiled sympathetically, feeling bad about letting her friend down. Not that she'd thought for a moment that Fen would have actually liked Andrew that way anyway. Reece had bought her ticket though, with absolutely no prompting, and it was kind of hard to feel too bad after that.
"Guys, we still have some time until the film starts. What do you want to do?" she asked, leading the way back outside.
"Ice cream?" Fen suggested in cheerful frustration.
Willow sat miserably at the kitchen table, unable to go back to what she'd been doing due to the lack of power. Minutes before she'd had to pretend to be busy copying something from a spell book when Oz had passed though the kitchen.
He'd tried to make conversation, but she'd apologized a lot and said she couldn't stop right then, and could they talk later. He'd agreed with a shrug and a smile and she'd pointed him in the direction of Xander.
See, he was so understanding, even when she was lying through her teeth to him.
Scrunching the paper she'd copied the wart-growing curse on to, she muttered a mild incantation and the paper dissolved into fine white ash. Best not to leave that kind of thing lying around, especially not with all the tension that seemed to be part of the family dynamic the last couple of days.
Kennedy was far less understanding of Willow's need to work. Not that she thought her girl should be chained to the kitchen sink or anything - or if she did, that hadn't come up in conversation yet - but she begrudged her working on stuff when Kennedy wanted to spend time with her - which was all the time that the young slayer wasn't slaying or training to slay.
The attention was nice, but a little suffocating at times. Willow could live with that. After Tara had... after Tara, she'd gotten used to being alone, and she'd thought at the time she'd be alone forever.
Now she wasn't - and to need an adjustment period was perfectly natural. And there were times when Kennedy was out slaying, or training with Buffy in the barn, that Willow got a little jealous and wished she was curled up in bed with her, or slump next to her on the couch watching television instead.
The difference was, Willow might feel that little stab of resentment that something else was coming before her, but she accepted it and watched TV or went to bed alone.
Kennedy, not so much. Kennedy was happy to sit silently and watch while Willow practiced her chants and control exercises, or tried out new - completely white - spells, or read the three hundred year old textbooks on Magick Lore that Althanea had been kind enough to Fed-Ex to Sunset camp to help with Willow's understanding of her craft.
It was sweet, really it was, but it was also really distracting. Having her extremely sexy slayer-girlfriend sitting within arms reach while she was invoking ancient naturally fertile energies... Even if Kennedy was as good as gold and as quiet as a mouse, well sometimes Willow's concentration had a habit of not being very concentrate-y - at least, not on what is was supposed to be.
And here she was for once with nothing to do, and her sexy, attentive girlfriend was nowhere in sight. Willow hadn't seen her all morning in fact, not since she'd stomped out in a temper because Oz had turned up.
Willow winced again. She'd been so mad at Kennedy for jumping to conclusions and not trusting her, and it turned out she had every reason not to. She'd never meant for it to go like this, she really had only wanted to catch up with her old friend. She still did, but was that possible now?
Was Faith right? Was she going to get the urge to kiss him again every time he was around? No! He was upstairs now and she had no urge to go up there and kiss him, and she hadn't when he'd walked through earlier. It had just been a throwback to her previous life, the life before she realized her true sexuality.
"Because I am gay, right?" she asked the empty kitchen quietly.
She thought about all of the women she'd been attracted to, not just Tara and Kennedy, but all of them - going all the way back to Cordelia in fifth grade just before the rich girl had turned into a complete b.i.t..c.h and long before Willow ever realized it was sexual attraction she was feeling and not just a desire to be the other girl's 'special' friend.
Then she thought about the guys she'd been attracted to. It took two seconds, one for each name that came to her. Frowning, she tried to remember if there had been anyone else other than Xander and Oz. There had been guys at school she thought were cute, but none that she'd ever imagined dating. Mostly when she'd noticed the guys in school, she'd thought of who might be the most suitable to take Buffy's mind off of Angel.
Her own boy-interests had been pretty simple. She'd been in love with Xander for as long as she could remember right up until she'd met Oz in her junior year, and then she'd thought for a long time that she'd be spending the rest of her life with the guitar playing werewolf.
Until Tara had come along and shown her what she'd been missing all those years.
"Yeah, I'm gay now, definitely," she promised the kitchen. "This morning was just, like I said, a brain-blip or something."
She smiled, because that meant she could still spend time with Oz. If there was no danger of her blipping again, there was no reason to ruin their re-surging friendship. After all, they still had a lot of catching up to do, and Willow wanted to go see his new place and meet Ralf the dog. And if he was helping them out with Eric the werecub, her avoiding him might make things strained for everyone.
So she would just carry on as normal, pretend that what happened never happened, and never let their lips get that close again.
"Your boy is an asshole," Faith announced as she stomped in from the kitchen. Gesturing at a bowl of fruit on the counter, she asked. "Mind if I?"
"I don't have a boy!" Willow squeaked quickly, her eyes guiltily darting around. "No boys, that's me."
"I'm talking about Xander, not Oz," Faith explained, irritably grabbing an apple even though Willow had never answered. "Take it that means you still haven't talked to Kennedy."
Willow's heart sank as she realized the one flaw in her perfect plan to stay friends with Oz. If her girlfriend knew that he'd kissed her, it didn't matter how much Willow trusted herself, Kennedy would never accept it.
Maybe it would be better if she didn't know after all? Like Buffy had suggested, she could just keep mum. What Kennedy didn't know couldn't upset her, or the rest of the house into the bargain. And it wasn't like she was trying to hide her transgression from her girlfriend so that she could keep transgressing, she just wanted to keep her happy and avoid all the unpleasantness that would come with such an admission.
Surely the important thing here was to make it up to Kennedy, not to make it worse, and telling Kennedy through some guilt-ridden impulse wasn't fair to anyone.
She turned to Faith who was crunching through a red apple, oblivious to Willow's torment. "I don't think I'm going to tell her, at least not today. Oh, not because I want to have a secret affair," she said quickly, reading Faith's sudden frown. "I just want to spend a little time with Oz, as friends, and if Kennedy knows... you know, she's going to think it's more than it is - which it isn't, and I don't want to upset her, so if you could not say anything...?"
"Hey, s'your funeral," Faith shrugged as she threw her apple core in the trash can on top of the pieces of ceiling.
"No one's going to die over it."
"Really? Prison's full of jealous ex's, Willow. Throw a slayer and werewolf into the love triangle and you've got yourself a perfect true life story for the National Enquirer."
"What do you know about relationships anyway?" Willow muttered under her breath.
"Nothing, but I know when feelings get involved, it gets messy, and they both have feelings coming out of their asses for you. Add the feelings you got for the both of them..." Faith left the sentence hanging.
Willow looked down at the table. Was Faith right? What were the odds?
"You don't know what you're talking about. Maybe that's how things go in your life Faith, but Kennedy and Oz and I are mature adults and we'll deal with things that way, and there won't be any mess," she told the other woman curtly before heading through the basement door under the stairs. Getting Kennedy's laundry done was a step into the good books, hopefully.
Faith chuckled after her before sighing and taking Willow's empty seat at the table. Now where the hell had Buffy disappeared to? It was getting pretty obvious the blonde was deliberately avoiding her.
"Love leads to feelings and feelings equal a whole lot of messy crap," she murmured to herself. "That much I'm learning pretty quick, thanks Red."
They were sitting along the low wall separating the sidewalk from the boardwalk - a wide wooden walkway with the lake lapping beneath - eating their cones quickly before it was time to head in and see the movie. They'd already had a sundae each inside, but Fen had insisted they try the cones too - Andrew for one was glad she had, even though he was going to be sick if he tried to eat popcorn on top of all the ice cream.
"It's a bit like home this," Craig observed as he crunched his way through the cone Andrew had bought for him.
"Yes, lots of great lakes in North London," Reece rolled his eyes and Dawn giggled.
"I din't mean outside my front door, ya pillock. I was talking about down the coast. With the pier and the fun fair over there." He gestured down the shore.
"I suppose," Reece conceded. "Like a mini-Brighton without the beach."
"There is a beach," Fen defended her town. "It's small, but it has sand and waves - sort of."
"Well if it has sand, it's one up on Brighton," Craig said, finishing his cone and licking his fingers.
"What's Brighton?" Andrew asked.
"Oh, you'd love Brighton," Reece assured him with a wink.
"I would?" Why was Reece winking at him; he didn't like Reece winking at him. Craig was giving Reece a good glare, adding to Andrew's apprehension about the wink.
"Ignore him," Craig said, patting Andrew's shoulder companionably. "Let's go inside, I wanta get good seats."
"What was that about?" Andrew heard Dawn ask as they all crossed the un-busy road to the movie theater.
"Nothing," he heard Reece reply with amusement. "Just trying to wind Rayne up. The bugger's more resistant than he used to be."
Andrew didn't know what to make of that, so he kept quiet, crossing the road at Craig's side. Fen was on the other side of him and so when she stopped dead in the middle of the road and pointed towards the cinema entrance, he stopped too, looking to where she was pointing with a worried frown. Normally when the company he kept had this reaction - it was to a demon of some kind.
He couldn't see a demon, but from the knot of people on the opposite side of the road, one did seem to stand out: a young man about Dawn's age with bronzed skin and jet black hair. At first Andrew thought it was his ethnicity that made him stand apart from the crowd, but on second thoughts, it was simply that the boy - while in the crowd - clearly wasn't a part of the crowd. He might have had the same destination in mind and be moving in the flow of human traffic at the same speed as everyone else, but he was very definitely on his own.
"Seth!" Fen suddenly called out.
"Oh no," Dawn groaned from behind him.
No one answered Fen's call.
"Come on, let's go say hi." Fen turned to Dawn, who didn't look happy with the idea.
"Say hi to who?" Craig asked.
"Seth?" Reece hazarded a guess, before smiling at Dawn. "A friend of yours?"
"More like her savior," Fen corrected him.
"Fen!" Dawn hissed. "We go to school with him," she explained to Reece.
Andrew was still watching the Eastern-looking guy in the queue. He didn't even know if it was Seth or not, but there was something about him that drew the eye. If he knew Andrew was staring at him, he didn't let on. His emerald green eyes - extra striking when set in that handsome tanned face - stared straight ahead at the back of the person in front of him.
He seemed just as unaware of the conversation Fen and Dawn were having just a few feet away from him.
"Well I'm saying hello," Fen countered Dawn's lack of enthusiasm and walked up to the kid that had captured Andrew's attention.
Ha, he'd been right! That meant this was the boy who'd saved Dawn from the creepo teacher her first week in school. He knew Buffy had been wanting to meet him - to learn his story - and that Dawn had plotted many ways to make sure that never happened. Here was another opportunity to get in Buffy's good books. It was almost as if he'd eaten Scooby flakes that morning without realizing.
"Yeah, besides, he looks like he's on his own." Andrew backed Fen up. "It would mean mucho karmic points if we invite him to join us."
"What?" Dawn and Craig asked at the same time, neither of them sounded impressed.
"Uh, yeah." He scampered after Fen quickly, catching up with her as she drew level in the queue with Seth.
"Hey!" She greeted her classmate cheerfully.
For a second it looked like he wasn't even going to acknowledge they were there, but then with a soft sigh, he turned his head lazily towards them. He regarded Andrew with those cool green eyes briefly - not briefly enough in his book - before giving them a flash of a smile.
"Hello Fen. How are you?" His accent was smooth, cultured and way more exotic than Reece's snobby English.
"Me? I'm good, I'm always good, and on days with no school, I'm great." Fen chattered on and Seth seemed to be listening only out of politeness.
Andrew decided to introduce himself, seeing as Fen wasn't going to.
"Hi, I'm Andrew. Andrew Wells." He winced inside as he realized he'd just accidentally done his James Bond impression again, albeit with his own name, but still stuck out his hand for a formal how do you do. "I'm friends with Dawn Summers."
Seth turned that piercing gaze on him again for a long moment before he spoke, reaching out to shake hands as he did so. "Really? Well that explains why you've been sat over there with her for ten minutes and why she's now standing behind you."
Andrew looked behind him quickly to see the others had joined him and Fen in the middle of the queue.
Dawn mustered a smile, "Hey Sethos - catching a movie?"
The guy's lips curled into a slow, genuine smile and for the first time since Andrew had seen him, his eyes didn't look cold and distant. "No, I just come here for the Milk Duds."
Dawn rolled her eyes, "Right, stupid question, huh?"
Sethos looked puzzled.
"So as you're here alone, and we're an odd number, we were wondering if you wanted to join us?" Fen asked.
"You were?" His sharp gaze went from Fen to Dawn and he looked not just surprised but shocked by the invitation.
"Well it was more Fen's idea," Dawn shrugged, not quite looking at him. "But you can if you want, not that you need my permission or anything, I just mean it's up to you."
"Way to make a bloke feel wanted - Dawn style," Craig quipped from off to the side. "Alright mate." He greeted amiably when those green eyes darted to him. "I'm Craig."
Sethos nodded to him but said nothing.
"Look, we already have our tickets and we're just holding up the line," Reece placed his hand gently on Dawn's back as he spoke only to her. "Maybe we should get inside and find our seats before the trailers start."
"You want to see the trailers?" Dawn beamed. Reece shrugged back as if it was crazy she even had to ask. "Okay."
Dawn and Reece left the queue and Sethos' stared after them, unblinking.
"So are you going to come and find us when you get inside?" Fen asked him, starting to back away. "Come on Seth, we'll save you a seat."
Sethos was staring at the back of the person in front of him again. "No thank you."
"Are you sure?" Fen checked.
She shrugged and followed the route Dawn and Reece had taken to the doors. Craig started following her.
Andrew hesitated. "I don't mind standing in the line with you; that way we can find them together and you won't look like an idiot stumbling up and down the aisles in the dark on your own."
"I can see perfectly well in the dark, thank you."
"Um, okay." Andrew could see that Craig had stopped by the doors, waiting for him to catch up. The excitement fluttered in his tummy again and he had already forgotten about the strange classmate of Dawn's when he heard him call out softly.
"Andrew Wells, Dawn's English friend is not all that he seems. He is up to something," Sethos gave a pondering shake of his head. "But I do not know what. You would do well to watch him."
Andrew - awed by the boy's awesome judgment of character - nodded solemnly. "It's okay, we're already aware of the danger and taking steps to counteract it even as we speak." He thought about that. "Actually we're not, because I'm out here with you," he shrugged sheepishly. "Gotta go, bye."
Passing Craig on his way through the door, he accidentally linked arms with the boy in his hurry to catch up with Dawn and Reece in the dark movie theater. Craig happily let himself be towed after, a surprised smile on his face at the gesture.
Alex Nichols was driving back towards Boudenver when he decided to call in and say hi to his new buddy. He'd been over to Mantua, picking up his big amp from a friend, and had to go right by the camp anyway. He hadn't seen much of Xander recently and popping in to invite him to the bar for the big night wouldn't take long.
It was only as he was pulling onto Sunset Lane that he remembered Xander had asked him to call before social visits; apparently the old guy, Mr. Giles, was worried he'd put the young students off of their research, make them uncomfortable or something.
At first Alex had been suspicious and all the more determined to visit whenever he felt like it, but then Xander had explained. A lot of the students were troubled, had problems and issues back home. They were kids that hadn't had the chance to reach their full potential until this project came along. A lot of them weren't used to the law being the good guys.
Alex had done some volunteer work before he'd joined the sheriff's department, helping to run an after school program in Cleveland for disadvantaged teenagers. Most of the kids were only a few years younger than him and he'd made some good friends, or so he thought. The first time he'd turned up in his uniform, not one of them had wanted to know him - to this day only a handful of the kids he'd hung out with there would willingly be seen speaking to him.
This experience made him think twice about asserting his authority. He didn't care about the research, but if the girls here were getting a better shot at a decent future because of this camp, he didn't want to ruin that for them.
That didn't help him now though. It was a little late to call when he was already moving slowly down the drive. A thought occurred to him: Xander had said only social visits had to be announced.
With a hairy smile, he pulled his light-globe from the glove compartment, flicked the switch on the side, reached up through his open window and stuck it on to the roof of his jeep. Blue light now rebounded off of the trees around him. Just to make sure it seemed as official as could be, he turned the siren on as well.
Faith choked on her second apple as her most hated noise in the world wafted through an open kitchen window.
"What the hell?" Shooting to her feet, the chair legs scraped angrily on the polished stone.
Had Deb Devenrowe changed her mind? Had someone higher up found out that Deb Devenrowe was keeping quiet because she fancied her chances at a little between the sheets action with her hotter than hell parolee?
The chilling, jarring sound was close and Faith knew they were pretty much all alone out here. The police were definitely coming to the house!
Did she run? Hide? Shave her head and fake an accent? If she'd had clippers on hand and an extra couple of minutes to spare, she might have gone for that last option - hair loss was temporary, her next stay inside was going to be for life.
Buffy appeared in the back door, breathless, looking like she'd run all the way here from wherever she'd been hiding. She stopped when she saw Faith standing there panicked.
"What did you do?" she demanded.
"Not a damn thing!" Faith shot back, pissed at the automatic accusation.
She went over her morning, just to make sure she hadn't accidentally broken the law. Talked to Giles, talked to Willow, talked to Xander...
"I pissed Xander off earlier, maybe this is him getting his own back?"
Buffy didn't even dignify that with an answer.
Faith shrugged. "Well other than that, I've been as good as gold, B. Haven't even left the house all morning."
"Maybe Devenrowe wasn't so enamored with your seduction routine after all?" Buffy suggested tightly.
"Maybe," Faith admitted and then the sentence sunk in. "You were listening to that?" she asked softly.
It was hard to tell how many squad cars might be coming up the lane, the sirens bounced off of the trees and seemed to be coming from all sides of the house, but Buffy heard the soft question.
She gave a rueful smirk as she looked out of the door, "Well, you said you could say anything in front of me."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't have been saying stuff like that if I'd known..." Faith tried to explain. If she was about to be arrested, then this might be her last chance to explain, ever. Buffy was never going to give her another chance after blowing this one so royally.
"So you'd have lied to protect my feelings?" Buffy asked, turning to face her. "That's... actually sweeter than I gave you credit for Faith, but right now, we've got bigger things to deal with."
Faith stepped back, surprised by the barbed words. She was about to tell the blonde to go to hell, but the next words out of Buffy's mouth, surprised her even more.
"What the hell are you waiting for? Run!"
"Excuse me?" Faith blinked at her.
"I said, run. Go on!" Buffy grabbed her arm and pushed her towards the back door. "Lose yourself in the woods until they're gone and then we can come up with some kind of plan to..."
"You've gone crazy!" Faith pulled away from Buffy's hand and stepped back out of the way of another grab. "I'm not running now, not after everything."
"Faith!" Buffy began urgently, just as the big blue and white police jeep came around the side of the house and screeched to a stop in the yard. Hazel eyes glistened with held-back tears, but she calmly looked Faith in the eye. "I guess that's my answer then; we're really over."
"We're what?" Faith looked from Buffy to the police jeep.
Now that the moment was here, she was suffering the most powerful urge to run she'd ever felt in her entire life. She couldn't go back. She couldn't be locked up twenty-four hours a day again, not after the night before. She'd go psycho in a week. She'd rip the place apart. She'd stain the already stained walls with blood smashed from bitches like Lolitta just to ease her appetite for destruction...
The siren cut off, leaving deafening silence in its wake. The blue flashing light stopped a moment later.
Her body was in flight mode already, every muscle bunched and ready to fire. She knew with no doubt, even at only half strength, she could be in the cover of the trees before the cop she could see through the windshield had a chance to give chase. Providing he didn't shoot her in the back, she had a good shot at staying free.
Except Buffy's quietly spoken words were keeping her routed to the spot. What did she mean they were over? In Faith's eyes they hadn't even begun yet, but Buffy thought they were already over? Was it because of Double D? Did Buffy really think she could be interested in anyone but her right now, after everything?
"B...?" she began, but the cop was out of the jeep and she found herself looking at him instead, wondering if he'd be lenient enough to give her ten minutes to explain to Buffy before he dragged her away.
"Hey Buffy!" The cop called over.
The cop was big, with a lot of thick brown hair and a bristly beard to go with. And just how did he come to be on first name terms Buffy?
Buffy slipped possessively in front of Faith. "Alex."
She was all familiar with him too!
"Who called you?" Buffy asked coolly, as the uniformed man-mountain came over.
"Uh?" The cop - Alex - didn't seem to know. Meaning someone in the house had called in an anonymous tip off. Freakin' cowards! "Uh, Xander called me." He finally admitted, looking uncomfortable with Buffy's chilly reception.
"I freakin' knew it!" Faith exploded. "That asshole! He's happy to hand the heat out, but... Asshole!" she repeated.
She couldn't believe she was going back to jail just because she'd tried to make amends with Xander frickin' Harris. Of all the lame ass people to ruin her chance at freedom!
"Xander wouldn't have..." Buffy was looking at the cop like she'd just found out her labradoodle puppy had gone on a savage mauling spree. It made Faith feel sick. Buffy turned those imploring eyes to her. "Faith, Xander wouldn't! There's been some mistake..." she didn't sound so sure of herself now.
"The only mistake is me thinking I could come here and make it work. Hate to tell you B, but your fuzzy-friends were never gonna let this work." Faith was furious, and the cop just standing there looking at her wasn't easing her fury.
She walked closer to him, holding her wrists up so that he could handcuff her. "Well come on then! Don't just stand there; do your freakin' job if you're going to!"
"My job?" Alex looked from the angry woman's wrists to Buffy, who was just standing there looking mortified.
'By God, Xander was understating,' Alex thought.
The woman was clearly unstable and his turning up like this had unhinged her. No wonder Buffy looked so distraught; she probably thought they'd lost this kid for good; all thanks to him.
One thing was for sure, he was taking Mr. Giles' requests a little more seriously in future.
"I'm sorry for upsetting you, Miss. That wasn't my intention," he tried to placate her.
"You didn't mean to upset me? You come screeching down here, deafening everyone in a ten mile radius, and you didn't think that might upset me?" Faith yelled at him. "S'bad enough you're taking me in at all, I mean it's not like I hurt anyone on the way here, but you gotta announce it to the whole God damn world too! You couldn't just come quietly?"
"I thought the sirens would make it more official, so this wasn't mistaken for a social call," Alex explained to Buffy. The intensity of the crazy woman was making him sweat beneath his crisp uniform.
Buffy suddenly whirled to the crazy woman - Alex wanted to warn her against sudden moves, but Buffy was pretty intense all on her own.
"He was giving you a chance to escape, you idiot!" She shouted. "That's why he made such a noisy entrance; so we'd hear him coming, but you can never just trust me, can you?"
"This isn't a movie B, cops don't do that!"
Okay, now he had no idea what he'd barged in on. Why was this woman trying to escape and who from exactly?
"Alex would, he's not like other cops, he's a nice guy."
Alex beamed beneath his beard - his secret crush on Xander's friend experiencing a burst of rapid growth at her praise - but he felt compelled to say, "I wasn't giving anyone a chance to escape."
"See?" Faith pointed at him. "There's your nice guy cop, just like all the rest."
"Okay, I'm obviously missing a big part of whatever is going on here," Alex started. He didn't know whether Buffy or the other woman could even hear him over their arguing. "So if you could just give Xander a message to..."
The deputy sheriff sighed with relief as he heard his friend call out of an upstairs window. "Xander, I'm sorry. If I'd known I was gonna cause this kind of commotion I'd have called from the end of the lane," he called up to him.
"Wait there, I'll be right down."
When he tuned back in to the argument, Buffy seemed to have the upper hand, "What did you think was going to happen Faith? Everything was going to be rosy when you finally decided to show your face?"
"I didn't think, okay?"
"Does it seem like it's okay?" Buffy shot back.
'Faith' thought Alex, 'I recognize that name.'
Xander came though the back door, white paint splatters on the shoulders of his teal t-shirt, already assessing the situation and holding his hands high. "Hey ladies, remember you're ladies for a second and then tell me what's going on."
The stranger - Faith - ran towards Xander, her fist cocked. "You frickin bastard!"
Alex reacted quickly, lunging forwards to restrain her attack.
Buffy was faster, and grabbed Faith by the collar of her sweater, pulling her backwards. "No!"
"B, get the hell off me!"
Xander stopped advancing a few feet away. "Why am I not surprised?" he muttered, pissed off. Louder he asked, "Buffy, why are you traumatizing our friend, the deputy?"
Buffy moved in front of Faith again; the brunette still looked ready for a fight, but she seemed even more interested in what Buffy was going to say next.
"Xander, tell me you didn't call Alex?" Buffy asked softly.
Xander shrugged. "I didn't call Alex."
"So you didn't call the sheriff's department to rat her out for last week, say to get her back for whatever she did to upset you earlier?" Buffy checked.
Hurt flashed in Xander's eyes, but he disguised it quickly with a grim look. "No."
"He's lying," said Faith immediately, shaking her head.
"Actually he's not," Alex came to his friend's defense, better late than never.
The whole thing had blown up so quickly, and he wasn't sure why Xander was getting the blame for him turning up like this, but he wasn't going to stand there and let him take it. He walked in front of the two women, and his sheer muscular bulk meant that they probably couldn't even see Xander now.
"No one called me," he continued. "I lied about that, because I didn't want Mr. Giles to know I was flouting his request, stopping by unannounced. It's also why I used the siren to announce I was coming - not to give anyone a chance to escape or to arrest you for anything you might have done last week - which I'm hoping, whatever it was, didn't happen around here and therefore isn't in my jurisdiction. However, I am now inclined to arrest you for disrespecting the sheriff's department and for the attempted assault on Mr. Harris just now."
Buffy's eyes went wide, Faith's went narrow; and behind him, he heard Xander chuckle.
Alex smirked. "Or you could apologize and we can just start over."
Buffy nudged Faith with her elbow, and when Faith continued to just stare at him, she nudged her harder.
With a roll of her eyes, the new woman gave in. "Fine, I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions; for all I know you're a nice guy even if you are a cop."
"Actually, I didn't mean to me," Alex stepped aside so that Faith had a clear view of Xander. "I meant the guy you accused of snitching on you and then tried to hit in the face."
"You gotta be kidding me." Faith shook her head at the very idea. "And if I don't apologize to him you're gonna arrest me?"
"I'm afraid you'll leave me no choice," Alex lied, hoping she'd just do it. If he took this woman in for wanting to hit his friend, his dad would give him the 'Abuse of Power' speech again.
Faith looked at Buffy, begging her to find a way out of this.
"Just apologize and get it over and done with already," Buffy sighed impatiently, folding her arms.
"No, I'm sorry, were you talking to me?" Xander began his voice full of dark sarcasm. "Only you were looking at the ground so I didn't really feel the remorse I'm sure you were trying to convey."
"Okay, well feel this," Faith brushed past Alex to stand in front of Xander, her heart hammering painfully inside her chest. "I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry for every shitty thing I ever put you through. I'm sorry I used you, I'm sorry I didn't take you up on your offer of friendship when you were the only one in the world willing to make that offer, I'm sorry I sided against you and I'm sorry I tried to kill you."
Her gaze hadn't wavered from Xander's, but his one eye was still steely, unnerving, and giving nothing away of his emotions. Was he believing this? Did he get that she meant it? Or did he think this was just another line of bullshit?
She took a deep breath and kept going. "I'm sorry I keep leaving you to pick up the pieces of my mess and I'm sorry I ever thought you'd be asshole enough to pull a dirty trick like turning me in behind my back, but most of all - I'm sorry I didn't have the guts to say all this an hour ago because then I wouldn't be having to say it in front of complete stranger who's probably gonna arrest me now for just confessing to attempted murder."
"Well it didn't happen in Boudenver, so I don't think he has the authority," Xander half smiled.
"Right." She nodded.
"So is that all sorted now?" Buffy asked, she still sounded irritated. "No one's getting arrested?"
"No, I'm off duty anyway," Alex admitted. "I just haven't had a chance to get home and change yet."
"What?" Buffy and Faith shouted together.
"Ooh, bad move Al!" Xander winced in sympathy for him.
"Hella," Faith agreed. "B, I can't remember, does assaulting a deputy sheriff still carry the same sentence if the deputy sheriff isn't on duty?"
"Let's not find out, okay?" Buffy smirked. "Tempting as it may be. So what are you doing here Deputy Nichols?"
"I came to invite Xander down to Barnies tonight," Alex explained.
"I didn't think you needed an invite," Buffy turned her smirk Xander's way. "Or have you just been crashing every night since we've been here.
"Very funny, and for your information, due to circumstances outside my control - but totally within yours—" he looked at Faith "—and yours; I haven't been to Barnies for over a week." He motioned for Alex to follow him inside. "Come on in and have a beer."
Buffy and Faith followed too, and Xander sighed as he handed around the Coors. He had no problem sharing with Alex, but...
"You know how Willow insists I buy the beer out of my own money instead of putting it on the house shop because I'm the only one who ever drinks them?" he held the bottle just out of Buffy's easy reach as he spoke to her.
"Uh huh," she could take the bottle, open it and pour the contents over his head before he hardly knew what she was doing, but they had a guest so she humored him.
"Guess who's going twosies with me from now on?"
"Faith?" she guessed.
"Threesies then," he smiled, holding up three painted dabbed fingers.
"Hey, every beer I drink is one less for your liver to stress over," Buffy pointed out, snatching the bottle from his hand. "You should be paying me for the health service."
"So Al?" Xander looked to his local friend for a change of subject.
"Oh, right," Alex set his drink on the kitchen table. "Every month we have a disco at Barnies, it's become kind of a community event and the tourists love it over the summer months. We missed the end of season last month 'cause my big amp blew up the day before and we had to cancel, but I got her in the jeep right now, so we're all ready to rock and roll tonight."
"A disco?" Faith asked dubiously.
"Yeah. So I know you said, Xander, that Barnies is a little quieter than you're used to, and I thought maybe that's why you've not been coming down so much, but tonight'll be different," Alex promised.
"Actually, the quiet was one of the big attractions," Xander admitted. "Spend twenty-four hours living here and you'd see why."
"Well a disco could be cool," Buffy smiled. "Is that invite open to all of us Alex?"
"Uh... I..." Taken aback by her interest, he hesitated for a moment, but then the answer exploded from him in a torrent of words. "Uh, yeah, of course Buffy, I mean, I didn't think it would be your thing, you know, not sophisticated enough or something, but you're always welcome at mine, I mean, my bar - Barnies, that is." He stopped talking as abruptly as he'd started, feeling like an idiot and pleased his big beard hid his school boy blush - he was twenty-five for goodness sake, too old for crushes on beautiful strangers. Seeing the brunette's eyes narrow in his direction, he remembered too late that there was something between her and Buffy. "In fact bring everyone, the more the merrier."
"Disco and cool in the same sentence," Faith drawled. "There's something no one's heard since the seventies."
"Well you can't go anyway," Buffy reminded her, a little coldly - okay a lot coldly, but she was masking it well - "You're going out for pizza with Robin, remember?"
"No," Faith said truthfully.
"So, what time is your party starting?" Buffy asked Alex, ignoring Faith completely. "And will you be busy behind the bar all night or will you get a chance to dance too?"
"Um, music kicks off about six," Alex nodded. "Food gets laid out soon after, and uh yeah, I can dance, I mean I can get a chance to. I'll have a couple of people tending bar with me and my cousin handles the deejaying, so I usually get to have a pretty relaxed night myself."
"Okay, sounds fun," Buffy beamed at him. "Well, this is my first date in a long time, so I'm gonna start getting ready now. See you tonight." She touched Alex's elbow as she brushed lightly past him and walked through to the living room.
Alex was grinning, but once the swing door swung shut, he realized something. "Did she say date?"
"She did," Faith said quietly.
Handing her half full bottle to Xander, she left the kitchen through the back door.
******************************** Kennedy started to bite her nails as she watched the outside door to the basement, but her nails were already as short as was possible and so she was just nibbling on skin. It was a stupid nervous habit anyway, and one she hadn't indulged in since her pre-teens.
She didn't remember feeling as nervous as this since her pre-teens.
She'd never told someone she was in love with them before, and now she really wished she'd had the revelation while in Willow's arms instead of Buffy's. That way she would have said it spontaneously, it would have come out sounding more sincere, more romantic and it would have saved her this pre-declaration angst.
"Okay, here goes," she muttered to herself, but didn't move from the bench.
She knew Willow was definitely inside the basement, the low rumble of the washing machine could be heard coming through the long narrow ground level windows. This was silly; she wasn't even planning on making the big statement yet. All she wanted to do was ask Willow out on a date! They'd been together for months now, suggesting a quiet drink at Barnies so they could talk really shouldn't have been this hard.
'Maybe it's so hard because it's not meant to be,' a little voice inside her head said. 'Maybe that's why it was easier to kiss Buffy this morning than it is to go talk with your girlfriend.'
"And maybe I need to go get this over with before I start listening to myself," she surmised, wiping her palms on her shorts.
She saw Faith coming out of the kitchen. Obviously Alex's visit wasn't to do with the runaway slayer after all - Kennedy had heard the sirens, watched Buffy and Faith's heated exchange from afar, but had been to on edge with her own issues to go see what was going on.
She had hardly spoken to Faith since she'd arrived, not even said hello really. She thought about calling over now to ask the unflappable slayer how she remained so calm around these people all the time. Even this morning, standing bare naked in the kitchen and with a bunch of pervy cadets gawping her - she'd looked in total control.
Faith stood just outside the door for a second, looking this way and that, and Kennedy saw her face. All thoughts of asking for advice swiftly fled. All thoughts of willingly being in the same zip code as Faith also fled. The girl looked mad. Kennedy stayed quiet and just watched her stomp away.
Whew, lucky escape! Speaking to Willow suddenly didn't seem as scary as sitting here like a duck waiting for Faith to come and have a pop.
The outside entrance to the basement was on the far side of the house and Kennedy could see into Giles' office as she approached. The Watcher was on the phone, sitting at his desk. His large dark green leather chair with the high wings was turned to the side and she could see his profile as he spoke. His conversation floated through the open window and what she heard made her smile.
Giles was talking to a woman by the sounds of it, and by talking, she meant flirting.
'Life in the old dog yet,' she thought, as she took a deep breath and opened the basement door.
"Hello." She called into the dimly lit room.
It was mostly full of empty boxes and packing crates from what Giles had shipped over from England and what the girls had brought with them. Plenty of junk had already been down here when they moved in and more had accumulated in the past couple of months.
It was loud, much louder than what she had assumed from outside. The washer and the drier were battling with each other to see who could make the most noise, and Willow had found a little portable radio, tuned to a country station.
Rounding a pillar with a bright yellow, half-inflated dinghy strapped to it, she saw Willow - ironing a pair of Kennedy's good pants and humming along to the music.
Kennedy smiled, pleased that her worse nightmare hadn't just come true - namely finding Oz down here keeping Willow company while she washed his clothes. Now the worst hadn't come to pass, she felt easier.
Willow heard this time and turned around quick to see who it was. "Oh you startled me!" she squeaked. "I forgot that door was even there. What are you doing down here? I thought you were busy with the cadets." She was talking really quickly.
Kennedy walked over to the laundry corner and turned down the radio a little. "All done. I said I'd go grab a burger with Rona and Vi, but first I wanted to ask you something."
"Oh, what?" Willow went back to what she was doing.
"Why's it so loud in here?" Kennedy asked, stalling for... well, she didn't know what for, but she knew she was doing it.
"Generator." Willow pointed to a dusty, reverberating thing in the far corner. "We have a power problem."
"Oh. Are you okay doing all this?" Kennedy looked at the washer then the drier, both were ancient models that had been there when they arrived, and they took their time doing their jobs. A pile of clothes - both hers and Willow's - were waiting for their go in the washer and an even bigger pile was still waiting to be ironed.
"Yep," Willow assured her, nodding. "It's nice, calming. Was that all you wanted to ask me?"
"Do you want me to stay and help? Vi and Rona can always go into Boudenver without me," Kennedy offered.
"It's okay, you go and enjoy yourself," Willow said brightly. Looking up sharply she suddenly asked, "Oh, unless you meant, like, you wanna have the..."
"No! No, that's not what I meant, I promise," Kennedy quickly reassured her, not wanting to have that argument again. "I just meant help with the getting our clothes clean."
"Well then no, it's not really a two person job," Willow shrugged. "Although maybe when you get back from your burger you can carry it all up to Faith's bedroom for me. You can probably do it in half as many trips."
"Sure," Kennedy nodded. "Will, there was something else I wanted to ask you."
"I'm listening," Willow said, but she didn't look up from sliding the black pants onto a hanger.
"I know we don't go on dates much, at least not since we left LA." Kennedy tried not to fidget as she spoke. "Everything always seems so hectic all the time and with patrolling six nights out of every seven I haven't been the most thrilling girlfriend just lately..."
Willow shrugged. "It's okay, I understand. Buffy had the same problem in high school, and it's not like we haven't been on any dates recently, we went for that picnic last week."
"Yeah, and it was nice - very nice - but one date in a couple of months isn't good enough. And we're obviously suffering for it," Kennedy said quietly but clearly, looking Willow dead in the eye.
Willow flinched slightly and looked down at the ironing board. "It's just been a weird few days," she muttered.
"Well let's draw a line under it," Kennedy suggested, taking Willow's hand where it rested on the brightly patterned board. "Come out with me tonight? Nothing fancy, just a quiet drink at Barnies, just the two of us, to talk... please?"
Willow didn't answer right away and Kennedy's heart started sinking, thinking it was already too late.
"Yeah okay," Willow's resigned voice didn't do much to reassure Kennedy, but then she squeezed slayer's hand firmly and gave her a smile. "A drink and some us time sounds good."
"Great, is seven-thirty okay? That way we'll have the whole evening to ourselves." Willow nodded and Kennedy leaned in to kiss her quickly on the lips. There was a basket of neatly ironed clothes beside them and Kennedy grabbed it. "I'll take these now."
Willow smiled until Kennedy left the basement, this time going up the stairs to the kitchen. As soon as the door closed again the smile dropped, in fact her whole face did.
The date idea was nice and all, but if Kennedy started being all nice to her, the guilt was going to become unbearable. Willow at least wanted a few days of Kennedy continuing to be a brat so that she could justify her terrible actions to herself a little better.
And what exactly did Kennedy want to speak so seriously about anyway?
Faith stomped across the lawn towards the woods with half a mind to just keep going. Her and Buffy weren't going anywhere, no one else wanted her here, and the locals were all asses, so what exactly was the point of sticking around?
There was a gap in the long hedge she was walking by, through it her eye caught a glimpse of one reason to stay around - one reason to stay around tonight anyway. He was a nice guy, he had a hell of a lot of stamina and she already knew he liked her - enough to tell Buffy they were going out that night.
Fine, if he was already telling people he could handle her, who was she to turn down a little fun?
She slipped through the gap in the hedge and Robin spotted her immediately. "Faith," he smiled warmly.
There were three girls in the field with him, none of them could be older than sixteen, and they were all going at thin air freestyle with a mixture of weapons. Or they had been. As soon as she appeared, they all stopped and pinged to attention.
"Whoa, what's this about?" she asked Robin, eying the girls suspiciously.
Robin grinned. "They're the first of the resident slayers and I think they've heard of you."
"Yeah, well I ain't no one special, make 'em stop eyeballing me." It was creepy, the way they were all looking at her, a blend of awe and fear on their little fresh faces.
Robin shrugged his shoulders. "Somehow I don't think they'll listen to me."
Faith dug deep within herself, trying to find whatever she'd discovered inside that had given her the strength to play leader for a while back in Sunnydale.
"Okay chicas, let's get the intros over with. I'm Faith, but I'm guessing you know that already. And you guys are..." She pointed at a girl with really black hair.
"Miranda," came the almost inaudible response.
She pointed at the next girl in line, the one with short reddish hair.
"With a name like that I bet you and B get along great," Faith smirked at her and pointed to the last girl.
"Alison." She was the only one to look Faith dead in the eye, a smirk of her own showing through, although there was a healthy amount of admiration there too.
"Okay, now we all know each other, get your butts back training," she snapped at them.
Alison started to swing her battle axe again and Cici made some tentative thrusts with her spear. Miranda continued to stare at Faith, starry-eyed, a slight smile on her face as her broad sword hung limp in her hands.
Faith glared at her. "You speak English right?"
"Oh sorry, yes." Miranda mumbled, and started swinging the sword, nearly taking Cici's ear off.
"And the fate of the whole world could depend on her some day," Faith muttered.
"It's only been a few months; I think most of them are still finding their feet," Robin grinned. "So, are we still on for pizza tonight?"
"Actually, that's what I wanted to talk to you about."
"Don't worry I'm ain't bailing on ya." Even though she didn't remember making the arrangements in the first place. "It's just, there's this disco thing at the local bar and everyone's going; and I was wondering if you wanted to check that out instead. It's just... it's my first night back with the fam—" she enthused with full on sarcastic emphasis "—and I kinda feel I should try and be part of the gang. I'm pretty sure it'll blow up in my face in the first hour but..." she shrugged.
"At least you'll have tried," he finished for her. "That's fine with me Faith."
Somehow she'd known he would approve.
The film was half over. The popcorn they'd shared was gone, the big greasy tub now on the floor between their seats, when Dawn took a deep shaky breath and slowly slid her hand across the armrests.
Reece didn't even flinch as her fingertips timidly touched the back of his warm hand and she had to stop herself from doing anything as lame as looking to see if he'd even noticed.
She missed at least three minutes of fast paced dialogue as she counted her heartbeats, the pounding in her head making her feel dizzy as she forced her hand to relax over Reece's; and then, she nearly pulled it away again in shock as he turned his hand to hold hers, casually entwining their fingers.
She sighed as quietly as possible, 'Totally worth all the nervous energy!'
Buffy stopped just outside the living room. Frozen in something like fear, she whispered, "Did I just say date?"
Closing her eyes, she rubbed her forehead in alarm. "I did, I said date!"
What had possessed her to say, of all things, that?
Okay, she knew it was the half-formed - half baked - plan that was unfurling at the back of her seething, jealous brain that had pushed those words out of her mouth.
'Now what did I do?' she wondered as she went up the front stairs, mindful of the missing step. 'The words are out there. If I go back into the kitchen and tell Alex I made a mistake I'll just embarrass the both of us.'
She'd never meant for Alex to be her revenge date. In truth she hadn't had anyone in mind when the evil plan had started brewing, just a faceless shadowy figure that was, obviously, better than Faith in every possible way. Alex would have been the last person she chose though, and not simply because she wasn't attracted to him, but because he always seemed like such a big softy - like a giant bearded Care Bear - despite his profession, and using him like that just seemed cruel.
"Should have thought of that before I blurted the word date out." She sank down on the edge of her bed.
It was all very well being wise after the event, wasn't it? But it didn't matter how wise she felt now, she still had to find something date-worthy for tonight from her paltry collection of outfits. She did have a few nice clothes now - short skirts, skimpy tops, that kind of thing - but they'd been bought to be worn for Faith, not Alex.
As she sat there morosely mulling it over, she figured she had two options: she could flesh out her half-baked plan and embrace it, or she could fake an illness and stay home.
If she faked an illness and stayed home, everyone would know that was what she was doing - everyone, but mostly Faith. Everyone else might think she was doing the honorable thing - which would be the case - Faith would think she was chickening out, and would also know for sure that Buffy had only said it in the first place because she was jealous.
She bit her lip, tapped her foot on the carpet, fidgeted uncomfortably and then went to her closet.
She'd already had her passport to Slutville stamped earlier in the day; she might as well go ahead and take the citizenship test.
And Alex was a nice guy. Tall, muscle-y, probably handsome underneath all that hair... she wrinkled her nose a little. Beards just didn't do it for her. Did that make her shallow? It was personality that counted, right? So to dismiss someone on facial hair alone had to be pretty shallow.
Tonight she would learn to love it, well, like it anyway, and tomorrow she would have grown as a person, which meant that something good would have come from this little charade.
And if she and Faith were truly over, then getting back on the dating horse - even with a guy she was pretty sure would never be more than a friend - was not a bad thing. It was a good thing, a moving on with a smile thing, and a thing she should have done a good few months ago.
She wouldn't have been feeling so bad, she decided, as she went to her little en suite bathroom and started to run a bath, if Faith had at least wanted to talk about them, but she'd made no effort to at all - not last night and not today.
Buffy knew she hadn't made it easy, but she hadn't made it easy on purpose! Faith was the one who kept pushing her away the more Buffy tried to pull them together. She'd really hoped that if she backed off, Faith would care enough to try and fix them herself - or at least want to talk about fixing them!
Instead, she'd made plans to go out with Robin as soon as he arrived; and that was even worse than coming on to her little sister and trying to seduce her parole officer... hang on, maybe not worse, they were all pretty bad and gave Buffy the message loud and clear.
Faith wasn't even bothering to confront her about arranging a date with Alex; that showed just how casual she felt about them. Buffy had really come to believe that that had just been an act back in Sunnydale - now she realized that she'd just been fooling herself all along.
And the strangest thing? She wasn't even surprised that Faith was acting this way. The only surprising thing was that Buffy had really thought that she might not act this way. That this time something beautiful would come of the connection they shared, instead of the usual bitterness and bloodshed.
"And then the ozone layer will grow back and vampires will lead anti-violence rallies," she muttered to herself as she undressed and got in the tub of hot water.
Maybe she was being too harsh on Faith. After all, the other woman had never promised her anything. In fact she'd made a big point of not promising her anything, going so far as to say she didn't even know if she'd stick around after her release. Yet here she was, a week later than she was supposed to be, maybe, but here all the same. And perhaps that was enough.
The idea of the two of them having a relationship was laughable anyway, so maybe they were better off just giving up right now. Being housemates was going to be challenge enough without adding more pressure to it. Or maybe Buffy could adopt Faith's casual attitude and they could just be housemates who had sex occasionally, or a lot; Buffy was easy.
At least she certainly seemed to be today.
Groaning at the confused mess of her mind, she sank down beneath the water, trying to wash it all away.
It was only when everyone else was busy getting ready for the Deputy's disco that Faith realized she still hadn't had a shower, and she didn't have anything to wear. This made her sit up in front of the television - there was nothing on worth watching anyway - while she tried to decide what to do.
She couldn't go out stinkin' and there was no way in hell she was going on a date wearing B's cutesy sweats; not even on a date with Wood who was about as interesting to her right now as the television.
Standing up, she wondered who to hit up for some clothes.
Giles was the physically closest person - he was getting ready in his own bedroom which was on the first floor next to his office. She didn't want to be stuck wearing tweed though, so he was out as a donor.
Dawn's stuff would fit her, and she wasn't the worst dresser in the world - the girl actually had some style - but she had a lot of ground to make up with Buffy's little sis and borrowing her clothes without asking wasn't a good way to start.
Most of Willow and Kennedy's clothes were still waiting to be washed.
Faith smiled as she realized there was only one person left to ask.
Turning the television off with the remote, she bounded up the front stairs. It took her a minute of wandering around the gloomy upper hall, getting more confused with every bend in the corridor before she finally felt like she was outside the right door.
She knocked gently, and then a little harder. There was no answer. Buffy had probably finished getting ready ages ago and was downstairs in the kitchen. Getting in, getting a shower and getting some half decent clothes was Faith's priority now, and if she could do it all before Buffy realized, that would be great.
Opening the door, Faith stood on the threshold as she looked around, details from the night before rushing back to her. The bed was made now, and her own clothes were no longer on the floor or hanging from plants around the room. She couldn't see them anywhere, not that she cared.
Closing the door she came through, she spotted the door to the bathroom - the one she'd left through earlier, giving Dawn one hell of a surprise - and then went to the third door in the room.
"Be a closet!" she muttered to herself as she pulled open the door.
A rack of clothes greeted her. Not nearly as much choice as she expected, but most things looked brand new. She grabbed the sexiest stuff she could spot - a blue denim mini skirt and a white halter neck number - and closed the door again. Buffy would never even know she'd been there, well not until she saw Faith wearing her stuff anyway. Faith grinned at the thought.
She'd already decided to take her shower in the main bathroom, not wanting to push her luck in Buffy's personal space too much, but she still needed to grab underwear first. She could forego a bra - the backless top pretty much called for it anyway - but no panties with a skirt as short as this one was going to be on her? There was no way Robin was getting that lucky.
Now if B had been the one who'd asked her out - it probably would have been weird and awkward. Faith didn't usually date; she just went out and hooked up with whoever she chose - but that aside, she wouldn't have had to think twice about forgoing the panties too.
She was getting horny just thinking about it, or maybe it was that she was routing around in Buffy's underwear drawer now - her hands fumbling with both sexy thongs and old lady panties in the messy space as she tried to find a pair she liked.
"Okay, you have thirty seconds to come up with an explanation that won't make me kick your ass into next week."
Faith spun around at the voice right behind her, her hands full of Buffy's underwear. "I... I can explain."
Buffy stood there, wrapped in a fluffy red bathrobe, her arms firmly crossed as she glared at Faith. "And you now have twenty seconds to do it in."
"That wasn't ten seconds," Faith protested, her arms fell to her sides and she forgot she had fists full of Buffy's panties.
"Okay," Buffy conceded, "but it is now, more even, so start getting 'splainy before I..."
"I wanted to steal some of your underwear," Faith shrugged.
It was the truth after all, and Buffy had emerged from a steam-filled bathroom in just a robe. If she decided to try and hand out an ass-whuppin', Faith would be forced to defend herself and the robe was bound to loosen up some, the belt didn't look expertly knotted, maybe it would even fall open altogether.
"To go with my clothes you're stealing?" Buffy spotted them hanging over Faith's arm.
Faith looked at them, there didn't seem a lot of point lying, and she wasn't going to give Buffy the chance to say no. "No, I'm just borrowing the clothes."
Buffy shook her head, as if dismissing the subject altogether and went to sit at her vanity table. Faith stuffed all the underwear back in the drawer except a pair of plain black bikini briefs.
"Isn't it traditionally my dirty underwear you stalker types like?" Buffy asked suddenly, surprising a chuckle from Faith.
"Well I'd wait around for the ones you're wearing, except you're not, are you?" Faith teased, sitting on the end of the bed to watch Buffy in the mirror.
"No, I'm not..." Buffy met her eyes coyly in the mirror and held them for a beat. "Because I just had a bath! Do you wear stuff in the bath?"
Faith thought back to one particular bath she'd taken; it seemed such a long time ago now. "Once upon a time I wore a great big smile."
From the look on Buffy's face, she didn't get it. Not that there was any reason she would, and Faith wasn't going to enlighten her.
She watched Buffy quietly now and if it bothered the other slayer, she wasn't showing it as she deftly applied product after product, a little of everything, but nothing overdone. She was really making an effort tonight, meaning she must really like the hairy cop dude. It weighed on Faith's mind, souring everything she thought about saying. Light conversation, like the kind she wanted to make to try and ease the tension between them, wouldn't come when her lips just wanted to blurt accusations ranging from 'how dare you pretend to love me?' to 'how can you think being with that dude is better than sex like we had last night?'.
Neither seemed appropriate small talk, so she kept quiet and just watched.
Eventually Buffy stood again, holding the robe together tightly with one hand even though it was still cinched closed by the belt. "Do you want to take a shower?"
The direct proposition caught Faith off-guard and she stood up too, "With you, now?"
Buffy rolled her eyes, "Yes Faith, I just spent thirty minutes creating this work of art that is my face, and now I want to go scrub your back so it can all wash off again."
"Well, B, if you wanted to scrub my back so much, why didn't you suggest having a shower before you put your make up on?" Faith asked, refusing to be cowed by Buffy's patronizing sarcasm.
Buffy stared at her. "How can you do that?"
Buffy shook her head, breaking eye contact. "Never mind. I'm going to get dressed now, so you can either go through that door or that door." She flicked her fingers between the two doors. "And if you go through that one, Robin will probably thank you for it. There's shampoo and shower gel on the shelf and clean towels in the cupboard... and don't put cigarette burns in my clothes, I haven't even worn them yet."
Seeing as she still didn't have any cigarettes, Buffy had nothing to worry about. Faith wasn't feeling the cravings yet, she'd had to go a few days without more than once in Stockton, but Buffy mentioning it made her want one. She pushed it to the back of her mind.
"Thanks, I appreciate the loan," Faith said, walking into the bathroom.
"And no fishing my panties out of the laundry basket!" Buffy called through as the door shut.
Faith chuckled as she started to strip.
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