It had felt like a minor earthquake, a 3-pointer maybe, but without the ground shaking part. A mind-quake? Dawn blinked, still dizzy and a little nauseous as she heard the Bou Academy boys shouting at each other angrily. One yelled out an apology about technical hitches.
"You okay, Sunny D?"
Dawn swallowed hard against the saliva in her mouth. "Yeah, did you see that?"
"No, but I sure as hell heard it," Fen complained, rubbing her ears and shaking her head slightly. "Made my brain go funny."
Charlie looked like he had a headache all of a sudden and Aaron was looking up at the ceiling, confused.
"Did the chandeliers just come on for a second?"
Fen looked up at them. "Candles don't just come on at random, at least not without some person randomly lighting them."
"I just coulda sworn they were all blazing away up there for a second," Aaron gave himself a little shake, forgetting about it as he slapped Charlie on the back. "Come on, there's still loads of heavy stuff in their van we need to shift.
"Did they bring decorations too?" Fen followed them. "This is supposed to be a Halloween party, not a sixteenth century ball! This place has to be super scary tonight or else everyone's gonna think it's lame."
"Yeah they have a bunch of plastic skeletons in the van," one of the boys answered.
"Ooh, scary!" Fen mocked a shiver, laughing as she followed them out of the room. "Dawn, come on, let's see if they went all out and got plastic spiders too."
"Just a minute," Dawn called, and watched them leave before she looked back down at the scuffed dust on the floor. Slowly she crouched down to take a closer look and reached out to touch the white blob she'd spotted.
Wax. And it was still warm.
With a wary, perplexed look at the chandelier, she shot to her feet and raced after the others.
The house in Wooster couldn't have been further removed from the psychologist's fancy office if it had actively tried. The paint on the walls was probably more expensive than the house itself. Not that Buffy could see any paint on the walls, or the walls themselves for that matter. The stuff in here gave clutter a good name; made clutter look tidy by comparison.
There were giant urns, Aladdin-esque lamps and Ming vases fighting for floor and shelf space. There was a cauldron hanging over the fire; and although Buffy had been told it was purely for show, she was sure the burnt carrot smell had originated there. There was a three-dimensional model of the solar system hanging from the ceiling, several broomsticks stacked in one corner and a stuffed goat in the corner opposite. There were crystal balls and tarot cards and Ouija boards and dribbly candles. The room looked like the Magic Box having a bad hair day.
The jet black parrot in the large ornate cage was staring at her, unblinking. Every now and then it would let out a screech followed by a stream of gibberish mixed with foul language. It was pissing her off.
Buffy shifted in her seat, her ass going numb; whoever had stuffed the armchair obviously hadn't known the difference between foam and bricks. Willow and the self-professed wizard had gone through to a little adjoining room that was bare save for the circle of white sand they were sitting in cross-legged facing each other. Buffy could vaguely hear their chanting through the beaded curtain.
Oz was sitting in a chair next to hers, and while Buffy had been checking out the room, he had been staring fixedly at the curtain. She didn't know if he was worried that Willow was in there alone with the strange - very strange, in fact - man, or if he was just taking advantage of the gentle breeze swaying the beads to catch glimpses of her.
"What do you think they're doing in there?" Buffy asked, needing to break the edgy silence.
"Something magical," Oz replied softly.
"That the best you got?" Buffy gave him a half grin.
Oz didn't add anything. Buffy let the grin drop and had another staring match with the parrot. She lost again.
"She's come so far, it's... frightening."
Buffy looked hard at Oz, he didn't look like he was being funny, so she checked her initial light-hearted response.
"She has. In fact she went too far and had to come back some."
"She told me about the black magic."
"She did?" Buffy was surprised; Willow often went out of her way to not talk about it.
Oz nodded, "It was hard on her."
"It was hard on all of us," Buffy said sharply. "No one remembers that time as a picnic."
"I meant, for her to tell me."
"Oh. Well, like I said, no picnic."
Oz nodded and was silent long enough for Buffy to think the conversation was over. She looked up at the solar system above their heads. The parrot listed the fifty states in alphabetical order, twice, and then let out a really long fake belch.
"Was it Tara's fault?"
Buffy snapped her head around to glare at Oz, "Well, seeing as I'm pretty sure she didn't mean to get shot in cold blood, I'm gonna have to go with no."
Oz held her stare, his eyes solemn. "I was referring to..."
"Also no," Buffy cut him off, her voice an angry whisper. "When Will first started dabbling in the dark stuff, Tara left her - even though it must have nearly killed her to do it - she sure as hell didn't encourage her."
"Sorry." Oz sighed. "I'm just trying to understand."
"I get that," Buffy's anger simmered down. "But you won't find the answers you're looking for by laying the blame at Tara's feet. If you want someone to blame, blame the universe for giving her the power in the first place, or blame Willow for not asking for help before she got too deep in it, or blame me for being the Slayer and giving her the reasons to use that power in less than white ways."
"Or I could blame myself." Oz was back to staring at the curtain. "Her gift always scared me. Not because I thought she would harm anyone else; I was scared it would harm her."
"It did, but not because you left," Buffy said. "It did because that's what power does. It corrupts, even the good guys."
"Maybe if I hadn't left..."
"No offense, Oz, you're swell an' all, but Willow loved Tara as much as she loved you." More in Buffy's honest opinion, but she didn't want to hurt him. "And if she wasn't enough to keep Will from the dark side..."
Oz stood up abruptly and went to the bird cage; there was a dish of monkey nuts resting on a pile of astrological magazines. He took one and poked it through the bars. The parrot grabbed it in its talon and made a noise like car horn - honk honk - before carefully pulling at the crispy pod with its beak to get at the nuts inside.
"How well do you know Kennedy?"
The sudden question should have been unexpected; unfortunately, it wasn't. Buffy closed her eyes briefly and mentally groaned again.
"Not as well as Will, obviously, but pretty well. Well enough to know she's got the makings of a great Slayer, well enough to know she's a nice person, and well enough to know that she and Willow are good together."
"I thought they were having problems," Oz said quietly.
"Did she tell you that?" Buffy asked carefully.
Oz nodded, giving the parrot another nut case.
"Well, don't worry, I'm sure they're gonna be fine." Buffy injected as much cheer into her reply as possible, pretending she didn't get where he was coming from and hoping he wouldn't clarify it for her, and thinking, 'Hurry up, Willow!'
"What if they're not?" Oz came back to his chair, ignoring the bird screeching obscenities for more nuts. "If Kennedy leaves, do you think Willow would, could, go there again?"
Buffy leveled her gaze to his, a don't-bullshit-me look in her eyes. "I thought you were hoping Kennedy would leave her? You want her back, don't you? That's not gonna happen if Kennedy stays."
Oz gave the smallest of shrugs, "I want Willow to be happy. And she doesn't seem happy with Kennedy. If I'm wrong, then I'm wrong, but if I'm right... I'm not gonna lie, if I'm right, I'm hoping she'll give me another chance at making her happy."
Buffy, surprised by his honesty, didn't know what to say at first. She couldn't really refute his argument. She wanted to get a promise out of him that he wouldn't try and split Willow and Kennedy up, but she knew that wasn't her place. She had a strong urge to call Kennedy and tell her to stop being a dick right this minute, but she totally got why Kennedy was being a dick in the first place, so that wouldn't work either.
It was between the three of them. She just had to hope that Willow and Kennedy would work it out if they were meant to. And if not, that Oz would indeed be there to make her best friend happy. Kennedy not going rogue Slayer on them if she was dumped would be a plus too.
"I appreciate you being straight with me," Buffy finally answered, smiling a little. "I know you probably don't see this as any of my business, but, I'll be straight with you too. It kinda feels like my business when you are coming seriously close to screwing with the harmony in my house."
"I thought Giles owned the property."
"That's just a technicality. I'm head Slayer," she grinned at him. "Wherever I lay my Scythe is my home. And I'm all about the harmony - not the Harmony, obviously, just harmony in general - so I'd really appreciate it if you didn't come any closer to the screwing." She grimaced playfully as she realized what she'd said, but rallied well. "Yeah, I think that sums it up."
Oz finally smiled. "So, changing the subject; Harmony - did you ever put the dust on her or is she still at large?"
"She was working as Angel's secretary last time I saw her; which would be a couple of months ago now."
Oz showed some surprise at that, but before he could comment Buffy's cell rang.
She pulled it from her pocket and a look at the caller ID made her smile.
"Hi, honey. What's up?" Buffy rolled her eyes as she listened to the reply. "What's wrong with honey? It's a nice endearment."
She listened some more. "I'm not answering the phone 'Hey sexy', at least, not when I'm in company."
She sat back in her chair. "I'm with Oz. Willow's with some magic guy in the other room."
Buffy grinned at Oz. "I'm sure he wouldn't mind me answering the phone like that, it's me that minds... Of course I think you're sexy... because that's not how I answer the phone, that's why!"
Buffy rolled her eyes again. "Faith, not that I mind shooting the breeze with you like this, but did you have a reason for calling? 'Cause if so I think it's gonna get lost if we keep arguing about phone-answering etiquette."
"No, don't you dare hang up just so I can answer correctly...!" Buffy was speaking to a dial tone. She shook her head and snapped the phone closed, but didn't put it away. "Can you believe her?"
"So, you and Faith, huh?" Oz asked, smiling.
"Huh about sums it up, yeah," Her phone rang again. She picked it up and said hello, but there was no one there. Bemused, she closed it.
The phone rang again, but no name flashed up on the caller id. Buffy looked at it with a frown. It rang again, still no name.
"What the hell?"
It rang a third time and Buffy started pressing buttons, trying anything to get the damn phantom ringing to stop. The fourth time the ring ended with a long belch and Buffy narrowed her eyes at the parrot.
"Do that again and I'll pluck your feathers one by one, understand?"
The bird did it again, and raised one of its talons. It was impossible for a bird claw to give her the finger, but she was pretty sure that was the intention.
The phone rang again and Buffy jumped to her feet. She stalked towards the cage as the ringing continued. Feather plucking might actually be too inhumane, but she was more than prepared to smack the cage enough to knock the infuriating parrot from its perch.
The ringing was still coming, over and over. Buffy had one hand up to sway the cage when Oz called over,
"I think that might actually be your phone."
"Oh." Buffy looked down and saw Faith's name flashing on and off. "You got lucky this time, bird," she said before turning away to answer her cell. "Hello."
"Yeah, well, you hung up on me and I've got a parrot pissing me off, so no one is looking all that sexy right now... No it's okay. I can beat up the damn bird myself if I need to. Besides, we're in Wooster, you wouldn't be able to get here. Just, why did you call?"
Buffy went and sat back in the hard chair, her nose scrunching a little at what Faith was saying. "A costume? Why do I need a costume? I'm not sure we're up to role-play just yet."
She flicked her eyes Oz's way, but he was obviously no wiser than her. He did look mildly amused though.
"No, I'm sure I can get something, but a clue would be nice... Come on, just one!... Is it inside or outside?... It's not a stupid question! Inside means party, outside means trick or treating," Buffy started chuckling. "See, it is a good question, that's why you won't answer it now... okay, fine, I'll do my best. So what are you going as?... So you haven't thought of anything yet?... No, no, I'm not questioning your mad costume skills, or should that be skillz... no I pronounced it with a z on the end that time, hence the zzz sound... You start calling me Bumble B, I'm never calling you sexy... Because bumbles are rabbit poo, F ... no, rabbit poo is only endearing if you're a bunny with a poo fetish... okay, this is getting more disturbing by the minute... no, I meant our relationship."
Buffy was laughing now; it got worse when she saw the weird look Oz was giving her. "I have to go... yes, I'll get a costume..." She smiled bashfully at something Faith didn't quite say, "I awkward hesitation you, too. I'll see you when I get home . . . Sexy." Buffy blew a kiss down the phone and hung up before Faith could say anything else.
She grinned at Oz as she slipped her phone back in her pocket. "Think we can find a costume shop in Wooster after?"
Buffy shrugged, still smiling. "Faith asked me to."
As Faith put the phone back in its cradle on the wall she was surprised to hear herself giggling.
She was pretty damn sure she hadn't giggled since she was prepubescent. In fact, any laughing she'd done for as long as she could remember had been sarcastic, cynical or, well, evil, if she was being honest. It was nice to finally be laughing because she was in a good mood, and not just because she'd thought up the coolest way to ruin someone else's good mood.
Weird as hell too, though.
Nice and weird seemed like a pretty accurate description of her current sitch. It was a different life alright.
She had a home, like a proper one - more welcoming than a room with a hotplate and adjoining bath; more cozy than a stone-walled cell with bars on the windows - for the first time since she was, what... fourteen?
She had a job that paid more than minimum wage and didn't involve washing sheets.
She had - or was slowly growing - friendships with the people she'd been too scared to let in once upon a time. Sure the bonds were hella tentative, and there were still times she'd catch Willow looking at her with suspicion in her eyes, and still times Xander would be suddenly abrupt with her for no reason she could figure, and Dawn...
Well, Dawn was still all kinds of hostile, but she was so caught up in the golden-haired watcher-boy that it wasn't difficult to stay out her way. With any luck Dawn would get the message that Faith wasn't going anywhere and the anger she obviously felt entitled to would drain away, and if not, in a year or so she'd be going off to college.
All things considered, there had been a serious drop in the suck that usually stuck to her life like a loogey to a brick wall, and to top it all... she had Buffy.
Faith grinned to herself as she looked around the kitchen for a costume idea. She still couldn't believe it, not at all. The other changes were pretty friggin' phenomenal all on their own, but being with Buffy... She didn't have the vocab to do her feelings justice.
Faith hadn't had someone, a special someone, since her mid-teens. Not since she'd blown outta Boston, leaving Kenny-the-little-drummer-boy without a backward glance. There had been people, 'course, a lotta people, but no one she wanted around for more than one night, no one... special.
Fact was, Buffy had been the special person in her life since before Faith had even met her. Buffy had never known it until recently, and still only knew the half of it thanks to how good Faith had gotten at playing those cards close to her chest.
Hell, she'd even managed to convince herself it was hate, not love, she was feeling for good portions of the last five or so years. It had been easier that way, easier not to think about what she was missing, what she could never have. Even if Buffy had had the final say in ninety percent of her choices - good and bad - ever since Faith had been called, the blonde had been completely unaware of it, and Faith had been equally unwilling to admit it.
And... it was a little hard to let that mentality go.
Faith looked in the refrigerator. She wasn't expecting any awesome costume ideas to jump out and go boo at her, but maybe a beer would get her brain working.
She sure as shit wanted to let that kinda thinking go, the kind that was making her be all closed-off with the great chick she'd been into for so damn long. She couldn't seem to do it though, at least not for more than a minute or two at a time. She tried to relax when she was with Buffy, did her best to just be herself and not put on the front she was famous for, but it was not easy.
It didn't help that they never got to spend much time together, and it didn't help that every single time Faith started to feel like a normal person in a decent relationship, some self-destructive part of her reminded her that this wasn't her kinda gig - she didn't do normal, she had no interest in decent. Where the hell was the fun in decent? And while it was on the subject - what was with all the hand-holding and the sweet little kisses every time one of them just walked into a room - was she ten again all of the sudden? And since when was one person enough for her, especially when that person wasn't even putting out?
Faith popped the top from her beer and sat at the kitchen table. One of Willow's magic books had been left lying around. Faith pulled it towards her and started to leaf through, hoping for inspiration.
She knew she shouldn't be thinking like that, or even letting that side of her retard brain have any kind of say in how she did things now, but, yeah, hard. She knew she'd come a long way, but past habits didn't die overnight or over the course of a few months either; not all of them. And it wasn't as if she only wanted Buffy for the lay, hell no, she was damn sure she wanted Buffy for just about everything from here on in, but - and it was a big freaking but right now - the only time Faith didn't get that stupid little voice telling her this was all the things she didn't want, was when she was kissing Buffy. Because then, she couldn't think about anything but kissing Buffy. And every time Buffy stopped the kissing - which was getting sooner and sooner every night - the stupid side of her seemed to come back stronger.
Every time Buffy pulled away, Faith started doubting the blonde's conviction. Not even on a conscious level really, but the doubts were there. She was still having a hard time believing that Buffy wanted to be with her in the first place, after so long of never believing it could be in a million years, because why would she? After everything Faith had done, what in hell would make Buffy take this chance on her? And what the hell was she gonna do when Buffy finally woke up, realized she was a dumbass for going down this road and called it quits? Faith was leaving herself wide open for a whole new world of pain and that was the one and only thing she was scared of... and it scared her bad.
God, she'd never thought she'd say it, but she could not wait to start therapy. She'd hated it in prison, and she was probably gonna hate it once it started here too, but damn, she needed something or someone to talk all this shit out with. That wasn't her either; she didn't do the talking thing when she could avoid it, but she had enough sense to know that if she was gonna stay with Buffy, she needed to figure this shit out quickly - actually figure it out and not just shove it under the carpet like she did with most of her internal drama.
She may have been slowly starting to feel like one of the gang around here, but there was no one she could talk to about, well, anything really, but that went double for Buffy-stuff. They were all her bestest pals. Her parole officer had said she needed to work through things by talking so stuff didn't bottle up again, but she'd made it clear she wasn't paid to listen to her romantic problems.
As much as Faith knew she needed it, she wasn't so sure about Buffy joining her in a few sessions. Devenrowe seemed to think it wasn't only a good idea, but essential to their relationship. She'd even mentioned it to Buffy already, which, in Faith's opinion, was a bad move. The blonde had agreed automatically, but Faith had seen the traumatized look in her eyes.
It had been five days since that conversation and although neither of them had mentioned it again, she knew it had to be eating at Buffy, and it was about that time that B had started cutting their goodnight make-out sessions in half. If the two weren't linked, it was a hell of a big coincidence.
Faith's page flicking had stopped as her thoughts got deeper, but all this thinking wasn't getting her ready for her date. She blinked herself out of them now and focused on what she was looking at. It was a spell for killing the walking dead - not vampires, but the more literal walking dead. That would work; it wouldn't be too hard to make it look authentic and had the added bonus of not being something as done to death as a witch or a vampire.
Faith looked up from the page as Kennedy wandered into the kitchen. The girl looked listless, and that wasn't a word that would usually describe the brash kid.
"Huh?" Kennedy looked surprised to find herself not alone. "Nothing, I'm fine."
"Okay." Faith didn't question it.
Buffy had mentioned Ken and Red were having some problems, but it wasn't her place to pry crap out of the girl if she didn't want to talk.
"So, you settling in okay?" Kennedy fidgeted just inside the doorway.
"Sure, I guess," Faith closed the magic book, pushed it away from her and took a sip of her beer. "S'only been two weeks. I get the feeling it'll be a while before all this stops feeling weird."
Faith shrugged, "Just not used to playing happy families."
"Happy families?" Kennedy gave a short laugh. "If this is what you call a happy family, I hate to think of the one you left behind."
Faith shrugged again and took another sip of her beer before replying, "Yeah, well, I hate to think about it too."
Kennedy nodded slowly, realizing that might not be the best conversation to get into. "So how's Alison doing?"
Faith smirked, "You mean: How are my Watcher skills screwing up the job you started?"
"No! I just..." Kennedy came further into the room to lean on one of the kitchen chairs. "I don't think you're going to screw anything up."
"Yeah, sorry, forgot you're not one of the old gang there for a minute."
"No, I'm not," Kennedy said softly. There was silence in the kitchen for a minute and Faith was just wondering if it was okay to get up and walk out - she had stuff to do after all - when Kennedy looked up at her again. "From one outsider to another, uh, how well do you know Oz?"
"Well enough to know he was the love of Willow's life the first time I was in Sunnydale; shocked the hell out of me they ever broke up, they were so tight." The outsider comment had rankled the hell out of Faith, however unintentional it might have been, but seeing Kennedy's face drop about a thousand degrees brought none of the satisfaction it would have done once. "But, hey, what the hell did I know? Wasn't like they ever really brought me into the loop. I do know she seems pretty crazy over you right now."
There was a little light back in the younger girl's eyes. "Did she actually say that to you?"
"Well, no. But you only gotta look at her to see it."
"I look at her all the time, and I don't see it."
"Maybe you ain't looking hard enough, or maybe you're just seeing what you want to see."
"Yeah, this is what I want to see." Kennedy gave a sardonic chuckle.
Faith shrugged, "Ken, if you knew me, you'd know I'm not exactly advice-girl, alright? Willow and Wolf-boy were close, but they broke up. She's your girl now, and if that's how you want it, why go looking for reasons to screw it up?"
"I'm not!" Kennedy insisted.
"Fine, you're not. I gotta go. I have to make this..." she pointed to her face. "...look dead and butt-ugly before Buffy gets home and that is gonna take some doing." Winking, she slid her beer bottle across the table to Kennedy and stood up. "Finish that for me and chill the hell out. Getting all worked up ain't gonna make ya feel any better."
Kennedy watched as Faith walked out of the room, a little confused as to why she was gonna make herself ugly for Buffy, and then when she was alone, she looked down at the half-full bottle in front of her.
With a miserable shrug of her shoulders, she downed what was left.
It was past three when Xander poked his head around Faith's bedroom door. The Slayer was sitting on the carpet with a big, sharp knife in her hand.
"Um." Had he gulped?
As she looked around, the late afternoon sunlight coming through her window made the shiny blade glint at him.
"Troll under your bed or homicidal relapse? I wouldn't normally pry, but I have this phobia of being in the same room as a homicidal person... and trolls."
"Neither, just trying to actualize getting mauled." She squinted back at what she was doing.
"Oh, right." Xander watched as she slashed the knife down on her old denim jacket. "So I'm going to the store to... pick up more beer! Do you need anything? A work ethic, a beer ethic, I don't know, a scary mask?"
"Nah, I'm good," she said without looking up. "Although if you see something fake blood-like in that dinky little shop, that'd be useful. I thought you bought a case of beer already? How wasted you planning on getting tonight?"
"I did!" Xander grit his teeth, looking around her room for empty beer bottles. "But that one is now half gone."
Faith smirked his way, "Gee, you got a real thirst on today, huh?"
"I didn't drink them!" Xander had gone to the refrigerator to grab his first of the day ten minutes ago. That's when he'd discovered all the missing bottles.
"So who did?"
"Well, seeing as how every housemate who drinks beer on a regular basis is in this room, and I'm not the one with beer on my breath...?"
Faith laughed. "Dude, I had one bottle and I didn't finish it. Too jumpy to start down that road today. Picking Buffy up feeling like a zombie is kinda more realistic than the look I'm going for."
"But..." Xander leaned against the doorway, perplexed by Faith's answer. If she hadn't... then where did they go?
Faith was pulling the buttons on her jacket loose so that they hung down by just a thread or two. "Maybe you didn't buy as much as you thought or maybe Craig decided a little liquid refreshment would make writing his lines go easier. I dunno."
With a little shake of his head at the mystery, he turned to go. "I have to go get Dawn anyway; I'll pick up some more on the way."
"I'll make up my hours tomorrow, Xan, if that's okay."
He was surprised she was even going to bother; maybe she was scared he'd report her to the Parole Officer. It hurt a little that she would still think he'd do something like that, especially as her missing half a day wasn't a big deal.
When she put her mind to it, she worked at twice the speed of the average lackey anyway; and with leaving her to do the tedious jobs like tiling and painting, he'd had the time to make a good cut in his 'bigger project' to do list. With the way the two of them were getting through stuff, they might actually be caught up on Giles' renovation schedule by Christmas.
And, if the shower block took an extra day or two to get finished because of her date tonight, he'd just tell the girls it was all Faith's fault and let her take the heat.
With that in mind, he shrugged, "Okay," and left her to it, still not entirely convinced she hadn't had a hand in the case of the disappearing beer.
The shop was busy. It didn't happen often outside of the months from April to September, but Halloween was always the same. Children from Boudenver Elementary School had already been released for the day and were swarming everywhere; their parents all but unable to control them on this most candy-filled of holidays.
Owen gently swatted an eight year old down from climbing the counter as he smiled at the boy's mother and took her money.
"Happy Halloween," he inclined his head in a small polite farewell bow.
As soon as the woman and her boy were turning away, another young customer awkwardly unloaded an armload of rubber monster masks from one of the outside bargain bins onto the counter.
As Owen struggled to find a bag big enough to hold them all, the line grew longer and the noise in the small shop grew louder.
The Maples, Garth and Edna, were stood in the alcohol corner, almost behind the counter with him to stay out of the way; cheerfully watching the madness - and not, Owen couldn't help noticing, troubling themselves to help.
"I see why you never stay open past five on Halloween," Garth joked, sucking on one of the rhubarb and custard lollipop treats put out for the children.
Owen smiled at him, but briefly so that his old friend wouldn't see the roll of his eyes.
The door opened again and his eyes flicked that way as he counted gumballs into a paper bag for a little girl. It was one of the young men from the camp and he looked unpleasantly surprised to encounter so many children running amok in the close space. He carried a big meat hook, which he slipped with difficulty into his pocket at the sight of the children.
Owen smiled in greeting and the one-eyed man returned it with a quirky smile of his own before slipping deeper into the shop. The gumballs handed over; Owen took the money from the parent and dropped it into the cash register with a clatter. By the time the drawer had rattle-y thudded its way closed, there was a witches hat, some fake cobwebbing and a family sized tin of tuna waiting for his attention.
He sighed inaudibly; it wasn't that he minded hard work, he'd done plenty in his life time, but these were supposed to be his autumn years and if he'd wanted to serve this many customers in a single hour, he would have applied for a job at a Wal-Mart.
He lifted first one foot and then the other for a second's relief. Last night had given him blisters; he'd known he had left the boots on for too long when he'd barely been able to get them off again. He would have to give his feet a good soak and plaster them in band-aids when he got home if he didn't want to walk funny tonight. Same every year, he never remembered to get them out ahead of time to re-break them in.
"You're getting too old for this pandemonium, Owen," Edna told him with a chuckle in her voice.
"Aye, maybe you're right," Owen said with a wry smile.
"How you going to cope with Christmas week?" Garth asked, sucking noisily on the lollipop. "You'll have this lot offa school and all the vacationers too?"
"I manage all summer," Owen reminded them without turning around.
"Maybe, but you ain't getting any younger," Garth pointed out.
Garth and Edna had to step aside to let the man from the camp between them. He apologized politely as he picked up a case of Coors and squeezed back out of the corner to get in line. The elderly couple flowed back together like the wrinkly, grey sea.
"He's right," Edna said. "You should get some help in, just for the busy times. Plenty of women in this town would be happy for an hour or two away from the house and children. Just for a bit of pocket money, like."
Owen nodded as he served one such woman, so harried by her children today she was wearing a permanent frown.
He'd thought about getting help in the past, if only to stay open later, but he was set in his ways and liked his shop run his way. Most of the women in this town were too meddlesome for their own good and would want to change things.
The man with one eye was the next in line.
"Kinda crazy in here today," he said, smiling openly. He set the case of beer on the counter and placed some other items on top.
Owen returned the smile with one just as open, "Halloween does get a little chaotic, I've found."
"Chaos I can handle, it's all the kids that are freaking me out."
"You're not keen on children?" Owen asked, ringing up a box of tube socks and a packet of thick black tape.
"Not the ones around here." The man suddenly seemed to think better of his muttered words and smiled again. Waving vaguely at his black eye-patch, he added, "Can't always see which way they're running at me from."
Owen nodded, ringing up a bottle of red food coloring. "They can be rather a nuisance. Any Halloween plans, sir?"
"Yep." The man grinned as his fingers made a rat-a-tat on the cardboard box of beers.
"Well, enjoy them, sir." Owen smiled as he placed everything but the beer into a paper bag and handed them over.
"Thanks, you too."
Owen watched him walk out. That young man was the biggest mystery of them all.
"What do you suppose he's up to, then?" Garth queried.
Owen rolled his eyes.
Only another hour and he could shut the shop, go home and get ready. His excitement was growing, even if he was dreading putting those boots back on his feet. It was going to be a wonderful night.
He had prepared most things that morning so he wouldn't have to rush when he arrived home. Between the broom, the duster and the mop the place was sparkling, breathing elegance out of its very walls.
He'd lit the chandeliers that morning, because that was always a time-consuming job and it wasn't like he had to worry about a fire. The guest bedrooms were prepared; someone always needed to stay over. The strings of monkey skulls were already hung. Personally he wasn't keen on the macabre decoration, but some of his friends appreciated the cultural touch he always offered.
The food was prepared and just needed laying out. It was a pity he couldn't bring in caterers - that would certainly save him a twelve hour stint in the kitchen every year - but that was, unfortunately, impossible to arrange.
An orchestra too would have been nice; the ballroom was designed for nothing less, but the sound system he'd installed back in the nineties would have to suffice. Perhaps if they were lucky, Iggy might be persuaded to do a few numbers on the piano.
Owen - ignoring the Maple's constant chatter behind him, and all but oblivious to the customers he was serving in front of him - daydreamed about the party.
The dormitory was awash with the happy chatter and chaos of several girls getting ready. For most of them it was their first night out since they'd been in Boudenver - not including slaying of course - and they were all uber-excited.
Makeup and makeup tips passed back and forth, clothes were tried on, discarded and then tried on by someone else in the effort to look their best for the social event of the year - their year anyway.
Even Dawn had decided to get ready in the dorm, not wanting to be upstairs by herself and miss all the pre-party fun.
"Uh, this is probably a stupid question, but how are we getting there?" Alison asked as she moisturized her face in front of the mirror.
"That's not a stupid question," Rona countered as she turned to the wall and dropped her towel ready to get dressed. "How are we getting there?"
"Xander said we could use the truck," Dawn said as she went through Cici's collection of eye-shadow. "And Reece offered to drive."
"In that case," Naomi said, switching off the hair dryer. "I suggest that the people who have spent the least amount of time on their hair should sit in the back."
"So, Miranda and Rona then?" Alison pushed back as Dawn tried to nudge her away from the mirror. "That still leaves five of us in the front."
"That's not gonna work," Miranda stated the obvious, pulling her hair into pigtails. "And I have another stupid question, but, why aren't we dressing up?"
"Speak for yourself." Cici was looking at her outfit in the full length mirror on the other side of the dorm. She shook her head at her reflection and started to strip again. "I plan on dressing to the nines, tonight."
"I meant, like, Halloween dressing up, like as witches or... or cowboys or something?" Miranda explained as she tried on one of Naomi's skirts.
Alison raised an eyebrow, "Cowboys?"
"Because dressing up is for kids," Dawn shrugged. "And this party is definitely not for kids."
All eyes swiveled to the door to see Reece poking his head around.
"Do you mind?" Rona grabbed up her towel again to cover her still half naked body.
"It's called knocking!" Alison held the t-shirt she'd been about to put on to her chest.
"I did knock." Reece grinned as he came further into the room. "After a fashion."
The skirt only halfway up her thighs, Miranda sat down on the closest bed, blushing hard and leaning forward so he couldn't see her panties. Cici, back down to her underwear, had dived behind the same bed with a thud as soon as she'd heard his voice.
"Perhaps you should learn to do it the same way the rest of civilization does, Reece." Naomi turned a cool look on him. "Just to save you the embarrassment of barging in on a lady while she's changing again."
"I'll look into it," Reece nodded, not at all embarrassed. "I came to speak to Dawn."
"What is it?" Dawn loved how good he looked. She'd never seen him not looking good, but tonight he'd really made an effort in a light blue shirt that brought out his eyes and a brand new pair of jeans. He'd done his hair so that it looked tousled and sexy and, oh God, he smelled good too, she realized as she stepped closer to him. "Is everything okay? Monsters aren't breaking the rules are they, meaning we have to stay at home?"
Reece gave the room - or at least the girls in the room - a casual once over before he focused on Dawn. "No, everything's quiet on the home front. I just came to give you this..." he leaned closer and kissed her, thoroughly. As he pulled away, she stared at him, smiling woozily. "...And to tell you that me and the lads are ready when you are."
"Right." He nodded and gave her another quicker kiss before leaving and pulling the door shut after him again.
Cici looked over the edge of the bed to make sure he had really gone before she stood up and went to choose her next outfit. Rona hurriedly dressed the rest of herself in case he decided to make a return visit.
"He is such an ass," Alison complained, finally able to pull her t-shirt on.
"He is not." Dawn gave the young slayer a dirty look.
"Sorry, Dawn, but Alison is right." Naomi went back to fussing with her hair. "Reece really is an arse."
Dawn harrumphed. "Just because he didn't knock properly doesn't mean he was trying to perv on you all." 'You wish,' she thought. "Xander's walked in on me getting changed before, but I didn't automatically assume he did it on purpose."
There was a heavy silence for a minute, before Miranda sighed, "I wish Xander would walk in on me getting changed."
The tension broke as they all laughed at her and within moments the excited babble about the night ahead returned.
"So where is the party?" Miranda, deciding she didn't like Naomi's skirt, tried on one of Vi's instead.
"I'm not telling anyone until we actually leave," said Dawn, going back to her makeup. "It's not that I don't trust you all, but I know how persuasive Buffy can be when she wants Intel. But it is so cool it's going to blow your minds."
She had pretty much repressed the strange happenings at Mage Manor that afternoon. Nothing else weird had happened, and they'd all had so much fun setting things up, it hadn't seemed important by the time Aaron had dropped her back at school just in time to catch her ride home with Xander.
"Will there be alcohol?" Naomi asked. She was the only one of legal drinking age, legal in her own country anyway.
"There had better be," said another voice from the door.
Everyone spun that way again, covering up on instinct, but it was just Kennedy standing there. She had a bottle of beer on the way to her mouth and an unopened bottle in her other hand.
"Hey girls." She grinned as they all stared at her. "Don't mind me," she added as she realized they were changing. "Only got eyes for one bitch, I mean witch."
She chuckled at her own joke, but when no one else joined in she rolled her eyes and drank some more beer. "So what time do we leave?"
"You're coming?" Dawn's eyes lit up. The rest of the slayers were cool enough, but she didn't really know any of them properly. Even Vi and Rona were still a bit of a mystery, whereas she'd spent most of the summer bonding with Kennedy. "That's great! but wait," her smile dropped a little. "What about Willow?"
"I dunno, I haven't asked her," Kennedy seemed to deliberately misunderstand. "Doubt it'll be her scene though."
"Are you sure it's yours?" Alison shot in a little sarcastically, but not too sarcastically because Kennedy already enjoying riding her hard and provocation had a habit of making her ride harder.
Dawn noticed other faces had dropped too. Understandable, she supposed. After all, Kennedy was her friend, but she was boss to most of these girls.
"It's a party, isn't it? Music, dancing, pretty girls..." Kennedy grinned at Alison. "With any luck a keg. Yeah, definitely sounds like a scene I can picture myself in."
Alison grumbled something and went back to getting ready. Kennedy raised an eyebrow at Miranda and Cici, inviting their comments, but they just smiled uneasily and followed suit. Nodding once, Kennedy finished her bottle and threw it into the waste basket by the door.
"Nice shot," said Naomi automatically. "And I really like your shirt."
"Thanks and thanks," Kennedy smiled as she opened her other bottle on the frame of Vi's bed. "You're looking pretty fine yourself."
Dawn coughed, "Willow," into her hand. Kennedy looked at her in amusement, so Dawn coughed, "Your girlfriend!" into her hand for good measure.
"I was returning a compliment, not looking to get laid," Kennedy pointed out, smirking as Dawn had a real coughing fit brought on by the fake-cough dryness in her throat.
Naomi blushed brightly and decided she was ready enough. "Okay, so I'll be waiting with the boys." She left the room.
"I think you embarrassed her," Rona said as she finished fastening the buckles on her boots.
"I'm sure she's used to people telling her she's hot."
"Yeah, probably not women, though."
"What's the difference?" Kennedy asked neutrally.
Rona looked like she was going to answer that, but then changed her mind. "Drinking already?" she asked instead.
"Just getting in the party mood." Kennedy gave a grin that didn't look altogether real and had another good mouthful of her beer.
Dawn concentrated on flicking her hair about a little in the mirror. Kennedy was acting strange and she wasn't altogether clued in on the reason why. It made her feel guilty.
Not that it was any secret that Kennedy and Willow were going through a little rough patch; in fact it was plainly obvious. That was kinda where the guilt was springing from though.
No matter how much they bonded, Dawn would never be as close to Kennedy as she had been to Tara... she wasn't as close to Buffy as she had been to Tara, but the thought of Kennedy and Willow breaking up still gave her that nasty feeling inside. She didn't want to think about it.
And if she was getting the nasty feeling, Kennedy had to be getting it worse, and maybe couldn't stop thinking about it. She knew Kennedy really loved Willow, even though she'd never actually said it. Kennedy was probably desperate to talk it out with someone, to try and figure out a solution, and Dawn was a lot closer in age to Kennedy than she had been with Tara, meaning she wasn't automatically disqualified from listening for not being mature enough.
Still though, she'd been reluctant to offer her services for the supportive talking thing. Not because she didn't want to be there for her, but because it was a sensitive subject...
Yes, she knew what that meant: Dawn Summers - Coward; Dawn Summers - Sucktastic friend!
Neither were nice things to even call yourself, she decided. It was time to ask Kennedy to wait outside with her; they could have a chat while everyone else finished up.
Before she could follow through on that thought the door opened again.
Everyone was pretty much dressed now, but still they all turned to the new interruption, except Kennedy, who chose to sit on the end of Vi's bed, staring at the wall.
Faith was in the doorway, looking like she'd gone ten rounds with a grizzly bear and was extremely freaked out by it. "Okay, so I'm gonna need all the green, blue and black makeup you have."
Dawn frowned. "Huh?"
A little later, Buffy and Willow walked through the front door giggling about the rude parrot.
Xander was in the living room setting the fireplace with wood scraps. Daytime in Boudenver was still warm enough that the Sunnydale ex-patriots weren't complaining yet, but the nights were unseasonably chilly, or perhaps seasonably chilly; Buffy had never spent much time outside of southern California until the move. He looked up with a smile as they entered.
"Hey, how'd it go? Was she a werewolf? Do I need to start building a bigger cage than the, uh, cage we don't actually have yet?"
They did have a cage, a weapons cage, that was secure, but a werewolf would only have to get angry-pouncy for a second before it knocked itself out on the bars or had a silver sword drop on its back.
"Yep, she's definitely lycanthopized," Willow grinned. "But she's gonna handle it herself."
"Is that wise?" Xander finished setting the fire and put a long match to the newspaper he was using as tinder. "What if her idea of handling it involves eating the good folk of Columbus?"
"Better the good folk of Columbus than the weird folk of Boudenver." Buffy shrugged, and then thought about what she'd said. "Maybe we should get one of the Newbies out to Columbus; one of them must be ready for her own spot by now, and it not like Columbus has a Hellmouth."
"Plus it's not far away. If they got into any trouble we could all saddle up and be there in a couple of hours," Xander agreed. "And Rona and Vi are pretty experienced already, what with living in Sunnydale at its most hairiest."
"Added bonus, if we relocate Rona there, Reece would have to go with. Not that I wanna lose Rona, but..." Buffy grinned. "A dark cloud with one of the better class of silver linings."
Willow chuckled, "Giles said there would be no relocating until January, and I doubt Rona will be top of the list. As a new Watcher, he wants to keep Reece here for at least six months of supervision, probably longer if he can."
"Damn," Buffy muttered, but as she remembered she had better things to think about, tonight at least, she brightened. "Where's Faith?"
"Oh, she had to go out." Xander grinned to himself as he got up from his knees and moved away from the slowly crackling fire.
"What?" Buffy looked around the room, hoping to refute his statement by finding Faith blending into the walls. Totally in vain, like Faith ever blended anywhere, she was the embodiment of foregroundness. "Don't lie! Is she upstairs?"
"Nope, she really had to go out."
"But we had plans!"
"Relax, Buff," Xander laughed. "She said she'd be back around seven to pick you up."
"Oh." Buffy did relax, until... "That only gives me an hour to get ready!"
She bolted up the stairs with her big bag from the costume place without another word.
Xander laughed again and Willow chuckled as she said, "She's been like a puppy in a basket of kittens all day."
"It's great that Buffy's happy, but you're with me on the strange, right?"
"Because it's Faith making her this way? Totally."
"How did it go today, you know, with Oz?" Xander asked, pretending to busy himself with selecting the channel he wanted on the television.
"Fine." Willow shrugged, oblivious - or pretending to be - to the sly nature of the question. "It's great catching up. I didn't really realize how much I missed him, ya know, until he was here again. You guys should get together sometime, then you'd see what I mean."
Xander coughed, about to tell her his gay phase had been for one day only, but she carried on,
"Is Kennedy aaround? I wanna see if she wants to do something tonight."
Xander's face dropped, "Uh, Will, she's gone out. To that party with Dawn and the others. She didn't let you know?"
"Oh," Willow's face dropped too. "She didn't say anything."
"Well, it was probably a last minute decision," Xander said carefully. "All the girls have been way excited about it all day, she probably got caught up in it all and forgot to tell you."
"Yeah, maybe." Willow was not comforted. "I guess it's okay, it's not like we'd actually planned anything, I just thought, ya know."
"Yeah. I'm sure if she'd known you wanted to do something, she wouldn't have gone."
Willow gave him a look that implied otherwise.
Xander shrugged in response. He didn't know what was going through Kennedy's head. He did know she'd been off with Willow for a while now, and she seemed unhappy every time he saw her, but it wasn't like he knew the young Slayer very well.
In fact, despite knowing what kind of breakfast cereal she liked best, what kind of weapons she preferred and that she favored anime over home-grown cartoons - except X-men, but then who didn't love the X-men - she was still a complete mystery to him.
"Are all the Slayers out?" Willow suddenly changed the subject - to his great relief. "Because, I know with Halloween and all this should be our trouble-free night, but with taking past adventures into account..."
"Vi's staying home. Much to her chagrin, I might add. She's with Giles in the training room. He just got back."
"I thought he and Robin were staying in Montana until tomorrow?"
Xander made finger quotes, "Pressing Council..."
"...Business," Willow finished for him, making the same signal with her fingers.
They shared a smile; that was Giles code these days for: I can't take anymore.
"I thought he liked Robin?"
Xander smirked. "From what he said, it was the new Slayer's parents he couldn't wait to get away from."
"So he left Robin to the wolves?"
"Well, he's getting an all expenses paid trip to the Treasure State. Maybe he'll get lucky while he's there and find some actual treasure." Xander couldn't help a little bitterness creeping into his voice.
Robin had been on the scene, what, five minutes? And he was already getting Slayer retrieval missions. Xander knew he wasn't exactly Watcher material - his English accent was, according to some, offensive and his ability to retain facts from research was often limited by how hungry he was - but surely he could be trusted with the odd trip to make first contact with a potential Slayer.
Willow sensed his downward shift in mood, and wrongly assumed her own less than ecstatic state was to blame.
"Well, if Kennedy's gone, I guess I'll just go do my exercises and go to bed. Have a nice evening."
Xander watched her walk glumly up the front stairs, knowing there was nothing he could say to make her feel better.
Faith was hidden in the thick vegetation that bordered both sides of the camp lane when Oz's van trundled slowly down. She'd ducked behind a tree, but no one was looking into the shadows anyway.
She watched the van stop on the driveway, the engine continuing to rumble as Buffy and Willow got out, and then the sound of the door slamming as the two women called out cheerful goodbyes.
Faith stepped out of the glare of the headlights again as the van came back. Buffy sounded in a good mood, which was a good start and gave Faith a little confidence.
She switched back on the flashlight she'd borrowed from the basement and carried on searching for a flower. So far she was coming up seven shades of weed, and not even the good smokable kind.
She wished she'd worn a watch too, or she wished she owned a watch to wear. She'd said 7:00pm, but she had no idea if it was close to that or not yet. Buffy would want a little time to get ready, but Faith didn't want to start the evening by turning up late.
She'd have to go around the other side of the house. That way she could sneak a look at the kitchen clock and see when Buffy's bedroom light went out.
Jumping back out of the unruly undergrowth, Faith wiped her dew-wet hands on her slashed up pants and pulled a cigarette from a packet wedged into the breast pocket of her old tattered denim jacket - the only item of clothing she'd arrived in that she hadn't burned as soon as possible - with shaky fingers. The lighter flame she touched to the tip was just as fluttery as her stomach.
Xander had laughed at her expression when she'd left the house, making fun of her first Buffy-date butterflies. She hadn't told him it was worse than that, that it was first date ever Tiger moths dog-fighting in her gut.
Kennedy stood up in the back of the truck as Reece started down a dirt track much like their one at home. She stood perfectly steady, despite the near empty beer bottle in her hand and the bumps that were making everyone else grip onto the metal side.
"Hey, I remember this place!" The only outward sign of the beer she'd drunk was that her voice was louder than usual. "It's your castle, Andrew!"
She nudged the boy with her foot and he looked up. From where he sat only the turrets were visible, rising spookily into the dark sky.
"Oh boy," he muttered, sub-consciously squeezing Craig's hand tighter.
"You scared?" Craig asked, slightly teasing.
"No," Andrew replied too quickly. "I just figured it would be in a house."
As they pulled onto the circular driveway, Rona looked up at Mage Manor, seeing it for the first time. "It is a house."
"Yeah, the House on Haunted Hill!"
"Well, none of us died the last time we went in, so..." Kennedy jumped over the side before Reece had fully stopped and staggered a step. Chuckling at herself, she tipped her head back to finish her beer as she twisted on the spot to check the place out.
Cars were parked haphazardly around the large driveway and groups of kids milled about between them and the house. Plenty of them stared at Kennedy, looking at her like she was an exotic creature to be wary of among the fluffy barnyard animals. At least, that's what she felt like under the weight of so many unwelcoming gazes.
Dismissing them all with a sneer, she looked over her shoulder to the truck to see the others finally climbing out.
"At least it looks more welcoming this time," Miranda was saying, gesturing to the wide open door way.
On either side of the steps sat pumpkins, a dozen of them at least. Flickering candles lit up their grotesquely carved faces. More candles in bowls of green or orange glass were set along the front wall of the house, adding to the spooky glow.
There was even greeter out front; a plastic skeleton wearing a top hat, with a pipe sticking from between his grinning jaw. He, or she, was sitting on the steps propped up against the door frame. On its lap was a big card that read in black marker: 'Beware all ye who enter the house of horror.' and underneath that: 'Pick your designated driver NOW or the REAPER will get you!'
"Sweet," Kennedy muttered as she read it. "Bet that means they've got a keg."
Dawn had been standing next to her, staring at the house, feeling a certain amount of pride that she'd helped make it look this good. She was excited for everyone to see how fantastic it looked inside, but hearing Kennedy's less-than-excited mutter reminded her that she was going to say something.
"Ken, are you okay?" she asked softly enough that Reece on her other side, holding her hand, wouldn't hear her.
"Sure," Kennedy shrugged.
"Because if you weren't," Dawn pressed on, "and there was something, maybe, bothering you, that, maybe, talking might, I don't know, help, then... I can do that. I mean, I can listen, if... if that's what you want."
"You don't sound too keen on the idea," Kennedy pointed out, her eyes on the wall of the house as she fiddled with her beer bottle.
"It's not that," Dawn promised with an uneasy smile. "It's just the porcupine-sized prickles you're bristling with right now are advising caution."
Kennedy finally turned her head to look at Dawn, trying to turn her lips up into a smile that wouldn't quite catch. She didn't want to dump on Dawn at the party; she knew how much the younger girl had been looking forward to it. The idea of pouring her heart out in front of Reece wasn't appealing either.
Dawn's compassionate eyes were doing some kind of snake charm on her fears though, she could feel them coiling their way up from the place she was trying to hide them. She'd been not talking about it for so long, the pressure was building, and if Dawn didn't back off any second it was all gonna come pouring out and most of it was gonna consist of language not appropriate for the age-range of this party.
"I'm fine," she said, feeling like her throat was blocked.
She cut Dawn's disagreement off with a hard look. "The only problem I have right now is that I can still touch the tip of my nose while walking in a straight line. So I'm gonna go in there and try to find a solution to that. Are you coming or not?"
Kennedy stormed up the steps and into the house. Dawn looked at Reece with a worried frown. "Should I go after her?"
He held her hand tighter, "We'll go after her, but I don't think you should push any more tonight. She's a Slayer and she's been drinking all afternoon, there's no telling who she might lash out at if they aggravate her enough."
"Kennedy's not going to hurt me, she's my friend."
"Trust me, sweetheart; with the amount of booze inside her, she's volatile. I'm not saying she wouldn't wake up regretting it tomorrow, but for tonight, let's just keep an eye on her without winding her up."
Prepared to accept Reece's judgment, because - even though she really didn't think Kennedy would ever turn on her, not even drunk, and she wasn't that drunk, just hurting and too stubborn to show it - if Reece was right and she was wrong, Kennedy could turn her face inside out with one punch.
They went up the steps after Kennedy, hand in hand.
The rest had been hanging back admiring the pumpkins and the spooky candles, smiling politely at the locals who walked close enough for a gawp at the interlopers. They shared fleeting smiles between them; no one prepared to admit they were nervous about attending the party.
Alison shuffled her feet on the gravel, "Well the house is definitely less foreboding than last time... providing you don't look up at all those dark windows."
Everyone slowly felt their eyes rising to do just that.
"Dammit, Alison!" Miranda grumbled. "Now I'm gonna be wondering what's up there all night."
"It's just high school kids, dunno why everyone's so freaked about it," Rona said, but she didn't make any move to lead the group in.
"It's just high school kids who seem to have a grudge against us being at their party," Cici said, doing her best not to look around anymore. "And I used to be so good at this."
"You do all realize you could take this lot out between you in a nano-second, yes?" Naomi looked around at them all. When she received shocked stares from the Slayers and Andrew, she hastened to add. "I'm not suggesting you should, I was just hoping a reminder of you superior strength and grace would inspire some courage."
"I think I just saw a face in one of the tower windows," Andrew suddenly blurted fearfully. "And it didn't look like a kid. I have a bad feeling about this place, guys. Maybe we should forget about the party and just go home."
"Andy, mate, calm down. There's gotta be hundreds of kids in there; even if it is a mad axe man in the tower, there's no saying he's gonna pick you as his victim."
Andrew's lips twisted themselves this way and that as he tried to decide if Craig's soothingly spoken words were of any help at all.
Everyone else just glared at him.
"Hundreds?" Miranda asked in a small voice.
Willow took a second out of moping through her magick exercises to smile when she heard Buffy singly loudly from the shower on the other side of the house. She didn't sing in the shower usually, in fact she didn't sing at all usually, so she must have been really happy.
That was all it took for Willow to lose her smile, and then she felt bad for not being happier for her friend. It wasn't that she wasn't, but normally if Buffy was going on a first date, Willow would have been all excited and bubbly with her. Sitting in Buffy's room while she got ready, helping to sooth any butterflies she might be feeling and giggling over the prospects of what might come at the end of the date.
She wasn't in the mood for that tonight; she wasn't in the mood for anything tonight she realized, giving up on her spiritual workout altogether. She couldn't concentrate anyway and the whole point of them was to hone her concentration so that she could feel and separate the shifts of energy within her.
Blowing out the candles around her, she got up from the floor and flicked off the bright overhead light. Feeling her way to the bed, she turned on the softer bedside lamp and lay down on top of the covers.
Sighing, she wondered what Kennedy was doing and how much fun she was having.
The party was kicking. Rona and the rest of the Slayers and pals had finally made it through the front door, deciding that if they were going to feel uncomfortable anyway they might as well do it in the warm where they could hear the music properly.
The first floor of the mansion was huge and each room was filled with kids doing what parties were made for: drinking, smoking weed, fooling around with members of the opposite sex.
The biggest crowd, where there really had to be over a hundred people, was the ballroom. The music was at its loudest here and so was everything else. It was so noisy Rona could hardly hear what Kennedy was saying to her; she couldn't help wishing it was noisier.
"He's a werewolf! I mean, he's a savage beast! Like a beast, dude!"
"Yeah, I know," Rona agreed, nodding her head in the hopes that Kennedy would get the point that she was getting the point.
Kennedy nodded too, letting out a deep sigh that Rona saw more than heard, and seemed ready to let it go. She was holding a plastic glass of too-frothy beer and she wrinkled her nose at it before taking a big gulp.
Rona had a glass of the beer too, but it was her first and only a sip or two was gone. She didn't think it tasted as bad Kennedy seemed to, but she had an expensive camera in her pocket - secretly on loan from Andrew's bedroom - and she didn't want to risk getting drunk and accidentally breaking it.
Their group had found a safe spot to convene along the back edge of the wall; closer to the raised stage that would have once been used for a band or an orchestra, than the main doors at the other end. Near them, large patio doors had been opened to the night and people were constantly going out there to cool down from dancing and coming back in shivering when their sweat-soaked bodies got too cold.
Rona could see Dawn and Reece dancing in the crowd. Naomi had persuaded Cici and Alison to join her in the middle of the floor too, but she couldn't see them right now. Miranda, Andrew and Craig remained not quite huddled with her in their not quite corner.
Miranda was nursing a coke, Rona didn't know if it was virgin or not. "This is fun! Right? I mean, we're at a party, like a proper party, not just a melted marshmallows in front of the living room fire party."
Rona was skeptical, but she nodded encouragingly anyway. "Beats walking around a deserted cemetery in the cold."
"I mean it's sick!" Kennedy suddenly blurted out of nowhere.
"What is?" Rona looked around, frowning, not seeing anything particularly revolting outside of the usual High School mash up.
"It's like bestiality or something. She's screwing a werewolf! You can't tell me that's normal! It's a sin!"
Rona groaned, and then her irritation spoke before she had time to think it through, "Some people don't think two women screwing is normal, but you're fine with that sin."
Kennedy blinked at her, her shock loosening the control she was using to stay sober-ish and she swayed a little. "Do you think that?"
"That's not what I said."
"And that's not answering my question." Kennedy's eyes were drunk-bright; if she wasn't a Slayer, the amount of alcohol she'd consumed today would have seen her passed out by now. But even though she swayed a little more she looked perfectly in control of her fists and feet.
Rona found herself watching them out of the corner of her eye even as she matched her stare. She spoke evenly and loud enough that Kennedy wouldn't miss a word.
"My point is everyone has a problem with something. You think it's bestiality; she probably sees it as being in love with a man who just happens to be a beast now and again." Rona had never been so diplomatic in her life, but she still tensed, ready, when she saw Kennedy's fists ball.
"So you're saying it's better she's in love with a beast who's a man than a woman who's a lesbian?"
Rona frowned, trying to follow a path of logic from what she'd said to Kennedy's conclusion. It wasn't possible. She tried a different path.
"Buffy was in love with Spike, who was a Vampire! Do you think she's sick?"
"For being in love with Spike, hell yeah, but she's with Faith now... So I guess it's your turn to think she's sick."
"I don't..." Kennedy's scornful glare cut Rona off. She wasn't going to explain herself to someone who obviously wasn't going to listen. "Forget it, we're going to dance."
Grabbing Miranda's arm in one hand and Craig's in the other she dragged them through the crowd towards Dawn.
Andrew stayed with Kennedy long enough to ask, "Are you okay?" but the fierce look she turned on him had him scuttling after the others.
Owen smiled broadly and held out his hands to the short man with the slicked back dark hair and ill-fitting brown suit, trotting up the entrance steps.
"Good of you to come, Victor." Owen shook his hand firmly with both of his. "How was the journey?"
"Gets easier every year." The man had a clipped Swiss accent. "We were able to get a direct flight this time, and with discrimination such a sore point these days..." At this, he turned to the looming monster of a man behind him. "You remember my friend, yes?"
"Of course." Owen smiled politely and shook hands, trying not to do anything so impolite as stare at his stitching. "Who have... I mean, how have you been?"
The broad forehead and slightly bulging eyes made the impassive stare he received especially impressive. "Can't complain," was the slow, disinterested answer.
"Well, that's nice." Owen moved aside to let them enter the foyer. "Is by any chance Ig...?"
"Don't even mention his name!" Victor held up his hands to stress this.
"Ah, no progress on rekindling that friendship then." Owen smiled secretly to himself as he started the lead the way into the drawing room. "Perhaps tonight?"
Victor made a disagreeable noise as he followed his old friend through the house. A few times he looked around, as if sensing something he couldn't put his finger on.
"Is something different to usual?"
Owen sighed, not a happy man at present. "It would seem so yes."
Buffy had showered in record time, and dried herself off in record time, but the getting dressed part of her preparation was proving slower, much to her frustration.
The star-spangled hot pants went on easy enough and fit perfectly, which was good because if they'd been as tight as the boots it could have been embarrassing. The red and gold bodice was a little constricting though, and had cardboard-y implants that made her boobs all perky but was stiff and kinda uncomfortable. The head band was made of soft plastic, but the grip was tight. After she'd nearly given herself a lobotomy, she got it positioned just right and then realized she shouldn't have done her hair first - it was now trapped to the sides of her head and in no way flattering.
After correcting that, she only had about twenty minutes to re-do her hair and do her makeup.
"Why couldn't one of my super-powers be spinning around really fast until I looked perfect," she moaned to herself. "Would have been way more useful than, say, the ability to feel Faith walking around in the garden getting impatient."
Faith was walking around the back garden getting impatient. Not with Buffy - whose light was still on - but with the clock, that said she still had fifteen minutes to wait. And weren't girls notoriously slow at getting ready for dates? Faith could be ready in five and still look damn fine, but for a girl like Buffy, just another fifteen minutes might be expecting too much.
Faith had been beaten, forgotten and almost starved occasionally when she was growing up, all three at once a couple of times. She'd seen first hand the worst thing a Vampire could do to someone. For a few days she'd lived with the guilt of Finch's death clawing away inside of her and now she lived with the guilt of knowing she was capable of way worse than accidental manslaughter.
Right this second, none of that seemed as torturous as this waiting was.
All of that had brought her nothing but misery, pain and fear and it seemed a lot easier to deal with than the current excitement, anticipation and, okay, she was still shit scared here.
"Come on, B, you're pretty enough, now get your ass down here," she muttered to herself all but hopping from foot to foot as she awkwardly juggled the 'flower' in her hands.
She couldn't remember ever being this nervous in her entire life, except maybe the night before her appeal, and the night she'd shown up in B's bedroom a week later than she was should have been there, and the night she'd first arrived in Sunnydale and had been thinking up ways to draw the other slayer outside so they could meet.
Okay, so maybe Buffy was always making her nervous when she wasn't making her mad... or horny. Although being horny around Buffy at the moment was starting to make her nervous. And not the kind of nervous she'd felt back in the 'dale when Buffy had first made her interest very clear.
Her worry then was that she would fall too hard for the blonde, let her get too close, and change her mind about going back to jail just to have Buffy realize the mistake she was making and dump her a week or three later.
That was all moot now; she'd fallen hard and done the remainder of her time, and she was where she wanted to be and who she wanted to be with. And, despite most of her inner-voices yelling at her that it wasn't so, she was slowly getting comfortable believing Buffy really did feel the same way.
So why the nerves when she got horny?
Simple. Faith was ready. Past friggin' ready to get the physical-side of their relationship up and running again. She'd never approved of the idea of stopping it in the first place! Faith had never waited to be 'ready' for sex; she never had to, she'd always been ready. And if she didn't want to have sex with someone, she didn't dick them about, getting them all hot and heavy with the kissing and the moaning and shit; she just told them to take a hike and pretty much forgot about them in the same breath. She couldn't remember if she'd always felt this way, but it had been her M.O. since her mid-teens for sure.
And it wasn't like they were kids neither; they'd both had sex before, with each other even - twice! Faith was tired of being tagged out before she could ever get near second base. It was frustrating as hell, but if Buffy wanted to wait, they were waiting.
It was 'why the hell for?' that Faith didn't know. 'Until she was ready' was kinda ambiguous and she was starting to worry that Buffy was never gonna be ready, that she'd somehow put Buffy off the last time so bad the blonde was never gonna wanna do it again. Every time Buffy said no that little bit quicker, Faith couldn't help wondering what she'd done wrong this time - not sarcastically, but really - and she was usually too horny by that point to think before speaking.
So yeah, just recently, when she was rolling around with Buffy on the bed, feeling that low down tickle getting stronger and doing her damnedest to keep her hands away from any places that might make Buffy breathlessly whimper out a: "Stop!" Faith got nervous. Scared that one day she'd be so into it, she wouldn't listen, or frustrated enough a cold shower wasn't gonna cut it and the resulting tantrum would involve a screaming match so ugly they'd never recover from it.
Faith didn't even feel like she could say anything to Buffy about all this, without the other Slayer thinking she was trying to push the subject and get mad.
All in all, a lot was riding on tonight going perfect. It wasn't like she was expecting Buffy to jump in the sack with her the moment they got home - although she wouldn't turn it down - but just spending the evening alone, learning how to be relaxed around each other in a way they'd never managed before, would hopefully nudge Buffy a lot closer to 'ready'.
Above her head, Buffy's bedroom suddenly went dark. Faith eased herself closer to the kitchen window again. It was a couple of minutes to seven. Melting back into the shadows, Faith was still close enough to check her outfit in the light pouring from the kitchen. Yep, she still looked a mess, good to know she hadn't accidentally gotten tidy with all this waiting around.
She counted to fifty - starting off slowly, she was soon skipping the Mississippi to get to the end faster - and walked around the side of the house.
"This is it, Chica," she murmured as she paused at the bottom of the porch steps. "Time to fuckin' shine."
Looking more confident than she felt, she bounded up the two steps and rang the door bell. She held her breath as she waited, and her lungs weren't even close to burning when the door was wrenched open to reveal a nervously eager Buffy in full costume, her cape billowed dramatically as a stiff breeze rushed into the house to warm up.
Faith's breath burst back out on a laugh, "Wonderful choice, Woman."
"Oh my God, Faith, what happened to you?" Buffy stepped on to the porch, concern making her eyes big.
"That would be..." Faith looked down at her slashed shirt, "Werewolf attack, I think; and then bitten to death by a jealous ex..." Faith lifted her hair to show the red food coloring she'd spread around and down from the old bite scar on her neck. "And then the bastards cut my head off, see?" Grinning now, she lifted her chin to show the black cross stitch she'd pencilled over the angry looking thin red line of lipstick that was supposed to be the result of decapitation. "After that, it's just a little voodoo here, some voodoo there."
"Huh?" Buffy's nose scrunched up.
"I'm a zombie!"
"Oh!" Buffy laughed. "Thank God for that; I thought for a minute there your dress sense... and personal hygiene... had taken a serious downward turn since this morning."
Faith's cocked her head to one side, not sure how to take that.
"But, you're lacking a little realism." Buffy smiled, stepping in closer to Faith. "I've never met a zombie who smelled this good." She kissed Faith's cheek softly before stepping back.
"I, uh..." Faith blinked, feeling a little thrown by the insult-compliment-insult-compliment Buffy had just given her. "...had more words to say when I planned knocking on the door earlier."
"What were they?"
"Damned if I know," Faith admitted.
"My eyes are up here, Faith," Buffy reminded her, sounding amused as much as embarrassed.
Faith didn't look up, partly because she was getting Buffy back for the insults, but mostly because she just couldn't. "Yeah I know, but I've seen your eyes before. This is the first time I've had the pleasure of seeing you in tight-ass hot pants. Never seen anything hotter, B," she winked.
"You've seen me naked," Buffy said. "Are you saying the hot pants are hotter than me naked?"
"You do realize the front door is still wide open and we can hear every word you are saying?" Giles suddenly called through from the living room. "Please be so kind as to shut it before you continue."
As Buffy blushed hard and Faith tried to stifle her laughter, Xander added,
"Or come in here so we can all ogle the hot pants and discuss them in a fair and democratic..."
Faith walked around Buffy and pulled the door shut without acknowledging anyone inside.
"Yep." Buffy nodded. "Haven't died of embarrassment yet, despite all the times I've dabbled with it."
"For the record, I meant I haven't seen anything hotter in the past two weeks," Faith covered her earlier slip. "And I, ah, got you these, uh, this."
Buffy took the offered object with a surprised smile. "You got me a pot plant?"
Faith stared at it with a little embarrassed frown. "I wanted to give you some flowers, but it was dark," she explained, feeling a shyness she'd never encountered before.
"Well it does have flowers, and they're very pretty." Buffy grinned. "So, thank you."
"I snatched it from Red's magick patch," Faith admitted.
"Oh," Buffy looked at the potted plant in her hands warily now. "In that case, I'm just gonna put it down here, very carefully, for safe-keeping." She set it down in a corner of the porch.
"So... You ready?" Faith's arms swung at her sides. "For the date, I mean."
"Uh huh," Buffy nodded, and now she was looking shy too.
"Right." They stared at each other for a moment, both just smiling slightly. "Right," Faith said again and walked down the porch steps.
Buffy followed right behind her. "So are you gonna tell me where we're going yet?"
"Uh, no. You'll see when we get there." Faith was still feeling awkward over her lame choice of venues, wishing she hadn't let Xander talk her into thinking this was a good idea.
"Okay, can you at least tell me how we're getting there?" Buffy asked next.
Faith stopped on the driveway. "Damn! I keep forgetting we're in the middle of nowhere out here."
Buffy laughed. "Tell me about it."
"I guess I better go call us a cab."
"Wait, ask Giles. It'll be quicker."
"Great. Now it's like I'm asking your dad to give us a ride to our first date; shoulda just stuck with the Chuck E. Cheese idea after all."
Buffy's giggles followed her back up the porch steps.
"Go through, I'm sure you remember the way," Owen said to the well-dressed guest.
He had just seen Paddy arrive and wanted to stay at the door.
"You keep this place looking magnificent." The man tapped his black shiny shoes on the spotless tiles. "Superb. My castle never shines like this."
"Your castle is a dark, draughty blot on the Transylvanian landscape."
"Stop, Olwyn, you are making me homesick."
Owen chuckled. "Go ahead. Almost everyone is here now."
"Not yet, but soon I imagine."
Strong laughter came as the guest twirled towards the drawing room, his black and red cape billowing as he turned. "That should be interesting."
Dawn was having the best time. This outranked every party she'd ever been to, not that there had been that many, but she bet it outranked most of the ones she hadn't been to, too. Certainly she'd never heard of a party this wild back in Sunnydale. Except for the ones Buffy had had, but they'd always been the bad kind of wild.
She was dancing in the middle of the ballroom now with Fen on one side of her and Naomi on the other. Three of the Slayers were there too; they'd all taken to Fen as quickly as she had. Rona had excused herself a minute ago to get a drink and Dawn had to admit she had no idea where Kennedy was.
When she'd asked Rona, the girl had growled something about the end of her tether and so Dawn had let the subject drop. She hoped Craig and Andrew were with her, where ever she was. They had been dancing too, but Andrew's moves had drawn 'looks' and the already self-conscious boy had reached his limit.
But Kennedy and Andrew were strangely close. If they were together, she might even open up to him in a way she felt she couldn't with her.
"Told you tonight was gonna be awesome," Fen yelled her way.
"You were right," Dawn yelled back. "I can't believe how hard this music rocks!"
"I know. I can't believe the sound system in this place actually worked! One up for the Bou boys, for sure."
The same... well, Dawn didn't want to call them nerds, because Willow was a nerd and Dawn had always kind of seen herself as following in Willow's educational footsteps, but they were wearing plaid shirts tucked into cord jeans that came up to their belly buttons... guys that had been around earlier were up on the stage again. They had some fancy equipment up there that they were getting excited over using - almost pushing each other out of the way to be the one to push the buttons and spin the disks. She wondered why they were even bothering with old-fashioned decks and vinyl when the stereo they'd found worked just fine.
"I can't believe a house that's never been occupied has a sound system wired up in the first place!"
The two of them laughed and high-fived.
It was a mystery for another day, because right now, having fun was all that mattered. Besides, the supernatural was Buffy's gig, not hers. She wasn't a Chosen one, or one of a Chosen many, something that was in her face all the time at home - so why shouldn't tonight be about her life instead?
Charlie came dancing through the crowd behind them and slipped his arms around Fen. In one hand he held a plastic glass of beer up for her. She turned in his arms to say thank you, but words apparently weren't enough, because she kissed him right after.
Dawn's eyebrows went up as she watched, and then she realized she was perving and turned around quick to dance with Naomi instead. She hadn't realized Fen and Charlie were anything more than friends, but then maybe before tonight they hadn't been.
She realized then that Reece still wasn't back. He'd gone to get drinks ages ago. She thought about going to find him, but he was probably just talking to Craig, or maybe he'd gone outside for a cigarette.
Not wanting to seem like a clingy girlfriend, she decided he'd be back when he was back and carried on dancing, but she couldn't help keeping a watchful eye on the crowd for his return.
The foyer was chilly and dry leaves chased each other through the front door and across the grimy black and white tiles to play around Reece's feet. It wasn't enough to make him shiver in his shirt sleeves so he didn't notice, but most kids still arriving hurried through the once grand entrance to the warmer climes deep within the house.
That meant it was the quietest room on the ground floor and also had, if the occasion called for it, direct access up the stairs to the even quieter second floor.
Julie - if he remembered her name right - laughed again and touched his arm flirtatiously.
"You really did that?"
"I did," he promised her, smiling. "It was one of my funnier, if not finer, moments."
He had a store of anecdotes from his Academy days and, with the careful omission of the more technical terms of his studies, they were better than the average pick-up lines. He wasn't even pulling out his best and this cheerleader - he'd seen her and her squad form an impromptu pyramid on the stage earlier - was eating them up.
"I bet everything you do is fine," she purred, curling her long blonde hair around her finger.
"Well," he lowered his voice a fraction, leaned in an inch or two closer. "I like to think I have great taste."
It took her a second to get it, but then she giggled and slapped his arm lightly.
He'd met her in line for drinks. The barrel had run dry while he was filling his plastic glass, Julie had been behind him and was upset that she missed out on a beer, so he'd done the gentlemanly thing and offered to share.
She said she had a boyfriend somewhere, but that hadn't stopped her from accepting and joining him out here. He had mentioned he was here with Dawn, but hadn't stressed the 'here with' part. Julie had never heard of her anyway. She was a senior, he knew Dawn was a junior, and apparently their paths had never crossed.
"British guys are so hot," Julie said like she was imparting some great wisdom. "Why is that?"
"We have to be," Reece smiled again. "It's the only way to survive the weather."
She wasn't the brightest light bulb in the pack, but that was okay, he already had one more girlfriend than he really needed.
"I think it's your accent," she continued. "It's so sexy."
"See!" She giggled, before adding, "I really wish Brett wasn't here."
The boyfriend, he guessed. He made a show of looking around the empty foyer.
"I don't see him."
She giggled some more and looked around herself. "Well, I guess not."
She put the almost empty beer glass on the floor by their feet, and he smiled when her hands slid up his chest as she straightened back up.
"Then I guess there's nothing to stop us from doing this." Her voice was a purr again.
She'd been about to kiss him, and he'd been about to let her, but out of the corner of his eye he saw an unwelcome face coming through the door from the main hall. His Slayer. He stepped back just in time and raised his hand to Julie's shoulder to stop her from following.
"I don't want to jeopardize your relationship with Brett," he said smoothly.
"What do you care?" she asked, sounding hurt by his rebuttal.
"I don't, about him," he said, trying to keep his voice slow and steady as he watched Rona fart about on the other side of the foyer. She was acting like she hadn't spotted him yet, but Slayers had ears better than dogs. "But you seem like a nice girl and I'd hate you to throw away someone good for you on a whim. We don't even know each other properly; I could be a rotten scoundrel."
"I think you're sweet," she insisted.
"Thank you," he said again, flashing her another disarming smile, but before it could have an unhelpful effect he stooped down and retrieved the beer from the floor. "But maybe you should get to know me before you make any life-altering decisions."
Not that he was planning on giving her that chance. Rona was still messing about by the other wall, fiddling with something that seemed to be stuck in her pocket. Maybe she was drunk. Did that mean he was supposed to give her a lecture on not drinking? Part of his duties was to keep his Slayer on the straight and narrow, but he didn't want to bother right now.
"Well," Julie whispered coquettishly, touching his arm again. "How about we go upstairs and I can get to know you better?"
Reece groaned inwardly. It sounded like a great invitation, but not one he could take up. Before he could answer either way though, Kennedy came through the same door Rona had. She wasn't swaying, but she looked distinctly the worse for wear.
Rona turned to her and was about to say something, but Kennedy gave her a dirty look and continued on. She didn't even seem to notice him and Julie as she walked past and took the stairs to the darkened upper floor.
"What's her deal?" Julie asked, frowning after her.
"That's what I want to know."
Reece had been staring after Kennedy too and was surprised to hear Rona speak right next to him. She didn't sound drunk at all, which at least was a relief.
"Aren't you going to go after her?" he asked, nodding to the stairs.
If Rona left to deal with Kennedy, he could perhaps invite Julie to take a walk outside with him and she could get her chance to know him better.
"Why don't you go?" Rona sneered at him. "You're the Watcher."
"What does that mean?" Julie wrinkled her nose in confusion. "And do you two know each other?"
"Yes, we do," Reece admitted reluctantly, "and she means I'm the designated driver - it's an English term." To Rona, he said, "And if it was you going up there pissed out of your skull, that would mean something, but Kennedy's not my responsibility."
"Nice," Rona chuckled sarcastically. "Good to know we're not all some sugary happy family like Buffy and Giles keep saying."
"Is this your girlfriend?" Julie demanded, her hands going to her skinny hips. "Because if you are," she directed at the Slayer, "he never mentioned you."
"No," said Rona. "That poor chick is in there waiting for him."
And the fun was officially over. Reece finished the last few mouthfuls of beer and handed the glass to Julie without a word.
To Rona, he just said, "I'm sorry, you are right," and started up the stairs after Kennedy.
At the top of the wide staircase, he had to strain his eyes to see through the gloom. Only small candle-shaped wall lights offered any remittance from the dark up here.
"Kennedy, you bloody prat, where are you?" he called out, peering left and right down the long hallway for any sign of her.
"Where would you like me to drop you?" Giles asked as he drove along Boudenver's main street.
"On my head," Faith muttered from the back of the car. "No, wait, someone musta done that already."
Buffy unclipped her seatbelt so she could twist around and look at Faith, "What's wrong?"
"This is lame."
"Going on a date with me is lame?" Buffy tried to keep some amusement in her voice.
"No, B," Faith said quietly, looking out of the car window. "Just... maybe we should do this some other time, maybe."
Giles turned his head slightly to smile at Buffy and she was glad he thought there was something to smile about.
"If you didn't want to go out, why ask me in the first place?"
"Thanks a bunch." Crossing her arms, Buffy stared moodily out of the passenger window. She should have known she was getting her hopes up for nothing, but was it so wrong to want some proof that Faith did actually want her as a girlfriend and not just someone to fool about with after patrol or to act as a stabilizing influence in front of her parole officer. "You might as well just turn the car around, Giles."
"Sorry to waste your time," Faith said in a voice so small Buffy barely heard her over the engine.
Giles cheerfully ignored them both. "So, where would you like me to drop you?"
"Ah, I see a pair of spooks heading into Barnies so I'll take the liberty of assuming that was your destination."
Buffy looked over to see two walking bed sheets enter the bar. Before she could argue, Giles was pulling up in front. She did anyway.
"You heard Faith. She doesn't wasn't to do this, and far be it from me to force her to..."
Giles turned the radio on, cutting Buffy off with a blast of old people music.
"Do you...?" she began to whine, but her door opening made her stop. She looked up to see a nervous zombie standing there. She hadn't even realized Faith had left the car. "Hello."
"Okay," was all Faith said.
Buffy waited for more.
"Okay," Faith said again. "If you promise not to hold the lameness against me, I'm ready."
"Oh, you're ready now? Sure you don't wanna think about it some more? We wouldn't want you rushing in to anything and it's not like I made any effort!" She pointed to the uncomfortable red and gold bodice she was wearing.
Giles turned the radio off again. "Buffy, please get out of the car."
She gave him a 'why aren't you on my side' look. He tipped his head towards Faith, smiling knowingly. Although what he knew was a mystery to her.
"Fine." Buffy got out of the car.
Faith thanked Giles for the ride and then he was driving off almost before she shut the door; not giving either of them the chance to change their minds again.
Buffy stood on the pavement, not looking at Faith. Faith was not looking back too. Across the road, Barnies stood bright and imposing. A man with a hatchet sticking out of his head entered and a gust of music and chatter came through the open door.
"So, here we are." Faith sneered, reaching into her jacket pocket for her smokes. "Impressed?"
Buffy turned to look at her scornfully, "So far, not really. What's eating you?"
Faith was lighting a cigarette and the first smoke rushed out in a frustrated plume.
"Seriously? So this is how you always act on a date?"
Faith flinched and took another angry pull on the cigarette. "Look, I'm sorry if I'm being an ass." Her eyes were locked on the door across the street. "It's just... I'm kinda feeling like an ass right now."
"Which would explain the assness in a nutshell." Buffy shook her head with a sigh. "Okay, then I accept your apology." She gestured to the door. "Can we go in now?"
Faith didn't move. It looked like she was clenching her jaw. There was a slight tick where Buffy wanted to see dimples.
"You know, I always thought dating a girl would involve less ass, not more."
"Least you got something right."
Terrific, now Faith was muttering snide comments under her breath. The insinuation was clear; Faith wasn't getting any, poor Faith. But did she really think acting like this was going to help that sitch?
Buffy bit her tongue until she felt she could speak with a civil tone. "You know, there's not much point in making the apology if you're just gonna turn right around and be assy again."
"Then I retract my apology."
"Okay, then I retract my acceptance. You are an ass, a big ass with all the ass-trappings that go with, and I should dump your ass-like ass for being such an ass..." Buffy had to pause for breath, "...but I didn't get dressed up like this to go to Xander's underwear party, so come on!"
Faith was looking at her now, eyebrows up, not quite grinning but definitely less tense than before. "You expect me to take you on a date after you speak to me like that?"
"No. No, I don't," Buffy told her, her voice shrill with impatience. "Because if I wait for you to face your fear, I'm gonna need a walker to get across this road. So... I'm taking you on a date."
"Faith, will you go out with me this evening? You will? Great. I'll pick you up an hour ago."
"Hi, Faith. Wow, you look amazing. We're going to..." Buffy looked down at her spangly costume and then at Faith's sliced and mangled one. "...what I can only hope is a fancy dress party at Barnies. It's going to be awesome, but even if it isn't it won't matter, because the important thing is that we're there together. Did you catch that bit? Because it's kinda a major theme of my vexation here."
Faith was grinning now; although she didn't look very happy about it. She nodded, "I caught it."
"Good." Buffy leaned close enough to kiss Faith's cheek. "Now be a good zombie and relax; and I promise you you'll get through your first date unscathed."
"Hey! Who said it was my first..."
"I can spot a virgin," Buffy smirked.
Faith gave her a semi-amused glare.
Ignoring it, Buffy linked her arm through Faith's and started towards the bar. "So, do you think we're even still allowed in here? After last time, I mean, when we got arrested."
"Shit!" Faith stopped again. "I didn't even think of that."
"I was kidding!"
"But what if you're right?" Faith frowned. "See, this is what I mean. I can't do this shit, B. Our first date and I'm taking you someplace we're probably friggin' barred from." She started backing away from the bar.
"Then I'll just have to flash some spandex and we'll slip in while Alex's eyes are still glazed." Buffy tried dragging her to the door by their linked arms, wanting to get her in there before she spazzed completely again. "Come on! Don't make me use my lasso."
Reece got lucky - although not in the way he'd been hoping to obviously - and found Kennedy only halfway down the dusty corridor. She was in a bedroom, sitting on a musty bed, hugging her knees. Her face was buried in her arms and she was rocking slightly, but he couldn't tell if she was crying.
She'd found a light by the bed and switched it on - it was a wonder this place still had electricity, but there was proof of it all over the house - and the smell of burnt dust rising from the bulb and the moth-eaten lampshade made his nose itch a little.
He tapped the door gently, not wanting to startle her. When she didn't acknowledge it he stepped into the room and slowly approached the bed.
"If you ask if I'm okay I will launch you up into the spider nests."
Reece looked up to see what she meant. The ceiling was covered with dust-brown tendrils. He wasn't generally scared of spiders back home, but was well aware they had poisonous ones this side of the pond.
He sat down on the very end of the bed. "I'll not ask if you're okay then."
"What are you doing up here?"
"Since when is that your business?"
That was a good question. It wasn't his business and he didn't want it to be his business, but downstairs when Rona had sneered at him, he'd... not liked it.
It wasn't that he was in the Watcher trade for the power trip like some were, he didn't want to lord it over his Slayer and be the big 'I am', but he did want her respect. He was aware he didn't have that right now, and was smart enough to know that he'd have to earn it from someone like Rona and not just expect it to be offered for the sake of his position. That was fine; he gave respect on the same principals.
So he was up here trying to earn it fair and square, but he wasn't going to tell Kennedy that.
"It's not, but... we don't know how sound this house is. I don't want you stomping around up here and falling through the floorboards."
Kennedy looked up; her face was dry and cold. "Rona sent you, didn't she? Bitch sent her watcher to slap me back into line. Didn't have the guts to come herself..."
"Now hang on a minute," Reece raised his voice, getting more annoyed. "Rona's a bloody brave girl and she's your damn friend. I know you're bladdered right now, but I won't have you slagging her off just because you're feeling sorry for yourself."
"Don't give me that. I don't know what happened, but I bet she'd be up here right now if you hadn't said something to piss her off."
"How do you know it wasn't something she said that pissed me off?"
He didn't, but Kennedy had pissed him off. "Because I've seen the mood you've been in all evening. You've already upset Dawn."
"Never asked her to get in my face."
"She wasn't in your face! She was trying to care."
"Well, now she knows better."
"Do you not like having friends or something?" Reece asked in exasperation.
"I like friends who aren't only there when it's convenient."
"And you think tonight was a convenient time for Dawn to get shit on by you?"
"She's spent more time tonight worrying about you than she has enjoying the party." It was one of the reasons he'd gone wandering in the first place. "You're being a selfish brat..."
Kennedy burst up to her knees, her drunkenness not slowing her down at all. Instantly Reece's training kicked in and he was on his feet, one arm raised to his chest ready to block the blow should she make one.
Instead she laughed, "Are you scared of me?"
He chose to watch her warily instead of answering.
"Some Watcher you're going to make if you're scared of Slayers," she taunted him.
"I am not scared of Slayers," he said firmly, but he didn't lower his arm. "However, I am aware of the dangers involved in dealing with psychotic ones."
There had been a whole course of lessons on them in fact. The rogue, Faith, had featured heavily, but she was by no means the only one in the Council's history.
"So you're calling me psychotic now?"
"Drunk, psychotic; both are irrational and both hit just as hard."
"You're really annoying, you know that?"
Reece was offended. He'd never been called annoying in his life. He'd been called a bastard and an arsehole, but never annoying. He was as smooth as glass, he had the Highbury charm, the intellect of an Oxford scholar, the looks of young Hollywood movie star, the morals of a rock star...
He smiled at his self-assessment, and chuckled softly as he answered her. "No, but I can see why some might think so. Didn't think you'd be the type to be jealous of me, though," he teased. "It's not like you don't have a lot going for you, yourself. Money, so I hear, passably pretty, brains you know how to use, funny even, sometimes..."
"It's confidence, though, that draws the women. That's what I find anyway. You had that; I could tell the first night we met. I actually had my eye on you, thought we could, I don't know," he smiled. "And then I realized you were the competition, not the prize, and I was looking forward to the challenge."
Kennedy pointed at him indignantly. "Firstly, I don't see women as prizes; they're people, not speedboats, and... firstly, I don't consider them a challenge."
"Yes you do," Reece countered. "And you said firstly twice."
"I decided both points were equally important." Kennedy waggled her finger. "And... No, I don't."
"You see a girl you want to shag, and you go after her. You're pushy and forceful, or sweet and gentle, whatever it takes to get her, right?" Reece's tone brooked no denial. "You have your eyes on the prize and you are always up to the challenge."
"Fine, so what if I do?" Kennedy gave in. "So what if I am? There's nothing wrong with knowing what I want, and since when is confidence a bad thing?"
"It isn't," Reece shrugged. "It's a shame you lost it."
"I haven't," she replied angrily.
"Looks like it to me."
"You don't know me!"
"Not very well, no, I agree, but I know you're not the same woman you were a month ago."
She stared hard at him, annoyed, her fists balling up the manky bedcovers by her knees. "That's bullshit."
"What's bullshit, darling, is you coming up here to sob your heart out over a woman, when you could be down there having fun and forgetting about her."
"You're saying I should cheat on Willow?" She sneered.
"I never said that, but seeing as you brought it up, monogamy obviously isn't doing you any favors," Reece replied calmly.
"Look, you obviously already think the relationship is over..."
"Well, you act like it. You mope about, you've lost interest in everything, you don't even slay anymore. Face it, love, you let yourself get under the thumb, Willow's thumb to be precise, and now you're not her be all and end all, you've given up, lost the will to be you. It's sad but true, I'm afraid."
Kennedy shook her head, "No."
"No?" Reece laughed. "That's all the response you have?"
"I'm still me and I haven't given up."
"Looks like it to the rest of us."
"Then it looks wrong."
"So all the sulking during the day and going out to drown your sorrows at night is just a clever tactical move that's too sophisticated for the rest of us to spot?"
Kennedy got off of the bed to stand in front of him. For a moment he thought she was about to attack him after all. He almost wouldn't have blamed her. After all, he was deliberately goading her, but her patheticness recently - while mildly amusing to start with - really had been grating on his nerves.
She didn't attack, but she looked determined. Her jaw was set, her shoulders were back. Silently he congratulated himself on at least bucking her up even if it lead nowhere. Especially as he had generally only gotten D's in Motivational Speech - his weakest subject by far; apparently he lacked patience and showed a trend for being too brusque.
"I've been regenerating," Kennedy said. "And also, by the sounds of it, spending too much time with Andrew. "I needed to get my head together, things moved fast with Willow, and... you're right, that's not me. I hit and run. Breakfast the next morning is my idea of a long relationship. I don't know what I'm doing."
She went to an antique dressing table by the window and leaned on it, staring into a mirror too dusty to give a reflection. Reece turned to face her back but stayed quiet, waiting to see if she had more to say, because he was pretty much done now. He didn't want to say anything else in case it was the proverbial too much. He realized he'd actually been a Watcher tonight. Not in the strictest sense of the word maybe, but in the truest sense. He'd helped a slayer deal with her issues; the fact that they weren't duty-related or that it wasn't his Slayer he was helping was neither here nor there.
"She caught me off guard," Kennedy continued to the fuzzy grey mirror. "I've been in lust before, been infatuated briefly even, but never... Love is new and..." she paused for a long moment. "... I don't think I like it much at the moment. Is it always so hard? Shouldn't I be happy to be in love? I mean, it's supposed to be the thing everyone yearns for, right? So why have I been feeling like shit ever since I realized?"
When her pause stretched on even longer this time, he realized she might be waiting for an answer from him.
"Because instead of embracing the feeling and making the most of it, you've been acting like a kicked dog."
She turned to glare at him over her shoulder, but then looked away again without comment.
He shrugged. "Perhaps because it's so new you were scared."
"You're saying I'm a coward?"
It seemed like a genuine question, so he gave her a genuine answer.
"In this instance, yes."
She nodded. "Have you ever been in love?"
He hesitated before deciding he owed her the truth, "Yes."
"Were you scared?"
"Not at first."
"Did she hurt you?"
Reece hesitated even more now. This wasn't who he was, he didn't share like this with people, but then he got the impression that Kennedy didn't either.
"I hurt her and that scares me," he finally replied.
"What do you mean?"
Kennedy was turning away from the mirror to face him when the house started to shake and the light began to flicker. She turned back to grab hold of the dressing table again, her inebriated legs not up to withstanding the floor's motion and Reece fell sideways to the bed, slapping his hands over his ears as a loud kwa-zingggg sound cut through the room, threatening to burst their eardrums.
Downstairs in the ballroom chaos had erupted as one hundred and fifty kids tried to figure out why the floor was shaking, the music was distorting and the lights were flashing weird psychedelic colors that no mirror ball could ever be able to emulate, but it was at its most frenzied on the small stage.
"Nearly there!" One tall skinny boy promised as he held his glasses on with one hand and peered over the vibrating equipment.
"Good," said another, who was holding on to the decks with one hand as he consulted a clipboard. "Because much longer and it's gonna rip altogether. We've never tested more than fifteen medes at a time and we're up to fourteen!" His voice was high with anxiety.
"Fifteen was fine," a shorter, stouter boy reminded him, sounding the only confident one to have spoken so far. "And we've always worked with a three medes threshold. Stop being a baby."
The antennae sticking up from various places on the thing that looked very much like a set of DJ decks started sparking blue and green, and streams of what could have been electricity started to flash between them.
"Stop being a baby?" Clipboard guy shouted. "A rip could mean death to all; and that's the big ALL, not just the people in this room."
"Well, you'll be the first to go, so the guilt will be short-lived," said tall, skinny guy.
Another guy bustled between them, a manic grin on his face as he leaned over the dials. "I'm taking her up to sixteen. Get ready to become prestigious, men."
In his excitement he twizzled the dial too far and hit seventeen. "Oh shi...!"
There was a bang, and the ballroom -- and possibly the whole state of Ohio -- was lost in a blue-green flash.
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