House of The Setting Sun: House Party
Episode Eight of the House of the Setting Sun Series

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, nor do I make any profit from writing about them. No copyright infringement intended.
Rating: R
Summary: Episode Eight in the House of the Setting Sun series. It's All Hallow's Eve and the things that go bump in the night are meant to stay in and bump at home... but that doesn't mean they can't still have a scream.


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Episode Eight
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Act Four, Part B

Buffy had only just finished wondering aloud about Reece when a panel in the wall on the other side of the banquet table shot open. She jumped back, actually everyone jumped back, as a child tumbled out to land smack bang on top of the delicate Fall flower and twig table decoration.

"It twernt my fault, Olwyn, I sweer!" The new arrival said quickly. Then, spotting a bottle of champagne by his side, the newcomer picked it up and began guzzling.

The wizard stepped forward. "Paddy, where have you been?"

Realizing that this wasn't a child, Buffy stepped to the table again too. Wondering what kind of monster she was about to meet next. A very short man, dressed in green, with an Irish accent...

No way, it couldn't be!

"I wus trapped between de walls!" he complained when he'd slacked his thirst. "Oy couldn't git away from dem!"

"Get away from whom?" Owen asked in concern as he helped him down from the table.

Muffled cursing came from the hole and a few seconds later a girl pulled herself out head first, to fall inelegantly down between the wall and the table.

"Where is it?" she demanded as she jumped upright, waving a bloody carving knife around menacingly.

"Rona?" Buffy stared at the angry slayer in surprise.

"Buffy?" Rona looked just as surprised. "What are you doing here?"

"We could ask you the same question, kid." Faith strolled over.

"I..." Rona looked around properly for the first time since flying out of the shoot and realized this was a really different crowd to the one she'd been partying with a few hours ago. "Uh?"

"My thtalker!" Iggy greeted her jovially. "It hurtth that you gave up thtalking me to thtalk Paddy inthtead."

Rona stared at him for a beat, before looking at Buffy. "What did he say?"

"I have no idea," she admitted. "But more importantly, what were you doing back there?"

"I was..." she spotted Paddy trying to hide behind Owen's flowing robes. "...trying to catch him!"

"And you think we are monsters," Victor said disdainfully.

"Why?" Zeke asked with his natural grin.

"He was stalking me!" Rona said, still frenetic with adrenaline.

"Paddy doesn't stalk people," The Count said with casual assurance. "His legs are not long enough."

"Whereath you have already revealed yourthelf as a fairly competent thtalker earlier tonight," Iggy reminded them.

"He has a knife!" Rona shouted, pointing at him.

Everyone turned to look at Paddy, who held his hands up to show he wasn't armed.

"Patrick," Owen said sternly.

Swiftly, Paddy unbuttoned his coat to show there were no knives beneath it either.

They all turned back to Rona. "What?"

"Uh." Buffy nodded to her hand.

Rona slowly turned to look and spotted the knife she was holding. The blood was drying on the blade. She thrust it forward angrily. Those closest stepped back again.

"This is his knife!"

"How convenient," said Victor meaningfully.

"Did she stab you, Paddy?" Ptah asked, eyeing the drying blood.

"No, this is my blood! He stabbed me."

"You do not seem injured," Fred rumbled, looking closely as if to make sure.

"I am." Rona dropped the knife to the ballroom floor and pulled off one of her boots. She lifted her foot towards them. "Look."

They all did. The smooth brown foot was uncut. A slight reddish blemish was noticeable on the edge, but it didn't look recently stabbed.

When no one immediately exonerated her, she pulled her foot back to herself for a look. Dropping it back to the floor in disgust, she sighed, "Frikkin' Slayer healing! Honestly Buffy..." she began.

"I believe you," Buffy cut in, aware that the monsters were closing ranks, protecting their buddy.

"Well I do not see why you would," Dracula drawled. "When there is no proof."

Faith snatched the boot from the floor and inspected the foot part. After a moment she wriggled her finger into the half inch gash in the leather. She held it up for everyone to see.

"How's this for proof?"

"That could have occurred at any time," Owen said calmly; to Buffy it looked like an act.

There was agreement from several of the monsters all the same.

Before any of the Slayers had a chance to dispute it, Reece came charging into the ballroom. Sweating hard and out of breath, his shirt tails flapped behind him.

"Where is she?" he panted before he spotted Rona. Storming to her side, he said roughly, "Don't ever do anything so foolish again!"

She ignored this and pointed to Paddy. "Can you tell them we were chasing that in self defense."

"You were chasing him too?" Buffy asked.

He seemed startled to hear her voice, but was too busy trying to catch his breath to do more than nod and politely greet her, "Miss Summers." He looked around some more and saw the other elder slayer. He gave her a nod too. "Faith."

"How come he's all formal with you and I just get 'Faith'?"

"Because I have a last name to be formal with," Buffy muttered, still angry with her.

"Hey, I have a last name too, ya know," Faith griped, picking up on her attitude. "I just don't happen to know it off-hand."

"Whatever. So why were you running around in the walls anyway?" Buffy asked. "Before you started chasing this guy, who, I'd just like to point out, isn't what I think he is, because they don't exist!" she added firmly for her own benefit.

"When I went in I thought I was following a vamp. With a party full of high school kids, seemed better than letting him wander around without a chaperone. Didn't expect to get stuck in there with a knife-wielding Munchkin," Rona explained, glaring at Paddy.

"Okay, makes sense so far," Faith nodded.

Buffy waited for Reece's explanation.

"I was looking for Rona. I saw the open door, reasoned that as we hadn't found her in the rest of the house this was the logical place to look next, and so I went through it. As it turns out I was right."

"So you left my little sister running through the woods in the dark to run around after a... a..." she pointed at Paddy.

"No, I left Dawn walking around a well-lit house packed with her school friends," Reece countered. "And while we're on the subject where are they all?" He looked around at the assorted monsters. "And who are all of you?" He looked at Buffy again. "And why haven't you slayed the very obvious vampire standing beside you?"

Buffy glanced around at Dracula, wrinkling her nose. "He'll only come back again."

"You can do that?" Faith smiled up at him, seemingly smitten again.

"Okay, we're going," Buffy said firmly.

"I think that would be for the best," Owen agreed.

"So that little runt gets away with stabbing me," Rona asked in disgust.

"Call it punishment for trespassing on my property," Owen said smoothly, a hand over Paddy's face to stop him from issuing insults of his own.

"What?" Rona wasn't happy with that.

"Call it the one that got away, yo," Faith, grinning, handed her back her boot. "It happens."

"It sucks!"

"It does," Buffy agreed. "Now let's go. Faith, are you coming?"

"'Course I'm coming. You got the keys to the truck?" she asked Reece.

He checked his pockets and there was a satisfying jangle. "Yes. But really, what happened to the party?"

Rona was pulling her boot back on, but seeing Reece's gesture she quickly patted her own pocket. Feeling a lump in there, she pulled the small digital camera out to check it hadn't broken.

"Thank God," she breathed seeing it was all intact.

"What do you have there?" Victor peered closer with interested suspicion.

"Uh, a camera," Rona said sarcastically as she pressed the 'on' button to make sure it still worked. "You know, to take pictures with."

"You point it at someone and it records a perfect image," Fred explained patiently.

"Hmm, fascinating."

"Magic like that is dangerous," Ptah said, shaking his head.

"It's not magic," Owen assured him. "Simply technology. You haven't been taking any photos in here have you?"

Rona's eyes flicked to Reece as she said, "I never got the chance."

"Good," said Owen.

"I have an idea!" Igor capered on the spot excitedly. "Does it have a timer?"

"No!" Owen said, guessing what his friend had in mind.

"Pleathe?" Igor pleaded. "Jutht a thmall momento."

Owen sighed.

Five minutes later, with everyone still blinking the flash from their eyes, they walked back through to the main entrance. Buffy and Faith stopped at the top of the steps while Reece and Rona both kept on going wearily for the truck.

"About what we spoke of," Owen said to Buffy softly. "Have you come to a decision?"

Buffy gave him a long look and then looked around at his friends before answering. "I'm not going to go all 'Town cryer-y' with your secret double life, if that's what you're asking. At least, not unless you give me a reason to."

"Thank you," he said just as softly.

She gave him a tiny nod. "Well, guys, it's been... weird, but... enjoy the rest of your night, I guess."

Faith downed the dregs of her tankard and handed it to Dracula. "Nice meeting you. And thanks for the chat. You gave me some stuff to think about." She nodded at him seriously.

Buffy frowned at her, but didn't say anything.

They were walking down the front steps together when Buffy suddenly turned again. With a bemused smile, she addressed Paddy,

"Sorry, but I gotta know. Are you really a... a..." she shook her head. "Nope, can't do it. I need some mystery in my life. Okay, see-ya."

"What was that about?" Faith asked as they walked over to the truck.

Buffy just shook her head and opened the passenger door.

Reece already had the engine running as he looked over. "It's probably illegal, but if you two don't mind sharing one seat, we can all fit up front." He smirked as he added, "I'm sure you won't mind sitting on Faith's lap."

Buffy took a deep breath and let Faith slide past her to sit on the remaining seat. When she was comfortable and patting her lap for Buffy to hop on, Buffy shook her head.

"Actually, I just remembered I get car sick if I ride on people's laps."

"We can switch?" Faith offered with a shrug.

"That'll do it too. I'll sit in the back. I don't mind. It's only for five minutes." She closed the door before Faith could protest or offer to join her and hopped easily onto the flat bed of the truck.

The gravel made a loud crunching sound as Reece swung in a wide circle to turn and then he was heading for the long driveway. Zeke and Fred were still standing in the bright doorway and they waved to her. With a weary, morose chuckle, she waved back.


Kennedy had to be on her way home now, Willow decided as she looked at the clock on the mantle again. It was nearly one in the morning and Dawn's curfew was twelve. Not that it would matter considering Buffy still wasn't back from her date with Faith either.

What if something had happened? Maybe the truck had broken down? Or they'd been attacked by the Boudenver pre-teens like Xander had, only worse 'cause they were all hopped up on sugar tonight?

She leaned forward to pick her cell phone off the coffee table in case she'd somehow missed a call even though she was sitting right in front of it. "Am I boring you?" Oz asked suddenly.

"What?" she asked, quickly turning her head to him. "Oh, no, not at all, sorry. I'm listening; it's just it's getting late and Dawn's still out."

"Dawn?" He said the name like it was unfamiliar.

"Yeah, you know, Buffy's little sister." Her phone was on and there had been no calls or messages.

"Buffy has a little sister?"

Willow looked at him again, frowning now. "Of course she does. You remember her," she assured him.

"I do?"

"Yeah," Willow said, less sure of herself now. "You must have met her a bunch of times. She was the little nipper who used to get all googly eyed whenever she saw you. And she had that homework book that was covered in 'Dawn loves Daniel' in little hearts, 'cause she thought none of us would crack her ingenious code. Mind you, it was also covered in 'Dawn loves Xander' and 'Faith rocks, Buffy sucks' so we shouldn't give her too much credit for taste. Not that crushing on Xander is bad taste, but..." she trailed off when Oz gave her nothing but a confused little smile. "A...and we took her to the beach that one time and played Frisbee all afternoon and had the sandy sandwiches...?"

"I can remember the Frisbee and gritty sandwiches," he said. She waited for more and he shook his head slightly. "Sorry, I guess she's slipped my mind. Maybe I only met her on a full moon. Things used to be hazy then sometimes."

"Maybe," Willow said, not convinced. "But you've met her since you've been back. She was the tall brunette who made you a cup of coffee last Wednesday for one. You didn't sorta recognize her then?"

"I thought she was another Slayer."

"Wow." She sat back against the couch. "This is a first."

They'd never met anyone who was in Dawn's fake memories that didn't remember her in real life. She wondered what it meant and whether it was important. She should probably speak to Buffy about it before filling Oz in on everything. Just in case.

"Are you okay?" Oz asked.

She nodded. "So you were saying about the call you got from the wolfy psychologist," she encouraged the topic away from Dawn. "I thought she wanted to be all Miss Independent."

"She still does, but her fiancé wants her to get help."

"Ha! A therapist who needs to get help," she chuckled.

He smiled. "Well, not help with dealing, just building a cage strong enough to hold her around the full moon."

"You must be an expert at that by now. All the different places you've lived."

"I've built a few," he agreed. "But I was thinking that it might be a good idea to..."

He paused, but Willow didn't realize right away. She was looking at her phone again. Wondering whether to call Kennedy and make sure everything was alright. It had to be though, right? Or else they would have called. Kennedy and Dawn definitely had cell phones; and Naomi being a Watcher of the Twenty-first century had to have one. So why hadn't they called?

Maybe because nothing had happened; they were just enjoying themselves and had lost track of time? Which meant Kennedy was enjoying herself enough to lose track of the time. Willow wished that didn't bother her so much. Probably if things were better between them, it wouldn't, but things weren't better. They weren't even close and while she thought they were slowly working things out, maybe Kennedy thought differently; and that was why she hadn't called, or texted, or bothered to come home at a reasonable hour tonight - or, let's face it, any night that week!

"Willow?" Oz asked expectantly.

It took a second for her name to filter through and then she looked back at Oz, shaking her head a little as she realized she'd zoned out again.

"Sorry, I really am listening," she lied with an apologetic smile.

He just gave her an intense, almost compassionate look.

"I'm a little distracted," she admitted and was about to tell him why when she changed her mind. Oz didn't want to hear about her relationship worries. "But that doesn't mean I'm not interested, just... distracted. Please, go on."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure I'm distracted? Sure I'm interested? Sure I want you to go on?" she asked with a smile. "Uh huh. We were talking about cages."

"Now that sounds kinky."

Hearing his voice, Willow looked up to see Xander coming back through from the kitchen.

"Where've you been?" she accused.

"Getting snacks, like I said." He put a bowl of corn chips and a bowl of salsa down on the coffee table.

Willow looked at them and then back at him. "You've been gone ages and that's the best you could do?"

"Hey, opening those chip bags takes time, you know!" He grinned as he set three fresh beers down too. "As does peeing, and having an argument with Vi about leaving the bathroom door open while said peeing is taking place."

"Xander!"

"What? I forgot she was up there. I'm not used to having beautiful slayers wandering out of my bedroom in the middle of the night."

He gave Willow's shoulder a gentle push to move her out of his seat. Forgetting it was her seat in the first place she automatically moved into the middle of the couch. He flopped down at the end.

"So what did I miss?" he asked, leaning forward to scoop some salsa up on a tortilla chip.

"Uh, the wolf-lady we met with this afternoon wants a custom-designed cage, and, uh, Oz had some ideas that were, uh, related?" She winced another apology in Oz's direction.

He smiled. "Yeah, that sums it up. Actually it was you I wanted to talk to about this," he said to Xander.

"Talk away," Xander offered, loading up another corn chip.

"Cages."

"Things that have werewolves in!" Xander said with game show flair.

"Exactly," Oz grinned. "I know how to build a solid cage, but I tend to just mash them together out of whatever's already in situ. Like the one I used back in Sunnydale."

"I thought that was a book cage?" Xander said, confused. "Not that I know why books might need to be caged, unless they're magic books, some of those could use some caging."

"The cage in the crypt," Oz explained. "The bars were already there, I just fitted the digital lock. With Willow's help," he added.

"No, you did it all," she praised with a big smile. "I just told you how."

"So where do I come in?" Xander asked.

"I thought maybe we could go into the cage business together. Me and the Council that is. I find the werewolves who need cages and you build them."

Xander chuckled. "What makes you think I can build cages better than you?"

"Buffy implied you could build anything."

"She did?" Xander asked, surprised but pleased. "I think she may have been exaggerating a little."

"Plus, I don't have the resources for a project like this on my own," Oz added.

"Well, it sounds like a great idea, but I can't say yes," Xander reached for his beer.

"Why?" Oz asked as Willow's expression mirrored the question. "If it's 'cause you're busy we wouldn't have to start right away, and going by the rate Willow and I have been finding actual werewolves, it'll probably only be one, maybe two a month."

"No, it's not that. Not that I'm not busy, but with Faith and Andrew helping we're making progress."

"Then what is it?" Willow asked, mystified as to why Xander didn't want to help.

"Oz said it himself. He wants to work with the Council. I'm not Council."

Willow was confused. "Well, if you're not Council, then what are you?"

Xander gave a bitter laugh and drained half of his beer in a couple of swallows. "Not a whole lot."

"Don't be stupid!" Xander looked at her sharply and she met it head on. "You're one of us! And us is the Council now. How can you think you're not a part of it? You're like... on the top level! Remember those guys that were interrogating us back when we were fighting Glory? You're higher up than them!"

"No, I'm not, Will," Xander shook his head, trying to keep a smile on his face. "I'm still one of the gang, sure, but as far as the 'family business' goes I have zero play. I can't make any decisions. I can barely even contribute."

"Of course you contribute," Willow said softly.

"Yeah, I can fix the place up, providing I have a couple of two-eyed helpers to do the dangerous stuff like cut a piece of wood in half!" Xander gave an awkward laugh when Willow simply gaped at him. "Sorry guys, didn't mean to bring the party crashing down. Who's up for a change of subject?"

"No," Willow's voice was quiet but firm. "We need to talk about this."

"No, we really don't."

"Yuh-huh, this is obviously something that is seriously bothering you, Xan, a... and I get why, it's serious stuff, but you've been holding on to it for way too long."

"It's my stuff, I can hold on to it as long as I want," he tried to say it flippantly, but Willow was seeing through everything now.

"Don't be such a... a boy! You know it helps to talk stuff out. That's why you listened to me jabber on the other week. You need to get this off your chest and I'm right here ready to return the favor, so... so jabber!" She insisted, fixing him with a face that brooked no argument.

Xander countered. "Oh yeah, and you and Kennedy have been on the border of Breakupsville ever since we had that talk. That kinda result doesn't convince me it's a good idea."

"Well, no," Willow admitted, shooting Oz a glance. He didn't react in any way. "But regardless of where Ken and I are at now, talking with you helped me sort things out in my head; and that's the first step to sorting it out everywhere else too."

"I've got an idea." Xander reached for the remote on the coffee table. "Let's see if there are any more blood curdling, heart stopping movies on - that'll be way more fun."

Willow snatched the glossy black remote from him before he could un-mute the television. He gave her an annoyed look before slumping back against the couch with his beer.

"Talking can help," Oz spoke softly into the silence. "Sometimes just having the words out there makes it easier to see the solution."

"How would you know?" Xander spat. "I didn't hear you do much talking before you ran away and deserted your friends for years and years."

"Xander!"

"It's okay," Oz murmured. "He does have a point."

"Sorry," Xander gave Oz the briefest of guilty smiles. "Didn't mean to be lashy-outy guy on you. Just feeling a little claustrophobic all of a sudden."

"Literally or figuratively?" Willow asked, worried.

"I don't know, a little of both?" He moved, shifting himself to the arm of the couch where Willow had perched earlier.

She wondered whether to drop this topic for now after all. If it was affecting him physically that might mean his problems were something that ran a lot deeper than she could help with tonight. Perhaps he even needed proper counseling. The doctor who had dealt with his eye in Sunnydale had even suggested it, but Xander had dismissed the idea out of hand and with so much happening at once, Willow had never thought to bring it up again.

She kicked herself for the oversight, and in her guilt, blurted the idea out.

"Do you think you need to go see someone?

"Like a shrink?" His laugh was high-pitched.

"Yes."

"What?" He stared at her in dismay. "No, I don't need to go and see a shrink. I'm not crazy! I just need some time to get my head together..."

"You've had months," she pointed out.

"...without you hounding me about it all the time!" he finished angrily.

"You're in a bad place, Xander!"

"I know I'm in a bad place," he retorted. "The woman I love died saving Andrew, of all people, because I couldn't trust my sword skills enough to be there to protect her! Which, believe me, was just the last in a long line of the ways I let her down!"

"Buffy wanted you looking after Dawn," Willow reminded him. "She obviously trusted your swordsmanship enough."

Xander went on like he hadn't heard. "My parents are MIA. I called Dad and told him to grab Mom and hightail it out of Sunnydale, and his reaction?" Xander made his voice gruff. "'Don't ever think you'll be big enough, smart enough or man enough to tell me what I should do!'. So I don't know whether they left when everyone else did, or if Dad, stubborn as an ass like always, kept the pair of them there to die too."

"Xander," Willow said his name tenderly, putting her hand on his arm.

He shook her off. "And the thing that really grates me? I don't even know how I'm supposed to feel. Am I sorry they might be dead? Why in the hell would I be?" The chokiness of his voice implied that he was.

"You could try calling some family," Oz suggested. "They might know more."

"Why? If they are alive, they're not bothering to look me up, are they?" Xander finished his beer in a couple of glugs and set the empty bottle sharply on the table. "Oh, and this is a good one, I have no job prospects to speak of, ever, thanks to my stupid lack of eye. At the time I thought, hey, whatever, no big deal. I have another one. But it turns out, uh huh, big deal! I can't do jack with one eye except flip burgers or clean toilets for the rest of my life."

"Of course you can," Willow said soothingly. "There's lots of stuff you can do. Fully blind people have lots of interesting jobs so there's no reason you can't with one perfectly good working eye."

"I don't want those jobs, I want my job!" he insisted. "I worked hard to get good at what I do. I don't have any super carpenter powers! What I've achieved came through blood, sweat and lots of black thumb-nails, and for what? No one's going to employ someone who can't even be sure if the spirit level is level or not."

"You have a job here, Xan."

"Yeah, I do," he said, nodding at her, jaw clenched. "And, not meaning to sound ungrateful or anything, but I can now look forward to living out my working days as Giles' glorified handyman."

"Well, as long as you don't mean to sound ungrateful," Willow said pointedly.

"I'm sorry! I can't help it. I used to be a part of things! I used to be one of the gang in more than just name!"

"Huh?" Oz frowned slightly.

"I used to fight demons," Xander explained in only a slightly calmer tone. "Now I have trouble fighting tricky corner tiles!"

"You can still fight," said Willow.

"Yeah, if I'm prepared to live with the constant worry that I'll accidentally poke you or Buffy in the neck instead of the big bad!"

"Well as long as it's only accidentally I'm sure no one will hold it against you."

"Believe me, Oz, I'm trying to see the funny, but it must be on my left," Xander said sullenly. "Face it, for all the good I am now, I might as well have died with Sunnydale."

"Don't ever say that!" Willow said sharply, feeling sick at just the thought.

"Well, why not? Spike would be a more helpful member of the Council than I am. I should have worn the big, hellmouth-killing amulet. At least then I'd have gone out with a bang."

"It had to be worn by a champion," Willow reminded.

"Something else I'm not, nor will I ever be." He reached for Willow's untouched beer on the table, but she snatched it away like she had the remote. "You're not drinking it!"

"You've had enough! If you hadn't you wouldn't be talking such garbage."

"It's not garbage, give me the beer."

"No, it's mine." Willow started drinking it, determined that there wouldn't be any left for Xander.

He actually started looking a little amused as gulp after gulp disappeared. "You're gonna regret that later."

"Uh, Will." Oz caught her eye, looking concerned he motioned for the bottle.

There was only a dribble in there when she couldn't take anymore. She handed the bottle to Oz.

"I'm not a champion either," she said, panting for breath. "And you don't see me drinking myself sick over it."

Xander raised an eyebrow as she let out a noisy, long belch.

"That was just gas!" she defended herself. "Besides, it had nothing to do with not being a champion. I'm drinking because you're being too hard on yourself!"

"Well, if you're drinking because of that, why can't I?"

"You have a place here, Xander. You have a purpose. And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you can start dealing with everything else that's bothering you."

"You're right."

Willow relaxed slightly at Xander's words, as much as the bottle of gassy beer in her gut would allow anyway. How Xander could drink like that all night every night was beyond her. It wasn't as if she was teetotal, she liked a beer now and again, she'd already had a few tonight, but they'd been drunk for pleasure not for blotting out misery. She burped again, but managed to cover it with her hand this time.

Drinking to cover pain was like doing magic to make up for insecurities - it would just make you do stupid things and feel like crap the next morning. She was about to lay that one on Xander when he started talking again.

"My place here is a result of who I know, not what I can do. I think we're all agreed that the Watchers Council had way too much of that before. If the new Council is going to be as better as Giles hopes, I don't think taking the same wrong paths is a good idea."

"How can you think you're a wrong path?" Willow asked distressed.

"To get to your second point," Xander continued, ignoring her again, "my purpose is to fix the camp up the way Giles wants. I can do that, with help, no problem, but so could any construction-trained chimp."

"Well, you're ahead there at least," Oz smiled. "Not many Chimps in Ohio."

Xander grinned at him, leaning forward to grab some more chips. He dipped them all in the salsa and lifted them to his mouth. Trying hard not to spray crumbs, he said, "Yay, I caught a break."

"You're an idiot!" Willow barked at him, and maybe the beer she'd downed was going to her head, but mostly she was just sick of his attitude. "Forget fixing up the house; well don't forget it obviously, but aside from that you know how important you are. To me, to Buffy, to everyone! How can you downplay your role so much? You're an integral part of the new Council!"

Xander shook his head. "No. You might be, because you're the big camp Wicca woman, and Buffy is because she's all General McSlayer, and Kennedy, because she's Colonel McSlayer and Robin definitely is," his voice turned sour, "because he's all McSon of a Slayer and McTrained by a Watcher since he was, like, what Four?"

Oz made another attempt at lightening the mood. "Is anyone else suddenly craving a Big Mac?"

Willow ignored him. "So because you're not a Witch, or a Slayer, or a... Robin? You're all huffy? Why? You were none of those things before, either."

"We weren't at the beginning of a brave new world then," he pointed out, dipping another handful of chips into the salsa at the same time. If he couldn't comfort drink, he was going to comfort eat, apparently. "Plus, I could do stuff. I used to fill the Scoobies' normal-guy-demon-fighter quota. Now you guys have Robin and he's got bigger muscles than me, has better training than me and all he needs is a cape and tights and he's like the perfect ready-made Watcher. That leaves me all... superfluous, if that means what I think it does. About as useful as tap water in a Vampire lair." He shoved the chips in his mouth and crunched them up.

"You still can do stuff!" Willow yelled at him, her frustration showing. "You know, I'm starting to think you're biggest problem is just jealousy."

"Why? Because you have two eyes, a girlfriend and the world as your oyster, and I don't?" Xander nearly knocked the salsa bowl off the table as he angrily dunked an even bigger handful of chips into it. "Maybe you're right."

Willow shook her head in disgust. "No, because the rest of us have something to offer other than bitterness and resentment, and you don't!"

Xander's mouth, open to receive his chips and dip, slammed into a thin, straight line. He glared daggers at Willow for a never-ending minute, during which Oz cleared his throat but didn't say anything. Willow just held his stare, fire for fire. The salsa coating the bottom ends of four or five chips slowly dripped onto Xander's bare chest.

It was a few seconds before he looked down at it, breaking the deadlock between them, and even when he did it took another second or two for him to comprehend what was causing the cold, sticky sensation. Finally, throwing the drippy chips back into the bowl they'd come from, he shot to his feet, fingers trying to clear up the red, gooey mess dribbling between his nipples.

When he realized it was impossible, he shot Willow one of the nastiest looks she'd ever seen on him.

"Thanks for your understanding, Will. I'm so glad you were there for me." With that, he stormed towards the kitchen.

"Where are you going?" Willow called after him, her voice even more distressed than before.

He didn't answer as he pushed through the swing door and Willow's eyes landed on the blob of salsa he'd left on the couch.

"I shouldn't have said that," she whispered painfully to the blob.

"I think he's just going to clean up."

She looked up at Oz, her eyes getting watery. "No, I really shouldn't have said that!"

"He'll be okay," Oz said with a lot of certainty. "Maybe he needed to hear it."

"No." Willow shook her head. "Even if he did, I shouldn't have been the one to say it; and besides, he's can't be jealous, Xander's not like that! Maybe he has some issues, but they're coming from something else, something that's making him act like this. Like his parents not getting in touch with him or...or..."

"Or the loss of an eye," Oz said softly.

"Yes, his eye!" Willow almost wailed. "And there I go being all stompy foot and throwing accusations around!"

As the tears started to fall, Willow tried scooping up the blob of salsa with her fingertips to get it off the couch. Giles would be mad if it was still there in the morning.

"Willow?" When Willow didn't answer him or look up, Oz put his arm around her shoulders. "It'll be okay."

"I have to clean this," was all Willow could say with the way the tears were catching her breath.

She leaned into Oz's comforting shoulder, but didn't take her attention from the red stain on the couch cushion as she continued to rub at it with her fingers. His consoling warmth could have been anyone's at that point; all she could think about was how to make things right with Xander.


Giles fumbled for the switch to his bedside lamp and, once he could see to do so, quietly rose from his bed. Although his hair was rumpled and his eyes looked bleary, he hadn't actually been to sleep yet, and he knew he wasn't going to fall asleep after what he had just heard.

Fetching his navy-blue dressing gown from the hook on the back of his door, he pulled it on and then stood in the center of his room for a moment or two, rubbing at his eyes, before setting about finding his glasses.

The noise from the living room had been keeping him awake all night, not wide awake it was true, but just on the cusp of falling into a much needed deep sleep. He knew he had gone to bed extremely early though, and so had chosen not to complain about the screams from the television or the excited conversation, which to be fair wasn't much more than a murmur through the walls. After all, he had insisted on taking the ground floor bedroom - Xander had warned him at the time that he would probably regret it - but it had the ensuite and was directly adjacent to his office.

However, once it was getting on for one in the morning and the voices started rising, he began to get annoyed. His over-tiredness making him irritable, he was about to get up and give them a stern reprimand when he became aware of the actual conversation they were having.

He had laid still then, in the dark, listening intently to what was rapidly becoming a heated argument in the other room. All of his irritation deflated as heard the quiet desperation in Xander's tone, that over and over he tried to play off, no doubt with a small smile on his face and a cornered look in his remaining eye.

"Oh, Willow," he'd groaned quietly when she suggested therapy.

It wasn't that he didn't agree. In fact he really wished he'd thought of it months ago himself, but if Xander was already feeling trapped by Willow's unremitting concern, she should have known better than to blurt it out in such a manner. Especially in front of a third person. Xander would no doubt see it as a weakness to need any such help, and with a father like his that was unfortunately understandable.

As the argument turned nasty towards the end - with both Willow and Xander hurt and frustrated with the other - he had groaned again, feeling compassion for both of them, but wanting to knock their bloody heads together too.

Glasses on, he ran his hand over his hair, flattening it back down a little and wondered whether to go after Xander. Perhaps, considering that the young man seemed to think that he was now his Lord and Master, he would have better hope of getting through to him. Giles waved that idea away with a flick of his hand and went to sit at the small writing desk against the window. Xander was unlikely to be receptive to anyone tonight now that he was angry, and it would do no good to have him feel like his friends were ganging up on him. Better to wait until the morning when tempers were less flared.

He pulled out his diary and opened it to a page a few weeks prior to the current date to re-read the entry. He kept the book in here because he knew both Willow and Buffy wandered into his office at will to find some paper, or a pen, or, he smirked a little, anything that was left lying around that just happened to accidentally fall open when they turned the page...

The entry was for the day the Watcher cadets had departed, most of it was concerned with Faith's arrival and Craig's little stunt, but he had jotted down some notes on quite a different subject and listening to Xander's complaints about his lack of responsibility here had reminded him of it.

Buffy said something interesting today. Watchers called to the fight.

This has happened before of course, not every Watcher is a direct descendant of those that called the original Slayer forth, but from what I have been taught, it is discouraged. Why? Is it simply because secrecy is paramount to this duty, or is there a darker reason? Would an influx of fresh blood into the Council be detrimental to its ultimate goal? (Look up past recruitment drives - if such things existed).

Taking the title of Watcher to include someone who not only trains their Slayer, but also looks after their physical and emotional well-being; someone who aides in preparing her for duty and who stands by her side in battle; someone who, either verbally or by their actions, has sworn to do their all to help her in this fight... If that is the true definition of a Watcher, then Buffy Summers has had three of us at once since she was sixteen, sometimes more.

Is there any harm in merely making it official?

Giles read the entry a second time and then, taking his glasses off and tapping one of the arms against his bottom lip, he sat back in his chair to think it over.


"Thank the goddess!" Kennedy breathed as they finally turned onto their long private drive to home.

"Extreme ditto!" Dawn agreed, and then chuckled. "You're even starting to sound like Willow."

Kennedy smirked. "She may have had a certain amount of influence on me."

"Okay, now that you've finally admitted you love her, dish the dirt," Dawn chuckled again. "Is she like magic personified in the sack?"

Kennedy pushed Dawn's shoulder playfully. "You can't ask something like that!"

"Why not? I'm not a little kid; I'm only a year younger than you. Besides, I'm not a virgin anymore," Dawn said with pride. "So it's not like I have to be shielded from the big, bad sex."

"You're nearly two years younger than me, and anyway," Kennedy grinned, "it's just not polite."

"You'd tell Buffy or Faith if they asked," Dawn countered.

"They wouldn't ask... okay, maybe Faith would," Kennedy conceded.

"I thought we were best friends, this is the sort of thing best friends ask each other, right?" Dawn pushed. "Fen would tell me."

Kennedy rolled her eyes. "Let's cut to the chase. You want me to ask you what Reece is like, right?"

"No!" Dawn said quickly, acutely embarrassed.

"So this isn't you wanting to discuss your first time with someone who isn't a Junior or your sister?"

They walked in almost silence until Dawn timidly muttered, "Maybe... a little."

"So what was it like?"

The topic couldn't be further from the one Kennedy wanted to think about right now, but they'd been talking about Willow most of the way home. She owed it to Dawn to listen for at least a minute.

"It was good," Dawn said quietly. "Better than what I'd been told to expect, but..."

"But?" Kennedy echoed.

"That's not really what I want to talk about. The thing is we haven't done it since and... and I don't know if that's weird or not."

"Do you want to do it again?"

"Yes! I mean... you know, I wouldn't mind."

"And does he?"

Dawn shrugged. "He said after the first time we went too fast too soon and we should slow it down, you know, for a while."

Kennedy nodded. "Sounds like the first thing he's ever said that I can respect."

"And I totally respect it too," Dawn said quickly. "I mean, I know he's got important responsibilities here and he can't just flout them to spend time with me. And what are Buffy and Giles gonna think of him if he neglects Rona because we're off doing... something."

"Were those his actual reasons?" Kennedy asked, having a bad feeling.

"Not exactly," Dawn lied. "It's just... I think he still likes me 'cause we still kiss and stuff, and he came to the party with me tonight and was the perfect date, right up until he disappeared for half an hour and I found him on the bed with you anyway."

"Dawn." Kennedy rolled her eyes.

"I know you weren't doing anything!" Dawn insisted strongly. "I didn't even really think it at the time, but... I guess I was jealous, because he was with you and not me. I do realize how pathetic that sounds, trust me, but I couldn't help it."

"It's okay."

They were only a few minutes from the house now; it was going to come into view once they got past the next tree. She didn't want to desert Dawn, but she needed to wrap this up fast because as soon as they hit the front door she was heading off to find Willow.

"You want my honest thoughts?" she asked.

"Yeah," Dawn nodded nervously.

Kennedy took a deep breath. "The slower Reece wants to take it, the better for you. I know you like him a lot, and maybe that's because he's showing you a side of him he isn't bothering to show the rest of us. Who knows? Before tonight I thought he was a waste of space, but now... now I just think he's got some of his priorities really wrong, you included. Maybe he'll fix that, maybe he won't, but if you want my advice..." Kennedy took another deep breath, knowing Buffy would probably kick her ass for what she was about to say next. "He's a hottie, if you like that sort of thing, and you guys seem to have fun together. So enjoy it while it lasts, but don't go planning your wedding or, you know, your six month anniversary."

Dawn fell quiet and the house came into view. Kennedy could see lights on in the living room, Giles bedroom and Xander's bedroom upstairs. She wondered if Willow was still up, and if so, what room she was in.

What did Willow think about her being out so late? Was she pissed off? Had she gone to sleep already and didn't even know she wasn't back yet? Or had she not even come back yet herself? It had seemed like a good idea earlier to go out before Willow got home, now Kennedy wasn't so sure.

"Do you really think we're that doomed?" Dawn suddenly asked as they walked towards the porch.

Kennedy thought about ignoring the question and just sprinting for the house. She had her own problems to deal with right now, but with a sigh, she answered.

"I think considering what you've told me, he's either got a lot of respect for you and wants to build something that lasts, or... he's a player, and right now he's just keeping you sweet to keep you on tap."

Dawn gasped at her blunt words.

"I didn't mean to hurt you," Kennedy said sincerely.

"I know," Dawn whispered. "So which do you think it is?"

"I already gave you my advice; and if you want to talk more tomorrow, we can, but right now..." Kennedy's sentence petered out with uncharacteristic nervousness.

The front door was a hundred feet away. She unconsciously rolled her shoulders a few times and her fists balled, released, balled, released.

"Willow," Dawn nodded, putting her own problems to one side. "What are you going to do?"

"Whatever it takes," Kennedy replied shortly; her palms were sweating slightly even in the cool night air.

"What does that mean?"

"It means I'll fight for her tooth and nail if I have to. I'm not taking this shit lying down anymore. I love Willow and it's past time I showed her. And if anyone wants to take her away from me, they're going to shed some blood trying."

"Yay, you." Dawn chuckled. "I'm gonna go to the boys dorm, make sure Reece and Craig got back okay."

"Yeah, sure," Kennedy grinned at her.

"I am!" Dawn grinned back as she started walking away.

Kennedy smiled, pleased that her and Dawn were in tune again. It had been a lonely couple of weeks without her. Taking yet another deep breath and maintaining her smile, although now it was a lot nervous, she put her hand out to open the front door, ready to go and confront Willow.

"Maybe..." she retracted her hand slowly. "Maybe I should think about what I'm going to say first," she whispered to herself. "I haven't made the best impression recently, as everyone keeps pointing out, and so if this is my last chance, I better make sure I don't blow it by going in unprepared."

She backed down the porch steps, knowing but not acknowledging that there was as much fear as common sense guiding her feet.

"I could take her some flowers too, that would be romantic; and romantic couldn't hurt right now."

She looked around the dark front lawn but couldn't see any, so slowly, eyes scanning all directions, she walked all the way around to the back garden and still couldn't see any.

"Okay, I could take her a watering can instead," she said wryly when it was the only object she spotted in the light from the kitchen. "I could say it's like a symbol for the effort I intend to put into our beautiful, flowering love..." She laughed. "I'm gonna have to do better than that."

Now she came to think of it, the metal watering can looked vaguely... familiar? She picked it up for a closer inspection and something clanged in the bottom. Looking through the black hole at the top revealed nothing but thick darkness cloaking whatever was rattling around inside. She went to reach her hand in, but a vivid image of a little purple being leaving teeth marks in her finger curbed that impulse and she swiftly turned the can upside down instead.

A full, capped bottle of beer rolled out and bounced harmless on the grass.

"That looks familiar too," she mused suspiciously, nudging it with her toe before picking it up.

She set the bottle on top of the picnic table and sat on the bench. "So, Willow, where do I start?"

The smell from the ashtray made it hard to give the important question due consideration, so wrinkling her nose she pushed it to the far end of the table away from her. Reece and Faith were only allowed it there if they emptied and rinsed it every night, but obviously no one had bothered yet today, maybe because neither of them were back yet. As she leaned across the table, she swung her legs under the bench and heard a chink-chink noise as something hidden in the dark shadow of the wooden leg fell over.

Reaching her arm down and fumbling in the dark until her fingers touched another ice cold bottle, she picked it up and set it on the table top next to the other one with less and less surprise. She gave them both a long look.

"Was I really that drunk earlier?" She wondered aloud. "Or have I stumbled into someone else's alcoholic treasure hunt?"

Not really caring either way, she forgot about the beers and leaned back on the bench to look up at the moon.

"Willow, Willow on the wall... okay that doesn't even make sense. Willow, the only reason I've been acting this way is because I love... nope, that makes me sound like a wife beater... Hmm, wife? I wonder if... I mean, at least then she'd know how serious I was about her and... Hey, that's a great idea, why don't I mend our crappy relationship by asking her to marry me?" Kennedy's forehead landed on the table top with a soft thunk of despair. "And then what? The next time an ex shows up I pretend I'm pregnant?"

Both bottles nearly toppled but she brought her hands up fast enough to catch them and kept them in her fists as she sat up again. "Does that count as proactive? I'm supposed to be being myself again," she reminded herself. "Playing to my strengths and stuff. So, in this situation, What Would Kennedy Do?" She grinned. "She'd go in there and sweep her off her feet - which I could do literally now - and kiss her so damn good she can't pronounce Osborne's name let alone remember who he is."

Slowly, her grin dropped away and she sighed. "So if that's what I'd do, why can't I just go and do it?"

But she knew why? What if it didn't work? What if she swept as hard as she could and kissed as good as she could and it wasn't enough? Because if that was all she had to offer and it didn't work, well then it was all over, wasn't it?

"Something better then. Something... smart." She lifted a bottle up to eye level. "You got any pearls of wisdom you'd like to share?"

The bottle seemed to say 'Yes! But you have to open me to let them out', or at least, Kennedy was going to pretend it did as she twisted the cap and sipped some slowly.

"Inspiration and Dutch courage all in one handy package; it would be wrong not to take this opportunity, especially as I obviously went to so much trouble to hide them in the first place," she muttered.

Okay, so that was a bogus excuse for staying out in the chilly garden drinking beer, but it was better than admitting that she was terrified that Willow would tell her it was too late, that'd she'd been acting like an jerk for too long, that they were done, over, finished and other words that made the usually self-confident Slayer want to cry like a baby.

"One won't hurt and it might even dull the pain if she tells me to go to hell." Even joking to herself about it hurt and she dropped her sad gaze to the table top. "Oh God, how do I make her not want to do that?"

"Well, it's an out there suggestion, I grant you, but you could start by actually talking to her."

Kennedy looked up to see Xander standing outside the training barn.

"Hey what were you doing in there at this time of night?" she asked, the speed of her voice echoing the fact that's she'd been take by surprise.

"Other than listening to you to talk to yourself?" He smiled, but even in the dark it looked like an effort. "It's a good, well-lit space and I don't have a workshop yet."

Kennedy didn't usually pry into Xander's life, she wasn't much of a pryer in general, but that had been an extremely vague answer for this time of the morning.

"So you're working on something?" she asked. "This late? In your underwear?"

He seemed to realize his undressed state as she mentioned it and covered his chest with his arms. "Uh, not exactly. I was just..."

When he looked stumped for an answer, her eyes narrowed playfully. "Have you been in there reading my Playboys?"

"What? No! No. You have Playboys in there?" Xander looked behind him to the training barn with a hopeful look in his eye. He shook it away as he turned back to her. "Impressionable young minds use that barn!"

"Yeah, straight, impressionable young minds," she replied. "I don't think any of the girls are gonna start having dark fantasies because they come across a magazine full of naked breasts."

"Not even Andrew, Reece and Craig?" Xander asked pointedly, and then after a pause, added, "Or, you know, just Reece?"

"You really think Reece doesn't already have a few Playboys of his own stashed in his little locker?" Kennedy smirked.

Xander shrugged. "You may be right." He walked closer to the bench. "Is it wrong that I hate that guy so much?"

Kennedy shrugged. "Anyway, why are you out here in your underwear?"

"I had to leave the party pretty abruptly. And I think I've just solved the case of the mysteriously disappearing beer." He nodded at the bottle in her hand.

"Oh, yeah, sorry, and, uh, thanks," she said awkwardly, tipping the bottle in her hand towards him. "Next case, my round... or something." She picked up the unopened bottle on the table and held it out to him. "I saved you one."

"Yeah right," he smirked and sat down opposite her as he took the bottle. "So, you were talking about Willow?"

The bottle stopped halfway to her lips. "I was?"

"With yourself." He chuckled as he opened his own beer.

"Oh, yeah." She smiled self-consciously. "I was trying to decide if I'd blown it."

"Do you think you have?"

"I don't know, do you?" she countered.

Xander shrugged. "What would you do if you have?"

Kennedy thought for a second, but she didn't really have to. "Lose it."

"Well, that's an incentive," Xander smiled. "So I take it you're not ready to give up on the Willster?"

"No way," Kennedy said sincerely. "It's just... I've been bad attitude girl a lot recently, and for some reason she's been putting up with it. And I can't help wondering if maybe she's already broken up with me in her head but just can't be bothered to do it in real life. Maybe she thinks I've already drifted off so far that she doesn't need to say the actual words and we're only still sharing a bed because I've been too stupid to move out of it yet."

"Nah." Xander shook his head. "Willow's a lot of great things, but subtle isn't one of them right now," he finished a little bitterly.

"So you think if she wanted me gone, I'd be gone?" she asked.

"I do." He nodded. "But that doesn't mean Bad Attitude Girl hasn't hurt her. A lot."

"I know," she muttered, looking at her beer. When she looked him in the eye again she felt a little defiant "But I've only been acting this way because she hurt me!"

"I get that," he said emphatically. "But... are you ready to put it behind you?"

She looked down at the table top as she argued with herself. Yes she was, no she wasn't. She was still hurt; there were still things she didn't understand, but it all boiled down to one thing in the end.

"I don't know what it is yet, but if there is something I can do to make things right, I'll do it. Because..." She met his eye steadily "...because I love her.

Xander's tense expression relaxed into a sincere smile. "Well then, why don't we talk it out while you finish your drink? And then you can go in and wow her with your multitude of reasons for staying together."

"Sure you wanna listen to my shit?" Kennedy asked doubtfully, but with hope in her voice.

"Always," he promised, his smile even stronger as he tapped the neck of his bottle against her's.

Kennedy smirked. "Okay, well, you asked for it..."


The television in the living room was showing some old horror film now. A distraught woman was crying in black and white, mirroring Willow's actions and mood.

"Xander'll be alright," Oz promised, stroking his fingers through Willow's hair again. "He knows you're trying to help. You just gave him a lot to think about."

"You think?" Willow sniffed, wiping her hands under her eyes to catch the last of her tears. "I don't know. Everything's just such a mess since we moved here."

"How so?" Oz asked gently.

"Well, you know about Xander's perpetual black cloud." Willow took a second to catch her breath from the crying while she thought about everything else that was wrong lately. "Buffy's completely obsessed with Faith, which, hello? Twilight Zone stuff right there. I have no problem with Buffy grazing on my side of the fence for a while, 'cause let's face it, her taste in men wasn't doing the world any favors, but why did her predilection for mysterious bad boys - and by 'bad' I really mean 'kinda evil' - have to transfer so seamlessly over to women? Why couldn't she have fallen for a nice female Riley? And I know I should just be happy that she's happy, even if it is strange, and I am... mostly... I just can't help worrying that something's going to go wrong like usually happens when one of us falls in love, you know? And with Faith involved... wrong is gonna be a big, fat understatement. I'm talking Angelus-big, but with slayer strength, a history of psychosis, and without any of the handy vampiric drawbacks, like an inability to walk around in the day and the need for an invite to murder us all in our beds."

"You've put a lot of thought into it," Oz smiled.

"No, that was just off the top of my head," Willow said with a strained smile. "I could come up with a lot more reasons for why Buffy and Faith getting involved is a disaster brewing if I sat down and wrote a list, but I'm resisting that urge 'cause there's no point panicking myself over it."

She sniffed again and wished she had a tissue in her pocket, except she didn't even have pockets; there wasn't really enough material in her skimpy little pajamas to include a pocket. Oz had pumpkins on his boxer shorts which made her smile a little. She hadn't noticed before, had deliberately avoided noticing maybe. It was hard to miss the small, plump orange fruits now though with the way her head was resting against his shoulder.

She was about to ask him if he had worn them especially for the underwear party, but then realized that Xander hadn't exactly sent out invitations stating a dress code... and why was she admiring his underwear anyway?

She snapped her eyes away and shifted so she wasn't quite so snuggled into his chest. To cover her awkwardness she began to talk faster.

"Dawn and Andrew are both having intimate relations with Watcher kids, although I don't know how intimate Andrew's relations are exactly and I guess Craig isn't really a Watcher kid either... I don't really know what he is, but he has raw power, no discipline and a big old grudge against Buffy. Dawn's relations are way, way too intimate and Reece is... not near good enough for her. He's not good enough for anyone. And as much as I'd like to bury my head in the sand and say 'Hah, not my sister!' I can't, you know, 'cause it's Dawnie a-and she is like my sister. And then there's everyone else! Naomi, Alison, Robin...! Every day some new Slayer or Watcher or... or Ex-Scooby..." she made a pointy gesture at Oz as evidence. "...shows up! Don't get me wrong, in some ways it's great. Only child here, I always used to fantasize about being part of a big family, but this craziness is starting to stretch that fantasy to its limit and Giles, who's supposed to be running the show by the way, is never here because he's always flitting off around the world finding Slayers and liasing with far-flung Watchers. Or he's in England asking retired Council members who used to look down their runny British noses at him for advice."

"Hey, Will," Oz spoke soothingly, tightening his arm around just for a moment in a comforting squeeze. "Relax. You're getting yourself worked up trying to help everyone else. Take a moment to concentrate on you for a change."

Oh boy, was he going to regret that. Willow didn't even have to think before beginning.

"Well, where would you like me to start? I still can't get into the Swiss bank accounts and Giles' personal investments are only going to last for so long with this many mouths to feed plus all the traveling. One of my best friends is dating someone who tried to kill us all - which I suppose isn't new - but my other best friend is wallowing in the depths of despair - and that is new. I'm not used to Xander being so miserable or the time and it's horrible. And then there's me thinking I was all super-control gal now, but then a couple of weeks ago I just start flinging magic at my friends like it's confetti! So now I'm back to square one with my rehabilitation, well, okay, maybe not square one, maybe square four or something, but now I have to double-think every spell I use again and if it feels too easy I have to not use it! But then I can't do spells that might be hard either in case they stir up too much power in me and I melt more speakers without thinking!" Her voice rose a few pitches as her distress grew. "And the one person who... who I thought I could count on, who told me she'd be there to... to help keep me grounded a-and remind me why we're living in the middle of a whole bunch of nowhere when we run out of milk and I want cereal and the big picture seems really, really tiny and far away and just to, ya know, be there, has suddenly gone off me with no warning - and I know she told me she used to play the field rather than, uh, stay in one place in the field, but we were getting along so great. I guess I thought she really liked me. Stupid, huh? Now she's probably only still with me because she's scared I'll... I'll melt her if she ends it!"

Despite her best efforts and much screwing up of her face, a sob broke through Willow's defenses and on the tail of the first came a whole squadron. She raised her hands to her face as tears soaked her only just dry again cheeks, muttering apologies for being a mess.

Oz hugged her tighter and let her sniffle into his chest.


Standing on the porch once more, Kennedy gave herself a little shake as if limbering up. She pulled on the hem of her shirt to make sure it was neat and ran her hands through her hair, pulling it forward over her shoulders only to push it immediately back again so that it hung down her back. She looked around the bare porch one last time, half-hoping to spot yet another distraction that would keep her from going in, but she didn't really need it; she knew it was time. She was ready.

Talking with Xander had helped a lot - Reece and Dawn had too, in their own ways, but neither of them had the insight or experience where Willow was concerned that Xander had. He even knew her better than Buffy did.

He hadn't promised her a Willow garden, admitting he wasn't sure where Willow was on this whole thing anymore, and warned her that she wasn't in the best of moods right now. But he'd also told her that Willow had come home eager for a date with Kennedy, that she spent almost as much time watching the clock as she had the TV and, as was apparently her wont, was turning her misery outwards, choosing to turn its focus on him instead of what was really bothering her.

His advice had been pretty simple really, the kind where you go 'Oh, why didn't I think of that!'.

Tell her the truth. Tell her you were jealous. Tell her why. The alternative? Making up a bunch of excuses for your behavior? That's just gonna cause you more problems - maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon... If you really love her, let her see what's in your heart; and if I know Will at all, she'll probably respond by showing you what's in hers.

When she asked what to do if she didn't happen to be in Willow's heart, he hadn't had an answer, just a strange enigmatic look in his eye, which could have been more to do the fact he was shivering to death in the crisp October breeze than any real intuition.

"Hey a flower... I think." The small circular lamp set into the roof of the porch cast only a murky light in the dark recesses either side of the steps. Kennedy bent over double to peer at the leafy blob in the corner. "Well, it has a flower."

Deciding not to look this exotic bloom in its gift-horse mouth, Kennedy picked up the potted plant and straightened up again. Forcing a casual smile on her face, she finally pushed the front door open and entered.

The TV flickered silently in the candlelit living room and she didn't pause to give herself time to chicken out, repeating in her mind, 'I love her, she's worth this, she's worth everything, I can do this... for her, for us, for the sake of mankind! Okay, maybe not mankind... great, I'm babbling already and I haven't even opened my mouth yet.'

Kennedy's foot kicked something heavy but yielding as she walked deeper into the living room. It was a pair of men's jeans dropped carelessly to the side of the couch.

"Couldn't Xander at least..." she began softly, kicking them to the side as she looked up again.

The rest of the sentence choked her as she stared at the two figures on the couch in shock. Her lips shaped the word 'what?' but it never came out. She'd been right, dammit. She knew she'd been right, why had she let everyone else fill her head with false hope?

"Kennedy!" Willow sat forward the moment she registered Kennedy's presence in the room.

She sounded surprised - probably hadn't expected to get caught - but not real distressed - probably didn't care that she had been caught. Her cheeks glistened with moisture - perspiration? Saliva? Tears? Was he really so special just having him close was enough to make her cry? The thought was enough to bring tears to her own shocked eyes. This wasn't happening. Of course it was happening. What else had she expected to happen? Girls broke your heart given half a chance, she should know, she'd broken enough since puberty. She'd just never really expected it to happen to her.

"Kennedy?" Willow said with more urgency into the suffocating silence.

Oz remained lounged against the couch, one possessive hand still on Willow's shoulder.

"I'm a walking cliché," she muttered indistinctly.

"You're a what?" Willow frowned and smiled at the same time.

No, no she wasn't. She wouldn't be. This wasn't going to happen to her. She wasn't going out like that. If this ended tonight... if she couldn't win this... she was doing the damn ending!

"Get your hand off of her!" she snarled out, taking a controlled step closer to the couch, eyes glaring into his.

"Sorry?" Oz looked up at her innocently, his hand staying where it was.

"Get your filthy paw offa my girlfriend!" Kennedy ground out. "Or I will tear it off."

"Kennedy!" Willow jumped to her feet - at least solving the hand on her shoulder problem. "What's gotten into you?"

"I'm really more interested in what's gotten into you."

She missed the gaping brought on by Willow's annoyed embarrassment because her eyes were still burning into Oz. He didn't smile smugly liked she'd imagined, he just held her gaze impassively, like he was some kind of noble champion and didn't feel the need to rub his victory in her face.

"Just what are you insinuating?" Willow demanded, crossing her arms angrily. "Storming in here, issuing threats to my friends, carrying a... my only Purple Spear plant?"

"What am I insinuating? You have to ask? Look at the two of you? All cozy on the couch with romantic candles and nakedness..."

"This is nothing! We were just talking," Willow insisted. "And I'm not naked!"

"Not yet," Kennedy agreed furiously. "I guess I got home just in time."

Willow snorted, "Yeah, just in time to overreact over nothing. You have impeccable timing every time as far as that's concerned."

"This is nothing?" Kennedy waved her hand between their two half naked bodies incredulously. "I'm not stupid, Willow. I can see what's going on."

"You can't see anything but what you want to see," Willow countered. "And I'm getting sick of it."

Kennedy partly recoiled from that, lifting her head to the ceiling as she felt tears prick the backs of her eyes again.

"This is priceless. You're painting me as the bad girlfriend when you're the one screwing around behind my back?"

"I am not!"

"Why don't we calm down a little?" Oz stood up suddenly, one hand on Willow's shoulder the other out in a placating gesture to Kennedy.

"I warned you about that hand," Kennedy said, taking a threatening step closer.

Oz removed his hand slowly and held that one up too. "You're upset, so just take a moment to..."

"Oh, I'm gonna take a moment," Kennedy promised him. "That's all I need to kick your tramp ass. So you might wanna stop trying to be a mediator and start making your way to the door..."

"I'm not leaving Willow when you're like this," he interrupted softly.

"Why? Do you think this is your night? I get Willow mad and you swoop in with your 'I would never treat you like this' speech?"

"No." Willow was shaking her head. "He's not like that."

Oz held Kennedy's gaze steadily. "If I did give that speech, I wouldn't be lying. But then I wouldn't treat a dog the way you've been treating Willow recently."

"Don't think you know anything about me and Willow!" She warned him a low voice.

He gave a slight shrug and said mildly, "I know from the way you've been acting you're not good enough for her."

Willow turned to him in surprise, which doubled when he suddenly did an assisted backward somersault over the couch. "Kennedy!"

"He had it coming," she said without apology. "And when he gets up, he has more coming. I knew he was sniffing around for more than just 'friend's reunited', I was just really hoping you didn't feel the same."

"You make me sound like a tree!" Willow snapped, before muttering, "Not that my parents didn't manage that already. And who says..."

She was cut off by a growl from behind the couch and spun to face it. "Uh oh."

Kennedy silently echoed that sentiment as a monstrous shadow reared on the bookcase behind the couch. As the growling grew louder and clearer, a werewolf popped up, but the uneasiness only lasted for a second before she grinned in feral glee.

"This..." she pointed. "This is what you're cheating on me with?"

"I'm not cheating on you!"

"Not anymore," Kennedy agreed through gritted teeth as she crouched ready. "Come on, Fido; time for the slipper-ing of your life!"

With almost a roar, Oz pounced straight over the couch towards her.

"Oh yeah, you're so civilized now," she taunted him as she swung her body to the left and brought her right arm up to slam a punch into the side of his belly.

It wasn't as soft and vulnerable as she'd been hoping, but it did stop him from landing right on top of her. Still, she couldn't help herself from being dragged down with him as his weight hit her arm before she could retract it. She landed on her side and immediately kicked out her foot and... yep, that pissed him off!

"Kenny! Don't fight. Run!" Willow yelled at her as the werewolf pounced again and she met it head on, or actually foot on. "Oh Goddess! Oz, if you do have any control right now, please use it to not bite her!"

The snarling, cursing and yelling didn't go unnoticed for long and as Kennedy and Oz crashed down together on top of the coffee table - crushing it and everything on it completely thanks to Oz's wolfy bulk - Giles flew out of his bedroom door.

"What on earth... Oh my Lord! Is that Oz? Quick Willow, don't stand there, get the tranquillizer gun."

"Don't you dare!" Kennedy yelled out.

"Why ever not?" Giles asked, bewildered.

She didn't answer, too busy fighting for her life maybe, but he wasn't getting out of this that easy. She was dominating this mutt the old fashioned way, by whipping his ass until he submitted at her feet. Maybe then he'd accept she was the better person for Willow.

Xander came running in from the kitchen. "What's all the... whoa! What the hell? Why's Oz going White Fang on Kennedy's ass and, more importantly, why's no one stopping it?"

"We are," Giles said firmly and tried to make his way towards the front door to get the gun, only to have to jump back when the fighting pair nearly rolled into his legs.

"No!" Kennedy yelled again, and she felt like she was finally getting the upper hand but then Oz slipped to the side of her and his jaws were coming for her shoulder and she wasn't gonna be able to... shit!

And then Willow darted forward and kicked his nose as hard as she could, making him jerk his head back and yelp. Kennedy took the split-second advantage and slammed one hand under his chin, keeping his head back while she punched him in the throat with her other hand.

"Ow, ow, ow, ow!" Willow hopped backwards holding her bare toes in pain.

Giles and Xander were both moving to get the gun now, but Vi suddenly appeared at the bend in the stairs.

"What's all the noise about? Goorzie's going... Kennedy!" Vi vaulted the banisters to land by the front door and grabbed the tranquillizer gun from the hat stand. "Where are the darts?" she yelled as she came running into the living room.

"There should be one in it," Giles said hopefully.

Vi raised the stock to her shoulder, trying to aim for a patch of werewolf that wasn't too close to a patch of Kennedy.

Goorzar had come tumbling down the stairs after Vi, sensing Kennedy was home and would protect her from the mysterious menace she could feel in the house. Her orange eyes went big and round when she saw her Mommy being attacked by said menace and she started shrieking at the top of her lungs. By turns, being courageous enough to run in and slap her big hands down on Oz's back, and petrified enough to run into the shadows gibbering.

"Could someone get the lights?" Vi yelled.

Xander did so, but even the room being bright didn't stop Vi's first shot from going wide and thunking into the remains of the coffee table.

"Damn!" she shouted, annoyed with herself. "Where are the rest of the darts?"

"I'll get 'em." Xander ran back into the kitchen.

As Goorzar ran in for another swipe with her long arms, Oz snapped at her before she could get out of range. The baby demon ran away squealing with a bald patch on her ass. Seeing the black, matted hair caught in the werewolf's teeth, Kennedy gave a cry of rage and grabbed one his front legs in both hands, wrenching him around with it. There was a crack as a bone broke and Oz's sharp yelp was followed by Kennedy's scream as his back claws lashed out and raked down her left leg, shredding her jeans, and by the feel of it, the skin beneath as well. Still they didn't stop fighting.

"Enough!" Willow yelled. "You're gonna kill each other!"

No they weren't; 'cause Kennedy planned on breaking his other three legs before that could happen.

"I said ENOUGH!"

Kennedy suddenly found herself flying through the air, straight over the leather reading chair in the corner, and smacking into the wall of Giles' office. She slid down it, knocking over - and becoming tangled up with - the reading lamp as she hit the carpet. Through dazed eyes she vaguely recognized the werewolf being thrown just as easily in the opposite direction to hit the wall between the window and the front door.

Xander came back into the room and threw a dart to Vi, who inserted it swiftly, turned and shot Oz in the chest before he could get up again. He growled at her softly for a few seconds and then with a whimper he slumped over, asleep.

The room was silent as everyone took a moment to catch their breath, except for Goorzar's soft gibbering as she ran over to Kennedy, scared out of her wits, and climbed onto her for a comfort cuddle.

"Easy, baby," Kennedy said softly, wincing slightly as the baby demon aggravated her millions of cuts and bruises.

With a hand on her rump, she kept Goorzar away from her bleeding left leg as she gave her the cuddle she was after, burying her face in the thick black fur as she waited for her heartbeat to slow down.

"What in God's name happened out here?" Giles finally exploded at Willow.

"Hey! Don't blame me. I'm as angry as you are." She turned to Kennedy in the corner. "What the hell was that all about?"

"You know exactly what it was about," Kennedy shot back as she finished checking the bald patch on Goorzar's butt to make sure the skin hadn't been broken. "I came in here to tell you I love you and find you making out on the couch with him!"

"Uh, the werewolf?" Vi asked as she came over to help Kennedy, who was struggling to stand up.

"For the last time, we were not making out. I was upset because I'd had an argument with Xander and Oz was just being a good friend and comforting me!"

Kennedy looked to Xander for confirmation.

He held his hands up. "Don't look at me, I mean yeah, we argued, but I was outside with you while this...comforting... was going on."

You don't believe me either?" Willow turned angrily to her best friend.

"I never said that," he shrugged.

"He's after you, Willow!" Kennedy said frustrated. "Any idiot can see that!"

"No, any idiot might think that, but I'm not an idiot and I know he's not!"

"Are you calling me an idiot?" Kennedy thrust a protesting Goorzar at Vi, who had to struggle to keep hold of the wriggling baby, and limped forward.

"You just got into a jealous brawl with a werewolf. Yes; I think you're an idiot! He could have infected you, he nearly did! Or, you know, killed you completely. Didn't you even think of that?"

"What I thought was that the bastard was trying to take you away from me, and I wasn't giving you up without a fight!"

Willow threw her hands up in frustration. "He's not trying to..."

"Yeah, Will, he is," Xander suddenly interjected.

She turned to him. "What?"

"I don't know if he's actively trying or anything, but I think it's safe to say that if an opportunity arose he'd want to take it. I'm not saying he would," he gave Kennedy a quick look before turning back to Willow, "but yeah, he'd want to."

"But why?" she whispered.

She turned to look at Oz, who without the pull of the full moon had already reverted back to his human self now he was unconscious. Giles was just covering him with a blanket and examining his broken arm. With an uncertain glance in Kennedy's direction, she turned and walked away, slamming straight armed through the kitchen door and disappearing.

"What am I supposed to make of that?" Kennedy asked, gesturing after her.

"I don't know, but would you either take Goorzie back or, uh, go away, because she won't settle with me while she can see you," Vi said, as the demon made another attempt at leaping from her to Kennedy.

"Go after her," Xander shrugged, already picking up chunks of coffee table fire wood. "Hear what she has to say."

Kennedy leaned down to Goorzar and gave her a kiss between her wide-set orange eyes. "Back soon, girl," she promised and made sure Vi had a good grip on her before limping into the kitchen.

Willow was leaning over the sink, blowing chunks by the sounds of it.

"You okay?" Kennedy asked her from just inside the door way.

"Beer and magic don't mix," Willow muttered, spitting once more before rinsing her mouth with water from the tap.

"Maybe you shouldn't have thrown me into a wall then?"

Willow nodded and said sarcastically. "Good idea, next time I'll just watch you get torn apart before my very eyes."

"That wasn't gonna happen," she scoffed.

Willow spun around to face her. "That was exactly what was going to happen. He's a werewolf, Kennedy! He has more strength than you, bigger teeth than you, long sharp claws, and no problem ripping you into bite size pieces with them!"

Kennedy looked down at her leg. The blood was drying now, so hopefully that meant the bleeding had stopped. It still hurt a lot though and she wasn't looking forward to peeling her jeans off.

"Okay, it was a stupid thing to do," she admitted softly, meeting Willow's eyes as she looked up. "But I'd still do it again. I'd fight something with twice as many teeth and claws... for you."

Willow rolled her eyes, not moved by her words. "You didn't have to fight for me! You could have just talked to me, but no... you had to go and be all Possessive Slayer on me. Fists first, think later. Did you think it would impress me? Is that it?"

For once Kennedy didn't have a quick answer. "I..."

"Because what it did was terrify me. I get scared every time you go out on patrol in case you don't come back, but I get it's your duty and your passion for it i-is one of the things I love the most about you, so I can deal... but what you pulled in there wasn't duty, it was stupidity. And if that kind of crap is what I can expect on a regular basis if we stay together... I can't deal."

Angrily Kennedy stormed, well limp-stormed, to the refrigerator and yanked it open. "Well if you can't deal with me fighting to keep my girlfriend, then maybe you should be with Oz, because at least you can count on him to run away instead when it gets tough to be with you."

"That's not fair," Willow snapped.

Kennedy pulled out an ice pack from the freezer compartment and a beer from the shelf below. "I don't have to be fair to him."

"I wasn't talking about him. I was talking about me, us. You think I've been tough to live with these past few weeks? Try being in my place. You've been Miss Moody-two-shoes since the lust spell. You've been cold and distant one minute, a-and fake sweetener and artificial light the next. You don't want to work with me, or eat with me, or sleep with me. You go out every evening and never come back before midnight..."

"I've been doing that since we've been living here," Kennedy pointed out, twisting the cap off of her bottle before reaching awkwardly around to hold the ice pack to the base of her neck.

"Yeah, but you're not patrolling now. You're just going out, enjoying yourself. And I lay in our bed on my own every night wondering if tomorrow will be the day you give me my marching orders."

"Is that what you want? For me to tell you we're through? So you can run off and be with someone else guilt-free?" Kennedy took an angry swig of her beer to cover the quiver of her lip.

"Right now Ken, I wouldn't feel a whole lot of guilt over breaking up with you," Willow retorted. "Not when you're being a bigger brat than you ever gave yourself credit for."

Kennedy's jaw worked in small circles and she had to take another sip of her beer before she could speak. "Well, why don't you then?"

"Because that's not what I want!" Willow shouted. "I don't want to break up with you, I never have, but I don't see a lot of point in us staying together if this is what we're gonna be like all the time."

"Who says it's gonna be like this all the time?" Kennedy asked defiantly.

"Okay, so tell me what's going to change? Are you going to stop being so jealous? Because I can't handle another episode like tonight. I've lost one woman I love to a senseless act of violence, I'm not gonna hang around if it's likely to happen again."

"You want me to stop being jealous, tell Oz to go to hell," Kennedy said simply. "Problem solved."

"I can't do that, and I won't do that," Willow said just as simply.

"Why not?"

"For one, he's working with the Council now, and we need him. I can't just put an end to that. For two, he's still my friend."

"He wants you Willow! You can't expect me to be okay with that."

"Even if he does, which is still unconfirmed by the way, what makes you think I want him back?"

"You mean other than the fact that he sees more of you these days than I do?" Kennedy asked sarcastically.

"That's work! And thank you for the trust, by the way. Nice to know our relationship is built on such a solid foundation."

"I would trust you with anyone else. It's just him. Some random man or woman comes on to you in the course of the day, I know we're stronger than that, but you and Oz have history, you loved him, a part of you still does, and... I don't know if we're stronger than that!"

"Well, I'd like to think we are, but I'm not just going to cut Oz out of my life because you tell me to, so I guess you'll have to decide pretty quickly if we are or not!"

"Is that an ultimatum?"

"No, you're the one issuing ultimatums. I'm just trying to figure out if we have a future or not."

"And what have you 'figured out' so far?" Kennedy sneered.

"That unless you grow up pretty damn fast, we don't!"

"Well then, just... fuck it!" Kennedy yelled, throwing her empty bottle so hard that it shattered in the empty sink.


Riding alone in the back of the truck, Buffy easily heard the raised voices coming from the kitchen as Reece pulled around to the side of the house.

"Uh oh." Jumping out, she walked around to the back, listening to the yelling, until she could see Willow and Kennedy through the window. "Not good."

It was late and Reece didn't bother putting the truck in the garage tonight. He locked it up and threw Faith the keys.

"I'm going to bed."

"Me too," Rona said, and they both walked towards their respective dormitories.

Alone in the garden, Buffy glanced at Faith before she focused back on the window again.

"What do you think's goin' on?" Faith asked, spinning the key ring around her finger.

"Not sure, but it sounds pretty heated. Not sure I want to intrude," Buffy admitted.

"We could always not," Faith suggested. "We could grab some blankets from the basement. Sleep in the back of the truck, under the stars. It'd be... romantic or something."

"Yeah, because you and romance are really something I want together right now," Buffy muttered to herself.

"What was that, B?"

"Nothing."

"Didn't sound like nothing."

Buffy turned to her, ready to let loose with her pent up irritation, when there was the sound of smashing glass in the kitchen. She dashed for the back door, wrenched it open and ran inside, almost colliding with Kennedy who was coming fast the other way.

"Whoa," Buffy put her hands out to stop her, her eyes darting around the room to suss out the situation.

Willow was standing shocked and ready to start crying but didn't look physically hurt.

Kennedy's face was pale, tightly controlled, and the heavy breaths she was taking hitched in her throat. "Let me past!"

"Hang on a minute," Buffy said, not letting go of her. She glanced down, seeing the tattered jeans and lots of blood. "What happened? Are you okay?"

Kennedy tried to tear herself away and keep going, but Buffy wouldn't let her. Kennedy's face started to crumple, and Buffy softened her voice.

"Ken, are you okay? Do you need to sit...? Whoa!" The compassion in her voice broke the last of Kennedy's control and Buffy had to take a step back with the force with which Kennedy was suddenly in her arms, hugging her so tight she could barely breathe.

She teetered back on her Wonder Woman boots and her hands gestured at Kennedy's back as she looked over her shoulder, her expression inquiring 'What the hell?'

The breaking bottle had brought Giles and Xander rushing into the kitchen too, and they hovered on the periphery, obviously not sure what to do or say any more than she did.

Are you okay? She asked Willow, silently mouthing the words as Kennedy sobbed quietly into her neck.

"I'm fine," Willow said aloud, but she didn't really look it.

"Kenny?" Buffy asked with more urgency. "What's going on? What happened? Is Dawn okay?"

"She's... fine, we got.. back... okay."

"Then what?" Buffy asked, glancing at the others in turn.

Xander gave a little shrug. "Kennedy and Oz had what you could call a small disagreement."

"What, when he was wolfed?" she chuckled. No one else so much as cracked a smile. "Oh."

Giles shook his head, looked helplessly at Willow for a moment and then turned back to the livingroom. "I must try and set Oz's arm for him; we can't risk taking him to the emergency room until he wakes up. Xander, would you assist me?"

"Sure," Xander nodded as he followed him back into the other room.

"Will?" Buffy asked, gesturing one-handed at Kennedy's back again.

Willow swallowed a few times, trying to speak, tears glistening in her eyes and then she was shaking her head, backing away. "I can't... I'm sorry, I can't..." And then she was shooting into her Magic room and Buffy heard the key turn in the lock the second the door was closed.

Kennedy gave a louder sob and suddenly Buffy could feel tears splashing onto her neck and running down to her shoulder at an alarming rate. Buffy sighed as silently as possible and tightened her arms around her.

"Tears, temper tantrums, smashing bottles. Close my eyes, I could be back in Boston with my Mother." Faith chuckled darkly as she walked to the fridge and got out a beer. "'Course," she added, looking around. "You'd have to add a few patches of damp and some 'roaches, but otherwise, pretty close."

"Not like you to open up about your past," Buffy observed.

"Don't usually think about it." Faith sat at the kitchen table and kicked back her chair onto two legs. "Been on my mind tonight, I guess."

"Well maybe that's what happens when you let an evil creature delve into your sub-conscious."

"When did I do that?"

Buffy rolled her eyes and didn't answer. It was almost laughable, or it would be if Faith's inattention and carelessness hadn't hurt so much. And if Kennedy wasn't squeezing the air out of her lungs so thoroughly even a light chuckle was possibly impossible.

The kitchen fell silent apart from Kennedy's choked sobs. Obviously embarrassed, she buried her head further in Buffy's neck, trying to stifle them. She felt a little guilty, feeling like she should be comforting Willow rather than her girlfriend, but Kennedy had clamped onto her first and what was she supposed to do, just toss the girl to one side? She ran her hand up and down Kennedy's back, kissing the side of her head, trying to calm her down the way she used to calm Dawn down when she was this upset.

She saw Faith lean even further back on her chair, sneering as she raised her bottle to her lips.

'Oh, come on,' she mouthed irritably. Like she had a right to any kind of jealous reaction after tonight. Especially to something as innocent as this. She deliberately looked away from Faith to make her point.

"So are you about done there, Ken?" Faith suddenly asked. "Only me and Buffy are kind of on a date right here and I didn't plan on ending it watching you two snuggle, ya know?"

Buffy looked at her again, sending eye-daggers her way, but kept her voice mild as she said, "Impatient much?"

But Kennedy began to pull away anyway, so if nothing else Buffy's ribs were sending a thank you Faith's way.

"Yeah, sorry, I didn't... sorry." She stepped back, scrubbing her hands over her eyes.

"Its okay, Ken, Faith's just joking."

"Was I?"

"No, it's okay. Don't want to be responsible for breaking up another couple tonight."

Suddenly realizing this might be more than just a lovers tiff between her best friend and the young Slayer; Buffy reached out and put her hand on Kennedy's shoulder.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, anyway, I should probably get some blankets so I can make up a bed in the dorm before it gets any later." She started to turn away.

"No, don't do that." Buffy pulled her back around again. "You can bunk in with Dawn tonight if you need to. She won't mind. Come on." She started to lead her towards the back stairs.

"What about...?" She looked over at Faith.

"Yeah, what about?" Faith repeated.

"We're home, so technically the date's over anyway." Buffy managed a smile. "Besides, you understand, right Faith?"

"Sure, whatever you say, B," Faith said reasonably, before adding under her breath. "As always."

Buffy bit her tongue as she went up the back stairs after Kennedy.


Dawn was lying on his bed when Reece entered the dormitory. "Hello."

"Hi!" Dawn bounced eagerly into a sitting position. "I thought you were never coming home."

"Well, no," Reece was torn between mildly irritated and happy to see her. "That's perhaps because you left the party hours before I did."

"Oh, yeah, sorry about that." She looked sheepish for a second. "But that wasn't really my fault. You disappeared and then everything went crazy. Where were you anyway?"

She sounded mildly suspicious and his irritation grew. "Off having passionate sex with Kennedy obviously."

She chuckled softly and looked away embarrassed, which he hadn't expected. "Yeah, I'm sorry about that too. I know you weren't... you know, with Kennedy. It's just that..." she hesitated before finishing her sentence. "...I know you could have anyone you wanted, and I guess I can't help wondering why you want me."

He stared at her for several moments, waiting for her to look at him, but she didn't. Eventually he said genuinely, "Because you're beautiful."

"No I'm not," she said bashfully, ducking her head further.

"Fine, don't believe me." He walked towards his little locker and started to unbutton his sweat-damp shirt.

As he drew nearer she looked up at him coyly, and he had to admit it was nice that it wasn't an act. Much more appealing than the obviously experienced cheerleader he'd chatted up earlier.

"Do you really think so?"

"Of course I do. Anyone who doesn't is either blind or stupid," he said matter-of-factly. He took off his shirt, missing the appreciative look in Dawn's eyes as he looked in his little mirror with a grimace. "I, on the other hand, look and smell like a wet dog."

"No you don't," Dawn chuckled. "You couldn't if you tried."

"Oh really," Reece finally smiled at her. "Come closer and take a big whiff, then tell me otherwise."

She grinned. "I don't have to; I can smell you from here."

"Oh, wonderful." He tried to frown, but smiled instead. "So how come you are in here anyway?"

"I wanted to say goodnight. Plus we didn't seem to get to spend so much time together at the party as I'd hoped."

"No, it wasn't the most successful date, was it?" He agreed as he walked around to the other side of Craig's bed to where the boy's small rucksack was. "What with you so anxious about Kennedy and then Rona going missing."

"Rona!" Dawn blurted like she'd only just remembered her.

Reece felt annoyed on his Slayer's behalf. Dawn was supposed to be her friend after all.

"I found her. Eventually. She was in the walls." He said shortly as he pulled one of Craig's clean t-shirts out of his bag.

Dawn frowned. "What was she doing in the walls?"

Reece picked up the bottle of water on Craig's locker and poured a little of it onto the t-shirt. "Chasing a... well a really short Irish bloke."

Dawn digested that and then sat forward in amazement. "A Leprechaun?"

Reece looked pained for a moment, but then said firmly. "Leprechauns don't exist."

"Like Pixies don't exist?" She asked dubiously.

"I..." Reece hesitated. "I'll have to consult some books before I can give you a definitive answer."

Dawn smiled knowingly.

He picked Craig's shower gel up from his locker and liberally squirted it onto the t-shirt as he looked curiously at Dawn. "What?"

"You are such a Watcher," she smiled at him.

He stopped in the act of scrubbing the t-shirt under his arms to smile at her. "You truly think so?"

She shook her head, still smiling. "Well, if I didn't before, the way you used 'truly' in that sentence just confirmed it."

He grinned. "Thank you."

He balled Craig's t-shirt up and chucked it into the dirty laundry corner of the dorm, and then used some more of the water to rinse the suds from under his arms. The rest of the bottle he poured over his head and used his hands to rub it over his face and through his hair.

"So, you found her and she's home safe too?" Dawn checked, standing up and walking around the beds to him.

"Yes, but it was pretty hairy." Reece picked up Craig's loose blanket - it wasn't tucked in with precision like Reece's was - and dried his face. "So what happened to you, and the rest of the party for that matter?"

"Oh, that was pretty hairy too." Dawn grinned as she put her arms around Reece's neck. "Half the party got chased away by this weird werewolf..."

"Werewolf?" Reece indulged her closeness for a moment, before gently removing her arms so he could step away. "But it's not a full moon."

"I know, and that wasn't the only weird thing about him." Dawn looked a little put out, but she gave him some space as she said, off-hand, "And I nearly got killed by a Vampire."

"What?" He'd been about to walk back to his own bed, but he stopped and put his hand on Dawn's shoulder in concern. "Rona thought there was one there. Are you alright? Did he bite you?"

"He tried." She lifted up her hair on one side and he could see two long but shallow scratch marks on her neck. "I also almost got killed by a bat and a great big panther too," she added a little reproachfully.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there," he said sincerely, not liking the thought of Dawn getting even almost killed. Not that he liked the thought of anyone getting almost killed.

"Well, you're here now, so I guess I can forgive you," Dawn grinned.

"That's gracious of you." He grinned back at her for a second, before stepping away again and unbuttoning his jeans. "So, were you waiting in here for me?"

"No," she teased, following him back around to his own bed. "I've been waiting all this time to watch Craig undress, but he's not back yet, so..."

"He's probably been off snogging Wellsy in the woods ever since it got interesting." Reece chuckled as he pushed his jeans off, folded them and threw them onto Peter's old bed. "When it comes to scary - the boy's all flight, no fight."

"Well, if he's snogging in the woods," Dawn began, giving his body a very obvious look, "that means we have the room all to ourselves."

"For a while, I guess," he agreed, smiling. "But your sister's home."

"But she doesn't know I'm in here. This time of night she'll assume I'm safely tucked up in bed. And besides, her and Faith will be doing it like animals five seconds from making it through the front door," she added, wrinkling her nose in distaste. "So?"

She leaned up to kiss him, her fingertips lightly tickling up his arms to his shoulders as he leaned down to meet her lips. He knew he was taking a risk, but Dawn trying to seduce him was so adorable, it wouldn't hurt to give her a little of what she wanted.

After a few minutes of kissing, he pulled away from her though. It was too cold to stand around in his boxers for long.

"I can't believe the night I've had. I've been in the field a few times now, with the group and one on one with Rona, but nothing intense like tonight has happened." As he spoke, he retrieved some sweat pants from his bag at the end of the bed.

"It was pretty intense for all of us I think," she said, coming closer to him again.

"Yes," he nodded. "And to be fair your night sounds more dangerous than what mine turned out to be, but then you are used to all of this, aren't you? I find that pretty amazing actually. That you've been doing this for a couple of years already, and you're younger than me, and you have no formal training."

"Amazing, huh?" She grinned and took his sweat pants out of his hands before he could start to pull them on.

"Dawn."

"What?" she asked innocently, chucking the pants onto another bed out of immediate reach. "It's not that cold. I'm not cold."

"That's because you're fully clothed," he pointed out, smiling.

"I don't have to be."

When he didn't answer, she kissed him again and he let himself be pulled down to lay on the bed.

"Warmer yet?" she asked a few minutes later.

"Yes thanks." He grinned at her and rolled comfortably on to his back, one arm still loosely around her waist. "I think I finally get what Rupert's been saying too."

"Huh? Oh, you mean Giles? Huh?"

Reece chuckled. "All the wisdom he's been imparting over the last couple of weeks, about how a Watcher and a Slayer can be a well-oiled machine, but only if you both work at it. The Academy doesn't teach that. As far as they're concerned a Watcher watches and a Slayer slays and the two don't really mix."

"What do you mean?" Dawn asked, although she seemed more interested in kissing the side of his neck than his answer.

"Well, a Watcher's job is to research for current and future threats and to provide his Slayer with the information he gathers. The Slayer's job is to go out and neutralize those threats using that information. So, aside from training, which is undertaken to a greater or lesser extent depending on the individual, the Watcher and Slayer do not really interact at all apart from perhaps a debriefing session once a day to exchange details of the night before's patrol and details that will be needed for the next night's patrol..."

"That's horse shit!"

He looked down at Dawn, who had stopped kissing his neck and was now looking back at him, clearly annoyed, it was quite sexy really. "Excuse me?"

"Giles and Buffy never had a relationship like that! He was her friend. In fact he was... is like family. They used to spend time together all the time, and he didn't just sit in his office Watching, he used to go out on patrol with her and when Buffy was grounded he used to do it for her."

"Yes." Reece smiled. "And he got sacked for it, didn't he? For being too involved in her life. Rupert's techniques were used in lessons all the time as an example of what not to do."

"Well... that's horseshit too!" Dawn sat up angrily.

He sat up with her. "I never thought so. There are many good reasons for retaining a distance between Watcher and Slayer, the fact that any night you may have to send your Slayer out to her death not being the least of them, but now I think I get it." His excitement at his epiphany showed in his voice.

"What do you mean, you get it?" Dawn asked uncertainly.

"The bond! The bond that we all hear about day in and day out, but that never rings true, because how can you forge something so strong if you're never allowed more than minimal interaction with the girl you are assigned to? I'm starting to think there was a reason for only a few of the Watchers diaries being on the syllabus. They probably banned all the ones that made the Slayer in question sound like a human being, God only knows why." He fell silent, thinking about it.

"Reece?"

He smiled at her, taking her hand and entwining their fingers. "Giles has been pushing for Rona and I to spend as much time together as possible, not just on patrol, but training together, organizing private study sessions together. It all seemed pointless to begin with, and we don't exactly get on, but... now I think maybe I understand."

"So you're not the cold, heartless bastard you sounded like just a minute ago then?" Dawn asked, only half teasing.

He gave her a big smile and laid back down, drawing her with him. "I hope not. I would like to be a better Watcher than I think I've been educated to be."

"Good." Dawn smiled as she settled against him. "Because Watchers and Slayers should go together like peanut butter and jelly."

"Well, that sounds like a disgusting mix, but I agree with your point." He laughed and then kissed her.

She was grinning again when they pulled apart. "Good, so does that mean I can take my shirt off now?"

"Here, let me." Grinning himself, he swiftly unbuttoned it before sliding his hands around her waist beneath the material, pulling her closer for another kiss.

This one lasted longer and Dawn was almost moaning with pleasure when they finally had to give each other some air.

"This is more like it," she whispered as she shucked her shirt and kissed down his chest at the same time.

"Indeed," he agreed as he enjoyed what she was doing, his hands sliding up to stroke the back of her neck. There was silence in the dorm for a minute or two, apart from the sound of Dawn's lips trailing slowly down his stomach and his increased breathing. "Rona was incredible though, she'd been chasing the thing for ages even before I caught up with her, and then, when we were running around in the pitch dark, if it wasn't for her I'd have cracked my head open half a dozen times. Truth be told, I must have been slowing her down, but she never left me. Well, except when she jumped into the dumb waiter, but then she was following the Lepr... Irish bloke, so she knew I was safe..."

Dawn lifted her head to stare at him.

"That does take some courage, leaping head first into the unknown like... what's wrong?"

Dawn slumped onto his chest, groaning. "Nothing. Why don't you tell me about your adventure tonight?"

He tilted her face up, and smiling, gave he peck on the lips. "I'm sorry, I'm just excited."

"So am I," she said frustrated, and then blushed. "I mean..."

He kissed her explanation away.

Slowly she pulled away, stroking his face. "Tell me about what happened?"

"Are you sure?" he asked softly. "It can wait..."

It was her turn to kiss his words away and then she settled her head next to his on the pillow. "Really. I want to hear it."

He smiled. "Okay..."


They ended up crawling out of Buffy's bedroom window to sit on the balcony. It was freezing, but she figured Kennedy needed to talk right now even if the younger Slayer wouldn't admit it.

"So then what happened?" Buffy asked, pulling her cape tighter around her shoulders and wishing she'd thought to grab a sweater.

Kennedy shrugged. "He turned into a werewolf. How was I supposed to know he couldn't control himself? He's the one who keeps telling people he's all domesticated now." She fingered the tears in her jeans. "If you ask me it's a good thing we found out that was BS before be lost it on someone who couldn't defend themselves."

"Oz is pretty good at not losing it on people. He voluntarily used to spend three nights a month in a cage for example," Buffy said softly. "How's your leg?"

"Healing, no thanks to him." Kennedy pulled her hand away from the torn material and crossed her arms on the lowest balcony railing. "So you think I'm making it up? What are you even doing out here if you've already jumped to your own conclusions?"

"I haven't jumped, and I don't think you're making it up either, but I'm not gonna go in there and put a silver bullet in Oz's heart just because you're jealous. You three have to sort this out between you, in a non-violent fashion, and find a way to work together."

"That's never gonna happen," Kennedy said adamantly.

Buffy sighed. "Not even if it'll make Will happy?"

"If Osborne is what it takes to make Willow happy, then she obviously doesn't need me. Besides, she made it pretty clear tonight that I'm not good enough for her. I'm not Glinda the good witch, full of mystery and light and endless frickin' empathy, and I'm not Rover the Wonder-mutt either, docile lapdog by day, savage defender of her honor by night." She gave a mirthless chuckle as she let her chin rest on her crossed arms. "I'm just a Slayer, and all I know is how to kick and punch and be pushy and possessive and pig-headed and all the other great Slayer qualities that Willow has suddenly decided she doesn't find attractive."

"Hey, I'm a Slayer too," Buffy reminded her. "And I'm none of those things."

Kennedy gave her a look over her shoulder.

"All the time," Buffy added with a little smirk. "Besides, despite being a brat most of the time, you do have a bunch of great qualities and I know Willow likes them."

Kennedy shook her head, looking out across the dark property below them. "Not enough. And Willow is special; she deserves to be with someone special... I thought being a Slayer would give me that, I don't know, edge, I guess, but it turns out that slayers aren't special anymore anyway, so..."

"Of course they are," Buffy cut her off. "We're special. More special than ever. I mean it's true, I was more special when it was just me," she sighed almost wistfully, but then shook herself out of it. "But now we're a whole bunch of special and that's... pretty cool."

"Not according to the vamp that nearly killed me tonight. He seemed to think that the more of us there are, the less power we have between us. That we were easy pickings now there was more. Or something." Kennedy shrugged. "I can't really remember what he said, it's weird, like I dreamed it or something, but I know I didn't."

"Dracula," Buffy sneered angrily, almost hissing the name.

"I'm sorry?" Kennedy turned to look over her shoulder again. "Did you just say Dracula?"

"Yeah, and before you go getting all starry-eyed, he's a big loser, okay, so just don't. And don't listen to anything he has to say either; he's just messing with you."

"But that was really Dracula? I knew something felt different about him, but I didn't..." Kennedy shut up when Buffy dropped her head onto her arms with an agitated groan. "Okay, missing the point you're making, sorry, but blinded by celebrity notwithstanding, he said some interesting stuff."

"I'm sure he did, but it was all baloney."

"What if it wasn't?"

"Then we'll probably find out the hard way like we usually do. And personally, if it means I don't have to think about that damn vamp any more tonight, I'm happy to take my chances with the hard way later on."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, both gazing down at the ground ten or twelve feet below. Three shadows came around the corner of the house, talking excitedly with one another about unicorns. Buffy rolled her eyes and beside her Kennedy snorted. The three junior slayers walked across the back garden and entered their dormitory without ever realizing they were being watched from above.

"Unicorns?" Buffy muttered, shaking her head.

"Your night didn't go too well either then I take it?" Kennedy asked sympathetically.

"It did, up to a point, and then it didn't." Buffy shrugged. "Being with Faith is just... taking some getting used to. There are some... unexpected difficulties, I guess you could say," she answered awkwardly.

"Like what?" When Buffy just smiled and shrugged the question away, Kennedy added. "I just got my heart broken by the only woman I've ever loved and the punch line is, I brought it all on myself. And if I'm the problem, I've got no way of fixing it. Whatever your difficulty is, it can't be as bad as that."

"Okay." Buffy sighed. "This is gonna sound stupid, but... I'm used to being... how can I put this..." she bit her lip, trying to figure out the best way to word it.

"Universally adored?" Buffy could hear the smirk in Kennedy's voice.

She hesitated. "Well, not universally, there were plenty of people in high school that didn't like me much, and Willow and Xander aren't shy of knocking me down a peg when they think I need it, but, as far as partners are concerned? A certain amount of adoration may have been involved. Not an unhealthy amount! Just..."

"You're used to getting your own way?"

Buffy was about to protest it was more complicated than that, but sighed instead. "Yeah. I'm not saying I didn't sometimes have to work for it, but, overall, yeah."

"Me too," Kennedy nodded. "Must be another slayer trait. Don't think I'm getting it this time though."

"No, well that's the thing. Usually when my boyfriends decide they want to do things their own way, and it directly conflicts with my way, well, that's usually when we end up going our separate ways, if you get what I mean."

"And Faith isn't falling into line?"

"I don't want her to fall into line!" Buffy said, glaring angrily at Kennedy.

"Sorry, I didn't mean..."

"I just want her to do everything I say, when I say and without arguing over every single thing." Buffy's lips twitched as she tried not to smile. "Is that too much to ask?"

Kennedy gave her a smile before leaning her chin back on her arms. "Willow didn't know how lucky she had it with me."

"I know it's something I've got to work on," Buffy sighed, mirroring her. "And I know I can't expect Faith to be perfect girlfriend material overnight. It's just sometimes it feels like bickering antagonism is our default position, and when she's being especially maddening it's hard to remember why I want this to work."

"If it's so bad, why do you want it to work?"

Buffy smiled, ducking her head slightly. "Because she makes me feel alive."

"Well, that's pretty vague," Kennedy muttered unimpressed.

"Okay, she... makes my heart race, just by looking at me." Buffy gestured outwards with her arms. "She makes me smile, even when she doesn't know I'm in the room. She makes everything real and exciting and... worth getting out of bed for." Buffy paused, gazing out into the darkness, before adding softly. "She gave me back the fire."

There was a beat of intense quiet and then Kennedy muttered, "Oookay." and Buffy chuckled silently. She hadn't expected her to get it.

Below them Andrew and Naomi came running at full pelt around the corner. Stopping by the picnic table they clung to each other, looking behind them fearfully. Buffy and Kennedy watched with interest, wondering if they were needed.

"What is it? Why won't it stop chasing us?" Andrew's voice traveled up to them, almost wailing. "And how does it know my name!"

"A water demon of some kind. Probably upset that we disturbed his home, but..." Naomi answered him breathlessly. "...I, ah, have no idea how he knows you name."

"Andreeew!" Came a long drawn out cry from around the side of the house.

Buffy and Kennedy looked at each other for a clue. Andrew could be heard hyperventilating down there. Naomi was muttering soothing words as she looked around. Quickly darting to the side, she suddenly came back into the square of light from the window carrying a watering can. Brandishing it like a weapon, she stepped bravely in front of Andrew.

"That girl has a lot of potential," Buffy murmured.

Kennedy turned to her incredulously. "She's about to go against a demon with a watering can!"

"I didn't say she was going to live long enough to realize it." Buffy swiftly rose to her feet in case she had to jump off the balcony quick. "But I like a girl who can improvise."

Kennedy sniggered beside her, also rising, and Buffy rolled her eyes.

On the ground, the 'demon' suddenly tripped and dripped his way around the corner. "What's wrong with you two? I've been calling you since the bloody bridge!"

"Craig?" Andrew and Naomi squealed in surprise at the same time.

On seeing Naomi holding aloft the rusty gardening tool, he sank to his knees on the grass, out of breath. "Who'd yer bleeding think it was?"

"The ghost from the house," Andrew said sheepishly.

"A water demon?" Naomi was also sheepish, but she sounded amused too. "You sounded, er, soggy."

"You wouldn't stop running!" Craig panted.

"We thought you were going to eat us," Andrew explained.

"Or drown us," Naomi added for good measure.

Chuckling, happy there was no actual threat now, except of maybe Craig getting pneumonia, Buffy and Kennedy tuned the trio on the ground out.

"So are you going to go finish your date now?" Kennedy asked quietly. "I appreciate you walking me back from the metaphorical edge and all, really, but I'm feeling better now, so you can go, if you want."

Buffy thought about it, but it was late, really late now, and Kennedy didn't sound as convincing as she wanted to. Plus there were other reasons.

She shook her head, "No. She may well be the first person to actually make me want to whistle while I work, and she does, I have; it's... disturbing. But I'm still pissed at her right now. I think it's better if we just call it a night and talk in the morning. What about Willow? You wanna try and work things out before you both go to bed angry?"

Kennedy looked down, her thumbs firmly tapping the wooden balcony rail for a few moments before she answered.

"Nah. Neither of us is budging tonight. Maybe after she's slept on it, she'll think differently about the Oz thing." She shrugged, not sounding like she really believed it. "Or, you never know, maybe I will."

Buffy nodded. "Okay, well, since I'm turning blue I'm going back inside. Plus I've had enough of being Wonder Woman for one day. I don't know how she captured so many bad guys in this outfit. The bodice cuts off all vital circulation and the hot pants ride up..." Buffy twisted on her tiptoes, reaching behind her for the material, "...high up."

She was turning away to climb back through her window when the door to the boys dorm flew wide open and smacked against the outside wall. Reece and Dawn stumbled out, kissing heavily, giggling and ignoring Craig's complaints that followed them out into the night. Buffy's eyes went wide as she stared at them and then she turned the wild glare on Kennedy.

"I told you she was back safe, you never asked more than that," Kennedy said quickly and firmly.

Buffy turned back to the intense kissing going on below. "Dawn!"

Dawn and Reece sprang apart guiltily, both looking around for the source of the shout. Buffy would have laughed if she hadn't just spotted that Dawn's shirt was wide open.

"Oh my God! Could you be more of a hussy right now? You're in the garden, Dawn! Is even a shred of decorum too much to ask?"

Pot meet Kettle; but at least in the woods she and Faith had been totally alone - at least she really hoped so. And anyway, they were old enough to have sex in public if they wanted, Dawn wasn't. Yep, that made her feel like less of a slut; Buffy rolled her eyes and concentrated on Dawn...

...who was now twisting herself this way and that, looking into the darkness all around her. "How are you doing this? Where are you? What are you talking about?"

"I can see your nipples! Cold tonight, huh, Dawnie?"

"Oh My God!" Dawn swung herself towards the barn wall, pulling her shirt closed over her flimsy bra, and came face to face with Craig looking out of the window. She jumped back and turned the other way, fingers thumbling too much to get even a single button done up. There were faces at the girls dormitory window too, and as she turned towards the house, Xander peered through the kitchen window and Faith came out the back door, all wondering what the fuss was about.

"Oh My God!" Dawn repeated, assuming everyone had come out to gawp at her. Holding the shirt closed with both hands, she went sprinting past Faith into the house and straight up the back stairs without even saying goodnight to Reece.

"Now that was a pleasant way to end the evening," Buffy grinned as she climbed back through to her bedroom and headed towards a hot shower.


"Well, Gentlemen, we have indeed had an eventful evening," Owen remarked as the party started winding down and yawns were beginning to show.

"Yes, and I do not mind if it is not so eventful next year," Victor said dryly. "Although... if you have no objections, I will take the magic machine in the ballroom."

Owen waved his hand to indicate he didn't mind. "Truthfully, the further you take it from here, the happier I'll be. I'm still finding it hard to believe that those children managed to create something so powerful. The loss of their contraption will hopefully slow them down."

"It is in pieces. Do you really think you can fix it?" Fred asked hopefully.

"We can try. Igor, go and fetch the pieces."

Iggy looked up from his game of Solitaire on the card table with a questioning look in his lopsided eyes. Victor fidgeted uncomfortably as he realized what he'd accidentally done, but he held Igor's gaze with a similar expression. A tense, awkward silence seemed to blanket the gathering, the only sound Paddy's off-key rendition of 'Show me the way to go home'; further mangled by the Pheasant leg he was trying to gnaw on at the same time.

Standing up, Iggy relented with some attitude. "Fine, but when we get back, I want a raithe, in keeping with the rate of inflation this time. And a new bedroom. The bathement is cold, and the moth glowth in thpringtime... keepth me awake," he added in a small voice.

"Yes, done and done," Victor said so promptly it made him look desperate, but then good help was hard to find these days.

"And I want a broadband internet connection," Iggy put in quickly.

"You know I don't believe in all that technology," Victor began, but as Igor tilted his head in such a way he appeared about to change his mind, he added quickly, "but I'm sure I can fix something up for you."

"Good." Iggy nodded, looking thoughtful. "In that cathe I'm going to need a computer too."

"Also done," Victor sighed. "Is that it?"

"And a..."

Owen cut Igor off. "I wouldn't push your luck."

Iggy grinned and let his request go unfinished. "Where would you like me to put all the pieces, Master?"

Zeke's tail thumped the hearth rug a few times. "You're so whipped."

Igor shrugged. "Hey, at leatht I never had an eighty year old Fairy Godmother make me her bitch."

As Owen and the Count tried to stifle chuckles, Zeke buried his nose under his tail in embarrassment.

"Hey!" Ptah looked down at him in a huff. "You always told me it was witch what changed you!"

Zeke sat up on his haunches, gesturing to himself with one paw. "Well, I'm pretty sure she had some magical abilities!"

Ptah made a sharp tutting sound and looked away. Paddy was sitting up, swaying slightly, and staring intently at him. "Oi, 'Tah, pal, d'yer wanter purchase a rainbow?"

"I'm still waiting for the one I brought from you in 'sixty-eight." Ptah groaned as he leaned over to fetch the brandy from the table beside the Count. Seeing everyone looking at him, he defended himself, "What? Rainbows were in in 'sixty-eight, weren't they?"

He handed the bottle down to Paddy. "Here you go, my friend."

"Ta... 'Tah!" The Leprechaun giggled and then fell over backwards as he tried drinking from the bottle.

"And everything returns to as it should be," the Count said with an air of finality as he gazed at his friends one by one. His expression was more doting grandfather than world famous vampire in that moment, but he soon shook it off. "Ready to begin again."

"I made up the guest coffin," Owen offered him.

"Thank you, but I brought my castle."

"Where did you put it?" Fred asked slowly.

Dracula pointed and they all looked out of the window just in time to see the shape of a castle a hundred yards away outlined by single flash of lightening in the cloudless sky.

Seeing Victor's eyes light up in appreciation, he offered, "I'll teach you the lightning trick one day, old friend."

"You always say that," Victor grumbled good-naturedly.

With a fond smile Owen, hat and boots now removed, sat back comfortably in his armchair to enjoy the rest of the night.


Dressed now in her warm pink bunny pajamas that made her look about six years old but were so warm and cozy-looking that she'd brought them anyway, and her furry cow print slippers, Buffy tapped gently on the connecting door to Dawn's bedroom. There was no answer, but she let herself into the dark room anyway.

"Hey," she said softly to the lump under the covers.

"I'm asleep!" The lump muttered angrily.

"Good, then maybe for once we can do this without you talking back the whole time." As soon as Buffy had spoken, Dawn sat up and faced her. Buffy sighed. "Or maybe not."

"We weren't doing anything," Dawn insisted immediately.

"So Reece was in his underwear because he was finding the forty degrees outside too balmy?"

Dawn smirked. "Well, he is from England."

"Dawn, I'm serious. I get that you're the smitten little kitten right now and in your world the sun shines out of Reece's butt..."

"And in your world it shines out of yours, right?" Dawn said snarkily. "Are you, like, scared of the competition or something?"

Buffy stopped, feeling hurt. "There's no need to be so rude to me."

"Well, then, don't patronize me and I won't be," Dawn shot back irritably.

"Fine, no patronizing. You are not old enough to be having sex..."

"In the State of Ohio the legal age of consent is..." Dawn butted in.

Buffy almost laughed, the little monster had gone and looked it up so she'd be ready for this conversation. She didn't miss a beat as she continued, "And in this house the legal age of consent is eighteen. And don't tell me how old I was," she added, guessing Dawn's next argument. "I know how old I was, but there are plenty of differences between my situation and yours."

"Name one?" Dawn challenged.

"Angel and I had known each other for nearly two years and we'd been together for six months. You've known Reece a month and you've been together for two weeks - actually you'd been together for one day the first time you slept together. I was seeing Parker for longer than that!"

Dawn shifted on the bed, not losing her insolent look for a moment. "Okay, so I'm not you. Newsflash. I knew that already. Not everyone has to wait six months to know they're in love."

"And not everyone has to have sex to prove they're in love," Buffy countered. "And if you really fell for the 'If you loved me you'd do it' line, you really aren't old enough to be having it."

"Of course not! I'm not just some stupid girl. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't wanted to."

"Good, but the bottom line is, Dawn, if you want to be treated like an adult around here, you have to take the responsibility that goes with it."

"We were responsible!"

"I'm not talking about using a condom. Although, that's a must, obviously, but there's more to it than that. We have girls younger than you living here. Impressionable girls filled to the brim with Slayer hormones. Their parents are trusting Giles' fake school to take care of them. What are they gonna think, worse, what are they gonna do if Miranda or Cici or Alison see you running around having sex with Reece all willy-nilly and figure it's okay for them to do it too? I'll tell you. At the very least they're gonna drag the girl home and leave her vulnerable to any nasty that wants to pick off a fresh-faced, under trained Slayer. Or worse, they'll tell the police that their precious, innocent daughter is being corrupted by all the underage sex going on under the school's roof!"

Dawn was listening quietly, but from her expression Buffy could tell she was just using her quiet time to think up as many arguments to her logic as she could.

"Giles is already dancing on a tightrope as far as getting this 'school' approved by the authorities goes. The new Council is a house of cards right now, Dawnie, and trust me; it won't take a lot to knock it down. Even the wrong kind of rumors could do it, let alone one serious evaluation by someone looking for trouble. Do you get that?"

"I think you're over-reacting."

Buffy sighed. "I'm not; and you thinking that just proves you're not as ready as you think you are to make the kinds of mature decisions you've been making recently."

Dawn just scowled at her.

"I know it sounds like it, but that wasn't a criticism. It's just a fact. Those three girls look up to you, and we all need you to lead them by example, as responsibly as possible."

That got to her. Buffy saw Dawn's expression soften just a touch before she broke her obstinate stare and looked down at her bedcovers.

Buffy softened her tone too. "And even if you don't think you owe it to me, you owe Giles a little responsibility too for giving you a home. Which, incidentally, you won't have anymore if the 'school' gets shut down and he has to move back to England."

The dark bedroom was silent for a few moments until Dawn muttered, "We really were just kissing tonight."

"Well, that's good," Buffy said at length. "Kissing is good. I have no problem with you kissing him all you want. Just, please, keep it to that for the next year... or three. Three years is good." Dawn looked up at her in disbelief and Buffy smiled to show she was sort of joking. "And kissing with clothes on is preferable; especially if you're in the garden; actually that's a good tip no matter what age you are."

Dawn ducked her head again, embarrassed. "I didn't think anyone else would be out there. Craig came in and started complaining about us kissing and we were sort of... caught up in the moment," she explained in a small voice.

"I know how that one goes," Buffy admitted with a weary sigh. There was another minute of silence, during which she thought about her own reckless behavior in the woods. Shaking it away, she asked, "Did you enjoy the party?"

"I think interesting would be the best word to describe it. Did you slay the monsters?"

"Actually, no, we partied with them," Buffy gave a rueful chuckle. When Dawn looked up at her in surprise, she added. "It's a long story. I'll explain in the morning."

"Okay. Well, as much as I've enjoyed our little sister chat... not, I'm going to sleep now." She lay back down, arranging the covers so they were tucked under her chin.

"Fair enough. I'll see you in the morning." Buffy remembered why she'd actually come in here as she walked to the door. "Kennedy and Will had a bit of a disagreement earlier. Is it okay if Ken crashes in here so they can both get some cooling off time?"

Dawn half sat up again. "Oh my God, they didn't split up, did they?"

"To tell you the truth, I don't know, and I don't think they do either. But it's late. We should get some sleep and deal with it in the morning. Things will probably be okay then." Buffy honestly didn't know if she believed that or not, but she didn't want Dawn worrying about it at this time of night.

Dawn slowly lay back down. "Yeah, tell her she can sleep in here if she wants."

"Thanks. Goodnight." Buffy let herself out of Dawn's bedroom door into the hall.

She wanted to take her own advice and go to sleep, but there was one more thing she had to do first. Quietly she went down the back stairs to the kitchen. It was empty, but the door to the Magic room wasn't completely closed. Walking to it, Buffy tapped gently a couple of times and poked her head around.

Willow looked up and over her shoulder at the tapping. She gave Buffy a wan smile before turning back to her laptop.

"Can I come in?" Buffy asked, already entering.

"Sure."

Buffy pushed the door to again. "How are you feeling?"

"I've been better, but hot cocoa helps." Willow lifted a full steaming mug to demonstrate and then set it back on its coaster. "If you're looking for Faith, she's in the garden. Smoking herself to death."

Buffy glanced around at the walls of spell ingredients, magical apparatus and mystical charts and texts as she wandered closer to the desk. It was Willow's space, Buffy rarely came in here. It was cozy; in a trippy, incense-smelling way. The canary yellow curtains across the small window shut the darkness outside and the desk lamp and laptop screen together provided a bright, but soft light.

"I'm not. You have it looking nice in here," Buffy said quietly as she stopped at the desk beside the witch.

"Welcome to my bolthole," Willow murmured, her eyes not leaving the web page she was scrolling slowly down. "And possibly my bedroom now. Pity there's not actually room for a bed."

Buffy hesitated. "You still have a bedroom. Kennedy's staying with Dawn tonight."

"Figures," Willow muttered, not sounding happy about it.

"I think she thinks you want it that way."

"Yeah, well, that's Kennedy. Why ask me when she can save time by making my lines up in her head?"

"Don't you think that's a bit harsh?" Buffy asked gently.

The look Willow gave her plainly said no. "But you obviously do so let's just not talk about it."

Buffy put her hand on Willow's shoulder, trying to get her to look away from the laptop again. "I just meant Kennedy's hurting right now too."

"Well why don't you go comfort her some more then," Willow grumbled petulantly.

"Will, are you mad at me?"

"Why would I be mad at you?"

Buffy leaned her butt against the edge of the desk, regarding her best friend closely and partially blocking her view of the laptop screen. Willow still resolutely refused to look at her.

"I'm sorry if it looked like I was taking sides earlier," Buffy said carefully. "I wasn't. You believe that, right?"

"Generally I only believe what I see with my own eyes. So, no, not really."

"I wasn't taking sides," Buffy said firmly. "Kennedy just took me by surprise and then you ran off... Would you look at me please?"

"I'm busy."

"You're looking six inches to the left of the screen!" Buffy reached behind her and closed the top down with a tap.

"Hey!" Willow looked at her angrily.

Buffy capitalized on the attention. "You know if I was going to take sides it would be yours."

"Yeah, I really felt the team spirit out there."

"What would you prefer, Will? Me, you and Xander ganging up on Kennedy just because you have a fight? What? Shall we de-pants her while she's shouting orders at the new girls? Make her run laps with a wedgie? Stick a sign saying 'kick me' on her back before she goes out on patrol?"

Willow smiled at that last one, but then resolutely quashed it. "I don't want anyone ganging up on her, but Xander's already joined Team Kennedy anyway. So have you by the looks of it. And that's fine, whatever you both want." She stared sullenly at her laptop, skimming her fingers over the smooth cover.

Buffy used one finger to tip Willow's chin up. "I am perfectly satisfied with my Team Willow membership, thank you. Now, do you wanna talk about what's really bothering you or not, because I'm too tired for any more snippiness tonight."

"Well, all I got is snippy."

Buffy sighed. "Do you realize how childish you're being?"

Willow turned to her once again. "I'm being childish?" she asked incredulously.

"Well, I'm not and you're the only other one here!"

"I meant Kennedy," Willow snapped. "She's acting like an immature, jealous brat, and you accuse me of being the childish one! That's wonderful. Tell me that quaint little story about how you weren't taking sides again?"

"Kennedy did a really stupid thing tonight. She did. You know it, I know it, she knows it. But can't even a part of you see why she did it?"

"I know why she did it. She was jealous of Oz. That's not a good enough reason to do something so stupid."

"Haven't you ever done anything really stupid because you were jealous?" Buffy asked. "I know I have. Tonight, for instance. Rubbing a Wolfman's belly, even over his shirt, is not a memory I'm gonna get rid of in a hurry... unfortunately," she added with a shudder. "Or the other week when I kissed Naomi because Faith was getting pizza with..."

"You kissed Naomi!" Willow almost shot out of her seat.

"Oh." Buffy's eyes went wide and she gave an embarrassed chuckle. "Forgot I hadn't told you that one. Anyway, the point is jealousy can make you act like a complete idiot; it brings out the worst side in people, but Kennedy's basically a good person, right? You wouldn't have been together this long if you didn't think so. Are you really sure you wanna give up what you guys have just because she let her emotions get the better of her tonight?"

"Did she ask you to come down here and defend her?"

"What, no!" Buffy sat back in surprise. "Of course not."

"Of course not? So she still thinks I'm the one in the wrong?"

Buffy held her hands up in surrender. "I'm not making this any better, am I?"

"What gave it away?"

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

Willow opened the cover of her laptop up again and recalled the web page she'd been browsing. Class dismissed. Buffy glanced at the screen and saw the professional website of the Werewolf lady they'd visited that morning. The page listed the types of disorders she worked with; Buffy briefly wondered which category Faith fell into before dismissing it as more extra-curricular Oz-stuff. Maybe Willow didn't want to talk about Kennedy because she'd already chosen her ex instead.

"Do you want me to just go away?" Buffy asked helplessly next.

Willow nodded silently, never looking up from her reading.

Buffy hung her head for a moment, feeling twice as tired as she had before she'd entered the Magic room.

"Alright," she said eventually and pushed herself off the desk. "Goodnight."

"I'm not mad at you," Willow said softly before Buffy could open the door. "I just can't talk about this anymore tonight. Sorry."

Buffy paused, fiddling with the doorknob. "That's okay."

Seeing Willow's shoulders slump low as she ran a shaky hand through her hair, Buffy walked the few steps back to Willow. Squeezing her shoulders gently with both hands, she dropped a kiss on top of her head and felt Willow shudder with suppressed emotion.

"But when you do..." Buffy murmured. "...just come and find me, 'kay?"

Willow nodded slightly, and her returning "'Kay" was barely audible.

Giving her shoulders one last squeeze, Buffy left the room.

In the kitchen she stopped to take a deep breath and let it out slowly. That had been painful. With that in mind, she looked out of the window. Faith was just visible sitting on the picnic bench with her back to the house. Every twenty seconds or so there was a short orange trail as she lifted her hand to flick the ash away to her side.

Buffy watched maybe seven or eight of these as her heart beat faster and her palms grew damp, deliberating over what to do. In the end she let a gigantic yawn make up her mind for her, and with heavy feet she went back up the stairs.

When Buffy made it back to her own room Kennedy was sprawled out on top of the bed covers, fast asleep judging by the snoring. Fully clothed, right down to her boots.

Buffy sighed as she toed off her furry slippers, wondering how her night had ended up like this. Okay, she might have contemplated sharing her bed tonight with a hot, inebriated slayer, but firstly: wrong slayer, and secondly: way more inebriated than she'd had in mind.

Also, the snoring had to go.

"Ken?" She went to the end of the bed and picked up a boot, giving it a little shake. "Ken?"

"Sorry, sorry," Kennedy mumbled, but no change to the situation became apparent; for all intents and purposes, the girl was still fast asleep.

Giving up, Buffy decided to just do what she could to make the circumstances more bearable and then go to sleep herself. It was late. She was tired, upset, irritable and fed up. Sleep was probably the only thing that would make her feel better at this point and so she was fully prepared to welcome it with open arms, unexpected bedfellow or not.

Dirty boots on the bed, though, were a Buffy no-no. She loosened the laces on first one and then the other without Kennedy stirring. As she started to tug them off though, she got a mumbled, "Gerroff!" She ignored it and the boots thudded softly to the floor as there was a gentle tap on her bedroom door.

Buffy closed her eyes, groaning inwardly. There were only two people that might be, and she didn't really have the energy to deal with either of them right now. She thought about ignoring it altogether, but if it was Willow deciding she was ready to talk after all that would make this innocent thing thrust upon her look highly suspicious - and she really didn't have the energy for that!

She walked to the door slowly and opened it to see Faith fidgeting on the other side.

"Hey, I saw you go talk with Red." Faith's eyes flicked to Kennedy quickly and then back to her. "I just came to see if you were alright?"

"Other than having an unforeseen bed-guest for the night, I'm fine," she lied, not even trying to muster a smile.

"You don't look it."

Buffy shrugged.

"Can I come in for a while?" Faith asked hopefully.

"No."

"Not even for five minutes," Faith teased, taking a step closer and reaching for Buffy's waist.

Buffy stepped back, avoiding her. "As you can see, that's not exactly convenient right now."

Faith let her arms drop as her shoulders slumped. "Well, do you wanna come to my room?"

Buffy looked away, shaking her head. "Do you really think I'm interested in making out with you right now?"

Now Faith looked guarded. "Why wouldn't you be? Wait, I get it. You're still sore about the whole Drac thing?"

"Of course I'm still sore about it! It only happened five minutes ago. So sue me if I don't feel like fooling around with you when I still have the image of you drooling all over Count Dracula at the forefront of my brain!"

"It was thrall, Buffy! You said so! So why don't you get over yourself and give me a freakin' break?"

"Yeah, well you didn't have to be quite so enthralled, did you? Especially when I was sitting right there. I told you to stay away from him, didn't I? But no, you knew better, never mind the fact that you knew I didn't like him, which should have made you want to stay away anyway, or you know, stake him even! No, you go and sit on his lap! You flash you neck about and go all 'Ooh, look at my stitches; ooh, look at my vampire bite, ooh, look at my nice, throbbing jugular!"

Faith just looked at her funny, clearing checking for signs of sanity and coming up empty. Obviously deciding there was no reasoning with a crazy lady, she tried a different approach.

"Okay, you know what? I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I should have listened to you. I was an idiot and I let myself get thralled. It won't happen again."

"No, next time it will be something else," Buffy said with too much certainty. "And the time after that it will be something else again."

"What exactly are you saying here?" Faith asked, sounding slightly worried now. "Are you gonna break up with me over something as stupid as this?"

"No. Because it's a little hard to break up with you when we're not even together in the first place."

"What?"

"We're not together yet, remember? We're just getting to know each other better, seeing if we'll work. And after tonight...?" Buffy gave a gentle shrug as she left the sentence there.

"We felt pretty together in the woods," Faith said defiantly.

"That was before... and it was clearly a mistake."

"I did nothing wrong tonight!" Faith said, her voice rising with her anger. "So don't come the frigid bitch with me again just 'cause you've sobered up!"

"Keep your voice down!" Buffy looked over her shoulder at Kennedy, but she still seemed to slumbering noisily. "And if that's your attitude, I think this conversation is over."

"My attitude?" Faith asked in disbelief, pointing at herself. "You're the one who seems determined to screw all this up. You wanna tell me why?"

"Not really, no."

"Why the hell not?"

"Because I'm tired and I don't really feel like having this conversation with an audience." Buffy hiked her thumb towards the bed.

"So come to my room," Faith said again. "Not to do stuff, just to talk this shit out before I explode. And you can sleep in there too if you want. I don't snore."

"No, I don't want to," she said simply. "I've had a long day, a really long day, and I'm beat and, rightly or wrongly, I'm angry right now and I don't think anything good is gonna come out of us continuing this conversation tonight."

"Ya don't, huh?"

"No, I don't. It can wait until tomorrow."

"And what about what I want?" Faith demanded.

Buffy rolled her eyes, groaning. "God, don't start this again."

"I'm serious, B. I'm asking you a perfectly reasonable question and I'll settle for a short answer, but you won't even give me that much, will you?"

"After you just called me a bitch, I'm not feeling all that inclined to give you anything," Buffy said. "I don't like being spoken to like that by people I'm in relationship with."

"Well as you just helpfully pointed out, we're not in a relationship," Faith sneered.

"Really good answer, Faith," Buffy sneered back and started to close the door. "I'm going to bed."

Faith's hand lashed out, holding the door open. "Yeah, well, I'm getting a little sick of having to come up with good answers for every one of your neuroses. I'm supposed to be your girlfriend, Buffy, not your fuckin' shrink!"

"My neuroses? I'm not the one being forced into 'voluntary' therapy!" Buffy snapped back.

Her words hung in the air between them, too late to be taken back. Buffy held her breath, cringing on the inside.

"Screw this," Faith stepped out of the doorway.

Buffy reached out a hand to stop her. "Look, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that. I'm dead on my feet and it's making me irritable and I know I'm blowing our argument out of proportion, but I just can't seem to help it right now."

Faith stared coldly at her, still on the verge of walking away.

"So please can we just stop for the night and pick this back up in the morning when I feel saner and calmer?" Buffy continued into her frosty silence.

"Well I guess if that's what you wanna do, that's what I'm doing."

"Faith," Buffy implored. "Please, I just want to go to bed."

All she wanted to do right now was introduce her head to her pillow. She'd never asked to get into all this tonight. If Faith had just waited until the morning, the whole conversation would have been totally different, and probably a lot more relationship-friendly. But Faith had pushed, and Buffy had given in to her urge strike back for Faith's indiscretion and now here they were.

"Yeah, I bet you do." Faith's eyes glanced past her again to Kennedy. "Bet you two just can't wait to get with the comfort snuggles, huh?"

"Don't be ridiculous!" Buffy spat, giving Kennedy an embarrassed glance.

"What a surprise," Faith grinned nastily. "When I'm being a little friendly under thrall, that's a breaking up offense, but when you're sharing a bed with another chick, a chick you kissed a few weeks ago, I'm ridiculous for thinking that's a bit... inappropriate."

"That's because you know there's nothing to worry about!" Buffy insisted.

"Oh, but you were really convinced that I was gonna run off to Transylvania to start a little Vampire family?"

"I was never gonna break up with you over it!"

"Whatever."

"Look, I promise we'll talk through it all in the morning."

"Yeah, maybe."

Buffy didn't like the sound of that. "What do you mean, maybe?"

"It means don't count on me being in the mood to talk in the morning." Faith turned and walked off down the hallway.

No, she definitely didn't like the sound of that. Buffy watched her walk away for a second before calling out, a little too desperately, "What about your goodnight kiss?"

Faith flipped her the bird over her shoulder without slowing down and then she turned the corner out of sight.

"Damn," Buffy muttered, wondering if she should go after her.

In the end, after standing in the corridor for five minutes, getting colder and wearier, she decided not to. Faith was just being grouchy because she wasn't getting any tonight after all, and Buffy wasn't about to start giving into that kinda crap.

'I am too controlling!' she mused as she softly closed her bedroom door and walked to the bed. 'But I'm doing it for the good of us, in the long run. Faith just has to realize that.'

Not exactly in a gentle manner she pushed Kennedy to the far side of the bed so that she could get under the covers on her side. The light was out and her head was finally meeting her pillow when Kennedy murmured,

"You okay?"

"Not really," Buffy admitted. "How much of that did you hear?"

"Most of it." Kennedy rolled onto her back. "On account of you not exactly whispering."

"Yeah, well believe me, it wasn't exactly a conversation I wanted to have tonight at all."

"Yeah, I coulda lived quite happily without the conversation I had with Willow tonight, too."

"Well, to be fair, yours was less conversation, more getting into fights and throwing things," Buffy pointed out.

"True, but I had a little more to be upset about than my girl acting all flirty while under the influence of some hocus pocus thrall shit."

Buffy rolled onto her back too. "No you didn't. That's exactly what you had to be upset about."

Kennedy pointed a finger at the ceiling, being as dramatic as possible while lying down. "Yeah, but my sitch escalated. It might have started off with Willow just being flirty and kissy, but now she's moved on to cuddling with him in her underwear - without the excuse of pocus too!"

"Were they really cuddling?" Buffy asked, sympathetically.

Kennedy sighed. "Honestly? I don't know. I just know I didn't like that I saw and... decided to ask questions later."

"I'm so scared of letting Faith hurt me, that I can't seem to stop hurting her," Buffy said quietly.

"And I'm so scared of losing Willow, I can't drive her away fast enough," Kennedy whispered back.

The darkness was silent for a moment before they both started chuckling softly.

"We still seem to be stuck on sucky loser square number one, don't we?" Kennedy said.

"Every time we climb a ladder away from patheticness, there does seem to be a slippery snake waiting right there, yes," Buffy sighed.

"So are we the good guys or the bad guys in this, because I can't even tell anymore."

"We're the good guys," Buffy said firmly, but then with less certainty "I think. We must be, right? All we want is to be happy with them and have them be happy with us. They're the ones making it all difficult."

"Valid," Kennedy nodded.

"I thought so."

The two slayers lay in silence for a while. Buffy settled the covers around her more comfortably. Kennedy linked her fingers behind her head, crossing her legs at the ankle as she stared at the dark ceiling thoughtfully.

"So, do you wanna screw to get back at them?" Kennedy suddenly asked.

Surprisingly amused, or amusingly surprised, Buffy asked, "Each other?"

Kennedy turned her head, and Buffy could see her grin in the moonlight coming through the gap in her curtains. "Well, we're the only two here."

Buffy smirked. "I'm thinking that might push us towards the bad guy side."

"That a no?"

"'Fraid so."

"Good, 'cause I'm freaking exhausted." Kennedy laughed and rolled over to face the other way. "G'night, Buff."

"That's fine. You can sleep there. No problem," Buffy groaned sarcastically, but couldn't help smiling when all she received was a chuckle. "If you're gonna stay you might as well get under the covers."

"Thanks," Kennedy mumbled against the pillow. "But it's probably more sensible to just stay where I am."

"True. Getting..." Slow snores stopped Buffy from adding anything else. "Oh, that's just great."

Rolling her eyes, she turned over herself and tried to get comfortable. Lying there, waiting for sleep, her mind inadvertently ran through her exchange with Faith.

'She called me her girlfriend!' she suddenly realized, smiling into her pillow. 'That's a first.'

Maybe it was a silly thing to focus on now, Faith might not even feel the same after their argument, but it felt monumental. It was a sign - bigger than her sweet words about trust earlier, which at the party Buffy had been starting to think were just to get in her pants - that Faith was serious about her.

Pity she'd blown it before the sentiment had even sunk in, but it was still enough for her to fall asleep with a smile on her face. The rest they could work out in the morning.

Hopefully.


Willow opened her bedroom door and looked around the empty room dejectedly.

It wasn't completely empty. Goorzar was in her bed, gnawing at the plastic side fretfully. She looked up in anticipation when the door opened, but seeing it wasn't her Mommy, she immediately went back to the gnawing; little whimpers escaped her and her eyes followed Willow as she moved around the room getting ready for bed.

"Kenny deserted you too, huh?" Willow sympathized as she pulled on her pajamas on the other side of the room.

Goorzar made a strange little bleating sound and buried her head under her blanket.

"Don't feel bad. She still loves you," Willow promised. "She's just not thinking straight right now."

She brushed her hair as she stared at the bookcase recently refilled with books, remembering the night before when she'd been so sure she and Kennedy were finally making progress.

Giving a quiet, humorless chuckle, she muttered, "Boy, was I wrong."

But where had they gone wrong? She honestly didn't know. She'd never stopped caring for Kennedy, never stopped inching cautiously into love with her. Maybe that's what she'd done wrong; she'd been too cautious, but, hello, she had good reason!

And coming out and saying the words wasn't something that should be done lightly, because what if she'd made a mistake... like she so obviously had!

Willow didn't really believe that, as much as she wanted to, but Kennedy had changed over the past couple of weeks. She'd been totally supportive about finding Oz, right until he showed up. And the lust spell induced kiss obviously hadn't helped anything, but Willow hadn't meant for that to happen. Kennedy had kissed Buffy and she wasn't holding that against her!

"Maybe I should," she said to Goorzar as she rubbed moisturizer onto her arms. "Maybe me not being jealous enough is what made her so jealous."

There was no other reason she could think of. Okay so she'd been spending some time with Oz, but nearly all of it had been work-related and they'd never really been alone. A concession she'd made without Kennedy needing to ask her to, which should have counted for something... but apparently didn't.

Willow shook her head as she recapped the lotion bottle. She wasn't going to stop seeing her friend just because Kennedy didn't like it. Either they were strong enough to survive that or they weren't; and if they weren't maybe they weren't meant to be together. Tara would never have acted like this. And yes, before Goorzar could learn more words than 'Bad girl' and remind her, she knew Kennedy wasn't frickin' Tara, but sometimes it was difficult learning to live with and love someone else.

The bottom line was Tara would have understood and so would Oz have... so why couldn't Kennedy?

"Oz had a point too," Willow mumbled as she turned back her bedcovers. "He never treated me the way Kennedy has recently. Not that she's been treating me bad, just... indifferently."

The last couple of weeks, Kennedy's indifference had hurt so much, and she'd been trying to put a brave face on it, but... maybe what if that had come off as indifferent to Kennedy?

She wished she hadn't thought that; somehow it made it worse. Of course it made it worse. If Kennedy didn't know how she felt then it made a little sense of her actions tonight. It didn't condone them, no way, but maybe Willow could see it, just a little.

"I nearly killed Veruca," she said in a small voice. "I couldn't do it, but for a moment, or several, I wanted to."

She sat on the edge of her bed staring into space until Goorzar gave an extra loud whimper. She looked down at the baby demon to see her just poking her head out of her blanket. Only her nose and eyes were visible and she gave Willow a look more pitiful than she had seen on any human.

In her raspy tone, she burbled, "Mommy."

"Oh!" Willow's heart broke a little and she slid off her mattress to land next to the dog bed. "You just said Mommy for the first time! She still loves you, Sweetie. She just can't be here right now, because.. because... she, uh, can't. But you'll see her in the morning, I promise. I'm here though."

"Wizzow," Goorzar burbled as she climbed from her bed to crawl onto Willow's lap.

"Oh! Oh! You just said Willow!" She returned the cuddle the demon was offering her.

"Mommy," Goorzar mumbled again, burying her furry head in Willow's neck.

"She still loves you," Willow repeated softly as she held her. "And, hopefully, she still loves me too."

"Love-zus," Goorzar burbled as Willow rocked gently from side to side, unexpected tears dampening the demon's thick fur. "Love-zus."


Continue to Episode Nine

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