The sickly yellow blast of magic shot out into the clearing. Separating into thinner tendrils and zigzagging to avoid the Slayers, with a loud crackle it struck each of the thirteen demonic lizards simultaneously.
Faith threw her fist into the air with a cry of: "Yeah, that's the... Whoa!"
As the magic hit the demons she saw it flash, increase and then zip back like Xander's tape measure when he hit release. She tried to jump back out of the way, but there were no longer individual tendrils but a wide, sweeping disk of yellow expanding outwards from each five foot lizard.
She heard Kennedy yell duck, but she was already diving to the ground herself. She rolled over as she landed, ready to shout at the three non-slayers to get down, but seeing Buffy running in towards the demons - Xander's sword raised high to strike - stole her attention.
"B, you idiot! Get..."
The magic was faster than she could speak and with a sound effect straight out of a Batman comic - Pow! - the blast hurled her backwards so far and fast that Faith lost sight of her.
Slightly panicked, she didn't even think to move as she just stared into the woods after her. "Buf..."
She heard Xander call out, "Oh damn!", a "Good Lord!" from Giles and Kennedy screaming out: "Willow!"; and cut her eyes back to the group in time to see all three of them get hit by the magic and flung out of sight.
Kennedy was up, ready to run after them.
Faith flipped upright and grabbed her arm. "Wait. The demons."
"To hell with the demons."
"If we don't take advantage of the magic, then they just got blasted to Kingdom Come for nothing," Faith reasoned, and she wanted a cookie for it later because she was feeling about as unreasonable as Kennedy was acting.
"And if we don't go after them they might actually end up in Kingdom Come for real," Kennedy reasoned back.
"Yeah, and if we don't kill the demons a hell of a lot more people might be joining them."
"My first priority is to my friends." Kennedy tried to pull away.
Faith held on as she countered that argument. "Your first priority is to the innocents that are gonna get eaten if we leave them alive."
"What do you know about protecting innocents? I didn't think you even believed in the concept."
Kennedy finally got her arm away as Faith let it slip through her fingers at the jibe.
Sounded like Buffy had been talking about her again. Pity she never seemed to talk about her good points. Okay so they were fewer and further between than her bad ones - especially if Buffy was telling tales about their past - but surely their rarity should have made them more interesting topics of conversation.
"Let's just say I've been doing this a lot longer than you, Kenny, and I know what I'm talking about."
"Just because you've spent four years fighting your inner demons in prison doesn't make you an expert at the slayer gig, you know?"
Faith's mouth opened, but for a second she wasn't entirely sure how to respond. She even almost smiled at the kid's audacity. She didn't believe in pulling any punches, that was for sure. Faith had to respect that, even though it pissed her off. In the end she shook it off. Brat had a point and knocking her on her ass for making it would only make her look petty; and she didn't need that right now.
"Yeah, well kiddo, four months patrolling around this second rate Hellmouth don't make you one neither. So I'm calling rank by number of years served: I say, you do, got it?"
They stared each other down, until Faith suddenly remembered something.
"Hey, did you catch the complete lack of demons tearing us apart right now?"
Kennedy went to retort on instinct, but then the actual question sunk in. "Yeah."
They both looked around cautiously.
Faith couldn't see or sense any demons in the area any longer. The clearing was empty aside from the two of them standing in the center and the woods around them were dark and still.
"Did they run off or did the magic make them disappear?" Kennedy asked, turning on the spot to check all around.
Faith shook her head. The last thing she'd seen was the magic slamming Buffy and her Besties through the air at high speed. Now that the demons were gone, how didn't matter, she could turn her attention to finding the others and making sure they weren't hurt or... the other thing.
"You go that way," she instructed as she pointed through the trees in the direction Xander had disappeared. "I'm going this way. Red and Giles should be somewhere in the middle. Stay within shouting distance in case those green bastards are still around."
"I'm agreeing because it's a good plan, not because it's you telling me to do it," Kennedy grumbled as she started towards the woods.
"I'll make sure that goes on the record," Faith muttered sarcastically as she did the same.
There was a crashing of dead, brown undergrowth in the direction Faith had chosen and they both tensed, expecting a demon to emerge. It didn't, but a short blonde did.
"The green bastards went that way," Buffy slurred as she stumbled drunkenly out of the trees. "Ran right by me."
Striding over, Faith took one of Buffy's elbows to keep her steady. "You saw them? Why didn't you stop them?"
Buffy turned her head slowly to blink at her. "I'm sorry; I was too busy trying to remember which end of me to put on the ground. What was your excuse?"
"Kennedy." Faith said, feeling that it explained everything simply.
"Handful, isn't she?" Buffy smiled affectionately.
Stone-faced, Faith let go of her elbow. "Like that, do you?"
"Yeah," Buffy said absently, swaying as she watched Kennedy rush to take an unconscious Willow from a staggering Xander.
"Guess you don't need me then. More than a handful being a waste and all that."
Faith walked off to give Giles - who was just lurching into the clearing - a shoulder to lean on.
"Kinda reminds me of you, but without the low down..." Buffy continued with a dreamy smile on her face as she turned to where Faith was no longer standing. "...tickle. Where'd you... Oops."
Hearing the thud behind her, Faith turned to see Buffy face down on the grass. It didn't look like she'd even tried to catch herself, but she couldn't have done much damage because she was giggling.
Giles was wobbly on his feet, but he didn't seem as loopy as Buffy. He'd been further from the backlash of magic. Willow hadn't been that close either, but she was like the magic tamer - she was always gonna get mauled the worst when it turned.
"She's unconscious, but she sounds like she's breathing fine," Kennedy said, still looking worriedly at the witch in her arms.
"Her pulse is strong," Xander added. "Let's just get her to the car."
For every few steps forward he took he was taking a couple of steps sideways. He checked his reeling with his arms out for balance, only to reel to the other side on his next attempt.
With the way he was going, they would wind up in Lake Erie before they made it to the car.
"What the hell was that spell?" she asked as she led Giles over to Xander and made them support each other. "I thought it was just meant to leave 'em vulnerable to us killing them."
"Well, it was supposed to be," Giles said as he and Xander meandered this way and that into the trees with their arms around each other for stability. "But, it would seem that not only were they protected from physical attacks, they were also protected from..."
"Magic?" Kennedy guessed.
"It would appear so," Giles replied sheepishly.
"But why's it... why's it making us...?" Xander asked, his speech disrupted by the bush he'd walked himself and Giles into. "... stupid thing. Like this?"
"I don't know. Willow will be able to tell us more, I'm hoping, when she wakes up. Xander, we clearly cannot go directly through the bush!"
Faith chuckled, letting them all sort themselves out and walk ahead as she stopped beside Buffy's prone form. She nudged her arm with the toe of her boot.
"Think you can stand?"
"I don't know," came the muffled reply. "How's that one go again?"
"Tell ya what?" Faith squatted down next to her. "I'll hum a few bars and you join in when you remember it."
"Okay. I'll name that tune in..." Faith grabbed her under the arms and dragged her upright. "...Whoa, head rush!"
She sagged, but Faith kept her on her feet. "Think you can walk?"
Buffy leaned against her for a moment and it looked doubtful, but then her head seemed to clear and she stood upright under her own steam.
"Yeah, just give me a sec for the spinning to stop." She was swaying again, her arms out slightly to keep her steady as she took a few deep breaths. "Wooo. Next time we have a party, we should just buy a keg of that spell. Okay, I'm good." She stood up straight and swung an arm out in gesture. "Lead the way."
Faith watched her warily, but Buffy grinned in encouragement, gesturing again. Nodding, she turned to follow the others to the car.
Rolling her eyes and biting back a grin, Faith turned slowly back around.
"Okay, Giggles, that's it." She rolled Buffy over with her boot. "You're forcing me to carry you to the car."
"I have no problem with that." On her back now, Buffy was trying unsuccessfully to stifle the laughter still bubbling out of her. "Just promise me you'll be gentle?"
"I'll do my best, Twinkie."
Stooping, she grabbed Buffy's wrist and hauled her up again. Once unsteadily on her feet, Buffy waited patiently to be taken in Faith's arms, but she had other ideas. Bending her knees, she put an arm around Buffy's thighs and boosted her up over her shoulder.
"Okay, I've changed my m-m-mind." Buffy's voice came out a little wavery now that Faith was heading across the grass and into the trees. "I have a p-p-roblem with this."
Faith just grinned and gave Buffy's ass a light smack with her free hand as she kept on walking.
When Kennedy pulled the truck along the side of the house, Faith helped first Giles and then Buffy out of the back of it. Buffy was already starting to feel better, although still a little shaky in her head, but this was possibly the best she and Faith had gotten along recently and she was loath to end it too soon.
As Giles walked slowly to the house, she stayed next to Faith waiting for the others to get out. Xander also seemed a lot better although he held on to the door as helped Willow to the ground. Buffy was pleased she was conscious again, but the witch still looked pale and shaky and didn't let go of Xander once she was on her feet. He kept her steady, but they didn't speak.
Nobody seemed to speak much to each other at the moment unless it was with raised voices or snide comments. It worried Buffy more than a little, but there didn't seem to be a lot she could do about it. The house was divided down strange lines and she supposed that for now she just had to take comfort in the fact that they could all still be there for each other when it really mattered, even if it went back to strained straight afterwards.
Faith caught her eye and nodded her head towards the house. "Think you can walk okay?"
"I think so."
She looked over at Willow next and saw how wobbly she still was. "You want a shoulder to lean on back to the house, Red?"
"It's okay, I've got her." Kennedy finished locking the truck and came around to their side.
Willow didn't object as Kennedy put an arm around her and together they made their way slowly around to the back door with Xander following.
"You ladies coming?" he asked over his shoulder.
"Yeah, we'll just be a minute?" It came out like a question as Buffy looked hopefully at Faith.
Faith was looking back, and her eyes seemed almost as hopeful, but she just muttered. "It's cold out here, B."
"I know, but..."
"What? That spell make ya horny as well as loopy?" Faith smiled.
"No! I just want to talk."
"Well, we can talk in the warm."
"But will we?" Buffy asked doubtfully.
Faith shook her head. "It's late. Maybe tomorrow."
Buffy shook her head too in frustration. "Tomorrow never comes!"
"Don't go getting deep on me," Faith chuckled. "Come on, I'm going in."
Buffy watched her walk away, thinking she was just going to leave her out here, but Faith stopped at the corner of the house and waited patiently until she pushed off of the truck and walked unsteadily after her. Once they were level, Faith put an arm around her shoulders and wordlessly helped her the rest of the way.
"Thanks," she muttered once they were in the kitchen, extricating herself so she could sit down.
Everyone else was already seated except Kennedy who was rooting through the refrigerator. Faith went to stick her head in it too.
Andrew had waited up and was bustling behind the breakfast counter making tea and cocoa. He was the only Scooby - Oh God, had she just called him a Scooby? - the only ex-Sunnydalian who hadn't taken sides in the current tension war. He still fussed over, griped at and generally annoyed everyone equally when he wasn't off doing stuff Buffy didn't want to think too hard about with Ethan Rayne's son.
"So how come you didn't get them?" he was asking. "I gave you all you needed to know."
"Actually you didn't," Kennedy said irritably. Although it was possible she was more irritated with Faith than Andrew; the older Slayer kept pushing her as they both searched for snacks. "Would you stop it?"
"No, I'm hungry too." Faith gave her another little push out of the way as she inspected a tub of sweet chili dip.
"I didn't?" Andrew asked uncertainly.
"You didn't say they were magic," Xander clarified.
"They're not," Andrew replied sure of himself.
"Trust me, they are," Willow told him quietly. She still looked sick, but she was getting a little color back in her cheeks.
"They're not," he repeated obstinately. "Nothing in any of the books said that."
Willow glared at him and he shrank back a little but still looked defiant.
Buffy put her hand over Willow's to get her attention. "Don't waste your energy frogifying him. He'd just be more annoying with all the hopping around and he wouldn't be able to reach the stove."
Willow started to smile, but quashed it and pulled her hand away. "I don't turn people into frogs. I don't turn people into anything unless they really deserve it."
Buffy sat back, rolling her eyes. "Fine, turn me into whatever you think I deserve if it'll make you feel better and end this silly fight."
With the way Willow looked at her, Buffy thought she was going to regret her flippant remark, but Giles cleared his throat before she turned into a rat or a snake or a pile of dog dirt.
"Ladies please, we have more important matters to discuss." As Andrew started putting mugs and cups on the table, Giles looked up at him. "The demons we battled tonight may not have been magical themselves, but they were most certainly impervious to magic. Are you sure none of the texts you and Naomi read mentioned anything like that?"
"I'm sure." Andrew never slowed down his table service but he was deep in thought for a few moments. "There were records of magic being used successfully against them so how could they be impervious? Are you sure it was the Meluthian Hedrays you were fighting?"
"Yes they fit the rest of your description perfectly," Giles assured him.
Andrew wore a proud smile, but Buffy shook her head as she took her cocoa from him.
"Don't preen just yet. You still missed the can't be killed by magic bit."
Andrew deflated. "I didn't miss it! It wasn't there."
Kennedy came back to the table munching on a carrot as Faith, head still in the fridge, demanded,
"Why do you have no decent food in here, Andrew?"
"Well they've scarpered now anyway so let's just figure it out in the morning," Xander said through a yawn.
"Yeah, sleep is definitely needed before I help puzzle out this puzzler," Willow backed him up as she sipped from her lemon tea.
Giles agreed too. "Yes, fresher heads will prevail, I'm sure." He stood up with his tea cup. "Goodnight everyone, I'm afraid I must retire."
"Don't you want...?" Andrew began, but Giles had already left the kitchen.
"Yeah I gotta hit the sack too," Xander decided, wearily getting to his feet.
"But I..." Andrew began again.
Xander cut him off. "Don't wake me when you come in, Andy, or I might just have to kill you."
"I'll try not to." Andrew forlornly watched him leave the room.
Faith came back to the table with the dip and a bag of plain chips and took the seat Giles had left next to Buffy.
"Hungry, B?" She shoved the dip towards her.
Buffy just wrinkled her nose, but Willow quickly covered her mouth and stood up.
"I need to go and lay down."
"Are you okay?" Buffy and Kennedy asked at the same time.
She ignored Buffy, but answered Kennedy. "I think so. I just need to be somewhere quiet and horizontal for a while."
"Okay, well if you need..." Kennedy let the sentence peter out.
They silently shared a look.
Willow dropped her gaze first. "Thanks for looking after me earlier."
Kennedy didn't answer but she was still looking at Willow even if Willow wasn't looking back. After more silence, Kennedy watched Willow walk up the back stairs.
Once she was out of sight, Kennedy sighed heavily and stood up herself. "'Night."
Andrew tried to step in front of her. "Don't go yet."
"No point staying awake for the sake of it now," she said as she grabbed the remains of her carrot and walked around him. "You should probably go up soon too. You know what happened last time Goorzie tried to get in bed with Xander."
"But..." he began, but she was already walking out of the back door.
"Okay, well I guess the debriefing is over then." Buffy smiled as she stood up, her eyes lingering on Faith as she shoved chips covered in dip into her mouth. "And I'm really tired so..."
She yawned on cue and stepped away from the table, hoping Faith would take the hint and get up and do the same. She didn't.
Disappointed, she continued. "Okay, night guys."
"'Night," Faith said without looking up.
"Aren't you hungry?" Andrew asked, slightly pleading.
"Not really." She wrinkled her nose again at Faith's snack. "Thanks for the cocoa though."
She went up the back stairs slowly, not realizing Faith was watching her now in the same way Kennedy had watched Willow.
Faith slowly crunched up the chips in her mouth and then replaced the lid on the dip. She sat there for a moment staring into space and then pushed her chair back and stood.
"No," he whined. "You can't be full already."
"No, but what am I gonna do," she said and walked swiftly through the kitchen door without looking back.
Andrew slumped against the kitchen counter for a moment before going to the pantry and staring dejectedly at the platters of sandwiches and Buffalo wings he'd prepared as a post-patrol surprise.
Buffy met Willow on the landing as the she was coming from the bathroom.
"You still feeling oogie?"
"Yeah." Willow nodded and tried to walk by her.
Buffy side-stepped to stop her. "I know you want to lie down, but just give me a second, please."
Willow sighed heavily, but waited.
"How long is this going to go on for, Will?"
"You know what. Us barely speaking. I can't stand it."
"Neither can I," Willow admitted in a small voice.
"So why can't we just draw a line under it?" Buffy asked, ducking her head to meet her best friend's eyes.
"Because it's not that simple! You have the hots for Kennedy and I'm not over her yet. Until I am..."
Buffy caught her arm as she interrupted. "I do not have the hots for Kennedy, okay? That's ridiculous!"
"I know what I see!" Willow pulled her arm back.
"I'm in love with Faith!"
"Yeah, well I don't see that! A...and I bet she doesn't either. But I do see you and Kennedy all over each all the damn time."
"We're not all over each other!" Buffy snapped exasperated. "The only reason we spend any time together is because you and Faith won't give us the time of day."
"If you say so." Willow started for her bedroom again. "Sounds like a convenient lie to me though."
"Look, whatever, Buffy. If you and Kennedy want to get together I'll deal with it, okay? Eventually. But not tonight and probably not this year... and you'll just have to deal with that."
"Willow!" Buffy said in a shouted whisper, but the bedroom door shut with no response. "Fine! You know what? I give up. But the real convenient lie here is you thinking there's something going on so you don't have to deal with leaving your girlfriend to be with your ex-boyfriend!"
Buffy waited, listening over her own heavy breathing, but there was still no response from Willow's room. Finally, with a snarl of frustration, she turned to go to her own room and came face to face with Faith. She stopped, staring at her, too angry at the moment to smile or say anything pleasant. So she bit her tongue and didn't say anything at all.
"You really believe that?" Faith asked quietly, gesturing Buffy away from Willow's door.
"About Oz? I don't know," Buffy said as she followed Faith down the hall. "But I definitely believe she's delusional. What are you doing on this side of the house anyway?"
Faith shrugged. "I heard the shouting. Wanted to make sure everything was okay."
"Well, it's not, nothings okay." Buffy stopped outside her bedroom door and Faith stopped with her. "Do you think there's something going on between me and Kennedy?"
Faith looked at her feet for a beat or two before meeting her eyes again. "Not really, I guess. Think there could be if you wanted there to be though."
"I don't," she promised. "And there couldn't be either. Kennedy's as mad about Willow as I am about you."
Faith smiled but she said, "Gotta admit it doesn't look that way most of the time."
"Well it is that way." Buffy pushed her bedroom door open. "Wanna come in for five minutes and let me prove it?" she added with a playful smile.
Faith's eyes lit up at the idea, but then she shook her head. "We got bigger problems than whether you want into Kennedy's pants."
"I don't!" Buffy insisted.
Faith held her eyes for a second before saying, "Still got those bigger problems though."
"Okay, so we'll talk about them," Buffy said hopefully.
"Don't think five minutes will be long enough."
"How's fifteen sound then?"
Faith chuckled softly and ran a hand through her hair. "My first shrink appointment is this week."
"Oh." This was news although it shouldn't have been. "Why didn't you didn't tell me?"
"Only found out myself a couple of days ago and we haven't exactly been talking much."
"You still should have told me."
"It's okay, B, you're not expected to be there or anything. According to Double D the first few are gonna be all about me anyway."
"I'm not worried about that," she said quickly.
Although she was and it was a relief to hear she wouldn't have to go to a session just yet. Faith could see right through her too and smiled knowingly.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Buffy asked, nodding into her room.
"Not right now. I just wanted you to know."
Buffy nodded. "Okay, well if you don't want to talk about us now, maybe you will afterwards."
"Maybe. Probably." Faith shrugged. "I should go. Let you get to bed. That spell seems to have wiped everyone else out."
"Yeah, I am tired," she admitted. "But you can still come in for a while if you want."
Faith hesitated before asking, "Can I spend the night?"
Buffy hesitated also, wishing it felt right to say yes. "I don't, uh, know, like you said, we haven't exactly been, you know, with the talking or being all that friendly... so maybe we should..."
"S'okay, B." Faith held her hands up as she backed away a little. "When you're ready is fine."
"Okay," Buffy said softly, pleased to be let gently off the hook, but a little bothered that Faith was giving in so readily.
"So I guess I'll see you at breakfast," Faith said backing away some more but never dropping eye contact.
"Yeah. Don't you want your goodnight kiss first?" She blurted out before Faith could turn away. It was the first time she'd asked in two weeks.
"Yeah." Faith smiled. "Yeah, I really do." And then she turned and walked away down the hall.
Buffy gazed dreamily after her for a moment or two before going into her room and shutting the door as she grumbled, "Well, why didn't you come and get it then, you moron."
Kennedy eased the barn door open and entered as quietly as she could. Naomi was a motionless lump under her covers; she could hear her faint, muffled breathing even from the doorway. The other beds were all empty and neatly made for a change.
All three of the young slayers had gone home for the two week Thanksgiving break, even Alison who had declined vacation time in the past. It made the camp seem really quiet, but they were all making the most of it while it lasted. After the holiday not only would those three be back, they were expecting more Slayer-babies to join them as well; the fruits of Robin and Giles' recruitment missions.
Also sometime before Christmas the next bunch of Watcher cadets were coming to stay for their two week selection period. Kennedy still hadn't gotten over the last lot yet.
She stripped quickly and pulled her warmest pajamas on. Xander had promised he'd have heat in here before the first snow fell, but if it was getting to the point where she was thinking of buying some thermal underwear to sleep in.
She didn't even bother brushing her hair before she slipped beneath the cold covers of her single bed. What was the point? There was no one in here to see it. Except Nai and she wouldn't care either way if it was stuck up and tangled in the morning.
Lying on her back she stared at the ceiling, knowing sleep wasn't around the corner for her. It had been hard sleeping sharing a bed with Willow those last few weeks, but not as hard as it was being in a bed without her.
She still wanted to put things right, work things out with her, but with every day that passed it was like they were drawing further apart. Sometimes, a lot of the time, she was sure it tore Willow up as much as her, but that didn't stop them from having the same dead arguments dispersed amongst the freezing silences.
It was getting to the point where Kennedy knew something had to drastically give or what they'd had was going to be lost forever. She was stubborn though, and still convinced she was in the right. And so was Willow.
So the question had to be - how did she get past that? How did she get Willow back fair and square so that the cause of their break up was no longer an issue?
There had to be a way.
Willow sat on her bed with her pre-bed stuff laid out on the comforter. She was still feeling dizzy, so standing was bad right now, but she was still going to moisturize her arms and face and brush her hair like normal. Just because she was all alone in their big bedroom now didn't mean she could slack off, right? Such slovenliness at bedtime might creep into other things and then where would she be? A big slovenly mess, that's where!
She finished squirting the white cream up her arms and capped the lotion bottle irritably. She had to stop thinking of it as their bedroom. It was her bedroom now and hanging on to the old terms wasn't helping. She felt a little guilty that it was her bedroom. After all they'd broken up equally. Kennedy might have been the one to say the words, but she hadn't given her even a second to detract them. It had obviously been a mutual thing, even if it felt less than mutual to her most of the time, so it seemed a little unfair that she had automatically gotten to keep the room in the house and Kennedy had had to move into the dorm.
Although, she supposed it made sense. It was a Slayer dorm after all, and Kennedy was a Slayer. Still, it had felt a bit mean and presumptuous and like a way of pointing out that Kennedy wasn't really a part of the family after all.
And she totally was. It was just unfortunate that her free ride into the middle of the gang had come on Willow's shirt tails. But she had been here from the start. She and Willow had picked this room out together. Had chosen the new paint and stuff for it together after it had almost burned down.
Probably though, the loss of the room didn't mean that much to Kennedy. After all, she was still in the inner circle. Buffy made sure of that. With all their little training sessions and private talking sessions and secret slaying sessions... okay, maybe they weren't so secret, but was there a good reason why the two of them had to pair up all the damn time? Shouldn't Buffy want to pair with Faith instead?
Okay, she knew there was a good reason for that. Faith didn't seem to want to slay with Buffy at the moment, and besides, she was taking Alison out nearly every night and Giles would frown if Buffy tagged along. There were other newbie slayers that needed a big sister, though, so why did Buffy always seem to go with Kennedy?
Willow squirted some lotion into her hands ready to do her face and wished she could stop feeling sick for five minutes. Sure, she hadn't done much magic recently - she didn't feel centered enough, and she had a secret fear that this thing with Kennedy would tip her over the edge. It wasn't going to happen. Rationally she knew that. Plus, if it was, she would already be all veiny by now. So she was really just being wary of the big stuff, the stuff that might potentially pack a different punch than it was meant to if she happened to be thinking of Kennedy at the time.
The spell she had performed tonight though shouldn't have had any ill side effects. Even with the way it has lashed back at them like that it shouldn't have had the strength to knock them off of their feet, let alone all this residual yuckiness to boot. It must have been something in the demons that corrupted it. Or if Andrew was right about them not being particularly magical, then maybe something on the demons. If they, or more likely something stronger, had the power to protect them magically, maybe that something had mixed a little something special in with it. Something that could take her magic and turn it into something else more nasty as it was deflected.
She had read through Andrew and Naomi's research too and nothing they had found out suggested the Meluthian Hedray's could do that, but maybe their cousins with the bigger brains could. Or maybe it was something or somebody else.
Ugh. It was all hurting her brain to think about it right now. It could wait until morning like Giles said. She finished rubbing in the last of the lotion and picked up her hair brush as her thoughts returned to Buffy and Kennedy.
She hated arguing with her best friend. It was just wrong. Some of her worst moments in the last seven years had been when she was on the outs with Buffy. What she hated more though was the thought of Buffy and Kennedy getting along when she and Kennedy could barely stand to look at each other. How was that fair? She liked to think she was too mature for jealousy of that nature, but... she obviously wasn't! And that just added to her annoyance.
Surely if Buffy was really her friend she wouldn't be quite so pally with her ex when she knew it burned Willow up inside? It would help - in a totally selfish way, but still - if Buffy and Faith were getting along as well as she and Kennedy weren't, but that wasn't the case. Okay, so they weren't exactly a happy couple right now, far from it, but they were both still hanging in there even if it was from opposite sides of the house.
They acted more like casual acquaintances with a secret crush most of the time, than a couple who had already declared love for each other six months ago, but at least they both knew they were vaguely on the same wavelength.
It felt like she and Kennedy had even lost that much. Even casual conversation was a thing of the past for them. Being in the same room was awkward, the same conversation more so. They couldn't even act professional any more when it came to work stuff, although at least you could say the same for Buffy and Faith on that score, but theirs was more a battle of Slayer wills and she and Kennedy didn't have that excuse.
Shakily she got up from the bed to take the lotion and brush back to her dressing table. If Kennedy was here, she would have done it for her, and then she would have tucked her in too. Just another reason why it sucked that they had broken up.
She missed her so much, all the time, which seemed stupid when they lived in the same house. Why couldn't they just work things out? Why couldn't they just be together again? She had known she was falling for her seriously before all this had happened, but it had taken the last few weeks of distance to point out just how much. And now it seemed too late to fix it. Kennedy was obviously, if not happy, then resigned to things as they were now. She had made no move to try and change things anyway. Neither had she, she knew, but she hadn't been the one to mess things up in the first place.
She wanted to get past that way of thinking - it wasn't helping anyone that was for sure - but she needed something from Kennedy first, something that made her sure putting their difference of opinion behind them was the right thing to do.
She flicked her bedside light on before putting the stuff back and then turned the overhead light off before she made her way back to the bed. Halfway there a sneeze took her by surprise.
"Oh please don't tell me I'm getting sick on top of... hang on a good darn minute!"
She looked about herself with uneasiness and then patted the comforter that was smoothed over her legs. She was pretty sure - as in absolutely - that she hadn't gotten into bed yet, and here she was, all tucked up like her Mom had paid a visit.
It was nice though, and she felt herself relaxing into the bed immediately. She was so tired and ughy feeling and the sheets felt cool against her too warm skin. It would have been nicer if she hadn't been alone, but that was something else she could deal with in the morning. Right now, she just wanted to turn her light off and go to sleep.
She sneezed again so abruptly that she didn't even get her hands over her nose in time. As the fuzzy-sneeze feeling subsided her eyes went wide. Her room was in darkness and she was comfortably on her side, but she couldn't remember accomplishing either task on her own.
"Okay... this is weird."
A couple of days later, Buffy was sitting at the kitchen table with Dawn. They'd made up their fight eventually, with both parties giving a little. Dawn had promised to take the younger members of the camp into consideration when it came to physical displays of affection and Buffy had tentatively agreed to let her get on with it with Reece.
After all, they'd already had sex. The worst that could happen now was pregnancy or sex diseases and Buffy decided she would feel a lot more comfortable with either worry if Dawn knew she could come to her without a lecture.
Naturally, the lecture would happen, but Dawn not knowing that was of the good. So they had made up, neither had broken their agreement yet, and all was right with the Summers sisters once more.
"I just don't get why you want me to go."
"I don't want you to go," Buffy said without looking up from the list she was making. "I just think you should."
"But you're not going," Dawn pointed out in frustration.
Buffy grit her teeth before answering. "Dad didn't ask me."
"He did! He said you can come along too."
"Yeah, as an afterthought." Buffy finally looked up. "I don't need a pity-dad-date thank you very much."
"He just... He doesn't know you're a Slayer. So... he just thinks you're a little weird," Dawn winced in apology.
"Great. Thanks. I'm weird and my Dad doesn't know how to relate to me so he just forgets I'm his first born."
"It's not like that. He hasn't forgotten about you!"
"No, he just acts like it." Buffy went back to her list.
"Mom thought you were weird before she knew."
"Yes, but she still loved me unconditionally."
"She threw you out!"
Buffy looked up again, glaring.
"Well she did. And then you told her and she got used to it. Maybe you should tell Dad."
"I don't think so, Dawn."
"Because then it wouldn't be a secret identity." Buffy added sage and onions to her list.
"Like it's that anymore anyway," Dawn scoffed.
"It is!" Buffy looked up again. "Mom was used to further the cause of evil more than once, you too, but at least I was here to protect you both. Unless Dad moves to Cleveland I can't do the same for him so it's better he never finds out about me. Or what we do here," she added, making sure Dawn got the point.
"I'm not gonna tell! I never have before, have I?"
"No, but you've never been quite so involved before either. Speaking of, did you do the follow up on the Sekopiluthian Hedray's Giles asked for?"
"Yes, Buffy. It's bad enough you check I do my homework, you don't have to check up on my extra curriculars too."
"Just checking you hadn't forgotten."
"I hadn't. I like doing this stuff."
Buffy smiled at her. "Cool, although a little disturbing. Do you think sweet potato mash, roasted potatoes and tater tots are too many carbs for one sitting? Factoring in the yams and the rolls too, I mean?"
"Well you're cooking for a bunch of slayers. You'll burn them off as soon as you stretch."
"No, there are more non-slayers than slayers." Buffy counted off on her fingers. "Giles, Will, Xander, Craig."
Dawn shook her head. "Craig's going with Andrew to meet his family. Didn't they tell you?"
"No. Does Andrew's family know?"
"I think Craig's going to help him come out."
Buffy chuckled. "Okay, well now I know what I'm giving thanks for."
She looked up as the back door opened and smiled as Naomi came in ahead of Reece.
"Okay, we're ready." Naomi gave her a broad smile back. "Where's Uncle Rubear?"
"He'll be down in a bit." Buffy added something else to her list. "Are you looking forward to the break?"
"Very much." Naomi sat at the table next to her. "I love it here, but I do miss my parents."
"Me too," Buffy muttered to herself.
"What have you got there?" Naomi asked next.
Buffy separated the pieces of paper in front of her.
"This is my shopping list and this..." she waved another sheet around before turning it face down on the table top, "...Is my Mom's secret recipe for turkey."
"There's a secret recipe for cooking a turkey?" Reece asked as he poured himself the last of the coffee in the pot.
"Well I guess it's not really that secret," Buffy said amiably - she was trying for Dawn's sake. "But my Mom used to make a really great turkey and I thought if I kept it a secret from now on it would be something to pass down to my kids - like a family tradition."
"I think that's a great idea," Naomi said.
"Me too," Dawn nodded, giving her sister a smile.
"So who is going to have the kids? You or Faith?" Reece's tone was a little too smug to be genuine curiosity.
"That's none of your business," Naomi said.
"Yeah." Dawn stood up, sliding her arms around his shoulders as she grinned at him. "Mind your beeswax."
Buffy was barely listening. Reece's question had caught her off guard. Which was stupid. It wasn't like she had ever really thought about children before. She had, once upon a time, but Angel's vampireiness had quashed any hope as far as she had been concerned then and she had never really thought about the prospect since. She'd always assumed, since Angel, that if she did want children one day it would sort itself out.
That was a pretty vain hope now that she was with Faith. Not that she was really with Faith, but she wanted to be, and couldn't imagine being with anyone else. Was this something they should talk about or was it better left unmentioned for a while?
Kennedy came through the back door in mussed workout sweats, said a general hi and went to the fridge for a bottle of water. Buffy glanced up as she came back to the table and took a seat at the end.
"What'cha got there?"
Buffy went through the same explanation as before - without the for-my-kids part.
"I was wondering if we were doing anything special. I missed out on Thanksgiving last year."
"Why's that?" Naomi asked.
"Running for my life," Kennedy shrugged. "It'd be nice to do something this year. If anyone has a lot to be thankful for it's us. True, we have a lot to unthankful for too, but still." She winked at Buffy; making her smile.
Giles came into the room next and Dawn reluctantly removed herself from Reece's lips.
"Are we ready?"
They both nodded.
"Our bags are already in the truck, sir."
"Are you sure you don't want to stay?" Dawn asked Reece, her arms still around his neck. "You've never had a proper Thanksgiving before."
"Maybe next year," he said, gently prying her off and taking her hand.
Good luck getting her to let go of that again. Buffy stood up with Naomi and gave her a brief hug.
"Don't forget to come back, okay?"
"I'm already looking forward to it," Naomi assured her as she followed the others out.
Kennedy called after them. "Safe trip, guys."
No sooner had the back door shut, Xander was coming through the swing door. "They gone?"
"Thank God! Two weeks of peace and quiet. Does that make me sound old? You know what? I don't even care if it does. Peace and quiet trumps getting old, wouldn't you say, Buff?"
She looked up just long enough to smile. There was no awkwardness between her and Xander. At least there was no reason for there to be. They still got along. Still hung out when they weren't too busy, but there was always that underlying feeling that they were a twosome when they should be a threesome. She honestly couldn't tell if Xander felt it too, but she was pretty sure if he didn't it was only because he was so far down in the dumps already that he couldn't even tell that things were worse now.
Buffy hadn't brought it up, she wanted to, but she didn't really see the point just at the minute. He and Willow had to make the first step first. Or maybe her and Willow. Willow was definitely the link. Until then, she and Xander might as well just keep on getting along as best as they could.
"Buffy's planning Thanksgiving," Kennedy told him as he sat at the table.
"Why bother? There's only going to be us here."
"Thanks for your enthusiasm," Buffy said.
He shrugged. "Sorry."
She sighed. His attitude was hardly a surprise. He'd sunk further down the happy scale since his argument with Willow and rarely came alive about anything but work. Giles had quietly mentioned Willow's idea of therapy and while she thought it might well be needed, she was wary of it. Two close friends in therapy at the same time might be more than she could deal with emotionally. If Xander had actually agreed to it, she would obviously be less selfish-gal, more supporto-gal, but so far he had done nothing but fight against the idea.
Buffy was thinking about asking Faith to talk to him, but not until after her first few sessions. No point piling the pressure on. Plus if it turned out it wasn't helping Faith, then there was no point encouraging Xander to go.
Think of the devil and Faith came through the back door, also sweaty from running. She looked way more delicious than Kennedy did though. Buffy was instantly all smiles, she couldn't help it. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kennedy smirking at her but studiously ignored it.
"Where've you been?" she asked.
"Here, there and everywhere." She gave Buffy a bright smile in return as she went looking for coffee. Finding the pot empty, she groaned. "Where's the maid?"
"Packing and turning our room upside down in the process last time I saw him," said Xander.
"Well he should be down here when I want coffee," Faith grumbled.
"Do you want me to make you some?" Buffy was already rising from her chair.
"Nah, I'll do it. You look busy."
Buffy sank back down. "I'm just planning the meal for next Thursday. Do you have any special requests?"
"Why would I have any special requests for next Thursday's dinner?" Faith asked, distracted as she made the coffee.
Kennedy rolled her eyes. "It's Thanksgiving."
"It is?" Faith looked up. "Oh, well, in that case, lemme see. Last year I think I had turkey stew and mashed potatoes - I'd rather not ever have to have it again though. The year before was turkey and yam burgers and mashed potatoes - they actually weren't too bad, you know, aside from the stale buns and the mashed potato. The year before that..."
As Faith paused to remember, Kennedy cut in.
"Okay, we get it; your last few Thanksgiving's have sucked. Poor you."
"Well, it was prison. What did you expect?" Xander asked. "Mouth-watering roast turkey, cranberry sauce and chilled white wine?"
"Guys," Buffy muttered warningly.
Faith heard her and chuckled. Leaving the coffee machine to do its bubbling thing, she came to stand at the opposite end of the table to Kennedy.
"Actually we had wine. Well, lock-up moonshine anyway. Better'n wine," she grinned. "Even helped you forget about the mashed potato."
"What about before prison?" Buffy asked.
Faith gave her a look that said 'Are you kidding me?' but answered anyway as she counted years backwards on her fingers.
"Coma. Happy burger meal in my motel room. The year before I was with my Watcher, who was English so not big on Thanksgiving. We did try and cook a pumpkin pie between us though. Before that I was with my Mom and she couldn't cook for shit so she never even bothered trying to do the big dinner thing..."
Faith trailed off with a strangely nostalgic look that made all of them a little uncomfortable. She seemed to realize and cleared her throat.
"So you're cooking this year, B? Are you sure that's safe? I don't wanna spend my first proper Thanksgiving in the hospital, ya know?"
Buffy gave her a mock glare. "This is the one meal I know I can cook, but keep up that attitude and I'll call the prison for that turkey stew recipe just for you."
Faith just grinned and went back to the coffee.
"So, do you need any help?" Kennedy asked.
"Yeah, she'll need someone to talk her down from the ledge when the stuffing won't stuff and the gravy goes lumpy," Xander mustered a smile.
Buffy grinned at him. "Watch it, or you're getting turkey stew too. Hey, I know what'll make it really special. Why don't we all put in a secret family recipe and then they can be our secret family recipes."
"That's lame," Faith said from the other side of the counter.
"You're only saying that because you don't have one," Kennedy shot back on Buffy's behalf. "I think it's a good idea. My Mom makes an awesome Roasted Calabaza..." Seeing everyone's blank looks, she rolled her eyes again. "...I'll call her and write down the recipe."
Buffy smiled. "Thanks. Xander, do you have one?"
Okay, that had been the wrong thing to say. His eyes went to the table top, but even still she could see his hard expression.
"Make everything as you normally would and just add a liter of scotch and gin."
Apparently gone were the days he could make light of his parents lack of any actual parenting skills.
Willow came down the back stairs; saving her from having to respond.
"Hi guys," she said neutrally and it looked like she was going to head straight on through to her magic room.
"Willow, wait." At Kennedy's voice Willow did stop - instantly - and turned to face her, but her expression remained disinterested. ""Buff's making a list of our favorite family Thanksgiving recipes. Do you have one?"
"Oh no," Buffy and Xander muttered at the same time. Faith, just coming back with her coffee, looked up with interest.
Willow turned a resigned look on Buffy. "You're making Thanksgiving again? Didn't you learn your lesson last time? And you!" She turned to Xander. "Did the syphilis really make it a warm, fuzzy memory that you want to relive?"
Xander held his hands up in surrender. "Hey, don't get shouty with me. This is all Buffy's idea. Again."
Buffy glared at him. "Way to cover me in meat sauce and leave me to the wolves!" To Willow, she said. "It's not going to be exactly like last time."
"Oh, what a shame. Why don't we go a-and do some desecratey dancing on the Anashew Reservation. Maybe we can bring back some old friends to join in the party. Won't that be fun?"
"Ya done?" Faith asked when Willow had to take a breath. "What's with the meltdown? I thought Thanksgiving was supposed to be a good thing." She sat in the seat between Buffy and Kennedy. "Kinda thing your type like, ya know?"
"My type?" Willow asked sarcastically and Buffy felt pleased the attention was off of her for a minute and sorry it was on Faith all at the same time. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Uh, nothing," Faith replied, genuinely confused. "I was just saying..."
"Wicca types? Is that what you mean?" Willow cut her off. "You think I get off on the ritual sacrifice of innocent beasts? Is that it?"
"Uh, no." Faith's eyes were wide with surprise but she didn't look around for help like Buffy would have done. "I just meant..."
"Oh, so you're taking a pot shot at the hippy lesbian thing right?" Willow asked, even madder for some reason.
"Yeah, that's exactly what I'm doing," Faith said sarcastically and before Buffy knew what was happening, she was pulled into a deep, tongue-filled kiss. It only lasted a handful of seconds before Faith pulled away again just as abruptly. "I'm taking a pot-shot at the lesbian thing because I obviously have such a problem with it."
"I said the hippy lesbian thing," Willow said, her tone weaker now. "Because of all the peace and love and harmony and stuff. Which for the record, Thanksgiving is not about."
"Actually it is," Kennedy spoke up.
"No it's not." Willow turned on her ex now.
Buffy was still seeing stars and gazing dreamily at Faith, only vaguely aware of the turn the conversation was taking.
"Yes it is. The white man fucked up big time when he came here, but you can't say the pilgrims who took the time to sit down and break bread with the Indians didn't at least have their hearts in the right place."
"We say Native American now," Willow said harshly.
"Maybe you do, but maybe you should just say Americans and call yourselves Immigrant-Americans."
"Look at the little fish getting on her high horse," Faith said with a grin, but she sounded more impressed than sarcastic.
"I'm not, but my grandfather called himself a Mexican Indian and far as I know he never had a problem with the name. So why should I? And his great-great-grandfather owned land in New Mexico a couple of hundred years ago and got kicked out and driven south by Immigrant-Americans after the war, but that's never stopped my Mom from celebrating Thanksgiving every single year I can remember."
"But the atrocities!" Willow sounded less sure of herself.
"Were really bad," Kennedy agreed. "But all the people who committed them are dead already and probably getting tortured deep in some hell dimension. They can't even feel you still thrashing them so why ruin the opportunity of a good meal?"
"See, you lost it at the end there," Xander smiled. "You should have said why ruin the opportunity to spread the peace and love - it would have cemented your argument a little better."
Kennedy smiled back. "Well, obviously I meant that too."
"Okay, fine, I concede." Willow grumpily sat down between Xander and Kennedy. "But just so you know, I'm still against it on principle."
"We know!" Xander said.
Willow gave him a hurt look and continued, "And when we start getting Mexican Indian spirits throwing knives at us in the middle of dinner; I'm going to say I told you so."
"We're in Cleveland," Xander pointed out.
"So? They could take a vacation." Willow tried smiling at him, but he just turned his head away.
Buffy felt a little of the happy-hit from the kiss seep away.
"So we're all on board with the meal now?" she asked.
"Yeah, sounds like a blast," Faith winked at her. "My secret recipe will be the pumpkin pie. Can't promise it'll be edible though."
"I'll call my Mom this evening," Kennedy offered.
Xander's fingers drummed the table for a moment. "My Mom could make a mean honey'd yam when I was little if that'll count."
"That sounds exactly like it'll count," Buffy smiled. "Will?"
"My Mom is to Thanksgiving what the Grinch is to Christmas - without the happy ending. But..." Willow drew the word out with a sigh. "I know her Latkes recipe like the back of my hand and it's potato so it wouldn't be out of place with the turkey and stuff."
Buffy frowned, looking at her list. "Okay, we're definitely having those, but that means I have four types of potato down here. Before I start cooking we'll have to vote one of the others out of the house." She made a note of Willow's dish. "So you all just have to have the recipes to me by say... next Tuesday so I can do the shop for ingredients, and then you have to be on hand on the day in case any of them go wrong on me."
"Hang on," Faith said. "Our secret recipes get a whole lot less secret once you have them."
Humoring her, Buffy put one hand across her chest like she was taking the Pledge of Allegiance.
"I swear to keep your recipes to myself and never breathe a word of them to anyone else and only bring them out once a year for Thanksgiving. Feel better?" She smirked at Faith.
"What if you lose them?" Kennedy asked. "That's all our Thanksgivings down the pan in one go."
Buffy shook her head at their lack of confidence in her. "How am I going to lose them?"
The kitchen was emptier now. Faith was working somewhere. Buffy and Dawn had gone to Cleveland, shopping for Dawn's stay with Mr. Summers. It didn't feel any less uncomfortable to Willow's sensitive self.
Kennedy was playing a game of solitaire on the table and ignoring her. Xander had some files on the table and was going through them correcting prices and order amounts, also ignoring her.
Willow sat between them trying to eat her lunch; difficult with the way the heavy tension was blocking her throat.
Finally giving up, she grabbed her plate of cheese and cucumber sandwiches. Maybe she could eat in peace in her magic room. Before she actually made it away from the table the phone rang.
"Probably the guy about the snow tires," Xander said, getting up to answer the call.
Kennedy didn't look up. Willow wasn't interested either but she dawdled between the table and her room. If it was about the extreme weather tires Xander might be excited enough to talk to her about them afterwards.
Things weren't any better between them. Despite Giles' assurance that he just needed time to get over her outburst, it had been nearly three weeks and, if anything, things were worse. He was never rude to her, as such. A little abrupt at times, or, okay, all the time. It was just a glitch though, right? It had to be. They had been friends too long and through too much to let one little frustrated truth-telling session end their friendship.
It wasn't like Xander hadn't been brutally honest with her about stuff in the past. Like the time Oz had left her and she'd hit a downward spiral for a month or so. He hadn't exactly pulled a lot of his punches then, had he?
She had to assume - or hope at least - that this longer than usual bout of unfriendliness between them came more from his perpetual bad mood than what she had actually said.
"Yeah, she's here. I'll get her."
Willow looked up. The previous parts of Xander's phone conversation had escaped her because she hadn't been listening, but now he was looking straight at her and holding the phone out.
"Who is it?"
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kennedy look up and turned to her before looking back at Xander.
"What does he want?"
"First guess, to talk to you."
She had avoided speaking to Oz in the last couple of weeks unless he'd come to the camp for stuff. And only then if she couldn't run away before he saw her. It wasn't even that she didn't want to see him, but it felt awkward now... now that she knew he apparently still liked her.
"Tell him I'm not here."
She breathed a sigh of relief as he put the phone back to his ear.
"She's just coming," he said and then covered the mouthpiece. "You can't keep avoiding him, hoping he'll go away." He spared Kennedy a glance. "You have to give him an answer sooner or later."
"Answer to what?" Kennedy asked.
"Nothing. He hasn't even asked me any questions."
"Don't worry. Only a matter of time I'm sure," Kennedy muttered as she went back to her card game.
Willow glared at the top of her head. Why was she so worried if that was Kennedy's attitude anyway? She glared at Xander next for putting her in this situation. Letting her plate clatter to the table top, she took the phone from him.
"Hey, Oz," she said, faking cheer. "What did you need?"
As he explained he just wanted to catch up she felt a sneeze coming on. Her eyes watered and she waved a hand under her nose to try and keep it at bay.
"I've just been really busy, you know?" she said. "Always something going on around here."
She listened as he asked her to meet up later just to touch base, her nose tingling uncomfortably all the time.
"I don't know. It's not that I wouldn't like to catch up..." she saw Kennedy look over again. "...but I think we should probably... probably... probab..."
She sneezed a tremendous sneeze. So violent it took her a second to get her bearings back. They weren't what she expected.
It was dark, dusty and cold and there was a half inflated dinghy pressed into her knees.
She was in the basement with the phone still in her hand.
"Hello?" she said uncertainly.
It was completely dead. She held it out and then followed the cord downwards. It's severed end dangled at floor level.
"What the hell, Willow?" Xander demanded as Willow came back up through the basement door. "If ya really didn't want to speak to him couldn't you have just hung up?"
"I-I didn't mean to do it."
Willow sounded sincere but he ignored her. Storming over, he snatched the useless phone receiver from her to inspect it. Not that all the inspecting in the world would do any good. The cord was snapped clean in two.
"I'm sorry, Xander."
"How could you not mean to do it? What did you think was going to happen when you teleported on the telephone?"
"I didn't teleport! I just sneezed!"
"Oh yeah, like I'm going to believe that." He shook his head.
"Maybe she's telling the truth," Kennedy suggested.
She was still sitting at the table, looking up with big-eyed surprise since Willow disappeared.
"Maybe I'm telling the truth?" Willow rounded on her, sounding hurt and annoyed.
Xander threw up a hand in Kennedy's direction. "Stay out of it."
"Stay out of it? Like a broken phone is some big thing between you and Willow? We all use it."
She had him there. This may have been about more than phone. But he didn't have to admit that and it didn't mean the phone wasn't still a valid thing to get angry about.
"Fine, don't stay out of it!" he said before turning to Willow again. "You sneeze all the time..."
"I don't sneeze all the time!"
"Well, you sneeze as much as the rest of us and you've never disappeared before! At least not until you have to face something you don't want to. You can't tell me that's a coincidence."
"It is a coincidence," Willow insisted. "At least I think so. I don't really know what happened."
"Are you okay?" Kennedy asked.
"I think so. A little confused maybe."
"A little confused maybe?" Xander repeated. "That doesn't sound like the sound of someone who just magicked themselves unintentionally to a different place to me. I'm thinking you'd be lot confused."
"Well, I am," Willow said.
"Yeah, right. Well, whether you meant to do it or not, you don't have to worry about Oz calling again any time soon because we no longer have anything for him to call you on."
He threw the handset and it landed on the table top with a sharp thud.
"So I'll get us a new one," Willow griped and walked through to her magic room.
"Yeah, that sounds like the tone of an innocent woman," Xander called after her.
"What is your problem?" Kennedy resumed her game of Solitaire. "It's just a phone and we all have cells anyway. Faith caused a big hole in the ceiling a few weeks ago and you didn't make this much fuss."
Xander sighed and turned away.
He wasn't mad about the phone. Or, okay, a little mad because he was the one who was going to have to sort out getting them a new one, but mostly he was just mad because Willow had done it.
He was mad these days when Willow did anything. He didn't even know why. Except, of course, that she had been a bit more home-truthy recently than he was happy about. But that was nothing. Honestly. He respected her for laying it on the line - even if she was barking up the wrong line altogether. He'd been as blunt with her in the past - true, he'd been a little nicer about it. He hoped.
The thing was, if your best friends couldn't hit you with a true ugly to get you through the tough times, who could? Only Willow had only done it to get her through the tough times - the tough Xander times - and that just made him... irritable.
It wasn't like he had asked for her help. He was working through this in his own way just fine. So was it a crime to get mad when she foisted it upon him anyway? Willow wanted his grief and anger neatly packed away so she could move on from it without feeling guilty, but sorry, he couldn't go dark and evil and Magicky and threaten to destroy the world as a means of cathartic release; coming out the other side a better person in just a few short months.
He had to do it the hard way, and was being left alone to get on with it really so much to ask?
"She'll be fine, Buffy," Giles promised as they exited the car together a couple of days later.
"I know she'll be fine," Buffy replied grumpily. "Dawn's always fine. Doesn't matter what you throw at her, give her a day or two and she's right back to Little Miss Bouncy Full-of-Beans."
Giles looked at her curiously as they walked to the back door.
"Too harsh?" she asked.
He smiled gently. "Not harsh, no, just a little... enthusiastic perhaps?"
She smiled back. "You know I love my sister, right?"
He nodded. She stopped yards from the back door and, sensing her need to talk, he followed suit.
"Let's just say sometimes I wish she was the Slayer and I was the little kid, that's all. Then maybe I wouldn't always feel like I'm bashing my head against a brick wall trying to get through to her and I'd be the one on a plane right now going to see my Dad."
Giles sighed. "This is about her visit to your Father? You encouraged her, and rightly so. Are you regretting that now?"
"You know she wouldn't have gone without your consent."
"I know. That's what the encouraging was about," Buffy sighed.
"You miss him greatly, don't you?"
The question sort of surprised her. She and Giles had been close for years, some closer than others true, but he probably knew her better than almost anyone, but they had still never had a conversation about this.
"Honestly, yeah, but not like a lot. I've been used to him being gone for a while now. It's just... these past few weeks it's been all family family family around here. The new slayers didn't stop talking about their trips home for a week before they left, and then Naomi was saying how much she can't wait to see her folks. Andrew's taking Craig home to meet his parents. Even Reece gushed about his Mom for a full three minutes the other day!" Buffy shook her head ruefully. "I guess it's just a very family orientated time - start of the holiday season and all that - and with our family so divided... it's making me nostalgic for my Mom and Dad's little Thanksgiving fight nights."
She accepted Giles' comforting arm around her shoulders for a moment or two, but then gently stepped away and gave him a brighter smile.
"It's okay though. I think with the way these years going, we'll soon have our own fight night tradition...and with really good food."
"I'm sure it will be wonderful." Smiling, he followed her into the house.
Willow and Faith were in the kitchen together. They still got along fine. Or at least as fine as they had before. Willow was sat at the table and Faith was perched on the edge next to her with a compact, applying lipstick.
"B." Faith greeted without looking over.
Willow chose a more enthusiastic route. "Hi Giles!"
Buffy and Giles looked at each other and shared an almost-smirk.
"Hello, Willow." He nodded to her. "It's nice to be greeted so cheerfully, but I don't believe I entered the kitchen alone."
"You didn't?" Willow asked innocently.
Buffy rolled her eyes.
Giles turned to her with a sympathetic smile. "I tried."
"You did." She nodded.
"Faith. You look very nice."
She smiled at him, surprised. "Thanks. Going to Barnies. Need a break from all this wholesome living, ya know? Wanna join me for a little debauchery?"
A little color came to his cheeks as he declined politely and left the room.
"His loss." Faith grinned as she capped the lipstick. She turned her face this way and that, checking herself out in the tiny mirror. "What about you, Red? Changed your mind? Fancy a night on the town?"
"I already told you. I have to get this done for Oz," Willow said without looking up. "Have fun though."
Buffy stood there, still by the back door, waiting for her impromptu invite. It didn't come.
Faith stood to fetch her coat from the kitchen closet. It was cold now at night. It was cold here during the day too, but not like it was once it was dark. It was a bitter cold Buffy had never had the misfortune to experience yet and she couldn't help but wonder what she'd done wrong in her years of fighting evil to have to experience it now.
When Faith was standing just a few feet from her again as she put her coat on, Buffy fidgeted awkwardly.
"I...I could come with you," she said after a while. "You know, if you wanted."
Faith froze as she fastened her buttons. "I didn't think you'd want to."
"Why not? I like Barnies. I've been there more than you."
"I just... well..." Faith trailed off for a second or two. "I've been working my ass off all day, B, I don't think I have the energy for a date, ya know?"
Buffy now felt as flustered as Faith sounded. "I didn't mean a date. I'm not look for a date or anything. I just thought..."
They stared at each other, both looking as uncomfortable as it was possible to be.
"I guess you can come if you want."
"But you'd prefer it if I didn't," Buffy said quietly.
There was a long pause where they held each others eyes.
Faith broke it by shaking her head. "No, that's not what I'd prefer, but..."
The but sealed it for Buffy. She wasn't laying herself on the line for too long at any one time.
"Never mind. Forget it. Have fun." She forced a smile out.
Faith sighed, her shoulders slumping. "Look, B, you can come if you really want to."
"Great, another pity invitation. I've already had one more of those than I can handle this week." Now Faith looked doubly pained. "I'm joking," she lied. "I have stuff to do anyway. You can go. No fall out, I promise."
Faith looked skeptical for a moment, but then finished buttoning her coat. Job done, she gave Willow - who was watching the whole exchange with undisguised interest - a little goodbye wave and then walked right up to - and then into - Buffy.
Before she could ask what Faith thought she was doing it was made clear. Faith's lips literally hit hers and strong arms went around her waist pulling her closer. Despite the slightly painful beginning Buffy kissed her back eagerly; surprised but too pleased to miss a beat.
Faith pulled away far too soon and was walking to the door before Buffy had even gotten her breath back.
"See you tomorrow, babe," she called back before disappearing out the door.
"Yeah," Buffy breathed, smiling stupidly at the door until Willow cleared her throat.
She looked over still with a goofy smile.
"Wish my girlfriend was mad at me that way," Willow muttered before going back to her books.
Buffy chuckled softly and went to sit opposite at her. When Willow didn't immediately get up and disappear she counted it a victory.
"Believe me; I don't really know how Faith is mad at me most of the time. It seems to change day by day. One minute its frosty silence the next it's aggressive kisses."
Willow didn't look up. "Yeah, I'm sure they suck."
Buffy rubbed at her front teeth; they still felt a little jarred from Faith's initial lunge.
"My dentist is probably going to think so. "
"Did Dawn get off okay?"
Buffy sighed. "Yeah."
"Dad thing bothering you, huh?"
"A little. What about you? No plans to see your folks over Thanksgiving?"
"They're in Europe."
"Oh right, you said. Until February."
"I'm surprised Kennedy didn't decide to go home."
As she said it, Buffy wished she hadn't chosen any topic involving the other slayer. It was a wonder Willow was talking to her even kinda amiably, why did she have to go and screw it up so fast?
To her surprise, Willow just shrugged. "We always planned to spend Thanksgiving here. We're... She's going to her parents for Christmas."
Buffy physically felt the pain in Willow's words and for a second couldn't respond. Even when she could, she didn't know how to.
"Well, you just called her your girlfriend a minute ago," she began cautiously. "Do you think there's a chance you'll make it up, maybe even in time to still go with her?"
Willow spared her a glance. "You tell me. You're the one she confides in these days."
Buffy ignored the sarcasm. "But is that what you want?"
Willow shrugged again.
"Do you want her to still be your girlfriend?" Buffy pushed.
"What I want is to not talk to you about this anymore," Willow half-shouted as she looked up with a furious glare. "Can't you just respect that?"
Buffy held her hands up in surrender. "Consider it respected." She studied her thumbnails for beat before looking up again and saying in a rush: "I just thought if you could admit that it might be what you actually still want, it might be easier for you to get it back... or something."
The glare she received this time was even angrier, but Willow didn't bother saying anything. Buffy hoped it was because her best friend was actually considering her words, but she wasn't about to push her luck any more by checking.
She looked down at the open books in front of Willow. One had Oz's tiny scribbly rocket scientist's-handwriting and the other was Willow's much looser and curvier script.
"It's Oz's Werewolf Handbook. He thought we should have a copy."
"There's a Werewolf Handbook?" Buffy asked with a surprised little laugh. "How come I didn't know about it before?"
"Partly because you wouldn't have read it if you had..."
"Hey, I might have read it. I like Werewolves, not in the way you like them, sure, but they're more interesting than, say, Zombies."
"Really? Did you ever get around to reading the Slayer Handbook?"
"Well, no, but I am a Slayer. If I want to know how a part of me works, I can learn by doing, you know? I can't learn by doing Werewolf stuff. Well, I suppose I could try. I could sit up on the roof tonight and howl at the moon for a few hours. Get some Wolfy insights that way."
"It's not a full moon," Willow pointed out, but she cracked her frowny-face with a very small, obviously unwelcome but still-there, smile.
"No matter. It could be like my practice moon." Buffy smiled back. "You said partly. What's the other part?"
"There was only one copy in the world before now and Oz had it."
"Oh, wow, that was lucky then. How did he come to get it?"
Willow smiled properly now and her voice took a note of pride. "He wrote it."
Buffy nodded. "Impressive."
"Well, it started out as just a diary or... or a journal of the places he was going and the people he met up with and the advice they gave him. Just so he had a record of what he had already tried and what worked and stuff. By the time he'd settled in Cleveland he'd filled up a whole book." She tapped it with her finger tips. "He showed it to Giles and Giles convinced him in his Watcherly wisdom that it was too valuable to not have a copy of so he agreed to let us make another."
"Makes sense, but wouldn't it be easier to just scan it into the computer?"
"Yes. Much. And I suggested that, but they ganged up on me and said it had to be done the old fashioned way." Willow let go of her pen for a moment and stretched her fingers out as if just talking about it was enough to make them ache with the strain. "I think Giles would have been even happier if I was sitting here with a quill instead of something so modern as a fountain pen."
"Well, it's a good idea and you do have nice handwriting," Buffy complimented.
Willow nodded her thanks and went back to her copying.
The kitchen fell quiet apart from the scratch of nib on paper. Buffy lowered her chin to her crossed arms and followed the path of the wet black ink across the white page. It was actually peaceful. Something that was too rare in this house generally, but more than that, peace wasn't something she and Willow shared at all recently.
She tilted her head a little and ran the fingers of one hand over the pocked, polished surface of the table in a lazy movement and stupidly let the serene moment lull her falsely.
"What are we going to do about Xander?"
Willow looked up at his name but just as quickly looked down again.
"What do you mean we? He's not mad at you."
"Well, no, but hopefully if you can forgive me?" She smiled hopefully. "He'll forgive you and then..."
"He's not mad at me because I'm mad at you."
"No, I know, but..."
"And I haven't forgiven you."
"I...I know that too, but..."
"I don't have to forgive you," Willow ranted.
Buffy slumped in her chair. "I guess not, but it would be nice."
"No, I mean, there's nothing to forgive. You were just being a friend. To Kennedy. I get that."
"Oh," Buffy said surprised. "Good. We're okay now then?"
"No!" Willow's shout made Buffy sit back in her chair, eyebrows up. "You don't get it. You never get it."
"Then explain it!"
"I shouldn't have to. We've been friends for eight years, Buffy. Best friends supposedly! So why do you never treat me like it? I've always just been good old, predicable Willow. Why think of me, huh? You know I'm always gonna be there kissing your ass regardless."
"Willow!" Buffy felt more than a little shocked by the outburst. "There's no ass-kissing between us..."
"Nope," Willow muttered. "That's all one-sided."
"It is not because there isn't any! We're just us. And I am your best friend whether you think so or not. Hell, I was busy trying to be your best friend while you were trying to kill me and everyone else you love."
Willow waved a dismissive hand. "Yeah, yeah. Been there, done that... before you did too."
Buffy had to give her that one. "What do you mean I don't treat you like it? We've done practically everything together since we've been friends. Until you stopped talking to me, that is."
"No, I've done everything with you! You've always dropped me when something better came along."
"What? That's ridiculous."
"You chose Faith over me!"
Buffy, taken aback, had to take a second to respond to that. "I, uh, didn't even know you liked me like that."
"Oh, get over yourself! I meant back in high school!"
"Me get over myself? You're the one making me sound insurmountable," she shot back, relieved but a little embarrassed that she had gotten the wrong end of the stick. "And I never chose Faith over you!"
"You did! We were friends and then she came along and was all cool and you were probably already having lusty feelings you were too scared to admit and you hung out with her all the time and hardly had any time for me!"
Buffy shook her head. "That's not true."
"It is. I should know, I was there."
"And so was I!"
"A-and when Tara and I broke up I know you were still hanging out with her behind my back."
"We met up a few times, sure, but it wasn't what I'd call hanging out and it wasn't behind your back."
"Well, you never told me about it."
"You told her about Spike!"
"I..." Buffy began again.
She was feeling very off-balance with this conversation as it was. Throw Spike into it and she might as well be spinning around on her head.
"It was a difficult situation," she managed at last.
"Yeah, that you couldn't come to me with."
"It wasn't like that."
"It must have been," Willow countered. "Or I would have found out about it from you and not Tara. Except now I guess if I want to know anything about my supposed best friend I have to go to Kennedy instead, seeing as she's your new flavor of the month."
"Flavor of the...?" Buffy repeated in angry disbelief. "Do you have any idea how idiotic you sound right now?"
"Yes!" Willow shouted, stopping Buffy from going on. "But that doesn't change the fact that I'm also right. So, no, Buffy, you don't need my forgiveness. The only thing you did wrong was be a nice person. But you should have been my nice person, not Kennedy's, don't you understand? Just once it would have been nice to not have to fight for your attention... for your friendship... when I needed it the most. So you know what, if you need it so bad, yeah, I forgive you, we're still best friends if that makes you feel better, but I'm still mad as hell at you too so just back the hell off, Okay!"
Buffy flinched when Willow started yelling, but sat her ground waiting for it to stop. When Willow was just staring at the table top and breathing heavy, she risked a tiny grin.
"Actually, yes, that does make me feel better. Thank you."
The glare Willow fired at her made Buffy flinch again.
"Just leave me alone."
"Please?" Willow asked as she picked up her pen again.
"No, because if I leave you alone when you obviously need me then I'm just playing into your completely irrational hysterical paranoia," Buffy explained, shifting in her seat a little as if she was settling in the long-haul.
"That's fine. Play into it all you want. Anything as long as you're not sitting there anymore," Willow muttered as she resumed her copying.
"Sorry. Not going anywhere," Buffy sing-songed with as much enthusiasm as possible.
She would bounce a beach ball on her nose like a seal if she thought it would melt the ice that had suddenly formed over them again - even thicker than before. Unfortunately she didn't have a beach ball and Willow still wasn't looking up.
"I don't want to talk about this anymore tonight," Willow said quietly as she rubbed at her nose with her pen-less palm and blinked her eyes a few times. "I'm not feeling great as it is and you're making it worse."
"Okay, so let's talk about what I originally wanted to talk about before you started getting all hissy-fitty on me," Buffy said slowly. "What do you think we should do about Xander? We both know he's not right at the moment, Will, and he's sinking further all the time. If we don't do something to pull him out of this black mood soon..."
Willow looked up in exasperation and cut her off. "I tried helping him and look how well I did. He doesn't want my help and forcing it on him only made the situation worse."
"So what does that mean?"
"It means if he wants my help, great, I'm here, but until he asks I'm backing off and leaving him be."
"Do you think I should do the same?" Buffy asked.
She didn't like the idea of the sitting back and doing nothing approach, but she liked it better than having Xander mad at her like he was Willow.
"That'd be swell," Willow assured her.
She sighed. "I meant with Xander."
"Oh. Then I don't care."
"Of course you do."
"Look, Buffy, either you go or I go, and I was here first," Willow insisted, rubbing her nose again irritably.
"I already told ya, Will. I'm not going..."
Willow's forceful sneeze cut her off.
"...Anywhere," she finished quietly as she looked around the empty kitchen in surprise. "Hey! Using Magic is cheating!"
Faith continued to stare into her empty glass as she answered. "You tryin' to get me drunk, Al?"
"I didn't think you could get drunk."
"I can. Just takes more than beer."
"Would you like something stronger then?" She finally took the glass away from her face and hiked an eyebrow at him. "I'm honestly not trying to get you drunk," he added.
She chuckled and pushed some more money across the bar. "Guess I'll just take another of these then."
Alex fetched a fresh glass from above the bar. "You've been in a lot the last couple of weeks."
"There a law against it? You gonna arrest me for taking up bar space?" She made a show of looking around the mostly empty pub. "Me sitting here taking a chunk outta your profits?"
Despite her sarcasm she liked that it was nearly always quiet in Barnies. Normally she preferred joints where she could lose herself in the crowd and the music and just let loose. She wasn't feeling so much like that these days though. A cold beer and a chance to let her thoughts take over for a while were more her style.
Which was pathetic, but who cared, right?
"Not at all." Alex smiled and then scratched a little at his stubbly chin. "Just lately you are my profits."
She smiled back as she picked up the beer he'd pushed across the bar. She tilted it slightly towards him in a silent toast before taking a sip and then lowered it back to the bar so it was easier to stare into.
So this was her big fresh start. She'd done her time fair and square so she could be with the woman she thought she loved with no hassles and here she was sitting in a bar by herself and still sleeping in a bed alone every night.
Something had sure gone wrong with her grand plan somewhere along the line.
She should have just let Buffy come with her tonight. But, and this was something she didn't even like admitting to herself, she was scared. She didn't want to do the sit down and talk thing with her. At first it had been because she was pissed off, but now she was just convinced she'd screw it all up as soon as she opened her mouth.
Or Buffy would.
Which was pretty ridiculous, because it couldn't get much more screwed than it already was. But right now at least she could be sure Buffy still liked her. What if she didn't after they talked? Easier to keep her at arms length for now until she had her head together better.
Except not easier. At all. Which was why she kept kissing her. But only when Buffy wasn't expecting it, and never when Buffy was actually looking for it, because that might imply... something. Something Faith wasn't ready to imply yet, obviously, even if she didn't really know what it was herself.
"Why am I so screwed up?"
"What makes you think you're screwed up?"
Faith hadn't even realized she'd spoken out loud and looked up tetchily to see Alex holding out her change.
She snatched it out of his hand. "I appreciate that you're just embracing your job, but I'm not looking for barstool therapy, thanks."
"Okay," he said, but didn't leave.
Faith took an angry swig of her beer and set it down again. Alex stayed silent but she couldn't think properly with him just standing there.
"Fine." She threw her hands up a little like he'd been badgering her to speak. "I have this awesome girl waiting for me at home but she doesn't want me. There, ya happy now?"
He frowned a little. "Buffy?"
She nodded without looking at him.
"Why would she be waiting for you if she didn't want you?"
"I like your logic, big guy, but it's bullshit. No offense."
Alex shrugged. "Trust me, she wants you."
"Yeah? And how would you know?"
"Because she told me. Well, not me exactly, just the guy who served her too many drinks one night, but that guy happened to be me and that's how I know."
"Okay, maybe I am drunk on beer, because you lost me."
"She was drinking those green cocktails she likes." A wistful smiled flashed across his face. "And she couldn't stop talking about you. All night. And the more cocktails she had, the more graphic she got." He went a little pink at the memory.
Faith grinned at the revelation. "Was this recently?"
"Not really. You were still, uh, away."
"You're a cop, Al; the word 'prison' shouldn't scare ya. And things have changed a lot since then," she added with a morose sigh.
"Turns out she liked the fantasy better than the reality of me being around."
"I dunno. Maybe it's me that did."
She finished her drink in a series of gulps and pushed her change across the bar for another.
"Is that really how you feel?" he asked as he poured it.
"I dunno," she said again, feeling even more depressed.
She took out her cigarettes and tapped the bottom so hard one flew up and straight between her waiting lips.
"You mind?" she asked around it as she fished for her lighter in her jeans.
He wasn't a fan of the second hand smoke himself, but the old boys around the back smoked their pipes often enough that he was used to it. So he shook his head as he set her drink down in front of her.
"You got an ashtray or should I just flick it on the floor?"
"Plenty on the tables," he told her pointedly.
"And here was me thinking you were enjoying prying into my life."
As she started to get down from her stool she thought he was going to let her go - which didn't bring as much relief as she expected - but at the last minute before she picked up her drink, he waved his hand at her.
"Stay there. I'll get one."
She smiled once he couldn't see her and sat back down again. When he was back behind the bar he put a green plastic ashtray in front of her.
"So do you own this place?" she asked. "'Cause I thought you were supposed to be the sheriff around here."
"I'm the deputy sheriff," he said gruffly. "And I thought we were talking about you."
She gave a one-shoulder shrug. "Okay, sure, if you really want to know. I don't own this place."
He looked confused for a second before he got it and then he laughed softly, shaking his head. "Really?"
"No, but if I was gonna own a bar this wouldn't be such a suck one to own, I guess. It's big." She turned on her stool to look around. "Could be a hell of a lot busier though."
"It'll be heaving at Christmas," he vouched. "Would be busier now if you'd brought Buffy with you."
She turned back around on her stool, sighing. "You're not subtle, man."
He nodded. "I'm not good at subtle."
She ground her cigarette out in the ashtray. "Me neither."
"In what way?"
"Is it so wrong to want to have sex with my girlfriend?"
"Uh? I...I..." He went bright red and stammered a bit without actually saying anything.
"Never mind, forget I said anything," she huffed and once again finished her beer quickly.
"I...I..." He said some more, and then shook his head quickly. "Do you, uh, want...?"
"Why not?" She pushed her empty glass towards him. "Not like I'm getting any tonight anyway, right?"
He picked up the glass and hurried to a pump at the other end of the bar to refill it.
Faith chuckled tiredly. She'd finally managed to scare him away. Except now she had she felt even lonelier than before. She wasn't used to loneliness. At least, she wasn't used to letting it get a hold on her. Trust her to start succumbing the second she actually had people around who gave a shit.
The door opened behind her before Alex came back, but she didn't take any notice. People had been trickling in and then out again all night.
So when someone right next to her said: "Why do you have to be here?" She looked up in surprise.
Kennedy was standing there, glaring at her.
"Piss off," Faith answered disdainfully and faced the front again.
"Don't start with me!" Kennedy growled.
"Uh, you started. I was just sitting here."
"Yeah, well, do you have to be?"
"Piss Off," Faith said again, pronouncing each word strongly this time.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kennedy shake her head and then Alex was back with her drink.
"Thanks." She accepted it with a smile.
"Hey, Alex. Could I get...?"
Before she could finish, Faith interrupted. "You forgot my chaser."
Alex looked surprised. "I did?"
"Yeah. Double Jack." She put some more money on the bar.
Obviously bemused, Alex grabbed a small glass from the back of the bar and held it to the optics. Kennedy stared straight ahead, jaw clenched, and Faith hid her smile behind an expression of boredom.
Alex gave her the whiskey and took the money. Once it was in the cash register he turned back to Kennedy again.
"What can I...?"
Faith cut him off again. "What about my peanuts?"
Alex looked more than bemused this time. "What peanuts?"
Faith waved some more money at him. "Call yourself a barman? I order three things and you can't remember them."
He went to take the money, but she pulled it away.
"Yeah right? I wanna see the nuts first."
Sighing heavily he went to fetch them. Kennedy's jaw was still clenched but now she was glaring straight at her. Faith gave her a bright smile before turning away again. When Alex came back she exchanged the money for the bag of nuts. After he'd put it in the till he turned to Kennedy again.
"I'll have a..."
"Jeez, man, are you new at this?" Faith broke in again. "Where are my...?"
Kennedy couldn't take it anymore. "You said you ordered three things. Three! You have three fricken things in front of you so what the hell could you be missing now?"
Faith laughed. "Fair enough. I had no idea what else I was gonna ask for anyway." She waved a hand at Kennedy. "You can go."
"Thank you," Kennedy said with exaggerated patience. "I'll have a beer please?"
"You're underage!" Faith said with a gleeful smirk.
Kennedy looked like a deer caught in the headlights for a split second but she didn't splutter when she finally said, "No, I'm not!"
Alex looked unsure; after all, he'd served her before.
"She's lying!" Kennedy insisted while Faith just grinned smugly.
"I'm sorry, Kennedy, I don't want to doubt you or anything, but I'm going to need some ID now, just to be on the safe side."
"You've got to be kidding me!"
"I'm an officer of the law," he said uncomfortably. "I have to look into all allegations whether I want to or not. I'm sorry; I probably should have asked the first time you came in."
"Probably?" Faith scoffed.
Kennedy dug irritably into her back pocket and pulled out her wallet. Flipping it open she pulled out her ID card and thrust it towards Alex. He gave it some scrutiny and then, glaring at Faith, handed it back.
"Sorry," he muttered to Kennedy and then walked to the other end of the bar to pour a beer.
"You're kidding," Faith breathed as she watched him. Turning back to Kennedy she snatched the card out of her hand before she could put it away. "Let me see that!"
It was a damn good job. She knew for a fact that Kennedy was only nineteen, but according to her ID she was nearly twenty-two and you couldn't fault the workmanship. It was miles better quality than any of the many cards she had before going to jail.
"Damn," she muttered as she handed it back, impressed despite herself.
It was Kennedy's turn to grin smugly as she put the card back in her wallet.
"Red do that for you?" Faith whispered, doubtful Willow would be in the business of fake ID's.
Kennedy shook her head, but Alex came back with her beer before she could expand.
"I'm gonna clear some tables," he said before walking off again, obviously too pissed at Faith right now to stay and chat.
Faith rolled her eyes and downed her double whiskey. She shook her head a little as she savored the burn.
"Dunno how you can drink that stuff," Kennedy muttered, sipping from her beer.
"Yeah, well it helps to be legal," Faith countered. "Anyway, plenty of available space in here. Don't feel ya gotta sit next to me."
Kennedy took the next bar stool anyway. "You know, if you weren't such a bitch all the time, maybe Buffy would be here and you wouldn't have to get drunk alone."
Faith felt her anger flare but she didn't give Kennedy the satisfaction of seeing it. "I'm not getting drunk and Buffy wanted to be here."
"So why isn't she?"
Faith still didn't have a good answer for that. "Aren't you supposed to be patrolling? Or are you still shirking your responsibilities because of your broken heart?"
"No!" Kennedy snapped. "I've done it already."
"Yeah, well as a wise blonde once said to me, sometimes a Vamp'll hit a street even after you've checked it, so maybe you should go do another round."
"Who said that?"
Faith rolled her eyes.
"Buffy," Kennedy guessed. "Well, I already went around twice without needing to be told and there's nothing out there. I've only staked two Vamps in town since the night of the Rising. Plus Giles told me to stay away from anywhere those Meluthian lizards might be hiding."
"Yeah, me too. He wants to wait until Red has something on their magical shit. You know if she's made any progress?"
"If she has I'd be the last person she told."
"True," Faith said without any sympathy.
She tried to ignore the other Slayer then. With her elbow on the bar and her head in her hand, she looked deep into the amber-hued contents of her glass. She'd done all the talking she was in the mood for tonight. It was her night off. Tomorrow she would be the one out there patrolling and she wouldn't be wasting her time on the dead-empty streets of Boudenver.
She could go into the city. Cleveland was filled up with vampires and other evil nasties just waiting to meet the sharp end of her weapons. Giles didn't expect any of them to head that way because the Hellmouth was around here someplace, but Faith had taken Alison once or twice and it was a way better training ground than this little town.
It would be boring catching the bus on her own though. An hour and half journey through Hick-country, and in the dark. The taxi ride back wouldn't be so bad. Expensive, but she could just stretch out and take a nap if the driver was boring.
It seemed like a lot of effort for a couple of hours of patrol. Maybe she could steal one of the cars for a few hours, or like, borrow one maybe anyway. Didn't B say the truck was part hers? Surely no one would mind so much if she took it into the city for a few hours then, on business so to speak.
She sighed. Probably not, but they might mind if she wrapped it around a tree before reaching the end of the drive. And Debbie D might mind if she got pulled over by one of Alex's buddies with no driver's license.
"So what do you really think about Buffy's Thanksgiving idea?" Kennedy asked, breaking her thoughts.
Not lifting her head, Faith shrugged. "Not a lot to think about is there? She wants to cook a big-ass meal, I got no problem eating it."
"You get this is about more than the food, right?"
"Yeah, yeah, peace, love, harmony, giving thanks, whatever. I'm sure I can fake my way through one day of it."
"No, it's more than that, for Buffy, anyway."
Faith dropped her forearm to the bar and turned her head to Kennedy.
"What do you mean?"
"I'm sure you'll figure..." Kennedy began, lifting her beer to her smirking lips.
Faith caught and squeezed her shoulder making beer splash over Kennedy's hand.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'll figure it out too, but you already know so how about you save me some time."
Kennedy gave the hand on her shoulder a pointed look. Faith acknowledged it with a smile, but didn't remove her hand. So, wincing a little, Kennedy set down her dripping glass and started talking.
"Buffy's missing... probably everything right now. Her home, her town, her old life. Her parents. You know how bummed she is that her dad invited Dawn for the holidays and not her, right?"
"She said she didn't care," Faith said, remembering the conversation they'd had a week or so ago perfectly.
"Then she lied."
Faith dropped her hand from Kennedy shoulder. "Really? And why would she tell you the truth and not me?"
"Would you like a list?" Ignoring Faith's narrowing eyes, she continued. "My guess? Partly because I spent more than thirty seconds talking to her about it and partly because she doesn't mind burdening me with her problems. Not that they are a burden or anything," she added quickly, "But that's probably how she sees them."
"And how come you don't see them as a burden?" Faith asked, openly suspicious.
"I think the real question should be: How come you do?" Kennedy countered.
"I don't. She can tell me anything she likes."
"Does she know that?" Kennedy pushed. "I'm only asking because you're clearly not big with the personal discussion thing."
"Did she say that?"
Kennedy shrank back a little at the snapped question. "No, I was going by our conversation now, but I guess I hit a nerve."
Faith turned back to face the bar.
"I'm gonna hit something in a minute," she muttered, swirling the last of her beer around the glass. "You can stop looking at me now; this conversation is over."
Kennedy did turn away and nursed her beer in silence. Faith downed the last of hers and thought about getting up and going home. Grabbing Kennedy's wrist, she checked the younger Slayer's watch. It was still too early. She had to wait until Buffy was in bed at least.
If she went home right now she was just drunk enough to give in and kiss Buffy goodnight, but not drunk enough to fall asleep straight after. She couldn't take the thought of lying awake for hours hornier than usual and beating herself up for making a move when she wasn't ready.
Besides, there was no way she was letting Kennedy think she'd succeeded in running her out of Barnies.
Alex was still MIA so she leaned back on her stool and called out, "Hey, Al! A little service?" He didn't come running so she rapped her knuckles hard on the bar. "Could die of thirst around here, ya know?"
"You're not easy to talk to, you know?" Kennedy said quietly once Faith has shut up.
"Yeah, we just established that." Unconcerned, she twisted on her seat, still trying to locate Alex.
"No, I mean for Buffy. You have all that bad history for one thing, but there's also the fact that you don't have a whole lot in common."
Faith sneered. "Oh, but you think you two are the perfect match, is that it?"
For once Kennedy didn't rise to the bait. "I didn't say you weren't a perfect match. I just said you didn't have a lot in common. Think about it; apart from you both being slayers, what is there?"
Faith didn't want to think about it. She already had more than once.
"Your point?" she asked tiredly.
"Maybe you need to find some common ground to talk about."
"And how do we find it?"
"Well, you could try talking to her for starters..." Kennedy began sarcastically, but trailed off as she spotted the flaw in her plan.
Faith huffed a laugh. "What came first: the conversation or the common ground?"
Seeing Alex coming back around the side of the bar, Faith waved her empty glass and pleaded with her eyes.
Taking pity he came back over. "What can I get you this time?"
"Two beers. And one for yourself."
"Thanks," he said gruffly and started pouring three beers one after the other.
Kennedy looked surprised, but nodded her thanks when Faith pushed a full glass in front of her.
Faith drank half of hers in one go.
"You better not stray too far this time," she told Alex. "If she keeps talking to me I'm gonna need you to keep them coming."
Kennedy turned to the big deputy sheriff and asked, "Alex, if you were in love with someone you didn't have much in common with, what would you do to change that?"
"Hey!" Faith snapped at her, but turned to Alex nonetheless, hoping she didn't look too eager for his answer.
Alex thoughtfully rubbed the stubble on either side of his mouth. "Well, the last time I was in love was with this girl called Sharra. She was wonderful. Smart, sophisticated, and every time I saw her I couldn't think of a single thing to say that she might find interesting." He paused, smiling slightly. "But I knew she was in the church choir, so I joined up. I got to see her three evenings a week and I always had a way to start a conversation."
"What? 'Hi, I'm a great big lame-o?'" Faith guessed with a grin.
Alex gave her a surly glare for a second before saying, dead-pan, "Maybe, but I was a great big lame-o who got to date her for a year and a half. Where's your girlfriend again?"
"Whatever, man." Faith shook her head wearily. "You're excused again; I can pour my own beers."
Alex laughed at her. "You live in the same house. You work at the same school. There must be something you can find to talk about."
"I can find stuff to talk about. That's not the problem."
"Then what is?" Alex asked.
Kennedy looked up with eager interest too. When Faith didn't answer, she did.
"She's worried she can't give Buffy what she wants."
"Hey, I can give B what she wants!"
"Emotionally speaking," Kennedy continued like Faith hadn't spoken.
"I... I never said that!" Faith hoped her angry tone covered her initial hesitation.
"You don't need to, it's obvious. Buffy's really messed up right now. With her Dad thing, and with the Willow ignoring her thing, and the Xander being depressed thing, and the whole losing her home thing, and the, you know, you thing. I mean, Buffy's big on family - I get that and I hardly know her - and right now her family is really screwed up."
Kennedy paused to sip from her beer; Faith just sat there staring into hers.
"If you thought you could be there for her, I'm sure you'd be there right now instead of sitting here getting drunk, because otherwise it would mean you just didn't care, right?"
Faith knocked her beer back in three swallows and pushed her glass across the bar. Alex refilled it and pushed it back without a word. She chugged half of it, feeling it finally fog her mind just a little. Setting the glass down carefully she watched as she turned it in wet circles on the bar.
After minutes of silence, she simply muttered, "I care."
The next morning Faith was late getting up.
She couldn't remember exactly how much she had drunk the night before, but she remembered starting on the Jack Daniels and she could remember the argument with Kennedy on the walk home.
It had been about the younger slayer moving in on her girl.
She also vaguely remembered Kennedy punching her in the face. She definitely remembered punching Kennedy back in the face. Or maybe she'd punched her first. She didn't know.
They'd arrived back at the house together though so it couldn't have been much of a fight. No one was left for dead in the woods. Xander had been up when they got home. She couldn't remember their conversation, but those last few beers with him had definitely been a mistake.
The last hangover she'd had was the morning after Ogallala. At least this one wasn't a patch on that bastard. Her head hurt a little and her stomach needed something solid and toasted to get rid of the churning going on inside, but mostly she just felt pathetic at the memory of her 'sharing' the night before.
By the time she dragged herself out of bed she was over an hour late for work. Xander hadn't come knocking for once, though, so maybe he was still sleeping it off too. Or maybe she'd quit last night, or he'd fired her, and she just couldn't remember it.
A long, hot shower made her feel marginally better. Back in her bedroom, she dragged her clothes on quick and left her hair wet to go and get some breakfast.
Buffy was the only person in the kitchen and Faith's legs seemed to buckle at the sight of her. Grabbing the doorframe tightly, she managed to school herself into something like normal before Buffy looked up and saw her.
"Hey." Faith nodded and let go of the doorframe. "Morning. Did Andrew make, uh, I mean, how are you?"
Buffy looked at her quizzically. "I'm okay. Andrew and Craig just left for the airport, but he left some bacon."
Faith's stomach lurched a little. "Toast!"
Buffy smiled. "I'm sorry?"
Faith closed her eyes for a second and then walked into the kitchen. "I need toast," she clarified, embarrassed. "Do you want some?"
Buffy got up from her chair and pointed at it. "Sit."
"I'm fine," she said automatically.
As she moved towards the toaster on the far side of the room, Buffy gently caught her arm.
"Sit down," she insisted, pulling her closer to the chair. "I can make it for you."
"You don't have to..."
"I know I don't. Coffee?"
"Yeah." Faith gave in, sinking down on the chair. "I'm late for work. Is Xander mad?"
Buffy shook her head as she put bread in the toaster and poured a mug of coffee. "He went into Cleveland to pick up some doors or something. He left a note for you."
She brought it over with the coffee before going back to wait by the toaster.
Faith blew on her coffee as she read the note.
"He's given me the morning off. Does this mean I'm fired?"
"No, I think it just means you have the morning off."
"Cool," Faith muttered.
The time off was useful, would give her some time to prepare for later. Preparation she should have done the night before, but had chosen to drink to forget about it instead. Smart moves being her thing and all.
She sipped from her coffee. It was still hot enough to burn her lips a little, but it felt good going down.
"Kennedy has a black eye," Buffy said casually, catching the toast as it popped up.
Faith couldn't help her smile. "She does?"
"Uh huh. It's almost gone, and she tried to hide it, but I know a fading black eye when I see one."
"Wonder how she got that?" Faith asked, but it didn't come out enough like a question to sound innocent.
Buffy brought over a plate with four pieces of toast - two buttered, two unbuttered - and set it on the table. Gently she touched a fingertip to Faith's left cheek.
"Same way you got this bruise maybe?"
Faith jerked her head away and picked up a slice of the unbuttered toast. "So she told you."
"Actually, no." Buffy sat in the chair next to her and picked up a buttered slice. "Xander told me you'd had words last night and I pieced it together when I saw your cheek. I'm quick like that." She flashed a smile before biting into her toast.
Faith just crunched up her own slice quickly. Washing it down with a mouthful of coffee, she started immediately on her second slice. Once it was gone and also washed down, she looked at the remaining triangle of toast on the plate longingly.
Buffy was only halfway through her first piece as she followed Faith's gaze. She put her fingertips on the edge of the crust of the remaining slice to claim it and looked up playfully.
"I'll live," Faith replied, trying to smile about it despite her churning stomach.
Buffy shrugged and pushed the plate towards her.
"I've already had a cooked..." It disappeared into Faith's mouth with three fast bites. "...breakfast. You want some more?"
Faith shook her head, starting to feel better now. "I'll have that bacon in a bit, but right now just sitting is, uh, good, I guess."
Now was probably as good a time as any to try and find some common ground with Buffy. It was just the two of them and nice and quiet. Plus, they'd just shared breakfast together; if nothing else came to her she could always start a debate on the merits of unbuttered toast over buttered.
Didn't hurt that the anxious, jumpy feeling she was getting at being alone with Buffy was taking her mind off of later too. Lesser of two evils or something.
"Yeah, this is... good," Faith said, hoping it sounded more genuine out loud than it did in her head.
"Okay," Buffy said slowly, eying her.
It her made her feel stupidly nervous and Faith gulped a little more coffee than she meant to. Coughing as the hot liquid tried to drown her, she covered her mouth and her eyes, watering freely, darted about in embarrassment. The more she wanted to stop coughing the more she coughed but she shied away as Buffy tried to pat her on the back.
Eventually she got her breath under control and wiped her eyes, but she felt even less able to make it through a proper conversation with Buffy than before. Where was all the damn bravado her teachers and then her jailers had bitched about for years when she really fricken needed it?
"I can't do this," she said despairingly to herself.
Faith looked at her quickly, "Nothing."
"Okay," Buffy said even more slowly than before. "You're being weird."
Buffy nodded. "'Yes you are."
Faith nodded too. For several moments they were like two bobble-heads reacting off of each other. And then Faith stood up swiftly.
"I have to go."
Faith shook her head. "I don't know."
"Okay." Faith just stood there.
Buffy just sat there. Eons passed. Buffy fidgeted a little. Faith fidgeted a little.
"You could just sit down again."
"Okay." Faith sat back down.
Another month or so seemed to pass.
"You're being weird," Buffy said again.
"So are you," Faith countered.
"Yeah," Buffy nodded. "Maybe I should go."
"Yeah." Faith nodded before changing her mind. "I mean, no! If I can't go you can't go."
"I never said you couldn't go."
Faith stiffened slightly. "Do you want me to go?"
Faith unstiffened. "Okay."
"Okay," Buffy agreed.
There was another bout of silence.
"So..." Faith began.
"Yes?" Buffy asked hopefully.
"We should, uh..."
At a loss, Faith sort of shrugged. "I guess."
Faith's mind went blank. She couldn't even remember what she wanted to say, let alone how to say it. Buffy sat patiently, but the longer the silence dragged on the more she seemed to sag in her chair.
After another minute, Buffy got up from the table.
"You're going?" Faith hoped she didn't sound relieved.
"I need coffee. All this non-stop not-talking is wearing me out."
"I don't know what to say," she admitted as Buffy went to the coffee pot. "You know me, I'm not good at... this talking stuff."
"Your therapy sessions are going to be pretty quiet then," Buffy chuckled.
Faith cracked a grin. "Maybe not."
"I find it easier to talk about you than to you."
"Really?" Buffy leaned her elbows on the counter, her mug cupped between her hands. "What are you planning on saying about me?"
Okay, so this wasn't taking her mind off it so much now, was kinda forcing her mind right into it in fact, but maybe this was good too. They'd both managed a couple of complete sentences at last and at least this was something she could talk about, should be talking about. She wanted Buffy in the loop, kinda needed her support even, not that she had a clue how to ask for it. But Buffy had just given her a way into the topic, now all Faith had to do was run with it.
"That'll probably depend on the questions I'm asked."
"Is that how it works then? They ask you questions and you answer them?"
Faith shrugged fully this time. "Not exactly. My shrink in prison just used to start me off with a question and then kinda steered the conversation from there if I ran out of steam."
"Like what kind of question?"
"You know, the usual." Faith tried to think back to those sessions in the quiet windowless grey room. For the first year and a half she had been handcuffed to her chair every time. After that apparently she'd earned the right to full hand gestures, but the questions hadn't gotten any less restraining. "Did anyone make you feel homicidal in the lunch line today? Did you have any dreams about killing bad people last night? What memories do you have of your Mother's coke habit? You get the idea."
Buffy didn't actually look like she did despite her slow nod. She smiled anyway as she came back to the table. "Good questions, I'm sure, but what does any of that have to do with me?"
"Not a thing." Faith laughed quietly. "I didn't talk about you in prison. Least, not the first time."
As Buffy took her seat again, Faith sat forward, forearms on the table top as she smirked a little at the blonde.
"Okay, tell me the truth, how often did you talk about me between leaving me with the LAPD and me turning up in Sunnydale with Willow?"
When Buffy hesitated, Faith's eyebrows jumped once in playful curiosity.
Buffy cleared her throat. "As little as possible. You weren't exactly my favorite topic."
"Ditto." Faith sat back in her chair, crossing her ankles under the table and picking up her half full mug of coffee so she would have something to keep her hands busy. Her smirk grew stronger along with her confident posture as she remembered something from last night. "What about the second time I was in? After Sunnydale? Talk about me much then?"
Buffy actually blushed and ducked her head to the side. She was smiling though. "Your name might have crossed my lips a few times."
"I take it someone's been talking. Xander?"
"Alex. He said it got..." She grinned. "...really graphic."
Buffy went an even brighter shade of red. "Oh, I'm gonna kill him!"
Faith laughed. "Relax, he didn't go into detail. You can if you want though."
"At ten 'o' clock on a Monday morning, I don't think so."
"It was that good?"
"No!" Buffy said. "Or maybe, I don't know, I can't really remember." She laughed softly, shaking her head. "I think I was talking about how you have no hair."
Faith frowned. "I have hair."
"On your beard," Buffy clarified. "Your beard has no hair."
"Right," she drawled. "That makes perfect sense."
Buffy shrugged. "I may have been a little tipsy. So did you talk about me the second time?"
Faith nodded. "To Janey. It didn't get graphic though."
Buffy grinned. "Why not?"
"I doubt she'da wanted to hear it somehow."
"Oh. So, what's she like?"
"Small, cute, blonde."
A little of Buffy's grin slipped away. "I didn't ask for her Playboy tagline. I meant what's her personality like."
Faith's eyebrows rose a little at her reaction, but she carefully lowered them again before answering. "Sweet, sensitive, out of her depth but game, ya know? If she wasn't stuck in the joint she'd be a hell of a Slayer," she added with a proud smile.
The rest of Buffy's grin disappeared, but she stayed quiet. Faith had the sense to know something had shifted in the mood, but she couldn't figure out why so she continued.
"I kinda wanted to talk to Giles about getting her out."
"Really?" The tone wasn't frosty, just a little chilled. "Why?"
"Because she shouldn't be in there in the first place."
"I thought she killed someone."
"Well, yeah, but it was an accident. Some dude messed with her and she punched him. That's all. She didn't know she had super-strength at the time or anything."
"Still nothing, B!" Faith said, sitting forward again. "If I can get out free and clear after what I did, there's no way we can leave J to rot in that place."
"J," Buffy whispered to herself. Before Faith could ask what of it, she added. "Fine, talk to Giles."
Faith studied her for a moment or two. "I shouldn't have to ask if you're okay with this."
"Then don't." Buffy cut her eyes to the side and sighed audibly before looking back. "You don't. Talk to Giles. And if you need my help..." Buffy stood up again and leaned on the back of her chair as she pushed it in. "...Just let me know. I gotta..." She pointed over her shoulder, but then after a second's hesitation started in the other direction towards the back door.
"So now we're done talking?" Faith asked, confused and a little annoyed.
"No. I just..." Buffy stopped at the door and turned to face her. "I like that you want to help this girl, really, but... but I said I'd spar with Kennedy this morning, so I should do that and we should just pick this back up later, okay?"
A gust of cold wind swirled around Faith as Buffy left. She shivered, staring at the back door as it closed again. She was even more confused now. Why was Buffy running away when they'd finally started talking normally? Wasn't that what she had been wanting all along?
"Guess it'll have to be," she muttered to herself before getting up to find the bacon.
"Isn't she sixteen?" Kennedy asked as she jumped back just in time to stop a fist from striking her nose.
"Going on seventeen, I think, but what's that got to do with anything?" Buffy shot back irritably.
Her next punch connected solidly and she danced lightly around the younger Slayer on the balls of her feet as she waited for her to recover.
"That you're jealous of a sixteen year old," Kennedy spelled out as she wiped her watering eyes.
"I'm not jealous!" Buffy pushed her hard between her shoulder blades.
In her unready-ness, Kennedy stumbled a few steps forward, but she twirled fast enough and engaged with a left back hand that caught and stung Buffy's forearm, locking her elbow for a moment so she had to dodge back out of the way before she could retaliate.
"You sound jealous."
"This was my point." Kennedy smirked as she blocked a series of headshots with only a little less than perfect ease.
"I'm not jealous," Buffy repeated, mostly for her own benefit.
She would have been surer of herself if Faith's appraisal of the girl hadn't been so praiseful. It was true she wanted to be the only small, cute blonde Faith thought about, but that didn't mean she thought this Janey was any kind of a threat. After all, she was in prison! She couldn't get less threatening unless she was dead.
"They shared a cell," she mused aloud as she knocked Kennedy's countering punches away without really seeing them. "And you know what they say about prison."
"Really shitty food?"
Buffy caught Kennedy's right hook by the wrist and twisted into her. A cock of her hip later and Kennedy was flat out on the blue training mats.
"I was thinking more of all the girl-on-girl," she admitted. She dropped to her knees next to Kennedy's feet. "And give me fifty for leaving yourself open like that."
Kennedy gave a chuckle that was half frustrated sigh. "You know, all the other girls get jealous because you're giving me personal training, but if they could see the crap you actually put me through..."
"Okay, I've been counting in my head and you should be on twelve by now so you better get a move on."
Kennedy started her sit-ups and Buffy dropped her stern face.
"You know why I'm giving you the personal treatment, right?"
Kennedy stopped counting under her breath to say. "Because you secretly dig me?"
"Oh God, don't you start!" Buffy shook her head in mock - well, mostly mock - dismay. "You have the makings of a great Slayer, Kenny. Well, you all do, but I can't help thinking some of you are gonna never reach your full potential because of the whole lack of Watchers thing. I don't want that to happen to you."
Kennedy grinned. "Because I'm special?"
Buffy thwapped her thigh with the back of her hand. "Because you're difficult and I know you wouldn't listen or take any notice of someone who's been a Watcher for less time than you've been a Slayer."
Kennedy finished her fifty sit-ups and flopped back down to her back. "Can you blame me?"
"Not really. I was Giles' first Slayer; I don't think he'd even had potentials before, so we sort of grew into our roles together. But Gileses are few and far between, especially now. You could be first rate, Kennedy, I'm sure of it, but you can't do it alone."
Kennedy went unusually quiet and when it lasted Buffy looked down at her.
"Are you offering to be my Watcher?"
"What? No. I'm not a Watcher," Buffy said quickly.
"Then what are you offering?"
"Just someone to keep you on your toes until we find the right guy... or gal, for you."
"What if I don't want anyone else?" When Buffy just stared at her, Kennedy sat up. "I had a Watcher, a great one, for ten years. No one is ever going to take his place. And that's not being difficult, that's just the way I feel."
Buffy nodded solemnly. "So we'll just keep going with the personal treatment then."
"Thanks, Xan." Buffy held the kitchen door open for him with her foot. "Is that the last of it?"
"I think so." Xander shouldered the door as he came through so that Buffy could step away before she dropped the three overloaded brown bags in her arms. "I actually saw the jeep's tires pop back into their usual round shape when I picked it up."
"I told you we should take the truck." She laughed but it morphed into "Oh, shit!" as she felt the middle bag start to slip.
She saw Xander's eye go wide but with the big cardboard box in his hands he was going to be no help. Before she could resign herself to clearing splattered ingredients from the floor, Faith was there. Catching the falling bag easily, she steadied the others until Buffy could settle them on the table.
"No worries." Faith handed the errant bag back and walked away. "Buy enough? There's only gonna be six of us, ya know?"
"That's what I said." Xander put his box next to the other stuff and stretched.
"I bought two of everything I need. Just in case." She eyed Faith as she put her coat on. "You're going to Barnies again?"
She tried to make the question sound light, but it didn't. She couldn't hide all her annoyance. Their conversation that morning had left her feeling irritable about stuff and whether her jealousy was irrational or not - and she could admit it probably was - Faith seemed to be deliberately forcing distance between them. Only showing enough attention to keep Buffy guessing as to whether they were still a couple or if the moment had passed for them.
"Patrol. It's my night."
"You wanna come with me?" Faith wrapped a woolly scarf around her neck. "Or are you going with Kennedy again?"
"I wasn't planning on going at all tonight."
She'd planned on spending the evening going through her recipes and making sure she had everything, but the thought of patrolling with Faith was an appealing one. They hadn't yet since Faith had been back, at least not just the two of them. It was one of the things Buffy had most been looking forward to about having her around and maybe it was just what they needed.
"Do you really want me to come with?"
"Sure. Long as you apologize for storming out on me earlier first."
"I didn't storm out on you!"
"You up and left in the middle of a conversation. What would you call it?" Faith asked.
"I thought we'd finished," she lied.
"No you didn't." Faith fetched her keys from the hook by the door. "So, you gonna?"
"I sat through half an hour of you hemming and hawing before you actually managed to get to the conversation," Buffy said. "It's not my fault we ran out of time."
"Okay, fine." Faith gave her a quick kiss on the lips. Walking out the back door, she added, "Don't wait up."
Once the door was shut, Buffy kicked one of the dining chairs.
"Hey, hey, no!" Xander darted forward and pulled her away from the table altogether. "I didn't spend all that time making you a state of the art training barn so you could beat up our breakable furniture."
"Sorry," Buffy muttered. "I just wish she'd stop doing that."
"What, kissing you?"
"Yes. No. Not completely. I just want her to stop the walking away part afterwards. It's confusing."
"If it's any help I think she's pretty confused right now too," Xander said.
"She's talked to you?"
"Not exactly." Xander shrugged. "You know what she's like. Faith doesn't so much talk as rant while she's working. It'd be pretty funny if I didn't think laughing would get me cold-cocked."
"Did she rant about me today?" Buffy asked hopefully.
Xander shook his head. "We didn't work together today. I was working on plans for the stables and Faith was whitewashing the outside of the shower block. And can I just say that it's typical we finally get that thing up and running just in time for there to be no one here to use it."
"We'll appreciate it when everyone comes back. So when did she last rant about me?"
Xander went to fetch two beers from the refrigerator and brought one back to her. "Last night, and I already told you everything about it that I'm going to."
"But you didn't tell me anything!"
When Xander just shrugged again, Buffy sighed and opened her beer.
"If it was Angel you'd tell me everything."
"That's because I don't like Angel."
"I didn't think you liked Faith all that much either," Buffy said, putting her bottle on the counter so she could start unpacking the shopping.
"She's growing on me. A little. Look, Buff, if she was saying bad stuff, I'd tell you and then I'd hate her with you, but she's not. She's just pissed at the way things are, same as you."
"Well, she's the only one who can change things."
"Maybe she thinks the same about you."
Buffy fiddled with a jar of cranberry sauce. She wanted to make own, but that had too many avenues for disaster, so she had bought three different kinds and was going to mix them together. That was sort of like making her own.
"I'm doing everything I can."
"Really? When was the last time you spontaneously kissed her before leaving a room?"
Buffy pouted. "I never get the chance to leave the room first."
"Not even this morning?"
"Okay, so this conversation is done," she said, putting the jar down and digging into a bag again.
Xander didn't let up. "Did you ask her how her session went today?"
A bag of frozen peas dropped to the table with a slushy sound. "What?"
Xander looked as alarmed as she felt. "Her first appointment was at lunch. That's why I gave her the morning off. Tell me you remembered that?"
Buffy had black spots in her vision. "She never told me what day. And... and she never said this morning! How was I...? Oh, I'm begging you to tell me you're messing with me. Please, Xander?"
"Well, I would, but... I thought she would have told you."
Buffy shook her head. "I knew it was this week but...How could she not tell me?" she asked, getting angry, better for staving off the guilt.
"Didn't you ask?"
"I asked if she wanted to talk about it. She said no. I didn't bring it up again because I didn't want to crowd her. Dammit! Should I go find her?"
"Normally, I'd say yes, but unless you know which direction she went in you could just end up walking around angry and upset the whole night."
Buffy nodded. "Guess I'm waiting up for her after all." She started to pull the stuff angrily from the bags. "I'm so mad at her right now! Why can't she ever just talk to me like a normal person?"
"Apparently she tried this morning." Buffy glared at him and he held his hands up in surrender. "Or, yeah, exactly what you said."
Most of the shopping was dumped out on the table now. Picking up her beer with one hand, Buffy carried a few items to the fridge in her other. She took a long swallow before opening the fridge and shoving the items in wherever they'd fit.
She couldn't believe Faith. Why would she do this? Sure they were having problems, but her first therapist appointment was a big thing. It should have transcended all the crap. She realized Faith had tried to talk to her about it that morning. The therapy thing had come up, but it was Faith who had changed the subject, not her. If the other woman had been secretly urging that she dig deeper, she should have left a few more clues.
She took another long pull on her bottle and then set it on top of the fridge. Though it was the last thing she cared about right now, she had to put the cold food away before it went off. Having to spend another three hours in Wal-Mart tomorrow, replacing this stuff, wasn't going to help anyone.
"Chuck me the stuff for the fridge?" she asked to save her walking to and fro.
"Okay." Xander picked up a large tub of coleslaw and hefted it in his hand a few times. "Ready?"
Xander threw the tub and Buffy realized too late that it wasn't a perfect trajectory. Not expecting it made her lunging catch a second out and the tub sailed past her. The lid split against the window sill and coleslaw slopped down over the stove.
They both stared at the mess.
"I only have one eye!" Xander said defensively.
"And we still let you drive?" Buffy chuckled as she turned to him. "Think there's any chance we can pretend that isn't there until Andrew gets back next week?"
Her chuckle died when she saw how dejected Xander looked. With a bolstering breath, she resolved not to give in to his melancholy.
"Okay, let's try that again with something less splattery."
"No." He lifted his beer to his lips.
Her harsh tone actually made him pause before taking a drink. Capitalizing on it, Buffy stomped around the counter and snatched the bottle from his hands.
"You can have this back when the shopping is put away," she said as she stomped back again.
"Oh yeah, says..."
"Says me! And I'm really pissed off right now, Xan; do you really want me taking it out on you?"
"Fine." He picked up a two-pint carton of fresh cream. "But you're clearing up the mess."
He threw it to her, or actually, at her. She was still holding his beer and only had one hand. In retrospect it probably wouldn't have made much difference. As the carton hit her shoulder the foil top exploded.
Buffy looked down at her cream covered sweater, clucked her tongue and looked back up.
"See, you can do it, you just need focus."
Xander remained expressionless for a couple of seconds but then the laughter came. He couldn't seem to help it. It bubbled up, it bubbled out and it got louder the longer it went on.
Buffy joined in easily. Not even bothering to wipe at the cream dripping down her clothes. It would have only made it worse anyway. Setting his beer next to hers, she wiped her watering eyes with one hand and clutched at the fridge door with her other.
Giles suddenly burst into the kitchen. "Gather everyone! I think I have an idea about the He drays..." He stopped short when he realized they were laughing too hard to take any notice, and then he looked around the kitchen. "What on earth happened?"
It was by chance Willow wandered into the kitchen looking for a soda, but Giles collared her before she could beat a hasty retreat from all the people inside.
"Ah, Willow, finally someone I can rely on to act like a grown-up." He waved her closer.
"We are acting like grown-ups!" Buffy said.
"Yeah, we just went grocery shopping!" Xander added. "That's what grown-ups do."
She noticed they were both giggling like kids on opposite sides of the room. "Did I miss something funny?"
What she really meant was what had happened to make Xander laugh and smile so freely. She felt jealousy nibble at her insides. Trust Buffy to make him feel better. She chose to conveniently forget that Buffy had asked only the night before for some help in that department. Obviously she didn't need it anyway.
Still giggling, Buffy turned to face her and Willow saw the white cream splattered from her chin to her jeans.
She couldn't help grinning. "What happened?"
"Xander got a little over-excited." Buffy took an open bottle of beer from the top of the fridge and had a sip. Pulling it away, she grimaced and rubbed a drop of cream from her lips with the back of her hand. "All over me!"
Willow's eyebrows rose up as her grin grew and even Giles had a twinkle in his eye as he asked,
"Would you like us to leave the two of you alone?"
"What? Oh, ew!" Buffy pulled a face as she blushed. "Giles! It's just cream. From a cow, not from a... a boy."
Giles took his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "And once again I regret sinking so far as your level."
"No, you just dug your own whole new level, G-meister." Grinning, Xander patted his shoulder as he walked to the fridge. "Besides, if my cream started getting carrots in it, I'd be on my way to the ER right now, not standing here giggling about it."
"Enough about the cream," Giles begged.
"Carrots?" Willow asked, not getting it.
Did Buffy and Xander suddenly have funny little private jokes that she wasn't in on?
"Cabbage too." Buffy pointed behind her too the stove and then brought her hand back around to slap at Xander's.
"Do we look like we're done?" Buffy asked, pushing him away so he couldn't make a second grab for his beer. "Get back over there."
"You can't seriously want to take a third shot at this?"
Willow stared at what she hoped was coleslaw covering the top of the stove and the window sill behind it. In her imagination she could hear it dribbling down the wall, out of sight, where it would fester and grow stuff.
"I'm not cleaning it up," she said quickly, just so it had been said. She turned back to the others. "Shot at what?"
"I need this table cleared as soon as possible," Giles said, probably thinking the best way to avoid conversations that might crack the lenses of his glasses was to just pretend they weren't even happening.
"We're on it." Buffy pushed gently at Xander again. "Come on, you heard the man."
"Don't you want to get changed first?" Xander asked as he moved over to the shopping spread over the table.
Buffy wiped the top of her bottle on a clean bit of sleeve before taking a cream-free sip. Putting the beer on top of the fridge again, she shook her head.
"That might just lead to me getting changed twice. Now focus... but gently!"
Willow feigned interest in the books Giles was putting on any free space of table top, but really she was watching what Xander and Buffy were doing; wanting to join in, but not wanting to give Xander a reason to stop or Buffy a reason to think they were okay yet.
Xander picked up a bag of carrots next and after staring intently at Buffy for several seconds he threw them to her. They went wide, but Buffy was ready for it and stepped forward to catch them and... disappeared.
The carrots hit the toaster hard enough to crash it into the wall just behind, but Buffy's disembodied laughter was louder.
"I slipped in the cream!" she yelled through her giggles.
The split second expression of surprise before she'd disappeared from sight had been priceless and coupled with Buffy's infectious mirth, Willow was soon laughing hard too, as much as she tried to hold it in.
Shaking his head but smiling, Giles said patiently, "As much as I fully support this activity, perhaps it would be less messy if Xander practiced his catching for a little while instead."
"Are you saying there's something wrong with my catching?" Xander asked light-heartedly.
"Not at all." Without looking up from the book in his hands Giles picked a melon from the table and threw it at him.
Xander reacted quick enough but his catch was a little off and after much hand-slapping as he tried to get a grip on it, it flew over his right shoulder and smashed open on the floor behind him.
"Okay, was that really necessary?" Xander asked with a little less good-humor as he turned to stare at the remains of the melon.
Giles smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."
Willow fell to her knees with laughter.
Xander shrugged. "You're taking Buff to Cleveland tomorrow to replace all this stuff as punishment."
Giles nodded. "Done."
Buffy finally pulled herself back up by the counters. She was even more cream-stained than before. It was even in her hair.
"No giving up," she said. "We can do this." Then she noticed the melon. "Hey, that was my supper!"
Her disgruntled tone increased Willow's giggles and she crawled over to inspect the shattered fruit.
"Most of it's still edible."
"Yeah." Xander picked up the two pieces, leaving a lot of red mush on the floor, and smooshed them together. "See for yourself."
He pretended to throw them to her.
"No!" Buffy jumped back with her hands raised and slipped over again with a little scream. "Okay, I think that one caused a concussion."
Willow collapsed onto her side, weak from laughing. Even Giles was chuckling aloud now. Xander went to dump the melon haves onto the draining board and helped Buffy up.
"I think that's enough throwing and catching practice for one night," he said. "Otherwise what food doesn't end up on the floor is gonna get spoiled anyway."
"I agree." Giles stacked some of the packages of meat up and carried them to the counter closest to the fridge. "I think it would prove less expensive if we practiced outside tomorrow with a tennis ball instead."
From where she was still laying uncomfortably on the floor, Willow saw Xander's surprise at the suggestion better than maybe Giles or Buffy did. He didn't seem to know how to react at first and she saw interest, temptation and exasperation cross his face.
Eventually he settled on a neutral, "If you think it's worth the time."
Giles grinned over his shoulder at him as he gathered another stack from the table. "Of course. It will be fun."
"I'm in." Buffy was rubbing the back of her head where she'd bonked it. "Will?"
Her eyes darted to Xander before she answered. He looked to her at the same time, but his expression gave nothing else away.
"Sure. If I can be any help," she said. "Uh, Buff, did you want the rest of this watermelon?" She pointed to the seedy slush next to her.
"I don't know. How clean is the floor?"
"Not." She wrinkled her nose. She couldn't see any dirt, but the stone felt gritty beneath her bare arm and her nose was definitely detecting the tingle of dust. "Probably better just to hand me some of that kitchen towel," she decided.
By the time Buffy had ripped off a great chunk to start wiping the cream from the floor and Xander had taken another dozen sheets to clear the coleslaw from the stove, there wasn't a whole lot left on the roll. He chucked it down to her without thinking and she had to roll onto her back and reach up with both hands fast to catch it.
She did though, making it a minor victory for Xander's throwing skills that night. Before she could say anything congratulatory, she sneezed.
Oh God, it was freezing, literally. Had she teleported to the Arctic Circle this time. Looking around she saw a familiar bench, a familiar training barn and, when she turned around, a familiar back door. Just their garden then. Not particularly comforted by that - after all, she hadn't planned to come out here and she had no coat on - she hurried back to the house. If she wasn't sick already, staying out here another minute was going to make her.
She rushed in the back door, shivering hard, to find everyone staring at her. She sneezed.
It was very dark but at least it was warm. Too warm. Xander must have lit a fire earlier to stave off the chilly evening. She could feel it roasting her socked feet. She was in the fricking chimney! She struggled in the claustrophobic flue but before pure panic could set in the soot made her sneeze.
"Oh God, Oh God, Oh God!" she yelped.
She was back in the kitchen and her feet felt burnt. She hopped forward, deliberately landing in the watermelon guts and breathed a silent sigh as they cooled her soles.
Her friends surrounded her, asking questions, but she didn't know the answer to any of them and was too freaked to hear them clearly anyway.
Buffy grabbed her arm tightly, earthing her attention a little. "Willow, what's happening to you?"
She sneezed again and the cold was back. It had brought a strong wind with it for companionship. Willow's eyes were closed and she really didn't want to open them.
Hearing Buffy say, "Oh shit!" changed her mind.
"Where are we?" All she knew was that they were perching on something cold, hard and sloping. Nothing looked recognizable.
"I think..." Buffy was looking around trying to figure that out, "...on the roof."
Willow wasn't scared of heights but she was scared of falling off the top of a three-story house. As she twisted to check the validity of Buffy's guess, she started to slip down the tiles.
"I got you," Buffy promised, catching her arm and pulling her back up to the pinnacle.
"No, let go of me!" Willow struggled out of her firm grip, nearly slipping again. "There's no telling where I might sneeze us to next time."
"Don't worry about that. Look, just hold on to the chimney stack while I find the best way down."
"I don't like chimneys any more!" Willow felt close to meltdown. Which was weird seeing as she was once again freezing her ass off.
"Well, you don't have to be best friends with it, just hold on." Buffy started inching her way down the tiles. "You know, when I said I wanted to sit on the roof and howl at the moon tonight, I was just joking."
Willow gave a strained chuckle. As Buffy's feet slipped on the icy tiles, she blurted, "Be careful!"
"I am. Just going to see how far it is to the balcony from up here. I can drop down and then catch..."
The smoke coming from the chimney made Willow sneeze.
She was shivering hard still, but it felt good to be out of the wind. She stepped back out of the oogy watermelon remains as her friends gathered round. Buffy went to grab her arm.
"Don't touch me!" She jumped further back.
"Sorry, I..." Buffy looked hurt on top of the confusion already deep set on her face. "I just..."
Willow pointed at her. "You're... you're on the roof."
Buffy looked down at herself. "Okay, weirdest insult of the night goes to..."
Barely listening, Willow yanked open the back door and ran out into the freezing night. She ran far enough from the house to be able to see the roof clearly. There was no silhouette against the indigo-blue of the night sky, but there were plenty of deep shadows.
"Buffy! Buffy!" She called up.
When there was no answer, Willow ran back into the house.
"What was that about?" Buffy asked.
"Will, are you okay?" Xander asked, she pulled back as he tried to put his arm around her.
"Perhaps you should sit..." Giles began with grave concern.
She felt dizzy and her eyes went blurry. Seconds later she felt her body hit the stone kitchen floor as she passed out.
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