Buffy came through the front door. Everyone was still talking, no one was still listening. She could hear several conversation going on that had absolutely nothing to do with their mission, but she knew she could hardly complain when it had been the furthest thing from her mind for the last twenty minutes.
She felt eyes on her and turned her head slightly to see Faith still gazing at her with a pained expression. 'What is her problem?' Buffy shook it off and looked around the room. 'Work first - private life later,' she resolved.
"Er . . ." She cleared her throat, preparing to shout to get everyone's attention, but once again Faith got there first.
"Guys, shut up and listen." Faith shouted above the conversational din.
Buffy glanced quickly in Faith's direction. "Thanks. I coulda done that." 'Why am I snapping at her? She's only trying to help.'
Faith looked more resigned than hurt. "Sorry B." 'Yep definitely freaking.'
Buffy wanted to force herself to look at Faith and say it was her who should be sorry but she didn't 'Work first!' Instead she said: "Scoobies in the kitchen. The rest of you carry on talking about lipstick or whatever."
"Can I stay and talk about lipstick too?" Dawn asked.
"Dawn - kitchen."
"Okay, okay, I was just joking."
She led the way into the kitchen and stood with her back to the sink while everyone filed in.
Xander came through first with Anya clinging to one arm and Dawn to the other. They all took seats at the table. Willow came in followed by Kennedy. Buffy raised an eyebrow at her presence.
"What? I don't wear lipstick. What contribution could I make?" They sat down next to each other on the opposite side of the table.
Giles came through. "Would anyone like some tea?" He asked, going to fill the kettle. Everyone nodded.
Faith wandered in and hovered in the doorway. "I know I'm not a Scooby so do you want me to keep the troops entertained? I don't know, play Pictionary or something?"
The thought of Faith playing Pictionary made Buffy smile and relax considerably. "No, I think you're old enough to play in here with the big kids." She turned the smile in Faith's direction but still couldn't quite meet her eyes.
Faith nodded and moved to stand against the counter. Just out of Buffy's line of sight.
"Where's Robin?" Buffy asked. She didn't think the principal would choose a conversation over lipstick and boys to one about demon bashing.
Giles answered: "I believe he's gone back to his apartment. He mentioned something about calling the school board." He turned back to his work. "Wretched bags - teabags should be square." He muttered.
"As long as he hasn't gone after Spike again." Buffy felt a pang of fear. She was more worried for Robin than Spike, but either of them dead wouldn't help their mission. And if Spike came back with the principal's blood on his hands, no one was gonna care who started it.
"No, I'm sure that's not it, Buffy," Giles told her with a sigh.
"He's trying to find out more about the history of Hell Mouth High. That seal has been there God knows how long so surely it must figure somewhere in the schools plans. Or someone may have discovered it before it was built. Anyway, he thought it might help," Willow explained.
"Can't you get most of that from your laptop?" Buffy asked.
"Well yeah, probably. I told him that but he said he'd feel better if he was doing something."
"Sounds like he's got the right idea. I've gotta admit I'm getting kinda antsy just sitting around," Faith complained.
"Well I for one choose sitting around drinking tea, preferable to going out there and dying," Anya stated, sipping from the cup Giles had placed in front of her. "Or maybe not. What is this?" She asked pulling a face.
"Sorry but it's all I could find. I believe you have the Mandarin and Rose hip. According to the packet it promotes long life," Giles explained.
"Long life. Huh this stuff will kill me quicker than the apocalypse," she muttered, pushing her cup away.
Xander sampled his. "I gotta agree with Anya on this one G-man. It tastes like my mom's perfume."
"The difference being you complained less when you drank your mom's perfume." Willow pouted. "There's nothing wrong with the tea. They are healthy and don't have any caffeine, just herbal-y goodness so you can get a good night's sleep."
"Yeah, heaven forbid the caffeine might keep us up all night. That would be a total waste of the mind-numbing fear," Dawn teased.
"Which is kind of why I called you all in here," Buffy began. "But if you'd rather talk about hippy beverages instead of how to save our necks that's fine, I'll just wait."
"Rose hip, not hippy."
"Anya!" Buffy put her hands on her hips and glared at the ex-demon. Faith held in a smile at the sight.
"Okay. We were getting nowhere achingly slowly out there. So I think if we're going to come up with a master plan then we have to do it between us and then inform the troops. This democracy sounds good in theory but it obviously sucks." Buffy pulled herself up on the drainer. "Right. Does anyone have any suggestions?"
"Well we rather assumed you did?" Giles said, a bit embarrassed at having come up with nothing.
"Yeah well that would be wonderful but my plan is scaring the crap out of everyone so maybe it's time for someone else to have a go. Faith?"
"Uh, I don't know, B. Normally I'd be all for your direct approach; you know what my planning skills are like. This time though, I'm not sure. You can't save the world dead. Can't we just nuke Caleb or something?"
"Now that is a plan I like," Xander chuckled.
"I think nuclear warheads may be slightly out of out league," Giles said.
"Not to mention detrimental to the environment. What are you gonna say: 'Hey we saved the planet for you kiddies, but you can't live on it any more.'" Willow responded sarcastically.
"Okay Red, don't get your panties in a twist. What about blowing the place up with dynamite or something? Hopefully we'll crush Caleb inside."
"Because unfortunately this isn't a cartoon, Faith," Xander said.
"You did it with the high school. Worked real good from what I saw of it." Faith refused to meet anyone's eyes. Even with all the changes she had been through, the memory of standing outside the burnt out building, knowing the Mayor had perished inside and she was once again alone in the world, still haunted her.
"Yeah, that's true, but if we think there's something we want in there - and I do - then it's going to do us no good buried under the building," Buffy said.
"Well then I'm out," Faith shrugged. "Anyone else got anything?"
"What about machine guns? Heavy artillery.? Willow told me you once used a rocket launcher. What about something like that?" Kennedy asked.
"Yeah, surely even the Preacher Creature, as strong as he is, isn't impervious to bullets?" Dawn looked at Buffy for agreement.
"Probably not, but we would have to get the stuff from somewhere. Xander, do you think you're up to rekindling your military career?"
"I'd love to Buff, but I think a soldier with a big old bandage over his eye is likely to draw some attention. That place has got to be on total lockdown what with everything happening in Sunnydale. Give me the option of walking into a base of Hellmouthy soldiers or a lion's den - I say bring on the kitty's. I imagine I'd be shot at before I got near the gate," Xander said. Giving a grim chuckle he added: "But you know, if it's what you need . . ."
"He's not doing it! Xander you're not doing it!" Anya stressed frantically.
"No, I think we'd rather have you than a gun," Buffy smiled at him.
"What about the gun I bought to . . .?" Willow asked in a quiet voice.
Faith looked up. What had Red been doing with a gun? Willow noticed and said: "It was a spell. It turned me into a psycho."
"Well Red, don't feel too bad. I've been there, without a spell, and now I'm a white hat. Just goes to show there's good and bad in all."
"No Faith, what I went through was a little different to you."
"Jeez, okay, I was just saying, we all make mistakes." Faith was instantly on the defensive. "No need to get all bent out of shape."
"No, Faith I really mean it. I didn't just go psycho like you. I went all manly as well." Willow blushed a similar shade to her hair.
"Huh what? Am I missing some gay references here or something?"
"Can we talk about this later?" Buffy asked.
"Oh come on, you can't leave me hanging," Faith urged for the rest of the story.
"She turned into a man, but only for a little while," Kennedy explained, stroking some hair out of her girlfriend's eyes.
"Whoa, that would be enough to make anyone crazy, Willow. What was it like?"
"Enough." If Buffy had been stood up she would have stamped her foot. "We can't use that gun cause Spike and I took it and dropped it in the river. I didn't feel safe having it lying around after the First's attempt to use Andrew."
"So I'm taking it no one has any suggestions that seem credible?" Giles asked.
"Giles, if you can come up with something I haven't thought of then please, let me know cause I'll listen to any ideas here," Buffy snapped.
Xander opened his mouth to speak but Buffy stopped him with a look.
"I just know you're going to say something about humus. Don't."
Xander held up his hands with a sheepish smile on his face.
"Does anyone have anything? Time's running out, guys. We can't just sit here throwing suggestions in a hat forever. We have to make some decisions. Now."
Everyone shrugged. No one spoke.
"Okay then, we go with the only plan that makes sense," Buffy decided.
"And which one was that? Giles asked.
"We go back to the vineyard. Everything points to there being something down there for us. If I'm wrong about that, well we still need to get Caleb and that's where he is too."
"Buffy it's too dangerous. What if it all goes wrong again?" Willow asked.
"She's right. That Caleb is a monster - there's no way . . ."
"Giles, we are in the business of killing monsters remember? What's one more?"
"How about the fact that you can't kill him? He sent you flying last time Buff and you're still seeing stars. And if you can't . . . well," Xander didn't need to finish what everyone was thinking.
"I don't want to go back down there Buffy," Kennedy told her. "No, before you say anything, I am here to fight and you know I'm good at it, but I just can't get behind this. If we go back in there it's going to be one large helping of ouch and probably nothing to show for it."
"It's not the ouch I'm worried about, it's the death," Anya said.
"Yeah, Blondie, that normally comes after the ouch," Faith pointed out. "Look B, I see what you're saying about our options, but there's no way you can take them girls back in there." She nodded towards the lounge. "Most of them are about ready to pee their pants just sitting here. You take them to face Caleb and put them in a fight situation, they're gonna get themselves killed."
Buffy nodded slowly. Faith was right. The potentials were bags of nerves. She had been counting on Kennedy motivating them but she had made it quite clear how she felt. She took a sip of the tepid, pink-colored tea Giles had made for her earlier. "Yeuch!" And spat it straight into the sink. "Someone burn those teabags."
"You are so gross," Her sister told her as Buffy wiped dribbles of tea from her chin.
"Dawn, make some coffee for everyone, please." Buffy smiled sweetly at her sister.
Dawn looked like she was about to complain but changed her mind when the smile dropped. "Okay, I'm doing it."
Willow got up from her seat. "I'll help you, Dawnie." As the two of them set about washing cups and making coffee for eight people, Buffy came to a decision.
"Right, I've got it."
"You have? Do we want it?" Xander asked, looking skeptical.
"No, probably not, but that's cool. I'm going back to the vineyard."
"Buffy we've just discussed how foolish it would be to take the girls back in . . ."
"No Giles, you're not listening. I'm going back to the vineyard. Alone."
"Oh." Giles removed his glasses and cleaned them.
"Buffy, you can't." Dawn turned around, looking scared.
"It's okay, I'll be careful."
"It sounds like madness, Buffy."
"Willow, honestly I'll be okay. If I go alone then I only have to take care of myself. I'm not going to fight if I can help it, just look around for what's mine."
"And how are you going to know what it is?" Anya asked.
"Well I'm hoping I'll know it when I see it."
"Ah a sound plan." Anya rolled her eyes.
"It's the only one that stands a chance of working."
"I don't want you going in there alone, Buffy. You may not want a fight, but Caleb might feel differently if you try and take his toys away," Xander reasoned. "Let me come with you, at least to watch your back."
"No Xander, thanks for offering but you can't help me. You're still weak and you're only half the look-out man you used to be."
"Hey, way to kick a man when he's down," Xander groused.
"I'm sorry Xand, but I'm being cruel to be kind. You'll be at too much risk out there right now and I don't want Anya going all demony on me cause you get your ass killed."
"You know I will, too," Anya assured Buffy.
"I don't doubt it. Right it's settled then. I'll grab some weapons and get ready."
"Buffy, here's your coffee." Dawn handed her a steaming cup of java.
She smiled at her little sister. "Thanks Dawnie, now I can finally get the taste of candle wax and slug out of my mouth."
"They make candle and slug teabags?"
Every one turned to look at the ex-demon.
"It's been a long day hasn't it, Ahn." Xander took her hand in his own and smiled at her.
"Hey, they make that Mandarin and Rosehip crap, anything's possible." She defended herself.
"Uh Buffy, what do you want us to do while you're gone? I can't sit still anymore," Kennedy said.
"Well, we need to research Caleb. Find out everything we can. Police records and such. So Willow and Giles and Dawn, you're on that. If Robin comes back, he can help. Anya, will you find Andrew and go to the store? The amount of people living here, we're going through food like it's going out of fashion. Grab whatever you can. There's money in the red tin on my dresser."
"Andrew's in there talking lipstick," Dawn snorted.
Anya got up to get the money and Andrew. "Any requests?"
A few people said teabags. Xander said doughnuts. She ruffled his hair affectionately and walked out.
"Right, any of the girls who can't sleep, get them down in the basement for training. We need everyone at their peak and sitting around gossiping isn't gonna produce that. Kennedy, can you help Faith with that?"
Kennedy nodded but Faith flared-up.
"Oh no, no way. You're not going alone. You think this is the best course of action, fine, but I'm going with you."
"Buffy, Yes! That's it, final answer. You're not facing that maniac alone, I won't let you." Faith's eyes were flashing angrily. She was not prepared to back down on this and Buffy could make as much noise about it as she liked.
"Faith, I've made my decision and you will fall in line like everyone else." Buffy's voice was a knife edge.
"Oh will I? You're not the boss of me. I'm a Slayer too, in case you've forgotten and I go where I want."
The room had fallen silent. Everyone was watching the two Slayers with trepidation.
"So is this your big finish, Faith? You've come here to mess up my plans and this is it, your big moment. And here I thought you were just gonna settle for messing with my head." Buffy's voice was quiet, but so clear it seemed to echo throughout the room.
"Buffy, that's quite . . ." Giles began, but Faith held up her hand to silence him.
"You want to get over yourself? The only reason I'm here is because Willow said I was needed. I couldn't give a flying freak about you or your minuscule little mind."
"Huh. Could have fooled me. All you've ever done is play games. Well you took it too far this time."
"Well B, you know I pull out all the stops for you, girlfriend. Nothing's too much trouble to mess with your head." Faith spat the last five words.
"So I noticed. Gotta give you top marks for the original approach, although the delivery was a little off."
Buffy could feel everyone's eyes on them. No one knew how to take this turn in events, including her, but she felt pretty sure she'd just busted Faith. Or else why was the younger Slayer making such a fuss.
"Hey guys, maybe we don't have time for this."
Faith looked round when Willow spoke as if she had forgotten the others were there. She turned and spoke to Buffy again.
"Me and you outside, now." She started walking to the back door. As she passed Buffy she grabbed her arm. "Now!"
Buffy shrugged her off violently and remained still. Faith reached the back door and wrenched it open.
"You want to do this here? Or do you want to go outside before it gets any uglier?"
Buffy took a deep breath, clenched and unclenched her fists a few times, and then walked briskly out the door without looking at anyone.
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