House of The Setting Sun: Pilot
Episode One of the House of the Setting Sun Series

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, nor do I make any profit from writing about them. No copyright infringement intended.
Rating: R


Episode One

Act Two

"Hey, what do you think you're doing?"

Xander shakily removed his hands from clutching the back of his head when he heard the shout. His tormentors laughed and began to run away, one of them kicking him in the stomach as he left. He let out a quiet 'oof!' and lay there trying to catch his breath.

He saw Kennedy jump over him and give chase while Dawn knelt at his side.

"Are you okay?" She asked, touching his shoulder.

"No," he groaned. "But I will be." He let Dawn help him to his feet.

Kennedy jogged back to them. "Lost them in the alleys." She shrugged. Placing one of Xander's arms around her shoulders, she began making her way back to the car. "Do you know what they wanted? They just looked like kids."

"They wanted a good kick up the ass is what they wanted," Xander responded.

"Willow, you're bleeding right though your shorts, now just pull them down so I can patch you up."

"No Buffy, I can do it myself," said Willow, nervously inching away.

"Stop being such a baby. We always patch each other up after fights." Buffy moved around the kitchen after Willow.

"We don't normally patch up each other's behinds," Willow finished delicately.

Buffy shrugged. "So, what's the big?"

"There is no big, but why don't you just start with my back? I'd appreciate that a lot more."

Buffy sighed in exasperation but relented. Willow lifted off her top and held it against her chest, while Buffy looked at the six round, quarter-sized marks adorning Willow's shoulders.

"They look okay. The suckers didn't draw blood or anything. In fact they just look like little hickies," she finished with a half giggle.

"Great, so my girlfriend will think I'm cheating on her with my herb garden. I wonder if they cover that in couples therapy." Asked Willow sarcastically, then flinched dramatically as Buffy whipped her shorts down, her underwear went along for the ride. "Buffy, what are you doing?" She squealed.

"First aid." The blonde responded. She quickly swabbed at the nasty cut on Willow's left buttock and then just as quickly examined it. "It looks like teeth marks. The skins been lacerated in two lines; they're quite deep, but I doubt you'll need stitches. Hold still."

Willow tried not squirm as Buffy rubbed a little antiseptic cream onto her butt and then covered it all with a big band aid, but she could honestly say she had never felt so uncomfortable in her entire life. Well, she conceded, she probably had, but she couldn't think of it right now.

"There," she said, "that wasn't so bad, was it?" Buffy turned away while Willow pulled her shorts and panties back up, and pulled her t-shirt over her head.

"Pfft." Willow stalked to the cupboard to put the first aid kit away. "Easy for you to say. You weren't just molested in the kitchen by your best friend."

"Molested, hardly. I don't see what you're bothered about, it's not like it's Xander doing it. Now that I could see as embarrassing, but it's only me." Buffy disappeared for a second into the living room. When she came back, she was carrying a fluffy cushion. She put it on one of the wooden chairs at the kitchen table and sat down on the chair next to it. "For your sore butt," she explained.

Willow remained standing, an awkward look on her face. "But it's not really all that different, is it?"

Buffy looked up, confused. "Huh? What?"

"You and Xander, me and Xander, me and you," Willow said cryptically,

"What, you mean like best friends? What's that got to do with your . . . Willow were you worried I was checking out your ass?" Buffy asked, trying to hide a smirk.

"No, of course not. The thought never entered my mind. Well, not really. Not for more than a second, anyway, and even then I didn't really think it; it sort of thought me. But you gotta admit it's a good thought. I don't mean good as in good, good, but y'know a worthy one, cause if it was Xander doing the first aid, you know he'd be checking out our butts . . ."

Buffy held her hands up in surrender. "Will, you're giving me a headache, stop already."

"Sorry," Willow cringed. "Are you mad at me?"

Buffy pouted. "Well I'm a bit disappointed that me looking at your ass is such a big turn off, but I'll get over it."

Willow sank down onto the cushion Buffy had got for her. "No, no, no Buffy, it's not a turn off, of course it's not, it's just that . . . y'know. It's wrong and weird and a . . . a little disturbing, but if y'know if you want . . ."

"Okay, Will, let's stop there, before you say something that really will become disturbing. I was only messing with you," Buffy laughed. "But you get all cute when you're flustered and I couldn't resist."

Willow's blush gradually receded and she said. "You're mean."

Buffy nodded her agreement.

"But you're out of your room, so I'll let your meanness pass for now. So what do you think caused the flora to get all violent?"

Buffy shrugged. "Dunno, I was going to ask you. I mean, I don't think it's normal. I know you can get Venus fly traps and that, but I've never seen a whole flower patch rise up and get nasty."

"Makes you rethink ticking the box marked 'shrubs', doesn't it," Willow agreed.

Buffy giggled.

Willow smiled at her. "Well you certainly seem happier. What happened?"

Buffy looked down at her hands, her smile fading. Willow kicked herself for making the dark cloud come back.

"Sorry Buff, we don't have to talk about that, we can carry on talking about the attack of Eden."

"No, it's okay. It's simple, in fact. I'm just not giving her what she wants."

"What Faith wants?" Willow asked, mentally walking on egg shells.

"Yeah. She always wanted to hurt me for having the stuff she didn't. In fact, she always wanted to hurt me, period. As much as I sit up there and tell myself her going is just a mistake, just something she had to do, I know the truth."

"And what is it?"

"She told me that night that she had wanted me right from the start, that she liked me and it hurt her that I didn't give her a second thought. And she's right, I didn't; not really. I was too caught up in senior year and Angel and you guys. It wasn't that I didn't feel the same way back that messed her up, it was the fact that I didn't even notice how she felt about me. I couldn't even take time out of my own life to see what was right in front of me, a friend who needed my help."

"I don't see how that's your fault, Buffy. You did all you could to help her. If that wasn't enough, then maybe at the time nothing was," said Willow, comfortingly.

"No that's not true. She was drowning. In life, in love, in Slayerhood. She couldn't cope and she reached out to me. As the one person who should have been able to understand how she felt, the one person who could make it better. Faith has issues going back way further than since we've known her, I don't even pretend to know what most of them are about either, but I know a big one is trust. I don't know how many times she's been let down by people she's loved, but she told me once she knew she could rely on no one but herself. How sad is it that a sixteen year old girl feels like that? And then she loved me and I let her down too, because I couldn't see or didn't want to see that I was the only one who could pull her out of the black hole of her life. I wasn't prepared to invest the time and energy it would take to truly be friends with her, to truly get to know her, and she knew that."

"So why has she gone now? If you're everything she's ever wanted, why run when she gets you?"

"Because I want her now. Oh Gods Will, I want her so much it's killing me. I never even thought I really would. I mean, I knew she made my tummy all fizzy when I thought about her, but I didn't expect it to turn into this all consuming monster. I don't go a second without wishing she was here, without wishing I could wake up earlier that morning and handcuff her to the bed or something; without wondering where she is and what she's doing. If she even felt half of this all those years ago then maybe it explains some of why she went crazy, 'cause I can feel myself going the same way. That's why she went. She's tried so hard over the years to punish me for letting her down and she's never really managed it. It's only ever made me more angry with her and has driven us further apart, but this time it's perfect. She's got what she wanted . . . me, and I haven't got what I want . . . her." Buffy wiped at the tears that were falling once again.

Willow put her arm around her best friend and let her sob.

Faith paced back and forth in the little holding cell. She hated it here. At least in her own cell she had her newspaper clippings of Sunnydale, and a Polaroid picture of Buffy, Xander and Willow that Angel had sent her, apparently from Cordelia's apartment. Cordelia was still in coma land so wouldn't be needing it.

The cell door opened and Faith spun to face it. "Gunn," she greeted, smiling grimly.

"Faith, how you holding up?" He asked.

She shrugged. "So when do I meet my fancy new lawyer? Heh, I can't believe I'm gonna be represented by Wolfram and Hart, makes a nice change from them wanting me dead."

"I'm you're new lawyer, didn't Angel tell you?" Gunn asked.

Faith's shoulders slumped, obviously disappointed. "No, I thought I was going to get a real one, but I guess since this whole thing is phony anyway, it makes sense."

"Hey, I am a real lawyer. The best at W H, for that matter, so you better show some respect." Gunn chuckled when she looked confused. "Let's get you out of here first and then I'll explain, it's a long story. And stop sayin this is a phony case. It's not. In fact, you've got a very good case for getting a reduced sentence, or even immediate parole."

"But I did it, everything I was sentenced for. How can you get me out without telling a bunch of lies?"

"Extenuating circumstances and a whole lot of evidence against the late mayor of Sunnydale that was never brought to the original trial. All you gotta do girl, is stay positive and say what I tell ya." He smirked, "And if all else fails, Wolfram and Hart have been getting the bad guys off for centuries. One more won't kill us."

She smiled and slugged him playfully on the arm. "Okay I trust you. What happens today?"

"Probably not a lot. We're just going in there to state your new case. I'll do some talking, you'll answer some questions, the judge will want some character references and then we wait and see what the judge says. He'll hopefully give us a date for a retrial. Thing is, you're in for murder two so they can't just rap you on your knuckles and send you home. We need to prove it was never murder in the first place."

"Who's gonna speak up for my character?"

"Well Angel for one."

"Angel is here? Does Buffy . . .?"

"Buffy still don't know where you are; now can you stay focused? If we play this right you can get back to your shortie and won't have to bug your lawyer with questions about her."

"But is she okay?"

"No idea, they moved up to Ohio about a week ago." Gunn offered her a bundle of clothes from under his arm. "Fred went and picked these out for you. Last time you went into court in your work uniform," Faith looked down at herself. It was true, leather pants and tight black workout vest were perfect Slaying gear. "You're not doing it again this time. You gotta make the right impression."

Faith took the clothes gingerly. Fred was a nice girl but they hardly had the same taste in clothes.

Gunn turned to go. "Come out when you're done and we'll get down there."

Faith quickly stripped and pulled on the new clothes. They weren't too bad. A long black skirt and a white pinstripe shirt, with sleeves ending at her elbow. Definitely more conservative than what she normally wore, but if it did the job . . . She let herself out of the cell and went to join her new lawyer.

Andrew had taken shot-gun so Xander could sit in the back with Dawn, who was holding a cloth to the gash on his forehead.

"How are you feeling now?" Andrew awked.

"Same as I was when you asked thirty seconds ago," Xander said groggily.

"I'm sorry, but I'm worried! You look real bad. I still say we should take you to the E.R." Andrew said, peering back over his seat.

Xander did look bad; besides the cut on his head, the right side of his face was a dark purple color already and he had lots of other scrapes and bruises wherever skin was visible. He was holding his left arm firmly against his chest to save jarring it.

"The nearest hospital is Cleveland and that's nearly an hour away. By the time we'd get there I'd be fine."

"I can get you there in half that time," offered Kennedy who was in the driver's seat.

"No!" Yelped both Xander and Dawn.

"He'll be okay once we get him home. The bleeding's almost stopped already, and his arm isn't broken, just twisted I think," continued Dawn.

"Oooh look at that creepy old castle," Andrew said.

They all looked to where he pointed out the window. There was a steep hill off in the distance with a derelict building at the top. Andrew was right; even on this sunny day it did look a bit creepy.

"It's not really a castle. It's just a big house. Castles have turrets and stuff," Dawn said.

"It's got turrets," Andrew countered, defending his castle.

"Nah, I think they're just chimneys," Xander agreed with Dawn.

"It looks like my step-father's house," Kennedy said, "but a bit smaller," she added.

Everyone looked at Kennedy.

"Huh," said Dawn.

"What do you think was their problem? I mean I know kids can be a handful but when I got there, they were really laying into you. Did you take away their ball or something?" Kennedy asked to change the subject. The house disappeared around the next bend.

"No, I was just walking."

"You must've done something. That was a real lynch mob they had going," Kennedy maintained.

"Honestly, one minute I was walking, trying to find the wood yard and the next minute I'm being jumped by four little delinquents who wanted to cause me some serious hurt. They kept calling me wolf," he added. "Which would be quite a cool nickname if I wasn't getting smacked upside the head with rocks at the time."

"Wolf? why would they call you wolf? Were you howling in pain?" Dawn chuckled, but stopped when Xander glared at her.

"I don't know and right now I don't care. I just wanna get home. I need a drink."

"Well we're nearly there," Kennedy told them as she swung the car into their lane.

Suddenly she slammed on the brakes causing everyone to lurch forward.

"What is it?" Dawn asked.

"It's a wilderness," said Andrew.

"Huh?" Dawn looked through the gap in the seats to see out the windshield. "Oh."

"Is this the right lane?" Xander asked, also looking.

"I think so. It's the one we came out of, I'm sure," Kennedy said, puzzled.

The lane was blocked by a thick tangle of trees, bushes and wild flowers.

"Yeah, this our lane, there's our mail box," Andrew said, pointing to a red rectangular box on top of a stick that reached about four feet high. It could barely be seen poking out of the vegetation.

"How long were we in town?" Xander asked.

"Not long enough for the house to do a sleeping beauty on us, I'm thinking," Dawn replied.

"So what do we do?" Andrew asked.

Kennedy jumped out of the car and went around to the trunk. Pulling out the swords that were stashed there, she handed one to each of them as they followed her out.

"Play explorer," she told Andrew.


Buffy had calmed herself down and Willow was making them both some tea.

"So where is everyone anyway? I came down to hang with my friends, as per instructed, and you're the only one left," Buffy said while she sat fiddling with a folded up piece of paper.

Willow wondered what was on it. The paper had materialized out of Buffy's sleeve as soon as they'd begun talking. At first she presumed it was a tissue, but she inspected it now over Buffy's oblivious shoulder and it was definitely a piece of folded A4 paper. Deciding to leave it 'til later, she answered Buffy.

"Uh, well Xander and Dawn had to get out of the house before Bette Midler drove them crazy, so Andrew suggested they all go to the store for groceries. And Kennedy offered to drive cos, well you know how she loves scaring the crap out of everyone. Xander's gonna pick up some wood so he can make a start on renovating the barns. I told him no beer until he's at least bought the wood. I put s spell on the fridge so every time he goes to grab a beer, he gets a glass of milk instead." Willow started giggling at her own mischief.

"Great to see you're using your powers for good now, Will," Buffy said sarcastically, but she was smiling too.

"I am. Drunk Xander is no good for anyone, especially himself, and milk is good for teeth and bones." Willow pouted.

"No I definitely agree, a good plan if somewhat dastardly," Buffy agreed. "So that's four of our happy household accounted for - well six including us - but I'm pretty sure we arrived at the back of beyond with more refugees than that."

"Yep. Giles took Rona to Africa to work with a big spiritual guy and now he's in England sorting out Watcher stuff. Apparently he'll be bringing home some more Slayers any day now."

"Watcher stuff, that's pretty vague."

"That's what I thought, but that's all he said. Uh, Robin's back in Beverly Hills, recuperating. He told Giles he'd speak to his Watcher - well his mom's Watcher - about rejoining the council. He's pretty old now though, I think, so I doubt he'll be able to do much watching." Willow thought about that a moment. "Actually maybe that's all he would be able to do, watch that is. Anyway, I heard Giles say he wanted to round up as many of the old council as he could, y'know, so they had a starting point for the new council."

"Great, a new council," Buffy groaned.

Willow shrugged. "With Giles at the head it might not be so bad. Um, most of the new Slayers scattered once we reached L.A. as you know. Spending four weeks in the big city really broadened a lot of their horizons, but they know where we are, more or less, and the majority of them promised to get in touch when they settled somewhere. A lot of them didn't want to go home; too many questions I think. Vi did though, she's gone to see her folks in . . . wherever she was from. She told them she had gotten into this really cool school in Ohio and they jumped at the chance of their daughter getting a first rate, private education, so we should be seeing her again soon."

"Oh really, what school?" Buffy asked, wondering for the first time where she was going to enroll Dawn.

Willow giggled. "Here silly. I designed this really cool letter on the lap-top and printed out a few dozen of them, and Giles signed them all. That way if anyone discovers we're not a real school, we both go down for fraud. Stops people from getting loose lips," she nodded sagely.

Buffy regarded her friend silently for a minute, "You telling me we have to keep this in the family, Don Rosenberg?" She eventually asked, straight-faced.

Willow poked her tongue out. "And that's makes up all of us for now. Letters like the one that went to Vi's family will go to all the new Slayer's parents. We have no way of knowing how many Slayers were activated when the spell was cast, but I've got a feeling we're going to be seeing a lot more than those three out there."

Buffy looked out of the window to the back of the house. "Those three little girls are Slayers? I thought they were like gardeners or helper-outers or something," Buffy said, taking an interest in them for the first time.

"Buffy, what have you been doing in that room? They've been here all week. Alison has anyway, Cici and Miranda arrived the day after."

Buffy laughed. "Cici?"

Willow mocked her laugh. "Buffy?"

Buffy scowled and looked back out of the window. "Are you sure they're Slayers? They look a little young . . . and skinny."

"They're fifteen and Slayers have high metabolisms, you should know that. Giles thinks only potentials of fifteen or sixteen will be called, because that's the age most Slayers have been in the past. Obviously nothing's certain but I hope he's right. Can you imagine having a load of three year old Slayers to look after? They'd tear the house down . . . or . . . or breast-feeding a baby Slayer . . ." Willow trailed off with a grimace at the thought.

"Ouch." Agreed Buffy also shuddering, then a thought occurred to her. "Willow, why would you be breast-fee . . ."


Buffy and Willow looked at each other and then jumped up and raced for the door. Getting outside, they looked for the source of the scream.

Off to one side of the garden, alongside a large barn had been a patch of beautiful - and more importantly - peaceful rose bushes. Now they were anything but peaceful as they trapped a new Slayer, Cici, within their stalks and gripped her with their thorns.

The other two girls were thrashing at the bush with their gardening tools, but were too scared of hitting their sister Slayer to be very effective. Buffy rushed over with Willow close behind.

"Stand still!" Buffy yelled.

The girl caught in the thorns thrashed for another second and then realized who had called her. She stopped dead and tried not to cry from the pain. Willow could see dozens of tiny lacerations across her body where the thorns had scraped her, or pricked her.

Buffy took a second to gauge the best way in and then dropped to the floor. Crawling forward on her belly she reached the base of the stalk where it sunk into the ground and yanked it hard. After a few pulls the roots came up and Buffy gently hauled the young Slayer towards her.

"Don't try to move 'til we get these off you," she said calmly and started snapping off the stems one by one. They resisted her strong hands, the stems trying to entwine around the girl's arms and legs and torso, even becoming entangled in her long hair while the thorns attempted to dig in deeper and cause more damage. Eventually though, the bush lay in pieces behind Buffy. No one needed telling not to go anywhere near it.

Buffy gave the new girl a once over. "You'll live, it looks worse than it probably is. Willow will get you patched up. Your hair's the biggest casualty, I think." There were leaves and stalks sticking out of it all over. Cici's hand flew to her head and her mouth made a silent 'oh'.

"I thought you were playing doctor today," Willow said and then blushed as she put her more up to date version of Doctors and Nurses, eventually learned from Xander, with exactly what of hers Buffy had patched up earlier.

"I'm a bit tired. With all the gardening," Buffy said, leading the way back in. "I think I'll go and have a nap." She picked up the letter from the table on her way through to the back of the cool, still kitchen and started up the stairs.

"But Buffy, what about the psychotic plant life?" Willow called after her, but she was gone. She turned to the new Slayers about to vent her frustration at her friend, but seeing the state Cici was in, that took priority.

Buffy looked out of her bedroom window. She knew Willow wanted her to help figure this thing out, but she just didn't have the energy. There were three Slayers down there; let them figure it out.

She caught a movement off to the side of the garden where the grass was longer and unruly. Not that any of it was ruly at the moment. She watched as the long grass was parted like the sea when a ship cut through the waves, except this was the back yard and she couldn't see any ships. The waves spread out until there was lots of little ones and then joined back up to one big one again.

'Snakes, a nest of them,' she thought, and shivered at the idea. At the crest of the big wave something sprouted out of the grass; it looked like a feather. So was it a bird; a very small, thin, fast bird that moved like a serpent. Okay ,the country-side was even weirder than she'd been led to believe.

While she was straining to see what kind of creature this was, or failing that what type of plant had dragged up its roots to go on a killing spree, a faint voice came to her ears.

"Qui afore maad ses us lads, grab up tey banes."

"Aha, demon languages," Buffy said to herself. Maybe that would shake the cobwebs away, a good demon kill. She shoved her window up and crawled out on the veranda roof as quick as she could, then running along it to the side of the house, she jumped and landed in the long grass where the snake demon had been a moment before.

"Gotcha!" she announced as she looked around at the empty grass. She looked around confused. It had taken her barely thirty seconds to get out here, and considering she hadn't slayed for a month she thought that was pretty good going. So where was her demon?

"Come on, I gotcha fair and square, now come out and stop hiding." There was no answer but the wind in the trees above her. Feeling foolish she started back towards the house. Willow met her at the door.

"What was it Buffy? I heard you shouting."

"I thought I saw something, but I didn't. Never mind." Buffy walked past her friend and back up to her room, closed the window and the curtains firmly and laid on the bed.

She picked up the letter again. "You're making me crazy. Is this how you felt, chasing shadows all the time?" She wondered softly.

It was hot in the vegetation tunnel they had created and the light was a creepy dark green. Insects buzzed around them relentlessly, no matter how many they swatted.

"I don't like this," whined Andrew.

"Shut up and keep cutting, cry-baby," Kennedy told him. She was using her sword like an axe, cutting anything in her path.

"But it's getting worse and we're actually underneath the grass now and . . . and I keep getting bitten." He slapped his cheek hard and looked at the bug now squashed into his palm.

"Yeah and you whining about it isn't going to help so just get a move on," Kennedy said, not bothering to look back.

"Who died and made you the boss?" Dawn asked, jerking her own sword back as it got tangled yet again in the green vines surrounding them.

"I'm the Slayer here."

"Yeah and I've lived with a Slayer my whole life, sort of, so that doesn't work on me."

Kennedy stopped cutting and turned to face Dawn. "Okay, how about the fact that I'm older than you?"

"Only by a year, and Andrew's older than you." Dawn's hands went to her hips, heedless of the sword still in her fist. She nearly took Andrew's leg off with it. "So maybe he should be the leader."

Andrew looked bashfully around. "No, it's okay Dawn, I don't want to be the leader. I just want to get out of here before it gets dark and I'm getting hungry."

"What is it with you two anyway? You've been joined at the hip all summer, and you're always protecting him," Kennedy said, ignoring Andrew.

"We are not joined at the hip, and if I stand up for him it's only because I think you're a complete bitch to him all the time."

"So, let him be a man and fight his own battles."

Andrew hopped from one foot to another, his color rising as the girls argued about him.

Xander stopped cutting with his own sword and glared at Kennedy and Dawn. "Okay girls, can we stop this already? I'm bleeding again and I've already got a headache and I don't need you two - no make that all three of you - making it worse. So let's shut up and keep on trimming this lane. Besides, Andy has a point. It is getting worse." He checked his watch. "How long would you say the track to the house is?"

"About fifty feet, I guess," Kennedy said.

"And it goes in a straight line, so you'd think it wouldn't take that long for four of us to hack our way through, would you?"

"Well three and a half, really." Kennedy smirked at Andrew, earning a glare from Dawn. She caught the glare on Xander's face as well and added. "No, I guess not."

"Well we've been at it for over an hour and we still can't see the house. In fact, it's getting thicker every step we take," Xander finished while taking another swing at the bushes.

"Do you think we've veered off the lane, into the scrub? Cause that would suck," Kennedy admitted.

"Either that or the foliage doesn't want us getting home for some reason," Xander said.

"Why would it want that?" Andrew asked in a small voice.

"Why would it want anything? It's plants, and grass, and weeds and stuff. All it wants is a little sun and a little rain, and a horny bee to come along and impregnate it," Kennedy scoffed.

"That's pollinate, Dumbass," shot Dawn.

"I know, Butt-munch," Kennedy shot back with equal venom.

Dawn just thrust her hand, palm first into Kennedy's face and Kennedy's eyebrows raised in surprise.

"Oh you're mature," she drawled.

Dawn ignored her and turned to Xander. "It's probably Willow. I mean she's testing this increase in her power by doing all these white spells. Maybe one got away from her."

Xander shrugged. "Wouldn't be the first time," he admitted.

Kennedy looked at them annoyed, her hands on her hips. "Why does it always have to be Willow messing up every time something goes wrong? For people who supposedly love her, you sure ride her pretty hard."

"Well Xander's right, her spells do occasionally go kerflooie. Look at the Slayer spell she did," Dawn said.

This time everyone looked at her in confusion.

"That didn't go wrong," Kennedy said scornfully.

"Well it couldn't have gone right if it made you a Slayer, could it," Dawn replied gleefully.

"Right, that's it." Kennedy lunged towards Dawn who squealed and turned to run. The pair of them made a huge racket, Dawn's shrieks and Kennedy's shouted threats allowing the boys to more or less track their progress through the undergrowth . . . which Andrew noticed with rising alarm was rapidly becoming overgrowth too.

"You know, I honestly don't know whether those two are worse when they're fighting or when they're getting along," Xander said, breaking Andrew out of his creepy thoughts.

"It's good that Dawn has a friend closer her own age. At least 'til school starts anyway," replied Andrew.

Xander began following the path made by the two teenagers' thrashing. "Is that what you are?" He asked, keeping a straight face.

"Yeah, what else would we be?" Andrew asked him following.

Xander really hoped he was telling the truth. Having the big brother talk with Andrew would just be too weird.

"Do you think they're going the right way?" Andrew asked.

"No idea," Xander told him, continuing to follow the path of broken stems and crushed weeds.

Faith was led into a room with large windows set into the walls to the left and right of her. To the back of the room was a long sturdy table, made of oak or some other oldy-worldy tree, Faith suspected, although she would be the first to admit that a Southie kid like her didn't have much of an education in the way of trees and stuff. Behind the high, long table a set of double doors led through to wherever.

She looked around curiously at the rest of the room. It wasn't at all the grand court room she was expecting. In fact it was pretty disappointing. It wasn't much bigger than the basement back at Revello drive, with the big table dominating the room, even though no one sat at it yet.

She was led to a table off to her right, equally as long, but not nearly so grand as the first. The guard pointed out her seat and then he stood back a few paces and leant against the wall. A strange man was sat to her left and he nodded at her courteously before turning back to some folders in front of him. She gave him a half smile and a nod back before turning her attention to her right where Gunn sat.

He gave her a grin. "You okay?"

"Uh-huh," she assured him, but she could feel little nervous butterflies taking off in her stomach that she refused to acknowledge.

Gunn nodded towards the main entrance and Faith turned to watch the people entering. First came a woman in her early thirties. She was dressed in a cream colored power suit, complete with high shoulder pads. It was all very eighties but she looked like she meant business and Faith's intuition told her the confident manner she carried herself to the far table with was not just for show. She wondered who she was and how she could affect her case. If she was the opposing counsel Gunn might have his work cut out.

The woman made her way to the long table parallel to the one Faith was seated at. Once seated, she opened a large briefcase and disappeared under the lid. Faith's consideration of this woman was quickly forgotten when the guy following her sent her spidery senses into a spin-cycle and she smiled broadly in response.

Looking up at the newcomer, she gave a low whistle and nodded appreciatively at the dark blue hand stitched suit and the Italian made leather shoes.

"Our boy cleans up quite nice, don't he?" Gunn whispered to her.

"For someone who spent a hundred years living in the sewers and eating rats, yeah," she agreed. "Is Fred dressing him too?"

Gunn chuckled and went back to his notes. Angel walked to the table without looking at her, although he had a small smile playing on his lips as his enhanced hearing picked up his friends' whispers, and the whistle of course. Sitting down opposite Faith he gave her a bigger smile and a little wave. She waved back not so subtly. He mouthed the words, "Are you okay?" and she nodded back with a smile of her own.

They sat in almost silence for a moment longer and then were asked to stand by an official in the corner which Faith hadn't even noticed.

A man who couldn't look less like a judge if he'd actually tried came through the back doors and took a seat at the big, high bench at the front of the room. Everyone else sat too.

Faith watched this new guy while he spoke a few words and a few words were spoken back by Gunn and the man on her other side. She didn't follow most of it, just caught her name a few times. The man up at the bench was old, like Grandpa old, and he was wearing Golfing attire, complete except for the hat. Faith looked at him incredulously. This was the guy that got to make or break her future? Sheesh.

The judge guy was speaking again when there was a commotion at the main door. Everyone's heads turned to watch as a middle aged man with greying hair and glasses slammed through the doors in a hurry and scurried across the floor to the seat next to Angel.

Realizing that everyone including the judge was watching him, he smiled around nervously at everyone.

"Er, hello . . . sorry I'm late. Your damned U.S. passport people kept me for hours. Can you believe they thought I was shifty-looking when they were the ones carrying weapons?" Suddenly remembering where he was he shot another embarrassed smile at the judge and sat down. "Do carry on."

The judge gave him a withering glance before continuing to speak, but Faith didn't notice; she was too busy trying not to burst out laughing.

"Go, Giles." She smiled at the Watcher and he returned it fondly.

Gunn leant over and whispered in her ear. "Your second character witness."

Faith had no idea why Buffy's Watcher would want to stand up for her in a court of law and say nice things about her, not if he wasn't forced to, but she was glad he was. Glad that even after all the evil stuff she'd done to him, he'd still bothered to look deeper and see the good in her. Even if all this came to nothing, it was nice to know people on the outside actually cared whether she lived or died this time around.

Act Three

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