Faith was confused as she watched the argument go back and forth between Gunn and the District Attorney, who had been sat to her left. She knew most of what Gunn was saying wasn't exactly true, but the way he was putting it was almost enough to convince her that was how it had happened. She tried to follow as best she could knowing she'd have to answer questions about this at some point, and didn't want to screw it up by not paying attention.
Gunn was addressing the judge again. "Your Honor, my client was only sixteen when she arrived in Sunnydale. Now she may have been naive to take that job at City Hall, but to my knowledge, naivety isn't a crime."
"No but murder is," the D.A. responded.
"I have statements from the people who were around my client at the time of Allen Finch's death, and they have convinced me that it was an accident; I believe they will convince the jury of the same thing. I also have proof that the late Mayor Wilkins knew of Mr. Finch's death, and that my client was tragically responsible, and he chose to keep this information to himself for several months until his own death. I believe I can also prove that the second murder for which my client was convicted of, was in fact orchestrated by the late Mayor."
"Well there will be no jury to convince if you do not convince me first." The judge locked eyes with Gunn, who stared casually back. "So you had better start."
Three other people in the room also stared at Gunn, waiting to see if he'd be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat, or if all his fancy words would just come to nothing.
There was a soft knock at the door. "Can I come in Buffy?"
Buffy wiped away a lingering tear. "Yeah." She sat up on the bed and ran her fingers through her hair.
Willow entered. "Feeling better?" She sat on the edge of the bed.
Buffy shrugged. "What can I do you for?"
Willow looked worried. "Well for one, I've got three Slayers terrified to go out of the house in case the grass gnaws through the soles of their sneakers."
"And they're Slayers? Jeez, what will they be like when they have to take on a vampire?" Buffy scoffed.
"They're just scared Buff, this whole thing is still really freaky to them, let alone having Mother Nature out for blood. You used to get scared sometimes, remember?"
Buffy shrugged again. "I guess. What's number two?"
"Kennedy and the others aren't back yet, they've been gone over three hours."
"Well maybe they're looking around the shops," Buffy suggested.
Willow smiled. "You really haven't been getting out much have you? There's only eight shops in town, and that's including a barber, the lumber yard, and the feed shop."
"Is that like a Denny's?"
"No, it's like a big shop that sells food for cows and horses and stuff. We're gonna get our chickens from there." Willow felt a little excited again at the thought of being able to keep chickens.
Buffy smiled too. "We're getting chickens?"
"Uh huh. For the eggs. Me and Xander wanted to get a cow too, for the milk, but Giles said no way. I think he's phobic." Willow grinned at her friend.
"Well we probably shouldn't get one until we've sorted out the flora problem. Cows are supposed to eat grass, not the other way around." Buffy thought for a moment. She scrunched her nose up. "They're probably not all window shopping then. Could Xander be taking his time choosing the wood? Maybe he can't decide what color he wants."
Willow frowned. "I think it only comes in one color until you get it home and paint it."
"I don't know then Will, what time were you expecting them back? Three hours isn't that long."
"I was expecting them back at least an hour ago and that was allowing for an hour in Boudenver, which I don't think they would need. I gotta admit, I'm getting a little worried. This is a new town after all, on a Hellmouth, or near it anyway. Anything could have happened."
Buffy tried to reassure her friend. "I'm sure they're fine. They're probably just dawdling, or exploring. And plus they have Kennedy with them and she's doing alright on the Slayage front. Isn't she?"
Willow automatically started singing her girlfriends praises. "Oh yeah, she's doing great. Totally on top of it. I mean it's a bigger distance to cover. Boudenver is pretty widespread, despite the fact that it's year round population only numbers roughly between one and two hundred people. There are cabins all around in the woods and down by the lake, plus hotels and camping lodges and hunting lodges and ski lodges."
"That's a lot of lodges."
"From what we can gather, yeah. It's the perfect vacationing spot really. You've got the lake, the mountains, the scenery and it's only an hour's drive from Cleveland. Kenn's managing though, but it will be nice when she has some more help so she's not out nearly all night, every night." Willow looked pointedly at Buffy, but she pretended not to notice.
"So getting back to the garden of evil, what do you think's causing it?" Buffy changed the subject. She couldn't Slay at the moment, not as a profession so to speak. It wasn't like she'd never slay again, she just needed to take this chance to see what else she could do.
"Well either all those green protesters finally got their wish and the land is claiming back its own. Or it's a spell of some kind."
"Was it . . . is it possible you might have inadvertently caused this?" Buffy tried to phrase her question as nicely as possible. Since the Slayer spell Willow had cast in Sunnydale, her power was stronger than ever. She was controlling it well and working with the coven in England and Giles to learn how to fully understand her capabilities in a safe way. It scared Buffy a little though. She trusted her friend to do the right thing no matter what, but sometimes it seemed as if Willow could cast spells just by thinking about them and well everyone got in a bad mood sometimes.
Willow knew Buffy's fears and she knew that the rest of her friends, with the exception of Kennedy, shared them a little. She felt it a little bit herself, to a lesser extent. She had made things happen in the past just because her emotions were wonky. It was different now though. She'd been doing mind exercises to help control her magic and one benefit of that was being able to shove it into a separate bit of her brain. She didn't know how she'd managed that and when she'd asked Giles he told her it was to do with her subconscious not wanting its host destroyed, so it had created a mental barrier; a kind of circuit breaker, to stop her from turning herself into a frog . . . 'cause, eek- while she slept, just because she was having a dream about frogs. Nightmare more like.
"No I'm sure it wasn't me. I haven't done anything that could even be misread as this. I could do a spell though, to see if anyone else has done a spell."
"Okay," Buffy said. "That's a start. If we know it's a spell then we know we're looking for someone magically inclined, who isn't you, and we go kick their ass until they break it."
"The only flaw in the plan is that it may be residual. The magic. This place did used to be a Council retreat for goodness knows how many years. It's possible someone cast a spell once upon a time and we're getting the backdraft."
"This place belonged to the Watchers?" Buffy was clearly surprised.
"Yeah, didn't you know? It was an active headquarters until, like, twenty years ago and then the Hellmouth lost its oomph and it was turned into one of those retreats that Giles always moaned he never got to go to. It was like Summer camp for Watchers. That's how come we got it so easily, and cheaply. As Giles is the last remaining member of active Council personnel he just claimed it and we moved in before anyone could say otherwise."
"Hang on, you said something about the Hellmouth here losing its oomph. Can they do that?"
Willow got off the bed and began clearing a space on the floor amongst the boxes. "Giles started to explain it before he left for England. Something to do with the seven year cycle of Evilness. As the earth shifts so do the realms of the Heavens and the Hells. The dimensions ebb and flow as constant as the tides blah, blah, blah." Willow shrugged. "It's interesting but he was in a hurry and I was unpacking. I wasn't really taking it in, but I'll speak to him about it as soon as he gets back."
"Then you'll explain it to me in short sentences with words of only one syllable, right?"
"Don't I always, Buffy?"
The two girls smiled at each other, then Willow told her to wait there and left the room.
She was back in a minute with a ball of lumpy purple wax. "Do you have some candles?" she asked.
Buffy thought for a minute, then stood and went through a box at the end of her bed. She pulled out some books, and some CD's, a travel iron and a cowboy hat. "This is not mine." She held the hat in her hands, wondering where it came from.
"Actually it is, by default. Remember that night in L.A. when me and Dawn and Kennedy dragged you and Xander out to go dancing, and you and Xander decided to have a drinking contest, followed by a 'who can drown in their own drool fastest' contest? Then you both decided to show us how it was done and you were swinging Xander all across the dance floor . . ." Willow waited until Buffy guiltily nodded. "Then that guy came over and asked if he could cut in, and Xander tried to punch him in the face." Another guilty nod. "But he got the first punch in and you kicked him in the . . . in the pants for hurting Xander. And his friends had to carry him out. Well this was his hat. When it fell off you wouldn't let him have it back. In fact you hit him with it, I think."
Buffy's head had fallen into her hands, the hat discarded in front of her. "Oh yeah, I remember. I wish I didn't though. In my defense I did say about a thousand times that I didn't want to go out."
"Yes and next time I'll respect your wishes," Willow promised.
Shaking it off, Buffy looked back in the box and gave a little sound of triumph. "Candles - lemon scented. Will these do?" She pulled them out of the box and handed them to Willow.
"Perfect." The witch took them and placed them in a circle around her. With a simple flick of her wrist they all ignited. She spotted the plate she'd brought up earlier with the pancakes on. She tipped the uneaten breakfast into an empty carrier bag and placed it on the floor in front of her with the ball of wax on it. "This shouldn't take too long," she said, before closing her eyes and beginning a chant.
Right in front of Buffy's eyes she saw the waxy ball begin to change shape. It took her a couple of minutes before she realized it was melting. After another minute of chanting it was just a purple puddle on the plate. Willow opened her eyes and stared into it.
Buffy looked too, but couldn't see anything. She wondered if the spell had worked. "What do you see?" she asked softly.
Willow didn't answer, she just continued looking. She started to frown and she waved her hand across the plate saying "Arguo urere ui utum." The substance on the plate shimmered slightly but then returned to its previous position of just being a puddle of wax.
Willow quickly blew the candles out and rejoined Buffy on the bed.
"So?" Buffy asked.
"Well it's definitely a spell. Someone's cast a net over this place and everything under it is affected. Why anyone would want to set killer plants on us though is a mystery."
"Well couldn't it be like you said a . . . a backdraft thingie? Maybe the last Watchers here played a prank on the place and we've activated it by moving here. I doubt it's personal."
"Well that's the bigger mystery. It's been cast within the last twenty-four hours, I'm sure. The power is strong. Giles said to his knowledge no one has been up here for months, possible longer." Willow looked confused.
"Okay so tell me who it is and I'll go have a little word with them." Buffy put the stetson on her head and flicked the front up. "This town ain't big enough for the both of you."
Willow smiled, then grew serious again. "That's the thing, I don't know."
"Can't your spell tell you who?"
"No, but it can tell me where and that's the mysterious part of the mystery."
"Why where are they?"
"They're here. They're here right now."
"And it's not you?" Buffy checked.
"Ninety-nine percent sure it isn't me. The only spell I've done in the last couple of days is the beer into milk spell; there was this whole bit with yeast but I'm sure that's not what's done this. The energy here, it feels like a curse and you need whole different ingredients for a spell like that."
"Okay, well that's kinda creepy then." Buffy looked around the room, half-expecting to see someone peeking out at her from the gloom. Willow was doing the same. In a fluid graceful movement, Buffy jumped off of her bed and went to the window. She drew the curtains back and the room was bathed in sunshine. She returned to the bed. "Better. Could it be one of the girls? The new Slayers?"
"Doubtful. As far as I know they have no magical ability, and anyway they're terrified, all of them, after what happened to Cici."
Buffy suddenly remembered something. "I saw something earlier, in the grass. Some kind of Demon. I chased it but by the time I got down there it was gone. I thought I was imagining it. Slaying withdrawals."
"It could have been that. If it was hanging around here, then maybe it wants to gloat over the curse. Which would make it pretty personal."
"Well we'll find it, somehow, eventually and then I can hold it and the new Slayer's can kill it. That should help them overcome their fear."
"And the spell wasn't a complete waste anyway, even if it didn't actually tell us much," Willow added.
"Well no, it got you to start unpacking." Willow ducked as a cowboy hat went flying over her head to hit the far wall.
Gunn was getting in his groove now. It felt like he had been doing this for years, not just a month or so.
"Richard Wilkins III knew prior to offering Faith a job that she had been responsible for his deputy's death. A man he claimed was a close personal friend of his."
"How can you be sure he knew?" Interrupted the D.A. "How do we know this isn't just more speculation on your part?"
Gunn strolled to his desk and picked up a heavy, leather-bound book. "Because I have his journal here and it's all there in black and white. Well some of it's in red and white," he corrected, thinking about the sections on the ascension which were written in blood. "Here, take a look."
He handed the book to the other man and carried on speaking. "Now what sort of man does that, protects the murderer of a 'close personal friend'? I'll tell you what sort. A mad man. A man so insane in fact that he will stop at nothing to achieve what he wants - in this case, greater political power. It's easy to believe after reading his diary that he wouldn't have stopped until he was bigger than the president. We're talking a guy with world domination penciled into his 'to do' list."
The D.A had been studying the book for a few minutes with intense concentration. Now he slammed it shut. "This is absolute rubbish. It's just some child's gibberish. Not a word makes sense."
"That's because it's in code. Insane the man may have been, but I never said he was stupid. Every word in this journal is written in code, even the labels to the diagrams. He knew the game would be up if anyone ever read it, so he made it next to impossible. Luckily for my client, Wolfram and Hart have a department which specializes in such things." He picked the book up and carried it to the judge's bench where he set it down for him to look at.
"Yes, Wolfram and Hart seem to have a department for everything," the judge grumbled while he flicked through it. "I have no trouble believing they have people who can turn nonsense into fact."
In fact it had taken quite a while to decipher the demon language it was written in, even with Fred, Wes and Angel in on it.
"This will have to be verified by experts outside of the Wolfram and Hart fold," the judge added.
"That's not a problem, keep it as long as you need. I have copies of the relevant pages. Once you get it translated you'll know what I know. That Faith was a scared - no, terrified - young girl, with nowhere to live and no money to her name. She took a job that was offered to her by someone in a position of trust. Someone who offered to help her get through this dark time in her life. Someone who reached out to her. And she took that opportunity with both hands. What the Mayor grabbed with both hands was an opportunity to mould this confused and frightened teenager into a ruthless cold blooded killer. He wanted to take her guilt, and her pain and use them to his own advantage, and he did."
They were grouped together again now, silent except for the thrashing of swords and axes, the heavy duty trimming taking its toll on them all. Even Kennedy was disheartened now. The heat inside the green tunnel was intense and the mosquitoes were taking full advantage of the four. She slapped at another on her arm and grimaced in disgust at the smear of blood its squashed body left.
"Ugh, they're like miniature flying Vampires." She wiped her hand on her damp pants.
"Makes you kinda glad Vampires can't really fly like in the movies, doesn't it." Dawn wiped her sweaty hair out of her eyes.
"Dracula could fly," Xander recalled, then he remembered the rest if it. "Bastard!"
"Oh yeah I heard about you and Dracula. Willow said you two got quite close," Kennedy smirked.
"It was thrall and we don't talk about it." Xander gritted his teeth.
"You were friends with Dracula? That is so cool." Andrew looked up from scratching his mosquito bites to gaze in awe at the other man.
"We were not friends, it is not cool and we do not talk about it." Xander pushed ahead of the rest slightly, slashing wildly at the foliage.
"I'll tell you later," Dawn promised Andrew.
"What part of 'We don't talk about it' does no one under . . ." Xander shouted at them. He spun around to face them, tripped backwards over a vine and disappeared with a crash.
Kennedy stared at the space he had last been. "Huh?"
"Where'd Xander go?" Andrew asked in a frightened voice.
Dawn shook her head at the other two and pushed in the direction he had fallen. After a few hacks with her sword and some under the breath cursing, she'd cleared a path out in to the bright sunshine.
Xander was laying on the lawn as he had fallen. "I found the house." He told the others as they followed after Dawn.
"So what the hell happened then?" asked Kennedy. "We leave for an hour and the house decides it doesn't want to let us back in?"
"Nah, I think if the house didn't want us back in, it would just lock the doors on us. It wouldn't have to go to this much bother," Xander said, still laying on the ground. The breeze out on the open lawn was Heaven compared to the moist, itchy heat they'd just experienced.
"What so it's just the outside of the house that doesn't like us. Yeah, that's less weird." Dawn was looking at Xander's sneaker, it didn't look quite right.
"Well this is Sunnydale." Xander began. "Except no, it's not. It's Boudenver. It's like our very own Hellmouth away from home."
"Yeah, aren't we lucky. Come on let's go see if everyone else is okay." Kennedy pulled his outstretched hand until he was on his feet.
Everyone started towards the house except Xander. "Uh guys!" They turned back to him. "I can't seem to move my feet."
Everyone looked at his feet. "Uh, Xan, don't be too alarmed okay, but the grass has tied itself to your shoelaces." Dawn pointed to them. "I sort of watched it happen, but I didn't know what I was watching."
"Huh?" Xander looked down and saw the thick, lush green strands wrapped in neat little bows around the laces of his sneakers. "Ye Gods." He quickly strained first one foot up and then the other until they came free with an audible snap. "I think it's time we got inside, now!" He said before sprinting for the house with the others close behind.
"Please state your full name," the Judge demanded.
Faith stared at him evenly. "I just did- Faith."
The judge made an impatient noise. Gunn's eyes bored into Faith, urging her to co-operate. She just shrugged back. The D.A. hurriedly shuffled some papers around.
Finding what he needed, he looked up at the judge. "Wilkins, your honor, her name is Faith Wilkins. According to her records."
The judge peered at the Slayer over the top of his glasses. "Is that correct?"
"It's as good as any. Y'know, appropriate." Faith shrugged again.
"But is it the name on your birth certificate?" The judge insisted.
Gunn saw that Faith was about to shrug again and jumped up. "No Sir, that's the surname of the late Mayor, my client's employer. Shortly before my client turned herself in she was was in a coma for eight months, the result of a nasty fall. Mayor Wilkins had an account set up to cover her medical fees, and the account was in his name. This was only days before a gas explosion took his own life. The police took her name from the hospital records."
"Which still begs the question, what is your legal surname? And I warn you young lady, any more insolence and my patience will run out completely."
"I'm not trying to be insolent, y'honor. The only surnames I've ever had are the ones I've had to make up to suit some purpose. An' I'm pretty sure that ain't legal."
"Well what was your Father's name?" The judge tried again.
Faith began to shrug and saw the judge's expression darken. She sighed instead. "I had three 'pops' before I could write my own name, and my real one . . . he wasn't around that much. He was just Dad to me. My mom used to call him a real f-"
The judge held up his hand and cut her off. "Quiet." He pursed his lips. "Mother's maiden name?"
This time Faith allowed herself to shrug. "She couldn't remember her first name mosta the time." She started to fidget. The clothes felt all wrong and she wanted to sit down. The judge was staring at her like she was some kind of an idiot. It wasn't her fault her parents were useless jerks. This all was a waste of everyone's time anyway. It was wicked obvious the judge had made up his mind the second he walked in.
"Continue with your questions," the judge told the D.A. while he scribbled something in his book.
The little man stood from his seat next to Faith and walked around to stand in front of her, the bench between them. Faith thought that was pointless too.
"Miss, ah, Faith. How old were you when you arrived in the town of Sunnydale?"
"And before that you were living in Boston, yes? Could you explain your reason for leaving your home and family in Boston and traveling to Southern California?"
"I lived in Boston with my . . ." Faith hesitated only a second, ". . . guardian. When she was killed I decided to go visit with some friends of hers."
"And how did your guardian die?"
"She was, um, killed by a maniac with . . ." She had been about to say cloven feet. How crazy would that sound? She changed direction with barely a pause. ". . . with a nasty streak. He cut her up in front of me."
"I'm sorry, Faith." The D.A. didn't sound all that sorry. "So you knew people in Sunnydale?"
Faith shook her head. "Not until I got there."
"So you traveled all the way across the country to visit with people you had never met. That's a pretty big undertaking for a girl of sixteen, don't you think?"
Faith frowned at him. "I was scared. I'd just seen what he did to my W...Guardian and I knew he'd do the same to me if I gave him half a chance. So I ran like hell. She always spoke highly of these friends of hers, I figured if I could get to them they might be able to help."
"Were you in some kind of trouble in Boston, Faith?"
"Yeah, I just told you. Some sicko wanted me dead."
"No, I mean before that. Was there a reason you and your guardian ran afoul of this man?"
"No, just wrong place at the wrong time," Faith said more or less truthfully.
Gunn stood. "Your Honor, according to the archives of the Boston Post and B.P.D. records, there was a spate of unsolved murders and disappearances in the South Boston area at the time my client's Guardian was killed." He sat back down.
The D.A. turned and stared hard at Faith. "Do you know anything about these murders, Miss, ah, Faith?"
Faith met his stare. "What are you implying?"
"Miss, may I remind you that you are not here to ask the questions?" The Judge intoned.
Faith kept her gaze on the D.A.
"I am implying that before you left Boston there were a number of unsolved murders, including that of the woman in charge of your welfare. These stopped about the same time you fled to Sunnydale, where shortly after your arrival the murders began again. All this seems like rather a large coincidence, don't you think?" He looked smugly at Faith.
Who in turned, slammed her hands down on the desk and leaned over it. "If you're sayin' I'm responsible for those deaths in Boston, you'd a better start running. There woulda been a lot more if it wasn't for me."
She saw Angel and Giles whispering together on the far side of the room and she felt Gunn's hand on her shoulder. She shook it off but took the hint and changed her stance to a less threatening one.
"There is no evidence to suggest Faith and her Guardian were anything more than unlucky bystanders to the events in Boston. The bodies of the victims that the police managed to find could not have been done by someone of Faith's age, strength or stature. The victims were quite literally torn apart in some cases. The police believe it was some kind of gang warfare, but there is no proof of anything except that these were scary people." Gunn informed the Judge. "If anything, the events that transpired in Boston go someway to explain the unfortunate decisions Faith made on arrival in Sunnydale."
The D.A. stepped forward again. "While losing someone close to you at young age is indeed tragic, it's no excuse for murder."
"And I'm saying she's not guilty of murder. Just that she got sucked up into a whole chain of nasty occurrences that led her here. The girl's had a bad break from the word go, and while she's no more blameless than the rest of the human race for making some bad mistakes, her latter mistakes were vastly controlled by the influence of Richard Wilkins III. Is it fair to keep on making her the scapegoat for other peoples' lack of humanity?"
The Judge scribbled something down before looking up at the expectant court. "I think it's time we break for lunch. Reconvene in one hour." He stood and left the room.
Faith paced back and forth the small room she and Gunn had been taken to. An armed guard was standing by the door staring into space. Gunn was leaning over a table shuffling through pages of notes.
"So how do ya think it's going?"
Gunn looked up at the nervous Slayer. "Honestly?"
"Not good, huh." She went back to pacing.
"That little Boston twist could have been a problem but I have paperwork here that says bodies were still being discovered up to three weeks after you left."
"Yeah, Kakistos didn't come after straight away. I'd have been dead before I reached Sunnydale if he had."
"Truth is, Faith, most people think you shouldn't be leaving jail anytime soon 'cause you walked away without a pass. They don't know you left to save the world from Angelus and the big Evil. It's stamped all over your files and the fact you came back on your own is only adding a little bit of weight. We need to prove you should never have been in here in the first place, and threatening the District Attorney ain't gonna help."
Faith slumped against the wall. "I know, I know, but he accused me of killing my Watcher and even at my worst I wouldn't have been able to come up with the things he did to her." She thought about Wesley for a moment and felt sick.
There was a knock at the door before Gunn could answer her. "Yeah?" He called instead.
The door opened and Angel poked his head around it. "Mind if I come in?"
Faith nodded, eager for the distraction. The guard glanced at him before continuing his inspection of the wall.
Angel shut the door behind him. "How're you holding up, Faith?"
"Five by five. Thanks for being here."
He smiled at her. "No problem. Gunn, what do you think?"
"Well it's not good, but it's not terrible either. We know we've got what we need to make this work so it all depends on whether we tell it right. Faith needs to keep her head and answer the D.A's questions, without getting his back up. You and Giles have just got to tell it like it was, more or less. And hopefully Ms. Leighton will be our trump card."
"Ms. Leighton?" Faith looked at him, remembering the unknown woman in the court.
"A psychiatrist come social worker. She's here to tell the court you'd be better off outta here. That the prison system is just going to take what good is in you and destroy it, much like the Mayor did for a time. You gotta convince her that's the truth though. She's got your records and my notes on you and she's sitting in today to get a feel for you, so make sure she gets what we're looking for her to get. From what I've heard she takes her job real serious and if she thinks you're trying to pull the wool over the Judge's eyes, she'll shove the whole sheep up your ass. Got it?"
"Got it. No fooling around." She turned to Angel. "What you got there, Chief?"
Angel looked at the brown paper bag in his hands as if remembering it was there. "Oh yeah, Giles snuck out and got you both a bit of lunch." He handed the bag to her.
"Cool, I had to cancel my lunch date due to imprisonment so this works out well." She opened the bag and pulled out two big cheeseburgers. "Alright, who'da thought Giles even knew what junk food was." She handed one to Gunn and bit into the other.
"I better get back. I'm not really suppose to be in here." Angel let himself out of the room while the other two tucked in.
"Next time I break out it's gonna be for one of these. Blow the apocalypses."
The guard looked at Faith a little funny, but didn't speak.
Willow was walking down the stairs with Buffy when Xander and the gang came rushing through the front door.
"Hey guys, what took you so long?" She asked leaning in for a kiss from her girlfriend. "Things have been getting weird around here."
Kennedy put her arm around her waist and together they walked towards the living room. "They're pretty weird out there too."
"I need a long, cool glass of something wet," Dawn announced, heading for the kitchen followed by Andrew.
Xander stood leaning against the door, panting lightly. Buffy looked up at him and saw the bloody gash on his forehead. "What happened?"
Xander grinned. "Hey Buff, nice to see you again. I was starting to think we'd accidentally left you in L.A."
"Xander. Tell me why you're hurt or you'll wish you had left me in L.A."
"Jeez Buff. A little patience for the guy with the head trauma," Xander joked, then his face paled and his mouth dropped open. "Buf-"
"What? What is it?" She stepped forward thinking he was about to faint, but she couldn't.
"That happened." He stuttered, pointing to her top.
Looking down she saw the leafy greenness that was creating an intricate lattice work around her chest and stomach. Letting out a cry of surprise, she tried to pull them off, but as quickly as she snapped them, more curly strands of green wound around her fingers, binding them too.
Xander moved to help her, breaking the thin stems even as they slithered over his own hands. He guiltily wondered why he only ever got to grope Buffy when she was in danger, then fear took over as his hands became attached to Buffy's stomach by a covering of green. Wouldn't that be a fitting punishment for still harboring those kinds of thoughts after all this time?
Buffy's startled shriek had brought Kennedy and Willow racing back in to the hall. The young Slayer assessed the problem quickly and ran to the hat stand where she'd just dumped her sword.
Willow stood in front of them, mumbling then discarding incantations under her breath. She watched as her two best friends became enshrouded by the green tendrils. Buffy's struggles became limited as more of her body was encased in the plant. Xander was rooted to Buffy as the greenery crawled up his arms at an alarming rate. The stood face to face, panic rising in both their eyes.
"Somebody do something!" he ground out, trying to ignore the pain in his wrists as he tried to pull them free.
"It's magic, if I do a spell it may make it worse." Willow hopped from foot to foot.
"Kennedy?" Buffy squeaked, her teeth snapping at the leaves around her mouth.
"Just hold still." Kennedy told them. She was trying to find the best angle to strike from. The problem being it was now difficult to tell where Buffy ended and the plant began.
"Can't really do a lot else right now," Buffy mumbled, trying to keep the invasive flora out of her mouth.
Dawn appeared in the kitchen doorway. "What's going on? Oh my God Buffy, are you okay?"
Buffy tried to shrug sarcastically, but the gesture was lost under the tightening hug of the over-friendly pot plant.
Andrew peered over Dawn's shoulder. "What's up? Oh cool." Everyone turned and glared at him. "Or not." He corrected himself, then a light bulb went on above his head. "Hold on." He squealed and ran for the back door.
"Got that part covered," Xander muttered, staring dismally at where his hands were effectively stuck to Buffy.
Andrew ran back in struggling to carry a large green container. "Help me!" He panted, heading for the entangled pair.
Xander's eyes lit up when he saw what the blonde teenager had fetched. "Oh good boy," he sighed with relief.
Willow and Dawn cottoning on rushed to help Andrew with the cumbersome receptacle. Quickly they sloshed it around Buffy's feet and then up her legs.
"I hope this stuff doesn't dissolve people." Dawn splashed some on her sister's stomach.
"Me too," Buffy squeaked. She was straining her head backwards trying to avoid a leaf aiming for her nostril.
"Kennedy, we're gonna need the other bottle," Willow instructed. "It's by the back door, right Andrew?"
"Uh huh." He poured the rest of the first bottle over Buffy's back and what had been the main body of the plant. When it was empty the three of them began pulling at the strands, snapping them away. They still grew back, but not as fast as before. Little bits of Buffy were visible under the green. Soon Xander felt the pressure on his hands subside. He could wiggle them slightly. Kennedy reappeared with an identical container.
"Buffy, shut your eyes. And you too, Xander. And keep them closed until I tell you otherwise," Willow told her friends.
When they had complied, Kennedy dumped the entire contents of the second bottle over Buffy's head and the plant.
Everyone stepped back slightly as a high pitched whine emanated from the pair, followed by rising steam. Slowly the greenery turned brown and shriveled up, falling away as it did so, leaving behind a drenched Slayer and a very relieved carpenter.
"So that's getting back to nature, huh? You can keep it," Xander rubbed at his sore wrists.
"Was the plant screaming?" Dawn asked.
"Best not to think about it," Willow advised.
Buffy was looking around her at the remains of the plant. "Not that I'm not grateful for the save, but did anyone bother to read the label on that stuff before you gave me a drenching?"
Kennedy quickly scanned the label on the bottle she was holding. Underneath the name "Busta Weed" were a long list of ingredients. Kennedy grimaced as she read them. "I'd go take a shower if I were you," she said before she got even halfway down the list.
Buffy nodded and started up the stairs.
"Just as well you're not a weed, huh," Willow said. "Y'know, if you couldn't take care of yourself and you were a weed."
Buffy turned on the stairs and gave her friend a look that said: You're very strange.
"Yeah if we'd had to tip it over Andrew, there may have been nothing left," agreed Kennedy, chuckling.
"Hey." Andrew frowned. "I'm the one who came up with the solution when you two couldn't. Day-saver here; have a little respect."
Kennedy just laughed harder and followed her girlfriend into the kitchen.
Xander clapped the young man on the back. "Well done. Let's have a beer to celebrate."
"I can have one of your beers?" Andrew grinned, the effrontery already forgotten.
"Yeah, why not. It's been a bad day, we deserve a little good cheer." Xander walked into kitchen followed by Dawn and Andrew. "I don't know why they call them creepers. That thing didn't creep, it ran." He said, reverting back to his flora-bashing.
"I think they're pretty creepy." Dawn smiled, joining her at the table with a soda.
Willow agreed. "The whole days been pretty creepy. That wasn't our first plant attack." Willow was sitting down gingerly at the kitchen table.
"What's up sweetie?" Kennedy asked concerned.
"Plant bite, but it's okay." She assured her. "Apart from said creep factor."
"Yeah, our morning has been full of creeps too." Kennedy sat too. "There was some old folks in the store and they were whispering about us, but when I confronted them, they denied it."
"And Xander's got a cool and mysterious new nickname, haven't you." Dawn grinned at the one eyed man.
"You do? What is it?" Willow asked, frowning slightly as Xander went to the fridge.
"Yeah." His voice was slightly muffled as he rummaged around for the beers he knew were in there somewhere. He'd left the ones he'd brought in town back at the car. "Got jumped by some big, mean, psychotic pre-adolescents. They called me Wolf, which is a cool enough nick-name, but considering the man-sized beating those little brats were handing out to me, I don't think it was a complimentary thing."
"That's weird." Willow's frown deepened when she saw Xander pull two beer bottles from the fridge.
He passed one to Andrew, then took a seat at the table and opened his own. He held it in his hand while he was still talking.
"I reckon they would have mashed me down to burger patty if Kennedy hadn't scared them off. It was weird. I mean, they had some serious rage towards me. Then with the whole having to hack our way home like jungle explorers and being eaten alive in the process." He scratched at some mosquito bites on the back of his neck. "I really need this." He took a big swig from his bottle and nearly sprayed it across the room. "Will! Enough already! You are not the mom of me! Turn it back!"
After a brief argument Willow agreed to turn Xander's beer back into beer.
"Just as long as you know I'm only doing it under protest," she pouted.
"I don't care," he told her, draining the bottle.
Buffy came down the back stairs. "Shower's all yours, Xander."
"Yeah I guess I did get splashed by that stuff quite a bit. I'll go get a shower and then we'll Scooby up." He disappeared the way Buffy had just come.
Buffy sat at the table in his place and played with his empty beer bottle. She felt a bit weird being down here with all of them; she'd pretty much kept to herself in Los Angeles unless company was forced upon her, and since arriving at their new home she'd barely left her bedroom. Everyone was smiling at her and she felt a little paranoid, like she'd been the topic of conversation before she entered, even though she had clearly heard Willow and Xander arguing about beer. She smiled back nervously. "Hi guys, so whats the plan?"
Kennedy shrugged. "We were waiting for you B . . . I mean, Buffy," she hung her head. "Sorry. That just slipped out."
"It's okay, it's just a name." Buffy smiled and held back the anguished shriek she wanted to let out.
"Talking about creepy," Andrew began.
"We were?" Buffy looked confused. "You think my name is creepy?"
Everyone laughed and then realized they were laughing.
"Uh, sorry. No, Buffy's not a creepy name," stuttered Willow.
"It's actually the opposite of creepy. Which is probably why the bad guys fear it so much," added Kennedy helpfully.
"Yeah. It gives the bad guys the creeps, because it's not creepy, or something." Dawn smiled brightly at her sister.
Buffy and Andrew shared a look of perplexity, which Buffy found creepy.
"I was talking about things today being creepy, you know, the discussion we were having before you ruined Xander's 'I'm glad to be alive' celebratory beer." Andrew looked pointedly at Willow.
"I'm not going to feel guilty for trying to protect his health." Willow's voice rose at being unjustly criticized.
"Um, okay guys. We've just watched the first showing of this, we don't need a rerun straight away." Dawn's head bobbed, the way it did when she was saying something she was sure was going to turn the flames on her.
"She's right, you guys." Buffy backed her sister up. "What was it you were going to say, Andrew?"
"Well Willow said - around here who did a spell on us. To make the plants go all evil. So I was thinking about the stuff that's happened today that has been weird."
Buffy nodded at the young man encouragingly. "Go on."
"Well first there was the dead Maritima demon on the road. It didn't look like it had been dead that long, but I don't think it could have cast the spell. They're not known for being particularly bright."
"You found a dead demon in the road? What did you do with it?" Buffy asked.
"Left it; it was road kill. Not our problem." Kennedy told her.
"You didn't hide it, or bury it or anything? What if someone sees it?"
"Buffy, it was big and it was stinky and I forgot to put my regulation Slayer shovel in my pocket this morning. If you care so much, you go out there and bury it."
Buffy hung her head. "I was just saying," she said quietly.
"Number two," continued Andrew. "The rude people in the store that were muttering about us. Maybe one of them was a witch, or a wizard."
"But what I felt was here, somewhere in the house, or very near it, when I did the spell. If you saw these people in town and it took you that long to get through, how did they manage it quicker?" Willow wondered.
"Magic," Dawn offered. Willow had to admit it was possible.
Buffy looked thoughtful. "If the demon thing I saw earlier was responsible, then I don't think it was human shaped. It was low to the ground and it kind of slithered, or appeared to. I didn't actually see a lot, I more heard it," she admitted.
Andrew cleared his throat. "Third. Xander getting the smack down from a gang of miniature thugs."
"Xander got beaten up by midgets?" Buffy asked.
"No, little boys. Really pissed off little boys," Kennedy said.
"And them calling him wolf. That's got to mean something." Andrew looked around the table. "And then there's the creepy castle."
"There's a castle too?" Buffy was beginning to wish she'd just stayed in her room. All this information was bringing on a migraine.
"Well it wasn't really a castle, more like a big old mansion place on a hill," Dawn said.
"But it had turrets," added Andrew. "Do you think this witch, or spell-casting demon could be living there? It's not far away."
Buffy and Kennedy both looked at Willow.
"It's possible. I still say whoever cast the spell was here when I did my spell, but that doesn't mean they don't live there, or in town, or anywhere really."
"So we're back to square one on the knowledge front?" Kennedy asked.
"Nothing new there. Just means we go back to grass roots - sorry wrong choice of phrases there - and check everywhere," Buffy said. "We've got five Slayers here. We can cover all the bases."
"I'll go get the other girls. Where are they?" Dawn stood up and chucked her empty soda can away.
"Upstairs in their bedroom. I told them to stay inside until we had this sorted," Willow told her and Dawn left to go fetch them.
"Okay so we need this place checked from top to bottom, then we need this castle- come-mansion checked out and . . . do you think we should go into town and check things out?" Buffy started to plan.
"Unless we're prepared to knock on every door and do a monster related questionnaire, I don't think it will help," Willow said. "But if you want to do that, I can soon whip one up on the computer." She smiled.
"Can you break the spell yourself Will?" Was Buffy's next question.
"Eventually I would be able to, but the simple release spells I've tried so far this afternoon obviously haven't worked. I need to do some research and try a few things." She stood and walked towards the little office she had set up. "Which I will begin now. I will break it Buffy but it might take a while."
Buffy looked at Kennedy. "So we'll just cover those two locations and hope Will comes up with something soon. If all else fails we'll try her questionnaire thingy." She smiled at the brunette Slayer.
Kennedy stood and stretched. "Okay, so we'll start with 'round here."
"Well I was thinking we could split up, y'know, you take one team and do this castle and I'll do around here. It will be quicker."
Kennedy stared hard at her elder. "And you won't have to leave the grounds right? What are you so scared of out there, Buffy?"
"Nothing," Buffy said, annoyed. "Nothing at all. It's just you're the Slayer now, Kennedy. I've done my time and it's your turn."
"And it's that easy?"
"It is for me."
"So you just can't be bothered now. You've had a little heartbreak and now the world can all just go to hell," Kennedy goaded.
"Kennedy, don't even pretend to know what I'm thinking. Maybe when you've done seven years on a Hellmouth you can criticize me. Until then, just shut the hell up. If you don't like being the Alpha Slayer then blame Faith, 'cause it should be her job anyway."
"So if I'm the Alpha Slayer, can I have the Scythe?" Kennedy changed tack.
"No." Buffy stood, preparing to put an end to this conversation.
"Why not? I don't think you should get to keep it if you're not even gonna use it."
"The Scythe is . . . is special. It's not just another weapon; it's powerful," Buffy explained.
"So you don't trust me with it."
Buffy smirked at her. "No, I don't. I don't trust any of you newbies with it. Kennedy, you stay alive long enough to earn the right to wield that Scythe and I'll gladly pass it on to you. Until then, you can keep your mitts off."
The three news Slayers came down the stairs with Dawn and Xander and Buffy turned her attention towards them. Andrew, from his place still at the table, breathed a sigh of relief. He'd thought they were about to start fighting, and he so didn't want to be sat in the middle of a Slayer brawl.
Faith was getting seriously fed up. She'd been answering this idiot's questions for thirty minutes straight, stirring up more and more bad memories.
"So tell me again about the night Allan Finch died?"
Faith took a deep breath. "A friend and I were walking down a dark alley on our way to the Bronze, which is a night club in Sunnydale. It wasn't the smartest thing to do 'cause there were some nasty types in Sunnydale, but y'know what it's like when you're young. We thought we were invincible. So we're walking down this alley when all of a sudden this guy jumps out at us from behind a dumpster. It scared us both bad. He jumped at my friend and she managed to shove him away and I just kind of ran at him and knocked him over. I was holding a stick, I was gonna smack him over the head with it, but then he just collapsed and he was bleeding and then that was it. It was horrible." Faith hung her head and the tears in her eyes were not forced. Every night she saw his face again. It was like being back in prison had reopened the nightmare theater.
"The stick you were holding just happened to go through his heart, with enough force to kill him."
"Do you really think that if I wanted to off some guy, I'd stake him or whatever it's called? That's for people who believe in the things that go bump in the night. I thought he was gonna rape us and I wanted to smack him hard enough to keep him down while we ran away. That's all."
"And what was your reaction when you realized you'd killed him?"
"I went crazy for a couple of days; wouldn't you? I denied it completely, and when it wouldn't go away I tried to blame my friend for it, and when that didn't work I tried to run away. Except the Mayor had sent a little retrieval party out to find me. See he knew what I'd done and he wanted revenge, but then he met me and decided I'd be more use to him alive than dead. I guess you could say I was head hunted or something." It hurt to talk about the Mayor like this. However much of a bastard he may have ultimately been, he had been good to her. She felt like she was betraying him.
"So you took the job he offered willingly?"
"The answer to that would be yes because I didn't really think I had a choice. By the time he had told me his proposal, I already knew too much, if you know what I mean."
"You didn't mind the unpleasant tasks he had you preform?"
"Well to start with they weren't all that unpleasant. Just fetching and carrying. I'd go meet people, pick up important documents for him, make exchanges. Stuff he couldn't have his regular boys do 'cause it was all a bit delicate. Stuff that could hurt his public persona, y'know? Plus I got a wicked cool new uptown apartment out of it, and I got money, and he wasn't too bad a person when he was happy with me. I guess I learned to keep him happy."
The D.A. pulled a face and chose his next words carefully. "Was there some kind of sexual relationship between you and your employer?"
It was Faith's turn to pull a face. "Wash your mouth out. He was old and it wasn't like that. He was more like a dad to me, more than my dad ever was. He treated me with respect."
"But only when he was happy with you?"
"Well you don't reward a disobedient child, do ya? He expected the same respect back that he gave me. If I didn't, or if I didn't do as he asked, or I messed something up because I didn't try my best, then he'd get mad."
Giles and Angel shared a look at the other table. Neither had been aware just how attached to the Mayor, Faith had become. Of course the young girl they had known back in Sunnydale would not have seen the manipulation for what it was. She would have just been happy that an adult saw the specialness in her that her parents hadn't. That someone wanted her for more than just sex. It may be that he wanted her just for the violence, but even that would have been unique for the girl, after having lived in Buffy's shadow for months. Both men felt a little guilty that they'd let the Mayor get his hands on her before they could find a way to reach her.
"Okay guys and gals, hang on to your hats." Xander fumbled with some keys.
"Are you sure this is going to work? How long has this monster even been here? I bet it doesn't start." Kennedy jumped as the engine of the enormous truck they were in roared to life.
"Au contraire, my little disbeliever. Me and Giles took this baby out last week. He wants to use it to clear all the dead fall from the back track when he gets back from London. That's gonna be a bigger job than he thought. So it's all juiced up and ready to go."
The truck lurched forward out of the shed and started towards the front track they'd cut a swathe through earlier. When Xander reached the edge of the overgrown undergrowth, he gunned the engine.
"Ready?" He called over the noise. Kennedy, Miranda, Alison and Andrew all nodded and he eased the truck forward to the accompanying symphony of snapping branches and green stuff being ripped up by its roots.
"Mr. Giles, you were one of the first people in Sunnydale to have any contact with Miss Faith. What did you think of her?"
"I thought she was a very spirited young woman. She was smart and capable for her age, but I felt she was scarred from previous trauma. This was obviously before she had explained the situation to me in full. She was a little wary for a while upon her arrival, but she soon put her demons behind her and became a valued member of the team."
"Team, Mr. Giles?"
"Ah yes, I was the librarian at the high school and several of my students used the space to discuss things they felt of importance to the well being of the school and, on occasion, the town." Giles tried to remember a cover story Xander had once come up with, he smiled. "Ah yes, The Crime Club. They did some very good work. Stopping locker thieves and escaped hyenas and such. Faith was an avid member for some time."
"Really?" The D.A, asked, looking skeptical.
"Oh yes," Giles nodded.
"When the, uh, accident happened involving the death of Mr. Finch, were you aware of your friend's role in it?"
"Um, she came to me soon after and told me about it. She didn't explain her involvement right away. She was scared and confused and didn't feel she knew me well enough to trust me. When she did tell me everything a few days later, I'm afraid I didn't handle it very well; plus, a colleague of mine overheard us talking and went straight to the authorities." Giles didn't have to tell them he meant the Watchers Council and not the police."
"You, yourself didn't think it might be a good idea to go to the police?"
"Of course, but I wanted Faith to trust me enough to take my guidance and go to the police with the truth, not have my associate run off half cocked screaming blue murder."
"So was it your influence, do you think, that encouraged Faith to eventually turn herself in?"
"No, that came all from her. Once she'd awoken from her coma, she realized she was out of the Mayor's control and once again in charge of her own life and she went to L.A. to hand herself in. She knew she had done wrong and she wanted to make amends for it.
"Okay, skipping forward a few years Mr. Giles, it was to you and Sunnydale that Faith came when she escaped from Stockton correctional facility, yes?"
"And can you explain that? What was important enough in Sunnydale for her to turn her back on her own ethical decision and make an escape?"
"Faith's other friends and I were in grave trouble, she heard that and she decided she needed to help. She's a very loyal person."
"What sort of trouble?"
'Come on old boy, think, think. Why didn't I rehearse this part?' Giles scolded himself while smiling warmly at the D.A. "Ah, The Crime Club. They found evidence that some nasty so and so's were planning on taking over Sunnydale. When my friend's intervened they were met with some very nasty threats, some of which were carried out when we said we were going to the authorities. People we cared about died. Faith decided she couldn't stand by and watch it happen. I'm not saying I applaud her decision to break out, but I will say I'm very glad she was there. I don't know if we would have gotten through it so well if she hadn't been."
"All of this sounds very far-fetched, Mr. Giles."
"Yes it does rather, doesn't it." He smiled. "And of course, shortly after that the earthquake hit, the largest in this part of the world for over seventy years, so I'm told, and the entire town was in a state of panic. Faith stayed calm and helped us evacuate the town. I truly believe a lot more people would have lost their lives if Faith had remained in prison."
The judge spoke up this time, peering over his spectacles at the Watcher. "Tell me, Mr. Giles; if Faith were to be released in the near future, and that's a mighty big 'if' still at the moment, but would you be prepared to stand by her, help her stay on the right path?"
"Of course. In fact I'm just about to open a private school in Cleveland. If Faith were to be released then she could come and live there and continue her studies."
Faith raised her eyebrows and smirked. 'Yeah right,' she thought.
The Judge nodded thoughtfully and wrote something on his pad. Giles went to sit down with a smile on his face.
Angel stood facing the D.A. feeling like a little school boy about to get the cane. He was still more comfortable skulking in shadows than he was out in the open in front of people. Especially weasely little lawyers like this one. They always made his fangs itch.
The D.A gave him a bright, false smile. "I believe Faith was staying with you when she decided to confess her crimes, yes?"
"Yes, she came to me for guidance when she woke up from her coma."
"And can you describe what kind of state she was in?"
"She was distressed, upset. She could barely live with what she'd done. She just wanted to make it better, but she knew she couldn't."
"And so she handed herself over to the authorities. You visited her on a regular basis, yes?"
"When I could. I work kind of unsociable hours, but I went when I was able."
"And what is your relationship to Faith?"
"Uh, well, friends I guess. We knew each other back in Sunnydale. We hung out a bit."
"You hung out a bit. That's all? Yet she came to you in her darkest hour, and you gave up your valuable time to visit her, and now are possibly risking both your own and your company's reputation by speaking on her behalf."
"Things changed. I think I was the only person she knew in L.A. When she came to me, we talked, we got closer, she confided in me."
"And this was just after she tried to kill you in cold blood, yes?"
Angel sucked unnecessary air through his teeth and he heard similar sounds from Giles and Gunn. He glanced over at Faith, but she was staring hard at her hands, palms flat on the table top, expressionless.
"I, ah, that was, it was a misunderstanding."
"Shooting at you with a longbow was a misunderstanding? Was she actually aiming for someone else then?"
"She wasn't trying to shoot me, not really. She was just trying to get my attention."
"And an arrow in the back is certainly going to achieve that," the D.A. chuckled to himself.
"It was a cry for help," Angel asserted. "She wanted my help but after everything she'd been through, she didn't know how to ask for it. All she's ever been taught is violence. Afterward she apologized and I accepted."
"That's very forgiving of you Mr. Angel."
"I've learned to be, and anyway if she's as deadly as you are making her out to be, I wouldn't be standing here telling the tale, would I? She was a mixed up kid who needed a break. I gave her one and she's never done anything to give me reason to regret it." Angel turned to the judge. "If you give her one now, you won't regret it either."
The judge didn't even bother to look up as he answered. "I've yet to be convinced of that."
Xander slowed the truck down as they came upon another turn off. "This one?"
Kennedy stared hard at the map. "Think so."
"Well it wasn't the last two and if we go much further we'll be back in town." Xander said and swung the vehicle onto the new road. "So let me get this straight. You're pissed 'cause Buffy won't give you the Scythe?"
"No, I'm pissed off that I never get to climb into bed with Willow until four in the morning." Kennedy looked at the map again. "Take the left fork, it should take us straight there."
"Buffy's been there and done that. Except for the getting into bed with Willow part." Xander thought for a moment. "As far as I know. She just wants a rest." The trees gave way to a circular driveway. "Bingo. Let's check it out."
Xander switched off the truck and jumped out. Kennedy, Miranda and Alison followed suit. Andrew stayed put looking up at the house.
"Andy, come on." Xander held the door open while he waited for the blonde to jump out.
"Uh, don't you think someone should stay here and look after the truck? 'Cause, like, we don't know what might be around. We shouldn't put all our eggs in one haunted castle."
"Okay, stay here, do not go wandering off. If we don't come back, call Buffy on your cell and tell her where we are, got it?" Xander slammed the door shut.
Andrew looked around at the dark, imposing forest. There was still at least two hours of daylight left, but the trees were already casting long, deep shadows over the front of the house. "No worries about me wandering off," he muttered to himself, and snapped the door locks down.
Xander and the girls made their way to the steps leading up to the grand entrance door.
"Buffy doesn't want to rest, she just doesn't want Slaying to cut into her sitting around and moping time. It's not healthy, mark my words. If she doesn't snap out of it, in six months she'll be shuffling around in her nightdress and curlers, trying not to trip over her forty-three cats, and I am not a cat person."
Xander shushed Kennedy mid-rant as they reached the front door and he put his ear to it.
"Should we knock?" Alison asked sotto voce.
"I'm thinking that's not the best start to a trespassing mission," Xander muttered, looking up at the house.
All the windows - and there was a lot of them - were dark. Some had broken panes, or shutters hanging off the wall. Some were even open, frames probably wedged that way long ago. None of them looked welcoming.
"So what do we do?" Miranda stuttered. In the four days Xander had known the young Slayer she had never once stuttered.
Xander put his finger to his lips and slowly reached for the door handle. They all tensed as he rested his hand on it. He mouthed one, two, three and began to turn it, giving a gentle push with his other hand as he did so. They all held their breath.
After a minute they let it back out again, panting slightly.
Xander looked bewildered. "Damn, who locks a deserted house? Where are all the useful homeless guys when you need them."
"Maybe it's not deserted," Miranda said hopefully.
"Maybe it's dangerous inside, and they locked it to keep the kids out." Alison suggested.
Xander touched his now bandaged forehead. "The most dangerous thing around here is the kids."
Kennedy had jumped from the steps and was walking along the edge of the house. The weed choked gravel crunched beneath her sneakers. Finding what she was looking for she called back to the others. "Xander, come give us a leg up."
"We can't do that, can we?" Miranda asked nervously.
"Don't see why not. Trespassing's trespassing, whichever way we get in. Though the window just feels more secret-ops," Kennedy said.
Xander shrugged and went to help her through the window.
The flames of a small fire flickered, making the rest of the room seem even darker than it was. Almost no natural light made it to this corner of the gloom.
"Haave yow gert it lads?"
"Yas Mawther," several voices said at once, in the lilting tongue they were bred with.
"Good. Put tha jowders in tha fringle."
Several items were thrown on the fire, making it hiss and pop. The flames climbed higher.
"Mad-ley-moed, Mawther. Hubba bad." Came a voice, its owner sounding scared and unsure of its place to speak.
"I know lad. Enough Skalling, I'm an old totle. Let's end this to-wance."
As their leader raised her hands, the flames grew higher and higher. The shadows on the wall grew until they covered the entire wall. The tribe bowed before their powerful leader.
Buffy and Cici made their way back into the kitchen where Willow was sat at her laptop.
"So how are you feeling?" Buffy asked the new girl.
"Okay, a little sore in places but I fell off my horse once into a bramble bush and it's not that dissimilar."
Buffy smiled the smile of someone never quite spoiled enough to get the pony. It was still a touchy subject. "Well that's good." She turned to her friend. "Well Will, that's the whole house searched. I guess we do the grounds next. How many sheds are there?"
Willow looked up. "Three barns, a stable block, oh and a woodshed."
"We have a stable block? Does it have horses?" Buffy asked.
"Nope, unless it has ghost horses. Might be kinda funny trying to ride one of them." Willow went back to her laptop. Why people liked horses was a mystery to her. They were just arm-eating machines.
"Ooh maybe Mr. Giles will let me have Pinocchio stay here," Cici chirped, already excited at the prospect.
"Pinocchio?" Buffy and Willow repeated, sharing a smirk.
"Ask him, he's due back tomorrow," Willow said.
"Lets go Cici. We'll start with the stables and you can check it out for Pinocchio." Buffy ushered the young Slayer out the door while she talked excitedly about her horse.
The four walked quietly around the large house. There were a lot of rooms. Some had furniture still in them, some did not and were just empty, cobweb covered caverns. The main staircase was wide and long and still had a threadbare scarlet carpet running down it's center. What was obvious was that a some point in the past, someone pretty wealthy had owned the place.
"I wonder why it was abandoned?" Miranda asked quietly.
"Could be any reason. Maybe the owners lost all their money in the wall street crash." Xander suggested, opening a few doors down the second floor hallway.
"Maybe the owners died. They may still be here. This place is pretty out of the way. Maybe no one ever found them." Kennedy checked a few doors on her side of the landing. They all revealed much of the same emptiness.
"I don't want to find a dead body!" Alison pulled a face.
"You're a Slayer. It's going to happen sooner or later." Kennedy told her. "You might as well get used to it."
"But it's gross," the blonde girl grumbled.
They began to move up the second flight of stairs.
"Agreed, but unavoidable, I'm afraid," Xander said.
They checked the doors on the third level. The two young Slayers becoming more confident the further they went without incident. Xander and Kennedy grew more nervous knowing that with less places left to check the more chance there was of some mad axe demon jumping out on them from a hall closet.
Eventually they made their way to the far end of the corridor. There was another set of steps, narrow and plain compared to the previous two staircases. At the top was a simple wooden door. There was no sign on it saying 'Beware all who enter here!' but Xander felt there really should be. He put one hand on the banisters and his foot on the first step.
"Well it was nice knowing you guys," he quipped, adjusting his eye-patch. Something Kennedy noticed he always did now when he was nervous.
"We're not really going to go up there, are we?" Miranda squeaked. "That's the attic, up there. The killer always hides in the attic in all the scary movies. Everyone knows you don't don't go into the attic in a haunted house. You 'll get got!"
"Miranda, you don't get killers in haunted houses, you get ghosts," Xander tried to reason with the frightened girl.
"And you think that's any better?" she asked.
Xander thought back to his run-ins with the paranormal and had to agree it wasn't, but still. "It's the only place left to check." He was about to start the climb when Kennedy put her hand on his arm.
"There's nothing up there," she said. "We might as well go."
"How can you be sure?" He stepped back down to the landing, hoping he didn't appear too eager.
"This place is covered top to toe in dust. Look, even the floor. The only footprints are ours." The other three looked at the floor.
She was right, there were a lot of scuffed footprints but they all obviously belonged to them. One set leading towards and away from each door they had methodically checked.
"Plus," she continued, "the front door was locked, and so was the back 'cause we checked. Even if someone got in through the window like us, there would be some evidence surely. I don't know, candle wax drippings or the scent of incense, maybe a bubbling cauldron. If there's anything up in that attic, besides the poisonous spiders and killer bees we'd probably disturb, then they're not flesh and blood and we can't do anything about them."
Kennedy started to walk back the way they had come. "Besides it's nearly dark and if I don't start patrol soon, I'll be even later curling up with my girl."
"Okay, come on, let's go," Xander agreed, more relieved than he cared to admit in front of the girls.
They made their way down the two flights of the stairs and headed for the once plush parlor room, and the window they'd entered through.
A figure stepped from the shadows under the stairs and watched them go. "Interesting," he murmured.
Buffy jumped when her cell phone began its high pitched ring. She'd pulled her jacket on before leaving the house without even realizing it was still in the pocket.
"Hello." She spoke into it, wondering who on earth was calling her.
"Slow down. What do you mean, they went into the house and never came back? Where are you?"
Dawn and Cici both stopped poking into the dark corners of the barn to listen to the one-sided conversation.
"No, don't go in, there's nothing you can do. I'll get Willow and somehow we'll get to you." Buffy started to leave the barn. "Though I don't know how we'll get through the wilderness without the monster truck."
". . ."
"What? What is it? They're there? All of them? And they're okay?"
". . ."
"Well thanks for the heart attack, Andrew. Yeah, hurry back so you can help us. Did you know we have more outhouses than we have house?" Buffy turned her phone off and put it back in her pocket.
"What is it? What happened?" Her sister demanded.
"Just Andrew getting scared of the dark. He thought they'd all been murdered in the ghost house but just as he was working himself into a frenzy they came out. They're gonna meet us back here, help us finish up before it's completely dark."
"They'd better hurry then." Cici nodded towards the dimming sky.
"Well there's nothing in here." Dawn took a final look around.
"Right, well that leaves one more barn and one woodshed." Buffy led the way to the next barn.
"Surely nothing would be doing magic from the wood shed. There wouldn't be enough room, would there?" Cici tried to toss her hair over one shoulder, forgetting it was shorter now. The roses had done quite a job on it. Willow had done the best she could, but the young Slayer desperately wanted to go to a professional salon in Cleveland. Willow may have been a wonderful Wicca, but she was no hairdresser.
Buffy shrugged and put her finger to her lips as she pushed back the door to the last pitch black barn. It smelled strongly of musty hay and possibly musty cows too.
"Okay, it really is getting a bit dark for this. Let's go and get some flashlights and come back," Buffy whispered and led the way back to the main house.
Buffy, Dawn, Cici and Willow were just leaving the last barn as the big truck pulled up in front of them. Chunks of vegetation were caught up in its wheel arches, but otherwise it was none the worse for wear.
Xander shut the engine off and jumped out. The others followed suit.
"Find anything?" Buffy called, as her group walked over to join them.
"Not a thing." Kennedy gave Willow a hug. "How about you guys?"
"Nothing so far. We've checked everything but the woodshed." Dawn swung her flashlight around to point at the woodshed. It was a small rickety wooden structure a little way from the house. "Doesn't look big enough to hold a monster, does it."
"Well let's get it over with." Buffy strode towards it with everyone else close behind.
When they were still several yards away Kennedy spoke. "Hang on. Do you hear that?"
Everyone strained their ears. There was a chorus of "No's"
"Yeah," Buffy said.
Signaling for the others to stay put, the two Slayers crept forward to the edge of the woodshed. From inside they could hear chanting. It was strangely mellifluous, spoken in some exotic demon tongue, but chanting was chanting.
Buffy and Kennedy met each others' eyes and after three bobs of their heads they crashed into the door, sending it flying open to bang onto the inside wall. The pair rushed in, looking around in the small space, for anything that could chant. There was a tiny fire in one corner of the shed and it sent hundreds of shadows racing across the walls.
Buffy frantically searched, but she couldn't make out what were shadows and what was not. She could hear scuffling coming from around the walls and it reminded her of the snaky type demon she had seen earlier. What if the shed was full of snakes? She shivered and looked harder. All the while the demon language flowed over them, seeming to come from every side.
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