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 Four

The wood shed was an eight foot by eight foot hole of chaos. Demon voices echoed all around the two Slayers, some shrill, others gruff. Monstrous shadows danced across the walls, confusing Buffy even more.

The rest of the gang charged in behind them, wanting to help with the unknown foe. Andrew ran clumsily into Buffy's back and her flashlight fell from her hand. It hit the dusty, straw-strewn floor and spun unevenly once before dying.

Andrew dropped to his hands and knees to retrieve it for her, muttering his apologies. Something smacked the back of his head, hard. Yelping in pain, his hand instinctively went to the sore spot and encountered a lump; a wriggling lump. His yelp turned to a girly scream and he wrenched it away from his scalp, tearing a lot of hairs out at the same time. In a panic, he threw the offending wriggly thing away from him as hard as he could.

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Splat!

Andrew cringed.

Kennedy was standing as still as possible. The dark, shadow-filled and smoky room was awash with vibration. Kennedy was poised trying to find the one that mattered. Something passed her leg so fast it made her pant leg flap slightly in its wake. Moving on instinct she lunged forward and landed hard on the dirty floor. She sneezed as the dust cloud she'd raised from the wooden floor swirled around her. A blast of moist warm air hit her between the eyes accompanied by a rude noise sounding something like "thruuurprrrrrr."

There was a thwunk followed by the sound a cross bow bolt makes when it buries itself in a wooden wall.

"Ooops," Dawn said.

Xander felt the breeze of its passage and jumped backwards, landing heavily on Willow's foot who cried out in pain and surprise and shoved him forward again.

Through it all the chanting went on, a calm low murmur standing out against the chaos.

Buffy closed her eyes for a moment. The whirling shadows created by the fire were just serving to confuse her. With her eyes closed, her sense of hearing picked up and she tuned it into the chant. She couldn't understand the words; demon languages had never been her strong point, and if you believed Giles she could barely handle English. She started taking baby steps towards the voice, mindful of the fire being somewhere in front of her. Something caught her foot and tripped her. Buffy shouted in alarm and it mingled with another from somewhere by her feet.

"Yow gret big get . . . watch weer yaw a'goen!" Was followed by a series of prickling pains on her ankle. She reached down to smack at the demons claws before it managed to rip her flesh from her bones and something sharp and pointy clamped onto her finger hard! She screamed and shook her hand vigorously. After a few hard shakes it released her finger and she heard it thump to the ground. She sat on the floor clutching her sore finger to her chest.

Willow stood in the center of the chaos and tried to get a feel for the magic being used. She couldn't understand the words but she could sense the spell, feel its power. She could tell by the energy it created that it was a reversal spell, most likely the one she'd been trying to emulate all afternoon. Her next question was 'who's doing the reversing and why?'

She searched the darkness in vain when she heard Kennedy hit the floor and curse. The pain from Xander standing on her foot caused her eyes to water and she ducked when she heard the crossbow bolt hit the wall, even though common sense told her it was a bit late for ducking. But when she heard Buffy scream, she'd had enough. 'Trying to concentrate here, people!' She clapped her hands together,

"Fiat lux."

As she pulled her hands apart a ball of bright light floated in between them. Slowly it rose to the roof, illuminating everything and dispelling the shadows. Everyone raised their arms to their eyes and blinked rapidly in the sudden glaring brightness.

The sounds of frenzied scampering echoed around the small shed for a moment, but by the time everyone's vision had adjusted, the place was empty, save for a tiny fire and some lonely chunks of firewood.

"What the . . .?" Xander spoke for all of them.

Buffy was still sitting on the dirty, straw-covered floor nursing her bleeding finger. Andrew was kneeling next to her rubbing the back of his head and staring at the crossbow bolt that was sticking out of the wall mere inches from Xander's head. Not surprisingly that's where his attention was too. Kennedy picked herself up from the floor and wandered over to look at wet, red smudge on the wall. There were red drips underneath it. Willow went to investigate.

"Blood," she confirmed.

Dawn stood by the door still, sheepishly hugging her now empty crossbow. "Sorry guys."

The three new Slayers were huddled together outside, peering through the doorway. Miranda asked, "Did you get it?"

The gang were sat back in the kitchen. A quick search of the wood shed had turned up nothing more than a few spiders. Buffy's finger had been bandaged by Dawn, and was sticking out like a sore . . . well, finger.

Willow had set up some chemistry equipment that Buffy and Xander vaguely remembered from high school.

"Did you buy all those test tubes in L.A.?" Buffy asked, staring at the bubbling liquids.

"Yes indeed-y, the Council paid for it." Willow grinned.

"And is it worth their money?" Xander grabbed a beer from the fridge and sat next to the red-head, joining Buffy in staring at the glass tubes of colorful bubbles. "If you didn't know it was blood it would be quite pretty." He coughed and took a mouthful of his beer. "Except I'm a man and I wouldn't notice things like that." He said in his most manly voice.

Willow looked at Xander. "Yes to you being a man, no to it being pretty, and yes to it being worth it. It's telling me it's blood, which is what I need to know. Hence the worth."

Buffy thought on that for a moment. "But we, you, already knew that."

"True, but I didn't know what kind," Willow explained.

"But you do now?" Xander looked at the tubes curiously, wondering how all he could see was bubbling red stuff and Willow could use it to unlock the secrets of the universe.

"Sort of." Willow's brow furrowed and she dipped something into one of the tubes.

"I don't think the Council would see that as worth their money." Buffy reached across the table for Xander's beer and stole a few gulps before replacing it. Xander was too busy scratching his ear to notice.

Kennedy came into the kitchen pulling on her coat. "I'm off to patrol. Who's with me?"

Xander looked up first, still scratching his ear. "Not tonight Kenn, I've had enough action for one day. I am but a lowly carpenter."

Willow looked up too and gave her a sweet smile. "I'm gonna have to pass too, baby. I have to get this analyzed so we know what we're dealing with."

"What about you Buffy?"

"No thanks. I'm retired, remember? Dawn's not going either, she's banned from patrolling until she learns how to put the safety on the crossbow." She ignored Dawn's pout.

"So you mean I'm doing it on my own again? All of it?" Kennedy was not pleased.

Buffy shrugged. "Why don't you take the girls? I'm sure they're as eager for action as you."

Alison, Miranda and Cici all looked up from the other end of the table in alarm.

"I don't know, Buffy. They haven't had any formal training yet. It might be a bit soon to send them out into the field," Willow cautioned.

Buffy took another sip of Xander's beer. "Kenn, what have you slain this week?"

Kennedy didn't even need to think about it. "Four vampires spanning five days and one butt-ugly thing with a drippy face. I think it was a demon; if it wasn't, I did the guy a favor."

"There you go then. It'll be a piece of cake. Kennedy can show 'em the ropes and the girls can get some good 'ole fresh night air. It makes Slayer's grow big and strong. Well strong at least. You'll love it. Have fun." Buffy waved them off even though none of them except Kennedy had headed for the door.

"You're not coming?" Cici asked, not looking too happy with the idea.

Buffy allowed herself a second to bask in the glow of hero worship before reining it in. "You'll be fine with Kennedy. I want to stay and find our disappearing demons." She smiled at the girls as they filed out one after the other.

"Miss Faith, please stand up."

Faith jumped at the sound of the Judge's voice. It had been a long day. Even the bumpy and hard bunk in her cell was looking inviting. She stood up and faced the man behind the big desk.

"Miss, you were sentenced to life imprisonment due to the nature of your crimes. The death of Mr. Finch, accidental or otherwise aside, you have already admitted to killing another man simply at the request of your employer. Obviously this can not go unpunished."

Faith's eyes and shoulders dropped.

"Do you have anything you wish to say?" The Judge asked, not unkindly.

Faith peered up at him again through her lashes. "Just that I'm sorry, and I know that doesn't make up for anything, but I am. I can't believe I did the things I did and I know that just because I was doing it 'cause the boss told me to doesn't make it any less my fault. Make me any less to blame for ruining those lives. If you think I should be locked up for the next twenty-five years and however many years you wanna toss on top for me skipping out, then that's not even half the sh- excuse me, it's nowhere near what I deserve." Faith's voice petered out, her throat feeling scratchy and raw, but she held the Judge's gaze until he spoke again.

"Well, it's just as well you feel like that, Faith, because if you had been harboring any hopes of going home tonight, they would have been sorely dashed." Faith's gaze dropped to the floor again. "The appeal process can be long and arduous and there is no guarantee you will be successful."

Faith could hear whispering around her but was feeling too dejected to take any notice.

The Judge continued. "Mr. Gunn, if you can indeed prove that Mayor Wilkins was responsible for all the crimes your client was convicted of, and, beyond reasonable doubt, that the death of Allan Finch was an accident, then she may have a shot at being out before Christmas."

Faith's head shot up at that, and she looked from the Judge to Gunn and back again. "Huh?"

"Even with Wolfram and Hart behind you, I think you may find this one hell of a challenge. I set the appeal date for four weeks from today." He turned back to Faith. "Don't make me regret it. Dismissed." He stood and left the room.

In the background Giles and Angel stood up, all smiles. They went to hug and then realizing what they were doing, they stopped, feeling self-conscious for a moment before grinning again and shaking hands.

Faith was still gaping at Gunn. "Huh?"

Willow frowned over her test tubes. "Well that's strange!"

"What's strange?" Buffy yawned widely.

Xander sat back down at the table with a fresh beer. "And is it good strange or bad strange? 'Cause if it's bad strange can we pretend you haven't figure it out until morning?"

Willow looked up at her friends. "It's human. The blood, it's human. There are a few cellular differences, but it's definitely more human than demon."

"But the blood was fresh, the freshest of the fresh and none of us were hurt. Despite Dawn's best efforts."

Dawn stopped rubbing her arm and scowled at her sister. Buffy smiled back at her. "Damn mosquitoes!" Dawn started scratching at her other arm.

"From what I can tell, it's like a different species of human, not species . . . um . . . more like a different sub-section of the human species. Does that make sense?" Willow tried to explain.

"None whatsoever. How does that work?" Xander used the neck of his beer bottle to scratch under his chin.

Willow shrugged. "Like donkeys and asses, I guess."

"Yeah well they're making asses out of us alright," Buffy smiled grimly.

"Are they like apes?" Andrew scratched the back of his neck as he thought through his theory. "They're nearly human."

Xander scraped his chair back across the flagstones. "Do we have any bug cream? We all got eaten alive playing Dr. Livingston earlier." He carried his beer over to the first aid cupboard and set it down on the counter above it. Bending to his knees he searched through the medical equipment for something to take the bite out of his bites.

"I know how you feel." Willow's butt was still a little sore.

"Andrew, we can't have apes living in the wood shed, you idiot. We'd have noticed them by now," Buffy said.

"How? You can't even see the wood shed from your bedroom," Dawn sniped.

"Whatever," Buffy said amiably. She put her arms behind her head and stretched and boy, did that feel good. She held the position for a while, twisting her neck back and forth to work out all the kinks. A movement caught her eye and she snapped her head around making it click, but there was nothing there. "God, I'm so tired I'm seeing things."

Xander straightened up, having found no cream, and reached to pick up his beer. His hand came back to him empty. "Buff, if you want a beer you can have a whole bottle to yourself, you don't have to keep drinking mine." They had picked up the groceries on the way back from the creepy mansion. The car was still stuck the other end of the lane though.

"I don't want any more, thanks, or I'll fall asleep right here."

Xander looked confused. That had been a full bottle, give or take a sip. If Buffy hadn't . . . aha, he clicked his fingers. "Okay Will, de-spell my drink. Come on, bring my beer back." He held his hand out expectantly.

"I haven't touched your beer, Xander. Obviously your observation brain cells are inebriated or else you'd have noticed that while you're working on getting drunk, I have been working on our work!"

"Well where is it then?" Xander asked exasperated. "If you don't magick it back I'll just go grab myself another one."

"Be my guest." Willow waved her hand and the refrigerator door swung open.

"Willow that's cold," grumbled Buffy who was sat the closest to it. She leaned back in her chair to push the door closed again. She heard something that made her stop half-way. "Did anyone hear that?"

"Hear what?" Dawn asked, looking around.

Clink. Scrape.

"That. That noise." Buffy was looking around too.

Clink. Chink. Scrape. Clink.

"I hear it." Xander followed the direction the noise was coming from; when he neared the back door he stopped and stared. At floor level, between the door and the wall, was a baseball sized hole. It was another thing on his 'Things to fix' list that he hadn't even looked at yet. Now he stared at it.

"What is it Xander? What's there?" Buffy asked, straining her neck upwards to peer at the floor. She was too tired to stand with no good reason.

"My beer. It's my beer!" Xander exclaimed as he watched the brown glass bottle disappear through the hole with a final through clinks. "It's running away."

"Okay no more beer for Xander." Buffy started laughing but it died on her when Xander wrenched open the back door and ran out into the night.

"Always said alcohol was for losers, but no one listens to me." Dawn's eyes were closed in ecstasy as she used a fork to scratch the elusive itch in the middle of her back. When she opened them again it was just in time to see Andrew disappearing out of the door after Willow and Buffy. "See what I mean?" She asked the empty kitchen before she followed.

Buffy caught up with Xander at the door to the wood shed. "What is it?" She asked again.

Xander was still trying to catch his breath after his mad dash. "In there . . . my beer went in there." He panted, pointing at the closed door.

Buffy looked at him like he was a couple of tea-leaves short of a tea bag and he gave her his 'I'm serious' look, gesturing at the door, still too out of breath to bother speaking.

Buffy's brow scrunched and she put her ear to the worn wood of the door.

"Brik tha cus my clan hath cast. Brik et noo an' brik et faus. Gut ee back. Tha baistis a'goen."

"I don't believe this, they're chanting again. What are they gonna set on us next, the house bricks?" Buffy muttered angrily.

Everyone cast anxious looks back at the house except Willow who tugged on Buffy's sleeve.

"I don't think they want to hurt us."

"Yeah well tell that to your butt and my whole body." Buffy responded, pulling herself up to her full height of five foot three. "Whatever they want, they're gonna get a taste of Buffy the Vampi . . . Buffy the . . . Just Buffy."

"That's not particularly threatening," Andrew pointed out.

Buffy glared at him and he shrank away. "Get ready with your light thingie Will, as soon as I open the door. Let's see what twisted arm of the human race we're dealing with."

She pulled her leg back and kicked the door down. It hit the floor in a cloud of dust.

Buffy and Willow both ran over it, Willow clapping her hands as she did so. The light shot from between her palm and reached the roof at the same instant Buffy shouted "Freeze."

A dozen purple blobs stopped mid-scatter and turned to face them.

"Wow, who woulda thought that would work." Buffy gazed around in surprise. "I only said it 'cause I thought it would sound cool."

"That it did Buffy." Xander strolled over the felled door behind them. Looking around his gaze settled on the little fire they'd already put out once and the purple being behind it. "Whatcha cooking?" He sniffed the air. "Something evil?"

The thing behind the fire stood. It was bigger and fatter than the others, but still stood no more than eight inches high. It was humanoid, a female humanoid judging by the arrangement of its ragged dress.

"Come no closer. Stand where ee are and no more harm shall come to ee." She spoke in English but her accent was think and unfamiliar to the gang.

"Yeah, see that's not the way I envisioned this going," Buffy admitted. "I saw it more as a 'You don't move and I'll make your death less painful"."

"Girl you don't know what you are talking about," the purple being told her ominously.

"Really? Let's see." Buffy took a side step and kicked out at the nearest demon that wasn't a demon.

Before her foot could connect it jumped high in the air and landed on her foot. It scurried up her leg and climbed the rest of her body by grabbing handfuls of her t-shirt. She tried to shake it off and smack at her chest to dislodge it, but it was too fast and before she could get it off it was eye to very little eye with her and she found herself looking at a tiny little person face.

"I eent skeered ofa skallcock lik yaw." And it head-butted her right between the eyes.

She staggered back dazed and it took the opportunity to jump off and scurry to its friends. That's when all the flora in hell broke loose, or so it seemed.

The walls splintered and Rose stems burst through. The heads tattered and hanging off. They snaked and entwined around each other creating new walls of sharp thorns. Buffy started backing everyone out of the door, but a stinging prick made her stop and look behind. The roses had already covered the doorway, leaving no chinks that she could see in its armor. "Damn!" She was acutely aware of a sudden hissing noise, looking down sharply she saw the source.

The previously inanimate strands of dry straw were rearing up and hissing like snakes all around them.

"It's okay, it's just straw. It can't bite!" She called out.

A strand shot forward and struck her on the ankle. "Ouch!" The sharp end had broken the skin and a little trickle of blood began to dribble towards her shoes.

"I stand corrected."

"What are we going to do, Buffy?" Dawn asked in a high pitched voice. Dawn had never been fond of snakes.

'Good question,' Buffy thought, 'which I don't have an answer for.'

"Uh, excuse me." Willow called over to the purple figure once again chanting behind the fire. It stopped its chant and looked up at her. Willow rallied under its penetrating indigo stare. "Uh, hi. I'm Willow and these are my friends." She waved her arm about to encompass Buffy, Xander, Dawn and Andrew. "Um, we're sorry for being so, uh, rude or whatever, but if you guys need any help we'll be glad to make it up to you. If you can make the straw-snakes go away that is, like, now . . . please."

The tiny woman regarded her closely without saying anything.

"Uh Willow." Buffy spoke behind her hand to her friend. "We don't generally help the bad guys. It's something we deliberately don't do!"

"Buffy, I can't work out the reversal spell, but they must know it and I'm pretty sure that's what they were trying to do before we disturbed them."

"But they're demons Will, doing magick to attack us." Buffy tried to make her friend see reason.

The little lady raised her right arm. "Stuffle tha sturridge!"

The straw snakes dropped to the ground, inert again. Dawn and Andrew both let out sighs of relief.

"We arr not daemons, Giglet," she said.

"Well you're not people. You're purple - people aren't purple," Buffy said matter-of-factly.

"Sayst yow, yow unreamd tookened-patticks," said another of the non-demons.

Buffy looked suitably insulted even though she hadn't understood a word.

"I think they're cute." Dawn dropped to her knees in front of one. "Hey little guy." It flipped her the bird with a sneer. "Oh see, how cute was that?" She smiled at it.

Xander spotted his beer bottle the other side of the shed, still in the clutches of one of the little purple guys. Casually wandering up to it, he plucked the bottle from its grasp with an audible pop. "Mine, I believe." He eyed the bottle for a second, then nodded and took a swig.

"We nee'd thaat fur oor wunded." It told him.

Xander squinted down at it. "Buy your own," he said simply.

The chanting leader spoke again. "He said we need that for our wounded. Ogrek cut his head badly when your runt threw him into the wall."

"Hey who are you calling a runt?" Xander barked. It had been a very trying day.

"Him," she pointed at Andrew.

"Well that's okay then." Xander was mollified.

"Uh if Ogrek needs his cut cleaning, we've got proper stuff back at the house. You don't have to use stinky old beer," Willow offered.

"Oggie doesn't need to bathe his head, he wanted a brew to dull his headache, but thank ee girl," the leader explained.

Willow beamed. "You're welcome. We're sorry. We didn't mean to hurt you."

"We didn't?" Buffy was lost and had given up any hope of catching up.

Willow ignored her. "You're trying to break the curse aren't you?"

The leader nodded.

"Can I help?"

The purple leader lady smiled for the first time, revealing a set of brilliantly white teeth. She was beautiful when she smiled.

"Thank ee girl. If you'd like to help jus' keep yaw tribe from interfering. I caan do tha rest meself." She went to sit back behind the fire. "Timsaw."

Another of the little people walked towards her carrying two tiny fistfuls of powders. He threw them on the fire and the leader began to chant. The rest of the room stayed silent while they waited. Five minutes later she looked up.

"All done," she told them

Buffy looked skeptical. "Just like that?"

"Yas. Goen smell ah flower, girl."

Buffy looked suspicious, but stepped carefully to one of the walls. Gingerly she plucked a tattered rose from the tangled bush. It didn't attack. Even more carefully she lifted it to her nose and took a little sniff. She sneezed but nothing tried to rip her throat out. She nodded at the others. "So far so good."

"Well that's great," said Xander. "The next thing is, how do we get out of here?" They all looked around at the thorny walls. There was no way to get out without at least one of them scratching themselves very badly. Buffy cursed herself for not picking up any weapons before she left the kitchen but she'd been more concerned with Xander.

The leader barked an instruction at Timsaw and he scampered off and disappeared. A few seconds later he came back carrying, with ease, a pair of secateurs at least twice his size. He handed them to Buffy.

"Theeer yow go, Just Buffy." The leader said with a smile.

Faith was back in her cell. It wasn't home anymore like it had been for three years, but it was better than a lot of places she'd slept.

She sat on her bunk with her back to the wall staring out of the tiny, barred window at the night sky, thinking.

Today had gone well. According to Gunn it couldn't have gone any better and that was good. There was still no guarantee that a new jury would see what she did any different to the last jury but it was a step in the right direction.

She gazed at the Polaroid stuck to the wall by her bunk. It was a step closer to Buffy, she hoped.

Dawn and Andrew had gone to their rooms and Xander was in front of the T.V. with a beer, his eyes drooping. It had been a long day for them all, or maybe the quiet period they'd enjoyed since closing the Sunnydale Hellmouth had made them all lazier.

Buffy and Willow were sat once again at the kitchen table, but this time they had a visitor.

The purple leader woman was sat in front of them on the table itself. She was sipping from a thimble Willow had carefully poured cocoa in, and telling them her story.

"Firstly I am Beryan, Mawther of the Crow-an-wragh tribe, and second I'm sorry, I am. I'm a chuckle-head, I know." She said in her thick accent. "We were worried we would lose our home, yow see. One hundred and three years we have lived here, and they've not all been easy. The Watcher men tried to turn us out. They had forgotten about the ageless pact between themselves and the Piskies. We used to work together for the benefit of the Human races but as time went on they paid that no mind. They saw us as Bal, as pests, they tried to eradicate us. They put down magical poison, believing us dundleheads. They took away our source of food; they tried to stop us sharing their shelter.

"The contracts signed long ago, they said they had been lost. That they were no longer valid, that they would not pander to the needs of daemons. I said this made them Scadgan' the worst. We are not daemons; our blood is as pure as theirs. Naw oor blood iss purer because we dedn't turn oor backs on oor fellow races as they did."

"Yeah so I get it. You've got no love for the Council. I totally know where you're coming from on that, but why attack us? We didn't do anything. We didn't even know you were here." Buffy blew on her cocoa before taking a sip.

"We thought you were the Council. The past year, it has been peaceful. We didn't want a return to the dark days of living under the Watcher's regime of fear. I used to worry daily and nightly for the safety of my kith and kin. The grown learn to adapt to the hiding and whispering and the secret food missions, but it's the Bearn you have to think of. You can't keep them cooped up all day.

"So I decided a little scare would make them think twice about invading again. They were always so terrified of Vampires so I conjured one up. It was only supposed to scare you; no one was supposed to get hurt."

"But it wasn't a Vamp that came after us." Willow said. "It was plants and stuff and straw turning into snakes and . . . stuff."

"Yas, I'm not sure what went wrong. It was supposed to incite the brethren of the last half life you took."

"But I haven't slain anything in weeks, unless you count . . ." Buffy stared off into space.

Buffy knelt up on her bed, the tears streaming down her face.

"Dawn, for the last time I don't want to listen to any of your crappy CD's. Now get the Hell out of my room."

She chucked the offered CD towards her sister and watched as it sliced the head clean off of Dawn's earlier cheer-up present. The cactus was in two halves, the CD was embedded in the wall behind it. Dawn fled from the room crying.

"Ooohhhh. I get it," Buffy smiled sheepishly. "But we're cool now right? The woodshed is yours forever if you want it but, I mean we had chicken for dinner, its brethren aren't going to rise up in the morning and peck our toes off, are they?"

The Piskie leader laughed. "No, we are . . . cool. There is no reason why my tribe and yours cannot live in harmony like before, but there is one thing. If you want the peace to continue you will take the woodshed and we will have the house, it is only fair."

"But . . . but . . . we can't . . . where would we . . ." Aghast, Buffy tried to figure out how the ten of them could all live in the woodshed.

The Piskie fell over onto its back, the thimble tinkling on the table as she dropped it; she was laughing hard. "Ha, ha, ha . . . You biggers are all dundle-heads."

The Piskie had gone home and now just Buffy and Willow sat at the kitchen table, nursing their second cups of cocoa and their various aches and pains.

They had been sat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes when Buffy decided she needed to talk. The offer had been made and she was ready to accept. She felt until she did, everyday would be like this. She couldn't move on until she learned to let Faith go and she needed help doing that.

She pulled a folded and crumpled piece of paper out of her pocket, smoothed it out on the table top and slid it across to Willow.

Willow looked at Buffy questioningly.

"It's from Faith; she left it the morning she, uh, left. I've been holding onto it, carrying it around like a comfort blanket, but it doesn't bring me any comfort. Read it, please. Tell me what you think."

Willow bent over the paper.

Dear B,
Sorry to leave you hanging this morning I wish I could be there when you woke up but I got things to do I don't want you thinking last night was just another screw cos it wasn't, which is why I'm writing this You were amazing, B I never had it so good
I guess you're wondering why I'm not there then Well it's simple: I got things to do you can't be a part of that. Sorry but that's just the way it is Maybe when I'm done sorting stuff out I'll be back but don't wait around cos in our line of work life's too short
You might not believe it right now but I'm doing this for both our goods so don't bother wastin your time trying to find me cos I don't want to be found. That said, if you need my superior slaying skill (ha ha) I know I'll be back
Anyway gotta go now take care of yourself B it was great catching up well everything
Say bye to the scoobs for me.
Yours Faithfully

Willow traced her finger along some of the crease lines before looking up at Buffy.

"So what do you think?" Buffy asked shyly.

"I think the girl needs to learn how to use a period."

"Willow," Buffy pleaded. She didn't know what she wanted her to say, just something to make her feel better.

Willow took Buffy's hands in her own. "I think, Buffy, that you have to do as she says. As you said earlier. You have to forget about her, move on with your life. We're in a whole new town; hell, a whole new state. We've all gotta put Sunnydale and everything connected with it into a little box and keep it somewhere safe. We shouldn't be carrying it around with us." Willow wasn't just talking about Buffy and Faith now.

"I get that, but Faith's not dead. She could come back at anytime. You read the letter; it says she'll be back one day. She says it meant something to her and I know she loves me. I can't put all that in a box."

"Buff, it says she might be back one day, not definitely. It seems to me that Faith was just trying to let you down gently with this letter. The operative words there being, letting you down."

"I don't know Will, maybe you're right. I just feel that there's something more to it. If that's all it was, why leave a letter? You know that's not Faith's style; there was something more on her mind when she wrote this. I just wish I knew what."

Giles trudged his way down the dark track. He cursed the cab driver for not driving him up to the house. The impertinent man had said there was too much foliage on the track and it might give him a flat tire. As bad as British Rail, he decided, as twigs, sticks and sometimes entire branches crunched and snapped under his shoes. This was getting a little overgrown; he'd have to get Xander on it first thing.

He was walking across the lawn when his mobile phone began to ring. Blasted thing, he only kept it because he needed to be reachable twenty-four hours a day now that he was co-running the Council. He flipped it open and pressed a button, hoping it was the right one this time and he hadn't cut the caller off.

"Hello," he said. "Ah Angel, yes thank you for returning my call so late. I wondered if you had had a chance to speak to Mr. Gunn yet about the matter we discussed." Giles walked slowly across the grass, there were a few lights on in the house and he didn't want to be overheard by anyone.

"Well it's good she asks about her, hopefully it will keep her spirits up and make this next month less painful." He'd made his way around to the back of the house and was standing a few yards from the back door. The kitchen light was on but he couldn't hear any voices. He kept his distance just in case.

"Yes I appreciate that, Angel, but you are not the one who has to watch her suffering another heartbreak, and she seems to be taking this one particularly hard. Yes, worse than you." It started to rain heavily. "Damn!" He pulled his jacket over his head but it wasn't waterproof and was soon soaked through.

"I just think that if Faith would allow me to tell Buffy where she was then it would be better for the both of them. Faith needs all the support she can get and you know as well as I do that Buffy would give that unconditionally."

Giles cursed the rain under his breath; it was running down the inside of his glasses and getting in his eyes. He couldn't wipe it away for he had his bag in one hand and the phone in the other.

With a quick glance at the kitchen window to see if he could see anyone, he ducked under the porch cover. Huddled there with his back to the rain he listened to what Angel had to say.

Giles answered in a whisper. "Yes I realize it is Faith's decision and I will not betray her confidence, but I personally feel that now a trial date has been set up there is no need to keep it a secret from Buffy any longer."

Inside the kitchen Buffy sat with her head on Willow's shoulder, crying quietly. Willow stroked her hair and let her sob it out.

The blonde sat up sharply causing Willow to start.

"Did you hear that?" Buffy asked.

"No, no more hearing things," Willow begged.

"No I'm serious, there's someone outside." Buffy got up and tried to peer through the window but the rain was like a grey curtain across it.

"Maybe it's the Piskies. The shed was pretty torn up it's probably leaking," Willow said with a laugh.

"Let's find out." Buffy went to open the back door.

"No, I promised Faith I would keep her whereabouts a secret until she said otherwise, but if you could please talk to her again when you visit. Buffy will want to be at that trial and if Faith doesn't let her . . ." Giles stopped talking into his phone and looked up at Buffy. "Oh dear."

Buffy gave him a look of confusion. He was talking about her and Faith. Who was he talking to and why? The look on her beloved Watcher's face showed quite plainly that he had been caught out at something. Something to do with Faith. She couldn't handle this right now. She turned and fled for the back stairs, taking them three at a time. She heard both Giles and Willow calling to her but she didn't stop until she was in her bedroom, Faith's letter held to her face stemming the flow of her tears.

Giles left in the kitchen with Willow removed his glasses and placed them on the table. He sighed wearily before speaking into the phone again.

"Angel, I'm afraid this conversation is no longer relevant. I will explain later. Goodbye."

Continue to Episode 2

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