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House of The Setting Sun: Watcher Looking At?
Episode Five 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
Summary: Episode Five in the House of the Setting Sun series. Buffy prepares for Faith's return while the first Watcher Selection camp begins. Faith doesn't get any better at making decisions.


Episode Five

Act One

Buffy dipped down to soak the brush she was holding into the bucket of water and straightened back up. In her other hand she held a bottle of cleaning detergent and now she squeezed it, making a long arc of yellow-y green slimy soap that glimmered in the cool afternoon sun. It looked like demon... Well, best not to go there really.

When the soap hit the railing of the balcony she brought up the dripping brush and scrubbed at it, making frothy bubbles as she rid the old wood of years of ingrained dirt.

The balcony ran along three sides of the big house and Buffy had finished one whole side and most of the back. She was working on the portion outside of the room she'd gotten ready for Faith now. The sun was low in the sky this late in the day and it made the spotless window behind her blinding with its rays. The same rays made Buffy squint at her work to avoid them.

Finishing another section she stood back to admire it, one hand raised above her eyes to shield them, and noticed Xander coming out of the soon-to-be training barn.

She watched with a little frown as he carefully locked it tight and put the key in his pocket before walking into the house. He'd been doing that all week, his secretive behavior making her naturally suspicious. She'd come up with a vague notion that he was using the dark, empty space to do something with hops and barley and whatever element created the achey head. She'd nearly mentioned it to Willow but had a feeling that the red-head wouldn't find the idea as amusing as she did.

Picking up the bucket, she moved along a few feet and, taking a step back, squirted some more of the cleaning liquid onto the railing. She was getting pretty good at directing it exactly where she wanted. Maybe it could be the new weapon in the fight against evil. Squirting demons in the eye with detergent. That would make them clean up their acts. She could just imagine Giles' reaction if he came home to find all the Slayers lined up outside with squeezey bottles of bubbles.

Although, she looked at her watch, he should be home in about four hours and that wasn't enough time to get to the store and back and finish the balcony. So that fun would have to wait for another day.

Four hours was not a long time. With a slightly panicked expression, she renewed her vigor with the brush.

It had been nearly two weeks since Giles had phoned with the news of Faith's appeal and in that time Buffy's emotions had ranged from terrified, to exuberant, to fretful, to what her Mom would probably call nesting. And from there it was easy to head back to terrified.

She had no idea how Faith was feeling about her. About getting out. About anything. She knew that Giles had visited her at least once to discuss her coming to live with them, but after that the Watcher had left the States to head to London and so Buffy hadn't had a chance to question him properly.

Moving on to the next portion of balcony rail, Buffy realized with relief that she only had one more and then she could turn the corner and begin the North section, which was shorter and the last one. After that she had to go find a broom so she could do the flooring. After that she could go grab a quick shower and then start the little something she had planned for dinner. Faith was bound to be starving when she arrived.

She worried for a second that Xander was even now making a mess in her immaculate kitchen, but she still had Elowen and Kitto down there covering that base. The big lunch of milk and cookies she'd given them had made them more than happy to offer more of their services.

Happy with the long West railing, Buffy turned to the next part and sighed with relief to be out of the glare of the sun. As she scrubbed away at the wood, she saw Xander exit the kitchen with a sandwich and head back to the big barn. He unlocked it again and went inside, shutting the door behind him.

She damped down her peaked curiosity by checking the time, and with dismay, noticed it was still ticking by.

Buffy knew anyone else would say not to worry about it. Faith wouldn't care about the balcony railing anyway. That's why everyone else had cleared out and left her to her new breed of madness. But it did matter. Faith's first impression of the place was going to stay with her forever and it had to be perfect. Buffy needed every help she could get in getting Faith to stay with her, with them.

She'd agonized for two weeks (well to be honest a lot longer than that) about how this evening would go. Every time she ran it through her mind she did something different and tried to imagine Faith's reaction to it, figuring that way she could find the exactly right one and that would be the one she'd use tonight. Problem was, different scenarios were still popping up with the frequency of her heart beating so how was she supposed to just pick one! How could she practice making everything just right when another script would suddenly materialize and she'd fluff her lines?

Willow said keep it simple. Don't think what might happen, just let it happen and react from there. Yeah, good idea in theory, but with her and Faith when things were just allowed to plot their own course, they usually veered off a cliff at high speed.

Xander had suggested having a party to welcome her back because Faith liked parties and it would stop any awkwardness between anyone. Buffy suspected he was thinking of himself and Faith there. She'd given the idea serious thought, but it didn't seem right to have a party only a couple of weeks after Kate had died. There was still a somber feeling around the house caused by their first fatality at Sunset Camp.

Buffy, acting as head of the camp in Giles' absence, had made it possible for all the new Slayers - Kate's friends - to go home for a week or two after the funeral. This was the first time the seriousness of their calling had been shown to them and Buffy wanted them to spend time with their families while they regrouped. Miranda and Cici had jumped at the chance but Alison had declined and was still in the girl's dormitory barn with Vi and Rona. While Buffy silently wished that Alison had taken the time off to mourn Kate, she was also hoping that Miranda and Cici weren't too scared to come back.

Another veto to the party idea was the bunch of Watcher wannabe's arriving from England early the next morning. With Giles not back until that evening none of the necessary preparations had been made for them. Not that Buffy had time to think about that; she had her own preparations to fret other.

So for tonight, Buffy was keeping it unfussy. She was going to cook. Andrew had offered, but Buffy had declined. She wanted to do this herself, but she had let Andrew sort out her ingredients and show her what to do and he'd promised to be on hand in case it all went kaboom on her.

Then they could do whatever Faith wanted to do, which might be sleep after the flight. Or maybe she'd want to go to Barnies for a few drinks. Or... or maybe they could talk, privately, just the two of them, and Buffy could find out where she stood.

Gulping, she stopped the brush and looked down at the wooden railing without seeing it. Was she ready to know where she stood? Suddenly the not knowing was looking more attractive. What if Buffy didn't stand anywhere as far as Faith was concerned? It was a possibility. She'd heard nothing from Faith since the visit. Giles had had no message to pass on as far as she knew. What if Faith came back and blew her off?

Buffy started scouring the wood again so hard that little chunks began to fall away. Faith was going to come back and not even acknowledge her, she just knew it. The brunette would walk in and give the place a cursory once over and go look for something to eat, or drink or... Buffy would be standing right there smiling like an idiot and Faith wouldn't even notice, unless she stripped off and covered herself in barbecue sauce.

She contemplated that for a moment, before chastising herself. "I can't, everyone will be there."

Which brought on a fresh wave of alarm. All of her friends were going to be standing around watching, knowing all the hard work she'd put in, all the tears and tantrums of the last few months, and they'd see all her hopes get dashed right out in the open. She knew she could trust them not to laugh and snigger when it happened because they loved her. No, more than the totally mind-blowing embarrassment would be the damage it could do to the already cautious acceptance that Willow, Xander and Dawn felt for the brunette.

Maybe she could not be here when Faith arrived. Buffy could go out for a while and come back after the other Slayer had said her hello's and eaten. That way she wouldn't look like the eager puppy she felt like. She could stroll in and say a casual "Hi" and flop in front of the T.V. like she did most nights.

"Nothing new and exciting about this night, no siree, just watching the tube with everyone, oh Faith, I didn't see you there. Flight okay?"

She tried out this different approach, knowing already that her friends would not be best pleased if she left them to entertain the once murderous Slayer.

That party idea was looking better and better. Buffy looked down at the brush covered in lather that was creeping up over her hand to her wrist, specks of white foam going as far as her elbow.

"What am I doing?" she asked herself. "Faith isn't going to care about this stuff, and she doesn't care about fancy meals and heart to hearts either. I've been doing this all wrong. Willow and Xander are right. Faith likes things simple and partyish."

She dropped the brush in the bucket of water and jumped over the side of the balcony. Landing neatly on the grass ten feet below.

"Xander!" she called, going over to the training barn. "We need to organize a party, like now!"

Xander heard Buffy's shout from right outside the door and looked around in a panic. It was too soon, he wasn't ready. Another half an hour and he'd be good to go.

He ran to hold the door shut before his friend could enter.

Buffy pulled on the door handle to the large barn and frowned when it didn't swing open easily like she expected.

Was it locked? Just what was Xander doing in there? An image of dirty magazines and the one-eyed man caught in an uncompromising position made her grin evilly and she yanked the door open to break the lock.

Xander's feet braced against the floor didn't stop the sudden yank from pulling him forwards and through the opening door.

With a little yelp he tumbled onto the grass at Buffy's feet.

Buffy stepped back in surprise as Xander fell to the ground.

"What are you doing?"

Xander pushed himself to his knees. "I was trying to stop you from opening the door," he responded, clearly miffed at his failure.

"Okay Xan, time to fess up. What are you hiding in here?" She tried to step around the kneeling man and look inside but he threw himself into her legs and knocked her off balance onto her ass. "Did you just do that?" She asked with a half laugh from the grass, feeling her funny bone being tickled more than the annoyed one that had it's hand up.

"Sorry, sorry," he said, slamming the barn door closed and scrambling to his feet. "I can't let you go in there."

Buffy jumped to her own feet a lot more gracefully than Xander had. "And if I want to go in there, you're going to stop me?" She asked, halfway between amusement and irritation at getting her butt bruised, tonight of all nights.

Xander winced a little as he registered the implications of knocking a Slayer on her ass. "Sorry," he added again for good measure, "but, yeah I'm going to try."

Now she really wanted to know what he was hiding, maybe more than anything she'd ever wanted to know, in that moment at least, but she had more important things to do.

"Fine. I didn't want to go in there anyway," she lied. "I just needed to speak to you."

Xander relaxed. "What about?" He turned quickly and locked the door.

She raised an unnoticed eyebrow. "We need to organize a party for tonight."

"I thought that wasn't what you wanted." It wasn't lost on Buffy when Xander casually walked a few yards away, causing her to turn from the barn to speak to him.

"It wasn't, but now it is. Can you help me?"

Xander shrugged. "Sure. It's a bit short notice for a hootenanny, but we can probably manage a shindig."

His choice of words caused her brow to wrinkle slightly in confusion, but she batted it aside. "Great. Let's get started."

Faith had been running along the side of I-5 for a while, not having a clue if she was heading in the right direction or not before she stopped and tried to flag down a ride. The whole time her heart was beating crazily at the thought of Giles and Wesley coming by and catching her.

She'd been lucky enough to catch the eye of a trucker before that happened and now she was listening to him make polite conversation.

"Uh, thanks for picking me," she said again, when he shut up for a minute.

"No problem." The guy tipped up his baseball cap a little as he changed lanes, then tapped it back down against the blinding rays of the low sun. "As long as you aren't trying to escape, because then it might be a problem."

Faith went cold despite the heat in the cab. Did he know who she was? Was he Watchers Council? Some friend of Angel's? Could they move that fast? Had they thought she might try to run and already acted against it? Was the game up that quickly?

The trucker took her gaping for confusion, and he was right on the money, although not for the reasons he thought. "From the prison," he clarified. "It happens sometimes. Someone'll pick up a pretty lady on this road, they're never seen again; and the truck gets found in Mexico a week later." He chuckled and fished around in his shirt pocket for a pack of cigarettes. "You want?" He offered the pack to Faith.

She took one. "If it happens so much, why'd ya pick me up?"

The driver was quiet while he mused that one over. "Good question." His eyes crinkled when he smiled. Leaning forward to pat the dash, he added. "Just don't hurt my girl, okay?"

Faith laughed, lighting her cigarette. "I didn't escape, I was let out fair and square." She waited for his reaction, it was a nod. "And I really don't think I could drive this beast, so relax." She took her own advice, letting her head loll against the back of the seat as she took gentle puffs on her smoke and watched the scenery flash by outside.

"You didn't have people to meet you?" He jerked his thumb in the direction they'd come from. "That's rough."

"Yeah I did, its just..." Faith hesitated.

"Are they not nice people?" He asked kindly.

"No, you won't find much nicer. That's sorta the problem...they're too nice, if you know what I mean," she sighed.

"No, not really. I don't think you can get too nice."

Okay so maybe she just didn't think she deserved nice, not yet anyway. She knew she didn't want to carry on this conversation, that was for sure.

"So what time will we hit Vegas?" She asked to change the subject.

Las Vegas hadn't really been in her plans, but as time went by she realized she didn't really have a plan to begin with, so it wasn't like changing it was going to be a problem. Anyhow, Las Vegas was a kick-ass town so where better to start her new life?

The guy looked at her like she was a couple of sheets short of a full load. "Well if you were planning on coming back with me to meet the family then I'd say... about eight pm next Friday."

"What...?" ...the hell was this guy talking about?

"I'm heading up to Calgary. We're going in the opposite direction to Sin City," he explained, tipping the cap back again to look at her earnestly.

"But you said..." she started, accusations on the tip of her tongue.

He cut her off. "That I had just come from there."

"Oh." That did kinda sound familiar now he said it again.

"You want me to drop you in Reno? You 'll be able to catch a ride back the other way from there," he offered.

She thought about taking him up on his offer to go and meet the fam, but realized she couldn't go to Canada, even if he had been serious. She didn't have a passport and she couldn't exactly apply for one right now.

As they passed a sign saying eighty miles to Reno, she drew in the last lungful of smoke and stubbed the cigarette out. See, this was why planning wasn't any good. Things never went as you wanted them to.

"We need to go to the store." Buffy pulled a light jacket on. The evenings were getting colder now there were into fall. "Do you think they'll have what we need?"

Xander grabbed the truck keys and held the door open for her. "I don't know. Do we have time to go to Cleveland?"

"Giles' flight lands in two hours, which gives us three hours, but if we go into the city, we'll lose two, so, no." She turned a sorrowful frown his way and he grinned lightly at her.

"What we can't find, we'll make - I'm a dab hand at paper doilies. We can make pretty shapes from newspaper and string them across the ceiling..." He waved his arms a little to illustrate.

Her frown went from sorrowful to 'Are you crazy' and he shut his mouth and followed her to the truck.

"Hey where are you two off to?" Kennedy and Rona were walking up the front drive towards them. They'd disappeared earlier in the day to avoid Buffy's manic cleaning.

Buffy answered Kennedy's question. "To the store. We're having a party."

"For Faith?"

Buffy nodded.

"Cool. Can we help?"

"Where's the 'we'?" Buffy heard Rona whisper.

"Everyone has to help. We only have a few hours and this has to be perfect. Understand?"

Rona looked mutinous for a second and Buffy was about to tell her: No help, no invite, when she sighed. "What do you want us to do?"

Buffy hesitated; she didn't know. She hadn't thrown a party in a long time. "Um, make snacks. No; best to leave that to Andrew. I don't know, think of some way to decorate in case we can't get anything."

"What with? Cut up newspaper?" Rona asked sarcastically. Xander gave her a look of adoration.

Did they think this situation was funny all of them? Faith was going to be walking into this house in just a few hours and they were trying to turn it into a circus. "Okay, everyone can leave the decorations to me. You two...just do something." Buffy got in the truck. "Xander, come on!"

"So what should we do?" Kennedy asked Rona as together they walked into the spotless kitchen.

"Well for a start we should probably let Andrew know he's gotta make party food for everyone."

Kennedy nodded in agreement and wondered what felt off about the house. When she realized, she laughed. "Andrew must be out with Goorzah, we'll tell him when he gets back."

"How do you know he's with her? He might have gone with Vi to pick up Dawn."

"Do you see a big bundle of fur in my arms?" Kennedy was used to being nearly knocked from her feet every time she came home. Andrew didn't have Slayer abilities and he always ended up on his ass. They reminded her of Scooby-Doo and Shaggy.

Rona sniffed a little. "From one Slayer to another, Kennedy, I've got to tell you that your relationship with that thing is just weird."

"You don't think she's sweet?" Kennedy couldn't understand how anyone wasn't immediately enraptured on first meeting the baby.

"I think she's a demon." Rona walked through to the living room. "Let's get some music ready."

So Goorzah was a demon, so what? Anya had been a demon, and Spike. Okay so neither of them had been short, hairy, over excited, enthusiastically friendly Taz look-alikes, but maybe that's why Kennedy had never liked them as much as she liked the demon baby. There were other reasons too, like guilt and responsibility.

She walked through the door to the living room, Rona was already on her knees by the stereo, going through CD's.

"Goorzah lost her mother because of me, so it's up to me to care for her now."

Rona wasn't swayed. "She lost her mom cause her mom was a demon, just like she is. You were just doing your job. You don't owe her anything and you're just making things harder for yourself when she tries to eat someone and you have to slay her for it."

Goorzah wasn't going to try and kill anyone. So she had the big teeth and the claws, but she never used them for more than rending and gnawing every new bed-box Andrew provided. She was sweet, and funny and charming in her way, and she was an orphan that needed a family.

"She's not going to hurt anyone."

"Yeah? You wait until she gets older and instinct comes before cuddles. When you get your head ripped from your shoulders, make sure it rolls this way so I can tell it 'I told you so'." Rona was making two piles of CD's. One was the play list for the party. The other was to be thrown far, far away.

"That's not going to happen. Just because her mother was a killer doesn't mean she will be. Not if we bring her up properly," Kennedy insisted, determined to do just that. Goorzah only wanted to please right now, and she couldn't imagine her gentle nature changing in the future.

The phone rang and Kennedy walked away from any reply Rona was about to give to answer it.

"Hello. Sunset Camp." She said into the receiver.

"Hello, can I speak with Ms Rosenberg please?" Asked a woman.

"No, she's not here right now, but I can take a message if you have one," Kennedy offered.

"Yes please. If you could just let her know that her order has arrived and we'll be delivering it this evening. If that isn't convenient, please have her call us before ni

"Wait, call who?" But the caller had already hung up. Kennedy replaced her end of the phone and wondered what the delivery might be. It was probably just more magick supplies. Willow was constantly getting little packages from all corners of the world. Well that wasn't inconvenient, they were going to be in anyway.

She went back to thinking over Rona's advice, about Goorzah and the stuff she'd said earlier about Willow, while she looked through the cabinets assessing what Xander had left in the way of cocktail combinations.

Willow sat in the quiet Cleveland library speed-reading the endless stack of files she'd been given.

She'd started off slowly, carefully checking every word, every section for any mention of the man she was looking for, but time was ticking on and she'd promised Buffy she'd be back in time to help her get ready for tonight. So she'd switched to scanning each page quickly hoping that his name would leap out at her.

So far it hadn't happened and she was running out of cardboard folders to go through.

How difficult could it be to find one man in a city of over four hundred thousand, anyway? Only half of them were male.

Maybe she couldn't find Oz's name anywhere among the real estate records and employment files because he simple wasn't living in this part of the world. Maybe last month he'd just happened to be in the area and then he'd left. Maybe he'd seen her and ran away. Maybe it hadn't been him at all.

After all, she hadn't seen him in nearly four years and had had no contact with him in that time save an annual Christmas card, and people changed all the time. Oz changed once a month for example. Or at least he had until he'd found the correct mix of charms and chants to keep it at bay. Which meant it probably hadn't been Oz last month, because why would he be a Werewolf if he didn't have to be? And when Oz was being wolf guy he wasn't so much with the not wanting to eat people. Her wolf hero, as Kennedy had referred to him, hadn't looked at her like he wanted to tear her limb from limb, like Oz had more than once.

"Okay, so it's not him." She resolutely began to gather the files into a neat stack ready to hand back. "Or if it is, I'm not going to find him this way."

Catching a look at the clock on the library wall, Willow started to move fast. Buffy was probably still freaking and cleaning the very mortar out of the bricks.

"Yay am I in for a fun evening," she commiserated with herself as she pushed through the big doors out onto the early evening street.

Dawn and Vi balanced on chairs at opposite ends of the living room.

"More to the left," Buffy told her sister.

"Any more to the left and I'm going to fall off the chair," Dawn pointed out her already precarious angle.

Buffy huffed with her hands on her hips. Did she have to do everything? Walking to her sister's chair she grabbed either side of the seat and moved it over to where she wanted it.

Dawn dropped the streamer and grabbed hold of Buffy's shoulders as she and the chair were shifted a foot to the left. "Are you crazy?" She cried.

"No, but you're going to drive me there." Buffy picked the end of the streamer off the floor and handed it back to her fuming sister. "Hold it up so I can see," she instructed.

Stepping back, she looked up; it still wasn't right. The other end needed some adjustment. "Vi, right a little more..." She was about to go move Vi's chair for her, but she'd already jumped down and moved it herself, showing more brains than Dawn. She looked up again. "Perfect," she decided. "Now the other one."

Dawn and Vi both groaned.

Xander sat at the kitchen table with Kennedy, helping to blow up balloons.

"Ooh he huffed and puffed..." Kennedy laughed as she watched him go from red to purple with the effort.

The long balloon got away from him and made a rude noise as it flew around the kitchen, making Goorzah hiccup and jump and down and Andrew shriek as it landed on the tray of mini pizzas he was preparing from scratch.

Xander gave Kennedy a look. "Go on then. You do better," he challenged.

She lifted a balloon to her lips, gave one hearty blow and deftly tied the end.

"Right, you can finish the balloons then." He got up and grabbed a beer from the fridge, stealing a bowl of peanuts on the way. Standing with his back to the sink, he munched on a few and washed them down with his bottle before putting it on the side.

"Ussse ah saussar, eet'll drap!"

"Huh?" He looked down for the source of the voice. "Oh hey little ...pixie person," he greeted. "What did he say?" He asked the rest of the kitchen.

"I think he told you to use a coaster." Willow giggled, coming through the back door. "And unless you want to face the wrath of Buffy then I suggest... ooh balloons! Why do we have balloons?"

"New plan Will," Xander toasted her entry with his bottle. "We're having a shindig, and speaking of, did you find our mysterious wolf friend? Maybe you could invite him."

"No luck and I'm officially calling off the search. If he's here and he wants to find me... well he's the one with the super-powered nose." Willow gave her girlfriend a kiss between inflatings. "What can I do to help?"

"My hair." Buffy came into the kitchen when she heard her friend's voice.

To Xander, her voice sounded very tightly controlled. One slip-up and she'd detonate and the whole house would blow.

"What happened to the quiet night in the ultra-clean house you had planned?" Willow asked. "I remembered Faith was coming home tonight." Buffy grabbed Willow's hand and pulled her towards the back stairs.

Willow allowed herself to be led. "But I thought that was what the obsessive cleanliness was all about? Why were you doing it then?"

Buffy stopped halfway up the stairs and turned around to face her best friend. "Willow! We don't have time to psycho-analyze my behavioral patterns. Their plane will have landed by now, Giles is hailing a cab as we speak, so come on." She dragged a helpless Willow the rest of the way up the stairs.

Xander shared glances with Kennedy and Andrew; both of them looked a little scared, although Kennedy was hiding it well. "Party!" He enthused mockingly and walked through to squirt silly string around the living room.

Rupert Giles debarked with the other passengers, looking around as he did so. He didn't see her and he hadn't expected to. He'd already had a quick look during the flight.

The ticket he'd left at the departure gate in LAX was obviously still sitting there, unless Faith had had the ingenuity to trade the ticket for another destination. He certainly hoped not. That would make it impossible to find her if she didn't want to be found.

Angel and his colleagues were combing Los Angeles for the runaway Slayer and it had been left to him to return to Cleveland and break the bad news to Buffy. He'd have much rather have stayed and helped with the search, but he couldn't break something like this to his Slayer over the phone. And besides, he had the first batch of potential Watchers arriving in the morning.

Giles caught his suitcase before it could take another turn on the luggage carousel and made his way through the crowds and out into the night. With a last hopeful look cast around, he sighed ruefully and waved down a cab.

Faith blew out a deep breath and stared out of the window at the passing countryside. There wasn't much to see in the desert besides rocks and sand though, so it did little to take her mind off of the sleaze next to her.

"So you realize this ride isn't for free right?" He repeated, with a smile. "I mean I'm doing you a favor, so the least you can do is return it."

She'd picked a real doozie this time, hadn't she? She should have waited longer, but it had been getting late and no one liked to pick up strangers in the dark, not even defenseless little girls. And who knew suits were such bastards? She bet he was married with three kids or something equally as domesticated and confining

"And what might that be?" She asked him with a sweet smile of her own.

"I think you know. You seem like a woman of the world." He leered like that was the biggest turn on ever.

"I don't really have time, I really need to get to Vegas tonight if possible." She needed to lose herself in a crowd if she had the Watchers Council, Angel Investigations and Wolfram and Hart searching for her. She paused to think, 'I have some really powerful friends', before trying to let him down gently, because it would suck to be left out here at night. "But thanks...I'm sure it would have been great."

"Hey, I appreciate you're a busy girl, me too, but we can do both." He started to pull down his pants zipper. "Come on, you know what to do with it."

She looked down at his crotch and sneered. Was this guy kidding her, what was she supposed to do with that? "Dude, zip yourself up before I make you eat it." She scoffed, shifting her body away from him so she could stare out at the starry sky.

The car was slowing down. Great, he was going to kick her out.

When the car fully stopped, she turned back to him. "Are you serious?"

"You don't blow me, you're not going anywhere. Simple as that." He told her, putting the car in park.

She shook her head at him. "Blow yourself, retard, I'd rather walk to the other side of the world than put any of you near my mouth." She opened the passenger door to get out.

He grabbed her arm. "I don't think you heard me. You don't give me what I want, you're not going anywhere."

Her eyes flashed as she stared at him and she smiled. "Well what about what I want?" She asked with a honey'd purr.

He tried to drag her closer across the seats. "I don't give a f..."

"Wrong answer," she tutted, and broke his arm.

"So you brought this dress especially for tonight?" Willow asked, standing back for a better look.

"Yeah, do you think it's alright?" Buffy asked nervously.

"Well I think you were right to go with the party idea. This might have been a little much for Barnies." Willow admired the deep, summer-night blue dress that emphasized her friend's figure in a very complimentary way and wished she had a new dress to wear.

Buffy twirled to look in the mirror again and Willow tilted her head a little to get the full effect of the simple, cotton sundress, the better to give a full appraisal. Her eyes reached the bottom, where the flimsy material floated at mid-thigh. She gave a little eep of surprise when Xander cleared his throat right behind her.

"I'll have you know Barnies is a classy joint," he said, giving Buffy a long appraisal of his own. "Looking good, Buff."

Willow blushed and blustered to make up for it. "Xander, Buffy's changing! You can't come in!"

Xander gave her a look that plainly said 'Why should you ogle and not me?' which shut her up and she moved to sit on the bed.

"It's okay, Will." Buffy smiled into the mirror at her two best friends. "Zip me up?" She looked over her shoulder at Xander.

He obliged.

"So I really look okay?" Buffy turned back to the mirror, swallowing loudly. Willow had never seen Buffy this nervous; not even with Angel. "Maybe I should just put on some jeans or something." Buffy moved to her wardrobe again.

Xander stood in front of her before Willow was off the bed. "Buff, you look… magnificent." He smiled at her, slightly embarrassed at his choice of words. "But not in a wizard way, so just relax and try and enjoy the party."

Willow stood up. "He's right Buffy, you look beautiful. Faith won't be able to resist." She gave Buffy a kiss on the cheek. "Now if you're done, I need to go get ready. And next time we throw a spontaneous surprise party, a little more preparation time might be nice."

She left the room as Xander said. "But then it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?" Giggling, Willow ran to take a shower.

Alison had been posted on window watch as the time wore on. Spotting headlights turning into the front track, she shouted up the stairs.

"Someone's here."

Buffy came charging at full Slayer speed out of her bedroom and collided with Willow at the top of the stairs. She only just caught the red-head before she started to tumble down them.

"I'm not ready. They're early." She looked panicky at Willow and started to drag her down the front stairs.

"Buffy I need my other shoe!" Willow called out futilely as she was towed downwards at speed.

"Where's Xander?" Buffy asked urgently. She needed her friends. One hand was still holding onto Willow's wrist.

Dawn came out of the kitchen with Vi, Rona and Andrew. Goorzah was walking along behind the young man with one paw hooked into his rear pocket.

"He went to buy more booze. He said he'd be back in ten minutes."

"He's gone out?" Buffy's voice rose a pitch, and then another couple. "And that demon can go in one of the barns for the night!"

"She's one of the family," Andrew stressed, bending to pick her up.

"Get it out now!" Buffy shouted, not wanting the first thing Faith saw to be the stinky demon child.

"It's okay, it's just Xander," Alison called from the window.

Buffy breathed a sigh of relief and softened slightly. Now she had her Human Bondage; the book, obviously not... She tried to smile. "Please Andrew, just for tonight. Put her away somewhere."

Kennedy came in from the kitchen looking smart in tailored trousers and a silk shirt. "Put who somewhere?" From the way Andrew was clutching Goorzar it was a pretty redundant question.

Andrew relented when Buffy said please and was about to find a nice cozy place for the demon to wait out the party, but Goorzar wasn't as easily mollified.

Before Andrew could turn around, she leapt from his arms and straight at Buffy. "Bad Girl!" She growled in a low, gurgle-y rasp, copying words that had been said to her many times before.

"Not the dress, not the dress, not the dress!" Buffy shot backwards with her arms held out to block the demon.

"There's another car coming," Alison called out.

Kennedy and Andrew had both dropped excitedly to their knees.

"Did you hear that?" Andrew asked, grinning like an idiot.

"She just said her first words." Kennedy coo-ed. "Goorzie." She called her back for a group hug just before she could get her paws on Buffy's dress and get herself slain.

Xander came through the front door carrying three clinking carrier bags of bottles. "I think I got something for everyone," he assured. "Now we better assume party positions because there was another car pulling into the lane as..."

"Xander, Goorzah just said her first words!"

Andrew was interrupted by Alison:

"It's a van. Two people are just getting out."

"Oh my God." Buffy put one hand to her mouth, certain she was about to be sick. Dawn gripped her other one reassuringly.

Vi started to chuck party poppers at everyone and Rona hit the lights.

"So the door opens and we all yell surprise, right?" Willow checked she was all caught up on the tradition.

"Well I was planning on just yelling in general," Xander confided from somewhere across the room. "Has anyone else thought how dangerous it could be to startle a Slayer in this way?"

Buffy shushed him.

Everything was quiet except for the crunch of footsteps on the gravel outside.

Everyone tensed when they stopped right outside the door. Vi was so tense that when someone knocked loudly, she let out half the surprise she was holding in and someone nudged her ribs to shut her up.

"Did Giles forget his key?" Dawn whispered from next to her sister.

"Uh, maybe. Alison, open the door, but don't get seen." Buffy called across in a rough whisper.

Alison did as she was told, making sure she was behind the door so she was out of sight.

When the door was fully open, two figures were silhouetted against the night sky.

Was this when they should shout 'surprise'? Buffy wanted to wait until one of them flicked the light switch and she hoped no one else would break rank.

"Um, hello. Is anyone here? We have a delivery for Ms. Rosenberg," one of the figures called out hesitantly from the doorway.

The mounting tension broke and several people laughed. Rona put the lights back on and Kennedy and Willow went to the door together.

"Deal with it quick," Buffy pleaded, nearly crushing her sister's hand.

"You caled this afternoon," Kennedy said and the guy nodded. "I forgot all about it with the party, sorry."

"That's okay." Willow walked out the door with one delivery guy, the other had gone back to the van. "So what are you delivering?" She couldn't remember ordering anything that week.

"Six free-ranging chickens." The delivery guy said proudly. "Some of our best these ones. Good layers. Or fatten them up and you've got yourself a nice Sunday lunch."

"Oh, oh, oh!" Willow squeaked excitedly. "I'd forgotten all about them; it's been over a month." The rest of the house came out to see what was causing her geeker alert.

"Well demand is high, but you won't be sorry for the wait." He motioned to his companion. "Where do you want them?"

The other guy was carrying an armful of feathers.

"Uh, where are their cages?" Willow asked, suddenly not so sure in her joy.

The delivery driver looked nonplussed. "You're supposed to provide those. You would have been told when you paid for them."

Willow looked crestfallen. "Yeah but you were supposed to call first, which you did and now we have no cages and the chickens are here."

Two chickens were now pecking the ground around the group's feet while the guy went back for more.

"Willow!" Buffy sounded close to melt down.

Willow stood in the front yard, one shoe on and one shoe off, and looked around helplessly. "I have no luck with deliveries," she lamented to no one in particular.

Now there were four chickens pecking around.

Goorzah had come out with the crowd and suddenly she rushed excitedly into the chickens, sending them squawking away, except a slow one which she caught and hugged gently to her chest like a dolly.

"What is that?" asked the delivery man in disgust.

"That happens to be my daughter, you insensitive pig." Andrew cried, pretending to be distressed. Or maybe he wasn't pretending all that much.

"Yeah." Kennedy backed him up as he leant down, disentangled Goorzah from the chicken, which he handed to a nearby Buffy, and disappeared inside with the baby demon.

Buffy held the chicken with both hands away from her dress. "Will!" she practically screamed, making the hen flap and squawk.

"Sign," the delivery guy demanded, pushing a pen into Willow's hand and a clipboard under her nose.

"There's another car coming," Alison called out.

"No, no, no." Buffy was almost crying. "This isn't happening." She thrust her chicken at Xander. "Please make them go away."

"The chickens or Faith and Giles?" He asked, truly not knowing and finding it very difficult to keep the laughter in. Not everyone was even bothering to try.

"Both," she explained and looked down at the chickens, six of them now, all doing stupid chicken stuff. "I have chicken feathers all over my nice, clean stoop," she wailed.

"I thought we'd moved on from clean," Vi whispered to Rona.

"What's a stoop?" Rona whispered back.

The delivery van disappeared up the track and a mini bus pulled up in the yard.

"I guess the surprise is ruined. So do we just stand here?" Dawn asked.

"No, when the door opens, we yell 'surprise'." Buffy insisted, and then added in a harsh whisper. "Willow, chickens, do something!"

"Hühner Verschwinden!" Willow waved her hand in a flicking motion.

All six chickens disappeared, but they left behind a multitude of feathers.

"Where'd they go?" Kennedy asked, looking around like she expected to find them behind her.

"I have no idea," Willow admitted. "I just hope I can get them back again. Giles paid for them but he doesn't know it yet."

The minibus door was thrown open and Buffy yelled out "Surprise!" at the top of her lungs. Everyone joined in, but the timing was way off.

"Yeah, that was a bit." A tall lanky boy, with floppy blonde hair jumped down the steps of the small bus and looked them over. He came closer. "You nearly gave old Miley a heart attack." The boy leaned towards them slightly as if imparting some heavily guarded secret. "He's a bit of a pansy, y'know, but we're helping him grow out of it."

"Who the hell are you?" Buffy demanded, barely keeping her annoyance in check. The last thing she had time for a lost scout troop. Did they think this was some kind of summer camp? She cast a withering glance at the group standing close to the bus.

"Damn Yanks," someone muttered.

"I heard that," Kennedy called over.

"Damn Slayers," the voice muttered.

There were scattered chuckles and they didn't all come from around the bus. Nerves were at an all time high.

The boy in front of Buffy gave her a charming smile. "I'm sorry, allow me to introduce myself." He held out his hand. "My name is Reece Highbury. I'm looking for Mr. Giles."

Buffy shook his hand firmly. It must have hurt, but he didn't wince. That didn't improve her mood. She released it. "Watchers Council kids?" She checked.

"We are with the Council, yes. Is Mr. Giles around?"

"Not yet, but he should be any minute." Xander came to stand in front of the new arrival and offered his hand. "Xander Harris."

Reece shook his hand and Xander winced. "Pleased to meet you," he said automatically. "Looks as though we caught you with your trousers down." He laughed and, next to Xander, Buffy scowled.

"Someone get a broom and sweep up the chicken feathers please," She begged her friends.

"No time," Alison shouted over, really getting caught up in the spirit of the thing now. "Another car at twelve 'o' clock."

Willow found herself checking her watch before she could stop herself.

"Everyone in the house now!" Buffy bellowed. "Lights off!"

All her friends ran into the house, grabbing party poppers as they did so and crouching behind furniture. Reece found himself swept along too and was tugged down to knee level by Dawn.

"You can hide with me."

"It'll be a pleasure, darling," he drawled in a casual North London accent, causing her to giggle.

Outside, the rest of the Watcher wannabe's were still huddling around the bus.

"I said everyone!" Buffy screamed, and they all ran past her through the front door. She followed and slammed the door behind her.

The door opened again and Vi shouted surprise, which scared the crap out of Alison who was just coming in. Buffy had left her outside.

"Sorry!" Vi whispered when she got glared at.

Willow got the lights this time, hoping that none of the baby Watchers were secret axe murderers.

They heard a car door slam and shifted nervously; it had to be them this time, didn't it?

"I think I'm going to be sick," Buffy whispered to the person on her right when she heard the key connect with the lock.

"I'm sorry to hear that," a cultured English female voice whispered back.

The door swung inwards and a hand groped for the light. When the switch was flicked everyone, in perfect unison, yelled "SURPRISE", including most of the new Watchers. It was accompanied by several loud bangs and colored paper flying about.

Giles fell back off the doorstep and landed on his ass amid a pillows worth of white feathers. "Bloody ow," he muttered. As his shock wore off, he looked up at the welcoming committee.

He ignored all the complete strangers, his gaze going straight to Buffy as she stood there, hands wringing, a feather stuck to her pretty dress, looking over him for a glimpse of Faith. She had never looked so beautiful to him and he felt tears sting the backs of his eyes as his heart broke for her again.

"Where is she?" Buffy asked him softly, sounding so young and hopeful.

He took a deep breath and glanced quickly to Willow, Xander and Dawn before looking back at his Slayer. "Buffy, I'm afraid I have some bad news..."

Act Two

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