House of The Setting Sun: Watcher Looking At? - Part Two
Episode Six 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 Six in the House of the Setting Sun series. Faith’s on the run, sort of, with only a day left until her parole officer comes to town. While Buffy would like to worry about that, she’s too busy worrying about the invasions, kidnappings and attacks going on at home.


Episode Six

Act Four

"It is done!" Beryan shouted out and immediately all the Pixies in the room began to form neat lines heading for the windows.

"Yeah and it's on fire!" Xander was frantically beating the burning duvet with one of Willow's pillows, but he dropped that with a little yell when it caught aflame and looked around for something else to use.

Buffy stopped pulling Pixies from Dawn when she realized they had all left on their own and turned slowly to look at Beryan. "What do you mean: It's done?"

If Beryan could feel the heat of the fire on her back, she wasn't showing it as she stood regally on the foot of the bed, her superior gaze meeting Buffy's head on. "The spell has been cast; the watchers have gone."

"So I guess I don't need to tell you guys about the Pixie problem then?" Dawn bounced to her feet, looking around. "Where's Giles? Vi found his glasses."

"What do you mean?" Buffy asked. "He was downstairs with you."

There was the sound of feet thundering up the stairs.

"Not since the Pixies decided to go all over-protective on us. He disappeared in the scuffle; we assumed he'd come up here to help," Dawn explained anxiously.

"No, he didn't." Buffy turned to Willow only to see the same sick expression on her face.

Xander probably would have been wearing it too if he wasn't still struggling to put out the flames trying to engulf Willow's entire bed.

"Pixies have left the building and the werewolf is out of commission!" Kennedy entered the bedroom triumphantly. "I'd say this month it's Slayers 2, Monsters 0."

Vi came in right behind her and then took a step back again, her eyes going wide. "Fire!"

"Thank you. I thought I was the only one who could see it," Xander gladly accepted Vi's help in, what turned out to be, just fanning the flames. "I think it might be magick fire."

"What's going on?" Kennedy asked, seeing the looks on Buffy and Willow's faces.

"Maybe Giles left the house on his own, to check on the trainees or something?" Willow didn't sound like she really believed that.

"He didn't go out the front door, Vi would have seen him," Kennedy said. "And they locked the kitchen door so unless he had a key in his pocket and unlocked it and locked it after him..." she trailed off as she remembered that she had seen the kitchen door open for just a few seconds, maybe just long enough to carry someone out. "Okay, let's say that if he went through the kitchen door, he didn't do it on his own two feet."

"You sent Giles to England!" Willow turned on the small leader.

Buffy thought she was going to be sick or have a heart attack or something. Giles teleported all the way to England? Okay so he had done it once before, but that had been with a coven of powerful witches powering the ride, not an eight-inch little... Pixie! What if her magick didn't hold all the way there? What if it failed while Giles was over the Atlantic and he fell in the water and got eaten by a shark?

"No, Giglet, I did not," Beryan told Willow.

"Thank God," Buffy breathed and heard a similar sentiment coming from Willow.

"I do not know where I sent him," Beryan continued. "Yow interrupted the casting before I could finish - he could be anywhere."

"What?" Buffy exploded.

"Crap," Willow muttered to herself. "It's my fault. I broke the spell when she was halfway through because Dawn said the magick word and now..."

"No, Will, this isn't your fault, it's her fault," Buffy pointed to the Pixie leader. "Alright, you've made your point and taught us a lesson; we should have listened to your fears instead of ignoring them. Now bring him back."

"I can't; they are gone," Beryan said without any sympathy. "Without knowing where they are, I can not bring them back."

Buffy didn't even give herself time to think before she made a dive for the Pixie. She knew if she did, the Mawther would somehow know and evade her. As Buffy landed on the foot of the bed, both of her hands grabbed Beryan around her fat middle and held her tight; tight enough to maybe crush internal organs, but Buffy was beyond caring.

"Kennedy, the windows!"

On Buffy's shout, Kennedy practically leap-frogged Dawn to get to the nearest of her windows. Slamming it shut and locking it, she moved to the next, knocked away a Pixie that appeared on the sill, slammed that shut too and flipped the catch.

By the time she'd turned back to the room, Dawn had shut the door and was leaning on it just in case and Buffy was holding Beryan up in front of her nose.

"You are going to bring them back, understand me," Buffy said, her voice high with emotion that she was trying to keep in check, but it was Giles! "You are going to bring all of them back and they are going to be safe and well and you and your clan are going to get to keep on living."

"And if I can't?" Beryan asked. Her voice still dignified despite the way Buffy was gripping her like a bad dolly. "What then Giglet?"

"Then... Xander don't." He'd been about to pour a couple of bottles of holy water onto the fire in a last ditch effort to put it out, he stopped and looked at Buffy. "If you don't bring him back exactly as you sent him away, I'll let the whole house burn down and you and your... Skagdan..." Buffy spat the offensive word at Beryan, not knowing what it meant, just that it would piss her off. "...won't have anywhere at all to live."

The people in the room who weren't Buffy and Beryan exchanged worried glances and the bed continued to burn.

Beryan stared at her coolly. "And where will you and your kin live?"

"Really just interested in turfing your kin out right now," Buffy told her calmly. "So what's it going to be?"

By the time the sun's fingertips gripped the horizon, Faith had a list of people whose asses she was gonna kick if Buffy wasn't one hundred percent happy to see her.

The cab driver, the guy who'd told her that by heading under the freeway she could meet up with a road that ran straight to Boudenver, the punk kid who had tried to sell her cheap drugs underneath the freeway and who wasn't keen on the word 'No', and whatever the hell kind of farm animal had made the mess that was currently stuck all over her left boot.

She had found the promised road, eventually, but not before traipsing across a dozen or so fields first. When she'd hit the two lane blacktop she'd tried to wipe her boot off on the grass, but she obviously hadn't gotten it all cause she could still smell the stink rising from it with every step.

Or maybe that was just her? One shower in a week of hard traveling - she'd had fresher moments.

Personal hygiene was just another worry to add to the long line of worries currently queuing up to add to her anxiety over seeing Buffy again. Nearer the front of the queue was the feeling that Buffy was gonna slam the door in her face without so much as a hello. Sat somewhere in the middle of queue was the knowledge that even if Buffy wouldn't give her the time of day, Faith would still have to spend the next day and a half waiting until her parole officer showed up before she could make alternative living arrangements.

The road she was walking along was bordered on both sides by fields of harvested corn and was as boring and devoid of interesting focal points as it had been when it was pitch black a couple of hours ago. There weren't even any stones she could kick along the road. Although to be honest, she probably didn't have the energy to do more than put one foot in the front of the other. She hadn't been walking slowly and she could feel her legs starting to burn. The fuel the burgers had provided was beginning to run out now and while she felt healed and rested after her short nap and the five hour bus ride; it had still been a long week.

Just thinking that was enough to make her yawn and the pleasure she felt at passing a sign saying one mile to Boudenver actually outweighed the anxiety she was feeling for a while.

It soon came back though, the closer Faith drew to the small village. Her boots were heavy with more than just tiredness and cow shit when the first farm buildings came into view.

Faith started dragging her soles down the road, hoping to lose the last of the muck before she hit this centre of civilization. It wasn't early anymore, and people were bound to be around.

Once Faith was past the farm, the first houses came into view. Big places behind tall metal gates to begin with, so widely spaced enough along the road that it took her five minutes at times to walk between the entrances to the their well-kept driveways.

After maybe another quarter of a mile Faith rounded a big bend in the road and the place actually started showing some town-like qualities. Up ahead she could see houses, proper houses sitting side by side each other as they lined one side of the street. She passed a road heading south with a smart-looking metal signpost reading 'To Boudenver Academy' and another heading north, with a signpost that was wooden and worn, barely legible, reading, 'To Pleasant Creek.'

Faith gave both roads a cursory look, not sure if she was meant to take either of them. She had no clue where this Watcher camp was; only that it was in Boudenver, somewhere. Would Giles have been pompous and stupid enough to name his pretend school something as pretentious as Boudenver Academy? Surely not; that was just asking for people to take an unwanted interest.

She kept walking down what appeared to be the main drag of the village, passing a large one-story place on a corner with a carved wooden sign outside proclaiming it was Barnies Bar. It was shut right now, being Sunday morning, but Faith made a point of remembering where it was. The only way to have fun here might be to get drunk and take pot shots at the purple dinosaur running the place.

Faith shook her head at the horrible quaintness of it all and kept walking.

After the bar, small cottages lined both side of the street for a stretch - all looking like they could have been made from gingerbread. One of them even had a little old couple working together on their picket-fenced garden.

"Hello dear."

The little lady's greeting made Faith jump slightly in surprise; it was the first time she'd heard someone else's voice in over three hours.

"Hey." Faith gave her a nod and kept on walking.

"Are you lost?" the lady asked warmly as she pulled up half-dead plants by the roots and threw them onto a growing pile near the garden path.

Faith stopped and turned back to face her, "Uh yeah, I'm trying to find..." she had a brainwave and reached into her inside jacket pocket for her release papers. After a couple of seconds of speed reading she found the name of her parole residence. "I'm looking for a place called Sunset House?"

"Oh." The lady's smile didn't drop but Faith had the feeling that a cloud had just passed over her sunny welcome. "You're staying up at that camp?"

"Yeah, do you know it?" Faith asked as graciously as possible.

The old lady sighed and looked to her guy, who turned to give Faith's face a good look before his eyes dropped to the papers in her hand. "Sure a lot of young girls you got up there," he remarked, a twinkle in his eye. "A fella can't help wondering what you might all be doing?"

"Garth!" The lady snapped softly. "It's none of our business."

"Don't listen to Edna," Garth winked at Faith. "She thinks that Englishman, Mr. Giles is it? Is running a house of ill repute, bringing sex-traders over across the lake from Canada."

"Garth Maple, it was you that said that, you old fool." The Edna chick threw a wilted Snapdragon at the guy.

Faith put her papers away, unhurriedly. She didn't know if the couple knew what they were and she didn't care; they were clearly insane anyway.

Letting her amusement show, she said, "Well I'm not from Canada, but for all I know some of the other girls are. It was... interesting meeting you." She gave them both a last nod before turning on her heel and heading back down the street.

She rolled her eyes as she went, if that was a taste of what the average person was like around here...

Running a hand through her hair as she looked around some more . . . well, hair was a nice way of describing the greasy rat-tails she was currently modeling.

The cottages on the right side of the street stopped and on the other side of a narrow alley there was a diner. It was a big single-story place, half brick and half wood, the wood painted a bright blue. One half of the front wall was a big plate glass window and through it Faith could see huge platefuls of food and her stomach rumbled.

The diner had a big car-park and the other side of that was a general store. The front door was wide open and there were baskets right outside full of crappy two dollar plastic house wares. There was a sign in the window announcing a half-price sale on detergent. It wasn't exactly Macys.

Standing outside the dinky shop, Faith could see all the way to the end of the main street. By the time the road disappeared around another bend it already had open fields on both sides again.

"And I thought Sunnydale was small," Faith murmured to herself as she scanned the final few houses.

Her stomach groaned at her again.

Deciding she might as well get something to eat while she was there, she walked to the diner's door. She could always hope that someone inside might actually be able to give her directions too.

Inside it wasn't busy. Only three out of fifteen tables were occupied and only one of those, a table of kids, had more than one person seated. It probably never got busy around here.

It was nice though, Faith decided as she made her way to a table at the back. Aside from the food, which smelled great, the lemon-yellow walls caught the sun through the glass windows and made the place bright and cheerful.

Slipping into a plastic chair, she groaned with pleasure; it felt good to give her feet a break. She took her time to run her gaze over everything in the diner, trying to get a feel for it and what eating here regularly might be like. Did Buffy and Willow come down here for mochas every afternoon like they had in Sunnydale? Faith had been so jealous of their afterschool trips to the Expresso Pump, especially as she had hardly ever been invited.

Her gaze had finally made it to the furthest point in the diner, the window table at the back level with hers.

"What?" she asked the six kids sitting there staring at her.

Some shook their heads, others shrugged, but no one said a word as they continued to stare.

Faith tried to shrug it off, kids were creepy anyway. She focused on the waitress coming her way instead. The woman must have been in her forties; her light brown hair had grey highlights not hidden by dye and while judging by the way her nametag was almost poking Faith in the eye, this woman could have learned her trade at Hooters. She was dressed very mumsily in black slacks and yellow sweater that nearly matched the color of the walls. The only sign of an official uniform was a stripy blue and white apron tied around her waist which bore the name 'The Mouth'.

Faith raised an eyebrow as she had no choice but to look at the name tag. "Hey Gina," she greeted the woman as she accepted the laminated piece of card that was the menu. "Thanks."

She pored over it quickly, scanning prices instead of food, knowing exactly how much money she had down to the last penny. She'd counted it a few times on her long, boring walk. Everything seemed pretty cheap, at least compared to some of the other places she'd passed through crossing the country.

"You want to hear the specials?" Gina asked in a croaky voice, like she spent a lot of time shouting or was just getting over a bad cold.

"Nah, no need," Faith gave her a quick smile before reading straight from the menu. "I'll have double eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast; and a piece of pie to follow." She waited as the waitress pulled a pad out of the kangaroo pocket on her apron and wrote down her order. "And a large coffee please," she added, pushing the menu across the table and sitting back with a smile.

"What kind of pie?" Gina asked. "We got blueberry, raisin and macadamia or treacle."

"They all the same price?" Faith checked and Gina nodded. "Then whichever, surprise me."

She had just enough in her pocket to cover what she had ordered and leave a 25 cent tip. Hopefully Giles wouldn't be expecting her to pay any rent up front.

Her face fell. Damn, did Giles want rent? She hadn't even thought about that. She didn't even know what kind of accommodation she'd be staying in. Did she have a room of her own waiting for her? They wouldn't have her bunking with Buffy again; Buffy would never let that happen in a million years. Maybe she'd be in a room with all the other Slayers. She hoped not and she sure as hell wouldn't be paying Giles a lot if she was.

Gina the waitress had disappeared behind a counter at the front of the diner and the kids on her left were still staring at her from two tables away. They were all younger than ten and a few of them had pink milk mustaches.

Faith turned her head their way, "You know it's rude to stare right?"

There was no answer, but some nudging was going around the table of four boys and two girls. Eventually, the youngest looking of the boys piped up with,

"You're one of them, ain't cha?"

"One of what?" she asked, mildly interested in their intensity.

"One of them wimin from Camp Creepy," he told her as he scuffed the toes of his sneakers on the floor below the table.

"My dad says you're all freaks," one of the other boys told her conversationally before she could answer. "Freaks from the circus like the incredible bendy woman and the bearded lady."

"What did you call me?" Faith asked, her amusement waning.

"A freak from the circus," he told her patiently. "Is it true?"

"My dad says you was a bunch of furrin pantiwasters," a little girl told her innocently. "And probably hippies."

"Well if you're furriners you're probably terrorists too," a bespectacled boy said in a know-it-all voice. He was the kind of boy Faith would have beaten up in kindergarten. "My Gramps said all furriners are terrorists because they hate Americans."

This statement seemed to bring some awe to the kids and they all looked at her a little more nervously than before. Faith stared back, dumbfounded.

"Nah I still think she's from the circus," the second girl said with a cruel smile. "Because of the smell." She wrinkled her nose as she said this.

"What?" Faith looked around worriedly. "I don't smell."

"Yeah you do," a boy informed her. All the kids began to climb down from their table. "You smell like an elephant."

Faith didn't know how to respond to that because she had no idea what an elephant smelled like.

"Nah, she smells like a monkey!" The first little girl grinned and the other kids started to laugh.


"Yeah, a monkey's butt!" Another of the four foot comedians giggled.

"Come here ya little..." Faith lunged half-heartedly out of her chair for the nearest brat and all six of them took off across the diner and out of the door. She could hear them calling to each other from outside as they still tried to decide what she smelled like.

"Fricken kids," Faith muttered to herself and then looked down at herself with a grimace. She couldn't go and see Buffy smelling like a monkey's butt!

Gina returned with a mug of coffee and two plates balanced on her arm. "Here you go, m'dear."

She set all of it down in front of Faith, whose eyes widened appreciatively at the huge plate of breakfast and the gooey blueberries spilling from the sides of the fat slice of pie.

"Thanks." Faith dug in, wolfing down eggs and bacon.

"Wow, you're hungry," Gina remarked. She was cleaning the kids table, collecting glasses empty of anything but froth and wiping up the spills of strawberry milkshake.

"Yeah," Faith mumbled with her mouth full.

"Sorry if the kids were bothering you," Gina apologized. Faith waved her hand to indicate it didn't matter. "They always get a touch restless this time of year. Once most of the tourists are gone, they don't know what to do with themselves on the weekends."

"Mmm," Faith replied noncommittally. If they took their boredom out on her again, she'd damn well give them something to do!

"So whereabouts are you staying?" Gina had finished cleaning the table. Tucking the cloth back into her pouch, she picked up the tray of glasses with one hand and turned to face Faith.

"Uh..." Faith wasn't sure she wanted to mention Sunset Camp again. No one seemed to have much love for the place. She'd received a better reception from Cordelia Chase when she'd jumped fresh out of jail than she had so far received from the people of Boudenver. "...Not sure yet. I've just arrived."

"Oh." Gina seemed to give Faith a proper look for the first time, no doubt taking in her grungy appearance and the monkey smell. "So are you planning on vacationing around here or are you just passing through?"

"We'll see," Faith replied. She finished her plateful and pushed it away from her. "That was great, thanks."

"You're welcome," Gina said automatically, her nose wrinkling. "Uh, I suppose you can pay for it?"

"Of course I can pay for it," Faith told her indignantly. "I wouldn't have ordered it otherwise."

She saw Gina eyeing her piece of pie and snatched the plate towards her before the waitress could take it back. Seeing the woman wasn't moving, Faith reached into her top pocket and pulled out her money, slapping it on to the table next to her.

"There ya go, take it now." Faith told her, digging her fork into the pie. "And I gotta say I'm really not feeling the warm hospitality vibes coming from this place. How'd ya know I'm not from Zagat's, huh?"

"Look, I didn't mean to be rude..."

"Really?" Faith had a hard time believing that.

"It's just that this is a tourist town and having vagrants hanging around in the back of your vacation snaps isn't something people want a lot of," Gina told her.

"Well I don't see anyone pointing a camera this way," Faith fumed as she ate her pie.

"In my experience drifters cause nothing but trouble in small town communities like ours." Gina bristled at Faith's tone which was fine because Faith was bristling all over already. "I'm sure your lifestyle is as good as any, but strangers don't mix well with the folk around here."

"Maybe if the folk around here weren't so judgmental, strangers wouldn't cause trouble for you." Faith finished her coffee, stood up and grabbed the remains of the pie from her plate.

Leaving the money lying on the table, she walked to the door and opened it. The other two customers were looking up at her now, probably waiting to see if she was going to do any circus tricks. Neither of them looked friendly.

"Any of you know where I can get a free shower?" she asked, looking around at them all.

"Cleveland?" Gina smirked pointedly as she counted the money Faith had left.

"Whatever." Faith let the door close behind her and took a minute just standing out in the parking lot finishing the last few bites of her pie.

She looked back down the road the way she had come, contemplating taking Gina's advice and just walking back to Cleveland, but as much as she'd already grown to hate this place, she dismissed the idea of ditching immediately.

"You had better be really happy to see me, B," Faith muttered to herself, mentally adding Gina's name to the list of people's asses she was going to kick if Buffy wasn't.

If this was a tourist town there would be a hotel or somewhere near where she could hopefully charm someone into letting her use a shower, or maybe she could just find a swimming pool to jump into.

There was a man outside the shop next door. Faith only noticed him when he started sweeping in her direction. He was old and uninteresting, in his sixties with white hair and a hundred grandpa wrinkles lining his face. He used the broom vigorously enough though, proving he had plenty of strength left in his old body.

Faith was about to look away, the shop held no interest for her now she had no money left, when the old guy looked up at her with a friendly smile.

"Hello Miss," he greeted her, continuing to sweep dust from the front of his shop on to the parking lot of the diner.

"Hey," Faith replied, wondering when this guy was going to start abusing her for standing there

"New in town?" he asked.

His voice was mellifluous and slightly accented, making Faith think of the past. Of snowy forests and toymakers and... yodeling?


"Yeah, what of it?" she answered his question, not in the mood to take anyone else's bullshit.

"Nothing, nothing," he promised, still smiling. "I am simply extending to you a typical warm Boudenver welcome, Miss."

"Yeah well it's about time someone did," Faith sniffed.

"Would you like a present?" The old man suddenly asked.

Faith stepped back warily, half expecting him to pull her present out of his pants. "Hell no."

The old man lost his smile for just a second as he tried to work out her reaction. Shrugging it off, the smile came back and he stepped aside to reveal one of the big baskets of goods Faith had noticed earlier.

"Would you like to pick something as a welcome gift?" he asked.

Faith looked into the bargain bin. It was full of washing powder, plastic dust-pans, dish cloths and various types of cleaning product.

She raised an eyebrow at the store man, "You always this generous to new people?"

"Only the ones I think are worth it," he told her with a small wink.

Holding his gaze she tentatively reached into the basket and pulled out a big economy sized bar of unscented soap. "Can I have this?"

"Of course," he beamed. "And that particular product comes with a free gift. Just one moment please."

He handed Faith the broom and disappeared into the shop. Faith wondered what kind of place gave away a free gift with a free gift, but if this was a regular occurrence maybe Boudenver had its good points after all.

The shopkeeper returned carrying a rolled towel in his hands. He handed it to her as he took back the broom. "It has a picture of the lake on it," he told her.

"Thanks," Faith didn't know what else to say so she just stood there holding the big bar of soap in one hand and the thick, fluffy towel in the other.

"The road you want is that way." He actually pointed away from the road altogether and towards an alley just a little further up the street. "Take you right there, the scenic route." He said the word 'route' so it rhymed with 'boot'.

She wanted to ask how he knew where she was going and what made him think she was worth two free gifts when everyone else in town thought she was scum, but the old man had returned to his sweeping and she had a feeling she wouldn't get a straight answer out of him anyway.

"Thanks." She headed for the shadowy alley.

The last of the little Pixies shouted something impolite to the three girls as he filed out after his friends; Rona sneered and slammed the dormitory door after him.

Alison collapsed onto her bed and stretched out staring at the wooden ceiling above. "Miranda and Cici are not going to believe what happened tonight when I tell them." She yawned, "Wonder why they finally gave up?"

"Dunno, they must have received some signal from their mothership the way they just dropped everything and left," Rona shrugged. She couldn't really care less why they were gone, she was just happy they finally were. It had been a long night of standing their ground and nothing much else.

"They didn't actually drop everything, they dropped me," Naomi reminded them.

She was standing by one of the big windows looking out at the sunny morning. Rona hadn't even realized that the sun was up. She flicked the overhead electric light off now it wasn't needed.

"Well I'm sure you didn't hurt yourself too bad from the six inch drop," Rona said sarcastically and then turned to the only one of them who had been seriously hurt. "How's your nose?" she asked Alison.

"Pierced," Alison grinned, gently touching the tiny hole made by the Pixie's crossbow; it was still crusty with dried blood. "My dad is going to kill me if it isn't all healed next time I see him. He didn't even like me getting my ears done when I was thirteen."

"You know, I think there's someone out there," Naomi peered more intently out of the window.

"Probably someone coming to see where we've been all night," Rona said, unbothered as she got her stuff ready to take into the house for a shower.

"No," Naomi said firmly. "They appear to be lying on the ground."

This made Rona wander over and Alison dragged herself off of the bed to join them at the window.

"Who is it?" Alison asked as the three of them looked at the prone figure lying just a few yards from the back of the training barn.

Rona shook her head.

"Well it appears to be male, but it isn't a cadet." Naomi said.

"Well it ain't Xander," said Rona after a moment. "Size is all wrong and unless he decided to go blonde overnight, the hair's wrong too."

All three continued to stare at the naked young man on the grass before them.

"So are we waiting to see if he performs any tricks?" Alison eventually asked.

"Come on." Rona lead the way out of the dormitory.

When all three girls were standing over the naked, sandy-haired guy outside, Rona nudged him with her toe. There was no reaction so she did it again, rocking his shoulder back and forth.

"Hey, dude, are you okay?" Alison asked, leaning over him. "Do you think we should check his pulse?" She asked the other two.

"He's quite fit, isn't he? If he requires mouth to mouth, I know it," Naomi offered, failing to keep her smile in check.

"Nai, he's naked!" Alison gave her a reproachful grin.

"Yes, I noticed." Naomi smiled back, appreciatively running her eyes over the curled up naked man's body just as he twisted onto his back, stretching his arms above him. "Oh my," she murmured, blushing as she received an eyeful of more than she had expected.

Their voices seemed to be disturbing his slumber but he wasn't completely awake yet.

"Hey pal, time to wake up and smell the fact that an English chick is about to eat you for elevenses," Rona clicked her fingers above his face. "Whatever the hell that is."

"Mmm," he twisted a little as he stretched languidly until something seemed to pain him. His hand went to a small purple bruise in the centre of his chest rubbing it gently as he opened his eyes.

"Finally," Rona sighed. "So I know you have a good explanation for mistaking our garden for a nudist beach - let's hear it."

He blinked a few times, taking a few minutes to work out where he was before he seemed fully awake.

"Actually I do," he promised, sitting up and covering his manhood. "But believe me when I say you wouldn't believe me." He paused, sniffing delicately, "Or perhaps you would."

He stood up, careful to keep his hands covering himself. Naomi nudged Alison and pointed to his butt with a grin. Alison blushed a bright red and looked away with a smirk.

"You're a Slayer," he stated to Rona. "So I'm guessing you know about werewolves."

"How do you know I'm a Slayer?" she asked, regarding him with suspicion.

Anyone outside of their immediate circle who knew about the slayer thing was to be considered a threat. Guilty until proven innocent were Giles' orders, at least for the time being until they were all more settled into their new lives. The fact that this guy had turned up bare-assed outside their bedroom and claimed to be a werewolf, probably the one they'd been hearing all night, wasn't doing a lot to assuage Rona's reservations.

"I don't know exactly, your scent is just a little different to other girls." He looked about him and then down at himself. "I don't suppose you have any clothes I could borrow."

"You still haven't told us why you don't have any," Rona pointed out crossing her arms, perfectly happy to wait for an explanation all day if she had to; after all she was fully dressed.

"I got caught short," he explained simply. "I was expecting to be back in my apartment before becoming exposed became an issue."

"Oh Rona, let him borrow something of ours, where's the harm," Naomi gently brushed his shoulder with her fingertips as she added, "It's this way; let's find something to cover up that lovely body of yours."

He didn't seem to know what to say to that.

"So you're a werewolf, huh?" Alison asked, as the three of them escorted the stranger to their dormitory.

"Some of the time," he said and stood to one side holding the barn door open for her.

"Can I have one of your teeth to wear on a leather strap around my neck?" she asked next.

"You want one of my teeth?" he asked, clearly surprised. Rona gave her a weird look too.

"Yeah, one of the wolf ones, not one of your regular ones," Alison explained.

"Are you a witch?" he asked.

"Nope," she promised. "So can I?"

"I'm gonna have to say no, sorry."

"So if I was a witch you'd let me?" Alison asked, wondering if Willow would teach her the basics.

"No, the answer would still be a no, but I'd know for future reference not to get knocked out around here."

"You don't like witches?" Alison asked as she rummaged through the travel chest at the foot of her bed.

"I don't like witches that want my teeth," he clarified. "Why do you want one of my teeth?"

"I just thought it would look cool hanging around my neck," Alison shrugged.

"Anyway," Naomi rolled her eyes at the man. "Why don't we get you some clothes?" She went to her rucksack and began pulling apparel from the giant bag, looking for anything that would be suitable.

Rona grudgingly began doing the same, but her choice was even more limited. All she owned at the moment was the things she had returned from Africa with and she'd had to travel very light while out there.

Alison, probably the most tomboyish of the three girls, was shorter and slimmer than their bare naked guest so although she eagerly looked through her chest of belongings she already knew she wouldn't have anything that fit.

The man stood by the closed door of the converted barn covering himself modestly and patiently waiting.

"Here try this," Naomi held out a fuzzy pink Mohair jumper. "This should cover you up nicely,"

He took it, holding it up to give it a closer inspection and deciding he had resorted to wearing worse under similar circumstances. The knitted jumper clung to his torso and was a little itchy. It hung to groin level, not quite hiding anything.

Pushing the long sleeves up to his elbows, he said, "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Naomi smiled. "I think it looks rather good on you, don't you think girls?"

Alison looked over, "You look like a giant marshmallow, but then marshmallows look good to me," she grinned.

"Cool," his lips tilted upwards.

"I'm afraid none of my trousers will fit you," Naomi apologized as she looked over her clothes again.

"Here, try this," Rona reluctantly handed over a bright turquoise and cerise sarong. "That'll cover everything you need covering."

"Thanks," he smiled gratefully and the girls turned their heads while he wrapped it around his waist.

"Comfortable?" Rona asked.

"A little too comfortable," he replied, raising an eyebrow ever so slightly.

"You can wear these on your feet," Alison handed him a pair of flowery flip-flops that Cici had left with her stuff.

He slipped his feet into them, nodding, "Practical."

"So as a werewolf do you have a cool name like Lonestar or Darkfang or something?" Alison asked.

He raised an eyebrow again at her suggestions, "Nothing quite that dramatic, no."

"So what is it?" Rona asked.

"Commonly... It's Oz."

Craig was underneath the desk in the Magic room. Ages ago he and Peter had set up opposing camps at either end of the room as far from each other as possible. Peter was sat with his back to the door and Craig figured that if one of the werewolves finally crashed through the window glass onto the wooden desk, it would see the obnoxious cadet first.

Being stuck in the small room all night wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for his company. Aside for a few psychotic mass murderers, he couldn't imagine anyone worse to be trapped with than Peter Jones.

At first it hadn't been too bad as they'd silently listened to the growling, snarling and other unpleasant noises made by the two werewolves fighting outside. Craig didn't know why the two beasts had turned on each other, but he had really wanted to poke his head above the window sill to watch the supernatural phenomenon. He hadn't gotten up the guts to do it though.

After some whining and whimpering the sounds had eventually died out.

"Do you think they're gone?" Craig had whispered from the shadow of the desk.

"How am I supposed to know," Peter answered tiredly. "Why don't you poke your head out and find out?"

"Because if one had just killed the other, he might fancy my head for pudding."

"Then we'll know they aren't both gone, won't we?" Peter said. "And you'll finally have done something your mother can be proud of."

Craig thought about that for a minute but couldn't see where the other boy was coming from. "How do you work that out?"

"Well, your death would be for the greater good of getting me out of this box of bloody potpourri," he waved a hand at the shelves of magikal ingredients; some of them did smell quite strong. "It would be a gallant death in a way," he smirked. "Which is more than can be said for your life now, en't it?"

"You really think your life would be considered the greater good?" Craig sneered. "You're no more noble than me, Jones. Just 'cause your dad has a bought and bribed for hoity-toity title doesn't make you any better than I am."

"If you say so," Peter smiled unpleasantly. "But my father isn't in a mental hospital, my mother isn't living on benefits and I'm not a poofy pillow-biter. So all in all, I'd say I'm doing a little better than, don'tcha think?"

Craig was seething at the insults to his parents, but with clenched fists he strove to rise above it. A scrap in the confined space would not only cause a commotion he didn't want, but might also cause expensive breakages - not something he wanted to have to foot the bill for.

"Yes, but Peter sweetheart," he began, putting on a snobby accent. "Your dad was vice-head of the Council's murder-squad, not exactly a reputable profession. Your mum has to pop a cocktail of pills every day to stop her from going around telling everyone she's the first female Doctor Who. And you, my dear, are just jealous that I'm getting plenty of action and your virgin body has yet to know the touch of either a man or a woman," Craig pointed out. "Those in glass houses, Petey."

"She doesn't think she's Doctor Who!"

Dawn had broken at some point and Craig could see by the grey light filtering through the window that he'd hit a sore subject.

"She thinks she can time-travel," Craig said. "She keeps trying to convince people she can time-travel by taking them into the old-fashioned red phone-box down the lane from your house!"

"Will you stop talking out of your arse!" Peter spat, looking like he wanted to curl in a ball and cry. "You know nothing about my mother!"

"Pete, she took Naomi's mum in the other week," Craig told him more gently. "Mrs. Ramstock was worried it might actually work and she wouldn't be back in time to get the 'help' to cook tea."

Peter made a sound that was almost a laugh, "You're a prick, man. You know that?"

"Yeah well you're a lot worse than me," Craig replied honestly.

"Yeah, but what are you doing here?" Peter asked. "I mean, you hate Watchers, your whole family does, so why are you here with us? What's in it for you?"

"I came for a holiday," Craig said. His pockets were still uncomfortably full of the stolen ingredients and his hands went to them now, rubbing once over the bulges to reassure himself he hadn't lost anything climbing in and out of the window. "To see Mr. Giles."

"Yeah, but he don't know you're even here does he?" Peter's voice had taken on its usual sly undertones again. "We all noticed how you've been avoiding him. Thought at first that you just wanted to spend more time with your geek boyfriend, but it's more than that, innit?"

"No," Craig shifted his position under the table uneasily. "He's just been busy with you lot."

"Nah, there's more to it. You're not James Bond, but you've been trying to be all week." Peter licked his lips. "Come on, tell me. Have you finally decided to give girls a go and put Naomi out of her misery? Good idea that, getting her well away from old Charlie Ramstock before putting it to her."

"Okay, now I feel sick," Craig complained. "And don't talk about Nai like that behind her back."

"Yeah well if I talked about her like that in front of her, she'd kick my arse," Peter admitted with a chuckle. "If she wasn't so stuck up herself, I'd give her one, that's for sure."

"She would never give you a fraction of a one," Craig promised. "And if you're so sure I'm up to something why haven't you told Mr. Giles then?"

"More fun this way at the moment," Peter shrugged. "Stay entertaining..."

A loud thundering of feet cut the cadet off as someone bolted past overhead and muffled shouting could be heard as well.

Peter looked up at the ceiling and Craig scooted out from under the desk to stare upwards too.

"Do you think they got in?" he asked, meaning the wolves. A shiver of fear ran down his spine at the thought of the vicious beasts loose in the house.

"Dunno," Peter shook his head, he'd gone pale. "Seems like the trouble ain't over yet though."

The two teenage boys looked at each other realizing that meant they were stuck together for even longer.

They both groaned to themselves, "Great!"

It was darker than a deep cave on a cloudy night. Nothing moved in the wind that blew because nothing could move in the thickness of this space. No sound could be heard but the wind blowing through nothing on its way to nowhere.

The watchers hung suspended in the treacle-like nothingness; lucid flies trapped in sticky darkness, unable to see or hear or move, but fully aware of their dire predicament.

"So what's it going to be?" Buffy repeated coldly, fighting the urge to squeeze the Pixie too hard.

"I have told you Giglet, I don't know if it is possible to bring them back," Beryan held her gaze. "When the spell was broken in such an untimely fashion, their very essence was released into the ether. They are no longer in one place but in every place."

"What?" Buffy didn't know what that meant, but it didn't sound good.

"They're not tied to the mortal plane anymore, so the chances of getting everyone back in the same shape they left are somewhere between fifty and a gazillion to one," Willow explained with a nervous glance at the fire. Xander and Vi had had to stand back from the heat and the bed burned uninhibitedly.

"The spell was supposed to teleport them from this location to another in England, right?" Willow continued. "So what it does is take them from this location, figuratively pulls them along a wire through time and space and shoots them back out at the desired location."

"But they haven't popped out of the other end?" Buffy asked. "Why haven't they popped out at the other end?"

"Because I broke the wire," Willow grimaced. "When I interrupted the spell the wire snapped and now all of them are... flapping around loose."

"Giles is so not gonna like that, what with his neat-freak tendencies and all," Xander wiped his forehead with his shirt-sleeve. "So I say we figure a way to get him back before he can get mad at us."

"Or we could not bring him back and then he won't be able to get mad at us," Dawn suggested.

Buffy turned to glare at her sister, "Don't ever make jokes about leaving Giles in the ether! Can he hear me?" she asked Willow. "GILES!"

"No, he can't hear you." Beryan used a tone that suggested Buffy was stupid, Buffy squeezed a little tighter but the Pixie didn't seem bothered. "He has passed over the threshold of this world."

"So he's dead?" Xander asked. Now he looked sick but it could have been to do with the poisonous fumes coming from the flaming mattress.

"No, just stranded," Beryan told him.

"But bringing him back could kill him; all of them," Willow finished miserably and Beryan nodded.

"Okay, I think not good is an understatement," Kennedy said. "It sounds to me like you're saying they're flapping around outside of space and time, loose between dimensions. In limbo, is that it?"

"Pretty much," Willow frowned.

"So tell me how burning down my bedroom is going to help with that?" Kennedy demanded taking Buffy by surprise. As she spoke the bed collapsed beneath the weight of the flames. "Shit!"

They all stepped further back.

Buffy made a growling noise in her throat as the frustration swelled within. She had no vested interest in this house at all and the idea of it going up in smoke wasn't a bad one in her mind. It meant she could leave for one thing. They'd only been here a couple of months and the place already held nothing but bad memories for her.

The others seemed to have settled down quite happily, or if not happily then they'd at least already worn familiar grooves for themselves. Giles was her familiar groove, or something that sounded a little less incestuous. This place was Giles to her; it was what was keeping him from going back to his better life in England. If he wasn't there then she didn't much care if the whole place burned to the ground.

"Well the chances are less than a gazillion to one if you won't even try," she pointed out furiously.

"Please, will you help me try?" Willow urgently asked Beryan who was still caught in Buffy's fist. "Maybe together we can reach them."

"If it were possible to locate them I still would not have the necessary power to bring them back as they left," Beryan said.

"Well then we're in luck, 'cause I have oodles of power," Willow's smile returned briefly.

"Then let us try," Beryan shrugged. "Just Buffee, if you please."

Buffy wasn't sure, but she set the Pixie leader down anyway. "Okay, but if I don't see some Giles soon..." she left the threat hanging and turned to the fire.

Whoa okay, she hadn't realized it was burning quite so fiercely, she'd been too intent on the Pixie. The bed was just a lump of charcoal now, a black heart to the hot orange mass. The walls and carpet around it were rapidly blackening. With the windows and the doors shut, the smoke was starting to reach intolerable levels; Dawn and Xander were beginning to cough.

Buffy knew it wasn't fair of her to let this new start go up in flames for them all; she didn't want be responsible a second time for her friends and family losing not just their homes but all of their worldly possessions too. Right now she couldn't do a thing to help get Giles back, but she could save his home so he had something worth returning to.

"Okay. Xander, grab a bucket from somewhere," she shouted, leaping into action. It felt good after so long with no action at all. "We'll make a chain from the kitchen. Dawn, I want you at the bottom in case the floor collapses. Go!"

"But it's okay for us to be up here when the floor collapses?" Kennedy asked as she hovered close to Willow, who was busy collecting spell ingredients from her drawers.

"Kenny, more fire-fighting, less whining." Buffy went to open the bedroom door, "You can complain about the evils of favoritism when we're done."

She yanked the door open, causing the flames to leap towards the ceiling scarily in the draught. Almost immediately the shrill beeping of the fire alarm practically deafened everyone.

"You can do the spell in my room," Xander shouted to Willow. "It'll be safer than staying here."

"No," Beryan's clear voice sounded above the roar of the fire and the strident alarm. "If we want any chance of reaching the skurry watchers we must cast from here."

"She's right," Willow realized. "Not about the watchers being skurry, whatever that means, but if we're to send out an ethereal search team we need to do from the spot where they were originally lost."

"Okay, well stay in the corner. Open the windows to get some fresh air in here," Buffy instructed as she started out the door. "The rest of us will get this under..."

Buffy tripped over something in the doorway, cutting her words off with a mild curse. She looked to see what had wound around her feet and screamed loud enough to rival the alarm. "Snake!"

The slippery green thing that wound itself around her feet soon showed its true colors. With a shout of "Noor!" water shot from the snake's mouth towards the bed.

"Garden hose!" Dawn shrieked in an imitation of her sister's shout while she offered Buffy a hand up.

Buffy took the help, "Hey, nerves running high here. I saw something green winding itself around me in a snake-like fashion and I jumped to conclusions, sue me."

"Should we still make a chain?" Xander asked as everyone but Willow and Beryan hovered on the landing, peering through the doorway.

"I don't know, they seem to have it under control," Vi motioned at the little purple fire-fighters wielding the long hose like much taller professionals.

"Buffy, what do we do if Willow can't get Giles back?" Dawn asked in an uneasy whisper.

Buffy shook her head and she was only half joking when she said, "Wait 'til the place dries out and then go get the matches?"

Faith had been walking forever again, over fields of nothing by wild grass, along rusted and forgotten train tracks and through patchy woods and dense forest. No matter what the terrain the ground was always sloping one way or the other. It was starting to make her feel seasick.

It had all been worth it though once she saw IT. In fact it made the whole cross-country nightmare worth every second and maybe if Buffy did reject her on the spot, Faith could just buy a tent and come and live out here until her parole was up.

What she had found was a waterfall or sorts. A beautiful pool surrounded by candy-colored wild flowers into which a stream as fresh as any alpine bottled water fell with a loud splashing sound that was kinda soothing.

Hot and thirsty after the long walk, she'd already drunk a gallon of it and was now shedding her clothes ready to hop in. She could see the pool wasn't deep at all, but if she sat down she could have a very shallow bath and then wash her hair in the fall afterwards.

She couldn't get her clothes off fast enough.

Her find was in a little clearing between the trees and the sun was hot on her back as she peeled off her shirt and dropped it on top of her jacket. She was pretty sure she was the only person around for miles, but she still had a quick look around before snapping the clasp on her bra and removing that too. It wasn't that she was shy about showing her body, but this was perfect crazy-ass woodman country and she didn't want some insane axe-wielding Hillbilly coming at her when she didn't have a stitch on. Her nude fighting days were well in the past.

She had to peel her jeans down her legs, which was gross and she realized that she could shower as much as wanted, but if she was just going to put her grungy clothes back on afterwards there wasn't a whole lot of point.

With a shrug she tossed her jeans into the pool and then kicked the rest of her clothes, except her jacket, in after. She kept her panties on until the last minute, waiting until after she'd collected the soap from the log she was using as a towel rack and stepped into the pool before pushing them off and leaving them to float on top of the water.

It was with a sigh of deep satisfaction followed by a squeal at the temperature with which her body greeted the water. Once in, the water didn't seem quite so freezing and she wallowed in the low pool for a minute or two surrounded by floating clothes before she unwrapped the giant bar of plain white soap. It was the same stuff she'd used as a kid, cheap but serviceable. She flipped the wrapper away and started scrubbing the soap over herself.

The pool would have been black with dirt instantly if a thin winding stream didn't carry the used water out and off down the slope. Faith watched the soap bubbles go with it as she washed, trying not to think about anything but getting clean. One problem at a time.

Once she'd lathered and rinsed every inch, she ran the bar of soap over her hair a dozen times working up a nice lot of bubbles and then scooted backwards until her head was under the steady waterfall. The fresh water falling directly onto her was freezing all over again, but Faith clenched her jaw against chattering teeth. The pleasure at finally getting clean and washing off any monkeyness that had been clinging to her made it worth the shock.

As soon as she was sure her hair was free of cheap soap suds, she moved back to the other side of the pool and relaxed into the water for a while.

She wondered how close to Sunset Camp she was now. It couldn't have been much further or else she'd end up crossing another state line. Did Buffy know about this place? It was the kind of place Buffy would love; Faith was sure, with the pretty and the birds singing. Maybe she came down here to bathe just like Faith was now, not for the same reasons obviously - they must have a shower up at the house - but just for pleasure.

Faith relaxed some more, letting her eyes fall closed as she imagined the pleasure Buffy might have while bathing in the pool. She smiled a little, biting her lip gently as she imagined it in great, Technicolor detail.

The windows in Willow and Kennedy's bedroom were open as wide as they would go, so was the door and between them. Xander and Andrew had finally shut off the fire alarm but not before Goorzar had freaked out again and broken one of Willow's figurines from the mantelpiece.

Kennedy hadn't told her about that yet. She didn't want to cause the red-head any more distress than she was currently under as spell after spell refused to work. She knelt behind her cross-legged lover, close enough to be on hand if the forces of darkness tried to steal Willow's goodness. Not that Kennedy knew what she would do if that happened, but she stayed close anyway.

Buffy was perched on the vanity stool. The air was still thick with leftover smoke but she wasn't going to be anywhere but where the action was. With every failed spell her face grew a little more pinched and her hands balled tighter and tighter at her sides.

Kennedy didn't know how much more grief Buffy could handle in one week, but from the looks of her, not much.

Everyone else had been banned from the room while the spells were taking place, partly because the room was a mess of fire damaged bed and soggy everything. The Pixies had been more than thorough while putting out the burning room. Kennedy was grateful, and a little pissed at Buffy for making them wait so long, but she'd wished the Pixies had stuck to just dousing the stuff in the room on fire. She had a feeling there was a little payback going on.

The purple fire chief had looked very similar to the Pixie Kennedy had handed over to Goorzar earlier. Not that she felt guilty, not now that she knew their attack hadn't been about protecting them from werewolves but about getting rid of the watchers.

Willow and Beryan were sat on the drenched bedroom floor. Willow had had everything they needed to try and bring the lost cadets and Giles back in her drawers and cupboards which had saved her the time of finding everything in the magick room. All of Beryan's ingredients had been destroyed in the fire.

Now the two if them sat in a medative trance, eyes staring into each other and beyond as they chanted at counter points in a language Kennedy couldn't recognize. This wasn't their first attempt, but she really hoped they wouldn't have to get too much closer to the gazillionth before they got a result.

There was a pop, a whiz and fizzle, making Kennedy start backwards ever so slightly in surprise and then a cry of rage from Willow made the younger woman realize that this try had failed too.

Beryan said nothing as she calmly prepared more ingredients, using Willow's utensils like they weren't bigger than she was.

Buffy started to say something at the same time as Kennedy went to put a consoling and encouraging hand on her shoulder.

"No!" Willow shouted, stopping them both mid-movement. "Something or someone is blocking their re-entry; I can feel it!"

Tears rushed down Willow's cheeks as she shot to her feet. Kennedy blinked; unless she was seeing things due to smoke inhalation, Willow hadn't jumped to her feet so much as floated, very fast. She shook her head, but no, her girlfriend was still an inch or two above the wet-through carpet.

"Okay then," she muttered, wondering if she should stand too. She started to when Willow began to shout.


"Is this a part of it?" Kennedy asked nervously.

"Will!" The edge of fear in Buffy's voice had Kennedy circling her lover to see her face and what she saw froze her to the spot. Willow's eyes were a deep, fathomless black.

"Willow," she said herself.


The roar of a really pissed of lion seemed to come from the ceiling. Kennedy looked up again but could see nothing.

"HOW DARE YOU SPEAK OF OSIRIS IN SUCH A MANNER?" The words were a roar too, but there was still nothing to see to her layman eyes.







A blinding flash of light knocked everyone across the room and Willow screamed at the top of her lungs.

"Willow!" Kennedy yelled and heard it echoed by Buffy across the room.

And then Kennedy was up, on her knees and crawling to where Willow had been even as the light winked back out. It had been so bright that she still couldn't see anything but black dots dancing before her eyes and the tears that freefell from her eyes weren't helping.

Kennedy tried to blink the tears from her eyes. Willow couldn't be gone. Not after everything they'd been through. Not when she still had so much to say to the woman she was falling so madly in love with. Willow couldn't be gone into oblivion - to the darkness between the dimensions where whoever owned that evil voice ruled.

Not Willow.

She tried to think clearly, there had to be some way out of this. Osiris had taken one sacrifice; he would take another wouldn't he? Beryan could call him back and Kennedy could offer herself in return instead.

As Kennedy's mind raced her vision finally cleared and what she saw drew a strangled sob from deep in her chest and then Willow's arms were around her, holding her tight and making comforting sounds in her ear.

"I thought I'd lost you!" Kennedy's voice came out strangled by her own relief and muffled by the shoulder of Willow's jumper.

Suddenly irrationally angry at the whole damn universe, she thrust Willow away from her. "What in the hell just happened?" she demanded.

"I won," Willow replied shakily. Her voice was hoarse from the shouting and screaming, there was green in her eyes again, but the darkness was taking it time to seep out. She licked her lips wearily but she had a little smirk playing on them that Kennedy hadn't seen before.

Kennedy didn't like it much and looked away, realizing what Willow had meant. In various positions in the room were three dazed watcher cadets and one very distressed looking Giles. Buffy was hugging him.

She noticed Beryan had disappeared.

"That didn't sound much like winning," she turned to Willow again. "What he said sounded a lot like - you lose!"

"I'm still here, aren't I?" Willow smirked cockily.

"Yeah I suppose," Kennedy murmured running a hand through her hair.

She gave Willow a small unsure smile before going to check on the cadets.

Giles had a headache, which he supposed wasn't that big a complaint considering what he had been through.

He sat now in the kitchen with the others, holding an icepack to the lump on his head and nursing a cup of tea, listening to everyone tell of their night's adventures. It was all quite extraordinary, but he was mostly concerned with Willow, who wasn't speaking much at all.

She too seemed to have a headache and was shaking ever so slightly. It was probably unnoticeable to everyone except him and he only knew because he was looking for it.

Xander was possibly aware too as he sat with his arm around the girl's shoulders, listening to Buffy and Kennedy recount the spell that had brought himself and the cadets back from oblivion.

Kennedy, while sat very close to Willow, wasn't touching her partner in any way. Something that was very unusual these days.

Once the tale was finished the kitchen too appeared shrouded by the silence that followed. Hardly a wonder considering the threat Osiris had made to Willow. Giles knew of course about the Willow's previous encounter with the Great Lord of the darker planes and this new development troubled him deeply; despite her constant reassurances that she had won this round.

Osiris was not someone to be taken lightly.

Cheerful voices from outside broke the heavy silence and seemed to stir everyone inside the kitchen out of the funk they'd fallen into.

Giles looked to the open door, wincing at the pain in his head, just as Rona came into the room with Alison and Naomi.

"Are you girls alright?" he asked at once, his gaze going to Naomi first.

"Yeah, apart from being held prisoner in our own bedroom for the whole night," Rona replied cheerfully enough. She went straight to the cookie jar. "Man, I'm hungry."

"There's been a lot of that going around," Willow said with a tired smile. Suddenly she sat up straight, her eyes turning saucer-like as she stared at the door, her mouth hanging open.

Giles, concerned, turned to see what had caused such surprise, but at first saw no one but the three slayers and Naomi. That was odd, he was sure that only Rona and Alison had been missing from the kitchen. Had there been a new arrival while he was stranded in limbo?

It took his brain a second to catch up with his eyes and he put his glasses - gratefully received from Vi - back on for a closer look at the newcomer, and then his eyes were wide too.

"Hey," said a familiar voice.

"Well if it isn't the great and terribly-hard-to-track Oz!" Xander rose from his seat next to Willow and went to his old friend. He stopped just short of him and gave the shorter man a good look. "I don't think you can say you're too manly to hug now," he smirked, and did just that.

Oz hugged back briefly and then they both stepped away from each other smirking. "How's it going, Xan?"

"Oz!" Willow still sounded weak and she made no move to get up, but her face had lit up the second she had recovered her surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"That depends on your definition of here," Oz smiled at her. "And actually both are kind of long stories."

Giles placed the icepack on the table next to his teacup and rose gingerly to shake the young man's hand. "It's good to see you."

"You too."

His hand shake was strong, telling of strength you wouldn't expect for his size. Giles took in his outfit, trying not to let curiosity show on his face.

Buffy wasn't so refined, of course, "Nice outfit, Oz. Very new man of you, or should that be new woman?" she smirked playfully.

"You never told me he was a cross-dresser too," Kennedy sat back in her chair, glaring at him.

"He's not, or he wasn't. Are you?" Willow asked nervously.

"Willow, that's really not important," Giles began, hoping to save the man from any embarrassment.

"It's okay Giles," Oz smirked. "No, it was just either this or my birthday suit and for some reason..." he looked down at the fuzzy pink jumper and turquoise sarong "...I thought this would raise fewer eyebrows."

"You were so wrong," Buffy giggled.

"So I see," Oz looked around the room and Giles saw him realize just how many strangers were in the kitchen with them. "Hey guys," he greeted the three watcher cadets that were all looking at him like he was the Widow Twanky looking for a pantomime.

Giles started as a thought occurred to him. Quickly he counted everyone present. There were definitely only four cadets in the kitchen.

"Oh good lord, where on earth is bloody Peter now?" he groaned.

Reece looked around, as if counting everyone himself. His face fell when he realized his friend wasn't there, "Shit!"

"Agreed," Giles said wearily.

When the fire alarm had gone off Craig had hit the deck, not realizing what it was at first. Peter had been only a second behind him.

They'd laid there for a few minutes listening to the shrill beeping.

"Shouldn't we be getting out of her instead of waiting to burn to death?" Peter had asked eventually.

He had a point. Both of them jumped back to their feet and Craig moved to open the window. Except it wouldn't; it was stuck fast in the frame. He tried several times before Peter shoved him to one side.

"Get out of the way you puny little twerp." Peter had tried several times too, but the window wasn't moving.

Obviously when Craig had slammed it shut hours before and with the werewolf bouncing off the side of the house so many times, it had been wedged into place.

Panicked, Peter had then gone to bang on the door to get someone's attention.

"No!" Craig had tried to stop him, but Peter just shoved him out of the way again.

"I am not getting cremated in this stinking room with you," he said.

His banging hadn't brought anyone to the rescue anyway and seconds later the alarm had stopped.

"Think that's a good sign?" Craig had asked.

"You ask a lot of stupid questions, don't you Rayne? I'm trapped in the same flippin' room as you!"

"I was only asking your opinion," Craig spat back. "Christ, you really don't do well under pressure do you?"

Peter had swatted at his head then, but Craig smacked his hand away. They stared at each other.

Craig thought for a moment he was going to have to fight after all, and a part of him actually relished the thought of punching the knob-head in the face. He'd have to make it count because he'd probably only get one shot before Peter pounded him into mincemeat, but it would be worth it.

"You ain't man enough," Peter sneered.

"I'm too much man for you Petey," Craig's heart was beating way too fast.

"Come on..."

There was a loud shout from above them that sounded very much like Willow Rosenberg and it sounded like she was pretty pissed off.

"Was that..?" Peter began before a roar cut him off again.

The sound was so loud and intense it shook the walls of the magick room and Craig suddenly found Peter was clinging to him! What made it even worse was that he was clinging to Peter just as tightly.

"What the hell...?" Peter began, but the roar came again, drowning out his words and sending both of them to their knees.

"We need to get out of here." It was Craig hammering on the door this time, not bothered about being discovered anymore as long as he could get away from whatever was making that awful gut-twisting racket.

Peter wasted no time in beating his own fists against the door, but still no one came to help them. They probably couldn't even be heard above the roar. As it came again, Craig gave up on the door and dived for cover under the desk. If the house came down around them it wouldn't offer much protection, but more than none.

Peter joined him under there and they sat as close as they could to each and buried their heads in their arms while they waited for whatever was going to come.

When the bellowing from above finally ended, Craig peeked out from under the desk. Everything was still standing.

"Do you think it's over?" he asked in a whisper.

"You want my opinion?" Peter asked, speaking just as quietly.


"Then no, I don't think it's over. I think this house is built on pure bloody evil and it's making them Piskies bloody insane," Peter said, his words coming out fast and shaky. "And I think they've killed every other bugger in this house. And I think the werewolves got everyone outside the house. But I know I ain't going nowhere until her flippin' Majesty's secret service comes and gets me."

"Now who thinks they're James Bond," Craig replied with smirk.

"Shut up."

"Could you at least not squeeze my arm so tight?" Craig winced as Peter deliberately squeezed him tighter.

"Stop being a pansy."

"I'm quite happy being a pansy," Craig replied. "I just don't want to be a bruised pansy."

"Fine, you let go of my leg and I'll let go of your arm," Peter sighed.

"What?" Craig asked, looking innocently confused. "I haven't got my hand on your leg."

"Arrh!" Peter gave a little shriek and started slapping at the mysterious hand on his lower thigh, trying to get it off, and smacking his head on the bottom of the desk in the process.

Craig gripped Peter's thigh harder, laughing at his reaction. "And you call me a pansy, what does that make you then Pete?"

"Get off," Peter pushed him away. "I nearly wet myself then, yer little prick."

"Whose bloody hand did you think it was then?" Craig was still laughing. "Did you think Thing had somehow escaped from Cemetery Ridge to attack us?"

"You ain't noticed it then?" Peter asked.


Peter pointed to a shelf high up the wall, upon which was sat a pristine Mummy hand.

The kitchen had erupted into a state of near panic again as they realized that Peter was still missing.

Naomi seemed especially agitated, which seemed odd to Giles; he was sure they weren't in any way close. Maybe they'd recently discovered an attraction for each, he was appalled to think it could be so, but stranger things had happened. Buffy falling for Spike, for example.

He tried to calm her now with promises that they would find the boy safe and well.

"Shush!" Buffy ordered. He stopped speaking, but others were slow to respond. "I said: Shush."

"Actually you didn't really say it..." started Andrew. He was looking rather frazzled with the situation too, which was even stranger to Giles.

Buffy held up a hand to silence him and went to the door to the magic room. "Someone's in here," she whispered.

"Pixies?" Kennedy asked, standing up.

"Don't think so." Buffy tried the door but it was locked.

Willow produced a key which she handed to Kennedy, who in turn handed it to Buffy.

Buffy slid it into the lock, turned it and with a quiet click the door opened. She pushed it wide and Giles joined her on the threshold to see who the trespassers were this time.

The two boys inside stopped dead as the door opened caught in the act of Craig chasing Peter around the small space with a dormant Mummy hand.

"Oh for goodness sake," Giles exclaimed, his headache coming back tenfold as he spotted Craig.

"Bugger it," Craig muttered, realizing the game was up because the only way out of this would be to break into a run and keep going until he reached English shores. He looked up at the old guy with a cheeky grin that made mothers want to pinch his cheeks. "Alright Uncle Rubear. I've come over for a bit. Mum says to say hello, or she would have if she knew I was here."

Giles thought he might fall over with the shock of it all. How many years had it been since he had last seen this boy? Too many and not enough all wrapped up together, and now what he was supposed to do?

"You alright? You don't look so good..." Craig chirped giving Giles face a close inspection, looking for a greenish tinge perhaps.

Did he give the boy a hug? Shake his hand? Put him over his knee and give him a thorough hiding before sending him back to England?

"Craig, go and phone your mother and tell her you are safe." That was a start and it was as good as any, Giles thought as he despairingly removed his glasses, running a hand over his forehead and wincing as it aggravated his lump.

It was an hour later and Giles had called all of the watcher cadets into the fully renovated training barn for the final session of their stay.

The cadets were sitting on the large exercise mats Xander had bought; Giles was standing in front of them with his hands behind his back, looking very Watcherly despite his casual blue jeans and maroon cable-knit sweater. The kids were unusually quiet, but that was probably more to do with the night before than any respect for the meeting.

Tomorrow all but two of the five cadets would be leaving Sunset Camp for other pastures. The two chosen to remain would work under Giles' supervision until they were deemed ready to take a Slayer of their own to their designated demonic hot-spot.

Buffy was sitting cross-legged on her favorite new toy, the trampoline, out of the way but listening in. Giles had asked her to be there and while she had as much interest in the fate of the baby watchers as she had in the drying of paint, it wasn't like she had anything better to do.

Everything seemed to have gone back to normal at Sunset Camp, or as normal as it could be considering who lived there.

The Pixies had gone into hiding, or at least as much as they ever did. She hadn't seen any since Giles and the cadets had been returned anyway.

Giles and the others had come back unharmed, well except for a lump on his head, but according to Reece he'd been knocked out before the spell began.

What Willow had done to ensure their return? Well, Buffy wasn't too sure how she felt about that yet.

The big invisible voice had been scary enough before it threatened to take Willow into the beyond. When the light had cleared and she'd realized her best friend hadn't been taken, Buffy's relief had been huge, but now she was just worried that they'd inadvertently opened another can of evil worms that were going to try and kill them all at some later date.

Still, it wasn't like she had anything else to focus on around here. Hardly any vampires to slay since the night of Jupitus' failed resurrection, demons that were, for the most, pretty simple country folk - as happy eating rabbits as people, and no hope of a love-life to keep her busy either by the looks of it.

Buffy's loud sigh caught Giles' attention earning her a disapproving look. Sitting up straighter she tuned back in to what he was saying.

"Aside from last night, which I think we can all consider exceptional circumstances, your behavior on the whole has been nothing short of appalling," Giles was saying. Buffy mentally applauded him. "I understand this has all come as a bit of a shock for you; none of you knew you would be coming over here until recently and certainly none of you were expecting to be asked to take up active duty within a few months of finishing your schooling, but even with taking that into account I still find myself dismayed by the attitude you've shown to your calling."

All of the cadets shifted uncomfortably, although Buffy didn't think Naomi or Anthony had too much to be sorry about.

"Now more than ever you must be ready and willing to stand up and accept your destinies as Watchers. The Council needs you; no, th-the world needs you to take your rightful places at the forefront of this most important fight." Giles began to pace. "You all face a road pitted with a hard and sometimes painful duty, I won't deny that, but as you walk it you will carry with you a sense of pride and achievement most men and women can never conceive of.

"All of you are capable of this greatness, not just because of who your parents may be but because you have the strength of character deep inside - some deeper than others..." Giles smiled briefly at everyone before continuing. " face immense trials and tribulations and overcome them for the betterment of mankind."

'Really, this lot?' Buffy looked around at them all, but kept her thoughts to herself.

"The crux of it is," Giles stopped pacing again to stand in the centre of the floor. "All of this is just so much lip-flapping on my behalf if you don't desire the bloody job in the first place; and judging by the performance most of you have put on over the past week, I'd wager you'd all rather be corralling trolleys at Tesco," he finished sternly.

Trolley corralling had never been included in Buffy's career day opportunities, but it drew enough dismayed shock from the cadets that she deduced it wasn't a box she would have ticked anyway.

Giles let the lecture sink in for a minute before going on to the next item on the agenda. This was the part Buffy was looking forward to. No one knew yet who of the five would be staying.

"Okay, I'll put you out of your misery first," Giles cleared his throat. "Reece Highbury and Naomi Ramstock - you'll be staying with us for the time being; I hope that suits the both of you."

"Yes sir, thank you," Reece smiled easily, not seeming too affected by the congratulatory back-slaps Peter and Rajiv gave him.

Looking deeper though, Buffy was sure it was mostly because he was trying not to look relieved in front of them. He was probably doing cartwheels in his head, but he couldn't get excited and lose his coolness in front of his friends because then they might realize he wasn't quite as certain of himself as they thought.

Mostly though, she just thought 'Crap.' She didn't want to have to put up with his royal smarminess for any length of time and she knew Dawn had a major crush on him which would now only get worse.

Naomi looked very happy with herself and accepted the congratulations of her peers with much more enthusiasm than Reece had. Buffy gave her a thumbs up which made the young cadet's grin double. Buffy was pleased she was staying; she was the only one who inspired any kind of confidence in her watcher abilities, plus that meant Buffy could pick her brains some more on the whole prophecy business.

"Okay settle down," Giles called them to order again. "We'll discuss what will be expected of you both in greater detail later in the week. Meanwhile if we get back to the rest of you." Giles walked to Xander's work bench, still in the corner at the back, and picked up three large manila envelopes.

"Peter Jones," he began gravely, reading from the name on the top of the pile. "You have been perhaps the worst this week, wouldn't you say?"

Peter didn't seem to know if he was supposed to answer or not. Buffy could see he was caught between a shrug of indifference and a more honest expression of apology. Another one that didn't want to lose face in front of his friends.

Giles didn't make him suffer in silence for too long, at least not as long as Buffy would have.

"I've recommended that you return to London for the time being to work under Mr. Wyndam-Pryce's supervision." Peter groaned and Buffy could see the smirk Giles was hiding in his eyes. "You'll help with the Slayers stationed there; I believe there are already four or five staying in the temporary residence on his grounds. However, and please listen to me carefully, I strongly think that you should consider whether you do in fact want to be a Watcher." Peter started to protest, but Giles held up a hand. "Please, listen to me. This isn't a judgment on your ability by any means, I believe if you were to allow yourself to grow up a little and lose the chip on your shoulder you would make a fine Watcher, but as I said before your heart has to be in it. I know you were, shall we say, badgered into joining the academy in the first place and while I wouldn't say you have wasted your time there, neither have you excelled in the way that you could have."

"So what are you saying?" Peter asked with a tremor in his voice.

"That if there is another career you think you would feel happier in, that you should take some time to look into the possibilities. You don't have to decide anything this week, or even this year for that matter, but I think working with Roger may make your mind up rather quickly," he smiled at the boy. "If you can stand to work with him for more than a month, then you will know you are where you should be."

Peter gave a short laugh, "And if I can't that's it, I'm not cut out to be a Watcher?"

"I never said that," Giles said softly. "I had my doubts too, like you do even if you don't feel you can admit it, when I was young; twenty-one to be precise. Things were different then of course, the academy wasn't built until the early eighties when the people in charge realized that Watchers were becoming a rare commodity. When I was young we were expected to attend regular schools and then relentlessly pursue our Council studies after hours, so to speak. It got too much for me, at the time I believed I never wanted to be a Watcher anyway and I certainly didn't appreciate the amount of pressure my father gave me. So I rebelled; and ran away."

"So the rumors are true then?" Rajiv asked with a chuckle. "Cool."

Buffy smiled when Giles did too. Maybe if he'd told them this story at the start of the week they wouldn't have been such a handful for him.

"Well I'm glad you did," Naomi spoke up. "Or else I might never have been born."

Buffy did a double take at that. 'Huh?'

"Anyway Peter, I'm giving you the chance that I never had," Giles continued. "If there is something in your heart that you would rather follow then you should do so. If your father has any complaints he can bring them to me and you can be sure I will turn a deaf ear to them. How is your mother by the way?"

"Uh, she's okay sir, mostly." Peter looked very awkward.

"Good, I'm pleased to hear it; and I think you'll find that if you do decide to leave the Council, one day, when you are ready, you will find your way back and be a better Watcher for it. That is what destiny is all about, after all."

"So you're saying there's no escape then sir?" Peter asked sarcastically.

"Probably not, no," Giles grinned at him. "But I'm also saying you can try if you like. The Council needs one hundred percent commitment and a Slayer needs even more than that from her Watcher. If it isn't offered, then people die - sometimes a lot of people. I'd like to avoid that if possible so please think about what I have said. In the meantime, if you would please report to Mr. Wyndam-Price at nine o' clock sharp next Monday, I would be grateful. All the information you need is in here; please read it carefully and try to resist the urge to make spit-bombs out of it." Giles handed him a manila envelope.

Giles turned his attention from Peter and Buffy saw the kid physically slump once he was out of the limelight. He looked over at Reece who gave him a sympathetic smile and a little shrug and Peter smiled shakily back before opening his envelope.

"Anthony Milestone," Giles said next. "Well, you've done very well since you've been here and of course your grades at the academy are excellent. However with you still being only fifteen, you're too young to officially leave school, plus I think another year or two at the academy would prove beneficial to your physical training. You have a great mind, Anthony, but as I learned, Watching a Slayer requires a lot more than intellectual knowledge. I'm going to suggest to your parents that you are put in for more field practice in the next year, as much as is possible. The theory is something I think you will enjoy pursuing in your own time anyway so I doubt it will suffer."

"Yes sir," the little one said meekly. "If that's what you think, sir."

"Miley did tremendously well last night, Mr. Giles," Reece said. "He was the first to get free and without him we might all have been still lying there at the mercy of the werewolf when it arrived."

Buffy was surprised, not that Anthony did well - though that was a shock too - but that Reece was actually praising him. He'd been almost as bad to the kid all week as Peter had been.

"That's excellent and will give you something to build on," Giles said, flashing the boy a bright smile. "I'll look forward to having you return here, if you are willing, in two years time. How does that sound?"

"Very good sir. I'll look forward to it to it too sir," Anthony said. With a beaming smile of his own he accepted his envelope.

It was amusing the way they all called him sir.

"Now we come to Rajiv Kupoor," said Giles.

Rajiv sat up smartly but with a little dread in his eyes. Maybe he was expecting similar treatment to Peter.

"Don't look so worried," Giles went on. "If I'm honest, I had the hardest time deciding on your fate," he smiled, but Rajiv didn't look any less worried. "If I had three places to offer here, you would be staying. Unfortunately at the moment that's not possible and so I have a choice to offer you."

"And that is sir?" Rajiv asked politely, obviously surprised.

"Well young man, you can either continue on your path of herbal enlightenment..." Reece and Peter sniggered and Rajiv looked bashful. "...and get eaten at some point by either a demon or a giant psychedelic caterpillar or you can go to New Delhi to work with your uncle."

"India?" Rajiv checked. He looked about halfway between excited and scared.

Buffy could relate; she'd feel the same. "There's a Council in India?" she asked, breaking her silence for the first time.

Giles went to speak, but Rajiv got there first. "There's Council all over the world. India has the fourth largest, or did, s'probably the third largest now Britain's has been decimated." He looked at Giles again. "Uncle Abhay is in charge over there now?"

"Yes. Sadly, Colin Winchester was in England when the bomb went off. Abhay was his second in command, well to be fair he practically ran the place anyway what with Winchester's ill health in recent years, and it makes much more sense to have an Indian running the branch than to ship over someone who doesn't have the first clue about the country. That is why I would like you there. I appreciate you left New Delhi when you were only nine, but I imagine you still have some resonance with the country and your uncle is a fine operative but he can't be expected to handle all of this new responsibility himself. Of course, if you'd rather..."

"No, no!" Rajiv almost stood up in his insistence. "I'll go. I mean if that's where I can be most useful I'd love to go."

"Right, that's settled then. You fly out two weeks from Thursday." Giles handed him his envelope. "I don't think I need to tell you how seriously they take narcotics abuse in that part of the world, but I will warn you that I have asked persons who are not your uncle to report to me on your general activities while you are there; so be forewarned, any of that nonsense and you'll find yourself in charge of mopping out Indian loos long before you're in charge of a Slayer. Do you understand?"

"Yes sir, I'll have my last spliff on the way to the airport," Rajiv said, his tone serious but with a hint of laughter in his eyes.

Giles rolled his eyes, but he was smiling just slightly as the rest of the cadet's chuckled. Buffy smirked at his audacity.

"Right then, I think that about raps it up," Giles began. "Unless Buffy has anything to add?"

"What?" Buffy sat up straighter on the trampoline; she hadn't expected to be called upon. "Oh, no, I think you said it all just right, Giles. Except, you know, good luck everyone, and don't let Giles down or else I'll come after you." She looked at Peter, adding, "Especially you."

He smirked at her, not in the least bothered.

"What about Craig?" Naomi asked as they all began to stand up and lean the mats back against the wall.

Buffy blinked at his name. She still hadn't finished processing the information that Craig was Giles' Godson - something she'd only found out an hour ago, and she also hadn't yet figured out how he fitted in to the whole Watcher cadet thing, or why he'd come over here if he wasn't one and had kept himself hidden from Giles.

"Ah, yes, well I expect I'll be able to get him on a flight tomorrow with the others," Giles hadn't really had time to process it all either. "We'll see. He's helping Andrew cook tea at the minute which I imagine will be ready soon. So unless there are any other questions I suggest we all go and make ourselves presentable."

The cadets all left the training barn noisily talking about their assignments. Buffy watched them go before standing up on the trampoline and bouncing.

Giles stayed, coming over to rest his elbows on the blue trim of the trampoline. "Relax your shoulders more," he instructed absently. "You don't need to bounce all hunched up like that; you'll hurt your back."

"I fight vampires and demons on a nightly basis, or I did once upon a time, and you're worried I'm going to put my back out on a trampoline?" Buffy asked, amused.

Giles waved his hand tiredly at her. Buffy followed his advice and wasn't surprised that he was right. Relaxed shoulders did make for a pleasanter jumping experience!

"So do you think Peter will do Slayers everywhere a favor and take your advice?" she asked.

"I've no idea, but I certainly hope not," Giles admitted.

Buffy slowed her bouncing down until her feet were barely leaving the mat. "And my color of choice today? Yep you guessed it: Confused. Care to un-confuse me?"

Giles smiled fondly at her. "I agree he's hardly first choice material, none of them are as yet, but we have to face the facts. The world changed in May; there are now hundreds, maybe even thousands of young inexperienced Slayers and only a handful of trained and active Watchers. Many of the experienced Watchers left alive are beyond retirement age. Most have agreed to come back in an advisory capacity, but they're far too old to be expected to take on the Watching of a Slayer. The basic training alone would see most of them in need of an oxygen tank."

"Well what about all the foreign watchers like Raj's uncle?" Buffy asked.

"Abhay Kupoor, yes, he's a fine man and has worked with several Potentials in his time, but a Slayer is far different. For one, Potentials aren't expected to actually slay any vampires and it becomes a much more demanding job once your girl is, as you said, fighting vampires and demons every night. Kupoor may be very good with Potentials, but he's never in the past had a Slayer in his charge, and now he has six," Giles scratched the back of his head, vexed. "And one of them doesn't speak a word of any language he's ever heard of and he's fluent in three."

"So we need more Watchers, like, stat!" Buffy declared, jumping a little more vigorously again. "It's a pity you Watchers aren't called in the same way as us Slayers. You know, like one day you're just an average nerd and then BAM you wake up one morning and you can speak four languages and know everything there is to know about trampolining techniques," she grinned.

"Watchers called to the fight?" Giles mused to himself.

Buffy stopped actively bouncing, "Giles, you okay? I just insulted you three times in a single sentence and you didn't cluck your tongue or roll you eyes or anything."

"Oh, no no, I'm fine. It's just..." he gave her a pained smile which totally confused her. "You've given me something to think on."

"Oh, good then?" Buffy frowned.

"Yes, yes it may prove to be," Giles' weird expression cleared up and he smiled more readily at her. "Anyway I believe Craig persuaded Andrew to try his hand at Roast Pork this evening; I need to go and make sure they've remembered the apple sauce. I love a nice tart apple sauce," he grinned.

He started towards the training barn door, stopping again when he realized she was still on the trampoline, "Are you not coming?"

"I'm not really hungry; the Bottom Pie tends to lay heavy on the stomach." Giles looked perplexed, but before he could speak Buffy carried on, "I want to bounce for a bit; work some stuff out of my system - you know, the healthy way."

Giles stopped by the door. "Stuff about..."

Buffy cut him off before he could finish, "Just stuff about bouncing."

"Okay," he didn't believe her, but that wasn't surprising considering it made no sense. He looked at his watch. "You know it's not too late..."

Buffy cut him off again as she jumped harder and higher, "So not with the caring. See? I'm all bouncy and carefree."

"Okay, well don't bounce yourself into the roof; there are probably still spiders up there." He gave her an unsure smile and left.

Buffy jumped a couple more times before doing a somersault and landing on her back.

As the springs continued to bounce her up and down, she looked at her own watch.

"Faith, where the fuck are you?" she muttered into the empty room as her emotions played a tug of war.

A loud cawing and crashing sound awoke Faith with a start and she nearly fell off of the branch she was balancing on.

Wiping a hand across her mouth, she looked around for the source of interruption. It was a crow, perching on the rocks ringing the pool and staring at her with beady little eyes.

She watched it sleepily. When it was sure it had her attention it leaned down and pecked at the bar of soap she'd left there. It was only really a small white sliver of soap now. After washing herself and taking a few minutes to 'relax', she'd set about scrubbing and re-scrubbing her clothes.

The water in the pool had quickly lowered her body temperature though and so after rinsing them under the waterfall she'd had to get out.

"Go for it; eat it all up if ya want. I'm done with it," Faith offered the bird. Her neck was stiff from falling asleep wedged six-foot off the ground in the Black Oak. It had been comfortable when she'd fallen asleep, not that she'd meant to fall asleep.

Rolling her shoulders a few times to try and get some life back into them, she jumped from her branch to the ground. The crow took off, taking the soap with it. That bird would be singing bubbles for the next week.

Her clothes were hanging where she'd left them, on several saplings that made a great clothes line between them. They were stiff as boards but dry and clean as she lost the now less-than-fluffy towel and slipped into them.

"Okay, this is uncomfortable," she muttered, walking around the clearing a few times to loose them up. She did a few squats, a few jumping jacks and even a cartwheel to work the stiffness out of her jeans and her muscles.

Her hair was another matter. She had no mirror to see how bad it was and no brush to correct any damage that needed correcting anyway. From what she could feel it was probably frizzy as hell and rock hard too. She should have asked the shop keeper for some conditioner. She wet her hands in the pool and dragged them over her hair a few times to try and make it more presentable.

Happy she was looking and smelling as good as she was going to get without the aid of a proper bathroom, Faith slipped her feet into her boots. She'd given them a bit of a scrub too before she'd taken her nap and they were looking as good as new apart from the scuff marks on the toes. She laced them quickly and retrieved her jacket from the towel log. Checking inside the pockets she found everything there that should be, so she hadn't had any secret visitors while she was dozing like a panther in the tree.

She slipped the denim on. She hadn't washed it, but it wasn't that dirty anyway and didn't smell bad. Besides, she could lose it the second she found the house; stick it in the laundry pile and hope someone would wash it before they realized it was hers.

She rolled the towel so it was small enough to carry easily and gave the pool a last good look.

Heading in the direction she'd been traveling before, the ground began sloping upwards a little more sharply making her work a little bit harder as she followed the winding paths through the trees.

Once the land started flattening out once more, the trees were thinning enough that she could make out fields beyond. Great, more fields. At least in the woods things were a little interesting, there were... trees and stuff to look at.

She'd barely left the cover of the woods behind when she looked up from watching her newly shiny boots covering the ground and saw the house in front of her.

"Well damn," she muttered as she took in the two-story timber and brick structure a hundred yards away.

This was it. She didn't need a big sign saying Sunset Camp to tell her she'd stumbled on the right place; something deep inside was telling her it was. Almost as if she could feel Buffy inside. Maybe she could, but it had been so long since they had been close she'd forgotten what that felt like.

"Damn," she muttered again.

She'd smoked the last of her cigarettes two days ago and was really regretting wasting it. She could have used one now; she could have used ten now.

What did she do? Go knock on the door?

It wasn't just Buffy that might be mad at her.

Giles had probably been so mad last week he'd snapped the Union Jack flag pole stuck in his ass. He was definitely gonna be regretting ever putting any faith in her; let alone going out on a limb and offering her a place to stay.

Xander and Willow were hardly her biggest fans, with damn good reason, and her shooting through on their dearest darling Buffy had more than likely killed any good will that'd developed during her last stay in Sunnydale. Saving the world only earned you so many popularity points, after all, and they were a lot easier to lose than to gain.

Dawn's grudging acceptance of her a few months ago had only come about because she'd taken the younger girl to the Bronze when big Sis was being a stuck-up, mission-orientated, no-fun, tight-ass. She probably hated Faith now too for effectively ditching her sister twice in six months. Dawn was too young to understand why Faith had had to go back to prison. In fact maybe they all were.

None of them knew what it was like to be her; to have a rage at the world so tightly coiled deep in her gut that sometimes physical violence was the only release that could calm it.

Sure they had their fair share of problems, who didn't, but they'd either learned healthier ways to deal with the rage or they just didn't have the capacity for that kind of feeling in the first place.

She couldn't go in there and handle all of those pissed off; we-knew-you-weren't-worth-it faces all at once. One at a time, with maybe an hour and a couple of deep breaths in-between each and she could do it, maybe, but not now like this.

It was too much like getting up in court all over again, surrounded by all of those judging and condemning expressions, and this time it would be worse because she actually gave a shit what these people thought of her.

The trees exploded behind her, sending out a spray of early fall leaves followed by a boy. A naked boy.

"What the...?" Faith had to jump out of the way to avoid being run down.

She stared at the kid in surprise as he stood there panting, frantically turning his head from one side to the other.

"You oka..." she started to ask, although it was probably a stupid question seeing as he'd just run out of the woods naked.

"What time is it?" he cut her off urgently.

"I don't know, sometime in the afternoon," she guessed, noticing dried blood in his hair. "Hey maybe you should sit down for a..."

"My mom is gonna kill me!" he stressed and took off back into the woods.

Faith stared after him with a bemused frown, but it wasn't long before she turned a more worried frown back to the imposing house.

"Cu-cu-cu-clurrrk!" The chicken thrust her neck forward a little as she gave birth into the straw birthing pool. With a slight ruffle of her feathers she hopped back down to the fuzzy pink ground, joining her sisters.

"Cluck," said one.

"Clu-uck," she said back.

It had been a strange time for the young hen. Leaving behind the hatchery in the enormous moving hen house that smelled of pig-creatures to be dumped free on the hard yet tickly green ground surrounded by noisy chick-takers. She had tried to lead her sisters in a great escape at that point, but as usual they had taken the ordeal in their short jerky little strides and the next thing she knew... A moment of perfect rainbow-colored bliss, and she was sure it was as had been predicted and she had flown from earth to the fabled barnyard of paradise.

Somehow something had gone wrong on her way to the fabled barnyard of paradise and when the rainbow bliss had disappeared she'd had found herself in the biggest hen house she had ever seen with a loud and expressive chick-taker wielding a... broom!

Not that her new life was so bad, the hen mused. The chick-taker may be keeping them prisoner but he was generous with the grain and he'd spread straw around his hen house for their comfort. And she quite liked the fuzzy pink ground; she gave it a scratch now to prove it.

There was noise and the chick-taker appeared in the hen house. Her sisters clucked in alarm, scattering away from him, but she stood her ground, eyeballing him.

"Clu-ucka," she threatened his funny-shaped feet.

"Well now miss, I think I've kept you and your friends for long enough, don't you?" Big booming melodic nonsense came from the chick-taker.

"Cluc-erk!" She drew her head back to look upwards, waiting for grain.

"I've surely enough eggs for many a handsome breakfast." The chick-taker threw a handful of grain to the fuzzy pink ground. "But it's time to send you home," he sighed.

She and her sisters ignored his strange sounds, too busy running forward to argue and bicker over the fresh food. Out of one beady black eye she watched with disinterest as the chick-taker made a white line around them all. Her curiosity grew when she saw him with a handful of sparkly grain and she stretched her neck to full reach as he threw it over them.

Before she could get a beakful of the sparkly grain the rainbow-colored bliss came back.

At last, now she was on her way to the fabled Barnyard of Paradise and nothing was going to stop her!

Willow came back through the swinging kitchen door with three fresh beers. "Andrew's really outdone himself tonight. I think if those kids miss anything about staying here, it will be his cooking. He's put us a plate aside for later..."

"I'm not hungry," Kennedy mumbled from the couch.

Willow's shoulders slumped as she realized Kennedy and Oz were still in the same awkward position she'd left them in a few minutes ago.

Kennedy was sprawled on the couch, her eyes on the television as she used the remote to flick through the channels relentlessly. The volume was very low but she wasn't making any other discernible effort to make Oz feel comfortable.

Willow wondered if they'd even exchanged syllables since she'd been gone.

Oz was sat in Giles' armchair and she couldn't tell if he was relaxed or not; it was always so hard to tell with him. He smiled at her as she handed over a bottle, gesturing for her to sit in the armchair opposite him so they could continue to talk.

It was only after she'd pushed Kennedy's legs to the back of the couch and sat on the edge next to them instead that she thought it might make her ex uncomfortable. Damn. Well she was sat here now; moving would look obvious. She handed Kennedy her beer and smiled brightly at Oz to hide her nervousness.

"I've been looking for you, you know, ever since last month," she told him.

"You recognized me then? I wasn't sure if you would." Oz smiled.

He looked a lot better and certainly more like his old self now that he was dressed in some of Xander's clothes. Girl!Oz was definitely something that should remain in fantasy land because when it was real, it was just plain weird.

"Well I wasn't one hundred percent sure, but I thought that maybe it was you," she explained. "But then I couldn't find you so I thought maybe I was wrong."

"Well, it was kinda weird seeing you again, you know, here. I wasn't expecting it. I know we said that thing about Istanbul, but this is a long way from Istanbul. It took me some time to process and I had some stuff I had to do, with the werewolves; well, the surviving one anyway."

"What thing about Istanbul?" Kennedy asked, her eyes still on the television.

"Oh, it's just a - just a thing," Willow promised, realizing it didn't explain a darn thing but hoping that Kennedy would get the message to ask later.

"Just a thing, got it." Either Kennedy did get the message or the shoulder of coldness was already warming up - or should that be cooling down?

"I tried to call." Oz didn't seem to sense anything unfriendly from Kennedy at least. "Friday actually, but everyone was out."

"That was you?" Willow remembered Alison's puzzling message. "But you asked to speak to Xander; why not me?"

"I wasn't sure what your situation was here." Oz looked down at his palms for a beat before his gaze flittered to Kennedy. "If you were still with Tara I didn't want to rock the boat or, you know, turn into a crazed hairball." He gave her a half smile.

"Tara died," Willow said tightly. "It was... It was a while ago now."

Surprisingly Kennedy didn't say anything.

"I'm sorry," Oz said softly, inclining his head a little as he gazed at her with open compassion.

She knew it wasn't supposed to, but it just made Willow feel guilty. She looked away, sipping from her beer.

"If you didn't want to rock the boat by asking for Willow over the phone..." Kennedy suddenly asked, her head turned just enough to look his way, "...what made you think turning up on her doorstep was such a great idea?"

"Kennedy," Willow murmured. She didn't want a scene tonight. Her head was still hurting a little and she could barely keep her eyes in focus.

"I thought I was in here so I could be included," Kennedy said, eyes glued to the NASDAQ index on the television screen. "But I can't ask a perfectly reasonable question?"

"Maybe we should stay away from questions that might come across as a little bit incendiary," Willow pleaded softly. "You know, just for tonight."

"I hadn't planned on dropping by so unexpected," Oz looked at Kennedy. "But then someone shot me with a tranquillizer dart and changed my plans."

Kennedy smiled, tongue in cheek literally and metaphorically, "Really, and here I thought I shot an ugly-ass werewolf that was trying to kill our house?"

"You shot Oz?" Willow looked from Kennedy to Oz, appalled.

"No," Kennedy started calmly, "Like I said, I shot..."

"The wolf part of him, I get it," Willow cut her off. "I just so didn't want you to meet like this. I was hoping, maybe, that the three us could, sometime, get some lunch, you know in a civilized kinda way with politeness and stuff..."

"I'm being polite," Oz pointed out.

"Are you saying I'm not?" Kennedy asked.

"Ye Gods," Willow said to the ceiling. Praying to Gaia for strength she asked Oz, "But why were you out there all wolfy in the first place? Did the charms and stuff stop working and isn't it like dangerous, not just in case you get shot, but for other people too?"

Oz smiled gently, "Things are different now; I'm different now. The charms and the meditations I use are different and I've been training with some pretty powerful people over the last few years. After what happened the last time I was in Sunnydale I knew there was so much more I needed to know. I mean, my jealousy caused me to change in broad daylight." Willow saw him glance side-long at Kennedy. "That had never happened before. So I spent a lot of time working with some pretty serious people and now I can change mostly at will. It's not easy I'll grant you, but it's possible; and when I change I can keep a clear head in a way."

"So you still think like you, only wolf-shaped?" Willow asked hopefully.

"No, more like I think like a domesticated werewolf," Oz's lips twitched in a smile. "Still in the proto-stages though, I won't be asked to join the AKC anytime soon, but if you want a flock of sheep looking after..."

"This is all so much to take in," Willow said honestly. "And brain is all cottony."

"It's all pretty far-fetched too," Kennedy rolled over on the couch so she could stare at Oz. "Considering you attacked a bunch of helpless watchers, twice, and chased Pete out of the woods."

"I wasn't the one doing the attacking," Oz replied emphatically, well for him.

"So it was another werewolf?" Kennedy asked, rolling her eyes sarcastically.

"The boy, the one that was bitten last month, I think." Oz addressed Willow. "He'd been terrorizing the woods all night and must have gotten carried away. I just about had him calmed down when I was doped."

"Kennedy!" Willow turned to her in dismay. "You shot the wrong wolf!"

"How was I supposed to know?" Kennedy shot back, sitting up. "I saw a werewolf, I fired at it. I didn't know I was supposed to check the photograph album first to make sure I wasn't aiming at your honey!"

"This isn't Willow's fault," Oz said, quiet but adamant. "So I don't know why you're shouting at her."

"And I don't need your comprehension to be entitled to have an argument with my girlfriend!" Kennedy told him heatedly.

The silence returned as they glared at each other.

'Oh boy,' Willow thought, rolling her eyes to the ceiling again. "Anyone want another beer?" she asked as chirpily as she could manage with the fatigue that was trying to smother her to sleep.

She stood up even though no one answered, started for the kitchen door and was mentally blindsided by a wave of magick.

'Huh? I must be even more tired than I thought,' she decided and then promptly fell over a chicken.

Staying on the floor Willow looked around, "The chickens came back!"

She counted six Buckeye Red's now pecking at the carpet around the coffee table. "They did right? I'm not hallucinating chickens or something?"

"No, there are definitely six chickens in your living room," Oz assured her.

"How'd you get them back?" Kennedy asked, shooing a hen away from the cables at the back of the television.

"No idea," Willow admitted, still looking around in a daze.

The brightest of the Buckeye Hens straightened her feathers ruffled by the flight through the rainbow-colored bliss; her head bobbing and jerking about in excited anticipation as she looked about for the fabled golden grain and perch of feather-soft straw... What she saw did not make her day.

This wasn't the clucking Barnyard of Paradise!

Buffy let herself in the front door to avoid the kitchen, she just couldn't face all the people in there right now. Or even one person for that matter. The crying she'd indulged in since Giles had left her alone in the training barn had left her eyes red and puffy which only added to the bags she already had from thirty-six hours with no sleep and the lines beginning to form from the week's worth of stress and worry.

Eight years battling evil, but leave it to Faith to ruin her looks.

She was pulling her key out of the lock when she heard the voices coming from the living room. Peeking around the corner she saw Willow in there on the floor with Kennedy and Oz. Well, they weren't all on the floor because that would have been weird and threesomes were better kept for the bedroom… Except, oh yeah, Willow and Kennedy's bedroom was a charred mess thanks to her.

Buffy wondered if she could blame that on Faith too. Technically maybe, in a temporary insanity due to stress way, but not with enough conviction to make herself feel less guilty.

Anyway, her best friend wasn't having a three-way with her girlfriend and her ex on the living room floor, she was exclaiming about the chickens, which Buffy could see had returned. Maybe they'd been trapped between the planes in limbo too or perhaps the magick Willow had dipped into earlier had lead her to a way to find the chickens in the same way she had once found out how to de-rat Amy.

Buffy hovered at the bottom of the stairs unnoticed. If that were so, did Willow now have the ability to bring back Faith in the same way? Could she whisper a few ancient words and the dark Slayer would materialize in the middle of the room scratching the ground like a chicken; or just standing there pleased to see Buffy would be good too.

She couldn't ask, Buffy knew, as she started quietly up the front stairs away from the thick tension pouring from the living room. If Faith was brought here by magick against her will she would never forgive the people responsible and Buffy wouldn't blame her. Not only that, Faith would leave again immediately making the entire episode pointless.

If Faith had places she'd rather be and people she'd rather be with then, well, screw her.

Buffy didn't mean that, but what else was she supposed to say? She'd spent a week searching every avenue she could think of for the other Slayer. Had driven Giles and Angel up the wall with questions and recriminations, blaming them in some way for Faith's disappearance. She'd pissed Angel off so much that he was refusing to even answer his phone now. She'd been trying his cell on and off all afternoon with no luck.

Faith had disappeared off the face of the planet and Buffy was just going to have to accept it.

Going into her bedroom, she flicked on her bedside light even though it was still early in the evening; heavy clouds were rolling in making twilight come earlier. Buffy didn't mind, it would just make it easier to go to sleep and that's all she wanted to do now.

Her room smelled of smoke and wet ash, making her nose wrinkle and her still-wet eyes sting. As she pulled her curtains closed against the gathering dark, she pushed her window open just a few inches wider to help clear the air. The room would get cold quickly, especially if it rained, but the idea of snuggling deep beneath her bedcovers was appealing.

These days she had a strong yearning to burrow somewhere deep and safe and hibernate from the rest of the world like a hamster. Did hamsters hibernate?

Washing her face in the bathroom she kept the water cold to soothe her burning eyes and she stared into them as she brushed her teeth; giving herself a mental talking to, trying to make herself accept things were the way they were. It was over, once and for all and accepting that was the only thing that would make being without her bearable.

Faith's parole officer would be there in the morning and probably about two minutes after that the authorities would be looking for her to drag her butt back to prison. Buffy wasn't sure what the 'authorities' exactly entailed, obviously the police and state-troopers, maybe the FBI; hell, for all she knew the darn Mounties would be given WANTED posters of the other Slayer to hang around Canada.

Alex would almost certainly have one, she realized. The deputy sheriff would be one of the first people the 'authorities' would contact considering Faith was supposed to be in his town in the first place. Buffy wondered if Alex would give her a copy of the poster if she asked him nicely enough.

Probably not a good idea. She wouldn't know whether to kiss it or use it as a dartboard.

Back in her room, she clicked the door shut and undressed quickly. The room was already a lot cooler than it had been minutes before. She grabbed her flannel nightie from beneath her pillow, planning on pulling it on quickly to warm up, but she hesitated.

Going to her chest of drawers, she opened the middle one and looked inside. Nestled on top of her sunbathing snowmen pajamas was the white negligee she'd brought in Cleveland two weeks ago. It was made of lace so fine and gauzy it was almost transparent.

Buffy had struggled for ages in the store trying to decide between black and red while ignoring the sales women who kept looking at her with creepy little knowing smiles. Somehow, when she'd been shown the white one, the one now in her drawer, she'd just known it was the color Faith would get the biggest kick out of.

When the clerk had assured her "He'll love it, dear!" Buffy's smirk at just how much they didn't have a clue was hidden behind a smile of genuine hope and nervous anticipation.

Looking at how pretty it was it seemed a shame to let $60 of sexy nightwear rot away in a drawer and if she didn't wear it for herself, she'd probably never get a chance to wear it at all.

She let her finger tips play with the delicate straps for a second before shutting the drawer again. She'd wear it, just on a warmer night that was all, preferably a night when she wasn't planning on crying herself to sleep.

So definitely not tonight then.

She pulled her trusty teddybear nightshirt over her head and looked into the mirror to brush her dark blonde hair through a couple of dozen times. No point going for the even hundred, after all when she became crazy cat lady - or whatever it was Kennedy had predicted - appearances were hardly going to be important… or were they?

"Maybe I should work on getting it to stick out at all angles or dye it grey instead of blonde next time to fit into the spinster image," she mused, running a hand through it. She caught some between her fingers and forgot about growing old alone long enough to inspect the ends.

She didn't think she'd suit grey hair though; maybe pure white would look better. More sophisticated. Oh who was she kidding? "I want Naomi's hair," she admitted to her reflection.

"Which one's Naomi?"

Buffy, startled, looked over her reflection's left shoulder at the window. The curtains were billowing drastically, which seemed fitting.

Recovering her poise quickly, Buffy ran the brush through her hair once more before placing it softly, deliberately, on her dressing table.

"The one with the gorgeous hair."

"Oh." There was a deep chuckle as rich as red wine and dark chocolate. Twin thuds of boots hitting her bedroom floor. "I like yours better."

Buffy licked her lips and nodded her head, but she still didn't turn to her visitor. "You're cutting it fine."

She listened to the soft footfalls coming her way. Could she hear this well a minute ago? Were her other senses dulled to accommodate? Like for instance, if she turned around would she not be able to see anything?

Well she still had smell that was for sure. Buffy sucked in a silent breath as she was wrapped in that seductive scent for the first time in way too long. Ooh look, she had touch too, that was always a good one. She battled hard to keep the purr locked in her throat as long fingers ran through her hair, moving it to the side so soft lips could graze her neck. Oh yeah, touch was good.

"The finer the cut, B, the better it feels."

She was spun around then, and didn't bother to fight it. Her butt pressed into the edge of her dressing table as she was enveloped within cotton and denim and Faith. The last was the best of all.

Buffy's arms went around the brunette, her hands rubbing up and down her back, over muscles lean beneath her jacket. She just needed to feel, to know this was real and not just another dream that was great until she woke up.

When Faith kissed her, wet and hungry, and as desperately as Buffy felt herself, she knew it was real... finally.

Tears fell down Buffy's cheeks but she barely noticed them and didn't acknowledge them as she pulled Faith close, wrapping her arms tighter around her; scared that if she let go for a second whatever magic had brought her here would evaporate and take Faith with it.

"Missed you, B," Faith whispered against her lips, between one breathless kiss and another.

Buffy's hands found Faith's cheeks, pulling her into another deep kiss as Faith pushed her back onto the dressing table. Bottles of lotions and body sprays clattered to the peach-colored glass as it rocked slightly into the wall behind.

"How much did you miss me?" Buffy asked breathlessly when their lips parted for the briefest of moments. She pushed Faith's tatty denim jacket from her shoulders; she'd lost weight since the last time they'd been this close. She was harder, firmer; Buffy pushed herself closer wrapping her legs around Faith's waist.

"You want me to get poetic?" Faith asked as she moved her mouth to kiss the exposed V at the base of Buffy's throat, her fingers lightly pulling the nightshirt wider.

"No." Buffy pulled Faith's head up so she could look her dead in the eye; brushing wild, dark hair from Faith's face. "Show me."

"Alright." Faith touched her fingers to Buffy's chin, tilting her head up and she could see it right there in her dark eyes.

It wasn't enough. Maybe nothing would ever be truly enough. "I need more," she pleaded softly.

"I haven't even started yet, babe," Faith promised, just as softly. "And I sure as hell ain't planning on stopping any time soon."

"You better mean that!" Buffy kissed her with her eyes open, not wanting to lose sight of Faith for a second as warm hands began to slide up between her thighs beneath her nightie. Faith's eyes drank her in the same way until they lost themselves in one another.

Gripping Faith's shirt tight, Buffy moaned into the intense kiss as gradually her dressing table began rocking softly into the wall.

Continue to Episode Seven

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