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House of The Setting Sun: Love is a 4-Letter Word
Episode Seven 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 Seven in the House of the Setting Sun series. Faith's finally arrived home, so now the fun begins, right? Craig finally fulfilling his duty is probably going to help with that, but he's not so pleased when it backfires on him.


Episode Seven

Act Two

The kitchen was silent apart from the ticking of the wall clock and a barely there buzzing coming from the fridge; until that is, Buffy cleared her throat nervously.

"Mrs. Devenrowe the parole officer?" she asked, rooted to the spot while she stared at the woman in horror.


"Sorry," Buffy gave an apologetic edgy smile, before turning to the rest of the room. "Everyone this is..." she trailed off.

No one else was left in the kitchen except for Faith and the buzz of the fridge now sounded like the chirping of crickets.

Wow, she hadn't even heard them go! That was some good escaping from a tricky situation. Why hadn't she thought to do that?

She turned back to the parole officer with another awkward smile. "I'm Buffy Summers."

"Ah, yes, we spoke on the phone on Thursday." They'd spoken on the phone Friday as well, but Buffy had given a different name. Oh, she was in so much trouble now. The woman continued, reaching out to shake Buffy's hand, "You're the girlfriend, is that correct?"

"What?" Buffy choked. "No, just housemates." She shook her head as she cast a sidelong glance at Faith.

"Yeah, just housemates," Faith echoed, her eyes on Ms. Devenrowe as she pulled the blanket tighter around her. "So if I'm in any kind of trouble here, she's nothing to do with it, okay?"

"Yeah so please don't send me to prison for, uh, imposterizing," Buffy remembered trying to fake Faith's voice on the Friday.

Faith looked at her now, scornfully, not impressed with Buffy's attempt to wheedle out of trouble when Faith was about to be up to her neck in it.

"What? I'm blonde and little and way too cute to wear orange dungarees day in and day out," Buffy defended herself. "They may have looked good on you, but really, I prefer not to wear your hand-me-downs," she offered a one-shoulder shrug.

Faith was staring at her out-right, the third person in the room forgotten for a second until she turned back to her and said, "Are you getting a good listen to this? She's my extenuating circumstance, the reason why I may have been a little late in arriving. I mean, would you hurry back?"

"Oh that's nice!" Buffy glared at her. "I worked my ass off last week to make things welcoming for you and you just stand there and say the reason you didn't come home is what... I'm annoying?"

"I wasn't implying you were annoying," Faith explained. Buffy started to relax. "I was implying you're a bitch."

"What?" she exploded, taking a threatening step closer to the brunette.

"Well, you have been ever since you woke up this morning anyway," Faith continued. "What's the sitch, B? Your fabulous open-arm welcome run out after forty-eight hours or something?"

"Would you have been back within two days if you thought it did?" Buffy shot back.

"Probably not," Faith shrugged. "Probably wouldn't have come back at all if I'd known you were just going to act like this."

"Act like what? Act like I care that you don't care enough to come home? Act like I'm upset and angry that you didn't want to come home? That's not an act, Faith, it's called having emotions; or have you been secluded from normal, decent human beings for so long that you've forgotten what we act like?"

"I'd obviously forgotten how you act most of the time or else I wouldn't be here."

"Then GO!" Buffy pointed to the kitchen door, her arm out straight and defiant in contrast to her slightly trembling bottom lip. "If you don't wanna be here, don't stay, simple as that."

Faith stared back at her, her mouth doing some kind of fish-gape as she couldn't seem to decided what to say.

"Ahem." The polite cough jerked Buffy's eyes from Faith to the stranger still hovering just inside the kitchen door. "Okay so I think we've established so far that you two are certainly nothing more than housemates..." she rolled her eyes "...and I hope this little session of Housemate Therapy has done you both the power of good, but I really must insist we move on to the next part of this meeting."

Buffy had practically forgotten that the parole officer was in the room; she'd been too focused on Faith. Now she shared a look with the other slayer, concern for what might come next overshadowing everything else for the moment.

Ms. Devenrowe had set her briefcase on the kitchen table to leaf through it in ease. "Ah yes," she said after pulling out a thick off-white file folder. "The next thing would be... you can't just go and it's not that simple."

Faith rolled her eyes, "That part doesn't actually surprise me."

"That doesn't include me too though, does it?" Buffy checked hopefully. "I mean, I can go, right? You're not going to cart me off to the big house too for impersonating a... a... whatever Faith is right now, are you?"

"I thought you wanted us to be together, B," Faith sneered. "Guess you didn't really mean that either."

"I meant it, F! Before you turned into a complete jackass that is, but I don't see why I should go to jail just for trying to save your hide when you're being a complete... jackass!"

"Ladies, please?" Ms. Devenrowe stepped into the three foot gap between the two slayers; a brave or stupid woman. "Can we leave the squabbling until a time I'm not here? Faith isn't the only person I have an appointment with today and it's going to take me hours to get back to anything deserving of the title: Civilization."

"Sorry," Buffy murmured, thinking she was just making this worse for herself.

Only this woman knew that she had perjured herself last week; which meant she had two options to redeem herself: Be as nice as pie to the woman and hope that she realized it was simply an indiscretion and not a deep character flaw or... kill her and bury her remains under Willow's magickcal herb garden.

"Sorry," Faith repeated the word a little stronger than Buffy and poked her hand through her blanket, offering it to shake. "It's been a crazy kind of morning. How do you want to do this? Do I get a chance to state my case or do you wanna cuff me right now?"

"Well as I haven't the authority to 'cuff you' myself, or for that matter the handcuffs, let's start with a little conversation." Ms. Devenrowe smiled and tapped the giant folder still in her hands. "There's a lot of colorful stuff in here that we have to get through."

"Colorful, that's Faith alright," Buffy smiled brightly at the parole officer. "So would you like to sit down, everyone seems to have made themselves scarce and I don't think they're going to be reappearing in a hurry, so we'll have plenty of privacy." She gestured at the kitchen table, realized it was still covered in breakfast plates and mugs and started quickly clearing it. "And I can make us some tea and someone's left some toast if you're hungry."

"Ms. Summers..."

"Miss," Buffy corrected before she remembered she was supposed to be being extra nice. "But Ms. is fine."

"Miss Summers," the woman began again either trying to hide amusement or irritation, Buffy wasn't sure which. "I appreciate your effort to finally get down to business, but I would much prefer to speak with Faith alone, at least at first."

"Oh," Buffy dropped the plate of cold toast back onto the table with a clatter.

Faith grinned at her until she realized that meant she had to face the woman on her own. "Are you sure? I've got nothing to say that can't be said in front of B."

"I'm sure."

"Okay, well why don't you two go to Giles' office," Buffy suggested. "It's got a door so no one will disturb you."

"That sounds fine," Ms. Devenrowe picked her briefcase back up and waited for Faith to lead the way.

"And that would be... where exactly?" Faith looked helplessly at Buffy.

"Oh, yeah, just through here." Buffy lead the way into the living room and pointed to a door in the west wall. "In there."

"Thank you," Ms. Devenrowe started for the door.

Faith hesitated, "Do you mind if I take a minute to put some clothes on?"

"Of course not," Ms. Devenrowe smiled again. "In fact the less distractions the better. I'll wait for you in here."

Buffy waited for her to disappear into the small office before she turned a raised eyebrow Faith's way. "Less distractions? Does that mean what I think it means?"

"That she thinks I'm hot - hot and naked?" Faith asked. "Probably. Hey, maybe I should stick with the blanket and she'll go easier on me."

Buffy frowned, "Upstairs now! Let's find you some clothes."

She ushered the other slayer up the front stairs wishing she owned some ugly outfits or at least something that would make Faith look fat.

Willow hadn't run far when the parole officer had come-a-knocking. Just as far as her magick room, where she had hovered pretending to tidy stuff while she listened to the Slayers bickering on the other side of the door.

She was feeling guilty for unwittingly dropping Faith in it. Yes she had wanted to put Faith on the spot because hopefully that would have lead to answers, but she hadn't meant to do it front of the one person who could make Faith go directly to jail without passing Go.

She'd half hoped Kennedy would come hide in here with her so that they could talk some more, but she'd bolted in the other direction. Not that she really knew what to say. She'd told Kennedy earlier that Oz being around didn't change how she felt about her, but either Kennedy didn't believe her or her issues went deeper than she was letting on.

It wasn't fair that she was being made to feel guilty about this! She hadn't asked Oz to turn up yesterday and she'd told Kennedy that she was looking for him, well eventually she had. See, she'd been nothing but upfront, and Kennedy was just being a... a brat about the whole thing.

Maybe she should just leave it. Perhaps if she did, then Kennedy would just get over it without this having to turn into a huge deal.

Cringing in the little room, she heard the parole woman request some alone time with Faith and a few moments later heard the kitchen door swing open; she risked opening her own door an inch to peek out.

She just had time to see Buffy standing with Faith and the woman in the living room before the kitchen door swung shut again, but it was enough for her to know she was safe from squabbling slayers and sticky situations.

The kitchen needed clearing up still and Andrew was nowhere in sight so Willow set about the task. If she was going to be spending her day in domestico-land then she might as well start here before heading down to the basement for laundry duty.

She was running hot water into the sink for washing up when Kennedy re-appeared. She'd changed her clothes for some training gear: tiny black shorts and a grey t-shirt. She looked nice.

"Hey," Kennedy greeted her from the bottom of the stairs. "Is it safe to come out?"

Willow shut off the tap and turned around, smiling. "I think so. Faith and the parole officer have gone to Giles' office to talk."

"That was some bad timing, huh?" Kennedy came closer, picking the jar of jelly from the table and putting it on the counter before resting her hip against one of the high backed chairs.

"Yes and that's all it was," Willow said quickly. "Bad timing. It wasn't like I meant to drop Faith in it."

"I know and Faith will know that too. Don't beat yourself up about it, okay? Besides, Faith's the one who did the stupid thing, she must have realized this might happen."

"What, that I'd open my mouth and talk, and sell her up the river in the process?" Willow asked.

"No, that there might be consequences," Kennedy said softly, taking a step closer to Willow. "This isn't your fault."

"Yeah, but she came back. In time. And I had to go blow it for her." Willow felt awful and it showed in her voice.

It wasn't only about what she had done to Faith; it was about what she had done to Buffy too. She couldn't help thinking that Buffy would probably be better off without the other slayer as her partner, but she hadn't meant to take that away from her. She didn't want to take it away from her, and she certainly didn't have the right. She knew some people thought that maybe Kennedy wasn't her ideal partner either, not that they said it, but she knew. And right now she and Kennedy were getting along brilliantly, or they had been…

Willow half-sobbed in frustration.

"Come here," Kennedy instructed tenderly, opening her arms for a hug.

Willow went into them gratefully, resting her head on the smaller woman's shoulder. In truth though, the hug didn't really make her feel any better about what she'd accidentally done to Faith, but it did ease her troubled mind so far as Kennedy's weirdness was concerned. Obviously, she couldn't be that mad or she wouldn't be handing out the comfort-snuggles now.

"Better?" Kennedy asked after they'd just held each other for a minute in silence.

"Much." Willow hugged her a little tighter, savoring the closeness; relieved to be forgiven for something she hadn't done in the first place and so had no way to apologize for. "Except you smell like a chimney sweep, or how I imagine a chimney sweep would smell anyway." She pulled away with a smile.

Kennedy smiled back, "Yeah well my usual deodorant exploded in the fire so I had to go with something else," she chuckled a little as she stroked some red hair back behind Willow's ear.

"Didn't you want to wait until I'd washed them?" Willow stroked her fingers lightly across the shoulders of Kennedy's sooty-smelling t-shirt, pinching and pulling the material a little before letting go. "So they'd be less essence of barbecued bedroom and more essence of lavender and rice flower non-bio detergent."

"I don't have the time," Kennedy shrugged. "Giles wants me to start the Watcher's training as soon as he gets back from the airport."

"I could do them right now?" Willow grinned, having a thought. "We could go down to the basement together and throw them in the machine and they'll be done in an hour."

"And what, for the next hour I walk around in my underwear?" Kennedy smiled.

"Well no, I kinda thought you might want to wait down there with me. To keep me company." Willow jiggled her eyebrows.

They hadn't made love last night or this morning, and Kennedy was right - it wasn't the first time they'd gone to sleep after nothing more than a kiss goodnight, but this morning Willow was really feeling the lack of it.

Maybe it was because Kennedy didn't seem to want it - for the first time ever as far as Willow knew - that was making her crave a little of the slayer's skilled touch. She leaned in to kiss Kennedy gently on the lips and then leaned back again to gauge her girlfriend's reaction.

"So?" she prodded, doing her best bedroom eyes. "It could be like that Levi's commercial, you know, in the laundrette."

Kennedy shook her head, not understanding.

"The one where the hot guy strips off and everyone watches him," Willow explained, adding when she still got nothing more than a bemused smile, "It's a classic!"

"Since when are you interested in watching hot guys strip?" Kennedy teased. "If I'd known that, our last date would have been a lot cheaper. I could have just bought us some popcorn and made the Watcher kids strip off and swim in the lake for training," she grinned.

"Well, I think it's sweet that you would do that for me," Willow was grinning too. "But I meant I would be watching you... strip off, that is. If you want to?"

Kennedy thought about it and then made a dramatic affair of sniffing a shoulder of her t-shirt. "Well, this does smell pretty smoky. I should probably have it washed before I get smoke inhalation by osmosis."

"Your health should always come first," Willow approved, kissing her again, more confidently this time, but still she pulled away to make sure. "Was that a yes by the way? Because if it wasn't, this is going to seem a little inappropriate." She caught the bottom of Kennedy's tight grey t-shirt in her hands and started to tug it upwards.

"Willow!" Kennedy grabbed her hands, stopping her from pulling the t-shirt any further up. "What's gotten into you?" she asked with a chuckle.

"Nothing's gotten into me," Willow mumbled, releasing Kennedy's shirt. "That's the problem. Besides I thought you wanted to, you were sending out 'I want to' vibes."

Kennedy's arms slid tighter around Willow again as she easily pulled the red-head closer to her for a cuddle. "I do want to," she chuckled. "Hence the vibes. But I was agreeing to laundry-sex, not kitchen table-sex at this time of the morning with a parole officer just a few doors away. That's a little riskier than I like my risky sex."

"You're so boring," Willow teased, before motioning over Kennedy's shoulder to the basement door. "So do you want to go down?"

"For you?" Kennedy's eyes twinkled. "Always."

"Down the stairs, silly," Willow rolled her eyes but she couldn't help the grin that insisted it be on her face.

Kennedy did still like her!

She felt the worry roll from her shoulders as she looked into Kennedy's clear brown eyes and saw the affection she had grown used to over the last few months. The affection that hadn't been there a few hours ago.

"So shall...?" Kennedy was nuzzling her neck as she began to ask something, but she stopped on both counts when a loud rap came at the open back door.

"Is this a bad time?"

"Oz, hey! No of course not, come on in." Willow abruptly pulled out of Kennedy's embrace.

She felt uncomfortable being so snuggily in front of her ex and walked briskly to the door, totally missing the hurt look that flashed across the slayer's face, quickly followed by a more permanent look of unconcealed irritation.

"I thought we were about to go and do something," Kennedy folded her arms, her butt leaning against the edge of the table.

The changing tone of Kennedy's voice, from seductive to standoffish in sixty seconds, made Willow pause in her greeting of Oz.

She looked to Kennedy and then back to Oz, completely embarrassed. "No, no we weren't going to do anything! What would we be going down to the basement to do anyway? There's nothing down there except... oh oh, washing machine! We were going to go wash Kenny's clothes!" Willow licked her lips, unhappy, not liking the way they were both staring at her.

The silence was enough to make her want to dash back into her Magick room; the safe escape from all sticky situations, but right now her lovers, past and present, were looking at her like they were about to pounce in her direction and whoever got the biggest half was going to stick a flag... in her!

Unnerving, but even more so was the thought of how they might act if they turned those eyes on each other; probably better for her to put up with being the buffer for now.

Of course, she could put an end to this right now, Willow realized. All she had to do was say the words this minute. Say that she was with Kennedy and that was where she was going to stay. If she said that in front of the pair of them they'd both have to accept it.

Kennedy would have to stop acting like a brat and Oz would have to stop... well he hadn't actually done anything except say 'Hey' so far.

That was a good point. Willow glanced Kennedy's way to see the young slayer glaring openly at Oz.

Oz hadn't done anything wrong. She hadn't done anything wrong. Kennedy was the only one being difficult.

Willow knew then that she wasn't going to say the words, not right now at least. She wasn't going to reward Kennedy's unnecessary pique of jealousy or whatever it was with a declaration of undying love...

Not that it was love and certainly not 'undying' because that didn't even exist; Willow shook her head, that wasn't the important part.

She'd known Oz for a long time and she wanted to catch up with him while she had the chance; that's all this was. If Kennedy couldn't believe that, couldn't take Willow's word for it, then maybe it was good that this was something she'd found out now.

"Well I don't want to interrupt laundry day," Oz finally broke the silence. "But you said to come by and pick up the information on Eric."

"Oh shoot." Willow had forgotten all about that. "I haven't got any of it together yet, and I can't get in Giles' office right now." she remembered.

She looked at the kitchen wall, to approximately where Faith would be sat right now, two brick and wood walls away. What was going on inside that office? She wished she felt comfortable invading, but she didn't. Not that she knew if she could actually do it or not, but this was one of those times she really wanted to try. A little out of body experience would be useful about now if she could head herself Giles' office way.

Kennedy cleared her throat. Willow tensed, waiting for her to say something, but she didn't.

After what had been the longest silence so far today, Willow burst into action, going to the sink once more and plonking plates and cups into the semi-steaming water.

"I'm sure they won't be that long and then I can get the files," she told Oz. Faith and her parole officer had already been talking for quite a while. "You can wait, can't you? I can make coffee."

Oz shrugged, "I guess."

"So the thing... the laundry thing," Kennedy began, still leaning on the table with her arms folded, still annoyed. "I take it we're not doing that now?"

"Well, we have company now," Willow flipped the kettle on and started washing up three mugs in the sink full of nearly cold water. "We can always do it later." She offered, not really thinking.

"I'm busy later," Kennedy reminded her.

"Then you can always do it yourself," Willow snapped, turning from the counter to glare at Kennedy. "I was happy to do it first thing this morning, but you weren't in the mood for... for... suds then! And now isn't good for me, so I'm sorry but you'll have to just cope same as I did."

Kennedy's jaw set and her mouth was a hard, fierce line as she stared at Willow; long enough for her to get a good look at the emotion going on behind the Kennedy's eyes - the only part of her that gave anything away.

Willow tried to hold her ground as she made the drinks, not letting her own expression show anything but umbrage. It wasn't easy, but luckily, as she was about to back down and try to make amends for her outburst, Kennedy turned on her heel and left the kitchen via the back door without a word.

"Kennedy, your coffee!" Willow called after her, holding up the drink made just the way the she liked it.

There was no answer and she let it plonk down onto the table, a little spilling over the edge to slide down the mug and make a ring.

"Sorry, I should have called," Oz said quietly.

Willow shook her head as she handed him his mug of coffee, made just the way she remembered he liked it.

"Don't feel bad, I have a feeling we would have just had the same conversation even if you had called first."

"She seems kind of obsessed with laundry." Oz sipped his coffee, pulled a little face and then sipped some more.

Willow rolled her eyes, grumbling, "Yeah, only when it suits her though."

Dawn had fled through the living room and out of the front door, followed by Andrew, as soon as she'd realized who the stranger in the kitchen doorway was.

She loved her sister and she wanted to support her, except when it involved lying to state officials to protect skanky slayers - then she was on her own.

The sun was warm on her shoulders and she relaxed a little as she took in a deep breath of the great outdoors. She was still getting used to how clean and fresh everything smelled around here.

Sunnydale hadn't exactly been smog city, but there had been more cars parked along her road than she ever saw out here. At first she'd coughed every time she got a lungful of the monoxide-free air, but now she was getting used to it and she even quite liked it.

"So how come you don't have school?" Andrew asked, reminding Dawn that he'd followed her out of the house.

"There's some big teacher conference," Dawn shrugged. "So we got the day off."

Once upon a time that would have been code for 'monsters in the cafeteria' but she had a feeling they were telling the truth here.

"Cool," Andrew stood with his arms swinging by his sides. Neither of them seemed to know what to do since they'd ran out of the house. "So you look nice. Do you have an interview?"

"Thanks... what?" Dawn looked down at herself; had she overdone the smart so much that the sexy had slid away. "No I don't have an interview. I'm going to the cinema. What would I be interviewing for anyway? I'm still in school."

"I don't know," Andrew shrugged. "College."

"No, that joy starts next year." She wasn't as excited at the prospect of choosing a college as she had thought she would be. It bothered her a little for reasons she couldn't quite put her finger on. "So what are you doing today?"

"Well I was supposed to be helping Xander fix up Will and Ken's room, but I get the impression he'd rather do it alone now," Andrew sighed.

"Because of the kissing?" Dawn grinned. "What was that about anyway?"

"Beats me, little one. One minute I'm giving Xander stress-relieving advice and the next minute he's kissing me." Andrew shrank in on himself with the memory. It wasn't that it was a bad one; just that he didn't know what to make of it.

If he was one hundred percent honest he'd have to say that once upon a time it was a dream come true; now it was just 'what the hell?'

"He really kissed you first?" Dawn asked dubiously.

"Uh huh." Andrew's earnest look convinced her he was telling the truth.


"With a beard," Andrew nodded.

They'd walked around the house now to the back lawn where someone had thought to put a picnic style bench. Dawn didn't even know where it had come from, it had just appeared one day, but it was a nice place to sit when the sun was out.

As someone was attesting to.

Dawn's breath caught as she saw Reece sitting at the bench, smoking a cigarette, shirtless.

It wasn't really hot enough to warrant the bare chest, but Dawn wasn't complaining about it and it was even enough to override the nasty nicotine habit. His back - all smooth and bronzed - was to her, so she took the opportunity to check her pants and shirt for wrinkles before heading for the bench.

Andrew followed, somewhat reluctantly.

"Hi," she greeted the watcher cadet with a bright smile as she sat down on the other side of the picnic table. "Enjoying the weather?"

Reece smiled at her, "Spoke to my mum first thing this morning; she said it's pissing down back home."

"Good thing you're here then," Dawn chuckled, totally loving his accent.

He nodded, still smiling at her he took a finally drag on his cigarette before dropping it to the ground and covering it with his shoe. "We need some ashtrays in this place."

"Or you could give up smoking," Dawn tried.

It had been a long shot and when Reece simply chuckled at her, she wasn't surprised. "Are you sitting down or what?" she turned to look up at Andrew who was hovering near the table, putting her in his shadow.

"I, uh..." Andrew hesitated still.

"What's up mate?" Reece asked him, smiling. "You've no need to be so jumpy, Pete's on his way home."

"Yeah," Andrew muttered. He was actually looking around to see if he could see where Craig had disappeared to. But he and Naomi were nowhere in sight. He sat down now that Reece and Dawn were both looking at him though.

Dawn was feeling nervous and Andrew's fidgeting wasn't helping her calm down. She tried to block him out while she came up with the best way to ask Reece out.

"So you managed to finish in the top two then," she began.

Reece didn't seem to know what she was talking about, although it didn't stop him from smiling at her - she loved his smile.

"You and Naomi, I mean," she explained, blushing a little. "The winning cadets."

"Oh, that," Reece nodded. "Was there really any doubt considering my competition?"

"Craig said you were the first one to get captured by the Piskies," Andrew pointed out without thinking.

Reece nodded again. "Yeah and he's right. Thing is though mate, Craig only knows that because Pete told him. Craig wasn't there. He was too busy hiding so he didn't have to go out patrolling for werewolves. Puts his gossip into perspective a bit, don't it?"

"I guess," Andrew said quietly, looking away.

Reece shrugged, smiling at Dawn again, "So how come no school today? Not that I'm complaining about your company, but I don't want your sister kicking my arse 'cause you're skiving."

"Some teacher thing," Dawn said casually to his chest. "Apparently we students aren't required."

Reece looked down at himself quickly before looking back up at Dawn, "Don't look at Boris, he gets shy."

"Who?" Dawn's head shot up, her brow scrunched in confusion. Slightly bemused, she asked, "You named your nipple?"

Reece burst out laughing and Dawn went red all over as she lowered her eyes to the bench. Great, now he not only thought she was a moron, he also knew she'd been staring at his nippular area.

"My chest hair, Boris. He gets a little shy, not used to being around others." Reece explained in his cream-centered voice as his chuckles gradually died away.

Dawn looked at his chest again, perplexed, "You don't have any..."

"Shh," Reece grinned. "You'll hurt Boris' feelings." He put his hand over his chest, as if covering the hair that Dawn couldn't even see. "Family curse - chest hair is a bit of an anomaly amongst the Highbury's. The women tend to have hairier chests than the men."

"Really?" Andrew thought about his own smooth as silk chest, and then of his Aunt Maggie who looked like a polar bear, and wondered if somewhere way back in his ancestry he was related to the arrogant cadet.

"Yeah, it's my sister I feel sorry for the most, poor girl looks fully dressed in a bikini, bless her," Reece grinned. Rubbing his chest, he added, "And I feel sorry for Boris too, of course."

Dawn's embarrassment stayed with her for a minute longer, but then his absurdity overcame her and she laughed. "And here I just thought you waxed."

"Nah, I'm too much of a pansy for that kind of pain. No offense," he added to Andrew who just looked nonplussed. Reece smiled some more. "So what are you doing with your day off then?"

"Uh," Dawn willed herself to get through the conversation without looking like an idiot, and tried not to look at his chest anymore either. Although the more she tried that, the more urge she had to look harder for Boris. "I'm going to the cinema, with a friend from school."

She hesitated before asking the big question, tried to make her heartbeat calm down a little so that her words didn't come out in an unintelligible rush. Just as she was about to open her mouth again, Reece spoke.

"That sounds like fun, mind if I tag along? We're supposed to be training this morning, whenever Mr. Giles gets back, but he said we'd have the afternoon free. I haven't been to the pictures in ages."

"Uh, sure I guess," Dawn nodded calmly, trying not to give away how excited she was inside and how relieved she was that she hadn't actually had to verbally ask Reece out on a date.

"Nice one," Reece grinned. "I'll be done about two, that any good?"

"Uh huh," Dawn nodded again. She and Fen had arranged to meet at noon, but she was pretty sure Fen wouldn't be too upset if they made it a little later - especially if it meant boys were coming.

Thinking of Fen and boys reminded her she was supposed to be taking someone along for her classmate as well, and she turned to Andrew.

"Would you like to come too?"

Andrew was looking behind to where the boy's dormitory was, but his head jerked back to face the front when he realized he was being spoken to. "Uh, what?"

"To see a movie this afternoon," Dawn clarified. "Would you like to come with us? Reece is going and I know Fen is dying to meet you," she wheedled.

Andrew felt uncomfortable, not at the prospect of meeting Fen - if she was one of Dawn's friends then he was sure she was a doll - but Reece he could do without.

Maybe he was being unfair though. After all, Peter had gone, so maybe Reece would be better now that he was on his own. He actually seemed like a different person already this morning, more affable.

"Come on mate," Reece cajoled him, leaning across the bench to gently punch Andrew's arm. "Don't let the side down; you can't leave me to deal with two beautiful ladies all on my own."

Dawn giggled and Andrew sighed.

What was his alternative? To stay at the house all afternoon, creeping from room to room to avoid a grumpy Xander and two upset slayers?

"Okay, I'm in - but no chick flicks," he insisted, already knowing exactly what he wanted to see and already planning ways to make that happen.

"Agreed," Reece nodded.

Dawn beamed at them both, not in the slightest bothered by which movie they watched; they could deal with that argument later. Right now she was too happy with her morning's good work to care.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket and got it ready to send Fen a text message, it read:


Faith, now dressed in a pair of Buffy's baby blue sweat pants and a loose-fitting cream sweatshirt, looking surprisingly wholesome and snuggly in the ensemble - was inside Giles' office with Ms. Devenrowe.

Buffy was outside the door, sitting in the big leather easy chair and pretending to read the first book she'd picked off the shelf - a thick book about the British monarchy; so she was really hoping no one came out of the office and quizzed her on it.

The interior walls weren't that thick and Giles' office wasn't soundproofed, but with the door shut anyone inside was guaranteed their privacy from eavesdroppers. Unless of course, the eavesdropper was a Slayer.

Buffy turned the pages of her book silently, and a little too quickly to be believable, as she listened to the conversation going on next door.

She couldn't hear every word said; her hearing was enhanced, but she wasn't a vampire. All of the Parole Officer's questions came through loud and clear: Why did you not meet Mr. Giles as stated in your parole conditions? Where have you been staying? How have you been surviving?

Faith's answers were harder to hear, she was speaking so softly. Maybe she suspected Buffy was listening right outside the door or maybe she just wasn't feeling all that confident right now. Buffy didn't much care that she couldn't hear every word; just listening to the murmur of Faith's voice was enough right now, and she was already planning on getting the answers to these same questions later - providing Faith's jig wasn't up at the end of this meeting.

Buffy turned another page as inside the office the interview took a different turn.

"So, now that you're finally here, Faith, what is it that you want to get out of this experience?"

Faith's answer was too low to be heard and seemed too short to be a good one.

"You realize that to be in accordance with your parole, you must be in either full-time education or full-time employment by the end of your second week here?"

Buffy hadn't known that. She'd known that Faith coming here to live - to Giles and Willow's pretend school - was a necessity, but she hadn't realized there was any more to it than that. What was Faith going to do? Surely sending fake-school letters was bad enough, but to have Faith pretend she was attending this same fake-school for the next four years was taking things too far. Willow could probably produce some fake-papers regarding enrollment, tuition and grades - but wasn't that just a little too risky?

Buffy suddenly saw a future where the entire household were wearing orange dungarees. It wasn't pretty.

"I know," Faith was saying, loud enough for Buffy to hear.

"And that you are already now into that second week?" Ms. Devenrowe continued.

"What? But..." Faith trailed off as she realized the same thing as Buffy - her little unplanned sabbatical had taken a chunk out of her preparation time. "Yeah, okay, no problem. I can get something lined up to keep you happy by next Monday."

Buffy wasn't so sure. Work seemed to be seasonal around here, and the worky seasons were fast coming to an end. Kennedy hadn't had any luck getting even a part-time job yet and she'd already been looking a week.

Obviously the next week was going to be spent poring over the situations vacant pages. Buffy sighed as she contemplated that boring task.

"It's not to keep me happy, Faith, it's to keep you out of prison and you're already running a tightrope where that is concerned!"

"I know!" Faith stressed again. "I'll get something sorted out, like I said. I know I was stupid, I'm gonna put it right and I'm gonna make it so this is the last stressful visit you have here."

Buffy heard Devenrowe chuckle, "Well if you can pull that off, you'll be my first parolee to do so."

"Trust me," Faith responded, her voice full of slick confidence now. "From now on, all your gonna have to do is tick your boxes and sign your forms to say I'm keeping my nose clean and the other fifty-five minutes of the hour we get to spend together each week, you can just sit back and enjoy my company."

Buffy frowned down at her book, not sure she liked the sound of that.

"Well that sounds delightful, but I hope you're not offended when I say I'll believe it when I see it." There was more laughter from Devenrowe.

"It's kinda hard to be offended when you're just doing your job, Ms. D," Faith turned on the charm and Buffy could well imagine the twinkle in her eye. "Besides, we've been in here twenty minutes and you're already enjoying my company so I don't think you're gonna take too long to convince."

"Well I was actually referring to your promise to not give me any trouble, any more trouble, but I guess we'll see. And please, call me Deb."

Outside the office, Buffy rolled her eyes, Deb Devenrowe?

"Now if we can get back to the formalities, I have to ask you again about your relationship with Miss Summers. It says here that she was the person in, uh, Sunnydale that you were the closest to."

It did? Buffy closed the book on her lap with a soft thud.

"It does?" She heard Faith ask and then the rest of what she said was muttered and Buffy couldn't hear it, but she was pretty sure she caught the word 'ex' in there.

What was she supposed to make of that? And did Faith really believe it, even after last night? Was that what Faith wanted or did Faith think that was what she wanted?

Or was Faith simply lying to Deb Devenrowe for reasons Buffy didn't get yet?

"Well think seriously about it and we'll talk some more next week," Ms. Devenrowe was saying, making Buffy even more curious about what she'd missed of Faith's muttered answer.

"Sure," Faith said just as quietly, but Buffy was more alert now and the single word came easily to her ears.

"So is there anyone else you are currently involved with?" Deb asked next.

Buffy sat forward, her feet hitting the carpet softly as she cast her book aside.

"I've only been out a week, and for all of that I've been on the move," Faith laughed. "Give me a chance to at least take a shower, and then ask me again next week."

Buffy heard Devenrowe laughing too and she grit her teeth.

"I know this seems a bit personal," Deb continued, her voice still sounding giggly. "But I'm afraid I have to ask: Did you have any intimate involvement with anyone on your way here?"

"Did I screw any one between California and Ohio, you mean?" Faith asked, sounding half amused and half irritated.

Buffy closed her eyes.

"Yes. Did you meet up with any exes? Did you meet anyone new? You were at Stockton for four months..."

"I was at Stockton for a lot longer than that."

"Yes, but even four months is a long time to go without certain... activities, wouldn't you say? Faith, we're both women, and I know I couldn't go four months," Ms. Devenrowe laughed again and then seemed to realize she was being extremely improper. "My point is, if you did have sexual relations with anyone on your way here, it's perfectly understandable and in no way condemnable, but I need to know of everyone you've had contact with in the past seven days and you've made that a lot more difficult by not being where you were supposed to be."

It was quiet in the office for a minute but Buffy kept her eyes closed and her teeth gritted. She was really starting to wish she hadn't given into the urge to eavesdrop. She'd justified it to herself by saying that she only wanted to be close by for Faith's sake. After all, it was Faith who had said she could say anything in front of her.

At the time Buffy hadn't thought about the possibility that she might hear more than she wanted to; through a wall, at least, and so far that was all she'd heard.

"Yeah, I get it," Faith finally said. "You need to know if I've boinked any undesirables and plotted naughty things in the afterglow."

"So have you?" Devenrowe asked casually.

Buffy held her breath.

"Well I met a guy called Arnie Jackson on a ranch, and a couple of chicks in a bar, and we passed the time, but I didn't sleep with any of them."

Buffy let go of her breath and it whooshed out quietly as her eyes opened; she smiled. Relief to the power of ten. She'd known Faith hadn't, somehow, deep down, but it was still nice to have it confirmed.

"And you were right, four months is waaay too long to go without," Faith continued, her voice all purr-y now. Buffy quirked an eyebrow. "Maybe now that I'm here, finally, I can start putting some energy into that instead."

"I highly recommend it," Buffy obviously couldn't see, but she'd bet anything that Ms. Devenrowe was smiling flirtatiously at this point. "The less frustration in your life right now, the better."

"So does that come under your jurisdiction, Deb? Is that one of your duties as my PO? Make sure I'm not too tense so I'll be easier to handle>" Faith's voice had definitely gone down a number of notches towards sexy.

Buffy stood up, her arms tightly by her sides. She didn't know what she was going to do - run in there screaming, or run away screaming - but she was pretty sure screaming of some kind was going to happen in the few minutes.

"Well not officially no, but I do like the idea of handling you easier."

Ms. Deb Devenrowe was putting the highly inappropriate moves on her girlfriend! Buffy's fists clenched at her sides as she glared at the door to Giles' office and the scream started to bubble up her throat.

"Yeah well I did promise I'd be a model parolee and that you'd enjoy my company," Faith's extra-husky voice rolled out of the office. "And it's been a hella long four months so..."

The scream had reached the back of her throat and Buffy had to get out of there before it came any further. Not even bothering to hear any more - because really, who in their right mind would want to? - She turned and legged it out of the front door.

Andrew had left Dawn and Reece talking about movies (after his Brosnan-as-Bond impersonation had earned him a double loser stare) and now he was wandering the grounds trying to find Craig.

He'd already checked the boy's dormitory, but there was no one in there amongst the mess the cadets had left while packing. He checked the training field when he heard grunts coming from behind the hedge, but it was just Vi, Rona and Alison doing some cool Jedi-aerobicized Kata. He checked the garage-barn, the unused stables and, very warily, the woodshed - which was full of chickens surprisingly, but that was way better than coming face to shin with a Pixie this morning. They clucked at him and he gave them a little wave before firmly re-shutting the door.

He peered in the window of the girl's dorm, but there was no one in there either. He wasn't going to try the training barn, it was kept locked anyway when a Slayer wasn't using it, and if a slayer was in there - he wasn't gonna poke his head around the door and risk losing it.

Both Kennedy and Buffy seemed really tense this morning and Yoda only knew what kind of mood Faith was going to be in after her meeting.

Just as Andrew was just about to give up and go slump in front of the television until it was time to get ready for the cinema - maybe he'd get lucky and there would be something new on the sci-fi channel for once - he spotted Craig sitting in the sun with his back to the training barn, playing tug-of-war with Goorzar.

Andrew almost jogged over, the nervous anticipation he was feeling adding some frisk to his step. "Hi."

Craig looked up, startled by his voice, and then looked away, his face sullen. "Alright."

Goorzar bolted towards Andrew as soon as she heard his voice and he dropped to his knees on the grass before her Taz-like welcome could knock him on his behind. He caught her as she jumped into his arms and gave her a cuddle.

"You looked like you were having fun," he said over the demon's excited grunting.

Craig simply looked down at the rope now dangling loosely from his hand; the other end was covered in demon spit from where she'd used her teeth to do the tugging.

"So where did Naomi go?" Andrew asked next, feeling really uncomfortable with the boy's uncharacteristic silence.

"Dunno, bog maybe?" Craig threw the short piece of rope away from him.

When Goorzar saw, she used Andrew as a springboard and threw herself after her toy. Craig finally smiled as Andrew rubbed his chest where her feet had struck him.

"Goorzie, be more gentle!" he scolded, looking down his t-shirt to see the damage. Sure enough there were two slightly red marks forming between his nipples. "Ow."

"You okay?" Craig checked, although his smile seemed to be slipping upside down again already.

"Yeah, this is nothing," he said bravely. "You should have seen the bruises she covered me, Kennedy and Dawn in when she first arrived."

Craig nodded, his eyes remaining on the grass. "Wish I had."

"So are you really mad about having to stay here for a while?" Andrew asked, hoping to lighten his new friend's mood before he asked his big question. "It's not that bad really, and I'm sure Mr. Giles is only doing it to help you. He's been really good to me, especially after... everything that happened," he finished quietly.

"What happened?"

Andrew looked at Craig's profile as the other boy watched Goorzar playing a few feet away. He did want to tell him, it would be nice to talk it out, get some of the guilt off of his chest with someone not already pre-disposed to hate him for his actions in a previous life - and it felt like a previous life these days, so different to the one he was living now - but he didn't know how. Especially when Craig was talking like he had a strict word limit for this conversation.

"Uh, nothing interesting."

Craig looked up again, "You mean you don't want to tell me about it."

"It's not that, I promise. It just doesn't make me look good," he admitted.

"Why do you care whether you look good to me or not?" Craig's eyes were on his hands resting in his lap.

Andrew stayed silent, looking down at Goorzar who had come to sit by his side, chewing her rope happily. He didn't know really, he just knew that he did care and that was why he didn't want to say anything that might-that would-make Craig think less of him.

Craig was the only one here who didn't already think the worst of him.

"I mean, as long as your hero Xander Harris thinks you look good enough to kiss, what do the rest of us matter?" Craig muttered, his hands twisting over one another as he seemed to be making a good deal of effort to not look at Andrew.

"I didn't kiss Xander!" Andrew insisted as he realized what was bugging the guy. "His lips just attacked mine and mine were defenseless to do anything but..."

"Kiss back?"

"You wouldn't understand. It was like we couldn't control ourselves or something, like an alien force was sucking our lips together..."

"I know," Craig interrupted, standing up. "But you didn't have to enjoy it so much."

Andrew stood up too. "What makes you think I enjoyed it?"

"Well, it's Xander, it's pretty plain you have a thing for him a mile wide. You're always trying to help him before you help yourself; you're even willing to spray toxic shit around an enclosed space for him! People don't do that sort of thing unless they've got the hots for the person they're doing it for."

"It's not like that. I owe Xander my life," Andrew started dramatically, but ran out of steam quickly, "But I don't... 'Cause that would be kinda inappropriate."

"Because he's a man?" Craig's voice wasn't getting any friendlier.

"No, I told you! I had a... I didn't get beaten up in school just because I was a nerd, you know!"

He remembered the beating Larry and his friends had given him in seventh grade when he'd accidentally wandered into a locker room full of sophomores at the high school. He'd only been looking for his brother, but the older boys had not believed that.

Craig seemed to have un-tensed a little, enough to nudge Andrew's arm with his fist anyway, "So you're not secretly hoping for another go at kissing Mr. Harris, then?"

Andrew shook his head, "It would never happen again anyway. Like I said, I don't even know what happened this morning to make…that ...happen."

Craig coughed and then cleared his throat, "Maybe it's just something in the air today."

"Maybe," Andrew agreed. He was still a little concerned by it, but eager to get away from the topic. "So there's this thing this afternoon, down by the lake, uh, in the Single-plex."

"Yeah?" Craig looked interested so Andrew went on.

"Dawn is going to see a movie with her friend and she asked me and Reece to go."

"Sounds like it will be a nice little foursome," Craig said quietly, looking down at Goorzar, who was looking up at them wondering why they weren't playing with her.

"You can come if you want," Andrew continued, too nervy about what he was going to ask to register Craig's irritated tone. "I mean, if you wanted, you could come, like, with me?" he finished hopefully.

Craig met Andrew's eyes again, his smile looking mondorifically shocked.

"Er," Craig paused, still smiling, for long enough to make Andrew think he was about to be made fun of, but then he got his act together. "Er, yeah, that would be... that would be..." he nodded a few times. "...yeah. What time do you want me ready?"

"Just before two," Andrew's words tumbled over themselves as he tried to contain his pleasure. "You don't mind that Reece is going?"

"Not ideal," Craig admitted with a shrug and a cocky smirk. "but I've never let him stop me doing anything before and I'm not stupid enough to let this be the first time."

"Me neither," Andrew beamed.

His legs felt shaky with adrenaline, so he sank to his knees once more to fuss Goorzie before they embarrassed him by giving way. Craig squatted next to him, raking his nails through the thick dark hair of the baby demon's back as they smiled at each other.

'I have a date! I asked and Craig had said yes, it's never been that easy before! This was so cool. But... now what do I do?' he wondered as he carried on smiling nervously.

Buffy held the frustrated scream behind her tightly closed lips until she got around the side of the house, ready to let rip with only the big outdoors as her audience... except not.

Dawn was sitting at the picnic bench between the back door and the training barn, deep in conversation with the smarmy English cadet, Reece.

Normally, that would have worried Buffy - Dawn was way too spellbound by the dreamy jerk - but right now she had bigger things on her mind. Dawn and Reece seemed too engrossed in each other to even notice as she power-walked past them, the human equivalent of a growl starting to make itself heard despite her best efforts to not completely embarrass herself.

The training barn was the closest and without slowing down she pushed her palm into the large wooden door and slammed it back on its hinges. It bounced back towards her and she caught the edge with her fingers to slam it shut again. Three steps into the gloom she gave way to the guttural shriek coursing up her throat.

She went on for some time, her eyes clenched closed, her hands curled into tight fists, wordlessly shouting her frustration. Finally, feeling marginally better, she drew in a big, deep breath and let it out again slowly.

"Did that help?"

Kennedy's calm voice startled Buffy and her eyes popped open to see the younger slayer sitting at the back of the barn on a thick pile of rectangular training mats. She was reading a copy of Playboy and just the row of lights above her was on, leaving most of the room, Buffy included, in shadow.

"Nope, not really." Buffy walked to the where she was sitting. "What are you doing hiding in here in the dark anyway? Too embarrassed to read your porn in the sunshine?" She lightly flicked the cover of Kennedy's magazine.

"It's not porn," Kennedy muttered irritably, pulling the magazine closer to her face away from Buffy's flicking finger. "And I'm not hiding."

Buffy pulled the magazine down so she could get a better look at the page Kennedy was on. A buxom red-head smiled coyly from the glossy page, the buxomness was easy to tell what with the way the playgirl's breasts were posing proudly, and more to the point, nakedly, for the picture.

"Jeez," Buffy's finger propelled itself backwards and the magazine flipped up to flop against Kennedy's chest. "That's not porn?"

"No," Kennedy grinned at her reaction. "But if you wanna see some porn I have plenty that..." her face dropped as a thought occurred to her and she glared at Buffy now as she continued, "...that was under my bed and is now probably a soggy mass of ash and melted video tape!"

"Oops," Buffy looked away as innocently as she could. It wasn't her fault Kennedy felt the need to stash pornography under her bed; and shouldn't she be offended on Willow's behalf anyway?

"Will probably isn't gonna feel so guilty about dropping Faith in the doo," Kennedy continued, "once she realizes you've burned all her toys. They're not cheap you know, especially the ones she..."

Buffy's hands flew to her ears and she shouted "Lalalalalala", until she saw Kennedy had given up on speaking. Abstract discussions about the whole girl/girl sex thing were one thing, actual bone fide details about her best friend were another. Slowly she uncovered her ears.

"I can see you and Faith are in for an exciting time," Kennedy smirked, "seeing as you can't even talk about sex."

"I can talk about sex! I can talk it, walk it and wear the t-shirt if I want to; it's just your sex life I'm un-talkable about." Buffy boosted herself up onto the mats beside Kennedy. "Besides, I think Faith is going to have an exciting time whether I'm up to it or not," she sighed.


Buffy nodded, "Yep, she's all in there now, planning on showing Deb Devenrowe just how good a company she can be."

"The Parole Officer?" Kennedy leaned forward in surprise. "Her escape plan is to boink her Parole Officer?"

"Pretty exciting, right?"

"Pretty stupid," Kennedy corrected. "And a pretty fast way back to the slammer. You can't just come on to someone in that kind of position. Devenrowe will do her for... for soliciting benefits or something."

"Actually I think Deb is just going to do her for pleasure. She sounded pretty into the idea anyway."


"Yep," Buffy agreed.

"So are you going to report her?" Kennedy asked.

"Who, Faith? How would that help?"

"No, you idiot, the Parole Officer. You should get her fired for this."

"And then what?" Buffy asked, leaning back against the wall. "They send Faith a new PO, one who doesn't want in her pants and therefore reports her without so much as a second look for ditching on her parole conditions last week."

"So you're just going to put up with her cheating on you so that she doesn't go back to jail," Kennedy scoffed. "She really has got you right where she wants you, hasn't she?"

"No, she hasn't," Buffy shook her head. "Well, maybe she has. I don't actually know where she wants me right now, but if she's thinking she's going to have her state-assigned cupcake and get to lick the Buffy-frosting too..." she winced. "I think your porny-non-porn is affecting my word-judgment here. What I meant was, we're not together, so it's not cheating, and if she decides Deb Devenrowe is a better - or more exciting - catch than me, I won't be giving her the chance to cheat on either one of us."

"Think you can carry that threat out with as much conviction as you can say it?"

"I've gone this long without and I'm counting last night as nothing more than a blip at this point. A very hot, very much needed blip, but still - Shouldn't be so hard to go the rest of my life without, as well." Buffy idly picked the Playboy up from the mat and flicked through it, not focusing on anything for more than a second or two in case it gave her the willies, or considering the subject matter, the pussies.

Kennedy seemed content to just sit back, arms folded and legs crossed at the ankles, as she rested her head against the wall and closed her eyes. "After everything that's happened over the past few months, years in fact for you guys, you don't wanna fight for her?"

"You think I should beat up her Parole Officer?" Buffy smirked. "Believe me, I thought about it, but it didn't seem like the most mature route or the best way to avoid incarceration."

Kennedy shrugged, opening one eye enough to give her a side-long look. "There are other methods." Buffy gave her more attention and the brunette seemed to cower away from it slightly. "Isn't there? Like, I don't know, romance or money... or a spell maybe?"

Buffy kept her thumb between the pages as she let the magazine fall closed; pulling her legs in, she swiveled on the mats until she was sitting cross-legged facing Kennedy.

"Faith isn't really the kind of girl who goes in for hearts and flowers, or if she is, she doesn't know it yet which probably makes it not the wisest choice for first option. I don't have any money, so paying her for the privilege of being her girlfriend? Kinda out, even before you factor in the cultural stigmatism. And magick? Never a good idea even when you know what you're doing."

Kennedy slumped further down the wall with a deep sigh. "Yeah, I know."

Buffy frowned at the deflated Slayer. Kennedy had never taken such an interest in her love life before and now she seemed positively devastated that she couldn't come up with a way to fix things for her. It was sweet, and completely out of character, leading Buffy to only one conclusion.

"This isn't about me and Faith is it?"

Kennedy reopened her eyes, but kept her gaze on the closed door at the furthest end of the barn. "What makes you say that?"

"Uh, well, to start with... everything." Buffy tapped Kennedy's knee with the magazine, making the girl turn to her, before she let it fall open to the page she had been marking. "Tell me why you'd rather be looking at a two-dimensional, scarily-endowed substitute instead of the real thing?"

Kennedy glanced at the red-headed model for a second before looking back at the door. "Because the three-dimensional real thing isn't in the mood to get her perfectly endowed-ness out for me."

Buffy took a deep breath and bit back an uncomfortable grin-uncomfortable because she really didn't want to be talking about Willow this way.

"You're sulking in here because Willow won't give you a look at her good bits," she cringed. "Not that I think they're good bits, and I'm probably violating several best-friend codes just by referring to her... you know, that way, but I imagine you think they're good bits. Especially if you're this upset you can't see them."

Kennedy scowled at her. "God, you're as bad as her. Of course I'm not upset about that! I wouldn't care if I never got to see her naked again as long as she still wanted to be with me."

Buffy, taken aback by that-Kennedy always seemed like as big a horndog as Faith-nodded slowly, "Okay."

"It's the reason why that's pissing me off. It was her idea to go down and do the damn laundry, but as soon as he turns up, she's not fricking interested anymore. What am I supposed to think, huh?"

"I, ahh... think I lost my place on the page a little," Buffy started, but shut up when Kennedy jumped from the mats and began to pace.

"She was too damn tired last night, I could see it. Her eyes were all swimmy and she said she had a headache. She should have gone straight to bed as soon as everyone was back safe, but then he showed up and she insisted she'd only talk for a little while and that turned into over an hour and we had to get the chickens in the woodshed for the night. Another five minutes and I would have had to carry her upstairs and into bed. That was why I didn't even mention it! And then this morning she has the audacity to blame me for not wanting to. And when I tried to explain how I felt about it all, and him, and that, she just threw a bunch of excuses at me and then clammed up."

Kennedy finished her pacing-rant with a sharp abrupt turn that brought her level with Buffy who was now sitting more alertly on the mats.

Buffy flinched back with the suddenness of the eye-contact and tried unsuccessfully to think of something to say that might actually help.

She was still trying when Kennedy spoke again, softly this time. "You're her best friend, what should I do?"

Buffy fidgeted, "I'm still not entirely sure what the problem is." Kennedy glared at her. "You're jealous of Oz?" she hazarded, but backtracked when the glared worsened. "Okay, not jealous, maybe just a little..."

"No, jealous about sums it up," Kennedy deflated once more, running her hands through her hair and messing up her ponytail.

"But you were okay when she was looking for him. Is that because you didn't actually expect her to find him?"

"No. I know how thorough Willow can be, I always expected her to find him. I guess I was just hoping it would take longer, a lot longer, and that she wouldn't be quite so ecstatic when she did." Kennedy tidied her hair back up.

"They're just old friends, Kenny," Buffy promised. "If Willow still wanted to be with Oz, she would have taken him back years ago instead of choosing Tara."

"No she wouldn't, because Tara was the love of her life, her soul mate, the one she would have been with forever if she'd had the chance."

Kennedy's voice was bitter and Buffy realized she was jealous of Tara too.

Oh boy, why couldn't she have just burst into Giles' office and screamed her frustration at Faith and the Parole Officer instead? It might not have been simpler, but at least it would have been her own mess she'd waded thigh deep into.

Kennedy kicked her toe into the cement floor. "Tara has a piece of Willow that I never can, and I get that and I'm fine with it, but it doesn't stop me wishing it wasn't like that. I mean the woman's dead," Buffy flinched and Kennedy paused for a moment out of respect. "Which means Willow has this perfect memory of her crystallized in her mind, but I'm still alive which means the longer we stay together, the more of my faults Willow's going to see and the less perfect she's going to realize I am. From the way you people talk about her, it sounds like Tara had no faults even when she was alive."

"Tara had faults," Buffy said softly. "Everyone does. Tara's were just... I don't know, easily forgivable I guess."

"Maybe, but hers have been erased, and mine are still clocking up," Kennedy continued. "And Oz, the first boyfriend. That's a pretty big thing to measure up to, too. And he's here, alive and kicking, and making her smile that smile only I want to be able to make her smile." She was quiet for a moment. "I guess I just don't know where I fit in right now and Willow acting weird with me isn't making it any clearer."

"Well, if you just want to know where you stand I'll give you the same advice Willow once gave me: Ask her! It's the only way you're going to know for sure," Buffy offered.

"Insecurity isn't all that attractive and if Will is already going off me, I don't want to do anything that's going to encourage it. I'm more looking for ways to keep her on me," Kennedy shot Buffy a little embarrassed grin.

Buffy smiled back. Now they were speaking the same language at least because she was trying to find ways to do the exact same thing - but with Faith, obviously, not Willow.

"Well, right now, I'm using the 'treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen' play-book," she confessed. "And Faith's in there trying to seduce her Parole Officer, so you can see how well that's working for me. I am so not the person you want advice from right now - I can't even get my own girlfriend to be my girlfriend!"

Kennedy sighed sympathetically as she hopped back up on to the mats next to her, "We suck, right?"

"And we're pathetic," Buffy nodded. "We're pathetic sucktastic..."

"Losers," Kennedy nodded along.

"Actually I was going to say Slayers, but..." she shrugged in defeat.

Kennedy took the magazine from Buffy with a chuckle. "Wanna hide in here a little longer and read Playboy with me?"

Buffy shrugged without enthusiasm, but tilted her head anyway to check out the page Kennedy opened it to.

They were both quiet for a time; Kennedy was engrossed in an article on Helio Castroneves - a smiling guy in dark glasses and a red jumpsuit - while Buffy read, with serious disbelief that what she was seeing was natural, the stats and bio of a raven-haired bare beauty on the opposite page.

"So," Kennedy suddenly started her eyes still on the article. "Are you gonna fight for her?"

"Oh yes," Buffy nodded, her eyes on the model's stupidly perky double-F breasts and zero-sized waist. "Until it kills one of us, probably. I've just got to figure out how to do it without her realizing I'm doing it. You?" she asked casually.

"Willow likes romance, I have money and there's a whole room full of magick stuff at my disposal... as a last resort," she added quickly. "One way or another, Oz is going home with his tail between his legs."

The two slayers shared a conspiratorial smirk before innocently going back to the Playboy.

"Yeah well I did promise I'd be a model parolee, and that you'd enjoy my company," Faith chuckled. "And it's been a hella long four months so..."

She let the sentence come to nothing as she gave Deb a winning smile. She didn't know if this chick was for real or not. She was half-expecting this to be a whacked-out test Buffy had devised for her. Maybe any second her 'parole officer' would whip out a CD player and start stripping off her prim and proper suit to a bump 'n grind classic.

Of course, if that was the case, Faith was probably failing already, but she couldn't pass up the chance that this might keep her out prison. It occurred to her that playing her PO like this wasn't smart either and could land her ass in even deeper trouble, but hey, the professional chick had started it; Faith was just having fun.

Deb was holding her gaze with a small smile, but in a flash seemed to regain herself and looked back down at the notes she was making.

"Where was I?" she asked herself, rubbing the back of her neck and - by the looks of it - deliberately avoiding eye contact now. "Ahh, yes, right. We're almost done here today, Faith, just one or two more things. I'm going to reschedule my meeting with your sponsor, Mr. Giles, for Friday of this week. I suspect he'll be able to tell me less today about how you're settling in than you have - and that's not going to look good on your file now is it? I'd like you to take some time this week to write down everything you've done in the past seven days. Everything."

"You want me to write you a vacation report?" Faith groaned. There was more than one reason she'd dropped out of high school; all that writing was one of them.

"Are you going to make me remind you again whose fault this is?" Deb asked. "If you'd been where..."

"I get it," Faith interrupted with a wave of her hand. "My fault. I'll write it, just don't expect to be able to read it."

Deb sighed, "At least try and make it legible. I'd also like to meet privately with Miss Summers at some point in the near future."

"Why?" Faith stopped slouching in the leather chair. "I already told you B has nothing to do with this."

"Then she shouldn't have any trouble speaking to me. She knows you better than I do, maybe better than anyone else here too, and she's more of an equal you might say."

"You might, she wouldn't," Faith made a mild noise of amusement at the uncomfortable truth.

"At least more so than Mr. Giles is at this point. Faith, I hate to tell you this, but you and I are going to become very close over the next couple of months. Very very close," Deb gave her another of those flirty smiles as she finally made eye-contact again.

"Is that a fact?" Faith let her eyes loosen the PO's clothing, making her own interest very clear.

"Yes, so you had better get used to it. For the next couple of months at least Faith, your butt is as good as mine." Her parole officer gave her a playful wink before standing and gathering up her millions of forms and reports.

Faith raised an eyebrow at that but said nothing as she watched her pack her stuff back into the fancy briefcase. When Deb was ready, she stood too, obviously they'd finished.

Not quite. "Remember, one week from today you need to be in..."

"Something that stops my thumbs from getting idle, I got it," she promised.

"Something official that keeps your thumbs busy," Deb corrected. "Getting the best ever score on Grand Theft Auto isn't going to cut it."

Faith laughed, repeating, "I got it."

Deb made her way to the door, Faith made sure she got there first and opened it for her. Hell, if she had an apple in her pocket she'd shine it on Buffy's boring sweater and hand it to the parole officer.

"I'd also like you to have a little think about what we discussed earlier. Having some long-term goals, or even short-term ones more specific than 'staying out of trouble' will help you tremendously. They don't have to be titanically proportioned…"

"Big, right?" Faith gave her a grin as she recognized the word. See, she could learn as well as the next retard when she wanted. They were standing in the living room again now and she looked around confused, trying to remember the way back to the kitchen.

"Yes," Deb agreed. "Start small, we can build up to the big stuff when you feel more settled. Why don't you write those down too and we can take a look together how best to achieve them next week."

"More homework," Faith groaned again.

"Uh huh," Deb nodded, offering: "If it's too much I can ask them to give you back your old laundry job."

"Yeah that was a residents-only position, so I think I'll pass," Faith sneered. "You want me to write? I'll write. I'll write you a book report on Moby-frickin'-Dick if ya want me to."

"You've read Moby Dick?"

Faith shook her head, "Stood on it once in third grade to reach the supply closet key."

It was Ms. Devenrowe's turn to shake her head, "I really don't want to know. And the other thing we discussed - an hour with Dr..."

"I'll think about it," Faith cut her off, feeling uncomfortable.

She looked around some more and spotted a door hidden almost behind some stairs. It was an exterior door by the look of it, just what she needed.

"So we're good then," she checked, shepherding the woman towards the quickest way out. "You're not going to call the cops on me for violating my parole?"

"No. I like you Faith," she said, seemingly sincere. "And God help me I may live to regret it, but I'm giving you one more chance. You were here to meet me, and that makes me think that you're telling the truth about your reluctance to return last week. Be warned though, this is the last chance you'll get from me. If I get caught out doing you favors, I'll be in even more trouble than you and... I don't like you that much," she grinned.

"Like I said, I'll be as good as gold from here on in," Faith pulled the front door open for her. "Anything you want me to do, I'll do."

She'd meant the writing shit, but she knew it could be taken the other way too, and from the look Deb gave her, Faith was pretty sure it had been.

The woman bit her lip for a second before nodding, "That's good to know. I'll see you next week, Faith." She held out her hand.

Faith shook it, holding on to it for perhaps a second too long to go with her disarming smile. Deb Devenrowe gave her one last steamy look before she turned to leave and Faith slammed the door shut after her with a giant sigh of relief.

"Okay, that was wicked crazy," Faith decided, flopping down into one of the armchairs. "What am I gonna do if she actually does want sexual favors for keeping quiet?" she wondered with a chuckle.

The woman was attractive, that was for sure, and Faith hadn't been completely faking her interest. That was the weird part. This was the first time from what she could remember - since leaving Buffy in LA - that the thought of screwing someone else had seriously crossed her mind. She just hadn't been interested; not in anyone from the clink, or Arnie or the vampire chick she'd met in Ogallala.

She'd thought about screwing Buffy plenty of course; after all she was only human. And boy did that fantasy not hold a candle to the real thing.

The night before had been freakin' amazing and if Buffy hadn't already sexily removed her socks for her, it would have rocked them right the hell off her frickin' feet anyway - and since when the hell was sock removal sexy?

Faith had pushed the boundaries further and further all night and Buffy had kept right up with her and then pushed them a little further herself.

She couldn't even remember falling asleep, which went to show how damn good it had been, because normally she couldn't sleep a wink with another body in the bed with her.

Judging by the way B was acting this morning though, it looked like it was a one time only deal. So maybe there was no harm in keeping Deb happy any way she wanted.

She thought about the parole officer again; tried to imagine doing the stuff with her that she'd done with Buffy. She frowned with the effort, but all it left her with was a 'meh' feeling. Maybe - if no other opportunities presented themselves - but otherwise...

Faith shrugged to herself, forgetting Deb Devenrowe for the time being, and looked around the large living room.

It was nice; obviously the designer had gone for refined with the expensive furniture and decor. It was like a gentleman's bachelor pad. Giles must have had first choice - or been paying - she decided, but the girls (or maybe Xander and Andrew) had made it a little more gender-neutral, with the ornaments on the shelves between the hundreds of books, and the magazines on the coffee table, and the peach throw over the couch which matched all of the peach cushions and the dark over-ripe peach curtains hanging at the windows.

It looked a lot more lived in that it probably would have if Giles had his way, but from what Faith had gathered that morning there were a lot of people living here, making that unavoidable.

There was the sound of a key in the lock and the front door re-opened. She looked up, wondering who it might be and hoping it was someone who could point her in the right direction of breakfast. She hadn't eaten since yesterday morning and now she was finally getting some down-time her stomach was screaming at her.

It was Giles, reading a newspaper as he walked in and looking at least a little more relaxed than he had earlier.


He looked up, slightly startled, but then he smiled. A proper smile and the first one she'd seen directed at her so far today. It dropped years off him.

"Hello Faith, sorry I didn't see you there. I was just looking for somewhere quiet to recover from the airport - hateful place."

Faith stood up to face him, nervous all over again. "Yeah, I'll just get out of your way then."

"No, there's no need." He dropped his paper onto the coffee table and gestured for her to take her seat again. "I see you found some clothes."

"Oh, yeah," Faith looked down at herself. "Buffy's. They don't exactly suit me."

"On the contrary, I think you look very nice." He sat down on the couch even though she was still standing there feeling awkward.

"Thanks." She fidgeted with the sweater cuffs.

"We'll have to get you some of your own, of course. Perhaps tomorrow if nothing crops up."

"Uh, yeah, that'd be cool, but... I don't actually have any money yet." She did take a seat now, but only because she felt less like jumpy being on the same level as him. "So, 'fraid it might be a while before I can give you any..."

She'd been about to say rent, might as well get the biggest issue out of the way right off the bat, but he spoke over her.

"Of course not, I'd be surprised if you did," he smiled. "We'll take it out of your stipend."

"My what?"

He smiled again, but not in a patronizing way like she expected.

"Your salary, of a sort anyway. We can discuss it later. Was that Ms. Devenrowe my taxi passed on the lane?" He checked his watch. "She was a little earlier than I expected."

"My salary?"

He gave a dry chuckle, but didn't elaborate. "Your parole officer, Faith. She was just here, I believe?"

"Oh yeah, Deb. She seems pretty cool. She isn't going to turn me in today anyway." Faith decided not to tell him why that might be. "She wants to meet with you Friday instead of today. To give you time to evaluate me, I guess."

Giles looked confused. "Was there a reason she might? Turn you in that is."

"Willow was kinda havin' a go about me not being here when I should have been, just as she turned up." Faith explained reluctantly. "To say it made her first impression of me a little bad would be one of those understatements you British love so much."

"So Willow rather put her foot in it?" he asked with either honest sympathy or an Emmy-winning act of it.

Faith shrugged. "Not her fault."

Giles nodded his head in agreement, but still looked friendly enough. Faith decided to take the chance to give her little speech while he was in this mood.

"So G... I mean Giles," she corrected herself quickly before pausing.

Wow the whole speech she'd been practicing since getting on the bus two nights ago had gone right out of her head. Deciding to just to go with whatever her mouth came up with, she hoped it wouldn't sound to lame.

"I... I'm sorry I didn't meet you last week. It was totally retarded of me. I guess I just wanted to, I don't know; enjoy my freedom for a bit before I came back here to be shackled to the stake for the rest of my life. I shouldn't have done it and I know you put your neck on the line for me and I'm really sorry."

"Did you enjoy it? Your freedom, I mean."

Faith looked away. "Some of it."

When he didn't say anything she looked back, saw his expression and relented. "A very small sum of it."

"Then why don't you tell me why you really ran?"

She should have expected that. After all, he was the smartest man she'd ever met in her life with perhaps the exception of the Mayor, but the two were worlds apart. Plus one was dead now, so he couldn't have been all that smart.

"Can't I just say I'm sorry a few dozen more times instead?" She didn't get an answer, just that look again, which was answer enough she supposed. "I guess I was scared," she said quietly. "Scared of coming back here and making it work."

"With Buffy?" Giles asked.

"No," she shook her head slowly. "With you all. Everything. I'm scared of trying to make my life work, you know, the right way. In case I can't. I needed some time, or at least I thought I did, to get my head straight on a few things."

"What things?"

She looked reluctant to answer because she was and Giles picked up on it.

"Faith, you don't have to tell me - at least not right now - if you don't want to, but maybe I can help and that is what I am here for after all."

Faith shrugged. "I was let out too soon. I did something... there was this thing, right before my appeal, and I didn't handle it as well as I should have done. But I think I probably handled it as well as I could have done and so I don't think I should have been let go until I could have handled it as well as I should have done."

Her answer confused even her, but Giles seemed to cut through the words to the meaning easy enough. Probably thanks to all those years Watching Buffy. Surprisingly he didn't ask what she'd done, he just asked,

"Don't you think, perhaps, that knowing you should have handled it better is good enough? Maybe not for your conscience, but for your freedom?"

She nodded slightly, "Maybe."

"I understand your fear, Faith. I have led far from a blameless life myself, but by hiding behind it you are not helping yourself or anyone else."

"Easier said," she admitted.

"Agreed," he nodded once. "So have you explained all of this to Buffy?"

Faith grinned uneasily. "She's not interested."

"I think you'll find she very much is."

She shook her head. "No, G, she ain't. If she was, she would have demanded explanations by now, you know that. The B I remember wasn't exactly shy about making herself clear."

"The Buffy you remember is perhaps somewhat blurred and more than a little out of date," Giles told her, his voice growing stern. "You have to give her the same chance you are asking her for."

"Who said I'm asking her for any...?"

Giles' look shut her up for a second, but she took a deep breath and blurted out the part that really hurt - because talk about karma coming back to bite you on the ass.

"Look, I know your spectacles get a little rosy where Buffy is concerned, and, whatever, you know, but I'm telling you straight. The only thing Buffy wanted from me was a f... was sex. She made that clear this morning. She got what she wanted, she got her closure with it and now she's done. And after the way things have played out over the last couple of months, I'm not surprised. Disappointed - a little - maybe, but I don't blame her, not really. I was half expecting it to tell you the truth, another reason why I wasn't so sure I wanted to come here. But, you know, the worst has happened now and I haven't run back into the wilderness so I guess it'll be okay."

For the first time in the conversation Giles took his eyes off of her and sat back heavily against the couch cushions. Pulling his handkerchief from a pocket, he removed his glasses for wiping, and sighed deeply.

"Bloody Slayers."

Willow and Oz were still in the kitchen waiting, unaware that Faith had finished in Giles' office. They were sat on opposite sides of the kitchen table and had been discussing Eric the Werewolf and what Oz hoped to be able to do to help him ever since Kennedy had stormed out.

"So," she asked with a smile, "are you planning on setting up Big-werewolf-Brother programs all across America?"

Oz smiled back, shaking his head a touch. "No, that would be too much work, just for me anyway, and I'm kinda done with traveling for a little while. And I don't know if I'll be successful with Eric. I know having a mentor for a while helped me, but I've also seen it go the other way. It depends on the individual and what they want out of life."

"So what you're saying is, if the big bad wolf really likes the taste of pig, even charms and chants won't make him go Kosher."

Oz nodded. "He's young though and hopefully he didn't enjoy last night too much."

Willow pulled a face as she thought about that. How would they deal with a werewolf running around that actually wanted to eat people? The last time they'd faced that, back in Sunnydale, it had been Oz's 'bit on the side' and he'd bitten her throat out - which had cleared that up nicely.

Could they foist all of the responsibility onto him this time? It didn't seem fair - when they had a houseful of Slayers - to leave it all to him but Willow was getting the impression he was already taking it on. Obviously he was planning to stick around indefinitely then.

Kennedy was going to love that.

"You said something about not traveling anymore," she started. "Is that, like, a recent decision, because of Eric?"

'Or is it because of me?' she thought uncomfortably. What if he'd decided to stay in the area because she had moved here?

"No." He shook his head. "I've been here over a year now; ever since I came back from Chuvashia."

'Just as well I don't wear hats anymore, because they probably don't make them big enough for my head. Wow, he's been to Russia too?'

Willow had always wanted to go to Russia. Well, not exactly; she'd never even thought about going to Russia before, but now that the idea had been put in her head... She had always wanted to travel in general and she'd kinda meant more exotic places than Cleveland.

Even though turning down her chance to go to Oxford had been an easy decision to make, considering her reasons - one of whom was sat opposite her - and a decision that she'd never regretted, she sometimes wished - when things were getting especially hairy on the Hellmouth - that she'd at least gone over for the week long tour they'd offered her.

Her actual time in England, three years later, hadn't been much of a trip what with the shakes and sickness of withdrawal, the grief of having her heart ripped from her as she finally let herself mourn Tara, the guilt at what she had become and what she had tried to do and of course the being under twenty-four hour supervision from the second she and Giles had taken off from Sunnydale's small airport.

Not fun and not really the experience she'd had in mind when she day-dreamed about visiting far away places.

"You've been living in Boudenver this whole time?" she asked, surprised. "Talk about your small worlds, huh?"

"A little bigger than that," he smiled. "I have a place on the outskirts of Cleveland. Close enough to the city for the convenience, far enough away to be able to afford a decent sized place."

"Do you have your own place?" she asked, finishing her coffee and noticing he'd barely touched his although he still had his fingers cupping the mug. "Or do you rent?"

"Neither, exactly. I'm kinda borrowing the place from someone on a semi-permanent basis. I'm living rent-free but I have to keep the place standing. And electricity and water? Turns out it's easy to get addicted to them."

She chuckled and then asked what she really wanted to know. "And this place, did it come with housemates or... or any other type people?"

He looked at her impassively for a beat before saying softly, "No, no housemates. I live alone except for Ralf."

"Ralf?" she asked, confused until the memory of a very old recurring conversation hit her. "You finally got a Ralf, that is so... I can't believe it. What kind is he? Is he still a puppy? I can't wait to meet him. Can he hold a tune?" she giggled.

Oz smiled too, obviously affected by her enthusiasm. "He's technically still a puppy, but you wouldn't know it to look at him. He doesn't have a kind. More like fifty-seven of them; I got him from the city pound after I moved here. And," he shrugged, "he can sing as well as I can, better sometimes."

Willow couldn't believe he'd actually gotten the dog he'd always talked about, and named it the name. "How does he get along with wolf-you?"

"Not good. After the second month of having to spend a whole day calming down - and cleaning up after - a dog that had been scared stiff all night, I started locking him in the basement just before sunset. I feel mean, but it's better that way."

Willow got up to rinse her mug and flick the kettle on again to make another. "So it's just you and Ralf then? There's no, shall we say, significant other on the scene?" she asked nervously, her head still turned to the sink.

She heard him turn in his chair to look at her. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, no reason." She didn't really know, she just knew that knowing would put her mind at rest, one way or another. "You know me, always asking questions."

Casually, he left his chair and came to stand beside her, resting one hand on the counter by her mug. "There has been. But there's not now."

"Oh." She didn't look at him.

"Are you and Kennedy...?"

"We're together! As in together together, like, a couple, with all the togetherness that goes with."

There, she'd said it, and she'd meant it, but he was standing close enough for her senses to be engulfed in Ozness and now even more memories were surging back. She wanted to run into a different room to get away from it and she also wanted to stay and remain engulfed. Her face scrunched with the strain of conflicting feelings. The only thing that was clear-cut to her right now was the fact that there was nothing clear-cut about the way she was feeling.

"I figured," he said quietly. "I was going to ask if it was serious."

"Oh," she said again and now she turned herself towards him. "I don't know. I mean, sometimes I think so."

"And other times?" he prodded gently.

"Other times I think we don't have that much in common other than a desire to rid the world of nasties," she admitted softly. "And she can be a bit of a brat when she gets all sulky-moody for no good reason. Not that that is ever aimed at me, well except this morning. She has this stubborn streak ten miles wide which can be really exasperating and sometimes it seems like the word 'no' is an unlearnable foreign language to her." Willow shrugged as she realized she was ranting on the subject when she hadn't meant to. "I guess it's still early days. We haven't been together that long and we're already living with each other - we're bound to have a few sharp edges to start with. They'll smooth out eventually."

"She doesn't bring the same light to your eyes as Tara did," he said out of nowhere, his voice and his steady gaze so intense that she felt her breath catch in her throat.

He shouldn't have said that! She wanted to tell him he shouldn't have said that, but she couldn't. She knew he was right about it, but that didn't mean she liked hearing it or even thinking it for that matter.

"Yeah, well she's not Tara," Willow said just as quietly. "No one is."

"When I came back and you told me about Tara, I wanted to fight for you, tooth and claw if it came to that, but I knew..." he paused, reaching up gently to stroke her hair. She leaned into his touch automatically, her body's response not her brain's. "It was there in your eyes, your voice, your smile, your heartbeat and I knew. I wished I'd never left you, never given you the chance to fall in love with her, but I think, even if I had been there, you and she would have found each other." He paused again and his own breath seemed to falter before he spoke again. "I hated that but I could respect it."

Willow's lower lip trembled and she felt salt sting her eyes, but she didn't refute his statement.

"I can hear your heartbeat now," he continued so softly that she almost didn't catch it over the sudden roar of emotion in her brain. "Does Kennedy make it beat like this?"

She opened her mouth to answer, but she took too long and suddenly he was leaning in to kiss her and she knew she should lean the other way to avoid it but her stupid pesky body was still over-riding her brain and when their lips touched, it was so soft, so familiar and so nice...

When Faith's Parole Officer had arrived on the scene, Xander had been glad for the distraction allowing him to slip back up the stairs and get dressed. As far as he was concerned she couldn't have turned up at a better time because any more questions about him and Andrew...

He'd dressed quickly, eager to get out of the house and concentrate on labor-intensive stuff to take his mind off the freak occurrence, but he'd lingered long enough to brush his teeth again and swirl his mouth with Listerine a few times. Not that Andrew had tasted bad, but...


He'd glanced in the mirror as he pulled on his wrist watch, shaking his head at his reflection. It wouldn't have been so bad if it had happened when he was drunk! Then he could have blamed it on the drunkenness. But he'd been stone cold sober this morning.

Obviously tiredness didn't just kill, it also made you gay.

With another shake of his head he'd left his room, ducked back in when he saw Buffy and Faith coming up the front stairs and then as soon as they were safely bickering in Buffy's room, he'd headed out.

That had been an hour and a half ago, and an hour and a half in Boudenver buying the stuff he needed to fix up Will and Kenny's room hadn't made him forget the details of Andrew's tongue or shed any light on his reasons for making acquaintance with Andrew's tongue in the first place.

As he pulled the jeep onto Sunset Lane, something in the rear view mirror caught his eye and he turned his head to look into it more properly. A cab had pulled in after him. Maybe it was Giles back from seeing the cadet's off at the airport.

He sighed with relief as he pulled around the side of the house and swung into the open garage-barn door. Three less teenage boys goofing around was a hell of a good thing. Especially those boys. It was a pity that Reece kid was staying, he was a total asshead; but Naomi - the tall blonde girly-watcher - he strangely didn't mind so much.

Still, three less people crowding the dinner table, hogging the showers and causing low level mayhem was gonna be pretty sweet.

Grabbing the stuff he'd bought out of the back of the truck in both hands, he exited the garage and set it all down again so he could push the door shut, pull the chain through the handles and slip the big padlock through some links. He didn't snap it closed, though. They only had one key at the moment and he'd be damned if he was going to cut through the thick chain every time someone couldn't find it. Once was enough.

Outside, sliding out of the back of the idling taxi came Miranda and Cici. He groaned inwardly even as he smiled at them. They'd gotten rid of three teens and gained two straight back. That wasn't fair. Couldn't they at least have had a few days with the reduced number of adolescents?

"Hey girls!" He walked closer, stopping by the cab and reaching into his pocket for his billfold to pay the fare. "You came back then?"

"Hey Xander," Miranda returned, smiling big and happy.

"Hello." Cici was also smiling, although she didn't seem quite so bubbly.

"How much?" He asked the cab driver.

"It's okay Xander, I've got this," a familiar male voice said.

Xander looked up over the roof of the car. "Oh hey, Principal Wood. I didn't know you were coming."

He did that inward groan thing again. Not just because they were now back up to three extra people, although Robin Wood was further from being a teenager than he was, but also because he'd always felt a little uncomfortable around the well-spoken kick ass demon fighter. He knew that if this guy had been in charge at Sunnydale High instead of either Flutie or Snyder, he would have been a lot more intimidated at being sent to the Principal's office.

But then his old man would have probably insisted that his mom home schooled him anyway, rather than send him to a school run by a black guy.

'Dear old dad, always so full of the enlightened bullshit,' he thought sarcastically as he came around the car to say hello.

He liked Wood's handshake, he decided. It was all firm and manly but he didn't try and crush Xander's hand like most guys did - the polite, although more painful, version of the pissing content. It wasn't as if Xander's hand couldn't take it, he just didn't buy into the 'You can tell a man's character from his handshake' ball of crap. Plenty of downright bastards had good handshakes.

"I'm not a Principal anymore, Xander," Robin Wood smiled as he went around to the trunk to collect three suitcases: two girly, one normal and half the size. "Don't get out, I can manage," he called to the driver who was sitting obliviously in his seat, just waiting for his money.

Wood cast Xander a glance, his face impassive save for the 'can you believe this professionalism?' look in his eyes.

Xander huffed out a laugh and Robin quirked a corner of his mouth as he set all the suitcases in a neat row and reached, presumably, for his wallet. "No really, I'll cover it," Xander pulled some notes free from his billfold. "You're a guest and we run a full service hospitality program around here. These two lovely ladies will even act as your bellhops." He nodded to Cici and Miranda who were still hovering - like they didn't live there and could go anywhere they liked.

"Boys dorm please?" he added. "Which is now fully functional so you might wanna knock just in case."

"Is Alison about?" Miranda asked as she picked up both hers and Wood's cases like they weighed nothing.

Xander cocked his head, listening to some strange grunting noises on the cusp of hearing that could only be wild boars mating or slayers training… or mating.

"Training field at a guess," he suggested and the two young slayers walked away to dump their stuff and find their friend.

Xander wondered how they were doing. No one except Giles and Buffy had really had a chance to talk to the two girls about Kate's death before they'd jumped at the chance to go home. At least they had both chosen to come back; that had to count for something.

He made a mental note to lend a quiet, supportive ear to them both as he made his way back to the indolent driver's window, cash in hand.

"Really, I should..." Robin was starting to protest again.

Xander cut off his well-meaning attempt mid-sentence, "No, you brought Cici and Miranda back with you..." He stopped, confused for a second. "Did you somehow bump into them at the airport? Talk about your efficient coincidences, huh?"

"We arrived by bus actually."

"Someone would only have had to go get them anyway so you did us a favor, might as well at least let the Council cover the cost. And this," he waved his twenty dollars in the air, "is good old fashioned Council money; and we've got Willow in there trying to fashion some new money for when it runs out," Xander grinned at Robin as he handed the money to the driver, who gave him a look. "I was joking about that last part," he backtracked.

The driver grumbled something non-friendly and drove off without giving Xander his change.


"So's this." Wood was waving around a ten dollar bill now.


"This is Council money too. Wired to me in advance by Giles. Enough to cover my fares and those of the two girls, but thanks," Wood smiled big. "Now I have enough left to order a pizza tonight."

Xander stared after the cab even though it was long out of sight around the side of the house. "I just got robbed six dollars, tipping for a service I didn't even use, and now you're gonna get pizza."

Wood shrugged, "Well, not right now. Later."

He was looking around, checking the place out. Not that there was much to see here between the side of the house and the garage-barn so Xander grabbed up his supplies for the work upstairs and lead the way around the house towards the back, nodding for Robin to follow him.

"So... how?" he asked as they walked.

"Well I hoped you'd have a phone, but if not..." he looked around again, slightly fearfully, as the wide expanse of open countryside that was their garden came into view. "I guess my cell phone will actually work out here, right?"

"Reception's actually pretty good out here, unless there's a storm and then you're screwed. Inside it's crackly on a good day but you get used to it." Robin didn't look so sure. "Besides I wasn't talking pizza, which by the way had better not have olives on it, because I'm sharing. How come Giles asked you to do that? Were you going their way or something?"

"Not exactly. It was my first assignment working for the new Council of Watchers," Wood said, with more pride than Xander would have expected him to feel, and then the sentence actually sunk in.

He stopped, a paint roller slipping from the jumble in his arms to hit the gravel. "Giles gave you a job?"

"Yeah, well my last position was terminated rather abruptly," Wood smiled self-deprecatingly before continuing. "And between you and me, I never actually had the qualifications the Sunnydale School Board thought I did. I just knew I needed to be in that town and I hoped, correctly as it turned out, that they'd be too desperate to get any fool in there, that they wouldn't look too closely."

"You're not a teacher?" Xander asked surprised, although he didn't know why because it actually made his academic record make more sense.

He'd always thought the teachers graded all willy-nilly which was why he got great grades in some subjects and could barely pass others while doing the same level of work - not all that much - throughout.

"No, I'm a qualified teacher, but I only finished with college five years ago. I guess the School Board just hoped I was an over-achiever." He laughed quietly and then seemed to notice Xander was struggling with his load. He bent to pick up the roller before saying, "Here, let me help you with some of that."

"I got it, thanks. If I let go of one thing now, the whole heap will drop." Xander started walking for the back door again. "So you're like, a Watcher now?"

"No, not a Watcher. Just an operative at the moment, but, well, one day maybe; it would be nice."

"I think you might find that day comes sooner than you think. We're crying out for Watchers just now and the pickings are slim." Xander grimaced, thinking about the cadets again.

"Don't put yourself down," Wood said gently, misunderstanding. "I saw how you were with the girls back in Sunnydale; you really had a way with them…"

"Me?" Xander asked incredulously as a wallpaper steamer hit the gravel with a dull thud followed by a pack of wire brushes. "Oh no, mi compadre, I'm no Watcher. Can you really imagine Giles giving me the keys to the magic kingdom? I mean, other than if he wanted me to pop in and mend a wall or if he needed someone to be there to let the plumber in."

"Sorry, my mistake," Wood said slowly, obviously embarrassed. "It's just when you assumed I was, I assumed..." he gave a tiny shrug and picked up the DIY tools at their feet.

"Then I guess we just proved the old proverb true," Xander said lightly. "Come on; let's go see if the boss is back from the airport yet.

Finally making it to the back door, Wood - trying to juggle the least amount of items - opened it, politely letting Xander go first.

Which was why, even with his impaired vision, he was able to see Willow jump three feet backwards from Oz, a shocked, scared look on her face.

"Everything okay?" he asked, keeping his voice totally casual and pretty impressed that he did. "And if not, you might want to leave explanations 'til later because we have a new houseguest."

"A-another one?" Willow's voice was a low squeak.

Xander stepped aside to allow Robin Wood to enter.

"Hello Willow," he entered, smiling warmly, before looking at Xander again, "Uh where..?"

"Just put them on the table, I can take them upstairs in a minute." He demonstrated by dumping his armload onto the scarred pine surface.

"Robin, hey!" Willow did a little excited jig on the spot.

Xander couldn't tell if she was that pleased to see him or just that pleased of a distraction. He glanced at Oz, but as usual his old friend's face was unreadable.

"Giles said you were arriving today," Willow continued. "Did you pick up the girls okay? Where are they?"

"Boys dorm," Xander said simply, wondering why he was always the last to know everything.

"Wow," Will grinned. "They're moving quick."

Robin chuckled as he said, "They took my bag there for me. It's nice to see you again Willow, but I'm not sure of the etiquette here, do I shake your hand or is a kiss on the cheek allowed?"

"Yeah, we're a little short on rooms at the moment, what with one thing and another. Thing being people turning up all the time and another being the rooms we have burning down." Willow chuckled, adding, "And a kiss on the cheek would be nice."

Grinning, he leaned down to do just that, "Well, providing Kennedy doesn't come after me."

As Wood leaned away again, Xander could see the brittle smile on his best friend's face. Okay, he'd missed something somewhere - Damn stupid one eye.

"I've never kissed a Principal before," she giggled a little.

"Well as I said to Xander, I'm not a Principal anymore."

"Oh now you've gone and ruined it," she mock-groaned.

"Is Faith still here?" Xander asked idly as he went through all the stuff on the table, making sure he had all he needed. "Or is she on her way back to prison already?"

"Still here as far as I know," Willow answered. "At least I haven't heard any sirens or anything. And you could sound a little like you cared."

"I care," Xander replied without much feeling in it.

"Faith's here?" Robin asked, sounding surprised, and if Xander was guessing correctly, pleased.

He looked up and caught Willow's eyes. She looked concerned, but he couldn't help seeing the funny a little. He tried not to let it show though.

"She got back this morning, or well, last night, only we didn't see her until this morning," Willow explained. "Because she and Buffy, well they had some... some catching up to do, of the... of the, you know, kind." She winced a little as she begged: "Please tell me you get my drift?"

Xander looked up to see if he did.

He did.

"Okay, I think I missed a lot." Oz spoke for the first time since Xander had entered the kitchen. "'Cause it sounded there like you were saying..."

"Oh, man, you have no idea," Xander interrupted him, grinning. "The amount of stuff that has happened since you left would fill about thirty of Giles' Watcher diaries." He thought about that. "In fact it probably does."

He noticed Oz was looking at his eye-patch, but tactfully not saying anything.

Xander looked down, losing the mirth a little. "Yeah, like this," he tapped the elastic running through his hair. "I'll tell you about it some time."

"Long story?" Oz asked, his voice neutral - not that that was unusual.

"Not really. Just gruesome, and easier to handle after a few beers," he admitted.

The joviality in the room had dropped into minus figures after the small exchange, which left Xander feeling bad for being the cause even though he hadn't actually caused anything. He looked up eagerly when the kitchen door opened slowly, and his enthusiasm only dropped a little when he realised it was Faith entering.

Any distraction was better than no distraction.

"Faith, you're still here!" Willow said happily. It was hard to tell if it was genuine or if she was just glad of the interruption too. Her face dropped as she noticed the other woman's cautious entrance. "Unless you've only come to say goodbye. You haven't have you?"

Okay, she was genuine then.

"No Willow, I got me a reprieve, no thanks to you," Faith smirked.

"I'm really sorry," Willow began, but Faith waved her off.

"Don't be stupid, I was just kidding. It's not your fault I don't think before I do. Wish it was. It'd make some of this shit goin' around..." she tapped the side of her head "...easier to deal with."

She entered the kitchen fully, letting the door close behind her. She seemed smaller than usual. Maybe it was seeing her in Buffy's comfy lazy-day clothes that did it; they certainly weren't her usual style.

"I didn't think redemption was supposed to be easy," he said, looking back down at his tools.

"It's not," was all she offered before registering the other people in the room. "Oz, hey, long time no see."

"No offense, but I actually thought it would be longer," Oz said casually.

"Me too," Faith smiled. "Can't say I'm sorry it's not though." She stretched her arms high above her head.

Normally it would have been a practiced move to show herself off, but today it just looked like a comfortable stretch.

"To see me?" Oz asked surprised, although it barely showed.

"Well, you're not so bad, but I actually meant to be out, you know, of jail. It's a nice feeling knowing I'm out 'cause I'm supposed to be and not just because I have to be," Faith explained.

Oz looked at Xander again, one eyebrow slightly raised.

"If you're free, we'll go for a beer one night this week, and I'll bring you up to speed," he promised with a smile. "2000 to 2003: The 'growing up is hard to do with the demons inside you' years."

"Sounds good," Oz smiled.

Xander nodded, feeling, not giddy with the prospect, because apparently that was not a man-type emotion, but something manly akin to it. Finally a dude to bond with over beers who wasn't a little nerd like Andrew or, well let's face it, an older nerd like Giles.

"Hello Faith," Robin stepped forward from where he'd been standing back by the door again. "How are you?"

She must have already seen him there. It was a big kitchen, but there were only five of them in the room and Wood was definitely the biggest. She looked as if she had been trying to avoid saying hello more than anything, but having that option taken away from her, she was instantly all friendly.

"Rob, how's it going?" She walked forward confidently, gave him an obvious once over, and hugged him briefly before stepping back to reclaim her own space. "Keeping up with the training I see." She gently punched his abs.

He rubbed his stomach lightly where her fist had connected, "Yeah well, never know what fiend from hell might be around the next corner," he grinned.

"I didn't know you were living here too. Jeez this place is like one of those freak-ass communes or something," Faith chuckled. "And does that mean we all get a share of the food? 'Cause I've been starving since before yesterday."

"Well, you missed the complimentary continental breakfast, what with it happening at breakfast time." Xander told her, not looking up.

He had to, but he'd grabbed a burger from The Mouth after his trip to the hardware store.

"So that's it, kitchen's closed?" Faith asked.

Out the corner of his eye, he saw her look hopefully at Oz, who was still standing by the sink. - Willow had silently disappeared into her Magick room, shutting the door behind her - "I don't live here," Oz shrugged.

She looked to Robin next, "And I arrived just five minutes ago, but I was thinking of ordering a pizza later if you'd like to join me."

"That sounds great, Rob," Faith replied, "But it doesn't really help me now."

"And she's not having my share just because she's got Slayer parts you want to...!" Xander caught himself before going any further and gave a grim smile. "...train with."

"We'll get a large," Robin said smoothly. "With no olives."

"Or mushrooms," Faith put in.

Xander looked up, ready to argue that he liked mushrooms on his pizza but the kitchen door swung open and Giles walked in.

"Oz, nice to see you again. Are you here about Eric?" he asked.

"Came to pick up the notes you made," Oz nodded. "Then I'll go and see him, find out how he feels about last night."

Giles nodded. "Yes, I'm sure he will find your presence very helpful. Willow tried her best, put together a dossier of werewolf facts for him, but obviously she has no idea what it truly feels like to experience the lunar change."

"Rupert," Wood spoke up, catching Giles attention.

"Robin! You're here, good. Was your journey okay?" Giles walked forward to shake hands and continued without waiting for an answer. "I'm sorry, things are pretty much go, go, go around here at the moment, but this is wonderful timing. For your first assignment I'd like you to work with Oz here. We have a young werewolf running around I'm afraid, and his parents' efforts to restrain him last night didn't quite go to plan. Oz, having some experience in this matter, has agreed to talk to him, but I'd really like a Council member there too. If that's okay with you of course, Oz."

Oz must have nodded because Giles started steering both men out of the kitchen towards his office, but Xander didn't see because he was at the sink drawing a bucket of scalding water to take up to Willow's room.

Just before Giles left the room completely, he spoke to Xander, "Has the plumber been yet? All these bodies, the shower block has become something of an urgency. Get on to him for me again, will you please? And be around this afternoon in case he needs any help?" It sounded like a question, but it wasn't.

Xander gave him a tight smile, turned off the faucet and went over to the phone, "Sure."

"Thank you Xander." Giles left.

"'Cause it's not like I have a million other things to do too," he muttered once the door was fully shut. "Call the plumber, Xan-man. Cut the grass, Xan-man. Build a training room, Xan-man. Clean up the damn soot stains and make sure Willow and Kennedy's bedroom isn't about to fall into my pompous den of Old Spice, Xan-man..."

He trailed off when it was obvious the plumber guy wasn't going to answer his phone and replaced the receiver back on the wall-mount. He'd have to try again later.

"You know, I don't think I've ever heard Giles call you Xan-man," Faith said irritatingly from behind him. He'd forgotten she was there and as he flinched slightly at her voice, he hoped she didn't notice. "Sure you're not just putting all that work on yourself?"

"I'm sure," he told her as he went to the basement door beneath the stairs and walked down into the dark.

He didn't bother flipping the light on, the big duffle bag he used for tool-luggage was on top of a rack of shelving right at the bottom. There were two things he liked to be able to lay his hands on in a hurry - and with his friends they were both just as important - A good solid weapon and his tool bag.

When he went back up to the kitchen Faith was still standing just inside the room, swinging her arms, not seeming to know what to do with herself.

He finished his answer. "When I took my construction management exam I had to learn all about Worker's Rights. You know, things like tea breaks and maximum weekly working hours on site. I guess it's not fair to blame Giles," Xander unzipped his big canvas bag and started packing all his purchases into it so he could take them upstairs easy. "The old Watchers Council didn't even go in for Human Rights, let alone Workers Rights; and librarian-ing isn't exactly hard labor - except maybe the first week of school."

Bag in one hand, he bent to the cupboard under the sink to grab a fresh dish cloth and a big yellow sponge. Dropping them in the bucket of water, he picked that up by the handle.

"So is there something I can eat around here?" Faith asked, realizing he was about to go up the stairs. She was rubbing her tummy now and either she really was hungry, or they were about to have a thunderstorm.

"You're in a kitchen, use your imagination." He looked back at her from four steps up. "This isn't prison, Faith; gotta start doing stuff for yourself now."

She just stared at him, a look he didn't get on her face. He shrugged and started up the stairs again. He did not have time to play baby-sitter to Faith, and he sure didn't want to.

If her time in the clink had wiped the memory of how to use a can-opener, then she'd just had to re-learn it again quick, wouldn't she? If anyone should appreciate the survival of the fittest aspect here, it was Faith.

Buffy was still in the training barn with Kennedy but they'd both grown bored of the magazine. Still feeling the need of an outlet for her frustration, she was trying to teach Kennedy the Tai Chi Angel had once spent hours teaching her.

Except she couldn't really remember it so she was improvising the slow, graceful moves as she went, and Kennedy, standing to her left, copied her perfectly. The longer they continued though, the bigger Kennedy's grin became.

"You're making this up as you go along, aren't you?" Kennedy finally chuckled as Buffy led her in a move reminiscent of Daniel-san's stork position before dropping down to squat like a frog.

"I am not," Buffy insisted indignantly, concentrating on keeping her breathing nice and even.

Kennedy looked at her and with a straight face said, "Ribbit!" before jumping a foot forward.

Buffy kept her indignation for a second longer before giving in to giggles and plopping backwards onto her butt.

"Okay, all I remember is the opening stance," she admitted. "It was a long time ago!"

"Well if you can remember what we just did come next April Fools Day, we should definitely get the girls lined up and doing it." Kennedy popped out of her squat and offered Buffy a hand up, which she accepted. "Andrew could video it for the internet and we could make a fortune."

"Stick a snazzy tune to it and it might become next year's big dance craze," Buffy agreed. "So did you wanna do something more Slayerly instead? Lift weights. Beat up the punch bags. Spar?"

"All of the above sound good," Kennedy admitted.

"At the same time?" Buffy joked.

"Don't think you could handle it?" Kennedy smirked. "Maybe you're getting old."

"And maybe you need me to kick your ass to remind you who the senior Slayer is around here," Buffy shot back, hoping to entice the other girl to spar.

"Yeah, senior as in old," Kennedy goaded. "You couldn't kick my ass if I turned around and bent over in front of you."

"Oh really?" Buffy gave her a challenging look.

This was just what she needed. Going ten rounds, well Kennedy would probably only manage a couple, with the cheeky rich kid would take her mind off Faith for a little while and help her work out some of her frustration - both with and because of Faith - at the same time.

"Care to put that ass of yours where your big mouth is?" she asked, doing a little goading herself now.

"And take the title of Alpha Slayer away from you, Buffy?" Kennedy asked with a smirk. "But then what would you have left? Nah, I'm happy to let you keep deluding yourself while I get on with the real work around here. Which I'm gonna go do now." She hitched her thumb at the doors before turning on the spot and heading for them. "I've got Watcher training to do. Go swing your scythe and recount your glory days or something."

Buffy's mouth was a tight infuriated line and, as Kennedy turned her back, she kicked the younger girl's butt with the side of her sneaker - hard enough to lift her feet clean off the floor and carry her almost to the door of the training barn.

Kennedy landed firmly on her feet and turned back, the look of surprise on her face as she used both hands to rub her ass - that was most likely stinging a little from the impact of Buffy's foot - made the blonde crack up.

"Just a little lesson, Kenny: always respect your elders," Buffy said as smugly as she could. "You might have youth and enthusiasm on your side, but I've got all that experience and wiliness on mine. But don't feel bad, better Slayers than you have taken me on and... holy!" Buffy fell back to the side, ducking her head.

Kennedy was flying through the air once more, only this time she was doing it under her own steam. Her foot was out, ready to kick, ninja-style - all that was missing was the 'Hai-ya!' - And if Buffy hadn't moved fast it would have connected solidly with her face.

Okay, so Kenny did want to play after all. Good.

Kennedy, grinning like a maniac who'd just been introduced to her first chainsaw, covered the distance back towards her in four fast running-strides, obviously preparing to launch herself into another kick.

Buffy, expecting the younger slayer to sail harmlessly over her head as she dropped low to avoid it, was ready to laugh at her. Except the younger slayer didn't. Kennedy dropped too, sliding the last two feet across the floor - probably grazing her bare knees galore - straight towards Buffy, again with the ninja foot out!

Buffy slapped the foot away hard before it could connect and leap-frogged over the other slayer while she was still sliding along. Kennedy reacted quickly, lifting her whole body onto her hands so she could use both legs to sweep Buffy's out from under her. Buffy hopped over both of them like she was playing jump-rope.

"You're not even trying," Kennedy grumbled as she scrambled back to her feet.

"Yes I am, I'm trying to make you look like an idiot," Buffy grinned. Leaning to the right to avoid a careless high kick and then to the left to avoid another, she added gleefully, "And so far it's working."

"Fine," Kennedy stopped her exertions, slightly out of breath. "You're the master; I bow down to your greater skill."

"Nice of you to say so," Buffy smirked. "But I think you should actually do it, you know, just to seal the deal."

"Bow?" Kennedy gave her an incredulous look.

Buffy shrugged, not expecting for one moment that the proud girl would do it, but loving rubbing her easy victory in the younger slayer's face all the same. "Just to make sure the lesson has truly sunk in."

"Okay," Kennedy shrugged, bowed low and hooked her hands around the backs of Buffy's ankles.

'Really shoulda seen that coming,' Buffy thought once she was lying on her back. 'Pride, fall - remember it.'

She rolled out of the way before Kennedy could land across her stomach and pin her shoulders to the floor. She was halfway to her feet when she was tackled from the side; and then they were wrestling and Buffy couldn't get enough space to pull any wily moves that would out-class the other slayer.

Down here on the floor it was all about who had the most strength and stamina. Faith always won these little bouts, always managing to pin her first, her height an obvious advantage even if their stamina was evenly matched.

Buffy shook her head slightly; she wasn't wrestling Faith, she was wrestling Kennedy. Probably a good idea to remember that. Not just because of the tactical advantages it might give her, but also because she'd be less likely to try and rip the other slayer's clothing off that way.

She'd wrestled like this with Faith the night before. Well not quite like this - less rowdy, more naughty - but it was bringing back a surprising amount of memories.

With that in mind - and not wanting it in there - Buffy pushed one arm roughly between herself and Kennedy and forced the other slayer back enough to throw her off completely with her knees.

Kennedy landed a foot away, almost in a crouch as if ready to spring back on to Buffy at some sign only she would see. Her eyes were alight, her hair half out of her pony-tail and she was grinning as she panted, her tongue poking just slightly out from between her lips as she watched Buffy carefully.

Buffy watched back just as carefully, burning the image into her mind. This was Kennedy - not Faith - this was Kennedy, Willow's girlfriend. Remember that.

'God, please remember that!' she thought as Kennedy telegraphed her pounce and Buffy rolled backwards and to her feet, just in the nick of time.

Well, sort of. Kennedy, with the momentum of her pounce, wrapped her arms around Buffy's waist and took them both back to the ground.

The jarring impact stung Buffy's butt at least as much as her kick must have stung Kennedy's earlier, and this would probably be a good time to stop and call it even, but to do that Buffy had to gain the upper hand first. Why? Just... because.

It took a few more minutes of them rolling around together, grunting as they both tried to get on top, before Buffy claimed victory. Sitting astride the other girl's middle, arms straight and elbows locked to keep both of Kennedy's wrists flush against the wooden floor, Buffy grinned down into Kennedy's flushed face.

"I win. Say it," she teased.

"Never." Kennedy struggled a bit, but Buffy had her held fast.

"Kennedy, you lost, I won, all fair and square. Now be a good little slayer and say I'm the best, and then I'll let you up."

"And what do I say if I don't want you to let me up?" Kennedy's breath was still heavy from the fighting, but it was her eyes that gave away what she was feeling.

"Uh, Kenny," Buffy started cautiously. 'Not Faith, not Faith, not Faith.'

'Cept, she kinda looked like Faith, almost, sort of, in this not very good light. And Faith didn't want to know anyway, and apparently neither did Willow so would it really be so bad?

'Willow!' Buffy breathed out heavily.

She couldn't do it to Willow, no way. She could do it to Faith, especially as right now Faith was doing it to her, but Willow was an innocent bystander and it was in no way fair to drag her into The Faith and Buffy Show, just to get back at her cheating, manipulative not-girlfriend.

"Not a good idea," she said softly.

"I was just joking around," Kennedy said just as softly.

The look on Kennedy's face said different though, and the fact that Buffy still wasn't getting up probably said different too. Kennedy shifted beneath her, pushing up slightly. It could have been a hint to move or it could have been... Buffy pushed back down against a tensed stomach and saw Kennedy suck in a silent breath. She did the same but hers was way more subtle, probably only noticeable by the darkening of her eyes.

'What am I doing?' Buffy's inner-self yelled. 'I don't want to do this. I am in no way attracted to my best friend's girlfriend. Half the time I don't even understand why my best friend is attracted to her girlfriend! So... What the hell am I doing?' V "If you and Faith always feel like this after fighting, I get why you can forgive her so easy," Kennedy breathed, a corner of her mouth quirking up. V Buffy chuckled softly, feeling the joke break the tension - but not the hot gaze - between them. Maybe looking away would help with that. Maybe she was never going to find out. V "I haven't forgiven her," she purred, lowering her elbows to the ground so that her forearms were laying over Kennedy's, bringing their faces inches closer.

"Really, then how come you let her in your pants so fast?"

"Well, it helped that I wasn't wearing pants in the first place; and besides it was more about need, pure physical 'I haven't had sex in way too long' need, than anything to do with forgiveness."

"So it's not that you love her or anything?" Kennedy asked sarcastically. "You were just desperate."

"Yeah. I mean, no! I wasn't just desperate. I mean I was desperate - for her that is, but..." Buffy closed her eyes, smiling awkwardly. "You know what, never mind. Let's just say, I was pleased to see her, but she's got a long way to go before she reaches absolution for leaving me high and dry in the first place. What about you and Will?"

Kennedy shrugged, her shoulders lifting off the floor a little, touching their torsos together, causing both of them to blink at the slight contact - damn slayer hormones!

"For all I know, she's in there getting jiggy with her ex right now. She certainly dropped me soon enough when he showed up this morning. Anyone would think she was cheating on him with me, not the other way around." Kennedy's head was still off of the floor, her lips not quite craning towards Buffy, but it was possible an outsider would read it as that.

"Willow wouldn't cheat..." Buffy began before biting her tongue.

Except for the time she had - cheated on Oz in fact. Life really was just some big crazy circle, wasn't it? And as much as she really wanted to kiss Kennedy right now, she had to admit it was easier imagining Willow with the quiet, unshakable Oz than the brash, mouthy sla...

'WHAT? Okay brain, you know I don't really want to kiss her, it was just a... just a...' Buffy tried to slam on her brain's brakes - obviously this wasn't right - but her brain was pretty strong, at least the evil side of it was. 'Oh to hell with it, just kiss her already before the moment passes. Wouldn't hurt to find out if I'm suddenly attracted to all girls lips now and not just Faith's, anyway.'

"I know about Xander in high school, so I know she's capable of it," Kennedy insisted before changing tack. "So if you're going to kiss me, do it now because I'm starting to get neck ache leaning up like this."

'At least we're on the same page,' Buffy thought.

Which was more than they could say for their partners, so maybe this wasn't so wrong after all. Buffy rested more of her weight on Kennedy as she lowered her head, pausing just shy of contact to lick her lips and prolong the nervous tension building in her stomach.

Kennedy strained her neck closer, her arms still pinned above her head by Buffy, and brushed their lips together, feather-soft, not even really a kiss at all because Buffy wasn't quite close enough. "Come on," she murmured. "If we're doing it, let's do it."

"Okay," Buffy murmured back, deliberately trying not to think that 'it' could very well mean more than 'kiss'.

It was too late to worry though because her lips had gotten bored with the hovering and were now pretty much attacking Kennedy's. And as much as that might have sounded like a tired cliche, it was also a pretty damn accurate description for the way they were kissing.

It reminded her of kissing Spike, back in those first days of their illicit affair, before feelings - hers anyway - had played any part in it. Hard, raw, passionate, but with very little emotion.

That was fine. It was exactly what Buffy needed as a counterpoint to all the emotion she had going on with Faith. Faith had never kissed her the way Kennedy was; if she had Buffy would never have understood how profound their connection could be and certainly wouldn't have fallen in love with her in three days flat. Maybe eventually she would have fallen for her anyway, given enough time, but it wouldn't have been on the strength of just one kiss.

Of course, it had been more than a kiss that had made Buffy fall in love with Faith, it had been lots of other stuff too, but it had been the kiss in the basement that had unblocked whatever it was that had been in the way of Buffy seeing it before.

Not that kissing Kennedy was bad, she decided as Kennedy tried to free her arms, wrap her legs around her, roll them over, anything to gain the upper hand here - and Buffy denied her every time - it was actually a lot of fun in a totally bad, wrong, burn in hell kind of way.

"I've never cheated on anyone before," Kennedy told her as they broke for air, both breathing heavily. "Never had a girlfriend in the traditional sense of the word to cheat on."

Buffy was leaning up on her elbows again, looking down into Kennedy's flushed face while she waited for her breath to come back. "Willow's your first?" she found that hard to believe.

"First steady girlfriend, not first..." Kennedy's hands ran up and down Buffy's back. " know."

Buffy did know. She nodded, "Me too, although I guess I'm not really cheating on anyone now either. Faith seemed pretty sure this morning that she doesn't think we're together."

"So it's just me then?"

Buffy shrugged, "Guess so."

She leaned back down, capturing Kennedy's lips in another kiss which was returned for maybe half a minute before the younger slayer pulled her lips away, letting her head thunk onto the cement floor below.

"I'm in love with Willow!"

Buffy had been about to follow her down for more kissing, but this statement stopped her head halfway and popped it back up again. "You are?"

"Yeah," Kennedy said sheepishly.

"You love her? As in, really love her?" Buffy checked.

"Yeah. I mean, I think I already knew, but... now I guess I really know, you know?"

"Then what are you doing kissing me?" Buffy sat herself up so she could look down on Kennedy better.

"I didn't know, I've never been in love with anyone before; and then... your tongue was in my mouth and bang!" Kennedy frowned, her head was still resting on the floor and her eyes were kinda faraway. "I knew it was the wrong tongue to have in there, because it wasn't Willow's."

"Well that didn't seem to faze you before you realized!" Buffy pointed out angrily as she got to her feet. "You were quite happy to kiss me when you thought you just liked her a lot!"

Kennedy jumped to her feet too, "You were quite happy kissing me and you knew without doubt that you're in love with Faith. So why are you yelling at me?"

"I don't know," Buffy admitted, her voice still raised. "I'm just a little spun right now, okay? I can't believe I kissed the woman who's in love with my best friend. How am I going to tell Willow?"

"No!" Kennedy raised her hands as if she was going to keep Buffy's mouth shut with just the gesture. "You can't. I haven't even told her I love her yet, if you tell her this first she'll never even listen to me, let alone believe me." Looking down, she asked herself: "Shit, how am I going to tell Willow I love her?"

"I can't keep something like this from her," Buffy insisted. "She's my best friend! I can't go through life knowing I'm living a lie."

"It was just a little kiss," Kennedy tried to reason with her.

"No, Kenny, that wasn't a little kiss. It may not have been heart-stopping, but it wasn't little either. This is a little kiss..."

Buffy grabbed Kennedy by the shoulders and planted a kiss on her lips. At first the other girl was frozen with surprise, but only at first.

They were both breathing heavy again by the time Buffy released Kennedy's shoulders.

"That wasn't a little kiss!" Kennedy yelled, touching her lips.

"I know!" Buffy yelled back. "I was there!"

Okay, she was getting hysterical. She could use a paper bag to breathe into or... or a stinging slap to the side of the face.

"Oooow," she rubbed her cheek. "What the hell?"

"You were hysterical."

"So were you, but I'm not hitting you." Buffy's face was still stinging.

"No, you were kissing me..." By the look on Kennedy's face she suddenly had a thought. "And... if you don't promise not to tell Willow, I'll tell Faith first."

Buffy gave a harsh bark of amusement. "Go ahead. It'll give the two of you something to bond over. In fact if you leave now you can probably catch the first regaling of how easy I was last night. Faith is probably holding a discussion group at Barnies right this minute."

She started backing up towards the door as she said this. Not that she really had any intention of telling Willow that she'd accidentally kissed her girlfriend, because it had just been an accident and one they both had never meant to happen, hence the accidentalness. She just had to get out of the barn before accidents could happen again.

"Buffy, please. If you tell her, she'll dump me and it'll be all your fault. You know how you went through your Bette Midler phase?" Buffy blushed. "Well Limp Bizkit helps me. Loud. At four in the morning." Kennedy wheedled. "Can you live with foisting that on the rest of the house?"

"I'm sorry, Ken. Really I am, but I think Will should know what kind of... Yikes!"

Kennedy was running, launching herself with full Slayer speed and power towards her, and Buffy had no time to duck or slide out of the way before their bodies crashed together and the impetus knocked Buffy from her feet.

'Xander is going to be mad we put a hole in his training barn door,' Buffy thought as she waited for the wood to splinter around them.

Only somehow they made it outside without that happening, Buffy knew they did because when she landed, with Kennedy on top of her, she landed on grass, and there was sky above. Dead give away they were outside. So the question wasn't where but how?

"Sorry, didn't know you two were... doing that."

Kennedy looked down at her with real panic in her eyes as four sets of feet surrounded their out-of-breath, tousled selves with their perspiriness and their tangled limbs.

Buffy groaned, 'Damn it!'

Act Three, Part A

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