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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 Three, Part B

Buffy sighed deeply as the bathroom door clicked shut.

Coming in and seeing Faith going through her panty drawer had been something of a shock, leaving her with barely the presence of mind to tie her robe shut before speaking. Not that Faith probably would have minded. Buffy could have sworn that Faith was trying to untie the towel belt with her eyes anyway and maybe she should have kept the other slayer in the room until she'd succeeded.

Nice plan in theory, but Faith would have been late for her date with Robin and she would have been late for her date with Alex...

Okay, and her point was?

Shaking her head, she looked through her wardrobe. Trust Faith to have chosen her sexiest outfit. Not that Buffy had been planning on wearing it tonight - smart casual was her goal - but the thought of Faith wearing her brand new stuff to seduce someone else rankled.

Choosing a strappy red top and black pants, Buffy went to choose underwear next and cringed as she looked through the drawer. Faith had been in here. She'd had two handfuls of the underthings when Buffy had startled her. That might have been more of a turn on if they were all sexy little purchases from Victoria's Secret, but there were more than a few comfy Pink K briefs amongst the good stuff.

"Yet she still seemed plenty flustered when I caught her red-handed," Buffy smiled as she chose a comfy pair from the drawer and dropped her robe ready to pull them on. "Almost as flustered as I felt when she wouldn't stop watching me in the mirror."

She'd used three times as much make-up as she usually did for one sitting, just because she hadn't wanted to break the strange, still moment between them.

The shower came to life next door. Faith was in there, probably using the delicious smelling passion fruit shower gel. Robin was in for a real treat tonight.

Buffy looked down at her naked self, pondering. If she went in there, to say, scrub Faith's back, would Robin still be in for a treat?

That was the million dollar question alright. If she opened the bathroom door right now and climbed into the warm, Faith-filled shower, would Robin be eating pizza alone tonight? Or would he just be dining a little late because Faith took so long getting ready?

Buffy wasn't prepared to face the latter. If Faith opened the shower door to her, only to dry off and go out with Robin after...

Buffy dressed, touched up her make-up, ran a brush through her hair, grabbed her bag and left the room, all as quickly as possible, so not wanting to be still in her bedroom when Faith came out in just a towel. Her frantic speed to get out of there actually made her laugh out loud at herself, relaxing her a little as she went down to the living room.

Naomi was sitting on the couch alone, watching BBC-America. She seemed pretty into whatever was on, but when Buffy jumped down the last few steps to avoid the gap, she looked up.

"Miss Summers, you look fantastic," she smiled appreciatively at her elder. Buffy mock-glared at her until Naomi remembered herself. "I'm sorry, Buffy, you look fantastic."

Buffy grinned at her before looking down at herself. "I do?" She knew she didn't look awful, but fantastic... really?


"Well you look very..." Buffy paused, wanting to return the compliment, but struggling for a second. "..undressy-ed up. What's wrong? I've seen you looking more glamorous for breakfast."

"I, ah, well, that is..." Naomi seemed embarrassed and looked down at her worn multi-colored jumper and slightly baggy leggings. "I thought I'd veg in front of the telly as I have the place to myself."

"Okay, but why are you staying in all alone?" Buffy walked behind the couch, leaning her elbows on the back beside the cadet's right shoulder.

Naomi twisted around to face her. "Well, Craig and Reece are out on dates with Andrew and Dawn. The girls are going on patrol. Kennedy is taking Willow on a date. Xander is going to Barnies and he mentioned, rather crossly, that you were joining him there as the deputy sheriff's date. Even Uncle Rupert is going to the disco this evening."

"Giles is coming to Barnies?" Buffy grinned, and leaning even closer she whispered to his niece, "This is his second mid-life crisis, isn't that a bit greedy?"

Naomi giggled, or maybe the word was tittered if you were English. It was pleasant either way.

"Well why don't you come with us?" She suggested, using two fingers to tap Naomi's shoulder playfully. "You don't have to sit in this big old house all alone."

Truthfully, Buffy wasn't too keen on the young Watcher staying in alone. She hadn't seen a Pixie all day, but that didn't mean they wouldn't try taking Naomi if she was left vulnerable.

"I'm not sure; I wouldn't want to be a burden..."

"Well you won't be; and I'd really like it if you came."

"Aren't you going to be on a date?" Naomi asked, surprised.

"Oh, well yeah, but not a serious one. I mean we're not exclusive," Buffy chuckled. "So going on a date with you too isn't forbidden or anything."

Buffy wondered when she'd leaned far enough over the couch to notice Naomi suddenly holding her breath. Then she wondered why she was throwing the word date around so freely today. It just kept rolling from her tongue. And then she wondered what Naomi was going to say, seeing as the girl still hadn't made a sound.

Naomi smiled a secretive little smile and wet her lips with the tip of her tongue. "But it is forbidden between Watchers and Slayers, correct?"

"I'm not your Slayer," Buffy pointed out, wondering why her voice was suddenly so much lower.

Naomi seemed to be trying not to laugh and Buffy didn't know whether to be offended or not. Kissing her would hide the smirk, but that seemed more than a little forward even though it was what she wanted to do.

"And how deficient did that line make me sound?" Buffy rolled her eyes. It was safer just to laugh this off than to travel any further down the same road. "I don't know what's gotten into me today."

She was starting to stand up straight when Naomi trapped her forearm against the back of the couch.

"No Buffy, it's okay. I'm just a little stunned. I've spent so many years hearing about you and studying you and wanting to meet you that I think I perhaps developed a rather insane long distance crush, and now I'm here..."

"You get to realize it," Buffy murmured; she waited a second, gazing into pretty eyes, before giving Naomi's lips the tiniest of kisses.

Naomi got very stil, but didn't pull her mouth away. Buffy kissed her again, just as quick.

She felt very aware of where they were; Giles was in his bedroom, just a door away. Anyone could come down the stairs or through from the kitchen. This was crazy, and she knew it, but when Naomi still didn't move away or tell her to stop, Buffy leaned closer for a longer kiss that also went unchecked.

Why was she kissing the Watcher cadet again? Oh yeah, because she was hot, because she was there and because Faith didn't love her. Three very good reasons just at the minute.

Her hand gently cupped the back of Naomi's head, deepening the kiss. Naomi went up on her knees on the couch, bringing them closer, her own hand resting on Buffy's cheek.

But then abruptly Naomi pulled away, nearly toppling from the couch as she angrily muttered: "I'm going to bloody kill him!"

"What?" It had all ended so fast, her mind was still full of thoughts of sliding over the back of the couch and removing Naomi's fraying jumper. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Naomi said quickly, although that didn't look so true. "That was very, very nice, but I don't think it would be a good idea to continue."

"Why?" Buffy looked about her. "Is it the not-so secret location? Because there are other places we can go."

"No, no, it's not that. It's just..." Naomi struggled for the right way to explain. "I'm not a lesbian. Before now my only link to the other side of the fence was having a gay best friend. I mean, of course, I always said I wouldn't kick Jennifer Aniston out of bed, but then I never thought I'd get a chance to bed her in the first place... I think what I'm feeling here..." she bit her lip for a second before continuing. "I think what I'm feeling here is just something akin to idolization, and it would be dangerous for me to think of it as anything else."

"Okay," Buffy shrugged. "I guess I can settle for idolization instead of making out; it's a different kind of satisfaction, but it'll do. Jennifer Aniston, huh?"

Naomi smiled. "She's my other idol. So who did you want your big celebrity lesbian clinch to be with when you were my age?"

Buffy frowned, first at the age comment and then at the question. "No one. I was one hundred percent into guys until just recently, or at least I thought I was. Now I'm starting to look back and wonder if there were signs, you know?"

Buffy sighed wistfully as she spoke for the first time about a question that had been bugging her for a while.

"Did I choose a relationship with a guy who couldn't have sex because secretly I didn't want to have sex with a guy? Was I with Riley because he was Mr. Conformity - nice and safe with two-point four kids and a picket fence reflected in his eyes - because I was trying to kid myself that that was what I really wanted, or what I thought my mom wanted for me? Was I with Spike because his attitude and his darker side reminded me of someone else, someone who it was even more crazy to love than him?" Buffy looked up sharply at Naomi. "You are so wishing you had your notebook right now, aren't you?"

"Yes," Naomi smiled. "But it's okay, I have a good memory."

Buffy chuckled. "I don't know, I think about all that and then I think I'm going crazy. I know I loved all of them, deeply in Angel's case, but now... it all pales in significance."

"So the only woman you've ever felt this way about is Faith?"

Buffy chuckled some more. "Yes, and yet strangely I kicked her out of bed this morning."

Giles came out of his bedroom all spruced up and Buffy stood up straighter. Suddenly getting caught macking on her Watcher's niece didn't seem such a good idea. Giles only saw his two girls talking though and merely gave them a cheery nod before going into his office next door.

"I'm going to go touch up my lipstick before everyone congregates," Buffy told her. "You can still come tonight if you want? I promise not to make any more moves." She grinned uncomfortably.

"No thank you, going to a pub and not being allowed to drink will just be frustrating. In fact if you don't mind, I might see if the girls will let me go on patrol with them."

"No, that's okay, a good idea even. Just be careful and stay with them all the time, okay?"

Naomi got to her feet, nodding. "Buffy, will you do something for me?" She hesitated and Buffy waited patiently. "Tonight, if you and Alex get close... please try and remember all you've just told me."

"Um, okay." Buffy frowned as Naomi left the room.

As the lights in the cinema came up at the end of the movie, Dawn relaxed her fingers around Reece's, ready to reluctantly let go. To her surprise he kept a firm grip as he stood up and gave a playful tug to get her out of her seat.

Smiling, she followed his lead back into the center aisle. If this hadn't been a date at the start of the night, she was pretty sure it was now. Giddiness surged through her as she let the fact that Reece liked her sink in and then the nerves came back multiplied by a million. Good nerves this time though. Okay, still very nervous nerves, but the kind where she was going to pee her pants from excitement, not fear.

"So it's still early," Fen said as they wandered back into the foyer. "Do you guys have to get going yet?"

"No," Dawn said quickly, not even knowing what time it was exactly, just that she wasn't letting go of Reece's hand yet - which meant he couldn't drive them home yet. "We have a few more hours."

When they'd finally cleared the crowds inside and outside the cinema it was dark out and chillier than it had been before they went in. Even the slight shivers that went through Dawn didn't change her mind about going home.

"So what now?" Craig asked, looking about.

"Let's take a walk." Reece smiled only for Dawn. "See what we can find."

"Okay," she nodded eagerly, squeezing his hand for the hundredth time and still hardly able to believe she was really holding it.

She caught Fen's eyes and the blonde dropped her gaze to the hand-holding before giving Dawn a big grin. Dawn smiled, shrugging one shoulder in a shy response.

Walking behind them, Andrew's eyes were locked on Dawn and Reece's joined hands as he tried to come up with ways to separate them, sure that it was what Buffy would want him to do. Short of barging between them and insisting they both hold his hands instead, he could think of nothing though.

Plus Dawn looked really happy. As happy as he'd ever seen her even and Reece was smiling as he talked away to her, not looking at all like the arrogant asshead Andrew had come to think of his as. Maybe the cadet wasn't all that bad after all or maybe he was, but Dawn was changing him and making him be a better person.

If that was the case, then Andrew trying to break them up could be a really bad thing.

Reece was a leader by nature - just as Andrew himself was a follower - and leaders could be dangerous if they weren't set on the right path early on. What if this was Reece's turning point and Dawn was the one to set him on the right path? What if this innocent act of holding hands was what stopped Reece from becoming a bad watcher and in the years to come maybe even an enemy of the true objective of the new Watchers Council?

Andrew could be the only person who stood between a glorious future for the Council and the total annihilation of it. His actions at this seemingly very mundane moment could change the fortunes of Slayers stretching all the way into the infinity of time...

Andrew gave a little yelp of surprise as Craig suddenly took his hand, shocking him from his thoughts. He pulled his hand out of the loose grip as he glared at him for the scare.

"Sorry," Craig muttered, putting his hand back in his pocket. "Just you were staring at them two so much I thought you might wanna hold hands too."

"I..." Andrew couldn't really explain what he'd just been thinking about.

Craig waited for an explanation for a few seconds and then gave up. Skipping ahead a couple of steps, he linked arms with Fen and started up a conversation with her.

Andrew looked at his hand. No one had ever tried to hold it before. Not since he was in fifth grade anyway and his mom used to walk him to school. Feeling disappointed, he followed behind the other four, still able to feel Craig's touch on his palm.

Half an hour after kissing Naomi for reasons that were far from reasonable, Buffy found herself sandwiched between Xander and Giles in the truck on the way to Boudenver, trying without success to block out Xander's griping.

"I just don't understand why you had to choose my friend to play out your revenge." She hadn't told him her plan, he'd guessed. "When this hits the fan, it's going to blow the crap all over me."

"Stop whining. Alex knows I just meant it as friend date," she lied.

"I think you may be over-estimating his ability to read minds," Xander countered.

He was looking all fancy in a new blue shirt and dark dress pants. Buffy was so used to seeing him in his working gear these days, she'd forgotten how nice he could clean up. The plain black eye patch - that he was fiddling with as he complained - added rather than took away anything from his naturally handsome face.

"Okay fine, so maybe he thinks it's a date as in the romantic kind, so what?" Buffy shrugged. "It's not like he's had a chance to pre-conceive where this might go. He won't have gone out and bought a ring. We'll have a nice time tonight and then I'll tell him I'm not looking for a relationship just before we go home."

"You have no idea what that does to a guy, do you?" Xander asked, and his tone was only semi-jokey.

"Xander, we have more pressing matters to worry about than what two consenting adults are expecting from this evening's affair," Giles said, as he negotiated the bendy road into the village. "We still have a useless shower block and a large hole in the kitchen ceiling."

"It's not for want of trying, believe me." Xander sighed in exasperation. "Every time I manage to get a human instead of a voicemail machine, the plumber guy promises he's on his way and then he just doesn't show up."

"Maybe he keeps getting lost." Buffy watched the surrounding fields and trees go by. "We do live in the middle of nowhere."

"He's a local," Xander explained. "And all the locals seem to know where we live."


"And the hole in the ceiling?" Giles asked firmly as they drove along Boudenver's main street.

"You want the good news or the bad news?" Xander chirped.

"Good news," Buffy answered automatically.

"The generator in the basement works just fine, and there was even some diesel left in there. Oz helped me get it going this afternoon before he left. Just as well seeing as Willow was about to go into meltdown trying to wash all her and Kennedy's clothes in a big tin tub."

"And the bad news?" Giles asked.

"We're going to need a lot more juice to keep it running. I called around and the quickest quote was a week at the earliest. Apparently there's a big raccoon problem, they're getting into people's basements and chewing through the wires. Lots of fried critters and dead power all over the county."

"Does that mean we have to keep an eye out for crispy raccoons?" Buffy wrinkled her nose at the thought of going down to the basement and finding fluffy - or not so - dead animals all over the place.

"Well no, because Goorzar already took care of our electricity for us," Xander reminded her.

"I suspect your friend the deputy sheriff will be most helpful in supplying me with all the useless information on the raccoon infestation that he can think of." It was Giles' turn to sigh.

"Hey, you made up the Badger club, not me!" Xander indicated the wide alley next to Barnies and Giles swung the truck in and parked up.

"And I have already lived to regret it."

Music was pumping from inside the one story bar as they all climbed from the cab. It sounded livelier than usual at least. If Alex thought this was a serious romantic date, having some loud music and lots of other people around would make it easier to escape if she had to.

A couple of young men were standing in front of the doors. They moved politely out of the way, but Buffy could feel their stares on her back as she walked through the door Xander had pulled open.

She stopped just the other side, disappointed. Okay, so there weren't a lot of other people after all.

The old men that were always in there were seated at their usual table at the back and there were maybe seven or eight other patrons, ranging in age from younger than her to older than Giles.

Going to the bar, flanked by Giles and Xander, she looked over to the little deejay booth that had been set up in a corner of the room. Giant speakers faced out into the room, and a well-built kid with a shock of dark brown hair was leaning intently over a high-tech CD player.

"I never thought The Bronze would make me an elitist," Xander said next to her ear while they waited for service. "But this is just... feeble."

Buffy chuckled. "It's still early."

"Then let's all drink to the hope of better times ahead." Xander drank from one of the beers put in front of them.

Buffy eyed the bottle once he'd finally stopped his discreet gulping. "Yeah well let's take it easy because my idea of better isn't carry you home," she said mildly.

His reaction wasn't so mild. "I've been working my ass off all day, so I'll drink what I want, thank you!"

He marched off with his bottle in hand to a table and sat down with his back to the bar.

"Oh boy, the fun begins," Buffy muttered, sipping from her own bottle as she looked around for Alex. She couldn't see him yet. Maybe he was busy in the back.

"He's not been very happy recently, has he?" Giles remarked from her side.

"Not for a while, no. I'm worried about him," she admitted. "And the amount of work you're putting on him isn't helping."

"Me?" Giles looked surprised. "But he asked for the job, Buffy. When I mentioned getting in a contractor to see to all the work that was necessary, he offered his services immediately, and I don't mind saying I was extremely pleased. I couldn't think of anyone better qualified for it at the time, but now I'm wondering if I was wrong." He looked pained as he took a sip from his imported beer. "I had hoped that having something to focus on would help pull him out of the depression he sank into in Los Angeles, but maybe it was too soon."

"Yeah, well there's having something to focus on and there's being worked into the ground. I think Xander's feeling the latter at the moment. You're expecting him to do every little thing and he's burning himself out trying not to let you down," Buffy explained. "You should have realized it was more than a one person job."

"Well of course it's more than a one person job, that's why..." Giles trailed off as what she was saying sank in. "Oh, the silly git!"

It was his turn to march off to join Xander at the table.

Buffy sipped some more of her drink and stayed at the bar. Despite the warning she'd given Xander, her own bottle was nearly empty. There was no point walking away when she'd need another in a minute.

There was a tap on her shoulder and she turned her body around, expecting it to be Xander back, trying to get away from Giles. It wasn't. It was a big, good-looking guy with wild brown hair and a sheepish smile on his attractive mouth.

"Hello." The way she said it sounded more like a question while she waited to see what he wanted with her.

"Hi Buffy, I'm glad you made it. I thought you might have changed your mind."

She stared at him for a beat, wondering how he knew her name and then it clicked.

"Alex!" She stared at him in astonishment. "Oh my God, you shaved your beard all off!"

The cab Robin had ordered dropped them off on Boudenver's main street, right in front of the general store.

Faith had seen it all when she'd walked through the day before, but he took a few minutes to check out the scenery in the dying light.

"Quaint." He smiled at her.

"Ain't it just?" She smirked. "Barnies is down that way, but, uh... feel free to tell me to go to hell seeing as you're gonna be paying all night, but is there any chance I could borrow a couple of bucks to get a pack of smokes?"

"I don't know if I'm comfortable with being an enabler," he grinned, but fished out his wallet anyway.

"Yeah well I don't smoke many, but I've got a feeling I'm going to need their calming qualities tonight," she admitted.

"Feeling nervous about hanging out with 'the Fam'?" he copied her word choice from before.

"Yeah, and I know it's lame, but..."

"It's okay Faith," he cut her off gently. "I get why you'd be nervous; they're a pretty tight knit group. Go get your cigarettes, I'll wait here."


Inside, the store was bigger than it looked, but not by much. Faith let her eyes scan the few well-stocked aisles before she walked up to the counter. The guy behind it was the same old guy who'd presented her with the free gifts of towel and soap the day before.

"Hey," she greeted. "Remember me?"

"Of course Miss," he smiled at her. "And how are you settling in?"

She chuckled. "Honestly? I'm not sure yet."

"Well these things take time." He nodded, knowingly. "And what can I do for you today?"

"Carton of Luckys please?" Faith put the money on the counter so he didn't think she was after another freebie.

He turned and fetched the brand she wanted from the back wall. "Here you are, Miss."

She took the cigarettes from him.

"Aren't you going to tell me these things will kill me?" she asked as he opened the cash register.

"Should I miss?"

"No, you just seem like the sort that would."

"I find that most people die of something sooner or later," he smiled politely as he handed her back the change. "Enjoy your evening; the disco is always quite the success."

"Yeah, thanks." She regarded him through narrowed eyes for a moment. She'd never said she was going to Barnies.

He continued to smile at her courteously and maybe a little gormlessly. Then again, she was all dressed up and that cop had said the disco was like the social event of the month around here. It wouldn't take a genius to make the leap.

Forgetting about it, she sauntered back out on to the street to Robin. Unwrapping the cellophane on her cigarettes as they walked up the street, she didn't notice the pretty almond-shaped yellow eyes watching from the alley.

There had once been a bell above the door, but over the years the metal arm holding it in place had been bent upwards and now you had to open the door with some force for it to make any sound at all.

This night, it wasn't the bell that alerted him to another customer, but the absence of any noise at all. The changing pattern of air molecules perhaps or a subtle sixth sense he possessed without understanding.

Owen looked up.

The door was closed but a familiar scent had invaded the shop, taking him back to the past, taking him back to someone he'd spent a long life time trying to forget.


With it came the memories stored forever in his subconscious; memories of magic and mayhem and...

"Hello Olwyn."

Her clear voice sounded right in front of him - although he still couldn't see anyone - unchanged despite the years. Maybe he was finally going mad; he'd always feared it would happen one day and the timing would certainly appeal to certain sods.

Yet hadn't he known she would come here, at this time, and hadn't he made plans in the event of it? Yes of course, but he hadn't known she would come to see him, she never had before. Perhaps this time she was more upset than usual. Despite himself he feared her wrath, not for himself, but for what he had built.

"Lucie," he murmured the name that still felt like love on his lips. "What can I get for you this evening? Perhaps some Chicory to relieve your shyness or some Garlic to see you safely on your way, hmm?"

There was sweet, sweet laughter in the room. "Come now old friend, are you not pleased to see me?"

"That is the very problem, my lady, I can not see you. Did you really take the time to visit to hide behind parlor tricks?"

"Parlor tricks?" Mellusa repeated, amused, as she drew the sigil in the air and let herself be seen. "I remember a time when invisibility was your holy grail."

"A time long since past." Owen looked upon the woman - not that she was just a woman anymore - that had once been the heart of his existence, his only real grounding in a life overflowing with fantasy.

She was still a handsome woman, still as exotic as ever with her smooth dark skin and captivating, tantalizing eyes...

Quickly he averted his eyes to the counter, not caring if she noticed his weakness, only concerned with not letting her gaze get the better of him.

"You look so old, Olwyn," she said. Never was she one to mince words for the sake of feelings, especially his it always seemed.

"I am old Lucie," he reminded her.

She smiled thinly. "Yes, a shame you found the elixir so late."

"All that matters is that I found it in time. Why are you here Lucie? Why do you still linger? Jupitus remains trapped; there is nothing here for you now."

"You know why," she countered, finally pushing back her thick multi-colored robe. She'd cut her hair. It was still the same shiny black but now it was cropped close to her head, and was presently slicked stylishly back from her face. It was a jarring change to what he remembered of her silken tresses, but took none of her beauty away.

"There is power rising here, Olwyn," she continued, a merry glint in her eyes now. "Can you not feel it?"

He didn't answer and she laughed pleasantly. Once upon a time hearing her laugh had made him want to trade his pen for a lute (not that he knew how to play one). Now it chilled the marrow in his bones.

"Always so dutiful, my dear Olwyn. Did you ever make it to Sunnydale?"

"I never had the need," he replied shortly.

She nodded, "No, I suppose not. You've done a better job here, I'd say. Very pretty."

"Then if it pleases you..." he began.

He saw her black gloved hands lay palm down on the countertop and looked up to see her leaning towards him.

"It doesn't please me," she said, her voice very low. "I can not remember the last time I connected your name with a happy occurrence!"

"Then you will be delighted to leave, my lady, I am sure." Although not as happy as he would be to see her leave.

She shook her head again. "No, I think it's time I took a holiday, and this cozy haven of yours comes highly recommended."

"Ah yes," he smiled tightly. "Global murder and mischief must cause you a lot of stress. Putting your feet up for a couple of years will probably do you good. Please stay, enjoy the scenery; sunbathing by the lake is must-do."

Her eyes flashed yellow briefly, his sarcasm aggravating her. She wasn't used to insubordination, but then it had probably been some time since she'd let herself be in the company of someone who didn't bend to her will or break resisting.

"I was actually thinking a working holiday. The power here is fierce but unbalanced, so many champions for good... and their hangers-on," she nodded at him. "It's only fair the other side should have their representative."

"And you think you are equal to this task?" he sneered, but deep down a cold fire burned in his belly.

"I was Consort of Jupitus, Lord of Destruction, for four centuries; I think I know my way around the job," she snapped, and it felt dangerously good to rile her. Pulling up her cloak once more, she suddenly smiled again. "And you know, I think I'm going to like working here."

With one last mocking smile, she turned for the door, with a little hand wave she was invisible again before it closed behind her.

More shaken than he could remember being in a long while, Owen hurried to the door and started bringing in the merchandise bins from outside. Once that was done, he shut and locked the door up tight before flipping the sign from open to closed.

People would wonder why he had closed two hours early, especially with the disco tonight that always brought late trade in. They'd probably even complain.

'Let them,' he thought as he readied himself for going home. 'Let them complain about such trivial things for as long as they can, for soon their grumbles may be far from trivial.'

They'd found the funfair after a while and none of them could think of a better way to spend the rest of their evening than the way that included bright lights, fast rides and the smell of cotton candy floating in the air.

There wasn't much there to be honest, but Dawn was still impressed with it. Sunnydale hadn't had anything like it all. The carnival had come once a year, but Buffy had never let her go at night because of the huge threat to human life its shadowy chaotic atmosphere posed.

Dawn had thought that the same threat could possibly lurking around here. Lakeside was less than ten miles from the Hellmouth and chances were every carnival the world over attracted the seedier side of life and un-life. She was with a Watcher though, and even if Reece was just a trainee at the moment, she trusted him to protect her. And it wasn't as if she didn't have her own skills in physical combat.

They were on a ride like the Tilt-a-Whirl now, in a semi-circular car big enough to hold all five of them, although it was a squeeze. The attendant had spun them a few times at the beginning of the ride, but when he'd moved on, Craig showed them a trick he knew to keep the car spinning and spinning and spinning.

Dawn was screaming and she could hear Fen beside her screaming too, and on her other side she could hear Reece laughing hard enough to die from it. The G-force was pushing her head back painfully into the seat, but she didn't even care because it was too much fun, and when she tried to wave her arms in the air like Fen was she couldn't get them to do it properly and she let them collapse back down onto the bar to hold on tight. Reece grabbed one of her hands and lifted it for her and she turned her head as best as she could to offer him a rictus-y smile.

Eventually - too soon and not soon enough - the ride ended and the five of them stumbled out of the car and clattered off of the metal skirting.

Dawn's legs were wobbly and she nearly fell when stepping onto firm ground again; Reece caught her arm, laughing, and pulled her close to his side to steady her.

"Oh God," was all Fen could manage as giggles dribbled from her.

"And that's how you get your money's worth," Craig panted.

"I'm gonna be sick!" Andrew leaned over a bollard with one hand pressed to his stomach.

"Wuss!" Dawn laughed at him, although she was still feeling dizzy too.

Craig moved closer to Andrew and rubbed his back. "You alright mate?"

"Yeah, I just need a minute," Andrew said with his eyes closed.

Reece shook his head at the pair and Dawn giggled, rolling her eyes.

"So who's gonna win me a bear?" Fen asked. Getting four bemused stares, she pointed around at the numerous stalls. "I don't mind which bear, as long as it's big enough to look like my date for the rest of the night. Fifth-wheeling sucks."

Dawn smiled apologetically and walked the few steps to her friend's side. It was the furthest away she'd been from Reece since entering the cinema and she didn't like it, but she didn't like the guilt either.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to make you into a wheel."

"Sunny D, I was kidding!" Fen yelled at her, laughing.

"Well why don't the three of us go and get something to eat," Reece suggested, hiking his thumb at Craig and Andrew. "Give you ladies some time to yourselves."

"Hot dog please?" Dawn said encouragingly.

"Ditto," Fen said.

"Got it." Reece smiled at them and motioned for the other two boys to follow him as he walked away.

As soon as they were alone, Fen grabbed at Dawn's arm and bent her knees as she crooned: "Oh my God, Dawn, what a catch!"

"What?" Dawn grinned.

"Reece! He is so way beyond perfect boyfriend material."

"You just look so different," Buffy grinned. "I didn't even recognize you."

"Well I remembered what you said," Alex said shyly. He was behind the bar now getting them both fresh drinks. "About liking men naked... face-naked." Despite his teasing, he was blushing as hard as she was.

"Yeah, I was a little drunk, not my greatest impression-making night," she admitted, accepting another beer.

"I don't know, I thought you made a great impression, great as in big anyway," he smiled, and she could actually see it and it was nice! "Certainly none of the old guys are going to forget you in a hurry."

Buffy looked to where he was gesturing. The troupe of old men she'd spotted walking in all raised their tankards to her and she turned again quickly, going an even brighter red.

"Anyone would think I'd been pole dancing," she cringed, grabbing at Alex's big arm as he came back to her side of the bar.

"Well, during the off-season, discussing the price of milk can turn into a spectator sport around here. So stories of monsters and lesbians are like a red letter day to most folk."

"Oh. Well in that case can we sit down before they start clapping and jeering?" Still holding on to his arm, she led him over to Xander and Giles.

"For heavens sake, Xander, of course I never meant for you to undertake every single task by yourself." Giles looked up briefly as Buffy and Alex sat down, before focusing again on a sulky looking Xander. "It would take you a month of Sundays and more even without all the extra work that keeps cropping up."

"You said you wanted me to do it all," Xander reminded him. "I remember it well; it was when the nightmares began. You put me in charge of the repair and maintenance and told me to see to it all, and I'm trying, but it's a big long list and I'm just one little carpenter-man, Giles. And I can't keep up with the renovations and deal with all the little day to day crap of burnt bedrooms and broken ceilings too. I'm sorry to let you down, but..."

"You just said it yourself, you stupid man, I put you in charge!" Giles shouted over the table to Xander. The music hid any hush in the back ground conversation, but Giles looked around embarrassed anyway to see several people looking over.

"I don't know why all the locals are so down on us," Buffy said, ducking a little in her seat. "When we provide so much free entertainment."

Alex grinned at her and then glared at the patrons staring over. They all looked quickly away.

Xander was sitting back in his chair, surprised at the outburst. It had been a long time since he'd been shouted at by Giles like that. And from what he could remember, in the past he'd usually deserved it, this time he was the injured party and the shouting should have been upsetting, yet all he could focus on was one little word.

Seeing Xander's expression, Giles hurried to explain himself. "When we first discussed it I thought I had made myself clear, but apparently not. I didn't hire you just for your handy-man skills Xander; I hired you as a general contractor, a type of project manager I suppose. I never meant for you to try and fix every blasted thing yourself."

"'Sup guys, this where the party's at?" Faith asked cheerily, coming up behind them.

Buffy choked on her mouthful of beer and tried to hide the coughing that came with it. What was Faith doing here? She was supposed to be on a date with Robin.

"Giles just called me a man," Xander told Faith. Either her apology earlier had done the trick and he was trying to put the past behind them, or he was so excited at being declared a man at last by the head of their little family that he wanted to share it with everyone.

"Actually I called you a stupid man," Giles corrected. "And is that all you heard of what I said?"

"I'm in charge, you said that too right?" Xander's back straightened in a way Buffy hadn't seen in a while.

"Yes. I know absolutely nothing about construction, renovation, building codes or the like and so I delegated... to you. You were then supposed to delegate anything you didn't want to do to other people. Sub-contracting, I believe it's called."

"Oh, right." Xander smiled sheepishly. "I guess you're not such a slave-driving ass after all then."

"And I guess you're not such a lazy arse either." Giles smiled as he took a sip from his beer.

"And to celebrate this coming togetherness," Robin set down a tray of drinks onto the table; one for them all. "I didn't know what you'd like, so I just got you a beer," he told Alex, who looked surprised that he'd even been included.

The deputy sheriff stood to shake hands and they politely introduced themselves.

Buffy took the opportunity to glance at Faith, who was looking over to where the deejay station had been set up, but she caught Buffy's movement and turned to her instantly.

Buffy almost looked away on instinct, but stopped herself and said quietly, "I didn't know you were coming here. I thought you two were going out for pizza."

"Change of plans," Faith shrugged, looking so damn hot in Buffy's new clothes that Buffy had to lick her lips. "First night here and all, figured I should..." she trailed off, nervous.

"It's very nice that you decided to join us," Giles smiled at her.

Faith's eyes flicked his way but settled on Buffy again quickly.

All Buffy could do was nod, not trusting herself to speak. It was nice that Faith had joined them; what wasn't nice was that she'd joined them with Robin in tow. Buffy could handle them getting pizza together somewhere else, not so much with the handling when they were sitting in front of her.

"Your cousin's good," Buffy said politely to Alex as soon as he sat back down. The boy DJ who was playing a mix of rock and pop, and okay so it wasn't the most original line up but she could see her self dancing to it, maybe, later, if Xander did. "Does he do it professionally?"

"He'd like to, but..." Alex shook his head. "Makes good money over the summer though, hires himself out to all the hotels and lodges, uses my big amp for free," he smiled. "Nine to five he works for the electricity company, and hates it, but it's a regular wage and he's got a kid on the way, so..."

Buffy glanced over; the deejay didn't look old enough to soon be a father, but then it wasn't like the kids had a lot else to do around here.

"I guess it's difficult finding work, especially this time of year, huh?" She felt Faith look over again. "Not many Doublemeat Palaces with the high staff turnover around."

"Well it's not the ideal time to be job hunting, no," Alex agreed. "But there's usually something part time to be found if you're desperate. Why, are you looking for a job? Because we need a new administrative assistant down at the department - just a few hours a week - and I can put a good word in for you."

"Uh no, it's not me," Buffy hedged, not sure how Faith's pride would take this conversation. "A friend."

"Well if they know how to file tell them to come by for an informal interview," he offered.

There was a big sigh from across the table and Faith sat up straighter. "She means me."

"Oh." Alex looked really awkward now. "Well that might not work out."

"You don't say," Faith drawled.

"I don't get it," Buffy looked to Alex. Was this a jealousy thing? Because if so she'd end this date right now even if it wasn't terrible so far. Not that that would help get Faith the job, but, but... she may be a born again slut, but she still had her principles. "You won't even give her an interview?"

"Well, no, I mean, yes, I could give her an interview, but there wouldn't really be a lot of point," he apologized uncomfortably.

"Ex-con working in the sheriff's department, B. Think about it."

"Oh, good point. Oops. Well Alex said there was other stuff if you want it bad enough."

"Needs to be full-time anyway." Faith took a sip of her beer.

"Well we, I mean you..." Buffy shook her head, not caring if this made her lose some ground. "We still have a week to find you something."

"I'll ask around," Alex promised.

Faith nodded, "Thanks."

"Can't Giles put you on the payroll?" Robin asked.

"I don't want to ask, he's doing enough already," Faith fidgeted.

"No he's not, I mean he is, but one more little thing won't hurt." Buffy touched Giles' arm to get his attention. "Giles, can you put Faith on the payroll so that the parole officer thinks she's in full-time work?"

Giles, still deep in conversation with Xander, one where they were finally on the same wavelength and getting somewhere, answered distractedly,

"I, ah, she already is on the payroll and she's enrolled as a student at the school. Unfortunately that's not enough for the courts, at least not while Deb is still coming for her weekly visits. I spoke to her on the telephone this afternoon about it - a lovely woman, very helpful - She's aware that Faith won't need full-time education to complete her GED and Faith can't pretend to be taking any more advanced classes until that's on her record. I can't employ her as a teacher like the rest of you while she's on parole... but never fear, we'll think of something." He smiled brightly and turned back to Xander.

"So along with a part time plumber and electrician, I could get, maybe, one other guy?" Xander was working stuff out on a napkin.

"Get three if you like," Giles offered. "The money's there in the account I set up for you. I did wonder why it wasn't going down nearly as fast as I expected."

"No, I think one will be enough. I can take Andrew on more full-time now and annoying as he is, he makes a great gopher. And I'd rather keep doing all the woodwork myself. It's just the plastering, decorating and heavy lifting I really need the help with," Xander concluded. "In other words, all the stuff I don't want to do."

"That's fine," Giles nodded. "Do as little as you like as long as you make sure the rest of it gets done in a timely fashion by someone else. And don't take Andrew away from the rest of his duties for too long, the place would be a mess without his feather duster. You can start advertising in the morning."

Buffy looked from her two favorite men - who were both wearing happy job-well-done smiles - to Faith - who wasn't listening to them as she pulled the label from her beer bottle despondently.

Robin caught her eye and was obviously thinking the same thing as her.

"Do you know anyone looking for some work, Al?" Xander asked his friend. "Full time, fair pay, great boss."

"Um?" Alex squinted at Xander. Yep, he was thinking the same thing too.

"God, do you all have Stupid as your middle name or what?" Buffy asked.

When all three in question shot her slightly hurt looks, she rolled her eyes.

"Xander, meet your new plastering, decorating, heavy-lifting employee of the year; Faith meet your fantastic easy-going new boss."

They both stared at her for a beat before staring hard at each other.

"You gotta be frickin' kidding me!"

"No way, not a chance, no!"

"No escaping it guys," Buffy smirked, feeling the weight of one problem lift at least. "It's fate."

Andrew shoved the last of the hotdog in his mouth at just the wrong moment. In front of him was the perfect stall! Enthusiastically he flapped his arms about and made mumbling noises as he chewed as fast as he could.

Fen was the first to spot him and took a step back, "Are you choking?"

He shook his head hard, "Mmmgfflows!" He pointed.

"Watch out for the stampeding Buffalos?" Dawn grinned, but not before she checked behind her for Hellmouthish anomalies.

Andrew rolled his eyes as he swallowed at last.

"Hi, here's just the ticket!" Reece called to them cheerfully as he spotted the Van Helsing-themed stall. "This game should be a cinch."

As people turned to see what he meant, Andrew gave a choked cry and only didn't stamp his foot because there was no point without an audience.

"That's what I was trying to say." He ran in front of everyone to get to the stall first. "I mean, it's firing crossbows at cardboard Vampires, we should be able to clean up!"

"We?" Reece tilted his head towards him, raising an eyebrow. "I think you mean I'll clean up while you watch, Wellsy."

"Well yeah," Andrew shrugged, not really bothered by the slight. Buffy never let him have a crossbow anyway, so if he couldn't use one with any skill it was hardly his fault.

"You're not the only one who can shoot a bloomin' crossbow." Craig gave a disdainful shake of his head.

"No, just the only one here who has the training to hit the heart three times out of three," Reece pointed to the red target drawn onto the cardboard figure.

The innermost circle was centered over where the heart would be and only three inches across. From there the circles were wider and ever expanding until they ran out of cardboard Vampire. There were numbers in the circles and the player's final score determined what prize was given.

"Wanna bet?" Craig was casually licking mustard from his finger as he made the challenge.

Reece started laughing. "I wouldn't want to take your money, mate."

Craig started digging in his pocket for money to play the game. "Scared I'll humiliate you?"

Reece let go of Dawn's hand to brusquely pull his wallet out. "Fine Rayne, if you want me to make you like a prat in front of your boyfriend."

Andrew tugged on Craig's sleeve as he whispered: "Have you forgotten he's spent the last four years learning how to shoot vampires in the heart with a crossbow?"

"And no offense," Dawn added. "But you've spent them learning how to make tilt-a-whirls go faster."

"So I lose five dollars," Craig grinned at them both. "What's that? A couple of quid."

"I think they're more worried about the crushing blow to your self-confidence," Fen explained to him as he stepped forward to give the stall-tender his money.

That made Craig grin at her too. Andrew came to stand beside him, excitement making him bounce on his toes. He saw Dawn go and stand on the other side of Reece, offering words of encouragement that made him smile down at her.

Fen came to stand between them all. "You guys know you're getting all hostile over a stupid carnival stall, right?"

"Yes," Reece said simply, checking out the small toy-like crossbow he'd been given.

Dawn stuck her head around Reece to see her friend. "It's not just over this. Did I forget to mention they hate each other?"

As Fen nodded, Craig grimly said, "Hate seems too soft somehow."

Andrew shifted from foot to foot as he watched Craig familiarize himself with the weapon's trigger.

"You don't have to do this to impress me, you know," he whispered when he was sure no one but Craig would hear. "I mean, you don't have to do anything to impress me."

"I'm not trying to impress you." Craig turned a serious look his way, making Andrew blush for his blunder. Craig smiled, letting him off the hook before he could stammer anything out. "I'm trying to win you that three foot Thing from The Fantastic Four hanging up there."

Andrew looked up and over to see the monstrous orange plush doll. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. His fists clenched a few times in a child-like gesture of desire for the toy. "Okay, good luck."

"Four darts," the attendant slapped a set down in front of each boy. "The heart's worth twenty points. You need sixty to get one of the top prizes."

"Doddle," Reece gave Dawn a wink as he inserted his first dart and took aim.

"Uh, I think that's the wrong way around." Andrew muttered to Craig when he had difficulty loading.

Craig took a closer look at the dart. "Oh yeah," he chuckled and stuck it in the chamber the right way around.

Andrew was so not getting his Thing tonight.

Reece's first dart thunked into the cardboard Vampire right in the center of the heart.

"Nice shot," Fen told him.

"Thank you," Reece concentrated on reloading. "Your..." There was another soft thunk "...uh, go." He frowned slightly at the dart quivering inside the innermost circle of the vampire hanging next to his.

Craig shot Andrew a wink, trying to keep his grin in check as he smugly picked up another dart.

Willow pulled the car into the parking lot of The Mouth, frowning as Kennedy opened her door and hopped out before they fully stopped.

"What's the hurry?" she wondered, aloud.

She was still feeling nervous about this date idea and had been mostly silent the whole drive here; worried that if she opened her mouth she'd blurt out what had happened with Oz, and there was no telling what kind of chain reaction that might start. Especially now that she'd had a whole afternoon to come clean and hadn't.

As she cut off the engine her door opened, making her jump, but it was just Kennedy.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to..."

"No, it's okay," Willow gave her a small tense smile and started to climb from the car. "Just not used to the chivalry."

Kennedy offered her hand to help her out of the car but Willow didn't notice.

Looking at her outstretched hand, Kennedy felt like an idiot and was about to stuff it into her jacket pocket out of sight when Willow turned from locking the car. She took the hand automatically as they started to walk, assuming that was Kennedy's intention all along. Kennedy shrugged compliantly.

"So this will be fun," Willow forced, wondering if it sounded forced. "A nice quiet drink with you, and me, and... us."

Kennedy squeezed her hand. "Yeah."

Kennedy sounded pretty uncomfortable too.

They were half way to the bar when they heard the music thumping out and turned to frown at each other.

"Sounds like a party," Kennedy said.

Willow half-smiled, "So much for our quiet night."

Did she sound too pleased? Parties were good for avoiding sensitive conversations, and if you couldn't completely avoid them, you could at least pretend you couldn't hear the touchy lines until you'd had some time to process them.

"We could always go somewhere else," she offered, just in case she had sounded too pleased.

"No, noisy is okay," Kennedy walked them around a group of teenagers standing by the door.

The teens all gave the two of them the once over as they passed, a few shook their heads before going back to their conversation. Relations between the new arrivals and the townsfolk weren't progressing.

"The important thing is having the evening to ourselves for once." Kennedy let go of Willow's hand to open the door, letting her enter first. "Without any..."

A table of familiar faces looked over as they walked in, causing both of them to stop on the threshold.

"Let's not play the lotto tonight, okay?" Willow sighed. "Our luck obviously isn't worth the dollar."

"Now I want to go somewhere else," Kennedy muttered behind her. "Do you think we can slip out before they notice us?"

"I don't know. They're all looking right over here, Xander's beckoning. Maybe if we just stand really still for a moment they'll think they're hallucinating."

"What all of them?" Kennedy asked, sounding genuinely amused for the first time all day.

"We can hope." Willow smiled and that felt genuine too.

She really didn't want to sit with her friends right now, knowing that they all knew what she'd done. Buffy had seemed really upset with her earlier; what if she still was? Kennedy would want to know why, and then either Willow would have to tell her the truth or start another lie rolling. Or what if Faith spoke without thinking? She wasn't exactly Miss Congeniality or Miss Subtle either; and it was even possible she'd say something deliberately. Willow had dropped her in it earlier and Faith had been cool, but what if she was just biding her time?

"There are plenty of other tables, let's just say hello and then pick one of those," Kennedy suggested. "We didn't come with them, and in fact they didn't even bother inviting us so why are we worrying about this?"

"Can we do that?" It went against everything Willow believed in to not go and sit with Xander and Buffy, but they were on a date. A very uncomfortable date true, but... Great, now she was tied between wanting to avoid her friends and hide in their shielding depths.

"Yeah we can, like this." Kennedy took her hand again, nodded at their friends and pulled Willow to the bar. "Now we just don't make eye contact with them again for the rest of the evening."

"They may not happen that often, sweetie," Willow chuckled. "But dates with you are certainly never ordinary."

"What's up with them?" Xander nodded to where Kennedy and Willow had chosen a table as far from them as possible. "Do they not like us anymore?"

"Maybe they just want some privacy, Xan," said Buffy, extremely thankful that the couple hadn't come to sit with them.

"Why?" Xander asked before coming up with his own theory. "Is she telling him about Oz?" he whispered.

Alex had gone to the bar for a fresh round of drinks, giving Buffy a minute to relax and send sideways glares at Faith and Robin who were deep in conversation about Deb Devenrowe with Giles.

"I don't know," Buffy admitted.

Kennedy and Willow didn't seem to be speaking much at all, as far as she could tell from across the room and with the loud music preventing any hope of eavesdropping. She was trying not to look in case she suddenly managed to lip-read her own name. She could almost feel the blast of green magicky power that might zoom her way should Willow take her betrayal to heart.

"Told me she was going to keep quiet after all," Faith quietly joined the conversation. "Decided not to rock the boat."

"Bit late to worry about that," Xander said. "The boats a-rockin', judging by Kennedy's face."

"Does she look angry or upset?" Buffy asked.

"Who, Kennedy?" Faith asked. She took a moment to stare straight at Kennedy, assessing her expression. "Actually, I'd say she was terrified or something. They're just sitting there and she's about to break into a sweat."

"Really?" Buffy turned to look now, but Alex was back with more drinks for everyone, blocking her view.

When Buffy turned to Faith again, she'd already gone back to her conversation with Robin. Alex sat down next to her with a (nice) big smile and Buffy smiled weakly back.

"So..." Willow began, but didn't know where else to go with the sentence as she hunched down in her chair, teeth worrying her bottom lip.

Kennedy was sat across from her and her hands were shaking. It was slight, very slight in fact, and Willow might not have even noticed if her glass hadn't been too full, but white beer foam making a path through the condensation gave her away.

She knew, didn't she? That had to be the answer to why she was trembling - anger. Kennedy was probably trying to control herself so she didn't make a big old scene in the bar.

Kennedy took a sip of her drink, set it back down and sort of shrugged herself back into her chair. "So." she agreed.

"You said you wanted to talk," Willow reminded her in a small voice.

"Yeah... I did," Kennedy nodded, licking her dry lips.

'Well at least breaking up with me isn't easy for her,' thought Willow, that had to mean something. Maybe not a lot right in this second, but something.

"Okay, this is silly." Kennedy cleared her throat, and leaning forward again she looked deep into Willow's eyes. "Earlier, with Bu... a friend... I was with someone earlier and I had a... well I wasn't thinking and it turned from one thing to another and then there was this... I think I had an epiphany."

"Okay," said Willow slowly, trying to decipher all of that. "And what did it reveal to you?"

"Willow, I..." Kennedy swallowed, still staring straight into her eyes, because that seemed important somehow and she groped across the table for Willow's hand, because holding it as she said the words seemed important too. Her knuckles hit something smooth and cold...

Willow jumped from her chair, squealing at the shock of icy cold Coke and several ice cubes hitting her crotch.

"Great," Kennedy muttered, jumping up too. "Just great."

Faith caught sight of the commotion on the other side of the room and her eyes bugged out as she tried to keep from laughing. "Did Kennedy just throw her drink over Red?"

"She did what?" Xander jumped half out of his seat to look.

"Oh God," Buffy muttered, keeping her head down.

"Actually, I think it was an accident," said Robin, who was facing the same way as Faith.

"Yeah, accident." Faith smirked devilishly. "That's what it must have been."

They were all looking over now to where Willow was standing up and trying to wipe dry the soggy part of her pants. It wasn't working so well.

"I'll go and get her a towel," Alex offered before excusing himself politely from Buffy and disappearing behind the bar.

"Kennedy looks pretty pissed," Xander observed from back in his seat. "Are you sure she didn't try and drown Willow deliberately?"

"She does look pretty annoyed seeing as she's not the one who took a drenching," Robin agreed.

"Willow doesn't look any happier than her," Buffy noticed.

Xander clapped his hands. "We need to make, like, some kind of team distraction effort before the tension between them reaches critical mass."

"Like loosen a valve or something to release some pressure," Faith agreed. "Before they start saying stuff they can't come back from."

Buffy took another quick look. "Well that's not likely when they're not even speaking to each other." The pair across the room did seem to be back to awkward silence as Willow accepted a towel from Alex. "But... I concur anyway."

"Right." Xander downed the rest of his bottle of beer and stood up, resolutely. "So, all guns blazing?"

"Maybe we should be more subtle," Buffy suggested, still in her seat and toying with her half empty bottle.

"Divide and conquer," Faith said. "Only way to break people. Well, that and torture."

Buffy and Xander both looked at her with appalled fascination, Giles looked slightly worried, and Robin - apparently the only one with half a sense of humor - was stifling a smile.

"You could just ask them to dance," Giles said, indicating the square of space by the deejay stand. The empty square of space.

"I don't know; I'd feel a bit self-conscious..." Buffy began, glancing at Faith.

"Well, I'm game. Been too long since these feet got to dancing." Xander rubbed his hands together. "I'll take Willow for a spin around the floor while you talk to Kennedy, Slayer a Slayer."

"Uh, that's a bad idea." Buffy was standing now, but definitely not liking Xander's plan.

"Why?" asked Xander.

"Does there have to be a reason every time?" Buffy asked irritably. "Fine, I don't like Kennedy, okay, she's too... enthusiastic."

"Enthusiasm is a crime now?" Robin chuckled, until Buffy's glare stopped it in his throat.

"Okay, you handle Willow and I'll handle Kennedy," Xander agreed easily.

"Yeah, you wish." Faith smiled. "So what do you want me to do?"

"Enjoy your date," Buffy said dismissively and then she and Xander were off on their missions.

"What, but it was my..." Faith started to call after them before giving up with an exaggerated sigh when she realized they weren't listening.

"Don't take it personally Faith," Robin said gently from her side. "They're just used to acting as a duo when it comes to this sort of thing."

"That's it exactly," Giles agreed strongly. "Although I wonder if you've had a chance to speak to Buffy since this morning?"

"Nope, she still won't listen." Faith sniffed, trying to fake a lack of caring, and knocked back the remainder of her drink. "Got it into her head she already knows everything I'm gonna say anyway."

"Well maybe tonight, while everyone's more relaxed?" Giles pushed.

"Relaxed? What table are you sat at?" she asked with a slight grin. "No, I think I should just leave it for another day and take her advice. Wanna dance babe?" she asked Robin.

"To this?" he grinned, cocking his head at the O-Town pumping out of the speakers.

"Hey, when in the ass-end of nowhere do what the locals... ain't doing," she finished with a wry look-around at the people sitting down.

Faith pulled him up by his arm and he allowed her to lead him to the small dance floor. It wasn't her sort of music at all, but she could dance to anything and look good doing it. So she did. Throwing her body into the fast beat and using it to clear her mind of everything that had happened since waking up that morning.

Buffy was being, well, her usual difficult self and right now Faith couldn't see a way of pushing past that. Every time today she'd started to think they were connecting, Buffy had done or said something to make it clear they weren't. Maybe Faith wasn't helping with that; maybe every time she opened her mouth it was making things worse, she didn't even know right now. All she knew was that she wasn't trying to.

The way things looked, Buffy really wasn't interested anymore. Sure they'd had fun the night before, but according to the blonde, that's all it had been. In fact she'd pretty much spouted Faith's own favorite post-screw line back to her. Was that deliberate? Except it couldn't be, because Faith had never used it on her, she'd never had the chance. Their one and only previous night together, Faith had left before Buffy had even woken up...

She stopped moving to the music. 'Shit, shoulda known that was gonna come back to bite my ass.'

"You okay?" Robin had slowed down his own not-so-bad dancing to look at her with concern.

"Yeah, drink's going to my head, not been used to it in a while," she lied and let her body catch the beat once more. Thankfully the deejay was playing something a little more adventurous now there were people actually appreciating him.

The morning she'd left the Hyperion in LA she hadn't thought she'd be seeing Buffy again in a good long while. Like a ten years while, not three months later when her leaving like that might still be a raw memory.

But Buffy had been awake before her this morning, so surely if this was all about having a score to settle she'd have just not been there when Faith woke up. Tit for tat and all that.

It was all too much of a mess in her head right now, too much going on both inside and out of her brain for Faith to get a grip on any of it. If B would just talk to her and tell her what the deal was, maybe she'd have a chance of... what? Apologizing, making things right, proving she wasn't a complete write-off despite all impressions.

Except it all came back to the same shit - Buffy wasn't giving her a chance to do any of that, and her attitude was just driving Faith to create even worse impressions. Which - even to her math-retarded brain - equaled a lose-lose situation.

Hiding it within her dancing, she looked about for Buffy and found her at Willow's table still. Buffy was helping Red dry herself off with a towel.

Considering where she was wet, and Alex's face as he watched the two women, Faith felt a stab of jealousy in her gut. Buffy could be that familiar with Willow but she wouldn't get within arms reach of her, who she supposedly loved!

'Screw it' she thought. 'I don't need B to feel good; I can do that all on my own.'

Despite the contrary implication, she let the music move her closer to Robin and threw one arm around his neck, giving him a wide, wild smile as did so.

"You havin' a good time?" she asked.

"Uh huh," he nodded, grinning as he put his hands on her waist.

"Me too," she replied as she pushed her body against his trying to close out the rest of the world.

"I can't believe you kissed him like that!" Fen whispered to Dawn as they wandered through the fairground behind the boys.

"I was caught up in the moment," Dawn giggled. "He'd just won me a giant cuddly dolphin; it seemed like the thing to do."

"Well he didn't seem to be complaining."

"I know," Dawn looked around the blue snout of her dolphin at Reece. "This is real, right? I'm not going to wake up in a minute to find this dream date is just a... dream?"

"Nope. I'd pinch you to prove it, but I have my hands full. Face it, Sunny D, your ship's coming in. Now you just have to climb on board and ride the waves." Fen gave her a dirty grin to go along with her innuendo.

Blushing, Dawn changed the subject. "I can't believe Andrew gave you his prize."

Fen chuckled, shifting the weight of the Thing in her arms. "I know; I feel a little guilty now about making a fuss. I never expected him to be such a... gentleman, maybe, about it. The guys at school would have just laughed at my tantrum. Do you think Craig minded?"

Dawn looked around the snout again, this time picking Craig out of the crowd in front. "I don't think so. If he did, I think the way Andrew looked at him when he asked if it was okay probably made up for any disappointment."

"I know, I thought they were about to stick their tongues down each others throats too," she teased.

Dawn blushed again; she couldn't believe herself! She'd so forcefully kissed Reece on the mouth when he'd presented her with the big prize. It had just seemed so natural. She'd wanted to kiss him and so she had.

It had been exhilarating to act on her instincts for once, and it had been much nicer than when Justin had kissed her that Halloween. Perhaps because this time didn't come with the anxiety of her first proper kiss. Or perhaps it was because Reece wasn't a blood-sucking undead fiend whose true desire was to turn her into one of his own.

Maybe kissing the good guys was always tons better than kissing the bad guys. Not that you could assume that from her sister's track record, but wasn't that just another reason to try things for herself instead of letting Buffy always tell her what was best.

"So are you going to kiss him again?" Fen prodded, her mischievous expression hidden by the plush toy she was hugging.

Dawn felt the chilly night grow warmer as she ducked her head. "I don't know, I'd like to, but I don't know if I can just... be that forward again, when it's not all spur of the moment, you know? But, I mean, he knows I'm okay with kissing him now, right? So maybe if I just wait, he'll kiss me."

Fen frowned. "What sort of attitude is that Dawn? You can't just hang around hoping someone might give you what you want if you're patient enough. You have to be decisive and assertive and... and lots of other words that were invented to incite women to take charge of their lives. Seriously, not only do guys love it when girls make the first move, it's also the only way we have to keep control of the game."

Dawn shook her head. "Fen, what are you talking about?"

"If you let them make all the decisions you'll get stuck in the habit of following his lead. Sooner or later you'll find you can't even make a decision without checking it's okay with him first. Do you want to be that girl, Sunny D?"

"No, of course not, but..."

"No buts," Fen cut her off. "You have to nip this kind of thinking in the bud early. You kiss that gorgeous man when you want to, okay? Don't sit simpering on the sidelines waiting for him to pucker up and plant one your way."

"Oookay." Dawn dragged the word out to make maximum use of the syllables. "Except you're starting to sound like my sister."

"Yeah, well she probably knows what she's talking about. I mean, she's gotta have some experience, right?"

"Well yeah, but if you ask me, she has too much experience," Dawn added, thinking about Angel and Spike and more recently Faith.

"No such thing," Fen countered with a shake of her head. "Providing you're getting the experience from safe, reliable sources you can never have too much," she winked.

"Safe reliable sources?" Dawn giggled. "Doesn't that take the fun out of it?"

"No, testing positive for Gonorrhea and/or having the whole school thinking you're a slut - that takes the fun out of it," Fen assured her, burying her nose in the orange plush fur of Thing as she spoke.

Dawn wasn't sure if she was supposed to jump to the conclusion she'd automatically jumped to and was hesitant as she asked as neutrally as possible, "You know someone who that happened to, huh?"

"Let's just say I had an eventful sophomore year," Fen chuckled. "But I've learned from my mistakes and now you're getting the benefit of my wisdom. Reece seems like a honey though; considerate and stuff."

Dawn blushed again. "It's not like I'm thinking of... I was just talking about kissing him! You can't catch Gonorrhea from kissing can you?"

"So you haven't even thought about it?" Fen laughed, swaying over enough to nudge Dawn's ribs again. "I mean, look at him. I've thought about it and I only met him a few hours ago."

"Well there might have been... some thoughts," she admitted. "I am normal. But I've never... kissing and..." she thought about RJ and the lunch break they'd spent in the utility closet. "...and touching-" she whispered "-is the furthest I've... you know."

"Well everyone's first time is their first time," Fen pointed out, still laughing. "And if I could go back in time and swap the boy I did it with for Reece, you wouldn't catch me hesitating."

"Really?" Dawn's eyes were wide as she stared at the back of Reece's head. "But don't you think it's too soon?"

"For me, no," Fen shrugged. "But for you?" she shrugged again. "Everyone's got their own timeline, Sunny D. For some people living in the moment and trusting that burst of physical chemistry when they meet someone is enough; other people want to get to know the ins and outs of their chosen partner's medical history and family tree before they'll trust their instincts, and still others want a ring on their finger before they'll get biblical."

"So what type am I?"

"I don't know. To be honest I'm kinda surprised to learn you're still a virgin." As Dawn opened her mouth to protest, Fen added. "Not that I thought you were a slut or anything, but you have that whole daring, reckless side to you and you hang out with older people all the time so I figured you'd have been in a 'mature' relationship by now." She nearly dropped Thing as she tried to make quote marks with her fingers. Hefting him back up, she nudged Dawn again. "So which type do you think you are?"

"I'm not sure. Somewhere between one and two maybe. I'm all for reckless wanton abandon but I think I need at least a little knowledge of the person I'm abandoning myself to. I mean I don't think I could just meet someone at a club and take them home for sex, but if it was someone I already knew I liked and knew they liked me and we'd had, you know, at least one conversation about our lives and stuff, then maybe I could be impulsive, if the mood was right."

Dawn thought about what she'd said. Did she mean it or was she just trying to sound cool in front of Fen? She thought she probably did mean it. She'd heard the stories of the consequences of Buffy's impetuous sex-related decisions for as long as she could remember - mostly through eavesdropping - and they were always at the back of her mind whenever she thought about boys that way.

Sooner or later though she was going to have to start taking her own chances or accept her fate as a life long celibate.

And she'd be lying if she didn't admit that she was thinking of that kind of stuff more and more as time went by and Fen was certainly right about one thing - since she'd met Reece her initially innocent fantasies were getting dirtier and dirtier.

"Should we catch them up?"

"Oh!" Startled from her erotic thoughts, it was Dawn's turn to nearly drop her stuffed prize. "Uh yeah, I guess," she added, running awkwardly after Fen.

"Buffy, I can dry myself," Willow pointed out, her voice high pitched as she tried grabbing the towel from the determined Slayer.

"I know but I can do it faster, ergo less chance of catching a chill." Buffy continued to rub the towel brusquely over Willow's crotch area.

"I... oh God... I know," Willow stammered. "But it's... it's not cold, so not... oh.. much chance of getting a... a chill in my..."

Fighting the friction of the towel, Willow gave up on reason and tried to wriggle away, keeping her legs as tightly together as she could.

Slayer strength forced the towel between them anyway.

"Will, stop being a baby," Buffy laughed.

"I'm not feeling like a baby right now," Willow squeaked. "Definitely all woman!"

That stopped a mortified Buffy dead. Slowly she withdrew the towel until she was clutching it comfortingly against her stomach.

"Right... sorry," she blushed. "I was just trying to help."

"And you were," Willow assured her, her breathing getting back to normal. "Just... vigorously."

"Right," Buffy said again, and then laughed a little too brightly. Not having anything to add she thrust the towel back to Alex. "Thanks."

"My pleasure," he replied wistfully, making Willow redden to her roots.

"Maybe we should all sit down," she suggested, sinking weakly into her chair again. The seat was still a little wet, but the heat of her pants soon evaporated that.

"So how are things with Kennedy?" Buffy asked, deciding to just cut right though her embarrassment as she sat down next to her friend.

"Um... awkward," Willow admitted watching as her girlfriend danced with Xander for a second.

She glanced quickly at Alex who had sat down opposite them and decided she could speak somewhat freely in front of him. She wasn't quite sure why Alex was sticking so close to Buffy, it was almost like he thought they were on a date, but she was thankful he'd brought her something to dry off with - or she had been until Buffy took over.

"So how goes it with you and Faith?" Willow returned, trying to keep the questions away from her. She was feeling bad at not being there for her best friend all day; she'd meant to stick close by but then things had turned crazy.

She was kinda surprised to even see the two Slayers out this evening, fully expecting them to have taken the opportunity of an empty house to get fully reacquainted with one another again. Even more surprising was Buffy peeking uneasily at Alex before not quite meeting Willow's eyes as she answered.

"We're... I don't know, normal for us I guess."

Was Buffy making a throat slitting gesture behind her curtain of dark blonde hair?

Willow's eyebrows scrunched down as she tried to figure out her friend's weird behavior. Buffy subtly nodded her head sideways at Alex and it became clear. Buffy wanted to slit Faith's throat, but she didn't want the deputy sheriff to know of her homicidal tendencies.

"That bad?" Willow sympathized. "Not quite the start to the great big love affair you were hoping for, huh?"

Buffy glared daggers at her before smiling sweetly at Alex. "As sure as I am that you'll find all this girl talk riveting, I think Giles said something about needing to talk to you."

"Oh, what about?" Alex asked. Being able to see his nose for once, it was easy to see he smelled a rat. Well, he was nearly right.

"Something about a raccoon infestation here in town. He's really interested in its, uh, possibilities for the, um, club," Buffy explained.

"Raccoon infestation?" Alex said with deep trepidation. "Excuse me ladies, I better go and see who your boss upset this time. Just holler if you need anything." He addressed Buffy before heading off to see Giles who was sitting alone.

"What's wrong with you?" Buffy asked in a semi-amused whisper as soon as they had the table to themselves. "Since when does stop talking..." Buffy made the throat cutting gesture again. "...mean say even worse stuff?"

"Since when are you and Faith a secret? It's not like Faith is a wanted fugitive anymore anyway, so why can't Alex know?" Willow stared after the big man. "And did he do something different with his hair? He looks different somehow."

"We don't speak freely since I..." Buffy grimaced comically. "...started dating him."

Willow studied her before asking: "And since when have you been dating Alex, whom you have never shown the slightest interest in before, or now for that matter?"

"Well..." Buffy was about to explain when Willow's eyes suddenly went wide with alarm. "What's up?"

"Oh rats," Willow shot to her feet, all kinds of panicked.

"Rats?" Buffy jumped up too. First raccoons and now rats; why did anyone want to live in the countryside?

"No, no not rats." Willow waved her hands over the table, capturing Buffy's attention as she started to turn around. "I just realized that I have to show you something in the bathroom."

"Show me something?" Buffy's eyes dubiously flicked up and down Willow's body. "Is this something to do with me toweling you down earlier?"

"No," Willow shook her head, starting to move away from the table. "I didn't mean show, I meant tell. I have to tell you something, it's important, in the bathroom. Come with me... please."

"Okay," Buffy chuckled. "If it's that private you have to drag me away from the other private conversation we were having. But the bathroom's this way, Will." Buffy turned to lead the way.

"No, this is a different bathroom..." Willow said quickly, but not quick enough.

Buffy stopped, the chuckle dying before it left her throat, her lips still in a mockery of amusement, frozen that way by pain. The room rushed away, leaving her focused on one small square of the dance floor, one that seemed to rush forward in contrast until it was horribly in focus right in front of her face.

It wasn't scary though, the room dimensions zooming around out of control. Familiarity diminished the dread and at least this time they both had their clothes on.

And they weren't in her bed, always a bonus.

"This is why I'm here with Alex," Buffy threw over her shoulder to Willow as she watched Faith kiss Robin while she humped, sorry, danced with him. "And before you say anything, I know I shouldn't be."

Willow came to turn Buffy gently from the spectacle before anyone noticed her staring. "Buff, I don't know what Faith is doing out there..."

Buffy gestured at the gyrating duo. "Well it looks to me like she's trying to get her..."

"I mean I know she wants to be with you," Willow cut her off quickly.

"Yeah I can see that, Will. It's as plain as her hand on his face, oh no wait, that's his ass."

Willow scanned the other patrons and quite a few were watching the dirty dancing with open shock on their faces. She was surprised with Robin. Not Faith. Willow figured Faith would quite happily dirty dance with a priest in the middle of Sunday Mass if she felt like it and not bat an eyelash at the hundred strong congregation that were damning her to hell for holding up Holy Communion or whatever it was Catholics did in their churches.

Robin she'd always thought would be a more restrained. After all, he was a high school principal, okay an ex-high school principal, but surely he hadn't lost all his principal principles when Sunnydale's collapse had buried his career. But then perhaps Robin had always been wild just beneath his staff room veneer or maybe Faith was just that good; one smooch was all it took to subdue all your inhibitions.

If that was true, they were going to be in for some very interesting nights at quiet little Barnies once the two slayers had gotten their acts together. Willow started chuckling at the thought of Buffy in Robin's position right now, but she thought it a little too well and ended up wishing someone would throw some more icy coke over her.

"I, ah, I think I'm gonna go dance with my girlfriend," she said, feeling guilty at the naughty thoughts of her best friend and Faith. "Why don't you ask Alex to dance? If you can't beat them...?"

"Good idea." Buffy stormed away from her.

"Nope, not one of my better ones," Willow realized too late.

Choosing not to go after her, Willow had to wonder about the merits of this idea too as she took a deep breath and made her way over to Kennedy and Xander. Buffy approached the table but paused behind Alex's chair. Neither of the men noticed her taking a few steadying breaths, shift her neck from left to right and roll her shoulders a few times; kinda like she did before sparring.

Making sure she was smiling, her hand hovered in the air before she resolutely brought it down onto Alex's shoulder.

He was speaking so earnestly with Giles that he missed it. "You see sir, I'm ever so sorry, but I did try and warn you."

"But why make up something like that?" Giles was looking flummoxed by whatever Alex was apologizing for. "What's in it for them?"

"Well, mostly, just amusement." Alex gave a wry smile. "Seeing the city folk putting up with being powerless because they think a bunch of raccoons is terrorizing the town - it's funny. Not to you sir, obviously," he added, still with a hint of a smile.

"What's going on?" Buffy asked, letting her hand slide across Alex's shoulders to get his attention.

He twisted in his seat to smile up at her. "You and Willow all talked out?"

"It would seem there is no influx of raccoons," Giles told her tiredly. "Just simply that none of the locals will deign to work for us."

"Wow." Buffy kept her arm half around Alex, very aware it was there, as she looked around the bar. "This is what being in a leper colony must feel like."

"It's the trouble they must have gone to that amazes me," Giles shook his head. "It wasn't just one firm Xander spoke to. He tried at least four local numbers and they all told him about the Raccoons."

Alex started to laugh; Giles glared at him. "Sorry. It wouldn't be a hard trick for them to plot, Mr. Giles. At least three of the men Xander called are probably sat around the back there right now."

"But why would they turn down the work in the first place?" Buffy asked. "Our money is as good as anyone's right? Or does Ohio have its own currency and all we have is LA dollars?"

Alex shrugged under her arm. "It's not your money, or even you, it's where you live. People don't like that camp. Strange things happen up there. Tools - sometimes whole bags of them - go missing. Things that shouldn't move... move; things that should... don't. Unnatural noises in the woods. Flashing lights at night. One kid I went to school with snuck in and got lost in the basement; he was gone three days."

"Wow," Buffy repeated, trying to look suitably creeped out. "We haven't experienced anything like that."

Alex chuckled. "Yeah, well I know most of it's just stories, probably started by the freaks who owned it before you did to keep people away. They weren't much for bonding with the locals. Some go back a century or two though, and those stories are woven into the history of this whole town. People are either too scared to work there or they just can't be dealing with the hassle of it."

"Well, whatever their silly suspicions, they shouldn't be allowed to get away with this," Giles huffed, angrily swigging from his beer.

"They won't," Alex promised, smiling at Buffy. "I'm sure it's against some law and now I know about it, I'll see what I can do."

"And as a thank you," Buffy smiled, rubbing his shoulder enticingly. "Would you like to dance?"

Alex's smile dropped. "Uh, actually Buffy, it's a nice offer, but I think I'm going to take Xander over to have a word with my cousin. See if I can't solve your electrician shortage tonight."

"Okay," Buffy said, feeling rejected yet again. "Maybe later?"

"Maybe," Alex smiled again as he stood up. "I still have to do my stint behind the bar."

He held her gaze for a moment or two and then gestured over his shoulder to where Xander was now dancing up a storm by himself. Buffy nodded slightly and he left, leaving her to slide into his vacated seat next to Giles.

Turning her head to the dance floor, she noticed that you could tell Faith and Robin were two separate people again, not that it held a lot of comfort after their earlier display.

"Everything all right between Willow and Kennedy?" Giles asked conversationally.

"Uh huh." Buffy watched Robin say something to Faith, something she couldn't lip read, but from the way it made Faith laugh and run her hands over his broad chest, it must have been good.

"And Dawn," Giles continued his attempt to get her attention. "She's doing very well in her studies, or so she tells me. I must say I'm rather surprised you let her go out with Reece on a school night." He chuckled softly. "Actually I'm rather surprised you let her go out with him at all."

"Uh huh." Faith's arms wrapped around Robin's neck as she tilted her head to speak to him and one of his hands ran down the length of her back and back up again.

"And you and Faith, how are you getting along together?"

"Uh huh." Buffy's eyes burned into the side of Robin's head and she wished she was Superman. Or that he would turn around, catch her eye and realize he was living on borrowed time.

Giles made one last exasperated attempt. "You two had a nice shag last night then, did you?"

"Uh huh." Buffy watched Robin's hands rubbing circles on her girlfriend's hips and, but wait, what the hell...? She whipped her head around to face her Watcher. "Giles, did you just say shag? And in the context of my love life?"

"Well as an adult it's not a word forbidden from my vocabulary," he reminded her. "And I would like nothing more than to leave your love life to you, but I am bound by oath - and love - to help you if you should so need it and let me tell you... you so need it."

"Hey, Valley Giles!" Buffy smiled at him with affection, choosing to ignore what he was actually trying to say. "I always knew that pompous British accent was just a put on to make me think you were important." He glared at her. "I'm kidding."

"It's the blasted girls; they watch nothing but Californian teen dramas all the time," Giles grumbled.

Buffy nodded absently but her eyes had already drifted back towards the dance floor.

"So, Buffy, whilst taking great pains not to overstep the boundaries of our relationship, I find myself infuriated enough to ask: just what on earth is going on with the pair of you now?"

"Nothing." Buffy gave a little shrug as she watched Faith writhe to the music, using Robin's left leg like a pole - not that she was swinging from it, but there was a certain amount of grinding.

"I can see that," Giles sighed. "I was wondering why."

She turned her head to him with an eyebrow raised as she gestured at the dance floor. "Do you really think I can compete with that?"

"Compete?" Giles' brow furrowed as he watched Robin trying to keep up with Faith's dancing. "Well I'd rather not have to witness it, but yes I suspect if you were out there, you wouldn't just be jiggling around with a smug smile on your face."

Buffy laughed a little. "He's not that bad."

Giles covered her hand that was lying on the table. "I was trying to be supportive."

"Thanks." Buffy reversed the position of their hands, patting the back of his gently. "I appreciate it."

"So that only leaves the big question of: Why is Robin getting the full benefits of... of whatever kind of dance Faith is doing, while you're sitting here with me? Have you spoken with her yet today?"

"Yes, lots." Buffy glanced over again and felt her heart stop when she saw Faith was looking straight back at her. "Lots," she repeated, her eyes stuck on Faith's.

Faith smiled at her, just a slight seductive curve of her lips. Buffy was about to smile back but the moment was over and Faith's face was buried in Robin's neck again.

"I don't mean have you exchanged syllables while in the presence of one another. I mean, have you really talked? Have you asked her why she didn't come home last week, have you asked her what she's been doing, how she's been coping... with her new freedom?"

"She has a parole officer for that," Buffy said quietly, waiting, hoping, Faith would flash her another one of those smiles, hoping next time it would give her the courage she needed to walk over there and cut in. "One she gets on real well with too."

"I didn't mean in general, although I'm sure that would mean at least something to Faith. I meant in relation to the two of you. Buffy, your relationship will be unable to progress healthily until you've both dealt with the issues of the past."

Across the dance floor Faith wrapped her arms around Robin's neck and kissed him again. Buffy closed her eyes against it and drew in a deep calming breath.

As she opened her eyes she turned completely in her seat to face Giles, giving the back of his hand a gentle squeeze.

"Will you stop being so gloomy?" she grinned at him. "Faith and I are dealing, and just because we don't do it by the book doesn't mean our way isn't healthy. Everyone's just making a big thing out of something that really isn't. So Faith and I have had a couple of one night stands, so what? It doesn't mean we're destined to spend the rest of our lives together. And why would either of us want to be tied down, now of all times, when we suddenly have this whole new life opening up ahead of us? Now I'm not the sole defender of the Hellmouth and Faith's not in prison we can finally start living." Her eyes fell to table top. "And I guess separately is as good a way as any."

"Buffy," Giles said softly, shifting his hand so that he was holding her fingers from the middle knuckles down. "Please go and talk to her."

"No Giles," Buffy forced a smile onto her face. "I don't want to talk, talking doesn't get anyone anywhere. It's time for action, a... a moving on action," she told the middle distance somewhere to the right of his ear. "An action of the me moving on kind. I've learned my lesson, which is good, right? It's what you're always trying to get me to do: learn my lessons. And now I know I'm not compatible with souled vampires, un-souled vampires, military men and hot chicks with superpowers."

Giles smiled despite himself. "Well that rather narrows your choice to men who aren't in the military, all women who aren't Slayers and several thousand species of demon."

"Passing on the demons; slime does not turn me on. No, I think what I need now is just a nice normal guy," Buffy mused. "Someone who gets me, someone who I can let share my world, and who isn't going to freak because I'm a little bit stronger than they are, you know? So maybe someone older, because older men are always more confident, right?"

"Well, experience does come with age, so..." Giles nodded as he tried to discreetly let go of Buffy's hand. He was feeling rather disturbed that Buffy was discussing her intimate life so candidly with him, actually he was disturbed by the feelings he was getting from Buffy discussing her intimate life so candidly with him.

"Oh experience, I like the sound of that," Buffy grinned mischievously, her fingers curling around his and cutting off his escape. "Someone who knows his way around a woman's body."

"Um, yes," Giles smiled, teeth gritted, and pulled his hand back with some force. "It's a pity you can't meet a man who's only twice your age for once."

Buffy's hand was pulled from the surface of the table as he jerked away and once it was empty, gravity dropped it onto his knee... which she squeezed.

"Maybe I've already met him," Buffy flashed him a coy smile.

"And maybe I'm going to hell," Giles muttered as he watched her hand slide up his thigh. "Buffy, I'm very flattered, but our relationship is not and never has been of a s..." Giles swallowed hard. "Of that kind of nature."

"Things change," she grinned impishly, her eyes instinctively falling to his lap.

"Oh good lord." Giles scrambled up from his chair, going bright red as he pulled the hem of his beige sweater down further. "Look, my dear, I know you are hurting right now and you think some... classic comfort will make you feel better, but..."

"It's okay," Buffy bypassed the chairs he was trying to keep in front of him and pressed herself to his chest. "This feels weird, I know, we've always been all 'no touchy' because of that whole father/daughter vibe we had going, but that's not real," she said softly, looking up at him from beneath her lashes. "But this might be, Rupert."

She leaned up to kiss him as he gave himself a good talking too, as he told himself over and again that this was crossing a line that was far worse than simply betraying his duty, this was an unforgivable betrayal of the girl he'd considered a surrogate daughter for many years.

Even as he was telling himself all of that, another part of him was telling him to get over himself. She was twenty-two years old, not a child; and he had friends older than he who had wives younger than she. He could in no way take advantage of her physically and, well, emotionally she might be a mess but how was withholding the comfort she desired going to help make her feel better.

Ultimately, it was wrong, he was in no doubt over that, but there was no blood between them and he hadn't kissed anyone in over a year and half. Wrong didn't seem so important in the face of all that.

As it happened, just as he talked himself in it, she pulled away, her features scrunching up.

"Rupert? I can't sleep with someone called Rupert," she started giggling as she slapped him playfully (painfully) on the chest. "I wouldn't be able to keep a straight face."

He was at once relieved and insulted as she stepped away, giggling.

"I think moaning a name like Buffy in the heat of passion would probably kill my mood too," he told her nastily, but only because he was still so flustered by what he'd almost done.

"Giles," she pouted.

"You started the name calling," he rejoined mildly.

"Sorry," Buffy sheepishly smiled. "For all of it. I guess I'm a little..." she shrugged. " the moment. But hey thanks for not pushing me away and making me feel even worse. I think one more rejection tonight and I might have started smashing the bar up."

"It was my pleasure." Giles winced at his choice of words.

"I remember." Buffy smirked; it turned to an all out smile as Giles turned pink and looked away. "But I promise to totally forget from this second on, if you'll promise to forget I ever threw myself at you in the first place. Deal?" she held her hand out.

Giles shook it gently. "Deal."

"We'll have to go back soon." Reece gave Dawn an apologetic smile. "I don't want to keep you out too late."

"But it's only..." Dawn checked her watch. "Nine-thirty. That's not late even on a school night."

Reece showed his perfect white teeth as he grinned. "I know, but Mr. Giles and your sister will be getting back from their night out around eleven and I don't want you getting in trouble. Or me," he winked before kissing her quickly on the forehead. "Besides, going home doesn't mean we have to call it a night, does it?"

"We'll have the house to ourselves until they get back," Andrew said absentmindedly.

He was standing close to Craig, trying to will the nerve to hold his hand the same way Reece was holding Dawn's. It wasn't the fear that Craig didn't want him to that was holding him back, just plain old neurosis. His fingers would start to inch towards Craig's and then Andrew would realize what he was about to do and they'd clench into a fist again.

"There you go then," Reece smiled. "Going home doesn't have to mean the end of the evening; you can invite me in for coffee."

"Dork," Dawn giggled "You live there too remember?"

"Well then, you don't have to worry about me saying no, do you?" Reece winked. "You know I don't think I've ever been called a dork before."

"Been called lots worse though, ain't ya," Craig smirked.

He was still riding the high of equaling Reece on the crossbow stall. Beating him would have been better, but as it turned out they'd both shot all four of their darts into the heart circle. Reece's disgruntled respect had been a better prize than the stuffed toy - not that he needed respect from Reece or any other living person to make him happy - but knowing what it cost Reece's ego to give it, that was something to treasure.

Now, if Andrew would just quit mucking about and take his hand, he could go home a very happy man indeed.

"Yeah, my car's coming soon anyway," Fen said, looking at her own watch. "Igor gets off at ten-thirty and he has to have time to lock the garages up and set the alarms."

"Igor?" Craig laughed.

"Our man servant," Fen explained with an impish grin.

"His name's Esau not Igor," Dawn rolled her eyes.

"Hey, he finds it endearing." Fen looked about them. "So one more ride? Who's up for it?"

Reece looked about them too, taking it upon himself to choose. He nodded a little, "Big Wheel. Only proper way to end a night at the fair."

With an arm loosely around Dawn's shoulders, he led them all to the foot of the Ferris Wheel. It was right on the lake's edge, close enough that the cars on one side were actually out over the water.

Dawn's eyes widened, she was so not a fan of heights. "Are you sure? There's others we haven't been on."

"I'm sure," Reece smiled at her, "that there is nothing more romantic than a ride on the Big Wheel. But if you'd prefer another one..."

His smiling blue eyes were all the assurance Dawn needed. "No, this one's good."

"We can't take the toys on," Andrew reminded them as they crowded together near the front of the line. "And it says no single riders."

"Flip for it?" Craig asked, producing a coin.

"Well Dawn and I are definitely going on," Reece said. "But if you three want to flip for it..."

"Well I'm definitely going on," Fen said. "Not trying to be difficult here, but... okay so I'm just being difficult, sue me, you're all going to go home together, throw some romance my way one of you."

"Shall I?" Craig asked Andrew with a smile, holding up the coin.

"No, that's okay." Andrew took the Dolphin and the Thing - he kinda wanted a minute to cuddle it anyway, after all Craig had won it for him and he'd graciously given it to Fen before he'd barely had a chance to touch it. "You go on with Fen; you're probably more romantic than me anyway."

The first people in line were already seated and now Dawn and Reece paid and climbed into their carriage.

"So you don't even want a shot at the romantic ride?" Craig asked Andrew, frowning a little.

"What?" Andrew hugged the toys tighter.

"You seem to be doing everything in your power to avoid it," Craig shrugged. "Or to avoid me anyway."

"I'm not."

The next car swung down and Fen excitedly climbed in. Her excitement level dropped when she realized neither Craig nor Andrew were climbing in next to her. "Guys!"

"I get the impression you like me," Craig continued speaking urgently. "I've been getting that impression since I got here, and I finally thought today when you asked me out you were ready to admit it. Was I wrong?"

"No, no, I don't think you are," Andrew stammered uncomfortably.

"Guys!" Fen shouted even louder.

Craig looked irritably over his shoulder at her, but that was all. "So what's your problem? Holding my hand in public? I can get that, I'm not an idiot. I know it's easier for me 'cause I'm out, and I'm on holiday, no one knows me here; is that it?"

The thought hadn't even occurred to Andrew. He'd always been on the outside looking in; being there because he was holding hands with a boy wouldn't be any different to all the other reasons. It was holding hands with anyone that felt foreign and difficult.

When Andrew didn't answer, Craig went on, "I won this stupid Thing for you-" he gave the toy a hard prod. "-and you gave it away straight away."

"Fen was upset and I didn't think you'd mind!" Andrew hugged it even closer to his chest. "It's not that I didn't appreciate it."

Craig didn't mind, in all honesty. He'd thought it was really sweet of Andrew to hand it over to Fen because no one had won her anything, but he was pissed off with the mixed signals he'd been getting over the last few days.

"And now you don't want to go on the Big Wheel with me, and you're happy to let me go on with someone else. Just tell me Andrew, am I wasting my time thinking something is going to happen between us or not?"

"GUYS!" Fen shouted over to them at the top of her voice. "Oh crap!"

They both turned to look in time to see a big football player type climb into the carriage next to Fen wearing an enthusiastic leer. Before either of them could go to her rescue the ride started to turn again. Fen glared down at them and they both turned away uncomfortably.

"Whoops," Craig muttered.

"She'll be okay," Andrew tried to reassure himself. "He looked nice."

"Sexual assault on fair rides ain't common," Craig said confidently, before turning a worried look Andrew's way. "Is it?"

"I don't think so."

They looked upwards to see Fen talking convivially to her fellow rider and shared a dual sigh of relief.

"You never answered my question," Craig pointed out. "And I'm not usually this pushy, but I've never fancied a bloke who didn't know what he wanted before. So just tell me what you..."

Andrew stepped forward, aiming to kiss Craig there and then to show him what he wanted, but the plush toys got in the way, making him rebound off of Craig's chest instead.

"What the..?" Craig started, but Andrew grabbed his arm before he could finish and almost dragged him around the back of the ride to where the wall edged the lake.

Letting the prizes slip from his arms, Andrew surged forward again. His hands gripped Craig's shoulders and he kissed him. He kept their lips pressed together, enjoying the softness and warmth of Craig's against his own for a minute or more before he pulled back, panting not through lack of oxygen but the adrenaline surge.

"That's what I want," he said, and he'd never heard his voice sound like that before.

"Good," Craig was panting too. "Me an' all."

He kissed Andrew now, and this time his lips applied the right pressure to make Andrew's spring open. It was a little awkward at first, their noses bumped continuously, but after a minute they were devouring each others mouths like they'd been doing it a lifetime.

Faith knew the second Buffy had walked onto the dance floor and she tensed in Robin's arms. The first slow song of the night had just started playing and she waited for the blonde to approach her and cut in. She held her breath, her heartbeat picking up as she readied herself for the moment.

Didn't happen.

Breathing again, Faith turned her head, expecting Buffy to be standing close by, staring at her, waiting for her to be the one to ask.

Buffy wasn't waiting; she was slow dancing with Xander.

"You okay?" Robin asked, his arms tightening around her.

Faith shrugged, forcing him to loosen up a bit. "Yeah, I'm just not normally into these kindsa songs."

"Well you're doing fine," he assured her, resting his chin lightly against her head.

"Yeah," she murmured into his shoulder. "I'm doing real fine."

The dark surface of the lake glittered with the reflected lights of the Ferris Wheel, making the small waves - churned up by who knew what - sparkle a myriad of colors.

Dawn thought of underwater creatures like the one from the Black Lagoon, or the Loch Ness Monster - or their very own South Bay Bessie - swimming around down there, attracted to the bright luminance created by humanity indulging itself. Were there such things as underwater vampires? Looking like a cross between a Turok-han and an alligator maybe?

Dawn shuddered at the thought.

"Are you cold?" Reece asked and he drew the hand he was holding between both of his to check for himself.

It was chilly, up here so far above the lake. The wheel had already made one full revolution and was slowly climbing back to the top over the water - hence Dawn's preoccupation with what might be lurking beneath. The higher they swept, the cooler the gentle breeze felt against her cheeks.

"It's colder than on the ground," Dawn said, not wanting to admit she was shivering more from the thought of sea monsters than the fresh October night.

"I can't really take my jacket off in this thing." Reece sat forward as he assessed how difficult that would be. "But, how's this?" Leaning back once more, he fit his arm snugly around her shoulders.

"Much better," Dawn leaned into him, smiling, and not really meaning the warmth of his body so much. Although that was nice too. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," he gave her his gorgeous smile. "In fact I should probably be thanking you. It's not every day I have the privilege of keeping a beautiful woman from getting a chill." Giving her a subtle wink, he hugged his arm around her a little tighter.

"Really?" Dawn couldn't help the doubt in her voice, you only had to look at him to realize beautiful women were probably queuing around the block to let him warm them up.

"Really," he grinned.

"Soooo," she drew the word out, wondering how to ask her question without being too obvious. "There's not, like, a string of girls waiting at home for you to save them from the freezing British winter? Not that I'm prying or anything," she added quickly. "Just curious."

Reece chuckled. "Most of the girls I know are either Watcher cadet's - therefore independent to a fault and would rather die from hypothermia than accept my help in keeping the chill blains away - or they're girls I've grown up with - and all far too attached to their horses to give me the time of day."

"Oh," Dawn snuggled even further into his side, smiling secretly to herself as they neared the ground before curving upwards again.

"And besides," Reece continued, "the winter here is going to be a far cry colder than what I'm used to, so I'm told, and so I should probably stick around to offer my warm-up services to a girl here."

"Well that would be the gentlemanly thing to do," Dawn agreed, looking out across the lake instead of at Reece in case he noticed her blush. "So is there a girl? I mean, do you have someone in mind to receive these services?"

While she waited for the answer, the ride stopped three quarters of the way to the top to let people at ground level off. She sneaked a look at Reece's face to see him smiling at her.

"There may be someone," he nodded.

"Really?" she asked again, with no less hesitancy, but a stronger smile.

"Really," he repeated, leaning in to kiss her gently.

As her eyes slipped closed the wheel started to turn again, but the flipping sensation in Dawn's stomach had nothing to do with that.

When Buffy had stomped towards her friends, her plan was to pull Robin off of Faith and throw him off the dance floor, and yes, she meant literally; but halfway there she knew she couldn't do it.

Chucking Robin about wasn't really fair, after all. He was a nice guy, considerate enough even to make sure she was okay with them going out. Not before he'd actually asked Faith out, sure, but then Faith did tend to incite that kind of spontaneity in people.

People who weren't called Buffy anyway, she thought, as she danced with Xander.

Another deciding factor in her own lack of spontaneity was Faith's most likely reaction. Cutting in only ever had a happy ending if the other person wanted to dance with you in the first place. Faith hadn't asked her to dance at all tonight. Not even as friends, so to speak.

Back in the day, if she and Faith had happened to be in The Bronze at the same time, dancing would have occurred, and always Faith was the one who gave the nod or the wink or the nudge that got Buffy's butt on the floor. Tonight there had not been one nod, one nudge, one wink; nothing.

"So how's it going with Alex?" Xander asked, breaking her thoughts.

"He looks nice without his beard," she shrugged.

"Nice enough to not let him down easy at the end of the night?"

"Actually, I think he kind of already let me down easy," she admitted. "He didn't want to dance with me."

"I don't think it was a case of he didn't want to." Xander grinned as they moved to the music. "I mean he shaved his beard off for you; that's a pretty big statement. Maybe he just realized you've been kinda distracted all night."

"I have not."

"Buff, you're dancing with me. I can tell because your hands are on my shoulders and my feet are on your feet and yet your eyes are about ten feet away."

"No they're not, they're right here," Buffy lifted a hand to point at her eyes.

"You know what I mean." Xander danced her around in a ninety degree angle and her neck started to ache from the twisting. "See?" he chuckled.

"God," she groaned, turning her head so she didn't look like an owl, she buried her face in his shoulder. "This is what they mean by whipped, isn't it?"

"Who's they?"

"The people who use words like whipped." She lifted her head to smile pathetically at him.

"If it's any consolation, I've seen her looking over a few times too," Xander told her.

"Yeah, it is," she smiled. "Is she looking over now?"



They danced in silence for the rest of the song and the next was less love ballad, more sexy Latin pop.

"Watch my feet," Buffy warned playfully as they continued to dance close to the faster music.

"I can't watch your feet, salsa's all about feeling the music," he grinned at her.

"Remember I can hurt you."

He put a little more space between their bodies as a precaution and, rolling her eyes, she drew him closer again.

"Buffy, there's something I need to tell you," Xander said seriously after a minute.

"You're gay?" she guessed, smiling softly.

"No!" He stepped away from her completely. "Where'd that come from?"

"Um, you kissing Andrew." She caught his hands and pulled him closer yet again. "Pretty big giveaway."

"No! No that was not a giveaway, that was a nothing." Xander tried to explain himself. "He was just there and kissing happened; it didn't mean anything!"

"Okay," she said dubiously. "So does kissing just happen a lot when Andrew's there?" she asked, trying to understand.

"Well it's never happened before and I don't plan on it ever happening again, so no, not as a rule."

"So what happened this morning?"

"I don't know, evilness? Maybe you and Faith getting hot and sweaty all night released some kind of sexy pheromone that made me horny beyond all straight reason." He saw her frown. "Sorry."

She shrugged. "It wasn't all night, we fell asleep before the sun came up. So what did you want to tell me?"

He pulled a face, the kind of face that said whatever he was about to tell her was harder than admitting he was gay. "Faith pissed me off earlier and I kinda said some stuff that you probably wouldn't have wanted me to."

Buffy went cold and stopped dancing. "What did you say, Xander?"

"Not a lot," he said quickly. "Just how she broke your heart when she left LA without saying goodbye..."


"And that she broke it all over again when she ran off from prison," he added, even quicker. "And that she was selfish, and I might have suggested that it was a mistake for her to ever come back here." He winced at her expression.

"Xander!" she repeated angrily, and it was her stepping back this time.

"She provoked me!" he defended himself.


"She was being all nice." He stared down at her non-moving feet.

"Yeah," Buffy sighed, causing Xander to look back up. "I keep riding her for that today too."

"It's because we're not used to it," he grinned tentatively and she chuckled. "So are you mad at me?"

"Yes." She nodded. "But I'm madder at myself so I guess you're off the hook for now."

"Should we dance some more then?" he offered his arms again.

As she stepped into them she came up with another dastardly plan. It was probably a really bad idea, but she'd let Xander be the final judge.

"In light of what you just told me... Will you do me a favor?"

"What is it?" he asked, his slight guilt not enough to make him rash.

Buffy glanced over to where Faith had gone all Shakira on Robin and she felt the green fire burn her insides. "Help me make her jealous, just for five minutes, please?"

She batted her eyelashes at him with a coy smile, but they weren't in tenth grade anymore and he shook his head immediately.

"Not a chance. If I had a death wish I'd just drink as much as you and Willow think I do, not put myself between two pissed off Slayers." He grinned slyly at her. "Now if you two make nice and then want me to get between you - that I could handle." She squeezed her fingers into his arms making him wince. "Buff, I'm not doing it."

"Yeah, I think you are, for that comment alone," she told him, sliding her hands from his upper arms to around his neck. Dancing forward she pushed herself so that one of his legs was between hers.

"This is sexual harassment," he informed her weakly.

"Oh shut up and enjoy it," she grinned.

"Uh Will." Kennedy nodded her head to the side and Willow looked to see what she meant. "Any explanation?"

"Xander and Buffy?" she asked, her eyes going wide at the way her two best friends were dancing. "I've no idea."

Kennedy shook her head, dismissing the pair and turned her attention back to Willow's bright green eyes. "You look beautiful tonight," she murmured.

She didn't think Willow would have even heard her above the music, but her eyes grew even brighter and her lips curled into a cute little shy smile.

"I'm sorry I acted like an ass this morning." Kennedy said next.

Willow's smile fell away and her lower lip trembled into a pout just as she looked away.

They'd been dancing comfortably ever since Willow had come to find her, but now she stiffened in Kennedy's arms. Frustrated, Kennedy stiffened right back until they were moving like two wooden blocks to the sensuous beat.

"What now?" she asked evidently annoyed. "Did my apology offend you somehow or do you just not want to make up?"

Willow looked back at her quickly. "I do want to make up, but you have nothing to apologize for... we're all good here, really, I promise."

"I don't think so." Kennedy shook her head slightly, desperately trying to read the signals from Willow's voice and expression, but she couldn't, and that scared her more than anything.

"You don't?" Willow squeaked. "Why?"

"You don't seem okay."

"What... what makes you think that?" Willow burbled, not meeting Kennedy's eyes. "Because you're wrong, I'm am okay, very okay, so maybe it's you that... that isn't okay... okay?"

"Maybe you're right," Kennedy said quietly. "Maybe I'm not okay."

"What?" Willow's eyes grew big with fear. "Why aren't you okay?"

Kennedy looked over Willow's shoulder to where Faith was dancing with Robin. "I don't know how Buffy can put up with that. She's crazy about that woman and she's just letting her kiss someone else right in front of her. I couldn't do that."

"Well... well maybe she's just trying to be mature about it," Willow said carefully. "After all violence doesn't solve everything."

"I'm not talking about her putting the hurt on Robin. I just don't know how she can stand to be around it. I couldn't. I'd have to get as far away as possible. I couldn't watch the woman I love be with someone else." Kennedy looked Willow in the eye again, a slight smile relaxing her tense expression. "In case you were wondering."

"No, no, I wasn't wondering that. Why would I be? I have no reason to wonder because you have no reason to leave; so wondering... surplus to requirements," Willow said quickly.

Kennedy groaned, realizing that Willow had totally missed the declaration she'd included in her little speech. She pulled Willow close again as she tried to think up another way to voice her feelings.

Willow breathed her sigh of relief into Kennedy's neck. She was feeling terrible and starting to feeling her earlier decision was not the right way to go, but was admitting everything a better way to go, or just as bad? At this point, there didn't actually seem to be a right way, all ways could lead to Kennedy leaving it seemed.

Unable to find the answers right now, Willow made do with holding Kennedy tight as they danced.

Dawn opened the front door with her key and stepped aside just in time to avoid Goorzar's welcome. Reece, not expecting it, was used as a jump off point to Andrew and staggered into the door clutching his shoulder.

"Are you okay?" Dawn couldn't keep the chuckle from her voice as she reached out to touch his arm.

"Yes, no thanks to the demon," Reece rolled his shoulder a few times. "How did the little juggernaut avoid you?"

"There's a trick to it. Whenever you enter a house with Andrew or Kennedy - don't stand in the doorway."

Dawn lead the way inside, ignoring the commotion behind them as Goorzar discovered her daddy kissing another man. Not that she'd ever seen him kiss her mommy, but from the shrieking, it sounded like there were issues.

"No one's back yet," she observed, flicking on the television.

"Good," Reece smiled.

"Oh yeah?" She raised her eyebrow flirtatiously, she hoped.

Her conversation with Fen was still at the top of her mind, hardly surprising considering she'd shared several more kisses with Reece since then, and each one more comfortable than the one before. It wasn't like she was planning on jumping his bones or anything, but he did make her feel more... womanly, than anyone ever had before. It was nice, feeling mature like this, and came with a surge of confidence that she hadn't expected.

"I meant because neither of us will be in trouble." He came close enough to tilt her chin up so she was staring into his smiling blue eyes. "Anything good on?"

"Huh?" Her knees went all jellified again as his eyes nearly induced a swoon.

"You're absolutely lovely, Dawn Summers," he murmured before placing a gentle kiss on her lips.

"She had a right hold on my hair, did you see?" Craig came through the front door, wincing as he rubbed his scalp. "I thought she liked me."

"She does," Andrew insisted, hovering as close to Craig as he could without riding on his shoulders. "I think she was just a little confused."

"I get confused a lot, but I don't go around attacking people because of it."

"I know, but it's the only way she can express herself. She only knows a few words and she gets frustrated. Perhaps, even, she was trying to... to show that she approved. We don't know much about her species. That could have been her way of... of..." Andrew stuttered to a stop, not even sure what he was trying to convince Craig of.

"Welcoming you into the family," Reece supplied.

Craig glared at him. "Great, what's she going to do if she sees us in bed together, bite half my face off as a moving in gift?"

Andrew had gone a bright red, Dawn felt like she had too. She shared a look with Reece, who grinned playfully as he asked,

"Sorry, did you think Ms. Rosenberg and Kennedy do nothing but snog?"

Dawn blushed even brighter, remembering something about a pierced tongue. "No, it's just embarrassing having to hear about it."

Reece wrapped his arms around her. "Sex is only embarrassing if you think it is. They like each other, they want to do something about it, they're both consenting adults - why not?"

He looked up from Dawn's hair to see that Craig and Andrew were already back to enthusiastically kissing on the sofa.

"Of course, that doesn't mean I want to witness it first hand." When they didn't take the hint, he tried, "Lads?"

They were too engrossed in each other to take the blindest notice of him. As Dawn saw Craig's hand wandering over Andrew's jeans, she pulled away from Reece quickly, grabbing his arm and jerking him towards the kitchen.

They were both laughing as they pushed through the swing door.

"I'm all for gay love," Dawn giggled. "But gay porn I can do without."

"Here here," Reece chuckled, sitting on one of the kitchen chairs.

"So," Dawn realized they were alone, like properly alone, for the first time all day in the quiet of the kitchen. "Uh, did you want that coffee?"

"I don't really drink coffee much." Reece wrinkled his nose.

Dawn mentally cataloged it under 'new cute Reece expressions'.

"I wasn't even allowed to drink it until Buffy came back from the dead, and then I think the gang figured there were worse things to keep me up at night." Reece chuckled and she asked, "Do you want tea instead?"

"No thank you, I think the, what do you call it, Big Gulp? at the cinema and the hot chocolate at the fair have me hydrated enough for now." Reece sat sideways on his chair, stretching his legs out. "But I'll sit with you while you have a cup."

Dawn stood awkwardly at the sink. She didn't really want a drink either, but if she didn't have one, would Reece take that as his cue to go to bed? For a second she felt annoyed that the boys were in the living room. If they'd gone somewhere else to fool around, she could have suggested watching a little television together on the couch.

In the end, she grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and went to sit next to Reece at the table. There was a cracking sound as she broke the seal that seemed to heighten the silence between them; and for the small sip she took, the accompanying gulp seemed really loud, embarrassing her.

"Did you have fun tonight?"

She looked up quickly as Reece spoke. "Uh yeah, yeah I did. Lots of fun. I'd forgotten how enjoyable nearly barfing could be." She winced. "Not that I enjoy barfing, or that the whole evening made me want to barf. Am I saying barf too much for a date?" She winced again. "Not that I thought this was a date, I mean, you shouldn't just go around assuming stuff like that, should you? And if it wasn't, a date that is, then I'm totally cool with that, you know. Just 'cause we kissed doesn't mean we have to go steady or anything. Faith used to kiss people all the time, sometimes just to say hello. Not me, I don't mean she kissed me..."

Reece was up on his feet, and Dawn's face dropped as she realized her insane babbling was making him leave. He'd only asked if she'd had fun, why couldn't she have just said yes and then shut her mouth?

Reece walked to the other side of her chair and then looked down expectantly. When she just looked back, not sure what he was asking, he held out his hand. She took it and he pulled her to her feet like he had in the cinema.

"Where are we going?"

"Obviously this kitchen is making you uncomfortable, so we're going outside," he said softly.

He used the key on the hook to unlock the kitchen door and lead the way out to the picnic bench. As he sat down on one side, the way he was holding her hand gave her no option but to sit next to him. Her body had gotten used to the heat in the kitchen and she began shivering immediately; until his arm went around her back, hugging her close to his side.

"Tonight is the most fun I've had on a date in a long time too," he said quietly, his mouth close to her ear.

"Cool," she said a little too loud. "I mean, not that..."

He cut her off with a kiss.

"Relax, or we're going to run out of places that don't make you uncomfortable," he grinned.

She smiled, ducking her head a little. "Sorry, I've just never met anyone like you before."

"Like me?"

"Anyone who... never mind," she blushed.

He didn't push her for an answer. "Let's talk about something else then. What do you want to be when you grow up?" he teased.

Dawn chuckled. "If Buffy had her way I'd never be allowed to grow up, but say the dream of getting out of her mom-like clutches ever came true... I don't know. A million things, I guess. I used to want to be a teacher, when I was little, but now I'm older and I know what teachers have to go through," she grinned. "I still like the idea of long vacations though. Or I might be a translator, Giles says I have that gene that makes it easy to pick up languages, and I could make a lot of money if I worked for the Russian Ambassador or something. Plus I'd get to do lots of traveling, which would be fun."

"I've known what I was going to be since I was six," Reece shared. "Don't misunderstand me, I was lucky, I loved the Academy and my destiny has never felt like the burden it has for Pete, but sometimes I wonder what I would have gone for if it hadn't already been foretold. I have friends on the outside who are going off to university right now and just taking any course that seemed interesting, they still don't know what they want to be and they're happy just taking the next four years to have fun and figure it out as they go."

"I don't know, I think having it all mapped out has a lot going for it too. You're destined to do something you're obviously great at, so there's not much chance of you screwing it up and having nothing a few years from now. And being a Watcher comes with tenure, no getting laid off because the work dies out, especially now."

"No," Reece grinned. "But being a Watcher means I could die out, and there's not much point in tenure then."

Reece dying on the job was an uncomfortable possibility, but Dawn didn't want to act needy by telling him to shut up. "Any of us could meet our maker tomorrow, seeing as how we mess with the evil every day, but I don't think dwelling on it will do any good. If Buffy had worried about that, the wrinkly old Master would have gotten to the surface and I wouldn't be here now. Or Glory would have killed me and... I still wouldn't be here now."

Dawn fell silent, snuggled against Reece, as she thought about all the times she might have been dead or nonexistent if Buffy had been too scared to face death herself. It made her feel a little guilty for not appreciating it more.

"I don't dwell," Reece promised her. "But I do try to pack as much life into every day as I possibly can. My dad gave me the tip my second year at the academy, when we first started practical assignments. He said, I don't care what you get up to, as long as you're enjoying it. Death can come at any time and you don't want your last seconds to be boring as your life flashes before your eyes." He laughed. "Of course, after that he gave me this big long list of stuff I wasn't allowed to do like skiving school, being unkind to dogs, disrespecting my mother, taking drugs, stealing, murder, that kind of thing."

"Your dad sounds nice."

"He was," Reece nodded. "He was a tough bugger most of the time, but he had a real soft spot when it came to me and my sister. I could get around him easier than I can my mother, anyway."

Dawn looked up at him compassionately, "Did he die in the explosion?"

Reece nodded. "He'd been off active duty awhile, a vampire bite to the back of the neck left him with limited movement down his left side. He was always at HQ."

"I'm sorry," Dawn murmured. "My mom died a couple of years ago, aneurysm caused by brain surgery."

Reece hugged her even closer, kissing the side of her head. "Did she leave you any good advice?"

"Always wash behind your ears if you don't like potatoes."

Reece gave an involuntary bark of laughter, and instead of being offended, Dawn found herself joining in. When their lips came together again, she was a little surprised at herself for initiating it, but it didn't seem to matter.

As Reece pulled away, he said, "Dawn, you're shivering like a mad woman! Do you want to call it a night, it's getting late anyway."

"No," she said at once, despite the fact that he was right and her teeth were chattering. "I want to keep talking, but somewhere warmer might be nice."

"Well the kitchen's out because I'm not having you turn awkward again," Reece joked. "And I'm a little scared at what we might find in the living room."

"We could go to your room," she offered tentatively. "It's only just there."

He looked behind him to the boys dormitory; it was only a hundred yards away. Looking back at Dawn, he grinned. "Not sure I trust myself with such a beautiful girl near my bed."

"I won't let you do anything I don't want you to," Dawn promised getting up and holding out her hand this time. "And I may just be a girl, but I've had slayer training."

"Now I trust myself even less," he grinned, letting her lead the way.

Faith probably would have been happy to dance out the rest of the night with Robin, well happy wasn't really the right adjective, but Robin fouled it up anyway when he said,

"Those two make quite the handsome couple."

She turned her head to watch Kennedy and Willow dance. They did look good together, but still not particularly comfortable despite being tight in each others arms. She could only see Kennedy's face and the younger slayer seemed to be bitching to herself silently about something.

"I didn't know they were together though. Xander never mentioned it earlier," Robin continued.

"Huh?" He knew Ken and Red were a couple. Anyone who'd been in Sunnydale last spring knew they were a couple. It had been kind of impossible to miss.

Looking at Robin again, she realized he was looking past the lesbians altogether and craned her neck around to see who he meant.

Her breath caught in her throat as she saw Xander holding Buffy close as they danced naughtily together. She had one hand on his chest, rubbing it up and down, and her other was pushed up into his dark hair, holding his face just inches from hers as she smiled and said stuff Faith couldn't make out from the angle. His hands were on her hips holding her to him tightly and he had a leg pushed between hers - the height difference meant Buffy was rubbing against it with every move she made...

Faith stopped dancing, and her voice flat, said, "They're not together."

Buffy flicked her long hair over one shoulder as she laughed at something Xander said. She snaked her other arm up and over his shoulder, drawing their faces even closer as she whispered something back.

Robin sensed the mood shift and loosed his grip on her a little as he remarked casually, "Well they're both single, maybe they're just having some fun."

Faith didn't answer as she watched Buffy and Xander dance around the floor wrapped together like lovers. As they came closer, she felt her body tense all over and as much as she told her self to calm the hell down, it didn't work.

Robin rubbed her back lightly. "Hey, Faith, it's no big deal, is it? Xander's a nice guy. He's not going to do anything to hurt her."

Faith didn't answer, but she forced herself to look away from them and got herself dancing again. When Robin tried to pull her close, she resisted, shrugging away from him to dance alone.

"Faith?" he asked.

"Just quit crowding me, would ya?" she snapped.

Perplexed, he watched her closely as he gave her some space.

Xander was enjoying this way more than he should.

He knew that, same as he knew this was probably going to end with him getting pounded into mincemeat by Faith's fists, but that didn't stop him from pulling Buffy closer by her hips, loving the feel of her smooshing previously off-limits parts of herself into his thigh.

How could he turn this down? This was all he'd ever wanted all along. For eight long years he longed to have Buffy dancing with him this way. Okay he'd had a little taste of it back in their junior year when Buffy had been trying to make Angel jealous and that had made him feel like crap, worse than crap in fact. Something that crap would complain about getting stuck to its feet... but this was different.

How exactly he wasn't sure, it just was.

Maybe because now all the erotic-y feelings Buffy's hands were inspiring as they rubbed his chest and gripped his hair were safe. He knew this wasn't going further than a dance and he wasn't in love with her anymore, so that gave him lots of free reign to just enjoy the hands and the... off limits parts... that were doing all kinds of things to send his brain crazy.


"Uh huh?"

"Do you know what would make Faith really jealous?"

"What?" she grinned, her face inches from his.

"Me, you, less clothes, more parts interlocking..." he grinned back, hitching his eyebrows a few times.

She laughed and her other arm went around his neck, pulling his face even closer. "Down, big boy."

"This is so not fair. I finally get you exactly where I want you," he teased. "After many years of trying, might I add, and someone else is going to get the benefit of it."

"You think I should be making this worth your while?" she smiled and both of her hands suddenly swooped down his back to his ass. "If you kiss me now, I promise not to kick this." She gave his ass a firm squeeze.

It was tempting, oh so very tempting.

"I'm not joking Xan," she said, and the look in her eyes told him she wasn't. "One night of harmless pleasure?"

He moved his hand from her hip to brush some hair from her face.

"You're lonely, I'm lonely," she whispered into his ear.

As she pulled back to look at him, he felt a skip in his... okay heart would have been more romantic, but if he was honest he'd have to say that it was somewhere a lot south of there that had skipped, or jumped, or sprung even further to attention.

"Buffy," he said softly, a slight warning in his voice, although which one of them it was for he didn't know.

"Xander," she said in the same tone he had, and suddenly she was dancing a little different and he was between her legs and there was a certain amount of... grinding... oh God... that hadn't been there before.

Beyond rational thought, he kissed her.

Willow had been watching her best friends dance together though half closed eyes, but when she saw their lips meet in a heavy smooch, her head lifted from Kennedy's shoulder fast.

"Holy Hell!"

"What?" Kennedy jumped at the loud shout in her ear. Turning to see what it was about, her own eyes bugged out. "Jeezus!"

Faith had been trying not to look at Xander and Buffy dancing, but every now and then her eyes had strayed traitorously that way.

When she saw Buffy pulling Xander into her as hard as she could while his lips attacked hers with equal intensity, something snapped inside and Faith didn't even try to hold the ends together.

Lunging across the dance floor, she felt Robin trying to get a grip on her - one backwards snap of her arm kept him away - and then she was on them.

Buffy had been caught up in the moment yet again, but strangely, as much as she was enjoying herself, Naomi's odd words of advice had come back to her. She wasn't sure why she should heed them, but as she pulled away from Xander, she caught sight of Faith lunging towards them.

Looking like a hell-chick gone mad, Faith knocked Robin off of his feet without even sparing him a glance and had her hands out ready to strangle.

"Faith, no!" Buffy shouted, as she pushed Xander behind her, out of the way.

She needn't have bothered she realized, Faith didn't even spare him a glance as she barreled into Buffy, grabbing her by the front of her top and propelling her backwards. Their feet tangled and Buffy felt herself falling. Faith didn't try and save her and as Buffy went down, she just followed her.

Act Four

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