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House of The Setting Sun: House Party
Episode Eight 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 Eight in the House of the Setting Sun series. It's All Hallow's Eve and the things that go bump in the night are meant to stay in and bump at home... but that doesn't mean they can't still have a scream.


Episode Eight

Act Three, Part A

A bang, smoke, actual shaking this time; and Dawn was starting to feel stupid for dismissing what had happened here earlier. She should have known better.

Weird stuff didn't just happen for no reason. She should have told Buffy, but she'd been worried that her sister wouldn't let her go, or even worse, would insist on coming too to find out what was going on, and thus ensuring that she never got to know the pleasures and pitfalls of being cool or popular.

But she could have told one of the five slayers that had come to the party with her. In fact, giving them a heads up probably would have been welcomed, judging by the way three of them were looking at her now.

As the blue-green smoke cleared, one of the guys from Boudenver Academy shouted over the distorted music and the general confusion in the ballroom.

"Sorry about that. The amp blew up! Small fire, all totally out now. Please continue with what you were doing?"

After some wary looking around, most of the kids did just that. The beer had been flowing, well, until the keg had run dry anyway, and besides, they were kids - if there wasn't something trying to immediately devour them, they were making the most of the adult-free house for as long as possible.

Dawn wished she was a normal kid, although, actually, she was; she just didn't have a normal life. Xander had been right; it was way harder to be normal when you knew the world around you wasn't.

"The electrics in this place must be shot," Fen said. "That's the second time that's happened."

"Place is old," was Charlie's only answer. He still had his arm loosely draped around Fen. "Come on, let's go find Aaron. He brought a bottle of Vodka with him."

"You coming?" she asked Dawn.

"Uh, I'm not drinking, but I'll catch up with you later, okay?"

Fen nodded and the two of them walked through the crowd. Dawn wasn't sure about letting her go, but what could she say to stop her? She'd had the secret identity spiel programmed into her from an early age. Besides, everything seemed back to normal now.

"Wow, I thought something bad was happening," Miranda said after they'd gone. "I didn't know an amp catching fire could make the lights go wonky like that."

"It wasn't the amp," Dawn said.

"Do you know something?" Naomi asked her. Her expression showed that she didn't think it was something so simple either.

"I know it wasn't the amp, at least, I don't think it was the amp."

"Dude! Who changed the music?" A guy on the other side of the room called out.

While they'd been talking, the music had undistorted itself. Dawn hadn't taken any notice, assuming it was all part of the 'back to normal' thing, but now she realized Blink-182 and the Chili Peppers had been replaced by Mozart and Handel.

"Are those geeks up there trying to convert us, do you think?" asked Alison. "Or is this all part of the not-the-amp strangeness?"

"I don't know," Dawn said slowly, and she really didn't. "Maybe we should find Reece and the others."

They all agreed and set off to find them. Above their heads, the chandeliers burned brightly.

Up on the stage, the boys from Boudenver were kind of losing it. Tall and skinny number one had shouted out the fake apology to the crowd and now tall and skinny number two was having a mini-meltdown.

"What did we do? What did we do? What did we do?"

"Nothing," said cocky and clumsy. He sounded disappointed. "All that work, and nothing."

"I wouldn't say nothing," said short and stocky. "We changed the music."

"And the place is cleaner, I think," said tall and skinny number one. "The floor looks all shiny."

"Great," said cocky and clumsy dismally. "Eighteen months of research and five months of practical experimentation and we accomplished a Mickey."

"A Mickey?" Tall and skinny number two asked.

"Cleaned the place up with magic," Cocky and clumsy explained his technical terminology.

"And we changed the music," Short and stocky reminded them again, desperately trying to figure out how to change it back before people started throwing things.

The library was small and cozy compared to most of the rooms on the ground floor. Lined floor to ceiling with books dating as far back as the invention of the printing press, it was a comfortable space with several reading chairs and two large Victorian era sofas. Handel played softly through the small speakers mounted up by the ceiling. It was supposed to create a calm, relaxing ambiance.

It wasn't.

"What is the meaning of this disgrace?" The Count asked in his authoritative, Slavic tone. "Never have we been treated as corralled cattle."

"It is most unfortunate," Owen apologized. "This is unprecedented. My wards have always been secure."

"So we are just to sit here?" Victor asked. "You are happy to remain a captive in your own house?"

"We are not captives," Owen said, exasperated, not with his friends but with the situation. "You are all free to leave, as am I."

"That was not what he meant," Victor's friend said slowly in a voice that was bordering on painful for the ears. Not that that was his fault.

"I don't want to leave," Ptah said, his voice slightly muffled. "We only see each other once a year as it is."

Owen didn't often shrug. The notion to do so had been beaten out of him at a young age by his master, but now it was all he could do.

The door to the library suddenly burst open, making everyone look that way in alarm.

"Here youth all are!" Iggy said excitedly, waving a five-fingered hand in greeting. In his other he held a bottle half full of vodka. "I didn't think I wath going to find youth guysh. Olwyn, my thriend! Great party thish year!"

Everyone groaned in unison.

Reece had fallen sideways on to the bed when the shaking had taken him by surprise. The sharp electrical sound had made him cover his ears, but the bang a few moments later had him covering his head as well.

When the shaking stopped he crawled further on to the bed, rubbing at his ears, trying to get rid of the horrible ringing feeling.

Kennedy's legs had given out during the shaking; forcing her to do a controlled plop to the floor, where she sat until it stopped. Her ears, more sensitive than Reece's, were buzzing like she had mosquitoes in them. She felt sick enough from the shaking, the light flickering and the buzzing to think she was getting a hangover already.

She stayed put on the floor, taking deep breaths of the lightly lavender scented air until the worst of it passed and then she crawled to the bed and unsteadily climbed onto the mattress.

"Remind me not to drink again," she muttered as she curled into a ball next to Reece's outstretched body.

"Okay." Reece pulled a face as one of his ears unpopped painfully. "But I'm not drunk and that didn't make it any more pleasant for me. Was that an earthquake?"

"I don't think so. But then the only earthquake I've experienced was in Sunnydale, and that was less earthquake, more the whole city being sucked underground by evil."

Reece looked out of the window. "We still seem to be above ground, so at least that's not an issue."

Kennedy couldn't face looking up to prove it. "Good."

Reece winced as his other ear unpopped and then lay there for a minute saying nothing. He needed to re-gather, and Kennedy needed time to feel less sick; she was obviously useless right now.

Eventually she uncurled, still breathing deeply, and pulled herself up the bed to rest her head on the pillow. Reece wanted to warn her not to. The house had clearly been abandoned for some time and who knew what animals, or people, had been on this bed. Strangely though, the bedspread smelled laundered and fresh.

He pushed himself closer to the pillow on his side of the bed and gave it an experimental sniff. Hmm, not the musty, half rotten smell he'd gotten used to while arguing with Kennedy. He lowered his head to the softness of it and turned on to his back, willing his headache away.

"You alright?"

"Mmm," Kennedy's eyes were closed, but she opened them a few seconds later. "So if that wasn't an earthquake, what the hell was it?"

"No idea," Reece admitted. "We should find the others. See if they felt anything. That would determine if it affected the whole house or just us."

"If it was just us, that would mean something supernatural, right?"

"Could mean supernatural either way, but if it was something benign, Dawn might know what."

"Okay, just give me one minute," Kennedy said, closing her eyes again. "Room's spinning."

"Take five minutes," Reece said generously, he didn't want to deal with her being sick. "But then we have to go."

He stared blankly up at the ceiling, and then not so blankly. He tilted his head to one side, staring hard. "Uh, Kennedy?"

"What we talked about," she said with her eyes still shut. "You won't say anything, will you?"

Forgetting his point for a moment, he rolled over to face her. "That depends. Are you going to get your act together now?"

She opened her eyes slowly. "Not sure what my act is supposed to be now."

"Well, either you accept you're in love and do what you do best to make it work, or you cut Willow loose and do what you do best to get over her. Whichever you decide, the important bit is that you be true to yourself."

Kennedy started laughing. "Do you have any idea how cheesy you just sounded? My Watcher was grave and uptight, but he was never cheesy."

Reece laughed with her. "I'm still learning," he said, pushing her shoulder.

"Obviously." She pushed him back.

The drink was still claiming her and she was a little more vigorous than she meant to be. He rolled onto his back again and was reminded of what had struck him before.

Grabbing her wrist in his urgency, he pointed upwards with his other hand. "Wasn't there cobwebs up there earlier?"

She looked up and her jaw went slack for a moment. "Yeah, lots."

He let go of her wrist and she used his chest to push herself up a little, staring in surprise at the unspoiled, pure while ceiling. Her eyes fell back to his and they shared a look of confusion.

"What's going on?" Dawn's sudden shrill accusation had both of them looking at the doorway.

Together they moved quickly to sit up, eager to ask the others if they knew what was happening and to point out the uncobwebby ceiling. Unfortunately, to Dawn, it looked as if they were springing guiltily apart.

"Why are you...? What are you...?"

Dawn started questions she wasn't finishing and Reece and Kennedy looked at each other even more confused. Which didn't exactly fill Dawn with confidence.

Dawn finally managed to spit one full sentence at them. "Were you two making out?"

"Kennedy and I?" Reece started laughing again at the ridiculous allegation.

"No! The ceiling!" Kennedy pointed at it.

Cici, Miranda and Alison all looked up at it, but they didn't know what they were looking for. Naomi shook her head slightly, staring coldly at Reece.

Dawn didn't seem to know what to do. She stood there, not even hearing what they were saying, because it didn't make sense anyway. Her eyes, filled with stunned pain, went back and forth between them, waiting for a proper explanation.

Looking away from the ceiling and noticing her expression, Kennedy began, "Dawn, you can't believe..."

"I know what I saw," Dawn ground out between her teeth.

"Then clearly you aren't seeing very well," Reece said, smiling the smile of someone who knew he was innocent.

"I can see you two all cozy together," Dawn countered, her tone making it clear she wished she couldn't.

"No, we were just talking, and then this thing happened," Kennedy explained, looking back at Reece for confirmation."

Reece nodded. "The floor started shaking."

"And you both just happened to fall on top of each other on the conveniently placed bed?" Dawn asked, crossing her arms.

"No, only I fell on the bed," said Reece.

"Yeah, I fell on the floor." Kennedy pointed to the space between the dresser and the bed.

Dawn shook her head, "Well, you're not on the floor now."

"No, I climbed on the bed to," Kennedy frowned, "lay down."

"How snug."

"Dawn, we were just talking." Reece was getting sick of this nonsense. If he'd been caught out fair and square doing something wrong, well that was one thing, but he wasn't being accused like this for nothing.

"You really expect me to believe that?" Dawn's voice was almost dog-whistle high. It was doing nothing for Reece's headache. "That Kennedy chose to talk to you about stuff when she won't talk to anyone else? She's been avoiding me since we started dating because she doesn't like you, but now she's all willing to share her internal melodrama with you?"

"I haven't been avoiding you," Kennedy scoffed. "You've just been too busy with your new school friends, and him," she nodded sideways at Reece, "to hang out with me. And I'm not melodramatic!"

Alison coughed at that.

Kennedy glared at her.

"Okay, so we'll be going." Alison started to gently push the other two junior Slayers out of the room. "Wanna head out of the firing line, Nay?"

"We still need to know what's going on," Naomi said, but started to leave with them anyway.

"Well if you would just look at the ceiling," Kennedy said irritably.

"What about the darn ceiling?" Dawn shouted. "What's so fascinating about it that you had to lie in each others arm to see it?"

"Enough!" Reece got off the bed angrily. "There is something strange going on here, and Dawn, acting like a silly little girl isn't helping us find out what."

"Silly little..." Dawn began, furious but with tears in her voice.

"Kennedy is a flipping lesbian, Dawn. What, do you think my feminine side is so strong I converted her? Do you trust me so little that you think I'm shagging every woman I'm alone with?" Reece shouted, wondering what Rona might have said about Julie. Speaking of... "And if you are all up here having a go at me while something supernatural is going on... Where is my Slayer?"

Everyone looked at everyone; no one saw Rona.

Barnies was packed. It was far busier than it had been on disco night. Nearly every table was filled with ghouls, ghosts and goblins of all shapes and sizes, not to mention a few movie heroes, famous singers and fairytale leads. Jugs of beer were flowing freely and laughter and chatter mingled with the cheesiest music of the eighties and nineties. Alex's cousin, otherwise known as their electrician, was dj-ing again and he nodded to both of them as they passed.

The vibe was fantastic. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and for the first time since they'd moved into the camp, Buffy wasn't feeling any hostility from the locals. There were none of the unwelcoming looks or cold shoulders she had come to associate with a night on the town. It was as if Halloween had broken down the barriers between the insiders and the outsiders and for tonight at least, they were accepted. Or perhaps with everyone in costume and pretending to be someone - or something - they weren't, her and Faith just didn't stand out as strangers so much.

Or maybe the beer was just really flowing.

Whatever the reason it was nice, and when they made it past the door without getting kicked back out, they both relaxed. A little. Enough to smile at each other a bit more; enough to laugh as Alex warned them both to behave or else before giving them their first drink on the house. Once Faith had a beer and Buffy had her favouite green cocktail in her hand, Alex also went as far as to point out the only vacant table in the joint.

"Okay, so this is pretty much Dating 101, but I'm gonna ease you in." Buffy grinned as they made their way through the crowds to the back room. "First, pulling your date's chair out for them is always a good solid move."

Faith went to do it, but stopped herself. "I thought you were taking me on a date now. Doesn't that mean you have to pull my chair out for me?"

"Huh, I guess so." With her free hand Buffy pulled out one of the chairs and then smiled at Faith, or where Faith had been. Now she was on the other side of the table sitting down.

"I just pulled out a chair for you." Buffy waved at the chair. "You're supposed to wait and sit in it."

"I thought you were kidding," Faith frowned. "Well I'm not moving now; I'll look like a bigger idiot than I feel."

Buffy sat down. "Don't worry, that's normal. Everyone feels like an idiot on a first date."

"They do?"

"Oh yeah. It's all 'Do I look okay?', 'Do I have food in my teeth?', 'Am I smiling too much?', 'Am I talking too much?', 'Am I interesting enough?', 'Smart enough?', 'Sexy enough?'..."

"I'm not the only one who's nervous here, am I?"

Smiling sheepishly, Buffy ducked her head to suck at her straw, hoping Faith wouldn't realize she was blushing. She really was feeling nervous. She hadn't been on a first date with someone who made her feel as tingly all over as this since Riley, and that had been years ago! She could hardly remember correct protocol herself and here she was trying to teach and reassure Faith at the same time. They needed an icebreaker, but she was freaking too much on the inside to think of one.

Faith played with her beer bottle, pulling at a corner of the label with her fingernails. "We could always get all that hard shit out of the way right now."

Buffy looked up to smile across the table. "You mean like I could tell you that despite the week old corpse make-up you look pretty great tonight?"

"Yeah," Faith glanced up and then back down at her bottle. "And then I could tell you that you don't have food in your teeth."

"You're not smiling too much," Buffy promised, and then frowning slightly, she added, "Although, you're not really smiling enough either."

Faith looked up. "Yeah, well, you're talking too much."

Not sure whether to be amused or offended, Buffy gave a tiny cough-like laugh that was somewhere between the two. "Yeah, well, you're not being very interesting."

"Says the dumb blonde." Faith smirked.

"I'm dumb? I know tonight was all about you trying to get me into bed and you come looking as sexy as a dead body?"

"Don't try and kid me, girlfriend, we both know dead bodies turn you on."

"Undead bodies turn me on!" Buffy retorted, and then wished she'd just let that one go. "And only two of them. It's not like I've dated an entire living dead football team or anything. And I have never been attracted to a zombie; zombies are all... yuck."

They stared each other down for a minute, maybe two, before Faith relaxed back into her seat, smiling.

"That feels better. More normal, ya know?"

"Yeah, I know what you mean." Buffy smiled and slurped up some of her drink. "Not sure what that says about us, but... meh."

Faith carefully peeled the label from her bottle. Buffy chewed on her straw.

"So you really don't think zombies are sexy?" Faith asked.

"You really think blondes are dumb?" Buffy asked back.

"Ya know, I heard dating was a minefield," Faith grinned, "but I never really believed it."

"Yep, big minefield, lotsa mines." Buffy slurped the last of her drink up through her straw. "If you don't tread carefully, you could lose a foot, or, you know, any hope you have of sex this year."

Faith looked nervous again and Buffy kicked herself.

"But you're gonna tell me how to avoid the mines, right?" Faith checked.

"Totally!" Buffy said quickly, after all, she wanted sex again this year too. "Second rule: never leave your date without a drink." Smiling encouragingly, she pushed her empty glass across the table.

Faith groaned but stood up again to go back to the busy bar. "You know, I'm gonna check with Red about these dating rules before I ask you out again."

Buffy grinned as she walked away and made a mental note to get hold of Willow first.

Willow had reached her mope-quota for one night, and now, frowning at her bedroom walls was just getting boring. Wearily rising from the bed, she trailed down the front stairs to see what was happening. At the least there would be candy.

Xander was laughing at something on the television, his hand digging into the big bowl of popcorn on the couch next to him. He was only in his boxers and visibly jumped and covered himself with a cushion when he realized he wasn't alone.

Willow giggled at him. "Hey."

"Hey. I thought you went to bed."

"I got up again." She went and sat on the other side of the popcorn bowl.

"And you're staying? Does that mean I have to put on pants?"

"I've seen you in your boxers before, Xan," she reminded him, reaching for a handful of the buttery kernels. "I've seen you naked before."

"What? No you haven't!"

"Yuhuh! When we were seven and your mom caught us mud wrestling in your yard and she made us take a bath."

"Oh, right." Xander smiled fondly as he remembered that particular sporting misconception. "I've grown a bit since then."

"I'd be worried if you hadn't," she mumbled with her mouth full. "Aren't you more worried Giles or Vi might see you?"

Apparently the practice patrol last night with the new Slayer and her parents did not go down well so Giles is having an early night." Xander pointed at his bedroom door with the remote. "And I told Vi she could only come to the party if she was in her underwear."


"That's exactly what she said. So she's watching the portable TV in mine and Andy's room."

His focus was back on the television as he talked. He leaned forward, over his cushion, for the bottle of beer on the coffee table, but only had a small sip before returning it to its coaster and settling back to enjoy the cartoon again.

Willow shook her head at him. "You seem in better spirits today."

"Yeah. I think this is officially one of my good days. I do have them now and then."

"You wanna talk about your not so good days?" Willow asked.

She and Buffy were still trying to wear Xander's funk down and pull him out of the jaws of despair, but so far he was being super-annoyingly resistant to all their methods. Maybe this good old-fashioned popcorn fest was the perfect time to stage the next attack. Some back-up Buffy would have been good, but she was obviously still out having fun on her stupid Faith-date, and it wasn't as if Willow hadn't pulled Xander up by his bootstraps before. Their best friendliness had been a twosome long before it was a threesome.

"Not in a million years." He shoved a big handful of popcorn into his mouth so he had reason not to add anything.

"I just thought when you're up it might not get you so down to talk about what's been on your mind. About what's been on all our minds. It might be easier, just the two of us here, talking about what's bothering us, with buttery goodness to help it go down easier."

"I'd rather just stay up if you don't mind." He reached for his beer again, and this time when he settled back against the couch, his beer came with him.

"Okay." Willow knew when to back off, but she told herself, as she fell silent and watched The Simpsons with him for a while, this was just a tactical retreat. At some point tonight she was going to gain some ground, even if it only turned out to be a hillock. "Is there any candy? It's Halloween, there's supposed to be candy."

"In the bowl on the bookcase. I was saving it for when the corn is done."

Willow got up to look, smiling happily when she realized just how much tooth-rotting badness was piled high in it. She took it back to the couch and chocolates, gummy bears, jelly beans, sour worms and hard candies nearly showered the floor as Xander suddenly grabbed the bowl from her.


"Hey yourself." Xander hugged the bowl to his chest. "You're not having any."

"You're not the candy boss!"

"They're for the party. The party has a dress code. You're not observing the dress code; therefore you can't be at the party."

"The dress code?"

Xander removed the cushion from his lap and waved a hand down himself. "I am observing the dress code."

"I'm not stripping down to my underwear, Xander."

"Then you better go watch TV upstairs with Vi."

"But I wanna spend the evening with you," she whined, meaning the candy and making a grab for the bowl.

"Then you do what you gotta do."

He picked out a particularly mouth-watering piece of chocolate, stuck it in his mouth and made nummy noises around it.

"Fine!" Willow stomped for the stairs. "I'll compromise."

Rona was still standing at the foot of the stairs looking up when the house hiccuped itself into a new reality. She grabbed the banisters when the shaking started, blinked a lot when the lights began flickering on and off, and was staring at the shiny black and white tiles in confusion when Dawn, Naomi and the other Slayers came running into the foyer in search of Reece and Kennedy.

"They're upstairs," she said, too distracted to explain further, and grabbed Miranda's arm as she passed. "But look."

"At what?" Alison looked around the foyer.

"The dry-leaf-and-dirty-foot-print free floor."

"What about it?" Naomi asked, looking at her feet.

"We don't have time for this," Dawn reminded them and they all ran up the stairs.

Rona stared after them and the tiles again. Apparently cleanliness was not a sign of evil then. They'd taken less interest than if she'd stopped them to point out that grass was green. She had to admit she agreed, it was just weird. Everything was weird. The music coming from the ballroom was weird. The suddenly sparkly clean house was weird. The fact that the chandelier above her head was no longer made of candle-shaped bulbs but from real white wax candles was weird. The grandfather clock opposite her suddenly chiming the hour when the hands hadn't moved all night was weird.

High school kids still wandered through the large foyer, but aside from complaints still being voiced about the music, none of them seemed to notice anything off. A couple heading for the living room were carrying fluted glasses of sparkling wine and paper plates piled high with pheasant legs, quail eggs and salmon sandwiches... The only food Rona could remember spotting was a dozen or so bags of Cheetos scattered about.

She looked around, spotting more differences, subtle and not so. Yeah, weird was the word here. She didn't know if there was a contingency plan for dealing with threats of spotlessness and materializing gourmet food, but if there wasn't she had an uneasy feeling they better start thinking one up.

Halfway up the stairs she heard irregular footsteps coming in the front door. Instinctively, she looked over the banisters to see who was joining the party so fashionably late and her eyes went wide. Late was the only thing they could be accused of being fashionable for.

The dude confidently entering the foyer was bald, hunchbacked and walked with a pronounced limp. Rona couldn't tell if his old fashioned surgeon scrubs were a costume or not, but she did know they really didn't go with his bowling shoes. He sure wasn't a high school student, and considering his manic grin, she had trouble believing he was just a concerned parent here to break up the party.

Unaware he had a spectator; he capered across the gleaming tiles deeper into the house. After only a moment's thought, Rona followed him into the living room filled with students.

Discreetly watching him make a circuit of the room, talking and laughing with the kids he passed, but never stopping long enough to let them get a good look at him, Rona ran her finger along the mantelpiece while she waited. It was completely dust-free. The living room back at the camp wasn't this undusty despite Andrew's best efforts. She looked up from frowning at her finger in time to see the stranger - the stranger stranger - slipping back out of the room.

Aiming for the ballroom next, he likewise did a tour of the room, appearing to be looking for someone, but in no hurry to find them. For a half lame guy with a hump he was light on his bowling shoes. He tapped his way down the middle of the ballroom, grabbing a random girl halfway down and waltzing her in a circle like he was Fred Astaire. Rona smiled as he moved on, leaving the girl tottering on her heels and looking dizzy five feet from her date. Then something more interesting caught her eye and she stopped to take it in.

"Okay, that explains where the all the rich food they had came from," she murmured, staring at a banquet table that stretched nearly the length of the ballroom. "Doesn't explain where all this rich food came from though."

The table had everything; so many plates and dishes it was a freaking miracle it wasn't collapsing. Although, she might be speaking too soon. The solid wood did look like it was buckling a little under the weight of the roast stag in the centre. How none of the kids thought this suddenly appearing feast was odd was... odd, but it made a little more sense why they were putting up with the classical music for so long.

Grabbing a couple of shrimps to go - all this shadowing was giving her an appetite - and looked around for her mark. He'd gone. After swiping a shrimp at the crab sauce, she quickly weaved her way back to the door, scanning the crowd.

He was entering a door further up the corridor so she held back for the time it took to eat a shrimp and then followed him into a packed study. It was a nicely decorated room, wealthy and elegant and all that - the students crammed in there didn't give a crap. Quasimodo didn't either. He mingled his way around the room, slapping the hand of one guy - who, by the way he looked at his palm after, hadn't enjoyed it much - and slyly stealing a bottle of vodka off the desk as he made his way back to the door.

Spotting Dawn's friends in the mess of people around the desk, Rona used them as an opportunity to slip away from the door as he approached.

"Hey, Rona, right?" Fen smiled. "Any idea where Dawn is?"

"Upstairs with Reece," Rona said without thinking.

Fen laughed delightedly. "I taught that girl well. Hey, babe, we should follow her example."

Rona had been watching the door, but her eyes went wide at the proposition. She was turning to say thanks but no thanks when she realized the chick was talking to a boy behind her.

'Kennedy's got me hallucinating lesbians everywhere.' Smirking, she flicked her eyes back to the doorway to see her quarry leaving.

"Hey, Rona, you want some Vodka? Hey, where is the Vodka?" Fen started looking around for it.

Rona wasn't about to tell her it was walking out the door, that would just draw attention she didn't want drawn.

"I think there's some wine bottles going around. I'll go grab one," Rona said as an excuse to slip away.

As she left the room she saw him limping down a corridor opposite, swigging unashamedly from the pilfered vodka.

She moved closer, realizing the further from the foyer and the ballroom the corridor went, the less kids there were. It was as if once the bright glares of the chandeliers gave way to the gas lamps they didn't dare to go any further. Not that anyone except her seemed to notice that the gas lamps were now powered with actual gas instead of being electric look-alikes.

The fact that she noticed and nobody else seemed to didn't make her want to advance down the shadowy hallway much herself, but she was gonna do it. She was, just... in a minute. It wasn't fear that was stopping her from going further, it was intelligence. Obviously it was stupid to follow this guy into what looked like a dead end, all he'd have to do is turn around and she'd be busted.

At least, that's what she told herself as she waited to see what he was up to. And what was he up to? Was he just some local oddball that always came to high school parties? Could a guy that pricked a slayer's senses really be something that benign? Or was he a human monster, here to screw with the kids at the party, perhaps literally?

All the Slayers had heard about Dawn's heroic - although in Rona's personal opinion she felt the word foolish applied just as well, not that she was ever going to say so - capture of her sleazebag teacher. To be honest, it was the only thing Dawn was really known for in their circle. She wasn't a Slayer, she wasn't a Watcher, she didn't really do anything around the house like Andrew and Xander did. Dawn was just the baby of the original band of demon fighters, and Buffy's little sister too. So the bait and capture of her human monster teacher - and the fact that she was sort of dating Reece - were pretty much the only thing that made her worth talking about. In fact, it had been the first thing Fen had brought up when they had all been introduced earlier.

So with all that fresh in her mind, Rona reached into her pocket to touch the camera hiding there. Suddenly catching Reece cheating on film was the lesser of two evils she might snap tonight.

Halfway down the corridor the potential molester threw open a door and bounced excitedly through it. Rona waited until the door shut behind him and then it took three mental attempts at 'one two three go' before she actually managed to get herself moving towards the closed door.

A closed door was suspicious all on its own, not many other doors were closed and at first she assumed he was in there doing some nasty little thing alone, but as she drew closer, she could hear talking. Although she couldn't make out more than murmured conversation over the sounds of the party, intrigue kept her ear to the door.

"You made it." Owen smiled as his old friend barged into the room. "I was afraid you had decided not to come."

"And mith catching up with my favorite guyth? Never."

"No, that would be a shame," Victor might have muttered, but he made sure his mutter was loud enough for Igor to hear.

"Mathter!" Igor smiled; showing crooked, but surprising white teeth, and waved the bottle of vodka in Victor's direction.

The scientist looked away grumpily, not taking the offering, and Igor just smiled wider.

"Lighten up, Vic," Zeke growled from the hearth rug. "We've got bigger things to deal with."

"Tho I noticed," Igor said. "It'th wild out there."

"Did anyone folly yer?" Paddy asked, gesturing for the bottle of Vodka.

Iggy handed it over. "Oh yeth, young girl, African princeth ith I'm not mithtaken. I lead her a dance though, pretty thure I lotht her."

"The discouragement spell should keep them all ten feet from this door," Owen said, but he was still frowning.

He had put so much work into making tonight perfect and now it was all for nought. He had hoped, when the children first descended, that at the very least his cloak would not be breached. If that had been the case, both parties could have existed together peacefully without ever infringing on each other. That had been a vain hope. Someone, somewhere had played a very powerful trick on him tonight, tearing through his wards so suddenly that he and his friends had been forced to scamper like vermin to avoid being seen.

There were only two people in the area with enough raw energy at their fingertips to do such a thing to him. He couldn't imagine what Lucie would get out of ruining his party, except perhaps the displeasure it was causing him was reason enough for her; and as far as he knew, Ms. Rosenberg was not even aware that there was anything here to uncover.

"...So here we are in our elegant yet rapidly tiring bolthole," the Count finished explaining the situation to Iggy.

"Why?" Iggy capered about in the middle of them, as excitable as ever.

"Cos thars aboyt two hundred nasty 'uman kids oyt dare!" Paddy bounced in his seat, his feet swinging wildly. "Dat's why."

"I resent that remark," Owen told him. "I'm human."

"Oi cadge yer pardon." Paddy apologized amiably.

"He's hit the nail on the head though," Ptah said.

"Why ith that a bother?" Iggy asked. "They're only little boyth and girlth. What can they do?"

"That is food for thought," Victor's friend intoned. "What can they do?"

"Point, stare, laugh. Some of us blend less than others," Zeke growled, pointing a long claw at his hairy face. "You included. You're nine feet tall with a big square head and a voice like a crumbling tombstone."

"There is no need to call names," Victor told him off pompously.

"Just statin' facts," Zeke muttered as he sat back to scratch under his shirt collar.

"Not one of us would pass as a high school child," Owen said, ending the bickering. "We'd be noticed immediately."

"Who careth? It'th your party."

"What are you suggesting?" Victor asked disdainfully. "That we run them out of the house?"

"Well, we are all creatures of the night, gentlemen," the Count smiled, warming to the idea immediately. "And I have always wondered what would happen if the mobbers became the mobbees. As a party game it would beat charades hands down."

"Aye, but de mobbers outnumber us twenty-five ter wan," Paddy reminded them.

"And they're aren't exactly mobbing us," said Ptah.

"Are you so scared of babies?" Victor's friend asked, his voice a hollow thunderclap of derision. "Or are you just scared that the babies are no longer scared of you?"

"Oi ain't scared av nathin', an if they ain' scar'd av me ter begin wi'," Paddy reached inside his green duffle coat and pulled out a carving knife nearly the length of his arm. "They soon 'ill be."

Owen glared at him until he put the knife sheepishly back inside his coat.

"I can't chase them," Zeke sounded disappointed. "Call me a coward if ya like, but they're just a bunch of walking, talking hormones. Just sitting here is making my hackles rise in that good tingly kinda way. If they start screaming and fleeing in terror, I'll be burying their bones in the back yard by morning."

"At least it will give you something to do next All Hallows Eve," Victor quipped. "You can dig them all up again."

"And then bury them again!" His friend chuckled.

"Great, play the stereotype card, that makes you sound really intelligent," Zeke growled at them.

Owen stood up quickly to intervene. "I think cabin fever is starting to set in. Let's all take a breath, settle down and remember that we are friends."

"No, Iggy is correct; we shouldn't be cowering like frightened villagers." The count stood up as well, his cold smile showing long, sharp incisors. "Already we leave the streets and fields safe for them on this night and now they are trying to drive us out of our private residences too? That is not acceptable. I say we go out there, run these walking blood-bags out and take back the party!"

"Here, here," Victor cheered, also standing up.

"That'th not what I'm thaying." Igor frowned at them. "Thee, thith ith why I rethined. You're alwayth tho anti-thocial!"

"Anti-social?" Victor fumed. "We're paranormal beings living on the fringe of an ignorant and uncaring society; we're not supposed to be social! We're freaks to them as much as they are freaks to us."

"Again with the stereotyping." Zeke got to his feet, all four of them, and shook himself.

"Yeth, ever thought that the reathon humanth are tho rude, callouth and judgemental ith becauthe they think we are?"

"What are you suggesting, Iggy?" Owen asked, although he had a feeling he knew. It wasn't a good feeling.

"That inthead of taking back the party, we join the party! They're having a blatht out there. We could have a blatht too and maybe help thupernatural/natural relationth along a little while we're at it."

"Yes, but there is a line you don't cross," Ptah said. "Things humans are better off not knowing. That's why we put the whammy on our homes and tombs; to keep people from finding out more than is good for them. I didn't spend the last three thousand years designing booby traps and perfecting curses just to wander out there now, shake some kid's hand and introduce myself."

"Use a false moniker," said the Count.

"A fake name isn't going to stop them from noticing my shroud."

"Pretend you are in cothtume." Iggy threw his arms wide as he beseeched them. "This is the night when everyone is in cothtume, we'll blend right in."

The room went quiet as everyone looked around at each other, waiting for the next objection to be raised. When they realized they were out of them, all eyes turned to Owen.

"Your house, your call," said Zeke.

""Yes, Olwyn, think about this," said Victor. "You are the one who has to live here with these people."

Owen did try to think about it sensibly. He knew rationally that to join the party with the students from McKinley High and Boudenver Academy was foolhardy; there would not be a single child in there that had not once come to him to exchange a sticky handful of nickels for candy. However his home had been invaded, his night had been ruined and he was angry. Not to mention he had spent a fortune - and not a small one - on the spread he had laid out and he was not okay with letting it be wasted on gluttons who would not know the difference between a venison burger and a Big Mac.

Making a decision he pulled on the lapels of his robe and raised his chin. "I think, as the host of this party, I should make an appearance."

"Yeth!" Iggy gave the air a victory punch.

Nobody argued with him. The Count's smile grew wider and slightly warmer. Victor sighed in defeat, drew a handkerchief from his pocket and helped his friend shine his bolts. Paddy finished the last of the Vodka and leapt down from his chair. Ptah went to the mirror to tidy and tuck in the loose ends of his bandages.

Zeke stood up on his hind legs and shook the creases out of his dress pants. "Should I tuck my tail in?"

"No, it makes your arse look fat," the Count said casually.

Owen addressed the group. "Let's not use the door, arriving en masse would send the children shrieking for the hills, costumes or not, which would no doubt endanger Zeke's human-free diet. I think heading through the back corridors and merging with the main house at different points will be the best way to avoid a slaughter-party."

"Nathin' wrong wi' a gran' slaughter-party," Paddy said.

"There is when we are the ones getting slaughtered," Victor put in.

"I would prefer no slaughtering of any kind in my house," Owen warned, before leading them towards a particular bookcase at the back of the room. "Are we all ready?"

He reached for a hardback copy of The Great Escape on the middle shelf and pulled it out. Sliding his fingers into the inch of space provided, he pressed the lever down and the bookcase swung outwards. He gestured for everyone to go through before stepping into the narrow passage himself and pushing the movable bookcase back into the place.

"Why's it so feckin dark?" Paddy complained.

"Because we're between the walls of the house, nimrod," Zeke growled.

Owen made a fist with one hand and whispered to it.

"Here." When he opened his hand again eight female glow worms wriggled on his palm.

"You couldn't have conjured candles?" Ptah gingerly picked his up with a look of disgust.

"My man-servant would love some of these," the Count smiled broadly. "Do you have any spare, Olwyn? I would like to take him back some holiday candy anyway and this way I can use him as a night-light afterwards."

Victor picked up two and handed one to his friend before carefully inspecting his own. "You know, it might be possible to incorporate something like this into our next experiment."

"You would like me to eat glowing insects so that light will shine out of my stomach?" his friend asked in surprise.

"Actually I was thinking of putting them behind your eyes so that you always have light to see by," Victor explained.

"Come on," Iggy urged, turning and leading the way with his own light bug held out in front of him. "Let'th go dance!"

With the sigh of a man who knows he is doing the wrong thing but is going to do it anyway, Owen brought up the rear. "Head for the back wall, the doors we want are at that end."

They had split into threes to search for Rona. Reece was wishing they had split into ones.

"I get it," Dawn was sniping. "You think you're the only one who gets to have relationship drama."

"You're not having relationship drama," Kennedy snapped back. "You're having a delusion."

"Just because you're a slayer doesn't give you the right to ride roughshod over people's feelings, you know," Dawn kept on.

"We were just talking!"

"Why did you have to talk to my boyfriend, why not talk to me?"

"Do you have any idea how pathetic and insecure you sound?" Kennedy asked scornfully.

"Yeah, well if I'm the kettle, you're the pot," Dawn shot back.

Reece did his best to ignore them and the headache he could feel getting worse as they searched room after room with no sign of his Slayer.

Rona was still listening. She hadn't been able to make out much of the conversation behind the door, but what she had heard had kept her glued to the spot.

Eventually the voices petered out. One minute they were there and the next they weren't. She knew it was time to take a peek behind the door, but she waited another five minutes first in case whoever was in the room had just run out of things to say. When she was convinced - sort of - that they were either dead or gone, she slowly twisted the door knob, pushed slightly and placed her eye to the crack. She could see chairs, but no one was sitting in them. Spurred on by this, she eased herself into the room.

Holding her breath, she listened for any tell-tale noises. Now she was a Slayer her hearing was so good she could hear Reece and Craig snoring from the other dormitory. If it was good for annoying the shit out of her, in other words, it should be good for saving her ass too. She could hear nothing beyond the party noises so she relaxed and, leaving the door wide open in case she had to make a fast exit, she took a look around.

There were six chairs in an informal circle and end tables scattered about. On one was the vodka bottle and on another was a nearly empty glass of something rich, red and with a tangy, coppery smell that made her nose wrinkle in disgust... blood!

Had that dude been a vampire? He might have been bumpy, but not in the way she expected of vamps. She had thought she was following some kind of sick psycho here to mess with the kids, but add in a glass of blood and sick psycho might be underestimating things.

Even more alert now, Rona kept looking, but there wasn't much more to see. There were other glasses on the tables in various stages of empty and full, but none of them looked or smelled like anything but alcohol. On the floor was a ceramic bowl half filled with beer and the hearth rug was covered in a light layer of brown hair.

The room was lined floor to ceiling with books. The tables and chairs and a desk took up the middle of the floor and a few free-standing bookshelves made it a cozy, closed in space by the fire. Walking around the outside of the room, Rona was able to make a complete circuit in less than a minute. It wasn't a big room and no one was hiding in it.

So where had the voices gone?

Rona walked around the room again, going the other way this time, mostly keeping her eyes on the floor or ceiling for trapdoors. She was along the back wall, her eyes just shifting from down to up when she spotted something weird. A whole case of books was a tad off-centre, throwing the line of the room out.

"Obvious," Rona muttered as she cautiously reached out and gave the bookcase a little push. It swung outwards, revealing a secret passage. "Too obvious? Probably."

She debated with herself for a minute. She didn't need Buffy or a Watcher to teach her that walking into the dark after an unknown number of mysterious people was a quick way to die. Fear for her own skin - and if a Vampire was in the mix, her own blood as well - was doing a good job of keeping her teetering on the brink of heroism. Unfortunately, she didn't need anyone telling her that a bunch of weirdo's - possibly including one or more vampires - stalking in secret around a house full of oblivious teenagers was something she couldn't ignore either.

In the end her fear and her calling came to a compromise. She would tail, but not engage... unless anything really bad went down right in front of her, and then she would engage with the nearest heavy thing to hand. She wished she'd worn an outfit more stake-accommodating. Lesson learned for next time.

Leaving the bookcase wide open to give her as much light as possible, she slipped in and along the brick-lined walkway in search of... who the hell knew.

Barnies was only getting busier as the night went on, not that Buffy and Faith really noticed.

Faith was laughing uncontrollably as Buffy had difficulty spitting a cherry stem out of her mouth.

"Here try it again." She threw another cherry - fresh, not glace, hence the stems - into Buffy's glass, causing a mini geyser of green cocktail to spray up.

"No way!" Buffy spluttered. "I give up, you win, your tongue is a better boy scout than mine."

"You won't even try?"

"I've tried five times! Are you trying to choke me? And here I thought we were having such a nice time," Buffy grinned.

"I don't see how you don't get it," Faith laughed, sticking her fingers in Buffy's glass to retrieve her cherry. "I've been tying knots in cherry stems since I was eight." Faith popped the whole thing in her mouth to demonstrate.

"Okay, first of all, that's very disturbing. Second of all, I always thought you were supposed to tie the fruit in a knot, no one told me about the stem. I wasted my teenage years rolling the cherries around the tip my tongue."

Faith stared at her for a beat, not sure how to take that, and then burst out laughing again. "Hot and funny - who knew?" she teased.

Buffy playfully slapped the back of her hand. They were still sitting close, but not quite as close as earlier; Faith needed room to gesture after all.

"Did ya swallow the stem too?"

Faith stuck out her tongue. There was the stem with a knot in the middle.

"Ih hor ooh."

"What?" Buffy laughed.

Faith dry spat the stem onto the table. "I said: It's for you."

"Thanks, just what I always wanted." Buffy went to pick it up, but stopped her fingers just shy of it. "I'll treasure it, once it's dried off."

Faith grinned, looking around the bar for the next attraction. "Wanna go challenge Harry Potter and Elvis to a game of pool?"

"Now there's not something you get to do every day," Buffy grinned too as she looked to see who Faith meant.

They were sat around the corner from the bar tonight, where usually only the old men sat supping from their tankards. There was a pool table back here that Buffy had never even noticed before and right now a wizard and an Elvis impersonator were just finishing up a game.

"You any good?"

"I just spent over four years in prison, B."

One of Buffy's brows hitched up. "And all ex-prisoners are eight-ball pros?"

Faith chuckled, getting to her feet. "Only the ones who spent their entire incarceration playing on the table outside their cell in an effort to forget where the hell they were."

"Entire incarceration?"

"Well, there was yard exercise too, and the whole being locked in a cell for twenty hours a day."

"But you're pretty good?"

"I don't suck."

"You're going to shark them, aren't you?" Buffy realized with indelible certainty.

"Now why would I do a thing like that?" Faith's eyes sparkled and her dimples dimpled as she held her hands out to pull Buffy from her chair.

"Oh God!" Buffy groaned, but she was grinning as she followed Faith to the table.

Victor and his friend stood in a corner of the ballroom, their expressions haughty and bored respectively. Victor nibbled on a salmon sandwich; and a champagne flute was looking in danger of accidental crushing in his friend's hand.

This was not the scientist's idea of a good time at all. He looked forward to this gathering every year as a place where he could talk science and history and technology with people from his own era. With people who didn't chase you with a flaming torch just because occasionally you needed to kill a virgin in order to further scientific discovery.

"I don't know what is worse," his friend - who only came to the gatherings because he did - suddenly started a conversation. "When they openly stare in disgust or when they pretend not to see me at all."

"Don't be silly. There is nothing wrong with how you look," Victor chided, either being kind or blinded by affection. "It's just that you are so tall. Perhaps if you slouch a little?"

"You always tell me not to slouch."

Victor sighed at the pitfalls of early mental conditioning. "Then let us stand closer to the stage. You can sit on the edge and you will not appear so towering."

They did a sideways shuffle to where Victor was pointing. With his eyes straight ahead and his back very stiff, his friend lowered himself to the edge of the stage.

"There, that is better." He patted the big man on the shoulder and activity further up the stage caught his attention. "Now, I wonder what they are doing."

Four boys were fussing and fretting over some technical equipment that was sparking raw magic out of its antennas. It was very obviously a conductor of some kind, possibly a transmuter, but it wasn't a style he had ever come across before.

Always on the lookout for fresh ideas for the lab, Victor patted his friend on the shoulder again. "Stay here a minute. I'm just going to see if they need any help."

On the other side of the ballroom, having come out of a different door, Ptah stood nervously by the edge of the dance floor with Zeke. Together they commented on the skill of the dancers - which wasn't in abundance - and, well, the pretty girls.

It wasn't long though before the youthful exuberance of the crowd started getting to Zeke. "I'm going out for a cigarette. You want one?"

"I don't smoke. Why are you going outside? No one else is bothering." Ptah did not want to be left alone.

"I need to take a leak as well," Zeke explained.

"How do you cock your leg when you're wearing pants...?" Ptah began, but then decided he wasn't that curious and waved his hands in front of him. "Forget I asked."

Zeke gave him a toothy grin and answered anyway. "Not easily. I'll be back in a minute."

When Ptah was alone he looked around, rubbing the bandages on the back of his neck self-consciously and trying not to make eye-contact with anyone. It wasn't that he was a timid man usually. Back in his own youth he'd been quite the animal - he never missed a toga party - but these days he didn't get out much and while his pyramid might be crowded, it wasn't particularly noisy and the dead servants in their with him couldn't exactly be called boisterous. Even the guards killed and embalmed to protect him just laid there dead these days - very unprofessional. If their commanders hadn't perished three thousand years ago he'd have had them fired.

Suddenly eye contact was unavoidable - a shaven haired youth had been heading drunkenly off of the dance floor straight for him. At first Ptah held his breath and the boy seemed ready to walk right by him, but the boy happened to look to the side just at the wrong moment. He stopped, still looking sideways and then very slowly he took a few steps backwards until they were standing face to face. The lad studied him closely as if trying to remember him and Ptah still held his breath and fought the urge to hide behind closed eyelids.

"You came in costume?" The youth finally asked in a loud, disdainful voice. "What are you? Ten?"

"I... I thought it was an All Hallows Eve party," Ptah stammered. Were these brats not in costume then? Did they really wear those garish, impractical clothes all year round?

"You're one of the Bou geeks, ain'cha?"

Ptah said nothing because he didn't understand the question.

"So what are you supposed to be then? Mr. Bump?"

This was insulting. The boy didn't even know what he was dealing with, let alone who.

"I'm a Mummy!" he said indignantly.

The boy gave him another good hard look before shaking his head slightly. "Nah, no offense, but you look nothing like The Mummy."

"What?" Ptah fumed, but the boy had already meandered off the floor now.

Suddenly feeling very warm beneath his shroud and bandages, he went outside after all to find Zeke. He was just zipping himself up with one hand and lighting a cigarette with the other.

"I've changed my mind, give me a cigarette," Ptah demanded. "It's not like one's going to kill me. Not like any will kill me."

Zeke shook his pack out and offered them without comment, aware his friend was more agitated than five minutes ago. "What happened?"

"The nerve!" Ptah leaned forward to accept a light from Zeke and then took a few fast puffs before letting his hand drop to his side.

He began to tell the story, still full of righteous indignation, when he smelled smoke.

"Ow, ow, ow." He dropped the cigarette and patted at his thigh where his shroud had caught fire and the loose bandage around his arm then attracted the flame. "Damn, Zeke, do something! I'm practically made of sawdust these days!"

Zeke helped him pat the fire out, singing a little hair himself and a few moments later Ptah was breathing hard as he checked his outfit - it was mostly just the loose ends of his bandages that had gone up, the only real lasting damage being the smell of smoke than clung to him. He stamped on the remains of his cigarette.

"I think I just remembered why I don't smoke."

Meanwhile, Iggy was oblivious to his friend's bonfire as he sat in the study - where earlier he had stolen the Vodka - and dealt out a hand of poker. None of the kids in there seemed to take any notice of his unusual appearance or his superior age. He liked to think it was because he was jovial person who could get on with anyone, but he'd been around enough to know it probably had more to do with the two full bottles of champagne he'd brought in with him and the fact that he had deliberately lost the first two hands and they were winning his money.

"Right, five card draw, deutheth are wild, ten buckth in the pot to play." He grinned to himself as six lads all put ten dollars onto the table.

He'd lose one more, just to be on the safe side and then he would start playing for real. He looked up with a surprisingly handsome smile as a young lady came and sat on the arm of his chair.

"Kith for luck, my love?" he asked cheekily.

Giggling, she kissed him on his lumpy forehead.

"Come on, Faith. You can get this," Buffy grinned across the green baise at her.

Faith nodded, biting her lip as she leaned slightly this way and slightly that to check her angle. It wasn't the easiest shot in the world. She only had the eight ball left to pocket. Elvis and Harry Potter still had a couple of stripes left on the table, but they were good players. If she didn't pot this, they would clear up, and if by luck they didn't? Well, it would be Buffy's turn again and who knew who would get the concussion this time.

Faith leaned low, spreading her upper body across the table and pulled her cue back. She couldn't see all of the black eight ball, there was a green, stripey one blocking a crescent of it, but if she could bounce the cue ball gently off the closest cushion and crack it just so; the money ball was going in the designated pocket like a ferret down a rabbit hole.

She took a deep breath, aware that if she did miss this, she was gonna be missing it in front of half the bar. The whooping and hollering of the last four games had drawn quite a crowd around the table and now, Presley and Potter, sensing her attempt at deep concentration, were starting to playfully smack talk her.

Blocking them all out, she drew the cue back a little further and steadied it, tilting the thumb she was using as a rest up a little higher for a better angle.

"You can do it, baby," Buffy said excitedly from the behind the elected pocket.

Faith glanced up with a cocky smile as she started to bring the cue forward, but her eyes bulged and she just managed to raise the cue tip before it could miss-hit the white ball. Buffy was leaning right over the table encouragingly, not realizing she was letting everyone on this side of the room look straight down her cardboard-stiff sparkly bodice.

"What's wrong?" Buffy asked worriedly.

Faith laughed but decided not to embarrass her. "Nothin'. It's just looking at you is kinda distracting."

"Oh," Buffy smiled, obviously pleased with her distracting influence. "I'll step this way a little then."

She moved to the other side of the table and stood beside it. There was some humorous booing from the men behind Faith, but all it took was one lightening fast turn and a glare so strong it forced several of the men to lean back in their seats, and they all shut up, holding their hands up apologetically. They might not know her yet, but they clearly weren't too stupid.

With another smile at Buffy, Faith leaned back over the table and went through her lining up process again. Once more the crowd went silent with anticipation and this time Faith didn't disappoint. On your marks, get set, POW!

The eight ball practically burned a trail through the baize on its way to sinking into the pocket with a satisfying thunk.

Some of the crowd clapped. Buffy jumped up and down doing some kind of funny cheer routine.

Faith held the cue above her head in a victory pose before pointing it at Elvis. "That's match."

"Best of seven?" he asked hopefully.

"Not tonight, dude. Time to cash the chips."

Sighing, he went to the bar. Faith put the cue back in the wall rack as Buffy came to give her a loose hug. She didn't have time to return it before Buffy was stepping back again and then Harry Potter was shaking her hand.

"That was a blast," he said. "We should definitely do it again sometime."

"Maybe," Faith smiled politely. "But I think I probably just used up all my beginners luck in one go."

She saw Buffy smirk at her. Hey, so she was incurable, so what? If you got all cocky you could only fleece them once, but if you acted unsure of yourself, you could come back to fleece them again and again. It was just good business sense.

Elvis came back with a jug of beer in one hand and a jug of the green cocktail in his other. They'd probably cost him plenty, but Faith had gotten the feeling that Buffy would prefer betting for drinks than for cash so she had suggested it.

"Thanks," Faith took them both from him and started to turn away. "See you around."

"Hey, do you mind if we come and join you?" Potter asked.

Faith looked at Buffy, not knowing what to say. She sure as hell didn't want two strangers sitting with them, but would Buffy think she was a complete bitch if she told them so.

"Actually, you seem like nice guys, but we're kind of on a date," Buffy spoke up, surprising the hell out of Faith with her bluntness.

"Well," Elvis looked around the bar and then over to their table. "I think they've left without you. Which is bad, and I'm sorry, but it's also good, because now you can spend the rest of the evening with us." He gave a bright grin and held his arms out, trying to sell his offer.

Faith stared at him, so did Buffy, and then they turned and stared at each other for a beat. Faith cracked up at his cluelessness, not even bothering to hide it. Buffy did her best though as she explained.

"No, I mean we're on a date. Together. As in..." Buffy went to take her hand, but Faith was still holding the two jugs of alcohol. She put her arm around Faith's shoulders instead. "Together."

Harry Potter's mouth had dropped open and looked like it was going to stay there for a while. He was blushing too, which seemed a bit extreme for a guy her own age, but the boys here probably lead pretty sheltered lives - all barn dances and hay rides around here.

Elvis just grinned. "You're kidding, right?"

They both shook their heads.

"You're really...?"

They both nodded their heads.

"Damn, what a waste," he winked at Faith and then turned to rack up another game of pool for him and his buddy.

Harry continued to stare boggle-eyed at them. When it grew uncomfortable, Faith nodded for Buffy to follow her back to their table.

"You okay?" she asked as they took their seats again.

"Very okay," Buffy grinned, taking her straw out of her empty glass and sticking it into her jug of cocktail.

Faith chuckled. "I mean about the whole 'coming out to virtual strangers' thing?"

Buffy stopped slurping and looked up. "Oh. Yeah, I think so. Anyway it was funny, and they took it okay, right? Not that it matters if they didn't, but they did... right?"

"Yeah, they didn't seem bothered. Little disappointed maybe that I'm off the market," she grinned. "I just didn't think you'd wanna do it like that, or this soon."

Buffy shrugged again. "I'm happy, I'm having a good night, and..." she grinned at her jug of greenness, she'd already done some major sucking and it hadn't even made a dent yet. "...I'm a little drunk. Plus I didn't want to have to share you any more tonight. Pool was fun, but I want some more me and you time now. I'll admit, if all of those stars hadn't aligned together just now, maybe I wouldn't have been quite so brave quite so soon, but they did and I'm not gonna feel bad about it."

Faith nodded. As answers went, it was a good one.

"Oh, but," Buffy dropped her straw and laid her hand on Faith's arm. "You were okay with that, right? It didn't make you uncomfortable me blurting it out? I didn't even think. I know we haven't talked about that yet and what with everyone back at the camp already knowing before it happened and the whole taking it slow thing, it's not seemed all that urgent, but maybe you didn't want the whole world knowing yet and I should have checked with you before opening my big mouth..."

Faith leaned sideways so she could kiss Buffy on the lips. She didn't linger, didn't try to make it more than an affectionate peck, before leaning away again.

"Would I have done that if I had a problem with people knowing about us?"

Buffy shook her head, touching her lips lightly, "Only in opposite world."

Faith chuckled and took a series of length swallows straight from the jug of beer. Wiping her lips after and accidentally smudging some of her carefully applied zombie make-up - which didn't make a lot of difference - Faith stood up again.

"Come on, I wanna dance with you."

Buffy giggled, not moving. "That's not how you do it."


"Date rules, remember? Ask, don't tell."

Faith smirked as she tried to decide between the urge to just throw Buffy over her shoulder and carry her to the dance floor and doing it the way Buffy wanted. It wasn't easy, but she chose the Buffy way in the end.

Leaning down until her mouth was close to Buffy's ear, she asked, "Will you do me the honor of swaying, grinding and generally wrapping your smart, interesting, sexy body around mine for a few songs?" She held out her hand.

Buffy grinned as she accepted Faith's hand. "Well seeing as you asked so nicely."

Laughing, Faith pulled her towards the busy dance floor.

Back at the camp, the pizza delivery guy timed it perfectly by arriving at the end of the first movie.

"You go," Xander nudged her with his elbow when the doorbell rang.

"No you go." She nudged him back. "It might be monsters and you'll need to protect me, or at least let it eat you to give me time to escape."

"Since when are scared of monsters?" He grabbed his wallet from the coffee table, but didn't make any move to get up.

"Uh, always, but even more so since you just made me watch that film." She shuddered at the memory. "Monsters are scary enough, why do they have to have tentacles to go on top? It's overkill, scary overkill."

Xander held some money out to her just as the doorbell rang again. "I can't go. I'm in my underwear."

Willow gestured at herself. "So am I!"

"No, you're in skimpy pajamas; it's not indecent exposure if it's sexy."

Willow grinned happily at his assessment, but shook her head again when he tried to push the money at her.

"It might not be classed as indecent exposure, but I'm still leaving a little less to the imagination of a pizza boy than me or the law is comfortable with."

Vi suddenly stomped down the front stairs. "We have one pizza place that'll deliver out here and you're pissing them off by not answering the door?"

"We're a little underdressed," said Willow, and then regretted it when Vi looked over, her eyes going wide, before slamming them towards the front door again as she opened it.

"It's not what you're thinking," Xander chuckled nervously.

"I'm not thinking anything," Vi replied, but she sounded more like she just wished she wasn't.

She spoke to the pizza boy, walked close enough to grope for the money in Xander's hand without looking at them and then walked back to the door again. She paid, accepted the two large pizzas, said goodbye and closed the door again.

"It's really not," Willow promised. "It's just an underwear party." She winced. "And I'm not even in my underwear, I'm wearing pajamas."

Vi looked over again and then slammed her eyes to the front once more. "O-okay."

Willow looked down at the dark blue mid-riff baring silky chemise and the matching short-shorts in case she had actually had just put on underwear instead.

"They are pajamas!"

"It's okay, I believe you," Vi all but stammered. "You're just sitting in the dark, in your underwear, watching porn, no big deal."


Willow and Xander's eyes both shot to the television in time to see a woman shedding her clothes with blissful abandon inside what looked to be a wooden cage in the centre of a mud hut village. The next movie had started.

"No, she's about to turn into a werewolf," Willow explained, turning back to Vi, but the girl had already rushed up the stairs to get away.

"That was awkward," Willow muttered, settling back to watch the film.

"Well, providing she doesn't actually tell her fanciful tale to Giles, I think we'll be okay." Xander leaned back too, turning the volume up a little so they could really enjoy the screaming terror as the nubile werewolf tore first through her cage and then the foolish villagers.

After a few minutes of gratuitous on-screen violence, he realized something was missing. "She took both pizzas upstairs!"

"Well you paid for them, go and get one." Willow nudged him.

"Corner her in my bedroom, in my underwear and demand she gives me what she owes me? With what she's already thinking, I don't think so. You go."

"That's almost as bad," Willow pointed out.

They looked at each other trying to figure out how to get their pizza.

"You know, she's a Slayer," Willow suddenly thought. "AKA Pizza Guzzler. I bet she planned this."

"You think she answered the door, embarrassed us with her pornographic accusations and then ran from our potentially amorous and molestious selves just so she can eat both pizzas?" Xander asked incredulously.

"Yep," Willow nodded confidently. "And it worked like a charm."

Xander sat back again, smiling slightly. "We should put her on the Council's tactical team."

"I didn't know the Council had a tactical team anymore."

"Then we should put her in charge of forming the Council's tactical team," he said with an even wider smile.

Willow thought about it and then thought about how Vi was upstairs right now enjoying two pizzas and how neither of them was sure enough her ruse was a ruse to go and find out.

Eventually she said, "You should speak to Giles about it."

"You think?"

"Well having one person on the tactical team has got to be better than none, right?"

Rona crept through the near absolute darkness between the walls. It wasn't completely black. The light from the open bookshelf didn't reach this far in, but there was a slit of a window at the other end letting in greyer darkness from outside. That didn't help her see her hand in front of her face, but it did allow her to see the first door.

Half way up the wall was a green and white glow in the dark sign bearing the word EXIT in block letters. She stared at it for a long time, wondering who the hell would put signs like this in a secret tunnel - a very health and safety conscious someone obviously. She put her ear to the door, but could hear nothing but her own elevated heartbeat and so groped the door until she found a handle. It was a short lever; as she slowly pushed it down there was a click and the door came towards her just a little bit.

Only more darkness leaked through the crack.

She hesitated just a second before pulling it open and sticking her head in. Yeah, that was just a whole lot of darkness. If the freaks she was following had gone in there, they couldn't be doing much but sitting really quietly. Rona could sense it was a closed in space with no windows and no way out except the doorway she was standing in even without being able to see a thing. Which was actually pretty cool, but not exactly a skill that would take her far. The room was probably a closet or store room, not worth tripping over things in the dark to explore.

The thought did occur to her 'Why would someone build a store room you could only get into and out of through a corridor too narrow to carry much more than a broom down?' but, like the exit signs, it wasn't a question her frightened brain could give time to. Focusing on one thought - finding the party crashers - was the only way she could keep putting one foot in front of the other.

She pushed the door shut again until she heard it click and carried on down the passage. The brick on either side of her was cold but not damp and it smelled more dusty than musty. There would probably be footprints to follow if she had any light to follow them with. From all around her the muted sounds of the party - music, chatter, laughter, drunken idiots - filtered through the walls.

She had only gone maybe fifteen feet when she came to another faintly glowing exit sign. She pressed her ear to the door, heard nothing and started feeling for the handle when she heard something that made her freeze.


Holding her breath, Rona instinctively flattened herself against the wall - not that it would do any good in this tight space - and tried to tell where they were coming from and where they were going to. All she could figure was that they were definitely inside the walls with her - not a comforting thought. The hobnailed boots she could hear rang out dully on the same cold stone that was beneath her own feet. Other than that, the sounds of the party and the echo-y blackness stretching in both directions made it impossible for her to pinpoint the direction of the noise, only that it was coming closer.

Not waiting for the owner of those heavy sounding boots to come any nearer, Rona pulled the lever down on the door behind her and slipped straight in, more worried about what was coming at her than what she was backing into.

Pulling the door shut, she leaned against the tallboy disguise, still able to hear the approaching boots. They got louder and louder.

"Please don't be coming in here," she murmured. "Please don't be coming in here."

Mind you, if it was a Vampire it wouldn't need to enter the room to know she was there. Hadn't Spike once said he could smell human fear a mile off? If that was true, to a Vampire she was probably stinking the whole house out. Not to mention the fact that they had hearing even better than hers. She held her breath again, but could do nothing about the pounding of her heart.

Finally the footsteps seemed to pass the door and keep going. She let out her breath and stood there panting for a few moments, getting air into burning lungs again. Only then did she turn around... very slowly, because suddenly the fear had gripped her that the monster was actually standing right behind her in the darkness.

It wasn't, and unless anyone was hiding behind the antique furniture, she was alone. The room was dark, obviously the partying teens hadn't strayed this far into the house yet, but moonlight shone through half a dozen windows along one wall making long patches of light and shadow across the room. It was a dining room, although not one like she had ever seen outside of the pages of Ideal Home magazine. A table of shiny wood was in the center with room for twelve straight-backed chairs around it. There was a sideboard with a finely painted dinner service stacked on it. There were still-life oil paintings of various fine foods hanging on the walls. There was a gramophone on a table in one corner. There was a door!

She went to it, deciding being a hero was much more fun when she wasn't doing it alone and found out that it wasn't just a door, it was a locked door.

Sighing in resignation, she turned to go back the way she had come, but paused long enough to look for anything useful she could take with her. There was a candle in a fancy holder in the center of the table, but no matches that she could see. She pulled out the drawers in the sideboard and found a tray of silver cutlery.


She grabbed a silver knife first of all, blunt as butter but that wouldn't matter with her strength, and then realized it wouldn't do anything to a vampire, unless the vampire stayed still long enough for her to cut through his neck. In the end she dropped the knife again and grabbed a wooden spoon instead. As an afterthought she grabbed a knife again too and stuck it in her pocket.

It took her a second to find the lever on this side of the door, she had to pull some drawers filled with crisp white table linen out of the way first, reach in and feel about for it. Once it clicked down, she gently eased the door outwards, listened for any sound and then slipped back out into the dark passage.

She started walking towards the window at the end again, the wooden spoon held tightly in her fist.

"Every other sentence that comes out of your mouth these days starts with either 'Reece' or 'my boyfriend'," Kennedy sniped as she stuck her head in the study to look for Rona. "Have you never heard of having your own identity?"

"You went behind my back to my... him instead of coming to me with your problems!" Dawn argued. "Haven't you ever heard of sister solidarity?"

"If they're my problems I can talk to who I like about them," Kennedy snapped.

"And how would you like it if I was all curled up in a bed with Willow telling her my problems?" Dawn snapped back.

There was a corridor leading away from the foyer on the other side. It didn't look particularly suspicious except for the fact that none of the rooms seemed to have been opened up for the party and considering how many kids were crammed into every other room on the ground floor it stood out.

The corridor was blissfully shadowy and empty and Reece probably would have walked right by without even noticing it if he hadn't been scouring every inch of the place for Rona.

"We weren't in it; we were on top of it!" Kennedy said.

"Correction, you were on top of each other," Dawn said.

Okay, they were back to the beginning of the argument now and they hadn't needed him the first time around, so...

"Girls, you keep checking this side of the house, I'm going to go and check the other side."

"Shouldn't we all stick together?" Kennedy asked as she moved to the next doorway.

He had suggested that when the six of them had first split into the threes just in case whatever had created the sudden magical disturbance in the house was a threat, but now he just shook his head fast.

"We'll search faster if we split up."

"Do you want me to come with you?" Dawn asked with a smile.

"No!" He said quickly. "You both stay together and..." he turned away, "...not near me."

He could hear their bickering start all over again as he walked down the shadow filled hallway and heaved a sigh of relief to be away from it for a little while.

Dawn could whine for the United States in the Maddening Olympics and if there was a 'stubborn as a mule' category too, it would be a photo finish between the two girls.

One door down the hallway stood wide open allowing soft light to fall into the corridor. As he stepped inside he noticed it was coming from several gas lamps set around the walls as well as a fire in the hearth. It was a library, but he resisted his natural inclination to touch and read and absorb and followed his equally natural curiosity instead.

There was a bookcase at the back of the room that had been pushed inwards to create a doorway into a dark space beyond. His excitement grew as the adventurous little boy inside of him woke up. He had read enough Enid Blyton as a child to be unable to refuse the chance at an honest to goodness secret passageway.

He rationalized it easily. They had checked everywhere else in the house and found no Rona, which meant she had to be someone where hidden. Secret passages were about as hidden as you could get. Therefore, he should check the secret passage way for Rona.

He shut the door and turned the key in the lock so that no one could follow him into the room. As an afterthought he pocketed the key too so that no one coming out of the passage way could leave either, and then, knowing full well that if Rona had suddenly popped up all safe and sound and no longer missing, he'd still be doing this, he slipped through to the darkness behind the bookcase.

It really was dark, which was probably a mandatory for hidden ways, but a few fiercely burning torches along the brick walls would have taken away none of the adventure, but most of the stumbling.

"Let there be light," he said with laughter in his voice and flicked on his Zippo lighter. "See, now if only one of the Famous Five had smoked, they'd have had things much easier."

Feeling much happier than he had since following Kennedy up the stairs to that bloody bedroom, he set off to explore... and find Rona of course.

They had danced to fast songs first and Buffy had, as requested, swayed, grinded and generally wrapped herself around Faith. It had been fun and not just a little arousing.

Their dancing back when things were good between them in Sunnydale - all seven days of it - had sometimes blurred the line between friendly and down-right sexy anyway and the feelings that had left her with had confused the hell out of her Angel-loving self. Now she knew what those feelings were and she knew it was okay, better than okay even, to enjoy them and, damn it, she was.

When a love ballad replaced the house that had been playing Faith took her hand again to lead her back to the table. Buffy didn't move and when her arm was at full stretch, Faith turned to see what was going on.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Faith pointed her free hand over her shoulder, "To my beer."

"Nope." Buffy shook her head.

"No?" Faith raised an eyebrow.

"It's your turn to wrap around my body."

"I'm all for that, babe," Faith grinned. "Let's grab our coats and go home. I promise to wrap myself all over you."

Buffy rolled her eyes and tugged hard on Faith's hand, pulling her close. "Dance," she demanded. "And I won't hold that comment against you."

Faith didn't give in that easily. She looked around at the other couples.

"I don't like dancing this slow. It feels wrong."

"How can it feel wrong? It's just you and me same as before, just slower."

"It's too..." Faith looked away, frowning slightly. "I don't know."

"It's too what, Faith?" Buffy pushed. "Too girly, too romantic, too 'on show', too..."

"Intimate," Faith interrupted.

"Too intimate?" Buffy frowned. "How can it be too intimate? We're not baring our souls. It's just dancing."

"No it's not. It's all about eye contact and smoldering gazes and bodies rubbing together and friction and heat and being able to feel our hearts beating in time."

As Faith spoke, she also demonstrated. Buffy ended up with one of Faith's arms around her waist, her other hand was holding Buffy's between their body's, between their breasts even, and as for smoldering gazes, Buffy couldn't breathe, let alone blink.

"It's making love standing up with our clothes on," Faith said, letting her arm drop from Buffy's waist. Smirking lightly, she added, "And we're not there yet, are we? I mean, if you're not ready for screwing you can't be ready for making love, that's way heavier."

Buffy's eyes narrowed in annoyance, but instead of saying anything she might regret she put her free arm around Faith's neck and gently wrestled for control of their hands until she was holding Faith's against the curve of her breast, over her heart. She felt Faith tense all over and ignored it as she pressed their bodies as close together as they could be and let her chin rest of Faith's shoulder so she could whisper into her ear.

"I get it. You're afraid of intimacy. The thought of letting your walls down in public, probably even just in front of me, is freaking you out. So much so that you're trying to piss me off to get out of it. That's not gonna happen, Faith. Or yeah, you pissing me off is happening right now, but you getting out of it, no. I know all about your get some and get gone philosophy, remember? And I'm sure it's a hard habit to break, but if you wanna be with me you gotta get over thinking that way."

They had started dancing, Buffy leading, Faith following as stiff as a board. She was deliberately looking away from Buffy and breathing kinda hard and kinda angrily. Buffy didn't know it was possible to breathe angrily, but apparently it was. She would have stopped there, and possibly started running for her life, but the fact that Faith was dancing despite being so angry only convinced Buffy she was right.

Still, softening her rightness couldn't hurt. "Freaking out is okay, by the way. I didn't mean to imply there is anything wrong with freaking out. It's just if you give in to it we'll never get anywhere and I want to get somewhere with you. Maybe if we talked about..."

Faith interrupted her. "You want to get somewhere with me?"

"Yes, of course."

"You want to have a relationship with me?"

"Yes! That's my point. I don't want to just fool around; I want a proper relationship with you, which is why things like dancing are so important."

"But only if it's all on your terms."


"B, you don't want me, you want some kind of... Faithbot!"

Buffy chuckled, "You wanna hear a funny story about 'bots?" She caught sight of Faith's expression. "Okay, not really the time for funny stories. Look, Faith, you're being ridiculous. The only reason I'd want a Faithbot is if I wanted to have a threesome with the two of you."

"Ya see, I have an opinion on our..." Faith began and then paused with a faraway look as she got the threesome visual. She seemed to like it, but quickly shook it out of her head. "...on our 'relationship' and you automatically think it's ridiculous."

"Well, you were talking about robots."

"No. I was talking about how absolutely everything has to be your way."

"Oh, you were?" Buffy asked. Faith nodded. "Well, that's ridiculous." Faith tried to step away, but Buffy wouldn't let her. "I'm serious. You make me sound like I'm trying to control you and I'm not."

"Not me. Us."

"Like when? You were the one who asked me on a date tonight, you picked the place, you picked all the activities, how am I'm controlling everything?"

"I told you I didn't want to dance to this crap and you wouldn't even listen."

"Oh, I ask for one thing and suddenly I'm Miss Controller. Sounds to me like you're the one who wants to control everything."

Faith pulled away enough to untangle her hand and loosely cup the side of Buffy's neck. "You're still not listening. You still think I'm thinking like I used to. Get some, get gone, you said it yourself. Use 'em and lose 'em was another. When have I given you the idea that I'm thinking that way about you?"

"Um, let me see," Buffy pretended to think about it. "How about when you slept with me and then disappeared before I even woke up, leaving a note that turned out to be a pack of lies? Although that's kind of an obvious one. How about when you failed to come home when you got released from prison and left me not knowing...?"

"Oh forget it," Faith pulled away completely and started to walk off. "You're never gonna let that go so what's the point?"

Buffy reach for and caught her hand, yanking it so hard Faith twirled back towards her, their bodies thudding together. A few people looked over, but they were ignored by the Slayers. Buffy wrapped her arms tight around Faith's neck - if she was walking off again, Buffy was going along for the ride.

"You asked a question, I answered it. As for whether I'm ever gonna let it go - that depends on you."

"No, Buffy, it doesn't. You can keep saying that, but it really depends on you. You were right; intimacy scares the crap out of me. The only times I've been intimate with someone before haven't exactly been experiences I'm in a rush to repeat. Intimacy is a bad friggin' word as far as I'm concerned. Okay? But that's not why I didn't want a dance with you."

"Then why?"

"I told you! Dancing this close to you is driving me friggin' nuts. Being able to feel you against me, hearing you breathing in my ear, the smell of your hair and your skin and... damn! All this touch, but don't touch... it's not natural. And I don't know whether you can turn yourself off and not think about it or whether you just don't want me all that much in the first place, but I'm going crazy over here and I don't mean the good, fun, let's kill people kind of crazy; I'm talking the proper dribbling over myself and banging my head on the wall crazy. And I felt like that before we started dancing, and I felt like it before we left the porch tonight and I felt like it before I left your bedroom last night and... and I'm not saying you have to have sex with me or I'll lose it, or... or maybe I am, I don't even know right now because your... your... parts of you are all smooshed up against me and, wow, this must be what it feels like to be Willow. I really need my beer now," she pleaded.

Another song had ended and a new one begun during Faith's enlightening speech. Buffy thought about letting her off the hook and then thought 'Nah' and kept her arms around Faith's neck. She did try to be a little less smooshy though, she wasn't a complete bitch.

"Just dance to the end of this song, please?" She batted her eyelashes and tried not to grin when it worked.

Faith groaned into her ear. "This is what I meant about being controlling. You like knowing I want to fuck you so bad it hurts because it gives you power over me. You only make out with me at night because you know it gets me all worked up and you like knowing I'm in the next room riding my fingers hard and thinking of you."

Arousal made Buffy tingle. "I didn't even know you did that."

"Everyone does that."

"I mean," Buffy swallowed and smooshed herself just a little closer. She felt Faith shiver, "I didn't know you did it because of me, so I couldn't have been using it against you."

"Well now you know. What about you?"

"Like you said, everyone does."

"You know what I mean."

Buffy didn't have to answer. She could change the subject, she could suggest they finally go and get their drinks, but could she really give Faith a hard time about honesty and intimacy and then not offer it herself. Wasn't that being exactly as controlling as Faith said she was?

"Every night as soon as you close the door. Usually on top of the covers 'cause I like fantasizing you're gonna come back in for something and catch me."

Buffy hid her blushing face in the crook of Faith's neck and bit back her smile. "There, now we have equal ammunition."

For the first time since asking for a slow dance, Buffy was actually getting one, probably only because she had just rendered Faith speechless. She'd managed that a few times now and it never got boring. She relaxed into the arms that were around her waist, feeling them tighten as she did, and listened to the sound of Faith's hot and bothered breathing which was doing nothing to calm the excitement in her either, but she had more practice at not acting out every desire.

Faith might have been right with everything she had said about dancing, but it was that and more for her. She enjoyed the closeness as much as anything, the romantic element, the slow burn of anticipation that Faith was obviously too horny these days to appreciate.

"So if we both feel like this," Faith said slowly halfway through the song, "why aren't we doing something about it together?"

"Because I want to wait..."

"And there ya go being all about you again. I thought it took two people to make a relationship."

"...and make it perfect!" Buffy finished in a tone that made it clear the interruption was not appreciated.

"The sex is already damn near perfect, B!"

"Not the sex, us! I don't want to just have sex with you. Either of us could do that with anyone. I want to have a relationship with you. You keep throwing that word at me tonight and do you even know what it really means? It's not just about jumping each others bones all the time. It means talking and sharing and laughing and dating and... and dancing, even if it makes you crazy."

"We've done all that tonight, right?" Faith asked. "I've proved I can do all that. So why are we still waiting?"

"Because these things take time," Buffy sighed. "At least if you do them right they do. I don't want just six months of good dates and great sex with you Faith; I want a forever of it. And right now I'm scared if we start rushing to get to the great parts and miss out all the basic in-between steps I'm gonna lose you. And I'd rather lose you now for going too slow than lose you six months down the line because we've done every position you can think of and you're bored with me...'cause by then I'll be all attached."

Faith pressed hard against her, arms squeezing her waist as she kissed the side of Buffy's head. "B, I've wanted you since you were in high school getting all puppy-eyed over that bastard Scott." She kissed the side of her head again and Buffy could feel her smiling. "Gonna be at least a year before I get bored."

Buffy drew back from her shoulder, trying to glare but too amused to pull it off. "Watch it! I'm not all that attached yet."

Again the songs changed, but the tempo didn't. Over Faith's shoulder Buffy could see why. Alex's cousin was tucking into a plate of party food and leaving the same love songs CD to play until he had finished.

Buffy loosened her arms around Faith's neck, wondering whether congratulating Faith on getting through a slow song with minimal complaint was too patronizing to be considered funny when tensions were so high.

As she leaned back, Faith leaned forward and kissed her. It was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one considering the way she was feeling. She kissed back, lips curving slightly in pleasure at the softness of Faith's. God, she loved kissing her! As she pulled away to smile properly and suggest they go back to their table, Faith kissed her again, her lips parting slightly as they met Buffy's.

Buffy indulged her for ten seconds before pulling away again, more firmly this time. It wasn't that she couldn't do it all night, but for her it was all about the journey and Faith was obviously on a fast track to something else.

"Was that too brave?" Faith asked, her breathing even heavier than before as she nodded her head sideways in the general direction of the other costumed patrons.

"What?" Buffy looked around, saw a few customers staring at them and realized what was meant. "Oh, no I'm not worried about them."

"Then what's wrong?"

"Nothing..." Buffy started to explain.

"Good." Faith cut her off, already leaning in to kiss her again. As their lips touched this time Buffy leaned back as far as she could until Faith got the message. She looked down and took a deep breath before looking Buffy in the eye again. "What the hell, B?"

"You're a little early."


"Unless you're planning on falling asleep right here right now, you're too early for your goodnight kiss."

Faith stared at her for a few moments before saying, "Okay, well this can be my dance kiss and I'll have my goodnight kiss later."

Buffy eased herself further away. "This is a control thing again, isn't it?"

"It's just a kiss, Buffy."

"And it's just been two weeks and this is just our first date," Buffy said playfully. "I don't think you've earned kisses before bedtime yet."

"You don't?"


"You don't think this date earns me even one little kiss on the dance floor? Not even after I danced to not one, but two and half of your stupid slow songs with you."

"You just had one little kiss," Buffy pointed out. "In fact you had two and a half."

Faith grinned and ducked her head until she could lose it. "One little kiss with tongues."

"Nope, tongues are for bedtime." Faith didn't bother to hide her grin this time as Buffy blushed at her words. She corrected herself, "French kissing is for bedtime. Other types of tongue use are for a time somewhere far in the future." Faith's grin fell away. "Not that far in future."

"Okay, so what have I earned? One big kiss, no tongues?" Faith wheedled. "A grope of your shiny blue tits?"

Buffy blushed, hard. "They're kind of cardboardy at the moment; I doubt you'd enjoy it.

"I think you're underestimating just how horny you've made me. They could be made of broken glass right now and I wouldn't turn 'em down."

Buffy gave her a wary look. "Okaaay. How about you get to eat as much party food as you can stomach, finish your giant jug of beer and then walk me home where - if you're lucky - there will be one big kiss with tongues before bedtime."

"And a grope of your sparkly blue tits," Faith said again and Buffy was sure it was just to see how hard she could blush.

"Maybe..." she allowed, leading Faith by the hand towards the table of food. "...but I doubt it."

Act Three, Part B

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