DISCLAIMER: Due to the slightly off chance that Joss or a legal suit type person may read this and in their anger, sue, I will say that this little piece of work is for fun. The characters contained below belong to Joss, ME production, and others that I don't know. The Chinese from this story is taken from the book, Finding Serenity.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a repost of the story, O,Zhe Zhen Shi Ge Kuai Le De Jin-Zhan, from IKOLY. It is re-edited and the ending has been altered. Heart felt to thanks to the following: Didge, Valyssia, Dennis, Jay, and Thumper. They all contributed in some way and the story would have sucked lots without them. Read and enjoy. Feedback: Good, bad, whatever...I like...so leave it on here or email if you feel the urge.
FEEDBACK: To whedonistic.tendencies[at]gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Happy Development
By Whedonist


Chapter 8 – Trust in Faith

Buffy walked in to a full room. Along with their new friends, the Scoobies were spread out with Giles and Xander near the head of the table. Buffy groaned internally and hoped that Xander hadn't had time to prepare a slide show. He'd discovered the joys of Power Point a few years ago and every time something big happened, he had to put one together. She nodded to Giles for him to begin and took a seat opposite Mal.

"Good day, everyone." Giles cleared his throat and shuffled through some papers on the table top. "I take it everyone is comfortable with regard to the situation that arose yesterday?" He waited to receive confirmation and then continued, "Xander and a few slayers went back to the place where Malcolm and the two others were taken. Not much was left, which isn't surprising. However, from the data we collected at the scene, the accounts of all involved and the type of demon that seemed to be the leader of the group, we've come up with a possible scenario."

Xander stepped up and hit the remote in his hand. As the lights dimmed, a picture of the demon Buffy and Carrie had killed appeared on the screen behind his head. "This is a mid-level chaos demon; the species name is Lekakolo, rough translation to Bringer of Destruction. Supposedly, they came up here to throw an end of the world sacrifice and party. Red team came upon one of a clan of 8. There are 6 more and from what other Intel we could gather, they are using some of the other demon populations to help out. They've targeted our little burgh because Slayer Central USA is here."

Xander removed a cross from his back pocket and slid it towards Mal. "I told you so," he remarked, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth. He only got a glare from the captain and was about to start again, but Giles interrupted.

"I've been in contact with headquarters in Scotland, Beijing, Rio, Sydney, Paris, & Rome. None have reported sightings of the demons. Cleveland is by far the most active hellmouth worldwide, so, I'm to assume that they came here because of the energy pull. However, we would be remiss to not check around a bit more. I've organized our teams worldwide to do sweeps for the creatures and hopefully, in the process, glean more information."

"So that's it?" Buffy looked between Xander and Giles confused. "We interrupt their little sacrifice ritual and they go home with their tails between their legs?"

Giles peered at Buffy over his glasses and pleaded with her to be quiet, "Buffy, if you would allow Xander and I to continue?"

"Sure, drone away."

"Now," Xander clapped his hands together and started again, "I have Delta, Tango, & Green teams doing sweeps as we speak. We need to find the remaining 6 demons and slice and dice."

"Why wasn't I included? Or at least my team?" Buffy asked, glaring at the two men.

"You were exhausted and there are matters here that need attending to" said Giles simply. "Delta and Tango teams have four slayers each along with their patrolling witches and Green team is competent with their rotating members of six. Surely Buffy, you can see it was well taken care of."

"And since when has my exhaustion ever stopped you from putting me out there? Hell, when has it ever stopped me from going out there myself?"

"Buffy as non-threatening as their," Giles waved a hand at their visitors, "presence is, we need to concentrate on getting them back to when they belong. I need you rested and able to take care of this. Also, I had thought you wanted to be less active, which is certainly understandable and if you are in semi-retirement, this gives you the perfect opportunity to act as liaison for our guests. They need help in our time and you of all people are the most adept at attending to this need."

"Yeah, come on Buff, it's not like we're sayin' never slay again." Xander said, trying to lighten the situation.

Buffy just folded her arms and glared. She knew that the conversation she'd had with Giles a month prior was going to come back and bite her in the ass. She pouted as she witnessed the ass biting. It wasn't supposed to be a major deal. She just wanted to be taken out of routine patrol and possibly learn more of the administrative side so that when she was too old to go out and slay, she could do the stuffy suit thing and lend a hand with the strategizing when needed.

"So where's that leave us?" Mal finally interjected.

"It would appear stuck here waiting until we can find you suitable parts for your ship and, as it were, a way back to your own time." Giles looked to Willow to get her attention. "Willow, perhaps you should contact the Devon coven and see if Althanea might have a suggestion to set us off in the right direction?"

"Sure. It's still talk-able hours there I'll call as soon as we're done here." Willow smiled at Giles and then looked over to Buffy. She had been acting a little funny and Willow shot her a 'what's going on look'. Buffy just broke eye contact and went back to burning holes in Giles.

"Good." Giles glanced down at his papers. "Now, on to our second order of business, it seems that while you were all engaged last night, Bravo team ran into some trouble over by the space craft."

Kaylee sat up and asked, "She's okay right?"

Xander nodded. "Didn't get touched, but we need to move the ship."

"And that would be where?" Willow asked. The city offered no suitable housing for the ship and while they could keep it on the grounds, transporting it to the school would be impossible.

"I've been in contact with one of our watchers and we could perhaps move it there, but we need to be able to find transport for it as well." Giles turned to Kaylee and asked, "Is there anyway t-that it would be possible to, in a sense, break the ship down to be more, er, ah, shippable?"

Kaylee's face scrunched up and she looked to Mal. She couldn't read the look on his face, but she knew he expected her to answer. "Well, let's see, the main body can't be taken apart. The engines can be taken off, along with the expansions on the side. That's all though."

"How difficult would it be to do so?" asked Giles.

Kaylee scratched her chin answering, "Well, not too seeing as how we done it before, but we're gonna need a crane to do it."

"We can do that. I've got a buddy that owes me a few favors." Xander nodded already figuring the way it was going to go down.

"So we are going to where?" Willow asked.

"It appears that the most conducive place to get things in order would be in New Mexico. Just outside of Tohachie to be more specific. It's secluded, yet only a few hours away from Sante Fe and Albuquerque."

"And who's going?" Buffy inquired, not liking the sound of what was coming.

"Malcolm and his crew, naturally, you, Willow, Xander, Faith, and the rest of the Red and Alpha Teams." Giles met Buffy's stare and waited for the blow out.

"Fine. We done here?" Buffy replied.

The ease at which Buffy accepted the request took Giles back for a moment, but he quickly recovered. "If you wish to go Buffy, please feel free."

Buffy didn't wait for him to finish as she pushed back from the table and walked out the door. She made her way quickly to her room. Slamming the door, she pulled out her suitcase and began to get the things together she would need. She wasn't upset about leaving Cleveland for a few weeks. That was fine by her. Gave her a chance to relax and not have to worry about the other girls in the school. What had gotten to the slayer was Willow and Inara. They had been sharing glances the entire time and Buffy's jealousy burned a bright green as she continued to sit there.

She went back to her earlier ruminations about Willow before Dawn had interrupted her. To Buffy these feelings shouldn't have been happening. That was not the case though. It took Inara showing up for Buffy's thoughts to click fully into place. She thought back to how she and Willow had relied on each other since the witches return from Rio. Willow had only been gone 6 months, but there hadn't been a day that had gone by Buffy didn't think of her. She emailed the witch constantly and learned to use those instant messaging programs to chat with Willow at odd hours of the day.

When Willow came back, Buffy's heart soared and for the first few months the two could not be separated. To the blonde, it felt like sophomore year all over again. The two friends had reconnected and Buffy remembered how much she missed Willow's company. She had also realized that the distance between herself and her family had been nothing but her own doing. Since Willow's return, everyone was happy to see the softer side of the slayer. Xander had even made a few comments here and there, but these were met by a stony glare from his friend.

Buffy turned at the knock on her bedroom door. She called in whoever was there and was surprised when it was Faith who walked in.

"Hey B."

"What's up Faith?"

"Just comin' to make sure you aren't destroying your room."

Buffy turned to look at the girl and cocked her head to the side. "And I would be all rampagy because?"

"'Cuz you nearly took the hinges off the conference room doors."

Buffy's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, I didn't…"

"Yeah, I know you didn't mean to. So what's the what, you that pumped to go to the middle of nowhere?"

"Just packing," Buffy let out and went back to rummaging through her drawers.

Faith took the seat by the window folding her feet underneath her. She watched a moment, as Buffy opened and closed various drawers, smiling. Something was up with the girl and Faith being all reformed and now a solid part of the core group wanted to know what was bugging her friend. "Buff, if you had stayed for the last three minutes, you'd have found out that not only are we not leaving today, but it's proly gonna be about a week to take apart, crate and ship their craft."

"Oh." The blonde turned to Faith and let her shoulders drop. "So packing, not so important right now?"

"Not so much." Faith smiled and shrugged. "Although B, what I really wanna know is what's got your panties in a twist."

"And you care because?" Buffy asked, letting some of the anger drain out of her as she sat on the edge of the bed.

"'Cuz I'd like to think that over the past few years, you and I have gotten to be sorta on the friends level and well, as friends do things together, they also have these things called conversations especially when something is bugging them. So out with it B. What's got your knickers in a twist?"

Buffy gauged the sincerity of Faith's words and tried to sort out how much to tell the brunette. She knew Faith to be trustworthy and from previous Buffy blow outs none of the things she and Faith had talked about had gone anywhere but between them. She also knew that Xander couldn't help her, Dawn she didn't want to talk to about this and the only one she did she couldn't because it was concerning her.

"Heya, B. It wasn't such a stumper. Sure, if I asked you who the current Secretary of Defense was you'd look at me funny, but this wasn't it so…" Faith trailed off at the un-amused glare coming from the bed. She back peddled and held her hands up in the air as concession to shutting her trap.

"I…" Buffy stopped trying to find the words. "I…"

Faith leaned forward curious as to what Buffy was actually going to say. In her memory the blonde had never been at a loss for words. Whatever was troubling her friend had to be huge? As the ex-rogue watched the play of emotions contorting Buffy's face, she idly wondered if she bit off more than she could chew and was half tempted to go get Willow.

"Okay, so the sitch, right, well…I guess, it's really simple, although simple isn't necessarily a word I'd use to call it, because it's far from simple and it's really uber confusing for the most part. I mean you spend 10 years of your life with a person and it takes what, some one coming from the future to get you to fully realize the enormity of your feelings towards them. So, you sit and you watch and then there's jealousy, big raging jealousy, that makes you want to rip arms off and beat people senseless. How does this happen? Why does it happen now? Xander…"

"Whoa, hold up, I got lost mid babble. Jealousy? 10 years? Xander?" Faith's eyebrows shot up as she queried, "You got a thing for X?"

Buffy's face scrunched up wondering if she heard Faith right. "Xander, huh?"

"You're jealous… Xander? You want our X-man?"

"Faith stay with me. I don't want Xander. A world of no to Xander. I want Willow."

Faith's mouth dropped open and she starred at Buffy.

"I can't really figure it out. I mean best friends for so long and then she leaves for Rio and then she comes back and the missing her and then the time we spent together when she came back, add that on top of the fact that for the past 4 months, I've had naughty dreams starring her at least 3 times a week and I'm just a big ball of confused slayer mush."

"Oh." Faith uttered, trying to regain composure, but the shock of Buffy essentially coming out to her left her floored. She could have kinda sorta seen her digging Xander. He had turned out to be a great guy, but her falling for the redhead. Faith thought there was more of a chance that she'd see the pearly gates of heaven before that happened. Her brain did a quick sort through and couldn't help question, "So you went to automatic when?"


"You got gayed up when?"

Buffy sent a sour look to her friend. "No to the gayed up." She paused and thought for a second and said, "Okay, I mean yes, I guess it was, or I am. I guess yes, to the gayed up, but I don't know. Two years ago or 10 years ago, I don't know Faith. You and I had a few close calls if I remember right. It's Willow though. I have no urge to be gay except with her."

"Oh, so what's the problem? You two are both single. I know you can throw down. Spike told me some stories…"

"F. haven't we had this conversation about Spike?" Buffy's tone warning Faith to stop.

"Right, no mentioning of the vampire that shall not be named. Christ, you'd think the Brit was Lord Voldemort or some shit." She winked at the look Buffy was giving her. "So is this just you wanting to have some bump and grind time or are you on the whole moving to Vermont and not shaving your legs shtick to raise your kids in an excepting environment of gays?"

"Huh? Vermont? Where the hell do you come up with this stuff?"

"I'm asking, are you just wanting Willow for a screw or are you talking about a house in the 'burbs 2.5 kids, fences and stuff?"

"Is everything about sex to you? Never mind, don't answer. I know that one." Buffy ran her fingers through her hair. "Okay, no it's not just about sex although it's been a while, but no, not just sex. I want it all. Well, not the kids and not the suburbs, no to your crazy Vermont theory. I just want…" Buffy trailed off trying to put into words what she wanted. "I want what I have with her now, but I want the cuddles and the kissing and the sex."

"Gotcha. So what's the problem again?"

"Have you not been paying attention?! Willow and Inara joined at the hip the past two days! They're gonna get together and I'm gonna get screwed…"

"If they hook up you won't." Faith had to get the shot in, it was too easy.

"Uh?" The double entendre registered and she threw a pillow at the girl across from her.

"But Inara isn't staying. We're gonna ship 'em back to their own screwed up future. So I'm still not seein' the problem."

"There's a list. Shall I name them for you?"

"If it'll help all of us avoid psycho Buffy for a few then feel free."

"One: It's Willow. Two: It's Willow. Three: she doesn't feel the same way. Four: She's making goo-goo eyes at another girl. Five: I'm a chicken. Six: It's Willow."

"Okay since three of those were the same, we are only counting them as one. That's four reasons and really none of those matter. Sure it's Red, but she loves you, maybe she just doesn't know how much yet. The other girl will be going away shortly and then it'll be you two joined at the hip, again, so that's five by five. I can't help you with the chicken bit though."

Buffy flopped back down on the bed. It was hopeless. She closed her eyes in frustration and felt the bed sink down next to her.

"B, it'll be cool. You'll see. I'll help. By the time this is over, we'll have Red beggin' for ya."

Buffy turned her head to Faith and quirked and eyebrow. She had feeling things were going to get interesting. More so than they already were.


Chapter 9 - Slayers With Wings

The week had been long and hard for all involved in taking apart the ship. Kaylee spent the time directing supernaturally strong girls wielding pulleys and ropes while Xander manned a crane. Buffy and Willow had to take the time travelers shopping for clothes that would not stand out in a crowd. Most of them had opted for jeans and t-shirts except for River who stuck to dresses with River wearing the combat boots Kaylee had given her when they first met. Everyone was now at the airport getting ready to board the cargo plane Giles had organized.

"So G-man, where'd you find this monster?" Xander hooked a thumb in the direction of the massive plane.

"Xander, I've asked you numerous times to not call me that." Giles looked over his glasses at Xander and sighed. "As for the plane, well, I happen to know an old school friend who runs cargo for various governments and he was kind enough to not ask questions when I called for his services."

Buffy stepped over to her ex-watcher and Xander asking, "So we are landing this where?"

Xander draped an arm over her shoulders and smiled. "No landing Buff. We are dropping it over a predetermined spot via parachute."

"Ookaayy, but where do we land to go where we need to?" Buffy asked.

Xander smiled and shook his head. "Buffy, Buffy, Buffy, we are not landing. We are parachuting down with the spaceship."

"HUH?" Buffy's eyes grew wide and she looked back and forth between Giles and Xander.

Giles removed his glasses and said, "We can't land the plane at the airport. So we had to devise an alternate plan. The lot of you will be riding down with the crates." He couldn't help the smirk that turned the corners of his mouth up.

Buffy paled, sputtered and then shook her head no. "Not gonna happen. What if the chutes fail to open? Or, or what if we fall off? Didn't think about that didja?"

"Yeah, Buff, we did. Don't worry about it okay." Xander smiled and his eye twinkled in the moonlight. "We've got rigs for everyone. The landing may be kinda rough, but we figured that once you've lived on top of a hellmouth, jumping out of a plane would be easy."

Buffy paled further. "Did we all miss the big header I took off the tower a while back? Have we forgotten the Buffy doesn't jump off of really high things rule?"

Xander winked at Giles and steered her towards the loading bay. "No, I didn't forget, but I promise, Will and I will be right there with you. I've got it all taken care of." Xander hugged her and walked her into the plane where everyone had already been seated. He secured himself as did Buffy then signaled the pilot they were ready for take off.

Resting his head against the wall, he went through the plan one more time with Buffy. "We've got two planes. The first is us. We have the main body of the ship packed up in a crate large enough to fit the population of San Diego in. With the rigging we have in place, we climb up on top, strap ourselves on, the doors open and we drop out. Will and River did the calculations so that the 'chutes are big enough and we don't plummet to the ground and die. All is good." He leaned his head back and cast a quick glance at Buffy. Sometimes freaking her out was worth it he thought to himself.

An hour or so had passed with idle chit chat among everyone; the blonde slayer was having a not so good time of it thinking about the upcoming jump. Twitching on the uncomfortable bench seating, she smiled over at Willow. The redhead wasn't too fond of flying, but seemed to be holding up pretty good. The slayer reached out and grabbed her hand and rested her head on Willow's shoulder, drifting off to sleep.

Inara had spent a good two hours talking with Kaylee and Simon when she looked over to see Willow being used as a human pillow. Excusing herself from the couple, she walked over to the witch. "Comfortable?" asked Inara, as she sat on the non-occupied side of the redhead.

Willow nodded her head yes. "Surprisingly enough, yes. Not really one with the flying. Buffy usually keeps me calm though. A few months back we had to fly to Rome and usually I just take a few Tylenol PM and pass out to avoid the anxiousness, but Buffy flew with and it wasn't bad. She kept me entertained the whole way."

"It's good that you have someone like that. From all that you've told me, you, Buffy and Xander seem as close as friends could be."

"We are. Although," Willow dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "Xand's been very General-ly lately and not so much with the bonding. Buffy's been making up for it."

Inara just smiled and then looked at the napping blonde one more time before turning her head and looking at Mal talking with Kaylee. She looked around a bit more and found River and Faith in a deep conversation and Zoë had taken to talking to Xander. Looking at her family, she shrugged off the un-ease and turned back to Willow.

"Wills?" Buffy's groggy voice asked.

"Yeah, Buff?" Willow turned her head and whispered in the blonde's hair. From their positioning, Willow still held a firm grip on the slayer's hand and the blonde's head was nestled neatly in the crook of Willow's arm.

"We there yet?" Buffy blinked and sat up rubbing at her eyes.

"Nope. I think we've got another hour or so."

"Oh," Buffy looked around and then her gaze settled on the companion to her left. "Hi Inara."

"Hi Buffy. Nice nap?"

Buffy blushed a bit and then looked at Willow. "One of the best. Thanks." She took a quick look around and asked, "Am I the only one that's wigging because of the impending jump?"

Willow shot a confused look to the blonde. "Jump?"

"Xander said that we are going to be parachuting down with Serenity."

Willow broke out into a grin and started laughing. Trying to get through the fit of laughter, she was able to choke out, "I can't believe he told you that. We talked about it, but no, no jumping for us. We dump the ship and then land at an abandoned airfield about 10 miles from there."

Buffy's eyes narrowed and she sprang up, yelling, "Xander!"

The man's head whipped round and he knew the jig was up. Holding up his hands in surrender, he watched an annoyed slayer stomp in his direction.

The entire team reached their destination a few hours later. Buffy had only threatened her friend while Willow watched on amused and amazed that Xander could have been so dumb. The watcher they had met up with, Tami, had readied the place for their arrival. The slayers she had with her, Nicole and Joanna, were pretty nice girls and helped the crew get settled in. The new visitors were currently pairing off rooms and the two young slayers couldn't help but be mildly awe struck that they had the original Sunnydale gang staying with them.

After getting the rest of the slayers settled, Tami left the rooming situation for Xander to organize. The house, if it could be called that, had a total of 14 bedrooms and sat on 10 acres of land. The slayers there were in charge of patrolling the town the house sat on, the outskirts of said town and another 50 mile radius on top of that. Xander, Buffy, Willow, Faith, Carrie, and the remaining crew were in the east wing finishing off room assignments.

Mal poked his head in a room and nodded. "I found my space." He smiled back at the rest of the group.

"Sir, I think I'll take that single if they still got it," Zoë said. She had put up with bunking with Mal for their stay in Cleveland, but her need for personal space far outweighed her concern for the other's sleeping arrangements. One more night of hearing the captain snore and she was certain that she would, at the very least, strangle him. For a time she could handle it, but now that they were able to rearrange everyone, she was going to get some alone time if she had to kill someone to do so.

Mal looked at her hurt. "Zoë, why don't you love me?"

Inara smacked Mal in the chest and looked to Zoë smiling.

Faith being the most vocal of the bunch looked between Mal and Zoë and asked, "You two have a fight?"

"Ah, no, can't say we have Faith," Mal let out slightly confused.

"Oh, we just thought that since you two were an item, the sleeping arrangements would be a bit different."

Zoë covered her mouth with her hand and Mal turned a funny red color. The brunette slayer looked at their reactions and smiled.

"So you two aren't doin' the horizontal cha-cha?"

Inara spoke before anyone had a chance to, "No, they most certainly are not. Why don't we do it this way, Mal, you and Jayne take this room. Zoë you take the single. River and I can take the one next door and Simon and Kaylee can have the room opposite Zoë."

River smiled, but shook her head no. "I've got my room with Faith. You and Carrie, I think, were rooming together."

"Awe, now just wait a minute. I ain't sleepin' in the same quarters as this one. He snores," Jayne pouted.

"Jayne Cobb, how can you say things like that about me? I do no such thing," Mal's voice was laced with mock hurt and he barely contained his smile. "'Sides which, I wanna know how you know that I snore? You been gazin' at me all longin' like while I'm asleep?"

Jayne's jaw set and he was about to say something when Xander interrupted, "How about Mal, you take the other single and I'll bunk with Jayne."

"How 'bout this Cyclops, you bunk with Cap'n Tight Pants and I'll take your room." Jayne shoved his way though and went to the other single room slamming the door as he went out of sight.

"So…" Faith turned to Willow and Buffy. "Red, you take our blonde princess and have a good night." She waved and winked at Buffy and turned her attention back to the remaining group. "Everyone here is settled then? Good. River, I need to go check on the rest of the girls, you want to come with?"

River nodded then kissed her brother goodnight. The two dark haired girls dropped their bags off in the room and headed off to see the rest of their traveling companions.

Willow and Buffy stepped into the room and were both shocked to see only one bed. Not that either had a problem sharing a bed with each other, but Buffy was more than nervous. The last week in Cleveland had proved to the blonde that Willow, over the course of their friendship, had rubbed off on her more than she would have liked to admit because she was, in her own mind, queen of the spazzes.

"Right or Left?" Willow had looked at the blanched face of her friend and was wondering what was going on with the blonde. "Buffy? Earth to the slayer?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah sure, whatever you want Wills."

Willow's eyebrows rose and she tossed her bag on the floor by the left side of the bed. "Okay Summers, you've been acting kind of weird the past week."

Buffy slumped and set her bag down. "Nothing major, just been thinking."

Willow snorted and asked, "Hmm, this doesn't have anything to do with Giles and your semi-retirement blow out does it?"

"Ah, no, not really." She took a glance at her friend and realized that the redhead thought that she was really upset over the way Giles had been leaving her out of the loop on a few major things going on at the school. Not only was the whole shipping her off to New Mexico mildly annoying, but there were a couple of problems within the ranks that Giles had purposefully kept her out of. Sadly enough for the blonde these all played second fiddle to her problems surrounding her best friend. Deciding this was not the conversation she wanted to have, she agreed with the false assumptions. "Yeah, it's just that I can see why we had to move everyone out here for a bit, but couldn't we 'ave I dunno talked about it first."

"Well, it's not so bad. We got a shopping trip out of the deal and we're closer to where we need to be to pick up the wiring for the ship."

Buffy snorted, "Yeah, about that, do you think this is the best shot we have?"

Willow grinned. "I think so. We've all been through the plans more than enough. It'll be fun to say the least. We don't ever get to do stuff like this. Our plans all usually revolve around trying to keep hell from coming to town. This is going to be fun."

"But it's kinda major. Nothing else that we could do besides try and break in to what was it, Lockhead and Marin?"

"Lockheed Martin and no, their Space Division is in Denver. This is probably our best shot unless you want to go and try to break into NASA?"

"How about we stick to Denver." Buffy began unpacking and pulled her usual sleeping gear from her bag. They were both getting ready for bed and Buffy was thankful that she had been able to switch the topic. Willow had changed into babble mode on their plan.

She was to work on securing security clearance for herself, Buffy, Mal, Zoë and Jayne to gain access to the warehouses of the company that held the largest defense contract with the U.S. Government. Once inside, they were supposed to load up a ½ ton roll of the wiring Kaylee needed to finish fixing up their ship. Buffy didn't think they had a snowballs chance in hell of pulling this off, but everyone but her had seemed to think the plan would go off ok. Mal insisting that something like this was no big deal and then launching into a story where they broke into a hospital whose security was tighter than most government buildings. The two girls finished getting ready for bed and soon after drifted off to sleep.


Chapter 10 – Make Your Move

The third day in New Mexico had the four Scoobs plus, Carrie and the newest editions to their group, the Serenity Crew, in the hangar housing the ship. The drive to Denver was going to happen tomorrow and besides nerves running high among all involved in the scheme, Willow had just finished forging the necessary paperwork and identification to gain access to the areas they were going to need.

"…We roll away and come straight back here then?" Mal was pacing in front of Xander's whiteboard that outlined the basics of what needed to be done.

"Yep, everything else will be ready when we get back here. Kaylee will have everything stripped and be ready to install the wiring," Willow answered a bit smugly. She and Xander had worked on this plan for a week and every time she tried to poke a hole in it she came up empty. The only wild card was the reaction of the security at Lockheed Martin and with the level of authenticity she used to produce the security clearance; she didn't think it would even be questioned.

Faith looked down at her watch and felt her stomach rumble. "I'd say we got it locked up tight Red. Can we chow down now? Ya know big meal before the heist and all that." Faith let her dimples show and tried to calm the redhead down. She had a distinct impression that underneath the calm exterior Willow had shown over the course of the past four years, she was at heart still a spaz.

"Yeah, we're done, unless anyone else has any other questions?" She looked around at the faces surrounding her and waited. No reply came so Willow settled her gaze on Inara and let the group break up.

Buffy and Faith's team of slayers had decided to host a cook out that evening and much to the surprise of all involved it was going surprisingly well. Carrie was a force to be reckoned with at the grill much to the chagrin of Xander who had been reminded of a beach BBQ gone wonky due to Dracula's arrival. Tami, the watcher, had relented and let her two slayers enjoy the evening when the boyfriend of one of the girls had brought over groceries and three cases of the watcher's favorite beer.

After eating, Jayne thought that a bonfire was in order and took control of having one built. The night was filled with more stories from the Scoobies and a few from the Serenity crew. A few hours passed and everyone had broken down into groups, the younger slayers had gone off to patrol, Jayne found an old acoustic guitar and charmed everyone with "The Hero of Canton", Mal and River danced while Buffy and Faith slinked off to the edge of the party so Faith could get Buffy to see reason. The brunette had noticed Buffy's slipping mood and wanted to do something about it.

"Faith, it's been nearly two weeks and I'm still in the same position that I was when we first talked," Buffy whined and took another pull of her beer.

"B, how much time have I had to talk to Willow?" Faith had tried, but every time she went to pick the witch's brain she was either really busy or she was talking to Inara. The only thing of notable interest that she found out was that as she watched the two interact, Inara wasn't as into Willow as she had first thought. Not only was Inara holding back, Mal had been sending Willow looks that made her think that there was more to the jovial captain and the companion that she wouldn't have seen if she hadn't been paying attention. She was puzzling all of this out in her head when a hard smack to the back of her head brought her back to the present. Looking over at the assailant, she was going to strike back when Buffy's voice filtered through.

"Why aren't you paying attention to me?" Buffy glared at her brunette friend.

Rubbing the back of her head, she shot Buffy an annoyed look. "What?"

"I asked what was going on with you and River. " Buffy made a sour face and tried to figure out what made her uneasy around the young girl. "The rooming situation and besides Kaylee and Inara you're the only one I've seen her talk to and make sense while talking."

Buffy watched Faith blush which caused the blonde's mind to try and focus itself. She thought back to Faith's time with Robin and never once did the brunette look at Robin the way Buffy had caught her looking at River. She pushed away the urge for the snarky remark that wanted to be said and placed a hand on her friend's shoulder. "Faith?"

"B, really, I don't know. Hell, she's just really easy to talk to and I get vibes from her. I dunno if it's a slayer thing or not, but she's cool. She gets me in the strangest ways."

"You got gayed up when?" Buffy sent a goofy smile over to her friend and waited.

"Hell B, you should know I've always been a versatile gal. If I remember correctly we've had a few close calls." The grin worn by the brunette made Buffy's face redden and she ducked her head at the memories.

When Buffy looked up, her breath caught in her throat as she noticed Willow lead Inara away from the bonfire towards the house. She paled and her stomach dropped. "Faith, I think you're plan, whatever it was, just got shot to hell."

"Huh?" Faith turned to the blonde confused. She then followed her line of sight and noticed Willow and Inara making a hasty retreat to the house. "Awe, B, I'm sorry."

Tears welled up in Buffy's eyes and she quickly pushed it away. "It's okay. If she's happy, I'm good."

A harsh snort came from the brunette and she said, "Bullshit. Okay. I know what it's like. Not fun, not at all."

"I think I'm gonna turn in. I'm pretty sure they're going to Inara's room seeing as how Carrie's got her eyes on the Xander."

Faith whipped her head around and noticed the pink haired slayer trying very hard to get Xander's attention. They were talking and laughing, but Xander, being the clueless male he was, proved to be oblivious to Carrie's come-ons. "I swear B, what does a girl have to do to get Xander to notice her? Walk naked into his room."

Buffy let out a grunt and said, "From the way Anya used to talk that's pretty much what she did."

The two continued to talk for a little longer and eventually Buffy begged off and headed to her room. The tears finally started to flow as she opened her bedroom door to see the room empty.

Willow had worked up enough courage to take the reins on her and Inara's mild flirtation. She liked the companion and she was sure the vibes she was getting from the other woman were the same. So it was with the judicious application of liquid courage that she had asked Inara to her room for private conversation. The redhead was surprised when Inara had suggested her room instead. Willow had readily agreed and led them away from the rambunctious group of people around the bonfire.

They had made it to Inara's shared room with Willow's stomach in knots. She hadn't been with a woman since Kennedy. Inara however was beginning to put her at ease. They had moved to a comfortable position making out on the bed and in Willow's world all was going right. Then it happened Inara stopped and pressing her hands to Willow's chest she pushed away, jumping up off the bed before Willow had time to respond.

Willow watched stunned as the companion paced across the room. Straightening out her clothes, Willow sat up straighter and was about to unleash unholy babble on the woman when Inara's hand shot up to stop the verbal onslaught.

"Wait." Inara pressed her thumb to her mouth and continued to think about the best way to word this. She had thought that she could go through with it. She had thought she was strong enough and that it wouldn't feel this bad. She was wrong. Each kiss while nice and certainly arousing had felt tainted. She felt as though she was cheating on Mal and she knew that Willow, who seemed completely oblivious to the person wanting her affections, also on some level wanted her blonde friend. Every time Willow spoke of Buffy, Inara had been jealous not only because Mal had never once talked so passionately about her, but because Willow didn't even seem aware of her own feelings towards Buffy. Shaking her head clear, Inara began, "Willow, don't. This is hard enough as it is. There are things that you don't know and I've failed to be completely honest with you and with myself."

Willow stood and faced the brunette. "Inara, I'm really confused right now. What's going on? You were all with the smooches and I was all with the smooches and then you act like I have bad onion breath." Willow tried for levity, but realized she had failed miserably when Inara's eyes welled up. She moved to try and comfort the companion and was stopped by a stiff arm.

"Don't. I can't do this, not with you. You've been wonderful. The first person I could talk to at length about everything except the one person who I should have been talking about. And you, Willow, I can't do that to her. Nandi did it to me and I didn't blame her, but I remember how it felt. I can't do that to Buffy. She's a wonderful woman and doesn't deserve it."

Willow folded her arms across her chest and tried to sort through the sense that was not in the conversation Inara was trying to have. "Buffy? What does Buffy have to do with any of this?"

The companion sat down on the bed and motioned for Willow to do the same. Folding a leg under her she faced the Wiccan and tucked a strand of hair behind Willow's ear. "About two years ago, a girl I had graduated the academy with had started up her own house on a border planet. Nandi was amazing in every sense of the word."

"What does…?" Willow's question was stopped by a slim finger pressed against her lips.

"Wait. One of Nandi's girls had gotten pregnant and the father was causing trouble. She knew who I was traveling with and asked for assistance. Mal and his crew took the job. While protecting her and her girls, Mal and Nandi slept together and I wish I could tell you what it felt like to find out. I was crushed. Afterwards, when she found out, she apologized, she didn't know and that helped, a little."

"You and Mal?" Willow asked, growing more confused by the minute.

"Mal is the most frustrating man in the 'verse and being a companion, ordinary dating is near impossible, but I haven't worked in over a year and things with him just get more confusing. Willow, I'm sorry, but I can't do this to you or to Buffy. I can't feign ignorance and do what Nandi did to me."

Willow scooted away from the woman and drew her knees to her chest. "I'm not sure what Buffy has to do with any of this and why wouldn't you tell me about Mal?" Willow was hurt and still trying to sort through Inara's excuse.

Looking at the redhead, she gave words to feelings she hadn't admitted to anyone before now, even herself. "I can't sleep with you Willow; it's not fair to Mal or Buffy. I'm in love with him and whether you realize the extent of your feelings for your friend or not, you are just as much in love with her as she is in love with you."

Willow's jaw fell open and she absently stuck a finger in her ear wondering if there was severe wax build up. Buffy in love with her? The witch shook her head at the absurdity of the thought. Sure since bunking with her and the subsequent morning wakeage, she had had one or two sexy thoughts about the blonde slayer, but those had come and gone throughout their friendship. Struggling to find her voice, Willow got up and began pacing furiously from one end of the room to the other. "You-you don't know what you're talking about. Buffy and I are just friends. You and Mal? Why didn't you say anything? I wouldn't have even. You were all with the flirting. Buffy and I? Sure I'll admit a few dreams, some butterflies, but you can't but be a little attracted to her. You have seen her right?"

Inara stepped into Willow's path and stopped the pacing woman. "Willow it's apparent to me at least. The way you two interact. The care that she shows towards you and only you. The way that you talk about her. You two need to sit down and have a long conversation. Sort through what you both feel, but I would stake my life on the knowledge that your friend is in love with you."

Willow could only stand there, arms folded across her stomach in shock. She knew Inara well enough to know that the companion was sincere in her words and if there was an element of truth in what she was saying she was going to have to speak to Buffy. "I'm gonna go for a walk. I'll talk to you tomorrow." Willow turned to leave and was stopped by a hand on her arm.

"Do you want me to go with you?" Inara asked, with genuine concern.

"No, I just need to sort through everything." Willow smiled at her friend and said, "I think that maybe you should take your own advice though and have a talk with Mal. If you love him then he deserves to know." With that Willow walked out of the room and back outside.

She got back to her shared room shortly before 3 in the morning. Buffy was fast asleep and Willow watched her. The slayer's features in sleep didn't reflect the battle worn girl that had changed the world, but just a girl in her mid-twenties resting peacefully. As Willow climbed in to the bed she let her hand brush over her friend's features and sighed. They needed to talk, a good old heart to heart if what Inara had said was true, but she knew that the talk would have to wait until after things settled with their new friends. She watched Buffy until her eyes grew heavy and exhaustion won out.


Chapter 11 – Uncorking

Willow followed in a van housing Faith, River, Zoë, and Jayne with Buffy riding shotgun while Xander led the way in a Peterbilt they had procured for this little adventure. Both, she and Buffy, had woken up and got ready, barely speaking a word to each other. Willow's silence was due to her brain being in hyper drive and Buffy was too hurt to actually say much to the redhead. The blonde had been sulking all morning and was currently slouched down in the seat playing the part of the angsty teen tuning the world out with her MP3 player.

Willow, for the past two and a half hours, had continued to glance over at Buffy and resisted the urge to start babbling away. She desperately wanted to find out if there was any truth to Inara's words last night. The time she spent with the blonde naturally led to snuggles, handholding, and outing's that only the two went on, but that was stuff they did in Sunnydale so Willow had never thought about it. Although looking back at the time, she realized that if she had been an outsider looking in, she would have assumed the two were a couple. She had also tried unsuccessfully to engage Buffy in conversation of the non-secret revealing variety, but the slayer had only responded in monosyllabic grunts and nods.

Refocusing on the road and mission ahead of them, Willow took notice of the time still left to travel; they were on the 25 heading north and still had another 6 hours to drive to spend in awkward silence and tense small talk. Because of the time it took to drive up there it was close to 6 p.m. and according to the information Willow had gathered, all deliveries and shipments stopped at 5. The idea was to stay the night in Denver at a hotel close to the facility.

Faith had followed Willow when the witch came out of the room she shared with Buffy. Faith made the tail a good distance back, but was not surprised when Willow spun around and asked what the brunette was up to. Faith avoided the guilty blush and walking up to meet the other girl, jammed her hands in her pockets.

"Heya Red, just thought I'd keep an eye on ya. B would pitch a fit if anything happened." She grinned at Willow hoping to rid the angry look marring the usually pleasant features of her friend.

"I'm a big girl Faithy, go back to the hotel." Willow turned and continued walking down the street when Faith stopped her.

"Red, seriously. I don't want anything to happen to you. Let me come with. Where you headed anyway?"

The redhead nodded consent and shrugged. "A bar I think. I am in serious need of unwinding."

"Cool." Faith slapped her hands together and the two resumed walking.

Mal stood outside Inara's hotel room door shifting from foot to foot. He hated being nervous in fact he hated every weak emotion Inara caused in him, but last night, seeing Willow lead her away from the party had broken something in him. So here he was nervous, sweaty and nauseous trying to get the nerve up to knock on her door.

Zoë saw Mal as she walked out of her room to go get ice and she smiled. Her smiles didn't come as freely as they once had and certainly not as often, but Mal had usually been the one to get her to do it. She walked up to him and raised a brow.

His shoulders slumped and he motioned for Zoë to follow him down the walk way. Once clear of potential eavesdroppers, he started in, "What? Why do I get a look like that?"

"Sir." Zoë played with her husband's wedding ring that she wore on a chain around her neck. "Don't you think it's been long enough for you and our Inara to stop playing this game?"

"Zoë." He faltered and ran a hand through his hair. It was always her that got him to see reason, to let his guard down. "I don't know if I can. She mucks things up an awful sort and…and 'sides which who's to say her and Willow aren't in there right now. I don't wanna interrupt nothin'."

"Willow and Faith took off down the street an hour ago. River's with Xander at the pool. No one's there but her. Quit being yellow and go talk to her."

"Oh, and who you callin' yella?"

"You, you ni men. She hasn't worked goin' on a year and you're still in this ridiculous holding pattern. If I was her, I would have moved on. Now, girls might not be my first choice, but that Willow's got a charm about her that might make me consider differently if she were to look my way." Zoë's mouth turned up in a smirk at the look of shock on Mal's face. "You remember when Wash and I first started seeing each other or how he started all the askin' and eventually wore me down?"

Mal let a grin spread over his features remembering the death glares his Zoë would shoot Wash every time they had to be in the same room. In fact, at one point Zoë refused to even enter the bridge for a whole week to avoid Wash. "Well, he was a might persistent. Done him a world a good too, if I remember rightly."

"Well, that's just it. I don't want to know the particulars and you and I, Captain, we don't talk much about it, but you need a kick. You two have something special and since I can't have my Wash anymore, one of us's got's to be okay in that department. Not gonna be me, so it has to be you."

"Zoe, it's not that easy."

"Of Course it isn't easy. You do remember the fights Wash and I had? But it ain't about easy; it's about loving them despite the fights or because of the fights. It's about knowing that even if you want to rap them upside the head, you still want to fall asleep next to them at night. Dong ma?"

Mal could only nod. They never spoke much of Wash. It was too soon for his friend to really go down that road, but here she was dragging it all up so that he could find the courage to talk to Inara. Trying to break the tension, he asked, "So's this where we're supposed to hug?"

Zoe instinctively moved her hand to where her gun usually sat and then glared. "Don't make me hurt you Sir. I'd be upset and Inara would be mad at me. Jayne might thank me though."

His hands went up to his sides as he teased back, "Well, seein' as how we can't have none of that happin', I'll just be on my way." He turned around as Zoe walked towards the vending machines. "Zoe, we gonna keep this little pep talk 'tween us?" he called out to her.

"And ruin my reputation as the warrior woman of the group? Never. We'll leave the credit of the heart to heart talks to Jayne." Zoë's eyes lit up and she smiled at her friend.

He watched her disappear around the corner and headed to Inara's door. It was going to be a long night.

Buffy came out of the hotel room and watched as Inara greeted Mal and ushered him inside. She looked in further and couldn't see Willow, but that's where the witch had said she was going. Buffy ignored the oddity and went off in search of the pool to meet Xander and River.

"See, now that's what I'm talkin' about," Faith drawled out. They had found a dive a few blocks down from where they were staying and had racked up a hefty tab. Faith looked at the table and noticed the ten or so empty beer bottles mixed with the 15 or so empty shot glasses. Red had impressed her. The girl could hold her own.

"What were you talking about Faith?" Willow's head was spinning, but this small outing was proving to be at least entertaining and mind numbingly…numbing.

"I was sayin' that B. B she just don't get it sometimes is all. I mean there you were. Granted not the epitome of sexiness your senior year, but you made me look twice and there she is bein' dumb moonin' over Angel. Now don't get me wrong, Angel definitely a hottie, but 'ello" Faith rapped on the table top, "vampire. That had disaster of the serious nature written all over it before it even began. What the hell was she thinkin'?"

"Huh? And do you even know what the word epitome means?"

"I mean, I was there and available; okay so not so much with the sane, but I could have gotten better. You were there with the unending support. She's was thick and stupid and, and…" Faith stopped at the look Willow was giving her. "What?"

"So you did have a thing for Buffy?"

"Of course, you did even if you didn't know what the hell you were feeling or ARE feeling…" Faith's face screwed up as she looked at Willow. "Speaking of which, I've been meaning to talk to you about that."

"About what?" Willow asked, slowly slipping into a confused daze as Faith seemed to be talking more to herself than to her.

"You and B." Faith took another long pull of her beer and continued, "B, man, she's got it something terrible for you Red. Last night nearly killed her seein' you walk off with Inara. That's another thing, why did you? I mean sure she's hot and sure getting her to scratch that itch isn't totally un-appealing, but B's so damn in love with you she can't see straight. Were you not wondering why she hasn't said more than boo to you all damn day? I was gonna strangle one or both of you on the trip up here."

Anger flashed inside of Willow at the thought of Faith knowing more about what Buffy was feeling for her than herself, narrowing her eyes, she asked, "Just what exactly do you know?"

"Well, I know that B's awful confused right now, she's hurt and she's more than scared. Cut her a break Red, will ya? If you can that is. Sleepin' with Inara proly threw a wrench in the works though seeing as how you don't throw down unless you're in love or close to being..."

"I didn't sleep with Inara." Willow's head was spinning faster and she put down the beer in her hand.

"No?" Faith rocked back on her chair and tried to stand. She stumbled grabbing the table for support. "Whoa, 'k so sudden movements, ain't my friend. B's gonna be so jazzed!" The brunette fished in her pocket and pulled enough money out to cover the tab and a decent tip and threw it on the table. Her smile stretched ear to ear as she grabbed Willow and tried to pull her up. "C'mon slow poke. We need to tell B."

Willow pulled her hand free. "Faith, just stay out of it okay? I'll talk to Buffy, but I don't think it's going to happen tonight. Now is so not the right time."

The brunette blew hair out of her face and rolled her eyes. "Now look here Red, you two need to have it out, however it ends, but talks need to be had. What is it with you fuckin' Scoobs? Christ, it was your problem in SunnyD and you'd think that after all the shit you guys put each other through you'd learn."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It means, Red." Faith poked Willow in the chest. "That if you haven't caught on, we don't get the luxury of takin' our sweet time. You really think we're gonna live to see little old lady hood? Shit, if that's the case, you're more delusional than I ever was."

Willow tried to stand, but stumbled back into the chair. It was then that Faith took her shot. She righted herself and moved quickly, throwing Willow over her shoulder to muffled protests and punches to her backside. Faith exited the bar to stunned looks from the other patrons and threats of dismemberment from her friend. She nearly ran to the hotel and frowned when she was getting ready to climb the steps up to Willow and Buffy's room.

Speaking more to herself than to the drunken witch, she said, "B's not in the room…hmm" Scanning the area, she felt the tingle Buffy caused and walked towards the back of the hotel. "She's that away!" Faith pointed in the direction of the pool and stumbled forward. The slayer rounded the corner to see Buffy, Xander and River sitting by the edge of the pool with their feet in the water talking. "Heya B! I brought somethin' for you. I know I promised talks and shit, but well…there's good news!" Faith went near them and began talking, trying to set Willow down. "Seems your girl didn't make i…"

Faith finally managed to put Willow on her feet, but the redhead lost her balance. She watched in horror as Willow's arms wind-milled and she went backwards in to the deep end of the pool. Buffy jumped in first followed closely by Xander. Both of them pulled Willow, sputtering and cussing, to the surface.

Buffy turned cold eyes to Faith. "What the fuck Faith?!"

"I…" Faith watched as they dragged Willow out of the pool and the slayer did an internal fuck it. "You know what, Red here's way too chicken right now to say shit and I talked to you and made a promise. Since both of you are too damn emotionally constipated to deal, I'm helping: Red, sorry about the pool thing. Didn't mean for it to happen. Buff, your precious Willow didn't sleep with Inara. So get over yourself and tell her you love her so I can quit butting my nose in where it sure as shit don't belong." Faith saw all jaws drop and a self satisfied smirk crept in to her features. It was then that her world started spinning and the last four beers she had come back up.


Chapter 12 – Talks of the Revealing Variety

After she got out of the shower Willow watched Buffy pace the length of their hotel room. Buffy had ordered Xander and River to take care of Faith while she dragged Willow away from the pool and back to their room. The alcohol in Willow's system had seemed to magically disappear once she took the leap in to the pool and now she was just trying to run through everything that had or rather hadn't been said tonight. Buffy hadn't met her gaze once and Willow was fed up.

"Buffy stop with the worried father to be routine and sit down," Willow snapped.

The blonde nodded and took a seat on the bed opposite Willow. Buffy's stomach was doing somersaults, in fact if it could have jumped from her throat and joined an Olympic team, she was positive that it would have won gold. Her hands were sweaty and the nervousness that she was currently trying to reign in was causing her head to spin.

Willow looked at her friend and a streak of compassion bit through her. "Okay, I'll go first. Inara and I didn't have sex. I wanted, but she stopped me and said a whole bunch of stuff. It boiled down to her thinking that you were in love with me. Now," Willow put her hand up to stop the words that were on the tip of the slayer's tongue. "I'm not really sure what in the name of Zeus is going on with you Buff, but between what Faith said, what Inara said, and the fact that you've been kinda weird lately something is seriously of the up and you haven't been honest with me. This stops now. What in the hell is going on?" Willow folded her arms across her chest and waited.

"Will, do we really have to do this? Me and the big emotionals were never close." Buffy took in the hurt look of her friend and huffed out. She re-commenced her pacing and smiled at Willow's exasperated sigh. "What do you want? I don't know what's going on anymore than you do. All I know is that at first there were dreams and then there were fuzzies and then Christ, Inara, I mean, you just go and attach yourself to her and it's taken nearly every ounce of self control I've got to not drag you away like Cave Buffy and declare you mine."

"How? What? How?"

Buffy laughed, "I don't know the what or the how I just know that I'm pretty sure it's been building in here." Buffy placed a hand over her heart. "You've always been the strongest one Will. Despite the crazy, you've kept me going and I guess…I dunno maybe it wasn't until you left with Kennedy that the pieces started falling into place."

"Okay, who knew you could be this confused?"

Buffy sucked in some air and continued while taking a seat next to her friend. "I could go into this the long or short and since, well, I'm going to quickly lose my nerves, I'm going to go with short. I could explain to you the million and ten ways we are dummies. I can tell you how, for as long as I can remember, I've harbored more then friendly feelings towards you, but I'm not gonna. Wills I'm scared ya know? I mean if this is what it was like for you when you realized that you liked-liked Tara then I'm sorry. I should have been there for you more. So there you have it." Buffy finished the babble and dropped her head noticing that in the course of her rant she had taken hold of Willow's hands and was marveling at the way they fit together so perfectly.

Willow sat there, speechless and frightened. Her brain took in all that her friend said and she back peddled over the more than friendly feelings and then she jumped to the time that Buffy's felt this way and then she went back to being called a dummy and then the feeling of wanting to either kick Faith's ass or kiss her senseless came to the fore of her thoughts.

The witch managed a strangled, "Oh,"

"…So that's what you came to tell me?" Inara looked at the man across from her and did an internal eye roll. She had been reading a book Willow had given her and was enjoying the quiet when he came knocking on the door a half hour ago and since then, he had fidgeted and said a lot of nothing. In fact, he had just gone on a lengthy tangent about what was going to happen tomorrow, as if she hadn't been there for the umpteen meetings to commit the plans to memory.

Mal swung his hands and nodded at Inara's question. The nerve he had gotten up to come in here and talk to her had left almost as soon as he walked in, and he was left nervous and scared that things were going horribly awry. "Well, that and I, uh, wanted to see how you were getting along."

"That's very sweet of you, but as you can see, I'm quite alright. In fact, considering the hour, shouldn't we all be getting some rest? Big day tomorrow, another heist to get us out of another disastrous situation." Inara smiled and waited on Mal.

"Right, at least this time it's not dolls." He snickered at the jibe and then decided to pry a little, "Oh, I been meaning to ask you, what's goin' on with you and the redhead?"

"I'm not sure how it's any of your concern." She folded her arms across her chest and bristled. His tone was too reminiscent of how he talked about her and a client.

"I's just wonderin' is all? You two look to be gettin' awful close. Be a shame to make such a nice friend then have to leave."

"Mal, stop. I've no time for your petty routine of "poke fun and make lewd innuendo at the whore" tonight. If you are done telling me about the job tomorrow, I would just as soon see you leave than hear you talk poorly of myself or Willow. Besides which, if Buffy heard you utter a bad word about the girl, you would be eating her favorite stake."

"Yeah that Buffy, sure is a firecracker ain't she? Man, if we'd a had some of them slayers fightin' for the 'coats, I don't think we would've lost the war. Hell, I think Buffy and Faith woulda been enough to turn the tide."

"Mal," Inara warned.

He couldn't stop pushing. "'Course, I was also wonderin' what you two had been gettin' up to seein' as how Buffy's got a mite long yearnin' for the girl you've been courtin', unless a'course she's payin' you." The words left his mouth before he could censor them and as they registered with Inara, he wished he could take them back. His control was waning and then disappeared as a stinging sensation echoed in his brain. He realized Inara had slapped him. He looked at her and saw the tears in her eyes and the horror of what she'd just done.

Stepping into her space, he grabbed her upper arms and fused their mouths together. Inara was shocked at first, but quickly gave in to Mal's demanding kiss. She let herself be carried backwards and pushed on to the bed.

Buffy stood, not waiting on Willow to say yes, she knew by the look of confusion and hopefulness plastered on her friends face. She pulled Willow up and in one swift motion, wrapped one arm around her waist pulling the witch against her. She tilted her head up to lay a gentle kiss on Willow's lips. The first kiss was soft and tender, Buffy having wanted to put as much as she felt for the redhead into the first contact.

Willow moaned as she felt Buffy's tongue slip into her half parted lips and let her tongue greet the foreign body. She traced the appendage, and as Buffy responded in turn, she sucked at it hungrily. The witch's head swam and she was certain that when her socks came off, in hopefully, the next five minutes, her toes would be permanently curled.

Buffy pulled back allowing them to catch their breath. She nibbled Willow's lower lip and ran her hand up and down Willow's side. The slayer's body hummed in ways she hadn't thought possible. That one kiss had set her on fire. All the cheesy romance lines she could ever think of popped in to her head in rapid succession. She was literally weak kneed, starry eyed, and so turned on that she knew that salvaging the bikini bottoms she was wearing was an exercise in futility.

She stopped Willow from going further though. "Wills, wait, are you sure?" Every nerve ending she had was screaming at her to push Willow to the bed and make with the ravaging, but her mind and heart wanted assurance that Willow was on the same page.

"Sure about what?" Willow asked, a bit dazed.

"That you want this?" asked Buffy, hoping she was being clear.

"I wasn't 30 minutes ago, but you can't question lips like that. Com'ere." Willow let her teeth show in a smile and then pulled Buffy back to her.

Buffy took over and the need for naked flesh was the only thought ringing through her head. From past experience, having human type lover's never allowed for a complete release of control. It was the one reason she carried on with Spike for so long. No control. It was blissfully out of control for a time. Then badness set in and the blonde knew it had to end.

Buffy took in the sight of Willow's flushed face, dilated eyes, shallow breath, and the ever tell tale sign of two stony nipples pushing through the thin fabric of the witch's night shirt. Reaching towards the witch's perfect and pert breasts, Buffy ran her thumbs over stiff peaks and was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath. That was all it took for Willow to draw the slayer closer and rip the slayer's bikini top away.

Willow ran a hand over Buffy's chest mirroring the blonde's actions. The witch's right hand ran her hand down to the slight curve of Buffy's hips and teased the fabric of the bikini bottoms away from the flesh they covered. Moving achingly slow, Willow placed a firm grip on the blonde's ass. She slipped a finger in the bow that was holding the bottoms on tugging the knot free. Willow let the small piece of fabric pool at Buffy's feet. Buffy tried to suppress a giggle at the devilish look Willow wore taking in a very naked slayer. The blonde had never seen Willow check her out, but had, on occasion, taken to ogling her best friend.

Buffy reached out and plucked at the thin shirt. Arching an eyebrow, Buffy said, "Someone's a little over dressed." She moved in and slipped the shirt over Willow's head and placed kisses up along her shoulder to her neck and ear. The blonde sucked in an ear lobe and traced the cartilage with her tongue.

"I think," Buffy stopped unable to recognize her voice. It was deep, hungry, wanton. "Bed, Wills. I need you now or you are going to have to clean up a big pile of ex-Buffy slayer goo. I don't think the hotel will be too happy."

Willow nodded, and the next thing Buffy knew, she was lying on the bed with Willow straddling her hips. She stared at flawless, delicious looking alabaster skin. A flat toned stomach that always made her curious as to the how of Willow's perfectly sculpted body. Buffy took the sides of Willow's underwear and ripped the seams. Tugging from the front, she pulled the ruined garment from underneath the witch.

Buffy watched as the redhead slowly moved from narrow shoulders, down her body leaving a trail of kisses that felt like branding irons. Willow finally made it to the juncture of her friend's thighs. Buffy watched as Willow's face disappeared for a moment then felt the pressure of an open mouth kiss dead center on her slit. Willow stopped and smiled up at Buffy then. Buffy felt her stomach muscles clinch from a smile that was uniquely Willow's.

"Someone's ready," Willow chided lightly.

The enormity of their situation crashed down on them at that moment. Buffy sobered and pulled Willow up for another kiss. She grabbed hold of Willow's waist and flipped positions so that now, she was straddling the redhead. She kneaded the small mounds on Willow's chest and met her lover's gaze. The love that had always been there shone through causing shivers to run the length of Buffy's back. She ran her hands down over a perfect body and tested the weight of each breast as she ran her thumbs over erect nipples.

There was a spot right below and to the left of the redhead's left nipple that produced goosebumps if caressed properly. Buffy took note and bent over to lick it. She was rewarded with Willow bowing into the slayers touch. Her hands roamed over flesh feeling the occasional scar that Willow had received from fighting demons almost as long as the blonde herself. The slayer drank in the moans and shudders caused by her touch and tongue. She worked her way down taut flesh, across the other girl's torso, thighs, legs and ending comfortably nestled between the thighs of her lover.

This first time Buffy wanted their love making to be as special as she could make it. She worshipped Willow in ways she didn't think were possible. Gone was the need to only satisfy herself or to calm the voice in her head. Instead clear focus asserted itself and she realized that they had come very far from where they had started, even if they were still fighting demons on a hellmouth. As individuals, they had grown, and somewhere along the way, Buffy found out just how much she'd changed. She took the scent of Willow's arousal in and slowly parted the witch's thighs.


Chapter 13 – An Old Chinese Blessing

River pressed the cold compress to Faith's forehead. She had been watching the slayer sleep for about two hours now and every now and again would get images from the dreams she was having. The images caused a small tendril of sadness to seep through River. She and the slayer had been getting close and River was certain that while being a government's toy wasn't tons of fun, but it seemed to beat the things Faith had been through. It made her look at her ordeal like a holiday. The seer was pulled from her internal musing by the feeling of someone watching her. She smiled down at Faith as the brunette woke up.

Faith woke up to the sensation of a cold rag pressed to her forehead and a sticky mouth that she was sure contained remnants of some demon that had exploded. She let one eye flutter open and was greeted with a smiling River Tam.

"You ingested a tad too much fermented grain," River offered by way of explanation.

Faith's voice was scratchier than usual as she asked, "I get that. Ugh, what time is it?"

"8ish. We, well, Buffy, she decided that you needed to "sleep it off"."

"So, I take it everyone's gone?" Although the slayer wasn't needed for the plan, she was supposed to be acting as muscle if the need arose.

"It's just you, me and Inara, but Inara is sleeping it off too." River scooted closer and removed the cloth. "Thirsty?"

Faith nodded and was immediately offered a cup of water. "Thanks. Why didn't you go?"

"I…they said you would need someone here with you and I wouldn't be of use to them. Better to stay and offer comfort."

Faith sat up completely and moved to get up. "I'm going to go shower. You want to grab breakfast after and fill me in on the what."

River nodded and Faith left to shower. The brunette slayer started the water in the shower and tried to remember what all had happened last night. Mid-shampoo, her face dropped as she remembered the last words she said to Buffy before passing out. Groaning Faith steeled herself for the blowout with Buffy that was sure to come as soon as they had a moment for the blonde to beat her up. With any luck, Faith mused, she would be able to talk her way out of it and if things had gone the way she hoped they had, maybe just maybe she could prevent Red from turning her into something squishy and gross.

Willow checked her rearview mirror one last time before pulling into the main entrance of Lockheed Martin. Mal and Xander were following her and she gave a slight wave before pulling up to the security post. She rolled the van window down and handed the guard her and Buffy's ID and the paperwork allowing clearance for the rig behind them.

The guard took some time running their information and Willow began to get more nervous the more time he took. Schooling her features, she asked, "Uh, is everything ok?"

The guard, who looked to be in his late forties, smiled and said, "Just double checking. I haven't seen you two before. Everything is clear though. You ladies have a nice a day." He passed the ID's back and the gate slid open. The guard waved the truck through and Willow heaved a sigh of relief as she saw Xander pull up behind her.

Willow looked down at the map of the offices and began moving towards the back of the building. According to the layout, the storage facilities took up a large portion of the back of the property. She then looked over at a grinning Buffy and couldn't help the silly smile that came over her.

Last night had been one of the best of the witch's life. The blonde had seriously rocked her world and Willow couldn't wait to get back to the house in New Mexico to repay the favor. Waking up wrapped securely in Buffy's arms, Willow had felt her world shift; the pieces of her life fell into place. It had been an excellent feeling after the uncertainty that seemed to be a constant in the wake of Tara's death.

Buffy reached out and took Willow's hand. Giving it a firm squeeze, she said, "So how long will this take and do you need me to say anything?"

Willow shook her head, "I don't know, not more than an hour tops. You, speaking and undercover?" Willow cocked an eye brow. "No that's ok. I'll do the talking. You just play my assistant and we should be okay."

"Right, I'll just stay mum." Buffy lapsed back into silence and waited. They drove for a few more minutes passing different warehouses finally stopping by the side one. Willow switched off the van and got out grabbing the clipboard with the paperwork on the way.

"Come on Buff." She turned and went over to Xander who had shut the Peterbilt down and got out of the truck. "You three don't talk unless I say something to you and for goddess sake Xander, no pirate jokes if they ask about your eye."

Xander just grinned and elbowed Mal, "She hates the pirate ones. But I ask you this, besides the X-men reference or the occasional Bond joke, pirates are all I got, what else are you going use?"

Mal shrugged, "Uh, Bond?"

"Bond. James Bond? You know the super spy? Never mind. Jeeze, if you don't know who Bond is, the future is not something I'm going to partake in."

"Xander…" Buffy let the warning trail off and the man shut up.

"Okay everyone ready?" Willow straightened her shoulders and prepared herself.

Willow looked around at the massive compound. Aluminum sided storage facilities were lined in rows and from what she could discern she counted a total of 24. Hoping her Intel was correct, she walked through the door and stopped at the front desk. The desk was occupied by an odd looking man, middle aged with a bulbous nose and thick eyebrows. Willow idly thought he looked like a distorted version of Robin Williams.

The Robin Williams look-a-like stood and smiled in greeting and extended his hand. "Hi there, what can I help you lovely ladies out with today?"

Willow smiled and shook a sweaty palm. "Hi, I'm Doctor Rosenbaum with NASA. I've got paperwork here to pick up," Willow looked down at the forged invoice, and continued, "a half ton drum of carbon nano-tubing." She removed the invoice from her clipboard and handed the slip over to the man.

He took the offered piece of paper and looked it over. Willow shifted on her feet and waited. The man, whose name patch read Jack, settled behind the desk and started typing away at the computer.

As he was looking over the monitor, Jack said, "Don't see many of you types coming in to pick up orders like this. Special project?"

"Uh, yeah. I'm meeting a few people in the main offices and since my delivery guys are outside, I thought I'd pop in and take care of it myself." The witch smiled nervously.

He looked up and grinned at the "doctor." "Smart. Some of the guys that come through here don't know the difference between what you got here and spaghetti."

Willow laughed. "That was kind of my thought."

He clicked the mouse a few more times and then stood. "Everything's in order Doc. Why don't you go tell your guys to get ready and I'll open the loading doors."

"Thanks, uh, Jack. Come on, Beth." Willow guided Buffy out of the door and found Xander and Mal talking. "You two want to get ready. They're gonna let us pull the truck in."

Xander nodded and went to the truck. A few minutes later, he was backing the truck through and Willow was signing the required documents to release the wiring needed. The loading took less time then anyone had anticipated and right before Xander was ready to pull out of the bay, Jack's phone rang.

"Yes? Yeah we got them right here...uh, Dr. Rosenbaum is here with her assistant and two others…yeah I can do that…Will do…No problem." Jack snapped the phone shut and smiled. "Seems someone from aeronautics wants to speak with you doctor. If you guys wouldn't mind waiting a moment, he said he'd be down in less than 5 minutes."

Willow swallowed and nodded. She turned to Xander and said, "You two go ahead and pull out and wait for us. Beth and I will be a few moments longer." She handed the clipboard to her friend and tried to look confident as she walked away.

Xander raised an eyebrow then nodded. Fear settled in his gut as he hopped into the cab and pulled out. Willow went back to the front office of the warehouse with Buffy and took a seat to wait. Xander parked the truck right outside the doors and waited on Willow.

"We got problems?" Mal asked.

"Don't know. I hope not."

The captain picked up the walkie-talkie from the seat. "Zoe, we might have a problem. You and Jayne in position?"

Static came through then Zoe voice answered, "We're where you left us. What's the problem?"

"Willow got stopped so we're in a bit of a holding pattern. I'll let you know when I know more."

"Roger that, Sir."

Faith and River stepped out of the hotel room together. The younger brunette had asked if they could grab Inara as well. While River knew the reason for Mal's adamant stance on letting Inara sleep in, River was polite enough to not call the closest thing she had to a father on it. Instead, she just smiled her compliance and resisted the urge to go pounce on her friend to force her to spill the details in the long time coming, oh so frustrating, romance that wasn't.

River reached down and grabbed Faith's hand as they walked to Inara's hotel room. The girl was happy. Things were nice here. Sure, the whole demon thing freaked her out, but not enough to dampen her mood. Simon and Kaylee were disgustingly happy, Zoë had been more willing to smile and even Jayne had loosened up. This "trip" had proved to be beneficial for everyone in her world and she was happier for it. Add to the fact that while she and romance never had much in common, the owner of the hand she was holding gave River a fair amount of butterflies and she wanted to see where they were headed.

Faith stopped in front of Inara's room and knocked. It took a few moments and some colorful cussing in mandarin, but Inara finally made it to the door. Faith took in the rumpled look and smirked. As graciously as possible, Inara invited the two in and excused herself to the restroom.

River and Faith both fidgeted on the bed. The slayer could smell the after-sex smell and wondered if it was Mal who finally got the cojones to have it out with Inara. Faith's head was still hurting, but the water and 4 aspirin she took before leaving her and River's room seemed to be taking affect. She grinned at River and motioned towards the bed they were sitting on and wiggled her eyebrows. The other girl blushed and ducked her head which earned a small whistle from Faith.

"Inara, Faith and I are going to get breakfast, would you like to go," River asked through the bathroom door.

Inara stepped out of the restroom to finish getting ready. "Of course. Have you heard anything?" Inara inquired, directing the question to Faith.

"I just woke up myself. Nurse River here was great though." Faith winked at the girl and stood as Inara signaled her readiness. "I'm assumin' B and Red got everything locked up tight. It's what the Scoobs do. Make a plan, execute the plan, let shit get bottled up afterwards."

"Uh?" Inara queried.

"Nothin'. Sorry, just me having a small bitter moment at their sometimes idiotic methods."

The other two just nodded and followed Faith down the steps and across the street. The slayer looked around and could never seem to adjust to the fact that no matter where you went in any state there was a mildly run down motel next to either a Denny's or some other equally greasy spoon diner to eat at. The familiarity calmed her a bit as she led the two to a booth in the back.

Inara eyed the two girls sitting across from her and wondered just what exactly Faith was going to do with her "might as well be" daughter. She had grown so protective of River since coming back to Serenity that the way Faith occasionally looked at the other girl had Inara resisting the urge to inquire as to Faith's attentions towards River. Conversation was kept to a minimum and when the food arrived both River and Inara sat and stared as Faith took out a full stack of pancakes, an omelet, bacon, sausage, and 4 cups of coffee.

"Uh, where did it go?" River was currently looking at Faith's stomach.

"What went where?" the slayer asked, slightly confused.

"The food, Faith. Jayne wouldn't have been able to eat that much." Inara smirked at the offended look offered by the slayer.

"I'm a growin' girl. Besides, slayers have a wicked metabolism. That was a light snack."

River just shook her head and then turned her attention to Inara. "I can either kill you with my brain or you can tell me what went on with you and Mal last night?"

Inara's mouth parted slightly at the bluntness River rarely showed and had the decency to blush. "I…I think we have come to an understanding."

River squealed and moved to embrace Inara in a hug. "I wish you hundreds of fat grandchildren!" She squeezed the companion for all she was worth and giggled as Faith spit out some of her coffee at the comment.

"Run that by me again, Riv?" Faith said, wiping at the spilled coffee.

River and Inara just grinned stupidly at each other. Inara took some pity on the confused face across from her and said, "It's a blessing. Used ages ago in the Orient. You've never heard of it?"

"Uh no. Hundreds of fat grandchildren?" Faith just shook her head and shrugged it off. "Next you'll tell me that 'I hope you have a pissy day' is also a compliment."

River cocked her head to the side. "What does peeing have to do with the quality of your day?" She thought a moment more then said, "Oh, I see, to pee is good so you would hope that the day your friend had was pissy? No wait…"

Part 14

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