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Meant To Be
One: The New World

By Hellmouthguy




"Sorry we're late," Buffy said, when Giles answered the door two hours later. "Um...how late are we?"

"You're extremely late," Giles said, frowning down at Buffy with his arms folded across his chest. "Come in."

"What time is it? Faith said, as she and Buffy walked into the living room. Willow and Xander were sitting on the couch drinking tea and reading.

"Um...past six," Willow said, looking up from The Necronomicon. "We... sorta thought you'd be here around four."

"We called, but there was no answer," Xander said. "What happened?"

"Uh...vamps," Faith said, and sat on the couch next to Willow.

"Vamps?" Xander said.

"We...um...found a few hiding out in this building near Faith's motel," Buffy said, sitting next to Faith. "Don't worry, they weren't the new wolf guys. Just your basic vamps."

"It took you two hours to dispatch a few vampires?" Giles said, and went into the kitchen.

"Uh, took a look around the whole, uh, area after that. Figured there might be a big group of 'em hidin' somewhere around there," Faith said, as Giles came back into the living room with a pot of tea and two cups on a tray. He sat on the recliner across from them and poured them each a cup.

"And there like, totally was," Buffy said, as Giles handed them both cups of tea. "A group, I mean. There was totally a group. A big group."

"Yup, real big group," Faith said, sipping her tea. "Whole bunch of vamps. Had to take our time like, doing recon on 'em? Y'know, figuring out how to go at them. Kinda took us awhile."

"So...yeah," Buffy said. "But anyway we're here now. So what's the sitch?"

"How'd you go at them?" Xander said.

"Huh?" Faith said.

"The vampires," Willow said. "What did you end up doing? How many were there?"

"Uh...like..." Faith looked at Buffy. "Maybe ten or so? Say about a dozen?" Faith said.

"Eleven," Buffy said, and smiled. "There were exactly eleven. I counted."

"Yeah," Faith said, and grinned. "Eleven sounds just right."

"They were weird, goofy vampires," Buffy said.

"They weren't that goofy," Faith said.

"They were totally goofy," Buffy said.

"Uh...okay," Xander said. "Goofy. Check. So what did you do? Eleven's kind of a lot."

Willow noticed how close Faith and Buffy were sitting to each other. Their legs were touching, and Faith was leaning on Buffy's shoulder a little. Buffy's arm was up over the top of the couch, behind Faith's neck. They were both wearing skirts. Willow had never seen Faith wearing a skirt before...and she could have sworn it was one of Buffy's.

"Uh...fire," Faith said.

"Fire?" Willow said.

"We...um...burned 'em out," Buffy said.

"You burned a building down?" Giles said. "Buffy, that's extraordinarily dangerous, especially in that area. The buildings around there are practically nothing more than old shacks. A good fire could take half the neighborhood."

"This was like...uh...a concrete building," Faith said.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "It was like, this totally non-flammable concrete, um, like, factory type building. And there was this flaming barrel they were warming their hands over? Like, how homeless guys sometimes set a barrel on fire and sit around it? It was totally like that."

"Knocked the barrel over on top of 'em," Faith said. "Bob's your uncle."

Buffy and Faith looked at each other, and they both started giggling like little girls.

"Fanny's your aunt," Buffy said.

"Those vamps were total berks!" Faith said, and she and Buffy both started laughing hysterically.

"Berks," Buffy said, and fell against Faith's shoulder, laughing so hard she could hardly breathe. "Complete berks."

"So we quite fancied setting them on fire," Faith said.

"Should've seen the looks on their faces," Buffy said, catching her breath. "They were totally gormless. They were gormless berks."

"What's that one mean again?" Faith said.

"Clueless," Buffy said.

"Anyway we put paid to those guys," Faith said.

"Totally put paid to them," Buffy said. "I'm feeling right knackered now."

"Uh...okay," Xander said. "Ladies and gentlemen, the comedy stylings of Miss Buffy Summers and Miss Faith Lehane. It's the Slayer variety hour, kids."

"Yes, it's quite enthralling listening to you both poke fun at my culture," Giles said. "Could we please get on with this now?"

Buffy and Faith caught their breath, and made themselves stop laughing.

"Sorry," Faith said. "We'll be good."

"No need to get shirty," Buffy muttered, and she and Faith immediately started laughing hysterically again.

Faith looked down at Buffy's legs.

Faith looked back up at Buffy, and raised her eyebrow.

Buffy giggled.

"Oh, crap!" Faith exclaimed suddenly, as if an airplane was about to crash into the house.

"What?" Buffy overacted.

"Uh, is everything okay?" Xander said.

"I left that thing in the car," Faith said, and got up, and looked at Buffy. "Remember? You know, uh...that thing?"
"Oh, wow, really?" Buffy said, and stood up. "But you can't...do all that stuff without the thing."

"What?" Giles said.

"There's this thing I left in the car?" Faith said. "And I gotta uh...go look for it."

"Hey, I have an idea," Buffy said, as casually as a suicide bomber at a church bake sale. "How about I help you look for it? It'll be faster that way."

"Hey, thanks, that's a really good idea, B," Faith said, nodding her head and marveling at what a perfectly wonderful idea it was.

"What?" Xander said, as if a Kabuki performance had suddenly materialized in front of him. Buffy and Faith walked to the door.

Willow smiled and closed her eyes and tried very hard not to laugh.

"We'll be right back," Buffy said, looking at Giles, Willow and Xander very solemnly, as if she was about to undertake a secret mission that could affect national security, and possibly the fate of the free world.

"God save the Queen," Faith said, as they walked out the door.

Giggling laughter echoed down the hallway.

"Okay, what just happened?" Xander said.

"They have to...y'know, um...find that thing in the car," Willow said.

"I can't believe we're mmmph," Buffy murmured, giggling and trying to stretch out in the very cramped backseat of the Citroen DS as Faith lay on top of her and smothered her lips with kisses whenever she tried to speak. One of Buffy's legs was up over the seat and the other one was balanced over Faith's shoulder and she felt like she was either back at cheerleader practice doing a split or lying on the examining table at a gynecologist's office. "You're crazy! How long do you think we can mmmph...before they wonder what we're mmmph?"

"Long enough to get you off, honey," Faith said, and caressed Buffy's legs. "I know just how to pet your pretty kitty."

Buffy grabbed Faith's ass and brought her closer, sliding her hands underneath Faith's skirt and pulling her panties down. Faith had a perfect little bubble butt and Buffy couldn't get enough of it; at the same time it made her insanely jealous.

"Aw, don't be jealous, baby," Faith said, and giggled, and kissed her.

"It's just for me," Buffy said. "If this ass can't be on my body then I'm the only one who gets to play with it. No one else can have this ass but me."

Buffy ran her fingers over Faith's soft skin down there, and began kissing Faith's neck, just below her ear.

Faith unbuttoned Buffy's blouse and kissed her breasts and her stomach, and then she shimmied her way down between Buffy's legs. She lifted Buffy's skirt. Buffy's legs were spread too wide for Faith to pull her panties down, so Faith tore them in two. Buffy gasped, and laughed.

"You realize I have to sit around Giles' house in a skirt without panties now?" Buffy said.

"I'll make it worth your while," Faith said. "Just keep your legs crossed."

Buffy's legs were spread wide and the long, thick thigh muscles were flexed. Faith ran her hands over Buffy's thighs, and around her calves, down to her ankles and her feet. She felt the silky skin against her fingers, and let her senses reach out. She experienced every millimeter of Buffy's warm, supple flesh; the tiny goosebumps, the peaks and valleys of muscle, its scent. She could feel the blood flowing beneath Buffy's skin. She kissed her way down Buffy's muscular legs, and all the way back up again, back up between them. Buffy was wet...and Faith gave her a little kiss there, and looked up at her. Buffy's nipples were sticking up under her bra like soldiers at attention. Buffy's face was flushed.

"We...don't have time, baby," Buffy moaned, and caressed Faith's lips with her finger. "We can't stay out here forever."

"Three minutes," Faith said. "I just need three minutes."

"You can't finish me off in three minutes!" Buffy said, and giggled.

"Wanna bet?" Faith said, and started licking her. Buffy looked down, and saw Faith's raised eyebrow looking back up at her from between her legs.

Buffy checked her watch.

"You're on, pervo," she said.

And she leaned back, and smiled, and closed her eyes...

"Okay, I owe you five bucks," Buffy said, as they rang Giles' bell again. "But I'm getting you back later. Two minutes forty seconds this time."

"Talk's cheap, honey," Faith said.

"What are we gonna say about the broken window?"

"That you always kick out your legs when I make you come? And what's the thing we were supposed to be looking for?"

"How should I know? It was your lame-o cover story."

"Holy grail? Rabbit's foot? A shiny nickel?"

"Mr. Goodbar," Buffy said, as Willow opened the door. Willow grinned, and closed the door behind her, and took their hands.

"Giles is trying to find those dry, crumbly tea cookies, y'know, the ones we all hate, including him? And Xander's in the bathroom," Willow said. "So come out to the car with me for a minute."

Willow turned Buffy and Faith around and walked them back to the car. "I'll help you find that thing," she said.

"Uh...we...already found the..." Faith started to say.

"Sshhh," Willow said, and looked back at the house. "Gimme the keys."

"But..." Buffy said.

"Keys," Willow said, and did the scowly face. Buffy handed her the keys because she knew the scowly face always meant business and Willow unlocked the front and back doors.

"You two get in back," Willow said. "Time for some girl talk."

"Um...okay," Buffy said, and looked at Faith.

"Got nothin'," Faith said, shrugging her shoulders as she got in back with Buffy. Willow got in front and shut the doors.

"How did that window break?" Willow said.

"It broke in the cemetery last night," Buffy said, at the same time as Faith said, "Those vamps at the motel."

Willow giggled. "You guys are like a Saturday Night Live skit," she said. "I think it's called, 'The Two Most Obvious Lesbians Ever'."

"Uh..." Faith said.

"Um..." Buffy said.

"Look, sweeties," Willow said, and took their hands, and smiled. "I love you both, I think you're both awesome? And I'm happy for you. You're my friends and I'm happy you're both happy, it's obvious just looking at you. And if you wanna tell everyone you're a couple, hey, that's great too. But if you wanna, y'know, keep it a secret? And I'm not saying you should, I'm just saying, y'know, if that's what you want right now? Then, um, maybe you're gonna need to be just a tiny little bit less blatantly, incredibly, totally utterly obvious."

Buffy and Faith's faces were the color of perfectly ripe apples.

"But...no, we...were just...looking for that thing!" Buffy said.

"Yeah! We...came out to find the thing!" Faith said.

Willow giggled. "Please, please stop with the lame denials because I'm gonna burst out laughing if you keep it up and I laugh really loud and then Xander will come out here to see what the funny's about and we won't have time to talk, okay?" she said. "You're both my friends no matter what, I don't care if you like girls, all I care about is that you're both happy. I won't tell anyone, I promise. And let me just enter into evidence the following items. One," Willow said, and glanced at the seat cushions. Buffy and Faith followed her eyes. Buffy's panties were stuck there. "Someone's panties. And unless Giles has a spicy British trollop on the side I'm thinking they belong to one of you. Two, this car? Doesn't exactly smell like a car that two girls haven't had sex in, if you know what I mean."

Faith started giggling. Buffy's face got even redder, but she eventually joined her.

"Oh my God," Buffy said, and held her head in her hands.

"Good," Willow said. "We're past the denial phase now."

"The window's...kinda airing it out though," Buffy said. "Um...right?"

"Sure, sweetie," Willow said, and gave Buffy's hand a reassuring pat. "The car hardly smells like wild crazy hot girl sex at all. Wild crazy hot girl sex? Nope, uh-uh, none of that here."

"Shut up," Buffy said, still holding her head in her hands and giggling.

"So look, your secret, if you want it to be a secret? Totally safe with me," Willow said. "I'm just really happy for you guys, that's all. I'm happy. Okay?"

"Thanks, Will," Buffy said.

"Yeah. You're a cool friend," Faith said.

"Does...Xander or Giles know...?" Buffy said.

"Xander? Love him to death, but he's not the sharpest tool in the shed," Willow said. "And Giles is probably too British to think about that stuff. But if you guys aren't a little more subtle they'll find out. I mean, hey, you guys? Slayers? All, like, super kick-butt amazons? Cool, but...not so much with the acting ability. And I'm now going to bring up the awkward fact that someone who, um, isn't me? Needs to get those panties out of the car."

"Oh my God," Buffy said, and stuffed the panties in her purse.

"Nothing to be embarrassed about, Buffy. So what if you're just a big pervert," Willow said. Faith started giggling again.

"Shut up!" Buffy said, and giggled.

"Aw, it's okay sweetie. You don't even wanna know the stuff Xander and I have done," Willow said. "In the car, at the Bronze, at the movies, on a canoe..."

"You did it in a canoe?" Faith said.

"Where did you do it at the Bronze?" Buffy said.

"Ladies room," Willow said. "Remember how Xander was carrying that big shopping bag around?"

"How'd you do it in a canoe?" Faith said.

"Very, very carefully," Willow said.

"Oh my God," Buffy said. "We're all perverts. All three of us are evil perverts."

"Yup," Faith said. "Especially you."

"I'm happy for you guys," Willow said, and kissed both their cheeks. "Now come on, we better be getting back now that we found our canary feather."

"Canary feather?" Faith said.

"That's why you guys came out here, right?" Willow said, as they got out of the car. She pulled a feather from her purse. "To find this canary feather we need for the spell we're gonna do. It was under the seat."

"Oh, so that's where it was," Faith said. "I was, uh, lookin' all over for it."

"Okay, so these new vamps," Buffy said to Giles as she sat on the couch again next to Faith, Willow and Xander. "Tell me you've got something I can use. Like napalm."

Willow had just finished pretending to do a spell which involved waving the canary feather over all their heads and mumbling something in Latin. "Blessing spell," she had said, when she was done. "Protects against otherworldly manifestations zeroing in on any of our auras. Buffy told me she had a weird dream about leprechauns last night and I thought better safe than sorry. Um, not that we like, believe in leprechauns or anything? It's just, y'know, Buffy said they were the same little guys with the Irish accents as last time, so...um, anyway we should be leprechaun-free for at least a week." They were all drinking tea now.

"Those vampires were the Vigil of Saint Vigeous," Giles said, sitting in the squeaky leather recliner across from them, looking down at a musty old book in his lap and pretending to believe Willow's lie. Though he did think the canary feather was a nice touch.

"The Vigil of Sid Vicious?" Buffy said.

"Saint Vigeous," Giles said. "Vigeous was a vampire who lived during the third century and tried to bring about the end of the world."

"And they made him a saint?" Xander said. "Now that's just wacky."

"He wasn't a saint, vampires call him that because Vigeous led a crusade through the Middle East. He massacred thousands, and became an inspirational figure to many vampires. It's said that vampires are more powerful on Vigeous' feast night, which is October 4th. The carnage Vigeous wreaked was so epic that his massacres have been commemorated by the more traditionalist vampire sects, including the Order of Aurelius, which you encountered last year, Buffy."

"The Master," Faith said.

"Yes, Faith," Giles said, and smiled. "The Master was the head of the Order of Aurelius, until Buffy destroyed him. I see Rebecca kept you informed."

"Yeah," Faith said. "Once I became the Slayer Becca gave me like, a crash course on all the major vamp players, the ones B came up against plus all the rest. Y'know, like the Master, Kakistos, Dracula, Darla and Angelus, Spike and Drusilla. Actually Becca was planning on taking me out here eventually anyway. The Hellmouth's where the action is and she talked about how she wanted to start coordinating me and Buffy a little, at least when big stuff came down."

Buffy and Willow exchanged a look. Faith didn't know what was going on there but they both suddenly seemed tense.

"You...know about all those guys?" Willow said.

"Sure," Faith said. "Becca was always on the ball. Gotta give you props, B," she added, and turned to Buffy, and squeezed her hand. "You've taken down some major bad guys. Stuff I hear about Angelus alone, he was..."

"Yeah," Buffy said, interrupting her. Faith could see she was even more uncomfortable now, and now Xander seemed tense too. What the hell? Faith thought. She looked back at Giles. He wasn't smiling anymore. Faith decided to take one more shot and then clam up for the night.

"You got a hell of a Slayer here, G-Man," Faith said, and smiled at Buffy. "Stories Becca told me? The bad guys B's taken down? I'm thinkin' you got maybe the best Slayer there ever was. You should be proud." Faith noticed Willow and Xander smiling out of the corner of her eye.

"Are you trying to make me blush?" Buffy said, and smiled at Faith. "And you're not so bad yourself, Faith."

"Me? Make you blush?" Faith said. "Never happen."

"Am I impressive?" Buffy said. "Giles, call me impressive. Come on. Just this once."

"Yes, Faith, she is a hell of a Slayer," Giles said. "And yes, Buffy, you're very impressive."

"But perky. And intractable," Buffy said. "Okay, you can all stop making me blush now."

"Even me?" Faith said. Buffy smiled again.

"Yes, well...moving on," Giles said. Watching over one Slayer was difficult enough; having two to look after definitely wasn't covered in the Watcher's Handbook and there was no established protocol. Giles hadn't read the Handbook from front to back but he was also fairly certain that there was no established protocol for looking after two Slayers who were engaged in a passionate lesbian affair either, and he wasn't sure what the proper etiquette was. He decided to wipe his glasses. "As I was saying, the traditional vampire sects, such as the Order of Aurelius, venerate Vigeous, but they aren't part of his cult," he said, wiping his glasses until they sparkled. He placed his book on the coffee table, facing them; the pages were brown, crumbling parchment. It was turned to an illustration of a vampire with a tattoo on his right hand.

"That's the right tat," Faith said. "But the rest is wrong. Our guys have pointy ears, snouts and red eyes. That just looks like a regular vamp."

"Over the years a cult grew up around Vigeous," Giles said. "That illustration depicts one of the original members. The vampires you fought would be descendants of that original cult; the tattoos alone prove that. But you must remember that this cult, which now calls itself the Vigil of Saint Vigeous, has existed for at least fifteen hundred years. The original members are all long-dead, but many of the surviving members of the Vigil are very old, even ancient."

"And if the Master and Kakistos can change over time..." Faith said.

"These vampires have as well," Giles said. "But their age doesn't explain it all; the uniformity of their mutations makes no sense. Every vampire mutates differently as it ages. These wolf characteristics have to be the result of some kind of ongoing, conscious effort."

"Maybe some magic helped them along?" Willow said.

"That's what I was thinking, though there's no clue what sort, beyond vague references to sacrifices made to Fenrir," Giles said.

"Fenrir?" Xander said.

"Norse wolf god," Willow said.

"Yes, and there's a good argument to be made that the serpent depicted in the tattoos, though ostensibly an ouroboros, is actually an image of Jormungand. And Vigeous himself was of northern European ancestry."

"Jormungand, Fenrir...maybe there really is a Norse gods connection here," Willow said. "Wow. That's really fascinating."

"It is?" Faith said.

"Okay, I haven't understood anything anyone's said for the past minute," Xander said.

"I can't think of any funny words to confuse 'Jormungand' with," Buffy said. "So I'm gonna just sit here and wait for Willow to explain it all."

"Okay, we're getting off track, but Jormungand and Fenrir are creatures of Norse mythology," Willow said. "You know, the Norse gods? Thor, Odin?"

"No," Buffy said. "Have I run into them at a party before?"

"The Norse gods are a pantheon sorta like the Greek gods...you know, Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Athena," Willow said. "Except the Norse gods are the gods that the Vikings believed in. Anyway their version of, sorta the devil was this guy named Loki, and he had three kids. Jormungand and Fenrir were two of them. Fenrir was--"

"I know this! The wolf god," Buffy said. "See? I was paying attention."

"You never pay half as much attention when I'm pointlessly lecturing you about long-forgotten ancient deities," Giles muttered.

"Willow gives me a gold star," Buffy said. "And sometimes a cookie."

"Okay, so basically Fenrir was the wolf god and Jormungand was a huge sea serpent," Willow said. "So big and huge that he encircles the whole world."

"Like in the tat," Faith said.

"Yeah," Willow said. "At the end of the world Jormungand is supposed to rise up out of the oceans and poison the sky, and everything becomes darkness. But then Thor kills him."

"Thor rocks," Xander said. "I don't care what anyone says, he can totally kick Superman's butt. Thor has magic. Superman's vulnerable to magic."

"Sure, sweetie," Willow said, and rubbed Xander's shoulder. "Anyway Thor's the god of thunder and lightning and he carries a big hammer, so, yeah. He rocks, in a big, like, smiting his enemies with a big hammer way. I prayed to him once. He was pretty cool. Big burly guy, red beard, and, y'know, big hammer."

"Wait, Thor's blonde," Xander said. "And he doesn't have a beard."

"That's comic book Thor, sweetie," Willow said. "So anyway, okay, I prayed to Thor and we hung out a little. We went fishing on his boat and talked about Bjork."

"Wait, like, you met him?" Faith said. "Seriously?"

"Not physically," Willow said. "I was meditating and my mind reached out to the astral plane and he was there, so I prayed to him for help with this thing? So he took me on his boat and we hung out. You know, um, astrally."

"What thing?" Xander said. "Wait a minute, Thor took you on his boat?"

"Yeah, he took me sailing in this Viking longship carved like a dragon," Willow said. "He introduced me to a frost giant and a few goblins, it was cool."

"You met a frost giant?" Xander said. "Wait, what's a frost giant?"

Buffy was smiling.

"Just these big ugly giant ice guys," Willow said. "Thor just wanted to show off for me. He was all, 'Hey want me to, y'know, kick this frost giant's butt for you Willow?' So he kicks the frost giant's butt and then he's all like, 'Hey Willow check this out', and he's like, lifting up a mountain and stuff. So yeah, we hung out, it was fun."

"You...hung out...? With...Thor," Giles said. "Hung out. With Thor."

"Well...um...there was this test I wanted more time to study for so I asked Thor to make it snow," Willow said. "Everyone thinks he just does lightning and thunder. But he likes a good snowstorm too. He's a weather god. He was really psyched that I wasn't just asking him for lightning like everyone else does."

"Are you telling me that you asked Thor, the Norse god of thunder, to make it snow so you could get out of a test?" Giles said.

"Sure," Willow said. "Thor doesn't really get the whole concept of school. He told me he'd destroy the high school with a big ol' lightning bolt if I wanted him to. I think he likes me. It's probably the red hair. Plus we both like Bjork."

"He likes Bjork?" Faith said.

"Well, she's from Iceland, and Thor likes Iceland. Used to be a lot of Vikings there. He says he's glad, um, that a nice girl from Iceland's all famous now and getting a lot of attention..." Willow looked at Buffy, who was holding her head in her hands and giggling now. Willow started giggling too. "Anyway, then Thor asked me on a date," Willow managed to say. "He was like, 'C'mon, Willow, I'll take you to Newfoundland. Newfoundland's awesome.' And I was like, 'Okay Thor, but I gotta be home by eleven 'cuz I got this test' and Thor's like, 'Hello? Totally doing that snowstorm for you tomorrow, remember? Not gonna be a test', and I was like, 'Oh yeah, cool.' So anyway we sailed out to Newfoundland that night and we were like holding hands on his boat. We drank mead. It was all really romantic."

"You held hands with Thor?" Xander said.

"It was last year," Willow said. "You and I weren't a couple then. And yeah, okay, Thor and I kissed? But it was only one kiss and there wasn't any... well, there wasn't much...I mean, Thor's a pretty good-looking guy...but, um, y'know...I mean it was only our first date."

"You kissed Thor?!" Xander shouted. "What else did you do with Thor?"

"You...asked Thor...Thor...to...create a snowstorm to get you out of a test?" Giles said, bewildered. "That's...absolutely...and he actually did...?"

"She'd kidding, Giles, you sad, sad, British man," Buffy said, laughing.

Willow burst out laughing too. "But I had them going!" she said, and pointed at Giles, Xander and Faith. "Look at their faces!"

"Shit," Faith said, and started laughing.

"You shouldn't have said anything Buffy, I was gonna talk all about our second date next. Y'know, just Thor and me and his big hammer," Willow added, looking devilishly at Xander.

"Okay, here's what's gonna happen to you later tonight," Xander said, and whispered something in Willow's ear. Willow gasped and started giggling.

"Yes, well that was a pleasant diversion," Giles said, and wiped his glasses at everyone. "Perhaps we can return to the world ending now."

"Okay Will, you got me fair and square, but I'm just gonna say in my defense? You like, prayed to some Greek goddess to do that smoke spell yesterday. Plus you did kinda throw a lightning bolt last month," Faith said. "Who knows, maybe Thor digs you after all."

"He's not my type," Willow said. "Now Apollo, he can call me anytime."

"Okay, that does it!" Xander said, and grabbed Willow around the waist and started tickling her.

"I'll be good, I'll be good!" Willow screamed, laughing. Xander relented.

Giles sighed, and continued wiping his glasses.

"Okay, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to ask for order in the court now," Buffy said. "Mostly because I want to get to the Bronze, but also because Giles just hit heavy glasses-wiping mode. I can hear the things squeaking."

"Can I just say how it's weird and scary that like, every single god anyone ever believed in, ever, really seems to exist?" Xander said.

"That's the point," Willow said. "They exist because we believe."

"Okay, so what's Fenrir do?" Xander said. "And if I don't believe in him will he go away?"

"He helps destroy the world during Ragnarok," Willow said. "And enough Vikings believed in him way back when that he's not going away anytime soon."

"Wait, why would some big wolf god wanna destroy the world during Fraggle Rock?" Buffy said. "Is it even still on the air?"

"Ragnarok, sweetie," Willow said. "Norse term for the end of the world. But we're getting off-track here."

"Yeah," Faith said. "Doesn't matter much how these vamps got all bad ass, we need to know how to fight them. They got any weaknesses?"

"They have the standard weaknesses," Giles said. "Stakes, beheading and sunlight are all effective. But these vampires are faster and stronger than what you're used to. Now a Slayer is stronger than any normal vampire, and you're both stronger than these vampires as well. But not by nearly as much, and from what I've read their speed, at least, is a match for yours."

"Great," Faith said, as Giles got up and walked to the rocking chair. A crate sat on top of it. He opened it up and pulled out two swords in scabbards.

"So you'll need to change tactics," Giles said, and handed the swords to Buffy and Faith. They pulled them from their scabbards and turned them over in their hands. They looked like the katanas they had used before, only shorter. But no less deadly. "Not only are these vampires stronger and faster than you're used to but there are simply too many of them to fight hand-to-hand; you need weapons. These are wakizashi. They're one-handed blades the Japanese used specifically for beheading defeated opponents. Your best tactic is the wakizashi in one hand and your stake in the other, and that's what I expect you to do."

"Swords are cool but they won't be much help against a hundred of those wolf vamps," Faith said. "They come at us in force and it's game over."

"And we have other problems," Xander said. "There were those four old priest guys, plus those regular vampires who delivered the Key in the first place. We've got three groups of bad guys here at least."

"About the priests, I haven't been able to find anything whatsoever," Giles said. "For all we know they may actually be priests--defrocked priests, one would hope--or they may simply dress the part. As for those vampires who delivered the Key, I would think our usual sources would be of more use than my books."
"Looks like I'm paying a visit to Willy," Buffy said. "It's been awhile since I beat him up anyway. He's probably feeling all lonely and neglected."

"Can't have that," Faith said.

"When you two go out tonight, I want you to take these swords with you," Giles said. "In fact, from this moment on I want you to carry them on your person at all times. You encountered over a hundred of those vampires last night and for all we know there could be many more."

"Wear the swords all the time?" Faith said. "How do we do that? I mean, without getting arrested?"

"Find a way," Giles said. "Wear it under your coat. Think of something."

"Cops around here have never been too on the ball anyway," Xander said.

"Got anything smaller?" Buffy said.

"No," Giles said. "I chose these specifically because they're the smallest weapons in my arsenal that can be used effectively for beheading."

"How about we wear 'em just at night?" Faith said.

"If you're planning on staying home and watching television during the day, certainly," Giles said. "If you step one foot outside you'll be wearing one of these swords, day or night, and that's the end of it."

Hot damn, Faith thought. Giles has a tone. But it still didn't make her sit up straight like Rebecca's did.

"What about the Horsemen?" Buffy said. "I know we have the Key now, but...what if there's some other way to free them?"

"There isn't, thankfully," Giles said. "And as for the Horsemen themselves, there really isn't much in the literature. Just hints and rumors, and fragments of legend. Though I was able to find out more about the Key. It seems that merely possessing it isn't enough. There's a ritual that has to be performed..."

"There's always a ritual," Buffy said. "Can't they just say abra-kadabra for once? I mean, hello, Slayer here. Do I look like I want to do homework?" "What kind of ritual?" Willow said, perking up at the idea.

A summoning ritual," Giles said. "Though there's no clue what sort. It could be extremely elaborate, or as simple as saying a few words. But it must be performed above a Hellmouth, at sunset, on the last day of the waning moon."

"The last day of the waning moon?" Buffy said. "When's that?"

"It's the last day that part of the moon is visible before the new moon," Giles said. "When the moon is in the new phase its illuminated half faces directly toward the sun and away from us; from the Earth the new moon is invisible. The last day of the waning moon would be the seventeenth, three days from now."

"The question is, now that we have the Key, what move will they make?" Buffy said. "Are they gonna hang around and try to get it back? There's gonna be another day before the new moon every month forever. Can we destroy the Key?"

"No," Giles said. "The Key can't be damaged by any physical means. My sources are all quite clear on that."

"Bullcookies," Buffy said.

"We hide it," Faith said. "The thing's a little rock. We get it out of town, lock it up somewhere. Hell, dump it in a rock quarry, or the middle of the ocean. They'd never find it again."

"Unless they can find a way to track it magically," Willow said.

"Is there a way?" Buffy said. "Can they track it to my house somehow?"

"Maybe," Willow said. "The Key is magical, it should leave vibrations, an energy trail. Whether the bad guys can pick that trail up...I don't know."

"If there's a way for them to find the Key our only other choice is take these Vigil guys out," Faith said. "If we can't keep the Key away from them we gotta keep them away from the Key."

"Back to square one," Xander said. "Us versus a hundred super-vamps."

"For now let's not do anything reckless," Giles said. "I'll keep digging, and I'll see if the Council knows anything that might help. There's a book the Council archives has just acquired that may shed some light on some of this; they're sending it to me now. You two will wear those swords at all times, and--"

"Never was much for swords," Buffy said, getting up. "Clashes with my outfit anyway. I mean, what, I'm gonna wear a scabbard on my skirt? Tell you what, I'll bring it with me if we ever decide to go back to that crypt in the--"

"You'll wear it!" Giles shouted, leaping out of his chair.

The room went silent. Buffy and Giles faced each other.

"Why...are you...?" Buffy said, quietly.

Then she turned, and looked at Faith, Willow, and Xander.

"Can you guys...give us a minute?" she said.

"We'll be...um...out at the car," Willow said. She took Xander's hand. "Come on, Faith," she said.

"Yeah...okay," Faith said, and took her sword, and rubbed Buffy's shoulder, and followed them out.

A few seconds later, Buffy and Giles were alone. Giles walked away from her, and looked at the hat rack.

"Tell me what's wrong," Buffy said.

He turned, and looked at her.

"I don't want to make tea for the next girl," he said.

Twenty minutes later, Buffy came out to the car, carrying her sword. Faith opened the door, and Buffy climbed into the backseat next to her.

"You okay?" Faith said.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "Giles was right and I was wrong. Faith, you and I are gonna carry these swords from now on, okay? Whenever we leave the house, day or night, we're gonna have these with us. Okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Faith said, holding up her sword and looking at it. "Kind of a pain in the ass, but...I guess it'll go all right under my leather coat."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "We'll make it work."

"So where to?" Xander said.

"Since I can't smack Giles I guess I'll have to settle for Willy," Buffy said. Xander chuckled, started up the car, and pulled away.

"Buffy...Giles just cares about you, that's all," Willow said, turning around in the front seat and taking Buffy's hand. "He doesn't want to see you hurt. None of us do. If you kept on being all, y'know, stubborn about wearing the sword? I was ready to go all scowly," she said, and did her scowly face.

"Father knows best, B," Faith said. "You're his girl."

"Yeah," Buffy said, and smiled. "I know."




"I thought we were going to visit Willy?" Xander said, as he pulled up in front of the Bronze.

"I've got it," Buffy said. "I'll swing by the bar, kill a few demons, beat on him a little and be back to meet you here in an hour. No reason for all of us to have to deal with the stench."

"Works for me," Xander said, and got out of the car with Willow and handed Buffy the keys. "Because, demons? Smelly." Buffy got in the front seat and took the wheel. Faith opened the passenger side door and got in beside her, but Buffy shook her head.

"I got this, Faith," Buffy said. "With everything going on, I don't want Will and Xander out alone. Can you just hang with them until I get back? I'll feel a lot better if I know you're with them."

Faith noticed Willow and Xander looking at her hopefully, but guardedly. She'd done nothing but ignore them and blow them off, since she arrived... nothing but think the worst of them, when all they had ever done was try to be her friends...because they liked her.

There are good people out there too.

Faith still wasn't sure why they liked her. She wasn't sure why anyone would like her.

You don't want that to be your life? Then don't let it be your life.

She wasn't sure why Rebecca did.

When I saw you in that alley I didn't see a scared girl sitting on the ground; I saw a brave girl trying her best to stand up. So stand up.

Faith got out of the car, and stood up.

"Okay," Faith said, and smiled, and put her arms around Willow and Xander. "Sounds like a party. I'll try to keep these crazy kids outta trouble. That Fenrir dude shows up I'll tell him to get lost."

Willow giggled. "Yeah," she said. "But if Thor shows up, be nice to him. He's kinda cute. Plus, y'know, with the hammer."

The Bronze still wasn't very impressive. It still didn't have a hot DJ spinning fast tunes, and tonight the music was even worse: instead of being merely boring the band was actively annoying and very, very loud. The incessant, crunching whine of their guitars pounded Faith's ears like a mallet. The bands that played the Bronze were usually alternative trending toward folky; the guys with the dreadlocks onstage obviously hadn't gotten the memo. Faith missed that band with the four skanky girls, and the British lead singer with the attitude problem.

Faith sat on a couch with Willow and Xander, drinking a Coke while Xander was finishing off a beer and Willow had her ever-present mocha cappuccino, and as she tuned out the music and listened to Willow and Xander giggling about something Cordelia did when they were all in grammar school, she waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, and got the lay of the land.

The place was still definitely a dump, but it was still the only game in town too and it was packed. The dance floor was getting a workout now as kids tried, unsuccessfully, to dance to the thrash metal, or whatever it was, that kept booming through the room. Faith could only assume they were all very drunk. But there was a good number of cute guys among them, and Faith watched the cute guys dance and carefully noted which ones knew how to shake their butts, and for just a moment, out of habit, she started thinking about which ones she'd dance at first, if the band ever played one single even remotely danceable song.

But then she knew that she didn't want to dance at them. The guys still looked good to her...but she wanted to dance with Buffy.

"So then Cordy goes, 'As if! I'm so much more fabulous than you, I'm the damn Mayor of Fabulous Town, bitch!' Willow screamed, and laughed into Faith's shoulder. Xander laughed so hard beer shot out his nose.

"Yeah, Cordy was just so cute in fourth grade," Xander said, after he cleaned himself up.

"Shit," Faith said, giggling. "Maybe I really should've staked her. Want me to stake her, Will? I'll stake her if you want me to."

"Nah," Willow said. "Cordy's evil, but she's the devil we know. It would be weird, if she went away. It's kinda like how the world got all weird when the Soviet Union almost collapsed a couple years ago. It's good that it didn't, it's just weirdly comforting to have it around. Cordy's our Soviet Union. She maintains the balance of power and without her there'd be a bunch of breakaway evil republics we'd have to chase around. Besides...I always thought she could maybe be nice someday...if she ever, y'know, got in with a different crowd, maybe?"

"Yeah," Xander said. "I always thought she'd be a cool addition to our little gang."

"Seriously?" Willow said. "You mean like, with us, fighting vampires? What would she do?"

"I don't know," Xander said. "What do I do?"

"You kick butt, Xan Man," Faith said. "Good wheel man, too."

"Thanks, but...come on," Xander said. "We all know I'm just here for moral support and to fetch donuts. You, Buffy, Will and Giles...you're the gang. I'm like...the gang's mascot."

"I'm in the gang?" Faith said.

"Of course you are," Willow said, and put her hand on Faith's shoulder. "You're totally in our gang."

Faith smiled.

"But, okay, um...Cordy? Not so much," Willow said. "I mean, unless we fought some demon whose secret weakness is getting bitched out? I'm thinking Cordy's a useless, fabulous appendage. Maybe there's some alternate universe out there where Cordy's part of the gang. But it's probably a weird, bad universe."

"I bet she has a crush on me in that universe," Xander said. "Seriously, not kidding? I swear I've caught her checking me out before."

"You can dream, baby," Willow said.

"Seriously!" Xander said. "Cordy was checking out my package when I joined the swim team last year to spy on the lizard guys."

"Sure, sweetie," Willow said, and rubbed his shoulder. "There's a universe out there where Cordy's your girlfriend. There's a universe out there where you kiss Cordy all the time."

"I like this one better," Xander said, and kissed her.

"Aw, you guys are so damn cute," Faith said.

"Well anyway, getting back to Cordy, yeah, sure, she's a useless appendage, but I'm a useless appendage too," Xander said. "And I don't even have fabulousness to work with."

"Stop saying that!" Willow said, and pinched Xander's leg. "You do a lot of stuff! There are a lot of good things about you that--"

"Name one," Xander said.

"Balls," Faith said.

Willow and Xander both looked at her.

"You want the real 411, Xan Man?" Faith said. "You want me to say what I really think? I'm a Slayer, I'm out there in the trenches, I'm a professional damn ass-kicker. So you wanna know what a Slayer thinks about you? About how useful you really are in the field? Not blowin' smoke and not tryin' to save your feelings like Buffy would? You want the honest truth? Yes or no. One-time deal."

Willow looked a little nervous. But Xander looked deadly serious.

"Yeah," Xander said. "The honest truth, Faith. Because yeah, I know Buffy won't tell me. And I need to know. All of it."

"Xander, you're--" Willow started to say, but Xander held up his hand.

"You can't fight and you need to learn," Faith said. "That's a problem, but one you can fix. Get serious about fighting, have Buffy or me teach you? We'll have you up to speed in six months. You're in decent shape, you'd need to get in a little better shape but you're not fat or nothin', you got a good body. And sure, you'll never be super-strong but you'll be able to handle yourself. You'll need to learn a weapon. A sword or an axe, something for beheading. I can teach you weapons, Becca and I did a lot of weapon stuff. You were good with that tire iron last night. But until you learn how to fight you're gonna be a liability in the field."

"Yeah," Xander said. "What else?"

"B doesn't like you in the field because she loves you like a brother and it would kill her if anything ever happened to you," Faith said. "And she's right, Xander. You can't fight and one of these days it's gonna get you killed out there. But you can learn. I can teach you, Buffy can teach you. You wanna have her back? Wanna do your part to protect B, and protect Will too? Learn to fight."

"Will you teach me?"

"Yeah," Faith said. "But I'm tellin' you up front baby, it'll be tough. I don't screw around. I'll teach you the way Becca taught me and you quit on me even once? I'm serious Xan Man, we're done. And it won't just be fighting. You need to get stronger first. Running, weights. And I mean it, don't test me. If you can't stick to this don't even waste my time."

"I'll stick to it," Xander said.

"Good," Faith said, and put her hand on his shoulder. "And you know what? You already got the most important thing down, you already got the one thing that separates you out from ninety-nine percent of the people in the world."

"What's that?" Xander said.

"Balls," Faith said. "Nice, big ones. I've watched you, I've seen how you got our backs. Strength and endurance and skill can be trained. But balls can't."

"I think this is gonna be the beginning of a beautiful friendship," Xander said, and took Faith's hand.

"We'll see if you think that after your first workout," Faith said. "Becca used to kick my ass all the time, it'll be fun to kick someone else's ass. I'm gonna be all Officer and a Gentleman on your ass, Xan Man. I'm gonna have you doin' pushups in the mud. I'll be all Louis Gossett Junior on your ass. It's gonna be, 'Drop and give me twenty, Mayo-nnaise! I want your D.O.R.!'"

Xander and Willow both giggled. "You make him Richard Gere and I'm not complaining," Willow said. "I'd watch Richard Gere do pushups anytime. Um...what's a 'D.O.R.'?"

"Military thing," Faith said. "Means 'drop on request'. When you can't get through basic training 'cuz it's too hard and you just say screw it and quit. Louis Gossett Junior was all on Richard Gere's ass about how he was gonna train him so hard that he was gonna get Gere's D.O.R."
"Yeah, that's right, I remember now," Willow said. "But Richard Gere was entirely too gorgeous and built and sexy and awesome to let Louis Gossett Junior make him quit."

"With all this Four Horsemen stuff happening--and okay, we got a reprieve, we got the Key, but still--I've just been thinking a lot lately about what I can do to...sort of earn my keep around here," Xander said. "So, Faith? Thanks. It means a lot, you taking the time to help me out like this."

"Sure," Faith said, and grinned. "Mayo-nnaise."

"Actually, I'm pretty sure the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are onstage playing right now," Willow said.

The Alibi Room was a dive bar indistinguishable from a thousand other dive bars with the exception that it had more demons among its patrons than most, and was perhaps slightly grimier. It was a dark, cramped little place with a jukebox that played country music, a bathroom best left to the imagination and dart tournaments on Saturday nights, and it served blood in eleven different flavors. It also had a plate glass window out front that said We Got You Covered in big, festive letters, and a demon crashing through that window at that exact moment and landing dead on the sidewalk in a puddle of yellow blood.

A pleasant evening of darts and arguing over whether Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard wrote the most poignant songs had ended abruptly for the demons in The Alibi Room when Buffy walked through the door. The demons had made a stand, but Buffy killed a good number of them and the rest had sat back down and decided on a wait-and-see strategy. Buffy stood in front of the exit and smiled, showing the demons her teeth. She felt like a lion in a rabbit cage and if she could she'd bottle the feeling and drink some every single day for the rest of her life.

And she had stopped at her house on the way to the bar and put on some underwear. So she was feeling pretty good about that too.

"Yahtzee," Buffy said, and held up her sword. "I win again."

Buffy liked the sword. It was great for beheading surly, drunk smelly demons and it was covered with demon blood in five different colors now.

"So is anybody gonna talk to me or am I gonna have to kill you all?" she said. "Because in case you haven't noticed? I'm good with this thing. Plus, I'm the Slayer. I mean, hello? Kinda rude not to cower at least a little. Geez."

Nobody answered her. Their eyes answered for her. The demons were afraid; Buffy saw it in their eyes, she smelled it on them. She liked it.

"That's better," Buffy said. "Mmm, smell that fear. Now we're making progress. So how about you guys--uh, things, Demonic Americans, whatever--tell me a little about those new vamps and I'll be on my way. 'Cuz, seriously? Haven't even broken a sweat yet. I can keep this up all night, folks. Oh, and by the way? If you guys don't talk pretty soon I'm gonna smash open that jukebox and take all your Johnny Cash records. Not even kidding. I will. I'll take 'em all."

Buffy noticed a very large demon sitting alone at a table in the back who didn't seem afraid. And she knew that if there was any more trouble, he'd be the one to make it.

Willy, the proprietor of The Alibi Room, cowered behind the bar, waiting for the inevitable. Buffy would hit him. It would hurt. He was a short, scrawny, pasty, scruffy, non-super-powered, non-immortal, completely regular human being with a low pain threshold and he knew his limitations.

The very large demon at the table in the back finished his drink (virgin blood, spritz of lime, rocks), and glowered at Buffy like she was a very small bug that he meant to step on, and step on good.

"That was my little brother you just tossed through that window, Earth scum," the demon rumbled, as he stood up...and up...and up.

"Okay," Buffy said. "You're...a big one."

The demon was more than seven feet tall, and he had the muscle to go with it. The demon also had a scaly brown hide, two large yellow horns, a snout, and beady red eyes that looked upset right now.

He swaggered up to Buffy, looked her up and down, and sniffed at her.

"Have you met my sword?" Buffy said. "It totally wants to make your acquaintance."

The demon snarled at her. Somewhere in the back of the room, someone said, "Get her, Mike!"

"'Mike'? What kind of name is 'Mike' for a demon?" Buffy said.

The demon roared in her face. It sounded like a freight train and smelled like a wino's pants. His rancid breath whipped Buffy's hair around like she was standing in a wind tunnel.

"Mike! Tic tacs!" Buffy shouted. "Ever hear of tic-tacs?!"

"Coke?" the bartender said. "Sure you wouldn't like something a little stronger, hon? How about a martini. I do a great martini. On the house."

"On the house?" Faith said, sitting at the bar and smiling. The bartender was cute. Buffy was cuter, but still...

"It's my policy," he said. "Pretty girls get their first drink free."

"You think I'm pretty?" Faith said. The bartender was Latino, and he had a great smile, and big blue eyes. Faith noticed his forearms were very muscular. All that pouring must be good exercise. He had good, wide shoulders too.

"Come on, like you don't know how gorgeous you are?" he said, and smiled the smile again.

"Nice to hear it anyway. But, uh...no booze. Coke's good."

"Too bad, I was all ready to show off a little. I can do that Tom Cruise thing where he juggles the bottles..."

"Hey," Xander said, coming up behind her.

"What's up?" Faith said.

"I'm all set," Xander said, and held up a beer and a mocha cappuccino.

"This your boyfriend?" the bartender said. Faith had to give him credit; his smile didn't miss a beat. Smooth.

Faith wasn't flirting with the bartender. In the old days she would've, he was a cutie. But now she didn't want to...

And then, suddenly, everything was clear.

Faith knew she was in love with Buffy.

"We're just friends," Xander said, and grinned at Faith. "I'm not interrupting something here, am I?"

"I was trying to make this pretty girl a martini but all she wants is a Coke. Won't even let me show off. Okay, one Coke, coming right up. And not even any rum in it," the bartender said, and smiled, his eyes crinkling up when he smiled in a perfectly cute way. Faith really hoped Buffy appreciated the sacrifices she made for her.

But then the bartender's eyes suddenly widened. "Oh my God," he said, in a small, scared voice, at the same moment as Faith's nose was suddenly telling her that something was very, very wrong....

Faith turned around, and her stake was in her hand, as screams erupted from all over the room. She saw twenty vampires slashing through the crowd...

They were all heading in Willow's direction...

"Yeah, that's right, Slayer! You wanted a fight, you're gonna get one!" a demon sitting way in the back, where Buffy couldn't see his face, said.

"Yeah! Fuck you, Slayer!" another demon sitting way in the back said.

"You're not taking our Johnny Cash records either," a third demon sitting way in the back said.

Willy shook his head, and sighed. He knew Mike was going to die, and Mike was one of his best customers. He always paid his bar tab...

Buffy smiled politely.

With a roar, Mike lunged at Buffy and tried to grab her by the throat as the crowd hollered and applauded...

Buffy ducked under Mike's outstretched arms, spun around behind his back, and beheaded him. It took her one second.

"Yahtzee," Buffy said.

Mike's head bounced around on the floor and rolled away. Mike's body smashed into the floor like a tree someone had just cut down.

"Well, that was bracing," Buffy said, and giggled. "I love this sword. I think I might marry it. I think we have a long, bright future ahead of us."

"You...you killed Mike," a demon sitting way in the back, where Buffy couldn't see him, whined. "But...you can't kill Mike."

"I so killed Mike," Buffy said, and smashed her fist through the jukebox. "And Johnny Cash? Mine."

It was chaos at the Bronze as the vampires slashed and trampled their way through a sea of screaming people. At the back of the room, Willow stood on a chair to try to find out what was causing all the commotion. This being Sunnydale, she had a pretty good idea, but she wanted to be sure. Through the tangled mass of running bodies, she could see vampires...all wolves like the ones they had encountered in the cemetery the night before. She pulled her stake from her purse, and looked for Xander. She couldn't find him in the crowd.

She saw dozens of screaming people trying to cram through the front door. There was a fire exit on the other side of the room, but apparently they hadn't noticed. Being chased by vampires made a person tend to forget little details like that. Glass shattered as a table smashed through the front window, and the crowd raced through it like water through a sluice. She felt herself becoming afraid, felt panic rising within her. She had always been afraid, when she went with Buffy on patrols or tried to help her against the latest Big Bad they were up against, but she never told anyone. She wanted Buffy to be able to count on her...

As the crowd thinned, she noticed that all of the vampires seemed to be running in her direction.

And then Willow knew she was the one they were after...

"Faith's here," she whispered to herself, as she felt herself starting to tremble, and tried not to scream...

The vampires were seconds away from her. Willow racked her brain for a spell, but there was no time and there were too many people around and she couldn't think...she didn't know where Faith was and even if she could conjure an energy barrier in the seconds she had, Faith would be on the wrong side of it...she couldn't pray to Apate to aid her with her blinding smoke for another month...she had been trying ever since the fight with Kakistos to learn to conjure a fireball but she hadn't managed it yet. All the other spells she knew would put Faith at as much of a disadvantage as the vampires in these close quarters, or take too long to prepare...she took her stake out of her purse, and braced herself...

And then she saw a lion.

With a roar, the lion leaped at the vampires from behind and beheaded two of them with her sword before they even knew she was there, her hands moving faster than Willow's eyes could follow. The wolves turned to confront this new predator, but the Bronze was emptying out and the lion had room to move now, and she took a running start, leaped onto a table, sprang fifteen feet over the wolves' heads, somersaulted through the air and came up in front of Willow, her sword and her stake ready, snarling at the wolves, and showing them her teeth.

"Hey Will," Faith said. "Get behind me, okay, hon?"

"Um, okay," Willow said, and stepped down from the table and stood behind Faith.

"These assholes bothering you?"

"A little, yeah."

Faith could feel Willow trembling behind her. She took Willow's hand.

"I'm here now, Will," Faith said. "No one's gonna hurt you when I'm around. You see Xander?"

"I...can't see..." Willow said, looking for Xander. The crowd was almost gone but she still couldn't see him. The vampires, eighteen left now, stood in a pack surrounding Faith and Willow, growling.

"Got a bead on him," Faith said, sniffing the air. She'd picked up Xander's scent; he was coming out from behind the bar with a big knife in one hand and his stake in the other, slowly making his way toward Faith and Willow's position.

"Listen," Faith said. "Don't use any magic 'till you run it by me first, okay? We got a real situation here and one wrong move could backfire on us."

"Okay," Willow said. Willow was trying to sound strong, but Faith could smell the fear on her. But she was shaking less now, as Faith held her hand. "Xander," Willow said. "We gotta get to Xander. If...those vampires..."

"I know," Faith said.

A Slayer always thinks tactically.

Faith let her senses reach out...and considered her options.

One of the wolves stepped forward. When he moved, he hunched forward like an animal on its hind legs.

"Give us the witch and we'll let you live, Slayer," the wolf said.

"Go fuck yourself," the lion roared back.

The wolves leaped at her...

"So y'know, I was talking with someone today, Willy, and I had...I guess you could call it a moment of clarity," Buffy said, looking around the cluttered, dusty little room behind the bar that Willy used as an office. Buffy thought the little room looked absolutely nothing like the sort of cool room Sam used as an office on Cheers and looked a lot like Xander's deadbeat alcoholic uncle Rory's crappy little basement apartment that she and Willow had been forced to spend a nightmarish two hours in the year before. It even had a moose head on the wall like the one at Rory's place. And a smell.

"Yeah, that all sounds really fascinatin', kid," Willy said. "And you know I love it when you act all tough, but I already told ya I don't know nothin' and those lushes out there are probably drinkin' all my best stuff. And hey, how about givin' me those Johnny Cash records back. You don't need 'em, you kids don't listen to country music."

"What, these?" Buffy said, and put her sword down on Willy's desk and picked up the stack of Johnny Cash records that she had left balanced on the arm of the old smelly green chair with the white stain on the cushion. She knew what the white stain was; she could smell it.

"You do things in this chair I don't wanna know about, don't you?" Buffy said, and turned and looked at him. "Really like, gross things."

"No I don't," Willy said, and looked away from her.

"Willy plays with his little willy," Buffy said, and laughed, and crushed the stack of records between her hands like an accordion. The records crumbled into tiny pieces and fell to the floor. "You pathetic piece of shit."

"Hey!" Willy screamed. "For chrissake, those were collectors items! Do you know how expensive they are?!"

"Shut the fuck up," Buffy said, and punched him in the face. He went flying across the office and slammed into the wall, bounced off it and fell to the floor. He looked up at her, his nose bleeding.

"So yeah, moment of clarity," Buffy said. "I talked to a very smart, cool British man and had a moment of clarity and I realized some stuff. One of the big things I realized? I realized it's time I grew up. We have a problem here, Willy."

"What...why'd you...you never...hit me like that before," Willy said, looking up at her like a mouse looking up at a cat.

"Here's the problem," Buffy said. "You've never been scared of me. But hey, don't worry. It's not gonna be a problem for us much longer."

Buffy walked away from him, and grabbed the little wooden chair from behind the little old desk covered with racing forms and lottery tickets and old coffee stains. She set it down in front of him.

"Sit," Buffy said.

Hesitantly, Willy sat in the chair, wiping his bloody nose on his sleeve and looking at the floor. Buffy leaned against the desk, and looked down at him.
"I'm not blaming you, Willy," Buffy said. "It's not your fault you're not afraid of me. It's mine. I'm all perky and sarcastic and pretty and clever, and plus there's that little rule I have about not killing humans. You're a little rat who's sold me out before but I figure you just barely qualify. So yeah, I'll never kill you. But I can do all kinds of other stuff. Give me your hand."

"What are you...why...do you want my hand?" Willy whimpered.

"Give me your hand. I'm not gonna ask you again."

He held out his hand. It was shaking. Buffy took it gently in hers, and stroked it.

"This is what you think I am, right?" Buffy said. "Nice. Non-threatening. All dew drops and daffodils. A cute, sassy gal you can bring home to Mom. Thing is, Willy...I wish I was. You wouldn't believe sometimes how much I wish I was. But, nope. 'Fraid not. We don't get what we wish for in this world."

Willy screamed, as Buffy crushed his hand in hers. He tried to pull away but he couldn't; her grip was like a bear trap. She looked at him without any emotion at all as she slowly increased the pressure, as his hand crumpled in hers like styrofoam and his bones popped and cracked. She looked bored.

"This is what I am," Buffy said. "I didn't ask for it. But there it is. There's a monster in me. And I've spent almost two years now fighting her, holding her back, denying her, wishing she was gone. Not anymore."

"S-stop..." Willy whispered.

"Say please," Buffy said.

"Please!" Willy screamed.

Buffy released his hand.

"Gonna need a doctor for that," Buffy said. "When we're done talking."

"Why are you...doing this?!" Willy said, crying now.

Because a hundred vampires almost killed three people I love last night," Buffy said.

"Told you I...don't know...about..." Willy whimpered.

"Yeah, I believe you," Buffy said. "But there were also those four priest guys, plus the vamps who delivered the package. Your regulars didn't know anything about any of them, but I'm pretty sure you know something."

"One of the guys...the vamps who delivered the package. I know where he stays...holes up in this old abandoned warehouse down by the docks. Old building, has a sign on it that says 'Pacific Fisheries'."


"Bobby. Don't know the last name."

Willy still looked down at the floor, crying.

"Stop your frigging crying. It was fun for a minute but I'm bored now," Buffy said. "Look at me."

He looked up at her, and wiped the tears from his eyes.

"From now on, our relationship's gonna be different," Buffy said. "From now on you're working for me. And if you say anything at all to me but, 'Yes, ma'am' when I'm through laying all the details out for you then I'll cut the heads off your regulars, burn this shithole to the ground and put you in traction for the rest of your life. You won't even be able to jerk your little willy off anymore. Plus? Totally going after the Merle Haggard albums next."

She kicked the chair out from under him. It broke apart and he fell sprawling to the floor.

"I'm the Slayer," Buffy said. "And maybe you like, for some reason probably having to do with you not really being too bright, never really got this? But, what I am? Kind of all right there in the name. I kill things like your customers, just for the fun of it. It gives me a nice, warm feeling inside when I feel their necks cracking in my hands. And okay, I won't ever kill you. But I sure will hurt you if you cross me. Your hand? That was a kiss on the cheek. We've gone around in circles, you and me, for more than a year now. We've done our routine where I beat you up a little but I never really hurt you and we both pretend we're in an old private eye movie and sure, we had some laughs, but then my boyfriend went bad and killed a lot of people. I have their pictures in a shoebox in my closet. He sent them to me. So I would know that it was my fault that all those little...all those people were dead. It changes your perspective."

"Don't know...what's this...got to do with me?" Willy said.

"Willy," Buffy said. "One of the ways our relationship is gonna change is I want to listen to as little of your whining as possible from now on. So no interrupting, and you'll only talk to me when I tell you to talk. If you interrupt again I'll hurt you. Do you understand?"

Willy nodded.

"Y'know, it's funny," Buffy said. "I'm pretty sure if I added up all the time I've wasted playing through this bullshit routine with you, sitting around this little office with your disgusting fucking cum stains on the chair, it'd probably turn out that at least a few innocent people that I could've saved if I'd had the time are dead because of it. And then of course you decided to make some extra pocket change by selling Angel to Spike last year. Remember that? And because Spike and Dru got their claws in him Dru was able to use Angel's blood to get nice and healthy again. Which gave her the strength to kill Kendra. Because of you a Slayer is dead. And plus maybe if I'd thought of this last year and forced you to look harder for info about Spike and Dru I would've been able to find them sooner and Angel wouldn't have had a chance to kill all those...maybe I could've stopped him. So yeah, I figure it's time I grew up. Not like they're ever gonna have a chance to."

She got up and stood over him.

"I took off for awhile after that, got my head together over the summer," Buffy said. "You probably noticed. Your regulars were all struttin' around town all pleased with themselves for awhile, 'till I came back and laid the smack down again. And I tried, Willy, I tried to pretend things could be the same. I've been trying to pretend for awhile now. Pretend I'm not the Slayer. Pretend I'm not a monster. But I am. I'm a monster put here to kill monsters and I didn't ask for it. But I'm the worst monster of them all and damn if I don't enjoy my work."

Buffy grabbed a pen and a piece of scrap paper from the desk and wrote down a phone number.

"So here's how it's gonna be," Buffy said. "From now on, whenever you hear anything at all that I might be interested in, you'll dial this number and tell the nice British man who answers all about it. And once in awhile I'll pay you a visit and we'll run through our old routine where I hurt you just enough so you've still got cred with your regulars, just to keep up appearances. No one will know you're working for me. But you will be. You'll be actively looking for the inside scoop on anything that might interest me and you're gonna give me good info on a regular basis. If you don't agree to do all this then I'm gonna hurt you so bad that you'll never walk again, and then I'm gonna go right back out there and kill all those idiots--well, not Clem, I like him for some reason--and then I'm gonna burn this place down. Because if I'm not getting info I've got no use for this place. If your regulars aren't blabbing secrets which you pass on to me, I've got no use for your regulars. And if you're not working for me I've got no use for you. And because, you dirty piece of shit, Kendra's DEAD because of you."

She looked down at him.

"Now," Buffy said. "Let's hear the magic words."

"Yes, ma'am," Willy muttered, looking down at the floor.

"Look at me when you say it," Buffy said.

He looked up at her. A lion looked down at him.

"Yes, ma'am," he said again.

"Good boy," Buffy said, and picked up her sword.

"What...happened to you?" Willy said.

"People died," Buffy said.

She walked out the door.

Moving with incredible speed, Faith threw her stake straight through the heart of one of the vampires as it sprang at her, batted another out of the air with her wakizashi, spun, grabbed the stake out of Willow's hand, ducked another vampire and staked him as he passed over her head. She backed Willow up, kept her behind her, as she swung her wakizashi, trying to hold the vampires off. But fighting the vampires and protecting Willow at the same time was putting her at a disadvantage. The vampires growled and snapped at her like a pack of wolves, looking for an opening as Faith barely held them at bay with her sword. She didn't have any room to maneuver.

Ultimately it would be untenable. If she didn't change the rules of this fight she knew it would be over very soon.

It was November fourteenth...Faith's birthday. She was eighteen.

She wondered if she would survive it.

The End

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