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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Meant To Be
One: The New World

By Hellmouthguy




The wind began to pick up again. Somewhere, a car horn blared.

The breeze had grown cold. Willow hugged herself, and waited. Buffy and Faith watched each other.

Faith finally broke the silence.

"Came out to give you a heads up," she said. "There's a vamp named Kakistos, I tangled with him in Boston. He kills Slayers, he killed Madeleine Lambert, the Slayer before you. Now he's after me. And he said after he gets me you're next on his list."

"Never heard of him," Buffy said. "So what happened?"

"He's one tough son of a bitch is what happened," Faith said. "Guy hit me once and my whole arm went numb. He runs with this black vamp named Trick. Trick dresses snazzy and talks real good, and he doesn't like to get his hands dirty. But Kakistos has a posse with him to handle that. Besides Trick, he had eighteen vamps with him when he came after me."

"Eighteen?" Buffy said.

"Yeah. They'd been tracking me for awhile and they finally came at me in a restaurant. Killed everyone there. I managed to get through his goons but Kakistos is on a whole other level of bad. Then the next day his guys were back at it, tailing me through the streets. They use cars with blacked-out windows during the day, and they've got guns. They shot the hell out of a pizza place I was in, and that was a bunch more dead people. Worst part is, not only is Kakistos the strongest vamp I've ever seen but I staked him and nothing happened. Plus he tossed me out a frigging skyscraper and I fell about fifty stories."

"Oh my God!" Willow said, and ran up to her. "Are you...are you okay?"

"Been awhile since I've seen okay," Faith said. "I'll be okay once I dust the bastard."

"Wait a minute," Buffy said. "You staked him and nothing happened? Sure you didn't miss the heart?"

"I know my way around a stake, B," Faith said. "I stuck him good. All it did was piss him off."

"I can't believe you fell fifty stories," Willow said, and touched Faith's shoulder. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Buffy watched Faith, as Willow touched her shoulder. Buffy thought Faith's scent was pretty: fruity, with a hint of muskiness underneath.

Willow was covered with it.

"Body's five by five now," Faith said. "But I'm still trying to wrap my head around how I'm alive. Slayer or not, I can't figure how I survived that fall. Got lucky, I guess."

"Maybe someone was watching over you," Willow said, and smiled. "The way someone was watching over me tonight."

The moon peeked out from behind the trees, illuminating the clearing with soft, silver light. Buffy suddenly noticed a big bruise on Willow's cheek.

"Will...your face is bruised," Buffy said. She ran to Willow, and stood between her and Faith. She took Willow's hand. "Did something happen to you?"

"I ran into some vampires near the Magic Box," Willow said. "I was lucky Faith was there. Actually, it wasn't luck. The Goddess was watching over me."

"Faith saved you?" Buffy said.

"The Goddess?" Faith said.

"Witch. Remember?" Willow said to Faith. "I prayed to Holy Mother to save me, and then a few seconds later, you were there."

"Cool," Faith said. "Never been an answer to someone's prayer before."
"You're a Slayer, Faith," Willow said. "You've been the answer to a lot of people's prayers."

"The Magic Box?!" Buffy shouted. "What did I tell you about going to that neighborhood alone at night? You could have been killed! Why didn't you call me?!"

"I was...in the middle of a spell, and, um, I needed stuff," Willow said. "Okay, yup, one of my dumber moves. Guess I went blonde for a second there."

Faith smiled despite her mood. Buffy raised her eyebrows.

"I mean...not that you're not smart! You're the smartest blonde I know!" Willow added hastily.

Faith chuckled. Buffy felt her cheeks becoming red. She tried to hide it. She turned away.

"I mean...um...I'm gonna stop talking now," Willow said.

"Hey Will, why did the blonde stare at the orange juice?" Faith said.

"Why?" Willow said.

"Because it said 'concentrate' on the carton," Faith said.

Willow giggled.

"Great. Make fun of me now. Whatever," Buffy said, looking away from them.

"Hey...Buffy..." Willow said, and took her hand. "We're not making fun of you. I'm sorry, okay? I'm just being goofy." Willow had no idea why Buffy was so prickly, why she seemed so angry and embarrassed at the same time. It wasn't like her.

She didn't think it was just Faith. She thought it must be something else. She just didn't know what...

Buffy nodded, still not looking at Willow. She knew her face was still red and she couldn't let Willow see it. She walked away from them, further back into the shadows, before she turned and looked at them again. Buffy knew Willow and Faith must have been in close physical contact for a good long time for Faith's scent to be so strong on Willow. Willow must have let Faith touch her.

As Buffy let her senses reach out and concentrated on her nose, she realized that Willow's scent was even stronger on Faith than Faith's scent was on Willow. And she knew then that Willow must have touched Faith too. An image came into her mind, of Willow letting Faith kiss her. She felt tense again. Faith was looking at her. Willow and Faith were standing close to each other. Buffy dismissed the image, and tried to relax. "So I believe you were telling us how you got kicked off a skyscraper?" Buffy said. "And how, lucky us, you miraculously survived."

"I don't know how I survived," Faith said. "But I know why. I survived because I'm gonna dust that motherfucker."

"Considering how he likes to travel around with a bunch of vamp groupies, we should put our heads together on this," Buffy said.

"Forget it," Faith said, and started to walk away. Willow, she liked. But there was no way she could work with Buffy. It would be better like this. What Kakistos had coming to him, Faith wanted to be the one to deliver. "I can handle it solo. Just wanted to give you a heads up. Take it easy."

"Faith, wait," Willow said. "Don't you think it would be better if we all worked together on this? Kakistos sounds really dangerous."

"It's cool, Will," Faith said. "I got it. Like I said, he wants me a lot more than he wants Buffy."

"And what's your plan when he finds you?" Buffy said. "Get tossed off another building?"

"Stake didn't work, so I figure I'll cut his head off," Faith said. "Already cut his dick off anyway."

"You cut his...?" Buffy said. "Okay, eewww much?"
"He pissed me off," Faith said. "Anyway, see ya."

"Faith, as much as it pains me to say it, we need to go after this guy together," Buffy said.

"Told you I got it covered," Faith said, and turned her back to her, and kept walking.

Buffy wanted to let her go.

"Buffy..." Willow said.

It would be so much easier just to let her go...

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

Buffy ran after Faith, and blocked her path.

"Faith, I don't like this any more than you do," Buffy said. "But look, let's just think about this? We've got a vamp who's super-strong. And he likes traveling with a whole bunch more vamps. And he can't be staked. And he's cranky because you went all Lorena Bobbitt on his ass. He killed at least one Slayer already and he almost killed you."
"I can handle him," Faith said.

"Sure. Just like you handled him in Boston. I bet your face really made his fist sore. Faith, think! There's more at stake here than your pride! You said he attacked you in a restaurant, that he killed people to get to you, and he's got guns. This guy sounds like he's way into collateral damage and killing innocent people and it's our job to prevent that."

"And you're way into hearing yourself talk, huh, B? But the speeches are starting to bore me now. Said I can handle this and I'll handle it," Faith said, and brushed past her.

"That's right, F," Buffy said. "You keep running, just like you did in Boston. Way to handle it."

"You've been giving me shit all night," Faith said, marching back at her. "You got a crush on me or something? Some reason you can't just get the hint and leave me the fuck alone?"

"Is there some reason you can't use your frigging brain? How many people did this guy kill out in Boston while you employed your brilliant strategy of taking off? How many more people will he kill out here once he tracks you down? And you're too arrogant and stupid to understand--"

"Buffy...!" Willow said. She grabbed Buffy's arm. Buffy wrenched herself free of her.

"You're too stupid to understand that this is way, way bigger than your little revenge fantasy!" Buffy shouted. She felt her anger flaring now, and a voice inside her head told her she should stop, that she should calm down. But this girl got under her skin. The image came into her mind again...Willow was letting Faith kiss her. "You think I'm gonna let some super-vamp and his pals shoot up my town and kill my friends because some new Slayer wannabe thinks she can handle it?! I cut his dick off, wow look at me, I'm so tough, I'm so cool! Do you even care about the people who died out in Boston? All because of you?!"

Faith was shaking with anger. Her hands were balled into fists. Her whole body felt hot.

She thought about Rebecca. Rebecca wouldn't want her to fight Buffy.

"And where the hell is your Watcher during all this anyway?" Buffy said. "Or did your Watcher decide to just take off too?"

Faith looked at Buffy silently.

"Cat got your tongue, F?" Buffy said. "You do have a Watcher, right? Or is that something else you're screwing up? Not that your Watcher's done such a bang-up job."

"Buffy!" Willow said. "Stop it! Now you're just being mean!"

Faith was thinking of a number.

"Forget it, Will," Faith said, and walked away.

"Whatever," Buffy said, and stormed off in the opposite direction.

Willow ran after Faith. Faith moved quickly, but Willow finally caught up to her, in the shadows beneath a stand of redwood trees.

"Faith!" Willow said, and touched her shoulder. "I'm...I'm sorry. Buffy's usually really nice." Faith was hiding her face from her. Willow moved around in front of her. "You two just got off on the wrong..."

Faith had tears in her eyes.

The moon appeared through the branches of the tree above them, illuminating everything around them in soft, gentle silver. Faith moved away from the light, into the shadows beyond its reach.

"Tell Buffy not to forget the cars with blacked-out windows," Faith said. "He can find us in the day too. And you be careful Will, okay? Try to stay inside."

Faith walked away from her, and disappeared into the darkness.

Willow found Buffy waiting for her back in the clearing. It still smelled like pipe smoke.

"You and your new friend have a nice chat?" Buffy said.

Willow looked at Buffy without saying a word. Then she looked away and said, "Let's go home."

They walked silently back through the clearing toward the trees.

"So now you're gonna be moody at me too?" Buffy finally said. "Maybe some of Faith is rubbing off." Willow heard something ugly in Buffy's voice.

"You were mean!" Willow screamed, whirling around. "Faith saved my life tonight and came all the way out here from Boston just to warn you about Kakistos and all you could do was call her stupid!"

Buffy had never seen Willow like this before. She stepped back, taken completely by surprise.

"It was mean and not nice and totally not fair and you should be ashamed of yourself!" Willow screamed.

"I should...I should be ashamed?" Buffy stuttered. "What about Faith? She just...just comes in and...and comes and kills two vampires that I--"

"A Slayer!" Willow shouted. "Killing two vampires! What on earth was she thinking? Quick, let's get the torches and run her out of town!"

"But they were...! I mean they weren't...! Look, she could've at least listened to me before she just...!" In her head, Buffy's reasons were good ones. But when she spoke them out loud they all got jumbled...she heard the jealousy in her voice. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't keep it out of her voice.

"Buffy! You told a Slayer you didn't want to kill two vampires because they helped you with your homework! What did you expect Faith to think? If I didn't know you I would've thought you were crazy too!"

"It's not as simple as that! They didn't want to hurt anyone! I could tell! We could've just let them go and everything would've been..."

"Like how you let Spike go? Or like how you dated the worst serial killer in history and then wondered why he suddenly went bad and tried to murder us all?! News flash! Vampires are demons! You're the Slayer, you know that! The three vampires Faith saved me from? They were gonna gang-rape me!"

"They...? Buffy said, and her face went white. "Oh my God...oh my God!" She hugged Willow, and Willow felt the old, familiar strength in her. "Are you okay, baby? Are you okay?"

Willow pulled away, her eyes filling with tears. "What did you expect? They were vampires! Demons! That's what vampires do! They hurt people! That's what Angel did too, even though it didn't stop you from dating him!"

"And I stuck a sword though his heart! Does that meet with your approval? What the hell do you want from me? You want me to hop in a time machine and go back and kill Angel again? Would that--"

"I KNOW!" Willow screamed, crying now. "I know Angel's alive! I know you've been seeing him every day before school and bringing him blood! All this time you've been LYING RIGHT TO MY FACE AND I KNOW!"

Buffy froze.

"Please, just...just let me explain...?" Buffy said.

"Excuse me," a voice interrupted.

They turned.

Trick was standing at the edge of the clearing with six vampires.

"You must be Buffy Summers," he said, smiling. He was wearing a black suit that fit him like it was custom made, with a lavender shirt and a lavender handkerchief in the suit's breast pocket. His black shoes gleamed. "Wearing a miniskirt out slaying? Now that's a bold fashion statement."

Buffy didn't know who he was, but she knew he was trouble. She put aside her guilt toward Willow, her resentment of Faith, her agonizing over Angel. It was all baggage now and it weighed her down; she needed to be light and quick and ready for fighting. She put it all aside, and let the Slayer in her take over. It was like flipping a switch. Instantly, she felt better.

She let her senses reach out. The cemetery was her territory. All of its sights and sounds and smells were as familiar to her as her own bedroom. Others had dared to invade her territory now, and she would defend it; it was as simple as that. The vampires didn't belong. Their scents were foul.

Relieved of the burden of her humanity, Buffy smiled, and showed the vampires her teeth. In that moment, she was as happy as she had ever been.

"Everyone's giving me crap about my skirt tonight," Buffy said, standing in front of Willow. "Got a name?"

"Call me Mr. Trick," Trick said, and took a cell phone from his suit pocket. Willow gasped at the mention of his name. Buffy glanced at her. Willow knew exactly what the look meant.

"Blue Hills," Trick said into the phone, as the vampires with him watched Buffy. "Got us a Slayer here." He paused. "Naw, the other one. But I'm sure she'll be delighted to meet you." He put the phone away, and grinned at Buffy.

"Never heard of you," Buffy said. "You must not be very important."

"I'm an East Coast kind of guy," Trick said, chuckling. "Y'all are a sight too casual out here for my taste. I mean, guys wear shoes without socks out here. It's mind-boggling."

"So let me guess," Buffy said. "That was your mom, and she's inviting me over for dinner."

"Cute," Trick said. "I get it. You're the cute Slayer. You're the sugar, Faith's the spice. You two should have an act. By the way, just making conversation here...you wouldn't happen to know where Faith is, would you?"

"First I'd have to know who she is," Buffy said. "Unless you mean that new Slayer out in Boston I heard about?"

"That's the girl. About 5'5", dark hair. With a rather exuberant sense of style. Flashy, if you know what I mean. Maybe a little on the reckless side." He smiled, baring his fangs. "In fact, some might even go so far as to call her rude."

"Sorry, the annual Slayer cookout isn't until next summer. We're supposed to be partnering up in the three-legged sack race. As far as I know she's in Boston somewhere."

"Uh-huh," Trick said, looking carefully at her. "You're a pretty good liar, if you're lying."

"Yup, and I'm pretty good with a stake too, and you'll be finding that out in a minute," Buffy said. "But if I knew where she was, why would I tell you?"

"Because I'm asking so politely. Because you enjoy our witty badinage. Next person who asks, well...let's just say he won't be asking so polite."

"Why is everyone saying big words tonight? It's totally tortuous."

"'Badinage' means banter."

"Hey, good to know. So okay, I'm just gonna kill you all now."

Buffy ran at the nearest vampire, knowing the other five would be right behind her. As she reached him she ducked, anticipating his move. He slashed at her, his claws slicing over her head, putting him out of position. She staked him, spun to her left, staked one of the vampires coming at her from behind and punched another one in the face, sending him flying.

She backflipped away from the others, jumped up to grab a tree branch and swung forward and kicked them as they ran at her. She held onto the branch in a chin-up and she had a second to look around. Trick was staying out of the fight, just like Faith said he would. Willow had run off into the trees. Willow had been accompanying Buffy on patrol for a long time now, and Buffy had given her some ground rules. Rule number one was, when it got bad, Willow ran.

Buffy dropped from the tree branch, spun, and kicked the closest vampire in the face. He went flying the length of the clearing, and the other three came at her. She saw Trick checking his watch.

Buffy rolled backwards to the ground, flipping one of the vampires over her head with her legs, rolled to her side, kicked another in the face, leaped up, and staked the third. The other one came at her from behind, and she spun and kicked him again. He didn't appreciate it, and snarled as he went flying across the clearing again and collided head-first with a tree. The other two ran back at her, but instead of dodging she took them by surprise and ran straight at them. At the last second she dropped to the ground in front of them, ducking both of their attacks, staked one of them, stood up again, grabbed the other one by the hair and kneed him in the face. He went down and she staked him too. She looked around the clearing. The last vampire was lying unconscious near a tree.

"Bring any more badinage, Tricky?" Buffy said, as she walked over to the last vampire and staked him.

She turned, and saw Trick pointing a gun at her.

"Nope," Trick said, and shot her.

When Buffy woke up, her shoulder hurt and she was lying on the grass with her head in Willow's lap. Willow was holding her hand.

Willow looked scared. When Buffy looked around, she saw why. Trick was standing over her, holding the gun down at his side. Eight more vampires stood around him, growling. "She's up," Trick said.

"Hello, Slayer," a voice said. The voice sounded like a shotgun. It also sounded rather pleased with itself. "I'm Kakistos."

The vampire who owned the voice went well with it. He stepped into the light and sneered down at Buffy, towering over her. He was bald and very tall and very wide. He had cloven hooves for hands and feet. One of his eyes was gone; in its place was a long, jagged, horizontal scar.

He crouched down beside Buffy and grabbed her by the throat.

"Faith," he growled. "I want her."

"Stop it!" Willow said. "Stop!"

Buffy gasped, and black spots swam before her eyes. She punched Kakistos in the face as hard as she could. He smiled.

"She can't breathe!" Willow screamed, grabbing Kakistos' cloven hand and trying to pull it away from Buffy's throat. "She can't breathe!"

"Gonna be the least of her problems soon," Trick said.

"Stop it!" Willow screamed, and scratched at Kakistos' face. He smacked her away and sent her flying.

Kakistos relaxed his grip. "Since she asked so nicely," he said. Buffy coughed, and sucked in air. The spots were still floating in front of her eyes. Shooting pain was traveling up her shoulder.

"I didn't aim for the heart because I was hoping you'd work with us on this," Trick said. "We got no reason to kill you. We don't want you. We want Faith. Be smart, girl. Tell us where she is, and we'll let you and your friend go."

Buffy knew they had a bridge they wanted to sell her too. It was now or never.

She chopped the gun out of Trick's hand, rolled away from Kakistos and flipped herself to her feet. She punched a vampire in the face as they came at her, and somersaulted away from the rest. She had to find that gun. Out of the corner of her eye she saw it lying in the grass. In the confusion Trick seemed to have forgotten about it. He was walking away from the fight, dusting off his suit. "For fuck's sake, will someone please handle this girl?" he said.

Buffy dove for the gun and managed to snag it, but the other seven vampires piled on top of her. Buffy had never handled a gun before but she had seen plenty of movies. She rolled around and started firing off shots as the vampires tried to pin her down. She knew the bullets couldn't do any real damage to them but they'd still hurt. And by emptying the gun she insured the bullets couldn't do any more damage to her. She kept firing until the gun made a clicking noise, then she smashed it into the nearest vampire's face, flung it away and got up. Trick and Kakistos stood by a tree, watching her. The other eight vampires surrounded her. The ones with bullet wounds growled in pain.

"Remember what happened last time you left a Slayer to the hired help?" Trick said. "This one's already killed six."

"Good point," Kakistos said, and ran at Buffy. The other eight vampires spread out, giving him room.

Kakistos threw a punch that took Buffy by surprise: it was much too fast. She wasn't ready and she barely ducked it in time. It connected with a tree with a crunch and knocked the tree down. Buffy had assumed Kakistos would be slow because of his size. He was much faster than he looked.

Buffy was faster. She spun and viciously kicked him in the face, a kick that would have killed any ordinary man instantly. It snapped his head back, but didn't move him. He tried to grab her, but she dodged him again, looking for Willow. She saw her lying on the grass. She couldn't tell if she was breathing.

Something happened inside of Buffy, when she saw Willow like that. Buffy felt it happen inside her.

Screaming, she ran at Kakistos and punched him in the face, first with one fist, then the other, punched him with every single ounce of her prodigious strength, over and over again, ignoring the pain in her shoulder that flared every time she connected with her right. The barrage of punches backed Kakistos up, but didn't seem to be hurting him. He laughed, taking the punishment just to show her he could. Buffy was snarling and screaming and baring her teeth; she was throwing out punches that could crush bones to powder.

Her fury flooded through her, filled her up until she couldn't contain it and then exploded out of her, exploded through her arms, and she sent it all crashing against Kakistos like cannon fire. He was trying to cover up now, but she was hitting him so hard that her hands were a blur. She smelled his blood, as his nose broke beneath her fist. The smell of it sent her into a frenzy. She roared, saliva dripping from her teeth, as she pummeled his face into meat. The Slayer was in control now and she was a lion and she meant to beat Kakistos down to nothing, to erase him. She wanted to bite his neck and feel it crack in her jaws. She wanted to see her fist come out the other side of his head. She wanted to eat his heart.

But he was laughing...

She almost tripped over something. She knew it was her stake. The lion in her didn't care about the stake; the lion wanted to keep hitting him. But Buffy knew that wouldn't work. The punishment she had been raining down on him could have knocked over a building by now and he was still standing. And she knew her rage couldn't carry her forever. She knew she had to out-think him.

Buffy took control of the lion, made her drop to the grass, scoop the stake up and roll to her side before Kakistos could grab her. Then she flipped herself back up, dodged one of his thunderous punches, got in under his guard, and staked him in the heart...

Nothing happened.

Kakistos laughed and backhanded her away; it was like a bat hitting a baseball. No one Buffy had ever fought had hit her anywhere near as hard. She hurtled through the air, crashed through the trees...and everything went black.

She was awakened this time by a clap of thunder.

She sat up, and saw Willow standing in front of her, looking at Kakistos and Trick and the vampires.

"Leave her alone," Willow said.

Buffy stood up and steadied herself against a tree. She felt lightheaded. "You gotta...get out of here," she muttered, and touched Willow's shoulder.

A bolt of lightning shot across the sky.

Trick looked up. The sky had been clear a moment before.

Kakistos watched Willow. She amused him.

Buffy tried to turn Willow around and push her behind her...and then she saw Willow's eyes, and shuddered.

They were black. They were as black as outer space...they were the blackest things Buffy had ever seen.

Willow's eyes had always been green. There was nothing left of them now.

Willow didn't move, didn't look at Buffy. She looked straight at Kakistos, with those black eyes...with the Devil's eyes.

Kakistos strolled toward Willow and Buffy, chuckling. His vampires came with him. But Trick remained where he was, looking up at the sky...

A deafening peal of thunder struck again, followed by another bolt of lightning, even more powerful than the first.

For a moment, night became day...

"I SAID LEAVE HER ALONE!" Willow screamed...

And Buffy gasped, as Willow called the lightning down from the sky and redirected it straight at Kakistos and his vampires through her fingertips.

The vampires with Kakistos were vaporized instantly. Kakistos flew across the clearing and smashed into a tree, his skin charred and blackened and smoking. Trick ran to him and propped him up.

"Time to go," Trick said, looking at Willow in amazement. But he looked away, when she looked back at him...he couldn't face those eyes. Kakistos nodded, and Trick led him away.

Willow's black eyes watched them go...

And then everything was in slow motion, and spinning around, and she heard Buffy scream, "No!"

Willow felt like all the energy in her body was seeping out of her, seeping into the ground...

She felt her body hit the grass, and she closed her eyes.

"Willow...!" Willow heard. She opened her eyes. Buffy was kneeling over her, scared. Buffy's shoulder was bleeding.

"Your shoulder," Willow said.

"Don't ever do that again!" Buffy screamed, and hugged her. "Don't ever scare me like that again!"

Willow sat up. She felt better. Her energy had returned. She wondered if she had reabsorbed it from the ground, then realized that was a very strange thought, and dismissed it. "I need coffee," she said. "A big mocha cappuccino with lots of sugar. And those cocoa sprinkles."

"Okay," Buffy said. "Your eyes are normal again."

"My eyes?" Willow said.

"They went all weird and black for a minute."

"They went...what? What happened?"

"You went all lightning girl and zapped all the vamps. Don't you remember?"

"Kinda. It's fuzzy. What about Kakistos?"

"Zapped him too, but he survived. Faith was right, he's way, way tougher than a regular vamp. I staked him and got bupkiss."

"We have to find Faith. We have to go after Kakistos together."

"I asked her before, remember? She's not much on the whole team concept."

"She'll do it for me," Willow said.

"Will...I'm...I'm sorry," Buffy said. "I'm sorry about Angel. He has his soul back. Your spell worked, it brought him back to me and it's just...I love him." She started to cry. "I love him so much I can't breathe sometimes."
"I know, Buffy. I know you love him."

"But I love you too! You're my best friend and...and I can't lose you, Will. And I don't know...what I'll do if..."

"I love you too," Willow said.

Buffy hugged her again.

"You'll never lose me, Buffy," Willow said. "Never."

"He hits like a battering ram, he can't be staked, and he has a whole bunch of vamps for backup," Buffy said. It was one in the morning, and they were sitting in the living room in Rupert Giles' house. Giles was Buffy's Watcher, and a librarian, and also British, so he was used to strange new super-powerful vampires and meetings with his Slayer after midnight, he had a large collection of occult books, many of which were spread out on the coffee table in front of him, and he had made tea and set out a plate of dry little British tea cookies that you couldn't find anywhere in the United States. Buffy sat with Willow on the couch in the tastefully frumpy room with the fireplace and the scented candles. Giles liked scented candles. Tonight the house smelled like cinnamon.

Buffy looked around the room, at the guitar Giles sometimes played, leaning next to the stack of corny old records, the hat rack in the corner even though Giles never wore hats, the expensive rug she had once spilled a vanilla milkshake on, and the television that completely didn't get HBO, as Giles bent down in front of her in his bathrobe and slippers and bandaged her shoulder. She chewed one of the tasteless British tea cookies and washed it down with a sip of tea. She had lost count of the times she had been here, often late at night, often because she was hurt and she needed Giles to patch her up. He never complained, no matter how late it was. He was always gentle, when he treated her wounds.

She looked down at the milkshake stain on the rug. The rug cleaning people hadn't been able to get it out. It had been a year since that day.

"You'll be fine," Giles said with a smile, when he was finished bandaging her shoulder. "The bullet went straight through."

"Thanks," Buffy said. "But what about the vamp?"

Giles wiped his glasses, which he did when he was agitated or they were fogged up, sat down in the big, squeaky leather recliner, looked through his books, and sipped his tea.

"I know Kakistos by reputation; he killed Madeleine Lambert, the Slayer before you," Giles said. "I'm sure I have something on him somewhere. And he just showed up out of the blue?"

"No," Willow said. "He was after Faith."

"But I'm on his to-do list right after her," Buffy said.

"Faith?" Giles said, looking up at her. "Faith Lehane?"

"The other part of my double feature tonight," Buffy said. "Didn't catch her last name but she's definitely a Slayer."

Giles stood up, and paced around the room. "I was wondering if she'd find her way out here," he said. "I've been trying to get in touch with her all week... ever since the incident in Boston."

"What incident in Boston?" Willow said.

"Maybe he means the getting kicked off a skyscraper thing," Buffy said.

"Details are sketchy, a lot of what I know I've gleaned from the news channels," Giles said. "The police out there are covering it up, but Faith was obviously attacked by a large group of vampires. It happened in a restaurant located on the top floor of a skyscraper in Boston."

"It was Kakistos and his guys who attacked her," Buffy said. "She told me she dusted the lackeys, but Kakistos got away and now he's here. Along with his pal, a vamp named Trick. And they've already found more goons. They had fourteen vamps with them. If it wasn't for Willow I'd be dead."

"We're going to have to talk about that, Willow," Giles said, looking at Willow intently. "It would appear your magic has taken a rather dangerous turn."

"I didn't do it on purpose," Willow said.

"Nevertheless, you did it," Giles said. "And the fact that you don't know how you did it makes it even more worrying. But tonight we have more pressing matters."

"Yeah, I'd say a vamp who can send me into the air like a pop fly is pressing," Buffy said. "I'd say he's totally pressing. I've fought a lot of tough vamps, Giles. This one's in another league."

"And what he did in Boston was tragic," Giles said. "Sixty-three people were killed, including Faith's Watcher. And Faith nearly died with them. She fell more than fifty stories to the street. It's nothing short of a miracle she survived, even a Slayer shouldn't be able to take that kind of punishment."

"Her Watcher died...?" Buffy said.

"Yes," Giles said. "She was one of the people killed in the restaurant. A terrible loss for the Council, and for Faith."

Buffy thought about scented candles. She thought about Giles' corny guitar playing and his wonderful tea...the milkshake stain on the rug, and the way he always wiped his glasses when he was agitated...and she thought about what her life would be like if she ever lost them....if she ever lost him.

She felt Willow looking at her. "Yeah, Will," she said. "Go ahead and say it. I'm a jackass."

"You didn't know," Willow said.

"Didn't know what?" Giles said.

"Faith and I...didn't exactly hit it off," Buffy said. "I said some things. Some stupid, jackassy things. Who was her Watcher?"

"A woman named Rebecca Greer," Giles said. "I met her at a Watchers Council retreat a few years ago. Absolutely brilliant woman, she specialized in training potential Slayers. She took Faith in when she was a potential and trained her. The two of them were apparently extremely close. According to the records Faith ran away from her mother years before...there was a history of physical abuse dating back to Faith's childhood. It took Rebecca weeks to find her; she finally tracked her down last year. Rebecca eventually became something of a mother to her. Actually, I received a letter from Rebecca a little over a week ago. I was meaning to mention it to you. She was planning on bringing Faith out here for a vacation. It seems Faith was very much looking forward to meeting you."

"Thanks, Giles, way to rub it in," Buffy said, her face red. "I suck."

"We'll fix it, Buffy," Willow said. "Let's just find her."

"How?" We have no idea where she is," Buffy said.

"We could start by checking the local motels," Giles said. "She just arrived, we can assume she's probably staying at one of them."

"But there's a million motels around Sunnydale," Buffy said. "And how do we know she's not in L.A.? It would take us forever to call them all, and that's assuming anyone's gonna bother picking up the phone at this time of night."

"And we're also assuming she checked in under her own name," Giles said.

"Yeah. If I was on the run and Kakistos and his never-ending supply of disposable henchmen were after me I'd be all, Hi, I'm Jane Smith," Buffy said.

Willow took her hairbrush out of her handbag. There was a single long, brown hair embedded in it.

"There's another way," Willow said, and smiled.

Xander Harris had seen a lot of frightening things since becoming Buffy's friend; vampires were just the tip of the iceberg. There had also been a giant praying mantis, bewitched Halloween costumes, mummies, assorted robots, many, many snakes, a big blue demon that was assembled a piece at a time, a living puppet, and British people. But he had taken it all in stride, and even though he wasn't super-strong or magical and had no extraordinary abilities to speak of other than his uncanny knack for snarkiness, he always stood squarely at Buffy's side. Even at four-thirty in the morning.

"Okay, let me see if I understand all this," Xander said, yawning and drinking very strong coffee in the backseat of Giles' car, a grey 1963 Citroen DS that Giles insisted was a classic French automobile and Xander insisted looked like an overturned bathtub, as he and Buffy and Willow drove to Faith's motel before dawn. "In the eleven hours since I last saw you guys, there's a new Slayer in town, there's a new super scary vampire in town who can't be staked, and Willow can shoot lightning now."

"Yup," Buffy said, wrestling with the car like she always did on the sad occasions when she was forced to drive it, and grabbing a donut from one of the big boxes on Willow's lap. She took a bite, and washed it down with a sip of the latte she held between her legs because French people apparently didn't believe in cup holders. "Welcome to Sunnydale." She watched the street carefully, keeping an eye out for cars following them.

"You're doing a lot better this time, Buffy," Willow said with a hopeful smile, while eating a blueberry muffin and carefully balancing an extra-large super mocha cappuccino in her hand. Drinks had a tendency to spill when Buffy drove. "We haven't lurched as much as usual. I don't even feel nauseous!"

"I hate this car," Buffy said, as she struggled with the gear shift and the car made a noise like it was belching. "I really want to make sure everyone's totally clear on that. I think I'm gonna get it tattooed on my ankle."

"So you really shot lightning from your hands?" Xander said, grinning at Willow. "That's the most awesome thing ever! You're like Emperor Palpatine!"

Willow turned around and looked at him. "I'm like who?" she said, with her mouth full.

"I have a bad feeling it's Star Wars," Buffy said. "And he's gonna explain it to us."

"Palpatine was the emperor in Return of the Jedi," Xander said. "You know, the old guy who shot lightning at Luke?"

"See what you did?" Buffy said. "He's explaining."

"It's worse when he explains," Willow said.

"You guys just have no appreciation for high art," Xander said.

"And yeah, okay, lightning, but I don't know how I did it and I don't know how to do it again," Willow said. "It wasn't a spell. It just...kinda happened. And then, not really liking the fainting."

"Yeah, that part wasn't so awesome," Xander said.

"No, it wasn't," Buffy said. "So let's hope Lightning Girl is officially retired."

"So what's this new Slayer like?" Xander said.

"Faith," Willow said. "Faith Lehane."

"She's from Boston," Buffy said. "She's..." she searched for the right words. "We're different."

"Don't be so sure, Buffy," Willow said with a smile. "Anyway, I like her. She's nice."

"And she saved your life," Xander said. "Saving one of my best buds? That's serious brownie points in my book."

Willow nodded, and didn't pursue the subject. Buffy glanced at her. When Willow told Xander about the three vampires after they'd gone to his house and dragged him out of bed, she hadn't mentioned what the vampires had planned to do to her.

They were a few blocks away from the Magic Box now, and officially on the Wrong Side of the Tracks in Sunnydale. Xander looked around at the boarded-up buildings, thankful Buffy was with him. "And you're sure Faith's here, huh?" he said.

"Yup," Willow said. "The locator spell never lies."

"Not a great neighborhood," Xander said.

Buffy thought of her house, on her sunny, tree-lined street. She wondered what would have happened to her if she had run away like Faith did; on her own for years with no one to support her. Buffy had left Sunnydale and lived in a cheap little room in Los Angeles the previous summer, when her mother, sick with worry and unable to cope with the knowledge that her daughter was the Slayer, went a little crazy for awhile and kicked her out of the house. But her mother was frantically apologizing and begging her to come back the first time Buffy called her. Buffy stayed away for the summer anyway to get her head together after what happened with Angel, but she knew she had a home waiting for her. She knew her mother loved her.

What would have happened to her if it were all taken away? If her mother had beat her all her life, the way Faith's mother had? If Giles had been killed in front of her eyes?

Faith had saved her best friend's life. She had saved her best friend from being raped and killed.

Buffy knew she should have been there. But she wasn't...because she had screwed up. She'd screwed up and Willow almost died because of it. She remembered the photographs in a shoebox in her closet. She'd screwed up then, too. Maybe all she'd ever done was screw up.

Buffy was thinking of a number.

"Yup, whenever people give me that crap about how there aren't any vampires and it's all just gangs on PCP, I always say take a stroll on down to the Magic Box," Xander said. "And make sure to bring a Slayer. Or the National Guard." He looked at Willow. "Kind of a bonehead play, coming out here yourself last night, Will. You could at least have brought me along. Sure, I'm not a Slayer, but...well, actually, I've got nothing to finish that sentence. But I wish you had brought me anyway."

Willow looked back at him and smiled. "Thanks," she said.

"Will? Seriously?" Xander said. "Don't do anything like that again. Please."

Willow nodded, and looked out the window.

Willow had told Buffy where the three vampires attacked her the night before. It was the alley down the block from the Magic Box. Buffy knew they were getting close to it now. As she stopped at a red light, she flicked the turn signal on.

"What are you doing?" Xander said. "You're turning onto Ocean Street?"

"Shortcut," Buffy said. "We can shave a few minutes."

"What are you talking about? That would be longer," Xander said.

"He's right," Willow said. "Let's keep going straight."

"Are you sure?" Buffy said.

Willow smiled at her. "Yeah, Buffy. I am. But thanks," she said.

"Thanks for what?" Xander said.

"Oh, hey," Buffy said. "Do you have Friday's trig homework? I sorta lost track of time getting my ass kicked last night and I totally spaced on it."

"You really want to risk cheating off my homework?" Xander said. "You Slayers sure are brave." Something happened to Willow in that alley. Xander suspected it, when she first told him about how she had met Faith, and he heard something wrong in her voice; he knew it for a fact now.

"Your wrong answers can't be any lamer than mine," Buffy said. "Why can't Willow be in our trig class? And do either of you guys have your Western Civ notes? I was looking through my notes yesterday for the test on Constantinople and it turns out I'm missing the stuff on the Spartans and the Battle of Monopoly. I think I was fighting a robot that day."

"Robots suck," Xander said, watching Willow.

The light changed, and Buffy stepped on the gas.

"It's the Battle of Thermopylae," Willow said with a smile. "I've got the notes. And I'll help you with the trig if we have a chance." They passed the alley where the three vampires attacked her. Willow looked at it.

Buffy put her arm around her.

"C'mere, Lightning Girl," Buffy said. "Gimme a hug."




Without knowing why, Faith woke up, leaped out of bed and came up in a crouch with a sword in her hand. She let her senses reach out.

There was a knock at the door.

Willow's scent came to her...and Buffy's. And coffee and donuts too.

She heard some guy on the other side of the door say, "We're not vampires, by the way. Uh, just in case you thought we were vampires."

Faith opened the door.

Willow was standing there with two big Starbucks bags, smiling. Buffy stood behind her holding three boxes of donuts, and there was a guy with her whom Faith had never seen before. He was looking at Faith hopefully.

Buffy wasn't looking at Faith at all. She looked like she'd rather be anywhere else right now. Buffy smelled like a certain kind of flower...Faith had been trying to remember which kind, all night. It was pretty.

"We brought coffee and donuts," Willow said.

"That's Xander," Willow said, sitting next to Faith on the bed, as Xander and Buffy sat in the two rickety chairs.

"I'm the official mascot," Xander said. "And I'm also the official greeter for new Slayers. So, on behalf of all the non-vampire, non-demon, non-robot, non-giant praying mantis residents of Sunnydale, I officially bid you welcome."

"That's Xander's really long way of saying hello," Willow said.

"Uh-huh," Faith said. "Uh, hey, Xander."

"I really am the official greeter for new Slayers," Xander said, looking from Willow to Buffy. "We all agreed on that after Kendra, remember? Didn't we say I could be the official greeter?"

Buffy watched Willow, sitting next to Faith. She looked comfortable and completely at ease with her. The image came into her mind again, of Willow and Faith kissing. She buried it again.

"Faith, we brought donuts and stuff," Willow said, opening one of the boxes. "Come on, have some."

"Okay," Faith said. "Thanks." She was grateful for the food. She knew her money wouldn't last long and she was trying to conserve it.

"We brought a lot," Xander said. "Judging from the way Buffy eats, we figured you'd have a big Slayer appetite." He turned to Buffy and held up his hand. "And before you misinterpret that comment to mean I think you're fat, let me state for the record that I don't think you're fat, I've never thought you're fat, and I'd like to petition the court to change the subject in advance."

Buffy didn't rise to the bait, nor did she smile.

Xander looked at Willow. The look said, Your turn.

Willow took the ball and ran with it, determined to make this day work.

"Plus, look!" Willow said, and hauled two big plastic cups out of one of the Starbucks bags like she was scooping gold doubloons out of a treasure chest, and handed one to Faith. "Extra-large super mocha cappuccino with lots of sugar and cocoa sprinkles!"

Extra what with what now?" Faith said, sniffing it. It smelled good, whatever it was.

"Drink," Willow said.

Faith shrugged her shoulders and drank, and had a corn muffin too. And they all ate muffins and donuts and drank coffees and lattes and extra-large super mocha cappuccinos, and avoided looking at the terrible orange and black painting, and they were quiet. Faith thought she should probably say something, as it was her room and they were, after a fashion, her guests. But she didn't know what to say. She and Buffy had been avoiding each other's eyes since they arrived.

"Um, so that's a nice sword," Willow said, lamely. Faith looked over at the rapier on the nightstand.

"UC Sunnydale has a fencing club," Faith said. "I broke in and borrowed a rapier. It's not the best kind of sword but it'll have to do."

As silence descended again, Faith drank some more super mocha cappuccino, searched her brain for something to say, and finally managed to come up with, "So what's up?"

It wasn't much, but it was five in the morning and she had gotten forty-five minutes of sleep and it would have to do until she drank a lot more super mocha cappuccino.

"We ran into Kakistos last night," Willow said.

That woke Faith up.

"What?" Faith said, her posture becoming ramrod straight, the tired haze instantly disappearing from her eyes. She touched Willow's shoulder. "Will, are you...are you okay? What happened?" She noticed the bruise on Willow's face was worse than the night before.

"Trick caught up to us in the cemetery after you left," Willow said. "He had six vampires with him. He asked if we knew where you were. Then he called Kakistos on his cell phone, and Kakistos came with eight more vampires."

"Did they...hurt you?" Faith said. Faith knew it was her fault. If she hadn't lost her temper and left them there...if she hadn't insisted on going after Kakistos alone...she blushed, and felt like a fool.

"They shot Buffy," Willow said.

Faith and Buffy looked at each other for the first time.

"Shoulder. I'm healing up," Buffy said, and looked away.

"Buffy took out the six vamps Trick had with him, but then he shot her and Kakistos showed up with eight more," Willow said.

"And then Willow took the bastards down," Xander said, with a big grin.

Faith wanted to make sure she'd heard that right. "Wait," she said. "Will took them down?"

"I'm...not really sure how I did it," Willow said. "I kinda sorta called down a lightning bolt."

"You kinda sorta called down a lightning bolt?" Faith said.

"And then bang!" Xander said. "Barbecued vamp."

"I got the vampires Kakistos had with him," Willow said, as Faith stared at her. "But Trick was too far away, and Kakistos was too strong. The vampires were dusted, but when the lightning bolt hit Kakistos it just kinda burned him, and he and Trick got away."

"You killed eight vampires with a lightning bolt," Faith said, trying to wrap her head around it. "You killed eight vampires by calling a lightning bolt down from the sky."

"But I don't know how I did it," Willow said. "Plus, um, then I fainted."

Willow looked at Buffy, and then back at Faith. "Faith, Buffy has something she wants to tell you," she said.

Buffy was staring down at the floor. After a moment she looked up, and met Faith's eyes.

"I'm sorry, Faith," Buffy said.

Buffy got up, and stood in front of Faith. "Faith, I was..." Buffy said, and looked down at the floor again. "I was a bitch to you last night. You came to town and all you did was save my best friend's life and try to help me out and I treated you like shit. I'm sorry. I have some stuff going on and it's made me...it's put me off my game lately. But that's no excuse. Can we just...maybe start over...?

Faith still wasn't sure she liked her. But she knew it had taken a lot to do what Buffy had just done. Buffy was meeting her halfway. She was trying.

Faith knew what Rebecca would want her to do.

She stood up, and faced Buffy.

"I screwed up last night, Buffy," Faith said. "I left you hanging out there and you could've been killed. You were trying to talk sense to me and I wouldn't listen. I...got stuff going on too. So yeah, starting over sounds pretty good to me."

They watched each other. The tension was still there. Faith felt it, and she knew Buffy felt it too. They were two Slayers...

And they both instinctively knew there was only supposed to be one.

But there was something else. A warm feeling. Faith's body had tingled when she first met Buffy...like an electric current was passing through her. But then it had faded, and left a warm feeling behind...and the warm feeling was there again now.

Faith tried to remember the flower Buffy's scent reminded her of. Rebecca had it in the house sometimes...

After a few seconds, Willow finally stood up and glared at both of them with her hands on her hips.

"Well? Shake hands and be friends!" Willow shouted. "Be friends right now!"

Xander snorted and started laughing. And, despite herself, Faith laughed too, and then so did Buffy. Willow was smiling, but her eyes were very serious.

"I think we'd better do what she says," Buffy said, and offered her hand to Faith. "Will can get cranky. Plus, lightning bolts."

"I sure wouldn't wanna mess with her," Faith said, and took Buffy's hand.

Faith and Buffy had polished off five donuts, three corn muffins, a latte and an extra-large super mocha cappuccino, and other than the fact that they were talking about an incredibly powerful ancient vampire who was actively trying to kill them, the mood was good. They sat on the bed together and started in on the cranberry muffins, and they seemed to be more comfortable with each other. Willow and Xander were smiling in their rickety chairs.

Buffy glanced at Faith's legs. Faith looked pretty, in her nightgown. She had nice legs. Faith's scent came to her. Fruity...like a peach. With the hint of muskiness underneath that made it even better. Buffy had a warm feeling in her stomach, sitting next to her now. And it had been there in the cemetery, too...

"Still can't get over it," Faith said. "Will shot lightning from her hands. Lightning. Hot damn."

"It's too bad I can't figure out how I did it," Willow said. "It was kinda cool, except, y'know, with the fainting."

"Probably better this way," Faith said. "Whatever the hell you did, it took a lot out of you. I'm just glad you didn't get hurt."

"I've got donuts, my super mocha cappuccino, and a new friend," Willow said, and smiled. "I'm good. Heck, I'm just this side of dandy."

"Just leave the heavy lifting to Faith and me," Buffy said. "Worrying about you stresses me out. It's bad for my complexion."

"From now on you're staying up on the ship with me, Will," Xander said. "No more away teams for you."

Faith turned to Buffy. "You got a translation on that?" she said.

"Star Trek," Buffy said. "Remind me to lend you my Xander-to-English dictionary. I'm fluent, but you're gonna need a crash course."

"He gets like this sometimes when he's had too much sugar," Willow said.

"Okay," Faith said. "So you guys took out the hired help. With any luck that was all of 'em and it'll take them awhile to recruit more. We've got a window here. We need to use it. We find Kakistos before he finds us and take the fight to him. During the day if we can swing it."

"In Sunnydale one super-powerful evil vampire is like a tiny evil needle in a big evil haystack," Buffy said. "But I can ask around. There's a demon bar in town. The bartender keeps me clued in."

"Like a paid snitch?" Faith said. "Hey, cool. Just like in the movies."

"I don't pay him though," Buffy said. "I just beat him up. He's a greasy little sleazebag."

"Hey, beating him up works too," Faith said.

"You know, Buff, Willy's a pretty cheap bribe," Xander said. "I bribed him with twenty-eight dollars once last year during that whole giant snake thing."

"Yeah, but I really like hitting him," Buffy said.

"Or, hey, y'know, we can just do this," Willow said, and pulled candles, a folded-up map of Sunnydale, and a tupperware bowl of powder from her handbag.

"Locator spell?" Buffy said. "But you'll need something from Kakistos, and we don't have anything."

"I took this from the cemetery," Willow said, and gingerly pulled Trick's gun from her handbag, careful to aim it toward the floor.

"That's the gun Trick shot me with," Buffy said. "He's totally off my Christmas list. And on my kick in the face list. Don't worry, it's out of bullets."

"Okay. And once we find him we'll find Kakistos, one way or another. I'll need two or three hours," Willow said, and took a big gulp of her super mocha cappuccino, set the map, candles, powder and gun out on the floor, and sat cross-legged in front of them. She took a lighter from her purse, and lit the candles. Peppermint wafted through the room.

"Are those Giles' scented candles?" Buffy said.

"I stole some of his peppermint ones," Willow said. "Peppermint's my favorite but the Magic Box was all out."

"Who's Giles?" Faith said.

"My Watcher," Buffy said. "He's British. He's British with a side-order of British."

"Now you Slayers go and be all strategic and come up with a plan," Willow said. "Witch meditating here."

"I'll guard the donuts," Xander said, as Willow closed her eyes.

"You can come over here and be strategic with me and Faith if you promise not to talk about how Luke was strategic when he had to take out the Death Star, or any plan Captain Kirk ever came up with," Buffy said. "Especially that Teriyaki Maru thing."

"'Kobayashi Maru'," Xander corrected her.

"Not that one either," Buffy said.

"It was a brilliantly unorthodox plan," Xander said, and sat on the bed with them.

"Okay," Faith said. "So let's start with what we know about these guys."

"We know Kakistos is way stronger than a regular vamp," Buffy said. "Can't be staked. Serious anger management issues. I'd say he's downright grumpy. Especially now that you've got him singing falsetto."

"She's got him what?" Xander said.

"Xander Harris, meet Faith Bobbit," Buffy said.

Xander looked at Faith. "You didn't," he said.

"Sure did," Faith said. "Good times."

Xander's hands moved in front of his groin. "I'm just gonna apologize in advance right now for anything I might ever say, do or think that might annoy you in any conceivable way, ever," he said.

"Don't worry, Xan Man, you're on my good list," Faith said. "So okay, we know Kakistos is a bad ass, no question. But I've been thinking about what went down in Boston. Trick gets chatty, and he dropped some hints that make me think he's the key to all this."

"Faith," Buffy said. "I'm...really sorry about your Watcher. I'm sorry about Rebecca."

"Heard about that, huh?" Faith said, looking away from them.

"Giles told us," Buffy said. "He said she was a great, brilliant lady."

"Yeah," Faith said. "She was."

Faith looked back at them again. "Okay, Trick," she said. "He tracked Becca to the restaurant she was at, trying to get a bead on me."

Xander and Buffy exchanged a glance. It would take awhile with Faith.

"He knew what kind of car she drove, had her plate number," Faith said. "He knew her full name, birthday, where she lived in England, where she lived with me in Boston, everything. He said I was hard to track because there wasn't much of a paper trail on me and it pissed him off. But he still knew my last name, what part of Boston I was from, knew I dropped out of school and don't have my driver's license yet. He talked about computers. I figure that's how he tracks people. And he's the one who gets Kakistos his goons. He mentioned that too."

"The tracking people makes sense," Buffy said. "He was here looking for you right after you got here."

"'Course, they'd probably figure I'd head out here," Faith said. "Kakistos mentioned he'd be coming after you next, they probably figured I'd warn you."

"So, okay...maybe Kakistos is the brawn, Trick is the brains?" Buffy said.

"Maybe more like, Kakistos is in charge but Trick makes sure everything runs smooth," Faith said. "Either way, we start with Trick, we can squeeze him for all the info we need."

"Trick stayed out of the fight with me," Buffy said. "I don't know how tough he is, but for all we know he could be really tough. If he can't be staked either I'm gonna start pouting."

"Hold it," Xander said. "Don't you understand what this means?"

"What?" Buffy said.

"Think about it," Xander said. "Trick went after Faith through her Watcher. He had all her personal info. Anyone good enough with computers that he has access to all that, it's a cinch he can probably trace phone calls, backtrack a license to get an address, all that stuff. Sure, he wants Faith but you're on his list. What makes you think he won't do the same thing with Giles? Or your Mom? For all we know he's got their addresses now. If I had a Slayer on my trail, holding someone she cares about hostage would be a pretty nice bargaining chip to have."

"Oh my God," Buffy said, and leaped off the bed. Faith was up out of the bed too, looking toward the front door, all her senses alert, her sword back in her hand. Remembering the cars with blacked-out windows, and the guns inside.

"Not just Giles and your Mom, B," Faith said. "We gotta stash 'em all, Will and Xander too."

"Way ahead of you," Buffy said, picking up the phone on the nightstand. "By the way, please, please tell me you didn't use your real name when you checked into this place."

"Mary Connolly," Faith said. "Paid in cash."

"Buffy, wait!" Xander said. "If Trick has Giles' or your Mom's phones tapped then calling them tells him exactly where you are right now."

Buffy hung up the phone. "Crap," she said.

"Pay phone," Faith said. "Find a pay phone, I'll guard Will and Xander."

"Okay," Buffy said, and ran to the door.

"Oh, and Buff," Xander said. "Tell Giles I said to bring the crate I left at his place. He'll know what you mean."

"Got it," Buffy said. She hesitated at the door, and looked at Faith.

"No one's getting to them, B," Faith said. "Got my word on that."

Buffy smiled, and walked out the door.

Faith moved to a chair by the window and drew the curtains. She watched Willow, in a trance on the floor, oblivious to everything around her, and vulnerable.

Faith was thinking of a number.

She had been keeping count...

She had been keeping count of all the people who had died because of her. Because she wasn't good enough. Because she screwed up. She'd heard on the news that the death toll from the Prudential building and the Papa Gino's was seventy-two.

Willow had almost been number seventy-three in the cemetery, because Faith had left her and Buffy there alone...because she had screwed up again. Buffy had almost been number seventy-four.

"Good catch on all the cloak and dagger stuff, Xan Man," Faith said, as she watched the street through a tiny gap in the curtains, her sword ready.

"Buffy's the star, but sometimes you have to throw your bench guys in, give your starters a rest," Xander said. "I just try not to blow the lead."

"Talkin' hoop, huh?" Faith said with a smile, not taking her eyes off the street. "And here I thought you were all about the sci-fi."

"Hoop and sci-fi can peacefully coexist," Xander said. "Go Lakers."

"Bite your tongue, Xan Man," Faith said. "I'm Celts all the way, baby." She had let Rebecca die. She had let all those people in the Prudential building and the Papa Gino's die. She had almost let Willow and Buffy die. Maybe Buffy was right about her the night before. Maybe all she'd ever done was screw up.


"Len Bias is getting old," Xander said. "He won't be around forever."

"Long enough for a couple more banners," Faith said. Maybe she was a screw-up. Maybe she was just stupid. Maybe she always would be. But she wasn't going to let Willow and Xander die. Kakistos would have to go through her first.

Faith watched the street.

"Giles!" Buffy said, into the payphone in the parking lot of the Arby's four miles away from Faith's motel. "Just listen and don't talk, the line could be traced. I'm at Faith's place. I called a cab, it's on the way out to your house now. Get in, get my Mom, and get out here with her right now. Bring money, you'll be taking another cab ride from here. And Xander says bring the crate he left at your place. And I hate your car. I'm pretty sure it's evil. I might stake it."

She smiled. "Yeah, I know," she said. "It's a classic French automobile...I, um, spilled a teeny little splash of coffee on the seat. But it's just a little bit, you can't even notice it. It totally blends with the other coffee stain from last month."

"Okay, I'm hanging up now," she said. "Remember what I said last night about the cars with blacked-out windows. And Giles? Thanks. Thanks for..." Her eyes started tearing up. "Thanks for just...always being there for me, okay?" she said, her voice quavering. "You're the best Watcher in the world. I gotta go now. I'll see you soon, okay?"

She hung up the phone.

The bell rang. "It's me," Buffy said, from the other side of the door.

She didn't have to say it. Faith had known it was her by her scent.

"Everything's cool," Faith said, as she opened the door and let her in. "Willow's floating now and Xander and me are talking basketball. Giles and your Mom on the way?"

"Yeah," Buffy said, and sat on the bed and had a donut. "Now we just need someplace for them to go."

"It's gotta be a private house so vamps can't walk in," Faith said, and grabbed a jelly donut. Buffy kept on taking the jellies, and there were only two left now. "And whoever lives there can't be connected to you. No relatives, no friends. Who knows what Trick's got on you so far but we can't take chances."

"So we need someone no one would ever expect us to go to, but who'd still take us in," Xander said. "And there is no way the Celtics make it out of the east this year. Jordan won't be denied forever."

"Len and Reggie are good for another couple runs, and now that Red's brought in Shaq? Chicago won't know what hit 'em," Faith said. "And if we don't get past the Bulls this time there's no damn way you guys are."

Buffy thought about sending everyone to stay with Angel, but immediately dismissed the idea. He could protect them, but Xander and Giles didn't trust him after everything that had happened and they probably wouldn't ever trust him again. And Willow...Buffy knew there was still something wrong. Something Willow hadn't told her. And Angel's mansion wasn't a private residence as far as vampires were concerned anyway; they could walk right in without being invited. She watched the easy way Faith got along with Xander. Buffy was certain Faith would stake Angel on sight no matter how hard she tried to explain to her about how he had a soul now, and she was also certain Xander and Giles would be on Faith's side. She was just starting to get it together with Faith and she didn't need Angel complicating things now.

"Man, I miss Magic and Larry," Xander was saying. "Those were the days, huh?"

"Hey, we held up our end, man," Faith said with a grin. "The Celts stayed good even after Larry and Kevin retired. We're on banner twenty-two now, baby. Not our fault you guys couldn't keep up."

"Is Parish ever gonna retire?" Xander said. "The guy's about eighty."

"He wants a ring for every finger first," Faith said. "He's one away."

Buffy thought of all the people she knew, trying to come up with someone she knew well enough to be able to swing an invitation to their house, but not so well that Trick could connect her to them.

Unfortunately, she kept coming back to one name.

"Bullcookies," she said, and pulled her address book from her purse, and picked up the phone.
"Got someone?" Xander said.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "And you're not gonna like her. But on the plus side, her house has a pool."

"I like swimming," Xander said.

"Hold onto those happy feelings, Xander," Buffy said, and dialed. "Nurture them. Cherish them."

Xander looked at Buffy like she had just shot his dog.

"Oh, no," he said. "Tell me you're not. Say, 'Xander, I'm not.'"

"Xander, I am," Buffy said.

"Dude, it can't be that bad, can it?" Faith said. "Who's she calling?"

Cordelia Chase rolled over in her luxurious bed, opened one eye, and squinted at the darkness. Her phone was ringing. She squinted at the floor-to-ceiling window thirty feet away. The sun wasn't up yet. She squinted at the alarm clock. It said 5:50.

She tried to remember what day it was. For one terrifying moment she thought it was Monday. Then she knew it had to be Sunday, because she had been to the party after the football game the night before and she felt hung over. She tried to remember how far she had let Todd Evans go when she was off in that quiet corner with him and his shoulders and her third martini. Being completely, adorably fabulous and the most popular girl in school could be a cross to bear sometimes. There were political considerations people never took into account.

The phone kept ringing. The maid wasn't picking it up. Cordy buried her head under her pillow, but then decided whoever had the gall to wake her up before sunrise on a Sunday when she was hung over was desperately in need of being ripped a new asshole and that it was practically her civic duty to do it. And the maid was so completely going to get yelled at that it wasn't even funny.

She shrugged off her silk sheets, readied the first volley in what she anticipated to be a short but devastating "shock and awe" style verbal assault, and picked up the phone.

"Whoever you are, let me count the ways that you're pissing me off," she said. "And then let me explain to you exactly why pissing me off is such a really disastrously bad idea."

"Cordy," Buffy said, frowning at the phone. Kakistos was going to get an extra-special beating for making her do this. "Always a pleasure. You're just a ray of sunshine in all our lives."

"Who the hell is this?" Cordy said, getting up and wrapping her velour bathrobe around her. She was completely awake now and ready for a fight, something she could really sink her teeth into. The voice sounded familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. "And what exactly is your mental damage that you think waking people up at six in the morning on a Sunday is a good idea?"

"It's Buffy. Buffy Summers. The girl you've been rude to in the hallways at school for the past couple years? Oh yeah, and I also saved your life. Twice."

"Buffy," Cordy said, with a grim smile. "Of course it's you. How could it not be you? Who else can so effortlessly piss me off?"

"As much as I'd like exchanging pleasantries with you all morning, I need to get right down to it," Buffy said. "I need a favor."

"You," Cordy said. "Need a favor. From me. I'm on one of those shows where they pull pranks on people, right? There are cameramen in the bushes outside and they're gonna leap out and say 'gotcha'!"

"Cordy, my Mom and Giles and my friends are in trouble. I need you to let them stay at your place today. It should just be for today. Then I'll come get them when it's over."

"Sure, anything else? Wanna borrow my car? How about a date with my boyfriend? Or I could write you out a check for a million dollars..."

Buffy sighed. "Cordy, I'm serious," she said. "They've got nowhere else to go, and..."

"What are you talking about?" Cordy said, pacing around the room and stretching her back. Talking to Buffy always made her back hurt for some reason. The girl just stressed her out. "Nowhere to go why? In trouble why? Make sense, because I was done with this conversation before I even picked up the phone."

Buffy wanted to put her fist through the wall. "Remember how I saved your life when those vampires tried to kill you?" she said.

"That was guys on drugs, and both times I could've handled it myself."

"Think what you want, I don't have time to argue. There's a vampire after me and he might try to get at me through my Mom and Giles and Willow and Xander. They need somewhere to stay until I take him down."

"Okay," Cordy said, and grinned despite herself. "I'll take Buffy's Paranoid Delusions for eight-hundred. So if vampires are after your friends why not put them up in a hotel?"

"Because vampires can walk right into a hotel, it's a public place. And this one's good at tracking people. But they can't walk into a private home, they have to be invited. You'll all be safe as long as you don't let any strange people in."

"And yet you want me to let your friends in," Cordy said. "Are we seeing the logical flaw in our argument yet?"

"Cordy," Buffy said, and took a deep breath. She was an inch away from reaching through the phone and strangling her. "I saved your life. Twice. I don't give a shit whether you acknowledge it or not, I don't give a shit whether you believe in vampires or not."

Xander and Faith both looked at Buffy. Xander had seen Buffy like this before. And he knew when he heard Buffy speaking in that particular tone of voice and he saw Buffy's eyes flashing in that particular way that it was time to duck and cover.

"I saved your ungrateful life and you owe me and you're gonna make good on it, Cordy," Buffy said. "My Mom and Giles and Willow and Xander are in trouble and you owe me and you're gonna make good on it today."

Cordy hadn't ever heard this tone from Buffy before. But she had seen Buffy punch a hole through a wall and she had seen her take down three vampires--Cordy knew vampires existed, she just pretended she didn't because that was the official line in town--single-handed. Cordy didn't duck and cover for anyone...but she decided it might be a good idea to tread a little cautiously now.

"Well, aren't we bitchy this morning," Cordy said.

"If I have to come down there and bang on your door you're gonna find out just how bitchy I can be," Buffy said.

"Fine, whatever," Cordy said, after a moment. "Just make sure they don't touch anything. I don't know where they've been."

"Thank you."

"Oh, sure, anytime. What are enemies for?"

Buffy was tired. She hadn't slept in more than a day and she felt it catching up with her now. "One more thing, Cordy," she said. "My Mom will be with them. Please don't be rude to her."

The 'please' took Cordy by surprise. Underneath it, she heard the worry and the exhaustion in Buffy's voice for the first time. And she suddenly felt lousy about herself.

"It's...it's okay, Buffy," Cordy said. "I'll be nice to them. The weather's supposed to be summery today, you know...tell them to bring their bathing suits if they want. It looks like it'll be a great day for using the pool."

Buffy smiled. "Thanks, Cordy," she said, and hung up.

"I can't believe you're making us stay with Cordy," Xander said. "What did we ever do to you?"

"I feel your pain, Xander. But she's all we've got," Buffy said.

"Queen bitch, huh?" Faith said. "I knew a couple girls like her in high school. Well, for the year I went to high school anyway."

"Only because she's never seen me really pissed off," Buffy said. "If she ever does she'll find out who the real queen bitch is pretty fast."

Faith grinned. She was starting to like this girl after all.

"How do you even have Cordy's number?" Xander said. "Are you secretly evil?"

"We were partnered up on that science project, remember?" Buffy said. "The thing with the egg? Drop it from twelve feet and find a way for it not to break? Guess I forgot to throw away her phone number. And burn it."

"Oh yeah, right, I remember that now. And then your egg broke and there was that Pterodactyl Demon," Xander said.

"If Cordy had held up her end building the little parachute thing the egg wouldn't have broke in the first place," Buffy said. "Stupid demon egg. How was I supposed to know it was a demon egg? If they're gonna sell demon eggs at the supermarket they should be clearly labeled."

"Pterodactyl Demon?" Faith said.

"Welcome to Sunnydale," Buffy said. "Anyway there's hope for Cordy yet. She said you guys could use the pool."

"Hey, great!" Xander said. "If we can just stop at my place and get my swim stuff--"

"Nope," Faith said. "Too risky. If you absolutely gotta swim, stop off at a store somewhere and buy a bathing suit real quick. You all need to stay away from your houses today."

"Faith's right," Buffy said. "You can stop off at the Costco or whatever and buy what you need to make your stay at Cordy's livable. But you have to be quick, and no going home. And no leaving Cordy's until we come and get you."

Buffy sat back down on the bed with Faith and took the last jelly donut. Faith decided to overlook that.

"Okay, Faith," Buffy said. "Let's figure out how you and me are gonna dust these guys."

"Music to my ears, B," Faith said.

After attacking the dilemma from every conceivable angle, it eventually became apparent to Buffy and Faith that the problem with super-powerful vampires who can't be staked and potentially have a network of vampire minions cruising around with automatic rifles is that it's very difficult to come up with plans to defeat them. They still had yet to come up with a plan, when the bell rang. Instantly, Faith was up and ready to fight. But Buffy was relaxed.

"My Mom," Buffy said, and got up and walked to the door.

"Buffy?" a woman's voice said. "Are you in there? Open this door!"

Buffy opened the door, and Joyce Summers rushed into the room and threw her arms around her.

"Hi, Mom," Buffy said.

"What happened to you? Tell me what happened! Are you all right? What happened to your shoulder?" Joyce practically screamed, noticing the bandage.

Faith watched her with Buffy. Joyce was forty years old, and pretty, and she looked younger than her age. She was tall, with reddish-blonde hair and hazel eyes, and Buffy looked like her. Buffy smelled like her too. Faith saw Joyce's concern; she saw the love there. She looked away.

"Mom, everything's..." Buffy started to say.

"What happened to your shoulder?" Joyce insisted.

"A vamp...scratched it," Buffy said. "Look, Mom, I don't have a lot of time. There's a new vampire in town and he's dangerous and you need to let me do my job here."

Joyce looked in her daughter's eyes. She knew Buffy was lying about her shoulder, just the latest lie in a series of them that stretched back...how far? How long since the day her daughter confided in her that she had these powers and this calling and this amazing gift and that it was her responsibility, her duty to stop the tide of evil that rose up, sometimes, threatening to engulf the world? She and Buffy's father had Buffy committed to an asylum, that day...and Buffy had never confided in her again. And Joyce had never forgiven herself.

It had cost Joyce her marriage, eventually: a piece at a time, she had lost her husband to it...to the Slayer.

She stood by her daughter anyway.

The day she found out Buffy was a Slayer, the day she saw her kill a vampire right in front of her and she had no choice left but to believe it, she knew she couldn't keep her daughter to herself anymore. She had to share her now; she had to share her with a whole world that it was Buffy's responsibility to protect.

"I love you," Joyce said. "You know that, right?"

"Mom..." Buffy said, groaning a little, and rolling her eyes. "What did I tell you about getting all After School Special? And where's Giles?"

Joyce smiled. She remembered acting the exact same way around her own mother, when she was Buffy's age. You're seventeen, and free...and then one day you're forty, and you have a daughter, and she has a power over you that you never thought anything could. "I know, parents are such a drag, aren't they?" Joyce said. "Giles is bringing some things in from the cab."

"I love you too," Buffy said, with a little smile. "And that concludes this week's very special episode of 'Buffy, Slayer of Vampires'. Tune in next week when Buffy confronts peer pressure." Buffy walked out the door to help Giles, and Joyce looked around the room for the first time.

"Hello, Xander," Joyce said with a smile. "Why is Willow floating on the floor with her eyes closed?" Joyce noticed the gun, and knew then what happened to Buffy's shoulder. She made herself keep smiling anyway.

"Hi, Mrs. Summers," Xander said. "Will's being all witchy."

Joyce's eyes lit on Faith. "Hello," she said, looking at Faith curiously. "You must be Faith. Rupert says you're a Slayer too, like my daughter."

"Uh, yeah, hi, Mrs. Summers," Faith said.

"Please," Joyce said, and sat next to Faith on the bed. "Call me Joyce. I already feel like you're the sister Buffy never had growing up."

"Uh...thanks," Faith said. Faith felt uncomfortable around Joyce, but she didn't know why. "Uh...who's Rupert?"

"I am," Giles said, walking into the room with Buffy. Buffy carried a crate into the room, and set it down on the bed. "Rupert Giles. I'm Buffy's Watcher. I've heard quite a lot about you, Faith. It's a pleasure to meet you."

He was looking at her. Scrutinizing her. Faith recognized the look. He was looking at her the same way Rebecca had, the day they first met.

"And now, Buffy, I take it you have an explanation for this?" Giles said.

"Trick finds people for Kakistos," Buffy said. "He uses computers to get their personal info. Addresses, phones, cars, the works. It's how he found Faith, he had all her Watcher's info. You guys aren't safe at home."

"Bloody computers," Giles said. "I keep warning people about computers. No one ever listens."

"Who's this, Faith?" Joyce said, picking up the photo of Gwen from the nightstand. "Is this your sister? She's beautiful."

It was too much. Giles and Buffy's mother and now Gwen...Faith felt everyone's eyes on her. She had to get out of there.

"She...uh...she was...my Watcher's daughter," Faith managed to say.

"Was...?" Xander said.

"Uh...hey, you know what? I'm just gonna go hop in the shower real quick and put some clothes on," Faith said.
Faith grabbed some clothes from the bureau and the closet and practically ran into the bathroom.

When she got in there and the door was shut safely behind her she leaned over the sink, and just let herself breathe for awhile.

Buffy waited for the sound of the shower running before she spoke. "Faith's had it tough, Mom," she said, quietly. "Her Watcher was killed. Faith saw it happen. I guess they were real close, too. The vamp we're after is the one who did it." She took Gwen's photograph from her mother, and looked at it.

"That's...that's terrible," Joyce said. "That poor girl. "Where are her parents?"

"Faith...ran away," Buffy said. "I don't know where her parents are." Buffy realized she already knew more about Faith than Faith would have liked. She decided to keep what Giles had told her about Faith's mother to herself.

"I looked up Rebecca's file after you left last night," Giles said. "She had one daughter, Gwendolyn. She was killed by vampires ten years ago, when she was six. Along with Rebecca's husband."

Buffy looked at Gwen again. Gwen was a beautiful young girl, with blonde hair and dark, piercing blue eyes.

"She looked like her mother," Giles said, looking over her shoulder.

"Faith doesn't have much," Xander said, looking around at the cheap room. "Why do you think she kept the picture?"

Buffy carefully set the photograph back down on the nightstand.

You do have a Watcher, right? Buffy heard herself say, in the cemetery. Or is that something else you're screwing up? Not that your Watcher's done such a bang-up job. She remembered the look in Faith's eyes, when she said it.

"Rebecca," Buffy said. "Faith loved her."

They heard the shower turn off. Faith walked back in a few minutes later in her broken-in jeans and her tee-shirt, with her game face on and a swagger in her step.

"Nothin' like a nice hot shower to start the day off. Especially since vamps don't smell so good. Okay, so, Giles, right?" Faith said, pointing at Giles as she sat on the edge of the bed and put on her boots. "So what's up with the box? You bring me a present?"

Giles opened the crate. There was a flamethrower inside, along with bundles of dynamite, and two swords. "As a matter of fact, I did," he said, and pulled out the swords. "I see you already found a sword for yourself, but these are better. These are katanas, Japanese swords. In the hands of an expert they are devastating blades." He handed the swords to Buffy and Faith. They looked them over, getting a feel for them in their hands. "Xander can explain the rest."

"Flamethrower, dynamite," Xander said. "Dynamite comes with remote detonators. It's all stuff we grabbed from the local army base last year. With Kakistos being all grumpy and unstakable, it might come in handy."

"Your stakes not working on Kakistos," Giles said. "It bothers me."

"It bothered me too," Buffy said. "Especially the part where I was getting my ass kicked."

"Buffy," Joyce said.

"Butt," Buffy said. "Getting my butt kicked."

"What I mean is, it shouldn't be possible," Giles said. "It goes against everything we know about vampires. It goes against all the established lore."

"Believe me, it's possible," Buffy said. "I've got the bruises to prove it."

"I wonder," Giles said. "I've done a bit of research. Not much is known about Kakistos, but we do know that he is very old, perhaps the oldest living vampire in the world. He has cloven hooves for hands and feet. Other ancient vampires--the Master, for example--have mutated as the years go by, becoming more bestial in appearance. I wonder if perhaps there are other aspects to these mutations. Such as, for example, tougher skin. Or perhaps, if Kakistos' heart itself was thicker than normal, an ordinary stake might not be enough to kill him."

"Which leaves us back at square one," Buffy said. "So what's the point?"

"Hold up, B, I get what he's sayin'," Faith said. "Becca always told me the same thing--wooden stake to the heart kills a vamp, no exceptions. And she knew about Kakistos. If there was something special about him that he really couldn't be staked, you can bet Becca would have known about it, Becca was always on the ball. No way something like that would get by her. Maybe his heart is so old and thick and tough now that we just need a bigger hunk of wood to get to it."

"It's something to keep in mind, at least," Giles said. "But these swords are your best option now. No vampire can survive beheading, I don't care how bloody old he is. And he won't be very pleased with that flamethrower either."

"I'm sure pleased with it though," Faith said, and pulled the flamethrower out of the crate and examined it. "You know just what a girl wants, G-Man."

"Uh, can I just mention that I'm the one who stole the stuff?" Xander said.

"Stealing stuff from an army base," Faith said. "Pretty radical move."

"There was this magic spell last Halloween, our costumes sorta took over our minds and gave us weird new memories," Xander said. "So Buffy ended up as this Victorian lady and Willow ended up as the ghost of, uh, a dead prostitute..."

"Hold up. Will dressed as a prostitute?" Faith said. "Seems a little out there for Will."

"Nah, she just wore this sort of sexy outfit," Buffy said. "My fault, I wanted her to show herself off a little, so I took her out shopping to get something a little wild, and she ended up wearing this short skirt and a crop top. And she looked pretty but she was all embarrassed and a little freaked out, so she put a bedsheet on over it and went out as a ghost. Add a dash of annoying magic and presto, instant ghost of a dead prostitute."

"She was just so cute," Xander said. "She was the cutest dead prostitute ever. Uh...that didn't come out right."

"And I got to wear a corset and totally not know how to fight anymore," Buffy said. "And I was suddenly scared to death of vampires. Worst holiday ever. Even worse than last Christmas when we got all the zombies."

"Anyway I dressed as this army guy, and suddenly I had all these army memories," Xander said. "Like how rocket launchers work, and the codes to get into the supply depot at the local base. The memories stuck even after we returned to normal, so sometimes I still say stuff like "reconnoiter". The annoying thing is I was gonna go out as James Bond, but the tux rental place was closed. I could've had James Bond memories. James Bond memories."

"Are you ever gonna let that go?" Buffy said.

"No," Xander said.

"Count your blessings, Xander," Willow said, and blew out the candles and stood up. "You still got to be an army guy and pick up all those cool army skills. Me? When you're a crack addict prostitute, well, let's not even talk about the skills I picked up. Hi, Giles, Mrs. Summers. What are you guys doing here?"

"Trick's a computer nerd," Buffy said. "It's how they tracked Faith, he had all her Watcher's info."

"I bet he's on AOL," Willow said. "All the evil people are."

"Anyway until we corral Trick it's not safe for my Mom or Giles to stay at their houses, for all we know Trick knows where they live," Buffy said. "Did the spell work? Did you find him?"

"Wait," Xander said. "I want to hear more about the skills Willow picked up last Halloween first."

"Xander," Joyce said, and smiled. "Be good."

"Or I could just hit you with a lightning bolt," Willow said.

"I'm shutting up now, aren't I?" Xander said.

"Being skanky isn't as much fun as it looks in the movies," Willow said. "Just say no to drugs, kids."

"I know how to knit now," Buffy said. "Plus ballroom dancing."

Willow held up the map of Sunnydale and pointed at a spot near the northwest corner. There was a tiny pinpoint of light there. "Trick is right there," she said. "I got a pretty clear vision of the place too, it's this really run-down old warehouse near the docks. Hey, are there any blueberry muffins left? I'm totally jonesing for a blueberry muffin. Those things are like crack! Um...I mean...I'm gonna stop talking now."

"Okay," Buffy said, and passed Willow a blueberry muffin. "So here's the dealie-o. It's not safe to go home and motels can't keep vamps out. So I found a place to stash you all. Once Faith and I take the vamps down we'll come get you."

"Where are we going?" Willow said.

Xander looked deeply troubled. Faith looked up at Buffy, and grinned.

"What?" Willow said. "What is it? Where are we going?"

Buffy put her hands on Willow's shoulders. "Will, you know how you always say we're best friends no matter what, and you never carry grudges?" she said. "Not even after that time I borrowed your favorite sweater and got that stain on it and the cleaners could never get it out?"

"I really liked that sweater," Willow said. "And are you ever gonna give me my blouse back?"

"Cordy's house," Buffy said.

Willow burst out laughing. "Right! Cordy! Oh sure, like I'm gonna fall for that one! I know what happened, I was all being trancey and you guys were like, 'Hey, let's play a joke on Willow when she wakes up'. Cordy. As if! So come on, Buffy, seriously...where are we going?"

"I can't believe you're making us stay with Cordy," Willow said, doing her scowly face at Buffy with her arms folded across her chest and looking every bit as menacing as a baby panda bear. They all sat around the map on the bed, waiting for the cab to arrive and trying to come up with a plan.

"Oh, Cordelia can't be that bad, can she, Willow?" Joyce said.

"She can be," Buffy said. "And she is, on a regular basis. I've been tempted to stake her before. But I think she's experimenting with niceness today, so if you guys wanna use her pool she said it's fine."

"See, Willow?" Joyce said, and patted Willow's arm. "It'll be okay. I'm sure if you got to know Cordelia better you'd find she's just as nervous about seeing you as you are about seeing her. It's not easy being one of the popular girls at school, you know. I was popular, and I always thought a lot of people judged me without ever trying to get to know me."

"Mom, you know how I'd do bad stuff when I was a kid and it annoyed you and you'd send me up to my room and not let me watch Beverly Hills 90210?" Buffy said. "If Cordy was your daughter you would have sold her to a pack of traveling gypsies. This planet isn't big enough for the two of you. Okay, so Trick is in a warehouse by the docks. How does that help us?"

"A big loud fight shouldn't attract too much attention out there at least," Faith said. "Will, you said you got a good look at the place. It's real old, right? What's it made of? We got a flamethrower and dynamite. Think we can torch it?"

"Yup," Willow said. "Lots of wood. Judging from what I saw the place would go up really quick."

"Okay, that's an idea," Buffy said. "We know Trick's there, but the question is, will we find Kakistos with him. If we have to go looking for Kakistos it changes the game plan."

"Plan for your enemy's capabilities, not for what you think he might do," Faith said. Faith noticed Giles was watching her.

"What's that mean?" Buffy said.

"Something Becca always told me," Faith said. "Don't try to predict where the bad guy's gonna move, just be ready for any kind of move he can make. That way you keep all the bases covered. So for all we know Kakistos is off somewhere taking some R and R after Willow toasted him. But he could be in that warehouse with Trick, and we need to be ready for that."

"Kakistos is the big fish," Buffy said. "But we'll have to be careful with Trick too, he likes to use guns."

"We'll scout the place out," Faith said. "If Kakistos is there we'll go in hard and fast. We could use the dynamite and the flamethrower, nuke the place. If we block their exits we can make sure that when they run they run smack into us. I don't care how tough they are, they won't last long against us in the daylight."

"If it's just Trick we can play it sneaky," Buffy said. "Go in and grab him and squeeze him until he tells us where Kakistos is."

"Or another way to go is, they must have cars," Faith said. "The dynamite comes with remotes. If Kakistos is there we stick the dynamite in their cars, torch the warehouse, and when they burn rubber out of there, boom. Maybe Kakistos can survive his car blowing up but I bet he'll be nice and tenderized at least."

"You're very impressive, Faith," Giles said. "Rebecca was a good teacher."

"Hey, thanks, G-Man," Faith said. "Yeah, she was. And hey, when this is all over? You and me are gonna talk weapons."

"How come you never call me impressive?" Buffy said, frowning at Giles.

"I call you impressive all the time," Giles said. "Just not when you're in the room."

"You also call me intractable, insubordinate, rash and willful," Buffy said. "And I only know what three of those mean."

"They all mean you're a very stubborn girl," Joyce said. "Now where could you have picked that up from?"

"It's a mystery for the ages," Buffy said.

A car horn beeped outside. Faith jumped up and ran to the window.

"Cab," she said. "I'll check it out." She shoved her stake in her back pocket, and walked out the door.

"We're good," she said, when she returned a minute later. "Cabbie's not a vamp, no one else in the car. Checked underneath and in the trunk too."

"Okay, guys," Buffy said, as they all stood up. "We should be there to pick you up later today. Just enjoy the pool and try not to hate me."

"You come back," Joyce said, as she hugged Buffy goodbye. "You come back to me. I won't forgive you if you don't come back to me."

"I'll be back to annoy you," Buffy said. "It's my mission in life."

Faith stood there, looking down at her Doc Marten boots, and up at the horrible painting, and then at an indeterminate spot on the wall near the window, as Buffy hugged Willow and Xander and Giles. These people were Buffy's family, Buffy's friends, Buffy's Watcher...not hers.

And then Willow walked right up to Faith, and smiled, and hugged her.

The hug took Faith by surprise, and she didn't know what to do...and then she found herself hugging Willow back.

"You come back too, Faith," Willow said. "I just made a new friend. I'm not gonna lose her now."

"Kakistos and Trick won't know what hit 'em, Will," Faith said.

"Good," Willow said. "And after that you can rescue us from Cordy."

It was like someone stuck a "Hug Me" sign on Faith's back after that. Joyce hugged her, and looked down at her and smiled. "I want you to come to the house for dinner when this is over," Joyce said. "Do you like meat loaf?"

"Uh...sure," Faith said. "I'm good with meat loaf."

"You say that now," Buffy said.

Xander looked at Faith sheepishly. "So, uh...do I get a hug too?" he said. "I likes me some hugs."

"Sure, what the hell," Faith said, and smiled, and hugged him. "I'm runnin' a special on hugs today."

"You are so gonna kick their asses," Xander said. Not even a question."

"Got that right, Xan Man," Faith said.

Giles didn't hug her. Instead, he looked at her. And wiped his glasses.

"I would give you some words of encouragement, but you don't need them," Giles said. "I know Rebecca trained you well. If you and Buffy remember your training and work as a team there is absolutely no doubt in my mind you'll destroy this creature." He smiled, that little winsome smile he had that showed off his dimples. "And then you and I are going to talk weapons," he said.

Faith couldn't believe it. She actually thought he was cute.

"Down to you and me, B," Faith said, as they watched the cab drive away.

"Let's get to it," Buffy said, and they stuffed all the weapons back into the crate, grabbed the map of Sunnydale, and walked out with them into the sun. When she saw Giles' car Faith said, "What the hell is that thing?"

"A classic French automobile," Buffy said.

"Looks like a go cart," Faith said.

"You wanna drive?" Buffy said. "I hate this car with all the hate there is."

"Sure, why not. It's a car, right? How bad can it be?"

Buffy handed Faith the keys with a smile, and Faith walked to the driver's side door. Except it was the passenger side door. The steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car. "What's the steering wheel doing over there?" Faith said.

"I don't know if they were all made like this or Giles just got some kind of special British option," Buffy said. "But in England everyone drives on the left. I think they do it just to aggravate America. I think they're still pissed off about the American Revolution. I know Giles is."

Faith shrugged her shoulders, opened the passenger door for Buffy, and got in the other side. "This thing automatic?" she said.

"Manual," Buffy said, as she got in and threw the crate in the back seat. "You can do manual?"

"Driving stick?" Faith said with a wicked grin. "One of my best things."

"Faith," Buffy said. "Can I...ask you something?"

"Shoot," Faith said.

"This is...a personal question. I don't...I probably don't even have a right to ask this. And you don't have to answer me if you don't want to."

"One way to find out. What's up?"

Faith noticed Buffy was looking away from her. Faith had no idea what was on Buffy's mind, but it was definitely something that made her uncomfortable.

"Last night...you and Willow," Buffy said. "Your scents were on each other."

And then Faith finally understood...everything fell into place, and it all made sense. She knew then why she and Buffy had gotten off to such a bad start in the cemetery. It wasn't the argument over the two vampires.

It was Willow.

Her scent had been on Willow, because she had held her close for a long time in the car, when Willow was scared...and of course, Buffy had smelled it.

And she got jealous...

"Buffy," Faith said. "Listen. Nothing happened, okay? I swear."

Buffy finally looked at her.

"Did Will tell you about last night?" Faith said. "About those vamps?"

"She said...she said they tried to rape her," Buffy said.

"Yeah," Faith said. "I got there just in time. One of the fuckers had her down on her knees and they were about to get started. And she was freaking, Buffy, she was scared. I don't mean just while it was happening, but after too. She tried to hide it, but she was pretty shaky. After I dusted the vamps I kept my eye on her, y'know? She looked like she was holding a bunch of stuff in, but maybe it needed to come out. I hotwired a car because I wanted to find you in a hurry, but Will was all still shaky. So I kept my eye on her. Anyway she's got guts, y'know? She was all scared and freaked out still, I could tell she was, but all she was thinking about was you. After I told her about Kakistos she was all about going to find you. But she was scared, Buffy. Those vamps, they were rough with her."

Buffy nodded, looking straight ahead now.

"So anyway after a couple minutes in the car she suddenly starts shaking really bad, so I pulled over," Faith said. "She had to let it out, y'know? I told her it was okay, that I was there for her, that I wouldn't leave. I told her those guys were dust, and no one could hurt her anymore now that I was with her. And she started crying...and we hugged. She was all shaky and crying and stuff and she just put her arms around me and held onto me real tight. She was real scared still and I held her for awhile, until she stopped shaking and she was okay again. That's why you smelled us on each other. And that's all that happened Buffy, I promise. She just needed someone right then, and I know you would've been her first choice. But I was there."

Buffy nodded again, still looking straight ahead.

"Did they...did they hurt her?" Buffy said.

"Well...they hit her once or twice I think, before I got there," Faith said. "She had a bloody nose and a bruise on her face. But that's it. She was okay."

A tear fell down Buffy's cheek.

"Buffy," Faith said, and turned to face her, and put her hand on her shoulder. "She's okay, honey. Will's okay."

"Motherfuckers," Buffy said, her lips trembling now, as more tears ran down her cheeks. "Those motherfuckers."

"Nothing happened to her, Buffy," Faith said. "They didn't have a chance to do anything. I got there in time. They're all dust now, honey. They're dust."

"I should've been there," Buffy said. "I left her alone. I left her all alone and they...they almost..."

Buffy smashed her fist through the glove compartment, crumpling it like tinfoil, and started to cry.

"I'm supposed to be there!" Buffy screamed. "I'm the Slayer and I'm supposed to be there! She almost died! She almost...they almost..."

Faith stroked her hair. They looked at each other.

"They almost raped her," Buffy whispered.

Faith brought Buffy toward her. Buffy leaned her head on Faith's shoulder.

"I love her and they almost..." Buffy whispered.

"They didn't, honey," Faith said, and hugged her. "They didn't, okay?"

Buffy nodded, and put her arms around Faith, and cried...

"She's okay, Buffy," Faith said. "She's okay. She's okay."

Buffy nodded again, as Faith held her.

"It's my fault," Buffy said. "I should've been there."

Faith caressed Buffy's hair, as she held her. She felt warm again...the warm feeling in her stomach was back, the one only Buffy gave her.

Buffy's scent was all around her, now. She liked being this close to it.

"No, honey," Faith said. "It wasn't your fault. Will made a bad move, okay? She made a bad move, going there by herself, and she knows it, she knows she screwed up. You can't be everywhere at once. She knows she should've called you. From now on she'll be more careful, she'll call you when she wants to go to that magic store, and nothing like this will ever happen again. Okay?"

Buffy nodded. She noticed that Faith's scent was strong at the back of her neck, just below her ear. Buffy moved her head so her nose was pressed right up against that spot.

"So you're like, the hug girl, huh?" Buffy said, and smiled. "You just breeze into town and give everybody hugs."

"It's one of my Slayer powers," Faith said. "I got like, super hugs. They make everything all better."

Buffy giggled. "Yeah," she said.

She breathed in Faith's scent. She didn't want to move. She wanted to stay right there.

But she knew she couldn't. So she wiped her tears away, and let Faith go.

"Sorry I'm being such a weirdo," Buffy said, with a smile. Faith noticed Buffy was blushing. "I probably had too much sugar today."

"It's cool, B," Faith said. "Uh, hope G-Man wasn't too fond of that glove compartment."

Buffy laughed. "I've sort of been wrecking his car a piece at a time for a year now," she said. "But the car's evil and French. It's an evil French car."

"So uh, can I ask you something?" Faith said. "Y'know, personal?"

"Sure," Buffy said. "Guess I owe you one."

"Are you and Will...?"

Buffy giggled. "What?" she said, as if it was the most ridiculous question Faith could possibly have asked. "Can I give you the biggest no ever? I mean, hello, not gay over here. And Willow isn't either. That's...why I was so freaked out before. I mean, Willow likes guys and then all of a sudden it seemed like she was maybe getting busy with some girl she just met. It was weird and I guess it just freaked me out a little."

"Sure, I can see that," Faith said. She knew Buffy was lying. Maybe Buffy and Willow weren't a couple. But Faith knew Buffy liked girls whether she was admitting it or not...and she knew Buffy liked Willow, whether she was admitting it or not. Maybe Willow was straight. But that didn't mean Buffy couldn't be jealous...

Maybe Buffy knew she could never have Willow that way, maybe she hadn't even admitted to herself that she wanted Willow that way. But Faith figured Buffy wasn't willing to let any other girl have her, either.

"Um...but hey, if you're...um...that way? I don't have a problem with it," Buffy said, and smiled. "This is California after all."

"I drive stick, remember?" Faith said, and smiled. "Stop tryin' to get busy with me."

"You wish I was getting busy with you," Buffy said, smiling back.

"You wish I wished it," Faith said. Buffy's scent came to her again.

What was that flower?

"Okay, now that we agree that we're both totally not gay we better get going," Buffy said. "Kakistos and Trick aren't gonna stake themselves."

"Time for me to demonstrate my awesome stick handling skills," Faith said with a sly grin, and started the car.

"Talk like that around Xander and he might follow you home," Buffy said.

"He's a nice guy, but I got someone back in Boston. But hey, I'd take the G-Man out for a test drive."

"Giles? You like Giles?"

"Why not?"

"You've met Giles, right? You understand that Giles was the guy with the glasses and the English accent in the motel room?"

"Sure, I met him. He's a hottie."

"Oh my God," Buffy said. "Your words. They're hurting my brain."

Faith put the car in gear. They lurched forward, then stopped.

"Damn," Faith said. "I think this thing is a go cart."

"At least you didn't do that thing where you put it in reverse by mistake like in the movies," Buffy said.

"Then the engine backfires like a shotgun," Faith said, and grinned. "Okay, Faith drives the frigging French car, take two."

"Annnnnd...action!" Buffy said, and they drove off into the sun, laughing.

Faith looked out the window at everything as she drove. She liked new places; whenever Rebecca took her somewhere new it always made her excited. Sunnydale was hilly but the buildings were mostly flat; low one-story houses in bright colors that looked very strange to a girl from Boston. Boston was skyscrapers and stately old Back Bay townhouses; it was granite and concrete, and cold, windswept streets. Boston towered above you, looked down on you. Everything in Sunnydale was just the opposite: low and sprawling, horizontal where Boston was vertical, wood and stucco in bright colors instead of Boston's brick and stone, and it was warm when Boston was cold. Palm trees dotted the streets downtown, and there were mountains in the distance, and everything was splashed with sun from a clear blue sky.

The streets were more alive here, the sky was a brighter blue, everything was more vibrant. Boston was strangely muted by comparison. Boston had stood for centuries; it seemed to have been drained of color, over the years. You felt the weight of its history. Boston was old. But Sunnydale was new.

"I still can't believe you're crushing on my Watcher," Buffy said, checking the map. "Take a left at the next light, you brazen hussy."

"You don't think he's cute?" Faith said. "Come on, with that smile?"

"What planet are you from again?" Buffy said, shaking her head. "Have you come to our world to study this mysterious concept we humans call love?"

"I'm from Planet Beantown, baby," Faith said. "I'm still trying to figure out your strange West Coast ways. Thinkin' about buyin' a surf board."

As Faith took her turn at the light they passed a black transvestite standing on the corner with yellow hair and yellow lipstick wearing a bright orange dress and platform heels who could have played power forward for the Lakers. Boston didn't have anything like that either. Especially not at eight in the morning.

"Okay, we're five minutes out," Buffy said, checking the map. "It's a good bet they know what kind of car Giles drives, so we should hide it."

"I still say it's a go cart with a fancy body on top, and I'm not even kidding," Faith said. "We'll stash the thing and, uh, reconnoiter on foot."

"Good. I always wanted to reconnoiter something," Buffy said.

"Glad we got the crate to lug the weapons around in," Faith said. "Two gals walking down the street carrying a flamethrower and dynamite in their hands would have looked a little suspicious. But then I thought that drag queen back there looked pretty suspicious, so what do I know."

"Who, you mean Lonnie?" Buffy said. "He's a sweetheart."

Part 11

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