DISCLAIMER: The characters of BtVS belong to Joss Whedon, M.E. Production & other suit types I don't know. The original characters in this piece do belong to me. Also, we'll put this at an R rating for language and violence…maybe some sex between Buffy and Willow too…
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I had this thought moons ago about what happened after Sunnydale (this was before the comics). About who Buffy was and the way the Scoobs were left at the end of Season 7; how I really didn't like it. This is a story about reconnection and forming new bonds. Hopefully, it worked. As an FYI…given the canonical comics, this so A.U., but truthfully, I prefer this world as opposed to the one that Joss is painting for us. I at least let the Scoobs find a small amount of peace. This will eventually be part of a series. The second portion of this story arc is completed and will be a crossover with Dexter. The third and final portion is currently being worked on and is not even half way done. I hope that you'll get to read it all. This story was originally published back in '07. Due to some encouragement it has been worked over, steam rolled, red inked and re-edited to bring it up to a livable standard. When I first started writing, I didn't have a beta or a clue as to what the hell I was supposed to be doing. I've learned. I've grown. And I've gotten LOTS of help. I'm also still learning. So… =0) That being said, any mistakes are all my fault. Yell in my direction. Thank You's: Dirk for being my wonderful primary beta. Dennis for the moral support and the humor. Thumper for allowing her minion some alone time. Howard Russell for his spit and polish on the final touches. Lastly, Valyssia, who when this is all said and done, should probably get writing credit on it as well.
FEEDBACKGood, bad, I usually take it all…leave it here or drop me a line: whedonistic.tendencies@gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

One Last Shot
By Whedonist


Chapter 7 - Beautiful Trash

On the trip back to the apartment, Willow was able to ground most of the energy she had channeled. Working a small glamour, she masked her dark hair and eyes. What she couldn't suppress were the waves of nausea that rolled through her system. She had broken out into a cold sweat during the cab ride home and her body began to shiver on the elevator ride up. It was worth it though. Sick or not. Withdraws or not. He needed that. Just hope Buffy can forgive me. Inhaling a deep breath, Willow suppressed the urge to vomit and tried to gain control of her body.

Willow entered the apartment first and was smothered in an embrace before she made it halfway through the entry. Her assailant was a one-eyed father-to-be. Xander held tight to his lifelong friend until a few loud coughs from two slayers caused him to let go.

Laughing, Willow pulled back and smiled. "I've missed you too, Xander."

Xander turned his attention to Dawn and Kennedy. He had Dawn off of her feet in a bear hug before she could say a word.

Settling into the living room, Willow asked, "When did you two get in?"

"About fifteen minutes ago. So, Will, what is this? You come to town, people start dying, what's the deal? Is there something you want to tell us?" Xander teased with a smile.

"I can assure you, Mr. Harris, this isn't me. It might have something to do with me, but I've had good alibis for my entire time here."

"Heya, Cupcake," Jimmy called out, returning from the back of the apartment. "I just got off the phone with Pat. We're back at work tomorrow. We also, in an uncharacteristic act of kindness, are the primary on both Murillo and Poulsen."

An amused Faith mouthed 'cupcake' to Willow. Willow just shrugged.

"Good." Buffy smiled, relieved. "I was thinking we need to start looking into past Sunnydale residents. Also Faith, Ken, Will, I'm going to need you guys to do some foot work. Start asking around at any of the local demon haunts and see if anything or anyone is being talked about."

"We can get started today," Kennedy replied.

"Giles, Dawn, Xan, can you guys look over the girl's info, see if anything pops out at you? Besides the fact they're from Sunnydale."

"Aye, Aye, General Bufferton. But can I take a nap first? I drove all night," Xander begged.

"Do whatever. Faith and Xan, you guys got Willow's room. The rest of you know where you're at. Sorry again, Giles. It's a really comfy couch. I've spent many a night on it."

"It's quite alright, Buffy," reassured the watcher.

"Cupcake, if you want, I got a spare twin at my house. It'd fit nicely against the wall if Rupert doesn't like your couch. It looks lumpy."

"Hey, there are no lumps in my couch." Buffy shot a glance at the item in question and rethought her stance. "Okay, so there may be a few lumps. If it's not an issue then, yeah, the other bed may not be the worst idea ever."

"Nah B., the worst idea ever was this carpet. Who the hell put it in?" Faith snarked from the chair.

"Faith," Buffy warned. "Nevermind. Xander, control your honey."

"You're kidding, right? I can make suggestions, but she'll never listen."

Willow put her head in her hands. If I have to listen to this for more than a week, I'm gonna go loopy. Oh, my head's still all spinny. Stupid numbskull detective. I think lying down might be required.

Buffy finally noticed the paler than usual redhead and went over to see what was wrong. "Will, you don't look so hot. You feeling okay?"

"Yeah," she lied, "Just kinda icky. I'm gonna go lay down for a minute and see if it gets better." She winked at Buffy and excused herself to the rest of the group.

Buffy watched her lover's retreating back with worry marring her features. Turning to everyone, she said, "I'm just gonna go check on her, make sure she's, ah…okay and all." Lamely, Buffy slinked off to the room.

"You do that B. Give her what ever she needs," Faith teased the retreating blonde.

She ignored the parting comment and headed straight for her room. Her hair was darker. I'm slow on the uptake most days, but I caught that. What did she do? Buffy gently tapped on her door then walked into the darkened room. Willow was flat on her back with a washcloth draped over her eyes. Cautious of moving the bed, the slayer sat down and ran a gentle hand over her witch's cheek. "Will?"


"I'm thinking something's more off than you just being tired," Buffy whispered, "I noticed the darker-than-usual hair. Is there something you want to tell me?"

Willow removed the wash cloth from her eyes and heard the sharp intake of breath. Should have kept the glamour up just a bit longer. Now she's gonna freak. And hate me and I'll deserve it.

"Willow, what…what happened?" Her eyes are—they're this weird, murky, greenish black. How did she…? I didn't think it was possible. I should know by now.

Willow shrank farther away from the blonde and answered the question, "I tracked down our homophobe of a jerky cop. We had a, uh…well, I talked to him."

"Will, if it was just a chat than why are…"

"I used magic to get him to stand still. I showed off. It was bad and probably over-the-top."

"Why?" Buffy asked, trying to keep anger out of her voice.

Willow sat up and rested her back against the head board. A short, hard laugh escaped her and she snickered, "Because he deserved it. Because I wasn't going to stand around and watch you get hurt like that. That dummy wasn't going to get away with it."

Buffy stammered, "But you're all…Willow, this isn't—you shouldn't have—" unable to finish the thought.

"Shouldn't have what, Buffy? Stood up for you, for us? Look, I get it. You aren't happy, but I did what I needed to do. I talked to him, that's all."

"No, that's not what I'm saying. I just—" Buffy scooted in closer to the witch and grabbed her hand. I'm gonna mess this up. I am messing this up. "Willow, this—you like this—it scares me. Sticking up for us—I'll never tell you not to. It's just the way the sticking-up happened."

Buffy brought her lover's hand to her lips and placed a kiss on the knuckles. She looked up into murky green eyes and replied with the most honest answer she had, "Seeing you like this worries me. I lost you when you—when Tara died. I—well…now, I don't think I could survive that again."

Willow's expression softened at the admission. "I'm sorry, Buffy, but you won't lose me. This is…it's just run off. I can control it…for the most part. I can't guarantee the not-losing, but I can promise to try my best to not let it happen." Willow took her left hand and smoothed out the worried brow of her slayer.

"I love you, Will."

"Love you too." Willow smiled as the honesty of the words sunk in. We should have done this awhile ago. Wonder if it would have prevented some of the badness?

Buffy moved further onto the bed and gently eased Willow onto her back. Lying next to her, Buffy used her right arm to prop herself up and ran her other hand along the delicate features of Willow's face.

"I love you," she whispered again as she leaned down and placed a supple kiss on Willow's lips. She repeated the words and actions as she moved to kiss each corner of her witch's mouth. She moved gracefully to the tip of the redhead's nose, her eyes and back down along her jaw line all the while murmuring the admission.

She stopped and teased the hem of Willow's shirt up. The blonde pulled herself up and straddled her lover. Once her position was sure, she leaned back and in one swift motion, removed Willow's top. Definitely lots of time wasted. She's just…how Cordelia or anyone else ever thought she was less than perfect is beyond me. I always thought so. I will always think so. Buffy leaned down and rested her forehead against Willow's as she let her hands explore the newly exposed soft skin.

Willow relaxed and let her lover explore her mouth and body. She arched up into Buffy's soft caress and moaned as Buffy moved from her mouth to her neck and down her body. The magic ebbed from her system with each stroke of the slayer's hands and lips. The witch felt her body begin to hum in different ways. Goddess, dunno how she ever got this good—I'm going to have to thank whoever taught her. She felt her skirt and underwear go in one quick move, letting the anticipation and adrenaline flow through her body.

Buffy shifted and parted her lover's legs to settle between them. Her lips trailed down her witch's stomach and teased the flesh below Willow's navel. She looked up before moving further down. Buffy stifled the sigh of relief when Willow's clear green eyes met hers in an adoring gaze. She smiled softly and dipped her head down, letting her tongue swipe at the redhead's moist outer lips.

Willow's hips jerked up and she whimpered as Buffy spread her open. The blonde's tongue danced around her nerve bundle. To steady herself, Willow reached down and placed one hand on Buffy's shoulder and let her other tangle in soft blonde hair. She moaned when the slayer slipped two fingers inside her and began a slow, steady rhythm. Her slayer's tongue moved languidly around her core, lapping at the juices her body produced.

Buffy increased the cadence as her lover tensed underneath her. Focusing her attention on Willow's engorged clit, Buffy added a third, then a fourth finger. Steadying her lover, Buffy held on as Willow's back arched off the bed and her legs went rigid. Buffy teased the soft flesh and rode out the orgasm with her witch while she listened to her name uttered in a hushed cry. She lapped greedily at the moisture, slowing her movements as Willow went limp. She looked up into half closed eyes and placed a soft kiss at the apex of Willow's sex.

She crawled up and rested her head on Willow's damp shoulder. "Love you," she whispered one last time before watching her lover drift off into a comfortable sleep.

I need to do less thinking when I should be sleeping. Agitated, Buffy covered her eyes with her forearm. Willow breathed softly next to her as insomnia pushed sleep out of Buffy's grasp. One week of insanity and here I am at three a.m., trying not to wig out on everyone. Sure, maybe running like I did after Sunnydale wasn't the brightest idea, but necessary. With everyone here, I know why now.

I missed it when Dawn became a woman. That's of the suck, but she's doing good. She and Ken seem happy at least. Maybe she'll have better luck than me with the relationship stuff. God knows I wasn't the best role model. The best she could've hoped for were Will and Tara.

Sighing, she carefully got out of bed and padded to the kitchen. When she rounded the corner, she found Faith eating a sandwich.

"Heya B. What brings you out at this hour?" whispered Faith.

"Couldn't sleep. You?" Buffy asked, pulling out a kitchen chair.

"Hungry. Fourteen weeks pregnant and you'd think that the doc would tell you that your appetite would increase by a thousand percent. Hell, I sent Xand to the store a dozen times since I got knocked up. The cooks at the school can't seem to keep the pantries stocked."

"Well, you always ate a lot. Maybe being pregnant just kinda made the slayer metabolism extra metabolizey."

"Eh, dunno. What I do know is that I need some pie."


"Yeah, maybe a chocolate cream or key lime."

Buffy thought of a diner she knew of on the Upper West Side and figured pie wouldn't be a bad idea.

"Let's go. I'll get changed and tell Will."

"You serious?"

"Yeah there's a place I know that has some great pies, and as a bonus, they're open 24 hours."

"Sweetness. I'll meet you here in five."

The diner was a retro throwback to the '60s. It had mini-juke boxes on each table, the floors were white and black checkerboard linoleum, and the only light source was from the neon signs causing the place to glow. As the two women entered, Buffy recognized Elvis Presley singing softly in the background. Dirty man, that Elvis. Did anyone pay attention to the lyrics in Little Sister?

"B. this place is wicked strange. What did they do, build a damn time machine and go back to get this stuff?"

"I don't think so. Look at the menu. There's some historical info."

The waitress on duty allowed them to pick any available booth. Seeing how they were two of the four customers, the women took liberties choosing a corner booth towards the back of the diner. Faith smiled as the polished leather hissed when she sat down. B. might be a bit better for comin' to the city, but even this place is a bit strange for her. Must be her partner, Jimmy What's-His-Face. "So, B., how's life?" asked Faith when Buffy had settled into the bench across from her.

"Besides the dead girls, things are good I guess. You?"

"Five-by-five, y'know? The girls at the school are pretty cool. Sometimes a little much. Kinda like Teletubbies on crack if they get too much caffeine, but Xand handles them pretty good. I usually just go take a walk when things get too crazy. Vamps there are wicked easy to kill. It's like they think they're immortal."

Buffy's brow scrunched, trying to make sense of Faith's last comment. "Uhm, Faith, they are for the most part."

"Yeah…but you know what I mean. So, what about you and Red?"

"What about Willow and me?" Buffy's eyes narrowed. Had to come up eventually. Wonder if I'm going to have to punch a pregnant woman. Will the PTB care?

"Well, I mean, you two seem to be awful cozy, picture of domestic bliss and all. How's it going?" The brunette tried to take any teasing tones from her voice. It was a genuine inquiry and she saw Buffy bristle with the initial question.

"The same could be said for you and Xander, Faith. I mean, let's face it, you as a mom? Not the first thing I would ever think of."

"Stranger things have happened."


"I dunno, you and Willow. Xand and I had that bit of a past, but you were you, B. You never let yourself get close enough to her. If you would've listened to me when I first got to Sunny-D, things could've been different for you."

"Faith, haven't we had the conversation about you and putting in your two-cents where it doesn't belong?"

"Yeah, but it ain't never stopped me before." Faith smiled, taking the sting from her words. She offered a cheerful, "Thanks," as the waitress brought her three slices of pie and decaf coffee. "Take it for whatever you want, B. Just a genuine question from an ex-pain-in-the-ass," replied Faith. She dug into her food with delight.

"Hhmm." Who said anything about her being an ex-pain-in-the-ass? 'Faith' and 'friendliness'…my world is skewier than previously thought. That says lots. Not sure it's good.

Exiting the diner, both slayers stopped halfway out the door. Buffy cast a glance over at Faith and saw the brunette already had a stake in hand. Buffy nodded and reached for her extra sidearm that was holstered at the small of her back. While she usually didn't carry her working piece with her off duty, she'd been thrown in the thick of a few situations where having her backup helped.

Spidey or slayer sense, dog or cop instinct: it's all the same. It all boils down to me getting a case of the wiggins with the butterflies and weird, fine hair on endings that I will never get used to. Just a quiet night out for some pie? Ha! That'll be a sure sign of the apocalypse. Buffy moved down the steps cautiously towards the source of her agitation. She knew Faith shadowed her and a small smile crept through to the corners of her mouth. Sometimes change is a bad but at least it gets you to appreciate the before.

The feelings of unease persisted as she neared to the mouth of the alley. Now, do I take a pregnant woman into a potential fight with me, or do I make her stay put? Buffy looked over her shoulder at Faith. Right, so not gonna try to stop her. She's all in slayer-mode. Buffy inched closer to the mouth of the alley. Pressing her back against the right wall, she craned her neck and peered cautiously around the corner. Halfway down the alley she saw a vampire leaning over a lump on the ground. Damnit. She retracted herself and glanced at Faith. "Why are you looking at me like that?" Buffy whispered.

Faith's voice was just as hushed but more annoyed, "B., what the hell are you doing?"


The brunette hissed, "Last time we were gonna throw down, there was no creeping bullshit. Why are we not walking into that alley like we own it?" The annoyance she felt perfectly clear in her tone and posture.

Rolling her eyes, Buffy's jaw clenched to keep her anger in check. "Because there's one vamp down there and something—the something is human or demony something. You're pregnant in case you hadn't got the memo. I'd prefer to keep you that way."

"This is stupid." Faith rolled off the brick wall she was standing against and began marching towards the mouth of the alley.


"Can it, B.," the brunette snapped, preparing herself for the fight as she sauntered into the dark. Weird shit. Not getting the tingles. Not getting much of anything anymore. Buffy probably gave it plenty of time to get away. Figures. Itchin' for a fight and T.J. Hooker here messes it up.

Buffy stepped up behind Faith and peered down the deserted alley way. "Nothing he—" Damnit! Shoving Faith back, Buffy followed a tight path to the object of her displeasure. Her gun was holstered and her cell phone was in her hand by the time she reached the corpse.

"So let me get this straight, kid, you guys go out for a late night snack and it happens to be in the same area where this punk drops off the next body?"

"That sums it up, Jim."

He harrumphed and lumbered over to the tech guys. Exchanging words, one of the workers handed Jimmy three plastic evidence bags. Buffy heard him cuss from fifteen feet away and she tensed wondering what he was going to bring back. Marching back over to Buffy and Faith, Jimmy thrust the three bags under Buffy's nose.

"Cupcake, this started bad and it's gettin' a whole lot fuckin' worse."

Buffy snatched the bags from his hands and looked at the contents. Three photocopied IDs stared back at her, the victim, Lenna Eaton, Alexander LaVelle Harris and Faith Lehane.

"That's you, doll face, and your hubby, right?" Jimmy sent a concerned look to the brunette.

"Yeah, but Xand isn't my—"

"You live together? You're havin' a kid together? In all fifty states, that's enough to be common law. Suck it up and join the ranks." Jimmy smiled and winked at the scowling brunette. "So you're family looks to be seriously involved. Cupcake, I'm thinkin' we should pull out of the case and let someone else take over."


"It's like here you are in the thick of it and to say the guy is being a little obsessive about you would be an understatement. It don't feel right, is all. Think about it. 'Sides, when Pat sees this, he might pull you off because of protocol."

Buffy blew over her morning coffee and watched the bickering amongst her family. She and Faith had gotten home last night and gone straight to bed. It was Faith who had roused everyone this morning and explained what had happened last night. Really can't take this right now. I've got a meeting with Pat in thirty. Exhausted and frustrated, Buffy threw the rest of her coffee in the sink, grabbed her suit jacket off the back of her kitchen chair, and stormed out of the house.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph… Great, and now I'm starting to cuss like Jimmy. This—whatever it is—needs to go away. It needs to be slain, put behind bars, or something. But it needs to quit screwing with my life. I can't take them being this close. Even Willow. I mean, as great as she's been. It's just with all of them around, screeching teenagers are easier to deal with. I. Can't. Deal.

Buffy threw the cab driver some money and launched herself from the cab. Shutting the door, she made a check to see that her badge was visible and started towards the precinct doors. You get used to the quiet, then suddenly all hell breaks lose and there is no quiet anymore. You get home from work and there's noise, so much noise. Willow's been giving me looks…the kind that say, 'you're not telling me something; what is it?' Those sorta looks and I'm having a hard time dealing. Fuck!

Her heels clicked over the cheap linoleum. She pushed through the double doors and into the main floor of her division. Way too much. Way too soon. Maybe a hotel would be doable. Making a beeline for her desk, she smiled and said 'good morning' to the few plain clothes and uniforms that she passed. Yanking out her chair, she slipped off her jacket and tossed it on the back of the wooden chair.

"Cupcake, good morning to you," Jimmy said taking a sip from his coffee. Buffy's raised eyebrow was the only response the other detective received. He whistled and chided, "What's up, kid. Someone piss in your Wheaties this morning or—?"

"My family. I swear, Jim, if I kill one of them, I'm claiming temporary insanity."

"That bad eh?"

"I have a fifteen-hundred square-foot apartment which seven people currently occupy. It's about as cozy as a backlogged meat locker at county. Okay, I need space. Why the hell do you think I came to the city? I came to get away from them and I couldn't figure out why until the past week."

"Cupcake, do me a favor? Put the family on the back burner. We got bigger fish to fry. They're as involved as civs can be in an investigation and you know as well as I do that they're gonna have to stay in town until this wraps." He saw Buffy's nod. Wonder if she'll…well, might as well offer. "Hey, here's an idea. I've got some room. We can house some people at my place if you want. Save some cash on hotels, especially in Manhattan. Shit's too expensive."

She cocked her head at her partner and asked what had been on her mind for a few weeks, "Jimmy, not that it's not appreciated, but why are you being so nice to me?"

The older man fidgeted with his tie and shrugged. "Dunno, kid, seems like the thing to do. I mean, you see a person that's really good at their job and then you get to spend time working with them and shit. You find out stuff, like maybe they need you as a friend just as much as you need them. I think maybe that's what it is. You're like a pain-in-the-ass niece. My kids don't talk to me and you're about their age. So, I figure maybe it's like you let me be a friend to you 'cause my kids never did."

For the first time in two days Buffy's smile was genuine. "Thank you."

"Summers, McAllister, you comin' or you waitin' for an official escort? Move it you two," Pat's voice boomed from behind the blonde.

"He's in rare form today," Buffy commented dryly, standing and moving towards the back set of offices.

"He proly didn't get any last night. Bastard," Jimmy grumbled.

They walked past the three rows of desks and into Pat's office. Shutting the door, Buffy took the left chair and waited.

"Summers, I hear you were the primary on another vic. IDed as Lenna Eaton, twenty-three, Caucasian, and from none other than Sunnydale, California. I've been over the reports on Murillo and Poulsen. Seems to be that that's the common denominator on all three DBs. Murillo came in with a single ID, her own. Second vic, Poulsen, had your old C.A.D.L. and a Willow Rosenberg, whom it seems you have known for goin' on nine years.

"To further complicate matters, she has recently moved to the city and is living with you. The new girl, Eaton, was found with IDs for herself, a guy named Alex Harris, and a Faith Lehane. Both Harris and Lehane are friends of yours and currently here in the city with you. I'm really not liking this so far. If either of you want to jump in with some headway or an explanation, now's a good time."

"Well, there's been a bit of a challenge nailing down anyone," Jimmy started. "These girls were either transients or had no reason for being in town. Jessica Murillo was a transient; Jennifer Poulsen went to school in Virginia, she was working on something for school. Her roommate said that when she came home there was note from Jennifer stating that she wouldn't be home for a few days and to not worry. We've yet to get started on Eaton."

Jimmy shoved a hand through his graying hair and finished up, "Right now, Cap, I'm not sure what else can be done. Nothing's come back from the ME's office. Every lead that we've been able to track has been a dead end. The only thing we got are the photocopied IDs, and with that—well, the only way we were able to link them were from the IDs."

"Buffy, do you have any idea why the unsub seems to have a hard on for one my D's?" Pat asked leaning back in his chair.

Buffy shook her head no. Prob'ly, not the answer he wanted. It's what I got. Tough cookies all around this morning.

"Right. I'm also to assume that you know nothing on the info that was pulled off of N.C.I.C. for Lehane? Your friend was quite the delinquent. I've pulled her jacket and it looks like she was a primary suspect in several homicide cases. She's got an overturned conviction on a Murder One charge too. When you were brought on board, I know your minor records were brought out, but they weren't nearly as bad as hers. To say that this makes me uncomfortable would be stupid at this point. I'll assume that Harris and Lehane are both staying at your apartment?"

"Yes. I know her record is, umm…colorful, but it was all false accusations. Both of us, really."

"McAllister, anything you want to add?"

"I'm not sure what the motive is, but the M.O. is clear and personally this shitbag's time is running out. There were a few things found on Poulsen's body that could point to a location of the kill site. Nekko is doing a rush on the autopsy for Eaton and he's pressing the lab geeks to come back with something sooner rather than later. Give us a week and let's see what we can do."

"Fair enough, you two. Keep me in the loop and let's see what you can do."

"Xander, I'm serious, you've got to relax. Not only are you driving me crazy, I think Buff's entertaining the idea of shooting one of us." Willow sat at the couch working on her computer as Xander carried on about how rude Buffy had been that morning. The witch had grown tired of listening to her friend whine.

"Will, the Buffster is doing okay. I know it's big having all of us together again, but she'll get back in the swing of it."

"Xander, why do you think she moved to New York? Why do you think she rarely talks to anyone? She's just 'oh so busy and has better things to do with her time'?"

"Don'cha think you're overreacting just a bit?"

Frustrated with her friend's density, Willow ran her fingers through her hair. She was working though backtracking each of the dead girl's recent moves, trying to find some other type of common denominator besides Sunnydale and the Scoobies.

"Willow," Xander pleaded, "Buffy just needs to get back in the swing of things. She'll be fine. It'll be like old times."

Leveling a glare at Xander, Willow was, in short, fed up. "Are you that oblivious or just that stupid? I don't mean to be mean, but things haven't been right with everyone for a long time. What was the righting moment of our relationship? When we kicked Buffy out of the house? Or maybe it was when she literally ran away and moved here? Things haven't been right for a long time, Xan. And you guys acting like nothing's changed or that what has changed is no big deal is foolish at best.

"I was here seven weeks before everyone came. Seven weeks. Everything. The work I've put into my relationship with her. It's going away. It's being all poofed away. Crumbling into…into crumbly things and I don't know why. I know I'm gonna fix it. I can't…I won't lose her again. Figure out what you want from her, but she's not the Buffy from high school. She's not the Buffy from Sunnydale. Why can't you see that?"

Xander balked at his friend's words, "Will, that's silly. Why is it that you're the only one that sees this? You come here, confess the feelings that we've known you've had for years and everything's okay between you two? Right. Have we forgotten so soon? I'm not the one that decided to do the resurrection spell. I was in the non-resurrect camp. You insisted. I'm not the one that nearly killed her again when my lover was shot. That was you."

Rage burned through the witch's veins. It took nearly everything she had to not hit the man.

"Xander, Willow, would you two please stop this bickering?" Giles ordered from the kitchen.

"I will not. Giles, how can you sit there and pretend that things are okay? Have you not been paying attention? Are you just as blind as Xander? I can't put up with this. I'm done." Willow shut off her computer and threw everything into her messenger bag. She stormed out of the apartment and left a startled group of people behind.


Chapter 8 – Furious and Outdone

Willow walked aimlessly down the sidewalk, watching the cracks as they moved under her feet.

How, how could they think that things are okay between everyone? Are they really that stupid? Sure, I can be slow on the uptake, but having them here is messing with Buffy.I can't let that happen. They've chosen their path when it comes to my slayer. I'm trying to right the things that went wrong.

Bringing them here was a mistake. I shouldn't have called and neither should she. Leaving them alone and letting them live their lives was the best solution. She was right to move here. I think I went and screwed that up for her too.

When she suddenly realized she had no idea where she was going, she stopped. After taking a quick glance around her, she set off at a brisk pace for the end of the block.

Where does Xander get off putting all of the blame on me? Sure, I'll take my lumps when I know they're supposed to be. I won't take the blame for his ostrichyness, though. Not my fault.

And Giles! Is he so detached that he doesn't see that Buffy can barely look him in the eye? First, he abandons her, then when he does come back he pulls that crap with Spike and Wood. One could argue that it should be water under the bridge, but no one besides me has taken the time to apologize for abandoning the person that kept us all alive!

When she arrived at the corner, she took a quick look at the sign and decided where to go. Raising her hand, she hailed a cab.

Nekko walked into the reception area with a smile on his face. It faltered when he saw the redhead fidgeting in a hard plastic chair. Plastering the smile back on, he approached with exaggerated caution before remarking, "Willow, I'd say it's good to see you, but since you look like you're ready to strangle someone, maybe I should go back to my office while you do the strangling?"

The witch stood and smiled at the attempted humor. "Yeah, yeah…sorry, I was just a few blocks north and decided to drop in."

"Who's got one of my favorite ladies in New York all homicidal?" He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and started ushering her towards the back where his office was.

"Family. Bunch of poopheads," grumbled the witch.

"They can be." He released his hold and then nudged her shoulder. "Hey, I've got an idea. Since we've been talking about you perhaps joining the ranks of us lowly M.E.s, I was just on my way to do the post on the new vic your honey and her partner brought in. You want to sit in?"

"Uhm, sure." Willow shrugged and followed him down the stairs to the basement of the city morgue.

They entered the main office of the anteroom to the actual autopsy floor. Willow noted the same drab colors ran throughout the entire building. Dull greens and blues with institutional tile and hard white walls were the staple for the building. Wonder if all morgues have to select their décor from a special catalog? Working for the catalog wholesaler…who would want that job? The warehouse is probably located in a hell dimension.

Nekko waved a hand in front of his friend's face and asked, "Earth to Willow. Everything okay in there?"

"Oh, yeah." Willow shook her head and cleared her thoughts. "Internal mini-babble…so, you, uhm, haven't started yet?"

"No I was having my assistant prep the body and I was getting ready to suit up. Come on, set your stuff down and we'll get changed. Sorry we don't have girls' changing rooms, but I'm not that ugly so you should be okay."

Willow laughed and followed the doctor to the locker room.

Buffy walked in from the loading bay of the morgue and stopped when she saw Willow and Nekko talking. Observing the two, she didn't make her presence known. Willow seemed so comfortable with the man and if she didn't know better she would assume that they were a couple. Both were kind of touchy to be just friends and Willow easily laughed at whatever the doctor said. Jealousy reared its ugly head as she stalked over to them.

Stepping out from the shadows, she said, "Knock, knock. Anyone home?"

Willow and Nekko both looked up surprised. Recovering quickly, the witch smiled at the sight of her slayer and chirped, "Hey, Buff."

"Heya there, cute stuff. What brings you to the dungeon?" Nekko asked with a playful smile.

Buffy was about to answer but then took notice of her girlfriend's outerwear. While there was no blood, she was still in the scrubs Nekko had given her. "Willow, what are you doing here?"

"Funny story. Xander and I got into a bit of a tiff. So, I came down here to talk to our favorite doctor and he offered to let me sit in on the autopsy of the new girl. It was seriously educational and kinda boring," Willow answered. Quickly adding, "And now that I say it out loud, it's not so funny," when she realized just how dorky she sounded.

"Hey, I'm offended. No love for your favorite man in the morgue?" He smiled at Buffy and then pointed the outfit that had blood spatter on it and amended, "Or…y'know—not hugging—might be better. I'm a walking biohazard right now."

"Sorry, Nekko, been a bad day. Uhm, Will, can I—I need to talk to you privately."

"If you want, Willow, just go outside the receiving doors."

Willow shrugged and followed her lover outside.

"What the hell is going on?" Buffy spun around and asked as soon as they were outside and out of earshot.

"Uh? Buff, uhm, nothing…?"

"Willow, don't lie to me. Why are you here?"

"I told you, Buffy, I took a walk and came in to talk to the guy, that's all. What else could be going on?"

A little less sure of herself, Buffy stepped back and answered anxiously, "I just…you guys—"

Realization dawned on the witch, she smiled and placed her arms around Buffy's neck and whispered, "Buffy, relax. Put the green-eyed monster away."

"You just—sorry, it's been a rough couple of days." Letting some of the tension ebb, Buffy relaxed in the loose embrace.

"Tell me about it." Willow blew her bangs from her eyes and leaned in resting her forehead against her lover's. "I did mention the fight with Xander?"

"I think I may have caught that. Why?"

"You," the redhead offered.

"Uhm, more please?" Buffy stepped away from Willow and forced eye contact.

"You've been kinda distant and Xander was all 'she'll be okay,' but I said you wouldn't," Willow stammered. Nervously running her fingers through her hair, she continued, "Look, I know it's been really hard having them all around. He's just being a big old poopy-head right now and I know that I've been some of the cause of tension."

"Uh, yeah…it has been and I guess I have been," Buffy responded anxiously. Sliding in a mumbled, "But I can be better," as an afterthought.

"You shouldn't have to be, though. I mean, who else has taken the time and apologized for all the crap that happened in Sunnydale? No one. And they're acting like nothing's changed when everything's changed. I'm sorry."

"You're right, Will, but it's not like they will. I was so surprised when you called and said you were coming for a visit. To be honest, I really didn't want you to. But then you showed up and made with the 'turning my world upside down'." Buffy watched her witch hang her head. The body language brought back an image of Willow from high school and all Buffy could do was smile. "If you want to know something, I'm kinda glad you did. Look, don't worry about 'them and me.' I'll work it out. Maybe it's time we all cleared the air. You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine now, but I don't want to go back to the apartment. Not yet."

I wonder if—? It's not the worst idea I've ever had…not the most dangerous either. "I may have a solution."

"That would be?" Willow smiled at Buffy's tone.

"Well, Jimmy said that he has some spare room. I was thinking that maybe we should put some of the gang there. I've changed my mind. I'm thinking we should stay there. Jimmy's uber-cool with us and he really likes you. So, let's let them have the apartment and we invade my partner's place for a while."

"It's not a horrible idea."

"I'll take that as a 'yes' and call Jim. Go back inside and flirt with the doctor."

Willow placed a soft kiss on Buffy's lips. "I love you, Buff."

"I love you too, Will." Buffy's expression warmed at the easy admission. "I—well, I want you to know, I want to get through this with us intact."

Buffy stepped out of the unmarked Jimmy was driving. Shutting the door before she leaned back in the window and said, "Sit tight. I'll be back down in about fifteen minutes."

With a determined look she set off for the apartment. This isn't going to be loads of fun. Just like walking in to the Mouth of Hell. I can hear my little sister, the banshee, screeching now. Unlocking the door she found everyone in the living room and kitchen area. They all looked up and nearly asked at the same time if she had seen Willow. Family's great stuff. They should come with warranties.

She held up her hand to silence the questions. "Give me a minute and I'll be right back."

She made a beeline for her bedroom and started packing a duffel bag. Not gonna bother with clothes. I need some therapeutic shopping anyway. She gathered her own and Willow's toiletries, her spare gun and a few of Willow's books and files, then returned to the living room.

"Willow's downstairs," Buffy said as she entered the living room.

"Buff, what's up with the bag?" Xander asked from the couch.

"Will and I are going to stay at Jimmy's for a bit. There's just too many people in this apartment and it'll be easier."

"Buffy, surely there's a better way to handle this?" Giles asked.

"Not right now there's not," Buffy replied frankly. When all that met her response was concerned or confused looks, she explained, "Look, you guys, in case you haven't noticed, things have changed and I'm tired of acting like nothing has."

Turning to make eye contact with Xander, she continued without pause, "Xander, what you said to Willow was so out of line, I can't even talk about it right now. I can't believe you think that everything's just peachy in the land of Scoobydom. Why in the hell do you think I moved here? The weather?"

Exasperated by Xander's shocked reaction, she combed her fingers through her hair. She dropped her hand to her side. Her attention turned to the floor at her feet before she resumed, "I needed to get away from you guys. I love you all, but I can't—" she looked up to take in the faces of her family "—being around you makes me feel like I should be better, or more than I am."

Glancing at Xander, she appealed, "I'm nothing like I was when you first met me, Xander. And you've refused to see that." Then she turned for the door. As she walked toward it, she offered, "I've left the keys on the front table in the entryway." Taking the doorknob in her hand, she looked over her shoulder and said, "I'll call as soon as we have more information. If you guys find anything, call one of our cells. You have the numbers."

"Buffy," Dawn cried out, "You just can't go and leave."

"I'm sorry, Dawnie, but it's better this way."

"You're just running away again. You're such a fucking coward."

Buffy spun around at the anger in Dawn's voice.

Mad as hell at the repeat performance, Dawn ranted, "You called us remember? You said to come here and help out. Well, that's all we've been doing and you act like we're nothing but a burden. Screw you, Buffy."

"Dawn…" Buffy warned.

"No, she's right, B.," Faith grumbled, "I mean, what the hell? You called us."

Turning to Faith, Buffy snapped, "Faith, shut up." After taking a second to calm, she added, "You're right. I called you hoping that it would be different, or better, or whatever, but I can't. I won't sit around and act like you guys are still my friends."

Indignant, Xander stood up and barked, "We are your friends, Buff. You've just been too self-absorbed to notice as usual. What does it take to get you to realize that we've always been here? You're the one that runs away. What do we have to do to get you to notice? Fuck you? It worked with Spike and it looks like it's working for Will. Hell, Buffy, if I had known that's what it takes, I would've tried a whole lot sooner."

Her attention fixed on Xander, Buffy glared and replied in a low, dangerous voice, "I'm going to forget you said that. Leave Willow…and for that matter, Spike, out of this. You've always been jealous, Xander. It doesn't matter who I'm with. If it wasn't you, you shut me out. If we're gonna be all honest about now, then let's. Why is it that you're with Faith? Is it 'cause she's a slayer? They have to beat you down to get any play from you? Is that it? Y'know, you and Spike aren't that much different. No wonder Anya screwed him after you left her at the altar."

"B., you're crossin' some serious lines," Faith warned.

Glancing at Faith, Buffy growled, "Stay out of this. I'll get to you next," before returning a cold pair of hazel eyes to Xander and badgering, "Well, what is it, Xander? Are you just settling for Faith because I'd never touch you?"

"You bitch. How could you?" Xander bellowed. Hopping off the couch, he closed the distance between them as he seethed, "I guess Spike really did rub off on you? Does Willow? Does she hurt you like he did? Are you going to dump her when you've had your fill?"

Finally, stopping when he was toe-to-toe with the slayer, he asked, "Just what does a person have to do to get in your pants, Buff? Oh, that's right—" he put a finger to his chin in mock contemplation "—they have to kill someone. Flay a guy alive, try to kill you multiple times. Yeah, that makes sense. They've got to be soulless, or at least evil at some point for you to take notice."

Dismissing Buffy with a gesture, he turned his back. As he returned to the couch, he remarked, "I've no need to defend my relationship with Faith, but you and Willow? Come on, Buff, who do you think you're fooling?"

"Someone besides Xander, call me if anything comes up," Buffy remarked coolly to the room. Snatching the door open, she heaved the bags up and set off down the hall at a rapid pace. When she reached the stairs, she was running. At the bottom of the landing, she stopped and kicked a sizable hole in the wall. Dropping the bags, she slumped down and cradled her head in her hands. If I had words—

After several moments, she rose. Get it together, Summers. This is no time to fall apart. I'll just smash Xander's head in later.

"Well, ladies, that's the tour," Jimmy said, "Make yourselves at home," winking at Buffy as she slipped away to take a shower.

"Thanks again, Jim. This is really nice of you," Willow replied, taking his attention from the blonde.

"No problem, Red," Jimmy responded casually. When she quirked an eyebrow, he shrugged and filled in, "Seems to fit you. I like it."

"Fine." The witch rolled her eyes, deciding to let it slide.

"Hey, I hate to bail on you guys your first night here, but I got bowling tonight. I shoulda been there a half an hour ago."

"Sure, sure, go. Have fun and be one with the bowling." Willow stepped up and gave the man a hug. "I'll tell Buff. Thanks again, Jimmy."

"No problem. Tell Cupcake I'll see her in the morning."

"'Kay." Willow turned to go back to the guest bedroom to get some reading done. The MCATs had gone well, but she still had the final interview and she wasn't as familiar with some of the harder science subjects as she felt she should be. She walked over and plugged her MP3 player into the stereo and then hit random. Letting the music filter through her, she buried her nose in a book.

Buffy walked in with a towel wrapped around her body and just stood, leaning against the door frame, watching her girlfriend.

Noticing the blonde, Willow smiled.

"Hey, sexy," Willow offered with a grin and motioned for Buffy to come sit.

Buffy smiled and dropped the towel. She walked over to the bed and crawled up to the redhead, shoving the books away as she made it to the head of the bed. "I think you should put the books away," the slayer purred.

Willow shivered as Buffy's mouth teased the most sensitive spots on her neck. "I-i-is th-that so?"

"Yep. Very much so. Clear the bed while I shut the door. Don't want Jim to get a free show."

"He went bowling."

"So, we're alone?"

"That'd be a 'yes.' Did you have something in mind?"

"I did," Buffy purred, "You, sans clothing, with me in a nice big bed, working out our frustrations." Cocking her head to the side, she listened to the music for a moment before asking, "Who's this?"

"The Yeah Yeah Yeahs."


"A newer group. It's their debut. Kinda cool and different."

"I like 'em."

"Buff," Willow said, pulling the blonde to her, "You looked really upset when you came out of the apartment building. What did they say?"

Settling into Willow's arms, Buffy remarked through a sigh, "Xander and his mouth…" Growing increasingly more upset, she tried to answer, "Nothing that he hasn't accused me of before. It's just that he dragged you into it this time. Then I said some things about him and Faith that maybe I shouldn't have. He questioned 'us' and I couldn't stop." Thoroughly frustrated, she concluded by seething, "Where does he get off?"

Willow replied in a sympathetic tone, "I told you he was being a poopy-head today. It doesn't matter anyhow. I know why I'm here and I feel confident enough to say that I know why you're with me."

"I don't know, Will. I mean, you tilted my world hard when you came here. Not saying it was a bad—more like an amazing—but it...it was a lot. I don't know if I could ever thank you enough, but he's right in some ways. I denied my feelings for you for so long. It wasn't until after Tara died, or really until after I saw the big bad in you that it hit me. I mean it's why I think I was drawn to Angel and Spike. I haven't figured out Riley yet."

"That matters how? Buff, if you haven't caught on by now, I like all your bits. The light ones and the dark ones. Oh, and the gray ones too." Willow grinned and nipped at Buffy's ear.

"I know. You've made that clear. I don't know why I'm so bugged."

"'Cause one of your oldest friends is being an ass?"

"That might be it. It's just that me and relationships haven't ever seen eye-to-eye. In fact, I'm on cloud nine and the relationship is on the ground in some ways and—well, I don't want us to be for all the wrong reasons."

Willow pursed her lips and queried, "The wrong would be what?"

"I…honestly I don't know." Pulling away, Buffy removed the pencil she had been laying on and shoved some of the pillows to the side to rest her back against the headboard. "Convenience? Pent up, repressy, clingy me?"

"Is that—" Willow stopped not wanting to say something wrong. Her brow furrowed and she tried again, "The past two months, Buffy, have been some of the best of my life."

"Some?" Buffy pouted.

Willow didn't buy the look for a minute. Dismissively, she repeated, "Some," grinning when the pout changed to a full blown sulk. She amended with a sigh, "Thing is, when I remember feeling like this, it was always with you." She smiled at Buffy's slight blush and reached for her hand. "Even with Tare, with you it was always different. Not sure if the reasons are right or wrong, but I could care less."

"You had reasons in there?" Buffy laughed.

The witch sent a sour look to her partner and grumbled, "Yes. I know there are some rules about being a complete person before getting involved, but here's the thing: I think that's a load of crap. I loved Tara more than I can put into words, but I still felt incomplete. With you, there's wholeness and there's rightness to it all. It—if I'm being really uber-honest—scares the bejeezus outta me. I also know that you seem to be doing better than I've seen you since, like, before the end of our freshman year."

Buffy gave Willow's words a moment to sink in. Releasing Willow's hold on her hand, she gently overturned her lover's palm and traced the lines with her fingertip. Sighing, she said, "It just can't be this easy. My whole life has been one struggle after another and then you're here and the 'you' and the 'I' isn't hard. It's just 'us' in this really new and fantastic way that isn't a struggle it's the easiest thing in my wacky world…" Buffy trailed off and shrugged.

Peering at her girlfriend in amusement, Willow prompted, "So—" Buffy met her eyes "—let me see if I can try to clear this up: you're stressed because it's easy and with 'easy' comes 'worry' because nothing's ever been easy for you?"

Buffy's eye's dropped to the bed spread and began picking at a piece of thread. Replying in a quiet voice, she said, "Yeah, but when you say it like that, it sounds very non-sensey."

Stifling the laugh, Willow took Buffy's hands and laced their fingers together. "Buff," she said with a sigh. Stalling to gather her thoughts, she continued, "It's just something you're going to have to get used to. Baby, don't let Xander mess with your head. He can be good at that when the mood strikes him."

She smiled and pulled Buffy to her, trying to keep the mood light. "I think that if we keep talking and working it out, I see a long, kinda-bumpy future for the two of us."

"But the things he—"

Willow pressed a finger to the slayer's lips and stifled the protest.

"You need to just go with it." Willow removed her finger and traced her finger down letting her hand cup the back of Buffy's neck to play with the small hairs. "Think of it…ya know what? Just call it a witch's intuition." She smirked and brought their lips inches apart and mumbled, "Just like I can be sure of you gettin' lucky in the near future as well."

Buffy grinned and deadpanned, "I already am."

The redhead giggled. "Am I turning the mighty slayer into a cheese ball?"

"If anyone could, Will, it's you."

"Come 'ere my great big ball of cheese." Crushing Buffy to her, Willow blazed a trail of kisses down Buffy's face and body.

Pacing between the bed and the door, Faith stammered, "X., how—?" then blurted out angrily, "What the fuck were you thinking?"

The air in the room had stagnated after Buffy left. Having pulled Xander away from the others, Faith was trying to figure out what the hell had been going through his head. She wanted desperately to understand what caused him to say the things he had.

He just stared blankly at his girlfriend.

She summoned her patience and remarked, "Xander, I'm not saying that what B. said was right either, but, babe, you were way out of line."

He looked up at his girl and sighed. "I don't—I mean, she just—" he stuttered. Rubbing his chin, he tried to collect his thoughts. What he finally arrived at was, "If anyone can push my buttons, it's Buffy. I'm happy that she and Will are together and..." Trailing off, he combed his fingers through his hair and finished lamely, "I just don't know."

Sitting on the bed next to him, she asked, "So, when you gonna apologize for being an ass?"

"What?" he sputtered.

"Ya know, make with the 'I'm sorry's," she prompted hopefully. Trying to make eye contact before she added, "You owe both of 'em."

He turned away, appearing irritated and rebuffed, "You can't be serious? Why? She…she insulted me. She questioned us. If anyone's been acting ass-like, it's not me."

Faith stared at her boyfriend. She couldn't figure out how in the hell he could be that dumb. His density could rival lead some days. Finally abandoning the pointless struggle to identify the source of his stupidity, she just let him have it, "Just in case you've been knocked unconscious for the last two and a half years, who was responsible for kicking Buff out of her own house?"

Springing out of the bed, she started to pace again as she remarked, "Red's right, you haven't apologized for that, or for half the stuff that went down during the First—" she leveled on him in disbelief "—and now you're sittin' back and expectin' both Red and B. to be copasetic with everything. Xand, that's just fuck-tastically stupid."

Xander met her gaze with smug defiance and snarked, "Right, like you made with the sorries too, huh?"

Faith countered "Oh, don't you dare! B. and I are—" breaking off to consider the truth. She searched, trying to remember if she and Buffy had ever had the 'I'm sorry I was such a bitch to you' conversation. The truth was she couldn't remember ever saying anything.

Defeated, she admitted, "Ya know what? You're right. So, here's the deal: you can sit here with the rest of the gang and be an ass and sleep alone tonight. I got a sister to find and try and set some things right." Faith didn't wait for his response. She just grabbed her coat, keys, and phone and walked out in to the chilly night air.

When she came out of the building, she punched in Buffy's cell. She waited as the voicemail picked up and left a short message. She dialed Will's cell next and chuckled as a breathless witch answered the phone.

"What?" Willow growled into the phone.

"Nice to talk to you too, Red. What are you and the other up to?"

"Use your imagination," Willow grumbled, "And if this isn't life threatening, Faith, I suggest you call back at another time."

Standing at the corner, Faith waved for a cab as she pleaded, "Red…" Thinking better of the nickname, she hastily corrected, "Willow, wait, don't hang up."

The witch's aggravated voice returned, "What do you want, Faith?"

"I just—" Faith tried, combing her fingers through her hair before attempting to explain, "I hate phones. Where are you two at? I need to talk to you guys."

Willow stammered, "I don't know if that's such a good idea," her tone thick with trepidation.

"Well, too damn bad," Faith huffed, assuming that Willow was trying to blow her off. She sounded only a little less severe when she quickly added, "Look, I've got some shit to say and I'm not gonna quit buggin' you until it's said. So tell me the address so we can get this over with."

"Fine," Willow conceded and rattled off the address. "I'll leave the front porch light on."

"See you soon," Faith replied. After pressing the button to disconnect, she frowned at the phone.

Buffy asked, "And you invited Faith over, why?" her voice thick with annoyance.

Not looking entirely convinced herself, Willow implored, "Because she seemed to really want to talk to us."

Buffy pouted and sank down into the bed. "I was hoping for 'you and me'-alone time. Something we haven't had for nearly two weeks. I like it when it's just you and me."

Willow worked to muster a little pluck before remarking, "Think of it this way: it'll be just one less conversation we have to have later." Nothing like a little mock pluck to raise the spirits. She took in the expression on Buffy's face. Yeah…I'm not buying it either.

Buffy was well on her way to a solid sulk when she grumbled, "Fine, but I'm still not thrilled."

Impatient from the long cab ride, Faith knocked on the door. When no one answered, she entered uninvited and called out, "Willow? B.?" Poking her nose out of the foyer, "Anybody home?"

"In the kitchen, Faith," Buffy replied.

Faith walked through the house to the back. Dressed in robes, Willow and Buffy were seated at the table eating sandwiches.

Faith shook her head and laughed before asking, "You go slayin', B.?"

Buffy cocked her head to the side in question.

Faith remarked, "Hungry and—" gesturing to Willow "—it looks like the witch here took care of that other part."

Willow showed her appreciation by throwing a pickle at the brunette. Buffy laughed when it hit the girl in the middle of the forehead and then dropped to the floor.

Faith raised her hands in mock surrender and said, "Okay, okay, I take it back, just don't throw any more food." Making her way to the table, she gestured and asked, "You guys mind if I sit?"

Buffy mumbled, "Sit away," obviously more interested in her food than Faith.

After taking a chair, Faith sighed and said, "Cool. So, uh…I'm not really sure where to start and since gettin' this out ain't the funnest time I've ever had let me just get it over with, 'kay?'

Both girls just stared at Faith.

Faith met Buffy's eyes and began to explain, "So, B., after you left, X. and I sorta got in to it 'cause both of you are right in a way."

Lacing her fingers together, Faith took in the unsympathetic expression on the other slayer's face and pressed on, "No one's said they're sorry for any of the shit that went down in 'Sunnyhell' 'cept maybe, Red, here and—well, you deserve that at the very least." She rested her chin on her hands and looked down at the table

Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when Willow placed a hand on her shoulder.

Continuing in a soft thoughtful voice, Faith admitted with obvious regret, "You and I, we didn't have the big heart-to-heart when I came back to town—what, with the apocalypse and all." Breaking off, she let out a bitter laugh before remarking, "There was just a shit storm of stuff that we didn't get to talk about."

She steeled herself. Looking up to meet the icy stare again, she ticked off on her fingers as she listed, "Sorry for the shit that went down when I first got to Sunnydale, for Angel, and—" she briefly met the witch's gaze "—for hurting you, Willow." Boldly facing Buffy again, she continued, "B., I'm sorry for not stickin' up for you more when I got back from L.A."

She let her hand drop to the table before finishing in a lackluster tone, "So, I just want to say I'm sorry for—well, all of it. And I'm sorry it's taken me so long to say it."

Buffy racked her brain for something to say. To say she was 'floored' would be a gross understatement. Finding her voice, she let out, "And what, Faith, you think that because you came here and said all this that we're going to make with the kumbayahs and everything's gonna be okay?"

"Not even close, B.," Faith admitted with a small sad smile, quickly filling in, "But I figured that at least it's a start, ya know?" Raking her fingers nervously through her hair, she reflected, "Angel…he said that the first steps are usually the hardest and he's right. It needed to be said."

After rising from her chair, Faith pushed it in and leaned against it as she remarked, "You can take it for what it's worth which prob'ly ain't much right now, but someday maybe you'll not want to hate me." Turning on heel, she started to walk out of the kitchen.

"Faith wait," Buffy piped up, "Don't go."

Faith stopped in the doorway and let out a sigh of relief before turning to face Buffy.

"You want something to drink or eat?' Willow asked.

As Faith made her way back to the table, she replied bashfully, "Water and maybe a sandwich?" When Buffy gestured for her to sit, she grinned with relief.

Willow replied, "'Kay," and set to work making another sandwich while the two slayers talked.


Chapter 9 – Fallen Angel

Willow shut the book she was reading with a thump. Deeply bored and a little frustrated, she rubbed her eyes and stretched. Three days down the tubes. Three whole days since things went all flooey with the others and nothing.

Sorting through the morgue paperwork one more time, she went through her list: three different causes of death, no ritual markings… The only reason this is even a 'Scooby' thing is because of the IDs they've been finding on the bodies.

What the frilly heck am I doing? I'm not… This is more cop stuff. 'Kay, so, cop stuff…think like a cop, maybe? But I'm not a cop, I'm a Wiccan! Neatly stacking the papers, she returned them to the manila envelope.

Glancing around the empty library, she came to a decision and picked up her phone. After keying in a text message for Dawn, she waited patiently, hoping they could get past the past.

A few messages were exchanged, but otherwise, thirty minutes went by relatively uneventfully and she found herself sitting with Dawn and Kennedy. After settling in, they went over what she had found and set to work. Maybe fresh eyes will help? Really, I'm just glad they're here and things are a little less intense.

Dawn grabbed the book and lost herself in the text while Kennedy cleaned her fingernails, looking supremely bored. Willow gave Kennedy a smile and went back to her own research. An hour later, Dawn was mumbling and shaking her head.

"Willow," she whispered, "this isn't a current prophecy. From what I can make out, this has to do with the spell you guys invoked to defeat Adam. Something about the after effects of the spell. I think maybe you guys weren't supposed to be alive after that wore off."

"Uh?" the witch gasped, looking up from a book.

"See, here," Dawn directed, pointing to the specific references to Buffy, Giles, Xander, and Willow. Tracing further down the text, she remarked, "You guys were supposed to be killed by the first slayer."

Willow blew her bangs out of her eyes and huffed, "Great! I wonder how many prophecies there are that say we should all be dead." After dismissing the other two with a gesture, she rubbed her temples. Focusing on the book in front of her, she mumbled, "Okay, well then, I guess that's something. Thanks, Dawnie."

Rising to her feet, Dawn placed a hand on the witch's shoulder and asked, "You sure you don't want us to stay and help?" When Willow shook her head, Dawn patted her shoulder and stepped over to join Kennedy.

Willow stared blankly at the book and admitted, "There's nothing here. I've been here for nearly three days and the little bit I did find you just clarified." Looking up at the two girls, she quietly asked, "So, how are things at the apartment?"

"Okay, I guess. Xander's been moping around like someone killed his puppy and Faith's had him sleeping on the couch for the past two nights," Dawn answered in a bland voice.

Willow prompted, "And you?" meeting Dawn's gaze.

Dawn shrugged and looked down at the table before replying, "Okay, I guess. It's not like Buffy's never run away before. It's just she usually doesn't take you with her."

Anger flared. Struggling to stifle it, Willow protested, "Dawnie, that's not fair." The effort just made her voice sounded strained. Dammit! Less than twenty words about something non-researchy and we jump right back to tense.

"Why isn't it?" Dawn replied defiantly. Leveling her gaze on Willow, she fumed, "I mean, we both lost Mom, but she didn't have to deal. She was dead." As it occurred to her that this wasn't the most rational argument in human history, she finished lamely, "It's like I'm the biggest afterthought in her life."

Willow retorted vehemently, "That's not true! Buffy loves you. Most of the stuff she's done was for you."

"That's easy for you to say. She's always had you wrapped around her little finger," Dawn grumbled. After pausing momentarily to consider her words, she amended, "Well, when you weren't trying to kill each other."

Seeing that this was going nowhere, Willow responded dully, "You two seriously need to talk." What was it Einstein said about insanity? Something like it's 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is totally pointless.

Kennedy had heard enough. Fed up, she spat, "Willow, why? Why do you always defend her? Even when she's wrong, you back her up. She's neglected Dawn for as long as I've been around and, if the past two-and-a-half years have been any indication, Dawn's got every right to be upset."

"Kennedy, stay out of this," Willow warned.

Calming down, Dawn sent pleading eyes to the slayer in order to avoid a total blow out.

Kennedy heeded the warning her girlfriend sent her and backed down.

Dawn cleared her throat to soften her tone and reflected, "Willow, the point is you've never been the most unbiased person to talk to about Buffy. It's okay, I appreciate that you care, but I'll work it out with her, okay?"

With a curt nod Willow replied, "Fine, but promise it'll be soon." Isn't that what I just said? She sighed. 'Kay…whatever.

Motioning for Kennedy to follow, Dawn offered an arid, "Maybe." Willow nodded and watched them disappear around a stack of books.

As Buffy rounded her desk, returning the restroom, she chirped, "Hey, old man." Taking a seat across from her partner before she enquired, "What's got you in a huff?" The lab's sure been taking their sweet time with the trace evidence. You'd think Nekko'd get the concept 'rush order.' It's not like it's hard. Simpled up: we need it before beers with the boys, not after.

Jimmy glanced up from the computer and mumbled, "Nothin'. Just got off the phone with vic three's family. Let's just say that that was a conversation I choose never to have again. You got anything?"

"Nope, no, great epiphanies between the restroom and here," Buffy snarked, appearing momentarily amused. After a brief pause, she snapped serious and reported in a business-like manner, "Footwork's been a total waste. Nothing's coming back from any of the families."

Waving her in closer, he remarked, "I don't want to start shouting 'witch' or nothin', but I kinda am. I mean since these girls obviously have something to do with you and your family. And since your family is, uh…special. What's to say that whoever's doin' this isn't, uh…a witch?"

"We're looking at that."

Sensing that there was more, Jimmy prompted, "But?"

Buffy quickly filled in, "But there aren't any markings on the bodies, Jim. There's no ritualistic feel to these killings. Besides, I just don't get the spidey tingles when I go to a scene."

His eyebrows knit as he listened. He smirked and asked in amusement, "Spidey tingles?"

"Slayer thing," Buffy offered. Smiling as she taunted, "Don't any of you old guys know a good pop culture reference when you hear one?" Buffy rolled her eyes and continued, "It just seems like these girls are here to get my attention. Besides, Willow would've told us if there was magick involved. She's way better at picking that up than me."

Jimmy stretched back in his chair and chewed his bottom lip pensively. A few moments passed before he prompted, "Right, okay, so, brainstorm time. Top to bottom, what do we know?" He put his hand to his chin, scuffing the stubble as he listed the facts, "We both agree that the kill-site is different. These alleys are only dump-sites. Each C.O.D. is different. Murillo had her C.A.D.L.; Poulsen had hers, yours, and Red's; Eaton had hers, Xander's, and Faith's."

Leaning forward, he planted his feet, made eye contacted and asked, "What does that tell us?"

"It tells us that, as of right now, our unsub wants at least Will, Xander, Faith, and I to know that they know," Buffy replied, smiling wryly before adding, "'Know what's the real question, but it's drawing us in."

The lights came on and Jimmy responded, "Which means this was planned. Also means our unsub had to have contact with our girls to get them to come to the city."

"And survey says? Phone records, which we have," Buffy filled in, appearing amused.

"Then we start there. We go back to the basics and wait on Nekko to get back to us with the lab work. I still don't wanna discount the…other stuff. I'm not eliminating anything at this point." A little of the tension eased and Jimmy's expression warmed for the first time all day.

She leaned on the corner of his desk and sighed. What Jimmy said makes some sorta sense, but there's something really not right and it's making me crazy. It's like I can't quite put my finger on it. Backing up…

She cleared her throat to get Jimmy's attention and prodded, "'Kay, so…let's say these killings are part of some ritual." Putting her hand out to silence her partner, she continued without pause, "Now, before you go all 'I told you so' on me. I'm just playing the devil's advocate. Why? What type of ritual and why bring me in on it? In case you missed it when I told you about my first profession, I'm the one person you don't want cranky. Especially if you're of the not-human persuasion. It kinda gives me the green light to slice and dice."

"Who's to say they're not human? From what I've seen, Red's pretty damn human and she's..."

Cutting in, Buffy interjected, "Yeah, but Will, she's—" shuffling her feet uncomfortably "—she's more than." Well, that was less than sensational.

Jimmy's lips tightened and he asked, "What the fuck does that mean, Cupcake?"

"It's kinda a long story," Buffy replied with a shrug.

Jimmy looked at his watch and said, "'S alright, it's lunch anyhow and I got time. My treat, let's go."

Buffy huffed and followed her partner out of the building. It's gonna be a long afternoon.

The restaurant's other patrons chattered noisily as Buffy placed her fork on her plate and allowed the waitress to clear some of the plates. She sat quietly, giving Jimmy time to consider what she'd just shared.

Once their server had left, Buffy concluded, "So see, Will isn't not-human, but she's like human-plus. Kinda like me." Gotta give him credit, at least he's still conscious. Careful to keep her tone even, she remarked, "Jimmy, I know it's kinda a lot to take in, but it's really no different than what I am. She's just more in tune with nature." Yeah, that'll keep him from hitting the roof…or the floor. It sounded lame even to me.

"So let me try this on for size." Adjusting his seat, Jimmy fiddled with the napkin and continued, "Red got into magics to help you out with your duty or whatever. She brought you back from the dead, which spiraled into some type of addiction. Then her lover got shot and she tried to end the world after flaying her lover's killer alive?"

"Ah, yeah, that's pretty much it in a nutshell. But when you say it like that it makes it sound all…all weird." She smiled sheepishly and waited for him to finish up.

He clarified, "So, since she went off the mojo wagon she's been like super witch." Stopping to take a sip of his coffee before he asked, "How'm I doin' so far?"

Buffy nodded her head, without breaking eye contact and replied, "I mean she did do that spell that created a whole bunch of slayers, but she's doing the 'normal person' thing now."

Jimmy flashed a wry grin and remarked in a gruff tone, "Cupcake—" he folded his arms across his chest "—she ain't normal and neither are you."

Buffy rolled her eyes and tried to explain, "I…we know that, but we're shooting for some sorta normal. We want to be like Clark Kent." When Jimmy quirked an eyebrow, she quickly filled in, "But without the boy part."

Sighing, she tried again, "We need some 'Joan Average' downtime. I did mention that we invented the plural of apocalypse? I wanted a break, or really a retirement from that. There are others to do that duty."

Keeping his tone moderate, he replied, "Yeah, but, I mean, okay, I accepted the 'slayer.' That part wasn't—" He paused thoughtfully, obviously struggling with the details. Finally, he managed, "But this—you have seen her right? Petite, red hair, about five-six, cute with an impish grin. I don't think she could harm a kitty let alone do what you're tellin' me she did."

Lifting her napkin from her lap, Buffy started picking at it as she decided how to answer. "I know it's…" she began and broke off. Switching tack, she opted for the simple approach, remarking firmly, "Just trust me on this 'kay?"

He rubbed at his chin and nodded in agreement. The waitress came by and dropped the check off. He took a look at the amount and fished for his wallet. After dropping some money on the table, he rubbed the back of his neck and sputtered, "Uh, Cupcake….er, I don't mean to be nosy or nothin', but, eh…have you talked to anyone else besides Faith?"

Buffy flinched at the question and quietly replied, "No, I'm not ready to deal with them yet."

"Look, kid, I...take it from someone who knows. Don't let shit sit between you and your family. You need to have a sit down with them. Why don't you knock off and go back to your apartment. I'll cover for ya and pick you up at four or five?" He grinned hoping to win her over with charm.

Shaking her head, Buffy declined, "Jimmy, thanks, but it's not the right time."

"The right time's gonna be when? When you're dead, er, ah, again…or when they are? We don't know what this unsub's intentions are. With you doin' what you used to do, how can you not see that time is—what they say—of the essence?" Jimmy laid a meaty hand over her two smaller one's and implored, "If all y'inz guys get through this and you just let it sit, no good'll come of it."

"You sound like your speaking from personal experience. You want to share?" Buffy nudged gently. Removing her upper hand from the pile, she patted his arm in a reassuring gesture before sitting back to wait.

Jimmy looked down and stared at his coffee as he mumbled, "No, but I know I got some talkin' to do of my own."

"No fair old man. Spill. You know mine. What's the what?" Expecting a response, she looked at him with an expression she usually saved for people she interrogated. I get the not-sharey, but I know now, it would've been a mistake. At least when this is all over, I'll have a friend.

Jimmy fidgeted under the intense gaze of the small blonde sitting across from him. Sipping at the cold, bitter coffee, he sat up, then cleared his throat before speaking. "I got two kids from my first marriage. One, Susan, she's gonna be twenty-eight next month, and a boy, Jimmy Junior. He's twenty-four. Good kids, both of them. Never really had a lick of trouble from either of them…" he trailed off to collect his thoughts.

"Jim—James, he likes to be called James—he was always, uh…different," he stammered. Quickly covering his insecurity with by offering, "Now mind you, that ain't a bad thing. It's just what is." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and explained, "Well, James, he, uh, came out to me."

He shifted his frame in the chair uncomfortably. Anxiety clearly reflected on his features as he remarked, "I'm gonna say this and let me tell you that I ain't proud. I think that what I said to my kid's prob'ly the biggest regret I got. Ya know? I mean, ya' ever say somethin' and wish that you could take it back?"

Buffy nodded. Uh, yeah, boy, do I…know that is.

"The damage, it's done and even when you know you're wrong you can't seem to find the words to make it right. He just…I don't wanna use it as an excuse." He raised his hands palms up and tried to clarify, "It's just he didn't understand, kids like that got the snot beat of 'em. They didn't last long in my neighborhood. And 'sides the fact that, you grow up Irish Catholic, you get a one way ticket to Hell for bein' that way." He shrugged, losing some of his steam. Finishing up quietly, he admitted, "Since I, uh, kicked him out, Susie or Jim won't talk to me. They have once or twice, but it didn't go so well."

Buffy was floored. Grappling with understanding, she redirected, "So, why the freak out with Nate?"

"That…between James and, well," he tried, clenching his jaw he struggled for the right words. The gravity of his situation weighed heavily on him. Taking time, He chose his words very carefully. "I guess it was when I saw you and Willow together, it just kinda changed."

"Huh?" Buffy leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table.

Jimmy sat forward and met his partner's gaze. "When I walked in on you two at the coffee shop, you wanna know my first reaction?"

"Sure," she answered cautiously.

He confessed, "I wanted to wring Willow's neck for the tears I saw. It wasn't 'Buffy's gay.' It wasn't disgust. It was just anger 'cause you looked upset." Maintaining eye contact, he spoke his mind, "After I left, I started thinkin' and, since I was Mr. Desk Jockey the rest of the day, it worked out. Then at dinner it clicked more. Like really clicked. What I got from you two is that it don't matter."

He leaned back in his chair and waved a hand at the woman across from him. When Buffy perked up, he continued, "The thing that stuck, Cupcake, it don't matter the parts you have. And here's my sensitivity training coming out." A wry smile graced his features and he winked, erasing the sour expression on Buffy's face. "It's pretty fuckin' silly to be prejudiced against someone 'cause they're in love. You're happy, Cupcake. I've seen more life outta you since Red's been here than the past year and a half we've worked together. That's a solid in my book."

He took another sip of his stale coffee and made a face before remarking, "Nate? That was more a cop thing." Seeing the raised eyebrow of his partner, he conceded, "Okay, so it was also me being over-protective. The 'cop thing' is true too. You and I both know there are rules when you're a cop. We watch the six of everyone that carries a shield." He jammed his finger at the air punctuating his statement and said, "He stepped over that line. Some cops, they don't stick to the rules. They don't last long. The ones that do, do well."

Buffy let the silence stretch absorbing the information. She watched the nervous sweat bead on his brow and the way he pawed at his tie. 'Kay, so…I don't know what's more shocking: Jimmy has kids, or his Pat Robertson-like reaction to his gay son?

"So," he said, wiping his sweaty palms on his slacks. "When I tell you that you should talk to your family, I'm serious. It ain't no fun not havin' 'em with you."

"Jimmy." Buffy reached across the table and grabbed his hand. "Thank you." She looked at him and stood to give him a hug.

Uncomfortable as he was he let the girl embrace him. "Now, Cupcake, what would your girl say if she saw you in the arms of another?"

"Depends." Buffy let go and eyed the older man. "She either might ask to join, or try to kill you." Buffy winked and laughed when Jimmy blanched.

"Ya know, that ain't very nice. If what you say is true about Red, then, uh, she's kinda scary." He placed a hand at the small of her back and led them outside.

"Just don't make her cranky," Buffy chirped, making her way out the door.

"Check, no cranky redhead." Following the blonde outside, he pressed, "So you gonna go talk to your family or not?"

Buffy looked up at him and whined, "Any way I can get out of it?"

"No," said the detective as he lit a cigarette.

"Then, yeah," Buffy huffed and glanced at her watch. "I'll see you at the apartment at five?"

"Will do."

Buffy fidgeted as she suggested, "Jimmy, call your kids. If-if we can help…maybe you should call them tonight? Invite them over for dinner. I'd like to help." Yeah…this is bright. You know no good ever comes of meddling, yet here you are meddling away. There's probably an award for this sort of monumental stupidity.

He looked down at the blonde and shook his head. "I don't think that's such a hot idea, Cupcake."

"You don't know that. Just…just do me this favor and invite them over tonight for dinner. We can make it a family reunion type thing." She looked at him and gave a small pout. The sad thing, I'd like to think I'm helping. Yeah…insane doses of optimism always end well for me.

"Quit lookin' at me like that." He flicked the butt of the cigarette out into traffic and sighed. "Fine, I'll call. I'll ask, but don't be expectin' anything."

Helping…or at least, it can't hurt to try. Still telling myself that, dammit! It'll go well. Something has to. Buffy beamed at his concession and said, "I'm gonna walk. Not far from the house, 'kay? I'll see you in a bit." Now for the firing squad…

She turned right on Madison and continued north. Once she was safely out of view, her pace slowed to just over listless. How can I expect to help Jimmy with his, when I'm clueless what to do with my own? There's just so much…

Sure, I can get some of the anger, but what do they expect? What do they want from me? I can't be everything to them and I can't continue to lie to them just to make things less tense. What do I want from them? I want…I want them to leave me be. I want to go to work like a normal person, share my life with the person I love and die in bed surrounded by fat grandchildren.

Okay, so maybe not grandkids, 'cause that would mean that I would have to have kids and well, that thought makes my tummy do flips. So, no grandkids, maybe some nieces or nephews and Willow in bed with me. We could die together. It'll be romantic.

Back on track…

I have no idea what to say to them.

Jimmy watched his partner disappear around the corner. Kid's gotta point. Though, the last time I tried to talk to Susie or James, I got hung up on once and then yelled at for calling. Susie-Q's quite the firecracker—too much like her mom.

Removing his cell phone, he called P.S. one-seventy-three and waited for the receptionist to patch his call though. Waiting, he gazed up at the cloudy sky.

A few clicks on the line, brought his daughter's questioning voice through to his ear. "This is Susan."

"Hey, Susie. It's, uh, your dad." Jimmy walked over and rested his back against the front of the restaurant wall.

"What do you want?"

Jimmy tensed at his daughter's tone. "I—look, Susie-Q, just, uh, I was calling to ask if you and Jim…James had any plans for dinner?" He rested his head against the cool brick, waiting on a response, or for the line to go dead.

"And you care because? Last time I checked, we weren't talking," the woman on the other phone snipped.

Jimmy flinched at the acidic tone and pleaded, "Susan, please, don't, I just wanted to invite you two to dinner. My partner's family is in town and they were going to come over for dinner. I wanted to…we need to talk."

The phone clicked on her earring when Susan shifted it to her other shoulder. "I don't think that's such a good idea."

Leaning away from the wall, Jimmy started to pace as he spoke, "Don't bust my balls here, Susie-Q. How about you ask James? If he says okay, then will you two come over between six-thirty and sevenish? "

"I'll ask," she replied and hung up the phone.

After snapping his cell closed, Jimmy reached for his cigarettes and lit another one up. Well, that went better than I thought. Now, what the hell am I gonna do for the next two hours? Right, phone logs…maybe I can get some lackeys to do the grunt work.

Buffy eased the door open and cringed when the three occupants looked up at her. Faith was sitting on the couch. Xander and Giles were over by the kitchen reading from a stack of books. Straightening up, she walked in and sat down at the table.

"So did you guys, ah, find anything?" Buffy asked lamely.

Xander looked away, but Giles closed the book he was reading and said, "Hello, Buffy. No, it would appear we are coming up empty handed. What about you?"

"Will was working on some stuff at the library, but I won't know until later. Jimmy and I are waiting on some lab reports. I should know more tomorrow, hopefully." Buffy pushed back from the table and stood. "Uh, Xander? Can I see you alone for a few?" Buffy asked looking up at the man.

"Yeah, sure." Xander stood and offered, "Office?"

Buffy nodded and followed Xander to the room. She shut the door and smiled as he shifted nervously. He looks like I feel. Fighting just sucks.

"I..." Buffy started then stopped. Raking her fingers through her hair, she collected her thoughts and tried again, "Okay, so, you and I, we have this habit of getting really pissed at each other and getting over it. I know it's patched things up in the past. This—" she waved a finger between them "–that's not the way this is going to go. So, let me start by saying, I'm sorry for saying the things I said about Faith and you. It was out of line and I really didn't mean it."

"Buff, stop okay." He put a hand up. Leaning against the desk, he admitted, "It was just badness all around. Faith and I have done a lot of talking over the past few days. She said some things that maybe I didn't want to hear, but probably needed to. I was a big dummy. In fact, I'm wagering, I was the biggest—to coin a phrase—poophead on the planet. You didn't deserve that."

"Xander, I didn't help." Buffy slumped against the window, kicking her foot against the carpet.

"But it's not like you hurt, either," he replied frankly. Scrubbing his fingers over his cheek, he remarked, "Look, there are all these things we never discussed…stuff we should've. Like me losing an eye and us kicking you out of the house for starters."

A melancholy grin flickered over his features as he commented wryly, "And we can't forget the bestest year ever—the year we brought you back."

He pushed off the desk and stood in front of her. Gently he took her shoulders in his hands, forcing her to meet his eyes. Earnestly, he pressed, "Let me start by saying my eye…I'm over it. We all thought we did what we needed to do and, despite my being 'Mr. Bitter Man' over losing that nice thing called depth perception, I'd do it all over again. I trusted you then, Buffy, and I trust you now. That won't change. It wasn't your fault."

Breaking away from him she turned to look out the window, softly admitting, "It was."

"No, it wasn't." Turning Buffy around, he pointed at his glass eye adamantly saying, "This was Caleb's doing and, well, he got his. So, no hard feelings. Second, let me say that kicking you out of the house wasn't what was supposed to happen that night. I don't know if there are cards big enough to say how wrong it went."

Shrugging, she responded, "I think…looking back, I can see how it got out of control." Her attention turned to a patch of wall behind him. She leaned into his touch and mumbled, "I think I know why you guys did it. Maybe it's what needed to be done. I honestly don't know." Meeting his gaze, she asked, "So, if we are both over it, then why were we fighting?"

"Because I'm a jerk and you're the poster child for the avoidy when it comes to big emotional talks?" Xander replied with a crooked, playful smile.

She returned the smile before joking, "I used to be the poster child for that, but Will won't let me anymore. Something about it being unhealthy and world-endy."

Releasing her, he leaned back against the desk and replied, "She's right." He paused to wink before adding, "Of course, we both know she was always the brains of the operation." Moving his arms up and down in a gesture of mock supplication, he kidded, "We bow to the brains of the group."

Sobering, he ran his hand through his hair. "Umm, Buff, I just want to say what I said about Willow and you that uh, was ugly, like Troma film ugly, and I'm sorry. I'm glad you guys are giving it a chance. I kinda always thought that she would be the best for you, next to me…"

"Xander," Buffy interrupted, taking a step back to put some distance between them.

His demeanor turned rigid. He folded his arms across his chest and rebuffed, "No, Buff, that was just…I don't know what I was thinking. Words were coming out and even as I said them I couldn't believe it and I couldn't stop it." Relaxing, he teased, "Do me a favor and don't tell Willow all of it though, 'cause I kinda like my skin. It's grown on me the past twenty or so years." He gave her a sheepish grin before asking, "What now?"

Placing a hand on her hip, she replied, "Honestly, I don't know."

"For starters, let's do this right. Clean slate, you and me, right now," he responded forthrightly. Righting himself, he hung his head and rocked on his heels. A lighthearted smirk infected his features when he teased, "You wouldn't happen to have a bag full of stuff and a little wooden stake that I could return to you would you?"

Shaking her head, she replied, "Nope, but I'm good with hugs too."

"Hugs are good." He grinned broadly as he cautiously shuffled forward. "Better when they're given by your unnaturally strong best friend who's being very reasonable and forgiving."

"Come here, you ass." Buffy opened up her arms and embraced her best friend.

Xander asked, "Buff—" still holding on to the blonde "—not to, ah, open up more worms, but why did you move here?"

Buffy released the breath she'd been holding and replied, "Guilt. After it all went down, I felt so bad about everything. Getting away was the only thing I could think of."

"Uh, wow, honesty…but, why 'guilt'?" He pulled her back and looked her in the eye to gauge her reaction.

She replied bluntly, "Uh, say hello to your eye." The pained look the slayer wore deepened when she continued, "Then say hello to Willow's bender, then Faith and Dawn. God, Dawn…if she ever decided to go to therapy, it'd break the Council's bank. Finally—just 'cause more misery's fun and constructive—toss Giles in there too."

Xander gave her a look that said 'don't be stupid, it wasn't your fault.'

She shrugged and muttered ruefully, "Yeah, yeah, I know." Hanging her head, she admitted, "Need to talk to the watcher man." Her lips pursed. "So, running away…" breathing out, she spoke through the sigh "…probably not the best option, but it was the only thing I could think of."

"So, we are okay?" he asked.

"We'll get there. I love you, Xander." She wrapped him in another hug and asked, "Would you go get the tweed-clad, British guy from the kitchen table?"

"I'll send him in. Oh, and I love you too, Buff." He kissed the top of her head and let her go.

As Xander left to fetch Giles, Buffy turned to the window.

"Buffy?" Giles queried from the door.

She replied, "Come on in, Giles." Turning from her cloud watching, she rested her back against the glass.

"Xander said that you wanted to see me?" He gently shut the door and walked farther into the room, stopping when he reached the desk.

"Yeah, we need to talk. I know I was never one for the talks, but I don't want to put this off any longer," she reflected dryly.

"I see," Giles said, standing stiffly by the office chair.

Buffy felt an unwanted smile tug at her lips as she took in the discomfort this was causing the man. "So, I'm going to say, I'm not sorry. I haven't done anything wrong, but I need you to get that you and I aren't cool, Giles."

Buffy pressed herself closer to the glass. Wrapping her arms around her waist, she fought to stave off tears. It was a losing battle. A few spilled over as she reflected, "When my mom died, I expected you, above everyone else, to help me." After angrily wiping her eyes, she pressed on, "When I came back, you just took off and didn't tell me why, or give me a chance to fix it."

Running her tongue over her lips, she tasted salt. Her hands went to her face. She swiped at the tears that were still falling. Flinging her arm out, she spat, "You just flew to jolly old and expected me to just be okay with everything. Didn't you see?" She shook her head and continued, "God, I mean—then you go behind my back and try to kill the only person who seemed to give a damn about was going on with me."

"Buffy…I—" Giles tried, but was stopped by an upheld hand.

"No, I'm not done." Her arms folded across her chest as her shoulders slumped. "So, right, I've got this pent up hostility toward you. I'm sure if we had time to sort through it and attend some touchy, feely therapy sessions that we could probably get through it. But like usual, right now, we don't." Meeting his soft gaze, she said, "So just save it, okay? You don't have to apologize. When this is said and done, you can go back to England and do whatever it is that you do."

A flash of pain sullied his features. "If that's what you want," he conceded.

"It's what it is." Buffy pushed away from the window pane and made her way to the door.

"Buffy, wait?" Giles asked quietly, still rooted to his spot.

She turned to look.

He offered, "You may not want to hear this, but it needs to be said," his voice soft, yet firm. "I am sorry. The way that I behaved, the things I did, you may not have understood, but I felt I had to do them. You relied on me far too much. You needed to stand on your own." His brow furrowed as he stammered, "I-I am sorry for leaving, but I didn't know what else to do. I felt I was holding you back."

Buffy shook her head and quietly confessed, "You were the only thing holding me together."

"You may think that, but that's not what I believed at the time." He inched his way over to her and tilted her head up. "You, all of you, were looking to me for answers I couldn't provide. What was I to do?"

"I don't know." Buffy looked away and suggested, "Open up that usually wordy mouth of yours and say something?"

Giles' finger dropped from under her chin and he removed his glasses pinching the bridge of his nose. "Maybe that would have worked. I'm not so certain. What I do know is that I am sorry for turning my back on you. It was simply the only thing I could think to do at the time."

Buffy asked, "So, what now?" finally locking eyes with her former Watcher.

"You and I should take more time when this is all over and see if we can work through our differences." He smiled softy and blushed. "Buffy, as much as I've never said it, you might as well be my daughter. I can't begin to describe what happened when you died. Just know that it was probably the worst three months of my life."

Buffy nodded and shrugged. "Funny that."

"What?" Giles cocked his head to the side in question.

"Just, I've never given you the opportunity to be human. You were always 'Super Giles.' And well, it turns out that you're human. I don't like it." A small smile tugged at her lips as she asked, "Do you remember when I asked you to lie to me? Can we keep that up for a little while?"

"Do you think that's best?" he asked, laughing softly.

Buffy's eyebrows scrunched and she whined, "No, but can't I just pretend for a little while? Then when all of this is settled we can…I dunno—put on some padding, some more than others, and work it out like a slayer and her watcher should?"

"And how do you propose we do that?" he asked even though he knew the answer to the question.

Buffy grinned wide. "Training, Giles…you do remember training? The funny suit, me beating you up…"

A warm smile settled over his features as he said, "We'll see."

"It's all I ask." Buffy made to leave and was stopped by a hand on her shoulder.

"Buffy, I know that—well, that is to say…"

Turning to face him once again, she joked, "And the emotionally constipated Brit says—?"

"I love you, Buffy. I never say it and I think that now would be a good time. I'm very proud of what you've become."

She hugged Giles and, when she felt him stiffen, laughed a little more. Releasing him, she tugged on his shirt sleeve and said, "Come on." Buffy walked out into the living room.

To her surprise, Dawn, Kennedy, and Willow were there. Walking over to Willow, she wrapped her witch in a loose hug and placed a soft kiss on her cheek. "Wasn't I supposed to pick you up?"

Willow nodded and explained, "I wanted to come and pick up a few things and ran into Ken and Dawnie downstairs." Dropping her voice so that only Buffy could hear, she said, "I think you should talk to Dawnie."

Buffy grudgingly agreed and muttered under her breath, "Great." Turning down the hall, she motioned for Dawn to follow her. May as well. I hear Creedmore's nice this time of year.

The rest of the gang all sat around in the living room. Willow fidgeted. Sneaking a glance at Xander, she gave him a half smile.

"Will," he started.

"Don't, okay? Just get over here and give me a hug and we'll call it even." She opened her arms and waited for him to make his way over.

He nodded and went over to his oldest friend accepting the embrace. They stayed like that for a few moments when they noticed Giles coming out of the restroom. Breaking apart, they grinned at each other and bum rushed their friend.

In unison, they squeezed Giles into a group a hug and said in harmony, "We love you, Giles."

Giles stiffly returned the sudden hold and grumbled out his agreement, "Yes, yes, I love you both as well. Now may I—?"

When they broke up, Willow teased, "I just love it when he goes all red."

"It's like Uncle Mike on Thanksgiving when he's had too much wine," agreed Xander.

"Thank you both," Giles said, straightening out his clothes.

A reassuring ease fell over the household. Time slipped by, they all talked about the latest goings on and the little headway that was not being made.

Willow turned when she heard Jimmy's voice ring over the intercom. Walking over, she pressed the buzzer and let the detective in.

With a soft knock, he leaned in the door a few minutes later and said, "Heya, Red, the rest of you guys. Where's Cupcake?"

"In with her sister. Come sit." Willow motioned Jimmy inside and made room for him on the couch.

"Cool. So, Willow, did you find anything today?" the man asked as he sat down.

"No, it was a big fat waste of time," she grumped.

"What about you guys here?" Jimmy asked, looking around at his partner's family.

"Heh," Faith replied through a laugh, "I think we're barking up the wrong tree."

"I was tellin' Buffy the same thing earlier today," Jimmy said.

"Yeah, well, good luck trying to convince her," snarked the pregnant slayer.

Buffy asked, "Convince who?" as she appeared around the corner.

Willow glanced over and answered, "You."

"Why? Do I need convincing?"

"Usually," Xander and Willow chimed in together.

"Hmm…so it's…" Buffy looked at the clock above the TV "…four-forty and I think we were talking dinner before I left you this afternoon."

"We were," confirmed her partner.

"Did you call your kids?" Buffy asked.

"I did. Susie called me before I came in. She and James will be at the house at around five-thirty. So, I was thinkin' we get a coupla cabs and have everyone over. Sound good to you?"

"Fine with me. Everyone want to go have dinner at Jimmy's?" Buffy smiled as nods and murmurs of approval were given all around.

Part 10

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