DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related characters and concepts are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and probably some other network-level people that I'm forgetting. If I were to make any profit off of this story, it would certainly be news to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was originally supposed to be a short, sweet Willow and Tara story, but then as often happens it spawned a couple thousand more ideas than would fit. As it stands, it will hopefully be the first in a series of four.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Willow Diaries
By EldritchSandwich


Dear Diary,

I know I haven't written in you in a while. Well, okay, two years and then some is kind of a large while, but anyway, now that we're starting college and everyone's talking about new beginnings and things like that I figured it might be a good idea to put some of the stuff that's happened on paper so that I can work it out instead of having it bounce around my head like it's been doing. Especially lately. The boucing, I mean, as opposed to the happening or the working out.

Anyway, the last time I wrote in you was the day of the Spring Fling back in sophomore year. It's funny, but at the time it happened I was thinking of writing an entry about how Xander asked Buffy to the dance, then asked me as a backup when she said no, and how mad it made me. But that was before a lot of stuff.

So to start with, these are the words I haven't written in two years, the proximate cause of why I stopped writing, and that probably led to all the other things that kept me too busy to pick you back up, and therefore I think they're the best place to start:

Buffy's dead.

"Sure, what's not to like? Frat parties, date rape, 400 kids to a lecture hall—"

"We have discussed this, Faith," Giles' monotone interrupted the voice drifting to Willow down the hallway. "You are a ward of the Council, and the Council wants the Slayer to possess a certain level of education."

Faith appeared through the doorway, a cardboard box hefted over each shoulder, and snorted as she dropped them both with a thud on the empty bed at the far side of the dorm room. "Yeah, be a real shame if some vamp ripped my throat out before I got those art history credits."

Giles followed her through wordlessly, but his normally stony face tightened. Faith winced. "Shit, I'm sorry, you know I didn't mean it like that…"

"Of course." Giles laid his box down gently. "I'll go see if Xander and Jenny need any assistance with the rest."

Faith's gaze followed Giles guiltily as he turned and left, then she turned to Willow and forced a smile. The Slayer's eyes widened as she took in the tidily arranged desk, then tracked around the room to the closet, the end table, and the neatly made bed. "Damn, Red, you made yourself at home."

Brushing away her maudlin thoughts, Willow smiled. "Yeah, you'd be amazed what a gal can get done when she gets up before noon."

Faith chuckled as she tore open the first box and began to pile its sundry contents on the bed. "Hell, girlfriend, you better get used to it if we're gonna live together."

Willow shook her head, turning back down as the sound of Faith unpacking—such as it was—continued in the background. She reread the last line, then took a deep breath of the crisp late summer air that drifted through the open window. On days like this, she could almost forget.

Buffy Summers was killed by the Master on the night of the Spring Fling. Xander tried to bring her back, but he and Angel got there too late, assuming there was ever anything they could have done at all.

He still blames himself. Sometimes I'm afraid that maybe I do too.

Either way, the Master killed Buffy and Angel killed the Master, consequently making him the demon underworld's most wanted and forcing him to go on the run when we probably needed him most. Not like he had a choice, though. He still sends me postcards, sometimes. The last one was from Kosovo.

Life's been hard since Buffy died, for all of us, but at least it's been. Xander and Cordy of all people fell into a closet with each other at some point, which has left me as an odd wheel out for a while now, but that's fine with me. When your last crush gets shot and skinned by a werewolf hunter it kind of kills the dating instinct the teensiest bit. Faith doesn't date either, as far as I can tell; she says she's 'all about the free milk'.

I'm kind of grossed out that that might mean what I think it means.

"Well if you still won't consider it, I have a few odd jobs you could help with around the house."

"Jenny, don't encourage him."

"Nah, don't listen to him, Ms. C. Encourage me."

"Come on, Rupert, you're not everyone's Watcher." Jenny Calendar was the first through the door, a boombox carried in the crux of her elbow. "Faith, honey, where do you want this?"

Faith looked up. "Hm? Oh, uh, anywhere. Whatever."

Xander and Giles followed her through, the last item of the move, a television that Willow wasn't entirely sure was technically Faith's, carried stiffly between them. Giles grunted as his grip slackened, and Xander hurried to guide the clunky set down to the ground. Giles straightened, and grimaced as his back popped. "Wasn't Cordelia meant to help us with this?"

Willow found herself smiling again. "What, Cordelia disappear when physical labor rears its head? Uncanny."

"Hey, in defense of my girlfriend's honor…" The other eyes in the room looked up at Xander as he trailed off. He shrugged. "Yeah, that was pretty much it."

"Yes, well then, if you girls don't need anything else, I believe I'll be off. Jenny?"

"Right behind you."

"Yeah, I should get moving too. No sense hanging around an airy, well-furnished disgrace like this when I have a nice dank basement calling my name."

Faith grinned. "You're always welcome to bunk down with me, X-Man."

"Yeah, you're really not," Willow interjected without looking up.

Xander chuckled. "Thanks all the same, but I'm pretty sure Cordy could kill me just as dead as you could. See you crazy kids later?"

"Sure thing."

"Bye, Xander." The room emptied out, and Willow picked up her pen.

Even with Ms. Cal—Jenny around, Giles took it harder than any of us. It didn't help that when Kendra showed up she was so regimented that she hardly needed a Watcher, and probably helped even less when she got herself killed too.

Even though she doesn't know it and he'd never ever admit it, I'm pretty sure that the day she showed up, a disobedient Slayer in desperate need of both a Watcher and some good old fashioned parental guidance, Faith saved Giles' life.

In a way, she did it for all of us. She gave us someone to rally around again, instead of just being a bunch of stupid civilians out trying to get ourselves killed by demons who didn't even look at us twice. She's

"Hey, Red, you see a box of Trojans in this mess? Thought I brought some with me, and I ain't about to trust frat boys."

Well, she's really something.

Love, Willow

Willow juggled an armful of books as she walked, trying to sort her way through to a particular one of the ream's worth of flyers she'd been handed or picked up of her own accord since she set foot outside her dorm. Xander eyed her, ready to swoop in if she lost her balance, while Cordelia merely stared, shaking her head.

"Okay, Willow, I'm all for like, broadening your horizons beyond the nerd side of life, but you might want to start a little slower, maybe?"

"No, it's okay. I'm fine. Just gotta—"

Whatever Willow just had to was interrupted when she tumbled head over heels into a tall, equally encumbered blonde who had meandered into their path. Books and flyers scattered, and Xander was immediately on the ground with them picking through the chaos, Cordelia leaning in with significantly less enthusiasm by his side.

"Oh, God, I'm so sorry…"

"S…sorry. I, I w…was just tr…trying to…"

"…didn't see you…"

"…should have w…watched where I was g…g…going!"

Willow was about to look up and reassure the girl that it was totally her fault when her hand fell on the purple piece of paper she'd been looking for. "Oh, hey, here it is!"

The blonde bent her head and leaned down closer. "Oh! You're g…going to the W…W…Wicca group?"

"Yeah! Are you?" Willow finally looked up into the girl's face—it was heart-shaped, flushed red with embarrassment, and half-covered by her straw-blonde hair.

"I w…was thinking about it."

Willow grinned. "Well maybe I'll see you there!"

The corners of the blonde's mouth turned up in a shy smile, her downcast eyes hidden behind long lashes. "Yeah. Maybe you will."

Suddenly aware that there were two other people there watching her make a complete fool of herself, the blonde hurriedly collected the last of her books and moved past them with a final muttered apology. Willow watched her go, a smile still inexplicably plastered to her face.

"Hello, Lane Bryant."


At Xander's admonition, Willow turned back toward her friends to find Cordelia wincing. "Sorry, reflex."

Xander plucked the flyer from Willow's hands as they continued to walk. "So, more magicky stuff, huh? Don't you get enough of this with Ms. Calendar?"

Willow took the piece of paper back with a playful scowl. "Jenny's great, she just…I don't know, I guess I need to get out on my own a little. See what else is out there."

"Well, if you have to do all that hairy-legged New Age Sabrina crap, I guess it's good that you're gonna start doing it with people who aren't all old." Xander and Willow both turned toward Cordelia. "What? That was supportive. You don't have to get all glaring!"

Dear Diary,

Busy, busy, busy. I only just realized that I haven't written anything in you in the last few days; I still need to get back in the habit, I think.

My classes are good, mostly dull freshman stuff, but Drama looks like it will be fun even if I do have to take it with Cordelia. Faith's in the same European History class I am, which is coming off as boring even to me. The rest is just your basic welcome-to-college-now-sit-down-and-shut-up mandatory lectures from grad students, and since no one could convince Xander to even try and enroll I can't even count on him to distract me. If I'm going to be honest, which I should seeing as this is my diary and that's generally the whole idea, it all makes me a little nostalgic for high school, i.e. that time back when I was a huge nerd who the popular kids spent four years treating like something they'd stepped in as I nursed a huge unrequited crush for Xander who never even gave me the time of day and I'm going to reread this sentence and see if it still makes sense when I get back to the end.

Right, okay, anyway. Point. High school not the very best experience I could have had.

But at least I didn't feel so lost.

"It's like, I just don't know what to do with my life, you know?" Xander pitched his chair forward, letting the front legs click against the canteen's floor. "I mean, the whole Kerouac living-in-America thing didn't get me anywhere. Mostly literal sense. What am I supposed to do? Spend my life pumping Starbucks? Or is there some super secret career out there where my doctoral-level TV watching and snack preparation skills would put me ahead of the pack?"

"Your snack prepartion's only a Master's, at most," Willow muttered without looking up from her lunch.

"Hey, you know what's a really good place for figuring stuff like that out?" Cordelia intoned. "College."

"Oh, sure, for people who have money. Or are smart enough to get scholarships. Out there in the real world, ladies, it's a little more complicated than in the Ivy League tweed-jacket-wearing world of academia."

Cordelia shared a look with Willow. "Does he do this deliberately, or do you think it just like, comes out of his mouth?"

Willow smirked.

"Hey, I ain't missin' an opportunity to badmouth Harris, am I?" Faith unceremoniously thudded into the empty seat next to Willow's.

"Not at all. I'm sure Xander was just about to tell you how out in the real world they don't have international ancient secret societies paying their tuition."

Xander opened his mouth, but Faith merely chuckled. "I been out in the real world, thanks. Can't believe I'm actually saying this and I'll slay any of you that tell the G-Man, but I think I prefer it here."

As quickly as she'd come, Faith sprung up from the chair, ever unable to sit still for more time than it took Willow to focus on her. "Anyway, Harris, I need to borrow your girlfriend. Cool with you?"

"Yeah, just fill her up before you return her." When all three women turned toward Xander, he furrowed his brow. "That sounded different in my mouth than in my head."

Cordelia just rolled her eyes and playfully slapped the back of Xander's head as she turned to follow Faith. Xander smiled. "I'm fond of that girl." He paused. "She doing the sexy walk?"

Willow leaned around him just in time to watch Cordelia sashay out the cafeteria's swinging double doors. "It could be described as sexy."

Xander just nodded matter-of-factly. "So. Wanna talk?"

"About any other subject in the whole entire world, please."

"Right. Subject. Subject. Whole entire world…" As the silence settled over the pair, Willow sighed, shook her head, and returned to her lunch.

I just seem to be drifitng further away from Xander lately. And not just him, I guess. I'm not entirely sure about the others, but it seem like we're all moving closer to Giles and Jenny, but further from each other. Faith and I seem to be trying our best to prop each other up lately, and it's worked so far, but things are still weird.

At least Xander's got Cordelia.

Cordelia was shoved back-first against the far wall of the electrical closet, her grunt muffled by the weight pressed against her.

Before she could react, Faith's mouth was against hers, hungry and insistent. "We haven't had time to talk since we moved in here," Faith growled.

"Is that what you want to do? Talk?" Cordelia muttered as she pulled Faith's t-shirt free from the waist of her jeans.

Faith chuckled as a hand tugged roughly on Cordelia's mane of black hair, eliciting a hiss. "You know what I want to do."

"This is a one time thing. I mean it." Cordelia's hands were already under Faith's shirt, nails digging into her skin.

Faith laughed. "Right. Seventeen one time things."

Cordelia dug her nails in deeper, causing Faith to buck back and look her in the eye. "I mean it. I'm not a dyke."

Faith smirked. "No, no. You just like to fuck other women."

Cordelia pushed Faith off of her, almost enough to press the Slayer against the other wall. "Shut up."

Faith's hand was under the hem of Cordelia' skirt, drawing the brunette into her grip with a breathy moan. She grinned. "Make me."

"Oh, God, I'm free!" Faith rolled her head back with a pop as she and Willow followed the flow of students out of the lecture hall. "Man, I don't think I've ever been so bored in my entire life!"

Willow smirked. "Well, you've cerainly learned to hide it well."

"I mean, I thought G-Man was dull with his speeches on training and preparedness and hygeine and shit, but that guy is a nightmare! How the hell am I supposed to get through a whole semester…of…listening…to…him…talk…like…this?"

Willow chuckled; unfortunately, Faith's impression of Professor Bowler was spot on. "Learn how to cover up your snoring?"

"Yeah, and get my unbelievably smart, cool, and generous roommate to take notes for me."

"Uh huh, good one sweetie."

"I did mention compassionate, right? And hot? And—"

"Okay, okay! Point. Made it. Stop now."

"Good, 'cause I was runnin' out of PG-rated compliments." Willow swatted Faith's shoulder playfully. "You headin' for your Wiccamahooey thing now?"

"Campus Mother-Centered Traditional Spiritual Advocacy Community," Willow corrected. "And no, I've got about an hour and a half before it starts, so I though I'd go see Giles and Jenny."

"Cool. Say hey for me."

"You could always come and say it via your own self."

Faith's nose wrinkled. "Nah. G-Man might ask me to, like…do stuff. He's been comin' down pretty hard with the training lately. I mean, I've even had to, you know, actually do some of it."

"He just wants to make sure you're safe. You might not have noticed that you're slightly important to some of us around here."

Faith blushed at the same time that her jaw took on the iron set that seemed to Willow to be her general defense mechanism against compliments. "Yeah, well, what's Sunnydale without a Slayer?"

Willow merely nodded, occassionally glancing at Faith as they continued to walk. Finally, Faith turned to her. "What? I got drool from fallin' asleep back there?"

Willow shook her head, smiling sadly. "I just…wish you could've met her."

Faith's formidable jaw appeared again. "Yeah, you think old Buff and I woulda hit it off?"

"Oh, you would have killed each other." Faith chuckled, and Willow sighed. "But I wish you could've met her."

As they stepped onto the quad, Faith turned her eyes toward the setting sun, gazing intently past it to something only the Slayer could see. "Yeah. Me too."

Even though she hadn't been expected, Willow still found herself sitting comfortably in Giles' living room, a tea service complete with those little British cookies on the table in front of her, inside five minutes. It was a skill the librarian seemed to have, to know when they were coming and roll out a suitably stereotypical welcome. Willow smiled; God forbid they ever think of him as anything but completely together.

"Thanks, Giles."

"Not at all. Was there something in particular you wanted to talk about?"

"No. I guess…" Willow cleared her throat. "I just wanted to stop by and see you guys." She took a sip from her tea—it was strong, but almost cloyingly sweet, the way he'd made it for her, Buffy, and Xander when…well, before.

"Where's Jenny?"

"Oh. Still at school. She'll be bringing home supper when she's finished and we plan to make an evening of it."

Willow smiled subtly at the lovey-doviness of it all, knowing how much it would peeve the stern librarian to draw attention to it. "Well, I better get out of your hair then."

"No, no, I'm sure Jenny would love to see you. You've…well, all of you have been so busy, as have we, that we haven't seem much of you in the last few weeks. You're welcome to stay."

Willow smiled awkwardly as she set down her teacup. "Thanks, but I have to get going soon anyway. There's a campus Wicca group meeting tonight and I thought I'd check it out."

"Hm." It was Giles' traditional sound of thoughtful disapproval, and as usual the elaboration wasn't long in coming. "Are you certain that's a good idea, Willow? I know you've made great strides with Jenny over the past year, but magic is still a very dangerous force."

"Well, I don't think we're going to be levitating the furniture in the quad. I mean, I don't think they do that kind of stuff until the third meeting."

Giles' smile was tight, but genuine. "Still, best to exercise caution. Magic and Sunnydale can be a very…tumultuous combination." He slipped his glasses off to clean them, and his eyes softened. "I just want you to be careful."

Willow smiled again. "I know." She picked up her bag from beside the couch and turned toward the door. "But don't worry. I mean, like you said, witches in Sunnydale. I'm sure they know what they're doing."

"I just think it's great how the Goddess, like…fills us with her energy, you know? I mean that's something that's like, totally given me strength with all that patriarchy going on, you know? It's all about empowerment."

A few of the other girls sitting in the loose circle in the student union nodded sagely, while the organizer sitting at the head of the group smiled at—Willow squinted; what was this one's name again? Camilla?—encouragingly. When the bubbly blonde shifted to return her gaze, Willow realized it was her turn.

As she cleared her throat to introduce herself, the organizer's eyes shifted to look past her.

"H…hi S…Stacy. Sorry I'm l…l…late."

The organizer smiled the condescending smile that Willow had already begun to loathe even as she straightened in her seat at the sound of the familiar voice. When she felt the couch cushion sag next to her, Willow looked over to find the blonde from earlier that week sitting daintily next to her, smiling timidly. "Hi."

"Hi," Willow practically whispered back. Then the memory of where she was seeped back in, and Willow turned back towards the circle. "Hi. Uh, I'm Willow. Rosenberg. I'm not sure I'm really a practicing Wicca or anything, but I've been doing magic for about a year…" A brunette on the other side of the circle scoffed. "My…friend Jenny's been teaching me a lot, but I thought maybe I should," Willow cleared her throat, "start hanging out with people my own age more," she muttered under her breath. "So I just thought I'd come and see what you guys were…into."

Stacy nodded, but when Willow looked up she could see some of the others rolling their eyes; apparently she should have said something about her patriarchal subjugation or her period like everyone else.

Willow's attention shifted when the blonde cleared her throat. "Uh, hi. I'm Ta…Tara Maclay. I l…learned a l…lot from my mother, so I've been practicing since I was l…little. She was a pretty p…powerful w…w…witch."

Willow's rapt gaze was pulled away as the chipper blonde sitting on the other side of her groaned. Stacy's condescending smile deepened. "Just so you know, Tara…we don't really find that word very…empowering." The blonde blushed. "It's very easy to fall prey to patriarchal stereotypes about women, but here it's something we try to avoid. Okay?"

A red-faced Tara, eyes locked on the carpet, merely nodded.

Stacy smiled again. "Okay. Moving on."

When the meeting ended, Willow turned toward Tara's seat, only to find it empty. It made sense, she groused to herself—if she'd been backhanded like that she probably wouldn't be able to get out fast enough.

Willow turned back and found herself face to face with Stacy. "Oh. Yikes. Hi."

"Hi. Thanks for coming, it's always nice to see a new face. You're a freshperson, right?"

Willow winced. "Yeah."

"Cool. Hey, sorry about the weirdness. We just really have to be careful about everyone's feelings, right?"

Willow caught sight of Tara over Stacy's shoulder, practically being backed into a corner by the smirking brunette who had scoffed at her use of the word 'magic'. "Right."

"So, the next meeting's Tuesday after next. Can you make it? We'd love to have you."

Tara's eyes met hers for a moment, then the blushing blonde turned and hustled out. Willow frowned. "We'll see."

When the meeting ended, Tara couldn't get out fast enough. She wanted to stop and talk to Willow a little, but not if it meant—

"Well, well. If it isn't the Great and Powerful Maclay." Tara turned slowly in place even as her mind screamed at her body to keep walking. Bernadette was wearing that smirk that had made Tara shrink from the first time she saw it. "So what, you suddenly decided we're good enough for you?"

"I…I've got to g…g…go."

"I thought we were just a bunch of poseurs to you magicker-than-thou fairy-tale freaks. What, you suddenly have a change of heart?"

Before she could stop it, Tara's head swiveled around to meet Willow's gaze from over Stacy's shoulder. The blonde blushed. "I have to go."

Without a word, Tara turned and carried herself out as fast as possible, oblivious to Willow's gaze following her out the door.

"So no actual witches in your witch group?" Cordelia was leaning back against the far wall of the classroom, attention half on Willow, half on the manic teacher of their drama workshop waving his arms around in some sort of semaphore that was apparently supposed to help them understand the Stanislavsky method.

"Talk! All talk!" Willow had already thoroughly complained to Faith, Xander, and Jenny over the course of the weekend, but Cordelia was still prime venting territory. "I mean, there was this one girl who actually sounded like she knew, oh, you know, what she was talking about, and they just shut her down!"

"Well, hey, it's not your fault you confused the black-magic-eye-of-newt kind of Wicca with the bitchy-superior-non-leg-shaving variety."

"Yeah, that's pretty much what Faith said. Similar words, in fact." To Willow's surprise, this made Cordelia fidget, a faint blush appearing on her cheeks.

"So, well, anyway. Maybe you just have to, like, stick with it. I mean, who knows, maybe that was like the…the orientation to weed out the weenies." Cordelia's words brought a flash of a contrite Tara, fighting back tears as she hurried out of the room. "Plus, it would kind of give you something not unlike a social life. They gonna have another meeting soon?"

Willow shook her head to try to dispel the image. "Uh, yeah. Next week, I think."

"You gonna go?"

Tara's eyes, locked on her in the second before she ran out, were still centered in Willow's mind. "Yeah."

"Is this the best you could do?"

The silky voice emerging from the shadows made even the normally relaxed vampire stand a little straighter. "They may not be the kind of blokes you'd want at a tea party, but they'll get the violence done all right."

"That's what I like about you, William." Even in the darkness, the smile was obvious in the voice. "You have friends in such conveniently low places."

"Well, yeah, these aren't exactly friends so much as blokes who happen to owe me money." And who happened to be terrified out of their wits by the figure in the shadows behind him, but even Spike wasn't obsequious enough to mention that. "They should work out for you well enough, provided we can keep 'em in line."

"Oh, don't worry about that." The voice was grinning now. "We won't be needing them for long."

I think, as inhumanly crazy-makingly unexpected as these words are coming out of my mouth—er, pen—that Cordelia's right. It would be kind of stupid of me to give up after just one meeting, and Stacy seems pretty nice, I guess, to me at least, and she was interested in having me come back.

Plus, even though it's a longshot, I can't think of any better way to maybe see Tara again.

Oh! I didn't tell you about Tara!

She was the one bright spot in this whole thing; I mean, we haven't actually said that many actual words to each other, but it seemed like she was at least on the magical side of the Wicca-r fence instead of the self-righteous side. If the whole group was like her, I'd certainly be a lot more enthusiastic about going back.

Even if she's not there, I should at least give them one more chance, if only to broaden my horizions beyond the five people I currently know.

We'll see.

I'm starting to kind of regret that wicker fence joke.

Oh, what the hey, no one but me's ever going to read this anyway, right?

It's still kind of bugging me.

As unusually focused as she was on the upcoming Wicca group, Willow couldn't help but feel a certain sense of peace.

The reason, oddly enough, was that they were all sitting in Giles' and Jenny's living room, doing something they hadn't all done together in a while; they were having an honest-to-god Scooby meeting.

Faith was leaning against the half-wall that screened the kitchen while Giles busied himself inside, and Jenny, Xander, Willow and Cordelia were scattered around the living room. As Faith neared the end of what could rather laughably be called her report, Willow forced her attention back into the room. "I don't know, just seems to me like the vamps are bitin' harder than usual lately. Movin' in groups."

Giles looked up from his tea preparations. "As if someone, or something, were coordinating them."

"Which means we maybe got a new Big Bad in town. Go Team Sunnydale," Xander muttered.

Jenny shrugged. "Not necessarily new. I mean, you didn't exactly part with Spike on the best of terms. It wouldn't surprise me if he wanted a little payback."

Faith groaned. "Christ, I hope it's somethin' else. How many times I gotta beat that guy's ass?"

It was at that point that Giles emerged from the kitchen to set the tea tray down at the center of the table. "Here we are. I'm sorry I don't have any actual breakfast to speak of."

"Yeah, my bad," Xander groaned, "we haven't done this in so long my donut-gathering skills have gotten a little rusty."

Willow smiled. "It's all right, Giles. We all have classes soon anyway, and we know you and Jenny need to get to school."

"Course if you'd moved up with us, you could be headin' to a fancy university library instead of the fabulous Hellmouth High."

Giles frowned in the Slayer's direction, which only made her grin harder. "Yes, thank you, Faith. We'll simply have to content ourselves with ushering a new generation of minds into adulthood while you all…languish in an educational stupor."

Jenny couldn't completely force down a chuckle, and Willow smiled; they all knew that if a position had been available at the university, Giles would have left the high school behind without a second thought, and it wasn't about spending more time with them.

Willow set her teacup down with a clink. "Well, I'm glad we did this."

"Yeah," Xander added, "we should get back into the habit."


As silence settled over them, broken only by the polite (or somewhat less so, in Faith and Xander's cases) slurping of tea, Willow sighed.

Cordelia was the first to break the stillness. "Well, this is fun and all, but I really have to get to class."

Faith hopped up from her chair. "Right, yeah, me too."

"Me too," Xander groaned as he rose. "Except, not so much with the class as the soul-crushing, minimum-wage job hunting."

Giles cleared his throat. "Yes, of course, we must be off as well. Jenny?"

"Right. See you kids later."

"Bye, guys."


As the group broke up around her, Willow sighed. "Bye."

"You got plans tonight? I mean, other than your Wicca thing?" Faith was in constant motion as they left the lecture hall; Willow didn't even try to keep her in focus.

"I don't know. I've got a lot of reading to do. Why?"

"Well, let's just say I'm trying to schedule something, and someone's roommate's a light sleeper…"

Willow's nose crinkled. "Okay, sufficient data! I can study in the library, I doubt I'll be back before…midnight?"

Faith shot her a grin. "You're a saint among roommates."

"Just promise not to tell me anything about it."

Faith's grin slipped just a little. "Yeah, you can pretty much count on it," she muttered. Before Willow could respond, Faith cleared her throat. "So you gonna give those wannabes a lesson in Actual Witch 101?"

Willow frowned. "I don't want to make trouble. I'll probably just listen in. You know, be my usual observy self."

"Yeah, okay. You need me to kick any smug rich girl ass, you just holler, though."

The corner of Willow's mouth ticked upward. "I don't think I'll be requiring the services of a Slayer."

"I'm serious, Red, chicks like that…I mean, they think they're just on top of everybody else, so they gotta come off all high and mighty, when really they're just as messed up as anyone, but instead of bein' honest about it they gotta skulk around and get their kicks when no one's watching, and God help you if you get tied up in it, cuz they'll just…"

Faith's mouth hung open for a moment, her manic movement slowing to a dead stop before she looked down to find Willow's wide eyes staring straight at her. "Um, Faith? Who are we talking about?"

It only took a moment for Faith's particularly bedazzled deer-in-the-headlights look to vanish, replaced by her typical grin. "You know, I just realized, I gotta go see G-Man before it gets dark. We were gonna talk about patrolling and…on-the-job safety, and crap. See you tomorrow?"

Willow merely nodded as Faith backed away across the quad, practically at a full run. "Okay."

I don't know what's up with Faith lately. She's never exactly been communicative, but lately it's like she's got this secret something following her around. Which is fine, I mean, she's Miss I-Routinely-Stop-the-World-From-Ending-Before-Breakfast, she's entitled to a secret or two. I just feel like it's one more loop I'm not in.

I have this icky feeling like there's a big something looming out there that I won't recognize until it bites me.

Okay, right, poor choice of words.

As the last of the sun slipped below the horizon, Spike hoisted himself into the loft of the abandoned warehouse where the remnants of his makeshift army were milling about, generally making a nuisance of themselves. He was about to speak, but stopped when he saw the silhouette against the dying light of the loft's grimy window. He waited a few moments more, but the figure still showed no sign of acknowledging his presence. When he opened his mouth again, the figure turned, crystaline eyes boring into him, and the velvet voice wrapped around him. "When you were mortal, what did you think of the sun, William?"

Spike gritted his teeth, both at the name and at the unnecessary digression, but he also knew it was in his best interest to indulge his benefactor's whims. "Well…I don't know. Just sort of there, I guess."

"I was the same. I never gave a second thought to how that ball of burning gas made my life, pathetic and mortal as it may have been, possible. But now, I…we…have to pay attention to its every tiny movement, because being off by even a second would mean an instant and not entirely pleasant demise." Even in the shadow, Spike could feel the lips smiling. "That's the way of the world. We never realize how much our life depends on something, until our life depends on it." The brow furrowed. "Hm. That's kind of catchy. You know, someone should be writing these things down."

Spike's teeth ground harder. "The Slayer's taken out everyone we've thrown at her. Upping the size of the group every time is just letting her get better at picking them off. This keeps up, we're gonna run out of soldiers before—"

"You disappoint me, William. Treating them like they're your loyal subjects. They're cannon fodder, and you and I both know it. They only have to last long enough to draw her in."

"Yeah, and then what, you don't mind my asking?"

A grin feral enough to make Spike take a cautious step back split the darkness. "Then I take back what she stole."

Willow settled onto the same spot on the same student union couch she'd occupied during the last meeting, nervously looking around her. This time, it seemed like she was the first one there.

"Willow?" Her head jerked around to find Stacy smiling down at her. "I'm glad you decided to come see us again."

"Yeah, well, I didn't have anywhere else to be. And I'm pretty sure my roommate's bringing a guy home."

Stacy rolled her eyes. "Ugh, one more victim of the frat boy date rape system this school enforces."

Willow smiled nervously. "Actually, I'm kinda thinking Faith's going to be the one doing the victimizing."

Before Stacy could respond, her eyes were drawn to the doorway behind Willow, her flashy smile returning. "Carmella, Brittany, welcome! Come on, sit down!"

"Oh, also, someone left their scented candles dripping all over my womyn power shrine."

So much for a second chance, Willow thought; the meeting was almost over, and they still hadn't talked about anything related to magic nor, for that matter, much of anything related to Wicca. The redhead wasn't able to completely supress her sigh.

Suddenly all eyes were on her. "Did you have a thought, Willow?"

Willow's first instinct, as always, was to try to disappear into the couch cushions, but something made her clear her throat. "Well, uh, I mean, this is all fascinating, but…there are other things we could be talking about."

"Like what?" The brunette at the far side of circle seemed genuinely curious, and Willow grew bold.

"Well, there's the wacky notion of spells. Divination, transmutation, glamours…"

One of the girls snorted. "Yeah. Then we can all get out our broomsticks and…ride around on our broomsticks."

Stacy's condescending smile slipped back into place. "Certain stereotypes just aren't very empowering."

Willow could feel her cheeks burning, and fell back on her first instinct as the meeting continued around her. Anxious to look anywhere but at the group trying to ignore her, she looked up at the student union, and her eyes were immediately drawn to a tall figure braced in the doorway.

Tara smiled.

As soon as the meeting ended, Willow made a beeline for the blonde standing at the far side of the room, pale eyes flitting nervously toward her own, only to be stopped short by a sudden touch on her shoulder.


The redhead spun around to find herself face to face with Stacy. The older girl smiled. "Hey, Willow. Sorry about that. It's just a sensitive subject, you know?" Willow couldn't help but think that this girl seemed to be spending a lot of time apologizing to her. "I mean, some people believe in that sort of stuff as part of their worship, and that's cool. But we tend not to talk about it as much."

Willow forced a smile. "Yeah, of course. It's A-okay."

"Listen, I hope we didn't scare you off, I mean, you seem really nice. I was just wondering if you…wanted to grab some coffee some time."

"Uh, yeah, that sounds great but…I was actually about to talk to—"

"Cool. I'll see you around?"

"Yeah, see you."

Stacy breezed past her, leaving a confused Willow in her wake; when she turned back around towards the doorway, Tara was gone.

After so much effort, even Faith's Slayer stamina was beginning to show signs of wearing down; she didn't know how much more she could take.

Suddenly, the Slayer found herself on her back.

Cordelia's hips ground into her, eliciting a soft groan. "That mean you want to be on top?"

Cordelia grinned. "Just habit. Bet you wouldn't think Xander likes a little aggression."

Faith sighed, closed her eyes, and flipped on the bedside lamp. "Why'd you have to do that?"

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on…"

"You tellin' me you don't feel the tiniest bit guilty?"

"Oh, grow up, I never told Xander we're like…exclusive."

"Yeah, and you never told him about this, either."

Cordelia shot the Slayer a wry glance. "Have you?"

Faith shoved Cordelia off of her lap. "Least I'm beatin' myself up about it. You don't even seem to give a shit. I mean, how would you feel if you found out Xander was screwin'…hell, I don't know, Red?"

"Oh, for God's sake…"

"Well, I ain't exactly used to sneakin' around behind people's backs with stuff like this. I'm pretty out there with the whole 'get some, get gone.'"

Cordelia's smile turned wicked. "Well, I notice you haven't gotten gone yet…"

With a snort, Faith sat up. "Yeah, my mistake."

Cordelia watched in shock as she crossed the cramped dorm room. "Where are you going?"

"I need to take a shower."

As the door slammed behind her, Cordelia sighed.

Willow glanced at her watch; it was almost eleven thirty, but she had decided hours ago that she was going to give Faith until at least one before she headed back to the room. This was partly because she really could use the extra study time away from her boisterous roommate, but mostly because she was fairly certain she didn't want to barge in on whatever Faith and her boy-of-the-moment were doing.

She turned back to her history book, important sections bedecked in her customary array of color-coded highlighters, and was just about to turn to the next page when someone quietly cleared their throat above her.

For the fourth time, Willow found herself looking up and landing directly on those haunted eyes.


Tara smiled nervously. "Hi." The blonde made no move to sit down, merely fidgeting nervously under Willow's gaze. "Um, I didn't m…mean to interrupt you. I can c…c…come back later."

"No," Willow blurted out, then almost blushed at the vehemence of the outburst. "Um, sit down."

Tara took a wary glance at the chair across from Willow, but remained rooted to the floor. "I just, um…I w…w…wanted to t…talk to you and I didn't get the chance after the W…Wicca group."

Willow felt like smiling for some reason. "Yeah, I wanted to talk to you too, but Stacy got all interjecty and then when I looked up you were gone."

Willow could just barely see Tara's cheeks flush pink behind the curtain of her hair. "S…sorry, I just get n…nervous around crowds."

Willow looked around the library. At this time of night, it was all but deserted, only a few students cramming desperately for quizzes at the tables around her, but for some reason an urge gripped her regardless.

"Do you want to go get some coffee?"

Tara fidgeted. "Um…I don't really drink coffee. And it's almost m…midnight."

Willow scrunched up her nose. "Oh, yeah."


Willow smiled. "Okay."

In the end, they'd both ended up with herbal tea. Willow sipped hers slowly, looking over the rim of the cup at Tara; the other girl had hardly touched hers.

Willow was about to break the silence when Tara looked up. "S…sorry, I don't really kn…know what to say. I just…after the group, I wanted to talk to you. You weren't like the others. I mean, they didn't seem to…"

"Know what they were talking about?" Tara's answering smile made Willow's own return with a vengeance. "It does kind of seem like every girl with a henna tattoo and a spice rack thinks she's a…sister to the dark ones."

Willow was rewarded with a brief, musical laugh before Tara promtly shifted, face hidden behind her hair again. Suddenly, Willow wanted to hear that laugh again.

Smiling wider, she took a sip of her tea. "I swear, if I hear the phrase 'menstrual life force' one more time…"

By the time she got back to the room, it was almost two. Faith, as always, was still up; if it weren't for class, Willow doubted the Slayer would get any sleep at all.

Faith looked up when Willow shut the door behind her, and raised her eyebrows at the lazy smile on the redhead's face. "Damn, Red, maybe I oughta try that witch group. Looks like you had a better night than I did."

Willow fell back on her bed with a sigh. "The group was terrible."

"Then why're you smiling?"

In lieu of an answer, Willow just kept on doing it.

Dear Diary,

The last few days have been hard on all of us. Faith says more and more vamps seem to be coming out of the woodworkÉer, graveworkÉand Giles has no idea what's causing it. As if that weren't enough, something weird seems to have happened between Faith and Cordelia. Not that they were ever particularly close, but lately they've been very pointedly not looking at each other.

I wonder if it has something to do with Xander; I always kind of thought Faith might have a thing for him.

Worse than any of that, though, is that I haven't talked to Tara since we got tea Tuesday night. I mean, it's not like I expected to see her every night, but I gave her my number and I expected her to at least call to chat or something. Come to think of it, I was all smiles after we hung out, but she seemed a little distracted.

Oh well, maybe I just haven't had a brand spankin' new friend in a while. Actually, come to think of it, I guess I haven't really met anyone new in the year since Faith showed up (unless you count Percy, which, no, tutoring the bumbling jock so Snyder wouldn't expel me isn't exactly a yellow brick road straight to friendship).

I wonder if that's itÉwhat if I came on too strong? What if I was all clingy, 'oh, be my new best friend, let's wear matching outfits' needy stalker girl? 'Cause if so, probably not the best way to make friends.

It's just, with all the Scooby stuff and friend drama and best friend since forever dating your archnemesis since forever, it was nice to hang out with someone who was justÉ


It was a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the Scooby gang that, as long as they'd gone without regular meetings, everyone had already lapsed back into their traditional roles.

In other words, Xander brought donuts.

"Dibs on the jelly!" Faith's Slayer reflexes meant her hand was the first rooting around in the open box. "The red kind, y'all can have that purple crap."

Xander wordlessly accepted, snatching the nearest purple-filled confection from the far side of the box.

Cordelia daintily lifted out a chocolate glazed—only after, Willow noted, both Faith and Xander had pulled their hands free.

Giles scowled at the melee disapprovingly, but leaned in and plucked up a kruller regardless.

Finally, Willow took one of the surviving pastries, covered in coconut.

Jenny merely looked on, smiling fondly.

"Okay, we gotta do somethin' about all these vamps climbin' the border fence," Faith muttered, launching ahead despite her mouthful of donut. "I mean, it's gettin' so I'm seein' groups of six, seven just walkin' around like they own the damn place. I can only kill so many."

Willow and Xander shared a look that was almost wistful; since Faith had come in, they didn't seem to go out on patrol as often; as much fun as she was, when she got into full battle mode the brunette Slayer just didn't play well with others.

Giles cleared his throat. "Yes, well, I believe that our best recourse might be to focus on this…leader you seem to suspect is working behind the scenes."

Faith shrugged. "Okay, I mean, beatin' up Willy never gets old. I just wish there was some way to know what they were doin'."

Willow's eyebrows descended in thought. "What about a spell?" She turned to Jenny. "There has to be some kind of locator spell for demons, or vampires…"

Jenny's eyes lit up. "There are locator spells for everything. With a little research, I bet you and I could pull one off."

Giles frowned. "Now, Jenny, that sort of spell is very energy-intensive, I'm not certain Willow's ready for that degree of strain."

"She'll be fine," Jenny's pointed glance at the Watcher melted as she turned toward Willow. "You'll be fine. You've come a long way, Willow."

Willow shrugged uncomfortably. "Hey, you know me. I'm always up for more magic." She turned to find Giles staring at her. "I want to try it."

After a moment of tension, Giles nodded. "In the mean time, I suggest Faith press Willy for information about any new presence in town." These days, most of Giles' instructions were 'suggestions'; Faith was worse at following orders even than Buffy.

The Slayer nodded and popped up from her chair. "Cool. I got a class to get to, then I'll hit up Willy's around lunch."

"Yeah, I should probably get going too," Cordelia sighed.

Xander hopped to his feet. "Yep, I got a job to interview for."

"Fast food mascot, or coffee pumper?"

Xander sent a playful glare in Faith's direction. "I refuse to dignify that with a response, on the grounds that it's a hot dog cart."

He reached out to embrace a passing Cordelia, who favored him with a prim kiss on the cheek before breezing out the door. Xander frowned. "Is it just me, or am I getting less lovable? I mean granted, things have been a little weird lately, but I should still be gettin' some love, here, right?"

Willow forced a smile. "Uh, Xander, you sure we're the people you want to be having this gripe with?"

"Yeah, amen," Faith huffed testily.

Xander groaned. "Right, I should be discussing this with my vast supply of male friends."

Faith merely shook her head, tromping out the doorway as Xander followed behind, peppering the increasingly tense Slayer with banter. Willow turned to Jenny and Giles, still unmoved by the sea of teenage drama bobbing around them. "Um, I don't have any classes this morning, so I can come to school with you guys and get started on the locator spell, if that's okay."

"Of course." Giles smiled wearily, and Willow returned the gesture.

"Just let me use the bathroom!"

When Willow was gone, Jenny eased herself off of the loveseat. "Okay, Rupert. So let's level. What was that?"

"I don't know what—"

"Willow's a good girl, a fast learner, and she's already a better witch than I'll ever be. You know she's ready for this."

Giles opened his mouth to retort, then sighed. "I know." He slipped off his glasses, rubbing his handkerchief over the lenses. "I suppose I'm just feeling rather…protective…of late."

Jenny smiled fondly, her hand coming up to caress his arm. "Yeah, I know." She leaned in to offer him a quick kiss. "But they're big kids. They have to grow up sometime."

At that moment, Willow trotted back into the living room. "Okee-dokee, I'm all ready."

With a final affectionate smile for the redhead, Giles and Jenny turned toward the door.

Dear Diary,

Sorry if I seem rushed, but I only have a few minutes left before I have to go to class, and I just wanted to jot down a jot. Jenny and I found a spell that should be able to detect all the vampires within a certain radius, so we can see where they're congregating. She and Giles both say it's pretty power intensive, which makes me kind of nervous, but if Willy's his usual helpful self it's the best shot we have at getting to the bottom of this.

More than that, though, I want to do it. Like I said/wrote before, Jenny's been super nice about everything, but she's said herself that she doesn't have a lot of natural talent for magic. Sometimes it almost seems lik

Willow set her pen down and lifted the phone in the middle of the second ring. "Hello?"

"Hi. W…Willow?"

An inexplicable grin split the redhead's face. "Tara! Hey. I was waiting for you to call. I mean, not waiting by the phone all the time waiting, 'cause hello, creepy, but…" Willow cleared her throat. "Hi."

A soft giggle floated over the line. "Hi."

An inadvertant glance at the clock shook Willow out of her reverie. "Oh, shoot. Sorry, I really want to talk to you, but I have to get to class."

"Oh, Sorry. I uh…I just w…wanted to ask if you wanted to g…get some more coffee…or tea, or…I had a g…good time Tuesday."

"Me too." Willow's smile broadened. "I have some stuff tonight, but I'm free tomorrow around…eightish."

"Me too."

"Well, then, I guess there's a chance that…" Willow looked back down at her alarm clock. "Ooh! Late! Officially! Got to go! Sorry!"

"It's okay. I'll see you t…tomorrow."

"I can't wait! Bye!"


Willow dropped the receiver back into its cradle, scooping up books in a mad dash. She was definitely going to be late to class.

But she still had a smile on her face.

Faith rolled her head back with a crack as she walked out of the lecture hall. Even in peak physical condition as she was, sitting in those chairs for two hours took a toll; she was a Slayer, and Slayers weren't designed to sit still.

Suddenly, Faith felt a sharp grip around her biceps. She looked back, reigning in her instinct to pounce when she came face to face with Cordelia steering her down the hallway. "We need to talk."

The room Cordelia shepherded her into was definitely a janitorial closet, but Faith didn't have the opportunity to make out the details before the other girl jumped her.

Faith had to concentrate to push hard enough to keep Cordelia's arms at her sides without hurting her, and that still left her lips defenseless. Faith tried to push Cordelia back, but Cordelia was insistent. "Are we making up?" Faith growled.

"Why, something you'd rather be making?"

Cordelia's hand slipped under the waist of her jeans and, with a groan, Faith acquiesced. Her lips attacked Cordelia's, one hand tugging sharply on her hair. That made the other girl yelp, and Faith smirked.

The Slayer's hands worked under Cordelia's top. "Take this off."

Suddenly, Cordelia's hands were on hers. "I am not getting naked in a broom closet."

Faith's sneer deepened. "You owe me."

"My roommate's in a class for the next hour."

With a growl, Faith disengaged from Cordelia and practically ripped the door from its hinges.

If she was actually going to do this, she wasn't going to waste it.

Spike paced the floor of the warehouse in agitation. He hated the day; half because it hemmed him in, and half because it served as a constant reminder that this world was not made for his kind. He glanced up at the loft, where a lithe silhouette was staring intently out one of the half-darkened windows.

He had told himself that he wouldn't really miss Dru: that her ranting and clinging and shameless flirting with anything with a big enough "aura" would be worthwhile sacrifices in the face of a chance to remake the world.

That silhouette at the window, he kept telling himself, meant a new order, a new kind of vampire. Finally, the world would be bathed in blood.

Spike just hoped he lived long enough to see it.

Willow was still smiling as her history class let out; Faith was missing in action, but at least it would give Willow something to rib her about later. Mostly, however, she was still excited about being able to spend more time with—


Willow blinked as the older co-ed approached, all smiles. "Hi, Willow. Saw you coming out, and I just thought I'd say hey."

"Oh, okay. Hey."

"So…you were in such a hurry after the meeting, we never got to set an appointment for our little coffee date."

"Oh, yeah, sorry. I was just…"

"Well, I'm free tomorrow, around four. I'll meet you on the quad and we can go get a mocha or something?"

Inside, Willow shrugged; what did she have to lose? "Yeah, okay."

"Cool. See you then." Stacy trotted off with a final, grinning glance in the redhead's direction.

Willow merely stood for a moment, then resumed walking, certainly not dreading but also not particularly looking forward to the meeting. It wasn't that she particularly wanted to have coffee with Stacy, but rather that her constant inclination to give people the benefit of the doubt was once again holding her captive.

Slowly, Willow's smile returned; even if it turned out to be nothing more than sitting politely listening to Stacy talk about empowerment and patriarchy for a few minutes, she still had a much more highly anticipated rendezvous with Tara to look forward to.

Two social engagements on the same day, Willow mused. Cordelia would have been so proud.

Cordelia's head hit the pillow with a groan, sweat streaming down her forehead. "Someone's gotten a little pent up."

Faith was already out of bed, picking up the scattered fragments of her clothing from where they had been tossed over the course of the last hour. She refused to look at Cordelia. "Yeah, well, savor, cuz we're not doing this again."

Cordelia chuckled. "You know, I think that's what I said the first time." She grinned slyly. "Or maybe it was the first three."

Faith yanked her t-shirt down. "I mean it. I'm sick of this shit."

Without warning, Cordelia's hands were under the hem, pulling the shirt back up. "Well, we still have a few minutes, so if this is really the last time let's make it count…"

Faith tensed. "Don't touch me. I'm serious."

"Oh, you're serious?" Cordelia's hand was working its way down toward the Slayer's navel. "Let's just see how serious you are…"

Faith wheeled around, one hand gripping Cordelia's wrist and the other balled into a fist. The Slayer managed to pull back just as she saw a flash of genuine fear in Cordelia's eyes.

Shaking, Faith turned and practically ran from the room, slamming the door behind her.

"Are you ready?"

Willow nodded. "I think I get the procedure. Do you think I'm ready?"

Jenny just smiled. "I think you're going to do great."

The map, a crude depiction of Sunnydale, was spread out on the floor of Giles and Jenny's living room. A stubby candle was lit at each corner of the paper, and the remnants of various powders and reagents surrounded them. Willow looked down at the mixture in her hand, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes.

She had to struggle a bit to remember the words, but Jenny's voice helped guide her. When the older woman prompted, Willow blew the powder out onto the paper.

With a flash, the map began to crackle with red. Willow squinted—she could feel the spell pulling the energy through her. As she concentrated, red dots began to coalesce.

Jenny cried out in pain and shock, and Willow's head jerked up. The glow disappeared.

Giles, who had been studiously ignoring them from the kitchen, sprinted to his partner's side. "Jenny! Are you all right?"

The brunette gritted her teeth. "I'm fine, Rupert. It's fine."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to," Willow babbled, "whatever it is I didn't mean to do it, I mean I felt the spell working but then—"

"It's okay, Willow! It wasn't you." Jenny had managed to regain her composure; the haggard look on her face had given way to resignation. "It was me. I was afraid of this. We're trying to find every vampire in Sunnydale, I just don't have the raw power for a spell this big."

Willow furrowed her brow. "But, you're the most advanced witch I know."

"Magic's not just about training, Willow," Giles offered. "Some people are more naturally gifted than others. Jenny has a great deal of experience, but in terms of raw aptitude she's…"

Jenny grinned. "Too stubborn for my own good?"

Giles favored her with a weary smile. "Yes. Quite." He turned his sympathetic gaze to Willow. "I'm sorry, Willow. You're the only one of us to whom magic comes naturally." With a resigned sigh, he helped ease Jenny to her feet.

"We'll just have to wait and see what Faith is able to turn up."

Faith was just out the door when the last person in the world she wanted to see called her name.

"Faith! Hey!"

The Slayer froze, took a breath, and turned. "Hey, Xander."

Xander's toothy smile faded when it met with the look on Faith's face. "You okay?"

"Yeah, fine." Faith ran a hand through her hair with an internal sigh; he sure could choose the worst times to suddenly be insightful. "What brings you here?"

"Oh, just thought I'd see if Her Highness had a moment between classes for her long-suffering townie boy toy."

"Oh. Yeah, right. I was just up there talkin' to her."

Xander nodded, but his gaze didn't shift from the Slayer. "You sure you're okay?"

Faith shook her head. "Yeah. Five by five." Xander held her gaze for a moment longer, then nodded and stepped past her. He had the door half open when Faith opened her mouth. "You know about that whole…'fight or flight' thing?"

"Actually, I think that was one of the three days I was both present and attentive in high school bio. What about it?"

Faith sighed. "Don't think I got the 'flight' part. Seems like I'm more 'fight or fuck.' You know?"

Xander shrugged. "Well, you're the Slayer. Running away isn't exactly in the skillset. Slayer runs away, people get hurt."

"Yeah, well I'm thinkin' maybe sometimes people get hurt when the Slayer doesn't run."

Xander nodded as if he understood whatever Faith's point was. "Well, I can't speak for people of a hypothetical nature…but I know I'd rather have you around. If only for the preventing of bone breakage." Finally, Faith looked up at him, her smile sincere, if not reflected in her eyes. "What?"

"You're a good man, Alexander Lavelle Harris."

"Thanks." Xander squinted. "That was uncalled for."

"Yeah, well I didn't want to get too mushy." Faith cleared her throat. "Anyway, I'll leave you to Queen C."

As Xander moved back toward the door, Faith stared out at the setting sun, and sighed.

I'm so disappointed the locator spell didn't work. I know Jenny blames herself, but I can't help thinking that if I'd just pushed harderÉbut then, if I'd pushed harder, maybe it would have just hurt her more.

I hate being this close to something, something I know could help, and not being able to get there. It's like a math problem, and I'm just missing one variable. So how do I solve for X when X equals someone I know with a history of powerful witchcr—


It hadn't taken much work to find the room number; the school's network wasn't exactly designed to keep those kinds of things secret. As Willow approached the door, she began to realize what a stupid idea this was. Even if she was home, what right did Willow have to just barge in? What kind of message would that send? How did Willow even know she'd be able to help, much less willing? By the time Willow thought about all these things, she was already in the process of knocking on the door.

And after a few seconds, Tara answered.

The blonde's face brightened visibly, even considering the confusion in her eyes. "W…Willow! Wh…what are you d…d…doing here?"

"Sorry, I know this is really weird, I shouldn't have just shown up like this, you've probably got plans and a ton of homework and I'm intruding—"

"No!" Tara's almost desperate emphasis brought Willow screeching to a halt, and the blonde blushed. "It's…good to see you. Even if you are…" She glanced behind herself into the room. "…twenty two hours early."

Willow echoed Tara's giggle. "Actually, the thing is…

"I kind of have a favor to ask you."

As eager as Willow was, she still couldn't help but stop and stare.

Simply put, Tara's room looked like a home. Dense curtains hung around the window that admitted the last wisps of daylight, while strings of icicle lights ringed the room, casting a warm glow over the shelves of books and crystals. A quilt, probably handmade, covered the bed accompanied by a diverse pile of small pillows. Breathing in her surroundings, Willow couldn't help but smile.

She turned back toward the door to find Tara watching her. The redhead blushed. "I really like what you've done with the place. I mean, my dorm room pretty much looks like a dorm room." Tara just smiled shyly, and Willow shook her head. "Right. So. A favor."

Tara nodded.

"I was just hoping…well, wondering…there's this spell I wanted to do, and I wanted to know if you…"

"You…you want to cast with me?" When Willow looked up, Tara's eyes were shining.

"I know I just, showed up out of the blue, but…my friend Jenny said she didn't have enough power for this kind of spell, and I just thought…well, I mean, you and your mom…" Willow cleared her throat. "Maybe I should just go."

"What kind of spell?"

"Um, well…have you ever done a locator spell before?"

"Once." Tara smiled fondly. "Our dog got lost once when I was little, and my m…mom showed me how to do one."

"Well, this might be a little bigger." Willow tentatively slipped the backpack of supplies off her shoulder. "I'm trying to…um…"

It was then that Willow realized the other major flaw of her plan. She was about to tell a girl she'd just met that she was looking for vampires.

"What? What is it?"

Willow took an apprehensive breath, but something about the look in Tara's eyes made her take the plunge. She let out the breath. "I'm looking for vampires."

Tara blinked. "Oh."

"Okay, okay, I know how that sounded, but you're a witch…I mean, not everything that people think is made up or crazy or I realize I sound like I'm—"

"Willow." The simple muttering of her name caused her to cut her ranting short and drew her back into Tara's steady gaze. "I'm a witch in Sunnydale. I know about…stuff."

Willow let out a relieved breath that bordered on a laugh. "Right. Right."

"I just…never thought anyone would want to…find vampires."

"Yeah, well, I have this friend…it's kind of her job to…you know…kill them? And they've been a lot more active lately, and that usually means something bad's about to happen, so I wanted to do the spell to figure out where the big groups are so maybe we can try and figure out a pattern, so she can go and…kill…the…pattern."

Willow winced, but Tara favored her with a broad smile that filled the redhead with warmth. "Okay."


Tara's smile widened. "Okay."

An answering grin rose on Willow's face. "Okay."

Willow looked down apprehensively. The map was laid out, the powders were mixed, and the candles were lit. Still, she was nervous. What if the same thing that happened to Jenny happened to Tara? What if it was worse? What if—

"Hey." Willow looked up into Tara's pale eyes. "You okay?"

And suddenly, she was. "Yeah. Ready?"

"When you are."

Willow closed her eyes.

The words came more easily this time, her voice and Tara's wrapping together, and Willow could practically feel the air humming around them. The breath that sent the powder flying from her hand was almost like a sigh, and then she felt the familiar tug of the magic working through her. Behind it, though, there was something else; a warmth that she could feel holding her back from the edge. A flash of heat passed through her when she realized that the something was Tara.

When she opened her eyes, the glow was blinding.

"Wow." Willow looked across to Tara; the blonde had a thin sheen of sweat on her forehead, and her mouth was open in silent awe. "That's a lot of vampires."

Willow looked down at the swarming red dots that covered the map. "Yikes. I mean, I knew they were all over this town, but seeing it…"



Tara squinted down at the paper. "Well, I don't really know what I'm looking for, but I don't see a lot of really…dense groups."

"Yeah. There are some little clusters, but nothing that really screams 'I'm amassing an army of vampires to do my evil bidding.'" Slowly, Willow followed the red glow up, back to Tara's rapt face. Tara's eyes flitted up to meet hers, and the blonde graced her with a fleeting smile. Then, the other witch's eyes were drawn back down to the map.

"Willow? What's that?"

Willow followed the blonde's gaze, and gasped. Whatever it was, it wasn't just a vampire; the dot was still red, but it was deeper, larger, and brighter, practically drowning out the cluster of ordinary dots buzzing around it. "I wish there was a way we could focus in on it."

Worldessly, Tara extended her hands. Willow gingerly reached out to meet them, gasping at the power that immediately flowed between them. Forget the locator spell, Willow thought; she felt like she could take on the world. The warmth that Willow had felt behind the spell intensified, Tara's presence wrapping around her like an embrace. Part of her was focused on zeroing in on the exact location of the annomaly, but the rest of her was subsumed in Tara. She felt as if she were drowning in the smell of Tara's hair, sinking into her eyes, touching every inch of her skin—

Willow and Tara both pulled back so fast that they practically ended up at opposite ends of the room. Slowly, the glow on the map faded, but niether witch was watching.

Willow held Tara's eyes, gasping for air, unable to look away.


So, yeah. That was different.

I still can't believe the spell worked, much lessÉwell, it worked. But what I felt with TaraÉI don't even know what that was. I've never felt anything that powerful before. When the spell was over, neither one of us could think of anything to say.

Eventually, I guess I realized I should probably share the fact that there was some sort of super-vampire out there with someone, and I was able to get to the door. Tara said goodbye and that she'd see me tomorrowÉor, I guess, todayÉand that was it. I think we were both in shock.

I think I might still be, a little bit.

Anyway, when I told Faith, it was all Giles and I could to to keep her from heading to the warehouse district on the spot. Luckily, we managed to convinve her to wait until daylight, in no small part because I refused to tell her exactly where thisÉthing is.

I just hope she's okay.

I just realized I better get a move on, seeing as I have actual things to do today. I have classes, I have coffee with Stacy, and then I have coffee with Tara.

As crazy as what happened last night was, that's still the only thing I'm looking forward to. In fact, I'm probably looking forward to it now more than ever.

I don't really understand it. I don't know if I can. Heck, I don't know if I even want to.

All I know is that I want to see her again.

The darkened warehouse, shafts of sunlight sifting through its crumbling walls, had exploded into chaos.

Faith had caught the first two by surprise, burned to ash when she threw open the huge front doors. As vampires charged her, she never strayed far from the light, whipping her stake into some and flipping others over into the square of sun.

By the time the charge stopped, the air around her was choked with dust.

In the darkness ahead of her, someone clapped.

"Nicely done, love." Faith growled when she heard the voice, barely holding herself back from pouncing as Spike stepped forward out of the shadows. "I was kind of hoping to have a few left over, but…well, that was worth it."

"You've got to be kidding me. This mysterious Big Bad who's got us all so worked up? It's you?" Faith groaned. "For a second there I was really close to being actually worried."

Spike snarled, his face twisting. "That hurt my feelings."

"Easy, William."

As tightly wound as she was, Faith practically jumped when the new voice snuck up on her. She spun, searching the shadows, but saw nothing.

Spike didn't seem to notice. "What do you mean, easy? You promised me the Slayer!"

"I didn't promise you anything. Now go back to your kennel like a good puppy."

A growl rose in the vampire's throat. "No! She's mine!"

Faith, still searching vainly for the new threat, had made the mistake of turning her back on him. By the time she turned back, his fist had already wound into her hair.

Spike drover her head into the concrete floor with a wet crunch. When he pulled her back up, Faith's head was spinning. "You're mine."

Faith tensed, putting every ounce of muscle into pulling herself free from Spike's chokehold, but to no avail.

"You know, speakin' as a bloke who's already killed two Slayers…you're not much of a challenge. I feel a little cheap." Spike paused. "Oh, well. I'll learn to live with it."

As his fangs descended to her throat, Faith roared at the top of her lungs.

Then, Spike stopped.

His grip slackened, and Faith pulled herself free, spitting a mouthful of blood onto the concrete. She sprung to her feet, fists raised for the next attack, but Spike was merely standing across from her, brows furrowed. He looked up at her.


Spike collapsed in a pile of dust, the chunk of wood wedged in his back clattering to the floor.

"Actually, in point of fact…you're mine."

Faith wiped the blood from her eyes, still trying to pinpoint the seductive voice that echoed through the warehouse.

"Who the hell are you?"

Faith felt something whiz past her, and turned, but whatever it was was already gone.

The voice chuckled musically. "Isn't that just the worst feeling? Fighting blind? Especially when I know everything about you."

"You don't know anything about me!"

"No?" The voice was smiling. "Cordelia Chase. Interesting choice. I guess that mouth must be good for something."

"Shut up."

"Even if it does mean screwing over poor dear Xander."

"Shut up!"

"But then, you could always fuck him too, to make it up to him. After all, that's all you're good for, isn't it?"

"Shut the fuck up!" Faith screamed. Suddenly, there was a blur of motion, and something drove into her stomach, flipping her back and cracking her spine against the pavement.

"You're a worthless whore, Faith. And you know it."

Faith flipped back on to her feet with a roar. "Who the fuck are you?"

The voice chuckled and, slowly, Faith began to see a shape materialize in front of her. A lithe silhouette appeared out of the shadows, a halo of blonde hair framing a face still half-hidden in shadow.

The figure stepped out of the darkness, revealing a pretty, angular face. The girl was petite, and couldn't have been much older than Faith, but there was a power in her that made even the normally fearless Slayer shrink back.

And Faith knew.

The girl grinned.

"I'm Buffy. The Vampire Slayer."

The End

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