1
UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS

It was going on two months and three weeks now. The brunette was patrolling campus, but she wasn't enjoying slaying like she used to. She robotically moved on from one vampire to the next. When she didn't think there were going to be any more for the night, she returned to her and Willow's dorm room, and went to sleep. It was quite a life. She wasn't even sure how she was doing in her classes. The redhead seemed excited every time she saw her tests though, so she must have been doing okay.

They had returned to Sunnydale, and Faith had searched high and low for the blonde. She beat up demons, Willy...but she didn't get any answers. A lot of them were scared, and she didn't think it was just because of her. She knew Buffy was in town somewhere, she knew it, but after the first couple of weeks, she started running out of options. So, she decided to do what she told Buffy she was going to do.

Faith took the GED test, passed with high marks, and Willow got her into the college for the Fall Semester. They both chose Buffy's courses and enrolled her too, so when she came back, college would be waiting for her. Then college actually started, and Faith was able to bury herself in the workload and the routine, occupying herself during the day and looking for her girlfriend at night.

During her initiation week, she had to deal with an undead group of frat boys and their chick leader, Sunday. They were dispatched fairly easily, but the girl vampire reminded her of Buffy, as she had blonde hair and all. The same confidence too. It didn't take much to get her thinking about Buffy. Faith had been depressed and non-responsive for a bit after that, but she slowly started opening up to Willow and getting closer to Giles. She hung out at his place a lot, and was developing a thing for tea.

Xander's return had been hard, because he had come back after dropping Cordelia off in LA, and he was feeling pretty down. Then they had to tell him Buffy was gone, and he took that like he got punched in the gut. He had started patrolling with Faith, and even though most of the time it happened in complete silence, they were supporting one another by just being there.

Her first roommate was her second hurdle as Sunnydale's single slayer. The girl had turned out to be a demon from the nether regions that had run away from home, and her father was not very happy. That whole situation had led to Willow moving into her dorm room, because the hacker had not been pleased with her previous living conditions. It was cool because she pretty much ignored her first roommate, and Willow understood what she was going through.

She knew she was probably out of her mind, but she could have sworn that she had been seeing guys in black running around in the shadows. She didn't tell anybody however, because the next crisis had blown into town, and she had just finished dealing with it the night before. Spike and some blonde (who was too ditzy to remind her of Buffy) came by searching for a ring that meant invincibility for vampires. The gang brought her up to speed on the British vampire, and she had learned that Buffy hated his guts.

Naturally, Buffy's hatred had become hers, and she caused the Billy Idol wannabe to run out of town. She even gave Oz the ring to give to Angel, just to piss Spike off. She hadn't heard from the Big Guy yet, so that meant he was dealing with his child. With a sigh, she decided it was time to call an end to tonight's hunt. Heading towards Stevenson Hall, she heard growls coming from outside the front of the building.

There were three vampires circling something, like they were vultures. Faith was out of stakes, so she just ran in their direction screaming. The demons, knowing that making the slayer angry when she was usually so emotionally numb, was a bad thing to do. They ran into the night, and Faith saw that there was a person lying on the ground. Whoever it was, they were still breathing. That was good.

"Hey, can you move?"

She walked up closer and got a better look. The Bostonian thought she was going to pass out. There was a groan, and the girl's head turned.

"Buffy?"

"Fai...Fait...h?" The blonde slayer said wearily.

For the first time in months, the brunette smiled. She took her long-missing girlfriend into her arms, and began to cry.

***

"Does he still have a girlfriend?" Buffy asked the other slayer softly, as she was laid down on the couch in Giles' house.

Faith had to chuckle. Of all the things she could have come out with... "Yeah, but she hasn't been around for awhile."

'Kinda like you. What happened?' The brunette thought to herself, but she knew questions would come later. Buffy was back now. She sat on the end of the sofa, and the blonde immediately put her head on her girlfriend's lap.

Willow rushed into the house then, out of breath, as Giles got off the phone.

"I was in the computer lab...if I was in the dorm I would've...Buffy!" The redhead sat beside her friend.

Buffy got upright with the help of Faith, and accepted Willow's firm hug.

"You cut your hair." She noticed, and smiled sadly. "Did I miss another big summer?" Faith had told her how much time had gone by.

"Oh, Buffy." Her eyes were getting misty. "No, no you didn't. Haircut was pretty much the biggest thrill."

"It's nice."

Faith and Willow looked at one another. The blonde didn't just seem tired. She looked weak, exhausted, and as Giles put it when Faith had brought her in, extremely malnourished. She wasn't saying much, and it sounded like it took a lot of energy just to get the words out. Curling up, she leaned against Faith, and the brunette wrapped her arms around her.

Then she reached out for her friend's hand, and Willow readily gave it to her to hold.

"I phoned Xander and your mother, Buffy." Giles said, coming over and kneeling down.

"Xander?"

"Yes, he's back." She thought for a moment, and then nodded. "He's coming with food. Your mother will be here shortly. Have you eaten?"

"I'm not...sure. It doesn't feel like it."

She wasn't sure?

"Well, you won't be hungry much longer, B." Faith said. "And I promise not to eat any. You can pig out." She added with a smile, trying to hide the concern from her eyes.

A short while later, Buffy was up at the table eating pizza. She ate two whole boxes, but not with ravenous speed, as they had expected. She ate very slowly, almost like it was hard for her. Slices would wobble in her hands, and sometimes she would drop them on her plate without meaning to, and offer an ashamed apology.

Once she was finished, and Joyce composed herself, Giles thought he should at least attempt to ask what had transpired two months ago.

"Feeling better?" He started off asking gently.

"A little."

"Good, good." He spoke carefully. "If you don't feel up to it, you don't have to answer, but...can you tell us what happened? Where you've been?"

"I don't remember." Her eyes went wide with fear. "Oh God. I don't remember. I'm sorry, Giles...I can't..." She buried her face into his chest, and even though she had been perfectly fine, she started crying.

"It's all right, Buffy. It's all right."

***

They all decided that until they could situate Buffy into the dorm, she would stay at her house. Faith was going to be there with her, and was only going to go back to the dorm when Buffy was ready to do the same. Willow said she would stay on campus to watch the stuff, making sure nobody snooped around. The last thing they needed was someone to discover the slaying and magickal supplies under their beds.

Faith and Joyce were helping the blonde get into bed.

"Mr. Giles said you should rest and that your strength will build up again, but if you need anything during the night, just holler. Okay, sweetie?" Joyce said in that affectionate, motherly tone.

"Thanks, mom." She left the girls alone then, thanking God for bringing her daughter back. Faith turned off the lamp, and went to leave herself. Buffy needed sleep, and she didn't want to disrupt that. "Where are you going?"

"I was gonna crash on the couch."

"No...no. I need you here. I don't wanna be alone."

Faith released the breath she was unaware she had been holding, and got under the covers. She didn't want to leave. They were in each other's arms immediately, and the brunette felt the tension slowly leave her girlfriend's body. Buffy was breathing into her neck.

"I missed you, B."

"I missed you, too."

"I did everything I could, but I couldn't find you. It hurt so much."

"I didn't think I'd ever see you again." Buffy admitted, getting upset again.

Faith smiled. "But we're here now, right? And I don't care if you get sick of me or not, but I'm never leavin' your side."

"Good, cause...I...don't want you to let me go."

Faith raked her fingers through the blonde hair until Buffy fell asleep. There was no way she was going to close her eyes tonight, and it was a good thing she didn't, because after about a half an hour, the nightmares began. The older slayer started shaking first, and then she called out.

"Why are you...why...I'm sorry...stop...I have to get...my friends...and...please...it hurts...No! No!"

"Buffy, wake up." Faith said soothingly.

"Faith..."

"Come on. It's okay. Come out of it. You can do it. I'm right here." Buffy's eyes blinked open, and she was gasping for air. "Breathe."

Joyce burst into the room.

"What's wrong?"

"Nightmare." Faith answered, sitting Buffy against the headboard, and rubbing her back. "Water?"

Buffy nodded, and her mother went to get some.

"Help me."

***

The next morning at Giles', Faith was furious.

"Somebody stuck somethin' in her, and they did it more than once."

"Was she sexually -?' Giles couldn't mask his shock.

"Cold and metal, like they were searching for something. That's the way she described it. So I don't think so." Faith made a fist and squeezed. "But does it matter? Still rape to me." She snapped at him.

"No, of course it doesn't, but at least there won't be further consequences, then."

"Damn Giles, I'm sorry." She apologized softly. "But you didn't hear her. She said she was on a cold table, she was naked, something about blood...and something about being electrocuted and forced to fight...bits and pieces. I'm not gonna tell her mom."

"Perhaps she should see a gynecologist."

"She's healed. No point in it." He turned a couple shades of red. "We didn't do anything. I just checked. Nothin' hurt, and before you ask, I know what to look for."

He cleared his throat. "Did she say anything else?"

"It all came out real fast. Five minutes went by, and she didn't remember a thing about it."

"She forgot what she had just told you?" The brunette nodded. "I...I could try hypnosis. It may sound -"

"You can't put her through that."

"Is it that, or are you just afraid it would be too hard to listen to?" Faith's face gave him the answer. "It'd be hard for me as well, but she wants answers as much as we do. And right now, it's our only avenue."

"She wants to try class tomorrow. I'll talk to her. She's waitin' in the car. We got movies." She moved toward the door. "You know, I kinda had it stuck in my head that she would come back, or we would find her, and everything would go back to the way it was."

"It could, partially. Not completely, however, because the emotional damage done to Buffy can never completely heal. And you've also suffered damage in a way."

"What I went through, it's not the same."

"No, but you did shut down for two months, and you're just beginning to surface again. I know because I've watched you. Once we figure out who did these, horrible, things to her, it'll help you both. You're too strong-willed not to be able to pull through this. Especially together."

"You said 'who'. You think it was people?"

"Did I?"

"I just love these higher powers." Faith said sarcastically. "They expect me to protect people, but then they make me want to rip their guts out."

***

"I feel sick again." Buffy paled, trying to get off her bed.

She Xander, Willow, and Faith were all in her room, watching the rented movies, and all her friends jumped up.

"I got you, Buffy." Willow said softly, helping her friend. It was the redhead's turn. "Let's get you to the bathroom."

Willow put her arm around her friend's shoulders, and they walked quickly to the bathroom. The blonde kneeled and emptied her stomach. She looked at the toilet paper, and the hacker handed her some after she was finished. Buffy wiped her mouth, seeing Willow's concerned expression.

"What?"

"Um...I know it probably...isn't, uh, an option...but you've gotten sick a lot. Maybe -"

"I'm not pregnant. When Faith told me what I said, I made her stop and buy one of those tests. It turned into a blue, minus sign thing. I'm throwing up for another reason."

"Well, those tests aren't..."

"Will." Her friend frowned. "You want me to be pregnant?"

Willow shook her head rapidly. "No, no, no. Big no. But at least we could start to figure out what happened to you if you were...but I never would want that to happen to you...but it'd be good to know. You know?"

"I get what you mean." Buffy smiled slightly. "All I can remember now, is that it was really bad."

"It's not gonna happen again. We won't let it. Faith won't let it."

"God. Faith...I can't believe I'm doing this to her."

"Doing what?"

"She's been so there for me, all of you, but look at me. I'm not *me*. And I hate it. I'm weak, people have to help me places, I'm having nightmares and I just cry for no reason...how can she put up with that? How can you? I wouldn't be able to stand being around me."

"Hey. She loves you, that's why. We all do, and we don't mind. We're just glad you're back. You'll get better." She paused. "Do you remember how Angel turned evil, and you lost him and kinda...broke?"

"Yeah."

"Faith was worse. I'd have to invent words to tell you how hard it was on her. Now you're back, and that's all she wanted for months. She doesn't care what shape you're in. That's what love is. Do I care that Oz is a werewolf?"

"Nope."

"There you go, then." Willow went to help Buffy up, but the blonde waved her off and used the sink. "Up for more movie viewing?"

"I think so."

***

"What do you think it is?" Faith asked Xander, getting restless waiting for their return.

"Aliens." He got a look. "I'm serious. White room, table," He coughed, "probing, taking of blood..."

"That's the dumbest -"

Xander sighed. "Yeah, I heard the same thing from Cordelia on the phone."

"This is a Hellmouth. Things come from Hell. Not space." She felt guilty now. "Good thought, though."

"Thanks. Little late, but thanks." He smirked. "What do you think?"

"Vampires. They were around her, and they're cold. So they could have..." Xander blushed, and Faith was making herself angry. "Last time I checked they liked blood, and she might've tried to fight 'em off..."

"But she said it felt like she was electrocuted."

Faith shrugged. "Dreams don't always make sense. Now I have things I can go hit, anyway. Even if they didn't do anything to her, I'm bettin' they know something."

"Count me in." Buffy said, entering the room.

"B..."

"Don't argue with me, Faith. Nothing's going to change if I hang around here, or just go to class. If I want to improve, I've gotta be active girl."

"Buffy, jumping right back into slaying," Xander said, "is probably not the smartest thing."

"You could train first." Willow told her. "You said yourself that moving was an issue."

"Look, I'm not gonna be a hobbit -"

"Think you're lookin' for hermit." Faith supplied.

"- A hermit. Believe me, I know whatever happened to me was traumatic. Some people go to counseling and talk, but I'm not gonna be one of them. If I don't get off my ass and try to get in the routine again, and find whatever messed with me now, I never will. Do you guys understand?"

They all nodded.

"Good. Can we call Giles so he can help me train before we go out? Then I'll know what my limits are."

"You heard her. We better do what she says." Faith smiled.

***

At night, Buffy was moving slowly through the cemetery, Faith watching her like a hawk. She started to stumble, and the brunette was supporting her in a flash.

"Okay, maybe I should have put more thought into this." She tried to make a joke of it. "But this holding thing is nice."

"Sit. Headstone."

Faith helped her over to it.

"You don't like holding me?" Buffy pouted.

"What?"

"You're acting like I'll shatter if you do."

"I just did."

"But you don't linger. It's Point A to Point B or friendly hugs."

"I don't wanna make you uncomfortable, B." Faith sighed. "I remember being naked and havin' things in me that I didn't want. I didn't like to be touched for a long time after that. Damn it." She kicked the stone. "I wish I knew how to handle this."

"Oh." Buffy was quiet. "Well...I trusted you before I was taken on a trip, and I trust you now. And I still love you. You're the last person in the world who'd ever make me uncomfortable."

"It doesn't bother you?"

"You think it doesn't?"

"Kinda got that impression."

"It does, but that doesn't change..." She trailed off. She needed to say this right. "The thought of somebody who's not you seeing me like that and..." She shook. "When I have more nightmares and remember it again, it'll probably result in more tears, but those were bad touches, things I didn't like. You do good touches, and I don't want you to stop. I want you to kiss me. Make love to me.

"But you haven't, and it makes me think you don't want to cause...it suddenly occurs to me that we're in a graveyard."

There was a silence before Faith responded.

"I wanna do those things. You have no idea how much."

"Then go ahead. Don't be afraid, cause I'm not. Not of you. I know you had a hard time..."

"You shouldn't worry about me."

"Already am. One of us has got to be the stable one, and it's most likely gonna be you. I don't wanna see you all robot-like anymore. I'm here, right in front of you. So take me." Buffy grinned. "It'll help and make me happy, just as much as it will for you."

"You're amazing, you know that?"

"Am I?"

Faith lifted her off the headstone, kissed her for several minutes, and Buffy reciprocated eagerly. When she pulled away, the blonde had tears running down her face. The younger slayer was about to back off, and then Buffy brushed some hair behind her ear and cupped her cheek.

"These are good, happy tears."

"I love you. "

"I haven't heard that in awhile. Sounds really good." Buffy drifted, her face becoming a mask. "Slayee coming."

"Promise to stay here?"

Buffy considered the question for a moment. "Yes." The vampire rushed to them instead, thinking they were simply food. "Still want me to stay put?"

"It's Shemp." Faith said. He was one of the vampires that had been standing over Buffy when she found her. "Where's Moe and Curly?"

"Isn't it usually Moe, Larry, and Curly?" Buffy wondered.

"I have this thing with Larry. Don't wanna get into it right now." The brunette looked at the retreating vampire. "Goin' somewhere?"

Faith rushed him, and delivered a sharp kick to his stomach. The force sent him flying, and he got impaled on a tree branch. Inches away from his heart. Buffy followed her girlfriend as she went to talk to the demon.

"That was close." The blonde observed.

"What are you going to do to me?" His animalistic eyes were full of fear.

"Just gonna play Q and A." Faith told him. "What do you know?"

"I didn't have anything to do with her."

"What. Do. You. Know?"

"They let us go cause we promised to kill her. We didn't...so we're in trouble."

"You're in trouble now. Who are 'they'?" The vampire was silent. "Wrong -"

Buffy stepped in front of Faith, and looked him in the eyes.

"They did the same things to you that they did to me." She realized. On some level, though she didn't know why, she felt sympathy for him.

"I'm more scared of them than you. We're just...experiments. We mean nothing."

Unexpectedly at that moment, he burst into ash, leaving the two slayers stunned.

***

"You miss one more day and you're out of my class." Walsh informed Faith as she and Buffy sat down next to Willow.

"And that would be such a big loss." Faith muttered, flipping her a hidden finger.

Willow was waiting for the psychology professor to question Buffy's sudden arrival in her class, the ogre that she was, but she said nothing. The redhead smiled at her boyfriend who was beside her then, and "The Bitch Monster of Death" began lecturing. The blonde almost felt like she and Walsh had met before, but quickly shook it off. She had serious catching up to do.

Buffy did notice the odd looks the TA was giving her, though. His name was Riley something. After the long hour and fifteen minutes was up, they trudged out of the large room with all the other students, ready for a nap.

"What's up with her?" The older slayer asked.

"I'm gonna go with a really big stick that's lodged up -"

"Faith!" Willow shushed her.

Walsh watched them go, and her assistant spoke in a low whisper.

"It looked like she recognized you."

"Now is neither the time nor the place for this discussion, Riley."

He nodded lamely. "Yes, professor."

***

"She's human." Riley told the professor in her office, later, locking the door.

"Our tests dispute that." Walsh was sitting at her desk, looking over some notes.

"So what if her immune system is somewhat more efficient and her cell -?"

"Questioning the experiments is pointless, as they have already been performed. And please try to remember your rank in the chain of command, Agent Finn."

"Sorry, ma'am." He cleared his throat. "Permission to speak freely."

"Granted."

"She's no threat to us."

"That has yet to be determined."

"She eliminates hostiles. Okay, maybe in an unconventional manner, but -"

"Exactly why she needed to be studied. We are here to investigate and contain all supernatural creatures. She is human for the most part, I'll concede you that, but vampires are somewhat human as well."

"It's not the same thing. We degraded her. She has a pulse, and we treated her like a lab rat."

"Your moral and ethical concerns are noted, but war is a dirty business, and we have to keep it a silent one."

"For how long? If she is remembering, then that's a problem."

"I'm well aware of that. Generally, she has reacted as we anticipated. Her catatonic state, her brief emotional releases...both of which are slowly passing. The nightmares and the sickness were unexpected side effects.

"We obviously gave her too high a dose, but we had to make sure that the medication would have an effect, as her biology is still a mystery. She should be fine in a few days. To control the nightmares, we simply increase the implant's power."

"Is that really a good idea?"

"If that girl, Faith, is what I believe she is, we have no choice. We can't have her interfering; and we need the data. Trust me, we're doing Miss Summers a favor. Some memories she's better off not having."

***

Buffy sat in a chair in the middle of Giles' living room the day after her first class, as he moved a watch back and forth in front of her face for the third time.

"I don't understand..." The once watcher trailed off, removing his glasses.

The rest of the gang was watching.

"Some people just aren't hypnotizable, Giles. No big." Her friends stared at her. "What? I slept peacefully last night, with some help," She and Faith shared a grin, "and I had zero bad dreams. Vomiting is less frequent too. Yuck. I feel pretty good. Stronger."

"That's great." Willow agreed slowly.

"Yeah, I think so. I still wanna figure out what happened to me, and I know we will, but so what if I don't remember? Somehow I think it's better if I don't. Life's a callin' and I want to get back to it. Dancing at the Bronze?"

After a few moments, she began getting responses.

"You bet." Xander clapped his hands together, smiling.

"Will?"

"Sure." The redhead nodded.

"Faith?"

The brunette couldn't say no to that smile.

"Let's light up the floor, B."

Buffy grabbed her hand and began dragging her girlfriend out the door.

"Oh, and Giles?" He smiled at her. "We'll train before class tomorrow, okay?"

"See you in the morning. Have a good time."

He watched the kids leave, and just didn't get it. He was sure it would work. Buffy had always been susceptible to hypnotism.

 

2
FEARING THE UNKNOWN

Xander stood at a table in his basement, knife in hand, staring at his finished piece of work with Willow and Oz. This was where he lived now, paying rent and job drifting. He tried to tell himself it would get better, but he didn't think it would.

"I donít know, I was going for ferocious, scary, but itís coming out more dryly sardonic." He said.

"It does appear to be mocking you with its eye holes." Willow commented with a smirk.

"The nose hole seems sad and full of self-loathing." Oz studied it.

"What do you guys think?" Xander asked Buffy and Faith, turning his pumpkin in the direction of the bed. Where they happened to be making out. "I never thought I'd say this, but could you *not* do that? I'll develop a complex."

"You could stand to be more complex." Faith said, taking a moment to breathe, and turning on the TV.

"No, you don't understand. I'll never be able to sleep there again. My imagination will run away with me. The image of two slayers kissing on my bed is now forever burned into my brain."

"Could be worse. We could be naked, too."

"She's got a point." Oz said.

Buffy swatted the brunette, and looked at the jack-o-lantern.

"Nice balance of fright and lameness, Xand. If you can make it into a carriage, I'll be really impressed."

"I'll get right on that." Xander said sarcastically.

"Are we doing the haunted hay ride?" Willow asked the group.

"You had your chance to see ghosts, Red. Real ones, and you settle for people who jump out of the woods in sheets. I don't get it." Faith shook her head.

"Cause it's, you know, safe. A fun, little scare with no consequences."

"Those candy-makers did a number on you. You're trick-or-treaterized."

"Anybody got a dictionary so I can look that up?" Xander questioned.

"Fear's the whole point of Halloween, but if you wanna be careful, fine." Faith got up. "Hey, B, you think people'll be givin' out those King-sized bars or those crappy Fun Pack ones? I'm disappointed every year."

Buffy followed the other slayer to the steps trying not to laugh, and Faith faced the stares of disbelief.

"What? I'm only afraid of one thing. Little kids in groups. And that's enough for me."

***

"Seems we got ourselves a dilemma." Buffy said, standing in Willow and Faith's dorm room.

It had been two weeks since her return, and everything was back to normal. She found herself worrying less and less about where she had been for the bulk of the summer. Maybe it was just because they weren't getting any further, weren't getting any leads. Buffy had taken a "we'll get answers when we're supposed to" stance, and was concentrating on enjoying herself, doing her job, and moving past the whole thing.

With some coaxing, she got her friends and Faith to adopt the same attitude, though she knew they still talked to Giles about it. She did too, but she preferred not to dwell on it. And it wasn't as if she was consciously going out of her way to try and ignore what had happened to her, she just couldn't remember it. For the time being, since she had no choice, Buffy chose to prove that ignorance truly was bliss.

There was a tiny speed bump interrupting her bliss at the moment, though. She had lived at her house for the past couple of weeks, and now wanted to live on campus with her girlfriend. But Willow and Faith were roommates, and switching rooms, or even her obtaining a room, was impossible this late in the semester. The blonde slayer was the odd one out.

The three of them were standing there, attempting to come up with a solution.

"You know, Red, if you got a girlfriend you could share a room and make this wicked easier."

Willow reddened. "Um...no?"

"Oz wouldn't mind." Two sets of eyes stared at her. "Just a suggestion."

During her pondering, Buffy recalled something, and her eyes went wide. Oh, this was bad. It was so important, and...she started ushering the brunette out of the room.

"Will and I'll settle this. It is between us, right?'

"Are you okay?" Faith asked.

"Five by five, two by four, absolutely. Just amuse yourself for a few minutes." The younger slayer was suspicious, but she saw Buffy's face disappear and a door take its place, before she could get a word in.

The blonde turned to her friend.

"If you want me to, I'm sure I can stay at Oz's apartment he has with the band. I'm over there all the time already and -" Willow began.

"I missed her birthday!"

"She had a birthday?" The redhead asked. "Didn't come out right."

"Last month. Did she say anything?"

"Nope."

"She's eighteen now, and we're gonna celebrate, late or not."

"We could all take her out for a belated birthday dinner after Alpha Delta's haunted house party tomorrow night. Could be a surprise."

"Great idea. That's nice and personal and stuff, right? Faith's not the birthday party type, anyway. Though a party would be good. But we'd have to plan...gifts, we need gifts."

Faith entered. "It all worked out?"

"What?" The blonde jumped. "Oh...um..."

"Not yet." Willow supplied.

"Go, please." Buffy pointed. "Honey?" The puppy dog eyes were used.

The brunette sighed and left the room again.

***

Inside the Alpha Delta frat house, one of its residents was painting a symbol that he found in a witchcraft book on the floor of the attic. It was purely for effect, as the Halloween party was coming up soon. Xander and Oz came in, carrying a speaker.

"Okay, watch your step, boys. Paintís still wet in a few spots." One guy said.

"Thanks for the loan, man. Our sound system sucks." His frat-mate said.

"Mi Casio es su Casio." The guitarist said, setting up the speaker.

Xander pointed at the pentagram. "Well, thatís an interesting little design. What does it mean?"

"No clue. I got it out of this book. There is a lot of really cool stuff about -" The painter began to explain.

"Ooh, grapes!" Xander spotted them on the table and grabbed one. "Wow, peeled. You guys know how to spoil your guests."

"Eyeballs, man. Blindfold chicks and have them stick their hands in the bowl and tell them its eyeballs. They love that."

"And here I was wasting time buying them flowers and complimenting them on their shoes." He looked around. "So, you go through the whole house of horrors downstairs and it ends up here. Sweet. You fratly guys have a nice setup."

"Hey, mighty, mighty Alpha Delts. You should think about pledging."

"Oh, Xander is a civilian." Oz told them.

"Townie, huh? Didnít know. He looked so normal. You sure we should let him come to the party, Oz?"

"Hey, standing right here." Xander was a tad offended.

Screams started coming out of the speaker, and Oz looked at it, almost concerned.

"Cranking."

Xander looked at Oz. "Youíre sensing a disturbance in the force, master?"

"Left speaker is crackling a little bit." Oz explained.

"And you feel stabbing it is the proper solution?"

"Iím just going to trim the wire. It might be a short." He bent down, getting to work, and pricked himself with the blade. He hissed, standing.

"Oz?"

"Cut myself. Itís okay." Shaking his hand, some blood from the cut dropped on to the symbol.

"Playing with knives, fun, yes, but not safe. And when you bleed to death Iíve got dibs on your equipment."

The symbol rippled, yet no one noticed. A fake, plastic spider sat at its edge, became real and crawled away.

***

While the party was being prepared, Faith and Buffy were standing outside Giles' front door. They had just knocked, and were waiting for him to let them in. When the door finally opened, their mouths hung open at the sight of the ex-watcher in a Mexican getup, complete with a sombrero and a bowl of candy in his hands.

"Happy Hal..." He trailed off when he saw who his visitors were. "Hello."

"Oh. My. God." Buffy said each word slowly and emphatically, entering the house.

Faith ran past him and collapsed on the sofa, laughing her head off.

"Itís a sombrero." He stated, in defense of his hat and his ensemble, shutting the door.

"And itís on your head."

"It seemed festive. Candy?"

"If you got a joint, you could probably pass for Chong." Faith said, her laughter dying down.

"Yes, well...those days are...over."

Faith smirked, and Buffy was looking around at all the decorations hanging up, pretending she didn't just hear that.

"Whatís going on here? You hate Halloween." She asked.

"I never said any such a thing. As my Watcherís duties took precedence, I simply havenít taken time to...well, to embrace its inherent charms...until now." He turned on a mini-Frankenstein doll hanging from the ceiling, and began to laugh. "Look, look! Itís alive!" Buffy stared. "See...how he shakes? Is...is there something you wanted?"

"We were gonna work out, but you're obviously busy, so..."

"I can always make time for you to maintain your...fitness."

"Good. And could you please take that off?"

Faith was pushing the couch out of the way.

"Where'd you go yesterday? I go to the lounge, come back to the dorm, and you and Willow split."

The blonde was looking everywhere, at everything, except at her girlfriend.

"Nowhere."

***

"I'm sensing a lot of girl power." Xander said as they all headed to the party later on that night.

He was in formal wear, Willow was decked out in a Joan of Arc costume, Oz didn't appear to be dressed up, and Buffy and Faith, well...

"Hustle up, Gabby." Faith ordered.

"This walking stick is a pain in the ass." Buffy muttered. "And how come I couldn't be Xena?"

"Hair's the wrong color, and you're..." She coughed. "Too..." And again. "Short."

"What was that?"

"I for one think that Faith fills out the role really well. Tight brown leather...Lucy who?" Xander rambled.

"You watch Xena?" Willow asked with a smirk.

"On occasion. Say, that flying disc she uses wasn't part of the package, was it?"

"No." Faith was displeased. "Rip off. My tiny bard has the only weapon."

"Oh yeah?" Buffy said with force. "Well at least...I can't think of anything, damn it." She handed the stick to Oz. "Show me what you got, Warrior Princess."

"If that's the way you want it. But I'm not doin' that stupid battle cry."

"Whoa ancient ladies, whoa." Xander interrupted. "Seeing Xena and Gabrielle go all Pay-Per-View would be fun, but there's something better than even that."

"Enlighten us."

"As viewers of the show, I'm sure you're aware of the hinted undertones around the duo. I'm fed up with being teased. Enough with the subtext. They're obviously very close, and...well, I wanna see..."

Without warning, Buffy, hard and passionately kissed her girlfriend. She broke it off after about five seconds, and gave Xander a sly grin.

"That."

"Like the tux, Xander." Buffy complimented after a few minutes of silent walking.

"Bond. James Bond. Insurance, you know, in case we get turned into our costumes again. Iím going for cool, secret agent guy."

"I hate to break it to you, but youíll probably end up cool head waiter guy."

"As long as Iím cool and wield some kind of power."

"Can't forget Medieval Will."

"I figured Joan of Arc and I have a lot in common, seeing as how...I was almost burned at the stake, and plus she had...that close relationship with God."

"And who are you?" Xander asked finally, looking at the guitarist.

Oz opened his jacket to reveal that he was wearing a nametag that said 'GOD' on it.

"How come I was expecting that?" Faith wondered aloud.

"Of course. I wish Iíd thought of that before I put down my deposit. I could have been God." Xander muttered.

"Blasphemer." Oz said to him.

Two men in all black, commando fatigues, with guns, stepped out in front of the group from the bushes.

"Nice costumes. Very stealthy." Buffy said to them.

As she looked at them she couldn't help but wonder...it was that same feeling. Like she had seen them before. They were familiar. Then she felt a slight headache coming on. Nothing debilitating, but it was the fourth one in two weeks. Aspirin took care of them. She noticed Faith eyeing the guys as well, but they started moving on.

Faith looked at her. "Another one?"

"I'll be fine."

"What are they supposed to be?" Willow asked.

"NATO?" Oz offered.

***

The fraternity's party was in full gear. One of the guys was leading a blindfolded girl along a table, from bowl to bowl.

"Okay, Rach, whatís in the next one?"

"You guys are sick!" She exclaimed.

"Here, give me your hand."

He put her hand in the one with peeled grapes, and she took some into her palm.

"This is gross."

"Eyeballs, Rachel, theyíre eyeballs!"

He faked an evil laugh as she giggled and removed the blindfold to see what she was holding. She screamed when she realized that they were actual eyeballs.

***

Everyone inside the house was running around, trying to escape. It was dark all over, strobe lights flashing. In a panic, one person started running down the steps, only to trip and snap his neck at the bottom. A voice bellowed, deep and ominous, then.

"Release me..."

***

The gang entered several minutes later to find the whole place deserted.

"The jointís not jumping. Where is everybody?" Xander asked as creepy laughter emanated for one-eyed head in a punchbowl on a table.

"Follow the signs." Oz instructed.

Buffy looked at the head. "Terrifying. If I were Abbott and Costello this would be fairly traumatic."

"I'd be traumatized if you turned into two guys." Faith said to her. "Especially those guys." She shuddered.

Willow walked right into a decorative cobweb hanging in a doorway.

"Uh, ah! Cobweb!" She pulled it off quickly. "Okay that part was realistic."

"Frat boys arenít too obsessive with their cleaning. Might not be decoration per se." Oz said dryly.

Passing a plastic skeleton, it swung out with a knife in Xander's direction, and he jumped back, breathing heavily.

"I wasnít scared, I was in the spirit."

"And we back you up on that. Even if they question us separately." The redhead assured him.

"Not me." Faith gave Xander a big, toothy grin.

Oz glanced back at his girlfriend, seeing a real tarantula on her shoulder. She saw it too, and screamed.

"Get it off!" Willow screamed.

"It's gone." He said.

"Okay, that is not sanitary!"

"Yeah, let's get to the party part of the...party." Buffy suggested.

"Just a thought, but maybe we should get outta here." The brunette said.

"You scared?" Xander taunted.

"No!" She snapped. "But I've watched many a horror flick, and this is textbook. First it starts off with little scares, like the spider," Willow squeezed her boyfriend's hand, "then somethin' worse'll come up, we'll all wanna scram, but we won't be able to."

They entered a room, and Buffy bent down to check out a spot on the carpet.

"I thought this led to..." Oz trailed off, looking around.

"What is it?" Xander asked the older slayer.

Her fingers were stained, and she smelled them. "Blood. Real blood."

"What did I tell ya?" Faith crossed her arms over her chest. "We're trapped now."

"Did I argue?" Xander asked her, unable to keep his voice from quivering. "Okay, actual creeps have been given. Bravo, frat boys!"

Buffy stood, eyes staring at the ceiling. "Do you hear something? Like a - squeaking noise?" Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Faith nod slightly.

"Oh, itís these rented shoes, patent leather. I asked the guy to..." Xander was looking at his feet.

"No, no, I...wait. Itís something else. I hear it, too. Something like..." Willow trailed off, looking at the ceiling with everyone else.

It was covered with real bats. All screaming, they covered their heads as the bats dropped down and flew down the hall. Oz walked over and picked up a bat that was lying on the floor.

"No, Oz, donít it might be..." Willow starting warning him.

"Rubber. Itís made of rubber." He said.

"What the hell is going on here?" The slayers echoed.

"Jinx." Faith said with a smile.

"Real grown up, Xena." Buffy grinned.

"Ready to go?" The Bostonian asked the group after they took a moment to compose themselves.

"Look, maybe itís nothing. Maybe itís just a neat trick. You know, something done with wires or..." Xander was desperately trying to find an explanation.

"Release me!" A voice bellowed then.

He turned to Faith. "You were saying?"

***

They made their way back into the entrance room, only now there was a slight problem.

"Where're the stairs?" Xander asked.

"Where's the door?" Willow asked an even better question, as Faith came up to her. "Feel free to gloat."

"Nah. 'Sides, got a confession to make." Willow was confused, and the slayer whispered to her. "Kids aren't the only things that freak me anymore."

The redhead smiled, despite her fear.

"This is the way we came in, right? We just went in a circle?" Buffy asked as Oz flipped a switch that turned off the eerie music. "Thank the lord!"

"Youíre welcome." Oz said.

"My turn. Does anyone hear that?" Xander questioned. "Like a hissing."

Buffy heard it, and she and Faith followed the noise to the closet on the other end of the room. The blonde grabbed the doorknob, and Faith nodded, getting in a fighting stance. Buffy yanked the door open, and all Faith saw was a guy huddled inside, shaking.

"Iím sorry. I didnít know. Iím sorry." He was repeating over and over.

Oz crouched down in front of him. "Chaz."

"I didnít know."

"Whatís happening?"

He rocked harder. "It ah..."

"What is it?" Faith asked.

"Itís alive. Itís alive."

Behind them, the plastic skeleton was becoming real. Actual bone. The plastic knife became a sharp blade, and an eyeball was now in one of skeleton's sockets.

"Whatís alive?" Buffy asked.

"Heís in shock." Xander realized.

She knew that, but they didn't have time to stand around.

"Chaz, what happened here?"

Chaz looked up and screamed, seeing the skeleton come up and stab at Buffyís shoulder from behind. Buffy turned and knocked its head aside then kicked it in the chest. It fell to the ground, once again plastic. Buffy was checking her shoulder, and Faith was at her side.

"I think the cape took most of it." Faith inspected.

"Could need stitches. Should at least get a bandage or something." Oz said. A girl screamed from somewhere, and Chaz closed the closet door. "Cowering in a closet is starting to seem like a reasonable plan."

The slayers turned to see a blank wall where the closet had just been.

"Maybe...um...we should go upstairs and see if there are any people up there." Buffy was lost. "Two of us could -"

"Please change that to 'all of us'." Willow said.

"Yeah, B, separation is a bad idea." Faith agreed.

"It would really help if Giles were here." The blonde muttered.

"Oh! Wait! Guiding spell!" The wicca said excitedly.

"As in, guiding us out of here?" Xander asked hopefully.

"That's the idea. It involves conjuring, and...okay, conjuring isn't my strongest point -"

"Can you do it, Red?" Faith asked.

"I can try. It's our only shot, right?"

"How does it work?" Buffy asked.

"It conjures an emissary from the beyond that...lights the way."

"Do your stuff." Oz told her.

***

Giles smiled at each of the little kids who came to his door, but couldn't help thinking that it was wrong that children got the candy he paid a decent amount of cash for, for free. He was unemployed, and money would become an issue sooner or later. Besides, they all laughed at his sombrero.

Well that was it. He was done giving. Maybe he'd beep Buffy and see how she was. She'd promised to take her beeper. The blonde had been complaining of headaches, and he had immediately become concerned. He knew it was a weak connection to make, but ever since the hypnosis attempt failed, he'd been looking for any reason why.

Could the headaches, her lack of memories, and her recent inability to be put under hypnosis, be related? That's what he was asking himself. It was getting kind of dull now. He could just page her, make sure she was all right, and then eat the rest of the candy. Yes, that sounded like a good plan.

Now, if only he could find his telephone buried under all the decorations.

***

"Ooh!"

Buffy jumped, interrupting Willow from her breathing exercise. The redhead was sitting on the floor, Indian-style, calming herself before she had to recite the spell.

"What is it?" Faith asked.

The blonde blushed. "Beeper vibrated."

Her hand disappeared behind her Gabrielle outfit, and she pulled out the beeper. Faith grinned, and Xander was staring.

"Where'd you put that?" He asked.

"It's Giles." She glared at both of them.

Oz was searching. "Don't see a phone."

"Figures." The petite slayer sighed. "Remind me to get a cell phone when we get out of here, honey."

"I might forget. I don't want you gettin' a brain tumor." The brunette said. "And people with them piss me off. Always lookin' busy, driving and holding up traffic...I don't want you to piss me off. I want you to -"

"Other people here!" Willow exclaimed from the floor.

The younger slayer smirked.

"Nothing is wrong with my mind now, and nothing will be wrong with it if I get a phone." Buffy kissed her girlfriend, making a promise for later as well. "So some studies say they cause tumors. But who listens to studies?"

"Do you smoke?" Xander asked her.

"No. And...you know that."

"Why don't you?"

"It's bad for you. Lung cancer. Duh. Have you started or something?"

He shook his head. "And how come you think it's bad for you?"

"Cause...um...studies..." She turned away and looked at Willow. "Ready?"

The wicca nodded, closed her eyes, and everyone knew it was time to shut up.

"Okay. Aradia, Goddess of the lost, the path is murky, the woods are dense, darkness pervades, I beseech thee, bring the light." She opened her eyes, smiling when she saw a tiny speck of green light in front of her face. "Woah! I did it! I did you. Hi! Hey guys, look I -"

Willow noticed the absence of her friends, then. Oz was the only one still with her. Just as she was about to ask him what had happened, she saw his wolf side trying to make its way out.

"Iím changing." His voice was deeper, his eyes were wide and black, and hair was forming on his face and hands.

"But...but you can't! There's no moon tonight." She stood in front of him.

"I have to get away."

"No, we need to find something to restrain you, like a rope or chains, or something."

"There's no time!" She tried to grab him, and he batted her hand away, growling. "No!"

There were three scratches on her hand. Oz ran off.

"Oz, donít leave me!"

As she listened to her voice echo through the house, the guiding light that she conjured flew into her field of vision. Calming herself, she spoke to it.

"Right, youíre waiting for instructions. Lead me to Oz." It starts to fly away. "Wait! I should try to find the people trapped upstairs first." It was starting to multiply. "But even if I get them we still need to find a way out of the house. Okay, here's what -" They were surrounding her now. "Hey! Whatís going on? Stop!"

Willow swatted them like mosquitoes, and then they flew into her mouth, buzzing.

***

"Buffy! Willow! Xander!" Faith yelled, getting up off the floor of the hallway. She had no idea how she got there. "Oz!"

Xander was behind her, following. He wasn't sure how he arrived there, either.

"I can't speak for the others, but I'm here."

"Well Faith, you're wicked good at not being able to do your job." The brunette muttered to herself. "I say I'm not gonna lose her again and what do I do? And now they're all lost with her."

"It's not your fault." He assured her.

"Or maybe I'm the one that's lost."

"We'll find them."

"I sat through that MacGyver marathon last week. You think I woulda picked up a thing or two about how to get outta places. Like how to make a bomb with toothpaste to take out a few of these walls. But then again, he was wearin' jeans. How was I supposed to concentrate?"

Xander coughed. "Um...I've got some pocket lint, cuff links, and a quarter. I'm no Mac, but -"

"Course it didn't help that B's hands were roaming while I was tryin' to watch." She grinned, then cast her eyes upwards. "Is some help too much to ask for? Xander would be ready with suggestions. They wouldn't work, but I'd take anything right now. Where the hell is everybody?"

He paled and halted, watching Faith go forward. "I'm invisible?"

"I can see you." A voice whispered.

***

Oz sat in a bathtub, shaking, and was holding his now paws over his face.

"You're not going to change...you're not going to change..."

***

Buffy was sitting as well. In total nothingness. A black void. She kept seeing flashes of white, of people, of tests, of demons, of needles...she felt cold, alone. The headaches were back, harder, longer. They weren't letting up. She grabbed her head and screamed, her voice reverberating inside her head, making the pain worse.

"Why don't you want to remember?"

***

Giles was on his way to the frat house. Buffy hadn't answered his page, and he became concerned immediately. He had no idea what was wrong, but he brought every destructive tool he had in his house, with him. You could never be too prepared, in his opinion.

He arrived at the house quickly, and brought his vehicle to a stop. Glancing around, nothing seemed unusual. Until he looked up at the window. There was a girl, hands bloody, screaming and banging on the glass. Giles gasped as the window was suddenly bricked up.

Making sure he had his bag, he made his way to the front door. It was boarded up. Knowing for certain now that the kids were in trouble, he was determined not to let anything stand in his way of saving them. Pulling a chainsaw out of his bag, he started it up with a tiny grin on his face.

Oh, the memories he had.

***

"You hate basements, don't you, Faith?" A voice tauntingly asked the brunette.

Faith picked herself up off the dusty floor that she had just fallen onto. During her searching, she had found a door, and she had stupidly walked through it before trying to see what was inside.

"Do you want to be locked in here? Daddy locked you in the basement."

"Yeah, well, Daddy was a pathetic loser. Thanks for asking, but I'll pass. Wanna do me a favor and point me to the exit?" She asked.

The "owner" of the voice revealed himself, stepping out of the shadows. His neck was broken, head almost touching his shoulder. He should have been dead, but somehow, he was walking around. She backed up.

"Death is the only way out. Join us."

"Us?"

Arms punched up through the floor, grabbing at her ankles. She tripped, and fell hard on her chin. She touched it with a hiss, and blood was on her fingers. They were still reaching for her, climbing out, and coming closer. She tried to scramble away, and backed herself up against a wall.

"You can join your friends. They're all waiting. She wants to see you."

"You're lying!" Faith screamed.

"You couldn't protect them, they're no longer here. Why fight us? Why remain here alone? Die in the basement like you were supposed to."

"No!"

There was a small door behind her. Running her hand along it, it felt like wood. Gritting her teeth, she slammed her elbow back, shattering the weak door. She pulled herself through it, but before she was all the way through, a hand took a hold of her foot. Angry, scared, confused, and her adrenaline pumping, she kicked the head of whoever had a hold of her, and its grip released.

Going into the next room, Faith found herself upstairs, where the party was supposed to be going on, the danger gone.

"What the hell?"

***

Looking around, Faith saw Oz on one side of the room, Buffy on the other, both of them shaking.

"Oz, snap out it!"

Buffy started screaming, holding her head in pain. "Make it go away! Make it...Please!"

Faith took a hold of her girlfriend's shoulders. "B, look at me. You're okay. Nobody's hurting you."

The blonde slayer blinked, and at about the same time, Oz looked at his now human hands. Willow ran through the door to the attic, arms flailing, before any of them could get a grip on what was happening.

"Get them off! Get them off!" The redhead yelled.

Oz got up and grabbed her arms gently. She looked into his eyes. "They're gone. We're okay." She hugged him tightly.

Buffy spoke softly, tears in her eyes. "Faith?"

"I'm here." The brunette said.

"You're hurt." Buffy noticed, referring to Faith's cut and bleeding chin.

"It's nothing." The two slayers hugged, while a frustrated Xander sat on a chair in the corner, looking at both of the embracing couples. "We need to get out."

"I'd offer *my* opinion, but you jerks arenít gonna hear it anyway. Not that 'didnít go to college' boy has anything important to say. I might as well hang out with my new best friend, bleeding dummy head, for all you dorks care." Xander grumbled.

"Excuse me? I'm not a jerk." Willow said, turning towards her friend. "And I'm just going to imagine you never said that."

"You...you heard that? You...you can see me?" They all nodded. "Good. Oh, God, good!"

"The house separated us. It wanted to scare us." Oz realized.

"But...we got away." Willow said.

Buffy wiped her tears away, and put her serious, 'slayer face' on. She stood up with Faith, and joined the group. "No. We were brought here. We all got so scared that we ended up here. Why?"

Xander pointed to the pentagram on the floor. "I saw them painting that. They were copying it out of," He saw a book on the small table in the room, "that!"

"I think it's Gaelic." Willow was looking at the words.

"Damn. You can read that?" Faith was impressed.

"Release me! Release me!" That same deep voice from earlier was demanding.

"What's it say, Red?"

"Okay, um, um, the iconís called the-the Mark of Gachnar. I-I think this is a summoning spell for something called..."

"Gachnar?" Xander supplied.

"Well, yes. Somehow the beginning of the spell must have been triggered. Um, Gachnar is trying to manifest itself, to-to come into being."

"How?" Oz asked.

"I-it feeds on fear."

"Our fears are manifesting it. We're feeding it. We need to stop." Buffy rationalized.

"If we close our eyes and say it's a dream it'll stab us to death! These things are real." Xander's voice was quivering.

"Release me!" The voice said again.

Faith was getting real tired of hearing that. "I'll shove my fist right through your goddamn stomach and release your friggin' internal organs! How do you like that?"

Suddenly, the door burst open, and they all screamed. Giles was standing there, chainsaw in hand. After a second, he turned it off.

"Giles? Everyone, it's Giles! With a *chainsaw*."

"The walls closed up behind me." He walked over to Willow and looked at the book. "Gachnar, of course. Its presence infects the reality of the house, but it's not managed to achieve full manifestation. We cannot allow this to come into being."

"But if it does we can fight it, right?" Buffy asked him, very happy that he was there.

He showed both slayers a picture from the book. "This is Gachnar."
Buffy and Faith looked at one another, and shook their heads. The brunette turned to Giles. "So we end the spell. No sweat right? And nice entrance, by the way."

"Whatever we do, let's do it fast." Xander encouraged.

Giles quickly found the page he wanted. "I have it, I have it. 'The summoning spell for Gachnar can be shut down in one of two ways. Destroying the mark of Gachnar -" The slayers stood on the pentagram, and each slammed a foot through it, happily. "- is *not* one of them and will in fact immediately bring forth the fear demon itself.'"
"We're motivated." Faith shrugged. "You can glare all you want, but to me, that's a quality worth having."

"Look!" Willow said loudly.

The pentagram was beginning to glow, and the floor was rumbling. The fear demon was rising...but not ver far. He was only about three inches tall.

"This is -?" Buffy began.
"The bastard that's made our night a living hell?" Faith finished with a snicker.

"Big overture. Little show." Xander said.

"I am the dark lord of nightmares! The bringer of terror! Tremble before me. Fear me!" Gachnar squeaked.

Willow was laughing. "He...he's so cute!"
"He'd look cool on a key chain." Oz said.

"Tremble!" Gachnar insisted.

Xander bent down. "Who's a little fear demon? Come on! Who's a little fear demon!"

"Donít taunt the fear demon." Giles told him.

"Why, can he hurt me?"

"No, it's just...tacky. Be that as it may, girls, when it comes to slaying..."

"Size doesnít matter?" Buffy said.
"Who says?" Faith retorted.

"Like to do the honors?"

"Love to."

Gachnar pointed at the brunette about to smoosh him. "You're going to fail them, you know."

"You're not so scary anymore."

***

Later, Buffy was standing in room in the hospital, where Faith had just gotten her chin stitched up. They were waiting for the doctor to come back and tell them they could go.

The blonde sighed. "We were going to go out, have a party, and have gifts, but..."

"Huh?" Faith asked.

"Belated birthday for you. We had everything set up at the Bronze, but it's closed now. That's why I -"

Faith smiled. "Don't worry about it, B. It always comes and goes."

"But I missed it and...I wanted to do something..."

"I did make a wish that day, you know. For you to come back. You did. I got what I wanted, and that's enough."

Buffy kissed her, and she kissed back. How long this went on, they weren't sure, but it stopped when Buffy pulled a small, velvet box out of her back pocket.

"Open it." Faith took the gift, and slowly lifted the lid. Inside was a gold ring band, with a sapphire on top. "I'm pretty sure it's your birth stone."

"Thank you."

"Like it? I couldn't decide what to get and -"

"It's...it's beautiful." She put it on, remembering the plastic ring she had gotten before she left Boston.

"I don't want you to just let your birthday pass by anymore. You were born, and if you weren't, we would never have met, and I'd have missed out on something really great. I love you, Faith."

"I love you too."

They were going to kiss again, but the doctor entered the room.

"Okay, ladies, you're free."

"Thanks Doc." Faith got off the examining table she had been sitting on. She had been debating something, and decided just to go ahead and say it. They needed help. "Uh, I wanted to ask you a question. Buffy's been getting a lot of headaches lately. Painful ones. Tylenol is cutting it less and less. Can you tell us why?"

The doctor turned to Buffy, who was looking uncomfortable. "Do you have any idea what's bringing these headaches on?"

"No." Buffy lied.

"How long have they been happening?"

"For about a month."

"And you've never had a problem before? Anyone in your family? Anyone you could think of that had a history of migraines, perhaps?"

"Nope."

The doctor sighed. "Well, then the only thing I can think of to do, is a CAT scan. That would let us look at a picture of -"

"We know what it does." Faith interjected sharply. "Are you saying there's something going on in her brain? Be straight with us. I hate people who bullshit me."

"I'm not saying anything yet. It would just be a starting point. If we can identify the problem, we can try our best to correct it. We could go right now, with your permission, of course."

The two of them looked at Buffy. What if it was something really bad? Did she want to know? Then again, if she didn't do it, the consequences could be huge. Faith squeezed her hand.

"I want to get better. Let's do it."

"Should we call -" Faith started to ask.

"I wanna know what it is first. I'm not gonna freak out the gang any more tonight, unless I have to." Buffy took a deep breath. "Ready when you are."

 

3
THE INITIATIVE

How did this happen to her? One minute, her life was great. A perfect life. Well, as perfect as a life could get on the Hellmouth, anyway. Then...and then this. Her whole concept of reality was shattered, and shattering still. The scene was unfolding before, and she was completely helpless. It all started because of...

Veruca. She-Wolf, lead singer of her own band, and a tramp. She had taken Oz from her. He had slept with her. Okay, in wolf form, but he still cheated. He said he didn't remember what had gone on, that he had no control, but she couldn't trust him. She thought, that given time they might be able to repair things, but Oz was currently packing up his suitcase. He was going away. From her. From them.

Willow's heart was broken. And she had happily moved in with him so Buffy could share the dorm room with Faith, too. Not only was her heart broken, but she was now homeless. She was torn. How? How? What had she done wrong?

"Don't I get any say in this?" She asked him in a last ditch effort. He was Oz. They were Oz and Willow. This wasn't right.

"No. Veruca was right about something. The wolf is inside me all the time, and I don't know where that line is anymore between me and it. And until I figure out what that means, I shouldn't be around you...or anybody." He explained softly.

She started crying. Something she had been doing too much lately. She didn't like it.

"Well, that could be a problem 'cause people...kind of a planetary epidemic."

"I'll find someplace."

"Well, how long?"

"I don't know."

"Oz...don't you love me?"

God, why did she ask that? Because she knew, even though she was afraid of the answer, she needed to know. He held her and pressed their foreheads together. Her crying had increased to sobbing.

"My whole life...I've never loved anything else."

"Oz...Oh, God. Oz..."

He couldn't just say that and walk out, could he? Yes, apparently he could, because that's what he was doing. Willow stood there, the seemingly endless supply of tears coming from her eyes showing no signs of stopping.

***

Buffy was holding a vampire over the edge of the docks, and she was not a happy slayer. The fear in the vampire's eyes didn't affect her. She had no sympathy for him, only anger. So much anger. It had been like this ever since the doctor showed her the results of the test. No tumors, no cancerous anythings. Her brain was healthy, but...there was always a but, wasn't there? But they did find something. Something they couldn't explain, however they repeatedly assured her that nothing was wrong.

How could nothing be wrong when there was something unexplainable? That's when he showed her the pictures. Right on her frontal lobe, directly behind her forehead she was told, she saw it clear as day. A white spot. A small, circular, white spot. What the hell did that mean? What did they do to her?

She wanted answers so badly now. Which was what she was trying to get out of her captive. And the hurting she had put him through, and the others before him, was for Willow. Poor Willow. She was so pissed at the moment, that she wished he would rot in Hell. Of all the people in the world...she tightened her grip on the vampire's throat.

Her mind kept going back. Back to that white spot. She had taken the x-ray home with her, had stared at it and stared at it. A white spot. It sounded like nothing, but it meant everything. It was haunting her, and so were the headaches. She'd give this demon a headache and a whole lot more.

"Tell me who did this. Did they do it to you too?" She asked demandingly.

"I don't...know what...you're..." He gagged.

"Don't. I'm not in the mood." She looked down at the water below. "If I drop you, how many bones do you think you'll break when you hit? I'm pretty sure you'll hit the rocks dead on. Though I have been out of commission for awhile, so maybe you'll get lucky."

"I have no...idea what you...want from me."

She shook her head. "Being stupid is not a very smart thing to do. Then again, that kinda goes without saying, doesn't it?" She brought him back onto the docks, but kept her grip firm. "Listen good, cause there's gonna be no repeating. Somebody put a white spot in my head, and I don't know what it does. That makes me upset. They did lots of other nasty stuff too. I wanna know who, so I can do nasty stuff back to them. Now, I've heard rumors that demons have been taken by whoever took me, and I wanna know what you know."

"Nothing. I don't know...nothing."

"Gee, I hope you can swim then." Before she could swing him back around, he burst into ashes; and she was left grasping air. Faith was standing in his place, her stake raised. "What do you think you're doing?"

"My job. He really didn't have any info. You know it, and I know it."

"I don't know anything anymore, Faith." Buffy slumped her shoulders, and her anger faded away. "What the hell is going on with me?"

"I wish I knew." Faith said, honestly. "But ditchin' me isn't gonna help. And you only test out a demon's fear of water and heights when you're positive he's jerking you around."

"I'm sorry. I really, really am." She hugged the brunette tightly. Faith found herself enjoying this more anything else lately. Her girlfriend was slipping away. She had been known to be violent with her foes, sure, but Buffy had been going farther and farther across the line. "No matter what I do, or say, or act like sometimes, don't ever let up, okay? I'll always need you. I'm just...a little messed up."

"If you think that little," Faith clenched her teeth, "frickin' white spot isn't affecting me, you're wrong, B. You feel pain, I feel pain. You're angry, I'm angry. That's the way it works. And the only reason I'm not blowing up at the world, is cause you asked me to the stable one."

"You don't know how much I appreciate that." She looked Faith in the eyes. "I...want something to go on. Or I need something to keep me busy, at least."

"Until something comes up, I know Willow needs you. She's in pretty bad shape."

Buffy nodded sadly. "Damn Oz."

"I'm thinkin' that maybe we should move back into the house. Mom, uh, your mom, has been keeping Willow company, but us goin' there just a couple hours each day -"

"I get it. Twenty-four hour support is necessary. But how am I supposed to be there for her when I can barely keep it together?"

"Sharing pain can be a good thing. 'Sides, I'll be there, five by five and ready to assist with the healing."

Yeah, if Faith ever gave up on her, or left her, she would lose it. She was so damn lucky, and she had to stop screwing it up. The younger slayer was her bright spot, and the white spot was nothing compared to her. Buffy had to remember that.

"Take me home?"

***

"Yeah, Cordy...no, I'm kinda numb I guess, without the frostbite..." Willow sighed into the phone. She was sitting on the floor in Buffy's room. "Of course you're helping...yes, really...how are things with Angel?...That's good...Xander said you two had fun last weekend..." She giggled, and she heard the front door open, then close. "He didn't mention that...I think Buffy and Faith are back...I'll talk to you tomorrow sometime...thanks. Bye."

She hung up the phone. Did she just laugh? Strange how foreign that seemed to her. She had been emotionless for...she had lost track of time. Of hours, days, it didn't matter. Oz, Oz, Oz, Oz. How come she couldn't think of anything else but him? He was gone; she had to accept that, had to occupy herself with something other than him, other than the memories. But she couldn't if she stayed inside all day.

It wasn't fair. She felt the tears again. Why wouldn't they just stop?

"Hey, Will, we brought Chine -" Buffy said as she entered her room. The redhead looked up at her friend, and was quickly gathered into the blonde's arms. "It'll be okay...it'll be okay...we'll both be okay..."

"I'm empty, Buffy. There's nothing there."

"Yes there is. It'll just take awhile to find it again. I know exactly how you feel."

Willow sniffled. "You do, don't you?"

The slayer nodded. "And I'll help you, I promise. I'm gonna be here for you. Faith, Giles, and Xander will be too. Whatever you need, you just tell us. No matter how silly or stupid you think it is."

"I guess you can't bring him back, huh?"

"If I could, I would, Will. You know that. I'm not gonna lie to you and tell you I know he'll be back, but if Oz is...well, if he doesn't, then he never had any idea what he had."

Willow swallowed hard after a few moments of Buffy rocking her gently.

"I'm...I'm a little hungry."

"How's egg rolls sound?"

***

Spike watched a blood pack drop down from the ceiling of his white-walled cell. He couldn't remember how he had gotten here, but he was extremely pissed off. He had blown it in LA, his grandsire getting the better of him yet again, and then returned to Sunnydale hoping to take his anger out on the brunette slayer. As much as the thought brought a smile to his face, he highly doubted that Buffy was dead. So what the hell had gone on during his absence?

Anyway, he had just gotten in, and within the next second, he felt electricity traveling through his body. Then he was out cold. Coming to, he had found himself here. How come nothing ever went his way? Shaking his head, he realized he was starving.

"Don't drink it. It's drugged." Someone said in the cell across from him.

Spike threw the pack on the ground. "Uh-huh. And who are you, mate?"

"I'm a rat. I'm a lab rat, just like the others. They're gonna kill us, you know."

"And how are they gonna do that?"

"They starve you. When you're ready to bite your own arm, they shoot out one of those packets. You drink, and the next thing, you're gone. And that's when they do the experiments." The other prisoner spoke nervously.

"And, uh, they are? The government? Nazis? A major cosmetics company?"

"Who cares? All I know is, one minute I'm running from this slayer, and the next thing, I'm here."

The British vampire could really use a good kill. "Which one? The blonde or the brunette?"

"Brunette. Word around here is they had the blonde one for awhile."

"That right?" That bit of news brought a smile to his face.

"Yeah, I never saw her, but they let her go. She's on the outside now. I don't know much about the other one, but she took apart my crew, and led me straight to these guys."

"She set me up, too. Bitch's got spunk." He slammed his hands on the glass wall. "So there's two slayers now, is there? Fine. I've played that game before. I'll take them both apart. Maybe even the Scooby back up team, if I find the time. I don't care how many resources they have."

***

The gang sat in Giles' house the morning, Xander watching the beat up old television, the slayers doing their daily sparring routine, Willow in the kitchen, and the ex-watcher sitting at his table and drawing on a sketch pad. The place had seen happier times, that was for sure. It could be argued that it had seen worse times, too. They all knew what was causing the gloominess, and each of them added a little to it. But until they had a solution, it wasn't worth talking.

Giles finished, and held up the pad for Buffy and Faith to see. The brunette was in the middle of doing a spin kick toward her partner's head, Buffy blocked it, and they finished off the spar giving each other a light, fist to fist, knuckle punch. Faith looked at the picture with a scowl.

"Those are the guys, G."

Buffy just stared at the picture with a mixture of fear and disgust. She didn't know who they were, but she did know they had something to do with what happened to her. Willow came in from the kitchen then, and put a cup of tea in front of Giles, and tossed a towel to the sweaty slayers.

"Thank you, Willow." Giles smiled at her.

"Yeah, thanks, Red." Faith wiped her forehead.

"No problem." Willow said, trying her best to smile back.

Xander turned around on the couch, so he was looking at the rest of the group.

"Not to question or anything," He said, "but what makes you so sure these guys weren't just playing dress up? It was Halloween, remember?"

Buffy nodded. "But when I looked at them, that's when the headache came. The headaches, my memories, the whatever...in my head, it all goes back to them. It has to."

"And I saw 'em snooping around long before Halloween." Faith added. "There were a lotta things goin' on, though, so I didn't really think about it till..."

"Well, I believe we now have a course of action." Giles informed the group. "Whoever these men are, our best bet would be..."

"To get a hold of one and beat the crap out of him until we get some answers?" Faith questioned.

"I wouldn't have phrased it in exactly that way, but...yes."

"So we have something to go on?" Buffy asked with her first genuine smile since seeing that x-ray.

"I think we do, B. And I say we stick close to campus on patrol tonight. That's where they like to hang out."

Buffy rested her head on her girlfriend's shoulder. "Thank God."

"Um...I'm just guessing here, but if we're going with the 'those guys are the real deal' approach, they looked like soldiers to me." Xander contributed. "Formations, protocol, you know. In fact, I recognized the two-by-two formation they were using, moving down that street."

"What are you saying?" Willow wondered.

"That they're probably military. And with the black, 'look at how stealthy I am' outfits, I'd say national."

"You know, Xander, when Ethan performed that casting two years ago, I don't think any of us could have fathomed how useful your stint as a soldier would turn out to be." Giles said with astonishment.

"Was that your longwinded, British version of a compliment, Giles?" Xander smirked.

He glared. "I may consider taking it back. A simple 'thank you' would have sufficed."

"Back up a sec." Willow said. "What would the government want with Sunnydale?"

Maybe it because she was still on an adrenaline rush and blood was flowing to her brain more than usual, but Faith just had an idea. It was a crazy, scary idea, but eerily enough, it made a lot of sense to her.

"I'm not big on history, and I may be mixing up reality with the X-Files -" Faith began.

"I thought you didn't watch that?" Buffy interrupted.

The brunette ignored her. "But didn't Hitler do all those gene experiments to create a super race or somethin'? And didn't we get some of the Nazi docs so we could learn from 'em?"

"Don't know about the second part, but yeah, Hitler had tons of little side projects." The anger was radiating off of Willow's face. "Eugenics was one of them."

"What if this is the same deal? Demons have what? A hundred times the strength of a gun carrying, human beefstick? Hell, even more than that."

"Probably a good assumption." Giles agreed, though still not following.

"And considerin' the military's rep is all about having the most muscle, add the right demon fluids to testosterone and imagine the wicked edge they'll have over the rest of the world. Nobody'd screw with us."

"College done her good." Xander said. "Freaky thought, but since I'm drawing a blank on any other reasons, I think she's right."

"Now who's the brains in this relationship?" Buffy smiled, giving Faith a kiss. "But what would they want with me? I'm not a demon."

There was a moment of silence as her face silently asked, 'I'm not, am I?'

"Don't even think it. Impossible " Faith whispered to her. "And even if you were, I would be too. Still wouldn't be rid of me."

Buffy smiled again. "Like I'd ever want that."

"Though they could very well think you are." Giles told her, clearing his throat.

"You are all strong and stuff." Willow pointed out.

"But that still doesn't explain..." The blonde's eyes went wide. "What time is it?"

"9:30." Xander said, looking at his digital watch. "Why, Buff? Got somewhere to be?"

"Class!"

"Do we hafta?" Faith complained.

"'Fraid so." Willow said, about ready to spaz because she was missing learning. "Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!"

***

Two men in lab coats grabbed Spike off the floor of his cell; seeing that the drugged blood packet was empty, and that he appeared to be unconscious. They stuck him onto a gourney, and began strapping him in. Before they could finish however, Spike opened his eyes with a grin, and punched the scientist closest to him in the face, knocking the guy out cold.

"Sorry mates. Got places to be."

He jumped off the table, and an orderly immediately ran to attack him. Spike took hold of the man's arm, and flipped him over the gourney. He followed him to the other side, and the orderly shot up, shoving Spike into the glass door of the cell that was occupied by the vampire he was talking to earlier.

"Let me out!" The young vampire pleaded.

"Bit busy right now." Spike said, struggling with the orderly.

"Look, I know where the exit is. You spring me, you're free. You don't, you're dead."

Spike threw the orderly off of him, and the human collided with another one, who was holding a syringe. The man was accidentally stabbed in the neck, and fell. The second orderly looked up, frightened. Spike flipped him onto the floor with a smile.

"Hurry! Hurry!" The vampire insisted. Spike bent down over the orderly, and searched him until he found the key card to unlock the cell. He freed the vampire. "This way!"

They ran down the hall and dove under the closing security door meant to stop their escape. Getting into the next room, they both watched as an elevator's doors opened, and a group of soldiers were about to come out.

"New plan! We split up. You go that way."

Spike shoved his helper into the commandos, and split, as they staked the helpless vampire.

***

The slayers and the witch gathered up their things and headed down the steps of their Psych 101 classroom. Instead of turning to leave as usual though, Willow walked up to the desk that Riley Finn was sitting at.

"I notice you left off a name today in roll call. Osbourne, Daniel Osbourne, Oz?" She said to him.

"He's not in this class anymore. I hear he dropped out." Riley answered.

Willow was worried now. Very worried. "Oh, well you heard way wrong then. I mean, he's not gone. He-he left temporarily to work out a few things. I know that sounds lame in its vagueness, but I assure you, Oz will be back."

Professor Walsh walked up to them. "Not to my class, he won't. An educated guess. You know the rules, you know I hate exceptions, and yet somehow you feel your exception is exceptional." She crossed her arms over her chest.

"Oh, but..."

"It is. To you. But since I'm neither a freshman nor a narcissist, I have to consider the whole class. If your friend can't respect my schedule, I think it's best he not come back. And I seem to recall you entering my class ten minutes late today. I hope this is the only time you're going to follow Miss Adams' rebellious example. I'll see you tomorrow."

The redhead walked away, extremely hurt. Faith got right into Walsh's face.

"You like livin' up to your nickname, don'tcha? Well I don't care who you are, cause if you ever talk to her like that again..." Faith backed off, and turned to the blonde who was behind her. "We should catch up to her."

"Go." Buffy nodded. "I'll be there in a minute." The brunette took off, and the petite slayer was left facing her professor. She winced a little, but shook it off. "Just gonna repeat what Faith said so we're clear. Don't ever talk to her like that again. And you know, for someone who teaches human behavior, you might try showing some."

"It's not my job to coddle my students." Walsh said.

"You're right. A human being in pain has nothing to do with your job." Buffy went after her friends.

Walsh turned to Riley. "If she wasn't an experiment, I'd find her display very admirable."

"She seems human enough to me." Riley said to her, not backing off from his already stated opinion on the whole matter.

"Yet something exists in her biology that sets her apart. I intend to find out what that is. And there is no longer any doubt in my mind that Faith Adams is one as well. Their personalities are obviously different, and as much as I would like to study her as well, that would arouse suspicion we don't want. Though I would like to see how they function in combat together."

"What if you can't? Find out what makes them different, I mean?"

"Nonsense, everything has an explanation. I realize that some of the hostiles are considered mystical in origin and that they consider her to be mystical, but that's because their minds function at a lower level. Does anyone today still believe that Zeus is the creator of lightning? No, of course not. Science has provided the factual answers. And that's what I'm doing here."

"She's asking questions now."

"Yes, I know. The x-rays. But beyond a white spot, and making some guesses as to its purpose, she has nothing else to go on. That is, unless one of your men is foolish enough to be captured. Which would severely hinder our efforts."

"Won't happen." Riley promised. "But if we're fighting a war, why do we contain up the hostiles? Study them? I know you're a scientist, but wouldn't killing -?"

"Apparently she's not the only one asking questions."

"I apologize, ma'am. I just want to understand. My training as a soldier..."

"I know all about your training, and you should know that you always look for the most efficient way to eliminate an enemy. We must learn about these creatures, find their weaknesses, if we are to have any chance of a lasting victory. From this point on, I will give you information on a need to know basis. If you have any questions, you will keep them to yourself, and follow orders as always. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly."

"You're my best man, Riley. And I know you have no desire to jeopardize your career. You've worked too hard."

Riley looked down at his feet, uncomfortable. Then his beeper went off. He checked it. "Hostile 17 has escaped."

"Handle it as quickly as possible."

***

Riley got to his and his men's house on campus to find his friend waiting for him.

"What kept you, man?" Forrest asked. "Response time is slippin'. Lack of action got ya down?"

"It's nothing."

"Well, whatever funk you're in, you better get out of it, cause we got a job to do."

"I'm fine. You ready for the hunt?"

"Hell yeah. Let's go put down the animal."

***

Buffy and Faith were patrolling the campus grounds at night, their heightened vision scanning the darkness for any men in black camouflage suits. They had to be on full alert, because even as good as their eyes were; the guys they were looking for knew how to hide.

"I don't know if we should've left her at home." Buffy said. "After what Professor Walsh said..."

"We're doin' what she asked, B." Faith said. "She wants us, she'll let us know."

"Yeah. You're right. You're always right."

"Oh, stop."

"Why, you gonna blush?" Buffy grinned.

"No, I was planning on puking."

"You're just too romantic, you know that?" The blonde chuckled. "Okay, getting in serious 'commando watch' mode now."

"See anything?"

"Nothing."

Just then, a noise, a footstep, made them both tense. Another one, and another. It was coming towards them from behind. Glancing at each other, Buffy mouthed 'one', 'two', and on 'three' they whirled around. Faith grabbed the sneak by his...yellow shirt collar.

"Jesus Christ, Xander!" She exclaimed, releasing her grip. "Are you tryin' to get impaled?"

"Uh...lemme think." Xander squeaked. "No."

"Breathe, Xand." Buffy advised.

"In with the air, out with the carbon dioxide..." He said, regaining his composure.

"Something wrong?"

"Except my high blood pressure level? No. I just ran by your house, Will told me where you were patrolling, and I figured you might need my help. Dealing with soldiers is kinda my area. My only area really."

"You're welcome to join us." Faith said.

"Great!" He clapped his hands together, and smiled. "Slaying with the slayers."

"Xander?" Buffy asked as they started moving again.

"Yeah?"

"Shh."

***

Riley, Forrest, and the rest of Team Alpha entered the area the three friends had just left, crouching behind bushes.

"We're not gonna find him here." Riley said.

"Guys are spread out all over town, where's he gonna escape to?" Forrest asked. "So word is you're real interested in the Summers' chick."

"You really think we should be talking about this on duty, Agent?"

"You don't like the lab rat, do ya? I mean she's got looks...but she ain't one of us."

"Am I the only one who thinks...?" He sighed. "Never mind."

"I think he does, Forrest." Graham agreed. "Just cause she walks and talks like one, don't mean she is, man."

"Can you prove to me she isn't?"

"She's stronger than this whole team combined. That proof enough?" Forrest said. "Look, you heard the talk. She and her dark-haired beauty are hot and heavy. Guess their kind stick together."

"It's just...what they did to her..."

"I forgot how moral you were. Iowa and that little farm, God and all that."

"She wears a cross, Forrest."

"Cut the chatter." Graham said to them. "You hearing this?"

Riley put his finger on his earpiece, and nodded. "Delta team spotted Hostile 17 lurking around Rovello Drive. He just slipped in the back door of -"

"That's her place." Forrest realized as he heard the house number. "Tell me, sir, how can that animal just stroll in?"

"He was invited." Riley sighed.

"And why do you think that is?"

"They want orders, sir." Graham reminded his commander. "It's a civilian residence, that's a tricky call. Do they move or hold?"

"Anyone inside?"

"Lights are on."

"Then we have to assume he's targeting someone. Hold. We'll join up and engage. Fast, clean and quiet. Let's move."

***

"Damn." Buffy cursed after they had finished their third sweep of the campus. "I really hoped..."

Faith came up behind her, and put her hands on blonde's shoulders. "Hey, we don't have to pack it in yet."

"No, but we should. We're not gonna find them here. Not tonight, anyway."

Xander wished there was something he could do to help, but he didn't know how. His friend was violated, and she was hurting, and all the only option they had was to play hide and seek. He could only think of one thing, and that was what he was always good at. Kind of his unofficial role in the group.

"You hungry?" The younger slayer's stomach began making noise. "That's one 'yay' vote for nourishment."

Buffy smirked. "Well, if she's in the mood, I guess I am too."

"In the mood for what, B? Food or...something else?" Faith moved her arms around her partner's neck.

Xander was backing away. "I'll just...go get a pizza. If you're gonna start playing 'Innuendo Tennis' it's not good for my hormones to be around you. I might get hit by an 'out of bounds' innuendo or something. I'll just meet...back at...your house. See ya."

He took off, and sped up a little when he hit the sidewalk. He had a stake in his back pocket, but it was still dangerous. Prime vampire snacking hour. After about two blocks, he collided with someone, and got knocked down.

"Sorry, I..." He shook his head, and then saw who it was. "Harmony?"

"Xander?" She questioned. "Such a klutz."

They both got up quickly. "I'm not a klutz, and...that's close enough. I'm warning you, I've been highly trained to put this through your heart." He pulled out his stake and waved it around. "No mercy, no warning."

"I can kill you where you stand." Harmony smirked.

"Bring it on, then." She slapped him on the arm, and he held it, in pain. "Ow!"

He then kicked her in the shin.

"Ow! You sissy kicker!"

She slapped him again, and then an all out slapping brawl ensued, most of them never connecting. The circled one another and eventually, they somehow ended up in a position where they were pulling at each other's hair.

"Get away! Aah! Cut it out!" He said.

"Ow, I'm so gonna bite you!" She promised.

"Ow... okay, stop, stop! We should stop, okay?"

"Okay, I will if you will."

"On the count of three..." He told her. "One...two...three!"

They separated, and Harmony composed herself.

"Right, okay."

"Harmony, it's been great catching up. Really, I'm just gonna pick up the tattered shreds of my dignity and...what are you doing out here, anyway?"

"Going for a walk. Is that against the law now?"

"How stupid do you think I am? Vampires don't go for walks, they go for take out."

"Well this vampire walks, okay? I happen to be thinking real hard about changing my life."

"Don't you mean un-life?"

"Whatever. But if Spike thinks I'm gonna put up with his little obsession..."

Xander did a double take. "Spike?"

"Can you believe him? He comes back with all these big promises, not that I believed him, you know. But he could have spent one night, but no. Everything was 'slayer this' and 'slayer that.' I mean, he probably already killed her. I'm not taking him back, I just...I just want to know why it is that men always..." During her speech, she hadn't noticed that Xander had made a quick exit. "Leave."

***

Willow was laying on Buffy's bed, lost in her thoughts, and that's why it took her a moment to realize that Spike had entered the room.

"Well, well, I come looking for the supersluts, but this...this is much better." He smiled, and slammed the door shut.

She backed herself up against the headboard, fear in her eyes. "Spike! Wh-what do you want? Uh, a spell? I can do that."

"I'll give you a choice. Now I'm gonna kill you. No choice in that. But...I can let you stay dead...or...bring you back, to be like me."

"I...I'll scream."

"Why waste the few breaths you have left, luv? But if you have to, go for it." He jumped on top of her, vampiric face on.

"No!" She screamed, but his hand going to cover her mouth muffled it.

They struggled, but he got the upper hand, and bent down to bite her.

***

Riley and his men met up with Team Delta, hiding in the yard across the street from Buffy's house.

"Report." He said.

"Got a picture. Two bodies, second floor. One 98.6, other's cold as ice." The other team member reported.

"Hostile 17." Forrest spat.

"Proximity to the civilian?" Riley asked.

"Centimeters." Another guy from Delta said.

"He's trying to get himself a meal." Graham said.

"Not on my watch." Riley swore. "Change of plans. Delta, keep watch out here, my team, face masks on. Eliminate."

***

Spike was sitting on the bed, looking very distraught. Willow remained unbitten.

"I don't understand. This sort of thing's never happened to me before."

"Maybe you were nervous." She said, as an explanation.

"I felt all right when I started. Let's try again." He jumped on her a second time, and immediately backed off, in pain. "Ow! Oh! Ow! Damn it!" He started pacing.

"Maybe you're trying too hard. Doesn't this happen to every vampire?"

"Not to me, it doesn't!"

"It's me, isn't it?"

He turned to her. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, you came looking for Buffy and Faith, then settled. I-I...you didn't want to bite me. I just happened to be around. "

"Piffle!" He dismissed that with a shake of his head.

"I know I'm not the kind of girl vamps like to sink their teeth into. It's always like, 'ooh, you're like a sister to me,' or, 'oh, you're such a good friend.'"

"Don't be ridiculous. I'd bite you in a heartbeat."

"Really?" She sounded relieved.

Spike sat on the bed once more. "Thought about it."

"When?"

"First time I saw you out front of that club...I used to tell Dru before me and her...parted ways, that of all the Slayer's friends, you were the one I wanted to drain the most and then leave in alleyway for her to find."

"I never would have guessed. You always played the blood-lust kinda cool." She smiled. "You and Druscilla broke up? I wondered why Harmony -"

"I didn't say that! It's only temporary. And anyway, I hate being obvious. All fang-y and 'rrrr!' Takes the mystery out."

"But if you could?"

"If I could, yeah."

"You know, this doesn't make you any less terrifying." She assured him.

He glared at her. "Don't patronize me." He punched the mattress. "I'm only a hundred and twenty six!"

"You're being too hard on yourself. Why don't we wait a half an hour and try again? Or..."

She grabbed Buffy's lamp, slammed it over Spike's head, and ran out the door. She raced down the stairs, but before she could open the front door, it was being kicked open, and four commandos hurried through it. They saw her, and one of them screamed, 'I'll watch her' while the other three ran upstairs. The one who stayed grabbed her arm, and she wondered what the heck was going on.

***

The slayers had gotten to the house just in time to see the last soldier enter.

"Do they have balls or what?" Faith said angrily, as they ran inside.

Buffy saw one immediately, holding Willow by the arm, and she kicked the gun out of his hands and threw him out the door before he had a chance to defend himself.

"Are you okay?"

Willow nodded. "Spike...they went..."

Faith took off up the stairs, as four more men appeared at the front door. Buffy picked up the weapon, and aimed it at them.

"I don't know what this does, but I bet you don't wanna get hit with it, right?" They didn't move. "I don't know who the hell you think you are, but you better get the hell away from my house. First you abduct me, then you break in to where I live and try to hurt my friends? Haven't you done enough already?" She could barely contain herself. She wanted to pull the trigger so badly. "The neighbors probably heard you, so if you're trying to be secretive, I'd beat it before the cops show up."

The five guys made themselves scarce, leaving their other three comrades there. Buffy shut her door, which now had a busted handle, and grabbed her head.

***

When Faith got to Buffy's bedroom, she saw three guys lunging for the window that Spike was currently jumping out of. The vampire was such a weasel. They turned towards her, weapons aimed.

"Ready when you are, boys." She challenged.

"Jackson and Delta are heading to base." Riley said quietly into his headset. His voice was hard to make out because of the mask. "Abort." His men didn't speak or budge. "She isn't the mission. I said abort. Hostile 17 is no longer here."

Graham and Forrest backed out the door, so they could keep Faith in sight. Riley started to follow, but she tackled him to the ground, stole his weapon and aimed it at him. Forrest and Graham tensed, and were ready to fire.

"Careful, you don't want your boy hurt, do ya?" Buffy and Willow were in the hallway, and had a gun pointed at their backs. "If you leave quietly, we might just send him back alive."

"Go. That's an order." Riley instructed. "The situation's comprised enough already, and we can't harm them."

The soldiers went downstairs slowly, and left the house.

"They gone?" Faith asked.

"Yeah." Buffy said, checking.

Xander sprinted into the house seconds after she said that, and joined them in the room, out of breath.

"Something tells me I missed the fun." He said.

"No, actually, it's just beginning." Faith looked at the helpless commando. "Let's see who you are." She pulled off the mask roughly; the headset breaking and coming off with it, to reveal Riley's frightened face. "I'll be damned."

"Riley?" Buffy and Willow echoed.

"You know him?" Xander asked.

"TA by day soldier by night, huh?" Faith asked. "You got a Clark Kent complex?"

"Could say the same about you. Unnatural vampire hunters posing as normal college students. I'm not the only one with a secret."

"Shut up. After what you did to her -"

"I didn't do anything." He said, straight-faced. "What do you want from me?"

"Answers." Buffy said, crouching down next to him. "You might not have done it, but you work for the people who did."

"I can't give you any answers."

"You can't, or you won't?"

He was silent for a moment. "If you kill me, they'll make sure you -"

"We're not gonna kill you, or experiment on you." Faith said, pleased when she saw him cringe. "Cause that's where our groups are different, Beefstick. As much as I wanna get answers outta ya, and believe me when I say I really want to, I'm not, cause I don't wanna risk her being hurt again. Or our friends. But you go back to your headquarters, and tell your people, that we're on the look out now, and sooner or later, we're gonna get answers."

She let him up, and he cautiously walked past Willow and Xander, and stood in the doorway. Buffy tossed him his mask, and he was gone.

***

Back at headquarters, Walsh was reprimanding Riley.

"Years of preparation and planning gets comprised in one night. Explain to me how that happened, Agent Finn."

"Nothing was compromised. Hostile 17 escaped, but that was our only failure. I take full responsibility, but your modified implant worked. He can't harm any living creature, in any way, without intense neurological pain."

"I'm not referring to the hostile, though that is good news. I'm referring to you entering Buffy Summers', the experiment's, residence, being discovered there by her, losing your weapon, and being held captive. Does that ring any bells?"

"We had...very few options. I gave the order I thought was most appropriate. I know how important she is to you. She does know that we're somehow connected to what happened to her, but beyond that, nothing. I didn't reveal anything, and they never saw my face. It could've gone a lot worse."

"I agree." Walsh studied him. "They have no idea who you are?"

"No, ma'am." He had just lied to her. He had never done that before.

"You're positive of that?"

He nodded. "They could've harmed me, any of my men, but they didn't."

"I'll make sure to note that. Until I say otherwise, I want patrols to be cut down to three nights a week, and I want them as short as possible. The less attention we draw to the Initiative, the better. We came too close to sabotaging the whole operation tonight. Hopefully their attentions will be drawn elsewhere in weeks to come, and everything can run on the regular schedule again."

"What do you want to do about them?"

"Have you forgotten our talk?" She asked him, staring. "I need to think, so if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

Riley watched as she went into Room 314.

***

Giles joined the rest of the gang, fifteen minutes after Riley left, and they were all sitting in the living room.

"On the bright side, we kinda made progress." Willow told everyone.

"But now what? How are we supposed to act around him?" Buffy asked.

"It's their move, but they're probably gonna lay as low as possible." Faith said. "So we just play it cool, and wait for an opportunity. Maybe one of these times we'll get lucky, and a vamp or demon'll give us some info and we can make the move."

"Can you handle waiting?" Xander asked with a smirk.

"Don't got a choice. That weapon is pretty high tech. Usually I could care less about odds, but we're talkin' a wicked serious disadvantage here."

"I have to agree with Faith." Giles nodded. "This is foreign territory for us. Demons are a completely different -"

"Ballgame than humans with futuristic firearms that have government funding?" Buffy supplied.

"Basically what I was going to say, yes." He took off his glasses. "It's a delicate situation, and since we have yet to find out what they put in..." Buffy frowned, and Faith pulled the blonde to her. "We don't want to do anything that may cause them to do any further harm to you."

"If they do, Riley and I are gonna have a talk." Faith swore. "But I doubt he'll do anything stupid."

"And let's not forget that there are still plenty of supernatural creatures that need killing." Xander reminded the gang. "Like Spike. And Harmony."

"You know what was weird?" Willow said. "He couldn't bite."

That left them scratching their heads.

***

"You sure I can have the bed?" Willow asked her friends later, who were lying on the floor.

They were trying to go to sleep.

"Yep." Buffy said, as Faith tightened her hold on her waist. "We're perfectly comfortable down here."

"I bet." They could imagine the redhead's grin.

"You sure you're all right?"

"Strangely, I feel a little better. Nowhere near total wellness, but I'm sure I'll get there eventually. "Like you said, Buffy, we'll both be okay." She smiled. "Thanks for being here for me, guys."

"Always."

"Yeah, it's no problem, Red." Faith said to her.

"Night." Willow said with a yawn.

"Night." The slayers said together.

Buffy turned slightly so she could see her girlfriend, and they shut their eyes after sharing a goodnight kiss.

 

4
FAMILY CLOSENESS

Giles sighed. Two weeks and nothing had come along. He wanted to be of assistance to Buffy and Faith, but as they weren't dealing with anything demonic, his talents were rather useless. He couldn't find a solution or an explanation in a book, and it would be ineffective to combat the commandos with his ancient collection of weaponry. He did appreciate the fact that he was kept in the loop, but he tended to think it was purely for his benefit. They didn't need his counsel.

Willow was sitting over at the table using her laptop to try and trace the possible location of the military group's base. Given that they were spotted most often in the vicinity of the campus, she thought that perhaps the government had purchased part of the college's property to build on. Where, she wasn't sure, but if that was the case, there had to be records somewhere. Kept secret and sealed. If they existed, she'd find them.

As he watched her, Giles was glad Willow had something to do after what happened with Oz. He realized that she could've gone anywhere to work, but she came here to keep him company. Again, he sadly realized that he wasn't truly needed. Angry now, the Englishman told himself that self-pity wasn't going to help anything. They didn't have to keep him informed, nor did they have to come see him.

He was luckier than most fathers were, biological or not.

"Have you discovered anything of use?" Giles asked the redhead.

Willow frowned. "I think the Mayor cleared out all the town's records and files before Graduation just in case his ascension went wrong, cause uh, everything looks cleared out. And it's good for him he did, considering he went all blooey."

"Yes, but it puts us back at square one."

"That's not a good thing." She thought quietly for a moment, and then started typing again. "Maybe I can -"

There was a knock, the two of exchanged a look, and then Giles went to answer the door. When he saw who it was, covered in rags and looking sickly, he narrowed his eyes and wanted to slam the door shut on the visitor's face.

"Have a heart, Rupert." Spike said with a weak smile.

***

Buffy and Faith were on stage at the Bronze, and they each had hold of an arm. A vampire's arms. They glanced at the drummer of the night's band, and the frightened guy got in their path, and held out his drumstick. The slayers rammed the vampire into the stick, and it turned to ash. Dusting herself off, the brunette gave their helper a pat on the back, as her partner hopped off stage.

The blonde waited and extended her hand, which Faith came over and accepted, hopping down. The crowd looked at them.

"This a club or not?" Faith asked. The band started up again, and everyone lost themselves in the noise. "That's more like it."

"I can't believe he thought we wouldn't stake him in here." Buffy grinned. "He musta been new."

"Told you it would be better when we came out, B." Faith said. "The whole 'nobody can know you're a slayer line' is total crap. It's safer if more people know."

"Yeah, and plus, my whole graduating class knew without me saying a word, and it was getting more and more difficult to come up with excuses as to why we carry pointy, wooden things."

Faith nodded as both of them moved back to the bar. "And why stress over that?"

"I agree." Buffy was scanning the club. "Any sign of Xander yet?"

"Neg. But we can kill time."

"Oh, you on board with Thanksgiving?"

"That's the holiday with all the food, right?" Faith asked. "Then I'm at your disposal."

"Offering yourself to me? I love it when you do that." The younger slayer backed her girlfriend up against the counter, and reached for her lower curves. "Have you no shame?" Buffy teased.

"Don't think so." Faith smirked.

"Hey, we should get mochas for Giles and Willow. They've probably been working hard, and they need to stay awake for our 'touching base' meeting."

Faith turned her head to look at the guy behind the counter. "Five mochas." She turned back toward the blonde. "As much as I love touching base, I love another kind of touching even more."

"That a fact?" Buffy asked, looking serious.

"Am I the only one who knows where my hands are?" Faith was confused.

"Oh no." Buffy shook her head with a sexy smile. "I know where they are. Believe me."

Faith sighed. "I'm glad we're helping Willow, and I don't regret invitin' her to stay at your mom's, it's cool having her there, but it's been way too long since..."

"Think your mochas are ready." A voice interrupted.

"What do you want, Beefstick?" The brunette glared, facing him.

"Made quite a show with that vampire." Riley noticed.

"We've got nothing to hide." Buffy told him angrily.

"I can see that." He said softly. "You know somewhere more private we can go?" They were suspicious. "It's just me. I shouldn't even be near you, but -"

"Fine." Faith said, still very annoyed by his arrival. If they listened to what he had to say, then he would leave them alone. "Grab our drinks and let's go."

***

In a private room locked away from prying eyes, a woman stood, talking to something in the shadows. No one else could find out what was in here, not yet, for they were all unknowingly and unwillingly part of the Project.

"I know it's early, and I wanted to let you sleep awhile longer, but things have changed. I need you awake."

"I understand."

"I knew you would." She smiled. "Listen to me. I'm worried about your brother. I want you to keep an eye on him for me. I can't trust anyone else with my suspicions. It's for his own good."

"Yes, Mother."

"He'll be leaving soon, temporarily, so hurry. The quicker I'm sure, the quicker I can decide whether or not to punish him. Make me proud."

***

"Bloody hell, man. You're cuttin' off my circulation." Giles was tying Spike to a chair, and stared at the vampire with disbelief. "Well it pinches."

"I could've killed you, remember that." Giles said. "And the only reason I let you in here was because Willow told us of your predicament, which you say the military group had a hand in."

"They did." Spike grumbled. "You treat me right, quench my thirst, and I might just tell your girls where they're at. I'm sure you all wanna rough 'em up a bit."

"What do you know about what happened to her?"

"Just what the other inmates passed along. That she checked in, then checked out."

Giles was quiet, thinking. "Be patient. Willow was kind enough to go to the butcher."

"Red's got a heart, all right. Kinda feel bad for trying to stop it from beating." Spike grinned.

"It would be in your best interests to shut up."

Faith, Buffy and Riley walked in then, and their eyes zeroed in on Spike, while Spike zeroed in on Riley.

"What's he doing here?" They said in unison.

The blonde vampire was struggling to free himself from the ropes, and Riley glared at the slayers.

"That's Hostile 17. Do you want to explain what that monster is doing alive and how you know him?"

"Not really." Buffy snapped. "Cause I don't know why he's here either." She looked at Giles. "Confused. Help me not be."

"Spike was captured by the fellows that that gentleman," Giles nodded at Riley, "works with. In exchange for..." He was visualizing it, and paled.

"The red stuff." Faith supplied.

"Thank you." He said gratefully. "That and temporary shelter, as his apparent inability to feed has left him weak -"

"Skin and bones." Spike chipped in. "Don't get some blood in me soon, and I'll be a living skeleton. Like famine pictures from those dusty countries, only not half as funny."

"Anybody talking to you, Billy?" Faith asked in a tone that told him to keep quiet.

"He has promised," The former librarian continued, "to give us information regarding the location of..."

"I don't think so." Riley said. "I'm taking him back to the Initiative right now."

"Whoa there." Faith stepped in front of him. "You're off duty. We brought you here cause you wanted to talk, so talk."

Xander entered the house, decked out in his old army costume. He spotted his friends first.

"Didn't wanna wait, huh?" He frowned, but then smiled. "What the hey. I forgive ya. Sorry, took a little longer than I thought. Went to the base, but they didn't know anything about our men in black. And if they did, they didn't wanna tell me. But if you ask me, I pulled off an Oscar-winning -" He saw Spike and Riley. "Uh...huh. I stepped into the Twilight Zone, didn't I? Rod Serling is gonna walk down those steps any minute now. I bet if I go back out and then come back in, they'll be gone. Right?"

"It's cool, Xand." Buffy assured him. "Riley was just about to tell us something real useful. And Spike...we'll fill you in later."

"Lemme get a seat." He headed over to the couch, and eyed the vampire. "You're sure he can't use his fangs?"

"Like I'd bite you." Spike snorted disgustedly.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Willow walked through the door, holding a white paper bag. She scanned the room. "Uh...hey?"

"Are more people coming, or is this it?" Riley sighed.

***

Eyes watched the meeting from Giles' courtyard. The data he was gathering was quite interesting. His brother was being irrational, but he wasn't the only one who had his attention.

***

The whole gang was on the sofa, Giles was standing behind it, and Spike was still in the chair, silently angry because there was a container of pig's blood that he wasn't allowed to have yet. They were all looking at Riley expectantly.

"Okay, I'm going home for Thanksgiving tomorrow, and I wanted to go there knowing both sides of the story."

"Both sides of the story?" Xander asked, not understanding.

"I know what the Initiative thinks -"

"That's who you work for?" Willow questioned.

"Yeah, and I guess since I already lied to them, telling you that isn't that big of a deal." He paused. "I know what they think, but I wanna hear your explanation. I've started digging my own grave, and before I decide if I want to go any deeper, I need all the facts. Then I can get away and think for awhile."

"What do you think gives you the right to come here and demand answers from us?" Giles asked calmly.

"I'm not...demanding, sir. I just want to understand." He had been saying that a lot.

"Your people want to talk now, to understand now, after they flew three thousand miles to Boston, kidnapped her, and then drug her to a lab to do tests on her?" Willow got madder the more she spoke. "Don't you think you're way past the civilized, talking stage?"

"I told them already," Riley looked at Buffy and Faith, "that it's just me asking. I'm not speaking for anybody else. They don't even know I'm here."

"You talk like you're innocent." Faith said with distrust in her eyes.

"I wasn't part of the team that was sent to Boston. I didn't do any of the experiments. The scientists handle that. But I was there while they were doing them." He stared at his feet. "Demons are one thing, but when I saw...I couldn't believe it. More and more, I find myself wondering what I'm a part of." He met their faces once again. "I'm confused, and I'm here so I can hopefully start making sense of everything."

For awhile, nobody said a word.

"What do you want to know?" Buffy asked.

"What you are."

She stood up, and walked into the kitchen. Everyone watched her, not sure what she was doing. When she came back in, she was carrying a knife, and she walked up to Riley. Turning her hand over, so he could see her palm, she took the knife, and slowly sliced the skin, not cringing once. As she finished, there was a trail of blood on her palm.

"What do you see?" She asked.

"Blood."

"Touch it." She instructed. He did so, reluctantly, her blood sitting on his finger. "Is it warm?"

"Yes."

"Then tell me, what do you think I am? Just based on this basic, non-scientific experiment."

He coughed nervously. "Human."

"Feel free to take that back to your Initiative and analyze it to your heart's content. Excuse me." She turned, went back into the kitchen, and turned on the faucet.

"Can I have some?" Spike asked, licking his lips.

Riley faced the group. "I believe that she's human, and you too." He looked at Faith. "We have enough samples and medical records that say that."

"They have her medical records?" Willow was shocked.

"Then what do you want?" Xander asked after a moment.

"To know that extra something that gives them the strength, the rapid healing. All the scientists have been able to figure out is that her cells replicate a lot faster than a normal human being, and that her adrenaline levels skyrocket when she fights. Their big theory is that a part of her genetic makeup must be something other than human. But her genes don't match up with any known species of demon we have on file."

"Cause *we're* not demons, pal. Not evil. Understand? We don't know why we have the skills we do, we just have 'em. Our parents were normal human beings, physically anyway, and it's been like this all our lives. We kill demons, that's our job assigned from up high, so we do it. And that's that." Faith explained.

"Then why isn't he dead?" Riley pointed to Spike.

"Long story that you don't get to hear. But we'll handle him, so don't go squealing to your buddies."

"But -"

"Excuse me, but how would they know how her body reacts during a confrontation?" Giles asked.

Sighing, he knew that if they ever found out, he was dead. "There's a chip...it's plugged directly into her nervous system and receives data on what her body is doing internally twenty-four hours a day, and it gets sent to the scientists. I'm not sure how -"

"That's the white spot on the x-ray, isn't it?" Faith got up and looked him in the eye. "Isn't it?"

"I've said too much."

"No, you haven't said anywhere near enough." He turned away, and found himself looking at Xander.

"She doesn't remember what happened to her. She lost three months, man. Probably the most painful of her life." Xander said.

"Exactly why I can't say anything else about it."

"It gives her really bad headaches, Riley." Willow told him. "*Really* bad."

"The memories would be worse."

"You wankers used the chip to mess with her mind, didn't you?" Spike asked.

Buffy came back into the room, her cut cleaned, disinfected, and already closed. She stood by her girlfriend. "I'd rather have one big pain all at once and get it over with, instead of all these smaller pains popping up unexpectedl..." Her mouth widened. "It's whenever I start remembering. Then it kicks in. That's how the blocker part of it works, right?"

"Even if I thought it was a good idea to shut the chip off, I can't. I don't have the code, or the access." Riley said.

"So you have a computer system." Willow grinned to herself. She'd remember that.

"Then I suppose turning off my chip is out of the question." Spike frowned. "Bastards."

"Who does have the access?" Faith demanded.

"Only one person." The soldier said. "And I have to go."

The brunette moved to stop him, and Xander still stood in his way.

"Let him leave, guys." Buffy said. Xander moved. "Some things don't have a nice, neat, scientific explanation, Riley, and if the Initiative is going to mess around with demons, they have to realize that. And what was said is going to stay here, got it?"

"Keep Hostile 17 out of sight." He opened the door.

"It's Spike, you inbred cowboy." The vampire said, pissed off.

"Oh, just so you know? All my friends? Human. Make sure they get left alone. Hope you come to the right decision." The blonde slayer said, then he walked out the door.

***

He followed his brother to see what else he could learn. Soon he would go back and talk to Mother.

***

"So you got a chip too." Spike grinned. "At least you can still hit people."

Buffy walked up to his chair. "What can you tell me that he didn't?"

"I can show you where they run everything from. White and dull as hell. You've seen it." She glared. "Except that you don't remember any of it."

"You'll take me there." She stated. "After we've had the best Thanksgiving ever."

"B?" Faith asked.

"We just learned as much as we're gonna learn until Riley gets back. When he does, then we'll figure out what to do next."

"Really think we can trust him?"

"I don't get the evil vibe from him. Do you?"

"No." The brunette had to admit. "Seems like he got mixed up in something that got bigger than he could handle, though."

"While we're waiting, I can try and find their system." Willow offered.

Buffy smiled. "Sure, just be careful. But I really think we all need a break from this. I know I do. It's the start of the holiday season, we're all here, and it's time to cheer up. With my mom going away for Thanksgiving, and I had to swear that I was going to be okay a hundred times before she would go - "

"She's gonna spend it with Sarah, right?" Willow asked. "I can't believe she's moving."

"To live with her girl in Hawaii." Faith grinned.

"And that's great, but it'll be just us, and I want us to be happy, together, and to turn this place into Thanksgiving Central." The blonde said.

"Pardon?" Giles asked.

"I've got that construction job to finish at the campus tomorrow -" Xander began to say.

"The new Culture Center building. I'm excited, can you tell?" Faith said sarcastically.

"But after, I'm Preparation H." They stared at him. "H as in Harris. As in my official Thanksgiving title. 'Preparation Harris.' Not the ointment. I don't have hemorrhoids."

"Never thought such a thing." Willow said, while she and the rest of the gang swallowed hard.

"Good. Cause I don't. Anyway, I know I could go for a holiday meal that doesn't involve yelling." Xander looked uncomfortable as he said that. "Can I give an invite to Cordelia?"

"Was just gonna suggest that." Buffy said. "Will, you in?"

The redhead gave a less than sincere smile, and spoke softly. "Uh huh."

"You've designated my flat as the hub for this gathering without asking for my permission." Giles observed.

"I did." Buffy agreed.

"Why?"

"Cause I knew you weren't going to turn me down." She smiled.

Spike cleared his throat. "Can I eat now?"

"Thinking...thinking...no."

"Why bloody not?"

"You asked to drink the blood from my hand. Besides being a disgusting thought for me, you have to learn that impatience gets you nothing."

"Talk to your woman." He pleaded with Faith. "Make her be reasonable."

"How'd you figure that out?" Faith asked.

"Can smell it. The heat, luv. That's what we vampires are attracted to, and the way it's radiating off the two of you, it's damn near stifling. Been awhile since you cooled each other off, hasn't it?"

Everyone averted their eyes, and the slayers wanted to rip Spike's throat out.

"But there's caring and..." He made a face. "Love, in there too, which is simply...revolting."

"Well, you just lost any shot you had of me changing her mind for ya." The Bostonian said, kissing her girlfriend.

"Goddamn it! That's not fair!" Spike looked up towards the ceiling. "Yeah, that's right! I blame you! I didn't ask for this! Uh...okay, I did, but you were never around! You drove me to it! The Big, All Powerful absent one! Omniscient, lazy, never lifts a finger, son of a..."

Xander grabbed a cross that was sitting on the table, and went and put it up to Spike's face. The vampire practically howled.

"Oops. Sorry. God made me do it. He works in mysterious ways, the Lord does." Xander backed off, as they all snickered.

"You ask to be damned, you get it, Spike." Buffy said.

"Blaming other people, especially supreme beings, God, the Goddess, Buddha, Vishnu...whatever, never solved anything." Willow said in a disappointed tone.

"All I want is a drink!" Spike groaned.

***

After everyone had left his house, Giles sat down on his couch with a sigh, and Angel came downstairs.

"I thought something smelled off." Spike sneered. "What the hell are you doing here, Grand-Dad?"

The older vampire simply glared, and turned to the ex-librarian. He hadn't forgotten the torture Spike had put him through.

"How come you didn't tell me she was taken?"

"It was Faith's decision. She didn't want to worry you, because she knew you were trying to find your place in Los Angeles, and Buffy's predicament would've most assuredly stopped you from setting out on your own." Giles answered.

She was probably right, but still, he missed being in the loop concerning the goings on around Sunnydale. Especially something as big as Buffy being experimented on. His eyes darkened. He had decided that he hated Riley Finn and whomever the kid was associated with.

"I would've helped."

"Do you believe that's why your friend had a vision of Buffy? For you to help us with it now? Or is this something else entirely?"

"I don't know."

"You do realize that this is all very vague, don't you? And I feel I should remind you that she's not helpless and it's not your job to keep her safe."

"It's not yours anymore, either. Are you going to walk away?"

"Hang on. You're here, hiding and spying on your ex-honey, and you don't know why?" Spike asked with a chuckle. "I think it's just an excuse to play voyeur, see what you lost. I'm proud. Truly pathetic and perverted. But that's supposed to be Angelus' gig, isn't it? Maybe there isn't a difference between the Poof and the Prowler after all."

"Keep pushing me, Spike, and you'll see where the line is." Angel promised.

"Enough." Giles got in between the tied up Spike and the angry Angel. "Now obviously, the reason for the vision and your arrival hasn't presented itself yet, so all we can do is wait."

Angel nodded. "I'll be around. See what I can find out."

"I don't like secrets, Angel. Are you positive this is the way you want to handle -?"

"Giles, if she knew I was here, she'd be more distracted than she already is. I don't want that. She seems really into this Thanksgiving thing, it's something that's making her happy, and I'd ruin..." He looked sad, trailing off. "Believe me, I'm not getting the good half of this deal. To be on the outside looking in at what I can't...well, I'd forgotten how bad it feels." He left.

"Hard to believe *that* was the scourge of a continent." Spike said sarcastically, with a mixture of disappointment and disgust.

***

"Oh...ooh." Faith was sitting on Buffy's bed, propped up against her girlfriend, who was massaging the stiffness right out of her neck. "God. I hate it when the rush wears off, cause my neck never wants to move."

"I told you what the problem is. You dust one vamp, then turn your head so fast to see where the next one's coming from, that sometimes I think you're gonna snap it."

"I'm just aware of my surroundings. If I didn't stay on top of things, in a split second, I could get blindsided." She got quiet. "Or not be quick enough to help ya."

"Hey, you don't still think...it's your fault I was taken, do you?"

"Can't help it, B. If I had just quit teasing you about Giles, you wouldn't have left the house. If I came after you sooner..."

"We were kidding around. We always do that. There was no way you could've known."

"What if I was the one who walked out? Who got nabbed?"

"Then I'd be feeling the same way you are." Buffy admitted. "But you'd be the one trying to comfort me right now. So another you and me are having this talk in reverse in some other universe. Could say it's a universal, relationship, 'Sad/Comfort' talk. Kinda kooky, don'tcha think?" Faith sighed, but she was smirking. "But that doesn't matter. What matters is, I'm alive, here, and with you."

"Yeah, with a reminder in your head, and there's nothing I can do about it."

"Will you stop please? Everything will be fine. I have complete...faith in that." Buffy smiled, and kissed Faith's hair. "And when we're doing the duty thing, I know you'll be there to back me up. How many times have you saved my life?"

"You want an exact figure?" She was grinning.

"No, but you've done it a whole damn lot, I know that."

"Been there for me plenty, too."

"That's cause we're the best slayer duo that ever lived."

"Uh, we're the only."

"And when they read about us in the history books, or data pads or whatever, they'll say, 'They were the best that ever lived, and they always looked out for each other. And remember kids, being a slayer was a tough job. They didn't even have homing stakes back then.'"

"That's what they'll say, huh?"

"Exactly. Every word."

"You can tell the future now?"

"I thought you knew." Faith laughed. The blonde was so ridiculous. She wouldn't have it any other way. "Now please tell me you feel better, and that there'll be no more depression tonight."

"No more." She felt Buffy's hands sneak under her tank top, and they started to massage her back. Then the blonde's lips started kissing her now loosened neck. "This is definitely making me feel better."

"Like me to continue?"

"I can predict the future too. Down the road, I see alt-marriages being recognized and us tyin' the knot; and in about five seconds, I see your mouth doing something other than talkin', B."

"I'll take that long and indirect answer as a yes, honey."

Buffy slipped the tank top over Faith's head, and tossed it to the floor, just as Willow appeared in the doorway. The three girls froze simultaneously, and Faith, her chest now covered by just a black bra, made no move to hide that fact. The way Willow was peering into the room, she couldn't see below Faith's waist. That meant she couldn't see that the slayer still had her black leather pants on, so she thought that bra was the *only* thing Faith was wearing.

"Oh...uh...um...Xander and I got movies. They're downstairs. Him too. Where I'm gonna go. Now." The redhead blushed. "I'm...I'm sorry." She hurried away.

The superhuman, evil destroying, intimidating, unstoppable Chosen Two looked at one another...and whimpered.

***

The next day passed, and when Xander showed up at Giles' in the morning, the job complete, he didn't look very well. At the construction site, he had dug into a weak spot in the dirt, and fallen into a large, underground cave. It turned out to be the old Sunnydale mission that everyone thought was destroyed by an earthquake a century or so before.

Something in there had apparently made Xander sick, and his girlfriend, who had arrived from Los Angeles, was currently tending to him. But his illness wasn't the only thing that resulted from the unearthing of the mission. The professor, who had been a big contributor to the Cultural Center, was murdered the night before, and her ear was removed.

Buffy was hurrying like a madwoman to get everything ready for Thanksgiving, so Faith volunteered to go and check things out. Willow had been very interested in tagging along, so she went with the brunette slayer. The blonde one was in the kitchen with Giles now, watching him peel vegetables in the sink.

"You know what? We need to boil those and put them through the ricer."

"I don't think I have a ricer." Giles told her.

"You don't have a ricer? What do you mean? How could someone not have a ricer?" She was flabbergasted.

"Well, do you have one at home?"

"I don't know. What's a ricer?" Cordelia came into the kitchen. "How is he?"

"Angel's good. And nowhere near here." The ex-cheerleader said, glancing at Giles quickly.

"That's...great. But I was talking about Xander."

"Yeah! Right! Still sick. He's got a really bad fever. And lots of other things wrong with him." She frowned. "Figures. The one time I get to come visit *him*, and he contracts some mysterious disease."

"Hopefully Willow and Faith's search will provide us with some answers." Giles said.

"They better remember to pick up the cranberry sauce." Buffy said. "How ya doing in there, Spike?"

"Getting bloody tired of looking at Syphilis Boy, and still starving." Spike growled.

"Syphilis?!" Xander screamed. "Cordy!"

His girlfriend went running to him.

***

Faith and Willow were searching the new Cultural Center. The brunette got a small cramp in her stomach, walking around the murder scene. One where a human was the victim. Locking the professor away in her memory, the woman became another reason for her to keep fighting. She let the small pain come, and then told it to go away, because she had a job to do. They needed to find out what had been the professor's killer.

The redhead had a cramp of her own, because she was still remembering how she had walked in on the two slayers, who were about to have an intimate moment. Probably more like an intimate couple of hours. But it wasn't simply the embarrassment that had her in knots; it was the fact that she no longer had anyone to love, to get intimate with. She had been dealing well lately, but seeing Buffy and Faith immediately took the Band-Aid off her wounded heart.

Willow wanted someone to heal it completely, and the more time that passed, the less she cared who it was. She still had hope that it would be Oz, as he was the only one who she loved in every sense of the word, but she was open to just about anyone. If she were going to love a person again, she'd know it right away, because she'd be looking for that spark. All she needed was to see their eyes, and then it would be clear. Though what were the chances of clicking like that?

She was also not a huge fan of Thanksgiving. Besides the historical atrocities and lies that surrounded it, she had no cause to celebrate. What was she supposed to be thankful for? Her life? It was in pieces. Her boyfriend gone, her best friend in pain and used by the government. And she had to stand by, not being able to prevent any of it. She hated the black cloud that was smothering her usually cheery personality, but she couldn't get rid of it, and the holiday could come and go as far as she was concerned.

There was guilt too, because Buffy wanted to make the best possible dinner and day out of it that she could, and Willow feared that she was going to silently put a damper on the whole thing. Another recent fear she had was that her presence in Buffy's house was preventing the slayers from being intimate, and she didn't want them to feel like they had to put everything on hold for her.

They were happy and in love, and they should feel free to express that. Just because she was single, that didn't mean they had to pretend they were too. It wasn't like she couldn't sleep on the couch. Joyce had even offered to clean out the storage room for her.

"What do you think?" Faith was asking her.

Oh yeah. They were looking for clues, weren't they?

"Maybe we're looking for a witch. There's some great spells that work much better with an ear in the mix."

"Do I wanna know what kinda spells they are?"

"Uh...nope. Or it could be an ear-harvesting demon that...it's, like, building another demon completely out of ears." Willow felt like an idiot as soon as those words were out of her mouth.

"You feelin' okay, Red?" Faith smirked a little.

"Actually?" She sighed. "Not really. I've been thinking about what happened last night and -"

The Bostonian cleared her throat. "Sorry about that. Thought we had more time."

"Don't be sorry." Willow shook her head. "You shouldn't schedule around me. If you guys wanna...you know, then tell me and I'll make plans. Or go watch TV for awhile or something."

Faith tried to brush it off. "It's not that big of a deal, really, it's..."

"Yes it is. So no lying. I remember when Oz and I..." She trailed off, and tried smiling. "You're already giving me a place to stay, that I'm really grateful for, and I don't want you to make your lives any more turvy topsy for me. I'm a big girl, independent and standing on my own ten toes. Which are attached to my feet, by the way." Her eyes found an empty display case. The only empty case. "Light bulb."

"Huh?"

"Just went on in my head." She pointed, and the slayer looked. They walked up to it, and Willow bent down. There was an inscription. "Early 1800 Chumash Knife. Chumash. They were Native American." She stood. "We have a lead."

"Then let's take off." Faith didn't hide the fact that she wanted out of there. "So is this some sick version of -?"

"Revenge?" Willow asked bitterly, as they left. "Wouldn't surprise me."

"I thought I was getting that vibe."

"What vibe?"

"That you weren't down with the whole Thanksgiving thing."

"No way. Thanksgiving isn't about the blending of two cultures or promoting togetherness. It's about one culture wiping out another. And then they make animated specials about the part where, with the maize and the big, big belt buckles. They don't show you the next scene, where all the bison die and Squanto takes a musket ball in the stomach."

"Ouch." 'Angry Willow' was not a fun sight.

"Well it's all true. It's a sham. It's all about death."

"The natives got screwed over and our ancestors were all assholes, I know, but B just wants..."

"Cranberry sauce." Willow remembered. "I just have this thing with events that are full of falseness. But I'm trying to hold it in for her."

"Wanna know what I think? I think Thanksgiving was never about Pilgrims and the Indi...Native Americans. People just took that pic of them sittin' around a table as a starting point. That's the commercial side, messed with by some suits in an office. Long as they get a parade on TV, or a Disney flick out of it, history doesn't matter. But Thanksgiving is about something totally different. Always has been. It isn't anything as big or as world changing as cultural harmony, but it still means something.

"It didn't until this year though, not for me. Guess I've been waiting for the right one, and it's finally here."

"What's it mean?"

"You're smart. Figure it out. It either hits ya, or it misses." Faith grinned. "Oh, and...thanks. For giving us the go ahead." She winked.

***

Willow got back to Giles' without Faith. The other girl had decided they should split up, because the faster Giles got the information, the quicker they could figure out what was going on. That's why Faith went to get the food, and she ran by the library. She was currently holding a stack of books in her hands. Buffy came up to her immediately.

"Faith'll be here soon." The redhead assured her. "With the cranberry sauce."

"Any luck at the center?" Giles asked.

"Uh huh. A Chumash knife was taken." She set the stack down on the table.

"How about a cure for multiple disease?" Cordelia asked, both her and Xander looking hopeful.

Willow shook her head with a sympathetic frown.

"Chumash? They were indigenous to the whole area. Peaceful, if I remember correctly." Giles recollected.

"Oh, they were peaceful, all right. They were fluffy indigenous kittens, till we came along."

Buffy and Giles stared at her. There was an awkward silence, as it was their turn to get a taste of 'Angry Willow.'

"So...do you think Faith will get rolls too? Cause I just remembered we need rolls." The blonde said.

***

Faith was cutting through the park, carrying a shopping bag that contained the cranberry sauce, a box of tea bags for Giles, and she picked up rolls for some odd reason. It wasn't that rolls were bad, but she hadn't been intending to get any. She had been standing in the checkout line, happened to see them on a rack in front of an aisle, and something had just told her to grab them.

And something was now telling her that she was being followed. She sighed.

"Got places to be, so if you wanna throw down, show yourself and we can get this over with."

"It's just me, Faith." A voice said from behind her.

The brunette turned quickly, nearly dropping the bag. "Angel? Not evil, right?"

"No. Why would I be?" He said calmly. She shrugged. "How are things?"

"They could be better. Could also be worse." Faith said truthfully. "What's it like on your end?"

"I'm getting used to it."

They stood looking at each other for several seconds. He liked Faith, but every time he saw her, the first thing that came to his mind was that she was the person who had taken Buffy from him. The past couple of months, being in LA and not around Buffy at all (at least he saw her when he lived in Sunnydale), he missed her more and more. He found himself wondering. If Faith hadn't shown up or been as close to Buffy as she was, would he and the older slayer still be together?

Every scenario he came up with told him, that more than likely, the answer was no. He had to face the facts; he and Buffy weren't meant to be. He just hoped Faith's decision not to tell him about what happened, wasn't an attempt to shut him out of her life.

"Seen her yet?" Faith asked, breaking the quiet.

"No. And I don't plan to." She raised her eyebrows, but didn't say anything. "I'm here because you and Buffy might be in danger."

"What kind?"

"Well, I know you found out that that knife was missing..."

"How long've you been tracking us?"

"And I think the Chumash connection is where to start looking. Might be some kind of vengeful spirit." He continued his thought, bypassing the question. "Go to the church on sixth. Father Gabriel runs it. His family dates back to those days."

"Now?"

"Probably a good idea. Giles and Willow are already checking the books."

"B's gonna kill me if I don't get her this stuff." She was debating with herself. "There a reason you're on edge? Besides our welfare?"

Angel spoke softly. "How is she? Since the..." His eyes met hers.

"You talked to Giles." She realized. "Uh...hangin' in there, like the rest of us. Tough as always. And you're probably pissed at me for not -"

"Go to the church. I'll drop off the bag."

"Wouldn't that break your stealth cover?" Faith tossed him the bag with a smirk. "This little tip better pay off, Big Guy."

***

It was paying off all right. Faith had found Father Gabriel hanging out back of the church, and a Native American guy slicing his throat with the stolen knife. They were fighting, and he had the upper hand, sitting atop her, trying to shove the knife down into her stomach. The younger slayer was pushing against him.

"I am vengeance. I am my people's cry. They call for Hus, for the avenging spirit to carve out justice."

"And the ears are trophies?" Faith asked. She brought her knee up, and threw him off of her. "The guys that wrecked your people are dead now too. Welcome to the twentieth century." She silently realized that while Native Americans weren't being killed, they didn't have the best situation in society. But she wasn't telling him that. "So just go rest."

"I cannot rest. If they are in the earth, then their children's blood shall be spilled."

"Fine. We'll do this the hard way."

Hus launched himself at Faith, and she rolled just enough to avoid him. She jumped up and grabbed him by his neck, yanked him off the ground, and shoved him up against a tree.

"Your kind slaughtered my people. Now you kill their spirit. This is a great day for you."

That caught her off guard, and she felt guilt and sympathy all at once. Conflicting with those feelings, was her knowledge that he had killed two people, and it was too much. Releasing him before she did anything she might regret, she then backed away, while he stood. In the next second, he became a swarm of bats that flew off into the darkness.

***

Cordelia had seen her boss peering in through the window, and had excused herself, going out into the courtyard. Considering Willow and Giles were snapping at each other, she was glad to step out of the house. She grabbed his arm and pulled him away, whispering.

"For a secret visit, you sure are making it easy for people to notice you." She said, seeing the bag. "What's that?"

"Groceries. I told Faith I'd drop them off."

"She knows now too?" The ex-cheerleader was very disappointed in him. "How close are you to solving this?"

"Close. Then I'll go."

"I don't know why you wanna hide, anyway. It's not like you left pissed at each other."

"It's my choice, Cordelia." Angel stated. "Will you take this inside?"

"How am I going to explain where I got it from?"

"I have no idea."

"You're a big help."

"Enjoying yourself?"

"Besides the verbal cat fight about the Shoemush -"

"Chumash."

"- and my boyfriend practically being on his deathbed, I'm having a splendid time."

He smirked. "It'll get better." Saying that, he then disappeared.

Cordelia looked down, the bag at her feet. She picked it up and headed back inside, just in time to catch more fighting.

"I'm not gonna help you kill him. I'm not on board." Willow was saying.

"What choice do we have?" Buffy asked, nearing exhaustion.

"Buffy, this isn't a western. We're not at Fort...Giles with the cavalry coming to save us. It's one lonely guy. Oppressed warrior guy who's just trying to..."

"Kill a lot of people?"

The redhead frowned. "I didn't say he was right."

"Will, you know how bad I feel about this. It's eating me up -" She saw Cordelia, and her eyes traveled to the bag. She immediately took it, not asking questions, with a sigh of relief. "One-fourth cup of brandy and let it simmer -" She said to her, nodded to the bookcase which the brandy was sitting on, then pointed to the pot on the stove.

"I wouldn't say no to a brandy." Spike said.

Buffy turned back to Willow. "But even though it's hard, we have to end this. Yes, he's been wronged, and I personally would be ready to apologize -"

"Oh, someone put a stake in me." He practically moaned.

"You got a lot of volunteers in here." Xander said from the couch.

"I just can't take all this mamby-pamby boo-hooing about the bloody Indians."

"Uh, the preferred term -" Willow started to correct him.

"You won, all right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That's what conquering nations do. It's what Caesar did, and he's not going around saying, 'I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it.' The history of the world isn't people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story."

"Well, I think the Spaniards actually did a lot of...not that I don't like Spaniards -" Buffy said.

"Listen to you. How you gonna fight anyone with that attitude?"

"We don't wanna fight anyone." The wicca insisted.

"I just wanna have Thanksgiving." The blonde pouted.

Spike snickered. "Yeah...good luck."

"If we could talk to him..." Willow tried.

"You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better? It's kill or be killed here. Take your bloody pick."

They all kind of looked at one another, and Buffy made her way to the kitchen, beginning to unpack the bag.

"Could just be the syphilis talking, but some of that made sense." Xander realized.

"I made a lot of these points earlier," Giles said, "but fine, nobody listens to me."

"I'm gonna go for a walk." Willow said softly, then made her way out.

"I'll go with her." Cordelia volunteered, finishing pouring the brandy and coming back into the living room.

"Me too." Xander said, getting up.

"Sure you can?"

"Oh, leave that one. He looks like he's ready to drop any minute, and I think I can eat someone if he's already dead." Spike said.

"I'm up to it." Xander assured her.

As her friends were leaving, Buffy called to them. "Hurry back! Dinner's in an hour!" She looked at Giles. "It's not going according to my plan." She said sadly, then began searching the area with her eyes. "Where's Faith?" She then looked down at the bag of rolls and the cranberry sauce on the counter. "And I'm sure there's a really logical-type of explanation as to where these came from."

***

About five minutes later, Faith walked through the door.

"Hus." She said, going back to the kitchen.

"Missed you. It's been crazy. I'm about to drop." Her girlfriend said, and they kissed.

"You're telling me." The brunette took a deep breath. "I wanted to be here."

"Good, cause I know you weren't trying to skip out on helping me."

"Never." She whispered into Buffy's ear. "Later. You and me. House. All alone."

"All alone?"

Faith nodded. "So you can't drop. Cause I'm gonna make you pass out. After I hear you scream my name, sweat going down your forehead, eyes clenched shut...I can picture it already. What a sight." She closed her eyes for a second.

"You'll be the first one screaming, honey." Faith's eyes shot open, and the blonde coughed. "Uh...check the oven?"

"What was that you said?" Giles wondered, setting the table. "Hus?"

"Oh. That's the name of guy doing the killing. I was comin' back from the store, and my radar went off. He hung up a priest. We traded blows, he turned into a bunch of bats..."

"Are you okay?" The older slayer was concerned instantly, scanning for any wounds.

"Five by five, B." Faith smiled. "Just annoyed."

"I was right then. He is a -" Giles said.

"Vengeance spirit?"

"How'd you know that?"

"He made sure to mention it." Faith sighed, opening the oven door. "I woulda taken him out, but he decided to guilt me."

"What do we do?" Buffy asked, putting her arm around her partner's shoulders and letting her know it was all right.

"There's no choice now." Giles told them. "We must find a way to destroy him. Vengeance is never sated, Buffy. He will continue to kill unless he's stopped. He was not brought forth to reason, he's a manifestation of hundreds of years of anger and hatred."

"Bird's about ready to be freed." Faith informed the blonde.

"Is there any way we could anticipate his next move?" Buffy questioned.

An arrow struck the center of the table. They all looked to see Hus standing at the high window, bow in hand.

"You were saying?" Spike asked.

***

"I have a valid point of view, don't I?" Willow asked her friends as they walked down Main Street.

"Yeah, but Will, there's that little thing where he's hurting people." Xander said while pointing to himself. "Killing even."

"If Giles is right, he isn't even a person." Cordelia added.

"I know, it's just, we didn't ask his people if they wanted to be slaughtered. They weren't given a choice. 'This is gonna happen, and it's for your own good.' That's unfair." Willow explained, and they all knew part of that wasn't just referring to the Chumash. "And all Buffy cares about is gravy and peas."

"She wants her friends to be together. I'm all for that." Xander said. "We're all we have, and considering everything that's been going on, the last thing we need is drifting."

The three of them walked in silence for awhile. Willow was realizing that she had been fighting what Buffy was trying to do ever since the blonde had announced her dinner plans. Her friend had been hurt by it too, she knew that, but she did nothing. Perhaps she had been taking her argument against historical injustices too far.

"The guy I work with, his ex-wife was going to get married to a demon that was pretty decent as far as demons go," Cordelia said, "but the groom was going to eat my friend's brains cause it was tradition. I have total respect for other people's cultures, don't get me wrong, but when it involves killing people I care about, a line has to be drawn."

Xander smiled. She was something else.

Cordelia continued. "Spike's right, the Native Indian...whatever, has got to go. I'm sorry that a couple hundred years ago his people weren't given a fair shot, but I didn't do anything to them. Neither did that professor, or Xander, or whoever else he got to. Why should they have to pay for dead people's stupidity?"

They were passing by the magic shop, and a girl that was just coming out, bumped into Willow, in a hurry to get off the streets. They looked at one another.

"I-I'm s-sorry. I d-didn't mean t-to..." The blonde, and apparently shy, girl stuttered.

"It's okay. Really. No injuries." Willow smiled. "And no pain either. Always a plus."

The girl smiled somewhat. "Y-yeah...I'm...I...g-gotta go." She walked off, and Willow watched her.

Xander whistled. "You still here?"

"What?" The redhead faced her friends. "Oh. Present."

"Do you see what we're saying?"

She nodded with a sigh. "I do. If he tried to hurt -" Willow stopped, her eyes going wide. "Angel."

"Why would he try to hurt...?" Xander saw the vampire and ducked behind his girlfriend. "He's evil!"

"I'm not evil. Why does everyone think that?" Angel said, frustrated.

"Angel's here to protect Buffy." Cordelia explained. "Faith too."

"I haven't been evil for a long time."

"She's not supposed to know he's here. Buffy, I mean. Faith does." She looked at her boss. "New info?

"Yeah. All the Chumash weapons are missing from the Cultural Center. Something's up. Where are they?"

"Giles'. Faith should be there by now." Willow said. "What do you think he's doing?"

"He's a warrior. He'll be looking to take out the strongest fighters that stand in his way."

An image of the two strongest fighters in town popped into their heads immediately. There was no doubt as to whom the spirit was going after.

"Oh boy." Xander said.

"He's formed a raiding party."

"We gotta get over there." The redhead started running.

***

"Uh, you can have casinos now." Buffy tried to tell Hus as he stood at the top of the stairs, and four other warriors appeared at the windows and the door.

"Get down! " Giles screamed.

Faith, Giles, and Buffy dove behind the table.

"What about me? You gonna leave me here like this?" Spike asked as an arrow flew and embedded itself in his chest. "Hey! Watch the heart!"

"Where's the damn weapons?" Faith asked, angry at being disadvantaged.

"Over there." Giles told her, pointing at the chest across the room.

"Real convenient, G."

"Forgive me, I wasn't expecting ancient warrior spirits to practice their archery skills in my flat!"

"I'll get it!" Buffy volunteered. She started to make her way over, but an arrow struck her in the arm. "Ow."

"B!" Faith joined her girlfriend. "I'm gonna yank it."

"Please." The brunette pulled, and the arrow came out quickly and cleanly. "There's too many. We need help."

Faith got to the chest, and grabbed herself a sword. Before she could get any more, one of the warriors who was brave enough to come inside, elbowed her in the face and she hit the floor hard. More pissed than anything else, she shot up, and still having the sword in her hand, she thrust the blade through his stomach. She wiped a bit of blood off the corner of her mouth, and watched in shock as the spirit looked at the blade and then simply removed it. The act reminded her of the Mayor.

"He ain't dyin'!"

Spike, who now had several arrows in his chest, looked at the group. "Remember that conquering nation thing? Forget it. Apologize."

"Shut up, Spike!" The three of them screamed, all busy with warriors of their own.

"Fine, I'll do it myself. Hey, sorry! Sorry about that, Chief!" His chair fell over. "Bloody hell!"

***

Outside, the rest of the gang was occupied as well. Cordelia, Xander, and Willow each had a shovel, to combat with the spirits. Or at least Xander did, until it was taken from him.

"Hey!" He exclaimed, upset.

Grabbing a potted plant, he smashed it over a warrior's head. Cordelia and Willow were thwacking away at one, with both of their shovels.

"Why. Won't. You. Die?" Willow said.

Angel came in, and quickly snapped the warrior's neck. The guy dropped to the ground just as yet another one jumped him, and the warrior's arms went around his neck.

"Help the others!" The vampire instructed.

***

Hus had come to face his opponents, holding his knife. The slayers were circling him, waiting for an opportunity to strike. Faith nodded to her partner, and then charged in. When Hus jabbed at her with the knife, she round-housed his hand, and the blade went flying. Buffy caught it, and went to join the fight. He tried to punch her head, but she ducked under his arm, and Faith swept his legs. He dropped to his knees, and then Buffy sliced at his arm with the knife. It bled, and Hus went to protect the injury.

"Your knife can kill you." The blonde realized.

Hus then transformed into a large, black bear discouraging their hopes of ending the battle. The animal stood on its hind legs, and growled loudly.

"You made a bear!" Spike shouted from his spot on the floor.

"I didn't mean to." Buffy said, as she and Faith backed away, dodging the creature's paws.

"Undo it! Undo it!"

"Crap." She looked at Faith, and the brunette cocked her head in the direction of Xander, who had just run into the room. Buffy handed over the knife. "All yours."

"Hey, Gentle Ben!" Xander started to throw food at the bear, and it turned in his direction. "This is for giving me syphilis!"

Faith shoved the knife through the bear's back, and it growled and snarled. It became Hus once again, and the vengeance spirit vanished into a green mist. Willow and Cordelia wearily entered the house and they all surveyed the damage, heading over to the table. Angel watched for a few seconds from the courtyard, and then went up the steps, walking away.

"Did we win?" Spike asked.

***

Willow was sitting at the table, eating dinner with the rest of her friends. It had been quite a night. Yet somehow, they managed to survive, and were all treated to a pretty darn good meal. Though she wasn't very proud of herself.

"I feel lousy." She announced to the group.

"Turkey came out rather splendidly." Giles said.

"Good enough to make me stuffed." Faith said. "And that's a wicked hard thing to do." She got a kiss for her compliment.

"It's just...did you see me?" The redhead asked. "Two seconds of conflict with an indigenous person, and I turned into General Custer."

"Violence does that. Instinct takes over." Giles explained.

"Yeah, that's the fun." Spike grumbled.

"Nobody asked you." Xander told him.

"Oh, lay off. You all had a fine meal."

"But me..." Willow trailed off.

"An entire siege. You'd think one of you would bleed a little." The defanged vampire was clearly unhappy.

"Wasn't exactly a perfect Thanksgiving." Buffy said.

"Hey, we're all here, aren't we?" Faith asked. "The whole *family*," She looked at Willow and the hacker's eyes widened, "sitting around, live and kickin'. Happy and stomachs ready to burst. Looks pretty damn perfect to me. Wouldn't you say so, Red?"

She understood now. She knew what Thanksgiving was about. All these people, were the most important people in her life, and they were all important to each other. That's what they were celebrating. That they were all together, that they had made it this far. Without one another, what reason would there be keep going? The gang had gained and lost members, but they were still strong, and the support base. There were tough times, most recently the past two days, and there would probably be more to come, but they'd pull through. Always being one, big...family.

"Yeah. This is nice." Willow smiled.

"First Thanksgiving on my own, and we all got through it." Buffy was pleased.

Xander looked at his girlfriend. "And you know what? I think my syphilis is clearing right up." Cordelia made a face, but smiled.

"And they say romance is dead." The older slayer thought. "Or maybe they just wish it."

"But we all worked together." Willow said happily. "It was like old times."

"Especially with Angel being here and everything." Xander added, not thinking about what he was saying. Everyone looked at Buffy. "Oops."

***

Faith was lying on Buffy's bed, waiting for her to enter the room. They had gotten back from Giles' a half an hour ago, and Willow, good to her word, was going to crash there for the night.

"You haven't said a word about -" Faith called to her.

"About what?" Buffy asked, interrupting.

"Don't play dumb with me."

"If you wanna know if I'm mad at Angel, I am. Possibly furious. But only at him." She got quiet. "That's where the bag came from! He got it from you, didn't he?"

"Uh huh." She cringed.

"I knew I wasn't going insane. But anyway, if he wants to hide in the shadows and deliver food, he can go right ahead. I might even get around to yelling, and I may take it easy on him. He did help and all. Not tonight, though."

"Got something better to do?"

"Hell yeah." She appeared in the doorway, wearing a red silk robe. "You."

Faith was speechless for a moment. "What are you wearing under there?"

"I think you already know the answer to that." The blonde grinned, walking seductively up to the foot of the bed. Her partner reached for the robe's tie, but she swatted her hand away. "Not yet."

"You're torturing me cause I didn't tell you about him." The brunette pouted, something she would only let Buffy see.

"Think so?"

"Well, I know you want this as much as I do -"

"Ssh." Buffy was contemplating. "Hmm. I guess you'll have to make it up to me, then." Faith nodded, as she was pushed back onto the mattress and Buffy climbed onto the bed. "There's only one thing I can think of that'd fix everything." She smiled. "You have to give yourself to me; let me have my way with you."

"I can live with that." Faith smiled. "After all, it is the start of the giving season. I'm feelin' generous."

"You sure? Cause you're gonna have to live with it for the next few hours."

"Bring it on, B."

Several, *numerous* times, the girls could be heard screaming their thanks throughout the night.

***

"It's as you feared."

"I hoped you weren't going to say that." She walked up to him, masking her sadness. "Don't worry. We'll deal with your brother, and the Project will carry on."

"I believe it's time for the next phase, and I apologize, Mother," A wooden stiletto shot out from his arm, piercing her heart.

"Adam?"

"But you are not part of it. At least, not the way you think." The body of Maggie Walsh crumpled to the floor of Room 314. "You were correct, however. The Project will carry on."

Return to Summary Page


You Are On
The Pink Rabbit Consortium
(click the above link to break out of frames)
Send Comments or Questions to Pink Rabbit Productions
pinkrabbit@altfic.com

| Home | Subtext Zone Art Gallery | Subtext LinksWhat's New | HTDTZ? |
 | Xena Fanfic Archive | Buffy Fanfic Archive | In Process |