Buffy jerked awake. She sat up quickly and searched for the source of whatever had pulled her out of sleep again. It had been a few days since the whole Sidhe-goblin thing, but Buffy immediately went for the iron knife and the stake resting on Giles's endtable. She stood slowly as a loud rustling came from outside, in the vicinity of Giles's car. It sounded very much like a large object being dragged along the ground or something similar. Buffy headed for the door, narrowing her eyes as she carefully unlocked it and turned the knob, waiting for some vampire or evil thing to be waiting.
She pulled the door open swiftly and glanced around outside, stake in hand. All she saw was Giles car. As she stepped out to get a closer look, she noticed the trashcan that Giles kept stored outside had been knocked over. She frowned and stepped nearer, spotting the mess that had been made of the bag. A sigh was all the response she could make to that, lost sleep for raccoons?
A sudden sharp barking sound caught her attention and she whirled again and looked on down the street. She saw several small shapes with bushy tails running down the street away from her. One of the shapes stopped and looked back at her for a moment, turning eyes that reflected greenishly towards her. Then the little shape turned and ran on, tail waving behind it.
Damn Raccoons. Buffy just sighed again and went back inside, relocking and shutting off the outside light. She settled back down on the couch and tried to go back to sleep, but images of glowing green eyes haunted her vision for a good while afterwards until finally she drifted back into rest.
* * * * * *
Buffy awoke again to more crashing outside. She had no idea what time it was, but it was still fully dark in Giles's sitting room. She growled and got up again, throwing open the door as she dashed outside. Several little dark-tailed forms were already heading off down the street as she watched. She muttered something under her breath and went back inside, lying down for what she hoped would be the final time. She tossed and turned for what seemed to be an interminiable period until she started hearing noises in the kitchen.
This time it was personal, and Buffy stood up quickly, grabbing a knife from the bedside table. She charged into the kitchen, hopng irrationally to catch those evil raccoons in the act, though what she would do to a bunch of cute little ring-tailed furry things she didn't immediately contemplate. She burst through the swinging kitchen door with the knife upraised and then stopped dead, seeing a wide-eyed Giles in his robe and slippers, just putting on the kettle for tea. The clock over the stove said it was 6:30 am. Buffy lowered the knife and smiled as cheerfully as she could muster. Then the vicious swinging door smacked her in the back once again.
"I trust that you do not normally lie in wait for early morning kitchen interlopers." Giles set the kettle on the stove and busied himself with starting the rest of his breakfast.
"No, not normally. But tonight I was awakened twice by little evil furry things demonizing the trash." She set the knife on the counter and yawned widely, needing much more sleep than she'd gotten.
"I trust also then that you dispatched them with typical Slayer prowess." Giles covered his own yawn, triggered by her own, and then stretched a little.
"Yeah, I sent those raccoons running. They left quite a mess though-- scattered the trash all over the place." Buffy ran a hand through her hair and sighed a little, starting to feel the chill in her bare feet and legs below the UC Sunnydale shorts she wore.
"Raccoons eh? Well at least it was something harmless. You should try to get some more sleep-- raccoons are nocturnal, so they shouldn't disturb you. I'm just going to be doing some early morning research." The teakettle had started to boil and Giles calmly removed it, pouring some of the hot water into a cup with a small teabag already resting inside. He gently began to steep it as Buffy turned back towards the nasty and vengeful swinging door.
"Alright Giles, I'll see you later or something." Buffy pushed through the door and scampered aside before it could hit back and headed for the couch. Sunlight was beginning to push it's way up along the horizon and Buffy groaned to herself and covered her eyes. Giles was still bustling about in the kitchen, and though he wasn't noisy, Buffy found the noise grating. Outside, a few daring cars started out in the last waves of darkness, relying on the barely-bridging sun to drive away the night creatures Buffy had neglected the evening before. She sighed to herself as she heard the teakettle whistle again-- Giles was really putting it away-- and gathered up her blanket and pillow and headed to Faith's room.
She pushed the door open as quietly as she could and listened. Faith's steady breathing (with the occasional soft snore) remained undisturbed by her intrusion. She tiptoed in and carefully arranged her blanket on the floor, settling herself down next to Faith's bed. The guest room was at the back of the apartment and much, much quieter. She heard nothing from the street or the kitchen, and with a happy sigh she swiftly faded back into sleep for hopefully the final time.
* * * * * *
Faith woke up as to full daylight filtering around the heavy curtains drawn over the window. She yawned a little and blinked the remaining sleep out of her eyes. Her leg felt much better after Willow's daily administrations of wicca-magic, and the stab wound in her stomach had faded to little more than a sore spot. She mentally thanked whatever for her Slayer powers and reached for the old crutch Xander had fished out of his attic from when he'd broken his leg, though under much less glamorous circumstances. She slid off the side of the bed and placed her good foot firmly down on something warm and fleshy. She jerked herself back onto the bed and looked down, hearing Buffy's voice yelp in sudden pain.
"Ouch." Buffy looked up at her from below, blanket ruffled around her legs as she blinked sleepily. Faith looked back at her and lifted an eyebrow, gently prodding the other girl with her foot.
"I don't mind you sneaking in as long as you don't ambush me by sleeping on the floor." Buffy ducked her head apologetically as she sat up cross-legged, blanket curled around her.
"Sorry. It was just much quieter in here. There were some vandalism-prone raccoons outside yesterday evening and then early-rising Gileses that were keeping me awake." The other girl lifted her pillow and hugged it to her middle, still looking up at Faith from her vantage point on the floor.
"S'all good I suppose. If you want to sleep in here, there's the other half of the bed that don't really use. Hopefully this leg will recover soon so I don't have to stay here at all, and then you can return to your quiet-girlie room." Faith lifted the crutch again and stood up once more, making her way towards the door slowly. "Gotta hit the restroom. Be back soon." Buffy stood up as Faith left and started gathering up her blanket and pillow, rubbing her side briefly from where Faith had kicked her. The thought of sleeping in the same bed as Faith was faintly titillating in a dangerous viper's-nest sort of way. She headed back out into the main room and dropped her bedding on the couch in a heap and started going through her bag for the clothes she wanted to wear today.
Giles looked up from the book he was reading and muttered a good morning as she rustled through her things and headed back towards the closed bathroom door with morning stuff in her arms. She waited as she heard the toilet flush and then Faith emerged, narrowly missing Buffy with the crutch as she stepped out.
"You've just got a talent for finding my blast radius this morning B." Faith half-smiled and headed back down the hall again, slowly, to get herself up. Buffy didn't say anything, simply fleeing into the bathroom for her morning rituals. She showered as quickly as she could and blowdried equally so, wanting to be up and not in sleep mode quickly though she wasn't quite sure what her particular rush was. It was Saturday morning, something like nine am, and Buffy idly wondered how she would spend the remaining wakeful hours she had today. Finally she finished her morning rituals and opened the door again, sending out a waft of hot, steamy air into the hall and nearly walked into Faith once more in the narrow hallway.
"We've got to stop meeting this way." Faith hopped past her with reasonable grace into the bathroom and shut the door. Faith was back to being able to perform all basic needs with the aid of the crutch (which she sometimes addressed as Buffy to annoy the shorter girl), but Buffy had been staying around Giles's place still, just ot make sure that nothing untoward went on between him and Faith. Giles chose mostly to ignore the situation and behaved courteously to both of them, drinking his tea and reading his books, with the occasional British Acid Rock record playing in the background.
"Yeah, I suppose we should just start scheduling our run-ins to avoid these near-misses." Buffy headed back into the main room again and tucked her sleeping clothes away in the bag. She stretched upwards and felt a few vertebrae in her back crack. She felt like she was getting old, but she knew that to be an illusion generated by her near-weekly near-death experiences. Hell, some of them had even turned out to be real-death experiences. She wandered over behind Giles to see what he was reading, and stood on her tiptoes to see over the Englishman's shoulder. Giles cleared his throat at her interference and half-turned to look back at her.
"It's a tract on the aftermath of the last recorded Ascension and the blight that followed it. I'm just trying to determine whether the attack by Magurados was causing the sleeping difficulties we all faced, or if that was a part of a larger dysfunction. The Healing seemed to cure it for the general populace as far as I can see, but consequences can be subtle and far-reaching."
"Don't I know it." Buffy stepped back from the woodblock print of the dead people scattered around their burning homes in Giles's book. "I think I will just leave you to that. Maybe I'll watch some cartoons or something. It wouldn't do for me to absorb excessive useful information during the summer." She turned and wandered back over to the couch and turned on Giles's smallish TV set. Surprisingly, Giles did have cable, and she quickly found an early morning episode of Pokémon. She settled onto the couch and let the mind-numbing cuteness of badly translated anime seep into her. It was a very nice day outside, but she had little desire to do anything but vegetate for a little while.
A few moments later she heard Faith making her way down the hall. The taller brunette made her way in and gave a fairly cheerful good morning to Giles as she checked out the room and then headed for the couch in front of the TV. She carefully set herself down about a foot away from Buffy and started letting the silly cartoon seep into her mind as well. The two of them watched the cartoon in silence until a commercial came up and Buffy felt her stomach rumble. She stood up and headed into the kitchen, this time adroitly dodging the swinging door's vicious assault. She proceeded to rummage through Giles's fridge and found a remarkable lack of unhealthy morning food. Eventually she settled on some baby carrots from a plastic bag. She bore her prize back into the main room just as the show started up again, into the pathetic Pokérap segment that ended every episode. She rolled her eyes and chomped down on the helpless little carrots in the bag. Faith looked over at Buffy's choice of food items and raised an eyebrow for what seemed the hundredth time that morning.
"Vegetable matter can be digested by Slayer metabolisms in small amounts. Just can't let ourselves overdose on this stuff. It has the potential to improve eyesight and promote strong teeth and bones." She offered the bag to Faith who reluctantly took one of the small orange veggies and crunched it. Faith's expression went through a comical series of doubt, relief, and finally contentment as she finished it off, and she immediately reached over for another from the bag. The two of them waited through the credits of the show while contentedly munching on baby carrots until Animaniacs started up and Faith began singing along with the theme song. Buffy joined in with the words that she knew, and they had gotten most of the way through it until Giles gave them a strange look, half-seeming annoyed and half like he was trying not to laugh. They lapsed into a guilty sort of silence, wondering if they'd been caught on camera. At that moment there was a knock on the door which drew all eyes in the room, and Buffy rose to answer it. It was Xander, wearing his usual inquisitively-cute-puppy look as he leaned on the doorframe.
"Morning. I was just stopping by to see if there was any dark and mysterious evil in the making, or at least a little anti-social mischief. Anything that didn't involve staying home with my siblings." Xander was preparing to leave on his cross-country hike, but hadn't quite made it out of town yet. Buffy gestured for him to enter with the now half-empty bag of baby carrots and he quickly spotted Faith on the couch and the TV blaring out with the Goodfeathers.
"We're just making sure that all our aquired knowledge from high scho-- from the past is eliminated as quickly as possible." Xander proceeded further in and made a nervous sort of nod in greeting to Faith. Faith gave him a cheery full smile, intended and successful in throwing him off. He settled on the couch on the opposite side of Faith from Buffy, causing the other two to scoot down just a bit to make room for him. This ended with Faith a little closer to Buffy, and the three of them proceeded to watch the cartoon, chuckling at the occasional bit of cleverness that the show could come up with.
"I knew that pidgeons had some sort of syndicate going, but I was unaware of the sheer extent of their power over the world." Xander sat forward, his elbows resting on his knees as he watched, more than somewhat nervous around the two Slayers, one who had tried to kill him, and one on whom he had had a secret crush for a while.
"Never underestimate the power of creatures with built-in airstrike capabilities." That was Faith, still crunching away on the baby carrots. The segment ended and another set of annoying commercials came up. There was another knock at the door and Buffy rose again to answer it, blinking a little as she moved to admit Willow and Oz.
"Willow, you I can accept, but Oz-- I didn't think you existed before noon."
"Morning to you too sunshine." Oz shuffled in behind Willow, looking distinctly upset at the situation as well. "I sort of haven't been asleep yet actually. Late rehearsal and all that." Willow smiled a little at that and patted Oz's hand as she looked over at Xander and Faith.
"I guess we all had similar ideas. Get up early on a Saturday morning and cast magic spells and battle nasty monsters right?" Giles lifted an eyebrow from his place at the table, but didn't say anything.
"No, nothing so normal as that. We're watching cartoons. Join us in ritual intellect extinguishment." Buffy settled back onto the couch again, handing Faith the bag of carrots with only a few frightened specimens left inside. Oz and Willow moved to the other end of the couch, next to Buffy, and started working their way in. The addition of two more people caused Xander, Buffy and Faith to crush towards the end and resulted in all of them being shoulder to shoulder, Xander, Faith, Buffy, Willow and Oz. They adjusted themselves quickly into places as the show started back up, the theme for Pinky and the Brain playing from the small speaker.
"Now all we need is Cordelia and the party would be complete." Xander spoke with ill-concealed sarcasm as they got settled in. At that moment, there was a knock on the door again which drew all heads in that direction instantly. "No way." Buffy growled something and stood up again and answered the door, revealing her mother.
"Oh. Hi mom." The others breathed a sigh of relief-- Cordelia was safely out of town as far as they all knew, off to LA to try and work her way through college on loans and part-time employment. Joyce lifted her brows at the group of them situated on the couch in front of the TV. There was a chorus of 'Hi Mrs. Summerses' from the assmbled crew and Joyce moved through the room, passing in front of the TV.
"Oh, Faith, when did you get out of the hospital finally? And what happened to your leg?" Faith looked startled but she had fortunately kicked her crutch under the couch to save space and she merely shrugged a little to the question.
"Its just a sprain. Not really anything really bad-- almost healed up even. And I got out yesterday, but I stayed here to avoid the dangers presented by stairs." Joyce gave Buffy a look that promised recriminations later for not telling her, and Buffy wilted a little as she retook her place on the couch, wedging herself in against Faith and Willow once again.
"Well, you're still welcome to stay with us when you feel up to it." She headed past them towards Giles who had set down his book and stood from his scholastics as Joyce entered. "Hello Rupert. I just came by to see if I could pick up my dessert dishes. I've got a dinner with some clients, and I want to use them for the flan."
"Yes, yes of course. They're in the kitchen-- I'll just fetch them for you." Giles headed into the kitchen and held the evil swinging door for Joyce as they swept inside.
"Wow. Your mom is really kind-hearted B." Faith felt the other Slayer's warmth next to her own as a tingling reminder of the shower they'd taken earlier that week. She and Buffy had been in each other's presence pretty continually that week, and while they hadn't gotten into any major fights, they had spent their share of time arguing. She met the smaller blonde's eyes as the image of Brain dressed in a little blonde wig and pink dress danced around the screen.
"Yeah. She's sometimes very cool." Buffy looked away first and stared down at her hands, still clutching the now empty carrot bag.
"Shh!" That was the consensus from the others, who were now deep into the show. Faith and Buffy looked suitably reprimanded, but their attention was still mostly on one another. Faith unobtrusively reached for the bag of baby carrots only to swiftly discover it was empty. She let her hand fall in failure, but onto Buffy's thigh, and did not immediately remove it. Buffy seemed to tense at first, but then she let the empty bag fall off the front of the sofa and settled her hand atop Faith's, then turned her eyes to the show, trying very hard to ignore the implications of what she was doing. Faith felt a brief surge of euphoria go through her at the tiny gesture, but quickly squelched it and focused as much as she could on the cartoons and not on the warm, smooth, muscular contours of Buffy's thigh through the little khaki pants she was wearing, though the rush of blood to her temples made it hard to hear the dialogue.
* * * * * *
Giles and Joyce headed into the kitchen as the kids continued watching their cartoons. Giles opened one of his cupboards and pulled out the dessert dishes, all neatly cleaned and stacked. He handed them to Joyce with a solemn expression, as if he were changing the guard or something.
"Here we are. All should be in order-- I simply must get that custard recipe from you at some point." Joyce smiled and took the dishes, feeling her hands brush Giles's briefly as he passed them over. The awkwardness between them persisted, though it wasn't nearly as strong as it had been closer to that whole incident with the candy. Their eyes met briefly and they exchanged a small smile.
"Oh, sure-- why don't you stop by later this evening and I'll make a copy of it for you, if you're not busy that is." Joyce held the dishes against her body to keep them balanced and felt them clank and shift a little, causing her to adjust her hands around them.
"I think I will. I shouldn't be busy tonight, since there isn't any pressing...business going on." Giles adjusted his glasses and then reached out a hand as Joyce fumbled with the dishes yet again, the decorative things not being made to be carried in a stack. He took the top three from her and held them gently, leaving her with the others.
"Thank you." Joyce looked towards the kitchen door and then at Giles still holding the three dessert cups. "I guess I'd better be going then. I'll be home pretty much all evening." Giles nodded and followed her out the door, carrying the three little dishes out after her. They passed the crew of teenagers still raptly intent on the TV and a "Bye mom" was mixed in with a chorus of "Bye Mrs. Summers" as Joyce passed. Giles followed her to the car and set the cups on the passenger seat with the rest. He then moved around to the other side and held the door open for her.
"Thank you again, and see you later." Joyce smiled tightly once more and started up the engine as Giles stepped away. She pulled out of the driveway as Giles watched, waving once before roaring off back home. Giles turned around with his hands in his pockets and went back inside, heading back for his books on the table.
* * * * *
The cartoons progressed for another forty-five minutes with the whole gang making comments and watching raptly. Eventually, however, the spell broke as Oz started to nod off against the side of the couch, his long night of rehearsal having worn him out. Willow carefully shook him awake and then assisted him in rising as she looked back at the others.
"I think we'd better be going before he goes to sleep all puppy style again or something." She looked apologetically at them all and Oz made a comment that could mostly be interpreted as "Mmmrrf." The two of them edged out the door to leave Xander, Faith and Buffy still wedged together. Xander had noticed the hand on the thigh thing a while back, but didn't say anything even as the others left. He just stretched and stood, leaving the two Slayers still pressed against each other on the couch.
"I think I'd better head out too. Eventually I swear I am going hiking. I'm almost all the way packed again too." He headed for the door as Buffy and Faith waved goodbyes after him, and with that, the two of them were alone again, except for Giles immersed in his readings in the half-separated dining room. The two of them just looked at each other for a moment and then Faith finally spoke, unable to take the silence, or the closeness without the excuse of the others crowding the couch.
"Take me out somewhere. Anywhere at all, as long as it is out of here." She fixed Buffy with a pleading look, having been stultifyingly bored for much of the past few days in Giles's very English and very non youth-cultured apartment.
"Like where? I mean, it has to be in walking distance mostly since we don't have a car, and it has to be relatively close walking distance since, well, the leg thing." Buffy looked back at Faith and shrugged a little, understanding the other girl's boredom, but not quite sure how to alleviate it.
"What about the mocha shop and then a movie or something? Normally I would suggest walking through Sunnydale's scenic cemeteries, but it is still broadish daylight out." It was close to noon by this time, and the first movie showings around town were at two. That gave them plenty of time to walk/hobble to the coffeeshop and then on to the theater, which was not much further away.
"That sounds like a date. Sure." Buffy jumped up from the couch and ran for their shoes. She also grabbed her little black weapons bag and came back into the main room while Faith hauled her crutch out from under the couch. As Buffy came back in, Giles stood up and got his car keys from their little peg on the wall. She lifted an eyebrow at him while giving Faith a hand up, and then two Slayers looked at him with mingled hope and disbelief on their faces.
"I'll give you a ride as far as the coffeeshop and would much prefer if you return either here or to Joyce's house before dark." Giles had long since given up on restraining the social impulses of young Slayers, and the two of them hi-fived each other and headed for the door. The three of them piled into Giles's pathetic car and rumbled off, making a swift path through the summer day to the coffeeshop, at which point Giles pulled over to the curb and turned to face them both.
"I mean it, back somewhere before dark. I know you are both quite capable, but I would rather not take chances."
"Yes Giles." They spoke in unison, sounding like young schoolgirls as they struggled out. Buffy turned back before she shut the door.
"Thanks Giles-- making all that way here on foot would have been unpleasant in the heat." She smiled at him and shut the door, and he drove off again quickly, leaving the two girls on the doorstep of the coffeehouse. They opened the door, sounding a little bell, and quickly took up stools as they looked at each other. Buffy broke the suddenly formed wall of uncomfortable silence with a blunt question.
"So. Why did you go work for the Mayor?"
* * * * * *
Across the street, a few figures lounged in the shadows of an alleyway across the street. They looked like normal street punks, tattered jeans, leather jackets and piercings, except for one tiny detail. They all had a single small horn protruding from the center of their foreheads. They were all also Asian looking, with long dark hair tied back in silken ponytails. They watched the cafe and the two Slayers as they entered, and one of them, the largest, spoke a quick phrase to all the others and gestured with his head at the small coffeeshop. The rest of them pushed away from the walls they had been leaning against and headed across the street, hands in the pockets of their jackets.
* * * * * *
"What difference does it make now B? He's dead." They had both ordered mochas and were waiting for them to be made by the harried counter clerk. Faith went immediately pure defensive at the question, her expression becoming a mask and her tone that usual rebellious and angry one.
"It makes all the difference in the world Faith. We trusted you, we liked you, and you were welcome to stay with us. Then suddenly, that thing happened, and you went berzerk and just... weren't like the Faith we knew anymore." Buffy rested her arms on the countertop and looked Faith relentlessly in the eye. They'd tried to have this discussion, or at least Buffy had tried, before, but it had never worked through Faith's walls of denial. Faith didn't meet Buffy's insistent gaze and instead studied some of the local artwork which decorated the walls of the little coffeeplace.
"I've always been the same Faith. You never knew everything about me, and you didn't and don't want to." Faith still didn't meet Buffy's eyes, but the challenge in her tone was clear. Still, part of Faith wanted to tell Buffy everything, every wound, ever reason, every mistake. She suppressed that urge easily from long habit, and just continued to gaze stonily at the wall.
"You don't know me either Faith, but I want to know you. I want to understand you, and I want to trust you. Please don't shut me out." Buffy extended a hand very carefully and touched Faith's, still watching her with soulful eyes. Faith stiffened, but didn't immediately withdraw her hand, conflict raging in her eyes.
"The Mayor cared about me. He praised me. He thanked me. He supported me. You all left me in a fleabag motel room on-call for Slayer duties." Faith raised her eyes more slowly to Buffy's as she spoke slowly, still unsure herself sometimes why she had done what she'd done.
"Faith-- I didn't think of it that way, and neither did the others. We couldn't afford to give you a fully furnished studio apartment, but you could have come to stay with me long before, or even with Giles. I'm sorry we didn't offer, but I at least wasn't sure how you'd react or what you wanted. We certainly never just thought of you as 'that extra Slayer chick.' You were our friend." She squeezed Faith's hand gently as she looked into the other's eyes, wondering what depths of rage remained there.
"It sure felt that way sometimes B. I mean, you all had school together, which I know I couldn't participate in, and then you always had those little get-togethers in and out of the library, half of which I never knew about until later when you called me to dispense the current Slayer assignment. I mean, most of the time I spent hanging out with you was on patrol. Even that time at Christmas, you ran off after Angel and left me with your mother."
"I had to fight off another huge evil demonic thing, like always. You know that."
"You didn't tell me that at the time." Their voices were rising, and they didn't notice the startled look of the counter clerk and a few of the other nearby patrons. Nor did they notice the group of horned gang members gathering outside the window of the shop.
"I didn't know at the time. I just knew that something was wrong." Buffy's voice had risen in protest as she felt older hurts related to Angel welling up. Faith opened her mouth to say something else when the large plate glass window crashed in, bringing several leather jacketed gang members with it. Customers screamed and started to flee, but the horned men ignored them as they stepped in, their faces twisted in sneers as they made for the two Slayers. Buffy immediately stood and threw her still-steaming mocha in the face of the leader and then followed it up with an uppercut along his jaw. Faith stood up, still leaning against the countertop, and lifted her crutch with both hands. The weird horny guys were concentrating on Buffy, but since Buffy was standing less than three feet from Faith, that sort of left her in easy reach. She hefted the crutch and swung it hard onto the head of one bad guy, sending him sprawling as the three remaining all charged the two Slayers at once. Faith simply raised the crutch, thin end out, and let one of the young Asian demons run into it solar-plexus first. The momentum unbalanced Faith and she fell sideways to the floor, fortunately not on her injured leg. Buffy had no such handy weapon to fend off the other two with, and she ended up bashing one through the glass display case next to the register, but the other wrapped his arms around her waist and propelled her to the floor. She drove her elbow forcefully into his back after she fell, struggling for breath. She felt the young demon's horn driving into her ribs painfully as they struggled. Faith had maneuvered partway upright by this time, and she raised the crutch two-handed once more and brought it down on the demon's back with all her force. His grip loosened under that assault and Buffy was able to win free, and proceeded to bash the man's head into the tiled floor sideways until he stopped fighting back.
The leader had stood up by this time, but he didn't attack again, just wavered on his feet with large scald marks on his face. He said something in an Asian language with no subtitles and then leapt back out of the picture window. The others began to do the same as Buffy and Faith looked around the now-empty shop. Buffy exhaled heavily as the other gang members got up and watched her warily, then started to leave as well. She couldn't really fight them all right now, and her bag of weapons might as well have been a million miles away on the counter. She stood and watched them go, then offered a hand to Faith and helped the other girl stand and get the crutch back beneath her.
"You know, trying to battle demons with a broken leg one leg is just the ultimate in bad-suck situations." Faith straightened herself out as much as she could and checked her reflection in the mirrored counter. "You still feel like trying to catch that movie?"
"Sure. How does Austin Powers sound?" Buffy looked anxiously out the window for any sign of approaching police cars. None had yet appeared, but she took Faith's good arm and started navigating the rubble of the store.
"Sounds killer. Let's motor. Oh-- Buffy, your face..!" Faith pointed to Buffy's cheek, and Buffy lifted a hand and felt a hot wetness welling there. She turned and looked at the polished countertop and saw a nasty gash probably caused by the breaking glass. She pressed her hand against her cheek, and then felt Faith's hand next to it, holding one of Giles's handkerchiefs against the bloodflow. She answered Buffy's questioning shift of eyes as she gently turned towards the broken window. "Giles gave me this in case the other cut opened up again, but there isn't much chance of that now." Buffy just nodded and smiled a little as she made her way through the shop. After a moment she took the handkerchief and held it in place herself while Faith moved with her, much more easily now than even just a few days ago. They stepped out of the broken plate glass window as a fallen table had blocked the door and headed on down the street with relative speed, trying to put as much distance as possible between them and their opponents.
After a block or two Buffy lifted the handkerchief from her cheek, looking up at Faith.
"Has it stopped bleeding?" Faith nodded as she saw the scab starting to form and she gently took the handkerchief and dabbed at the blood smearing the other girl's cheek. The injury on Faith's face was still present, healing swiftly, but not for a Slayer. Buffy lifted a finger to brush it gently, watching Faith stiffen as she did so.
"Twins." She hid the hurt that Faith's constant unease caused her, and hid the reason for that hurt from herself as she moved her hand away and started on down the street, slowing her pace to match that of the still-injured other Slayer. Faith smiled a little as she made her awkward way along, but didn't say anything. She didn't want to finish the discussion they'd had earlier, but she knew it would be finished somehow, eventually. She wanted desperately to spend time with Buffy, desperately to have her attention, her affection, but the past hung between them like a black wall, and every time Buffy touched her, Faith felt both elation and guilt running through her like fire. A few more minutes passed in the silence between them, and it almost seemed like Faith could feel them sliding away, never to be returned.
"Have you ever died Faith?" Buffy let the question fall into the still air between them, kicking a pebble down the sidewalk as she asked the question. Faith frowned at the question and gave Buffy an odd look.
"No, at least, I hope not, since if I had I would almost certainly have to be a vampire to be walking here, and that route hasn't worked out well for you before." Faith regretted the words the second after they left her mouth, but she just let it go and awaited Buffy's anger.
"I died once, for a few minutes, as you well know since you would not be here if I hadn't. But I died again, later, when I sent Angel to hell. Part of me flew through that portal with him and it never quite healed the right way. I died once more after that, Faith, when I stabbed you, and when I watched you fall. All I could see was myself falling, feel something like boiling lead run through my stomach. I remember being elated when I found out you were alive, even if in a coma. And most of all I remember hating the Mayor for manipulating us against each other." Buffy didn't look up as she spoke, still kicking rocks down the road. Faith didn't immediately respond, and Buffy didn't look at her as she took another breath and continued speaking. "And he did Faith-- the whole way. He made you feel great, yeah, showered you with gifts and attention, yeah, but he also made you hurt the people who cared the most about you. He was a demon. They're good at that-- believe me, one of them once almost got my mother to burn me at the stake." Buffy stopped then, and swallowed hard. She didn't trust herself to look up, and see once again that she had failed to get through Faith's spiky personal shell. "But there is a point to this Faith, see, because what I mean by all that was that I never wanted to hurt you, and never wanted to fight with you. I've said that before, and I cannot say it enough. What I really want to know is...did you want to hurt me?" She paused again, and this time found no more words. She had just accidentally poured out a large part of her soul and she waited patiently for Faith to shred it, but hoped against hope that it wouldn't be that way. Faith still hadn't answered and all Buffy heard was the rhythmic striking of the crutch against the cement.
There was no one else on the street. A few police cars went past them with sirens blaring, and a few pidgeons fled from their approach. Faith just kept walking alongside Buffy, then finally stopped and covered her mouth with her hand and shut her eyes. Buffy stopped with her and turned around, watching Faith as she stood there, her eyes boring into the other girl, heart pounding.
"No." The words were almost too soft to hear, and Faith opened her eyes again as she looked at Buffy, her expression back to normal. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but she just shook her head.
"Well, one word answers are good I suppose. You aren't the only who is hurting Faith, and you don't have to do it alone. I tried to reject all the same people, and they dragged me back because they cared, and they still care-- about you. I care about you." Buffy waited, both for Faith to say something, anything, and also for some other monster to attack. Whenever they had an honest moment, something interrupted. Or so it seemed. She almost wished for something to attack to break the tension that had tears trembling in her eyes unshed and hung around them both like enormous steel coils.
"I'm sorry." That was all Faith said, again very softly as she turned and carefully studied every fascinating detail of the wall next to her. "I'm sorry, and please don't do this to me. Please not now..." Faith took a careful breath as she continued to look at the wall, standing rigidly still in the middle of the sidewalk.
"Then when Faith?" Buffy placed her hands on Faith's shoulders, only to have the other girl shake her off. "We can't just coexist without facing these things. You can't just run away from problems." Faith frowned and looked back at Buffy, her eyes starting to hold anger again.
"Just watch me. I made it on my own before, and I can again." Belying her words, Faith didn't move.
"Besides the obvious physical obstacles to that, I would point out that the last time you ran from something life-affectingly major, it followed you and nearly killed you like it did your watcher. I probably wouldn't do that, but would you be happy running away again? Where would you go?" Buffy stayed in front of Faith, not quite touching her, but she stared directly into Faith's eyes.
"Anywhere. Buffy, you don't get it-- it doesn't matter if I'm happy as long as I'm safe. That makes me happy, just to be left alone." Faith forced the words out. They were comfortably familiar, the impulse to run away an old one.
"That doesn't make sense Faith, and I don't believe you." Buffy crossed her arms defiantly as she waited.
"It doesn't matter what you believe." Faith spoke flatly, the rage suddenly not there when she needed it.
"It matters to me, and it should matter to you-- I want you here, and I want to understand you, to be there for you. Don't shut me out." Buffy nearly placed her hands on Faith's shoulders again, but stopped herself as she gazed directly into the other girl's eyes. Faith just blinked as she looked back at Buffy, and then she lifted her own hands, letting the crutch fall to the ground with a clatter. She twined her fingers with Buffy's and just looked at her for a moment, then took a deep breath.
"I won't leave. I don't think I can at this point. I know I can't leave being the Slayer. Being called was the best thing that ever happened to me, in some ways. Just don't-- don't push me. It makes me angry." Faith made a pale attempt at an apologetic smile, then released Buffy's hands. "Buffy I-" Need You she had almost said. "I don't want to shut you out, but this is really hard for me." She spoke with calculated calmness as her heart slowly stopped racing. Faith could barely believe herself, but she knew for certain that she didn't want the other road open to her.
"I know it is Faith. I've been there, been through my own slice of hell. I'll be here for you when you feel ready." She offered a little bit of a smile, and was pleased when Faith matched it.
"I said it before and I'll say it again. Still feel like the movie?" Faith started to bend down to get the crutch, but Buffy beat her to it, handing it to her quickly.
"Sure, the antics of an impossibly lust-filled superspy vs. his indelibly clichéd supervillain would do well to break up this mood I think." Buffy let the change of subject go, feeling like she had finally made some progress with Faith. Hopefully that would make life around Sunnydale a little easier.
They did make it to the movie without further incidents. The theater was terribly cold, as such places often are, and Buffy found herself shivering in the sleeveless top she had chosen to wear. Faith, with her unique taste in clothes, had worn a little red shirt with a black jacket-like thing. She pulled it off and offered it to Buffy who took it gratefully, leaning towards Faith as she clutched her hands up close under her jaw. Faith hesitated for a moment, then, emboldened by the thigh incident on the couch earlier, she let her arm fall around Buffy's smaller shoulders. Buffy didn't flinch away, and Faith let herself relax, heart pounding again in a way it never did when she was in a fight. It was amazing how strong Buffy was for her size, but that was part of the whole Slayer thing she supposed. Buffy stopped shivering fairly quickly and they just sat peacefully through the rest of the film, which was entertaining both in spite of and because of it's cheesier elements.
As the credits rolled, they stood and shuffled out with the rest of the moviegoing crowd. Buffy cut a path for Faith and they made their way out fairly swiftly, emerging into the late afternoon sunlight blinking at the brightness. It was about four, and that left them plenty of time to make their way back someplace on foot, though the heat made it tempting to call Buffy's mom. They decided in the end to just walk, and this time Buffy kept wearing Faith's little black jacket as they went, not speaking, just enjoying a silence that seemed at least companionable.
The two of them had travelled about halfway back to Buffy's house when they heard a loud group of children in an alleyway nearby, laughing in that cruel way that only children can. They exchanged a glance and then turned down the alleyway and spotted a group of five young boys surrounding a small red animal in the back corner of the alley. They were throwing rocks and bottles at it, and ignoring it's pained yelps. The poor little thing had obviously hurt it's foot and was trying to limp out of the way of their projectiles. Buffy and Faith stepped forward a little and Faith shouted at the kids, feeling her heart go out to the poor little thing.
"Hey! Stop that you little rat-bastards! Leave that poor thing alone!" Faith yelled at them as they stepped up, glad to have someplace to vent a little anger, if not violence. The kids turned and sneers took their faces as they raised their hands, projectiles ready, and turned towards the two Slayers.
"Whatcha gonna do, make us?" The leader was a freckled boy with red hair. He looked to be about eleven, and he had an empty beer bottle in his hand. Buffy lifted her brows at him as she picked up a two-by-four and held it up.
"Yeah, we're gonna make you. Batter up." The boy threw his bottle and Buffy didn't even attempt to hit it, letting it fly past her as she headed straight for him. His eyes widened at the image of this ferocious young blonde charging him with a big stick, and he backed up against the alley wall, near what Buffy saw to be a cringing baby fox with it's tail curled beneath itself against the wall.
"Get out of here." Buffy shoved the boy away from the wall and he ran off, his friends following him. Buffy shook her head as she tossed down the board and looked over at Faith as the other girl crutched her way up.
"The poor thing." Faith looked down at the fox which just looked imploringly back at her, and she frowned. "What can we do with it?"
"I think we should take it with us. You mind if I put it in your jacket?" Buffy slipped off the jacket at Faith's affirmation and carefully crept towards the little Fox.
"Here Fox-- come on, we won't hurt you." She held out the jacket as she edged closer, and to both of their surprise the little fox just hobbled over to them and hopped into the jacket. Buffy wrapped it up and lifted it in her arms, leaving only a little red muzzle and two luminous green eyes gazing out at them.
"Its adorable!" Faith looked at the little fox and tremulously extended a finger to gently rub it's muzzle. The fox didn't try to bite her, and merely held still as she touched the rough short hairs of it's face. Buffy clutched it gently against herself and she looked back up at Faith.
"Let's get home-- this little guy needs to see a vet or something." Faith nodded and they started towards Buffy's house. As they walked from the more commercial areas into the residential districts, they noticed one universal fact along the way. Every outdoor trashcan had been tipped over and the contents scattered on the ground. The little fox made a short, sharp bark as they passed all the trash cans, then just sat silently. They continued towards Buffy's house, looking at the little fox the whole way back.
* * * * * *
The one-horned gangsters roamed the streets of Sunnydale as dusk neared the horizon. Their boss had not been pleased with their failure to eliminate the two threats. Admittedly, the group of them had ignored the Boss's warnings and assumed that it would be no problem to kill two young girls, one of which had a broken leg. The bruises and cuts from that fight still stung, but not nearly as much as their ravaged egos, and now they wanted revenge. This time they traveled with knives, balisongs shoved in the pockets of their leather jackets. They walked in a loose pack along the alleyways, keeping away from the main roads. The usual night denizens avoided them as something new and dangerous, and they searched carefully through the part of town where they had first seen the two girls. That wasn't yielding any good results right away, and they ended up venting their frustrations on a couple of vampires and a few other innocent bystanders, leaving a trail of battered and dying humans and considerable dust. They even broke a few car and shop windows and stole a few things, just to keep their gang image up, and then fled as the cops finally started arriving. They would find the two girls in time, but this town was going to be their soon, and there was no hurry, no matter what the boss said.
* * * * * *
Xander tied down all the straps on his pack for what he hoped would be the final time. It was definitely about the right juncture for leaving. Faith's reawakening and insertion into the group's conciousness was really what had cemented this idea in his mind. He still had something of a thing for Buffy, but it was mostly faded. He still had a little bit of a thing for Faith too, as sick as that sounded. The only girl he really still wanted to be with was Cordelia, and she was long gone, off to LA or elsewhere, and he would probably never see her again. His place here was fading, and his family was only getting worse. It was time to leave. He sighed a bit and changed into his pajamas, settling down to read and maybe listen to music for a while, until he got tired and could sleep.
* * * * * *
The sky was beginning to turn orange at it's farthest edges as the two girls made their way to Buffy's house. Buffy still held the little fox in the jacket, surprised that it had never struggled or even moved really. It just kept watching them with it's bright green eyes, letting itself be carried gently. She gently shifted the fox to one arm and pulled out her keys, fumbling with the lock until she got the door open and headed inside. Faith followed after her, and tugged the door closed as she stepped inside.
"Mom! I'm home!" Buffy called out as they headed towards the kitchen. Joyce's car had been in the driveway, and they heard rustlings from the kitchen area as they headed down the hall. Buffy pushed open the kitchen door with Faith close behind her and stopped in shock as soon as she did. Faith tried to peer over her shoulders or around her until she too saw what Buffy had seen.
Giles and Joyce were in the kitchen, but they were like, standing there in a tight embrace. She blinked a couple of times and then just shrugged a little.
"Has someone been selling you bad chocolate again?" She stepped further into the room, still holding the baby fox wrapped in Faith's jacket. Buffy set the fox gently on the table and just lifted her brows at her mom and Giles. Faith had rarely felt as uncomfortable as she did now, and she wondered if she should leave, or stay and try to remain unnoticed. She chose the second option, not feeling comfortable with wandering off through Buffy's house yet without an invitation, and she merely leaned against the wall and looked at the floor. Joyce and Giles just looked shocked, and then stepped rapidly apart.
"No...I mean, I was just here and getting that recipe from Joyce and we just got to talking and-- I'll be leaving now." Giles rushed for the door, past Buffy and Faith and on down the hall. The two girls watched him leave, then turned back to Joyce, who had sat down at the table and gently massaged the back of her neck with one hand.
"Well, I should remember that one rarely gets private moments when one has kids. Mr. Giles and I have been...awkward since that first incident, until tonight, and now I think we will be again. What animal have you brought into my house?" Joyce was handling herself with remarkable composure, but Faith supposed that she'd probably been through this before. The fox had decided to move out a little and was nosing free of the jacket to explore on wobbly legs.
"No dodging mom-- I mean, GILES? My WATCHER?" She furrowed her brows at her mother and then threw up her hands. "I mean, I suppose I should have known this would happen, but...Giles?" Joyce's expression went a little more angry at that.
"Giles is a very intelligent, very funny and lonely man. He just happens to be your watcher, but he is still a person. Now, what is this?" She gestured to the fox, considering the subject of her and Giles closed for now, since it made her uncomfortable too.
"That is a baby fox. Some kids were trying to kill it, and we rescued it. It's hurt, and we couldn't just leave it there all alone-- though I don't know what a fox was doing in downtown Sunnydale." The baby fox nosed over towards Joyce and started sniffing at her delicately, limping on its injured back leg. It looked up at her with intelligent green eyes and just blinked, little ears twitching. Faith considered it safe to come in now, and she made her way into the kitchen quietly, coming up behind Buffy.
"Oh, the poor little thing. You know that foxes are wild animals and you can't keep it right?" Joyce looked at the fox again, and it just yipped slightly and sat down on the table, curling it's large fluffy tail around it's feet. She made no move to pet it, but simply watched it, a little puzzled by how unafraid of humans it was.
"I know mom-- I just thought that maybe we could take it to a vet, or just bandage up it's foot and let it heal a little." The fox looked between them both as they spoke, little mouth hanging just slightly open. Faith just watched it, and then extended her hand carefully again, and ran it down the little fox's back. The fox didn't move, just let itself be stroked, still looking between the two speakers.
"Well, I suppose we can't just put it out-- but wash your hands after you touch it young ladies." Joyce looked up at Faith as she spoke, and Faith put on her best innocent expression and nodded. "And it seems like the fox isn't the only one with a bandaged leg. Faith, how did that happen?" Joyce was afraid that Faith had gone out Slaying again while she was obviously not at full strength.
"Err.. well.." Faith stumbled a moment, remembering that they hadn't wanted to tell Mrs. Summers the whole story at first, but then Buffy spoke up.
"She was kidnapped from the hospital for a little while by a nasty evil elf woman, and we got her back, but she isn't quite up to healed yet, again, without any help from the previous injuries." Buffy said it straightforwardly and Joyce looked at Buffy from beneath her eyebrows. "I didn't tell you before because I know how that kind of thing worries you, and so now she's back, and all ready to stay with us for an extended period, right Faith?"
"Uh, sure." Faith had continued petting the little fox and just blinked a few times, sure that Buffy knew how best to handle her mother.
"Faith you really have to be more careful-- first falling off that building and then this. I know that Slaying is dangerous, but this is twice in three weeks." Joyce was as yet unaware of the full extent of Faith's later betrayals, and all she knew was that the girl had fallen from a high place and ended up in the hospital in a coma. "As for you young lady..." She fixed her gaze on Buffy once again. "I thought we had an agreement about this lying business?" Buffy lowered her eyes and set her hands in her lap.
"Yeah, I know mom, and I'm sorry. I just didn't want you to worry. I knew we'd get her back. It wouldn't have helped to call the police, as usual." Joyce didn't look pleased by that explanation, but she let it slide, standing up and heading for the medicine cabinet to get some of the bandages and disinfectants she kept around, usually more for Buffy. Faith just set a hand on Buffy's shoulder and leaned down next to her ear to whisper.
"Thanks B." She hadn't known what to say at all, but this route was much easier. Buffy just smiled at her a little and then extended her own hand and gently petted the fox, which once again put up no resistance. Faith idly thought that it would be awful nice to be petting Buffy, but she shoved that aside quickly and watched as the adorable little thing just watched them right back with wide staring eyes.
"It is really human-friendly for a wild animal.. I wonder if it's someone's missing pet. We should put an ad in the paper or something." Faith pulled up a secondary chair and slid herself onto it next to Buffy as they lavished attention upon the little fox until Joyce came back in with basic medical supplies.
"Alright, you girls hold it while I attend to it." Joyce waited as Buffy and Faith exchanged looks, and then Faith extended a hand and wrapped it under the little fox's belly, and turned him on his side. The fox struggled a little, then subsided, it's injured foot sticking clearly into the air. Faith blinked and just rested her hand gently on the fox's side-- he made no further struggle as Joyce examined the cut. It wasn't a deep injury, but it definitely hurt the poor little fox. He struggled a little more when Joyce applied the disinfectent spray, and Buffy winced in sympathetic memory-- that stuff did sting. Joyce quickly wrapped the gauze around the fox's foot and tied it in a nice little knot. She then stepped back and Faith lifted her hand, letting the little fox back upright. He sniffed the bandage a few times, nudged it with his nose, and then almost seemed to shrug and just settled back down on the kitchen table and watched them expectantly.
"You think he's hungry?" The examination of the cut had exposed the fox's underside which confirmed that he was indeed a he, and at the word "hungry" the little fox yipped again, still looking at them expectantly.
"I would hazard a guess that he is." Buffy stood and headed for the fridge, then looked back at the other two. "What do foxes eat anyway, I mean, besides small rodents and stuff?" She sifted through the fridge for a minute and then came back with some thin-sliced deli turkey. She held that out to the fox, who sniffed it, licked it a couple times, then set to wolfing it down quite impressively. Buffy smiled as the fox ate, and they fed him until he turned up his muzzle and wouldn't eat any more. The fox fluffed his large tail around his ankles and then looked at them again as he settled down onto his forepaws.
"Maybe he's tired." Faith looked doubtful, but they weren't sure just what to do with this tame fox now.
"Well, he certainly isn't going to be running off anytime soon, so I'll find him a box or something to sleep in." Joyce bustled off to search for something suitable for the little fox to rest in, leaving Buffy and Faith still petting the little fox.
"He's so cute." Faith gently ran her fingers over the soft fur in his tail while Buffy found that he liked being scratched under the chin, and did so happily. The two of them cooed over the little fox for several minutes until Buffy looked over at Faith, still gently stroking the baby fox's fur.
"I didn't know you were so into animals Faith. I mean, in the petting-cute-love sort of way." Buffy stumbled over the second part of the sentence, not really having meant that to come out how it did. Faith didn't laugh, but she didn't look really mad either. She just sort of looked at the table and shrugged.
"You remember that night when I..err.. well, the time when I thought I had Angel and I thought you were tied up?" She meant the time she'd tried to take Angel's soul of course, and Buffy just nodded, her expression going immediately veiled. "Well...that stuff I said about wanting a dog was true-- I've always wanted pets, but never been able to have any, so I fed stray animals and stuff like that." Buffy blinked in surprise and looked at Faith with raised brows.
"So the hard-shelled Faith does have a soft underbelly." Faith frowned at that, but didn't stop petting the fox.
"There's nothing wrong with liking animals." Faith regretted having let that little bit of her personal history out. It was better to have Buffy believing that she was the tough girl, emotionally invincible, though she did know that image was failing fast.
"No, there's nothing wrong with it. I was just surprised is all." Buffy looked into Faith's eyes, and then went back to petting the fox until Joyce arrived with a box and an old blanket. Faith wondered if she had overreacted, but she too just continued to pet the fox, until Joyce set the box on the table, folding the blanket inside it.
"Not in a box, not with a fox, not here, not there, not anywhere. I will not eat green eggs and ham. I will not eat them SamIam" Buffy gently put her hand under the little fox and boosted him into the box, where he circled around a few times and sniffed the interior, finally settling down again. The fox rested his head on his paws and closed his eyes, seeming to go quickly to sleep. The three women moved out of the kitchen silently, moving out into the front hall.
"Alright, I guess we need to pick up some stuff for Faith to stay here with." Joyce lifted her purse and car keys, and set it over her shoulder. "We can go do that fairly quickly and then get ready for sleeping here." The two girls just shrugged and filed out after Joyce to go do some fetching.
* * * * * *
Xander curled up and tried to go to sleep. He was tired by this time, and his stuff was all packed and ready to go. He would walk by people's houses in the morning to say goodbye, and then he would leave, off to the great frontier. These thoughts passed through his mind as he slowly drifted off, letting himself shift into an uneasy sleep. Xander was definitely nervous about this planned trip, and he didn't really want to leave all his friends behind, but there didn't seem to be many alternatives at this point, with Buffy interested in him only as a friend, Willow and Oz firmly locked together and probably the most telling reason, Faith was back. The incident today had startled him as well, Buffy and Faith acting awfully affectionate in a somewhat suspicious way, but he let that line of speculation fade. Xander felt like he had made a terrible mistake with both Willow and Cordelia, never noticing Willow until it was too late, and then noticing her too much while he was with Cordy. There was nothing to be done now, and thus, the hike.
He had been sleeping for four or five hours when he awoke with a start, hearing a crash from out front. He sat up quickly and headed for the stairs, grabbing a baseball bat on his way out, though he had no coherent plan or set of intentions. He hid the outside light switch just as he banged open the door and burst into the sudden brightness. Immediately he spotted the source of the noise-- the trashcans had been knocked over. He also immediately spotted the perpetrators-- three little foxes all blinking up at him in the sudden light. The three of them then yipped loudly and dashed off, fluffy tails behind them, almost seeming to be laughing as Xander ran a hand through his hair and went back inside. Damn Foxes. He lowered the bat and headed back inside, and it wasn't until he was snuggled up in his bed and nearly asleep that he thought to wonder what three foxes were doing knocking down trash cans in urban Sunnydale.
* * * * * *
Joyce and the two girls returned from Giles's apartment with the bags Buffy had gathered before. They immediately looked in on the fox, and found it still contentedly sleeping. Joyce was relieved, having been somewhat fearful that it would start causing some damage without supervision. Faith and Buffy were rather unsurprised with all the gentleness this fox had displayed before. They had talked with Giles about their experience during the day, and mentioned the horned gang. Giles had been concerned, as he always was, but was more annoyed that they hadn't reported back right away. Buffy had apologized and promised that the two of them would return in the morning to help with the research that would ensue to try and identify this bunch. Faith had just shrugged and stood silently, letting Buffy do the explaining. Neither made any mention of the kitchen scene earlier.
After the return home, Joyce had led Faith upstairs and showed her the guest room. A few minutes later, Buffy appeared with Faith's bags, which she dropped unceremoniously in the middle of the floor.
"I guess this means you can just settle in or whatever." Faith was still looking around, but she turned back towards Buffy when she heard her bags hit the floor. "The bathroom is down the hall and you know where the kitchen is, and...I guess that's it. If you need something, let me or mom know." Faith smiled a little as she moved back around the bed on the crutch.
"Well.. thanks B. I appreciate it." The thanks was genuine, and Buffy just smiled a little as she made to leave.
"You're welcome." The smaller girl slipped out and headed down the hallway to her own room, changing into a T-shirt and boxers since she didn't plan to go anywhere else that night. She glanced at a nearby clock-- only nine or so. She wasn't tired, and it was fairly early. She figured her mom would be downstairs reading and probably drinking coffee, even though it was nine. She lay back on her bed for a moment, debating on whether or not to see if Faith wanted to watch TV or something. Finally, she stood up and headed down the hall and knocked on Faith's door. A muffled voice from inside told her to come in and she stepped inside, spotting Faith lying on the bed throwing a hackey sack up very near the ceiling and then catching it. Faith had changed similarly to Buffy, into boxers and a T-shirt portraying some fanged and demonic heavy metal band logo.
Faith looked up as Buffy came in, and she sat up against the headboard and looked up at the other girl. Buffy paused a little way past the entryway, somehow afraid of violating Faith's territory, even though this was her own house. Faith lifted a brow as Buffy stopped and then she examined her hands thoroughly for a moment, then looked back at Buffy's puzzled expression.
"Just checking if I got leprosy or something." Buffy took the hint and proceeded to the edge of the bed, and sat down next to Faith's prone form. The other girl smiled just a little as she rested against the headboard of the bed, hackey sack clutched in her hands now. "What brings you to the temporary domain of Faith?"
"I was just curious if you wanted to go downstairs and watch TV or something-- it is kinda boring up here all alone and such." Buffy offered a small attempt at a smile as she spoke, her hands scrunching in the bedspread. It wasn't that she didn't want to spend time with Faith-- she did, but she wasn't sure just why.
"Sure.. actually, you brought the Playstation. You ever played Tekken 3?" Buffy shook her head to Faith's question, never having messed much with video games, like most girls. "Wanna try?" Faith looked suddenly very eager, having something to show Buffy, something they could do together. Buffy put aside her reservations for the moment and nodded, and she stood and headed over to Faith's bags and proceeded to search for the funny looking plastic thing. She had packed the bags the first time, afterall, and she found it quickly while Faith pulled herself up from the bed and onto her crutch. The two of them thumped down the stairs with relative speed and swiftly set up shop in Joyce's living room, Faith pointing out to Buffy how to hook up the cabling. The two of them had it working swifly and they soon settled onto the couch, hip to hip as the Namco logo came up. Faith gave Buffy a primer on the basic controls while the title screen came up, and Buffy furrowed her brows.
"This seems awfully complicated." She frowned as Faith set them up for the versus mode and moved her thumb over the buttons as she tried to remember which was which. Faith just laughed as the character selection screen came up and patted Buffy on the shoulder.
"You'll get it-- there's nothing to it really. Just bash the opposition into unconciousness." Buffy lifted her controller as she chose a character at random. Just a game eh? They would see who could push buttons faster. The first match went to Faith, soundly, as one would expect, but Buffy quickly got the hang of the controls and soon was winning a match or two on her own, much to Faith's loudly voiced frustration. It was all good-natured though, with none of the harsher competitiveness that Faith sometimes showed in other things. Buffy sort of enjoyed it-- it was definitely silly, but it was amazingly addictive, and she kept wanting to proceed to the next match so she could try to improve. They were both deep into the combat when the doorbell rang. Buffy made a rude noise and paused the contest, standing up to answer the door. Faith hauled herself to her feet and followed after Buffy, curious as to who it might be at ten o'clock at night.
Buffy looked out the peephole and saw only a thatch of black hair in front of the door-- whoever it was, they were very short. She sighed slightly and shrugged to Faith behind her as she opened the door to reveal a young Asian looking boy of about fifteen wearing clothes very much like something Oz would wear, loose pants tied with a belt and a shirt with the SPAM logo on it. He blinked a bit as he opened the door and looked over the two girls and then he offered a tiny bow.
"Good evening. I'm sorry to disturb you so late, but it took me a while to find you." He paused a moment as the two girls exchanged glances. "I believe you have one of my brothers here." Buffy frowned as she spoke up, looking at the odd little Asian boy.
"At the moment, there is no male presence in these walls-- not that we mean that in a bad way, but I don't know why you would think we have one of your brothers." She was about to say more when the little fox came trotting down the hall, ears alert, and leapt directly into Sand's arms, tail swishing energetically. The two girls covered their surprise well, but they still stared as Sand gently stroked the little fox's back and made small yipping noises at it. The fox apparently understood and yipped back, and he examined the little white bandage on the fox's injured foot.
"This is Eddy, and he thanks you for helping him and wonders if there is any way he can repay you?" Sand looked at them with upraised brows, seeming completely at ease with the idea of talking to a fox.
"Err.. you talk to foxes?" Faith spoke up this time, having seen some weird stuff in her short life, but nothing like this.
"Why of course! Don't you talk to foxes? I thought everyone with any sense could speak to foxes." He spoke deadpan, then grinned at them. "I suppose I should not be so obtuse. Eddy here is a Kitsune, just like I am. For those of you who neither speak to foxes nor speak Japanese, a kitsune is a sort of Fox-spirit. My little brother here is very young and was caught by those nasty children until you intervened."
"Maybe you should come in." Buffy stepped out of the doorway to admit Sand, who stepped over the threshold quickly and seemed to be sniffing around. Faith still eyed him suspiciously, but she followed as Buffy led Sand, still holding Eddy, into the kitchen and got them all seated.
"Alright. So you are a kitsune or whatever...what are you doing here?" Buffy was highly suspicious of this whole idea-- the fox had been strange, but at least friendly and such. This was getting into the realm of weird. "And how did you find us?"
"Well, to your first question...we were sort of chased here. To your second, little brother summoned me once he had time enough to rest and restore his energies." Eddy yipped in what sounded something like an affirmative and remained snuggled in Sand's arms.
"Great, magic foxes. Goes perfectly with the enchanted rat. What chased you here?" This seemed like the most important question of all, especially after that strange incident with the Asian gang the other day.
"Well...this is where I might need your help. You're the Slayer or something yes?" Sand looked at her inquistively, dark brows raised.
"We are the Slayers. She and I both-- I won't ask how you knew, since supernatural critters all seem to have Slaydar or something. She's Faith and I'm Buffy." Faith remained silent, simply watching the other Slayer and this new arrival warily.
"Well...I suppose two is better than one. Anyway, we were chased here by a gang of Oni, or.. well, they're a Japanese demon sort of thing. Apparently this group has made it's own little Yakuza family, or tried to, in my home province. My family intervened, since Oni and Yakuza are both bad things, and we broke up their little crime family at a large expense to our kin. Even worse, they stole the souls from several of my little brothers and sisters, who all came here with me. I fled with them to try and prevent the Oni from enslaving the poor darlings." He stroked the little fox's head as it looked soulfully injured at the thought. "Even worse still, since they stole their souls, they are trapped in fox-form and can't become human until we get them back. I tell you, there is nothing more difficult than trying to book an international flight for a dozen young foxes." The two Slayers restrained smiles at this idea, and then continued listening. "So anyway-- I fled here because I had heard something through some of my friends that there was a killer of supernatural evil here called the Slayer. Having two is even better. I have come to ask for your help against the Oni, and I am very much gratified for your assistance to my brother." He finished grandly, his almond shaped eyes imploring them both, in collusion with the little fox's upturned soulful look.
"I find your story a little hard to believe in some ways, but you can apparently talk to small foxes, so I will assume for the moment that all of what you say is true. Would the Oni be Asian-looking guys like you, but with horns in the middle of their foreheads and nasty violent attitudes and no subtitles?"
"Yes, that would be them. Those are lesser members of the family, and I am guessing they have already made themselves known to you. The greater ones are really ugly and practice evil magics. They are the truly dangerous ones, though all of them can be hurt with ordinary weapons, thank Inari." Sand sighed slightly as his long hands continued to stroke the little fox's fur. "So will you help me?"
"I guess we'd better. If these Oni are as difficult as you say, then they're a threat to everyone here, not just you kitsune types. How about we meet here tomorrow morning to do some more talking, you and a few of our friends who provide assistance." Faith seemed about to object, but Buffy placed her foot firmly on Faith's uninjured one, earing a glare from the girl, but nothing further. Sand beamed happily as he stood up, making ready to leave.
"Wonderful. I will gather my brothers and sisters and have them meet here tomorrow morning, early. The Oni dislike the sun, though it doesn't harm them as it does your vampires, so we should have plenty of time." Sand started for the door and Buffy stood to escort him out.
"Alright, I guess until tomorrow then Sand." Buffy smiled nicely and shut the door firmly as Sand left, vanishing swifly into the night. Faith came up behind her and shook her head a little.
"I guess we don't get a break really. But I knew that before. You believe him B?" She seemed doubtful as she looked at the other girl, leaning against the wall.
"I don't see much reason not to believe him besides the obvious 'magical fox' thing. If he shows up tomorrow with a dozen intelligent foxes, I'll really believe it." She turned back towards Faith and then looked back at the living room, hearing the music from the game still playing faintly in the background. "Finish where we left off?"
"Sure." Faith trailed after Buffy again and they settled down next to each other in the middle of the wide couch, starting up their game again.
* * * * * *
Willow finished the invocation of the four elements and dropped the wolfsbane onto the sacred flame, causing it to burn purple for a moment as her spell took effect. She then lifted Amy's ratted form and visualized her as Amy once again, as hard as she could. She spoke the final phrases and then touched Amy's head with the rowan twig tied with sage grass. There was another puff of smoke that sent Willow into a coughing fit for several minutes, until she looked up with eyes watering and saw the Amy-rat happily gnawing on the edge of her spellbook. She snatched up the rat and put it back in the little cage and slumped back into her chair. She was never going to get Amy back. The thought was vaguely depressing, and she sighed as she cleaned up her occult equipment and started putting it away. At that moment there was a knock on her door. She moved over to answer it and discovered her mother standing there with the "concerned parent" look.
"Are you burning something up here?" Her mom looked around, but the smoke had mostly cleared, especially due to Willow's open window. Willow shook her head innocently and just settled onto her bed.
"I was sure I smelled something. But anyway. There have been police reports on the news." Willow froze, waiting to hear that Faith had slaughtered Buffy and left her in a ditch somewhere, though she knew that was unfair. "Apparently a gang of young hoods busted up that coffee shop you and that Summers girl like to go to. They also beat up a few people in the area, and the police are on lookout. I just want you to stay in for a few nights until they catch them." Willow frowned and tried to look pleading, but her mother continued without her input, as usual. "Stay home--- no going out after dark young lady. As if that wasn't enough, some damn raccoons keep turning over our trash every night. You're not still doing that wicca thing are you? You must be on to another form of adolescent expression by now." Willow sighed and looked her mom in the eye.
"I still do wicca, and I still like it, even though you and half the other adults in town tried to burn me at the stake for it." She got up and shoved the rest of her supplies in the drawer, feeling her usual annoyance at her mother's intrusions. "Not that you would ever notice if I didn't tell you what I was doing." Her mother frowned and she stepped into the room, putting her hands on Willow's shoulders.
"Honey, I know that the whole anti-occult movement got a little carried away, and I know that I and daddy are very busy and can't spend as much time with you as we would like, but don't be spiteful. I can respect your decision to attend UC Sunnydale over Oxford, eventually, but please try to live a normal life and find a career. No Occult Studies please." Willow sighed a little and looked up at her mom.
"No occult studies. Now if you don't mind, I think I want to go to bed." Her mother looked puzzled at this revelation.
"Its only ten-thirty!"
"I know. I'm tired. Please let me rest." Willow wanted her mother's attention, but not like this. She was a big girl, and didn't need the same kind of mothering she had wanted five years ago. Her mother didn't seem to understand that, and lately, Willow had just been passing time until she left for college and lived in a dorm for a while.
"Alright sweetie, I'll see you tomorrow." Her mother departed at that point and Willow sighed into the air as she debated sneaking out or just reading for a while. She finally decided on reading for the evening, since Oz would likely be rehearsing again. She shrugged to herself and stared at Amy for a few minutes, morosely wondering if she would even be able to pass Occult Studies 101. Tomorrow she would have to see Faith again to do the leg spell, and that was always a joy. At least she could do that spell correctly. She picked up Randion's manual of Extended Rituals and lay back, trying to focus on her reading.
* * * * * *
Faith and Buffy played well on until midnight. Buffy was improving swiftly, and Faith regarded her with some surprise as the other girl offered her a hand up. They had decided finally to go try and sleep as both of them had started yawning, feeling the long day weighing down on them, with the promise of another long day tomorrow that wouldn't even involve the coffee shop.
"You sure you've never played this before?" Faith adjusted her balance carefully against the crutch with Buffy's hand still on her elbow. She grinned at the other girl as she stood, and Buffy shook her head.
"I was never much into games, and mom and I definitely couldn't afford one of these. I don't even have a computer-- whenever I had a school paper, I had to use Willow's, which wasn't so bad, but still." Faith just nodded as they made their way up the stairs towards the hallway that held their separate rooms. As they reached the landing, Buffy turned to Faith and placed her hands firmly on the other girl's shoulders, drawing her in closer.
"No matter what else we end up doing tomorrow, I want to talk with you some more. We keep getting interrupted by fighting, but I want to understand you, and what was going on." Faith tensed herself up again but she let her hands rise to Buffy's waist, gently resting them on the curves of the shorter girl. Buffy didn't resist as she just looked up at the taller brunette, eyes unreadable. Faith hesitated a moment and then leaned in next to Buffy's ear and whispered, afraid as always of speaking her emotions aloud, and definitely trying to suppress the anger that always came when Buffy acted this way.
"I don't think there is that much to understand, and I really don't like to spend a lot of time in deep discussion." She kissed Buffy's cheek, unable to resist the nearness of the other girl, and tried to pull away, but Buffy wouldn't release her. The shorter girl just stared directly into her eyes with an iron determination that Faith had seen before as she leaned up on her toes and firmly pressed her lips against Faith's. Faith's eyes widened in shock as Buffy slipped out of her suddenly nerveless arms.
"Understand that then-- I really do care, and I never give up without a fight." She turned and headed for her own room, and Faith wondered if she had just dreamed that, but she could still feel Buffy's lips on hers as she turned and moved more slowly for her own room, still utterly dumbfounded, though that was giving way to a rising tide of exhilaration.
* * * * * *
The greater Oni were gathered in the center of one of Sunnydale's many abandoned warehouses. The four of them stood at the primary points of an elemental diagram with many Kanjii characters scrawled upon it. They chanted rhythmically in Japanese and gestured wildly, their bestial faces contorted even further with ritualistic ecstasy. The spell finished swiftly and summoned a ghostly presence of eerie light, swirling and howling at the symbolic chains that held it in place. The lead Oni called out a few more phrases and then threw several pieces of paper with more Kanjii into the circle, causing the spectral shape to disperse and fly out from the warehouse, seeking those that the Oni had come here to hunt. As they stepped away from their places, a fifth figure stepped out of the shadows, clapping softly as he neared.
"Very nice, very nice. I hope that thing finds those annoying furballs quickly so we can get on to the real business of killing that Slayer and taking over this town, and then the rest of the US in time, hopefully."
The four Oni bowed to the figure ceremonially, their robes rustling. The man was tall, with brown hair that had been frosted blonde. His most striking feature had to be his eyes, however, which were so pale a blue as to almost seem white from certain angles. He smiled at them and returned the bow, and gestured towards the door to the office.
"I suggest now that we just sit back and let the kami do it's work, and then let the small fries catch us some foxes. Maybe we should make them into hats or something. That would be kinda stylish, in a Davy-Crockett kinda way." The Oni said nothing, merely shuffling into the office where they had set up a small living space. "But hey, for you all, fashion ended in the Kamakura period. I think I'll just go out and play human for a while, and you can just rest up here. Some of the boys should be by soon with some sacrifices I'm sure, though we don't want to take too many and attract attention. Good night." The Oni still did not reply, having lapsed into meditative positions on the floor. The man just shrugged to himself and headed out into the night, whistling softly.