Act four continued...
It was an hour later and Giles had called all of the watcher cadets into the fully renovated training barn for the final session of their stay.
The cadets were sitting on the large exercise mats Xander had bought; Giles was standing in front of them with his hands behind his back, looking very Watcherly despite his casual blue jeans and maroon cable-knit sweater. The kids were unusually quiet, but that was probably more to do with the night before than any respect for the meeting.
Tomorrow all but two of the five cadets would be leaving Sunset camp for other pastures. The two chosen to remain would work under Giles' supervision until they were deemed ready to take a Slayer of their own to their designated demonic hot-spot.
Buffy was sitting cross-legged on her favourite new toy, the trampoline, out of the way but listening in. Giles had asked her to be there and while she had as much interest in the fate of the baby watchers as she had in the drying of pain…It wasn't like she had anything better to do.
Everything seemed to have gone back to normal at Sunset Camp, or as normal as it could be considering who lived there.
The Pixies had gone into hiding, or at least as much as they ever did. She hadn't seen any since Giles and the cadets had been returned anyway.
Giles and the others had come back unharmed, well except for a lump on his head, but according to Reece he'd been knocked out before the spell began.
What Willow had done to ensure their return…? Well, Buffy wasn't too sure how she felt about that yet.
The big invisible voice had been scary enough before it threatened to take Willow into the beyond. When the light had cleared and she'd realised her best friend hadn't been taken Buffy's relief had been huge, but now she was just worried that they'd inadvertently opened another can of evil worms that were going to try and kill them all at some later date.
Still, it wasn't like she had anything else to focus on around here. Hardly any vampires to slay since the night of Jupitus' failed resurrection, demons that were, for the most, pretty simple country folk – as happy eating rabbits as people, and no hope of a love-life to keep her busy either by the looks of it.
Buffy's loud sigh caught Giles' attention earning her a disapproving look. Sitting up straighter she tuned back in to what he was saying.
"Aside from last night, which I think we can all consider exceptional circumstances, your behaviour on the whole has been nothing short of appalling," Giles was saying, Buffy mentally applauded him. "I understand this has all come as a bit of a shock for you; none of you knew you would be coming over here until recently and certainly none of you were expecting to be asked to take up active duty within a few months of finishing your schooling, but even with taking that into account I still find myself dismayed by the attitude you've shown to your calling."
All of the cadets shifted uncomfortably, although Buffy didn't think Naomi or Anthony had too much to be sorry about.
"Now more than ever you must be ready and willing to stand up and accept your destinies as Watchers. The Council needs you…no, th-the world needs you to take your rightful places at the forefront of this most important fight." Giles began to pace. "You all face a road pitted with a hard and sometimes painful duty, I won't deny that, but as you walk it you will carry with you a sense of pride and achievement most men and women can never conceive of."
"All of you are capable of this greatness, not just because of who your parents may be but because you have the strength of character deep inside – some deeper than others…" Giles smiled briefly at everyone before continuing. "… to face immense trials and tribulations and overcome them for the betterment of mankind."
'Really, this lot?' Buffy looked around at them all, but kept her thoughts to herself.
"The crux of it is," Giles stopped pacing again to stand in the centre of the floor. "All of this is just so much lip-flapping on my behalf if you don't desire the bloody job in the first place; and judging by the performance most of you have put on over the past week, I'd wager you'd all rather be corralling trolleys at Tesco," he finished sternly.
Trolley corralling had never been included in Buffy's career day opportunities, but it drew enough dismayed shock from the cadet's that she deduced it wasn't a box she would have ticked anyway.
Giles let the lecture sink in for a minute before going on to the next item on the agenda. This was the part Buffy was looking forward to. No one knew yet who of the five would be staying.
"Okay, I'll put you out of your misery first," Giles cleared his throat. "Reece Highbury and Naomi Ramstock – you'll be staying with us for the time being; I hope that suits the both of you."
"Yes sir, thank you," Reece smiled easily, not seeming too affected by the congratulatory back-slaps Peter and Rajiv gave him.
Looking deeper though, Buffy was sure it was mostly because he was trying not to look relieved in front of them. He was probably doing cartwheels in his head, but he couldn't get excited and lose his coolness in front of his friends, because then they might realise he wasn't quite as certain of himself as they thought.
Mostly though, she just thought 'Crap', she didn't want to have to put up with his royal smarminess for any length of time and she knew Dawn had a major crush on him which would now only get worse.
Naomi looked very happy with herself and accepted the congratulations of her peers with much more enthusiasm than Reece had. Buffy gave her a thumbs up which made the young cadet's grin double. Buffy was pleased she was staying, she was the only one who inspired any kind of confidence in her watcher abilities, plus that meant Buffy could pick her brains some more on the whole prophecy business.
"Okay settle down," Giles called them to order again. "We'll discuss what will be expected of you both in greater detail later in the week. Meanwhile if we get back to the rest of you." Giles walked to Xander's work bench, still in the corner at the back, and picked up three large manila envelopes.
"Peter Jones," he began gravely, reading from the name on the top of the pile. "You have been perhaps the worst this week, wouldn't you say?"
Peter didn't seem to know if he was supposed to answer or not. Buffy could see he was caught between a shrug of indifference and a more honest expression of apology. Another one that didn't want to lose face in front of his friends.
Giles didn't make him suffer in silence for too long, at least not as long as Buffy would have.
"I've recommended that you return to London for the time being to work under Mr Wyndam-Pryce's supervision." Peter groaned and Buffy could see the smirk Giles was hiding in his eyes. "You'll help with the Slayers stationed there; I believe there are already four or five staying in the temporary residence on his grounds. However, and please listen to me carefully, I strongly think that you should consider whether you do in fact want to be a Watcher…" Peter started to protest, but Giles held up a hand. "Please, listen to me. This isn't a judgement on your ability by any means, I believe if you were to allow yourself to grow up a little and lose the chip on your shoulder you would make a fine Watcher, but as I said before your heart has to be in it. I know you were, shall we say, badgered into joining the academy in the first place and while I wouldn't say you have wasted your time there neither have you excelled in the way that you could have."
"So what are you saying?" Peter asked with a tremor in his voice.
"That if there is another career you think you would feel happier in, that you should take some time to look into the possibilities. You don't have to decide anything this week, or even this year for that matter, but I think working with Roger may make your mind up rather quickly," he smiled at the boy. "If you can stand to work with him for more than a month, then you will know you are where you should be."
Peter gave a short laugh, "And if I can't that's it, I'm not cut out to be a Watcher?"
"I never said that," Giles said softly. "I had my doubts too, like you do even if you don't feel you can admit it, when I was young, twenty-one to be precise. Things were different then of course, the academy wasn't built until the early eighties when the people in charge realised that Watcher's were becoming a rare commodity. When I was young we were expected to attend regular schools and then relentlessly pursue our Council studies after hours, so to speak. It got too much for me, at the time I believed I never wanted to be a Watcher anyway and I certainly didn't appreciate the amount of pressure my father gave me. So I rebelled; and ran away."
"So the rumours are true then?" Rajiv asked with a chuckle. "Cool."
Buffy smiled when Giles did too. Maybe if he'd told them this story at the start of the week they wouldn't have been such a handful for him.
"Well I'm glad you did," Naomi spoke up. "Or else I might never have been born."
Buffy did a double take at that. 'Huh?'
"Anyway Peter, I'm giving you the chance that I never had." Giles continued. "If there is something in your heart that you would rather follow then you should do so. If your father has any complaints he can bring them to me and you can be sure I will turn a deaf ear to them. How is your mother by the way?"
"Uh, she's okay sir, mostly." Peter looked very awkward.
"Good, I'm pleased to hear it; and I think you'll find that if you do decide to leave the Council, one day, when you are ready, you will find your way back and be a better Watcher for it. That is what destiny is all about after all."
"So you're saying there's no escape then sir?" Peter asked sarcastically.
"Probably not, no," Giles grinned at him. "But I'm also saying you can try if you like. The Council needs one hundred percent commitment and a Slayer needs even more than that from her Watcher. If it isn't offered, then people die – sometimes a lot of people. I'd like to avoid that if possible so please think about what I have said. In the meantime, if you would please report to Mr Wyndam-Price at nine o clock sharp next Monday, I would be grateful. All the information you need is in here, please read it carefully and try to resist the urge to make spit-bombs out of it." Giles handed him a manila envelope.
Giles turned his attention from Peter and Buffy saw the kid physically slump once he was out of the limelight. He looked over at Reece who gave him a sympathetic smile and a little shrug and Peter smiled shakily back before opening his envelope.
"Anthony Milestone," Giles said next. "Well, you've done very well since you've been here and of course your grades at the academy are excellent. However with you still being only fifteen, you're too young to officially leave school, plus I think another year or two at the academy would prove beneficial to your physical training. You have a great mind, Anthony, but as I learned, Watching a Slayer requires a lot more than intellectual knowledge. I'm going to suggest to your parents that you are put in for more field practice in the next year, as much as is possible. The theory is something I think you will enjoy pursuing in your own time anyway so I doubt it will suffer."
"Yes sir," the little one said meekly. "If that's what you think, sir."
"Miley did tremendously well last night, Mr Giles," Reece said. "He was the first to get free and without him we might all have been still lying there at the mercy of the werewolf when it arrived."
Buffy was surprised, not that Anthony did well, though that was a shock too, but that Reece was actually praising him. He'd been almost as bad to the kid all week as Peter had been.
"That's excellent and will give you something to build on," Giles said, flashing the boy a bright smile. "I'll look forward to having you return here, if you are willing, in two years time. How does that sound?"
"Very good sir. I'll look forward to it to it too sir," Anthony said. With a beaming smile of his own he accepted his envelope.
It was amusing the way they all called him sir.
"Now we come to Rajiv Kupoor," said Giles.
Rajiv sat up smartly but with a little dread in his eyes. Maybe he was expecting similar treatment to Peter.
"Don't look so worried," Giles went on. "If I'm honest, I had the hardest time deciding on your fate," he smiled, but Rajiv didn't look any less worried. "If I had three places to offer here, you would be staying. Unfortunately at the moment that's not possible and so I have a choice to offer you."
"And that is sir?" Rajiv asked politely, obviously surprised.
"Well young man, you can either continue on your path of herbal enlightenment…" Reece and Peter sniggered and Rajiv looked bashful. "…and get eaten at some point by either a demon or a giant psychedelic caterpillar or you can go to New Delhi to work with your uncle."
"India?" Rajiv checked. He looked about halfway between excited and scared.
Buffy could relate; she'd feel the same. "There's a Council in India?" she asked, breaking her silence for the first time.
Giles went to speak, but Rajiv got there first. "There's Council all over the world. India has the fourth largest, or did, s'probably the third largest now Britain's has been decimated." He looked at Giles again. "Uncle Abhay is in charge over there now?"
"Yes, sadly Colin Winchester was in England when the bomb went off. Abhay was his second in command, well to be fair he practically ran the place anyway what with Winchester's ill health in recent years, and it makes much more sense to have an Indian running the branch than to ship over someone who doesn't have the first clue about the country. That is why I would like you there. I appreciate you left New Delhi when you were only nine, but I imagine you still have some resonance with the country and your uncle is a fine operative but he can't be expected to handle all of this new responsibility himself. Of course, if you'd rather…"
"No, no!" Rajiv almost stood up in his insistence. "I'll go. I mean if that's where I can be most useful I'd love to go."
"Right, that's settled then. You fly out two weeks Thursday." Giles handed him his envelope. "I don't think I need to tell you how seriously they take narcotics abuse in that part of the world, but I will warn you that I have asked persons who are not your uncle to report to me on your general activities while you are there; so be forewarned, any of that nonsense and you'll find yourself in charge of mopping out Indian loos long before you're in charge of a Slayer. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir, I'll have my last spliff on the way to the airport," Rajiv said, his tone serious but with a hint of laughter in his eyes.
Giles rolled his eyes, but he was smiling just slightly as the rest of the cadet's chuckled. Buffy smirked at his audacity.
"Right then, I think that about raps it up," Giles began. "Unless Buffy has anything to add?"
"What?" Buffy sat up straighter on the trampoline; she hadn't expected to be called upon. "Oh, no, I think you said it all just right, Giles. Except, you know, good luck everyone, and don't let Giles down or else I'll come after you." She looked at Peter, adding, "Especially you."
He smirked at her, not in the least bothered.
"What about Craig?" asked Naomi as they all began to stand up and lean the mats back against the wall.
Buffy blinked at his name. She still hadn't finished processing the information that Craig was Giles' Godson – something she'd only found out an hour ago, and she also hadn't yet figured out how he fitted in to the whole Watcher cadet thing, or why he'd come over here if he wasn't one and had kept himself hidden from Giles.
"Ah, yes, well I expect I'll be able to get him on a flight tomorrow with the others," Giles hadn't really had time to process it all either. "We'll see. He's helping Andrew cook tea at the minute which I imagine will be ready soon. So unless there are any other questions I suggest we all go and make ourselves presentable."
The cadets all left the training barn noisily talking about their assignments. Buffy watched them go before standing up on the trampoline and bouncing.
Giles stayed, coming over to rest his elbows on the blue trim of the trampoline. "Relax your shoulders more," he instructed absently. "You don't need to bounce all hunched up like that; you'll hurt your back."
"I fight vampires and demons on a nightly basis, or I did once upon a time, and you're worried I'm going to put my back out on a trampoline?" Buffy asked, amused.
Giles waved his hand tiredly at her. Buffy followed his advice and wasn't surprised that he was right. Relaxed shoulders did make for a pleasanter jumping experience!
"So do you think Peter will do Slayers everywhere a favour and take your advice?" she asked.
"I've no idea, but I certainly hope not," Giles admitted.
Buffy slowed her bouncing down until her feet were barely leaving the mat. "And my colour of choice today? Yep you guessed it: Confused. Care to unconfuse me?"
Giles smiled fondly at her. "I agree he's hardly first choice material, none of them are as yet, but we have to face the facts. The world changed in May; there are now hundreds, maybe even thousands of young inexperienced Slayers and only a handful of trained and active Watchers. Many of the experienced Watchers left alive are beyond retirement age. Most have agreed to come back in an advisory capacity, but they're far too old to be expected to take on the Watching of a Slayer. The basic training alone would see most of them in need of an oxygen tank."
"Well what about all the foreign watchers like Raj's uncle?" Buffy asked.
"Abhay Kupoor, yes, he's a fine man and has worked with several potentials in his time, but a Slayer is far different. For one, Potential's aren't expected to actually slay any vampires and it becomes a much more demanding job once your girl is, as you said, fighting vampires and demons every night. Kupoor may be very good with Potentials, but he's never in the past had a Slayer in his charge, and now he has six," Giles scratched the back of his head, vexed. "And one of them doesn't speak a word of any language he's ever heard of and he's fluent in three."
"So we need more Watchers, like, stat!" Buffy declared, jumping a little more vigorously again. "It's a pity you Watchers aren't called in the same way as us Slayers. You know, like one day you're just an average nerd and then BAM you wake up one morning and you can speak four languages and know everything there is to know about trampolining techniques." she grinned.
"Watchers called to the fight?" Giles mused to himself.
Buffy stopped actively bouncing, "Giles, you okay? I just insulted you three times in a single sentence and you didn't cluck your tongue or roll you eyes or anything."
"Oh, no no, I'm fine. It's just…" he gave her a pained smile which totally confused her. "You've given me something to think on."
"Oh, good then?" Buffy frowned.
"Yes, yes it may prove to be," Giles' weird expression cleared up and he smiled more readily at her. "Anyway I believe Craig persuaded Andrew to try is hand at Roast Pork this evening; I need to go and make sure they've remembered the apple sauce. I love a nice tart apple sauce." he grinned.
He started towards the training barn door, stopping again when he realised she was still on the trampoline, "Are you not coming?"
"I'm not really hungry; the Bottom Pie tends to lay heavy on the stomach." Giles looked perplexed, but before he could speak Buffy carried on, "I want to bounce for a bit; work some stuff out of my system – you know the healthy way."
Giles stopped by the door. "Stuff about…"
Buffy cut him off before he could finish, "Just stuff about bouncing."
"Okay," he didn't believe her, but that wasn't surprising considering it made no sense. He looked at his watch. "You know it's not too late…"
Buffy cut him off again as she jumped harder and higher, "So not with the caring. See? I'm all bouncy and carefree."
"Okay, well don't bounce yourself into the roof; there are probably still spiders up there." He gave her an unsure smile and left.
Buffy jumped a couple more times before doing a summersault and landing on her back.
As the springs continued to bounce her up and down, she looked at her own watch.
"Faith, where the fuck are you?" she muttered into the empty room as her emotions played a tug of war.
A loud cawing and crashing sound awoke Faith with a start and she nearly fell off of the branch she was balancing on.
Wiping a hand across her mouth, she looked around for the source of interruption. It was a crow, perching on the rocks ringing the pool and staring at her with beady little eyes.
She watched it sleepily. When it was sure it had her attention it leaned down and pecked at the bar of soap she'd left there. It was only really a small white sliver of soap now. After washing herself and taking a few minutes to 'relax', she'd set about scrubbing and re-scrubbing her clothes.
The water in the pool had quickly lowered her body temperature though and so after rinsing them under the waterfall she'd had to get out.
"Go for it; eat it all up if ya want. I'm done with it." Faith offered the bird. Her neck was stiff from falling asleep wedged six-foot off the ground in the Black Oak. It had been comfortable when she'd fallen asleep, not that she'd meant to fall asleep.
Rolling her shoulders a few times to try and get some life back into them, she jumped from her branch to the ground. The crow took off taking the soap with it. That bird would be singing bubbles for the next week.
Her clothes were hanging where she'd left them, on several saplings that made a great clothes line between them. They were stiff as boards but dry and clean as she lost the now less-than-fluffy towel and slipped into them.
"Okay, this is uncomfortable," she muttered, walking around the clearing a few times to loose them up. She did a few squats, a few jumping jacks and even a cartwheel to work the stiffness out of her jeans and her muscles.
Her hair was another matter. She had no mirror to see how bad it was and no brush to correct any damage that needed correcting anyway. From what she could feel it was probably frizzy as hell and rock hard too. She should have asked the shop keeper for some conditioner. She wet her hands in the pool and dragged them over her hair a few times to try and make it more presentable.
Happy she was looking and smelling as good as she was going to get without the aid of a proper bathroom, Faith slipped her feet into her boots. She'd given them a bit of a scrub too before she'd taken her nap and they were looking as good as new apart from the scuff marks on the toes. She laced them quickly and retrieved her jacket from the towel log. Checking inside the pockets she found everything there that should be, so she hadn't had any secret visitors while she was dozing like a panther in the tree.
She slipped the denim on. She hadn't washed it, but it wasn't that dirty anyway and didn't smell bad. Besides, she could lose it the second she found the house; stick it in the laundry pile and hope someone would wash it before they realised it was hers.
She rolled the towel so it was small enough to carry easily and gave the pool a last good look.
Heading in the direction she'd been travelling before, the ground began sloping upwards a little more sharply making her work a little bit harder as she followed the winding paths through the trees.
Once the land started flattening out once more, the trees were thinning enough that she came make out fields beyond. Great, more fields. At least in the woods things were a little interesting, there were… trees and stuff to look at.
She'd barely left the cover of the woods behind when she looked up from watching her newly shiny boots covering the ground and saw the house in front of her.
"Well damn," she muttered as she took in the two story timber and brick structure a hundred yards away.
This was it. She didn't need a big sign saying Sunset Camp to tell her she'd stumbled on the right place, something deep inside was telling her it was. Almost as if she could feel Buffy inside. Maybe she could, but it had been so long since they had been close she'd forgotten what that felt like.
"Damn," she muttered again.
She'd smoked the last of her cigarettes two days ago and was really regretting wasting it. She could have used one now; she could have used ten now.
What did she do? Go knock on the door?
It wasn't just Buffy that might be mad at her.
Giles had probably been so mad last week he'd snapped the Union Jack flag pole stuck in his ass. He was definitely gonna be regretting ever putting any faith in her; let alone going out on a limb and offering her a place to stay.
Xander and Willow were hardly her biggest fans, with damn good reason, and her shooting through on their dearest darling Buffy had more than likely killed any good will that'd developed during her last stay in Sunnydale. Saving the world only earned you so many popularity points after all and they were a lot easier to lose than to gain.
Dawn's grudging acceptance of her a few months ago had only come about because she'd taken the younger girl to the Bronze when big Sis was being a stuck-up, mission-orientated, no-fun, tight-ass. She probably hated Faith now too for effectively ditching her sister twice in six months. Dawn was too young to understand why Faith had had to go back to prison. In fact maybe they all were.
None of them knew what it was like to be her; to have a rage at the world so tightly coiled deep in her gut that sometimes physical violence was the only release that could calm it.
Sure they had their fair share of problems, who didn't, but they'd either learnt healthier ways to deal with the rage or they just didn't have the capacity for that kind of feeling in the first place.
She couldn't go in there and handle all of those pissed off; we-knew-you-weren't-worth-it faces all at once. One at a time, with maybe an hour and a couple of deep breaths in-between each and she could do it, maybe, but not now like this.
It was too much like getting up in court all over again, surrounded by all of those judging and condemning expressions, and this time it would be worse because she actually gave a shit what these people thought of her.
The trees exploded behind her, sending out a spray of early fall leaves followed by a boy. A naked boy.
"What the..?" Faith had to jump out of the way to avoid being run down.
She stared at the kid in surprise as he stood there panting, frantically turning his head from one side to the other.
"You oka…" she started to ask, although it was probably a stupid question seeing as he'd just run out of the woods naked.
"What time is it?" he cut her off urgently.
"I don't know, sometime in the afternoon," she guessed, noticing dried blood in his hair. "Hey maybe you should sit down for a…"
"My mom is gonna kill me!" he stressed and took off back into the woods.
Faith stared after him with a bemused frown, but it wasn't long before she turned a more worried frown back to the imposing house.
"Cu-cu-cu-clurrrk!" The chicken thrust her neck forward a little as she gave birth into the straw birthing pool. With a slight ruffle of her feathers she hopped back down to the fuzzy pink ground, joining her sisters.
"Cluck," said one.
"Clu-uck," she said back.
It had been a strange time for the young hen. Leaving behind the hatchery in the enormous moving hen house that smelled of pig-creatures to be dumped free on the hard yet tickly green ground surrounded by noisy chick-takers. She had tried to lead her sisters in a great escape at that point, but as usual they had taken the ordeal in their short jerky little strides and the next thing she knew… A moment of perfect rainbow coloured bliss, and she was sure it was as had been predicted and she had flown from earth to the fabled barnyard of paradise.
Somehow something had gone wrong on her way to the fabled barnyard of paradise and when the rainbow bliss had disappeared she'd had found herself in the biggest hen house she had ever seen with a loud and expressive chick-taker wielding a… broom!
Not that her new life was so bad, the hen mused. The chick-taker may be keeping them prisoner but he was generous with the grain and he'd spread straw around his hen house for their comfort. And she quite liked the fuzzy pink ground; she gave it a scratch now to prove it.
There was noise and the chick-taker appeared in the hen house. Her sisters clucked in alarm, scattering away from him, but she stood her ground, eyeballing him.
"Clu-ucka," she threatened his funny-shaped feet.
"Well now miss, I think I've kept you and your friends for long enough, don't you?" Big booming melodic nonsense came from the chick-taker.
"Cluc-erk!" She drew her head back to look upwards, waiting for grain.
"I've surely enough eggs for many a handsome breakfast," The chick-taker threw a handful of grain to the fuzzy pink ground. "But it's time to send you home." he sighed.
She and her sisters ignored his strange sounds, too busy running forward to argue and bicker over the fresh food. Out of one beady black eye she watched with disinterest as the chick-taker made a white line around them all. Her curiosity grew when she saw him with a handful of sparkily grain and she stretched her neck to full reach as he threw it over them.
Before she could get a beakful of the sparkily grain the rainbow coloured bliss came back.
At last, now she was on her way to the fabled Barnyard of Paradise and nothing was going to stop her!
Willow came back through the swinging kitchen door with three fresh beers. "Andrew's really out done himself tonight. I think if those kids miss anything about staying here, it will be his cooking. He's put us a plate aside for later…"
"I'm not hungry," Kennedy mumbled from the couch.
Willow's shoulders slumped as she realised Kennedy and Oz were still in the same awkward position she'd left them in a few minutes ago.
Kennedy was sprawled on the couch, her eyes on the television as she used the remote to flick through the channels relentlessly. The volume was very low but she wasn't making any other discernable effort to make Oz feel comfortable.
Willow wondered if they'd even exchanged syllables since she'd been gone.
Oz was sat in Giles armchair and she couldn't tell if he was relaxed or not, it was always so hard to tell with him. He smiled at her as she handed over a bottle, gesturing for her to sit in the armchair opposite him so they could continue to talk.
It was only after she'd pushed Kennedy's legs to the back of the couch and sat on the edge next to them instead, that she thought it might make her ex uncomfortable. Damn. Well she was sat here now, moving would look obvious. She handed Kennedy her beer and smiled brightly at Oz to hide her nervousness.
"I've been looking for you, you know, ever since last month," she told him.
"You recognised me then, I wasn't sure if you would." Oz smiled.
He looked a lot better and certainly more like his old self now that he was dressed in some of Xander's clothes. Girl!Oz was definitely something that should remain in fantasy land because when it was real, it was just plain weird.
"Well I wasn't one hundred percent sure, but I thought that maybe it was you," she explained. "But then I couldn't find you so I thought maybe I was wrong."
"Well, it was kinda weird seeing you again, you know, here. I wasn't expecting it. I know we said that thing about Istanbul, but this is a long way from Istanbul. It took me some time to process and I had some stuff I had to do, with the werewolves, well the surviving one anyway."
"What thing about Istanbul?" Kennedy asked, her eyes still on the television.
"Oh, it's just a – just a thing," Willow promised, realising it didn't explain a darn thing but hoping that Kennedy would get the message to ask later.
"Just a thing, got it." Either Kennedy did get the message or the shoulder of coldness was already warming up, or should that be cooling down.
"I tried to phone." Oz didn't seem to sense anything unfriendly from Kennedy at least. "Friday actually, but everyone was out."
"That was you?" Willow remembered Alison's puzzling message. "But you asked to speak to Xander; why not me?"
"I wasn't sure what your situation was here." Oz looked down at his palms for a beat before his gaze flittered to Kennedy. "If you were still with Tara I didn't want to rock the boat or, you know, turn into a crazed hairball." He gave her a half smile.
"Tara died," Willow said tightly. "It was… It was a while ago now."
Surprisingly Kennedy didn't say anything.
"I'm sorry," Oz said softly, inclining his head a little as he gazed at her with open compassion.
She knew it wasn't supposed to, but it just made Willow feel guilty. She looked away, sipping from her beer.
"If you didn't want to rock the boat by asking for Willow over the phone…" Kennedy suddenly asked, her head turned just enough to look his way. "…what made you think turning up on her doorstep was such a great idea?"
"Kennedy." Willow murmured. She didn't want a scene tonight. Her head was still hurting a little and she could barely keep her eyes in focus.
"I thought I was in here so I could be included," Kennedy said, eyes glued to the NASDAQ index on the television screen. "But I can't ask a perfectly reasonable question?"
"Maybe we should stay away from questions that might come across as a little bit incendiary," Willow pleaded softly. "You know, just for tonight."
"I hadn't planned on dropping by so unexpected," Oz looked at Kennedy. "But then someone shot me with a tranquilliser dart and changed my plans."
Kennedy smiled, tongue in cheek literally and metaphorically, "Really, and here I thought I shot an ugly-ass werewolf that was trying to kill our house?"
"You shot Oz?" Willow looked from Kennedy to Oz, appalled.
"No," Kennedy started calmly, "Like I said, I shot…"
"The wolf part of him, I get it," Willow cut her off. "I just so didn't want you to meet like this. I was hoping, maybe, that the three us could, sometime, get some lunch, you know in a civilized kinda way with politeness and stuff…"
"I'm being polite," Oz pointed out.
"Are you saying I'm not?" Kennedy asked.
"Ye Gods," Willow said to the ceiling. Praying to Gaia for strength she asked Oz, "But why were you out there all wolfy in the first place? Did the charms and stuff stop working and isn't it like dangerous, not just in case you get shot, but for other people too."
Oz smiled gently, "Things are different now; I'm different now. The charms and the meditations I use are different and I've been training with some pretty powerful people over the last few years. After what happened the last time I was in Sunnydale I knew there was so much more I needed to know. I mean, my jealousy caused me to change in broad daylight." Willow saw him glance side-long at Kennedy. "That had never happened before. So I spent a lot of time working with some pretty serious people and now I can change mostly at will, it's not easy I'll grant you, but it's possible; and when I change I can keep a clear head in a way."
"So you still think like you only wolf-shaped," Willow asked hopefully.
"No, more like I think like a domesticated werewolf," Oz's lips twitched in a smile. "Still in the proto-stages though, I won't be asked to join the AKC anytime soon, but if you want a flock of sheep looking after…"
"This is all so much to take in," Willow said honestly. "And brain is all cottony."
"It's all pretty far-fetched too," Kennedy rolled over on the couch so she could stare at Oz. "Considering you attacked a bunch of helpless watcher's, twice, and chased Pete out of the woods."
"I wasn't the one doing the attacking," Oz replied emphatically, well for him.
"So it was another werewolf?" Kennedy asked, rolling her eyes sarcastically.
"The boy, the one that was bitten last month, I think." Oz addressed Willow. "He'd been terrorising the woods all night and must have gotten carried away. I just about had him calmed down when I was doped."
"Kennedy!" Willow turned to her in dismay. "You shot the wrong wolf!"
"How was I supposed to know?" Kennedy shot back, sitting up. "I saw a werewolf, I fired at it. I didn't know I was supposed to check the photograph album first to make sure I wasn't aiming at your honey!"
"This isn't Willow's fault," Oz said, quiet but adamant. "So I don't know why you are shouting at her."
"And I don't need your comprehension to be entitled to have an argument with my girlfriend!" Kennedy told him heatedly.
The silence returned as they glared at each other.
'Oh boy,' Willow thought, rolling her eyes to the ceiling again. "Anyone want another beer?" she asked as chirpily as she could manage with the fatigue that was trying to smother her to sleep.
She stood up even though no one answered, started for the kitchen door and was mentally blindsided by a wave of magick.
'Huh? I must be even more tired than I thought,' she decided and then promptly fell over a chicken.
Staying on the floor Willow looked around, "The chickens came back!"
She counted six Buckeye Red's now pecking at the carpet around the coffee table. "They did right? I'm not hallucinating chickens or something?"
"No, there are definitely six chickens in your living room," Oz assured her.
"How'd you get them back?" Kennedy asked, shooing a hen away from the cables at the back of the television.
"No idea," Willow admitted, still looking around in a daze.
The brightest of the Buckeye Hens straightened her feathers ruffled by the flight through the rainbow coloured bliss; her head bobbing and jerking about in excited anticipation as she looked about for the fabled golden grain and perch of feather-soft straw…What she saw did not make her day.
This wasn't the clucking Barnyard of Paradise!
Buffy let herself in the front door to avoid the kitchen, she just couldn't face all the people in there right now. Or even one person for that matter. The crying she'd indulged in since Giles had left her alone in the training barn had left her eyes red and puffy which only added to the bags she already had from thirty-six hours with no sleep and the lines beginning to form from the week's worth of stress and worry.
Eight years battling evil, but leave it to Faith to ruin her looks.
She was pulling her key out of the lock when she heard the voices coming from the living room. Peeking around the corner she saw Willow in there on the floor with Kennedy and Oz, well they weren't all on the floor because that would have been weird and threesomes were better kept for the bedroom… Except, oh yeah, Willow and Kennedy' bedroom was a charred mess thanks to her.
Buffy wondered if she could blame that on Faith too. Technically maybe, in a temporary insanity due to stress way, but not with enough conviction to make herself feel less guilty.
Anyway her best friend wasn't having a three-way with her girlfriend and her ex on the living room floor, she was exclaiming about the chickens, which Buffy could see had returned. Maybe they'd been trapped between the planes in limbo too or perhaps the magick Willow had dipped into earlier had lead her to a way to find the chickens in the same way she had once found out how to de-rat Amy.
Buffy hovered at the bottom of the stairs unnoticed. If that were so, did Willow now have the ability to bring back Faith in the same way? Could she whisper a few ancient words and the dark Slayer would materialise in the centre of the room scratching the ground like a chicken; or just standing there pleased to see Buffy would be good too.
She couldn't ask, Buffy knew, as she started quietly up the front stairs away from the thick tension pouring from the living room. If Faith was brought here by magick against her will she would never forgive the people responsible and Buffy wouldn't blame her. Not only that, Faith would leave again immediately making the entire episode pointless.
If Faith had places she'd rather be and people she'd rather be with then, well, screw her.
Buffy didn't mean that, but what else was she supposed to say. She'd spent a week searching every avenue she could think of for the other Slayer. Had driven Giles and Angel up the wall with questions and recriminations, blaming them in some way for Faith's disappearance. She'd pissed Angel off so much that he was refusing to even answer his phone now. She'd been trying his cell on and off all afternoon with no luck.
Faith had disappeared off the face of the planet and Buffy was just going to have to accept it.
Going into her bedroom she flicked on her bedside light, although it was still early in the evening, heavy clouds were rolling in making twilight come earlier. Buffy didn't mind, it would just make it easier to go to sleep and that's all she wanted to do now.
Her room smelled of smoke and wet ash, making her nose wrinkle and her still-wet eyes sting. As she pulled her curtains closed against the gathering dark, she pushed her window open just a few inches wider to help clear the air. The room would get cold quickly, especially if it rained, but the idea of snuggling deep beneath her bedcovers was appealing.
These days she had a strong yearning to burrow somewhere deep and safe and hibernate from the rest of the world like a hamster. Did hamsters hibernate?
Washing her face in the bathroom she kept the water cold to soothe her burning eyes and she stared into them as she brushed her teeth; giving herself a mental talking to, trying to make herself accept things were the way they were. It was over, once and for all and accepting that was the only thing that would make being without her bearable.
Faith's parole officer would be there in the morning and probably about two minutes after that the authorities would be looking for her to drag her butt back to prison. Buffy wasn't sure what the 'authorities' exactly entailed, obviously the police and state-troopers, maybe the FBI, hell for all she knew the darn Mounties would be given WANTED posters of the other Slayer to hang around Canada.
Alex would almost certainly have one, she realised. The deputy sheriff would be one of the first people the 'authorities' would contact considering Faith was supposed to be in his town in the first place. Buffy wondered if Alex would give her a copy of the poster if she asked him nicely enough.
Probably not a good idea. She wouldn't know whether to kiss it or use it as a dartboard.
Back in her room, she clicked the door shut and undressed quickly. The room was already a lot cooler than it had been minutes before. She grabbed her flannel nightie from beneath her pillow, planning on pulling it on quickly to warm up, but she hesitated.
Going to her chest of drawers, she opened the middle one and looked inside. Nestled on top of her sunbathing snowmen pyjamas was the white negligee she'd brought in Cleveland two weeks ago. It was made of lace so fine and gauzy it was almost transparent.
Buffy had struggled for ages in the store trying to decide between black and red while ignoring the sales women who kept looking at her with creepy little knowing smiles. Somehow, when she'd been shown the white one, the one now in her drawer, she'd just known it was the colour Faith would get the biggest kick out of.
When the clerk had assured her "He'll love it, dear!" Buffy's smirk at just how much they didn't have a clue was hidden behind a smile of genuine hope and nervous anticipation.
Looking at how pretty it was it seemed a shame to let $60 of sexy nightwear rot away in a drawer and if she didn't wear it for herself, she'd probably never get a chance to wear it at all.
She let her finger tips play with the delicate straps for a second before shutting the drawer again. She'd wear it, just on a warmer night that was all, preferably a night when she wasn't planning on crying herself to sleep.
So definitely not tonight then.
She pulled her trusty teddy bear nightshirt over her head and looked into the mirror to brush her dark blonde hair through a couple of dozen times. No point going for the even hundred, after all when she became crazy cat lady – or whatever it was Kennedy had predicted – appearances were hardly going to be important… or were they?
"Maybe I should work on getting it to stick out at all angles or dye it grey instead of blonde next time to fit into the spinster image," she mused, running a hand through it. She caught some between her fingers and forgot about growing old alone long enough to inspect the ends.
She didn't think she'd suit grey hair though; maybe pure white would look better. More sophisticated. Oh who was she kidding? "I want Naomi's hair." She admitted to her reflection.
"Which one's Naomi?"
Buffy, startled, looked over her reflection's left shoulder at the window. The curtains were billowing drastically, which seemed fitting.
Recovering her poise quickly, Buffy ran the brush through her hair once more before placing it softly, deliberately, on her dressing table.
"The one with the gorgeous hair."
"Oh." There was a deep chuckle as rich as red wine and dark chocolate. Twin thuds of boots hitting her bedroom floor. "I like yours better."
Buffy licked her lips and nodded her head, but she still didn't turn to her visitor. "You're cutting it fine."
She listened to the soft footfalls coming her way. Could she hear this well a minute ago? Were her other senses dulled to accommodate? Like for instance, if she turned around would she not be able to see anything.
Well she still had smell that was for sure. Buffy sucked in a silent breath as she was wrapped in that seductive scent for the first time in way too long. Ooh look, she had touch too, that was always a good one. She battled hard to keep the purr locked in her throat as long fingers ran through her hair, moving it to the side so soft lips could graze her neck. Oh yeah, touch was good.
"The finer the cut, B, the better it feels."
She was spun around then, and didn't bother to fight it. Her butt pressed into the edge of her dressing table as she was enveloped within cotton and denim and Faith. The last was the best of all.
Buffy's arms went around the brunette, her hands rubbing up and down her back, over muscles lean beneath her jacket. She just needed to feel, to know this was real and not just another dream that was great until she woke up.
When Faith kissed her, wet and hungry, and as desperately as Buffy felt herself, she knew it was real…finally.
Tears fell down Buffy's cheeks but she barely noticed them and didn't acknowledge them as she pulled Faith close, wrapping her arms tighter around her. Scared that if she let go for a second whatever magic had brought her here would evaporate and take Faith with it.
"Missed you, B." Faith whispered against her lips, between one breathless kiss and another.
Buffy's hands found Faith's cheeks, pulling her into another deep kiss as Faith pushed her back onto the dressing table. Bottles of lotions and body sprays clattered to the peach coloured glass as it rocked slightly into the wall behind.
"How much did you miss me?" Buffy asked breathlessly when their lips parted for the briefest of moments. She pushed Faith's tatty denim jacket from her shoulders; she'd lost weight since the last time they'd been this close. She was harder, firmer; Buffy pushed herself closer wrapping her legs around Faith's waist.
"You want me to get poetic?" Faith asked as she moved her mouth to kiss the exposed V at the base of Buffy's throat, her fingers lightly pulling the nightshirt wider.
"No." Buffy pulled Faith's head up so she could look her dead in the eye; brushing wild, dark hair from Faith's face. "Show me."
"Alright." Faith touched her fingers to Buffy's chin, tilting her head up and she could see it right there in her dark eyes.
It wasn't enough, maybe nothing would ever be truly enough, "I need more," she pleaded softly.
"I haven't even started yet, babe," Faith promised, just as softly. "And I sure as hell ain't planning on stopping any time soon."
"You better mean that!" Buffy kissed her with her eyes open, not wanting to lose sight of Faith for a second as warm hands began to slide up between her thighs beneath her nightie. Faith's eyes drank her in the same way until they lost themselves in one another.
Gripping Faith's shirt tight, Buffy moaned into the intense kiss, as gradually her dressing table began rocking softly into the wall.
End of Watcher Looking At 2.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. You all rock!
Love is a Four Letter Word... Coming soon.