Responding predictably to Buffy's taunt, Riley charged again. This time, Buffy didn't bother trying to knock him down. Shifting a step to her left, Buffy launched a punch at Riley's solar plexus.
He saw her fist and twisted. His efforts weren't enough.
Buffy's fist slammed into him with the full force of the Slayer behind it.
With a choked cry of pain, Riley doubled over Buffy's arm. It was what Buffy had been waiting for. She brought her bent left knee up as his head came down. His nose seemed to retract into his face and he arched backward before landing hard on the ground.
Turning away from her ex-boyfriend, Buffy searched the underbrush for Willow. The other girl hovered inside the embrace of a large bush. "Will, go find Giles and Mom. I haven't seen any bolts flying around, and Faith probably needs help. I've got this covered."
Willow's eyes widened and her mouth opened just as Buffy heard a soft groan and a footfall behind her.
Without even glancing around, Buffy jumped into the air and rotated her hips. Her right leg went out and around, pulling her left along with increasing speed. The instep of that left foot caught Riley in the jaw a split second before Buffy's right foot landed on the ground.
Willow waited long enough to see Riley crash to the grass a second time before sprinting across the park. She stayed close to the shrubbery as she ran, listening intently for the sounds of pursuit.
No one and nothing followed. Willow didn't slow down; although, she did turn her head and check out the action in the Meadow. Her footsteps faltered.
Faith and Adam faced off a few yards away from Tara.
Sliding to a halt, Willow watched with rapt attention as Faith knocked Adam to the ground. Maybe Buffy had been wrong. It looked like Slayer power was enough.
Then Adam moved.
Willow couldn't see exactly what he did. She could hear Faith's agonized scream and see her freeze in place, head bent forward. The horrible sound spurred her back to full speed. She'd only reached the halfway point when a disheveled Giles erupted from the bushes to her left.
Now it was her scream that shattered the peaceful and normal night sounds of crickets and rustling leaves.
Giles raised his hands and waved them in a shushing motion. "Dear Lord, Willow, I apologize for scaring you; however, Adam brought along a few of the Initiative's demon population. Joyce and I barely survived the encounter. Can you please refrain from summoning the rest of them here?"
Slapping a hand over her mouth, Willow nodded her head. "Swweee," she mumbled. At Giles' pained sigh, she pulled her hand away. "Sorry," Willow whispered. Heart still pounding, she explained in a quiet rush, "Faith's in trouble. We have to help her."
Tara had miscalculated. The energy she'd pulled from the ley lines was too great. It overwhelmed her senses and slipped out of control. Squinting against the brilliant outline of power around her, Tara grappled with the magic.
Sudden movement outside the light caught her attention.
Adam raised a booted foot, his intent clear. Faith still sprawled helplessly on the ground below him.
There was no thought. Flicking her hand at Adam, she hurled a hunk of untamed magic at him. It slammed into his shielding, and Tara staggered as the impact rebounded through her. She tried to pull her magic back; she wasn't strong enough to engage Adam directly. The arc of power resisted.
A new rush of power drained from Tara.
The magic battering Adam's shield thinned and flowed around him, coating every inch of his protective barrier. As Tara watched, dazed and disbelieving, the thin layer compressed. Sparks sheered from Adam's shielding and the invisible globe shrank inward.
Something was happening. The kick she'd been expecting never fell, and her Slayer-controlled vision dissipated under the white light pulsing from Tara's location in the Meadow. Faith fought to ignore the pain centered on the hole left by Adam's arm spike. Pressing one hand to the gaping wound, she rolled onto her right side.
Adam stood next to her, gazing at something Faith couldn't see. She turned her head. Tara stood at the center of the light washing through the park. Whatever the other girl was doing, it had Adam stopped in his tracks. It was time to go back to work and lying on the ground wasn't going to cut it.
Warm liquid seeped out under her hand as she shifted onto her knees. Blood. There was no doubt in Faith's mind. The scent was familiar. Biting her lip against a whimper, she forced herself to her feet. The flow of blood increased, pouring out even as she pressed harder against the wound.
A grunt sounded nearby, and Faith watched Adam sink to a knee. His eyes were wide and a frown wrinkled his forehead.
She still lacked a weapon. Taking a shaky step forward, Faith planted her left foot and spun on her heel. The move tore her right hand from the wound and stretched the puncture. Her muscles spasmed at the new pain. Pushing through the need to drop to the ground and clutch at her stomach, Faith used the momentum of her spin to lash out at Adam with the heavy heel of her combat boot.
Her aim was true. His head snapped to the side, and Faith grinned tightly at the crunch of breaking bones.
Completing the follow-through, she dropped her right leg back to the ground. Her breathing grew ragged, and she swayed. Blood loss, shock, and exertion sapped Faith's energy. Legs leaden, Faith staggered another step forward. She needed a weapon and the only one nearby jutted from Adam's arm.
Unfortunately, whatever had knocked him to his knees wasn't enough to keep him down for long. As she closed in, Adam lashed out with his left hand. Faith blocked the punch but didn't have enough strength to team the maneuver with a return attack. Clumsily ducking under Adam's arm, Faith tried to raise her foot and step on the spike near its base.
The toe of her boot brushed the sharpened bone…and slipped off when her balance failed.
She couldn't do it. She was too tired. Faith met Adam's eyes and saw the truth there. This fight was her last.
Faith's Slayer growled deep inside at that. They weren't giving up, and they weren't going to lose. The growl grew until Faith's entire body trembled with the inner sound. In fact, it was so loud that Faith nearly missed Adam's contemptuous laugh.
"I am disappointed. You said you were a Slayer and there is a witch with you. How is it you still are no match for me? Mother had hoped adding the Slayer essence to my brother would improve his performance," his deep voiced droned. "If this is all that you can accomplish, my brother is doomed to remain weak and helpless."
Riding the wave of energy coming from the Slayer, Faith stood slowly erect. Her stomach protested, but the pain seemed dulled. "I don't think even sucking the super powers outta me and B would help Soldier Boy. B was so unimpressed, she started sleeping with Willow."
Adam didn't seem to understand her reference. He frowned, tilting his head to one side. "If you cannot help, there is no reason to keep you alive. I will have to find another way to complete Mother's plan." With a single, powerful move, he regained his feet and looked over Faith's head. "The witch is very strong. Perhaps Mother was wrong to believe that magic was not enough."
The Meadow, Tara, the light…They all disappeared. Faith's world narrowed to Adam. There was no way he was touching Tara. Like a switch completing an internal circuit, Faith and the Slayer became a single entity. Faith could see and feel and think while her body rippled with the primal energies normally caged inside. "You want to get to T, you're gonna have to go through me," she announced in a harsh voice.
With a freakish twist to his lips, Adam smiled. "That will not take much time."
"It might take a few more minutes than you think," Buffy's voice announced from Faith's right. "See, everyone makes the same mistake, expecting there to only be one of us."
Faith never took her eyes off Adam, but she grinned at the mocking edge to Buffy's voice.
Buffy came closer until she stood at Faith's right shoulder. "There was a mistake at the factory. Someone forgot to turn off the machine." Buffy's hand touched Faith's arm. "There are two Slayers. We like to call ourselves the Chosen Two."
The news seemed too much for Adam to take in. He stared at them, face blank and head still cocked to one side.
"Tin Man's rusted, B. Let's take him apart before he finds the oil can." Using the Slayer's strength and speed, Faith leapt into the air and used both feet to smash into Adam's chest.
He fell to the ground. However, the attack snapped him out of his internal musings. Before Faith had even landed, Adam's left arm came up. The human hand popped open. No spike emerged this time. Instead, a cylindrical metal shaft extended.
"Gun!" Buffy shouted.
Altering the course of her landing in response, Faith twisted mid air. The wound in her side protested until Adam's new equipment began to rotate like the cylinder on a Gatling gun and bullets sprayed the air. The pain melted away under the wash of pure adrenaline. She hit the ground in a tight tuck, rolling toward Adam. Dimly, Faith realized the rain of bullets tearing into the grass followed her progress.
Bullets? He was using bullets? Buffy whipped the energy gun she'd taken from Riley out of her belt and returned fire. Sizzling blue light shot from the barrel, hitting Adam in the chest.
She'd forgotten the energy wasn't a deterrent for him.
His head turned in her direction and the barrel of his arm followed.
Diving to the right, Buffy felt the heat from the metal slugs as they narrowly missed. She scrambled to her feet and turned, anxiously trying to anticipate the next round of fire.
The gunfire came to an abrupt halt, however. Adam bent over the foot Faith had planted firmly and painfully between his legs.
Buffy took advantage of his vulnerability. Two quick steps later, she grabbed his right forearm and pivoted. Her hip pressed into Adam's thigh and her momentum did the rest. Adam whipped around from the force of her throw and landed on his back.
As if they'd choreographed the fight, Faith was there waiting. Snatching Adam's arm from Buffy's grasp, she threw it on the grass and stepped on his wrist. One sharp snap later, Faith held a majority of the spike once attached to Adam's arm.
With a roar of pain and rage, Adam flailed the pinned arm. Faith staggered back.
Buffy moved away as well, dropping into a defensive stance. "Any ideas how to end this?" she called to Faith. Adam was back on his feet and a sharp click announced he'd reloaded his gun.
Willow heard Giles' and Joyce's harsh breathing behind her as they ran for the Meadow. Even after the gunfire, their progress felt like something from a nightmare. No matter how much she strained and fought to go faster, Willow wasn't sure they were getting closer to the four figures in the clearing.
"Stop!" Giles called out.
Ignoring him, Willow continued to run. If she stopped, she couldn't help Buffy. Her breathing rasped so loudly in her ears Willow almost missed the metallic whir just before a bolt flew past.
The wooden shaft struck Adam in the shoulder as he pointed his arm at Buffy and Faith. It didn't faze him. Without even a glance in their direction, the bore of his arm shifted until it pointed directly at Buffy.
The speed Willow hadn't been able to find suddenly reappeared. Her feet flew over the damp grass. It wasn't going to be enough, though. Willow gave up on running. Sliding and stumbling to a halt, she mumbled the words to a spell – the only spell she'd ever managed to get right on her own.
"If I'da had an idea, we wouldn't be standing here waiting to get our asses kicked, B," Faith replied automatically. The gun leveled at her chest held her attention. As it swung away, she traced its path.
It stopped at Buffy.
Muscles trembling with fatigue, Faith readied herself for one last leap. Her grip on the spike tightened. She bent her knees and took a deep breath.
Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy watched Faith explode off the ground and Adam react. The muzzle of his weapon slashed through the air as he turned toward the body hurtling in his direction.
There wasn't enough time to intervene. In horror, Buffy could only wait for bullets to rip into Faith.
Tara's power was failing. The bright light washing over the field flickered as the wild energy burned away. When Faith took that desperate leap, Tara struggled to shore up enough magic for one last blast. If they hit Adam together, maybe they could take him out.
The power was there. She could see it shining within the banks of the ley line.
Her blistered and damaged mental hands couldn't grasp it. Not this time. Too tired and despairing to even cry out, Tara could only watch as Faith flew closer to Adam, the weapon in her hand extended.
The words of the spell tumbled out of Willow's mouth in a crazed rush. There was an instant of total stillness. She felt nothing for that moment. Then an invisible pump drew energy from her magical stores. The flow was faster than anything Willow had felt before.
She didn't understand…until she saw Faith leap at Adam with the bone shaft in her hand.
"Frilly heck," Willow mumbled.
Faith felt a rock stabbing into the ball of her foot as she pressed into the ground and jumped. She was so tired. Even with the Slayer in control of her body, Faith was amazed she managed the leap.
Her eyes flew wide when her momentum continued to grow mid-air…and grow…and grow.
The impact of the spike piercing Adam's chest numbed her fingers, hand, wrist…Then Faith slammed full force into him.
He collapsed under her.
Painfully peeling her hand from the weapon, Faith flopped to the ground and prepared for Adam's counter attack. She raised trembling arms up and waited.
Adam didn't move.
Faith stiffened, tucking her elbows into her sides to keep her arms raised.
Adam didn't move.
Dropping her hands to the grass, Faith crawled toward Adam. On hands and knees, she peered into his lifeless eyes. "Hey, B. Look. The Tin Man's dead."
She collapsed on the grass seconds before the world went black.
"Whatcha thinking, Buffy?" Willow's voice blended into the music surrounding them.
Glancing up into bright green eyes, Buffy smiled slowly. "Not really doing much thinking, Will. I'm all about feelings tonight." She reached up and brushed her lips over Willow's. "See? That feels good. Besides," she tacked on, "you do enough thinking for both of us."
Narrow fingers pinched her side. "Your mother's watching us. There will be no kissing until the old people decide to go home and leave the Bronze to us," Willow informed her decisively.
"I'm not sure you can say that. You were the one groping me in the safe house with the whole gang there to watch." Buffy did, however, put a little distance between them as they danced. A quick glance across the club made her growl.
"Do I need to separate you and the Slayer again?" This time, Willow initiated the kiss. "What has you all wound up and grrr now? Demons? Vamps?"
Buffy growled again. "No. Moms and Watchers holding hands." Here eyes widened and she came to a complete halt on the dance floor. "They're dancing now."
Willow giggled and dragged Buffy back into motion. "At least there aren't any police cars in here."
"Ah!" Giving a dramatic shudder, Buffy closed her eyes and leaned her head on Willow's shoulder. "No more. Please. I so don't need those images in my head." A husky laugh cut through the sound of the band, distracting her for a second. "Although," Buffy looked toward the laugh and saw Faith and Tara dancing nearby, "we may have policemen here soon. Are you sure the cops won't be coming for her?"
Sharp teeth nipped her earlobe, and Buffy shuddered as Willow said, "Not a chance. The Council took care of that. After Giles made a few very polite threats, of course." Willow turned her head to watch the other couple for a second. "She and Tara seem to be doing fine, too. Looks like it's Slayers and witches all around."
The slow song faded and was replaced by a pounding beat and strobing lights.
"Let's sit this one out, Will." Buffy pulled Willow off the dance floor. She bypassed the regular Scooby table, instead taking the stairs to the second level and the tables hidden in deep shadows. "I thought you might like it up here better." Sliding into a booth, Buffy waved her hand. "See? No Mom."
"Why would that be important, Buffy?" Willow was backlit by the flashing lights below, but Buffy was sure she was smiling.
Holding out her hand, Buffy started her explanation. "You said no kissing if we had parental eyes on us. There are no eyes, Will, I want my kisses."
"You are so demanding. I think you and the Slayer need a Time Out." Willow was definitely grinning as she remained standing at the end of the table. "Self control is important, Buffy. I mean, we can't make love all the time."
With a growl, Buffy let the Slayer come closer to the surface and sat up in the booth. "Don't make me come get you," she warned softly.
Willow took a small step in her direction – and Buffy's senses twinged.
She was out of the booth immediately. The poor lighting and the crowd made it hard to pinpoint the danger.
"Buffy?" a familiar voice said from her left.
Nausea threatened. No way. "Hello, Oz." Buffy turned her head and met his eyes. "What are you doing here?" If he said to marry Willow… She pushed the memory of her dream away with Herculean effort.
"I came to talk to Willow." It wasn't exactly like the dream, but Buffy didn't relax. Oz peered over her shoulder. "Hey, Will. Long time no see."
"Oz. Hi." Willow suddenly pressed against Buffy's back, and her arms wrapped around Buffy's waist. "When did you get back?"
The conversation, the music, the Bronze – it all swirled around Buffy. It was the dream. Oz was back and he wanted Willow. The Slayer snarled and strained against her attempts at control. Reaching down, Buffy disengaged Willow's hands and arms. She had to leave. Now. Before the Slayer took over. If she stayed, Oz wouldn't survive – even if he went all wolf-y. "Hey, you guys catch up. I'll see how Mom and Giles are doing."
Fleeing the upper floor, Buffy charged down the stairs, uncaring of the people dodging out of her way. The Slayer fought her every step. Willow was theirs. How could Buffy leave her alone with Oz?
Buffy skidded to a halt. Willow was hers. She ignored the Slayer's near pout at being left out. Oz had abandoned Willow. He'd cheated on her and broken her heart. He didn't have the right to come back and try to take Willow away from her. Spinning on her heel, Buffy retraced her steps.
Willow and Oz were right where she'd left them…except Oz had his hand on Willow's arm.
The Slayer wasn't going to be ignored or caged this time. Buffy grabbed the back of his shirt and picked him up off the ground.
"Buffy!" Willow cried out.
People scrambled from nearby tables. They ran just in time. Buffy flung Oz into a deserted booth and then followed. Pinning him to the wall, she leaned in close. "Willow is mine. You don't touch her…ever…again."
Oz's eyes widened and for a split second, Buffy saw something flare deep inside them. Her Slayer senses spiked.
Then a hand dropped on her shoulder. "Oh, look. Butch Buffy is back. Are you on drugs again?" Willow demanded.
Amazingly, Oz laughed and the pressure on Buffy's senses disappeared.
"Will, I'm kinda busy here. Do you mind?" Buffy glared at Oz, but the moment was broken. "Or…I was." Mumbling under her breath, she hopped out of the booth and faced Willow.
Resolve Face stared back at her.
Buffy tried a smile. Then a pout.
Resolve Face stared back at her.
Heaving a huge sigh, Buffy turned to Oz, still sprawled in the booth. "Sorry, Oz." She stuck out her hand. "I promise not to rip your arms off." Rebellion rose. "As long as you don't touch Willow."
"That's a safe bet," Oz assured her with his trademark almost-smile. "I'll be touch-free from now on." He took her hand, and Buffy pulled him to his feet. "Look. You two need to talk. Will only gets like that when she's really upset. I'll be downstairs."
Bracing for the worst, Buffy turned around one more time. Yep. Still there. "I…uh…" Her voice faltered when Willow didn't show even an ounce of forgiveness. Buffy rocked on her heels as she thought about how to explain.
Her eyes swept the club and took in the familiar sights and sounds. It had all started here. Buffy's lips twitched as she remembered Willow and her box of raisins the first night they'd met here. "I love you, Willow." She'd said the words before. Now, though, Buffy realized she'd always been holding back. She'd been afraid – of her feelings, of Willow's reaction, of a million things.
Not anymore. Ignoring the still-present Resolve Face, Buffy smiled. All this time…She'd just needed a little pharmaceutical aid, a fight with a monster, and an almost-fight with Oz at the Bronze to be ready.
Stepping closer to her scowling girlfriend she whispered, "Is the Time Out over, Will? The Slayer and I want to show you what we learned tonight."
"Oooh!" Willow giggled, her Resolve Face finally disappearing. "Does it involve colored pens and sticky notes? I have some of those in my bag." She bounced out of Buffy's grasp. "Come on." Her light voice reached out and wrapped around Buffy. "Take me home, Professor Buffy."