Author's Note: After years of writer's block and serious imagination drought, I'm apparently going through some sort of rabid write-o-rama phase (seven fics in a month and a half is a record for me). I'm not sure whether this one is going to make it past the first chapter, but I figured that since I've bothered to write it, I might as well post it.

Summary Type Note: So, the basic premise of this fic is that instead of there being a single Chosen One, there are four – and they're part Slayers, part witches. (Something along the lines of BtVS meets Charmed meets The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants). The current four Chosen Ones were all born and raised in Sunnydale, where they've been trained by their Watcher (Giles, of course) since they were thirteen years old.

The Council is pretty much the same as in BtVS, but less strict and more useful. After graduating from UC Sunnydale, they're sent to Los Angeles to guard the gateway between Hell and our world (so basically, LA is the Hellmouth) and that's where the story begins.

And if any of this seems confusing, it'll probably be less confusing in the actual fic. Hopefully.

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1 : Exes And Stepladders

The photograph showed four teenage girls, sitting side by side on a wooden bench in the middle of a sunlit lawn populated by various forms of greenery. At first sight, the bench appeared to be in a park or a garden, but if you looked closely, you could see a building in the background. The Sunnydale High School building, to be more precise.

The girl sitting furthest to the left was leaning forward. She held a cigarette loosely in one hand and her brown eyes gave the camera a wicked look through the long fringe of dark hair that swept across her forehead. The rest of her hair cascaded raggedly around her shoulders, as though she couldn't be bothered to tame it into any sort of orderly style.

The girl sitting next to her was shading her eyes from the sun with her hand. She had been caught in mid-laugh, so that her mouth was curving expressively and her eyes were just beginning to widen with mirth. You couldn't see their color clearly, but there was no mistaking the honey blonde hue of her hair, highlighted as it was by the sun's rays.

The third girl to the left was another dark-eyed brunette, similar to and yet entirely different from the first girl. Her hair was swept up in an elegant French twist, earrings glittered at her earlobes and she wore a perfectly coordinated outfit that could only have come off the shelves of an expensive store. She sat with her head tilted at an angle, flashing a brilliant smile at the camera with a set of perfectly white teeth.

The fourth girl, the one sitting farthest to the right, was the only redhead in the group. Her hair was plaited into two neat auburn braids, one on each side of her head. She wore less makeup than the others and her clothes were more conservative, but that didn't make her any less pretty, although she might not have realized that herself. Her smile was hesitant, but unmistakably genuine.

It was a very faithful portrait of Faith Lehane, Buffy Summers, Cordelia Chase and Willow Rosenberg as high school juniors, all aged seventeen at the time.

---

Four years later, a copy of that same photograph sat in a pretty silver frame on the kitchen table in an apartment in midtown Los Angeles. It was currently keeping company with a small box of doughnuts, a pot of coffee, a glass of herbal tea, a plate of rye toast and a few packets of sugar substitute – and a telephone.

A telephone which, at the exact time that the four inhabitants of the apartment were about to sit down to breakfast, began to ring. Four pairs of eyes focused simultaneously on the ringing phone. Four heads leaned forward to peer at the Caller ID display – and four voices groaned.

It was Michael Ferris, Cordelia's ex-boyfriend. Again.

Cordelia sighed and reached for the phone. "Well, I guess I'd better answer it. He'll only call again if I don't."

"Oh no," Faith said warningly, putting her hand on Cordelia's to keep her from grabbing the phone. "Don't you dare, C. That creep needs to learn to take 'hell no' for an answer."

"Agreed." Buffy gave the telephone a look of distaste. "He should be doing less groveling and more therapy."

They stared at the phone for a while longer as it continued to ring. Then Willow cleared her throat. "It seems kind of … cruel to just let it ring like that, though."

Faith looked at Buffy with a familiar gleam in her eyes. "Red's right. The poor guy will be so hurt if no one answers."

"Yeah," Buffy said slowly, with a little half-smile. "It really would be a shame."

Cordelia looked from one of her best friends to the other, slightly alarmed by the familiar wicked tones in their voices. She knew exactly what they were thinking. "You guys, no. No way. He doesn't deserve it."

"Deserve what?" Faith asked innocently. "We're just going to have a little discussion with him, is all."

"A good, honest talk," Buffy said solemnly, "would be exactly what he deserves. Wouldn't you agree, Will?"

Willow nodded. "Oh, yes. It would be the best thing for him."

And before Cordelia could stop them, they had swept the phone off the table and carried it to the bedroom that Willow and Buffy shared. They locked the door to keep her from barging in and she couldn't hear what they were saying, although their voices stayed relatively low. She desperately hoped this meant they were being reasonable.

Five minutes later, the three of them reappeared and sat down calmly to finish their unfinished breakfast. When Cordelia demanded to know what had happened, they reassured her that they hadn't done anything extreme.

"But he definitely won't be calling again," Buffy told her airily, "and that's the important thing. Will, pass the milk."

"And, er, he might not be leaving his apartment for a while," Faith added. She was obviously repressing a laugh. "Thinks someone might be 'after him', or somethin'. Couldn't really hear him, what with all the whimpering going on."

Willow giggled. "That was the best part. Not that I enjoyed it, or anything," she added quickly, as Cordelia gave her a shocked look. "Not at all."

Faith snorted. "Yeah, right. Who thought up the part about the rusty nails through his eyeballs?"

"Actually," Buffy corrected her, "I think we forgot to say 'eye'. That's when he got all hysterical."

"No," Faith said, "he got hysterical after that speech you gave him about how gutting a fish and gutting a person isn't really all that different. 'I can show you if you'd like'," she mimicked, imitating Buffy's voice.

The three of them started laughing and even Cordelia had to struggle to keep herself from smiling. "You should've have done any of that," she said, in her best attempt at a stern tone. "He could try to get back at us."

Instead of being alarmed, the other three looked pleased at the prospect and started swapping ideas about the possibilities for putting some of their threats into practice.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "You guys are hopeless."

"Yes," Buffy said, getting up and going over to give her a kiss on the cheek, "but you love us anyway. And you can't deny it." She jangled the set of car keys in her hand lightly."All right, people. Time to head off to work."

Willow checked her watch and looked up at Buffy. "It's not even eight o'clock, we don't have to go yet."

"We do if we want to beat traffic." Buffy grinned. "And I don't know about you deadbeats, but I don't want to show up late to our own opening day. It kind of sends the wrong message to our potential customers."

"Little Miss Sunshine's got a point." Faith knocked back the rest of her coffee and stood up. "We might as well get movin'. You coming, Cordy? Or would you rather take the subway?" she asked teasingly.

"Please," Cordelia said dryly, "like I'd take ever risk public transportation in this town. It's like sending an open invitation to every mugger in sight. And if anyone's mug-worthy, it's me." She reached out to grab Willow's wrist and pulled her out of her chair, despite the redhead's mild protests about clearing the table before they left.

---

They'd named it The Pentagram. From the outside it didn't look like much, and most people would probably pass it by without a second thought. But inside, it housed the largest collection of magick supplies and occult books in all of Los Angeles. And that was only the first floor. A hidden spiral staircase amid the towering bookshelves and gleaming glass display cases lead upwards to a second floor, which was the really interesting part of it all. Sadly for customers, access to the second floor was restricted to the store owners, and it took more than a key to get in.

But a key was all Buffy needed to unlock the store's front door and she stepped aside with a flourish to let the other girls in first. "Ta-da! Welcome to the future means of earning our daily bread."

"Not that we all eat bread," Faith said, with a sly smile at Cordelia. "For some of us, it's more like 'daily lettuce'."

Cordelia shrugged, unconcerned. "Talk to my twenty-two inch waistline and killer legs, because the rest of me ain't listening."

Willow had been perusing the bookshelves with an expression of pure awe on her face. "This place is unbelievable. It must've taken at least two years to set all this up."

"So while we were mooching at UC Sunnydale, the Council was already working on this? I've gotta give them some credit for doing something right for once," Buffy said. "Maybe we should send them flowers. Or a really big box of chocolate. Do Watchers like chocolate?"

"I know one who does," a male voice said quietly. "But you've apparently forgotten all about him."

They turned to see an extremely familiar figure standing in the doorway. Willow was the first to get over her shock, and with a quick squeal of "Giles!" she ran over to give him a hug. He looked surprised and then pleased at the affectionate gesture, and soon the other girls were taking their turns to hug him.

"You should've told us you were coming," Buffy scolded him. "There could have been a 'Welcome Giles' banner and an insane number of balloons waiting for you. And a chocolate cake," she added for good measure.

The Englishman laughed. "Oh, I don't know," he said fondly. "I don't think this is too shoddy, as far as welcomes go."

"And we're psyched to see you again, G-man," Faith said, "really. But this had better be a social visit, because if we hear the words 'training' or 'practice' come out of your mouth, we're putting you on the next train back to Sunnydale."

Willow nodded fervently. "We've only just managed to get the apartment live-in-able and we don't even know what we're stocking here yet," she gestured at the bookshelves lining the walls, "so now definitely wouldn't be a good time to go all Serious Watcher on us."

"Fine," Giles said reluctantly, "the work side of things can wait. But I'll want to have seen a progress display before I leave."

"Deal," Buffy said, with obvious relief. "How long are you staying?"

"Another week or so," Giles answered. "That is, if you four don't mind." They hesitated, until he added "I'll be staying at a hotel, of course."

"Then we don't mind at all," Cordelia said graciously. "And besides, we could probably use a little help around here."

"A little help and a stepladder," Faith groused. She was trying to reach one of the top bookshelves. "I swear, if it wasn't for the fact that someone might see me…"

Buffy grinned. "Nobody would be able to look inside if we just drew the blinds."

Cordelia pointed at the large storefront windows. "Uh, newsflash. We don't have any blinds."

Buffy's grin widened. "Says who?" She extended her hand casually, whispered a single word and there was a metallic clattering sound as a set of gleaming slotted blinds took form and descended to cover the windows.

"Ooh." Willow moved forward to look more closely at the newly created blinds. "Nicely done. Illusion?"

"Nope – real thing. Took it from a factory in Maine. They won't miss it," she added defensively, "they've got about a million more."

Cordelia mumbled something disapproving, but Buffy ignored her and turned to Faith. "Think you can reach that shelf now?"

Faith smirked. "No problem. Levitate." Her body began to drift, slowly and elegantly, upwards through the air. She brought herself level with the top shelf and reached out easily to grab Advanced Defensive Magick from among the other books. "For practice," she said innocently as Cordelia glared at her.

Giles had been watching all this silently, and when he finally spoke his tone was almost as proud as it was disapproving. "All this so that you wouldn't have to buy a stepladder?"

"Oh no," Buffy assured him lightly, "we're still going to buy a stepladder."

"So you just felt like showing off?" This time the disapproval had definitely won out over pride.

There was a long silence. And then Buffy decided to be honest. "Well… yeah."

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Author's Note: I'll introduce more characters later on (assuming there's a second chapter). Especially male ones, because every story needs a decent 'tangled romantic relationships' angle – so Angel, Oz, Spike and Xander will definitely be included – but I don't want to bring in too many and take the focus off the four main characters. Anyway, feedback would be nice.