"What are you gonna' do?" Faith's soft question didn't disturb Willow, who continued to sleep peacefully on the couch at the far end of the room. Turning slightly, just enough to watch Nicole without losing her direct sight-line to Willow, she continued. "Heard Giles wanted ya to stay here."

A tired smile did nothing to lighten Nicole's strained expression. In fact, it highlighted the new lines fanning out from the corners of her eyes and bisecting her forehead. "He called yesterday." A little of her exhaustion faded as mischief flared. "From the air."

Faith snorted. "Bet he'll bitch at me about it when he gets here." She knew he wouldn't, though. The call had been important. And it had been even more important that the request come straight from Giles. Waiting Nicole out, Faith locked her jaw on a yawn. God, she was tired. Too tired to waste much time getting Nicole ready to make her decision.

Her patience stretched to the limit as Nicole's silence dragged on.

Finally, Nicole shifted. Her shoulders slumped. "I told him I'd stay."

"Ya don't sound happy, kid." That bothered Faith. Bothered her so much she'd had her own conversation with Giles as he flew across the Atlantic. "Thought you were headed back home after this trip. Sure there's someone else that could babysit the Chief." She'd tried to tell that to Giles – over and over – during their talk. Well, shouting match, on Faith's side.

Shaking her head, Nicole denied Faith's assertion. "Who? Crash?"

Of course, Nicole picked the worst Plan B. "Hard to run over anything out here," Faith joked. Then her patience ran out. "Don't do this unless ya wanna." There were hundreds, hell, thousands, of Slayers across the globe now. Any one of them could come and sit on the St. Reginald Hellmouth. The Council was done putting kids in places they didn't want to be. If Faith had to make that point herself…

A finger poked into Faith's side, breaking into her dark thoughts. "Stop plotting ways to torture Mr. Giles. I kind of like him." Nicole sighed and stretched her arms over her head, eyes sliding away from Faith's level stare.

"Don't fuck with me, Nic." It was a clear warning. Faith wasn't playing anymore.

Still looking away, Nicole mumbled. "You said it, Faith. There are so many other Junior Slayers. Why me? I'm not… I don't…."

"You think I'd let 'em put ya here if I didn't trust you?" Faith's voice rose until a mumble from Willow forced her back under control. "Nic, I don't know why I was even here for this trip. It was you that got the Chief to trust us. You understood all that prophecy crap. You kept the other kids form freaking when Red let the magic out." Reaching out, she gripped Nicole's shoulder. "See a pattern?" Driving the point home, she said in an intense whisper, "It's all you, Nic."

Nicole flushed and her head dropped.

"I thought bein' a Slayer was the best thing ever. Super powers. Fightin' vamps. Kicking ass." Faith shivered and let the memories roll. Her chest tightened, an echo of the piercing pain she'd felt when Kendra died and the Slayer gift slammed through her. "I was a fuckin' idiot. There's more to being a Slayer than bein' a bad ass." Shaking Nicole slightly, Faith went on. "If Red wasn't standin' right behind me, I'da got us all killed. Just like I did back in Sunnydale when the First was there. You're better than me. Hell, maybe better than B – and you just started."

She felt Nicole stiffen, watched the younger girl's shoulder go back and her head lift. Tears glittered in her eyes. "I'm so scared, Faith."

Faith moved into Nicole's personal space and wrapped an arm around Nicole's shoulders. "Be surprised if ya weren't, kid. But I ain't lettin' Giles stick you here without help. Got a couple teams of Juniors headin' this way. Simmins is gonna be the Head Watcher, and Amy's backing you up. And if that ain't enough, you let me know and I'll let you boss me around – for a couple of days 'till you get right again."

A watery giggle answered Faith's vow.

Crisis possibly averted, Faith stepped back. "So, gonna ask one last time, and you better convince me, kid. Do you want to stay?"

There was a new, shorter silence. Then Nicole said, "I do, Faith. And I swear I won't let you or Mr. Giles down."

"Never doubted ya, kid." Faith relaxed slightly, one of her worries out of the way. "Now get the fuck outta here. Giles'll be here before ya know it. Might want to grab some sleep before then. Gonna be one big meeting for you once he shows up."

Nicole groaned dramatically. "Is it too late to change my mind?" She grinned before striding down the hall.

Her departure left Faith alone with her other problem. And that problem sat up on the coach, hair flattened on one side and clothes hopelessly rumpled from her nap. "I don't know why you keep saying you're a terrible leader. All Nicole needed was your stamp of approval."

"Mmm." Faith wasn't going to debate that point. Knees a little quivery, she stepped all the way into the room and closed the door. It took two tries to turn the small push-button lock.

"Faith?" Willow's voice was suddenly tight with tension.

Without answering, Faith walked across the thick carpet and sank to her knees next to Willow's perch. It was now or never. Praying she didn't blow this – or chicken out – Faith tucked a strand of Willow's hair behind her ear with a shaking hand. "Been thinking a lot." Even with Slayer healing, her arm had taken a while to mend. And then she'd spent days and nights watching over Willow as she detoxed from the Black Magic.

Eyes so wide they threatened to spring from her head, Willow stared at Faith.

"Nicole ain't the only one scared, Red. Willow," Faith corrected quickly. Red was someone from her past. Willow was, hopefully, her future. "What you did in the alley, that's big shit. You can't keep doin' that. One of them witches from England said you shoulda died from all the black magic. She said you could've lost control and we'da never got you back."

Willow protested immediately. "No, Faith. It wasn't that…"

The hand that had tucked Willow's hair now gently covered Willow's lying lips. "You can't keep doin' this," Faith repeated firmly. "It's time to get out of the game."

"No!" Willow managed to yank away for a second.

Faith was off the floor in a flash, crowding Willow into the space where the arm of the couch met the back cushions. "Yes." She emphasized her point with a soft, brushing kiss. "I called Xander a coupla days ago. The Council got the land you wanted for that Slayer School, and he's already got a crew working on the first building."

She kissed Willow again, agonizingly soft and slow, hyper aware of even the smallest movement or protest. There weren't any. Rather, Willow tilted her head, opened her lips, and became an active participant. The kisses went from soft to hard and fast. Almost desperate. Wrenching away, breathing harsh and loud, Faith admitted what she'd discovered with all the soul searching in the dead of night. "It'd kill me if somethin' happened to you, Willow." The pretty speeches she'd written as she sat at Willow's bedside, watching her thrash and moan from magical withdrawal all disappeared. Faith was alone with feelings she didn't understand and had no way to voice. "You gotta stay safe. Run the school. Hell, join B in where-the-fuck ever."

"Only if you're with me," Willow stated firmly. She stroked a finger along Faith's jaw, raising goose pimples. "I don't go anywhere without you now."

Warmth exploded in Faith's chest at the declaration. Willow always knew just what to say. Faith wished for the same talent. "Ain't lettin' you go, Willow. You wanna teach school, I'll be right there, yellin' at the Juniors. Making sure they understand you're off limits." It wasn't what she wanted to say, hadn't come out anywhere close to right, but it was enough to make Faith's hands slick with sweat.

She prayed Willow didn't notice that as she slid her fingers beneath Willow's T-shirt. Fuck, the now-exposed skin was so soft. So hot.

The flush on Willow's cheeks expanded, flowing down her neck until it stained the pale skin over her collarbone. "Why am I off limits?" she murmured as she wiggled and writhed into a nearly prone position, lying mostly beneath Faith on the couch.

As if they were two pieces of a puzzle, Faith's leg fit between Willow's. Her thigh pressed against the zipper of Willow's jeans. Heat blasted through the denim, scorching Faith. Lost in the moment, Faith didn't answer. Her hands rose, pushing Willow's shirt up and over her shoulders and head.

"Son of a bitch." More pale skin, dusted with freckles. Hard nipples poked through the thin material of a bra. Faith couldn't think. Couldn't breathe. But she somehow managed to undo the tiny clasp between Willow's breasts and cup the freed mounds. Pinching the nipples hardened them further and added a dash of color. Intrigued, Faith spent long moments pinching and pulling and nipping.

By the time she stopped, Willow undulated beneath her. Her fingers were locked around Faith's shoulders.

"You're beautiful," Faith told Willow. It was mind boggling. She needed to see more. She needed to see all of Willow. Standing for a minute, she unfastened Willow's jeans and pulled them completely off. Willow's underwear followed. The white socks could wait, and Faith enjoyed the contrast of the peach bra framing Willow's breasts. That could stay, too.

Returning to the couch, Faith braced herself above Willow. She kissed the concave hollow of Willow's stomach. Ran her teeth along a cute string of freckles on Willow's left hip. Her fingers slid easily through the wild, wet auburn curls covering Willow's vulva.

A twitch of Willow's hips and a stuttering breath announced Faith's arrival at Willow's clit.

She teased the swollen nub for a moment and then moved lower. Spreading Willow's outer labia, Faith lightly stroked the thin inner folds. They glistened and their color deepened with each touch.

"Faith. Oh, Goddess." Willow's voice was a hoarse benediction.

So close to the prize, Faith hesitated. This wasn't what she was used to. This wasn't a stranger she'd picked up in a bar. This was Willow… As she lay frozen, Willow reached between them and twined her fingers with Faith's. Together, they teased in and out of Willow's core, dragging dampness up to coat her swelling clit.

Willow's hand fell away as Faith woke up and concentrated her efforts there. Pushing the skin of the hood back with the fingers of one hand, she used the forefinger and second finger of the other to stroke along the sides of Willow's swelling bundle of nerves.

She could tell Willow was close now. Her thighs trembled and her back had arched.

Gently, ever so gently, Faith slid her fingers around and around, never directly over Willow's clit. Willow whimpered. Her muscles got impossibly stiffer until she vibrated beneath Faith.

Lowering her head, Faith gave Willow the final push over the edge. She lashed the tip of her tongue over the taut nub begging for her attention.

"Faith!" The hands that had helped Faith before now latched painfully into her hair, holding her against Willow's clit. Willow bucked and shook, and Faith was sure she'd have bald patches. She didn't care. It would so be worth it.

Finally, when Willow dropped, boneless, to the cushions, Faith raised her head. "You're off limits 'cause you're mine, Will."