This is the last part of Anywhere but Here. Big thanks to everyone who stuck with me through this episode, I know there have been major delays between updates, so for your patience and stamina you all rock :) And for all the lovely reviews too.


Giles took some of the dinner plates to the sink and checked his watch. "I must telephone the coven. Althenea will be anxious to know Willow is fully recovered."

"Tell her I'll call her soon," Willow said, taking her share of dishes to the counter.

Giles nodded. "I'll be back to help wash up and that was a lovely meal, Buffy, thank you."

"You're welcome." Buffy smiled, her satisfyingly full feeling making her feel generous and less with the bitter rage-iness. "Don't worry about the washing up; we've got it."

"We do?" Xander grinned sceptically.

"I'll let you have another beer."

"Since when are the proprietor of the beers I bought?" he asked easily as he forked leftover pumpkin out of the pie dish.

"You really think you can grab one if I want to stop you?"

"Maybe."

"You guys, can we not argue anymore today," Willow begged. "I may be better but I'm still exhausted. I don't know if I can gather the same vitriol as you two."

"It's not an argument, Will."

Xander was surprised. "We're not?"

Not that he had really been in arguing mode but it'd felt like the beginnings of one of their now familiar bickering sessions.

"Nope. I'm simply giving you a choice. You want a beer: you either help with the washing up or you go through me. Personally I'm hoping you'll try and go through me. It'll be fun."

Chuckling, Oz chuckled began to clear the rest of the table. "I don't mind helping."

"No, you're a guest," Buffy said, smiling at him gratefully for offering. "Our only guest in fact."

"I don't mind," he said again.

"Honestly, you don't have to," Willow said quietly.

They were standing close near the sink and took the opportunity to look into one another's eyes for a long minute.

Buffy and Xander took the opportunity to share their own look. Neither of them knew what was happening here. Were they suddenly together now? Or not so suddenly. Had Oz finally made his move? Had Willow made a move?

Whatever move had been made it apparently wasn't a particularly romantic one because eventually Oz nodded and turned on his heel, whistling to Ralph. He stopped at the back door.

"Thanks, Buffy."

"My pleasure. Thanks for earlier. Out in the woods. I don't really know what went down yet but I get the impression if you hadn't be there the badness would have been worse."

He nodded and gave Willow one last look. She returned it with an awkward smile. His long-legged, shaggy dog gave Goorzar one last longing look too and then trotted out of the door after him.

Goorzar stared mournfully for a moment before flopping back and pulling her ratty blanket over her head.

Xander smiled. "Ah, the love affair between a demon and her dog."

Chuckling, Buffy turned eagerly to Willow. "So, what's the what?"

"No what."

"Oh, come on, Will." Xander casually made his was to the fridge, taking some bowls to the counter as cover. "There's gotta be a little what there."

"Yeah." Buffy leapt over the counter in one easy, fluid move and landed between Xander and the fridge. "You can't tell me there isn't a story to go with those deep, loving looks."

"Not loving!" Willow said.

"Really?" Buffy asked.

"Well, loving as in 'I love him', but. . . no. Not loving as in, you know, I want to be his girlfriend or anything."

"You don't?" Xander feinted to the left. Buffy didn't even flinch. "But I thought you two were all with the. . . actually I'm not sure what you two were all with, but there was definitely a vibe there."

"No there wasn't."

"Buffy, back me up. Vibe, yay or nay?"

"Definitely yay."

"There ya go. Now, I need to get some milk out of the refrigerator, so Buffy, if you would just let me get to it."

"I'll get it for you." Buffy opened the fridge door, giving Xander a good view of the beers inside, and pulled out a carton of milk.

He looked at it like it was alien produce and then sat it on the side. "Thank you. Now I need some, um, cheese."

"Cheese board is still on the table," she reminded him.

"I meant cheesy flavoured. . . "

"Cheesy flavoured?" she asked innocently.

"Soda," he finished helplessly, not able to think of anything else chilled on the spot.

Buffy grinned and made a shooing motion with her hand. "Just walk away, dude."

"But they're my beers!"

"I told Oz I was gay," Willow suddenly blurted.

Xander and Buffy both immediately forgot their conversation.

"Uh, I thought he already kinda knew that," Buffy said.

"He did. Kinda. I guess, I just told him it was non-negotiable."

"But I thought you two," Xander began, like he was traversing a field of emotional landmines. "I mean, you seemed to be hitting it off again."

"We were. We are! I do love him." Willow started to run the hot water and squirted detergent into the bowl as a distraction. "I just. . .not like that, so much, you know?"

"Like what?" Xander asked.

But Buffy figured she knew. "You don't want to get naked with him."

"No," Willow said in a small voice.

"Ohhhh!" said Xander, catching on. "Well, that's fine, Will. You know we're already down with the gay love. Some of us more than others," he added, nodding his head towards Buffy.

Buffy rolled her eyes with a little shake of her head but otherwise chose to ignore that. "So, does this mean Kennedy's the one?"

Willow shrugged, turning to the sink. "Are you okay with that?"

"Of course I am! Will, don't start this again, please."

"I wasn't aware it had stopped."

"Come on! After all we've just been through do you seriously still think I'm not there for you?"

Willow shrugged again, her back still to them. "I don't know. Xander, has the last twenty-four hours stopped you from hating me?"

Xander looked really shocked by that. "Will, I never hated you."

"You did a pretty good impression of it."

"No! I did a good impression of being pissed at you because I am. Was. Am. I don't know, but I never hated you!"

"Really?" Willow asked in an even smaller voice.

"Really!"

She finally turned to him. "But you were so angry."

"I'm…" he sighed. "I'm just angry period. You got the brunt because you were the only one prepared to call me on it."

Willow smiled tentatively. "You hurt the ones you love the most?"

"Exactly."

Buffy watched as they gave each other a big hug. "Well, that's swell, but what about me?"

Xander smiled over the top of Willow's head. "Give me a beer and we're cool."

"I was talking to Willow!"

Willow let go of him and turned to face her, Buffy held her arms out for a hug.

"We're okay, I guess," she said and went back to the washing up.

"Yeah, I'm really feeling the love over here," Buffy griped as she started putting leftovers into the fridge. Xander tried to reach around her to get a beer and she slapped his hand. "No."

"Please?"

"Earn it."

She caught it out of the corner of her eye as he went from a frowning, motionless start straight into his famed Snoopy dance – hands flapping, feet hopping and skipping on the spot – and she turned to him, a disbelieving smile quirking her lips.

He kept it up, a determined expression on his face, until Willow and Buffy were both laughing.

Finally he gave it up, panting a little. "There."

"Very entertaining but not what I had in mind, sorry."

"But it always earned me anything I wanted back in school," he whined. "Will, tell her!"

"Sorry, Xan, you know I'm with Buffy on the beer thing."

"Fine. I'll talk."

Buffy smirked over her shoulder. "You don't have to talk, just dry the dishes."

"Buffy!" Willow scolded.

"I meant you have to talk while you dry the dishes," she altered quickly. She handed him a tea towel and then started to wipe the counters free of crumbs and spilled sauces with a damp dish rag. "So do you think you have that PSAT thing that soldiers get?"

"PTSD," Willow corrected. "It stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

"I knew that."

"And I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't all have it coming after what we faced in Sunnydale."

"I still have nightmares largely featuring that rickety school bus." Buffy shuddered at the memory of the days upon days spent in the smelly, over-crowded bus.

"I just miss everything," Xander said as he dried a dinner plate. "My apartment, my job, my eye, Anya, my parents for Pete's sake! Anya, not being so scared all the time, being able to help you guys out with the slayage, Anya," he said for the third time and then fell quiet.

Buffy and Willow shared an unsure look.

"You helped with the slayage today," Buffy said.

"Yeah, you saved Kennedy's life!" Willow reminded him.

"Right place, right time, literally, and it was just self preservation. I saw the claws and panicked."

"I panicked too when we landed in the middle of that mess," Buffy admitted.

"But you have the confidence to know you can handle yourself. I've lost that."

"It's not confidence most of the time, its cockiness, and I'm the Slayer – cockiness comes with the package. Ask Faith or Kennedy."

"I haven't heard you call yourself The Slayer in a while," Willow said with a soft smile.

Buffy shrugged awkwardly and went back to cleaning. "I'm not any more, am I? But I don't think I want to be Just Buffy after all either."

"Beryan struck a nerve earlier, huh?" Xander chuckled.

Buffy smirked. "Guess so. But believe me, Xan, the cockiness you can fake. It's all the experience that keeps me alive and you already have that. I mean, you were Nighthawk!" she ribbed him good-naturedly.

He threw a spoon at her. It went a foot wide and landed on the counter with a tinkling sound. His smile went south.

"I have experience with two eyes! And I left one of those in Sunnydale. I don't think I can do it with just. . ."

He turned away from them, suddenly scared he was going to cry. It wasn't just his pride he was worried about hurting, tears physically stung like hell now too. Buffy and Willow didn't say anything and after a minute he had the feeling under control enough to continue.

"I just can't believe I miss freaking Sunnydale! And instead of it getting easier it gets. . .it gets harder! I see you two being all happy with your lives here and I get angry because I can't handle the missage. I mean how pathetic do I have to get before I. . .!"

He gave a thankfully dry sob and braced his arms on the counter as he shut his eye tight, breathing through the urge to go fetal-like on the stone floor.

"We're not happy here," Buffy and Willow said simultaneously.

"Ha!" Xander didn't believe them, despite the evidence piling up daily.

They had to be happier than him; if they weren't there was something really wrong with all of them.

"Yeah, we miss all that stuff too," Buffy said, abandoning the cleaning to move to his side. "I miss my house, my Mom's things, going to talk to her every night on patrol. I miss Anya and Spike and hanging with you guys at the Magic Box. I miss my job – I mean we all know I'm never going to get another one that good unless another slayer's kid becomes principal of McKinley High. I miss Sunnydale too, Xan, it was our town, yunno?"

"Me too!" Willow moved up close to his other side. "I miss college and walking down by the water in Weatherly Park and the Espresso Pump – the Mouth's mochas are not the same!"

"Not enough sprinkles," Buffy agreed.

Xander chuckled, nodding his head.

"And. . . and I miss that everywhere I looked there was a memory of Tara. I know she was already gone before. . . I didn't lose her right at the end like you both lost the people you love but. . . but she always with me there, you know? I think that's why I was wooed by the idea of being with Oz again. I mean, please don't tell him that, but he represents a part of my past where I was happy, he's a piece of Sunnydale. Kennedy and I had, what, four months there? And we didn't exactly do the couply thing much."

"You did it quite a bit," Buffy said dryly, causing Xander to chuckle.

Willow blushed and gave them an admonishing smile. "I wasn't referring to smooches. I meant like the 'building a life around each other' stuff and 'Sunnydale and the saving of' was my life, our lives, mostly yours," she conceded to Buffy, "but it was part of who I was. It was part of who Oz and I were too, and Tara and I. Here its like, we could not even be here and the place would tick along as unevil-y as ever."

Buffy shrugged. "We did stop that demon rising thing."

"And now we have this exciting new lizard demon mystery to solve," Xander added.

"You said 'we'," Buffy smiled. "I think that's the first step of getting the Scooby gang back together again."

Xander was surprised he had said that. It had been a slip of the tongue after long years of habit. He didn't feel a part of the gang anymore and he missed that most of all.

"In theory, maybe. I'm still depth-perception-challenged guy."

"We can work on that." Willow promised and then she took a good look at him. "Actually, I might mean that literally. I read something a few years back about a firm in LA doing eye transplants."

She reached for his eye patch and he automatically knocked her hand away, harder than he meant to. She retracted her hand, unconsciously rubbing it.

"Sorry," they said at the same time.

"I can't. . .not. . .I don't want. . . I can't even think about that, Will."

"Maybe some other time?" Buffy suggested, seeing Willow's crestfallen face.

"Maybe, one day, I don't know."

And that was as much as he was prepared to give on the subject. It wasn't like he hadn't thought of some kind of magickal or medical way to regain full sight but all the fantasies ended abruptly, right when he imagined someone getting close enough to his empty socket to do something about it. He couldn't even take care of it himself without fear and revulsion kicking in. He wasn't about to let a complete stranger anywhere near his eyesore of an injury, pun not intended.

"Well, we can still work on it other ways," Buffy said. "You just have to get some more practical experience with one eye."

"Like how? Gonna throw me in a vamp nest and let me fumble my way out?"

"Ooh, we could start small," Willow said excitedly, catching on to Buffy's thinking. "More catching practise!"

"And no time like the present," Buffy agreed.

"It's too dark to throw a baseball around outside," Xander said. "I guess we could go to the training barn but. . . "

"No, Buffy said practical experience." Willow picked up a plate. "That means no soft options. Go to the other end of the room."

Xander eyed Willow and the plate dubiously. "You do remember what my catching skills were like two days ago, right? Giles will go ape if I start smashing plates for your amusement."

He expected Buffy to agree against this insane plan but instead she nodded excitedly. "No it's perfect. It'll be you Giles is mad at so you better really concentrate." She grabbed her own plate out of the washing up bowl, heedless of it dripping all over the floor.

Figuring the quickest way to get this humiliating experience over with was to go along with it, he moved over near the back stairs.

"Okay, let the smashing commence."

"Concentrate," Willow instructed and then threw the plate at him.

Personally he didn't blame his lack of depth perception when the plate flew past his reaching hands and smashed against the back wall so much as Willow's crappy aim.

He was about to comment on it when Goorzar, woken by the plate hitting the wall above her head, suddenly bolted out of her bed box, shrieking. They all watched guiltily as she made a frantic circuit of the kitchen looking for Kennedy. Willow bent down to try and comfort her but was only used a jumping off point, knocking her on her butt against the cupboards.

Eventually Buffy opened the back door. "Your Mom's out there."

Goorzar shot through the door, whimpering, and Buffy shut it again with a grimace.

"We probably should have given her some warning." The other two nodded. "Okay, Xan, get ready."

"You don't really want to. . ." he began; one failure was enough for the night.

"Five, four, three. . ."

Xander hurried back into position. Buffy's aim was as good as any guided missile and all he had to do was hold his hands out in front of him. He began to smile as he felt his palms touch the plate. The water and slippery detergent still dripping from the china had other ideas. For a few seconds it looked as though he was juggling and then he gave up trying to get a decent grip and watched instead as it broke into three pieces at his feet.

"I'm calling unfair disadvantage that has nothing to do with my lack of eye," he said, still looking at it.

"My bad," Buffy wiped her wet hands guiltily on the back of her pants.

"Okay, that was completely not fun. I'm going to bed." It had been a long forty-eight hours. "Same time tomorrow, ladies?"

"Just one more," Buffy said before he could leave the kitchen.

"You're joking, right?" he began irritably before he realised what she was pulling out of the fridge. "Ooh, I catch a plate I get a beer?"

"Nope. You obviously don't care enough about the plates, but catch this and it's yours."

"Buff, are you sure that's a good idea?" Willow whispered nervously, like Xander was missing an ear instead of an eye. "Glass and beer will be a lot harder to clean up."

"That's true," Buffy said thoughtfully. "And Andrew's not back for another couple of days." She shook her head. "No, I'm sure."

"Just for the record, I'm offended that you think a beer is more important to me than the pl. . ."

The bottle of beer was already soaring towards him, its trajectory deliberately a little off to make him work. His left palm smacked it too hard and his fist closed empty. His right hand came up to catch it and just missed. He flapped and flailed his arms so much he looked like he was doing the Snoopy dance again but eventually… eventually!... a dive and some creative acrobatics later and he landed on his side with the bottle pressed securely between the palm of his right hand and his left elbow.

He lay there panting; sweating profusely. "Hey, I did it!"

The back door was shoved open, revealing Kennedy in panic mode. Goorzar was gibbering behind her.

"Xander, what happened? Are you okay?" she asked, seeing him on the floor.

"Yeah, I'm good."

He rolled on to his back grinning and opened the bottle of beer. It frothed up and half of his victory sip leaked over his cheek due to his prone position but he didn't care.

Kennedy looked around and saw Buffy and Willow, all smiles, standing at the other end of the kitchen.

"I heard something smash and then Goorzie came running out terrified."

"Yeah, sorry about that," Buffy said. "We smashed a plate and it freaked her out. So where's Faith? Didn't she feel like running to our rescue too?"

"She went to the training barn for weapons, but considering how slow she's moving I wouldn't expect the cavalry to arrive before Christmas."

She scooped a still frightened Goorzar up in her arms and surveyed the people in the kitchen again. Xander was still smiling up at her from the floor, sipping happily from his beer.

"I caught it!" he said by way of explanation, toasting her with the bottle.

"Good for you. Well, as long as you're all having fun in here, I'm going to bed. I'll take Goorz with me. She's scared and I could… use the company," Kennedy turned to leave.

"Kennedy, wait. . ." Buffy began, feeling bad that she would be out in the dorm all alone.

When Kennedy turned to her, Buffy realised what she was doing and glanced at Willow, deferring to her. Willow took the opportunity; clearing her throat and stepping forward.

"I know you're tired, but could we talk a minute."

Kennedy looked away. "Its okay, Will. I know you're with Oz now. No need for any confessionals."

"What? No, no I'm not! I told him earlier that . . that we weren't, you know, gonna be together that way."

Kennedy's head shot around as Willow dropped her eyes to the floor.

"I understand if it's too late."

"I don't if it is."

Really?"

Willow looked up excitedly at the same moment that Kennedy buried her face in Goorzar's hair. Again they missed making eye-contact.

"Maybe you two should go somewhere to talk," Xander suggested, finally getting up from the floor.

Neither Kennedy nor Willow appeared to hear.

Kennedy looked up from Goorzar. "I think I love you."

Smiling hopefully, Willow took one step closer. "I think I might love you too."

"But this isn't right."

"Loving each other isn't right?"

"No, that's good." Kennedy absent-mindedly handed Goorzar to Buffy – who accepted her just as absentmindedly. "But the fact that we broke up so easily over something stupid."

"It wasn't stupid!"

"And the fact that we still disagree on that means something too."

"What are you saying?" Willow took another step closer but her body language was defensive now.

Kennedy hesitated. "I'm saying I think I love you but I don't like the way that's made me feel so far."

"It's not been a bucket of kittens for me either."

"I get that." Kennedy looked at the kitchen floor for a moment. "We were different people in Sunnydale. Everything was so intense. We thought we only had weeks, days even, to live."

"I still don't think I don't understand where this is going." Willow looked to Buffy and Xander for a clue, or maybe some moral support.

Buffy took the cue. "Ken, you're being pretty vague here. I know you love Willow; just make up already."

Kennedy shot her a nasty look. "Faith's hobbling over here to save your life. Why don't you go and reward her by doing her on the picnic bench?"

Buffy's grip on Goorzar tensed as she clenched her teeth, but she managed not to retaliate. Kennedy was getting extra laps tomorrow though.

"You won't be with me because you don't want to reward me?" Willow asked, confused.

"I want to be with you, I just. . ." Kennedy winced at whatever she was thinking before continuing. "I didn't leave you, Will."

"You broke up with me!"

"I already explained that was a misunderstanding. I've got no baggage!" Kennedy laid it on the line. "I was yours from the moment we laid eyes on each other."

"So you're holding the fact that I have ex's against me?" Willow spat. "Sorry for being three years older than you, but you knew that when you pursued me."

"It's got nothing to do with the age gap and I have exes! I just never fell in love with every single person I ever kissed!"

"In that case I'm sorry that being intimate with someone actually means something to me!"

"You know what? Forget it!" Kennedy turned to leave again.

"Kennedy, do not walk out," Buffy demanded.

"Why not?"

"Firstly because you don't really want to, and secondly because I'm telling you not to."

Kennedy turned back to Willow. "Do you want to hear my suggestion?"

Willow was obviously still seething but nodded.

"Being with you makes me feel like I'm spinning backwards on my head but being without you is worse, horrible, it makes me feel empty. But we obviously have issues, Will. Big ones."

"You have issues."

"So you didn't just let me accidentally break up with you without putting up an ounce of fight?" Seeing Willow's expression bordering on tears, Kennedy backed down without making her answer. "I know I screwed up over Oz. Maybe I pushed us to this to place with my own hang ups. I think it's because we got really serious in like a week. It didn't feel that rushed at the time, because everything else was moving at the same pace, but I think most of my issues come from the fact that I learned how you'd react to an ubervamp attack before I knew what kind of milk you like on your Wheaties."

"Half and half," Willow said. "Skim…."

"…med on Cocoa Puffs," Kennedy finished for her, making Willow grin. "I know now, but we did it backwards. I want to try and do it forwards this time; because I think I can be the person you want to be with."

"I do want to be with you," Willow said.

"I just need you to give us another chance."

"I do!" Willow nodded eagerly. "I want another chance too."

"Honestly, I came up with most of this speech before you told me you weren't with Oz."

"Now it's making a little more sense," Buffy whispered to Xander. Kennedy cut her another look and she made a show of pursing her lips shut.

Willow smiled. "So. . .do you want to finish this in our room?"

Kennedy smiled at the mention of 'our' room but shook her head. "No."

"Why not?"

"We're not together. You only just decided you didn't want to be with Oz. That's not starting fresh, that's just jumping back in right where we were before. Buffy has made me realise that sex should be earned."

Buffy rolled her eyes to Xander, muttering, "That's me back in the dog house; and it was so nice not to be for three whole minutes."

"You want me to earn sex from you?" Willow sounded really confused now and kind of horrified.

"No, I'm saying we should earn it together."

"How?"

Kennedy shrugged. "I don't know but hopefully we'll figure it out."

"Can't we just skip the awkward in-between bit?" Willow asked anxiously.

"I don't think that would be a good idea." Kennedy focused on taking Goorzar back from Buffy. "I think I'm talking about forever here, and I don't think we should be trying to rush it any more.

"So how should we be doing it?"

"To start with I think I'm going to take my Thanksgiving vacation after all, go home for a little while, if that's okay."

"Um sure, but Thanksgiving is over." Buffy glanced at Willow.

She couldn't turn Kennedy down. All of the other girls had had vacations and Kennedy had barely asked for a day off. How could she say yes though when it would hurt Willow? Especially now when her treatment of Kennedy could well determine her hopes of a future with Willow as her best friend.

In the end she chickened out. "So I can't authorise it. You'll have to ask Giles."

Kennedy nodded. "I won't go until Andrew gets back anyway."

"Why?" Xander asked.

"Goorzie," Willow sounded shell-shocked.

"He knows her as well as I do. Plus the juniors get back the same day as he does so you won't be short-handed."

Buffy just nodded.

"Do you really have to go?" Willow asked.

"Just for a little while. We'll speak first though." Kennedy closed the distance between them to kiss Willow on the cheek.

Buffy and Xander both grinned when Goorzar gave Willow a big smacker of a kiss on her other cheek, copying her Mom. Willow grinned too and pushed the demon away enough to place a kiss on her prominent brow.

Kennedy smiled. "I'm going to speak to Giles now."

"He's in his office," said Xander.

As Kennedy left through the swing door Faith barged, slowly, through the back door. She held a sword and a crossbow. She was still trying to load the bow as she came in.

"Where should I point this thing?"

Xander pointed at one of the broken plates. Buffy pointed to the other one. As Faith stared at them like they'd lost they're minds Willow pointed at herself.

"Shoot me. Please," she added emphatically.

"Is she evil?" Faith asked Buffy.

"No, just upset."

"Kennedy's leaving for a little while," Xander said.

"Oh. Sorry, Red, that truly sucks. That you two couldn't work it out, I mean." Faith dropped the sword and crossbow onto the table as Buffy, Willow and Xander all took seats at the other end. She seemed to think about something for a moment before saying quickly. "B, can we talk?"

"Um," Buffy looked up in surprise. "I, uh, don't know. Now's not really good," she tilted her head to Willow.

"It's okay. I'm fine." Willow really didn't look it though; tears were brimming in her eyes.

Buffy shook her head. "No, I'm staying here. Faith's waited this long, I'm sure she can wait a little longer."

"Actually, I can't."

Buffy just shrugged.

Faith sighed impatiently and started to storm out. She was halfway to the door when she changed her mind and walked to Buffy's chair instead.

She leaned on the table beside her. "I prefer rock to metal, don't tell anyone."

"Huh? Are we playing 'Animal, vegetable or mineral'?" Buffy asked, confused. "'Cause I suck at that game."

"My favourite colour is red. I like dark chocolate. I always wanted to be a drummer when I was a kid. I'm half-polish, half-Irish. My mom started drinking heavy after my dad walked out, or maybe that's why he walked out. She died from a fucked liver and I dropped outta school 'cause I couldn't handle everyone talking about me and prying into my shit." She paused for breath and if she noticed their wide eyes she didn't let them slow her down. "Uh, I never really had a favourite subject at school but I had a lesbian crush on my Spanish teacher so maybe that counts. I was a gawky little kid, all legs no tits, until I hit fifteen and then. . . " She looked down at her chest with a smirk. "I don't like beets or blue cheese or maple syrup or banana milkshake. I've slept with two women. You and a biker chick in prison that looked exactly like you would if you were half a foot taller and thirty pounds heavier. Oh, and if you were wondering, you're a hell of a lot better in bed." She winked as Buffy blushed. Willow and Xander smirked. "And if you want to wait another six months before we have sex, that's fine, I'll wait, but I don't promise not to ask every other day if you're ready yet. I'm not gonna change myself for you, don't think I even could, but I do want to be with you. I've always wanted to be with you. So. . . balls in your court now, chica."

Faith stood up straight, looking a tad embarrassed that she had divulged so much. She gave Buffy – who was staring at her speechless – a nod and then turned to the swing door.

Buffy was still just gaping at her walked away stiffly, but after a rousing shake of her head she leapt out of her chair. Catching Faith's shoulder before she could leave, she pulled her back, swung her around and caught the back of her head in both hands to pull her down for a deeply scorching kiss.

Faith moaned as Buffy's tongue slid into her mouth and the quiet sound made Buffy press closer to her, relishing the contact of their mouths and bodies. As their hips bumped together Faith hissed in pain and backed an inch away but her hands swept up into Buffy's hair at the same time, keeping their lips deliciously locked together.

The kiss lasted longer than any of Faith's recent fly-by smooches and when Buffy did bring it to an end they both sighed happily.

"I love you."

No one was more surprised than Buffy when the words slipped from her mouth but instead of stuttering an attempt to take them back she just smiled wider, the look in her eyes leaving Faith in no doubt she was one hundred percent serious.

"I…" Faith gulped, her smile slipping a little before coming back hesitantly. She screwed her eyes shut for a moment before looking deep into Buffy's. "I still can't believe you thought I only came back for a hot meal."

Buffy grinned, that was good enough for now. "We'll talk tomorrow?"

"Sure." Faith leaned in to give her another kiss and left the kitchen.

Breathless, Buffy walked back to the table, shooting Xander and Willow embarrassed glances as she sat down.

"Oh God, did I really just say. . . ?"

"Yep." They said in unison.

"So much for making her say it first!" Buffy fell forward, her forehead banging onto the table top. "Ow."

"She kinda did," Xander said. "Just not in so many words."

Willow patted her back. "But in lots and lots of other words instead."

Buffy grinned down at the wood an inch from her eyes. "I guess."


Mellusa stroked the Meluthian Hedray's smooth, green head; soothing the savage demonic beast's high pitched keening.

"I am sorry, little one; I should never have dropped the protection spell."

It's freshly blinded eyes turned to her out of instinct and it whimpered again in pain and puzzlement at its lack of sight.

"I had little choice, you understand. To continue it was to act as a beacon and Olwyn knows the taste of my signature too well."

What she didn't admit out loud, even with only the injured demon to hear her, was that she had made a mistake, a series of mistakes. The most heinous of which was underestimating her foes.

The Chaotic Nerve spell was supposed to keep the Witch out of the loop permanently. She had considered the Slayer and the Watcher being caught with her as fortuitous. She had taken out three of her most powerful enemies at once instead of one at a time. With them banished, the inferior children at the camp should have fallen over time, one by one.

She had celebrated that night with her latest amour, feasting on the cocaine-laced blood of a seventeen year old super model in the penthouse suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Cleveland.

She hadn't even been aware of the werewolf in their midst and she was angry that the knowledge had somehow slipped past her.

Now, somehow, the witch and her hanger-on's had returned, beating one of the most debilitating spells known to the darker arts and completely crushing her lizard army. All that was left was this pathetic, blind, whining creature acting like a kicked lapdog.

Sighing irritably, she reached for the sheaved dagger at her hip and with one swift, merciful strike her blade pierced its heart. She continued to offer comfort through its death throes and then pushed its lifeless body away from her.

The loss of her soldiers was annoying but hardly a devastating blow. They bred like rabbits out there in the wilderness. Hundreds of them solitarily hiding from humanity. Most of their kills were blamed on mountain lions, bears or even humans. Like most of the ancient demonic species they had learned that to show themselves was to be hunted and trapped, killed outright or kept in captivity, always either sport or spectacle.

So they kept themselves hidden and they prospered. They could take a city like Cleveland in a week if they had the sense to band together but the instinct that they were safer alone had, over the centuries, been firmly bred into them.

Mellusa lit a kerosene lamp and left the expensive comfort of her rented mansion for the dark tunnels beneath it.

As her presence was detected the unnatural squealing and grunting became loud and terrifying. Any human would have been so scared their heart might very well have stopped but Mellusa hadn't been anything so mundane as mortal in a very long time.

Only one thing could make the Meluthian Hedrays group together en masse. Only one thing had the power to draw dozens, even hundreds, like ants to a jam jar and make them act as a single-minded unit.

Mellusa flicked the switch she had installed herself weeks ago and florescent lights flickered on, reflecting off of the titanium bars of a cage and seventeen tons of smooth-scaled lizard.

She whispered a protection incantation as the forty foot reptile's broad snout whipped around to face her and the blast of fire that issued from its sharp toothed-mouth washed over her harmlessly. She stared the creature down until the last flame had licked away.

It roared when, with difficulty – it could only fix one of its large, scarlet hued eyes on her at once – it realised its captor was still alive, after a fashion. A huge, scale-plated shoulder rammed the bars. The cage, the whole chamber in fact, trembled but held strong.

"They killed my pets," she leaned against the wall and looked up at the giant lizard. "So you are going to call some more."

The proud creature refused at first, as always, and she grinned with power as she said the words that would force its vast mind under her control.

With a horrendous roar the gargantuan Sekopiluthian Hedray succumbed.

[End of Episode 9]


Coming soon: House of the Setting Sun 10: The Demon in Red.