Holiday break had finally arrived which meant exactly two things for Buffy. One - she had three glorious weeks in the castle with less than half of the usual slayer population there, seeing as that most of the girls had left or were leaving soon to visit their families, and two - she was going to have to have to be extra vigilant to keep the remaining few slayers in line.
Apparently, the holiday rush brought out a slight case of the wackies in everyone.
Case in point, the girls were currently gathered in a meadow behind the castle, doing some impromptu skeet shooting. Only, there were no shotguns, just some rocks and a bunch of slayer strength that was amped up by a definite caffeine buzz. Also, there were no clay disks. Buffy had to squint as she joined them in the meadow to see what they were tossing up in the air as targets and when she finally figured it out, she stopped dead in her tracks and her mouth dropped open in horror.
"Freeze!" she yelled just as Kennedy tossed another shiny black disk into the air.
Both Rona and Vi, arms pulled back and ready to throw their rocks, paused and looked back at Buffy, a guilty look on their faces.
"You guys are in SO much trouble!" she said, shaking her head slowly. "When Giles finds out you've been using his record collection for target practice, not even I'll be able to save you."
She bent down to pick up two halves of a record, arbitrarily holding them together only to see that it was Giles' favorite Pink Floyd album. She heard Kennedy suppress a chuckle and honestly, she was suppressing her own. As destructive as their target practice was, she had to give them points for creativity.
"Anything fun going on out here?" Faith asked as she strolled up alongside Buffy eating a Hot Pocket. She glanced down at Buffy's hands and whistled lowly when she saw the broken record. "Floyd? Ouch. Giles is gonna burst a vein when he sees that. Taking it that wasn't your fault?"
"I know better than to mess with Giles' collectibles," Buffy replied.
"Word. He's almost as bad as Andrew with his action figures." She looked up at the girls and hiked her thumb over her shoulder toward the castle. "You guys head in, start checking eBay for replacements. Me and B'll see what we can salvage from out here."
The slayers quickly took their easy out and headed toward the castle, picking up their pace as they passed by a glaring Buffy.
"That's it? That's all the punishment they get?" Buffy asked Faith.
"Trust me. Giles is gonna know. I give them an hour before they're running laps around the castle. C'mon. Let's see if they missed any of their targets."
They headed out across the meadow and into the orchard, looking all around them for any hints of black vinyl that weren't smashed into a hundred pieces. Faith pointed up to one of the branches of a now bare tree, indicating a fully intact record. Buffy spied it and began deftly climbing the branches until she could reach it.
When she finally had her hands on it, she couldn't help but laugh.
"God, as much as Giles tries to pretend that he was cool once upon a time, the fact that he has a David Cassidy album does not help his reputation."
She tossed the record down to Faith who easily caught it and looked at the peach-colored label. Faith grinned after a minute and started laughing.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but was that or was that not a Partridge in a pear tree?"
Buffy jumped from the lowest branch and landed beside Faith with a soft thud, barely able to contain her laughter.
"I guess it was. I think that officially kicks off our holiday season, huh."
"Seems like it," Faith replied, smiling. "C'mon, let's go inside and put this bad boy on. It'll be the first round of torture for the girls."
They headed back toward the castle, picking up broken record pieces as they went and still laughing at the absurdity of the situation.
Willow was back from her latest trip to check on the American slayer cells which meant exactly one thing: presents! It wasn't that Scotland and Europe in general didn't have good food; it was that Buffy was just used to certain necessities that they seemed to lack.
"Please tell me that you didn't forget my Oreos," Buffy said as she bounced excitedly alongside Willow who was pulling items out of a large backpack.
"As if I could. You called me seven times to remind me in the last day and a half," Willow replied dryly. She held out the package to Buffy but snatched it back at the last moment, holding it just out of reach. "You're aware you can actually buy these here, right?"
"Well sure, but not locally. And also, hello pricey!"
Using some slayer maneuvering, she managed to wrestle the package from Willow and gave her a quick peck on the cheek in thanks before running off to gorge on her snack.
She retreated to the one place she knew there would be no mooching slayers: the study.
Unfortunately, Faith had apparently had the same idea. She was resting back in one of the leather armchairs with several packages of candy and snacks strewn across her lap. Faith smiled when she saw Buffy stop in the doorway and waved her in.
"Don't worry, it's safe. It's not mooching if I have valuable trades."
Buffy seemed to think it over for a minute before stepping slowly into the room and checking out what kind of goods Faith had secured from Willow's most recent visit.
"I've got some Flipz, some Nutter Butters, and some Dove chocolates that are shaped like little animals but still taste awesome."
"I'm listening," Buffy said as she edged even closer. "How much for two of the chocolates?"
"Four Oreos, take it or leave it."
"Deal!" Buffy accepted all too quickly. She dug into her package of cookies and pulled out four, handing them over to Faith who eagerly exchanged them for two wrapped chocolates.
Rather than retreating to an opposite end of the study, Buffy sat down on the leather chair next to Faith's and opened up one of the chocolates. She smiled at its little turtle-shaped face and then bit into it, sighing happily.
"I don't care how much more awesome chocolate is supposed to be in Europe; I still miss my Dove. It's like home."
They ate their snacks in silence. Rather, they ate in silence until Buffy started giggling as she licked a bit of chocolate from her fingertips.
"Those weren't just two chocolates; they were two Doves. Two Doves shaped like turtles. Turtle doves? I think I'm starting to see a pattern here."
Faith had to think about it for a second but she eventually joined in, laughing with Buffy at the odd coincidence.
Their life had become a bad Christmas song.
At least it was delicious.
It wasn't like they exactly lived in the middle of town, so when Buffy pulled grocery duty once a week she usually had a helper. Only with the holidays being so close, most of her helpers had gone home to visit their families. She tried to get Andrew to help her but he actually had an excuse that didn't involve World of Warcraft or Star Wars.
The fact that he had joined a men's show choir group didn't exactly help his reputation any more than the Star Wars or World or Warcraft did, but at least she knew he wasn't lying just to get out of helping her when he said he had a previous engagement. Apparently, being the prop master for the choir's holiday pageant kept him constantly busy.
She struggled to carry an armful of groceries into the large kitchen area, using her foot to close the door behind her. It was far too cold to keep it open while she made trip after trip out to her car to fetch bags.
Setting the bags on the stone countertop, Buffy turned to head back to the door but stopped dead in her tracks when something moved on the floor in front of her. Her first instinct was to kick first and ask questions later, but she stopped herself just in time when she heard a soft clucking.
She did a double-take when she realized she was looking not at a demon or even a pixie but at a fluffy red chicken.
A fluffy red chicken . . . wearing a scarf and a beret?
"Well aren't you fancy," she said aloud. "Please tell me you weren't a mostly naked Frenchman before showing up in my kitchen."
The chicken responded by inching closer and taking a perfunctory peck at her boots.
"Would someone like to explain to me why there's a fancy chicken in the kitchen?" she said, the now loud tone of her voice making the chicken scurry away from her.
A few seconds later the door to the dining hall swung open and Faith came walking in with yet another chicken under her arm.
"Because it's a sneaky, door-opening ninja chicken, apparently," Faith replied easily. She held the door open and looked down at the chicken disapprovingly. "You. Back in the dining room. Andrew thinks I'm frying you up and he ain't gonna calm down 'til you strut your feathery ass in there and prove him wrong."
As if on cue, the chicken headed back into the dining hall, leaving Faith and Buffy alone with the second chicken still under Faith's arm.
"Okay, let me rephrase. Ninja-ability aside, why do we have two chickens in the house?"
"Hens, actually, and three of them," Faith corrected. "And they're for Andrew's pageant."
"The pageant stars hens?" Buffy asked doubtfully.
"Not exactly, but the celebratory dinner after the pageant does."
"Oh," Buffy said somewhat sadly. "That doesn't explain the scarves and berets though. Did he import the hens from France? Because I can't even afford to buy Oreos locally."
She stepped over to Faith and gave the hen under her arm a quick scratch behind its neck.
"Got me," Faith said with a shrug. "All I know is Andrew thinks it's too draughty for them in the castle. Gotta keep them comfortable before we pluck 'em, stuff 'em, and bake 'em."
"Well I guess that's the considerate thing to do," Buffy said sadly. Her bottom lip came out in a small pout as the hen closed its eyes as she continued to scratch behind its neck. "This one seems pretty nice."
"Yeah. What can I say? Chicks dig me."
That caused Buffy to smile and roll her eyes. She looked thoughtfully back to the hen and tilted her head to the side as she studied it.
"You know," she began, "it seems wrong to use such culturally diverse hens for dinner. And also, you know, hens that are still alive. Think we can rescue these three and swap them out for chickens from the grocery store?"
Faith thought it over for a minute before looking from the hen to Buffy and smiling.
"Well, the slay-bies have been asking for a pet lately. Not exactly the French Bulldog they wanted from the pet store but I think three French Hens more than makes up for that fact."
"And also, another clever reference to a Christmas song. There's no way we can't keep them now; it's too much of a coincidence!"
Laughing, Faith made her way toward the stone staircase in the corner of the kitchen that led up to the second and third floor bedrooms.
"I'll stash this one in your room, you get the other two and hide 'em in mine. Meet me back here in five and we'll go back to the store and get some replacements."
"Deal," Buffy replied with a nod.
She waited until Faith was on her way upstairs before making her way into the dining hall, trying to figure out the best way to catch a chicken without a net.
Okay, so maybe keeping the hens as pets wasn't the brightest idea Buffy had ever had. The hen that she decided to keep in her room, Camilla, was sweet and friendly for the most part. She walked around and clucked quietly and pecked at the floor and carpet. She was actually pretty decent as far as pets went.
But it was when the three hens heard one another from their separate rooms that things started getting nutty.
Turns out that the nice quiet clucks turned into shrill bawk-bawks that were enough to keep Buffy and everyone else on the third floor awake for most of the night. Once one of the hens started squawking, the other two followed suit and kept it up no matter what everyone did to calm them down.
Kennedy had threatened to make a midnight snack of them and for some reason Buffy knew it wasn't an idle threat. For that very reason she stayed holed up in her room with Camilla the entire night, trying her best not to make any of her own threats to the hen.
At about half past four in the morning, Buffy was sure she was about to lose her mind when there was a knock on the door.
"Come in," she called out, then glanced over at Camilla and glared. "It's not like anyone's asleep in here."
The door opened up a moment later and Faith walked in with the other two hens under her arms. She struggled to close the door behind herself, careful not to squash or otherwise harm the hens as she did so. When she finally turned and faced Buffy, Buffy could see the irritation written plainly across her face.
"Beginning to think the whole 'chickens as pets' was a shit idea," Faith said tiredly.
Faith chuckled and let the two hens down on the floor, very obviously trying her hardest not to chase after them with a big rubber mallet like in the cartoons she used to watch as a kid.
The three hens immediately huddled up together, strutting around one another and immediately quieting down. Buffy raised an eyebrow as she watched them and Faith sighed loudly, running a hand through her unruly hair.
"Seriously? All they wanted was to be together?" she asked no one in particular.
Buffy scoffed and rolled her eyes dramatically. "Chicks."
"Yeah, chicks," Faith repeated.
She walked over and sat down on the floor next to Buffy at the foot of the bed, yawning as they quietly observed the hens.
"They were just calling to each other," Buffy said after a few minutes, her head tilted to the side as she watched. "It's like the song. Four calling birds, right?"
Faith laughed and extended her hand to the ground, scratching her fingernails against the carpet to get the hens' attention. The hens ignored her until she mimicked their soft clucks, making all three of them look at her in confusion. One slowly began to make its way over to investigate the noise.
"Yeah, but not exactly," Faith replied. "First, there're only three of them. Second, it's supposed to be Colly birds. They're like, blackbirds or something. Has something to do with coal mines."
"And you know this because…?"
"You'd be amazed the things an English watcher will make small talk about when you're living with them twenty-four/seven and they don't have a TV."
"Your watcher before you came to Sunnydale?"
"Yeah. Diana," Faith said quietly, a sad smile gracing her lips as she scratched Camilla behind her neck.
Buffy suddenly realized that she knew nothing about Diana. Come to think of it, she really didn't know much about Faith's life before Sunnydale at all. Glancing over at Faith, she decided to remedy that.
She tapped her fingers on the carpet until the other two hens joined them, then decided to go for it.
"So, what was she like?"
Smiling, Faith began talking and Buffy listened, eager to hear anything that Faith was willing to share. They talked for hours, finally taking the time to get to know one another that they never really had before.
It was almost after eight in the morning when they both drifted off to sleep with their backs against Buffy's bed and three hens nestled up against them.
The great thing about Willow finally having full control of her powers was that it made life a whole lot easier. When they got a call that the slayers in Atlanta were having a difficult time taking down a big daddy vamp and had sustained numerous injuries while trying to fight him, it only took an hour before Willow had Buffy and Faith teleported there to help out.
After checking in with the girls to find out the vampire's location and any other relevant information, Buffy and Faith set out into the heart of the city to find the baddie. They walked for what felt like miles, enjoying the lack of rain or wet snow for a change. It wasn't exactly summer so it was still chilly but neither girl seemed to mind.
When they finally found him, the battle wasn't exactly as easy as they'd imagined it would be. He had a posse of vamps with him, and while they were your everyday run of the mill vamps, they still made Buffy and Faith's job difficult due to their sheer numbers.
After finally finishing off the henchies, they directed their attacks at the big daddy vamp, their movements in perfect synchronicity as they drove him forward against a brick wall. Faith gripped her stake and drew back her arm, ready to finish the fight once and for all, but the vamp caught her wrist mid-plunge and pushed her arm back at an odd angle, instantly popping her shoulder out of its socket.
While Faith struggled to keep her balance Buffy charged in, pummeling the vamp about the head until he was barely able to stand. Stake in hand, she plunged it deep into his chest until her knuckles scraped the brick wall behind him, dust exploding into the night.
She took a moment to catch her breath and then tucked her stake away before holding her hand out to Faith. They got into position almost like they'd done it a hundred times before and popped her shoulder back in before even saying a word to one another.
"Feel better?" Buffy asked.
"Still hurts like a fucker but it's stitchin' up. Gimme an hour and I'll be five by five."
"I can do that. In fact, I can give you two. That's when we need to be back at command for Willow to beam us home."
"Two hours? Perfect. You hungry?"
"Starved," Buffy replied with a knowing smile.
"Let's find a diner."
They made their way a few blocks over until they found a diner that was practically empty. It was still before midnight but they figured that everyone had to be home getting ready for Christmas. They slid into a booth near the corner and took a quick glance at the menu before giving their orders to the waitress.
Buffy ordered a grilled chicken caesar salad with light dressing. Faith ordered two cheeseburgers, a large order of onion rings, a side of bacon, some fried mozarella sticks, and two glasses of Coke. When the waitress left their table, Faith smirked at Buffy.
"You really gonna eat chicken knowing that Camilla's gonna judge you when you get home?"
Okay. Buffy hadn't thought about that.
"Maybe I can pick the chicken out…"
"Or maybe you can share mine. That way you'll make me feel like less of a fatty."
"You're not fat, Faith. I don't know how you're not as big as a house after eating the kind of food that you do, but I digress. You're in excellent shape."
"Thanks for noticing," Faith replied, smirking once again.
It didn't take long for their orders to arrive, and when they did, Faith put one of her burgers and a handful of onion rings on a plate for Buffy. Buffy wrinkled her nose at the onion rings in disgust but then she realized something. She slid the rings onto each of the fingers of her left hand and held it up for Faith to see.
"Okay, now this is getting a bit ridiculous. Tell me that these aren't five golden rings."
Faith observed them as she took a whopping bite of her burger and shrugged.
"I dunno. Kinda more brown-ish to me." When Buffy raised her eyebrows, Faith swallowed her bite and continued. "Guess they're kinda gold-ish. You think there's something weird going on?"
"Well, I generally don't think the Twelve Days of Christmas actually play out in your average person's life. It might be worth looking into."
"Alright, whatever you think. We'll check with Red when we get home. That work for you?"
"Yeah," Buffy nodded.
"Good. And until then, I can help out."
Without warning, Faith grabbed Buffy's wrist and pulled her arm across the table until she could get her mouth around one of the onion rings on Buffy's index finger. She was able to pull it off before Buffy snatched her hand back. Faith grinned as she chewed it down.
"There. Now there're only four gold rings. Problem solved, or delayed at least."
"You're a pig," Buffy replied drolly though she couldn't hide her smile. "And you owe me an onion ring."
Laughing, Faith gave Buffy another onion ring from her plate and they ate in comfortable silence, seemingly forgetting the odd yuletide happenings of the last few days.
"So you're saying it's a curse."
Unfortunately, Buffy wasn't even surprised at that point. After all of the weird things that happened in her life on a daily basis, why wouldn't one of the most annoying and tedious yet catchy Christmas songs ever begin to present itself as real? They'd had a partridge in a pear tree, or at least they kind of did, two turtle doves, sort of, French hens, calling birds, and golden rings. There were seven days of other random birds and people to play out yet.
"Not exactly a curse, no," Willow corrected. "I'm saying someone was singing 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' while holding a cursed object, and now that object is making the song come to fruition. Luckily for us, it's a fairly innocuous song."
"Yeah, thank god no one was singing 'Bodies' by Drowning Pool," Faith chimed in unhelpfully.
"Okay, fine," Buffy said, getting back on track. "It's not a curse, good for us. But what happens on the twelfth day? Carnage? Bloodbath? Apocalypse? Tell me what we're looking at here, Wills."
"If I'm right, I think we're looking at . . . well, twelve drummers drumming."
"The horror!" Faith said mockingly, ignoring Buffy's glare. "We're definitely gonna need guns for that one. Bazookas. Uzis. The works."
"Sure, make light of the situation. You weren't there when our songs turned deadly. I almost danced to death!" Buffy complained.
Faith grimaced and asked, "The Macarena?"
"I'm entertaining," Faith corrected.
Willow decided to intervene to stop the banter from going out of control.
"Even if we could find the cursed object - which I'm sure I can, it just might take some time - this will have to run its course. So far as we can tell we're on day six. Just six more to go and then we should be in the clear."
"Speaking of in the clear," Kennedy said as she walked into the room in her workout clothing, "we're gonna need a new place for scheduled sparring today."
"Why, is it raining again?" Willow asked.
"I wish," Kennedy said with a tight smile. "That whole Twelve Days of Christmas voodoo is outside working its magic. There are geese a-laying all over the castle grounds and they're not leaving golden eggs behind if you know what I'm saying."
"That's disgusting," Buffy said with a frown.
"Yeah, tell that to your sister. She was outside trying to show off her moves to the slayers."
"You don't mean . . ." Faith began, barely able to contain her smile.
"Yep. She did her newly perfect walking handstand. Needless to say, we're running out of anti-bacterial hand soap in the kitchen."
As Buffy ran off to help Dawn, even if that meant cutting off her hands and hoping that some new, slightly less tainted hands grew back in their place, Faith sat in the study and laughed with Kennedy and Willow. She could barely wait to see what adventures the next six days brought.
They'd spent nearly all day and even half of the day before trying to scare the geese away from their property. Unsurprisingly, they had only limited success. The geese would startle and fly away . . . a whole twenty feet at a time. And yes, Kennedy was right. They were leaving surprises behind all over the lawn.
Buffy would never look at a goose the same way ever again.
After a long a tiring day, she made her way up to her bedroom and began to strip down, eager to slip into a hot bath to unwind and soak her sore muscles. Camilla pecked near her feet and followed her around but Buffy had just about had her fill of birds. She didn't know who had written that stupid song but she was beginning to think that whoever it was had a serious feather obsession.
Tossing the last of her clothing on her bed, Buffy grabbed her yellow bathrobe from the back of her door and slipped it on before heading to her private bathroom.
Not everyone in the castle had private bathrooms. In fact, they were pretty hard to come by. There were only two rooms on her floor with them and they had automatically gone to Buffy and Faith. Willow and Kennedy had one, and Giles had another that he shared with Xander. Everyone else used the communal bathrooms at the end of every hall.
She walked into the dark bathroom and fumbled around for her hairbrush, not yet bothering to turn on the overhead light. There was just enough light coming in from her bedroom lamps to stop it being completely dark, but when Buffy heard an odd noise, she froze in terror.
A hairbrush could be a good weapon, right?
Gripping it tightly in her hand, she quietly stepped over to the wall and took a deep breath as she finally turned on the light switch.
The shriek that left her mouth was uncalled for, she realized that after a couple of seconds passed, but really, she just couldn't help it. Coming face to face with four swans swimming around her bathtub and another three waddling around the room was the slightest bit unnerving though not entirely unexpected.
Unfortunately for her, the swans weren't the only ones startled by her scream. Not more than twenty seconds passed by before her bedroom door burst open and Faith came flying in followed by an equally anxious-looking Andrew.
"B!" Faith shouted. She ran into the bathroom and dropped into a fighting stance . . . then furrowed her brow and looked around in confusion. "What's the matter?"
"There are swans in my bathtub!"
Faith furrowed her brow even deeper and stood up straight, looking questioningly at Buffy.
"And there are swans in my bathtub!" Buffy repeated, enunciating the words even more the second time around.
Faith thought about it for a second. "Okay, right. Guess I can see why that might freak ya out. Now we just have to figure out how they got there."
"Um, that would be my fault," came a meek voice from behind them. They turned to see Andrew standing there in his pajamas, smiling guiltily. "I needed someplace to put them where they would be comfortable."
"And my bathtub was your first option?"
"I'll admit, my plan had its flaws, especially the part where I forgot to inform you of their temporary cohabitation in your living quarters."
"Well, now that I'm aware, you can find a new home for them."
Andrew immediately frowned. "But my Christmas pageant isn't for another three days and I have nowhere else to put them! They need water and if I put them in the communal bathrooms I'll have fifteen angry slayers after me instead of just one."
Buffy stepped forward threateningly - or as threateningly as she could in her pastel yellow bathrobe.
"You'll have better chances with the fifteen than with an angry me!"
She took another threatening step forward but was stopped from advancing any further by Faith's hand on her bicep.
"Listen, the kid's right. And I mean, it's all part of the song anyway so it's not like we can exactly avoid the situation, am I right?" At Buffy's tentative nod, Faith continued. "So let's just deal. Let the swans stay here for a few days and you can use my bathroom. You can even stay in my room if ya want. I spent a few years in the slammer so staying on the floor a few nights ain't gonna kill me. We'll make the most of a bad situation."
Buffy thought it over for a minute before nodding her consent and stepping out of the bathroom, Faith following closely thereafter. They didn't get very far though, Buffy spinning quickly around to hold her finger dangerously close to Andrew's face.
"I swear to god, if they leave behind disgusting 'presents' like the geese did, I will make you pay. You wouldn't believe the things I've seen - and nearly stepped on - this past day and a half. You might not know when, and you might not know how, but when you least expect it, BAM! I will have my revenge. Are we clear on this?"
"Crystal," Andrew answered.
He stood there quietly while Buffy gathered up a few of her things and Camilla and headed off to Faith's room. When they were gone, he turned around and looked into the bathroom, grimacing when he saw something on the floor that was definitely not a snack-sized candy bar.
"I'm a dead man."
Okay, so everyone in the castle was in agreement that the swans were actually kind of beautiful and majestic.
They were also in agreement that Andrew was a dead man because, the mess that the swans left behind all over Buffy's bathroom? Well, there was nothing beautiful or majestic about it.
Surprisingly, Buffy didn't lose her mind and beat Andrew into oblivion. Instead, she calmly told him that if he relocated the swans and hired cleaners - and possibly the Center For Disease Control - to completely disinfect her bathroom, she would let him get away with only a slight limp. Unfortunately for him, every single cleaning service was already booked up for the holidays, meaning that the job fell to him.
And because he was training to be a watcher, it meant he could delegate the tasks to those beneath him. Sure he was making an enemy out of eight of the younger slayers who he roped into doing the disgusting task, but he figured that Buffy could hurt him a lot worse than all eight of them put together. She was more experienced, and also, he was still waiting for his comeuppance for the time that he'd eaten the last of her chocolate ice cream.
"I'm pretty sure this is breaking at least five child labor laws," complained Julia as she walked out of the bathroom wearing rubber gloves up to her elbows and a surgical mask over her mouth and nose.
"Try ten," Rona chimed in, purposefully knocking her elbow into Andrew as she passed by him and causing him to stumble.
"Try you're eighteen," Andrew said snidely.
"Try you're a dick," Rona sniped back.
Andrew frowned. "Hurtful."
"What's hurtful?" Faith asked as she walked into the room, inspecting their progress.
"You mean besides Rona's vicious, vicious words?" Andrew asked. "How about the bruise I'm sure to have in the morning from where she so brutishly bumped into me? Or maybe the welt on my leg from where Vi hit me with a mop handle?"
"He deserved it!" Vi called out from the bathroom. She appeared in the doorway a moment later and pulled down her surgical mask to reveal a fake smile and said all-too-sweetly, "But if anyone asks me? It was an unfortunately accident brought on by my occasional klutziness."
The fake smile quickly turned to a glare directed solely at Andrew before she put the surgical mask back on and disappeared back into the bathroom.
"Faith, how is this even fair?" Rona asked.
"No one said anything about fair, kid," Faith said with a grin. "Fact is, your watcher asked you to do something so you gotta do it. Bide your time, prove yourself and your ability to keep your ass alive, and then maybe we can talk about getting some fairness up in here. Until then, I suggest you get a hustle on and finish up your job."
Rona grumbled something under her breath before picking her bucket up and heading back into the bathroom. Julia followed suit and soon it was just Faith and Andrew left standing in Buffy's room, observing their progress through the large wooden door.
"You think they're gonna finish today?"
"You mean if they don't rise up against me and drown me in the bathtub? I'd say it's pretty likely."
"Alright," Faith said, nodding her head but seemingly lost in thought. After a minute, she continued. "All those chemicals though; they're probably not good to be around. Toxic and shit."
"I'm sure it won't affect Buffy too much, so long as she stays clear of the bathroom itself for a day or two . . ."
"Yeah, but is that a risk you really wanna take, dude?" Faith asked, very clearly manipulating Andrew now but he didn't seem to notice. "If B gets sick, you know she's coming after you. You sure you want a probable slayer health risk on your hands?"
Andrew frowned and thought it over for a few moments before looking worriedly over at Faith.
"Maybe it'll be best if she stays in your room for another day or two. I'd like to live to see the pageant I'm putting together."
Faith smiled brightly and patted Andrew on the back. "I'll tell B the bad news."
Without another word, Faith left Buffy's room and headed down the hall toward her own, trying to control the size of the smile on her face. She had to play this right or there was a good chance that Andrew might not actually make it to see his damned gay pageant.
She stopped outside her room and rolled her shoulders, mentally preparing herself. A moment later she stepped forward and opened the door, unable to stop the smile from appearing back on her face when she saw Buffy lounging on her bed while reading a magazine.
It was a sight she could definitely get used to seeing.
"How's it going in there?" Buffy asked, looking over the top of the magazine.
"Girls're doin' a good job. They ain't too happy with their new roles as maids though, I can tell ya that much. They're defo milkin' this one for all it's worth."
"Eight maids a-milking? Why am I not surprised," Buffy said drolly, going back to her magazine.
Faith laughed and walked over, taking a seat on the edge of the bed and grabbing the remote control so she could turn on the TV. She flipped through the channels and stopped on some Christmas movie, tossing the remote on the bed beside her before looking over at Buffy again.
"Andrew thinks they'll finish today but he's probably gonna make them do another clean sweep tomorrow just to be extra thorough."
"I appreciate thoroughness when it comes to swan crap."
"Thought you might," Faith laughed. "And once they're done, it's gonna need a day or so for the chemicals to air out. Looks like you're stuck here for another couple days."
Buffy set the magazine down on her lap and smiled up at Faith; one of those genuine, sweet smiles that made Faith's stomach flip.
"I can think of worse places to spend time."
Buffy laughed and tossed the magazine from her lap onto the nightstand and then focused on the television.
"So what are we watching?"
"Some kinda crappy Christmas special," Faith replied, moving back on the bed so she could rest against the headboard with Buffy.
"'tis the season . . . whatever that means," Buffy replied.
Faith recalled those very words leaving her mouth all of those years ago in her motel room and when she glanced over at Buffy, Buffy smiled at her and winked, obviously having remembered them too.
They spent the rest of the day watching Christmas specials and enjoying one another's company, making up for long lost time.
The crazy thing about where they lived was that it was supposed to be fairly isolated. That was why they'd chosen a castle in the northeast of Scotland; no snooping neighbors to report a bunch of girls doing kung-fu in the backyard. Giles' initial assessment of the area was that it would be fairly devoid of demonic activity, too; a perfect training ground for the young slayers.
Boy was he wrong.
A routine patrol had gone completely wrong, a horde of demons showing up where there was only meant to be a single Jo'vari beast. Buffy and Faith instructed Kennedy to sneak the girls away while they themselves acted as bait and drew the demons away from them. They told Kennedy that they would head for a remote village and to have Willow get ready to transport them out ASAP. Kennedy took off at once and so did Buffy and Faith in the opposite direction, leading the demons out across the countryside.
They went slowly at first, letting the demons get dangerously close. Only when the demons seemed to think that they were about to catch a nice hot meal did Buffy and Faith really test their abilities as slayers, running harder and faster than they'd ever done before. Sure enough, it only took a few minutes to completely leave the demons behind in their dust.
Even though they were pretty sure the demons were out of sight and had most likely given up their pursuit, Buffy and Faith continued running full steam ahead until they reached the small village and were able to hide out. There weren't many options available to them; a small inn with a restaurant attached was already closed and the church was locked up tight, so they headed to the only building with lights still on. As they approached and heard loud music from within, they knew that they'd be fine there.
Walking through the front door, Buffy and Faith immediately stopped in their tracks and looked around with wide eyes. There was a party going on, probably to celebrate the holidays. Okay, or maybe it wasn't for the holidays. The entire male population of the town seemed to be there, and it was probably for some kind of bachelor party judging by the number of half-naked ladies dancing up on tables throughout the bar.
"Oh god," Buffy mumbled. She immediately turned around and tried to leave but Faith caught her arm pulled her back.
"Not an option, B. We go back out there, we risk drawing the demons into the village. Let's just stay here and wait for Red."
"But there are naked ladies! Naked ladies dancing on tables!"
Faith looked out into the small bar and nodded. "Yup. Nine of them by my count. Guess we can mark today off of our Advent/Curse calendar. And hey, they're only partially naked, so . . ."
Buffy glanced over at Faith in horror. "You're looking at them! Stop looking at them!"
"Why?" Faith asked, laughing at Buffy's reaction. "Someone needs to assess the situation and you're too busy having a panic attack."
"It's not a panic attack! It's more of a . . . modesty attack."
Faith couldn't help but laugh at that. Shaking her head, she grabbed Buffy's elbow and led her toward the bar so they could wedge themselves in the corner and hopefully go unnoticed until Willow beamed them home. She positioned herself between Buffy and the rest of the bar so that Buffy was mostly hidden away.
"I'm not a prude," Buffy suddenly said out of nowhere.
"Oh no, you're not prude," Faith said teasingly.
"I'm not," Buffy defended lamely. "I was just . . . unprepared."
"Oh," Faith said thoughtfully. "Well, since you're prepared now . . ."
She moved to step back so Buffy could see into the bar but Buffy grabbed her biceps and held her tightly in place. Faith looked down at her, eyes shining with mischief. Being that close to Buffy? Not exactly a bad thing. But instead of continuing to antagonize her, Faith stayed right where she was and looked out into the bar, checking out what was going on. A few minutes passed before she heard Buffy speak quietly.
"So . . . you're into that."
Faith looked back at Buffy and shrugged. "I'm into anything that feels good."
Buffy rolled her eyes, "A bumpy car ride can feel good, Faith."
"Seriously?" Faith asked, laughing. "You need to get out more often."
Buffy ignored the comment and went back to trying to be invisible, but after a few minutes she spoke again.
"Really though. You're . . . into that? Them?"
Faith looked over at Buffy, their faces much closer together this time. Buffy didn't look away despite their proximity; she continued to stare up into Faith's eyes, searching for a sign. A silent answer to her question seeing as that Faith didn't seem to be answering. Finally, Faith spoke.
"Them?" she asked, hitching her shoulder up in the direction of the dancers. "Nah. Not them."
She left the sentence hanging there purposely, Buffy thought, which really didn't answer any of the questions she had in her mind, but there was no time to think about it any further as a green light began to crackle around them. A moment later and they were back in the middle of the command room, trying their best to keep their dinner down.
When the air finally cleared and everyone stepped back from making sure that they were okay, Buffy looked around to see that Faith had already made a quick exit.
The day of Andrew's big holiday pageant had finally arrived. All of the men from the show choir were there, decked out in red and green tights and big red jumpers so that they looked like elves. It was horrible before it had even started and the entire castle was in a flurry of activity; not because they were getting ready to attend the pageant but because they were busy trying to come up with excuses why they couldn't.
So far there were exactly eight people in attendance, and they were only there because Andrew had ordered them as their watcher to attend. Slowly but surely a few more people trickled down into the improvised theater that Andrew had created in the gymnasium, there more out of pity than out of actual desire to see the show.
Dawn and Xander showed up and sat down in the front row, Xander with a camcorder in hand and Dawn with a digital camera. They wanted to catch every embarrassing moment on film. Even Giles showed up, standing against the back wall so that he could make a quick escape if needed. Willow and Kennedy were there but Kennedy seemed to be doing it under protest; she had on a pair of earphones and couldn't have looked less interested if she'd tried.
When Buffy showed up, she had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing at the gaudy decorations. Seven swans roamed freely around the room, each of them wearing tiny red Santa hats. There was tinsel and garland aplenty, and she didn't even mean Christmas garland; there were pictures of Judy Garland everywhere!
The mystery of Andrew's sexuality wasn't really that much of a mystery anymore…
Buffy was suddenly distracted by the sight of Faith carrying a big cardboard cutout of Frosty the Snowman across the front of the stage, setting it down exactly where Andrew told her to without so much as rolling an eye. She watched for a few minutes as Faith carried out a few other menial tasks for Andrew before finally taking a seat in the mostly empty theater.
Biting her lip to stop herself laughing, she walked over to where Faith was seated and sat down beside her.
"Sup?" Faith asked.
"Oh, I don't know. Sup with you, Andrew's Little Helper?"
Faith chuckled and shook her head, looking back toward the over-decorated stage.
"I was payin' off a favor. We're even now."
What she couldn't tell Buffy was that it was the only way Andrew would keep quiet about keeping Buffy needlessly out of her room for an extra day or two. There was no way Buffy would understand that.
"Well since you're even now, are you actually staying to watch this trainwreck?"
Buffy laughed and, even though she hadn't planned on staying herself, she settled down and decided to stay for the show.
You know. Since she was already there and all.
The lights above them dimmed and then finally went off, and a few seconds later the sound of a slightly off-tune piano filled the gymnasium. The beginning notes of 'Baby It's Cold Outside' started up and immediately Buffy had to laugh; wasn't that a men's chorus? Who the heck was going to be singing the female part?
Sure enough, Andrew's voice rang out loud and clear through the gym a few moments later and that was all that Buffy could take. She covered her mouth and started cracking up. There was no way she could stop it! As nine other men joined Andrew on stage and began dancing and leaping around to the music, it seemed as though a few other people in the audience were having the same problem containing their laughter. Even the swans were starting to waddle toward the exits.
This was not how she had ever envisioned ten lords a-leaping. It was all just so . . . gay!
"Shh," Faith said quietly, smiling lightly as she poked Buffy in the side with her elbow. "Don't make the little dude feel bad."
Buffy tried, she really did, but she couldn't help the way that her shoulders were shaking with laughter. Andrew glanced over and gave her a disgruntled look but she just couldn't seem to stop. A moment later Faith's arm went over the back of her chair and settled on her shoulders, obviously trying to hide the small shaking movements.
"Oh, that was slick," Buffy whispered.
"Yeah, Slick's my middle name."
"Shut up before I gag ya."
Smiling, Buffy bit her lip and tried to focus on the show and not on the way that Faith's arm stayed draped over her shoulders for the rest of the pageant.
Christmas Eve had finally arrived and everyone in the castle had packed up and driven into town for the annual Christmas parade. It wasn't exactly as big or grand as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City but they were still excited. It was a day for fun and laughter, not that they hadn't already had plenty of that at Andrew's expense the night before.
The streets in the town were decorated with wreaths and candy canes and oversized ornaments that sparkled and shimmered in the failing light of the day. All of the parade floats were decorated with thousands of shimmering colored lights and were waiting for the last of the light to fade before starting along their route.
Beside there being the actual parade, there was a winter festival with games, food and drink, and even horse-drawn sleigh rides for a nominal fee. The slayers were running amok, buzzing from shots of espresso and way too much sugar. Andrew was doing his best to wrangle them and keep them in order but when they threatened to tie him to a sleigh and send him off into the night without his pants on, he decided just to let them have their one night of rambunctious fun.
Kennedy and Willow waved from a horse-drawn sleigh as they passed by, heading off on a romantic trek through the countryside. Buffy waved back with a smile, only slightly put off that she didn't have anyone to take a romantic sleigh ride with.
"Joke's on them," Faith said as she stepped up beside Buffy and waved at Willow and Kennedy with too bright a smile.
"Cos I saw the horse trainer feeding the horses cans of beans a while ago. Ken and Red are gonna be riding behind two uncontrollable stink bombs for a solid hour."
"Oh god!" Buffy laughed. "That's horrible!"
"Yeah, I definitely don't envy them right now."
"No, not anymore."
They both started slowly walking toward the edge of town where the parade would soon begin. It was getting much cooler now that the sun was setting and in true Scottish fashion, the wind began to pick up and whip around too. Buffy stuck her hands deep in her pockets, wishing she'd chosen a warmer coat. Still, it was too late to go back and change now so she just grit her teeth and tried to bear it. Of course, that was when her teeth started chattering loudly.
"You cold?" Faith asked.
"Just a little," Buffy said, visibly shivering.
They stopped walking and Faith looked around, searching something out. "Alright, stay put. I'll be right back."
Without another word she walked off across the street, disappearing from Buffy's view and into the crowd of people walking around. She was gone for maybe five minutes and when she came back, she had two cardboard cups in her hand. She handed one to Buffy who eagerly wrapped her hands around it, letting the heat warm up her hands.
Before Buffy could argue, Faith pulled off her black scarf and wrapped it around Buffy's neck, tying it securely so it wouldn't blow off in the increasingly high winds.
"But you'll be cold," Buffy finally said when Faith was finished. It made Faith laugh.
"I'm from Boston, B. Scotland weather ain't got nothin' on the bitter cold and snow of the northeast. Trust me when I say I'm fine."
"Well, okay. But only because I'm a west coast girl and I'm pretty sure I'm turning into a flesh popsicle."
Faith laughed and turned her attention back to the street where the parade was finally starting up. The first float made its way slowly along covered in lights and tinsel and a huge snowman figure that waved at the crowd. A second float followed closely behind with several children dressed as elves waving at the crowd and throwing candy.
"Do you think we're too old for this?" Buffy asked, her teeth no longer chattering.
Her face was hidden behind Faith's scarf with the exception of her eyes and she couldn't help but bask in the smell. She'd never noticed just how nice Faith's natural fragrance was until she'd started sharing a room with her. She was supposed to be going back to her own room that night so now she had to find a way to keep the scarf without Faith becoming suspicious.
"No one's ever too old for a parade," Faith scoffed.
"Says the girl who still plays video games."
"Hey, I didn't hear you complaining when I was letting you beat me at Mario Kart two nights ago."
"I beat you fair and square!"
Faith was grinning but she didn't push the issue. It made Buffy wonder - why wasn't Faith pushing the issue? And why was she being so damned nice to her? Something was definitely rotten in Denmark, except that instead of being rotten it was sweet, and Faith didn't usually do sweet. The Danes were confused, as was Buffy.
"You're being awfully nice to me lately, you know," Buffy said with a smirk.
"Yeah, well you catch more bees with honey, right B?"
Okay, that made Buffy do a double-take.
"You're trying to catch me?"
Faith smiled and shrugged. "Maybe."
Buffy opened her mouth to continue the conversation but it was completely pointless. Behind the third decorated float was a group of eleven pipers blowing away on their bagpipes. It was loud, deafening even, and . . . well that was just great! Now the curse was being a total cockblock!
Faith must've sensed Buffy's frustration. As the pipers went by making conversation completely pointless, she slipped her hand through Buffy's arm and pulled it free from her jacket pocket. Buffy was about to complain about being freezing but then Faith interlaced their fingers together, the warmth of her hand way better than the pocket had been.
It said more than words ever could have . . . but still, words would've been nice too!
The parade continued on around them and Faith didn't let go for a single second until Kennedy and Willow came walking over with frowns on their faces, complaining about their worst night ever.
For Buffy it had been just the opposite.
Okay, so the whole Twelve Days of Christmas thing was supposed to be due to a curse acting itself out, but honestly it was really more of a blessing. Sure, geese had trashed the grounds around the castle and sure, swans had trashed Buffy's bathroom. Those were a couple of the more disgusting side effects.
But one of the better, actually kind of awesome side effects was that Buffy was waking up warm and toasty in bed on Christmas morning and the only drummers drumming were Faith's ten fingers and both feet tapping nervously on the mattress beside her. It was a nice way to wake up, all nice and warm with Faith's skin pressed against hers, so she decided to bask in it a little while longer.
Faith seemed to pick up on the fact that she was only pretending to sleep though because she felt the girl shift on the bed next to her, then felt a series of soft kisses against the side of her neck and shoulder.
"I'm sleeping," Buffy said sleepily, unable to keep the smile from her lips.
"No you're not," Faith whispered against her skin, giving her goosebumps.
"Nuh-uh. If you were, you wouldn't kiss me back."
"I'm not kissing you back, I'm mmph . . ."
And yes, Buffy was kissing her back then, fingers sliding up bare arms and over her shoulders to thread into her thick, dark hair. She held Faith's mouth against hers, not wanting anything to disrupt the moment.
She wasn't even sure how'd they gotten there. Okay, that was a lie; they'd gone up together after the parade to go to bed. Buffy was supposed to go to her own room but she'd found a reason to go to Faith's (i.e. - misplaced pajamas) and things just sort of happened from there. That part was simple to figure out. What she wasn't sure of was how they'd gotten to this place where they were actively wanting - and now having - one another.
As the kiss deepened and Buffy felt Faith settle between her legs, something crossed her mind.
It couldn't have all been because of the curse, could it?
That very thought was enough to make her put her hands on Faith's shoulders and push her back enough to break the kiss. Faith looked down at her, confused.
"Wait. Let's pause for a minute here. This is nice - way nice, more than that even - but how exactly did we get here?"
"Uh, we came up together last night?" Faith tried with a smirk. "You came to my room with some kinda lame excuse about lost pajamas and I let you in, and then . . ." she trailed off, wiggling her eyebrows sexily.
Buffy couldn't help but laugh at that. "I remember that part. In vivid, technicolor detail, actually." Faith grinned and Buffy continued. "What I mean, is, aren't you worried why all of this is happening now?"
Faith shrugged and rolled off of Buffy to lie next to her so that they were facing one another, still close enough that their thighs were touching. She propped her head up on her hand and looked right into Buffy's eyes as she spoke.
"I dunno. Not really. Guess I kinda always figured it'd happen. Or at least I hoped it would."
Buffy raised an eyebrow at that. "Oh you did, did you?"
"Well yeah," Faith shrugged. "I mean, I've been into you forever, B. And then you kinda seemed like you were into me too, so I thought . . ."
"How did I seem like I was into you?" Buffy asked, her voice higher than usual. She sounded mildly horrified, and really, she was. She wasn't the kind of girl that usually went around flirting and trying to be all sexy with other girls, even if that girl was Faith!
"Like, you let me flirt with you without tryin' to bash my head in. And you always try to reassure me that our past is in the past and all that. It was kinda like you were clearin' the way for me to make a move."
"Oh was I now," she said rather than asked. It made Faith smile.
"And you don't think the curse has anything to do with it?"
Faith shrugged once again. "Nah. The curse made that stupid song act itself out. Still think we woulda got here without all the birds and Andrew's sissy dancers."
"You really think so?"
"'Course I do. I mean, I've been tryin' to figure out a way to move things forward. Went out and bought you a Christmas present a few weeks ago; it's under the tree now and I'll show ya the receipt. Bought it way before the curse went active."
"I got you a present too," Buffy said shyly. "And I ordered it from a catalogue in like, August."
"See?" Faith said, her free hand moving under the blankets to settle on Buffy's hip. "So maybe the curse just helped speed things up. We took the time to get to know each other, I got you to stay in my room with me without any funny business goin' on . . ."
"You shared your chocolate with me," Buffy added and Faith laughed immediately.
"That was all that really mattered to you, wasn't it?"
"I'll admit, it was a big factor," Buffy said as she moved closer to Faith, but before their lips could touch, Faith pulled back just out of reach.
"Listen, I'm givin' you one last out, B. You sure you wanna get into this with me? I ain't ever really done the relationship thing before and I'm probably gonna be shit at it."
Buffy copied Faith's move and shrugged. "Well I've never done the gay thing before. I might suck at it too."
"Trust me when I say you don't," Faith laughed, but then got serious again. "But really. I'm jealous. I'm possessive. I have some pretty nasty habits. Sometimes I put weird stuff in your sister's food when she's not lookin' and I secretly want to make Camilla our Christmas dinner. I've been lookin' up recipes on Andrew's computer ever since she crapped in my boot two days ago."
"You'd do that to Camilla?" Buffy asked with mock shock.
"Yeah, but I'd probably just tell you she ran away."
Buffy laughed at that and wrapped her arm around Faith, coaxing her closer.
"I think I can learn to live with all of those things."
"Really? So we're gonna do this?" Faith asked hopefully.
"Well, yeah. I mean, except for the whole Christmas dinner thing. You keep your hands off my chicken."
"Don't you mean hen?"
"How about you stop correcting me before I sic her on your other boot?"
Faith laughed. "How about I sauté her and serve her over a nice bed of wild rice and mushrooms?"
"Rude! How about you stop procrastinating and kiss the girl, help seal the deal?" Buffy asked with a flirty smile.
It was a dare, and it was one that Faith was more than happy to meet.
As they began to kiss once again, Buffy had to try not to smile against Faith's lips. Who knew that something so good could come from a curse? She had a feeling that everything was going to work out just fine . . . so long as she could get Camilla into the Chicken Protection Program before dinner time.