A large image of four digital numbers floated in mid-air of the New Council's castle conference room, counting down every second:
Merrily smiling, Willow Rosenberg lifted her hands to chest level, palms forward and fingers outspread, as she gathered up the vast magical energies she possessed in order to give close to a dozen people a proper Scooby Gang welcome.
Ten humans suddenly appeared inside the room from out of nowhere, just as the digital numbers faded into non-existence.
White light abruptly burst from all of the witch's fingertips, with these individual steams of radiance aimed at every single person there. These rays of brightness flashed across the room with blinding speed. The instant these magical beams struck their chosen targets, they changed from a thin line of illumination into completely encasing that specific man or woman in a glowing shell perfectly matching their bodies, extending from skin level to an inch or so past their clothing.
All of them sharing this bizarre experience - Buffy, Chao-Ahn, Vi, Giles, Faith, Andrew, Xander, Kennedy, Dawn and Rona - were unable to move or otherwise react inside their magical cocoons. All they could do was to have their eyes widen in shock, as they felt the magical consequences of what was now happening to them.
In short, they were each and every one being cleaned up after a whole day hard on the go during their recent scavenger hunt.
Wrinkled and sweaty clothing smoothed back into spotless and fresh garments, and it didn't stop there. The New Council members also felt a wave of purifying magic brush all over their skin, akin to undergoing the best ever refreshing shower. Indeed, from head to toe, the ten people there were now spruced to the maximum extent possible, with even their hair also cleaned and for the men, their beard stubble was entirely gone.
An instant later, the mystical luminosity still covering their bodies suddenly sank into these persons' forms, as if they were somehow absorbing it. This was exactly what was occurring, with every man and woman there feeling any trace of exhaustion from their recent exertions totally vanish. In fact, they now felt nothing less than invigorated. Everyone was chock-full of so much energy, it made them all bounce on their feet and shoot delighted looks at each other.
Just when the Scoobies simultaneously realized all of them could move once again on their own, a sharp Crack! sound caused everybody to stare at the other end of the room where Willow had just smacked together her hands. Smirking at her friends, the Red Witch now gaily declared to them, "All right, let's get this party started! First of all, the winner of the game gets their prize!"
Startled glances were traded among themselves by the ten competitors. These expressions soon shifted into thoughtful calculation as they wondered just who in the room had been victorious. Willow started giggling when she quickly found herself under the impatient looks of her comrades wanting to know this right away. Catching her breath, the Wiccan pursed her lips in mock seriousness. This action was offset by the happy sparkle in the woman's eyes.
Eventually, Willow declared in her best game show host imitation, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm pleased to inform you all, that due to the fine efforts of everybody participating in the scavenger hunt today, there's a four-way tie for second place!"
Mouths dropped open in shock throughout the room. Those who'd lately gone through a truly absurd inter-dimensional contest continued to gawk towards Willow grinning at them. She further crowed, "Yes, that's right! Before coming back here, four of the teams managed to finish six of their challenges! However, two of you working together surpassed the others, by carrying out seven challenges! And, those champions of the Great Scooby Scavenger Hunt are nobody but…FAITH AND ANDREW!"
Whooping those last names at the top of her lungs, Willow darted forward into the crowd of stunned New Council members, and she skidded to a stop before two very dumbfounded people standing side by side. Grabbing their adjoining arms by these game partners' wrists, Willow lifted up high the slack limbs of Andrew and Faith in the usual triumphant gesture seen at the finale of boxing and wrestling matches.
There was a short pause of frozen silence in the room, until it exploded with accepting cheers. The other scavenger hunt teams called out spirited congratulations to the winners, and they also started good-naturedly giving those successful competitors a standing ovation. Still in their disbelieving daze, Faith and Andrew looked around at the others there vigorously clapping their hands in sheer delight.
In due course, this mismatched pair met Willow's amused gaze. All while the witch in close proximity to them still held up high their arms. At last letting go, to allow these limbs to drop back at their sides, Willow backed up a step to then chortle directly at the still-shocked champions, "Ready for your prize, guys? Well, here it is!"
Right after saying this, Willow looked up at the conference room's ceiling, and she snapped her fingers once. Naturally, everyone also tilted back their heads to see what the witch was staring at. The whole room now saw something materialize just below the middle of the ceiling in another flash of light, but this time in a golden shade. Blinking in reaction, the spectators then watched this new object gently float downwards, until it stopped to hover in mid-air a few inches above the head of the tallest person around. Which meant everybody could both easily see and appreciate the unique trophy hanging there.
Instead of some sort of cup, plaque, or other ordinary token of victory, the trophy was a small gold statuette of the cartoon character Scooby Doo, about a foot high and fashioned to show him placidly sitting on his haunches atop a circular wooden pedestal. This sculptured figurine perfectly resembled this animated Great Dane in true Hanna-Barbera style, down to the comical canine grin on that animal's muzzle.
A rushing sound of inward-drawn breath swept throughout the conference room, indicating people were about to start laughing at the top of their lungs. Except, this inhalation abruptly halted, because of what had just taken everyone by surprise.
Scooby Doo came to life.
The statuette's head turned from its formerly frozen position to look down and straight at Faith and Andrew gaping back up at this unexpected event. A tiny golden tongue fell out to dangle at the side of the dog's mouth, who then started to happily pant, along with an actual look of supreme high spirits appearing on Scooby's expressive face. Next, the beast who'd long ago given his name to a former high-school library group protecting the Sunnydale Hellmouth scrambled onto his hind legs. Standing there on the pedestal, the metallic effigy cheerfully waved a paw at them all below, and then this faithful companion to the Mystery, Inc. gang started to flawlessly imitate yet another cartoon canine.
Energetically flailing his limbs in absurd comical gyrations, Scooby Doo performed the Snoopy Dance.
By the time it was all over and the little statuette returned to its former posture and became immobile once again, a good number of people in the room had dropped to the floor while shrieking with hilarity. Curled up on the carpet while hold ribs aching from laughter, they then knuckled away ecstatic tears from their eyes. Still in the middle of the room, Willow proudly waved her right hand in a mystical gesture.
The trophy again floated downwards, to wind up in Faith's waiting hands. Holding the edges of the base, this Slayer's attention was caught by a miniature brass plate attached to the pedestal's top, just before the front paws of the cartoon sculpture. There, two names were engraved, one above the other: FAITH and ANDREW. A last line was further etched into the brass, announcing the simple accomplishment: Winners of the Great Scooby Scavenger Hunt.
A very tentative look on her face, Faith cautiously glanced up to meet Willow's satisfied expression. Before the redhead could speak, she and the rest of the room instead heard Faith declare, "'Kay, I gotta say a coupla things. Ta start off… Here."
That final statement was gruffly spoken in conjunction with the possessor of the scavenger hunt trophy turning to where Andrew Wells was standing. Caught completely off guard, that young man accepted without thinking the trophy suddenly extended into his direction by Faith.
Around the room, mouths dropped open in awe. Those who'd previously been on the floor now scrambled back up onto their feet. Only to stop dead in their tracks, at the sheer menace lurking in a single snarled word:
Her right arm straight out from her body at shoulder level and pointing a deadly fingernail a fraction of an inch from the tip of Andrew's nose, Faith growled at her paling game partner, "This whole day, ya been the biggest pain ever in my damn fine butt! I woulda been fuckin' happy in the game with anyone else at all, even the most evil, baby-munchin' demon, 'cuz after we finished I coulda filleted that shitheel inta compost!"
Faith continued to glower at the sweating geek while ignoring the rest of the fascinated crowd. Restarting her rant, but this time in a much more grudging tone, "On the other hand, ya can't be anybody but yer usual dumbass self, an' ya did yer job, helpin' us win in spite of openin' yer big yap alla the time! So…" Looking as if she'd rather gnaw off her leg at the knee than have to admit the rest, Faith gritted, "Every family's got some really stupid relations, but they're still part a' the clan, and nobody else better mess with 'em! Just don't get in any card games, buy lottery tickets, or play the ponies, 'cuz ya just used up every bit of yer shit fer brains luck the rest of yer life! I ain't gonna lay on a finger on ya, which is more 'n ya really deserve!"
Hardly daring to believe it, Andrew let out a loud gasp of pure relief over this stay of execution. He still stiffened in alarm at Faith's baleful gaze, even when her irritated expression abruptly changed into a somewhat less threatening but yet worrisome sardonic air. The Sunnydale native uneasily regarded Faith nodding at what he was holding. A truly wicked smile, which Andrew had become all too accustomed with over the past twenty-four hours, now appeared upon the beautiful Slayer's visage.
The absorbed room then listened to Faith vindictively purr at the apprehensive man, "Don't mean yer gonna get off scot-free, Andy. That first-rate prize there… Ya got 'bout five more minutes ta enjoy it, seein' how I'm plannin' ta keep it in my place fer life, where ya ain't ever gonna touch it again! 'Course, if ya think that's kinda unfair, we coulda discuss it later. Say, when I'm in the middle of teachin' that li'l doggie ta play fetch with yer spleen-"
At that point, Andrew was frantically shaking his head in denial. During this, the fearful dork also timidly proffered the Scooby Doo trophy for Faith to reclaim the scavenger hunt award.
Shoulders gracefully rolling in an aloof shrug, Faith dismissively addressed Andrew, "I tol' ya, keep it fer a coupla minutes. There's somethin' more I gotta do first."
With those words, Faith next spun on her heel away from where the suddenly thankful man stood. The Slayer's subsequent actions then took everyone else there in the conference room totally by surprise. This definitely included the recipient of an unforeseen gesture, who had no time to register the warrior woman advancing directly towards herself. Before she could do anything about it, Willow Rosenberg was easily picked up by arms containing superhuman strength, and she was then engulfed into an intense hug from Faith.
Her feet dangling a few inches above the castle floor, the astonished witch was firmly but inescapably pressed up against a former enemy's body. The cheeks of the two women's faces rubbed against each other as they remained in intimate contact. While looking over Willow's shoulder, the low voice from the brunette embracing someone whose life she'd long ago threatened carried to even the normal humans there gawking at this scene.
With utter conviction in her tone, Faith gratefully told Willow, "Thanks, Red. For everythin.'"
A wide smile slowly blossomed on Willow's lips. Her own arms came up to return Faith's hug.
At that moment, Xander and Kennedy simultaneously recovered from their wonder, to hustle forward in yet another collaboration. This finished with these two New Council members winding up hugging Willow in unison. Both Kennedy and Xander then released an arm from embracing their adored Wils to put these around Faith's shoulders to join in with the witch in holding close the Boston-born Slayer.
In a rush of bodies, all but one of those there now completed the circle of heroes. Starting from Kennedy's left side, Vi hugged her and also a man she'd come to know very well and fondly respect over the last day. A rarely-seen joyous smile was at present on Giles' normally serious countenance, as he lightly rested his hands upon the shoulders of Vi and Buffy. In turn, these women's arms were curled around the waist of his tweed suit. Buffy herself was beaming at the opportunity to show just how much she cared about her once-and-always Watcher, and also a woman she'd finally recognized as a second sister.
From out of the corner of her right eye, Faith saw B's elated grin at the same time that blonde's hand caringly rubbed her back. An equally satisfied smirk appeared on the other original Slayer's mouth. Faith didn't know who else was patting her back, since that person was hidden by Willow's head in the way. Hey, nohow was she complaining.
Actually, it was Rona, who'd always admired Faith. And now, that girl with a horrible past life which led her into the wrong choices of heartbreak and betrayal at long last had those who'd support and cherish Faith no matter what. Not to mention taking complete delight in their comrade's latest triumph. Grinning just as broadly as anyone else there, the black Slayer continued to hug both Faith and Dawn.
The Key herself was equally thrilled about the whole thing, including the chance to give Xander a good, long, Summers sister squeeze. Already beginning to plot about the chance of possibly taking things a bit further with the one-eyed man later on after the party, Dawn contentedly glanced around. She was taken a bit aback at seeing someone standing apart from them all, looking more than a little forlorn. At once coming to the only proper decision, a magically created human raised her voice, drawing the others' attention, "Don't be such an idiot, Andrew! Get over here!"
Necks craned to see a dejected Andrew Wells off to one side, away from the circle of embracing people. Murmurs of encouraging acceptance came from several, along with nods of acceptance from the rest. This was followed by Dawn and Rona letting go of their interlocked arms to determinedly beckon him on. An overcome Andrew stumbled forward, until he was grabbed by these young women's hands and brought into the circle.
Still holding onto the Scooby Doo trophy, but with the arms of Rona and Dawn reaching through the crooks of his elbows, Andrew sniffled a few times. He promptly rallied, to giddily comment, "Guys, it's just like the Fellowship of the Ring, which was Tolkien's paradigm in respect to the comradeship shown by the British soldiers in their World War One trenches-"
Listening to the more than familiar voice over there burbling on and on and on, Faith expressively rolled a single eye in weary cynicism. She then shifted her gaze at the other well-known face pressed up against hers, to see Willow's own eyes blissfully closed while leaking from these shut lids tears of absolute happiness. Faith then tenderly smiled, with this facial movement being felt by the witch, whose joy only increased even more.
This was why she'd done it. Her friends had truly needed a break from the exhaustion of their spirits and bodies, and Willow had set out to do precisely that. Now it was all over, and a complete success, to boot. Which was at this instant providing the Red Witch's own reward, the opportunity to unreservedly bask in the love of her entire family.
A few seconds later, the euphoric creator of today's game heard Xander softly clear his throat. This pal since kindergarten then whispered into her ear, "Hey, Wils, before we start the party, I've got a question. You said Faith and Andrew won by finishing seven challenges. Exactly how many of those did you set up, anyway?"
In the embracing circle, everyone there now heard Willow's clear laughter when she opened her shining eyes to smile around at them all. She eventually chortled to nobody in particular, "Oh, you'll have to wait and see, until the next Great Scooby Scavenger Hunt!"