A.N. Thanks so much to those who left amazing comments, it's always great to know what people are thinking of the story. And thanks to those who favorite and follow, so awesome =]]



Willow cocked her head to the side, watching as her best friend stared blankly at the backyard. "I feel like that was covered by my first so."

Buffy looped her arms around her bent knees, nodding absentmindedly. "I might concede that point, but my so had more 'o' emphasis than yours. You were definitely emphasizing the 's.'"

"A very technical break down, and yet, I'm back at so." Willow swatted away a winged bug who took the risk of flying too close. The morning sun was beating down cheerfully overhead, the slight chill of fall not having arrived yet.

"So," Buffy reiterated then sighed, her head falling back and her eyes closing. "So Faith is here. In my house, eating my ice cream, and it's so . . ."

"Icky? Because I was going to go with icky. I feel that there is a definite ick factor with the whole, you know, has viciously attacked us, namely our senior year, but hey! Who can remember all of that?"

Sinking her teeth into her bottom lip, Buffy grimaced. "Exactly. Who can remember? Dawn came barraging in my room this morning, scared the hell out of Spike who totally almost made a naked spectacle of himself. Thank god for three sets of blankets."

Willow's mouth quirked up in a sweet smile. "Had some naked Olympics going on last night, did we, Miss Summers?"

"Oh shut up." Buffy grinned even as a blush seeped into her cheeks. "Anyway, Dawn demanded to know what that, and I'm quoting here, Skanky Wanna-Be Slayer Be-atch, was doing living in our basement."

"Yikes." She glanced over her shoulder at the kitchen door. "She seemed fine when she was eating her cereal."

"Mm, that's because she got to yell at me a little beforehand. Saying she wanted Faith out, and that Mom wouldn't have let her in the house, then she broke down and begged me not to let Faith kill me and take over my life, which is apparently what she's really worried about. Not that I would want Faith as a sister either."

"But - but we fixed the body swap, last time! Dawny doesn't need to worry about that."

"Which is what I explained, then there was some fear about Spike getting shot with a poisonous arrow and having to almost kill me to get healed, which led to even more awkward conversations because then Spike was all offended that Dawn thought he would like over eat or something and Dawn was mad that he was letting me let Faith stay here when she could hurt me which made Spike even more offended and I really had to jump in there before the 'bloody hells' and the 'this is so unfairs' just devoured all of us."

Buffy dropped her head into her hands, running frustrated fingers through the strands and speaking to her knees. "It was really ugly. Especially when I yelled at both of them to stop acting like children. Which, seriously, only made them both more huffy and childish. Then I used my Counselor Summers voice and told them Faith was staying here because we need her and I wasn't going to hear another word about it."

"Ah, Counselor Summers voice. Now that is a true force to be reckoned with." Willow smiled, shifting on the porch steps to be more comfortable.

Buffy glared, using the full force of Counselor Summers voice, "And don't you forget it, Willow Rosenberg."

Willow broke down into giggles. "Oh my gosh! It's so a combination of Snyder and angry Giles."

"Willow!" Buffy gasped, slapping her friends arm lightly. "Ew! I would never use Snyder as an influence."

"But you so did, besides it's understandable when he yelled at you more than any other adults we know combined," Willow insisted.

With a roll of her eyes, Buffy said, "Yes, he did, but I don't sound like him. At all. Here, listen." She cleared her throat then said, "There are things I will not tolerate. Students loitering on campus after school. Horrible murders with hearts being removed. And also smoking."

It was an eerily accurate imitation of their former principal. Buffy clapped one hand over her mouth in horror. "Oh my god! Oh my god!" She shot wide eyes to her best friend who was doubled over in laughter. "Willow! This is not funny! I'm like – like Snyder Junior! This is awful!"

"But – But," Willow managed between fits of laughter, "so funny!"

"Not funny! Definitely not funny! I'll have to quit my job! I can't inflict Snyder Junior on people! That's evil, so so of the evil and not of the good counseling!"

Willow wrapped one arm around her friend, giving her sideways hug. "Look at it this way, he was always brutally honest and . . . sort of inspiring. In a really scary could expel you at any minute way."

Buffy groaned, burying her face in the corner of Willow's shoulder. Behind them the door opened. "This something any bloke can join in on or is it an all girlie thing?"

"Go away, Spike," Buffy growled, not looking up.

The vampire looked to Willow who gave him a not entirely appropriate saucy smile. "Sorry, Spike, looks like it's girls only." She squeezed Buffy's shoulder and Buffy wrapped her arms around Willow's waist.

The silence behind them was oppressive, followed by the swift clatter of the door closing and rapidly retreating footsteps. The two broke apart laughing.

"I wonder if his never-going-to-happen-fantasy's brain section just exploded?" Buffy said.

Willow grinned wickedly. "Well, he had it coming, what with the whole lurking routine."

Buffy shook her head, smiling, "You are so bad, Willow Rosenberg."

"And don't you forget it, Buffy Summers." She pushed up from the porch and offered her hand to help Buffy up.

"Buffy, a word?" Giles called as she passed the living room.

Her gaze scanning the surroundings, Buffy noted that Xander, Anya, and Dawn had already left and Willow was on her way out the door.

Buffy had already called into work for the day, explaining that the family emergency which had affected her the week before was back. Principal Wood was very understanding, taking the time to remind her that her recycling speech was coming up at the end of the week. A small part of Buffy hoped the apocalypse would prevent her from ever having to make that speech.

This left only her three jobless house guests. Not seeing Faith or Spike, she sent dark thoughts towards the two of them spending time together. Angel had always seemed to have some sort of strange bond with Faith, even now it made her skin crawl. But Spike was different. Or, at least, she hoped he was.

"What's up?" she asked, dropping down onto the couch next to her Watcher.

"I need you tell me what the First said to you when you met it the first time, I know it was a long time ago, but anything it had to say is of the utmost importance in our search for ways to prevent it from opening the Hellmouth. I'm afraid to say that Anya and I seem to be coming up with no results, I really only have her information to rely upon at this time." He picked up his tea cup from the coffee table and took a sustaining sip.

"Right." Buffy nodded, teeth sinking into her bottom lip as she cast her mind back to that Christmas four years before.

It wasn't exactly the most comforting thought to her that she had encountered so much evil during her time in Sunnydale that the basis of all evil hardly stood out amongst the rest. Still . . .

Buffy closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and imagined that Christmas. The Christmas tree lot with the trees that were dead, the cave beneath, seeing Jenny Calender.

"She talked about – "

"She?" Giles asked sharply, almost jarring Buffy from her meditative state.

"Yes, well, not really, but the First was . . . well, it appeared to me as Jenny."

An uncomfortable silence followed this comment, but Buffy strove to ignore it. To go back to the cave. To Jenny.

"She said she was everywhere." Buffy frowned. "No, that isn't right. It was more than that. It was the idea of being everywhere, in every being, every thought, every drop of hate."

She could hear Giles pencil as it scraped against paper, taking down her words, but it was from a great distance, because Buffy could feel the cave now, the damp earthiness, the way it had reminded her of a grave. Beyond sin, beyond death.

The words rang in her thoughts and she repeated them to Giles. There was something else too. Something the First had said, in that cave, in the darkness of the curved walls –

"I am the thing darkness is afraid of. You'll never see me, but I'm everywhere."

Buffy's eyes snapped open. "That's what it said. That's what made me think of the spies in Lord of the Rings! Giles –"

"Buffy! Slow down," her mentor pleaded, as his handwriting raced to finish Buffy's incoherent thoughts. "What is this about Lord of the Rings?"

She waved this away impatiently. "How can we fight something that is everywhere? That knows what we are doing? That is – is intangible? If it's in every thought, every person –"

"But that's exactly it, Buffy," he interrupted. "It's why the idea of binding it to a person is feasible. If the First is energy, if it is always present and always lurking in us, then it has simply become a concentrated form of energy which is why it is appearing once more. That's not all that surprising with all the evil that occurs in Sunnydale . . . though I do feel that there must be more to it than that . . ." he trailed off, pulling off his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose.

Buffy waited patiently, knowing Giles look of concentration from years of working together. She didn't have to wait long. He swung the glasses back on and sighed. "I'll have to get a hold of the Council, I feel quite certain they would be able to unmuddy the waters for us. There is something we are missing, it might not be all that important, but it's there, and we should seek it out."

Buffy raised dubious eyebrows. "Right. Because on a scale of one to vague, that pretty much topped out the charts."

Giles gave her a wry smile. "Yes, I'm afraid it did." His gaze slide to her neck, then darted away.

She raised a self conscious hand to the scar residing there. "It's not really what you think," she said quietly. "Well, it probably is, but I'm going with probably not because that makes me feel better."

"You don't have to tell me, it's really none of my business what you do in your personal life." Giles reached for his tea.

"I'm not the Slayer, you know."

The tea cup clattered against the table. "What on Earth do you mean by that?"

Buffy faced her ex-Watcher squarely. "I'm not really. Faith is. I'm the one that should be dead, but hey, still alive here. And they just keep trying to kill me and my friends just keep bringing me back." She smiled to show she was teasing.

"Now, Buffy, really, I hardly think that –"

"But it's the truth, isn't it? I'm the other Slayer. All chosen, but not the Chosen One of this year's Slayers' Weekly."

Giles' glasses came off once more, this time subject to a fierce polishing. Buffy took this as his consent for her to continue.

"So I started thinking, you know, after the whole second death and revival game, and you leaving, and Willow almost ending the world, and Spike getting a soul, and Dawn going to the newly rebuilt Sunnydale High, about things. Things like what's important to me. And being a Slayer is one of those things, but it's not the top thing. My family, my friends, those are the top thing. Spike is one of those people, so when he got sick –"

"I imagine you made a decision very much like the one you made for Angel," Giles interrupted quietly.

Buffy nodded, her hands clasped in her lap. "It's always about blood in the end. The Master needed my blood to be released, Angel needed it to live, Dawn needed it to be made, I needed it to save the world."

Giles turned to watch his Slayer, the lines of his face showing his age more clearly than Buffy had ever seemed to notice before.

"When things happened with Spike, it was obvious, he needed my blood. But he didn't want it, would have refused it. And it was different, you know, from Angel, because I didn't force it on Spike, I offered it. I got to make the decision to give it and he got to make the decision to accept it. It was freeing, for it to be a give and take like that. It was special. So, no, maybe it's not the best decision a Slayer has ever made, but for me, it was the right one."

Giles laid a hand over hers, stopping her from further explanation. "That's what is important, Buffy. That you make the decisions that are right for you. You're right, you aren't the official Slayer anymore, but instead of that bringing you more freedom, more choices, it forced you into a position of more responsibility and expectations. But you have done wonderfully with both, I couldn't be prouder of you, and I only hope that now, Faith will be able to shoulder that burden with you, to create a chance for you to have the freedom I always wanted for you."

He smiled kindly at her, this man she had known for seven years who had been so important to her, more of a father than her own had ever been. Her answering smile was a bit watery. "Thank you."

"Of course." He leaned back, picking up his tea cup and fiddling with it. "And thank you for telling me, I am lucky to be granted such a confidential part of your life."

Buffy shrugged, sniffling back her almost tears. "I just thought you deserved to know. He's a good man, Giles. Whatever else he's done, he's a good man now, and I love him."

"Quite." He took a drink. "Though, I'll have you know that had the Council not already fired me, they would have most certainly sacked me when they found out you were with another vampire."

"Yeah, well," Buffy shrugged indifferently, "they would probably have fired you anyway if they saw you wearing that sombrero on Halloween my Freshman year."

"Now, really, I was told I looked rather dashing in that sombrero," Giles said indignantly.

"Mhm," Buffy made a disbelieving face. "And let me guess, it was the sale's lady who told you that?"

Giles quickly reached for his tea cup and Buffy smothered a laugh.