author: Lucinda

Series: Bonds of Soul and Demon #10

rating: pg 13

pairings: Willow/Angelus Amy/Spike

disclaimer: Nobody from BtVS is mine.

distribution: please ask first.

note :Words inside colons: represent telephone conversations.

Willow had been thinking the whole time that she walked back to the lair. Eventually, she had concluded that it would be best to just tell her clan outright what had happened, and some of her speculations about it. Not about the Slayer kissing her to put her off-balance, but about Kakistos, and the alliance with the Slayer Faith. She already knew that there would be some unhappiness about it, and was considering what to do about any objections.

Sighing to herself in anticipation of the protests from her clan, she let herself into the mansion that they were using as a lair. It was home to her in a way the Rosenberg house had never been, a place where she was herself, where she knew that she was welcome and cared for. A place where she was not only welcome but family, and needed. It felt good, even if she was still the responsible one, the one making the decisions and bearing the consequences if things went wrong.

Glancing up, she saw Tom, one of the minions, talking with Sarah. The seemed to be talking about some of the new movies, and apparently wanted to watch the new James Bond movie when it hit the theaters. While Willow was in favor of her minions having interest beyond hunting and sex, she needed to interrupt their conversation. "Tom, Sarah. I need you to assemble everyone. I have an announcement, and it's important."

They obeyed her, only a slight hint of puzzlement in their eyes. She wasn't in the habit of ordering the minions about simply because she could, so there had to be a reason. The sooner everyone was assembled, the sooner Willow would explain things. Soon, everyone started to gather in the main hall. There were a few people out hunting, but the majority of the clan was present. It would have to do.

"Everyone, I have a few things to say. I spoke earlier this evening with the new Slayer, who's name is Faith. She had a few interesting things to say, and proposed a deal, and after a bit of negotiation, I have agreed to it." Seeing some confusion and worry from the clan, Willow held up her hand for silence.

"She said there is a powerful vampire pursuing her, and she believes that he will eventually arrive here in Sunnydale. His name is Kakistos, and he will undoubtedly view us as a threat to him when he decides that he wants to take over the Hellmouth. That is one of the reasons why I agreed to assist the Slayer in killing him when he arrives. She has also agreed to leave us to our hunting territory as long as we continue the discretion policy that I've set in place. We are not helping her to kill our rivals, nor to kill the assorted lesser demons that a Slayer will battle. We are not her lackeys to fetch this or kill that. She will leave us alone, and we will permit her to kill our rivals. She is a Slayer, she will not be here forever. She is not aware of the location of our lair, nor do I intend to tell her. She may be of some use to us, but she is not one of us, not part of our clan. I trust her only to a certain point. So, do not throw yourselves at the Slayer, she isn't supposed to be hunting us. Keep an eye on her, just to make certain that she keeps her word, and let me know if she does anything questionable."

Dalton was looking troubled, which Willow knew was a bad sign. "Dalton, I want you and your researchers to see what you can find on Kakistos. I want his history, bloodline if you can find it, and especially any weaknesses that he has. I refuse to let some other vampire come in and eliminate us, so we need to be ready for him."

Sarah spoke, her voice holding concern, but no hostility. "Can we trust this Slayer? Are we putting ourselves at risk with this bargain?"

Willow ran her fingers through her hair as she considered how to answer. "I don't know if we can trust her, which is why I didn't say that we should stop watching her. I know that she listened when I explained that our clan wouldn't be trying to end the world or open the Hellmouth. The only things that I have offered her is a promise to assist in dealing with Kakistos if and when he arrives, because he will be as much of a danger to us as to her, and the promise that if she leaves my clan alone, my clan will not actively try to kill her. Considering that we weren't trying to kill her anyhow, I don't feel that we've lost anything, and IF she keeps her word, we have gained an added measure of safety for ourselves."

"This simply means that we might not have to worry about threats from the Slayer. Continue to be discrete in your hunting. Continue to eliminate the members of rival clans. If she is particularly good, we may be able to expand our territory more rapidly. If she's inept, she will die soon, and we won't have to worry about her anymore."

After a bit more discussion, the gathered minions concluded that she was right, she really hadn't promised anything that they weren't already doing. IF the Slayer did keep her word to leave them alone, it would be good for them, they would have one less enemy to worry about. They gradually scattered, some to retire for the evening, some to help Dalton research, others to go hunting now, as they hadn't earlier.

Willow retreated with a sigh, going to the room that her mate stayed in. He had been standing beside Spike during her announcement, but they had both slipped away after her announcement. A part of her worried that they were disappointed in her. Her mate was sitting on the bed, looking as delectably handsome as ever, his body almost restored to his proper health. He looked up at her as she walked into the room, his amber eyes sparkling with pleasure at seeing her.

He stood up, walking over to her, and put his arms around her, pulling her close. "My mate..." The words were raspy, as if he was not used to speaking any more.

Willow smiled, feeling tears of joy well up in her eyes. She didn't think he had actually spoken since she had brought him back. That his first words were to affirm that she was his... that he cared for her. She wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him, breathing in his scent. "My Angelus. I love you."

end part 1.

Spike got back from his hunting. Angelus had been hungry again after Willow's announcement, so they had slipped away, and he had let his Sire feed from him. It felt good to know that he could help his Sire to heal, even if it did leave him hungry. Hunting took a lot more time if he was being discrete, although he understood the need for it perfectly.

He had also had plenty of time to consider Willow's bargain with the Slayer. She had promised nothing that they weren't already doing, and in return, the Slayer would leave the clan alone. The sheer audacity of the bargain had caught his breath. Bargains with Slayers were incredibly rare, and only part of it was the Slayer tendency to attack first and question later. Maybe this Kakisti fellow had the Slayer scared. He checked in on his Sire, finding him on the bed in his room, and Willow curled up there with him, their arms wrapped around each other, clinging to each other.

Angelus was clinging to Red... and she looked happy, a lot happier than she had for a long time. Spike doubted that it was just because of this deal that she had with the Slayer. Hmm... maybe something between her and Angelus? If so, it was about bloody time!

Maybe his Sire and Red, who had become part of the family, gone from his Sire's obsession to a friend to family, for a while almost a Sire to him, would finally become lovers. Perhaps they would finally Claim each other in the traditional way, something that would be easy to understand for everyone. Spike was certain that it would be something that they would enjoy, probably something long overdue for them both.

As things stood now, Most of the people weren't quite certain what to think of Willow. She had been the sweetest, most caring and accepting person that they had ever met, and then, after Angelus had vanished, Willow had shown another side, a ruthlessly calculating side that had brought her to power. She led the clan now, not because she was Angelus' mate, nor because he called her Mum. It was because she was talented, she led them well. She cared about their future, sought to preserve them, to help them grow and learn and prosper. She sought to minimize their danger, without turning them into craven cowards or the lackeys of someone else. She could be devious, and ruthless, and wasn't afraid to do something unconventional.

Yeah, it looked like things were improving for Willow and his Sire. Now, if only things were moving as smoothly for himself and Amy. Oh, he had no doubts that she was interested in him. But she was a mortal, and mortals thought differently than vampires. They were still getting to know each other, still figuring out things. It was important, especially if he wanted more than a casual affair, but it was just taking so long! Spike wasn't very patient by nature.

He wondered exactly what the future held. Not just for his Sire and Red, but for himself and his witch, and how the arrival of this new Slayer, Faith would affect things for the clan. Would she become a threat? Would she hold to her bargain? Exactly how dangerous was this Kakistis-whats-his-name that she was running away from?

The Watcher, Giles was something of an ally for Willow, even if he didn't quite trust the rest of the clan except for Willow's safety. Unfortunately, Giles was off searching for the blonde Slayer, the one that had sent his Sire to hell. If she ever dared to return to Sunnydale, there would be serious competition for the delight of killing her, that much was certain. She had burned away what little respect she had earned for herself among the community by running away. Now, she was not only a Slayer, the enemy of demons and vampires, but a quitter and a coward, someone that had shown herself to be lacking in honor. Yeah, the blonde was dead if she ever came back.

As the nights passed, Dalton and a few others sought information on Kakistos. They had found relatively few scraps of information, and none of it was encouraging. The vampire was Greek, and reputedly ancient. He was also said to poses cloven hooves and hands, and there were rumors that it was due to great age, or to being excessively evil, or to foul bargains with evil powers. He was said to be old, powerful, and cunning.

The good news was that Faith had been keeping her bargain with Willow. She continued to patrol through the graveyards, and while she did occasionally cross into the clan's territory, it was normally either to take a shortcut to somewhere else, or in pursuit of some minor demon. She had not gone hunting for the vampires of Willow's clan. They had been observing her, watching to see if she would keep her word, analyzing her fighting style, and attempting to measure what sort of Slayer she was.

Faith was not strictly emotionless, as many Slayers had been trained to be. She was passionate, and fought with emotion; anger and a wicked temper. Perhaps she was expressing her anger with one thing, something that she couldn't change on the vampires and demons that she slew on her patrols. She had offered polite acknowledgement to Willow when they had crossed paths, but had actually had little communication.

Until one night, perhaps a week and a half after her bargain with Red. Spike was on his way back from a movie with Amy, and saw Faith sitting on a bench well within the clan's territory. She looked as if she was waiting for something, and he could tell that she was armed, and there was a faint scent of Slayer's blood in the air.

Spike stared for a moment, trying to determine what she could be doing there. Finally, he decided to try talking to her, and when he spoke, his voice was neutral. "Slayer."

She looked at him, and there was a bruise forming around her left eye, and her lip looked a bit swollen. "Vampire. You're one of Red's? I'm guessing that you're this Spike person that I've heard about."

He nodded slightly, and paused a few seconds, considering. "Yeah, I'm Spike. You look... something got your eye. You might want to put some ice on it. Any ideas what got you?"

She gave a half smile, half smirk at him. "You think? Yeah... well, it wasn't something I recognized, and it got away. I was thinking... when Red and I talked, she mentioned something about consulting for big demons. Now, I'm not asking for a trip to the palace, but if I can maybe get a bit of help identifying this thing... It was big, strong, and fast. I'll have a better chance if I know where and how to hit it, y'know?"

"Makes sense. I'll give mum a heads up, let her know what's going on. I'm sure you understand if I say you wouldn't be the top choice of houseguest." Spike was thinking that this one was an improvement. Not bad to look at, and a bit more inclined to think before leaping.

"Sounds good, blondie. How you going to get ahold of her, some sort of vampire mind thing?" Faith looked interested.

Spike grinned, amused by the question. He then pulled out a cell phone, holding it up for the Slayer's view. "Nah... not if I want to be able to give specific details. I got a cell. Maybe I should ask Mum to get you one for Christmas, if you're a good Slayer."

end part 2.

Faith had just giggled when Spike had produced the cell phone. It was terribly undignified, and certainly wouldn't frighten away anyone, but that was the only way to describe the sounds from the brunette Slayer. The whole idea of the big bad Master vampire using a cell phone went so counter to the traditional view of vampires that it was funny. She managed to reign in her amusement when Spike handed her the phone.

She could recognize the voice on the other end as the redhead, Willow. :Spike said there was a demon you wanted to ask about. Can you describe it for us?:

"Yeah. It was tall, but sort of skinny. I can't give an exact height, but it had to be close to nine or ten feet tall, and it was kind of hunched over. It had really long arms and fingers, and the fingers ended in these long claws. It was all bony looking, and sort bone colored as well. Little bitty mouth, but it looked like sharp teeth inside, big dark eyes. No hair, not scaly, but not quite smooth... kind of lines along where the muscle would go, like its skin was really thin. It had a funny smell too, sort of like dust and something else, made me think of old graves, like opening a really old tomb."

:Ick. Anything particular about the way it moved? Was it hunched in the open or in somewhere that would have a low roof for it? Did it move like a human would? Did it make any noises?:

"Ick doesn't sound like something from a vampire clan leader. It didn't talk, but it made a few strange clicking noises, I think from its teeth. I first found it in a condemned apartment over near the Cannery, it stood a bit straighter outside, but not all the way. It kind of did this swaying thing, and the eyes sort of reflected light like a cat's do."

:Good description, some very useful detail here. It doesn't sound familiar off the top of my head, but we'll look into it. Promise we'll get back to you if we find it, especially if we can find details like venom or how to kill it.:

"Thanks, Red. Your concern is... actually a lot more than I'm used to getting. Really, thanks. Hmm... what happens if I need a particular type of weapon? I haven't got a full arsenal anymore." Faith's voice was concerned.

:Not a problem. Giles had his arsenal, most of them are locked up in the school library. I'll make you a copy of the key, that way if you need a weapon, you know where to find them and can get inside. Just remember to lock up behind you, and the principal is an obnoxious troll of a guy, presumably human though. You'll want to avoid him.:

"Sounds five by five to me, Red. Let me know when you got the key, I can meet you somewhere to get it." Faith had a slight smile now.

:Meet me at the Espresso Pump, tomorrow at about six in the evening. I can give you the key then.:

"Great. I'll give the phone back to Fang junior now. You've been a gem, Red." Faith was smiling as she handed the phone back to Spike.

"She's great. My watcher wasn't that good about my descriptions. Always wanted more specifics... and a precise location of where the thing was and what it was wearing."

Spike grinned, amusement flickering in his eyes. "Mum's not to big on form for form's sake. She wants there to be a reason, hopefully a good one, or else she's likely to change things around. Keeps us on our toes. We'll keep an eye out for your tall bone demon."

Faith gave a little wave, and with a look of contemplation, spoke again. "Never thought I'd be saying this to a vamp, but thanks. Maybe I'll see you around."

"You probably will. Something else - Red's got some people looking for information of that Kakisti bloke. So far, we've got that he's Greek, over a thousand years old, maybe closer to two thousand. Very evil, suspected of making bargains with big evils from another realm, all that blather. There was something about hooves as well. If we find out anything, we'll get word to you." Spike's voice had gone serious again.

"Sounds good, anything would be a plus. He does have hooves, and his hands are sort of... weird, like his fingers are growing together, almost like hooves as well. And he's got small horns on his head. Really gross and unnatural looking. She's something... and I don't think I've ever met anyone like her before." Faith's voice was full of admiration for Willow.

Faith returned to the room she had managed to rent at the little motel. It was small, and unattractive, but it was hers. The housekeeping was fairly decent here as well, so she didn't have to worry about things crawling on her sheets. She stretched out on the hard, lumpy bed, contemplating life in Sunnydale.

She had found the friends of the other Slayer, and they weren't what she'd expected. They seemed... hardened, not just to the idea of danger, but as if they were reluctant to trust, and quick to judge. They had essentially kicked Willow out based solely on a single glimpse of conversation, and had decided that she had 'betrayed' them and was 'sleeping with the enemy'. Actually, for a vamp, Spike was pretty hot, but if Willow said that she wasn't doing him, and Spike said that Willow wasn't doing him, she would believe it.

It was also incredibly frustrating that Xander, Oz and Cordelia kept comparing her to Buffy. Cordelia compared her social conduct and fashion tastes with the blond Slayer, sometimes implying, other times bluntly insulting that she found Faith's clothing to be unacceptable. Faith's clothing was too tight, to dark, too wild... her hair was not in fashion, she looked like a 'reject from some bad movie'. Oz didn't talk much, but his words carried an implied comparison, and the message that he had found her to be lacking somehow. Xander... well, she was starting to hate to hear the phrase 'Buffy didn't...' all the time. Faith didn't patrol like Buffy, didn't train like Buffy, and attempted to do some of the research herself, apparently unlike Buffy.

She was beginning to resent the other Slayer, and she'd never even met her. There was some confusion on exactly what had happened to Buffy anyhow. The 'Scoobies' didn't know, but blamed Willow, or possibly Angelus for the blonde Slayer's vanishing. Willow had said that Buffy had sent Angelus to hell, and then run away from town, abandoning her friends and duty. Both sources had agreed that Giles, the Watcher had left town trying to find Buffy, hoping to bring her back.

Faith wondered why he was even bothering. If Buffy had abandoned her duties and run away, why did he think that she would come back and return to patrolling, to killing demons? If she had run away once, what was to keep her from doing it again? In Faith's opinion, nothing existed here to keep the other Slayer to her duty. Yes, Buffy had her mother, and her watcher, and friends... but if they hadn't been enough for her to stay, why would they be enough in the future?

end part 3.

Faith had agreed to meet her at the Espresso Pump to get a copy of the keys to the school and library doors. That way, she would be able to access the weapons that Giles had stored at the school. It had been a simple matter to get copies made. Faith was the Slayer in Sunnydale now, it would be best if she had the sort of weapons and research materials that she would need.

Willow smiled, thinking about the dark haired Slayer. She was probably about the same age, no more than sixteen or seventeen. Which also put her at roughly the same age as Buffy, but the two Slayers seemed to have nothing else in common. Willow had been watching the Slayer during bits of her nightly patrols. Faith enjoyed her calling, enjoyed having a purpose, and a way to carve her own place in the world.

Faith had a deep anger about something, but Willow didn't think that it was resentment of her calling. Perhaps it was something to do with her life before she was called to Slay? Had Faith had a troubled childhood? Bad parents? Absent parents? Had Faith had friends before? Or maybe it was something that had happened after she had become the Slayer? Buffy had got in trouble for sneaking out at night (for patrols) and getting into fights (often on patrols), perhaps Faith had experienced similar troubles? It was impossible to guess. Faith should be here at any minute, so Willow settled into her seat, hands wrapped around a mug of cappuccino. She was looking forward to learning a bit more about the new Slayer. Hopefully, Faith would be easier to deal with. The fact that they had found the information on the bone demon would be a plus, although they were supposed to travel in small groups, normally three to four at a time.

Willow felt the Slayer come in, feeling the presence of another hunter, and the slight chill that whispered of danger, that whispered that the enemy of her kind (but she wasn't a vampire, not quite) had entered the area. Standing, Willow could see that Faith was scanning the building, looking for her, apparently with little success. With a small, wicked grin, Willow flexed her presence, a trick that she had found useful to impress her minions with her seriousness. She could see Faith tense, and turn her gaze in Willow's direction.

"Nice little trick there Red. Does it help keep everyone in line?" Faith was grinning as she slid into the opposite side of the booth, holding a steaming mug of hot chocolate in one hand.

"Yeah, it's pretty handy." Willow paused, glancing at the numbers of people around them before sliding a ring of keys with a little key charm of an eagle towards the other woman. "You forgot these the other day, so I brought your keys back to you. I also checked the sourcebook for that computer game you mentioned last night. It's from the second level, and you should use a blunt object on it. It's got bonuses to strength, and it's fast, but it hasn't got any special resistances. Get a blunt weapon from your inventory, and beat it to death. Watch out for the claws though, they tend to have a strong chance of causing infection."

Faith blinked a moment, her expression showing a flicker of confusion before comprehension dawned. "Second... no special resistances? That's good, and just a blunt weapon... yeah. I can get one of those." She sipped at her hot chocolate, frowning slightly and blowing over her cup before sipping again. "Cool. I was pretty sure that I had that sourcebook, but I think it got lost in the move."

"Rough day? You look... a bit frustrated." Willow wasn't quite certain if Faith would want to open up to her. If she felt like a vampire, the Slayer might not want to share her secrets and troubles with her.

"Mmmm. I got to spend a few hours trying to look up a few things with my new... study group. They're getting on my nerves. They keep comparing me to Buffy. I don't dress like she did... I don't talk like she did. I don't... study... like she did. They keep making me feel like I don't measure up to Buffy. Like I'm a cheap imitation."

"Ouch. I can see why that would put you in a foul mood. Well, personally, I've noticed a lot of differences, but I don't have a problem with any of them. Your not running naked, so your clothing is your choice. Doesn't look like stuff that will stain easy for your... workouts either, so that's more logical that she ever used. Haven't watched you dance, or work on homework, so no idea there. Different style for your exercise though. You seem to take things more seriously. We like you better that we liked her." Willow grinned at Faith.

"Really? Didn't think your group would like me much... at all. More like find me entirely annoying." Faith was looking at Willow, her expression intent, as if seeking some sort of understanding in the redhead's eyes.

"Honestly? They aren't sure they like you. But we can tell that you're good at what you do. Effective, passionate about your time. Better yet, you can stick by your promises, which is a big plus with the conservative crowd. They... we respect you."

"I suppose there is a difference. I can deal with respected. Probably better than liked anyhow. Your people seem five by five."

"Five by five? What exactly does that mean? Anyhow, they don't know enough to know if they like you. Hmmm... a couple of the guys are a bit restless. If you want a group to go with to get that second level demon we mentioned, you can meet a few of us at Eternal Hope, around ten. It is a bring your own snack event though."

"Now Red, I can't be telling you all of my secrets, can I? Glad you got the keys back to me, and a group sounds... actually it sounds good. Back-up can come in pretty handy sometimes."

Feeling more confident about effective communication and cooperation, the two left the table. Willow headed back towards her clan's lair, hoping to be there to watch her mate wake up. Faith headed back to her hotel room, wanting to make certain her weapons were ready for the hunt.

end part 4.

That evening, Willow briefed the small group of minions that wanted to go after the demons. Some were more confident, and wished to hunt alone or in pairs. Others were willing to hunt in a group, and possibly work with the Slayer. Privately, Willow figured that it was being viewed as a chance to observe and evaluate the Slayer's fighting style and ability, in case they ever fought against her. Actually, that was a sound bit of logic. She just wanted to be certain that everyone who wanted to go hunting these bone demons knew what to use and where to aim for.

"Everyone, I know you all want to go out and try to kill these demons. That's good, but you can't go quite yet, there's still a bit of sunshine, so listen up. Dalton found them in one of his books. Use blunt force, punch or kick them, don't try to bite or claw. If you want a weapon, I suggest hammers, clubs or staves, not swords or axes. That does apply to you, Zack, the knife won't be particularly effective, although chains might work just fine. Go for the joints or the ribs, or the head if you can knock them down or get the height. Be aware that they are fast. There have also been a lot of infections from their claws, EVEN on vampires. Be careful, have fun. Kill some of those demons, and if it makes you feel better, you can take your time as long as they die." Willow smiled at the assembled minions, feeling almost like a mother addressing a roomful of impatient children.

"Are we really going to be working with the Slayer? The Slayer?" Rob, Sarah's current boyfriend asked the question that had been on all of their minds.

"Maybe. I told her that we were going to hunt the demons tonight, and if she wanted someone to watch her back, she could join us. She didn't answer. We are hunting these demons regardless of the Slayer's location tonight. But, if she goes with us, we will know exactly where she is and what she's doing. We won't have to worry about if she hunting our clan while we aren't looking." Willow's answer was calm. She had been expecting someone to question the decision.

"Now, just so we're all clear on this, this does not make the Slayer part of our family. It does not mean that she is our friend. It simply means that right now, she is a potential danger, while those demons are an active danger. Nobody will expect you to follow the slayer and make sure she gets home safely after her patrols or to patch up her injuries."

Willow wasn't surprised to see relief at those words. It wasn't that her clan had anything particular against Faith, but she was the Slayer, chosen to fight demons and vampires. They were very aware of the 'chosen to fight vampires' part of a Slayer's destiny. Understandably, they didn't want to protect and aid their sworn enemy. Willow sighed, wondering exactly how she had ended up so firmly among the vampires, when she had started to consider Slayers as possible enemies and threats to her. Life used to be so simple, straight forward. She was the research girl who helped the Slayer save the world from the bad guys. Vampires were the bad guys because they killed people. In reflection, she decided that the slide from simplicity had begun with the discovery that Angel was a vampire. Then, they had encountered humans that were just as dangerous, even evil as some of the demons and vampires. Then, Angelus had come into her life... her supposed friends had abandoned her without hearing or sympathy, and the only ones that had been there for her were Giles, Amy, and the vampires. Her vampires.

Spike sauntered over towards her as the impatient minions streamed out, either to search for the demon or to just hunt for dinner. He had a smirk on his face, and his eyes twinkled with a good mood. "Mum, Angelus and I were going to go out hunting. He seems to be ready to go out and get his own bites. Thought maybe I should go with, just to make sure all goes well. Good luck on your demon hunt."

Willow felt herself smiling. Her mate was getting stronger, regaining his strength. "Good. Just... be careful, okay?"

Willow and the rest of those who were going to hunt the demons in a group headed towards the cemetery of Eternal Hope. It was one of the older cemeteries, and not used quite as often for funerals. However, it was located rather near the place where Faith had seen the demon. They would start near there in hopes that that had been a sign that it had established a lair in the area. If not, perhaps they could find it's trail.

Willow wasn't entirely surprised to see Faith waiting for them, or to feel her vampires tense as they felt the Slayer. What surprised Willow was that she could feel Faith, sense her presence as a 'hot' spot, could almost feel an itch where Faith was standing. Faith wore dark brown leather pants, boots and jacket, and her short red top showed a narrow strip of muscled stomach. Faith had a nice sized hammer resting on the ground, and the wooden handle appeared to be engraved with some sort of runes, and the wooden haft extended, leaving about seven inches of sharpened wood emerging from the top of the hammer, leaving it not only unique looking, but useful against a variety of foes. There were also two knives, the straps holding them crossing around her hips.

She gave a small smile at the sight of their approach. "Hey there. So, bone demons... blunt objects. Hammer time, then time to go party?"

Willow gave a small smile. "Yeah. Of course, they had a much longer name in the books... Marraeocholith or something like that. Simple version, bone demons, blunt objects to shatter their bones, umm... go for the joints, ribs, or the head if you can. According to the book, those are the optimal targets."

"Fair enough. Well... a hunting we will go... but not for wabbits." Faith was grinning, as if this evening would be interesting, rather than simply dangerous.

Their search didn't take them very long. It was less than fifteen minutes to the place where Faith had encountered the demon, and the vampires began to notice a strange, almost musty odor, like long closed rooms. There was also a low clicking noise, and a sort of guttural croaking, which caused Willow to tense slightly, and a thread of nervousness flowed through her.

"That's the sound the one I ran into made. Be ready, it was fast." Faith's voice was low, and clearly tense, and she hefted her hammer, shifting its position slightly.

"Are you sure all that noise is coming from just one?" Sarah's question held some concern.

Her words still hung unanswered in the air when the demons burst forth, leaping at the intruders. High pitched keening noises that were accented by a sharp sounding clicking set their nerves on edge, possibly intended to paralyze a person with fear. Their skin was pulled taut over inhumanly lean bodies, every shift of the muscles easily visible, the joints knobby with bone mass. There were three of the creatures, their long arms giving them the ability to lash out at the group from safely out of range of return fists.

Words were no longer needed, as it soon became a frantic flurry of movement. Arms swung weapons, heads shifted, trying frantically to track all three demons. Bodies and legs moved rapidly, attempting to dodge the demons. Willow didn't know it, but her worry and dismay had carried through the links, and Spike and Angelus had both picked up on it. Angelus had dropped his meal, the man unconscious but alive, and began moving quickly towards the part of town where Willow was fighting. Her distress was like a beacon to them.

One demon lunged at Faith, and as the Slayer ducked, Willow kicked sideways, connecting firmly to the demons knee, sending it sideways with a wet sounding popping noise. The demon screamed, a spine chilling sound, and attempted to turn towards Willow. It shifted its weight, and toppled, the injured leg giving out. They were on it like a swarm, clubbing, beating, crushing the demon into a flattened smear, the pale skin splitting to reveal crimson blood.

The feeling of triumph was short-lived, as a slash of claws struck Sarah in the back, dropping her to the ground in a spray of blood and scream of pain. They had almost forgotten the other two demons. Unfortunately, the demons hadn't forgotten them, and seemed to be very angry about the death of their comrade. Their attacks showed a new fury, and soon Faith, Willow, and the vampires had formed a defensive group, surrounding Sarah, who was still on the ground. The demons seemed to be moving faster now, their movements almost jerky with what could only be fury. Occasional blows still connected to the demons, but things had shifted to a temporary stalemate.

The balance abruptly shifted when one of the creatures apparently stumbled. Willow moved slightly forward, her staff swinging forward, connecting with the back of the demon's skull, just above the neck. It gave a little clack and fell to the ground, limbs twitching spastically. At the same time, the other demon gave a furious shriek, and leapt over the group, claws slashing downwards, catching Willow over the shoulder blade, and sending her tumbling to the ground.

That was the scene that Angelus and Spike saw as they arrived. Willow was on the ground bleeding, a tall demon standing over her, blood dripping from its claws. With a roar, Angelus charged the creature, fist and feet moving in a blur. This thing had hurt his mate... he would not permit that to go unpunished. The other minions and Faith attacked the fallen demon, beating it into a crushed pulp. When uncertain how much damage a demon could recuperate, overkill was better than having it pop up again another day.

Finally, all three of the demons were thoroughly dead, and they could evaluate their injuries, and think about what had happened instead of just reacting. Spike knelt by Sarah, inspecting her injury, attempting to determine just how bad it really was. Faith had some bruises, and a few shallow slashes along her fore arms, the sleeves of the jacket slashed repeatedly.

Angelus had knelt beside Willow, his golden eyes focused entirely on his mate. One hand reached out, brushing over her hair before moving towards her back. He peered at the slashes. "Willow?"

When she didn't respond, he made a small noise, halfway between a grunt and a growl before carefully scooping her into his arms. He brushed a lock of her hair back from her eyes, tucking it behind her ear as she had done so many times. He kicked at one outstretched hand of one of the demons, and carried Willow away, her still form held close to his body.

Faith had watched that with wide eyes, and her soft words hung loud in the air. "What was that about?"

end part 5.

Angelus carried his Willow back to the lair, concerned about her. Tonight, he had come so close to loosing her. She had been injured by the tall demon, left helpless before it's attack. Not only that, but in the presence of a Slayer! He had felt it, the dark haired female was a Slayer, a danger to him, his minions, and most importantly, a danger to his lovely mate. How had his mate ended up near a Slayer? There had been one here before, one with golden hair... /pain, betrayal, confusion - but I love you.../ he shivered, returning all of his attention to the moment, to his fiery mate, so warm and soft in his arms. He would have to show her how much she meant to him.

The demon had hurt her, and left her unconscious and bleeding. Her shoulder had four long gashes, at the deepest showing a hint of the shoulder blade. He tore the shirt from her, worried about the injuries. Carefully, he licked the blood away, feeling better when she began to stir slightly. He ran his hands over her arms, the rest of her back, her chest and stomach, at first to check for more wounds, and then because his touch was pleasing to her, feeling her pleasure echoed within him.

Feeling her pleasure, he smiled, continuing to stroke his hands over her body, touching, caressing every exposed inch of her. She moved, hissing slightly as it pulled on her injured shoulder, and tugged at his shirt, trying to pull it over his head, to remove the clothing that stood as a barrier between her touch and his skin. Reading her intent, Angelus smiled, removing the shirt in a single motion, throwing it to the corner. Smiling at the sight of him, she leaned forward, licking a slow trail from the center of his chest upwards, flicking her tongue over his earlobe. He shivered a bit in anticipation, feeling certain that now, they would finally join together as mates were supposed to, in a gloriously passionate union, bodies moving together, touching and tasting each other, until their very essences were marked by their need and passion.

Part of him was feeling relieved to know that his mate had no other serious injuries, only a few bruises here and there darkening her skin. She felt so warm to his touch, like softness wrapped around fire, and he longed to fill himself with her warmth, to share in that heat and passion that he knew danced inside of her. Another part of him was reveling in his renewed health, cursing the weakness and injury that had prevented this from happening before. Had he not been so weak when he was returned to her... but he had been weak, and she had helped him heal. She had given him strength, sharing her blood with him, having faith in his recovery.

Her fingers were touching him, drawing his focus to her, making him feel as if all that he was focused on here and now, feeling as if the fire from her was flowing into him as she brushed her fingers over his stomach, her lips over... His knees felt weak, and he toppled backwards on the bed, his hands reaching out, keeping her with him. He could feel the pleasure washing over him, flooding his body, washing away all of his worries and troubles... clearing away all thought until his mind was filled with his mate, until all that he was aware of were her bright eyes, the heat of her body and passion, and the undeniable brilliance of her love.

As the intensity of the experience peaked, flooding his mind with her feelings, her pleasure, and the unmistakable feeling of her, he sank his teeth deep into her throat, tasting her once again, this time tasting all the passion in her blood, this time sealing her to him in the oldest way, Claiming her, marking her as his mate in the eyes of anyone that would see her. He felt her teeth sink into him as well, biting deeply, letting his blood flow into her, marking him for everyone to see as hers. The unexpected pleasure that that brought him caused another delighted sound, and their passion continued, raw, primal passion, denied to long.

Eventually, they collapsed into exhausted slumber, their bodies glistening and slightly sticky with a sheen of sweat. Deep bites marked them, as well as scratches and finger shaped bruises from the force of their union. Something within them both felt different, as if this had healed some internal wound, or put something back into place. Things were now right, as they had not been before. Limbs entwined, they slumbered, unaware of the return of the minions, or of Spike's return, still grumbling over being forced to explain vampire mating bonds to a Slayer.

Pausing near the door, Spike smiled. He could feel Angelus and Willow inside, both resting now. At long last, they had claimed each other in the traditional way. That should make them both happier... and he really wished that he could Claim his witch now. Unfortunately, he didn't think that Amy was quite ready for that yet.

end part 6.

Faith had managed to get some rest after the demon hunt last night. She'd had a lot to think about, preventing her from sleep until almost dawn. Her Watcher had tried to convince her that all vampires were evil, that they all needed to be destroyed. That the variations were not so much a reflection of ethics as in the ability to plan, to organize and convince others to follow them. That there could be no good from vampires. That vampires didn't have feelings, didn't care about each other or anyone else except as potential food or threats.

Red had shattered that idea. Not only did she clearly have emotions, there was no way that she could have been fooled by some romantic sounding batch of empty promises. She knew exactly what she was getting into, and went anyhow, right into the arms of vampires. Rather gorgeous vampires, actually. More than that, Red was a planner, and her bargain had been... mutually beneficial. Apparently, Red hadn't promised any behavior that her pack or clan wasn't already doing. Last night, seeing them work together on their hunt... it was obvious that the vamps listened to her. That they respected and adored her. When the demon had clawed the one female vamp, they hadn't just let her fall, they had circled around her, protecting the wounded vampire.

Honestly, it made her jealous. She didn't have that sort of support.

She was supposed to be trying to research something today, at the high school library. Xander and Cordelia would be there, although Oz had a rehearsal with his band. Not that Oz was particularly friendly, but he was quiet. Oz was actually... rather baffling. He seemed so distant from the whole idea of demons and Slaying, but he helped research, and Faith wasn't certain why, but he had a key to the library. There was also something mentioned once about him keeping some spare cloths and chains in the back room... Faith wasn't quite certain that she wanted to know.

She didn't have particularly high expectations for this thing. Cordelia would be there, waiting impatiently and complaining about how this whole research effort cut into her weekend shopping time. Xander would alternate between flirting with Cordelia, staring at Faith's leather clad legs, and consuming snack foods. There would be the muttered comments along the lines of 'Buffy would have killed this thing by now' and 'I never used to need to be here at one o'clock on a Saturday to look at pictures of demons'. The comments would be loud enough that Faith would hear them, and they would set her teeth on edge, and the time that she spent grinding her teeth together reminding herself that they were human would leave her with an appalling headache. She wondered yet again why she bothered, reminding herself that she still needed to prepare for the arrival of Kakistos, to try to make allies here to help fight the ancient vampire.

The school doors were unlocked when she arrived, as were the library doors. Xander and Cordelia were seated at the solid table, which was covered with books. There was a third person in the room, an adult, dressed in tan slacks and a tweed jacket, his brown hair kept short. This had to be Rupert Giles, the Watcher. If only he would be better than the teens that had been helping the previous Slayer...

"It's about time she showed up. Doesn't she realize that the whole point of these books is so she can go kill things?" Cordelia's muttered comment was just loud enough for Faith to hear, and apparently the Watcher heard it as well.

Looking over at Xander and Cordelia, he gave a slight shake of his head. "Yes, I assume this is Faith? Very well, you two can go away and do... whatever it is that you do out of my library. I have some questions for Faith, and I would like to evaluate her training..." He had a British accent, and a pleasant face, with wire framed glasses accenting kind, warm eyes. Oddly enough, there were dark circles, and a hint of tiredness to his face, as if he had been getting too little sleep for too long.

Smiling at him, Faith couldn't help but compare him to the Watcher that she'd had before. "If I'd known that Watchers came this young and hot, I would have asked for a transfer."

Giles blushed a bit, and somewhat awkwardly polished his spotless glasses on a soft handkerchief from a pocket. Xander and Cordelia made noises of shock and dismay, leaving the library with hasty excuses. The sudden silence was welcome, although it was almost intimidating in the room.

"Ah... right. You have been the Slayer since the end of May?" Giles looked a bit uneasy, as if he were not certain how she would react.

Faith settled on the edge of the table, one foot swinging in the air. She looked around the room, hoping to look casual. "Yeah, since the end of May. I wasn't exactly unprepared though. I'd had a Watcher since I was about five, and my first Watcher managed to arrange for me to have some stuff, gymnastics lessons, special track for the elementary classes that I was in... an early grounding in the physical side of things. After he died, I got a new Watcher... He was big on the more academic side. Told my mom that I needed a tutor for my school work, which I did... He gave me the whole speech about there are ancient evils, and destiny, and how I had the potential to become something called a Slayer, the big shining defender of the helpless and all that. Vampires were evil, demons were real... and I had to learn how to fight against them, in case I was called. He didn't tell me about how Slayers were called, not for a long time."

She paused, trying to organize her thoughts. "I'm pretty good on the physical end of things, although I'm not to good with authority figures. I can read French, German, and a bit of Latin. All I can do with the various old dead languages is maybe recognize them and look for pictures. I've been patrolling here since I got into town..."

"Have you noticed any locations with unexpected levels of activity? Particularly active places, or oddly quiet areas?" Giles was looking at her, his expression intent.

"Umm... actually, there's this one area that's pretty quiet. Ah... there's something... I sort of made a deal with someone. Red's got a pack of vamps. She promised that they would behave and skip with the killing if I let them be. Seems like that really quiet area is their territory, and they like it all safe." Faith was suddenly very interested in a hangnail on her thumb, looking at it instead of at Giles.

"Red... does she look about your age, red hair, green eyes? About so tall?" One hand was held at the general height for Willow.

"Yeah. She's got a second that's about your height, blue eyes, bleached blond hair, named Spike. She also said something about a mate, Angelus, that used to be known as Angel. There was also something about Angel was involved with Buffy, the other Slayer, it ended badly, Buffy sent Angel to hell, she's got him back... we agreed to leave each other alone. I won't go after her people, she won't let them try to take me down. Went on a demon hunt with her and some of her vamps last night. The demons were about nine, maybe ten feet tall, real thin. Long arms. She said they were something like marro koliths or something. We got three last night."

"That would be Spike and Angelus. You say the vampires were Willow's? Not Angelus' or Spike's?" Giles looked extremely curious.

"Yeah. Definitely hers, and that one... the one that seems a bit off? Angelus... he showed up when the second demon got her, proceeded to beat the thing to death and carry her off into the darkness. It was sort of sweet in a violent sort of way. You can tell he really cares."

"Hmmm... I had known that Angelus' clan accepted her as one of them, but not that they followed her. I had assumed that the leader was now Spike..." Giles sounded as if he was unsure exactly how to interpret this information.

"NO, definitely Red. All of them, even Spike follow her lead. So... to blatantly change the subject, why the dark circles under your eyes?"

Giles sighed, sinking into his chair with a cup of cooled tea in front of him. "I've been searching for Buffy. Unfortunately, I haven't actually found any sign of her."

"Ohh. So... want to go over suggested patrol routes and notable dangerous types, or test out my fighting?"

end part 7.

Faith had practiced with the watcher, learning that she should call him Giles. He had agreed that she was rather practiced at the various fighting styles, and had conceeded that she didn't have to many areas in that that she needed to give special attention to, at least, not that he had noticed from the evaluation. He'd also tested her on her general knowledge of various demons, and been quite pleased by the resulting answers.

Faith had also learned that he was in really good shape. He looked good too. Maybe she would have to help loosen him up a bit, help him figure out some of the best ways to relax... She could seduce him. Well, maybe not so easily. It would be a longer term project. Something to give her extra motivation to survive Kakistos.

"Giles? I know you haven't been back very long, but... are there any prophecies of a great big nasty evil showing up?" It couldn't hurt to ask him about it.

"Possibly. There is a prophecy, but it's a bit... confusing. It speaks of a Chosen, and a Tree that binds the Light and Dark. There is also something about an ancient evil, and a testing. Unfortunately, it's even more confusing than most prophecies. All I can determine, there is a Chosen. I can't find anything to determines if this Chosen is a Slayer or some other creature, or what they have been chosen for. The Chosen will encounter the Tree that Binds the Light and Dark. This Tree might be a testing, or an object, or possibly a description of a being. The Chosen will encounter an ancient evil, but I'm not certain if they will fight or unite, or possibly simply... be an indication of circumstance."

"Huh, that's definitely confusing. Ummm... maybe I have an idea? I... sort of came here hoping for help. Where I was, this really old and evil vampire showed up. Kakistos. He killed my watcher, and he wanted me for something. It sounded like some sort of ritual. Thing is, I know he was still following me through Texas, so whatever he wanted, it's important to him. He's over a thousand, maybe two. He's so bad that vampires consider him a big evil." Faith hoped that she was wrong. Hoped that Kakistos wasn't the evil in the confusing prophecy. Hoped that she wouldn't have to face him.

"That does sound... logical. I do hope that he isn't the evil in question. There are a few things about him in some of the Watcher's journals... " His voice trailed off unhappily.

Giles sat beside a stack of books, polishing his glasses. "We will have to plan what to do if he does show up. Do you... do you think you might be able to get some information from Willow?"

"I told her about Kakistos. She's got some of her people looking for information, and promised to let me know if they find anything. They got back and gave me a few things... but I'm still worried." Faith's voice showed concern.

"Perhaps they would be willing to offer more tangible aid later." Giles words were a sad reflection of how things had changed.

Meanwhile, at the Sunnydale General Hospital, one of the long term patients, one Jenny Calender was being prepared to be transferred, at her family's insistence, to a private facility located elsewhere. They were concerned that perhaps she would recover closer to their family doctor. That perhaps she would heal better away from a place with such a high crime rate. They did not speak of the truth, that they wished to take her away to be with her family, the Kalderash gypsies. Nor did they speak of the healing magics they would work on her if necessary. They wanted to take her away before anything worse could happen to her.

So it happened that Jenny Calender vanished from Sunnydale. Her family spiriting her away in the night, afraid that the danger of Angelus would cost them more of their blood.

They came too late, unaware that Angelus had been released months ago. Unaware that he had been the source of her injuries, or that she was of no further interest to him, that none of their family were of enough interest to deliberately hunt down. They were also ignorant of the fact that Angelus had been changed, moved beyond the ability of their soul curse to harm.

Eventually, Faith headed back to the small hotel that she had a room at. There was a figure sitting on her step, lounging against the door casually, his body language hinting at predator. His faded jeans and faded Rolling Stones tee shirt allowed him to blend into the area, as did his fairly average looks and shaggy brown hair. As she approached, her senses alert, she caught the feeling of vampire from him, weak enough that he had to be a minion. She started planning what to do, and reached for a stake.

He jumped to his feet, hands spread and out in front of him, showing that he wasn't carrying any weapons, although one hand held a small paper bag. "Hey! I come in peace! Red sent me! You can put that down. Besides, I have a present for you from her."

Faith paused, her senses still alert. He hadn't tried to attack, and she couldn't feel any other vampires in the immediate area. It couldn't hurt to hear him out, and if he tried anything, she could stake him. "Red sent you? Why?"

"Partly to play messenger and delivery boy. I'm supposed to give you this." He held out the bag towards Faith, taking a few steps towards her so that she could reach out and take the bag. "I'm also supposed to tell you that there are some rumors. Something about a new player in town, near the docks. I didn't see him, but one of Jack's boys did, said the fellow was a vampire, felt really old, wearing a cloak that covered him all up. What he said was really freaky was the fact that the guy didn't have normal footsteps, they sort of clicked."

Faith took the bag, seeing that it contained a cell phone and a small red book, the sort that could be used to write phone numbers. She felt herself go cold at the mention of clicking footsteps, remembering the sound of Kakistos approaching her Watcher, the evil clicking of his feet, like bones over stone. "He's here then. Oh, shit..."

"Red told me to tell you that she's number two on the speed dial. I'm just going to go now." With that, the minion, still in his human features circled around Faith, and began walking towards the street.

"You might want to go inside... somewhere that needs an invitation."

end part 8.

Tom made his way back to the lair. He was still uncertain if he'd been asked to deliver the phone and message to the Slayer because he had somehow annoyed Red, or if it was a sign that she trusted him. Sighing, he concluded that it could be both, her mind worked in complicated and mysterious ways. It had given him a chance for a better look at the new Slayer though.

She was pretty, and moved with confidence, like a dancer or a hunter. She had been wearing leather, which was fashionable, durable, and made a statement of authority, of personal power, the same way that a master vampire would. Except that she was staying in a miserable little hotel. She seemed alert though, which should mean that she would be around for a while. He was still trying to determine if that would be good or bad when he returned home, discovering Willow waiting for him.

"I delivered the phone and the message, Willow. She looked... unhappy to learn of the new arrival." He wondered if she would be wanting an evaluation of the Slayer. Willow seemed to want a lot more from them than any master before her had asked. None of them wanted to disappoint her.

Willow looked at Tom, noting that he didn't appear to have any bruises, scrapes or new damage to his clothing. "There was no unnecessary fighting? Good. What can you tell me about where she's staying?"

"It's a dump. This miserable little hotel, the sort that probably has an hourly rate for half the rooms, and might have a negotiable payment plan for some of the residents. If she is to be an... ally." Tom paused, swallowing nervously. The idea of a Slayer as an ally seemed almost unnatural. "She would last longer in a better place to stay. Somewhere less likely to have drive by shootings and drug deals going bad, or where she might be arrested on general suspicion."

Willow nodded, clearly considering his words carefully before speaking. "I think she'll be much more agreeable than the previous Slayer. As for a residence, I will look into that. She is to useful to allow someone to accidentally shoot her."

She left the sitting room, going back to the practice room, watching her mate practice his fighting moves. His movements were graceful, and she could almost see the imaginary opponent. She leaned against a wall, smiling as she simply watched, admiring the ripple of his muscles.

Eventually, he finished, and glided over to her side, leaning slightly to kiss her. "My mate... why were you thinking about the Slayer?"

She smiled at him, her arms around his body, and snuggled against him. "Faith seems to be useful. But Tom said that she was staying in this horrible little hotel... I was trying to figure out something safer for her."

"You keep getting attached to Slayers. It isn't a good habit." He smiled at her, one hand playing with her red hair. "Didn't I have an apartment before? Before Hell?"

Willow hugged him, hoping that the memories of his torment would get easier for him to deal with. "Yes, from when we first knew about you. You hadn't been there for a while though."

Nuzzling Willow's hair, he spoke again. "Let her stay there. I seem to remember the other one, the blonde slayer in there..." His words trailed of, replaced by a small shudder. He got almost brooding if Buffy came up in a conversation.

"What do you think about Spike and Amy?" She wondered if he found that budding relationship as interesting as she did.

"The little witch? She gets nervous sometimes, when she's here. I think I scare her. But she seems to make Spike happy, which is good. I don't think he's been very happy for a long time... and I think it was partly my fault." His words came slowly, as if there was something about them that troubled him.

"She was there when I started showing things from you, like the sharp teeth and golden eyes. She was the one who helped us combine the ritual to bring you back, and she saw the marks your sufferings left on me. She's getting better about it though."

"Hmm, I suppose that makes sense. What's the rest of the story about clicking feet? Something about a rumor near the docks?" He ran his finger over her cheek, his touch and smile suggesting more passionate things they could do very soon.

"Faith, the new Slayer was trying to get away from Kakistos. She's pretty sure that he's trying to get her for some sort of specific and bad ritual, partly because he followed her a long way, and now he seems to be here in Sunnydale. We think the rumors of a robed figure with clicky feet means that Kakistos is here, and we don't want him. Chances are good that we'll work with Faith to kill Kakistos."

"He's trouble... I remember someone, Darla? telling me about him, something about hooves and making deals with demons... But enough about rival vampires and Spike's witch and slayers. I think it's time to carry you off and have my way with you." He smiled, lifting her into his arms, and headed up to their room.

end part 9.

In the end, it took a mere three days to locate the place where Kakistos was lairing, access the original city plans for it, and formulate a plan. Willow had arranged for her minions to arrive in the area first, not to attack Kakistos, but to ensure that he had no minions that would interfere with the battle, and to essentially keep the area secure. Faith would face him, as would Spike, Angelus, and Willow. If everything went well, their coordinated attacks and tactics would be able to take down the ancient vampire.

The plan went fairly well, although the battle had been intense. They had managed to gradually wear down Kakistos' endurance, and had scrambled to evade his attacks, as he was older and stronger than any of them. In the end, Willow had distracted him with a burst of flame, allowing Spike and Angelus to simultaneously hit him in the head and stomach with bits of steel beam. Faith had seized the opportunity, and staked him while he was stunned, almost ripping the heart as she stabbed down, her emotions and history with the vampire making her attack more brutal.

Staring at the pile of dust and dry bones that had fallen to the floor, Faith slowly smiled, a wildly giddy and almost unbalanced expression. She gave a delighted shriek and began to dance around the room, laughing almost maniacally. While Faith was dancing and spinning, Angel walked over to the bones, and began systematically crushing each fragment with the chunk of metal, obviously remembering the attempted resurrection of the Master.

Finally, clearly dizzy from the twirling and dancing, Faith staggered to a halt, still grinning like a mad-woman. "He'd dead! He's gone, and I'm free! No more ancient evil dead guy chasing me across the country! I say we go celebrate. Who's up for a bit of dancing?"

Spike grinned back at her. "This one's definitely a keeper, Mum. Sounds like a pretty good idea as well, a bit of celebration. After all, not every day we take down a two thousand year old vampire."

"So, you want to go out dancing? I think we can do that. I'll just let the minions know the trouble has been taken care of." Smiling, Willow went to let the minions know they'd won, and that there was no longer any need to secure the area.

With a look of anticipation, Spike pulled out his own cell phone from one of the pockets of his duster, quickly punching in a number. "Hello, luv."

"We took care of that matter, and the rest of the evening will be a victory party. I think we're going to head over to the Bronze. Want to meet us there?"

"Why would you want to bring him? Awww, if he wants to, fine. I'll see you there."

Hitting the button to end the call, Spike looked up, noticing Angelus and Faith both watching him, nearly identical amused smiles on their faces. Putting the phone back in his pocket, he tried to glare at them. "What? You look like you've never seen a guy talk to his girl on the phone before. I thought we were going to go have fun?"

"Sure, blondie, sure. Dancing it is... you are so whipped." Faith was still smiling, the laughter dancing in her eyes. She headed for the door, almost missing Spike's muttered comment.

"Not half as whipped as I'd like to be..."

They made their way to the Bronze, feeling much better about working together. Something had changed for them as they were fighting against Kakistos, it was as if something had clicked, and they'd been able to know where they would be, to predict each other's movements and attacks. It had been very useful, despite it's unexpectedness. It had also left a feeling, not quite trust, not quite friendship in it's wake, a bond of shared adversity between the group.

"You know, we made a pretty good team back there. Got to admit that you guys.. and Red are not so bad. I think it's going to be something..." Faith's words summed things up perfectly.

Angelus chuckled, one arm wrapped around Willow. "That we did... but I don't think it's going to be a regular occurrence. How often to the great big nasties show up here anyhow?"

For a few moments, everyone laughed, amused by the reluctance to admit to a good team. Then, they all remembered that Sunnydale was built over the Hellmouth, that big nasty evils showed up all the time. That they might be working together a lot more than they had intended. Suddenly, things weren't quite as funny.

"Dancing, remember? Fun, loud music, a nice warm body dancing with you... remember that plan? Enough with the dark thoughts!" Spike's voice shook them from their thoughts, and they entered the club.

Willow and Angelus went to get some coffee, and Spike immediately looked for his witch, his sweet Amy, spotting her beside the Watcher. With a slight shake of his head, he went to get her, to pull her close and feel her warmth in his arms. It wasn't until he'd pulled her away towards the dance floor that he asked something he'd been curious about since the phone call. "So, why bring the... Giles?"

Amy smiled, leaning against Spike contentedly. "Do you remember Miss Calender? The computer teacher? It seems that her family showed up and had her transferred to some other hospital, and he's been moping a bit, even though they were pretty much split up. I think he's a bit lonely, and he's been dwelling on it. I was hoping he'd be distracted a bit..."

Glancing around, Spike couldn't conceal the amused smile as he finally located Faith. She'd found Giles and dragged him onto the dance floor with her, and she looked as if she was having fun dancing with him. Giles looked a bit embarrassed. "Looks like he's distracted alright. Faith dragged him out to dance. I wonder what she's up too..."

Amy glanced over, her eyes widening as she saw the way the Slayer was dancing. "Oh my God... is that even legal? Is she... I think she's trying to seduce him, right there on the dance floor!"

Spike leaned forward to whisper into Amy's ear. "It's the violence. Makes you hungry and horny... and I think she's decided he doesn't look to bad, for a mortal."

Amy blushed, her eyes wide as images and thoughts rushed through in response to Spike's words. "Thats... oh, my. I do NOT want to think of them like that. Now you, on the other hand... Well, maybe if we leave a bit earlier?"

Willow and Angelus were oblivious to Spike and Amy's near whispered conversation, lost in the feeling of each other, swaying to the music. Angelus was simply enjoying the evening, a bit pleased by all the admiring glances cast at his mate. Let them look, as long as nobody tried to take her away from him!

Meanwhile, some of the other club goers, also students at Sunnydale High School, noticed Willow. She wasn't dressed the way she did for school, instead wearing close fitting leather that hugged curves they hadn't known existed. She was also dancing with a tall mysterious man, at least old enough to be in college, and quite handsome. The rumors began to spread, and it would be only a matter of time before they reached Cordelia Chase, and through her, Xander Harris.

end part 10.

The rumors did indeed reach Cordelia, sped by an assortment of reasons, and from multiple directions. Some people mentioned the sight of the redhead Cordelia had scorned dancing with a gorgeous guy in leather pants, hoping to make Cordelia jealous of Willow's good fortune. Some sought to curry favor with the queen of Sunnydale high's social ladder. Some didn't mention Willow at all, but instead mentioned that the librarian had been dancing with this incredibly hot dark haired chick... someone with a tattoo on her arm. In a few cases, Cordelia heard things accidentally, simply by being close enough to hear what other people were saying.

As the pieces began to come together in Cordelia's mind, she began to get an impression of what had been going on. Willow had been at the Bronze, along with Angelus and Spike, who had been dancing with another girl, possibly Amy Madison. Faith had also been there, but had been to busy dancing with Giles to slay the vampires. Assuming that she had even cared. With every snippet of rumor that Cordelia heard, she felt more frustrated, more outraged.

How could this be happening? Hadn't Angelus vanished? Hadn't Buffy gotten rid of him before she had disappeared? How could he be back? Had Willow moved from Spike to Angelus? Was Spike trying to corrupt Amy now that he'd had Willow? Was Faith actually trying to put the moves on Giles, or had that been some sort of manipulative game? Cordelia sighed, remembering how much simpler life had been back before, when she hadn't cared about the lives or futures of anyone but herself. Perhaps things had been easier, and simpler, but her life had been so much shallower...

Xander had also heard the rumors, and they had made him absolutely furious. Not only had Angelus somehow returned, but he and that no-good bleached vampire Spike still had Willow firmly, blindly under their control. And it seemed that Faith was trying to seduce Giles, which was wrong on so many levels that it made his stomach churn. For him, the matter was simple: Faith had crossed the line, and was no longer welcome.

The decision seemed almost to move from Xander's thoughts through the air, seeping out and through the school. It became apparent that Willow was even farther out of favor than before, and Faith was also out of favor. Nobody would talk to them, the students wouldn't answer questions move out of the way. It was unmistakably noticeable.

This shunning of Willow and Faith crystalized in each young woman a decision. Willow spoke to Principal Snyder that very day, inquiring about testing out of her senior year, enabling her to graduate and be done with school early. There was no longer any reason to prolong her time as a student. She also mentioned that if he hadn't been looking for a computer teacher, he really should find one. Possibly someone graduating from college during a quarter other than spring? He saw no reason to object to either her request, or her suggestion for locating another teacher.

Faith's decision was less blatant, and would have minimal effect on her education. She had decided to accept the offer that Willow had relayed, to accept the use of an apartment that Angelus had once used, and still owned. She told herself that it was because it was safer and cleaner than the hotel, that she was only doing this to not have to worry about rent or being shot by someone angry at her neighbors. She could almost talk herself into believing that, almost pretend that she didn't notice the implicit link that it created between herself and Willow's group. But she knew it was there, and accepted it, all without really thinking about it.

Actually, it was a nice apartment, and it was even still furnished. He'd collected a few of the things that had been inside, some clothing, a few books, some weapons. It was apparent to her that the only people that she could count on were Giles, Amy, Willow, and Willow's vampires. What had her life come to, that she could count on vampires before mortals?

Perhaps she could make things a bit more interesting for the remainder of her time. She knew that Slayers didn't normally live very long. So, if she only had a year, maybe two that she could expect, there was no reason not to go for what she wanted. She wanted Giles. All she needed was a plan.

In another part of town, Giles sat in his chair, carefully thinking about his life. Nothing was the same as it had been last year. Buffy had run away, abandoning her duty, and now the Slayer that he guided was Faith. A year ago, he'd been the father figure to a close-knit group of teens, people whose friendship could survive anything, any trial, any threat. A year ago, he'd been teetering on the brink of a relationship with the woman he'd known as Jenny Calender, a woman who'd proven to be a gypsy, disguised to keep an eye on Angel, aware of the curse on him, but revealing her knowledge to late. She had vanished, apparently spirited away by her family. He felt quite certain that the news of it should have bothered him. But, how could he mourn the loss of someone who had never really been more than a role to be played?

Now, Willow, who had been the shyest, quietest girl that he'd ever met was the consort of Angelus, and the unquestioned queen of a pack of vampires, and had proven to be a powerful magic user as well. She had become a powerful fighter, hunting and killing demons as easily as Faith did. Even more astonishing, her vampires obeyed her rules, and didn't seem to be a problem or serious danger to the mortals of Sunnydale.

Things kept changing, that was part of life. He only hoped that he could keep up with the changes.

end part 11.

End Lines Drawn.