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Dark Times A Coming

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is owned by Mutant Enemy Productions, created by Joss Whedon. Tomb Raider comics are distributed by Top Cow and Image Comics, and despite having the Tomb Raider DVD where it’s told, I’m not sure who created Lara Croft. Same for Spawn or Witchblade, but Witchblade is also distributed by Top Cow Image comics, and Spawn is owned by Todd Macfarlane Studios. Whatever the hell is similar to what Buffy, Willow and Cordelia are that is different from the television series, I did not know beforehand. Mostly I just made something up for Buffy and her "family" and used a lot of guessed/common knowledge from popular fiction involving witches. Any questions, concerns, or burning rants, please contact me privately at the.evil.guy@grandt.com Thank you and enjoy!

Summery: Witchblade/Tomb Raider comic/Spawn/Original/Buffy crossovers. AU Faith is running from her father, Willow and Cordy are together, Xander has a dark secret, while Buffy has to deal with her family just as much as she deals with her problems as the Slayer.

Rated: R

Chapter 1 Lost Faith

She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know where to go. She didn’t know what had happened. She knew what she was doing right now though, and that was running as fast as she could.

Faith Nottingham Pezzini sat alone on the cross-country bus, staring out at the black night sky. She was a very special little girl, despite having celebrated her 16th birthday the week before with her mother’s death and her father’s best friends raping and beating her, and her killing at least two of them in the aftermath.

She felt something suddenly, as she remembered her birthday. She pulled out a rather plain looking silver bracelet, laced around a fake-looked red jewel that stared at her like some wide, never closing, accusing eye. The red suddenly became a bit brighter as it was lit with an inner glow that Faith had never questioned or found the reason why.

For a moment she had thought that it had moved in her pocket, but it was still in her hand, except for the red glow that lit up her face, but it quickly died down and then it was just another cheap-looking bracelet.

Faith looked up when she realized the bus was slowing. They had arrived at the last stop, the bus station. Faith frowned when she realized that she no longer didn’t know where to go. Sunnydale, California. That was where she was supposed to go. It was where she was needed and where she could get her needed help. She wasn’t entirely sure how she knew all of this, but she suspected that the trinket that had once been her mom’s right arm had given the knowledge to her just then. She wasn’t about to complain though, as the driver turned on the lights and she and the few other passengers got up to leave for the bus station.

Stuffing the Witchblade back into her pocket, Faith silently made her vow again, ‘Don’t worry Mom. I won’t let Dad, or the Bastard get their hands on it. Or me.’

She stepped off the bus and immediately made her way to the ticket counter to get a bus to Sunnydale, California.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

He was living in eternal torment.

Well, okay, he used to live in eternal torment, and that wasn’t really living, because he had been dead at the time. But despite hell being… well, Hell, what he was now going through came as damn close to eternal torture as it came.

"He does not!" Buffy shouted.

"He does too!" Cordelia and Willow shouted together, actually agreeing on something…for the third time if Xander’s memories served him correctly. They usually did.

People who had been in Hell and were now on Earth usually have pretty good memories, helps to remember what had sent them to Hell in the first place, and provided excellent guilt for those lucky enough to keep their souls and sanity now on Earth.

Xander knew what this argument was about. It just wasn’t important.

What was important was the fact that Buffy had killed another vampire tonight, and in the process had gotten a little stronger herself. Xander was surprised that she never seemed to notice that with each demon she killed, or even faced herself against, she became continuously stronger. Hell, not even Giles seemed to know what was going on with his Slayer half the time. Xander was the only one who had a clue.

Of course that came from his uncanny ability to see auras and that was something he had worked long and hard at. But Buffy wasn’t the only one who had gotten stronger from her slaying a vampire. One less vampire meant there was one less demon sucking up the energy given off by the Hellmouth, and that meant more necro-energy for him.

It used to be, when Xander had first involved himself with Buffy’s life, that he wanted to genuinely help the girl. He knew about the demons and vampires and the Hellmouth before he knew about her, but who she was and what she was destined to do struck a chord in him that demanded he help her.

Now though, after the whole fiasco with Angel, who had thankfully left after Willow restored his soul, Xander only stayed around the Slayer because despite all factors, they were still friends, and her killing demons kept him on Earth that much longer.

Xander had no clue as to how much his "batteries" held of necro-energy, or how long they could last even if he never used his Hell-given powers. But he did know that so long as he was within range of the Hellmouth, his batteries were being recharged. If he ever ran out of necro-energy, he would die, again, and be sent back to Hell to be the 2nd-in-command of Hell’s army. As long as he kept his batteries filled, he could probably live for a century or two and use his powers as much as he liked.

"Xander!" Buffy suddenly shouted, snapping Xander out of his reverie.

"Huh? Yes! The 5th Amendment? 24? Pi? What?" he mumbled out.

All the females glared at him like he was trying to be funny, although he wasn’t at the moment. "You don’t want to join the Swim Team, again, do you? I mean the last time was purely for Slaying purposes only. You don’t want to…do you?"

"He does!" Willow and Cordelia insisted.

"I got asked to try out by Principal Flutie," Xander shrugged. "And when the big man himself asks you to do something, whether you want to or not, you do it. If I make the team, then yeah Buff, I’m gonna be on the Swim Team. Whether I want to or not is a total non-issue here."

"But…" she tried to protest.

"Would it make you feel better if I showcased the Speedos they’ll make me wear?" Xander asked with a grin. Willow and Cordelia both got bigger grins on their already triumphant faces, while Buffy went a little red in the face and had to grin a little herself.

"Uh… well, what you do, if you make it on the team, is entirely up to you. I just figured that you wouldn’t actually want to do it and then we could like lodge a protest or something…" Buffy tried to excuse herself, blushing even more furiously now.

"Ah don’t sweat it Buff. Chances are I’m nowhere good enough for the team as it is," Xander waved the whole idea off.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

"I don’t understand it! How could this happen?!" Xander screamed as he stared at the bulletin board.

"I told you, you were good enough Xander. You should believe your best friend when she tells you stuff like that," Willow said rather smugly. Xander turned and glared at her, absently wondering what his chains could do to the redheaded witch.

"Yeah, believe it or not dweeb-oid," Cordelia added as she looped her arm around said redhead’s neck, "you’re actually pretty good. I think being chased around by vampires and running away from demons over the years gave you enough stamina to swim 12 twenty-yard laps in under 15 minutes. I heard from Luke that they overheard the coaches in the locker room talking about making you the Team Captain."

"What?!" Xander screeched. They were to the Library now and entered without hesitation or break in the discussion.

"I know nothing about team sports! Nothing! And all I know about swimming is what…" Xander’s voice suddenly broke, allowing them all enough time to realize they had walked into the middle of something going on in the Library.

A very large gold/bronze skinned demon was standing behind Buffy, who was glaring upwards at Giles, from the picture presented actually trying to defend the demon, and behind Giles was the most beautiful woman that any of the teenagers had ever seen in a tank top and black denims, holding to large pistols on the demon, who was standing quite still.

"I don’t care that he’s harmless!" Giles was shouting. "It’s a powerful demon, and might be working for someone who isn’t so harmless! And I’d recognize it’s breed anywhere and I can guarantee you Buffy that they are not harmless!"

"Since when did you get so bigoted Giles! You didn’t mind Angel, although when he was still Angel, and besides teleport in here, had he actually done anything! Did it ever occur to you that maybe he works for one of the good guys and was coming to warn us about something? I know you didn’t!" Buffy snapped just as Giles opened his mouth again.

"Look Miss Summers…" the chocolate haired lady next to Giles said in a similar accent to Giles, but more proper somehow.

"My name is Buffy Lady Croft," the blonde snapped, but more respectful than she was speaking to Giles.

"Buffy…until that creature, whether demon, alien, mutant, or otherwise, calmly convinces me, himself by the way, that he is no threat, he is in very real danger of being shot." The Lady Croft explained.

"Aren’t weapons illegal to have in schools?" Buffy innocently pointed out.

Lady Lara Croft just gave her a lopsided grin and shrugged. The guns never wavered once.

"Buffy, you are the Slayer, I don’t understand this sudden…" Giles continued, but was interrupted.

"Nobody ever told me you were the Slayer!" the golden demon said suddenly, sounding quite surprised, despite the voice that sounded like a dinosaur’s roar formed into speech.

Buffy turned to look up at him. "Uh… yeah. Sorry I forgot to mention it in my letters GB. Ignore them for now. Why are you here?"

"I couldn’t get a hold of your mother, so I tracked your aura. This is the place you spend most of your time, so I came here. There have been movements; Shell has taken the challenge of the sword, and your fa…uh, Geld Roy has moved his forces to the mount while the others remain in the valley and by the sea. I’m sorry to cause you this disruption but…"

Buffy shook her head and gently patted the harsh looking talon closest to her. "No, it’s all right. Unfortunately I deal with stuff like this all too often. Thanks for telling me, I’ll keep Mom up-to-date as well. Uh… by the way, how’s Trixie doing?"

The golden demon’s mouth stretched, and a few more fangs became visible, and its eyes changed color from demony yellow to a bright green. It was smiling everyone realized a moment later. "She is well. Misses her best friend of course. But then we all miss you to some degree. Even… even Geld Roy. Slayer huh? This’ll kill him!"

That said, the demon turned his back on the group, held up one talon to the empty air, and then slashed it downwards, a bright red energy following the swipe and became brighter and wider until it was a portal through which the massive demon could step through easily. The moment it did, the red energy quickly withered and died out, leaving the Library as it always was, save for the woman behind Giles.

"Uh Buff?" Xander announced the presence of the rest of the gang, startling the three present apparently, and for a moment Xander, Willow and Cordelia had two large guns pointed at their heads. Xander ignored the foreigner and continued with his question to Buffy, "Who, or rather what was that?"

"That was GB. He’s an old friend of Mom’s. You want the whole story, ask her," Buffy folded her arms and looked at all of the men present. She was serious and that was her final say on the matter. And not even a Watcher or the 2nd in command of Hell’s Armies would risk asking Joyce Summers how she knows an 8 foot golden skinned demon.

Lady Croft finally put her guns away, which allowed Willow and Cordelia to breathe finally. "So you knew him? Why didn’t you say so?" she snapped at the blonde Slayer.

Buffy shrugged and retorted, "And have the guns pointed at me rather than at what was behind me? Besides, I told you he wouldn’t hurt anybody. Unless the person in question was a denizen of Hell, or from the Source. Or one of the First’s legions, or of one of the Rebar factions, or…"

"We get the idea Buffy!" Giles finally snapped. "He’s a soldier and would not hurt any innocents. But please tell me how you could possibly know one of…"

"Ask my Mom, cause I’m not talking," Buffy refolded her arms and gave her best mimic of Willow’s "Resolve Face", which was actually pretty close.

Giles glared at her, but finally just sighed, shook his head, and then cleaned his glasses while rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"Who’s the hottie?" Cordelia immediately asked. Everyone looked at her, surprised.

"What? She is, and not even a gay man could deny it!" Cordelia defended herself.

Lady Croft chuckled slightly but stepped forward and introduced herself. "Hello everyone, my name is Lara Croft. I’m an archeologist come to the area to research the local indigenous life, namely the local tribes of Indians of the area, as well as several of the remains of Spanish monasteries left by the Spanish. And I also happen to be Rupert Giles’ niece."

Now everyone shifted their stares to Giles, who had just put his glasses back on. "Lara is my niece, actually she’s my niece on my mother’s side of the family, and my mother’s first marriage. John Croft was a Duke’s son, but we were still brothers. Sadly… he passed away many years ago. Roughly about the time that I was in college actually."

"Right about the time they called you the Ripper?" Cordelia unabashedly asked.

Giles nodded. Lady Croft was silent, but her lips were thinned.

"Oh, and Lara isn’t an archeologist, she’s a Tomb Raider," Giles added, but this time with a grin slowly growing on his face. Lara turned and shot him a venomous glare, while the others just took this in their strides to the long table at the center of the Library.

"Really? Cool. Maybe she can clear out all these hidden demon treasures that keep popping up that demons always come looking for that gives them unlimited power," Xander said casually as he took his seat next to Buffy while Willow and Cordelia took the seats opposite the two.

"I thought that there were thousands of caches like that scattered across the Hellmouth?" Willow asked, confused.

"There are," Giles confirmed. "Lara wants to try and find at least one of them."

"Try thirty feet straight down, that’s where the Master’s cave is," Buffy suggested.

"Already did. Got some gold trinkets and cleared out a nest of vampires, but nothing really worthwhile," Lara told them as casually as the teenagers were taking her. "I was hoping, since I’m sticking around for a while, that I might be able to help Uncle Rupert out a bit, and even see your team in action. It’s certainly more fun than going through old newspapers and tomes on ancient artifacts with no clue where to begin looking for the next evil thing to keep out of a demon’s hands."

The teenagers looked around at each other, each thinking the same thoughts, but none of them quite willing to voice them.

"What?" Lara responded to the looks.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

"I can’t believe that that is what you really do!" Lara exclaimed for the third time as she and Xander walked through the graveyard. Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia were on the other side; they were planning at meeting at the entrance in just under an hour.

Xander just shrugged, grateful to Heaven on High for gracing the Earth with such a beautiful and interesting woman. Too bad, despite him being to Hell and back, she was still too old for him.

"Well, sorry to disappoint. Some nights are more active than others. Usually Tuesdays. But we like to be grateful for the lull periods, despite Buffy being bored or having nothing to beat up except Giles when she’s mad about something."

Lara laughed, and Xander smiled. Then something suddenly triggered his senses, and they both heard the crack of wood and groaning of moved earth, ceasing all their movements. "Funny, they usually aren’t that noisy," Xander, commented as he stepped back from the grave of Robert Patrickson. Lara grinned at him and pulled one of her pistols.

"Guns don’t usually work that well against vampires…" Xander said hastily as the vampire was coming up quicker than normal and by the end of his warning it was already on its feet advancing towards them.

Lara just pulled the trigger twice, eject with louder than thunder claps and a flash of fire at the end of the muzzles, and blasted a double shot through the vamp’s chest. The vampire’s eyes widened in shock like they all do when they realize they’re dusted, and then he dusted.

Xander was silent for a moment and then finished his sentence, "…or in some cases I guess it just takes the right woman to do the shooting."

Lara grinned at him and ejected the clip and pulled one of the bullets out. "Something I concocted a few years ago after my first encounter with vampires. It’s entirely unique and only good at close range, about ten meters is the mark before the bullet disintegrates itself. I doubt you know much about ballistics as it is, so suffice to say it burns them up on the inside, and if you get a heart shot, within five to ten seconds their undead hearts are completely burned away, and there you have…"

"Instant dust bunnies with two easy squeezes," Xander finished for her with a wry grin on her face. She grinned right back at him.

The party was quickly broken up though when Buffy came running up, looking flushed and pasty at the same time. Xander quickly identified the combination of being heavily exerted and dead panic scared at the same time in the Slayer.

"Guys! What happened? I heard something loud over here!" she asked.

"Oh, it was just the Lady Tomb Raider using her vamp-killing bullets to take out a later riser. Nothing to worry about Buff. Promise, I won’t let anything happen to Giles’ niece." Xander gave a comical oath. Particularly comical when the Lady Tomb Raider gave him an incredulous look.

"Vamp killing bullets? How do they work?" Buffy asked.

"Combination of combustible shell and hollow points filled with holy water and wooden machete particles, held in a solid wax ball that protects the water and the wood, but as the heat melts the wax, allows the holy water out and the wood to splinter out into the vampire’s heart, or wherever you manage to hit him. Only lethal part to humans is that it reacts the same way that a normal hollow point does, though with less explosive damage and more internal bleeding and burns. In short, if you’re going to shoot with this, make damn sure it’s a vampire you’re shooting at."

"Wow!" Buffy exclaimed as Willow and Cordelia came up at a much slower pace than the Slayer’s. Just then Buffy looked at her watch and winced. "Sorry guys, I’ve got to get home ASAP. I promised Mom I’d be back before 7 for dinner. Wills, were there any more wild animal attacks that we should take care of?" she asked, using the newspaper and media’s terms for vampire victims.

Willow shook her head, then started, "Oh, just one more, ahhh, a Robert Patrickson. He was the only other one in the past week."

"No worries Buff, that’s, I think, who Lady Croft just got," Xander said, pointing down at the grave covered with dust.

"Oh," Buffy said as she looked as well. Then she frowned for a moment and looked back at her watch. "I’ve gotta go guys. See you later on at the Bronze!" she ran off at top speed.

"Bronze?" the English duke’s daughter repeated.

The teenagers grinned and quickly dragged the Tomb Raider along with them, despite her sudden protests.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

"Lara’s fun," Willow said as she walked out of her attached bathroom into her room. Actually, it was Cordelia’s room, but everything that Cordelia owned, Willow owned, so the statement remained unchanged in her mind.

She walked over to the bed, wearing only two towels, one wrapped just under her shoulder pits, the other held in her hands as she dried her long red locks. Cordelia was wearing only white cotton thong panties as she lay on the bed, idly flipping through a magazine.

"No argument here," Cordy replied absently, turning the page. "Although I think the slaying twosome were more impressed with her guns and fighting skills rather than how well she danced and made even us feel left out."

"Oh she didn’t make us feel left out," Willow chastised the Chase girl as she sat on the edge of the bed still trying to dry her hair. "She couldn’t have. We, and Xander, were the ones she was dancing with."

"Yeah, if I weren’t me, I’d totally be feeling jealous of me right now," Cordy again replied absently.

Now Willow really looked at the brunette girl. "Is that with the aloof attitude? Is that why you’re wearing practically nothing while I’m sitting next to you? You’re jealous of how I might feel about Lara?"

Cordelia finally looked up and looked her redheaded friend directly in the eye. "Don’t you mean Lady Croft?" she asked icily, proving she was indeed jealous.

Willow rolled her eyes. "She asked us to call her Lara. But if you want, I’ll call her Lady Croft from now on. Besides, she’s Giles’ niece! As hott as she is, that still makes her related to a Watcher, and Eewww!!" Cordelia suddenly grinned, like a cat changing her moods at the sight of catnip.

"I’m sorry," she said, throwing the magazine away, "I couldn’t help myself. You’re the only thing that I’ll ever want."

"That’s not true and you know it," Willow said, sliding upward on the bed, accidentally slipping the towel onto the floor.

"Don’t even think that you’re getting your wet hair on my bed like some dog in from out of the rain!" Cordelia mockingly protested as she sat up and got on all fours before Willow.

"Look who’s talking," Willow said back, grinning with a hint of mischief.

"Come on, let’s get some sleep." Cordelia suggested as she turned around, still on all fours, and pulled the bed covers down for the two teenage girls to slip in underneath them.

Suddenly Willow was practically on top of her, their thighs touching and the powerful witch’s hands on Cordelia’s hips. The girl looked back behind her, frozen. "Panties," Willow chastised with that same grin and easily slipped the cotton material from the girl’s body, without even having to change either’s position. Cordelia now matched Willow’s grin and finished pulling down the covers.

Once able, Willow slipped beneath them and lay down to wait for sleep to come to her.

Cordelia, as she did every night, turned around three times on all fours, then cuddled herself down like some kind of wild animal on Willow’s right side, her head resting on her owner’s slowly moving chest. Once settled, they fell asleep nearly instantly.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

Buffy walked in the front door with a combination sigh of relief and part resignation for what was to come. She hung her coat up on the rack next to the door and waited only about ten more seconds.

"Buffy Summers!" the harsh voice echoed through the two-story house, not counting the basement.

Joyce Summers walked out from the kitchen/dining room area, looking very upset. "Where have you been?" she snapped.

"Patrolling," Buffy answered, sounding tired. She didn’t move from the spot where she stood.

"I figured that, but Willow called a half hour ago asking what it was that I needed you home so soon for. She said that you left patrol over five hours ago!"

"I went for a walk!" Buffy snapped back. "Gawd Mom! I am a teenager in America, not a prisoner of war! Not to mention I’m the Slayer so I can definitely take care of anyone that would try to ambush me. In fact it’s what I patrol for! So vampires and demons will ambush me so I can kill them! So please do not make this about not telling you where I was or not calling home because it’s too dangerous."

"Are you finished yet?" Joyce asked, sounding if anything angrier than ever.

Buffy stared at her mother for a moment, looking as if she was considering something, and then nodded.

"GB came by the school today. He gave you an update…"

"I told you about that and I gave you the update. I didn’t leave anything out, I swear!" Buffy interrupted, but fell silent at the look she received.

"…and shortly after the General contacted me via thought-wave and gave me a more detailed update. Apparently, in his briefing to the General, GB mentioned something about you being the Slayer. He’s demanded that you sign up."

Buffy waited for about thirty seconds before she realized her mother was finished talking, and then she blinked as she considered the information.

"I don’t have to sign up until I’m 18 on Earth, and even if I wanted to, I would be put on Probation for signing up now."

"The General says that he can waive that policy in your case." Joyce explained.

Buffy looked up at her, surprised, and then angry beyond words. "He’ll waive a policy that the High Command put in place, for his stupid war, but he won’t do the same thing for a "suggestion" from the Lower Council!?!" she screamed.

"What’s going on?" a quiet voice asked from the top of the stairs.

"Go to bed Dawn!" both elder Summers women told her.

"But…"

"Go to bed Dawn!!" they shouted now, still staring at one another.

"Fine! I didn’t care about your stupid argument anyway!" she shouted herself and raced to her room. They heard the door slam.

"I’m sure, in his eyes, one conveyed more threat than honor or loyalty could dictate," Joyce started to say.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?! No, never mind! I don’t want to know. That bastard can rot in the Void for all I care right now. If he cared half as much about his family as he did his precious war…"

"Buffy, that’s not fair," Joyce snapped.

"I don’t care if it’s fair or not, it’s the truth, and this war has been going on for almost a million years mother! Even if one side wins, not even a week later another war will start."

"That’s what we’re trying to ensure, that the Alliance holds out…" Joyce tried to explain.

"Yeah, well whatever. We aren’t of the Alliance and we aren’t there, we’re here, and even when I turn 18 I’m not going to sign up and so long as I declare that before a High Court, like God, they can’t draft me."

"We took care of that when we first came here Buffy," Joyce comforted her my moving forward and embracing her oldest daughter. "That’s why your father is trying to get you to sign up. You can still join the war of your own free will."

Buffy pulled away and walked into the living room. "I haven’t seen him in two years Mom," she said quietly, not facing the other woman, "Two years. Do you know how long that is in the Void?"

There was silence after that, until the old mantle piece clock struck three o’clock in the morning. Joyce sighed and cleared her throat. "There is still the matter of your punishment Buffy. You came in after curfew, and that was the least half that had me so upset. For Dawn’s sake, I can’t be lenient, just because I’m glad to see you alive and not in the Void."

Buffy nodded.

"I want you to wear it," she announced.

Buffy’s shoulder’s slumped and she sighed, like a kid getting her least favorite punishment for having her hand in the cookie jar, and still didn’t get away with the cookie.

"All day tomorrow and throughout patrol and for the next two patrols after that," Joyce finished the sentencing. Now Buffy gave some reaction.

She turned a horrified look on her mother and let out a sound that was a cross between a pig and lion’s roar. "Come ON Mom!" she yelled. "I was two hours late and I have to wear it at school?! That isn’t fair!"

"As you said young lady, I don’t care if it’s fair or not, it’s your punishment, and you will carry it out. Now head on up to bed. You have a heavy day ahead of you," Joyce shot a parting joke as Buffy climbed the stairs, miserable.

Only mumbled grumbling could be heard, but Joyce shouted up after her daughter, "I heard that!"

"You did not!" Buffy shouted back and then slammed her own door shut. Joyce chuckled.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

Faith’s bus got to Sunnydale around 7 in the morning, and luckily the driver didn’t get upset about her not leaving a tip. After this recent expenditure she had to watch her cash very carefully. The moment she was off the bus, being the last passenger on it, the driver immediately closed the door, but only after taking off like the hounds of hell was chasing him.

Faith frowned at the odd behavior, but dismissed it as she instead walked away from the bus station in the very bright sunlight. She sighed as she stopped at a nearby bench and reviewed her cash flow’s status.

Not much. Maybe enough for a meal, a whole meal, but certainly not enough to find a place to live with. She stood up and started walking, hoping to find some place where she could get some fast, easy, and safe money. Moral was the least of her concerns at the moment.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

Buffy stopped walking. She…sensed something. She knew she wasn’t as good as her mother, or even her sister at sensing energy shifts in the Ether, but when she did she was always accurate.

Unfortunately whatever it was she sensed now was not clear enough for her to fully make it out. She could only hope it wouldn’t distract her that badly during the day as it was on the far side of town and it certainly didn’t feel evil or demonic. In fact it almost felt…familiar.

"Hey Buff, you off in lala land?" Xander quipped, coming up behind her.

"Huh?" she startled, but not that badly.

"You were seriously zoning there," Xander commented, now sounding concerned.

"No, I-I’m fine, just thought I heard something. Musta been nothing. Lets get to class Xan," Buffy began to walk into the building.

"Okay, now I know something is up. Is it apocalypse worthy?" he asked.

"No," Buffy said shortly, but now they were in the school hallways.

"Hey guys!" Willow bubbled, coming up to them with her shadow named Cordelia. "What’s up?"

"Nothing, Xander just startled me for a moment," Buffy tried to dissuade them from talking about the event.

"Xander the dweeb startled the mighty Slayer?" Cordelia repeated, although with her own twist on it. "Have too much mocha today or are we just cranky because of that time of the month?"

"Drop it okay!" Buffy snapped.

"Whoa, if it was that type of thing, that was all you had to say Buff, it’s dropped," Xander raised his hands in surrender/defense.

Buffy sighed and didn’t bother correcting them, just grateful that her momentary lapse in concentration was forgotten. They stopped by the Library because all of them had a brief free period first of the morning and said hello to Giles. Lara was sleeping in according to him.

After that it was a normal typical school day.

Until Lunch…

"Oh not again," Buffy groaned next to Xander in the food line as they caught sight of the commotion in the center of the Lunchroom.

"Come on babe, what the hell is your deal?" Percy Williams asked loudly.

"I don’t have a deal. Now leave me the hell alone, perverted neanderthal," Cordelia shot back and turned to her lunch. Willow, thankfully, was still in the line getting her food and wouldn’t be caught in the cross fire this time.

"I don’t get you," Percy announced. "Last year you were the second easiest girl on campus, not to mention the most popular girl in school. Now you’re worse than the worst losers at this school! And you’re hanging around that Summers chick and spending all your time with Willow Rosenberg of all people. Not that she’s an actual person."

Cordelia froze, and felt like she had just been dumped into the artic waters of the north. "Shut up," she whispered, warning the jock.

"You know, maybe," Percy continued, ignoring her warning, " there’s more to it than that. Rosenberg hangs around Summers, and all of a sudden you’re with Rosenberg all the time. Maybe it’s more than some kind of tutoring deal you’ve got going on. Maybe Rosenberg is now the easiest girl on campus."

Xander had been holding Buffy back from the moment Percy started talking. Now Buffy struggled to hold Xander back, but only because of the look she saw on Cordelia’s face. She knew that look all too well.

"Maybe I’ll see if I can get my own tutoring deal with Rosenberg," Percy slyly drawled. "Hell, might even get you and the Summers chick if I work hard enough."

"Shut up," Cordelia said a little louder, looking about ready to pop, clenching and unclenching her fists.

"Yeah, then I’ll be the guy with the most at school. Of course it’s not that much of a challenge getting three sluts to suck my dick. Maybe I should just concentrate on turning Rosenberg into my dream girl. Never keeps her legs closed for girls or jocks." He began laughing.

He didn’t even get to finish the first laugh. Cordelia shot out of her chair and punched him straight at his jaw, just beneath his nose. The 280 lbs jock was knocked clear away and into several lunch tables, which he knocked over and down, over seven feet away, and skidded three more once he was flat on the floor on his back.

Cordelia then stalked forward, for all appearances some kind of jungle predator, and when she got to Percy, she put her foot on his crotch, her spiked heel directly into his nuts, the rest of her foot she placed on his lower abdomen as she stepped up onto and put her other foot directly at the center of his chest, that heel digging deeply into his soft stomach.

She bent down so that he could see her face instead of just her bare legs. "Now listen here pervert. Willow Rosenberg and I are good and genuine friends and if I ever hear anyone say anything to the contrary, I will come back to you and make you regret it. And then I’ll go after the people that said it. As for Buffy Summers… I wouldn’t want to be you after school Percy. Say good bye to any chance you had at football scholarship."

She dug her heels just a couple more inches deeper as she turned around and stalked back to her table, where Buffy, Willow, and Xander were waiting for her.

"That wasn’t smart," Willow said the moment she sat down. The young witch sounded angry with the cheerleader. The cheerleader looked like that both scared and hurt her.

"I…I’m sorry, I…tried to control myself but…"

"It’s all right Cordelia. I would have done a lot worse. Probably still will. And if Xander had gotten to him, I doubt he’d be alive right now," Buffy gave excuse to her friend.

"You have no idea how right you are Buffy," Xander told them gravely. He spooned some of the mashed potatoes into his mouth, but didn’t say another word.

The rest of the lunchroom quickly got its normal chatter level back and the incident with Percy was quickly forgotten. It wasn’t the first time someone had confronted Cordelia about her changed in behavior, and it also wasn’t the first time violence had occurred because someone insulted Willow Rosenberg in Cordelia’s presence. In fact it was quickly becoming a common and expected occurrence at Sunnydale High.

But still, Buffy couldn’t shake that feeling she’d had all day, and wouldn’t be able to for the rest of the day or the next. She only hoped she could figure out what this strange familiar feeling was before it was too late.

Chapter 2 The Wolf and the Lamb

After the incident in the cafeteria, Willow didn’t speak to Cordelia for another whole three hours. Not until they were in the Library with Giles and Lara Croft and Cordy started acting all territorial towards the Tomb Raider and the witch was forced to intervene to prevent a scene. She made the excuse of "powdering our noses" what guys understood as going to the bathroom, and what Buffy and Lara understood as Willow chewing the cheerleader out, and not in a way the cheerleader would like.

Once in the girls bathroom and having Cordelia confirm they were alone, Willow raised her hand, palm towards the bathroom door, and shouted four words in Latin, a bright vivid emerald shining forth from her green eyes, and her hair being moved by an unfelt wind. The seams around the door, all the windows, and even several of the vents flashed the same emerald that had shone from Willow’s eyes before immediately dying out, leaving an eerie stillness as Willow turned to face the taller brunette.

"What is wrong with you today?" Willow asked quietly.

It wasn’t a harsh spoken command as Cordelia had been expecting, instead it was full of compassion and concern for a friend and maybe a bit more than that. It was also a demand for an explanation for Cordy’s behavior, and the brunette knew that.

"I…I don’t know," she finally was able to mutter. "I’m not supposed to be acting like this, but… I can’t stop it. As for at Lunch, the bastard deserved it, and he’s just lucky I didn’t do anything to him."

"You call that nothing?" Willow confronted.

"No," Cordy answered with a sly smile, "I call it protecting my witch. In reputation as well as from potential for physical assault. That was what I was supposed to do. I… I can’t explain why I’ve been acting so jealous of Lady Croft."

"That’s not jealousy, that’s pure territorial behavior, and she’s asked us like a dozen times already that we call her Lara…" Willow stopped talking when Cordelia suddenly started to growl. Literally, the cheerleader sounded like some kind of wildcat or wolf.

"Or maybe it is jealousy…" Willow concluded.

"Cordy… You’re my familiar. I love you like no other, and you will always be with me. Even if Lara was also a familiar, which we are both sure that she is not; I wouldn’t trade you for her even if I got the chance. I want you and only you as my familiar." Willow assured her magical companion.

Cordelia looked up at Willow’s eyes, staring deeply into the bright green orbs. Willow almost startled when she realized that Cordelia’s growl had turned into a very loud purr.

"That’s not it," the witch’s companion tried to explain, "I’m not afraid of her taking you away from your duties or from me physically. I…I-I’m afraid…of her taking you away… emotionally."

Willow blinked, and then frowned as she tried to think this out as she would a problem for school. "Oh Cordelia," she whispered and stepped forward, putting her arms around the brunette’s neck and her head on her shoulder. "I just told you I love you, you big pussy cat you! How more of a commitment do you want from me? I mean, I haven’t learned how to enchant items yet so I can’t get us promise rings or anything like that too soon, but…"

"Wait, what?" Cordelia seemed to have just caught on to what Willow was saying.

Willow pulled back and looked her familiar in the eye. "I love you. And there is nothing that says we can’t be in love. In fact it’s said to happen a lot, except between pairs where the witch is destined to be with some other person, but then, usually the feelings don’t even develop. And…"

"You love me?" Cordelia whispered, in awe. "I mean, you really, really love me love me? Like, real love? Not just sisterly, or owner, or friend love, but…"

Willow just nodded, smiling and tilted her head up and closed her eyes. Not even half a second after, Cordelia was kissing her full on the lips and after only a little prompting with her tongue, their mouths opened to admit the dueling of their tongues and exchange of saliva. Their breathing became more and more erratic as they stood in the middle of the girls’ bathroom at their high school; french kissing each other like the world was about to end.

Suddenly the need to breathe, as well as the mutual thought of the phrase "the world was about to end" broke their kiss and brought them back to reality. Their breath was mixed, but even with each other and still heavy, now their faces flushed to match their emotional exertion. "We need to get back, if that’s all right with you?" Willow asked.

"You’re the boss my sexy witch," Cordelia purred back and pecked Willow’s button nose.

Willow flushed a deeper shade of red, but smiled and went back to the door. She wiped her hand across the wood and all the protection spells she had placed there minutes ago to ensure their privacy disappeared. The witch and her familiar headed back to the Library.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

Faith was absolutely anything but proud of herself as she walked into the motel office with three bags of clothes in her left hand. She had money, she had clothes, and she had enough left over for entrance to that club she had heard about and one week at this, the shittiest dive in this one Starbuck’s burg.

And all it took her to do that in two days was sleep with one guy and roll about three more that were total jerks, and rip off some bald guy claiming he was the Vice Principal of the High School and he "had her number". Except for the last, Faith was feeling as low as the cockroaches in this place must feel.

She walked up to the guy behind the counter; still wearing her ratty sweats she had worn on the bus all cross-country. He glanced up from his mini-TV, and then went back to it with barely a glance. She noticed it, but for her temper’s sake, she ignored it and tapped her fist on the bell right in front of both of them on the counter.

It rang out once, the manager didn’t move, so Faith tapped it again. It fell through the unknown hole right beneath it, her fist where the bell had been. The manager jumped back and looked at her nervously.

"I want a room," she said no-nonsense like. She tossed one fifty-dollar bill on the counter. "According to your rates, that’s enough for a week. Cheapest room you got with working bathroom. And if it don’t work, I’ll want my money back at the end of the week."

"No free boaters, and that’s only good for a nights stay," the manager retorted, sounding somewhat blustery.

Faith squinted her eyes dangerously. "I want a room. For a week, according to your listed rates."

"Hundred bucks," he negotiated.

Faith was really starting to lose her temper. The silver, red-jeweled bracelet on her right arm jumped slightly and briefly glowed with an inner light. Faith’s stomach clenched and let out a cramping pain as she felt pure demonic evil nearby.

She dropped the bag and turned around to see the entrance. Just entering was a white boy dressed like a vamp or a gangsta wannabe, and the moment his eyes settled on the manager, after giving Faith a once-over, he vamped out. Faith noticed four others just outside the door, but her gut told her there were at least eight total, another four just inside the parking lot.

"Ohh-ohhh-ohh m-mm-my-my g-g-gawd!" the manager screamed, backing himself to the wall.

Faith sighed and turned back to the manager. "Two weeks, fifty dollars, and I take care of this problem as long as I’m here," Faith nodded her head backwards at the vampires.

The manager looked at her as if she were insane. "You’re crazy girl! Run!"

"We gotta deal?" Faith asked for confirmation, while the vampire behind her was trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

"Y-y-yea-yeah! S-s-sure-rr… If we both live, I’ll let you stay as long as you want for as much as you want," the manager agreed.

"You’re so lucky I don’t have time to ask for that in writing," Faith said as she spun around and spin-kicked the vampire at where his head and neck met, forcing the young vampire to be forcefully and powerfully ejected from the motel office.

Faith didn’t waste any time and rushed the two vampires that were trying to enter the office and knocked them back as far as she had the first one. The third one she pulled the stake out of the back of her pants and impaled it with it right off the bat. It dusted very soon after and she just walked through it.

She grabbed a rake that was conveniently left leaning against the side of the building and spun it around like a quarterstaff for a couple turns, knocking two more of the vampires back to the ground. After that she used it to block several punches until on the third hit it took it broke in two. Faith used her improvised stake to dust the one that had done her the favor, and with the rake end out, swiped the two vamps that had been sneaking up on her.

After that she lost herself in the motions of the fight, feeling her adrenaline rush through her veins and give her a buzz more addictive and satisfying than any and all drugs on the market and almost as good as any sex. Swipe, kick, block, swipe, kick, jump, stake, swipe, kick, jump, jump, kick, stake, it all became about the motions and Faith almost lost herself in it. Not enough to be blinded about her situation or her opponents, but enough that she really enjoyed herself.

When there were only about three vampires left, that was when her situational focus failed her and two of the vampires got her by the arms and quickly stripped her of her weapons, while the third walked in front of her, no doubt to taunt her.

"Very impressive, for a girl," the vamp drawled. She hated it when she was right. "You’re strong, and a good fighter. I’ll turn you to make up for what you have cost me this night, and in return you will become a powerful immortal warrior for me to control."

"Yeah?" Faith asked. "Control this!"

She kicked out with her left foot and hit the vampire on that side right in the crotch, and near the end of his exclamation of pain, it angled up into a high-pitched squeal. Before any more could react, she knocked her knee up into his suddenly within reach chest and it was just enough leverage that she knocked herself from his grip.

At the exact same moment that happened, the Witchblade lit up once more and chose its new Bearer. Moving like fast-growing bone, the silver lashed out until it covered Faith’s entire forearm in a very unique armored gauntlet that looked as if it were made from either living metal or steel-forged bone that grew faster than hair. The red jewel was now in the center on the back of her hand, each joint of her arm now highlighted with gray steel/stone spikes and her fingertips ending in talons that looked like they could shred diamond.

The bone growth didn’t stop at her forearm however and almost as though it were tracing her endoskeleton from the outside, the gray metal reached up her arm, across her shoulders and the back of her neck and down her spine, around her waist, and then around her calves and feet, boots of the same fashion as the gauntlet formed in a flash of growth, while highlighting her face, two more bone growths followed her cheekbones. Where the bone path spiked, her sweats were shredded, but this also allowed her more freedom of movement, and for a Slayer that had once saved a bunch of priests and nuns from over a dozen vampires completely naked, she didn’t really care about modesty issues.

The vamp holding her right hand, about the time the one on her left was squealing like a soprano, only noticed the sudden transformation too late as the Witchblade lashed out with a razor edged spike, severing and chopping his hand to nothing before his eyes. While Faith was freeing herself from the other vampire, the taloned gauntlet pointed all it’s talons at the vampire, and they extended forward faster than the eye could follow and carved out the vampire’s chest, destroying the heart in the process, and dusting it immediately and most painfully.

Faith finished the vamp on her left by bringing her suddenly freed right hand around. A sword-like blade suddenly extended from the gauntlet and pierced the vampire’s heart, and better than a stake, it dusted immediately.

Only after this did Faith even noticed what had just happened. She had seen her mother activate the Witchblade only once, and that was the night she had died. So she knew what had happened, she just wasn’t sure why it had.

A scuffle alerted her to the last vampire running away. An intense anger filled her and without thought, she pointed the Witchblade at the retreating demon, and a bright burst of red light signaled the red beam of destruction that vaporized the vampire.

Faith blinked, surprised that it was over. Gulping, she looked down at herself. Now that the danger was over, the Witchblade was quickly retracting to it’s bracelet form, and not ten seconds after the vampire was gone, Faith stood in the motel parking lot, her sweater shredded and falling off of her, thankfully she still had her sports bra on, and her pants were still together by barely a dozen threads.

Faith walked back into the office and looked at the manager expectantly. He picked up the fifty, making sure she could see it. "Two weeks," he said, handing her a key off the wall behind him.

Faith nodded, took the key, grabbed her bags, and went to the room.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

The night two days after the lunchroom incident found the Scoobies at the Bronze. Willow and Cordelia were celebrating their relationship, among the close personal friends of the Scoobies that is, and occasionally were making out under a glamour spell or cloak of invisibility. Buffy and Xander could, of course, both see past all the types of concealment, but they mostly ignored the newly formed couple, glad for their friends’ happiness.

The feeling the Slayer had been having for the past two days however had not gone away as she had hoped. In fact, at this moment, it was at it’s strongest that she’d ever felt it, yet it was still unclear, so she couldn’t identify it. Sensing it, if it weren’t a part of her very anatomy, would have been difficult enough. She’d even gone as far as to ask her sister if she had felt any strange disturbances in the past couple days. Not even their mother, who was teaching her sister as well as herself, noticed anything wrong.

If she didn’t know the difference, she would almost call it a family-bond, or even a blood-bond, sensing someone who shared blood and family with other powerful creatures. But again, it was too unclear to identify, fully, one way or another.

At the moment, while Willow and Cordelia were making out behind her under an invisibility cloak, she was staring out at the dance floor, and casually noticed all the vampires, six…no, five at the moment. Apparently Xander had just taken care of the female vamp that had been hitting on him at the bar. She used to wonder how the only member of their group without a supernatural connection, or cheerleader training and a connection to a powerful witch, could handle so many threats and still be sane enough to go on.

Xander just seemed to treat all vampires and demons as though they were the ultimate insult to himself and the world, and treated them as such in all circumstances. Except of course in the few cases where she managed to stop him. And yet at the same time he always managed to handle himself just above the point of serious injury. And any injuries he did end up getting, seemed to disappear faster than hers did.

She noticed that two of the vampires on the dance floor seemed to have focused in on one brunette that was the literal center of attention on the floor, every eye in the place seemed to almost casually be drawn to her, whether they wanted to be or not.

Noting the locations of the other three vamps, Buffy got up, nodding at Xander who took her place at guarding the invisible and oblivious couple, and within a few minutes and making sure no one saw, she covertly dusted all three. One, she even set fire to just for the fun of it.

When she got back to their seats, she saw with rising alarm both vampires sandwiching the brunette from earlier as they lead her out the front door. Xander noticed her rise in alarm and just managed to catch sight of what she had seen before they disappeared out the door. Buffy slapped the couple, each, on the back of the head, knocking them out of the other’s world. "We’ve got trouble," Buffy whispered and quickly gathered her things and made her way through the crowd as quickly as possible.

Following her gut, and the others following her, she ran to the right, where an alley that the vamps sometimes like to snack on their victims took said victims. She heard sounds of a scuffle and then low whispering. She was still too far away and the music from inside too loud to clearly make it out, but she knew all that she needed to and pulled out a stake and ran for the alley, the others scrambling behind her.

Yet instead of the trembling, screaming victim they all expected there to be, the brunette in tight pants and tighter halter top had a smarmy grin on her face as she almost casually tossed the vamp holding her around like a rag doll and occasionally knocking the second back to the ground over and over again.

After knocking the first one into the wall, she pulled a stake from the back of her pants and plunged it into the demon’s heart as it rebounded at her. Unfortunately this cost her, her seemingly only stake and that was about the time she noticed the gang. Or at least let them know she had noticed them.

"Hey, mind if I borrow that?" she asked with a trace of a Bronx/Boston accent as she grabbed the stake out of the stunned Buffy’s hands. She quickly used it against the remaining vampire while saying to them, "I’m Faith. Hi!"

The vampire dusted after three more kicks and a flick of the stake from the brunette, leaving only the very stunned Scooby Gang and brunette in the alley.

"Thanks for the loan…er, sorry didn’t get your name," Faith handed the stake back to the still stunned blonde.

"I’m going to go out on a limb here and say there’s a new Vampire Slayer in town," Xander commented, a bit late, as the information was more than obvious.

"Buffy!" the blonde suddenly blurted, causing several questioning glances to be cast her way. "Uh…my name. It’s Buffy. So…you’re a Slayer? You do know what a Slayer is, right?"

Faith smirked in a way that made it seem entirely natural on her face. "Damn straight. But uh, maybe I should be asking you guys how the hell you know what a Slayer is?" Blank stares were her reply so she just snorted and shook her head at the whole situation, the smirk never once leaving her face.

"My Watcher mentioned something about there being another Slayer," Faith broke the ice. She extended her right hand, a silver, red-jeweled bracelet adorning it, and said, "I’m gonna go on guessin’ that you’re her. Am I wrong?"

Buffy smiled back and took the hand, and then felt a jolt pass through her body as she saw Faith’s eyes glaze over and the jewel on the girl’s bracelet light up with an inner fire. She waited to about the count of ninety before answering, "Not wrong. In fact, right on the money." She squeezed her hand a bit tighter, enough that anyone but a Slayer would be on their knees. "So Faith, what brings you and your Watcher to Sunnydale."

Faith’s eyes unglazed all of a sudden and she didn’t even seem to notice the pressure on her hand. "No Watcher. She’s dead. I came here…because…" she faltered and started looking really confused, "I…I’m not sure why I came here. Just a really strong feeling. Sides, Mom and I never really trusted the Watchers. I guess it’s different with you."

Buffy lost some of her own smarminess as she dropped her hand from the Slayer’s grip and frowned. "Something like that. More like I got the aberration of all Watchers that cares more for his family, friends, and Slayer than he does about "tradition" or whatever the hell the fucking Council has to say. Oh don’t get me wrong, he’ll suck up at the right times, he’ll just never make me do anything I don’t want to do."

"I like him already," Faith said, her grin returning.

"Are you really a Slayer?" Willow asked, as they all walked together back into the Bronze.

"Yep. Got all chosen back in early May. Was living with my Mom at the time, then after my Watcher found me, we moved down to Boston. About a week ago…"

"I’m sorry," Buffy said as she realized what the hesitation meant. "I…know what it’s like to lose people close to you. Thank everything above the Void I still have my mother and sister…"

"Huh?"

"Never mind."

"She talks like that sometimes. We’ve learned to ignore it because she always says it’s something her mom always says." Xander explained.

"Ah, gotcha," Faith nodded.

"So…tell us about yourself, if you’re hanging around that is," Cordelia asked.

Faith shrugged. "Ain’t got nowhere better to be. And you don’t wanna hear about lil’ ole me, now do ya?"

"Where’s your mom?" Buffy asked suddenly as they entered the noisy club.

Faith stopped, but felt compelled to answer and tell the truth. She looked down at the bracelet on her wrist. It was glowing. Faith struggled, but was still forced to answer.

"I…ah…she…she’s…still back in New York. She has to take care of her job and a bunch of other shit… But she trusts me, always has. She’s set me up with something, so don’t worry about it." Half-truths every one of them.

"Where are you staying?" Cordelia asked, hovering between Willow and Faith subconsciously.

"Motel, just outside of town," Faith answered automatically.

"All right, all right ladies," Xander stepped forward as they got to a back corner booth. "Enough with the interrogation. Let the Slayer breathe. Now, instead of the personal juicy stuff…how about some war stories? You tell us some, we’ll tell you some, and we’ll see how it goes from there."

Faith smiled, relieved as she felt the compulsion to unwillingly tell the truth left her. The Witchblade stopped glowing. The rest of the night, they regaled each other with tales of what the other had been through in their fights against the darkness. And despite being in the fight for a shorter time than the Scoobies, amazingly Faith had just as many and just as good stories as all of them did. Although both Buffy and Xander held back on a few more personal narratives.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

"So?"

"So what?"

"So what did you think of her? Of Faith?" Willow asked, exasperated.

"She’s…skanky?" Cordelia asked, as though she weren’t sure if the word was insult or insinuating enough.

Willow mock-glared at her, but it was quickly replaced with a concerned loving look as she embraced her girlfriend from the side. They were once again in, now their, room and Cordelia was barely wearing the lingerie she had worn tonight, the only thing holding all she was wearing were the loosening strings of her string bikini panties. Willow was still wearing her jeans and tight red belly shirt from before, only minus her jacket from when they had met Faith a few hours ago.

After getting the lowdown on the new Slayer and getting her approval of working and hanging out together, they took her and introduced her to Giles and Lara, who seemed to be spending only half as much time there as Giles because she didn’t attend during the school hours.

Giles of course asked about her last watcher and was told, but when asked about how her watcher had died, Faith hesitated only until something seemed to change about her and she almost forcefully answered that a vampire killed her, but her mother had saved her before the vamp could kill her as well. Then, before more questioning could be gotten, like who Faith’s watcher was, Xander interrupted again and they all went home. Well, most of them.

"I thought we talked about this after the deal with Lara?" Willow asked.

"Yeah, and Lara is somebody to lust after. Faith…there’s something different about her, and I don’t mean the Slayer thing. There’s something more, something mystical about her. Not to mention she’s closer to our age and…" she stopped talking when Willow suddenly assaulted her with her mouth and hands. But not the kind of assault the Familiar couldn’t handle, and certainly not one she wanted to stop any time soon.

When they finally stopped making out, Cordelia was naked, only certain aspects conveniently hid by the rumpled sheets around her remained covered, and Willow’s shirt was off, leaving her in a strapless bright blue demi-cup and her tight, curve-hugging denims. "When are you going to go back home? Your parents have been back from their vacation for three days now," Cordelia asked, all seriousness.

Willow, just as quickly as the mood had built, felt the mood leave her entirely, leaving her cold and feeling somewhat empty and dreading. She rolled off her Familiar and stared up at the ceiling.

Pulling the sheet so it covered her front, Cordelia propped herself up on her elbows to look her witch in the eye. "I’m not saying you should tell them about me, or even about your heritage, and in fact I advise against telling them about your destiny, but…you have to go home some time Willow. As much as I absolutely love having you here, as much as I love you…you have to go home."

"I know. I know! I…it’s just…I… Why? Why do I have to go home? Why can’t I just sleep over at friends’ homes for the rest of the school year? I can slip in just to get enough clothes and distribute them to the rest of you, and then it’ll be summer and I usually spend all summer at Xander’s anyway, and it is our senior year, I’ll be off at the local college and they have dormitories and stuff and I can live there with you and…"

"Willow," Cordelia stopped the babble with a hard tone.

Willow sighed and looked back up at the ceiling. She might be the witch and "master" of this relationship, but the job of a Familiar, besides helping focus a witch’s magic and protect them, is also to guide the witch upon the proper path of their life and to help council them if they ever lost their way. That’s why Cordelia was taking AP Psych this year. It certainly didn’t help that the mystical creature already knew her inside and out better even than Xander did.

"I’ll go home tomorrow. After school. Straight from school. And you’re spending the night. And we’re patrolling with Buffy. No questions, no arguments." Willow found that it had more effect of command if she gave short statements rather than long-winded questions.

"Good. And I’ll need to talk to Daddy about the spending the night, but I don’t think it’ll be a problem." Cordelia agreed to the commands.

"IT WON’T BE! HAVE A GOOD NIGHT YOU TWO!" was shouted up from the down stairs. Actually, roared might be a better description, but the words were still human enough to understand.

"Good night Daddy," Cordelia whispered with a chuckle and then snapped her fingers. The lights in the room went dark.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

The very next night, Faith met the Gang at the Library just before sundown. She wasn’t sure why she was giving them this much, no pun intended, faith, but for some reason the Witchblade trusted these people and wanted her working with them. She found it easier when she didn’t argue too much.

What really disturbed her was the way time kept slipping from her grasp of how it was supposed to work, namely reality. When she brushed up against something really important, like meeting the other Slayer the first time, she was buffeted by barely interpretable visions, and no matter how long the visions lasted, a second, a minute, an hour, time always moved differently for her body and what was around her.

Other times, like in the fight with the vamps, time seemed to slow down to as slow a crawl as it could go, giving her the definite edge in reaction time. And she couldn’t even begin to identify what was up when time seemed to stand still just for her, and everybody else was like the Road Runner on Energizer batteries.

What was really disturbing her though, nothing about the Witchblade’s powers, those she could handle. It was the vision the Blade had given her when she had first met the other Slayer, who was now walking beside her as they patrolled the first cemetery on their route.

Three things were primary among the flashes she got. Death, destruction, and demon-like creatures that defied explanation, thought, and maybe even imagination. What made them demon-like and not demons were the emotions that Faith felt from the vision. Half of those she saw, she felt indifference towards, a couple in particular that stood out she felt a warmth in her heart that could only be described as "family", and the ones that looked it, she felt the same that she often felt for demons…or her own father and his employer.

How this related to Buffy, she couldn’t even begin to guess. What she did know was that it was connected to the blonde Slayer and that it would soon be important to her. Again, she had no clue or inkling as to why.

"You’re awful quiet for someone who was bragging about nude slaying just last night." Buffy spoke to her.

Faith shrugged. "Concentrating. Trying to feel out the vamps like my Watcher said I could. Also, Mom kinda taught me the whole stealth thing and applied it to my Slayer training."

"That may work in the Big City like New York or Boston, but Sunnydale is small town and there are exactly four places for vamps to hide. The sewers, the warehouses, crypts in cemeteries, and their homes from when they were still alive. Those, there are always obituaries for and we get to them before they get away. Those that do get away and try that Will has a monitoring system for that, which signals when some home reality thing happens. I never really paid attention when she was explaining it, but it lets us know where to strike."

"You do that during the day, right?" Faith asked.

"The house deal? Yeah, only during the day. Crypts and warehouses we do at night." Buffy answered.

"Why?" Faith asked like it was the most obvious question in the world with the most stupidest answer.

Buffy shrugged. "Because they go into the sewers during the day. Tried doing that once, almost got my friend Xander and I killed. Warehouses always have sewer entrances and the one time that I did dust a warehouse nest during the day, they scattered before I even got ten of them. Crypts… how easy do you think it is to break into a graveyard in Sunnydale? Sure, there aren’t any guards or gatekeepers out here at night, but duh! They know about vampires. The moment the sun goes down every body that works for or at a cemetery goes to their homes and does not invite anyone in for anything. Not even pizza delivery. During the day, you have to sign in to even step a foot inside the front gate. Including state a reason for being there. Remember me mentioning the sewer thing? That same day I had to sneak my way into a crypt with the sewer entrance. It was easier to get around the crime scene at school!"

"All right! All right, I get it! House day strikes easy, any other day strikes impossible. Anything else I should know about before sticking my foot in my mouth?" Faith sarcastically said.

Buffy suddenly looked sheepish.

"Sorry, but I get the same questions more times than I’d like from…uh, a friend of my mom’s. He’s really big on tactics and strategy. By the way, don’t ever play chess with me. Thanks to this friend, I can beat almost anybody…except him. Giles was weeping by the time I got through with him." Buffy warned.

Faith’s eyes went up at the mention of a watcher weeping, but she let it go for now. Because now they had to fight as she, and the Witchblade, sensed almost three-dozen vampires converging on them from nearly every angle.

Xander, Willow and Cordelia came running up, only slightly out of breath. Somehow, Faith figured Willow’s witch senses, they too knew about the vampires and were ready for it. Buffy looked around for a brief second, then nodded, almost agreeing with the fact that the situation existed.

Less than a minute later, all three-dozen vampires surrounded the small group of teens. Faith began to have a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as she actually recognized some of the vamps. She knew she was right when a tall African American in a black suit, not yet vamped out, separated himself from the group and approached the halfway between them and the Gang.

"Trick," Faith cursed, seething and wanting to use the Witchblade to rip him to shreds, but held back for fear of the others seeing.

"Faith," Trick replied in kind, although his was more oily than burning rage.

"You know this creepazoid?" Buffy asked her fellow Slayer.

Faith’s face twitched into an evil sneer. "He was the one that held her down while his boss killed my Watcher," she explained with cold venom. Everyone grabbed their weapons and got ready.

"He’s all yours then. We’ll keep the rest off your back. Guys? Ninety-six beta ram?" she said to the group, pulling out a short sword she had in a back sheath in her jacket.

Willow pulled out a pair of wooden daggers; Cordelia hefted her axe with one hand and a long stake with the other. Xander pulled out his own short sword, revealed multiple hidden stakes, and held the long sword he’d been carrying from the Library in his left hand.

"Nah," Xander replied to Buffy’s suggestion, "I think Alpha Two should do it."

"There are almost forty of them Xander," Buffy pointed out. Trick tried to say something, but Xander’s reply interrupted him.

"Yeah? And your point is?"

"Maybe Alpha Beta Three?" Willow suggested.

"No demon," Cordelia pointed out.

"Oh. But that would make up for the number difference, wouldn’t it?"

"Alpha Beta Three it is then," Buffy confirmed. The others, except Faith, nodded their heads in agreement.

"Excuse me!" Trick shouted. "But can I get an painful, meaningless threat in here at any point?" The humans looked at him for about a whole second before turning their attention back to each other.

"You want him?" Buffy asked Faith.

Faith couldn’t hold it any longer, and the Witchblade wanted its own vengeance against these demons. She dropped her stake as the Witchblade began to grow its steel-colored bone around her right hand. "Yes," she answered in a growl, stepping forward as the Blade began to cover her with its exo-skeleton armor.

"He’s all yours!" Buffy shouted and moved forward so fast that even the vampires saw nothing but a blonde blur, taking out four vampires in her first three movements, and from there continued to hack and slash furiously with her sword, dusting a vampire with every stroke, and timing her strokes to two a second.

At the exact same moment, the rest of the gang surged forward to attack their own vampires. As Buffy’s four were dusting, Willow moved in with uncanny skill with the daggers and got at least two. From there she moved in a dagger dance pattern that let her strike a vampire with each dagger as she thrust them, so she did half as well as Buffy did, getting a vampire every other second, dodging them with her speed and grace.

Cordelia was more blunt, but certainly got her share. She used her stake at every opportunity and while that was busy doing its job, she used her axe to take the heads or cleave the vamps closest to her. Only the vampires she dusted could hear the growl emitting from her as she did this.

Xander was a machete lawnmower, but it did its work and cut the vampires down faster than they could even get at him.

Between Faith and Trick, however there was a little bit less action. Everyone on the battle field saw the metal gray bone-like spikes of the Witchblade surround the Slayer like living armor, and that was more than any of them wanted to deal with and avoided the head-to-head as much as possible. At least the vampires did, the rest of the Gang were too busy dealing with the vampires to worry over their new friend’s unexpected abilities.

"You killed my mother."

"Hey now," Trick backed up a couple paces, but Faith kept up with each of his step back with a blade-covered foot step forward, "my boss was the one to do the deed. Actually…I think it was his boss who did your mother. We only did in your Watcher. Considering all I’ve heard about those British tight-wads, we did you a favor girl."

"You killed her, and you held my other mother-figure down as that monster you call a boss did things so unspeakable I think even you had to turn away at some point." Faith’s voice was tightly controlled, but controlled by her rage, not her conscience.

Trick stopped retreating. They were far enough away from the battle that Faith didn’t care or worry about any kind of ambush or trap. "OK, I’ll give you that. But I think I’ll be able to hold my stomach for you sweet thing." He vamped out and charged her. So did the five other vampires waiting in the bushes.

All of them were no doubt at a minimum of two hundred years old, making them incredibly powerful for vampires, or any other lower level demons.

On Faith’s left hand, the Blade followed the bone path of her fingers, and then extended past them so that each of her fingertips were as effective or more so as the daggers Willow was using. A long sword came out over her right hand. She used both hands to their maximum effectiveness.

Trick wasn’t even sure what happened. One second six vamps were rushing a Slayer that had been rumored to be outnumbered at four, the next, there was a blur of fused metal and flesh and Trick was facing her alone, wondering what held the remainder of her shirt on.

He backed up his charge, but kept his game face on, more to hide the fear that could be seen there though.

"What the hell are you?" he cursed.

"Hell ain’t got nuthin to do with me, and everything to do with where you’re going for your crimes," Faith intoned. She brought up the long sword on her right wrist, "I want vengeance for what you’ve taken from me Trick. And the Witchblade always gets what she wants."

"The…Witchblade?! Aw shit!" Trick turned to run, but a sudden burning sensation in his right shoulder cast him to the ground and suddenly Faith was in front of him. "How…?"

The only response he got was a fist to the face, which knocked him back pretty near to where the main fighting was going on. He struggled to his feet, feeling something he hadn’t felt in centuries, during the Dark Ages. Weak.

When he got to his feet, he looked up just in time to see Faith rushing him, a blur to all around her, except him, who she was coming straight at. She leaped forward the last distance, and amazingly it was Trick’s weakness that saved his un-life as the Witchblade and its long sword passed through his left shoulder rather than his heart as he toppled forward from lack of strength. Faith back flipped the landing, allowing her one more swipe with her taloned hand at Trick’s back.

She stared, expecting him to dust as she landed. When he didn’t, she finally noticed how she had missed and stepped forward to quickly correct the error.

Before she could though, something very disturbing distracted her long enough for Trick to crawl far enough away to send the signal for the reserves to come in.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

Willow was an amazing sight, even next to those like Buffy and Xander who were killing vampires at two to three every second, she was a spectacular thing to look at. At least Cordelia thought so as she killed vampires looking only at her witch.

And because of that, Cordelia was the only one to see the vampire with a switchblade move up behind a couple others, using them as a shield to stalk up on Willow. Cordelia knew with an instinct born of danger what was going to happen, and she would not allow it.

She jammed her stake through a vampire, dusting it, and threw her axe back, incidentally throwing it hard enough that it cleaved one vampire’s head clean off and went past it to gut another and knocking all those behind it to the ground.

Of course she didn’t see this. She was stalking forward, very similar to the way she had moved when attacking Percy, towards Willow and the vampires around her, but mostly towards the vampire moving for her witch, daring to attack the one she loved.

With every step, Cordelia’s growl became louder, her body more tense, and then the freaky stuff started to happen. One vamp, seeing a weaponless girl, immediately tried to kill her. He got thrown back over thirty feet through the air by a single, casual punch for his trouble.

Cordelia was also growing taller, but at the same time she started to hunch over. Coarse, dark fur sprang up from her skin like fast-growing wild grass, and at the same time she was growing taller, her muscles and feminine frame were also growing disproportioned, she was now about the size of a seven foot line backer for the 49er’s, with dark brown almost black fur all over her body, her clothes having ripped off her during the size growth, and then her physical features mutated even more.

Cordy’s face was moving forward and at one point seemed to even be growing outward, as a short snout, one more for a wildcat or cougar, became the shape of her mouth, and her hears became wolf-shape, moving to the top of her head. Her legs, which had done most of her height growing, suddenly added a joint to them, making it easier for her to run, although on all-fours rather than upright, and her hands and arms looked more like paws with taloned fingered claws.

The growls that Cordelia had been emitting so far were pitiful human whimpers compared to the roars that came from her throat now. Once her transformation was apparently complete enough, she leaped forward like a cougar and tore into the vampires and the vampire protecting the one with the switchblade.

Willow startled at the roars of her familiar, but not enough to cost her, her life. She stabbed two more vamps that tried to blindside her, as she looked at the mystical beast ripping into, literally, the human possessing demons. Seeing that however inspired her to more. Hopefully Faith was done with Trick by now.

Summoning her power, Willow sheathed her wooden daggers and created a magic shield around her and then quickly expanded it outwards, forcing all the demons in the area to move back or to get thrown back when they didn’t.

The shield passed by Cordelia easily enough, as Willow’s familiar; she was immune to all of the witch’s spells and powers. But it also passed by Xander, allowing him enough time and room to breathe, because Willow had included for the shield to let only her friends pass. Faith and Buffy however were too far away to be included in the shield.

Faith couldn’t believe what she was seeing. First the cheerleader turns into some kinda werewolf, but more cattish, creature, then about the same time the shy redhead that she has been told is a witch, displays a level of power she never imagined before, despite her wearing a weapon that is incredibly more powerful than the witch in question could ever be.

A sound behind her turns her attention back to Trick and she watches as he pulls a flare gun out of his jacket and shoots a bright red star into the sky. Snarling, she leaps the distance he’s crawled in a second and mercilessly, but cleanly, takes the vampire’s head, instantly dusting it. She then turns back to the main battle to help her friends and fellow Slayer.

Buffy could not only believe what she was seeing, she had seen it before. Well, at least Cordy’s transformation. Willow hadn’t ever done that shield before.

A moment sensing the energies in the area and Buffy knew her friend couldn’t keep that up for long, and even if she could, she couldn’t last till sunrise which would be the only time the vamps would leave without more of a nudge. She planned to provide that by killing them all.

All of a sudden, a flare shot up and was incredibly bright against the dark night in the cemetery. Buffy extended her senses, and amped her physical a little, dusting the vamps automatically while her super conscious separated itself to interpret all the data it was receiving.

With only about 11…8 more vamps to go, Buffy had been hoping for an end to this…encounter. But now, with her body amped up and her senses straining as far and as hard as they could, she knew it was only just beginning.

In just the other clearing, Buffy felt over sixty vampires, and maybe a demon or ten. And the moment the flare went up, they started heading in their direction. Ten more seemed to be ahead of the others and they would be here before the others, but if Buffy didn’t stop the bulk of them, it didn’t matter who got here first.

"WILL!" she shouted as she knocked the last vampires around her at the shield. She had caught the attention of those inside it. "I’m going to take out the rest of them. STAY HERE!"

She had shouted the last as she was running, at top speed for the demon force that was running directly at them, but it wasn’t in order to make them hear that made her shout. It was the sudden stress of what she felt now.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

"Where the hell is she going?" Faith asked behind the shield, having come inside it when she’d dusted the last vamp, about thirty seconds after Buffy had run off.

"She says there are more vamps that way. She’s gone to take care of them," Willow answered calmly, a light sheen of sweat on her face.

"How the hell does she know that?!" Faith exclaimed.

The Scoobies all shrugged, even Cordelia, who was still in her beast form.

"We’ve learned that more often than not, Buffy’s feelings about stuff like this are always right," Xander told her, slightly out of breath and still trying to catch it.

"Especially when dealing with vampires and demons," Willow added, resolved. Then she looked kind of uncertain, "Other stuff…not always as accurate in the what, but always…uh, usually with the where. But with vamps and demons, she’s always right. I just hope she can handle however many it is. But she told us to stay here, right?"

Cordelia chuffed an agreeing sound.

"What the hell are you anyway?" Faith asked the dark-furred beast.

In reply it looked up at her from kneeling on the ground and growled at her. Yet before Faith could retort, she noticed Willow looking down at Cordelia like she was speaking some kind of language. That was only confirmed when Willow’s face contorted in annoyance and she shouted, "CORDY! Apologize for that right now!"

Cordy looked up at her a growled something, and Faith answered at the same time, "It’s all right. Couldn’t understand her anyway. So…what is she?"

"She’s my familiar. You do remember I’m a witch, right?" Willow asked.

"Uh…yeah."

"Ladies, sorry to interrupt, but all the details are going to have to wait until later," Xander interrupted as about 7 more vamps emerged from the woods, and from the sounds, more were coming.

"Lucky us," Faith commented as the Witchblade prepared to kill more demons.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

Buffy only had time to take out about three of the onrushing vamps with her sword, and then she kept going on to the main force. She hastened when she felt a small percentage of the vamps dust, and began heavy sprinting when she realized the demon or demons she felt were in fact one vampire. Only really, really, really old. The last vamp to feel like this was the Master, and she had confirmed that he was almost a thousand years old. This…thing, whatever the hell it was, felt the same, just about a million times more powerful.

The first vamps Buffy met were about five, with another fifteen behind them. With a single swipe, it helped they were all standing in a straight line, she decapitated and dusted four of the five and used a stick on the ground to stake the last. Then she engaged the rest of the vampires.

Some she was aware escaped her attempt at a blockade to get past her and join the fight with the others. Buffy was almost exhausted. The combination of amping herself and extending her senses and fighting 100 vampires with no breaks was beginning to take its toll on her. And it didn’t HELP that she was still wearing the STUPID harness her mother had made her wear as punishment. The damn thing restricted her movements, not to mention bombarded her with graviton particles that made her constantly feel like she was walking around in about 10 Gs!

She couldn’t afford long, drawn out battles with single vamps right now. Her friends were in danger and she was the preemptive strike against a force that could easily overwhelm her allies if she didn’t wheedle it down first. Every strike she made, she had to make sure was a deathblow. And a good deal of them were, however as most of the vampires were at least two hundred years old, they were good enough that she was forced to sometimes hand out three strikes to ensure a deathblow.

Occasionally, if not rarely, she was lucky enough to take out more than one at a time, but given the odds against her that didn’t really help her much.

She felt that humongous demonic power that was the ancient vampire go around her and the group of…however many vampires she was fighting and proceed on towards the cemetery, leaving her and the ally she felt with those that remained behind.

Seeing no other choice if she wanted both her and the other entity she felt to live, she amped her body to its absolute maximum, and jammed her senses to a whole level beyond their maximum potential. Everything was moving in slow motion around her all of a sudden, even the faster vampires were almost frozen.

Her entire body burning and feeling like she was trudging up a mountain, pushing a 5 ton boulder, equipped with a training harness a thousand times worse than the one she was wearing, in acid, she moved at "normal speed" and then began to run between each and every demon in the clearing, killing them all as fast, efficiently, and quickly as she could.

To her it felt like hours of agonizing pain beyond anything any human could easily describe, but in actuality, all the vamps, almost 30 of them, were dust in just under a single minute. All that remained in the dust-covered woods, was Buffy, and a green-eyed creature that defied all description in the darkness.

The moment the last vampire was slain, Buffy stopped amping her body, and basically returned herself to normal. The instant she stopped moving, she collapsed to the forest floor, half-unconscious.

The creature immediately raced towards her, its form blurred, and in fact even when it was still it was still blurry, unable for anything to get a clear picture of what it might truly be. A minute and a half later, Buffy came too enough to look at its ally against the vampires.

"Dawn. What the hell are you doing here?" she asked, sounding as tired as she looked.

The blurriness increased for a moment, and then as though the shadows themselves were melting away, a young human girl with shoulder length dirty blonde hair appeared out of the shadows. Naked.

Good thing it was dark.

"I found vampires, I killed vampires. I tracked vampires and accidentally ran into you?" Dawn replied as her answer.

"What…<grunt>…are you doing out of the house young lady?" Buffy grunted as she got to her feet.

"Are you sure you should be standing?" Dawn asked, concerned, and getting to her own feet after kneeling next to her older sister.

"I’m…" she winced in pain, "…I’ll be fine. I’m already healing, and I can ignore the pain until my friends are out of danger. Go home."

"But… I can help! I’ve already killed like twenty vampires already tonight! I don’t mind killing some more!" Dawn suddenly sounded excited.

Buffy stopped stumbling back towards the cemetery and turned to glare at her sister. Dawn paused herself and took a half step back, silently gulping. "Go. Home." Buffy whispered hoarsely, leaving the threat with her eyes. It was enough that Dawn actually feared for her life.

Not that Buffy would ever kill her, she knew that all the way to her soul, and never doubted it. But that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t hurt her. A lot. After all, one can be surprised by what one can live through. Especially when they’re more than human.

Dawn made about to whine again about unfairness, but a look in her elder sister’s eyes made her back down quicker than normal, nod, shift back into that blurred shadow form, and disappear into the night.

Buffy sighed, took a deeper breath, and then began to run back to rejoin the battle with her friends. She knew they were going to need her help.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

Faith wasn’t sure how much longer they could hold out. Even with Willow going all out with the magic bolts, which fried the vamps the instant they hit, no matter where, and sometimes taking out more than one at a time, but there were still too many. Even with her and the Witchblade working together against this threat, she might end up being the only one to survive this.

Cordelia was sticking close to Willow, safeguarding the witch so the powerhouse could do some long-range attacking on the vamps.

Shortly after the main force arrived, Willow’s shield had failed, but she still had plenty of strength left to take the rest of them on.

Xander, amazing to Faith, was holding his own, sometimes wasting precious energy actually fighting the vamps rather than trying to dust them right out like she was. It wasn’t until time seemed to stop for the Slayer entirely, the Blade trying to tell her something that she realized they were all in a lot more trouble than she originally thought.

Kakistos. The monster that had killed her Watcher before her eyes, and had been primarily responsible for her own mother’s death…

A sudden and almost overpowering fear came over her, momentarily freezing her in the frozen world. It took her a moment, but she realized with divine clarity that it was coming from both her and the Witchblade. If Kakistos had tracked her to here…then so had the Bastard…

Willow saw when Faith froze temporarily in the fight, although she didn’t see what had caused it, but she knew the same things Faith did. If they didn’t get a big advantage on their side, and soon, they were going to lose. Badly.

The witch started to try and cast about for any idea of an advantage, but none was forthcoming until Cordelia growled a familiar word to her, (no pun intended), holy. Then it suddenly came to her. She called her familiar to her magically and quickly cast a rain spell, using a portion of her remaining magic. It would be very localized, and probably wouldn’t even spread the whole cemetery, but it was an advantage.

The storm began to form.

‘Are you sure about this?’ Cordelia asked her magically.

‘Got a better idea?’ Willow asked back, almost praying that her familiar did have a better idea.

The beast was silent, waiting for her witch to use her power. Willow only nodded, resolved to doing this, and raised her hands to the sky, praying.

Faith and Xander both made their way to the witch and familiar duo, seeing that they couldn’t, or just weren’t protecting themselves directly any longer, they took up guardian positions around them, Faith on the duo’s right, Xander on the left. Faith was beginning to get used to the way the Witchblade worked. All of her clothes by now, between the Blade’s bone semi-armor and the fighting, were nothing but shreds among the grass. Amazingly, the Witchblade’s growth hid or covered everything that was too vulnerable or improper to show, while keeping everything proportioned, and the spikes and spires growing from her back was more than enough to protect her from all close injury.

Xander was fighting every urge of his body and damned soul to keep up the fight as a normal human might. The urge, the relish to let loose was becoming a temptation to rival that which sent him to hell in the first place. Yet he could feel the power building just behind him as he protected his oldest friend and her familiar. If he let loose before Willow was done unleashing whatever she was building her power for…he’d be as dead as these vamps. Necro energy levels be damned.

Buffy made it to the cemetery just as the storm Willow had summoned tore open and released its rains. She quickly figured out the witch’s plan and couldn’t help but shake her head in admiration for her imaginativeness. She slowed her pace, more to help regain her energy, but also to watch the show.

Willow was praying to her goddess. The Goddess. And she knew her prayer had been answered when she felt a surge of pure, true, holy power filled her, and felt it expand and multiply as all her energies did when she ran them through her familiar. She then directed the fusing energies held between the two of them up at the storm she had made, into the very water and raindrops that were coming down even now.

Everyone watched, stunned at the amazing, confusing sight. Both Faith and Xander knew what was going on, somehow, but the vamps only knew that the beast that was Cordelia was suddenly lighting up like the star on the Rockefeller Christmas tree, and the light actually burned them, unfortunately not like actual sunlight would.

Then, a burst of reverse lightning flashed the sky right before them and whatever the glow was that had been around the witch/familiar duo, went up into the heavens with it. Until it started to come down again.

It took a few seconds after the end of the light show for the vampires to figure it out, but when the smoke began to rise from their own bodies as the rain continued to fall, they figured it out pretty quickly. Willow had turned the storm into a rainstorm of holy water.

One minute after the holy power was added to the storm, it really started to pour and within seconds the younger, and then the older vampires began to dissolve into dusty pools of muck. Leaving only the oldest…and Kakistos.

The storm, unfortunately, didn’t have enough power to last much longer than about ten minutes, and once the clouds had disappeared the remaining demons immediately attacked. Luckily, not counting Kakistos, there were maybe fifteen vamps left.

Willow, nearly dead on magic, pulled out her wooden daggers and instantly fell into a pattern dance that allowed her to dust one vamp every five seconds and avoid all contact with the demons. Cordelia, if anything energized from the spells passed through her, began tearing apart as many vamps as she could get her claws on in record time.

Xander took the left overs while Faith, rejoined by Buffy, took out the majority of the vampires between the two Slayers. It wasn’t "quick work", but before too long, all the vamps were nothing but dust on the wet cemetery ground.

"SLAYER!" the cloven, half melted, scarred ancient Master vampire challenged, stepping forward. "You have killed my children, maimed me, and you do it by allying yourself with other children. Face me in fair combat if you dare Slayer! I will suck the marrow from your bones!"

"I bet you’ve been wanting to say that for centuries," Buffy sarcastically commented. Then she stepped forward. "I accept your challenge ya big ugly maggot farm!"

Kakistos snarled. "I did not challenge you…"

"You said Slayer. That. Would be me. You need to learn to be more specific. Now let’s go!" Immediately the blonde Slayer charged forward with surprising speed given what all she had been through that night.

Kakistos was surprised at the girl’s courage, or maybe it was stupidity, but he made to strike her down with one blow, only she disappeared right before his fist would have hit her. Suddenly the vampire felt a sharp, heavy pain in his gut and looked down to see the Slayer’s leg leaving an impression in his torso.

Before he could cry out in pain, or even stand up, he felt a half dozen more blows hit him from various sides, all causing great pain. And every time he made to hit her back, no matter how much of his vampiric speed or strength he put behind it, she always disappeared right before his strike could hit her.

To the eyes of the other mortals (Cordy and Xander included) present, it looked like Buffy was almost teleporting around Kakistos’ body, she was moving so fast. To Buffy, she was dead, and if she wasn’t she was dying very painfully.

She had amped her body to its absolute max, but she had completely forgotten about the damned harness. It was making every move she made against the vampire master as costly as if his blows had actually hit her. She was moving as fast as she could force her body to move, her adrenaline and endorphins pumping at unhealthy levels.

Her hits were making their marks, for sure, but it cost heavily for each one. As well as avoiding getting hit. With only about fifteen minutes rest, she was in no shape to be doing this to herself, especially with the harness still on!

Finally, the inevitable happened, and she was too empty to dodge the last blow. Kakistos’ fist rammed straight into Buffy’s head like a battering ram at a cannon ball. A steel ram on a wooden cannon ball.

The powerful Slayer was knocked back like a rag doll thrown out the window.

None of them could believe the sight. Or the fact. Willow instantly cast a healing spell, with Cordelia’s added power, on Buffy as she flew through the air. When she landed, they all heard the soft thud, and it echoed through all of their minds and hearts. Even Faith, and she had only known her fellow Slayer for a few days, felt the loss deep in her heart.

Xander… Xander would not, could not accept this. Only once before had he seen the powerful Slayer look so helpless. Ironically enough, that had been the last time she had faced off against a Master vampire.

She was the perfect warrior. She was just a girl still. She was the first person that he ever thought could truly understand him. And that monster had just tried to kill her.

The temptation was gone. Now there was only the pain.

Xander screamed. At first it was a declaration of his denial and sorrow, but soon it quickly became an unending cry of tortured pain. The echoing cry went on and on until right when his friends were about to do something, Xander did something himself.

The cry of pain became realized as something black, metallic, and almost oily at the same time, erupted from Xander’s chest and spine. It didn’t stop with a single thing either. Along his spine, chest, thighs, and back of his calves, the metallic things erupted from him, and then they began to spread and wrap around him like oily wires, or that computer thing in the Superman 3 movie.

But then as his body became wrapped entirely in the black substance, like a strange body suit, two more of the black things, one from his front, the other from the back, covered his head and extended until they touched and began to wrap the black wire around his head. For a moment Xander was nothing but a black disfigured creature in an oily black substance, and then the substance hardened, and a pattern could be seen in the body suit as it hardened into a skintight armor that was much like leather or kevlar.

Red striped crossed both sides of his torso, thighs, and shoulders, giving him an almost tiger-like appeal. His head was mouthless, hairless, and his eyes were nothing but green glowing gems surrounded by two more of the red stripes, one each.

A skulled chain suddenly wrapped around his shoulders as a flowing, etherial cape that went through things as much as it went around them or over them, emerged from the back of his neck. With that, the transformation was complete. The spawn of hell called Savage stood atop the Hellmouth.

At first, no one said anything or even moved. They could only stare in awe and wonder.

Until the chains holding the cape suddenly came to life and them with a half dozen that hadn’t been seen anywhere on the caped creature, launched away from their source and flew for Kakistos. Immediately, all six chains pierced the demon through the palms, shoulders, and feet and lifted it up as it screamed in hellish pain.

Nothing much could be made from the gibberish the demon was screaming, only vague impressions that it was whatever native language had been his when he was still human, but it didn’t matter as the ethereal cape came to life of its own and flew towards the demon, wrapped the ancient vampire up in itself, as the chains suddenly started to flurry around the bound figure.

Once all activity ceased, the cape came away, holding nothing; the chains letting dust fall to the ground. Not even bones were left.

The chains and cape returned to their master, and for a moment, all was quiet in the cemetery. Then, in a reverse action, minus the screams, Savage became Xander once more.

Chapter 3 Revelations

The quiet after Xander returned too normal was appropriate for the setting, given they were in a cemetery. The quiet didn’t last long as even this strange new twist to their lives atop the Hellmouth didn’t distract Willow from what was really important for more than the time that it had existed.

The moment of quiet passed, and Willow rushed forward to check on the fallen Slayer, crying out, "Buffy!"

This seemed to snap the others into attention and Xander rushed forward with Willow, while Cordy and Faith took up guard positions, ready to deal with anything that showed up. Cordy felt a slight twinge of worry as Xander and Willow both knelt over their friend, but she had never ever felt anything so much as a twitch of anything but complete and utter trust around Xander. Faith felt the same twinge, but a flash of insight, of trust, from the Witchblade calmed her the same that Cordy’s instincts did for her.

She didn’t know why, but the Witchblade, guided by some force beyond her, or her mother’s, comprehension, wanted her with these people. Not necessarily one above the other, but it had almost forced her into their midst. Her own, private instincts that had served her as well as they could over her lifetime, however, were telling her the same thing.

This Xander, whatever he was, was willing to do whatever it took to protect his friends. No matter what it seemed. He was loyalty incarnate, and she couldn’t help but respect that.

A memory came to her, perhaps brought forth by the Witchblade, perhaps just summoned by the experience, but she remembered hearing her mother once speak of a creature or person with the same, or maybe just similar abilities as the ones Xander had just displayed. She thought back, and she remembered her mother saying that the person had once been an assassin for the CIA. Then he died on a mission several years ago. Now…she had called him Spawn then. Faith couldn’t remember any more.

Willow was beyond panic at this moment. She was doing everything in her power to make sure her best friend, her best and first real female friend, was going to live through the next few minutes. She’d work on the rest of the night and beyond that as it came.

What Xander had done, and revealed to them was pushed to the back of her mind at the moment, but a portion of her mind was still thinking on it, trying to figure out what had happened exactly. Yet personal or supernatural problems aside, she was completely focused on Buffy at this moment.

Xander was likewise suppressing what he’d just done.

He had no regrets. He wasn’t exactly proud of what he’d done, but he wasn’t about to be ashamed of it either. And like Willow, most of his thoughts were focusing themselves on Buffy right now. But not for the same reasons.

The Slayer was something else all right. Even now as he watched her aura, she was healing and repairing herself. Willow’s healing spell had helped a great deal as he noticed that Buffy was pretty low on the energy needed to fully heal herself, but he was also sure she was going to be fine.

What was troubling him though…was that it wasn’t happening. Almost every time she defeated a vampire, or a demon, Buffy’s aura, her strength, increased. Maybe not the same each time and sometimes not even enough to be easily noticed, but increase it always did. Right now…her strength was lower than he’d ever seen it, and it was not increasing. In fact, as her energy levels lowered, her strength did as well. He couldn’t understand it.

"Willow, you have to do something," Xander urged his best friend. "Her strength is pretty low, but coupled with healing the damage, it’s dropping like a stone. She doesn’t just need healing, she needs energy!"

"I know that!" Willow snapped at him. "But I’m doing all I can. Why don’t we just give her some of yours? You seem to have enough," she sarcastically commented.

Xander immediately shook his head, looking at Buffy the entire time. "Incompatible. Even if we just transferred her wounds from me, part of our energies would mix. The effects would be like poisoning each other. Our strengths are just too dissimilar."

The Sunnydale natives suddenly stopped and looked up at each other. Knowing that the other had the same idea, they turned as one and called out, "Faith!"

"What?" the bearer of the Witchblade cried in alarm, afraid something was wrong with Buffy.

"We need your strength," Xander told her.

Faith squinted her eyes in mistrust, but Willow’s next words calmed her down and convinced her at the same time. "Buffy is healing properly, but she doesn’t have the energy to keep healing at the rate she is…and if she doesn’t keep up healing…she’ll die. We need to give her a boost, sort of like jump-starting a car. And you’re the only other Slayer here."

Faith quickly realized what they needed, but she had no clue about how they wanted to do it. "So…what do I do?" she asked, at a complete loss.

"Don’t worry, but first," Willow told her, pulling her armored form down on the ground closer to Buffy, "I need your consent to work magic on you. Part of the way my powers work as well as a karmic rule. What I’m going to do is move a portion of your life energy to Buffy. Afterwards you’ll feel like you could sleep for a year, but I promise it’ll be replenished by morning after you eat and sleep some yourself. Xander, help Cordelia guard us, just in case. And don’t for a second think you’re out of trouble mister."

Xander gave her a lopsided smirk. "I’ve been in way worse situations than revealing a lie I’ve kept to my friends and everyone around me for six years."

Willow looked momentarily startled, but she quickly refocused her attention and energies on Buffy and Faith. It was surprisingly more difficult than she had first imagined.

From her books, dreams, and tutoring from the Chase family, Willow knew precisely what to do, what spells to cast, and how to handle everything. But this was the first time she had ever transferred energy from people that were not herself and Cordelia. The temptation to bring the energy to herself was almost completely non-existent. This was a matter of saving someone’s life. Someone close to her. Only the potency of the Slayer energy taken from Faith held the temptation and she knew that like it would have been had it been Xander, that energy would have poisoned her soul. Just not in the fashion of death, but more karmic poisoning.

A green aura surrounded Willow while a blue-hued bubble, marked by a circular line on the ground around them, formed as the witch held her hands over Buffy’s body. At first, a thin, fine gold line of energy trickled between Faith and Buffy, connecting the two Slayers. Quickly however, the thread became a stream of light so bright that all but Willow had to shield their eyes.

Faith began to feel the exhaustion Willow was talking about and began to fear that the witch would take too much. Before it got to that point though, the stream became a trickle once more, and Buffy was looking a great deal healthier, while Faith was feeling every bruise from the battle and like Willow said, could sleep for a year. Maybe two.

Willow closed the spell and the colored lights all around them disappeared completely. Faith sunk to the ground. The danger passed, and Faith without even enough energy to stand on her own, the Witchblade quickly receded into itself, leaving Faith wearing nothing but her shoes and a modicum of shreds that had once been the rest of her clothing.

Buffy now seemed to be in a meditative trance, so Willow looked up to check on Faith’s condition, and immediately blushed bright scarlet at the sight of the second most perfect nude female form she had ever seen. Due to bias, Cordelia, her girlfriend, would always have the most perfect body she had ever seen.

Xander immediately rushed forward and handed Faith his jacket, which would reach to midway on her thighs, while trying to look anywhere but at the nude Slayer and still be able to give her the offered clothing. Faith took it after several moments’ hesitation, but seemed to lack the energy to do anything with it.

Cordy came to the rescue and helped the Slayer move her body into the sleeves and even fasten the coat together. Of course she was still in her beast form, her own clothes almost as shredded as Faith’s.

"Cordy? Go see if you can find your skirt for Faith to also wear," Willow asked, and the familiar chuffed once in agreement before taking off to look.

"Xander," Willow stated once Cordy was mostly out of earshot.

"Yeah Wills?" Xander replied quietly, looking out into the night, giving Faith privacy while still guarding them.

"You have a lot of explaining to do. Now go get Giles and Lara. I don’t care how you do it, but do it as fast as you possibly can. We have to get Buffy and Faith out of here as soon as possible." Willow told him.

"All right. We’ll be back in under ten minutes," Xander calmly told her before he suddenly jumped and leaped up into the night sky. Willow and Faith quickly lost track of him. Cordy soon returned with a half-torn, but still wearable, silk skirt. With both of theirs help, Faith managed to get the garment on and then with Buffy riding on Cordy’s back and both Willow and Faith leaning on her to keep the unconscious Slayer there, and also because they needed the support themselves, they managed to get to the cemetery entrance by the time that Giles, Lara, and Xander showed up in a large black and silver jeep, obviously belonging to Lara.

In short order, the injured/exhausted were loaded first and after a quick explanation to the Tomb Raider, they all clambered in the jeep and went back to the Library. Or at least that was where they started to head to until Buffy awoke suddenly.

"No!" she cried suddenly. She jumped awake and forward into the front seat and almost drove them off the road. Lara slammed on the brakes instead.

"Buffy!" Willow cried, trying to calm the distraught Slayer. "It’s all right. We’re safe. Kakistos, the vampire, it’s dead."

"No, I know that already Wills, but we can’t go to the Library right now," Buffy replied, sounding more lucid than she had a right to be. "We go to my house. Please. There is too much that has to be discussed right now to do it anywhere else, and the Library, despite being on school grounds, is a public place. My house is neutral territory and it’s a private residence. Please."

It was shortly debated, and then Giles began giving his niece the directions to the Summers’ house on Revello Dr.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

Joyce knew the moment that Dawn left the house. She also knew the moment her youngest had returned. She also knew that it was always a bad sign when her eldest and first born showed up just over ten minutes later, being helped by all of her friends, and two people Joyce had never laid eyes on before.

She’d heard about Faith, the other Slayer after Kendra’s death, and about Giles’ niece Lady Lara Croft. What she didn’t expect, or much appreciate was that both Slayers were both near empty on energy levels, and one of them was wearing nothing but a torn silk skirt and Xander’s jacket. Oh, and Cordelia was also naked, covered only by a blanket the Tomb Raider had no doubt had in the back of her jeep.

Once the Slayers were settled on the couch with cocoa in their hands and a concoction she had made them swallow before even sitting down in their stomachs, and everybody else settled down around the living room, most opposite Xander she casually noted, she declared the meeting begin and they got down to business.

"What happened?" Joyce asked first.

Giles adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat. Too late to make it part of the same question, Joyce forestalled him and looked at her daughter and asked, "Buffy?"

She just shrugged, all of them ignoring Giles’ look of insult, but it quickly passed for him. "Typical patrol. We just…let it get out of hand I guess," she said quietly.

"How many?" Joyce asked.

Lara sat back, almost smirking as she watched this. It was way better than the Telly, and almost as good as getting into the trouble herself.

Buffy again shrugged, not really looking at anything, though her head tilted down. "Uh… I’m not really sure…I don’t…"

"How. Many?"

"About 110 plus a master Vampire at least 1000 years old or maybe 2000." Buffy answered in a rush, sounding strangely soldier like at the same time.

Joyce’s eyes widened and her breath caught. As did Giles’, but Lara however, fell completely off her seat and onto the floor. Possible since she was actually sitting on the arm of Giles’ chair.

"What did you… why…?" Joyce couldn’t finish the question because she suddenly found it difficult to breath properly and speak at the same time.

"Well…" Buffy began matter-of-factly, "it was either kill them all tonight, or have a new Big Bad set himself up in town. One that, incidentally, had a grudge against Faith."

"I’m sorry I got you guys involved with…" Faith began, but was quickly interrupted.

"Nonsense!" Willow snapped. "We patrol and fight vampires every night. This is the Hellmouth. If it hadn’t been that Khaki guy then it would have been something else!"

"Yeah, and besides, we took care, or should I say Xander took care of that thing without any problems. And instead of just having another Big Bad gone, we get an extra Slayer as a bonus." Cordelia added.

"Xander?" Giles, Joyce, and Lara all exclaimed.

The young man identified stood up at his name and began to look like he’d just swallowed something really nasty. He was about to speak when Buffy added her bit to Faith’s defense.

"Faith, we’re glad you showed up. Especially I am. We would have been toast to a very certain degree if you hadn’t been there with us tonight. Whether you’re the reason they were here or not, you helped us. So for that much, the helping I mean, thanks."

Faith smiled at Buffy and nodded her head, agreeing that she had nothing to feel sorry for.

"We’ll discuss Watcher chronicles later," Joyce suddenly interrupted, sounding a might ticked. She turned and gave Xander the "mother look", which is a glare 50 times more powerful than Willow’s Resolve Face.

Gulping heavily and audibly, Xander sat back down.

"Cordelia said that you were the one to destroy the Master Vampire Xander," Joyce outlined. "Is this true?"

Sweating so badly they could all see it, Xander nodded and answered, "Yes Mrs. Summers, it is."

Giles and Lara exchanged a silent communication with a glance, but despite the unusual circumstances, and the completely unbelievable statements, they found themselves believing this account.

"How?" Joyce asked.

Xander took a shuddering breath.

"How?" Joyce asked again, a bit sharper.

Xander remained silent and steady for about half a minute.

"How?" Joyce snapped after that half minute. No response.

Joyce took a breath and calmed herself some. "Xander, how did you kill Kakistos?" she asked quietly. He looked up at her, surprised. No one had mentioned the vampire’s name.

"Kakistos?!" Giles startled in shock.

"Not now Rupert," Joyce waved the Watcher down from his excitement. "Xander?"

"It’s…complicated," he finally answered.

"Then uncomplicate it. Be blunt if you have to."

Xander snorted and shook his head at the ceiling, almost as though asking why the heavens were punishing him. "I transformed into a Hellspawn and tore him apart with my chains." Xander bluntly announced.

"Hell spawn?" Lara repeated.

"How did you become a hellspawn?" Buffy asked calmly.

Everyone else was in near states of panic at what had been revealed, but that panic turned to confused shock when they all noticed how calm the Summers’ women were at this news.

Xander shrugged and again gave them a blunt answer, "I killed my family, killed myself, got sent to hell, came back five months later."

"I’m going to make us all some ice cream. Buffy, please make sure that nobody tries to kill Xander, I don’t want that green gunk on my carpet. Lara, Rupert, would you please help me in the kitchen. Willow, get Faith and Cordelia dressed." Joyce stood up the second Xander was done talking. When everyone hesitated however, she shouted out, "NOW People!" Everyone sprung into action.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

Half an hour later, Faith was in some old clothes of Joyce’s, as she was at least a size larger than everything Buffy currently owned in her closet, while Cordelia borrowed some looser clothes from Buffy, and both Slayers, Familiar, and witch were feeling much better and fully revitalized, if not a bit tired from the late hour.

Everyone was just finishing up their bowls of ice cream, even Lara and Giles had enjoyed some, and the tensions that had been high from the earlier battle and announcements had been greatly eased.

Since Xander was going first, as he joked after the dishes were put away, he might as well finish his turn. Feeling, or at least looking a good deal more comfortable around his friends, he began to elaborate on his earlier blunt comments. In short, he told them the long story.

"I’m…human. But I’m also from Hell," Xander began. He particularly watched the Slayers for a reaction. While Giles was expected to give some bureaucratical Watcher, demon-biased response, he had seen Buffy on occasion be afflicted with the same behavior, and other than her being his friend, he also knew that she could quite possibly destroy him. Not to mention, after meeting Kendra, he decided that all Slayers had that kind of inbred hatred of demons and evil.

"I guess I better start again," Xander rubbed the back of his neck and walked until everyone could see him evenly but he could also see all of them without turning around in a circle. "I was born in 1980. I met Willow when we were both in Kindergarten, that’s true. What wasn’t true was my home life. Ever wonder why I spent so much time at your house when we first met Wills? Well…just about anywhere was better than home. Mom…Irene Morgan Harris, was usually drunk all the time, and those times she wasn’t, she was either passed out or letting her husband fuck her. Or one of her suppliers."

Xander paused and then snorted with a derisive look on his face before continuing, "Dad who was Irene’s husband and my biological father, was almost the worst that you could imagine. By the time I was two years old, I was getting regular beatings. Every holiday. It didn’t become every week, and then day until I turned 4, and my sister was born. In case you were wondering, I had two sisters. I don’t even remember their names." Xander stopped for some time, the last admittance having been the start of his tears.

When he had enough control of his voice to continue, with tears still running down his face, "I lost my virginity on my sister’s, my older sister’s 13th birthday. Oh, and I also got raped by every other man Tony and Irene Harris had invited to the party to help with my sister’s deflowering. Thankfully my younger sister only got beat, nothing was done to her."

"By the time I was ten, well, Willow you know how it was for me. I kept getting into fights at school…just to cover up the ones I was getting at home." Xander paused, gathering his thoughts. "My older sister got pregnant by one of Irene’s suppliers. Tony decided to do an at-home abortion. He ripped her stomach open and pulled out almost half her guts just to get at the growing fetus. Funny how that memory stands out so clearly. Him showing me, his entire arm covered in my sister’s blood, something so small I almost confused it for used chewing gum. Except that it looked like a baby. Then he slammed it on the ground at my feet and stepped on it, crushing it beneath his heel."

"They got her to the hospital. She lived." Xander stopped. He took a breath and almost seemed to steel himself for something still to come. Something he still had to say. He looked at Willow, looked her in the eye, tears pouring down his face. He wasn’t the only one with water running down his face either.

"Remember…" he cleared his throat, "…remember that year that I didn’t come to school? I went until the end of September, then I started to get real nervous as Halloween showed up?"

Trembling, Cordelia holding her tightly, Willow let out a choking sob and nodded.

"Halloween was big for them. Tony anyway. I don’t know what they were planning. I might have once, but I don’t really remember. I do remember that it was getting close to my younger sister’s puberty. They had her tied, naked, and set her down on some kind of altar. After that…I only remember red."

Xander paused again and cleared his throat, his tears slowing. "Hell can do some seriously twisted things to your mind. I don’t remember committing the crimes that got me sent to Hell, but I do remember what I was told…when I got there. First…I broke Irene’s neck. Then, after raping her one last time, I ripped my older sister apart, with the knife Tony was going to use on my younger sister. But that was only after I slit my younger sister’s throat, to save her from the torture we had already been through. Then I killed my father. Wasn’t easy, and he got me bad enough that if I didn’t get medical treatment within a few hours I would have died anyway. I didn’t let it get that far."

"After slaughtering my entire family…I plunged the knife into my own heart and broke my neck by having a sledge hammer fall down on my skull." Xander paused, more to let them all absorb the horror of his crimes than for himself.

"But I don’t remember that. It’s what I found out after I got back from Hell, five months after that Halloween." Xander straightened himself and wiped his eyes dry. "In Hell…I agreed to become the 2nd in command of Hell’s Army in the final days. I made a deal with the devil, just to return to earth. Not because of anybody, although it was great seeing you again Willow, but because I wanted to punish humanity for what it let happen to me and my sisters. I came back pretty near the High School, but I was all covered in scars, and I don’t care what any of you say…you don’t know pain until you’re suddenly back on Earth after being in Hell, and all the soothing does is tell you how much pain you’re really in, making it that much worse."

"I have been dubbed Savage, by one of the Dukes of Hell themselves. He didn’t tell me his name, although he asked me to call him something like the Violator or something. I wasn’t really paying attention as I had green balefire pouring out of my eyes as Necroflesh erupted from beneath the scarred remains of my own. That first night, I became what you all saw earlier. For a while I was focused on two things. What happened to me, cause I didn’t remember a thing, and punishing those like Tony. I started with all of Irene’s old suppliers and everyone that had come to my sister’s 13th birthday."

"I…I remember reading about that," Willow finally gained the courage to speak.

Xander nodded.

"I was going on instinct for a long while. Then a demon introduced himself to me and taught me how to control myself. He was actually one of the good guys, a demon sent from some divine force to correct some evil and settle the score between good and the bad guys."

Buffy frowned and raised her hand. Xander looked at her with a confused look on his face. "Don’t suppose his name happened to be Whistler, would it?"

Xander blinked in surprise. "Ugly Hawaiian shirt, tack 70’s clothes, and a really funky hat?"

Buffy smiled and nodded. "He was the one that set Angel on the path of redemption. He was also the one to show me how to stop Acathla."

"Hunh," Xander grunted. "Guy must have nothing better to do." He shrugged, letting the experience pass for the moment.

"Anyway, he taught me how to use my powers, or more like helped me figure out how to teach myself. After that, I spent most of my time and energy on healing myself. By now, almost six years later, I don’t have a scar on me. And it doesn’t even hurt anymore when I transform into Savage." Xander finished.

"That…explains so much," Willow realized. "After that summer, where you said you stayed with your Uncle Rory, you were so much nicer to everyone. That was when we met Jesse and…and you never let me sleep over anymore after that. It was always to my house. Or Jesse’s, or…anywhere but your home."

"I don’t have a home Willow," Xander explained with sympathy in his voice. "I’ve been living in the sewers for the past six years. I steal my clothes or buy them from money that I’ve earned doing odd jobs around town. I sneak into empty apartments or motel rooms occasionally to shower or sleep. And before you even offer it, hell no. I am not moving in with any of you. I’ve lived six years like this, I can spend the rest of eternity like this."

"What?" Cordelia startled.

Xander shrugged. "I’m immortal. Part of the coming back from hell package. My body is still decomposing somewhere in an unmarked grave. This is my immortal soul standing before you, just in a semi-living body. I’m not sure if the necro energy inside of me promotes life or the opposite."

"Whoa," Faith had to comment.

"Indeed," Giles added to that.

Lara, however, was intently studying Xander. Finally she asked, "I don’t suppose you’ve ever been to New York City Xander?"

Xander smirked at her and shook his head. "I’ve never left Sunnydale. But that’s my commander, the General of Hell’s Army. Spawn." He shrugged again, "I’ve heard about him through the grapevine. The demon grape vine. I heard he was once some assassin named Simmons. Don’t know much else. Does that answer your question?"

Lara nodded, satisfied. She had worked with Spawn once. Despite the story, Xander had proved capable, loyal to his friends, and on the side of protecting humanity. If not the Angels.

"I…I…I…" Cordelia sounded like she was set on a broken record.

"We can’t handle this right now Xander," Willow said for her. "So for right now we aren’t going to react. Because I think, if the looks I’ve been getting from Faith are indication, we have our own story to tell."

"You’re a natural witch and Cordelia’s your familiar," Xander answered.

"Uh…yeah," Willow stuttered.

"Can we…take care of this in the morning?" Cordelia asked.

"I think it would be better to take care of it now Cordelia," Joyce replied. Then she sighed and re-sat herself in her seat. "Now what breed are you?"

"Huh?" both witch and familiar shouted at the question.

"What breed?" Joyce repeated, and then she looked at her daughter, "Buffy?"

The blonde Slayer shrugged. "Seemed to be the Bastet beastial, but I couldn’t be sure since I never got that close to get a better look."

"How the hell do you know…?" Willow began to ask.

"Willow!" Cordelia snapped suddenly. At the confused look she hissed, "Language!"

Willow blushed.

"How do you know about familiars Mrs. Summers?" Cordelia asked without the cursing.

Joyce smiled kindly, if not a bit patronizingly. "I know a great many things, and I’m striving to teach them to my daughters as well. But it was actually Buffy who told and explained to me about familiars."

Before it was even asked of her, Buffy said aloud, "It was in one of Giles’ books, as well as a whole catalogue on the common breeds of familiars. But Mom still knows more than I do, but that’s only because she has access to the Archives."

"Buffy!" Joyce snapped.

"I’m sorry Mom, but since we’re all being super honest tonight, I am not about to hide what we have to as well. I’m not going to keep lying to my friends about my family, or my heritage." Buffy argued back.

Joyce seemed to seethe for a moment, and then finally managed to calm herself down. She glared at Buffy and ordered, "Go to bed young lady. I’ll see to your friends. And leave it on. Good night." That was a dismissal if Buffy had ever heard one. She stood up and walked up the stairs without so much as a glance at any of her friends.

"That will be enough for tonight. Lara, it was nice to meet you. Now take the demon and Watcher and get out of my house." Joyce stood up and began to set about cleaning everything up. Cordelia and Willow, since they hadn’t been dismissed, stayed where they were while everyone else slowly got to their feet and left the Summers’ home.

<<<<<<<<<< * * * >>>>>>>>>>

It wasn’t until the next afternoon, after school, that any of them got to meet again, aside from passing each other in the hall or seeing them in class, none of the gang felt like spending any more time with the others than they had to, with the exception of Cordelia and Willow, who were as always inseparable.

There was an incident at Lunch involving Larry, Percy, and three other jocks, a stone pillar in the lunchroom, and Buffy Summers’ fists. Xander sat at the Swimmers Team table.

Faith slept all day in her motel room, until about an hour past noon where she got something to eat and then headed over to the Summers’ home where last night’s meeting would continue. Lara was busy at the local museum and Public Records building, while Giles was stuck in the Library at school until the time for the meeting.

At 4 o’clock, everyone, even Lara, was present, back in the living room of Joyce Summers, and the silence and tension that had forced them to leave before concluding everything last night seemed to have hung around long after it was unwanted.

In short, everyone was mad at everyone for keeping secrets; Giles, Joyce, Cordelia, and Faith didn’t trust Xander; Giles, Cordelia, and Joyce didn’t trust Faith; and Willow was trying her hardest not to not trust her two closest best friends, Buffy and Xander, but she wasn’t doing so well in the silence.

Buffy, scratching her shoulders and back as she had been all day, was in a staring contest with her mother, but finally a winner was decided as Joyce sat down, her head bowed almost as though in defeat. Buffy didn’t exactly look happy about her victory, and her mother’s "graceful defeat" meant that she would have to tell everyone what she, and not her mother, wanted to tell everyone else. Buffy, while not happy with it, didn’t have a problem with it either since it was what she wanted to do.

The blonde cleared her throat, then paused as she felt Dawn coming up to the house. She waited until the door opened before saying, "It’s my turn. I’m not…"

"MOM! BUFFY! I’m…home…?" Dawn trailed off as she saw everyone in the living room, looking grim.

"Come here sweety," Joyce greeted her daughter, waving Dawn towards her.

Dawn dropped her school stuff and slowly walked towards her life-giver until she could curl up in the woman’s lap, looking around the room, curious as those her age always were.

Cordelia started to sniff the air and from the looks of it didn’t like whatever she was smelling, but didn’t say anything.

"I’m not from Earth," Buffy finished her earlier statement before anything else could happen.

Dawn’s eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets at Buffy’s declaration, and though she tried her hardest to make it seem like sibling rivalry, most in the room could tell that this bothered her a great deal more than just her sister telling her friends a joke at her expense.

"Could you…" Giles started to ask, but Buffy interrupted him.

"I’m human. So is my mother. My father is an alien. He’s from a dimension that exists in a higher plane of existence known mostly as the Void. Scientists of this day and age consider it the other side of a black hole. About 60 to 80 % of the Void is occupied with people or creatures that originated on Earth or at the very least from this galaxy. Most of them are the extinct ‘mythical’ creatures you hear about in fairy tales and legends. Unicorns, Dragons, Trolls and the like. And demons."

"My husband was…is one of a new species emerging in the Void, a cross between an alien race from this galaxy, and a demon from Earth," Joyce added her part. "Buffy was born on Earth and by some physical law, not genetics, she is fully human. As am I, although I was also born on Earth, I was raised and grew up in the Void."

Pure silence surrounded the room.

"Xander’s a hellspawn, Willow is a witch with a destiny and Cordelia, the girl that used to pick on her and tease her, is her familiar, her companion and protector…and you find all of this," Buffy gestured with her hands to indicate her own story, "to be unbelievable?!"

"We…haven’t said anything Buffy," Giles tried to be the voice of reason while his own was stunned silent.

"You don’t have to," Joyce replied, "We can read your thoughts and emotions quite clearly. Even Dawn here can."

"Oh, please don’t involve me in this, they’ll hate me," Dawn whimpered and cuddled a bit deeper into Joyce’s lap.

"Ah come on Dawn patrol," Xander said gently, "There is nothing in…this world, the…Void, or the next two worlds that could possibly make me think any less of you, let alone hate you."

Dawn sniffled in reply.

"Dawn was born in the Void," Buffy told them. "She…because I was born on Earth, by the physics that govern this dimension, I am human. The physics in the Void…aren’t quite as clear cut."

"I’m a freak!" Dawn shouted into her mother’s breast.

"NO YOU ARE NOT!" Buffy and Joyce denied hotly.

"Dawn is…" Buffy tried to say something, but couldn’t find the words.

"She’s like your father," Willow guessed. "Part demon…part…alien?"

"And human!" Buffy insisted. "Her…body can shift. Sort of like Cordelia’s can, but for a different reason other than just magic. The demon part only means that Dawn…well we’ve all got a dark side Cordy, but it means that Dawn can access magic and can move between dimensions naturally, although distance is a matter of age, experience, and environment."

"Well," Willow shifted her attention from Buffy to Dawn and Joyce, "what about your alien part Dawn?"

Dawn sniffled again, but sensing only curiosity and a desire to protect the young creature’s emotions, she sat up and turned around in her mother’s lap. "It’s what I shapeshift with. I can turn into almost anything I want to…so long as it’s based on one of my original forms, but mostly it’s just to keep me looking human instead of like I do in the Void."

"And your human part?" Xander asked. "Since the alien part is to keep you looking human that is."

"It’s her soul Xander," Buffy told him. "Her human part…is her soul."

That shocked everybody. But no one fainted or screamed or anything. They just sat there, and tried to absorb what they had learned. Finally Faith couldn’t stand the silence any more and asked Buffy, "Well, it’s great your sister is special, but what I really want to know is how the hell you did those moves you were doing last night B? I have never seen anybody or anything move that fast, and you actually put the hurt on ole’ Khaki until he finally landed one on you."

Faith was stopped from continuing as both Dawn and Joyce sat up with looks of horror on their face, staring at Buffy. "What?" Faith asked, afraid she’d done something worse than Xander’s confessional last night.

"You… you… you…" Joyce couldn’t say what she was thinking.

Dawn, however, could. "I didn’t see you doing that last night Buffy! And I only found out this morning you’re still wearing the training harness! And you used Hyper techniques throughout the entire fight?!"

"I didn’t use Hyper techniques," Buffy told them snappishly. Then she looked suddenly sheepish and worried at the same time as she whispered, "I used Quantura techniques."

Dawn fell to the floor, stunned, as Joyce jumped to her feet and demanded with all motherly indignation, "You get that thing off of you this instant young lady! Why didn’t you tell me…"

"It’s not that bad," Buffy excused, scratching her shoulder. "It only chafes a little, but not that bad."

Joyce looked like she was having a heart attack or something worse, her skin pale and breaking out in sweat, her eyes wide and her whole body began trembling as she stepped back in almost fear from her eldest. "You… you… you…" Joyce stopped and took several deep breaths, then looked again at Buffy. "You, under a full harness, performed Quantura techniques in battle, against a superior opponent…and it only chafes!"

Buffy, still looking sheepish, shrugged.

"She’s the Slayer," Dawn said, standing up.

"What?" Joyce said to her daughter.

"She’s the Slayer. That’s why she’s advancing so quickly. Her strength and recuperative powers are enhanced, remember?" Dawn pointed out.

"Now see here, Buffy I thought you were…" Giles tried to protest Dawn’s knowledge of Buffy being the Slayer.

"Not now Giles!" Buffy snarled at her Watcher. He quickly shut up and sat back down.

"She only heals five times faster than a human Dawn, and even with the damage being less because of her greater strength…she should not be going around like it only chafes! Buffy, I don’t care, I want you to take it off now!"

Buffy rolled her eyes and got to her own feet. "I thought I was still being punished."

"Young lady…" Joyce let the threat go as Buffy pulled her blouse off over her head.

To reveal an undershirt, but with a strange black device with lights blinking occasionally at certain places on it. It seemed to fit into every crevice of her skin and joints, consisting of only thin black straps of an alien material, connected together via metal components that were just as thing as the straps. Buffy pulled off her pants to reveal her black thong, and the rest of the harness. Pressing, in sequence, a series of the metal pieces, the harness was soon able to be taken off of her body, and once she had, she pulled her pants back up, but left her blouse off, comfortable in the undershirt and her bra underneath.

"Satisfied?" she asked, handing the strap device to Dawn, who quickly took it upstairs.

Joyce didn’t say anything, she just sat down again.

"Quantura techniques?" Faith asked.

Before Buffy could answer, Joyce did. "Advanced fighting forms that are practiced and used in the Void. Originally, it was a technique that only a single race of aliens knew and could use. Then humans entered the Void, and no I don’t know how, but humans and the hybrids from the joining of humans and other races in the Void soon and quickly learned Quantura-han Li No sake. That’s the formal name by the way."

"Cool. Uh…besides what we saw last night, what’s it do?" Faith asked.

Buffy shrugged. "First step, learning how to manipulate your body to do whatever you need it to do. Basically, what I did last night, was push every single system in my body to 200% of what it could work at, and then pushed my mind to a level of super consciousness where I could interpret everything that my overactive brain was forcing my body to go through. I’ve been trained in it since I was born. Those that start any later can never master it."

"So…have you mastered it?" Faith asked.

Buffy and Joyce both snorted and rolled their eyes identically. Dawn returned then and sat beside her mother rather than on her. "There has only ever been one true master of Quantura-han Li No sake," Buffy explained.

"He was one of the aliens that first had the technique. He was the most powerful warrior in quite possibly all of existence. Thankfully, he was on the side of life," Joyce added.

At the confused looks they received, Joyce further explained, "He did not use his awesome power to destroy or conquer the Void or other galaxies and people. He stopped the wars that are constantly fought in the Void, and for his lifetime, there was true peace there. Then he died, naturally, and the wars started again, and have not stopped. Since then, both sides, of sides that constantly change from moment to moment, have sought to train a True Master of the Quantura techniques."

"Whoa," Faith said in awe.

"That’s not even the half of it," Dawn sarcastically snorted.

Again, the confused looks, but Buffy didn’t even register them as she mimicked Dawn’s snort and answered their unasked questions. "Yeah. Our father is the General for the so-called "right side" in the Void. Although I’ve gotta agree the leadership is a whole lot better on our side rather than the others, in wars, both sides are the same, and we’re staying out of that."

"I can’t say I blame you," Xander commented from his corner seat. Buffy shrugged and moved to sit down next to her friend. She was the only one, other than Willow, it seemed that still trusted him. Or at least still called him friend.

"Don’t worry Xan," Buffy said, rubbing his leg as any true friend would, "we’ll try and find a way to get you out of this contract with Satan thing."

"Buff, I killed my entire family, and then committed suicide. It was either this, or stay in Hell."

"Yeah, but now you fight the forces of darkness and you still want your destiny to be to lead them in the Final Battle?" she asked incredulously.

Xander winced. "Well…no, but I wouldn’t—"

"So it’s settled. Even if I have to master Quantura, make peace in the Void, and lead its armies straight to Hell to do it, I’ll get you out of this deal you’re stuck in," Buffy promised.

Xander blinked, deeply touched. He didn’t know of anything he could possibly say to that.

But Giles did.

"Buffy…I don’t think you quite know what you’re saying," he began, taking his glasses off and wiping them clean. He put them back on to see a scowling Buffy glaring at him.

"I know exactly what I’m saying Giles," she warned him.

"Then I don’t think you comprehend the scope of what you have just promised a Lost soul," Giles ignored her warning.

Xander flinched at the term, but not even he expected the reaction Giles’ words got.

Faster than thought, faster than the time for the neurons to even fire what light had been reflected onto the retina, Buffy slapped Giles so hard that his jaw was dislocated for half of a second. When he recovered from the pain enough to look back, he saw his Slayer’s eyes less than an inch from his own.

"You’re looking at a lost soul found Giles. In the Void…anything is possible. If it takes my entire lifetime to do it, I will save Xander’s soul from that damnation. Even if I have to die and go to heaven to drag God down by the ear to do it herself. And for your information, the English language is so screwed over that her is the only gender that can possibly conceive of the Creator, as guess what, she’s the CREATOR!!"

Buffy stepped back, but instead of sitting back down, she just stalked out of the room. Giles’ trials weren’t over yet though.

Joyce and Dawn were glaring at him as hatefully as Buffy had, and Lara was also looking a might miffed with him. Dawn just got up and followed her sister. Lara left the room another way, sensing what was about to happen, and not wanting to get in the crossfire of an execution.

Willow and Cordelia were the worst however.

"It’s my destiny to save lost souls Giles," was all Willow said. But the unsaid was also quite clearly heard as "And I will save Xander!"

Cordelia growled at him, her eyes changing color. Willow went and sat beside Xander, who smiled at her gratefully. She smiled back and reaffirmed her resolve to Buffy’s promise, and silently made one of her own. If they couldn’t save Xander’s soul from this deal with the Devil, then they’d just have to take Xander’s soul out of the deal.

"Something you should learn, that I have about this group Rupert," Joyce told him, her tone ice cold. "Never underestimate them."

"Any chances that I could get some of this alien training you guys are so keen on?" Faith broke the tension.

"Of course Faith, but don’t expect to advance too quickly," Joyce answered her.

"Haven’t you got any chips?" was heard, shouted from the kitchen. They all realized it was Lara. The tension finally broken, and mistrust completely pushed aside, for now, they all laughed a bit, and then Joyce went into the kitchen to help Lara out.

"So…Faith…what’s with the bone-armor bracelet?" Cordelia asked after several minutes of silence. Faith shrugged and looked at the silver, red-jeweled thing on her wrist.

"I…I can’t really say. It belonged to my Mom. Kakistos was partially responsible for her death…but he wasn’t they one to kill her. I’m not ready to face the one that did. Not yet. It’s also the reason I’m here. Beats me as to why or how though. All I know is that it does what it does, and its called…" she stopped talking for a moment or two, then, "…it…it’s…called…it, uh…uh, gee, ya know what? I don’t remember what it’s called."

"The Witchblade, worn by the strongest willed woman of each generation," Buffy answered as she and Dawn walked back in, each holding and eating a bag of chips.

Faith was stunned, and she vaguely sensed, so was the Witchblade.

"There are legends about it in the Void," Buffy answered to Faith’s stunned look between bites. "It’s a powerful weapon, but sometimes, it’s said, not even its wielder can control it. Therefore it’s considered too dangerous for possession, by all sides in every war. If a Wielder actually does join one side in a war, usually that side wins for a while, as nobody even wants to fight the Wielder, let alone survives an encounter against it."

"Damn," Faith muttered. "Well…"

"Don’t," Buffy warned, somehow knowing what Faith was about to say. "I’m not in the war, and I don’t want you or any of my friend involved with my father if I can help it. However…ultimately, it is your choice."

Faith nodded, thankful for the knowledge Buffy had imparted to her.

"You are welcome to stay of course Faith," Joyce told the Slayer, as she and Lara returned, the Tomb Raider happily munching on her own bag of chips.

"Uh, no, I-I-I couldn’t impose," Faith tried to refuse.

"Nonsense. If you truly want to be trained as Buffy has been, then you need to be in this house anyway. And I could care less about the legendary Witchblade or not. You’ve admitted that your mother is dead and that your Watcher was killed by that vampire you slayed last night. The least I can offer you is a place to sleep and train," Joyce kindly told the brunette.

Faith blinked in surprise as she realized that she had just admitted she was the equivalent of a runaway orphan.

"I…thought you said your mother was in New York?" Willow asked.

Faith’s eyes closed in pain, but she opened them without tears and answered, "She is."

"Her body is anyway," Buffy finished for her sister Slayer.

Faith looked up, surprised. "Mind-reading, remember? Part of the Quantura techniques," Buffy answered the look. Faith nodded, having greater and greater respect for these mysterious alien fighting techniques the more she heard about them.

"Actually, that’s a sub-class of the same school," Joyce corrected. Then she turned her attention back to Faith. "It’s no pressure dear, just an open offer. Part of my personal philosophy is that I never force anyone to do something against their will. Except of course to accept help they’re too stupid to realize they need."

They all had soft chuckles at that. Then the contemplative silence returned, mostly centered around Faith, but also Giles.

"Uh, look, thanks, really, but…I’m all right for now," Faith answered.

Joyce and Buffy nodded. "That’s entirely your prerogative dear," Joyce replied, "But all the same, the offer remains open for as long as you’d like."

"Uh, thanks," Faith uncertainly replied.

Buffy sniffed the air slightly, just enough to be obvious that she was doing it. Then she looked at Xander and asked, "Don’t you have swim team practice this afternoon? I’m assuming that’s why you’re still wearing your Speedos?"

Xander looked at her in shock, then recalled and looked at Cordelia, who smirked and nodded in agreement that she too had smelt them on him. Then he slapped himself upside the head as he remembered that Buffy was right and he did have team practice. "Shit! Sorry Mrs. S, but I gotta jet!" Xander quickly ran out.

Joyce chuckled softly to herself and sighed. "Lady Croft, I believe that you mentioned you’d like to know where the lost treasure vaults are in Sunnydale?"

Lara immediately perked up and forgot all about being called "Lady" and placed all her attention on the warrior from another dimension as Joyce began to describe in detail where she could find all that she was looking for.

Willow and Cordelia also quickly said their goodbyes, Giles beating a hasty, silent retreat after them, and Faith made some cocky story about having some things to do, and after she left, both Buffy and Dawn went upstairs to do their homework.

All in all, just another normal day on the Mouth of Hell.

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