Intervention by Crys Loch

"What do you think?" Willow asked suddenly. She rolled onto her side and tucked some strands of hair away from Buffy's face. Buffy wondered at the question, confused. She continued to watch the TV. Her hand readjusted itself with Willow's movements and started to caress the small of Willow's back. "About the movie? Will, we've seen Blade Runner a million times. I don't have to think about it anymore." Willow hadn't been paying attention to the movie for a while. Her mind drifted to thoughts and plans for a new start. It was daylight and they were still in the cheap motel room they had quickly found as they pulled into Bellingham, Washington. She spent some days arranging the money for a large purchase. Tonight, they were meeting with a realtor about buying a more permanent place to live. She'd been wondering, though, if this is where Buffy and Xander wanted to stop, or if they were resigned, apathetic, disaffected; the kind of dormant emotions that one of these days could erupt and maybe even tear them apart. They had a history with circumstances beyond their control. Could they even recognize that where they lived now was something they could control, for the first time, ever? Were they settling or settling down? Willow watched as Buffy absently watched the movie. Glancing over Buffy, she saw Xander doing only the same, his arm stretched over Buffy's back, his fingers playing with her hair. These were their days now. A cheap VCR hooked to the small motel TV. The three of them laying on their stomachs at the foot of the bed, watching whatever movie sounded better than nothing. Tangled: their limbs always tangled into the others', their bodies always in contact, hands stroking, the touch moving; sexual, friendly, sub-textual. The intangible mysteries of their lives before, condensed now, into the texture of reality: life, death- the feel of blood across their lips; love- skin sliding across their own. Simpler now; needs easily sated, the void of a missing soul readily and constantly filled, conscience merely a play of memories, a trick of the mind. In the muted light behind the safety of a curtain, they spent the days adjusting to a life of sensation and texture. No one had asked any of the big questions in a long time. Willow tried again. Snuggling closer to Buffy, Willow's hand joined Xander's in playing with Buffy's hair. "I mean, what do you think of this place?" Buffy shrugged, her attention held by the slow violent hunt at the end of the movie. "It's a motel. I think the housekeeping lady doesn't like us. When I pass her in the evening, she always crosses herself over her chest. It sends a chill down my spine." Willow smiled and glanced at the TV to see what was keeping Buffy's attention. She looked across Buffy's back and found Xander watching her, quietly listening. "Well, yes, I think we've overstayed our welcome here. She whispers the Lord's Prayer to herself every time she passes our door. But what I meant was what do you think of the town?" Buffy rolled onto her back so she could focus. She smiled as she felt Xander roll onto his side in response and resettle his hand between her breasts. Willow's hand moved to her stomach and her own rested on her thighs. Buffy stared at the ceiling a moment, wondering why she was still getting all the questions. "I don't know. It seems like a nice enough place. Definitely more than one Starbucks. Of course, this close to Seattle, there's espresso at every corner. We've only been here, what, a week?" "Over two weeks now," Willow corrected. "Well then, there you are." Buffy concluded. "Time flying means having fun, right?" Willow was distracted for a moment, tracing patterns over Buffy's skin. They had stopped wearing clothes in the day time. She couldn't remember when in the past two weeks this had started, only that Xander had started it. Shaking the thought from her head, Willow kept probing. "Well, this isn't the most romantic city in the world. Do you realize we could live anywhere we wanted to? Anywhere in the world, we could settle there. Or never settle at all and explore. I just want us to be sure before we buy a house." Buffy closed her eyes and pictured the world, all the places and people in the world. She opened her eyes and shook the images from her head. "Willow, I've had to carry the world on my shoulders for years now. I've finally shrugged it off. I'm more tired than restless. You know, someday, yeah. But hey, this is a place, right? In the world?" Buffy looked up at Xander. She brought her hand up and started stroking his hair. "You've been quiet since we've been here. What do you think?" Xander looked down into Buffy's eyes then up and across to Willow's. His gaze dropped to their bodies, stretched out against each other and before him; breasts, stomachs, thighs touching, the bend of their knees. His days were very different than the nights. Day time was filled with these two women; with their scent, their voices, the curves and form of their bodies, the softness of their skin. The memories of everything they have been through wrapped around them and kept them near each other. The experiences they shared now burned like a hearth fire; sometimes cracking, popping, sparking into sudden flame, but always the embers of desire providing a warmth one associates with living, with being alive. Walls collapsed at his turning and pieces of his life were ripped asunder and he knew there were parts of himself, subtle parts he never bothered to name, that were now just missing. He guessed it was the same with them, because there was an openness now between them without the walls and he felt something within that gap that he had never felt before: permission. He spent the days experiencing them, exploring all that was once inaccessible. Bringing his thoughts back to the present, he made a mental note to not limit the discoveries to their bodies, but to start searching their minds as well. Xander considered his own dilemma, question. His nights, so different from the days, held wondrous experiences as well. He heard in the night a howl, the sound carrying past his ears to vibrate down his spine. Something deep, eternal and unknown called to him. He felt the connection each time his fangs slipped past his victim's skin and reached for the darkest part of them, a part that was in everyone. It pulled at him easily past the rubble of his life before, reaching through these non-existent walls to beg him join, release, destroy. He ached each night to shake off this pretense of human existence and stretch out beyond it, above humanity and reign his rage upon it. Instead, they hunted discreetly on the college campus while they did their laundry. And now, they were going to buy a house. Xander watched Willow's fingers start to run along the inside of Buffy's thighs and smiled to himself. The answer was an easy one. He loved them. The grip of Buffy's hand stroking his cock pulled him suddenly from his thoughts and startled, he looked into her eyes before sensation closed his own. Buffy smirked as Xander's eye fluttered shut and his jaw slacked open, his hips rocking in time with her hand. She stilled her movement but kept her hand loosely around him, her thumb slowly stroking the underside of his cock. His eye opened and she held his gaze, making sure she had all his attention. "When I asked you what you thought, I didn't think it would lead to thinking." Xander smiled and tried to restart her hand with insistent thrusts. He glanced over to find Willow intently watching them. His cock twitched as she licked her lips. He noticed Willow's hand move up Buffy's thigh to her center. His own hand crossed to one of Buffy's breasts, roughly kneading it, pinching the nipple between his fingers. The sun was setting soon. Each day as they felt it fall, their hunger grew. Buffy's mouth opened and partly smiled in response. She opened her thighs to Willow's touch and felt sure fingers slip through her folds. Still, her hand remained motionless. "Not until you answer the question." Xander paused and looked each in the eye in turn. "As long as I'm with you both, I'm where I belong." Buffy held his gaze and stayed still, considering his answer. She could feel their connection, yet had no clue as to the thoughts that had preoccupied his mind. She wanted to know. He had remained so quiet these last weeks here, so reserved since those first two nights. Buffy felt Willow's fingers penetrate her and her concentration was broken. She arched her hips and looked over at her smirking friend. "You're making this hard, Willow." "No," Willow countered as she continued to thrust her fingers and pressed her thumb to Buffy's clit, "he's hard, I'm helping." She cut off anything Buffy might say in response by leaning over and kissing her. Buffy's hand started stroking Xander's cock again as her other hand tangled in Willow's hair, pulling her closer. She pulled Xander almost gently over her, spreading her legs wide to accept him and guided him to her center. Buffy felt Willow slip out to allow him in, the fingers repositioning themselves over her clit and stoking. Xander thrust into her as Willow's tongue slipped into her mouth and any questions were pushed aside by the overwhelming sensations. Xander braced himself above them on one arm. He caressed Willow's ass before sliding two fingers into her center, matching his rhythm with Buffy, smiling when he felt her thrust back in response. He remembered dreams, he remembered fantasies; each time this happened he couldn't remember anything comparing to this. He watched Willow kissing Buffy and Buffy responding. He smiled. Buffy opened her eyes as Willow moved her hungry mouth to her breasts. She almost laughed at the expression on Xander's face. "You look like you have us right where you want us." Xander openly allowed the hunger to show in his gaze. "I do. And whatever town, whatever condition, it doesn't matter." Buffy ran her hand through his hair and raked her nails down his back. She closed her eyes again and let herself get lost in the feel of her friends over, in and around her body. She lay back and relaxed; smiling as their hunger ravaged her, opening and accepting their desire, touch, connection. She remembered the times, over years, she had tried to push them away; from the danger that was her life and from the darkness she hid in her psyche. But the world had tilted and everything shifted, and now, instead of finding the balance, she let passion propel her. She felt her friends' passion devour her, and it was thrilling and freeing and right. * * * * * * * * * Deep in the center of the Sunnydale crater, a small group of people stood in a circle. Around them, trees lay under boulders and shards of earth stuck skyward at odd angles. Bits of broken tombstones littered the uneven ground and the debris of collapsed buildings surrounded the small barren clearing. They stood, patiently waiting for the sun to fully set; men, women, all wearing black clothing as if gathering for a funeral. Everything here was already buried and gone, though. Some held candles, others gently swung small hanging cauldrons of burning herbs. A couple of men began to circle the others, tossing salt and water around them and dropping gold coins into the center, then a stake, a lit torch, a human heart, and finally, the picture of a beautiful young woman. The men returned to their places in the circle as the sun's light left the crater, a full moon started its rise and night entered. An old woman sat down on a fallen tombstone. A clear globe rested in front of her and darkened inside with her chanted words. The others stood silent and still and waited. The evening had passed into true night when the old woman collapsed and the globe shattered. The others jumped, startled, then started as one voice to chant. All eyes focused on the ground at the center of their circle. They chanted and waited. Finally, there was movement; pebbles rolled aside as first fingers, then a hand, burst through the dry earth. Still, they chanted and watched. A second hand pushed up and through, and they clawed at the dirt around them, frantically digging and tossing the hard, dry earth aside. Only when the head of the young woman in the picture appeared, followed by her torso as she pulled herself up and out, did the chanting stop. No one moved to help her past the remains of her grave. No one knelt by her side as she lay stunned on the ground. One did break from the circle to go to the side of the fallen old woman, offering her water and helping her up. A man stepped forward then and addressed the young woman prone on the ground. "Janna, of the Kalderash Tribe, you are summoned." Jenny Calendar rose onto her elbows and twisted to look up at the man. Tears ran freely and streaked the dirt on her face. * * * * * * * * * Rupert Giles sat alone at the bar of the quiet pub. Over this past week, the American interpretation of an English staple had quickly become his reclusive hide-away. The owner didn't quite get it right and he was all the more grateful for it. The pub remained quiet, perhaps dangerously low of customers, and provided him the perfect place to drink and think in peace. The American tint, or taint as Spencer would call it, insured that the pretentious, young, old Council survivor would never wander inside. The nature of the place gave him confidence that the not too young slayers would not stumble across him here as well. He took some pains to keep his patronage of the pub unknown to any others. He could, or even should, drink alone in his apartment; and his apartment was nice enough, but any and all could reach him there. Only Faith had bothered and managed to follow him here. And thankfully, her only reaction had been to drink quietly along side. Giles smiled to himself when he remembered that night and signaled the bartender for a refill. The Guinness was bottled in deference to the local microbrew on tap, but the scotch was good quality and what he preferred anyway. Tonight, he would pace himself; merely sip. He had a lot to think about and think through and felt confident that the very bulk of it ensured he would still stumble and weave himself back to his apartment after last call. He yet again, as has become habit, put off thinking about the center and cause of his current state of mind: the disappearance of Buffy, Willow and Xander. Instead, he resolutely focused on the everything else that brought the glass to his lips each night. They had set east to settle in Cleveland. He swore he had been half joking at the suggestion, but still, there was a Hellmouth here, so it made sense for the present, for the reconstruction of a Watchers Council. It had turned out to be simply a matter of a carefully named website and mailing list; something of Dawn's doing. Only five Watchers were known to have survived and make the pilgrimage to another mouth of hell. He thought perhaps there were others who were too frightened or had too much sense. His old friend Robson was of the second variety. Robson had agreed to keep in touch and continue in an informal capacity in Europe, but he expressed reluctance at the idea of a formal reformation of the Watchers Council and Giles couldn't help but agree with his concern. The castaways of the old regime that have joined them are young and were too insignificant to have been assigned a potential or been called to the Watchers' headquarters when it was destroyed. Spencer had proclaimed that he was a rising golden child and had been out on assignment when the Council perished. Indeed, the man had ambition, confidence, charm, and no small amount of inside information. To be fair, Giles also detected a strong intellect, a large cache of knowledge and a well honed ability to research. What set off Giles' own well honed warning bells was Spencer's constant reference to 'an army of slayers'. It was a phrase that had almost caused Faith to snap his neck more than once. Still, he was more asset than threat. Giles sipped his drink and considered Faith. She had become the leader again, though reluctantly. She often sought counsel from Robin and himself before major decisions, though the decisions remained clearly hers. Giles smiled at what the last couple of weeks, and the necessities of surviving the year of the last apocalypse, had brought to light. Perhaps this is how it should have been all along: watchers as valued tools of the Slayer. Faith knew a little of his relationship over the years with Buffy, and what she didn't know, he believed she idealized. Not such a bad thing he reasoned. He had always valued ideals in a leader. He watched and supported Faith as she tried to transform herself from her past towards her own personal ideal; and negotiate a new relationship between the traditions of the Council and the novelty of thousands of slayers. He trusted her as well. Giles toasted the air slightly and tossed the remaining scotch down his throat when he realized and accepted the irony that it was Faith who he trusted most at the moment and for this task and period of readjustment. Shivering through the welcome burn of the liquor, he signaled the bartender for another. As it turned out, the first priority wasn't the Council at all, but the slayers. Just as they settled in, they started to reach out and find their newly awakened sisters. With the help of the Coven in Devon and the fact that the Council's bank accounts didn't collapse with their building, this was happening at an ever increasing and organized level and pace. Not all, indeed, very few new slayers were joining them in Cleveland. This was the first major point of contention between watcher and slayer. The slayers insisted that their sisters be warned and informed first, invited second. Spencer, of course, was adamant that they be recruited. Faith nearly settled the matter with violence. He supposed it was obvious and inevitable, these reactions. He was certain there would be more power struggles along these lines in the future. On the other side of this same coin, some of the Sunnydale Slayers as they were now called were choosing to leave. Rona was the first to go. She left a pager number with instructions to find her if the world was ending again and later joined the mailing list, providing an email address where she could be reached. With heartfelt hugs of goodbye from the slayers and mutterings of 'traitor' from Spencer, Rona returned to her own life. Only a couple of the others followed. Most, Giles imagined, knowing what they know now and having seen and experienced what lies in this world, are unable to go it alone, and so they have stayed. Giles remained on the sidelines, though at Faith's side, through all of this. He felt here by default and envied Robson his semi involvement from home. He was really here for Dawn, though 'here' could have been anywhere Dawn chose to be. Giles was cornered now by his own thoughts into considering the notes left and subsequent disappearance of Buffy, Willow and Xander. He allowed the pace of his drinking to increase. Something, and he had become very good at telling this, something wasn't right. Kennedy had accepted her note with some heartbreak, but no real surprise. She didn't know Willow, or any of them, well enough to have any idea how out of character this was. In her mind, Willow had run off with Buffy. While Giles thought that maybe Willow would indeed do that, he knew that when Buffy ran, she ran alone. Andrew, the insufferable, romantic sap, was actually happy to have received a note at all. Giles wasn't sure how Faith had taken all this. He only heard her speak of it once, the night she found him and joined him at the bar. She raised her glass and spoke a simple toast, "To B; selfish, deserving and damn lucky." He hadn't responded, merely sipped at his own drink, and she hadn't elaborated, only quietly matched him through the night. He guessed her own past wouldn't allow her to blame them. The others followed Faith's lead and were probably relieved to no longer have Buffy around. This left himself and Dawn as the two, the only ones, still concerned, angered and betrayed. Even that was tempered and confused by history and recent events. Dawn had become a young woman in the chaos of the apocalypse. A fact that almost, yet maybe not quite, had gone unnoticed. It was possible that the three that knew her best had felt her push for independence amidst the struggles of the last year, and so had granted it. It was not probable. The note to Dawn had been filled with just such sentiment, but deep inside Dawn was the pain of getting just what you wished for. What Dawn could not understand or accept with ever increasing anger and frustration at each dead end was the total severing of a connection. He knows she has tried and continues to try to find them. He knows she has great skill and experience with research and inquiry. They both know that her inability to locate them means a deliberate break on their part. It is also this fact that leaves him with a bitter knot of anger mixed with a near panic helpless concern. They might do this but they wouldn't do that. As his thoughts spun around the churning in his gut, his hand sped the scotch ever faster into himself. The bartender, familiar now with his patron, set the bottle on the bar top nearby. While it was true he had been the first to leave. And also true, his return was only the result of dire need. He still could not help but feel hurt when the gesture was returned in kind and in this manner. What Buffy proposed, what the three of them accomplished in the end, had shocked him into stunning admiration for them all. He had quietly hoped for reconciliation, had intended reconnection. They had risked and shared everything they had and every part of themselves to win this last battle. He had... well, he still had guilt over how he reacted and behaved. And now, he was left with that. And the deep understanding that something wasn't right. Giles was unable to explain or justify any of this to Dawn, however much he wished to. He could only try to comfort, console, encourage an attempt to move on. Test scores provided a graduation equivalent and an early admission into college. He could hardly deny her funds for such, over Spencer's objections and with Faith's approval. He couldn't offer her the answers she so desperately needed and it turned out, his influence over her was also severely limited. Against all his persuasions, she had chosen to enroll in Kent State University, a mere 30 miles or so from Cleveland and the Hellmouth. And he knew, she would never stop looking for Buffy and the others. She would always stay available to Faith and the slayers. She was, in the end, as destined as any of the chosen and old guard. And so, he remained here. Giles kept steadily at the drink, kept toasting the remarkable courage and abilities he witnessed in these three young heroes, kept replaying his guilt at realizing it all too late, and kept his own pain and anger at bay. Maybe, someday, he would have his chance to convey to them how truly proud he is. Maybe, he reasoned through his dull, drunken state of mind, he got what he deserved; and Dawn was just an innocent victim. Wishing, at the point of the evening when his anger was blunted enough for such wishing, for just one more chance to talk with them, Giles finished the last of his drink and left enough bills on the bar top to cover his tab. With unsteady but practiced ease, he made his way out of the pub and the short distance to his apartment; a full moon his lone witness. Dawn's future and his slight hope of tomorrow, the only things leading him to this home each night. * * * * * * * * * Buffy, Willow and Xander, with secret glances and smirks to each other, stepped out of the realtor's car and reconvened in front of an old brick building. "I knew we should have found a quick bite before meeting with her." Buffy whispered to her friends. "It was hard enough to get her to meet us this late and after dark as it was." Willow shrugged as she eyed the young woman pausing to retrieve notes from her briefcase. "Well, don't blame me if this ends poorly." Xander chuckled. Willow slapped his arm. "Both of you can manage to hold it together for a little while I'm sure." "Us?" Buffy protested and tried not to laugh. "You're the one that kept staring at her neck the ride over here." "Do you think she noticed that she couldn't see us in the rear view mirror?" Xander wondered out loud. Buffy shrugged. "She didn't say anything." The hushed conversation stopped when the realtor walked up to the group. She offered them a dazzling smile and started her pitch. "When we talked on the phone, you mentioned wanting to find something large and spacious, with no immediate neighbors. Well, we certainly have a number of estates outside of the city that fit that. But when you also mentioned you wanted it close to downtown if possible, and given your age, I thought we'd start with something like this." She swept her arm towards the large two story building. "It used to be a garment factory of sorts. I believe the company made aprons and kitchen towels and the like. The building's been empty for a couple of years, but it is in great condition. This whole area of downtown has recently been rezoned to include residential complexes. Unfortunately for the owners, this building is located blocks away from where the condo renovations have been happening. The area here still houses active businesses. But you did say you didn't want any direct neighbors. Shall we look inside?" Before she could receive an answer, the realtor stepped up to a simple door near the side of the building and opening it, motioned the group inside. She turned on the large overhead lights and walking past the group, started to gesture around the room. "This was a small reception area for the business and just down that short hall is a bathroom facility, the elevator to the second floor and beside that, the emergency stairwell. It could become a dramatic entry foyer for your apartments. Through this other door, we have what used to be the shipping, receiving and storage area." She hurried the potential buyers through the door and turned on another set of lights. Before them was a vast, open and empty room. On the side facing the street was a large roll-up delivery door. The high ceiling was lined with large beams and vents for heat and air. Industrial shelves lined the walls and massive tables were spaced through the room. The floor was a dirt tinted concrete. Willow, Buffy and Xander started wandering around the space. There were few windows and plenty of dust. The realtor patiently watched them as they started to take in the enormity of the space. She was trying to judge if any of them were creatively imagining the possibility of walls and rooms, if they were designing a living space in their minds or if she would have to start that process for them. She watched as they moved together into the center of the space then started to separate on their own. Xander started to explore the back of the building. Large deep shelves covered the back wall. He arched his view up and over, through the space, noticing high brick outer walls, beamed towering ceiling and only a couple windows tucked up near the top above the shelves. In the far back corner he noticed a room breaking into the massive space. Finding the door almost hidden beside the shelves on the back wall, he let himself inside. It was a furnace room, darker and dustier than the rest of the space. In the center sat a large old furnace. He opened the large door at the front of the burning chamber, then eyed the corresponding network of pipes and smiled thoughtfully. The realtor noticed Xander slipping away to the back and started again on her pitch to the two young woman who stayed nearer the center, circling with their heads tilted up, trying to take in the enormity of the space. "As you can see, even just this floor can be divided into at least two large apartments. You can easily split the whole of the building into three living spaces, or more, if you wish to rent some of it out. If you can find the creativity and imagination, this building can be a wonderful blank slate to dream up your perfect living space." Willow brought her head level and eyed the young woman, smiling. Xander exited the furnace room and returned to the main space. "Does the furnace still work?" The realtor quickly looked through her notes on the building for an answer. "It doesn't say. The building was updated years ago to a more efficient natural gas furnace. The entire building is equipped with a modern heating and cooling system. An inspector will be able to answer any further concerns you have about the structure or older systems." Buffy eyed Xander suspiciously and he offered her only a shrug and smile in return. "I think what you'll find even more interesting is the second floor." The realtor suggested as she lead them back through the door to the elevator on the other side of the hall. "How cool would it be to have an elevator in your home?" She quickly pressed the button to open the door and silently prayed that after all this time, the elevator didn't make too much noise in protest. Everyone entered the small elevator car. Silently relieved the owners had kept their equipment to selling satisfaction and strangely uncomfortable at being in such a closed space with these three young people, the realtor stepped quickly out of the elevator and turned on the lights to the second floor. Again, the group stepped forward and moved into one large, empty room. The whole of the building was mostly these two spaces; one above and one below. This one was cleaner than the one below, and emptier. There were no tables, no shelves, just a vast expanse of hardwood floor and brick walls. The ceiling was just as high as the room below and also lined with beams and vents. On the side facing the street was one very large window, taking up two-thirds of the wall, giving a view of the more industrial part of the city as it sank down the hill and towards the harbor. Further in the distance, the lights of ships could be seen. On the side wall, opposite the elevator, a set of stairs climbed up the side, an iron handrail the only break between it and the room. It led to a lofted room perched out and over the corner. The two inside walls defining the loft were not walls at all, but glass windows, letting the loft become part of the overall space. Buffy, Willow and Xander moved as a group to the center of the room and roamed their eyes over the space. "This place is huge." Willow whispered to the others. "And cool," Buffy added, "Don't forget cool." The realtor smiled when she overheard those words and hung back, hoping they'd start to see what could be done on their own. She continued to listen though, ready to step in with ideas if need be. "Explain cool." Xander prodded, his neck beginning to strain from looking up, over and around. "Think about it." Buffy became more animated as she tried to explain what she could suddenly see, drawing the focus of her friends. "We live here, together, on this floor. A nice big open space to spend the days in, instead of small divided rooms. No walls. We just spread our stuff to be around. Like have the plasma TV and stereo over there by the window with furniture in front of it. And, I don't know, put the kitchen there against the back wall. And a table kinda in front of that." Willow laughed. "Plasma TV? Someone's already been thinking about shopping." Willow looked around the space, picturing what Buffy was seeing. "Oh, I could have an office in this corner next to the window at the end of the stairs, open to the living room part but facing the corner." "Okay, I'm starting to see the cool myself." Xander joined in, turning slowly around the space and not minding the image of a plasma TV on the wall at all. "But a kitchen? Buffy, we don't need a kitchen." "Yes we do." Buffy insisted. "For popcorn, and..." Her mind raced for a suggestion and reason Xander might share. "And pizza." "Don't you mean pizza delivery boys?" Xander pointed out and countered. "We'll argue about it later." Buffy looked over the open room again, seeing the immense space as inviting. "Can't you see it, guys?" The realtor was surprised and pleased at the turn in the conversation. She was glad she answered the initial call and not one of her older colleagues. The possibilities of what she overheard intrigued her and she let her mind wander to images of the three young friends together. She enjoyed this subtle side benefit of the job, this eavesdropping, overhearing, and learning little details of how her clients might live their private lives. She let herself picture it only a moment, closing her eyes and smiling. She decided to abandon any further suggestions of splitting the building into apartments, but reminded herself not to make assumptions. Besides, the suggestion that they did not need a kitchen didn't make any sense. Maybe she was not understanding what they needed at all. Hearing her name, she shook the thoughts from her head and refocused on the sale, whatever their intentions. Finally receiving the realtor's attention, Willow tried her question again. "What's the story with the glass room?" "Oh, I believe that was an office space." The realtor walked over to the group, ready to recount what she knew of the building's history. "This floor was where they actually made their products. There used to be tables and sewing equipment all through here. And the room upstairs was office space for the owner and his secretary. He liked to watch over everything I guess." She watched as the three of them followed each other up the stairs. Overhearing Willow mention that it could be their bedroom, she smirked and crossed over to the window, letting the view distract her thoughts before she was caught. When they had all entered the loft room, Buffy turned to Willow, a smile that threatened to turn to laughter on her face. "Okay, you know she heard that last comment, right?" "Well, I had to distract her from the no kitchen talk before." Willow defended with a shrug and a smile. "You know she's been listening to us the whole time." "I don't care what she's thinking." Xander wandered over to one of the inside windows and looked down. "She's looking like dinner more and more." Willow walked over to him and slapped his shoulder. "Don't make me find another realtor." Turning away from the window, she glanced around. "Seriously, what do you guys think? This really could be the bedroom. And the rest of the room looks so cool from up here." "I love it." Buffy joined them at the window. "We could have the bed right here by the windows." Looking past the realtor and through the large window below, she stared out at the night and the city lights beyond. "That window has a great view of the city." "And it'll just be loads of flammable fun during the day." Xander looked over the whole of the room below, admitting at least to himself that the idea of an open space did appeal. This time Buffy slapped his shoulder. "I know you can manage to hang curtains and shades. Come on, Xander, make us a home like you've always done." Xander turned to Buffy, caught a little off guard by her words. He smiled and gave her a quick kiss before wandering around the room, considering. "Well, other than the one big window, there aren't that many to brick in, so that's no problem." Willow and Buffy turned to Xander. Leaning beside each other and against the window wall, they watched and waited expectantly. There was a small walled off section of the room at the inside back corner. Xander crossed over to it and peeked inside its door. "Bathroom?" Buffy guessed. "Bathroom." Xander confirmed. "No need for that either." "Oh, yes there is." Willow protested. "Shower." Buffy elaborated and stressed for them both. "Okay," Xander conceded, "I can replace the toilet with a shower. A very big shower. With two shower heads." Xander wiggled his eyebrows unnecessarily. "But no bathroom mirror." Willow adamantly announced, her hands waving for emphasis. "It wigs me out the no reflection thing." "Check," Xander started counting on his fingers as he repeated off the features of what was apparently to be their new home. "No windows, save the heavily, heavily curtained big one; a large shower in the see-through bedroom's bathroom; no neighbors to notice our comings and goings; in the city, so easy hunting; no mirrors," he paused to nod towards Willow, "and please, no unnecessary kitchen." "There will be a kitchen." Buffy announced with her slayer decisive voice. "Blame it on my history of needing normalcy if you have to, but there will be a kitchen. Again, we can argue about it later." "No, I'll just save us some time and give in now." Xander walked up to the women and took each by the hand. "So?" "Yes." Buffy took Willow's other hand with her free one and squeezed them both. "Wait." Willow interrupted. "What wait?" Buffy let go of Willow's hand and looking worriedly into Willow's eyes, stroked her cheek. "Big open space to spend the days in." Her voice softened with a pleading tone. Willow's face softened with the gesture and she leaned over to give Buffy a quick reassuring kiss. "Not that wait. I mean let's just think it over for a night. This is cool, yeah. But we hardly know the city at all." Willow wrapped her arm around Buffy's waist and brought her closer, then squeezed Xander's hand and pulled him towards them. "I just want to be sure. We should explore the city tonight. Maybe even split up and really look around. All we know is the college campus." "Okay, then we get it, right?" Buffy smiled at each of them, relieved and reassured when they laughed in return. The realtor watched the display in the loft window. When they started towards the door, she quickly turned around towards the large window so she could casually turn to them as they made their way down the stairs. "Well, was I right? Isn't this the place?" Buffy, Willow and Xander descended the stairs and Willow walked over to the realtor, hedging an answer for them. "It might be. We're going to think about it for a night and call you tomorrow." The realtor tried not to show her excitement in her smile. She could read people of course and hear what they mean in their words. The wealthy were the most fun. These three friends were so young. She guessed only one had inherited the fortune and the others were the lucky along for the ride. When Willow was the one to speak, she was sure it was her. Feeling more relaxed now that the sale was done, she let her mind create a story of how all that came to be. She almost missed Xander's question. "What's behind the doors on either side of the elevator?" He noticed them for the first time and started over to them. The realtor quickly brought her mind back to business. There would be all night to imagine everything. "The door to the right is to the utility room. The newer gas furnace, in line hot water, industrial electrical service. You can certainly put in a washer and dryer. The one to the left leads to the emergency stairwell and beside that is storage space stretching the length of the wall." She waited patiently for any other questions. Searched her mind for anything she thought she should add. Nothing came. They didn't even look through the doors. When they gathered back at the elevator and pressed the button, she quickly followed, turning off the lights as she stepped in. As soon as the elevator door opened, she quickly stepped out and moved away down the hall. She wasn't sure what made her so nervous about these clients. She thought maybe it was what she could now confirm about their sexuality, but such things had never made her nervous before. In fact, it had always been the opposite reaction. Something about these three set her on edge when they were near. She grew nervous again thinking about the car ride back. "Hey guys," Buffy halted the progress to the door out. "What are we going to do with the space down here?" "I don't know." Willow shrugged. They had all forgotten the rooms below. "You don't need a training room anymore. Too bad, it would have been perfect. I know, we can put in a jungle gym." "A jungle gym?!" Buffy scoffed, then chuckled at the image. "No," Xander entered into the conversation excitedly. "A play room." When the women, even the realtor, all turned to him with incredulous looks, he corrected their assumptions. "As in pool table, video games." "Oh, I know!" Buffy joined in. "A spa." She looked at Xander as she elaborated. "As in a Jacuzzi, a sauna." "We can put it all in." Willow offered as she started them moving towards the door out. "We're not installing a jungle gym." Buffy laughed. "No, not that part, the rest of it." Willow glanced one last time around the small entry space and followed the others out the door. The realtor turned off the lights and locked the door behind her. Her nerves about the drive back were abated somewhat by the growing certainty of the sale. Taking a deep breath, she turned and made her way to her car. Xander stepped in front of her before she reached the car. Smiling at her startled expression, he stepped closer. "We're going to walk back, take some time to check out the area, that kind of thing." "You sure?" The realtor stepped back. "You know where you are and won't get lost?" Buffy shook her head and grabbing Xander's hand, pulled him away and down the sidewalk. "We're sure." She called back over her shoulder. "We'll call you tomorrow." The realtor watched them disappear into the shadows. There were some street lights, but for blocks around, everything was closed this time of night. She shook her head and started for her car again. Rich people sure were an odd type. Still, she had the sale and planned the rest of her night in celebration. East Holly street. Buffy, Willow and Xander stopped a few blocks down the hill under the street sign indicating what street their new home to be was on. Retail stores and lunch counter restaurants lined the streets here: futon shop, clothing store, toys, travel, books, art gallery; all closed. The streets were quiet, deserted. They looked around them, then back to each other, deciding what to do. "I'm hungry." Xander paced a short circle in front of Buffy and Willow, stopping at times to bounce on the balls of his feet. Buffy casually watched him. "Well, there's a whole city full of people out there. I'm sure you can find something as we check this place out." "Should we split up? We could see more of the city that way and compare notes." Willow suggested. Buffy shrugged. "Sure, sounds good. The motel is back up the road and a right on Samish Way, right?" "Yeah," Willow confirmed. "I was thinking I'd head back towards the college anyway, only down by the water. With the moon out tonight, it'll be nice." "Well then, I'll just take off. See where this road goes. Maybe find the edge of the city." Xander gave a quick kiss to each of the women and not waiting for a reply, set off quickly down the road. Willow watched him disappear. "It's different for him, isn't it?" "This is different for all of us." Buffy gently reminded Willow. "I mean it's different for him than it is for us." Willow clarified. Anxious eyes looked into Buffy's for some reassurance. Buffy shrugged and looked down at the sidewalk. "I get it. He's fine, Will. He's a vampire... he's fine." She looked back up and into Willow's eyes. "You're going to hunt, right? Not just walk by the water." Willow stepped up to Buffy and placing her arms around her shoulders, started playing with Buffy's hair. She gave Buffy a quick kiss then smiled as she looked deeply into her eyes. "The way you keep asking me that, I'm starting to think you're worried about me or something. Haven't I hunted every night?" Buffy matched her gaze and shook her head slightly. "Not really. Hunted is a definite stretch of the term for you." Willow glanced at the ground as she considered Buffy's words. She raised her eyes back to Buffy's, letting a touch of self assurance shine clear in her look. "Well 'hunting' as you call it is a little new for me. I do feed. Besides, do you forget who turned you?" Buffy wrapped her arms around Willow and pulled her close against her. "I never forget that." Willow's eyes hardened and she kissed Buffy again. Lowering her arms around Buffy's back, Willow crushed her to herself with a vampire's strength. The kiss was hard, passionate, consuming, possessive and she only let up when she heard Buffy's moan. Willow pulled back and smiled when she saw the touch of defiance mixed with passion in Buffy's eyes. Willow softened her face, started stroking Buffy's hair again and whispered, "I've always been able to do what I felt I had to do. I even worried less about the consequences than I think you did. Don't worry. I'm just trying not to lose myself again. But I remember what I am." Buffy stepped back when she felt Willow's arms release her. She ran a hand through her hair and slowly a smile formed as she looked at the woman, the only person, that could have turned her. "Okay, okay, you're right. Besides, I don't want to lose you either, Will. Go on, grab a bite, take your midnight stroll. I'm just gonna check it out around here I think." "Okay." Willow stepped back a few paces. "I'll meet you back at the motel." She turned to start down the side street and towards the bay then stopped and smiled back at Buffy. "And maybe one of these nights, you'll teach me how to hunt." Not waiting for a reply, Willow took off quickly down the side street. Buffy watched as Willow disappeared down the now abandoned street. A small smile formed when she remembered the Willow she first met and her head shook slightly at the image of teaching that Willow, this Willow, any Willow to hunt. She had assumed it was instinctive to the demon and thought Willow had just been fighting it. Maybe Willow's personality really was overwhelming the demon. There had always been a prevailing force inside her. However unsure or insecure she seemed, a determination would spark in her eyes and suddenly a great force was standing beside you, or sometimes in front of you: opposing. It wasn't just with the magic, Buffy realized. She remembered it was Willow who stopped her from running away again after that summer in LA. It was just Willow who confronted her, called her out on everything. Buffy shook the thoughts from her mind, her hunger roaring past the din of her musings. This wasn't the time to figure it all out. Heading downhill on East Holly street, Buffy considered that maybe she should make the time, though. Buffy strolled down the street, peeking in the windows of closed shops. When she caught herself pausing in front of a travel agency and staring at the pictures of a tropical beach, she picked up the pace and walked determinedly towards the lights and noise of the part of the city still open and awake. Railroad Ave. the sign named the still busy cross street. Cars slowly circled its length, searching for parking down the side and even against the center median. It seemed more parking lot than road. Open stores and restaurants lined the area on either side. This, it seemed, was one of the centers of nightlife in the city. Buffy turned down Railroad and started her hunt. Groups of friends, couples, solitary men ducking into the adult video store: Buffy could hear the roar of hearts beating, smell the unique scent of everyone walking past her, ahead, behind, all around her on the sidewalk. She walked slowly, allowing someone to approach her if they liked, hoping that no one would, that it wouldn't be that easy. Her mood was growing more predatory as she passed an easy victim standing alone and checking his watch. She hoped to find someone who would give her more trouble. The street ended at a city transportation station. Busses pulled up and left, train tracks laid in close. Buffy crossed over to the station and started towards its shadows, hoping she would find the element that always seemed to hang out at these places. There it was, at the end of a parking lot; two guys in sports team jackets and baseball caps standing around a car off and away from everything. Buffy watched as another car pulled up beside them and a short conversation took place through the window. A moment at most, the guys stepped back and the car pulled away. Buffy smiled as she crossed the parking lot. She needed a fight as much as a kill. "Hey guys, what'cha doin'?" Buffy called over to them as she neared. They eyed her warily and willingly as she approached. Buffy kept her hands loosely at her sides and her face a calm mask. Only her eyes betrayed an edge of aggression as she stared unerringly into theirs and stopped a few feet away. Buffy could see their breaths faintly in the cool night air. She easily picked up the skip of their heartbeats. Her tight t-shirt and jeans were in sharp contrast to their oversized jackets and baggy pants. They were large men; their posture and gestures designed to make them appear powerful. They eyed her appreciatively and their surroundings suspiciously. Finding no one else in the vicinity and nothing out of place, they nodded and smiled in belated confidence. "Well, hello and welcome. You needing something to keep you going tonight?" Buffy smiled as she appeared thoughtful. "You know... I do." One of the men stepped closer. He quickly glanced around again then let his eyes travel over her body completely. "We can be enterprising." "And accommodating," his partner added. In the end, they proved very accommodating, fight for their life included. Two guns lay kicked aside under the nearby car. Two men lay dropped on the pavement, broken bones jutting their limbs at odd angles. Buffy rolled her shoulders and stretched her arms and back. There was a bruise fading on her jaw and another on her eye. She had let them take their swings; needed to feel raged aggression directed at her, engrave itself on her. They were tentative at first, then foolish and assuming, and finally mindless as the violence escalated in pain and fear. When they realized they were fighting a monster, she got from them what she needed and took from them what she wanted. It was over now and she should move away from the scene. Satisfied was too strong a word, but it took the edge off. Buffy kept to the shadows and reemerged at East Holly. Turning right and keeping an eye out for Xander in case he was still around, she continued down the now busy street. It was a personable town. Not bright lights, big city: this wasn't LA. But there were restaurants and clubs, the odd retail store still open. People were busy parking and walking, meeting up or just wandering around. She didn't detect an implied threat or a scene. It all felt laid back and casual. A drug store that stocked a bit of everything was still open. The fish taco place was busy. A record store held a large population of the college. Buffy started to cut randomly down the darker side streets between the closed office buildings. Somewhat lost, she came back out to the busier streets downtown. She noted an underground parking garage and continued down the road and found the city's main theater. Posters advertised upcoming concerts and traveling Broadway shows. Buffy pocketed one of the calendars and decided to circle back. Every part of the city held the scent of the sea in the air, the moisture carried through the streets by the wind. Moss clung to every crack in the sidewalk, the underside of benches, the crevices of buildings. Buffy could smell the rich earthen scent of it against the man made fumes of the city: the oil on the streets, the exhaust of cars, the perfumes and soaps of the people, and conflicting mix of foods from the restaurants. The natural aroma of moss and sea overlaid and overpowered all of it. Seeing the city only at night, and so mostly hidden in shadows, it left Buffy with the impression that the city was only a mirage on a scenic slope down to the sea. The conversations Buffy could overhear were filled with speculations of weather; plans for hiking and skiing and boating, tales of eagle and whale sightings. She heard there was a volcano that towered over a mountain range nearby and always overheard an evening update on how it looked that day. Buffy wondered if she would ever see it some night if the moon rose close. A main street down the hill brought Buffy to a small park just before the main harbor and behind the old court house. Dutifully reading the sign, she smiled at the dedication to the maritime history. Buffy sat on a bench next to a fountain, deciding to take the moment alone to start to sort some things out. This wasn't her favorite activity, but events this staggering deserved some attention. She was a vampire. Xander was a vampire. And Willow was a vampire. The fact that she was turned was mostly her not doing. She didn't fight it, accepting her death and relenting to Willow's intentions. She could have done any number of things instead she supposed, but it was Willow. And Willow had always surprised her. She always seemed to blindside her. Buffy focused her thoughts back over the years with Willow. Just when she thought she had Willow figured out, knew what was happening or would happen next... Willow manages to return Angel's soul, Willow gives up life plans to stay in Sunnydale, Willow confesses she has a girlfriend, Willow pulls her back from the dead. Buffy remembered all the wayward spells that came with Willow gaining power faster than proficiency and the havoc they caused. But she only smiled now when she thought of them. It wasn't like life on the Hellmouth was calm anyway. Besides, there were more times when it went right, in key moments, when she counted on her, or when Willow was blindly raging in grief. Willow always had an unerring accuracy when she was angry, with words or magic. It was just always surprising what Willow would choose to aim at. Willow's intentions over the years had played as much of a role in her life as her calling. And her calling changed Willow's life beyond the influence of intentions. Buffy relaxed her thoughts and laid her head back on the bench's backrest. She smiled when she accepted there wasn't anything else she could have done that night Willow turned her. From the moment she entered and altered Willow's life, Willow continually influenced hers. The dynamic spiral of their relationship was stronger than the mortal coil. Buffy readjusted herself on the bench, leaned against the armrest and brought her feet up. She listened to the fountain and refocused her thoughts on Xander, confident now that this time spent going over events was actually helping. The fact that Xander was turned was all her doing. She remembered the reasons she told herself, used to convince Willow. She wondered every now and again why she really did it and what she was expecting. It had happened before. Her and her calling came barreling into his life and ever after she had felt responsible. Buffy smiled when she guessed how much Xander would hate to hear that. It was true, though. It was also true he had grown into a man she admired. His loyalty, courage, compassion: traits tempered to such strength by years in her life and over the Hellmouth that she knew these last years would not have been survived without him, that the world would not have survived without him. He saw everything from the sidelines she hoped to keep him safe at; and more than was comfortable, was the voice of nagging conscience. When he lost his eye, the group lost their focus. And now... what does it say when she stopped his heart. It was inevitable: Willow and her were turned, their heart had to stop. She had to do it. Before, she felt it was her responsibility to keep him safe, even against his own wishes. Now...what? Was she supposed to keep him in check? Years of controlling her darker nature gave her the strength of choice, the power of free will, even after the severing of the connection to humanity. She no longer felt the burden, the sacred duty, a righteous calling to keep humanity safe. She couldn't even sense a normal obligation to the morality and rules set within humanity to protect it. She could remember them, list them in her mind, but she couldn't feel it. She had choices though, and could choose not to seek its destruction or even to cause it pain. Buffy wondered how much choice Xander really had. He had tried to speak with them once about a calling he felt, and stopped when he realized they did not feel it. Xander was a vampire. Still, he chose to remain with them. Were they less evil? She had been the lawman for years and broke the law all the time, herself. She could never completely reason what was actually good or evil, and the checklist humanity offered was never really a help. Even Xander was for bending a law or two by the end. What right now did she have to influence him against his nature? Buffy ran her hand through her hair and considered purposely sighing for effect. She is his sire, his friend and now, even his lover. She has some rights. And he did choose them. Buffy got up from the bench and started to wander slowly around the park, no longer able to sit still. The level of contemplation had inevitably sunk to a depth she always found suffocating. Good and evil. Layers and layers of gray seemed to bury her when she thought about it. If she had simply allowed herself to be molded by the Council instead of just trained, she was sure the questions in her mind would have been long muted. Of course, so would her life. She was certain of that as well. So she had always trusted her gut when the questions came up and shot from the hip. Now her gut was eerily silent. Were they simply all evil now? Willow was adamant that they weren't. Willow was a vampire now. Buffy stopped and stared unseeing at the lights of ships in the harbor, a full moon giving a surreal glow to the unfocussed scene. The fact that Willow was turned was what... a vampire's doing? A sublime act of chaos? It couldn't have been fated. After everything they had been through, after defeating the blackest of gray and what claimed to be and clearly was actual evil, it couldn't have been fate. Maybe Willow was right, and there is no God. If this could happen, after all that, and there is a God; she only questioned more the line between good and evil. It could have been Karma, Buffy reasoned, then shook her head and the thoughts purposely away. It had happened, and everything past that had been carried along. Buffy knew Willow had a deep need to make everything all right in the aftermath. Willow formed a plan and set everything up as her way of easing consequences, and Buffy simply went along with it; supporting Willow till she slowed down enough to find her balance. Here they stood. In a city that felt far from the Hellmouth and as open to possibilities as the sea it merged into. Buffy took a deep breath, letting the scent settle her. Questions remained unanswered but events that had happened anyway lay easier in her mind now. It was time to move on. Buffy noticed it was Holly street that crossed the front of the park and started back. At Railroad Ave., she turned to dutifully explore the other side; remembering she was supposed to give a report of what she found in the city. This side of the road ended in a parking lot surrounded by a no-tell motel and what used to be warehouses. The buildings now held restaurants, condos and clubs. The two buildings at the end had blacked out windows at street level. Curious, Buffy walked down to check it out. The first building at the end was obviously a club. Music slipped out the door as college age kids walked down dark stairs and inside. A discreet sign over the entrance named the club Rumors. Remembering what Willow said about how you can always tell by the sign, Buffy followed her hunch and entered the club. Flyers tacked to posts and a wall were the only real give-away. It felt like a college hangout. It felt a little like the Bronze back home. There were a couple of pool tables up front. Booths lined the walls, tables with comfortable chairs filled the center, and of course a bar along the side. Men, women, the odd couple; it seemed to be just friends talking with friends, though she was sure there was some flirting and pick-up lines tossed in. Buffy heard the music drifting into the space from a hallway beside the bar and investigated further. Peering around the corner at the end of the short hall she found the dance floor in the room behind the bar wall. It was filled; gay, straight, groups; a good DJ keeping everyone moving. Buffy smiled. It was a slightly bent, over 21 only Bronze. It was a spot of normalcy and she couldn't wait to tell the others about it. Buffy slipped out of the bar and continued down to the other building at the very end of Railroad. Again, a small sign: The Hungry Ghost. A heavy steel door blocked most sound from escaping and made entry uninvited and intentional. Buffy decided to try it anyway, never fearing to enter a place before. The music was much louder here, stronger; an industrial, dark, penetrating vibration. A bar opened to tables that opened to a small dance floor. A balcony lined the far wall, the edge crowded with onlookers and people seeking conversation. It took a moment to register over the music, but as Buffy made her way to the bar, she heard all her internal warning bells go off, every latent Slayer sense assaulted. There were demons here, and vampires, and looking again around the place, the distinct scent and heartbeats of humans. Buffy smiled as some memories came to mind. She missed the good ol' days when she would just bust into a place like this and feel the fear of the patrons as she'd confidently get what she came for like an old west sheriff. She missed the confrontations. People just weren't a challenge and she wasn't the law anymore and had no reason to come storming in now. Buffy quietly made her way to the end of the bar and sat down. She wanted to sit back and see what a place like this was about. The bartender, a young handsome vampire with a friendly smile, quickly came over to Buffy to take her order. "You're new here," he called over the music. "I'd have remembered you. I'm great with faces, especially the pretty ones. What can I get ya?" Buffy smiled at the compliment but hesitated, not sure what to order. She didn't really drink and the few times she did, she didn't really enjoy Spike's brand of whatever it was. The bartender seemed sweet, and she didn't want to call much attention to herself, so she tried some charming innocence. "Hi. I am new. At this. What do you recommend?" The bartender considered quickly and his smile grew when he had just the thing. Leaning closer to Buffy, he kept his voice low as he made his suggestion, knowing she could hear him. "A Long Sloe Comfortable Screw." "Excuse me?!" Buffy pulled back slightly. The bartender laughed gently and straightened back, giving her some space again. He raised his hands up in mock defense. "It's the name of a drink. I swear. You've never had one?" He paused and let the double meaning play. Seeing her raise her eyebrow, he continued. "I can do that for you. You'll try one now." He winked at her and turned to the center of the bar to make the order. He guessed she was a newbie. They were so much fun to play with. Still, the boss wanted to know each time one came in. The bartender caught the attention of a young man standing amid the crowd at the other end of the bar and motioned with a nod of his head towards Buffy. Buffy caught the look, the motion, and watched as the man excused himself and started slowly over to her. She hoped the young vampire tending bar couldn't sense she had been a Slayer. She missed parts of the old days, but had a whole new life to think about now. She really was trying to fit in. The bartender set the drink in front of Buffy and waved her off when she tried to pay. "First time is on the house." He smiled, winked again, and returned to helping other customers. Buffy warily turned the tall glass in her hand. She recognized orange juice, but had no idea what else to expect. Taking an experimental sip, her eyes widened as the hard alcohol burned her throat slightly. Still, it wasn't that bad. The juice mellowed most of it. Plus, she admitted, it had a fun name. Buffy noticed the man was completing the circuit of handshaking around the bar and was almost to her. She took a deeper drink and braced herself. Buffy watched as he silently took the seat next to her. Asian eyes, short black hair, black slacks, black button-up silk shirt: all of it well cut, tailored, styled. Clearly, he was the owner, Buffy realized. She remained as silent as he. It was a simple, old game; and she would wait and drink her drink. The bar owner gave this new vampire a moment to say something. He always gained information from the way they first reacted towards him. This one, he realized quickly, wasn't near as young as she first seemed. So he would take the time to get to know what might be a new player in town. It always proved the best way to keep his place peaceful. He motioned for the bartender to bring him a drink and settled comfortably and confidently in his seat. Turning to young woman, he held out his hand. "Hi. I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Jack." Buffy smiled to him and shook his hand. She caught herself as she started to reply 'Buffy' and switched to her alias. "Joan. Joan Morte." He didn't start off with calling her 'Slayer', so she thought maybe no-one had guessed it. Maybe it was just the owner checking out the newest demon in his bar for trouble. Buffy tried to relax, continued to sip her drink and appear non-threatening. "So you're the owner?" "Yes." Jack nodded gratefully to the bartender and accepted his martini. "Yes, this place is my sanctuary." Buffy smiled and nodded her understanding. "So, you're here to give the rules and regulations, then?" Jack smiled and sipped his drink. "Something like that. You're new here, aren't you?" Buffy nodded. An easy enough question but she worried how many more would follow. She kept her eyes mostly on her drink but stayed aware of his demeanor. "Yeah, we just came into town." "We?" Jack tried to keep his voice conversational. Buffy ran her finger down the length of the glass. "A couple of friends and I." "And, you've been to places such as mine before?" Jack gently pressed. He leaned back, offering her space and sipped at his drink. Buffy shrugged. "Never much of a patron before, but ya." She sipped more of her drink, enjoying the slight burn of it now, and wondered how much to reveal. She liked him. There was something peaceful about the man. He wasn't challenging, though he did seem curious. He was confident and she had no doubt he could hold his own if provoked. Buffy had the sense it would take a great deal of provoking to move this man into violence. He reminded her a little of Giles. She was suddenly surprised he wasn't drinking tea. Jack continued to watch her patiently. There was something familiar about her. There was something he should know, something she wouldn't tell him. He was certain the name she gave him was new, not only by her hesitation, but the name itself, Morte, was clearly a name given to the vampire. She appeared controlled, confident and tired. He could tell she was exhausted. He guessed it was the accumulation of experiences that led to the confidence more than a cocky self assurance. She kept looking at her drink and away from him. He grew less worried and only more curious. He hoped she wanted peace. "You look familiar. Forgive me, have we met before? Forgive me again, may I ask how old you are?" Buffy laughed. "You aren't supposed to ask a girl that question." She turned to look at him. "No, we haven't met. I could counter with how old do I look to you?" Jack laughed. "I'm old enough to know better than to answer that. I only meant... I swear, I should know you." Buffy shook her head slightly. "I'm sure we've never met. You'd have remembered me. How about you start. How old are you?" Jack noticed her drink was getting low and signaled the bartender to refill it. He motioned away any protest. "Again, on me. It is not often I get to know such a beautiful woman. I am old, I'll admit it. Perhaps even too old for you. This place, it keeps me feeling young, though." "I'm not here to find anyone," Buffy gently asserted. "Moving on though, I don't think I have a 'too old for me'. Trust me. And you didn't answer the question." Jack laughed again. It felt good to laugh. She was quick, aware his 'getting to know you' questions weren't simply mild flirtations and skilled at answering without revealing anything more. Plus, she took the opportunity to gain information as well. All while remaining civilized and even playful. There were very few he considered friends, and even less who intrigued him. He hoped this strange woman whose name he still didn't know could become one. "I am a little over 600 years old. Passed 300, you really stop counting between them." Buffy was surprised. She thought by that age, vampires looked less and less human. This one appeared no older than 25 and handsome as well. "Wow. Okay, you win. You are old." "And you?" Jack gently reminded her it was her turn. "Oh, I'm 22." Buffy accepted the drink refill with a silent thank you to the bartender. "I promise, legal to drink. I can show you my ID." Jack shook his head. "I meant total years." "That is total years." Buffy shrugged. "I'm totally 22. Your bartender guessed it right, you know. I'm new." Jack shook his head slightly again and leaned back in his seat. "Then may I ask where you're from?" Buffy considered the question and her answer. She took a few sips of her drink and wished her gut could tell her something. Her mind liked him, though. He was treading softly and respectfully in his inquiries. She reasoned that if there were enough demons in this city to support a bar then someone, someday would recognize her. It would come out. She didn't want it to come out just yet, though. She could hint and see how he reacted. "I'm from Sunnydale. Have you heard of it?" Jack was grateful she decided to honestly answer the question. He had watched her and knew this was a deliberate choice. Her answer helped to piece some of the puzzle together in his mind. And it was enough for now. He was certain he hadn't gained any real knowledge of her yet, but experience told him he would not gain it by pressing. "I've heard of it. Rough town. A Hellmouth and a Slayer. The greatest Slayer by all the accounts that drifted up here." Jack was surprised by her short laugh as she waved off his comment. "I didn't mean to pry. As you guessed, I came over to clarify the rules in this establishment." He smiled when she turned to him, clearly open and listening to him. "As I said, this is my sanctuary. I only want peace. So, please, no fighting inside, and no hunting. If you find prey here, take them far, far away. I deplore police even more than violence." He watched as she nodded her assent and held her eyes with his own for as long as he could, hoping to show her he meant no harm. "And I honestly hope I'll see you here again soon, Joan." He rose from his chair and offered his hand again. When she brought her hand to his, he raised it to his lips. He returned her smile and went back to mingle with the patrons. Buffy finished her drink and waved good bye to the cute bartender. It was deep into the night now, but there was still plenty of time before daylight. The air was sharply cold and she could almost see the moisture condensing through it. The cars, the road, even her skin collected the droplets. Buffy smiled and started towards the motel. This wasn't her old home, this clearly wasn't Sunnydale. Sunnydale held its heat long into the night, the dry pavement radiating the days sun back into the wee hours. This could be a new start. Buffy was sure by the way that Jack said her name at the end that he was aware it was only an alias. She knew that the Slayer part of her had teased the edges of his senses. He would probably figure it out. She was cautiously certain of two things after that: that he would be all right with the knowledge and that he would be more curious than ever. She hoped so, at least. If he asked her questions, she could do the same. A 600 year old vampire who looked that well preserved and deplored violence intrigued her. The alcohol swayed her walk a little and Buffy giggled in concentration. She should grab something to eat before making it back to their room. She had entered and exited a demon bar without even threatening anyone. My, how the world had changed. She looked up at the stars and almost expected them to be in different patterns. She did miss the violence. She could admit it now as she missed it more and more. People couldn't provide the challenge she was used to. She shouldn't even call it hunting anymore. It felt nothing more than selecting and killing. Even earlier tonight, it wasn't a real fight. Buffy wasn't sure what she felt about that. She craved the blood; and the power of their life as she drew it inside herself felt amazing still, and sated her. But she was used to some risk: an adrenaline rush very different than what she experienced now. Buffy noticed a young man leaving a group of friends and walking to his car. She approached him vampire visage in place. Maybe she could at least have the chase. * * * * * * * * * Jenny Calendar lay curled in a tight ball on the motel bed. The room remained darkened; even the pale, broad illumination of the now setting full moon burned too vivid. The sound and smell of the sea washed into the room through an open window and she breathed slowly through the pain and willed the ocean outside to carry her out of this jagged and rusted reality. Jenny wished for anything and anyone to take her away from this. The tribe, her people, they brought her to this place, the last place Buffy, Willow and Xander were alive. They provided a little food, some water, clothes, money and the reason she had been summoned. Their voices remained calm and neutral even as they detailed a great injustice that would forever haunt this place, the tear in the order of things they felt so compelled to mend. She would be their seamstress in this darkness. They tied her to the thread of these three lives and charged her to fix it. Then they left. Jenny replayed their stories again and again in her mind. They would be canon Romani tales soon: these three friends who rose to battle every challenge; who passed stumbling and bloody, yet standing at the end of each gauntlet; who stood through their trials free at each verdict. Her tribesmen retold the journeys of heroes as myths with an already practiced ease and she was certain these three kids she barely remembered were to be legends. She replayed their story because she couldn't remember the epilogue to her own. She could only remember the last act, her own attempt at a redemption and the face of her beast, the feel of his hands on her head and then there was nothing. She had failed. They had lived on and Angelus faded into their past as just another trial. The climatic end of her own story was just an early chapter in their own. Years had gone on since she passed out of the tales and she could scarcely believe what the fates put these three children through. The tribe had continued to watch them since Angelus intersected their destinies and ancient Romani magics were resurrected at the crossroads. They loved them now as their own. Romani traditions allowed her tribesmen to recognize the journeys for what they were even as it passed unknown to the participants. And the end to the tale of heroes was not an undead existence as vampires. For her people, stories were the order of the world. People were only players in tales retold over ages: tales of love, vengeance, and honor. And ever so rarely, tales of heroes. There was a tear in the order of this world, and she was summoned to repair it. Jenny's only memory of the years passing since her death was a deep feeling and understanding of warmth that was now gone to the pain of being confined to a body, to the constant assault of physical sensations in this world. She couldn't imagine living again. So she replayed impossible tales that really happened and let herself love these children too. She couldn't believe her own people would do this to her, yet she clung here near the shore to the corner stone of her life before: loyalty to the tribe above all others and the tales that kept the order of the world. They told her where to find the vampires. As dry sobs shook her body again, she despaired at the fate that would ask her to do this alone. She would find Rupert. He had remained a part: entering and exiting the stories. He still lived. * * * * * * * * * Willow smiled to herself as she imagined Buffy's reaction to her parting comment. The empty side street quickly lost the classy retail shops and transitioned into a warehouse district. Continuing down the hill, Willow noted the name: North State Street. Just as she guessed, the warehouses gave way in the end to massive commercial docks and Bellingham Bay. Wharf Street skirted the docks and Willow stood still and watched a large man trudge his way up towards her and the city. He was easily twice her size and strong, hard work on the docks evident in the breadth of his shoulders and the calluses on his hands. Willow breathed his warm, heavy scent, letting the demon hunger and offer the man a gentle smile as he glanced curiously at her in passing. She imagined the only thing he feared and considered stronger than himself was the sea. She didn't let him pass far. A few quick steps and she was behind him, pulling and twisting his arm painfully behind his back and pushing him to his knees. Her fangs slipped into his neck from behind as her other hand tilted and held his head still. He frantically, uselessly tried to pry her arm away and free himself, gradually growing weaker until he collapsed into her embrace. Willow pulled the last of his life into her and licked the wound clean. She dragged him to the shadows beside the street and whispered "thank you" in his ear as she laid him down. It was something Willow remembered the members of the Devon Coven always doing: acknowledging with gratitude the life that was sacrificed for their meal. At the time it made Willow wholly uncomfortable and many times resulted in a loss of appetite. Now, she understood; or maybe, she acknowledged, it was merely the trick of a lack of conscience. Either way, it was a good habit to begin. Willow walked to the end of the street and away from the body. To the right, Wharf Street led around the massive docks. On the left, she noticed a park sign indicating a walking trail. Willow turned to the left and started down the dimly lit paved path. It followed the edge of the bay, tucked between some railroad tracks leading to the docks on the left and the low bank to the shore on the right. Willow could hear cars passing by on the road above the tracks. A wooded hill beyond that, the lights of houses breaking and spotting the black monotony. Softer and more constant than the cars passing was the rhythm of waves lapping the rocks below. There was little wind tonight and the bay was protected by the many islands dotted just off the shore. Still, Willow promised herself next storm, she would return here. Willow congratulated herself on finding this city as she slowly walked down the even and well maintained path. It was a kind, enlightened community that would designate and design a stretch of its shoreline for public use. Path lights were sparse and distanced, clearly a cursory attempt at discouraging the criminal element more than an intent for night use. Willow easily imagined days with the path full of people: the swell at lunch hour, the thunder of early evening joggers, the weekend bedlam of children. It didn't matter. She had fed, her hunger abated, and there was no need to find anyone on the path tonight. Things were going well, she reasoned. They would have something that they had always deserved soon, especially after not only saving the world again, but changing it for the better, the good of mankind. They would have a life of their own. Okay, yeah, so a couple things had happened that really twisted that up and it wasn't the reconstruction of their relationship that she had imagined. She had always been able to adjust and adapt circumstances. And it looked like they had everything they needed to finally have a future. A couple things had happened... there really wasn't any oversight to the universe. One thing leading to another, sure, but that was only an infinite amount of decisions clashing into each other. Willow sat on one of the benches that lined the path and watched the water expend its energy onto the land. She noticed even the subtlest wave would rock and turn a pebble on the beach, toss a bit of shell further down the shore. There was a rule in Wicca, the first rule it was even called, and it was meant to be the guide for a moral life filled with fewer consequences: "And it harm none, do what you will." Tara spoke of it often, the Devon Coven offered her a more complex interpretation. Still, Willow thought it inevitably impossible. For every action there was a cascading unpredictable reaction. And that reaction is itself an action and it continues till butterflies flap their wings and storms rage on the other side of the world. The Chaos Theory. Willow remembered reading about it in college. Even if the universe was chaos and repercussions essentially random, there was an order that emerged apparent: the mathematical symmetry of a snowflake, a flower, the outcome of a series of coin tosses. If any action could harm, maybe it was the motive that defined the moral. Try to help another, you're in the light. Try to help yourself, all sorts of shades of gray. Try to end the world cause you just can't deal with it, you've pegged into the black. Willow laughed to herself out loud and tossed a rock into the water, watching as ripples broke waves and wondering if now the surf's up in Hawaii. It was simplistic and useless and there was no-one keeping score. Willow knew these thoughts were only circles. She hoped to find a tangent she could steer by. Her mind was spinning, her gut was silent, and the vampire was only a simple beast that craved. Or maybe that was herself as well. She still chose not to be evil, the memory of the experience still chilling her spine. It was empty and meaningless and so consumed you that no amount of sated desires could fill it. She never wanted to feel that way again. She didn't feel that way now. But aside from the obvious, she had no idea what that meant. Don't kill people for fun, check. Kill one to feed and survive, deal with it. What about when it was more hunger than need? Both Buffy and Xander hunted as they called it, allowed pleasure and desire to play a part in their actions. Willow found herself unable to trust those reasons anymore. Maybe she should just flip a coin, and let chaos and its underlying order decide. Willow heard the faint fall of footsteps and turned to peer through the dark and down the path. Her motion halted the slow stalk of a man approaching in the distance, his eyes glaring and filled with intent. She decided this was what passed for providence and turned back to the water, allowing the man to believe he was not seen. She fished a quarter out of her pocket and flipped it into the air while assigning sides: heads he lives, tails he dies. Willow caught the quarter, flipped it to the back of her other hand then revealed the answer. She waited for the man to approach. She could smell him even before she could clearly see him. He was dirty and greasy, his hair unkempt and his clothes a ragged mess. He was just the sort the meek lights along the path were meant to keep away. A switchblade was flicked to life in his hand as he drew near and jumped in front of her, grabbing her arm and pulling her to her feet. Holding the weapon up between them, he sneered, "Well look at what my big pole caught tonight." Willow couldn't stand to let this continue any further. She knocked the knife from his hand and sent her fist across his jaw, knocking the man out cold on the ground. Willow stared at him, grateful she didn't have to bite him and regretting that she would let him live. But a scientist wasn't supposed to judge the outcome of the experiment, so she shook her head and leaving him there, continued down the path. The moon's arch was beginning its decent into the west over the water. A full moon tonight. It cast the opposite of a shadow, a path of shimmering glow that stretched out over the black sea, inviting. The invitation between the moon and Willow seemed to follow her as she walked slowly down the path beside the water. She smiled and blew a grateful kiss to what was now her sun. It hurt still, though, the knowledge that she would never see the sun again, that the moments of its strength were now her weakness. She had taken that side of Wicca for granted before, her powers always better expressed attuned to the moon and practiced at night. Now, after learning a balance, it was lost to her before she could even reach for it. Even the earth itself would burn her now. That was a grief and loss she couldn't share with anyone. They wouldn't understand. 'Well, maybe Buffy,' Willow corrected herself. She could still do cursory magics, the slight adjustments of elements and energies that didn't require an outside reservoir of power and could be done without grounding. Willow acknowledged that if in dire need, blood magics were certainly now an available and powerful option. She was also pretty sure that the use of blood magics pegged you into the black as well, so it was only an option if the need was extreme. She needed to figure this out, she had to know: why it was so different now, how she was still so connected at all, what it was about draining a slayer that made it feel so close again. With research, investigation, inquiry into where vampires come from and everything about them, maybe Willow could find the answers she needed. Willow's musings were broken by the sound of footsteps and she turned from the water to notice a young woman nearing on the path. Only a girl really, maybe just starting high school. Already, Willow couldn't remember looking or feeling so young. The girl had a bounce to her step and a smile and seemed so spirited in this experience, that even the chill in the night went unnoticed and she left her small jacket open. Willow closed her eyes from the low neckline of the girl's shirt visible past the jacket; hunger and desire suddenly begging her to take this girl and taste her life. Willow shook the impulses away and instead pulled the quarter from her pocket and flipped the coin. Willow called out a passing comment as the girl drew closer. "Beautiful night, isn't it?" "Yeah." The girl stopped, smiled, and drawing a big breath, spun in a slow circle, arms out. "I love a full moon night. The only thing better is a stormy night." "A bit late for you to be out." Willow kept a light tease to her voice, not wanting to appear as a disapproving adult. She wondered if this girl is what Buffy would have been like, without the calling. "Eh," the girl shrugged and smiled. She walked up to Willow and stood beside her, gazing out into the water. "I snuck out for a walk. Had some thinking to do." "It could be dangerous out here," Willow pointed out. The girl turned to Willow, a smug smile complimenting another shoulder shrug. "Part of the fun." She turned the tables and nodded towards Willow. "And what are you doing out here, then?" "Me?" Willow smiled and let her eyes travel over the girl's body, setting her on edge for the first time. "I'm hunting." Before the girl could run, Willow grabbed her and held her close as her face morphed and fangs slipped into her neck. Willow opened her eyes and her mind to the experience of it: the warm copper tang and the burn of the girl's spirit and life as it slid down her throat. She closed her eyes and slowed her pace, lapping and gently pulling as the girl weakly struggled, feeling every nerve ending spark, buzz and tingle. It still seemed to end too soon and Willow dropped the girl and stepped back, dizzy and searching for balance. Willow was elated and terrified, understanding now what Buffy had meant, what Xander craved; and haunted by the memory of Rack. It might have been better if she had just kept this locked behind a wall in her mind, be easier if she never let herself know. A poor and cynical excuse for a conscience- a coin toss, and she let it grant her permission. Could it really be the only line now between wanting and taking? Willow remembered again Coven lessons on power and temptation. They were only words in her mind, choices maybe, distracted by the sensations flowing and filling every part of her body. She smiled and stretched and also remembered what the Coven members said when she would pick at her food, "The sacrifice is all the more meaningful for the enjoyment." Willow bent down and scooped the girl into her arms, standing and holding her close. She whispered, "thank you," in her ear and carefully started down the bank to the water's edge. She laid the girl's body where the moon's path seemed to reach the shore, stroking her hair from the girl's face and arranging her as if she were sleeping. She imagined the girl's soul traveling the moon path out over the water and dipped her fingers lightly into the waves. She was so young. If she was to be continuing this for an eternity, she would at least have to draw a line, however arbitrary, on what was to be too young. Willow splashed the cold and gritty water on her face and looked down the moon's path to the expanse of sea. It was beautiful here, even only in the night. She reached her sight to what she imagined was the horizon, a varying dark shade between sky and sea. It was believed you could fall off the edge once. Simpler times. It's known now, as you approach, the line is pushed forward until you've come full circle, never really crossing it. Willow had come full circle a different person than she began. She had pushed, always reassured the line she shouldn't cross was well in the distance. Just because there wasn't an edge to fall from didn't mean you didn't change. She danced colorful magic sparks through the water with her fingers, remembering that first flush of excitement when she finally, successfully floated a pencil. The water sparked her back. Willow pulled her hand up in reaction, anticipating the burn she got now when the earth reverberated back its power. The pain never came. Only a cool tingle vibrated along her hand like a soothing balm. Tentatively, she placed her hand back in the water and slowly opened herself to the sea's energies. A force much greater than the waves lapped rhythmically into her psyche. Gaining confidence, she reached out, deeper, extended her consciousness into the sea and felt herself overlap and intertwine with a powerful and primal force. It was dark, deep and cold; but it was not empty: a vast reservoir teeming and stirring with the very stuff of life. Willow spent the night, forgotten. Only when she felt the dawn approaching did she withdraw from her explorations and discovery. Regret at parting, excitement at the flood of possibilities and meanings, anticipation of sharing this with Buffy and Xander: they tumbled her thoughts and the journey up the hill and across the dark campus towards the motel went mostly unnoticed. Only when a pre-dawn jogger could be seen crossing the campus did Willow rouse herself to her surroundings. A young woman, the dedicated type Willow imagined, whatever was playing through the headphones keeping her sole focus. Absently, Willow pulled the coin from her pocket and flipped it. She nodded to the woman as she jogged by and they continued in separate directions. A sudden, excited joy filled Willow and she sprinted back to the motel, back to Buffy and Xander. * * * * * * * * * Giles supported and steadied his body with his hand on the door jam as he consecutively attempted to insert the key into his apartment door's lock. Smiling with eventual success, he stumbled into his apartment and shutting the door, leaned against it while his eyes adjusted to the unexpected light. Giles saw her then; Dawn stretched out asleep on his couch. His hand rubbed his forehead and straightened his hair as he prepared himself for this unexpected visit. With great concentration, he carefully and quietly made his way across the room and into the armchair opposite the couch, worried that any noise might startle her awake. He wished he could let her sleep. He ached himself for rest. But if she was here it was because she needed him. Giles leaned heavily on his elbows and gently encouraged Dawn awake. "Dawn, Dawn, wake up. Dawn..." "Giles?" Dawn opened her eyes and covered them with the back of her hand as she sat up on the couch. Waiting until her eyes adjusted to the light, she lowered her hand and smiled at him. "You made it home. I was worried. And then I guess I was a little sleepy. Sorry." "There's no need to apologize." Giles returned her smile briefly before evidence of worry clouded his face. "What's wrong?" Dawn shook her head a little and yawned. She waved off his concern. "Nothing's wrong. I just..." She looked intently into his eyes and watched as he quickly broke the contact and retreated back further into the chair, resting his head on the high back. "I can see you're beat. But not beat up, so no worries. I should just let you go to bed." Dawn sighed, relief and exasperation leaving her feeling all the more exhausted. "It's late. Can I just crash here tonight on the couch?" "No." Giles amended the reply with a smile as he shook his head. "No, you take the bed. I'll stay on the couch." "I can't ask you to do that," Dawn protested. "And you didn't," Giles reminded her. "Now go on." Dawn nodded in defeat, far too tired to protest any further. She rose from the couch and stumbled to the bedroom. Turning and leaning on the door jam, she watched as he fell onto the couch, making no apparent effort to arrange it comfortably or even to turn off the light. She shook her head and gathered a blanket and pillow from the bedroom. Dawn slid the pillow under his head and though she couldn't understand his slurred mumblings, chose to assume there was gratitude in them. She removed his shoes, pulled the blanket over him and stroking his hair, willed him into a peaceful sleep. She couldn't do this for him every night, though she knew with the smell of liquor on his breath again, he was doing this every night to himself. She worried about him and wondered when she went off to college, if he would be able to take care of himself. Dawn wiped an escaped tear from her eye and turned off the light. She made her way to the bedroom and removed only a few of her clothes before slipping into bed. She lay curled up, wrapped the covers around herself and carefully wished without wishing by the full moon setting past the window that she could just find her sister and friends. If she could find them, she could answer all his questions. She would be moving off to college soon. If she could find them, she could make it all right. * * * * * * * * * After a quick kiss to his two girls, Xander sprinted down East Holly St. and into the night. Willow wanted him to explore the city. He wanted to tear into it and let it fill him. Close enough he reasoned. At the bottom of the hill he pulled himself to a stop, the flush of people making him dizzy with hunger and choices. He breathed deep their varied scents, his eye scanned and prowled the groups of people along the wide and busy street, searching for the ones standing alone. He smiled when he noticed a young woman gazing through the window of a tattoo parlor. Xander crossed the street quickly then slowed to a casual approach. He could smell the fresh spice of fear tang the mix of humanity that radiated off her as she hesitated at the door. Willow would know the science behind that, he just barely contained a growl at the experience. Soon, there would be overwhelming fear to taste. Xander reached for her. Containing a scream with his hand, he pulled her with him into the narrow space between the buildings and buried his fangs into her neck. As he let the body drop, he watched a group noisily pass by the slim opening. He smiled, slipped quickly into the open and casually rejoined the community. The wide cross street, parking lots: this area was busy, open and on. He knew even without knowing the city, he was in the cool part of town. Xander craved the edges though. He wanted to find the parts the happy people never ventured into at night. He continued down Holly. He noticed an all night diner not far from the populated center. Good find; he realized it would be handy for a bite to eat late at night. Next to the diner, the roll of deep music could be heard ebbing from behind a simple door. Xander paused enough to investigate. The Wild Buffalo, a silly name, but the flyers lining the windows showed it to be a blues club. He leaned against the window and allowed the pulsing bass and dancing guitar to lull him into a rhythm for the night. Smiling, he continued down the road and into the deepening shadows, a light easy dance to his step and pace. By the time he reached a small park meeting the main harbor, the night crowd, the open and in part of the city had faded away. Here were only the sounds of waves, the subtle work of night crews and anchor lines clanking and keeping time. Suddenly the city was stretched out above him on a hill, shadowed between street lamps, the full moon providing enough light to give his heightened senses a glimpse into its depths. His city now. He would spend his nights finding what hides in every shadow. Xander took off past the park and impulsively turned onto Broadway and started quickly up the hill. Every city had a Broadway he reasoned, and every Broadway was the heart of the city. Except this one, he realized as he stopped at the top of the hill to catch his bearings. Office buildings, closed business, nothing. Growling low, he crossed the empty street and turned onto Meridian. A wide street, significant name, there had to be a rest of the city somewhere. Car lots and parts stores: the businesses were still closed, but he started to sense people around again. They were tucked in the houses that remained stubbornly un-demolished between business lots. Their music overrode their car's engines as they passed. Fast food places, good food places, both started to dot the blue collar strip. Xander noticed her immediately, just like everyone else, as she ducked into a bar far down the road. He picked up his pace to follow. 'Latin music and Spanish lyrics? This far north?' he wondered. He entered quickly but remained to the back, sliding away from the entrance. A restaurant, bar, dance club; he wasn't sure what to name the surprisingly large space. Well dressed men and women; laughing, drinking, dancing in front of the band on a stage in the corner. The music stirred his mind even as the lyrics passed through his ears without translation. He was obvious, disoriented and mostly ignored. Xander felt the patrons' curious focus though when instead of leaving, he crossed the entire room to the bar. She was there. The beautiful woman he had followed into the unexpected. He nursed a beer at the other end of the bar as he openly watched her laughing with her friends. He glared with envy as an older gentleman led her through an intricate and intimate dance, just one song, and it was enough. She noticed him of course, but grew more alarmed when after the dance he started to approach. She quickly pulled her girlfriends across the room and outside. He followed. Leaving some distance, he smiled as they strode quickly up the street, resolutely not turning around to notice him, and entered another bar. Xander picked up his pace when they were inside and also entered, scanning the room for her. Louder, younger, far more crowded; a simple bar with a dance floor. The DJ kept up a mix of hip hop and Latin pop; the space was so filled with movement, he almost missed it as she kissed one of her girlfriends on the cheek and slipped out the back door. He turned, left the bar, and chose to hide in the shadows of the parking lot beside the building. He took a deep breath hoping to find her scent and growled as he was assaulted with everyone's and realized he didn't know which might be hers. He would have to work on that. He was growing impatient and frustrated that he might have lost her when the click of high heals on pavement got his attention. Turning, he found her crossing the street. Xander smiled and followed more cautiously now. Keeping silent, to the shadows, and more distant, they moved further up Meridian. They left the open restaurants and bars behind and passed vacant lots. He could take her now. He knew with a burst of speed, he could close the distance before she could scream. She jumped as a car raced passed, music vibrating into the night and comments directed at her in the passing. She turned and searched behind her. Xander slid to an easy stop into the shadows. He drew her scent to himself; fear, yes, and more. She smelled of the sun: sand, lotions, hot peppers and alcohol. It reminded Xander of his last time at the beach: a stolen vacation with Buffy and Dawn. Even at the time it felt like something he would never feel again. She knew he was there, he realized with a smile, certain she could not see him. Her eyes swept the surface of the dark shadowed spaces behind her. She was beautiful and Xander simply watched the light wind stroke dark hair away from her face and ripple her deep red dress across rich brown skin. Then she turned and quickly continued down the road. A low, narrow, long building became the apparent destination, and Xander let her slip inside. As Xander approached the building, he paid more attention to his surroundings and what he might be walking into. It was obvious the woman expected to find safety here. He noticed the cars and trucks that filled the parking lot were tricked out, customed and there were as many motorcycles as anything else. Smiling, anxious and ready, he entered the building. The front room was small, nothing but pool tables, chairs, a bar and a jukebox in the back playing a Spanish Rap music Xander had never heard in his life. He scanned the room searching for her. He heard the conversations stop and watched everyone stand ready. A grin subtly hardened across his face as his gaze continued to sweep the room. There were about ten guys, maybe more in the back rooms and one woman, his woman, standing at the back near the jukebox. A couple men entered from the back then, one clasping the woman's hand as she whispered something in his ear. The man turned to look at Xander. Xander openly smiled at him and moved further into the room, finding a more open space where he could move around. He watched as the man started forward, grabbing one of the pool cues as he came. Xander had to remind himself that the pool cue was now an actual lethal weapon but other than that, they didn't have a chance. He didn't even give the man time to give the prerequisite threat and quickly slammed his fist into his face when he was close enough. The fight was on. A couple others immediately jumped in, one simply being knocked out but the other... Xander felt a rush as he heard the satisfying snap of ribs being shoved into a lung. The man fell to his knees on the floor, his scream choked and gurgled by the blood leaking from his mouth. Xander breathed deep the scent of it and licked his lips. He didn't have time to enjoy the moment long. It seemed everyone left in the room suddenly rushed to attack him. Xander let his reflexes take him and marveled at how much easier this all seemed now. He fell into a grace and rhythm, blocking blows and cutting down each of the attackers in turn. The occasional strike of a pool cue snapping across his back got through on his blind side but Xander barely took notice of it. The smell of blood and the cries of pain dulled all his other sensations and the lust to kill blocked any other thoughts. When one of the few remaining left standing screamed his attack, the broken remains of a pool cue descending in a strike, Xander growled from deep inside, his fangs challenging the man's roar. Xander knocked the weapon from the man's hand and grabbed his head in both hands, looking him in the eye as he gave his head a twist, snapping his neck. As suddenly as the fight started, it ended. A quiet filled the room. Broken glass, broken chairs, broken bodies littered the floor. Xander looked down at himself. Bruises, cuts, his own pain sliding into awareness as he pulled a knife from his side and tossed it to the floor. He looked up across the room. She was still there by the jukebox. Frozen in fear, her hands clasped tightly around the arm of one last old man, guarding her, a gun pointed in Xander's direction, shaking. "What are you?" he heard from a voice just as stuttered as the hand holding the gun. The question made Xander remember what he used to be, almost. Vague, muted memories of the boy who could barely hold his own in a fight staring down Jack O'Toole. Probably looking a little like this old guy right now. Xander smiled; the fangs, the ridged forehead, the one yellow eye glowing in humor, the eye patch where the other should be, the whole thing scarring the effect and still, it was his regular goofy grin. "Good question. I'm what I've always hated with abilities I've always wanted," Xander admitted to the man. "Life's funny that way." He tired of the standoff. He was so close now to the prize. Xander suddenly leapt into an arc and rolled with the landing, easily dodging the belated shot at where he'd just been standing. Momentum took him up under the hand holding the gun and with fluid motion, he batted away the weapon and held the man's head in his hands. There was never a pause, a thought. Xander simply twisted the neck and let the body drop. He grabbed the woman then; finally, holding her in his hands. He smiled again. Watched the fear flooding her eyes, choking her attempt to scream. "Death has its moments as well," Xander confided and slowly slipped his fangs into her neck. He held her close, content to let her pulse set the pace of his feeding. He drew in a breath, relishing her scent and relaxed into the moment as her own strength ebbed. It was eternity disappearing in a blink. There was small regret as he let her slip to the floor even as joy, warmth and excitement buzzed and bounced through him. He wondered how anyone could hate this kind of power. Xander left the bar, the dance returning to his step as the music he'd heard all night played in his mind. He continued up Meridian, noticing at a sign that somewhere 'Guide' had been added to the name. 'Guide-Meridian', well, he would see where it would lead him next. The road had dimmed and quiet long stretches of tree lined space now stretched out. He watched curiously as his wounds started to heal. He passed a golf course, peeking into its depths to see if any naughty kids were about. He let his buzz simply propel him further into night. The street suddenly dropped into retail sprawl. The freeway passed over and in the center of surrounding strip mall suburbs stood a large shopping mall. Xander crossed over to the expanse of parking lot. It wasn't really where he wanted to be, but he did want to see what movies were showing. It had been so long since he had a chance to go to the movies. He was crossing through the lot, ignoring most of everything around him. A couple was approaching, holding hands. High school kids, Xander noted, the guy's letterman's jacket being the give-away. Neither were willing to yield the right of way and they almost collided in passing. Xander easily heard the snide remark. "Loser," the boy derisively whispered, relishing his girlfriend's responding giggle. Xander stopped, turned and quickly jotted up in front of the couple, halting their progress. Smile in place, he looked at the boy, sizing him up, then openly stared him in the eyes. He wondered at the fact that this, this arrogant spoiled brat, was once the bane of his existence. And the girl, well he had once had the girl, the pretty popular bitch. He shook his head at the fact that he had ever wanted any of it. "What are you looking at?" the boy challenged, snide smirk automatically in place. Years of practice putting people like this down, experience of having never lost, clouding his judgment, blocking his instinct to run. "Nothing," Xander shook his head. "I'm looking at absolutely nothing." When the boy dropped his girlfriend's hand and took an aggressive step towards him, Xander snapped his fist into the boy's gut. While he was doubled over, he sent an uppercut to his jaw, jerking the boy upright and unconscious. Xander then grabbed the girl's hand and the boy's collar and pulled them both behind a nearby SUV. He let the boy drop to the pavement and covered the girl's scream with his hand, holding her against the vehicle. "You wouldn't believe the personal demons I'm confronting tonight." Xander had the strange urge to confess. "It's like a soul cleansing. Or would be, if I had a soul." He bent down and ripped his fangs into her neck, pulling the blood from her, then letting her drop. He started to walk away then turned back to the boy laid out prone on the pavement. Raising his foot over the boy's chest, Xander brought it down with all his strength. He heard rib bones give and snap, piercing heart and lungs. The movies forgotten, he left the parking lot. At the edge of the lot stood a small bus stop shelter. Xander noticed a bus approaching, the sign in the front letting everyone know it was headed for downtown. He decided to hitch a ride back. The bus rumbled back down Guide-Meridian and Xander smiled at the police cars surrounding the bar as they slipped past. He hopped off on Broadway, sure of his direction. Xander wandered the side streets through the closed office buildings. He could feel the night winding down, the full moon beginning its decent, and fought the inevitability of having to let it go. He wanted to miss the girls and wondered what they had been up to all night. He couldn't feel the loss, though. This night had been what he'd been craving those nights when they hunted discreetly on campus. Sated, excited, he easily leapt to the first platform of a fire escape stairway and raced up to the roof. He smiled, stretched his arms wide and circled slowly. This was his city. The view was amazing from the vantage of roof. Hills dotted with lights surrounded a small high-rise downtown core. The darker menacing peaks of mountains crowded beyond. The ocean yawned out from its edge. Tankers lit and littering the stretch of the bay. The darker shadows of islands protecting the city's fragile existence from most of the rage of storms. Nothing could protect it now from his rage, though. Xander noticed a taller building just across a small alley. Eyeing the distance, the height difference, he bounced on the balls of his feet. A giddy confidence at all his new found strength and speed filled him and spurred him on. He took a running start at it and leapt from the edge of the roof. Xander grabbed onto the rim of the taller building's roof and easily pulled himself up. This was even better, though there was no real difference in the view. He laughed. Seeing another building, he judged its distance as well. This one was farther away, across one of the city's streets, but the roof was lower. He was sure he could make it. He could do anything; he felt it. Xander stepped back a few paces then ran with all his speed to the edge and took off. He laughed at the sudden feeling of flying then looked up to see the next roof escaping him. His momentum slammed him into the side of the building and his mind registered the breaking of a window, then the feeling of falling and the solid impact of the sidewalk seven stories below. Xander groaned as he regained consciousness. He opened his eye relieved that the sun would not yet find his prone broken body. Everything hurt. He was sure he broke more bones than he was aware of having. He knew that damn sun would be rising soon, and whatever damage had been done to his body, he better just make it get him back to the motel anyway. Xander stumbled into the motel room and winced as Buffy ran up to him and wrapped her arms around him, holding up his twisted form and guiding it to the bed. "Xander, what happened?!" Buffy tried to be gentle as she arranged him fully on the bed and started to remove his shoes. Xander smiled despite the pain. "I tried to leap tall buildings in a single bound." Buffy looked puzzled at him. "Okay, you know that only works in comic books, right?" "I know it now." Xander tried to shrug and his smile faded. "Still, how cool is it that I can fall like that and still make it home?" "Xander," Buffy whispered as she laid down and stretched out beside him. She started to run her fingers through his hair. She shook her head and smiled as he smiled back. "So, what other crazy things did you do tonight?" Xander's smile faded a little. He closed his eye and let her touch comfort him, easing the pain. He remembered his night and yet with her touch, her naked body pressed so gently against his own, he also remembered his days. Their years together, experiences, softly tumbled and blended in his mind. Blindly, easily, his lips found hers in a gentle kiss. "I did some things you'll probably hate me for," he admitted, opening his gaze into hers. Buffy kissed his forehead and continued to run her fingers through his hair. "I could never hate you, Xander." "Then things Willow will definitely hate me for." Xander grimaced as he moved his arm to rest over his stomach. He had no guilt, was even incapable of it he realized, but here in Buffy's arms, he felt strangely conflicted. Buffy smiled and shook her head. She reached over and gently let her arm rest on him, taking his hand in her own. "She could never hate you either. After all, you never hated her," she gently reminded him. "Well, you'll see it on the news then, anyway." Xander squeezed her hand and groaned. "Okay," Buffy nodded and let it go. "I'm a little more worried about you right now. I know you'll heal, but I remember how much it hurts in the mean time. I bet I can speed that up and lessen the pain." "How?" Xander was loosing his focus. "You up for one last drink tonight?" Buffy whispered in his ear then moved a little up and forward, arching her neck within reach. "Really?" Xander had half expected her to be disappointed in him. "Yes, of course really." Buffy shifted her head so she could look into his eye. "We love you. I love you." When his goofy grin appeared on his face, she smiled back and brought her neck within reach again. She felt the sting as his fangs slipped in and groaned as the blood was pulled from her. Forgetting his injuries in the heat, bond, need; her leg slide back and forth over his own and her hand tightened over his. He couldn't hold her, so she melted into him, creating as much contact as possible. He groaned, sucked harder, didn't protest as she covered his body with her own. Then she felt his fangs slip away, watched his face morph back to human, his head turned to the side and his eye shut in deep sleep. She was now feeling drained as well. She should worry that Willow wasn't back yet. She could feel the sun's approach, but sleep was claiming her as well, and she let herself believe in Willow's safety and abilities as she curled up beside Xander and her eyes closed in rest. Not long after, Willow let herself into the room. She was grinning in excitement that faltered as she took in the scene on the bed. One naked Buffy curled against a clothed Xander, both asleep. A little disappointed that she would have to rouse her friends to tell them her news, Willow removed her clothes and stretched out beside Buffy. "Hey, sleepy-head, you in there?" Willow called into Buffy's ear, smiling at the answering moan. Buffy rolled over onto her back and opened her eyes, smiling at the obvious proof that Willow was safe. "Willow, you're home." "And here you are looking so worried," Willow gently chided her. Nodding her head towards Xander, she started her inquiries. "Why is he still in clothes?" Buffy glanced back at Xander to see how he was doing. She turned back towards Willow. It still unnerved her how they just looked dead while they slept. "He fell down, went boom. From a tall building. I think he broke a bunch of bones, so I didn't want to move him too much." "He got in a fight?" Willow was suddenly worried that maybe there was a slayer in town. "Oh no," Buffy corrected, amusement in her tone, "silly boy jumped all on his own." "Why'd he do that?" Willow glanced over to him, wondering now what the others had been up to all night. Buffy shrugged. "Who knows." Willow laughed and brought her gaze back to Buffy. "So, why do you look so tired? You look like you didn't feed at all." "Hey!" Buffy protested with an arm slap. "You're only to say I look beautiful." Willow rolled her eyes in response and waited without comment or altering her statement for the explanation. Buffy smiled a little and turned her head so Willow could see the bite marks. "I thought he could use the boost." "Ahhh." Willow kissed Buffy's lips. "That's so sweet." Willow scooted over closer to Buffy and draped her arm just under Buffy's breasts. "I had a great night. You know how I haven't been able to ground myself or tap into the earth? Well, tonight, I found out I can tap into the sea instead." "That's great, Will." Buffy weakly smiled. "It is!" Willow stressed, sensing a lack of excitement on Buffy's part. "So you can do magic now again? Real magic, I mean." Buffy watched Willow's answering nod. "See, that's good news." "You don't seem like someone who's just heard the best news ever," Willow mildly admonished. "Sorry. Sleepy." Buffy emphasized her point by closing her eyes. "I could help with that," Willow whispered in Buffy's ear. "You don't need to. I don't need to." Buffy opened her eyes and smiled at her friend. "I'll be fine." "I know." Willow brushed some of Buffy's hair away from her face. She brought up the arm that had been resting over Buffy to her lips and morphed her face, ready to cut her wrist with her fangs. "Do you even have enough to share?" Buffy chided. Willow simply smiled around her fangs in response, her eyes glowing in the darkened room. "Yes, I do." She bit her own wrist and brought the wound to Buffy's lips. She moaned, shocked heat flooding through her, when she felt Buffy's tongue swirl and tease, her lips gently brushing her wrist. Buffy's face didn't morph and with human eyes she watched Willow as she gently sucked the blood offered, pausing to lick and suckle gently at the wound. She smiled and stroked Willow's arm, watching as Willow's eyes closed at the sensation. Buffy relaxed and relished the connection, the intimate bond. A moan escaped her lips as she felt Willow dip down and tease her ear with her tongue. Skin slid across skin and the blood was pulled slowly from one to the other. Feeling a little strength return, Buffy licked at the wound and allowed it to close. Willow opened her eyes as she felt Buffy pull away slightly. Raising her head, she captured Buffy's lips with her own in a passionate kiss. "Feeling better?" Willow grinned knowingly. Buffy smiled in return and started stroking Willow's back with her fingers. Her other hand reached beside her and clasped Xander's. "Oh yeah. Of course you know I'm even sleeper now." "I know." Willow laid down and rested her head on Buffy's shoulder. "Sun's up anyway. We should sleep." She reached across Buffy and brought her hand to theirs. Connection hummed and lulled their minds into peaceful rest. * * * The moon was waning, half fading. Jenny Calendar was seated on the small balcony outside her motel room, watching the moon set in the day and letting the sound of waves on the shore wash the anxiety from her mind. It was warm, beautiful California weather, but Jenny could no longer consider it paradise. A week had passed and she was still in the same motel room her tribe had brought her to that night. Xander's room, they had told her. She gave herself some time to adjust to the sharp blunt reality of just being alive again. Promised herself she would not set out until she could stand. Stand the shrill pitch with which light stabbed at her eyes. Stand the dull roar of sounds that constantly pounded her ears. Stand the pressure of objects against skin, of air filling lungs, of loneliness. Reality first. She had eternity for the other thing. She had made all the inquiries, purchased a laptop for research, her mind assembling the details to regain her balance. Indeed, there had been an earthquake in Sunnydale and the area was now only a crater. She didn't bother to see it again for herself. She asked the motel staff offhand questions: her friends, separation in the natural disaster, did they overhear anything that might tell her where they could be found? It was enough when put together. The sudden disappearance of three. Letters left in her room. The others headed for Cleveland. She didn't understand why they would go to Cleveland until one of the waitresses jokingly mentioned that they kept referring to it as hell. Having the general location, the laptop readily supplied the specifics. Keywords in the search: watchers, slayer, Rupert Giles. There was a website and a mailing list. There was even a live journal. The language of the entries was carefully couched and coded in a way that anyone 'in the life' as it were could easily understand. This wasn't Rupert's doing. Even if she could fathom the idea that somewhere in the passing of years, Rupert somehow made the leap to the age of technology, there was an informality and even humor present. There were others involved. Younger others. Maybe, she had a chance at pulling him away. Digging only a little further gave her what she needed: an address and even his phone number. She must have stared at her phone a hundred times. This... this needed to be done in person, and there was just no way to warn someone that their ex was back from the dead and wanted to come see them. No way that she could think of and between putting off dealing with what she had been pulled from the dead for, she had thought of little else. She was used to dating, before. She had been good with dating. And great with exes: the seeing them again occasionally if the sex was great, or if not, at least remaining civil. But with Rupert it was left at something just becoming more than simple dating. Maybe it was that their relationship formed on the precipice of hell, but it was falling quickly into something deeper. Then... it just shattered. Even then, like some 'thing' Buffy was always facing, it started to reform, join together seemingly of its own. She felt the fear of it then and the call of it now: love. She would just have to drop in, say hi and see what happened. So she sat on the balcony watching seagulls scavenge for food and gathered her courage. She could remember the person she felt she was and it all seemed so farther away than the few years that had evidently passed. She used to love life, loved the living of it. She'd bounce from festival to festival in the summer. She would go out every weekend, seeking the new experience, searching for the next event. The restaurant find, the coffee house concert, all this filled her personal time, before... She remembered she used to love to dance. She could feel nothing of that now. And tucked deep in the back of her mind was a fear that nothing more of it would ever return. The Powers That Be wouldn't be so cruel, would they? It was nearing the time to leave these inert reminisces as a part of the dark haunting that would always remain in this room. Beginnings had to be made, hopes had to be believed and later this evening she would be on a flight to Cleveland. * * * * * * * * * A series of profane expletives streamed in rapid succession from Willow's mouth. "Willow!" Buffy glared at her friend in astonishment even as a smile began to curve the end of her mouth. "You eat a sailor last night? I didn't even know you knew those words." She was chuckling now. "Oh, I knew 'em this whole time. Just feeling free to use 'em, now." Willow motioned to the newly purchased laptop resting against her bent knees. "This is really starting to tick me off." "What is?" Buffy leaned closer to Willow and rested her head on Willow's shoulder to peer at the laptop's screen. They were simply lounging through the daylight hours she thought. Sitting against the headboard next to each other on the motel bed; reading, surfing, the kind of wasting time that generally didn't require creative swearing. "Willow, it's just Ebay." "No, it's not just Ebay." Willow countered, waving her hand at the screen. "It's one of the few remaining Watcher's journals that didn't blow up with the building. The family either doesn't know what they inherited or doesn't care." "Why do you want a Watcher's journal? Isn't all that yesterday's news?" Buffy peered closer to the screen to read the details. "Or two century's even?" Willow tapped some numbers onto the screen and submitted another bid. "I'm starting to build a library for our new place, so I'm trying to gather all the texts I can find about not only Slayers but vampires." "You think they'll come after us?" Buffy surmised, putting her book aside and focusing on the conversation. "No, well, not for a long while." Willow hedged. "I don't think they'll discover us so easily. This is more for me, for us. I want to know where vampires came from, what exactly I woke up in the potentials," she paused and looked curiously at Buffy, "why they seem to be mixy things after all." Willow shrugged and smiled. "I have an eternity of days to fill, thought I'd do some research." "Willow, we know where vampires come from. Giles like gave the whole spiel the first night you were attacked by them." Buffy smiled warmly at the memory. "Of course, you were feeling a little faint at the time. You looked cute, but slightly ill." Willow playfully pushed Buffy away. "I did great for the first time, slightly in shock but... wait, you thought I looked cute?" "Adorably shell shocked." Buffy confirmed. Willow mock glared at Buffy then glancing at the computer, let loose another string of profanities. She keyed in a higher bid and sat back to watch with her arms crossed. "Of course, that was then..." Buffy quietly and curiously observed. Willow sheepishly smiled at Buffy. "Sorry. Just find myself in a bidding war again." She settled down and after some thought, remembered where the conversation had turned off course. "I remember what Giles told us, but since then we've learned so many things about the Watchers Council, nasty things, I just don't trust what they say. I don't trust they told Giles everything they know. I just want to find some things out for myself." "Okay," Buffy nodded her understanding, "so I get the big book gather, but why the creative cursing?" Willow motioned towards the laptop as if the answer was in bold type on the screen. "Because every time I find an important text, I end up in a bidding war with the same guy for it. So far, I keep winning, but he's really starting to bug me." Buffy looked closer at the screen then back at Willow. "Which guy?" Willow smiled, a slightly devilish tint filled her eyes. "Watcher1971." "Giles?!" Buffy's shock rocked her back slightly before she looked again at the screen almost expecting to see his face. Willow burst out laughing. "Buffy, this is an internet site. You do remember who Giles is, right? Or did you eat an amnesiac last night?" It was Buffy's turn to mock glare. "Then who?" Willow shrugged and watched the time tick down on the screen. "I'm not sure. Someone who survived the First? A wanna be? It is kinda fun when I win, even if it does cost me too much money. Can you imagine the curses that would come from his mouth if he knew who he was bidding against?" "Um, yeah," Buffy was suddenly feeling a little uneasy. "They can't trace you with all this, can they?" Willow just looked at her friend and tried to decide whether to forgive the question. "Please, now I'm thinkin' you dined on blonds." "Come on," Buffy protested and defended, "this is a Watcher we're talking about, some unknown Watcher. I thought we were just disappearing from them, not engaging in cyber battle." Willow relented quickly, her face softened and she reached out to clasp Buffy's hand. "It's okay, I'm very careful, so no, no-one can trace any of this back to us. Besides, it's good to keep these out of his hands, right? The last thing this world needs is the Watchers Council reforming." Willow turned back to the laptop when it beeped. "Ha! I win again." Buffy squeezed Willow's hand and smiled at Willow's glow of victory. "Yay, Willow." Her voice held little excitement. Willow closed the laptop and set it aside on the bedside table. She turned accusingly towards Buffy. "What's that supposed to mean?" "Last known meaning would be good job," a somewhat flustered Buffy answered. "No," Willow countered as she crossed her arms over her chest. "No, that was your 'I don't really think this is a good idea but she went and did it again' cheer." Buffy sat up straighter so she could face Willow full on. "Hey, I'm the original 'put a Watcher in his place' gal, but I don't see why you're bringing their attention and probable frustration and anger on us." "I know what I'm doing." Willow might have meant the words to reassure if there wasn't so much accusation in them. "Gods, if I had a quarter," Buffy started then stopped with a short laugh. "Wait, I do have a quarter now for every time I've heard that." "You've never trusted me." Willow accused, rage shaking her voice. Buffy laughed again and shook her head. She looked to the ceiling trying to calm her own rising anger and frustration. Closing her eyes briefly, she centered her gaze back onto Willow. "I trusted you every time, Willow." "Ha!" Willow blindly continued. "When was the last time you really trusted me?" Buffy couldn't believe she heard her right. Anger flaring again, she tried to cut straight to the defining answer. Shaking her head quickly, she brought her vampire visage in place and stared into Willow's eyes. Willow looked away quickly. "You do blame me for that," she quietly mumbled towards the bedspread, her passion deflated. The demon relished Willow's pain but Buffy's compassion cut it down and she pushed it away. She reached out and took Willow's hand, the connection calming and filling. "No, Willow, not really." When Willow looked up disbelievingly, she tried to place thoughts into the best words. "I don't think you getting bit was your fault. And... and I drank willingly enough." Buffy paused and made sure she had Willow's full attention, held her gaze. "I just meant that you got close enough, that it could happen at all because I trust you. I've always trusted you. That was never the issue." "But there was an issue." Willow wanted to pull her hand away, wanted to return to the anger that could buffer her from the accusations, but the warmth of the connection proved the greater desire. "I was your loose cannon. You needed a witch, your big gun, even a loose one. So you learned to deal with the consequences and lived with the damages. That's all I was to you: a weapon." "What? No." Buffy pulled herself closer to Willow, let their knees touch, brought her other hand to also wrap around Willow's and rested them on her lap. "You're my friend, my best friend." Seeing a doubtful look cross Willow's face, Buffy searched her memories for proof. "Willow, look at me. I also trusted you with some of the biggest moments of my life. And some of the most painful, too. I... I broke down in front of you. Fell apart. More than once. I've never given that to anyone other than you." Buffy looked away briefly. Willow clung to Buffy's hands, their connection and her words. Still, she caught the meaning behind the adverted eyes. "Except for Spike." Buffy's eyes returned to Willow's, sure and honest. "Only because I couldn't turn to you." Buffy smiled and rolled her eyes, humor tentatively returning. "And look what that got me." "It's just..." Willow ran her free hand through her hair and tried to collect her thoughts. "It just seems that the only thing we've had in common is demons." "The outside ones or the inside variety?" Buffy cut in. "You know what I mean." A hurt insecurity still clouded Willow's voice. "And it sometimes seemed that I just created as many problems for you as the demons did." "Not even close." Buffy assured her. "Besides, I've been known to go off a little half cocked; head first; oops, there were consequences, myself." Buffy smiled as Willow finally grinned in response. "I'd say we have a lot in common. We're a lot alike, as all instant best friends are." "Instant best friends?" Willow shifted a little uncomfortably even as her smile deepened. "Yeah. Remember?" Buffy nudged her with her knees. "My first day of school. I saw you at the water fountain. I said "hi" in the courtyard. Found you at the Bronze. I just knew. And that was way before vampires and magic. Well, vampires followed very soon after. But magic wasn't even on the radar." Willow smiled at the long forgotten memories. "That was the first time, of many I might add, you saved my life." "I was so panicked when I thought something might happen to you. I almost staked Cordelia in my haste to find you." Buffy confessed with a grin. Her face sobered as she continued with the rest. "Willow, everything that happened to you mattered to me. Mattered very much. Every time you got hurt, it hurt me. I felt it so deeply. That would only happen if we were best friends." "Then why don't you ever kiss me?" Willow's smile faded and her eyes darted to the bed cover. "What?" Buffy pulled back slightly. "I kiss you." "No, I kiss you." Willow corrected and brought her gaze back unerringly to Buffy's. "I always start it. You start things with Xander. But me..." Willow shrugged. "It's like you're just following along because I want it." "This is a lover's quarrel?" Buffy raised one of her hands and ran it through her hair. "When was this a lover's quarrel?" "When was it not?" Willow pulled her hands away. "See. We were talking about trust, and... and issues. You still see it as friendship and me with a quirky way of showing it." "No." Buffy protested as she tried to figure out another way of explaining it all. "Willow," her hand reached up and smoothed Willow's hair away from her face before stroking her cheek. "Okay, I get it. Lovers. I'm just... I'm not used to seeing us like that yet. It's unfamiliar. With Xander, it's just, well, I know how to react to a man. With you... it's just still so strange to want this. Before, I could look into your eyes and I knew you loved me. You did love me, right?" Buffy smiled as Willow nodded beneath her hand. "And I could feel how much I loved you. That part's gone. And I'm not used to how it happens now. That's all. Please, you have to believe me. I love you." Willow was startled not only by the words but by Buffy's thumb gently caressing her lips. "You love me?" Buffy continued to stroke Willow's face. "I love you. Please believe me." She leaned forward and pressed her lips to Willow's. Buffy deepened the kiss, pushing them both back down on the bed. Suddenly, she pulled up slightly and started to gently laugh. "What's so funny?" Willow lay beneath Buffy, doubt coloring her features. "I'm sorry," Buffy was quick to try and consol. "It's just, I was surprised at how much I was suddenly looking forward to the make-up sex." "Make-up sex." Willow repeated, her hand moving to stroke Buffy's back as her confidence returned. "Well," Buffy teased playfully, "we had our first real lover's quarrel, we have to have the make-up sex." She bent down and slowly traced Willow's lips with her tongue before slipping it inside Willow's mouth with a sensual, controlled kiss. Ending the kiss and pulling up slightly, Buffy's lips curled to a devilish grin. "And you won't doubt me again after I'm through with you." Willow brought her hand up to stroke Buffy's hair. "Doubt is in my nature. You might have to show me more than once." Buffy's fingers trailed their way up Willow's thigh to her center. "I'll put it on my list of things to do for eternity." As her fingers began stroking Willow's clit softly, Buffy began a slow journey down Willow's body with a series of gentle and exploratory kisses. Willow was right in a way, but once started, Buffy was now far more comfortable with the erotic motions of this dance. The link that strengthened as touch grew intimate was at first comforting and sated the bond of friendship; but now, and somewhere over the passing weeks, the textile expression of deep friendship had distilled to sensations of desires and pleasure. Finally admitting that, Buffy started to investigate Willow's reactions, seeking only her pleasure. She felt Willow's fingers tangle in her hair, trying to urge her forward and further down. She ignored it, pausing her lips' journey down Willow's neck to rake her teeth over and lightly nip at the scarred bite marks. She inhaled the complimenting and familiar scents of Willow's shampoo and soap, tasted the dry cool skin over Willow's collar bone as she continued her slow controlled journey of kisses. She felt Willow's fingers tighten around her scalp and insist she move faster and more directly. Instead she continued her light kisses down the center of Willow's chest, eventually sliding to the side to curl her tongue under the curve of Willow's breast, circling up to the nipple, then slowly crossing to the other breast. Buffy smiled as she felt Willow give up and in, Willow's hand limply falling to the side and her legs parting, sliding open. Buffy continued her fingers' light tease over Willow's cunt, slick and swollen with need. "Buffy?" she heard her name called out as a question as teeth grazed over a nipple before lips started kissing their way down and a tongue dipped playfully into a navel. Buffy looked up into Willow's questioning eyes. Doubt, still? She answered by twirling her tongue over skin, dipping it again into Willow's navel before continuing her explorations. Buffy traveled aside from Willow's center to kiss the inside of her thigh, then watched as she gently pushed two fingers into her lover. Lover. This is how you touch a lover. Buffy felt Willow's thigh twitch against her cheek, muscles tighten around her fingers. Willow's pleasure reverberated in Buffy's core through their connection and she pushed her need aside. Continuing her gentle thrusts into Willow, Buffy restarted her oral explorations down the inside of Willow's leg. She paused at the knee and spent a moment solely on the sensitive underside before crossing to the other knee and a slow, teasing path up and towards Willow's center. Buffy kept her eyes open, watching as Willow's fluttered shut, noticing shudders ripple through her body. She felt muscles twitch beneath her lips, inhaled the now familiar scent of Willow's sex. Memories flooded into her through their connection along with the rising passion and she let them filter in, dropping lips and tongue along the inside of Willow's thigh each time she recalled an aborted impulse to kiss her friend over the years. Her fingers continued their stroking as her lips finally caressed Willow's clit. Buffy smiled as she heard Willow's resounding and emphatic "yes". Caressing with tongue and lips, Buffy sped the movement of her hand, listening as Willow's control slipped and she slid ever closer to orgasm. Willow seemed to explode off the edge and Buffy had to hold her hips down and steady as her fingers continued to seduce wave after wave of shuddered pleasure. With a final kiss just below the navel, Buffy removed her fingers and stretched out beside Willow, gently stroking the hair from Willow' face. "Wow," Willow dazedly muttered. She searched for something she should say, could say, and settled for what kept repeating through her mind. "What was that?" Buffy chuckled softly and bent forward to brush her lips across Willow's. "That was me kissing you." "Over and everywhere and now I can't move." Willow weakly raised her arm and let it drop in example. "I'll never be able to move again." Buffy wrapped herself over and into Willow's side, resting her head on Willow's chest and listening to her heart not beat, the silence beneath her ear oddly comforting and eerily familiar. "It's okay." Buffy trailed her fingers lightly over the outside of Willow's thigh and over her hip. "No," Willow protested as she limply settled her hand over Buffy's shoulder, holding her close. "I need to... want to..." "Good," Buffy gently interrupted and looked up into Willow's eyes. "I want you to." "Well, yeah," Willow smiled. "No," Buffy was quick to clarify, "I want you to. I want you." Willow chuckled lightly. "Then you shouldn't have broke me." "You'll live," Buffy deadpanned in return. "When did this change for you? Between us." Willow's mental functions were slowly returning, and questions were still the first to swim through her mind. "I don't know," Buffy honestly admitted. She held Willow's eyes with her own and watched her reactions. "Is this real?" Willow quickly followed Buffy's answer, searching her eyes. "Yes." Buffy watched Willow's shy smile form and smiled herself in response as she felt Willow's fingers run through her hair. "Yes." Questions of her own started to push through Buffy's mind. "When did it change for you?" She waited patiently as Willow's mouth opened and then closed in adverted response. "College." Willow eventually admitted. "Maybe high school." Buffy smiled and held Willow closer. "Sorry it took me so long." She watched a surprised joy cross Willow's features. "And Xander? Has best friends crossed the line to lovers for you and Xander?" Willow continued to stroke Buffy's hair as she sought an answer. "I think so. It's hard to tell. I always loved him. Always wanted him." "Even post 'gay now'?" Buffy teased. Willow smiled gently with the memories. "Yeah. But Xander's not exactly Xander any more." "He is with us." Buffy objected. "It's tearing him apart a little." Willow voiced her concern. "It is." Buffy conceded. "And you? You and Xander?" Willow continued these explorations. "Yeah," Buffy easily admitted. "Good." Willow's smile was genuine. "Cause he's always been in love with you." "He loves you, too." Buffy emphasized her remark with a kiss over Willow's heart. "I know," Willow acknowledged. "Wants you," Buffy followed. "That I don't know." Willow weakly challenged. "I do." There was no doubt in Buffy's tone. "I think maybe all this has been coming for a long time now." "Really?" The surprise was easily heard in Willow's voice. "Yeah." Buffy took some time to clarify the sudden thoughts in her head. "I mean I know how I felt about you both every time I thought it would be the end. Looking back..." Buffy shrugged. "Maybe the three of us, this relationship, just got a shove from a strange alternate direction." "So when there was finally an end it began?" Willow shook her head a little. "Irony, much?" Buffy chuckled in response. "The only way I've seen humor as a natural force in this world," Willow agreed. She stretched herself under Buffy and settled back. "Thank god for vampire recovery." Buffy glanced up at Willow, the incongruity of the statement making her brows knit. "Huh?" Willow smiled, an evil glint in her eyes. She started to run her fingers over Buffy's spine. "My strength's returning." "Oh." Buffy's leg started to move over Willow's. "And that means what exactly?" "My turn." Willow pulled Buffy up to her and rolled them over, bending forward to lightly trace her lips over Buffy's. Buffy wrapped her arms over Willow's back and opened her thighs, seeking the friction of Willow's leg against her sex. The desire she had carefully and forcefully banked aside cascaded over her. She ached for it, surprised yet familiar with the pain. The deliberate intimacy with which she had touched Willow cut and drove their connection to her core; seven years of their war torn, dynamic and irrevocable bond collected and condensed to the flash point: a desire greater than need and threatening to explode at just the spark of a kiss. "Don't..." Buffy voice shook with effort. "Don't tease me," she pleaded and warned. "Why not?" Willow raised slightly from the brief kiss. "You kept me on edge for hours." "Wasn't hours." Buffy pressed herself against Willow's thigh, her body rolling seductively beneath Willow's. "Felt like..." Willow's words trailed off as her eyes noticed the heated gaze of Buffy's. She felt nails dig into her back. As she parted her lips and before she could form the words, she watched the spark in Buffy's eyes briefly brighten and felt the fingers on her back tense as Buffy pulled herself up and she was suddenly swept in the passion of a deep, overwhelming kiss. Buffy dropped back onto the bed. Her hand tangled in Willow's hair and held her close. Buffy's eyes stared into Willow's as she licked the kiss from her lips. "Want you," she confessed. "Need you," Buffy paused and searched for the openness in Willow's eyes. In a breathless whisper, she continued the confession, "need you to fuck me, Willow." Willow not only heard the words but felt them vibrate through her. Her eyes swept over Buffy's lithe body; watched its constant, rhythmic sway. She had never seen Buffy so naked. Willow tensed her leg into the slick pressured rocking against her thigh. She watched Buffy's eyes flutter closed and her body arch beneath her. Buffy's head fell back and Willow trailed her finger down her bared neck, teasing the scars of bite marks. Exposed, revealed, betrayed, forgiven, Slayer, Vampire... impressions concealed in words tumbled through Willow's mind. The moment frozen and intentions forgotten, Willow just stared at the offering. The demon within Willow growled deep from her throat as the traces of Slayer still locked inside Buffy radiated as almost a scent. Willow noticed Buffy's eyes tighten shut, and heard the responding moan escape. The intermission was broken as craving passion ignited and consumed the space between them. Willow's mouth fell to the exposed neck; tonguing, nipping and sucking; human caresses covering and marking over the evidence of demon conquests, willing Buffy to submit to her. Forcefully, confidently, Willow entered Buffy with three fingers. "Willow!" she heard Buffy's cry carry past her ear. She felt muscles twitch, relax, and consent to the intrusion. She kept the rhythm of her fingers slow, drawn and deep; sliding her own body over Buffy's at a matching pace- soft, dry and cool skin teasing and tingling in tangible connection. She fucked Buffy in slow easy motions, the explosion of desire settling into a molten flowing expression of love, compassion and possession. Willow willed it to last for hours as she listened to her name called over and over, but her thumb moved up to circle Buffy's clit, her hand sped slightly of it own accord, reacting finally to the pleading tone in Buffy's voice. Her whole body felt Buffy tense and arch beneath her and she rode the climax, their connection plummeting to their cores as the storm passed and they lay together, exhausted. A light slumber was broken by Buffy's gentle laughter. Willow stretched and arched then curled back, draping herself over Buffy's body. "What's so funny?" she mumbled directly into Buffy's ear. "Poor Xander," Buffy answered. She ran the tips of her fingers up and down Willow's spine. "As in poor Xander missed it? Or poor Xander's been working too hard at the new place?" Willow peeked outward with her vampire senses; there was still a few hours of daylight left and according to her moon calendar, the half moon was probably just setting. "Oh, I should probably say both, but I really just meant the first one." Buffy clarified. "So, we good now, lover?" Willow smiled. "I like hearing that." She started to run her fingers randomly over Buffy's chest. "That was... wow. I'm not sure what that was. But good. It's all good." "Yeah," Buffy leaned forward and kissed the top of Willow's head. "Xander..." Willow's words faltered. "Xander what?" Buffy felt Willow's head shake across her shoulder. "Nothing." Willow switched to clearer thoughts. "He said we'd be able to move in tonight. This is our last day in this crappy motel room. He's been at it all week. We still need furniture, TV, stereo, all that. But he said he'd set up the bed today." "Yeah, I heard him mention the bed was all we needed anyway." Buffy smiled. "I can't imagine him lasting long without a TV, though. We should probably, I don't know, reward him somehow." Willow looked up into Buffy's eyes, a slight smirk on her lips. "Reward him how, exactly?" Buffy grinned and ran her fingers through Willow's hair. "Is sex all you think about now?" "It does seem to be almost as constant as breathing used to be." Willow dryly admitted. "Even down to the I don't have to think about it anymore." Willow's gaze turned thoughtful. "What's up with that?" Buffy shrugged. "Like you said before, it's the only way we have of feeling connected. To each other, the world. I know it's the moments when everything feels alright again. Well, that and when..." "Do you think we'll ever get used to how we are now?" Willow wondered out loud. "The big empty?" Buffy guessed. "I hope not. Been there, barely lived through that." "Yeah, me too." Willow dropped a kiss on Buffy's shoulder. "But Xander..." "What about Xander?" Buffy restarted her fingers through Willow's hair, hoping to coax what was on her mind into the open. "Last night he left five bodies in the movie theater." Willow pointed out as an example of her concerns. "He is attracting too much attention, yeah." Buffy intentionally seemed to miss Willow's point. Willow wasn't fooled and slapped Buffy across her stomach. "You know what I mean. He's..." "A vampire?" Buffy supplied. "Will, do you feel guilt?" "No," Willow softly admitted. "Remorse?" Buffy gently continued. "You know I don't." Willow tried to bring the conversation back around. "It's just, it's not like him. There's big empty there and he's all used to it." Willow snuggled a little closer to Buffy. "And I'm not. I miss him." Buffy dropped her arm to wrap around Willow's shoulder. "He comes back to us. It's Xander when he's with us. He's even giving me my kitchen." Buffy tried to lighten the mood. "Yeah, what's with the need for a kitchen, again? Even I was kinda with Xander on that one." Willow started to let her worry go, finding it very hard to hold on to negative thoughts while the bond pulsed so freely between them. "It's not a home without a kitchen." Buffy stated. "Homes have kitchens, crypts don't." Buffy's thoughts on Xander continued. "I miss him too, Willow. But he always comes back to us. And 'I missed you sex'?- just as good as 'make up sex'." Willow smiled. "True. And don't forget the 'thank you sex' we'll be having later tonight. Plus, there's 'goodnight sex' and 'hey, we woke up sex'." Buffy laughed. "Now you get the idea." She grew quiet for a moment then whispered, "our world really tilted hard, didn't it?" Willow felt Buffy grow still beneath her and started stroking Buffy's stomach with her fingers. "The Slayer shrugged, yeah." Finding the scar left on Buffy's stomach from that last battle and running her finger over it, Willow wondered aloud, "this never did disappear. Do you feel super Slayer at all?" Buffy watched Willow's finger trace over the scar. "Violent tendencies without the calling?" Buffy tried to explain. "I feel like an outlaw." "Cool," Willow surprised Buffy. "I feel kinda outcast myself. My new source, very of the dark and deep. Not evil, just... outcast," Willow trailed off. "We should probably get some sleep." She snuggled closer and relaxed against Buffy. "Okay." Buffy closed her eyes and rested her arm on Willow's shoulder. "Sweet dreams." * * * * * * * * * It was well into night in Cleveland when Jenny arrived. She paid the cab driver and stepped nervously onto the sidewalk in front of the Sunny Hills apartments. Ridiculous name considering it was located downtown, in the flats, and the humid summer night gave her the feeling of being trapped in an oppressive closed in cave. 'Or grave,' she mentally corrected herself. She stopped at the locked front door, trapped by her own fears and staring at the call button next to the name Rupert Giles. The sound of someone coming down the entry stairwell on the other side of the door shook her out of her frozen state and she quickly backed down the stairs and to the side, out of the way. Her breath caught as she watched a tall man exit the building and start down the sidewalk away from her. 'Rupert.' She watched, stunned and mute as he started to fade from her sight. "Way to show some courage, girl," she muttered to herself. Trusting her snap decision to follow him, she quickly started down the sidewalk. Jenny watched as the man entered a pub and she stopped just outside the windows to peer inside. The pub was empty and she could easily see Giles sit on a stool at the bar and motion to the bartender. A sudden flash of panic crossed her mind as she realized he could be here to meet someone, a female someone. She stayed at the window, waiting. He was older, Jenny realized. Gray has started to show in his hair, he moved slower and with greater caution. A loose, casual, button down shirt was left un-tucked over blue jeans. He sat hunched over the bar, head down as he nursed his drink. If she didn't know him anywhere, she wouldn't have recognized him at all. Jenny noticed he never looked to the door or glanced at his watch. The bartender moved as if this was routine. She guessed it was. He held himself like a man who had lost everything. Maybe he knew what had happened to Buffy and the others. Maybe she could be one lost thing he could have back. Maybe, in the face of the evidence of so much time passed, it was long too late. A mental tug o' war started as she watched him. She needed life, needed him. If she was rejected, she would be on the next plane to Seattle and the death she was bonded to and admittedly belonged with. She wrapped tight around her fears the thin hope of love. 'A fool's errand,' her mind chided her. 'Then a fool for love,' she mentally countered and taking a deep breath, entered the pub. Jenny slowly and silently approached Giles, wary of frightening him and terrified for herself. She stopped just in front of the stool beside his and quietly spoke. "Hi." Giles turned, his face registering surprise before carefully slipping into an indifferent mask. He turned back to his drink. "I suppose you're here to let me know that we couldn't really kill you off." Jenny's breath caught, she thought she felt her heart stop. "What?... Rupert... I..." Giles calmly started through the motions of continuing to nurse his drink. "You needn't have bothered. And don't you dare try and gloat. I can see through that bluff. Of course you live on, in our hearts and so you appear as loved ones, but I am just as certain you suffer in defeat." Jenny's mind was swimming and she felt faint. Quickly, she took a seat and willed the tears not to start. She gazed at his profile for understanding. "Rupert, please, I can explain. I think." Impulsively and desperate for a second chance, Jenny reached over and placed her hand over his left hand, stilling his attempt to casually drink on. Giles snatched his hand away and placed it on his chest in an effort to calm his heart. He turned to the woman seated next to him, the woman who had just touched him. "Jenny?" He shook his head and glanced at his drink, wondering just how many he had before remembering he hadn't been here that long. "It can't be." He looked up again at the woman looking just as he remembered. "Is it you?" Jenny tried to smile. "Hi. No, wait. I already said that, and then... Rupert, yes, it's really me. It's Jenny. I know it's been a long time. I know this is sudden. I even know it's impossible, but... I'm sorry, I had to see you." "But how?" Giles tentatively reached out and placed his hand over Jenny's. He marveled at the feel of it, turning it over and running his thumb over the palm. It was warm to his touch. The skin was soft. The returning squeeze, gentle. She was alive, in the sense of not being undead. His Jenny was alive. Jenny closed her eyes and lowered her head a moment as she tried to swallow the pain. Raising her head slightly, she looked into Giles' eyes and couldn't help but notice the tiny lines around them. "The tribe. My own tribe. They summoned," she shook her head, "resurrected me. About a week ago, I found myself back from the dead." Seeing the dark look in his eyes, she tried to lighten the explanation. "You know Sunnydale, these things happen." "Sunnydale's gone." Giles tone was dark and pulled his hand away to grasp his drink once again. "Yeah, I saw that." Jenny gave him a moment to drink, to collect his thoughts. The silence began to stretch out. "Why?" Giles asked into the silence. "Why did I come find you? Or why did they pull me from the grave?" Jenny tried to keep her tone light. She glanced at the bartender, wondering how much of this he was overhearing. Giles smiled tightly. "Any of it. It seems to be my question to everything in general recently." Jenny decided to try and steer the conversation away from the specifics just yet and out of the public place altogether. "Is there somewhere more private we could go to talk?" Giles smiled and looked around the empty pub. "Not much need really, but yes. Yes, we can go to my apartment." He stood up and left some money on the bar top. Taking Jenny's hand, he helped her to her feet as well. She held tight to his hand and grateful he seemed just as reluctant to let it go, they walked back to the apartment complex. Jenny sat curled on the sofa, her feet tucked beneath her and her hand resting on Giles' shoulder. He sat beside her, facing her, occasionally reaching up to pull a stray strand of hair away from her face and confirm that she was really there. A couple hours had passed as Jenny told the story of how she came to be here. She left out details, skirted around the terrible news when it was discovered he did not know. 'Just one night,' she begged the fates, 'just one night. Tomorrow would be soon enough.' "Those are powerful magics," Giles wondered aloud. "I don't understand, if they can just bring back their loved ones, why did they curse Angel?" Jenny looked down at her lap. Angel had entered the conversation as the last clear memories she had. "They don't do this to the ones they love." As she started to cry, Giles pulled her to him and wrapped his arms around her to hold her close. He stroked her back as she softly shook in his arms. His mind kept going over the pieces of story she gave him. He knew parts were left out. What was uncertain was how willing he was to press when all he wanted to do was be grateful she had returned. His mind kept reminding him of Buffy's own return from the dead, though; and the great consequences of keeping secrets. Feeling Jenny start to rise from his arms, Giles let her lean back only to take her hands in his own. "Jenny, I've asked, you haven't answered, I'll ask again, because I need to know... why did they bring you back?" He shushed her instant sidestep reply with a finger against her lips. "I'm grateful you're back. I'm beyond happy to see you once again. You have never left my thoughts over these years. Your death was one of my greatest pains and to hold you in my arms again... one of my most wondrous moments. Please..." he search for the right words, a winning argument, then settled for the simplest. "Please trust me." "I do, Rupert," Jenny was so quick to reply, she almost continued with the whole truth. Instead, she pulled up a little, looked deep into his eyes, and stroked his cheek with her fingers in wonder. "I trust you. I'll tell you, everything. Not tonight. Tomorrow, I swear. But tonight... can it just be you and me tonight? Can I stay here tonight?" Giles relented, telling himself he would hold her to her promise to tell him everything tomorrow, and letting it give him permission to give in as he wanted. "Of course, tomorrow then." He stroked the hair away from her face. "I'll sleep on the couch, you can have the bed." Jenny didn't know whether to laugh or cry and so settled on letting her head fall back so she could stare at the ceiling. "Really not what I meant, Rupert." Giles let his head fall shyly for a moment. He smiled warmly as Jenny brought her gaze over to his. "I know. It's just... I couldn't take advantage of you." Jenny did laugh then and a smile softened across her features. "Take advantage of me? I'm the one that nearly shocked you into a coronary. To me, I've been alive for a week now. To you, it's been what? Three hours maybe?" She took one of his hands in her own. "I know it's not enough time to adjust. I know so much time has passed. But... Rupert, can I stay here, with you, tonight?" "I must look like such an old man to you, now." Giles just stared into Jenny's eyes, momentarily mesmerized not just by the beauty he remembered; but by the evidence that for her, time had truly stopped. She smiled warmly as she stroked the gray hair at his temples and took in the little lines around his eyes. "Not so old. Tired, war torn. Different," she admitted. Suddenly, she looked around the apartment. "You have no books here." He was delaying his answer, and for the moment, she would let him. Giles glanced around his apartment himself. "Yes. They are still back home. In England." "Home in England?" Jenny realized, of course, that he was from England, but had always thought of Sunnydale as his home. "The family estate really." He elaborated no further, his mind still on the real question at hand. "That's right, you left." She remembered now that part in the last few stories her tribesmen had told her. Seeing him pull back suddenly, she quickly apologized. "I'm sorry. I was only remembering, what they told me. I don't really know, wasn't there." He smiled and felt them both relax. There was so much pain, guilt; but here, just in front of him, was a second chance. He leaned forward and brought his lips gently across hers. Jenny didn't hesitate. She reached behind him and pulled him closer, brought her lips to his again and deepened the kiss. "Was that a yes?" Giles smiled and rising, helped pull her to her feet and led her to his bedroom. The questions and the consequences could wait until morning. It was like a dream. Just like the many dreams he had over the years before morning and regrets stole the sensations from him. He slowly rocked inside her, lightly ran his lips over hers, down her neck, across her ear. He could smell the sweet perfume of her shampoo, hear his whispered name in his ear; there were details now, clearer than just another one of his dreams. Still, it didn't seem real, even as they climaxed and lay sated and snuggled together. They had both craved peace more than passion and the whole night remained as dazed as any of his dreams. Half asleep and needing the bathroom, Giles got out of the bed for a moment. Returning, the street light cast a dim glow over the bed. He saw her then. Laid out on the bed, the sheet tangled near her feet, head bent to the side. He cried out, gasped, closed his eyes and reached for the door frame for support. Jenny startled awake at the sound. She looked around, first for her bearings, then for Giles; and finally, out of returned habit, for monsters. She eventually found Giles across the room near the door. "Rupert, what's wrong?" He gasped again and opened his eyes at her words. He shook his head and glanced up again, watching as she moved, sat up, her naked body fully revealed out of the shadows. "You're alive." He brought his hand through his hair and tried to calm down. "You were laying there, on the bed, and..." "It's okay, I'm alive. Remember?" Jenny was confused. "No, he left you there, he..." Giles' mind was filled with memories more vivid than reality. "Who, Rupert?" Jenny was really starting to be scared now. "Angel, Angelus." Giles took a deep breath and seeing the fear in Jenny's eyes, summoned all his courage to cross the room and sit next to her on the bed. Reminding himself that it was in the past, he took Jenny's hand in his own and kissed it, hoping to relieve her fear. "I'm sorry. It's just... When Angelus killed you," he swallowed a lump in his throat and continued. "He brought your body to my apartment and laid you on the bed. When I got home, there was music playing, champagne, roses... red roses trailed up the staircase, candles lit, and a note." Giles closed his eyes and clenched his jaw at the memory. "That's how I found you," he whispered. He looked back into Jenny's eyes. "So when I saw you asleep..." "Oh, Rupert," Jenny pulled him into a hug and held him close. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. I didn't know." When Giles started gently sobbing, they both pulled each other down to lay on the bed. Jenny held him, stroking his back, lightly rocking him, until the tears ended. "I didn't know," whispered over and over. So much had happened to them all since she passed out of the tales. There was so much she didn't know. * * * * * * * * * "Hi honey, we're home," Buffy called out as she entered the second floor of the building and their new living space. Willow followed, moving into the center of the still empty room and setting down some bags. Buffy kicked the door closed and set down her own burdens. They both looked over the space. It was cleaner, warmer than before. Heavy curtains hung closed over the large window. All the others near the ceiling were bricked over. The wood floor had a polished shine, the few non brick walls cleaned with a fresh coat of paint. "Look! My kitchen." Buffy excitedly hopped over to the back area and started peeking through the still empty cupboards. "He couldn't be hiding. There's no place to hide yet." Willow curiously scanned the room again. She noticed Buffy's smirk and followed Buffy's look up to the lofted bedroom. Xander stood at the glass wall, smiling down at them. "I don't think he's so much hiding as waiting," Buffy observed. "Well, we haven't checked out the bedroom yet," Willow considered. "Still, smug it not something we should be encouraging. Oh..." Buffy watched as the look in Xander's eye turned from mirth to a more predatory hunger. It was a confidence now within him she couldn't help but enjoy encouraging. Willow smiled challenging back when his gaze moved to her. "Rumor has it he did put in a nice big shower." "And, I'm so tired of that crappy, dirty, smelly motel excuse for a bathroom." Buffy moved from behind the island counter that separated the kitchen from the rest of the room. As she passed Willow, she grabbed her hand and led her up the stairs. Xander waited for them on the bed as they entered the loft bedroom. The space was spare but warm. A couple of dressers, a wardrobe. A low platform bed tucked in the corner against the glass walls. He had sneaked a few items over already. On one of the dressers stood a framed picture of the three of them in high school times. Buffy had snuck it onto the bus just in case. There were also some candles, the massage oil Willow had bought on a whim, some books to pass the time. Xander watched, slightly disappointed, as they crossed over to the bathroom area instead of joining him on the bed, but he smiled anyway. Deciding to give in, he rose, followed them and leaned against the door jam. He knew it would meet with their approval. There was plenty of light, storage, no mirror and he had already stocked it with their shampoos, soaps, towels, all the etceteras he could think of. "So..." Buffy spun from her explorations and bounded into Xander's arms. "Thank you!" She covered his reply with a deep sensual kiss then pulled back and let him see the sincerity in her eyes. "Yes, thank you." Willow joined them and gave Xander an equally promising kiss. Xander smiled, shook his head slightly and pulled them tight against him. All day, each day, he struggled to keep hazy memories close so he could remember why they were anchoring themselves to such a human existence. Now, there was the ease of it being so clear. "Ladies do love their bathrooms." "Ladies love a place to pamper," Buffy corrected, "women love a place to play." She pulled back and started to undress. Willow followed suit. "You've worked so hard, Xander. Wanna get cleaned up?" Xander's grin widened and he wisely refrained from mentioning that vampires didn't sweat. Instead, his clothes joined theirs on the floor. With some flourish, he opened the shower door and gestured them inside. Indeed, as promised, it was a large shower. He started the two shower heads positioned on opposite walls, then folded down the bench seat along the back wall. Buffy pulled him into the spray and started kissing him. Willow joined in behind them. They took turns running soap over skin, then simply ran hands seductively over each other, trading positions, partners, the hot water cascading over them from both sides. Buffy sat on the bench and pulled Xander in front of her. He watched stunned as she lowered her head and her tongue caressed the length of his cock. His jaw clenched when she lowered her lips over his cock and slid down to the base then slowly backed up. "Oh, that's easier when you don't have to breath," she smirked at the discovery. As she lowered herself again over his cock, Xander was just grateful his own lack of dependence on oxygen wouldn't allow him to pass out. He braced his hands against the wall and wished he had installed a bar over the bench to hold onto. His knees were shaking when Willow tired of watching and pulled him gently away from Buffy to sit on the bench himself. "My turn," she informed them. Willow knelt on the bench over his lap and lowered herself onto him, followed quickly by a forceful and possessive kiss. It wasn't often they joined this way. As she started rocking to a slow dance over him, feeling him physically, not just emotionally inside her, she realized that if Buffy and her were now alright, it was past time to get honest and right with Xander. After the shower left them with the strange combination of feeling both sated and hungry. Dressed again, they explored their new space with greater attention. Xander watched on warmly as they poked through everything, occasionally he pointed out some detail or other. "The plasma TV will hang on the wall here. And your floor to ceiling bookshelves are anchored in this corner as requested, m'lady." "We need furniture," Buffy pointed out. "A big sofa here in front of both the TV and the window. Chairs, tables... some of this stuff you can just order online, but furniture is something you really gotta try out first." "I know, it's hard to find a furniture store open this late," Xander quickly agreed. "Big part of the problem, if I may point out again, with trying to live like humans. You should have seen the trouble I had with materials order and delivery." "But the shower part of human life isn't that bad, right?" Buffy was quick to counter as she wrapped him into her arms. "And we really do thank you," she added. "We'll work it out somehow," Willow confidently asserted. "But right now, it's time for dinner. After all that sex, I'm starving." Buffy laughed and Xander simply regarded his friend thoughtfully. Soon, they were out onto the street and in the busy nightlife part of town. "Cruise that club again? Split up? What's the plan this time?" Xander always just let them decide. Only once so far did his hunger and passion for the night drive him to run away on his own before they could counter the idea. "Let's grab a light snack then hit the club," Buffy quickly suggested. "I feel like dancing to celebrate." "Okay," Willow readily agreed. Xander simply nodded his head. He slipped out down the street and into the Blues club he had found. He loved the music and there was a dark hallway that led to a side exit that led to an equally dark alley. It was becoming one of his favorite spots for the discreet. Willow shrugged at his exit and trailed off down the street herself, a quarter was pulled from her pocket and she started flipping it as she walked away. Buffy stayed in place and simply scanned the streets, confident someone would catch her eye soon. Rumors was packed when they met up again. Buffy kept them on the dance floor for hours; mindless, worriless, happy in the experience of music and motion. Eventually, Xander managed to pull them to the bar. It was fun, but he was still restless. "I'm thinking I should split, catch up with you guys later." Buffy smiled but wouldn't let go of his hand. "You're just weirded out by that cute guy who keeps checking your ass." "You're just jealous he's checking out my ass instead of yours," Xander playfully countered. "It is getting hot and crowded in here," Willow pointed out, "and that makes for horny and hungry." Buffy eyebrows rose and Xander smiled. "Wait," Buffy stalled them before they could start away. "There's another place. I've been waiting to surprise you with it and this being a celebration night and all..." She put a small pout to her lips to seal the deal. "Come on... it's just next door." Smiling in triumph, Buffy led them out of the club and over to the Hungry Ghost. "This will bring back the home town memories," Buffy introduced as she opened the door and led them inside. She continued over to the bar area and watched as they took in the surroundings. Xander was the first to catch on. "A demon bar! Here?" His initial smile faltered as realization hit. He had been so focused it hadn't occurred to him that they might not be so alone in the small city. "A small cozy club," a new voice entered from the side. "The back rooms are more the variety spice of nightlife kind of place." Jack smiled gracefully at Buffy. "You came back." Buffy's smile was genuine in return. "And I brought friends. Guys, this is the owner, Jack. Jack, this is Alexander and Willameena." Buffy was confident they would catch on. "It is a pleasure to meet you both." Jack courteously nodded to each in turn. "And a double pleasure that you have returned." He offered Buffy a short bow. "Please, let me buy you all a drink." Quickly, Jack motioned the bartender. Before he realized what just happened, Xander found the bartender waiting for his order. "Ah, I'll just have whatever's good on tap. Thanks." Willow had remained silent and more observant. So when the bartender turned to her, she was ready. "A Bloody Mary, please." "Any particular blood type?" the bartender inquired offhandedly. She wasn't quite that ready. "Oh, ah, no... surprise me I guess." Buffy chuckled lightly and smiled playfully to the same cute young vamp who was tending bar before. "You remember what I like?" He nodded and winked. "Long Sloe Comfortable Screws." He then turned to start on the orders. "What was that about?" Xander's voice held more threat than inquiry. Buffy smiled and leaned into him, feeling his arms wrap around her in reflex and possession. "It's a drink, silly." "Was gonna say, not really how she likes it." Willow smirked and hoped to cut some of the sudden tension. Jack chuckled softly at the exchange, even as his mind was keeping an acute awareness of the interactions. "And so I learn something more." He laughed at Buffy's mock outrage, but wasn't fooled. He knew she was staying just as aware of her surroundings and his reactions. This was merely a glazing of casual over the surface. As the bartender returned with their orders, Jack moved his focus to the other two. The one she introduced as Willameena was scanning her eyes over the room seemingly not paying attention to anything. He regarded that curiously, surprised that one so silent would be so careless. Then he felt her unfocused eyes pass over him. Felt it along his spine. Magic. He wasn't sure what she was checking or what she had found, but he was suddenly sure she was anything but careless. He moved his focus to Alexander as the two women traded drinks for a sip and held a silent conversation concerning impressions. The young man also appeared casual, content to hold the young blond who remained in his arms. He sipped his beer as he regarded the room, but Jack could tell it was a practiced, experienced ease with which he clocked all the details. Jack had to acknowledge, however improbable, his suspicions were probably true. These young kids were anything but and again he could only hope they would want peace. "Well, I'm not sure if Joan has told you the rules." Jack waited for their attention. "I'm only a simple peaceful man and this is my sanctuary, my home. I ask that there be no fighting, and since I deplore police even more than violence, I'll also request that if you find prey here that you take them elsewhere." He smiled. "You're welcome here," he had the curious urge to add. Offering the group a short bow, he returned to the small crowd on the far side of the bar. "He's nice," Willow offered. "How many times have you been here?" Xander feigned a casual question. Buffy wasn't fooled. "Only one time. When we split up after house hunting." She stroked Xander's arm in reassurance. "Don't be mad. I didn't keep it from you. I wanted to surprise you. There's a difference." Xander smiled in defeat. "Okay." He kissed the top of her head. "It is pretty cool that we kind of fit in at a place like this now." "And it's nicer than Willy's," Willow agreed. Xander drained the last of his beer. "Still, as the man said, no hunting, no hurting. So, if it's all good, I gotta take off. I'm just a little antsy tonight," he admitted. "It's all good," Buffy assured him with a small kiss. "I'll come with," Willow interjected, surprising them both. "Um, Will, no offense, but..." Xander started. "I'm not gonna hold you back," she assured. "Promise." Willow took Xander's hand. "Come on, it'll be like really warped old times." When Xander laughed, she knew she had him. She looked towards Buffy. "You coming, too?" Buffy smiled as she shoed them away. "Nah, I guess I'm just in a club kind of mood. Go. Have fun. Try not to make the front page. I'll see you when we get home." Buffy rose and kissed Xander again. "Yay, home." She then kissed Willow as well. "Go wild." Buffy watched them leave and continued to nurse her drink at the bar. She wasn't surprised when Jack sat down next to her. "Your friends are as intriguing as you are," Jack started. "We're not all that intriguing," Buffy mildly protested. "Joan..." Jack nodded gratefully as the bartender set his drink on the bar. "Hmmm..." Buffy smiled as she sipped her drink. "What is your real name?" He just put it out there. Over the last week, as he wondered if she would return to his bar and what he might say, he had realized the direct approach might be the best way to gain her confidence. Buffy looked over to him. She guessed he knew; by his gestures towards her, by the way he assured them that they were welcome. She found herself hoping he knew. "Well, what's your real name? Cause you don't look like a Jack, and 600 years ago, not that common a name." He allowed the equality of the question and was willing to go first. He even smiled. "Jack is short and easy. My given name, not quite so pronounceable here. Shortly after birth, I was named Jambukhadika. It means, 'the wanderer'. And now you know why I go by Jack." Buffy smiled though it told her little, still. "You said here. Meaning, of course, you are from elsewhere. So elsewhere would be..." "Ah, but you haven't answered my question yet," Jack pointed out playfully. "Tit, tat, and all that is it?" Buffy smiled just as coyly. "But you already know where I'm from. So really, soon, it'll be even." Jack grew slightly uncomfortable. He felt the warning alarms in his head. He never spoke of his personal life. Much less, his past. And if what he suspected was true, this woman was the very personification of danger. Still, he had set this course and would follow it through. Besides, if it all was true; then this was something remarkably new. And when you live for 600 years, something new was a rare find indeed. He took a big sip of his drink. "I was born and lived and turned in Thailand. As I've already admitted, that was quite some time ago. True to my name, I have since lived everywhere." Buffy toasted the air to his honesty. She could tell, it was a deliberate decision. It was that fact that put her more at ease than the information itself. "My name is Buffy," she softly revealed. Jack let the name filter and echo through his mind and their silence stilled the moment. He knew the name. Knew from the stories that drifted through the demon community that she could be no other. He even recognized her friends in the rumors. He knew of Slayers. Had fought and killed a few when cornered. His experience of them was of rash young warriors. Formidable, deadly, but children just the same. The stories of this one... they had painted such a different picture that he had always cast them aside as brash exaggerations meant to balm and bolster a bruised demon ego. Looking in her eyes now, he believed them all. Fear. He hasn't felt real fear in a very long time. And never, never in his own lifetime nor the stories of times before his had he heard of a Slayer being turned. He smiled, but it faltered some. He noticed her face fell slightly. He tried again. "Forgive my shock, please," Jack quietly assured her. "It's been so long since I've felt shocked that I fear I've forgotten the proper course of reactions." Buffy took another sip of her drink and continued to watch him. "We're still even then. I'm used to vampires knowing what I am. I've never been worried before about how they would react to it." Jack did honestly smile then and relaxed slightly. "So both our worries are needless. Perhaps we should just continue our conversation." "Maybe." Buffy thought that maybe she should just leave him and avoid the barrage of questions she was sure would follow. She could join her friends. She realized she would just wonder all night what might happen next. And she would miss the opportunity for questions of her own. She cared. She smiled to herself as her mind chided and reminded her that there had always just been some vampires that got her to care. Jack took the smile on her face as permission to continue. "You know, from the stories I heard about the Slayer of Sunnydale, I thought you'd be taller. They made you sound ten feet at least and full of muscle." Buffy laughed. She nearly spilled her drink. It broke the tension. "So I disappoint?" Jack shook his head and sat back. "No! No, I daresay I'll find the real thing greater than the sum of mere stories." He sat forward again and raised his drink towards her. "I told myself if we ever met I'd thank you. Before running away of course." "You'd run away?" Buffy was surprised. He said he wasn't a violent man, but she was just as certain he wasn't a fearful one, either. "Oh yes," Jack easily admitted. "I value my life, so if I could run, I would." That made more sense to Buffy. Choice, not fear. "So what are we thanking me for?" "The world is here and the Hellmouth stayed closed." Jack shrugged at her surprised look. "I believe in a world of balance." "So you haven't heard about what happened in the end, I'm guessing." Buffy ruefully added. Jack's face grew puzzled. "What happened, then? Won't another be called? No, wait, wasn't another called already somehow?" "Let's leave all that for another time, okay?" Buffy's worry was beginning to return. Jack nodded in reassurance and understanding. "We don't have to tell all tonight. We don't have to say anything more of it at all right now, if you wish." He leaned forward just slightly more. "I must admit though, my curiosity is overwhelming." "Curiosity about what?" Buffy puzzled. "You can't make me believe that in your long life you've never met a Slayer." Jack chuckled. "Well, never for conversation. In fact, they've never said anything at all, really. Just, you know, tried to kill me. I'm curious how a Slayer became a vampire." "Well, you know how that happens, a bite here another there, and..." Buffy playfully cut in. "No." Jack cut her off. "I mean how..." he suddenly had to search for words to describe the impossible. Buffy grew puzzled. "I thought, you know, over some of these centuries that you've lived, you'd have seen this happen before." "I've never even heard of it happening." Jack stilled the conversation again. Buffy processed what it might mean. "So you're telling me, yet again, I'm the only one in all the world, blah, blah. God! Do you know how many times I've almost dropped that whole part of the spiel only to have it come back?!" Jack wasn't sure what she was saying exactly, but he smiled at the outburst. "You believe in God?" "Well, I've fought some, so..." Buffy shrugged. Jack sat back and shook his head. "Not the same, I think, but I'm quickly realizing I know so very little about you." That pulled Buffy back to the present some. "This conversation's getting tangled. Let's, umm... So, what's with the name, 'The Hungry Ghost'?" Jack accepted the diversion. She was right, answers were only leading to too many more questions. "In the Buddhist faith, it is one of the states a person could be reincarnated into. It is a lower state. Bad Karma. A hungry ghost has a great hunger and a small mouth. His needs, as long as he has them, will never be sated." "So you're a Buddhist?" Buffy did appreciate the poetry of the name. An easy question and he could simply answer yes, or he could take the opportunity to reveal something he kept very close to himself. He was a little surprised and oddly at peace as he answered. "I am. I was a monk, given to that life at a very early age. It was all I knew until I was turned." "Oh." It was Buffy's turn to be surprised. She looked around the crowded and loud bar that had so easily been just forgotten. She knew he just gave her a secret and a curiosity to match his own. She smiled. "I'm guessing there aren't many of you, either." Jack nodded. "There are not. Do you still feel you're a Slayer?" He had to chance this one last question. It would dictate so much of where they could go from here. Buffy considered the question, still. She had asked herself that many times over the past weeks. Willow kept asking. Xander only once. Still, it stayed in her mind as not fully answered. "I'm as strong as a Slayer still. Stronger even now, but that's another story. The calling's gone: the protect and serve. I don't feel a part of humanity. But, to tell the truth, I had a hard time trying to fit in it before. The violent tendencies I dealt with a long time ago. I still want to come in a place like this and bash heads in, but now it would be just for fun. Don't worry, I won't. I feed as a vampire. I enjoy it. So, you tell me, I guess." A part of her hoped he could. "You're still a Slayer." Jack smiled. "As I'm still a Buddhist." "But how can I be?" Buffy protested his answer. "I don't even want to save any of the humans in here from their soon to be one night stand with death. Much less feel a calling or need to protect them." She looked around the bar again, easily noticing the humans dancing and flirting unknowingly with vampires. "A Slayer is not just an impulsive, mindless calling." Jack watched curiously as he suddenly had Buffy's full focus. It became clearer in his mind she was always a truer Slayer than the child warriors he had fought before. "I am cast out of the mortal coil, the cycle of life and death. This does not mean I cease to believe and value this cycle or the balance of all in this world. And so, I am still a Buddhist. Let me ask you, if someone in here was to suddenly stand up and begin, say, a spell that would end the world, would you stop them?" "Yes, but..." Buffy couldn't find a counter reason right off. "See," Jack smiled. "And I would thank you, again, by the way." "Well, that's just a survival instinct." She eventually thought of another reason. "But not one the demons share," Jack countered. "My hypothetical spell master has no such concern, nor do all the real ones you defeated before." Buffy's thoughts turned to Xander and she pushed them away. "What do you know about Slayers?" Buffy impulsively asked. Jack shook his head. "That's something we should save for another time as well." Buffy nodded. Her drink was long done. The night was growing to a close. "I should go home. The others will be there soon." "Yes, your friends." Jack rose as Buffy stood up. "You know of them as well, huh?" She chanced she didn't reveal anything he might not heard of them already. "Yes, I know. Well," Jack clarified, "I know some stories. Please, come see me, again." Buffy smiled. "You can bet on it." Her face sobered. "There might be trouble." Jack smiled and took her hand in his own. "You would not be the start of it though. You, and your friends, are always welcome here." He kissed her hand and watched as she smiled, turned and left. * * * * * * * * * Willow followed Xander back down Railroad and over along Holly. The streets around them were dark and deserted. "Where are we going?" Xander turned to his friend and shrugged. "Just away, I guess. I still like just taking off and looking around." Willow smiled her acceptance. "Okay. Just curious. You know me, always had to have a plan." "Well, if you like, we can go down by the marina." Xander suggested. He wasn't sure why Willow was going with him and he kept kicking himself for wishing he was alone. Willow took his hand into hers. She had meant it, she didn't want to hold him back. But she also wanted it to feel a little like old times. She missed him. "That sounds nice. But is anyone there at this hour?" Xander was flooded with their simple connection and a little relieved to hear she was out here to hunt as well. "There's always someone there it seems. And usually only them. No witnesses." "You know a lot of the city now, don't you?" Willow kept the conversation going. "Yeah. I like feeling that it's mine." Xander admitted. "So, what do you think of that bar?" Willow started towards what she really wanted to talk about. "I don't know," Xander hedged. "It's cool I guess. Somewhere we belong. It's just..." Xander looked over to Willow and smiled, "I was kinda liking the idea that the city was all mine. Now I have to share it with a bunch of other demons." Willow laughed. "Poor Xander." Her face sobered some as she continued with the part that worried her. "You aren't afraid of them, or worried that one of them will recognize Buffy?" "I'm not afraid of any of them." Xander protested. "We kicked demon butt as humans. Now... Besides, Buffy's a demon now, what are they gonna do?" "Hold a grudge comes to mind," Willow absently answered. "I didn't think of this happening is all. I was so worried about the slayers not finding us, I didn't think about the demons finding out." "Don't worry about it." Xander pulled her a little faster toward the marina. He could see a large luxury boat just starting in. "We're all demons now." The private marina was just at the end of Holly, past all the downtown buildings and commercial docks. There were condos and large waterfront homes just beyond it. It was an area he enjoyed hunting in. Xander and Willow jumped over the gate and waited in the shadows for the boat to dock. There were large steel hand railings lining the path to the docks. Xander started twisting the end of one, his arms flexed with the effort to bend and shape the bar into the pattern of waves. "You're the mystery vandal!" Willow suddenly realized and burst into laughter. "Did you really break a statue off its base and reposition it on its head?" Xander looked up and smiled. He stepped back from his latest piece of work. "Yeah. You caught me. Are ya gonna turn me in?" "Of course not, silly." Willow looked at the series of hills and valleys that now marked the once straight hand rail. "But why?" Xander shrugged. "Why not? I guess I like messing with things." He looked over to the hand rail again and smiled. "I think it's kind of artistic, no?" Willow just shook her head. "I like it," she decided. "Let me try." She went over to the opposite hand rail and tried to bend the end without much result. "Why can't I bend it?" Xander walked over and stood behind her. He reached around and took her hands in his own. "Here, let me help. Put your hand here and push down, pull up at this end so it will start to bend at your hand..." He stood up some to let her continue. Still, the bar would not bend. Willow turned to her friend. "You're stronger than me. That's not fair." Xander faltered for an explanation. "I thought all vampires were kinda equal strength." "They are," Willow confirmed. "Or at least Giles and Buffy always said they were when giving us the be careful around vampires you once knew speech. I don't get it. Can Buffy bend things?" "I don't know," Xander admitted. "It's not like we've done the big compared strength, speed, I'm more a vamp than you thing. I just started playing around is all. Seeing how far I could leap, what I could do." Willow was quick to grab Xander's hand. "I'm not mad. Honest. I'm just a little disappointed I can't do the vandal thing. Maybe we should compare though. Not in a I'm better way. Just, you know, to find out." Xander smiled. "Always gotta know, huh?" "Aren't you curious?" Willow challenged. "Yeah, a little now," Xander easily admitted. "Okay, tomorrow night, for the gold medal, let the games begin." He looked up and noticed that the boat was slipping next to its spot on one of the docks. "Come on, our late night snack has arrived." Xander led Willow silently down the to the end of the far dock. They kept to the shadows and watched as three people, stumbling drunk, attempted to tie off all the lines. "You ready?" Willow took a quarter out of her pocket and flipped it. "I'm in." Xander watched her, puzzled. "What was that for?" Willow placed the quarter back in her pocket. "I'll tell you after. Right now, I'm kinda too hungry." Xander smiled at her words. Maybe this would be alright tonight. "Then let's go." They slipped over to the boat as one of the men was climbing back onboard. That left one man and one woman on the dock. Willow hung back and let Xander choose which one he wanted. He crossed over quickly and grabbed the woman from behind, silencing a scream with a hand over her mouth. Willow acted quickly in turn and kicked the man to his knees then bent over him. Her sudden bite at his throat kept any sound to a muffled whimper. Xander watched Willow feed and kept the terrified woman tightly in his grasp. She struggled the more she witnessed what was happening to her husband. Finally, Xander bent forward and let his fangs slip into her neck. He kept her head towards the man and Willow, kept her watching as he fed. He felt her faint then die and always with the hint of regret at the end, let her body drop. Willow stood up and stepped over the prone body of the man. They glanced at the boat, hearing the sounds of stumbling and packing, but not seeing the other man yet. "It's true," Xander smiled at his friend. "You do grin as you feed." Willow shrugged and shyly glanced away. "So they tell me." "What do I do?" Xander suddenly felt the urge to ask. "I don't know. I guess I haven't really watched you before." Willow remembered it was one of the reasons why she was here. "Why don't you hop onboard and show me." "Okay." Xander paused just before climbing onto the boat. "He's gonna run. Don't let him hop off, okay?" Before Willow could wonder what that was about, Xander had climbed onboard and gone down below to find him. Willow stayed up top in front of the exit and waited. The wait wasn't long. She heard a scream, muffled by the walls of the cabin but still loud. She looked around to see if anyone was about. Then she saw the man running clumsily out of the cabin. He made his way to the exit and pitched into a different direction when he noticed her. Xander lazily came up behind. Willow watched as her oldest friend played a twisted version of peek-a-boo and intercept with the drunken would be sailor. The man was breathing so heavily he could barely make a sound. She could hear his heart beats even when he was running around the other end of the boat. She watched Xander play a while, the goofy grin she knew so well softening the hard edges of the vampire visage. Only occasionally, did she have to block the man's escape. He was so frantic, he seems surprised to see her there each time. Eventually, he seemed to give up or run out of strength at least. He crouched at the bow of the boat, pleading and begging. Even her ears were deaf to his cries, she realized. Xander's grin only widened as he approached the man. He pulled him to his feet and for a moment seemed to consider letting him go as he straightened his jacket and dusted off the dirt. Willow guessed it was only that somewhere in the chase, Xander had found a little respect for him. At least, that was her impression as her oldest friend seemed to stand the man up straight and tall before pulling him close and sliding fangs into neck. It didn't last long. The blood was pumping wildly and soon, Xander was setting the man down on one of the seats at the bow. He walked back to Willow, his finger swiping the blood off his lips before his tongue licked up the remains. "That was fun," Xander greeted his friend. "It looked fun," Willow admitted. She had told herself and him that she would not interfere or hold him back. She had stayed and let herself simply watch. He was having fun. And however much she could remember being in that man's place, she also remembered what it was like to feel the chase and the thrill of holding life and death in your hands. She remembered it all still. Most of all, she remembered that this man never stopped loving her for it. She could honestly say now she would never stop loving him, all of him, as well. She leant forward and kissed Xander on his blood stained lips. Xander reached his arms around Willow and pulled her against him. He leaned forward as she pulled back and swept her into another kiss. The blood was still filling his body, the passion still swimming in his mind and the call of the night still singing in his ears. Willow reacted to his desire with her own. Her arms wrapped around him and locked together, eternity seemed to pass too soon when the kiss ended. "Well, hello there old friend." Willow rested her head against his chest, the stillness still amazing her. "What was that all about?" "Is that what we are? Old friends?" Xander held her close and wondered aloud, feeling their connection settle deeper than the heat of life's blood ever could. "Old friends, always," Willow confirmed. Then she glanced up into his gaze. "And lovers." Xander smiled. Suddenly, the cry and calling of the night faded to a muted hum. Nothing in the world felt more right than this, no desire greater. "I'm glad you came." Willow smiled and settled back down against his chest. "So, what now, pussy cat." "Pussy cat?!" Xander protested. "You hunt like a cat," Willow informed him. "You play with your food and mostly just scare it to death." That there was a natural comparison to what they do now comforted her. Xander faked a purr. "But do I smile?" Willow considered what she witnessed. "You keep your goofy grin when you play. It's odd, cause it softens the whole grr look. But you get this intense focus when you feed." Xander nodded thoughtfully, then grinned with a dawning idea. "Hey, lets take this boat for a spin. We can drop the bodies off out there. It'll be this whole CSI mystery for the police." "Xander," Willow chuckled at the idea, "you don't know how to steer a boat." "What's to know?" Xander insisted. He pulled back and looked down into Willow eyes. "Come on, just a short ride. It's not like they need it now, so what's the harm if I bang it up some?" "I can see you trying to bring this thing back in this little spot." Willow pointed out. "So, we'll leave it out there." Xander countered. "More the mystery. We'll take the little one, what's it called..." "The dinghy," Willow supplied. "Yeah, we'll take that back." Xander smiled in triumph at the whole plan. "To really confuse them, we'll send it back out there on its own to drift around." Willow just shook her head then surprised him by nodding her assent. They pulled the other two bodies onto the boat and with a little bump and struggle, managed to get it out past the marina. Xander impulsively wrapped a line around each of their ankles like a string of fish and sent them all overboard to sink into the water. They left the boat drifting and returned to the end of the dock in the dinghy before sending that on its way as well. Xander stood for a moment and smiled at the result of his work. Willow took his hand and they started for home. * * * * * * * * * The next morning, Jenny woke alone in the bed. Her panic was quickly pushed away by the smell of coffee drifting into the room. She rose, and finding a robe, put it on and wandered to the kitchen. "I was hoping you had some coffee here," Jenny greeted Giles as she poured herself a cup. Giles turned from his tea preparations and smiled warmly. "I keep it for the ever present Americans that drift through my door. Dawn especially would never forgive me if I were to run out." "Dawn." The panic returned. 'How could she be so stupid', Jenny wondered. 'Of course Rupert would have a girlfriend. It's been years,' she reminded herself. 'He's moved on.' "Yes." His tea complete, Giles started sipping it, enjoying this morning more than any he could recall in a long time. "I should think she'll be ecstatic to see you again. Her shock threshold is very high by now. This probably won't even seem that strange, I'm afraid." Jenny was barely listening. "Rupert, I'm so sorry. I never meant to put you in this position, and now..." His words finally worked their way into her mind. "Wait, why would your girlfriend be happy to see me? What do you mean, again?" Jenny's thoughts ran through the faculty list at Sunnydale High, searching for anyone named Dawn. Finding no matches, her stomach sank as she searched through the names of Buffy's friends and classmates. Tea suddenly exited Giles' mouth as her words sank in, the spray covering the counter. Giles tried to stifle the shocked choking so he could correct this as soon as possible. Finally, he was able to gasp words out. "My girlfriend?! Dawn is most certainly not my girlfriend." Jenny couldn't help but be amused as well as relieved. She mentally took a step back from the assumptions and decided that she should better have at least a cup of coffee before launching into further ones. She watched Giles start to clean the mess and tried to sound casual as she continued. "So, then, who is this Dawn that gets morning coffee?" Giles looked up at Jenny. The mess was forgotten as he puzzled at the question. "You know Dawn. Buffy's younger sister. You used to watch her while we..." Understanding broke across his face. "Of course. You had already passed away." He shook his head as the paradox became clearer in his mind. "Buffy doesn't have a sister." Jenny began to drink her coffee in earnest. "The shift in reality would not affect you..." Giles was continuing the realization as he poured himself another cup of tea. "Reality shift?!" Jenny poured herself another cup of coffee and sat down quickly. Giles settled against the counter and continued to drink his tea. Jenny's words paused his thoughts and he avoided looking at her as he searched for a way to explain it. Finally, he brought his gaze to her wary eyes and kept his tone soft as he tried to clarify the situation. "Perhaps, given the hour of the morning, it will suffice to say for now that Dawn was created, through magic, as Buffy's younger sister. That same magic created our memories of Dawn. So too, were her history and memories created." He paused for a moment then added, "she'll remember you, Jenny." "That makes no sense," Jenny concluded. Giles shrugged and moved to sit next to her at the kitchen table. "As you said, 'It's Sunnydale, things happen'. It makes as much sense as you sitting here now in my apartment." "So Buffy has a little sister." Jenny tried out the words. "How much younger?" Giles worked out some approximation math in his head. "Six years, I believe." He reached across the table and lightly grasped Jenny's hand. "Are you alright?" Jenny offered a weak smile. "It's just mornings are hard enough without girlfriends and reality shifts." Giles covered a grin by taking a sip of tea. "So how many of your mornings are usually filled with girlfriends if I may ask?" "Mine or theirs?" Jenny playfully countered. "I see." Giles continued to drink his tea, watching as she slipped her hand out from beneath his only to lightly slap it in turn. "We do need to talk sometime this morning." He regretted causing her face to fall, her smile to disappear, but so many immediate questions filled his mind upon waking. "I know, Rupert," Jenny acknowledged as she got up and poured another cup. She paused at the counter but the patience and understanding on his face brought her back to sit at the table. "May I just ask you something first? This filled my mind all night and brought only nightmares. And it might be easier to tell you everything if I can just hear your answer first." Jenny rambled in explanation. Giles sat up a little, concern showing across his features. "What is it?" Jenny took a deep breath then a sip of coffee before she chanced the question. "Last night, at the bar, when I approached you, you said some things. You mentioned not really being able to kill me off." She looked down at the table. "What did you mean?" "Oh, Jenny." Understanding flashed into his mind and he reached for her hand, then pulled it back, worried the touch might not yet be welcome. "Please, you must believe me, I did not think I was talking to you." He waited until her head rose and he could look into her eyes. "What heartless, foolish words. Of course you had nightmares." He paused again. There was so much to explain too quickly. "Our last foe, it was evil itself. The first evil. The whole, eternal." He gave up trying to fully explain it and attempted to move on. "This evil would take the form of our loved ones who had passed and use this form to torment us, play with our minds." "So I was used by some great evil and I don't remember it?" Jenny cut in and felt herself grow ill. "No!" Giles was quick to cut off the idea. In a softer tone, he tried to continue. "No, this evil would use the image of a loved one. It was not really you. It could never be you. When you came to the bar, I assumed it was the First, trying to gloat that such evil could never really be killed. When you touched me, I knew it was you." "How?" Jenny was feeling a little more at ease. At least it started to sound reasonable. Well, reasonable by Sunnydale standards. Giles chanced a small smile. "The first can not take corporeal form. There is no way it could have touched me. And, you see, there is no way it could really use you. Only your image. Please, believe me, I thought I was speaking to it, not you." Jenny slowly nodded and looked into his eyes. So clear and honest, these eyes. "Thank you." Giles did chance a comforting touch at her words and gently clasped her hand in his own. "There are other questions as well," he gently reminded her. He pulled back a little and added ruefully, "Given the lapse in time, it's apparent there will be many questions." He squeezed Jenny's hand a little. "Some are more immediate than others, though. Jenny, I need to know, before this continues, why they brought you back, and why now." "I did promise, didn't I?" Jenny looked down into her cup. "You did," Giles gently agreed and encouraged. "It's just... I've seen this happen before. It almost killed me." Jenny looked up into his eyes. "With Buffy, right? They told me the story." She looked down again. "But that was because of a greater purpose, events foreseen, the hero needed." "No." Giles took his hand from Jenny's and cleaned his glasses absently. His anger still flooded him at the memory. "No, I believe those events would never have happened if not for what was done. I don't know what you were told, but the reasons for Buffy's resurrection were complicated and many, yes; but in the end all too human. And the consequences were great." He looked up into Jenny's eyes. "Please, you can see, I need to know." Jenny nodded slowly. It appeared it was time. "I wish I understood it myself," she mumbled just loud enough to be heard. She took a deep breath and continued more clearly. "There's been very little else I've really thought about since coming back. One, was finding you. The other, why they would think they should do this and what I'm supposed to do." "So, I take it the two things aren't really connected?" Giles quietly thought out loud. "Finding me and why you are here, I mean." Jenny laughed a little. "Oh no. I can imagine they are more than angry with me at the moment." She smiled. "Now, ask me if I care." Giles smiled in return. "I dare say, there's no need. I am so powerfully happy that you found me." "Not for long," Jenny muttered and her smile faded. "Jenny, I understand that clearly this won't be the most pleasant news, perhaps even the end of the world again." He took her hand in his own. "But the end of the world rarely comes with a second chance included like this. I made the horrid mistake of throwing away my second chance with Buffy due to my own pain. I won't make that mistake again with you." "What do you know about Buffy, Willow and Xander's disappearance?" Jenny seemed to suddenly switch topics. Giles considered the question for a moment. "I see. Or rather I feared as much, I guess. So this has to do with them?" Seeing Jenny's nod, he continued. "I don't know much, I'm afraid. We were recuperating after the battle with the First and the devastation of Sunnydale. The whole world was changed. It felt at the time for the better. Then we found notes left for us, and they were gone. Their notes explained..." Giles shook his head. "There is no explanation for the total severing of contact. They explained nothing, really. Not for Dawn and myself. She continues to look for them." "Rupert! She has to stop." Jenny exclaimed, her head rising sharply so he could see the urgency in her eyes. "I don't even know her, but I know she has to stop." "That's not possible." Giles informed her and shook his head. Jenny looked up for a moment and fought the tears she could feel coming to her eyes. "I know what happened, Rupert. My tribe told me. They told me it's why I'm here. I honestly, I just... I don't know what I can do about it." Giles' heart leapt and stilled for a moment. "You know what happened?! Please... Jenny..." She looked into his eyes and tried to be as gentle with the news as possible. "One night, when you were all in that motel, Willow was bit by a vampire. She was turned." Jenny paused for a moment, warily watching his face for clues how he was taking this and a sign to continue. "Willow killed her sire." She left his muttered, surprised remark of 'strange' alone and started again. "She then, somehow, and this is the impossible part, turned Buffy." Jenny stopped when Giles pulled back suddenly. Giles let the silence draw out, grateful for the break, the time to recover. "Not so impossible, I fear. Not for Buffy, I'm afraid. Not if it was Willow." He looked again at Jenny. "Are you sure? Are they certain?" "Yes," Jenny gently whispered. "There's many things I don't know, but this..." Seeing Giles nod his head, she continued. "Buffy turned Xander." "Buffy turned Xander?" Giles cut in. "No. That..." He looked directly into her eyes. "How could they know this?" Jenny shrugged apologetically. "My tribe continued to watch." "So the three of them..." Giles swallowed the knot in his throat and closed his eyes briefly against the pain. "You're telling me they're vampires." "I'm so sorry." They were pitiful words that didn't begin to approach the sorrow, but it was all Jenny could think to say. "I thought I had steeled my mind, first with Angel, then with Spike, I thought I prepared myself for this." Giles shook his head. "We had just won. Well and truly won. Buffy could have... she could have been the first Slayer to retire. Their whole lives were finally ahead of them!" Suddenly, he slammed his fist on the table. "Rupert?" Jenny shrank back. She understood the anger. She feared it would be turned towards her. A couple of tears trailed down Giles' cheek, even as he fought against them. "I'm sorry. I won't..." He steadied himself and took a deep breath. "I need a drink." Giles got up from the table and pulled the scotch down from the kitchen cupboard. "Would you like one?" "No." Jenny was quick to answer. Giles remained in the kitchen and leaned against the counter. "Jenny," he tried to keep his voice soft and steady, "why would they pull you here? What can they expect you to do?" "I don't know." There was a pleading for understanding in her voice. "They only said I was to fix it. For my people..." Jenny was always uncomfortable talking about where she came from and how she was different; and this, to him, only made her remember what that difference cost them before. "The order of the world for my people is in the stories that play out over and over. It is how we see the world. Stories of heroes are rare, cherished. And a story of heroes does not end this way. It's as if our world is destroyed, Rupert." "But how can you fix this?" Giles wondered out loud. He filled his glass again as the obvious answer came to him. "You're going to give them back their souls." Jenny suddenly wished she had taken him up on his drink offer. "Maybe." She didn't think that she could, or would. "I only know that I have to go to them." "You know where they are?!" Giles grew excited again. "Yes." Jenny looked over into his eyes. "I want... I need you to come with me, Rupert." The absurd injustice of what she just asked him came raining down over her thoughts. Still, even if she could take it back, she would ask it again. "Of course." His answer was out before he even thought about it. There was too much in his mind to consider anything more anyway. Jenny let out a sigh of relief and a smile flickered. "We can't tell anyone where we are going or why," she gently reminded him. "Dawn." One thought managed to break into Giles' spinning thoughts: 'What would he tell Dawn'. "She can't know you're here," he tried to explain. "Why?" Jenny thought that her coming back might be the perfect excuse for why he had to go. Giles managed to smile ruefully before downing the last of his drink. "Because, it would only lead to more questions. She's too curious and far too intelligent to simply believe that you just popped back into my life." "I see." In truth, Jenny was a little relieved she wouldn't have to meet the girl. "Your influence, I'm sure." "The way she can jump to the answers, more Buffy's I expect." Giles absently protested. "I'll have to think of another reason." He looked over to Jenny. "They won't be surprised, even Dawn. It's been no secret I haven't been happy here. Or supportive of the continuation of the Watchers Council. No, I think it's clear I've only stayed here for Faith and Dawn. And I believe I needed them more than they've needed me." Jenny was a little stunned. He was so different than the man she knew. It had only been five years. And so much happened in those five years. These names, these women that clearly meant so much to him, she didn't know them, had barely heard of them. Faith, the other Slayer. Dawn, they must of mentioned but so much happened that night and she was so overwhelmed. What had she just done to him, coming back into his life with this news. And when he realized it, would he ever forgive her. "You're really coming with me?" Giles looked over and smiled. He crossed the short distance to her and pulled her up into his arms. "Yes." He was stunned again by the very image of her face, so often in his dreams, and now so close he could touch her. His fingers gently stroked her hair back from her eyes. "I said I wouldn't throw away another second chance, and I meant it. This is cruel and unjust to everyone, to all of us. If we can stick together... help each other..." "Yes," Jenny broke in with relief. Tears broke from her eyes and she pulled him her, resting her head against his chest as she finally allowed herself to sob. Giles allowed his own tears as they stood rocking gently in each other's arms. He couldn't help it. Through the anger and the pain, he couldn't help but feel grateful to hold her again in his arms. The rest of the afternoon was a strange fluctuation between subdued motions as they ordered plane tickets and packed his things, and tender affirmations of their budding reunion and its commitment. Arrangements for stuff, excuses to loved ones; it all happened with a fluid confidence that gained momentum before they could second guess it and turn it all around. Only when they were seated at the gate, waiting to board the plane, were they careful not to look at each other or say anything. Only when they were seated on the plane and it in turn was in the air, did Jenny allow hope to settle again around her heart and protect it. "Thank you again for letting us fly in first class." Jenny smiled at Giles and reached for his hand. "The people, crowds, the noise... it's still all too much." Giles smiled in return and relaxed back into his seat. "I understand. Or at least, I've seen it before. Please, this... this will be a series of adjustments for both of us. Can we agree to remain forthright and honest with each other?" "Wow." Jenny almost laughed. "Way to skip over the honeymoon phase." She nodded her head, anyway. "But yeah, I see what you mean." She looked thoughtfully out the window for a moment though the night overcast left her little to see. "I used to love people. I loved to go out into the crowds and feel all the energy that spilled around me. I wonder if I'll ever get that part of me back." "I always preferred the mostly solitary life myself." Giles mused out loud. When Jenny turned towards him with a look of subtle disbelief, he gave in. "Okay, in my youth, as you already knew, I was... well, I was a small time rock musician in the 70's. You'd do well not to imagine too much and I had better leave the stories for a long other time." Jenny smile in reassurance and squeezed his hand gently. "There's a lot of things we don't really know about each other. We never had the time, before... it was all cut too short." "We'll have time, now." Giles assured her. There were two things Jenny's mind had been nagging her to reveal. Two last things he should know. Should have known before committing himself to join her, but fear begets regrets and there was nothing she could do about that now. Here, on the plane, trapped; she swallowed and looked down at their joined hands. "Rupert, there's something I haven't told you yet. Well, two things, really." Giles felt his heart sink. Still, he squeezed her hand then softly ran his thumb over the skin. He signaled the stewardess for a drink. "Okay. It's okay." Jenny waited until he had ordered his drink, again declining one of her own. She grew a little worried, as the memories of his reactions when that demon came back at him from his past filtered through her mind. She pulled back a little and let herself openly see him as best she could. He was different, yes. In a way, defeated, even though, with all the stories she heard, they had stood victorious at each end. He was not the sick desperate drunk that had so shocked her before. She pushed those worries aside and reminded herself she was out of place and time. Besides, there were plenty of other things to worry about. "When my people performed the resurrection spell, they bound my life to Buffy, Willow and Xander's. Finding you was probably about as much free will as I have." "They bound you?" Giles was feeling ever more bound to them, himself. His own regrets, his actions at the end and what these brave young people had proved to him anyway; the thoughts kept cycling through his head and from the moment he understood what had happened, his course felt set. He didn't think that was what Jenny was describing though. Jenny took a deep breath and kept her gaze forward as she quietly continued. "My life is suspended with theirs. I can not grow older or die until all three of them do. And I am tied to them somehow... I feel... well, let's just say I have to be where they are." Giles remained in shocked silence and habitually sipped his drink. He tried to let her words form meaning. He remembered at Buffy's return, she seemed to want nothing more than to die again. "Do you think, maybe, they did this so you would... could kill them. To do so," he felt obliged to point out though it broke his heart, "would set you free." Jenny closed her eyes and squeezed his hand tight. "Do you want them to die?" Giles finished his drink and bowed his head. He promised himself he would have no more for the rest of the flight. There was too much to move towards to be drinking away the past. "No," he whispered. Then looked up, though not over. "God help me, but no. There's so much..." He swallowed and tried to continue. "I can't explain how much they showed me. I can't tell you how much I regret my own behavior. They don't deserve this. But my heart of all things is telling me they deserve that even less." He turned to Jenny and let a touch of pleading show in his eyes. Jenny closed her eyes then opened them again into his gaze. "The second thing you should know is that I'm in love with you. Still, I guess I should say, since I fell in love with you before I died." Giles nodded and smiled. He reached up to gently touch her face. "I love you, as well," he easily admitted. Too many times he had let those words go unsaid. These continued twists that marked his life finally rocked those words free. "What does this mean?" Jenny kissed his palm. "That if their plan was I end their unlives so I could end my own, they blew it?" Giles smiled relief and impulsively leaned forward and kissed her. "So we have a chance, then?" Jenny laughed, relief flooding through her. "I didn't fly to Cleveland to make your life easier, now did I? You aren't the only one who wants a second chance. In many ways." Her face sobered as she felt the need to remind him of something. "I'm bound to them, though, remember?" "I feel bound to them, myself," Giles gently pointed out. "We'll work it out." Giles wrapped his arm around her as she leaned into his side. "I don't think the answer is that easy anyway," Jenny broke the comforting silence as more thoughts came to her mind. "If it were just that, they could have tried to kill them without going to the trouble of me. They said I had to make it 'right'. I don't see how that would make it anything but final." "We'll work it out," Giles repeated. The plane would bring them to a Bellingham well into the night. His mind stuttered and stopped each time he tried to imagine what Buffy, Willow and Xander were doing now. * * * Buffy woke, untangled herself from the limbs of her sleeping companions and got up out of bed. She dressed moderately if not modestly and started down the stairs. The sun had set. She pulled back the large heavy curtains in front of the only window and stretched her arms as she gazed out at the city streets softly sloping into the bay beyond. Home. A new home, a new start. The foreign concept finally beginning to translate into a cautious expectation in her mind. Duty had finally been traded for love and life. Maybe this was the only way it could have happened. And maybe, Willow was right that since it happened, they deserved to have it to the fullest. She watched the city below. The now familiar hunger reminding her of the strangely similar appetite to hunt before. She turned when she heard the others descending the stairs. "Good morning," Buffy called to them. Willow shook her head and stumbled to the kitchen area. "Good is a stretch," Willow grumbled. "Is it wrong that I find I still need coffee to wake up?" They had found at least one use for the kitchen as she started the coffee maker and only appliance on the counter. Xander laughed and leapt onto the sofa, automatically hitting the remote to turn on the TV. "Well, at least the kitchen wasn't all for nothing. Though the bar gets more use, as it should." Buffy smiled and looked over her home as her loves went about their lives in it, unaware of her musings. It'd been a week or so she guessed. Already, it seemed instantly, they had made it into something their own. A haven, not just against sunlight, but away from life in Sunnydale as well. The furniture they had managed a way to get was modern in design, large to fill the loft's space and unlike anything they had grown up with. The sofa itself was a work of art. It was an oval span filling that side of the room. The center was set higher as a wide backrest, wide enough on top to lay on. Meant as a table in the center of the sofa, it proved an interesting perch for some of their more playful sexscapades. Cushioned arms at the four 'corners' divided the sofa into four: two loveseats at the ends and two full sofas on either side. One side faced the window, an end faced the TV on the wall with some matching chairs around that, the other side faced the rest of the room and the other end faced the corner Willow had claimed as her office. More chairs in the room, a coffee table... the whole thing was bold in its design and powerful as it set a feeling of a new home, a new start. Willow's office was simply a set of bookcases lining the corner at the end of the stairs and a crescent shaped desk set out a little and facing the bookshelves and the corner. And Xander was right, the bar against the wall at the end of the kitchen was put to more use lately. She wasn't sure when drinking had become such a part of their new lives, but it was so hard to feel any consequences to getting drunk, she never worried over it, either. The modern, wood laminated kitchen table and chairs that sat in front of the kitchen's island counter never got much use, unless a poker game started as they were killing daylight hours. They didn't have stuff yet. The knickknack kind of stuff that fills a room and makes it a home. It didn't seem to be needed. Reminders of anything before felt like the last thing they wanted to bring in now. Still... her eyes moved over the mostly barren walls, art wouldn't be such a bad idea. "Where'd you go?" Willow gently chided Buffy as she slid her arm around Buffy's waist and she kissed her in greeting. Buffy smiled and wrapped her arm around Willow in return. "Nowhere. I stayed right here the whole time." Willow shrugged, slightly puzzled at her friend's behavior. She turned instead to the window and looked out at the night. "A new moon, tonight. No extra light for vampires." "Isn't that more of a problem for them than us?" Xander settled on a show he wasn't really interested in and turned towards the women. "Sure, I was just saying." Willow turned back towards the inside of the room and shrugged. "Besides, I don't know, I kind of like it when it's darker out." "Me too." Buffy sat on the sofa side facing the window so she could look out. "So, when are we going out into this big bad dark?" Xander gave up and turned off the TV. He turned toward Buffy and bent around the backrest to give her a kiss. "We are the big bad dark." "Not until I have another cup, we're not," Willow protested as she returned to the kitchen with her now empty cup. "Bring me one, too?" Buffy called over her shoulder. At Xander's laugh, she silenced him with another kiss. * * * * * * * * * Jenny leaned against Giles as they snuggled against each other on the sofa and listened to music. It didn't take them long to find and rent the newly constructed condo unit in a renovated part of the city. Giles had insisted that if he was stuck here, he would at least be living inside the downtown where there was food and music. They were both pleasantly surprised so far. And to ease the readjustment, she kept reminding him of the promise of rainy foggy weather to come. The Northwest had a reputation. Most of his stuff and all of his furnishings from his old apartment were donated to Faith and Dawn along with the flimsy though believed excuse. Only what little personal belongings he had managed to acquire were shipped over. Their simple furniture they purchased after moving in. Giles gave Faith and Dawn a means of keeping in touch, in fact, the connection was almost daily so far. He refused to just disappear. It meant the lie had to be continued as well, but it was a simple one. He left for an extended visit with an old friend. His long term reticence towards sharing personal information curtailed most of the questions and would prevent almost all further inquiries. They were settling in. And just that. Neither had ventured out into the city at night yet. "New moon tonight," Jenny mentioned absently just over the music. "You still track the moon." Giles let the conversation drop there when all he had for a reply was her shrug against his chest. "Rupert," Jenny looked up from where she was curled into his shoulder. "Hmmm," Giles simply made the continue sound. "Thank you," Jenny leaned up and kissed his cheek. "What for?" Giles smiled and tightened his arm around her. "For not pushing me." Jenny revealed and pulled away just enough to see his reaction. Giles stroked some hair away from her face. "Has if occurred to you I might not be ready myself?" Jenny nodded. "Still, so much, so fast..." The concern on her face softened to a smile. "I'm glad it's just you and I for a while. Let's keep it to just you and I for a while?" "Okay," Giles readily agreed and kissed her nose to seal the deal. "Besides, as the confirmed bachelor I've been of late, it is well enough just getting used to this." When the concern returned to her face, he quickly added, "though the adjustment is much easier and pleasant than I feared it would be. I wouldn't change a thing." "You wouldn't?" Jenny countered in disbelief. "I've well learned that wishing for a change in events past has dire consequences on the future. You'll have to trust me on that one." Jenny could see in his eyes it was another piece of the puzzle of her missing years. She reached up and started to stroke the gray hairs at his temples. "I'm guessing that's just one of the things that caused these," she teased him. "One of many," Giles confirmed. "And you? Are you adjusting to living with me?" Jenny laughed softly. "Of course. But then I always moved around a lot, crashed at people's places. Even as a kid." "Why?" Giles turned a little towards Jenny, eager for some information of her past. Jenny shrugged. "Just our way, I guess. A little time in America, here at this relative's, there at that's. Then, enough of the gadje influence, time for some Old World intervention. It's in my blood. And just continued after college with friends and lovers." "And lovers," Giles repeated, though he was smiling. "All I said and that's the one thing you heard?" Jenny gently chided. "No," Giles attempted to redeem himself. "What exactly is a gadje influence?" "Oh, it means foreign, non Romani." Jenny filled in. "I'm afraid you were a very bad gadje influence on me." She smiled and kissed him. "It's remarkable how often such a respected man as myself has been accused of being a bad influence." Giles defended himself, his chuckle ruining any impact. "Please, it's all English varnish and I know it." She trailed her fingers down his chest over the tight t-shirt he wore now. Jenny snuggled back into his arms and against his chest. "Did you really play with Pink Floyd?" Giles took a deep breath. "No. And usually I don't reveal that until much later in the relationship. But I did follow them around like a love sick puppy for a time. I was very nearly in love with Roger Waters." Jenny pulled up and back to look into his face, her eyebrows raised to the hilt. "Don't worry," she quickly assured him, though her tone promised further teasing, "it only makes it all the more interesting to get to know you." "A sweetened pot as it were?" Giles breathed a quiet sigh of relief even as his tone took up her teasing one. "Mmm, like melted chocolate." Jenny confirmed. "Just how many relationships has the non Pink Floyd been revealed in?" Giles wondered if she really wanted to get into this, talk about their past lovers now. "Would you care to answer a similar question?" Jenny shrugged and ran her fingers down his arm as she contemplated his question. "Truth is, I haven't been in that many. Friends who bed, mostly." Giles shook his head. How can he have anything in common with this young woman, and still... "Same with me, I'm afraid." He smiled when she looked up, surprise evident on her face. "My life was full with my studies and then remained full with my obligations. Friends, yes. Bed, indeed. But relationships, no, not many and not seriously." "So, this is new for both of us?" Jenny chanced to say it out loud. "And welcome," Giles assured as he pulled her down to lay against him again. "We'll save the question of how many one night stands for a later conversation." Jenny smirked as she heard his shocked choking. * * * * * * * * * Buffy, Willow and Xander continued into the night and down the street together. Arms around waists, they were almost skipping down the streets, pointing out to each other some of their favorite hunting spots. Here and there in their group excursion, one or the other would break away for a quick chase of someone who caught their eye. They were growing used to this, used to each other. Xander's playful hunting, Willow's coin tosses, Buffy's conversations with them before the kill. Acceptance, ever-growing happiness... and boredom. They were all used to danger. This just felt too easy. "So..." Buffy pulled herself out of their arms and jumped ahead a little before she turned and walking backwards in front of them, addressed what they would do for the rest of the night. "Where do you want to go, now? What do you want to do?" She noticed Xander's eye travel over her body and a smirk slide over his lips, his silent suggestion beyond obvious. Buffy started to laugh when she noticed the same exact look on Willow. "Oh, come on. Besides that." "Okay, I know something we can do," Xander switched gears. "The marina is just down the hill and beside that are those big homes. Why don't we see if we can get an invite inside one of them. At least there's some sort of challenge in that." Buffy's smile was genuine and grateful. She was craving a challenge. "I'm in." She turned to Willow. Willow shrugged, her smile mostly in response to her friends' growing excitement at the idea. "I'm game, too. Oh, I know, first house, Xander tries to get them to let us in. If that fails, next house, Buffy tries. Then I'll give it a go." "Won't get that far, Will." Buffy smirked. "Xander might not get us past the door, but I know I will." "Hey!" Xander protested. "I can be very charming. And harmless looking. You'll see." They walked away from the first house down the long drive. Lights had been on, people home, but the first attempt was a no invite. "It was your fault, you know." Xander pointed to Buffy. "My fault! How was it my fault?!" Buffy protested. "That was the lamest, 'we're selling chocolates for our school, hey can we use your bathroom' excuse I've ever heard." "Yeah, well it still would have worked if you hadn't started to giggle," Xander insisted. "I didn't giggle. I laughed outright." Buffy clarified. "Actually, it was more of a giggle." Willow almost started to giggle herself. At least their hunt tonight would be entertaining. "Well, you joined with the giggling, too," Buffy relented then moved on. "Xander, you have an eye patch. As in Grr, Arrg, I'm a bad pirate. What high school kid has an eye patch and sells chocolate for school?" "The Sunnydale kind," Xander continued to defend himself. They exited onto the street and chose another home with the lights on. They started up another long drive. Willow pulled the coin again from her pocket and flipped it. The first house had been a go. This time, she shrugged at the result of the coin toss and placed the coin back in her pocket. "They're all yours," she informed her companions. "I'll show you how it's done," Buffy smirked as they neared the front entry. Buffy left Willow and Xander standing at the first stair as she continued forward and rang the doorbell. An older man, she guessed in his fifties, answered the door. Buffy smiled and looked him in the eyes. "Hi. Can I please come in?" "Excuse me?" The flustered man opened the door a little wider and stepped forward. "Can I come in?" Buffy simply repeated. "Um, yes, come in then." The man stumbled back and held the door open as he motioned her into the entry way. Buffy stepped over the threshold and into the entry then turned back to the man and the still open door. "Can my friends come in too, please?" She motioned to the two now standing just in front of the open door. The man, still flustered, turned back to the open door and motioned to them to step inside. "Yes, yes, come in." He turned back towards Buffy. "What's this about? Are you friends of Lisa's?" He absently closed the door and locked it when they were all inside. "Honey, who's at the door?" Buffy heard the female voice call out and footsteps on the marble tile floor. She smiled warmly at the man and noticed Xander watching and ready for the woman. "Is she here?" Buffy skipped over his question in favor of her own. "No, she's away at college." The man was starting to feel terribly wrong about this whole encounter. "Who are you?" he insisted. Buffy thought briefly how to answer the question. She heard the footsteps near and the voice call out again. It was almost time. She picked the first silly response that came to her head. "If you believe in six degrees of separation, then we're almost friends." The woman was now at the entry way with the rest of the group and as the man was puzzling out her answer, Buffy made her move. She made sure it happened quickly. He was a nice guy, he just let her in, he didn't need to see whatever it was Xander was going to do to his wife. Buffy shielded his eyes as she bent his head to the side and slid her fangs into his neck. His attempts to push her away were easily ignored and she pulled the blood from him, easing his drop to his knees as he weakened and finally, gently let him go as he died. She turned around and saw Xander had the woman against the wall and was feeding more slowly. The woman's eyes were open but unseeing. He let her slide down the wall when it ended. Buffy spoke into the silence that followed. "I'll check the rooms for others." Willow watched her start off into the house. She wondered if they had other children, ones who weren't in college yet. She wondered what Buffy thought was too young or if she thought of it at all. And she wondered why she didn't think of this before now, before they entered someone's house to hunt. It was only absent musings in her mind and she shook her head to clear the thoughts. Then everything inside her flooded in a warm buzz as Xander's arms circled her waist from behind. She leaned back into his embrace. "Come on, let's check this place out," Xander whispered into her ear. "It's like Chase Manor in here." Willow's arms folded over his. "Were you ever allowed inside Cordy's home?" she chided. "Only when she was sure no one was home and it was the maid's day off," Xander admitted. "But yeah, a few times. She had a swimming pool out back. It turned out she liked me in Speedo's." Xander laughed softly in her ear. "I remember that," Willow chuckled. "We all liked you in Speedo's." "Really?" Xander let Willow go and took her hand instead. He started to pull her slowly through the house. They wandered through the rooms on the first floor, admiring the view of the bay and the crystal art sculptures that filled the glass shelves on the walls. It looked like something out of a magazine. Not quite lived in but obviously adored. Everything was in its place and the place was open and skillfully arranged. "Yep, just like Chase Manor. Only Le Chase was more the old Victorian theme. Let's see what's through here." Xander lead Willow to the end of the large main room and through the double side doors. They entered onto a glassed in patio just off the back of the house. Glass ceiling arched into glass walls, the view was the expanse of the gardens leading to a private dock on the bay. The center of the room was filled with a small swimming pool with an adjacent Jacuzzi. "Oh my God." Willow stepped further onto the patio. She swept her arms out to the side and turned slowly. The air was warm and humid, but kept to comfortable levels by the ventilation fans near the ceiling. She couldn't believe people lived like this. "Maybe we should have bought a home like this." Xander smiled at her and walked around the parameter of the pool. Her voice and his footsteps had a strange muted echo. "Um, Willow, did you notice how many windows this place has? Not to mention how much fun this would be in the sun." "Okay, good point," Willow conceded with a smile. She dropped her arms and watched Xander. He was so at ease now; a grace to his movements; his face relaxed; a confident tone in his voice. She shook her head. This might have been the best thing that ever happened to him. His initial anger at what they'd done seemed to slip quickly away. She could still sense a rage inside her friend, but it was something that had always been there. It was set loose now, yes; yet somewhere, over that last few weeks, could be calmed and soothed again. Willow wondered if Buffy's blood was having more than just a physical effect on Xander, or if he was just settling down into his own way as they all were. It was hard to tell what effects Buffy's continued donations of blood were having. He was stronger than her, than other vampires she was sure. But not as strong as Buffy. Those were just physical differences. He still seemed to be called to the night, though they hadn't asked him about it in a long while. Her musings were interrupted when Buffy found them. "Can you believe this place?" Buffy called in greeting, her voice echoing around the room. "Wow, cool," she called louder. "Anyone else at home?" Xander turned from the window on the other side, his own thoughts interrupted. This was how the other half lived. This was where they would die. He loved hunting out here. "Nah, I guess they only had the one kid." Buffy moved further into the room, a glint in her eyes as she watched the reflection of lights on the surface of the pool. "Anyone else thinking what I'm thinking?" Xander pulled his shirt over his head. "I was just waiting for you." Willow was stunned for a moment as she watched her friends quickly strip themselves of their clothes. Shaking her head a little, she started on her own to join in. She was the last one in the pool and gracefully swam over to them at the far corner. "I can't believe that worked." Xander splashed a little water at Buffy as she slid in beside him at the edge of the pool. "Hey! Be nice," Buffy warned as she raised her hand just over the surface of the water but paused at actually pushing it his way. "You can't believe what worked?" "That you just told him to invite us in and he did." Xander backed down from the threat of a splash war and instead got distracted by the shimmering image of breasts just under the surface of the water. Buffy shrugged and almost laughed as his eye followed the movement. She placed her arm around Willow, pulling her close on the other side and smirked as he watched them both. "I have the voice of authority. You know that. You both hated that tone in my voice." "Yeah, but it always made my spine tingle when you used it on others." Willow held herself up on the edge of the pool next to Buffy. She was easily distracted herself. "Always?" Buffy drawled, noticing where her friend's attention lay. Willow looked up into her eyes. "Yeah, since early high school, on." Willow watched as Buffy suddenly looked shyly down, but as her head rose she was wearing a much more devilish grin. Willow felt Buffy shift against her, felt fingers at the back of her neck pulling her forward, then felt Buffy's lips and tongue caressing her own. They kissed: breasts sliding against each others, legs tangling, arms on the side of the pool barely holding their heads above the water line. Buffy felt Xander move in behind her as she kissed Willow. His lips peppered her neck and shoulder. His hand rested on her hip and steadied her. She felt his hard cock move slowly across and down her ass as he lowered himself slightly into the water. She open her legs as she felt the tip slide forward, searching. She bent one of her legs back to caress his calf with her foot as her hips moved, instinctively searching to allow him entry. All the while she was kissing Willow, her hand massaging her friend's breast, her tongue exploring her mouth. Buffy broke the kiss when she felt Xander pull away. She turned and found him still beside her with his back against the edge of the pool, arms up on the side holding him above the water. "Tease." She pinched one of his nipples with the accusation. Xander laughed. "I couldn't get any leverage here," he tried to defend himself. "Hmmm," Buffy considered a way to get revenge. "You know how I don't need to breath now?" she asked in a sing song voice. "Yeah..." Xander stretched out the reply, grinning at the playful glint in her eyes. "So, I wonder what this would be like." Buffy let herself drop below the water and pushed herself slowly down his body, trailing a series of kisses along the way. She pushed herself below his waist and then started kissing her way back up his leg until she reached his cock. She looked up through the movement of the waves; his face seemed to shift side to side, his eye fixed intently on her every move. She smiled then ran her tongue up the underside of his cock to the head. She glanced at him one more time before she opened her lips over it and slid down, bringing him as far into her throat as he would go. Xander's head flew back until it smacked against the patio floor. His body shuddered, little ripples dancing across the surface of the water. He never felt anything like this. Buffy was wrapped around one of his legs and holding herself tight against his hips. He looked down through the water and could see her curled there around him; her head bent over his cock, moving up and down; it made her hair billow and flow above her. She stayed under there forever; he didn't know how he lasted that long; and it all seemed to end too soon as his cry echoed around the room. It was followed by the sound of Willow's clapping. Buffy popped up above the water with a smirk on her face. She moved forward to kiss him. "My turn," Willow announced as she wrapped herself behind Buffy and placed Buffy's arms around the back of Xander's head. "You'd better hold on." Buffy rested her head against Xander's shoulder and kissed his jaw. She felt Willow's kisses down her spine and below the water level; and she closed her eyes and relaxed, knowing what was to come. Her eyes flew open when the kisses turned unexpected. "Oh, God. Oh, God." Xander roused himself from his stupor. "Why are you calling his name? Willow's doing all the work." "Xander..." Buffy dragged out the name as she clung tighter. She felt Willow opening her legs. "God! Xander." "Wha...?" Xander groaned before he could fully form the thought. He felt Willow's legs wrapped around his own as Buffy's had done. "Oh, God...Xander...she's...she's licking my ass." Buffy finally ground out, followed by a moan as she clung even tighter. Xander's eye flew open and he looked down over Buffy's shoulder and into the water. Willow's hair billowed out and away, her arms holding Buffy's legs apart, and her face... through the shimmer of the water and the reflection of the lights it was hard to tell. "She's...what? How, what does that feel like?" Buffy turned her face into Xander shoulder, biting down on the skin as she groaned again. "It... it feels wrong, in a really, really good way." She started to move her body up and down over Xander's, needing more friction, needing... "Oh, yes, yes!" "Now what?!" Xander hated that he couldn't just watch, but the angle was wrong and Buffy's body sliding against his kept his head leaned back and out of the way, and he didn't want to stop what she was doing for anything. Buffy finally smiled and relaxed into the desperate heat Willow was causing to course through her body. "Her fingers are inside me, Xander," she whispered seductively. "Her thumb is stroking my clit. And her tongue... God, Xander, she's probing, licking... I've never felt anything like this." Xander felt Buffy shake and shudder over his body, her blunt teeth biting into his shoulder again to muffle her cry. He stared up at the few stars visible through the glass ceiling and opened himself to the connection with Buffy, her orgasm flooding across his senses. Buffy hung limply against him, her thigh gently swaying across his hard cock. Willow emerged from the water's depths beside him and wrapped her arm around them both. Her eyes shown in amusement and desire. Xander smiled wickedly, a plan of his own forming. He gently moved Buffy so her back was at the edge of the pool and she could support herself with both arms until she recovered. Xander turned to Willow, reached out for her hand and pulled her towards the center of the pool. When her puzzled look reached its climax, Xander moved in and kissed her, then he wrapped his legs with her own and sank them both to the bottom of the pool. Xander couldn't help but chuckle at the look on Willow's face and small bubbles from whatever air was caught inside him rose to the surface. It was easy though. So easy once his body's lack of reaction contradicted his mind's panic. He laid Willow down on her back and kissed her again as he slid between her legs. Her hips tilted up as he slipped inside and he could feel her feet cross over his back, locking him in. He meant to keep a slow rhythm- if only her legs wouldn't tighten so, her hips thrust into his, her back arch... Xander let her set the pace, allowed her need and bent his head to her breast. Willow looked up through the water as Xander thrust and rocked himself inside her. She could see Buffy's legs dangling near the side. She watched lights and shadows bend and warp over the surface. It was like a dream, a hard dream. The rough cement bottom cut across the skin at her back; Xander stretched and tore at her with each thrust; his teeth pulling and biting her nipple. It was madness as her need pushed him harder and their connection ripped through the last of their senses. It looked like madness as the outside world shimmered out of focus above them. Willow exploded, bringing Xander over the edge with her and they laid there on the floor of the pool in each other's arms. Buffy had watched them at the bottom of the pool: out of focus and shifting side ways and it was like the porno cable channel you couldn't quite tune in. She could tell when the motions stopped. She watched curiously as they just lay there on the bottom. Dead. They were all dead, now. The memory of where she ended up the last time that happened tried to settle in, but it was as unfocussed as the image that lay at the bottom of the pool. Buffy found some of her strength returned and dove down to join her friends. First she laid down next to them until they roused a little. Smiling, she helped them to their feet and they pushed up to the surface and swam to back to the edge of the pool. "That was wicked cool," Buffy emphasized the 'wicked'. "Home?" "Home." Xander and Willow both acknowledged as they got out of the pool; and they found towels, redressed and headed on their way. * * * * * * * * * Buffy, Willow and Xander were laughing as they stepped off the elevator and into their loft. When they turned on the lights, their voices stopped and their feet clipped to a halt. They could only stand and stare in stunned silence. Cordelia Chase quickly stood up from the kitchen chair and faced them. "Hi." Her voice was clear and confident, her back straight, only her clasped hands shook. "Cordy?" Buffy stepped forward a little. "What, Angel deliver a house warming gift?" Anything else Xander was going to add was cut off by Willow's sharp elbow to his ribs. "Ow!" Buffy closed her eyes at his name. Angel couldn't know where they were; could never, ever know what happened. Every time the thought of him tried to enter her mind she shut it down. And now... "What are you doing here?" "Yeah, that's a great question." Cordelia couldn't just stand there like a statue, or worse, a deer, a young deer caught in the headlights. She started to pace around. They looked the same, looked just the same as before; but she knew better. She knew what they were now. "I have news, of course; we only see each other nowadays when we have news, and," her laugh was forced, strained, "and a really odd question." Willow started to have enough of this and stepped further into the room, past Buffy. "Then get to it, Cordy." Cordelia stopped her pacing and nodded her head. Oddly enough, it was Willow she felt she knew best now. "Angel's dead. They're all dead. Wesley, Gunn, Fred, Spike. I think Lorne lived, but Lorne's gone in the wind." "Spike died in Sunnydale," Buffy absently corrected in her shock. "Well, then, he died again." Cordelia reiterated. She looked at the floor and started pacing again. Cordelia remembered when Willow had come to them with news. She hoped Willow remembered that they didn't kill her. "Buffy?" Willow's voice called softly over the silence. "How?" Buffy flatly stated. Cordelia stopped and dared to look into Buffy's eyes. Cordelia's face was softened a little by a small smile, open hands gestured into the air. "How else? Big battle. Good triumphs over evil. They died as heroes." "And meanwhile you were..." Buffy's tone turned threatening. "Dead." Cordelia quickly supplied. "Or coma slash dead. I'm not exactly sure. It's all been a blur." "Then how are you here, now?" Willow couldn't help but ask the obvious next question. She could tell Cordelia was very much alive. Her heart beat was practically singing in her ears. "Yeah, about that." Cordelia's hand ran nervously through her hair. "That's a story. A short one!" she insisted. "But right now I kinda want to make sure that you're not going to kill the messenger." "Well at least not until the end of the story." Xander smiled as he moved fully into the room and sat down on one of the living area chairs. "I'm kind of curious now myself." Cordelia watched as Buffy and Willow also moved to the center of the room, leaving her a clear path to the elevator door. She had no illusion she could make it before they could grab her, though. Still, the attempt at making her more comfortable was appreciated. "Xander, you know what?" Cordelia turned to face him. "Just hear me out. Whatever happens after that is honestly fine by me." "Cordy, I wouldn't say something..." Willow started to gently warn before she was cut off. "I know what happened." Cordelia dropped the words over Willow's warning. She started pacing again. "I know what you are. Of course I know what you are now, right?, or I wouldn't know where to find you." She took Buffy's nod as a sign to continue. "And it's really screwed up, what happened to you. They betrayed me, too." She stopped herself at hearing her own words and closed her eyes for a moment. Cordelia took a deep breath and turned to the three once heroes, once even friends. "Long story short, cliff notes version: those Powers That Be that we were fighting so hard for betrayed me, used my body then killed me. Oh, but if I did one last favor for them they would let me live again. Set me down where ever I wanted." Cordelia swallowed hard and closed her eyes again. "I only did the last one for Angel, not for them." "Cordy," Willow gently broke into the ramble. "But why are you here?" "Where else was I gonna go?" Cordelia pleaded hopelessly now with her eyes. She had a sinking feeling how this was going to end. "They're all dead. I can't just live my life as if none of this ever happened, as if none of this is real. And I sure as the hell that may someday rain down on earth am not going to do one more damn thing for those Powers that think they know it all. Their master plan, as evil as anything else I've seen." Cordelia swallowed her pride in favor of overwhelming desperation and loneliness. "I was hoping I could stay with you. We were all recently and royally fucked in the ass. Again. I just can't be alone." She watched Willow smirk at Buffy and Buffy slap her arm in response to some inside joke. Her eyes fell to the floor and her heart sank. "Never mind, I can see this isn't..." Cordelia let her voice drop off as she started to walk to the elevator door. Sure enough, Buffy was standing in front of her before she got halfway there. Buffy reached out and softly laid her hand over Cordelia's arm. "You want to stay here, with us?" Cordelia look up into Buffy's eyes. Her own were starting to blur with tears. "It's where I belong. It's who I should be with, now." She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. "I can do the daylight things. Angel," she paused when she noticed Buffy flinch at the name. "There was always stuff that needed to happen in the day. Business stuff. I can do that." "Or we can just kill you now and be done with it." Xander smiled and swiveled in his chair. Cordelia looked over to him and smiled in return. "That's fine, too. Let me stay, or kill me now. Just don't kick me out there alone. There's no place for me out there." Holding Cordelia's arm, Buffy realized her memories were clearer in her mind. Cordelia took care of Angel. All the way until the end. She was only living now because of that. They were friends once. And she never gave voice to her gratitude for everything she did for Angel after they parted ways. And most of all, she was right. She did belong with them. "You can stay, Cordy." "What?!" Willow and Xander practically screamed at the same moment. Buffy moved around Cordelia to face her friends. "I said she can stay. You know the tone in my voice. It's the one you love so well." "Not when it's directed at me," Willow reminded her. "Buffy?..." She glanced over to Cordelia. Her eyes were empty save for the tears that threatened to spill at any moment. Willow knew that look. "Okay," Willow softly agreed, "she can stay." "What a minute!" Xander rose from the chair and advanced towards them. "Willow, this is Cordelia Chase we're talking about." "You mean your ex?" Willow cut him off. "Xander," she started in a softer more convincing tone. "We got to be friends, after high school. We even battled each other." "Wait! When was this?" Buffy cut in next. "Oh, God." Cordelia didn't like the way the conversation was headed. "That wasn't me. That was when I was possessed. By the good guys I might add." She attempted to defend herself. Willow ignored it all. "Xander, I think she should stay." A softened version of 'resolve face' slid into place. "Fine." Xander threw his hands in the air as he gave up. "It won't last long, anyway," he predicted. Cordelia chanced a smile and allowed herself a little hope. "If it helps, I meant what I said before. You can be the one to kill me." "Why does he get to kill you?" Willow turned towards Cordelia. Surprise ran across Cordelia's face. "Okay... you can flip a coin or something." They really had changed; and not just in the time passed after high school sort of way. She wondered again what she was doing and reminded herself she was where she belonged. It wasn't just quick comebacks. If she couldn't stay here, death was just as well. Willow started to get the quarter from her pocket when Buffy started to laugh. "Not now, Willow. Not yet." Buffy turned back to Cordelia. "You have any stuff?" "No." Cordelia shrugged, empty handed. "They just dumped you out to the curb with nothing?!" Buffy was more certain now of her decision. "For Powers That Be, they don't have much." Cordelia agreed. "Um," Willow raised her hand, "is she gonna sleep with us?" "What! No!" Cordelia was quick to answer before they could even consider the question. Xander laughed. "Not even for old time's sake?" "I'll take the sofa, thank you." Cordelia insisted. "For now, I guess you'll have to." Buffy was thinking ahead. "Xander can build you a room under ours." "Buffy!" Xander protested. "Xander..." Willow countered. Cordelia just shook her head. Everything had changed, yes. But it was surprising how much stayed the same. Buffy turned towards Cordelia. "Look, we really need to shower, and sleep. You can..." She let her arm motion pointing around the room finish the sentence for her. Willow pulled Xander towards the stairs and pushed him forward and up. Buffy started to follow. She paused at the base of the stairs and turned back to Cordelia. "If the plan is to try and kill us in our sleep..." She left the threat simply be heard in her tone. Cordelia smiled. "No plan. Really don't have a plan at all. Thank you, Buffy." Buffy nodded her head. "Goodnight, Cordy."

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