Title Graphic by Kimber
Illustration by Quindo Ma

Story By: Patrick Kelly & Series By: Joss Whedon

| Ch. 1-3 | Ch. 4-5 | Ch. 6-8 | Ch. 9-10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12-End |

Eleven

---------

She flies from a blinding light
And spirals to my heart
I try to find my mind
But don't know where to start

Won't ever
Can't ever find my sanity
Won't ever
Can't ever 'til I hear
Her calling for me

She knows that side of me
Can't help it
Can't help that side of me
Just a little more
Just until I know what I'm feeling
Just a little more to find my sanity

I'm lost in a thousand nights
But sun shines at my feet
I'd walk through a thousand fires
And next to me she'd be

-- "She Knows" by Four Star Mary (a.k.a. Dingoes Ate My Baby)

***

The cheerleader was sitting on a box in the rundown factory, watching apprehensively as her chain-smoking captor paced back and forth. Was he trying to kill her by way of secondhand smoke? And since when did he lose the wheelchair? She guessed it didn't matter for the time being, because her nerves were shot, and if he was going to torture her, she wished he'd get it over with. Patience wasn't something she had. She'd been here...well, it was now the following afternoon. She thought she had earned a reward for being the obedient captive this long.

It was becoming clearer and clearer to her that Spike's kidnapping plan wasn't that airtight. The only thing he'd told her to do was stay quiet, which was hours ago, and a quick glance around the factory revealed to her that they were alone. He didn't have anyone watching her; she could wait for him to turn away and be out in the daylight easily. He must've known that, because he wasn't going anywhere. He also had to know that she was at the top of the priority list, and that Buffy was probably freaking out.

What was the deal? The slayer didn't know he was back in action, so it would take her a little while to get on the right track, but that's all Spike had going for him. It wouldn't last.

"Are you gonna start acting evil anytime soon?" Cordelia decided to try her luck. "You are a vampire, right?"

"What did I tell you?" He paused in his pacing to snap at her, and then resumed.

"Hey, I haven't said a word since last night. That's a first for me." She studied and picked at her nails. "Doesn't matter. I'll play hostage, Buffy'll come kick your ass, and then we can go back to worrying about someone who's actually scary."

He walked up to her, speaking with controlled anger. "Don't test me, Peaches. Works in both our favors if you keep breathing; makes things less complicated, and you less dead. But I can improvise if I have to."

"I'm sure." He was just buying time. Even she could see the fear in his eyes. "Just...whatever you're trying to prove, do it some time today? I have places I could be."

***

- Xander's been good enough to go to Jenny's apartment and get her mail, and...the uh, spell arrived while you were in the hospital. I believe it's safe to assume that Angelus is unaware of our plans, as he would've interfered by now. He didn't strike me as overly shy. So, ah, we're in the process of translating the language - Jenny's Romanian is a tad rusty. Once we determine what's necessary, and if we can find someone willing to cast it... -

That's the last thing Giles had said to her before she left to come here, and he hadn't needed to finish his sentence. Getting Angel back was an option. A week ago she would've been gung ho about the idea, but she'd lost her ability to be subjective - the demon wearing his face kind of made that hard to do when it stole her girlfriend. That was the general consensus around town, anyway. Who else could it have been?

And she wanted to punish him. Badly. Her emotions were all over the place, but she knew that much. She'd lay it into him, maybe even kill him, and then do the rescuing. That was her focus; concentrating on Cordelia's safety was the only thing stopping her from collapsing, because Angelus would do it, end the brunette's life on a whim. He didn't care, so she had to find him before that whim hit.

She was surprised Giles even told her, though by the look in his eyes, and the way he looked at Miss Calendar, she got the feeling that he hadn't wanted to. He wanted to see Angelus dusted for injuring his girlfriend. Watcher and slayer were on the same page, but the teacher was more forgiving. Somehow, she was still able to make the distinction between man and monster. The two adults had obviously debated the issue, but it wasn't a shock to Buffy that the woman won.

Freddy Kruger's less talkative cousin was no more; she had snapped his neck, and the children could get healthy. Cordelia had been missing at the time, but she wasn't able to worry about her, then. After she was released and spent the morning in her own bed (per her mother's orders), the worry didn't hold back. She'd been right down the hall...god, she was so mad at herself for that. The uneasy feeling that was spreading throughout her body didn't help much, either. She didn't know what she'd do if...if something happened to her.

But nothing would. It was going to be okay; she could handle this. Her girlfriend was tough, and she'd hang in there until help came. Or so Buffy hoped. She was learning the true extent of her feelings for Cordelia - it had to be a test. As a slayer, if she wanted love, she had to work for it. Unfair? Most definitely. The choice wasn't hers, though; jumping through the hoops placed in front of her was part of the job. Yeah, it was a test, and for once, she cared about getting a high score. She had to.

She knew she deserved to pass, because being separated and not having any say in it, was causing her real pain. Realizing that, any reservations Buffy had about telling her mother, floated away. Somewhere along the line they had gotten serious; there was a hopeful, long-term investment. She didn't think it was a conscious decision on either of their parts; it kind of evolved beyond their control, and she welcomed that.

She was attached big time, and just wished they could've made love. Cordelia had been pushing, and while she hadn't said no, she hadn't been nearly as motivated. Well, she was damn sure motivated now. She planned to show her just how committed she was to their relationship, however, first they had to get past this speed bump.

"Out." Buffy commanded the demonic patrons of Willy's Bar as she stepped inside. Those that could, greeted her with wide-eyed expressions. "Now."

She stared them down until they began filing out past her, and her unwavering, determined stance. Checking to see if she and the bar's owner were alone, she was disappointed when she saw a vampire still sitting at a table, having a drink. This wasn't the right day to challenge her resolve, it really wasn't. In full slayer-mode, she walked up to the vampire, and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt.

"Here, let me help you find the door."

Briefly she considered being nice and simply dragging him to the sewer entrance, but then she pretended he was Angelus, and thoroughly enjoyed tossing him out into the sunlight, where he burned up rather quickly. Vampires were very fragile. Willy was fragile as well, which was why he ducked behind the bar.

"He was one of my best customers, ya know." He spoke, poking his head out.

"You'll cope." She joined him, leaning over the counter so they were closer.

"What brings you here, Slayer? Need anything? Or did you just chase away my business for the fun of it?" His nervous queries got no replies. "Which I'm totally cool with, by the way."

"I need to know where Angel's new place is. And don't try to weasel your way out of this, because I'm not in the mood to bargain."

"Is this about your girl?"

She hopped over to the other side, and then drove him back, eventually slamming him up against the jukebox. "Do you really wanna see my mean side, Willy?"

"You're always mean." He cringed. "And I think I have a hernia."

"I'm about to get a whole lot meaner."

There was a fire in her eyes he hadn't seen before. "Okay, okay. I'll tell. On the house, even."

"I knew you had a generous bone somewhere in there."

"Yeah, sure do, and you almost broke it."

***

Spike had almost reached his limit; he didn't know if he could stand any more.

"So you kidnapped me to make Buffy think Angel did it?" Cordelia wanted to laugh, but held it in. "Why don't you kill him if you hate him so much?"

"I tried, all right? The bugger's a cockroach. He just won't bloody die." His desperation was obvious. "My whole un-life he always acted better than me; he was always Dru's favorite." He sneered. "It's time for him to check out, and if I need to use Blondie, then so be it."

"It's a jealousy thing? Oh my God. I can't believe...you are *such* a loser." The vampire glared at her as she stood up. "And wait. What happens if Buffy can't do it?"

"Should have more confidence in her, pet. Seeing as how your life hangs in the balance and all that."

The now pissed off brunette got in his face. "You could've sent my girlfriend marching off to her death."

"Risk I was willing to take, yeah." He smirked.

"Have you always been a coward, Spike? Or is it just seasonal?" He vamped, but she didn't flinch. "If she dies, I'll -"

She felt the blow of the supernatural slap, and then was on the floor, her jaw aching.

"You'll what, join her? I can arrange that." He picked her up, flung her over his shoulder, and carried her into what was once Druscilla's room. "You stay here, be good, and we'll know how she fared soon enough."

"You dumb ass! You're gonna be so staked! Put me down!"

He obliged, setting her on the bed, and Cordelia was quickly creeped out by the doll collection that surrounded her. Spike grabbed a sheet, tore it in slices to make a piece that would fit around her wrists, and then proceeded to tie her hands together. She wanted to be out of there, dying young wasn't a goal, yet if there was a possibility Buffy could die coming after her, she'd rather take her chances with the lame excuse for a creature of the night.

But aside from being one of the rare selfless thoughts she'd had during her short lifetime, it didn't hold any weight. That's all it was; a thought that wouldn't change a thing. Still, it led to an important revelation (how come those always seemed to happen when she was bound?). All she had begun to picture her future to be, the slayer was in it - the stubborn, strong, weak, funny, serious, childish, complex, beautiful slayer. She'd fallen. Despite her better judgment, of course.

What was her category? Lesbian? Bi? Straight was off the list obviously, but she had come to learn that sexuality was too confusing to label, so she didn't bother. The world had its own system, and wherever people were going to place her later in life, that's where they were going to place her, whether she was okay with the choice or not. It was going to happen, it was unavoidable, yet there was no way she was stereotyping herself. Good thing she counted on Buffy being there with her so they could adjust together.

The blonde was a permanent fixture in that vision. A year, two years, three, four...she was seen down the road, and that was what was important. 'Love' was a term meaninglessly thrown around in high school, that was hardly unknown, but they were the real deal. She could feel it, if only because of the simple fact that Cordelia Chase didn't tend to put the well being of many people ahead of her own, and here she was wishing she could do that right now.

"If she finds out it was you?"

"Then you'll find out just how much she fancies your pretty head."

Another piece was used as a gag.

***

"You're not going, Giles." Buffy told him, gathering weapons. "You want me to list reasons? Cause I can." She examined the blade of an axe; it could've been sharper. "One,"

"I won't argue. I realize there isn't time."

He saved her the trouble of a lengthy explanation, because he knew the shape he was in, and that irrationality was bound to cloud his judgment. But he also feared that it would happen to her, and then she'd get careless. That wasn't going to happen. Cordelia was alive and depending on her, so she was going to be anything and everything but careless.

She was focused, prepared to do whatever it took, even if it meant losing Angel. She didn't want it to come to that, but it was in the back of her mind, and if she had to, then she had to. Plus, besides holding her girlfriend hostage, Angelus had to pay for all the deaths he was responsible for, all the pain he inflicted...all the evil she couldn't prevent.

Jenny was lying on the couch, her leg propped up on pillows, concernedly watching them both. There was more that had to be said, and she hoped he would.

"Thanks." The gang was her support team - they weren't letting her go alone, and unlike with Giles, her objections weren't as stable. "They said they'd be right back."

"And they will." He paused. "Buffy, I know that you care for Cordelia..."

"Love." She interjected, wondering if the two people knew how strongly she felt.

It was no different than how they felt about each other. Age didn't make experts, especially not when it came to heart stuff. The emotional one; the physical one was gross, yet necessary. Whenever she heard someone say, 'You don't know what love is,' she wanted to counter with, 'What's the divorce rate again?' Though she wasn't making that prediction for Giles and Miss Calendar; she didn't want them to be a statistic.

Removing his glasses, the Englishman wisely stood corrected. "That you *love* her a great deal, and I don't want to say anything that might affect how you plan to go about getting her back...but, you should be aware of all that we've discovered."

"There's more?" She threw her selections into a duffel bag that was at her feet, and then gave him her full attention. "Tell me."

"The Judge."

"Incinerated. We put him in five different trash bags, which we then happily burned." Her face fell. "His ashes didn't remake him, did they?"

She knew she should've looked for Energizer batteries when they blew him up.

"No, it's nothing like that."

"What then?"

"He could've caused Angelus to come out. He's the only force I can think of that's powerful enough to break through the magick my people used." Jenny said, noting the perplexed look. "I wasn't there at the mall, but Rupert walked me through what happened."

"Angel got hit." Buffy replayed the events in her head. "Me; he got hit protecting me. It bought time, and I was able to get the shot off."

"Had the Judge held onto him a few seconds longer, Angel would have been vaporized." Giles continued.

Jenny saw that the slayer wasn't speaking. "But instead, his soul weakened just enough for the demon to take over. The curse wasn't broken though, only damaged. Which is why he's still there."

"Sooner or later he won't be, right? Then it's too late?" Buffy asked, and received a nod of confirmation from her watcher. "Does the Judge have anything to do with the spell? You know, because he caused -?"

"We don't think so."

She should've figured it out, should've known. It made perfect sense, and she knew why they told her. Her plan was to kill him all along, but the blinders weren't working now. Angel had to watch his hands murder innocents because he had saved her life. Knowing that, it would make staking him harder. He risked his existence for her, and his thank you was death? That didn't seem right.

And it wasn't his fault - he didn�t know. Neither did she, but there was guilt anyhow. When she reached that decision point, she wasn't certain of what she'd choose, but at least she knew the whole story. If she had found out afterwards, she wouldn't have taken it very well. This added a new wrinkle to the plan for sure, but she had options. She liked to be in control whenever possible, and Giles and Jenny showed her all the available paths.

She hated having decisions made for her.

Willow came in. "We're all set. Tense, frightened and...really frightened, but set." She gave a brave smile. "You ready?"

"You don't have to..." Buffy trailed off as she watched the redhead's foot tap expectantly on the floor. "Ready and raring." She looked at Giles. "That it?"

"Be careful." He answered, seriously.

"I will." She headed to her friend once she picked up the bag, and then turned to smile reassuringly at him. "We all will."

***

Angelus had decided that he loved the twentieth century. All the information and news he could possibly want was at his fingertips, and as he looked at the headline in the morning's paper again, he smiled. Just when he thought he wouldn't come up with anything grand enough that'd let him give Buffy the proper send off, this was waiting. He should've known that America, with its need for expansion and wealth, would help him out; the land was so giving. And what better way to say goodbye to the soul, then by giving it one, final kick while it was down?

Some of the boys were out doing a little last minute checking, but he planned to have it before dawn tomorrow.

He was close, and being as confident as he was, it was a bit of a shock to see Buffy and four of her friends just stroll right into his home. Three of his people surrounded them quickly, but they were hit by bursts of holy water from the Super Soakers that Willow and Xander were holding. He watched, rather impressed by their organizational skills, as the werewolf and a girl he hadn't seen before, staked two of the trio while the pain distracted them. Buffy easily handled the third with a well-aimed bolt from a crossbow.

Stuffing the paper underneath one of the cushions that belonged to the couch he was sitting on, Angelus got to his feet, clapping. It took his foe a second to remember that she wasn't looking at her friend.

"Three? That's all you had? And I was expecting this to be hard." Buffy taunted, tossing the bag that was hooked around her shoulder to the gang, and motioning for them to hang back.

As they did, they got in front of Amy.

"Good help's rare these days." He answered with a, 'what can you do?' shrug. "If I knew you were coming, I would've given you more of a challenge."

"Relax, Angelus; don't beat yourself up." She threw her weapon to the side. "Let me."

"You think you can kill me? Cause I'm betting you'll fold."

"Why don't we find out? Or you could tell me what you've done with her, and I might just reconsider."

"Done with who?"

She narrowed her eyes. "Cordelia."

Then he understood the reason for the attack, and almost laughed. Spike was cleverer than he thought; she was dumber. It would cost her.

"Nice move." He whispered to himself, and said the next part so she could hear. "No, I don't think I wanna do that."

"Fine - I'll cross that off, then. Thanks for making this easier."

"No problem."

Patting her pocket to make sure she had a stake there, she charged Angelus, and the fight began. Adrenaline allowed her to get the first strike - a high, front-snap kick, which when it connected to Angelus' face, forced him to hold out his arms to maintain his balance, as he stumbled backwards. Seeing that he wasn't able to counterattack, Buffy followed up with a punch to the gut, and as soon as he doubled over, she round-housed the side of his head.

He dropped onto the floor, rolling onto his back, but he could see that his opponent was in a bad position. Reaching out, he grabbed her ankle, pulled, and saw her fall, face-first to the floor. Not wasting time, he got over her and gripped her neck, giving it a tiny squeeze. Predictably she struggled, but he was putting everything he had into keeping her in place. See, the thing about adrenaline was that it always wore off, and now he could smell its replacement. Fear.

"Gotta do better than that, Buff." She was lifted as he stood, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw Xander fire. The stream was off target though, not penetrating Angelus' shirt. "Somebody just tagged himself in."

Throwing Buffy against the wall, he shifted to his vampiric face, not even bothering to watch her slide down to the ground. He headed in Xander's direction, and was met by two crosses that were in the hands of Willow and Oz. He couldn't see the other girl, but Xander was brandishing an axe. So, they had ditched their guns. He winced, keeping just enough distance. Crosses were a nuisance.

"Stay back." Xander commanded, a slight crack in his voice, betraying the image he was going for.

"What's a matter?" The vampire questioned. "Is there a chink in the White Knight's armor?"

"Amy." Willow whispered, looking back to see the witch nod.

What was going on? Before he could begin to decipher that, the question quickly passed, as the redhead's lack of attention gave him an opportunity to swat the cross away. He smiled as her eyes bugged out.

"Willow!" Oz yelled, but he couldn't get to her and keep his cross in place.

Xander, however, could do something. He swung the axe upwards, with all the strength he could muster, and snagged Angelus' chin. Then he tried again, as it seemed to have no effect. Sometimes he forgot that he was a mere mortal. Angelus intercepted his second attempt, getting a grip on the handle. One fast yank and Xander was tossed, dropping to his knees when his legs couldn't maintain the speed he needed to stay upright.

The axe was examined. "Could be sharper."

It was being raised, anyway, and Oz didn't have a choice. The guitarist was going to jump him, but Buffy's voice interrupted everything.

"Yo, over here!"

Angelus turned just in time to see his sofa come flying at him. The slayer had gotten a running start, and was able to launch it. When the contact came, his knees buckled, and he fell back onto the cushions, his legs hanging over the arm. He had also lost the axe, which Buffy caught in mid air, and was soon holding against his neck.

"Now do you wanna tell me?" She asked. Still with the smile. "I'll look while you wait here. Right, Amy?"

The group moved aside, and the witch looked upon Angelus with blackened eyes, energy swirling around her. "Thicken!"

Buffy backed away from him, and couldn't help the laugh that came out when he tried to take a step from the couch. The spell wouldn't let him walk beyond it.

"Watch him, and don't get too close." She began her search. "Cordelia!"

***

"Come on, Slayer." Spike said looking at the ceiling, and wishing the noise upstairs would stop. "Follow through for once."

He also wished he could be there to make sure she did, but couldn't very well leave the girl here alone. This had to be worth it, or else he was a goner.

***

"You'll be there for about three hours, so get comfortable." Amy told the vampire, a satisfied smile on her face.

Buffy rejoined them, glaring at Angelus. She scoured the place, and Cordelia was nowhere to be found. She waited for him to answer her unvoiced question; he just started laughing. It sent a shiver through each member of the group.

"Haven't you figured it out yet? She's not here." He was almost giggling. "You always fall for it!" She opened her mouth, but there was no sound. "Want a clue?" He paused. "Bleach fetish."

"Spike?" Willow questioned. "But he's..."

"Up on two legs, and kinda mad at me. Can't imagine why, though." There was an evil gleam in his eye. "He's got your plaything."

"How come no one -?" Buffy asked.

"Because they knew you'd come after me, and they all want me gone." He wasn't na�ve. "What can I say? I'm a pain in the ass; no matter who won, they'd get rid of a problem." She absorbed this information. "Anything else you wanna know? Like maybe...how to do your job?"

The slayer regained her composure. "Nope. I've got that down."

"So finish it. Kill me, and then you can go to her. If she's still alive."

She thought she could hear Angel in that request. "Oz...sword." Not feeling anything being placed in her outstretched hand, she turned to stare at their unsure expressions. Hers, however, was not. "What's the hold up?"

Any objections that were ready to emerge from their lips, died when they saw it wouldn't change her mind. But what about the spell they'd been working so hard on? What about Angel? Even though she could see a flicker of him in those eyes, she had promised herself that she would punish the killer. Angel would probably welcome the release; he'd probably been craving it. The demon deserved punishment.

The guitarist fished around in the bag, finding what she wanted, and handed it to her. Angelus hadn't wavered, still silently challenging her to go through with it, adding a cocky smirk in the hopes that it would push her over the edge. If she just walked away, it would show her lack of resolve - a weakness she didn't want to be associated with - so she raised the blade, and apologized to her trapped friend.

Then she thrust the blade through his Adam's apple, straight through until she could see it coming out of the back of the couch, covered in blood. He began gagging and failing his arms, trying to free himself. It wouldn't kill him, but it would be painful for a very, very long amount of time. What kind of punishment was death for a vampire? It was over in an instant, and there was little to no hurt involved. This was a nice start, yet hardly the end.

"Give me the rope. We need to tie his hands." They worked quickly; he wasn't going anywhere. "If you have any guys left, I'm sure they'll let you out eventually, and um...if you don't mind, I think I'll take whatever you were trying to hide."

She lifted up his leg, and removed the paper she'd seen him stash when they entered. Yeah, he was most likely planning something, but whatever it was it wasn't going to work, because she'd be there to stop it. She swore that she'd get Angel back as well, though first she had a cheerleader to save, and an undead, limey bastard to kill. He didn't get off the hook.

"We'll have to do this again, sometime." Xander remarked, cringing slightly as blood poured from Angelus' mouth. "Careful, that's a nice couch; you don't want it to stain. Blood is the unforgiving predator of all cloth types."

"And you know that because?" Amy wondered as they left the mansion in a hurry.

"Mom makes me do the laundry. Never use enough fabric softener, though." Oz chose not to contribute any tips. "Ooh! And I steam clean."

Somewhere inside that hurting body, Angel was happy.

***

"Honestly, Slayer, it was just a -" The swift kick that Buffy gave to his groin, effectively shut him up. "Oww!" Except for the scream, that is.

Xander and Oz had to turn away.

She bent down to look him straight in his agony-displaying face, but deliberately avoided drifting any lower. "I'll be back to finish this after I get my girlfriend, and if you so much as pinched her, believe me when I say that whatever you're feeling between your legs'll be nothing compared to what I do to the rest of you, Spike."

"She's...upstairs...no harm done..." The blonde left him finally, but he wasn't out of danger. The four groupies surrounded him, weapons at the ready. "Hello all...lovely day, isn't it?"

The blonde was kicking down the door to Druscilla's room in about five seconds flat, and rushing in to find dolls everywhere. Not to mention a restrained Cordelia on the floor, who was making muffled exclamations through the sheet that was supposed to prevent her from speaking. The slayer, however, despite having full control of her mouth and its related muscles, couldn't form words. She got down, pulled the brunette into a sitting position, and freed her as fast as was super-humanly possible. Which was pretty damn fast.

"Buffy?"

They stared at one another for what seemed like an impossibly long stretch of time, until finally, they hugged like there was no tomorrow. And considering the lives they led, there might not be. Without even realizing it, both girls had begun to allow tears to escape down their cheeks. To Cordelia, this was a relatively new sensation; her mascara was going to run. She knew she wasn't crying because she had been afraid for her life (Spike had come close, though not that close), but because she had been afraid for Buffy's, and now she saw that things were okay.

It was like an overload; they both were muttering unintelligible forms of 'thanks' into each other's necks.

The slayer was crying for much the same reason - only the cheerleader's name was substituted for hers. For nearly twenty-four hours she had feared for Cordelia's life, but she was safe. She wanted to apologize, wanted to grovel for being so careless, wanted to beg for forgiveness...but when they separated, her girlfriend told her not to. Not vocally, but Buffy knew her expressions, and the one she had now said, 'Feel guilty and I'll yell at you loudly.'

"I thought that he..." Buffy trailed off.

"Did you...?"

The blonde shook her head. "I couldn't, not while we have a chance." She saw a faint bruise below her bottom lip, and touched it, frowning. "Did Spike hurt you?"

"It'll cover up. He barely qualifies as a villain, but I guess I got on his nerves." She grinned, and Buffy smirked. "So what happened, you break out of the hospital?"

"No, I was released legally. I'm all better." She stroked her dark hair. "One day. *One* day, and I go insane. You shouldn't've been here in the first place, but...I missed you."

"What do I hafta do to get through to that head?" Cordelia eliminated the chance for any sort of reply by initiating physical contact. "I missed you too, but," Kiss. "I'm fine," Kiss. "We're fine," Kiss. "It's all fine," Kiss. "So be happy. I mean, you know I'm a fan, but did anybody ever tell you that gloom is pretty much a turn off?"

Buffy smiled. "Turning you off is definitely not what I wanna do. Just the opposite, actually."

Each was desperate to feel the other, and the kissing quickly reached a fevered pitch; they didn't even stop as they were getting off the floor. Though as soon as Cordelia remembered the locale, she called it quits. Before she could offer an explanation, she had to be able to speak. Catching her breath was always the hardest part of making out, but seeing Buffy pant gave her a pleasant rush.

"If this is...you know, leading where I think it is...then I'd rather do it somewhere other than Crazy-Elvira's bedroom. And minus the audience." She gestured around to the dolls.

"Good point." The slayer found the toys just as disconcerting. "Let's get outta this dump."

They headed out and towards the stairs.

"About damn time. You can't go too long without natural light. Forget a tan; it's a medical fact somewhere that it's good for your complexion. Just cause Spike bursts into flames in it, that's no excuse."

"There's that annoying skin cancer thing."

"Duh, that's why they invented sun block." Beginning their descent, Cordelia lowered her voice. "Are we going to?"

"Uh huh."

"Really?"

"Uh huh."

"When?"

"Is tonight good for you?"

Buffy wasn't joking; she'd seen that look before. She was wanted, and it made her suddenly nervous.

"Uh huh." Like she'd say no? Everyone came over, relieved, yet not exactly making a commotion. "Don't act all overjoyed to see me or anything." She said, sarcastically.

That was the green light for the gang, who hugged her one by one. Oz just held up his hand in a short wave, which she returned. Buffy stood back and viewed the mini-reunion, allowing herself a deep breath, along with a very slow exhale. No matter what Cordelia said, that was a close call, and it could've gone badly. The next time something tried to get to her through Cordelia, in whatever way, it might have more guts than Spike, and then where would she be?

Willow came up behind her, placing a comforting hand on her back. "Told you. She's all safe and sound-y, see? I know what I'm talking about."

"Thanks, Will." That was the future; she could smile now. "And yeah, I am glad you guys were there." Her friend smiled; she liked ego boosts. "Amy was -"

"Wasn't she awesome?" The hacker was excited. "But Xander sorta wigged."

"He better not piss her off." They snickered. "You are okay, right?"

"Will you stop asking us that already?"

Spike cautiously walked over to her. "Well, looks like the troupe's all smiles, got your slag back and what all...*and* in one piece -"

"Hey, take the back!" Willow exclaimed. She'd been gaining a working knowledge of British slang so she could understand Giles, and that 's-word' wasn't very nice.

"You hit her." Buffy faced him, crossing her arms over her chest. "It left a mark."

He'd forgotten that.

"Was more of slap, really...an accidental slap, mind you..." Crap. He started to backpedal. "Just tell me he moved into an urn, and I can die with a spot of happiness in my heart."

"Heart? Ha."

Spike studied her. "You didn't do it." He let loose an anguish-ridden bellow, knowing the answer. "That's bloody typical of you, all Hat and no Cat."

She raised her eyebrows. "Oh, you don't think so? Then why are you backing up?"

This was not his day.

***

"I still say you shoulda let me make him swallow one of his cigarettes. That way he could've burned to death internally."

Cordelia was sitting at Buffy's vanity brushing her shower-dampened hair, but stopped the comb in mid-stroke when she heard that comment. Looking past her reflection in the mirror, she rolled her eyes at her girlfriend's attempt to force a disturbingly gleeful tone; it clearly wasn't working. Similar remarks had been made ever since they left the factory, and whereas before it'd had the desired effect, now it was just overkill. The slayer was only doing it to get a reaction, and trying too hard. It was time to put the lid on it.

"Not buying it." She resumed brushing, enjoying the feeling of being clean.

There must have been fifty different odors in that factory, all of which had one thing in common: Death.

"Okay, so maybe I wouldn't go that far," Buffy conceded, lying on her bed, "but that doesn't make the imagery any less fun." She eyed up her sleepover guest. "You look great in my robe, by the way."

Cordelia smiled, checking out the very cozy, very soft, dark-green bathrobe she was wearing. She did look great. "I know." Now Buffy rolled her eyes. "And *you* know I'm right about Spike."

"Yeah..." There was doubt in her mind.

"You don't kill losers; you get them to do whatever you tell them to do. He has to listen if he wants to live. If you wanna make him regret 'kidnapping' me, and I use the term in the loosest possible way, then you make him help us. Evil on Good's side, get it? Damages his already pathetic reputation. Plus, he hates Angelus, so that's just more motivation."

"What would I do if I didn't have you here to rationalize every situation?"

"You'd have to rely on Xander." She got glared at. "Don't pretend that's not a scary thought."

While they were on the topic of her job, Buffy thought back to the look on Giles' face when she gave him that newspaper. It was too worried for her liking, and...no, she had to take a break. This was enough for one night. No more shop talk, no more shop thoughts. She got off of her bed, went over to the vanity, took the comb from Cordelia's hand, and set it down. The brunette didn't protest, mainly because she was distracted by the new view in the mirror.

"Is that my shirt?"

Buffy nodded. "I borrowed it when I spent the night at your house, remember?"

"Cause you wanted to change in the morning, but conveniently forgot to bring your own clothes. Right."

"Does the word 'assassins' ring a bell?" Cordelia smirked, but it disappeared as soon as her girlfriend's arms went around her neck. "Believe what you want, but I wasn't trying to steal from your extensive fashion collection; even though you stole from mine."

Oh, Valentine's Day - the comfortable sweater and sweatpants.

"You said I could keep them." She countered. "And if you want the shirt, just ask."

She was still looking at it, though; it was one of her favorites.

"Hey, you want it back, you can have it back," The blonde leaned over to whisper in her ear, "but ya gotta take it off me, first."

She swallowed. It was easy to be the aggressor, but being on the receiving end was causing every hormone to go haywire. "Those pants...are they my pants? They look like my pants...yeah, I think they're mine."

"So get them back, too." There was a grin, a playful grin. "I don't hafta repeat myself, do I?"

An 'I'm about to cross a line, and I'm not planning on or expecting any interruptions, so are you coming with?' grin.

Buffy took her hand, waited for her to rise from the chair, and then led them over to the bed, which they both sat down on. She looked to her to make the next move; her take-charge attitude was gone. All Cordelia could think to do was push back further onto the mattress so they could lie down. Then after staring at the ceiling for a while, they thought it might be a good idea if they could see one another, so they turned on their sides.

It was amazing how fast a combination of fear and sudden horniness took away the cheerleader's ability to function, especially when it was only supposed to be a guy problem. She'd always stayed in control. The number of times that she'd had sex was a slightly exaggerated figure, but still, in her limited experience, her body had never felt as ready to give out on her as it did now. Sex had been almost trendy in the past, not something she absolutely needed to partake in. That was no longer the case, however, because she did need to do this, and not simply to 'do it.'

She wanted to make love to Buffy (who might act like she wasn't gorgeous, but was) more than anything; she wanted to cement what they had, while getting to learn every inch of her in the process. Would she be any good? That's what she was afraid of, not being very skilled. It was their first time; she didn't want to be so bad that it would be their last. Even though they were both new to this, and Buffy was probably having the same thoughts, Cordelia was nevertheless putting a lot of pressure on herself. There was going to be pleasure, damn it.

During the quiet, they'd been lightly - not even aware of it - touching each other. Wandering wherever their hands wished to go. Gaining courage though, Buffy, every part of her tense, decided to take the leap and guide them. The fingers of her one hand began to outline her girlfriend's face, while the fingers of the other wrapped around the cloth belt holding the robe together. She listened as her girlfriend sucked in a sharp breath, feeling the small shudder that ran through her. Seconds then passed, which felt like eons.

The kiss came from Cordelia, who then smiled, the familiarity settling their nerves.

"Go with the flow."

***

The moonlight had found its way into the now darkened bedroom, and was casting a shadow that played across Cordelia's naked back. To be exact, it was a shadow that resembled the blinds hanging in Buffy's window, but they failed to notice. A robe, a shirt, a pair of pants, and those layers of clothing that were usually kept hidden, were scattered somewhere along the floor; as soon as that had happened, all the girls noticed were the sounds and the movements their partner made as they experimented in new territory.

Their minds had long since clouded - Buffy was subjected to jolt after jolt of pleasure, writhing under her girlfriend's seemingly expert touch. Once Cordelia discovered that Buffy was going to like what she was doing because *she* was the one doing it, the shyness left in a hurry, and she learned a lot about the slayer's body in an extremely short amount of time. Wanting to go beyond, wanting to master another realm purely to make someone else happy, she was making the most of the knowledge she'd gained, and enjoying it thoroughly. It helped that she knew what she'd liked, when it was her turn to give.

There were no secrets. She'd suspected that her hair was colored, and was right, which often tended to be the case. They were half covered by sheets, so when the cheerleader slid her fingers through the only hair that was still natural, underneath them, the heels of Buffy's feet pushed and dug into the mattress, while she tossed her head from side to side. As sweat cascaded down her forehead, she couldn't hold back the sigh. Or the moan. Or whatever noise it was that she had just made. She didn't torture Cordelia this much, did she?

She felt so tense; she was right there. Another hand was caressing her face suddenly, which got her to relax somewhat, and to open her eyes. She was staring up at a brunette, who she vaguely recognized as her girlfriend and lover.

"Hey." The word sounded husky and sweet.

It said everything. It said, 'I love you,' 'I can't believe we're doing this, but I don't wanna be anywhere else,' and it asked permission. She hoped her frantic nodding was clear enough. Buffy mumbled something then; it was the best she could do, and she wasn't sure Cordelia saw it, because the brunette went out of sight. Within a second, she felt warm breath blowing where she hadn't ever remembered feeling it before, then she felt a mouth...then came dizziness. And spinning. Not like when she was sick, though. This didn't hurt at all.

She was on a whole other level, knowing she was calling out her lover's name, but not hearing anything. Knowing her hands were grasping a pair of shoulders, but not feeling them. She let the electricity that was coursing through her do what it wanted, let the blissful sensations knock her out, and then things began to calm down. Cordelia lay beside her, snuggling close and planting small kisses down her arm as she recuperated. It hadn't even had the slimmest chance of being a disappointment; it was indescribable.

Buffy had come to the conclusion that sex with her girlfriend would be a consistently wonderful and draining experience.

Cordelia looked directly at her. "I didn't know anyone could do that and look so..." Buffy's tired eyes were questioning. "You know...beautiful or whatever." They rolled next, and cheeks blushed. "I'm serious. But don't say it -"

"You looked pretty beautiful yourself. Not that that's a new thing..." She had gotten used to the fact that she wasn't listened to. "Anyway, I would've said so after, but you jumped me before I could get a word in edgewise."

"I didn't have a choice. I had to have you." Her nails lazily traced the top of Buffy's breast.

The slayer gave a throaty chuckle. "I love you, Cordy." Her eyelids were drooping, and as a result, the last part of her admission was said in the midst of a yawn. "So much."

"Mm...love you too." She pulled the covers up further, and then shut her eyes.

Maybe they should've taken notice of those blinds, because looking out of them would've revealed a Jeep in the driveway. If they hadn't been so involved, they also could've heard the front door open, as well. And if they weren't so exhausted, they would've realized that there were footsteps on the stairs. Sure, they heard the bedroom door open, but by then it was too late.

Light from the hallway flooded into the room. It was bright, intrusive - a stark contrast to the tranquility of the light given off by the moon, which allowed for peace and privacy. On this night, anyway. The artificial source, however, illuminated more than the girls had intended to reveal, more than the intruder had cared to see. It made them all become real alert, real quick.

"Mom!"

***

 Continue to Chapters 12-End

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