Summer Friendship Series 1-4 by Pat Kelly
by Pat Kelly

9
LEARNING

Le Banquet D'Amelia was the headlining movie at the Sunnydale Cinema. A foreign film, that the three couples of the gang had gone to see. A week had passed since the death of Allan Finch and Trick. The big deal over the Deputy Mayor was eventually forgotten and swept under the rug just like everything else. Probably at the Mayor's personal request. His plans had to be on shaky ground.

Giles and Wesley had found nothing on the Ascension at all, and that was a bad sign. Wesley wanted to do research on Richard Wilkins III, as all their other avenues had dried up. While it made sense, they also didn't want to do anything that would get his attention. They already broke in once, and had to be careful from now on.

But besides abrupt closings of murder investigations and information dead-ends, everything was back to normal. Actually, their personal lives were back to normal; the town had never deviated from its bizarre definition of the word. Willow wanted to get extra credit for seeing a French film for class, and that's why they had gone. She had to do some begging to get the rest of the gang to go.

Oz, as her boyfriend, was already in by default. She and Buffy were in the same class, but the slayer had no desire for extra credit. It took ten minutes of the "resolve face" to get her to come. Faith wasn't big into foreign, subtitled films, but Buffy got her to agree. And Cordelia was all for it, dragging Xander with her, in an effort to get him cultured.

Now, as they exited the theater, the brunette slayer's attitude toward foreign films had changed considerably, and Willow was regretting her choice. Well, maybe "regret" wasn't the right word. She should have found out more about the film first though. They were all, very much, stimulated.

"Gotta love the French." Faith grinned widely.

"Did anybody else know you could do *that* with coconut?" Xander asked, feeling strained.

"Nope, but I plan to do it now."

"You do?" Buffy asked with wide-eyes.

"Not *now* now. Geez, I didn't know you were into voyeurism, B."

"I hate it when you twist my words around!" The blonde pretended to look upset, but then grinned as well. "I liked the part with the pecan pie, myself."

"Water." Xander choked.

"Why do you always do this to him?" Cordelia asked. "Then I have to hit him. And it's not fun." She eyed Faith. "Quiet."

The grin never left Faith's face, as she put her arm around Willow's neck.

"I gotta thank you, Red. I mean, I've seen pornos before, but I never knew they could be that classy. I don't think 'Carrie the Carpeter' is gonna cut it anymore. American products. Total crap."

"I didn't know it was a porno!" Willow said loudly. They all looked down, as passersby started staring at them. "Oz, really I -"

"I don't think anybody's complaining, Will." Her boyfriend said.

"When you're done writing your review of it for your class, lemme see. I'll proofread it." The brunette offered.

"Oh God. I can't hand anything in on that...thing." The redhead blushed.

"Wasn't that a line in the movie?"

"Okay, we have patrol." Buffy said, pulling on Faith's arm. "Thanks for inviting us, Will. It was...entertaining." She looked at her partner with a smirk. "Let's go, you..."

"Horny She-Devil?" Faith offered.

"That'll do."

***

"The fridge well-stocked?" Faith asked, as they moved through Shady Hill.

"Last time I heard, slaying was supposed to involve actual slaying." Buffy said.

"When the vamps wanna give it a shot, they'll be slain. You gonna answer, or do I have to be persuasive?"

"Hmm...thinking, thinking...persuade me. I'm thickheaded."

"I know, but I look past it." Faith backed the blonde up against the wall of a mausoleum. A heavy make-out session then occurred. It involved fingers through hair, massaging of tongues, possibly a few hickeys, and nibbling of earlobes. It got hazy after awhile, but it was enjoyable for both participants. "Answer? Or a second round?"

"Don't think I could handle..." She was trying to catch her breath. "Mom just went shopping last night."

"Whipped cream?" Nod. "Hot fudge?" Nod. "Cherries?" Nod. "Just what I need to make myself a 'Summers Sundae'. And there'll be plenty of experimenting. To get the right flavor."

"What about me?" Buffy pouted.

"Oh, you're the key ingredient, B."

"Sounds delicious." The short, horned demon said from behind them, licking his lips. Faith whirled around, and grabbed him by the throat. "Hey, hey! Joke, joke!"

"Forgive me if I don't laugh."

"You're protective, territorial. I can respect that."

"Whoa, hold it. You know that we -" Buffy started saying to him.

"Every demon in town knows about you two. Personally, I think it's a beautiful thing."

"What do you want?"

"Besides a stake to the heart." Faith threatened.

"Hold it! Stake me now, and you never find out what I got for ya, huh? Think about it. Demon seeks Slayers, highly unusual?"

"Talk fast."

"How would you like to get your hands on the Books of Ascension?"

"Never heard of 'em." The blonde slayer said.

"Books of Ascension. Very powerful works and I'm not talking about the prose. They deal with some, ah, dark stuff. And the Mayor would hate for somebody to get a hold of 'em before he, ah, well, you know."

"Don't know. Before he what?"

"Hey, hey, read 'em and weep. That's all I got to say. Tomorrow, I get the books. Meet me here and if the price is right, well, I give the books to you."

"Not really looking to trade with a demon."

"And if this were still a barter economy, that would be a problem. I want cash, princess, five large for the whole set."

"So you can buy, I'm guessin' here, some skin care products?" The brunette was sarcastic.

"Plane ticket. Out of the Hellmouth before it's adios, Slayer Loco. So, five G's, what do you say?"

The slayers looked at each other. He wasn't much of a threat, and whatever these 'Books of Ascension' had in them, could probably tell them all they needed to know. But five thousand dollars?

"We'll get back to ya."

Faith let go of him, and he backed up slowly.

"Sure, sure. Think it over. But those babies are hot items, and I've got other buyers waiting. If you want 'em, decide soon."

"Thanks. We'll keep that in mind." Buffy said, annoyed at the little creature.

***

The slayers walked through the library doors the next morning, in mid conversation.

"-believe you're still sticky." Faith said.

"Hot fudge and caramel, when used in great amounts -"

"Depending on where they're applied,"

"Tend to stay around."

"But we showered three times."

"The key word being 'we'."

"Hey, I had every intention of using that soap."

"You're easily distracted, I know. And some people may consider that a flaw, but I'm not one of them." Buffy shuddered, remembering. "Besides, I can survive being sticky and smelly for one day. It was worth it."

"I aim to please."

Of course, that's when they noticed the whole gang around the table, and the watchers, looking at them with mouths agape. Well, everyone except Oz.

"Guys...hi...um...how much did you...well, you see...uh...oh, what the hell. She really does. Please."

Faith clapped her hands together, with a grin. "Why's everybody slackin'? We gotta get to work."

Wesley coughed. "Quite right. Lots of work to be done." There were beads of sweat running down his face. "Pardon me for a moment."

The watcher walked quickly out of the library, and then Xander looked pleadingly at his girlfriend, asking for permission to make an exit as well. She shook her head. It was torture, she knew, for both of them actually, but she could control her "basic needs" better than he could. He'd get satisfaction when she was ready to give it to him. But on the other side, she had slept with lots of guys, but she wanted it to be special with Xander.

Sometime later, Buffy relayed their encounter with the demon, and his offer to sell them the Books of Ascension, to the gang. Faith just sat back and let the blonde take care of the specifics. Buffy was so cute when she was in "responsible slayer explanation" mode. So focused. It didn't matter if it was with clothes or without, she was always fun to watch. And stare at.

"And you say this demon wanted cash? That's very unusual." Wesley noted.

"Demons after money. Whatever happened to the still beating heart of a virgin? No one has any standards anymore." Giles was very troubled by that.

"Isn't that always the way?" Faith commented.

"Now, if we were teenagers during the eighties, things would make sense. I mean, Michael Jackson still had his original skin tone," Xander said.

"Madonna actually made okay music," Willow said.

"Prince was still called Prince," Oz contributed.

"Ugh! The headbands alone would put me in fashion hell." Cordelia cringed.

"Well, anyway," Buffy tried to veer back to the original topic, "he said the books were worth the price."

"If they're authentic, they could be very helpful to us in preparing for the Ascension." Wesley stated the obvious.

"And we still have no idea what it is, right?" Xander asked.

"Um...no. Not really a common term in demonology."

"What about the date of the thing? I know I recognize it." Buffy wondered.

"June 12th. I have no idea." Giles said.

"Come on, Giles. You're faculty and you don't know what that date is?" Cordelia asked. He stared at her blankly. "Graduation! Get a calendar!"

"Graduation's a big un-fun now? Big un-funs are really...un-fun." Willow complained. "Ooh ooh! The Marenschadt Text. I think in the section on genocide, they mention Ascension." She remembered suddenly.

"Well, we have a winner." Buffy said with a smile.

"And, more importantly, two losers." Xander chipped in.

"Big ones." Faith added.

"Where did you find that volume?" The librarian asked, addressing the redhead.

"In the top of your book cabinet with the stuff you try to keep hidden."

He went to go get it.

"Hidden? Are there any engravings I should know about? Uh, frolicking nymphs of some kind?" Xander questioned.

"Pa-thet-ic." Faith broke the word down, drawing it out.

"It's your fault."

"Is not." Faith defended herself.

"Is too." Xander shot back.

"Not." She countered.

"Too." He returned it.

"Not." She came back again.

"Too, infinity." He pulled out the big guns.

"Not, infinity plus one." Xander opened his mouth, but didn't speak. "Amateur."

"Children." Giles returned with the book, and was flipping through it. "Ah, yes, here we are. There's a reference here to the journal of Desmond Kane, pastor of a town called Sharpsville. 'May 26, 1723. Tomorrow is the Ascension. God help us all.' It was the last anyone heard."

"Of Kane?" Wesley asked.

"Of Sharpsville. The town more or less disappeared."

"So Ascension possibly not a love-in." Buffy said, expecting confirmation.

"I think you should meet with this demon."

"Yeah? Anybody got five thousand dollars?"

They all looked at Cordelia.

"What?" The cheerleader realized what it was they wanted. "Does he take MasterCard?"

"Probably not."

"Then you can count me out of this."

"We could do a school fundraiser...make up some excuse?" Willow offered.

"People didn't even give the football team money for new uniforms. I don't think they're gonna help the school weirdoes."

"I think our official name is 'The Freak Club' now." Xander clarified.

"It's a step up from, 'Those people who hang out with that guy who likes books'." Oz realized.

"Tell you what. Why don't we try to find this demon sooner rather than later? Perhaps persuade him to lend us the books free of charge." Wesley said.

"Persuasion. Like the sound of that." Faith grinned.

"Do we know where he is?" The blonde asked.

"Nope. But I can fix that. Willy's always fun to mess with." She got up, and gave Buffy a kiss before walking towards the doors. She turned to look at Xander. "Is not."

***

Buffy excused herself from class, and was walking the hallways. She was getting nervous waiting for Faith to come back with information. As she passed by the computer lab, she caught a glimpse of red hair. Smiling, she backtracked, and entered the air-conditioned room. Her lips curved downward, though, as Willow came into view.

After the year was over, she might never see the hacker again. Willow had yet to decide where she where she was going to college, and that was probably because every educational institution wanted her to enroll with them. Not that Buffy could blame them, but Willow was her best friend, who was supposed to be there at her side forever.

She couldn't say anything to affect her decision, though. She had to let Willow make it on her own. Faith had been right about that.

"Buffy!" Willow said happily when she saw the blonde. Then her brow furrowed. "Shouldn't you be in class?"

"Possibly. I don't really remember..." The slayer said innocently.

"Buffy." The second time Willow said her name, it had a sterner edge to it.

"Fine, fine. If you don't want me around..." She pouted.

The redhead sighed, feeling guilty. Buffy was good at that when she wanted to be. She pulled out the swivel chair that was for the computer next to the one she was using, and pointed to it.

"Sit."

"If you insist." She took the offered seat. "What're you up to?"

"Looking at Wicca sites, seeing what I can learn. Breaking into the Mayor's files. And I tried searching for anything on the Ascension."

"Any luck?"

"Nope."

"Oh well. Something'll go our way eventually." She was quiet for a few moments; the only sound was the clicking of the mouse. "So you really want to do the magick thing, huh?"

"Yep. Ever since I did the...Restoration spell...the power...it's amazing. And imagine what I could do if I got really good at it." Then she had her 'worry face' on.

"But?"

"If I go away, what good will it do me?"

"You could turn the dean into a goat."

"Why would I want to do that?"

Buffy shrugged. "Every TV show I've seen says deans are evil."

"I dunno what I wanna do. It could affect the rest of my life, you know?"

"Uh huh." 'Mine too.' The blonde thought. "Relax, though. You have time."

"So...Faith's not back yet?" Buffy shook her head. "I'm sure she's okay."

"I'm sure she is too." She paused. "You get that fluttery feeling in your stomach when you think about Oz, right?"

Willow nodded with a dreamy smile. "Mm hmm."

"I had it four years ago with Faith. I didn't know what it was then, but now I know that I've always...even when we had to say goodbye, and I got older, she was in the back of my mind all the time. It's just so perfect. The only black cloud was Allan, and it was tough..."

"I remember."

"But we made it through. It could have gone badly, but it didn't. God, Will...I think, if neither of us," She wasn't going to say the 'D' word, "well, I think I could spend the rest of my life with her. It sounds crazy, and it's still early in our relationship, I know, but now that I have her, I don't wanna let her go."

The redhead was stunned into silence.

"Not crazy." She found her voice. "You're so happy. I love seeing you happy."

"I definitely like it." The slayer smiled. "Can you see that happening with you and Oz?"

"I think about it a lot. I'd really like it to happen. Depending on where -" Willow stopped when she saw the brightness fade a little from her friend's face. "You want me to go to college here, don't you?"

Buffy was having an inner struggle with herself, but couldn't hold it in.

"Faith told me not to tell, cause I shouldn't influence your choice, but yeah. I want you to stay. If you left I...my happiness level would drop. Plummet. It wouldn't be..." She sighed. "I'll support you, whatever you do."

They hugged.

***

Faith had gotten the demon's address from Willy easily. She still couldn't figure out how a coward like that was a proprietor of a bar for demons, and how come they hadn't torn him apart. Then again, she guessed that they liked the guy who got them drunk. Or whatever demons came there for. She didn't want to know, really.

Making a side-trip to Restfield, she stopped by Allan's grave. She made a habit of it. She didn't stay very long, just a minute or two. Didn't bring anything either. Faith just went there to remind him, and herself, that she didn't forget him or the promise she had made. She wouldn't heal completely, or get full closure, until the Mayor was dead. He probably couldn't truly rest until his ex-boss was dead, either.

Thinking about that, she had to hurry to get Buffy, so they could look up the demon that had the books. Once they got them, it'd put them one step closer to stopping the Mayor. And the sooner they could end his plans, the happier she would be. Then she, Buffy, and the gang, could take a breather.

It would be summer, and she already had something in mind for a vacation. They could go back to where it all started. Back to simpler, less stress filled times. Back to where they first met and fell in love. She could go back to her roots a free, changed, person. One who found what she had fled for. She searched and searched, and it had paid off.

She was in deep now, and had no intention of trying to get out.

***

The slayers did eventually track down the demon. Several parts of him lying on the floor of a motel room. They searched the place, but whoever killed him, took the Books of Ascension. Even though they despised the Mayor, they had to give him credit. He knew how to cover his bases. Exactly how he knew everything that was going on was still a bit of a mystery, though.

There was no getting around it now. Finding out more about the Mayor was priority. He had to have a network of vampires and demons to do his dirty work, but how did he get that network? Getting to be the top guy in a town on a Hellmouth had to take some time and power. It didn't just happen overnight.

And there was another thing too. For two years nobody heard a peep out of City Hall, and they had never suspected anything. Suddenly, this year, it became a big deal. The Mayor hired Trick. His deputy fled. Why now? It was probably a good assumption that, whatever the Ascension was, there was a reason it was happening now, and that it probably directly affected Richard Wilkins III.

So, Buffy and Faith went back and told Giles and Wesley the disappointing news. Everyone hated dead-ends. After awhile of thinking, however, Oz came up with a brilliant idea. To go to the Hall of Records and check up on the Mayor and the history of the town that way. The files were open to the public, and it would arouse nobody's suspicions.

They were killing time at the Bronze for a few hours, waiting until later at night to go to the Hall of Records. Wesley, Oz, Willow, Cordelia and Xander were on research detail there, and Buffy and Faith were just going to do a regular patrol. In case the Mayor had things keeping tabs on them. Right now, the hacker, the werewolf, and the slayers were sitting at a table. Their two other friends were dancing.

"They liked your plan." Willow said, proud of her boyfriend.

"It was a good plan." Buffy agreed. "Logical, practical...the foundation of a good plan."

"I outdo myself sometimes." Oz was monotone.

Faith was drinking a root beer float. It was the closest she'd ever get to real beer in the club. It wasn't helping her mood. She was pissed at not getting the books and letting the Mayor get to that demon. The small, horned creature might not have been a saint, but he wasn't hurting anybody. He just wanted out, and the Mayor didn't even give him a chance. Another death she couldn't prevent.

"With us?" Buffy moved her hand up and down, in front of Faith's face.

"Huh?" Faith asked, zoning back in.

"Where'd you go?"

"The Land of Chocolate."

"Chocolate's half-price there, you know." Oz said.

"That's the last time we watch a twenty-four hour Simpsons marathon." The blonde swore.

"I can't believe FOX didn't have anything else to put on." Willow commented.

They all smirked.

"The X-Files." The guitarist pointed out.

"Dumbest thing I ever heard. Who would believe that aliens actually exist? You'd have to be a real idiot." Faith said. "I mean...come on. People should focus on reality."

"Like vampires, werewolves, witches and zombies?" Buffy asked with a smile.

"Exactly."

"Stuff, that up until a few years ago, wasn't supposed to exist?"

"I already said -" Faith realized what Buffy was saying. "Shut up." She muttered quietly, in a mixture of anger and embarrassment.

"You're so cute when you're angry."

"Think so?"

Buffy put her hand on the brunette's cheek, and nodded.

"I think...we'll just get Xander and Cordelia...go information gathering." Willow said, getting up with her boyfriend.

"Good luck." The blonde said, closing in on the other slayer's lips.

"Yeah...good luck." Faith's voice was barely audible.

***

"Um...Faith? Why are we not going towards a cemetery?" Buffy asked as they walked along the street.

"Cause we're goin' to City Hall to get the Books of Ascension." Faith stated, as if it was completely obvious.

"Oh. Okay." What was she saying? "No. Wait. Not okay. The Mayor probably beefed up security. We have no idea what could be waiting for us."

Faith turned around. "I'm sick of this guy. Do you always wanna be one step behind him? Gotta be willing to go the extra mile, B."

"Course I'd like to be ahead for once, but we could die, and I really don't want to."

"You think I do? We could bite it if we went into one of the cemeteries too. But the difference is that, if we kill a few vamps, it gets us nowhere. If we get the books..."

"I see your point." Buffy conceded. Even though the odds were against them, her reasoning made sense.

"So you're in?"

She was silent for a second.

"I'm in."

The brunette smiled, and they continued on their way.

"Good." She remembered what she had been thinking about earlier. "How do you feel about takin' a trip? After this is all over and school lets out?"

"Where?"

"Where everybody knows your name."

"Washington D.C.?" Faith laughed. "Oh. Cheers? Boston!" She was excited now.

"I have no idea how we'd get there, but -"

"That's a great idea. Mom's got tons of frequent flyer miles. And the gang! We could show them everything...you think the tree's still there?"

"We'll find out, I guess." She hoped it was. "But first..."

Buffy sighed. City Hall was just down the next street. They could see it clearly, and their faces hardened at the sight of the building. Giving each other a look, confirming that they were ready and had each other's backs, they took deep breaths and went to get it done.

***

In the Hall of Records, Willow, Cordelia, Xander and Wesley were standing around a table, covered with books. So far, they hadn't found anything out of the ordinary.

"Hey! I know a way to make investigating the Mayor even more boring. On second thought, no, I don't." Cordelia said sarcastically.

"It is rather disheartening." Wesley admitted.

"You'd think there'd be a little bit of a paper trail." Xander said.

"He's careful." Willow frowned. "And I always thought that was such a good thing."

"For him it is. Just not for us."

"Hey, whoa." Oz remarked, bringing a book over to the table, and laying it down. He pointed to an old photo from the 1800's. It was the Mayor in the attire of the time, with facial hair. "Not careful enough."

"Whoa. Big hey whoa. Guys, check this out. Wow, like father, like son." His girlfriend said.

"How about like exact same guy, like exact same guy?"

"Mayor Wilkins is over one hundred years old. He's not human." The watcher realized.

"So what's this mean? Besides the fact that he's found the Fountain of Youth?" Cordelia asked.

"That he achieved his status, his power, over nearly a century. He has been preparing for this Ascension for quite some time, it seems. If he was indeed human once, his long life span was probably earned by working with various demons."

"He gives them a town to live in, they give him anything he wants. Like immortality." Xander said.

"Dealing with the Devil." Oz simplified it. "Or devils."

"So does that mean he can't die?" Willow wondered.

"Not necessarily. Immortality means that your body stops aging, and will never deteriorate. Never slow down..."

"Can he die or not?" Xander wanted to cut to the point.

"I was getting to that. Not by natural causes."

"Which are?"

"Old age and illness, which his body can combat. As long as Mayor Wilkins doesn't succumb to anything fatal...a well-aimed gunshot or stabbing...even tripping down a flight of stairs and breaking his neck, he could live for millennia. But they would all kill him." Wesley explained. "It's a gift as well as a curse."

"That's a rip off." The cheerleader remarked.

"But it's good for us. Finally." Willow said. "A weakness he overlooked."

"Yes. There may be hope yet." Wesley brightened.

***

"You know what I said about beefed up security? Forget it. It still sucks."

Buffy and Faith walked into the Mayor's, unlocked office to find it empty, after encountering no resistance trying to get in. An even bigger shock, was that the five-volume set of books on the Ascension, was sitting right on his desk. They were practically asking to be taken. Faith walked up to the desk and flipped through the book on top of the pile.

"We got 'em. Let's split." She said.

Buffy's senses kicked in, then.

"Hang on. How come this feels like..."

"A set up?" The Mayor asked, appearing in the doorway. "Cause it sure as heck is." He walked in, and they backed up, instinctively. Taking his handkerchief out of his pocket, he began to clean the spot where Faith had touched the book. "These are priceless. And that's why I couldn't pay that grotesque looking fellow for them. It just...well, it just wouldn't have been ethical."

"Ethical? You son of a -"

Faith started to step forward, as the Mayor sat behind his desk. Buffy put her arm in front of the other slayer, stopping the brunette's advance.

"That's what he wants." Buffy told her.

"It's wonderful to finally meet you girls. The stories I hear...it amazes me how motivated young people are today. Can I offer you something?" He reached into his desk and pulled out two Blow-Pops. "Lollipop?" They shook their heads as he looked at the candy. "How do they get the gum in there?"

"I don't...really know."

"Oh well. I guess some mysteries have to remain unsolved, huh?" He chuckled.

Was he evil or not?

"Sure..."

"What's the deal?" Faith was getting impatient.

"The deal, Miss Adams?" He smiled as he saw her disbelief at the fact that he knew her last name. "Two things, actually. First, I wanted to personally thank you for tying up a loose end for me. They can be such nuisances sometimes.

"I had such high hopes for Allan, but ultimately, he just became more and more of a detriment to my administration. He simply wasn't a team player, and you know, I just couldn't have that." He shook his head sadly.

"I didn't do it for you. I didn't even mean to do it." She said, her teeth clenched.

"Nevertheless, you still did, and I appreciate it."

"Why couldn't you? Didn't want his blood on your hands?" Buffy challenged.

"Absolutely not." Could he have a conscience? "Blood has all sorts of germs, diseases...very unhealthy." He cleared his throat. "Now, if you'd allow me, I'd like to show you something."

"Do we have a choice?"

He reached into his desk again, and this time, he brought out a knife with an intricately carved, metal handle. He set it down on the edge of the desk, blade facing him, and nodded to it. Faith stared at it, admiring the craftsmanship.

"It's an eye-catcher, all right. A real beauty. Go on, Faith. Pick it up." The brunette was suspicious, but did as she was told. The Mayor spread his arms out. "End my life. End both your troubles. Free shot."

Faith looked at her partner, then at the knife, and then at the Mayor. What was he trying to pull? She could hit him with it before he could even move. It would avenge Allan and all the others he had to have killed, and there would be no more Ascension. It would be so easy. It was so tempting too. She could stop him right now. She raised the knife, and pulled her arm back.

She was going to do it...she was going to do it...she...

Wasn't going to do it.

Setting the knife back on the table, she closed her eyes. Both in relief, and in anger, at not doing it. He might have been evil, but he was still human. And she couldn't do that. She couldn't kill another human being. Not again. She felt Buffy's hand on her shoulder, showing her support for making the right decision.

"I won't." Faith said.

"Then I will."

He picked up the knife, and shoved the blade into his chest. The slayers gaped, nearly jumping, at the unexpected move. They waited for blood, or any kind of reaction from him, but it never came. After a moment, he slowly pulled it out. The blade was covered with blood, but he was perfectly fine.

"That was...slightly uncomfortable." He began cleaning the blade with his handkerchief.

"H-how...?" Buffy stuttered.

"When I gave that Morte demon his tribute all those years ago, he promised the immortality, that I asked for in return, would be risk-free. Well, when I found out it wasn't..." His eyes got uncharacteristically dark. "He's no longer with us. Soon after, I came to realize that if I wanted some things done, I'd have to do them myself.

"So I did. And now I'm invincible. It was a...lengthy wait, but worth it. My point, kids," He chuckled again, "is that there's nothing you can do. Allan became unnecessary, as well as any 'security'. My Ascension will take place, so everything you've done to try and prevent it was useless, I'm afraid. It always upsets me when I see youth being wasted."

Vampires rushed into the room, and grabbed the two girls.

"Then again, it's always nice to have some security around. You can never be too careful, am I right?" He addressed his employees. "Outside please. I hate carpet stains." They started dragging the slayers out. "And gosh, thanks for stopping by."

***

Behind City Hall, the six vampires threw the slayers down on the ground, each pulled out a nine millimeter, and aimed.

"Guns? Isn't that too modern for you guys?" Faith asked, frozen.

"He wants it clean. Fast." One of them said. "We do what he wants."

"Loyalty's always a good quality." Buffy said, as she tried to back up.

"Stay still."

Buffy and Faith looked at one another. They were frightened. These were their last moments on Earth. Never for a second did they think they'd ever die in such a normal way. Of all things, they could've gotten their blood drained, eaten, beheaded, poisoned, spontaneously combusted...but no, bullets were going to kill them. At least they'd die together. They grasped hands, drawing on each other for strength.

"I hope those guns are registered." Angel said, standing behind the group of vampires. As they whirled around to face him, his face shifted into its demonic visage. "If they're not, that means you're breaking the law, and you need to be punished."

Their answer was a chorus of growls. Angel did a front kick, knocking a pistol out of one's hand. He kicked it away. He grabbed another pair by their heads, and smashed them together. They fell to the ground, dropping their weapons as well. The souled vampire's arrival let the slayers get up, and stay alive.

"'Breaking the law, and need to be punished'?" Faith asked Buffy with a smirk. "I think he should stick to the silent hero act."

They joined the fight, picking up the two stray guns they could reach. Faith struck a vampire in the temple with hers, and as he thudded to the grass, she took his gun into her other hand. Buffy swept another's legs, and he fell onto his back. She shoved the barrel into his mouth, and he gagged.

"Be smart. How much pain do you think you'll be in?" She said, pushing on the trigger. He handed over his gun. "Thanks so much. Now get gone."

The five weaponless vampires ran off. There was one who was sticking around. He was still armed.

"Following your buddies is a real good idea." Faith advised.

The vampire grinned, turned, and shot Angel in the stomach. The brunette didn't waste a second. First she shot the vampire's gun out of his hand, and then she shot him in the head. With both her pistols. She would have staked him, but their intended assassins took their stakes and destroyed them before they left the building. He wasn't getting up for awhile, so she joined Buffy at Angel's side.

"We gotta take it out." The blonde said to her.

"The mansion..." Angel said, grimacing.

"Fine, we'll move ya, Big Guy. But I'm tellin' you now, it's gonna hurt." Faith warned him. "So curse if you gotta."

***

"Just get me the kit." Faith said. "I told you that you didn't have to get it out."

Buffy saw it on the mantle of the fireplace, and grabbed it. She knelt beside Faith.

"Now what?" The petite slayer asked.

"Now he's gotta raise his arms so I can get his shirt off, and you can get me tweezers outta there."

Angel did as he was told, and Faith pulled his white muscle shirt over his head. She inspected the wound. The bullet wasn't that deep. She could see it, and took the offered tweezers.

"It'll be okay, Angel. Just try not to move." Buffy told him.

"Ssh." Faith hissed.

"Sorry."

As she took hold of the object, she grinned. "You curse more than me." With that, she yanked, and Angel gritted his teeth as the projectile came out. Buffy cringed, looking away.

"How are you doing?" The vampire asked.

"Better than you." She reached into the kit and grabbed a bandage. "I'm five by five. Thanks for savin' our lives."

"Yeah, Angel. Thanks. I mean it." Buffy said with a smile. "I thought we were done for."

He didn't say anything. He just smiled back.

"They're here!" Willow called back to the gang, entering the mansion. "We've been looking all over for -" She saw Faith applying the bandage. "What happened?"

"Where should we start?" Buffy asked. "The whole thing was like a bad mobster movie."

Everyone else came in. Giles too. After Faith was finished, Angel put his shirt back on, and slowly stood up. The slayers followed suit.

"We found out about the Mayor." Xander said.

"Us too."

"Real nice guy. Until he tries to have you killed." Faith said sarcastically.

"You spoke to him?" Wesley asked.

"Are you all right?" Giles wanted to make sure.

"Uh huh. Angel came in the knick of time." Buffy assured them.

"How do you manage to do that, anyway?" Faith asked.

"It's a talent." The vampire said.

"There's good news...actually there is no good news, is there?" Cordelia said.

Wesley opened his mouth to speak, but the brunette slayer cut him off.

"Trust me, Wes. It's all bad news."

***

The girls decided to have an unannounced sleepover. The hopelessness got to them, and they figured being around each other would help take their minds off it. So far it wasn't working. Buffy and Faith kept reflecting on the close call they had barely escaped earlier, Willow was thinking that her debate over which college to pick would be pointless, and Cordelia was struggling with a more personal problem.

Never before had they had no options whatsoever. No apparent way to beat the big evil. It wasn't looking good, and as Buffy and Faith sat on the couch, and Willow and Cordelia sat up against it, they pretended things were looking good, half-heartedly laughing at a sitcom. On the slightly positive side of things, they were all still alive, and as long as they were, there might still be a chance at stopping the Ascension.

But they still weren't making any long range plans. Especially not a return trip to Boston. Buffy scooted down on the sofa, and laid down so her head was resting on Faith's lap. The brunette started stroking her hair softly. Willow grabbed the blonde's hand, and Cordelia grabbed hers.

They stayed that way until the four of them were tired enough to go to sleep.

 

10
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

It was Sunday morning. Buffy and Faith sat at the counter in the kitchen, and waited, as Joyce was finished preparing scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast. It was a rarity for the older Summers to be home, let alone cook, so they were taking advantage of it. Her mother was making the food as sort of a celebration of her getting into Northwestern University.

Buffy's mind was nowhere near that. One, she knew she'd never be able to leave the Hellmouth, and two, they were all going to die anyway. Another week had gone by, and they were no closer to stopping the Ascension. So what was the point of the future? There wasn't going to be one. Joyce was so upbeat though, that she had entered the wonderful world of denial, and was blind to the negativity.

The slayers got served, and just kind of poked at their eggs.

"I wish I had mashed potatoes. Maybe I could make something out of them like Richard Dreyfuss did, and then aliens would come down and stop the Ascension." Buffy muttered.

"Yeah. You think E.T.'s finger does more than glow? Maybe he could bring a couple of his cousins and they could send the Mayor into a black hole or somethin'." Faith wondered.

The blonde sighed. "That actually sounds like a good idea right now. And that's sad."

"Hey! You know where we could get a chunk of amber with a sixty-five million-year-old mosquito in it? We could bring a T-Rex to life, and it could eat him."

"Where's Steven Spielberg when you need him?"

"Okay, enough gloominess." Joyce said. "I'm sure everything will work out. Now eat. We have happier things to look forward to."

"Mom..."

"I mean, it's not cheap, but, uh, I know we can make it work if your father pitches in. Not that Northwestern is your only option. It's a great school, though. I am so proud of you."

"You said that before."

"And will again soon."

"Mom, you know that I can't..." Buffy hesitated. "I just can't decide on a school right now. I mean I want to sleep on it, you know, mull it over. Raise them up my inner flagpole, see which one I salute."

"I know, sweetheart. I'm just so pleased that you have so many choices. Ooh, you know what? Your Aunt Arleen and her family are in Illinois. I've got to call and tell them."

Joyce grabbed the phone and started walking into the other room. She didn't see her daughter frown.

"I'd love to be wherever your mom is now." Faith said. "She's right, though. Northwestern. Big. You worked your ass off."

"Even if I had a choice, I wouldn't be interested. Least I know I'm smarter than I give myself credit for."

"You've always been my little Einstein." The brunette grinned.

"Again with the 'little' puns. Not really a fan of those."

Faith had been racking her brain to figure out something that would help them, for the past few days. Taking a deep breath, she realized they'd have to start with the only thing tangible they had. Technically, Giles had it now.

"There has to be...okay, the big things in the planner were what?"

"Hundred Days, over. Ascension, coming up. What else was there?"

"Damn." The Bostonian cursed. "He was supposed to call someone about a delivery, wasn't he?"

They hadn't made it much attention before, but everyone was ready to do just about anything. Follow anything. Truth was, they had forgotten about it.

"You're right." Buffy realized, getting some hope. "What is it? When is it going to be here? Where? Who?"

"Don't know, don't know, don't know, *and* don't know." Faith smirked.

"But it could be important, right? This could be our chance."

"Then the next question is, how do we go about gettin' the info?"

They looked at each other with a smile.

"Willow."

***

"It'll probably be in the Mayor's name." Buffy told her friend.

"And it'll probably come from outta town, so check shipping records." Faith added.

They stood behind Willow, in her room, a half an hour later. The hacker was hurriedly hitting keys, entering the search criteria. She felt a little crowded.

"Could you guys...gimme some room?" She asked. "And slow down. I may be a fast typist, but my fingers aren't that skilled." She spoke low next. "Not as skilled as Faith's are, I bet."

Behind her, Buffy's eyes went wide.

Faith smiled widely. "Score two points for the redhead. Nice one."

Willow grinned to herself. She was surprised that she wasn't blushing. Watching the slayers had caused her to develop a good sense for knowing when an opportunity for an innuendo came up, and she decided to take advantage of it for once. She was pretty pleased with her first attempt, however blatant it was. Maybe this was a sign that she was ready to move on with Oz.

Buffy was stunned. This was her innocent, shy, friend.

"Are you possessed? Spell go wrong? Cause..." The older slayer then snapped back into reality. "Willow!"

"Yep. We've gone and corrupted her, B."

"Got something." The hacker said suddenly. "A shipment was sent off two days ago from South America with its own courier. The Mayor spent a lot of money. A lot."

"When's it gettin' here?"

"Tonight. The plane carrying it, is supposed to get here at seven."

"Let's play it safe this time." Buffy said. "Whatever it is, it's gonna have to come back to City Hall. We go there, wait for it, and see if we can find out what it is. Then we leave."

Faith saluted her partner. "Yes ma'am."

"Ma'am?" The blonde crossed her arms over her chest. "Are you trying to make me feel old?"

"Do you want me to? Cause if that's what you want, Wal-Mart's sellin' Depends real cheap."

"Grrr."

"Careful, Red. I think she's mad."

"You leave Willow out of this. You've corrupted her enough already."

"Me? We both had a hand in it."

"Excuse me? I'm the innocent one in this relationship."

"Oh no. She's delusional now too."

Willow watched the exchange amused, and couldn't help but giggle. They fit so well together. The slayers looked at her.

"Sorry. It's just...are you sure you aren't married?"

"Like I'd marry someone with such a perverted love for leather." Buffy huffed.

"And there's no way I'd get hitched to someone who actually thinks clothes from the Gap are wearable."

"You used to get clothes from Kids 'R Us!"

Faith gaped. "It was the only store closest to the bus stop!"

"Uh huh. Whatever. You and I both know that you worshipped the giraffe."

"Oh you're askin' for it, B."

The slayers grinned, and proceeded to kiss.

"Should I leave you two alone?" Willow asked after a few seconds.

The blonde pulled away from her girlfriend with a smile.

"Carried away. Done now."

"Turn that thing off, Red. Because you rock,"

"You really do,"

"And got us our only hope of puttin' an end to the Mayor, we're goin' out."

The redhead shut down the computer.

"Where?"

"Coffee shop. I'm buyin'."

"Ooh! But its gotta be decaf. Caffeine and I don't mix."

Faith shook her head. "By the time I'm done with ya, it'll have no effect." The three of them left the room, Willow and Faith walking in front of Buffy. "Now, there's this one technique I use that she can't get enough -"

"Faith!" Buffy screamed.

***

As they walked down the sidewalk toward the Espresso Pump, the girls passed by April Fools, the only formal wear shop worth going to in town. Willow and Faith were still ahead of Buffy, several feet ahead in fact, and she had given up on separating them.

Because she was hanging back, she looked in the window of the store and saw someone inside who looked like Cordelia. It was her. But the cheerleader didn't appear to be shopping. Her fellow slayer and her redheaded friend noticed her lagging, and turned around.

"What's the hold up?" Faith called.

"You guys go on ahead. I'll meet you there, okay?"

She couldn't believe she was leaving Faith alone with Willow.

"Sure, B. We'll keep ourselves occupied somehow. Hurry, though. Who knows what kinda trouble we might get into?"

Willow must have noticed the look of fear on her face.

"I'll be fine, Buffy." The two friends smiled at each other. "I think."

She waited until they were moving again, and then turned to enter the shop. Inside, Cordelia walked up to her immediately, not knowing who she was at first.

"Welcome to April Fools. Is there anything I can help you..." Once it clicked for her that it was Buffy, the color drained from her face. "...find?"

Cordelia just stared at the slayer for a second, and walked toward the back of the store. She went into the storage room, and knelt down next to a box. Beginning to unpack the new shipment of apparel, she heard Buffy walk in.

"Hey."

"You shouldn't be in here."

"Yeah, I'm a delinquent. I'm supposed to do things I shouldn't. Just ask Snyder." The blonde smirked. "So...uh...how long have you been -?"

She sighed, and thought she might as well tell her. "Two weeks. Daddy decided not to pay his taxes for a decade. They're taking everything. Hand me a couple of those hangers?"

Buffy looked behind her, and on a shelf, were several clothes hangers. She gave them to the cheerleader, who began to put them to use.

"I'm...sorry. Are you okay?"

"Besides the fact that life sucks, I'm fine."

Cordelia got up and carried the new arrivals into the store, and started to hang them up on the racks.

"Do you have a place to live?"

"Just until after Graduation. If we don't all die, I might try LA. Act, you know."

"Does Xander..."

Cordelia nodded. "Told him on Friday."

"No wonder we haven't seen him all weekend." Buffy looked around, and then watched as Cordelia did her job. "Do you have a break soon?"

"Actually..." She checked her watch. "Right now."

"Wanna come to the Espresso Pump with me? Faith and Willow are already there."

"By themselves?" Buffy nodded with a look of dread. "Okay." She smiled, finishing what she had been doing. They began to make their way out. "I just...don't know if I'll be able to deal with this. Going from having money to...not, is..."

"You will. You're strong, Cordy. And if you do go to LA, we'll all back you up."

"Xander won't." She frowned.

"He'll come around. When he gets emotional, he tends to go to the extreme end. It'll pass."

"I hope so."

"Hey, you got any good dresses for the Prom?"

"None that I can afford...but yeah. We do."

"Oh."

As the girls went out to the sidewalk, there was an awkward silence. Buffy had hit a sore spot. Eventually, the brunette broke it.

"Are you asking Faith?" Cordelia shook her head at her own stupidity. "Duh. Of course you are."

Buffy grinned. "I'm gonna make her sweat a little before I ask."

"I'm not really interested in the details of your sex life."

The slayer halted, and her face went red.

"What is it with people today? First Willow, now you. You know that's not what I meant." She closed her eyes, and took a breath. "Anyway, if you need someone to talk to, about whatever, I'm here."

"I know."

Continuing to stand there, she saw Cordelia's apprehension. The cheerleader wanted to ask for something, but couldn't quite bring herself to do it. Buffy was going to give it to her anyway. She hugged her tightly, and felt the other girl slowly return it. A few seconds later, they separated.

"What do you say we get mochas?"

***

Willow was on her second cup of mocha. At first, Faith found funny the effect that the caffeine had on the hacker, but now she was just scared. She had heard of people having the jitters, though she could have sworn it was only before weddings. Willow was proving that wrong. Quickly and cautiously, the slayer reached for the cup. When her hand grabbed it, she pulled it over to her side of the table.

The redhead whimpered.

"You've had enough."

Faith watched as Willow rapidly shook her finger.

"I'll tell you when I've had enough." She put her hand over her mouth when she realized what she said. "Oh...no...God...sorry...I...oh. I warned you."

"And I'll listen from now on."

"Good...you listen...listening is good. You hear what people are saying that way. And then you can..." She babbled, but then trailed off, lunging for the cup. She missed. "Help me."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Water! Water works sometimes. Really well."

"I'll get you some. Just don't go anywhere."

"Our bodies are eighty-percent water, you know."

"I'm aware." Faith said, starting to rise.

"But if we're mostly water, why do people drown? That's weird, isn't it?"

"Boggles the mind." The brunette said. "Stay."

She went and got a large cup of water, and threw out the mochas. Now that she wasn't looking at Willow, she could smile. The whole episode was uniquely her. Nobody else could replicate what the redhead did. A bizarre friend to be sure, but someone Faith was more than glad to have in that category. As she came over and sat back down, Willow was tapping her fingers on the table.

Seeing the water, the wicca took it greedily, and started drinking it. By the time she put it down, it was empty.

"Thanks." She burped, and looked embarrassed. "Whoopsie." She started to giggle.

"I see that the high's wearin' off." Faith smirked.

"Hey! I don't do drugs!" She tried to glare, but started giggling again, and stared at the table. Then she got quiet suddenly.

"Still there?"

"Huh? Oh. Uh huh. We're friends, right?"

The slayer was caught off guard. "That's what I thought."

"I hoped you were gonna say that. Cause I need to ask you a question."

"O...kay."
Willow saw the look on Faith's face, and smiled. "A serious question."

"Shoot."

"When should Oz and I...make...love?" She asked quietly.

Faith waited several moments before responding.

"You sure you don't want to talk to Buffy about this?"

"I did. And now I'm asking you." Willow paused. "I've been thinking about it, and I've talked with him, and we both want it to be at the right time. Perfect. But I don't know what that time is."

"You'll know. It'll hit you. But as far as a specific date, can't help ya there."

The redhead sighed. "That's what Buffy said." She chewed on her bottom lip. "What was your first time like? Ever?"

Faith started to close up. "You don't wanna know."

(Open wide for Daddy, Princess.)

"Bad?"

"It sure as hell wasn't anywhere near perfect."

(This might hurt, but it'll make Daddy feel good. You wanna make me feel good, right, baby?)

She shrugged off the memories.

"Then we won't talk about it anymore."

There was an uncomfortable quietness then. Could she tell her? Would Willow look at her differently? Hate her? Pity her? It would destroy or solidify their friendship. Could she take the risk?

"It was my dad." Faith answered after awhile. "I'm not lookin' for sympathy, but seein' as we're friends and all, I just...you asked, and I figured...you should know."

"Thanks for trusting me." Willow put her hand atop Faith's, and gave it a squeeze, after getting over her shock. "I guess Buffy knows?"

The brunette nodded. "The guy was an asshole, and probably dead by now. I'm past it. Every other...they don't exist. Not anymore. She's my first time. Every time is with her." Willow smiled. "Like I said, you'll know. Just wait for it. It'll find you."

They looked toward the entrance, and saw Buffy and Cordelia walking in.

"If you ever need a hug, you know where to find me." The hacker whispered.

Faith smiled and then shifted her weight as her girlfriend came and sat on her lap. She kissed her.

"Just in time. She's finally back to normal."

"How much did she have?" Buffy asked.

"Two mochas, and a large water."

Willow's eyes went wide, and she jumped out of her seat.

"Bathroom!"

***

After dark, the slayers hid out front of City Hall, behind some bushes. They were waiting for the limousine they had seen leave forty minutes ago, to return. It was very nerve-racking for both of them, even though their senses were on full alert. The Mayor scared them simply because he was so sure he was going to succeed.

And he had that "politician persona", which meant he could hide any vulnerabilities. He already had the physical ones covered. They still remembered his demonstration. This was their shot, however. If they played it right, all of the Mayor's plans would be kaput.

"We've seen this place way too damn much." Faith said.

"Agreed." Her partner said. "It's politicians like him that make me want to stay unregistered."

"You could vote against him."

"Yeah, but if I didn't know what he was, I'd probably be one of the people voting for him. I'm gullible that way."

"He's definitely a slick bastard."

"Look. Here it comes."

They ducked lower, and watched the limousine come to a stop by the sidewalk in front of the building. A guy stepped out, vampire, carrying a box. Watching him go inside, they saw the car go around the corner, heading toward a parking lot.

"Go." The brunette said. "I'll keep watch."

"Be right back, honey." Buffy said with a grin.

The blonde slayer took off around the corner, and entered the parking lot. Creeping up to the long, black vehicle, she waited for a second, staring at the passenger side window. The driver was still inside. She could make out a body, even through the dark windows. Bending down, she moved past the front of the limousine, got in front of the driver's window, and smashed it with her fist.

Reaching in with both hands, she grabbed the vampire driver by the lapels of his suit jacket, and pulled him halfway out.

"So, what's in the box?" She asked with a polite smile.

***

Buffy felt Faith's foot hit her stomach, and in an overly dramatic way, she dropped hard to a sitting position, and let herself fall back. She didn't move.

"B?" The concerned, standing slayer asked, leaning down.

Faith saw the blonde's hands shoot up, and then they grabbed her shirt. She was off balance, but couldn't help matching Buffy's mischievous smile. The older slayer's leg kicked up then, right in between her legs. Faith soon found herself being flung over her sparring partner and onto her back.

Xander, who had been watching, couldn't pass up the opportunity before him. He had gotten accustomed to the slayers and could now, more or less, keep his hormones in check. Plus, it was a Monday, and his body was usually not at its peak functioning level, yet. And he was still preoccupied with what Cordelia had told him. He wasn't sure what he was feeling anymore, but he did know that the thought of losing her, hurt. Badly.

He was keeping it hidden for now.

"Enough foreplay, ladies. I mean...'training'." He made quotes with his fingers. "Things to do, boxes to steal..." He said with an innocent expression.

They got off the library floor, and Buffy was fuming.

"And again with the comments! That's three now. Is Oz the only one who can hold himself back? And he's a werewolf!"

"Your point?"

"I...don't know. But...ahh!" She screamed.

"Better?" Oz asked.

"Much. Thanks."

"You bet."

"Didn't mean any offense with the 'werewolf' thing."

"None taken."

"There are things that need discussing." Wesley said.

"She told you all she got from the vamp, Wes." Faith said, taking a seat. "Box of Gavrock. Mayor eats what's in it. Big deal for Ascension."

Giles and Willow came in; carrying several large blueprints, and set them down on the table.

"What's that?" The watcher asked.

"Maps." The librarian answered.

"And stuff." The redhead continued. "Plans for City Hall. They were in the Water and Power mainframe."

"The box is being kept under guard in a conference room on the top floor." Buffy pointed to the map. "There. I got that from the vamp too. Then I introduced him to Mr. Pointy. They didn't hit it off."

"Well, now, here's what I think we should do..." Wesley tried.

"Skylight. Right above the room." Faith observed. "We should get the A-Guy in on this. He's been on disability long enough."

"Agreed." Giles said.

"And there's a fire ladder on the eastside of the building." Xander saw, pointing.

"Yes, yes, fine, but we still need to consider whether the Mayor..." Wesley attempted again.

"It won't be enough to simply have possession of the box." Giles reminded everyone.

"Right, we have to destroy it. Not just physically. Ritually, with some down and dirty black magic." Willow said with a smile.

"Hang on. We don't know what such a ritual would require." Wesley pointed out.

"I think the Breath of the Atropyx is standard for this sort of thing. Fairly simple recipe. Xander?" Giles handed a book to the teenager.

Buffy and Faith looked at each other with a smirk. Were they doing a spell or baking a cake?

"I know. I'm ingredient-gettin' guy."

"All right, stop! I demand everyone stop this instant!" The watcher yelled. They all looked at him. "I'm in charge here and I say this is all moving much too fast. We need time to fully analyze the situation and devise a proper and strategic stratagem."

"Wes, hop on the train or get off the tracks." Buffy advised.

"Or get run over by it. Whatever works for ya." Faith said.

"The Mayor will most assuredly have supernatural safeguards protecting the box." Wesley told them, and was greeted with silence. "Oh, we all forgot about that, did we?"

"Looks like a job for Wiccan girl. What do you say, Will? Big time danger." Buffy said to her friend.

"Hey, I eat danger for breakfast." Willow grinned.

"But oddly enough, she panics in the face of breakfast foods." Xander joked, heading for the doors. He saw Cordelia standing in his way. She had been watching quietly for the last couple minutes. "Hey."

"Hey." The cheerleader said. "Do you need help getting...um..."

The gang waited for Xander's response.

"Sure. I could use some." He smiled.

As they made their way out, Buffy turned to the remaining occupants of the library.

"Let's get to work."

***

For the second night in a row, the slayers were once again outside of City Hall. Only this time, they weren't alone. They arrived in a black van, with Wesley driving, Giles beside him, and Willow and Angel in the back with them. Faith slid open the side door and the four of them hopped out while the Englishmen stayed put.

"Now remember, if anything should go awry, Wesley and I will create a diversion." Giles said.

"Let's synchronize our watches. I have twenty-one four..." Wesley started, but the three girls held up their bare wrists. "Yes, typical."

"Maybe we could just count. One, one thousand, two one thousand..." Willow offered.

"Be careful, all of you." Giles said.

"Are we ever anything else?" Faith asked rhetorically.

Giles just shook his head. The two men watched the foursome walk off, and Angel pull down the fire ladder. Then he held up the thermos that he had brought, to Wesley.

"Tea?"

***

Back in the library, Oz was placing a large, ceramic pot on a pedestal, when Cordelia and Xander came through the doors. Xander was carrying a large brown bag. His girlfriend took a seat at the table. They hadn't spoken during the entire trip. She was worried now. He didn't seem hostile, but the silence between them wasn't something she was used to.

"You get the stuff?" The guitarist asked.

"Yeah." Xander replied, pulling plastic baggies out of the larger paper bag, and inspecting them. "Essence of toad, twice-blessed sage, maybe that's the toad?"

"Well, we better be sure. Destroying this box is supposed to be a pretty delicate operation."

"Well, then, they shouldn't leave it in the hands of the lay people."

"Are you mad at me?" Cordelia asked suddenly.

Both guys looked at her, and then Oz busied himself by studying the ingredients. Xander sighed, and knelt down in front of her.

"No. It's not your fault, right?"

"You don't want to talk about it?" She asked softly.

"What is there to say? I'm sorry I wigged. I don't handle big news well. But if you want to leave at the end of the year, I can't stop you. LA won't know what hit 'em."

"So you don't want me to leave."

"Why would I want that?" He paused. "I just don't want to think about it right now. Let's enjoy the time we have left, and if it looks like we have a chance with averting A-Day, we'll figure stuff out." He took her hand and gave her a small kiss on the lips.

"Okay." She smiled.

"We're good?"

"Uh huh." Cordelia looked at Oz then. "What do we need to do?"

"Oh, Willow laid it out for us pretty well." Oz showed them the wicca's instructions.

"Wow! She even drew helpful diagrams. That's the pedestal." Xander recognized.

"And the ingredients. And us. See, there's you and there's me."

"Where am I?" Cordelia asked.

"Here. Your shirt says supervise."

"I can do that."

"Well, how can you tell which is which?" Xander wondered. "I mean, they all look kinda stick-figurey to me."

"Well, this one's me. See, the little guitar." Oz explained.

"Oh, gotcha."

Oz dropped three, gold objects into the pot. "Okay, toad me."

"Toad him." The brunette said in an authoritative tone.

***

On the roof of the town government building, the slayers, the witch, and the vampire, looked down through the skylight to see the box right where it was supposed to be. Angel and Faith slowly opened the skylight, and Buffy handed Willow a book, and a bottle containing blue powder.

"Do your stuff." The blonde said.

The redhead read a spell from the book, in Latin, while pouring the bottle's contents over the box. As she finished, they all saw a blue force field appear, and then dissipate.

"Oh yeah, I'm bad." She congratulated herself, as Faith gave her a high five.

"Four stars, Will. Now get going."

"I'm gone."

She started going down the ladder, and Angel began to fit Buffy with a harness and set up a pully system.

"Watch the hands, Big Guy." Faith said.

Buffy turned to the vampire. "Isn't she sweet?"

"Like candy. If I knew how that tasted."

He lowered her down into the room, and over the box.

"Got it!" As she picked up the box, alarms went off from somewhere. Up above, Angel was pulling hard on the chord, but she wasn't moving. "Angel!"

"It's jammed."

Faith grabbed a hold too, but even with her added strength, Buffy wasn't budging. "I'd like very much to come up now, please!"

"We know!" They said in unison.

Two vampires entered the room, in suits no less, growling.

"Don't suppose you want to help me get down." They growled some more. "Didn't think so."

"Screw this." Faith hissed, jumping down and hitting the table. Angel soon followed.

While they fought, Buffy did a vertical spin in the harness, somehow managing to free herself from its confines. She tossed Faith the box, and the brunette hit a vampire's face with it, knocking him down. The three of them easily made it out of the room, running at full speed.

Outside, the van they arrived in sped by, as the trio dove behind some bushes.

***

Around ten minutes later, Willow was being dragged into the room her friends had just destroyed, in the grips of a vampire. The Mayor was surveying the damage, and she could clearly hear how upset he was.

"Well, this is very unfortunate. I just had this conference room redecorated, for Pete's sake. At taxpayers' expense. And, oh yeah..." He smashed a chair, enraged. "They've got my box."

Willow was struggling, and he heard her. "Let me go!"

"Well...hello there." He gave her a big smile.

***

"How did this happen?" Buffy asked a sullen group.

They came back to the library without Willow. Besides being angry, everyone was extremely worried. She was in the Lion's Den.

"We thought she stayed with you." Giles said lamely.

"They must have grabbed her when she hit the ground. Buffy, I'm sorry." Angel apologized.

"Me too, B. We should've made sure she was okay." Faith said, the guilt hitting her.

"Look, it's nobody's fault, okay? We just need to focus and deal." Buffy said, taking a deep breath. "Oz, I swear I won't let them hurt her."

The musician didn't say a word.

"We go back. Full-on assault." Xander said, bravely.

"I'm with him." The dark-haired slayer said.

"Ditto." Cordelia agreed.

"They'll kill her." Giles stated.

"We're assuming they haven't already?" Wesley asked.

"No. No, they know what she means to us. She's too valuable as long as we still have the box. We trade." Buffy said.

"We can't."

"No, it's the safest plan." She looked at Faith, who had to nod, and then at Giles. "It's the only way, right?"

"It might well be." The librarian agreed, not coming up with a better idea.

"Look, we call the Mayor and arrange a meeting."

"This box must be destroyed." Wesley argued.

"I need a volunteer to hit Wesley." Xander was angry.

"We were gettin' along so well. Don't ruin it now." Faith warned.

"Giles, you know I'm right about this." The watcher tried to look for help.

"Wes, you want to duck and cover at this point?" The blonde asked.

"Damn it, you listen to me! This box is the key to the Mayor's Ascension. Thousands of lives depend on our getting rid of it. Now I want to help Willow as much as the rest of you..."

"I don't think he does." Faith said.

"- but we will find another way." He kept talking.

"There is no other way." Buffy told him.

"You're the ones who said take the fight to the Mayor. You were right. This is the town's best hope of survival."

"Somebody died cause of him already, cause of me, and I couldn't do a thing about it." Faith snapped. "If we can save Willow, I'm gonna do it. She's my friend, damn it. To hell with the town. It'll still be here tomorrow. She might not be."

"All right! Let's deal with this rationally." Giles interjected.

"Why are you taking his side?" Buffy asked in disbelief.

The gang started to get vocal, and Wesley raised his voice above all of them.

"You'd sacrifice thousands of lives? Your families, your friends?" Oz got up from the chair he had been sitting in, and walked over to the pot. "It can all end right here. We have the means to destroy this box."

As the guitarist smashed the pot on the ground, Faith elbowed her watcher in the stomach. Wesley doubled over, the wind taken out of him.

Buffy looked at him with a glare.

"Giles, make the phone call."

***

Locked in a cramped storeroom, Willow was trying to open the only window inside, which was also locked, by banging on it as hard as she could. She knew she should be scared, but she didn't have time to be. She had to escape. When she saw that she wasn't going to get anywhere, she decided to try looking in a desk that was in the room. She must have been making a lot of noise, because the vampire guard came in.

"What are you doing?" He asked, suspiciously, vampiric face on.

"Oh, uh, I'm looking for a sucking candy, cause my mouth gets dry when I'm nervous, or held prisoner against my will." She answered. The vampire approached her slowly, baring his fangs. "And suddenly I'm thinking sucking isn't a good word to use around vampires. Hey! Did you get permission to eat the hostage? I don't think so. You're going to be in some trouble when the Mayor..."

The vampire grabbed her shoulders and pressed her against a wall.

"Just a little taste." He assured her, leaning in.

Then, Willow magickally made a pencil from the desk drawer float up behind him, and stab him in the back. He crumbled. Smiling, she left the room in a hurry, going down a hallway. But she changed her mind when she saw that the Mayor's office door was open. How could she pass up the opportunity?

She went in and closed the door. Immediately drawn to the cupboard to the right of the entrance, she opened it, and was greeted by various black arts statuettes, powders, organs, and skulls. Reaching for the bottom shelf, she hit some kind of release that revealed a hidden compartment containing the Books of Ascension.

Gasping, she couldn't help but skim the pages of a volume. After a minute or two, the office door opened, and the Mayor strolled in. She dropped the book out of surprise.

"Doing some late night reading, are we?" He asked. "In my experience, sometimes knowledge comes with too heavy a price, young lady. Remember that."

"What are you going to do with me?"

"Funny you should bring that up, because I just received a heck of an interesting phone call."

***

"The whole place is locked down, except for the front." Oz said, testing to make sure a cafeteria door was locked.

"Yeah, it gives me that comforting trapped feeling." Xander commented, holding a bat.

"One way out means one way in. I want to see them coming." Buffy said.

"I'm ready." Faith said, coming to stand next to her partner.

"Guess they're shy." Xander gulped, as the lights went out.

"I can see all right." Angel said, peering into the dark.

Two vampire guards pushed open the front doors, followed by the Mayor, then another one, which was holding Willow. The two sides glared at each other. The Mayor and the slayers walked a couple feet away from their groups.

"Well, this is exciting, isn't it?" The Mayor chuckled. "Clandestine meetings by dark of night. Exchange of prisoners. I just...I feel like we should all be wearing trench coats."

"Let her go." Buffy didn't want to waste any time.

"No. Not until the box is in my hands." He looked at his foes. "Aren't you quite the pair? Can't you just feel the love? Not caring what anybody thinks of you...strong-willed is what you two are."

"You goin' somewhere with this?" Faith asked

"It'll be satisfying when I kill you, that's all."

"That's not gonna happen." Buffy said.

"Oh no?"

"You won't survive." Angel spoke.

"Angel, right? How are you handling, 'being left in the dust', so to speak? Boy, it must sting." He smiled. "And even if you all do live, manage to beat me, what will happen then? Miss Rosenberg here will no doubt leave town, what with her scores and all, and you'll have one less reason to keep fighting, Miss Summers. She'll forget you.

"Buffy's going to go on to college eventually. Where does that leave you, Faith? Another early member of the unemployment line. Slaying doesn't pay well."

He looked at Cordelia. "And you're in a bit of financial trouble. If I heard right, you're soon to be homeless."

He turned to Xander. "Your marks are less than stellar. Joining Faith, I suppose?"

Then in Oz's direction. "What happens if you don't keep yourself properly confined one of the nights...well, you're not exactly the same person then, are you? I shudder to think of the consequences.

"What lives do any of you have to look forward to?"

"I don't think we need to talk about this." Buffy said sharply.

"God, you kids, you know. You don't like to think about the future. You don't like to make plans. Unless you want to watch your friend get sucked dry, show a little respect for your elders."

"You're not my elder. I've got a lotta years on you." Angel reminded him.

The Mayor sighed at the vampire, and shook his head in disgust. They weren't going to listen.

"Make the trade." Angel, who had been holding box, traded with the vampire. Willow went and stood behind the slayers. "Well, that went smooth."

Snyder rushed in with two policemen.

"Nobody moves!" The principal ordered. The Mayor stepped back into the shadows. "I knew you kids were up to something."

"Snyder, get out of here." The blonde said.

"You're not giving orders, young lady. I suppose you're going to tell me I won't find drugs in this box." He reached for the box that was still in the vampire's hands, and set it down on a table.

"Principal Snyder." The Mayor revealed himself. "I think we have a problem." "Mr. Mayor, I had no idea you...I'm terribly sorry."

"No, it's I who should apologize. Coming down here at night. What must you be thinking? But you see, I just needed to..." One of the policemen was opening the box. "No! Don't do that!"

A spider-like creature leapt out of the box, and onto the policeman's face. The policeman attempted to pull it off his face, but couldn't. Eventually, he collapsed to the floor, dead. The creature released its grip, and skittered off into the shadows. Everyone started nervously looking for the thing.

"Oh god." Wesley said.

"Where did it go?" Xander asked.

"Get that door open!" Snyder said to the one cop left.

"No! You can't let that thing out of here!" Giles yelled.

"I still want to know where it went." Xander said, getting up on a chair.

"Listen." Buffy said quietly.

There were noises. The creature was moving.

"Where's it comin' from?" Faith asked.

Out of nowhere, it dropped onto the Mayor's face and he fell backward onto a table. After a few moments, when it saw it was having no effect, the creature jumped off him, and disappeared again. He sat up, and Snyder stared in horror, watching the wounds heal.

"Wouldn't leave that open." The Mayor said.

Buffy slammed the lid of the box shut just as a second creature was coming out. Limbs clattered on the floor. The same creature that had just attacked the Mayor, tried her next. It landed on her back, and she dropped quickly, crushing it against the floor.

"Buffy!" Faith exclaimed.

"I'm all right." The other slayer said, and let herself be helped up.

The Mayor walked over to the box and picked it up. The danger was gone.

"Is that all of them?" Oz asked.

"Ah, not really. You see, there's about fifty...billion of these happy little critters in here. Would you like to see?" The cop got the front doors open, and he and the two vampires took off. "Raise your hand if you're invulnerable."

As he left, Snyder walked over to the group, a chair against his chest.

"You. All of you. Why couldn't you be dealing drugs like normal people?" He stood there for a second, and then left cautiously, taking the chair with him.

"Well, that went swimmingly." Wesley commented.

"We did alright." Buffy said, sharing a look with Faith and Willow.

***

In the library, Willow sat in between the two slayers on the counter. Giles and Wesley watched as the redhead talked about her night.

"So he was like, 'Just a little taste' and then I was like, 'Oh yeah! Try it!' Okay, I didn't say that, but he was poofed. I poofed! With a pencil! Using magick! And then it got to the really scary part..."

"This is fascinating, but let's get back to the point. You actually had your hands on the Books of Ascension?" Giles asked.

"Volumes One through Five."

"Is there anything you can remember that could be of use to us? Anything at all?"

"Well, I was in a hurry, and what I did read was kind of over-involved. If you ask me, way over-written. Actually, there were a few pages that looked kind of interesting but I didn't have a chance to read them fully." He looked crushed. Until she pulled out a couple pages from her pocket, and handed them to him. "See what you can make of them?"

He smiled and hurried off.

"You didn't see a knife there, did you? Wicked cool lookin' one?" Faith asked.

"Nope." Willow answered.

"Damn." She suddenly felt the need to hug the hacker, and did it before she had a chance to think. She pulled away a few moments later, to see both girls smiling at her, and cleared her throat. "Glad you're okay, Red."

"This is your night for suave, Will. You should get captured more often." Buffy said.

"No, thank you."

"Well, let's hope there is something useful in those pages. The Mayor has the Box of Gavrock. As of now, we are right back where we started. Wouldn't you say?" Wesley said with annoyance.

"I hate you. I just wanna make that clear." Faith spat.

***

The following morning, Faith and Buffy sat underneath a tree on the High School's front lawn. Willow was sitting across from them. It wasn't the same as their spot in the Commons, but it was still cozy. They were thinking about going there again, because the Mayor got to them. He wanted them to think about the future? Fine.

Buffy wanted to deal with what had been said. Cordelia and Xander were doing their own type of dealing. They had stayed home so they could just be with each other for awhile. Faith knew what that was going to lead to, and she was silently cheering them on.

"You're gonna go to school. Don't let what he said stop you, okay?" Buffy told her partner.

"I'm not. Why would I listen to someone who's gonna die?"

She wasn't, but her confidence level was substantially lower than it had been. It got the blonde to smile though, and it got her a kiss. As long as it continued to do that, she'd follow through.

"And Will -"

"I'm not going anywhere." The redhead interrupted, and handed her friend an envelope.

"UC Sunnydale?" Buffy asked, reading it.

"I will be matriculating with Class of 2003."

"Are you serious?"

"Say, isn't that where you're going?"

Buffy hugged her and they tumbled onto the ground.

"You wanna get in on this?" She asked Faith.

The brunette shook her head. "I'll watch."

"I can't believe it! Are you serious?" Buffy was all excited, but then stopped herself. "Ah, wait, what am I saying? You can't."

"What do you mean, I can't?" Willow asked.

"I won't let you."

"Of the three people here, which is the boss of me?"

"You show her who's boss." Faith encouraged the hacker with a grin.

Buffy looked at her partner. "There are better schools."

"Sunnydale's not bad. And I can design my own curriculum." Willow explained.

"Okay, well, there are safer schools. There are safer prisons. I can't let you stay because of me."

"Actually, this isn't about you. Although I'm fond, don't get me wrong, of you. The other night, you know, being captured and all, facing off with that vampire, winning...things just, kind of, got clear. I mean, you've been fighting evil here for three years, and I've helped some, and now we're supposed to decide what we want to do with our lives.

"And I just realized that that's what I want to do. Fight evil, help people. I mean, I think it's worth doing. And I don't think you do it because you have to. It's a good fight, Buffy, and I want in."

"I kind of love you." The blonde said in awe. She saw Faith staring at her. "Platonically! Platonically."

"Hell, I kind of love her too."

Willow blushed. "And, besides, I have a shot at being a bad ass Wiccan, and what better place to learn?"

"Guess what we just did?" Buffy asked. "We proved the Mayor wrong. I say we celebrate."

"Mochas?"

"No, no, no." Faith said quickly.

"Decaf. Promise." Willow said. The Bostonian was wary, but agreed with a nod. The three of them stood. "Oz is over there. I'm gonna ask him if he wants to come."

As their friend walked off, Faith put her arms around her girlfriend, and they kissed in view of everyone outside. The Mayor was right on one thing. They didn't care, and they were happy. Even more so now, because they had pages from the Books of Ascension. Things were looking up.

"I love the way you do that, honey." Buffy said with a smile. "And you, of course."

"Whoa. What's with the pet name all of the sudden? That's twice."

"I dunno." The blonde shrugged. "I like it. And don't people say those kinds of things when they plan on being together for the long haul? But, if that's not what you want, then..."

"Don't put words in my mouth, *dear*." Faith said sarcastically.

"Wouldn't dream of it. I like putting other things in your mouth." She grinned.

"I like that you like that." Faith matched the grin. "Okay, I'll go with the name thing, but I'm not gonna do anything sappy. Like honeybunch or buttercup."

"Nah. Sappy you're not."

"Hmm...Baby? That could work." Oz and Willow were coming over. "Let's go, baby." Faith made a face. "No, see? That doesn't sound right either. In bed, maybe..."

"Uh...ready guys?" Willow asked, trying to remain casual.

"We're trying to figure out -" Buffy began to explain.

"A name Faith can call you that nobody else does. Just for you." Oz understood. "She already does."

"'B'!" Faith exclaimed. "Now that fits. I'll stick with that."

"How'd you decide to call her that, anyway?" Willow wondered.

"I'll tell ya sometime. I guess I was stakin' out my territory way back then."

"I'm yours." The blonde said. "Honey."

"We ready to go now?" The redhead asked with a smile.

"Lead the way, Red."

11
THE PROM

In a church, in front of the altar, the two girls stood. Both in matching silk, white, dresses with shoulder straps, and hair up. They each held a bouquet, smiling, even though all the pews were empty. Faith and Buffy were the only ones in the church, besides the minister, but they didn't care. It was the best day of their lives, and they were radiant.

The priest had been reading from his book, and as he looked up to get the vows, his expression turned from one of happiness, to one of disgust. He threw his book to the floor in anger. The two fianc�es backed up, Faith dropped her ring out of fear, and Buffy's ring just fell out of her hand. The objects' impact seemed to resonate through the building.

"How dare you disgrace the House of the Lord!" The man yelled. "Be gone with you! Demons!"

The stained-glass windows on the walls began to implode, their shards flying into the church. They ran toward the exit, ducking and shielding their faces with their arms. Linked hands were the only things keeping them together, and then a shard flew right into their fingers, causing them to separate.

As everything went white around her, Faith couldn't find her partner. But she did see everyone that was ever in her life, appearing in the pews. Her parents, Joyce, Giles, the rest of the gang, and the last thing she saw, were their glaring eyes. Their hatred. Their judgement. Everything that was negative was in their eyes.

Then she woke up.

Her eyes shot open, and she sat upright in bed, sweating. Trying to calm her breathing, she looked out the bedroom window, to see that it was still dark outside. Where did that dream come from? She had no idea. It had never happened before. She couldn't really contemplate it for too long though, because Buffy was lying in bed as well, and was pulling on her tank top.

They had made sure to put clothes on after their lovemaking sessions, just in case Joyce walked in at some point.

"Back down please." Buffy mumbled into her pillow. Faith had to smile, and she quickly complied with the half-awake blonde's wishes. Buffy readjusted her body so they were touching, draped her arm over the brunette, and kissed her cheek. "Better."

The younger slayer laid there, just listening to the other one breathe, and the dream was quickly fading out of her mind.

"I love you, B."

"Love you too." Buffy said. "Even more than...sleep."

While her girlfriend re-entered dreamland, Faith stayed awake, looking at the older slayer's face as she slept.

***

When the sun's rays shined in the window a few hours later, Faith was still watching. She hadn't gone back to sleep. She didn't want to have that dream again, and she found herself thinking of its possible meanings. She had tried hard to forget it, but it just stayed with her. The fact that Buffy didn't have it, made her think that it wasn't a prophetic foretelling of anything.

It had come from her mind, and she was sure of that, because her parents had been in it. Was her subconscious trying to tell her something? Was she afraid? She couldn't quite pinpoint it. It wasn't a question of whether or not she was content, because she most certainly was. Then something popped into her mind. Something the Mayor had said a few days ago.

(Aren't you quite the pair? Can't you just feel the love? Not caring what anybody thinks of you...strong-willed is what you two are.)

Did she care? Maybe...but when did people's opinions on her and Buffy's relationship matter to her? Or...

"Mm... morning." Buffy yawned, interrupting her train of thought.

"Hey." Faith said with a smile.

When the blonde opened her eyes all the way, she studied the brunette.

"How long have you been up?"

"Woke up a few minutes ago."

"You lie."

She was caught. "Few hours."

Buffy raised her eyebrows. "Doing what?"

Faith had several answers to the question, most of them dirty, but she decided to be truthful. Mostly, anyway.

"Just reminding myself how beautiful you are, and how lucky I got."

She watched Buffy's whole face light up. It started with her eyes, and continued downward, to where her lips curved into a wide, thousand-watt smile. Neither of them said anything for awhile. Buffy was speechless, and Faith saw a tear rolling down her cheek.

"You are the best thing that's ever happened to me." It was said with so much emotion, that because of the early hour, Faith's brain went into overload. "Whatever made you come up to me that first day...thank you."

"Thanks for talkin' with me."

"Like I could've ignored you." The smile stayed on her face as she played with the brown strands of Faith's hair in between her fingers. "I was gonna torture you, but I can't anymore."

"Huh?"

"Would you go to the prom with me, Faith?"

Faith realized she had been expecting that, and felt an unexpected rush of...what was it? Anxiety? She suppressed it, because she had known what her answer was for months now.

"You have to ask?"

"I'm being formal. I have to do it this way. It's a rule."

"Then yeah, of course I will."

"Goodie." They kissed for several seconds, until Buffy remembered she had school. She waited for the disappointment of breaking contact to pass, and got out of her bed. "You coming?"

"Actually, I think I'm gonna stick around here today."

"Oh. Is everything okay?"

"Yeah. Fine. Don't wanna get up, that's all."

"Feeling lazy?"

"Yep, I'm a bum."

"My bum." Buffy grinned, getting clothes out of her dresser.

"Wouldn't have it any other way."

"I'm gonna be late!" She rushed and got dressed. "I'll have to shower after gym class. Ugh."

"No peeking in the locker room."

"They don't do anything for me."

"They better not." Faith said seriously, and then smiled. "Have a good day, B."

"You too, honey."

She was still adjusting to the name. Buffy really did like saying it. It made the brunette feel like she was a part of something permanent. Part of her loved that feeling, and another part of her, was scared. And she thought she was starting to understand why.

***

When she finally got out of the bed, she decided to go downstairs and get a glass of orange juice. She needed fluids, or she'd be sluggish all day. On her way to the kitchen, she passed by Joyce, who was dusting the corners of the ceiling in the living room. She wasn't expecting to see her, thinking Joyce had gone to work.

"Took off too, huh?" Joyce asked her. "When I realized how dirty the house was, and that it wasn't getting cleaner, I figured I had to close the gallery for a day and stay home."

"Uh...sorry." Faith said quietly.

"Don't worry about it. Buffy has never remembered to do any of her chores. I'm used to it."

"I'm gonna get juice. You want some? It'll make me feel less guilty."

"Sounds good."

Joyce lowered the long duster, and propped it up against the couch. She followed the slayer into the kitchen, and got two glasses out of the cabinet as Faith got the carton from the fridge. Watching Faith pour, her maternal instinct alarms went off. She got handed her glass, and taking a sip, she decided to find out what was up.

"Something wrong?"

"No. " Faith avoided. "Why would you think that?"

"Just wondering." They both stood over the counter, drinking. "Hey, it's a nice morning. What do you say we go sit out on the porch?"

"Sure."

***

Buffy, Cordelia, and Willow sat around the library table, engrossed in girl talk. Wesley and Giles were trying to block out their voices, frantically researching the Ascension. The cheerleader was finally getting to the best part. Her news.

"You? And him?" Buffy asked in a whisper.

"Hmm mm." She said with a dreamy smile.

"Congratulations, Cordy."

"Yeah, congratulations." Willow pouted. "I'm the only one...the only one!"

"The only one what?" Giles asked from the stacks.

"Nothing!"

"Take it easy, Will." Buffy smirked. "Just be patient."

"Patient? I'm very patient. Now I'm going...crazy. I'm ready, darn it."

"Poor Willow." Cordelia said sympathetically.

"Thank you."

"Anyway, I don't know if I can leave now. You know?" The two other girls nodded. "And he wants to take a road trip. With me. Plus, I still don't have enough money for a dress. Too many things happening at one time. I can't take it."

"This may not be the best time to bring this up..." The slayer trailed off, and hesitated. "But I'm gonna see if Faith wants to go to the store and pick out dresses after school. Think you could help us?"

"No problem. We can talk about the prom. I'm okay."

"You sure?" Willow asked gently.

"Go ahead. Really."

"It's just...I saw this one dress that looked nice."

"That blue and sorta short one?" Buffy asked.

"Not too short, medium. And it had this weird, sorta fringey stuff on its arms."

"What's that, a demon?" Giles asked.

"A prom dress that Will was thinking of getting. Can't you ever get your mind out of the Hellmouth?" The blonde questioned him.

"I'd be delighted to. However, the day of the Mayor's Ascension is fast approaching and we don't know what to expect."

Xander came in then, hearing the librarian's concerns, and giving his girlfriend an "hello" kiss.

"Well, what about the pages that Will stole from the Mayor's book? Look, she put her life on the line there, pal. Don't tell me they're useless." He said.

"On the contrary, no, we, uh, we know the Ascension refers to a human transforming into a demon, the living embodiment of an immortal. And Graduation

Day, our Mayor Wilkins is scheduled to do just that."

"Trouble is, we don't know which demon he is going to become." Wesley piped in.

"There are thousands of species."

"So, it's safe to say we shouldn't waste any time of such trifling matters as a school dance."

"If you want to get back on my good side, Wes, this isn't the way to do it." Buffy told him with narrowed eyes.

"I know how much this means to you, Buffy," Giles said, "but he does have a point."

"Giles, we get it. Miles to go before we sleep. But especially if we're all gonna vaporize or something on Graduation Day, we deserve a little prommy fun. One night of glory, not too much to ask."

"I suppose...I suppose you're right." He smiled.

"You give into her just like that?" Wesley asked.

"She's made up her mind. I can't change it. Let her have the night."

Buffy stuck her tongue out in the direction of her official watcher, loving the feel of victory.

***

Joyce and Faith sat on the porch bench, drinking their orange juices. She knew the older woman was waiting for her to spill, and she was getting to the point where she wanted to do just that. Sitting outside, where the only thing she could hear was the sound of the wind chimes that were hanging off the front of the house, she felt really peaceful. And things continued to make more and more sense. She needed to talk about it.

"I had a...dream...last night. It was our...uh, wedding." Joyce didn't show any reaction. "The priest basically told us to get the hell out, we got separated, and everyone I've ever known just sat there. Glaring at me."

"Was I there?"

Faith nodded. "How come you didn't make a big deal of it? Of us?"

"Why didn't you? Isn't having feelings for a girl awkward?"

"I never really thought about it. She's Buffy." The slayer shrugged.

Joyce smiled. "Do you remember Sarah?"

"Buffy's aunt. I slept over there while you guys were in Massachusetts. Yeah, I remember her. She was cool."

"And gay."

"She is?" Faith was surprised. It wasn't like she would have been able to tell back then, but...

"My mother and father threw her out of the house when they found out. She was fifteen."

"Man...that musta hurt."

"It did. I always tried to fight for her, but I was scared of what they would do to me. I didn't tell Hank that she was, because I knew he would never go, afraid that she would influence Buffy. But I didn't care. She's my sister. We grew up together. I love her.

"When you came to the house, she automatically saw something between you two girls. Right then, I swore that if something happened, or if Buffy decided she liked any girl beyond being friends, that I wouldn't stand in the way. I wouldn't be like my parents. It really tore the family apart, and ours is already torn up enough."

"Wow."

"So what do you think the dream meant?"

"I guess...I do kinda care what people think now. A few months ago I didn't, cause we were just startin' out. Usually I don't get real involved with people, and it never lasts long enough for me to give a damn about anything. But now, we're...making a commitment. We're serious. Not marriage yet, hell, that's not even legal, but you know what I mean. Guess my mind just decided to go for the ultimate commitment, or whatever.

"And with the prom in a couple days, that's a big deal too. The Prom. Everyone's gonna be there, and some of those people are gonna have lives together. That's what it feels like Buffy and I are gonna do. I just...feel it, and I want people to be cool with us. Be happy for us, cause...cause I am."

'I want my parents, the losers that they are, to approve, too. But that isn't gonna happen.'

"It scares me that they won't. If we're gonna go the distance...we're already black sheep cause of the slaying thing, and..."

"I get it, Faith. Trust me, I do." Joyce said. "I can't speak for anyone else, but I approve. And I think you know that everyone, who's really important in both your lives now, approves too. Some people won't. Probably a good number of them. And I'm not necessarily talking about the prom."

"I know." She sighed.

"The fact that you love my daughter enough to want everybody to know it and accept it, well, I think that's the most wonderful thing I've ever heard. People can surprise you sometimes, but the ones that don't, the ones who can't wrap their minds around the fact that you're together, forget them. If they can't get to know what great people you are, they aren't worth knowing."

"Wicked wise, Mrs. S."

"You could start calling me 'Mom' now."

Huh. "Mom". Faith liked the sound of that. A lot.

***

Buffy went to the mansion right after school. She saw Angel doing the only thing she ever saw him do at "home" anymore. Reading old books over and over again. She walked over to the couch, and swung her handbag in front of her, waiting for him to look up. She noticed the title of the novel while she waited, though.

"Great Expectations. So does that mean that the guy who wrote it had...uh...great expectations for it?"

Angel acknowledged her with a smirk. "Never read it?"

"Not in the sense of looking at words, no. But I saw parts of the movie." She said lamely. "Giles said he talked to you last night, and that you wanted to tell me something."

He nodded, putting the book down. "The Prom's in a couple days, right?"

"Uh huh. I'm gonna drag Faith dress hunting. It should be fun."

"Good, that's...good. Enjoy yourself."

"I intend to." Her forehead creased. She could still read him. "What's up?"

"I've decided, after the Ascension, if we survive, I'm gonna leave."

"What?" That wasn't what she was expecting. "Why? If this is because the Mayor...Angel, I know I hurt you, and I never meant to, really -"

"It's not because of you. I was asked to help you, to watch out for you. Now you have Giles, Willow, Xander...and Faith. You have things in control here. I've known since Christmas that I have to start making amends. There are lots of places where people don't have anyone to protect them from..."

"Demons." Buffy understood.

"I can really make a difference, and it's about time I did."

She was quiet for several minutes.

"Will I ever hear from you again?"

"I'll let you know where I end up." He smiled. "You're moving forward with your life, and I have to move forward with mine. It's not ending anytime soon."

"Angel...I want you know, that I don't regret a second we had together. I need you to know that. I loved you, and even though we're not..."

"I know."

Tears were rolling down her face, and she gave him a hug.

"I'll miss you. You helped us so much. Not just with slaying, either. You supported us, and you pushed Faith in the right direction. She never said it, but I know you did. Thank you. And thanks for showing me what love is." She laughed. "Wow, was that corny or what?"

"Go get ready for the Prom. I'm not going anywhere yet."

She smiled. "I'm gone."

The slayer turned around, and began to leave.

"Buffy?"

"Yeah?"

"You've both got long lives ahead."

"I know."

"What I mean is -"

"I know."

***

When Buffy walked in her front door, her heart stopped at the sight before her. Her mother and Faith were sitting on the couch, a tissue box was on the coffee table, and they were watching a movie. Oh no. Their eyes were red and puffy. She walked in further, and looked at the TV screen. Not only did it appear as if bonding had occurred, but it had occurred watching Terms of Endearment.

"Tell me those tissues are because you have a cold, Faith." She looked deeply concerned. "Please."

"It's really a good movie, B." The brunette sniffed.

"Oh God. What did you do to her?" The blonde asked her mother, horrified. "You didn't watch...soap operas, right? Right?" She brought her hands together in a prayer gesture.

"No, dear." Joyce said. "There was a marathon of all of Meg Ryan's romantic movies. We watched that instead."

"I'm not hearing this." She put her hands over her ears, and then went to reach for her girlfriend's hand. Grabbing it, she started pulling her outside the door. "Come on, honey. I'll make it better. We'll go get you something really slutty to wear to the prom."

"Um...k." Faith agreed.

"And," Buffy pointed to Joyce, "remind me to have a talk with you later. Who knows how much damage you've done? Deprogramming isn't cheap, you know." She went to shut the door, and then poked her head back in. "Oh, can we have chicken for dinner? Love you, mom."

***

When the slayers got inside April Fools, Cordelia rushed to them, and practically tackled them, in a giddy haze.

"Yo, C. Forget to take your Ridalin?"

"Huh? No. Guess what?" The cheerleader was excited. "Somebody paid for the dress I wanted!"

"Who?" Buffy asked, shocked.

"I don't know, but god, I feel...yes!" The manager was eyeing her. "What can I help you with?" She said in her best salesperson voice.

"Hey guys!" Willow called, already surrounded by racks of dresses. "I found some I think you'll like."

"I always did have a hard time getting those things on." Faith said, slowly beginning to grin.

"Then I'll just have to assist you." Buffy grinned as well, walking over to the redhead. "Whew! Maybe she didn't destroy you too badly after all."

"You just have to stick with it. When she got cancer, I was -"

"Oh darn. I've gone deaf. Just like that."

"Funny how that can happen." Faith smirked. "All right, let's get this done."

Three hours later, they were in line to purchase. And one of the slayers was grumpy.

"Why? Why do you have to try on one hundred different ones, and then go back and get the first one you had? And I could've sworn you hated it three hours ago."

"Are you saying you don't like it?" The blonde asked.

"No, I'm not -"

"Cause if you don't like it I can get another one."

"It's fine."

"You're just saying that. You hate it."

Faith sighed. "It looks great on you."

"I dunno...I mean, it does kinda make me look fat."

"No it doesn't."

"That red one wasn't so tight around my waist, maybe I should -"

"No! Just pay! For the love of God, just pay." Buffy pouted. "Don't do that. It's not fair."

Cordelia and Willow had been standing back, listening to them.

"If they had rings on their fingers I would swear that they were..." The cheerleader trailed off, shaking her head.

"So it's not just me?"

"Heck no."

"Good."

***

Xander entered the library to see Oz and Giles sitting at the table playing poker.

"For God's sake man, put the books down. We've done all we can tonight." Giles said to Wesley, who was still somewhere in the stacks.

"I just want to double-check..." The watcher trailed off, getting lost in his research.

The guitarist looked at Xander. "She get it?"

"She got it." He smiled.

"That was a very nice thing you did for her." Giles commented.

"Seeing her face, it was worth dipping into the road trip fund." He pulled up a chair. "Deal me in."

"Five card draw. Two's are wild." Oz shuffled, and they restarted. "They still choosing?"

"Who knows? Women are crazy creatures man."

"But ya gotta love 'em."

"Here, here. So you can get the tuxes cheap, right?"

"I know a guy."

"Why can't they be like us? Pick the first one they see, and then boom! Done."

"I remember this one young lady I dated at Oxford." The librarian said, taking a card.

"Dated or slept with?" Xander smirked.

"Not all my younger days revolved around my rebellious streak." He cleared his throat. "Every night she would take me to this one tiny shop, because she liked a particular dress they had. She could easily afford it, but never bought it. Eventually, I got so tired of taking the trip, that I purchased it for her. Basically, she got very insulted, and I never heard from her again."

"Confusing, I tell ya! Confusing!" The younger man exclaimed. "At least Buffy and Faith are easy to get, ya know? They're straight up."

"Was that an intended pun?" Oz questioned.

"Yes."

Giles coughed, and they swore they heard a couple books fall up by where Wesley was.

"Just making sure."

"Cordy has no idea what she wants to do after graduation."

"You didn't help anything by sleeping with her. Now she's more confused." Oz said. "That's why I'm waiting with Will. Timing is everything. Raise five."

"I want her to stay, though. I know it meant something to her. It meant something to me."

"You can't force her, Xander." Giles said. "Call."

"Yeah..." He sighed. "I fold."

"Conservative player. No shame in that." Oz said. "Raise another five."

He put another nickel on the table.

"I call your five, and raise you ten." He put a nickel and a dime down. "Let's see your cards." Giles said with a smile.

"Two pair."

"Three of a kind."

"Well played, Giles. Well played."

"That reminds me. We have to get tuxedoes as well, Wesley."

"What for?" Wesley asked.

"Why, we're chaperoning the prom, of course."

"We're what?"

***

Faith paced in the foyer, waiting for Buffy to come downstairs so they could go. She was already dressed and set. She had bought a white silk dress, with shoulder straps, that went down to her shoes. It was exactly like the one in her dream, and as soon as she saw it, she knew she was supposed to get it. Her dream had turned out badly, she remembered, but she was wearing it to prove to herself that she wasn't afraid of the dream anymore.

If anybody was going to do or say something, she'd have no control over it, so she'd just deal and have a good time. She would walk in the gym arm in arm with Buffy, and people could see for themselves whatever they wanted to see. It was an important night, and she wasn't going to ruin it by worrying, because it wouldn't be worth it. Joyce stood in between the foyer and the living room, leaning up against the wall, silently giving her the extra push, and then the woman looked up at her daughter.

Buffy came downstairs wearing a long-flowing dark pink dress, strapless, with no back. She smiled at her girlfriend.

"How do I look?"

"Stunning." Joyce answered for the brunette, as Faith's mouth had been moving, but no words were coming out.

The younger slayer nodded readily, agreeing with Joyce's assessment.

"At the risk of sounding like my mother, you look pretty stunning too, Faith."

"Thanks." Faith finally spoke, her eyes continually roaming the blonde's body. "Okay, remember the rules. No Hokey Pokey, no Funky Chicken, and somebody's gotta spike the punch to get me to do the Electric Slide."

"No dancing." Buffy smirked. "Check."

"You two look adorable." Joyce said in that gushing, motherly way. "Hang on, let me get the camera."

She disappeared into the dining room.

"Adorable?" Faith frowned. "I was goin' for hot."

"I'd have a major mental breakdown if my mom said you were hot, but trust me, you do."

"Ditto, B."

"Mom, hurry! The gang's already there!"

"Okay, okay." Joyce re-entered, and aimed her camera. "Stand close together...come on, I know you get closer than that."

"Mom!" Her daughter exclaimed.

"Big smiles..."

***

Stepping through the balloon archway in the gym, she and Buffy halted for a moment. In that space of time, Faith was bracing herself for anything. But nothing happened. Everyone was doing their own thing, and the only real acknowledgement they got was a couple glances because they were new arrivals. There was no ridicule forthcoming, and she allowed herself to relax.

Willow and Oz had noticed them, and made their way over. The redhead took turns hugging the two of them. She had her hair up; a necklace, and a shoulder-strapped, dark red, sparkling dress with a matching shawl.

"You both look awesome."

"So do you." Buffy said, smiling.

"Everything cool?" Oz asked.

"Five by five." Faith said. "How is this thing?"

"Strangely affecting. I got all teared up when they played 'We Are Family'."

"Everything's perfect." Willow said with a big smile.

Buffy looked at the flashing lights hitting the dance floor, and watched the couples going all out. Then she turned to Faith.

"Fine." The brunette caved. "I know how much you wanna get your groove on."

They followed their friends into the crush.

***

Cordelia and Xander were in the dancing crowd, their minds occupied by the point at which their lives would start to go down different paths. Trying to be the good boyfriend, Xander had told Cordelia not to worry and that they would figure things out eventually. Truth of it was, he was just as consumed by her possible departure as she was. And now that they were slowly building a game plan for the Ascension, things had to be decided soon.

"Thanks for this." She told him.

"How did you -?" He stopped himself.

"I checked the store's copy of the receipt." She smiled. "You didn't have to."

"Yes I did."

"It means...a lot."

He smiled now. "You're welcome."

They didn't speak for a few minutes after that, immersing themselves in the music, swaying and moving calmly. The cheerleader closed her eyes, and leaned her head against her boyfriend's shoulder. She had finally decided. She tortured herself over it, but she had finally decided.

"I've been thinking..." Cordelia said softly. "I'd love to go on your road trip with you."

"And I'd love the company. We can see the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, Vegas..."

"Just the two of us...yeah, it'll be great." She knew they would have a great time. "But -"

"You're gonna go to LA."

He had known in the back of his mind what her decision was going to be; he just didn't want to acknowledge it. Now he had no choice.

"I have to. I've looked at it from every angle, and this is the best thing for me. I have to learn how to live on my own, and I know if I stay, Buffy, Faith, Willow, you, will all help me, but I'm tired of relying on other people. I won't make it very far if I keep doing that."

"I understand, Cordy, I -"

"You're the only reason I have to stay. Well, you and my friends. Just because I move doesn't mean we're over. LA's not that far, and long-distance relationships can work if people want them to. And I want us to."

"That's a plus." He sighed.

"Please don't be upset." She said with a pleading edge to her voice. "This isn't about you, it's about me. I love you, Xander."

"I love you too." She looked him in the eye. "And if LA is what you want, then I'll support you all the way." They kissed. "I'm coming up there every weekend when you get set."

"You better."

***

The watchers, both former and current, were standing by the hors-d'oeuvre table, observing the event.

"Well, I must say this is all rather odd to me." Wesley commented, dipping a piece of miniature food into the, well, dip.

"Oh yes. At an all-male preparatory they didn't go in for this sort of thing." Giles said.

"No, of course not. Unless you count the nights you made the lower classmen get up as girls and watched them..." He cut himself off, seeing the older male's glare, and ate the food. "Dip is tasty, isn't it?"

"I'm sure..." Somebody familiar was making their way over to them, somebody Giles never thought he'd see in formal wear. "Angel?"

"Hi, Giles." They watched Wesley walk off. "Did I miss it?"

"No." The librarian smiled. "Your wardrobe seems to have expanded."

"It's a rental." Angel grimaced. "And it really itches."

"If it's any consolation, it's appropriate." Giles said with a grin. "I do understand about static cling, though. It can be quite a bugger."

Wesley came back over with a cup of punch. "I know a fantastic way to get rid of that, if you're interested."

Angel and Giles stared at him with raised eyebrows.

***

A bit later, Faith and Buffy were standing by the punch table, replenishing their lost fluids due to dance exhaustion, as the awards ceremony was going on. They weren't really paying attention. Some idiot was up on stage because he had won class clown, and they weren't interested. They both noticed Angel, but besides wondering why he was there, they hadn't said anything to him.

"No more fast dances, okay?" Faith asked the blonde. "Dresses aren't made for that kinda movin'."

"No more fast dances." Buffy promised. "I'm as wiped as you are."

"Havin' fun?"

"Whenever you're around, fun is guaranteed."
Faith wrapped her arm around her girlfriend's waist, careful not to step on the dress, and kissed her hair.

"Good."

They watched as Jonathan came on stage, and lowered the microphone to his level.

"We have one more award to give out. Is Buffy Summers here tonight? Did she, um..." He said, looking around.

The whole crowd turned around, and looked at the slayers. They were both nervous. Especially Buffy, who dropped her cup. Faith watched and drew in a breath.

(Buffy's ring just fell out of her hand. The objects' impact seemed to resonate through the building)

She replaced "ring" with "cup", noticed they were all staring, and she thought she might hyperventilate. She couldn't see their expressions, but...

(...the last thing she saw, were their glaring eyes. Their hatred. Their judgement. Everything that was negative was in their eyes)

"This is actually a new category. First time ever. I guess there were a lot of write-in ballots, and, um, the prom committee asked me to read this." Jonathan continued.

"'We're not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you, but that doesn't mean we haven't noticed you. We don't talk about it much, but it's no secret that Sunnydale High isn't really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here.'"

"Demons!" The crowd yelled out.

(How dare you disgrace the House of the Lord! Be gone with you! Demons!)

"Zombies! Hyena people! Snyder!" They went down the list, laughing.

Jonathan went ahead. "'But, whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you, or helped by you at one time or another. We're proud to say that the Class of '99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history'."

Everyone applauded.

"'And we know at least part of that is because of you.' So the senior class, offers its thanks, and gives you, uh, this." He produced a multicolored, glittering, miniature umbrella with a small metal plaque attached to the shaft. "It's from all of us, and it has written here, 'Buffy Summers, Class Protector.'" He remembered something. "Oh, and the class would also like to extend its thanks to Faith. Even though you're not a student here, you've saved many of our lives. Thanks." He finished, smiling sheepishly.

People had been waiting to clap, and they did so enthusiastically, as well as cheered. Faith was stunned. Seeing the correlation between this and her dream, at least in her mind, she was waiting for everything to fall apart, but that didn't happen. Buffy pulled on her hand.

They didn't get separated either. They were walking up to the stage. She could make out Xander, Willow, Oz, Cordelia, Giles, and Angel, in the crowd now. All smiling. When they reached their destination, she smiled at Jonathan, as Buffy accepted the award. The much deserved award.

Everyone was still cheering.

***

After the commotion had died down, Faith found herself standing next to Angel. Buffy had become somewhat rejuvenated, and was back on the floor.

"You make that penguin suit work, Big Guy." She complimented him.

It still itched.

"Were you surprised?" He asked.

"You could say that." People were pretty decent sometimes. She was done being worried. "I'm in such a good mood, that if you wanna go dance with her, I won't be threatened."

Angel shook his head. "I think it's you she's waiting for." He smiled. "Go to her. And congratulations."

"Tha -" The vampire was gone.

She walked over to her date, friend, lover, and partner, put her arms around the other girl's neck wordlessly, and they began dancing to a slow song that had come on.

(Crazy how it feels tonight
Crazy how you make it all alright love
You crush me with the things you do
I do for you anything too

(Sitting, smoking, feeling high
In this moment it feels so right
Lovely lady
I am at your feet
God I want you so badly)

"Tonight was perfect." Buffy said, slipping her arms around Faith's neck as well, intentionally dragging her fingers through the brown hair.

(I wonder this
Could tomorrow be
So wondrous as you there sleeping

(Let's go drive 'til morning comes
Watch the sunrise
To fill our souls up
Drink some wine 'til we get drunk

(It's crazy I'm thinking
Just knowing that the world is round
Here I'm dancing on the ground
Am I right side up or upside down
Is this real or am I dreaming)

"Glad you think so." Faith responded, placing a light kiss on the blonde's lips.

(Lovely lady
Let me drink you please
I won't spill a drop, I promise you
Lying under this spell you cast on me

(Each moment
The more I love you
Crush me
Come on

(It's crazy I'm thinking
Just knowing that the world is round
Here I'm dancing on the ground
Am I right side up or upside down
Is it real or am I dreaming)

"But..."

(Lovely lady I will treat you sweetly
Adore you
I mean
You crush me

(It's times like these
When my faith I feel
And I know
How I love you

(Come on
Lady
It's crazy I'm thinking
Just as long as you're around
And here I'll be dancing on the ground)

"But what?" Faith was scared.

(Am I right side up or upside down
To each other we'll be facing
By love we'll beat back the pain
we've found

(You know
I mean to tell you all the things I've been
thinking deep inside
My friend

(With each moment the more I love you
Crush me
Come on
Lady)

"I'm sick of formal wear. I'm avoiding it for the rest of my life."

(So much you have given love
That I would give you back
Again and again
Meaning I'll hold you

(And please
Let me always)

"So the quicker we can get it off, the better?"

"That's what I'm thinking, honey." Buffy grinned.

"Now we're talkin' about a dance I'm skilled at."

"Oh, I know you are." The song was over, and they were still standing there. "That was your cue. We can go."

"Right." They sped through the crowd. "So if formal wear is out, does that mean the wedding'll be casual?"

That would mean that her dream had been really off the mark.

"Repeat, please?"

12
GRADUATION

Xander groggily picked up his bedside telephone after several missed attempts.

He yawned. "Yeah?"

"Meet me and Faith at Dawson's Beach in fifteen minutes."

"Buff, it's," He checked his clock, "Twelve thirty."

"I know what time it is. What are you? Sixty now? Get up." She instructed him. "Willow and Oz are coming."

"Okay."

"And I tried reaching Cordelia, but she's not answering her phone."

"I'll get her." Then he blushed. "I mean -"

"Oh. K." He could picture her grin. "See ya in a few."

Buffy hung up, and when he heard the connection sever, he hung up too. Turning toward the person lying next to him, he brushed the hair out of her face, and started rubbing her shoulder. It was at moments like this that he realized how lucky he was. Nobody got to see Cordelia Chase they way he did. Completely open, caring, and not to mention naked. Well he knew she had had many "experiences" but those were in the back of cars. She was lying next to him, in his bed, and she loved him. He wasn't worthy.

But that didn't mean he was going to give it up. No way. Their time together was drawing closer and closer to an end, so he was going to enjoy every second. He still couldn't figure out, how after sixteen years of being at each other's throats they wound up as a couple, but he didn't question it. And even though she was moving, she still loved him, and he loved her. They weren't going to break up. But he'd miss being able to see her all the time, that was for sure.

Cordelia began to stir.

"Wha...?"

"Buffy called. She wants us to go to the beach."

"Not everybody has slayer alertness or whatever. Don't they know that I need my beauty sleep?"

He shook his head. "You don't need it."

"I don't?" She smiled, and he shook his head again. "Why not?"

"Cause you always look beautiful."

"Even at six a.m.?"

Xander thought a moment, and smirked. "All right. Maybe not then."

She hit him with a pillow, and then kissed him.

"Let's go see what they want." She held the blankets around her, covering her naked form. "Where are my clothes?"

"What do you need them for?" He asked. "Haven't you always wanted to streak nude across the sand?"

Cordelia raised an eyebrow. "Do you?" He frowned. "Now help me find my clothes."

***

"Somebody just had sex." Faith sang into Buffy's ear as Xander and Cordelia made their way over.

"Do you have a sixth sense when it comes to that, or something?" Buffy asked.

"Or just a really good sense of smell."

The blonde made a face, then shook.

"So...we're here." Cordelia announced, seeing Willow and Oz already sitting on the sand, and a cooler. "What do you want us to do?" Faith started laughing, and turned her head away when she felt Buffy smack her shoulder. "If it's anything that'll get me sticky or sweaty..."

The brunette laughed harder. She cracked herself up sometimes.

"Are you okay, Faith?" Willow asked, trying to figure out what was so funny.

"She's fine, Will. Aren't you?" Buffy said to her girlfriend.

"Five by..." Faith giggled some more.

"While she's getting back to normal, I guess I should explain why we're here." Her friends nodded. "Seeing as graduation's two days away -"

"It is?" Xander asked. "Oh man."

"And we're not sure what's going to happen, so," Buffy continued, "I thought it'd be nice if we got together for awhile. We might not get another quiet time like this." They all looked at one another, letting the words sink in. It was true. Depressing, but true. "I love all you guys. I wouldn't have made it through high school without you."

"If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't have made it through sophomore year."

"And I would've only repeated senior year two times instead of three." Oz said.

"So this is an unofficial goodbye to high school thing?" Cordelia asked. "And our lives?"

"Plus reflecting." The blonde said.

Faith had gotten control of herself and pulled a bottle and six glasses out of the cooler.

"What better way is there to say sayonara then with a bottle of champagne?" She asked.

"Where did you -?" Willow asked, eyes wide.

"Mom." Buffy answered. "We told her it was for a good cause. Which it is."

"Your mom?" Xander asked. "Perhaps I've misjudged her coolness factor."

"She's definitely cool." Faith said. "Let the pouring begin."

Once everyone had a glass, the brunette looked at her drink, and cleared her throat.

"I haven't been here from the beginning, I haven't even known you guys for a year yet. But you let me in, and you accepted me when you didn't have to. That means a hell of a lot to me, cause I never had friends before I met...well, I had one...but you get the point." Buffy gave her a small kiss, then she continued talking.

"And um...if we don't make it, I'll bite it knowing I was part of a great team, and that I was with the only people I ever really cared about, when it happened. I'll be happy. So...thanks." She cleared her throat again, and looked up at the smiling faces. "What are you supposed to do now? Clink the glasses together and drink, right?"

The six of them leaned forward, and brought the glasses together.

"To the Scoobs." The gang echoed her, and they took sips.

One by one, all their faces made not so pleasant expressions. Oz and Faith were the only ones who swallowed, the rest spit out the alcoholic drink into the sand.

"That wasn't so good." Faith commented.

"Maybe we should have just gone with the more traditional, group hug." Willow said, wiping her mouth.

"I'm with you, Red."

"Hold it." Buffy said, as they moved to do that. "You guys are the best friends in the world." Her eyes were tearing up. "Now we can continue."

They hugged as best they could with six people, but Xander and Oz didn't touch. Too manly. As they separated, a growl was heard.

"Give me a break." The younger slayer said, annoyed. She pulled out her stake.

Buffy grabbed the bottle off the ground. "I christen thee," She smashed it over the vampire's head, "Dead!"

It shattered, but also disoriented the demon long enough for Faith to drive the stake home.

The blonde was pleased. "Heh. Whataya know? It *was* put to good use." The gang was looking at her, amused. "What?"

"'I christen thee, dead'?" Cordelia asked.

"Yeah. You know how people with boats smash a bottle of champagne on their boat and give them a name before they..." They still looked amused. "I'm sorry the pun fell flat, okay?"

"It sure did." Xander agreed.

Buffy glared. "I try to be nice and invite you all out here, and say that I'm glad we're friends and all, and then you make fun of me. Some friends." She huffed and turned away.

Faith walked around to her girlfriend and hugged her.

"There, there, B. I thought it was a great pun." She winked at the gang.

"I know you're winking."

"It's late." The brunette said, caught. "We all give you points for trying to be witty at one a.m. Right?"

"Definitely. Absolutely. Good try. Really." They all mumbled quickly.

"See?"

Buffy looked back at her friends. "Honest?"

"Uh huh." Willow said, nodding.

"But," Faith began, "I would have said, 'Have a drink. It's on the house.'"

Everyone started to laugh, but when they saw Buffy's face, they promptly stopped.

"Just for that, you have to kiss me." Buffy instructed the younger slayer.

"How horrible." She smirked, and started kissing her. After a moment, she realized she wasn't getting any feedback, and pulled away. "What gives?"

"I said you had to kiss *me*. I never said anything about me kissing you back." The blonde walked to her friends, who slowly backed up. "I'm not going to hurt you."

"How come I don't believe you?" Xander asked.

"There's soda in the cooler too, Xander. Why don't you get it? There's still more reflecting to be done."

"Anything you say, Buff." She looked at him. "Y. Buff-y."

***

Faith, Xander, and Cordelia were sitting at a table in the school lounge. The cheerleader was inspecting her gown for the graduation ceremony, less than thrilled with it.

"I can't believe this loser look. I lobbied so hard for the teal. No one ever listens to me. A lone fashionable wolf."

"I like the Maroon. Has more dignity." Xander said, and got stares in return for the comment. "I just want to look respectable in this, considering I'm probably gonna die in it."

"Buck up." Faith told him. "So what if we don't have a chance in hell? That's no reason not to be positive."

"I'm telling you. I woke up the other day with this feeling in my gut. I just know there's no way I'm getting out of this school alive."

"Wow, you two have really mastered the power of positive giving-up." Cordelia said.

"It's a lot easier than it looks, C."

"You should try it." Her boyfriend said.

The brunette slayer looked over at the staircase. Willow was at the bottom of it signing yearbooks, and Buffy was coming down the stairs.

"She tortured me all last night when we got home." Faith sighed.

"In what way?" Xander gulped.

"Dries herself off a lot longer than she really needed to, slowly put her night stuff on, and then she just gets in the bed and goes to sleep. I didn't get anything. Nothing at all. And I know she wasn't mad, she just liked messin' with me." She pointed at Xander and Cordelia accusingly. "That's the last time I join in on your joking harassment crap."

"Excuse me," Cordelia said flatly, "but you dug your own hole."

"How do you figure?"

"You're the one who came up with a better pun that you just *had* to share, remember?"

Faith shut up, and continued to watch as the blonde and the redhead headed in the direction of their table.

"It's like a sickness, Buffy. I'm just missing everything. I miss P.E." Willow was saying.

"I think it's contagious. The whole senior class has turned into the Sixties, or what I would have imagined the Sixties would have been like without the war and the hairy armpits." Buffy sounded as if she didn't care.

"You don't feel it?"

"No, I don't. I guess I'll miss stuff, but I just don't get the whole graduation thing. I mean you get a piece of paper and nothing changes. I don't even think I'm gonna go."

Willow stopped at the soda machine, put money in the slot, and got her soft drink. She spoke affectionately to it.

"Old trusty soda machine. I push you for root beer; you give me coke." She frowned at Buffy, and they reached the table. Buffy took her place on Faith's lap, and Willow sat next to Cordelia. "What do you mean, not go? Why not?"

"Ascension. Mayor becoming a demon. Snacking up on populace. I was planning on fighting him."

"You can't do both?"

"Does this mean I'm off probation?" Faith asked, and Buffy nodded with a smile. "Bout time." They started kissing, and making quite a display of it too.

Xander was strangely unfazed by the scene.

"You guys didn't hear, huh?" He asked.

Buffy pulled away from her girlfriend's lips, out of breath.

"Hear...what?"

"Guess who our commencement speaker is?"

"Siegfried?" Willow asked hopefully.

"No."

"Roy?"

"No."

"One of the tigers?"

"Wayne Newton?" Cordelia added.

"Tom Jones?" Faith wondered, not realizing it was said out loud. She coughed as she saw the questioning looks. "Long story."

"Come out of the fantasy, ladies." Xander said with a grimace.

"I don't believe this." The petite slayer said with a sigh.

"Lends credence to my whole 'I'm gonna die' theorem, doesn't it?"

"The Mayor at graduation? A hundred helpless kids to feed on."

"A hundred? Isn't that a little low?" Faith thought a second. "Hellmouth. Right."

Oz was walking over, and had something in his hand. He stood behind his girlfriend, and started rubbing her shoulder with his free hand.

"Hey Oz." The people at the table said in unison.

"Hey." He held up what he had been carrying. It was the morning's paper. "Anybody read the news?"

Buffy and Faith automatically frowned.

***

Giles and Wesley were fencing, as Buffy held up the newspaper for them to see. The headline read, "PROFESSOR FOUND MURDERED". The gang sat over at the table, watching, and Willow sat at the computer. Giles took the paper from Buffy, and held it in one hand, while using his sword in the other.

"Brutally stabbed. Mr. Wirth, visiting professor of geology. There's nothing in here that bellows motive."

"Random killing, perhaps? Fit of rage?" Wesley offered. "Everybody does seem to be going a bit mad, lately."

"Doesn't read. I think it's homework." Buffy said.

"May I ask why?"

"Because what the article doesn't say is that there were two puncture holes at the base of his neck." Willow told everyone, still staring at the screen. "It was made to look like just a regular stabbing -"

"But a vamp got hungry." Faith understood, and her eyes darkened.

Giles stopped sparring, and let his sword hang by his side.

"The Mayor wanted the good professor out of the way."

"Which leads to the question, 'how come?'" Buffy asked. "I'm gonna destroy the entire city, but I take the time to kill harmless Lester first?"

"Tying up loose ends? Lester had something or knew something."

"Then I wanna know too. The Mayor's trying to hide. I say we go seek."

"Ah. By attempting to keep a valuable clue from us, the Mayor may have inadvertently led us right to it." Wesley figured out with a smile.

"What page are you on, Wes, cause we already got there." The blonde smirked, glancing at Faith to see a similar expression on her face as well.

"Yes, well. You will go tonight. Look over his apartment. Anything of note, report back here."

"So butch, ain't he?" Faith grinned.

"I just love it when you take charge, you man, you." Buffy said sarcastically.

"I can handle this one solo." The brunette said. "You wanted to talk to your mom about stuff anyway, right?"

Buffy nodded. "Are you sure you'll be -?"

"Walk in the park, B."

"A park in Sunnydale? At night?"

"A well-lit one, okay?"

"Faith, be careful." Giles advised.

Before she could answer, the Mayor casually walked into the library, running his finger over the counter. Seeing the dust that had gathered on it, he wiped it against his suit in disgust. Everyone backed up, and Buffy hid the newspaper under some books that were on the table.

"So, this is the inner sanctum, eh? Where you folks like to hang out, concoct your little schemes? I tell you, it's just nice to see that some young people are still interested in reading in this modern era. So, what are kids reading nowadays?"

He walked close to Giles, but the librarian stood his ground. The Mayor picked up a book off the table.

"'The beast will walk upon the earth and darkness will follow. The several races of man will be as one in their terror and destruction.' Aw, that's kind of sweet. Different races coming together."

"Have I told you how much you piss me off?" Faith growled.

"He just likes hearing himself talk." Buffy realized.

The Mayor chuckled, stared at Giles, and spoke low.

"Those sure are two spunky little girls you have there. I'm gonna eat them." Giles grabbed Wesley's sword from the table and thrust it through the Mayor's chest. The man staggered a little, but regained his balance. "Whoa! Well now, that was a little thoughtless." He removed the sword. "Violent outbursts like that, in front of the children? You know, Mr. Giles, they look to you to see how to behave."

"Get out." Buffy said sharply.

The Mayor took out his handkerchief and slowly wiped the blood from the sword.

"I smell fear. That's smart. Some of your deaths will be quick, if that's worth anything. Well, see you all at graduation." He tossed the weapon back to Giles, and headed out. "You don't want to miss my commencement address. It's going to be one heck of a speech."

When he was gone, they all sat there, stunned. Cordelia broke the silence, turning to Xander.

"Are you going to go to fifth period?"

"I'm thinking I might skip it." He answered.

A string of "me too's" followed.

***

Later, as darkness was settling over the town. Faith and Buffy sat close on the porch bench. The dark-haired slayer was going to leave for the professor's apartment in a few minutes. It was hit or miss time now. They either came up with a miracle to save the town, or...they all died trying. However, the fact that it was a heroic way to go meant nothing, because they really wanted to live.

"If I asked you to marry me, you'd say yes, right?" Buffy wondered aloud.

"You know I would." Faith answered. She didn't even have to think about it, and that brought a smile to her face. "Why?"

"Extra motivation. Something to look forward to if we live."

"Hold it. I thought I was the guy in this. I'm supposed to propose, aren't I?"

"You're trying to be conventional now?"

"Hmm. Good point." The brunette said. "Well that clinches it. You're the brains of this operation."

"I think that's the sweetest thing anybody's ever said to me." Buffy said with a half-smile, and stole a kiss. "So you love me for my mind, huh?"

"That...and your other well-endowed areas." Faith grinned, and stood up. "As much as I'd love to continue this conversation, duty calls. Damn it."

"I wish it would try somebody else's number for awhile." Buffy snapped at no one in particular, as she pulled on her partner's hand.

"Hey, this won't take too long. I'll be back."

"Promise?"

"Horny She-Devil's honor."

The blonde chuckled. "After I talk to mom, I'm gonna head to the library. Meet you there?"

"See ya soon."

Buffy let Faith's hand slip out of hers, and when the other slayer was at the end of the walkway, she stood up with a sigh, and went into the house.

***

Willow and Oz were in her bedroom. The guitarist was typing on the computer, and the aspiring wicca was lying on her bed, reading through a spell book. They were searching for a magickal way to stop the Ascension, but they weren't coming up with anything.

"Oh, this is so frustrating." She felt a migraine coming on.

"Nothing useful?" Oz asked, turning around in the chair.

"No, it's great. If we want to make ferns invisible, or communicate with shrimp, I've got the goods right here." Willow said, trying to be sarcastic, but it just came off as a sigh.

"Our lives are different than other peoples'."

"Oh, who am I kidding? I'm not going to find a spell to stop the Ascension. I'm no witch. I can't even change poor Amy back to a person." Willow looked at her rodent friend, who was squeaking in her cage.

"But you got the swinging Habitrail going. I think Amy is in a good place emotionally."

"Oz!" She was tired, and scared, and he wasn't helping.

"What?"
"Could you just pretend to care about what's happening? Please?"

"You think I don't care?"

"I think we could be dead in less than two days time and you're being ironic detachment guy."

"Would it help if I panic?"

"Yes, it would be swell. Panic is a thing people can share in times of crisis. And everything's really scary now, you know, and I don't know what's gonna happen. And there's all sorts of things that you're supposed to get to do after high school, and I was really looking forward to doing them, and now we're probably just gonna die and I would like to feel that maybe you would -" She was in full babble mode, then Oz rose, took her face in his hands, and kissed her softly. "What are you doing?"

"Panicking."

Kissing commenced yet again, and they fell back onto the bed.

***

"Buffy, I'm home. Do you wanna go to, uh...?" Joyce trailed off as she walked into her bedroom and saw her daughter packing a suitcase. "What are you doing? You're running away again? And you're taking my clothes."

"Mom, I need you to leave town. Tonight."

"Buffy, I'd miss your graduation."

The younger Summers headed to the closet and pulled more clothes out.

"Yeah, that's sort of the idea."

"There's no way. I wouldn't dream..."

"Mom, graduation is a pointless ceremony where you sit around and listen to a bunch of boring speeches until someone hands you a piece of paper that says you graduated which you already know, and maroon does nothing for my complexion, so don't argue, okay?"

"What, is some terrible demon going to attack the school?" Joyce asked in a sarcastic tone. Buffy didn't answer, just kept packing. "Oh, I see. Oh, you know, Buffy, looking back on everything that's happened, maybe I should have sent you to a different school."

"Please mom. You have to go."

"I'm not leaving you to face an awful monster. If I go anywhere, you're going with me."

"You know that I can't. And Faith'll be with me. I won't be alone."

"I can't either."

She faced her mother. "Mom, I know that sometimes you wish I were different."

"Buffy, no."

"I wish I could be a lot of things for you. A great student, a star athlete, remotely normal. I'm not. But there is something I do that I can do better than anybody else in the world. With the exception of Faith, of course." She smiled. "We're gonna fight this thing, but we can't do it and worry about you."

"Buffy, you just can't..."

"You stay, you'll get me killed. You'll have to trust me on this. Can you do that?"

Joyce nodded hesitantly, and they hugged. "Where are you sending me?"

"Aunt Sarah's. The tickets are waiting for you at the airport. She's paying, and when this is over, we'll come join you."

"We?"

"Willow, Oz, Faith and me."

"She's too generous."

"Then you better hurry up and get to her place so you can fight about how she spoils me too much."

"I'll be expecting a call to let me know you're all right."

"You'll get it, don't worry."

***

Inside the apartment, Faith was gathering all the journals, papers, and books that she could see. As soon as she had entered, it hit her that someone was murdered in the room. That fact was further reinforced by the crime scene tape and chalk outline, which she carefully avoided. She'd never be passive when she heard about a murder ever again. It would always affect her, and she'd always feel guilty, whether she committed the act or not.

She was looting the victim's home now, but she had to keep telling herself that it was for a good cause. Gathering up the materials, she began putting them in a cardboard box that had been sitting atop a shelf. She heard a thump out in the hall, and turned to see Angel coming in, rubbing his shoulder.

"I give you a 4.6." Faith smirked.

"Not my best entrance. I think they were mopping in the halls." Angel said. "Giles -"

"Asked you to back me up. He's wicked overprotective, but it's nice to know he cares."

The slayer grabbed another set of papers.

"What's that?"

"Report about lava beds or somethin'. It's geo-Greek to me." Angel raised his eyebrows. "Geologist Greek? Too bad B isn't here. She coulda just seen that bomb."

Faith took the box into her arms.

"I can take that." He offered.

"Nah, it's cool." They started leaving. "So what's this I hear about you ditchin' us?"

"If you ever need me, I'll be reachable, but I don't think either of you will. I know it's time for me to go, and I'm not gonna fight it."

They were quiet until they got on the street.

"Do what you gotta do, just...no hard feelings?"

He shook his head. "Take care of each other."

"I won't let anything happen to her. Worry about yourself. We don't wanna hear about you turnin' to dust."

Faith smiled, but noticed that Angel was looking up, and not at her. Before she knew what was going on, he was tackling her to the ground. After a few moments, the vampire rolled off of her with a hiss. She sat up, first seeing the contents of the box in the middle of the street, and then the arrow that was sticking out of Angel's front and back.

"Jesus Christ!" She exclaimed, trying to sit him up, and at the same time, looking around frantically for the shooter.

***

Twenty-five minutes later, Faith was leaning up against Giles' closed office door, nervously grabbing her hands. Angel was sitting in a chair, and Giles was cutting the half of the arrow that was sticking out of his back. Buffy was standing in front of him, and Wesley was searching through the material the younger slayer had gotten.

"There." The librarian said, holding the arrow up.

"Okay, ready?" The blonde asked, grabbing the front end.

"Yeah." The vampire said.

"On three. One..."

She yanked it out, and Angel grimaced.

"I knew you were going to do that."

"Not too much blood here." Giles said.

"I heal pretty fast. I should be all right."

"Good thing the shooter was no Robin Hood." Faith commented. She watched Buffy cleaning and bandaging the vampire's wound. "Let me do that."

Buffy handed over the swab, bandages and disinfectant without saying a word, and her girlfriend got to work.

"Are you okay?" Angel asked her.

"Me? I'm five by five." She said with a sad smile. That was too close. "You?"

He couldn't answer, because Wesley decided to speak.

"Fascinating."

"What?" His fellow Englishman asked.

"It seems our Mr. Wirth headed an expedition in Hawaii, digging in old lava beds near a dormant volcano."

"Not fascinated yet." Buffy said.

"He found something underneath. A carcass, buried by an eruption."

"A carcass?" That got Giles' attention.

"A very large one. Mr. Wirth posits that it might be some heretofore undiscovered dinosaur."

"A demon?" Angel wondered as Faith finished up.

"Yes, that would be something that the Mayor would want to keep a secret. If it's the same kind of demon he's turning into and it's dead, it means that, well, he's only impervious to harm until the Ascension. In his demon form, he can be killed." Giles figured out.

"Great. So all we need is a million tons of burning lava. We're saved." The older slayer said sarcastically.

"Where's an ACME Rent-a-Volcano when ya need one?" Faith quipped.

"Well, it's a start, anyway." Angel said, struggling to rise from his chair. The slayers each took an arm, and helped him to his feet, but his legs gave out suddenly. They lost their grips. "Damn."

He fell, and nobody could react fast enough. Buffy and Faith watched him break into a sweat, and the blonde knelt down and felt his forehead.

"You're burning up." Buffy told him.

"It's poison. I can feel it." He said, in obvious pain

"Call the others. Get them here. We need to move him to the safety of his own bed before the sun comes up." Giles instructed.

"The Council has all the known toxins on file, mystical or otherwise. I'll contact them immediately." Wesley said sympathetically.

"You're going to be okay." Faith said to Angel, not really certain of her own words. "Hang in there."

***

In Willow's room, clothes were strewn about, she and Oz were snuggling and resting, and he was stroking her hair softly.

"I feel different, you know. I...I guess that makes sense. Do you feel different? Oh, no, you've already, probably, no big change for you. It was nice. Was it nice?" Willow ceased babbling. "Should this be a quiet moment?"

"I know exactly what you mean." He answered her.

"Which part?"

"Everything from 'it's different'."

They kissed, and right in the middle of it, Willow's phone rang. She picked it up.

"Hello?" After a moment, her eyes went wide, and she hung up. "We've gotta go."

***

"They're on it." Faith told Buffy as they sat by Angel's bedside. The Bostonian put a damp cloth on the vampire's forehead. "I'm gonna...goddamn the Mayor."

Buffy rubbed her girlfriend's back soothingly, and they both heard Wesley come into the mansion. "I'll go see if he got anything."

She walked into the main area, hearing Giles ask if he had reached the Council.

"Yes. They, they couldn't help." The watcher answered.

"Couldn't?" Buffy asked with disbelief.

"Wouldn't. It's not Council policy to cure vampires."

"Did you explain that these were special circumstances?" Giles asked.

"Not under any circumstances, and yes, I did try to convince them."

"Try again." Buffy said firmly.

"Buffy, they're very firm. We're talking about laws that have existed longer than civilization."

"I don't have a clue what you're talking about and I don't care."

"Buffy, we'll find a cure." The older man assured her.

"The Council's orders are to concentrate on -" Wesley started.

"Get the hell out of here." Faith snapped, emerging from the bedroom. "Out of town, out of the country. I'm sick and tired of your 'I know what's good for you' 'tude. You run away from flies, and we're supposed to take you seriously? You don't care about anything except the all-great Council, and guess what? They don't mean jack shit to me. You can tell 'em I said that too."

"You can't turn your back on the Council."

"Yes she can." Buffy argued. "And so can I."

"Giles, talk to them."

"I've nothing to say right now." The ex-watcher said.

"I'll lay this out for ya, Wes." Faith explained slowly. "We're not workin' for them, anymore. They can go screw themselves." She turned to Giles. "I'm gonna see if Willow -"

"I'm coming with." The blonde said, and then spoke to Giles. "You'll watch him?"

"I'll call if there's any change." He promised.

"You don't know what you're doing." Wesley called after them.

"Get a job." The slayers echoed.

***

"Finding the poison wasn't that hard. It's a mystical compound. The Latin name translates roughly to Killer of the Dead. Used on vampires." Willow said as they were all gathered in the Chemistry lab. "But..."

"But what?" Faith asked, not really in a patient mood.

"There was something else on the arrow too. Cyanide." Cordelia explained. "It wouldn't have had any effect on Angel..."

"It woulda killed me." The brunette realized. "If he hadn't pushed me out of the way."

"The Mayor was prepared. He must've been expecting one of you to show up there, and either way..." Xander trailed off.

"The shooter was gonna take out someone I cared about." Buffy made it sound like a curse.

The younger slayer was well aware that Angel saved her life, sacrificing his in the process.

"He's not taking any chances." Oz said.

"Cure?" Buffy asked.

"There aren't a lot of instances of it being cured." The redhead told her friend.

"But there are some?"

"One or two. Pretty vague accounts. How is he?"

"Bad." Faith's voice was soft.

Oz was reading through one of Giles' texts.

"Hold it."

"You got something?" Xander asked.

"I'm not sure."

"Be sure." Buffy said.

"Don't leave us hangin'." Faith said.

"Okay. Killer of the Dead." The guitarist/werewolf said. "That's our boy, and here's a vamp that walked away from it."

"Does it talk about the cure?" His girlfriend questioned.

"Damn."

"Nothing?" The blonde frowned.

"No, it's in here, but..."

"Wait, completely reversed the effects. Oh." Willow read, and stopped abruptly.

"Guys!" Cordelia snapped.

"The only way to cure this thing is to drain the blood of a slayer." Oz revealed.

They all immediately became depressed, sitting there in complete silence. Then Faith surprised them.

"I'll do it."

"Excuse me?" Buffy asked. She didn't hear that.

"I'll do it."

"No, you can't. Didn't you hear what he said? Drain. That's the brink of death."

"Brink, not dead." The brunette slayer clarified. "Do you want him to die?" Buffy was quiet. "I don't either. And I'm willin' to take the risk."

"Well I don't want you to. I'll do it."

"Like I'd let you."

"Then I guess we're at a standstill here." Buffy sighed. "Unless one of us knocks the other out."

"I'm not doin' that, B." Faith took a breath. "Are we having our first fight?"

"Yeah, I guess we are." Buffy said, taking a moment to try and calm herself.

"Least it's not over something dumb like tracking mud in the house or leaving the keys in the front door."

Buffy smiled a little. "Faith..."

"Listen. He saved my life. I just wanna return the favor. Nobody else is gonna die cause of me."

"How can you twist this around and make it your fault?"

"You're not gonna change my mind. Maybe I couldn't prevent Allan, or Lester, but I can prevent this."

The energy to argue had left Buffy. "I don't wanna lose you, that's all."

Faith kissed her deeply. "You won't, cause you'll be there to stop him before he takes it all."

"Fine. If this is what you want." She caved. "I'm still not okay with it, though."

"Thanks."

They remembered the gang was in there, only when Cordelia decided to whistle in an effort to get their attention.

"Just one thing." The cheerleader said. "Are you nuts? Good luck, though. Really."

***

A few minutes later, Buffy and Faith were on their way to the mansion, Willow went home because she couldn't believe what Faith was going to do, and was worried sick. Also, she knew she'd spill to Giles if she hung around. Oz went with her. Cordelia went with Xander to the library, and they were up in the stacks with Giles, who had left the mansion at the slayers' request.

"Right. Right." The librarian said excitedly, moving to another bookcase.

"Something about the demon?" Xander asked, as they followed him.

"The local villagers near the volcano site made reference to the legend of Ollokai. Might be a bastardization of Olvikan."

"Olive can?" Cordelia was confused.

"Olvikan. I know it's a demon, a very old one. Might have a picture." He grabbed a book, and started flipping the pages.

"Boy, it's a good thing no one ever wanted to check any of these books out, huh?" Xander joked.

"Yes, very convenient."

"Come on Olvikan. Hey."

Giles stopped, and Xander opened up a large centerfold picture of Olvikan.

"'Uh oh' would work here, right?" Cordelia asked.

"I believe so." Giles agreed.

"Then...uh oh."

***

"Sit up, Big Guy." Faith said. Buffy watched from the entrance, the knot in her stomach increasing by the second, and mouthed those three words to the brunette. "Time to get better."

"Wha...?" Angel was delirious.

"Faith is...she's gonna cure you, Angel." Buffy said, hardly able to get the words out.

"H...how?"

"Thirsty?" Faith said, trying to be humorous. Angel realized what she was saying and vehemently shook his head. "I can cure ya."

"No. Get away."

He rose from the bed with a lot of effort, and stumbled past Buffy. They went after him.

"It'll save you." The blonde told him.

"You're fine with...?" She couldn't lie. "I'm ready. I said I had to go. I just didn't know where. Now I do."

"You aren't gonna die." Faith said.

"It's not your choice."

"It is. You're gonna drink."

"You can't ask me to do that. It'll kill you."

"I'm not asking you, I'm tellin' you, and I know what could happen." She got in his face. "Drink."

"No."

"Drink! You're not dying!"

"No!"

"Drink, goddamn it!" She punched him hard in the face. He just looked shocked, so she punched him again.

That time, he showed his demonic face, and she could see the hunger in his eyes. She bared her neck, and he sank his teeth in. It actually felt good, in a weird sort of way. She felt light. When Buffy saw her girlfriend's legs wobbling, she got behind her to hold her up. She stood there for about thirty seconds, but when she saw some of Faith's blood escaping Angel's lips; she couldn't take it anymore.

Pulling Faith away hard, hearing her gasp, she gently eased her to the ground and took the other slayer's place. Angel's bloodlust was so overpowering, that he didn't even register the change of people. He fed from Buffy with the same vigor that he had with Faith. The blonde collapsed to the ground, and Angel went with her, not letting up.

When he finally stopped a minute or so later, he found himself looking at two unconscious slayers, and the horror of what he had just done was already haunting him.

***

Buffy was looking around the church. She was paying extra attention to the religious figures depicted on the windows.

"Powerful guys." She commented.

"May their Light keep shinin' on us."

"Amen."

"Are diamonds a sin, or is that just the Golden Midas?" Faith made a circle with her thumb and forefinger.

"Is this your mind or mine?"

"Beats me." She laughed. "Mine. I think."

"You really are thinking about this aren't you?"

Faith smiled, walking in between the pews, running her hands along the wood.

"Oh yeah. Miles to go. Little Ms. Muffet counting down from 7-3-0."

Buffy started walking down the other side, so she and Faith would meet in the middle.

"Do I sound as confusing to you as you do to me?"

"The world is fragmented. Nothin' is ever as it seems. Not even the fire in Dick's hair."

"I'll take that as a yes."

"Time to go." A yellow flower appeared in Faith's hand, and she held it out to the blonde. "Come and get your honey, Little Bee. A new day is dawning."

As their hands met around the stem, so did their lips, and the dream world vanished. They found themselves lying in separate beds, in a hospital room. There was a curtain separating them.

"Faith?"

"Buffy?" The brunette tried to get up, but pulled her IV. "Damn!"

The blonde giggled, and carefully removed her tube. She slid the curtain back, jumped onto her girlfriend's bed, and straddled Faith's waist.

"You called?" She asked, taking the other girl's IV out. As soon as Faith was free, she and Buffy started kissing feverishly. "Thank...God..."

"Feel so...good..."

"Hmm...mm..."

"You...pulled me...away from him..."

"Yeah...I...did..."

"I...should...be...pissed..."

"Are...you...?"

"Not...anymore..."

"Good...love...you..."

Faith wrapped her arms around Buffy, and pulled her closer, bringing their bodies together. They didn't hear the door open, nor did they hear it shut.

***

Cordelia faced the questioning looks of Giles, Angel, and her friends.

"They're fine. Give them a few minutes."

They went back to their chairs, trying to hide their blushes.

"You all should have told me what they were planning." Giles scolded. "You better go, Angel. The sun will be up soon."

The vampire nodded, heading down the hallway. The thing that really sickened him was that a part of him had enjoyed it. He had broken his cardinal rule, never drink from a human again. That was bad enough, but the fact that it was Buffy and Faith was too much to bear.

He was happy to go. He had brought them here, and they were recovering, so there was no reason for him to stay. So he left. After a little bit of waiting, the slayers emerged from their room, dressed in the clothes they had come in with. Their friends crowded around them.

"How are you feeling?"

"We're good, Giles." Buffy smiled.

"He's okay, right?" Faith asked.

"He'll live." Xander said. "Or un-live."

"He had to go. It got kinda sunny." Oz explained.

"Get him. Everyone." The dark-haired slayer said.

"Why?" Willow asked.

"Cause we think we've got a plan." Buffy answered.

"Is *that* what you were dong in there?" Cordelia was being blatantly sarcastic.

"What? You think we were gettin' down and dirty in there?" Faith wondered. "Maybe we were down, but we weren't bein' dirty. I might like a thrill now and then, but a hospital bed? Get outta of the gutter, Cor."

"You don't have to." Xander leered at his girlfriend.

"Perhaps we can keep the hormones suppressed for now, and concentrate on the Ascension, hmm? Seeing as it is taking place later today." Giles said calmly. "Now, how about we get you both discharged, then you can explain your plan."

"It's a good plan. Isn't it?" Buffy whispered to Faith, as they walked.

"Sounded good to me, but things were still a little foggy when we were comin' up with it, so..."

"Doesn't matter. I'm still confident."

"Oh yeah, I'm totally behind it."

They glanced around at the walls, a nervous, unsure look in their eyes.

***

Faith and Buffy sat on the library steps, Giles and Angel stood by his office door, and the rest of the gang was around the table. The slayers were waiting for a response, but all they saw were blank stares.

"They think we're crazy, B." Faith grinned.

"Well, 'crazy' is such a *strong* word." Willow said slowly.

Giles chewed on his glasses. "Let's not rule it out though."

"You don't think it can be done?" Buffy asked.

"I didn't say that. I might...but not yet."

"I personally don't think it's impossible to come up with a crazier plan." Cordelia added her two cents.

"We attack the Mayor with humus." Everyone looked at Oz quizzically.

"I stand corrected."

"Just trying to keep things in perspective."

"Well, anybody got a better plan?" Faith asked the group.

Nobody offered any suggestions.

"Then we're going with this." The blonde said. "And we're going to need every single one of you on board. Especially you Xander. You're sort of the key figure here."

"Key? Me?" Xander took a deep breath. "Okay, pride, humility, - and here is the mind numbing fear." He sighed. "What do I have to do?"

"Do you remember any of your military training from when you became soldier guy?"

He pointed excitedly. "Uh, rocket launcher?"

"Rocket launcher not going to get it done. I mean, it took a volcano to kill one of these things last time."

Giles approached the slayers. "Um, all of this is rather dependent upon being able to control the Mayor."

"Got that covered. Even he's got a macho complex, so I just work that." Faith said.

"He's not crazy about germs." Angel offered as another option.

"Of course, that's it. We attack him with germs!" Cordelia exclaimed.

"Great! We'll corner him and then you can sneeze on him." Buffy was sarcastic.

"No! No, we'll get a box with the Ebola virus and...and...Or it doesn't even have to be real, we can just get a box that says Ebola on it and...um, chase him..." They didn't seem to be warming up to her idea. "With the box�"

"Humus offensive, huh?" Xander questioned Oz.

"He'll never see it coming."

"Trust me. I got this." The brunette slayer said.

"You haven't an enormous amount of time." Wesley said, coming in.

"Hey it's Mr. States-the-Obvious." Xander quipped.

Faith moved to go to the watcher, but Buffy silently told her that now wasn't the time for a scene.

"The Council is not welcome here. I have no time for orders. If we need someone to scream like a woman I'll give you a call."

"You do what we say, don't get in our way..." Faith sighed. "And you can stay."

"Cool rhyme." Oz said.

The slayers walked over to the table.

"Okay, this is how it's gonna lay out..." Buffy began.

***

Later, everyone was busy with several different tasks. Wesley was reading about the details of what was going to happen in a few hours, Cordelia was packing the library's books into boxes, Xander was writing down a list of materials he needed to get, and Oz and Willow were handling the more scientific part of the whole operation, Faith watching them.

Buffy and Angel were listening to Wesley.

"Darkness will follow and day becomes night."

"An eclipse." She realized.

"Standard procedure for an Ascension."

"That puts me back into the game." The vampire said.

"Yeah, it does." Buffy said, relieved that they had an extra fighter. "You and Xander are going to have to work together now. Can you guys handle that?"

"But I'm still key-guy, right?" Xander asked, looking up.

"Right."

"Then Angel, in his non-key-guy capacity, can work with me."

"What fun." Angel commented dryly.

"Hey! Key-guy is still talking -"

"Oh, that's good! Start bickering. That's going to look great for us. You guys are like little old ladies!" Buffy felt a headache coming on.

Faith was still observing the guitarist and hacker in the stacks, as they read.

"Volcano thing cool?" She asked.

"I think we can work it out." Oz told her.

"Fun with chemistry." Willow smiled.

"X-Man is gonna get the stuff." The slayer said.

"Who's going to stoke it up?" Oz asked.

Buffy came up beside her girlfriend, and they both looked at the librarian.

"Ah, I suppose it should be I. It's strangely fitting in a grotesque fashion."

"Okay guys, start reaching out. Giles, weapons, weapons, weapons." Buffy said.

"Ah, what about you two?"

"She's graduatin' and we're gonna have to launch a major assault in a few hours." Faith said, yawning. "We're takin' a nap."

They all stopped what they were doing.

"Uh, she's kidding guys." The blonde smirked.

Work continued after a brief pause.

"I was?"

***

Xander rushed into a classroom, where Harmony was talking with her little group, and interrupted, grabbing her arm.

"Harmony, listen, I need to talk to you for a second."

"You mean in front of other people?" She asked, horrified.

He pulled her out of the room.

***

Willow ran into the cafeteria, where she saw Percy, a guy she had been tutoring in History, talking with his fellow teammates from the basketball team. He was wearing his gown, and complaining about it.

"Are they serious? I'm going to look stupid in this!"

"Percy!" She yelled, getting his attention.

"Do I look stupid in this? Be honest."

"You look great. You got a sec?"

***

Out in front of the school some time later, Oz and Willow were taking large bags out of his van, and putting them in two shopping carts that were being manned by Larry and Jonathan.

"Okay, put these with the others. Don't touch anything." Oz told them.

"Uh, what...what do we do then?" Jonathan asked, more than a bit worried.

"Nothing."

"Just relax. Have a good time." Willow said.

"O...Okay." The short student said.

"Okay, it's clear. Let's move." Larry said, checking for people.

The two guys took off, and Oz shut the sliding door. He turned to see his girlfriend sigh.

"I guess that's it. Won't be long now."

"You nervous?" He asked, concerned.

She swallowed. "Only in a...terrified way."

"We'll make it through this." He took her hand.

"Are you sure?"

"I sound pretty sure, don't I?"

Willow smiled. "Yeah."

"Then I must be sure."

"Is that just a comforting way of not answering the question?" She asked with a frown. They leaned close to each other, and started kissing softly. "How long till graduation?"

"A little while."

***

They were minutes away now. Faith and Buffy stood in a hallway, the blonde in her gown. All the students were heading out to the quad.

"You know what I just realized?" Faith asked rhetorically. "I won't be able to go to school here."

"There's other ways to get your diploma." Something dawned on Buffy. "You might even be able to start college next summer. It'd be too late to apply for next fall."

"What? How?"

"Later. We gotta make it through this first."

"Then let's hit it."

"You know what to do?" Faith's silence was her answer, and they kissed. "Good luck, honey."

"You too, B. You too."

***

It was time. The students were sitting in the yard, parents off to the side, and Snyder was at the podium.

"Congratulations to the class of 1999. You all proved more or less adequate. This is a time of celebration, so sit still and be quiet." He looked around at the crowd. "Spit out that gum. Now, please welcome our distinguished guest speaker: Richard Wilkins III." He eyed someone. "I saw that gesture. You see me after graduation."

Oz and Willow ran up the aisle, and she took her place beside Buffy.

"Am I late? Did we fight?"

The Mayor stepped up to the podium, and looked to the students.

"Well, what a day this is. A special day. Today is our centennial. The 100th anniversary of the founding of Sunnydale, and I know what that means to all you kids. Not a darn thing. Cause today, something much more important happens. Today you all graduate from high school.

"Today all the pain, all the work, all the excitement, is finally over. Now what's a hundred years of history compared to that?"

"My God, he's gonna do the entire speech." Buffy said to Willow.

"Man just ascend already."

"Evil."

He had been talking still. "It's been a long road getting here. For you, for Sunnydale. There's been achievement, and joy, and good times. And there's been grief, there's been loss. Some people, who should be here today," Faith was silently cursing at him from her position behind the parents, "aren't. But we are.

"Journey's end. What is a journey? Is it just distance traveled? Time spent? No. It's what happens on the way. It's the things that shape you. At the end of the journey, you're not the same. Today is about change.

"Graduation doesn't just mean your circumstances change, it means you do. You ascend, to a higher level. Nothing will ever be the same. Nothing." He cringed down in pain. The changes were beginning. And the students started to look around. Especially at the now blocked out sun. Faith tensed, and she saw Angel show himself.

"And so, as we look back on the events that have brought us to this day, we...must all..." He screamed. "It has begun. My destiny. It's a little sooner then I expected. I had this whole section on civic pride, but I guess we'll just skip to the big finish."

His skin, his clothes, they all tore. His body contorted, and changed, and face started to become more reptilian. Finally, he shed his human skin, and took on a demonic snake-like form. He was sixty feet long, and his huge mouth opened, and roared, animalistic and raw.

***

The students watched the demon snake Mayor and he eyed them. The parents were trying to rush out of the courtyard as fast as possible. Buffy yelled in the midst of her class.

"Now!"

They threw off their gowns and caps to reveal hidden assortments of weaponry. Bows and arrows, maces, axes, swords, from Giles stockpile of weapons; and flame-throwers care of the local army regiment, and Xander's soldier memories.

"Flame units!" Buffy called out.

The front line raised their flame-throwers, and pointed them at the demon snake.

"First wave! Fire!" Xander directed.

The flames burst out, and distracted the demon, but their efforts appeared only to agitate it. They continued this way, wave after wave of fire, doing their best to hold it off until the right time. They didn't go unpunished though. The snake quickly ate a young girl, and side swiped Larry with his tail, sending him flying in the air, and snapping his neck.

From behind all the students, the Mayor's vampires came forward towards the unsuspecting kids. Oz turned around sharply, and saw them coming.

"Xander!" He yelled.

"Bow men!"

The guys in the back row turned around, and were all armed with flame-tipped arrows. Some hit their mark instantly torching some vampires. Some didn't, and the remaining still came forward. Off to the side, a group holding stakes and crosses, led by Cordelia, Wesley, Angel and Faith went to face off with the vampires.

Still over on the stage, Snyder was yelling up to the demon snake Mayor. Buffy watched, wide-eyed.

"This is not orderly! This is not disciplined! You're on my campus, buddy, and when I -" He was cut off when the snake dipped down, and ate him.

"Fall back!" She yelled to everyone.

Back by the vampires, Cordelia successfully staked one, however, they weren't going to last much longer. Faith ran up to Buffy.

"Go back Giles up!" The brunette yelled.

Buffy screamed one last order to Xander before going.

"Xander! Take 'em down!"

"Hand to hand!" Xander yelled.

The rest of the students dropped their weapons, and they all converged on the vampires. Faith ran directly beneath the snake.

"Hey Dick!" The snake looked down. "Yeah, I'm talkin' to you, asshole. I promised someone I'd take you out. Unless you take me out first. But I don't think you can." It screeched. "Prove me wrong. Come on, eat me ya movie monster reject! I don't have all day. Finish me off. What's a matter, too scared? Chicken shit, I knew it. You don't got the balls now that you're not invincible."

That did it. She took off into the school, and it followed. It crashed through the wall, and in through the cafeteria, through the hallways, and lounge. Faith kept ahead of it, and went through the doors of the library and out the window on the far side.

She ran out, and stumbled by the bushes, where Buffy was covering Giles, who was waiting to push down on a trigger. He went to hit the button, but Faith beat him to it. Inside, the bags of explosives in the library blew up, engulfing the once Mayor, and the entire school in flames.

"Hell yeah!" Faith said as her girlfriend tackled her in a hug.

"Seniors are gonna have to work pretty hard from now on to top that prank." Buffy said, laughing.

"If you call that a prank," Giles said, rubbing his classes, "I'd be very reluctant to see your idea of a disaster."

***

Police cars and fire trucks were parked in front of the school now. The fire had long been out, and the authorities were searching for anything salvageable from the hollowed out building. Two firemen were wheeling a gurney with a groaning Wesley over toward an ambulance.

"If I could...could just get something for the pain. It's rather a lot of pain, actually. Aspirin? If you would...uh...ah...Perhaps I could just be knocked unconscious." He was being put into the ambulance.

Buffy was walking with Xander.

"We got off pretty cheap...considering." Her friend said.

"Seems like we did."

"I'm gonna...uh...Cordelia."

She smiled at him, and Giles came up to her.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm tired."

"I should imagine so. It's been quite a couple of days."

She slumped her shoulders. "I haven't processed everything yet. My brain isn't really functioning on the higher levels." She breathed deeply. "It's pretty much: fire bad; tree pretty." Faith ran over, and kissed her. "Add 'Faith kissage' to the list."

"I was just checkin' in with Willow. Few scratches. Nothin' big." The brunette said, and then turned to look at Giles. "Do we get the two thumbs up, or what?"

He smiled. "I'd say so. Congratulations on a good campaign. You did very well."

"You're gonna boost my ego, Giles."

"Wouldn't want that." Buffy said with a smirk.

"I ah...I managed to ferret this out of the wreckage. Now, it may not interest you, but..." He reached into his jacket and pulled out a diploma. "I'd say you earned it."

"Damn right she did." Faith said, putting her arm around the blonde's shoulders as the girl took it.

"I'm going to see to Wesley, see if he's...is still..." He grinned. "Whimpering."

"So Graduate, what do you wanna do now?"

Both slayers felt a presence behind them then. Turning around, they saw it was Angel.

"I didn't want to leave without saying...thank you." The vampire said.

They didn't realize he had planned on going so soon. The three of them were quiet.

"Don't know what else to say except," Buffy said, "take care of yourself."

Faith waited for them to hug or something, but they didn't. Which meant they must have already, which was good in her opinion, because she had no desire to see it. He had given her help, had been there for her, but a little jealousy wasn't a bad thing. Seeing that it was her turn, she simply shook his hand, and they looked at each other for several seconds.

With a slight nod, Angel walked away, vanishing into the night.

***

Two days later, Buffy, Faith, Oz and Willow were helping Xander and Cordelia load the car. The two of them were heading out on the road. Yesterday, Faith had stopped by Restfield and told Allan the good news. Currently, she was watching the blonde, the redhead, and the brunette cheerleader, teary-eyed, share a tight hug.

"Call as soon as you find a place." Willow told her.

"And if you ever need anything..." Buffy trailed off.

"I know who to ask." Cordelia promised.

They separated, and Faith walked over after shutting the trunk.

"You'll make it."

"Thanks, Faith." She smiled, and they hugged quickly.

The slayer held open the passenger side door, and Cordelia got in. Buffy and Willow went around to the driver's side, and bent down to look in the window.

"See you in three months, guys." Xander said. "Have fun in Boston."

"Bring us lots of those pointless roadside souvenirs, okay?" Willow asked.

"You betcha. And get me liquor from Cheers."

Buffy shook her head with a smile. "Enjoy yourselves."

"We plan to." Cordelia said.

"You and Faith behave, Buff." Xander grinned. "On second thought..."

"Get outta here, Xander."

"Yes ma'am."

He started the car, and then the four of them watched it disappear down the street.

"What time's the flight?" Oz asked.

"Seven-thirty. Giles is our ride to the airport." Buffy answered.

"And we're packed with time to kill." Faith said.

"How much time?" Willow asked.

"Hour or two."

"Really?"

She looked at her boyfriend. He returned her gaze.

"Oh. My. God." Buffy felt like she couldn't breathe. She studied Willow as if seeing her for the first time. Willow...had...had...

Faith pulled on her girlfriend's arm, grinning. "Whataya say we meet up at Giles' in an hour and a half?"

"Good idea." Willow nodded.

"It's got my vote." Oz said.

"So it's settled." Faith confirmed, turning to the blonde.

Buffy just moved her mouth up and down.

The two couples stood there for a moment, and then took off in opposite directions, heading for their houses.

* * * * * *

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