Who Am I? by Pat Kelly
Feedback may be sent to Pat at: bandits@erols.com


| CH. 1-4 | CH. 5-8 | CH. 9-12 | CH. 13-16 | CH. 17-18 |

9
TAKING STEPS (OR - I'M YOUR GIRL)

Tara sat on Willow's bed, waiting for the redhead to come back from the bathroom. Buffy and Faith had left once Willow woke up, not saying anything to her about the change that had occurred between them. Tara was grateful, because she and Willow needed to talk about the change in their relationship first. And there was a change. You couldn't just take back an 'I love you'. Not that she wanted to, but given Willow's reaction, she wasn't feeling very confident.

Willow came in quietly after a minute, and was looking everywhere, at everything, but Tara.

"You hate me." Tara said. It seemed obvious enough to her.

"No, I don't! I just�process. I need to process things. Processing is important."

There was silence again. It went on for more minutes than Tara could stand, so she finally got off the bed, and started to walk towards the busted door.

"Where are you going?" Willow asked.

"I�I shouldn't have said anything. I'm making you uncomfortable, so�I'll go."

Willow rushed to her. "I'm sorry. It's good you told me. Being open with feelings is�you should do that. Honesty."

"So�"

"Um�so you're�uh�you know�"

"Oh�I guess�I never really liked anyone like that before."

Willow couldn't help but be flattered, but she was also sad for her friend.

"Never?"

"I didn't really date or anything."

"I'm not freaked if that's what you think. I just wasn't expecting -"

"Kinda wasn't sure how to bring it up. Are we�still friends?"

"Of course we are. I really like you, Tara. I'm�just not sure how much yet. Buffy and Xander will tell you that I get my feelings all jumbly, and then confusion sets in. But being friends? Don't ever worry about that."

Tara was relieved. It wasn't a no, and their friendship was still intact. Even though she worried, she knew deep down Willow would be cool about it. It was out there now. Off her chest. Willow knew how she felt, and now it was just a matter of letting her deal in her own way. She could be patient. Now, how long, that was a different story. She watched Willow's face shift into heavy thinking mode.

'Her face always scrunches and she does this cute thing with her mouth�get back on track, Tara!'

"What is it, Willow?"

"I was just thinking about Buffy and Xander. How they might�"

"React?"

"If we ever, you know."

"I don't know about Xander, but�"

"But what?"

"Nothing." She had to hide a smile.

***

When they left the campus, the sun was almost down, so they decided to head to Restfield to see if any vampires decided to rise. Buffy was still a little unsure about things, but she was happy. Her unsureness had nothing to do with Faith or her feelings for her, but more along the lines of, 'Did we rush it?'

After the long talk they had in the dorm, after she said she wanted to give them a shot, kissing just seemed�right. She wanted to try and have a relationship with Faith; she wanted to kiss her again, so she went with the flow. And that's where the flow led. But she just hoped she had made the right choice to commit to something else so soon.

Riley just died three days before. And she had sat in solitary for the major of those seventy-two hours, re-evaluating her life. Thinking through everything she had told Faith, and bits and pieces of other things. She had a tendency to go into deep depressions after�events like, what happened to Riley.

A depression was okay for 'normal' people, but for her, as a slayer, she couldn't afford to keep doing it. There were other lives to think about keeping alive. Most immediately, her friends. One of these times, she would get them killed because she wouldn't be thinking clearly. It had happened to Jenny. And Faith was right. She had to let go. Not completely, because she still cared, deeply, but enough so that it didn't eat away at her.

Getting more specific, her love life had been filled with large gaps because she took so long to deal, and was afraid to risk doing it all over again. But that left her miserable. Most of the time she tried to put other people before herself, because one, it was her job, and two, it was who she was. Then she would look at all the people who were happy, and she'd want to be happy too.

She loved her friends, she loved her mother, Giles, but it wasn't the same. And with everyone having conflicting life directions, and only really being able to see them when a crisis popped up, she felt a little emptier inside than she had in the past. They still made her happy when she saw them, but there were different levels of happiness.

Riley had given her happiness of the love kind, and it had been wonderful. They were only really 'together' a little over three months, but those months had been really nice. Something she had never truly experienced before. Sure there were risks, but not like Angel. It wasn't the same intensity that she had with Angel, but that didn't matter. Riley was a human, corn fed, all around nice, Iowa guy. She'd miss him, and she'd think about him, but he was gone. And Faith was here. What she felt for him didn't change because she loved her too.

Normally, she would wait the better part of a year to go looking for happiness and love again, and even then she didn't really look. Love usually found her whether she liked it or not. Well she had decided not to fight it this time. She was going to be selfish, because love was right in front of her and so was happiness, well beside her actually, and she wouldn't wait anymore.

The more she thought about it now, the more she certain she felt that she had made the right choice. Her feelings for Faith had been building for a long time, and this was the natural step to take. A step, not a rushed sprint. And it also seemed natural for her to get behind Faith and pull her into an embrace.

"What's this for?" Faith asked, amused and content at the same time.

"Just felt like it. Are you not a hugger?"

"I don't know what I am. You have more experience in this area than me. The meaningful stuff. But I don't mind this."

"We'll figure this out as we go along. There's no guidebook to a relationship. Just gotta take things as they come."

"Like tellin' the Scoobs?"

"Good place to start." And then it sank in. "Oh."

"Not only have you started lip-locking with a chick, but you're also lip-locking with a skanky, seducing chick that had evil vibes at one point. You're sure about this...right?"

"Yes. We'll just take it slow. The gang can cope, and we'll be careful. Hopefully Will'll take it okay, seeing as how her and Tara�wait. Seducing? Somebody's got an ego."

"And you love it."

"Do I deny? You're not a skank either."

"Hey, I never said I was a skank. I said I was skank-y." Buffy became quiet, and let go of the dark-haired slayer. "What is it?"

"Do you hear that?" Faith listened. It sounded like a low growl. It was coming from above them. "Can you support me?"

Faith's mind came up with several different answers to that question, but decided on, "Huh?"

"On your shoulders?" Buffy's look said, 'Sssh, and trust me' so Faith did. She bent over, and Buffy's carefully climbed up onto her shoulders. They stood underneath a tree. "Be ready."

"What for?"

Buffy grabbed onto the end of a thick branch, and in an amazing feat of gymnastic ability, swung around the branch in a full circle, keeping her legs straight, and knocked something out of the tree, which crashed to the ground. By the looks of it, it was very demonic, and very angry.

Faith went wide-eyed. "Oh. Be ready for THAT."

***

In the Bronze, Xander held Anya close as they danced on the floor. He had been able once again to convince her that his sexual innuendo directed at Buffy, in reference to her bulletproof vest, Anya made him explain himself fully, was harmless. He always joked with Buffy, and had come to terms with not having her in a girlfriend way. But he was the guy friend, and it was his duty to make jokingly suggestive remarks.

That seemed to settle her, but the tension between them as they were dancing now, was stifling. The fact that their relationship was based wholly on sex, he couldn't stop fooling himself, really, really, bothered him. He got nothing redeeming out of it. Five seconds of pleasure maybe, and yet he still did everything she asked.

If he were completely honest with himself, he would realize that he had been whipped. It started with Cordelia, Faith had dominated him, and now he was letting Anya do it. He wanted to blame them, but he knew it was his fault that he got put in those positions. He didn't stand up for himself. The only time he really ever spoke out was against Angel. But that didn't help him any.

Everybody always said it was the guys who treat women unfairly, but he was the exception. And he was sick of it. He had to take a step forward and not let anyone push him back. Now was a good a time as any. He had to start by saying something. Anything.

"What am I to you?" He asked Anya.

"You look like Xander, you sound like Xander, so logically you would be Xander my -"

"You're what? Boyfriend? Live orgasm toy? What?"

Anya was shocked. "You sound upset."

He started getting it all out, and didn't think he could stop. "Gee, ya think? Every time we see each other, we either go here and you get miffed over something, then we go do it. We see my friends, you get bored, and then we go do it. I want more than that."

"Like what?"

"Movies, mini golf, go out to eat, something with depth. Maybe because of all your years as a male-hating demon it makes you think it's all right to use me, but I've done everything you asked, haven't I?"

"I'm asserting my femininity to survive in a male-dominated culture."

"Well hello, Demonic Spice. Guess what? I'm not a culture; I'm not a society. I'm one guy, granted, with shortcomings, but I want to feel like an equal part of, 'whatever' this is. Do you even know what love is?"

"I've never seen this side of you before."

"Yeah, well maybe it's time you started seeing more of it."

"I'll admit that some of your points were valid."

"Some?"

"Okay, most."

"Good enough. So does this mean you'll work with me on this? And I won't feel like the female anymore?"

Now Anya was appalled. "I've been acting like a guy?"

"A little bit, yeah."

"So�if we do other stuff�do we still have sex?"

"I'm still reasonably young, my hormones are still very much active, so�yes. I just don't want that to be 'it', you know?"

"You'll show me this other side?"

Xander nodded. "It'll be a step in the right direction."

"We're not broken up?"

"Nope."

Anya smiled. "Another dance?"

***

Faith and Buffy entered the Bronze a few minutes after Willow and Tara. They were bruised, battered, but they won. Which meant they were still alive. And that was a good thing. They even got a souvenir that they'd show Giles in the morning. There was something bizarre about the demon, and besides the obvious demonic qualities, they couldn't figure out what.

Moving to the table their friends were occupying, Buffy sat down next to Willow, but Faith stayed standing.

"I need food. Anyone want?"

"I'm up for munchies." Buffy said. Everyone else shook their heads.

"Could you be more specific on what you're up for?"

"Surprise me."

Faith grinned. "One surprise coming up." She walked off.

"Why do I get the feeling I should be scared?" Buffy asked her friends.

"You look good. Coming out?" Xander asked.

Buffy choked. "Wh�what?"

"Of the gloom you've been in. Feeling better?"

"Yes it's good to see you happy and breathing." Anya added, though it was half-sincere and half-forced. Xander smiled at her in encouragement.

"Oh, yeah. I'm dealing. Faith helped."

"I knew she would. She was so set on getting you on the way to betterness." Willow said.

She wanted to talk to Buffy about what Tara had said, but now didn't appear to be the right time. Later. They would talk later. She couldn't sort this out herself. She had a feeling Tara wouldn't mind, and she needed to tell someone.

"She has." Buffy turned her head and saw Faith making her way back over.

"Um�has anyone else noticed the piece of brown�uh�skin, on the table?" Tara asked.

"Is that what that is? I thought the Bronze was trying to use some kind of new age tablecloth." Xander said.

"It's something that should give Giles a research thrill. There was something freaky about this thing." Buffy explained.

"Showing 'em our victory prize?" Faith asked, sitting down between Buffy and Xander. She was holding a plate and a bowl. The large piece of cheesecake was for her, and the banana split in the bowl was for Buffy.

"God, I can't eat this."

"I'll say it again, B. Choose your words more carefully. You're a twig anyway. Need to get some meat on there." Faith said, pointing at the blonde.

"Do you want me to kick your ass?"

"Not particularly." They grasped hands under the table, unbeknownst to anyone else. "So anyway, whatever this thing was, it was wicked fast�"

***

Spike leaned up against the cave wall. He really had no choice but to follow Adam deeper into the woods. The updated Terminator would have ripped him apart. So he stood still while Adam went along the rows of bodies, some human, some animal, but mostly demon. He was looking at the various states of decay. His vampire lackeys had left a few minutes before.

"You wanted to cause them pain. Destroy them."

"Some of your new boys got their jollies by throwing me around one time."

"And yet you did not take action. Why?"

"To be honest mate, you."

"Were you afraid I would be angry? I know all about emotions, but I cannot feel them."

"You're telling me you killed these blokes on the floor�just because?"

"They are for my experiments. I know how they function, but I am curious to see what happens when I change their function. They are not all deceased."

To illustrate his point, the body of a Sair, usually a vicious demon that looked rather reptilian, spasmed, and then stopped.

"Right."

"Ah. I know what you fear. You fear ending up like these specimens. Don't. You are too unique to change."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Unlike most of your kind, you feel emotion, you care. And this is puzzling to me because all the testing I've done tells me that demons do not feel. So are therefore evil. But you love. A vampire. Druscilla."

"Do you have her? I swear if -"

"I only know that she was last seen in the area two years ago and that you both shared love. Now this is an interesting development. Out of anger of wanting to protect this vampire, your fear of me vanished."

"What do you want with me?"

"To learn about you. The chip in your neck has been shut down, but you're weak. I wish to make you strong again. Then you are free to leave."

"And how do are you gonna go about doing that?"

"However you see fit." He saw Spike looking at an empty space on the ground. "I had a specimen here. A Nynak. Usually a slow moving creature, I injected fluids from the Sair you see there. It's speed increased tremendously. I let it loose and watched. There must have been side effects because it immediately went to the highest point it could, and then I watched the slayers end its life. It was fascinating."

Spike's jaw clenched, and then he yelled. "Damn those bloody frigging slayers!"

Adam's "lips" moved into an emotionless smile.

***

Buffy and Willow sat on their respective beds later that night, almost ready to go to sleep. Someone was coming tomorrow to fix the door, so for now they just barricaded it with a chair. Willow was rubbing her hands together nervously. Not only was she apprehensive about making a decision that could make Tara upset, but she was also worried about her friend's reaction. Also, she hadn't ruled out of the possibility of loving Tara in "that way", and it surprised her.

"Will? What's the matter?"

"Okay�well�you know�that I fainted earlier right?"

"Um�yeah."

"Well what you don't is the reason why I fainted."

"Oh that. Tara said she loved you, and you didn't know how to react."

Willow had to remember to breathe and stop gaping. "You knew?"

"Faith and I are the ones that told her to tell you. She was having a rough time, and we could see it all over her face -"

"Whoa. Faith knows?"

"She's the one who told me. She's very perceptive now that I think about it."

"And neither of you told me this�why?"

"Cause that wouldn't have been right. What difference would it have made?"

"None�I guess. Probably would have avoided her."

"See?" Buffy went to sit beside her friend.

"You're cool about it? I mean if I decided to -"

"Totally. You're my friend, it's the Twenty-first Century on the Hellmouth, and love�no one should put rules on it."

"Oh. Yeah. Good. Right. But what should I do?"

"Come 'ere." Buffy hugged her friend. "Do whatever you want to do. If you "love" love Tara, go for it. If not, then don't. But if you find out you do, there's nothing wrong with that. And I'll support you with whatever, you know that right?"

Buffy knew the hacker loved Tara, and as much as she wanted to, she couldn't tell Willow what she felt for the other girl. Willow was smart, and she would decipher her feelings eventually. Buffy just wanted to see her friend happy, but she had to restrain herself.

Willow nodded. "I count on it."

"Good. Then there's something I gotta tell you. Seeing as you're my friend and we have a mutual support system."

"What?"

"Faith and are�kinda together."

"Oh." Willow thought. "Ohhh. You had�sex with her?"

"No! Well not yet. That's not a priority right now."

"You did say Faith right? Her and sex go together."

Willow went into interrogation mode. She wasn't going to freak; she just wanted to know that Buffy knew what she was doing, and that she would be okay. And it would have been rather mean of her to flip just after Buffy had backed her up a minute ago.

"I know what you're thinking, but it's not like that. We love each other, and it's new territory for both of us. We don't want to screw�uh�mess things up."

"I'm a little surprised."

"That we're -"

"That Faith didn't automatically want to do the deed."

"She's changed, is still, you know that. And she likes sex, well everybody likes sex, but we've decided on nice and slow. Work our way up to that."

"How long?

"Guess I liked her ever since I met her, but the 'us' thing, officially just started today."

"Officially?"

"Kiss. During the sleepover."

"While Tara and I were -"

"Yep."

Willow took a deep breath. "As long as you're happy�I hope everything works out for you two."

"Really?"

Willow hugged her now. "Hey, you're my friend. And you seem to think this is a good thing, Faith is�not so bad, and it's nice to see you not mopey. Plus, the fact that she didn't try to jump you�she must love you."

"We both do."

"Are you gonna tell the others?"

"Tell you what. If you and Tara become a thing, we'll tell them together."

"Sounds like a plan."

They smiled at one another, and then Buffy went back to her bed. It had been a long day, and it was time for sleep.

***

The next day, Buffy walked to Giles'. She saw Faith sitting against his front door. She smiled. Faith eventually looked up at her and smiled too.

"Was waiting for ya."

Buffy walked over and sat down beside her. "I had to make sure the campus handyman wouldn't steal anything, so I hung around till he was done."

"You've been watching those FOX specials too much."

"Hey. That's a good idea. I'll hide a video camera--"

Faith reached over and pulled Buffy to her. She pushed some of the blonde's hair behind her ear, and Buffy shifted closer by wrapping her hands around Faith's neck. Their mouths melded, tasted, and nipped for what seemed like quite a long time.

Faith couldn't believe kissing Buffy felt like this. She was probably exaggerating, though at the moment she didn't care, but it seemed almost as intense as sex. And she knew what it felt like. This was pretty damn close, but it was also on a different level. A deeper level. When she heard herself moan softly, she knew she had to stop.

"God�Faith�wow. You're really good at that."

"Me? You�it�damn." No, that was nowhere near good enough. "I really love you, B." That was good. It just rolled off her tongue. And she didn't have to think about it.

"I love you too, F." Buffy giggled, and leaned up against her. Faith instinctively went to hold her. She didn't know if she was generally a hugger or not, but when it came to Buffy Summers she sure as hell was. "Why were you sitting out here anyway?"

"Giles is testing the skin, and I was goin' crazy. And he's using chemicals on it. I didn't want to be in there if he blew something up."

"Good idea. Though the door could blow outward."

"Hmmm�guess it could. But what a way to go."

"You should really cut back on the romance. I can't take it." Buffy said with playful sarcasm.

"You want romance? Okay, my blueberry love muffin."

"That's just�creepy."

"Glad you think so, cause it sounded really wrong. Not us."

"Well we'll have to figure out what 'fits' us."

"I'm liking that."

They felt the door move behind them, and got up quickly so as not to fall. Or get caught.

"Hey, Giles. What'd you find?" Buffy asked.

"Hello, Buffy. Feeling better?"

"Much."

"Glad to hear it. I think�you better come in so I can explain. It seems Adam has stepped up his experimentation process."

"How do you know it was him?" Faith asked.

"He's the only one who would do this. From what�Riley told me�" Faith put her hand on Buffy's shoulder when she saw her eyes. They became sad quickly. "The Initiative does not do what has been done to this demon. At least not while its alive."

"Then fill us in." Buffy said, smiling at him.

He went inside, and the girls followed.

"You wanna get something to eat at that place on Main after this?" Faith asked.

"Do you ever stop eating?"

"Slayer metabolism. Weight's a non-issue. Man, I gotta start gettin' you to enjoy eating."

"I enjoy eating. Just not in bulk." Buffy grinned.

Faith could have responded to the jibe, but Giles was around. "Yay or Nay?"

"A big, affirmative yay."

"You're lucky."

"Am I?"

"You have no idea."

Faith kicked the door shut behind them.

 

10
RESPECTS (OR - GETTING TOWARDS THAT TIME)

Falling books off a shelf�

Sitting behind the desk watching her hair fall on her shoulder�

Walking beside her down the hall�

Touching her cheek�

Seeing her strength for the first time�

Touching her skin when they made love�

"Buffy�"

"He's awake." A scientist said.

"Did he just say what I think he said?" Graham asked.

"His memories are intact for the most part. How fragmented, we can't be sure."

"He's immobile, right?"

"We've taken the proper precautions. We have more control with this one. A repeat of the prototype's attack on Walsh is not a danger this time."

"But memories are. We can't have him remembering her. She might be able to convince him to go against our instructions, and that's the last thing we need."

"His brain is what gives him the ability to have some free will. Making him into a complete drone would be a mistake. If we have five hundred of these on the battlefield, for us to control them all would be--"

"We're not on a battlefield."

"I appreciate your position, however, we can't delete individual memories."

"Then suppress a group of them somehow. We can upload any knowledge he might lose."

"Buffy�" Riley's slightly deeper, and scratchier voice said again.

"Put him under again. We have some finishing connections to make to the hardware, and we're going to get it right." The scientist said to his colleagues.

***

Willow walked into Giles' house finding the downstairs empty. She was a little puzzled, but given her going nowhere, inner puzzle revolving around Tara, it was nice to shift gears. If only for a few minutes.

"Giles? Faith?" No answer.

She began to search the house. She didn't think they were in any trouble, because nothing looked wrecked, and the front door wouldn't have been unlocked if they weren't here, so they had to be somewhere. As she walked upstairs, her thoughts found their way back onto the 'Tara situation.'

They had been friends for several months now, and she really liked the shy blonde. Tara reminded Willow of herself, oh�from about four years ago. Willow had watched her gain more confidence in herself and people, and Willow liked to think she had had a hand in that. Bringing her friend out of her shell.

Just like Buffy�and�Oz had helped Willow to do.

Spending time with Tara had helped her get over Oz. And she was over him. She had wanted to be for so long, and it had been killing her inside that she wasn't able to pull herself up and get back to being "her." Oz had been her first relationship, love, and coping with him up and leaving like that was hard. And she didn't like feeling miserable. Plus, his reasons for doing that were just smoke.

'Oh I have to learn to control the wolf, Willow�I've never truly loved anybody till you�blah, blah�'

She thought to herself.

Now, whenever she thought about him, she just became angry. He decided to run away from her. Did she say she couldn't handle it? They lived on a Hellmouth where nearly everything was supernatural, and there were risks. They could've worked through it together. Didn't he know that skipping town didn't fix anything? It certainly hadn't with Buffy. If he truly loved her, he would've stayed.

She could've dealt with the Veruca thing over time, but him leaving had been like a punch in the gut. It left her winded, and it had been awhile before she felt like she could breathe again. Maybe she didn't fully understand the wolf thing, but she knew what it was like to be able to do something that you couldn't really control. And if, or when, he came back, she hoped that he didn't expect her to take him back.

Wasn't going to happen. She had dealt with the pain, she had moved on. Had she? Tara really made her happy. It was a nice bonus that she was also a witch who thought she didn't have much power. Willow connected and identified immediately with her. Like O.J. Simpson and a glove. All she knew was that she got a rush of happy feelings whenever Tara was around.

When they grasped hands, it was like a stream of electricity passed through them. And she couldn't ignore some of the powerful sensations and connections they felt and made during spells. But did that mean she liked Tara in "that" way? Did she want to like her in "that" way? She hadn't thought much about kissing her, but Tara thought about kissing her obviously, and that excited Willow more than she let herself realize.

No matter who it was, she was very flattered when people found her attractive enough to want to go beyond friendship. Even after all her personal hurdles, she was still surprised that anyone would think of her as girlfriend material. The possibility of being labeled "gay" was not a factor in her making a decision. Her best friend was behind her; she was in a very open college that displayed a 'Lesbian Alliance' banner in its lounge plain as day�so no, that wasn't an issue.

It was a love issue. She wanted to be sure that's what she felt. It would be unfair to Tara if she wasn't. Buffy had told her that her feelings for Faith had been buried for almost two years, and only just now had they been brought to the surface. She had only known Tara a little over a half a year and the blonde had caught her off guard. But the thought of taking that step was becoming more appealing; she had to admit that.

She just didn't know. Maybe she needed a second opinion.

Checking all over the house, she still couldn't find them. Finally, out of desperation, and because she really didn't like it when she had to panic, she checked the roof of the house. Sure enough, there they were. Giles was reading a book, and Faith was doing some sort of stretching exercise. It seemed to be improving her flexibility.

'That explains her reputation as a good lay�bad Willow! She's your friend, and that's mean. She's a nice person, and you know you like her.'

Be that as it may, Faith was involved with Buffy now, and she had to make sure Faith knew what her position was.

"Hey." Willow said, announcing her presence.

Giles looked up from his book. "Hello, Willow."

"Hey, Red." Faith said. She only used real names when she was being serious about something, Willow had figured out.

"Interesting chemical set up you have down there, Giles." Willow commented, remembering the cluttered table. "Spell?"

"No�I was testing the skin Buffy and Faith brought me. It seems as though Adam is now trying to mix breeds, which would explain the quickness of the demon they encountered last night."

"How?"

"They're usually very slow-moving."

"Oh. I knew that." Willow blushed. "You're sure it was Adam?"

"The Initiative, from what I understand, captures demons for the purposes of collecting parts, not creating hybrids. Adam must want new data."

"Fun." Faith stopped stretching and walked over. "Where's Buffy?"

"She said she had to go do something. Book man seems to know, but he isn't talkin'." Faith said, looking at Giles suspiciously. "But B promised to fill me in later, so I'm cool with it."

Now Willow looked at Giles.

"All I know is who was on the phone."

"Yeah?" Willow and Faith both asked.

"She made me promise to keep silent, and she said she would tell you both in good time."

The redhead and the brown-haired slayer both had annoyed looks on their faces as they turned around and went back into the house.

***

Buffy hardly ever visited during the day. It was surprisingly less creepy in the light. She walked along the rows of gravestones, deep into the cemetery. She had picked a somewhat isolated spot, and smiled when she saw the fresh stone the keeper of the grounds had situated into the ground. The simple writing read:

 

RILEY FINN
-A GOOD MAN-
1979-2000

"Hey." She said. "Okay, I know you're not actually buried here, but let's just pretend you can hear me, okay? And pray that nobody comes by and hears me talking to myself."

Buffy pulled a chain out of her pocket and sat it on the ground by the grave. "I don't know what they did with your body. The only thing I was able to get out of Graham was your dog tag. Hey, maybe they buried you in one of those military graveyards in Washington DC. You deserve it. You shouldn't have died in the first place, and�I'm sorry. You really didn't deserve that."

She sighed and sat on the ground. "I know this isn't much, but I had to do something. You lived a good life, and I loved you. And the fact that you loved me�and chose to risk�that meant a lot to me. Especially cause of who I am. That would scare most people off. I won't ever forget that. And the world should know you lived in it once.

"They didn't even have a funeral. They could have at least given one for show. I got Will to look up your records in the college mainframe right after Faith and I got back, and they were already deleted." Anger flashed across her face. "Bastards. We'll get 'em. Promise.

"I locked myself in my room for awhile. Will was really cool about it. And we're roomies. But you knew that. I called here, and had them make up the stone. They asked me if I wanted to come and pick a spot, but I knew the cemetery by heart. Sad, isn't it?"

She laughed quietly. "Anyway, I tried to pick a nice spot. One far enough away from rising new born vamps.

"I think�you should�know that Faith and I are kinda in a relationship type thing. It's scary, new, but I'm happy when she's around. Um�please don't hate me?"

Buffy ran her hands through her hair. "I'm not really good at these things, and I know I sound really pathetic, but please don't ever think I'm trying to push you out of my mind. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to. I've found out that I really hate being alone, and I do love Faith. And she loves me. But then I wonder if I should let myself feel happiness after...do I even deserve it?

"I'm doing it again. But I wish you could tell me you're okay with it. I hope you are." She got on her knees, pulled her red bandana scarf from her coat pocket, and laid it on top of the gravestone. "This belongs to you. You liked it better than I did. It was only the scarf part of me, really."

She smiled. "I loved you, Riley. Please know that. And I hope you're peaceful wherever they put you up there. I'm doing a lot of hoping, aren't I? Guess cause that's all I have, and I'm hoping, need to seriously get a bigger vocabulary, that it's enough. I'll leave you alone now."

As much as she promised herself she wasn't going to cry, and knew that she had only been talking to a stone, she couldn't stop the stray tear that rolled down her cheek as she ran her fingers over the engraved words. The description on the tombstone was very simple, but it was true. He was a good man, and even though he had been debating that, he really hadn't needed to. She knew who he was, and who he would have been capable of becoming.

"Goodbye." She said softly. Her voice choked on the word, and she could barely get it out. She got up after a minute, and began the trek out of the graveyard.

***

"Please�" A frightened teenage boy, said.

"Please what?" Spike asked, taking a drag of his cigarette.

Even though it was day, he had been able to follow the kid because of the shade the trees provided. The kid had been hiking, and his body hadn't been up to running. Which was fine with Spike. He dragged him back to the cave, and tossed him on the ground. Even though it was creepy, he let Adam watch. He tried to fool himself into thinking he had a choice in the matter.

"Let me go�."

"Why would I do that?" He threw the cigarette to the ground, and crushed it with his foot. "Out of the goodness of my heart? Don't think so."

"What do you want?"

"A meal." He let his face shift. His demon knew sustenance when it saw it. "It's been too bloody long since I've fed off a human."

"Oh God�." The kid was crying now.

"I still expect him to show up when people say that, but I'm always disappointed. I promise it'll be quick. And�relatively painless."

He grabbed his victim's head, and pushed it so it was at an angle. Seeing the boy's thick neck, he growled low in his throat, bared his fangs, and began to feed. There was no screaming. He had to give the kid his respect for that, but within seconds the heart stopped, and he had drained him dry.

"An intriguing process. How do you feel?" Adam asked, coming out of the shadows.

"Sated."

"This helps you regain strength?"

"Boosts my confidence, yeah. Blood gives the muscles some strength too. We don't eat, we weaken. Human blood is the preferred brand."

"You also seem to enjoy taunting before the feed as well."

"Power gives me a rush, what can I say?"

"You feel, yet you kill and are classified as evil. I am programmed to kill, do not feel, and am evil. I don't understand."

"You're not really evil. You're not exactly good either. To be evil, you have to feel. I enjoy what I do; I feel it when they scream, the chase, the adrenaline, all things that add to the enjoyment. I only kill slayers for sport, rest is food. I'm a conservationist."

"To be truly evil you have to take pleasure in doing evil acts."

"Right."

"I do not feel pleasure when I take a life."

"That's because you're a machine. Built by someone who wanted to make you into a mindless killing bastard. You're your own, independent cyborg, but you don't have a true mind of your own."

"Is that supposed to upset me?"

"It'd upset anyone and everyone but you. You're neutral, pal. Do you know why you kill?"

"It's in my programming."

"At least you have enough free will to choose who your victims are." Spike was particularly grateful for that. "Did you learn enough? Cause I need to get drunk."

"Yes. For now."

***

Faith showered after the two of them came in, and Willow went to kill some time on the couch. When she was finished, she slipped on a bathrobe Giles had graciously though somewhat reluctantly, the man was unemployed after all, given her the money for. She entered her room, bare as it was, and shut the door behind her. She almost had a heart attack when she turned around and saw Willow sitting up against the headboard of her bed.

The redhead's face was expressionless. "So�I know."

Faith's first reaction was to laugh. Willow had an interrogation face on, and as serious as she was, it was also a little comical. But then the Wiccan crossed her arms over chest, and Faith saw her eyes. She got the feeling that this wasn't something she should joke about.

"Know what?"

"About you and Buffy."

"Oh." It was going to be one of those talks. "And?"

"I was kinda shocked."

Faith suddenly realized how much she wanted Willow's support on this. "You think I was expecting it? I thought about it, dreamed about it, and then she says it. If I wasn't laying down when she said it, I would've fallen on my ass."

Willow's eyes bugged out, and she lost her composure quickly. "Laying down?"

The slayer grinned. "Not what you think, Willow. What's going on in that head?"

"Sorry�just�you and lying down�" That stung, and it showed on Faith's face. "I'm not usually that blunt. I shouldn't -"

"I love her. Believe it or don't."

"Why should I?"

"I don't know."

"Buffy's very fragile�and if she loves you and you love her�that's�I'm happy for both of you, but I have to watch out for her. So if you don't mean it -"

"I mean it. Haven't stuck by much in my life, but if I ever hurt her again, especially cause of what we've done and where we are, I'd kill myself."

Willow heard the forcefulness in Faith's voice. "What exactly have you done?"

"A little curious are we? Wouldn't have anything to do with -"

"Stay on topic." Willow tried not to stutter.

Faith chuckled. "Okay, okay�we've kissed, but you probably know that."

"And?"

"What? You want me to give you a description? There aren't enough words, Red."

"Look me in the eyes." Willow got up and stood almost toe to toe with Faith. She searched Faith's eyes. "Oh my God�you do."

"Don't say anything I don't mean. Unless I'm lying. Which I'm not."

"I believe you, but believe me when I say, if you hurt her, I'll attempt to beat you to death with a shovel. Very hard. So promise me."

Faith was now scared. Willow swinging a shovel was dangerous at every angle she pictured it in. And with magick behind her�

"I promise. That shovel�descriptive. You read the riot act a lot?"

"You and�Riley."

They both didn't want to go down that road.

"Five by five?"

"Yeah. Faith I�you and Buffy know each other pretty well cause you're slayers and all�she gets you in a way I don't, and I'm not asking you to open up or anything�but I just want you to know that I like to see my friends happy. And if you and Buffy can do that for each other, great. You both deserve it because of your lives being so gloomy a lot.

"You're my friend too, and I didn't just grill you for Buffy's sake, but for yours too. Love is something�you have to be careful with. You get hurt sometimes�but I don't want to see that happen with you guys. I want you to have happies."

Faith was a little blown away. "I�um�thanks."

Willow smiled, and looked suddenly unsure. "And�because you're my friend, I'm gonna ask you for help now."

"You've got a knack for being able to switch gears, you know that? What's the prob?"

"Tara."

"I don't know if I should�what do you want me to do?"

"I can't figure out what I'm feeling, and I know you know."

"I assumed you were already together when I saw you cause you seemed tight. But you weren't."

"You saw something."

Faith held her hands up. "Can't do it. But there may be only one way for you to figure out what you feel."

"What?"

"Kiss her. And I'm not talkin' a peck on the cheek. Mouth to mouth but without the resuscitation. If you kiss her�and�well, you'll know one way or the other."

"Just like that?"

"Somehow I don't think she'd object."

"Faith! Giles!" Buffy yelled from downstairs.

"It's up to you. Now, I'd like to get changed so�"

"Uh�right. I'll go�Buffy�"

Willow left the room, and Faith had to crack up. The redhead was so innocent it was unbelievable. She respected her for it though. Innocence was a hard thing to hold onto. Especially in this town. Grinning, she started to get changed.

***

Buffy saw Willow come down after a minute.

"Didn't know you were here, Will." She said cautiously.

"How could you of?" Willow asked. "Faith'll be down in a sec."

There were three scenarios she could think of involving Faith and Willow. A fight, though she didn't see any bruises or gashes; a more pleasurable scenario she preferred not to consider, plus she highly doubted it; and the final one, a conversation. That looked to be the most plausible. Willow didn't seem angry, which was good, but they most likely had been discussing her.

"Good point."

"Where'd you go?"

"Cemetery. I had something I had to give to Riley."

Willow walked up to her. "I'm sure he appreciated it. Whatever you did."

"I hope so." Buffy smiled at her friend. "What'd you and Faith talk about?"

"Relax, B. We just dealt with some issues." Faith said, coming down the stairs.

"Looking good." Buffy said with a grin.

"Don't I always?"

Buffy cleared her throat. "So�the issues were 'Us' issues?"

"Among other things, yeah."

"But it's all worked out?"

"Uh huh. Totally. I think we reached an understanding or two about things." Willow reassured, and then smiled at Faith.

Buffy sighed. "Good. Where's Giles?"

"He can't hear where he is. I'll get him." Willow walked off.

"Why doesn't he just use the courtyard?"

"He's got that mini-garden up there. Plus he says it's quieter." Faith explained, shrugging. They went to the couch, and Buffy laid down. "Gonna have to make room."

Buffy sat up a little, and Faith squeezed in. When she was sure Faith was situated, Buffy laid her head on Faith's lap.

"So�where'd you go?" Faith asked after adjusting to the position they were in. Buffy didn't seem to care that Giles would be coming in, so neither did she.

"Saying goodbye."

Faith got it quickly. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I'm just glad that he doesn't have to suffer in this hellhole anymore. Don't get me wrong, I love this town. Just don't like what's under it."

"I hear ya. Be glad he's not a vamp too. Cause then you'd have to�"

"Poof him? I am, cause I don't know if I could do it."

***

Vampires were getting their limbs torn off like toothpicks. All eight up of them were trying to find some way to escape, but they were trapped. A strong fist crushed one's skull. A skewer turned another to dust. One by one, they were all perishing. And in a hidden room, there were congratulations all around.

"Record time, and all kills were executed exactly as ordered. I think we've done it." A scientist said.

"One last test." Graham said. He switched on a microphone that protruded out of the panel he was standing over, and spoke into it. "Looks like you didn't need Buffy's help for this one."

Inside the room where the battle took place, Riley stayed quiet for a minute.

"I don't recognize that name."

"Well done." Graham said smiling. He turned to the scientist. "He goes on assignment in a few days. I want him completely ready."

"That's a little more complicated..."

"It'll give us another advantage, and we need all we can get. Get it done."

"Yes�sir."

 

11
REVELATIONS (OR - STEER YOU AROUND THE CURVES)

The Bronze was a place of raging hormones. That was a fact nobody would deny. But this particular night, the hormone levels were just the slightest bit higher than normal. Anyone who was watching would say the levels were more like astronomically higher, and depending on the varying reactions of the onlookers, they'd probably be right. They didn't make it obvious they were looking, but the people their gazes were fixed on, knew.

And they didn't give a damn.

The girls, who were the center of everyone's attention, didn't stop from one dance to the next. They just kept going, like they were performing a never-ending ballet. And a highly provocative one at that. Blonde matched brown, neither leading nor succumbing. Both very independent, very equal partners in what they were doing. Yes, partners. That's what they were. Moving beat for beat in synchronized motions. All they lived for was the moment. An infinite stretch of time that ended only when they said so.

As a new song began, without thinking, they changed their pattern to keep with the tempo. It's pulsing beat signified that it was a quickly paced song, but slow enough for the girls to still maintain the sensual, intimate, closeness of their gyrations, which they weren't about to give up. The blonde raised her arms above her head, which were met by the delicate, yet firm pair of hands belonging to her companion.

"Last one, B." Faith whispered.

"Let's go out with a bang then." Buffy said, raw passion in her voice.

"I love you."

"I know."

Faith guided Buffy's arms behind her neck, and Buffy held on as the vocals began.

This is our game and we have control,
We make the moves and we make the rules,
But maybe we're just being fooled
In a sea of chance we wound up together
Never really questioned where we found ourselves
Never really wondered about forever

Buffy pushed back into Faith as the dark-haired slayer slid her hands down Buffy's arms, and continued down her body, each hand moving slowly down the blonde's sides. When Faith felt that she reached the waist, she brought her arms around the front, her hands meeting and fingers interlocking. She pulled Buffy back, further into her.

Are we just pawns moving at life's pace?
Under the illusion that this is our race?
Is the struggle really worth the reward at the end?

Faith closed her eyes as she felt Buffy's hands run through her hair. The petite slayer was able to reach her hands over Faith's head, and lay her hands atop hers. Faith bent her head, smelling Buffy's hair, her skin, inhaling the scent. She brought her lips to the soft flesh just below her ear, and nipped. She had a small grin as she heard Buffy's intake of breath.

Before you came my foundations were solid,
Limits tested and boundaries set,
Other side and I had never met
You appeared and reality distorted,
The game's rules were aborted,
Got to see beyond my sphere

Buffy began to turn to face her, and Faith widened her arms just enough. Body brushed against body, their hips never slowing once. They began to move a few steps, and people cleared a path. In an unexpected move that caught Buffy off-guard for a second, Faith released her loose hold, and began to circle Buffy closely, eyes locked on hers.

Are we just pawns moving at life's pace?
Under the illusion that this is our race?
Is the struggle really worth the reward at the end?

Faith wasn't getting off that easy. Buffy matched her movements, and stopped Faith in the middle of a step. She reached for hand, took it, and pulled Faith to her. She pecked at Faith's Harlet-covered bottom lip, and grinned. She brought her knee between Faith's legs, and then the Bostonian took her turn and wrapped her arms around Buffy's neck as they continued to dance.

It's not good to be too bad and bad to be too good,
Separate we can't find that even ground,
Maybe together we could
Don't know when you became my lifeline,
From the walls I let confine,
But we're the game's key players now

The song was slowing now, and so were they.

"Jesus�" Faith exhaled.

"Think we were entertaining enough?"

"I know I was satisfied."

"Were you?"

They separated slowly, hands losing contact at the last possible second. And then in a bold move, not caring who was around, Faith captured Buffy's mouth with hers. Buffy, shocked as she was, couldn't deny her partner this. Couldn't deny herself this. It only lasted all but three seconds, but time was a relative thing. And it confirmed to the both of them that they were still in reality.

We are one in the sea
Are we just pawns moving at life's pace?
Under the illusion that this is our race?
Is the struggle really worth the reward at the end?

The song over, they stared at the people who had been watching. The two of them dared anyone to say a word. No one did. As they moved back over to their table, the noise level resumed its normal volume, and time moved forward once again.

***

Back at the table, Willow and Tara were trying to get their jaws to work again. The phrase "your face will get stuck that way" was becoming less and less of an old wives' tale by the second. Watching Buffy and Faith, among other things, made them feel a little guilty. Even though they allowed the whole Bronze to view them. What the slayers did, they couldn't think of an appropriate term, seemed very personal.

Willow stared down at her soda, and then up at Tara.

"Soda doesn't seem like the best idea right now." Tara nodded in agreement. "How's water sound?"

"Good...throat's a little dry�"

Willow began to get up. "Yeah�I'll make sure it's cold."

"To cool down."

"Right. Cause it's hot in here." They both looked around nervously, and then Willow walked over to the bar.

Tara looked up as Buffy and Faith approached the table, and despite her previous embarrassment, had to crack a small smile. It was obvious the girls had enjoyed themselves. Faith sat on the empty stool, and Buffy sat on her knee. She could see the love, but they weren't the kind of couple that went out of their way to show people they were in love.

Well, under normal circumstances. Which was anywhere but dance floors.

They seemed so comfortable with their relationship. People's opinions, gazes, didn't seem to affect them. Tara guessed it was because they didn't really have time to worry about what people thought. And they didn't seem like the type of people to care anyhow. She wished she and Willow could do that. Well, their relationship wasn't very clearly defined at the moment, so Tara supposed she was jumping the gun a little bit.

"I've�uh�never seen anything like that before." Tara said slowly.

"Did we look really stupid or something?" Buffy asked.

"I think she means�" Faith whispered Buffy the rest.

"Oh." Buffy blushed, and then grinned. "I don't think anybody in here has."

"You and Will should get those plevis' movin'." Faith said.

"Well�I uh�I don't think so." Tara said, face red.

"Why not? Don't tell me she's still being--"

"Sssh!" Buffy shushed Faith as Willow came back with four water bottles.

The redhead handed the three of them each a bottle, and sat down on her stool. As much as they tried to hide it, she knew what they all wanted her to do. It had been about a week since she and Faith had had their talk, and she hadn't been able to work up the guts to just flat out kiss Tara. She wanted there to be a moment, a right time. But if she didn't think of Tara in a romantic way, there would be no need for a "right moment" in the first place. She was so confused.

"Do you two have any energy left?" Willow asked.

Buffy took a swig of her water. "We're the real-life Energizer Bunnies. Only�without the fir. And the drums."

"Where do you come up with these analogies? Are you in the special class on campus or something?" Faith asked.

"I can't believe you knew 'analogy' was a word. Let alone use it appropriately in a sentence." Buffy retorted.

"Touch�." Faith conceded.

Willow and Tara exchanged glances as they watched the exchange of jibes. The glance turned into a look, the look turned into a gaze, and the gaze became a staring contest. But nobody was going to win. When they mutually broke off eye contact, they saw their friends staring at them with knowing smiles.

Buffy moved off of Faith, and they both looked at the girls, rather focused glints in their eyes. The wiccans were scared, too scared to move. Buffy got behind Willow, and Faith got behind Tara.

"This is for your own good ladies." Faith said. "Coulda done it the easy way, but you just had to let it drag. Time to get things on track."

"Buffy?" Willow asked.

"Trust me, Will. We just wanna see you happy." Buffy said, holding her friend by the shoulders.

"What are you talking ab -" Tara started, but got cut off as Faith gave her a little nudge.

But a little nudge from a slayer was like a decent shove from a 'normal' person, so Tara lost her balance and fell forward off the stool. Willow caught her before she hit the ground, and she smiled at the redhead. Buffy moved away from Willow, and all Tara could hear was the other witch's breathing.

For Willow, as she still grasped Tara's arms, she felt a sensation shoot through her body. The blonde's smile, her eyes, her soft voice, it all hit her like a freight train. And even though they ended up in their current position rather unceremoniously, and it wasn't the most private place in the world, this was the moment.

The time when everything finally made sense to her. She felt it when they first met, and whenever they were together. She recognized the love she had let stay hidden, and now it just wanted to explode out. But she couldn't. Not here. Not in the Bronze. Not...

"Damn it, Red. Kiss her already." Faith said.

"You�you�don't�have--" Tara said, not believing this was happening.

"Only one way to find out, right?" Willow asked in a hushed tone.

Willow leaned down and kissed Tara's lips softly, tentatively, not sure what to expect. Tara's mouth parted, her breath mixing with Willow's. This continued into short, soft kisses along the contours of each other's mouths.

"I�um�guys�you might wanna�" Buffy urged gently, looking toward the entrance.

"Wrap it up." Faith said more forcefully.

But by the time they did, it was too late.

"Huh? What�" Willow trailed off as she went wide-eyed.

"Look, it's the X-Man and his girl." Faith said.

"Hey." Xander said slowly.

Anya simply smirked. "What'd we miss?"

***

"Let's play Who Wants to Be a Millionaire!" Regis' voice projected from the TV.

Giles enjoyed the American version much better than the one he had seen on his infrequent trips to London. The contestants in the show overseas were always nervous, shy and fidgety from what he saw. But in the American version, the contestants told you their life story. It was rather amusing. Plus it was more fun to yell it them if they got it wrong.

"What band has a member who is most recognizable by the size of his lips?

"Is it:

"A: The Beatles?

"B: The Monkees

"C: The Backstreet Boys

"Or D: The Rolling Stones?"

Even though the contestant was a computer programmer from California with a pocket protector, he had to know the answer. Everyone knew the answer. It was so obvious.

"Hmmm�I was thinking Steven Tyler�but Aerosmith's not up there�and I remember the Monkees�their lips all seemed pretty regular�I never was really into the Beatles craze�and�" The contestant rambled on.

"Come on! Pillock! It's the hundred dollar question for God's sake!" Giles said trying to repress his rage.

"I've never�I mean I hear the Stones a lot on the radio�."

"Oh they allow radios in the cubicles?" Regis joked, deadpan.

"I'm going to have to ask the audience."

The phone began to ring. "Ask the audience? Bloody moron. Never heard of Mick Jagger, have you? Americans."

As Giles picked up the phone, he heard Regis speak again.

"There you go. One hundred percent of the audience thinks D is the right answer. I don't think we've ever had unanimous agreement on this show before."

"I'll have to go with D as my final answer then."

"You better. There's no chance in hell you're getting up to--" Giles started, but then got cut off by Olivia's frantic voice on the other end of the line. "Olivia? What's the matter?"

"I came home from a friend's flat about thirty minutes ago and�"

"Yes?"

"There were men from that Council you told me about at my door. They just left."

Giles paled. "What did they want?"

"They asked me questions about a Faith person. And I remembered her from when I was over there last and I guess they must have followed me�I told them she was staying with you. I didn't think much of it until I overheard them say�"

He slid his glasses off his face and closed his eyes. "It's not your fault. I should have informed you better."

"I'm the one who didn't want to know about slayers and hellmouths�what did I do, Ripper?"

"Nothing. It'll be fine. Now did they say when they might arrive here?"

"Tomorrow night I think. Your time."

"Thank you. I'll call you as soon as I can." He hung up. "They don't know when to give up."

Faith and Buffy had to come by. Faith lived there after all. He just hoped it was sooner rather than later.

***

"Ah�what do you say we go for a walk?" Buffy asked, trying to find some way to break the tension. "As much as I like public displays, I think we've all given the Bronze enough of a show tonight."

"Agreed." Faith said, but still shot a suggestive leer Buffy's way for good measure.

"Yeah�good idea." Willow and Tara said quickly, standing up.

The four girls led the way out, getting as far ahead of Xander and Anya as possible. Xander followed with his ex-demon girlfriend, staying silent all the way out the door.

"Oh yeah. We missed something big." Anya said, pleased with her previous deduction.

The silence was creepy. They walked along the sidewalk, leaving the bad side of town, and nobody spoke. It was like waiting for a bomb to tick down its seconds before it exploded. You knew it was going to happen, but you also knew you wouldn't be ready for it. They all risked looks in Xander's direction to see how far away he was from blowing up. There was a vein protruding from his forehead, but that's all they could make out.

On autopilot, they all seemed to be moving in the direction of Giles' house. They walked down Main Street, looking at the various stores, afraid to say a word. Past the Expresso Pump, past April Fools, the quiet was killing them. Xander looked at Willow and Tara out of the corner of his eye, and then focused in front of him once again.

"So have you interlocked yet or what?" Anya asked, frustrated.

"Depends on your definition." Faith remarked, as Buffy tried to glare at her.

Now Xander stopped walking, and faced the slayers. He had only seen Willow and Tara. And as if that wasn't�bad enough�now the other two were�

"You too?" He asked in a low tone.

"Yeah. We've all been infected by an evil lesbian succubus, and we're all under a freaky spell that's overpowered us with lesbian vibes." Buffy deadpanned.

Xander actually looked relieved for a second. Until Anya slapped him on the arm.

"It's called sarcasm. Even I know that."

"Why?" He asked now, his relief faded.

"Think he could have picked a more complicated question?" Faith asked.

"Well, we said we'd do it together, right Will?" Buffy asked her friend. "That is�if you guys are�"

Willow forgot about Xander for the moment, and looked at Tara. "I think we are. We are, right?"

Tara nodded repeatedly; still unable to believe she had kissed Willow.

"Okay. Will somebody please explain what the hell is going on?" Xander asked.

"Better question. Why the hell are we even bothering to get his approval?" Faith asked.

"Is that what we're trying to do?" Willow asked. She couldn't really focus.

"Spike." Buffy said quickly.

"And the award for 'Making an already awkward situation even more confusing' goes to�" Xander trailed off.

"No. Spike. Coming out of the liquor store."

Faith looked to where Buffy was pointing. The Xander conversation was going nowhere fast. She needed a distraction.

"Wanna go play?" Faith questioned her slaying partner.

Buffy looked at Xander. She wasn't quite ready to discuss the whole thing. Especially not on the street. She looked at Faith, and the brown-haired slayer handed her a stake. "Let's do it."

Xander choked as the slayers went to surprise the blonde vampire.

***

Two commandos moved along the alleys, keeping tabs on the two slayers. They watched the stealthy movements of the girls, as they sneaked closer to what appeared to be Hostile Seventeen. There was no love lost between the Initiative members and their targets that was for sure. They had started the deterioration of the well-oiled machine that was their job, and the threats had to be dealt with.

The two men were not in any real authoritative position, they were just the stooges, but they made sure Graham and the higher ups knew their feelings on �the Slayer Matter�. They had their orders, and were simply waiting to execute their part of the operation. The vampire was not a variable they had anticipated, however. Jackson was calling the shots on this mission, and figured he had better call the base for instructions.

"Sir, the targets are moving to intercept Hostile Seventeen. Should we alter the plan to compensate for him?"

Graham�s voice crackled through Jackson�s headset. "Deactivating his implant was a mistake. If you can take him without compromising the main objective, do it. Use your best judgement."

"The way things look now, the slayers may get hold of him."

"Then drive them all to the team. It�ll be good field exercise for the new asset."

"Copy that. Jackson out."

***

Spike didn�t have time to react as Buffy and Faith shoved him up against a building. Miraculously, he still managed to hold onto the brown paper bag, which held his newly purchased bottle of vodka. When Buffy realized that they were still in plain view of passersby, they dragged him around the corner and into an alley.

Faith applied pressure to his neck with her forearm.

"Hiya, Billy."

Buffy snatched the bag from his hand. "Tsk, tsk, Spike. This stuff�ll eat away at your liver, you know. And then it�ll kill ya." She tossed it to the ground, and the bottle shattered inside the bag. "If you weren�t already technically dead, that is."

"Aww, come on. I haven�t tried to kill you bitches for a week and a half." Buffy slugged him, and his head hit the wall.

"Hey, he�s right, B. So whatcha been doing with yourself? Besides getting trashed off your ass."

"Making friends." He said.

"That�s�okay what�s the deal? Who�s the friend?" Buffy asked.

"Like I�d tell you. And don�t threaten me with that �we�ll dust you� line. You�re gonna do it anyway. I�ve got nothing to gain."

"All right. We�ll just kill you then." Faith said, looking to Buffy for confirmation.

Buffy pulled back her stake.

"Wait!" Spike yelled.

"You wanna spill now?" Faith asked.

"No�it's just�isn't that two of those soldier boys looking this way?"

The slayers turned their heads, and there were indeed two soldiers looking their way. As soon as they saw that they had been spotted, the men ran off.

"There's something not right about this�" Buffy trailed off.

"Well, let's go say hello. We'll just bring 'Mr. Black Wedding' with us." Faith said, easing the force she was applying on Spike a little. "If there's trouble, we can use him as a shield."

"You know, my new friend has also been helping me get back into shape." Spike said, pushing Faith back, and then connecting with her jaw.

He made it past Buffy, but the blonde was quickly on him, tackling him to the ground. "Need a little more work." Buffy said, pinning his arms behind him.

Faith recovered and started walking down the other end of the alley where they had seen the commandos. "I'll follow 'em. Just catch up." She started to speed up.

Before Buffy could object, Faith was already going at a good pace.

"Let's go."

"Do I have a choice?" Spike asked.

"Shut up."

***

Faith ran and ran, following the commandos into "Three Graves Cemetery" as she dubbed it. She called it that in all seriousness because there were three graves where the deceased had actually stayed in their final resting-places. They all happened to be children too. She heard that they had died from mysterious blood loss that, shockingly, showed her that vampires did have some standards when it came to turning their victims.

That really wasn't her biggest concern at the moment, however. She had lost sight of the men she pursued into the place. She had to hand it to them, though, because when the Initiative guys wanted to hide, they could hide. And she didn't really want to admit it to herself, but she had a feeling chasing after them had been a bad idea.

Scanning the graves, her eyes rested on a mausoleum. She could see a silhouette in the moonlight. Whoever it was, they were standing in the entryway, and if this was a trap, she wasn't going to go into a dark, dank space and wait to be ambushed.

"Show yourself. I've got places to be."

The person stepped forward slowly, and met Faith halfway. When she got a good look, she gasped. The man was in normal commando fatigues, looked normal, though bigger.

"Riley?"

"Where have you got to go?"

"You're dead."

"Am I?"

"Getting shot through the heart usually qualifies you as dead in my book." She started to back away as he got closer.

"You're Faith."

"Thanks for clearing that up."

"If I remember, yes�I was gone, and you had a hand in it."

"You can't be a vamp�" Riley reached out his hand, and a stiletto shot from his wrist. "Holy shit." Faith whispered.

That's when she heard Buffy and Spike coming running up behind her.

"Faith�what�" Buffy saw Riley, and she stiffened. "What the hell�"

Spike noticed the stiletto before Buffy did. "Meet the new and improved model. He looks less thrown together than the other one."

"Oh my God�"

That's when a full team of commandos stood up from behind graves, dropped from trees, and formed a circle around Buffy, Faith, Spike and Riley. They pointed their weapons at the slayers and the vampire, and Riley, receiving orders, began to advance.

 

12
COMPLICATIONS (OR - BEGGING FOR SOME DEEP PAIN)

Xander, Anya, Tara and Willow were still waiting for Buffy and Faith to get back. Buffy had quickly run back to them with Spike in tow simply saying to wait there because the Initiative was up to something, and then took off. That had been ten minutes ago. And Willow didn't know about anybody else, but she was starting to worry. Granted there wasn't much they could do directly where guys and guns were involved, but they had to do something. Buffy and Faith should have been back.

Willow put on her resolve face. "They're in trouble, I know they are. We should go help."

"They can take care of themselves." Xander said rather flippantly. "They're the slayers right? Probably off 'doing' something and forgot all about us."

Willow was taken aback by his sudden uncaring attitude. Tara was a little shocked, and even Anya looked surprised.

"What's your problem with this?" Anya asked him. "I mean, a lot of the women I granted wishes for ended up -"

"Faith's�she's done something to Buffy."

"Hey, they're not the only ones. Remember?" Willow pointed out; getting more annoyed by the second.

Xander had an almost sad look on his face. "Whatever she's doing� it must be affecting you too. I'll get Giles and we'll -" He stopped in mid-sentence, thinking he had had finally understood. He turned toward Tara, and began to stare at her accusingly.

Before she knew what she was doing, Willow slapped Xander across the face. "Don't even think about yelling at her."

"I can't believe you did that." He said, rubbing his face.

"I can't believe you're being such a jerk. Tell Anya why you're so mad. Does she know what you and Faith did?"

"What's she talking about?" Anya asked.

Xander stared at his feet. "We�uh�before I met you�Faith and I had kinda�a one night thing."

"You what?" She practically screamed, and then slapped him.

"Take him and go fight somewhere else. If he's not going to help, I don't want to...not see him right now." Willow said.

Seeing him about to blame and yell at Tara, and she knew he was because she had seen that look before, usually before he yelled at Buffy, made her very mad at him right now. Plus the not wanting to help keep their friends alive had her really peeved too.

"Oh, we're going to fight." Anya said icily. "Let's go, Xander."

Willow looked at the now retreating Xander, and then at Tara. With silent agreement, and apologies for Xander's behavior, the two wiccas started running in the direction Buffy had gone.

***

"The test run is going very well." The lead scientist commented.

"Congratulations, Doctor. We might get a few bonuses too." Graham said.

"Having two slayers to study would be a dream, I have to admit. Even if it is in a purely post mortem capacity. However, what interests me at the moment is Riley's belief that the one slayer, Faith, had something to do with his death.

"Suppressing his memory seems to have created an interesting side-effect."

"Well if he got that memory jumbled, what's that mean for the others?"

"If you're worried about his recognizing the Summers girl, don't be. If he were going to, it would have happened already. He showed no reaction to seeing her. My guess is that Faith's name has triggered an angry emotional response. A step up from the prototype."

"If the girls and the vampire escape from the cemetery, I'm calling the team back. We can't risk running all over town. And then we can come up with a tighter strategy."

"With any luck, they won't. I'll also have to take a close look at Riley."

They focused on the monitors once again, which allowed them to see from the perspective of any of the team members, through the use of built in cameras in the headsets. Nobody moved, except Riley, who kept approaching the slayers.

***

All Buffy saw as she looked at Riley, though it wasn't really him anymore, was a shell. A shell with dead, blank eyes. There was anger in them too, though he probably wasn't real clear who he was angry at. Well she was angry too. Angry at the Initiative for not letting him find peace. For turning him into�a thing. A machine.

She had always heard that soldiers were expendable to some military leaders. Grunts who protected somebody with more importance whether they wanted to or not. That soldiers were simply killing machines, and that if they died, there was always an endless supply to replace them.

The Initiative apparently took it literally. And if that wasn't bad enough, they made him human in appearance. Not like Adam, who was just pieced together. It was harder this way, and Graham must have known that.

She watched as Faith tried to roundhouse Riley's stilettoed hand, but he simply knocked her away, and into the hands of a commando. Riley focused on Buffy now, and pulled his arm back, prepared to use his weapon.

Instead of hitting her chest as he had planned, he sliced through Spike's side, because Buffy had lifted the vampire up to block his attack. Spike cursed, and she pulled him down with her, and they slid under Riley's legs, getting behind him.

Spike had had enough, so he elbowed Buffy in the face, and she lost the weak grip she had still been holding him with. He barreled through two commandos, and ran off. Buffy figured running was a good idea too, so she kicked a gun out of a soldier's hand, which she caught.

They all wanted to fire, but they had to be careful not to hit Riley. He might have been close to indestructible, but Graham told them not to take chances. But Buffy was close enough, so that before she could fire the gun, one them was able to shoot her in the shoulder, and she dropped, in pain.

Faith heard the shot. "Buffy!" She struggled against her captor. "I'm giving you one warning. Let me go or you'll regret it." He didn't budge.

She brought her head back into his, and he loosened his grip some. Now that she could move her arms a little, she grabbed his, and flipped him in front of her. Riley, thinking Buffy was not worth his effort anymore, had turned back towards her. Faith grabbed the downed commando, and threw him into Riley, impaling him on the large stiletto-skewer.

Seeing them distracted, she was able to run to Buffy's side, and crouched down over her. Then five commandos held their weapons in the faces of the grounded slayers.

***

Willow and Tara ran into the cemetery, and saw the fight immediately, even though they stood just inside the gates. They needed to get closer, so they quietly inched forward, looking for anything they could possibly use to help.

"So�what exactly are we going to do?" Tara asked in a whisper.

"I�uh�haven't really thought that far ahead yet." Willow confessed.

Tara spotted a possible solution to the dilemma they were having. The great thing about vampires rising from graves was that headstones and statues were knocked from their placements, and down to the ground. They were close now, and they crouched to stay out of view. And stones and parts of statues were all around them.

"Remember when we moved that soda machine?" Tara questioned Willow.

"Yeah?"

"Well�we could do it again."

"Move a soda machine?"

"No. All this," Tara looked around, "stuff."

"You think we can?"

"If we concentrate, and want it to work."

"I do. They need us."

Tara smiled, and then they grasped hands and closed their eyes. They envisioned the commandos, the stones, Buffy and Faith's position, moving the stones�and then things began to fly. The majority of the objects hit their intended commando targets, knocking him out cold.

A few ran for cover, and when Willow and Tara opened their eyes, they shockingly recognized the larger man as Riley. The stones hitting him were just being annoying distractions. But it was enough.

They watched as Buffy and Faith ran in their direction, Buffy leaning on Faith for support. When the slayers reached them, they all started running out of the cemetery as fast as they could.

"Have I mentioned how glad I am that you're on our side?" Faith asked.

Buffy managed a strained, "Ditto."

"Don't -" Willow started.

"Mention it." Tara finished.

***

Spike stumbled into the cave, holding his side. He leaned up against the rock wall for support, and Adam came up to him.

"You've been injured."

"Great deduction powers, mate. First the damn slayers, then your bloody makers, and oh yeah. You've got a baby brother. Congratulations."

"Riley."

***

Willow and Tara entered Giles' first, and then still supporting Buffy, came Faith. Xander and Anya were there, obviously not speaking, as was evident by the looks on their faces. And the way Giles appeared to be downing Advil, he had been there to listen to the stormy fight. The older man immediately came over to them, as did Anya.

"We need to talk." She said.

"Not right now." Faith said.

"What happened?" Giles asked, trying to support Buffy's other side. But then he saw the blood and the tear in the shoulder area, and thought better of it. "Let's sit her on the kitchen floor. I can take it out. Doesn't look too deep."

They moved towards the miniscule kitchen area, Anya trailing.

"Yeah, she took a pretty good hit. Had me worried, B."

"Gotta keep you on your game somehow." Buffy joked.

"You had sex with Xander." Anya said, doing a complete one eighty, changing the conversation in the blink of an eye.

"I did. But you weren't on the scene yet. And we haven't gotten down and dirty since. Okay?" Faith sighed.

"No."

"I don't want him, and there's nothing you could possibly inflict any hurt on me."

Anya thought. "Well, he's really good in bed, so I guess I should thank you."

"You're welcome. Are we done?"

"I'll go glare at him some more."

Faith smirked. Giles was getting what he needed from his cabinets.

"How you holding up?" She asked Buffy.

"Better than Xander apparently."

"I can't believe how freaked I was when I heard the shot."

"I'm here." Buffy placed Faith's hand on her leg. "See?"

"Definitely�" Now was not the time to be thinking 'those' thoughts. Dancing was one thing�. "Um�I'm gonna go watch the fireworks. Let G-Man tend to ya."

"Okay." Buffy smiled awkwardly.

Faith got up as Giles crouched at Buffy's other side, and began to work.

***

The tension from before had returned, but now that they were in an enclosed space, it seemed ten times as worse. Xander sat Indian-style on the floor by the TV, but it wasn't on. Faith sat at one end of the couch, and Willow and Tara sat at the other. Xander was watching them through the reflection on the screen.

Anya had given him the silent treatment for about five more minutes, and because of his not wanting to talk her, she walked out. Deep down he knew he should've said something to her, but when he got angry, his rational side shut off, and he blocked everything out. He had a problem with rage.

"So that forgiving me thing was an act?" Faith asked.

She was tired of this. Slayer hearing was great, but when a place was totally silent she could hear the littlest things. Like the wheezing sound Xander made from his nose when he inhaled. It was annoying her.

"If I had known what you were going to do, I never would have." He replied, still facing the TV.

"Last time I checked, B and I taking the extra step doesn't affect anything other than the two of us."

"Well it does. It affects everything."

"Actually, you seem like the only one with the hang up. But if you're gonna keep acting this way full-time, let me know so I can ignore you permanently, okay?"

"You've been doing that ever since -"

"Since we screwed? Do you want me to apologize for it or something? Ain't gonna happen. You went into it knowing the score. I'm sorry if you got the wrong impression, but that's the way it went down, and you weren't objecting."

"Like it would have mattered."

"Don't try to tell me what I would've done if you said no. I gave you what you wanted even though I could've found other ways to alleviate the tension. Wouldn't have been the first time."

Xander turned around. "So you were doing me a favor? Is that it?"

"You lust after every woman you look at, and I know a meaningful relationship isn't what you're hoping for when you drool on the floor. When someone finally acts on it, gives you your fantasy, you act all shocked that that's all you get. One good lay isn't love."

"You don't know what you're talking about. I love Anya."

"Now you do, but if love was the most important thing to you in the beginning, you woulda stopped the 'sex only' thing sooner."

Xander silently cursed. He was losing. "How do you know what love is?"

"Because when I look at Buffy, getting her horizontal isn't the number one thing on my list. I love her, and the physical stuff, it's like a bonus. Something�I have to earn first."

Xander scoffed. "You haven't slept with her?" She shook her head. "And you don't want to? I believe that. Right."

"I'm not saying it's not on the list, there's just other things that are just as cool."

"Yeah, like what?"

***

As Giles pulled the bullet out with a pair of sterilized tweezers, they both listened to bits and pieces of the conversation going on in the other room. Buffy hissed as it was removed, and he immediately applied a disinfectant-soaked gauze pad to the wound. She used her hand to keep it there, applying pressure, as he got up to throw the bullet away.

"I don't think I need to tell you how lucky you are." Giles said.

"Slaying's all a risk. I'm alive�but I'll be careful. I always am." Buffy said.

"I still worry." He smiled at her. "What happened exactly?"

"Commando ambush, almost got staked by an Adamized Riley�" Her eyes softened as she said the last part.

"Good God. To do that to a man�"

"Horrible, right? I thought so too. Looks like I'll end up killing my ex-lover yet again. I'm really not liking the cycle my life tends to go in, Giles."

He put his hand gently on her shoulder. She winced, but the pain was already fading. "Will you be all right?"

"Sure. I've still got some youthful innocence left to destroy." Buffy laughed quietly. "I'm good at the black cloud stuff, aren't I?"

"Your reaction�nobody can blame you for it. But remember, you have -"

"Support. Yeah, I know." She smiled at him again, as they both caught the conversation going on between Faith and Xander more clearly.

"�I love her, and the physical stuff, it's like a bonus. Something�I have to earn first." Faith was saying.

Buffy had a million-watt smile on her face. One, every time she heard Faith say the 'L word', good feelings overflowed, and she wanted to hear it again and again. She never got tired of it. And two, because Faith felt she had to earn something to get close to her. Buffy felt like she was the one who had to earn access to the final gate.

Then she looked up at Giles, and realized what he had just heard. "Um�look, Giles�"

"I knew."

"Xander?"

"No. I've noticed things change between you. Nothing obvious, but I recognize love when I see it."

"Oh. So you know that's what it is and not�"

"She loves you. That's clear enough to me. It was a shock at first, because I had never seen Faith look at anybody in that way before."

"I can't believe you're so cool with this. I'm glad, though. Really glad."

"I have no reason not to be. You two, I assume, know what you're doing, and who am I to stand in the way of that?"

"Wish Xander could be as fine with it."

"When he acts like this, there's no getting through to him." Giles shook his head. The boy could be real hardheaded when he wanted to be. Then he remembered Olivia's call. "I hate to say this�but I'm afraid I have some bad news."

"What could possibly make this day any worse?"

"The Council's�returning for Faith."

Buffy had been holding her breath. "Tell me that was just a really bad joke."

"I'm afraid not."

"Then hurry up and get me something I can hit." She said as she clenched her fists. It wasn't fair.

***

Buffy entered the room ahead of Giles, and sat close to Faith on the couch.

"This is the other stuff I'm talking about." She looked over at Buffy, and then at Giles' solemn expression. "What is it?"

"Guess everybody should hear cause you'd all find out anyway." Buffy said.

"Just say it, B. You're driving me nuts."

"The Council is�they want to try and take you�again."

Faith shut her eyes. No, this couldn't be happening to her. Not again. Just when she was getting used to where she was and her new life�and then she felt Buffy hugging her and whispering in her ear.

"Don't you start getting crazy ideas. I'm not letting you go without a fight."

"Buf -"

She put her finger to Faith's lips. "No. Okay? Positive thinking. We'll figure something out."

Xander stood up. "There's no need to tax our brains over this. We've got Adam, the Initiative, Spike, and Riley to worry about. Why add another problem to the list?"

"I'd keep quiet if I were you, Xander." Giles warned him.

"I agree." Willow said, glaring at him.

"You can't be okay with this, Giles. The four of them -"

"It's not something I'm concerned about. It's their lives, and I won't get involved unless I'm asked. You'd be better off doing the same."

Buffy stood up, and went face to face with Xander. "What is your problem? Is it because we're all girls? No that can't be it. That's every guy's fantasy. It can't just be because of Faith, because I saw the looks you were giving Will and Tara, and you have a girlfriend�so what is it?"

"I'm just trying to look out for -"

"Cut the crap."

"She'll hurt you. She's a slut." Buffy slapped him across the face. That was happening to him a lot. Only this slap knocked him to the ground. "And she's evil." He said, trying to pinpoint where the bruise was going to be.

"You don't know when to keep quiet, do you?" Faith asked. "And I like to think of that period as my 'maybe if I had had decent therapy it wouldn't have gone that far' phase. It's long past."

"No it isn't just you, Faith. He's disliked everyone I've ever been with. He's only really gotten the opportunity to yell about you and Angel. Oh he got some good shots in on Riley too." Buffy said.

"He even had the nerve to not like Oz when we first started to go out." Willow commented.

"So he's just a guy who's not satisfied with what he has, and despises anybody who's with what he can't have. Which is every woman on the planet. Typical guy." Faith said. "Sad really."

"It really is." Tara said, speaking for the first time. "Losing best friends over something so silly."

"I think you'd better leave, Xander." Giles said.

Xander got to his feet. "But it's vamp rush hour." Willow tossed him a cross and a bottle of holywater that was on the table.

"Why help Faith? Cause I love her, Xander. When you can deal, then we'll talk."

Buffy sat back down next to Faith, and Willow and Tara started talking. Giles went to go make tea. Xander walked out, not looking back. When he was gone, Willow spoke up.

"Why did he have to do that? I really don't like being mad at him. I can't believe I hit him."

"Look, I know you guys are close," Faith said, "but he's -"

"That's Xander's dark side. He can't slay his anger out, so he just lashes out. It usually blows over, but, and I didn't want to hit him either, I didn't know what else to do." Buffy said.

"There's nothing more any of you could possibly say to him." Giles said from the kitchen. "The most pressing matter at hand is to decide what to do about the Council. They'll be arriving tomorrow night."

"That soon?" Willow asked.

"Plus the cyber monsters and soldier guys." Tara said.

"And the list goes on." Faith muttered.

"Let's get to it then." Buffy said.

***

Inside the Initiative, Riley sat in specialized quarters. All he knew were facts and to listen to orders when given. The emptiness and plainness of the room he was in, didn't even register. He was controlled, which was why the outside signal entering his head surprised him some. It was a signal he had never felt before, but was somehow strangely familiar.

That's when he could make out the voice.

"Brother..."

Continue to Chapters 13-16

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