The attacks were getting worse.
Their frequency, their violence, their sheer unpredictability, everything about them was getting worse. And it was starting to become more than they could handle.
Even with Faith at an almost full recovery.
Her migraines were completely gone now and she hadn't had a dizzy spell in over two weeks but that didn't mean that she might not have one again.
Perhaps that was why they were working out a new strategy in Jenny's apartment tonight. To find some safe way of stopping the increased attacks from all of the vampires Kakistos had hired as henchmen.
Of course, safe and Slaying hardly went together.
Out of them all, the one who seemed most bothered by the attacks was Willow. Every time she heard about them, her green eyes would darken and fill with an indescribable sadness. It was as if she was taking the blame of Kakistos' actions wholly onto herself.
Like she felt that she could stop him, stop all of this from happening, if she just pushed herself harder.
The problem was, Willow couldn't push herself any harder. Her powers as a reincarnated Oracle were at their maximum and to try anything more would just injure her.
And that was where her guilt originated from, most likely. The fact that she wanted to do more, but couldn't.
For now, she was taking solace in her friend's actions. In their hopes and their plans, because through them she still had a chance to stop Kakistos. Stop him before she saw a repeat of things long past.
Things that she would gladly give her life to prevent from ever happening again.
Willow just prayed it wouldn't get to that point.
"You okay?" asked Vince softly, interrupting her thoughts as he leaned down on the top of the recliner she was sitting in to rub her tense shoulders.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Willow reassured, smiling at him warmly and reaching up to clasp his hand.
"You sure?" Vince asked, his chocolate brown eyes searching. "You know I'm always here to listen, right?"
"I know," said Willow, her smile widening. Reaching up to cup his cheek she gave him a light kiss on the lips and murmured, "And that's why I love you."
Vince merely smiled as a reply and the couple focused their attention on the discussion that was still going on.
"But what's he up to? That's my question," Faith said, her brow furrowed. "I mean, if sweets was here she'd agree with me totally. Kakistos having his vampy minions attacking innocent folks is evil sure, but so far he hasn't exactly been Mr. Boring Evil R Us. He does stuff way differently than most vamps and attacking folks for no reason other than its fun doesn't fit his style."
"Perhaps it's similar to what the Master was accomplishing," murmured Giles thoughtfully. "And he's gathering energy through the death of mortals."
"That is a possibility," Jenny agreed. "Then again, we know Kakistos has a background in magic. He could easily use that for a basis for storing power. Which means we still don't have any idea what he's planning here."
"Jeez," Buffy heaved a sigh and sounded exasperated. "Maybe he's trying to do this! You know, to get us thrown off guard and then when we are, he makes his move and attacks us, getting rid of us all."
Everyone was quiet as they considered the blonde Slayer's theory. Then finally, Faith formed a crooked smile as she looked at her fighting partner.
"Happy thoughts, Buff," drawled Faith.
"Yeah, yeah," Buffy rolled her eyes. "Excuse me if high numbers of deaths causes me to act a bit grumpy."
Faith simply stuck her tongue out at Buffy as way of a rebuttal and Buffy couldn't help but giggle at this.
"Why don't we just spy on them?" asked Xander.
"Spy on them?" echoed Amy, looking to her boyfriend with slightly perplexed features.
"Yeah, you know, I could set up a few hidden video cameras in the hot spots for attacks and maybe we could catch just what's going on with the vamps," Xander paused to form a thoughtful expression. "Then again, who knows if vamps show up on video? I bet not, they don't have reflections in mirrors. Maybe Faith and Buffy can chill out in the shadows and see if they hear any news about why the vamps are under attack orders." He then looked sheepish and added, "Sorry. Bond talking."
The entire room was silent once again, this time wearing looks of wonder on their faces. The first good idea and feasible solution had come from Xander. And it was coming as something of a shock to them all.
Well, a shock to them all except for Amy. Because she already knew just how smart her boyfriend could be when he really put his mind to it.
"X," said Faith slowly. "That's the perfect plan." Turning to look at Giles and Jenny she then said, "Dontcha you both think so? Huh, G-man, Jen? What do you say?"
"I say go for it," Jenny said with a smile. "It's perfect, just like you said. But stick to the shadows option. Just because we're letting you go out alone with Buffy for patrol tonight doesn't mean you're allowed to cut loose."
"Yes," Giles agreed, giving an emphatic nod. His eyes were quietly pleading as he said, "Be careful, and do as we ask. Soon enough you'll be able to--"
"Go back to how it used to be, yeah, I know," Faith finished in wry tones. "No worries, G-man. Since Cordelia is at that way boring party of her folks tonight and couldn't come to the meeting I had to promise her ahead of time I wouldn't do anything stupid tonight." She gave a wide grin then said, "And y'know that I'd never break a promise I made to my sweets."
"Yes, I know, thank goodness," said Giles, smiling with Faith as he thought about the look of annoyance that Cordelia would get anytime Faith disobeyed her orders.
"Don't worry, I'll keep her in line," said Buffy, shooting Faith an almost evil look. "And if she doesn't behave, I'll make sure to tell Cordelia about it."
"Buff, you traitor!" Faith exclaimed, wearing a pout on her features. "How could you betray your sister in Slaying? I'm hurt beyond all means by this, y'know."
"Right, sure, yup," said Buffy, taking Faith's hand in hers and dragging the dark Slayer out of the apartment so they could go on patrol. "Tell it to the girlfriend."
"You behave too, Buffy!" Jenny called out to her Slayer as the blonde headed out the door. "I don't want you trying out those insane new high kicks tonight. I still think they're too dangerous to use in actual battle."
"Awww, mannn," Buffy's whining protest was heard along with Faith's triumphant laughter before the door was shut firmly behind them.
"They'll be okay," said Xander a moment after the Slayers departed. "My plan is fool proof." He paused for another moment then added, "I think."
"Uhm, keeping thoughts to yourself, hon," Amy murmured, giving her boyfriend a fond rub on the arm.
"Yes, thoughts to ourselves," said Xander a bit nervously as Jenny and Giles were now giving him slightly dangerous looks. "I think we should get going now, yes?"
"Yes, going we should," Amy agreed, rising to her feet also. Pulling him towards the door, she said, "Are you guys coming too, Willow? I thought you said you both had to get to bed early to go out on that family thing tomorrow morning."
"Huh?" asked Willow with a look of confusion.
"The family picnic," Vince reminded softly, giving a smile. "You know, family gathering of Rosenburgs from all over California is happening tomorrow. I'm invited even though your Mom still dislikes me secretly."
"Oh, that's a secret now?" asked Willow teasingly, allowing Vince to gently pull her to her feet.
"Well, I thought it was, but now..." Vince formed a hurt expression. "I just feel like the village idiot."
"What?! I've been replaced?" Xander cried from the doorway of Jenny's apartment. "Woe is me, now I have no place in the world... ahhh, I'm melting, I'm..."
"You're going home with me," Amy interrupted firmly, dragging him out of the apartment.
"Wooh, lucky me!" Xander exclaimed before he disappeared totally from the apartment.
Laughing at this, Willow looked to Giles and Jenny then looking serious, she said, "I'll find out why he's doing this. I promise you I will, it's my duty for teaching him what I did back then."
"I disagree with that," said Giles quietly. "It's not your duty at all but we do appreciate your help, Willow."
"Don't push yourself too hard," murmured Jenny. "This has nothing to do with your past and has everything to do with the present. It's our responsibility, not yours. I'd much rather just see you happy." Looking to Vince, she smiled and said, "You'll take care of that for me, right?"
"Right," said Vince, smiling. Leaning in, he hugged Willow from behind and lightly kissed her cheek then said in gentle tones, "It's not up to you, Red. Don't rest this all on your shoulders, not when we can shoulder it together."
Willow didn't reply and instead looked up into Vince's chocolate brown eyes that held an neverending promise of love for her then looked to Giles and Jenny who looked at her with more parental concern than her real parents had ever done and felt her heart constrict.
"All right," Willow said quietly.
The three of them, Jenny, Giles, and Vince, took this to mean that Willow would stop taking the burden of responsibility for Kakistos' murderous actions onto herself. But in reality, it meant that Willow was simply agreeing at that time to keep them from arguing with her.
And to keep them from preventing her from doing what she knew that she had to do.
And what she had to do was stop Kakistos.
Whether her friends and boyfriend liked it or not.
"So the Slayer's almost healed is she?" asked Kakistos with a drawl of curiosity.
"It seems that way, yes," Trick agreed, dipping his head slightly in subservience. "Of course, we can't be sure until we face her ourselves, can we now?"
"No," Kakistos murmured. "I told you what I want. I'm going to crush the Slayer before I face her in battle again. I'm going to destroy her spirit and then when she's on the edge of death, physically and emotionally, I will face her and she will beg me to end her life." He then paused to form a wicked smile. "But I won't, I'll keep her alive and make her my new toy."
"Sounds fun," Iris remarked, her eyes gleaming. "But what about Buffy? Are we leaving her out? I hope not. She's becoming just a big a pain as Faith."
"Buffy," pronounced Kakistos with a chuckle. "What were her parents thinking?" His eyes grew dark and he said, "Buffy will have problems of her own. What is about to happen, what we have planned, is truly brought about by her only. She will have guilt tormenting her more deeply than anyone could ever imagine. It will tear her apart inside and then..." He looked to Iris and his eyes glowed bright yellow. "I'll let you play with her."
"Goody," said Iris with delight. "I can't wait."
"About that," Trick began. "When do we act? And who is are target going to be? You haven't..."
Trick's statement trailed off as he observed his employer rise up and out of his chair with a dazed look on his features as he did so.
"Kakistos?" asked Trick rather hesitantly.
"She's coming," Kakistos murmured, his tones magnetic. "Nerine is finally coming to me. She's giving herself up to us." Breaking out of his daze with a sharp shake of his head, he looked to Trick and smiled. "So," drawled Kakistos. "You want to know who our target is do you? Well, I'll just have to tell you then."
And Kakistos proceeded to do just that.
Vince had a feeling Willow wasn't listening to him. But whether it was because she wasn't much interested in his debate over what to bring to the picnic, potato salad or mystery casserole, he wasn't sure. Somehow, he thought it was more than that.
Which was why when he stopped Susie the Bus in front of Willow's house, Vince looked to her with concern and asked, "What's on your mind, Red?"
"Huh?" Willow blinked, looking at Vince as he turned around to face her.
"Okay," said Vince earnestly. "Now I know something's up. What's going on?" He paused to look at her with careful eyes. "Are you thinking about Kakistos again? It's not your fault, Red, and you shouldn't try to take this on all on your own. This is something we have to do together, it's the only way we'll win."
Sighing quietly, Willow's green eyes misted over and reaching out, she cupped his cheek. "You're so sweet, do you know that?"
"Yeah, well, my Mom tells me so," Vince blushed a bit. "But don't change the subject, Red. You were a few million miles away just now. What's up?"
"I was just thinking about everything," Willow confessed softly. "About what's going on and how things are going to change, whether we like it or not. And how sometimes, change isn't always for the best."
"Life has to keep moving, Red," said Vince wisely. "That's what Dad says, it's probably why he's on the road as a trucker. Life has to keep moving, and we have to move along with it. Things staying the same would be stagnant and no one would ever grow as a person. But I'll agree, not all change is the good kind."
"Is the change now the good kind?" wondered Willow, her gaze growing distant. "Or is it something that is better left alone? And are we even fit to decide?"
"That's a lot of questions," murmured Vince, his chocolate brown eyes solemn. "And I know I don't have the answers but I do know life has to keep moving and we have to keep moving with it. Or else we'll get left behind." Tipping her chin up in a tender movement, he locked his gaze with Willow's and said, "Don't get left behind, Red. Because we all want you with us."
"I want to be with you too," whispered Willow, moving in to meet Vince's lips with her own.
Their kiss started off tender and sweet, like their kisses always did, but somehow it developed into a inferno of emotions that amazed both of them at the passion that they incited in each other. They kissed as if it was their last kiss in the world without really knowing why.
At least, Vince didn't really know why.
Willow, she was another story entirely.
Breathlessly parting from his girlfriend, Vince looked at Willow with an expression of wonder and in a uncertain movement, he gently traced her lips with his fingers and murmured shakily, "Red, that was..."
"Amazing," finished Willow, equally breathless.
"Yeah," Vince agreed quietly.
The couple was silent, unable to express all that they were feeling, and Willow broke her gaze from her boyfriend's, knowing if she didn't leave now she'd end up telling him about her plans. And if she did that she knew that Vince would do everything in his power to stop her.
And that simply wasn't an option.
"I should go," said Willow reluctantly, standing up to face Vince. "I mean, we have to get up early tomorrow morning and sleep is required for getting up early and we don't want my family to see us with rings around our eyes or else they'll think wrong things and --"
"I getcha, Red," interrupted Vince, smiling. He stood up to give her a light kiss on the lips before opening up the door to Susie the Bus. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah, tomorrow," Willow said quietly. She gave him one last look of love before dashing out of the bus and towards her house. Knowing that Vince wouldn't drive away until he saw her safely inside of the house.
She quietly shut the front door and waited a moment before looking out window to see Vince drive down the street in Susie. Turning around, Willow sighed as she rested her back against the front door. She heard the sounds of the nightly news from the living room and her parents debating over the politics being reported on it.
They hadn't noticed that she had come home and that was for the best. If they did then it would just make it harder for her to leave. As she eyed her surroundings, Willow felt her heart constrict once again.
It was so hard to leave this. To leave her family, her friends, and Vince. They all loved her so much and she thought perhaps that was why she was doing this now.
They loved her and she loved them. That was why she had to give herself over to Kakistos. To stop him from acting before he ended up hurting everyone she loved just to get to her. Willow couldn't allow that to happen.
Not now, not ever.
So with determination in her eyes and bravery in her heart, Willow quietly opened the front door and began her long journey back to a life with Kakistos.
Totally regardless of her own personal safety.
Cordelia hated parties.
Oh, she didn't hate the sort of parties she had with Faith and the Scoobies. Those sort of parties were fun and she was with her friends during them. The parties that she hated were the ones where they weren't even parties.
The ones that weren't about friends and fun, the ones that were just business meetings in disguise. The ones where the only true purpose of them was for the guests to impress each other with their wealth, charm, and looks.
Along with the all important wealth, charm, and looks of their offspring as well.
Which was why Cordelia hated parties. Especially the one that she was currently attending. What made her most upset was the fact that she knew if she wasn't at the party right now she could be with Faith instead.
With someone who actually cared about her. With someone who never used her, never betrayed her, someone who always treated her right. Someone who loved her.
That was more than Cordelia could say about her own parents who appeared more concerned with appearances than why Cordelia was acting so upset tonight.
Personally, Cordelia was hoping her less than entertaining attitude would allow her early escape from the festivities. And she wasn't disappointed when at exactly ten thirty, her father told her she could take the host's spare limo home. Oh, and guess what? His wealthy, charming, and good looking son will ride in the limo with you. Isn't that nice and isn't that a good connection for us seeing as he's the most important clients at my firm?
Needless to say, Cordelia refused the limo ride and ended up, shocks of all shocks, walking home. Not that it was even a long walk, considering that she wasn't planning on going home and instead was heading towards Giles apartment.
Towards Giles apartment and Faith.
The only place that Cordelia truly wanted to be.
As a kid Faith never much liked playing the game twenty questions. Probably because she never liked the sort of questions she was asked. It seemed to her every time she played people would ask questions too personal for her.
So she usually refused to even answer the questions or she just blew them off and if anyone tried to make her answer them, well. That was too bad for them.
The problem was, it was hard to do any of those things when Buffy was the one behind the twenty questions. When she was behind them, Faith just had to put up with them.
Put up with them and complain about them.
"I keep telling you I'm fine," Faith groused. "Stop asking me the same question in different ways, Buff."
"Excuse me for caring," said Buffy huffily. "But who's in charge of your welfare here? I'm the one who will get into trouble if you do anything crazy."
"Yeah, well, I promise not to do anything crazy. Now will you get off my back?" asked Faith dryly.
Laughing at this, Buffy replied, "Like I believe that. Sure you say that now but once we get into the full on Slaying you'll go into Faithy poo crazy mode."
"Faithy poo?" echoed Faith, frowning deeply.
"Faithy poo," repeated Buffy, nodding her head.
"Buff, you're really pushing the limit," Faith drawled, shaking her head. "Do you wanna make me snap on you? Is that it? Or do you like living on the edge?"
"No, I just like teasing you," said Buffy. She paused to form a mischievous smile then added, "Faithy poo."
"That's it!" roared Faith before she took off after Buffy who was giggling madly as she ran down the street. "You're getting it, Buff! You teased me once too often!"
"Faithy poo, Faithy poo!" cried Buffy, who was giggling more as she dodged Faith's hands reaching for her.
"You're so dead, Slayer," Faith growled menacingly. She reached out to make a grab for Buffy and was surprised when she actually accomplished her task as the blonde Slayer paused in her tracks. With a blink, Faith kept still. Her hands were now resting softly at Buffy's waist as she moved forward to whisper into the blonde's ear, "What's up?"
"Vamps," said Buffy quietly, shivering on feeling Faith's breath lightly caress her skin. "Behind us."
"Trying a surprise attack, huh?" said Faith, a wicked smile spreading on her lips. "Why don't we give them something to be surprised about, Buff."
"My thoughts exactly," Buffy said, smiling also.
With that, the two Slayers turned in synchronization, Faith released her hold on Buffy's waist, much to Buffy's disappointment, and faced off against the gang of vamps that appeared before them.
The fight started off like any other. With Faith and Buffy on the winning side. Then suddenly, in the middle of a right hook, Faith felt a wave of dizziness seize her. And as it did, she went stumbling forward, allowing the vamps around her to gain a serious advantage over her.
Before Faith knew it, she was surrounded and what seemed like thousands of hands were grabbing at her, some punching her, and she couldn't seem to clear her head from the blurred vision that she saw in front of her.
Then she heard Buffy's scream. It was indignation, fury, and hatred all rolled into one clear vocalization. As Faith's vision cleared and the dizziness left her, she saw Buffy, lost in a haze of rage, finishing off the vamps.
Faith was pushing herself to her feet when Buffy staked the last vamp, and the blonde Slayer turned to face her with a look of utter forcefulness. Something that Faith had never seen her wear before.
"I'm taking you home," said Buffy grimly. "Now."
"What?" Faith blinked. "I'm fine, Buff. I just had a little head problem, that's all. I'm fine, you covered me."
"This time," Buffy said. "Next time we might not be so lucky. I'm not about to let you get hurt, Faith. So we're heading over to your place right now."
"Forget it," said Faith, her eyes narrowing. "I'm telling you I'm fine. No way am I splitting and leaving you alone to do patrol, Buff. We're partners, right?"
"Yeah, we're partners," said Buffy, her voice softening at Faith's words. "But we can't be if you're dead. Which is why we're going back to your apartment."
"I'm fine!" Faith insisted. "And we got stuff to do. We're supposed to be spying on vamps, aren't we?"
"Spying on which vamps? Us?"
Whirling around, Faith's eyes gleamed as she gazed at five fresh new vamps appearing on the scene. Looking back at Buffy, she said, "Just watch me at work."
Dashing into the fray, Faith pulled out a stake and starting fighting the newly arrived vamps. Before she even got too far, she felt herself being jerked back by a strong arm, one too strong to be any of the vamps she was facing, and thrown aside. She landed with in a rough tumble and looked up to see it was Buffy who had thrown her and it was Buffy now fighting the vamps.
The vamps that she was supposed to be fighting.
Because she was Faith the Vampire Slayer.
But not anymore. Now it was apparently Buffy's job as the blonde finished off the vamps with ease. And as she staked the last one, Faith was rising to her feet, her dark brown eyes filling with a volcanic anger.
"Buff," said Faith in what was almost a snarl.
"Faith," said Buffy, turning to meet Faith's gaze and flinching on seeing the intense anger directed at her.
"Why?" Faith demanded darkly. "Why did you do that? What right do you have to toss me aside like I'm some sorta useless piece of crap? I'm a Slayer too! I've been doing this longer than you, Buff! I can handle it!"
"It was for your own good," Buffy replied calmly. "You could've gotten another dizzy spell and gotten hurt."
"And I could get hurt crossing the street!" Faith raged. "This is Sunnydale, Buff! There's danger all over the place. Even if I was in perfect condition I'd still have that chance of getting hurt or even killed again! That's a part of our job as Slayers. We gotta live with that and I know I can. I just can't live with you treating me like I'm some sorta little kid or invalid!" Her eyes growing harsh, Faith ground out, "Don't you respect me?"
"Respect you? Respect you?" repeated Buffy, her eyes tearing up as she laughed incredulously. Shaking her head, she sobbed, "How can you even ask me that?"
"I dunno, how can you toss me away like I'm a piece of garbage?" retorted Faith. "Tell me why, Buff."
Still shaking her head, Buffy hugged herself for strength and said, "You don't understand anything. I just wanted for you to be safe... I just wanted..."
"Safe, there's no such thing as safe," Faith scoffed. "You can't keep me safe, Buff. No one can do that." Her gaze softened and she stepped forward to touch the other Slayer's shoulders gently. "Why would you wanna do that, anyway? It's a useless job to try and keep."
Buffy just sobbed quietly and shook her head in firm refusal to answer. "You wouldn't understand," she whispered. "No one ever does."
"I get it," said Faith in dim tones, moving away from Buffy and shoving her hands in the pockets of her jeans. "You don't trust me enough to tell me what's up. I can't hear why you do stuff, I just gotta accept it. Nice."
"I have to keep you safe," Buffy continued, lifting her teary gaze to lock with Faith's. "Because--"
"Because it's your nifty new job, I know," Faith interrupted, her voice accusing once again. "I told you, Buff. I don't want your pity. I'd rather die again than have that."
"NO!" Buffy shouted, her eyes fierce and blazing as she clenched her hands into fists at her sides. "You don't understand anything, Faith! You don't understand why I... that I..."
Watching with wide eyes as Buffy broke down into massive sobs, Faith slowly moved forward and tried to pull Buffy in a tender embrace but Buffy resisted, pushing her away with that same strength she'd used before.
"Buff," said Faith in quiet confusion. "What's going on? What don't I understand? Please, you gotta tell me. It's no good to have secrets between us."
Buffy's reply was so soft that even Faith's enhanced Slayer hearing could barely pick it up.
Barely, but still pick it up. Still hear the words. The words that she never expected hear from Buffy.
"I'm in love with you, Faith."
"Buff..." said Faith in a daze, backing away from the other Slayer a bit. "You mean... you..."
Before Buffy could reply, Faith felt a dizzy spell seize her once again, but this time it came along with a pounding migraine. One that caused her vision to black out momentarily and grasping wildly, Faith held onto Buffy as the blonde supported her.
Seconds later, she heard Buffy's panicked words echoing in her ears. Asking her to come back, telling her she had to come back, giving her affirmations of love.
Groggily lifting her head from where it was buried in the crook of Buffy's shoulder, Faith noted that they had somehow ended up sitting on the ground. Dark brown eyes met light hazel ones and Faith murmured, "Buffy."
Buffy's only reply was to meet their lips in a passionate kiss. One that swept Faith's senses away more strongly than any dizzy spell or migraine ever could.
The kiss went on, unaware of two pairs of eyes keenly observing them with two very different reactions to what they were currently seeing.
The first pair observed in disbelief, shock, and horror as a feeling of betrayal swept through them.
They then ripped their eyes away and with a choked sob, Cordelia ran from the sight of the two Slayers kissing and disappeared into the darkness of the night.
In the meantime, Trick adjusted the zoom on the video camera that he was holding and chuckled. "Smile, Slayers," he drawled humorously. "You're on Trick's camera."
(So ends Season Two. Please e-mail me with any comments you might have about the latest developments. Now I'm off to take my little month long break. Yay!)