Disclaimer: Belongs to FOX and Joss. I don't own.
Note: POV switches on occasion.
I think I like Boston. Took a cab in from the airport, then Faith said I had to walk. Or else I'd be missing out on "the experience." She insisted--under serious threat of denying me alcohol tonight. Which I always drink in responsible moderation. Goes without saying, but, just thought I'd mention. And I have to admit, she was right.
Boston has some really cool, historical-looking buildings, it's surprisingly clean, and sort of, quaint-like. Maybe because it's small. Compared to places like L.A., anyways. But best of all? Haven't seen a single vampire.
‘Course, that probably has a lot to do with Faith. Oh, plus? Cheers. I *have* to get a T-shirt before the weekend's over. It'd be neat if that's where Faith worked, but no such luck.
Okay, if she gave me actual directions, the bar should be...right up here. This weekend's a big, group, "Party and Reunion" thing that's been scheduled and rescheduled for months. We don't see each other much now, there's missage, so tonight and the next couple of days are going to be fun and necessary.
Either people have been busy, or in Xander's case, literally cut off from modern civilization. It's hard for him to call because of where he stays most times. Which is in Africa. In tiny, "What's a phone?" villages.
It's been good for him, though. I think. After Sunnydale, after everything that happened, he wasn't the same. None of us were, I guess, but...it seemed like...he lost more. Means we didn't feel right complaining. Besides, I know he did; he lost it following me. Won't forget that. Ever.
If you want the truth, I felt...happy. Which was new. Except it was a while till I let anybody see it. Especially because of Xander. Had to let time pass a little.
Willow and Kennedy were...well, Willow and Kennedy, just plenty more often. Faith hung around at the beginning, and occasionally? We even hung around together. She's become a good friend. She helped me plan things, and then drove East. To where she currently slays and bartends. So did Robin. But separately. He's in New York. I don't know if they keep in touch, or if he's coming tonight, and that's...none of my business.
Me? My only responsibility was to be whoever the hell I am. Wasn't nearly as stressful as trying to be "The Slayer" around the clock. I'm still finding out who "Buffy" is, but so far, she's shockingly--big, ol' sigh of relief here--pretty normal. Sure, I wish she'd remember what "fashion" is and stop dressing so "mom"-ish, but you know, all in all.
Uh...I'm not exactly focusing, am I? Right. Yeah. Guess we'll go back to Xander. Sorry.
He wasn't adjusting too well. It's not like we didn't try to help, it's just, no matter what, he wasn't enjoying the downtime, and why should he have? But still, he was really quiet. Kept to himself. I started realizing...that was how I used to be. During the seven years that were, um, "Pre-Crater."
It's a safe bet he was in a dangerous, mental place. Edge-skirting dangerous. He needed something to do, something non-destructive, or else he was gonna go crazy. If it wasn't for him, I probably would've retired. Planted "Mr. Pointy" somewhere. Only it wouldn't have...
I might be one of a huge number that's many, but I still have a job, cookie dough or no cookie dough.
That's when everyone got their assignments--we were global all the sudden. Not like a global operation or anything, just more spread. Out. On the rich side of poor. Sounds bad, but...could've been worse. It has been.
So, Giles and Andrew went to England (originally--Andrew's rooming with Dawn in Rome now), Willow and Kennedy were in Brazil (the latest from five weeks ago is that their relationship's been...flux-y), I've been living in San Diego for almost a year now (once a California girl...), and repeating myself if you weren't listening earlier, Xander's in Africa, sending us fish whenever he can. And since he's been contributing, he can talk about Anya, and he's back to being our "Xander" again. Well, almost.
Nothing'll ever be completely the way it was--for starters, the kids in the villages think he's a Wiseman 'cause of his eye. Don't ask me why. That's not what's important.
What's important is, we're done with global. At least for the near future, because everyone's gonna converge on...The Hot Spot? How come it figures that Faith got herself employed here?
When I say "everyone," I'm talking everyone minus Dawn and Andrew. Those two stayed in Italy for reasons having to do with flourishing, social lives, parties, school, and drinking that isn't illegal. Obviously that third thing is a bigger plus for my sister, who's been swearing on the rest of her life that she's being smart about it.
Yes, there's trust. She's earned it. As far as demonic issues go, they know what to do. Also, they're being protected. Secretly. Helps having friendly contacts underground. I never said my trust didn't have limits.
Andrew may seem harmless, but *my god*, leave him alone for too long and you're suddenly in the middle of a bad sitcom. Like, he could accidentally flood your whole apartment, with your toaster--that falls to the floor--still plugged in, which then electrocutes your upstairs neighbor's cat, 'cause it decided to come in through the open window, thanks to the fire escape.
And by "your," I mean, "my." And by "could," I mean, "will." But I'm over it. Well, maybe not.
Seeing the sign on the door, "Closed for Private Party," I knock and watch inside as Faith looks over, grins, and comes to let me in. Must be the first one. Only, now my mind's going to negative places: are other people still coming? Are they all okay? Do I think too much? Yeah, I think I maybe do. Ugh...gotta stop this.
"Nice timing, B!" Faith greets me enthusiastically as she opens the door, and we do the quick, one-armed hug thing. To maintain image, mostly. "Gettin' you here's taken friggin' forever. Welcome to the home of the red'white'n'blue."
"Wig-people in red coats, tea parties, guy on a horse, right? 'History' was hazy when I attended, so now it's...like a dense fog, but I pretty
much got the gist," I smirk as I go in, and she shuts the door.
Inside, I'm suspicious--why the "timing" compliment? I was right about being the first one here, which means I'm not late, which means, fine, I earned it. And sure, it all *looks* legit and sincere on the surface, only...since when does she appreciate punctuality? If she was being sarcastic, then it'd make sense.
The problem? She wasn't. Something's off. Except I don't know what it is. Hence the suspicion.
"So how's life? Back to calling the red stuff 'sauce'?" She asks.
"Life's good. I actually get to slay now. Still quieter than Sunnydale, but not as boring as Italy. That was always quiet, 'cause whenever anything big started brewing, the Immortal heard about it, so before I could even put on my slaying boots and plan...splat. Spilled brew."
"Boring" is good for Dawn, which is why I let her stay and live in the apartment until she finishes school, but it was driving me nuts.
"Cool--‘cause they're some hardcore boots," she compliments again.
"I know. *And* they're above average in the 'comfort' department." My feet just slide right into them. Thank you, Clearance Sale. "But gravy's always brown, and 'sauce' *has* to come after 'tomato'--I'm my mother's daughter that way."
Feels good to be home. As in, my own country. Don't get me wrong, Europe has some really amazing, beautiful places I'm glad I got to see in person, it's just...staring in awe wears off faster than you'd think. Not that I didn't appreciate the relaxed lifestyle.
Or having semi-dated, off and on, a guy with a rep (okay, so it's exaggerated) who fights for the good guys and has the evilness in an entire country under control, wrapped around his immortal finger--uh, except Wolfram and Hart, which wasn't a happy topic.
I mean, we had fun together; weren't looking for clingy-ness, though. Neither of us. And there's nothing wrong with not wanting a relationsh...god. What the hell am I doing? Practicing for how I'm gonna be this party's black hole? I suck.
Enough. Concentrate on doing something else. Like a quick sweep of the place to get a layout, because you can't help it. Once a slayer, always a slayer.
Vending machine and jukebox to the right, on either side of the double doors to the kitchen. Pool table straight ahead. Three tables to the left. TV hanging behind the big bar in the middle of the room...moderation, moderation, moderation. Moving on.
There's another table to the right of the bar, signs pointing out the bathrooms on the right wall, couple more TVs in the corners, and a back room I can't really see from here. Floors? Gray carpet. And it's dim in here.
Overall, surprisingly clean. Less trendy than I thought it would be, too. Doesn't The Hot Spot imply trendy? That's the second thing that doesn't add up. Or I'm reading too much into this. Also possible.
"Swish--score one for us, then," she says not quietly enough, sounding relieved that I'm bored.
Huh? "Huh? 'Us' who?" Somebody's caught. I knew it.
"Oh, uh...nobody." Yeah, right. Weak recovery, Faith. It's almost sad. "Um, how-how 'bout a beer? Start you off slow?"
I'm thinking about staring her down and grilling her with very little mercy till I get some answers, except I must've breezed past the "thought" stage, because the look on her face tells me I'm already halfway there. Mind and body? Obviously not on the same page. Saving the Zen issues for later, though.
I'm in the middle of something here.
Before I can catch up with myself, she switches to her, "Trust me" look, which makes “Attack Option A” collapse. I do trust her. Never thought I would again, but you know what they say about healing and time and thirds of time. No, times. Or, wait, is it...? Gah--just, forget I went there.
Boiled down, trust exists. She checks up on me and watches my back even when I don't know she is, and I'm sure she thinks she has good intentions trapping me like this...so she gets “Attack Option B.”
"If I say 'yes,' are you gonna come clean?"
She gives me a “Scout's Honor” salute (hah), and I follow her to the bar, which she hops over.
Once the mental image of her in Cocktail instead of Tom Cruise passes, I sit on the stool. "Bud Light?"
"Traditional--shoulda guessed." Her confidence is coming back. Faith doesn't honestly believe she's safer behind there, does she? "Bottle or glass?"
"Surprise me," I fake-challenge.
She shuffles around, and then a bottle's in front of me, and she's got that cap-popper thing in her hand. When it comes off on the first try, it's like she's waiting for me to acknowledge her skill.
"Nice job. You seemed...committed."
"Ya know, B, that'd mean somethin' if you weren’t--"
"--just humoring your ego?" I smile innocently.
“Full of shit,” she smiles “innocently” back.
"So how'd you end up working here again?"
"Guy who owns this place?" I nod, then sip my beer and she explains more. "Saved his neck." I'm assuming literally. "Gave me the job, and I've been earning cred ever since. It's why he's lettin' us rent it out tonight. Somehow he got the impression I'm all responsible, and that I won't put him in the hole--makes your head spin, right?"
"Kinda not really," I answer seriously, knowing she was only half-joking.
She blushes the tiniest bit; having a support system is still new to Faith, and we're kind of sisterly towards one another. Our relationship has definitely changed since...what doesn't have to be rehashed at this point.
"Oh! How's...?" I ask.
...things with Robin? Okay, she saw that coming.
"Loose good or loose bad?"
"No, I cut the man loose." Ohhh. Fine. I'll drop it. I take another sip while she decides how clean to be, and I am prepared to chug. "Look, we figured you've gone solo long enough since 'The Big I', so...mighta passed along an invite. To someone you oughta meet. Chick's wicked cool."
Whoa. Whoa. CHICK? I had a bunch of questions up until that last part, and suddenly they're less important than--
"You're setting me up? With a girl?" Please tell me I *don't* need to explain why that's a dumb idea.
She's still hopeful, even as she holds her hands up. "Just an option. But c'mon, Buffy, at least give her a shot."
Mouth in shock, tight grip on bottle. Could shatter any second. "How? Why? Who? Are you evil again?" Then there's knocking, which cuts off the ranting I was gonna do, but that doesn't mean I'm done. "Because as a rule, real friends--"
"Could be your answers right there." Faith just sort of grins in a relieved way and hops back over the bar to go to the door. Ignores me basically.
"--give warning months in advance."
Except I keep talking to myself. And I have this eerie feeling the surprises aren't gonna quit anytime soon. Great.
False alarm. It's Willow. With a haircut that's "senior year-esque," a bag that better be filled with Brazil-themed presents, and an invisible girlfriend. Not like a Marcie situation--Kennedy's just not here. The fluxing must be over. Hmm.
So my next, logical, follow up is pretty much decided: why wouldn't Faith try to set up this mystery girl with the one friend we have who's, gee, I dunno, actually gay? And single? What a concept.
I know she's slow sometimes, but...and does the girl even know what she's walking into? Faith really needs to learn the basics of planning, because as far as plans go? Not the best example. I mean, forget all its other, huge holes--you've still got awkwardness.
Which isn't fair to her, me, or everyone else who just wants to have relaxing, non-awkward fun. With drinks. Summing up:
*Someone* dropped the ball, and it's past catchable. But I can do damage control. I'm used to it. First, the hug. A real one this time. Snug, with full wraparound.
"Yes, I have presents. A whole backlog I haven't been able to give you," she tells me in the middle of, and my eyes go to the bag.
I missed my Willow. "See? This is why we're best friends; our wavelengths always vibe."
"Well, sure...except when they don't." Frown. "Presents are at Faith's." Bigger frown as the hug ends. That's just cruel. And then she's looking past me to Faith, who's back behind the bar, mixing. "Ooh! Margaritas!"
So gift later, now, on with the grilling. I join her over at the bar, and go back to my plain beer. That doesn't say anything about me, right? Nothing...butch? "You look good, Will."
"I feel it," she smiles, sipping. Not upset over Kennedy? The plot thickens. "You look good, too. All healthy."
She's been on my case about eating more since forever. I told her it was a quirky metabolism. I haven't noticed any huge diet changes, but if she's implying, I guess there have been.
"Couldn't argue with Italian food. And now, Mexican, either." That makes her happy. "How's your side of the world? I haven't seen it since February--anything new? Like, for example--"
"I don't know anything," she says in a really quick, really bad lie.
And I wasn't even going there yet.
"I was gonna ask why you're here un-coupled."
She almost chokes on her margarita, realizing her mistake. "Eep."
Bingo. There's the other half of the collective "Us." This means my "sexually-open" friend, and my straight-turned-not one, are trying to win me over to their side. And I bet the other woman being set up isn't gay, either...oh god. Willow's bag isn't Willow's, is it?
"Where is she?" I ask, flat out.
"Uh, out-outside calling her sister." Poor Will. She looks not calm. "She should be..."
Cue the door opening. With a deep breath, I'm very slowly turning to see this person who's going to suffer along with me tonight, and after the stool 180 I'm suddenly smiling. Even though I'm surprised...again.
"Buffy?" She says, pretty much going through the same thing as I am. “I didn't know you were..."
"Tell me about it." I'm nodding, then over to hug her.
I'm a hugger now. Of people. It's all part of me working on connecting with the human race, thus becoming more emotionally-available than I'm known for. That and Italians tend to be big with the friendly. It was sink or swim.
I hope these two are beyond confused--serves 'em right. Yeah, it's weird to be so chummy with your ex's ex, but, stranger things. Maybe we'll tell the story once they cope with the collapse of their shakily plotted plan.
How dumb am I that I never put two and two together? I mean, yeah, I only met Willow by accident earlier this week, but when she said her friend was a vampire slayer, it should've clicked that, hey, there's a good chance she was talking about Buffy. Or that she knew her, at least. But no, completely missed that one. Dumb.
Ever since I told my sister what I...am now, she's been pushing me to find other werewolves. Once she stopped wanting to have me committed. The smartest thing I ever did was asking Angel for one of the surveillance videos of my cage at Wolfram and Hart. When I showed Jill, she couldn't pretend to not hear me anymore.
After we decided it was probably better to keep Amanda in the dark till she was a little older, my big sister’s idea of being supportive was to go on the Internet and Google "werewolf" message boards and mailing lists, then sign me up. She said I needed to share my experience with people who've been through it.
Most of it's packs practically harassing you to join, 'cause locking yourself up isn't "natural." Basically, it doesn't matter if someone dies because you're loose--and even creepier? The mating offers.
But the one list was okay. No packs. Just people trying to live their lives. And unless there was a crisis, the conversations stayed about everyday stuff pretty much. When the guy who ran the list wanted to organize a face-to-face at this club in New York, I figured, what the hell? It was public enough, and it was an excuse to see the city. I'm an art chick--the museums alone made it worth it.
Eight hours later, I met Willow and Oz. Turned out he co-owned the place, and we had free reign until it opened. Took the whole night, but I eventually got their history. They dated in high school, then freshman year of college, he couldn't handle his wolf and left. Couple months later, Willow realized she was gay, and got heavy into witchcraft. For Oz's sake? I didn't ask what I wanted to.
They lost touch over the last few years, but when he heard that the town they grew up in sank (Buffy's did too, but, did I think?), he tracked her down, and said she should come see the club. She just happened to the same day we all did.
It went good. Putting faces to screen-names, discovering who lived close to who...we helped each other, I think. I learned how to teach myself, well, not to stay in control, but to stop from disappearing when the wolf comes out.
There was a girl there with her mother. Eleven, a year older than Amanda. She'd been a werewolf since last spring. Her mom was so grateful to have people to talk to, because her father left them over it. Was really sad. Except she--and Jill--were both right. Being around people who understood? Finally? Knowing I’m not alone...it, makes a difference.
Later, during his band's set, Oz had the lead singer bring the girl onstage. She danced. It was sweet.
Everyone else left before closing, but I stayed. Willow too. We hung out and gave the staff a hand cleaning up while the band packed their gear. She promised she hadn't been hitting on me all night, and apologized for not putting a disclaimer out there at the beginning. I must've been wearing my, "You think I'm ugly, don't you?" face, because she said (babbling) the only reason she didn't, was because she had a girlfriend she didn't wanna piss off.
But then I forgot to tell her she would've been disappointed if she *had* hit on me. If I’d mentioned I was straight, she never would've gotten the idea to set me up with Buffy, and I wouldn't be here. But Buffy's just as straight as I am, so maybe she would've invited me no matter what. I don't get it, but, too late now.
My flight back isn't until Tuesday. The alcohol's free. What else am I gonna do?
"Let me see if I got this," Faith is saying forty-five minutes later. Me, her and Xander are around the pool table. "Angel jets her and the fam first class to Rome, where she's supposed to look you up, only she's in the dark till check-in. Message at the desk lays handlin' her 'full moon' sitch on you, 'cause he knows the shit's hitting in L.A."
She shakes her head. "Guy knew a hell of a lot about people, always got 'em to pull themselves the fuck up, and did right even if it wasn't the smart play...but he could be wicked *blind*."
This I know. Xander and I just wait while she racks for the next game. She'll say she won the last one, but that's just because she lives in an alternate universe where she thinks that happens. It must be nice.
"Yeah, even Deadboy shoulda known that rule. New girlfriend meets old girlfriend? Intentionally? And ya wonder why universes implode.” He shakes his head. “Where's the sense?"
Faith nods, chalking her cue. "I'm sayin'."
"They're either gonna clash, which you're gonna hear about *till the end of time*, or worse, they clog dance right over your good name." Faith gestures for him to take the first shot, which he does. "That sit-down’s bringing a guy nothing but oodles o’ pain."
"Well, that's pretty much Angel in a nutshell," I say. "He was all about self-pain."
"When he wasn't saving the helpless and hung up on blondes," Nina adds, walking over from where Oz is setting up the karaoke machine that’d been gathering dust in storage. "And I was expecting Cabo."
Hey, yeah, what's the deal with that? Not the first and third parts--I get those.
It freezes everybody around the table. "Holy shit," my sister slayer utters, like it's a huge revelation.
Xander rattles it off. "Darla, you two--"
"That cop--" Faith picks up.
"Spike." And we're all looking at Nina now. No way. No. "Hey, you didn't watch them together." We're waiting for whatever that means. "Total married couple."
I know I should be disturbed. Psychologically. I should wonder what else might've played into Spike being attracted to me, and also, who Angel was more jealous of when I told him I had feelings for Spike. This is where I'd overanalyze my relationships for the "Who knows how many times it's been?" time, but I'm too busy laughing my ass off.
Doubled over, stomach-hurting variety. Not the only one. We're leaning over the pool table, laughing until we can't anymore. I haven't this hard since...beats me. Whew. Thank god Clem gives us a reason to stop, because it was looking endless.
He's poked his head out of the kitchen. "Riley's all set to cook up the wings, Faith."
Faith wipes the tears away, and gives her cue to Nina so she can go to the kitchen. We hear her call, "Sam, you sure your boy won't burn the joint down?"
"Speaking of exes..." Xander whispers.
"What?" I ask, while Nina shoots.
"It's not weird between you two?" She backs him up before I send daggers.
I take my turn. "Used to be, but Sam's good for him, and we're...we've made peace with the past. He's friends with everybody--especially you, Xander. Of course I was gonna ask his 'flower shop' if he was available."
"Mature attitude, Buf," he says like he doesn't believe me.
I don't hafta stand for that. "You know, I guess Cordelia was Angel's exception to the rule."
"Angel and Cordelia?!" He's taking his second shot, and the white ball flies.
Nina and I nod solemnly.
"How d'you think I felt?" She's being rhetorical. "Whenever we were together, her and Buffy were always the elephants in the room."
"Oh, so I'm an elephant now?" I gripe teasingly at her. "At least you got to have sex with him regularly. As in, more than one time...and he didn't go evil."
"Which was only because I never made him perfectly happy. Really kills a girl's self-esteem," she argues back. We've had this discussion before.
"*Angel and Cordelia*?" He's gonna be stuck there a while.
Game over. Laying our cues across the table, I go with Nina over to the bar. Riley and Xander put the Red Sox game on all the TVs. I have no clue why, but I hate announcers.
"So I'm glad ‘the going to New York’ paid off." I'm continuing an earlier conversation. "Willow told me she was stopping there to visit Oz, but I never..."
Crazy how small the world can get.
"Me neither," she exhales, and we chuckle at our mutual slowness.
"Would've invited you myself, but I didn't wanna cut into your trip." Then I smile. "You've been adopted now, in case you don't realize; there's no going back."
She laughs again. "I don't mind. Everybody's been cool. Makes a werewolf feel right at home."
Ooh, reminder. "Is the cage still holding?"
I was in middle of packing for San Diego when Nina knocked on my door. I had to tell her we hadn't heard from anyone in L.A. except Lorne, and he wasn't even in the fight. She'd kind of assumed Angel was breaking up with her when he gave her the plane tickets, but what happened...was tough to take.
The good news was, our flights back to California were the same day, even if we were landing at different airports. So after I moved my boxes into the new house, I drove to Los Angeles and got a cage built in the basement of this gym we'd renovated. For training. I, uh, sat watch at first, but now the local slayers take shifts.
"Have the bruises to prove it," she confirms. "Traffic sucks no matter how early I leave Jill's, though. I oughta get a police escort or something, I mean it. Excruciating pain that only stops after there’s this new life in the world? Sounds like giving birth to me. Except I’m lucky--I go through it three times a month. *Three*. Not just *once* every nine."
"Babies don't try to eat the doctors in the delivery room, though. And claw them to death. Well, human babies," I counter.
"So? It’s still discrimination," she sighs, and just as quickly grins, seeing Faith smooching in a corner. "Looks like we didn't ruin Faith's night by not hooking up."
We cock our heads at the sight, 'cause it's hot--won't admit that out loud, but it is--and weirdly watchable. "She's clearly over it."
Moment of silence, and then this starts to come out. "But I dunno. I may change my mind when I'm dr--"
Oh, hold on. Faith's turning. The mystery person is...Willow?
It shouldn't make any sense whatsoever, but ya know? It does. No offense to Kennedy, but I always thought she was “Faith-lite” more than a little. Oz is seeing, too.
"Huh," he says, and yep, sums it up.
When Angel told me there'd be a day when the fact that I was a werewolf would stop being insane, I thought he was. But I'm sitting at a table with two superheroes and a witch, there's a demon eating wings with Xander and Riley (who's a lieutenant in the Army), and then there's Lorne. He got here twenty minutes ago from Atlantic City, wearing lavender. And he's already taking song requests, trying to get the rest of us into it. This feels normal to me now, and that is so, so strange.
Oz gives a great first impression of a “normal” guy. Laidback, what you see is what you get...but then you remember, *he's* a werewolf, too. And even if he wasn't, he still plays guitar--which makes him seem dangerous by default. I know what you're thinking. Two werewolves, both artistic...no-brainer. So why wouldn’t we?
Why else? It isn't there.
What is, is the same, freaky pull that blindsides me whenever I'm around another werewolf. My skin hums from the inside out. Loud. It's almost like the wolves’ personal space is being invaded, and they'll only back off when they don't feel threatened.
Gets me a little on edge. Hairs on the back of my neck actually stand up, I'm not kidding. Dunno if I'll ever get used to it.
Anyway...Oz and I are just friends.
I'm half-listening to Buffy fish the "When, How, and Why" out of Faith and Willow, because I’m also half-thinking about what it might be like. Can't help it. Their logic’s kinda easy to follow. If they’re happy together, why wouldn’t Buffy and I be? That’s the logic of two people in love. And you know how sometimes somebody just has to plant an idea in your head?
I've known Buffy a year almost. I mean that; I feel like I do. Looking back? Angel stayed pretty mysterious for the seven months I knew him. The “vampire” thing was a turn-on, and the rest was mostly hero worship. He was so noble and kind...but dated and clueless too--that's what made him charming.
Except he was that way with everyone. I hoped it'd be different when we were alone, but he'd always be a million miles away (usually not during...thank god). He warned me he was a private person, so I tried not to take it personal, but I wanted to love him, and he wouldn't let me get close enough.
Buffy's been more available than Angel ever was, and I know how that sounds, but it's true. We have conversations where it doesn't feel like it's just me talking. We should've hated each other, but instead, we bonded over him. Then other things.
Like having a huge secret that would definitely put off most potential guys. Like being stereotyped, twenty-something blondes. Like our families. My sister raised me after our parents died, and Buffy had to take care of Dawn after her mom passed away.
She got Jill more relaxed about my whole situation, and Amanda thinks Dawn is the coolest person she's ever met. The least I could do was help Buffy paint her house. It's right on the beach. On the weekends, we'll lay by the surf all day drinking pina coladas. Sometimes I bring a pad.
She knows I've been into researching my "breed" lately so I can sketch something different for my portfolio, so if she slays a really unique demon, she'll describe it so I can attempt more "outside the box" subjects. My professors look at me funny, but that's about it.
Can you tell Buffy and I get along really well?
I remember that first, full moon in the new cage. Buffy volunteered to protect me from myself. It wasn't Wolfram and Hart--no camera, no monitor being watched by security guards. And I'd gotten over how somebody was paid to see me naked. 'Course, it helped that I couldn't see them. But there was gonna be a person physically *in* the room.
Now you're saying, "She didn't *have* to see you naked."
Yeah, she could’ve come in after, and left before I changed back. Every other slayer does. So if it bothers me so much, how come I asked her, *one time*, to stay? Because it's eerie being behind bars in a confined space. Lonely. Up to the last second, I try to convince myself that it's routine anymore. Never works.
How can changing into a six-foot tall monster be anything but terrifying? Bones breaking, sharp teeth tearing through the top and bottom of your mouth, spine stretching to fit a body that shouldn't be yours, growing a new face, claws, can't scream 'cause who you are is slipping away...
Even though there was nothing she could do, for some reason, I just needed her then, okay? I trusted her.
So we're there, and I hafta take off my clothes because I can't afford to shred them. They get passed through the bars; she tries not to look, grabs 'em, sits in a chair. It's gonna happen in the next five minutes--why get shy? I crouch down in the middle of the cage and wait.
Buffy's curiosity wins, and she stares at me. This shouldn’t be intimate, or anywhere close, and I shouldn't like that she's staring, but it is, and I do. Her eyes're reassuring when they reach mine. Not to mention dilated. Right when I think it's unfair that she's not, *not* dressed, I start changing. We could’ve imagined it.
Mm. For a straight girl, why's it seem like I have all these reasons to possibly have a thing for Buffy? Normal...what's that?
"...as I'm sitting here, doing nothing but aging...still my guitar gently weeps..."
Giles is singing. But not karaoke. Oz had a guitar in his van. Isn't his electric, it's the wood kind. He said he'd play something, but Lorne couldn't get him to do vocals. Then Willow started pestering Giles to, because she's heard him. Xander has too. Been jealous for years over that. So I jumped in, and flashed my best pout till he cracked.
Oz gave Giles the guitar, and now there're lighters. He's...his voice...if he wasn't *Giles*...and if Olivia wasn't his girlfriend again...no. That’s staying unsaid. As he's finishing, we all clap and Xander shouts, "Hey Jude!" Jude who?
Somehow Lorne's the emcee, and we didn't even ask him. I think he does it naturally.
"Holy Harrison!" He's raising his hand as Giles adjusts his glasses and tries to leave the spotlight unnoticed. "Who else thinks we found the fifth Beatle?"
The loop's ditched me, but I'm whistling and clapping harder anyway. I'm also very buzzed--stupid Sea Breezes. I'm glad I'm out of the poker game, because I can't bluff buzzed. If I look like I have bad cards, I have bad cards.
"Bluff buzzed"? I need to stick to water.
Faith, Xander, Riley and Clem are the only survivors, but Riley's all in, and it doesn't look good. Sam, Nina and I are standing off to the side, but Willow's standing between her girlfriend's and our best friend's chairs. When Clem folds, it's just them that have to decide before the last card's turned.
"Hey, Will?" Xander asks.
"Wouldn’t be doing the 'brain blab' thing to help your woman cheat, would ya?" He's actually suspicious.
My eyebrows go up while Willow frowns. "No! Goddess!" I believe her, because now she's thinking what a good idea that woulda been. "And, *huff*!" Yep, she says "huff" and storms away about five feet.
Faith's trying to read him, but then she throws her cards down. "Crap. I fold." She points at him. "Patch gives you an edge, man."
"'Bout time it started pulling its weight around here," he quips, and turns the last card. Riley sighs. He has...a pair. Xander has...three of a kind.
Sam slaps her husband's ass when he comes over. "Better luck next time, Finn."
I'm smirking, and I know I should keep my mouth shut, but I'm buzzed, and it's not happening. "Sam proposed, didn't she?"
She smirks with me. "Well, I do outrank him."
I'm waiting for his pride to shrivel like it did way back when, but he just grins. "Officially, maybe."
"Those are fightin' words, hun." And they kiss, and Nina and I get wistful.
If fighting equals kissing to them, I'm not sure I wanna know what their missions are like. Faith's going to comfort Willow, and it's cuddly, and “Cuddly Faith” is head-spin worthy. I can't deal with spinning right now. Couples...gah.
Remember what I said about being "the black hole"? It's coming. Fresh air, need fresh air. Xander and Clem are on their own.
"Fyarl nuts!" The floppy-skinned demon curses. His strategy is to make people think he always has bad cards, and he goes over-the-top with. Nobody's gonna tell him we've figured it out.
And Oz has his guitar back. He's strumming, sitting in the corner with Giles as I pass them for the back. But I hafta smile at my watcher first.
"Oughta play with us sometime,” Oz offers to him. “Or just do yourself a favor, lay down a couple tracks. Know a guy with a studio."
Heh. Giles even blushes British. "Oh, I, uh, I couldn't. Barely had the time to holiday here. Council to run, you know..."
Then I hear Lorne. "Dedicated to our trans-species friends in the house, here's a little Warren Zevon number from 1978." The music begins. "I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand..."
Nina's reaction? "Buffy, wait up!"
Change of plan. It was going to involve the alley, but the back room I didn't know about earlier? Has Ms. Pac-Man. And Pinball. And Frogger. *Frogger*. Faith's into the newer, but not for this slayer. Two buttons and a joystick. Simple, effective fun. And a non-destructive, emotional outlet...I read a self-help book or two, so what?
‘Kay, tell me I have quarters. Hey, there's tape over the coin slots. Either they're out of order (damn, damn, damn), or...could I be that lucky? I press "START" on the Frogger machine...and, yay! They must be rigged, like in the dentist's office when I was seven. Mood improving again.
"I can still hear." Doesn't she understand? Recapturing childhood memories here.
"Ah-ooooooo, Werewolves of London..." Lorne's voice is carrying, though.
I grimace with her. "Play. Frogger makes everything better." Her eyebrows arch at me, so I stick out my tongue. "Fine, Pinball. Pinball's noisy."
"Your super-hearing tell you that?" Nina cracks.
"Don't make me get the tranq-gun, monster girl," I say in my best warning tone, and make like I'm gonna stalk.
She's thrown for a few seconds. "You don't--"
Now, I grin. "Don’t mess with a slayer."
"Out of my way." She pushes me in the shoulder and I stumble back against the machine. "I'm playing Ms. Pac Pan."
We're back-to-back now, facing our games, when I wonder--
"How's she eat so much and not get fat?" I never figured that out.
"Maybe *she's* a slayer."
Argh. Stupid logging trucks. No frog deserves that.
I don't rise to the bait. "Does that mean you think I'm thin?"
"Bitch," she says it with a smile, I can tell, but then she slaps her screen. "What? I turned left!"
I hate the ghosts.
I glance back at her. M' not sure about me, but she looks good. Body-shape wise. Which I'm admitting not because of Faith and Willow, or anything remotely related, but...just because.
Nina's a good, positive person, even with the "werewolf" drama. Amazingly relaxing to be around, and as insecure as I am, but better at hiding it. Feels like I met her when I was supposed to.
In Rome, since I had nothing to slay, it was like one, long vacation. Being with my boyfriend, going clubbing, and pretending Sunnydale was behind me. Like I said, I eventually got back into things--I was Giles' ambassador, and made decisions when he wanted me to--but Rome was still my personal, “Never, Never Land,” where bad didn’t happen, and my life before, where I'd driven away my friends and, sorta myself, wasn’t real.
I didn't deal. The Immortal wasn't big on serious conversing. When I got tired of the nonstop party that was us, broke it off, and decided I missed “real,” Nina showed up. After the, "Oh my God, this is Angel's new...widow" shock, we immediately entered share-mode. There was some crying, but it wasn't all gloomy. We were friends who hadn't known it, and when I needed to go to the "Sunnydale" part of my brain, she listened.
In San Diego, I was back to patrolling and getting bruises again. But this time I remembered how to separate work and fun. It's not the easiest, and sometimes they collide, but it's worth juggling. When I gave up trying is when I went to the place Xander used to be in, and I have Nina to thank for making sure I don't. She helps me unwind post-slay. Could be just bitching about her day over the phone, but it gives me an else to focus on.
I even have a hobby that has zero to do with slaying because of meeting her sister--Jill's teaching me to cook. Dawn was ecstatic when I told her. I make a mean frittata.
But I wouldn't be cooking frittatas, or be as openly chatty, if the timing hadn't been right. Which is how come it feels like Nina showed up when she was supposed to. I was ready to do those things, just needed an extra push. All right, maybe I wasn't thinking I *had* to make Mexican food, but you get what I mean.
I owe her, and...boy, her jeans are flattering. And because I noticed, my frog's pancaked.
Did she tell you about "the cage incident?" What'd she say, because...sigh. Yes, she's attractive. And slightly more chest-blessed than me. But there wasn't anything sexy about it. I was guarding. That was it. No subtext.
Who am I kidding? It was totally sexy. Also for her. My mouth was dry, and my stomach was fluttery, and I didn't wanna look but I did...and at the time, we'd only known each other two weeks. Before I could get a grip, she was changing.
I'd never seen during. It sounded and looked extremely painful; I wished I could do something other than feel bad for her. Her wolf? Way scarier than Oz's. It's a shame, because you don't look at her and think, "werewolf."
Maybe you don't with Oz either, but he's a guy, so it makes more sense from a gender standpoint. Oh, and don't tell Nina I said this, but the next morning? When she changed back into being naked? That was sexy, too. Didn't know what to think, ‘cept how much I wanted to not spoil our friendship we were building.
Good thing we’re both adults and chose to move on. Other people might say ignore. Po-tay-to, Po-tot-o.
Only, it isn't a thing you forget. So completely unplanned, you start staring at her ass and blame Willow and Faith. First they're making out, then there's their story of getting together...
Willow'd just broken up with Kennedy, and suddenly Brazil was an unhappy place. Having the best timing ever, Giles wanted her to meet with this reclusive warlock in Nepal, and had Faith go along for protection. They were in some, high, mountain village trying to press the locals for info, and stayed the night in a hut.
Doesn't take much to get Willow to spill. She unloaded on Faith about how horrible she felt hurting Kennedy, and somewhere along the way Faith apologized for holding her hostage when she was evil, and it was "wicked cathartic," and then they were kissing and sleeping (just sleeping, they said) and woke up spooned. Warlock recruited, Willow moved in with Faith, and they coupled. Those years hating each other? Sexual tension.
According to them. Uh huh. Where was I? Still secure in my sexuality, probably.
Frick...I'm caught. Nina just saw, and we're staring at one another. Déjà vu. And who walks in? *Them*.
"Goin' for a smoke," Faith says, moving for the back door with Willow trailing.
"You don't smoke, Will," I point out.
She nods. "I know, and I'm trying to get her to quit, but...she smokes sexy." She's got this lopsided grin she must've learned from Tara.
Nina and I roll our eyes, then they're in the alley and gone. We're back to staring, when she surprises me with, "What the hell...wanna go out sometime?"
What the hell. "Yes."
"Now?" That was fast.
But, agreed. "M’not busy."
"Entire night's been a date, then." She wants to be clear.
So do I. We've been more or less dating already. "Yes. The official first."
She gives me a tiny smile. "So I get to stare at your ass, too?"
"Uh, don't think you actually need to date me for that, but, yes," I smile back. “You better.”
I'm already *not* insecure about this. Know why? 'Cause there's a foundation of friendship and trust going in. A solid one. That's what I've been looking for my entire dating life, but I never took the time.
I always went for the mysterious guy, or the dangerous guy. Riley's the odd man out. He had to convince me to date him, like he was giving a college lecture. That's a crappy foundation.
Angel was right--being with a vampire, in the long run, is like avoiding living. He didn't want that for me, except I didn't learn until Spike. Still, wouldn't trade them.
I loved Angel. I even loved Spike by the end--not the way he was hoping, but I did. I cared about Riley. They all taught me something about myself. Gotta go with what's in front of me, though.
Be stupid not to. And you wouldn't think so, but the "girl" part? Isn't mattering. Black hole averted.
"Are you drunk?" I have to get this out of the way.
Buffy's wondering why, but she answers. "Um...buzzed."
"Earlier you said this would only happen if you were drunk. Figured I’d ask," I tell her, shrugging.
"No I didn't."
"You started to," I remind her. Right before we saw Faith and Willow kissing.
It comes back to her. "Oh, yeah." She takes a step. "But I'm allowed to change my mind. Just so you know? I have."
Awesome, because I won’t fight this. It's pointless. I don't *possibly* have a thing for Buffy, I *have*. I do. If I can accept being cursed, I can accept that. And I don't see any reason not to.
Okay, maybe if we'd done something right after Angel died, you could say we were grieving. But we passed that stage a long time ago. I like her, she likes me, it’s out.
"We’re gonna kiss now, aren’t we?" Sure seems like it.
"Think so." She's with me. All I needed to know.
Count of three.
Lorne's on the chorus again. I think I’ve stopped caring. She tastes like one of his Sea Breezes. Feel lightheaded. Either this is an incredible kiss, or the alcohol on our breath is still working. Kissing another girl is softer. Unoriginal, right? Yeah, well, how about this? Kissing *Buffy* is...intense.
Her arms are around my waist, and we probably look glued together, I'm so tight against her. My hands’ve been wandering down her back, but let's go for broke. They settle on her ass, I squeeze, and her moaning into my mouth is the hottest thing I’ve ever--
"Pay up, Red." Who's...?
--it. Damn them and their interrupting selves. And I can't yell, because I have breathing to do. But money's actually being given.
"How about a 'thanks'?" Faith requests, smug.
Just for how she said it, there's only one thing to say back. "How about 'bite me'?"
"Faith, sweetie, uh--" Willow's always the peacemaker.
"Actually, we've been together for months," Nina cuts her off, and for a second, I'm lost. "It's just, we knew you were trying to set us up, and we didn't want you taking the credit."
Nice, Nina. "What she said."
"Yo, better check your pants--think they're on fire." Faith's not sold.
I smile and put my hand to feel. Yeah, it's where you're thinking. "If they are, it's 'cause of me."
Willow's blushing, but she's also covering her mouth. She pulls her girlfriend away from us. "C'mon, we spoiled their smoochies."
With a grunt of distrust, Faith gives up, and Willow looks back at us and winks. When they're outta sight, we fall into each other laughing.
"I said you could *look*." I try to sound upset, but a straight face can't be kept.
I think my face is done being "straight" for a while.
"It’s the moment’s fault," she defends herself.
"Was a pretty great moment," I concede to her. We take a minute to get collected, she gives me a slow, but quicker kiss, then we link hands to join our friends before they come investigating. "First time's in the cage, isn't it?"
“Maybe not the whole time..."
Wow. I’m gonna get to have sex again. *Fantastic* sex. I can tell.
How can you tell a party's winding down? When a demon passes out in a bowl of pretzels. That's not a bad joke. Clem is literally passed out, face down, in pretzels.
It's a shame--he's the one who brought Trivial Pursuit. We pushed a few tables together so everyone could sit, play, and drink coffee to sober up. All the couples are sharing a lap. Buffy's in mine...it's nice. Each couple's also a team. Giles and Lorne, and Xander and Oz teamed up to make it even.
"'What 1996 science-fiction blockbuster starred Will Smith as a hotshot Air Force pilot tasked with repelling an alien invasion of Earth?'" Xander's reading the card to his partner.
"ID4," Oz answers.
Xander puts the card back, and grins. "'JIMMY! NO!'" Then he looks at Riley and Sam. "What's 'Area 51' really like, anyway?"
"That's classified, Xander," Riley says like he's practiced it, and everyone looks at the soldiers, because maybe he's joking.
"What? It is," Sam shrugs, and supports her husband.
"See, Oz? Cover-up." Xander narrows his eyes at them, and then slides the box of cards to us.
Willow's writing down the scores, and flipping the mini-hourglass when people have to answer.
It's Buffy's turn to ask me. She gets a card. "Um, 'Who was the 21st president of the United States?'" I'm an *art major*. "Sorry, that's what it says."
"Chester A. Arthur," Xander and Oz say in unison.
"Die Hard 3," the guitarist explains to me.
And Xander adds in a scary voice, "With a Vengeance. Mwahahaha!"
I just shake my head, and Willow asks Faith, "So who gets the points?"
Is it me, or does Lorne look sad?
Okay, we've cleaned, and now it's time to sleep and get ready for tomorrow. Most of us are staying. Clem's not. I can't believe he came all the way from Nebraska, but he's back on the road. He was worried his home's been infested. I didn’t ask.
Lorne's going, too. Nina's talking to him. He's got a show at the Taj Mahal on Sunday; he's gotta be at the airport in the morning.
Riley and Sam are already off. They have to be on base in Virginia by four a.m., so they're catching a helicopter outside the city, then they'll get on a plane at the base to fly to where it’s classified. I'm glad they're still happy. He deserves it.
That leaves me, Giles, Xander, Nina, Willow, Faith, and Oz. Faith's locking up and turning everything off. We're waiting outside the bar for her. Gonna walk to her place. There's supposedly plenty of room. Least Nina and I can share now.
Xander's standing next to me. "You and Nina, huh?"
"Uh huh." I'm waiting for him to make a joke, but he doesn't.
"I like her. And Oz thinks she's good people," he continues.
"Thanks, Xand," I smile warmly at him. "Now all we have to do is find you somebody."
"I'd take you up on that...if I, uh, wasn't already spoken for."
Gasp. What? "Xander!" I slap his arm. "Why didn't you tell us? And why isn't she here?"
He rubs where I slapped. "She works for the Red Cross. In Johannesburg. She's busy pretty constantly. I was gonna try to get her on the phone in the morning so everybody could say, 'hey.'" Then he coughs. "Y’know, post-orgy."
There's the joke. He starts pointing. "And you’ll be there, and her...and oh yeah, definitely her..."
He's earned a second thwap. "What's her name?" I ask.
I approve, and nod that I approve. "And you met how?"
"Are you sure you're gonna be all right?" I ask Lorne for what must be the twentieth time.
We separated from the rest of the group; it turned into a private conversation. After he was finished being the life of the party, he just seemed to crash. Now I know why.
He smiles. I don’t know if I buy it. "Life doesn't let anyone hide behind the Song forever. Not even the green guy. Don’t worry, there’s a ‘tomorrow’ right around the corner, and before you know it? My sun’ll come out brighter than ever."
"You didn't desert them, Lorne...and there's no way they thought--" I try to tell him.
"Oh honey," he sighs, "I know I did my part. And with what they were up against? I would've been as useful as Art was to Paul. But there isn't a day I don't feel like I should've been at that last curtain call." His next smile's...proud? "The mission was getting murky, and I didn't have the stomach. But they did...Champions to the end. I was lucky to be able to call them my friends."
Great, now I’m crying. I hug him.
"Hey, hey, hey...you've got a bona fide slayer waiting in your future. Like Evita said to Argentina, 'Don't cry for me.'" I chuckle, wiping my eyes. "The Donald has me playing to a sold out house through Christmas. Let’s just hope the Myzanni hex on his toupee behaves."
“Is that why he’s always...?” I start to ask.
“More bankrupt than the morals on FOX? Whew, the stories I could tell.” Then after a few seconds, he’s serious again. "Every time I’m on that stage, every time I see that crowd, they’re somewhere out there. And I make sure they don’t miss a note.”
I squeeze his hand.
"If Angel lived for another *millennium* and saw this with his own baby browns, he still never would've believed that you two would get as adorable as you are. But knowing the Big, Broody Lug? He's glad you did." Lorne points to Buffy, who's coming over. "Whenever you come down by my little slice of heavenly shore, there’ll always be tickets on call, okay? Front row center."
He waves to everyone, and then turns and walks down around the corner, whistling that Monty Python song. I can't remember the name of it.
Buffy hugs me from behind. "Faith's ready to go." I sniff, and turn in her arms so I'm looking at her. "Were you crying?"
"We were just...talking about Angel and...everyone, that's all."
"Oh." I slip my hand into hers and we walk. "Think he's mad at us?"
"Nah," Nina says pretty certainly, and her head rests on my shoulder. "They're...somewhere peaceful though, don’t you think?"
"Speaking from personal experience," I reply with confidence, "I’m guaranteeing." When we're with the gang, Faith and Willow lead, and the rest of us trail. "Was I the only one who didn't know Xander had a girlfriend?"
"He has a girlfriend?" Willow squeaks. Whoo. Not just me. "You are in so much trouble when we get home, Alexander LaVelle Harris."
"I feel sacrificed," Xander whines.
"To what god?" Oz asks him.
"*Goddess*," our wicca corrects.
"There are male deities, Willow," Giles argues.
"Don't get her revved up, G," Faith almost begs. "I don't get any if she's pissed at somethin'."
"Hey!" Willow gripes.
"I'm sure your libido will survive through one night," the watcher quips.
Nina and I laugh.
"Anybody hear that wind? Sounds like it’s goin’ through a bitch of a tunnel," Faith calls back. That was a weak shot.
"Yeah, you know? I think it’s whispering something," Nina says back. "Wanna guess what?"
I snigger, and then try to turn this constructive. "So what's tomorrow’s plan?"
"Three words: ‘Giles,’ 'Minstrel-ing,' ‘the Commons," Xander suggests. "The free pocket change alone...ooh, I could be ‘Change-Catching Guy.’ With a hat! Bet it’d get all fulled up."
“Uh, that was four words. Sort of,” Willows points out.
Giles shoots that idea down by scowling Giles-y at him. “Any other ideas? Please?”
"Cheers," Oz suggests.
Yes! "Cheers. Absolutely,” I say.
"Doesn't look like the show, B." Faith likes crushing my dreams, doesn't she?
I frown. "Don't say that."
"Yeah, Oz is sensitive," Xander jokes.
Oz doesn't disagree. "But manly."
"There's lots of neat 'Net cafes." Willow's too excited. Nobody really says anything one way or the other. "Poopers," she mumbles.
"I'd like to see Harvard's library," Giles tries, and is met with worse silence. "Willow's quite right about you all."
"Why don't we just play it by ear?" Nina offers for consideration.
"I'm with her," I second it.
"Duh," Willow, Xander and Faith echo.
Humph. "Well, if we look hard enough, we've gotta be able to find demons to slay."
A chorus of "no."
"Somebody, for the love of god and goddess, think of something vacation-y." There's panic in Xander's voice.
"Could rent a boat." I think this is the most I've heard Oz talk.
Xander likes it. "Ahh, fishing. The sport for the lazy, by the lazy.” He claps his hands together. “That’s it--we got ourselves a winner, people."
"Hell, I'm all for 'lazy.'" Okay, Faith's in.
"Me too." And there's Willow.
"Provided Dramamine’s available, I suppose I could catch up on my reading." That's "Giles-y-speak" for "yes."
"Do I get to make the sandwiches?" I inquire.
"Depends." I'm not gonna like what Faith says next. "They gonna poison us?"
"Just you, F," I say sweetly.
"Children, behave." Giles is all admonishing.
"Yes, Giles." We both act scolded.
Then it’s quiet, and Nina’s face is so asking, "What have I gotten myself into?"
My hand goes to her ass again. "I told you--can’t go back."
"Why would I want to?" She's talking more about us.
"No idea," I reply. We smile. "Did I ever tell you, you have the best last name?"
Ash. Her last name is Ash. I mean, *c'mon*.
"And the best knuckles, and the best pit hair..." Faith is making gagging noises, and making fun of me.
"You're the one who set us up!" I shout, and...oh no.
"Friggin' A right I did!" She turns and grins like she's won. But Willow pinches her...somewhere. "We did."
I flip her off, get a calming kiss from my new girlfriend, and all is right with the world.