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Scent of a Woman

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Summary: AU season 3, non-crossover. Cordelia and Oz didn't find Xander and Willow in Lover's Walk; Buffy and Angel did.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > GeneralMediancatFR15434,2883164,54418 Sep 0918 Sep 09No

Girls Will be Girls

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon created Buffy and all associated characters; I simply own the storyline, nothing else.

Author's Note: Another one of my older fics: A season 3 rewrite, unfinished; it's the oldest fic I have unfinished that I would like to finish at some point.

Essentially, I was thinking what the smallest change could be that could still drastically alter the Buffyverse timeline. In an earlier story, "The Nail," it was a nail that caused Cordelia's car to spin out of control on its way to the high school during When She Was Bad, resulting in Willow's death and a radically altered season 2.

But an even smaller change could also have drastic results: A few stray pheromones blowing in another direction. Something as nebulous as the scent of a woman . . .

X X X X X

Cordelia and Oz sat in his van and raced for Breaker's Woods to find Giles. Oz, mostly silent, tried to ignore Cordelia's rather understandable hysteria. Given the circumstances, he did nothing to try to stanch the flow. It wasn't every day Spike kidnapped her boyfriend . . . more like every other day, actually.

She shrieked, “What if they were kidnapped by Colombian drug lords? They could be cutting off Xander's ear right now! Or . . . other parts!” The look on her face told what parts she was thinking of. The same fear gripped Oz, truth be told. He just couldn't . . .

Hold it. What was that smell? He sniffed the air and then brought the van to a halt. Then he sniffed it again, a bit confusedly.

Next to him, Cordelia said, “Hello?” Oz then drove a few feet forward and tried again. Tapping him on the shoulder, Cordelia said. “What are you doing? We need to get Giles.”

Heart sinking, Oz turned to the cheerleader and said. “I'm sorry. I thought I smelled Willow nearby . . . guess I was wrong.”

Cordelia answered, as Oz restarted the van, “What? You can smell her? Like, how?”

“I don't know . . . never happened before. And I was obviously wrong, anyway. Come on. We have a Giles to find.”

Putting the van in drive, Oz headed once again towards Breaker's Woods.

* * * * *

Spike had been lying to them all along - -something he was pretty good at, actually. Willow and Xander were indeed being held captive in the factory. The vampire walked off in one direction -- presumably to get his car, head out of town and beat some sense into Drusilla. Good riddance to bad, bad, annoying vampire rubbish.

Though, Buffy thought ruefully as she and Angel trudged towards the factory, it would have been nice if he'd thought to offer them a ride . . .

Neither of them said anything on the way. Any conversation would have only offered them the temptation of discussing Spike's theories, and Buffy was so not into that right now.

Especially when she thought they might be true.

Buffy led the way inside and proceeded slowly down the charred stairway. Angel followed her, even more carefully; the building was badly burned and the steps showed considerable signs of damage. Now was not the time to go plummeting down ten or fifteen feet onto piles of concrete.

She got to the door of where they'd been held . . . and couldn't believe what she saw.

Willow and Xander . . . on the bed . . . in the throes of lovemaking. Buffy was so shocked she couldn't say anything.

Fortunately, she didn't need to, as Willow saw her out of the corner of her eye and pulled away with a loud eep, rolling to the floor. Xander let out a similar yelp, but there was nowhere he could go.

As Willow poked her head out from behind the bed, almost shyly, Angel walked into the room and froze in place.

Buffy said blankly, “We're here to rescue you.”

* * * * *

Cordelia's complaints cut off the nearer the van got to Breaker's Woods. Finally, she turned to Oz and said, quietly, “Do you love Willow?”

Huh? After a second, Oz said unhesitatingly, “Yes.”

“I thought so.”

Oz made the final turn; five minutes later and they would be in the middle of Giles' campground. Cordelia didn't say anything more, so Oz asked, “Why did you want to know?”

“Have -- have you told her?” This was a Cordelia he'd never seen before. Gone was all of her arrogance, her conviction that the universe was centered on her. This one was pensive and very nervous.

“Yes -- a few times.”

:I -- I was just wondering, that's all. The two of you seem to have a very strong relationship.” And then, a lot more quickly than he would have thought, there was the campground and there was no more time for discussion.

They jumped out of the van simultaneously and started shouting Giles' name. The librarian came racing out of the woods after about thirty seconds of this. Oz sorely wished these had been better circumstances, so he could have asked Giles why he was stripped to the waist -- in, um, both directions --and wearing a belt made out of ivy, but now wasn't the time. “Oz? Cordelia? What are you two doing here? Oz?” he said, cutting off Cordelia in mid-breath. A half-dozen other people similarly unclothed hung back in the woods.

Oz answered, “Willow and Xander were attacked and kidnapped from a classroom.”

"Good lord," he said. "Give me thirty seconds."

As he started to duck into the closest tent, Cordelia grabbed his arm. "No! We need you now!" And then she started to drag Giles towards the van.

Pulling his arm free -- which took some doing from the nearly hysterical Cordelia -- Giles straightened up and said, “I will change as I drive. But I am at least going to need my clothes and glasses -- that is, presuming you DO want me to be both able to see and not arrested for indecent exposure.”

Then he went into the tent and came out a moment later with his familiar tweed suit and a small bag. “Lead the way,” he said.

A minute afterwards, they were on their way to the library.

Curiously, Cordelia continued to say nothing all the way back.

* * * * *

Buffy had said nothing to either of the two of them after the shock of the discovery, and it was really starting to unnerve Willow. Angel had left -- after a quick sotto voce conversation with Buffy. The only thing Willow could overhear were the words, “We'll talk about what Spike said later.” What had Spike told them?

Now that they'd been rescued, neither she nor Xander could quite believe what they'd done. It went against almost every moral precept she held to have -- have --

Oh, being coy about it was ridiculous. To have had sex with Xander like that. At the time she'd told herself it was because she was afraid she was going to die, but that was just the rationalization. Her body had taken over, her hormones had been in complete control.

And she and Xander had betrayed two – well, one – of the sweetest, kindest people who’d ever lived, and it wasn’t like Cordy deserved to be treated like that either. Surprisingly, Buffy had said nothing all the way back to the high school, but from the look on her face Willow could just tell she was barely keeping her Slayer temper in check.

As they walked through the library’s front doors, Buffy waited for Xander and Willow to sit down and then finally spoke. “Well?”

“Well, what?” came Xander’s reply. “Thanks for saving our ass, what we did was wrong and we’ll never do it again. Right, Will?” Xander sounded desperately cheerful, but Buffy wasn’t much for reading moods either.

She slammed her fist down on the check-in counter so hard it cracked. “Xander, DON’T try to be funny right now. I am THIS close –“ She held out her thumb and index finger so closely together that Willow couldn’t see any space between them – “to hitting the both of you VERY hard. What the hell were you two thinking?”

“We weren’t, Buffy –“ Willow volunteered timidly.

“Well, congratulations, Will, I think you get the Pulitzer for THAT little scoop.”

“Can we just say we feel guilty enough about it that you don’t need to rub it in?” Xander asked.

“Oh, no, no, you’re not getting off that easy. I used to want the two of you to get together, but sure as hell not like this, when you ‘re both dating other people. Other people, I might say, who went sick out of their minds worrying about you and who even now are sailing up to find Giles and drag him away from his retreat? People who LOVE you?”

Willow hung her head, not trusting herself to say anything. Xander said, weakly, “Cordy doesn’t love me.”

“Oh, you think not?” Buffy said. “You should have heard what she told me on Homecoming – anyway. You’re going to tell them what you did.” Xander shook his head.

“I don’t want to hurt Oz,” Willow said. Why cause him pain?

“Too late, Will,” Buffy shot back. “You tell them, or I will.”

And the conservation broke off there as Oz, Cordelia, and a frazzled Giles burst into the library. Willow couldn’t pick out the individual conversations for awhile, as hugs and confused chatter were the order of the moment.

All she could hear Buffy tell Giles is, “I’ll fill you in on the details later –“ before Oz hugged her.

“Glad you’re alright,” he said. Then he sniffed the air. “Are you okay? You smell different, somehow.”

“The – the stress of the captivity,” she said, and Oz seemed to accept the answer.

Then Cordelia said, “Excuse me, all of you. May I have your attention, please? I have something I want to say, and I want to say it in public.” Then she took Xander’s hands and faced him closely. “When I thought I was in danger of losing you – I was really frightened. I was afraid – “ she took a deep breath. “I was afraid I’d lose you without the chance to tell you this: Xander Harris, I love you.”

And for quite some time afterwards no one knew exactly what else to say.

Part 2

Xander recovered first, with an “Um . . . I love you too?”

Cordelia didn’t notice the hesitation. “Of course you do!” Then she looked around the room. “Sheesh, what’s with the silent treatment?”

“I had been wondering that myself,” Giles said.

Buffy walked over to Giles and grabbed him by an arm. “I’ll explain it! In the office . . . because that’s where we do all of the explaining!” Then she half-dragged the bemused Watcher into his office and closed the door.

Oz turned to Willow and Xander. “So, what did happen?” Cordelia was still clinging on to one of Xander’s arms; he gently but firmly removed it so he could sit down at the library’s center table, across from Willow. Cordelia took the seat right next to him and moved the chairs close enough together that the arms were touching.

“All we saw were the signs of the fight,” Cordy said.

“It – it was Spike,” Willow began. “He’d seen me at the magic shop earlier today and, and . . . “

Oz’s eyes lost whatever good humor remained in them. “What did he do to the two of you?”

“Beat the crap out of me, hauled us to the old factory, and threatened to kill me if Willow didn’t perform a love spell on Drusilla. Then he left to get the ingredients and . . . well, nothing until Buffy and Angel came in.” Xander’s voice was hollow, and he stumbled a few times as he said it, but both Cordelia and Oz seemed to mistake this for pain and exhaustion alone. Briefly, Xander caught Willow’s eye, and he shook his head no, no, they would NOT be telling Oz and Cordy, not after tonight.

“Nothing further?” Oz said. “Because I’m catching a definite whiff of something right about now, and I don’t know what it is, but it’s not your normal scent.”

Cordelia looked at Oz. “So WAS it Willow you smelled earlier in the evening?”

“I’m thinking so.”

Striving to keep the alarm from his voice, Xander said, “Scent?”

“Yes,” Oz said. “Apparently a fringe benefit of my werewolf self, one I didn’t know completely about until tonight, but right now – for instance, I can smell yours and Willow’s scents all over each other.”

“You can?” Willow said nervously.

“Yes. I’m guessing Spike kept you two cooped up fairly close.”

“That’s exactly right,” Willow said, letting out a breath. “Cramped quarters.”

“God, Xander look at you! You’re bruised all over!” Cordelia said, looking at Xander’s elbow, which had a nasty welt on it. “What did that monster DO? If I see Spike again, I’ll, I’ll –“

“Rip his head off with my bare hands,” Oz said, matter-of-factly, with no trace of amusement in his voice.

“What he said,” Cordelia added. “I mean, look at the two of you right now! Xander’s beaten up, both of you so upset you’re barely coherent!”

Giles walked back out with Buffy, then; the expression on his face was unreadable. “Willow, Xander, in my office, please. I want to hear EXACTLY what happened tonight.”

“Giles the sadist. Can’t you see they’re in no shape for this?”

Xander added, tiredly, his eyes pleading with Buffy not to blow their cover, “Yeah. Can’t we do the debriefing later?”

Buffy said nothing, either way, neither breaking their cover nor backing their play. Eyes and voice tone giving no hint of what Buffy had told him, Giles said, “Very well. But I need to know whether Spike betrayed any information about his plans, his likelihood of return to Sunnydale, etc. Is tomorrow alright?” Both Willow and Xander nodded. “Good. I’ll be seeing you then. Buffy –“ and both Buffy and Giles returned to the privacy of Giles’ office.

Then the four remaining in the library broke up into the obvious couples . . . although Xander and Willow alternated between eying each other nervously and refusing to look at each other.

Cordelia and Oz, preoccupied as they were with their loved ones’ safety, didn’t notice.

* * * * *

Buffy knocked on the front door of Angel’s mansion. He came over and gingerly let her in.

“Sorry it’s been a while,” she said. “But, given the circumstances . . .” they walked further inside, away from the sunlight.

“Yes. What . . . happened there?”

Buffy grimaced. “Nothing, really, yet. Cordelia told Xander she was in love with him before either Xander or Willow could cop to what they’d done. And they didn’t think that was the right time to confess, afterwards.”

“Do you really think they need to confess? Won’t that just hurt Oz and Cordelia unnecessarily?”

“You think they should get away with what they did?” Buffy asked in disbelief.

“What are they getting away with? You and I caught them . . . and from the looks on their faces they’re never going to even think about doing that again.”

“These things have a way of coming out . . . at exactly the wrong time. I want to minimize the pain.”

Angel walked over and put an arm around Buffy’s shoulders. “Seems there’s more bothering you here than a simple sense of injustice or a desire to have things go smoothly.”

The Slayer reached up and gave his hand a quick squeeze, then slipped out of the partial embrace and walked impatiently around the room, her shoes clattering noisily on the floor as she paced. Finally she looked up at him and said. “I’m disappointed in them. There was a time when all I wanted was to have Xander just notice how great Willow was, how pretty she was, how right for him. But that all ended the day they started dating other people.”

“I do see your point. I just think in this case, no news is no news.” Buffy turned her head for a second and then looked up at Angel plaintively. Angel could offer her no comfort at the moment, unfortunately, at least not on this issue.

Buffy sighed. “And what about what Spike said? That we can’t be JUST friends?”

Angel had been hoping to avoid the subject. “I don’t agree with him.”

“I didn’t think you would. I . . . I don’t know what to think, at the moment. I’ve been so mad at Willow and Xander that I haven’t had time to think too deeply about it. I mean, he does have something of a point, the attraction is still definitely there."” At that Angel could only nod his head, afraid to say anything, fearful of the next words that might come out of her mouth. If she went away now . . . “I don’t know. I don’t think we need to shut ourselves off from each other. Became more like . . . allies than friends. But friendly allies, definitely.”

“I think . .. “ Angel began. “I think we can do that, yes.” Angel knew that Spike was right, more right than Buffy cared to admit. But he’d kill himself before he ever let Angelus return, before he ever let his passions completely overwhelm him again. Either this limited contact would help wean he and Buffy off each other . . . or he’d find that he’d never be able to do it.

But then could be saved for then. Right now . . . they moved forward into an awkward embrace, then moved apart. As she began walking towards the door he called out, “Promise you’ll be back?”

“I promise,” she said.

Then the door closed and all was quiet again.

Part 3

The next few weeks went by quietly, as quietly in Sunnydale goes. Giles finally got Willow and Xander’s account of Spike’s actions – and gently suggested that they inform their respective partners, but otherwise didn’t seem inclined to press them.

Buffy and Giles agreed jointly not to tell Faith; loose cannon that she was (and having heard the way she’d slammed Scott during the Homecoming Dance) she might have just decided to take matters into her own hands.

Vampire and demonic activity continued apace, although there was nothing with any real depth to it until a demon started wandering around killing people. Faith had been about to head off for a while when Buffy convinced her to stick around, apologizing profusely for having never mentioned Angel.

And this time it worked, though it took a while. Faith had clearly been hurt by Buffy’s lack of trust, and Buffy said the best way for them to work through that was for Buffy to prove to Faith that she trusted her. So they went hunting together for the demon, and finally caught up to it in a park.

Damn good thing, too, because without Faith there to stab the demon in the back with her knife Buffy would have likely been strangled.

It was stronger than they thought, and smacked Faith into a tree before grabbing Buffy around the neck and lifting her up. Buffy flailed away uselessly before seeing Faith sneak up and angrily stab the sucker in the back several times. When the demon dropped Buffy Faith spun it around and stabbed it in the neck.

Buffy noticed this while gasping for air. After wiping the knife off on the grass Faith came over and hauled Buffy to her feet. “Good thing we’re tough, eh B?” Buffy nodded, still not up to talking. “That was a blast, B,” she added as the two of them headed back to the library. “We oughtta tagteam like that more often.”

Why not? “You’re on,” Buffy said.

“Good to know.” They walked a bit longer in silence before Faith said, “So what was up with the invite, B?

“Just didn’t feel like going it alone, that’s all.”

Faith laughed. “That’s what you got your crew for. Xander, Willow, those guys. Why didn’t you ring them in?”

“I didn’t feel like it.” Buffy also didn’t feel like talking about it.

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that a bit recently. Not that it’s any of my business or anything.”

“It isn’t. But thanks.”

Faith’s eyes brightened. “Well, since you’re not up for talking, how about you and me go work out some of that tension?”

“How do you mean?” Buffy frowned.

“Find some vamps, kick their ass, rinse, repeat.”

“We really should go tell Giles –“

Faith said teasingly, “C’mon, B. The night is young. What’s Giles gotta know about this dude so soon anyway? He gonna be any deader in the morning?”

Buffy thought. “Now that you mention it, not really.” She gave a quick shrug.

“Then what are we waiting for?”

“After you,” Buffy said.

And then the fun started.

* * * * *

Xander and Willow sat at a table at the Bronze, moping (except when Oz, on stage with the Dingoes, chose to look their way). Cordelia, fortunately for Xander, had something she had to do with her parents that evening, so the two of them were free to wallow in their guilt.

And by this point they’d been doing it more or less nonstop for two weeks straight, except when with their significant others. Oz knew full well that Willow and Xander had been out of sorts ever since their captivity, but he chose to attribute it to post-traumatic stress disorder. On the other hand, Cordelia had been so caught up in her newly-admitted love for Xander that she was blind to even that much. She’d been determined to flaunt it, and Xander, wherever possible.

And the thing was, their attraction was gone completely. The shock of discovery – and the look of contempt in Buffy’s eyes – had completely driven it from them.

Not that they really knew where it had come from, even. The attraction Willow’d had for Xander – it had never been a physical thing, at least not entirely. And the reverse –

They were hashing this out for the seven hundredth time or so.

“I just don’t know –“ Willow said, then settled into an uneasy silence..

“We’re not making it any easier on ourselves,” Xander said desperately. “I say we kick back and enjoy the show.”

“You mean that guy on stage we screwed over?”’

“Hey!” Xander exclaimed. “We did NOTHING to Devon.”

“Not funny,” Willow said, sighing.

“I know.”

This seven hundredth repetition of the same discussion was interrupted by a voice saying, “Well, aren’t the two of you a lovely couple.”

Xander snapped, “Knock it off, Angel. The last thing we need right now is smartass commentary from you.”

Angel sat down and looked at Willow, his expression rueful. “Did that sound smartassed?”

Willow answered, “Just a little.”

“Well,” Angel sighed, “I really didn’t mean it to. I meant that I’ve seen the two of you brooding so strongly you’re making me look chipper and upbeat. I wanted to know what I could do to help.”

Xander studied Angel’s face carefully. “You’re serious.”

Snorting, Angel said, “Not many people know guilt like I do. I know what you did, and it’s bad, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some of the things I’ve done.”

Willow piped up, “If you’re suggesting we get over it that’s kind of hard. Buffy and Giles have been giving us the evil eye for weeks.”

“And you’re not really inclined to blame them.”

“No. What we did –“ They smiled a bit when Oz looked their way – “we betrayed them.”

“No, you didn’t. You betrayed Oz and Cordelia. You simply disappointed Buffy and Giles.”

“Wouldja quit with the wordplay? It doesn’t make it hurt any less.”

“I’d be more worried if it didn’t hurt. Now the question is, what are you going to do about it?”

“This is great. Now even YOU’RE going to tell us to confess.” Xander had raised his voice almost to the point where other people would stop and stare. “I’m getting lessons on how to live my life from a dead guy.”

“Xander, no –“ Willow said.

“You’ve got me wrong. I’m not telling you to confess. That’s none of my business. But you HAVE to find a way to deal with this – for your sake, for Buffy’s. She needs you.”

“Um, not the way she’s been acting lately, she doesn’t,” Willow said.

“Look,” Angel said. “If you can’t confess, make up for it some other way. Dedicate yourselves to your relationships, try to make up for it. Look at me. Do you think any amount of apologizing is going to set things to rights between me and Giles? No. He may eventually be willing to work with me but he’s never going to forgive me, nor should he. The only –“ he caught himself and even smiled for a second, as though having some kind of epiphany. Then he continued, “The only thing to do is to make up for it some other way. In your case, devote yourselves to them. Show them how much you love them, care for them. In my case, for instance, I’d need to do good. It doesn’t matter that it might not be a quid pro quo; what matters is that I do the best I can. That’s all you two can do, either.” He stood up. “And on that note, Oz is coming back, so I’d better get going. Think about what I said, would you?” As he walked away he said, “I know I will . . .”

Oz asked as he approached the table, “What was that?”

“Something about him and what he needs to do to make things right,” Willow said. “But enough about that, you were great.” She kissed him on the nose.

“Yeah,” Xander said. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go catch up with Cordy . . .”

* * * * *

Later that evening, Buffy and Faith came into the Bronze and began to dance rather frenetically.

The next night, Buffy said, “Want, take, have. I’m beginning to understand the appeal.”


PART 4

Buffy and Faith wandered into the school around ten in the morning, what day she wasn’t sure. One of the things she was sure of was that she hadn’t actually bothered to show up for homeroom.

Nor, truth be told, did she care; she was having too much fun.

Principal Snyder saw them striding through the halls and moved as if to get in their way. Faith pulled out a knife and flashed it at him, then told him if he as much as looked at Buffy funny she’d find a way to use the knife that she was sure no doctor would approve.

Snyder squeaked and got away as quickly as the tatters of his dignity would allow him. Buffy just stood there stonefaced until Snyder was out of sight, then she burst out laughing. “Nice one, Faith. Direct physical violence.” They began walking back down towards the library.

“Hey, he messes with you, he messes with me.” Faith resheathed the knife.

“You WERE just bluffing, weren’t you?” Buffy asked nervously.

Faith laughed and said, “Hey, B, you can’t tell, sure as shit he ain’t gonna be able to split the diff.” Buffy shrugged and they both walked down the hall.

They both screeched to a halt when they walked through the library’s front doors, though. Giles was there and he looked ROYALLY pissed. And unlike Snyder Giles wasn’t going to be impressed if Faith flashed a knife.

“Where the bloody hell have you two been?” Giles said. “You were supposed to report in THIS MORNING, before classes started. And not even Xander and Willow knew where you were.”

“They wouldn’t,” Buffy said. “We’re kinda on not speaking terms at the moment.”

Giles sighed. “So I’ve noticed. In any event, that’s a topic for later discussion. What were the results of last night’s patrol?”

“Two hot guys and a kickass party over at UC-Sunnydale,” Faith said.

“Unless the party was to summon a demon,” Giles said patiently, “Don’t bother me with the details. I meant, what kind of action did you see?”

Faith said, “I thought you didn’t want the details.”

“You KNOW what I mean!” Giles said. “Look. You go do . . . whatever it is you do. I need to talk with Buffy for a bit.”

“Suit yourself,” Faith said, clapping her hands together. “B, we still on for later?”

Buffy said, “A little quality violence before noon. I like the plan.” They slapped palms and Faith bopped her way out of the library. Then she followed Giles into his office. “Okay, Giles, what’s the nag du jour?”

“I have so many,” he said acidly. “You’re skipping school, you’re neglecting your training, you’re showing up at all hours of day or night, you’re not reporting on time –“ he took his glasses off and wiped them, his favorite nervous habit – “Buffy, I must say, your behavior is really starting to worry me.”

“Really?” Buffy said. “Well, sorry about that, but this is the new me, Giles. I’ve tried responsible, and you know what? Kinda hard to be the only one.”

“You’re not the only one.”

“Really?” Buffy asked again, disbelief evident in her voice. “Name at least one more.” As Giles opened his mouth Buffy said, “You don’t count.”

“Really?” Giles said, deliberately echoing Buffy’s tone.

“Yup. Tell me, Giles, what were YOU called when you were my age, more or less?”

“That is entirely beside the point.”

Buffy laughed. “I don’t think so, ‘Ripper.’ See you later.” And she turned around and walked out.

Leaving a silent, thoughtful, and very worried Giles behind her.

* * * * *

Noontime.

Buffy and Faith stood over several piles of dust that used to be vampires. Looking down at her clothes, Buffy swore. “Damn. This was a $50 shirt.”

Faith said, “B, you still got a bit to learn about fighting vamps the quick and dirty way. Never wear anything you give a crap about – but always make sure you look good. You never know what hot guys might be watching.” Faith went and picked up a couple of stakes, then lifted a wallet out of the dust. “Hmmm, fifty bucks.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.” Buffy took Mr. Pointy and gave him a quick wipe.

“Anyway, ain’t this great? Just the two of us, kicking ass, taking names, the way it was meant to be?”

“I’m enjoying myself,” Buffy said.

“Enjoying yourself?” Faith said mockingly. “Shit, B, you’re having more fun than you’ve ever had in your life and you know it.” They walked back towards the door of the abandoned garage. “So, what did Watcherman want?”

“Pretty much what you would have expected,” Buffy said. “I’m getting worried, be more responsible, blah blah blah.”

“Which you ignored.”

“Even better, I threw it back in his face.”

“You’ll have to tell me how –“ Faith shielded her eyes as they walked into the sunlight. “But right now, it’s time to go con some guys into buying us lunch.”

Smiling, Buffy said, “I’m thinking steak.”

* * * * *

Mr. Trick slammed his fist into his palm. “You DO realize that between the two of them they’re pretty well decimating the local muscle, right? Getting harder and harder to find vamps willing to do the gruntwork.”

Clasping his hands together, Mayor Wilkins said, “That won’t matter soon enough. Tea?”

Trick gave the Mayor a controlled dirty look. “No thanks. Yeah, I know you got these big plans for becoming invincible, but you gotta know that’s gonna be a job of work if we don’t have anyone to do the scutwork but thee and me. I mean, you and me ain’t exactly frontline employees.”

“I don’t think this is part of a plan,” the Mayor said. “I think they’re just killing for its own sake. I got a report from Snyder right here.” The Mayor handed Trick a report, which he scanned.

“The girl’s got style, I gotta give her that.”

“Is that your only comment?”

“No – but how can we take advantage of this? It’s a good five weeks before your ritual.”

“For the moment, call in those you trust.” Trick said nothing. “Oh, come now, Mr. Trick, surely you have some vampires who can be counted on to toe the line.”

“Toeing the line ain’t the long suit for we vampires, Mayor. Still, I got a couple of cohorts. Why do you ask?”

“So we keep the trustworthy ones out of harm’s way, and let the other ones take the brunt. When the time comes we can always make more. As long as the Slayers are going after everyone else –“

Trick caught on. “They’re not coming after us.”

The Mayor smiled again. “Exactly. Now, come, drink your tea before it gets cold.”

Part 5


This was going to be a big night. It was Xander and Cordelia’s anniversary, and they were on an honest-to-god date – and amazingly, Xander’d remembered (though she expected Willow had had something to do with that).

Cordelia had given Buffy and Giles strict instructions that unless Amageddon were about to hit – you never knew, in this town – they were not to be disturbed.

Not that Buffy would have likely noticed, anyway, as much time as she was spending with Faith. Cordelia frankly didn’t see the appeal, though she admired Faith’s ability to do more with less – the girl had NO budget for makeup but still managed to make herself look pretty good, in an I’m-a-slut kind of way.
This didn’t give Buffy a whole lot of time to hang out with the rest of them, though Cordelia wasn’t exactly complaining. Yeah, fighting evil was important, but the less she and Xander were called into battle, the less chance Xander had of dying.

Or her either.

Putting someone else first . . . god, who could have imagined THAT? She imagined that if she were to go back in time and talk to that Cordy who’d first made out with Xander in Buffy’s basement and told her how she’d feel in a year – how much she’d love Xander Harris – she would have laughed in her face,

That girl just didn’t know what she was missing.

Anyway, here they were at one of Sunnydale’s nicer restaurants – it had probably blown Xander’s budget for the next couple of months to afford the place – and he’d been SO nice the whole night, trying to make sure she felt good, she was doing okay, she liked the food . . . he hadn’t mentioned Buffy or Willow once.

No, the whole conversation – or as much of it as he came up with – had been about her.

Did he know how to make her happy, or what?

Still, much as Cordelia appreciated the effort – all of this her-her-her wasn’t, well, her anymore. Not completely. So when it was her turn to talk she did her best to talk about things Xander was interested in.

One thing she didn’t talk to him about was his experiences in the factory. Weeks later, he and Willow were STILL shaken by what went on down there. She and Oz had gotten together a couple of times to talk about it; Willow was at least able to discuss it, but still didn’t want to go into details. At their second meeting, they’d reiterated their threats against Spike, if the vampire was brain-dead enough to show his face in Sunnydale again.

So they passed the night in chit-chat until it was time to go home.

“So, the meal was your present, right?” Cordelia asked. Xander nodded. “Okay. I’ve got my present waiting for you back at my house.”

“A new car?” Cordelia didn’t answer. “A used car?” Still no answer. “A skateboard?”

Finally, she laughed and said, “You’ll see when you get there.”

When they actually got home, Xander hung back as Cordelia went to the door. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Trying to stay out of your parents’ way,” he said.

Cordelia walked over to him, put her hands on his shoulders, looked into his eyes, and said, “Look. Xander. I love you. I don’t know how I can make it any clearer. I don’t care what my parents think of you; I don’t care what anyone thinks of you. You don’t embarrass me.” She took a deep breath. “You will NEVER embarrass me. No matter what you do.” He smiled a little at that. Well, finally. “Besides, even if you tried to embarrass me tonight, you couldn’t. They’re away for a week.” She opened the door. “So come on in.”

They went inside, and then upstairs. “I’ve got your gift in here,” she said, entering her room. “Hold on a second.”

A minute or so later, she handed a package out into the hall through a narrow doorcrack. She could hear Xander opening it, pulling out the negligee, then . . . “This isn’t really my size.”

She opened the door, where she was standing in a duplicate of the negligee. “It’s not for you. It’s for me. Your gift . . . is getting to take it off.”

Xander’s eyes popped, but he didn’t go into the room. He said something to himself she couldn’t quite catch. When she strained, she heard, “. . . don’t deserve . . .”

Cordelia said, “If I didn’t think you deserved this, I wouldn’t be doing it. Now get your butt in here.”

He muttered one other thing – something about “best boyfriend I can be . . .” and came into the room.

And the rest of the night is no one’s business but theirs.

* * * * *

“Can we talk?” Angel asked.

Giles said, “I . . . have very little to say to you. If anything.”

“I know. And I wouldn’t have come for anything about me. But this isn’t about me.”

The Watcher’s head shot up. “Is Buffy in trouble?”

“Yes. But not the kind of trouble we’re used to dealing with. Buffy’s taking all her cues from Faith these days, from how to dress to how to act to how to blow off school. Especially with what happened with Willow and Xander – I’m just afraid this isn’t going to stop until some kind of disaster hits.”

Gritting his teeth, Giles said, “I understand your concerns. Fortunately, they’ve already been fixed – Buffy’s mother and I had a conversation, and Buffy will be coming back to school again starting tomorrow.”

“That’s nice, but—“

“Thanks for your concern,” Giles said. The sheer bloody CHUTZPAH of the vampire! Coming to him like this!

He slammed the door in Angel’s face and tried to get back to his studies.

* * * * *

A few nights later, Buffy and Faith patrolled; so far all they’d run across is a handful of newbie vampires who would have hardly been a challenge for Xander.

They’d just finished off two of them when Buffy said, “Hate to say it, I’m gonna have to blow off that demon nest takedown until tomorrow evening. I have to go to school tomorrow.”

“What do you mean, you have to go to school tomorrow?” Faith demanded as they took a breather, leaning against a mausoleum. “I thought you were all into blowing that off.”

“Well, I WAS,” Buffy said, “Until my mother reminded me of the trouble she and Giles went through getting me back into the place. Don’t worry. I’ve got no plans to start studying too hard or anything; the nights are still ours.”

Faith said, “You know, B, you’re lucky to have a mom like that.”

“What, you mean one who’s into not letting me study? I didn’t exactly fill her in on that part of the equation.”

“I mean one who gives enough of a crap about you to have fought for you like that. Mine –“ She broke off.

“I remember what you said – ‘my dead mother hits harder than you.’ Faith didn’t say anything. “I take it this means she hit you?”

“Until I got the juice to hit her back,” Faith said. “She died a couple of years later, not like I gave a crap by that point.” She stood up and stretched. “Look, this touchy-feely talk is starting to weird me out. Anything in your deal with your mom about not staying out all night?”

“Yeah . . . but I didn’t say a damn thing about not going right back out again. What’ve you got in mind?”

“I know this after-hours joint . . . you up?”

“You know I am.”

From the shadows, Angel watched. “Fixed,” he said sadly. “Fixed . . .”


Part 6


A few days later Buffy walked in on Willow and Xander chatting with Giles.

Over the last few weeks, she’d begin talking a bit with them again; they hadn’t blown up the planet, after all. Still, they weren’t as close as they had been.

On some level, this bothered Buffy; Xander and Willow’d been her best friends since she hit Sunnydale. On another, she couldn’t have cared less; she and Faith were having too much fun with the wake up, kill some vampires, party ‘til dawn, rinse, repeat routine.

And if no one else was going to be responsible, then why the hell should she be?

Anyway, to make a long story short, turned out some demon calling herself Anyanka was going around cursing men who weren’t nice to their girlfriends or wives. Not that Buffy was crying over some of the victims, but others had ended up dead or maimed. You could summon her, but usually she showed up on her own.

“So, just aim me in the right direction and pull the trigger,” Buffy said. “Me and Faith can take down anything.”

“It’s not that easy,” Giles said. “Anyanka’s tougher than most of your recent opponents –“

“Good,” Buffy said. “Most of what we’ve been killing recently have been rookies. It’ll be good to have a challenge.”

“This is not a challenge you can meet by simply hitting harder,” Giles said, obviously a little pissed. “Anyanka’s not simply stronger, she’s also more magically skilled and a lot more experienced. There are reports on her dating back a thousand years!”

“Yeah, Buff, slow down,” Xander said. “You’re starting to worry us.” Willow nodded her head in agreement.

“Oh, NOW you’re worried about consequences,” Buffy said. “Look. You guys do the research, tell us how to kill this Aunt-Sanka demon, and let me know when it’s time for me and Faith to do it. Until then? Don’t try to run my life, because you can’t run yours.” She turned and walked out.

* * * * *

Xander turned to Giles. “Do you think we’ve suffered enough? Because, sure, I still feel guilty. But she’s pushing it too far.”

“The problem is worse than a simple reaction to your shared indiscretion, I fear,” Giles said. “Once she returned to school I’d hoped she’d start being more responsible, but it hasn’t really taken. Heaven only knows why she hasn’t been suspended yet –“

“Faith threatened to gut Snyder if he tried it,” Willow said.

“Really,” Giles said. “Under other circumstances I might find that funny. But now –“ He took off his glasses and started wiping them. “Much as I hate to say it, it seems Angel was right.”

It’s an indication of how serious things were that Xander didn’t go for a joke, but simply said, “About what?”

“He came to visit me about a week ago,” I said, “To talk about Buffy’s problems. And I was in no mood to talk to him.”

“Understandable,” Xander said.

Giles laughed humorlessly. “Yes. Being tortured does tend to throw off one’s objectivity a tad. Still, he seemed to think they were even more serious than I thought -- and I’m afraid I may have ignored his warnings.”

“We’re not ignoring them now,” Willow said.

“The problem is, what do we do about it?” Xander said. “I mean, it’s not like an intervention would work; she’d probably laugh it off and leave.”

“There’s still one person who seems to have some influence over her,” Giles said. “Meanwhile, we do need to find out how to defeat Anyanka.”

* * * * *

“Nothing but rookies, third night in a row,” Faith said. “This is getting boring.”

“I hear you,” Buffy said. “But don’t worry. I was talking to Giles earlier today and it seems we got a new demon in town.”

“Sounds like fun,” Faith said. “Where is he? I could use a good fight. Right now, only thing around here my level is you.”

“Like you could take me,” Buffy said. “Anyway, this demon’s a she. Goes around avenging scorned women by killing or maiming their boyfriends.” She gave Faith a thirty-second summary, all the other Slayer had patience for.

“Not sure if I wanna beat her up or join her,” Faith said.

Buffy laughed. “I’m not saying I’m not down with her motivation, just her results. I mean, I felt like killing Scott, but I wouldn’t have. Besides, the way you went about was a lot more fun.”

“You know what, B? I think I’m getting me an actual plan. This Anyanka helps scorned women, right?” Buffy nodded. “Well, you’re a scorned woman.”

“So I am.”

* * * * *

Giles was stunned when Buffy and Faith both showed up to do a bit of research later that night, though honestly the amount of research Faith did could have been charitably described as “minimal.” She spent most of her time flexing, working out, and acting impatient.

After an hour or so, Giles was about to snap at her when he said, “No. I won’t. I – I’ll be back in a moment. Please keep studying.” Then he walked inside his office and placed a short series of phone calls, the most important to the only person in Buffy’s life who seemed to have any control over her at all. The problems with finding a way to try to force Buffy to realize what she were twofold: One, she was almost never where she was supposed to be, and two, she and Faith were practically joined at the hip.

He had a plan for that, though; he was going to send Faith down to Willy’s to ask about Anyanka. Odds were, he wouldn’t know anything, but since it involved hurting people Faith wouldn’t mind in the least.

Finally, he hung up and went back to the main room.

Buffy and Faith were gone, of course. As was one of his . . . books?

The one that summoned Anyanka. They knew how to summon her; they DIDN’T yet know how to defeat her. Bloody marvelous.

* * * * *

They had to break into the magic store to get the ingredients they needed, but Buffy spoiled Faith’s fun by insisting they leave some money behind. “You can make weapons,” she explained. “Some of these things are beyond rare. I’m not going to gyp the person who might save our butts later.”

Then they headed for the nearest open space to actually summon the demon – when things got messy, they didn’t want to be cramped up in a building. Turned out that was the cemetery nearest the high school.

One ritual later, Buffy was confronted by a vengeance demon. (Faith was in hiding.) “Anyanka, right?” Buffy asked.

“You have not been scorned recently,” she said.

“I didn’t realize there was a time limit.” Faith crept behind Anyanka during the conversation.

Grumbling, Anyanka said, “There’s not.” After a second, “Go on, make your wish. It’s not like I have all day.” She fingered her necklace

“I wish . . . I wish . . . I wish you’d die.”

“D—what?”

And then Faith rammed a sword directly through the demon’s back.

The demon looked down and said, “Ouch! Those hurt, you know!”

Then she turned around hit Faith hard enough to send her slamming into a gravestone ten feet away.

Maybe this wasn’t going to be as much fun as Buffy thought . . .

* * * * *

The four of them heard the sounds of the struggle as they left the high school and redoubled their pace.

“They can handle it,” Xander said. “They’re Slayers.”

“In a sheer physical contest,” Giles said, “Anyanka is their equal – and she cannot be permanently harmed as long as she’s wearing her necklace.”

They rounded the corner and saw the fight in the distance. Buffy and the demon were involved in combat, while Faith was nowhere to be seen. Giles called out to Buffy, but she was too distracted to hear him.

Two things happened simultaneously, a few seconds later:

Giles yelled to Buffy, “Buffy! You have to destroy the necklace –“

And they practically ran over Faith, who’d been thrown against a gravestone and was just now standing up.

Acting on instinct, as she so often did, Faith whipped out a knife and stabbed forth savagely.

Buffy yelled, “FAITH! NO!”

-- and the tip of Faith’s knife stopped a millimeter short of Joyce Summers’ heart.


Part 7


It’s funny how suddenly things that seemed so important can suddenly seem so . . . well, not.

Since Faith had been knocked out by Anyanka’s punch, Buffy had to fight the vengeance demon single-handed. And Anyanka was stronger, and a lot more resistant to injury, than they’d thought. Buffy was gradually coming to the conclusion that her and Faith’s plan might not have been the best thought-out plan in the history of plans, when she heard Giles yelling, “Buffy! You have to destroy the necklace!”

Keeping one eye on Anyanka, she turned and saw Giles, Willow, Xander and – her mother? – running towards the action, and she saw Faith stand up as the group almost collided with her.

And she saw Faith react as Faith usually did: By stabbing first and asking questions later. And the knife was headed directly for her mother’s heart.

“FAITH!” Buffy screamed. “NO!”

Whether by miracle or that Faith’s reflexes were just that good, Buffy’s mother did not die that day. Faith stopped just in time . . . and then just stood there, a look of horror on her face.

Taking advantage of Buffy’s understandable distraction, Anyanka picked Buffy up and threw her against a nearby mausoleum, then teleported away.

It was as though that had been a signal. Faith dropped the knife and ran off.

As Buffy stood up, she didn’t even care that she’d just lost a fight, or that Anyanka had escaped. She ran over to her mother and said, “Oh, god. Mom! I’m –“

Silence overtook everyone as they looked down and saw how close they’d come: Her mother’s blouse had been sliced through. (Later, they’d discover a tiny nick in her mother’s skin. A quarter of a second slower – if Faith had been a quarter second slower –)

“I think we need to have a long talk,” Giles said. “All of us.”

Buffy sighed. “You’re right.”

* * * * *

In some nether dimension, somewhere, Anyanka and D’Hoffryn were arguing. “How dare they!” she said, annoyed. “I came there to help them and they tried to kill me!”

“Feel like a little vengeance, do you?” D’Hoffryn rumbled.

“Absolutely,” Anyanka said. “I want to go back to Sunnydale and tear their heads off. Or get some demon to do it for me.”

“Let me remind you,” he said, “That you will do no good as a vengeance demon if you’re killed.”

“Oh, but I don’t plan to be killed. I plan to kill them. Slowly. Painfully. I don’t like being stabbed.” She stopped. “I think I’ll wish that they felt the same thing I did. Once a day. For the rest of their lives!”

D’Hoffryn repressed a sigh. “You are not allowed to grant yourself a wish,” he said. “And neither are any of the other demons allowed to grant you one.”

“Then I will tear them in two, but I WILL have my revenge!”

“No.”

“No? We’re vengeance demons! This is what we do!”

“Not for ourselves.” D’Hoffryn frowned. “Tell me, how long has it been since you’ve been on a vacation?”

“A vacation? I don’t take vacations.”

“Just as I thought. As of now, you’re taking one.” He waved a hand. “For the foreseeable future, you will not be able to grant wishes or teleport. And you are not to go within 500 miles of Sunnydale.”

“But this –“

“I’m only granting you this chance because I’m so fond of you,” D’Hoffryn said. “My next level of discipline involves a fire and placing you in the middle of it.” Anyanka said nothing. “Very well then,” he continued. “Would you prefer Fiji or Orlando? We fit right in at Universal Studios –“

* * * * *

Faith lay on her bed, sleepless, her eyes wide open, staring at nothing and everything at once. There was a knock at her door. “Come in,” she said lifelessly.

Buffy came in. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

Buffy walked in and sat down on the edge of the bed. For a long time neither of them said anything; Buffy seemed to be searching for the right words to say, and Faith evidently preferred the quiet. Finally, Buffy said, “She got away.”

“Kinda guessed she would.” After another silence. “No one got hurt?”

“Other than you and me, no.”

Faith nodded. “Good.” Then she laughed, bitterly. “You know, B? I figured you came down here to clean my clock.”

Buffy shook her head. “No. Nothing happened. Well, mom’s blouse was ripped –“

“I’ll mail her a check.”

“Faith –“ Buffy began. “Faith. I wouldn’t have come down here to clean your clock even if you – “ she stopped, finding the concept too painful.

Faith didn’t. “Even if I had stabbed your mother and killed her?” Another bitter laugh. “Somehow I doubt you would’ve been down here bringing me tea and cookies.”

Buffy’s response was more rueful than indignant. “No, probably not. But I would have understood it was an accident.”

“So if you didn’t come down here to beat the hell out of me, why did you come down here?” Faith said after a few moments.

“After you left,” Buffy said, “And after Anyanka threw me against a mortuary and poofed out of there, Giles said we all needed to talk. So we went back to the library where – well, they told me how much of an idiot I’d been for the last few weeks, and in how many ways I’d been that idiot. And I went along with it, because, well, let’s face it: They were right. I was pissed at Xander, pissed at Willow, pissed at the entire situation – and that brought you and me to that scene in the cemetery that nearly got my mom shishkabobbed.”

“The highway to hell, and I was the cabbie who picked you up.”

“Something like that,” Buffy said wryly.

“So instead of pounding me with your fists, you came down to do it with words. Nice, B. Blame it all on me –“

“You’re getting it wrong, Faith. At the end of it, I told them I was glad for the life preserver, but I wasn’t getting out of the ocean.”

“Huh?”

“Because I wasn’t going to save my own ass and leave you here to drown.”

“Great. You came down here to save me.”

“I surely did.”

Faith sighed. “Not interested. Let me drown.”

“Your final word?”

“Damn right.”

“Okay then.” Buffy stood up and clapped her hands. “Where are we going?”

“Huh?”

Buffy shrugged. “’cause, come on, there’s a party out there with our names on it; there’s vamps that need killing, and guys that need screwing, and we’re never gonna get any of it done if you just lie there on your ass on that bed. So . . .” she picked up the mattress and dumped Faith on the floor. “Move it, girl.”

Faith stood up. “You can’t be serious.”

Laughing, Buffy said, “Why not? I told you, Faith, we go down, we go down together.”

And then, the longest silence of the night, as the two Slayers stood there and watched each other.

Faith grabbed Buffy by the hands. “You really think I’m worth rescuing, B?”

Buffy smiled, a small smile. “I surely do.”

“Then let’s go grab that rope.”

And they walked out of the hotel room together.
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