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Wishing Changes Everything: Beauty and the Beasts

by Declan
Rating: PG-13

+1=2+

Beauty And The Beasts (PART 1: Girl Talk, Boy Trouble)

“Lehane?”

“Yep.”

“Faith Lehane,” Buffy thought about it. “I like it. It fits.”

Faith shrugged. “It’s a name, B. I don’t really think too much about it.”

The two slayers were walking side by side through the cemetery, the night was clear and the moon was full. Buffy thought it was kind of romantic, even if she was strolling about looking for vampires. With a girl. Buffy just had to use her imagination a little.

It had been a week since the two slayers had dealt with Kakistos and since then had been patrolling together for a few hours almost every night. Buffy was determined to get to know Faith a little better, between staking the undead that is.

“Is that Irish? It sounds kind of Irish.”

“Well, there is a whole lot of Irish in Boston, you know. It’s kinda known for it.” Faith looked at her and grinned.

‘Well, that’s another ‘thing I didn’t know about Faith that I should’ve known the first time round’ ticked off the list.’

“Well my full name is Buffy Anne Summers.” Buffy replied. “It’s like my Mom just knew I was gonna be a cheerleader.”

“You were a cheerleader?”

“Is that your question?”

Faith shook her head and lapsed into silence as she thought about what to say. Buffy’s brilliant plan to get to know Faith more, and also break up the boredom, was a game of Q and A.

So far she’d found out that Faith liked baseball, specifically she was a Red Sox fan (no surprise there), loved gory horror movies (yuck), hated musicals (Buffy agreed in principal since she hadn’t seen one she’d liked) and if she had to eat one food for the rest of her life it would’ve been popcorn (cookies!). All vital information, Buffy thought.

“Hey, you ever catch kids doing the diddy out here?” Faith asked. Her questions tended to be more sex-related than Buffy’s.

“Nah. There’s a smooch spot up by the woods. That’s usually where kids go.”

“Yeah? I bet you and Scott have been up there kickin’ the gear shifts.”

Buffy gave her a sidelong glance. “Hardly. We’ve only been on two dates. I don’t move that fast.”

Faith smirked knowingly as she toyed with her stake. “But you like him, right? When you think about him you get that good, low down tickle.”

“I don’t know...he’s okay I guess.” Buffy twirled one of her pigtails. “It’s just, he’s normal – very actually, and I’m not sure I’m ready to seriously date again. Don’t suppose you’d have any advice you’d care to share.”

“I get it, the whole secret ID thing, it kinda screws things up. You’re thinking how a normal guy fits into all that crazy shit, or if it’s even possible. Personally, it looks like you’re overthinkin’ things, y’know. Just go with what feels good, forget about the rest.”

Buffy was impressed. “That made a sort of sense, don’t dwell or over think. Live in the moment.”

Faith smiled in mock admiration. “Man, B. You make me sound so smart.”

“Okay, sorry- didn’t mean to patronize. Anyway, it was my turn to ask a question. Um, okay, what’s the first thing you look for in a guy?”

Faith’s smile widened into a grin. “Gotta say I like a guy with rhythm, I meet someone in a club who can keep up with me while dancin’ then maybe he knows his way round a little horizontal two-step, y’know?”

Buffy frowned at that. “So what, no conversation, no witty jokes, no finding out if you have anything in common?”

Faith smirked. “Nope, not an issue. A cute smile, a nice butt and stamina- the only things I’m interested in. Look B, when are y’gonna learn, nine times out of ten, a guy wants one thing from a girl. And I don’t care how sensitive they act, they're all just in it for the chase.”

Buffy was a little taken aback, even though she though she knew Faith’s view of relationships pretty well. “Gee, that’s nice and depressing. How did you get so cynical?”

“Not cynical. Realistic. Every guy who sees a girl like you or me,” Faith’s gaze drifted down Buffy’s form to emphasise what she was saying. “Guaranteed there’s one on his mind; wild, animal sex as soon as possible. Rest is just talk.”

“Yeah? What about Oz or Xander, they don’t think like that.”

Faith raised her eyebrows. “You see the way Xander was checkin’ me out? Besides high school ain’t the real world. Sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be. Believe me.”

Buffy sighed. Faith’s world view had a way of profoundly depressing her. How could a seventeen year old have the same thought process as a bitter old spinster? Faith’s trust issues probably had trust issues.

Faith looked around. “Place looks dead tonight. And not the fun walkin’ around type of dead either.”

Buffy agreed. “A whole lot of no fun for Buffy.”

“B, when you start referin’ to yourself in the third person even I know that’s a bad sign, so what’s up?”

Buffy glanced at the other girl. “Nothing...It’s just, what you said about people, guys, it seems way too grim to me. I don’t think you can be happy with that outlook. Y’know, maybe it’s just Boston guys, like that Matt Damon character- I never liked him- kinda shifty.”

Faith shrugged expansively. “Hey, I’m five-by-five here, B. You’re the one who doesn’t seem to be having any fun.” Faith stepped in a little closer. “Is it Scotty- hasn’t he been pulling you into the janitor’s closet and giving you the old…”

With that Faith made her trademark grunting noise that made Buffy simutaneously blush and roll her eyes.

“I told you I don’t…”

“Have any speed other than ‘good girl’, I got it.” Faith was now walking backwards in front of Buffy as she talked, she then looked a little uncomfortable for a moment. “Is it, y’know, the whole Angel thing?”

Buffy looked at the ground, Faith seemed to have forgotten her moment of insight about Buffy’s state of mind when they had first met, and Buffy was fine with that- she didn’t even begin to know how to explain this whole screwed up situation to anyone, never mind Faith.

“Angel...the Angel-y part of my life, it’s over now. I have to accept that he won’t be coming back. It was great while it lasted.” Buffy saw Faith’s sceptical look, “It was, Faith. Being with him...I loved him more than anything, and I know he loved me. Even with the bad stuff- pain, heartbreak, so much crying that I regularly had to hydrate myself, I’m still glad it happened.”

Faith cocked her head like Buffy had just suddenly started speaking Spanish, and then shook her head. “Whatever. Point is you’re movin’ on right. I don’t see the prob.”

“No problem, let’s just forget it, okay. You’re happy then I’m happy.” Buffy thought about it and smiled. “It’s nice, actually. Talking to someone about Angel, everyone else- there’s a history there, they wouldn’t understand and I wouldn’t feel comfy with it. So thanks.”

Faith gave her a cocky smirk. “Y’know me Buffy, built for comfort.”

“And speed, apparently.” Buffy snarked.

“I can’t help it if I know what guys want.”

“And so modest too...”

*****

“I don’t think that’s true. That every guy is in it for the chase.” Willow commented, seemingly a little nervous.

Buffy nodded. “I know it’s an awful generalisation, she had a few bad experiences maybe?”

Suddenly at the top of the stairs they were interrupted by a shout. “Hey, Buffy! Wait up!”

Scott moved over to them quickly, Buffy rolled her eyes good-naturedly towards Willow who made an aww face at Oz, who in turn remained typically neutral.

He stood next to her. “Hey. That’s pretty much why I stopped you. Hey.”

Buffy shook her head like he was a nut, but she was pleased. Smiling she said, “Hey Scott.”

Following up behind Scott were his two friends Pete and Debbie, Buffy remembered them from last ‘year’ and had vowed to herself to keep an eye on Pete as best she could.

Debbie and Oz obviously knew each other and launched into a conversation about Jazz band, Buffy tuned them out a little, remembering that last night had been a wolf moon for Oz. So somebody had already got hurt because of Pete- a James or Jim or John something. Buffy felt pretty terrible for not remembering anything about the poor guy so that she could’ve saved him but she’d been overtaken by everything else last time.

“We didn’t miss flowers did we?” Scott was asking her, a little anxiously.

“Uh, not as far as I know. We’re still pre-posy.” ‘That reminds me.’ She checked her watch. “Ooh, I’ve got Mr. Platt today,”

Debbie brushed her hair back and made a face. “Mr. Platt, the school counsellor?”

“Yep. I’ve need to convince him I’m chock full of sanity so I can stay in school.”

Scott looked thoughtful. “Sane. Okay. Topics to avoid- the little men that live in your teeth... Your compulsion to paint circus clowns...”

Buffy looked solemn. “But if God keeps telling me to kill- it just seems snotty not too, you know?”

Scott smiled. “You’ll do fine.”

Debbie gave Buffy a warning look. “Platt creeps me out. I would totally quit going, but I’m flunking senior bio and my teacher says I have ‘success issues’.”

Buffy flicked her gaze over to Pete who had remained quiet throughout- obviously he had his own issues with Debbie getting some help. This time she’d make sure she’d stop him before he hurt Mr. Platt.

Buffy broke in. “I’ve gotta run.” She turned to Scott and gave him a quick kiss. “See you.”

Buffy, Willow and Oz separated from the others and headed down the hallway, Buffy quickly noticed Willow was giving her a sappy smile.

“What?”

Willow giggled. “Oh nothing, just you and Scott- kissing at school.”

“Not a big deal. We’ve kissed before.”

The redhead nodded. “But that was in the dark, alone. A school kiss is different- a whole ‘nother deal. It's statement-y, it says ‘hey peers, we’re smooching’.

Buffy frowned. “You think it was too much. Too fast, I’m going too fast. Ooh, damn that Faith and her cajoling- she says I’m going too slowly.”

Willow looked at her with an unreadable expression. “You talked to Faith about Scott?”

“No, about relationships in general. Will, she is the voice of experience when it comes to guys- in fact she’s like a hard-bitten veteran with a thousand yard stare, but still. I’d just thought I’d get her input.” Buffy glanced at her watch again. “Crap. Anyway, catch you later.”

*****

“The Two o’clock, Buffy Summers.”

Buffy entered the office and quickly took a seat. Platt was turned away, finishing a cigarette.

Buffy looked round the room, smiling at the memory of it all. “Buffy Summers, reporting for sanity.”

Platt turned around in his chair, his expression warm and amiable. “If I didn’t know better I’d swear you sound pleased to be here.”

Buffy watched as he stubbed out the remains of his cigarette into an ashtray and then put the ashtray in his desk drawer. He then extracted a can of air freshener and sprayed the air a bit.

Buffy smiled at what he was doing. “So, you smoke and you swear. And what kind of example are you trying to set Mr. Guidance counsellor?”

Platt gestured vaguely at the wall where he had framed plaques. “See, I have my credentials. Listen Buffy, you may have your doubts about this whole process and that’s okay. But I think what you need is a trained, not-to-crazy professional who you can talk to and will always give you honest opinion. Which I offer.”

Buffy’s smile widened, she remembered why she liked this guy so much. “Okay. Well, you probably know that I ran away. My Mom and I had a big, intense fight and...I bailed, I guess I couldn’t deal. But I’m back...obviously, and I’m moving on, I even met someone new. I’m all kinds of good.”

Platt moved around the desk, leaned on it and looked at her intently. “All good things. But still- it feels like you’re bringing me in at the end of the movie.”

Buffy shrugged, deciding to take the question a bit more seriously. “Okay, well I was dating this guy. It ended badly. And that’s why I freaked.”

“So tell me about this guy. The bad-ending guy.”

Buffy looked at her hands. “He was my first... I loved him. But then he changed. Actually he broke my heart and left me. And, I guess, part of me wonders if I’ll ever really love like that again. Or, if I can even let myself.”

Platt nodded sympathetically. “You know- lots of people lose themselves in love. There’s no shame in it, Buffy. Hey, they write songs about it. The thing is- you can’t stay lost. Sooner or later you have to get back to yourself.” He paused. “Still, it sounds like you are trying- this moving on to someone new?”

Buffy smiled at the thought. “Yeah, Faith makes me feel better.” ‘Oh God what did I just say.’

Platt raised his eyebrows slightly. “Faith is a...girl, I’m guessing.”

Buffy was sure her face had caught fire. “Um...N-no, what I meant was Faith is a friend, a new friend. Not a romance friend. I mean I have a romance friend, his name is Scott and he’s very nice and obviously a boy, not that I had him checked or anything, but it’s just he looks like a boy and Faith looks very much like a girl, y’know?”

Platt nodded. “So you just got the two of them...mixed up, is that right?”

“Right, you bet. It was a slip. Two new people in my life and, I’m just not used to saying their names, so- I’m guessing a crossed wire. Not an actual crossed wire in the brain- like a mental thing.” Buffy was almost impressed at how her ability to make simple sentences had simply vanished.

Platt pulled a notebook over a made a note in it. Then smiled at her. “Are you done?”

Buffy laughed weakly. “So, I’m guessing that’s you pencilling me in for tomorrow?”

*****

Buffy walked into the library, still thinking about her slip. Faith did make her feel better- but not in a romance way. Just helping her made Buffy feel good about herself...and Faith. Stupid counsellors and their stupid confusing questions.

Then she stopped as she noticed Giles, Willow, Oz, Xander and Cordelia sitting round looking glum.

“I’m afraid to ask.”

Cordelia piped up. “Oz ate someone last night.”

Willow looked stricken. “He did not!”

Xander jumped to Oz’s defence. “Oz does not eat people. It’s more like werewolf play. You know- I bat you around a little bit, like a cat toy. I have harmless wolf-fun. Is it Oz’s fault that, you know, side effect, people get cut to ribbons and then...”

Buffy frowned. “Not helping, Xander.”

Giles was calmer, although even he sounded worried. “Oz may have out of his cage last night.”

Oz’s usual unflabbable-ness was strained. “Or there’s another werewolf roaming the woods.”

Giles scratched his forehead. “Perhaps. Or perhaps it was something else entirely.”

‘Oh, don’t worry guys- it’s just my new boyfriend’s best buddy on a rampage. What are the odds, huh?’

Buffy walked towards them sounding confident. “Look, guys, it's okay. We’ll work together and we’ll figure this out. I mean, Oz was in the cage this morning, right? That probably means it was someone else. A vampire or an animal, maybe even a person.” She looked at Oz. “We look at everything before we jump to any conclusions.” She looked at Giles. “Who was the guy?”

“Um, Jeff Walken, he was a student here.”

“Jeff...” Buffy had been pretty far from guessing the actual name, but still.

Giles looked at her a little concerned. “You knew him?”

“Only a little, from last year.”

Giles nodded. “Well, uh, anyway, Buffy- you should patrol the woods. The rest of you check out the morgue.”

“Right, we can check if it’s a werewolf kill or not,” Willow tried to sound positive. Then she looked concerned, “But what about Oz?”

Giles thought for a moment. “Um, well I have some research materials at home that I need to look at but, uh, we could ask Faith to watch over him.”

“Oh, you’re having a slayer watch me. It’s good we’re not over-reacting.” Oz, freaking, got up to go leave but Willow hurried after him and put a hand on his shoulder.

Oz turned to her. “Okay. You know that thing where you bail in the middle of an upsetting conversation? I have to do that. It’s kinda dramatic, I know but sometimes it’s a necessary guy thing.”

Willow nodded in understanding. “I know. And I want you too. Do the guy thing- but...” She gestured at the clock, which showed it was close to sunset.

Buffy watched as they both walked over to the cage, seeing Oz’s frustration and Willow’s worry made her more determined that there wouldn’t be anymore people hurt, she just had to figure out how.

She looked at Giles. “I’ll swing by Faith’s and tell her what’s up before going out, then I’ll see if we can find another suspect.”

Giles looked out the window at the approaching night. “I hope we do.”

Willow turned away from the cage looking like she was going to be sick. Buffy walked over to her and put a hand on her arm. “It’s going to be alright. We’ll find the bad guy and stop them, trust me.”

Willow nodded like she wasn’t really listening. “I need to get all burglar-y, find out who did this.”

Buffy let her leave with Xander and Cordelia in tow. Sometimes knowing the truth and been unable to tell anybody was just no fun at all. She sighed- other things that were no fun included hunting the woods for an animalistic Angel-shaped person and then chaining him up in a nearby mansion.

Buffy was sure nobody else had trouble like this with their ex.

*****

Faith smiled as she opened the door. “Hey, B. You’re a little early for patrol, just gimme a sec.”

Buffy walked in and as Faith turned away she found herself looking over the other girl, in a totally not checking her out kind of way. Faith was dressed in black boots, a tight black t-shirt and a short denim skirt.

‘Wait, Faith owns a skirt?’

Faith looked good, Buffy could admit that, with her taste in clothes and makeup, tattoo and long dark hair Faith had the ‘bad girl’ appeal that Buffy knew a lot of guys went crazy for. Maybe some girls too, for all she knew. But not Buffy. After all, this girl had at one time held a knife to her throat after threatening to torture her. Admittedly she had then kissed Buffy on the forehead, which made her the only girl to do that since Hemery High. And even then those had been friend kisses on the cheek not big, sloppy evil kisses.

And of course there had been the other Faith kiss. The sweet, shy kiss from last week that Buffy didn’t want to think about because it was confusing.

Because Buffy had felt something from that kiss, her heart had sped up and her skin had flushed. Like it had been a romantic kiss and not a ‘thank you’ kiss, and Faith hadn’t mentioned it again anyway which meant Buffy should just forget about it as well.

At the moment Buffy was thinking that therapy was damaging to her mental health.

Putting on a denim jacket that matched her outfit Faith caught Buffy staring. “What?”

“Nothing,” Buffy managed not to splutter, since she’d been doing that a lot earlier today. “You, um, look nice.” She figured Not-evil Faith deserved a compliment.

Faith flicked her hair away from her jacket. “Figure I’d hit the Bronze a little later after we finish up.”

“Actually, um, you might have to change your dance plans. I need a favour. Someone from the school got killed last night- looks like an animal attack, maybe even a werewolf.” Buffy sat on Faith’s bed. “The others are doing research- looking at the body and stuff, so I was wondering if you could watch Oz tonight; make sure he stays in his cage. I know it’s not fun- but it is important.”

Faith frowned and scratched the back of her head. “I guess I could. What’re you gonna be doing?”

“I’ll poke out in the woods to see if anything else is roaming about.”

Faith crossed her arms. “Well, y’see, t’me that seems a bit more fun. Why can’t I do that?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Because I know the woods, and I’ve hunted werewolves before. Look, if I get done early I’ll come and relieve you, okay.”

Faith smirked. “Always on the lookout for a little release.”

Buffy reddened a little. “I said relieve. Relieve.”

Faith’s smirk widened into a cocky grin. “You’re so easy, B.” Faith then started collecting a few items to take with her, including a walkman and some tapes.

Buffy cleared her throat. “Actually, there’s something else I wanted to ask you.” She found herself nervously fiddling with the bedspread.

“If it’s for me to stop teasin’ you Buffy, sorry -no chance.”

“No, it’s just, um, would you like to come and stay at my house for a while?” Buffy looked at the other girl, trying to gauge her reaction.

Faith wrinkled her nose. “What -like a sleepover?”

Buffy nodded. “Sort of like a sleepover...except it would be for more than one night, and you would, um, move all your stuff from here into a room at my house.”

Faith scowled suspiciously. “What for?”

Buffy stood up and moved around nervously. “Lots of reasons, like I wouldn’t have to walk over here all the time, and also, when we patrol we would start and finish in the same place. That would probably save a lot of time, right?”

Faith shook her head. “Look, Buffy...”

“And you would get free food. My Mom cooks, which you probably remember, and there’s always leftovers for a hungry slayer- my mom has no portion control.” Buffy smiled at Faith, “Plus I’d pretty much love to have you. Um, have you over. At my house. As in the location. My Mom too.”

Faith expression had changed from puzzled to pissed and now she just looked bemused. “Look, if your mom’s worried about me or something just tell her to chill, okay. I’m a slayer.”

Buffy nodded. “Exactly. You’re a slayer who fights evil for a living, and I also consider you my friend. Those are two very good reasons for you not to stay in this crap-tastic place any longer. Faith, just think about it okay?”

Faith softened. “Alright, I guess I’ll think about it.”

Buffy beamed at the brunette. “Okay, I’ve got to run. Good luck with the Oz-watch.”

*****

‘Maybe if I’d thought this through a little bit more I would have brought along some sort of Angel-catching device, like a net. Or a club. Or both. Anything to make this easier.’

Buffy walked through the undergrowth, which was just as spooky as she remembered, trying to mentally prepare herself for Angel.

Angel -back in her life, ready to start the whole doomed love cycle all over again. Brooding, Thoughtful Angel and Concerned, Sensitive Angel, not to mention Sweaty, Half-Naked Angel- can’t forget him after all.

“Here, Angel.” She called softly, straining to listen for rustles in the undergrowth. “C’mon, I haven’t got all night. Can we please get this over with...”

Buffy stopped as she heard a noise in the bushes, something moving through them that was larger than the usual night critter. She saw a flash of movement, a pale shoulder illuminated in the moonlight for a moment and then gone. Buffy gave chase instantly, bursting through greenery and knocking a few branches aside as she entered a small clearing.

Event though she was prepared Angel’s speed caught her off guard, slamming into her as she turned towards him. Buffy fell sprawling in the dirt, the growling figure running past a little before stopping to look back. She saw Angel, his face snarling and savage and his mouth smeared with blood. His body was caked with dirt and scratched and his skin was red in places like he’d been sunburnt.

Buffy flipped to her feet, ignoring the knotted feeling in her stomach from seeing him again. She knew that Angel was in there somewhere, traumatised and in pain, and she could reach him. Even if she had to kick his ass to do it.

Angel ran at her again snarling, Buffy backed up and dropped backwards, timing it to stick a foot upwards that caught Angel in the chest and launched him over her head- sending him flying into a nearby tree. Buffy then rolled so she was next to him, smacking him in the face and then trying to pin him to the ground. With a roar he threw her off and leapt after her, Buffy managed to grab his outstretched arms and flip him over her shoulder, then she twisted to kick Angel in the face. Another solid punch later and the vampire lay comatose, overcome with pain.

Buffy stared at him for a moment, letting her thoughts slow and settle. Angel was here and she had to decide what to do. Who did she tell? Giles? Willow? Faith? Secrecy wasn’t the answer- she knew that, the others deserved to know. Blowing out a breath she decided to secure him first then think about it.

Later, at the mansion she managed to get Angel manacled to one of the wrought iron fixtures that dotted the walls, she picked a studier one than last time, it was more important now that he didn’t end up running around any time soon.

As Angel came to Buffy quickly wiped some of the blood off his mouth with a tissue and stepped well back. “Angel? Um, I hope I didn’t hit you too hard- you didn’t leave me a lot of choice.”

Angel seemed to shy away from her voice, growling under his breath.

“Can you understand me? I know you’re in there somewhere...” Buffy resisted the urge to reach out and touch him. She glanced at the charred silhouette on the floor of the mansion, Angel’s return back into the world etched in stone. “So, did those pants survive Hell with you or did you mug some poor homeless guy for them?” Buffy hoped that Angel remembered how she joked in times of stress because this- this was a doozy of a time. Unfortunately all he seemed to be doing now was remaining hunched over, his body tense and ready to attack if she came near.

Buffy backed away from him slowly. “I’ll come back...I promise.”

*****

Buffy entered the library to see Faith, in front of Oz’s cage, dancing away to her music. She felt the anxiety in her gut melt a little seeing the other slayer; at least here she knew what she was doing.

Buffy walked carefully over to the brunette and tapped her on the shoulder, Faith spun round and Buffy managed to catch her arm before it smacked her in the face.

“Buffy! Jeez, you scared me. Um, sorry I almost...” Faith took her headphones off and shrugged apologetically.

“That’s okay- I saw it coming this time.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing. Anyway I figured I’d give you the rest of the night off, just like I promised.”

“Cool. I was goin’ nuts here anyway. No luck on patrol, huh?”

Buffy tensed up a little. ‘Here goes.’ “Actually, yeah, I found something pretty important- but I need to do research.” Buffy gestured around the library. ”I want to be able to give Giles and the others some real answers in the morning, y’know.”

Faith nodded. “Right, so, where do we start?”

“Um, you want to help? I thought you couldn’t wait to get out of here?” Buffy was surprised- she thought Faith was allergic to books.

“I was going crazy being here alone, doing nothing. If this is so important and y’want some company, I’ll stick around.”

Buffy smiled, she knew that Faith would rather be out slaying things, it was sweet she was offering to do something not fun to help out. “Okay, well I, um, need to research into demon dimensions and also wish-granting entities. Which do you want?”

Faith made a face like she was already regretting her decision. “The wish one, I guess. Is that like genies and monkey’s paws and stuff?”

‘Ooh, monkey’s paw- hadn’t thought of that one...’ “And stuff. I’ll look through Giles card catalogue, you get some stuff from the snack machine, okay?”

Faith grinned. “Good idea, I’m starved.” She walked out of the library quickly.

Buffy started researching, she already knew that researching Angel was a waste of time but she could use the whole thing as a cover to look at wishes, and maybe alternate realities while she’s at it. Find out what was happening to her, and if any bad stuff came along with it.

She’d already collected a small stack of books to look through and was sitting at the top of the steps when Faith walked in, arms full of snack food and a few cans of soda.

“Delivery.” She said dumping them out in front of Buffy.

Buffy gaped. “Faith, how much did you spend? There’s like twenty bucks worth here.”

“Yeah, well, since this is all in the line of duty I might’ve, relieved the machine of all this tasty, world-saving fuel.” Faith did her best innocent smile, which was surprisingly good.

Buffy sighed. “You mean you broke the machine and stole all the candy?”

“Way I figure it- I’m just robbing that Snyder guy you all hate so much.” Off Buffy’s look. “C’mon, at least I paid for the sodas.”

Buffy shrugged. “Fine, fine. If we get caught I’ll just deny all knowledge of this terrible crime. Ooh, Three Musketeers, gimme.”

*****

Buffy must have nodded off at some point because the next thing she knew she woke up in a chair, a book draped across her lap. Light was streaming through the windows and Giles was standing next to her sipping a cup of coffee.

He picked up one of the books she’d been looking at. “Good morning.”

Buffy tried to shake off the sleep. “Um, hey...”

“’Exploring Demon Dimensions’, ‘Mysteries of Acathla’, ‘Von Gretz Guide To Alternate Realities’.” Giles raised a quizzical eyebrow at Buffy.

“Long night. Very long night, actually.” Buffy stood up and looked around; spotting Faith slumped over the table, surrounded by books.

‘Huh, I figured she would’ve gone home after I fell asleep.’

“Buffy...?” Giles looked across at the still sleeping slayer. “Well, whatever’s going on it must’ve been serious if you persuaded Faith to partake in research.”

Buffy glanced nervously at Giles, hoping she was doing the right thing. “She volunteered, actually. And it is- um, serious. Really, it’s grade A, code red serious.”

“Would you care to elaborate?” Giles asked dryly.

“It’s about Angel.”

Buffy saw her Watcher’s jaw tense a little; his eyes shifted away. “Oh?”

Both of them turned at the sound of a low groan, Faith sat up slowly and wiped her chin with her hand. She looked at them both bleary eyed. “Uhh...Mornin’.”

“Hey,” Buffy said, and then turned to Giles. “I had a dream- recently, where I wished Angel, um, that is my Angel not the soulless, evil version. That he would come back. And then the wish came true...it brought up some questions.”

Giles nodded. “It must have been some dream. I didn’t even know you knew what a card index was for.”

Buffy nodded, her breathing felt kind of shaky. ‘Here goes,’ “That’s not all- last night while patrolling...I saw him.”

Giles looked concerned. “Buffy, it’s understandable that you would see- glimpses of someone you thought...”

Buffy interrupted. “No, I didn’t just see him, Giles. I fought with him. Beat him up and dumped him in the mansion.”

Giles’ eyes widened. “Angel’s returned.” He started pacing and took his glasses off- always a bad sign. “That’s...it isn’t possible, Buffy.”

Faith looked on frowning as she sleepily tried to follow the conversation. “What’s up?”

Buffy went after Giles. “Angel wasn’t himself- he was all savage, like an animal. I couldn’t get anything out of him so I went looking here for answers – anything I could think of.”

“Wait a sec; this is Angel- as in your psycho vampire-ex?” Faith said in disbelief.

Buffy glared at Faith. “Not now Faith, okay?” She turned to Giles, “Look I know you’re freaked, I am too. But I chained him up so he can’t go anywhere. Plus it's daytime, which means we’re totally safe.”

Giles turned to Buffy. “Could he be responsible for the attack two nights ago?”

Buffy shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, I mean, he had blood on his mouth- I, uh, got a sample.” Buffy fished the bloody tissue out of her pocket. “Willow should analyse it, but I’m guessing it's animal blood.”

Giles took it from Buffy and made a visible effort to calm down. “You say he’s secured? You’re positive?”

“Manacles plus iron fixtures equals secure, I made sure Giles, I promise.”

Giles nodded again and put a comforting hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “You did the right thing in telling me, Buffy. But we need to look into this immediately, you understand.”

Faith stepped forward. “Uh, someone wanna fill me in here? I thought you wasted this guy already.”

Buffy nodded and headed down the stairs towards the other girl. “I ran him through with a sword and sent him to a hell dimension- I figured that was as good as.”

Giles was thinking. “I don’t believe there’s any record of someone returning from a demon dimension once the ‘gate’ is closed. I can’t imagine how it would happen or why. From what I, um, have read the dimension accessed by Acathla it suggests a world of, brutal torment. And time moves differently there.”

Buffy nodded. “I remember. He would’ve been down there along time.”

“Hundreds of years most likely. Buffy, I must warn you not to...” Giles seemed to hesitate, “It would take somebody of extraordinary will and character to survive that level of suffering and retain any semblance of self. Most likely he would be a monster.”

Faith looked grim. “So killing him would be like putting him out of his misery or somethin’?”

Buffy looked stunned. “Which we are not doing. I’m not going to just off him if there’s even a chance...”

“Hey, I know you’ve got the warm fuzzies for the guy, B- but bottom line, he’s still a vampire.”

Buffy regarded Faith coldly. “With a soul, Faith. As in humanity, something you might want to look up.”

Faith glared at her. “I was up half the night lookin’ shit up for you- if I’d known what for I might not’ve bothered.”

“Hmn, I wonder why I didn’t tell you.”

Giles snapped at them. “That’s enough! Both of you.” He hesitantly stepped between them. “Faith, your points are well taken but this situation, as Buffy has pointed out, is more complicated than it appears. Angel has, um, acted as both ally and enemy in the past. If he is the latter then no doubt you will be needed.”

Faith was still glaring hotly at Buffy but she seemed to un- tense at Giles words. “Damn right I will,” she muttered.

He turned to Buffy and seemed to take extra effort to say what he said next. “If there is a chance of reaching Angel, Buffy, then you are almost certainly the one able to do it. If he can be reached or redeemed somehow...nobody will do anything to harm him, I assure you.”

Suddenly another voice piped up from behind them, Willow sounded alarmed. “Harming who? There’s harm now?”

Buffy looked over at Willow and gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, Will, we’re not talking about Oz.”

Willow walked over to them holding a box of donuts. “Then why all the tension? And why this early?” She looked round at the books scattered about as well as candy wrappers. “Did you guys have a research party without me?” Willow failed to hide the tinge of hurt from her voice.

Faith looked pointedly at Giles. “You gonna tell her or what? That Buffy’s ex-meat did the killing and Oz’s getting the blame.”

Buffy hissed. “Damn it, Faith! Wait, my ex-what?”

Willow was so startled she almost dropped her box. “Angel...Angel’s back, h-how did that...And the spell, Giles said the spell worked. That I did it right.”

Buffy went over to Willow. “Will, we don’t know anything yet. Angel came back from a hell dimension, um, somehow and we don’t know if he did anything. But he’s chained up at the mansion all the same, okay? We’re safe.”

Willow nodded in relief, and then gave Buffy a pained look of sympathy. “God, Buffy, are you okay? I mean, of course your not and that’s fine. Not fine but, um, understandable so I’m here for you. Whatever you need.”

“Everything alright?” Oz stepped out of the cage, having just finished buttoning his shirt. He came over close to Willow, concerned at her worried expression.

Buffy looked to Faith. “Go on, you want to blurt it out in the worst way, go ahead.”

Faith sneered at her. “Screw this.” With that she turned and strode out of the library.

“Buffy...” Giles sighed at her. “You could try to be a bit more accommodating; I know this must distressing for you...”

Buffy sat down in the chair Faith had been using. “I am being accommodating. I’m a four-star hotel of accommodation. But you saw her, Giles- it’s not like she was being helpful.”

Giles agreed. “Faith is, um, blunt I think would be the word. But if you recall it took all of us a little while to get used to the very idea of a vampire being, well, friendly.”

Buffy slouched on the desk and pouted. “So you’re saying I should be all mature and be the bigger slayer?”

“Precisely,” Giles turned to Willow. “Did you gather anything pertinent at the morgue?”

Willow shook her head. “It wasn’t conclusive, a-a lot of tissue damage to the, um, body. I’ll know more after I do hair and fibre tests. See if anything taken from the body is wolf-y.” She turned to Buffy. “It didn’t look drained of blood or anything, the body I mean.”

Buffy smiled at her. “Thanks Will. But let’s worry about Angel when we’ve cleared Oz.”

Oz, who’d been listening intently, smiled slightly. “Strange morning so far.”

Buffy couldn’t help but agree, but biting the bullet had been the right thing to do. She just hadn’t expected Faith’s reaction which had been pretty aggressive and insensitive. Just what was her problem? Buffy had tried to be upfront about what Angel means- had meant to her, she’d told Faith, had tried not to get all defensive or avoid-y. But still the other slayer had been pissed and now Buffy and Faith had had their first fight.

Great.

Buffy frowned down at the yellow pad Faith had used for writing notes, her handwriting was a little scrawl –y and oddly childlike and it looked like she’d copied a couple of passages straight from a book. Buffy’s eyes drifted down the page, past words like ‘Solomon’, ‘Twilight’, and ‘Book of Wisdom’ to the lower half, where Faith had obviously given up on research and just doodled a cartoon.

The drawing took up about the last third of the page; to one side was a figure drawn curled up in a ball, obviously asleep- from the pig-tails and pleated skirt Buffy guessed it was supposed to be her, her head resting on what appeared to be cheerleading pompoms. In the centre of the page there was a cartoon vampire- two triangular teeth and a widow’s peak like the Count from Sesame Street. He was in the process of being decapitated by a fierce-looking brunette, clad in black pants and halter top wielding a sword. Over on the right two figures peered over a bush, from the expressions Buffy could tell they were supposed to be Cordelia (her eyes looked annoyed) and Xander (his were bugged out in surprise). Beside the bush looking out at the battle was another cartoon girl, her haircut resembling Willow’s, who was cuddling a happy, panting dog dressed in a t-shirt. Written on the t-shirt were the words ‘I like dingoes- they’re tasty’.

Buffy smiled at the comic tableau, feeling an odd tightness in her chest as she did so. The drawing was pretty good, like something Buffy would see in the funny pages. She had no idea Faith could even do anything like this. And it wasn’t just the style of art either, the whole scene was so...goofy and innocent and completely un-Faith like.

‘I really don’t know her at all.’

“Hey, what are you looking at?” Willow came over bearing donuts.

“Just this,” Buffy held up the drawing.

Willow smiled. “Hey, that’s pretty good- Oz as a cartoon dog. I didn’t know you could draw?”

“I didn’t. Faith did. She’s got some talent.” Buffy examined the picture again, before noting the look of concern on Willow’s face. “I said I was fine, Will.”

“I know that. I do, it’s just you went through so much getting over Angel. And now he’s back, it must be awful.” Willow slid the box of donuts across the table towards Buffy. “Here, comfort food. I watched them make these myself- so they should be extra tasty.”

Buffy shook her head. “Thanks, but me and Faith gorged on too much sugar last night, my stomach feels all oogey.”

“So...did you guys have fun..?” Willow looked like she wanted to say more but Oz came over.

“Hey, so new bad stuff last night, Giles is pretty sure.” Oz regarded Buffy for a moment. “That’s good for both of us.”

Buffy gave a quick smile. “It really is. But I’m starting to think that this wasn’t a random killing, this being the Hellmouth and all. Maybe we should be looking at people who knew Jeff...um, other people I mean.”

“You mean like somebody else at school?” Willow wondered.

Buffy stood up and moved beside Willow. “Just call me a wacky optimist but after last night I think we’re all due for a break.” She and Willow headed out of the library to see students start to fill the halls in preparation for class.

“Maybe I could get a note,” Willow said plaintively. “Something that excuses me from class until that break you mentions comes along.”

“C’mon, just get to class and before you know it you’ll get swept up in that knowledge stuff all the kids are into nowadays.”

Willow sighed. “Academic excellence does sooth my thoughts. Like a balm for my brain.”

Buffy frowned. “Is that what Giles means when he says ‘that’s a barmy idea’?”

“I think that’s English for crazy.”

“I here I thought crazy was English for crazy.”

“Speaking of crazy, are you seeing Platt again?” Willow couldn’t resist a grin.

“Well gee, thanks. And yes, I’m seeing him at lunch for more deep conversation. It is the burden I must bear.”

Willow patted her arm as she peeled off for class.” Well, good luck with the Buffy-burden, hee.”

Beauty And The Beasts (PART 2: Truly, Madly, Creepy)

Fifteen minutes before lunch began Buffy opened the door to Platt’s office and quickly stepped inside. “Hey.”

Platt sat at his desk looking somewhat nonplussed as he put down his mug of coffee. “Miss Summers, I’m sorry, I didn’t here you knock- probably because you didn’t.” He smiled genially. “I thought our appointment was for two o’clock?”

“Sorry, I know. I just needed to see you a couple of hours early, that’s all.” Buffy smiled apologetically as she moved around the office.

Platt leaned back. “Would there be a reason for this?”

Buffy had spent the morning trying to think of excuses for coming to Mr. Platt’s early, and more importantly excuses to linger until Pete tried to make his move.

She hadn’t been particularly successful.

So Buffy decided to improvise. “A prank!”

“Excuse me?”

“Someone- I don’t know who, is planned to prank you, big time. At lunch, which is now, and I thought I would, um, be here to warn you- which I’ve now done.”

Mr. Platt sighed, although he was still smiling. “There is no prank.”

Buffy shook her head. “You’re right, there is no prank. But...I do need, um, advice.” ‘Maybe this will work.’ “I have a friend who, well I had a fight with her- and I can’t figure why she reacted the way she did. I was hoping you could help.”

“Well, Buffy usually I’d be happy to help but, can’t this wait a couple of hours?”

“Um, well- she’s here, now. And I don’t want to be all avoid-y with her; I just want to make up with her.”

Platt seemed to think about it. “Okay, so what was this fight about?”

“Um, my friend and I have been kind of hanging out a lot, she’s new in town and we’ve been talking about stuff, relationship stuff.” Buffy was partly wondering what she was doing but it meant she was staying in Platt’s office, which was the main thing. Besides maybe he could give some insight.

“This new friend, would this be Faith?”

Buffy felt her face warm a little but pressed on. “Yes, um, anyway we get on okay- plenty in common. I even talked to her about my old boyfriend, and she seemed sympathetic. And the other day I was talking about him...” Buffy thought about how to phrase the next part. “Well, I was saying nice things about him and suddenly she gets all angry and moody with me- saying I should just, um, cut him out of my life and move on completely. She was really cold and I got mad at her and...then she stormed off.”

“I see. Did this Faith know your boyfriend- had they met?”

“Not yet, um, I mean no, never.” Buffy tried to forget how Faith had tried to kill Angel –twice, or when she tried to seduce him, or when they made out right in front of Buffy. All bad memories.

“Buffy, are you alright? You look a little upset.”

Buffy nodded. “Fine. The fight was pretty harsh, that’s all.”

Platt got up and sat nearer to Buffy, perching on the desk. “Well, assuming all of what you’ve told me is true; I would say that it sounds like Faith is jealous.”

Buffy frowned at that. “No, I told you, Faith and A-my boyfriend haven’t ever met.”

“That’s not exactly what I meant. She could be jealous of the relationship you’ve had with this guy- that all depends on her personal history. More likely is that she just doesn’t like you talking about being happy with this guy. She could be jealous of him.”

“But that makes even less sense, unless...” Buffy paused as the wheels turned in her head.

Platt smiled slightly. “Don’t get me wrong Buffy; I wasn’t suggesting jealousy in a romantic sense, necessarily. Perhaps this friend of yours finds the time you spend together precious and wants you to be happy just being with her.” Suddenly he looked up expectantly at a noise.

Buffy twisted in her seat to see the office door handle turning slowly before the door itself opened. Buffy saw Pete move into the room and then stop suddenly when he saw the two of them looking at him. Buffy tensed in the chair, ready to act if Pete decided to turn all angry and vein-y.

“Um, hey.” Pete said quietly, looking tense as his eyes darted from Mr. Platt to Buffy and then around the room.

“The universal student greeting,” Mr. Platt smiled, although his eyes registered concern. “Can I help you with something- as you can see I’m a little busy here.”

Pete smiled nervously, his face showing rigid tension. “Ah, my girlfriend Debbie- she said she might’ve left her bag her the other day. I offered to, um, fetch it for her.”

“Right, you must be Pete. Debbie mentioned you in passing, but I didn’t see her leave a bag around here.” Although he was friendly enough Buffy heard an edge in Mr. Platt’s voice; she guessed he didn’t like Pete much.

Pete shrugged a little. “Well, sorry. Debbie’s always getting things mixed up. I’ll leave you alone.” After an awkward pause he turned and left the room.

Platt gazed at the door for a moment before shaking his head slightly and looking to Buffy. “Now, where were we?”

Buffy stood up quickly. “Actually, I think I should go, I’ve bothered you enough. But thanks, you’ve really given me a lot to think about. I’ll be back at two.”

“I tell you what; how about you concentrate on keeping hold of that friend of yours, not skipping class and eating. Say at lunch time- which is when most of us like to eat.” With that Platt turned away, fishing a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket. “We’ll pick this up tomorrow- two o’clock.”

Buffy hurried over to the door. “Um, yeah, Thanks again. Bye.” Stepping quickly out into the corridor she saw a glimpse of Pete as he hurried down the hallway. Buffy took off after him, ducking around a couple of distracted students coming out of class, before stepping out in front of Pete. “Hey there.”

Pete frowned at her, seemingly agitated. “Buffy. What’s up?”

Buffy pretended to think. “What’s up? Hmm, well, I was thinking- how about you stay away from Mr. Platt for one thing, how does that grab you?”

Pete’s eyes widened as he looked warily at her. “What are you talking about? - I was just...”

“I know what you were going to do, and trust me, if you go near Platt again it’ll end badly for you.” Buffy kept her voice low and cold. Pete’s face had become incredulous.

“Are you...did you just threaten me?”

Buffy leaned a little closer and smiled at him. Her smile didn’t reach her eyes. “You might want to ask around about me before you poke fun. When you do, you’ll find out that I don’t tend to start fights, I do end them though. I’m a known troublemaker, really. It’s actually kind of fun. Y’see, the reason I’m seeing Mr. Platt is that he’s trying to talk me out of any future violent episodes, and you better hope he succeeds.” Buffy leaned back and nodded in satisfaction. “Okay, you can go now.”

Pete gave her a look like she was crazy, stepped around her and headed quickly towards the cafeteria. Hopefully, Buffy threatening him would make him hesitate before acting any time soon; she just needed till the end of the day after all. And if he did so, it was more likely he would come after her. And she’d be ready for him.

Buffy looked at her watch, figuring she had enough time to grab a snack and then head over to Faith’s. Mr Platt’s insight had been pretty helpful, maybe Faith thought Angel would threaten their friendship, come between them somehow. The other possibility...Buffy couldn’t really deal with that right now, pushing that to the back of her mind would be the safest thing for the moment.

Sometimes denial is a girl’s best friend.

*****

Buffy hesitated in front of Faith’s door, she felt queasy- and not just because she’d had jello for lunch, which was entirely acceptable dietary-wise. Unless the only other things you’d had in the past twenty- four were chocolate and soda- then you were in risk of a sugar high, which wasn’t the best idea when coaxing a potentially hostile slayer back to school.

Buffy calmed her nerves and shook her head out of rambling thoughts as knocked on the door. “Faith, it’s me. Um, Buffy that is.”

She slowly tried the handle and found it unlocked, letting out a steady breath she opened the door.

Faith was there sitting on the bed, dressed in leopard print pants and a tight black tee, reading a comic book a little too intently. She glanced up casually as Buffy entered but didn’t say anything, just stared at her with an unreadable expression.

“Like I said, it’s me.”

Faith shrugged. “Yeah, I heard you.”

Silence stretched between them, Buffy had hoped to get some clues as to how to act from Faith herself but she wasn’t giving anything away.

Buffy sighed. “So, I guess I handled things badly.”

Faith didn’t say anything, just stared at something fascinating on the bedspread.

Buffy had been here before, awkward conversations with Faith were nothing new. It was just Buffy had always handled them badly, usually saying the wrong thing or not saying anything at all because she was afraid of saying the wrong thing.

‘Well as Xander somewhat wisely once said, “Fear is the mind killer,” -I can do this.’

Buffy came forward and sat tentatively on the edge of Faith’s bed which got the brunette’s attention.

“Look, Faith I’m sorry, okay.” Buffy looked at her plaintively, “I’d just found out that a guy I thought was...gone forever just popped up out of nowhere and was all, ‘ggrrrr’. I freaked out a little and I lost my temper.”

Faith looked at Buffy warily. “You’re... apologising to me.”

“Trying to,” Buffy shrugged helplessly. “How am I doing?”

“Why?”

“I was hoping for more like marks out of ten, y’know...”

“No, Buffy. Why are you apologising?” Faith frowned and looked down at the bed again. “I...lost it, ‘kay. I was the one being a bitch and not carin’ about what you were goin’ through. That stuff with Angel...must’ve been tough, I mean from what you told me.” Faith met Buffy’s eyes. “You don’t have to apologise, I know I blew it.”

“No, Faith. You didn’t blow it. Believe me I’ve seen more extreme reactions from my friends when it comes to Angel. Y’know Xander- goofy, funny Xander, nothing gets him riled up like the subject of Angel.” Buffy smiled. “He and I have had a few bust-ups in the past, but we get over it- friends fight and make up. So...can we make up already?”

Faith hesitated for a moment before shrugging. “Sure, if you wanna.”

Buffy stood up, relieved. “Great. Listen, I’ve got to get back to school. I was hoping you would come along with, we’ll be having a meeting in the library, see if we can’t figure things out.” Buffy paused. “Wait, if you didn’t think I was going to apologise, why did you think I came over?”

Faith smirked. “I dunno- round two, maybe.” She then looked down and hesitated. “Or just that you changed your mind about the whole ‘becoming roomies’ sitch, something like that.”

Buffy shook her head. “Nope, Looking forward too it. That is when you inevitably cave in to peer-pressure and accept.”

“What peer-pressure is that?”

“My whining and pouting, of course. As an only child I’m very used to getting what I want.”

Faith grinned widely. “And you want me, is that it, B?”

‘Oh, I walked into that one...’

Buffy blushed and turned away. “Very funny, now come on- we’ve got to get back. People, other than you, might be in danger of a severe pummelling.”

Buffy heard Faith’s throaty laugh as she exited the room, embarrassed but glad- after all flirty Faith was a little easier to deal with than grumpy Faith.

*****

The two of them having walked to school in a fairly comfortable silence, Faith giving Buffy a couple of knowing looks that Buffy chose to ignore, as well as giving flirty looks to a couple of cute college students hanging round the Espresso Pump.

But Buffy knew right away that something was wrong when she entered the library with Faith in tow and saw a worried looking Giles talking with Xander and Willow. He seemed to be in the midst of discussing something unpleasant.

Buffy’s stomach flip-flopped. “Guys, is there a problem?”

Xander gave her a queasy look but didn’t answer. Giles turned to them. “There’s been another victim- a student here at school. Xander found him in the boy’s bathroom after lunch.”

“Then I saw my lunch, again.” Xander said glumly, “Macaroni surprise isn’t so pleasant the second time.”

“Who was it?” Buffy’s mind whirled. Instead of Mr. Platt, Pete had just gone and killed somebody else.

“Ah, Lee Ruskins. He was viciously attacked. I believe the charming phrase the coroner used when describing the poor boy was ‘pureed’. And as I was just explaining it seems the boy had been dead about an hour or so.”

Faith looked at Buffy with a slight smile. “Which means this guy was killed during the day, so Angel’s off the hook.”

“For this one anyway,” Xander had obviously been informed of Angel’s return.

Willow tried but failed to keep the happiness out of her voice. “Oz is too, I mean it’s horrible but not like ‘someone we know did this’ horrible, y’know.”

Giles looked at the clock. “Speaking of which, shouldn’t he be here by now? The sun sets at five-thirty.”

Buffy walked further into the library to find a seat next to Xander. “I’m sure he’ll be here soon, we need to figure out what these two victims had in common.”

Faith hoped up on the counter. “Missing internal organs?”

Buffy made a face. “Something else, apart from their barf-worthy deaths.”

Giles took off his glasses. “Yes, why would they in particular be targeted by what is clearly a depraved, sadistic animal?”

“Present,” Oz said as he arrived. “What did I miss?”

Willow smiled as she got up and pushed past Giles to hug Oz. “It’s not you! I mean it’s a ‘kill in the day’ monster, one hundred percent for sure.”

Oz’s relief was obvious. “Okay.”

Giles gave them a moment. “Yes, well celebrating aside for a moment we still have two victims- Jeff Walken and Lee Ruskins.”

Xander sat up in his seat. “Well this being Sunnydale High it could be pretty much anybody. Could be the lunch lady.”

Willow smiled at him. “You’re just bitter about the macaroni surprise.”

Buffy waited for them to hopefully come to the same conclusion as last time, assuming Pete didn’t attack a random student- that would make her feel even worse than she did already.

Oz spoke up. “Debbie.” They all looked at him. “Victim one; Jeff? He was in Jazz band with her. They used to horse around.”

Faith frowned as she stretched. “They were screwing?”

‘Well that comment is a lot more telling this time round.’

Xander smiled. “Yeah, Oz, did the two of them share a forbidden love?”

Oz paused. “I don’t think so. But he hid her music comp book once.”

Xander nodded. “He was so clearly into her.”

“What about the other guy- Lee?” Buffy asked Oz.

“Lee and Debbie were always friendly; I saw them joking around at lunch.”

Buffy spoke up. “Mr. Platt. I was in his office just before lunch- asking his advice. And Pete snuck in there like...like maybe he going to try something. Whatever it was it set my slayer sense off.”

Oz’s brain was ticking over. “Add this and stir. I just saw Debbie a minute ago- sporting a nasty black eye.”

Xander thought about it. “So it is an evil boyfriend. What are the odds?”

Giles spoke urgently. “We should find them both immediately.”

Oz gestured to the door. “Debbie was in the quad a minute ago.”

Buffy stood up and jumped in as the others got up to go Giles could speak; she knew Pete was coming here to attack Oz within the next half-hour or so. The trick was to convince her friends of the fact. “Okay, hang on guys; let’s think this through before we go running off. Obviously Pete’s going after people who get too close to Debbie, like he’s insanely jealous or something.”

“Emphasis on the insane part,” Xander commented.

“So maybe someone should stay and keep an eye on Oz, just in case. I mean, what if Pete saw them both together? Oz could be the next target.”

Willow seemed torn. “But Buffy, Debbie could be in trouble...”

Buffy nodded. “I know Will- I think someone should stay here just in case.”

“A wise precaution Buffy. Very well, Faith, you stay here and keep an eye out. Xander- you and I will team, Willow, you stick with Buffy.

Oz chimed in. “I’ll- go lock myself in the cage.”

Buffy hesitated. “Faith, be careful. Pete’s pretty dangerous.”

“So am I, B- don’t sweat it,” Faith said confidently.

*****

Willow followed Buffy out of the library. “Where are we going?” asked Willow, wondering at Buffy’s urgency.

Buffy answered without looking back. “Where do you go if you want to cover up a black eye? I’m thinking the girl’s locker room.”

They found Debbie in no time, gently dabbing at her face, trying to cover up her bruise with makeup.

Buffy walked across to her, hoping that this time maybe she could get through to Debbie, get her to realise that her love for Pete was pretty much...doomed. Buffy could relate to that.

“It’s tricky covering a fresh shiner like that,” Buffy said, crossing her arms, her voice concerned but determined. “You know what works?”

Debbie looked at her in the mirror. “What?”

“Don’t get hit.”

Debbie didn’t respond, just started gathering her things.

Buffy moved across to her. “Debbie, we know what’s going on. We know Pete’s hurting you and he’s hurting other people.”

Debbie looked at Buffy in shock, and then shook her head as she stammered. “You don’t understand. It-it’s not his fault. He’s not himself when he gets like this.”

“How does Pete get? I thought those students were killed by an animal?” Willow asked.

Buffy nodded understandingly, still staring at Debbie. “Pete’s not like other guys, is he Debbie. Sometimes he changes, sometimes he gets mean- and when he does he blames you. He’s even got you believing it.”

Debbie panicked. “I’ve got to go. Leave me alone.” She moved towards the door but Buffy stepped in her path.

“Debbie we haven’t got time for this, if you say Pete isn’t himself- fine. But you need help and so does he.”

Debbie tried to glare forcefully at the other two girls. “Well, I-I didn’t ask for your help.”

Willow almost rolled her eyes. “Well, when are you going to? I mean, if Pete kills you, it’ll pretty much be too late.”

Buffy reached forward and grabbed Debbie’s arm and dragged her to the mirror. “Look. Look at yourself, and tell me you don’t need help. What’s going on isn’t your fault Debbie- but the more it goes on, the more people who die while you play out your grim, little fantasy- then it will be your fault.”

Debbie shook her head again. “He’s going to change. He promised...”

Willow looked on sympathetically. “We can help, okay? Just tell us where he is, and we can help him.”

Debbie looked at Buffy. “He...he has a lab, a space where he mixes things, here at school.”

Buffy squeezed the other girls arm in sympathy then turned to Willow. “I know where that is- stay with Debbie, okay?”

Willow nodded and went over to Debbie, who was now crying quietly. Buffy left the locker room and headed towards the library to check in with Faith, then maybe intercept Pete and try and talk him down. It was a long shot but as long as Debbie was safe Buffy thought it could be worth a try. Still, a student was dead who hadn’t died the first time around- that was on Buffy. She thought she could put Pete off Mr. Platt and somebody else had paid the price.

On second thought maybe she would talk Pete down after she’d kicked his ass all over the place.

Buffy’s thoughts were interrupted by a crashing sound from down the hall- the library. Cursing inwardly she started to run, spotting Giles and Xander up ahead as they hesitated for a moment in front of the library doors.

“Help Faith!” She shouted as she closed the distance. Giles burst into the library as Xander waited for Buffy.

“Where’s Will?” Xander asked.

“She’s with Debbie.” Buffy answered simply as she entered through the doors.

The library was in disarray, the central study table had been smashed to pieces and part of the banister had been broken off. Pete was on top of Faith in the centre of the wreckage, his clawed hands trying to find purchase on the slayer’s throat as she struggled to free herself. Oz, now in wolf form, snarled from inside his cage.

“Grab the dart gun!” Buffy called to Giles even as he started to make his way round the other side of the counter.

With a cry of frustration Faith managed to knock Pete’s clawed hands away before snapping her head up into his face for a vicious headbutt and then kicking him away. Faith nimbly flipped to her feet as the Pete monster regained his footing; she glanced at her arm- noticed that there were scratches on it and grimaced.

“Dude, you scratched me,” Faith sneered at him. “Way to fight like a chick, what’s next- ya gonna pull my hair.”

With an incoherent roar Pete leapt at her, taking a right cross to the face as he did so. He shrugged it off and tried to claw Faith’s eyes out. She ducked and kneed him in the crotch before pounding her fist into his side as he slumped to one knee. Buffy guessed that the low blow had done that.

Giles adjusted the rifle as he came up behind the counter as Faith turned to Buffy with a grin. “Relax, B. I got this.”

Almost as soon as she had said that Pete lurched forward and seized Faith around the waist, with a murderous roar he picked her up whilst simultaneously spinning her around before throwing her. Faith sailed through the air, her ass hitting and then sliding across the counter top to collide with Giles, sending them both down in a heap.

Buffy sighed. “Well, I’m not much of a spectator anyway...” She ran straight at a startled Pete, sending a stinging jab into his discoloured, vein-y face- knocking him backwards.

“Tonight on ‘When Chicks Hit Back’...” Quipped Xander from behind Buffy as her roundhouse kick sent Pete tumbling against the steps.

A somewhat more wary Pete retreated up the stairs as Buffy followed him. He growled at her, “Bitch!” before grabbing a nearby bookcase and tried to pull it on top of her. Buffy, expecting such a move, ducked backwards as the furniture crashed down and then jumped over the wreckage to drive a foot into Pete’s mid-section.

Pete stumbled against the far wall, his hand seizing Buffy’s ankle, before twisting it and throwing her onto her back. Then he was on her snarling, seemingly angrier than ever before, backhanding her across the face twice before she managed to block his forearm.

“Whore! Bitch! I’ll kill you!” He cried as her tried to pull his arm from her.

Buffy struggled under him. “You seriously need to find better pick-up lines.”

Suddenly Pete was knocked off of Buffy- a large book slamming into the side of his head.

“Y’might wanna try reading more- I hear it helps.” Faith said with a grim smile before again smacking a stunned Pete across the face with the thick book she was wielding.

Faith stepped over the other slayer and knocked Pete against another bookshelf, dropping the book to free her hands, she threw herself against him. Her fists pounding into his body as she cut loose.

‘Pete the rage monster meets Faith the angry slayer.

As Buffy scrambled to her feet she saw Pete manage to barely push Faith away before turning and fleeing through the stacks towards the back of the library, but suddenly he stopped and quivered. Pete’s hands reaching up to clutch at his chest before he collapsed forward and slumped to the floor- revealing Xander standing there with the tranquilizer gun.

“For the record, my dreams of me being in the library stacks with two girls- not usually so terrifying.” Xander said as he nervously reloaded the rifle.

Buffy smiled as she gingerly checked her jaw wasn’t swollen. “Thanks for the assist, Xand. Is Giles okay?”

“Fine, just a little dazed from Faith landing on him. Got him kinda flustered.”

Faith frowned at that. “Yeah, well Captain Steroid here got lucky is all. I had him till he started scratchin’ at me.” Faith started towards the unconscious form still intent on dishing out some punishment.

Buffy caught her shoulder. “We got him, Faith. Hitting him some more would just be petty...really satisfying but petty.” Buffy glanced at the other girls forearm. “C’mon, you’re hurt, let’s get you seen to.”

Faith muttered that it was nothing but still followed Buffy out of the stacks as Xander fired another dart into Pete.

As Buffy helped Faith over some wrecked shelving she commented. “Oh, and this in no way validates your insane theory about all guys being wild, animal people deep down inside.”

Faith just smirked. “It’s like I keep tellin’ you, B. All men are beasts- some just make better pets, is all.”

Giles had just finished adjusting his glasses as they came down the stairs. “What happened?”

Buffy gestured behind her to the stacks. “Xander went all safari and bagged himself a Pete.”

“After we kicked that ass,” Faith added.

“Well that’s a relief,” Giles glanced around. “And what about Debbie?”

“Willow’s with her, she’s safe but upset- which is way better than dead. All’s left is the cleanup, and I’m not sticking around for that.”

“Same here, B and I did the heavy lifting; you guys bring the cops or whatever.” She grinned at Buffy, “What about diner food again, this time I’ll buy- promise.”

Buffy smiled a little awkwardly. “Actually...I remembered I should probably, uh, check on Angel. See what kind of condition he’s in. Bring him some blood.”

Faith’s grin faded a little forlornly but she nodded. “Sure, you gotta go keep an eye on him, I get it.”

Giles cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Uh, Buffy, you will of course be careful. And please do tell me if his condition changes or...worsens.”

“Absolutely. I’ll keep you guys updated.” With that she turned and left, feeling a little guilty as she did so. Even though she didn’t really want to be doing this, talking to Angel- her Angel, was going to be difficult enough for her. Buffy had to be strong and realise that no matter what she felt for Angel there was no future for the both of them together. He had told her that before Prom and she couldn’t think of a reason anything would change this time.

Buffy sighed to herself as she walked through the school grounds, all which of course meant a fairly lonely school year romance- wise. If she could shake off all the distractions maybe she could make a go of it with Scott, even though he didn’t fill her with intense romantic feelings he was still...nice.

‘Nice. He should be perfect boyfriend material, but nooo I have to be picky and difficult and lust after a brooding, gorgeous...’

Buffy shook her head; she needed more time to think things through. At least everybody knew about Angel- she could talk it over with Willow tomorrow maybe, best not to bring it up with Faith or Xander though.

“Hey, Buffy.” Buffy turned to see Xander jogging over to catch up. “Wait up.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Go home Xander, you don’t have to...check up on me for Giles or anything. I’ll be fine.”

Xander held up his hands as he approached. “Whoa, not the issue hear, okay. I just thought...Look- I know I’m not Mr. Objective when it comes to Angel but you shouldn’t have to go through this alone. Especially after last year you need support- friend support, and for the record Willow sent me out, she has to watch Oz but you know Will, she worries- as concerned friends should.”

“Still, you don’t have to...”

“Want to, Buffy. I know it was...kind of a big deal telling us he was alive after everything that happened. You could’ve lied and not told us and had to go through all this alone, but here you are- not alone. You’ve got me.”

Buffy smiled at that. “I thought about lying, I really did. But I trust you guys, thanks Xander.” Buffy paused and frowned a little. “Just bear in mind that Angel has been through a lot- literally a hell of a lot and he was a little...a lot scary. So if you hung back a bit...”

“I won’t be brutally attacked? Gotcha.” Xander seemed to consider something. “Um, Buffy, if Angel just got out of Hell...He isn’t naked is he.”

Buffy actually found herself giggling. “Don’t worry Xand, he’s wearing pants.”

Xander grinned and bobbed his head as they walked together. “Good. ‘Cause I’ll only go so far for our friendship...”

Buffy looked at her friend. “I hope Cordelia knows how lucky she is.”

Xander thought about it. “Well, she probably does Buffy, after all she’s beautiful, rich, and popular- and have you seen her car...”

Buffy touched his arm. “You know what I mean.”

Xander nodded bashfully before changing the subject. “So what kind of pants do they wear in hell anyway, suede? Bell-bottoms? Big checked clown pants?”

Buffy looked at her friend like he was crazy. “Um, not unless Angel was in evil seventies circus hell. Besides I know for a fact you own checked clown pants.”

“Exactly. But if they wore them in hell then that would make them cooler, right?”

...continued in Homecoming...

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