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Wishing Changes Everything: The Zeppo

by Declan
Rating: PG-13

The Zeppo (Not The End Of The World)

Sewers.

Buffy had nothing against them in theory, but really, did they have to be so damn inviting to the denizens of the underworld. Sewers should stink more, or maybe smell really nice, something to make them off-putting to the various demon-y ugly types.

She sighed as she ducked a dripping overhead pipe and stepped over a puddle of liquid yuck to peer around the corner; ahead and on the right was where the cave entrance was supposed to be. Some overflow tunnel from back in the day that had collapsed and was now home to something nasty. Or rather three nasties.

Buffy heard Giles step up next to her; resting the tip of the sword he was carrying against the ground he wiped his forehead nervously. “Is that the place?” He said quietly.

“Suite 507, stinky plaza. Cave’s been vacated by vamps, now home to three gnarly blue she-demons. I forget their name.”

“Well, my sources aren’t as reliable as they used to be. The council made sure of that when they relieved me of my duties. But if we’re to find out what these demons are up to, we...I need to get a look at them.” Giles looked at Buffy before remarking dryly, “Your assurances of the coming apocalypse not withstanding.”

Buffy frowned at that. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, it hardly a lot of notice is it. I’ve spent all week trying to research this Ascension, not to mention this dream invading fiend of yours, and then I offhandedly tell you of a recent upswing in vampire activity. One suggestion of clearing out a vampire nest and suddenly it’s...” Giles lowered his voice further, “The end of the world.”

“Well, I’m sorry I didn’t write down specific dates in my big book of ‘things to remember when I’m flung back in time’.” Buffy sniped, “It’s only when you said the other stuff that I remembered about the Hellmouth opening up. For some reason I’ve been preoccupied.” She finished pointedly.

“Well, yes quite...” Giles muttered awkwardly, “How have things been between you and, ah...”

“Frosty, like arctic chill frosty. We’re just two slayers that happen to live in the same house, that’s it.” Buffy shook her head sadly, “And I wasn’t able to get hold of her on short notice. I don’t even know where she patrols these days. So this time we’re gonna have to do things a little differently.”

Buffy didn’t like it. The last time she’d faced these things Faith had been a huge help, and with Angel also inconveniently missing she’d had to call in anybody she could to lend a hand...

“I’m just saying why can’t you light the candle now? We’re kinda in the smelly armpit of darkness here.” Xander grumbled as he finally caught up.

Willow was at least making an effort to keep her voice low. “It’s for the spell. It’s all pre-enchanted so I have to save it. Which means no light-y, understand?” Willow sounded like she was making an effort to control her nerves, “Besides, I don’t know about you but I don’t even want to know what I’m stepping in.”

Xander defended himself. “Hey, I’m the poster child for the ‘ignorance is bliss’ philosophy. I just don’t want to trip over in the dark and land painfully on my axe here. Just saying.”

Buffy interrupted them sharply. “Guys, we’re here, okay. A little less chat.” Buffy paused and looked at the dank shadow that hid the cave mouth. That was their target, “Right, here’s the plan. Giles and I will move to the entrance and get a look at them, and we’ll lure one out and slay it. Willow, you’ll cast the ‘misty cloudy’ spell to confuse things and then we’ll all retreat. Xander...just stay behind Will, okay?”

Xander tried not to look hurt. “Right, great plan. Glad to be a part of it. Although if I felt any less manly my axe would wilt, so...”

Buffy didn’t have time for this. “Xander, these evil, smurf-things are dangerous. I just can’t risk you getting hurt, okay? Just watch Willow’s back.”

Willow nodded in agreement. “Don’t worry; my protection spell should cover both of us if he remains close.”

Xander nodded glumly. “So I’ll just stand here and cower. Got it.”

Buffy ignored him and gestured for Giles to move with her closer to the cave mouth, but she held up a hand as she heard voices coming from the other direction.

First a male voice, kinda whiny. “...tellin ya, they’re all pointed ears and horny...I mean on their forehead, not like...”

The other voice grunted. “Keep movin’.” Buffy’s heart skipped as she recognised it as Faith’s.

That’s when she saw them; a guy dressed in a leisure suit, skinny with slicked-back hair a couple of medallions around his neck. Faith, all dressed up in her leather jacket and slaying gear was holding a stake in one hand. The other was on the vamps shoulder, holding him in front.

The man stopped, obviously nervous and gestured the same lair entrance that Buffy had been looking at. “There it is. A sweet little set up it was. Roomy, doesn’t leak much or smell too bad, and then we get turfed out.” He shook his head in a ‘what is the world coming to’ gesture, before looking over his shoulder, “Anyway, there’s the evil, just like I told you. So, you’ll let me go like you said, right?”

“Right,” Faith said simply, before ramming her stake into his back and then shoving him away, “Just didn’t say when.”

The vampire staggered a few steps, splashing through brackish water, before disintegrating into dust.

Buffy saw Faith smile grimly at the sight before the brunette ducked her head and made her way towards the cave opening.

“Faith!” Buffy hissed, stepping into a shaft of pale moonlight drifting through an overhead sewer grating so the other girl could see her.

Faith turned and frowned. “Buffy?”

Buffy made a ‘quietly’ gesture before waving her hand to signal Faith to come closer. The other girl did so cautiously, but paused when she saw Giles and the others.

Her hard face turned sour. “What’s going on, you waiting for me or somethin’?”

Buffy shook her head. “Or something. We’re checking out that cave, the same one you are. We’ve got intel that it’s crawling with demons.” Buffy looked plaintively at the other girl, “Maybe we could work together on this.”

Faith thought about it for second before shrugging. “Sure, you can tag along. Just don’t get in my way.” With that she moved back towards the opening.

Buffy went after her. “Faith, wait. We have a plan, okay? We can lure them out.”

Faith didn’t look back, just squatted next to the entrance and cocked her head. “No offence, B. But the last time I followed a plan that G was a part of, I almost got dead. Come if you’re coming.” With that she stepped into the cave mouth and vanished.

Buffy cursed in frustration, obviously Faith was still reckless as hell, never mind what Giles had been trying to do.

Still, they’d actually had a conversation. Sort of. A lot less dismissive grunts of than ever before, anyway.

Buffy scrambled over to the entrance after Faith, but Giles caught her arm. She glared at him in annoyance but all he did was offer the sword. “Take this, you’ll need it. We’ll make our way down and cast Willow’s spell while you have these demons, um, distracted.”

She nodded thanks, grabbed the sword and turned to follow Faith into the inky black. The cave mouth descended steeply in a slope of damp, crumbling brick, before dropping away onto a concrete platform scattered with rubble, things washed down from the sewers above.

Old stone and earthen walls were studded with broken-through tree roots. The odd ancient lighting fixture along the wall was the only illumination. Buffy saw Faith drop off the concrete skirting onto the earthen cave floor and look around cautiously. “Don’t see nothin’...” She muttered before tilting her head to listen to something.

Suddenly from the dark rushed one of the she-demons, running into Faith and knocking them both to the floor. It’s cracked, shrieking voice bouncing off of the cave walls as its clawed hands grappled with the dark slayer. Buffy moved quickly down the slope, jumping over bits of driftwood and wire mesh to land on the floor next to the two struggling figures. She raised her sword in a high arc above them, ready to strike, only to be grabbed from behind and yanked backwards. Callused warty hands twisted her at the waist and threw Buffy hard face first against the cave wall. She quickly dropped the sword and brought up her arms to brace before kicking backwards at the bellowing she-demon, a solid hit from her knocked it off its feet.

A third creature emerged from the darkness. It’s strangled, cackling cry aimed straight at Buffy as it charged. The blonde pressed off the wall, ducking a vicious clawed hand before elbowing the demon in the back of its head. To the other side Faith had barely managed to get the upper hand, rolling on top and pummelling the she-demon below her with a forehand-backhand combination, grunting in anger as she did so. She reached into her waistband, perhaps for a stake or other weapon, before being torn off the downed demon, pulled up and backwards by Buffy’s first opponent, both of them slamming against and bouncing off a stone pillar. Faith groaned loudly in pain and surprise.

Buffy kicked out at the demon trying to get up before twisting to avoid the talons of the one behind her, its ferocious raking drove Buffy away from the walls and her sword, the blue skinned creature tearing at the air where Buffy had been moments earlier.

She heard to scrambling sound of Giles and the others as they made their way down to join the fight, so Buffy acted quickly. She shot out her hands to catch the demon’s thick and vieny wrists before quickly jerking it forward as she herself fell backwards and rolled. The she-creature rammed forward onto Buffy’s outstretched legs and went flying over her, screeching even as it slammed heavily into the wall opposite.

Buffy flipped to her feet as one of the other demons did so, Faith was busy, having gotten her opponent in a headlock, and bashing its head repeatedly against a nearby rock formation. The she-demon in front of Buffy struck her with lightning fast speed, punching fiercely at her chest and stomach.

Wincing Buffy swiftly backed up and kicked out, trying to maintain a little distance from her opponent. The demon knocked away her leg, talons scratching her ankle, and then backhanded Buffy hard against a wall.

The blonde forced herself upright and ran aggressively, straight at the creature, feigning left before jumping right and kicking off a nearby rock. She spun into a high kick that caught the creature hard across the face before landing and using her momentum to turn into a leg sweep, her knee catching the creature behind its legs so it flew onto its back. Buffy nimbly sprung over her downed opponent before rolling on one shoulder and coming up next to her sword. She quickly snatched it up.

On her left the fight had been joined in earnest, one she-demon wrestled Xander's axe away from him before brutally smashing him in the face with a head butt. Giles managed to bodily shove the creature back into Faith’s reach. The brunette grabbed the demon, stomped on the back of its leg to drive it to its knees and seized it around the neck before brutally snapping it and pushing the limp form to one side.

Another demon launched itself at Giles and Xander who desperately tried to fend it off. Giles was shoved backwards by a clawed talon and Xander was battered viciously around the head before been flung around and thrown hard across the ground.

Buffy charged forward as the demon woman turned to face her, wrinkled scaly features hissing in aggression as it did so.

But then a thick mist quickly shrouded the chamber, pouring around thighs like tidal water before drifting upwards, curling and spreading as it did so, covering everybody. Buffy broke off her attack, scrambling to one side to where Xander had fallen. She patted the nearby floor before finding his shoulder and feeling for his neck.

Xander groaned softly and coughed, choking slightly against the clay-like floor.

“Xander? Thank god, just stay down.”

Buffy pressed her left hand against his back, her right trailing the sword through the mists, looking for an opponent. She saw movement, a shadow on the wall, the pointed ears and rasping breathing that marked these things. Buffy stepped up and brought back her sword, waiting. She knew Giles had enough sense to stay low and Willow had taken cover behind Faith, which was a comfort. The other slayer had already killed one of these things.

Then Buffy saw a creature, a meter or so the left, its back turned away. She repositioned, turning her sword point on and lunging. But even as she did so the demon was turning, ears pricked. It scrambled backwards to deftly avoid the blade so Buffy twisted around turning her thrust into a slash and then into a riposte, always making the demon move back and away from her blade instead of attacking.

Until it ran out of room.

Its backside pressing up against the cave wall as Buffy lunged forward, burying the blade deep in its heart and driving it to the floor, even as a death rattle escaped from its throat.

Buffy straightened up as the mist started to dissipate, two down, where was the third? She saw a flicker of movement to her right as the she-creature suddenly bore down on her, Buffy pulled her sword out of the corpse in front of her but she was a fraction too slow. That is until Giles collided with the demon's side, punching it solidly across the face twice before the demon grabbed him by the throat and threw him backwards, his back hit the ground with a dull thud.

But then Buffy struck, her blade sliding past a clawed hand and piercing the demon’s abdomen, steel embedded in scaly flesh. The she-demon gave a roar of pain into Buffy’s face and brought its claws around towards her throat in retaliation. But before it could connect an axe struck the creature in the side of the head, the axe head biting into its skull. The creature slumped lifelessly to the ground. A few feet away, Faith un-cocked her arm, her aim was as good as ever.

Giles picked himself up with a grunt, grimacing at the prone demon as he adjusted his glasses. “Well, that was...I think on the whole I prefer vampires.”

Buffy anxiously looked around for Willow. “Will?”

“Uh, over here.” She piped up; she was in the corner behind Faith, still clutching the candle.

Buffy looked her over as she and walked towards Xander. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.” He smiled bravely, “The shaking is just a side effect of the fear.”

“Well, your clouding spell worked well.” Buffy commented as she squatted down to nudge Xander, “Please tell me you’re playing dead.”

Xander held up his hand and made a ‘thumbs up’ sign. “Tip top.” He mumbled.

Faith, steering well clear of Giles, made her way over to one of the demons and poked it. “These babes were wicked rowdy. What’s their deal?”

Giles cleared his throat awkwardly. “I, ah, wish I knew. Judging by the markings they seem to be some sort of.” He glanced over at Buffy, “Demon cult.”

Something in Buffy’s memory stirred. “Sisterhood!”

Xander managed to sit up, still slightly dazed. “If we’re picking out super team names, I’m vetoing that one.”

Willow made her way over to him. “Are you okay?” She made sympathy face.

Xander slowly got to his feet, wincing. “I’m surprising okay, for someone who’s allergic to being hit.”

“What did I say?” Buffy told him, trying not to sound too annoyed, “I told you to stay behind Willow.”

Faith chuckled at that.

Xander acted like he was trying to knock something out of ear, possibly blood. “Excuse me; who, at the crucial moment, distracted the lead demon by allowing her to pummel him about the head.”

Faith nodded as she smirked. “Yeah, some guys have a talent. You really take a beating like a pro.”

Xander looked up from his hands. “I appreciate that. Are my eyes bleeding at all?”

Buffy patted him on the shoulder gently. “You’re fine. Barely. Just don’t get broken. You’re kind of unique and hard to replace.”

“Like a mascot.” Willow said brightly, and none too helpfully. Buffy caught Xander's hurt look but she was distracted by Faith.

Faith stepped towards the entrance. “Well, that was a blast but I’m outta here.”

Buffy moved after her. “Wait, Faith...we should probably, I mean these demons are all mysterious and need to be...”

“Burned?” Willow ventured as she looked around, “We should definitely burn them.”

Giles was peering intently at one, like he was trying to place it. “I think we can just leave them. I’m more interested in finding out what they are or if we can expect any more of them.”

“Definitely.” Buffy said firmly and then turned back to Faith, “So maybe you could come to school tomorrow after class, so we could, um, maybe patrol together. Just to be on the safe side, y’know.” She tried to ignore the awkward atmosphere that had settled in the cave since all the fighting had stopped. This was the first time Faith and Giles had been in the same room since...

Faith shrugged. “Reckon I’ll be okay, now I know what to expect.” She turned to Willow and Xander and nodded, “See ya.” Then she left hurriedly.

*****

On some level Buffy understood Faith’s attitude, all that mistrust that had been melting away had surged back like the tide, leaving the slayer angry at Giles and distant from Buffy. What Buffy hadn’t been prepared for was her Mom’s reaction.

When Buffy had gotten home to an empty house she’d waited around, determined to see how Faith was when she finally came back from the hospital. Guzzling pain killers and coffee to keep awake and relatively pain free Buffy had sat back on the sofa and remained there until about four in the morning, when Faith and her Mom had got back.

If either of them had been surprised or grateful for Buffy’s gesture they hadn’t shown it. Buffy’s Mom had simply informed Buffy that she should go out of house for her Birthday tomorrow, go somewhere with her friends and have fun. But it wasn’t what she said that threw Buffy, but the way she said it, in that cool, disappointed tone Buffy had remembered from all the times that she’d been in trouble at school.

All those classes skipped, fights started, buildings torched and all the time Buffy’s Mom standing there with quiet exasperation and embarrassment, making Buffy feel even worse.

So Buffy had gone to bed, unhappy but confident in the knowledge that after sleeping on it her Mom would come and ask for her side of the story, to clarify everything.

Instead she’d woken up to find Faith and her Mom gone, a simple note saying that they’d be out for an hour or so and that she didn’t expect to see Buffy until much later on. So Buffy went and golfed with her friends, putting on a brave face, explaining to them all over again what had happened. Telling them that Giles had been fired, much to Willow’s shock, and that Faith just needed some time to recover and then everything would go back to normal.

To Buffy’s surprise she’d then arrived home to the sound of laughter coming from the living room; her Mom and Faith giggling together. Buffy entered to find them both on the sofa. Faith, her wrist in plaster, lay out on her back with her head on Mom’s lap. A tub of popcorn balanced on her stomach. Buffy’s Mom gently running her hands through Faith’s hair as they watched some goofy cartoon on the television. On the coffee table stood a stack of rented videos, a few bags of cookies and some sodas. It all seemed pretty cosy.

“Hey, whatcha ya guys doing?” Buffy had asked happily, glad that everyone’s mood had improved.

It didn’t last.

The laughter quietened almost immediately and Buffy saw Faith tensed up a little. Buffy’s Mom didn’t look back at her, simply replying. “Just watching some videos, honey. How did your day go?” She sounded like she was asking just to be polite.

Buffy’s smile faded as the atmosphere changed. “Um, pretty good. I managed to beat the clown’s mouth. Mostly without the cheating... So you guys have been vegging out. Cool.” She finished lamely.

She saw her Mom’s head nod. “Faith and I have pigged out a little on snack foods, so you might have to cook something for yourself. Or there’s some stuff for sandwiches.”

Buffy felt her throat tighten a little. “Not really hungry.” Which was true, now anyway. “I, uh, think I’ll just turn in. All that golf...relaxing, y’know.”

“Whatever you want, sweetie.” Her Mom said, still without looking around. Apparently the cartoons were riveting.

“Well, goodnight.” With that Buffy walked up the stairs, first her Dad doesn’t care enough, and now she’d alienated her Mom. Boy, she was the best daughter ever. Buffy felt like crying.

But she hadn’t, she’d gone to her room, curled up on the bed and moped. Did she deserve this? To be punished? Had she not run to rescue her Mom and Faith as soon as she was able? And getting slapped around by insane vampire guy in the process. So now she was what, some...domestic piranha? Or maybe it was pariah, she wasn’t sure.

She felt like she was fifteen again, with all that trouble and her parent’s icy behaviour and with the fighting and the shouting. Good times.

But a little while later her Mom had knocked on her door and came in, smiling sympathetically. “Hi honey, I was hoping you weren’t asleep.”

Buffy just stared at her before sitting up. She didn’t trust herself to speak so she quickly shook her head.

Closing the door quietly her Mom had come over and sat on the bed. “Are you still hurting? I saw you hitting the Tylenol pretty heavily.”

“Why do you care all of a sudden?” Buffy replied sulkily, she couldn’t help herself.

Her Mom looked at her for a long moment. “Buffy, the reason I was acting that way...is because Faith needs to know that someone’s on her side in all this. That there’s someone she can still count on.”

“I’m on her side.” Buffy stated.

Her Mom just shook her head. “Of course I know that Buffy, but Faith...she doesn’t. It’s all I’m trying to do to stop her leaving and disappear off on her own somewhere. Nobody wants that.”

Buffy felt tears forming behind her eyes. “Mom, I swear I didn’t know Giles was going to do any of those things, or that Faith would even be involved.”

Her Mom smiled sadly and pulled her into a hug. “Oh, I know that, honey. It goes without saying. I choose to blame the scary man who kidnapped me, held me hostage and hurt my daughter. And yes, I blame Mr. Giles a little, even if he did get fired for his troubles. I’ll have a few stern words for him the next time I see him.” She pulled back, smiled as she wiped her daughter’s cheeks, “I’m proud that you came to get me, and I’m so sorry you got hurt...But for the next few days, I might not be able to show it. Faith needs someone in her corner, and well, I think she’s earned it don’t you?”

Buffy sniffed and nodded, suddenly embarrassed for being all weepy. “Okay, I get it. Just as long as you don’t hate me or anything...”

“I don’t think that’ll ever happen. You’ll always be my little girl and I’ll always be proud of you.” Joyce tilted her head and smiled, “I guess it must be a...slaying thing, because I feel the same way about Faith. I think she’s very special.”

Buffy laughed a little and sniffed. “Yeah, she is. I just...I really want us to be friends again, y’know?”

Her Mom patted her knee. “Leave it to me, honey. I may take a little time but we’ll get there.” With that said and one last smile her Mom had left, leaving Buffy an awful lot happier than before.

And all that had been a week ago, Buffy had thought ‘a little time’ would’ve been way littler, but then, she thought, Buffy’s can’t be choosers.

*****

“...The end of the world.” Giles stated gravely, the library counter was covered in pages of notes and a few star charts.

Buffy nodded glumly as she peered at some of his scribbling. “Told ya.”

Giles took off his glasses. “You could be a little less flippant, Buffy. This is an imminent apocalypse we are talking about. And, may I add, I was up half the night confirmed your suppositions.” Giles sighed as he scratched his forehead, “It required diligent research.”

“Hence your crankiness...I get it okay.” She looked at him expectantly, “Go ahead. Please. Refresh my memory.”

“They’re called the Sisterhood of Jhe, an apocalypse cult dedicated to bringing about the world's destruction.”

Buffy nodded. “And there’re more than just three of them. That much I remember.”

“According to the latest astral cycle they intend to open the Hellmouth.” Giles continued and looked at Buffy levelly, “Do they succeed?”

Unhappily Buffy replied. “Pretty much. I remember we couldn’t stop them. We did manage to, uh, bind? Yeah, bind the demon that came through. Y’know, the one that came out last time. And then we closed the Hellmouth again.” Buffy shuddered as she remembered, “It took everyone; you, Willow, Angel, Faith and me working together. And even then we barely succeeded.”

Giles cleared his throat as Oz walked in. “Oh, yes. Cutting it a bit close.” He said glancing at the clock.

Oz stepped into the book cage, noting dryly. “You know me.”

Turning back to Buffy, Giles asked. “What about Angel, are you positive that he hasn’t left town?”

Buffy shook her head. “He said...we’re gonna say our goodbyes when he’s ready to go. He wouldn’t leave without contacting me.”

“Then you should make sure he’s available, and I’ll look into a binding spell powerful enough to stop this, uh, thing from over-running us.”

Buffy remembered something. “Well, you should be ready for the fact that it’s gotten way larger. Not Mayor huge, just very big. Like a big, giant...hippo, only not so much with the cute.”

“I remember.” Giles nodded thoughtfully, “And I’ll adjust my calculations accordingly for the binding spell.” Then he asked, “Anymore light-headedness?”

“You mean that feeling like somebody’s poured a keg of beer into my brain? No, not so far, but I’ve been pretty much patrolling all the time with Willow and Xander just to make sure. I was wigging out...and it was definitely linked to the dream I had.” Buffy gnawed at her bottom lip, “Nothing else makes sense.”

“Well, I may have stumbled onto something there.” Giles went to his office and brought out a dusty looking volume, “Now, you said that in the dream...memory that this thing spoke through somebody else and was, ah, taunting you?”

Buffy nodded, she’d spared Giles most of the details, just the stuff that mattered.

Giles leafed through the stiff pages of the book. “The dream manipulation coupled with the other symptoms reminded me of a few remarks made by the historian Æthelweard.”

Buffy frowned. “A historian, so not an occultist or anything?”

“Hmn? Oh, no. He was a tenth century monk, a writer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and a scholar of some repute. But he made references in his notes to the strange fate of a Northumbrian monastery, that’s in England. A priest by the name of Theobald came to his abbey in a state described as close to death, claiming that his former home had fallen under the control of...of well, Satan.”

“Satan? As in red skin, forked tail and horns? Does he actually exist?” Buffy eyes suddenly widened, “Hey, wait, I didn’t sell my soul or anything, honest.”

Wolf-Oz suddenly howled piteously from his cage. Buffy shivered in response.

Giles made a subtle placating gesture. “Theobald’s claim isn’t accurate Buffy, and Æthelweard himself doesn’t credit the influence of Satan; he states that it must be the work of a demon of some sort. But he mentions Theobald telling him of the abbot of the monastery being plagued by, ah, fever dreams of people he knew. And that he wore a mark on his skin. A mark with a stylized eye.”

“Like my tattoo? So what happened to him?”

Giles shook his head. “Æthelweard’s notes are somewhat incomplete. They end with him setting off on a journey to discover the fate of Theobald’s companions and the abbot...But it does give me a place to continue searching, Æthelweard makes reference to a book called ‘The journal of Amra’kzahn’ an Islamic scholar, that he made use of. I’m sure I’ll find more there.”

Buffy was about to ask more when Cordelia walked in, glancing warily at Oz’s cage, before looking at Buffy. “I’m not on Oz watch again; one night was more than enough for this girl.”

Giles sighed heavily. “You may breath easily Cordelia, I have a lot of research ahead of me tonight so I may as well stay behind. If I may ask, why exactly are you here?”

“It’s still a library isn’t it? I can’t, like, get books… to study.” Cordelia said defensively then hesitated, “Also, I may have upset Xander.”

Giles had already lost interest but Buffy asked. “What happened?”

Cordelia made a face. “This morning he was being threatened by that O’Toole psycho, and I kind of...poked fun. I said he should just get one of the Super-Friends to beat the guy up.”

Buffy winced. After last night that’s probably not what Xander wanted to hear.

“Anyway, he got all wounded and puppy doggy. So whatever weirdness is happening this week just, maybe include Xander, that’s all.” Cordelia gestured vaguely, “Make him feel special.”

Buffy couldn’t see that happening, Xander had been safe last time precisely because he’d stayed out of the whole mess. “Uh, Cordelia, that might not be the best idea. Things are...really intense right now. So maybe if you, um, keep him out of the way, just for a few days.”

Cordelia frowned. “What’s going on?”

Buffy didn’t want Cordelia involved either. “Um, magic...a ritual-thingy, very boring...with lots of smelly, uh, stuff, candles and herbs. And possibly small animals.”

Cordelia held up her hand. “I really don’t want to know. I guess I’ll think of some way to keep him out of your hair. I have tact.” She gave Buffy a long-suffering look before leaving.

Buffy smirked at Giles. “Cordelia with tact. Isn’t that one of the signs of the apocalypse?”

Giles was already losing himself in reference books. “Mmn? Oh yes, it’s in Deuteronomy I think.”

“Fine, I’ll leave you to nose the books. I’ll be back here tomorrow for research and battles to the death. Fun all round.” With that Buffy left, with Cordelia and Xander out of the way she just needed to recruit Angel and Faith. Really, how hard could that be?

*****

Faith crossed her arms looked skeptical. “So the Hellmouth’s gonna open, huh?”

Buffy blinked and nodded emphatically. “Yes. It’s all…very imminent, so we’ll need you close by.”

“The world’s gonna end tomorrow night, and ya only just found out about it?” Faith thought about it, “We should probably go tell your Mom, right?” She made a move to leave the kitchen.

Buffy quickly stepped in front of her. “I don’t really, uh, tell Mom about all this stuff. Apocalypses. It’ll just upset her.”

Faith nodded with a slight smile on her face. “Well, sure, it’s gonna be her last night of earth. That’s pretty big news.”

Buffy scowled. “Will you try and take this seriously? Those blue demon-y women are an end-of-the-world kinda deal. We need to focus on stopping them, all of us, together.”

Faith rolled her eyes. “Couldn’t ya have come up with somethin’ a little more believable? You’re overplaying your hand here.”

“Over-playing…You think I’m making this up?” Buffy looked at her in disbelief, “B-But Giles has charts and graphs and stuff. There’s this thing with a globe…it’s something about planetary alignment…”

Faith shrugged. “Don’t wanna hear it. And I don’t care about anything Giles hasta say neither. So if that’s it…” With that Faith ducked passed her and left.

“If the world ends you’re so gonna owe me an apology.” Buffy called after her, “There’ll be a big chicken on your head… laying egg after egg… on your face.” But Faith wasn’t listening. Buffy wondered if she should follow Faith from room to room and just whine until she came to school the next day.

‘Not exactly the mature option, but it might work…’

Instead she should probably go and see Angel. That actually might be a less awkward conversation, sad to say.

*****

“Buffy.” Angel sat up from his couch, half out of his leather coat, “Is everything alright?”

Buffy walked over to him, her hands clasped nervously. “Not so much…uh, did you just get in from somewhere?”

Angel nodded. “Bought a car.” He stated.

Buffy was surprised. “A car? That’s, uh, that’s good. Is it nice? I don’t know much about cars generally, except that I can crash them real well. I actually think they’re afraid of me…” She trailed off vaguely.

“So, the reason that you’re here?” Angel asked delicately.

“Oh, right. Um, end of the world. There are these demons…”

Angel interrupted, nodding. “I’ve been hearing things, rumors of something big. And seeing portents, I didn’t know what it meant when the car dealer suddenly started speaking prophetic Latin.”

“Really sophisticated sales patter?” Buffy asked brightly, and then off the look Angel gave her, “it's okay, we’re all over this. We know when and where it's happening, tomorrow night these demon chicks are going to try and open the Hellmouth. We’re going to stop them and I need you onside to help out. Okay?”

Angel nodded grimly. “Tomorrow at sunset, I’ll be there to help Giles. I promise.”

Buffy smiled with relief. “That’s…good. I haven’t seen you around lately, I was afraid you might’ve gone.”

Angel took off his coat and sat back down. “And miss an emotionally wrought goodbye, that doesn’t sound like me.” He glanced in Buffy’s direction before asking, “How’s Faith?”

Buffy smiled sadly. “Nice attempt at casual. …Things aren’t going too well these days.” Angel gave her his penetrating stare, “The Watcher’s council, they did this stupid test…that stripped her of her powers to face a vampire alone, and it should’ve been me who...” Buffy shook her head in sorrow. “The test was meant for me, and I think she blames me. She doesn’t trust me…and I actually can’t blame her, the lies I’ve told.” She sat down next to Angel and looked across at him, “Aren’t you going to ask if I was involved?”

“I know you Buffy. I know you wouldn’t do anything to hurt her. You’re the most genuine person I’ve ever met.” He looked at her, “You tell lies to protect the ones you love, but everyone does that. It’s a way to shield them.”

Buffy nodded. “I sense a but coming?”

“She needs to hear something from you. Something pure. A truth, so that she can believe in the two of you again.” Angel looked into Buffy’s eyes, “All you’ve done is trigger her defenses…but all those feelings, that rawness inside her. It’s all still there. It hasn’t gone away, and that’s what scaring her.”

Buffy nodded in understanding. “Then I’d better tell her before the world ends.” She got up and smiled at him, “Thank you, Angel…I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night?”

Angel nodded his goodbye. “You guess right.”

*****

Buffy entered through the kitchen door, the lights were still on downstairs so she thought she’d sneak in the back. She didn’t really want to talk to Faith or Mom until she’d mulled over Angel’s advice.

‘Give her something true…something she can believe in. Apart from the end of the world that is…’

“…And you turned her down?” She heard her Mom’s voice coming from the living room.

Faith’s smoky voice replied. “Well, kinda. I thought she was just shooting me a line, y’know. Just tryin’ t’get us all friendly again. I mean, she’s given me a lotta space…”

Buffy’s Mom spoke up. “That’s deliberate, Faith. She knows that you’re hurting, and she’s trying to let you heal.”

Faith was dismissive. “Yeah, well I’m all better now. Healing kicked in a while ago.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Her Mom’s voice was soft, “You feel hurt because your friendship was damaged. You think that she kept this test-thing a secret from you.”

“You don’t think she did?” Buffy recognized the skeptical tone.

“Given how angry Buffy was, no I don’t think she did. At least not that it would happen to you. I know my daughter well enough to realize that this, all of this, is just…tearing her up. All that guilt.”

Faith sighed. “It’s just…how am I gonna be able to trust her again. I mean, I wanna, I really wanna, but I just...”

Her Mom’s voice was a gentle reproof. “People make mistakes, Faith. Everybody does. Buffy, myself, even you. That’s what being an adult is, making mistakes.”

“You talkin’ about havin’ kids?” Faith asked dryly.

Buffy’s Mom laughed at that. “Sometimes. But really, children are a gift. And any parent who doesn’t see that isn’t a very good parent.” There was a silence, “But people make mistakes, they fall and sometimes fail but they still try, Faith. Good people do at any rate. They recognize when they’re at fault or when they’ve messed up. But if you really care about them, you give them another chance. Because when you mess up, you’ll want them around to help you pick up the pieces.”

A long silence followed. “So, how many times has B messed up?”

Her Mom chuckled softly. “Well, even making allowances for being the slayer, and a teenager, an awful lot. Last summer being the latest I can think of. But it’s not like I made it easy for her, with all the arguments with Hank and then the divorce…”

Faith interrupted. “Guy sounds like a dog, Joyce. You’re better off without him by the sound of it.”

The older woman sighed softly. “But without him I wouldn’t have Buffy…see how complicated being an adult is? Add to that all this…supernatural nonsense, well you girls need each other more than most. So, do you can think you could see your way to building some bridges, maybe?”

“…I guess I can think about it.” Faith’s voice was soft.

Buffy was sat in the kitchen listening in disbelief. ‘She really is the best Mom ever.’

Maybe she could fix this after all, then all Buffy had to worry about was this world- destruction thing. She was way better at that.

*****

Buffy and Willow were walking towards school the next morning. Willow was somber. “And if it opens?”

“Remember that demon that almost got out the night I died. The plant-calamari thing?”

Willow nodded, her face animated. “Every nightmare I have that doesn’t revolve around academic failure or public nudity is about that thing. In fact, one time, I dreamed that it attacked me while it was late for a test and naked.”

“Well, it’ll be the first to come out. And it won’t be the worst; they’ll be a long line of far worse behind it. Unless we stop it.”

Willow asked. “Do we know when this is supposed to happen?”

Buffy was glum at the prospect. “Soon. Very soon. Possibly tonight. We need to head into deep research mode, that is, if you’re up for it.”

“I’d be offended if you hadn’t already counted me in.”

Buffy put an arm of support around the redhead. “Thanks Will, I don’t really want to alone right now, I get enough of that at home.”

Willow comforted her. “I’m here for you; you don’t have to be afraid…” She jumped and yelped in alarm as a car honked behind them both.

Buffy turned to see Xander pull up in his big, flashy blue car, all sunglasses and smiles. “You girls need a lift?”

“Uh, nice car.” Buffy said, she guessed that this was some ego thing.

Xander, basking in his assumed coolness, replied. “Thanks, it’s my thing.”

“Your thing?” Willow wrinkled her nose in puzzlement.

“My thing.” Xander emphasized.

“Your thing is very blue and shiny.” Buffy said, attempting an impressed smile.

Willow cringed slightly. “Is this a penis metaphor? I can’t believe my Mom was right about the symbolism…”

Xander explained. “My thing that makes me cool! You know, that makes me unique. I’m car guy. Guy with a car.”

That reminded Buffy. “Ooh, Angel got a car.”

Willow was surprised. “Really, what kind is it?”

“Well, I didn’t actually see it...but it’s probably nice.” She saw Xander deflate somewhat, “But...yours is nice too.”

“How can you afford it?” Willow asked.

Xander slid his hands over the steering wheel. “Uncle Roary stacking up the DUI’s, letting me rent this bad boy till he’s mobile again.”

Buffy nodded. “Well, like I said...nice.”

Xander gave her a look. “Could you sound a little less enthused?”

Buffy frowned. “Sorry. Evil with a capital E.”

Xander raised his eyebrows and took off his sunglasses. “Big?”

“Biggest.” Willow replied.

“Just trying to get a handle on it is all. Hence the mind being else where.”

Xander looked concerned. “Then we’ll handle it together. You know I’m here for you. Just tell me what I can do.”

Buffy looked at Willow, thinking it was still best to stick close to the script, no matter how much Xander might wish otherwise. “Could you, maybe, go for some doughnuts?”

*****

“I kinda feel bad for him.” Willow said, looking blankly at a book.

“I know Will, but it’s safer if Xander’s out of this. He almost got killed the last time, remember? Besides, Cordelia said she’s gonna take him to the Bronze, get him to relax and not over think the whole ‘cool’ thing.”

“It’s like a conspiracy...against a close friend.” Willow said trailing off, before changing the subject, “Speaking of people, and relationships...um, how is Faith?”

Buffy pouted. “You might notice that she’s not here.”

“Well, yeah. But she was never really book-girl was she. ‘Cause then she’d by kinda stepping on my shtick there.”

Buffy put down her book. “I’d feel better if she was here. In a couple of hours I’ll go out and find her, convince her that what’s happening is actually happening. And not some ploy for doomsday sex...” Buffy blushed, “Not, uh, that we’d do...that.”

Thankfully Willow ignored her comment, instead saying thoughtfully. “I think Oz knows a band called ‘Doomsday Sex’...”

Giles stepped out of his office. “Buffy, a word please.”

She got up and followed him inside, he seemed excited. At least English-excited, or maybe it was too much coffee. “I’ve found your culprit.” He said triumphantly.

“Culprit, as in...You mean the wish? Shouldn’t we worry about the coming end-of-all-things?”

Giles waved away her objections. “I perfectly capable of multitasking, thank you. And besides, this didn’t require much in the way of research. A friend of mine has acquired a copy of ‘The journal of Amra’kzahn’; it’s in Arabic and dates from the time of King Solomon.” Giles paused for effect.

Buffy just stared blankly.

Giles coughed. “Well, that’s not really important. What is important is the subject matter of the book, one thing and one thing alone. Jinn.”

Buffy frowned. “What, as in alcohol?”

“No, Jinn, As in Djinn. Known more universally as Genies is common myth.”

“Genies? Like baggy pants, bald head, rub-my-lamp, three wishes kinda thing?”

“As I said, more commonly known as, I’m sure the truth is quite different.”

Buffy nodded thoughtfully. Genies. Nice to know something definite after all this time. Maybe she should watch ‘Aladdin’ as research? Robin Williams was funny…But probably later. “Anything else?”

“Not as yet but Carlyle said he send it my way in the next day or so.” Giles looked dubiously at the phone, “I suppose it would be a waste of time trying to contact The Council?"

Buffy sighed and nodded. “That’s how I remember it.”

“Remember what?” Buffy turned to see Faith leaning in the doorway, her expression blank.

“Faith! You’re here, uh, obviously. We were just...with the whole Hellmouth thing, when it opened up last time, and it being here in the library. We were just trying to remember what to expect.”

Faith paused for a second before shrugging. “Whatever. So this deal’s really happening right?”

Giles didn’t say anything, but Buffy walked forward and led Faith out of the office. Safer for everyone that way. “I’m so glad you came. It means a lot.”

“Yeah, well don’t go gushing. I’m just not petty enough to let personal stuff get in the way of world-saving. I’m bigger than that.” Faith swaggered over to the table, “Hey, Red. Where we at?”

Willow beamed at the other girl. “Hey, and we’re still researching binding circles and also ways to kill these scabby demons.”

Faith picked a jelly donut and bit into it, mumbling. “Breaking their necks works well enough.”

Willow nodded in agreement. “Well, maybe a way to disrupt or weaken them. Make them an easier slay.”

Faith sucked on her fingers. “Hey, just point me at ‘em and say when. I’ll check our weapons supply...” She walked over to the book cage and stopped when Oz growled at her. “Right, later then.” She went over and sat on the steps.

Willow looked worried. “He’s cranky. I mean, more than usual.”

Buffy sat down and tried to find her place in a book. “It’s a good night for it.”

Willow thought about it. “Can’t dogs sense when there’s an earthquake? And they bark...Or cows lie down or something...”

Buffy scrunched up her face as she read a familiar passage. “...’celebrate victory in battle by eating their foes’...I guess that’s one way to build team spirit.”

Faith was eating another doughnut. “Yeah, as motivation goes it’s kinda gross, they couldn’t just take their shirts off? ...actually the eatin’ thing is probably better.”

Buffy sighed and closed her book. “I’m getting itchy feet here. And we’re gonna have to move Oz soon.”

Faith snapped her fingers. “I’m callin’ it to use the dart gun.” She said happily, and then saw Willow’s pout, “Uh, Sorry, Red. ‘Guess you should do the honours.”

Giles came out of his office with a large bag in tow, muttering to himself. “Have you found anything?”

Willow shook her head. “But it’s early days...which would be good if we had more than one day to find anything.”

Buffy pushed a couple of books towards the witch. “Check the books of Furian. See if we get anything. If not then move Oz to the basement and wait for my call.” She looked at Giles, “Faith and I are going hunting, see if we can’t slim down their numbers by taking a couple out.”

Giles nodded. “I have some resources at home I can call upon, as well as attempting to contact the spirit guides...ah, beings that exist outside space and time. It might be worth something. Whatever happens we must remain focused no matter...do you eat all the, uh, jellies?”

Buffy blanched guiltily. “I left you some!”

Willow looked about. “I’m sorry. Faith just had two!”

Giles looked to see Faith give him a challenging stare. He turned back and mumbled. “Well, uh, no matter. Maybe get Xander to make another run.”

Buffy shook her head insistently. “No, Xander’s not involved in any of this. He almost got killed the last time. I’ve got Cordelia keeping him out of trouble. Everything’s just better that way.”

Faith got up off the steps. “You wanna baby Xander, that’s fine. But the guy’s proved his worth more than once, just sayin’.” She pounded a fist into her palm restlessly, “So, we goin’?”

Buffy nodded, and with one last look at Willow and Giles she left the library.

*****

Buffy patted Willy’s arm comfortingly as Faith looked around the devastated bar. “Why did they do this?”

Willy coughed. “They were looking for...Angel.” He said weakly, getting both slayers attention.

Buffy had forgotten about this. “Angel...Why?”

“They said they were coming after you too. The both of you.” He glanced over at Faith, “Said nothing could stand in there way because tonight was...” He cried out in a twinge of pain. Faith flinched.

Buffy cringed in sympathy; she couldn’t believe she’d been too late again. “The ambulance is coming, just hang on.”

Buffy and Faith had gone trolling for any sisterhood demons and came up empty. For apocalypse worshippers they were a pretty cagey bunch, but then Buffy had remembered that they’d hit Willy’s bar, but the two slayers had arrived too late to do anything.

Willy’s battered face stared at Buffy. “Kid, my clientele ain’t exactly widows and orphans but I never seen anything like these demons.”

“We’re gonna stop ‘em.” Faith put in, clearly frustrated.

Willy shook his head blearily. “The Hellmouth opens, they’re gonna be the last of your problems, is my train of thought.” He weakly put a hand on Buffy’s arm, “If I was you I’d go find Angel, go somewhere quiet together...I’d be thinking about how I wanna spend my last night on Earth.”

Restlessly, Faith walked out of the bar, as Buffy heard ambulance sirens. “This isn’t your last anything Willy, I promise. You’ll be around long enough to get the bill for fixing this place up.” With that she got up, hopped over the bar and went after Faith. “Wait up!”

Faith was looking up and down the street, spotting a distant ambulance she turned to Buffy, her face grim. “You were right.”

Buffy blinked. “Yeah, I usually am...uh, about what exactly?”

Faith gestured around them. “The whole end-of-day’s bullshit, I thought it was just...” She shook her head.

Buffy put her hand on Faith’s arm. “Hey, I’ve faced these kinds of things before, same kinda fight, just bigger stakes. Heh, sometimes literally.”

Faith took off walking, heading in the direction of Buffy’s house. “So I’m gonna head to your house, pick up all the weapons stashed there and then... maybe, I dunno, hit a liquor store, get drunk. Seems like as good a time as any.”

Buffy walked with her. “Faith, we can beat this, okay? These demons are tough and the Hellmouth...okay it’s a big, bad, portal to hell, but we can close it.” She tugged on Faith’s shoulder, “Just don’t freak out on me, please.”

Faith glared at her. “I’m not freaking...okay, a little. I just thought...” She shook her head in frustration and then glanced at Buffy, “You gonna go and see Angel, warn him?”

“Angel should be fine; he’ll be going to the library, helping Willow deal with Oz.” Buffy gestured to Faith to start moving again, “We’ll call her from my house, and get her and Angel over to the Magic Box to pick up some spell stuff.”

Buffy tried to read Faith’s thoughts as the two made their way home.

*****

“Oh, hi girls, I was just going to leave you a note. I have to back to the gallery, so you’ll have to fend for yourselves.” Buffy’s Mom smiled at the two of them, “Like street urchins.”

Faith gave a weak smile. “Long as there’s popcorn, I’m good.”

“I think you ate the last of it, so you might have to defrost something.” She looked between the two of them, noticing the tension. “Is something the matter?”

Buffy shrugged. “Not much. Usual demon-y happenings, nothing too major.”

“Okay then, well I’ll leave you to it.” She kissed Buffy on the cheek, “Play nice while I’m gone.” She murmured, and then left.

Faith watched as Buffy’s Mom left. “You didn’t tell her anything.” She said flatly.

“Nope.” Buffy opened the freezer and grabbed a couple of packs of chicken fingers. “Eatable in twenty-five minutes or less. This should do.”

“You sure we got time for that?”

“You of all people should know a slayer’s gotta eat.” Buffy switched on the oven, “You put these in while I call Willow.”

Buffy picked up the wall phone a dialled the school library, told Willow where they were and was glad to here that Angel was with them. Safety in numbers counted for a lot now. She told Willow they were grabbing weapons at her place and that they’d be along in few hours.

That done she hung up; trying to think if she’d missed anything. But as far as she knew things were pretty much the same. The binding spell would be stronger, Giles had found a rare text that seemed to be written with Hellmouth’s in mind, so the extra few hours of research had done some good. All being well Buffy and the others could beat back the Sisterhood and save the day. She hoped.

“Food’s on.” Faith called as she walked over. She stood awkwardly in the living room, obviously restless. “So, you’re takin’ the end of the world kinda in your stride.”

“I’ve done this before...uh, not this exact thing but, the Harvest, the night I died, the Judge...a few times. Like I said, you can get used to it.”

It occurred to Buffy that nobody had told Faith about any of the stakes the first time around, she’d just shown up at the library when needed and fought along side everybody else, she hadn’t given it a second thought. Maybe Buffy shouldn’t have told her, since Faith didn’t seem to be processing the information well. “This is the same as all those other times, Faith. You don’t have to be afraid.”

Faith snorted hotly. “I ain’t afraid, okay. Shit, I fought worse than those blue-assed bitches. I’m not scared of a good fight.”

Buffy looked at her sympathetically. “Then what’s got you all wiggy...upset.”

Faith ran her hands through her hair and sat on the couch. “Look, bottom line...I don’t care if I get hurt, but what about if somethin' else bad happens...” Faith stared down at the couch and said softly, “Like if you get hurt.”

Buffy sat down next to her. “You’re worried about me?” She said it softly, slightly surprised.

“Yeah, guess I must be crazy. But if this thing is as big as you say...” Faith stopped and shook her head, “Y’know what, forget it, I-I can’t do this...” She got up hurriedly, “I’m gonna hit a liquor store.”

“Faith, wait!” Buffy got up quickly, “I know how you feel. It’s exactly how I felt when I heard you were going to the house to fight Kralik, alone. I was scared for you.”

Faith turned around and glared at her as she jabbed a finger. “Yeah, well, see there’s the problem, B. You’re still buddies with the guy who sent me in there, being all chummy with your Watcher after he tried t’kill me.”

“I know what he did.” Buffy said softly, “Giles was doing his job, it wasn’t a nice thing that he did. But it wasn’t malice towards you or anything like that Faith. You have to understand that, okay?”

Faith scoffed. “Just like that?”

Buffy snapped. “No, not just like that. You have to think about what the person did to you, and weigh up what they mean to you, and all the times they’ve helped you and put themselves out there. Then you decide if you can ever risk losing them, if you still want them in your life.” Buffy stepped closer to Faith, “Forgiveness isn’t easy, Faith. But it can be worth it.”

Faith shook her head and turned away. “Easy for you to say, it didn’t happen to you.”

Buffy gritted her teeth in frustration. “It did. ...In a way it did. I was helpless, okay. I had to watch as the man I trusted more than anyone in the world put the girl I love in danger...” Buffy paused as she realised what she said.

Faith turned and looked at Buffy warily. “What did you say?”

Buffy felt flustered. “I said...that, y’know; trust is, uh, hard to...” She trailed off, before remembering what Angel had said. Give her something true, something to believe.

Buffy swallowed nervously. “I’m saying that I miss you, that I miss us. That I’m in love you.”

Faith’s jaw tensed. “Don’t say that.” Her eyes were hard.

Buffy stepped forward, her eyes glistening. “It’s the truth, Faith. God, this could actually be my last night on Earth and all I can think about is you. About how I feel when I’m with you, when we’re together. And how I miss it all so much.” She stepped closer, her hand reaching up to gently touch the other girl’s face, “It’s also why I’m not afraid, I know that I can take on anything and win...just as long as you’re with me.”

Faith’s eyes softened, she looked lost and unsure, maybe even a little afraid. “Buffy...”

Buffy’s fingers stroked the other girl’s cheek. “You don’t have to say anything. I know how I feel...I just want you to know that I will never, ever hurt you. I promise.”

Faith’s eyes, so dark and expressive, searched her face. Her lips almost brushing against Buffy’s own their faces were so close. “I-I don’t...know how t’not have feelings for you. I thought, after everything that happened, if I just shut myself off then it would stop hurting, like I wanted it to...but I just ended up missing you.”

Buffy looked deep into her eyes and whispered. “I’ll make you feel better.”

They kissed. Buffy felt Faith’s soft lips against her and for a second she thought she heard the swell of music from somewhere. Her lips worked against Faith’s passionately, her tongue grazing the other girl’s as the kiss became deeper. Buffy found herself briefly forgetting about the end of the world, the night seemed to extend on forever as Faith wrapped her arms around her...

Then she heard someone clear their throat.

‘Oh, God. Please don’t let it be Mom...Please not Mom...if it is then this was totally a spell...’

Buffy pulled away and both girls looked towards the front door. Xander was standing there, looking a little frazzled. “Sorry...I, heh, I did knock and the door was open, so...This is a bad time...I mean, good time, just the wrong time. I’ll just go.” With that he left and closed the door behind him.

‘What is he up to...didn’t he do something like that last time? Walked in on me and Angel.’

Buffy shook her head slightly as Faith turned back to her. Her lips pulled back in an easy smile. “Guess he caught a show, huh?”

Buffy nodded a little breathlessly. “I, uh, hope he’s okay.” Her hands drifted to Faith’s shoulders, “And, if you want...that could be the first act, y’know.” She looked meaningfully at Faith. After all they were alone in the house and it was the end of the world...

Faith leaned in and gave Buffy another quick kiss. “I’ve had make-up sex before, but never before havin’ actual sex.” She looked Buffy over with a soft grin, “Definitely take you up on the offer, B. But we’re gonna hav’ta save the world first. Reckon that should give us both somethin’ to fight for. Doncha think?”

Buffy nodded in understanding. “So, are we...okay, again?”

Faith rolled her eyes. “You know I can’t stay mad at you.” Then a puzzled look came over her face as she sniffed the air, “Aw, shit, the chicken fingers!”

Buffy giggled as Faith raced for the kitchen. She guessed that they would have to wait to continue all the make-up smooching, probably for the best what with the apocalypse mere hours away.

While Faith tried to salvage their dinner Buffy supposed that she should ready any weapons they might have to hand. They were going to need them.

*****

Buffy stood with the others in a tight group, weapons ready. Faith stood to her left, bow drawn, sword slung across her back. Angel was to her right hefting a large mace. Willow and Giles stood behind them, all faces turning towards the scene unfolding in front of them.

The library was illuminated by dark, hellish lightning that flickered and strobed from the dark, yawning abyss from where the creature had emerged. The creature itself screeched in newfound freedom, its very presence seemed to thicken the air around it. As if reality itself didn’t want anything to do with it.

Buffy had remembered it clearly enough, spines and glistening, dripping tentacles. Too many teeth and what looked like eyes but were actually fleshy ridges and hollow knots of skin. The demon seemed blind, yet it sensed them and shrieked angrily.

Buffy heard Giles mutter. “My God...It’s grown...” His voice heavy with despair.

Faith, her face twisted in disgust, turned to Buffy. “You wanna go first?”

Buffy hefted her axe. “We have to keep it busy until the binding spell works it’s...uh, magic.”

With that she charged forward, squinting into the flashes of infernal fulmination that boiled from the air around the creature. The heart, the key was the heart...

...she remembered some of the battle, nothing more than brief flashes, as she and her friends fought to the last.

...Faith shooting arrow after arrow until the creatures necks were brisling with shafts and blackish mucus dripped from its wounds down onto the floor...

...Buffy herself burying an axe into thick, sinuous muscle before being knocked back off her feet, landed yards away in the corridor. Running back into the fight as the spawn slithered forward...

...Faith stomping on a tentacle that had wrapped around Willow’s leg, bringing her sword up in a glittering arc of steel, her teeth gritted in fury...

...Angel hacking at one of the Sisterhood demons, his face twisted into his vampiric visage as he dropped his weapon and seized it around the neck...

...Giles holding the scroll and calmly reciting words in a long-forgotten tongue, the demons foul, spewing maw mere inches away as it struggled to reach him...

...Angel throwing Buffy a large dagger as she jumped off of a nearby bookcase onto the demon's back, hacking and stabbing down with mad abandon, plunging deep to strike at the creature’s heart even as it reared and shrieked...

...rolling smoke coming off the creature’s demonic hide as Angel and Faith wrestle with one of the she-demons...

...Giles holding onto Faith’s arm as a toothy maw clamped around her thigh, trying to draw her closer. Buffy swinging her axe wildly at engorged muscle, tearing into it and being splattered by foul-smelling gunk...

...Willow smashing a bust down against a demons head, knocking the she-creature to the floor so Faith could stab it...

...Giles, his face bleeding heavily from contusions, shouting almost every swear word Buffy had ever heard as he stood close and chopped it with an axe. His arms covered with its black slime, as he tried to free Buffy’s arm from its grip...

...the thing’s true face, howling in defeat as it was hurled from this reality. The spell’s energy rippling and shredding across its shuddering form...

...The library floor, having once been a dimensional vortex, now transformed back into smooth stone. Normal apart from pools of sizzling ooze, broken wood, drops of blood and dead she-creatures...

...Faith managing to pry one of the dissected heads of the creature off of her thigh. Willow sitting next to her to tend with a bandage...

...Angel helping a battered Giles to his feet. His voice soft with concern and the Watcher nodding like his wounds were nothing...

...Buffy her heart light with relief and pride at how they’d done it all. Again. And that the world would now exist to see tomorrow.

*****

The next day everything seemed brighter, more colourful. Crowds of students walking by without a care in the world seemed somehow endearing. The soft burble of youthful conversation was a balm of normality, and it was almost head-spinning.

She was sat on one of the lunch benches with Giles, Oz, Willow and Faith. The other slayer had limped onto campus to check on Buffy, which was totally sweet, and also to indicate a wary truce with Giles. Saving the world together tended to lead to bonding, no matter what.

Oz was tentative. “But, Angel’s gonna be okay?”

Buffy nodded, fidgeting with her sling. “He was only out for a few minutes. Close call though.”

Willow still seemed a little shell-shocked. “I’ll never forget that thing’s face. Its real face, I mean.”

“Thing’s way too ugly to stay in the Sunshine State, that’s for sure.” Faith said lightly, although her tone was subdued.

Buffy looked at Giles admiringly. He’d saved her life... and Faith’s. “What you did. It was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Giles smiled bashfully. “The stupidest.”

“That too.” Faith nodded with an easy smile.

Giles looked around. “But the world continues to turn.”

Willow marvelled softly. “And no one will ever know how close it came to stopping. Never know what we did.”

“This whole anonymous thing sucks.” Faith grouched.

Buffy smiled at her as Xander and Cordelia walked up, definitely all coupley. Cordelia had her head on Xander’s shoulder, leaning against him. If Buffy didn’t know better she’d swear Cordelia looked... proud?

Xander nodded at everyone. “Guys.”

Cordelia smiled contentedly. “Morning.”

Willow gave them both a quick smile. “Hey. Boy, you’re lucky you weren’t on campus last night. It was crazed.”

Xander and Cordelia exchanged a look. Xander smiled. “Well, give me the quiet life. Hey, I’m gonna grab a snack, anyone want?”

Buffy shook her head. She was staring at Faith. She’d actually said the ‘L’ word to her. And meant it. And they were back together, everything had happened just the way...

“Oh, no, Xander. I’m not gonna be the girlfriend to Mr. Modesty. You saved all their asses last night, and they deserve to know it.” Cordelia had turned to stare at them as Xander was trying to shush her, “You wanna know what we were up to last night. Well, it was anything but quiet. It started after we left the Bronze, which was totally dead, and ran into the back of O’Toole’s car...”

Buffy’s eyebrows rose up as she listened. Well, this was new.

...continued in Bad Girls...

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