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It was four o'clock, a full half hour before the meeting was supposed to begin. Normally Giles would be expecting Willow to arrive at any second, but the only member of the Scooby Gang who ever showed up early for meetings was otherwise engaged on campus. She had assured him she would be at his house by four-thirty and he had no doubt that she would be.

That meant he would have no company until very close to the appointed time, and of course at some point after that, the three habitual stragglers would appear…late as always. It had been that way for seemingly ever, and that was why when Faith showed up just one minute later, Giles was surprised to say the least.

"Hey, Giles."

"What's wrong?"


"Are you in some sort of trouble?"

"'Trouble'? No. Fuck, can't a girl be on time for once?"

"I suppose one can be, yes, but you are in fact, early."

Faith glanced over at the clock.

"Minute late, G-Man. Coppin' to the fact that's like early for me, but…"

"The meeting is being held at four-thirty."

"No shit? Thought it was at four. Damn, here I was all proud and I blew half an hour."

He smiled graciously and took her by the arm:

"No such thing, dear girl. I've spent the day cross-referencing, and I could quite use your assistance with…"

"Try makin' me and I'm gone."

He saw at a glance that she was completely serious.

"Very well, tea then?"

"Yeah, okay, but load'er up with sugar."

"Yes, shall I pour yours directly into the sugar bowl then?"

"Hey, not my fault it tastes like weak donkey piss."

The queasy look on his face as he headed into the kitchen made her grin as she plopped down on the couch.

"Indeed. Strangely tea no longer sounds all that appealing. Root beer?"

"Yeah, now you're talkin'!"

He opened two bottles, grabbed a bag of the cookies she liked, and joined her on  the couch.

"So Faith, how goes it?"

"Goes good, so course…."

She waited politely while he took two cookies and then handed her the bag.

"…I'm keepin' an eye out for the other shoe to come landin' heavy."

He took a swig of his root beer before commenting:

"Have you considered the very real possibility that it may never do so?"

"Hopin' big, but gotta stick with experience, G-man."

"Perhaps one day, the 'non-shoe' dropping will be your norm."

"Man, would I dig that!"

She shoved a few cookies into her mouth, and Giles couldn't help but smile. She was delightfully childlike at times, and her enthusiasm was entirely contagious.

"Faith, while we've this time together, I was wondering if you'd given any more thought to pursuing your education."

"Ya mean the high school thing? Well…"

"I know you must be wearisome of hearing this, but in this day and age, a high school degree is the bare minimum if you wish to get anywhere. Not to mention that a girl as intelligent as yourself has an obligation to…"


"…seek out intellectual challenge for its own sake. I believe you have the mental ability to…"

She reached into her jacket and pulled out a rolled up piece of paper.


"Is this what I think it is?"

"If you're thinkin' it's my GED, yeah."

"You did it?"

"Bitch is done."

She grabbed two more cookies and packed them in while he unrolled the parchment almost reverently and read it carefully.

"This is a magnificent surprise. Well done!"

"Guess it turns out good I screwed up the meet time. Was plannin' to sneak off later 'cause I wanted you to be the first to know. No way I woulda done it without you ridin' my ass like ya did."

"Bah, no thanks are necessary."

He read it again, literally beaming.

"I'm so very proud of you. It's a wonderful start, most incredible. What did Buffy say?"

She polished off her root beer and reached for his.

"Told ya, you're the first. Knew ya'd get a kick."

"Bloody right, I do."

He stood and began pacing.

"So, where are we on college?"

"Whoa, Einstein. Not a big fan of school. They got all them stupid ass rules."

"Yes, I realize that may pose a bit of a problem, but with your mind you could easily…"

"Giles, can we just enjoy this a sec 'fore the new ass ridin' starts?"

"Yes, of course. Sorry."

He bent down and wrapped her in a warm hug.

"I'm just so thrilled, delightfully surprised, and I don't mean to pressure you."

"It's cool. I know the book learnin' shit floats your boat."

"It does at that."

He carefully rolled up the paper and handed it back to her.

"I couldn't help but notice your last name is rather prominently displayed."

"Yeah, thought about stickin' some tape over it."

"While I'll continue to respect your wishes as I have all along, you can't truly expect Buffy to allow a rather flimsy piece of tape to stand between her and the answer to her most burning question about you?"

"Hell no, she'd be tearin' that sucker off in a heartbeat. That's why I'm not gonna show it to her. Just gonna deliver the news and count on you to help throw down a little distraction when I need it. You in?"

He chuckled as he began tidying up:

"Yes, I believe I can provide a diversion for my high school graduate."

"Thanks. Oughta be a breeze for somebody with your lyin' skills anyway."

"I'm afraid I've no idea what you're going on about."

She smirked because she knew he knew.

"Meeting sure sounds serious. Records Guy finally hit town?"

"Most amusing. Will I never live that episode down?"

Faith laughed:

"Not while I'm breathin'."

She reached down and shoved her certificate under the couch, then moved to the chair while he got all worked up.

"Well, joke all you like, but I'll have you know the stupid git's already been written up twice, as well as received an oral reprimand. It seems he cannot adequately master the English alphabet…and judging by your rather pained expression, I'm gathering you're not all that interested."

"More like willing to shove this pen in my eye."

He tried to let it go.

"…It's just that records are absolutely essential in what we do. It's imperative that they be kept…"

"Okay, now it's your eye."

"Sorry, where were we?"

"Meeting. Serious. How?"

"My research indicates that the vampires you girls have been encountering of late are quite different than the usual."

"Already told ya that. Uniforms, ninety feet tall, strong as shit, smart…This some new Watcher thing where ya take credit for the info we dish out?"

He was shuffling through some papers and only half listening to her.

"Yes…of course not. I believe they're an ancient sect called, 'The Mystics'. As of yet, I've been unable to ascertain their agenda here in Sunnydale."

"Playin' with the Hellmouth or killin' a Slayer, probably the only choices."

"Most likely, yes. But until we're sure, I want everyone on the same page. It could be quite dangerous to approach the situation with a cavalier…"

The front door opened and Buffy strolled in:

"Hey, guys. Where is everybody?"

"Fifteen minutes early, B."

"But I thought the meeting was at four?"

Giles looked at her, his face way over on the stern side.

"Oh I see, and you find it perfectly acceptable to be fifteen minutes late?"

Buffy nodded at him:

"Well, yeah. I mean, you only get mad if I'm more than fifteen minutes late. Gee Giles, I figured that out in the first month."

"Well isn't that just bloody wonderful."

Buffy shrugged, her face innocent.

"It's worked out okay for me."

She turned her attention to Faith, leaning down and kissing her.

"Hey, cutie."

"Hey, yourself. Got some good news, B."

"Okay, hit me."

"I passed."

The room went supernova for an instant as Buffy's smile beamed out at full force. It was like she was outshining the sun, at least it seemed that way to Faith.

"You did it! I knew you would!"

She started up with the kissing again, interspersed with lots of rapid fire talking:

"As smart as you are, how could you miss?"


"I just don't know how you found the time and energy to study!"


"You are the most incredible person on the planet!"


"This is just perfect!"


"It's pretty cool, B."

"Yeah, I'd say so! You already told him, right?"

"Yep, he's up to speed."

Buffy turned to Giles:

"Pretty great surprise, huh?"

"Yes, the greatest."

"And I'd say that's still an understatement."


"Okay, let's see the certificate!"

Giles stepped in without delay:

"Pardon me, Buffy, I was thinking we should celebrate tonight."

She was all over that.

"A celebration is definitely of the required. Our house at seven-thirty."

Then she was back to smiling at Faith.

"I am so proud of you. Hey, we need to see about getting you enrolled at UC Sunnydale! Have you thought about a major yet?! We can take classes together! This is going to be so…"

"Maybe we oughta slow it down a little. Not all that sure about the college thing and…"

"Oh, don't even worry about college right now! We should just focus on the good news, there'll be plenty of time for college stuff later."

"Yeah, you're right, B. Don't know what I was thinkin'."


"You're just all excited! So how long before this meeting's over?"

Giles looked at her scoldingly over his glasses.

"Considering it has yet to even start…"

"Well, no wonder I'm always late, I hate this waiting around. So what's the big crisis?"

"Buffy, you must wait for the others. It isn't at all fair to them if…"

"Please, Giles?"

"Oh, do stop pouting. I've already given Faith the basics, she can fill you in whilst I take a quick shower and gather some sorely needed materials from upstairs."

He headed up to his bedroom, leaving them alone.

"Well that's just disturbing. Pouting almost always works with him."

"Think it did. See how fast he hightailed it outta here, B?"

"So I've still got it?"

"In spades, Slayer."

Buffy walked over and straddled Faith, wrapping her arms around her neck as she did.

"I am so proud of you."

"Heard that somewhere."

"You just keep amazing me all the time."

"I'm pretty amazin' alright."

Buffy nuzzled into her neck, making Faith moan softly.

"Mmm…you smell great too."

"All part of the package, B."

"And it's a great package…My all-time favorite."

Buffy's nibbling had Faith squirming in seconds.

"…Thinkin' you better stop doing that."

"But you're all goose bumpy…I'm thinking you like it."

"No question 'bout that…but B…gang's gonna be here in…a…few…B!"

"What's wrong with giving my girl a graduation present?"

Faith felt like she was on fire and freezing at the same time.

"Jesus, B…Gotta be…such a…fucking tease?"

"Oh, I'm thinking I do. Of course you could distract me by showing me the certificate."


She tried to get up, but Buffy wouldn't let her.

"Don't go, I'm not finished giving you your present."

"B…Shit…No, don't start movin'…"

But Buffy did start moving, just the way Faith liked best.

"You are the worst keeper of secrets in the world, now let's have it."

"…B, please…"

Buffy whispered directly into her ear:

"'Faith'…'Faith' what? I've imagined so many names, now I finally get to know…Hand it over, F."


Buffy's teeth nipped at her ear and Faith jumped…right into Buffy's  roaming hands. Faith's head fell back as she moaned and began quivering helplessly.

"Don't you think it's strange I don't know the love of my life's last name?"

"I'm like…Cher…Fuck…Madonna…"

"I don't wanna fuck Madonna, I wanna fuck you."

"Oh Christ…B…"

"Why won't you tell me?"

Faith was hanging onto the arms of the chair for all she was worth.

"Bastard father's name…'Sides, it's…embarrassing now."

"Faith, it's a last name, how bad can it be?"

"Not bad…just ridiculous."

"So I have to make you tell me?"

"B…Buffy…C'mon…Gotta stop…"

Buffy's lips took hers in a searing heat that had Faith ready to explode. She completely forgot where she was, forgot that in minutes Giles would be downstairs and the rest of the Scoobies would be arriving, forgot everything except for Buffy.

"Well, hel-lo, Slayers. You birds feel free to carry on. Don't get the porn channel anymore, so…"

"Shut up, Junior."
"Yeah, Spike."

"Nice. Got the dialogue down just right, now do the sex part."

"You wish, pal."

"Can't blame a bloke for tryin'."

He took off his coat, tossed it onto the coat rack and leapt over the back of the couch. He landed hard with a bounce, still grinning from having caught them making out.

"So, 'sides the free show, what's the doin's?"

"Faith passed the GED."

"Yeah?! Fantastic, # 2!"

He pushed Buffy off of Faith's lap, and lifted Faith into the air with an enthusiastic hug. He twirled her around several times, a big smile on his face.

"Knew you'd do it! Bloody brilliant, you are! Flashcard info swing into play?"

"Yeah, 'specially the science ones."

He set her back on her feet and turned to Buffy:

"We need a party, luv!"

"I'm already on it. Our house, seven-thirty."

"Perfect. I'll grab the booze and soft drinks. Anything you fancy, Dark One?"

"Well, think ya could make some…"

"Onion blossoms? Tonight it's whatever you want. So proud of you!"

Giles came downstairs carrying a thick sheaf of papers and several books, his hair still wet from the shower.

"Rupert, hear what our girl did?"

"Splendid news, isn't it?"

"Bloody right it is! No stoppin' this one, does whatever she sets out to do. Well, let's get this meeting done with. Hey, where is everyone? Not like'em to be so late."

Buffy took a seat on the couch.

"Spike, brace yourself…The meeting's at four-thirty."

"What? You havin' a go at me, Slayer?"

"She's on the level, Junior."

"How in the hell…Well, this is right humiliatin', innit? Early birds are wankers like Willow and Xander. Never happened to me before."

Giles was organizing his papers at the dining room table:

"Yes Spike, I believe we all understand your consternation. I attempted to locate my camera upstairs as I wished to record this historic moment for posterity, but alas…"

"Make all the jokes you like, Ripper, but I'm addin' you to the 'Wanker' list…In fact…puttin' you right at the top."

"Oh dear, how dreadful for me."

Faith interrupted before Spike could retort:

"Guys, sorry to break-up the lovers' quarrel, but I'm smellin' a set-up here."

They were all silent…Giles because he was busy getting ready for the meeting, and the other three because they were somewhat stunned.

"Faith, I think you're right!"

"Yeah, way to use the new education. Got us a bloody Judas in the mix!"

"Sure fuckin' seems that way."

Spike stalked over to Giles.

"Alright Watcher, go easier on you if you just confess."

"Hmm…What? I didn't set any of you up…although it's not a bad idea, come to think of it."

Spike could tell Giles was telling the truth and he turned back to the Slayers.

"My money's on the witch then." 

It was perfect timing as Willow and Dawn walked through the door.

"What did I supposedly do now?"

"Set me and the Slayers up to be on time."

"I did not!"

"Will, just tell us if you did."

"But I didn't, Buffy, honest!"

"Little Bit, say it ain't so!"

"It ain't! I can barely get me here on time."

The door opened again and Anya walked in followed by Xander.

"So Harris, enjoyin' the hell you put us through?"

"Huh? Me? There was 'hell putting through'? By me? What was the question again, Spike?"

Faith tried to bring it down a notch…Faith style:

"Who's the traitor who fuckin' set us up, Xander?"

"Huh? Me? Why would I care?"

Buffy thought it over and stood up.

"He's got a point…Anya, is there something you'd like to share with the class?"

"'Class'? What 'class'?"

"Did you set us up to be early?"

Anya looked at Buffy defiantly:

"Why am I being accused?"

Faith slid up behind, pinning her in between two irritated Slayers.

"'Cause you're the only one left and ya look guilty as hell."

Anya folded like a cheap suit.

"Okay, yes, I did it! But time is money and punctual people save me money, especially when I have to close the shop to attend these meetings. Did it kill the three of you to be on time for once?"

Fait didn't hesitate:

"Feels like I could die. B?"

"Yeah, and I feel all dirty too."

Anya looked anxiously at them:

"You two are just kidding me, right?"

Buffy smiled at her.

"Yes Anya, we are definitely making with the kidding."

"Good. See, Xander? I do so get sarcasm."

"Oh yeah, honey. You clearly have a vast understanding of that particular form of verbal communication. I'd say you're a master at it."

She looked pleased.

"Thank you for admitting that so freely."

"My pleasure, Mrs. Harris."

Spike sat back down on the sofa.

"Sorry to rain on the touchy feelies, but I'm not at all happy at being misled. Was watchin' 'X-Files' on the telly and had to miss the last fifteen to make it here. Was a 'Smoking Man' episode too."

Faith joined him, shaking her head:

"Damn, got every right to be pissed, Junior…Smokin'  Man's king."

Giles cleared his throat rather loudly:

"I do so hate to interrupt this important investigation, but I feel I must before we become even more sidetracked. Perhaps we could all focus for a moment? There is a bit of vital information that needs to…"

Buffy excitedly took charge.

"Ooh, let me, Giles! You guys, Faith passed!"

Bedlam ensued as everyone rushed to congratulate the graduate, starting with Xander.

"Okay, I am officially jealous. You did in a couple of months what it took me almost five years to do, all without the wedgies and other assorted humiliations."

"Did you do well on the math? That'll come in handy when you need to make money."

Dawn was excited, overly so and she bumped Anya out of the way.

"I told you, Faith! Pay up, twenty smackers!"

"Squirt, on the QT, 'member?"


Buffy turned to Faith:

"You bet with my sister? On what?"

"No big, B. Hey, uh we…"

"Faith, did you bet against yourself?"

"Me? No, how fucked up would that be?"

Willow tried to change the topic:

"So Faith, did you ace the history? I'll bet you aced the history. You know, those who don't know their history…"

"Wait, Willow…I know this one. Those who don't know their history should always wear a condom. That also applies to their partner's history as well. You just can't be too careful."

Willow rolled her eyes, clearly exasperated.

"'History' history, Anya. You know, like 'American' or 'World'!"

"Oh…Well, then I don't know this one. Go ahead."

"Actually I'd be quite pleased if you didn't repeat…Could we please get back to…"

"Giles is right, guys. We need to get back to the point of this meeting."

He couldn't have been more surprised.

"Why, thank you, Buffy. I…"

"We need to figure out who's bringing what to the party."

"An and I will grab the pizza and other main food."

Dawn moved across the room just to be safe even though Buffy only had eyes for Faith.

"I can go by the butcher since we're out of blood, and I can get the decorations too."

Spike stood up, patting his jacket looking for his lighter.

"Blast it! Little Bit, if I make a list, can you do the market instead? I'm gettin' the booze and the decoration shop's just two doors down. Both right easy to get to in the daytime."

"No problem, I'm your girl!"

"Certainly are. Thanks, Nibblet."

Buffy was still staring at Faith and Faith was doing her best to ignore her.

"Spike's gonna make his onion deals!"

Xander gave Faith a vigorous high five.

"Yeah! Spike, make a million!"

"That just for you, Harris?"

"You joke, but I could eat them all and never regret the breathing of fire for an entire week."

Anya wrapped her arms around one of his:

"I don't want you to do that, Xander. Then there would be no kissing for a whole week, and I'd very much regret that…and I'd make sure you did too."

"Figure of speech, Vengeance Girl. No fire breathin' on my watch. And I'm makin' plenty."

Giles stood up, frustrated and determined to get them all back on a track they'd yet to be on.

"Pardon me, so sorry to interrupt…This was not the point of our meeting. There's a matter of grave importance that…"

Seven pairs of eyes stared at him with varying degrees of disappointment and sorrow.

"…can obviously wait until tomorrow. I'll bring the munchies."

Buffy mentally went over the list and nodded.

"Okay, I think we've got it all covered."

Giles used his very best Watcher voice:

"Except to stress that it's imperative we meet tomorrow, say four o'clock?"

Spike snorted:

"We all hear that? No changing the time this time……Anya."

Willow gathered up her belongings.

"I can't wait to get home and whip up some banners!"

"Could you be a bigger nerd?"

"I'm not a 'nerd', Spike."

"Are too."

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Excuse me, Mr. Big Sissy Flower Guy!"

He walked over to her, smirking all the way as she became more irritated.

"That s'posed to be an insult? Not even up to your usual 'nerd' standards…Hey now, what's with the sparklies?"

Little crackles of fire edged off of Willow's fingertips.

"You'd better watch your step, Flower Boy."

"Bloody hell, how'd you like it if I went all 'Grrr' every time we were jokin' about?"

"Try it and see what happens."

"Anybody hearing what's goin' on over here?!"

Buffy stepped in between them:

"Okay kids, time out. Will, put away the Fourth of July, and Spike, stop calling her a 'nerd'."

"But she started it! Was goin' all…"

"William, don't make me mad."

"…Fine…but she's not the bloody innocent she pretends."

Xander gave Spike a sympathetic look:

"Might as well let it go, Spike. Come tell me and An what present you want to get Faith. We'll pick it up for you."

Faith was on her feet then:

"Presents? I get presents too?!"

"I think you guys should know I tried to give her a present earlier, and she didn't seem to want…"

"Shut up, B. Want all the presents I can get."

"But Faith, I'm sure you said…"

"Ignore Blondie, she's completely full of it."

Xander and Anya were having a "private" discussion off to the side.

"Xander, this is our chance to unload those extra chicken feet I can't get rid of. I can still write them off on the tax return and save us the cost of buying a gift. That will kill two birds with one stone…I know that's funny, but I'm not quite sure how."

"It's too complicated to explain with words, but Anya, we can't…"

"Is it one of those things you have to show me, like that bizarre position we tried last night? I have to say – I think that was more for you than me, because it felt like I was being…"

"We have to get her something nice."

Anya wasn't totally onboard, in fact she still had at least one foot…poultry or otherwise…planted firmly on the dock.

"So does that mean the chicken feet are definitely out, because with a creative presentation…"

"Anya! Spike, it's now or never."

"Hold your horses! Puttin' some thought in and gotta finish this list for Niblet."

"All I'm saying, Xander, is that it's lucky I like her so much, because this whole thing's costing me an arm and a leg…If I could just somehow work the chicken feet in, I think something would be absolutely hysterical in this."

Xander wrapped his arm around her shoulders, kissing the top of her head as he pulled her close.

"I'm starting to feel a little hysterical myself."

"Got it, Harris! Know just the thing!"

"Tell us in the car, we'll give you a lift."

Everyone began gathering their stuff as they prepared to leave, and Faith spoke up happily:

"Man, gettin' here early ain't so bad. Ya get a party and presents!"

Anya's head whipped around and she began looking Faith up and down.

"Xander, should a high school graduate be using 'ain't'? Maybe she concocted this whole thing just to get gifts. I think we should demand to see a diploma or a certificate or something official."

Buffy walked over to stand in front of Faith.

"You know, that's a great idea, Anya. Faith, do you happen to have…oh, I don't know…some sort of certificate with your name on it?"

"C'mon now, B…"

"Just something to confirm your identity."

"Yes Faith, we want to celebrate, but I think it's only fair that we…Ow!"

"Time to run for our lives, An."

She was completely puzzled.

"Why? No one's mad, Buffy even thought it was a great idea."

"Just trust me when I tell you that Faith passed, there's a certificate saying so, and we need to skedaddle now."

"Okay, but you guys sure are weird."

"That we are. Bye, all!"

Anya's voice could be heard as they went outside:

"Maybe we could put the chicken feet in a basket with a cheap bottle of bubble bath..."

"Anya, no chicken feet presents!"


Giles had his wallet and car keys in his hand.

"I've several errands to run. Would you girls please lock up when you leave?"

"We will, Giles. Get good munchies!"

"Only the best, Buffy. You know that."

Then he was gone, they were alone, and Buffy turned back to Faith.

"All I'm saying is that I think we should get it framed."

"B, will ya just let it go? C'mon, got us a party comin' up."

"And that's exactly why I'm trying to get the paperwork out of the way. We don't want it hanging over our heads all night."

"At this point, thinkin' I'd be happier hangin' myself."

Buffy shoved her and Faith fell back into the chair behind her. Before she could move, Buffy was on her lap again.

"Okay, now we're getting somewhere. What name should I have carved on the headstone?"

"B, we're not doin' this again."

Buffy wrapped her arms loosely around Faith's neck, the sexy smile on her face already weakening Faith's resolve to stay strong.

"Wanna bet, F?"

"B, we…we…can't do it in Giles' house, so…"

"We're not going to. I'm just going to make you pay for betting against yourself."


"Get comfy, F. We're going to be here for quite a while."


"And you can bet on that."



The next day found almost every Scooby present and accounted for. They were gathered in Giles' living room and ready for Slayer business. Giles had the most relevant papers and books sorted into piles that covered the majority of the tabletop, and he looked slightly irritated.

He glanced at his watch, then at his Slayer. She was seated on the floor leaning back between the legs of his other Slayer who was comfortably sprawled in a chair.

"Buffy, is Spike planning to attend this meeting? I'd like to get started."

"Oops, my bad, Giles. Angel called last night and he went to L.A.."

"Not for long, I hope?"

"Nope, just for a day or two. He'll be back in plenty of time for whenever this latest big smack down is going to be."

"Is everything all right on Angel's end?"

Buffy nodded.

"I think so, at least for the most part. Wesley and Gunn got knocked temporarily out of service, so he needed some back-up. He said it's no big deal though."

"I'm happy to hear that, we've more than enough going on here. All right, shall we get to it then?"

Everyone nodded, their focus on Giles as he began speaking:

"I believe the vampires that Buffy and Faith have been encountering are an ancient sect known as, 'The Mystics'. They're fanatically devoted to their cause and leader, a very old vampire named: 'Francisco'. "

No one said anything and Giles continued with the briefing.

"They've spent the last two hundred years attempting to channel some mystical force into a conduit. Their goal is to imbue themselves with the power of invincibility."

"Gee, it's not enough to be immortal now?"

"Apparently not, Xander. If they're successful in their efforts, they will be immune to all of the rules imposed on vampires. They would truly be immortal, and the destruction and chaos they would wreak…Well, we must stop them at all costs."

Willow was skimming through a book in which Giles had marked several relevant passages.

"So why are they here all of the sudden?"

"I'm not certain. They've always lacked the requisite talisman, perhaps they've discovered that it's located here. Or perhaps they've already acquired it and are planning to use the energy from the Hellmouth to perform the ritual."

"Is it possible they're just vacationing on their way to someplace else?"

"I'd normally lend that theory a great deal more credence, Buffy, but as they're not bothering to hide their presence, I'm convinced we're facing a grave crisis."

She leaned forward, confused:

"Why does that have to mean something dire?"

"Because the Mystics do not reveal themselves often, preferring utter secrecy as they go about their quest. They must be quite close to reaching their goal as they've been willing to take so many obvious chances of late. Their behavior leads me to suspect that they do, in fact, already have the talisman."

Faith's arms wrapped around Buffy, pulling her back against her.

"Look Giles, the guys are big, but they're just vamps Let's go take'em out 'fore they can get their mojo up and runnin'."

"A plan to be sure, but we must first ascertain which talisman they're using. They will surely have magical wards protecting it, and in order for us to penetrate those barriers, we must create some magical response of our own."

"Hey Spooky Witchy Woman, you're up!"

Xander tapped her lightly on the arm to get her attention.

"Huh? Right, magic and spells needed, got it."

Giles began cleaning his glasses.

"While I've no doubt this task is well within Willow's capabilities, I've no idea how we can narrow down the list of potential talisman in any significant way."

Faith let go of Buffy, her voice cold and scary:

"Why don't we grab one and I can try askin' him?"

Buffy captured Faith's hand and entwined their fingers, her grip firm and solid. Faith smiled as she received the message loud and clear.

"An excellent suggestion, Faith, but unfortunately even the firmest of interrogation is bound to fail. They are fanatics and they will endure any discomfort to prevent our sabotaging what they see as their holy mission."

"Ooh, ooh, I know what we can do!"

All eyes turned to Willow.

"I read a couple of months ago about this spell that supposedly lets you peer into the Nether Realms. With a few adjustments, I'll bet I could isolate the energy of the talisman and then describe it to you…"

"…in the hope that I can identify it by your description. Brilliant, Willow!"

"And I'm pretty sure I can do the spell."

Giles was up and excitedly rushing over to his bookshelf:

"Yes, the spell will pose no problem for you whatsoever, and once we've identified the talisman, we can create a mystical weapon that can cut through any protection spells surrounding it. We'll be able to destroy it for good, whatever it is. Just excellent, Willow, truly!"

"Hey, I thought I was the star of the day!"

"Of course, Xander. Willow's idea, which could prevent an apocalypse, pales when placed alongside your stellar selection of doughnuts."

Xander smiled:

"And thank you for acknowledging it's not just about the delivery. I've spent years honing my selection expertise, and I like to offer the perfect medley of taste."

"Quite. Anya, by chance are you familiar with the spell we're discussing?"

She looked up from the doughnut box:

"Only one chocolate with sprinkles…What? Oh, the spell. Yes, not that I know anyone who's tried to perform it and lived through the attempt."

He chose to ignore her rather gloomy news.

"Perhaps you could assist Willow in gathering the required items from the Magic Box? Meet us back here in say…an hour?"

"Sure, but do I really need to come back? I'd prefer to keep the store open, I've lost money two straight days already."

"I don't believe your presence will be necessary at this early stage, and here, this should cover the needed items."

She lit up when he handed her some money from his wallet.

"Great! Besides, I'd like to be at minimum safe distance in case it all blows up in Willow's face."

"Yes, of course."

She nudged Willow.

"Well, let's get moving! If I drive and ignore the traffic lights whenever possible, with luck we can shave nearly three minutes off the trip…Hey! Give me back the keys!"

As the door shut behind them, Buffy stood and pulled on Faith's arm until she took the hint and got to her feet as well.

"Giles, do we patrol tonight or…"

"I'd prefer you didn't, not until we know what we're dealing with. I believe your best efforts should be spent conserving your energies until we're ready."

"Works for me. Maybe a movie, B? When's check-in time gonna be, G-Man?"

"Perhaps a rental would work best. We'll call when we have something conclusive."

"Sounds good. Let's motor, B, we can grab some chow on the way."

Buffy looked at Dawn who had her nose buried in a book.

"Dawnie, coming with?"

"You guys go, I wanna stay and help Willow and Giles."

"Okay, but no spells for you."

"But Buffy…"

"No 'buts' and no spells or you're coming home right now."

Dawn didn't look happy.

"…Fine. Can I breathe without permission?"

"Hmm…Well okay, but only with supervision from Giles or Will."

"That's so not funny, Buffy."

"Well, kinda."

The grin on Buffy's face and the eye rolling and pout on Dawn's did not bode well  for research, so Giles stepped in:

"Girls, can we not waste valuable research time with fruitless bickering? Dawn, you heard Buffy, and I quite agree with her. Your help in other ways however, would be most useful and welcome."

"Okay fine, no spells. What do you need me to do?"

The crisis was averted, only for another to pop up. The front door flew open as an angry Anya entered, followed closely by a just as angry Willow.

"Willow is being completely unreasonable!"

"Me?! You practically punched me trying to get the keys back!"

"Xander, will you please explain to her that just because my license has been suspended, it doesn't mean I'm not a good driver."

"Xander, maybe you should explain to your wife that a 'suspended' license means she can't legally drive!"

"Oh please, Willow. Are you a police officer now?"

Xander stepped in between them:

"Okay ladies, big, ruggedly handsome chauffeur at your service."

"You don't need to be a police officer to understand you had your license taken away, Anya!"

"You are so irritating!"

"It takes one to know one!"

"What? That makes no sense at all!"

"Does too!"

"No, Willow, clearly it doesn't."

They were toe to toe in the middle of the room, with Xander valiantly trying to diffuse the situation. Buffy and Faith moved quickly around them as they made a break for freedom.

"See you guys later! Good luck with the spell, Will."

"Yeah, knock'em dead, Red."

Anya rolled her eyes:

"Don't give her any ideas."

"Ha ha, not funny. Don't worry, guys. It's a pretty easy spell to follow, so unless I'm a complete idiot…"

"Which seems more than likely at this point."

"…it shouldn't be a problem. Hey!"

The Slayers were safely out the door, and it fell to Xander to physically hold Willow back.

"So that's great news, Will, but easy with the jinxing us part."

"I don't believe in jinxes."

"That's another check in the idiot column."

The smirk on Anya's face, coupled with her words, had Willow seeing red.

"Xander, make her stop it!"

He didn't let go of her, but he did turn to look at Anya:

"Honey, stop picking on Willow."

"Oh all right, fine."

"See? All settled. But Will…witches, slayers, vampires, demons, alternate dimensions, and on and on. Let's not pretend jinxes can't exist."

He could see she'd calmed down, so he let go of her and smiled his best "Xander" smile. She responded to him just like she always had since the first day they'd met: she smiled back and relaxed.

"Hmm, I guess I see your point. Okay, no more self-jinxing for me!"

"…Only an idiot would need to be told not to jinx herself. The rest of us figured that out all on our own."

He just caught Willow before she could get to Anya.

"Ladies, please."

Xander's plea had no effect as the two of them continued arguing, and finally Giles was forced to speak up:

"Pardon me, so sorry to interrupt your childish squabbling, but is there the slightest chance that you girls could be off to do your bloody job? Surely you remember…world in peril, clock ticking. Any bells ringing?"

The embarrassment crossed Willow's face instantly:

"Sorry, Giles, we're leaving right now."

"Yes Giles, we're on our way!"

Willow went out the door, but Anya held Xander back. She whispered in his ear, in something of a panic:

"Xander, I think our team's falling apart. Willow's an idiot, Giles think he hears bells ringing and clocks ticking…there are no bells and all of the clocks are digital! Buffy and Faith just left us, and Dawn appears to be the sane and mature one."


"I think the pressure's gotten to everybody and they've finally gone crazy. We'd better pack our bags and make a run for it because there's no way the two of us can save the world by ourselves!"


"I mean, if it comes down to just us, we might as well put our heads between our legs…our own, not each other's…and kiss our asses…"

"Honey, calm down! Everyone's fine, the saving of the world is not just up to us, and we need to get to the Magic Box. Trust me on this, okay?"

She looked uncertain, then let out a huge breath.

"Okay, you're right. I guess I freaked out a little bit there, but I'm good now. Let's go give Willow a ride, although I still say we should just stick a broom up her…"

 "And here we go before somebody flies off the handle."

"No one would fly off anything if we made sure to stick it in far enough."



The spell went smoothly and they had the talisman identified within minutes. The Cameris Stone was instantly familiar to Giles due to its distinctive  markings. Even though it was believed to be long lost, he wasn't exactly surprised to discover that it still existed. He'd learned long ago that few things were ever truly lost, especially not on the Hellmouth.

After much discussion and a great suggestion from Dawn, they decided that a crossbow arrow would make the most effective weapon. It would allow the Slayers to be at a somewhat safe distance while delivering the destructive blow, and it would increase the odds in their favor of escaping unscathed.

It took Willow only forty-five minutes to conjure up the magical arrow, and when she was finished, Giles called Buffy and Faith.

"Damn, pretty impressive, G-Man. Figured you guys for at least another hour."

"The credit is all Willow's. She's extremely adept at handling unforeseen problems as they arise in the conjuring process."

"Yeah? Well, we're adept at haulin' our asses there. See ya in a few."

As he hung up, he commended Willow again on a job incredibly well-done.

"I must say Willow, you did a most remarkable job. Your skill in manipulating a brand new spell is quite extraordinary. Good show!"

"Thanks. The 'just looking' kind of spells aren't too scary, but the other one…Well, it's me, you know, so…"

"I understand, and your ability to face your fears, to conquer them, only adds to my great admiration of you."

She blushed and smiled:

"Thanks, Giles."

"You're most welcome. All right, I believe we need only a rudimentary plan to make a success of this. I do wish we had another arrow though, just in case."

"Me too, but there's no way it can be done. The energy that needs to be harnessed is way too volatile right now, and it's going to be at least a couple of weeks before it settles back into…"

He nodded thoughtfully as he began cleaning his glasses.

"Yes, and we most likely don't have a 'couple of weeks'. All signs indicate that the time will be soon, most likely within a few days. Damn, I wish I had, 'Havek's Diary' here. I seem to recall something…perhaps a solution to the necessary waiting problem."

Willow stood and stretched:

"Well, there's nothing left for me to do here. I wouldn't mind running to the Magic Box and picking it up."

"Could you, Willow? I know you must be tired, but Anya is certainly already on her way over here by now, and I wish to keep researching in case I've overlooked something."

"No big, I'm way up for the fresh air and the moving around. Dawnie, wanna keep me company?"

Dawn was up and looking excited.

"Can we get ice cream on the way back?"

 Giles handed her some money.

"Two scoops of butter pecan for me, please, and get whatever you wish for yourselves. My treat for the wonderful work you both did this evening. You girls are simply invaluable."

Dawn blushed proudly, clearly beside herself with the praise.

"We did pretty good, didn't we?"

"I should say so. I couldn't manage without either of you."

Dawn carefully tucked the money into her front pocket:

"Do you guys think Faith wants anything besides…"

"Five scoops of fudge ripple? Not likely."

"I quite agree with Willow, fudge ripple it is."

Dawn nodded:

"Yeah, the only thing she's more obsessed with is Buffy."

"Another statement with which I wholeheartedly concur. Speaking of Buffy…"

Willow laughed:


"Terribly bland, I must say."

Dawn rolled her eyes, clearly disgusted.

"She tries to say it's a classic, but who gets plain old vanilla unless they're a moron?"

"Well Dawnie, I guess she likes it."

"Yeah Willow, because she's a weirdo. It even freaks Faith out."

"I know, it's strange, but she's your sister."

"Don't remind me."

Willow laughed and linked her arm with Dawn's.

"Black cherry for Xander and Anya, and I'm gonna go wild and get a scoop of mint chocolate chip and a scoop of strawberry twirl."

"That sounds good! Can I have a bite?"

"Sure, you'll be my official taste tester. We shouldn't be more than an hour, Giles."

"We'll be here."

The Slayers arrived twenty minutes later, and Giles took a break from researching to give them the update.

"Magic arrows and fudge ripple all in one night? Man, I must be doin' somethin' right!"

She sat down at the dining room table, her feet resting on the empty seat across the way. Buffy slid into the chair next to her:
"So Giles, how long before they're back?"

"Probably close to half an hour, a tad longer. I could use some help here."

He passed out some books to each of them.

"Look through these volumes and check for any references to 'The Mystics' or 'Los Mysticos'. Scan carefully, and also let me know if there are any references to 'The Cameris Stone' or 'submutation' itself."

"Aw, Giles…It's fudge ripple night!"

"And you shall have your ice cream. Now, until it arrives…"

Faith tried to turn on the charm, but Giles seemed immune.

"Fine, ruin a great time."

All was silent, until Faith began muttering under her breath as she fidgeted in her chair.

"…Fuckin' hate research……Hey, how come B's books are smaller?"

Buffy never even looked up:

"Because I'm his favorite Slayer."


"Oh for God's sake, there! Now she has one large book as do you."


The silence lasted less than a minute.

"But G-Man why's she get a red one? Both of mine are brown and…"

"Faith, stop this stalling at once. Buffy's managing and I'm quite confident you can as well."

She sat up in her chair, her boots hitting the floor loudly as she began turning the pages.

"………Fucking shit! Why I gotta research and fight? How's that even fair? I'm…"


"Geez, alright, don't have a coronary, Giles."

"…I shan't if you'll please just read."

The three of them sat in silence as they flipped through their various texts, but then after a couple of minutes:

"Hey, did ya ever think about goin' decaf? Thinkin' it would help with the tension you…Alright, I'm readin'…Fuck."

Buffy could barely concentrate, the pouting look on Faith's face was so cute. She found her attention wandering as she covertly stared at her, wondering how the dimple in her cheek could be so…


She looked up at the sound to see Giles glaring at her, and she turned her attention back to the book in front of her.

They read without any further complaints until it became apparent that something was wrong. Buffy looked at the clock:

"Giles, it's been an hour. Shouldn't they be back by now?"

"Yes, they're well overdue."

Faith slid her book away.

"Maybe we oughta go track'em down."

"I agree, but the two of you be extremely careful."

The Slayers headed for Giles' weapons chest.

"Can't be any more dangerous than those fuckin' books."

"Faith, now is not the time for flippancy. We've no idea what has happened and…"

Buffy interceded, trying to reassure her Watcher:

"Don't worry, Giles. We'll be careful."

"Yeah, gonna stay on alert. Promise ya, G-Man."

Then they were off into the night, and Giles was trying to suppress the bad feeling he suddenly had. It had been building all day, and he couldn't shake the belief that he was missing some vital scrap of information.

Xander and Anya arrived just minutes after Buffy and Faith left, and Giles was relieved to see them strolling in through the door looking perfectly normal. He'd almost convinced himself that their lateness meant that something ominous had happened to them as well.

"Nope, we're fine. We had to stop for gas, then An noticed our front tire was…Hey, where is everybody?"

He explained the situation and the three of them quickly settled down to continue on with the research. They worked in a nearly complete silence; even Xander was too worried to make the usual quips.

"Oh no…No, that simply can't be right."

"Giles, is something wrong?"

"Dear God…Yes, Anya, something is most definitely wrong.  Xander, take the car and get Buffy and Faith back here immediately. Be careful, but hurry."

"I'm gone."

As he ran out the door, Giles turned to Anya:

"Anya, please run upstairs and fetch the three books from my night table. There should also be a green folder."

"Okay, but Giles, what's…"

"I'll explain in a moment. Just go get the books, if you will."

"Okay. I'll be right back."

"Thank you."

She ran up the stairs, suddenly scared by whatever was happening.

"Bloody hell, that can't be right."



Buffy, Faith, Xander, and Anya were gathered in Giles' living room, watching him as he uncharacteristically paced back and forth nervously. He could see that he was ratcheting up the tension in the room, and he forced himself to stop. He needed to remain calm.

"Giles, what exactly are you saying?"

Buffy was very near a panic herself, and it was nothing but unfortunate that what Giles was about to say was going to do nothing to reassure her in any way.

"I am saying the reason the Mystics have assembled here has nothing to do with the Hellmouth's energy. They are here because of the energy that emanates from Dawn."

Buffy was on her feet.

"What energy? She's just a girl now!"

"Yes, Dawn is human, but her origin is not. I would imagine the clerics within the sect sense a sort of residual charge that radiates from her. It would be faint, virtually undetectable unless one knew what to look for. This cult has been seeking this very thing for over two hundred years, so it's not surprising that they can feel what is barely even discernable to anyone else."

Buffy sat down, only to stand again immediately and take over Giles' pacing duties.

"So what then? They need Dawn to activate this 'Camera Rock' thing?"

"'Cameris Stone', and the answer is yes and no. Ceremonially, I believe they would very much like to sacrifice Dawn. They're inordinately fond of the pomp and circumstance of the old ways, but although it's surely important to them, it's not at all necessary. I suspect they'll do everything in their power to follow the prescribed ritual, but if push comes to shove, they need only the 'Cameris Stone' to complete their objective."

Xander broke the sudden silence:

"This is so not good on any level."

"It could be literally catastrophic. We must prevent them from achieving their goal, and we do have one small advantage."

"Finally some good news! Roll it out, G-Man!"

"All of our research leads me to conclude that they've confused Willow with Dawn as the source of the energy they feel. Dawn has been with Willow a great deal lately, and I believe Willow's immense power has led to a false assumption on the part of the Mystics."

Her face finally hopeful, Buffy asked what they all wanted to know:

"And that helps us how exactly?"

"If it's true they've made this rather understandable error, when they attempt to perform the ritual using Willow, their attempt shall fail miserably."

Buffy looked at him like he'd lost his mind.

"That's just great, Giles. Then Willow will be dead instead of Dawn!"

"…Yes, perhaps not the best news after all."

Buffy looked like she wanted to hit something.

"Damn it! Okay guys, we need to find them and now!"

Giles sat down heavily in a chair.

"Buffy's right. They were never waiting for a designated time, they were waiting for the opportunity to capture Willow. The ritual can now be performed whenever they choose to perform it, and I'm sure tonight's full moon will only be an added incentive."

Faith stood up and made her way casually to Buffy's side.

"So let's find'em. Clues?"

Giles nodded and referred to his notes.

"Well, the sect numbers at least fifty, probably more, so they would require a very large space. The location would need to be far from the Hellmouth in order to prevent any conflicting energies from disrupting the ritual once it begins."

Buffy started to pace again and Faith let her, dropping her arm from around Buffy's waist.

"Giles, we so don't have time to sweep the outskirts. We've got to narrow this down fast, if not faster."

They all agreed with her, but no one had the first idea how to go about doing that.


All eyes turned to Xander.

"My crew was working in the industrial area last week, and I overheard some of them talking about this big deserted warehouse. Sam thought it was haunted, but I didn't think much about it. He's usually too hung over to be the most reliable witness, and hey, this is Sunnydale, what isn't haunted? Anyway, it's a long shot I know, but he mentioned seeing a giant monster lurking in the shadows."

Giles whipped his glasses off, his excitement plain to see:

"Not a 'long shot', Xander, but a very real possibility. Good work! A warehouse would be the perfect venue…We need to check for any increase in criminal activity in that area, focusing specifically on attacks and disappearances within the last thirty days. Who can operate this infernal box?"

No one laid claim to any computer skills until Anya stepped up.

"I can, maybe a little."


She walked over and sat down in front of Willow's laptop.

"Just don't expect any miracles."

"You need only do your best. While Anya researches Xander's promising lead, perhaps the rest of us would do well to…"

"Excuse me, the screen is completely dark. Normally Willow just opens it up and there's a picture. Does anyone know where the 'on' button is?"



Buffy was standing alone in Giles' courtyard, doing her level best to calm herself. She was breathing in and out, slowly and deeply in an attempt to stave off the panic she could feel herself descending into, and so far it wasn't going very well.

Willow and Dawn were going to die soon if they didn't find them, and all Buffy could do was stand around and wait while the time ticked away. It was all her fault, she should have known something like this could happen. She should have guarded them better, should have insisted that everyone stay inside until they knew what the Mystics truly wanted.

God, what was happening to them right now? What if they were already dead? She'd really messed up this time, and now Dawn and Willow were going to pay the price for…

Warm arms encircled her waist from behind, and she felt Faith's lips brush softly against her neck. They stood like that for a few minutes, the silence oddly comforting.


"…What if…What if we don't find them?"

"We will."

"How can you sound so sure?"

"'Cause I am. We'll find'em  because we have to. 'Sides, we got Anya on the job."

"Did she finally figure out how to turn it on?"

"Nope, but Xander did. Turns out Red's password is: 'Tabitha Stephens'."

"Who's 'Tabitha Stephens'?"

"Kid on 'Bewitched'."

"Faith, if anything happens to them…"

Faith turned Buffy around, but continued to hold her close.

"Shhh…Only thing that's gonna happen to them is we're gonna rescue'em. Stop with all the blaming yourself, no more negative shit, and that's an order from the kettle. Wait a sec, am I the 'pot' or the 'kettle'? Whatever, point's the same. It's time to go be the Slayer and her Scoobies, B."

Buffy looked at her, wondering how she'd ever gotten so lucky.

"I love you, Faith."

"Course ya do. I'm all irresistible when I'm upbeat and confident. Chicks really dig this shit."

"I know I do, plus about a million other things."

"Yeah? Wanna hear'em when we got the time."

Her smile was so big, Buffy couldn't resist kissing her dimples.

"I wanna tell'em too."

Faith kissed her for real then, and Buffy had no idea how she'd ever made it without her.

"Guys, we've got something."

Xander's head ducked back inside, and the Slayers wasted no time. They flew past Giles and Xander as they raced over to the desk where Anya was still seated in front of the computer.

"So Vengeance Girl, what do ya got?"

"Willow's schedule. She's handling eighteen hours, all Honors classes, and her grade point average is 3.98 How does she do it?"

"Buffy, Faith…"

Giles called them over to the table.

"Xander's been describing the area where the warehouse is located and my memory has been somewhat jogged. We've looked it up, and to summarize: in that same general vicinity in 1914, a man named Fredrickson  tortured and murdered thirteen women."

"Icky info, but what's that got to do with us?"

"Perhaps everything, Buffy. Our cursory research indicates Fredrickson wasn't a garden variety serial killer at all, but rather a man engaged in trying to achieve immortality. He spoke of it relentlessly, and the number of his victims indicates that he was most likely performing some sort of demonic ritual. "
"So did this maniac have the 'Cameris Stone'?"

"We don't know, but it all seems to fit. Whilst I've never read anything before that even remotely hints that the Cameris Stone has ever been in Sunnydale, Fredrickson was trying to bring forth a demon that promised immortality and the warehouse is located on what is now called 'Cameron Avenue'. If nothing else, the sordid history of the site would symbolically make it an ideal location for the Mystics to perform their own ritual."

"Wow, I'd say that all sounds like quite a coincidence."

Faith was already at the weapons chest:

"No such animal, B. Fuckers are there."

"My Spidey sense is definitely tingling too. Let's do the quick version of planning and get going."

Giles nodded worriedly as he rifled through a nearby book.

"I do wish we had more time to prepare. This is going to be extremely dangerous, and with so little opportunity to plan anything…"

Faith cut him off:

"Here's my chip in on the plan: we're gonna make these assholes sorry they started this. Far as anything else, way comfortable with everybody wingin' it."

Giles sighed as he stood.

"Yes, well unfortunately that's about all we have time for. It's imperative that they not be allowed to utilize the power of the Cameris Stone. We must destroy it as well as rescue Willow and Dawn, and I'm not at all clear on how we can…"

Buffy opened the second weapons chest:

"Giles, let's just grab as much as we can and talk in the car. I've got a feeling we don't have much time left."

He picked up the mystical arrow as well as some papers.

"All right, we'll take Buffy's jeep. Everyone bring all the weapons you can carry, we'll sort them on the drive."

Faith hoisted the entire container:

"Got mine. Let's motorvate."



Buffy was afraid, but who wouldn't be? The difference was that she would not let that fear control her. The warehouse wasn't just big, it was gigantic and dark. It was a great place to set a trap for a couple of Slayers, and all of her senses were screaming at her that she was in danger. Well that she already knew, but there was nothing she could do about it. Her sister and her best friend were in here, and Buffy was not leaving without them, whatever that meant.

It was quiet, but she could hear the faint sounds that let her know she wasn't as alone as she seemed to be. She could hear feet treading lightly, could hear the metallic clink a weapon made when it brushed against a crate. The vampires were all around her, and her Slayer detection system was in overdrive.

She could smell blood and death, and Buffy was glad that Willow was with Dawn. Her presence would comfort the younger girl and hopefully prevent her from panicking. Not an easy thing to prevent, Buffy felt like she could give in to a major wiggins herself right about now.

God, what if they were already dead? What if the blood and death she was smelling was them? No, she knew that wasn't true. She had already stumbled across several bodies and she could hear the distant echo of breathing somewhere. That meant Dawn and Willow were alive…they had to be.

Faith was also in the warehouse, and like Buffy she was moving slowly and carefully. There were at least fifty vampires, maybe more, and those were not good odds. At least not for the Slayers.

There had been no time to wait for Angel and Spike, they were immersed in their own crisis anyway. Anya had stayed behind at Giles' house just in case they called back, but no one was counting on them. Not when they were hours away.

Buffy reached out to Faith through their Slayer bond and felt Faith immediately. She was afraid too, but as usual most of her fear was not for herself. Buffy sent her location and Faith answered in kind. Neither of them had found Willow and Dawn, but since Buffy could now hear the whisper of breathing and Faith could not, it meant they had to be closer to Buffy.

She stayed against the wall, using the scant protection it provided. The darkness that enveloped the building also cloaked her movements, and that was a welcome bonus. She was heading towards where she believed the breathing sounds were coming from, but it was difficult to tell for sure. The acoustics in the huge space were way more than a little distorted.

Buffy wanted to run forward screaming for blood, but she knew if she did that, it would be her blood that was spilled all over the place. Patience was of the utmost importance, and it was their only hope of getting out of the situation alive. They were massively outnumbered and had to play the sneaking around game. They also had to remain calm, not an easy trick for two Slayers whose adrenaline was pulsating through them at the speed of light.

Suddenly she felt the disturbance in the air. She jumped as high as she could to avoid the knives that were now deeply embedded in the wall. They were in a straight line from the point where her head had been all the way down to the floor, but she had no time to ponder her close call and what would have happened if she'd chosen to fall instead of jump.

She heard the rapid approach of at least four vampires, and then there they were. She reached into the bag slung over her shoulder and hurled bottle after bottle of holy water with deadly accuracy. They howled in pain as they faded back into the darkness, still smoking and sizzling and throwing off sparks of fire.

There was no break in the action, as three more rushed her from behind. She threw a stake as she spun to face them, and it found its target, dusting the vampire before he could take another step. She used her battleaxe to decapitate the vampire closest to her, and then kicked out with her steel-toed boot to connect with the remaining vampire's knee. She heard a satisfying crack and staked him before he even had time to cry out in pain.

All was quiet again, and she immediately sent a message to Faith that she was all right. Faith's answer made her smile because it was so Faith:

**Way more than alright. Had more time, I'd be explainin' that up close and personal.**

Buffy was about to respond when she heard the clamor of running footsteps somewhere in the warehouse. It sounded like a lot of vampires, and they were all headed towards Faith. Just as Buffy decided to rush to her assistance, she received Faith's message:

**Whoa, Slayer. Stick with the plan, I got this.**

Faith sent a confident message, but the truth was she didn't really know what she did and didn't have. Eight vamps were charging all at once, running in and out of the shadows cast by the moonlight as they rushed her, and Faith wondered what had ever happened to one at a time.

She knew she had to move, so she tried to head to her left because it seemed  open. It wasn't. She was punched back to her original position, and she slammed hard into the crates behind her. She straightened up quickly, her thoughts drifting to Angel.

A stake shot out of each of her jacket sleeves, and she dusted the two vamps who'd been attacking from either side. Yep, there was no doubt about it: Soulboy  definitely had a cool ass invention.

A knife whizzed by her cheek, actually nicking her as it flew past to end up quivering in the crate next to her head. Bonus, baby! She yanked it out of the wood and as she turned around, her smile was unnerving to say the least. She loved it when they provided the weapons.

She sliced the knife hard and deep across the throat of the nearest vampire, not even waiting to see him dust as his head dropped to the floor. She continued with the slashing motion, flinging the knife into the eye of the vamp who had just begun the charge again. Ouch, that definitely looked like it stung.

She jumped as an axe came flying at her from the nearly total darkness, and she landed on top of some crates. She instantly crouched and rolled, knowing she made way too big a target silhouetted by the moonlight streaming in through the windows behind her. Several knives flew harmlessly over her head as she paused to get her bearings.

These guys sure seemed pissed, and she had no clue what their problem was. She'd given them back their knife, what more did they want? She began moving silently and then felt Buffy calling to her, kind of scared shitless.

**A-Okay, B. Plan's workin' for me, you?**

**Yes. Be careful.**

**Hey, you know me.**

**That's exactly why I…Gotta go!**

Buffy sensed rather than saw them coming. They made no noise, but she knew they were coming and she knew she was in trouble. She tossed her bag, raised her axe, and waited.

Seconds later, seven of them emerged from the blackness into the dim silvery gloom, running at her with their faces contorted into silent growls…Okay, that was creepy. Their uniforms were slightly different, but she had no time to try and figure out why that was, not that she cared all that much anyway.

She began fighting, using her axe, elbows, and feet with lethal force. She kicked back two of her attackers as she executed a double jump in mid-air, and they were knocked right into line with another vampire. Buffy wasted no time in swinging her axe, slicing off all three heads with one clean stroke. Faith was going to be so jealous when Buffy told her…if they lived through the night.

The four remaining vampires didn't seem all that impressed as they grabbed at her from behind. She surprised them by using their grip to flip herself into the air, only to land directly behind them. Before they could react, she'd beheaded two of them and another had lost an arm.

He also lost his nerve, and she took her best guess as she threw a stake after his retreating form. He was already hidden by the darkness, but she heard the quiet "poof' of him dusting as her stake clattered to the floor. The last vampire had disappeared.

She picked up her bag and heard Faith yelling frantically in her mind:

**B! B!**

**Five by five, baby.**

Buffy heard more coming, then felt a sharp pain in her leg. She looked down to see a knife protruding from her right thigh, but she ignored it and took off running deeper into the warehouse and away from any windows. They were coming after her, and based on her body's instinctive reaction to flee rather than fight, she guessed there were at least a dozen pursuing her.

Sometime it paid to be small and she quickly squeezed herself into a tiny niche between two tall stacks of crates, then watched as at least twenty vampires ran past her. She gritted her teeth and jerked the knife clear, almost crying out as it ripped free.

She had no time for pain, so she used the razor sharp blade to slice off the bottom of her shirt. She wrapped it tightly around her leg, doing her best to get the bleeding stopped. If she wasn't successful, it was eventually going to lead them right to her like a homing beacon.

They'd spread out into an organized search and sweep, and she knew it was just a matter of time before they found her. She was busy trying to tighten the bandage and figure a way out of her current situation, when an extremely large vampire appeared.

He was too big to fit into the gap she was wedged in, but he didn't move away. She stood perfectly still and watched. It was obvious that he sensed her nearby, but couldn't quite see her. That was too bad for him, he was dust before he could shout out a warning to his comrades.

The bleeding was slowing, but she could still smell it, and she knew it was going to reveal her location any minute. She needed to get out of the area, which was now swarming with even more vampires. She couldn't tell exactly how many there were, but she knew it was way too many for her to handle.

**Faith, I'm in a jam. You?**

**All by my lonesome. Guess you're the fave.**

**I'm bleeding, it's no big, but can you draw them off me?"**

**Thinkin' I can.**

**Ready when you are.**

**I'm always ready, B. Head for the loading docks.**


**Here we go.**

Buffy heard a loud crash, followed by another, and then somewhere off in the distance came Faith's voice talking trash like only she could:

"Lost ya a few more over here. Got anybody tough, 'cause this ain't exactly much of a fight, ya know? Hello? Any of you fuckers got any balls at all? Bored Slayer over here, just waitin' for somethin' to do."

Buffy shot out of her hiding place as the vampires ran in the direction of Faith's voice. She staked one of the guards they'd left behind and kept moving,  hoping Faith wouldn't still be there when they arrived. Buffy knew she liked a challenge, but twenty vampires wasn't a challenge, it was clearly an ass hauling time. Even for Faith.

She climbed up onto some crates near the loading docks and began looking around. The breathing sounds were much louder now, but Buffy didn't move. There was no sense in running into a trap.

Faith's pain filled scream made Buffy jerk, but she relaxed when she heard Faith's follow-up:

"Motherfucker! I love these pants!"

Then came the remote sound of Faith running, and all was silence again.

Buffy slid quietly down the back of some crates and cautiously approached the docks, weaving her way through the old abandoned equipment. She found Willow and Dawn chained to a forklift, the immediate area lit by two burning torches.


Only Dawn could whisper with an exclamation point.

"Are you guys okay?"

Willow answered calmly enough, but it was plain to see that she was scared:

"We're fine, Buffy. Where is everyone?"

Buffy began examining the chains.

"Faith's in here somewhere. Giles and Xander are in the jeep a ways away. Will, why didn't you do any magic?"

"There's a 'No Spells' spell around the building. They knocked me out and by the time I was with it again, it was too late."

"Where are the guards?"

"They both ran off a few minutes ago."

 Okay, I'm going to break these open."

She put her axe down on the crate next to her and grabbed onto the manacles.

"This might hurt a little, Dawnie. Try to…"


Willow's warning gave Buffy just enough time to avoid having her head smashed in. Instead of straightening up into a standing position, she threw herself to the floor. The spiked mace swung above her, nowhere near, and she kicked upwards as she rolled.

The vampire flew back into some crates, but he was on his feet in an instant. He was enormous, the biggest vampire Buffy had ever seen, and he was not the slightest bit intimidated by her. He also still had his mace, and her axe was unreachable for the moment.

"Slayer, you cannot win. This is our destiny."

She gestured with the stake she held in her hand.

"And here I though this was your destiny. A whole bunch of your friends have already met it."

"It is nothing. We are many more, and cannot be stopped."

"That's not how I see it."

"You will not defeat us."

Buffy smiled as she shrugged her shoulders:

"Maybe, but I have to try. It's in the job description."

"Your death will…"

She threw her stake into his heart, but he swung the mace incredibly fast and smashed his death into kindling.

"Your weapon is lost, and you will not retrieve your axe. Do you wish me to kill you slow or fast?"

"Are there any other choices, because those aren't exactly good ones for me."

"I will have the glory of destroying you myself."

"Well, good luck with that."

The fight began, and Buffy was taking as good as she gave. He was extremely strong and fast, and she was desperately looking for any weakness she could exploit. So far, the only weaknesses she saw were her own.

She tried to use the torches to her advantage, but he wouldn't let her near them. She managed to kick him against one, but although singed, he pulled away in time. It made him smell like an ashtray, but that was hardly anything she could use to win the fight.

He punched her hard, knocking her towards the loading dock, and she tripped over some loose pieces of lumber. He was on her then before she could regain her balance, the handle of his mace across her throat as he bent her painfully over the edge. His fangs moved uncomfortably close to her neck:

"I've always wanted to taste a Slayer."

"And I've always wanted to be taller."

Her fingers dug into his eyes, and he growled and pulled back. She staggered to her feet just as he swung his mace. She couldn't leap clear because Willow was directly behind her, so she turned sideways and attempted to grab hold of the mace to lessen its impact. She missed.

It caught her with the full force of his swing, and she heard and felt several of her ribs break. She went down hard, unable to breathe as the pain roared through her. Willow and Dawn both yelled her name and struggled to break loose.

He spared them a fleeting glance, then turned back to Buffy with a laugh:

"Remember me when you get to Hell. I am Bartholomew, the vampire who killed you."

"Not dead…yet…Dr. Seuss."

"That is a mere technicality."

"Big one…though."

"Do you have any last words, Slayer?"

From behind him he heard:

"Yeah. Bye bye, dumb ass."

Faith rushed through his swirling remains to get to Buffy.

"B, don't move. Just let me…"

"No time…Get them…loose."

Faith quickly freed Willow, then Dawn, talking the whole time:

"Red, do a quick healing spell, then…"


"…gotta give Dawnie the escort out. Giles and Xander are 'bout a quarter mile down the…"

"…it's a magic-free zone. I can't do any magic."

Faith's face registered her fear for a second, but then she was in control again.

"Shit! Okay, take B with you guys and head for the car. I'll hang here and destroy the Stone."


"What, B?"

"You…You have to…take them."

"No fucking way."

"You're the…only…one who…can pro…tect them."

Faith's expression was deadly serious:

"You're getting out of here, Buffy."

"One of us…has to…destroy… the Cam…"

"That's right, and it's gonna be me. You're leavin'."

"Faith…bunch of…broken…ribs…No use out…there…but can…still fire…a cross…bow."

"I am not leaving you here, and that's it."

"They won't…make it…to the…car alone."

Faith was starting to look panicked:

"Okay, then we'll all stay."

"Really…want to…take that…chance?"



"No, you can't ask me to do this. I can't just leave you."

"Yes you…can. It'll…be a good…distrac…tion. They'll…go for you…I'll destroy…the Stone. Then I'll…hold them…off and…wait for…you to res…cue me. You'll…be the…hero…six months…easy."

"B, you're hurt. You can barely fuckin' talk! You won't last…"

Buffy pulled herself up as straight as she could:

"I'm a Slayer…I can…hold my own…Promise you…I won't die…I'll be…right here…waiting…for you…Please…you have to…do this."


She turned to Willow and Dawn:

"You two stay behind me and do whatever I tell you to. B, I'm trusting you…Swear to me."

"I swear…Faith…I won't die…Promise."

Faith was obviously scared and furious.

"God Buffy, I…"

Buffy kissed her, and she could feel Faith's tears on her cheeks.

"I'll go with…Cross…bow's on…the way…Faith…promise…you'll…get them…"

"Got my word, B. They're gonna be safe."

They went as quickly and quietly as they could to the front of the warehouse, then stood hidden among some crates.

"Red, Squirt, door on the left's open. See it?"


"Good. When I say, 'Run', go out it and straight for about a quarter of a mile. You'll see the jeep and the guys. Don't stop for anything. If I'm not there, leave anyway. Keep me between you and them all the time. If somethin' happens, don't come back for me. Just keep goin', no matter what. Understood?"

"…Y…Yes, Faith."

"Squirt, toughen up now. You're a Summers woman, gotta act like one. Ready?"

Buffy saw Dawn change right before her eyes:

"I'm ready, Faith."

"Damn right we are."

Faith stepped out into a shaft of moonlight and the vampires came for her.

The three of them stood still, hidden in the shadows as they watched Faith in action. She was a marvel of speed, strength, skill, and sheer determination, and she dispatched attacker after attacker. Her eyes when caught by the moonlight were wild and ferocious, her rage more than apparent.

"Get ready! B, swear!"

"On Angel's…unlife."

Buffy saw the smile creep onto Faith's face.

"You fucking hold on! Guys…Run!"

Willow and Dawn joined hands and headed for the door, but Faith was forced to peel off as two vampires were angling towards them on an intercept course. She was handling them, but Buffy saw a vampire drop down from some of the crates by the door. 

He landed in the doorway and grabbed Dawn by the neck. He began twisting, but before anyone could do or say anything, his arm was severed by Buffy's battleaxe. There had been just a sliver of space between Willow's head and Dawn's neck, and the throw had had no margin for error. Of course, there was no error.

As his arm dropped to the floor, Faith was right there to ram a stake into his heart:

"Hands off, asshole!"

She picked up Buffy's battleaxe and began sliding it back to her across the warehouse floor.

"Keep…it…Can't swing…it a…gain."

Buffy was now tilting dramatically to the side, her face completely white.

"B! Goddamn it!"

"Both…have…prom…ises to…keep. Go, F."

With one last look, Faith was out the door, slicing and dicing anything that moved, her fury terrifying to witness. Willow and Dawn stayed safely behind her, and the many blows she received, she didn't seem to notice. She just kept clearing a path to safety, her face full of rage.

More vampires came swarming out of the warehouse, and Faith turned back to meet them.

"Faith, the magic barrier's weakening!"

"Then just go! All of you get outta here!"

Dawn stood where she was:

"There's too many of them. C'mon!"

"I'm fine! Go!"

They ran, and as they looked back, they saw Faith fighting as she was overwhelmed and fell to the ground.

"No! Faith!"

Willow hung onto her as Dawn tried to run back.

"Dawn no, she said to keep going, no matter what!"

Both girls were crying as they ran, the path easy to make out in the bright moonlight. Willow could not believe they had just deserted both Slayers, this couldn't be happening. As they rounded a small grouping of trees, they saw the jeep.

Giles and Xander were under attack, and they were clearly losing the battle. Xander was in the driver's seat, grappling with a vampire who was leaning in through the broken window trying to steal the keys or at the very least shut off the engine. As Willow took another step forward, she felt it: no more 'No Spells'.


Xander's vampire burst into flames and turned to ash. Xander quickly brushed off his jacket sleeve which had begun smoking and looked up to see what had happened. The joy and relief on his face at the sight of her was quickly tempered by worry when he got a good look.

She didn't have time to say anything, Giles was now being bent over backwards as his opponent tried to snap the Watcher's spine in half. Willow's eyes went black, and with a casual flick of her wrist, she flung the vampire back at a speed too fast for the human eye to follow. He hung there impaled on a tree branch, a look of total confusion on his face as he crumbled into dust.

Six more vampires came running, and Willow just stood there laughing.

"Laceratio mortis!"

The vampires ripped apart slowly, their agonized screams echoing for what seemed like forever. Then they were gone, and Willow's voice, deep and cruel rang out:

"Anybody else wanna come out and play? Oh come on now, don't be shy."


Her dark hair swirled around her face as she spun to see who had dared to touch her.

Dawn stood there, her hand on Willow's arm as she stared into the black eyes she'd seen like this only once before. She could have gone the rest of her life without ever seeing them again, but even though she was scared, she still stood there. She was a Summers woman and she was acting like one.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't cute little Dawnie. So you wanna play with the big girls, huh? Okay, what should we start with? Hey, why don't I rip your…"

Willow's eyes closed and she struggled visibly to gain control. Her hair lightened and became red again, but when she opened her eyes they were still way too dark.


"…It's okay, Dawnie. Just get in the car."

They all climbed in and Willow was clearly exhausted.

"Xander, go. I can't risk any more magic."

He peeled away without comment, speeding them to safety. No one spoke, all of their thoughts on the two they'd left behind.




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