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  Part 6

Buffy thundered down the stairs, pulling her leather coat on and checking the number of stakes hidden in its pockets. She was about to burst out the front door and escape when Mom stepped out from the living room, arms crossed, and blocked her way. Buffy paused, her muscles knotting the way they did before a fight. She couldn't meet Mom's eyes, so instead she glared at the office set-up in the living room. Fax, phone, white board, memo pads...and about a hundred "Never Again!" signs, piled around like so many accusations. Buffy wanted to snap them into splinters. Fuck MOO with their locker break-ins and their book confiscations and their fucking stupid acronym, and while she was at it, fuck Mom too.

That thought brought her up short, and Buffy tried to reason with herself. Mom thought she was doing the right thing. Mom thought this was helping. Mom was in shock, she was traumatized, she was trying to deal with a hell of a lot all at once. Buffy knew that. She wanted to understand that.

But Mom had no fucking clue how much this all hurt.

"I'm going on patrol," Buffy said, tightly. She sounded defensive and she knew it. Mom hadn't said a word, only stared at her, and she was cracking already. Fuck this. Faith was going to meet up with her, and Buffy wanted nothing more than to wrap herself in Faith's arms, to kill as many unlucky vamps as they could hunt down, and forget each and every idiotic thing MOO had done today. Except Mom had to know she was going to meet Faith, and she probably had a pretty good idea of what the two of them would get up to, and yesterday's freezing silence after the vigil didn't look like it was going to start thawing any time soon.

"I don't want you seeing that Faith anymore," Mom said.

Buffy gaped at her in disbelief. "'That' Faith? Mom!"

Mom's steady voice ran over Buffy's interruption. "She is a bad influence on you. She's wild, shameless, and the way she dresses..." Mom shook her head. "You don't know what kind of forays into the occult she's been a part of."

Buffy opened her mouth, but for a moment she couldn't think of a single thing to say. Mom had never, not once, acted so blind and bigoted and insufferable. Buffy stared at the MOO button pinned to her blouse, focusing on it, hating it, hating everything it represented. She shouldn't have to defend Faith, not to her mom. Mom was the one who'd welcomed Faith in the first place. Mom was the one who'd encouraged Buffy to invite Faith to Christmas dinner. It had been Mom and Faith together who'd planned the ski trip. It simply wasn't fair that Mom was changing, not now. She was freaking over two kids she didn't even know, letting it spill over to Buffy and Faith, and even to Willow, dragged away by Principal Snyder today for having spell ingredients in her locker.

"You're the one who ordered the raid on the school today," Buffy said, dully, saying the only thing she could that wouldn't make her burst into tears.

"Honey, they opened a few lockers," Mom said.

"Lockers, first syllable, lock," Buffy said. "They're private. You had no right--"

Mom held up a hand to stop her. "And that is beside the point. I am trying to have a discussion with you, as one adult to another--"

"And they took all of Giles' books away," Buffy said, pushing away her mom's so-called 'discussion' about Faith. It wasn't a discussion, it was an order. Buffy was not going to let Mom tear apart what she and Faith shared. She wanted to run away, find Faith, never come back...but she'd done that before, over Angel, and she knew it wouldn't work.

Mom sighed impatiently. "He'll get most of them back. MOO just wants to weed out the offensive material. Everything else will be returned to Mr. Giles soon."

"If we're gonna solve this, we need those books now," Buffy said. The books weren't the issue. Willow's aborted protection spell wasn't the issue. None of that mattered, because in the end she'd kill whatever monster was preying on Sunnydale's kids, books or no books, spells or no spells. Right now her mom was the monster, and Buffy didn't know how to fight her. She shouldn't have to fight her!

"Sweetie," Mom said, in a sickly-sweet 'I'm the parent and I know what's good for you' voice, "those books have no place in a public school library. Any student can waltz in there and get all sorts of ideas." She took a step towards Buffy, reaching out one hand to touch her arm. Buffy flinched back. "And not just students," Mom continued, pretending not to notice Buffy's reaction. "People like that Faith, who comes from who-knows-where, and has a life no one's aware of most of the time. I can't even imagine the sort of people she must associate with..." Mom studied Buffy with a worried frown. "Do you understand how that terrifies me?"

Buffy's eyes were hot, her throat filled with a choking, burning weight. "That type of people Faith associates with? I guess I'm that type of person then. That's what you're saying, isn't it?" She cut off any answer Mom might have made with a curt gesture. "Mom, I am sorry that these people scared you so much. And I know you're just trying to help. But you are going too far. You have to let me handle this--me and Faith, who is my girlfriend, who I love. We, together, are going to solve this. That is what we do."

"But is it really?" Mom asked.

Buffy blinked, holding back tears, her voice so tight she could only whisper an incredulous "What?"

Mom gave a little, apologetic shrug, full of fake concern, so fucking calm it just wasn't fair. "I mean, you patrol, you slay...Evil pops up, you undo it. But is Sunnydale getting any better? Are they running out of vampires?"

Buffy said nothing, only stared at her, like Mom was a stranger. This wasn't about vampires, or about evil. Why couldn't she see that?

"It's not your fault," Mom said, warming to her theme, smiling as she reasoned it out, eyes shining as she considered the middle distance thoughtfully. "You don't have a plan. You just react to things. It's bound to be kind of fruitless."

Anger stirred through Buffy, growing with each word out of Mom's mouth. What Mom knew about the Slaying she'd learned because Buffy loved her and wanted her not to worry. Now Mom was throwing it all back in her face, like a teacher grading her badly on a school report. Maybe Buffy wasn't prepared for everything, maybe she hadn't looked at every contingency. But this narrow-minded bullshit was the only thing Buffy hadn't seen coming. "Maybe I don't have a plan," she said bitterly. "Lord knows I don't have lapel buttons..."


Buffy shook her head, denying Mom's words. "And maybe next time that the world is getting sucked into Hell, I won't be able to stop it because you told me never to see the only person who can help me! Because you don't want your daughter to be gay!"

Mom sighed in exasperation. "I'm sorry," she said, sounding anything but. "I didn't mean to put down..."

"Yeah, well, you did." Buffy shook her head. "I have to go. I have to go on one of my pointless patrols and react to some vampires, and maybe, just maybe, have all that disgusting wild monkey sex with my girlfriend." She shoved past Mom and opened the door, then looked back one last time. "If that's alright with MOO."

Mom watched her go, but said nothing, her lips pursed tight. Buffy slammed the door, only barely able to restrain herself from smashing it to pieces behind her.

Part 7

The merry-go-round in the kids' playground was covered in flowers and pictures of the dead children. The tiny flames of the guttering candles emphasized the dark night more than they illuminated the shrine. Buffy walked up to it after her patrol, studying the kids' faces. In the flickering candlelight, their eyes seemed to follow her, judging her, demanding why she hadn't saved them. She saw her mom's eyes there too, disappointed, bewildered, angry. Empty, when Buffy left her behind and refused to listen to her.

She glanced over when Faith walked out of the darkness to stand beside her. "Hi."

"Hey," Faith said.

Buffy wrapped her arms around Faith's neck and simply held her for a long moment. Some of the tension and pain of the evening melted away, and Buffy let out a long sigh, relaxing. "I love you," she murmured into Faith's shoulder.

"Love you too," Faith said. Buffy could hear the smile in her voice, as if Faith would never stop being amazed at hearing those words, or at saying them.

Buffy looked up into Faith's face, searching for a trace of that smile in her expression. Faith's dark eyes seemed very far away. "How are you?" she asked.

"I'm all right." Faith smoothed her hands down Buffy's back, one long stroke after another. Buffy sighed and settled into the touch. "I think I'm better than you right now."

They both looked over at the merry-go-round. Buffy leaned into Faith's body, meeting the dead children's eyes, getting the feeling again that the pictures were watching them. "You heard what happened at school today?"

"Yeah. Xander told me. I came looking for you..."

"Mom wanted me home straight after school." Buffy felt a touch of fury at the thought. She wouldn't let herself be controlled like that any more. She would be eighteen in a week, and she could make her own decisions. "God, Faith, I'm so sorry." She slid her hands up into Faith's hair, combing her fingers through the soft, loose strands. Faith dipped her head and kissed her, softly at first, then more hungrily. Buffy opened her mouth, accepting what Faith offered. It was easy to forget Mom when Faith's lips were so soft, her tongue exploring the sensitive places of Buffy's mouth. Buffy licked the tiny hollow in Faith's lower lip, then Faith caught her mouth again and nibbled and sucked her way across, then back again. Warmth flooded through Buffy's body, letting the fear and anger drain away, until there was nothing left but Faith's mouth, Faith's body, Faith's love.



"Let's go to your place."

Faith looked at her, one hand massaging small circles on her lower back. "Your mom okay with that?"

Buffy dropped her eyes. "Maybe I don't care if she is or not."

"Maybe I do."

Buffy felt the helpless anger breaking over her, threatening to drown her. "What does it matter to you? She's not your mother."

She knew the moment the words were out of her mouth that it was the wrong thing to say. Faith's hand stilled on her back. She hated it when anybody mentioned her family. She stared past Buffy, over her head.

"Faith, I just meant--" Buffy loosened her hold, wondering if Faith would leave now; if she'd just broken something before it had a chance to grow.

"Yeah. I know." Faith let go of her and pointed at the carousel covered in mementos. "Because she's fucking right, Buffy. About us distracting each other. We're supposed to be tracking down whoever did this, not copping a feel right in the middle of the crime scene and then ditching patrol because we wanna fuck."

Buffy bridled at Faith's emphasis on the word 'fuck', as if that's all it was. As if she wasn't risking so much to be with Faith--her entire social standing at school, her relationship with her mom--and yes, even the danger of getting caught up in each other while they were patrolling. "If you've got any leads, I'd love to hear them," she said. "I was in there today when they took Giles' books. I want to research. I want to patrol. But, as you remind me so often, that's not all there is to life. Faith, I want you, too."

"There's gotta be something we can do. Hunt a few vamps, see what they know." Faith threw up her arms. "We can't just--we can't just pretend it's all okay, B, because it's just fucking not!"

Buffy's shoulders slumped. Faith was feeling just as guilty as she was over the kids' deaths, and taking it worse. With Giles and Buffy both coaching her, Faith was becoming a better Slayer, but that meant she didn't see patrolling as only a game for her amusement anymore. Probably seeing Mom's reaction to finding the kids had made it worse, because she and Faith were starting to get closer. Faith had finally seen, up close and personal, what it was to be responsible for a death. Buffy walked over to a bench sitting near the merry-go-round and sat down, giving Faith some space.

"It's strange," she said, touching the nearest "Never Again!" sign. "People die in Sunnydale all the time. But I've never seen anything like this."

Faith shrugged. "They were kids. They never hurt anybody. It makes a difference."

Buffy gave a weak laugh. "And Mr. Sanderson from the bank had it coming?" She sighed. "My mom...said some things to me..." Buffy stopped, wondering whether to tell Faith she'd been forbidden to see her. "Some things about being the Slayer," she finished. "That it's fruitless." She waved at the shrine. "No fruit for Buffy."

Faith turned on her heel, pacing angrily. "She's wrong!" she said, nearly shouting, ignoring Buffy holding out a hand, inviting her to sit on the bench beside her.

"Is she?" Buffy asked. Faith grimaced and kept pacing. "Is Sunnydale any better than when you first came here, or since I did? I mean, we battle evil. But we don't really win. The bad keeps coming back and getting stronger. Like that kid in the story." Buffy gestured, trying to keep her train of thought from derailing. "The boy that stuck his finger in the duck."

Faith stopped pacing at that, her anger receding in an instant. Her grin flashed in the darkness. "Dike."

Buffy drew back, confused. "Like you're one to talk, Miss Really Black Pot?"

Faith stared at her in disbelief for a second and then burst out laughing. "B, tell me you learned to spell! Dike with an I, not a Y. It's another word for dam."

"Oh." Buffy felt her face going red. "Oh, okay, that story makes a lot more sense now."

Faith guffawed harder, bending over and wheezing with laughter. "I'd hate...to be the dyke...the boy tried to stick his finger in..."

Buffy rolled her eyes. Faith was holding her stomach, tears leaking out of her eyes. She stumbled over to the bench and sat down beside Buffy to support herself. "Fine, fine, laugh it up," Buffy said. "What I'm trying to say is that we never win."

Faith's giggles subsided and she leaned back, but she was still smiling. "We never win. Not completely. I know."

"Yeah." Buffy leaned back too, studying Faith out of the corner of her eyes, moving her leg slightly so that their knees touched. "But I still have to fight. And I still want to do other stuff, too."

Faith moved her knee, returning the pressure. Now they were nearly facing each other as they sat on the park bench. "At least with vamps, they just show up and we dust 'em. This cult thing--I'm sorry I freaked. You know I'm horny as hell."

Buffy smirked. "I know."

Faith's eyes darkened, and her grin grew. "I loved having my hand down your pants, B, you were so wet, I coulda just fingered you all night, getting your clit all hard for me. I woulda made you scream. I bet you got yourself off last night just thinkin' about it, hmm?"

Buffy quivered at Faith's words, remembering how long she'd tossed and turned in bed last night before giving in to her arousal. Already she could feel it again, her heart pounding faster at the memory. "Faith, you know we're trying. Giles even tried to turn on his computer. Willow's grounded, but she'll be back at it at school tomorrow..."

Faith's smile deepened. She lifted her leg and placed it over Buffy's thigh, placing her foot in Buffy's crotch. "So what you're saying is there's really nothing we can do tonight," she said, emphasizing her words with a quick press of her foot. "About the kids, I mean."

Buffy closed her eyes and nodded, concentrating on the back-and-forth movement of Faith's foot as she flexed her ankle. "That's right..." she said on a shaky breath.

"We're gonna keep fighting the good fight tomorrow?" Faith said, pressing again. Buffy lifted her hips into the pressure, rubbing her pussy as best she could against Faith's boot, which was now making small circles against the seam of her jeans.

"Fight. Yes. Tomorrow. Faith--"

"All right. And your mom's gonna be pissed."

"Uh-huh," Buffy said, not really paying attention to Faith's words anymore. "But tomorrow."

Faith sighed, and suddenly her boot was gone, and Buffy gasped at the loss. "Then I guess we're going to mine," she said, and she hauled Buffy off the bench and kissed her again, like a promise.

Part 8

They had found another nest of vampires before they finally made it back to Faith's room. Buffy had slayed her share, getting rid of her frustrations on the undead, which was the healthiest way to do it for a Slayer. Faith looked like she had done the same, fighting hard and coming up laughing from her last kill, her eyes bright with energy. She'd smiled that devil-may-care grin at Buffy and stalked over to her after the last of the vamps was dust. Faith pinned her against a wall, holding her there with nothing more than the strength of her personality and the heat of her body. Faith stared at her until Buffy gave up and kissed her first, swallowing Faith's chuckle and some snarky remark about how irresistable she was.

The thing was, Faith was irresistable. Buffy had tried, since Faith had first come to Sunnydale, to resist her. Straight girl. Boyfriend. Not the kind of person who gets lost in thought just watching her 'good friend' sauntering across a dance floor towards her, like a hunter, with that gleam of lust almost-but-not-quite hidden in her dark eyes. Not the kind of person who stares at her boyfriend and thinks about someone else's lips, someone else's body moving in the strobes at the Bronze.

Buffy had known, from the moment Faith asked her to Homecoming, that she was going to kiss Faith, and never let her go. It had taken her a while to figure out she had to dump Angel and then make the first move, and even longer to get her courage up to do it. But now, now, with Faith's fingers loose around her wrists and her kiss so desperate and hot against her mouth, Buffy knew it had all been worth it. "God, I love you," she panted, and Faith's hands spasmed tight around her wrists for a second.

"Buffy." Faith trapped her lower lip between her teeth and suckled it, teeth nibbling, then let go and plunged back into the kiss. "Buffy. So good..."

The kiss was amazing, like every single time before. Buffy had never known that kisses could be like this, that she could feel so much wrapped up in someone else's arms. She'd had boyfriends before, and dates, and Angel, but none of them were Faith. Everyone else's kisses were cold compared to hers. Faith's lips were always hot, always demanding, but soft and giving at the same time. Buffy had never been the demanding one before, the one who moved first, who asked for more. Faith should have been the one to push her, to want to go further.

But Buffy had never once been so hungry for anyone. She pushed, and instead of giving way, Faith pushed right back. It turned her on so bad, and Buffy whimpered into the kiss, lifting her head to let Faith kiss her neck, turning her face to find Faith's ear with her tongue, sucking on her earlobe and sighing, "Please, yes, Faith. Please, more."

"Let's get back to mine," Faith whispered back, nudging closer before sliding away. Buffy tipped her head back and stared at Faith, feeling like she could barely stand. Feeling drugged, warm and relaxed and floating. Faith's eyes on her felt even better, all that desire concentrated on her, and Buffy reached out for her hand. Their fingers twined together easily as they hurried to Faith's motel.

Buffy leaned on Faith, unable to let her go even long enough for her to open the door, and then they were inside, kissing again, getting tangled together as they fought to get each others' clothes off.

Buffy backed away at last, naked, watching Faith curse at her boots because she'd tried to take off her pants first. Finally, Faith sorted out the problem and looked up. Buffy felt a surge of power go through her when Faith's breath caught in her throat as she stared. "Lie on the bed," she said.

"B..." It was barely a sigh. Faith seemed paralysed, and Buffy could only stare back at her. She wanted to leap on her right away, but she held back, feeling the deep ache in her clit that wanted Faith's fingers, Faith's tongue. Not yet.

"Lie down," she said again, and this time Faith moved, laying down slowly, her black eyes fixed on Buffy in the dimness. Buffy's breathing deepened. She could see the shine of Faith's arousal on her thighs, seeping from her pussy. Her nipples were dark and erect, and her breasts looked so soft that Buffy just wanted to rest on them forever, taste them, take them.

But waiting was sweet, too, watching Faith struggle to stay still, not to touch herself or to tackle Buffy. "Fuck, Buffy," she moaned, but her body did her pleading for her, her muscles tightening beneath her skin as she pressed her legs together, looking for some relief.

Buffy couldn't wait any longer. She crawled onto the bed, straddling Faith but not pressing down, the way her body was clamouring for her to do. She kneeled over Faith, supporting herself on her arms, and leaned in for another kiss. Not touching Faith except for that one point, her lips, devouring her. The world dissolved in that kiss. Buffy made it gentle, teasing, tasting Faith deeply and then moving away.

Every time Faith reached for her, Buffy caught her hands and gently pushed them aside. It was a game of back-and-forth, Faith sneaking her hands up Buffy's sides or between her thighs, and Buffy playfully catching her and placing her hands back above her head, pressing them there briefly to tell Faith to keep them still. She wanted to do this for Faith, to show her how much her love meant to her, to show that nothing--not her mom, not cults or covens or all the demons of the Hellmouth--were going to stand between her and loving Faith.

This was only the third time they'd been together, and everything was so new. Buffy wanted to explore every single inch of Faith's body and find all the tiny places that made her shiver and moan. She moved her mouth over Faith's neck, to her chest, then down her arm, purposefully avoiding all the places Faith wanted her to touch. Buffy found the crease inside Faith's elbow, flicked her tongue over the pulse there, smiling when it jumped under her mouth. She moved lower and drifted her fingertips across Faith's tanned, taut stomach, loving the way the muscles jumped. She swept her hands back and forth, now with fingernails, now palms, then plunged her tongue into Faith's bellybutton. Faith gasped and thrust upwards, moaning. Buffy licked her way around Faith's stomach, every now and then coming close to the neatly waxed curls between Faith's legs, then sliding away, as if on a whim. Her fingernails were now drawing lines up and down the insides of Faith's thighs, as light as feathers, reaching up high enough to feel the wetness coating her legs, then returning to her knees, again and again.

Faith was going crazy, trying to keep still because that's how Buffy wanted it, but she was swearing like a sailor and twitching every time Buffy's mouth or fingers came close, so close, and then, as if by accident, glided away.

"Buffy, shit, B, oh God, fucking do it!"

"Hmm," Buffy answered easily, licking her way up between Faith's breasts, spiraling her tongue in towards Faith's straining nipple, then dipping below it.

"Oh, fuck!" Faith shouted, and buried both her hands in Buffy's hair, twining her fingers around the strands so tight it almost hurt--almost, almost--and pushed Buffy down to where she wanted her. "Fucking eat me, Buffy, or I swear--"

Buffy didn't wait to hear what Faith would swear. She thrust her tongue as deep inside Faith as she could reach, sucking down the sudden gush of liquid. Faith was swollen and wet and hot and oh, so good. Buffy licked her way up to Faith's clit and massaged it with the flat of her tongue, bringing her fingers in to push into Faith's wide-open hole.

Faith gave a breathless moan and jerked off the bed, all her muscles tightening, her thighs holding Buffy in place. "Oh, sweet fuck, that's...yes...fuck me--"

Buffy moved faster, loving the sobbing breaths escaping from Faith's lips, the way her hips moved helplessly to the rhythm Buffy set with her mouth and her fingers. Faith's fingers clenching in her hair told her when she hit a perfect spot. Nothing came close to this, giving Faith pleasure with everything she had in her, sucking and nibbling on Faith's swollen clit and thrusting her fingers harder and faster, doing whatever Faith asked and then more. She nudged Faith's legs higher until they were over her shoulders and she could go deeper. Faith threw back her head and screamed. Her pussy clamped down on Buffy's fingers and her hands spasmed on Buffy's head, holding her in place as she came.

Buffy kept going, until Faith's muscles shivered and went loose, and she collapsed back on the bed, panting. Buffy wiped her face with one hand and slowly drew the other out of Faith, kissing her lightly on the stomach.

"Jesus, B...Buffy." Faith didn't seem able to say anything more than that, but then she spoke again. "Love you so much."

Buffy smiled and snuggled into her side. "'S good?"

Faith rolled her eyes and half-laughed, still breathless. "You kidding me? That's one of those things worth saving the world for. Those kids. Their parents. Great head."

Buffy stiffened. "Their parents."

Faith frowned, confused. "Hey, you made the list. Top three reasons for fighting the good fight."

"No. Faith." Buffy sat up and started throwing her clothes on. "Their parents!"

"What about 'em?" Faith leaned on one elbow, watching her. "Don't tell me you're going already?"

"Come on, get dressed." Buffy tossed Faith's pants at her head. "What do we really know about these kids, Faith? Nothing! Where'd the pictures come from? What are their names, for God's sake?"

"It never came up," Faith said, understanding dawning on her face. "Not once."

"We've got to talk to Giles," Buffy said.

"Okay, but then, I'm gonna show you what's worth fighting for." Faith grinned and pulled on her clothes.

Part 9

Buffy and Faith sprinted through the library doors in unison, leaving them swinging behind them, and coming to a stop in the middle of the room. Xander and Giles were watching Oz, who was at the computer, typing furiously.

"What are the kids' names?" Buffy asked triumphantly when they looked up, not expecting an answer.

"Hansel and Gretel," Oz said blandly, his hands pausing on the keyboard.

"Fairy tales are real," Xander agreed, nodding wisely. "I'm thinking of trading in my cow for a handful of beans."

"Literal antecedants of idiosyncratic folklore--" Giles started, then seemed to notice four pairs of eyes glazing over. He sighed in exasperation. "Yes, well. They aren't children. It's a demon that feeds on mass hysteria."

"Right. And we know they're going after witches," Faith said. "That means Willow's in danger, and that Amy-girl--"

"And us," Buffy said. "You should have heard my mom going on about Slayers."

"Yeah, but nobody's gonna try taking us down if they know what's good for 'em," Faith said. "And unless Red's floating a lot more than a pencil these days, I'm betting she's in way deeper than we are."

"She's gone offline," Oz said, his forehead creasing as he stared at the computer.

"She wouldn't have just logged off," Xander said. "We were just getting into the major research mojo."

"Sheila Rosenberg seemed unduly interested in Joyce's speech at the vigil last night," Giles said. "This can't be good."

Oz stood up and pulled his jacket off the back of his chair and started out of the library.

"Oz, wait!" Buffy followed him and stopped him at the door. "I'm sorry, but I'd better go. It wouldn't help if they got you too."

Oz's face showed as much as it ever did, tight with anger, but he nodded.

"What about us?" Xander asked. "We can't just stand around while the whole town goes Salem on us."

"We gotta find out what's going down, and where," Faith said. "And how to kill this demon."

Buffy nodded. She met Faith's eyes for an instant, long enough for Faith to say, "Be careful," and for her to answer "I always am," without either of them speaking a word.

Buffy ran for Willow's house. She was there in under five minutes, making the most of her Slayer speed. The front door was unlocked, and nobody answered when she called out Willow's name. The house was empty. She was too late. She ran down the steps, glancing through the living room.

There was a "Never Again!" sign leaning against the coffee table.


Of course.


Buffy closed her eyes and groaned, stopping short of making the "I'm so stupid" forehead slap.

She was at the wrong house.

She ran again.

Giles' car was sitting in her driveway when she arrived. The gang must have figured out that this was Nutcase Central after she'd left the library. Mom's Jeep was gone. Not a good sign.

Buffy opened the front door and gasped. Giles was lying crumpled in the foyer. She could see the lump on the side of his head through his hair.

"Giles!" She knelt beside him. "Giles, wake up!"

God, what if one of the others had been with him? No one else was here now. And all the Scoobies were targets, if only by association. Buffy wanted to slap Giles awake, but she restrained herself.

"Come on, Giles, let's go." She shook his shoulder. This was bad. Of course there was something weird going on with her mom. Why hadn't she seen it before? Mom wasn't the type to go from totally accepting her to practically calling an intervention to save her from herself--or from Faith.

This mass hysteria demon was the cause. Mom had found the kids, and Mom was the one who'd gone off the deep end.

Giles moaned and sat up, holding his face in his hands.

"Giles!" Buffy pulled him up. "What happened?"

"Faith--" Giles blinked at her, one hand pressed to the goose egg on his temple. "Buffy, I'm so sorry. They drugged her...took her. They're going to City Hall."

Buffy's heart froze. "It was supposed to be me. Why did you bring her here?"

"Michael warned us that there was going to be a sacrifice tonight." Giles stumbled after her, heading to his battered car. "Once we realized that your mother was the most likely to be under the influence of the demon, we couldn't stop Faith. Xander and Oz went to help Amy, and I followed Faith here--in time to see Joyce use the chloroform. And to get knocked out, myself."

Buffy gave an empty laugh. "How many times has that happened, anyway?"

Giles stared at her over the car's roof. "Buffy. We will save her. Remember, this isn't your mother acting. It's the demon. This is not your fault."

Buffy shrugged and wrenched her door open. "I should have known something was up. People don't just change."

Giles slid into the driver's seat and started the car. "Parents often do, when faced with...well, with, ah, unconventional..." He shook his head and floored the gas pedal. "Entanglements."

"Right, and you know this how?" Buffy asked bitterly.

Giles merely looked at her.

Buffy said, in a very small voice, "Oh." Those were thoughts she did not want to be having. Giles entangled with Jenny Calendar was bad enough. Anyone 'unconventional'--say, Ethan--was worse.

"Fortunately," Giles said, watching the road as he swung into the street outside City Hall, "I have the spell prepared that will reveal the demon's true form."

"Good." Buffy jumped out of the car almost before it came to a halt. She ran into City Hall. The meeting room's doors were locked, but one hefty kick sent them crashing inwards. Giles hurried up behind her as they pushed through the back of the crowd.

At the front of the room, where the vigil podium had been, there was a huge pile of books, holding three giant stakes. Willow and Amy were tied to the outermost posts, struggling, and between them, dangling limply, dark hair hiding her face--


Buffy didn't even know she'd shouted the name until the mob turned and looked back at her. She marched to the front, shoving aside anyone not smart enough to get out of her way. Mom stood at the front of the crowd, holding a burning torch.

Buffy stepped up in front of her, on the lowest level of books. Mom stared at her, still with that befuddled look of worry and concern on her face, as if it was Buffy who was acting strangely. "Mom," Buffy said softly, holding out a hand for the torch. "You don't want to do this."

Mom pulled the torch out of her reach. "Since when does it matter what I want?" she asked. "I wanted a normal, happy daughter. Instead, I got a..." She paused, and glanced at Faith. "...a Slayer."

Buffy felt like she'd been sucker-punched in the gut. This wasn't about the occult at all. It was about her and Faith. How could it be just a demon's work, if Mom's hysteria was different from everybody else's?

"Mom, don't..." she whispered, but Mom had already tossed her torch onto the pile. Other men with torches added their flames to the old, dry books. The blaze leapt up, fire licking at the paper. Buffy coughed on the smoke. Mom only shook her head and turned away.

Buffy leapt up the sliding pile, running behind Willow and ripping the ropes off her. "Get down!" she said. "Run!" She moved to Amy next, freeing her quickly.

"Stop them!"

Buffy looked down. Standing in front of Mom were the two children, Hansel and Gretel, holding hands. "You're letting the bad girls escape! They hurt us. You promised. Burn them!"

Mom rested a hand on Gretel's blonde head and nodded. "I'm sorry, Buffy."

"Dead people are talking to you, Mom! Do the math!" Buffy started working on the ropes that bound Faith. There were more of them, and stronger, and the knots wavered before her eyes in the smoke and the heat. She was coughing harder now, and Faith was starting to mumble and pull away from the nearest flames. "I've got you, baby," Buffy whispered in Faith's ear, ripping as hard as she dared at the ropes without taking Faith's hands off at the wrists. "Just wake up, that's all, Faith, we're gonna get you out of this."

Somewhere beyond the fire, Willow and Amy were hauling out the fire hose, and Giles was reciting something in German. All Buffy could see was the children, one on each side of Mom, and Mom's disappointed sigh as she watched Buffy frantically yanking on Faith's ropes.

Then suddenly the children weren't children--they were a single huge, horned demon towering over Mom.

"Oh, my God," she whispered, staring back and forth between the demon and Buffy.

Faith gasped and spat, a deep, wracking cough shaking her. Her eyes opened, and she looked up. Buffy tore through the last of her ropes. Together, they turned to face the demon.

"Protect us," it said. "Kill the bad girls."

"Y'know what?" Faith asked, cracking her knuckles. "Not as convincing without the kid costume."

"Shall we kill it?" Buffy asked her.

"Maybe it's the drugs talking, but I'm thinking yeah," Faith answered.

So they did.

Amy and Willow manhandled the hose closer and doused the last of the flames. Giles dropped down on his knees in the middle of his books, looking like he was either going to faint or cry at the damage.

Buffy wrapped her arms around Faith's waist and refused to look at Mom. "I don't want to go home," she mumbled into Faith's neck.

"I know, B."

Buffy sniffed, and wiped away a few tears that wouldn't stay in her eyes. "You think I should."

Faith shrugged. "I want you with me."

Buffy knew what she meant. If Faith was forever--or longer than a week, even--Buffy would have to make up with her mom eventually. She couldn't just pretend that none of this had happened.

"But, B, you'd better be ready tomorrow. I've still got a date planned, y'know."

Buffy nodded, and loosened her hold on Faith. "I love you," she said. Anyone and everyone could have heard her. Maybe that was the point.

"I love you too, B." Faith smiled. "Now get your cute ass home, and I'll see ya tomorrow."

Mom's face still showed nothing as Buffy followed her out of City Hall.

Part 10

There was a lot of silence the next day. Buffy tiptoed around the house, and Mom was determined to act as if everything was fine. She didn't seem angry any more, or worried, or upset about Faith. More than anything, she seemed confused. At breakfast, she looked up over the edge of her paper and stared at Buffy as though she didn't even recognise her. Buffy glared at her bagel and ignored her. Okay, she'd been under a spell. Buffy understood that. Buffy was the queen of understanding that. She'd been the one to strip down to a raincoat for Xander while under the influence, after all. It wasn't the burning people at the stake that bothered her. It was the fact that her mom's worst fear--the one the demon knew was worth exploiting--was the one thing that made her happy.

Not soap opera happy, either. The real thing. The kind that was less drama and tears, and more actual...well, happiness. Buffy couldn't help smiling into her cream cheese, remembering last night--before all the hurting and the running and the burning, of course.

Mom's paper twitched again. Buffy's smile dropped. She didn't know how they were ever going to get past this. She left the house without a word.

School passed in a blur. People had the dazed, forgetful look they often got after an almost-apocalypse. They knew weird things had happened, but they were determined to pretend everything was just fine. Buffy spent her lunch hour helping Giles reshelve singed books with Willow and Xander. Faith didn't show up.

Buffy spent most of her classes daydreaming. She was going on a date tonight, which everybody knew, because she couldn't shut up about it. At lunch, Xander got caught up in the spirit and asked Amy if near-death experiences made her want to go dancing, and she agreed that it wouldn't be horrible.

Willow was freaking a bit that Oz had to come to dinner with her parents the next week, but Oz just smiled and kissed her silent whenever her babbling got out of control.

So everything was back to normal. Except at home.

Buffy took a long time getting ready. It was difficult, considering she had no idea where they were going, or what they were doing. Faith wanted it to be a surprise. Besides, she kind of wanted to force her mom to notice, and to say something. But Mom puttered around the kitchen and took the Sunnydale mentality to its extreme. Everything was fine. Nothing was out of the ordinary.

The doorbell rang. Buffy raced down the stairs. Mom was in the living room, cleaning away the last traces of her command center.

"That's Faith," Buffy said.

Mom looked up and nodded, then went back to shredding "Never Again!" signs.

"I'll probably be late," Buffy tried again. If I come home tonight at all, she thought. She pretty much hoped that she wouldn't.

"It's not a school night," Mom said. She smiled. As if everything was hunky-dory and peachy-keen.

It made Buffy want to scream. But the doorbell rang again, and there was a muffled "Hey!" from behind the window, where Faith could probably see her standing in the hallway like a spazz.

"I'm coming," Buffy yelled, and opened the door.

"Not enough for my tastes," Faith said with a grin. "You need to relax, girlfriend. Here." She shoved two large pizza boxes into Buffy's arms, then piled on a stack of rented movies.

Buffy stared plaintively at the pizzas. "This is the romantic surprise?"

"Tuck that lip back in, or you might not like what happens to it," Faith said, running her tongue over her own bottom lip suggestively. Buffy raised her eyebrows and pouted harder. Faith laughed. "And no, this isn't the romantic surprise. I'm doing this whole seduction thing, right?" She stepped into the hall and kicked off her boots, dumping a shoulder bag on the floor near the coat stand. She leaned around the corner and waved at Buffy's mom. "Hey, Mrs. S."

"Hello, Faith." Mom folded her arms and regarded Faith affectionately.

"Oh, come on, that's it?" Buffy glared at her mom. "You guys say two words to each other and suddenly everything's fine? I'm a Slayer, you know, I don't just forget all the demons the way everyone else does."

"We worked it out when I called before," Faith said. "Since you were in school, your mom made me promise that we'd do the bonding thing. 'Cause last time things went--well, you know."

"Oh, no." Buffy tried to hold out her hands defensively, but they were full of pizza. She went into the living room and dumped the boxes and movies on the table. "I am not doing this tonight. This is supposed to be our first date. I am not having The Talk during our first date!"

Faith gave her a pleading look that was way too cute to be fair. "But, B, if we don't, then I won't get to give you the romantic surprise."

"You realize that you're cheating," Buffy said, unable to stop herself from smiling like an idiot.

"Yep," Faith said easily. Her smile was pretty goofy, too, showing off her dimples and the sparkle in her eyes. "Now. Come on. I got one pizza for me, one for you two. Let's eat before the cheese congeals."

Buffy eyed her mom before joining Faith on the couch. "So..." she started.

Mom nodded. "So..."

Faith handed Buffy a slice of pizza after taking an enormous bite from her own. After a long space of silence, Faith finished chewing. "So," she said. "I'm not a vampire, I don't have any diseases, I can't get Buffy pregnant, and I love her."

Buffy blushed. "No, really, Faith, don't hold back," she said.

"Hey," Faith said, standing up and patting Mom on the back, where she was coughing after getting pizza down the wrong tube. "I'm just trying to be reassuring here. I never got taken home to anyone's parents before, y'know."

"I know," Buffy said softly. Love welled up inside her. Faith had chosen her to be the one she'd open up to. She wasn't just some random date. This was the real thing. Faith met her eyes over Mom's head, and she tried to send every ounce of her feeling across the space. Faith was probably nervous, after all. "Okay," Buffy said, taking a deep breath. "The same goes for me. Plus, we know that we're going to protect each other, no matter what happens. And, you know, Mom, Slayers...I mean, I know you don't want to think about it...but they don't live that long..."

Faith nodded. "I nearly didn't even get here from Boston. This, it's for keeps."

Mom set her pizza down on a napkin. "Girls...it's not up to you to convince me. I'm the one who should be explaining."

Faith sat down on the couch next to Buffy. Buffy rested her hand on top of Faith's.

"I was nervous when you said that you were..." Mom cleared her throat. "...together. But I don't want to split you apart. It wouldn't work, anyway. The last few days--that wasn't me. I'm not that monster. I want you to be happy, that's all."

Buffy smiled. "We are."

"In that case...I'm just going to go out. Mark's in town, did you know?"

"Yeah," Buffy said. "Have a good time."

"I'm going to trust you two while I'm gone." There was a warning implicit in Mom's tone--one that said they'd better not get up to anything she'd disapprove of. Or at least, nothing that would wake her up.

"G'night, Mrs. S," Faith called dutifully, watching her as she headed out the door. As soon as she was out of sight, Faith pounced on Buffy and kissed her, using her weight and the blanket tangled around both their legs to press Buffy into the couch. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" she whispered into Buffy's ear.

Buffy shivered at the feel of her breath and pressed upwards, trying to claw the blanket out of the way. "Probably. But why would Amy agree to go on a date with Xander if she wasn't possessed?"

"Wrong..." Faith kissed her again, longer, deeper. "Guess I'm just gonna have to show you what I'm thinking..."

Buffy moaned at the thought, and buried her hands beneath Faith's shirt. "So--hmm--what's...what's my surprise?"

"You know I'm not into all that romantic stuff..." Faith sat up, enjoying Buffy's fingers brushing higher under her shirt.

"I don't know anything of the sort." Buffy pulled Faith down again, devouring her mouth, licking the cleft in her bottom lip, then sucking her tongue into her mouth. "See?" she panted. "Very romantic."

"Okay, you asked for it," Faith said. She leaped off the couch and gave Buffy a hand to pull her to her feet. "Go on up to your room. I'm gonna surprise the hell out of you."

Buffy went, watching over her shoulder as Faith made little shooing gestures. This was going to be good. Images of Faith in underwear...or lingerie...or, well, nothing at all...assaulted her brain. She stripped to nothing as soon as she was in her room and waited.

After a minute, Faith's voice came from outside the door, pitched for her Slayer hearing. "Promise you won't laugh?"

Buffy grinned. "Promise."

The door swung open, and Faith walked in.

Wearing flannel pyjamas covered in skiing penguins. The same ones she'd been wearing on the ski trip, the first night--their first time.

Buffy felt her mouth drop open.

"I look ridiculous," Faith said.

Buffy shook her head. "That...is pretty much the sexiest thing I've ever seen."

Faith leered at her. "Says you when you're spread out...naked...all over your bed..."

"Come here and ravish me," Buffy said.

And Faith didn't need to be asked twice.


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