Human Layers
by Pat Kelley

Walking out of the Bronze, Buffy was satisfied. Well, satisfied in one area, at least. She had driven Angel crazy by dancing with Xander. She didn't know why she did it exactly, but part of the reason was because vampires weren't exactly her favorite things right now. It was funny how dying could really screw with your mind. Especially when your death was at the hands of a vampire like the Master. She couldn't get his ugly face out of her head.

When she was gone, she didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel, or feel a comforting presence around her; it was dark, it was cold, and it was scary. And she didn't want to let things get close enough to her to send her back there. Even Angel.

And she lost control whenever he was around. When he kissed her, when he was near was like magnetism, sexual and overwhelming. But when she was dancing with Xander, she had shown Angel that she could do all that too, that she could be in control. She cared for Angel, even loved him in a way. He had saved her life, and those feelings were bound to come up.

But she couldn't get lost in him, because then she'd fall hard without being sure of anything, convince herself that he was the center of her world, and never be over him. Love was a dangerous thing, and she didn't want loving somebody to be dangerous. That kind was. Though she knew, despite her efforts, and probably her better judgment, things would happen contrary to her original plan. It always worked out that way.

It wasn't time for any of this now, though, because now she was confused, pissed off, and incredibly stimulated. She knew she was going to regret that dance from a friend standpoint later, but she was experiencing a whole different type of regret at the moment.

"Buffy." Cordelia said from behind her. The slayer stopped walking. This wasn't going to help. "You're really campaigning for 'Bitch of the Year,' aren't you?"

Turning to the cheerleader, she had a smartass reply ready, despite her other...'distractions.' "As defending champion, you nervous?"

"I can hold my own. You know, we've never really been close, which is nice, 'cause I don't really like you that much, have on occasion saved the world and stuff, so I'm you a favor."

It was amazing how quickly Cordelia could bore her. Though she did look good. That was one thing the brunette could be repeatedly consistent with.

"And this great favor is..."

"I'm gonna give you some advice. Get over it."

Sure, that made sense.

"Excuse me?"

"Whatever is causing the Joan Collins 'tude, deal with it. Embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet, whatever, but get over it. 'Cause pretty soon you're not even gonna have the loser friends you've got now."

Buffy stepped up to her, clearly displaying her anger. "I think it's about time you start minding your own business."

"It's long past." Cordelia smiled.

What was this? A clique cease-fire or something? The Queen of All Things Popular was expecting the Leader of the Freak Patrol to accept the white flag? She couldn't believe it. Cordelia's timing was really, really bad, and she felt like telling her to take her good advice and shove it up her...but, she did have nice lips. Damn hormones. Lips that were nice and...


She stared at her, like she had done with Xander moments ago. Intensely. Pulling off 'sexy' was easy, she was finding out. And it was making Cordelia uncomfortable. She only wanted her to shut up, but this was great. Where did she get the nerve to offer her a white flag after all she had done to them anyway? Especially now of all times? Talk about insensitive. She'd just have to put her in her place.

Buffy ran her hand along Cordelia's cheek.

"Are you feeling okay?" The cheerleader stammered.

"Never better."

She kissed Cordelia Chase, and went all out for it, too. Long and hard, possibly longer than she intended, but then she broke it off. The sudden loss of contact caused the brunette to let out a small, inaudible to the majority of human beings who didn't have slayer hearing, whimper.

"Leave me alone."

She faced away from her, and started walking the other direction. Cordelia, on the other hand, brought her hand to her lips, felt the smudged lipstick, and tried to get her bearings.

"What the hell was that?"

"Consider it...returning the favor. A thank you for your advice." Buffy flipped up the hood of her jacket, and kept going.

'Okay, that wasn't so bad. And it...made things worse.'

Before the frazzled cheerleader could yell any kind of response, a hand was clamped over her mouth, and two vampires were dragging her across the alley into a building.


This was great. This was just perfect. The Anointed One and his group of vampire cronies had unearthed the Master's bones and were going to bring him back to unlife. As if she wasn't freaking out enough already. He would come back, which was not fair and very, very wrong, and he would make sure the next time he killed her, it would be a lot more permanent.

She needed to stop them. She needed to hit something. And sitting in the library while everyone was being calm and researching this slowly and carefully, made her want to scream. Her fear of the Master had taken over her so much that she was only partially aware that she was a step or two away from losing her friends, and the only support base she had.

Cordelia was right. Cordelia. Buffy hadn't seen her since last night, and that memory was not going away. But just like everything else lately, she didn't know what to make of it, and preferred not to think about it. She did wonder what was going through Cordelia's mind, however. Wait. She hadn't seen her since last night. Hadn't she been in school?

She looked to the top of the stairs, as Xander started to say something.

"Well, is there anything on when the ceremony might take...?" A rock came crashing through the window, and Buffy caught it easily from her spot on the table. "Whoa!"

She saw a piece of paper on it, which was held in place by a nice-looking bracelet.

"This is Cordelia's." She said, removing the jewelry and proceeding to read the piece of paper. "'Come to the Bronze before it opens, or we make her a meal.'"

'Damn it! They must've grabbed her right after I...damn it! I'm such a...I'm gonna get her back.'

(Why? Her rational side wondered.

Cause we're friends. And it's my job. Her bull...her less than truthful side answered.

You're friends? When did this happen? I think you -)

"They're gonna cook her dinner?" Xander asked in a worried tone, halting the internal discussion. The gang stared at him. "I'll pretend I didn't say that."

"What do we do?" Willow asked.

Buffy exhaled and hopped off the table. "I go to the Bronze and save the day." She started for the doors.

"I don't like this." Xander told her.

"Nor I." Giles said, for once in agreement with the young man.

She turned around. "Yeah? Well, you guys aren't going."

(You're not handling this right. Her rational side argued, starting again.

It's for their own good. Her not so rational side chipped in.

Where do you get off making that decision?

It's my mistake. I'll deal with it.)

"What do you mean?" Willow questioned, interrupting the debate this time.

"I can't do it anymore. I can't look after the three of you guys while I'm fighting."

(Yeah, that's a great excuse. You're only pushing them away.)

"Well, what about the rest of the note?"

"The rest of the note?"

"The part that says, 'P.S. This is a trap'?"

(She's a smart one.

Shut up!)

"You'll be playing straight into their hands." Giles said, removing his glasses.

"I can handle this." Buffy said.

"Stop saying that! God, what's wrong with you?" Willow asked, nearly yelling.

"Cordelia may be dead." Xander said, flat out.

"She's not dead. Don't say that. She'll be fine." She paused. "This is my fight."

Grabbing her coat off the counter, Buffy hurried out of the library.


"It's entirely pointy. I was a moron. I put my best friends in mortal danger on the second day of school." Buffy was telling her watcher the next morning as they walked through the quad.

She had indeed saved the day; everyone was rescued. And there was that part where she smashed the Master's bones with a sledgehammer, thereby getting closure and allowing her to release a summer's worth of pent up emotion, crying into Angel's chest, while everyone looked on. It was quite the spectacle. This thing with Angel wasn't going away.

"What are you gonna do? Crawl inside a cave for the rest of your life?" Giles asked her.

"Would it have cable?" She asked in a small voice.

He smiled at her. "Buffy, you acted wrongly; I admit that. But believe me, that was hardly the, the worst mistake you'll ever make." He had to think about that. "Uh, that wasn't quite as comforting as it was meant to be."

"Well, points for effort." She gave him a small smile as the bell rang. "See ya."

Then she saw Cordelia walking with Miss Calendar. The thing with her wasn't going away either. She had to say something. After the cleansing, the guilt and realization of what she'd done to everybody hit her, and she felt terrible. She had been a royal bitch, and Cordelia was at the top of her list of guilt. They hadn't spoken, but they were going to now.

Buffy ran up to them. "Hi, Miss Calendar. Um, I need to talk to Cordelia." She grabbed the cheerleader by the arm and dragged her over to a corner of the quad.

It wasn't the most polite way to go about it, but it was the only way she'd ever get her attention.

"Hey! Enough with the manhandling." Cordelia wrenched her arm free. "I'm gonna be late for class."

"Since when did you start caring about being punctual?"

"Since about ten seconds ago." She tried to leave.

"Wait. Please." She stopped. "I just wanted to say that, I'm...sorry. For everything."

"Keep your voice down!" Cordelia snapped. Buffy raised her eyebrows. "I'm trying to block it out, so could you please not mention it? Ever?"

"I don't normally...I'm not usually like that. I wasn't thinking straight and I was -"

"Horny?" Buffy flushed. "I guess if I was a slayer, and I was killed by an ancient vampire, and I was brought back to life only to find out that my arch-nemesis was going to come back to do it all over again...I'd be a crazed, pain in the ass too."

"It's always about you, isn't it?" Buffy smirked.

"Of course." Buffy began to open her mouth. "Don't. You're forgiven, okay? Let's just show a little maturity...and move past this. As long as we have a mutual understanding, I don't see any reason why -"

"You didn't like it?" The slayer's confidence level was dropping.

Cordelia had to think this over. Lie or be honest? She was usually good at lying, but Buffy could read people. She was trained to. At least Cordelia thought she was. There was no other option. Honesty it was then.

"No, I did. That's why I'm trying to forget it." Buffy smiled. "So you're done being 'Miss Sexual Predator' and you're sorry. Got it. Going now."

The cheerleader started to head inside.


"What?" The brunette sighed, turning around.


Cordelia didn't want to smile at her, but did anyway, and continued walking.

(That kiss wasn't the only thing you liked. You like the whole -

Shut up.)

It was going to be a long year.


Cordelia moved through the lunch-line slowly, as she had to inspect every offered food-like product cautiously and carefully, before she could decide whether or not she wanted to risk her life and actually eat it. And it had nothing to do with her figure, either. She was not one of those girls who stuck to salads and emptied her stomach after every meal, but she knew people who did. It was disturbing.

No, she was just afraid Sunnydale High was seriously breaking FDA regulations.

She made her selection, went to the cash register, paid the buck sixty, and scanned the cafeteria. It was pathetic when the only thing that looked remotely appetizing was two-day old pizza. There they were. The trio. Xander, Willow, and...Buffy. It was one damn kiss, but she couldn't let it go. She had had her fun with guys before, and never had any trouble dropping them like a bad habit. That was her specialty.

And it wasn't like they had done anything else. It just kept nagging at her. Staying in her memory for more than five minutes. Buffy. No one had ever accomplished that before. The thing was, it didn't make any sense. She didn't like her, for one. Then again, Buffy kept saving her life, which made it harder and harder to hate her. Could she have grown and not known it? Just the other week, she had been rescued from a reanimated Daryl. Who told Buffy she wanted to be saved?

Well technically, she did when she was screaming, but that was beside the point.

There was brief physical contact, okay, but so what? She didn't even know who Buffy was, really. But maybe she wanted to know her. Maybe she saw herself in the slayer, yet unlike her, Buffy was comfortable with her place in high school. That was something Cordelia wished she could do, but the possibility of becoming an outcast scared her too much, even though she didn't want to think she was shallow. All her 'friends' were sheep; she wasn't stupid.

She was different, but she couldn't escape. Popularity was too cushy. When she hung around with 'the gang' on rare occasions, she felt like she was a part of something. If she researched, she had a purpose. Everyone thought it was just charitable pity time, and she allowed them to think it. It was easier. Illusion was easier than reality, and the reality was that things were crossing her mind that she hadn't ever expected to cross her mind.

Purely for argument's sake, because she was someone who looked at all sides of an issue, if she was willing to give up her social standing to turn alternative and risk everything for Buffy, which she wasn't, Buffy was all over Angel. Angel didn't glance at her with interest once, and that was simply wrong. Though she did see why Buffy was the only thing he seemed to be able to think about. She seemed to be doing the same thing. Though there was an upside.

She wasn't saying this aloud and boosting the other girl's ego.

Oh, and what ticked her off the most? Buffy was sitting there, at the table, completely fine and not bothered. She even tried to use Angel to get her jealous during the 'Daryl thing,' and she couldn't tell if she had been or not. It made her mad. That's why she was going to head over and sit down, and see if the slayer was the least bit shaken up. Moving to their location, she silently asked herself why she cared. By the time she considered changing her mind however, it was too late. She'd been spotted.

"You've been forced into doing hard labor with Sheila the Schitzo, huh? Snyder must have some twisted, 'I'm a little man with a head too big for my body, with no appeal to either sex, so I have to be a pervert' fantasy about you two or something." Cordelia parked herself down in the free seat.

"First, gross. It explains a lot, though." Buffy made a face. "Second, I think Sheila's more a psycho than a schitzo. But believe me, I'm in no hurry to get back. Gonna make lunch stretch for as long as possible."


"So...?" The cheerleader trailed off.

" come you aren't with your groupies?"

Cordelia narrowed her eyes. "They cut last period cause some store in the mall is having a sale, I think. I don't know; I wasn't listening."

"And you didn't go?"

"Oh please. I order direct from the catalogs."

"I should've known." The slayer smiled.

Cordelia looked at Buffy's tray. "You got French fries? They were out when I went up."

"Do you want some?"

"Can I?"

"Be my guest."

It was at about this point, as Cordelia started snagging fries, when Willow and Xander reminded the two girls that they were still there, and cleared their throats.

"Buff, the enemy's at the table. The Enemy." Xander said, concerned about his friend's...lack of concern.

"She's aware." Cordelia told him. "It's called keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, Xander. It's a valid strategy. Look it up."

"Actually, it's from the Godfather movies." Willow pointed out. "Though if you rented them, I guess you could technically look it up...with the fast-forward and rewind buttons and all."

"Cordelia can quote the greatest films of our time?, this isn't right at all." Xander was rather unnerved. "I'm just gonna resume quietly plotting your death."

"You do that." The brunette said.

"Uh, the guys are gonna make stakes tomorrow before the Parent-Teacher Night of Hell, cause there's some big vampire attack happening on Saturday. Night of St. you maybe, wanna help?" Buffy asked, almost shyly.

"K." Cordelia replied, shrugging.

" do?" Willow asked in disbelief.

Snatching another one of Buffy's fries, Cordelia knew she had her answer.


"So, what did you and Principal Snyder talk about anyway?" Buffy asked her mother as they walked outside of the school.

What a night. What a way to narrowly avoid her mom seeing what she did for a living. Spike, the new vampire in town, chose not to wait until Saturday to attempt to kill her. He attacked the school during the parent-teacher conferences. Couldn't he have attacked a few minutes before Snyder went into share-mode with her mother? The troll had put his own spin on her behavior, and now she was in trouble.

It wasn't fair. Something told her she was going to come to hate Spike with a passion. Her friends were safe, so that was good, but her mother had saved her. That was embarrassing. She prepared herself for the incoming tirade.

"Principal Snyder said you were a troublemaker." Joyce answered, watching her daughter hang her head. "And I could care less." Buffy looked up. "I have a daughter who can take care of herself. Who's brave and resourceful and thinks of others in a crisis. No matter who you hang out with or what dumb teenage stuff you think you need to do, I'm gonna sleep better knowing all that."

The slayer wore a suspicious expression on her face. "But how long till this wears off and you start ragging on me again?"

"Oh, at least a week and a half."

"Very cool." Buffy smiled.

Wow. She wanted to question how she had managed to keep her freedom, but decided not to look a gift slaying in the mouth. Maybe Spike deserved a 'thank you' card instead of an ass kicking. All in all, yep, it had turned out all right. Giles and Miss Calendar got the majority of the people to safety, Xander and Angel bonded...err...perhaps bonded was the wrong word.

Hold up. How come it felt like she was missing something? She halted, going over the night's events in her head.

"Oh crap."

"Buffy?" Joyce asked questioningly.

"Be right back, mom. I...I forgot something inside."

Like Cordelia and Willow. They had run out of the lounge, and then gotten separated. She hadn't seen them come out, which meant they had to be in the building still. Alone. They could be dead, and not necessarily because of vampires. This was bad, very bad.

She ran into the school, careful to stay out of sight of the cops, who were clearing out. They probably wanted to do the protocol stuff when it was a little lighter out, and she didn't blame them. Entering the lounge, she frowned when she saw a chalk outline on the floor. She said a silent apology to whomever the victim had been, and continued her search.

See, this was the bizarre thing she was discovering. Cordelia was a person with a lot more going on than she showed people, and the cheerleader could be sensitive as well as polite. As was evidenced by their cafeteria discussion the other day. It was on her mind, too. Good. She wasn't the lone wolf then.

Her dislike of Cordelia had come about because everyone else appeared to dislike her, but she really hadn't shown any outward hatred toward her. Until that night obviously, and they both knew how that had ended. Cordelia had a strength and a resilience that Buffy didn't think she was even aware of. Buffy wanted to know her, to find out what else was hidden.

But what should they do? They'd talk for awhile, but eventually, it would have to be dealt with. When that time came, would they act on...whatever it was that they had developed? She had definite leanings as to where it would go, and Buffy couldn't visualize that ever happening. Even if feelings were to mesh, Cordelia wouldn't go for it. This was high school. There were invisible boundaries and unstated rules that were supposed to be followed.

If they weren't, which they would be, Buffy suspected that initially there would be the struggle of dealing with a new lifestyle choice on a family and friendship level, and then there would be the wider circle of peers forcing them to cope with ridicule. It wasn't like she had a problem with that. If happiness was going to be the result, it didn't matter. But that was one of many paths, and of all of them, the most blocked off.

And Angel. She definitely had to pick a stance where he was concerned. He did have a talent for making her swoon, and she was grateful for his presence in her life, him watching her back and all that. Though usually the swooning came to an end, and she fell flat on her face. The hardest thing was that she knew he loved her. There was a time when she could break hearts with ease if the need arose, but that time was long gone.

Cordelia didn't make her swoon or gush, no. Cordelia...well, she wasn't sure exactly what she did to her. And maybe not knowing was a good thing. However, the bottom line was that she had two, potential...dare she think it? - Love interests, and she had to pick a course of action soon, and stick with it. Heavy thoughts didn't change the fact that Cordelia eating her fries was adorable, though.

The 'C' word and adorable in the same sentence. Who knew?

Buffy was about to call out names when she heard voices down the hall. The closer she got, the clearer they were, and she could tell that the voices were coming from inside the janitor's closet.

"And if you get me out of this, I swear I'll never be mean to anyone ever again. Unless they really deserve it. Or if it's that time of the month, in which case I don't think you or anyone else can hold me responsible -" Cordelia was saying.

"Ask for some aspirin." Willow interrupted her in what sounded like a tired voice.

"And can you please send some asp..." There was a pause. "Hey!"

Buffy snickered and then opened the door, causing both girls to scream.

"Geez, Buffy! Knock much?" Cordelia was close to hyperventilating.

"Is it safe?" Willow asked.

"As houses. Vamps cleared out, but Spike's still alive." The slayer told them, trying hard not to get too angry over that.

"You're not hurt or bleeding internally then?" Cordelia wondered.

"Don't think so. Why, were you concerned about me?" Buffy grinned slightly.

"As if. It's just now I won't feel bad about screaming at you for not coming to get us sooner! Do you have any idea what I went through?"

The redhead practically groaned. "I have to get out of here. I can't take it anymore. I try, I really do, but every single time it's..." Willow continued babbling to herself as she quickly made her way to the outside world.

Buffy and Cordelia watched her go.

"Nice dress." Buffy complimented.


She'd been meaning to say that the whole night. They started leaving.

"Why do you always do that?" Buffy asked.

"Do what?"

"Try to constantly annoy Xander and Willow."

"I don't try; it comes naturally." Cordelia smiled enigmatically. "If they didn't make it so easy..."

"And as the Ruler of Loserdom, I guess that's my fault, right?"

"Nah, they were easy long before you came. And anyway, you're not the Ruler of Loserdom; you're the Rejected Step-Sister of the Princess of Loserdom. Which is, believe it or not, that girl that's on Ritalin," She made quote marks with her fingers, "in the back of History class."

She got a laugh.

"I stand corrected, Your Majesty." Buffy mock-bowed, and she was smacked for it. "All I'm doing is showing the Queen some respect."

"Well stop. I don't deserve it. Really." Cordelia said quietly. When they got to the doors, the conversation resumed. "We're not enemies. You know that, right?"

"This is coming from...?"

"Yesterday. That thing about keeping enemies closer than friends. I only said it cause I hoped it would explain why I was sitting there and get them quiet. One out of two wasn't bad."

"I know." The brunette had left her with a question that needed to be asked. "Why...did you sit down?"

Cordelia stretched her arms behind her back with a sigh. "Honestly? I don't have the energy right now. And even if I did come up with an answer -"

"Hey, don't worry about it; it was a long night." Buffy assured her. "If it's any consolation, I think we're in the same boat here." They shared a smile. "You need a ride? My mom could drop you off."

"Got my car. But I appreciate the offer." She smiled again.

"Oh, I'm glad you're not dead."

"Me too." Buffy eyed her. "And that you're still living, obviously."

"How sweet." The slayer said sarcastically.

"You know me." She gave a quick wave. "See ya tomorrow, Buffy."

Buffy knew bits and pieces, but not the big picture that was Cordelia Chase. That intrigued her day in and day out.

"Yeah, good night, Cordy." They split up, going off in different directions, and Buffy called over her shoulder. "Call me."

Had to start somewhere.


Slowly bringing her foot over the sill of her bedroom window, Buffy quietly entered her house after an extended patrol. Reaching out and grabbing her bag of supplies from where she had hooked it on the tree branch, she brought it inside, breathing a sigh of relief. When the vampires were track team stars in life, it made her job substantially harder, and left her winded beyond belief.

Closing the window, she glanced at her clock. Just after one. Meant she'd have to shower before school. Unless she wanted her mother up, asking her an endless string of questions that would finish with a grounding. Nope, she'd rather not. But it was a shame, because she smelled extra stinky tonight. She took off her jacket, and tossed it on her chair, when her phone began ringing.

Correction. It was a half of a ring. The instant she heard the noise, she shot over to the phone and picked it up so fast that she'd give the speed of light a run for its money.

"Figures." It was Cordelia.

They had conversed almost nightly for the past two weeks, so hearing her voice wasn't exactly a surprise, but she had never called this late. Staring at her door in fear, if Buffy could, she would've reached into the receiver and strangled the brunette. Her mother was a dangerous woman, and not very forgiving about curfew breakage. Especially if she was awoken in the middle of the night.

"Are you trying to get me locked...?" Buffy yawned, and her anger faded away. "What figures?" She kept her voice low and started taking off her shoes.

"That the exchange student you end up with is a five-hundred-year-old mummy. It's like fate has it in for you twenty-four-seven."

"Do I have to tell you how much that didn't brighten my mood? And that was what? A week ago?"

"Popped into my head. I knew you'd probably be done the graveyard shift by now, and seeing as you have no social life to speak of, I thought I'd share."

Buffy rolled her eyes, going to her dresser. "Don't make me bring up your one-hundred percent Swedish guy."

She could picture the scowl. "Okay, okay."

"You at home?"

"Uh huh. My parents went to one of their weekly, 'we can show off how rich we are' parties, and I didn't feel like going."

"Why not?"

"And waste my best fake smiles on fat guys and their anorexic wives? No thank you. I'm not as stuck up as people think."

"I didn't mean..." She looked at the tank top she had pulled out. "Everybody hides."

"Anyway, it's pretty much guaranteed that my father's gonna get loaded, and my mother doesn't drive, so I'm waiting for her to call and tell me to come get them. That's the reason I'm up." She exhaled into the phone. "God, I can see the bags already."

"What does your father do? I always wondered."

"He invests. According to him, his father was rich cause of an oil well somewhere, and we inherited everything when my grandparents died. One day I swear he's gonna pick the wrong stock or whatever." She paused. "What about yours?"

Buffy thought as she was getting changed. "Something with numbers." Cordelia laughed. "I have no idea. And that's sad, cause I spent an entire summer with him. We're not as close as we used to be."

"It had to be tough. The divorce, I mean."

"Oh yeah. Plus, unlike most kids who only think they had something to do with their parents' divorce, I know I helped it to happen."

"I'm sure you didn't." Buffy was silent. "I've never been close to my parents. They gave me a credit card when I was eight, bought me what I wanted, but no hugs or signs of affection of any kind. I didn't realize I was missing out, though. Money means love in my family."

"I've been there." She told the brunette sadly. "My mom didn't start doing the parenting thing till we moved here. She reads 'How To' books."

This was fun.

"Am I the only one getting depressed?" Cordelia questioned after a moment.

"I'm about ready for a new topic." She rubbed her face.

"New topic it is. What're you doing?"

"Currently? Getting in bed." She wasn't receiving a response. "Cordy?"

"So the whole time we've...?"

"I've been changing." Buffy grinned.

"And why wouldn't you?" Cordelia got quiet again. "Right. Yeah. I know what I wanted to ask you. Um, I met this guy at the Pump yesterday. He's a senior at Crestwood, and...he invited me to a party tomorrow night. At his fraternity."

"A frat guy?" 'Don't be jealous...don't be jealous...'

"That a problem?"

"No!" She cringed. That was loud. "Just...what does this have to do with me?"

"I'm allowed to bring, and I quote, 'a female guest.' I want you to come with me, cause I've never been...and...what if..."

"Things get outta hand?"

"Could you?"

Buffy's door opened then, and Joyce came in.

"Buffy?" Her mother saw her lying in bed, and saw the phone in her hand. "Who are you talking to at this hour?"

"Uh...Cordelia." Joyce's eyebrows raised. "I couldn't sleep, and we have a project to do for, uh, a class that we're in, so I thought we should...discuss it?"

"Nice one." Cordelia said sarcastically.

"Oh." Joyce said. "Well...say good night in a few minutes. You have school in the morning."

"Sure thing, mom."

With that, she left, and Buffy couldn't decide whether to laugh or to groan.

"Good thing she's not very with it, cause that was the lamest cover story I've ever heard." The slayer narrowed her eyes. "Don't think I don't know what you're doing."

She smiled. "I should tell you to go to hell, but yes, I'll tag along. You're too attractive to die."

"Thank you! I've been saying that for a year and a half now. I didn't think anyone was paying attention."

Both girls stayed on the phone with each other for about thirty minutes more, but didn't say a word.


"Hey, reptile boy!" Buffy yelled to Machida, a giant half-man, half-snake.

Eyes glued to the creature, the slayer had to recap. She and Cordelia had come to the Zeta Kappa house, and the cheerleader had found the guy she'd met, Richard. It started out all right, until Buffy had to watch them dance. She didn't particularly enjoy the view all that much. Truth be told, she hated the view. She had wanted to be blind.

This caused her to drink a little. Which probably hadn't been the brightest idea. Fortunately, no, that was unfortunately now, another frat brother had come up to her. He had introduced himself as Tom Warner, and then sweet-talked her well enough to get her to dance with him. It made her feel better; she didn't have to look at Cordelia any longer.

After that point, things had become blurry. Why? Because her drink had been drugged. They had apparently gotten Cordelia the same way, and together, they were taken to the basement. Which was a big, cave-like area for ritual sacrifices to a snake-god named Machida. Human girl sacrifices.

They were chained up next to another girl, where they watched the frat boys/psycho cultists call Machida to dinner, so that it could give them more wealth and power. Tom had been nominated leader. He was not a nice guy, and Buffy knew that some minor intoxication was the most likely cause of her slayer senses fouling up, but she preferred to point fingers at Tom's imaginary hypnotist powers. But she had to free herself.

Couldn't she ever go out and have a normal night of underage drinking?

"No woman speaks to him!" Tom warned her, holding a sword, decked out in his cult robe.

"You don't want her. Look at her. She's all skin and bones. Half an hour later you'll be hungry."

"If I didn't depend on you to get me the hell out of here, I'd be so -" The brunette began to say.

Cordelia was the first course.

"I didn't give you permission to talk!" He prepared to backhand her.

"Touch her and you'll regret it." Buffy threatened.

"Speak again and I cut your throat." He walked away.

Cordelia smiled, and did her best to whisper. "I've been thinking, and considering that we're having 'special bondage time,' it's not like I had much of a choice." The slayer coughed. Unique wording. "It's all making sense now. Must be because I'm about to die. Hey! You know what? The universe is pretty damn unfair. But isn't there a name for...? Moment of clarity! That's it, right?"

Buffy was mouthing 'shut up,' as now wasn't the time for a revelation, but Cordelia wasn't comprehending.

"Forget it, doesn't matter. Cause this is the important part. I have an idea about how we should start to handle this...thing. You know, this thing. I can do denial if I have to, but we should face it. If we survive."

"His hunger is at its greatest!" Tom turned around, and Cordelia got quiet. Two brothers then unchained, and held her. Noise was coming from upstairs. "Something's going on. Go. Go!" Several guys ran up, while Buffy continued to work on breaking her chains. "Feed, Dark Lord!"

Machida rose above Cordelia, and she screamed at it while struggling desperately. Buffy tugged hard at her chains one final time, and they snapped loose from the ceiling. She stepped over to Machida, who had lowered to grab his meal, and she punched him. The creature pulled away, holding the side of his face. Buffy started fighting the frat guys as Tom took a swing at her with his sword.

"You bitch! I'll serve you to him in pieces."

He lunged, but she caught him between the blades of her chains, looped it around his neck, and choked.

"Tom, you talk too much." She said, shoving him into a table.

Machida grabbed Cordelia and started to drag her as the gang, led by Giles and Angel, came down the stairs. Angel had discovered a bracelet with blood on it near the south wall of the cemetery, and the college happened to be behind it. He went to the school looking for Buffy, and Willow and Giles told him where she was. The librarian hadn't been too happy about it, either.

Xander was already there, having gone to protect her. He had an...interesting time.

Sooner or later they had figured it out, and here they were, watching Buffy pick up Tom's sword and jump onto the edge of the well that the snake had exited from.

"Let her go, wormy!" The slayer yelled.

It ignored her, so Buffy lifted the sword and drove the weapon into it. Machida dropped Cordelia and reared back, screeching in pain. A moment later he collapsed to the ground, dead. Willow came down the steps and went over to help the other girl, and Buffy helped Cordelia to stand.

"What I tell ya? Fate has it in for you." The brunette said, brushing herself off. "But I'm okay with that. At least your life's not dull."

"Nice to know you approve." Buffy smirked.

"Well, just be glad a small part of me likes you, or I'd never take you anywhere again."

"You wanted me to come, remember?"

"This isn't the time to get technical, Buffy." Cordelia sighed. "People will really do anything to get rich, won't they?"

"It's creepy."

"It's sick."

"But luckily, you're one of the privileged few. You don't have to feed a demon man-snake to avoid welfare." Cordelia frowned slightly. "That was supposed to be..." Buffy felt like an idiot. "Sorry."

"Have a nice night, ladies?" Xander asked, coming over after looking down at the snake and grimacing.

"Wonderful." Buffy said sarcastically, studying his face. "Is that -?"

"Lipstick?" Cordelia finished, shaking it off.

Xander laughed nervously. "Did somebody hit the sauce? We all know men don't wear makeup. Come on, think of the craziness! Society would crumble!"

"Unless you're a -"

"I'm a man! The manliest!" He insisted. "Aren't I, Giles?"

Giles came up to them, shooting Xander a look. "Are you all right?"

"We're fine. But could you spare us the irresponsible speech? We've learned our lesson, really, so you don't have to worry. College can wait." Buffy told him.

"Boy, can it ever." The cheerleader agreed.

"I'm pleased to hear that." He smiled.

Buffy looked at their fellow ex-prisoner, who was supported by Willow. "I'm sure she's got people wondering where she is."

"I'll make sure she gets home."

"And I'll make sure the police get him." Angel picked up Tom by the collar on his robe.

"Thanks." She smiled gratefully.

Cordelia tried not to look. "They better put him away. For fifteen-thousand years!" Her eyes widened. "That reminds me. My idea."

"If we survive?" Buffy repeated the brunette's earlier words. "There was doubt?"

"No...I just, wasn't ruling anything out, that's all."

"Uh huh." She huffed. "And 'special bondage time'? What was that?"

Cordelia gaped. "There's no way I'm dignifying that with an answer." She grabbed Buffy by the arm, and began dragging her upstairs. "Enjoy the gutter?"

Willow stared after them oddly. There was something she didn't know.


Halloween. It was a time of costumes, candy, and principal-enforced trick-or-treating. The gang was among the many number of students 'asked' to chaperone groups of little kids while they got the townspeople to give them candy. Buffy was getting ready in her room, putting on the earrings that would complete the 17th century gown and black wig ensemble that she had purchased from a new costume shop, Ethan's.

Her friends had gotten their costumes from there, too. Willow picked a ghost outfit, and Xander, a toy gun. He had military fatigues at home. Well, not all her friends had. Cordelia bought a cat outfit from PartyTown. Buffy hadn't seen it yet, but the cheerleader had made sure to describe it in very detailed terms on the phone yesterday. If she didn't know better, she would've thought Cordelia was flirting with her now.

But she didn't say anything. She was just going to go along with her idea, they were going to figure things out in the meantime, and she wasn't going to picture Cordelia in a skin-tight cat suit. Right now, they were friends. They had definitely achieved that.

Willow was in the bathroom getting changed. After the redhead had gotten the ghost, Buffy had a flash of inspiration. She took Willow to another place and made her choose something that would show off just how appealing she could be. Willow was not ugly, and the slayer thought it was about time she knew that. She'd have people lining up to take her out if she just had confidence in herself.

While there was more to a person than just their body, once someone was okay with him or herself physically, everything else would fall into place. That was Buffy's theory anyway, and that's what she hoped she could do for Willow.

"Where're you meeting Angel?" The hacker asked.

"I'm not, actually. I turned him down." Buffy said slowly.

"Why?" Her tone was one of surprise.

"Um...all we had planned was eating the candy that's downstairs, and...I heard vampires don't like chocolate?" She waited. "You're not buying it, are you?"


Buffy resigned to fate. It was bound to happen. Telling someone was the next step, and since they were cautiously moving out of denial land, who better to tell than her best friend?

'Here goes.'


Willow opened the door and rushed out, shaking her finger. "I knew it! I knew it! Well, not 'knew it' in the sense of having the slightest idea, but I knew there was something I didn't know."

Buffy looked her over and smiled. "Wow. You're a dish. I mean, really."

Her friend was wearing boots, a short, black leather skirt and a burgundy, long-sleeved, V-necked, midriff-baring top. She quickly grabbed her ghost sheet off the bed and held it in front of her.

"Don't change the subject, Buffy. It won't work."

"See? More confident already." She wasn't backing down, the resolve face was staring at her. "You're right. And I'm gonna tell you, but you have to promise not to freak." Willow nodded. "I like her; I'm just not sure how much yet."

"Cordelia? Like? Those words don't go together. They hate each other."

"Yes, Cordelia." Buffy smiled, thinking. "Maybe the beginning would help."


Buffy proceeded to give a brief synopsis of the past couple months, which left her friend, slack-jawed.

"Whaddaya think?"

"I think...I think I need to sit." Willow sat on the bed. "Cordelia. Cordelia? That's not rational. That's as irrational as you can get, in fact."

"I know, believe me. But...I don't know. She's...there's more to her than she lets on."

"To Cordelia?" She nearly choked.

"Will..." Buffy sighed. Apparently sixteen years of dislike was hard to break through. "We talk almost every night. For hours, sometimes. About personal stuff. I was just like her once. Worse even, but somewhere, I did have layers. Hidden ones, but they were there. So why can't she?"

"Because she's Cordelia. She's mean, she's rude, she's evil..."

"She's defensive and afraid too. And hasn't she been nicer lately?"

"Well, when she comes around, she doesn't really made fun of Xander like she used to...and when she does, they're not as good..." Willow gasped. "How much do you like her? How much does she like you?"

"We're working on that." She paused. "Listen, Xander's told me about the club. He was even willing to cut me a deal on the membership fee. I understand that she's not your favorite person, and that you're not fond of her, I do."

"She hasn't given us much of a reason to be." Willow's eyes bugged out. "Does that mean that you're...? And that she could be...? Cordelia? I'm not saying I'm against it...I'm not...that's wrong and narrow-minded and stupid...if you are, then that's...great. Really great. Yay for you. I'll still be your friend and all, don't worry, cause I'd never do...just cause...I've heard things, read things...I even watched a-a documentary once. It had a little bunny in the corner." Her babble came to a stop.

"Uh, Will? I don't think that was a documentary."

"It wasn't?" The hacker reddened as it hit her. "Why would my dad have...?"

"This was...I shouldn't've said anything." Buffy was realizing that.

Willow frowned. "No...I mean, yes, you should've. You shouldn't keep secrets, and I'm glad you told me, honest. It's just...a lot, you know? And what if Cordelia's lying to you? She's the master at manipulating people. She could be trying to trap you. Then she'll humiliate you..."

"That's crossed my mind, but I don't think she is. And we still like guys."

"So you're that thing where you like boys and girls?"

"Or I'm just me." Buffy smiled.

"Sorry." Willow smiled back awkwardly. "This is new."

"When we went to the frat house, I got jealous when I saw her dancing with somebody. I mean, jealous. And she got jealous of me when I did. That's what she said to me after we left, and I knew she was telling the truth. Then she said that until we decide exactly how far whatever we're feeling goes, we should stay dateless. She thought of it while we were chained up waiting to be demon chow. It was a big moment for her."

"That was the idea she was in such a hurry to tell you? That you two shouldn't date anyone so you won't get jealous?" Willow had to smirk.

"Think about it, Will. Cordelia not having a guy attached to her at the hip? For her, that's a big deal."

"Yeah, I guess it kinda is." It was starting to sink in. "Wow. She must be serious."

"She needs to be totally doubtless though, and I get that. If she decides that she loves me," Hearing the word out loud was strange for both girls, "that means she pretty much ceases to be popular. On a whole bunch of levels. It's a hard thing to let go of. I'm as clueless as she is right now, but loving Cordelia is sounding less and less like a bad thing. Which is why, until I don't have a doubt, I'm not gonna lead Angel on."

The doorbell rang.

"Oh! That's Xander. Are you ready?" Buffy asked, getting excited.

"Yeah. O-o-okay." Willow was automatically nervous.

"Cool! I can't wait for the boys to go non-verbal when they see you!"

"Gimmie time, okay, Buffy?" Willow asked. "But I hope that you and...that it goes how you want it to go."

The slayer hugged her. "Thanks, Will."

"I'll-I'll be down in a minute."

Buffy walked out, and Willow took a deep breath. Definitely the sheet.


"We found this address, we checked it out with Xander, and it turned out -" Angel was telling Buffy as she sat at her dining room table.

"And Xander?" She interrupted, almost finding it funny. "Wow. Everybody's in. It's like a great big exciting conspiracy."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about the people I trust. Who's Druscilla?" The souled vampire lowered his eyes. "And don't lie to me. I'm tired of it."

"Some lies are necessary."

"For what?"

"Sometimes the truth is worse. You live long enough, you find that out."

"I can take it. I can take the truth."

"Do you love me?"

That blindsided her. Angel had never been that direct in the whole time she'd known him. Yet as they talked now, she was starting to realize that she hadn't ever really known him.


"Do you?"

As she was contemplating the answer, one face surfaced in her mind. Cordelia's. Betrayal wasn't the first word she thought of with her. No, Cordelia had been brutally honest with her on a wide range of subjects. Unlike some people. And there was still doubt. Lots of it.

"I don't know." She told him truthfully, which was more than he was doing at the moment.

A brief look of hurt passed over Angel's eyes. "Maybe it should stay that way."

"Maybe I'm the one who should decide!"

How did they get here? Everything had been fine. Halloween went by, taking all the evil Chaos sorcerers and costumed insanity with it. There was only one Chaos sorcerer according to Giles, but that was a technicality. Giles had been unusually cryptic, though...whatever. She wasn't embellishing. That was what was important. It had been insanity, and she had become one of her meek ancestors. Anyhow, it gave way to a relatively calm week and a half, and breaks were always good.

She had used it to go shopping with Cordelia, begging Willow to come along. It took a few minutes of coaxing and promises of a barb-free couple of hours, but she went. The redhead had been slightly uncomfortable, and no big leaps were made, but there was progress. Cordelia had taken awhile to get used to the fact that someone else was in on their secret, but the cheerleader did come to terms with it, and even bought Willow a shirt as a sort of peace offering.

Whether or not she would wear it was a different story.

While she was out on patrol the other night though, she had happened to see Angel talking to a woman in the park. That woman was Druscilla, whom she now knew was a vampire, as well as Spike's girlfriend. At the time it had only given her the creeps, and she hadn't thought much of it until Giles told her what Druscilla was. She asked herself why Angel would be hanging with the enemy, but couldn't come up with an explanation that satisfied her.

Strike one.

Then when she asked him what he'd been doing when she saw him the following night, he had lied to her. He said he'd been at home, reading.

Strike two.

On top of that, an old friend hers from Hemry had transferred to Sunnydale, Billy Fordham. It was nice to see him. Memories of her previous life came flooding back to haunt her, but it was nice to see him. Cordelia immediately gave him the evil eye, and again, Buffy found it cute, quickly assuring Cordelia that the agreement was still in effect, and that he wasn't a threat in the romantic sense.

Angel however, had taken his jealousy to the extreme. He had shown up at the back door just minutes ago, they had come in here, and then he began telling her that he'd had Willow search Ford's personal records. Also, they'd gone to an address with Xander that somehow proved Ford was evil. Angel was being a tad over-protective, and shakily walking the 'obsessive' line. Buffy didn't know whether to call that strike three or not, because he could be right, but it was the principle of the thing.

"I did a lot of unconscionable things when I became a vampire." He turned away from her. "Druscilla was the worst. She obsession of mine. She was pure and sweet and chaste..."

"And you made her a vampire." She figured she might as well fill in the blank.

"First I made her insane." He turned back to look at her. "Killed everybody she loved. Visited every mental torture on her I could devise." Buffy looked down. "She eventually fled to a convent, and on the day she took her holy orders, I turned her into a demon."

She stared him in the eye, trying to see the monster that could do that. But he was different now. Wasn't he? She kept picturing people getting slaughtered, a girl slowly crumbling away...all made possible by Angel. Or his demon. Whatever. She couldn't. There was that danger she'd been so scared of, and it existed within him. She felt sick, and as much as she knew he had a soul, hearing that straight from his mouth, in that instant, she couldn't do it.

Strike three. For romance, anyway.

"Well...I asked for the truth."

He was out; she could tell that he knew. It didn't have to be said.

"Ford's part of some society that reveres vampires. Practically worships them. I don't know what he wants from you, but you can't trust him."

It hurt him, and she was sorry for that, but at least now she was sure of something. They wouldn't have to wonder or tiptoe around that issue anymore, waiting for the other to bring it up. And it was better this way; they both knew that. Could they be friends? Time would tell, she guessed. What she had left to do was to figure out what Cordelia meant to her. After she dealt with her old friend.


Cordelia was lounging on the plush sofa in her house, watching some movie on the big screen TV. She wasn't really focused on it; she wasn't really focused on anything. Every time she came home from school lately, she'd look around at everything she had, and it was losing meaning to her; it never had any. She had outfits and jewelry that she hadn't touched in a year because the style had passed, or she had gotten a ring that had more carets than the last one. She saw objects as dollar signs that held no attachment for her.

She had what most people in her parents income bracket would call junk. Expensive junk, but junk nonetheless. Any other person would thank their lucky stars to have her 'junk.' It was inevitable that she would question her life as she thought about that. People would love to be in her shoes, and she never appreciated it. She couldn't.

It felt false anymore; all aspects of it were fading away, losing their color. She still cared about what she wore, but didn't care at the same time. It was weird. Like she was a robot who was just following a pre-programmed set of instructions. She had a certain amount of cash in her bank account? Okay, then she had to act this way or buy that. She wasn't enjoying herself, and it was hollow, but she was still trying to latch onto popularity and to everything that she was used to. It was like an addiction, and as she should've anticipated, slowly but surely, it had already begun slipping away from her.

She was spending more and more time with Buffy in school, a public place. She was having conversations with her openly, sometimes even with Willow. She was breaking the rules where everyone could see, but while she was actively doing it, Cordelia didn't notice. Buffy had that affect on her. It was only when she was alone, like she was now, that she could fully reflect on what she'd done, and just how many rungs on the ladder she'd fallen. It was getting worse every day. Her group was starting to listen to Harmony. Her sway was lessening.

When she, Buffy and Willow had gone shopping, she had intelligently decided to drive them to an upscale place in LA where she didn't think anyone in 'the circle' would go. Most of the girls', 'I'm wealthy, accept me' attitudes were just for show, anyway. She kept them around mainly to brag about herself, and they weren't as well off as they acted, so Cordelia didn't think they'd be able to afford anything where she'd gone. Plus, she was the only person among them who had a car. Well, that wasn't true any longer. Harmony had recently gotten one, so the girl could now go anywhere she wanted.

It was pathetic. Harmony was complaining about how pitiful Sunnydale's mall was, when only a few months ago, she spent all of her free time there if she couldn't get Cordelia to drive somewhere else.

No one had said anything yet, but it was only a matter of time. They saw her without guys; each one she looked at, someone who would worship her and wait on her hand and foot, she saw Buffy's face instead. And besides the fact that there was an agreement, they simply paled in comparison. She was turning down makeover opportunities, and she was hanging out with the social enemy. A part of her disliked Buffy for pulling her away from all that. It was a shallow world, and she was smart enough to know that, but it held status. She couldn't blame the slayer, either. Buffy didn't make her care about her.

Though the more time they spent together, the more Cordelia's eyes opened, and the majority of her brain was telling her to not like 'the circle,' and to not care about what she owned. She should go deeper, find the actual person beneath it all and see what was waiting. Who she truly was came out around Buffy and the others; she should explore that. She could give her 'junk' to the Good Will.

The now minority was saying the opposite, of course. She should hang on for dear life, to her possessions and to her followers. If she took Buffy's path, she'd just go into the unknown and never come out. It wasn't safe, and there was no guarantee it would be worth it. What if Buffy decided to dump her? Then she'd be stuck. She had to get back in before it was too late.

Someone was knocking at the door. Cordelia had sent the maid home once her parents left for another party, and they could take a cab as far as she was concerned. She got up to go see who it was.

"Hi." Buffy greeted her when she opened the door.

Buffy at her house? It appeared that another rule was about to be broken.

"Hey." Cordelia responded. The slayer looked tense. "What's wrong?"

"Funny you should ask that. There're some unstoppable assassins after me, and I think they might know where I live. Can I stay here tonight?"

"Assassins? Why would anyone want to -? Oh right."

"Yeah, the Order of Tarragon. Giles said I should be wigged, so I am." Buffy stood there, waiting. She had felt like she was being watched all day, but even more so on her way over here. "I'm not welcome?" She frowned.

"Duh." The brunette sighed, smacking her forehead. "Of course you are." Buffy smiled gratefully, and then walked in, shutting the door behind her. "Damn! I should've made sure you weren't a vampire!"

Buffy laughed. "Here." She took Cordelia's hand and placed it over her heart. Cordelia could feel it beating, but that wasn't all she could feel. "Satisfied?"

"Uh...uh huh." The cheerleader said, quieter than she had intended.

Seconds passed until Buffy finally cleared her throat, and Cordelia, none-too-suavely removed her hand from the slayer's chest.

"I don't think they'll come here, but...I don't want you to get hurt, know, it's probably safer if I just go to Angel's."

"Angel's?" Cordelia got in front of the door. "No, no, no, no, no! It's fine. I accept the risks, I promise. And besides, you don't wanna bother him...he's probably busy doing things...good vampire things. Like reorganizing his blood packets or...eww! I just totally grossed myself out." She took a breath. "Stay."

'Real smooth.'

This was what Buffy did to her. All her thoughts, everything that plagued her vanished, and she turned into a rambling, insane woman who desperately wanted Buffy to remain in her sight at all times. Life was simpler when Buffy was around, yet complicated. Especially when there was physical contact involved. And the slayer had a huge smile on her face. Cordelia knew she liked making her incoherent, but she liked seeing that smile, so it was even.

"I don't love him."

Cordelia stood silent, absorbing the news. Then she formed a small smile of her own.

"You don't?"

"Nope." It was another one of those moments again, and like the last one, they let it pass. Buffy didn't want to do anything that'd make them both uncomfortable, thus causing them both to regret this whole thing. And Cordelia was glad for that. "Geez. Look at this place."

"My father always says you can't have too much luxury. Then again, he says the same thing about alcohol." Cordelia smirked. "So let's get this 'Waiting for Mortal Danger to Come Kill Us' slumber party started. Want anything?"

"I actually am a little hungry. Do you maybe have Doritos? Or a similar, non-name-brand type product? I just need something to shut my stomach up."

"Lemme check." Cordelia led her into the living room. "Make yourself at home. TV, couch...feel free."

Buffy headed straight for the sofa; it was practically calling out to her. But her host went to the kitchen. "I appreciate this."

"It's no problem." Cordelia said, searching the cupboards. "How's Giles?"

"Still marching with the guilt parade. His past came back to get him and Miss Calendar got caught in the middle. It's eating at him, and it's not helping that she pretends he doesn't exist whenever they see each other in the hall."

"Can you blame her? She was possessed by a demon he helped make."

"I know. But he's my watcher, so I kinda have to join his camp. I want to hit Ethan so bad. First it was Halloween..." Buffy yawned, and then she drifted.

Cordelia was gone only a few minutes, but when she came back in, her guest was fast asleep. "She must have been exhausted."

The sight of Buffy sleeping made Cordelia's breath catch in her throat. There were no worry lines, signs of stress or pain, strength or weakness...the layers had been stripped away. It was pure; it was simple. There was nothing artificial covering her face. No makeup, nothing to hide imperfections. And she didn't need it. This was Buffy. No other words of description were necessary, and Cordelia was blown away.

Taking the blanket off the top of the sofa and laying it over Buffy's body, she didn't even remember the meaning of the word 'popularity.' How could she not love this girl? It was easy to ask that now, and the answer was just as easy, but as soon as she began to go upstairs, Cordelia knew all her fears would come back. Though she wouldn't forget that she had gotten to see the toughest, most selfless person she knew, in her most unguarded state.

And to Cordelia, that was pretty special.


A ringing telephone cut short the cheerleader's beauty sleep in the morning.

"Hello?" God. This was the last thing she needed. "No, I'm not driving you to her house, Xander...Um, cause she's not missing? Moron...Why do I know that?"

Oh no. Why did she know that?

'To hell with it. It's too early to come up with an excuse.'

"Cause she's downstairs sleeping...Yes, here...It's not a difficult concept...No, it's not...I don't know why. Ask her...I don't have to prove it...I have her severed head in a jar? You're majorly disturbed, you know that? Don't you have to go burn ants with a magnifying glass or something?...Yeah, that was real witty. Bravo..."

Becoming more awake by the second, Cordelia could hear banging downstairs.

"Who are you?" Buffy's voice was asking someone.

She cringed. She hoped it wasn't the maid.

"I have to go...Shut up...She'll call, okay?...Bye."

Rushing to the foyer, she saw that it definitely wasn't the maid. Buffy was facing off with...was she Caribbean? Cordelia couldn't tell, but it was a girl, and they were in almost identical fighting stances.

"I'm Kendra, da Vampire Slayer." The girl answered Buffy's question with a thick accent.

"What?" Cordelia and Buffy echoed.

"Time." The brunette said. "Instant replay, please."

"Heard noise outside. Caught her snooping. We fought. At a stalemate." Buffy told her side of the story.

Cordelia looked at Kendra, who cautiously let her guard down.

"I was sent 'ere by me watcher. He told me dat I would find a man by dee name of Rupert Giles at a high school. Da watcher in dis area. I began heading dere last night, when I saw you." Kendra looked at Buffy. "I sensed dat you were strong, but I was not sure if you were a vampire or not. I followed you, and watched as you were invited into dis place. I eventually came to dee conclusion dat you were not a demon."

"Eventually? What took you so long?" Buffy asked.

"You were staring at her neck a lot." Cordelia raised her eyebrows. She hadn't picked up on this. "It is none of my business."

"Damn right it isn't." The blonde slayer said angrily, trying to hide her blush. "Well, if you 'came to dat conclusion,' why were you continuing to lurk?" Mocking helped.

"I wasn't. I came back 'ere only a few minutes ago, waiting for you to awaken. You are a slayer as well, aren't you?"

"Last time I checked."

"I was going to introduce meself, but I was attacked."

Buffy looked guilty then, and relaxed. "I've been edgy, and I thought you were one of the bad guys. Sorry."

"She has assassins after her." Cordelia explained.

"Assassins?" Kendra questioned.

"Why don't we take her to Giles? Then we can play Twenty Questions for a Slayer like civilized people, and stop Xander from being a bigger idiot than he already is." Cordelia suggested. "After you clean up the mess your little Pay-Per-View match created before my parents come stumbling home. Cause I'm sure as hell not gonna."

Both slayers looked ashamed.


Buffy sat in the school lounge, numb. She had killed a man. Knocked him down the stairs. Sure, he hit her and was dating her mother, but that didn't justify a killing. Certainly not the killing of a human being. She didn't want to have to deal with this. She felt horrible, and there was nothing she could do to make it better. She noticed all the stares and accusing eyes. She could tell the police wanted to lock her up, and she didn't blame them.

And this was happening way too fast. She didn't even have time to bounce back from the 'Assassins Giving Spike Time to Use Angel to Cure Druscilla' ordeal. Talking more with Kendra in the library, she had found out that in the few hours in which the other slayer hadn't been spying on her, she had come across Willy's bar. Angel had gone there to get some information, they fought, and Kendra almost got him killed. She locked him up in a cage in the storage room of the bar, where the sun could easily shine in.

Before she even had any reason to go to Cordelia's, Buffy had gone to her house like normal, where this guy with a sliced eye and long hair was waiting to fulfill his contract. Angel just happened to be in the area, and they finished him off together. He snatched a ring off the guy's finger then, and recognized it as belonging to the Order of Taraka. He was obviously having trouble letting go, but Buffy figured that since he had just saved her life she wouldn't say anything. Telling Angel she'd be okay, he reluctantly left, to unknowingly go meet Kendra.

She went inside and called Giles, and after he'd repeatedly told her how dangerous the people were, she went to see her favorite cheerleader.

Willy had sold out Angel to Spike sometime in the morning, and it took some convincing to get Kendra to help her save him. Just because she didn't love him didn't mean he deserved to die. While the arguing was going on, Xander was at her house. He hadn't believed Cordelia, so he hurried over there as quickly as his legs would take him, only to meet Assassin Number Two. The Bug Guy. He escaped to the library fortunately, where Cordelia promptly told him, "Told you so."

When it came down to it, with the assassins taken care of and Angel dying, Kendra was by her side, and they rescued him. Not only were Spike and Druscilla now history, as the church they had used went up in flames and an organ crashed down around them, she had also made a new friend. But it wasn't like what she had accomplished mattered anymore, because here she sat, a murderer.

"Buffy!" Xander said, as he and Willow came to join her. "Are you okay?"

"How come you're here?" Willow asked.

"I couldn't stay at home. Mom won't even look at me." She said sadly.

"What happened? Unless you don't want to talk about it."

"We had a fight and I lost my temper. I really let him have it."

"The paper said he fell."

"He fell." Buffy agreed. "Hard."

"What was he?" Xander wondered.

"What?" Her brain wasn't functioning well.

"What was he? A-a demon? A giant bug? Some kind of dark god with the secrets of nouvelle cuisine? I mean, we are talking creature-feature here, right?" She just lowered her eyes. "Oh man."

"But I'm sure it wasn't your fault." Willow defended her. "He started it."

"Yeah. That defense only works in six-year-old court, Will." Buffy explained.

"Court? Wa-wait. Are they charging you with something?" Xander asked.

She shook her head. "I-I don't know. Not yet." She paused. "He was a person, and I killed him."

"Don't say that!" Willow exclaimed.

"Why not? Everyone else is. And it's the truth."

"It was an accident." Xander said sympathetically.

"I'm the Slayer. I had no right to hit him like that."

"Look, Buffy, I don't know what happened exactly. But I do know you. And I know you would never hurt anyone intentionally. Well, you know, unless..."

"Unless they were dating my mother?" The three of them turned then as Cordelia and her flock entered the lounge. The brunette locked eyes with the slayer, and in full view of everyone, she walked over and hugged her. "I gotta go."

"It'll be okay." Cordelia whispered.

Buffy got up and left, while Xander looked at Willow. "What's goin' on?"

That's what the flock wanted to know.


"Will, what am I gonna do?" Buffy asked her friend as they walked through the quad.

"What do you wanna do?"

The slayer felt it. At least she thought she did. Everything inside her had been screaming, 'Just Admit It!' When Cordelia had hugged her, showing her support with the 'Ted' thing in front of everybody, that's when it started. He'd been a robot, thank God. And a twisted one at that. Parcheesi? Anyway, doubts became certainties, and she felt giddy. Her. Giddy. It was an odd sensation. Plus, Buffy thought Cordelia had to be pretty sure too, if she risked that amount of contact in public. But was she ready?

"I think I'm going to. Tell her."

'You only live once, right? Well, in my case twice.'


She smiled. "Yeah." She thought to herself. "What do you think?"

"I think 'wow.'" Willow said. "I'll be honest. I'm not used to being a Cordelia supporter. Hating her with a fiery passion? That I can do. But I'd have to be a fool, a big fool, if I didn't see that she cares about you. I don't know her like you do, but she's surprised me. It's still hard to accept a little, but when the aftermath ensues, I'll be behind you a hundred and ten percent."

Buffy frowned. "Oh yeah. The aftermath. Does Xander know?"

"No. I'm proud of myself. I pretended I had laryngitis for a week so he wouldn't make me talk, and then he went back to his usual routine. Ogling girls that aren't me."

"You can't spend the rest of your life waiting for Xander to wake up and smell the hottie."

"I know...but..." Willow trailed off. "So are you?"

"Yes. I am. I'm gonna do it." She was boosting her confidence level with every step.


"Speaking of 'wow' potential, there's Oz over there. What are we thinking, any sparkage?"

Buffy was looking at a guy sitting on the bench, strumming his guitar. He played with Dingoes Ate My Baby, and Willow had met him during Career Week.

The redhead smiled. "He's nice. I-I like his hands."

"Mm. A fixation on insignificant detail is a definite crush sign. For me, it's Cordelia's mole."

"Oh! That's a good one!" She got shy again quick. "I don't know, though. I mean, he is a senior."

"Hey, you're talking to a girl who's about to go 'alternative lifestyle' and tell the most popular girl in school that she loves her. So I will hear no excuses. Make a move. Do the talking thing."

"W-what if the talking thing becomes the awkward-silence thing?"

"Well, you won't know until you try."

As Willow walked over, Buffy prepared herself. There would be no turning back.


Cordelia was standing cornered in the bathroom by Harmony, Karen, and some other girl whose name she didn't remember. She had just spent a weekend in Vegas watching her parents gamble, and it was really embarrassing. They even had the nerve to call it 'family time.' A confrontation was low on her list of the things she wanted to deal with right now.

She knew she had pushed it with that hug, but Buffy had needed it, and she was caring less and less about other people. But now the questions were coming, and since she and Buffy hadn't come to a decision yet, she'd have to think of a lie until they could talk it over.

"Okay, we're concerned about you, and as your friends we thought it was necessary to have a...a..." Harmony couldn't think of the word.

"An intervention?" Cordelia supplied.

"See? I told you I knew what it was called!" The blonde snapped at the other two. "Yeah, so we couldn't help noticing your long guy-less streak. At first we thought it was just a 'Begging Strike,' but you didn't ask any of us to join. As if that wasn't horrible enough, Jack saw you with Buffy and Willow in LA, and then he told Josh, who told Tiffany, and then Tiffany told Amber, then Amber told Karen, and then Karen told me. I didn't want to believe it."

"Sounds like you've got a real reliable system there. Might as well have heard it through the grapevine; at least then you'd have fruit."


"Never mind." Why did she want to be popular again?

"We're worried, sweetie. Cause then we saw you...hug her." They all grimaced. "Spending that much time with losers is obviously unhealthy for you."

"They're not losers. Well, maybe Xander..."

"They've brainwashed you into defending them? How tragic! Come on, there's plenty of guys lining up! Tell us how we can help. Ooh! We can go to the health spa across town after school and put this all behind us. My dad knows a guy, who knows a guy that's having an affair with a girl who works there, so we got free passes."

"Look Harmony, it's not as bad as you think..."

"You're in denial, honey." The girl she didn't know said.

"You poor thing." Harmony said sympathetically.

"No, really. You know I went away with my parents, right?" They nodded. "Well, I got tired of watching my them foam at mouth playing their slot machines, so I went back up to my room, and I saw this yummy-looking bellhop." She wanted to gag. "We talked, but we both knew what it was leading to the whole time."

"You did it with him?" Harmony asked, in awe.

Cordelia nodded. "He was Mexican, and he quiero me. If it got any steamier...well, you know. And south of the border? Whew." She fanned herself.

"Mexican? That's so exotic!" As the sheep giggled and a string of 'Oh My God's began, Cordelia had to remember to tell Buffy it was untrue, because this was going to spread like wildfire. "You have to tell us all the details!"

What Cordelia wasn't aware of, was that Buffy had been listening outside the door. The slayer already knew, and every word had felt like a blow a million times worse than any demon had given her. They tore her up inside, and she wasn't sure if she meant that figuratively or not. She needed air, and she hoped Cordelia wouldn't mind if she didn't stick around for the specifics.


The next day, Buffy sat in the library, in the moping, defeated stage. The anger and irrationality stage wasn't far away. Leaving school right after she had heard Cordelia yesterday, she went home and spent all her unplanned free time locked in her room for the initial stage. Where there was heavy sobbing and crying. After it was over, the shock set in, and every last doubt was erased. She really did love Cordelia. It wouldn't hurt this much if she didn't.

As much as she was trying not to think it, maybe Willow had been right. Maybe Cordelia was manipulating her the entire time. She hated being manipulated. Her phone had rung several times the day before, but she didn't answer it on the chance that it could've been her. She vaguely recalled her mother trying to pry information out of her, but she hadn't budged. Probably because at the time, she just hadn't registered her presence.

All those poets might've been right. Love might be a grand a wonderful thing, but it also sucked when it was turned against you. All you need is love? No, what Buffy needed was a backup plan and some ice cream.

Giles was coming down the stairs. "Buffy? I didn't hear you come in. How are you this morning?" His voice wasn't reaching her ears. He walked up to the table. "Buffy, are you all right?"

"What? Fine. I'm fine." She responded, snapping back into reality.

"Yes..." He didn't think she was, but didn't press it. "Well, I believe birthday wishes are in order." He smiled.

It was her birthday? Funny how that didn't make her feel better.

"Thanks, Giles." She forced a smile for him.

Willow hurried through the library doors then, attempting to look calm and casual, but not pulling it off that well. When she saw her friend's face, she knew she didn't have to be the one to break it to her, so she relaxed considerably.

"You heard, didn't you?" The redhead asked, sitting down.

"Straight from the horse's mouth." The slayer sighed.

Giles, sensing that this was none of his business, went to catalog.

"You're at name-calling already?" Willow sat down too.

"It's an expression, Will." She thought for a second. "No, maybe I am at name calling. You warned me, and I didn't listen. I guess I was setting myself up for this."

"Maybe there's another explanation." Willow's eyes widened. "Oh, but did you hear what she...?" Buffy looked at her. Screw other explanations. "I'm shutting up." Then she remembered something. "But hey! Sorry, I know I said I was gonna shut up, but this isn't about that, and I won't bring it up again ever, unless you wanna throw darts at her head, cause uh, I had her yearbook picture blown up and I take it out and put it on my door sometimes when I'm really mad at her and...Happy Birthday."

Buffy smiled genuinely this time. Darts?

Now it was Xander's turn to enter, coming to stand behind Willow's chair.

"It's the woman of the hour! For she's a jolly good slayer, for she's a jolly good slayer..." Picking up on the fact that his lame jokes were going over worse than usual, he stopped. "How about that Cordelia, huh? Gotta wonder how much room she's got left on that bedpost."

She suddenly felt the need to leave. "Ya know, I have a class that's starting. Or half over." She got up. "I should probably attend. I'll catch you guys later."

When she was gone, Xander frowned. "Well, that's not a perky birthday puppy." Willow slapped his chest. "What was that for?"

"Arm spasm."


"So much for our surprise party." The hacker said, disappointed. "I bought little hats and everything."

"Buffy's surprise party will go ahead as we planned. Except I won't be wearing the little hat." The watcher informed them.

"Giles, I don't think she -"

"Buffy's turning seventeen just this once and she deserves a party. It's obvious that something is bothering her, but we'll just have to cheer her up."

"You're a great man of our time." Xander said as he was slapped a second time. He was suspicious now. "Another one?"

"It comes and goes." The hacker shrugged.


"Buffy, are you okay?" Angel asked after she had killed the vampire she'd been fighting.

The group, along with Oz, who was Willow's date, and Cordelia, had all come to the Bronze for her party. They'd been waiting for Miss Calendar to bring her, when she crashed through the window and went into slay-mode. The redhead wanted to throw Cordelia out, as she had invited the brunette before she decided to have sex with someone and break her friend's heart, but she figured she'd let Buffy do that.

"Yes. W-what happened?" Giles asked.

Buffy gestured behind her. "Uh, there were these vamps outs..." She glanced around at all the decorations and presents. "W-what's going on?"

"Oh, um...a surprise party." He said, blowing on a party favor he'd been holding.

"Happy Birthday." Cordelia said, smiling.

Seeing her, Buffy turned immediately to Angel and flashed him a big smile, and rubbed a hand along his chest. "You guys did all this for me? That is so sweet."

"You sure you're okay?" The vampire asked again.

"Yes, I'm fine." She looked at Cordelia and was pleased when she saw that the cheerleader didn't like what she was watching. What a shame.

"Are you okay?" Willow asked Oz.

"Yeah. Hey, did everybody see that guy just turn to dust?" The guitarist wondered.

"Uh, well, uh...sort of?"

"Yep. Vampires are real. A lot of them live in Sunnydale. Willow'll fill you in." Xander sighed and walked off.

"I know it's hard to accept at first..."

"Actually, it explains a lot." Oz said.

Cordelia came over to Buffy once she had managed to tear herself from Angel. The slayer knew she couldn't avoid this without making a scene, so she simply waited.

"Okay, why won't you talk to me? And what was with the show?"

Buffy laughed. "Please tell me you're joking. Like you don't know."

"No, Buffy, I don't know."

She almost believed her. "Why are you even -?"

Miss Calendar came in then, carrying a large, odd-shaped box. "Hey, can somebody give me a hand here?" Angel and Giles took it from her, setting it on a table, and Buffy used it as an excuse to walk away from Cordelia. "Those creeps left this behind."

"What is it?" Buffy questioned.

"I have no idea." Her watcher said, puzzled. "Can, can it be opened?"

"Yeah. This looks like a release right here."

She got the box open, only to find a severed arm inside. Before she had time to properly voice her disgust however, it rose up and began choking her. Angel quickly grabbed onto the arm, and after a few seconds, he was able to wrench it free from her neck and get it back in the box.

"Well, clearly the Hellmouth's answer to 'What do you get the slayer who has everything?'" Xander, though frightened, tried to quip.

"Good heavens. Buffy, are you all right?" Giles said, concerned.

Though she didn't want to, Cordelia stood in the background, showing silent concern. She didn't feel all that welcome.

Buffy coughed. "Man, that thing had major grip."

"W-what was that?" Willow asked.

"It looked like an arm." Oz stated the obvious.

"It can't be. She wouldn't." Angel shook his head in disbelief.

"What, vamps version of 'Snakes in a Can', or do you care to share?" Xander asked.

"It-it's a legend...way before my time...of a demon brought forth to rid the Earth of the plague of humanity...separate the righteous from the wicked...and to burn the righteous down. They call him the Judge."

"The Judge? This is he?" Giles questioned.

"Not all of him."

Buffy raised her hand. "Um, still needing backstory here?"

"Um...he, he, he couldn't be killed, yes? Um, a-an army was sent against him. Most of them died... but, uh, finally they were able to dismember him, but, uh...not kill him." The Englishman explained.

"The pieces were scattered...buried in every corner of the Earth." Angel continued.

"So all these parts are being brought here." Miss Calendar realized.

"By Drusilla. The vamps outside were Spike's men." Buffy told everyone.

"She's just crazy enough to do it." Angel knew his child well.

"Do what, reassemble the Judge?" Willow was confused.

"And bring forth Armageddon."

A plan was formulated. By Miss Calendar of all people. Angel was going to get on a cargo ship, and try to take the box as far away from Sunnydale as possible, tonight. Miss Calendar volunteered to drive him to the docks, and Buffy said she would go along. She wanted to say goodbye, because no one knew when he'd be back, but this was also a great opportunity for her to get back at Cordelia, and she couldn't pass it up.


Buffy followed Angel into his apartment later that night, her arms wrapped around herself. She was shivering from the rain they had just run through. Everything was going off without a hitch; they had gone to the docks and Angel was going to get onto the boat, but they were ambushed by more of Spike's men, and the box was stolen. While that was happening, she had ended up in the water somehow, and Angel dove in after her.

Miss Calendar had dropped them off at the library, and then went home, frustrated with something. Everyone was researching, hoping to find a way to stop the Judge, but all the books called him un-killable. Cordelia was up in the stacks when they had gotten there, and stayed out of sight the entire time. Angel eventually remembered that one of his contacts had recently informed him that there were a lot of vampires that liked to hang around the old factory the Anointed One had used.

She decided that she and Angel would scope out the factory and the Judge. She had briefly considered going over to Cordelia before leaving, but she was firmly in the anger stage and that impulse faded fast. It was nice being able to avoid her emotions. They got to the factory, and discovered that Druscilla was having a birthday party of her own. Also, the Judge was assembled. Nearly having the humanity burned out of them, they barely managed to escape and run here, through the storm.

"You're shaking like a leaf." Angel noticed.

"Cold." She told him, her teeth chattering.

"Let me get you something."

As she watched him get her clothes from his armoire, the only thing she could think was,

'Angel would never sleep with a bellhop.'

There was something wrong with that thought, though.

"Put these on. Get under the covers, just to warm up." He said to her, and she went to his bed and sat. When he didn't turn away, she stared at him, and he got the message. "Sorry." Taking off her top shirt, she winced. "What?"

"Oh,'s okay. I just have...a cut or something." She assured him.

Was it her imagination or was it warming up in here?

"Can I...?" He started, but then trailed off, hesitant. "Let me see."

Buffy held her shirt to her chest. "Okay."

Angel turned facing her, and sat down on the bed next to her. He touched her back softly, inspecting the cut. Uh oh. This was dangerous territory. Her body was conflicting with her brain, but if she did allow something to happen, would she really be in the wrong? Cordelia slept with someone, why couldn't she? That was her rationale. They'd be even, right? No harm, no foul, and it wasn't like Angel wasn't attractive. She did care for him, so...

But she didn't love him. And she'd be using him to get back at Cordelia. She couldn't do that to him, could she?

"It's already closed. You're fine." Buffy leaned back into him, and brought their faces together as he put his arms around her. "I..."

He felt good. Very good.

"You what?" She asked him softly.

It was so tempting. To make her hurt like she was hurting. Would Cordelia even be affected? Angel would be caught in the middle, and...

"I love you. I try not to, but I can't stop." He said it with such meaning, such emotion, and she was hit with it.

They began kissing feverishly. This was the irrationality stage. She was supposed to be irrational. But...damn, did he say he loved her? Why did he have to say that? This wasn't her. She was better than Cordelia. She wasn't the kind of person who could just...she pulled back abruptly, thus ending the irrationality stage. Just in time, too. Before she made a mistake. Before she did something she probably would've regretted.

"I can't. It wouldn't...I'm sorry. I don't wanna hurt you."

Angel stood up, putting distance between them as he tried to calm himself down. In more ways than one.

"Because you don't."

"There's somebody else."

"Cordelia." He said, and Buffy slipped on the dry sweater he had given her.

"How'd -?"

"Willow told me at the party. Before you got there. She was upset, and she talked...really fast, but I think I got the general idea."

Buffy smiled. "Then why'd you let me kiss you?"

"For a second, I wanted to believe something I knew wasn't true." Angel smiled sadly. "If you love her, then don't give up on her until you've heard what she has to say."

And here began the facing the music, good or bad, stage.

"I know it's not the same, and I know this'll sound like a line...but could we possibly be friends?"

"I wouldn't mind that." He said, almost gratefully. Though the likelihood of finding someone like Buffy again, someone to love, was low. But he masked his sadness. Buffy deserved happiness, and as the Slayer, she needed it more than he did. He'd always support that. "You should stay here until the storm blows over. And then -"

"And then I'll go talk to her." She finished for him. "So...wanna play Go Fish?"


Back at Sunnydale High, Cordelia had moved to the library table with Willow, and Giles and Xander were in the stacks. She was trying to read and discover how to save the human race, but her concentration wasn't working that well. What was up with Buffy? One day they were fine, the next, the slayer couldn't be around her for more than two seconds. She had tried to call her at least a dozen times.

And Willow was giving her dirty looks when she thought she wasn't looking. Her doubts were coming true. Buffy had disappeared on her, and now she was stuck. Well, she could go back to the fold, go back to being Queen of the Ditzes, but she wouldn't be able to forget. She'd seen the other side, so it wouldn't be the same. On the surface she could hide; they had certainly bought her lie.

She didn't even get to tell Buffy about it. Wait...

"I'm such an idiot!" Cordelia exclaimed.

It was all falling into place now. Buffy had heard, and that started the typical chain reaction. Buffy must have been...why didn't she see it sooner? The avoidance, the silence, the flirting with Angel...and the final stage of revenge was...

Xander poked his out from a behind a shelf. "Did you just say what I think you said? And I didn't get it on tape? Damn!"

"Willow, where's Angel's apartment?" The cheerleader asked the redhead.

"Why?" Willow wondered, hoping her tone sounded angry enough.

"Cause if I thought someone I was close to being on the verge of...something with, had sex with somebody that wasn't me, I know what I'd do."

"Ha! You admit it!" She paused. "I think."

Cordelia sighed. "Just tell me."

"No!" She had been holding it in. Time to let it out. "How could you do that to her? I mean, we all knew you were evil, but even I didn't think you could stoop this low!"

"Willow -" Cordelia tried. She didn't have time for this.

"I'm not finished! She can't confront you, but suddenly I'm feeling brave, so I guess I'll have to! I've got sixteen years worth of rage on reserve; I can last for a long time, trust me!" She liked this. "It's not like she found out from some random person either! She heard it from you! Rumors are one thing, cause you can't prove them, but-but you...suck! And I hate your shoes!" Whoa. She had said 'suck.' "She was coming to tell you that she loves you, and you were going on and on about your sweaty escapades with an Indian desk clerk!"

"She what?" Xander and Cordelia echoed.

Her timing had obviously been really bad.

"Yeah, and she was really excited."

"It was a Mexican bellhop, first of all -" Cordelia said. How that stuff mutated was beyond her.

"Like that's so much better!"

"I love her too!" She yelled. Then her words registered. She did. Wow. "And there was no desk clerk, or a bellhop, or a room service guy. There wasn't anybody. Harmony grew a brain cell and got suspicious, so I made it up. It's all false. False. I have way higher standards than that. I was going to tell her, but I never got the chance, okay? Now tell me where the damn apartment is."

Willow was stunned. "Dayton Street. Two blocks b-before the Bronze." Cordelia ran out the doors. "Darn, I feel like a big meanie. And I'm pretty sure my throat's all red now."

"Willow, you might want to see if you can fetch some water." Giles said. "Xander appears to have fainted."


"Do you have any, um, threes?" Buffy asked, looking at her cards as she and Angel sat on the floor of his apartment.

"What're the rules again?"

"This is sad." She shook her head. "You've been around two hundred years, and you can't even play Go Fish."

"I like Gin."

"I don't really need to know your drinking habits, thanks." Too much information.

"It's another type of card game." He grinned.

"Oh." She hid her embarrassment well. "Think I should call the library and see if they got anything on Grouchy Smurf yet?"

Just then, someone started pounding on the door, and before either of them could react, it flew open and a drenched Cordelia came charging in.

"Get your vampy hands off my girlfriend!" The brunette demanded, not surveying the situation first. The slayer and the vampire were too confused to do anything. "Oh God, I'm too late!" She saw the cards in their hands. "That's...different. Most people smoke after sex."

"There was no sex." Buffy finally spoke. "There was going to be, but we...came to our senses." She smiled slightly, amused at Cordelia's little spectacle. "We decided to play cards instead. Talk about two completely unrelated activities...did you say 'girlfriend'?"

Angel had gotten up and grabbed the blanket off of his bed. He gave it to Cordelia to use.

"Here, you're soaked. I...don't have any towels."

She looked apologetic. "I ran. I kinda didn't think to take my car."

He looked up the stairs outside his door, and listened. "I think the rain's letting up. I'm gonna go make sure they aren't still searching for us." He smiled at them.

They watched him leave, and then things became awkward.

"Haven't got a clue on the Judge." Cordelia said, putting the blanket around her shoulders.

"Our only option is panicking? Well, there goes my reputation as a superhero." Buffy sighed. "He's connected and powered up now, Spike and Dru aren't dust, and they're working with him."

"Triple whammy? Ouch."

"Big ouch. Spike is wheelchair-bound, though." She paused. "Girlfriend?"

"You didn't sleep with him?" Buffy shook her head, and watched as the other girl sighed out of relief. "It isn't true, any of it. I said it just to get Harmony off my back. I didn't know you were listening."

Cordelia wasn't lying. The slayer's eyes grew wide, and then she looked guilty. So she had almost endangered what they had by jumping to a false conclusion? She had a habit of doing that too much, and she knew she really had to stop. It wasn't a good thing; it made her feel lower than scum.

"You know what this means, don't you? It means I'm a jerk. Some of the things I thought, said..."

"Okay, how about you keep that to yourself?" They walked closer to one another.

Buffy brought two of her fingers together and moved them in a turning motion in front of her mouth, like someone would a key. "Locked away forever."

"And can we forget this ever happened?" Cordelia touched her cheek.

She wasn't used to this 'romantic contact' stuff, but Buffy wasn't trying to run, so she must've been doing something right.

"Yes." Buffy closed her eyes, nodding. "Yes, we can."

"There is one thing I wanna remember. Willow...she said you loved me." She smiled. "Word of advice, though? Don't mess with her."

"Oh, I know." The slayer smiled back, looking at her once more. "She told you that?"

"Yep. And I told her that I loved you."

"No kidding. Huh. Works out well."

"Doesn't it?" She wrapped her arms around Buffy's neck, and leaned in. "I think we've done enough talking. Unless you wanna get Willow to help us out with this next part, too."

"Enjoy the gutter?" Buffy asked with a grin.

She let Cordelia make the initial contact. After all, she had started the first one; it was the cheerleader's turn. This time was much better, however. Mutual participation was substantially more enjoyable. They stood there, savoring the moment for as long as possible before they had to come up for air. This kiss had taken too damn long to get to, and they weren't going to waste it.

They did separate at some point, but that only allowed them to place light kisses on each other's lips. Buffy ran her hand down Cordelia's rain-matted hair. She was looking at the true Cordelia Chase now. Her makeup had washed away and smeared in the rain, her hair wasn't blow-dried or conditioned, and the hair spray had failed. This was the brunette at her plainest and simplest, and she was still beautiful.

"I love you." The girls said together, causing them to giggle. They didn't giggle. Not that often, anyway.

Not that they had anything against Willow, but they felt that they needed to say it to one another to get the full effect out of the words. They hugged tightly.

"Part of you may be a jerk, part of me may be a jerk -" Cordelia began.

"May be?" Buffy asked with a cocky smirk. Cordelia sucked gently on her bottom lip, teasing it, to get her to shut up. She wasn't complaining.

"But everybody has that part. We're human. We've got parts that are gonna screw up. It's unavoidable. That's why it's a good thing it's the whole person I'm interested in; the good, the bad, and the -"

"Don't finish that sentence." She returned the favor.

"Sexy." Cordelia said breathlessly, winking.

"I think we're on the same wavelength there, but what about -?"

"Let them say whatever the hell they want. I'm above them. Not to mention hotter than all of them combined."

"Can't argue with that." Buffy smiled.

They proceeded to make out some more, their tongues instantly becoming the best of friends.

"You should go save the world. I doubt anybody else is gonna get off their ass and do it."

"Yeah, I heard Batman's really let himself go." She smirked. "Could use some help figuring out the 'how.'"

"Lucky for you I don't have plans."

They grasped hands, and headed out into the night. Buffy had faced the music, and she was extremely glad she had. The tune was pretty incredible. Boy, could Cordelia kiss.

(Are you gonna listen to me more often now? Her rational side asked, gloating.)

"Not if you're gonna brag." Buffy said under her breath. Cordelia looked at her. "So uh, where's my present?" She asked.

"I'm not enough?" Cordelia questioned with mock hurt.

"Somebody's full of herself." She thought. "Well, look who I'm talking to."

The brunette grinned evilly. "You better run, Buffy. As fast as you can."

"Like you'd catch me." She took off.

Cordelia was never far behind.


Giles and Willow were discussing a plan to defeat the Judge with Xander, as Buffy and Cordelia came running through the doors of the library. A plan he had come up with all by himself. He thought it was brilliant, and by the looks he hoped he was receiving, they thought so too. Who said being the victim of an evil British sorcerer's magick spell couldn't be useful?

"Are you positive you'll be able to -?" Giles started, but was distracted by the returning cheerleader and the surprisingly joyful slayer.

"I won. Pay up." Cordelia requested.

"We didn't bet." Buffy told her now girlfriend.

"Well, we should have."

"That's what everybody always says after they win. You'll just have to live with..." She grinned, thinking of something. "No. You've definitely earned a reward. A victory is a victory, bet or no bet."

Cordelia waited. "So? What is it?"

"It's not money, but I think you'll like it." She was drawing nearer and nearer to her mouth.

Xander felt faint again and Giles looked down at a book, but Willow just smiled. Cordelia pointed to the group, reminding the slayer that they weren't exactly alone.

Buffy blushed. "Right. Fully-functional Judge. Spike on wheels. Healthy Druscilla. Mass annihilation of humanity. I'm on task, I'm focused; I'm ready to do the duty."

"The Judge is whole? And Spike and Druscilla survived? You're certain?" Giles asked, glad that they were back on a topic he could contribute to.

Buffy nodded. "Oh, I'm certain."

"Then we have no choice but to go with Xander's plan."

"Could you be any less confident in me?" Xander wondered, hearing the not so enthusiastic tone of his voice.

"It's a sound course of action, and there's no foreseeable reason why it shouldn't work, however, the most crucial part is all very much dependent on your acting skills. And if I remember last year's talent show correctly..."

"Thanks for opening up old wounds, Giles." Buffy said, as she and Willow whimpered. "It was a dumb play anyway." She paused, killing the memory. "There. It's gone. Now, seeing as before Xander's plan, whatever it is, we had" She was attempting to come up with something inspiring, but was falling short. "Isn't anything better than nothing?"

"Have I mentioned how much I love all the support in this room?" He asked sarcastically.

It didn't matter. Soon they'd be thanking him for saving their hides and feeding him grapes whenever he so desired. Hmmm...maybe not the grapes, but he could dream.

"You know I believe in you, Xand." Buffy smiled.

"Me too!" Willow chipped in. "I woulda said so sooner, but I was going for the silent support approach."

"Slow down. Xander has a plan?" Cordelia was finding it difficult to disguise her shock. "Xander?"

"And guess what, Cor? You get to be a major player." He smiled cryptically.

Buffy hugged the brunette around the waist. "Congratulations."

The cheerleader smiled. "Care to let me in on the plan I'm a part of?"

"No." Xander answered.

"Why not?" She demanded.

"Because if I tell you, then you won't do it."

All three girls raised their eyebrows.

"When do you think they'll attack?" Willow asked Buffy, as Xander wasn't going to divulge.

"Tomorrow night. That'll give the Judge time to recharge. Here's hoping we catch them at the factory, though."

"I can still get into the base tonight." Xander offered.

"The base?" Buffy asked. She had missed something.

"It'd probably be wiser...strategy to wait until tomorrow, Xander." Giles told him. "The less time we illegally possess property owned by the military, the more comfortable I'll feel."

"Worried about your green card?" Xander grinned.

"The Council doesn't like to get entangled in governmental affairs, especially the affairs of this country, and I'm not high priority enough for them to deviate from that attitude."

"Mother-Child complex, huh?" Cordelia asked rhetorically.

"Aw! Giles! You'd take the rap for us?" Willow beamed, smiling at him.

They all smiled at him, in fact.

The watcher took off his glasses and rubbed them on his jacket. "It's simply my belief that the world would be far better off if you all were...not incarcerated."

"You love us."

"Relax, don't get your knickers in a twist." Giles chose to ignore that. "I have patience, you know. Tomorrow it is. But all that tempting firepower..." Xander said.

They thought he was going to drool.

"Since I'm apparently gonna be a thief's accomplice and most likely end up on the FBI's Most Wanted list, details would be nice." Cordelia said. "Like now."

"We'll meet up with Oz and Willow at her house, then a weapon-hunting we will go." He looked the brunette over. "You'll have to wear something And drier. Unless it's a see-through..."

"Hey!" Cordelia and Buffy exclaimed.

He had blocked out his knowledge of their new relationship as best as he could, but it all came back. He wasn't sure what his stance was yet, but the images he was picturing weren't bad. Weren't bad at all.

"The mind wanders to crazy places. I try to control it, but -"

"I'll call Oz later and ask him if we can use his van." The redhead said, glaring at her friend.

"I'm thinking it'd be better if I don't know this stuff, and just stick to killing the bad things. Besides, if I get questioned by association, I can deny everything." Buffy commented.

"How convenient for you." Xander said, eyeing her suspiciously.

"Back off, monkey boy." Cordelia warned him. She turned to Buffy. "I need a shower. I'm starting to invent a new odor, and I'm gonna collapse in about two minutes."

The slayer pouted. "K." She kissed her then, despite the audience. "But call when you get home. So I know you're safe."

"This is that relationship thing where you become freakishly over-protective, isn't it?"

"Hell yes." They kissed again. This was one aspect they were going to get a whole lot of enjoyment out of. "Talk to you later?"

"Count on it." The cheerleader smiled.

Buffy watched Cordelia exit the library, and she was in a happy daze.

"Things worked out?" Willow asked with a smile.

"Oh yeah." She turned back around, and saw Xander's jaw hanging open. She went over to shut it. "If you didn't know before, you do now, and no matter how you feel about it, you have to promise me one thing."

"What?" He asked, gulping.

"Don't let anything happen to her."

"I won't, Buff."

He could see how serious she was just by looking into her eyes.

"Promise me."

They were dead serious.

"I promise."

And he meant it. He didn't want to be on the receiving end of a slayer ass whooping. No way.


"Okay, what was that? And who are you?" Cordelia asked Xander the following night.

He had just talked their way past a guard and into the weapons storage. She had to be a brainless sex object, but it had gone smooth enough.

He was searching for what they had come for as he answered her questions. "Remember Halloween I got turned into a soldier?"

"Yeah." She didn't want to reflect on that night of horrors, but he had taken charge and helped them all to live through it

"Well, I still remember all of it. I know procedure, ordnance, access codes, everything. I know the whole layout for this base, and I'm pretty sure I can put together an M-16 in fifty-seven seconds."

She was momentarily stunned. "Well, I'm sort of impressed. But let's just find the thing and get out of here."

"Okay." He was onboard with that. " and Buffy...what's the deal there?"

"Are you being dense?" Cordelia asked. Not even he could be that blind.

"Allow me to rephrase. Why you and Buffy? Is it for real or...?"

"Yeah, Xander. It's for real." She sighed. "Probably the first real thing I've ever had."

He stopped, turning to see the sincerity on her face. "You have no problem with -?"

"Dating a girl? Giving up the throne? Breaking every social rule that's been in place since the beginning of time?" She paused. "Surprisingly, I couldn't be more fine with it. I've always set the new trends. Maybe this'll catch on."

"What? Gay fever?" Xander asked, worriedly.

Alternative couples didn't bother him really, but he enjoyed being heterosexual. His blockage with Buffy and Cordelia was that they had both chose not to go for him, and instead, swear off men forever. Unless they didn't last. But he'd never wish that on Buffy. If Cordelia was who she wanted, and she was happy, then that was that.

And the cheerleader was much better for her than Angel.

"No, dork." She hit him. "Dissolving the groups. The Jocks, the Goths, the Band People, the Computer Nerds, the Audio-Visual Nerds, the Yearbook Nerds..." There were a bunch of sub-categories. "You get the picture; a high school where people can hang with whoever they want to. Without fear of, you know, persecution or whatever."

"And after-school thrashings. Don't leave that out."

"Cars, cash, class...wouldn't be a factor. Sunnydale could be a pioneer."

"You're dreaming. It didn't work for Marx, it's not gonna work for you. Especially not on a Hellmouth."

"I said maybe." She reminded him, nearly growling. Puncture her vision? How dare he. "Did you find it yet?"

"Almost." There was quiet for a few moments. "You love her, huh?"

"I really do." The brunette smiled. "She doesn't give me a whole lotta choice."

She was still Cordelia, but part of her had transformed; he could certainly see that.

"Does this mean the war's over?"

"That's your call. I'll be around more often, it's true, but just cause I'm involved with someone that happens to be your friend, that doesn't change anything with us."

"What if she changes it?" Xander grinned.

"Then we'll talk it over, and I'll...cave." She said, knowing that was going to be the outcome. "But in the meantime, I'm sure you'll still act like a total retard and leave me with plenty of opportunities to insult you. Though if you're willing to admit defeat..."

"Never!" The very idea that he would do such a thing was ridiculous.

"So it's on?"

He had a gleam in his eye. "Oh, it's on."


The gang walked confidently out of the elevator and into the mall a couple hours later, with Buffy in the lead and Cordelia beside her. Angel was behind them, followed by Giles and Xander; who were carrying the crate that contained the weapon, and behind them was Willow and Oz. The guitarist suggested that this was where the Judge would go, and he had been right.

"Everybody keep back. Damage control only. Take out any lesser vamps if you can. I'll handle the Smurf." Buffy informed her group.

"I'm dating a bad-ass." Cordelia grinned happily to herself.

The Judge was on the second level of the mall, but then he took a few steps down. Druscilla was at the top watching, and her security was blocking all the exit doors. A man came walking by one side of the Judge, and a couple came walking by the other. The ancient demon extended his arms, and bolts of energy emanated from his hands and struck the people, causing them to freeze. The energy then connected to every person in the surrounding area.

"Oh, goody!" Dru said gleefully.

Suddenly a projectile hit the Judge in the chest, forcing him to lose his concentration and halt the killing.

He yanked it out. "Who dares?"

Standing on top of a refreshment stand they had made their way to, was Buffy, crossbow in hand. Her friends were ducking behind the stand, and Xander was opening up the crate.

"Think I got his attention." She said evenly.

"You're a fool." The Judge said to her. "No weapon forged can stop me."

Angel, seeing the Judge begin to raise his hand, decided that he had to buy Xander and Buffy more time, so he ran out before they could stop him. Druscilla spotted him right away.

"Punish daddy!" She commanded the Judge, pointing.

Angel froze in his tracks. The demon smiled, and began to do what he was asked. His energy hit the souled vampire full force.

"Hey!" Xander handed the slayer a rocket launcher, and she rested it on her shoulder. "That 'no weapon forged' thing? That was then. This is now."

She powered it up and set her sight, opening the trigger guard. The gang took cover, and Druscilla leapt over the railing. The insane vampire was still sane enough to know what it was. The Judge saw the strange device, and was confused. That confusion freed Angel however, and despite the fact that he was still very much in pain, he managed to scramble backwards.

"What's that do?" The Judge wondered.

Buffy pulled the trigger, and showed him. A rocket flew right into his chest, and he exploded into several hundred pieces. Druscilla was freaking out as those pieces rained down on her, and she tried to escape, but her sire tackled her to the ground. They struggled on the floor, each trying to get the upper hand, and a stake fell out of Angel's coat.

They both saw it, and lunged. Each getting a hand on it, it was a test of strength, and he won out, gritting his teeth as he got on top of her and turned the sharp end toward her chest.

Druscilla smiled. "I can see mummy. She's calling to me from the moon; she wants me to play with her, Angel. In the stars."

"Go see her again, Dru." He rammed the stake home, and she turned to dust.

Buffy came over to him as the sprinklers switched on, dousing the smoke. Getting drenched was quickly becoming a habit. The mall goers were vacating fast, and the gang was taking care of the Judge's parts.

"Are you okay?" She asked.

"I'm fine." He answered her. "Help them separate the pieces. I'll be there in a minute."

As she walked away, Angel's eyes darkened and he scowled. "You just destroyed our best work. She was art. What is it with you?"

His face softened then, and his eyes widened in fear. " can't..."

He scowled again. "I couldn't believe I had to sit back and watch you kill Darla. She made us the man we are today. Do you remember what she felt like?"

Angel shook his head. He didn't want to remember. This wasn't possible.

"And why'd you do it? For her? Yeah, and now look where you are. She picked a cheerleader over you." He laughed. "That's really pathetic. It's about time I took back what's mine. I've been very disappointed in you. You have to learn to share."


"Go ahead. Keep being a choirboy for now. They might get concerned, and we don't that. But things are about to get very interesting."


The gang sat in on the bleachers in the gym, all dressed in the appropriate attire along with the rest of the class. Which was the same red T-shirt with 'Sunnydale' in yellow lettering on the front, and gray shorts or sweatpants. It allowed the teachers and administration to believe that students had school spirit. Cordelia and Willow were sitting on either side of Buffy, and Oz and Xander sat the row behind the girls. They were listening to the coach ramble on about self-defense.

"Sunnydale is becoming more dangerous all the time. And a full moon like tonight tends to bring out the crazies, but with some simple basics of self-defense, each of you can learn how to protect yourself."

"Here's a suggestion - move away from the Hellmouth." Buffy said quietly.

Willow watched as the slayer fingered the gold, id bracelet she'd been wearing for the past two weeks, and smiled. She said it had been a birthday present from Cordelia, and after they had disposed of the Judge, the brunette had given it to her. It was engraved on the back, but the redhead had no idea what it meant, and her friend hadn't told her yet.

'9/7/97 - Thank You'

"What you wanna do is gain advantage of the situation as quickly as possible." The coach continued.

Oz reached forward and put the tag inside his girlfriend's collar; it was sticking out. They were officially a couple now. She had a musician boyfriend. Ecstatic didn't even begin to cover how happy she was. She turned to him questioningly.

"Tag." He patted her back, and she smiled at Buffy and Cordelia.

"Your attacker may have the benefit of surprise, but if you plot ahead, then you can turn that advantage to yourself. By being prepared, you have the power. Okay, everyone get into your assigned groups."

Buffy got up, smiling at the cheerleader, and the coach looked at her.

"You'll have to take that off, Miss Summers." The woman gestured to the bracelet. "I'm sure you don't want to risk it getting broken."

She shook her head. "Nope, don't want that."

Buffy didn't want to remove it either, but she'd rather not upset a woman with chest hair.

"I'll take it." Willow offered. "I've got pockets." She was wearing a sweat-jacket overtop of her shirt.

"Thanks, Will." Buffy removed it from her wrist carefully, handed it over, and then walked onto the mats.

The hacker looked at it, trying to figure out the date. Cordelia whispered to her, smiling.

"First time she kissed me." She moved to where she was assigned, and waited for Xander. He was going to be the attacker, and she was going to get to hurt him.

Finally, a class she could enjoy.

Willow's mouth formed an 'O,' as recognition set in, and her face brightened. That was uncharacteristically sweet. She put the bracelet in a pocket while going to wait for Oz, who was her partner for the exercise. She and Cordelia had put the 'yelling incident' behind them. Willow thought she had gotten off easy, and planned to use the forgiveness as fuel to establish a friendship with her. Aside from being a cheerleader, Cordelia was one of the outcasts now. The brunette was handling it well, but Willow still wanted her to feel as accepted as possible.

The men were over at the table, along with Larry, the school's head jock.

"What happened?" Xander asked, his eyes drifting to a bandage on Larry's arm.

"Oh, last week some huge dog jumped out of the bushes and bit me. Thirty-nine stitches. They oughta shoot those strays."

"I've been there, man." Oz held up his finger. "My cousin Jordy just got his grownup teeth in? Does not like to be tickled."

"So Harris, that thing going around about Buffy taking our best meat off the market, is it true? Cause that's a damn shame. Chase was Grade A of the highest quality. And here I always thought you just couldn't close the deal."

If he had about fifty or sixty more pounds of muscle, Xander would've decked him. But he didn't, so he kept his cool.

"You wanna know, Lar? Ask her." Larry glanced at Buffy, somewhat frightened. "Or not."

Separating, Oz and Xander exchanged smirks and headed over to where they were supposed to be. Larry came up to a girl who was doing stretching exercises.

"Theresa!" She straightened. "Be still my shorts. We're in the same group." He chuckled. "I may have to attack you."

"No, a-a-actually, I think, uh, in our group there are a few of us." Theresa informed him.

Buffy joined them. "And I'm one of the few. Was there something you wanted to ask me?" She had overheard everything. "It's not my opinion on the O-Zone, is it? Cause you don't wanna get me started." He just stood there. "Come on, you have a burning desire to learn. I can tell these things. So ask away."

Willow dragged her away from him then. "Don't forget, you're supposed to be a meek little girlie-girl like the rest of us."

The slayer watched the redhead go back to her spot, pouting slightly. "Spoil my fun."

A few minutes later the coach had explained what they were going to do, and Larry had his arm around Buffy's neck. For some reason he felt more powerful now. She was pretending to attempt to flip him over, adding in a few false grunts for good measure. Everyone else had been doing the same exercise, but was now stopping to look in their direction.

"Why doesn't she just -?" Cordelia began to ask Xander, and then saw Larry grab her girlfriend's backside. She gasped. "If she doesn't, I will."

Within a second, Larry was groaning on his back. He might not have gotten the answer he'd been looking for, but he sure got a message.

"Meat's bad for you, didn't you know?" Buffy told him. "Vegetables are a lot healthier. See what they've done for me?"

"I love it when she does that." Xander smiled.

"Yeah, but the pain'll wear off. Do you wanna know what I would've done?"

Xander backed away from her. He didn't really need, or want, a demonstration.


"All I'm saying is, it would've been more permanent. Especially if you did it. And a hell of a lot more satisfying." Cordelia was telling Buffy as they walked into the library with the rest of their friends.

"Four words - Snyder. My life. Unbearable." Buffy responded. "This is the longest I've stayed below his radar; a few more weeks and I'm up for a medal. At least that's what the janitor told me."

"Hey, I've got no love for Larry, but I wouldn't wish that on any registered male in the gender." Xander said with a cringe. "Except maybe Angel." Buffy glared. "You're with me on this, right Oz?"

"It's off-limits." The guitarist agreed.

Willow couldn't contribute. She was blushing too much.

"See how much I don't care?" Cordelia asked. "Weaknesses are meant to be exploited."

Buffy raised her eyebrows. Cordelia was apparently unforgiving to people who hurt or upset her, and the slayer made a mental note of that; she'd avoid causing her pain at all costs. She loved her and enjoyed her company. Why would she want to throw that away?

"I'm glad you're on my side." She gave her a quick kiss.

"Do they sell cups to non-athletes?" Xander wondered. The glint in the brunette's eye worried him.

"I-I...I need a book. Any book." Willow announced. "Ooh! See Spot Run! Or...The Cat in the Hat!"

They were looking at her strangely, but this was making her feel better. Memories of innocent, harmless, childhood books with no talk of...boy stuff. Or girl stuff.

"Remember? His hat was real long and big and there was lots of stuff insi..." The redhead trailed off, her eyes widening. When did her mind get so corrupted? She had to focus on something else...the table. There was something on the table. "Look! A globe!" She pointed, and then proceeded to bite her fingernails.

Buffy gulped. "A globe?" The slayer backed up towards the doors, and Xander was following her lead. She reached for Cordelia's hand, glancing around. They had to get out. "Are there diagrams?"

"The day's still young." Xander commented. "Give it time."

They continued reversing, but bumped right into Giles, who had come in.

"Giles!" Buffy exclaimed, whirling around. "We were just, uh...hoping we'd run into you. Weren't we, guys?" Cordelia and Xander nodded with her. "You know, this being the library and all..." She gave her watcher a weak smile. "But literally running into you was -"

"An unexpected bonus." Xander interrupted with a nervous laugh. "Have I told you lately how much I think librarian is a fantastic career choice?"

He eyed the two children. "I found something in the paper this morning. It might simply be coincidence, but I have a theory you'll all want to hear. And I should accompany you on patrol tonight, Buffy. I suspect you'll need the aid."

The slayer embraced her girlfriend. "Save me."


Angel's apartment looked like it had been ransacked.

Books were scattered all over, his table was smashed to bits, his pictures and paintings were torn, and their frames were broken. The statue that he kept locked in its own glass case was in pieces. His fridge was lying open on the floor, and the packets inside had all been drained. There was blood splattered everywhere. His desk, chair, and armoire were shoved up against the door, and the cord for his phone had been ripped from the wall.

In the bedroom, he sat with the covers around him, his back against the wall and shivering. His face was ashen. In a couple days his cheekbones would be visible beneath his skin. He couldn't remember the last time he'd fed, and though he wanted to, he knew he couldn't. He had destroyed his home, and barricaded himself inside of it. He didn't understand why, but the curse had somehow lost the grip it had once had, and it was no longer keeping his demon at bay.

He had to fight alone. Fight for control of his own body. It wanted to kill again. And do far worse things than that. Angel was using every ounce of strength he possessed to prevent that from happening. He had spoiled his blood supply and starved himself to weaken the demon, as well as weakening himself in the process. They were both occupying his body, after all. But he had no choice.

"You gave this up when you asked her to let me in, Soul Boy. It doesn't belong to you anymore." Angelus said.

I'm not afraid. Show me. Show me your world.

"This was clever in theory, but it backfired. We both know you don't have the energy to keep this up, and when the sun goes down, you'll let go, and I'm gonna bleed the first girl I see. What do you think the odds are she'll be a blonde? I've developed a taste for one."

"I won't let you touch her." He swore.

"You haven't seen her in weeks, she hasn't come by to check on you...I thought she was supposed to care? She forgot you, and you'd still die to protect her. Do us a favor and open your eyes already."

"She's living her life. She's got more important worry about."

"Oh yeah. She's the Slayer. Saves the world so it has to revolve around her. They're all the same, but you fell for her act. She's probably too wrapped up in her new toy to see anyone else. Or give a damn about you. What a bitch, huh?"

Angel ignored it. He knew what it was trying to do. He would never hate Buffy; he knew what kind of person she was. If she had been happy and with Cordelia these past couple weeks, good. She should take advantage of the time she had.

"If you go out there," He told his demon, "he'll hunt us down."

"Who? Spike? Now I'm scared." He said sarcastically. "He'll be spinning his wheels for awhile, and if he sends his recruits...fine. They're all a joke. I bet he hasn't even stopped mourning yet. He picks the wrong ones to get attached to. Like you. I mean, Dru and I had our games -"

"I'm nothing like Spike."

He laughed. "I knew when she chose him he was gonna be a problem. Too much..." It wasn't going to say the 'L word.' "He's too much like a human. He killed when he had to, or he killed to impress her, but he never had a passion for it. The railroad spikes were my idea. I gave him his reputation, and how'd he show his gratitude? By using every chance he got to give me a reason to tear his throat out."


Demons didn't feel anything.

"After a century you still don't get it? I guess I shouldn't be surprised; you are the human half. You're like them; you think you do, but you don't. When we worked together you seemed smarter. Oh well; I've got time for a lesson.

"People leave behind more than they think when we take over. Demons. We twist and play with whatever's left, but what we get to work with depends on who they were. Dru wasn't evil, just someone with a gift. And I wanted it."

"She was a young girl who was frightened of what she had, and you took advantage of her." Angel said angrily.

"It sounds so wrong when you put it like that." His mouth curved into a twisted smile. "To make her the best vampire she could be, I had to drive her nuts before I turned her. Well that, and I was in the mood. But even after she woke up, she loved her family. And me."

"She hated you too."

"Her mind was funny that way." He smirked. "When I got here," Angel's hand touched his chest, "you didn't care about anything. Spike cared too much, but were full of rage. I had fun with that." His face shifted to vampiric form, and he licked his lips. "Mm. I can't wait to pick up where I left off."

Tears of blood ran down his cheeks. Not again.


"I think it should go left twice, right three times, and then finish with a V." Kelli said, demonstrating with her pom-poms.

Cordelia was co-captain of the squad this year, alongside Joy. They were having a night practice in the gym, and she had been very let down by the lack of talent and creativity. Cheerleading did require skill, though some people refused to believe that, and the girls who tried out had none. But they had to go with them, because if they didn't, Sunnydale wouldn't have a cheering section.

And scanning the group, she saw the looks they were giving her. Some were disgusted, others were scared, but she was generally being looked down upon. A few of them were part of her once flock. They thought they were better than her? That was a laugh. No, Larry hadn't been the first to bring up her "change." In the beginning it was uncomfortable, now she was just getting annoyed.

It was sad when she'd rather be hunting werewolves in the dark with a librarian and her girlfriend, but it'd be more enjoyable than this.

"What do you think?" Joy was asking her.

"We need a new routine, but the game's tomorrow, and..." Kelli glared at her, and she could hear muffled giggling. "That's it. I've had enough. It's time to deal with this."

"Cordelia -"

"You've all heard the rumors, right? Well, they're all true. There. It's out in the open." She waited for the gasps to subside. "Yep, Buffy Summers and Cordelia Chase are a thing. We've kissed, we've dated a couple times, and who knows? We might even have sex."

And the second wave came. "Eew."

"Ashley? Your mouth? Close it." The brunette ordered. "I'm sure you have your own issues with that, but I don't give a damn. I'm happy with my life, and if you decide not to acknowledge me anymore, I hope you don't expect me to think it'll be a huge loss. Cause it won't be. I've got friends. Actual friends."

All the girls looked around at each other. She had them there.

"I'm still a captain of this squad. I've earned it. And if I don't like something, live with it. Out there you can choose to act like I don't exist, but in here, I call the shots. Maybe I'm not who I was..." She thought about that. "No, I know I'm not, but if you think you can mess with me and get away with it, think again. And yeah, that is a threat."

"What are you gonna do to us?" Kimberly asked timidly.

She was in control, and she loved it. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna molest you in the showers or check out your ass, cause yuck, but if I hear anybody saying anything about me and Buffy, and I mean anything, I will shove my foot in it. Besides, you all owe her big time, and you know it. Do what I say, and you'll be safe. But I'm not gonna put up with this crap. Are we clear now?"

"Uh huh...yeah...totally..." Came the replies.

"So you're finished?" Joy smirked.

"Cheer on." Cordelia said with a nod.

She was pleased with her work. They feared her again.


"This is all so weird. I mean, how are we supposed to act when we see him?" Xander was asking Buffy as they walked into the lounge two days later.

Oz had turned out to be the werewolf, but thankfully, he hadn't hurt anyone. Willow ended up shooting him, and it was no secret that they had a lot to discuss. Buffy hoped for her friend's sake that they could work through it. They seemed perfect for one another, and she didn't want the redhead to lose that.

But Xander wasn't talking about the guitarist. He had interrogated Larry about his dog bite, and came away from the experience knowing things he hadn't wanted to find out. Also, wrong impressions were given.

"Well, it's gotta be weird for him, too. Now that we know so much." The slayer said in response.

"All I know is I'll never be able to look at him the same again."

"He's still a human being. Most of the time."

They stopped at the vending machine, and Xander realized that they weren't quite on the same page.

"Who are we talking about?"

"Oz. Who are you talking about?"

"No one."

His eyes found Larry and friends by the stairs, and one of them knocked books out of a girl's hands. While they laughed, Larry picked up the books and gave them back to her. Buffy watched the scene with surprise, and stayed calm as he came over.

"Hey! Xander, look, about what you did. I-I owe you."

"What'd you do?" She wondered.

"It's really nothing we should be talking about." Xander said to Buffy, and then turned to Larry. "Ever."

"I know, I know. It's just, well," The football jock smiled gratefully and patted him on the back, "thanks."

"That was weird." Buffy commented as he left.

She and Xander went and sat at a table.

"What? It's not okay for one guy to like another guy just because he happened to be in the locker room with him when absolutely nothing happened...and I thought I told you not to push." Willow's babble habit was catchy.

"All I meant is that he didn't try to look up my skirt."

Xander fidgeted nervously with his hands and smiled. "Oh, oh, yeah, that's-that's the weirdness."

"Weirdness abounds lately. Maybe it's the moon. Does stuff to people."

She smiled as she saw Cordelia enter the lounge. The brunette joined them, kissing her girlfriend and pulling up a chair.

"Like that?" He questioned, blushing.

"What's with the public display?" Buffy asked Cordelia. "Not that I mind, cause I don't, but I thought -?"

"I'm the Queen, Buffy. They may not like it, but my subjects obey me." The cheerleader grinned. "Oh, guess what? Larry apologized to me after second period. Which in itself was bizarre, but then he said he was gay and that he'd always be 'available to talk.' Just like that. Are we supposed to share a secret bond now?"

"He's gay? Where'd that come from?"

"He's...? My God. Really? Man. You know, you see a guy every day -" Xander started ranting and was interrupted.

"He thinks you helped him." Cordelia said suspiciously. "Why would he think that?"

"Something you wanna tell us, Xand?" Buffy smirked. Larry's gratitude was suddenly making sense.

He sighed. "There were mixed signals, okay? It's girls all the way for me. The image of you two naked and covered in chocolate, and the hope that at some point in the near future I'll get to witness it, is what gets me up in the morning." He saw their angry faces. "I see I've proved my point."

They sat quietly for a few minutes, blocking out Xander's, hormonal, wet dream comments. Though the girls did get their own enjoyment out of picturing the image. But they weren't going to admit that to him. Where would they get that much chocolate?

Cordelia frowned as she saw people placing flowers by a girl's locker. "So a vampire killed Theresa? For sure?" She asked in a whisper.

"That's what bite marks on the neck usually mean." The slayer said sadly. "The one who did it is still out there."

Cordelia had a strong urge to hold her, but that was one line Snyder wouldn't let any couple cross. She could see how hard this was on her. Every victim stuck, and to make it worse, Buffy had talked to Theresa in class only days ago, saving her from one beast, but not able to save her from another.

The brunette settled for holding her hand. "Must be a relief for Oz, though. And for Willow."

"But think about it." Xander chimed in. "I mean, what life could they possibly have together? We're talking obedience school, paper training, Oz is always in backyard burying their things, and that kind of breed can turn on its owner."

"I don't know." Buffy disagreed. "I kinda see Oz as the loyal type."

"All I'm saying is she's not safe with him. If it were up to me -"

"'s not up to you." She told him. It was Willow's choice.

"Get Angel to ask around. About Theresa. He could find out who did it." Cordelia realized. It had just occurred to her while she'd been ignoring Xander. "I don't feel threatened anymore; I've got my jealousy under control. I swear."

Buffy smiled. "I could. Maybe. I haven't seen him in awhile...I figured he needed time to himself."

"To deal with the fact that Cordy won?" Xander asked with a grin. "I applaud that decision, by the way."

She narrowed her eyes. "But he should've warned me about some big danger by now."

"He's a grown vampire; he can take care of himself." Her friend said. "Damn it, Buff! You're a slayer, not a babysitter!" Blank stares were the worst. "Star Trek. Classic TV."

"One day I'll understand you." Buffy remarked, shaking her head.

"Not me." Cordelia smiled. "Why waste my brain cells? I'd only end up dumbing myself down to your low, low level and killing my IQ." She thought. "Yeah, I'm more than happy to stay ignorant of your layers. If they exist."

"Ho, ho, that was full of hilarity." Xander said sarcastically.

She waited.

"What? No comeback? That was just my warm up."

"Don't you see her glare?"

Buffy was indeed glaring. Their bickering got on her nerves.

"If I stayed ignorant of your layers, we wouldn't be here." She reminded her girlfriend.

"But he's -"

"Shush." She kissed her to halt the protest. "Play nice."

Though Cordelia did have a good idea. She couldn't let that vampire live.


Spike heard his men enter the warehouse, trying to be slow and quiet. There were only four of them now; he was losing people fast. In his wheelchair, he sat, facing a wall, biting back the tears and turning weak emotion into rage. Tomorrow was Valentine's Day; he would be reminded of Druscilla often then, and the pain would come back, just when he thought he could function without her. He reminisced, remembering how they used to seek out happy couples in the middle of a romantic, midnight stroll. The hunt was a Valentine's Day tradition.

The sight of people in love pleased Druscilla; she had a childlike fascination with the silent communication couples shared, while being blind to the world around them. The eyes revealed so much to her, so many stories, and they were always easy prey. Though she was sickened by the goodness out of which the love was born, the blood was sweeter. It wasn't like her and her Spike. Their love was dark, and painfully erotic. It was eternal. At least, her lover and childe had thought that.

She would make the victims deaths special, as was fitting for tradition. The neck didn't get punctured, oh no. The area of the chest, the flesh that shielded the heart, she drained the life from there, sinking her teeth in and moaning all the while. She insisted that she had sucked the love right out of their hearts, and that she could feel the sensations wash over her. The purity of the feelings made her cry out, but soon her demon blood warped the emotions, and she made that love hers.

When she and Spike retired for the night, they would pleasure each other almost until noon, because she was so high from the energy.

Druscilla was dead, those nights lost, and he could look forward to several lifetimes of loneliness. If the Slayer and his Grandsire didn't put a stake in him first. Angel. That was where he placed the blame. He'd sent out vampires night after night to kill him, and fewer and fewer came back each time. The ones who escaped said Angel was ruthless, brutal; they weren't prepared for that. Then Spike dusted them, angry and frustrated. He'd take the matter into his own, usually capable hands, but he was unable to at the moment. And that was the Slayer's doing.

She came up with the plan, Angel executed it. They'd die for Dru; that was a promise.

"How successful were we tonight?" He asked in an even tone, still staring at the wall.

"The guy got Tony."

"Is that right?" Spike wheeled around. "There's only three of you. Where's Lenny?"

"Lenny took off, man. He said he quit."

"That was kinda rude, don't you think? I would've expected at least two weeks notice." He pushed himself over to the speaker, and onto a foot. The vampire winced, and Spike crooked his finger. "What's your name, mate?"


"Oh, yeah, I remember. The 'Power-walker Kill.' You do nice work."

"T-thanks." Rick tried to maintain his composure as Spike yanked him by his shirt.

"Which is why I'm not gonna hold this slip up against you. Angel didn't make it two centuries by being an idiot. He was also no fun, but the point is, he's not an easy target. And rather than waste more resources on the poof, I'm giving you a new job. You can't destroy the instrument, you destroy the brains behind it.

He paused, letting his blood boil. "The Slayer. Put the bleedin' bitch in the ground!" Spike growled. "This is an opportunity very few vampires get...Rick. The publicity alone should motivate you, cause if you don't do it, you better hope she does you before I hear about it. The sooner the better. Do we have an understanding?"

"S-sure. You b-bet."

The bleached vampire rolled off the foot, and Angel/Angelus left the scene from his vantage point outside. Buffy was his, and he had to decide what to do about Spike. The demon didn't want its coming out party spoiled.


The following morning, the bell rang, signaling the end of American Literature for Buffy, Willow, and Xander. The romantic holiday was upon the three friends, two of which had dates, while the other one didn't. And being a sensitive guy, Xander was slightly depressed about that. Willow and Oz, Buffy and Cordelia...Xander and The Air. He sighed, having faith that a solution to his dilemma would reveal itself, and as he got up from his seat like the rest of the class, the teacher, Ms. Beakman, spoke.

"Papers on my desk. Anybody tries to leave without giving me a paper is looking at a failing grade."

Assignment in hand, and bag on his shoulder, he walked down the aisle behind his friends. "Ha, ha, ha. This time I'm ready for you. No 'F' for Xander today. No, this baby's my ticket to a sweet D-minus."

Willow saw Amy, and stopped beside her. "Hey, Amy."

"Hey." The girl responded, adjusting the strap on her backpack. "Are you guys going to the Valentine's Day dance at the Bronze? I think it's gonna be a lot of fun."

The redhead turned to the slayer with a huge smile.

"Go ahead. You know you wanna say it." Buffy gave her permission, amused.

When she faced Amy again, she was grinning.

"My boyfriend's in the band!"

Her childhood friend laughed. "Cool."

Willow looked back at Buffy.

"I think you've now told everybody."

"Only in this hemisphere." The hacker pulled on her backpack

"What about you?" Amy asked Buffy.

"Oh, Valentine's Day is just a cheap gimmick to sell cards and chocolate." She came off sounding nonchalant, then walked up to the teacher's desk with the girls, and handed her paper in.

"Thank you." Beakman said.

Buffy headed out, and was followed soon by Willow, who gave her paper and received a 'thank you' as well.

Xander was still behind Amy, and he watched as she and the teacher seemingly got into a staring contest. A few seconds passed, and then the older woman made a gesture like she was accepting a paper. She smiled, gave Amy an automatic 'thank you' just like she had done for everyone else, and waited on him. Amy left as if nothing happened. He stood in shock for a moment, and then relinquished his paper, in a hurry to catch up with Buffy and Willow.

They were currently making their way downstairs with Amy, and spotted Cordelia standing at the bottom.

"She poo poo's it, but she's spoiling her rotten." Willow whispered to Amy, attempting to glance at the brunette discreetly, who was quickly joined by a happy Buffy.

Amy smiled at the pair when they stepped onto the first floor, and then went into the lounge.

"I never said it was a bad gimmick. I just said it was cheap." Buffy defended herself, smirking at her friend's, 'How did you hear that?' look.

"And you better not be." Cordelia interjected, putting an arm around her girlfriend's neck.

Buffy just smiled sweetly. There were plans, all right. She looked away as Xander arrived. He had finally reached them through the mass. The mass that continued to give the occasional glare her and Cordelia's way, but that was about it.

"Did you guys see that?" He questioned, pointing at Amy.

"See what?" Buffy asked back.

"In class. I think Amy just worked some magick on Ms. Beakman."

"You mean like witchcraft?"

"You know, her mom's a witch." Willow reminded the group.

"And an amateur psycho. Amy's the last person that should be messing with that stuff."

"What'd you do to her mom, anyway?" Cordelia wondered.

"Heck if I know." Buffy shrugged. "She zapped herself, then presto, no more Evil Mom."

"You won. End of story, if you ask me." The redhead contributed.

"Willow's right. You have other, more important things to focus on today." The cheerleader told the slayer. "Me, for instance."

"Maybe I should go talk to her." Xander said, an idea springing to mind.

The happiness was too much for him to handle. He ran up to Amy without another word, and pulled her aside, away from the crowd in the lounge.

"What are you doing?" She asked, somewhat mad.

"Amy. Long time no see."

"We just saw each other two minutes ago." Had he gone insane?

"Yeah, well, that's...true." He took a quick look around. "And you're a witch."

She smiled nervously. "No, I'm not. That-that was my mom, remember?"

"I'm thinking it runs in the family. I saw you working that mojo on Ms. Beakman." He started to look behind himself. "Maybe I should go tell somebody about -"

"That's not even..." She glared. "That is so mean!"

Xander returned the favor. "Blackmail is such an ugly word."

"I didn't say blackmail."

"Yeah, but I'm about to blackmail you, so I thought I'd bring it up."

"What do you want?"

She crossed her arms, defeated. She didn't hate him enough to turn him into something.

"What do I want?" He rubbed his hands together. "Of all the questions, you had to pick that one, huh? Heh. Sorry, wasn't a good choice, Amy. In fact, it was very, very wrong. Because now you're under my control. So much power, so many options...let's see. What to choose, what to choose..." His confident expression faded, and became suddenly shy. "Go out with me?"


At the Bronze, Dingoes Ate My Baby was playing on stage. Willow was sitting behind the people on the dance floor, at a table with Xander and Amy. She didn't understand why the two were there together, but she was too engrossed in her guitarist boyfriend to care. She moved her head to the beat of the music, a big smile plastered on her face.

"Oz has his cool hair today." She announced. "I think I'm a groupie!"

Xander looked at his date. "You can go mingle, ya know. You've suffered enough, and I thank you for it."

"I didn't have to come at all, Xander. I could have easily removed your tongue or given you never-ending athlete's foot." Amy told him truthfully.

"I've gotta do more prep work before I threaten." He gulped.

"I'm glad you didn't."


"Am I still here?" She smiled, and he slowly smiled back.

A short distance away, Buffy and Cordelia were standing behind a couch, drinking cups of soda. They had been dancing during the last song, but decided to sit the current one out. The brunette rolled her eyes at Willow's enthusiasm, but was very interested in what she was seeing develop between Xander and Amy. It made her wonder where he got the guts to face possible rejection, because she always thought if he asked a girl out his head would explode. She kind of wanted to see if Amy would do it, too.

"They've got potential, huh?" Buffy asked, observing the same thing her girlfriend had been.

"I've seen worse." Cordelia admitted. "If he keeps her away from cauldrons and black cats, they have a shot." She grinned. "Oh wait. That was just her mother."

The slayer shook her head, the sarcastic tone not lost on her, and gave the cheerleader a light thwap on the arm. She then checked her watch, causing her eyes to widen when she saw the time. They were on a schedule, and she had nearly forgotten. She snatched Cordelia's drink right from her hand, found a place for trash, and dumped both cups.

Cordelia was left alone briefly, trying to figure out what was going on, when she saw Harmony enter the club with her entourage. In that instant, Buffy reappeared and began dragging her to the doors. She nearly tripped.

"Hey! Girl wearing heels here! Someone should've stuck to Diet."

"Sorry, but you'll thank me later."

As they were going, the ditsy blonde glared, so the brunette made it a point to show her a certain finger. Harmony huffed and hurriedly dragged everyone to the bathroom to complain. The sheep were unaware that they had just brushed past a vampire, who watched as another followed the couple outside, leaving from the back to alert others. He quickly and stealthily made an exit, trailing his competition.


They were a block from her house when Buffy stopped walking. Every muscle in her body tensed; she'd felt like she was being tracked even in the Bronze, but she ignored it, being too distracted by what could go wrong with the evening. It figured that since she was finally in a serious relationship, something would want to interrupt the first important date on the couple calendar. She didn't have time to mess around with a newborn trying to make a name for himself, she really didn't.

Cordelia knew what that look was on Buffy's face, and she also knew she should've brought her car. Walking might've been romantic, but driving equaled vampire protection. Her girlfriend wordlessly motioned her to stay close, and then the slayer leapt into action, whirling around to deliver a kick to the vampire that had come up behind them. Her foot hit stomach, and the vampire hunched over. As it straightened, Buffy grimaced.


"Have you ever heard of 'hello'?" The brunette asked him. "It's a pretty well-known word. Learn it. Unless you like having your insides rearranged..."

"Not really." Angel said, his arm in front of his stomach protectively.

"Cause hey, if you do, that's your choice."

"What're you doing here?" Buffy asked, warily.

Something didn't feel right. Was his face...different? Harder or...and that didn't matter, because three vampires appeared out of the shadows, circling the trio. Buffy got into a fighting stance. It was a good thing she didn't decide to wear a dress, or there would've been a stake carrying issue. Getting one out of the pocket of her pants, she stood back to back with Angel, and Cordelia was next to her.

"I followed them from Willy's to the Bronze. They've been watching you."

"I need to get you in the house. We can make a break for it if Angel holds them off." She told her girlfriend, surveying the situation. "I'm not taking any chances. Once you're inside, I'll deal with this."

"But -" Cordelia started.

"No." She interrupted forcefully. "No one's gonna spoil tonight for me."

>From the second they had been discovered by Buffy, Angel had been battling with his demon for control, and he wasn't going to take any chances either. He had allowed it to feed on too many people already; fighting back was becoming increasingly more difficult. But it wasn't going to get her. Or Cordelia. He wouldn't let it. Using all he had, Angel pushed it down, ignoring the inner growl of protest.

"She's right. Help me." He said, a touch of desperation in his voice. "Help me split them up, then run. I can handle it."

"Are you sure?" The blonde questioned, concerned.

"Wouldn't be the first time."

With that, Buffy round-housed the one in front of her and Cordelia, while Angel took the one on the left. Seeing the hole, they booked it for the house, but not before she tossed him her stake. As the girls went off and distanced themselves from the scene, Angelus broke free, showing its anger through vampiric eyes.

"You always get in my way." It snarled.

"Get used it. You're stuck with me." Angel replied.

"For now."

The two fallen attackers were standing again, joining the third. It was him they wanted, anyway. William the Bloody was a damn cripple; his orders and threats didn't mean a damn thing. Watching Angel talk to himself caused a slight hesitation, but they were quickly doing their best to beat him down. Unfortunately for them however, demon and man had just decided, at least for the time being, to cooperate with one another.

Even though a part of Angel wanted to die, he couldn't ignore his survival instinct. He knew that every time he gave into the demon, let it have its fun, in whatever form that took, a piece of him slipped away. But it was too strong an instinct, and with the two halves working together, no prey could survive.


"Where'd Buffy and Cordelia go?" Amy wondered, still at the table with Xander.

"Oh, she has this big, romantic dinner thing planned at her place. Cordy didn't know." He answered her. "I would've done something like that too, but..."

This was kind of new.

"Relax. There's always next year." She grinned, standing up.

"And here comes the pressure."

Next year? He'd be lucky if she could still stand him next week.

"There isn't. Really." She assured him. "Dance?"

"I'll give it the old college try." He cracked his knuckles, and then they walked out to the floor, where Willow and Oz were already dancing. The band was taking a break between sets; a DJ was picking the music. "And if there's toe crushing, don't worry; I've got the hospital bill covered. They accept Monopoly money, right?"

After some awkwardness, they settled in nicely to slow-paced song. His arms around Amy's neck, and hers around his waist, Xander found Willow in the crowd. The friends shared a smile. The redhead wasn't the only one who'd had a crush on him.


In the Summers' home finally, Cordelia removed her shoes. They were no longer salvageable. Placing them by the door, she was now barefoot, and trailed Buffy into the living room. The slayer switched on a lamp, and then proceeded to look out the large window. The brunette had noticed that the Jeep wasn't in the driveway, and as she sat on the couch thinking about that, it raised suspicions.

"Your mom go out?"

"Yeah, she met this guy, came into the Gallery...they went somewhere..." Buffy answered, still distracted by the view outside the window.

"So it is a guy? Not a robot with a human facelift?"

"I had Willow check. Medical records, police record...he's got all the right organs and one speeding ticket. From when he was twenty, but I still made mom promise to drive." She paused. "Should I...?"

Cordelia shook her head. "He wants to be macho? Let him. Besides, he was stalking you."

"What?" Buffy turned to her with an alarmed expression.

"When doesn't he stalk you? That's all he has to look forward to at night."

The cheerleader received a mock glare. "It's just...I asked him about Theresa a couple weeks ago like you said, and -"

"And his place looked like a tornado blew through it." Cordelia finished. "Yeah, you told me."

"He didn't know anything about who got her, but he said the reason the apartment was a mess was cause Spike's guys were trying to get payback for Druscilla. Now they're after me, because they couldn't take out Angel."

"Then it's a good thing you're here, and they're...someplace that's else, having their pale asses kicked. I know I'm happy about it."

"But he shouldn't have to protect -"

"Buffy? Shut up." The girlfriends kissed then, and that kissing transformed into the more advanced form, that involved tongue exploration. They finished off with some light hand roaming, as they broke contact to enjoy the oxygen that the air had to offer. "Making out on a couch." Cordelia managed to sigh. "How clichˇ can you get?"

"You started it." The blonde wasn't ready to stop, either. She placed kisses down Cordelia's neck, and worked her way back up to the mouth. She felt a finger tap her on the back. "Hmm?" She mumbled.

"Why's there a huge, white bear on the chair?"

Buffy giggled, making her take a break and look. "Did somebody read a lot of Dr. Seuss as a kid?"

"Green Eggs and Ham? Ick." The brunette made a face to go along with her word of disapproval. "I'm serious. There's a bear, and he's holding a box of...are they chocolates?"

"Valentines Day, chocolates...I've heard that they go together or something. Oh, that's clichˇ, isn't it?"

"Clichˇs? Who cares about clichˇs? I don't even know what they are." Cordelia became excited.

This resulted in a grin from the slayer. "And since I'm the only one who knows about the 'Cordelia Chase Secret Teddy Bear Collection'..."

Cordelia pointed. "He's my bear?"

"He needs a good home. With his own species. Pigs aren't his thing." Cordelia had gone over to the chair, and Buffy followed. "You two bond while I get dinner ready."

"You're cooking?"

"I'm gonna try to, yeah." She sat her head on Cordelia's shoulder from behind. "If I fail miserably, you'll still love me for making the attempt, right?"

"Don't be stupid. Of course I will." The brunette smiled. "Just less."


Angelus had considered going back across town to the Bronze, maybe to kill one of the members of the unsuspecting group, but the desire for violence had been placated. Until the next sundown. The threesome attack squad was surprising. They hadn't died easily; put up quite a fight. That only made impaling them all the more satisfying, but it was a good effort. It left him thirsty.

He'd have to head in the direction of the club to get home, and he knew he could easily drain one of Buffy's friends, but the area around the club was crowded now; love in the air, and probably several people screwing their brains out in the alleyways. No dark corner would be quiet enough, and there was always the risk that one of them would see and escape to break the news.

The kill had to be anonymous; he wanted to send the pieces to Buffy with a nice card. That's how she'd find out.

Walking past the high school, he spotted a woman in the parking lot, cell phone in hand, heading towards her car. A teacher working late? Didn't they know better? She looked familiar, though. Like...oh yeah. Angelus smiled. He didn't just recognize her face; he recognized the scent of her blood. Deep lineage. This was someone special, someone perfect. Better than the children. This was what he'd dreamed for.

She would be the way to reveal everything, but more importantly, she was revenge.


Willow, Amy, and Xander were on stage as Oz and the band were packing away the instruments. After two sets, all the songs began sounding the same. But that didn't slow up the dance and all its related activities, any. Full gear or not, the two couples were going to call it a night. Sadly, party animals they weren't. Oz had his van, thankfully, so they could ride in relative safety.

Xander had enjoyed himself more than he'd expected to. The main motive behind asking Amy out had been a simple one. So he wouldn't look like a loser standing alone in a corner. Not that he hadn't noticed her attractiveness before, but she had only been a friend he saw once and a while. He was figuring out that he liked her though, and she seemed to like him. A lot. He wouldn't object to seeing her in a place that wasn't school for a second time, possibly even a third. Assuming that she'd agree to a...what was that word?

Date? It sounded so foreign.

The drum set was currently being carried off in its separate pieces, and he couldn't help but eye the base drum with a raised brow. Gone was the band name and logo - it had been replaced by a phrase. He knew what it meant; yet it struck him as funny. 'Happy VD' was written, with a heart in the middle. It was in the spirit of things, true, but it was also open to his unique brand of interpretation.

"Happy Venereal Disease?" He questioned, smirking. "Actually, that's sort of appropriate. It's you guys saying, 'We know how your night's going to end, and we plan to celebrate it. We're a progressive, non-shunning, groove machine. Go crabs!'"

The hacker and the witch grimaced.

"Room became an issue." Oz said.

"Ah. So Devon never learned how to stay between the lines." The singer shot him a look. "Love those vocals! Major improvement! I can almost understand every other word now."

"If there was ever a cue to leave, that's it." Amy said.

The girls pulled him outside, each holding onto an arm. He got the impression that that didn't swing the odds of there being another outing, in his favor.


"No, really. Where'd you get it?" Cordelia asked, walking into the kitchen, recognizing the aroma.

"It's a present." Buffy turned, gripping the wooden spoon she was using to stir the mixture of sauce, garlic, basil, olive oil, white wine, and clams. "You don't ask that about a present, and why are you wearing my sweatpants? And my sweater?"

"Um, cause of the comfort factor? They're a little small on me, but they're better than that damn dress. It ripped! I knew it wasn't worth the retail." The cheerleader was angry.

"Whoa, whoa. Where'd it rip, how come I wasn't shown, and could you look any cuter? You're all snug and homey."

"That's a bad thing, Buffy. It's like I'm the 'little woman,' when you clearly have that role locked up. I mean, you have the apron, the just need a potholder to finish off the look."

The slayer's eyes were mad, and her lips were pursed. "I was gonna let you taste the sauce, but now you'll just have to wait."

"Fine." There was eye rolling.

"Go change, too. I want a romantic setting. Candles are involved, and with candles, mood is created. Sweats aren't part of the mood."

"So it'll be casually romantic." Her girlfriend shrugged. "Besides, you said I looked cute."

"Technically I said, 'could you look any cuter.' You're almost there, but not quite." Cordelia put her hands on her hips in disbelief. "Plus, you said I was the 'little woman.' Aren't you supposed to keep me happy?"

"First, I'm not the man. Second, as a woman, I have equal rights. Heard of those? You can't boss me around and expect me to do your bidding."

"Damn feminist." She grumbled.

"Third, 'little woman'? Height."

"You can't make up new definitions every five seconds! It means 'wife.' You know it, I know it, and the eighty-year-olds who still think it's current slang, know it." She punctuated each point with a flick of the spoon.

"Are we married? Don't think so. You can't blame me cause you're a midget; I'm taller, I'm in charge."

"I changed my mind." Buffy held out the spoon. "Cordy, taste this."

"What if I don't wanna?"

"Taste." She wasn't going to tolerate a negative response. The brunette stepped up to the wooden object, and gave it one, long, sensual lick. Buffy wanted to be in charge? That'd happen. Right. The blonde's throat was feeling dry. "Well?"

"Mm...good." The slayer kissed her without warning, and they both could taste the seasoned, clam-filled sauce, which added a whole new level for them to experiment with further. "Better."

The buzzer went off for the Chicken Parmesan.

"Sit!" Buffy commanded, somehow resuming her task with relative ease. "I'll be out in a few, and we'll eat. Stay like that. What do I care?"

"I love it when I get my way."


"He's coming." Jenny Calendar told her uncle as she paced in his apartment.

The gypsy had recently moved to Sunnydale to keep a closer eye on things. They didn't trust her to stay impartial.

"I suppose you were looking forward to an evening with this man." Enyos said, sitting in his chair.

That had been the original plan. She realized how she'd been acting, and they'd made amends. Tonight was going to be a reconnection of sorts. In other words, she was all set to send the tweed flying right off of him. Unfortunately, her duty to her people took precedence over her personal life. Though Jenny never thought she'd have to deal with the problem that had arisen; she knew the clause, and there had been no catalyst for activating it.

"Angelus is my first priority."

"Good." The older man nodded. "Can your friend be trusted with the knowledge of our cause?"


She had called him as she left the school, and just hoped that he didn't hate her after they told him the story. How do you tell the man that you love, that you were sent to the town where he lived, to watch a vampire that your gypsy clan had cursed with a soul for vengeance purposes? That same vampire who had helped them all over the past two years? And that it was also your job to make sure a moment of true happiness wasn't achieved - the only thing that could make him revert back to his evil ways? Or so they had believed.

"Understand Janna, that I do realize that your life has been saved by this creature. However, its soul is no longer dominating the flesh it inhabits. The monster that slaughtered our beloved daughter has broken free, and is winning the inner struggle. Soon, the humanity will be completely destroyed. Steps must be taken."

"I know...but why did this happen? That's what I don't understand. His habits haven't changed. Nothing changed."

"I'm afraid I do not know the reason, either. But 'why' is unimportant to us. The solution is our focus. The Elder Woman has written a new incantation, which will restore what needs to be restored. It is stronger...permanent."

The techno-pagan raised her eyes. "Permanent?"

"Yes, if it is successful, he won't have to fear the loss of his soul ever again. Some have argued that with an eternity to live, it is possible that he could obtain happiness, and then his suffering would end. If his pain is not going to be infinite, many say he should die...yet she will not hear the protests." Enyos sighed. "The Elder Woman may have grown soft with age, but we still must respect her wishes. It has always been that way, and so it shall continue."

"So why doesn't she just perform the spell now? Why wait?"

"Because she is weak, and the strength to perform such magick has left her. The distance is also too great. Her parchment will arrive at your home as fast as possible. The task falls upon your shoulders, child. She has felt great power around you."

"Me? I don't have that kind of strength, Uncle."

There was a knock at the door.

"Then perhaps he does."

She went to answer the door, preparing herself. When she opened it, an unexpected surprise was waiting for her. The small shriek came out before she could stop it. Rupert was here, but he was unconscious, Angelus gripping him by the throat. She should've warned him. God, she should've warned him. Relax; she had to relax. Angelus couldn't come in. This was a private home. How'd he know where to find her, though? And then she paled.

He knew what she was.

"Hiya, Jenny. Guess who I ran into on the way up?" The demon smiled. "Looks like it's turning out to be my night after all."

Her uncle came and joined her speaking sternly. "You are not welcome here. Be gone."

"You know, that's a really good point." Angelus shook his head. "Geez. I should've thought this through. I mean, you probably don't care about my buddy Giles," He looked down at the watcher, "even though she does, right?"

"Her affairs are of no concern to me."

Jenny hated her relative at that moment. Life was expendable - just as long as that life didn't contain Kalderash blood.

"You want to get rid of me at any cost. Wow. That's dedication. Let's see. You're not giving me much to work with here, so what choice do I have? Oh wait..." His embarrassment quickly turned into a dark confidence. "Now I remember."

In his other hand, Angelus held a knife. Yet within an instant, it flew out of his hand, and the sharpened end of the blade was sticking out the other side of Enyos' neck. Blood escaped down his bottom lip as the Romanian fell to the floor, his nearly dead eyes wide with shock. Jenny brought her hands to her mouth; her brain was having trouble registering anything. When the vampire looked at her again, it was with his true face.

He ran his hand along the weakening barrier preventing his entry into the apartment.

"I'd say you've got about two seconds, Teacher. Then you and Rupert can be together. No one should be alone today; it's just not right."

She began backing up, looking around for some sort of weapon.

"So since I'm doing you a favor," He crossed the threshold, "at least try to make this fun for me."


Xander hopped out of the passenger seat of the van, and slid open the side door when they stopped at the sidewalk in front of Amy's house. Once the blonde had said her good-byes, she headed to her porch. Willow shut the large door from inside, as she pushed her friend to walk his date up. She felt a small pang of jealousy, but she had Oz now, and she'd be happy for him if he and Amy went somewhere couple-wise.

The two people stood awkwardly on the porch.

"Thanks for blackmailing me. It" The witch smirked.

"Thanks for not running away." Xander responded. "I gave you plenty of opportunities to, so either you found my wily antics amusing, or you're just looking forward to mocking me endlessly tomorrow morning."

"I haven't decided yet. But I'll let ya know."

"I appreciate that." He smiled. "Hey, if your vote happens to swing toward the, 'I like that guy' area, would you, I don't know...wanna do something remotely similar to tonight...again? But with the possibility of a movie and fast food being involved? Feel free to shoot me down."

She laughed. "It's not classiest offer I've ever had...but I can't see why I'd say no. Maybe I'm drawn to you."

"Drawn? To me? That's great!" He cleared his throat. "I'm masculine. Yeah." She was still smirking. "This is me leaving before your brain comes back and you stop being temporarily insane."

"With compliments like that, it's hard to understand why girls aren't falling all over you."

He was embarrassed. "Oh, they fall. They fall so hard that there's usually casts and restraining orders shortly afterwards."

She kissed him on the cheek. "Good night, Xander."

It had been a good Venereal...err...Valentines Day, after all.


Jenny was struggling to get out to the fire escape through the window, while trying to ignore her newly broken leg, but it wasn't working. If she lived through this with only that, and the numerous bruises she'd received, she'd be happy. Some of the floor's other residents must have gotten nosy, because she could hear and see the sirens coming closer. Thank God for people who couldn't mind their own business. She and Giles just had to hold on a little longer; Angelus wouldn't risk being surrounded by cops. He'd be removing the bullets from his body for a month.

The Englishman had come around two minutes ago, finding himself lying next to a dead man. Jenny had given him directions to her uncle's building, and the last thing he remembered was getting out of his car. Then blackness. When he saw what the vampire was doing to his girlfriend, all questions left his mind. Pure rage coursed through him as he got to his feet, and he had just sucker punched Angelus, which surprised the demon. But he quickly turned, putting his back to the watcher.

"You're just wasting my time; I don't want you. It would've been less painful if you'd only stayed down, but..." He was facing Giles in a split second, and delivering a direct uppercut to his chin. His victim went reeling. "If this is the way you want it, that's fine with me."

"Angel, help us!" Jenny pleaded. He was supposed to be in there, wasn't he?

Bad word. She was growled at, and then the vampire went to her uncle's body and yanked the knife free.

"Sorry, he already saved someone tonight, and he's kinda tired. Ssh...don't wake him up." Angelus brought a finger to his lips, and after a moment, slid it down the blood-covered blade, gathering some on the tip. He tasted it, grimacing. "I think it's gone stale. Always been fond of the younger generations, anyway. Like your ancestor. She was the sweetest I ever had."

He grabbed her with the same hand he was using to grasp the knife, pulled her over to Giles, and proceeded to lift his head.

"Still there, Rupert? Wouldn't want you to miss the show." The demon asked the hurting watcher, who groaned in response. "You've gotta help me choose. Do I drink her or carve her first?" Giles spit the blood that had been sitting in his mouth in Angelus' face, and looked horrified as it licked its lips. "You're right. You should watch me cut her."

Jenny looked at Angelus with tears in her eyes, as he dragged the knife in a circle on her shirt. "They'll be here any minute."

"I'll be quick." He was ready to do it, and then she watched anger flashed across his features as they became human. Angel's eyes were as frightened as hers were. "Oh God..."

He pushed her aside, and scrambled out the window. Jumping off the fire escape and into the alley, he fell hard to his hands and knees. They both knew things were going to get complicated now, and unbeknownst to them, in a factory across town, Spike rose from his wheelchair.


"What's the verdict?" Buffy asked hesitantly.

Cordelia was taking her last bite of the home-cooked meal. She was very impressed; her girlfriend obviously wanted to make the night a pleasant one, and as far as she was concerned, it had been. Slowly chewing, she decided to torture the slayer for a few seconds. Eventually she put her fork down, and wiped her mouth the napkin that was beside her plate.

"Did I like it, you mean?" The brunette asked in return. "Well...the food was eatable, it passed that test...and the box of wine was a nice touch." She sighed in mock disgust.

The blonde chucked her napkin at her guest. "It was the only thing in the house, okay? And when my mom finds out that I invaded her supply, I'm dead." She paused, shaking her head in confusion. "Why did I risk the rest of my adolescence for you? Tell me. Please, cause I haven't got a clue."

"Maybe you love me." The brunette smiled at her from the other side of the dining room table.

Buffy smiled back. "Could be."

"Maybe I'm like a goddess to you, and you want me to be happy so you don't have to face my wrath." She considered that. "And as long as we're on the subject, I think the next step should be building a shrine. That has a wall devoted to pictures of me. Except...if it gets too big, then we enter Psychoville, and that's not what I'm going for. Simple, but elegant. Is that asking too much?"

"Let's not get carried away here, Cordy." The slayer eyed her, and saw through the act. "Damn, you're good at that."

The cheerleader grinned, caught. "What can I say? It's like a switch. On, off...whenever. Julia Roberts? Give me a break." Her grin became a smile. "It was great, Buffy. So great that I feel guilty."

"Guilty? How come?" The blonde looked up in the direction of the ceiling, remembering something. "Uh...can you close your eyes and hold that thought?" She made a beeline for her room, and came back down with something in her hand. "Are they closed?"

"I can't see anything, so...I'm gonna go with 'yeah'."

Buffy walked behind Cordelia's chair, gently brushed her hair aside, and slipped the necklace she had bought, around her neck. "Okay, open 'em."

The gold chain had three objects on it - a 'B,' a 'C,' and a heart that was just somewhat larger than the letters surrounding it, because it was meant to be a locket. Inside the heart was a picture of them Willow had taken several weeks ago, outside of the school. The redhead had brought a camera in the hopes that she could take candid shots, and then give them to the yearbook. She had wanted to branch out into other areas of Nerd-dom. Especially because Eric, the young Dr. Frankenstein who usually took them, had been expelled.

The couple was caught off guard, and by the time the picture was taken, it was too late to object. It wasn't a complicated or mushy photo; Cordelia's head was turned towards Buffy's, and they were just talking, smiles on their faces. It was chosen because one, they hadn't really built up a large enough collection of pictures to pick from; two, there was something unguarded and natural about it; and three, she thought it captured one of the main parts of their relationship. Conversation. Openness. They talked constantly, even before they were official.

Everything and anything was covered; it felt appropriate.

"You shouldn't have." Cordelia whispered, lifting it to get a better look. "This is...thank you."

"You're welcome." Buffy smiled.

The doorbell rang, and she went to see who would show up now, leaving the brunette to stare at her other gift. Surely Jehovah's Witnesses had to sleep?

Cordelia blushed as the slayer re-entered the dining room a couple minutes later, carrying a dozen red roses. "They're late. And I didn't think I'd be here. I figured you'd be just getting off work. Didn't see the point in having one of those little cards, either. I'm not Hallmark."

"I thought I told you that you didn't have to do anything? I just got you and a bracelet for my birthday. That was plenty. I woulda been set for at least six months."

"It's Valentine's Day. I had to. Besides, if I'd known you were gonna get me chocolates, Sir Sno-Paw, and make me dinner, I would've done a lot more."

"Exactly why I kept it a secret. You feel guilty because of that?"

Cordelia nodded. "I have all this money, but when I can finally spend it on someone else and have it actually mean something, I'm not allowed to."

"It's not about -"

"Says the girl who splurged."

"You call this splurging? I just wanted to give you a little surprise. I could've gone for broke and gotten you the twenty other things I saw that I thought you'd like, but I didn't...and now I feel guilty."

"Don't. Geez."

"If I can't, than neither can you. Agreed?"

"Agreed." There was a smirk.

"I don't need my fabulously wealthy girlfriend to spoil me just because she can. Gifts are nice and all, but I've already got the best one there is." Buffy grimaced. "God that was sappy."

The cheerleader reddened some more. "You like the roses though, right?"

"They're beautiful." She smelled the twelve flowers as Cordelia got up from her seat. "Sir Sno-Paw? How long have you been waiting to use that?"

No one had ever done anything like this for her. Silently, she walked over to Buffy and hugged her. "Thanks. I mean it." Cordelia kissed her lightly when they separated. "Love you."

"Love you too." The blonde said with a smile. "I should put these in some water."

It was still hard to believe sometimes, but here they were. Best feeling in the world.

"What'll you tell your mom if she asks where you got them from?"

"That since there was no card, I must have a secret admirer." She grinned.

"Am I not obvious enough?" Cordelia didn't get an answer. "Then I guess I'll have to try harder."

"Sure, ya know, if you have to. But after I put the dishes in the sink and deal with the roses."

"I can wait." The brunette went and stretched out on the living room couch, while Buffy started cleaning up. She grabbed the remote off of the coffee table, and flipped through the channels for several, long minutes. "There's crap on TV."

"Good crap or bad crap?" The slayer questioned, coming to join her girlfriend on the sofa and managing to fit just right, allowing them to both lay down.

Cordelia draped her arm around the blonde. "There's no such thing as good crap. It's...that word we learned in English. An oxymoron."

"I knew that."

"Uh huh, and it doesn't matter that you're Buffy Summers, the Chronically Absent Delinquent." Came the saracastic jibe.

"And it doesn't matter that you're Cordelia Chase, the Hollow-Brained, School Spirit Slut." The delinquent in question had been prepared.

The cheerleader was tracing her nails in slow circles around the outside of her girlfriend's ear. "It's nice to know that we're comfortable with our flaws, isn't it?"

"Hmm mm." As they watched the various commercials, one caught Buffy's eye. It was reminding women to get breast cancer checkups. "Whoever came up with 'mammogram,' anyway? Every time I hear it, I think I'm supposed to put my breast in an envelope and mail it to someone."

"Probably the same lonely pervert who named Lake Titticaca and the Woodcock." Buffy snickered, and Cordelia bit her lip, thinking quietly to herself for a while. "Have you...?"

Why did being a teenager mean you were turned on by everything? It was only supposed to be a guy thing. Yet here she was, only making a tiny, semi-suggestive joke, and doing some innocent, non-suggestive cuddling, which was causing the heat level to rise. Plus, with her mouth right next to the back of the slayer's wasn't easy to remain composed.


Buffy wanted to pry, but the phone rang. Good. The cordless was on the table, and she was able to reach it without having to sacrifice her position.

"It was nothing." Cordelia said as the blonde clicked the 'Power' button. She was relieved and disappointed all at once.

"Hello?...This is her...What happened?" Buffy sat up as the person on the other end continued to talk, her face turning white. "I know...Yeah...Sunnydale General?...No, I'll be there soon. Thanks...Bye." She hung up, stunned.

"What's going on?" Cordelia sat up, too.

"Giles and Miss Calendar...they were hurt or...I don't know. I was a contact person; I gotta..."

"I'll run home and get my car. Call Willow and Xander, leave a note, then we'll pick them up and go to the hospital. Be back in five, ten minutes."

"Vampires, remember?"

"Don't argue; just give me some holywater. I'll be fine."

The brunette's survival techniques were apparently top notch, because a short time later, they were on their way, vowing from then on to drive everywhere.


"I can't believe this. Why didn't...?" Buffy trailed off, thinking it wasn't right to go on the attack. "You could've told us."

"I didn't know until -" Jenny began to respond.

"I meant about who you are. You could've been honest with us."

The teacher had asked to speak to the slayer alone after she woke up, even though she wasn't feeling too great. Her left leg was in a cast, her lower lip was cut, there was bruising on her face and wrists, as well as on areas she didn't realize Angelus had hit. But above all, she was worried about Giles. Being in worse shape than she was, they'd immediately rushed him into surgery, and it'd been nearly three hours since the two of them were admitted. They weren't saying anything to her about his condition.

He wasn't supposed to get caught up in her tribe's ancient crusade, but outside involvement was pretty inevitable at this point. The situation was out of her control. Well, almost.

When she learned that she had visitors, she knew she had to tell Buffy the whole story. Now that the secret was out, Angelus would step up his plans - whatever they happened to be. In any case, she needed to get ready for him. Her reaction to the news, to the truth, had been a relatively calm one, but she wanted answers. Jenny would've been happy to oblige, except that there weren't many to give.

"I know...I should have. It was a mistake, and I'm sorry. I really am, Buffy, but I was taught to put my people ahead of my life. And they were fools." She closed her eyes, pushing back the pain. "I guess that makes me a fool, too."

Buffy crossed her arms over her chest. "So you care about people that used you, and act like they were the only ones hurt by Angel...a hundred years ago. I'm trying to understand, here."

"No, not anymore." There was bitterness in her voice.

"What about Giles?" The teacher-student dynamic was still in place, but her eyes gave her feelings away. "Good." Then she wasn't a fool. "Cause he cares a lot about you."

"I think I blew my chance." She sighed. "How is he? Do you know?"

"The doctor said there was some internal bleeding..." Her forehead creased. "There was other stuff, but the only thing I really heard was the, 'he'll heal' part."

Jenny was obviously relieved. "Thank God."

The blonde's expression softened, her arms dropping to the side. The woman had gone through hell; she'd paid enough. "How're you doing?"

"I won't ever badmouth drugs again." She received a chuckle in response. "My uncle said they were going to send me a permanent spell before..." She swallowed; his death was fresh in her mind. "It'll save Angel."

"We just gotta find someone to do it in time, right?" Buffy frowned. This was bad, but the scariest thing, was that it began to explain his recent odd behavior. "You're sure he's still there?"

"If he wasn't, I wouldn't be alive right now. Neither would Rupert. Angel isn't doing this, Angelus is."

"But you have no clue why they're, uh, separating?"

Jenny shook her head on the pillow, as the gang came in.

"Can it okay?" The redhead gently asked.

"Sure, Willow." She smiled.

They were definitely a special group of kids.

"Hi, Miss Calendar." Cordelia greeted her, grabbed Buffy's hand, and then focused on the teacher. "Oh geez."

"I see your 'geez' and raise you a 'whoa.'" Xander looked away, realizing how not tactful that sounded, which was one of the side effects of being around the cheerleader. "Sorry."

"Ooh. Who did that?" Willow questioned, getting angry. "I'll-I' something real mean to them! And glare at them when they', in jail. A-a whole bunch, though!"

Buffy shrugged, giving Jenny a "they're gonna find out, anyway" look. Still, she hesitated.

"They're moving Giles to a room." Xander said. "We'll keep her entertained if you wanna go see him."

The slayer nodded. "I'll let him know you're all right."

"Tell him," The techno-pagan wanted to be able to move, "tell him I wish I could get up and come with you."

"Bet he's thinking the same thing." Buffy smiled. "Don't worry, you haven't run out of chances yet. Just get better." She looked at her friends. "Make sure she stays comfortable, guys."

"Will do." The hacker stated firmly.

Cordelia wordlessly followed her exiting girlfriend, not releasing her grip. Sensing a new level of stress, she figured she should remain close. Stress mixing with Buffy wasn't a good thing.


The cheerleader walked slowly across the parking lot, making her way to her car. A very ill-looking Buffy was barely managing to trail behind her, which was why she wasn't leaving school grounds as quickly as usual. Everyone knew the slayer had been pushing herself too hard. She had passed exhaustion after the second day, but they were afraid to say anything. Angel had moved out of his apartment, so they didn't know where he was, and they were all anxious about what he was going to do next.

Opening the passenger-side door, Cordelia watched as Buffy wearily climbed into the seat, a hand on her forehead. Then she spotted Snyder, and ducked. He had been trying to corner them; their "open displays of affection" were inappropriate and unwelcome in his school. There was an occasional, kiss, hug, or handhold. What was so wrong about that? If it was the gender issue, then she didn't buy it. All he wanted to know was how he could get his hands on a videotape.

Ugh. Yeah, she'd avoid him.

"Don't patrol tonight." The brunette said, focusing on the blonde. "You're sick."

"I have to; and I don't get sick." No sooner had the words come out of Buffy's mouth, that she sneezed. "First time for everything."

"Uh huh. Right." Her face displayed concern, but she wasn't budging. "You should stay in and get your mom to make you soup or something. At least you have a parent that lets you milk illness."

Buffy smiled a little. "Would you make me soup if...nah. You wouldn't wanna have what I got."

"I'll risk it if it'll keep you inside. Where you can't get killed." Cordelia hated saying it even more than she did thinking it. "Besides, it's going around. Probably catch it anyway." Her eyes widened as an idea came to her. "Hey, maybe I could mooch off your mom, too. It's not like Marta's an option. She's the maid, but somehow, there's a list of things she swears she won't do. Which I don't get."

"Lemme guess...'nurse' is at the top?"

Cordelia nodded. "Figures, doesn't it? But that's actually fine by me, cause frankly, there's no way I'd put my life in her hands."

The blonde saw the forceful look behind the humor. She knew it well by now. "It won't be a long one, okay?"

"You can barely stand!" She sighed, not used to people arguing with her. "No wonder you're ready to collapse! All week you've been going to cemeteries looking for Angel, then you spend the rest of the night at the hospital, playing stakeout waiting for Angel to show up, and then you come to school and worry about what he might've done. Do you even sleep? Am I in there somewhere?"

"Of course you're in there. That's why I'm..." Buffy's words dropped off. "I don't want him coming after you. And Giles and Miss Calendar are getting released tomorrow -"

"Buffy, you're missing the point. So I just won't go out at night. Fine, I can cope. But what happens if you run into him this time? What're you gonna do? Cough on him?"

"What choice do I have, Cordy?"

"Wait till you can breathe. It's great that you wanna save people's lives, especially mine, but you won't be able to do anything like this, and you know that."

"It really gets to you, huh?" The dizzy slayer was slowly starting to understand that.

"The idea of you dying? Yes!" Cordelia was ready to rank her girlfriend's question up there amongst the dumbest ever. "Oh, and since I don't trust you to move past your Super-Girl complex, I'm not letting you out of my sight."

Maybe it was because she was delirious, but Buffy thought that was the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to her.


Spike's legs hung over the side of the mausoleum; he had been sitting there for the last twenty minutes, puffing on a cigarette. Being able to move freely once again had its advantages. He was back in the loop with everything from Angel's unpredictable behavior, to the new twist Slayer's love life. No middlemen or lackeys for him anymore - he decided that now was the time to take charge, and be his own man. Yeah, he was the master of his destiny, no one else would tell him what to do.

He'd used his brief period of disability not only to grieve, but also to make a clean break from his attachment to Druscilla. Oh, he'd definitely have his revenge...and when that was over, he was going to say so long to this damn town. He and Sunnydale were through. Where would he go? Maybe back to his old haunts, establish a permanent lair, and let eternity pass him by, all the while achieving the vampiric status he knew he deserved.

Alone and solitary. Love? Who needed it? Certainly not him. Why'd he get so upset, anyway? He was a demon - the biggest and baddest of them all. It was time that they all knew that.

Hearing the crunch of footsteps, he nonchalantly blew one final cloud of smoke from his mouth and flicked the cigarette to the grass. One of the shoes that was the cause of the sound, stamped out the faintly glowing butt. The bleached vampire had known he was here; that's why he had picked this spot to wait for him. Took the guy long enough. But then again, Spike was okay with the staking delay. It allowed him to get motivated.

"Know what I heard? I heard somebody's been unstable lately." Angelus looked up at him. "What's the matter, Angelus? Soul got you down?"

"It's a phase, Spike, and it's almost over."

"Really? Well, that's a relief. I'm no doc, but I bet it's gotta be bloody crowded in there."

"Like I said -"

"Yeah...phase...right. Got the message. Don't get repetitive on me, Granddad. You'll start showing your age."

"What are you doing here?"

"Just enjoying the night air, is all. I hope that doesn't bother you." Spike smirked. "Hiding from the Slayer yet?"

"Hiding?" Angelus asked incredulously with a touch of annoyance. Like he would hide.

"Not that I blame you. Hell, I'll be the first one to admit she's got the stuff, and word is, she's on full alert."

"I happen to be recruiting, so -" He was cut off.

"Oh, my mistake. Waitin' for one of your boys to wake up, are ya? Smart. I mean, you've never needed reserves before, but it's nice to see that you've figured out when you're outmatched. I had to learn the hard way, but you've always been the strategic one. Are you rushing off to smother her watcher with his pillow or to tear apart the slut she ditched Softy for? No, not you. You say, why be rash? Not cause you're scared, but cause you've got brains. And that's why you won't ever stop teaching the rest of us."

Angelus was leery. "I'm a giver."

Spike hopped off the mausoleum to stand in front of his elder. "I don't wanna sound greedy or anything, but could you give me something else? Only an answer; nothing big."

"What's the question?"

"Who did Dru in? You or the Lapdog?"

"He did. And I -"

"Thanks." His knuckles connected with Angel/Angelus' forehead, then. "Doesn't make a difference, but I appreciate it anyway."

He hated them both.


Buffy had to admit it - Cordelia had a good idea. After spending the whole day in the house because her mother forced her to stay home from school (if she didn't know better, she would've thought there was some conspiring going on), her girlfriend had come to get her outside. The brunette commented that the entire place smelled like sweat and germs, and her response was that they didn't have a particular smell, which then led to a debate on the purposes of scented Lysol.

But the night before, Cordelia stuck to what she had said. She kept Buffy at her house until Joyce finished at the Gallery, and then took the blonde home, to be monitored by a watchful, motherly eye.

It was two forty-five in the afternoon now though, and they had nearly absorbed all the fresh air that Wetherby Park had to offer. The rest of the group had accompanied them - including Amy and Oz - and soon they were going to pick up Giles and Miss Calendar from the hospital. Buffy rested her head on Cordelia's shoulder as they walked, but other than feeling completely drained, she thought she was doing okay. Her fever had broken a half-hour ago.

"Whatcha thinkin'?" She asked the cheerleader, as there had mostly been silence so far.

"Thoughts." Cordelia loved sarcasm.

"Wanna narrow it down for me?" There wasn't enough energy in her body to devote to smacking.

The brunette glanced behind them, judging their distance from their friends. "You don't wanna hear them; not when you look that pale and splotchy."

"What's it have to do with how I...?" Buffy lifted her head up, as the answer dawned on her. "Oh." She flushed, but the reason for it was totally unrelated to her health. "Really?"

True to form, Cordelia wasn't the least bit fazed at being found out. "Did you forget that we're kind of involved? Also called 'dating'? It was bound to cross my mind eventually."

"How much?"

"Enough that it causes me problems, all right? Sheesh. Too much flattery can be bad for you, you know. And don't tell me you haven't."

"No, I-I have...I mean, look at you." The brunette grinned. "But I just...that's far."

"Do you have somebody else in mind? Cause I'm not going anywhere."

"That's not what I meant." Now she checked the gang's distance, whispering. "I'm a...I've never...and I want us...except...there's this thing where I don't exactly know how."

"And I do?"

"Well, you've had...experience."

"Hello? In case you didn't notice before, they were guys. I'm just as clueless as you are about...that."

"Um...we could rent some videos, or...books. Are there books?"

"Yeah, in a back room somewhere." Cordelia wrinkled her nose as if she had just caught a whiff of a really bad odor.

"What's your bright idea then? We gotta know what we're doing."

"Xander's probably read all about it. We could ask him." She paused. "Ew. Even as a joke, that's so wrong."

"What're you two talking about?" Xander questioned, which was very good, almost creepy timing. "Can't be any more interesting than the conversation we've got going on. Birds, bees, and nature in all its glory."

"That's too easy even for me."

The slayer wanted to laugh, but grimaced instead; her unpredictable monster of a flu was coming back with a vengeance.

"Can we sit?" Buffy requested, not knowing why the trees had to spin. "Dizzy."

Cordelia briefly wondered if this was just a way to leave the topic they were discussing, but one look at her girlfriend told her it wasn't. "Hang on, there's a bench right..."

Things were darkening - they weren't going to make it there.


"What do I owe ya, Danny?" Spike asked the blood bank's delivery boy, as they stood at the back of Sunnydale General that night.

Just as he'd gotten the upper hand, the recruits decided to rise. Three of them - Angelus must have had a big meal. Could anyone blame him for not liking those odds? If it had stayed one-on-one he would've taken him, but as soon as he saw an opening, he decided it was better to split. He probably wouldn't have an opportunity to get the drop on Angelus again, though. It was always a bad idea not to finish what you started.

"That's five bags...three AB positive, two O a special this week. Thirty-five. Outside shipment - quality straight from Virginia. Lucky you." The substantially younger vampire answered.

He reached into his pocket and handed over the requested price. "Yeah, lucky me."

"Laying low, huh?" Danny said as he accepted the cash. "It's understandable."

The Brit had issues with rage, and showed in his face. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Hands went up. "Nothing, Spike, nothing. don't normally buy this much from me, and we all heard about Angelus. What you did."

"And I'd do it again. It's not him I'm worried about; it's the Slayer. She doesn't know I'm out and about, and I'm trying to keep it that way. Don't need them both to be on the hunt. Got that, Danny Boy?"

"Sure, sure. But I don't think the Slayer'll be a problem. Least for a couple nights. She checked in this afternoon."

This caught Spike's attention. "You're kidding." He smiled when Danny's head shook. "For what, Bitchitis?"

The information would be worth parting with his money.


Before she even opened her eyes, Buffy knew exactly where she was, and she mentally groaned. The smell gave it away, though she also felt the IV in her arm, and the too tight blankets pulled up over her. She didn't want to see just yet, but she would've bet anyone that they put her in one of those gowns. When she finally allowed herself to look at the hospital room they'd given her, she had to rationalize.

"Well, was coming here anyway."

But for other people, not for herself. As she reached for the controls to make the bed sit her up, several questions flew through her mind - Did they get Giles and Miss Calendar out okay? Where is everybody? They didn't patrol, did they? How's Cordelia? When could she leave? And because the blinds were closed she didn't know what time it was, so was it day or night? She'd be a sitting duck.

Then she remembered something. Whether it was last night or a few hours ago or a dream, she didn't know, but she thought she got out of bed after seeing a kid walk down the hall, and there were two doctors arguing about treatment for them...was there some sort of demon wearing a hat? And a dead girl? It was probably just all in her head; she knew she hadn't been thinking straight.

Her mother came in. "Oh good, you're awake."

"Hi, mom."

"How're you feeling?"

"Groggy, but okay."

"The doctor said you're doing much better. You want me to tell them to bring you breakfast?"

So it was morning. Hospital food? That would make her sick all over again.

"No, I want you to tell them that you're taking me home."

Joyce went over to the bed and rubbed her daughter's hair. "They only want to keep you a little while longer."

Buffy pouted. "You weren't here all night, were you?"

"No, they made Cordelia and I both go home. She was scared for you."

"She was? How come?"

"You were out of it when they were wheeling you away, honey. Saying things..."

The younger Summers' eyes widened. "What things?"

"Just about how you didn't want to be here. And something about vampires..."

"Heh." She smiled nervously. "You don't say?"

"But we all knew it was because you were sick."

"Right." Buffy sighed, nodding. "Sickness leads to crazy talk. I'm a nut-job."

"I told your friends why you didn't like hospitals, and Cordelia seemed to take it hard. I think she felt guilty. She drove you here, you know."

Celia. Her cousin had died in the hospital while she was there in the room. It was a very traumatic thing for an eight-year-old to experience; she still thought about her. Now the gang knew one of her biggest fears, and her girlfriend was wrongly punishing herself for revealing it. Even though Buffy didn't want to admit it, going to the hospital more than likely had saved her life.

"Are the guys at school?" She asked.

"Hmm mm. Xander said to expect them afterwards, and Mr. Giles said he'd call to see how you were. Miss Calendar is staying with him until her leg heals."

She couldn't blame him for not wanting to come back after spending a week here, but thinking about the living arrangements, the slayer had to mask a grin. "Really?"

"That was a horrible thing that happened to them. Did they ever find who was responsible?"

Her eyes got both sad and angry. "I'm sure they will."

The older Summers' glanced at her wrist-watch. "I should go to work. Will you be all right? I promise I'll be by later."

"I'll be fine, mom." She smiled.

After her mother kissed her forehead she headed for the door, but for some reason, she suddenly stopped and turned around.

There was a questioning look on her face. "You and spend a lot of time together, don't you? More than you used to last year?"

"I guess..." Buffy answered shyly, a big 'CAUTION' sign going up. "Why?"

"I just thought she hung out with a different crowd, that's all."

"Things change." The daughter shrugged. "And she's really a cool person."

"She didn't wanna leave; she challenged security to try and throw her out." The blonde gaped. "It's nice that she's learning who the good people are, but is she usually that direct?"

"I think it's impossible for Cordelia to be anything else. She lives by it; it's practically a code." The slayer smirked.

Joyce smiled. "That's a good quality to have. It shows she has confidence. Not many people will say 'no' to her."

'I know I didn't.'

"So...then what?"

"I talked her down." Buffy looked surprised. Her mother deserved a medal. "I'm a parent, it's what I do."


"Party Wagon's here!" Xander announced, bursting into the room with balloons several hours later.

She was happy to see them, especially after getting Giles' call. He asked how she was, said that he and Jenny had talked things out, but the main reason he called was to tell that he'd been doing some thinking about Angel. He didn't want to get into specifics because she was in the hospital where their conversation wasn't entirely private, and so he left it by saying that he'd know more when she came home.

"Good!" Dr. Wilkinson said as the rest of them flooded in. "Maybe you can keep our patient from bolting." She looked at Buffy before leaving. "Rest! Hmm?"

"Flowers for milady." He presented the patient with his gift.

She looked up at them. "I think they call those balloons."

"Yeah, stick 'em in water, maybe they'll grow."

Cordelia shut the door, and then joined the group, biting her lip almost like she was frightened.

"Not to be outdone..." Willow put the books she was carrying on the bed.

"Homework?" Buffy asked.

Her friend had to know her better than that.

"It's my way of saying, 'Get Well Soon'."

Perhaps not.

"You know, chocolate says that even better."

The redhead grinned. "I did all your assignments. All you have to do is sign your name."

Her eyes appeared to light up. "Chocolate means nothing to me."

Amy was next in line. "I just did a healing spell for you. I didn't know what else to do, really."

"I knew doctors were full of crap." Buffy smiled.

The brunette was last, but not least. "Nobody told me I was supposed to bring a gift." She eyed everyone. "I was out of the loop on gifts."

She wanted to smack herself; she was the girlfriend. Out of the group, she was the most expected to bring something. It was just difficult to keep track of all the relationship rules. Buffy's well-being was on her mind every single period, though. They had to give her points for that.

"Silly. We've discussed this. You're my gift." The slayer patted the mattress, and the cheerleader climbed up onto it to sit beside her.

"You look good." Cordelia couldn't hold back any longer. She touched her lips to her girlfriend's for one, impressively long French kiss. "Feel good too."

"Not too shabby yourself." They turned to stare at the spectators. "Yes?"

"Isn't it traditional to unwrap gifts?" Xander wondered hopefully.

"It's also traditional to take dogs for walks." Cordelia countered, glaring. "Amy, maybe you should tie him up outside."

"How about I give him fleas?" Amy suggested, crossing her arms.

"Hey, that's not fair. You have no idea how hard it is being a guy, constantly surrounded by high levels of estrogen." Xander defended himself. "Plus, you two with the rainbow action..."

"You've been a guy, what? Seventeen years now? Get used to it." Buffy told him.

"Sleep okay?" The brunette asked. "I didn't know, I'm sorry."

"Not really, but I'm glad you finally got me here...and I know you didn't. Thanks for doing what I needed instead of listening to me." She kissed her that time. "Heard about the fight you put up."

"Well...visiting hours suck."

All day, Buffy couldn't shake the feeling that the thing she saw last night was real. At the risk of sounding insane, she thought she ought to place it before the group. They could research.

"You know? Let's all take a walk. I gotta tell you guys something."


Angelus was thoroughly enjoying his new abode. The mansion fit him - large, always came down to status. If vampires didn't grab a hold of the finer things in life, then they were only animals. Not him. He appreciated art and wealth, as did his more moral half. Though it had kept quiet for the most part; conserving what remained of its strength, no doubt. For when it would truly come in handy.

Smart in a way, but just plain stupid in another. People still continued to die.

He figured that Spike's little attack was a formal announcement that the bleached blonde had chosen to enter into the game, and he could handle that. Right now, he was content to wait and see just how much Spike was willing to put on the line; the move was his. Buffy wasn't going anywhere, but he wanted to be there when she disposed of the competition. A part of him almost felt sorry for his grand-childe.

Almost. Not really.

Hearing his dinner moan behind the gag, he wondered how he could have forgotten. Where were his manners? The ones who fought were the most fun.


The sun was going down the next day, as Buffy sat in her hospital room with Willow, contemplating how to deal with Der Kindestod. The thing went after sick children, and it killed the doctor that was trying to treat the kids, because he was taking them away. She didn't see anything; it was like it was invisible, but she knew she had seen it the first night of her stay. She needed to be able to look at it to fight it - she wasn't a Jedi.

"She actually brought it up?" Willow asked.

What she was thinking and what they were saying were two different things.

"Technically I guess the 'word' wasn't used, but yeah. We had a non-conversation conversation about the possibility."

The hacker pushed aside the embarrassment that wanted to overtake her. "Well, you should research. Knowledge is power. I'm a firm believer in that. The firmest."

"We should be the best we can be, right?" She paused. "And that sounded way too Army. But then I think that maybe going with flow is the best thing. It's supposed to be natural, so...I dunno."

"What don't you know?" Cordelia questioned, walking in and up to them carrying a McDonald's bag with a milkshake.

Fast food had never smelled so good.

"How I ever could've survived in here without you." Buffy eyed the bag hungrily, clawing for it, but her girlfriend held it just out of reach.

The cheerleader ignored the whimper. "Honesty first, imitation chicken and grease second."

"This is something that's priv..." Willow trailed off as she was silenced with a look. "Who ever said hospital chairs weren't comfy? Nothing could get me out of this. Nuh uh."

"You obviously know what it is, so why shouldn't you be here?"

"Fine. We were trying to find the most enjoyable way that I could ravish you. Happy?" Buffy spilled, too starved to be evasive. "Now gimmie."

"B-but there was no experimenting. No, uh, testing or anything remotely close to...talking! We talked. Oh! But no talking about experimenting. There was none of that. Bad cause of Oz and you, and best friends and boundaries and they have Hungry, Hungry Hippos in the waiting room...okay, leaving." Willow bolted.

"The chair must not have been as comfortable as she said." Cordelia commented. "She should really see someone about that."

"I swear I'll get her a Babble Specialist as soon as they let me out, just feed me. I can't slay on an empty stomach."

"Feed you? Did you break your arms when I wasn't looking?" She chucked the bag, and the blonde caught it. "Didn't think so."

Carefully positioning herself beside Buffy so she didn't drop the cup, Cordelia handed it over as she kicked off her shoes. Then she stole the fries once her girlfriend got them out, resulting in a mini staring contest as she dared the slayer to challenge with her eyes. Buffy silently admitted defeat when she stuck a straw in the milkshake and took a sip, but gave the "Puppy-Dog" look nonetheless.

"You're such a baby" The brunette held a fry in her hand. "If every vampire knew -"

"But they don't." She cut her off, and was fed, the fry being contorted and pushed into her mouth. As she accepted it, she couldn't help but accept a fingertip as well.

Cordelia's eyes widened at this development, but then became very focused. "Is it getting hotter in here?"

Buffy chuckled, ceasing her actions. "Not even two seconds, and already you're going 'badly-acted porno' on me. I'm definitely filing that for future reference. But see?" Getting the kissing underway, she didn't even realize that the solution to the demon problem had presented itself. "I receive, I give...I'm versatile."

"I demand proof." The cheerleader's lips managed to reach neck, and her hands started to feel up the gown. That was all Buffy was wearing.

All Buffy was wearing.

"You had to pick here? Now?" A few more seconds of touching, and she wouldn't be coherent. "Where it's public, where there's nurses making rounds...and..." Did she just hiss? "God, thanks to you my temperature's gonna go back up and they'll keep me here for a month."

"That good?" Cordelia looked up.

"Who said stop?" Question answered. More than one actually, because then it clicked. "Temperature! That's it! That's how I'll be able to see it when I kill it."

Her girlfriend could sense that their heavy groping session had come to an end. "Kill what?"

"Der Kindergarten or whatever. I was sick when I saw him before, so I need to be sick again; Willow can help me. She was going to a waiting room, right? Which one did she say?"

"She didn't." Cordelia sighed. "This slaying thing is going to put a serious cramp in our sex-life, I can tell. Meaning, we're never gonna have one."

"We will too." Buffy insisted, hugging her close. "And They catch us, we're in jail."

"Not necessarily. I think that nurse would've cut us some slack, no questions asked." She grinned.

"Can we save the kinkiness until after I have one, normal sexual experience? Who knew Cordelia Chase was such a -"

"It's a flaw, you did know that, and I can't help it if you drive me crazy." The kiss was more chaste than the ones before it. "I suppose you want me to track down Willow."

"Would you?" Buffy smiled, and released her.

"Yeah." She tried to look put out, but it turned into a smile. "I have to go to the bathroom and get presentable, anyhow."

"Thanks. And I know you can't possibly blame your appearance on me, you animal." Cordelia stuck her tongue out. This was the childish side only she witnessed. "Don't try tempting me."

Buffy resumed eating the fries.


The second Cordelia emerged from the bathroom and turned to go search for their missing friend, a hand reached around to cover her mouth from behind.

"Hello, luv."

She was quickly and quietly dragged over to the next door, which led down to a sewer grate. It was great for entering and exiting without being seen.


She flies from a blinding light
And spirals to my heart
I try to find my mind
But don't know where to start

Won't ever
Can't ever find my sanity
Won't ever
Can't ever 'til I hear
Her calling for me

She knows that side of me
Can't help it
Can't help that side of me
Just a little more
Just until I know what I'm feeling
Just a little more to find my sanity

I'm lost in a thousand nights
But sun shines at my feet
I'd walk through a thousand fires
And next to me she'd be

The cheerleader was sitting on a box in the rundown factory, watching apprehensively as her chain-smoking captor paced back and forth. Was he trying to kill her by way of secondhand smoke? And since when did he lose the wheelchair? She guessed it didn't matter for the time being, because her nerves were shot, and if he was going to torture her, she wished he'd get it over with. Patience wasn't something she had. She'd been here...well, it was now the following afternoon. She thought she had earned a reward for being the obedient captive this long.

It was becoming clearer and clearer to her that Spike's kidnapping plan wasn't that airtight. The only thing he'd told her to do was stay quiet, which was hours ago, and a quick glance around the factory revealed to her that they were alone. He didn't have anyone watching her; she could wait for him to turn away and be out in the daylight easily. He must've known that, because he wasn't going anywhere. He also had to know that she was at the top of the priority list, and that Buffy was probably freaking out.

What was the deal? The slayer didn't know he was back in action, so it would take her a little while to get on the right track, but that's all Spike had going for him. It wouldn't last.

"Are you gonna start acting evil anytime soon?" Cordelia decided to try her luck. "You are a vampire, right?"

"What did I tell you?" He paused in his pacing to snap at her, and then resumed.

"Hey, I haven't said a word since last night. That's a first for me." She studied and picked at her nails. "Doesn't matter. I'll play hostage, Buffy'll come kick your ass, and then we can go back to worrying about someone who's actually scary."

He walked up to her, speaking with controlled anger. "Don't test me, Peaches. Works in both our favors if you keep breathing; makes things less complicated, and you less dead. But I can improvise if I have to."

"I'm sure." He was just buying time. Even she could see the fear in his eyes. "Just...whatever you're trying to prove, do it some time today? I have places I could be."


Xander's been good enough to go to Jenny's apartment and get her mail, and...the uh, spell arrived while you were in the hospital. I believe it's safe to assume that Angelus is unaware of our plans, as he would've interfered by now. He didn't strike me as overly shy. So, ah, we're in the process of translating the language - Jenny's Romanian is a tad rusty. Once we determine what's necessary, and if we can find someone willing to cast it...

That's the last thing Giles had said to her before she left to come here, and he hadn't needed to finish his sentence. Getting Angel back was an option. A week ago she would've been gung ho about the idea, but she'd lost her ability to be subjective - the demon wearing his face kind of made that hard to do when it stole her girlfriend. That was the general consensus around town, anyway. Who else could it have been?

And she wanted to punish him. Badly. Her emotions were all over the place, but she knew that much. She'd lay it into him, maybe even kill him, and then do the rescuing. That was her focus; concentrating on Cordelia's safety was the only thing stopping her from collapsing. Because Angelus would do it, end the brunette's life on a whim. He didn't care, so she had to find him before that whim hit.

She was surprised Giles even told her. Though by the look in his eyes, and the way he looked at Miss Calendar, she got the feeling that he hadn't wanted to. He wanted to see Angelus dusted for injuring his girlfriend. Watcher and slayer were on the same wavelength, but the teacher was more forgiving. Somehow, she was still able to make the distinction between man and monster. The two adults had obviously debated the issue, but it wasn't a shock to Buffy that the woman won.

Freddy Kruger's less talkative cousin was no more; she had snapped his neck, and the children could get healthy again. Cordelia had been missing at the time, but she wasn't able to worry about her then. After she was released and spent the morning in her own bed (per her mother's orders), the worry didn't hold back. She'd been right down the hall...god, she was so mad at herself for that. The uneasy feeling that was spreading throughout her body didn't help much, either. She didn't know what she'd do if...if something happened to her.

But nothing would. It was going to be okay; she could handle this. Her girlfriend was tough. She'd hang in there until help came. Or so Buffy hoped. She was learning the true extent of her feelings for Cordelia - it had to be a test. As a slayer, if she wanted love, she had to work for it. Unfair? Most definitely. The choice wasn't hers, though; jumping through the hoops placed in front of her was part of the job. Yeah, it was a test, and for once, she cared about getting a high score. She had to.

She knew she deserved to pass, because being separated and not having any say in it, was causing her real pain. Realizing that, any reservations Buffy had about telling her mother, floated away. Somewhere along the line they had gotten serious; there was a hopeful, long-term investment. She didn't think it was a conscious decision on either of their parts, either; it kind of evolved beyond their control. And she wanted that. She was attached big time.

She just wished that they could've made love. Cordelia had been pushing, and while she hadn't said no, she hadn't been nearly as motivated. Well, she was damn sure motivated now. She planned to show her just how committed she was to their relationship. However, they had to get past this speed bump, first.

"Out." Buffy commanded the demonic patrons of Willy's Bar as she stepped inside. Those that could greeted her with wide-eyed expressions. "Now."

She stared them down until they began filing out past her, and her unwavering, determined stance. Checking to see if she and the bar's owner were alone, she was disappointed when she saw a vampire sitting at a table, having a drink. This wasn't the right day to challenge her resolve, it really wasn't. In full slayer-mode, she walked up to the vampire, and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt.

"Here, let me help you find the door."

Briefly she considered being nice and simply dragging him to the sewer entrance, but then she pretended he was Angelus, and thoroughly enjoyed tossing him out into the sunlight, where he burned up rather quickly. Vampires were very fragile. Willy was fragile as well, which was why he ducked behind the bar.

"He was one of my best customers, ya know." He spoke, poking his head out.

"You'll cope." She joined him, leaning over the counter so they were closer.

"What brings you here, Slayer? Need anything? Or did you just chase away my business for the fun of it?" His nervous queries got no replies. "Which I'm totally cool with, by the way."

"I need to know where Angel's new place is. And don't try to weasel your way out of this, because I'm not in the mood to bargain."

"Is this about your girl?"

She hopped over to the other side, and then drove him back, eventually slamming him up against the jukebox. "Do you really wanna see my mean side, Willy?"

"You're always mean." He cringed. "And I think I have a hernia."

"I'm about to get a whole lot meaner."

There was a fire in her eyes he hadn't seen before. "Okay, okay. I'll tell. On the house, even."

"I knew you had a generous bone somewhere in there."

"Yeah, sure do, and you almost broke it."


Spike had almost reached his limit. He didn't know if he could stand any more.

"So you kidnapped me to make Buffy think Angel did it?" Cordelia wanted to laugh, but held it in. "Why don't you kill him if you hate him so much?"

"I tried, all right? The bugger's a cockroach. He just won't bloody die." His desperation was obvious. "My whole un-life he always acted better than me; he was always Dru's favorite." He sneered. "It's time for him to check out, and if I need to use Blondie, then so be it."

"It's a jealousy thing? Oh my God. I can't are such a loser." The vampire glared at her as she stood up. "And wait. What happens if Buffy can't do it?"

"Should have more confidence in her, pet. Seeing as how your life hangs in the balance and all that."

The now, pissed off brunette got in his face. "You could've sent my girlfriend marching off to her death."

"Risk I was willing to take, yeah." He smirked.

"Have you always been a coward, Spike? Or is it just seasonal?" He vamped, but she didn't flinch. "If she dies, I'll -"

She felt the blow of the supernatural slap, and then she was on the floor, her jaw aching.

"You'll what? Join her? I can arrange that." He picked her up, flung her over his shoulder, and carried her into what was once Druscilla's room. "You stay here, be good, and we'll know how she fared soon enough."

"You dumb ass! You're gonna be so staked! Put me down!"

He obliged, setting her on the bed, and Cordelia was quickly creeped out by the doll collection that surrounded her. Spike grabbed a sheet, tore it in slices to make a piece that would fit around her wrists, and then proceeded to tie her hands together. She wanted to be out of there, dying young wasn't a goal, yet if there was a possibility Buffy could die coming after her, she'd rather take her chances with the lame excuse for a creature of the night.

But aside from being one of the rare selfless thoughts she'd had during her short lifetime, it didn't hold any weight. That's all it was; a thought that wouldn't change a thing. Still, it led to an important revelation (how come those always seemed to happen when she was bound?). All she had begun to picture her future to be, the slayer was in it - the stubborn, strong, weak, funny, serious, childish, complex, beautiful slayer. She'd fallen. Despite her better judgment, of course.

What was her category? Lesbian? Bi? Straight was off the list obviously, but she had come to learn that sexuality was too confusing to label, so she didn't bother. The world had its own system, and wherever people were going to place her later in life, that's where they were going to place her, whether she was okay with the choice or not. It was going to happen, it was unavoidable, yet there was no way she was stereotyping herself. Good thing she counted on Buffy being there with her so they could adjust together.

The blonde was a permanent fixture in that vision. A year, two years, three, four...she was seen down the road, and that was what was important. "Love" was a term meaninglessly thrown around in high school, that was hardly unknown, but they were the real deal. She could feel it; if only because of the simple fact that Cordelia Chase didn't tend to put the well being of many people ahead of her own, and here she was wishing she could do that right now.

"If she finds out it was you?"

"Then you'll find out just how much she fancies your pretty head."

Another piece was used as a gag.


"You're not going, Giles." Buffy told him, gathering weapons. "You want me to list reasons? Cause I can." She examined the blade of an axe; it could've been sharper. "One,"

"I won't argue. I realize there isn't time."

He saved her the trouble of a lengthy explanation, because he knew the shape he was in, and that irrationality was bound to cloud his judgment. But he also feared that it would happen to her, and then she'd get careless. That wasn't going to happen. Cordelia was alive and depending on her, so she was going to be anything and everything but careless.

She was focused, prepared to do whatever it took, even if it meant losing Angel. She didn't want it to come to that, but it was in the back of her mind, and if she had to, then she had to. Plus, besides holding her girlfriend hostage, Angelus had to pay for all the deaths he was responsible for, all the pain he inflicted...all the evil she couldn't prevent.

Jenny was there too, lying on the couch, her leg propped up on pillows, concernedly watching them both. There was more that had to be said, and she hoped he would.

"Thanks." The gang was her support team - they weren't letting her go alone, and unlike with Giles, her objections weren't as stable. "They said they'd be right back."

"And they will." He paused. "Buffy, I know that you care for Cordelia..."

"Love." She interjected, wondering if the two people knew how strongly she felt.

It was no different than how they felt about each other. Age didn't make experts, especially not when it came to heart stuff. The emotional one - the physical one was gross yet necessary. Whenever she heard someone say, 'You don't know what love is,' which was usually on TV or she eavesdropped (no one would ever be stupid enough to say that to her), she wanted to counter with, 'What's the divorce rate again?' Though she wasn't making that prediction for Giles and Miss Calendar; she didn't want them to be a statistic.

Removing his glasses, the Englishman wisely stood corrected. "That you love her a great deal, and I don't want to say anything that might affect how you plan to go about getting her back...but, you should be aware of all that we've discovered."

"There's more?" She threw her selections into a duffel bag that was at her feet, and then gave him her full attention. "Tell me."

"The Judge."

"Incinerated. We put him in five different trash bags, which we then happily burned." Her face fell. "His ashes didn't remake him, did they?"

She knew she should've looked for Energizer batteries when they blew him up.

"No, it's nothing like that."

"What then?"

"He could've caused Angelus to come out. He's the only force I can think of that's powerful enough to break through the magick my people used." Jenny said, noting the perplexed look. "I wasn't there at the mall, but Rupert walked me through what happened."

"Angel got hit." Buffy replayed the events in her head. "Me; he got hit protecting me. It bought time, and I was able to get the shot off."

"Had the Judge held onto him a few seconds longer, Angel would have been vaporized." Giles continued.

Jenny saw that the slayer wasn't speaking. "But instead, his soul weakened just enough for the demon to take over. The curse wasn't broken though, only damaged. Which is why he's still there."

"Sooner or later he won't be, right? Then it's too late?" Buffy asked, and received a nod of confirmation from her watcher. "Does the Judge have anything to do with the spell? You know, because he caused -?"

"We don't think so."

She should've figured it out, should've known. It made perfect sense, and she knew why they told her. Her plan was to kill him all along, but the blinders weren't working now. Angel had to watch his hands murder innocents because he had saved her life. Knowing that, it would make staking him harder. He risked his existence for her, and his thank you was death? That didn't seem right.

And it wasn't his fault - he didn't know. Neither did she, but there was guilt anyhow. When she reached that decision point, she wasn't certain of what she'd choose, but at least she knew the whole story. If she had found out afterwards, she wouldn't have taken it very well. This added a new wrinkle to the plan for sure, but she had options. She liked to be in control whenever possible, and Giles and Jenny showed her all the available paths.

She hated having decisions made for her.

Willow came in. "We're all set. Tense, frightened and...really frightened, but set." She gave a brave smile. "You ready?"

"You don't have to..." Buffy trailed off as she watched the redhead's foot tap expectantly on the floor. "Ready and raring." She looked at Giles. "That it?"

"Be careful." He answered, seriously.

"I will." She headed to her friend once she picked up the bag, and then turned to smile reassuringly at him. "We all will."


Angelus had decided that he loved the twentieth century. All the information and news he could possibly want was at his fingertips, and as he looked at the headline in the morning's paper again, he smiled. Just when he thought he wouldn't come up with anything grand enough that'd let him give Buffy the proper send off, this was waiting. He should've known that America, with its need for expansion and wealth, would help him out; the land was so giving. And what better way to say goodbye to the soul, then by giving it one, final kick while it was down?

Some of the boys were out doing a little last minute checking, but he planned to have it before dawn tomorrow.

He was close, and being as confident as he was, it was a bit of a shock to see Buffy and four of her friends just stroll right into his home. Three of his people surrounded them quickly, but they were hit by bursts of holy water from the Super Soakers that Willow and Xander were holding. He watched, rather impressed by their organizational skills, as the werewolf and a girl he hadn't seen before, staked two of the trio while the pain distracted them. Buffy easily handled the third with a well-aimed bolt from a crossbow.

Stuffing the paper underneath one of the cushions that belonged to the couch he was sitting on, Angelus got to his feet, clapping. It took his foe a second to remember that she wasn't looking at her friend.

"Three? That's all you had? And I was expecting this to be hard." Buffy taunted, tossing the bag that was hooked around her shoulder to the gang, and motioning for them to hang back.

As they did, they got in front of Amy.

"Good help's rare these days." He answered with a, 'what can you do?' shrug. "If I knew you were coming I would've made it more fun for you."

"Relax, Angelus. Don't beat yourself up." She tossed her weapon to the side. "Let me."

"You think you can kill me? Cause I'm betting you'll fold."

"Why don't we find out? Or you could tell me what you've done with her, and I might just reconsider."

"Done with who?"

She narrowed her eyes. "Cordelia."

Then he understood the reason for the attack, and almost laughed. Spike was cleverer than he thought, and she was dumber. It would cost her.

"Nice move." He whispered to himself, and said the next part so she could hear. "No, I don't think I wanna do that."

"Fine - I'll cross that off, then. Thanks for making this easier."

"No problem."

Patting her pocket to make sure she had a stake there, she charged Angelus, and the fight began. Adrenaline allowed her to get the first strike - a high, front-snap kick, which when it connected to Angelus' face, forced him to hold out his arms to try and keep his balance, as he stumbled backwards. Seeing that he wasn't able to counterattack, Buffy followed up with a punch to the gut, and as soon as he doubled over, she round-housed the side of his head.

He dropped onto the floor, rolling onto his back, but he could see that his opponent was in a bad position. Reaching out, he grabbed her ankle, pulled, and saw her fall, face-first to the floor. Not wasting time, he got over her and gripped her neck, giving it a tiny squeeze. Predictably, she struggled, but he was putting everything he had into keeping her in place. See, the thing about adrenaline was that it always wore off, and now he could smell its replacement. Fear.

"Gotta do better than that, Buff." She was lifted as he stood, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw Xander fire. The stream was off target though, not penetrating Angelus' shirt. "Somebody just tagged himself in."

Throwing Buffy against the wall, he shifted to his vampiric face, not even bothering to watch her slide down to the ground. He headed in Xander's direction, and was met by two crosses that were in the hands of Willow and Oz. He couldn't see the other girl, but Xander was brandishing an axe. So, they had ditched their guns. He winced, keeping just enough distance. Crosses were a nuisance.

"Stay back." Xander commanded, a slight crack in his voice betraying the image he was going for.

"What's a matter?" The vampire questioned. "Is there a chink in the White Knight's armor?"

"Amy." Willow whispered, looking back to see the witch nod.

What was going on? Before he begin to decipher that, the question quickly passed, as the redhead's lack of attention gave him an opportunity to swat the cross away. Which he did, smiling as her eyes bugged out.

"Willow!" Oz yelled. But he couldn't get to her and keep his cross in place.

Xander however, could do something. He swung the axe upwards, with all the strength he could muster, and snagged Angelus' chin. Then he tried again, as it seemed to have no effect. Sometimes he forgot that he was a mere mortal. Angelus intercepted his second attempt, getting a grip on the handle. One fast yank and Xander was tossed, dropping to his knees when his legs couldn't maintain the speed he needed to stay upright.

The axe was examined. "Could be sharper."

It was being raised anyway, and Oz didn't have a choice. The guitarist was going to jump him, but Buffy's voice interrupted everything.

"Yo! Over here!"

Angelus turned just in time to see his sofa come flying at him. The slayer had gotten a running start, and was able to launch it. When the contact came, his knees buckled, and he fell back onto the cushions, his legs hanging over the arm. He had also lost the axe, which Buffy caught in mid air, and was soon holding against his neck.

"Now do you wanna tell me?" She asked. Still with the smile. "I'll look while you wait here. Right, Amy?"

The group moved aside, and the witch looked upon Angelus with blackened eyes, energy swirling around her. "Thicken!"

Buffy backed away from him, and couldn't help the laugh that came out when he tried to take a step from the couch. The spell wouldn't let him walk beyond it.

"Watch him, and don't get too close." She began her search. "Cordelia!"


"Come on, Slayer." Spike said looking at the ceiling, and wishing the noise upstairs would stop. "Follow through for once."

He also wished he could be there to make sure she did, but he couldn't very well leave the girl here alone. This had to be worth it, or else he was a goner.


"You'll be there for about three hours, so get comfortable." Amy told the vampire, a satisfied smile plastered on her face.

Buffy rejoined them, glaring at Angelus. She scoured the place and Cordelia was nowhere to be found. She waited for him to answer her unvoiced question, and he just started laughing. It sent a shiver through each member of the group.

"Haven't you figured it out yet? She's not here." He was almost giggling. "You always fall for it!" She opened her mouth, but there was no sound. "Want a clue?" He paused. "Bleach fetish."

"Spike?" Willow questioned. "But he's..."

"Up on two legs, and kinda mad at me. Can't imagine why, though." There was an evil gleam in his eye. "He's got your plaything."

"How come no one -?" Buffy asked.

"Because they knew you'd come after me, and they all want me gone." He wasn't na•ve. "What can I say? I'm a pain in the ass; no matter who won, they'd lose a problem." She absorbed this information. "Anything else you wanna know? Like to do your job?"

The slayer regained her composure. "Nope. I've got that down."

"So finish it. Kill me, and then you can go to her. If she's still alive."

She thought she could hear Angel in that request. "Oz...sword." Not feeling anything being placed in her outstretched hand, she turned to stare at their unsure expressions. Hers, however, was not. "What's the hold up?"

Any objections that were ready to emerge from their lips, died when they saw it wouldn't change her mind. But what about the spell they'd been working so hard on? What about Angel? Even though she could see a flicker of him in those eyes, she had promised herself that she would punish the killer. Angel would probably welcome the release; he'd probably been craving it. The demon deserved punishment.

The guitarist fished around in the bag, finding what she wanted, and handed it to her. Angelus hadn't wavered, still silently challenging her to go through with it, adding a cocky smirk in the hopes that it would push her over the edge. If she just walked away, it would show her lack of resolve - a weakness she didn't want to be associated with - so she raised the blade, and apologized to her trapped friend.

Then she thrust the blade through his Adam's apple, straight through until she could see it coming out of the back of the couch, covered in blood. He began gagging and failing his arms, trying to free himself. It wouldn't kill him, but it would be painful for a very, very long amount of time. What kind of punishment was death for a vampire? It was over in an instant, and there was little to no hurt involved. This was a nice start, yet hardly the end.

"Give me the rope. We need to tie his hands." They worked quickly, and he wasn't going anywhere. "If you have any guys left, I'm sure they'll let you out eventually, and um...if you don't mind, I think I'll take whatever you were trying to hide."

She lifted up his leg, and removed the paper she'd seen him stash when they entered. Yeah, he was most likely planning something, but whatever it was, it wasn't going to work, because she'd be there to stop it. She swore that she'd get Angel back as well, though first she had a cheerleader to save, and an undead, limey bastard to kill. He didn't get off the hook.

"We'll have to do this again sometime." Xander remarked, cringing slightly as blood poured from his mouth. "Careful, that's a nice couch. You don't want it to stain. Blood is the unforgiving predator of all cloth types."

"And you know that because?" Amy wondered as they left the mansion in a hurry.

"Mom makes me do the laundry. Never use enough fabric softener, though." Oz chose not to contribute any tips. "Ooh! And I steam clean."

Somewhere inside that hurting body, Angel was happy.


"Honestly, Slayer, it was just a -" The swift kick that Buffy gave to his groin, effectively shut him up. "Oww!" Except for the scream, that is.

Xander and Oz had to turn away.

She bent down to look him straight in his agony-displaying face, but deliberately avoided drifting any lower. "I'll be back to finish this after I get my girlfriend, and if you so much as pinched her, believe me when I say that whatever you're feeling between your legs'll be nothing compared to what I do to the rest of you, Spike."

"She' harm done..." The blonde left him finally, but he wasn't out of danger. The four groupies surrounded him, weapons at the ready. "Hello all...lovely day, isn't it?"

The blonde was kicking down the door to Druscilla's room in about five seconds flat, and rushing in to find dolls everywhere. Not to mention a restrained Cordelia on the floor, who was making muffled exclamations through the sheet that was supposed to prevent her from speaking. The slayer however, despite having full control of her mouth and its related muscles, couldn't form words. She got down, pulled the brunette into a sitting position, and freed her as fast as was super-humanly possible. Which was pretty damn fast.


They stared at one another for what seemed like an impossibly long stretch of time, until finally, they hugged like there was no tomorrow. And considering the lives they led, there might not be. Without even realizing it, both girls had begun to allow tears to escape down their cheeks. To Cordelia this was a relatively new sensation; her mascara was going to run. She knew she wasn't crying because she had been afraid for her life (Spike had come close, though not that close), but because she had been afraid for Buffy's, and now she saw that things were okay.

It was like an overload; they both were muttering unintelligible forms of 'thanks' into each other's necks.

The slayer was crying for much the same reason - only the cheerleader's name was substituted for hers. For nearly twenty-four hours she had feared for Cordelia's life, but she was safe. She wanted to apologize, wanted to grovel for being so careless, wanted to beg for forgiveness...but when they separated, her girlfriend told her not to. Not vocally, but Buffy knew her expressions, and the one she had now said, 'Feel guilty and I'll yell at you loudly.'

"I thought that he..." Buffy trailed off.

"Did you...?"

The blonde shook her head. "I couldn't, not while we have a chance." She saw a faint bruise below her bottom lip, and touched it, frowning. "Did Spike hurt you?"

"It'll cover up. He barely qualifies as a villain, but I guess I got on his nerves." She grinned, and Buffy smirked. "So what happened? You break out of the hospital?"

"No, I was released legally. I'm all better." She stroked her dark hair. "One day. One day, and I go insane. You shouldn't've been here in the first place, but...I missed you."

"What do I hafta do to get through to that head?" Cordelia eliminated the chance for any sort of reply by initiating physical contact. "I missed you too, but," Kiss. "I'm fine," Kiss. "We're fine," Kiss. "It's all fine," Kiss. "So be happy. I mean, you know I think highly of you, but did anybody ever tell you that gloom is pretty much a turn off?"

Buffy smiled. "Turning you off is definitely not what I wanna do. Just the opposite, actually."

Each was desperate to feel the other, and the kissing quickly reached a fevered pitch; they didn't even stop as they were getting off the floor. Though as soon as Cordelia remembered the locale, she called it quits. Before she could offer an explanation, she had to be able to speak. Catching her breath was always the hardest part of making out, but seeing Buffy pant gave her a pleasant rush.

"If this know, leading where I think it is...then I'd rather do it somewhere other than Crazy-Elvira's bedroom. And minus the audience." She gestured around to the dolls.

"Good point." The slayer found the toys very disconcerting as well. "Let's get outta this dump."

They headed out and towards the stairs.

"About damn time. You can't go too long without natural light. Forget a tan; it's a medical fact somewhere that it's good for your complexion. Just cause Spike bursts into flames in it, that's no excuse."

"There's that annoying skin cancer thing."

"Duh. That's why they invented sun block." Beginning their descent, Cordelia lowered her voice. "Are we going to?"

"Uh huh."


"Uh huh."


"Is tonight good for you?" Whew boy.

Buffy wasn't joking; she'd seen that look before. She was wanted, and it made her suddenly nervous.

"Uh huh." Like she'd say no? Everyone came over, relieved, yet not exactly making a commotion. "Don't act all overjoyed to see me or anything." She said sarcastically.

That was the green light for the gang, who hugged her one by one. Oz just held up his hand in a short wave, which she returned. Buffy stood back and viewed the mini-reunion, allowing herself a deep breath, along with a very slow exhale. No matter what Cordelia said, that was a close call, and it could've gone badly. The next time something tried to get to her through Cordelia, in whatever way, it might have more guts than Spike, and then where would she be?

Willow came up behind her, placing a hand on her back comfortingly. "Told you. She's all safe and sound-y. See? I know what I'm talking about."

"Thanks, Will." That was the future; she could smile now. "And yeah, I am glad you guys were there." Her friend smiled; she liked ego boosts. "Amy was -"

"Wasn't she awesome?" The hacker was excited. "But Xander sorta wigged."

"He better not piss her off." They snickered. "You are okay, right?"

"Will you stop asking us that already?"

Spike cautiously walked over to her. "Well, looks like the troupe's all smiles, got your slag back and what all...and in one piece -"

"Hey! Take the back!" Willow exclaimed. She'd been gaining a working knowledge of British slang so she could understand Giles, and that 's' word wasn't very nice.

"You hit her." Buffy faced him, crossing her arms over her chest. "It left a mark."

He'd forgotten that.

"Was more of slap, accidental slap, mind you..." Crap. He started to backpedal. "Just tell me he moved into an urn, and I can die with a spot of happiness in my heart."

"Heart? Ha."

Spike studied her. "You didn't do it." He let loose an anguish-ridden bellow, knowing the answer. "That's bloody typical of you. All Hat and no Cat."

She raised her eyebrows. "Oh, you don't think so? Then why are you backing up?"

This was not his day.


"I still say you shoulda let me make him swallow one of his cigarettes. That way he could've burned to death internally."

Cordelia was sitting at Buffy's vanity, brushing her shower-dampened hair, but stopped the comb in mid-stroke when she heard that comment. Looking past her reflection in the mirror, she rolled her eyes at her girlfriend's attempt to force a disturbingly gleeful tone, when it clearly wasn't working. Similar remarks had been made ever since they left the factory; before it'd had the desired effect, now it was just overkill. The slayer was only doing it to get a reaction, and trying too hard. It was time to put the lid on it.

"Not buying it." She resumed brushing, enjoying the feeling of being clean.

There must have been fifty different odors in that factory, all of which had one thing in common: Death.

"Okay, so maybe I wouldn't go that far." Buffy conceded, lying on her bed. "But that doesn't make the imagery any less fun." She eyed up her sleepover guest. "You look great in my robe, by the way."

Cordelia smiled, checking out the very comfortable, very soft, dark green bathrobe she was wearing. She did look great. "I know." Now Buffy rolled her eyes. "And you know I'm right about Spike."

"Yeah..." There was doubt in her mind.

"You don't kill losers; you get them to do whatever you tell them to do. He has to listen if he wants to live. If you wanna make him regret 'kidnapping' me, and I use the term in the loosest possible way, then you make him help us. Evil on Good's side, get it? Damages his already pathetic reputation. Plus, he hates Angelus, so that's just more motivation."

"What would I do if I didn't have you here to rationalize every situation?"

"You'd have to rely on Xander." She got glared at. "Don't pretend that's not a scary thought."

While they were on the topic of her job, Buffy thought back to the look on Giles' face when she gave him that newspaper. It was too worried for her liking, She had to take a break. This was enough for one night. No more shop talk, no more shop thoughts. She got off of her bed, went over to the vanity, took the comb from Cordelia's hand, and set it down. The brunette didn't protest, mainly because she was distracted by the new view in the mirror.

"Is that my shirt?"

Buffy nodded. "I borrowed it when I spent the night at your house, remember?"

"Cause you wanted to change in the morning, but conveniently forgot to bring your own clothes. Right."

"Does the word 'assassins' ring a bell?" Cordelia smirked, but it disappeared as soon as her girlfriend's arms went around her neck. "Believe what you want, but I wasn't trying to steal from your extensive fashion collection."

"Sure you weren't."

"Hey, you want it back, you can have it back," The blonde leaned over to whisper in her ear, "but ya gotta take it off me, first."

She swallowed. It was easy to be the aggressor, but being on the receiving end was causing every hormone to go haywire. "Those pants...are they my pants? They look like my pants...yeah, I think they're mine."

"So get them back, too." There was a grin. A playful grin. "I don't hafta repeat myself, do I?"

An 'I'm about to cross a line, and I'm not planning on or expecting any interruptions, so are you coming with?' grin. Buffy took her hand, waited for her to rise from the chair, and then led them over to the bed, which they both sat down on. She looked to her to make the next move; her take-charge attitude was gone. All Cordelia could think to do was push back further onto the mattress so they could lie down. Then after staring at the ceiling for a while, they thought it might be a good idea if they could see one another, so they turned on their sides.

It was amazing how fast a combination of fear and sudden horniness took away the cheerleader's ability to function, especially when it was only supposed to be a guy problem. She'd always stayed in control. The number of times that she'd had sex was a slightly exaggerated figure, but still, in her limited experience, her body had never felt as ready to give out on her as it did now. Sex had been almost trendy in the past, not something she absolutely needed to partake in. That was no longer the case however, because she did need to do this, and not simply to 'do it.'

She wanted to make love to Buffy (who might act like she wasn't gorgeous, but was) more than anything; she wanted to cement what they had, while getting to learn every inch of her in the process. Would she be any good? That's what she was afraid of. Not being very skilled. It was their first time; she didn't want to be so bad that it would be their last. Even though they were both new to this, and Buffy was probably having the same thoughts, Cordelia was nevertheless putting a lot of pressure on herself. There was going to be pleasure, damn it.

During the quiet, they'd been lightly - not even aware of it - touching each other. Wandering wherever their hands wished to go. Gaining courage though, Buffy, every part of her tense, decided to take the leap and guide them. The fingers of her one hand began to outline her girlfriend's face, while the fingers of the other wrapped around the cloth belt holding the robe together. She listened as her girlfriend sucked in a sharp breath, feeling the small shudder that ran through her. Seconds then passed, which felt like eons.

The kiss came from Cordelia, the familiarity settling their nerves, and then she smiled.

"Go with the flow."


The moonlight had found its way into the now darkened bedroom, and was casting a shadow that played across Cordelia's naked back. To be exact, it was a shadow that resembled the blinds hanging in Buffy's window, but they failed to notice. A robe, a shirt, a pair of pants, and those layers of clothing that were usually kept hidden, were scattered somewhere along the floor; as soon as that had happened, all the girls noticed were the sounds and the movements their partner made as they experimented in new territory.

Their minds had long since clouded - Buffy was subjected to jolt after jolt of pleasure, writhing under her girlfriend's seemingly expert touch. Once Cordelia discovered that Buffy was going to like what she was doing because she was the one doing it, the shyness left in a hurry, and she learned a lot about the slayer's body in an extremely short amount of time. Wanting to go beyond, wanting to master another realm purely to make someone else happy, she was making the most of the knowledge she'd gained, and enjoying it thoroughly. It helped that she knew what she'd liked, when it was her turn to give.

There were no secrets. She'd suspected that her hair was colored, and was right, which often tended to be the case. They were half covered by sheets, so when the cheerleader slid her fingers through the only hair that was still natural, underneath them, the heels of Buffy's feet were pushing and digging into the mattress, while she tossed her head from side to side. As sweat cascaded down her forehead, she couldn't hold back the sigh. Or the moan. Or whatever noise it was that she had just made. She didn't torture Cordelia this much, did she? She felt so tense; she was right there.

Another hand was caressing her face suddenly, which got her to relax somewhat and to open her eyes. She was staring up at a brunette, who she vaguely recognized as her girlfriend and lover.

"Hey." The word sounded husky and sweet.

It said everything. It said, 'I love you,' 'I can't believe we're doing this, but I don't wanna be anywhere else,' and it asked permission. She hoped her frantic nodding was clear enough. Buffy mouthed something then, it was the best she could do, but wasn't sure Cordelia saw it. The brunette went out of sight, and within a second she felt warm breath blowing where she hadn't ever remembered feeling it before, then she felt a mouth...then came dizziness. And spinning. Not like when she was sick, though. This didn't hurt at all.

She was on a whole other level; knowing she was calling out her lover's name, but not hearing anything. Knowing her hands were grasping a pair of shoulders, but not feeling them. She let the electricity that was somehow coursing through her do what it wanted, let the blissful sensations knock her out, and then eventually things began to calm down. Cordelia lay beside her, snuggling close and planting small kisses down her arm as she recuperated. It hadn't even had the slimmest chance of being a disappointment; it was indescribable.

Buffy had come to the conclusion that sex with her girlfriend would be a consistently wonderful and draining experience.

Cordelia looked directly at her. "I didn't know anyone could do that and look so..." Buffy's tired eyes were questioning. "You know...beautiful or whatever." They rolled next, and cheeks blushed. "I'm serious. But don't say it -"

"You looked pretty beautiful yourself. Not that that's a new thing..." She had gotten used to the fact that she wasn't listened to. "Anyway, I would've said so after, but you jumped me before I could get a word in edgewise."

"I didn't have a choice. I had to have you." Her nails lazily traced Buffy's collarbone.

The slayer gave a throaty chuckle. "I love you, Cordy." Her eyelids were drooping, and as a result, the last part of her admission was said in the midst of a yawn. "So much."

" you too, Buffy." She pulled the covers up further, and then shut her eyes.

Maybe they should've taken notice of those blinds, because looking out of them would've revealed a Jeep in the driveway. If they hadn't been so involved, they also could've heard the front door open, as well. And if they weren't so exhausted, they would've realized that there were footsteps on the stairs. Sure, they heard the bedroom door open, but by then it was too late.

Light from the hallway flooded into the room. It was bright, intrusive - a stark contrast to the tranquility of the light given off by the moon, which allowed for peace and privacy. On this night, anyway. The artificial source however, illuminated more than the girls had intended to reveal, and more than the intruder had cared to see. It made them all become real alert, real quick.



Two-thirty a.m. People were sleeping, demons were sleeping, lots of things slept now, and that was how it should be. Imagine if nobody got any sleep. Why, cops would doze off in their coffees, pedestrians would zone out looking at the little crosswalk-sign guy, and the puppies - who would walk the puppies? Those were all the arguments for returning to bed, that Buffy was considering presenting to her mother, who was waiting downstairs. Life would be simpler if the three of them could just agree to pretend that what happened, didn't happen.

"That wasn't how I wanted her to know." She said to Cordelia, pacing. "I wanted it to be a nice, calm talk, where there would be numerous escape routes available...but no, it had to be a big, heart attack causing moment. With the suddenness, and-and the seeing. My god, the seeing." There was terror, and then sarcasm to ease the pain. "Guess we'll just have to wait and find out what develops in the emotional scarring department, won't we?"

They were clothed, and rather uncomfortable. Even lovemaking had an aftermath, which was undoubtedly perspiration. Adding layers to nakedness so soon, was a bad idea. In a rush to eliminate the awkwardness, however, they selected the first apparel - from the appropriate shirt, pants and undergarment drawers - that their hands came into contact with, and put on the combinations they'd selected (mismatching or not), probably setting a speed-dressing record in the process.

Cordelia wouldn't normally be caught dead in a 'Power Rangers' t-shirt and purple shorts with an elastic waistband, but this was an extreme circumstance; sacrifices had to be made. The brunette was sitting at the foot of the bed quietly, but she was just as freaked, continuing to allow Buffy's rant to run amuck.

"And what're we about to go do? Come out? Come out halfway? One foot totally free while the other foot stays inside holding the closet door open, just in case its buddy wants back in? What?" She took a deep breath or three. "They've gotta invent new terms. Like gayishly straight. Or straightishly gay. Or Les-boys are cute sometimes-ianism." She quickly regretted saying that. "Not that I wanna label us; it's just that she's gonna ask, and we're...kinda un-labelable."

"Buffy?" An interjection was necessary at this point. She did babble in her own unique way, but was she was trying to challenge Willow's monopoly in the market?

"Yeah? Yes?" The gears were having trouble slowing, but she produced a smile. "Oh, so I was talking to another person. Cordelia...hi."

"Hi." Cordelia smiled back. "I need you to do two things. First, take a Valium. Second, get a dictionary and look up 'bisexual.' It's stupid, but if we have to, then we tell her that's what we are, okay? It's common knowledge, and way more simplified than your suggestions. Maybe she'll take it better if she knows we're not gender-exclusive and only checking out biker chicks now, or something."

"But you're exclusive to me, right?" Buffy sat on her lap.

"Well, I'm not gonna wear a button that announces it, cause it'd definitely clash, but yeah, you're the only one who gets to admire the whole me." Her arm ensnared the blonde's waist.

"Must make me somebody special then, huh?"

"I think so."

She received a small kiss. "And you know I'm all yours." Getting contemplative about their predicament again, she frowned. "What if...?"

Cordelia sighed, squeezing her girlfriend's hand. "We'll explain things on a question-by-question basis, hope she doesn't explode, and it'll be over."

That was all they could do.

"You're so damn logical. Helps that at least one of us is, though." Buffy was very glad for that.

"Good. Because if we both agree that I'm the logical one, and seeing as how impossible it is to argue with that, then you should have no problems with me showering. I really feel like it's the thing to do. So go ahead down and start, fill me in when I'm done."

The slayer shook her head, smirking. "Nice try." Her forehead scrunched in thought. "My mom probably does think I'm gonna turn 'Biker Chick' on her, doesn't she?"

"It's a typical stereotype." The cheerleader shrugged, disappointed that her attempt to stall had bombed.

And that's why they had to talk to Joyce. To show her that they were still Buffy and Cordelia, individuals that hadn't somehow become faceless stereotypes. Basically, with the exception of a few changes that they wouldn't dare throw away, they were the same people they'd always been. After that got settled, they had to make the woman see that their feelings for each other weren't part of a phase, or else she'd never completely take in and accept what they were going to tell her.

Buffy looked at her door. Beyond it, her relationship with her mother hung in the balance. She'd already decided that she wasn't giving up Cordelia, so getting her to understand was a goal they couldn't afford not to reach. The consequences would no doubt be costly if the reaction was negative, and she hadn't exactly mapped out what her 'Plan B' was. Mainly because she had great respect for her mother, thinking her to be fairly open-minded. It was time now, to test that high opinion.

"Let's do this."


Buffy and Cordelia didn't find it amusing; their morning had begun with an interrogation, only without the 'good cop-bad cop' routine. A domineering mother figure was all that was necessary to put the fear of God into them. Willow, Oz and Amy, however, were just confused by the miniature show. Two fish sticks were being held upright on a cafeteria tray, and being moved and intertwined in various ways, as Xander provided the appropriate commentary for his audience at the table.

"Oh, Buffy, kiss me!" The processed nutrition was mashed together. "Take my nude, supple bod and never stop...ahhh!" He dropped them, and picked up a straw, 'walking' it over. "Mother, I can explain! She was bitten by a snake and I was just sucking out the poison!" He moved the bendy part of the straw up and down. "My first-born has been defiled! Whatever shall I do?"

"Is that it?" Cordelia asked.

"Yeah, that's it." He chuckled, grinning. "Scene!"

"Good." She gave him the shoulder punch to end all shoulder punches, from her seat beside him. "Moron."

"Somebody's hostile." He rubbed his aching flesh, gingerly. "It was just a joke; you said she was cool about it."

"I said she seemed cool about it." Buffy corrected him from her spot on the brunette's lap. All the girls had used their partners as seats, as a matter of fact. "All she did was ask questions and nod. It was creepy."

"But you said she didn't yell." Willow added, thinking that would help.

"Yeah, she could still wanna disown me, though."

"You can always stay at my house," Cordelia offered sympathetically, "cause I know what my mother would say. 'A girl? Really? How brave of you, dear. I don't know where all those horrible films get the idea that those people want to be men. My stylist is gay, and the most adorably feminine woman. Do you see her at your meetings?'" She shook her head, sighing. "And that's why I avoid talking to her."

"At least she's just clueless." The slayer's eyes were sad.

"Trust me, Buffy, as long as your mom doesn't try to kill you or switch your bodies, everything'll be okay." Amy contributed, grinning slightly.

"Yeah, let's not forget whose mom won the 'Worst, Most Psychotic Parent Ever Award,' around here." Xander supported his very powerful girlfriend, and they smiled at one another.

"Puts things in perspective." Oz commented.

"I guess it kinda does." Buffy smiled. "But thanks to 'Mom issues,' there's no way I'm passing the history test today."

"Don't say that!" Willow exclaimed. "You're gonna pass it if I have to sweat blood."

"Do you think you're likely to?" Xander wondered. "Cause I'd like to be elsewhere."

"It was only metaphor blood."

"I think you'd sweat cute blood." Her boyfriend said.

She gave him a smile, and then spoke to Buffy. "Next period after my computer class, we'll cram like two, committed, insane women."

"Ready to be insane." Buffy responded with a smirk.

"Boy, Willow, you've really got the teaching bug; taking over computer class while Miss Calendar's out, tutoring..." The cheerleader realized.

The redhead smiled broadly. "I love it, I really do."

"Speaking of love," Xander started, "if you weren't satisfied with my portrayal of your night of hot and steamy...uh, steaminess, then how's about a demo so I can get it right the next time?"

"How about not?" Cordelia fired back, sternly.

"Fine, fine...if you want inaccurate food theater, then go ahead and reject me." He reached for the blonde witch. "I'll just have to turn to my very own black magic woman, for some comfort and lovin'."

Amy tried to dodge his fingers, laughing. "No, stop! Ah! You have fish hands!"

"Let me caress you..." He requested with a French accent.

Snyder interrupted him, coming over. "That's enough of that." He looked at them all. "Are we having a chair shortage?"

"I didn't read anything about...oh." Willow said, and they all found separate seats. "We get it."

"These public displays of affection are not acceptable in my school. This isn't an orgy, people, it's a classroom."

"Yeah." Buffy sarcastically agreed, glancing around. "Where they teach lunch."

The principal glared at her. "Just give me a reason to kick you out, Summers. Just give me a reason."

When he was gone, Cordelia snorted. "How about because you're a tiny, impotent Nazi with a bug up his butt the size of an emu?"

"Sums it up." Her girlfriend nodded, finding a hand to hold under the table.

"Don't you think?"


How long has this been going on?
When did you realize...?
Was that...your first time?
Do your parents know?
You're teenagers; it's natural to be curious.
You what? Oh.
I don't know what else there is, I''s okay.
You both should...sleep. Just sleep.

That was all Joyce could remember saying as she sat in the employee lounge of the gallery, drinking her coffee. She hadn't said anything she regretted, nothing irrational that she would end up having to take back. She had handled things fairly well, especially given how she'd found out; of course, that didn't mean she understood or was comfortable with it. Fiddling with the straps of her purse that was sitting on the table in front of her, she asked herself one question.

Did she think it was wrong? Well, she'd never figured that her daughter might be...they said 'bisexual,' but if she was with a girl now, that made her gay, didn't it? No, not wrong, just...a little weird. There were certain things in life you couldn't really grasp unless you experienced them yourself, and she hadn't been attracted to a woman before. She'd noticed that they were attractive, but all women noticed that. They had to have a standard to reach. It was like they needed to be jealous of one another.

Her parents had been religious people, so she'd grown up around the values and the psalms, though as she became an adult, most of it got thrown out. You either rebelled or conformed. She rebelled, promising herself that she wouldn't be as strict or demanding. She did hold onto one value - to live the best life possible, and be respectful of others. Still, was God against gays, against her daughter? That couldn't be true. If He created every human being and loved all his creations, then He had to want some people to love in different ways, right?

This led her to two probable conclusions: either He was a hypocrite, or the ones responsible for conveying his message twisted it to fit with their own prejudices. She settled for the latter, not wanting to believe that a supreme, omnipotent being would be as discriminating as mortals.

Going into her purse, she pulled out a pair of objects, which she allowed to rest in her hand. A bracelet and a locket, that were supposed to be evidence of how serious Cordelia and Buffy considered themselves to be. They were given to her temporarily, the girls hoping that she'd become swayed to their way of thinking. In other words, breaking it off wasn't in the cards any time soon. The bracelet had been a birthday gift, the locket a Valentine's gift. At least they had enjoyed that night; her date had gone nowhere. She wasn't exactly drawn to men who talked about their work for hours - she wasn't looking for another Hank Summers.

The girls were apparently in love, and she couldn't deny that she saw it. Opening the golden heart, the picture inside wouldn't let her. Their smiling faces were genuine and contagious. When Buffy came home after spending the summer away, she was distant. Her demeanor had completely changed since then; she was bright, happy...there were times that wasn't always the case, but generally, Cordelia appeared to be a good influence. Should she fight that, even though she wouldn't know why she was?

How come she thought it was expected of her to make a big deal out it and scream? Was it residuals from her parents' teachings?

She had picked up on something when Cordelia brought her sick daughter home, just about a week ago. Granted, she probably wasn't the most observant person in the world, but at least she'd had an inkling before walking in on them. Because her flight was cancelled, Buffy was traumatized. It was embarrassing for both of them; if there wasn't any sex going on, though, it could've been avoided. That was one thing she had to put her foot down about.

The cheerleader was a nice girl (albeit somewhat tactless), and the way she'd been hovering protectively over Buffy during their chat, it was clear that she cared. She guessed that everyone had a few surprising layers inside of them somewhere. From what was said, they were caught off-guard, too. Joyce clicked the locket shut at that thought, as Carol came in. Her friend and employee saw the jewelry, and whistled.

"Yow...they look expensive, Joycey. Didn't steal 'em, did you?"

"Yeah, that's just the kind of change I want in my life. Who would suspect that a forty-two-year old jewel thief would run her own art gallery?"

"Not me." Carol smirked. She was three years younger, rather liberal, too. "You gonna dish, or what?"

"They're my daughter's." Joyce smirked, and then hesitated. "And...her girlfriend's."

"No kidding." The woman had the briefest of reactions. "Who's the lucky girl?"

"Cordelia Chase."

That did get a reaction - an impressed one.

"A Chase, huh? Buffy must have something special to be able to snag one of them. Good for her." Carol looked at her employer carefully. "You're all right with it, aren't you?"

Special? Yeah, Buffy was special.

Joyce laughed lightly. "I'm still deciding. I...I caught them."

"Ohhh..." The dark-haired woman understood, grinning. "Sometimes I forget that that's the one thing you didn't try in college." Her friend rolled her eyes. "But I know my jewelry, and you don't spend what they probably cost, on a fling. Love's love, sweetie."

Carol was happily married, but Joyce had known her opinion on the subject for twenty years now. That was great and all, but when it came to Buffy, she had to know where she fell, not someone else's stance. Her main concern was making the rift between them larger, so she had to be smart about this. She loved her daughter; she'd use all of her parental muscles to try to not screw things up.


Buffy's eyes scanned the classroom, looking for anything out of the ordinary; she would've welcomed it. She saw her friends sitting in their various places, but nothing that would justify her stopping and not taking this test. She compared it to getting her teeth pulled - she wasn't having a good time. Cramming didn't solve all her problems, because she still dreaded talking to her mother after school. Little did she know, Angelus had been kind of cranky himself.

Not being able to pull one lousy sword out of an ancient, stone-encased demon that was going to the suck the world into hell, would do that to a guy. He wanted to wipe everything out in one, fell swoop. She had pissed him off; the holes in his neck weren't pleasant. Oh, they'd healed, but that wasn't the point. It was time to be ruthless and unforgiving. No more playing around. He'd see that look of defeat on her face just before the heat flayed her skin - he swore it.

Except first he had to figure out how to make that happen, which was why one of his children was walking into Buffy's classroom, shawl covering her head, and carrying the sword the slayer had used to cause him...discomfort. From tip to hilt, it was covered in his blood, and there was a paper attached, sitting in the middle of the blade. Buffy noticed the vampire before the rest, as the sword was being directly pointed at her.

The thing then removed its shawl, revealing its warped face.

"Tonight...Sundown..." The class looked up. "At the graveyard..."

"Excuse me..." Their teacher tried to take charge.

Now that it was fully exposed to daylight, its body began to smoke.

"You will come to him. You will come to him or more will die." It ignited and started to burn. "Tonight!" While students leapt from their chairs, she remained calm, and not all that shocked. "His hour is at hand!"

As it combusted, going up in flames, Buffy watched the sword hit the floor.


Giles was back in the library. He wished it could've been for happier reasons, but the end of the world didn't exactly qualify as a happy reason. Books were here that he didn't have at home, so he'd called Buffy's house (knowing that it would be pointless to believe the cheerleader was anywhere else), and had asked Cordelia if she would give he and Jenny a ride to school this morning. He wasn't going to leave her alone, so she had to maneuver with the aid of a wheelchair.

Kendra had arrived while the kids were in class, and once again, it was because her watcher believed that a very dark power was about to rise in Sunnydale. That pretty much confirmed what he'd been afraid of - that the object the paper said was unearthed, was something that should've remained buried. He had spoken to the museum curator yesterday from his home, getting a description of the markings on the obelisk; today, the curator was dead, and the stone prison gone.

Looking up from their readings, he, Jenny and Kendra saw a very uneasy group coming to join them. Buffy was holding what appeared to be a sword and a piece of paper, which she placed on the table while the others sat down. He wordlessly began to examine the bloodied sword, soon realizing that it was part of his collection. He picked up what appeared to be a pencil drawing, next. It was an amazingly well done portrait of Buffy and Cordelia kissing, but thanks to being on the sword, there was a hole in the middle, outlined in red.

It didn't take him long to gasp.

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Cordelia said, scowling. "The sicko was watching us!"

"And you weren't aware...?" He coughed, seeing their faces. "Oh."

"The window was closed; I would've definitely heard that open. Plus, the blinds were blocking any good view." Buffy said, anger in her voice. "Which means he got in somewhere else - probably the back door. He must've left before my mom came back...and I guess since nothing is supposed to be private in my life, yes, she did catch us."

"Your intimacy habits aside, Buffy," Her watcher's face was blushing, "you're lucky that he didn't choose to do anything more than...observe."

"Yuck, Giles!" The brunette screamed. "What'd you have to say that for?" It didn't sound that way in his head. She turned away so she could lean into her girlfriend and receive consolation. "You think we can do it over?"

"Not over, but definitely again." The slayer grinned. "Then again after that...there's a whole 'again' pattern."

"I'm liking how you think." Cordelia was already feeling better.

"Ah...sorry." The librarian apologized for what he'd said before they had distracted themselves. "I meant he could've killed you, however -"

"He didn't." Miss Calendar interrupted. "So let's focus on something else."

"Good idea." The slayer said. "Angel just got those to me through an immolation-o-gram during class."

"It was pretty scary, b-but there is good news." Willow entered into the conversation. "You said it was better if we had Angel's blood for the spell, right? Well, we have lots of it now."

"It makes things easier." The teacher smiled. "That reminds me; I need to talk to you and Amy about something."

The girls looked at each other questioningly, and then followed Miss Calendar back into the office.

"What'd'ya think Angelus would do if he found out that he helped us to get rid of him?" Xander wondered as he watched them disappear. "Am I the only one who'd pay good money to see the look on his face?"

Buffy smirked, and with the break in the discussion, finally noticed Kendra. She rushed over, deciding to ignore her hugging rule. "Hey, long time no see."

"Hello, Buffy." Kendra smiled.

"When did you get here?"

"A half an hour ago, I believe. I see dat you and Cordelia are...dat you have..." Kendra got embarrassed. "I am happy for you."

"Hope my mom is, too." She smiled back. "How ya been?"

"Okay." The other slayer shrugged. "Me home is boring compared to dis place."

"Don't tell me. You're here cause of this Alfalfa guy."

"Dat's about it."

"It's Acathla," Giles corrected her, "and yes, the information provided by Kendra's watcher seems conclusive." He took off his glasses. "I've been on the phone to the museum. The demon is missing, and the curator has been murdered. Vampires."

"Then Angelus has it?" Cordelia asked, coming to stand by the blonde as he nodded. "This sucks."

"He called you out, Buff." Xander reminded her.

"I know." She responded, thinking. "We have to do the spell tonight, before he gets the chance to wake the thing up. Can we?"

"Yep." The redhead came back out looking nervous, trailed by Amy and Miss Calendar. "Amy and me. It's cause I'm a...what am I?"

"An untainted soul." Amy supplied. "I sorta do darker stuff, and this needs purity. I'll be giving her protection."

"But I don't have power like you."

"Sure about that?"

Willow nodded. "Uh huh, totally super sure. So not a witch...and-and what if I blow it?"

"You won't." Jenny assured her. "Whether you know it or not, you have the ability to, but we'll still guide you through it."

Oz came to put his arm around her. "You can do anything, Will. I'll be right there with you."

"No, no I seriously can't. I can't tap dance, I can't juggle...I can't even play the maracas right, and if you can't play them, then you're basically just a big dufus." Her shoulders slumped. "I don't wanna let you down, Buffy."

Her friend joined the circle of support. "If it doesn't work, then I'll do what I gotta do, but it will. Because if they say you can, I believe 'em. I know you'll do it."

The hacker bit her lip. "Okay, but somebody explain the whole 'he will suck the world into Hell' thing. Just so I know how much pressure to put on myself."

"Well, the, uh," Giles put his glasses back on, "the Demon Universe exists in a dimension separate from our own. With one breath, Acathla will create a vortex, a-a kind of, um...whirlpool that will pull everything on Earth into that dimension, where any non-demon life will suffer horrible and...eternal torment."

"Imagine what the postcards'll look like." Xander deadpanned. "Hey, here's an upside - maybe we'll get out of that history test."

"Or maybe we'll just be doomed to take it in hell forever." Cordelia offered the flipside of the coin. "You think Satan's good with dates?"

"We've got work to do." Buffy announced. "Main plans, backup plans...we need to move, and we need to move fast." She looked at her girlfriend, then. "And no, I bet you he isn't. Wouldn't you feel kinda spoiled if you lived in a place where time has no meaning?"


It was night. After the vampire scare in history, the rest of the day had been devoted to coming up with a well thought out way to win, which would keep everyone alive. No matter how many scenarios got considered, however, there were always unforeseen factors, so nobody made any guarantees. Still, they were all working hard to pull it off, doing the best that they could. Hopefully, it'd be enough.

"Hicce verbis consensus rescissus est." Amy said the final words of the de-invitation spell they had discovered earlier, as Buffy rummaged through the supply trunk in her room, taking stakes, bottles of holy water, and crosses. "That's it, right?"

The place was now a 'No Angel' zone.

"Giles', Willow's, and mine...yeah, that should cover it." Buffy said. "I don't think he'll try anything, what with him busy attempting to end the world and all..."

The witch closed the book. "But you don't wanna take any chances."

"Chances bad." She stuffed the pockets of her jacket with the supplies. "K, everyone knows what they're doing at the library, so now we just have to -"

"Buffy, they're here!" Cordelia called up. "With um...some company."

"Company?" The two girls echoed, and then clambered quickly back downstairs.

Reaching the bottom, they found the brunette looking out the open front door, as Kendra and Spike destroyed what seemed to be a random vampire on her porch. Her enemy then turned to grin, while her fellow slayer had an apologetic expression. But before she could utter a word, her mother came walking up between them, whose face was white with surprised fear.

Her daughter knew she should've expected the day to get continually worse.


"You're sure it was one of his?" Buffy whispered to the vampire.

"Yeah, for the last time, I'm bloody well sure." Spike wondered if she was going deaf.

This was the deal - he helped her, she didn't kill him for kidnapping and striking her girlfriend. She had sent the other slayer to go get him, to bring him here, and then she was going to fill them both in on their part of the plan, except she was about to modify it. Kendra had brought him up to speed on the way over, but when they arrived, they were jumped by one of Angelus' guys; it was only bad timing with Joyce.

The three of them were alone on the porch.

"Then that means he has a bigger force than we saw at the mansion...damn it, it doesn't add up." Kendra hit him square in the nose. "You read my mind."

"I didn't say anything!" He covered the punched area.

"Nope, but Kendra's a firm believer in prevention, so on the off chance that you were even thinking of saying you see where I'm going with this?" She gave him a tight-lipped smile. "Behave yourself, and once this is over, I might just let you leave my town in non-dust form. For good."

"Well, if you like, I can leave right..." He was shown a warning fist. "What's the move, Churchill?" She raised her eyebrows. "Roosevelt work better for you?"

"What do you want us to do?" Kendra questioned, ignoring him.

"I don't know what game Angelus is trying to play, but whatever it is, he's counting on me to be at the cemetery. Predictable Buffy." She shook her head. "Not this time. I want you two there instead. If he's got friends, get back to the library. If he doesn't, it's a diversion, and we'll be ready for it. You'll have to keep him busy as long as you can, though, and when the spell kicks in -"

"What if it does not?"

She didn't hesitate. "He dies."

"That's the first good idea you've had, Slayer." Spike said, almost sounding impressed. "Once he's all soul-havin' again, you really think they'll be able to set their eyes on the broody Care Bear without needin' to heave? How about you and the watcher?"

"Go." Buffy said after several moments of silence, not wanting to think about that just now. "Spike, you do anything evil, and that includes jay-walking, she will stake you."

"Wait for me." Kendra told him, forcefully.

"Say 'pretty please.'" He responded, cockily. The girl gave him a hard stare. "I'm going, I'm going...damn frigid slayers." Standing on the walk, he smiled at her before going away. "Good luck with your mum."

It gave him indescribable pleasure, seeing her in a bind before what was probably going to be a big, nasty brawl. When he was on the sidewalk, Kendra turned to Buffy, retrieving a long, twisted stake from her pocket.

"Here. In case dere is trouble, dis is my lucky stake. I have killed many vampires wit it. I call it, 'Mr. Pointy.'"

The blonde smirked. "You named your stake?"

"Yes." Came the flustered reply.

"Remind me to get you a stuffed animal." She accepted the weapon with a smile, and looked it over. "Thanks."

"Watch your back."

"You too."


Joyce and Cordelia were sitting on the living room couch in silence, waiting for Buffy to come back in. Amy had made an exit; she didn't need to stick around, nor did she want to. When one of them caught the other looking, they would just smile and then avert their eyes. Hearing the ticking of the clock in the background, the older sat with her hands in her lap; the younger brushed her hair behind her ear at random moments, tapping her fingers on her thigh.

Then the adult began to realize how ridiculous it was becoming. There was nothing wrong with talking, so she did.

"How..." The brunette jumped, her heart leaping into her throat and then falling back down into place. "How was school?"

" know how it is. You've been through the pain. Except for the occasional monster with slime for brains, which I can say now that the cat's officially shredded the bag, it's always just the same old, boring -" Cordelia stopped as soon as she heard the door shut, and saw the blonde come from the foyer to stand inside the entrance to the room. "Buffy."

"You think I'm boring?" The slayer couldn't resist.

"No, I think you're here." Her girlfriend was next to her in an instant. "So take over."

They both looked to Joyce.

"Buffy, w-who were those people?"

"Uh, Amy...but you know her, and Kendra and Spike." Buffy answered her mother. "Kendra's a slayer -"

"Like what you are?"

"Right. Spike's a...he's a long story."

"But his face was like that man's out there." She couldn't believe what had happened. "The man who disappeared."

"Yeah, mom...they're vampires."

"So if you, if you kill vam...them, then why was he helping that girl? Shouldn't you...?"

"That's a good question." Buffy turned to Cordelia questioningly, expecting her to supply an answer.

Cordelia opened her mouth, saw the sets of eyes focused on her, then closed it, putting her hands on her hips and glaring. Then she decided to go explore the kitchen.

"I'm so confused." Joyce said, trying to understand. "First I find out that you're..." She paused, considering how to say it. "Dating a girl...and now you're some kind of...what? A-a superhero? Next you're probably gonna tell me one of your friends is a witch." The sigh was involuntary. "Is this real?"

Her daughter went and kneeled in front of her. "Uh huh, it's all real. And I know it's a lot to take was for me, too, but you gotta trust me. I'm not crazy, we weren't all delusional, and I know what I'm doing." Buffy paused. "Most of the time."

"I was going to talk to you; I had it all planned out. I thought for once I could pretend that I knew how to be a parent and how to relate to my daughter. I was even ready to pat myself on the back. Compared to this, having a conversation with you and Cordelia seems like the easiest thing in the world." Joyce shrugged, smiling a sad, defeated smile. "And now I'm lost again, because...I really don't know you, do I?"

"Teenagers are a complex bunch - but at least I'm not smoking that wacky dope us kids are so into." The slayer joked, but she felt horrible. "It's not all your fault, mom. I wanted to tell you before, but there're these rules against getting people involved. I didn't advertise my job to my friends; they sorta had the dots connected for them the first time they got attacked. When -"

"Oh my started before we moved." Her mother suddenly realized.

The arson charges made sense now.

"Yeah, it did. Some days I'm glad, other days..." Buffy trailed off; it was too complicated, and she hated to do this, but didn't have the time. "Um, I don't wanna go, and I promise we'll have that talk when I get back, but I have slayer stuff to do."

Joyce's eyes bugged out. "Right now? You can't just dump this on me and then leave, Buffy."

"I don't mean to, really, it's just...if I don't deal with this now, then I'll have to figure out how to save the world later, and you know how much I hate extra work." She had to think. "Ooh! Cordelia can stay with you. She knows the basics."

"Don't you think she'll mind?"

"Probably," She grinned, "but she'll do it, anyway."

It was a big leap of faith on her part, but what choice did she have?

"If you have to...then go."

Buffy hugged her. "Love you, mom."

"I love you, too, honey. I mean it." The hug got tighter. "Are you going to be okay? You'll be careful, right?"

"Yes, I'll be fine. This is like, routine for me. It'll be a piece of cake."

'Let's hope so.'


Angelus walked out from behind the mausoleum expecting to see Buffy, but instead found Spike and Kendra. His face didn't give away the anger that he felt, though. She had to pick now to gain some intelligence? For the first time since being let back out, he wasn't quite so sure of things. She had a game of her own, or else they wouldn't be here. This wasn't going to turn out well, and not knowing why left an uneasy feeling in his stomach.

"Oh," Spike smirked, "I think we surprised the git."

"I don't remember inviting you." He said, calmly.

"Yeah, well, she wanted to make it, but she got held up. Didn't wanna be rude, so she asked us to come have a little fun for her. How could I pass it up?"

"What happened to you, Spike? Working with the take out? I'm disappointed."

"Yeah, so it breaks my code...but we both want the same thing. Take a guess."

"I don't think you had a choice." Angelus smiled when he saw the younger vampire grit his teeth, and the veins become visible in his neck. "What could she possibly be doing that's more important than this?"

"That does not matter," Kendra spoke, "because you will not survive de night."

She moved to attack him, and Spike was right behind her.


Buffy ran through the doors of the library, finding Willow already reciting the spell, sitting on the table, Indian-style. The redhead was in the middle of a circle made of blue powder, and that same mixture was formed into a pentagram on her forehead. A small bowl filled with Angel's blood and other ingredients was situated between her legs, and Amy was spreading incense around her while Jenny (a cross and garlic around her neck) was beside her in the wheelchair, parchment in hand, making sure she stayed accurate in her wording.

The men were all armed, the guitarist with a staff that had a sharpened end, the librarian with a dagger, and Xander with his trusty Super Soaker. She was glad that they had actually paid attention when she called from her house and told them to be prepared. She walked to them, and handed out stakes and bottles of holy water, careful not to disrupt Willow. This was their only shot, and it had to work, because she really didn't want the fate of the world to be in her hands. She had enough stress in her life, and didn't know if she could handle any more.

"Spread the water around the table. If we have crashers, I don't want them getting close to -"

Just as she said that, six vampires appeared in the library by way of the cellar behind the stacks, and one of them jumped over the railing to stand in front of her.

"So much for 'if,' huh?" Xander said, backing up.

"Buffy!" Willow stopped the spell, her eyes darting from vampire to vampire.

"We'll keep them busy, Will. Don't stop." As she punched her opponent, she noticed that they weren't rushing to face her. They pushed Oz and Xander aside, and were crowding... "Amy, help Giles!"

The witch looked at the crowd, her eyes shielded in darkness. "Diana, disperse the unclean!"

The demons went flying. One hit the counter, two were thrown over the counter, and one hit a bookcase, knocking it over; the last one went crashing threw the office window. Buffy swiped the feet of the one she was fighting, then readied Mr. Pointy, starting to think that this might just go their way.


"So she's always been able a slayer?" Joyce asked, noting how Cordelia would repeatedly look out the window or stare at the clock.

"Um, I think it's like a puberty thing." The cheerleader responded distractedly. "You know when you're little that you're gonna get breasts, but you don't get them until you're body starts trying to annoy the hell out of you, then you're not sure if they're worth it anymore. Only Buffy didn't know she could beat things up when she was little...and I'm...not making much sense, am I?"

The woman smiled. "You wanna be there."

"No, I..." She sighed. "Yeah. It's not like I don't understand that she wants me to be safe, and that she wants you to be okay with everything. It was new to me once, too, and I didn't handle it well. She does, though; she's great at it, she'll be fine...I know that. And I get that she has to do this. But she gets so stubborn when she has to slay - it drives me nuts. If she does something stupid..."

Her daughter had grown into this amazing person, and she'd missed out on it. The school librarian apparently knew her better than she did. Buffy was never a hoodlum, she never hung out in the wrong crowd...she was just a teenager with a lot more responsibilities than cleaning her room and taking out the trash. Joyce got on her case, punished her for saving people's lives, and it wasn't as if she had even asked for the job.

Everything was going to change, had to change, whether she was prepared for what would follow or not. Where did being gay rank on the issue scale now? Somewhere near the bottom. The fact that your only child could die at any given moment really caused you to reprioritize quickly. Guilt had a hand in it, but she had just found a common ground with the girlfriend, and she had to be sympathetic.

"I've got news for you...Buffy's always been stubborn."

"Tell me about it!" She said, throwing her hands in the air.

Joyce laughed. "When she was five, she wouldn't let me teach her how to tie her shoes. She had to learn on her own. She got so frustrated sometimes that it broke my heart, but one day, she just did it. Didn't make a big deal out of it, didn't wait for me to say anything, she just put them on, and then we went food shopping."

"How come I'm not surprised?" Cordelia smirked.

"Sounds like you know her pretty well."

She shrugged. "I try. I still think she's got things that she keeps, hidden or whatever, but I'll crack her; you can count on that. No one's been able to escape me when I want something, and I don't intend to start slacking off now."

"I believe you." Every time she looked into the brunette's eyes, she saw the forcefulness in them, but now she saw something else. "Looks like we both know how much hard work loving Buffy can be."

With a small snicker, Cordelia nodded. "Sure is. I'm willing to put up with her as long as she's willing to put up with me, though. I can't help it. I didn't go looking for this, but that doesn't mean I don't want it...I do." The words spilled from her mouth, and after they were out, what Joyce had just said, fully registered. "Hey..."

Again, what other choice did she have? None as far as she could tell - well, unless she wanted to ruin things, which she didn't.

"Cordelia, would you do me a favor?"

The cheerleader cleared her throat nervously, thinking she had stepped into a trap. "Of course. What?"

"You've been a big help, but...go watch out for my daughter." The girl smiled, and Joyce went into the dining room for her purse, taking out two things that she had held onto long enough. "And I think these are yours."

The smile remained on Cordelia's face as received them. She put the bracelet in her pocket, and her necklace was back where it was supposed to be. She knew something had been missing.

"Thanks, but," There was a slight problem, "do you maybe have something that's good for whacking?" Joyce raised her eyebrows. "Uh...demons, obviously. Geez. What is it with people?"


Xander yelled, having just had his arm broken in two places by a vampire. Rather than give into the searing pain, however, he remembered that he still had one good arm, which continued to hold his weapon of choice. He twisted out of the demon's grip, and before either of them knew it, the barrel of the Super Soaker was in its mouth. He was running on some kind of fear-powered autopilot.

"You look thirsty." He pressed the trigger, and a seemingly endless stream of holy water found its face down the vampire's throat. Within seconds, it was smoking, and then combusted from the inside out. Inhaling some of the dust, Xander began to cough. "They can't suck the life outta ya, so they kill you with asthma instead. Good one."

Being out of immediate danger, he took the opportunity to survey the situation. Thanks to him, they were now down to four vampires. Soon to be three, if Oz could find an opening and plant the staff where it needed to go. If they hadn't expected this, things could be a lot worse than a broken arm. Both their girlfriends were very involved in what they were doing, Amy expending most of her energy shielding Willow, and Willow at the point of no return in terms of the casting.

The hacker turned witch was in the throws of the spell. Her eyes had an eerie focus, words flew from her lips in a language Xander didn't understand, and he didn't think she did, either. The blue powder was swirling around her now, transforming into a bright, blue light. The image on her head was doing the same thing. It was like she wasn't aware the commotion surrounding her. He and Miss Calendar both watched as she lifted her hands into the air, and then shoved them into the bowl, the light starting to fluctuate.

Oz did it. They were down to three. The force of the magickal energy was probably throwing the vampires off...and he wished he hadn't thought that and jinxed them all, because one of the things was advancing on Miss Calendar. He screamed her name and hurried as fast as he could to her, but Giles was already well aware of the trouble she was in. The watcher thrust his dagger into the vampire's back violently, and as it turned, he removed the blade, staking it with satisfaction.

Two left. Xander cradled his injured arm close to his chest, and reminded himself not to make jokes at Giles' expense ever again . Buffy had the remaining vampires covering her front and back, over by the counter. Just as she got one down, the other attacked. She couldn't keep ducking and dodging forever.

"Buffy, duck!"

But apparently a voice that sounded strangely like Cordelia's thought she could. Not having any better ideas, she did as she was told, and the one that was in front of her somehow ended up lying on the ground. She looked, seeing that it was indeed her girlfriend. Holding a nine-iron. It must have been from her mother's set; the woman never golfed a day in her life, but kept saying that when she found the time, it would be a good idea to have the necessary clubs.

Buffy thought it was better not to ask questions, and smiled. "I think you sliced it."

"What?" The brunette asked, in the middle of hitting the demon repeatedly.

"Forget it." Having the odds evened out for her, she and Mr. Pointy made quick work of the one that was behind her. Cordelia's victim was covering its face. "Can I kill him yet?"

"No, but I can." The cheerleader snatched Mr. Pointy, dropped the club, and knelt down to finish the job. "Nobody messes with my girlfriend."

"Isn't that my line?"

Cordelia grinned, straightening and brushing the dust off of her outfit. "You're not the -"

She couldn't finish her sentence, because when the lights went out, her vocal chords went out with them. Everyone looked to Willow, and the only thing visible through the dark was her glowing, blue eyes.


Unexpectedly, Angelus found himself flung into a tree. He sat on the grass, stunned, even as Spike belted him in the face again and again.

"This is for Dru." His grandchilde said, snarling. "Take her from me, will you? She was mine!" He laughed, and just kept laughing; he couldn't feel a thing. "What's so sodding funny?"

"Spike, my boy, you whine too much. Screw her! Let it go! Because I can do this all know why?" He smiled, his features covered in blood. "He's gone!"

Kendra stood next to Spike, breathing heavily. "And if they are successful, den he will be back, and you will not."

His face fell, and shifted. "No! Not again!" He growled, springing to his feet.

They jumped back. Buffy wasn't going get out of this without a casualty. With single-minded determination, he grabbed Kendra by her ponytail roughly, not giving the girl a chance to fight back. He snapped her neck with ease, and the body fell to the ground. She had known it was coming, somehow. She wished the only sister she'd had, luck - the unorthodox blonde would go far - and allowed the hole she'd felt ever since being taken from the family she never knew, to finally be filled.

Spike looked on, mostly pissed off that that wasn't his kill. This was the day, and he hadn't capitalized.

"Say goodbye, mate." The bleached blonde got in his elder's way.

"Either way, you're dead. Think carefully."

He didn't think nearly fast enough for Angelus, who knocked him out of the way and ran in the direction of the library. Spike decided it was time for him to move on; he did what he was supposed to, and didn't give the lifeless slayer a second thought.


Willow was sharing her soul with Angel's; she couldn't describe it any other way. It was so weak, so battered. A century's worth of torment, loneliness and painful memories were open to her now. His fear, his guilt, and overwhelming sadness - all before he even became a vampire. She could see it and feel it, and for someone as young and cheerful as she was, it was too much. She understood everything; she knew him, and why he had to come back.

He had to cleanse his soul, had to achieve some sort of peace, no matter how long it took. So the redhead held on, allowing him to gain strength from her. She shook, tears and sobs wracked her body, but still she held on. She could almost make out Snyder and the two security guards with flashlights, who had come in demanding answers. That didn't stop her. She didn't have to see Angelus to know he was there, that he barreled through the principal and the guards, and was heading for her.

But he was too late. She stared him down, and he froze. His eyes turned as blue as hers, and in just a few seconds, she was passed out, the lights were on, and Angel was back.

"Will!" Xander exclaimed, as he, Giles and Cordelia joined Amy and Miss Calendar by the table.

Oz went to get some water, and Buffy walked over to Angel, looking him over cautiously.

"Yeah, it's me." He spoke.

"Where's Kendra?" She asked, relieved.

When he cast his eyes downward and didn't answer, her eyes went wide with shock. No...she turned away from him, and joined her friends. Damn Spike for being right. Oz returned, and they fussed over an extremely tired Willow. Snyder remained speechless, as some badly dressed, unknown man, wearing a hat that looked too small for him, appeared out of nowhere and walked over to Angel.

"Whistler?" The now, permanently-souled vampire questioned.

"Been rough on ya, huh?" The good demon said. "Think it's time to go. Next assignment's waiting, if you want it."


"Got a soul, don't you? Gives you free will, pal. Take it or leave it, but personally, I get the feeling you've overstayed your welcome. You did what you had to do here," Whistler looked to the ceiling, "and they won't forget that."

"But I..." It was all fresh in his mind.

"Wasn't your fault." He patted him on the back. "You tell me what you wanna do."

"You're leaving?" A conscious Willow asked, standing, though wobbly. Her boyfriend was holding her steady. "You can't leave."

Angel smiled sadly. "You really want me around after all that -?"

"You have things to do here still. We need help. Okay, your alter ego? Scary, but not you. Bad things happened, people died, and it stinks that you have to live with it, but you do, and that won't change if you just up and move. After a hundred years, you think you would've figured that out by now."

"It'll make you feel uncomfortable when you're around me."

"Duh! You've always made me uncomfortable! And without the 'grr' face on. Oh...that sounded mean, didn't it? Sorry." She got up next to him, and began to poke his chest. "But look, buster, I didn't just go through all that work for you to run away from us. If you go, then that's just like quitting...I don't save quitters. I hope. So start doing good." She paused, looking at Whistler. "I've never seen you before, but you give bad advice. Go away."

Whistler was taken aback. "Feisty, ain't she?"

"Don't make me use my resolve face." Willow warned.

The demon looked perplexed, and then got the full force of it.

He coughed, backing out through the library doors. "'ve got a year. Then I'll ask you again."

"Chair?" She requested, which Xander quickly supplied for her sitting pleasure. "Whew."

Every single member of the group had smirks on their faces, including Angel. Snyder didn't; he stormed over to them in a rage.

"You're all expelled! And fired! You damaged school property -"

They just stared at him; his cell phone was ringing.

"Aren't you gonna get that?" Xander wondered.

"Quiet, Harris." He answered it, angrily. "What?" He went white. "No, sir...Of course not...No, they're...Oh, I...Yes, I understand...Absolutely...Thank you, Mr. Mayor." He hung up, glared at the hooligans, and then left with the guards. "Let's go!"

The weary gang just shrugged collectively.

"He's such a troll." Cordelia commented.


The Council sent people to take Kendra's body back to England; Quentin Travers was her legal guardian. Buffy thought about that as she sat on her porch with Cordelia a few weeks later. She had never gotten to say a proper goodbye to her or Spike, who had taken off. That was a wise decision on his part. She kept thinking that she could've stopped it, but she had to quit torturing herself. Kendra was a friend she wished she had known better, but she couldn't control everything.

Angel was living at the mansion now, and despite Willow's (who was all into witchcraft now) rant, it would take a while for them to warm up to him. The good news was that nobody was jobless or not enrolled. She didn't care what had changed Snyder's mind; she was just glad that the worst was over. The emotional trauma would be dealt with over time, and all she had to worry about now, was preparing for the finals that were coming in a couple months. And while Miss Calendar was out of her cast, Xander was still in his.

They'd had the "talk" with her mother, and she was wearing her bracelet again. Joyce had been understanding, supportive...Buffy's opinion of her was validated, and that was a huge relief. The only downside was the "No sex in the house" rule, but there were many, many loopholes to that. Cordelia and Joyce had bonded in a way (thanks to being able to complain about her), but however frightening that was, if it helped with the acceptance, she could handle it.

But if the discussions about her girlfriend maybe taking her mother to one of the country clubs' in town to go golfing became a reality, then there'd be problems.

"Do we have to sit out here?" Cordelia asked. "I feel like an old lady. I'm seventeen; I'm too young to start thinking about wrinkles."

Buffy smiled. "Where do you wanna go?"

"We could go to the movies and have another clichˇ make-out session in the back row."

She wasn't exactly opposed to clichˇs anymore.

"What if we see Giles and Miss Calendar there?"

They both frowned.

"My house; we could go to my house." She suggested next. "Have you seen the hot tub?"

"No, I can't say that I have."

"Well, then you have to see it. And everything's right there. Mini-fridge..."

"But what if I don't just wanna look at it?"

"Then I guess you'll have to get in." The cheerleader said, a grin beginning to form, to match the one the blonde had. "Which'll mean that I have to, because I know from experience that I can't leave you unsupervised."

"For the record, I resent that."

"It's noted."

"Should I get a bathing suit?"

Cordelia shook her head. "You can borrow one of mine. If you really need to."

She kissed her girlfriend then, smiling seductively.

The slayer coughed. " tub, huh? Good idea. Why don't we go right now? Yeah, now looks good to me."

It had definitely been a long year. Even though it wasn't without its share of dark spots (technically it wasn't even finished), having the lives that they did, they had to admit that overall, it had turned out pretty okay.


I didn't know how to act around you
Didn't know what to do or what to say
You'd show me one face
Then another
And we'd hit repeat the next day
Look harder
You never know what you'll find
Go deeper
Never know what you'll find

Finals were over - the wait for the dreaded report cards had begun. Though sitting in the Bronze, they weren't thinking about that. Summer was here, which meant freedom. For Buffy, it meant that she only had to work nights. They were just hanging out now, acting their ages and savoring every moment. Xander was especially happy, because he had a girlfriend who healed him faster than medical knowledge could understand. They were coupled off at a table, temporarily missing Willow and Oz, who were just coming in.

Wasn't supposed to be this into you
Wasn't supposed to go as far as this
You showed me every face
Then were human
And I saw the layers that exist
Look harder
You never know what you'll find
Go farther
Never know what you'll find

The redhead was carrying a yearbook with her, which she had bought the day before exams. She didn't understand why she was the only one who bought it in the group - nostalgia was important. Plus, her pictures made it in, and she knew her friends would be excited to see one in particular. Students in the school voted on various categories every year: Nicest Person (which she happened to win), Most Laid Back (which her boyfriend won), etc. Two other people in the gang snagged a category, too, and she'd had the perfect picture.

I can't see the road ahead of us
Can't see down the path we're on
You show me the signs
Then they're finally clear
And it's cause of you my future stays strong
We're here and I'm not sure how
I just know that I...
That I love you now, oh

She set the yearbook on the table when she reached them, and began flipping through the pages.

"Hey, Will, Oz." Xander greeted them. "Anything good in there?"

She just smirked. One day about a month ago, she'd had her camera with her when she caught Buffy and Cordelia talking in the hallway. The cheerleader had just gotten out of the shower because of the exertion caused by gym class, and she could see how absorbed the slayer was. It was no secret that Cordelia managed to look irresistible whenever and wherever, and she asked them to pose, thinking she'd catch them being flushed and nervous. She hadn't anticipated the opposite result.

Finding the page, she pointed it out:


"Water...water..." Xander choked.

"How can you debate that?" Amy questioned.

"Seems about right." Oz said.

"Damn straight. We so deserve it." Cordelia said. "Cause we are hot. And as long as they recognize that, they can call us freaks till their faces turn blue."

"I think we gotta give Willow some credit." Buffy smiled, meeting Cordelia's lips. "That photo was probably what put us over the top."

"Yeah, Will, bravo." Xander congratulated. "You should look into photography. You know what kind really pays well? The artsy naked kind. I mean, they have entirely too many layers on in this picture."

"Who wants to go first?" Willow asked.

A "Smacking Assault" was about to begin.

Look harder
You never know what you'll find
Go deeper
Never know what you'll find
Never know what's...
Never know what's inside
Never know what's...
Never know what's there to find