Author: Tim Knight

Title: Scooby Snacks

Copyright: March 2002

Rating: G to PG to R (You'll see as we go along)

Spoilers: Buffy: Season 2 until Phases. Specific Episodes: Faith, Hope, and Trick. Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered. Choices. Normal Again. The original movie.

Highlander: Season 5 until Season finale. Richie Ryan lives and Season 6 does not take place. Specific Episodes: The Gathering.

Chronicles of Wanderer: How Cordelia Got Her Amazon Groove, Training Blues Series, Midnight Visitations, Calling Out the Clan, Endworld Assault, Slayer In Black, Faith's Story.

Keywords: Buffy/Highlander/ Kung Fu: The Legend Continues/ Wandererverse.

Summary: Just a series of ficlets featuring some of our beloved heroes at various points of their lives. Some serious, some not so serious.

Legalese: All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties and copyrights are the property of their respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant, and no money will be made from this story. This story may be copied in its entirety, and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.

The characters Shaw Hunter, Maxine Thomasson and Ulric Johansen are mine. Anyone wishing to use them may contact me at doobytim@aol.com.
The characters Steve St. Wolf, Frank Iverson, Randi Jessup, Brian Jessup, Charlie, Marc Le Chevalier, and Joe N'Gato and the Knights of the Order of the Grail are property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at steve711@concentric.net.
The character Robin Goodfellow is property of Mike Weyer.

Author's Notes: These stories take place at various points of the Wandererverse continuity. The time period depends on the person or story involved.

Dedications: 
First, to Steve, for letting me play in the Wandererverse and having fun doing it <G>.
Second, to Rebekah and Jack, the beta readers and Almighty Editors, who makes these stories what they are. Nuff said.
Third, to Mike Weyer, for introducing Robin Goodfellow into the mix of the Wandererverse.

Here are the changes from normal shows that may play a part in this story:

Buffy: 
1. Due to her drowning at the hands of the Master in Prophecy Girl, Buffy is Immortal.
2. Passion and Becoming never took place, so Angel is evil, and Jenny and Kendra are alive and well. Kendra has taken up residence in Sunnydale and is attending UC Sunnydale.
3. Amy Madison is a full time Slayerette and has never suffered a cheese fetish.
4. Faith is a good girl, and never turned evil.

Highander: 
1. Richie Ryan is alive.
No Highlander: the Raven continuity.

X-Files: Mulder and Scully are Immortal, and married. Skinner's their Watcher. Anyone who doesn't like the relationship stories, you are warned.

Author's Notes: As I noted above, these are short, simple, stand alone stories for your enjoyment. No convoluted plots, no major plot twists, just some shining of the story spotlights on individual characters.

Invisible Homework Scooby Snacks 01 Tim Knight
Psycho Babble
Au Natural
Life
My Good Deed
Every Place With a Stamp
Unladylike Behavior Scooby Snacks 02 Mike Weyer
A Question of Paternity
Maternal Instincts
The Balance Uncovered
A Little Nepotism Goes a Long Way
You Asked For It Scooby Snacks 03 Tim Knight
Wake Up Call
Heir Apparent
Old Flames
State of Mind
Best of All Scooby Snacks 04 Mike Weyer
New Scooby On the Block
Two Souls Were Stirring
Trophy Girls
Bonding
Destiny's Child Scooby Snacks 05 Tim Knight
Family Feud
Twist of Pace, Change of Fate
Have Gunn, Will Slay

Invisible Homework
Psycho Babble
Au Natural
Life
My Good Deed
Every Place With a Stamp


Invisible Homework

Sunnydale High School
Sunnydale, California
6 March 1998

Amy pushed on the door so that she could exit the library and head to class, the Scooby's morning meeting having just come to an end. She glanced at Willow and smiled. "I told you it was easier than you thought it would be."

"Well, yeah," the redhead smiled shyly. "I can't believe I actually levitated a pencil." She paused as she let it sink in more. "I can really do witchcraft!"

"Well, there's a difference between levitating pencils and casting scrying or shielding spells," Amy noted with a grin. Her eyes became friendlier as Willow looked disappointed. "Hey, at least you have a teacher, Will! When I started out it was like… catch as catch can. I didn't have a teacher, I just had me."

"You didn't want to learn from your Mom…" the hacker softly stated.

"Yeah," Amy sighed. It had only been a year and a half since she'd escaped the situation with her mother, Catherine. "But still, Jenny knows what's she doing. And with Giles there to offer his two cents worth, I figure we'll both get higher on the power scale more quickly than we would without them teaching us."

"I hope so. I just don't see how floating writing stuff is going to help me pull my weight on the team."

Amy stopped and gripped Willow's shoulder in a show of support. She gently said, "Willow, don't go too fast with this, and watch what spells you actually try. If you try something beyond your level, or something not too kosher…" She sighed. "I'm not trying to scare you, Will. I'm tempted to try new stuff out too, but Jenny's laid out the right way to do this, for both of us. Just take your time."

Willow seemed to consider what she'd said and nodded with her "Resolve Face." "Okay. You're right. But I still can't wait to learn how to do more of this."

Amy giggled. She knew what it was like to discover the potential for something greater than being normal. < I like pushing my witchcraft to new levels, so I understand where Willow's coming from. > "So what's on the agenda for tonight?"

"Training," Willow said, rolling her eyes. "Oz and I are teaming up with Steve and Buffy, but Xander and Cordelia have the night off. Maybe you could hit the Bronze with them."

"Oh, right. Like I want to watch the lovebirds make out all night." Amy made a show of rolling her eyes, causing both girls to giggle. She glanced up and saw that they'd arrived at their classroom without realizing it. "Well, here we are. I hope this test goes okay."

"It's just English. It'll be fine," Willow said confidently.

"Easy for you to say, Brainy Smurf."

The girls walked in to start their school day.

*****

"All right class, please turn in your homework as you leave," Mrs. Beakman called out to the English class.

Amy smiled as she stood up and started throwing her backpack on. She glanced at Willow. "See you at lunch?"

"You got it," the novice witch answered agreeably. Both magic-users turned to Buffy. "How about you, Buffy?"

"I have to stop by the library and check with Giles," the Vampire Slayer sighed. Amy could tell she was still getting used to the idea that she was going to live forever. "He's just soooo excited about this living long thing."

Amy nodded; she was also curious about just what this "Immortality" entailed. "Well, we'll still see you at Steve's, right?"

Their friend blushed a bit at the mention of the demon hunter. "Yeah, I'll be there."

Amy nodded and started picking up her books while Buffy and Willow headed out. She watched the blonde and redhead turn in last night's homework to Mrs. Beakman. Smiling to herself, she walked up and smiled at her teacher, who stared at her in confusion when Amy just stared back at her, concentration etched onto her attractive face.

After a few seconds, Amy noticed Mrs. Beakman's smile blossom. She reached out and seemed to take a paper from her. "Thank you, Amy."

The Hecatian just smiled and nodded at her before turning and heading for her next class.

*****

The Quad
Sunnydale High School
Sunnydale, California
6 March 1998

Amy was searching for the others amid the crush of teenagers trying to escape the halls of teenage academia when she heard someone calling her name.

Stopping and looking around, she saw who was trying to gain her attention. < Who… > She took in the tall, dark-haired student coming toward her with some caution; she'd never seen this girl before.

The girl parted through members of the popular crowd, who stared in anger at the obvious beauty of the person who'd barged by them so rudely. The woman was nearly six feet tall, from the top of her ebon-colored hair, tied in a simple ponytail, to her deep blue eyes, to her willowy, athletic body, to the legs that went on forever and a day. She wore simple clothes; blue jeans, a matching blouse, and running shoes. She also carried an athletic bag over her shoulder.

The stranger finally made it to her and said, "Amy Madison, right? Hi! I'm Diane."

"Hi," Amy said neutrally. < Who is this girl? > "What can I do for you?"

The other looked around to ensure that no one was in earshot. She leaned in close and whispered, "Blessed be."

Amy blinked; "Blessed Be" was a traditional greeting among witches. She realized why the girl wanted to talk to her, but she still didn't know how she'd found out. "How did you know I'm into… Latin and herbs?"

The girl flashed a smile that revealed perfect teeth. "Well, I ran into a friend of yours named Michael. He said you were the one to… talk to about joining the ‘Latin club.'"

< Mike, I'm going to kill you. > Amy sighed to herself. Michael Czajack was a fellow junior and casual friend of Amy's, a low-powered warlock who'd been self-taught like she had been until a few weeks ago. The difference was that she knew for a fact that he was more into the whole Goth thing rather than exploring the supernatural. She nodded easily, not letting her disappointment in him dull her opinion of the girl in front of her. "Yeah, I know Mike. He's right, I know a lot of Latin. You?"

"I'm not much of a witch," the girl said after looking around again. She kept her voice in a low whisper. "I'm more into various sports myself."

Amy could believe it, what with the girl carrying the big gym bag. She let her vision switch over to the mystical realms for a second and nodded in satisfaction. "I see." She shrugged. "That's okay, I know other novices, too. What can I do for you?"

"Well, there's this spell I heard about," Diane said with a smile, "one that I'm told you could teach me."

"And that spell is?" Amy asked, her guard going back up a notch or two.

Diane looked around again before answering. "Mind control."

Amy stared at the athlete. "Mind control?" When Diane smiled winningly, Amy's own face became stern. "Maybe you don't get the point to the rules of witchcraft, Diane." She leaned in close to the taller woman, looking into those blue eyes. "Whatever you do with magic, gets turned back on you threefold. I guess you never got the point of, "Bar it harm none, do as ye will." The threefold karma rule, girl. I do not try to take people's minds over." Her eyes narrowed. "I suggest you think long and hard about what kind of magic you use around here. After all, there are big bad things out there, Diane. Things you can't even dream of. Karma can be a real bitch, so watch your back."

"Is that a threat?" Diane asked, looking serious for the first time.

"A warning," the Slayerette clarified. "Bad guys or girls don't tend to last long around here."

Without further comment, Amy turned and stormed off, not looking back.

*****

The taller woman just watched the witch storm off, her lips pursed in consideration over how she objected to using such magics when…

< Well, I guess I'll just have to set this little girl straight. > She thought to herself. She nodded in determination. < Yes, I definitely need to put Amy Madison in her place. >

*****

Connors/Madison Residence
Sunnydale, California
6 March 1998

"Hi Dad!" Amy called out as she walked in the door.

Mike Connors walked out of his office and hugged her. "Hi honey. How was school?"

"It's school," she shrugged with a smirk. "I'm going to change and then head over to Willow's. Okay?"

Her Dad looked confused and glanced upstairs. "What about your friend? She said you two were supposed to study tonight."

Amy followed his glance. "What friend?"

"I didn't ask her for a name," he replied. He frowned a bit. "I tried to ask her, but suddenly it didn't seem important. It's like I was just convinced to let her wait for you."

Amy's face grew tight. "I see." She forced a fake smile onto her lips. "I know who you're talking about, Dad. My bad. I forgot about it, so I'll talk to her."

"Okay, sweetheart," he told her, giving her a light hug. "I'll be in the den if you need me."

Amy nodded, already thinking about what she was going to do to Diane. She stormed upstairs and headed for her room.

*****

Sure enough, the tall black-haired woman was sitting on Amy's bed when she walked in, a satisfied smile on her face. She cheerfully greeted the witch as she walked into her own bedroom. "Hi Amy. I---"

She didn't get any further as Amy grabbed Diane by her blouse and threw her onto the floor, her eyes going black with anger. "Who the HELL do you think you are?!?" she shouted. She clenched her fists and said, "You messed with the wrong family, bitch."

Diane stood up, a terse smile on her face. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"I'm talking about you messing with my Dad's mind!" the Hecatian snapped. She strode forward, her body taut like a coiled spring. "No one messes with my family!"

"If I were you, I'd watch whom I called a bitch," Diane said with that confident manner that irritated Amy. "Nor would I try anything foolish."

"How ‘bout THIS!" Amy snapped, feeling the latent fear she'd always felt, that her mother would come back and destroy her life and new family. This time, she focused it on the athletic woman in front of her by aiming a roundhouse at her jaw.

Diane easily blocked the punch and threw her right arm forward with a thrusting motion. Amy felt herself thrown back onto the bed, landing back first. She swung her legs upward, somersaulting backwards and coming to her feet on the opposite side of the bed, settling herself into a defensive crouch.

Diane snickered at the combat-ready blonde. "Don't waste your time with Amazon tricks, Amy Madison. I can counter any maneuver you know."

"Right," Amy shot back sarcastically. "Just how do you know Amazon moves?"

Diane's eyes shifted then, going from the "look" of a teenager to a look that suggested this teenage girl had seen, and perhaps done, more than the Slayerette could ever hope to accomplish. Amy was caught off guard by the shift as Diane said, in a deep voice, "I created them."

"You…" Amy whispered before getting the point. Her jaw fell in disbelief. "Lady Goddess?"

*****

Diane's eyes lit up with amusement as she glowed for a brief second. When the flash of brilliance faded, in the student's place stood Artemis, Greek Goddess of the Hunt. She folded her arms and gazed at Amy with disapproval. "We need to talk, Amy."

Artemis saw that Amy was glad to see her, but was also confused about the Goddess' tactics. "What's going on here?"

"I might ask you the same thing," Artemis idly said, drumming one arm with her fingernails. "When I gave you my blessing, I didn't know I was making an Amazon out of a hypocrite."

"What?" Amy asked, apparently not believing that her own Goddess was saying this. "What do you mean, I'm a hypocrite?"

Artemis walked over to the bed and sat down. She looked at Amy and patted the bed. "Please Amy, sit down."

Still confused by Artemis' actions and words, Amy did as she was told. "What's this about?"

Artemis looked into Amy's eyes. She gently said, "Do you remember what you told me when I "asked" you to teach me mind control spells?"

"Of course," the Amazon answered, not seeing the point.

The Goddess placed Her hand on Amy's leg and said, "Then tell me, how much bad karma have you earned the last three weeks, using mind control on your teachers?" Before Amy could answer, She continued. "Amy, you brought up valid points about using magic for selfish purposes, citing the threefold rule." She caught the stunned Amazon's eyes and stated, "Yet you are using your gifts to control what your teachers see or perceive."

"Now wait a minute!" Amy stammered out. She stood up and faced Her. "I'm just trying to…"

"Make your schoolwork easier?" Artemis asked dryly. When Amy stopped her babble and took on an embarrassed look, the Huntress' lips formed a thin line. "You make your teachers think you're turning in your assignments. What did you plan next?"

"What do you mean?" Amy asked, not liking that question.

Artemis stood up and shrugged. "Is homework all you plan on pretending to do? Or are you just testing the waters to see if you can "convince" your teachers that you're doing your actual assignments, as well? Or your final exams when they come up? Or do you plan on also going so far as to use magic to give yourself perfect scores on the SAT tests?"

*****

Amy stared back at the Olympian in shock at what she was suggesting. "You think I'd do that?"

"You already have," Artemis pointed out. "You know the saying, Amy: the longest journey begins with a single step. It applies to all paths in life, my Amazon. Even if that single step is using what equates to the Hecatian version of the Jedi Mind Trick on someone who isn't evil." She cocked her head. "Can you really say that "convincing" your teachers that you've done your homework is, at its core, any different from how your Mother treated you?"

Amy stared past Artemis to think about what she'd been told. The comment about Catherine sickened her, and it took her a few seconds to realize why. < Because She's right. I'm not using my magic for good… > She gazed at Artemis with a look of disgust on her face. "I'm really up the creek without a paddle, aren't I?"

The Patron Goddess of the Amazons folded her arms. "Luckily for you, the things you've done on patrol and with helping Willow to begin learning how to use her gifts help you out in that regard. But in the overall balance of things? I don't know, and I'm fairly certain you don't want to know, either. After all, bad boys and girls don't tend to last long here."

Amy hung her head at the use of her own words, but she wasn't going to argue. < She's right. I wonder if she always is? >

"Not always," Artemis giggled, "but experience, sometimes bitter experience, helps me keep from repeating my mistakes. But you have to decide what you're going to do about this."

"Why do you care?" Amy asked, not angrily. She was sincerely curious about why Artemis was going to this effort.

The Goddess sighed. "Because I have seen people, good people, suffer from the inattention of their Gods. It's sort of a symbiotic relationship, Amy; mortals worship the Gods, but if the Gods don't truly earn that worship by returning that devotion, then the mortals can turn away from them. On some worlds, that leads to the Gods dying." She gazed at Amy. "Truly dying." She shivered. "Once, I witnessed an Amazon turn to evil when she thought misguidedly she could do more for her sisters than I could. I have learned from that, Amy. I have learned that if I can at least point out the dangers of certain paths to my daughters, then maybe, just maybe, I can prove myself worthy of their devotion by showing them how not to lose their lives or souls."

Amy whispered, "Do you really think I'm turning evil?"

Artemis smiled and shook her head. "Of course not, my Amazon. But your Mother's path to Darkness started with the smallest of steps, the tiniest of temptations. You saw where it led her. I just want you to think, truly think, of what this course would lead to. I do not merely speak of your witchcraft, Amy; I also speak of your mind. By resorting to these tactics, you cheat yourself by not putting forth the effort with your education. You are holding yourself back, and who knows how much you might accomplish if you didn't do this to yourself? Personally, I think you are a very bright young woman, but Amy, I truly do not approve of my Amazons using their gifts to turn in invisible homework, however original that trick might be."

*****

Amy started chewing her bottom lip. She felt like a little girl being talked to by her parents. < Next thing I know, She's going to ground me. > She looked up and saw Artemis grinning at her. "Please don't let me give you any ideas," she pleaded. When Artemis just cocked an eyebrow, Amy gulped. "Lady Goddess, I get the point! It won't happen again!" She looked at the floor, not willing to look Artemis in the eyes. "Talking about her got the point across. I don't…" She swallowed nervously. "I don't want to end up like her."

The witch was startled when Artemis took her into a gentle hug. "The choice is yours, Amy," Artemis whispered to her with a hypnotic whisper. "I can only point out hazards along the path, but the path itself is yours to take."

Amy backed up and looked long and deep into Artemis' eyes. She sighed and asked, "Goddess, what are Giles and Jenny going to do to me when they find out?"

"I'll make you a deal," the Goddess of the Moon said, a tiny twinkle in her eyes. Amy looked her in the eyes, and She said, "You've given me your word, and I trust you, Daughter. So, as long as you don't try such antics again, we can keep this between us."

"Thank you!" Amy gushed, relieved that her teachers wouldn't be chewing her out.

Artemis' smile faded a bit. "Don't thank me until you make up for what you've done concerning your homework."

*****

Artemis noted Amy's wince with satisfaction. "Did you really think you were off the hook that easily?"

"Think? No. Hoping? Yes," Amy said with a sigh.

"I'm not going to punish you, Amazon," She said firmly. She folded her arms again. "But you are going to make up for it. And you know what I mean."

Amy seemed confused for a few seconds before she realized what Artemis was hinting at. "You don't mean…"

"If I were you, I'd get started. Good luck."

Artemis vanished in a burst of light, confident that one of her new Daughters had definitely learned her lesson.

*****

Sunnydale High School
Sunnydale, California
7 March 1998

"Hey Amy, you coming?" Willow asked as the class started filing out.

Amy blinked and smiled at her. "I'll catch up, okay? I need to talk to Mrs. Beakman about something."

Willow smiled back. "Okay. But don't take too long."

Amy nodded absently as the other students filed out. She took a deep breath and picked up a folder with a number of papers in it. As Mrs. Beakman took the last homework assignments from Amy's classmates, the witch walked up and handed the folder to her.

Mrs. Beakman looked at the folder and asked, "Amy, what's this?"

Amy swallowed and said, "Well, I've been blowing off homework the last couple weeks, Mrs. Beakman." When her teacher looked up to protest that she'd graded Amy's homework, the Scooby was quick to interrupt. "I know it seems like you have everyone's, I mean with thirty-some kids in every class it's easy to lose track. I was kind of using that as an excuse…" Amy stopped and decided to come as clean as she could. "Okay, the truth is, I've been blowing it off because I was thinking about other things, like my Mom, my Dad, their divorce, and everything. It's just… well, like last night; I was thinking a lot about my Mom and how she turned out and…" She looked at the confused teacher. "I pretty much had my head up my butt, Mrs. Beakman, and if you want to flunk me, it's what I deserve but…" She pointed at the folder. "That's all of it. Every single assignment. I… I thought I should at least give you what I owed you."

Amy just waited for her teacher to explode or go into Lecture Mode. Mrs. Beakman watched her for several seconds before saying, "I know what it's like for teenagers whose parents divorce, Amy. I've seen it before." She glanced at the folder before looking back up at Amy. "I'm glad you decided to be honest with me. I certainly never expected you to do this." She held up the folder and smiled. "I'll look through them and grade them accordingly. I just hope you don't plan on falling behind again."

"I won't!" Amy said excitedly. < She's going to look them over?!? I'm off the hook! > She gave Mrs. Beakman a winning smile. "Thanks Mrs. B!"

She took off happily, not noticing the look that crossed Mrs. Beakman's face.

"I'll never understand teenagers."

*****

Amy sat down and smiled at Willow. "Hey Will, lookin' good."

Sitting at the library table, Willow continued to concentrate on twirling the pencil in another exercise. "Thanks. I'm taking this seriously."

"Good for you," Amy seconded. < You're not the only one anymore. > She started pulling out her lunch out of the bag and setting it on the table. She shot a smile at the Wicca and asked, "So how's getting Oz into bed coming?"

Willow's witch-green eyes widened at the blatant question. She turned to Amy and said, "That's not funny!"

"Hey, why should Xander and Cordelia be the only ones having fun? And at least you have a boyfriend," she said good-naturedly. "So when are you and Oz going to do the deed?"

"Well, I…" Willow started stammering. She babbled several words in an incoherent sequence, the only decipherable words being "Oz," "ready," and "full moon."

Amy just snickered and assured her, "Just kidding! Settle down, Will!"

Willow seemed to relax a bit but something caught her and Amy's attention.

Amy glanced at the pencil, which was now spinning end over end rather than along its axis. "Will, settle down…"

Too late.

The pencil shot forward and pierced Amy's plastic juice bottle, the lead punching through the clear plastic like a tossed spear. Juice splattered out both sides, including all over Amy's brand new shirt.

"WILLOW!!!" she shouted in dismay, jumping up and looking at her splattered shirt.

"I-I-I'm sorry! I-I-I didn't mean it!" the rookie Wicca sputtered in wide-eyed shock over what she'd done.

Amy ignored her, knowing deep down that it was no one's fault but her own; apparently she hadn't been as off the hook as she'd thought. So she just looked up at the Heavens and thought, < Sometimes, karma SUCKS! >


Psycho Babble

((Author's Note: This story takes place between Parts 1 and 4 of Midnight Visitations. After seeing the Buffy episode "Normal Again" (read: Last night, it's not even 24 hours after the episode aired that I'm typing this), reading posts by people at the karrollcom group, and talking with our Grand High Poobah of the Wandererverse, I decided to go ahead and do this. This ficlet just might be a true "group effort."))

Summers Residence
Sunnydale, California
7 May 1998

Buffy walked into her room and closed the door behind her. She walked over to her dresser, picked up Mr. Gordo, and silently walked over to her bed. She sat down, leaning back against the headboard and absently hugging her stuffed pig for unconditional emotional support.

She sat there for a while, thinking about what had happened; Snyder going ballistic on her for no good reason; her talk with Steve, Giles, and Jenny; and her talks with Mom, both at Steve's and here at home. She felt tears flowing down her face, not quite able to grasp why that little bastard Principal's big mouth had gotten to her so much this time.

< Why do I care what he says?!? > the Chosen One asked herself. < I just blow him off any other time, why not now?!? > She felt the tears slowly trickling down her cheeks but made no move to clear them away. < That asshole had no right to say I'm responsible for them dying. It's not my fault! For all we know, it's his fault! >

She immediately regretted the thought; Snyder wasn't a murderer. He was just a jerk. Buffy jumped with a yelp when the phone started ringing. She stared at it for several rings, as if it were a monster that would bite her hand it she put it within reach.

Finally realizing that whoever was calling wasn't going to hang up, Buffy tiredly reached over and picked up the phone. She lazily said, "Hello?"

"Buffy?" Willow's worried voice sounded in her ear.

Buffy straightened up. "Will?"

"Buffy!" The voice changed from concern to relief. "Buffy, I was just calling to see if you were… well, not to see if you were all right, ‘cause I know you're probably not all right…"

"Willow, slow down," Buffy begged, rubbing her forehead. She removed the tears still brimming in her eyes and said, "Slowly. Why did you call me?"

"Oh, sorry," her best friend's disembodied voice sheepishly said. "Like I was saying, I'm not gonna ask if you're all right, ‘cause I know you're not with what happened and all, but… how are you holding up? Did you and your Mom talk about it?"

< Good old Will. > A strained smile came to Buffy's face. "Yeah," she delicately confessed, "we talked. It went pretty well, too."

"Okay," the computer whiz said, sounding hopeful that Buffy would be alright. "You want to talk some more?"

Hearing the uncertainty in Willow's voice, Buffy felt a surge of the feelings she and Willow shared; they were best friends, after all. "I guess so. I was thinking about what happened anyway."

"You know it wasn't your fault, right Buffy?" Willow's voice sounded like she was the guilty one. "I mean, I was feeling the same thing. Mirna was my friend and all. I mean, we grew up together, with synagogue and everything…"

"I know, Willow. I'm sorry I wasn't Support Girl today."

"Hey, I understand, Buffy, believe me!" Willow paused, letting Buffy know she was regaining her Willow Composure. "I just can't believe some of the things Snyder said to you. I mean, we know he hates all kids, not just you. But the things he said about you…"

"Like it's my fault that people die?" the Slayer asked, feeling heartache over some of the deaths she hadn't been able to prevent. < Like Theresa when Angel got turned… >

"And that it was your fault, with your parents. Buffy, I know they both told you it wasn't your fault, right?"

Buffy gave her a simple, "Yeah. Mom made that clear, with subtitles even."

Willow laughed at her feeble joke, trying to raise Buffy's spirits and, if Buffy knew Will, doing so would raise hers too. "Yeah, your Mom's great." Her voice became soft again. "What really made me mad was Snyder saying you belonged in an institution. That---"

Buffy's face froze and she nearly dropped the phone. She dully echoed, "What?"

"Hunh?" Willow asked. Buffy barely heard her concern. "Buffy, what's wrong?"

The pieces fell into place for the Slayer, as if she'd known what was missing from the puzzle, but had simply refused to see it. < An institution… > She felt her lip trembling. "He said I should be in an institution…"

"Like you'd ever be in an institution! Buffy, that's stupid! It'd never happen!" Willow said with conviction.

Buffy started crying again, losing her hold on her emotions. "Will," she hissed, sobs starting to take over, "It did happen…"

*****

St. Matthew Psychiatric Facility
Los Angeles, California
20 June 1996

"You're going to leave me here," Buffy said, looking frightened and lost.

Joyce laid her hands on Buffy's shoulders and gently explained to her distraught daughter. "Buffy, we're worried about you. You've been talking about vampires and demons like they're real for weeks. Your father and I are so worried about you after what happened at school… we're worried about you, honey. Don't you understand that?"

Buffy shrugged Mom's hands off and glared at her. "You don't believe me." She looked almost angry. "Do you really think I'd make this up? Why do you think the gym burned down!"

"Honey, I'm sure you think there was something bad happening at school," Hank said from behind Joyce, "and even though I'm sure you want to believe that you were helping people, look at what happened. The gym burned down, and two weeks later, you ran off to Vegas with that Pike boy. When you came back, you said you were never going to see him again. Then you tell us about things that go bump in the night…" He took Buffy into a hug, but she could tell that it wasn't the same as before. He was scared of her. "Honey, I know you've had a rough time of it, but you have to face facts; you're saying and doing things that a normal person wouldn't do."

< I'm not normal! I'm the Slayer. The Chosen One, who will get screwed in the ass by God and lose everything; her friends, her Prom, her boyfriend, and her Watcher. Then, she will get screwed over when she tells you the truth and get LOCKED UP! > "I know, Daddy," she said, squirming in the less-than-unconditional hug. "You don't understand."

"I know," her Father said, backing up and looking at her with uncertainty in his eyes.

"Then don't leave me here," she pleaded as two orderlies and the Doctor came up to greet them. "Don't leave me in this looney bin."

"Honey, this isn't a looney bin!" Joyce protested with a look of worry. "Dr. Jackson is a professional. He's going to help you. If you let him, you'll be home in no time."

"I want to be home now," Buffy whined softly, giving into the futility of expecting her parents to believe the simple truth.

She saw her Mother's heart break with her plea, but she stood with Dad. "I know, honey." She gave Buffy a parting hug that was hollow to the Slayer who'd lost too much in a short time to appreciate it. "I love you."

Buffy growled. "If you loved me, you wouldn't do this to me."

Joyce stiffened and backed up, tears starting to flow from her eyes. Hank gently took her arm and her parents started backing up.

"Buffy?" the shrink said from behind her. "If you'll come with me, we can show you to your room."

"Let me guess; the wallpaper's rubber," Buffy said with a petulant look. She didn't care what he thought.

The doctor actually found that funny. "No, Buffy. Actually, I think you'll find it comfortable. Shall we?"

Knowing she had little choice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer followed him and the orderlies, torn between the betrayal by her parents and her own wishing that she had a normal life left like they wanted her to have.

*****

Summers Residence
Sunnydale, California
7 May 1998

"My Goddess, Buffy! How did you get out?!?" Willow's horrified voice asked.

Buffy smiled through her crying, touched by the unfettered emotions she knew Willow was feeling for her. She wiped her tears for what seemed the hundredth time and softly said, "The easy way. I learned how to tell them what they wanted to hear."

"What?" Will sounded completely confused.

"I taught myself to forget that vampires, demons, and everything else in the Slayer deal wasn't real," she went on. She crossed her legs and leaned forward. "Funny thing is, when I got out, Mom had already filed for divorce." She thought about it some more and said, "God, I almost forgot all about it. And then Mom and me ended up here at Vamp Central."

"And now she knows the truth," Willow added. "How long were…"

When Willow couldn't finish the question, Buffy still answered it. "Two weeks." She shivered at the memories. "Two weeks of misery, Will."

"I can imagine," her friend said. "I'm so sorry, Buffy. No wonder you Wigged."

Buffy nodded, even though Willow couldn't see the agreement. She felt the anger and confusion starting to drain away, just a bit. "Yeah. But it helped to talk about it. With Mom… and with you."

She waited for Willow to reply. Eventually, she did. "I'm glad I could help out, Buffy. I'm so sorry you had to go through that…"

"It's in the past, Will," Buffy said hurriedly. She settled down a bit. "It was two years ago. I dealt with it."

"What about your Mom? Did she ever put it together?"

Buffy blinked a few times. She realized that maybe her Mother had buried the memories too. "I don't…" She swallowed. "Will, can I talk to you tomorrow? I…"

Apparently, Willow understood. "I'll see you at school. If you want to talk then, we can."

"Thanks Will," Buffy cried softly. She hung the phone up and looked at the door. Working up her courage, she got out of bed and went to talk to Joyce.

*****

"Mom?"

Joyce turned around to see Buffy standing there, looking sad. Her face fell as she instinctively turned off the faucet. < The dishes can wait. > "Honey, what's wrong?"

Buffy licked her lips, as if trying to figure out where to start. "Uh, I was talking to Will and we got to talking about what happened…" She stopped and looked up at her.

Joyce asked, "What is it, honey?"

Buffy's eyes glistened with tears. "I figured out why I hated Snyder so much today."

"Tell me, Buffy," Joyce requested, hoping that talking about it again would help her daughter out. She wrapped a protective arm around Buffy and guided her to the living room couch. As the two women sat down, Joyce said, "What upset you so much?"

She watched as Buffy hugged herself. Her daughter looked at her and said, "Do you remember what happened two years ago?"

"What? The gym at Hemery burning down?" Joyce nodded, not understanding why Buffy was bringing it up. "Buffy, you were fighting vampires that were trying to kill your friends. Of course I remember. You were saving lives."

"No," Buffy said, shaking her head with regret plastered on her young face. "When I said…" She gazed at her with shame. "When I said if you loved me, you wouldn't leave me at that place?"

It took Joyce a few moments to realize what Buffy was talking about. < When we left her… > Horror started filling her heart when she understood why Snyder's tirade had hurt Buffy so much. < We left her because… > "Oh my God honey," she whispered, feelings of remorse blanketing her mind as she remembered the two weeks she and Hank had left Buffy in an institution because… < Because we thought she was crazy. >

"Oh God Buffy, I'm so sorry…" Joyce started to say but stopped, wondering if anything could make up for that time. She remembered the look of being abandoned in her baby's eyes that day. She turned back to Buffy and started crying too. "Honey, can you ever forgive me?"

"I did, Mom," Buffy said through her trembling jaw, "I did. But that's why I couldn't deal with it today, because it happened…" She stopped and closed her eyes. "Because I forgot it happened." She looked back at Joyce. "I know why you did it, Mom. Because you were scared. I… I was too. With Merrick dying, and what happened in Vegas… I was scared too."

Buffy broke down at that point, weeping and whispering, "I'm so sorry I said that, Mom…"

Joyce took Buffy into her arms, whispering, "It's okay, honey. It wasn't your fault. It never was." Joyce just held Buffy for a while, firming her resolve to have a long, angry, dangerous talk with that miserable little Troll in the morning.

Eventually, Buffy left the safety and comfort of Joyce's arms and Joyce asked, "Are you going to be okay, sweetheart?"

Buffy wiped her face and put up a brave front. "Yeah," she told her, "I think so." She glanced down at their joined hands. "I just wish I'd figured this out sooner."

Joyce smiled. "Better late than never, right?"

"Yeah," Buffy whispered. Joyce reached up and brushed Buffy's hair. "I love you, Mom."

"I love you too, honey," Mrs. Summers said, taking Buffy into her embrace one more time. "I love you, too."

*****

Buffy went up to bed an hour later, feeling much better than she had twelve hours ago. < I guess that's what Moms are for. > she thought. < But why do I still feel like I'm missing something? >

She sighed as she wracked her brain some more. She whispered to herself, since she knew Mom was asleep. "What's wrong with it? Mom and I talked…" She couldn't quite touch it. "I talked to Mom…"

Then she had it. She realized what part was missing from her totally dealing with what had happened two years ago. Hoping it wasn't too late to do something, Buffy reached for the phone.

After three rings, a tired yet aware voice said, "Hello?"

Buffy smiled at the voice she didn't hear too often.

"Hi Daddy."


Au Natural

Pryce Residence
Boston, Massachusetts
10 August 1998

Faith the Vampire Slayer tossed and turned on top of her covers, sweating like a hog. < Gawd, it must be a hundred eighteen outside! > her humidity-dulled mind noted. The young Boston native did her best to ignore the heat, but to no avail. Giving up on falling asleep without running up the electric bill, the Chosen One climbed out of bed.

She walked out of her room and down the hallway, entering the living room. She walked over to the A/C and drawled, "Sorry Boss Lady, but it don't do any good to be a Watcher if your Slayer dies from getting cooked like a Ball Park Frank at Fenway." Figuring she could just run it for an hour to bring the temperature inside the house to a bearable level, she cranked on the conditioner. < Hey, Linda's at the Weasel's house, so I'll just run it for an hour and turn it off. She'll never know the diff. Or maybe she'll thank me for making it nice and cozy for her after dealing with Wes the Wimp. >

Feeling satisfied with herself, Faith turned and sauntered back to bed.

*****

The screams tore her from her cozy slumber with amazing swiftness. Part of it was the terror in those shouts for help, but mostly it was being less than two months removed from sleeping on something hard like concrete.

< What the Hell? > she thought in confusion. When she heard the screams again, she knew that someone was in trouble just outside the house. "SHIT!"

Faith jumped out of bed and grabbed two stakes from their spot on the dresser, not taking time to get fancy equipment like Linda's favorite toy, a pointed quarterstaff. < Keep it simple, stupid. >

She threw the door open, trying to take enough care to prevent herself from ripping it off the hinges like she'd done twice already, getting used to this Slayer strength of hers. Smiling at her brains this time, she sprinted outside. "Time to save the world again!"

*****

One block away, Mack smiled at the terrified look on the church group's faces as he and his seven cronies began their feast. "I love nights like this," he said to an oblivious man he'd just eaten. "I've heard of delivery, but this is the best."

His group had intercepted the bus and turned it over, stunning what was probably half the Baptists in South Boston before breaking in and hauling them out one by one. They were gorging themselves, having the time of their lives with an easy feast.

He grabbed the pastor by the scruff of his collar and brought his face up to his game face. "You know, Padre, you should be thanking me. You're gonna get to see your Boss in about twenty seconds."

"You don't say, asshole!"

Mack snarled at whomever had the balls to challenge him. He turned around but couldn't react to the sight that greeted him before he felt a sharp jabbing sensation in his chest. He looked down and muttered, "Oh shi---" before vanishing in a cloud of grave mold.

*****

Faith smiled; one stake, one kill, just like that. She remembered the first lesson of Slaying that Linda had taught her. < Beyond all else, don't die. > She giggled to herself, which just made the vamps realize that they had a fighter amongst them look even more confused. < I don't plan on dying, I plan on kicking ass and taking names. >

Faith glanced at the vampires, who were staring at her, some of them holding hostages. "Okay shitheads, let ‘em go and I'll make it quick."

When none of them moved, Faith shrugged. "Okay." She reared back and tossed her stakes at two vamps without hostages. In perfect sequence, they pierced the dead boys' hearts and sent them floating on the wind.

She then sprinted forward to engage the vampires who weren't smart enough to let go of the old guys and ladies.

*****

Antonio finally overcame his shock at seeing a completely naked teenager coming at him. He threw his meal aside and moved to take on this crazy chick, but the next thing he knew, he was flying through the air from her bare foot connecting with his jaw.

He landed on his back and started trying to shake the stars out of his eyes. When he finally managed it, he looked up from his position on the ground. He saw the girl, from the back, throwing down with his homies and actually winning. < Who the Hell IS that? >

*****

Faith threw another roundhouse, a resounding crack giving her a rush of adrenalin at how well she was doing. She'd already dusted three, knocked one down for a bit, and now she was in the midst of the four still standing, not letting them get a clean shot at her by whirling around and relying on her instincts to pound the vamps into snail snot.

The shuffle of rubber soles on concrete pushed her into action, her heel spinning about and smashing into a vampire's temple. As his head spun, the Slayer followed through with a spinning back punch that finished the job her kick had started. His neck broke in half with a "snap!"

< Four down! > the sixteen-year-old girl shouted in triumph. She was completely in the zone now, taking on the bad guys and looking damn good doing it.

Faith launched another punch, followed by a one-two combo to another vamp. Sensing a fourth vamp joining the combat, Faith decided the time had come to change tactics. She jumped straight up in the air and executed a perfect split, cracking a foot into the faces of two separate vampires. The first took it on the jaw, but the second, being shorter, took it in the nose. Faith didn't realize it, but her move sent bone splinters into the demon's brain, shredding nerves and synapses, causing him to fall over, well on his way to a final death.

What she did notice was the stupefied looks of lust that flashed on the faces of the final two vamps left standing.

*****

Antonio just gawked at the hot little number that was thrashing his homies. He tried to fight the demon's urges to drain this bitch dry, which were at odds with the urges of the man that said to take this girl to bed.

"Who are you?" he demanded in a hoarse voice.

The girl, dark brown hair flying about, gave him an evil grin. "I'm the Slayer."

Any hopes of getting this babe to bed died right then and there. "The Slayer?" he asked, fear choking off his words.

"Yep." She said, somersaulting away from him and standing up, stakes back in hand. "Lemme show you."

Antonio started to run.

*****

Faith rolled her eyes at the chicken shit vamp and tossed the stake in her right hand. It flew end over end and perfectly shot in between his ribs, finding the heart and shredding him into his component elements. She smirked and turned to the last vampire, who was stammering in total terror.

She cocked her head and innocently said, "And then there was one."

The vamp decided to make a suicidal charge at her. She waited until the last second before side stepping and tripping him up, sending the idiot flying face-first into the street. As he landed, Faith ran up and brought her remaining stake down with all her might. The vamp vanished in a burst of ashes.

Hastily looking around to see if any of the non-dusted vamps were getting up, the nascent Chosen One determined that her job was done. She smiled at the rush that combat and especially victory sent through her body as she walked over to the hostages to make sure that they were going to pull through.

Her first checkee was the Padre the boss vamp'd been getting ready to chomp on. He looked up at her, quite freaked about the whole thing. "A-a-are t-t-t-they…"

"Dust in the wind, Padre," she said with a smile. This was another thing she liked, especially since she didn't get it that often; the seeing and believing that she was doing some good with this Gig. "South Boston eight, bad guys nada. We're five by five!"

"Oh, thank GOD!" he breathed. Faith helped him up, then he shocked her by throwing his arms around her and hugging her like there was no tomorrow.

"Hey, it's okay, Church Guy," Faith said with a smile, understanding the whole "near death" thing. "Your Holy Posse's gonna be fine. We'll get ‘em to the Doc and go from there."

Any answer was cut off by the sounds of sirens blaring in the distance and coming closer every second. Faith gently pushed her way out of the Pastor's hug and said, "I gotta jet. Take care, Padre."

She turned to head home but was far too late, as the first thing she saw was four uniform cops staring at her in shock. The second was when she noticed what they were staring at.

Her naked body.

Realizing that she'd jumped into the fight without a single stitch on, Faith did the only thing she could think of. She shrugged and said, "Ooops."

*****

Wyndham-Price Residence
Boston, Massachusetts
Late hours
10 August 1998

"I'll get it," Trent Witherspoon said, rising from his chair at the table shared by the three Watchers.

Linda Pryce nodded with a smile. She turned back, concentrating again on Wesley while Trent answered the ringing phone. "I'm serious, Wesley. From what I've seen thus far, Faith has the potential to become a long-lived Slayer." She hesitated before going on. "But she also has some drawbacks that do concern me."

"Such as?" Wesley tersely asked, taking notes to deliver to the Council. "And what's this potential you see in her?"

Giving him a sour look, Linda ran her hands through her hair. "As for her potential, I'm afraid I have to compare her to the Summers girl, the one who died in Los Angeles. Faith's unorthodox; she uses tactics that you and anyone else from the Mother Country would consider dirty tricks."

"How so?" the young Brit asked with an upraised eyebrow.

"Just be glad you're not her Watcher," Linda chuckled, "or you'd be constantly talking in a soprano voice from her kicking you in the nether regions." She took amusement at his genuine wince. "Those kinds of dirty tactics." She gave him a look that she hoped would show him how proud she was of her Slayer. "Honestly, Wesley, I think it's her upbringing, or lack of it to be more accurate." She looked down at the table. "When I asked her to describe it to me, she originally scoffed at the idea that I might get it. But she did try to put it in simple terms. Her simplified view on living on the streets was this; Do unto others before they do unto you."

Wesley blinked and Linda wondered why; he was always nervous around the young woman who was the latest in the line of humanity's champions. She nodded in understanding, since she herself had come from an affluent Boston family whose roots could be traced back to a hundred years before the French and Indian War, let alone the Revolution.

"Yes, indeed," she said at his getting the point about Faith's philosophy. "She thinks preemptively; go out and take the vampires out before they can find her. I'm not talking about patrolling, Wesley, I'm talking about… what's the military term?" She searched her mind and came up with the proper phrase. "Oh yes. Search and destroy. Or as she calls it, ‘Pearl Harboring the suckers.'" She hesitated. "That's what worries me at times. It's almost like she's living only for the fight, Wesley." She looked him in the eyes before he could answer. "I'm not talking about her duty, which she's embraced, I'm talking about pummeling vampires into unconsciousness. Sometimes, she focuses on one opponent rather than the battle itself." She sighed. "I've been working on that, and she's coming along, but still…"

"I think I understand," Wesley said to her. "I'm sure you'll break her of the habit."

"You don't know Faith," she said. "When she gets set on something, she's as stubborn as a mule. She says it's because she's Irish." She chuckled at his confused expression. "At least her ancestors were." She sighed and rotated her neck to reduce the stiffness in it. "One thing she asked me was about the girl who was the Slayer before her."

"That's odd. Or rather rare," Wesley admitted, looking nervous to her. "What did you tell her?"

Linda flashed him a look of impatience. "What am I supposed to tell her, Wesley? All I know is that Buffy and Kendra died in Los Angeles. I was too busy finding Faith to attend the Council's hearings on Rupert." She gave him a pleading look, hoping to convince him to give her some answers. "Wesley, what did happen in Los Angeles? I know it must have been horrible for the girls, but I have to have something to tell her. Otherwise she might try finding out for herself."

Wesley glanced at the doorway, where he could barely hear Trent talking to someone on the phone. He leaned closer and gave her the Council's official line. "Linda, you have to understand, the Council would frown upon me saying this, but I'll tell you, if only to make you understand why they don't want to discuss it."

"Just tell me, Wesley," Linda demanded. "We've been friends for two years. I have to know."

He nodded to her and folded his hands together, looking shamed. "What we know is this; Giles sent the Summers girl to Los Angeles to keep Katherine Plantagenet from raising Throlog. At the same time, Sam Zabuto found out about the ritual and sent Kendra to do the same."

"Which brings up my old argument," she interrupted, shaking her head in amazement. "I know the Council is spread around the world, but God damn it, we DO have telephones! You'd think we could have some coordination!"

"As much as I agree with you, please allow me to finish." She rolled her eyes. Wesley huffed at her. "Thank you, this isn't easy for me as it is. Anyway, Giles teamed our two Slayers together and sent them to the Forum, I think it's called. He sent them in to stop the ritual, and I won't lie to you, a suicide mission is the only thing to call it.

Linda pursed her lips. "They died trying to stop Katherine?"

"No," Wesley said, loathing in his tone. "They succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Buffy killed Katherine in single combat. Her general was taken by someone else, probably Kendra. But when they were retreating, they were hounded by Katherine's remaining vampires and several demons summoned by her." He choked on the words before spilling them out. "Giles ran and both girls died in the Forum. Summers… Buffy must have been wounded by Katherine's sword during their battle, I don't know."

"And Kendra?" Linda asked, wondering how a Watcher like Giles could have abandoned his charges.

Wesley looked at her with haunted eyes. "From what little I learned myself, she fell to a sixth circle demon. But I know the bastard died as well."

"What could make Giles leave them like that?" Linda asked, shocked to her core.

"Perhaps his feelings for Summers," Wesley said, taking off his glasses and cleaning the lenses. "It was mentioned that he was forming a… paternal attachment to her. If he saw her die…"

"Ah," Linda said, not saying more for fear of betraying her own growing attachment to the wild child who was her charge. "I'm sorry, Wesley. I didn't know. Thank you." He nodded and she smiled. "Let's hear no more of death and misery. Honestly, my friend, I think if you'd look at everything involving Faith, you'd see a girl who could be one of the greatest Slayers of this century."

*****

He considered that and was surprised to find he was pleased by Linda's endorsement of the girl from the streets. It warred with his self-misery at having to lie to one of the few real friends he had in the Council. < Perhaps it's because she's from our ‘generation.' > He put up a brave front. "I must say, that's a surprisingly devoted attitude, given her lack of formal training. I'd never expect that from someone with her background." < Perhaps Linda is right, and having a different upbringing than most Slayers is what accounts for Summers' success. However, the Council was clear; Faith cannot go anywhere near the Hellmouth. > He wondered if perhaps Travers had been more wrong than he'd originally thought. < Well, there's nothing I can do about it. > "It is somewhat hard to believe that a street girl would be so devoted to the Calling."

*****

Linda felt the heat rising in her cheeks. Two weeks ago, she'd had the same attitude. < That was before you saw the girl yourself and saw something inside her that gives you the idea that maybe, just maybe, she had what she needed. > "Wesley, I'll admit that she hasn't had the most fortunate of life stories. But I'll thank you to remember that she's embraced her duty." She stared him in the eyes to convey the message with more than words. "Look at the Summers girl we just talked about, Wesley. She was an American, she was hardly what you'd call traditional, and she wasn't the Council's ideal image of a Slayer. However, she was Chosen and she managed to defeat Tiamat, for God's sake. What more do you need to know to see that there was more to that girl than met the eye. So do not judge Faith by her background either, because she'll surprise you. Lord knows, I had the same attitude adjustment. She's special, like all the Slayers, Wesley. The Powers That Be wouldn't have Chosen her if they hadn't seen something in her. Who are we to judge her?" She folded her hands together. "Perhaps part of it is that Faith, because she was Chosen, now believes that things such as honor and justice truly exist; she's asked me on occasion, if it means ‘The Big Guy,' and I think you know who she means by that, thought she was worth something to give her, as she puts it, ‘the Chosen Gig.'"

She was happy when Wesley actually started smiling at the way she'd put it but he couldn't comment on it before the third Watcher in Boston made his presence known.

"Excuse me," Trent said with a sigh, drawing their attention. When Linda and her companion turned in their chairs to see what he had to say, he looked somewhat flustered. "That was Faith on the phone. She's…"

Linda forced her face to remain blank. < Oh God, no! Please… >

"She's been arrested," Trent finished.

Linda and Wesley both shot to their feet.

"WHAT?!?"

*****

Boston Police Department
Boston, Massachusetts
Late hours
10 August 1998

The Slayer turned around when she heard Linda call her name. "Oh Gawd…I'm dead meat!"

She saw her Watcher, as well as Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, walking toward her. She slowly stood up and hastily babbled, "Look, Linda, I can explain…"

"Yes, please do," Wesley said archly, folding his arms in his tweed jacket. "Just what happened that you ended up being incarcerated?"

"Wesley," Linda said in a softer tone before turning back to her. She put her fists on her hips and asked, "Well, Faith?" She then did a double take. "Faith, why in God's name are you wearing that?"

Faith looked down at the Boston PD-issue sweat suit she was wearing. In a deep blue color, she didn't mind too much, since the station was actually air-conditioned. She sheepishly shrugged and confessed, "It was all they could find for me."

She glanced at the two Watchers, Linda seeming more concerned. She looked Faith over and asked, "Were you hurt? Did they have to throw your clothes away?"

"Uh, not exactly… you see, here's what happened," Faith admitted, going into the story of what happened. She tried not to cringe under the looks coming from her bosses, but it was pretty hard considering she'd dragged them from one of their important rap sessions. She finished up by jabbering, "Well what the Heck did you expect me to do?!? Hell, those… muggers were trashing church people! I mean, I'm not the most ‘Praise God' type out there, but shit, even I gotta help a preacher, okay? It's like my hobby, you know."

She glanced between the two silent Watchers, gauging their reactions. The Weasel was rubbing the bridge of his nose, while Linda just watched her. The Boston Slayer wondered if that was really pride in Boss Lady's eyes, or was she just fighting laughter in front of the tight ass.

Before she could ask how long she was going to be in hock for cranking up the A/C, an officer came up to the Watchers and started whispering into Wesley's ear. She realized that, < He works for them? Shit! They got Watchers everywhere! >

Wesley just listened, nodding at various intervals until the cop backed up and asked, "Alright?"

"Yes, it will be quite fine, thank you," Wesley answered, looking vastly relieved. The cop nodded and walked off, making Faith wonder just how much trouble she was in.

Linda voiced the question she couldn't ask herself. "Wesley?"

With a tight control on his emotions, < If he's even got any, > Faith wondered, the head of the Watcher contingent in Boston said, "It's all arranged, Linda." He turned on her and said, "Just so you know, you are being charged with indecent exposure. Luckily for you, Faith, we know a judge who will accept a plea of ‘no contest,' and give you a suspended probation or something of the sort."

"I'm gonna have a record?" she said in shock. Even with her background, she'd never had a record. < Okay, ‘cuz I never got caught. But still… > "Look, I…"

"Save your explanations," Wesley said rudely. He put his glasses back on and stared at her. "The people you saved were most grateful and backed up your story. They also know that those were ‘muggers' you stopped from, well, mugging them. As for your ‘record,' it will be expunged when you turn eighteen, assuming you keep yourself from any form of incarceration until that day. The matter is settled, so you can go back to Linda's house with her." He turned to her Watcher, whose face was completely blank. "I do hope you'll find a way to make your report more, shall we say… tactful?"

"I might be American, Wesley, but I did graduate Magna Cum Laude from Harvard, which if you didn't know, is the American equivalent of Oxford itself," Linda answered, looking rightfully offended.

Wes the Weasel actually winced. "Yes, my apologies." He started to leave but hesitated when Linda cleared her throat. He looked at Faith, who frowned in confusion while looking between the two. He sighed and nodded once at her. "Whatever the… unusual circumstances… eight vampires in under three minutes?" Faith nodded. He nodded back. "Good work, Faith. Good work."

He turned and left, leaving the shocked Slayer and grinning Watcher alone.

Faith looked at Linda, who turned back to her with a bright smile on her face. "What?"

Linda's eyes shined with emotion as she said, "I'm so very proud of you, Faith. You did outstandingly well tonight."

Faith felt her spirits rising at the double shot of praise from the Council dude and dudette. "So you're not gonna ground me for life?"

"Of course not," Linda chuckled. She wrapped an arm around Faith and the two started to leave. "In fact, if I know you, you're pretty hungry right now, aren't you?"

"Starved," the Slayer confessed. < You know what Slaying does to me, sheesh! You should know more than me! > "I could really go for a pizza right about now."

"My treat," Linda assured her.

"Cool! Extra large, double gooey cheese, the works…"

Linda stopped and glanced at her. "And just how do you propose to work off the weight you'll gain from that?"

Faith smiled at her. "Well, if the delivery boy's hot…"

She froze and actually gulped at the glare Linda sent her way.

"Don't push your luck, my dear," she was warned.

"Pizza's cool."

The two shared a final laugh and headed home.


Life

((I'd like to thank the person(s) who jokingly came up with this idea. I decided the time had come to take it and run with it. Where I ran off to, I don't want to know… Thanks to the karrollcom group who is the inspiration for THIS ficlet.))

Majestic 7 Base
Texas
August 1998

Peter tried not to act too surprised by the mass of humanity walking around the base he and Pop had been sent an "invitation" to come to. He noticed several of the people that he'd seen while assigned to the exchange program at the Special Investigations Unit of the San Francisco PD. He glanced around and smiled when he saw some of the people he remembered from the fight with those demon-types a month ago, a dark-haired man standing and talking to a young couple, a redheaded boy and girl, both in their teenage years.

"Hey Pop," Peter called, getting his father's attention, "here's someone I want you to meet." < Let's see how the Unflappable One deals with meeting someone who's going to live forever. >

"Yes, Peter?" Pop asked, walking over. Peter was glad he was wearing the nondescript brown clothing he normally wore in public, rather than his "fancy" duds.

"This way, Pop," Peter said, smothering a smile in the vain hope that Pop wouldn't realize he was being set up.

*****

Duncan was helping Oz and Willow with instructions on setting up the bivouac for the various units and fighters coming in. "Just remember, any Immortals who come in are to report to Steve and Methos. That's so they can be assigned by their experience and skills, not to mention getting it through their thick skulls that there won't be any heads rolling."

"We'll get right on it, Duncan," Willow assured him. "And if they get mean, a little show of fireworks wouldn't hurt, would it?"

"No, it wouldn't," the Highlander said easily. "Just don't give them any heart attacks, Willow."

Willow's pale face scrunched up in confusion. "I didn't know Immortals could get heart attacks." When she saw the flash in his dark eyes, she rolled hers. "Oh, right. Very funny. It's just with being Immortal…"

"Breathe," Oz and Duncan told her together.

"Ha, ha," she said wryly. She saw something over Duncan's shoulder and said, "Newbies, six o'clock."

Duncan smiled and turned around to greet the newcomers. Willow felt rather than saw the shock that rippled through MacLeod's body as he saw the two men, one old and one younger.

*****

"Caine?" Duncan said with a shocked whisper. When the older man cocked an eyebrow in interest, Duncan said, "Kwai Chang Caine?"

"Yes," the man said. Even his voice was the same.

"You two know each other?" his companion, who Duncan barely remembered as one of the police officers from the Los Angeles fight, asked.

Caine shrugged in that same nonchalant manner. "I do not know you," he said at length. "Have we met?"

Duncan was thoroughly flabbergasted. "Don't…" He finally remembered that the Caine he knew hadn't been an Immortal. He blinked several times at the close resemblance before saying, "You're named after him, aren't you?"

Understanding dawned in Caine's eyes. He gave Duncan a smile worthy of his namesake. "I am the grandson of Kwai Chang Caine, and I do bear his name." He turned and held a hand out to the cop next to him. "This is my son, Peter." He turned his eyes back to Duncan and seemed to study him. Finally he said, "You have lived many lives, have you not?"

Duncan smiled; obviously this Caine followed in the family footsteps. He caught Willow looking surprised at this development. "Uh, Duncan…"

"I believe, Willow, that you have the honor of meeting your first Shao Lin priest," the Highlander said with a smile. He cupped his right hand into a fist, covered it with his left palm, and bowed to Caine, who returned the gesture with flawless precision. "I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1592. I am Immortal."

"Yes, I have heard of your people," Caine said with a gentle voice before turning back to the subject of the original Caine. "You knew my Grandfather."

Duncan smiled; it wasn't a question, but a statement of fact. "Yes, I did, Brother Caine." A faraway look started to come to his eyes.

*****

Willow looked at Oz, who seemed to be thinking the same thing.

< Flashback sequence. >

*****

California/Oregon Border
25 August 1882

Duncan's thoughts were far away as his horse moved along at an easy trot. As he approached the border between Oregon and California, he once again began considering the turn of events that had set him on this course.

< I can't believe Connor took the time to track me down, > he thought. The younger Highlander had been stunned at his kinsman's actions; tracking down his grieving student, who had spent the last ten years on holy ground mourning the loss of his beloved family. Connor had helped Duncan to overcome the grief holding him back from rejoining the human race at large and, as a result, Duncan had once again moved on, looking to what the future might hold rather than clinging to the past. < And he straightened me out. At least now I can see what's changed in the last ten years. >

The hardest part had been even getting started. But, once he'd committed himself, Duncan had packed up his belongings, mounted a Pinto, and headed toward California, his eventual destination eluding him for now.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of fighting nearby. He stopped, trying to make out the specific sounds that would let him form a picture of what was transpiring. Once he determined the direction the fight was occurring from, he kicked his horse in the ribs and galloped on his way.

*****

"Damn bluidy chink!" the redhaired Irishman shouted as he was sent hurtling through the air again.

Caine ignored him. He just allowed the large, burly, ill-tempered man to land on his back, driving the air from his lungs. He did not want to hurt the man who'd attacked him without provocation, but he was being left little choice but to defend himself.

"I will say again," the priest said with a calm voice, "I am merely passing through. I have no desire to harm you."

The Irishman stood back up and glared at him, blood running from his nostrils. "I don't care what ye bluidy want, Chinaman," he snarled. "I want yer bluidy carcass, ‘cause it's worth a bluidy fortune dead or alive!"

Once again, someone had learned of his past, the time he had killed a nephew of the Emperor. It never seemed to matter that the child had killed his mentor, Master Po.

"Please, I do not wish to harm you," Caine said once again.

The bounty hunter reached to his belt and pulled out a revolver. "I don't bluidy care what you want, ye bluidy idiot! All that matters is…"

He suddenly jerked and began looking around, his speech momentarily forgotten. Caine also felt something, a shifting in the balance that he often consulted when considering what direction he should go in, in his search for his lost brother. It was the same odd feeling he'd felt in this man who'd tracked him down to apprehend him.

"Oh bluidy hell, not now…" the Irishman said.

He shifted his attention away from Caine by dropping his pistol and reaching over his back to grip the handle of a sword the young Shao Lin had seen sticking out over the shoulder. He drew it as the sound of hoof beats heralded the arrival of yet another of this man's kind.

*****

Duncan pulled on the reins to stop short of the Immortal and the young Chinese mortal who were apparently having a disagreement. Duncan smiled at the Immortal and said, "Well, this is strange. Since when do you pull swords on others not like us?"

"That's none o' yer business, Highlander," the man said with a rough brogue of the Emerald Isle. "But I don't see why I can't get meself a head before a'taking this one in for the bounty on ‘is head."

"Is that so," Duncan said with a frown. He looked at the Oriental. "What are you wanted for?"

The man, looking to have a serenity about him that Duncan found himself envying, replied, "I threw a spear that killed a nephew of the Emperor after he shot my Master."

Duncan looked the Chinese man over again and saw the signs he'd seen before, in many men, all of who were religious. "Buddhist?"

"Shao Lin," was his answer.

Duncan nodded and dismounted. He looked over the Immortal and reached up to the bundle tied to his saddle. "I'll give you a choice. Leave now or I'll defend the priest."

"Ye bluidy ass!" the man cursed him. "Who the bluidy Hell do ye think ye are ta be interferin' with me hunt?!?"

Duncan drew the centuries-old Masahiro katana from its scabbard and stood away from the horse. He took up a defensive position and said, "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."

The Irishman suddenly looked less than confident in this fight. His teeth started grinding in his jaw. "Any relation to tha' Scottish ass Connor MacLeod?"

Despite agreeing with the fact that Connor could be an ass at times, Duncan proudly replied, "Same clan, different vintage."

The Irishman slowly sheathed his sword. "I got no argument with ye today, Highlander. But let me tell ye this; ye ain't seen the last of Raymond McGuire."

The Immortal turned and started walking away, sheathing his sword with an angry thrust.

*****

< What has transpired here? > Caine thought to himself, wondering about the strange exchange that had just taken place. He watched as the man calling himself Duncan MacLeod sheathed the beautiful sword he carried in its proper place.

The man turned to him and asked, "Are you all right?"

"I am," Caine answered. He folded his hands and cocked his head. "May I ask why you defended me, even after I admitted to killing a man?"

The "Highlander" looked him up and down. "Let's just say I know something of Eastern religions. I assume you've meditated over what happened?"

The Westerner's insight surprised the priest for the smallest of instances. "I have."

"Then I think it's your business to make peace with that, not someone else's," he said, beginning to mount his horse. The man glanced back at Caine. "If you want, I can accompany you to San Francisco, assuming that's where you're headed." He hesitated, and Caine could see an old pain cross the man's eyes. "It'll be good to have company again."

Caine cocked his head at the grief still holding this man captive to a point. "Perhaps I can repay your kindness."

"I would've done the same for anyone," MacLeod replied.

"Yes, but not everyone would need to make peace with themselves," the man once named "Grasshopper" stated. He gave a mysterious smile at the stranger's look of surprise. Before this Duncan could ask, "How," Caine gave him a slight shrug. "As you said, you know something of Eastern religions."

He was slightly confused when MacLeod started laughing at his comment. < This will be an interesting journey, > he decided.

*****

Majestic 7 Base
Texas
August 1998

"It's good to see that the family line and the family tradition have continued," Duncan said with a smile. "Your Grandfather helped me finish dealing with my family's death. It's a debt I can never fully repay."

"From what I have heard," Caine said with a bow of respect, "your service to humanity has more than repaid that debt. I believe that it is my family, perhaps, that owes you gratitude."

"Then we'll consider it even," Duncan said, holding out a hand to shake on it. He looked at Caine's son Peter. "I take it this happens a lot with you, Peter?"

"Oh sure," the Detective said with a smile. "Though I was hoping that just once Pop here would be the speechless one."

"I learned a long time ago that Shao Lins are not to be underestimated," Duncan laughed. He noted the Slayerettes standing next to him and blushed as he'd forgotten to introduce them. "God, I forgot! Peter, Caine, these are Willow Rosenburg and Oz Green. They're friends of the Slayer."

*****

Willow nodded and smiled at the Caines. < A Shao Lin? Wow. I wonder if he knows all that kung fu stuff Steve's been teaching us. > "Pleased to meet you," she said with the friendly manner that often won people over. "Our friend Steve learned from a Master Khan. Did you know him?"

Caine tilted his head in a way a lot like Giles would. He nodded his head in recognition. "Yes, Khan was a friend of mine. From the stories told to me by Peter, your friend has learned very well indeed."

Since Steve wasn't there to hear the compliment, Willow beamed for him. "He'd be glad to hear that. Oh, this is my boyfriend…"

She stopped when she saw Caine staring directly at Oz. She glanced at Oz, just as Duncan and Peter Caine were doing. Oz was staring directly at Caine, his eyes and face totally unreadable.

Willow's face bounced back and forth for about two minutes, during which neither the monk's face or her boyfriend's so much as twitched. After another minute or so, Willow saw the left corner of Caine's mouth lift as little as it could without staying still. Turning to Oz, she saw his right eyebrow lift just as little as Caine's lip had.

Her eyes narrowing in total bafflement, she was just about to ask what was going on when Caine said, in his serene monk-type way, "I see."

With his usual bland exterior, Oz nodded lightly. "Yeah."

"I must agree," Caine said in return, drawing Willow's confused eyes.

She looked back at her werewolf boyfriend, who shrugged. "Same."

"Perhaps we will talk more later," Caine said with a nod that the Amazon somehow knew was full of respect for Oz. Before anyone could say anything, Caine added, "Come Peter, we must check in."

As the Shao Lin led his confused son away, the equally confused Wicca glanced back at her laconic lover. "Uh, Oz?"

"Yeah?"

"What were you two doing?" she asked, hoping he'd give her a straight answer.

"Talking."

"Talking?" Willow repeated dully. She looked at the retreating priest and cop before turning back to the redheaded guitarist. "Talking about what?"

Oz gave her a shrug worthy of the monk. "Life."

She glanced at Duncan, who just smiled back at her. "Don't ask me. I still don't get it myself a hundred years later."

Willow sighed in defeat. < And boys complain that they can't understand women. >


My Good Deed

((Author's Note: As many of you at the karrollcom group have brought up, the history of our beloved Wandererverse may undergo an overhaul of sorts when a certain Slayer's Little Sister Who Shall Remain Nameless For Now shows up in our little corner of the fan fiction multiverse. As such, I asked for (read: got down on my virtual knees and begged) our Beloved Grand High Poobah for his okey-dokey to pen… okay, to type this little bit of alternate history. Just remember, this is not "official" until history is made (or changed) by She Who Was Once The Key. As for this ficlet, consider it a revision of part of Part 1 of Slayer in Black, or you can just call it SIB version 2.0 <G>.))

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
2 November 1998

WHACK!!!

Shaw blocked Dawn's thrust and returned it with one of her own. The twelve-year-old backed away, getting out of Shaw's longer reach. Shaw suppressed a smile. < Her reach will not be shorter than mine forever. Goddess, she is going to be a tall one. >

Any further thought was deferred by Dawn's next routine. The younger Summers girl started trying the routine called a "pattern," doing a series of moves before repeating it, trying to find a hole in the ranger's defenses. Unfortunately for Dawn, her appropriated memories and the skills she'd learned from Steve weren't enough to counter her experience. < Time to show her something else I have learned. >

Releasing her left hand from the hilt of her kendo stick (fashioned in the form of a katana, a new weapon to Shaw herself, thus evening the odds more than one might think), Shaw started reaching behind her back.

Dawn, in her youth, mistook the message. "Oh, you pointy-eared smartass!" She gave up her pattern and started striking with speed, trying to overwhelm her defenses with the sheer number of blows. "I'LL show you beating someone with one hand behind her back!"

Shaw tried not to laugh; she wasn't trying to offend Dawn. "Very well," she panted from exertion, "I will bring my hand back out."

As she turned her sword over one hundred eighty degrees to block an overhand chop from Dawn, Shaw brought her left hand, now armed with one of Steve's wooden knives, straight forward.

*****

Dawn's eyes nearly crossed as she saw the sharpened piece of wood coming at her. She backed away, throwing her arms to her sides. She brought her short sword back up but was suddenly faced with a two-pronged attack from her half-elven pal.

Shaw alternated thrusts and slashes with both hands, showing off some of the skills she'd learned in her time. < Forty years, DUH! > Dawn reached into the depths of her mind, calling up every trick she'd inherited from the hijinks a year ago. Even so, she found herself driven back toward the edge of the practice mat. Determined to retake the offensive, as she was the attacker in this round, Dawn backed away from a sword slash, spun, and tried to hit Shaw on her sword-bearing arm.

To her total shock, Shaw not only ducked, making her overbalance from her powerful swing, but the half-elf also spun while crouching. As she finished her counterclockwise spin, her left hand shot out.

"OW!" Dawn snapped as the fired dagger hit her square in her toosh.

Most of the gang started laughing at her defeat, making her fume all the more. She glared at Shaw. "Thanks a lot, Hunter!"

"I would not complain, Dawn," Shaw said easily. "Maybe you did not win this round, but if I were you, I would contemplate how much effort you made me exert." She held up some locks of her black hair, drenched in sweat, as a visual aid. "It will take time, Dawn. I do have thirty years of practical combat experience."

"Yeah, yeah," Dawn said grumpily. Inside, she was thinking about what Shaw said. < I'm actually making her sweat. Heck, two months ago she'd beat me in a minute flat. And I'm still ahead of her when it comes to hand-to-hand. > "Okay," she said, cheering up a bit. "I'll just kick your butt without the weapons."

*****

Shaw smiled at the young girl. "Perhaps. Like you, I am learning quickly, however. So do not get overconfident," she stated easily. She and Dawn started walking over to the water cooler, where Steve joined them.

"Good round, you two," the Wanderer said, clapping both girls on the back. "You're getting better with the sword, Dawn."

"Thanks," Dawn said with a smile.

< She loves the praise, > Shaw thought to herself. < She does deserve it. >

While she and Steve talked, Shaw thought about Buffy's sister and how they'd originally met. Her smile grew as she remembered the mix-ups that had led to Shaw becoming known to the Slayerettes, especially… She let her gaze wander over to her cousin, who was talking with Buffy. She thought about their first meeting, which had actually gone better than she'd feared it would. While they had agreed to take things one step at a time, Shaw was growing impatient with waiting for Amy to make her decision about how they would proceed.

< It is not your choice! > she scolded herself. < It is Amy's choice! > Shaw shook herself and noticed Dawn staring at her.

"Thinking about Amy?" she asked.

Shaw sighed. Sometimes, Dawn was too perceptive. Usually, though, she appreciated the younger girl's help with adapting both to Earth in general and her team in particular. Dawn, in fact, had joined Xander and Willow in doing whatever they could to make Shaw feel like one of the team. < Still, sometimes I feel like an outsider, because… > "Yes, Dawn. I was thinking about her."

Dawn gave her a look of sympathy. "Well, why don't you talk to her then? I mean, she's waiting for you to talk, you're waiting for her to tell you to talk. Just get it over with."

"I…" Shaw hesitated before whispering, "There are things I… do not discuss, Dawn."

"Then talk about things you can talk about," Dawn told her.

"I cannot. It is Amy's choice when…" She didn't sound convinced herself, and she knew it. She said, "I do not want her to… be afraid of me."

"I don't get it. Afraid of you?" Dawn asked, folding her arms and waiting for a clear answer. "Come on, Shaw. You've been pussyfooting around for a month now. Just talk to her."

"Talk to who?" Amy's voice asked. Shaw tensed and turned around to face the only blood relative she had.

"It… is nothing, Amy," Shaw lied. She glanced at Dawn, who looked irritated at Shaw's hesitance. "I was just telling her that… there are things I do not talk about."

Amy smiled at Dawn, her blue eyes shining. "Don't tell me you're trying to get her into normal girls exercise stuff."

Shaw felt her blood rising. "That is not what we were talking about."

Her denial only seemed to convince Amy otherwise. "Oh really? Then what were you talking about?"

"I…" Shaw started but couldn't go on. She clenched her jaw. "Please, I…"

When she refused to go on, Amy just rolled her eyes and threw up her hands. "Fine, close up on me again. I swear, Hunter, I don't know what your problem is. You're the one who's all googly eyed about this cousin thing, but you won't say a Goddess damned word to me." She turned around to leave. "Let me know when you decide to open your damned mouth."

*****

"Amy!" Dawn snapped, not believing what she was hearing.

"Oh no," the witch snapped, turning around once again. "She's the one who came here. She's the one who told me who she was so we'd accept her." She pointed at Shaw, her face going pink. "And she's the one who won't give up any of her precious secrets after being here for two months, Dawn! So don't tell me I'm in the wrong. She is."

Amy turned and stormed off, leaving the training room. Dawn shook her head; she didn't understand that it had been just as hard on Shaw as it had on her.

She turned back to the ranger. "Shaw, she's just…"

*****

"She is right," Shaw said with a neutral voice, although she was sure that Dawn knew the truth; she was trying not to cry. She started to leave, too. "Excuse me, Dawn. I need to be alone."

"But…"

Shaw ignored her, leaving the room and not answering Steve's hails for her to say where she was going.

*****

Willow walked over to Dawn. "Dawn, what were you guys talking about?"

Buffy's sister looked at her and shrugged. "The usual. I'm trying to get Elf Girl to open up, she's got issues, Amy's pissed because Shaw won't open up on her issues. What else is new?"

"You have to give them time, Dawnie," the Amazon witch told her future sister. "I know it's hard watching them avoid each other like that, but it was really hard on Amy to learn about Shaw."

"What about Shaw, Willow?" Dawn protested to her. "Goddess, you think Amy's the only one having a hard time with it? Geez, wake up and get a clue! What part of ‘she's the only family I got' do you guys not get? And especially after being alone half her life when she didn't have to be."

Willow frowned in perplexity. "What do you mean, she didn't have to be alone?"

Dawn rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you of all people haven't put two and two together, Willow. One of Shaw's issues is that she always had family here but didn't know it. If she'd known about great-granny, she could've come here and found them and maybe stayed out of that hellhole dimension she came here from. Instead, she was Lonely Girl in Horror Movie World."

"Okay, I get the point," she said. "And I know that Shaw has other things she doesn't want to talk about. But she needs to decide how she wants to do this."

"She's waiting on Amy to do it. That's the problem."

Willow sighed. "Maybe we should go talk to both of them."

*****

Shaw was leaning against the wall of Steve's house, enjoying the smells of the grass and plants in the back yard as she tried to calm herself down. She heard the door open but didn't open her eyes. She figured that whoever it was would speak up if they wanted to.

"Shaw?" Willow's voice inquired. "Can we talk?"

With a sigh, the half-elf opened her eyes and looked at the witch, though she also spied Dawn standing next to her. Of the members of the team, Willow was the one Shaw felt closest to. < My ‘best friend,' I suppose. Whatever happened to giving everything equally? > "Yes, Willow?"

"We just wanted to see if you were okay," she said. "You and Amy kind of had a blow up in there."

Shaw folded her arms and looked at her friends through hooded eyes. "Amy blew up. I just listened to her." She glanced at the ground. "I just wish I knew what to do."

"Hey, I told you what you could do," Dawn told her with confidence. "You have to talk to her. You know, have an actual conversation?"

"About what, Dawn?" she said, looking at the preteen. "What are we supposed to talk about?"

*****

Dawn jerked at Shaw's attitude. "Hey, she's your cousin! Why don't you decide what you want to talk about?"

"Because she does not want to hear it," came the sharp retort. Shaw's attitude was miffing Dawn. She then said, "The only thing she did was make jokes about…"

When Shaw turned away again, Dawn shook her head in frustration. "So she said you should wear workout clothes like other girls wear. What's the big deal?"

She expected either a smart remark or silence, which would indicate to her that Shaw didn't want to talk about it. She was surprised by Shaw's response.

*****

Shaw was finally fed up with the topic and whirled on the other girls, who backed up when they saw the fire in her eyes. "The deal? The big deal is that I cannot show someone my back, damn you!"

Willow was the first to recover. "Shaw!" she said with a tight face.

"NO!" she screamed, not caring that she was yelling at the two people in Sunnydale she was closest to. "I cannot SHOW her! If she saw it she…" She started losing her steam as her fears reared themselves, the fear of how Amy would react if she knew the truth. She started trembling and shaking her head, her eyes growing misty. "Willow, you know why I can… why I can't do this. Please, don't ask me to…"

"Hey…" Willow said softly, moving forward and gripping Shaw's shoulders. Shaw looked into her best friend's eyes and saw support in the green eyes that were like hers. "You don't have to do it. But if you at least told them, just about the…" She hesitated. "If you just told the others about them, and told them the truth, that you're not ready to talk about it, they'd give you some space. Even Amy."

Shaw continued to tremble; unsure of herself as she usually was when it came to her newfound relative. "I just feel, sometimes, like it was a mistake to stay here, Willow. I am sick of making mistakes…"

"Hey!" Dawn snapped, getting Shaw's and Willow's attention. She looked upset at being left out of the conversation. "What are you guys talking about? What's wrong with you?"

*****

Dawn didn't understand why Shaw started shaking her head, saying, "No. Dawn, please do not ask me to show you…"

"Oh come on!" Dawn whined but was cut off by Willow turning to her.

"Dawn, no." She sighed and gripped Dawn's arms, not letting the frustrated girl pull away. "Dawn, listen to me. There's… a reason why Shaw wears sweats all the time. I…" She stopped and glanced back at Shaw, and Dawn could sense that something was passing between them. She saw the half-elf look into her eyes, looking both scared and like she wanted to tell her everything. Finally, she gulped and moved forward.

"Dawn, please promise me you will not tell anyone," she requested, looking totally scared. "I… I do not want you to be afraid of me for…" She shared another glance with Willow.

"What?" Dawn asked, wondering what she was missing.

Shaw waited, like she was trying to gather up her courage. She chewed her lip for a few seconds before saying, "You know that I have been fighting for a long time."

"Yeah," Dawn agreed, shrugging in mystification. "You've been around a while."

"Dawn," Willow whispered, squeezing her shoulder. "Let her finish."

They looked back to Shaw, who looked straight into her eyes. "In one such fight, I…" She clenched her jaw and Dawn wondered if she hated herself for all but bawling in front of her. "In one such fight, I was tortured." Dawn felt the blood draining from her face; Shaw had told her some of her sword and sorcery life stories, but never that. "My… my back…"

Dawn was getting the point without Shaw finishing. "You mean…"

Shaw nodded, falling into tears and turning away. She headed into the house through the kitchen door, leaving the shaken twelve-year-old and the Amazon witch alone in the back yard. She spent a few minutes absorbing the idea that Shaw, someone that she'd seen take on vamps without even blinking could have something like that done to her.

She looked into Willow's eyes. "You knew."

"Yeah," her friend confessed. "I saw them after Spike ambushed me, Giles, and Shaw in the library. He broke her ribs and I was going to get the first aid kit, but she had to take off her shirt to touch her ribs to heal them. It's bad, Dawnie. That's why she doesn't want to show anyone, I think. Whatever happened really messed her up inside, too."

"But that wouldn't matter, would it? I mean, no one's perfect and all…"

"She's afraid of what Amy will think. She doesn't want to make Amy afraid of her," Willow pointed out. Dawn nodded in understanding.

"But…" she started to say but was interrupted by Buffy coming out, a concerned look on her face. "Buffy?"

"What happened?" her sister asked. "Shaw's sitting at the kitchen table crying."

Dawn looked at Willow, who nodded. "I'll talk to Buffy."

Dawn headed inside and left Willow to deal with her Slayer-for-a-sister.

*****

Dawn entered the kitchen to see the sight that surprised her; Shaw sitting at the table, tears still coming down. She glanced up when Dawn entered, and Buffy's little sister could see the unspoken fear in her eyes.

"Hey," Dawn said, grabbing a chair and sitting down next to the girl from another dimension. "You okay?"

"No," Shaw admitted, keeping a death grip on a coffee mug filled with water. "I am sorry, Dawn. I…"

"Hey, I can deal." She forced a smile onto her face. "I can figure why you're scared about telling us. But don't you think they'll understand?"

Shaw faced her with what seemed to be old regrets. "Dawn, if you knew the story…" She shook her head. "Please? Not yet…"

Dawn reached over and took Shaw's hand. "No prob. We're cool. But you have to think about telling Amy something. At least give the heads up about why you're scared. Maybe she'll loosen up a bit."

"I do not want her to! Not because of this!" Shaw shook her head at raising her voice to her. "Dawn, I apologize, but… I want Amy to accept me for myself, not because of… pity." The last word came out with distaste.

Dawn nodded in understanding, but she still kept at trying to break the impasse between the cousins. "Well, maybe it's not all bad, you know? I mean, come on! Why the Heck do you think I made her think you were leaving two months ago after the whole prophecy thing?"

Shaw's head came up and she stared into Dawn's eyes. "What did you say?"

"I said that maybe feeling sorry for you wouldn't be all bad."

"No," Shaw countered, setting the mug on the table. "You said you made Amy think I was leaving after the prophecy was fulfilled."

Dawn went stiff upon realizing she'd slipped up. She gulped and said, "Oops."

Say what you would about her being dimensionally challenged, Shaw still had a good head on her shoulders. "You told Amy I was leaving? That is why she burst into my room two months ago?"

"I didn't lie to her," Dawn hastily told the elf girl, "I just said that we'd talked on the phone, and that you said the words, ‘clothes,' and ‘suitcase.'"

"I was unpacking!" Shaw protested.

"Okay, so that part I didn't mention," she confessed sheepishly. At Shaw's disbelieving look, she rolled her eyes and waved a hand at the crazy girl. "Oh come on, Shaw! You wanted to stay here, but you were afraid of making Amy mad. You liked it here, you liked going to school here, you were making friends with us, and you care about Amy, even if you've got no idea how to make nice with her." Dawn leaned forward. "You went on and on about how much family means to you, and she's here, and you were sick of being alone and not having a place to stay and whatnot." The young girl then added, "And well, if you're gonna have a family again, you can't just show up, tell her about yourself, and leave. I mean, I think she wants to know you, but you're both stubborn about who's gonna talk first."

She felt Shaw staring at her while she stared at the table. "So you did it for me? Because you knew I wanted to stay here and hopefully get to know Amy better?"

"Welllll…" Dawn admitted, tracing a finger along the table, "I wanted you to stay too." She looked back up at Shaw's face. "I like you. Not everyone treats me like something other than a little kid."

*****

Shaw stared into the child's earnest eyes as she digested Dawn's answer as to how she'd tried to ensure that Shaw stayed in Sunnydale after the prophecy that brought her here had been taken care of.

She thought to Amy bursting into her room, convinced that she was going to leave without even saying good-bye, and how she'd told Shaw that if they were going to work out their relationship, if they even had one, then leaving was not the answer.

What really touched her was how Dawn had confessed to having her own "selfish" reasons for her hijinks. < She cares about me. She wanted me to stay for the same reasons Willow and Xander did… > That meant just as much, if not more, than the altruistic reasons Dawn gave her.

"You did this for me because we are friends?" Shaw asked, her voice cracking.

"Duh," Dawn said, grinning fully.

*****

Dawn was taken aback when Shaw did something completely unexpected; she reached over and took her into a soft hug, as if she was unfamiliar with the act of embracing someone. Overcoming her astonishment, Dawn returned the hug after coming to know that Shaw had a hard time expressing her emotions with words.

Still, she smiled when she heard Shaw's tearful, whispered, "Thank you."

Shaw released her and stood up, her lip trembling and eyes watering. She glanced at her again and mouthed the same words before walking out of the room.

"Wow," Dawn muttered, surprised by her own impact on Shaw.

"So you kinda fibbed to get her to stay?" an amused voice asked from the doorway.

Dawn jumped and turned around in her chair. Buffy and Willow were standing there, both of them with admiration in their eyes.

"Yep." Dawn smiled at her older sister. "Like I said, she wanted to stay, and we wanted her to hang around." She shrugged. "It was kind of my good deed for the day."

Buffy and Willow glanced at each other. Buffy smirked and said, "Too bad you don't do them more often. My life would be so much easier."

Dawn's smile vanished.

"Hey!"


Every Place With A Stamp

Sunnydale High School
Sunnydale, California
3 March 1999

"Goddess, I don't know what I'm going to do!"

Buffy and Cordelia looked up from their piles of schoolwork to see what was worrying Willow.

The Slayer glossed over the college acceptance packets that Willow had stacked in front of her. "What's wrong, Will?"

Willow gazed at her with her witch-green eyes. "I got accepted to Yale."

"Oh, like you're going to go there!" Cordelia said in a way that hinted to the Slayer that she was really saying, "Ewwww." She made a face that reinforced that opinion. "You can't be serious!"

Buffy frowned. "What's wrong with Yale? Not that I'd ever go there, but I thought it was a good school." She reconsidered that. "That is, for those brainy, high I. Q. types."

"Oh, please," Cordy said disgustedly, rolling her eyes as well. "Yale's just the dumping ground for people who couldn't get into Harvard."

"I got into Harvard," Willow protested.

"You did?" Buffy and Cordelia asked. When the little red witch nodded, sealing her affirmative answer by digging through the pile of brochures and taking out the right one, Buffy sighed. "It's official, Will. You've been accepted to every place with a stamp."

"What's the big deal then?" Cordelia asked, echoing Buffy's thoughts. "You've got your choice of schools."

"That's just it, guys," Willow sighed. "I have to narrow it down and…" She looked up at Buffy, who nodded for her to continue. "I have to decide if I'm leaving Sunnydale after Graduation."

Buffy felt her mouth dropping; Sunnydale without Willow was like… < I can't think of anything. > "Will, you do realize you live on a Hellmouth, right? I'd think you'd be on the first plane out of here if you had the chance."

"I used to think that too, but…" she started. Buffy watched her glance at Cordelia. "This is where VAN is, this is where I grew up, and…"

"… this is where Oz is," Cordelia finished.

Buffy nodded along with Willow. Oz wasn't exactly the Ivy League type. The Immortal Slayer said, "Have you talked to him?"

"No!" Willow blurted before regaining her composure. "I…" She sighed. "I was going to try and narrow down what schools I might attend."

"Who're the front runners?" Cordelia asked, sounding interested to Buffy.

Buffy decided to ask her the same question. "How about you, Cordelia? You have your choices yet?" She rolled her eyes again. "Lucky me got accepted to UC Sunnydale and Northwestern. Like I want to go to Illinois or any other state that snows in the winter."

Cordelia nodded, the epitome of self-confidence. "I am, of course, holding onto UC Sunnydale in case Xander doesn't get accepted anywhere. But as for out of town…" She pulled out three envelopes and brandished them like she normally held up her credit cards. "Voila! Colorado State, USC, and Columbia!"

Buffy's eyebrows rose. "Those are good schools, Cordy."

"Duh," Cordelia said back to her, although the answer lacked the venom she could insert at will. The two turned back to Willow. "Okay, Will. Who's on your short list besides the Harvard Dumping Grounds?"

"Well, there's UC Sunnydale," Willow offered, sounding embarrassed by the admission that she had applied to the local branch college. She dug through and pulled out two more brochures. "MIT?" she asked, seeming to ask their opinion.

"Ewwww!" Cordelia shrieked with a shiver. "MIT's a four-year Clearasil festival!"

"Cordy, she's being serious!" Buffy admonished the senior Amazon. She turned back to Willow. "What's the other one, Will?"

Now Willow's face broke into a smile. "I got into Oxford!" she declared proudly.

Now it was Buffy who made a face. "Isn't that where they make Gileses?"

Willow stared at her and Cordelia before smacking the brochures back onto the table. "You're not helping!" She started packing her stuff up and said, "I gotta get to Computer Class. I'll see you guys after school."

"Will, wait…" Buffy said, trailing off when Willow ignored her. She shook her head and turned to Cordelia. "She's really mixed up about this."

"Yeah," the dark-eyed Amazon warrior said gently. "I guess she's really hard up on deciding whether she's going to stay or not."

*****

"Oz?" Willow called, getting her boyfriend's attention. "Can we talk?"

"Sure," he said with that small, Zen-type smile that still gave her goosebumps after a year together. She walked up and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. She let him guide her over to a couch in the student lounge area and sat her on his lap. "What's up?"

Willow took a deep breath to gather her courage before bringing up the subject. "Well, Oz, you know I've been accepted to a lot of colleges." He nodded once with a look of pride in his eyes. "Well, I have to decide where I want to go and where I'm gonna go and if I'm gonna leave Sunnydale and…" She was cut off when he put a finger over her lips to stop her from going into babble mode.

He smiled at her again and took his finger away. "Will, it doesn't matter where you go."

"But Oz…"

"Wherever you go, so goes my nation," he told her, putting his hand on her lap. "I can always get a gig somewhere or find a job. I'm good with computers and recording equipment."

"Don't you want to go to college?" she asked, puzzled although she knew he had something of a lack of ambition.

"Not if it keeps me away from you."

She blinked several times before realizing that what he was saying was that she was the most important thing in his life, bar nothing. Not the team, not the Dingoes, not even his education. To him, she was it.

Feeling part of the burden lifting from her shoulders, she said, "Really?" < Goddess, I feel like a little girl. > "Even if it's in England?"

"Really," he said, sneaking a quick kiss. "And even if."

With that crisis of the heart settled, she came back to the list of colleges she was considering. "But where do I go to school? Oz, I just don't know…"

"Why don't you talk to the others?" he asked. "Giles, Jenny, maybe even Artemis. Just don't talk to your Mom."

"Don't go there," she said with a cross face that melted into giggles. "Okay, I'll think about that. Thanks, Oz."

"Anytime."

*****

Sunnydale National Forest
Outside Sunnydale, California
3 March 1999

"Lady Goddess, please aid your daughter in her time of need," Willow prayed. She was kneeling on the ground, but she held her hands in the common prayer style used by Christians. < I guess a Jewish upbringing isn't totally given up in just a year… > "Lady Goddess, I call you and ask that you help me…"

"I'm here, Willow," came the familiar, husky voice of Artemis.

The Wicca opened her eyes and smiled at her Goddess, who smiled back with Her love for Willow shining in her deep brown eyes. Willow stood up and walked up to Her, hugging her for all she was worth.

"I know what this is about, my daughter," Artemis whispered softly, her voice sounding like a warm summer breeze. The two ended their embrace and the Patron Goddess of the Amazon Nations, old and new, gently stroked Willow's cheek. "I know you have called me to ask what you should do about your education. However, you know as well as I do that I cannot make that decision for you, Willow. I can only offer the best advice I can. In essence, you are free to, to use your vernacular, bounce ideas off of my head."

"Thank you," Willow said with a shy smile, hiding some disappointment. < I'd hoped she'd make my choice easier. > She looked back at her spiritual Mother. "You know what I'm trying to decide, but I don't know what to do! I mean, I thought Oz telling me he'd go with me would make it easier, but…" She sighed. "It didn't, at least not as much as I thought."

"Because he's not the only thing that's important to you," Artemis guessed, folding her athletic arms. "But if I may, it seems that you're complicating matters a bit."

Willow's face scrunched. "How's that? I'm just trying to decide where to go to school."

Artemis smiled at that. "Yes, but what you haven't realized is that you have two questions you're trying to answer without separating them from each other, when answering the questions one at a time might make your overall decision much easier."

"Two questions?" Willow thought about it but shook her head. "The only question I'm thinking of is, ‘Where do I go to college?'"

"No," the Goddess countered. She held up one finger. "That should be the second question you ask yourself." She held up another finger. "The first should be, ‘Do I stay in Sunnydale or leave Sunnydale?'" When Willow's eyes went round, Artemis nodded. "See, Willow? Once you answer that question, it makes the second one a bit easier. Not very much, given how many colleges you have been accepted to, but a bit."

"Oh," Willow thought. < Of course She makes it sound easy. >

Artemis grinned, reminding Willow that She could read minds. "I did nothing of the sort." She gave Willow that loving smile again. "Willow, know this; whatever choice you make, you have one of the most thoroughly analytical minds I have ever seen in one of my Amazons. I know you will make the choice based on what you want, and what you need. What you have to ask yourself is simple; do you stay here with your friends and family, or do you ‘spread your wings' and go elsewhere. Either way, there will be some hesitancy involved. If you stay, you might ask yourself ‘What if.' If you leave, you might ask yourself if you're being selfish. You aren't. I will make that clear right now. Willow, in the end, it's your life to live. Live it to the fullest."

Before Willow could say anything else, Artemis disappeared, leaving the Amazon Hacker alone in the clearing, but with much to think about.

*****

Rosenburg Residence
Sunnydale, California
Early hours
4 March 1999

< Okay, let's look it over, > Willow said, glancing at the sheets of paper labeled ‘Reasons to Stay' and ‘Reasons to Leave.'

She picked up the first sheet and started pacing. "Okay," she said, trying to be objective. "Reasons to stay. Number one, the guys. They're my friends and teammates. Leaving would hurt them…" She stopped when she remembered Artemis' words about it being her life. "Scratch that. It would hurt you to leave. But they're important to me. It's hard to imagine living somewhere without them being nearby, especially Buffy. And this is where we fight the good fight."

She went to Number two on her list. "Second reason, money. It'd be cheaper to go to UC Sunnydale." She nodded, thinking that a valid point. "Going somewhere else would put the squeeze on Mom and Dad. Especially if I go to Oxford or Harvard. So saving them some money's a good thing. But I have my money saved up in the Section account, so I could pay for it myself. So let's skip to Number three, VAN. I'm one of the new Amazons and I'm supposed to be helping get the Nation off the ground next month. Okay, I know they could probably do it without me once college starts, but I like the idea of helping out with that." She thought about that. "I'd have to ask Gabrielle if there's something I can do if I left Sunnydale."

Willow's pacing slowed as she considered that point deeper. She plopped down on her bed and looked at the last reason. "Number four, Oz. I know he said he goes wherever I go, and so does his nation, whatever his nation is… but this is his home, too. I have to think about him, too. I can't just say, okay, we're going to England or Harvard…" She sighed. "I don't want him to be apart from his friends, either."

Satisfied with the one side, she glanced at the other. "Reason to Leave Number one, seeing what the college life is away from Sunnydale. I can go anywhere, so why should I waste it? I can go to Harvard! I can go to Yale! I…" Her shoulders slumped. "I still need to decide where to go to college." She drew her shoulders back up. "But that's why you're doing this, to decide if you even have to decide where to go to college. Okay, I'm Back On Track Person. Reason two to leave… duh, Hellmouth. Do I want to spend my entire life here?" She wrinkled her nose and shook her head. "I think not. I want to get out of here someday. But is it too soon or do I want to stay a little longer?" She figured she could come back to that one later. "Reason three, being out on my own." She perked up a bit. "Yeah. Yeah, having our own place, me and Oz in an apartment or our little house, that's a good thing." She stopped for a second. "But I don't know how much it would cost. And I know Mom and Dad, especially Mom, would expect me to live in a girls' dorm. Hmmm, I better think about that one more."

She looked at the last reason. "Witchcraft. I wouldn't have to hide everything from Mom and Dad if I left to go to school. I could be open about it. I…" She stopped and looked again, realizing she'd forgotten something. "I'd have to find a new teacher. I'm still new to Wicca. I've only been doing it for a year and I know I don't know everything. But…" She looked over both sheets again. < That's another reason to stay; I love learning Wicca with Jenny and Amy. But it can't be the only reason… >

"I guess it's not as simple as I hoped. Okay," she sighed. "Okay. If I left to see what the college life was like, I could just stay at a dorm. I can always see Oz at his place or in a dorm. Or we could get our own place! Yeah," she thought with a goofy smile. "Me and Oz, in our own place after Graduation. I like that!" She looked at how her Leaving reasons one and three were somewhat mutual. "Okay, but what about the Hellmouth? I don't want to be here forever… but what's another four years? I've already been here eighteen years, and I made it this far…"

Willow eased the papers down to the bed. < I'm not asking myself if I want to leave Sunnydale, not really. I'm asking myself it I want to be on my own. Goddess, I can do that here! I wouldn't have to leave town… I'd just be leaving home. But everyone does sooner or later. >

The red witch slowly began to realize that she'd already made her decision before getting to the last reasons to leave; she was just trying to cover all the angles and convince herself it was the right decision.

< And it is, > she decided. < Because… I'm happy here. I want to be here. > She smiled as the burden on her shoulders began easing as if by magic. < I want to be here. >

*****

Sunnydale High School
Sunnydale, California
4 March 1999

Willow walked into the library and saw Buffy, Cordelia, and Faith already sitting at the table, discussing patrol from last night and some of the boys they'd spotted at the Bronze. She smiled at them and said, "Hey guys! How're you doing?"

The threesome looked up at her. Buffy arched an eyebrow and noted, "You're awfully chipper this morning."

Willow set her bags down and took a seat. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Cordelia answered with her usual lack of tact. "Well, yesterday you're Miss ‘Do I Or Don't I Go To England U' and today you're ‘la la' like you're little-miss-Stepford-Witch."

Willow grinned and waved off Cordy's concerns. "I was up late last night and I figured out where I'm going."

Faith's eyes flashed. "Somewhere with a beach, right? So you can Minor in Guys In Speedos?"

"Sort of," the hacker said jovially. She pulled out an envelope and handed it to Buffy. She smiled as Buffy looked at the address, popped her eyes wide, and turned back to her.

"Are you nuts?" the senior Slayer demanded. "You're going HERE?!?"

"Yep. I'm going here," Willow proudly declared with a brave nod.

Cordelia was just as stunned. "You're going to UC Sunnydale? What happened to Oxford?"

"Well," she began, summing up her reasons for choosing to go local, "one reason is because of you guys." She noted their surprised looks. "Hey, don't think it's the only reason. I mean, yeah I love you guys, you're family. But this is my home, too. I know what's out there and just like when you first came here, Buffy, I still want to help. I want to fight the good fight, guys. And the best way for me to do it is by staying here and helping you. Helping you with patrols, helping Gabrielle and Sonja with the Amazons, and I know Oz would like to stay here too." She fed them a demure grin that was normally seen on her boyfriend rather than on her. "Besides, where else am I going to learn how to be a Bad Ass Wicca?"

Buffy looked overjoyed. "You really mean that."

"Of course, Buffy," Willow assured her. "It's what I wanted, I just didn't know it." She took the acceptance letter back and put it away. "There's more for me here than there is anywhere else. Like you guys."

"Friends forever, huh?" Buffy asked with shining eyes.

"Yeah," Willow agreed.

"Easy for you to say, B," Faith drawled. "Forever's a lot longer for you than for us. Sheesh, when we're old and gray you'll still be getting carded for booze." Willow snickered as Faith went on. "'Less Red, Sabrina, and Calendar Girl use their mojo to make B as old and gray as us."

"FAITH!" Buffy shouted.

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