Title: Scooby Snacks: Pretzels and Chips

Author: Michael Weyer

My second batch of ficlets for fun. Thanks to Steve and Tim for help. Enjoy.


Best of All
New Scooby On the Block
Two Souls Were Stirring
Trophy Girls
Bonding

Best of All

In which two Eternals share the loss of a single mortal.

Ireland
March 17th, 1174

It wouldn't have been much of a surprise that the largest building in the small village was a pub. The simple brick exterior with its patched roof was quiet at this time of the day but it did have a few customers. It was filled mainly with people wanting to escape the rain that was pouring down outside. Even for Ireland, this was a wet spring and the corner of the roof that was leaking showed how the water had taken its toll.

The simple interior was a wooden floor with tables and chairs set about, a fireplace roaring wildly on the far side of the room. There were a few villagers at the bar itself, a pair of travelers sitting near the fire and in the corner was a single solitary figure sipping quietly at his beer.

He had long red hair that brushed to his shoulders, his dark tunic and pants seeming a bit ragged and worn. His face was marked with a sharp nose and features that could be termed handsome were they not currently marked in a downward scowl. The man slouched in his chair, sipping at his beer and sparing a glance out the window. His expression was one of melancholy, his eyes searching inward, not out, remembering times past.

The candles in the room flickered as if a wind had blown by yet the door remained shut. No one seemed to take notice of the figure who had literally materialized by the table in the back. Not even the table's occupant seemed to notice him at first until he glanced up. He blinked a couple of times, then looked at the beer in his hand. "Damn, this stuff works better than I thought," he remarked in an Irish brogue.

The new arrival pulled back a chair and took a seat. He looked at the table's occupant for a long moment before shaking his head. "You look like absolute hell," Robin Goodfellow said.

"Then I'm improving," Liam Danahure returned as he threw back a swig of his beer. He shook his head, his pointed ears briefly seen through his red hair, as he looked to his long-time friend. Robin was dressed in his usual green leaf outfit, a cap on top of his green hair, his pointed face holding a tight expression as his yellow eyes took in the leprechaun. "What are ye doing here?"

"I've been looking for you," Robin calmly said. "It's been ten years, Liam."

The leprechaun was apparently taken by surprise. "Ten years?" he said dully. As Robin nodded, Liam shrugged. "Funny. Could have sworn it was longer." He shook his head and took another sip of his beer. "How'd you know where to find me?"

"I took a shot in the dark," Robin answered. "This village on the ten-year anniversary? Maybe you didn't plan it consciously, but somehow I figured you'd be here now."

"So I am," Liam sniffed. "So, what do you want?

Robin tapped at the table as he took a breath. "Liam...I've been worried. After Kathleen..."

"Don't say her name," Liam broke in. His voice was low and his eyes showed a flash of anger as he looked over at Robin. "Don't ever say her name, Robin. Not ever."

Robin rolled his yellow eyes. "God, Liam, I know it hurt. I liked her too."

"You didn't love her," Liam hissed. He looked away, closing his eyes. "And you didn't kill her."

Robin looked down at the table. "I know," he said softly. "Believe me, I know." He looked back up to his friend. "But, Liam, this is getting to be too much. I know you would need time but dropping completely out of sight for a decade...." The faery threw up his hands. "Where the hell have you been, anyway? I've been looking over the Kingdom, the Glens, Earth, everywhere I could think of. Hell, Callie wasn't even sure where you were. She said there were so many possibilities it was almost impossible to narrow down."

"Just been around and about," Liam shrugged in response. "Sort of bounced around from each realm to another. I didn't really feel like contacting anyone."

"Not even us?" Robin pressed. "Callie's been worried, Liam. So have I. I've never seen you like this, not with anyone. Not even your parents going hurt you as much as this."

Liam was silent, simply staring out the window as the faery looked at him. Robin sighed and shook his head. "Liam...I am sorry about....her. But cutting yourself off like this is not a healthy way to go, buddy. This isn't how you should be acting."

"Don't tell me how I should be acting," Liam shot back. "You don't know what I've been through, Robin. You've never been in love."

Robin slowly nodded. "No. No, I haven't." He leaned forward, piercing Liam with a gaze. "But we're friends, Liam. Best friends, for more centuries than either of us care to remember. We've been through the good and the bad, through Hell and back, literally. But I can't ever remember seeing you this bad. You're my best friend, Liam, and seeing you hurt like this hurts me too." He looked at Liam with an expression of sympathy. "You have to live on, Liam. She would have wanted that. You know that."

Liam slowly looked at her, his eyes still dark. "It's not fair, Robbie."

Robin shrugged. "Neither's life. That's one rule that even we can't escape."

Liam took another drink from his beer. "I killed her, Robbie. The woman I loved more than any other on Earth and I killed her."

"She was asking for it, Liam," Robin assured him softly. "You know she was. She was in so much pain, there was nothing you could have done for her-----"

"I should have!" Liam barked, anger rising within him as he slammed the mug down on the table. He looked to Robin, his eyes flashing. "I could have used my magic to heal her-----"

"Heal her?" Robin said, raising an eyebrow. "Let's see, Liam." He looked up, as if gathering mental notes. "Both elbows bent backwards, fingers broken, fingernails ripped off, legs shattered from knees to toes, claw marks on nearly every inch of skin on her back and chest, right breast cut off, hair ripped off with parts of her scalp with it, left eye gouged, nose crushed-----"

The mug in Liam's hand shattered suddenly. The leprechaun had fixed his friend with a deadly expression, fire in his eyes. Robin was quite calm as he returned the gaze. "There was no way your magics could heal her, not on their own. You'd have to tap into some dark energies and I think we both know how badly that would have turned out."

What Robin didn't have to say was that there was more to Kathleen's injuries than just the ones he had listed. Even Robin had his limits and throwing out how Kathleen had been violated just to get Liam's attention was a bit much, even for him. Liam closed his eyes and shook his head. "It would have been worth it," he said softly. "To have her alive...It would have been worth anything."

"Anything, Liam?" Robin said, raising an eyebrow. "Come on, you don't mean that. That sort of dark magic could have effected her, turned her into a zombie or a wraith or some other horrible------"

That he hadn't even seen Liam's fist coming was something Robin would have a hard time dealing with later. He chalked it up to the fact that he just hadn't expected Liam to break out of his melancholy snit to actually throw a punch. Let alone one of such strength that Robin found himself smashing out the wall of the pub and into the muddy road outside.

He got back to his feet, rubbing at his jaw as he saw Liam storm through the hole in the brick wall. As an afterthought, the leprechaun used his magic to fix the hole instantly even as he marched toward Robin. Robin opened his mouth to speak but before he could say a word, Liam launched another fist that sent the faery rocking back.

"I'd never let that happen to her!" Liam yelled, his eyes glowing brightly in the rain. "I loved her, dammit! I loved her more than anyone. I'd never let anything like that happen to her!"

"It might have!" Robin yelled back, his own eyes glowing with anger as he stood back up. "She knew that, Liam! It's why she made you promise not to use magic in case anything bad happened! She loved you too much to let you kill yourself with guilt over accidentally filling her with darkness!"

Liam growled and threw another fist at Robin. The faery held up a hand and Liam's fist halted a few inches away from his face. Liam found himself stuck in place as the Merry Wanderer fixed him with a decidedly non-merry gaze. "The first one caught me off-guard," he said in a voice laced with ice. "The second, I let you have because you needed to get it out of your system." Robin's eyes narrowed. "But I'm not going to become your punching bag, Liam. Not even for this."

He lowered his hand and Liam pulled back, still glaring at him. The two didn't even seem to notice the rain pouring down on them, matting down their hair and soaking their clothing. They simply stood and glared at one another.

"You can't know what it was like to lose her," Liam said in a hoarse voice. "You don't know a thing about love!"

Robin's eyes flashed with anger but he held himself in check. "I do know about love, Liam," he said softly. "Maybe I've never actually been in love before but I know about it, Liam. I've seen you in love plenty of times. None of them were as much as Kathleen, but I know you loved them. And you've mourned the ones who died, I understand that." Robin threw up his hands. "But for God's sake, Liam. You've spent ten years moping about because of one mortal woman. Even for Eternals, that's a bit much."

Liam's face was set in anger as he resisted the urge to punch his oldest friend right in the mouth. "You don't tell me how to feel or how to think or how to deal on this, Robin," he hissed. "She was my wife, my love, part of my soul and losing her was the worse day of my life and I don't need you to be reminding me all about it, you stupid DRIDER BAIT!"

The sound of Robin's teeth grinding together could be heard for yards. His face was an utter mask but Liam could tell from the flash of pain in the faery's eyes that he had stepped over the line. "Rob...." he started softly. "I....I was just....."

"Did you love her?"

Liam stared at him, taken aback. "What?"

Robin was strangely sedate as he gazed at Liam. "Did you love her?"

Liam's nostrils flared as a new burst of anger overtook him. "Don't ever say I didn't, Robin."

"Did she love you?" Robin continued in that oddly calm voice.

"You damn well know she did!" Liam yelled back.

"Yes, I know she did," Robin replied. "Do you?"

The rain pouring down was the only sound on the street as Liam stared at him. Robin could see him starting to slump as his words took hold. Carefully, Robin stepped forward until he was standing only a few feet away from Liam. He put a hand on the leprechaun's shoulder and spoke softly.

"You were the best thing that ever happened to her, Liam. You helped her out of that hellhole of a life she was in and gave her a wonderful new one. You showed her life and love and the world and more than she could have ever gotten from anyone else. And I know she loved you, Liam. She loved enough to make you promise not to use magic for her, not even to save her, because she understood what the consequences would be. She loved you enough to let you know that you can't let yourself be destroyed by her death. She wouldn't want your heart to die with hers, Liam. Always know that."

For a long moment, Liam just stared into Robin's face and saw the care and concern in his best friend's eyes. Liam closed his eyes and bowed his death. "I just miss her," he whispered. "I miss her so much, Robin."

"I know, my friend," Robin replied. "But we've both lost friends and even family, Liam. It's not easy and it never gets easier. But we know we have to move on afterwards, Liam. Not mourning her every minute is not going to be a betrayal of her. Deep down, you know that."

"Aye," Liam softly replied. "Aye, I do." He looked at Robin and for the first time, a smile came onto his face. "Ye tracked me down deliberately, didn't ye? To make me face up to this?"

Robin shrugged modestly. "Well, I figured you needed to hear someone say it to get it to connect in your head." He sighed and rubbed his jaw. "Course, I wasn't expecting that punch." He looked at Liam carefully. "And I did imagine a few more tears."

Liam shook his head. "Ye use up plenty of tears in ten years, Robbie," he said softly. His face went dark. "Rob, about what I said....Christ, laddie, I'm sorry......"

"Hey, it's okay, Liam," Robin quickly assured him. "It is. You needed to get it out." He threw a little smile at his friend. "Besides, if you can't be an asshole to your best friend, then who?"

Liam chuckled with him before looking toward the pub. "Think they'll let us back in? I could use something a bit warm right now."

"I've got the gold, we should be okay," Robin said. The two began to walk back toward the pub, both already preparing spells to dry themselves off as they reached the door. "Later on," Liam announced. "Do ye want to go with me? To see....her?"

Robin was a bit surprised but nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I'll go." He looked at Liam closely. "Are you okay now?"

Liam nodded. "I'll get there," he said. "Truth is, I've known that everything you said was true. Just couldn't face it before now." He paused right before the doorway and looked at Robin. "Ye've seen the inscription on the tombstone, right?"

Robin nodded. "'Best of all.'"

Liam nodded himself. "It's there because it's what she'll always be," he said softly. "Oh, I'll probably marry again, Robin. I was never that far gone. Ye know what I'm like, I bounce back, I'll love again." His face fell and his voice softened. "But not like her, Rob. I'll never love any woman as much as I love her. Never."

Robin clapped a hand on Liam's shoulder and gave it a quick squeeze. "Take solace, my friend, in the sure-fire knowledge that you'll always know more about love than me. I'm never going to be the type to say 'I love you' to a woman and mean it so you'll always be one up on me."

"Ye never know, lad," Liam shrugged. "Ye could meet the right woman someday."

"I'll try and see if she has a sister for you. Or at least a slightly attractive cousin," Robin smirked as he and Liam shared a laugh. The leprechaun and the faery entered the pub, letting the rain wash away the remaining traces of their fight and Robin's words wash away some of his best friend's pain.

*****

New Scooby on the Block

In which a recovering member finds out about a few things the hard way.

Steven St Wolf's Home
Sunnydale, CA
October 1st, 1998 - 0946 Hours PST

"You're sure you're up for this?" Buffy Summers asked for the fifth time in the last ten minutes.

Kendra rolled her eyes. "For the last time, Buffy, yes," she answered, her usually flat Jamaican accent showing a touch of irritation. The dark-skinned Slayer shrugged slightly, her tight dark top ending just above her belly, with a pair of dark fighting tights covering her lower body, boots finishing off the look.

"I just want to be sure," the blonde-haired Slayer assured her peer. "I mean, you've only been out of the hospital for a couple of weeks, I want to make sure you're ready to plow into training." The two were walking down the hallway of Steve's house, making their way to the training area. It was Kendra's first time at Steve's home since her injury in Los Angeles and her first time meeting the entire Sunnydale group as a whole since her return.

"I have been out of action for too long," Kendra stated. "I could use a workout to ease back into my duties."

Buffy sighed. "Kendra, are you sure you're------"

"I told you I am physically recovered, Buffy."

"Physically, yeah," the American stated. "But what about mentally? I know it was rough hearing that your own Watcher wanted to....you know."

Kendra stopped, halting her pace so suddenly that Buffy took a couple of steps forward on reflex before stopping herself. She turned to face Kendra, who had bowed her head for a moment before looking up at Buffy. "It was...difficult to accept at first," she stated in a low tone. "After all Mr. Zabuto had done for me, it was hard to believe he was prepared to kill me rather than allow me time to recover." She looked up at Buffy. "But I know you and Giles to be utterly truthful people. I knew you would not lie to me."

"Yeah, yeah, we covered you believing us," Buffy said with a wave of her hand. "But what about you dealing with it?"

A tiny smile came to Kendra's face. "I had...someone at the hospital who was more than willing to listen to me. He helped me get through much of my pain." Her face saddened. "But still...that the man who raised me would be willing to kill me without a second thought...."

Buffy sighed. "I don't know if it helps or not, Kendra, but apparently, Sammy Z was the rule not the exception for the Watchers. Giles, apparently, is the exception for actually giving a damn about us. He proved that when he got the empowerment from Robin and insisted the first place he wanted to go was to see the Council and tell them hands off us." Buffy smiled. "Hell, even without that, he would defied them by not doing the Crucifentum."

"The what?" Kendra frowned.

Buffy started, then frowned as she realized she had never brought that up before. "Shit, I forgot about that," she muttered. As Kendra stared at her, Buffy took a deep breath. "On her 18th birthday, every Slayer gets this test by the Council. They make us stare at some crystal that puts us into a trance. That allows the Slayer's Watcher to inject her with a drug."

Kendra's eyes widened. "They would drug us?" she asked in disbelief.

Buffy soberly nodded. "Yeah. It's some muscle suppressant thing, designed to cut down on our Slayer abilities, make us the same physically as we were before we got Called."

"The Council would make the Slayer helpless?" Despite all she had heard in the last few weeks, Kendra still had a hard time grasping how inhumanely the Council could treat its own Slayers.

"That's not the worst part," Buffy went on. "They'd then send the now-helpless Slayer against the nastiest vampire they can find. The test is to see how the Slayer can perform without her powers."

"But..." Kendra shook her head. "But the Slayer would be at a severe disadvantage! It would be a miracle if she survived!"

"Three out of five don't." Kendra's eyes widened in shock at Buffy's cold statement. Buffy sighed and shook her head. "The way the Council sees it, the Slayers who survive prove that they can handle any situation. The ones who don't...well, the Council figures they wouldn't have lasted long anyway so better they go out like that."

"And they would do that to us?" Kendra asked.

"Oh, no," Buffy quickly assured her. "No, Giles made the decision a long time ago that he wasn't going to put me through that and told it to the Council." Buffy looked up at Kendra. "That counts for you too. Trust me, the Watchers won't be coming here to administer the test themselves."

"I...I had no idea they could be like that," Kendra softly said. She started to walk down the hallway again, Buffy joining her. The black Slayer did her best to keep from shivering at the thought of Zabuto willfully drugging her and sending her to probable death. "I am...glad Mr. Giles managed to convince them off this course of action."

Buffy smirked. "Well, seeing him go into Ripper mode after beating the crap out of a dozen commandos definitely made his case for him."

Kendra gave a light roll of her eyes. "Buffy, are you still persisting in this idea that I would believe Giles is capable of a feat like that?"

Buffy stared at her in amazement. "You mean you still don't believe in the empowerments the guys have?"

Kendra sighed as she and Buffy reached the doors leading to the training area. "Buffy, I will accept that they have increased in their training skills," she began as she let Buffy open the doors. "But that the Greek Goddess of the Hunt and a faery from Shakespeare came here and empowered the majority of the group is simply a bit much to-------"

She and Buffy strode into the training area just in time for Kendra to see Xander flip over Willow, the redhead sweeping backwards to kick at him. They were dressed in loose workout outfits, as were the rest of the occupants of the room. The sound of wood striking wood got Kendra's attention and she whipped her head to the side where she saw Giles and Jenny dueling with wooden practice swords, both showing incredible skill and speed with each strike and block.

"Believe," Kendra finished in a far softer voice than she had used before.

Buffy couldn't help but smirk at how the usually cool Kendra was staring open-mouthed at the actions before her. She stared in wonderment as Willow leaped nearly ten feet over Xander, who jumped back to block a kick she threw at him and launched one of his own that knocked her back. Willow looked up at her best friend and smiled. "Nice. How come you don't try that on Cordy?"

"Consider how she'd pay me back for it," Xander returned with a smile. He caught sight of Buffy and Kendra and broke out in a wide grin. "Hey, look who's back!" he called out as he walked over toward the two Slayers. Immediately, the rest of the team ceased what they were doing and followed him over.

Willow smiled as she came up and gave Kendra a quick hug. She quickly stepped back, her face falling a bit. "Oh, sorry, sorry. I forgot you're not one for emotional stuff even though it was meant to be nice but I was sort of worried and I didn't want to offend you or anything....."

Kendra could see that becoming an Amazon hadn't erased Willow's tendency to sink into babbling. "It is all right," she broke in. "I...am glad you cared so much for me."

"Well, of course we care," Jenny told her, rubbing at Kendra's arm. "You've been through a lot and we want to make sure you're ready to get back on track."

Kendra looked down. She was starting to feel a little embarrassed at all the attention. "I do want to thank you for all you have done," she said, bringing her head back up. "I have been doing my best to adapt to the sudden...changes that have occurred recently."

Steve added his own smile as he looked at her. "We'll be there to help, just like I promised."

Giles gave Kendra a fatherly smile as he came up to her. "It's good to see you out of that hospital room at last. Are you feeling all right?"

"As well as can be expected," Kendra answered with a nod. "I am...coping with all that has been happening." She let her eyes sweep over the Sunnydale residents and raised an eyebrow. "Of course, what I've just seen will take a bit longer to cope with."

"Hey, at least you didn't get your ass kicked by them first," Cordelia muttered, crossing her arms and throwing a glare at Xander.

"Geez, Cordy, it's been over a month!" Xander complained, throwing up his arms. "Haven't I made up for that? Almost every night?"

"New topic please!" Buffy called out.

"As always, my timing is impeccable." At the voice behind her, Kendra spun around to take in the two figures who had just entered. One was a man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties, handsome, with dark brown hair in a unique cut, a pair of bangs hanging on either side of his face. The woman was attractive, if somewhat cool, with light skin, her eyes shifting as she took in Kendra, her dark curly hair billowing behind her. She wore a black fighting outfit, the top rather tight and restricting while he was dressed in a wild green shirt with dark green pants and a blue jacket.

Kendra was taken aback as the man reached over to grasp her hand and shake it vigorously. "A pleasure to meet you," he said in a jovial tone. "Robin Goodfellow, at your service."

"Hello," Kendra said, still recovering from Robin's outfit and manner. She turned to face the woman and immediately realized that the stranger was sizing her up for possible weaknesses. Kendra returned the favor and tried to hide the slight shudder as she realized that, even in the easy pose she was in, this woman was more than ready to go to battle at a moment's notice.

Seeing the tension growing between the two, Amy quickly stepped in. "Kendra, this is Shaw Hunter," she said. "She sort of hooked up with us a few weeks ago, right after Robin did."

"Hooked up?" Kendra asked with a frown.

Sighing, Buffy quickly explained. "She's joined us for training. She knows about vamps and demons and she's been a big help."

Nodding, Kendra turned toward Shaw. "Hello," she carefully said.

Shaw raised an eyebrow. "Hello to you as well," she said in a cool tone.

"Oh, this will be fun," Robin muttered under his breath. He looked toward Kendra and smiled. "So, how does it feel to be up and on your feet?"

"It would be better if people did not press me on it every two minutes," Kendra said in a clipped tone. She bent her head and took in Robin. "Are you truly...Puck?"

Robin's smile vanished and he glared out at the others. "Okay, six weeks in the hospital and you couldn't make it clear to her that I'm not that little bastard?!"

Kendra stepped back from his rampage and turned to Buffy. The blond Slayer shrugged. "He's sort of upset about that."

"I can tell," Kendra stated. She looked toward Robin. "You are really a magical creature? A faery?"

Robin raised an eyebrow. "I would think that the events of the last few months would have given you more of an open mind, my dear. Like one of my brothers says, keep an open mind and you never know what will walk in."

It took Kendra a moment to realize just why everyone else was staring at Robin in confusion: The faery had answered her question in perfect, flawless Jamaican with no hint of an accent. Raising her eyebrow, the Slayer replied in her native language. "And you live as a human?"

"Yeah, I know it's a challenge," Robin shrugged in response. "But I can lower my standards enough."

"Was that an insult?" Kendra asked.

"Hey, I *like* humans," Robin insisted. "Some of my best friends were humans."

Although she somehow knew it wasn't a good idea to ask, Kendra did. "Like whom?"

Robin thought for a moment. "Bob Marley. John, Paul, George and Ringo-----"

"Who?" Kendra frowned.

Robin rolled his eyes. "Good God, and I thought Shaw had popular culture problems," he muttered. He sighed as he continued. "The Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and Will..." His face suddenly darkened. "Until he couldn't stay sober for six hours and instead wrote that play on a bender and ended up causing me four hundred years------"

Kendra's hand smacked into his face, rocking him back. Rubbing at his cheek, Robin looked at her carefully. "They warned you?"

"Yes."

"Good people."

"Ah, do we get subtitles or are we going to have to wait for the dubbed version?" Xander called out. Robin and Kendra looked at him, realizing how they had been conversing entirely in Jamaican and cutting the others out. "Sorry," Robin stated. "We were just comparing notes."

"Always a good thing," Steve stated, positive he was better off not knowing specifics. "So, Kendra, do you think you're ready to go into training?"

Kendra raised an eyebrow at him. "What other purpose would there be in my being here, Steven? If I did not come here for sparring then I would not have come at all."

Robin leaned in toward Amy. "And you guys make the Vulcan jokes about Shaw?" the faery muttered under his breath.

Steven coughed to get Kendra's attention. "Actually, Kendra, I was about to give Shaw and Buffy a chance to go at it first. Not that I don't think you're ready," he quickly assured her. "I simply promised the two of them a spot first. They've been wanting to try more hand-to-hand training."

"Very well, Steven," Kendra calmly replied. "I will go along with that." She looked toward Buffy. "You will go easy on her, I assume?"

Buffy let out a small smile. "Shaw's got some good skills, Kendra."

"But you are a Slayer. You should be able to defeat a normal woman." Kendra was a bit taken aback at the sudden row of grins and snickers all around at what she thought was a simple statement of fact. She turned toward Shaw, who was hitting her with an icy gaze.

"I believe there is a popular term for this situation," the half-elf stated. "Watch and learn."

"Oh, man, this is gonna be good," Xander smirked. "And I thought seeing Kendra against Cordy or Will was going to be fun."

"I was kind of looking forward to that too," Cordelia had to admit.

"Let's get on with this," Robin announced, starting to walk toward the mat. "I want to make sure I've got time to get ready for my date tonight."

"A date?" Kendra frowned. "What sort of woman would date you?"

"Oh, thanks!" Amy yelled, crossing her arms before her. Kendra stared at her, then at Robin, then glanced at Shaw. "Is this supposed to be a joke?" she asked in disbelief. "Amy is dating a faery?"

A tiny smile came to Shaw's lips. "My cousin has some...unique taste in companionship."

Kendra frowned for a moment, looking to Shaw, then to Robin and Amy. Her face cleared with understanding and she slowly nodded. "Ah, I see."

"You do?" Amy asked, a bit surprised.

"Yes," Kendra confirmed. "It explains how Shaw can become so close with the team so quickly. She and Robin are cousins."

Xander, Cordelia, Buffy and Robin immediately burst out into loud laughter at the comment. Buffy and Willow giggled while Steve, Jenny and Giles let out smiles. Even Amy had to chuckle a bit before seeing the glare Shaw was giving her.

"Kendra...." Giles started. "Shaw is not Robin's cousin. She's Amy's."

Kendra stared at him for a long moment. "Mr. Giles, I did not think you the type of person to make such foolish attempts at humor."

Amy sighed and rolled her eyes. "It's not a joke, Kendra. Shaw really is my cousin."

Kendra stared at her in surprise. "Since when?"

"Since the time both of us were born," Shaw dryly stated. "Why are the people here constantly missing such simple details about families and reproduction?"

"Okay, I'm starting to think maybe *Kendra's* the one Shaw's related to," Willow whispered to Xander.

"Hey, compared to Oz, they're both loudmouthed freaks."

"Point."

"Hmm."

Kendra was still a bit confused. "Amy, how did this cousin-----"

"That's sort of a long and complicated story," the witch quickly broke in. Eager to change the subject, she looked toward Buffy. "Buff? You and Shaw gonna hook it up now?"

"Yeah, let's get going," Buffy agreed. "Want to get a good seat to watch, Kendra?"

"In a moment," the Jamaican replied. "There is something I have been meaning to take care of for a while now." Her gaze swept along the Slayerettes for a moment before fixing on one in particular.

"Xander?" Kendra spoke up. "Is it true that when you saw Mr. Zabuto, you physically assaulted him for what he had done to me?"

Xander tensed a bit. "Um, yeah," he gulped.

Kendra nodded. Then, with a simple step forward, she leaned in and kissed Xander on the cheek. "Thank you," she stated as she backed up. She bowed her head and hoped the blush on her cheeks wasn't too visible.

"Oh, thank *you,*" Xander replied with a smile. "Ah!" he let out as Cordy lightly whacked him on the head.

*****

St. Peter's Cemetery
2147 Hours PST

"She will be all right?"

"Yes, she will," Buffy told Kendra for the fourth time in the last hour. "Trust me, Shaw's getting used to being beaten in training. I didn't go that rough on her."

"She might disagree," Kendra dryly observed. "Once she is able to talk clearly, that is."

"Why do you think Willow, Amy and Jenny have been boning up on healing spells?" Buffy asked with a smirk. The two Slayers were patrolling the cemetery, each one dressed for action. While Kendra still wore the same outfit, Buffy had changed to a pair of dark pants, a light blue blouse and a jacket, her hair pulled back in a ponytail.

"I am glad you did not cause too much of a fuss when I asked to go on patrol," Kendra told her fellow Slayer.

"I could tell you needed it," Buffy said. "And you did show you had gotten the kinks out with Willow and Oz."

"I did not defeat them, Buffy," Kendra pointed out.

"Kendra, considering you'd never sparred against them when they were empowered before, a standstill's not too shabby. It got Steve's okay, didn't it?"

"True," Kendra admitted. The two walked in silence for a moment before Kendra softly spoke. "I sense three vampires ahead of us."

"And two on the left," Buffy told her. "You want them?"

Kendra nodded, her hand going to her pocket and feeling the stake hidden inside. Her eyes darted to her left, waiting for her enemies to show themselves. Her sharp hearing picked up a rustling sound in the bushes nearby and she was already turning when the first vampire broke out of the bushes and lunged at her. With a simple jab forward, Kendra slammed her stake into the creature's chest, instantly turning it into dust. She lashed out with a kick that stunned the other approaching vampire and smashed a fist into his face.

Buffy soon found herself with her hands full as a pair of vampires came at her. They were both large men and Buffy could tell they were more experienced at fighting than the usual fledglings. She managed to block several attempted punches and spun past a sweeping kick to strike out at his face. The vampire rocked back and Buffy turned to kick at the other one, stunning him long enough to jam a stake into his heart. As he disintegrated, Buffy turned and faced off against the third vampire, who had just shown himself.

"Let's hurry this up," Buffy said, twirling her stake in her hand. "I've got stuff to do tonight and I don't want to waste time."

"Neither do I," the vampire said and then let out a loud whistle. Too late, Buffy heard the rustling sound in the tree above her and looked up in time to see another vampire leap down from the branches. She moved out of the way so he didn't land on her but was still unprepared for the vampire to grab her and yank her towards him. The next thing Buffy knew, there was a piercing pain in her neck as the vampire bit down on her. She let out an involuntary yell as she felt her blood being sucked away.

Kendra kicked her opponent in the face and turned to see Buffy being fed upon. "Buffy!" she yelled and moved to help her. She was stopped by the vampire, who tugged at her arm. Snarling, Kendra yanked him in and lashed out a fist, sending the vampire down. With a swift move, Kendra sent "Mr. Pointy" into his chest and then rushed to help her fellow Slayer.

Seeing the vampire drop Buffy's limp body to the ground brought a rush of pain to Kendra's heart but she pushed it aside. Snarling with rage, she ran up and leaped into the air, her left leg extending to hit the bloodstained vampire with a kick to the chest. She spun around and backhanded the second vamp and, in the same spin, belted the third in the face. She rammed her stake into its heart and watched it break away.

Leaping up, Kendra executed a wicked one-two spin kick to the second vampire, sending him down to the ground. He fell on his face, trying to lift himself up as Kendra jumped onto him, staking him in the back. Getting to her feet, she faced off against the vampire that had killed Buffy. The demon snarled as he rushed at her, throwing a fist at her face. Kendra blocked the blow and hit him with a kick that lifted him a few inches off the ground. He stood there, stunned by the force of the blow, which allowed Kendra to execute another kick that spun him around. He stood there for a moment longer, trying to get his bearings and thus open to the stake that Kendra savagely plunged into his heart. As she watched him turn into dust, Kendra, in a rare moment of pure bloodlust, wished she could have hit him a while longer.

Her fury slowly abated as she turned toward Buffy. She knew it was too late. She'd seen enough dead bodies to know Buffy had been drained. She closed her eyes and shook her head, grief pouring over her. It wasn't just for herself but at the thought of how Steve and Buffy's mother and friends would take her death. Taking a deep breath, she reached in and removed the cell phone from her back pocket. Keeping her hands from trembling, she quickly dialed in a number and waited. She turned away, unable to look at Buffy's body and so missed the flashes of electricity coming over the wounds on her neck. The flashes vanished, the wounds with them but Kendra failed to see it. She was too busy trying to figure out what to tell Steve.

"Hello?" the male voice on the other end spoke up.

Taking a deep breath, Kendra spoke. "Steven...It is Kendra. I am at St. Peter's and Buffy is...Steven, she is..."

A gasp suddenly rang out as Buffy's eyes shot open and whipped around. She tried to sit up, heaving with breath as she regained her bearings. The phone fell from Kendra's hand as she stared in shock at the suddenly resurrected Buffy, who was blinking up at her. "Hey, Ken...How is----"

That was as far as she got before Kendra's stake slammed into her heart and darkness once more took Buffy.

*****

"Kendra!" Steve called out as he rushed through the cemetery, Giles, Jenny, Amy and Shaw behind him. They had been with him at his home when he got Kendra's call and had immediately moved to reach the Slayer. Steve wasn't sure what was going on but the obvious pain in Kendra's voice let him know it couldn't be good.

He came to a stop and stared at the scene lying a few yards away. "Ah, dammit," he muttered as he began to walk forward. Behind him, Giles and Jenny shared a tired sigh as Amy rolled her eyes. Shaw seemed somewhat confused as to what the fuss was about as she followed them.

Kendra stood in the middle of the cemetery, staring down at Buffy, who was lying on the ground with a stake sticking out of her chest. Kendra's expression was a mix of confusion and disbelief, obviously trying to understand why Buffy hadn't turned into dust. Steve came up and put a hand on her shoulder. "Kendra?"

Kendra looked at him and blinked her eyes before recognizing him. "Steven..." she softly said. "I...Where did you come from?"

"You called me, remember?" Steve asked as Giles stepped by him. The Watcher knelt down and grabbed the stake sticking out of Buffy's chest. Grimacing from the ugly task before him, Giles gave a yank and the stake came loose from Buffy's chest.

"What happened?" Amy asked.

Kendra swallowed. "We were fighting some vampires. One got behind Buffy somehow and...bit her..." Her eyes were focused on Buffy's neck, which, she suddenly realized, showed no bite marks. "I killed the vampires and then called you. She just...came back suddenly and all I could think of was..."

"That she'd been turned," Giles said. "Kendra, I can understand that feeling but I assure you..." He broke off as he examined the body. "Kendra...There are two holes in Buffy's shirt by the chest area."

"Yes, well..." Kendra looked down and coughed as Jenny stared at her.

"Please tell me you didn't stake her twice," Jenny almost begged. At Kendra's slight flush, Jenny rolled her eyes. Despite the situation, Amy couldn't help a slight snicker at the idea.

"Steven," Kendra began. "She is still...in one piece. I do not understand --"

Buffy's eyes shot open and she let out a huge gasp as she came back to life. She felt at her chest, groaning as she sat up. "Shit...." Buffy muttered, bending her neck to one side, then the other. "Ah, shit, what the hell------" She stopped as her vision was taken up by a wooden cross. She pushed it back to see Steve standing there, holding the cross right up to her face. "What is this?"

In answer, Steve nodded to where Kendra was standing. Buffy followed his gaze and took in Kendra and the shock on her face and realized what had happened. "Ah, shit," she muttered. She glanced back at Steve. "But that still doesn't explain the cross."

"I wanted to show her you weren't a demon of any other sort," the Wanderer told her. "You want her to try beheading you next?"

Buffy grimaced. "Pass."

Kendra was frozen, her normally impassive features now showing an expression of utter shock. Her jaw opened and closed but she couldn't make any words come out. Buffy sighed as she stood up and carefully walked forward. "Kendra, it's okay. Really, it is." She reached out and Kendra instinctively took a step back, her fists held up. The expression of shock remained on her face as she blinked at Buffy. The blonde Slayer looked over toward her elders. "Help here?"

Giles coughed to try and get Kendra's attention. When that didn't work, he coughed louder until Kendra managed to turn her head toward him. "Kendra, it's all right," Giles said in his best soothing tone. "This isn't a demon or vampire or anything dangerous. This is still Buffy."

"But...she was dead..." Kendra whispered. "I....How can she be-----" Her eye widened. "Does this have something to do with the sword you carry?"

Buffy smiled, realizing that she had a great excuse ready to use. "Yeah, that's sort of it."

"Well, it is not the sword exactly," Shaw stated as she brushed at her hair. "After all, the MacLeods do not use such swords and yet they are Immortal."

Kendra's eyes went wider. "What?" she whispered. "Immortal?" She looked at Buffy, then back at Shaw. "Buffy is....Immortal?"

"Um, Shaw...." Amy started but it was too late.

Looking at Kendra with puzzlement, Shaw went on. "Immortal. She can die but she will come back to life, unless she is beheaded. She can heal any wound. She will never age or catch any disease. She is just like Steven and the MacLeods and Mulder and Scully and......" Shaw trailed off as she saw the looks of pain on the faces of the people around her. Giles and Steve held their hands to their heads and groaned as Jenny rolled her eyes again. "Oh, sure, *now* she's forthcoming about stuff!" Amy muttered.

Kendra stared at Buffy. "Buffy? How did this...happen? When?"

Buffy closed her eyes and shook her head. "When I drowned fighting the Master."

Kendra's eyes widened in shock. "Then?" She asked softly. "You were Immortal then?" Her brow furrowed and her eyes narrowed in a sudden rush of anger. "Then you were Immortal when we first met......"

"I didn't know!" Buffy defended herself, holding up a hand. "Honest! I didn't know until I met Mulder and Scully back in January!"

"And you didn't tell me after the events in Los Angeles?" Kendra demanded, an actual expression of hurt coming onto her features. "You did not think you could....trust me?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "I told you when I came to see you in the hospital, I said the 'I' word right in front of you!"

Kendra put her hands on her hips and glared at her fellow Slayer. "And was this before or after you told me that the man who I had come to think of as a second father was prepared to kill me without a shred of remorse and with the blessing of the Council?"

Buffy's face fell. "Ooops," she muttered. She closed her eyes and shook her head before looking up at Kendra. "God, Kendra, I'm sorry," she said softly. "I really am. It never occurred to me that you might have been so much in shock that you wouldn't register what I said. And, well, it just never really came up afterwards but.....I'm sorry."

Kendra's face had resumed it stoic expression. "Were you going to tell me?"

Buffy nodded. "Damn straight I was. Hell, I thought I already had. But, yes, Kendra, I would have made sure you knew. You deserve to know the truth if you're going to be fighting with us. All about me and Steve."

Kendra's gaze slowly moved from Buffy to Steve. She stared at the man as if she had never seen him before. "You...are like that?" she whispered.

With a deep breath, Steve nodded. "I am. I died for the first time fifteen years ago, stopping a maniac from shooting up a schoolyard. I was found by Duncan MacLeod. He's over 400 years old."

"Immortal," Kendra muttered, shaking her head. "You are Immortal."

"Hey, I'm still the same person," Buffy insisted. "Same one I've been all these months. I've just got a slightly longer life expectancy is all."

Kendra sighed and nodded. "It does explain a lot," she stated. The tiny hint of a smile came to her face. "Including how you were able to defeat Shaw so well in sparring."

"It was not 'so well,'" Shaw spoke up. The half-elf had frowned at Kendra's comment. "I am a capable fighter."

"Yes, but you have not been training for years for a life of fighting," Kendra said, not noticing how Amy was hiding her mouth with a hand. "I have. That gives me an edge you cannot quite match."

Shaw raised an eyebrow and folded her arms. "Really?" she asked. "Perhaps we should find out for ourselves then."

Kendra raised an eyebrow in return. "I believe the American term is...bring it on?"

"Oh, shit," Steve muttered under his breath.

"Steve, relax, Kendra won't hurt Shaw too much, you know that," Giles told him.

"Not that," Steve replied. "I just know Robin's going to be videotaping every minute of it."

*****

Steve St. Wolf's Home
October 2nd, 1998 - 0831 Hours PST

"I can't understand why they couldn't wait longer," Jenny spoke up as she paced the area on one end of the gym. The Slayerettes had gathered there, all in the same loose fighting outfits they had worn only the day before.

"Hey, they wanted to go at it last night," Steve pointed out. "I had to lay down the law and make them both get a good night's sleep before they go at it. I'm hoping cooler heads will prevail and they'll call this off."

"Steve, you do remember who we're dealing with here, right?" Xander asked. He looked toward the training mat where Kendra and Shaw were. The two were a distance away from each other, both doing various stretching exercises and prepping themselves for their upcoming sparring session.

"I hope Kendra doesn't go too rough on her," Willow spoke up.

"Hey," Shaw has some skills!" Amy protested, finding herself sticking up for her cousin.

"And let's keep most of them under wraps," Buffy said. "Including the elf thing?"

"What, you don't think Kendra can pick that up on her Slaydar?" Xander asked, trying to break the mood.

Buffy looked at him with a confused expression. "Slaydar?"

Xander shrugged. "I just thought it up."

"Think harder," Buffy said dryly.

"Now there's a challenge," Cordelia muttered.

Before Xander could fully react, Kendra and Shaw took up positions facing one another on the mat. "Ready?" Kendra asked.

"Ready," Shaw replied.

"Ready," Robin muttered, making sure his video camera was set up next to him.

Shaw nodded and stepped back, moving into a fighting position, legs spread and fists up. Kendra moved into her own spot, the two studying each other carefully. Kendra moved first, feinting a kick and striking out with a fist. Shaw caught the Slayer's hand but was open for Kendra's foot to nail her in the midsection, sending her back. Kendra followed that up with a spin kick to Shaw's chest that knocked the Harper down.

Kendra moved in for another blow but Shaw's legs swung up and out, knocking her in the jaw and sending her staggering back. Rolling to her feet, Shaw launched a punch at Kendra but the Slayer easily ducked the blow as well as the second Shaw threw. She came back up and hit Shaw with a quick backhand to the chin, then followed it up with a double-fist blow to the chest. Shaking her head to get her bearings, Shaw launched out a kick at Kendra's face.

Kendra stepped back to give herself some room and held up her hands. She caught Shaw's leg as it came at her, holding onto it tight and giving it a swift yank. Shaw yelped as she felt herself pulled forward, Kendra's hands grabbing onto her shoulders as she fell backward. Using her own leg as a lever, Kendra sent Shaw sailing up and around, the half-elven letting out a gasp as she hit the ground on her back.

Rolling on the ground, Kendra flipped herself up and came down on Shaw, pinning her arms down and holding a hand to her throat. The hints of a smile came to her lips as Kendra spoke. "I believe that match is mine."

"Damn," Amy muttered. "I thought she'd last just a little longer than that."

"Nuts," Robin pouted. "I would have made money if anyone had taken my bets."

Kendra rose up and held a hand down to Shaw. The Harper took it and let the Slayer help her to her feet. "Thank you," Shaw said.

"Thank me?" Kendra asked with a slight frown. "For beating you so easily?"

Shaw shrugged. "It was my own fault. Despite what I saw earlier with Xander and Cordelia, I did not judge your abilities correctly and underestimated you. It is valuable that I find that out in training before I suffer fatal consequences in the field. I am seeking to improve my skills and knowing my limits helps with that. So, again, thank you."

Kendra was a bit taken aback by Shaw's little speech and blinked a few times before responding. "You are welcome. You showed some skill yourself. Even if it did turn out not as well as you'd hoped. "

The two looked over toward the others, who were watching the encounter with interest. "I believe we have settled the matter for now," Kendra announced.

"Damn," Xander muttered. "I was so looking forward to Shaw in a catfight." He winced as Cordelia whacked him on the head.

"Kendra," Steve spoke up. "I know there's more of the Immortality thing we need to talk about. How about we cut training short so Buffy and I can explain this in full?"

Kendra gave a curt nod. "If you believe that wise, Steven," she said. She looked over at Shaw. "I believe I have gotten my...workout...anyway."

"Thank God that went relatively smoothly," Giles muttered under his breath.

"Relatively being a relative concept here," Jenny observed.

Kendra began to walk toward Steve and Buffy, passing Shaw on the mat. As she did, she let out a small whisper, barely audible to anyone but the elven. "Three o'clock."

"Got it," Shaw muttered back. Kendra gave a tiny nod as she walked toward Steve and Buffy. Shaw turned and walked back to where the others stood, giving no sign as to the challenge she had just accepted. However, she failed to account for the hearing of one person in the room.

*Shaw vs. Kendra, Round 2* Robin thought, a smile slowly coming to his face. *I'm gonna make a fortune selling that one.*

*****

Two Souls Were Stirring

Takes place immediately after the events of Tim's "How the Big Bad Stole Christmas."

In which two reborn souls find a little peace.

Sunnydale, CA
December 30th, 1998 - 2201 Hours PST

The wind was blowing lightly through the town, picking up the edges of the long white dress worn by the woman who sat at the edge of the church roof. The dress was all she wore, her bare legs dangling lightly over the roof's edge. This might have seemed odd to a casual observer. Although California was hardly known for a white Christmas, it was still quite cool on this holiday night, with long pants and jackets a required dress. However, the woman did not notice the cold one bit. It wasn't just that she was just about immune to shifts in cold and heat. It was that her mind was consumed with other matters.

The wind blew again, the woman's raven-black hair drifting a bit with it. She didn't even move though, simply staring up at the shining moon and staying still. If one looked closely, they could see that her porcelain beauty was marred by evidence of a major crying jag, her eyes still red. She wiped at them absently while trying to figure out how to feel or think.

Drusilla knew that her reaction to what had happened was perfectly understandable. After all, finding yourself waking up in a strange bed with a strange man looking down on you lovingly was enough to throw anyone for a loop. To suddenly have your mind consumed with memories of a century and a half of causing death and destruction across the world was almost too much for the vampire to take.

What was striking Drusilla wasn't just the restoration of her soul. It was also the return of her sanity. Even before she'd been turned, the Englishwoman had been pretty close to the brink of madness. Having her entire family killed by Angelus, driving her to a convent, started the job. When Angelus waited until the day she was to become a nun to turn Drusilla, it had sent her totally over the brink. So, not only had she been possessed by a demon, it was a mad one too. Now that both demon and insanity were gone, Drusilla was consumed by the guilt over what she had done.

"Which is it?" a Cockney accent suddenly came up behind her. "The faces or the screams?"

Drusilla turned around to see the only person who could possibly understand what she was going through walking along the roof toward her. Dressed in dark pants and a leather jacket over a red shirt, his blonde hair not even wavering in the breeze, William the Bloody aka the vampire known as Spike, came up to the woman who had turned him and carefully took a seat next to her. He looked at her, then at the same direction she was staring out at. "So? Which was it?"

"The screams," Drusilla said softly, her voice no longer carrying the childish quality that had been her mainstay for over a century. She sounded more adult but nowhere near what one could term as "normal." "Men, women, children, animals," she went on. "All the ways they screamed. Short, long, loud, soft. All the different degrees of screams too. A child for his mother. A husband for his wife. A mother for her children. I heard them all." She closed her eyes and fought off a new wave of tears. "And I enjoyed it."

Spike was silent for a long moment before speaking. "It's the faces for me," he said. "Funny, before, they all just tended to blend together. One big, non-featureless blur. Now...Now, I remember each and every one in vivid detail. The way they looked before and after." He sighed and shook his head. "Funny. For the first time in a century, I don't hate Angel. I pity the poor bastard."

"I don't think his current condition calls for sympathy," Drusilla said. Her head came up and she blinked as a thought struck her. "Wow. We've got souls and he's the sadistic vampire. Irony still lives." She became aware of Spike staring at her. "What?"

"Nothing," he quickly said. "It's just that I'm not used to...well, used to hearing...."

The briefest hint of a smile came to Drusilla's lips. "Hearing me speak like a grown-up?"

"Exactly."

"Neither am I," Drusilla admitted. She peered at Spike. "Why are you still talking like that?"

Spike seemed confused by the question. "What do you mean?"

"With that accent," Drusilla clarified. "I was the last person who saw you as a human, remember. I know you had a whole middle-class accent with you at the time. Why do you still talk like a West End chimney sweep?"

Spike frowned for a moment before shrugging. "Just used to it, I guess," he said. "Truth to tell, I was actually a lot more comfortable with the whole post-vamp persona than I was with my human self. And, after spending a century with it, it's sort of hard to shake the old accent out."

"I thought you'd want to...go back to what you were," Drusilla said softly, looking at her feet.

"Not really," Spike stated. "Although I have to admit, seeing the looks on the faces of the Scoobies when I started talking like a bloody Merchant Ivory film extra was worthwhile."

Drusilla looked at him with what appeared to be honest curiosity. "Did they seem...confused as to the soul thing? I mean, putting it back in a vampire?"

"Nah," Spike answered, waving a hand. "Seems they did it a few weeks ago to the vampire doubles of Red and Dweeb Boy from another reality." As he saw Drusilla's look of utter incomprehension, Spike rolled his eyes. "Don't even ask, they spent half an hour explaining it to me and it still doesn't make an ounce of bloody sense. And I thought the whole empowerment thing was hard to listen to."

Drusilla looked at the smile on his face and shook her head. "How can you be like that?" she whispered. "How can you just...take all that in like it was nothing?" She looked down, tears once more teasing at her eyes. "My God, William...We've done nothing but cause death and destruction and pain and God knows what else for over a century! How can you not care about any of that?!"

Spike stared at his feet for a few moments before looking at her. For the first time, Drusilla saw the rings of red around his eyes and realized that he too had been going through his own set of tears. "I care, ducks," he said softly, the traces of his old accent coming in. "I was the guy who got my kicks putting railroad spikes through people's heads, remember. The first thing I did after you and Angel turned me was go after all those high-to-do assholes and make sure they met nasty ends."

"Not all of them," Drusilla softly said. She looked up at Spike, a frown at her lips. "You never killed Cecily. The woman who threw your affection of you in your face, the woman who told you that you were beneath her. Yet when you had the chance...you let her live." Her frown deepened. "I never understood that. Course, I didn't understand much of anything at the time but still....Why did you let her live?"

Spike was silent for a long moment before he replied. "I don't know. I really don't. When the demon kicked in and I used it for payback, I thought about ripping her to shreds. But when it came time for it...I just couldn't do it." He shrugged. "Maybe I was trying to pay her back in a way. Let her know that she was beneath me, that she wasn't even good enough for me to kill." He shook his head. "I don't know, I didn't understand half of what the demon wanted."

"I know the feeling," Drusilla said. Another silence came over them before she spoke up. "I'm sorry, William."

"For what, ducks?"

Drusilla looked at him. "You know what," she stated.

Spike returned the gaze before shaking his head. "It wasn't you, Dru," he said softly. "You know that. You can't keep blaming yourself for it."

"How can't I?" Drusilla demanded. "William, what I did to you, to your friends, to so many people was...unforgivable."

"I forgive you."

Drusilla stared at him in surprise. "What?"

Spike's face was calm as he repeated himself. "I forgive you." As Drusilla stared at him, he pushed on. "Ducks, come on. Not only were you possessed by a demon when you did all this but you were also, and this is not an insult but a statement of fact, out of your bloody tree to boot. I think that pretty well counts as extenuating circumstances."

Drusilla shook her head. "But I turned you, William. I destroyed your life-----"

Spike let out a short laugh. "Wasn't like I had much of a life to destroy, Dru. Come on, I was a bad poet, a worse lover and had no one in my life who gave a good bloody damn about me. Until you, that is."

Drusilla closed her eyes. "You don't understand, Spike. You were just a toy for me, a plaything to grab and hold onto. I was like a girl with a puppy and you were the puppy." She opened her eyes and looked at him. "At least in the beginning."

Spike felt himself go still as he looked at her. "And now?" he asked in a soft voice.

Drusilla stared at him for a long moment before speaking. "I've been trying to settle a lot of things in my head. Now that it's on straight, of course," she added. "And I've been trying to handle the guilt and the deaths and all that. But there's something else that's been popping up in my mind."

Spike cleared his throat. "And that is?"

Drusilla looked at him carefully. "You were there when I woke up, when I came back to my senses. You were there when the first rush of guilt hit me and you helped me through that. And when all I wanted to do was kill myself, you were there to stop that." She raised an eyebrow. "That's why you're here now, isn't it? To make sure I didn't do anything?"

"Well, not so much that," Spike answered with a shrug. "We're a bit of a ways off from Dawn and the building's not that high." He frowned as he looked at her. "But yeah...Yeah, I was worried you'd do something to yourself." He reached out and held her hand in his. "I don't want to lose you, Dru," he said softly.

Drusilla looked away, staring back at the moon. "Do you love me?" she whispered. "Not the demon, I know he loved my demon. But do you, William, love me?"

Spike had been asking himself that question several times over the last several hours and decided upon the answer about a half-hour before. "Yes. Yes, I do." He swallowed before he spoke again. "Do you...love me?"

Drusilla was silent for an agonizingly long moment before turning back to him. "I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of," she said, her voice building as she went on. "I don't mean just the murders, although that does take up a lot of space. I was doing some...unladylike things with men and demons before you were born. And Angelus..." She closed her eyes and was unable to suppress a shiver at the memories of her with her sire. "What he did to me....And the way I liked it..."

She felt Spike's hand squeeze her shoulder and felt a rush of emotion come over her. She opened her eyes and looked back into his. "I know you've been dealing with the same memories, William. And I know you did things even I wasn't capable of. You had every right to hate me for brining you into that life." She swallowed and continued. "But instead, you did everything you could to help me cope. You refused to allow me to kill myself because you saw something in me worth keeping. You put your own feelings about it aside just to help me." Her eyes were brimming with tears by this point. "How can I not love a man like that?"

Spike was silent for a long moment as he absorbed her words. Then, he moved in and pressed his lips against hers. She closed her eyes and returned the kiss as she leaned onto him. It wasn't a warm kiss, at least not physically, due to obvious reasons. But the rush of love that came over the two vampires made them feel warmer than they'd felt in decades.

After two minutes, they finally broke apart and leaned back a bit. Spike reached up to wipe away the tears from Drusilla's cheeks as he looked at her. "I need you, ducks," he said softly, tears beginning to stain his own eyes. "You're right, I do feel that guilt, just like you do. I see their faces and I hear their voices and it's worse than I'm letting on. I can't handle it alone, Dru, just like you can't. Maybe together, we can help each other heal a bit." A smirk came to his face as a thought struck him. "If God wanted us to just die, he'd have let Shaw finish the job at the fair. We got our souls back for a reason, love. Maybe we're trapped in the bodies of monsters but we can show that inside, we've got the souls given out by angels."

Drusilla looked at him before breaking out into a wide smile. "And they said you were a bad poet," she stated as she embraced him. He returned the hug, the two remaining that way for several minutes.

Drusilla shook her head as she broke away from Spike. "I guess it's just a question as to what we do now."

"Well, there's the plan St. Wolf came up with," Spike pointed out. "That you and me can start making up for things by going undercover. We pretend to still be nasty, dig out some info on vamp activities, we can save a lot of lives."

Drusilla frowned. "I don't know," she said softly. "I don't feel...right about acting like a lunatic again. I don't even know if I'd be good at it."

Spike shrugged. "Hey, it's like Shaw said, love. It's a hell of a lot easier for a sane person to act crazy than for a crazy person to act sane. It could work."

"It could," Drusilla allowed. She looked out over the town and shook her head. "In the meantime, where are we supposed to live? There's not a lot of places for us here."

"True," Spike agreed. "And I sure as hell don't want to set up shop in some crypt. Maybe St. Wolf can help us find a place."

Drusilla shook her head in disbelief. "That's the thing I really can't believe. A few days ago, I was ready to kill one of Shaw and Amy's cousins. Now, they're helping me cope with my new life as a souled vampire." She looked at Spike. "How can they do that? How can they just...forget all the times we've tried to kill them."

"They haven't," Spike answered her. "But they do understand it was the demons, not us. Like I said, they got some experience with that. Xander's actually being nice to me about it."

"Xander being nice to you?" Drusilla laughed. "Oh, now that is something."

"Well, he got a whole 'there but for the grace of God' thing with this double of his and understood what I was going through." He looked at Drusilla, his gaze softening. "They're willing to help us out, ducks. They want to see us healed too." He raised an eyebrow at his long-time companion. "You want to let them?"

Drusilla looked at him, the hints of a sly smile on her face. "Maybe soon," she said in a teasing tone. "But first, I think there's something more important that we have to do."

Spike was honestly confused. "What's that?"

Drusilla leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. "Make love, man to woman, soul to soul and do it right." The smirk returned to her face. "I never have been through it while totally sane, you know."

Spike grinned as he stood up, helping Drusilla to her feet. "Let's go find a nice place off the grounds then," he said as the two began to walk off.

"Tell me more about this other reality thing while we walk," Drusilla insisted. "Who were you with there? Buffy?"

"Me and the bloody Slayer? Let's not be crazy, ducks."

The two let out a long and honest laugh, something they hadn't done in a long time. Although it was physically impossible for it to be actually happening, they both would have sworn that their hearts were beating hard. For each other.

*****

Trophy Girls

In which a question is asked: Can two bad witches and worse mothers share the same trophy without killing each other?

Sunnydale High School Trophy Case
Sunnydale, CA
Times Varying

It was the silence that she hated.

In the two years since she had found herself stuck inside the cheerleading trophy she had won back in high school, Catherine Madison had been getting used to a lot of things. One was the fact that she never seemed to need food or water or go to the bathroom. Despite the fact that time seemed to pass, she didn't feel dirty or in need of a wash. And she found that she could look through the "eyes" of the trophy to see what was going on outside.

But it was the silence that was the worst part of it all.

Catherine paced the tight space, counting off the steps once more as a way to keep her mind focused. She hoped she still looked the same: Quite attractive, in her forties, with short dark hair and a dark blouse and skirt (Amy apparently didn't have a lively fashion sense while in her body, Catherine observed). Her arms were folded as she paced and she could hear the rustle of the piece of paper in her pocket. Her heels clicking on the ground broke the silence, something Catherine was more than grateful for.

*God, I could at least have a pack of cards or something,* Catherine thought to herself as she reached the one wall of her prison. She turned on her heel and began to pace back. *One, two, three, four Just keep focused on the steps, just keep a focus on something or else you'll crack. God, I could at least get a book or two. The only thing I've had to read is...*

At the thought of the note in her pocket, Catherine shook her head. "Oh, no," she spoke out loud. "No, no, I'm not going into that again. I don't need me telling me about my life. She didn't go through any of that, she doesn't know how important that was, she didn't-----" Catherine broke off and rubbed at her face. "I'm talking to myself about myself," she groaned. "God, I wish there was something to break the monotony."

It was at that point that a flash of multicolored light suddenly erupted from the side wall where Catherine stood. Yelping, the woman leaped back and spun around as a shape emerged from the light and slammed down onto the floor. It took Catherine a moment to see it was a human body and another to realize it was alive and breathing.

Looking up, Catherine spoke out. "I wish I was free and had a million dollars!" When nothing whatsoever happened, she shrugged. "Well, it was worth a shot," she muttered. She walked up and took a look down at the new arrival. She knelt down and rolled the figure over, then stepped back to look at her. It was a woman, attractive but somehow cold, a strange mask-like mark covering her eyes. She had long reddish-brown hair curling past her shoulders and was dressed in a set of dark robes. Her face appeared to be bruised, as if someone had just leveled a massive beating onto it.

Catherine frowned, trying to figure out just what the hell was going on here. A slow groan filled the trophy and the woman opened her eyes and slowly sat up. She rubbed at her face and head as she took in her surroundings: A twenty by twenty room, no color or decoration, except for two large windows set along one circular wall, which showed what appeared to be an empty hallway.

The woman got to her feet, still looking about as she slowly turned herself around. Her gaze fell on Catherine and she immediately halted, her eyes peering in suspicion at the other woman.

Catherine felt more than a little uncomfortable at the way the woman's gaze raked over her. She felt like she was being sized up for a meal as the new occupant finally met her gaze. "Inquisitor or fellow prisoner?" the woman asked in a crisp Irish accent.

"Who the hell are you?" Catherine asked with a frown.

The woman raised an eyebrow. "I'll take that to mean the latter," she stated. "Maeve of Temra."

"Catherine Madison," Catherine replied. She decided offering to shake hands would be a useless gesture here.

Maeve appeared to be surprised. "Catherine Madison?" she frowned. "Amy Madison's mother?"

Catherine couldn't hide her surprise at hearing her daughter's name mentioned. "You know Amy?"

Maeve looked away as she absently replied. "Well, I tried to sacrifice her to merge Earth with another dimension, she and her friends beat the hell out of my allies. Other than that, we weren't close."

Catherine stared at Maeve, trying to make sense of what she'd just heard. "Wait...wait a minute," she said, holding up a hand. "Sacrifice my daughter? Other dimension?"

"Well, yes," Maeve said, looking up at Catherine. "I needed her with the rest of the Amazons. And it would have worked too." Her face darkened. "Until that damned half-elven cousin of hers interfered. And her faery boyfriend."

Catherine was understandably having a hard time following this. "Amazon? Wait a minute, what the hell do you mean, my daughter is an...Amazon?"

Maeve turned to look at her. Seeing the utter confusion on Catherine's face, she quickly realized the situation. "Oh, yes," she said with a nod. "I forgot, this was after you got put in here."

"How long has it been?" Catherine frowned. "It's sort of hard to tell in here. I hope I haven't missed too much on 'Melrose Place.' And I hope the last Batman movie is on video, I really wanted to get that."

Maeve stared at her. "You have been here for a while, haven't you?" she muttered. She glanced around. "Just where the bloody hell are we, anyway?"

With a sigh, Catherine swept out her arms. "Welcome to the trophy for the State Cheerleading Championship, 1974."

Maeve stared at her for a long moment. Then, to Catherine's surprise, she threw her head back and laughed. "You...You...You got put inside the trophy you won in high school?!" She wiped tears away from her eyes. "Oh, and I thought having my son be the champion destined to thwart me was ironic."

Catherine sighed. "Just who the hell are you, really? And how do you know about me and my daughter?"

"My colleagues and I did some studying on you all before we made our little assault on Earth," Maeve explained. "All right, so I had to get a few more details out of your daughter when I had her under a spell but I was just covering all bases, just in case."

Catherine reached out and grabbed Maeve's arm. "That's it," she hissed. "I don't want any more sidestepping, you tell me right now who you are or-----"

Maeve looked at her.

Catherine Madison had touched darkness in her life. She had to, in order to commit the spells she had needed to use on Amy and the other cheerleaders. She'd seen what the dark side of magic was like and thought she knew how dark it could be.

But one look at the ice-cold glare Maeve was giving her and Catherine realized she was seeing just what true darkness was. Without a word, Maeve grabbed Catherine's wrist and pulled it off her arm. Her grip tightened and Catherine let out a little gasp of pain as Maeve leaned in and spoke to her. "I'm guessing this place restricts our magics," she said in a flat tone. "So, I can't use any spells on you to keep you in line. But I am a 1400-year-old witch my dear, and I have done things in that time that make you look like a piker. Touch me again without permission and I'm going to show you a few lessons." She pushed Catherine away, the American landing on her ass and grunting as she hit the floor.

Shaking her head, Catherine looked up at Maeve. "1400 years old? How can-----How can you be....."

"It's amazing just how many longevity spells there are," Maeve said, suddenly back in a light tone of voice. "Of course, I needed to make a few sacrifices in order to make them work. In quite a few categories."

Catherine got back up to her feet and faced Maeve. "You've....you've killed people?" she asked hesitantly.

Maeve looked at her with an innocent expression. "Oh, yes. Quite a few." She frowned and looked up. "Never bothered counting myself, but figure at least once a month to make the spells work, multiply that by 1400 years, add in a few kills to keep people quiet, some to hide what I was, a couple just for the hell of it....Oh, I'd say I've got a body count that's easily within the quadruple digits."

Catherine felt her heart turn to ice as she stared at her roommate. "You....you're insane," she whispered, realizing too late that a statement like that was not the best thing to say in this situation.

Instead of exploding, Maeve simply shrugged. "It depends on how you term it," she said. "Going by the usual checks and balances of society, then yes, I am insane. But, it's one's point of view, I suppose. Personally, I always just wanted to claim what was mine." Her face fell. "And then that bitch of a daughter of yours and the Amazons and empowered men ruined it."

"Going back to that," Catherine stated. "Just what do you mean, my daughter is an Amazon?"

Maeve let a small smile come to her face as she looked over at Catherine. "I mean, she's been blessed by the Greek Goddess Artemis with special fighting abilities, which has augmented her already impressive magic skills."

"Magic?" Catherine whispered.

"Yes, I suppose it does run in the family," Maeve said offhandedly. "Course, it doesn't run a candle to that boyfriend of hers."

"Boyfriend?" Catherine's eyes widened. "Amy has...a boyfriend? Who?"

A shadow suddenly fell inside the cramped quarters and both women looked up to see a face looming inside the two "windows." Maeve quickly realized that they were showing the hallway of Sunnydale High School and then realized just who she was looking at. "Speak of the devil," she muttered darkly.

"I'm not here for you, Raccoon Face," a deep voice suddenly echoed inside the trophy. "Turn it over to your roommate."

Catherine had no idea who this man was but set her shoulders and stepped up. Her face was also dark as she glared outward and waited for him to speak.

(And for the full text of that, read part 11 of Immortal Kombat)

Catherine stepped back, her face in total shock as she took in all she had just heard. She slowly turned toward Maeve. A thousand questions were running through her mind but one was prominent. "Amy....has a cousin? A half-elven cousin?"

Maeve sniffed. "Unfortunately," she muttered. "A cold-ass bitch with a twin-bladed fire sword, magical abilities, a blood thirst an Amazon can't match and for a non-empowered being, just loves to kick ass."

Catherine motioned toward Maeve's face. "Did she do that to you?"

Maeve felt at her bruises and her face darkened. "No," she muttered. "No, that was the Slayer's mother."

"Slayer....?"

"Long story," Maeve said with a wave of her hand.

Catherine made a show of turning around and looking at their surroundings. Turning back to Maeve, she swept out her arms. "I think we have some free time on our hands," she said dryly.

Maeve took her own look around. Then, shrugging, she began to talk......

*****

"Shit," Catherine whispered as Maeve's explanation finally ended. For the better part of an hour, she'd listened to Maeve explain the way things now stood in Sunnydale and the changes everyone had gone through. The witch had also thrown in her own personal history in regards to Temra, Kells and Tir Na Nog, along with her dealings with her family. It was quite a lot for Catherine to take in and she was trying to handle it as best as she could.

"My daughter is an Amazon," she said softly. "Wow. I guess this...Artemis must have seen something in her."

"I didn't," Maeve remarked sharply. "As far as I could see, she's just a miserable little bitch who seems immature beyond her years."

Catherine felt a rush of anger as she fixed Maeve with a glare. "Coming from a woman who used one son to try and kill the other, I don't think you're in the position to judge and respect children."

Maeve raised her eyebrows in a mocking expression. "What's this?" she asked in mock surprise. "Am I hearing *you* talking about respecting children? Remind me, Catherine, just what are you in here for again?"

Catherine looked away, struck by the guilt and the truth of Maeve's words. "That's different," she muttered.

"Oh, yes, you're right, it is," Maeve agreed. "You see, I committed my various sins in order to gain dominion over my kingdom." She tilted her head and pointed at Catherine. "*You* on the other hand, switched bodies with your daughter, destroying her trust and respect in you, used magic to knock out a bunch of innocent teenage girls, all so you could become HEAD CHEERLEADER!" She sniffed and backed away. "Exactly which of us sounds more pathetic, Catherine, dear?"

Catherine set her jaw and tried to keep her emotions in check as she stepped forward. "I don't need to listen to this," she bit out. "I don't need to hear you talking about misuses of magic! You....You don't know me at all!"

A dark smile came to Maeve's face. "Oh, yes, I do, Catherine. I do. Evil knows evil."

Catherine's eyes narrowed. "I'm not evil. I never killed anyone."

"Oh, and what did you think was going to happen when you made Cordelia Chase blind when she was about to step out into traffic?" Maeve lashed out. "And what was that spell you used on the Slayer? You did whatever it took to get what you wanted, you didn't care one damn who you hurt in the process and you were willing to go to extreme lengths to make sure you got your way. There's a word for that, Catherine. Evil. You and I are both it."

Catherine's face fell as Maeve's words sunk in. Seeing that, Maeve pressed on. "You know what being evil means, Catherine? It doesn't mean killing and maiming and hurting people and liking it. It's the absolute certainty that you can do what you want and take what you want, without any worries whatsoever. I've lived that life and so have you, Catherine. So, please, if we're going to be living together, let's not try to pretend you're something we know you're not. Which is innocent."

Catherine found herself feeling a little weak in the knees at this point. Never one to quit while she was ahead, Maeve twisted the knife a little further. "Let me tell you a little something our scouting reports turned up, Catherine. You have become the Madison black sheep, the shame of the family. Your cousins, your nieces, your own mother, all are completely disgusted by what you did to Amy. Frankly, should you get out, I'd be far more worried about them hunting you down than the Wanderer's group. They'd probably think it far easier to blot you out completely than have you remain as a shameful reminder."

Catherine turned away and Maeve let out a smile as she thought about how the woman was obviously hurting over her words. So, she was a bit surprised when Catherine spun around to glare at her, her eyes on fire. "At least I gave my daughter a chance," she hissed. "You shoved both of your sons out of your life without a second though."

Maeve shrugged as if it was nothing. "I just had to shove aside any distractions from my taking over Kells."

"Distractions....?" Catherine threw up her hands. "And you wonder why your sons have washed their hands of you? At least my daughter still...." Catherine broke off before finishing. "Still loves me."

"Well, goody-goody," Maeve sarcastically said. "She still loves you and you never cared for her."

"I care-----"

"If you did," Maeve interrupted. "You would never even had considered doing what you did. She was just a means to an end for you, your vehicle to getting back in the limelight again." Maeve sniffed. "You really are a pathetic little woman, aren't you?"

"What I did was bad," Catherine hissed. "But I'm amateur night compared to you and your list of sins."

"Well, you're right, there," Maeve nodded. "Which is something you would do well to remember in case you're thinking of talking back to me."

Catherine crossed her arms and let a little smirk come to her face. "And what are you going to do? You let a powerless housewife beat the shit out of you, Maeve, I think I could handle you myself."

Maeve's eyes narrowed. "You're going to have to go to sleep sometime," she said in a cold voice. The fingers of one hand clenched slightly, the fingernails clicking together like claws.

Suppressing a chill at the obvious threat, Catherine stared back at her and continued to smirk. "Now, Maeve. Do you really want to spend who knows how long locked in a tight room with a rotting corpse?" Maeve looked away, letting Catherine know she'd hit home. "We're stuck together here, Maeve," Catherine announced. "Like it or not, we're stuck here. And trust me, from personal experience, you really would like to hear another voice besides your own after a while. Not that you deserve it. But it's my advice."

Maeve glared at her for a long moment. "Fine," she remarked. "But since we are stuck together, let's get one thing straight. I despise hypocrisy. I've always been up front about my true nature. I highly suggest you do the same. Don't get on your moral high horse when we both know you don't have a leg to stand on, Catherine the Great. Remember that and we should get along famously."

With that, Maeve turned around and walked off. Her robe swishing around her, she marched to one end of the room and took a seat. She leaned back against the wall and fixed her gaze at Catherine. Catherine simply turned her back on Maeve and walked back to the wall. She found herself reaching into her pocket and pulling out the note in her hands. Opening it, she carefully skimmed the contents once more.

"What's that?" Maeve asked in a curious tone.

"Just a note I got a while back," Catherine said as she took a seat. "I doubt it'd interest you."

"Probably not," Maeve said. "Course, I doubt there's really much you could do that would interest me. Except get the shit kicked out of you by your daughter."

Catherine glared at her. "I hate you."

Maeve sniffed. "I don't even care enough about you to return the favor."

She looked off into space and Catherine once again reread the note. As she did, for the first time, she began to think about herself and her life in a new light. The same light that had brought in the woman she could have become.

It was strange, Catherine thought to herself. Here she was, stuck in a trophy and yet suddenly, she was realizing just how much she had lost.

*****

Bonding

Takes place immediately after the events of Tim Knight's story "Inside Out."

In which a Slayer and a mother see just how much they have in common.

Summers' Residence
Sunnydale, CA
May 22nd, 1999 - 2247 Hours PST

The figure was moving quietly in the room, careful to let their footsteps be as soft as possible. Silence was of the essence, now more than ever and the intruder didn't want to take the chance of alerting anyone as to the presence in the home. Hands carefully moved around the handle of the door and prepared to open it as softly as possible....

The lights suddenly came on and the intruder let out a sudden yelp as her eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness. She saw a figure standing before her and carefully swallowed.

"And just what do you think you're doing here, young lady?" Joyce Summers asked, her arms crossed before her. She was wearing a simple robe, her hair slightly tousled and a tiny smile on her face as she took in the figure before her.

Faith Pryce swallowed again and let out a weak smile. She was dressed in a right red shirt and tighter pants, having evidently come off a patrol. That or, as Joyce suspected was the case, she, Kendra and Larry had been running for their lives. "Um, hi, Joyce. I, uh, I needed to...um, I needed to go and get some....You know, some...."

Shaking her head, Joyce held up a hand. "It's all right, Faith. I'm not going to tell Buffy or Steve or the others you're here."

Faith looked at her in surprise. "You're not?" she asked hopefully.

Joyce shook her head again. "No. I'm not as upset as the others about the whole video thing."

Faith was still a little suspicious. "You're not?" she repeated.

Joyce sighed and brushed at her hair. "Well, I'll admit that when I heard that pretty much everyone connected to the group had gotten a video Robin and Liam made of the whole body switch thing, I was mad," she said. "And finding out that you, Larry, Shaw and Kendra were helping made me madder."

Joyce let Faith stew nervously for a few seconds before smiling. "But, I'm okay with it now. I realize it was just Liam taking advantage of the switch for getting back at the guys for what he thought was a joke on him. Frankly, they've gotten used to that from Robin and Liam." She raised an eyebrow. "Of course, what's really pissing the others off is the four of you helping them...."

"Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time!" Faith said, throwing up her hands. "We've all been out of town for a while, come back in the middle of this mess, we just wanted to have a little fun. And it did keep you guys from going nuts with all the changes!"

"True," Joyce admitted. She looked up at Faith with a dubious expression. "But, really, Faith. Telling me it was 'Slayer tradition' to start each morning with a nude workout? Did you really think I was going to buy that?"

"Worth a shot," Faith smirked. At Joyce's look, her face soured. "Okay, okay, so it may not have been right getting you dragged into it."

"I was already dragged with no help from you," Joyce pointed out. She walked into the kitchen, moving toward the cupboard over the sink. She opened it to take out two glasses and brought them over to the table. "There's a bottle in the fridge," she announced as she took a seat.

Faith opened up the refrigerator door and pulled out a large clear plastic bottle. Walking over to the table, she put it down and unscrewed the cap. As Joyce held the glasses, Faith swiftly filled each one up with clear liquid, then put the cap back on.

With a smile, Joyce sipped at her water and let out a sigh. "I needed that," she muttered. "Feels good to taste something with my own lips."

"Trying to wash away the taste of Giles from your mouth?" Faith laughed. Once again, a glare from Joyce shut her up. "Sorry," she muttered. "Um, seriously, Mrs. S....How you handling the last week?"

Joyce set down her glass and sighed. "It's hard to describe, Faith. I mean, spending an entire week in someone else's body...."

"And your daughter's to boot," Faith nodded. "Yeah, I couldn't do a week in B's body, that's for damn sure." She looked back at Joyce. "How was....you know."

"Being Immortal?" Joyce replied. She chewed at her lip. "It's....God, it's almost impossible to describe, Faith. I mean, I actually did cut myself a few times just to see it heal and it was so...amazing. I can see how some Immortals could think themselves better than mortals. The whole invulnerability aspect is....intoxicating." She shivered in her chair. "Thank God I didn't have to get into a duel, I don't think I really want to know what a Quickening is like."

"You and me both," Faith agreed. A smile came onto her face as she sat back in her chair. "So, how'd it feel to be on the front lines for once?"

Joyce let out a small smile. "I prefer being moral support, thank you very much." She took a sip from her glass before she spoke again. "And, to be technical, it was for the second time."

"Oh, yeah, that whole Outworld thing," Faith said. She leaned forward, her elbows propping up on the table. "I gotta tell ya, Mrs. S, hearing about you involved in all of that was really rocking me, Kendra and Larry."

"I really didn't do that much," Joyce said with modesty.

Faith laughed. "Oh, really? So, you didn't help Shaw cope with the way things were going bad? You didn't shame the Queen of the Faery Kingdom into whipping up the troops for Robin? You didn't smash the Eye thing and cut off Outworld? You didn't lay a bitchin' smackdown on that witch?" Her grin widened. "And you didn't help Robin get the empowerment going for the Knights and Kombateers?"

"Kombateers," Joyce muttered. "Only Mulder could come up with a nickname like that."

"I don't know, sounds good to me," the queen of nicknames answered. "For someone who prefers being moral support, you did some pretty good ass-kicking, Mrs. S."

"I'll bow to your experience in that field," Joyce dryly replied. "It was....an experience and a half, that's for sure."

"I'm sorry I missed out on it," Faith said.

"No, you're not," Joyce quickly said. "Come on, Faith, if you'd been here, you'd either have been stuck with the others from the beginning or taken by Maeve and stuck there anyway."

"Maybe," Faith allowed. "But I would have gotten to see you saving the day. Damn, you must have rubbed it in on Buffy, Steve and the rest."

"I didn't have to," Joyce said with a smile. "Robin and Liam took care of that."

"Damn, I gotta stay in town more often," Faith muttered. She watched as Joyce finished her water and walked over toward the sink. "So, what was your favorite part, huh? Seeing Robin's home or nailing Maeve a few good ones?"

"Look, Faith, I'm really not that comfortable talking about it," Joyce said as she walked up to the sink and ran the glass under the faucet.

"Come on, Mrs. S," Faith pressed, lounging in her chair. "After all that psycho did to Shaw, Amy and Buffy, not to mention the others, you're gonna tell me it didn't feel good to just haul back and smack her a few-----"

The sound of smashing glass echoed throughout the kitchen, causing Faith to jump in her seat. Joyce was standing by the sink, pieces of glass covering the inside, her hands pressed against the counter. She breathing was even but her face seemed tight as she stared down at the sink.

"Joyce?" Faith softly spoke, staring up at the elder woman. The Slayer's face was marked with concern as she rose from her chair. "Joyce? Hey, I'm sorry if I went off like that, I didn't mean to-----"

"I wanted to kill her."

Faith's brow furrowed as she carefully started to walk toward Joyce. "What?"

Joyce brought her head up, her expression still tight, a haunting look in her eyes. "I wanted to kill her, Faith."

"Hey, Mrs. S, I know how you feel," Faith shrugged. "Hell, I would have been tempted to whack------"

"No, you don't get it." Joyce turned and faced Faith. The Boston-bred teen felt a chill go through her at the look in Joyce's eyes. "I wanted to kill her," Joyce softly repeated. "I was right on top of her, I had her down, I had the stake pressed right against her throat and------"

She broke off, swallowing quickly before continuing. "When I finally saw her," she began. "At the end, after the fight....When I saw the woman who had helped make all this happen, the woman who had tried to kill my daughter, who tried to kill Amy, who put Shaw through so much anguish....When I saw her, I felt more angry than I ever had in my life and I just...went off."

"Yeah, I heard that part," Faith told Joyce. She licked her lips, trying to think of something to say. "So, umm....You wanted to kick her ass, okay, I got that, so....."

"I just can't believe I did that," Joyce went on as if she hadn't even heard Faith. "It was just that all the anger and fear and panic that I'd been feeling the last few days just came loose in a rush. I just kept hitting her and hitting her and every time I hit her it felt...." Joyce closed her eyes, one hand clenching into a fist. "It just felt so good."

Faith was quiet as Joyce went on, her eyes opening. "And then I had her down and I had that piece of wood in my hands, at her neck and I honestly couldn't think of a single reason why this woman deserved to live another minute."

Joyce's eyes met Faith's fully for the first time. "It would have been so easy," she whispered. "So, easy, Faith. All I had to do was just press down a few inches. That was all, just a few pounds of pressure and that would have been it. It would have been so easy and God help me, I wanted to do it."

"Why didn't you?" Faith softly asked.

Joyce was silent for a moment before speaking. "Her eyes," she finally said. "The little glint in her eyes when I was pressing down. It told me that there was a part of her, a very tiny part, that was almost hoping I'd do it." She looked at Faith, tears starting to glimmer in her eyes. "Because then, that'd mean I would have become a killer just like her. So, in a way, she'd end up with a little victory." Joyce shook her head. "The last thing I was going to do was let her win."

Faith was silent as she took in what Joyce had just said. She shook her head, rubbing at her face before moving forward. She reached out and put her hand on Joyce's shoulder, giving the older woman a reassuring squeeze. "I know you felt, Joyce," she said softly.

Joyce shook her head. "This wasn't a fight against a demon or something, Faith, I----"

Faith squeezed Joyce's shoulder again, causing the mother to look at her. Joyce was taken by the utter seriousness on the brunette's face, a far cry from her usually irreverent attitude. "I know, Joyce," Faith said, her voice growing in strength and volume. "I've been there, not too long ago, in fact."

Joyce stared at her. "Wait....you mean, you were going to kill some human bad guy?"

"No," Faith shook her head. "I was going to kill a couple of human frat boys. Not nice guys, but still normal humans."

"What?" Joyce yelped. "Faith....What on Earth would make you do something like that?"

At Joyce's look of confusion, Faith sighed and began to speak. "Couple weeks ago, me and Shaw went out on a 'Girl's Night.' We were having fun, dancing at a club, I was showing Shaw how to loosen up a little. Hell, we both know how she needs that." Joyce let a little smile come onto her face as Faith went on. "Anyway, we had some fun, we were talking to some guys, it was going good."

Faith's face turned into a scowl. "Until one asshole starts putting the moves on me and won't take no for an answer. I finally got rid of him and went back to the table, grabbing Shaw's drink. One sip and I'm nearly choking on enough drugs to put an elephant on a high."

"Oh, damn," Joyce whispered. "What...what happened?"

Faith shrugged. "I went out in the alley and found this bastard ready to rape Shaw right then and there and....well, it was like you, I just went nuts. I yanked him off, checked on Shaw and made sure she was okay, then started wailing the shit out of the asshole and his buddy." Faith's face darkened in remembrance. "I was just like you, Joyce. I wanted to kill them. Forget that they were normal guys, that they had no powers or anything, forget that they couldn't even fight back. I just wanted to kill them both right then and there."

It was Faith's turn to shiver. "Thank God Shaw recovered enough to stop me cause...." She swallowed. "If I'd done it, Joyce...If I'd crossed that line and murdered two men in cold blood....I would have become the exact same thing that we fight against."

"Damn," Joyce muttered. "What happened to the two boys?"

Faith let her familiar smirk come back to her face. "Right now, they're facing ten to twenty behind bars for attempted rape and drug possession. Stein really let them have it."

Joyce's eyes widened. "Stein? Stein arrested them?"

"Shocked me and Shaw too," Faith admitted. "Guess there's a good cop underneath all that arrogant crap after all." She sighed. "There goes my world view."

Clearing her throat, Faith looked back up to meet Joyce's eyes again. "I know B pretty well, Joyce," she softly said. "And I know that if there's one thing she doesn't want, it's for you to go over that line. She doesn't want you to know what it's like to kill a living, breathing person. That's exactly what Shaw didn't want me to go through as well. Now me...." Faith took a breath. "I'm a Slayer, Mrs. S. As much as I hate to say it, I might have to take out a wizard or something someday to save the world. But that's my destiny, I'm a fighter against evil. You..." Faith took a breath. "You know what makes you so special, Mrs. S? The reason we all like you?"

Joyce shook her head, honestly curious.

"You've got the best damn moral fiber of anyone in town," Faith explained. "You've got a great sense of right and wrong and you try to teach that to people. And that comes from being as humane and moral as a person can possibly get." She licked her lips. "We've all had to make sacrifices for this fight, Mrs. S. And a lot of that includes making ourselves harder. We don't want you doing that, Joyce. We need you to stay on the nonviolent side as much as possible. Otherwise....You may lose the best part of you. B doesn't want that, Shaw doesn't want that and neither do I." Faith bit her lip tight, tears starting to come to her eyes. "You...you've kinda become a mother figure to me, Joyce. The kind of Mom I wish I'd had. Trust me, you want to hold onto that as long as possible."

Joyce stared at Faith for a moment. Then, she moved in and gave the Slayer a quick hug. "Thanks, Faith," she whispered.

They broke apart, Faith wiping at her eyes. "I'd better get going. I just stopped by to grab a quick thing to eat. Larry and Kendra are expecting me back."

"Where?" Joyce asked.

"Ah, let's not say just yet," Faith said, her jovial tone coming back. "Give the guys a day to cool down before we come back."

"Probably a good idea," Joyce agreed. She stepped back and smiled. "You know, it's funny. I've always been around to listen to other people confessing hidden things to me. Buffy, Amy, Shaw, even those vampire doubles of Willow and Xander. And I was always glad to help them come to grips with what was bothering them." She shook her head. "I never really thought I'd have the need to do the same thing."

Faith squeezed her shoulder. "Everybody needs someone to let loose with, Mrs. S. I'm glad I was here for you."

Joyce's smile widened. "Thanks, Faith. It's been such a long time since I had someone around here to open up to anytime I wanted."

"Okay, that's it," Faith declared. "We need to find you a man."

Joyce's face darkened. "Faith," she said in a warning tone. "Please, I don't need any more dating disasters."

"Come on, Joyce," Faith pleaded. "It's not like there isn't a guy on this planet that'd be good for you."

Joyce held up a finger. "Faith if you even *think* of trying to set me up with someone, I'll ground you for a month and let Buffy and Kendra have all kinds of unrestricted fun to teach you a lesson."

Faith took on a pouting look. "I hate being the little sister."

"We are NOT going there."

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