Author: Tim Knight

Title: Soul Sisters

Copyright: January 2002

Rating: PG-13 (fight scenes, some light language, sexual innuendo)

Spoilers:
Buffy:
Season 2 until Phases.
Specific Episodes
Season Three involving the Mayor and the Ascension.

Highlander:
Season 5 until Season finale. Richie Ryan lives.
Specific Episodes: Samurai.
From the movies: Endgame.

Immortal Realms Series:
Immortal Realms 1 and 2.

Keywords: Buffy/ Highlander/ some mention of Forgotten Realms.

Summary: On the heels of For Every Action, two Slayerettes deal with the issues between them. One will face her greatest foe, another will remember hers, and between the two of them, discover something special.

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

The characters Shaw Hunter, Ulric Johansen, Jessica Smithson, David Abhrams, Sandra Livingston, Brenna, and Sharillon are mine. Anyone wishing to use them may contact me at doobytim@aol.com.

The characters Steven St. Wolf, Frank Iverson, Joe N'Gato, Marc La Chevalier, Randi Jessup, Brian Jessup, and Fragnar (and anyone else I forgot) are property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at Steve711@concentric.net.

The character of Robin Goodfellow is property of Mike Weyer. Mike may be contacted at SWERJ321@aol.com.

The characters Thian (Theodore Iancroft), Andras, and anyone with pointed ears, glowing eyes, and the name of Stormbow, are the property of Crys, author of the Immortal Realms series. His stories can be found at www.seventh-dimension.org. He can be reached at crys45@juno.com.

The character Edwin Giles is the property of Norjc. He can be contacted at Norjc@aol.com.

Author's Notes: This story takes place in the first ten days of April 1999, a week or so after the events in For Every Action, but a week or so before the beginnings of Homecoming, and two weeks before Immortal Kombat.

Regarding fashions: If you want to see for yourself Faith and Shaw’s outfits, here are the links to said outfits:
Shaw’s dress: http://www2.victoriassecret. com/proddisplay/?prnbr=82-151075&cgname=OSCLODSSZZZ
Faith’s dress: http://www2.victoriassecret. com/proddisplay/?prnbr=82-151104&cgname=OSCLODSSZZZ

Here are some references to your basic continuities:

Diana Tregarde: This story takes place perhaps four or five years after Jinx High. Di, in this story, is in her early- to mid-forties. She’s currently spending a mini-vacation on the Hellmouth with her friend, Sandra Livingston, who’s a former member of Di’s Spook Squad and the Comparative Literature teacher at Sunnydale High, which makes Faith and Shaw her students, as unfortunate as that may be for her, given their senses of humor.

Dedications:
To Steve, Grand High Poobah of the Wandererverse, for giving the original go-ahead for both FEA and Homecoming.
To Jack, who convinced me to go ahead with this short story and decided that it wasn’t a rip-off (however unintentional) of a Faith/Shaw story he might do. No, I’m not telling; why should Steve be the only one who messes with readers’ minds. Hopefully, he’ll get that Emmy nomination that Joss never gets, only Jack’s would be for Costume Design <GGG>.
To Mike, for introducing Robin to the Wandererverse and helping with dialogue for the stories that bracket this one.
To Crys, for letting me use his characters in FEA and for his appraisal of my ideas.

Here are the changes from your regular shows:

Buffy:
1. Due to her drowning death at the hands of the Master, Buffy is Immortal.
2. Passion and Becoming never took place, so Jenny and Kendra are still alive and well. Kendra is attending UC Sunnydale. Jenny, sometime between How The Big Bad Stole Christmas and Prodigal Son’s Consort, became the first true priestess to Artemis in 2000 years. For you gaming fans that just HAVE to bug me for D&D levels to compare magic, consider her a 5th or 6th level cleric <G>.
3. Faith is a good kid, and living with Joyce and Buffy. While Faith, Hope, and Trick never took place in the Wandererverse, we do know that Faith’s little episode with the Baptists in South Boston (wherein she did her job au natural) still happened, as did her stint as an alligator wrestler.

Highlander:
1. In the big change from Endgame seen in FEA, Jacob Kell kidnapped Rachel MacLeod in order to lead Connor into a trap in their home village of Glenfillen. Rather than going alone, Duncan found out and took off for his old stomping grounds. When they went looking for Kell and Rachel (who had a bomb strapped to her), the Boy Scouts got aid from people brought to Glenfillen by everyone’s favorite Finnish Goddess; Shaw (brought back to the present), Faith (brought back from the Forgotten Realms, where of course the Boston Girl turned it into a fun time for herself), and the newly resurrected Darius (via request by the Big Guy and everyone’s favorite French Angel to Millie). In the end, several things happened; Kate (Duncan’s ex-wife) left and decided to think about forgiving Duncan, but she still doesn’t like him very much. Connor convinced Jin Ke that Kell’s kidnapping of Rachel was dishonorable, so Jin Ke left to think about what to do with his life. Kell lost his head and Connor and Duncan were forced to reveal the truth to Rachel, who responded in the expected manner.
She needed a drink.
Good thing she runs a pub.


Soul Sisters

Part 1: Share My Pain
(While Inflicting It On The Vampires)

Sunnydale Cemetery
Sunnydale, California
9 April 1999

With the sound of rustling leather, Faith swung her rapier across the throat of the vampire that was absolutely fashion challenged. His head fell off, sending him into the realm of those who needed a Dust Buster to gather their remains. Before the dust completely settled on the turf, Faith whirled her sword one hundred eighty degrees and stabbed backwards, driving the Musketeer blade through the chest of a second vamp that had been trying to sneak up on her.

"Buh-bye!" the Dark Slayer cheerfully said, not bothering to turn around. She felt the burst of ash sprinkle against her back and took a moment to shake herself to rid her hair and leather jacket of dirt. She then added insult to injury by humming a few bars of "Dust in the Wind."

Faith spun to see if anyone else wanted to play with the Vampire Slayer who, in her humble opinion, was the hottest in both body and ass kicking ability. She saw a pair of gangbanger-types rushing toward her and the Boston girl decided to leave her sword behind and have some old fashioned fun. Besides if she played her cards right, she might even be able to cop a cool looking leather jacket from one of the fang boys. She stuck the 17th century blade into the ground and raced to meet them. She leaped and gave the jacket wearer a flying side kick in the breadbasket. As he stumbled to the ground, the Slayer faced his friend while pulling out a wooden knife.

Faith flipped the knife over in her hand and tossed it at her target with a joyful, "Tag! You’re it!"

The sharpened piece of wood twirled end over end before it struck his chest and penetrated his heart. He dusted, allowing Faith to turn her attention where it mattered. The downed vamp stood up and snarled. Faith wasn’t impressed. Instead, she flashed him one of her "come hither" smiles. Before the two could tango, a beam of apparent sunlight blasted the bloodsucker broadside, blinding Faith for a split second. As she blinked to clear her vision, the undead guy burst into flames and screeched in agony.

Faith flinched in shock before it dawned on her who was responsible for the light show. She frowned and moaned. "Damn it, Hunter! I wanted the jacket!"

Faith Pryce turned and saw her friend calmly approach her. Shaw’s eyes were covered by slim shades that served to hide her funky night vision. That didn’t bother Faith at all; it was the rest of the half-elf’s outfit that gave Faith the heebie-jeebies. Shaw wore a short-sleeved red silk shirt with gold trim, a Mandarin collar, and buttons put through little loops running up the left side; black pants made of a similar material to add to the Oriental look; and black flats with smooth soles which allowed Shaw to spin easily. Obviously, she’d left her duster somewhere in the cemetery. Faith took in the entire outfit, also noticing the chain that ran from Shaw’s right shoulder, down her chest, and to her left hip. < So she’s not doing the whole ‘sew my scabbard into the jacket’ thing like everyone else. >

Faith’s gaze flicked across Shaw’s face, allowing the Dark Slayer to see the priestess’s free flowing hair that fell nearly halfway down her back. She knew that hidden in that black mass was the hilt of the katana Shaw had claimed from a demon’s treasure hoard after losing the one with the built-in fire blade that Faith had liked, not to mention a lot more, in a fight a week ago.

< Or would that be two months ago? > Of course, to the brainy types who liked wasting their time reading legends and stuff, it had had been two hundred years, give or take. < I hate time travel. I guess me and Red really were the lucky ones. >

Indeed, she and Willow had been fortunate; while they had both been sent to alternate worlds, for them it had been the present day or pretty damn close to it. Willow had gone from April 3rd to April 3rd in the same reality where her ‘AC/DC’ vamp twin lived. Faith had been sent back to what she figured had to be last summer, only it was on Abeir-Toril, or as she liked to call it, Shaw’s Mud Ball.

Finally, the Massachusetts woman muttered, "Damn it, Shaw. I wanted that jacket...it was cool! Not every day you run into a vamp with something you want."

*****

Shaw glanced at Faith through her shades and arched an eyebrow at her. "Perhaps you should have shouted ‘dibs.’ Then I would have known you wanted him."

"Little late for..." Faith started before getting the way Shaw had meant "wanted." The Slayer turned on her and snapped, "Let’s get something straight, you Red Eyed Perv! Even if the sucker had a soul, I’d have to be really hard up before I boinked the undead! I read what happens when you do that!"

"Are you talking about Angelus or sex in general?" the half-elf asked with a smirk.

Faith shot her a dirty look. "That’s not funny!" she snapped.

Shaw tensed; she’d just left Faith an opening a mile wide but had only served to anger her young friend. < Apparently, I have failed again. Now I have to make amends with another friend. > "Faith, I..."

Before she could apologize, the dark-haired teen stiffened and squinted. Shaw knew that look from long experience and reached over her shoulder to draw her sword. "How many?" she asked, returning to business.

The New Englander’s eyes narrowed a bit further. "Aw crap!" she moaned after a few seconds. "We’re in trouble Arwen. We got fifteen not-so-dead dead guys coming this way."

Sure enough, a band of vampires crested a small hill. Upon seeing the two girls alone, they took on looks that betrayed their self-confidence.

Shaw caught Faith’s sidelong glance at her. "So how you wanna do this, Shaw?"

< This is not good, > Shaw thought. Faith was worried; she had actually called Shaw by her own name rather than one of her seemingly endless list of nicknames, a sure sign of a mini-apocalypse. "Singing In The Rain, followed up by Divide And Conquer."

"Start praying," Faith told her.

Shaw began to chant as Faith raised her sword into a defensive position.

*****

Shaw’s terse answer was yet another indicator of how tense she’d been since the guys had returned from their dimensional road trip; a week ago, she would’ve made a smart remark. Faith sighed, < Nothing like falling in love and losing your boy toy to bum you out. >

Shaw finished her prayer and the vamps were startled by the thunderclap overhead. The forming cloud disgorged rain at a prodigious rate, causing several of them to shout in alarm. While the rain continued to fall, Shaw shouted a phrase in Elvish. By the way the vamps started smoking and howling in pain, the Slayer knew she’d done her Millie mojo on them.

Some of the vamps scattered to escape the destructive rain while others fell to the soaked ground, furthering their holy soaking. Shaw glanced at her and said, "I will allow you first pick, Faith."

Faith was divided over whether to be sore about She-Spock letting her have dibs now, or to smile at the flash of humor that had been rare for several days. She chose the latter. "Let’s rock, Lady Tuvok!"

She and Shaw sprinted forward, angling away from each other but trying to stay close enough to allow the pair to fight back-to-back should the need arise. Faith stutter-stepped as she passed one vamp whose eyes had been melted away by the holy water downpour. She cleaved the sword through his neck and moved on with nary a loss of momentum. She spotted two more close by and moved in, eager for a fight.

One vamp swung at her in rage, but she just raised the weapon into a blocking position. The sword cut deeply through his arm in response to his own actions, sending shards of agony shooting through him. Faith promptly drew the sword back and ran him through, ending his existence. As her first opponent dusted, the other decided to cut and run. Faith chose to rip off the Slayer From Voodoo Island and copped something out of her playbook; she grasped the blade of her sword in her hand and threw it. The weapon sliced through the air like a javelin and pierced the vampire’s back, sending him to the ground with a scream. She looked around while extracting stakes from her jacket, reveling in the rush from slaying and wanting to find another playmate.

A turned high school jock came at her like this was a football game, playing tackle to her quarterback. As he leaned forward to bowl her over, Faith jumped, somersaulted, and landed on her feet in one easy motion. The huge vamp landed on all fours but easily sprung back up, hissing through his fangs.

< Now this is more like it! > Faith grinned. She threw the stakes aside, jerked her thumbs at herself, and taunted, "Hey, stud...you want a piece of me? Let’s rock!"

The vampire threw a wild roundhouse with no skill to it, relying completely on his brute strength. Faith felt a surge of laughter rise up in her when his yellow eyes went wide at the sight of her slender hand catching his beefy wrist and stopping the punch in mid-motion. She launched her own roundhouse and shattered his jaw into a dozen pieces. < I love it when we play dirty! > Faith thought, flashing back to how Shaw had placed certain spells that increased the Slayer’s already prodigious strength, agility, and stamina. < Okay, I ‘fess up; I wasn’t keen on it until she told me what the spells did. But hey, can’t argue with the results. >

That extra strength became evident when Faith reached up, grabbed her playmate’s throat, and broke his neck with one mighty squeeze. She winced when the vampire just flopped around, remembering belatedly that this might be the one way vamps didn’t dust when killed. She didn’t like to leave a mess, so she quickly retrieved a stake and dusted the suffering bloodsucker.

Faith heard more screams and turned toward them. What she saw made her hiss, "Shit!"

Shaw danced in the midst of two vampires as moonlight glinted off the blade of her sword. It was what had surrounded the half-elf that gave Faith pause.

*****

The ranger swung her sword with the grace that came from her elven bloodlines. She used what she had learned in Japan, to go beyond making her moves, and to feel the power of her sword strokes. She sliced the blade across a vamp’s gut, cutting him open and spilling his intestines across the ground. As the vamp dropped to his knees and clutched his opened paunch, Shaw gracefully pirouetted, bringing her sword up at the same instant for an overhead chop. The Osafune blade came down, removing the vampire’s head. At the same time, her hearing picked up the sound of feet moving through waterlogged grass. She lashed out with her left foot, feeling the solid contact of her sole against the soft area of someone’s stomach and hearing the "oof" that came from the impact.

Planting the same foot she’d snapped out, the half-elf then spun counterclockwise, hitting the blooddrinker in the left cheekbone with a spinning kick. She continued the spin, planting her right foot. As she righted herself, she brought her katana around with a one-handed swing. A flick of the wrist later, the vampire’s snarling visage vanished as his brain housing was cleaved from the rest of his form.

The woman just watched silently as the dust settled before several moans and whimpers brought her attention back to the present. Shaw berated herself for pausing for even the slightest instant. < That will get you killed, you idiot! > Her attention was gained by an angry female voice.

"Dammit, Hunter!" Faith shouted at her. "What the HELL do you think you’re doing?!?"

Blinking in surprise, Shaw glanced around and finally saw what relying totally on her instincts had caused. She quickly counted six vampires lying on the ground in various states of wounding; broken knees, sliced legs or guts, and so forth.

Shaw shivered; she’d used a duck and weave methodology and tried to incapacitate as many of the creatures as she could without leaving herself open to an attack from another. She just stared at the pitiful creatures, her sword pointing downward, as Faith came up and muttered, "Whatever happened to stab, kill, move on?"

Faith crouched, murmured to the wounded vamp, "I’m sorry it wasn’t clean," and staked him, ending his misery. Shaw collected herself and helped send the wounded to their final deaths before she rose and scanned the immediate area to see if any more vampires were preparing to ambush the pair.

*****

As the last of the bloodsuckers went "poof," Faith shoved her stake back in its proper place and stood up. She ran her hands through her dark brown hair and turned on Shaw. "Well, that was a new side to you."

"Yes, I suppose so," came the soft reply.

Faith sighed with a sharp exhale. Shaw’d been zoned out all week and she, along with Steve and Buffy, had hoped that teaming the two of them up, letting them get a workout, and Faith’s natural ‘tude would get the girl to end her mopey act. This was going to be a lot harder than the Slayer had figured it would be.

She walked over to Shaw and gently placed a hand on the half-elf’s left shoulder. "Sorry. Just seein’ you go ballistic without the Hulk Mode..."

"Things change, Faith," Shaw groused, "no matter how much one might resist it."

"Okay, that does it," the Slayer snapped. Shaw turned to face her. She walked up and jabbed a finger into the elf-girl’s chest. "Yeah, we know, you had it rough last week. Gone five months, met a samurai, got the hots for him, he died, you’re pissed. Well guess what, Ears? You weren’t the only one who had it rough last week! You weren’t the only one who got sent somewhere she didn’t wanna be!"

*****

Shaw grimaced. Faith had struck a nerve and both girls knew it. Many of her friends had been subjected to the same separation from their loved ones, but there was a difference; she’d been separated from a loved one while on her "journey."

"What happened to me is different, Faith," she finally said, not willing to go further in fear of offending her teammate.

"Oh well, that’s too bad," Faith rejoined. "It’s time to let it out, Hunter. You need to loosen up or someone’ll get killed." She paused. "Do elves get high blood pressure?"

Shaw sheathed her katana with a fluid motion. The faint "clack" of the tsuba against the scabbard let her know her emotions were still keyed up.

Faith started speaking again, looking a bit wary of Shaw’s temper. "Shaw, look. I’ll lay it on the line for you; you’ve been mopey the whole time we’ve been back. And I get the feeling this isn’t just Raidon." Shaw saw the flash of triumph in Faith’s eyes when she flushed. "People are starting to wig, girlfriend, including yours truly. Not just the guys, but even Dave and Jess are wonderin’ what’s going on in that black-haired melon of yours."

"What did you tell them?"

"Something about your first crush passing away," Faith admitted with a shrug. She placed her hands in her pockets, but her body posture showed she was concerned. "Just so they’d get an idea of why you’re so down in the dumps, y’know?"

Shaw couldn’t think of an answer. "What is concerning the others?"

"Well for one thing," Faith said, waving a hand at her, "This whole ‘Dragon Lady’ look has even got ME wigged. And don’t give me that ‘you do not spend five months somewhere without learning a few things’ riff, either. Hell, I spent a whole month on your rock, but you don’t see me dressin’ up in a chrome tin can and spoutin’ fancy words like ‘thee’ and ‘thou.’"

"Look," Faith offered, "I get you having trouble remembering to speak American after being gone so long. I get you joinin’ the katana club like the Macs, Stevie, the Buffster, and Ball Breaker Chase. But..." She decided to really lay it on the line and tell Shaw what was bugging her. "But dammit, Ears, since we got back it’s like we’re not as close as we were before!"

Shaw stared at her for several seconds before whispering, "How can you say that?"

"Shaw, last month... SHIT, last week we were tight, like this!" Faith blurted, crossing two fingers in emphasis. "But since that whole shitstorm, all we do is go to school, go work out at Steve’s, and go home. Hell, you can’t even get into workin’ on the project with Dave and Jess! It’s like you don’t wanna hang. Shit, Hunter, I know you got issues but I got stuff I need to get off my chest too, and you’re the only one I figure might know where I’m coming from. I don’t know why, maybe it’s ‘cause it was your old ‘hood I went to. But I need to talk to someone or I’m gonna burst and I can’t exactly talk to B or Mrs. S about it, ‘cause I don’t think they’d wanna talk about it."

Shaw stared at her for several seconds, stunned by Faith’s explanation. < I never noticed... > she told herself before feeling sick to her stomach. < Because I was too busy blaming Jehanne and her Master for what happened. > She licked her lips before saying, "Faith, I am sorry but..."

"I know, you’re pissed off and feelin’ like your heart got ripped out," her classmate said, a rare look of softness penetrating the strong exterior. "We all know that. But some of us didn’t like everything that happened, either."

Shaw felt a flash of irritation. "You said you had the time of your life," she pointed out, somewhat sharper than she wanted it to come out.

Faith’s mouth turned into a frown. "See, this is what I’m talking about. I just said I had stuff I want to talk about, but you don’t wanta hear it."

"I..." Shaw started to speak in her defense, but stopped when she thought over the last few days. She let her mind go back a bit more and compared the two time periods, examining her interaction with Faith. She finally saw the difference, the tension that she hadn’t seen existing between the two since the episode in question. For the first time, she felt some worry. < She is right. > She glanced at Faith’s body again and saw just how tense the Slayer was. < We have been close since we first met, are we drifting apart?>

Shaw realized what part of the problem was and felt ashamed. She turned away and lowered her head. "Part of the problem is that..."

She heard Faith defiantly say, "Yeah?"

She stopped, turned back to face her friend, and said, "I am jealous of you."

If not for the seriousness of their situation, the blank look on Faith’s face would have been funny. "What do you mean, jealous?" the human girl asked in doubt.

Shaw tried to collect her thoughts but rather than the straight, professional presentation she usually provided, the words started in a rush and only gained speed. "Look at your displacement and the others’. You said it yourself; you had fun, despite being separated from us, despite having to travel hundreds of miles to find a way home, despite the fight in which you nearly died, you had fun." She then went onto the others and what had happened, her cheeks flushing and eyes watering. "Willow ended up in the reality where we have friends. Xander and Cordelia discovered that in a future where the fight was a losing battle, their counterparts made a sacrifice that served humanity in ways they could barely glimpse; their deaths are still seen as an example of bravery and those deaths... they are remembered for their acts of heroism, even after two hundred years. Buffy found out what happened to the Slayers in the universe she went to and found a way to free the last known Slayer of that world from a magical prison. Randi helped save the world from Famine and finally..." Shaw paused to wipe tears from her eyes. "She finally feels at peace with her role, a peace of mind that I wish I had."

"You helped save the world too," Faith reminded her. "Well, at least the Japanese part of it."

Shaw gave her a frosty glare at the reminder. "And look at the price I paid." She started shaking. "And for once, I say that the price for helping others was too high, Faith. I did not deserve to lose him." The half-elf stopped Faith’s counterpoint with a final statement, putting all her roiling emotions into the declaration. "And the worst part, the worst part is that I did not even have a body to bury. I looked for him for days and couldn’t even lay him to rest, Faith. The final insult to an injury I am still trying to heal from. Faith, I have been alive for fifty-four years, and in all that time, do you know how long I have been in love? Three weeks. Three weeks in fifty-four years! And how long have I been loved back? Ten Goddess blasted seconds! That was how long before he died that he told me! You cannot possibly know how that feels!"

To her surprise, the short-fused Slayer took the tirade in stride. Faith approached her and laid her hands on Shaw’s shoulders. "Shaw, I thought you were done with the crying part."

"I have mourned Raidon, Faith," Shaw admitted, unable to meet the young woman’s gaze. "But I am still trying to let go. I still mourn the chance we did not have, the chances we never will have. When I think of him, when I picture his face... when I remember the times we spent together, whether riding, fighting, or sparring, I feel so..."

*****

By Shaw’s voice, face, the catching of her breath, and the way she was rubbing her arms, Faith suddenly realized what Shaw was feeling. The problem was, she figured that Shaw didn’t realize she was feeling that in addition to the whole romantic side of things.

"You still get hot and bothered," she said before she could put it tactfully. Shaw’s eyes came up and bored into hers, but Faith wasn’t worried. She tried to explain it so that her apparently oblivious friend could get the point. "That’s it, isn’t it? It wasn’t just love, Hunter, you...well, you wanted him. You know, you wanted to..." She reached out, clenched her fists, and jerked them back while thrusting her hips forward. The movement was capitalized with her grunted, "Unh!"

Shaw stared at her for several seconds, tears slowly falling down her face as she considered Faith’s point. The Bostonian knew she was dead on target when Shaw’s face turned navy and the elf softly asked, "How did you know?"

Faith forced a fake smile onto her face. "Well, I haven’t felt the loooooove thang before," she said nonchalantly, "but me and lust are old-time pals. It’s only gotten worse since I got the Chosen Gig."

She knew that Madison Twin Number Two would get what she meant by that; one of the first things she’d told her friends was what kind of buzz she got from Slaying. She shrugged and returned to the point of the deceased samurai. "It’s easy to see, girlfriend. You had it really, really bad for him. And from the way you talk about his looks, he wasn’t too hard on the eyes, was he?"

"That, he was not," Shaw admitted, but Faith could hear the slight bit of amusement in her voice.

< Maybe we’re getting somewhere, > she wondered, hoping that they could ease the strain of the last few days.

She glanced back at her pal. "Hey, you wanna talk about it?" When Shaw’s eyes squinted, not clear on the question, Faith grinned softly. "You know, how you felt when you wanted to go ‘Cavegirl’ on him?"

"No!" Shaw blurted, turning away.

The fact that she didn’t stomp off belied her negative answer. "To really screw up Shakespeare or whoever said it," she said with folded arms, "I be thinkin’ you say ‘no’ way too fast, Your Holiness. Seriously, do you want to talk about it?"

Shaw slowly turned back toward her. Faith just smiled and waited for her to answer.

She could almost see the emotions war inside Shaw. She’d been there when Shaw had told their gal pals about Raidon and what he was like, but this was different. This wasn’t about memories, compatibility, or even true love; this was, pure and simple, raging teenage hormones, or whatever passed for them in Shaw’s case. Faith cocked her head at that thought. < She’s always said she’s the ‘equivalent’ of us at seventeen, at least bodywise. She wasn’t kidding, was she? >

*****

Shaw finally looked back at Faith, her confusion only heightened by her inability to see the earnest expression on the Slayer’s face. She ran her eyes up and down the red-yellow-orange figure in front of her before sighing and, not for the first time, slightly lamenting the disadvantages of infravision. "Faith," she began, "can we at least find a lit place? I would rather not talk of these things here, out in the open."

"How’s about we find a tomb, nice and quiet, an’ you just pop up one of your ‘60-watt’ spells?" Faith asked her. Shaw began to object, but her companion added, "This was our last swing of the night, Hunter, you know that. We got ‘em all, we’re on down time now. Just us."

Shaw was perceptive enough to hear the slight uncertainty in Faith’s voice. She again began to feel the tension between them and again, it hurt. She swallowed and asked, "Whatever we discuss remains between us? At least, until I speak of it with the other girls?"

"Damn straight," Faith promised her, walking up beside her and clapping her on the shoulder. "Let’s boogey."

*****

Faith walked alongside Shaw, the two looking for a suitable place to discuss their relationship. < At least we’re trying, > Faith thought happily. She spotted a large mausoleum and pointed at it. "That good enough?"

She watched as Shaw followed her line of sight and spotted the structure. "I suppose so. Let’s go."

A tight smile creased the Slayer’s lips at the contraction. The two walked up to the door and Faith looked it over, trying to see how it might open. She grabbed the handle and looked at her partner. "You mind putting a Quiet trick over this? Don’t wanna wake the dead, y’know."

Faith’s grin widened at Shaw’s small smile at the crack. The pointy-eared medicine woman did her thing and Faith felt something happen. She blew a raspberry at Shaw, but no sound came out. < Good. > With a grunt, she heaved on the door and swung it open. She waved for Shaw to walk in before her and followed the Slayerette in. She gripped the outer edge of the door and pulled it as she backed into the mausoleum, letting it soundlessly close behind her.

She let out long breath from her exertion and stiffened when she heard it come out. She glanced over, but Shaw said, "I only put the edge of the spell on the outside of the door. This way, we can talk yet remain unheard by anyone outside."

"Sneaky," she seconded. "I like it. Let’s sit and rap, Realmsy Girl."

"Shirak," Shaw said calmly, lighting up the crypt. After observing several caskets, she surprised Faith by sitting down cross-legged on the floor.

< Guess she doesn’t want to sit on somebody’s casket, > the Dark Slayer reasoned. She decided it was okay and sat down herself, watching as Shaw removed her sword and set it aside. Faith leaned back against one bier, folded her arms, and crossed her ankles, looking quite relaxed. "Okay, take your time, but let’s hear it."

*****

Shaw tried to collect herself so that she could decide where to begin. She fidgeted slightly before looking at Faith, hoping that she could adequately explain what she felt, so that her friend could help her deal with it, two months after his death.

Staring into the Slayer’s darker eyes, she began, "I can remember the first time I felt this way." Her voice caught for a second, but she did her best to bring it out in one try, rather than make Faith wait; she wanted her help. "It was during a sparring session, a week before I told him how I felt. One thing about Raidon was that he liked to spar without a shirt on."

"Whoo, whoo," Faith said, forcing a chuckle out of her.

"Faith, please?" Faith nodded to her, grinning all the while. Shaw talked about the match they had that morning, which culminated with Raidon pinning her to the ground and demanding her surrender of the point. The preliminaries done, she described the strange feelings that came over her in that second; the crystal clear awareness of how close their chests came to touching, the strength and warmth of Raidon’s hands gripping her wrists, the tightness of her chest and inability to breathe, and especially the tingling sensations running throughout her body, the last of which she still felt from time to time.

She finally finished spilling everything out by saying, "But I still get those feelings, Faith. I don’t understand, it has been two months. I still have dreams about him, and when I wake up, I not only cry, I also feel this way." With a trace of fear and puzzlement she couldn’t restrain, she asked, "Why do I still get those feelings? This..."

"Arousal?" Faith asked, sounding surprisingly diplomatic.

Realizing that this was exactly the word for it, Shaw’s jaw tightened, not in anger but frustration.

*****

Seeing how flustered Shaw was, the Boston Bad Girl pushed off her leaning post, scooted closer to her friend, and leaned forward to show how serious she was about this talk.

She cocked her head as she organized her thoughts. "Well, I think one thing is that you don’t have much experience in this, do you?"

"What do you mean?" Shaw asked, looking a little perturbed. "Keep in mind how old I am, Faith."

Faith’s head dropped in exasperation. "I’m talking UST, Hunter! Unresolved Sexual Tension! Feeling hot and heavy, not just knowing what sex is!" She waved her arms about, trying to come up with an example. "Okay, check this scenario; you had that whole Little Whorehouse in Waterdeep mission, right?" Shaw nodded in remembrance. "Okay. In that little Double-Oh-Hunter Harper thing, you did the whole spy bit, but just watching bad guys, trying to figure out who was working for who, and using those bat ears of yours like listening devices. You didn’t... well, you know; use your free time for extracurricular stuff?"

Shaw’s incoherent choke was answer enough. Before she could ask where the heck she was going with this, Faith said, "You never let yourself get close to a guy, so you never got that hot and bothered feeling, you know? I’m saying it was all business. You never just saw, did, or listened to anything that made you wonder what you were missing. You just played Playboy Bunny Waitress, right?"

Looking a bit mollified, Shaw nodded after considering everything. "That is true, yes."

"Plus, and I’m not being mean here, Shaw, I’m just trying to give you an idea based on you, not me. But, from what you’ve told me, the only time you’ve even had a big ‘O’, and you know what I mean by this, the only time you’ve ever had one was when that shitbag did something to you while you couldn’t move." She reached out and gripped Shaw’s hands in her own, trying to help her friend, who obviously needed to talk about this with someone with experience. "When that was happening, you couldn’t move, you had the people you were trying to save, and I know you tried to fight it. You told me that. I know you had some arousal then, but you were fighting it. THAT’S the diff with you and your Ninja Dude, Shaw; the other time, you were fighting it and you hated the piece of shit that was doing it." She smiled at Shaw as she switched to the example of Raidon. "With your lover boy, you didn’t fight it. You didn’t hate him. You loved him and you wanted it, but you kept yourself under control, since you knew it could come back to bite you."

Shaw seemed to be considering her words, staring at their clenched hands. She looked back to her and asked, "But why now? After this long?"

This was the question Faith figured she’d have trouble with. "Really? I dunno, Hunter," she confessed. "I mean, I know what you’re feeling for him, I can’t be sure why, other than you said he had a hot bod." Shaw’s grip tightened, so Faith let go so as not to get her angry. "Shaw, look, I’m not Syd the Shrink, okay? I mean, I can figure that part of it’s the whole ‘he got taken from me’ thing. And I know you’re doing a ‘what if’ spiel; ‘What if he lived?’ ‘What if I didn’t pussyfoot around and told him sooner?’ ‘What if I didn’t fight it and let myself be happy?’" She let Shaw see the concern in her eyes. "It ain’t healthy, Hunter. I did the same thing when Linda died, it doesn’t help. But for you, maybe... I don’t know, maybe it’s your brain doing, ‘Since you can’t have him in a love type sense, and you don’t have memories of happy times in bed, you can at least have the dreams.’ It’s your head, your body, and your hormones. But you loved him and wanted him, so your body’s reacting. It’s called nature, girlfriend."

*****

Shaw looked at the floor for a few moments, processing all that Faith had said. She glanced back up and shyly asked, "Will it fade?"

"I figure, yeah," Faith answered with a shrug. "Lot of things can happen; you let go, the dreams stop, you find someone else..."

Leaving that sentence open, Shaw took and let out a deep breath. "As if that is likely to happen."

"Hey, if it happened one time, you can do it again," Faith offered with a strange tone of voice. Shaw glared at her, leading Faith to wave an arm at her. "Hey, at least you had the whole romantic feeling thing. Not like I’ve ever gotten that part of it." Shaw didn’t know what to say, so Faith added more to her statement. "I’ll tell you something, Vulcan Girl. You say you’re getting a green-eyed monster over me having fun on your rock? Shit, I’m jealous that you got the one thing I never had; L. O. V. E."

Shaw stared in shock; she’d never have expected Faith to admit to something like jealousy, especially toward her. "I thought..."

*****

Faith snorted. "I said I’d never felt the love thing before, just lust." She saw the half-elf flinch. "I know, you didn’t know I felt like you got one better than me, huh? Well, this is part of what I wanted to talk about, something that happened when I went on my road trip."

"You told us what happened," Shaw reminded her.

"Did you tell us everything that happened to you?" she retorted. "Huh?"

"You, here and now, yes."

Surprised by the admission, Faith nodded. She began her own story. "Well, I was telling the truth about one thing; I did have fun there." She grinned at the memories of the time she’d spent with Thian, an Immortal from one of those alternate Earths, and his wife Kith, an elven archer with that kick-ass magic bow. "Of course, the guys all thought it was the whole ‘seeing the sword-and-sorcery world’ thing, or maybe because we got into that big fight with the ‘dork’ elves. Well, there was something else."

"That is another thing I am jealous of you for," Shaw said dryly.

Faith blinked. "What?" she demanded.

Shaw looked like she was biting back a sarcastic laugh. She just answered, "You know how hard it was for me, at least originally, to adjust to living here, on Earth."

"Yeah," Faith said agreeably before getting the point Shaw was making. "Ohhhh, I get it. You wish you could get used to stuff as quick as me." Religion Girl nodded, embarrassed as she thought about it. < Part of it’s where I grew up, the streets. If you don’t learn to roll with the punches, you become a statistic. > "You had the whole Millie Catholic School growing up, you had Ashie and your folks, you had people who gave a shit about you. I had to look out for myself, all my life, until I got the Gig." She paused. "Well, there was D. I looked out for her until...I left. I couldn’t handle Zuckerman anymore." She shook off the memories. "But basically it taught me to do what I had to do to get along; ‘when in Rome’ or, in my case, ‘when in D&D.’"

"And that is how you adjust so readily?" Shaw asked, sounding jealous but understanding.

Faith’s customary smirk showed itself. "That, and I’m Irish."

Shaw rolled her eyes, giving Faith another reason to laugh. "But let’s get back to what happened." Her eyes became sly. "I told you about Ashie’s grandkid."

"Larselliez?" Shaw asked her, to which the Slayer nodded. "What about him?"

"Okay," she started, suddenly a bit less confident than was her norm, "you know I got sent to last year, right? That was how Millie knew where I was, since I was on Toril, Toril, Toril about the time you were in France playing Grasshopper to Conn-O-Mac." A wan smile came to Shaw’s face in response. Faith shared it and continued. "Well, after getting to your old neighborhood, meeting Ashie and Lars, we had the fight with the bad guys."

Faith stopped there, feeling the need to get up and move around. She gracefully stood up, knowing Shaw was watching her with friendly concern. She started walking around a bit to put her thoughts in order. "Okay, short version. We all nearly died in the fight; you know that. When we were done, we had the usual victory-type party like Steve likes to throw. But this was different; it was like, heavy in the elf-style stuff."

"Deepingdale’s population is nearly one-third elven or half-elven, Faith. I should know," Shaw said with a grin. "But go on."

"Thanks. Anyway, when we got back, the whole time it was like..." Faith stopped, at a loss to explain. "There was this... thing, something in the air, made me feel real funky. Then there was... Gawd, you know what Slaying does to me, right?"

*****

Shaw’s eyes crinkled when Faith mentioned that; it was one of Faith’s favorite one-liners. "I remember," she said, before remembering that there would likely be a reason Faith brought this up. "Faith..."

The Slayer went on like she hadn’t heard her name. "Right, you remember. Well, for some reason I wasn’t the only one. Heck, Teddy and Kith barely made it through all the holy-type songs they were singing at this party before he picks her up and carries her off. Other people are doin’ the same thing, and here I’m wondering what the heck’s going on, feeling the Slayer Rush an’ feelin’ funky in the head, thinking it was something I ate. Heck, even Ashie found an elf dude to walk off with. So there I am, totally stumped, when Larsie comes up and says, ‘The night is short.’ I’m saying, ‘No kidding.’ I didn’t get the idea until I saw his eyeballs."

Shaw realized where her friend was going with this but didn’t interrupt.

*****

The current Chosen One’s pacing increased to a near-frantic speed as she spilled out what she figured Shaw would understand. "So anyway, I’m feeling way loopy and so horny and giggly and..." She stopped and turned to Shaw, her eyes gleaming with a mix of bafflement and excitement. "Larsie and me, we... we did it. We got a room, we hit the bed, and I just ripped all mine and his stuff off to get to him. And we..." She barely saw Shaw’s nod of understanding, but it was enough to spur her on. "Gawd, Shaw, it’s like the whole night was a blur! But I still remember everything! Every damn little thing he did to me...not that I minded, Gawd I loved what he did to me. But still..."

Shaw stood up and walked over to her, gripping her arms and stopping the almost frantic Faith. Faith fully focused on Shaw’s face and wondered why Shaw had those smiling eyes. "What? You know what was going on?"

"Tell me one thing. What was the date?" Shaw asked her.

"Oh right, like I’m supposed to know!" Faith barked with humor. "You guys have the same days in a year, but your months are so screwed up."

Shaw would not be deterred. "What was the celebration about?"

"Well, this whole..." Faith’s eyes crinkled. "It made me think about the whole Robin/Puck thing."

"It was a Midsummer celebration," Shaw said with certainty that surprised her.

Faith remembered that it was the reason for the party; it had been planned in advance. "Yeah, but..."

Shaw took Faith and guided her to a sitting position. The puzzled Massachusetts native followed her down as Shaw began to explain. "Faith, Midsummer is one of the most important holidays of the Torilian calendar. It is the same as June 21st, when spring ‘officially’ becomes summer and is the longest day of the year."

"Okay, I get that much," Faith responded. "But what does this have to do with me being wonky while doing the nasty?"

She stopped when Shaw’s face became hard. "Faith, whatever you shared with Ashallia’s grandson, I assure you it was not, a ‘nasty.’ You do not understand; beyond the celebration of the holiday, Midsummer is much more than a mere holiday to the elven people, those of elven blood, and all the sylvan races, like Robin’s people."

"Then explain it to me!" Faith begged. She knew this had to have something to do with her fond memories of that night, plus her jealously toward Shaw’s actual love for Raidon.

*****

Seeing the need in Faith’s eyes, Shaw licked her lips in the hopes that she could bring the point to bear. "All right. You know that, to use a ‘phrase,’ elves are more than physical beings. They are also considered beings of magic, tied to magic of whatever world they live on, and having innate magical abilities. Where someone like Amy would tap the sources of magic on Earth, Toby or Kevin would be linked to it, in a way."

"Yeah."

"Good," Shaw said with a smile. < Now comes the hard part. > "As elves are tied to the magic of Toril, they are also tied to nature. The forests, the animals, they are one with the natural world. Look at how I instinctively feel the emotions of animals or the balance of nature. I feel the need to correct that, because whatever disrupts the balance of nature can disrupt my connection to it. Take that, intensify it two or threefold, and you might have the basest idea of how connected the Tel’Quessir are to nature on Faerun."

"Okay, but what the Heck does this have to do with me?" Faith asked her.

Shaw tilted her head in consideration. "Elves are beings of magic. I, myself, have certain traits inherited from my mother. But you, being the Slayer, are also a being of magic, Faith. You carry inside of you a source of magical Power, handed down by the Gods including Artemis, a nature deity herself, and Zeus, the Highest of Greek Powers, that is thousands of years old. Add to this the limited psychic link that you share with every past Slayer. I have no doubt that at least a few of them had similar Midsummer celebrations in Ireland, Scotland, or England. But to make it simple, Midsummer is more than the longest day of the year. It marks the turning point, where the growing season turns toward the upcoming harvest and winter after that. It is a time, at least in elven beliefs, that the ambient magic is strongest, especially at twilight, the time between day and night. For a poor example, it is at that time that vampires awake. But with Midsummer, there is something about the combination of magic and nature that heightens the natural sensitivity inherent in elves."

"So you’re saying they’re on some kind of magic high on that day?"

Shaw’s smile widened. "That is one way to put it. Elves and sylvan races have that sensitivity. And, as a Slayer, you have it as well. Remember?" Faith’s eyes widened just a bit. "With this in addition to the effect fighting has upon you, I dare say you were feeling what any elf or, in Larselliez’s case, half-elf would feel on such a day, even without the near death experience."

"So you’re saying that we did it because of magic?" Faith asked, apparently uncomfortable with the prospect.

"Faith, no!" Shaw exclaimed. "Faith, there is no coercion involved here! Larselliez was asking you if you wished to do this. And it was more than sleeping with him, believe me! It was...Faith, the simplistic way to put it is that Larselliez wanted to celebrate the highest of holidays with you, in the way that elves have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years. It was more than simple intercourse; to him, he thought you worthy of participating in what all those of elven blood consider to be the most intimate, most sacred celebration of nature and life itself. He saw you as worthy of this, and wished to share it with you in private, should you be willing. And if you had said no, he would have respected your decision."

*****

Faith was silent throughout the last part of Shaw’s explanation as she flashed back to the invitation and how enthusiastically she’d accepted it. Her confusion over the feeling in the air had been resolved, but she still felt that twinge of envy in that Shaw’s passion had been borne of romantic feelings, not hormones or need caused by the emptiness in her heart she’d carried since childhood.

She looked back into Shaw’s gleaming eyes. "So it wasn’t magic, but it wasn’t..." She choked. "It wasn’t an easy lay for him, either. Not like...not like other guys that I’ve... You see, that’s why I get sick in my stomach when I think that at least he loved you back, Hunter! Any guy I was with was just in it for getting his bones jumped well, ‘cept Lar-Z-Boy. He was different, but I just wish I could feel the whole romantic thing."

Shaw’s eyes became sympathetic. "Faith, you do not understand, at least not completely."

"How’s that?" she asked, fighting back tears despite the gladness that she was finally getting this out.

Shaw said, "Elves are different when it comes to such things." She paused, waiting for Faith to give her the indication of whether or not to go on. She nodded emphatically, so Spockette gathered her breath. "I have told you that elves are considered ‘adults’ at age fifty. What I have never mentioned is that it is over the next five decades that they begin to learn things that you learn in your teenage or early adult years." She took Faith’s hands in her own and gave her a smile that was even more genuine than any she’d had in the last week. "It is during this time, rather than the first fifty years, that they truly begin to explore things such as sexuality. They will, among other things, find partners and have intercourse. In a way, it was what people here would call ‘casual sex.’ But Faith, with elves, such things are NEVER casual. Elves form emotional attachments with their partners that are even more intense than anything normal humans could feel. Part of it is their long lifespan; ‘friends for life’ is so different than it is with shorter-lived races, even me. But it is also that, as an elf once said, ‘A bond is formed between man and maid.’ Even if they only share such an experience with each other once in their lifetimes, they have to have some love for each other, no matter how intense it is, before they will go further."

Faith thought she understood this, but still protested, "Larsie’s half-and-half like you, Answer Girl."

"But there is a difference, Faith," Shaw promised, adding an emphasizing squeeze of Faith’s hands. "I was raised by my human family, with human values, which are not so different from Earth. Ashallia was raised by both of her parents, but with an emphasis on her elven side. This was repeated with her daughter, and I can only assume with her grandson. There is also the fact that both of his parents are half-elven, unlike mine. Thus, while he may worship Mielikki like I do, and be half-elven like I am, he favors the elven side of his bloodlines, and thus elven customs."

"He’s only thirty-five or so. You said..."

She didn’t understand why Shaw laughed. "But he is still an adult by half-elven custom, and has been for ten or fifteen years. Thus he can adapt as necessary. But Faith..." She stopped and Faith was caught by her hazel gaze as Shaw’s next point came out.

"To elves and half-elves who favor their elven side, there is no such thing as a one-night stand or tryst as you understand them. He would not, and likely could not, have made the invitation of Midsummer if he did not feel some love for you. However much he did, even if for that one night, he LOVED you, Faith."

Faith just sat there for nearly a minute, absorbing the full impact of Shaw’s statement. She realized that her instincts had been spot on; being from that Mud Ball, Shaw did understand. She thought back to her night with Ranger Boy and remembered how, despite the energy and passion they’d both exhibited, there had been a gentleness about him that she had returned, despite her lack of experience with being less than consumed by the heat of the moment. She felt herself slipping her hands out of Shaw’s and hugging herself.

"Faith, what is it?" came Shaw’s voice through her ruminations.

"Gawd, Hunter," she dully whispered, "I actually had it. You know, IT." She shot an askew glance at Shaw. "You said I had it, right?"

"Yes," Shaw gently answered.

Faith’s heart felt heavy as she processed the idea that someone had shared a night with her out of love rather than mere physical attraction.

She started to cry and felt a heavy dose of guilt. "Gawd, why didn’t I see it?!? Why didn’t I..."

Shaw reached forward and hugged her close. Through Shaw’s hair covering her face, she heard the whispered words in her ear. "You did, Faith. You knew. Somehow, you knew. And I am certain to the depth of my heart that that is why you accepted his invitation, because you knew it, even subconsciously." When Shaw released her from the hug, Faith stared into Shaw’s eyes and found tears there as well.

"Faith, I understand your confusion to a point. There is no such thing as casual sex to the Tel’Quessir," she stated with tangible happiness that Faith could feel was for her. "And it does not matter that you realize it with your mind, after I put it in context for you. What matters is that even then, you realized it with your heart." A flash of the Hunter sense of humor animated that pale face. "Sort of like you explaining, to me, the idea of being hot and bothered."

Faith started laughing; she couldn’t help herself. Shaw also laughed, both girls growing gigglier as the other’s hilarity increased. After five or six minutes of the mutual perpetuating cycle, Faith rubbed her eyes free of tears.

She licked her lips and smiled at Shaw. "Thanks," she said softly. "I needed to get this off my chest to somebody." She actually blushed and averted her eyes. "Thanks," she said again.

*****

Shaw shrugged; the thanks were enough. "You are welcome, Faith," she replied. She sighed. "But I have another reason to be jealous of you, in that you have had such an encounter." Faith started to talk, but the priestess stopped her. "But I thank you for sharing it with me, my friend. I... I am not usually one for ‘dishing’ in such a manner, especially when talking about...such feelings. I often feel left out when the others discuss their boyfriends, but now..." She felt a goofy smile usually reserved for Xander. "But now, you cared enough about me to tell me how the others are worried, and to help me understand something I have no experience with. I... I don’t want to stop, but we need to get home. We do have a study session with David and Jessica in the morning."

"And training," Faith reminded her. A light bulb went off in the Slayer’s head and a mischievous grin spread across her features. "I just remembered; we got tomorrow night off. What’s say you and me go out on the town together?"

"The others have plans or patrolling," she brought up.

*****

Faith rolled her eyes and laughed hysterically. "No, I mean us, goofball! You. Me. Together. Professionals only. We’ll get out of Boss Man Miyagi’s place, pick up some hot threads at the Mall, and paint this ‘burb red!"

She figured Shaw would be dubious; she was the ‘family outing’ type, not the ‘wild and free’ type. "Shaw, come on! It’ll be great! We can go out and you can let go. Don’t worry about getting embarrassed by the guys seeing you, just you and me, not telling anyone where we’re doing and just letting loose!" She stopped to let her smile fade a bit. "Maybe we can really work on getting tight again. I want us to get close again, Shaw. Don’t you?"

Shaw didn’t hesitate then. She gave the look of confidence Faith had grown so used to before the Road Trip. "Yes. Yes, I do."

"All right!" the Slayer gushed. She grabbed Shaw’s hands and pushed herself to a standing position, yanking Spock’s Love Child with her. She could still feel that they both had some things to think about and deal with from last week, but they’d at least stopped, if not reversed, the trend that had been building in their friendship. "Let’s hit the sack and I’ll see you where the books live."

As Shaw nodded and began to negate the spells in effect around them, Faith grinned as ideas swirled in her head as to what kind of night she and Shaw would have together.

*****

Part 2: Chops And Cheesecake
(Wherein Our Beloved Bostonian Shows Everyone’s Favorite Half-Elf This Side Of Arilyn Moonblade How To Cram The Karate Kid And The Victoria’s Secret Webcast Into A Single Afternoon)

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
10 April 1999

Willow walked into the training room with Shaw. The little red witch and the priestess discussed the big events coming up in the near future at school, like Prom and Graduation, as well as their Spring Break, which began a week from Monday. A lot of things were going to happen during the Slayerettes’ week off from school.

On Monday, Gabrielle and Sonja would arrive from Paris to meet with the lawyers concerning the incorporation of VAN Ltd. After that the Bard and the Swordswoman would look for a house with Cordelia’s help. Willow still wasn’t sure that was such a good idea, yet she wanted to be on hand to watch, kind of like being a spectator to a train wreck. The majority of the kids would remain in town, deciding that it would be cheaper to go to L. A. for activities rather than fork out money to fly to Florida or the Bahamas.

In addition to being out of school, Steve had also declared plans to make the team persona non grata in his house during the off week, at least those who didn’t already live there. He was also arranging for a company of Knights of the Grail to handle the patrols for the entire metropolitan area, to give the kids, not to mention Jenny and Giles, a true vacation. However, despite the best laid plans of mice and demon hunters...

"I still do not understand why you are going to be working that week," Shaw asked her, quirking her right eyebrow, "since all of you have been looking forward to the break."

The Amazon Wicca grinned at her; excited about some of her projects during the VAN launch and happy for the apparent lift in Shaw’s spirits. < I guess Faith got to her. I wonder what they talked about. > "This is different, Shaw. We’re getting the Nation off the ground for real! It’s not just an idea anymore, or even a plan. It’s for real." A light came to Willow’s expressive, witch-green eyes. "Besides, we’re getting paid for it. We’ll have fun projects to work on too, so we won’t be bored, and it’s only in the mornings. We’ll have our afternoons off."

Shaw looked at her, her curiosity piqued. "What kind of projects, Willow?"

"Well, Jenny and I will be installing the computer systems and the network," she began, her excitement showing through. "One of the big things is the entire Amazon database; the sisters we’ve contacted, the ones we’ve found but haven’t contacted, all that archaeology stuff dug up by Maxine, Lady Croft, and Professor Fox, and we’re transferring the search program from Steve’s system into ours." She noted Shaw’s eyebrow raise further. She glanced over at Jenny, who was engrossed in a humorous dialogue with Edwin Giles. "Jenny’s big thing will be establishing an actual temple to Artemis inside the building. It allows her some relaxation and a bit more downtime. The Lady Goddess said She channeled a lot of power through Jenny last week. It takes a lot out of you, or so Jenny says."

"I have heard of someone having a god complex," her friend offered with a tiny smile, "but I do not think that is what whomever coined the phrase had in mind when he thought of it."

Willow gave Shaw a frown. "Say that to her face; she might not find that funny."

"I did so when I arrived," Shaw retorted. "Note my continued good health."

Willow sighed but hid an inner smile. < Definitely looks like Faith helped her. > "The others have stuff to do, even if they’re not here. Andrea’s going to e-mail her ideas for security for everything; it’ll be Sonja and Cordy’s job to start working them into our operating systems. Missy and Tessa are working on the relief efforts, Missy’s doing the Admin stuff and Tessa’s in charge of deciding who has priority. We should have that up by the end of the month. Besides the priestess stuff, Jenny might help Amy with the inventory of all the magical items." Now she actually smiled. "With both you and Jenny handling the scrolls and potions, we’ve got a good reserve supply. But I can’t wait to get a peek at the relics we’re setting up in the Historical Exhibit. That’s going to be really fun; building our own little Amazon mini-museum."

"It sounds like you will have your hands full," Shaw noted.

"Want to help?" the hacker asked teasingly. "I can still bug Gabrielle to create another non-voting seat."

She knew that Shaw would still decline, but she and the others enjoyed teasing her about her relationship with the Amazons. Also, her, Amy, and Cordelia had been nudging her to "join" VAN in some capacity. Even though she wasn’t an Amazon, she was connected to them, through her kinship with Amy, her familial emotions for the others, and the fact that their Goddess did care about and look after Shaw, in Her own limited fashion.

Still, she was noncommittal. "I just fail to see the point of being on the board if I will not vote, Willow." She held up a hand to stop Willow’s response. "I agree that your arguments have some merit, but I still think that any more seats should go to Amazons, rather than me. I also think I have other priorities right now. Also, I do not think myself suited for a ‘suit and tie’ occupation."

"Then maybe there’s something else. You could be a receptionist," Willow pushed, trying to have a little more fun with her teammate. She was puzzled when Shaw rolled her eyes. "What?"

Shaw sent an embarrassed look in Robin’s direction. "A certain fairy made a suggestion that he thought was amusing. He told Amy that she should convince Gabrielle to make me the Amazon nation’s ambassador to Sun-Descending, Misthold, and Fairgrove."

"Ambassador?" Willow giggled. "You’re kidding!"

"I wish," her sometime computer student groused while rubbing at her temples. "Robin thinks that since a, I am known to all parties, b, we have all fought together, c, I have acted as a liaison to elven groups before, and d, I am supposedly an elven noblewoman, I would be perfectly qualified for the post, never mind that such a post is nonexistent."

"Well, this is Robin we’re talking about," the Red Witch said with a mischievous smile. "But what are you doing next week, anyway? Do you have any plans?"

Shaw hesitated a bit, a habit she’d had the last few days. Instead of keeping the distance between them, she surprised Willow by opening up. "Tuesday morning, I plan on heading down to Eleanor’s house. It will be good to see her again and to enjoy some peace and quiet; her property has some woods on it. I will be at Faire for the weekend and come home Sunday night." She let a sly grin form. "There is also the matter of the twins all but begging me to join their combat group for a tournament they are having against North. Anna tells me that they need someone with my ‘military’ background to face the six-time Northern champion, someone named Rebekah. It seems the Lady Bekah uses a battle-axe in place of sword and shield."

< That name sounds familiar for some reason, > Willow thought. She giggled, "Maybe they want a noblewoman to fight the noblewoman. You did call her ‘Lady.’"

Shaw gave her a look of disgust. "I thought you promised me you would not use that to embarrass me."

"No, I just promised not to tell Xander and Cordelia," she gaily corrected the junior. Her eyes twinkled at the exchange of banter. "But since he knew all along..."

"You decide to emulate him," she moaned, glaring at the ceiling. "Greeeat..."

Willow stared at her for that. "Now who’s ‘emulating’ someone?" she asked before giving her shoulder a squeeze. "I’m glad to see you loosening up again."

Shaw gave her a tired smile. With a soft voice she replied, "I am trying, Willow. Last week’s evidence aside, my ‘dealing’ will not be an ‘overnight’ thing. But again, I am trying."

"Good," Willow echoed sincerely. "I guess your talk with Faith went well?"

Despite the less than subtle approach, Shaw was apparently willing to answer her question. "It went very well, Willow. We at least brought our issues out into the open. It seems that both of us had things that we wished to discuss."

Willow’s smile widened. "So what’d you guys talk about?"

Shaw slowly looked her up and down. "Do you really wish to know?" Willow was asked.

< If it helps us get back in the groove... > "Yeah, Shaw. If you don’t mind." Willow’s eyes lit up at some potential pre-training girl talk. "What did you and Faith talk about last night?"

Shaw’s face became absolutely deadpan.

"Sex."

Willow felt her jaw flop open at Shaw’s answer. She blinked several times as she tried to assimilate the simple reply. "Sex? You talked about sex?"

"Yes," Shaw told her with a single nod. "Now if you will excuse me, I need to talk to Cordelia. I will see you in a bit."

Willow just stared at Shaw’s back, speechless, as she walked off. She finally worked her jaw shut and asked herself, "Shaw talked about sex?"

"Yep."

The hacker started with an "eep!" Turning around, she was greeted by the sight of Faith in her usual workout clothes; cropped tank top, tight Lycra biker shorts, and sneakers. She scolded, "Don’t do that!"

*****

"Sorry," Faith said with false sincerity. She gave her best friend the typical Pryce smirk. "So what were you and Fantasy Girl jawing about?"

"The VAN project," she whispered, still wary of the Watchers who were attending the Section Seven exchange program. "But eventually we talked about you two patrolling last night."

Faith glanced over at Redeye, who was talking with the Ball Buster. From what she could hear, Shaw was asking Cordelia to play ‘dueling samurai swords’ to get Shaw’s skills with the Ginsus up to Cordy’s level. She shifted her gaze back to Will and said, "Yeah, we did okay. Got over a dozen, but she did wig me out a bit at first. I mean, kneecapping and stuff, that’s not how you take out vamps."

Rosenberg winced. "How’d she react?"

"She wasn’t too thrilled by it, but I think she’ll get over it." She bit her bottom lip and asked, "So you asked her what we talked about? What’d she say?"

The Red Headed Hacker rolled her eyes in disgust. "Her exact word was, ‘sex.’"

"That’s it?" Faith snickered over her bosom bud’s frustration. Willow gave Faith the infamous Willow Resolve Look, but she was the one person it wouldn’t work on. "Oh, give it up, Red. That look only works on bad guys and Xander." She flashed a smile at Willow. "Hunter and me, we talked, yeah. But we did the ‘cross my heart’ to keep it ‘tween us, least ‘til we’re ready to talk about it."

Willow looked disappointed, so Faith lightened up a bit. "Look, Red. It was important to us, and we just want to keep it private for now. Heck, I’ll tell you sooner or later." She paused and held out a hand. "Probably sooner, if you know me. But right now, I liked just sharing it with Hunter. Okay? I’m not leaving you out, I promise."

Willow reached out and took her hand. "Okay, but I’ll remember that promise."

The two laughed with each other, but were distracted by Shaw’s return.

"Hey DOM, you challenging Warrior Girl?" Faith asked, already knowing the answer.

"DOM?" both girls asked her.

"Daughter O’ Millie," the Slayer replied to a suffering sigh from Shaw. "Hey, I’m original. Don’t knock it."

"Do not make me hit you," the half-elf retorted.

"In your dreams." Faith glanced between both her best buds and a nasty idea began to dawn. "Hey, guys, I need your help with something. I think I finally know a way to get B."

"What do you mean?" Shaw asked.

Willow beat her to the answer, her lips twitching. "She means beating her in a sparring match. Right, Faith?"

"Yep. And I know a way we can do it," Faith smiled. She looked around to make sure no one was within earshot. "I don’t have it all worked out, but at least it’s a start..." She quietly whispered her spur-of-the-moment idea. Her friends looked equally receptive to the idea, but Willow said, "I don’t know. We don’t want to embarrass her in front of the Watchers."

"Why should the Limeys care?" Faith asked, unwilling to be deterred.

"I must agree. I would think that Edwin and Giles would applaud Faith’s...strategic abilities?" The two brunettes shared grins. "Count me in, Faith."

Faith turned to the possible holdout, as did her fellow "Professional." Willow seemed to be divided over whether to have some fun or to avoid messing with the Fearless Leader. Finally, the look in her eyes simulated that of the other two women. "Oh, what the Hell," Hacker Witch said, giving in. "I’m in. Give me a few minutes to get the cameras rolling."

"Yes!" Faith hissed under her breath. She and her co-conspirators laid hands on each other’s and moved to perform their roles in the scheme.

*****

Faith and Buffy walked onto the mat, surrounded by their friends and guests. As they took up defensive positions, Buffy grinned at Faith. "I never knew you were a glutton for punishment, Faith."

"Please," she countered with a smile that suggested her fellow Slayer was up to something sneaky. "I’m just getting this feeling that today’s my lucky day, is all." Her eyes lit up in challenge. "You’re going down, B."

"I’ve heard that before," Buffy drawled. "Hasn’t happened yet, Boston. Let’s see you put your money where your mouth is." She moved into a modified horse stance. "I win, you do my chores and help Mom out at the gallery for a week."

"Okay..." the junior Chosen One mused, biting the corner of her bottom lip. Her face blossomed into a smile. "I got it! I beat you, I get to spend whatever money Boss Man was gonna spend on you during Spring Break."

"WHAT?!?" Buffy and Steve St. Wolf shouted out.

"Hey, put your money where your mouth is, Miss ‘Only-Steve-Knows-My-REAL-Hair-Color.’"

"Hey!" Buffy exclaimed, her fists clenching hard.

"Well, B...if the peroxide fits..."

"YOU’RE ON!!!" Buffy shouted. < Ohhh, she is SO going down! >

"Buffy..." Steve said warningly.

"Oh no, she’s gonna pay for that crack!" the Immortal Slayer snapped. She shot Steve a glare. "Don’t tell me you’re afraid of losing a little money!"

She watched Steve glare at Faith. "What’ve you got up your sleeve, Pryce?"

"I just wanna show B and the Tweed Set that I can do strategic-type thinking," was her flip answer. "Let’s just say I’m pretty confident I can kick B’s ass today. Might even say I’ve got it all arranged."

"Confident...arranged?" Giles queried from the side, sounding both pleased by her attitude and suspicious of what she had prepared.

"Yeah, Book Guy," Faith drawled. She turned back to Buffy. "Well, how ‘bout it, Bottle-Blondie? We got a bet or what?"

An angry Buffy looked at Steve, who shook his head resignedly. She graced her honey with a smile and turned it on the buxom girl. "We’re on, Pryce. I’m gonna enjoy this."

"Buffy!" Steve snapped.

Buffy flashed a grin meant to subdue his objections and turn him on at the same time. "Don’t worry, Steve. I’ll be careful. Besides, Mom will love you for getting her the free help for a week." When he started to protest again, she said, "If you don’t want to camp out on your own couch, start the round, Buster."

Pointedly ignoring the snickers coming from the younger attendees, Steve growled, "Begin!"

Buffy began moving about, shutting out all distractions and focusing on her cruisin’ for a bruisin’ opponent.

*****

Faith saw she’d set Buffy just the slightest bit off balance, which had been her intention. < Not as much as I figured, but it’s enough. C’mon, let’s dance. >

Buffy struck first, launching a straight one-two jab combination. As expected, Faith moved the blows aside and tried a right elbow strike at Summers’ jaw. Buffy ducked it, brought her right arm across her chest, and sent a backhanded punch at Faith.

Faith crouched and executed a spin kick. < Okay, let’s see if this stuff works. > Despite her hopes, Buffy still jumped back to avoid the move. Faith stood up and entered a side stance, which was mirrored by the older Slayer. < Time for the ‘Rope-a-Dope.’ >

"What’s the matter, B?" Faith taunted. "Don’t tell me old age is slowing you down."

"You’re only a year younger than me, Faith!" Buffy snapped.

"Like I said, you’re the Old Slayer," she shot back with a grin. "I know, the truth hurts, don’t it?" She widened her eyes, as if she’d just realized something. "Say...that’s it, isn’t it? It ain’t that you wanna be blonde--you just don’t want the gray to show!"

"Ohhhhhhhh! You take that back, you bitch!"

Buffy snapped a roundhouse kick at Faith’s head. Rather than duck or back off, the Dark Slayer caught Buffy’s right foot with her hand. She clamped down with a Herculean grip and suspended Buffy at the apex of her kick.

The dropped jaw and look of total shock in B’s eyes was exactly what Faith had wanted. Remembering Willow’s comment about not getting too cocky, Faith didn’t gloat. She added insult to injury. She kept her right hand locked around the Immortals’ ankle and shifted under the extended leg. The Dark Slayer swung her right leg out, kicking the foot supporting Buffy out from under her.

"Timberrrrr!" Faith chimed as Buffy crashed to the mat, butt first. She then grabbed both of Buffy’s sneakers by their soles and yelled to the crowd, "Anyone wanna make a wish?"

Buffy tore out of Faith’s grasp, spinning about as she rose. Faith just grinned back at the pissed off co-leader of Team Scooby. With a growl, Buff began a complicated offensive routine intended to pound the snot out of the irreverent Bostonian.

Faith just blocked each blow, allowing herself to be driven back. Once she had enough room, Faith waited for the proper opening. Seeing the frustration and confusion in Buffy’s face over her less experienced opponent’s lasting this long, the fun loving girl stuck her tongue out and added to the Immortal Slayer’s ire.

"You are SO DEAD!" Buffy vowed as she launched a roundhouse right cross.

Faith dodged the punch, which the Bottle Blonde immediately reversed. Then Faith did the unexpected, even for her; she caught the punch, moved the arm up and out, and sent an awesomely powerful kick to B’s washboard abs. As Faith’s blow forced Buffy’s mouth and eyes wide open from pain and the explosion of all the breath from her lungs, Faith leaned over her doubled-over opponent. She reached around B’s back, grabbed her by the stomach, and lifted her with all her might. When Buffy’s legs rested on Faith’s shoulders, the Dark Slayer reversed the move and slammed Buffy back-first onto the mat. The collision between Slayer and the floor caused all the spectators’ teeth to rattle.

Faith promptly looked over at B’s fuming boy-toy. "Just how much were you planning on spending on her, Soldier Boy?"

"Faith--"

"Hold that thought for a sec," she said, cutting off his explosion. "Gotta check on B."

She turned and knelt next to the Buffster, knowing that St. Wolfman was SO pissed off.

*****

As Buffy gasped for a desperately needed air to fill her empty lungs, a part of her barely conscious mind chanted, < I’m gonna kill her...I’m gonna kill her...I’m gonna kill her... >

"You okay, B?" she heard the newest Slayer ask.

Buffy noted that there was some concern in Faith’s voice. "Oh, sure...fine...just peachy..." She sat up with a groan, felt her aching back, and wished that Immortal healing worked just a tad faster. "God, you really knocked the wind out of me."

"Hey, just doing what comes natural," Faith said with her devil’s eyes. Buffy turned to her and watched as Faith ran her hands from her shoulders to her hips. "With this bod, I leave everyone breathless!" She grinned sadistically at her. "Though I thought it was just guys I affected like that."

"Ohhhhhhhhh!" Buffy snarled, jumping back to her feet. To her dismay, her head began to spin. Apparently she’d risen too fast. She felt Faith’s arms grab hers to steady her.

"Buffy, are you okay?" Faith probed gently.

When she shook the cobwebs loose, she glared at Faith. "How the Hell did you get so strong and fast, Faith? Your strength is way beyond Slayer level!"

"Redeye helped," came the humor-laden answer.

"WHAT?!?" Buffy shouted, turning to face the grinning half-elf, who was standing next to an equally grinning Willow. "What did you do to her?!?"

"Nothing major." Shaw shrugged and looked far too innocent for her own good. "That is, unless you call spells of Bull’s Strength, Cat’s Grace, and Endurance major."

"Hmmm. Not bad," Robin noted from the other side of the room. "I never knew those would work on empowered people."

"Worked fine last night," Faith noted.

Buffy turned on Faith, realizing that she’d planned this charade. "I can’t believe you cheated!"

Willow cleared her throat while the others laughed. "Do you mean cheating by making herself stronger and faster, or cheating in that she used it on you?"

"YES!" Buffy shouted. She gave the East Coaster a look that could melt titanium at thirty paces. "You...you..."

"Actually," Edwin offered with a hint of laughter in his voice, "she did reveal that she had made arrangements, Miss Summers. And you did seem...a tad overconfident."

"Me? What about HER and how she dissed me?" Buffy said incredulously. Then she turned to her Watcher and whined, "Giiiiles?"

"I sympathize, Buffy," the librarian said, looking somewhat sheepish, "but I am afraid that I must agree with my father. I hardly expected her to use magic on herself, given her attitudes toward such. But she did provide enough clues that she had done something." He surprised Buffy by sending a look of pride and his self-deprecating smile past her and onto the victor. "Well done, Faith. Well done indeed. Although I wouldn’t suggest pulling something like this again."

*****

"No problemo. Unlike TV shows, I don’t do repeats," Faith said nonchalantly. Inside, she felt like she floated on Cloud Nine. < He LOVED it! King G LOVED my trick! > She knew he cared about her and, even if she tried to hide it, she always wanted to please him, even though she sometimes got fed up with her ‘Karate Kid crossed with Leave it to Beaver’ life. And to do it while showing up Buffy, his ‘first daughter,’ was icing on the cake. Oh, she loved B, too. But, at times, it felt like a struggle to tear Giles’ attention away from his ‘firstborn.’ "And thanks, G-man," she said with a shy smile. "But I don’t deserve all the credit; the Red Twins helped."

"Who?" a confused Buffy asked. Faith knew exactly what Bottle-Blondie was thinking. < Not MORE nicknames! >

"The Red Twins; Redhair and Redeye," she gleefully said. < Sorry guys, but if I go down, I’m taking you with me. > "Eye sprinkled me with fairy dust, Hair taped it so the Den Mom can watch."

She glanced at a visibly shaken Buffy, who was stammering about how her BEST FRIEND had helped to defeat her. She then glanced at Steve, who was rubbing the bridge of his nose with his index and middle fingers. She then turned to the important business. "So, B, what should I go with...cash or credit?"

"AUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!"

*****

Sunnydale Mall
Sunnydale, California
10 April 1999

Faith chatted with Shaw as they walked through the concourse. After the humbling of one Immortal Slayer, the two had decided to save time by heading right over to Shaw’s crib to get out of their sweaty exercise clothes, shower, and throw on normal clothes before zipping to the Mall in Shaw’s ‘elfmobile,’ as she liked to call Sharillon. She grinned at how she, like Shaw, got along famously with the magic horse. Faith, in particular, liked how the mare kept the ‘horse’ motif by tooling them around Sunnydale "dressed" as a cool-ass ’67 candy apple red Mustang.

< I guess I just like the whole muscle car thing, > she snickered. She glanced over at Hunter, whose interest had been drawn to one of the "on the floor" jewelry dealers. "See something you like?"

Shaw jumped just a bit, startled back into reality. "Just looking," she admitted, brushing a hand through that wavy mop on her head. "You never know when you might find a good deal on something."

"That’s my girl," Faith giggled, "you’ve learned the whole shopping thing pretty good. ‘Course, Sabrina and CC can’t hold a candle to me when it comes to picking out wardrobe."

She saw her partner in crime looking at her through the corner of her right eye. "Besides the fact that Cordelia would take offense and exception to that statement, I know that Amy has her own level of ability at choosing clothing." A smile that Faith knew was born of pure fuzzy family feelings lit up Hunter’s face. "She helped me a great deal, Faith, once I stopped fighting her tooth and nail."

Faith smiled, too. She’d heard Amy and Cordelia’s "war stories" more than once. In fact, Red had warned her that Shaw could still be something of a prude, at least by Slayerette standards. < Well, you just gotta know how to put it in terms she’ll like. And wait’ll you guys see what I do with her. > "Okay, enough stalling." When Shaw glanced at her again, she grinned as much as possible. "If we’re gonna get out on the town with enough time to actually have fun, we need to do this the right way."

The Vulcan babe’s right eyebrow shot up, tugging on the right corner of her mouth as well. She smothered a snort of laughter and asked, "And what is the ‘right way?’"

Faith pointed one finger upward. "We’re gonna pull the ultimate in one-stop shopping, Braveheart. One store, one dressing room, one register ring-up."

Shaw nodded; she got that point at least. She smiled and folded her arms, showing that she was ready. "So which store? Neiman Marcus, GAP, or Chi Jeans?"

Wanting to see the look on Shaw’s face, the busty brunette grabbed Shaw by the wrist and said, "Girl, today you’re gonna learn how real women do things!" As she stomped off, half-elf in tow, her teeth were showing as her eyes danced with joy. < I can NOT wait to see the look on your face. >

*****

"You MUST be joking," Shaw said in a dull voice.

"Nope!" her teammate said, sounding far too cheerful for her own good. Her head turned back to look at the sign, deep brown hair flying about. She turned back, full smile and flashing brown-green eyes shining. "This is the place."

Shaw just stared at the sign above the wide entrance. "I cannot believe you expect me to go in there!" She turned back to the happy Slayer. "Victoria’s Secret?!?"

"Damn skippy!" Faith retorted. She held her hands out wide and said, "Shaw, you’ve been here a year, for God’s sake! You’re a junior in high school! It’s time to grow up and be a woman dammit!" She put her left hand on her hip and pointed her right finger at her. "I know you’re modest, I know you find some of our American stuff way weird, and then there’s the whole other thing you have problems with regarding clothes. Sheesh, you know I have some brains! I thought about all that!"

"But Victoria’s Secret?" she reiterated, completely dubious. "What in the Blessed Mother’s name are you planning on doing tonight?"

*****

Faith rolled her eyes. < God, does everyone think they only sell undies?!? > "Shaw, they don’t just do skivvies! They sell clothes! All kinds of stuff! Shoes, business stuff, jewelry! They’re just like the Gap, but mucho sexier. We’ll find stuff you’d actually like!" She stuck one hip out and clasped her arms behind her back. "Unless you’re not woman enough."

To her surprise, Shaw’s eyes flashed. < Gawd, did I actually hit a nerve? >

Shaw stepped forward and said with menace in her voice, "And just what makes you think I am not ‘woman enough?’"

She smirked and cocked her head. "Well, for all your saying you like learning stuff, seems to me that you’re afraid of... shall we say, ‘experimenting?’ You don’t like letting yourself be free, Shaw. It’s like you’re afraid of letting yourself cut loose."

Shaw glanced around before focusing back on her. "Faith, with me, ‘cutting loose’ can mean..."

"Stop it," she ordered, tapping Shaw’s chest. "That’s bullshit and you know it! You’re just afraid of going full out and I really think that if just once, you stopped trying to be a self-control freak and let yourself have one night of ‘go with the flow,’ you just might see a new side to yourself. Or maybe the right word’s an old side to yourself." She backed up a bit to escape Shaw’s personal space. "Look, you said how fun-loving you were as a kid. And I don’t give a shit how many bad years you had, I say that kid’s still in there somewhere. Just let her out for a while, maybe she’ll take you back to where you say you wanna be, livin’ and lovin’ life. Get my drift?"

She watched the look in Shaw’s eyes as she glanced back up at the sign. Faith could guess what she was feeling.

*****

< What do I do? > she thought. Shaw saw Faith’s point; she had been much like Faith at the Slayer’s own age. The thing was, she was still very young, nearly forty years later. < Maybe that is part of the attraction. When I spend time with her, I often feel like I am a child again. > Her eyes dropped to Faith’s face, which looked dead certain about her position on the matter. < I...what is it about her that makes me care so much? There is something beyond even what I feel for Amy...that makes me feel her pain as much as mine. It is more than sharing similar pasts, it is...like an emotional connection, a deep one... >

She cast her thoughts aside for later. Shaw looked deeper into Faith’s eyes, which seemed to have some conflict in them; a love of life and desire to live it to the fullest, balanced out by an aura of desperation for something. Again, Shaw felt hurt by it since she’d seen that desperation, a longing for love, in her own reflection many times before coming here.

< We are too close for me to ruin this now. > She glanced back at Faith, her decision showing in her eyes if not her words.

Faith’s eyes became positively glowing as she broke into a laugh. "So you’re game, huh?"

Feeling the same rush of happiness, Shaw’s spirits soared to a higher level than any they’d seen since Raidon’s death. She stepped up to Faith’s side and angled herself so that they could walk into the store, side-by-side. "I am game."

*****

Faith led Shaw through the store, showing her that she’d been here before. Shaw apparently didn’t want to ask how or why.

"Okay," the Bostonian started, heading toward one side of the store, "we’re gonna do this from the ground up. Start at the center, or something like that." She stopped and held her hands open wide, as if to show off the extensive array of lingerie and undergarments the store carried. "Voila!"

"Faith, I do have undergarments, you know," came the stupefied response.

"Oh please!" she scoffed, turning around to confront the grimacing sourpuss. "Lemme guess; you have the standard, run of the mill, mark one, everyday, BORING type bra and panty sets in white, pink, or maybe both."

"Well..."

"Uh-huh," Faith moaned, looking to the Big Guy for support. < Now I get where Blackeye and the Pom-Pom Warrior are coming from. > She sighed and let resolve take over. "Look, the whole point of this is to have fun, chica. I am not going to play, ‘sensible fashions’ with you. You and me, this isn’t just for clothes, it’s for fun! And think about it; if you do meet someone else, you’re gonna need stuff to make him hot and bothered as you get for him. Am I right, or am I right?"

The Slayer watched Shaw search her eyes, fighting her own inclination for simple tastes. Again, her teammate seemed to draw strength from her, as if she was just as determined to explore a sexy side of herself as Faith was to help her do it, to deepen the strangely intense friendship they’d shared since their first meeting.

Again, Shaw’s eyes became hard with a decision to go where no half-elf had gone before. "All right, Faith. You win."

"Yeah, baby!" Faith shouted, slapping five with her new "student." "Okay, the first thing we gotta do is figure out what kind of figure you have." She squinted in doubt. "Don’t suppose you know your measurements, do you?"

Shaw moaned. Her cheeks went bluer and her eyes closed in despair. "34b-20-34." Faith started to open her mouth but was cut off by Millie’s Pope. "It was seen as needed by someone so that I could adapt to how things are done here. Do not ask, for even now I am too embarrassed to tell the story."

"Sure," she said, smiling despite her acquiescence. < I’ll get the story someday, hehehe... > "Hey, it’s enough to work with." She ran her eyes up and down Shaw’s body a couple times, comparing the reality to her memories of Shaw in training sessions, to recall how her body was shaped. It was a good thing they were a bit similar; same height, little hips, muscle build from working out and playing Peter Cushing. Faith knew she outweighed her subject matter by about eight or ten pounds. < ‘Course, looking at my own assets, I know where the extra weight went. >

She finally figured out a plan of attack for "Phase One." "Okey-doke!" she drawled excitedly. "We’re off and running! Come on, girlfriend. It’s time for you to show the world what you’re made of."

She pointedly ignored Shaw beginning to whistle the bugle thing they played for dead heroes.

*****

Fifteen minutes later, Faith had them in the dressing room. This was another thing she liked about VS; the door to the room was an actual door, not a swinging Western bar rip-off. She figured it kept guys from sneaking peeks, but hey, it also gave ‘em privacy to take their time.

"Okay, I’m coming out," she called out. She turned to the mirror one last time and couldn’t help but waggle her hips in a sexy, dance-type manner. "Damn, I look good."

She’d picked out her stuff and chosen to try it on first, so that Miss Modesty wouldn’t have any excuse not to show Faith her own stuff when her turn came. < That and she knows she needs my help with this stuff. > She giggled to herself and thought about how she and Shaw doing this was almost like those ‘so sweet they make my teeth hurt’ family shows. < It’s almost like having a real, live sister. Anyway, back to business. > After admiring her reflection one last time, and wondering if she should get a picture of this to show to Larry, she stepped out.

*****

Shaw watched as the door to the stall swung open. Faith stepped out wearing nothing but the different looking underwear she’d decided she liked.

"What do you think?" Faith asked, holding her arms out and twirling around once. She faced Shaw with a smile as if she expected her to know these things.

"It is skimpy, for one thing," she finally offered. "Just what is it?"

Faith sighed but kept smiling. She pointed to the black-and-pink top. "Okay, this is your basic Miracle Bra balconette top. It’s got this whole stretch lace effect and the double straps are really sexy. Plus it’s got what they call liquid-lift tech for the push-up effect. Just helps me show off what I already got." She reached down and gripped the thong panties. Stretching the band over her left hip just a bit, she released it and let it snap back into place. "And this comes with it. That’ll save me a few bucks, since it’s already a set."

"If you say so," Shaw said with a shrug. < Why do I suddenly wish I had dived right into these things with Amy and Cordelia? >

"Cool," Faith said, her bubbly enthusiasm not dampened by Shaw’s being lost. "YOUR turn!"

With a sigh of resignation, Shaw rolled her eyes. "It is a good thing the others do not know about this."

Faith’s eyes went up. "Why? ‘Cause your cuz would badger you about it?"

"No," she said with sarcasm, "because Robin would be taping it."

As she entered the stall herself, she heard Faith laugh in a husky voice. "Fine with me!"

"FAITH!"

*****

Faith was seconds away from going in after Shaw when she finally came out. She ignored Shaw’s flushed face, because now that she actually had Party Pooper coming out of her shell, she wasn’t about to let Hunter crawl back in.

Despite herself, she was impressed with her own work. "You know, sometimes I even amaze myself," she said in self-congratulations. She turned more to comparing it on Shaw’s athletic figure. "Hunter, you look great! Turn around so we can see how it looks from the back."

Shaking her head, Shaw slowly turned in a complete circle, so Faith could check the entire effect, going "hmm. Mmm-hmm."

"You know, I wish I had some music to go with this," she idly noted.

"Will you stop?" Shaw begged her, despite the smile tugging at her face.

"Right! See, you’re getting into this!" Faith’s smile was infectious, Shaw still blushed at most of her body being shown off. "Come on, admit it! You like trying new things, you just don’t want to do it in front of everyone."

The half-elf’s lips tightened, but her head jerked a bit in what Faith knew was the most grudging nod in history.

"Cool! Now, you got anything to say about the stuff?" she asked, referring to the undies she’d con...vinced Shaw to step into.

Shaw looked down at herself, probably trying to decide where to start. Of course, from Faith’s point of view, the most obvious "improvement" was plain to see. She finally looked back into her eyes. "I suppose the first question should be, why this particular bra?"

Faith folded her bared arms and grinned from ear to ear. "Well, one of these things is from how you pick out clothes." Shaw spit in denial. "Straight up, Hunter! Here..." She walked up to Shaw and pointed at the bra straps. She fingered the part running over Shaw’s shoulders. "This is the convertible. The straps can move around. You can wear it straight like this, take one off for that Roman ‘one shoulder’ toga look, or cross ‘em over to do an ‘x’ thing that looks really sexy to the guys. And then, there’s the way you’re doing it tonight..." Before Shaw could ask, Faith reached behind Shaw’s back and unsnapped both straps. She then took them off the front and said, "Voila! Strapless!"

"Faith!" Shaw choked, reaching up to keep the bra from falling.

"That’s why it closes in the back!" Faith said excitedly, barely keeping herself from falling over at Shaw’s actions. "It’s versatile, just like you like all your clothes, like your karate/dancing jeans!" She pointed to the thong panties Shaw had on. "But since it’s not a set like mine, you get these. They’re seamless and stretch wherever you do. It’s nylon and spandex, and pretty cheap. They’re only twelve bucks. But the bra’s the real winner ‘cause of what it does for you."

"Which is?" Shaw asked with a growl.

She pointed at Shaw’s chest. "You know, you just don’t wanna admit it. You don’t have my assets, so you need a little help to...stand out more."

By reflex, Shaw looked down at herself again and back up at Faith, a strange look in her eyes.

"What?"

Spockette just let out a disgusted sigh. "Nothing. I just finally understand Willow’s discomfort regarding her twin."

"Hey, don’t knock Vamp Will, she has good taste!" Faith chuckled. "I heard what she wore. And just so you know, for Hacker’s help with B, I picked out THIS." She pulled out a corset that was heavy with flowery designs. "If this doesn’t make Guitarman twitch an eyebrow, nothing will! The Forget-Me-Not corset." She turned it over and back again, showing off the piece. "Lace up back, hook-and-eye holes in the front, flowery type stuff, and boned to give Willsy the shaping I got without help."

"Pity she is not here to be embarrassed with me," Shaw said, though Faith heard the light dab of liking the idea of having company in being dressed by her.

"Maybe some other time," the Slayer said, tossing Willow’s loot aside. "So what do you think?" Shaw rolled her eyes. "Come ON, you’re almost as hot as me with that elevation, Shaw! You look hot! At least, the boys will be saying that."

"What boys?" Shaw asked doubtfully.

"Hunter, we’re going out, remember? There will be boys there!"

Shaw smacked her forehead. "Now what? Besides more teasing?"

"We find the stuff to go over this, though I’m sorry we have to cover it," she snickered.

"That is strange, coming from you."

Faith frowned at her; she looked totally hot! "What the Hell do you mean by that? You can’t beat this bod, Hunter!"

Shaw smiled at her, giving her the look she had when participating in some form of prank or joke. "It is just that you usually do not cover such things." She added the punch line. "Since you hardly wear them. At least in front of Baptists."

Faith’s jaw clenched. She shrugged uncaringly and brushed by her teammate to enter the stall and change back. "So what? At least I have my standards."

She pulled the door shut over Shaw’s muffled, "What standards?"

She grinned and picked up her jeans. She let the elf’s impatience linger before snapping, "I don’t let my dates tie me up and play foostie games!"

Shaw’s stifled scream let her know she’d won the round yet again. < Can’t improve on perfection. > She gave her reflection one last admiring stare. < In body or mind. God, I love being me. >

*****

Faith and Shaw walked out of Victoria’s Secret, shoes clacking against the tile floor of the Mall. The clerk hadn’t seemed to surprised by Faith’s adamant decision that the pair would "wear them out." She’d just rung up their purchases and smiled, telling them to have fun with whatever they were doing.

Faith smiled at Shaw, who was looking surprisingly confident, given her outfit. < Must be the undies being out of sight, > she giggled.

Still, Shaw looked outstanding in her outfit. Faith had outdone herself this time, snagging Hunter a shiny black, matte jersey minidress with long sleeves with splits in them, letting Religion Girl show off her arms. The dress had a slim fit that let people see Shaw’s assets to their fullest, and a scoop neck to let her show off a little cleavage, aided by the uplift from the bra. Even though the hem only went 16" from the waist, Shaw’s somewhat short height didn’t mean she’d be flashing people.

To go with the dress was a pair of sleek thong slide sandals, with closed toes, an open back to just kick them on and off, and a wedge heel to keep Shaw from having to do a balancing act all night, despite the 3" height.

All in all, Faith had made Shaw into what had to be the hottest number in the Dale, save for hers truly. She’d picked out a nice package herself. The main attraction her different dress. It was a matte jersey number like Shaw’s but totally meant to show off as much flesh as was legal in most states. With the deep v-neck and plunging v-back complimenting the A-line shape, the cap-sleeved red dress totally let the guys know what Faith had, not to mention what they were missing, should they go elsewhere.

Her shoes were chosen in the same vein; ankle wrap sandals in kidskin leather, with three and a half inch covered heels, showed off more than they covered. < Hey, like I always say; let ‘em know that what you see is what you get! >

She glanced at Shaw and cleared her throat. When Shaw glanced at her, she flashed her most dazzling smile. "Well, girlfriend, how about it? You ready to go five-by-five and livin’ large?"

Shaw gave her a grin of her own that all but said, "Lead on." "As large as possible."

"All right! Let’s motor!"

The two walked toward the exit, basking in each other’s company and ignoring the wanting stares men sent their way.

*****

Part 3: Rave Reviews
(The Twin Towers Of Tactlessness Living Large and Fancy Free)

Converted Warehouse
Near the Sunnydale Boardwalk
Sunnydale, California
10 April 1999

Faith and Shaw weaved their way through the improvised parking lot where the cars were haphazardly arranged around the old warehouse that served as a site for local rave parties. The girls felt the vibrations from the pulse-pounding music grow more intense as they fought their way through the throngs of people gathered around the building. Faith led the way, leaving Shaw to follow in her wake.

"Faith," Shaw said from behind her, "this music is somewhat loud."

She turned around with a grin. "It’s not killer, Hunter, so no worries! Besides, this isn’t all hard rock! There’s techno, rap, even some slow music for getting reeeealy close on the dance floor." Her sly grin left little doubt what she meant by "close". "But this is part of why I didn’t tell you, so you didn’t jam those stupid earplugs in. Think of this as part of letting Party Girl out."

"And how is that?" Shaw asked her, raising her voice to be heard over the beat.

The Slayer raised her own voice in response. "Instead of getting cranky and tryin’ to block it out, I want you to do that thing you did with Raidon’s flute stuff; let it get you into the mood and guide you into swinging those hips!" She did that herself as an exclamation point.

Hunter’s hazel eyes twinkled a bit. "I will try, Faith."

< She’s along for the ride! We’re gonna have fun tonight! > she rejoiced. "Awesome!" She gripped Shaw’s hand and said, "Come on! We’re going in!"

She dragged Shaw along with her, anxious to get in and release some energy. She was still on her emotional high from her sparring victory and the fun they’d already had at the Mall, and this was going to be her "victory party." < I am having so much fun today... >

They stopped at the door and the bouncer nodded to her. Before Shaw could ask, the teenager shouted, "Me, Red, and Dingo Boy took care of a ‘pest’ problem for them! Will even put up ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs!"

When Her Ladyship smiled in recognition, the Slayer turned back to the doorman. "She’s with me! We got the same hobbies; fencing, karate..."

He nodded without comment; he got the "message." He waved them forward, Faith enjoying but pretending to ignore the hostile glares from those who still had to wait their turn to get in. She held out her left hand and the bouncer pressed a rubber stamp against the back of it.

Faith leaned over and sourly told Hunter, "I can’t wait ‘til I turn twenty-one."

"I understand," Shaw told her. "That will legalize most of the things you like to do."

Faith smacked Shaw’s arm with the back of her hand. She then took Shaw’s hand and shoved it forward. "If I have to suffer and go sober, so do you!"

"Heartless wench," Shaw muttered, a smirk on her face.

"And don’t you forget it," she laughed back. She looked back at the guard, who nodded. "Let’s Par-TAY!"

*****

The extremely intense sound and light show assaulted Shaw’s senses the moment the Slayerettes walked inside. The music pounded Shaw’s hearing, but she followed Faith’s advice and simply let it flow over her rather than block it out. The combination of strobe, multicolored, and dim fixed lighting created an unusual, yet comfortable atmosphere. She was grateful that it was bright enough so that her unique vision wouldn’t be a concern. < One worry laid to rest. >

The cleric followed Faith through the multitude of dancers. She was led over to the bar, where a thirty-something man served drinks. When he looked at what he assumed were underage patrons about to try and scam alcohol, his face became stern. That look only lasted for a moment until he recognized Faith. Then his stern visage became one of amusement.

She watched as Faith exchanged high-fives with the bartender before turning back to her. "Shaw, this is Bob, the dude who runs this joint," she yelled back to her. "We ran into each other when we exterminated the ‘pests.’ Turns out they were hitting him up for protection money."

He gave her a terse nod. "You a friend of Faith’s?"

"Yes," she answered simply. She glanced at Faith, whose smile turned from playful to wicked.

Faith turned back to the bartender and to Shaw’s immense shock, told him, "Bob, meet our team’s one and only pointy-eared noble Scottie girl commando brat!"

Completely aghast, Shaw shouted, "What are you doing?"

The bartender waved his hand, catching her attention. "You Sun-Descending or Misthold?"

Shaw glanced between the Slayer and the obviously knowledgeable owner of the rave. She turned back to him and evenly said, "Evereska." When he raised an eyebrow, she turned back to Faith, who rolled her eyes.

"He’s okay, girlfriend, sheesh!" Faith turned back to her contact and sweetly said, "Daddy was a Brit, Black Ops, she’s half and half, she’s seventeen! But still no sodas!"

Shaw again looked back to the man, who was nodding in understanding. He apparently saw the uneasy look in her eyes, but shrugged. "We get a few Low Court kids coming up from L. A. every now and then. They don’t cause any trouble, and with whatever that cute little redhead did to keep the bad guys away, it’s safe for everyone. You kids need a place to hang out without the bad seeds coming in." He smiled at her. "But don’t play ‘ken the money.’ I’ll be watching."

Shaw rolled her eyes, causing Faith, who was leaning over the counter grinning at her, to laugh at her. She glanced at the smiling Slayer and asked, "So where do we begin?"

"Center stage, Kay!" she answered, gripping Shaw’s shoulder and turning toward the dance floor. "Catch ya later, Bobbie Boy!"

Shaw allowed her mercurial friend to guide her out into the crowd, reassured that this was, indeed, a safe place. < May nothing interfere with our good time, > she prayed.

*****

The saucy Slayer led her willing accomplice in fun out onto the dance floor. The pair ducked and weaved their way through the dancers as Faith tried to find a suitable location for her and Shaw to strut their stuff.

< Well, why not take center stage? > she decided. She shot a glance over her left shoulder and said, "I know where we’re setting up! Come on!"

"As if I have a choice?" Redeye shouted back, failing to control a bit of laughter.

They were lucky; Faith arrived at the spot she had wanted just as the song ended. As the music died and the crowd settled, anticipating the next piece, Faith knew it was just the calm before the storm.

She chose her spot and set Shaw up too, about three feet away and facing her. With mischief in her eyes, the Slayer Supreme once again took a moment to admire her handiwork. "Damn it, Shaw, if you’d let the guys see you like this..." She laughed at Shaw’s "phfft." "Hey, you could at least think about it! Let me take the credit I’m due, right?" The two laughed again, Shaw nervously tugging at the split on her left sleeve. "Stop fidgeting! You look GREAT!"

"Thank you," Shaw said, her nerves being replaced by a bit of gratitude.

"No prob," she countered, glancing at the DJ’s table. Seeing him sliding another CD in, she turned back to the other. "Get ready. Just feel it, like Luke with the Force! Let it flow, sister! If you have problems, just follow my lead!"

Shaw grinned wickedly. "That is how I got into this mess to begin with!"

"Smartass! Just let yourself go and feel the BEAT!" she boomed at the exact moment said beat started blasting. It took half a second for Faith to recognize the song. < PERFECT! Talk about an "Oldie but Goodie!" > "All RIGHT! Shaw, this one is easy! Just do what I do!"

"Slay in the nude?" she asked, but Faith ignored her.

Faith started rolling her shoulders in tune with the music, the left first, followed by the right. She slowly increased her shoulders’ movement; at the beginning, her arms had stayed at her sides, but she began bending in small increments until her shoulders were bent ninety degrees, instinctively adding one side of her torso or the other moving in time with its appropriate side, then working down to adding the slight swaying of her hips. By the time the singer started doing his part, she was totally in the groove.

*****

The nature priestess fought down her first impulse to cringe at the high volume music. Instead she focused on Faith, who was watching her with a full, friendly smile. It seemed she was intent on helping Shaw get started; she started slowly rather than bursting into full motion as was her custom. She tried mimicking her friend’s movements, with some success; Faith nodded and stared increasing her pace.

Recognizing that she had been left to her own devices, Shaw felt a shot of glee at Faith’s confidence that she was going to be able to handle herself. < Maybe I have the so-called "basics" of this song down? >

Shaw still moved as Faith did while the words of the fast-paced song began to pour forth. Faith’s eyes were closed; she was in the zone, as the others referred to it. Shaw tried to do the same. She closed her eyes and tried to move in accordance with how she felt the music directed her.

Like she had the previous night, Shaw submerged her conscious mind and allowed her instincts to take over. This time, those instincts weren’t based on survival, but rather her innate love of music.

Without realizing, she swayed in much the same way as Faith, though there were slight differences in style.

*****

Faith had left Shaw to boogey down in her own fashion, wanting her to have her own experience and not just doing as she did. She let the song rock her; this was one of her favorites from the "old days" of the 80’s.

She somehow knew, on raw instinct, that she and her partner were catching looks from somewhere. So what, they were free to watch all they wanted. That was the whole point; showing off their goodies for others and not just themselves.

Faith opened her eyes just to see how Hunter was making out. As she’d hoped, Library Girl’s eyes were shut like she was asleep, but she had done what Faith had told her to do; she was getting down!

She also saw the difference between them; Faith reacted in time to the music, working with it to get into a groove. She was also more expressive; she moved her body more freely. Shaw wasn’t working with the music, the music was doing the work. Shaw let the music draw her in and direct her dancing, absorbed in the song instead of concentrating on it.

< Still, Cordy’s lessons have worked, > the Slayer noted. < Too bad I don’t have a video of this... >

Having taken all of this in less than ten seconds, Faith once again closed her eyes and totally cut loose, removing all restraints on her dancing. < And hopefully getting some beefcake wanting to come down and say, "What’s up." >

The two girls continued dancing, without a care in the world, save for basking in the company of their friendship.

The song continued, Faith again subconsciously loving how right it was that it had been the perfect piece to begin their night at the rave. Through the speakers, booming and bracketing the bodies of Faith and Shaw, Robert Palmer droned on...

"SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE...SHE’S SO FINNNNNE, THERE’S NO TELLING WHERE THE MONEY WENT

SHE’S SO FINNNNNE, THERE’S NO OTHER WAY TO GOOOOO..."

*****

Shaw’s mind returned to the here and now when she stumbled on her wedged heels. She was only saved from tumbling onto her posterior by a pair of strong yet gentle female hands gripping her biceps.

"Whoa there, Hunter! Don’t go falling on your tush!" Faith playfully scolded her.

Shaw’s eyes took a second to clear. She brushed her bangs out of her face and looked around. The crowd was standing around, not doing anything. In confusion, she looked back at her friend. "What happened?" she asked, still a touch lightheaded.

"The song’s over, that’s what happened," Faith snickered in response. She beamed with pride. "You did great, Shaw! I never knew you had it in you!"

"What..."

"You don’t remember?" Faith nodded. "Damn, you really let the music take over. You were really groovin’, least for someone with your lack of time doing it this way. We’ll do a few more, than take a break and see if any fish take the bait!"

"Bait?"

"Do I gotta spell it out for you? B-O-Y-S!" she smiled.

Shaw’s confidence plummeted. "Faith, I..."

"We’re just hanging, Shaw! No setups! But spending social time with people will do you good," Faith countered. Shaw remained silent, knowing that she had her best interests at heart, not to mention wanting to have fun. "I know you’re not in dating mode, I wouldn’t do that to you. It’s just us, having a fun old time together. So loosen back up, okay?"

Shaw took Faith’s hands in her own, buoyed by the other’s unquenchable spirit. "Okay. Let us have fun."

"That’s my Trekkie Hottie."

"Faith!"

*****

Despite her suggestion that they dance for a few songs, it was a good hour and a half before Faith and Shaw were both winded enough to take their first break. Faith was giddy, for several reasons; she was on her night off, she was feeling a rush that was purely herself and not given a spirit steroid by the "’Lika in the Machine," she wasn’t alone, and she was so pleased with not only her success with getting Shaw to loosen up, but with how eager her partner was to put the lessons to work.

Faith saw a couple leaving a table and waved at them. "You guys done with that?"

The couple looked her way; the woman nodded with a smile. "Help yourself!" she snapped over the techno-beat smashing people’s eardrums.

"Thanks!" she called back. She and Shaw briskly walked over before someone else called "dibs." Faith gratefully sat down, placed her elbows on the table, and raised her hands to catch her drooping head. "Gawd, sister! I thought you’d be pooped long ago. Didn’t anyone ever tell you to pace yourself?"

"I am at something of a loss myself," her fellow party girl replied, panting to catch her breath. "I pride myself on my condition, but I am no Amazon or Slayer. This..." She seemed at a total loss to explain her source of energy, but still smiled. "By Mielikki, that was fun."

Now it was Faith who got caught up in someone’s mood. "I told you we’d have a great time!"

"Yes," she admitted, taking one deep breath to steady herself. She toyed with her sleeve again. "I am glad we are doing this, Faith."

Faith beamed; Shaw wasn’t the only one who’d needed this. "Me too, She-Who-Does-Not-Work-For-Santa-Claus, me too. But even I’m at the point that we need a time out. We’ll sit for a few, then go back out for round two. Okay with you?"

Shaw nodded with a grin of anticipation, wanting it just as much as she did. < Good! >

A shadow fell across their table, making them look up. Faith smiled upon seeing it was Bob. "Hey, Bob, how’s it hanging?"

"Pretty good," he said with the barest touch of a smile. "You girls were really getting the attention out there."

"Like I could possibly not get attention," she gushed, tugging at the shoulders of her dress. "When you’re hot, you’re hot." She just continued grinning while Holy Girl covered her laughing mouth with a hand. "So whatcha need? Don’t tell me you want us to go on the clock."

"Nah," he said, "just thought I’d take your orders."

"Thanks. I’ll have a Coke, skimp on the ice. Don’t want it watered down." He gave Faith a mock look of offense. She just turned her grin to the woman next to her. "How’s about you, Elrond?"

"Orange juice, please."

"Be right back."

He walked off and the Boston Chosen One watched his butt before turning back to Hunter with a toss of her brown hair. She saw something over Shaw’s shoulder, so she leaned in and said sotto voce, "Get ready for fun."

*****

Before Shaw could ask what Faith meant, she was startled by a male voice. "Hi."

She turned around and saw two young men standing there, both around twenty years of age. < Obviously college students. > She kept her face neutral but not unkind and gave him a small nod. "Hello."

His partner, a blue-eyed blonde with a polo shirt, khakis, and a trim build, glanced between her and Faith. "Mind if we sit down?"

Faith answered for both of them. "Sure," she said with more pleasure than Shaw found comfortable. To heighten that discomfort, Faith switched to the chair directly opposite hers before giving the blonde her best smile. "Take a seat!"

"Thanks," he said, sitting on Shaw’s left, the seat vacated by the Slayer. "I’m Mike."

"And I’m Josh," said his partner, whose hair was a darker shade of blonde. He sat down and held a hand out to Shaw. "Pleased to meet you."

"Really," Shaw said with a raised eyebrow. She shook his hand and introduced herself. "Shaw Hunter."

"I’m Faith," her teammate added. Shaw could hear the level of enjoyment in Faith’s voice increasing.

"Faith, huh?" the man named Mike said with a smile. He looked between Faith and her before asking, "You two aren’t local, are you."

*****

Faith, her elbows on the table, linked her fingers and rested her chin on them. "We both live here now, Mikey. But yeah, we’re not Dale raised. Hunter here’s from the land of kilts and bagpipes, I’m one hundred PER-cent South Boston city girl."

She tried not to roll her eyes at the smile that came to his face. "Really? Interesting."

< Yeah, right. Come on, stud. At least make me think there’s something in that noggin of yours. > "How about you guys? Are you guys local studs or are you imported?"

Josh answered, looking at Shaw as Faith looked, and was, more interested in his friend. "I’m from San Diego. I’m going to Crestwood, majoring in Journalism." He glanced at Faith. "Mike majors in Drama."

< A Tom Cruise wannabe. Hmm. > Faith turned her eyes away from Josh. < Let Shaw do what she wants with him. > She focused back on the subject of her attention. "So you wanna be an actor, huh? Tough field."

Mike shook his head. "No, not acting. I want to be a screenwriter. I want to make movies, not be in them."

That little tidbit raised Faith’s evaluation of his brainpower. Now she was interested; he had a decent bod, not in Beefy Blaisdell’s class, but then who did. < And he has at least some brains. Beats Kenny the Drummer, hands down. > "So what brings you guys to our table? I mean, besides talking about school."

"We were watching you out there," he said, inclining his head at the floor. "You two are hot. Thought we’d come over and see if you wanted some company." His smile widened, showing his perfect teeth. "What do you say?"

She glanced at Hunter, who seemed a bit uncomfortable, either with the idea of dancing with a guy or not having fun with her. < This is part of getting over it, girl. You know what they say; if you fall off the horse, get right back in the saddle. > She decided to try more of her form of "inspiration." "Sure, Mikey," she replied, grinning in Shaw’s direction. "I can’t speak for Scottie here, but I’m willing to cut a rug with you." She stood up and turned to go to the floor, but not before shooting a saucy look over her shoulder. Making her voice teasing and husky, she told her new find, "I just hope you can keep up."

That challenge laid down, the Slayer marched forward, heels clacking against the floor.

*****

Shaw and Josh watched as his friend and hers disappeared into the mass of humanity. < Poor pun, half-elf. > she sighed. She took a sip of her juice as the college student turned back to her.

"So what do you think?" he asked, looking expectantly at her.

"I do not think he can keep up with her," she said after swallowing, attempting to buy time or quell her nervousness. "Faith has energy to spare at all times, it seems."

"No, I meant..." he started, looking somewhat self-conscious. Drawing circles on the tabletop, he said, "You want to dance? I’ll understand if..."

"I..." Shaw said at the same time, the two looking at each other before sharing a laugh. Shaw’s eyes wandered; she couldn’t meet his eyes or keep from blushing. Finally, she met his gaze. "I apologize... Josh." She cocked her head, listening to the music that had just started back up, her returning desire for adventure fighting against her shyness and inexperience. "Perhaps we can go out onto the floor once this song ends. I... I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to start up in the middle of a song."

Josh laughed at her, drawing a raised eyebrow from her. "Sorry," he said, holding both hands up. "It’s okay. I don’t want to pressure you." He folded his arms on the table. "So, what’s someone from England doing here in California?"

Shaw smiled tightly. < You do not hesitate, do you? > She took another sip of her drink. "I have family here in America. Since my immediate family passed away, I took the opportunity to come here." She gave him a look to convey her emotions. "And I have no intention of leaving."

"So you’re here for good," he said, not asking a question. She nodded to him. "Good for you." He paused for a second before going on. "So what do you do for fun? I mean, I’ve been here lots of times, but I’ve never seen you before."

Glad for a question she didn’t mind answering, the young woman smiled. "This is my first time here. I usually go to the Bronze with mine and Faith’s friends. But in my private time, I have several activities; archery, martial arts, Riverdance-style music, and I play your average medieval flute-playing wench at the Renn Faire near San Luis Obispo." She shrugged. "While I do not engage in such, I also enjoy baseball, softball, and I am a great fan of professional wrestling."

"You?!?" he blurbed in surprise. "You’re a WWF fan?"

"I watch both federations, actually," Shaw said, smiling at finding some common ground, however strange it was. "Who are your favorites?"

"Stone Cold, Triple H, Goldberg, and the Steiners. You?"

Shaw started ticking off fingers. "Kevin Nash, Rey Misterio, Juventud Guerrera, the Undertaker, and the Rock." Her eyes became wickedly humorous. "I myself have a very powerful inzeguri kick."

Josh’s eyes went wide at that image. Shaw actually started giggling at that. "You actually..."

"I used it on a sparring partner once, during a martial arts class," Shaw told him, recalling the time at Steve’s. "Needless to say, neither my partner nor my sensei were amused." She tilted her head as mystified by something. "My classmates, on the other hand, rubbed it in on her for days."

Josh laughed at her story. Shaking his head, he asked, "You won’t do that to me during the dance, will you?"

Shaw considered him with a lopsided smile. "Let us make a deal. If I try that, you have my permission to retaliate by suplexing me through a table."

He nodded with a twinkle of anticipation. "Deal." The song ended and the music was replaced with the low-level buzz of multiple conversations. The Journalism major looked to her, allowing her to make the decision. "Shall we dance, Hunter?"

"Yes," she said, draining the rest of her drink. She glanced over at Bob, who nodded to her and started walking over to refill the glasses. She stood up, determined to do her best to enjoy herself despite her jangling nerves. "But please, call me Shaw."

"Sure, Shaw."

He held out an elbow, which she took and allowed him to take the lead. He found a vacant spot and turned to her. "I assume you’ll want to lead?"

She folded her arms and her eyes gleamed. "Oh, I suppose I could let you lead. But you had best do a good job, so do not, as your people say, ‘blow it.’"

Josh grinned at her and Shaw felt a rush from it; she actually felt fortunate about meeting this man. She nodded to him and said, "You lead."

The song started up and he stepped forward to take the lead. She allowed him to guide her around but was suddenly confused when he turned her around as the slow song began playing. She’d seen this type before and her first instinct was to bolt. The instinct was only heightened by her recent past and then, the words of the song began, a slow melody sung by a male artist. The song should have embarrassed Shaw; she’d heard it before and had been scandalized by such a song.

"I WANT TO LICK YOU UP AND DOWN... ‘TIL YOU SAY STOP. I WANT TO PLAY WITH YOUR BODY BABY, MAKE YOU FEEL HOT... ‘CAUSE TONIGHT BABY, I WANT TO GET FREAKY WITH YOUUUU..."

She stiffened when she realized that she was still on the floor, slowly swaying back and forth to the music. Confusion flowed through her when Josh brought his hands around her slim waist and held her close. She felt the pain of Raidon’s death, but she still fought against it, unwilling to let it ruin her night or hurt the feelings of the man she’d just agreed to share this song with. She closed her eyes tight, trying to fall into the song like she’d done all night.

Slowly, she began moving less in time with Josh, and more in synch with the song. She felt him subtly adjust to her movements rather than the other way around. She was surprised to find that she appreciated it, as well as not minding the feelings of attraction to this method of interaction.

Eyes closed, she craned her neck and at the same time, took Josh’s hands and moved them upward, to her stomach. She leaned back into him, uncaring, perhaps seeking comfort in his close proximity. She felt his surprise, but gave him silent thanks when he seemed to understand that she somehow needed to feel him. Still letting her control his hands, he gently brought her back to him, the two silently, slowly swaying in place.

*****

From their spot on the balcony, overlooking the crowd on ground zero, Faith and her partner-of-the-moment watched their respective friends getting very, very close.

"Damn," Faith said, shaking her head a bit in disbelief. "I didn’t think she’d do it."

"Get that close, or dance at all?" the aspiring screenwriter asked, grinning at the pair below.

"Well, both, really," she admitted. She smiled and said, "But she’s had it rough lately. She lost a guy, but it’s been two months. She’s gotta move on."

Mike glanced at her, and she just knew he was more interested in her assets than Shaw’s background. "So you brought her here to meet someone?"

Faith waved him off. "Shit, no! She needed to get out and have some fun. Figured coming here, without our friends around, would do two things for her; she doesn’t have to behave at all, let alone how they think she should, and she doesn’t have to see her cuz and everyone else with their snugglebunnies." She smiled. "Me, though, I don’t mind dancing with any hunk worth my time." She started walking toward the steps, wiggling one finger in the classic "come hither" motion, with her own slow way of doing it to get him to want to join her that much quicker. "Let’s dance, College Boy."

She led the way down, checking on Hunter one last time before she and her own stud were lost in the crowd and getting into the groove themselves.

*****

Faith wiggled in close to her partner, enjoying both the heat between them and the way he admired her bod. < So...he has great taste! > Just as they all but molded themselves to each other, the song ended, ruining their mood and leaving them both hot. Faith ruefully thought, < Would those Slayers in need of a cold shower please raise their hands? >

Bringing her attention back to the hunk of man in front of her, Faith noticed he was pretty well pooped. She gave Mike her pouty eyes. "Don’t tell me you’re too tired to keep going."

He put his hands up in surrender. "I could use a break, sweetheart."

She fought to keep the smile on her face from breaking into laughter. < Faith, to Hottie, and now Sweetheart. He hasn’t called me ‘kid’ or ‘girl’ once. Cool so far. > She sighed in defeat. "Okay, let’s grab a chair and some drinks. Maybe a sugar rush will get your energy back up." < I don’t want to give up on you, you seem pretty cool. But try to keep it up with the compliments. That just might improve your chances of seeing me again. >

Mike and the Slayerette waltzed back to their table, where Shaw and her semi-date were already seated, talking about wrestling.

< Wrestling. Of all the things to have in common, they watch wrestling. To each their own, I guess. At least they’re hitting it off. Great, maybe we’ll both find steadies tonight. That’d be good, for both of us. > Pushing back her own heated emotions, Faith decided to find out about Shaw’s good time. She flippantly asked, "So you two didn’t need the jaws of life to pry yourselves apart, huh?" As she expected, her teasing comment got Shaw all embarrassed about her having seen that number. Josh just smiled back and shrugged.

"Neither of us complained," he offered diplomatically. He glanced at Shaw, who was trying, and failing miserably, not to go into Shy Mode. "At least I enjoyed it."

The Slayer enjoyed the view of Shaw slowly twisting her glass around. "I... I did, too," she confessed, blushing deeper.

"Glad to hear it," Faith said as she plopped into her seat. "So you two hitting it off?"

Josh looked at the half-elf, who watched him for a bit before answering. "I’d like to think so." He smiled at her, making the big, bad Hunter act like a schoolgirl.

"Well, I’m glad we’re hitting it off, too." He looked at her empty glass. "You ladies want refills on your drinks?"

Faith shook her head. "Nah, I got a better idea." She smiled brilliantly at the boys. "Me and sis here are off to the ladies’ room to talk about you behind your backs, decide if we want to keep you or switch hunks, and come back out for more fun with you." She flashed a seductive pose for both of them. "See, any other girls would’ve said, ‘We’re going to wash our hands.’ I’m a straight shooter, dig? Be back in a few! C’mon, Hunter."

She headed for the bathroom, Shaw tagging along with a goofy smile on her face.

*****

Mike kept his eyes locked on the high school babes as they left him and his roommate alone to await their return. He slumped against the back of the chair and tried not to be too frustrated by that Faith chick leaving him hanging.

"So how are you doing?" Josh asked with a chuckle.

He glanced sidelong at his friend before he stared at the bathroom door. "I tell you, that Pryce hottie doesn’t hold back, Josh! She goes full bore from the get-go, takes everything you got, and all but eggs you on to keep it coming. The girl’s insatiable!"

"I hear you," the other sophomore agreed. "Maybe we should go to Boston on break. Got to be more where she came from. But how about tonight?"

"At the rate we’re already going," he said, only half jokingly, "I’ll be lucky if I make it that far." Mike then went to Josh’s girl. "So how does it look for you with that Brit? She’s not in my girl’s league, but not bad at all."

"I’m not sure," the other college man admitted. He folded his arms and shrugged. "I’m kind of getting mixed signals from her. I mean, she’s polite, formal, and very blunt, but the girl likes wrestling, baseball, those Middle Ages carnivals, and she goes back and forth between that stiff British reserve and being reckless. I think her friend brings out the animal in her a bit." He frowned a tad. "All in all, she seems like a good kid."

"So what are you going to do?" Mike inquired with a sly look in his blue eyes.

Josh grinned back as he reached for Shaw’s empty juice glass. "I’m going to refill her drink."

Mike knew what he meant, but considered the glass in Josh’s hand. "You sure?"

"She’s drinking fruit drinks, Mike. She’s not sucking booze, so that lowers the danger of something happening that’s out of our control. I’ll be careful with her."

Mike simply nodded in response.

*****

Shaw put her hands behind her back as Faith leaned against the sink, grinning at her.

Faith drawled, "So you enjoying yourself, Hunter?"

Shaw hoped her eyes didn’t betray the excitement she was feeling. "I am, very much so." She looked at the floor and shuffled her feet. "Faith, my first dance with Josh, I..."

"Hot and heavy," Faith drawled out, sounding very pleased by that fact. Shaw started to stammer a protest, but Faith pushed off the sink and happily said, "Before you get literally blue in the face, let me tell you what I think, Paleface. I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, you wanted to do what you did out there. Hear me out; the only time you’ve ever gotten close to any man in that way, he got taken from you. It’s bound to make you gun shy. Maybe you’re afraid that if you let yourself get close to a guy again, he’ll die on you." She paused, letting a rare moment of softness penetrate the tough girl exterior. "Believe me, kiddo, if there’s one thing I know about, it’s wanting to be loved by someone," she said distantly.

Shaw understood, feeling the same pain. She took Faith’s hand to show that. "Me, too." She nervously asked, "So it was all right? I just..." She took a deep breath before confessing, "I enjoyed that dance, Faith. But I do not know why. He... he is a complete stranger."

"Maybe it didn’t matter." Faith smiled at her, showing affection and understanding. "Maybe what you needed was to clear some kind of ‘can I feel anything again’ hurdle. I dunno. The point is, whatever you needed to do, you did it. You can still feel stuff with a guy who isn’t a friend or family, even if it’s just that tingly feeling, for just one dance. Now..." she said, switching to another subject, "no more mushy stuff, let’s talk meat! You kosher with Josh, or you wanna give Mike a spin? I more than warmed him up for you."

Shaw tried to frown at her friend’s seemingly cavalier attitude, but knowing she was just pulling her leg made her lose that battle somewhat convincingly. Her lips curved upward and she "scolded" the junior Slayer. "That would not be fair, Faith. They seem like nice people, and you should not try to hurt..."

Faith looked at her wrist like she was wearing a watch. "We done with the lecture now?"

Shaw joined her for a bout of laughter. She chuckled, "I am satisfied with Josh, Faith." She turned her head to the door for a second. "He seems nice. Who knows, perhaps..." She stopped and looked into the younger fighter’s darker shaded eyes. "Perhaps it might actually lead somewhere."

"Well, I wouldn’t go that far," Faith muttered, "but we’ll see how it goes tonight. If you want, you can always get his number."

Shaw nodded. "Mike seems to enjoy your company."

"More like my bod, but yeah. But he got tired way too quick." She sighed before her lips twitched, trying to send her into another laughing fit. "Okay, he’s fairly hunky in that white bread, dorky, suburban boy kinda way, and it looks like he scores in the smarts department. He’s pretty free with the compliments, so that doesn’t hurt. But you know me; I look for the angle to everything. Can’t help it." Shaw nodded, but Faith shrugged in a calm manner, though the hungry look in her eyes suggested to the cleric that the other junior wouldn’t mind another go around with the older student. "I think I’m up for more action, even if it’s just dancing or smooching." With that quicksilver mood she was famous for, Faith smiled back at her. "But this is still our night, sister!"

Shaw’s heart lifted at Faith’s declaration. "All right. Shall we?"

"Let’s motor!"

*****

Faith was the first one back to the table, her normal desire for action making her rush. She sat down, crossed one leg over the other, and gave Mike a joking smile. "I decided to keep you for now, buddy boy. Want to try the floor again?"

Mike smiled in good humor and stood up. Extending an arm toward the other dancers, he quipped, "After you, Faith."

She looked him up and down, appraising his frame. "Hmmm. Too bad you don’t have a tie. I could lead you out there by it." She batted her eyelashes at him. "Oh well, let’s dance."

She walked onto the floor with Mike, Slayer and Drama man holding hands. Once they picked their spot, they turned and faced each other.

"You ready, Mikey?" Faith teased him, letting her eagerness show in her brown-green eyes.

He grinned back at her. "I’ll take whatever you can dish out, doll!"

The two felt their energy levels rise in anticipation of the song; they wanted to cut loose! The DJ slid in the newest CD and hit the music. A hard rock riff came to life over the sound system.

Faith grinned at her partner and burst into a frenzy of bodily motion, totally at home with this unrestrained way of doing things. She just left Mike to do what he wanted to do; go wild, be subdued, or stand there watching her entertain him. She certainly didn’t have a problem with that scenario.

< Enjoy the show, Mikey! >

*****

Shaw laughed at the initial look of worry on Mike’s face as Faith’s "living large" attitude concerned him in that he might be left in her proverbial dust for the second time that night.

Josh also grinned and jokingly asked, "Do you find more girls like her in Boston?"

Shaw took a good portion of her newest drink, but shook her head. "No, Ireland." Off his puzzled reaction to her cryptic answer, she nodded at Faith. "Her joke, not mine.

He turned back to watch their respective friends, but Shaw felt a twinge of jealousy. < Why do I get the feeling he is not watching his friend, but mine... > She stopped when she answered her own question. < Because she has attributes in places where most women, like me, do not. >

Feeling warm inside from all the activities she and Faith were sharing, Shaw took a long draught from her glass, leaving it only half-full. She thought she tasted something a little funny, but didn’t care. She had more important, more fun things to think about.

Josh had now turned his attention back to her and was staring at the glass. "Wow. You’re thirsty tonight."

"Dancing is thirsty work," she said easily. She folded her arms and leaned forward. "Should I bring up the fact that you were watching Faith rather than me? That has been known to make a woman jealous, or so I am told." At his horrified look of shock, she couldn’t help herself; she lost herself in laughter. She gazed into his blanked out eyes and favored him with a smile of genuine warmth. "I am sorry, but the look on your face... I was only teasing you, Josh." She tried to make a straight face but didn’t have any luck at all. Thankfully, he seemed to get the joke at his expense and shook his head, laughing at himself. "I have seen it so many times, it is not funny. Part of it is my own way of dressing. Faith is the halter top, miniskirt, and heels type, while I favor silk blouses or sheer shirts, tight or dancer-style blue jeans, and boots." She held out a hand to him. "Let us shake on it; no more jokes at your expense."

"No, that’s okay," he chuckled in return. His eyes broadcast that he didn’t mind her funning him. "It’s okay." He glanced at the floor for a very brief second. "So do you want to dance again?"

Shaw considered his offer but decided that she wanted a break. "Perhaps in a bit, Josh. I apologize, but I do not have Faith’s reserves of energy. Unlike a certain Irish American, I need to pace myself."

Josh leaned forward to whisper something. She leaned forward so she could hear him tell her, "Mike said the same thing."

"My lips are sealed." The two laughed again. Shaw liked this fellow; she seemed to get along with him easily. As they both turned back to watch their friends rocking in the crowd, Shaw subtly shifted her eyes back to Josh. She flashed back to the first dance they’d shared, and again, she felt that "tingly" feeling that Faith had mentioned. She liked it. She wanted to dance with him again, but she was still a little tired. In fact, she had started to feel a bit lightheaded. < Thus my need for a break. > She sighed. < Now I see part of what Faith means by hot and bothered. I lack the energy to do anything right now, and I lack the patience to let my energy return. I want to have some fun! I suppose it is a good thing I do not normally use my magic casually, or I would waste an Endurance spell right about now. >

The song ended and Shaw glanced at Faith and Mike, who were walking toward them. Faith was grinning from ear to ear as she said, "Hey, kiddo, me and Mike are gonna share another dance or two, then maybe find someplace private." Shaw’s face became concerned, but Faith waved her off. "Don’t worry about me, I’ll be back in no time! Just remember, this is our table. Bob’ll hold it for us."

"All right," she said, quelling her natural concern for someone she loved being out of sight. < Faith can take care of herself, perhaps better than anyone on the team. > She glanced at the grinning Mike. "Do not get too much lipstick on him."

"Smartass!" Faith chimed, turning to Mike and saying, "Come on, screenwriter. Maybe I’ll give you ideas for a musical or a skin flick!"

Mike’s face blushed as she led him out onto the floor.

Shaw leaned over to Josh. Out the side of her mouth, she said, "They should give your friend a Victoria’s Cross if he lasts another twenty minutes."

"A what?" the confused student asked.

"British version of your Medal of Honor," she translated, finishing the joke. "For valor and distinguished service in dealing with a five-by-five, fancy free Irish Bostonian, which is above and beyond the call of duty. Not to mention nearly impossible at times."

Josh couldn’t disagree, but he did stand up for his pal. "Hey, he’s got stamina to spare! You should see our all-night cram sessions!"

< You should see our all-nighter vampire hunts, > she countered silently. "Oh, believe me, I have had some of my own." She started to pick up her glass again, but it slipped out of her grasp. She winced at the "thump" of the container hitting the tabletop.

Josh saw it too. He asked her, "Are you all right?"

"I..." She shook her head to clear it. "I think I am just tired. I have had a busy day." She smiled at him, though she knew he saw how hard it was for her to concentrate. "But I am still glad I came."

His concern still didn’t vanish. He stood up and walked over to her. "Are you sure you’re okay? You want me to call Faith back?"

"No!" she blurted; the last thing she wanted to do was impede Faith’s good time. She looked over at them, all but glued together as they danced to a slow song. She again felt happy that her fellow junior was enjoying herself. "I am not going to ruin anything for her."

"Well, how about some air? Maybe that’ll clear your head?"

Shaw smiled at him wanly, touched by his obvious concern over her feeling a wee bit tired. Still, it seemed like a good suggestion. "Perhaps..." She allowed Josh to help her stand up. "Let’s step out. I don’t think we’ll be gone too long."

Josh smiled back at her, and the lightheaded priestess felt the heat rising up in her ears, but for once... < I don’t care. >

Shaw turned in the vague, general direction of the nearest exit and let Josh walk with her, guiding her by holding her arms.

*****

Faith reached behind her back and took Mike’s right hand. She guided it from the small of her back and placed it a little lower. She then forced him to guide her even closer to him. She could feel the heat rising between them and she was doing everything she could to keep it rising. She fed off of it and the rush it gave her, left her wanting more.

It wasn’t as intense as the juice her body possessed when she fought and dusted vamps, but it still gave her that heady feeling she craved. Finally, when her chest lightly brushed his, and she could feel the contact through the fabric of her dress, the Slayer decided it was time to end the preliminaries and get to the mid-card.

She reached up, grabbed Mike’s chin, and smooshed his lips with a kiss. After fifteen seconds, she ended the smooch so she could inhale some oxygen. She looked into his eyes and saw... awe.

"Whoa, Pryce. That was a smacker and a half," he dully commented.

She pouted. "And here I thought it was at least one and three quarters." She grabbed his shirt and crinkled the fabric. "I think we’ve danced enough. What say you and me find a corner, stop going for singles, and try to stroke a double, huh?"

"I don’t have a problem with that," he replied, seeming to be still somewhat dazed by the whirlwind pace she had set. "I say, let’s try for that double..."

"Batter up," Faith drawled, leaving the floor with him. They walked with a purpose, barging through protesting dancers and striding out the main entrance.

Faith led Mike around the corner and the two stared at each other for a few seconds before Faith placed her palms against his chest and none too gently pushed him against the wall.

"Uh, Pryce..."

"The name’s Faith," she said huskily, her eyes staring into his with hunger and intensity. "Now less talk, more lip action." She once again wrinkled the fabric of his polo shirt in her hands, stood on her tiptoes, and locked her lips onto his.

In five seconds, their eyes were closed. Mike pushed off the wall for some room and embraced the smooching Slayer. She released his now scruffy shirt and clamped her hands around the sides of his head, opening her mouth so that they could deepen the kiss. Mike seemed to get caught up in her lust and returned it with an intensity of his own.

Faith’s mind became awash with the explosion of arousal the rush always gave her. She reveled in the sensations and sought more; it seemed like she could never get enough. She did more than try to feed off of her own savage instincts; she opened up her perceptions, physical and mystical, so that she might feel what the hunk of manhood holding her was emitting.

His hands roamed up and down her body. She didn’t stop him; it only fed her cravings. She did the same, including copping a feel of his butt cheeks. His own lust shot up geometrically, giving her even more of what she wanted. She felt her "cup" overflowing but it still wasn’t enough. She needed more. She tried to determine what it was she needed, desperate to get that missing piece.

A momentary flash surfaced, a fragment of a memory. The image of a pale-skinned man with pointy ears, smiling at her, his dancing black eyes showing a look of tenderness she’d never seen before. That single look, that simple expression of true feeling, had been flash-burned into her consciousness during the entire blur of Midsummer.

The Slayer’s eyes popped open in shock. She froze in Mike’s grasp, her mouth hanging open and her arms losing their strength. Mike continued making out until he realized that she had stopped participating. She didn’t even notice his confusion, because she was staring past him, into her own memories.

"Faith? Are you all right?" he asked, sounding confused and letting a bit of frustration into his words.

"I-I..." she started before gulping. She looked into his eyes and stared into them, trying to read them. She saw what she had expected to see; lust, passion, desire. But it was what she needed to see that was missing from those blue eyes. Her mind even put a name to it, to let her know exactly what she had to have in order to get the full measure of happiness with a man. < Love. >

"What’s going on, Faith?" Mike asked again. He released her and looked at her strangely. "Earth to hottie? What’s going on?"

Faith looked at him, startled out of her epiphany. She gathered her thoughts and hugged herself to ward off the chill of her discovery of his lack of true emotion for her. "I’m sorry, I..." She looked at him, an apology in her eyes. "I’m sorry, Mike, but I can’t go any further. This was a mistake and..."

"A mistake?!?" he shouted.

"I’m sorry, okay!" she snapped, trying not to get pissed at him for yelling at her; she was as frustrated as he was. "It’s not your fault, all right? It’s not you, it’s... I just need more than this. That’s the way it is. I’m sorry and I don’t blame you for being pissed off about this."

"That’s it? You’re SORRY?!?" he shouted, staring her down. "Then what the FUCK was this whole thing about tonight?!?"

"I’m SORRY!" she yelled, fighting back her tears. < I am NOT gonna look weak! I am NOT gonna let him get me down! It’s not... > "It’s not YOU, dammit. It’s ME. There’s just... I need love, okay? I..."

"What a crock, bitch!" the guy snidely interrupted. He feigned looking faint and placed the back of one hand against his forehead. "I need LOVE!" he said in a falsetto voice before turning back to the trembling Slayer. "Lemme tell you something, bitch! You got me worked up, you’re gonna deliver!"

"Like HELL, dipshit!" the now irate woman shouted, fire welling up in her dark eyes. "I said it wasn’t you, I said it was ME! So blame me, fine! But get over it!"
Faith turned and started to storm off in a huff, no longer close to crying, but leaning toward fury. < NO ONE tells me I’m gonna DELIVER!!! > Before she had taken five steps, someone grabbed a handful of her brown hair and jerked her head back, sending shards of agony throughout her scalp. "OW!"

"Don’t you walk away from me, you cunt!"

Faith felt the older guy grab her shoulder and whip her around. She saw the denied lust in his eyes and felt revulsion twist her gut. Her Slayer-enhanced instincts registered the hand reaching back and shooting forward. In a flash, months of hand-to-hand training combined with millennia of magical heritage stopped the oncoming blow.

Faith caught Mike’s slap with both hands and, in one fluid motion, twisted under the outstretched arm and twisted it behind his back, locking the arm into a hammerlock. Mike screamed out in pain, but Faith didn’t release him. Instead, she shoved him against the wall and kept the hold in place with her right hand. She used her left to pinch a specific nerve at the base of his neck and squeezed, sending fresh signals of pain into Pushy Boy’s cranium.

"OWOWOWOW!!!" he yelled. "HELP!!"

"Shut up, Mikeeeeeey," the furious Slayer said with a honeyed tone. She pushed him further into the wall, the grip on his arm tightening and extracting fresh yelps from her dance partner < FORMER! >. "Lissen up you son of a bitch! I came here to have a good time, I admit it! But that does not mean you’re gonna spread my legs and dip your stick just ‘cause you want to! God DAMN you! I SAID I was sorry, but nooooooooo! You decide you’re gonna RAPE me?!? BULLSHIT!" It took all of Faith’s self control to refrain from just turning Mike around, hauling off, and cracking this shitbag’s jaw. "Tell you what. This is how we’re gonna play it; I’m gonna let you go. You’re gonna walk away, shut the fuck up, and keep it shut. I get my sister. I send Joshie out to find you, whether or not he’s a stand up guy or piece of dog shit like you. You walk away just barely skipping a trip to the emergency room." She jerked his arm the slightest bit to get the point across. "Comprende?"

"Y-y-y-yeah, I got it!" he babbled.

"Good! Then I don’t have to kick your ass," she said as she released him. "Word of advice, fuckhead. I got black pantyhose in five, count ‘em, five Bruce Lee dances. I’d just loooove to try them out on you now. Capiche?"

Rubbing his arm, Mike stared at her with newfound fear. Working his jabbering jaw shut, Director Dick turned and staggered off, leaving her alone.

< Afraid of me, jackass? > Faith asked quietly. She sneered a bit and a gleam came to her eye. < Good. >

She turned and reentered the rave, so she could get Redeye and blow this joint and find someplace that didn’t let that type walk in their doors.

*****

Shaw barely felt her legs placing themselves one in front of the other; it was getting hard to move under her own power. The dizzy Slayerette was grateful to Josh for helping her make it this far.

"Hey, you okay?" he asked.

"I don’t think so," she muttered softly. "I’m getting worse. Thank you for helping me."

"Don’t mention it," he said. She missed the undertone of humor in his voice.

She felt him take her arms and guide her backward, almost stumbling. She felt cold brick press against her back and realized he’d propped her against the wall to keep her upright. Shaw took several deep breaths, trying to clear her head, but that tactic failed. "I apologize for not being very good company right now," she joked, sounding distant even to herself.

"Oh, you’re fine company, trust me," he responded. To her hearing, it was like he was at a distance instead of right in front of her, as her vision showed. "It’s okay, you’ll be fine."

"Easy for you to say," she sighed, leaning her head back against the wall. She felt something happening in her lower body and her body reacted; her eyes fluttered shut of their own will, as something made her feel very pleasant.

*****

Faith marched over to the table and groaned when she found a pair of empty chairs. She looked around but didn’t see them dancing together. A twinge of worry twinge gnawed at her anger. < That son of a bitch! The fricking nerve! > She voted against walking around the rave to find Hunter and her hunk; she’d probably miss them while running around like a decapitated chicken.

She glanced at the table and smothered another moan. Her Coke glass was still empty. < Shit. > She glanced at the bar but saw Bob serving shots of liquor to customers. < Double shit. >

Her eye caught Hunter’s half-filled OJ, the ice long gone. Snarling in disgust but deciding breakfast stuff was better than nothing, < The whole half-cup thing >, she picked it up and brought it to her lips. She tilted the glass up with the intention of draining the sucker in one gulp. As soon as the watered down juice hit her tongue, she knew. She spit the mouthful of shit all over the table, coughing to clear her airway.

"What the FUCK!" she shouted, staring at the orange liquid swirling inside the clear glass. < My God, there’s something IN THERE! > She whirled and rose to her feet, starting to panic as she put the pieces together. She knew who had done it; only three people had touched the damn thing; Bob, Shaw, and... "BOB!!!"

The bartender’s face came up, jerking around to see who’d shouted at him. Seeing the panic on her face, he moved as quickly as he could. She picked up the glass and met him halfway.

Shoving the glass at him, she shouted, her voice rising in her panic, "The mother fucker doctored Shaw’s drink! I gotta find her; call the frickin’ cops!"

His eyes wide with concern, the manager turned to do as she had directed. Faith scanned the room, shoving down the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Okay, okay, think, think, think... I’ve slipped her a roofie. It takes about thirty minutes to kick in... for a human! Damn it, Hunter, you can’t eat a Goddamn Hershey bar, what the fuck will that shit do to you!"

Seeing the nearest exit and figuring that Josh wasn’t the type to wait, the Dark Slayer charged the door, a black wall of anger forming in her heart.

< I swear, if you touch her... >

Reaching the door, she shoved with both hands, sending it flying open by cracking the knob and splintering the wood where the hinges were bolted in. She glanced around but didn’t see her sister or Dr. Druggie, so she focused on the only way she knew would give her a shot of saving Shaw. It only took seconds, precious seconds she didn’t have, to get the feeling.

< Millie! > her mind screamed. Homing in on the familiar magical signature, Faith raced toward it, transforming as she went from a Boston party girl to the primal warrior known as...

The Slayer.

*****

Part 4: Bad Girls And Soul Sisters
(Consequences)

Converted Warehouse
Near the Sunnydale Boardwalk
Sunnydale, California
10 April 1999

Josh wondered if the Rohypnol was working properly. The drug’s normal effect left the girl completely aware of what was happening, but paralyzed her. This girl seemed to be the exception to the rule. He couldn’t figure out why, but didn’t care; he was in control, that’s all that mattered.

He slowly let go of the drowsy woman’s arms and braced her shoulder with his left hand to keep her up. He slowly ran his right hand down her body, starting with her chest and feeling along her ribs, stomach, and her tiny hips. She barely reacted to his touch; obviously she hadn’t realized what was happening. He reached her thighs and started to hike up her hot little dress. He slid his hand under the fabric and slowly ran his hand up the outside of her left thigh. Now she reacted, seeming to actually respond to the caress. He smiled at her reaction and moved the hand to her inside thigh, in preparation for wresting her legs apart. On a whim, he ran the palm of his hand up and down the top of her leg. A small smile touched her lips and she seemed to giggle a bit.

< This girl’s enjoying this! > he decided. He made the decision to go all the way. < Okay, here goes... >

A guttural snarl intruded rudely into his thoughts and sent shivers slaloming down his spine. He stopped what he had been doing and turned around. < Please don’t let it be a rott or pit... > When he saw the source of the growl, he wished that he had rather faced either of those vicious dogs than the person he saw in the moonlight.

Before he could deny anything, a pair of hands snatched him with terrifying strength. Even more terrifying was the Pryce girl’s eyes. Palpable anger emanated from her. She gritted her teeth and stared him down with dark eyes that made him start to pray for his life.

*****

Faith operated on automatic pilot now, her fury fueled by finding Shaw just before this piece of shit had violated her. She was long past the constraints placed on her by her training at the hands of Watchers and Immortals; she grabbed Josh, tensed her muscles, and heaved him as far in the opposite direction as her inhuman strength would allow.

Josh flew nearly six yards before he landed in a heap and rolled before slumping to a halt. To his good fortune, Faith left him lying there. She turned around to check on Shaw and saw Shaw slowly sliding down the wall, doped to the gills by whatever he had slipped into her drink. For the moment, her rage was dulled by the cold chill of her fear.

"Shaw, Shaw! Wake up! Come on, wake up dammit!" There was no reaction save for a flopping pointy-eared head. Faith patted both of her friend’s cheeks roughly and said, while fighting back her tears, "Shaw, come on! Don’t leave me, half-elf, please...please... Wake UP!"

Shaw’s eyes fluttered, sending Faith’s anxiety even higher. "That’s it, come to Faith, honey. Wake up...wake up...dammit, get off your scrawny ass, Hunter!" She smiled as Shaw’s eyelids blinked open. Her eyes looked foggy but alive. Shaw squinted and started to speak, but it was in Elven Tongue. Icy cold fear gripped Faith’s heart and she struggled to push down her panic. Then she heard one word out of Shaw’s gibberish, the only Elvish word she did know, thanks to Larsie. < Faith... Faith! She said my name! She knows it’s me! >

"Speak American, sister! American!" She saw more confusion, so she spoke slowly, one syllable at a time while making hand motions like a deaf person. "English! Speaky Americanish! Talky like me!"

"Faith?" she asked weakly, finally coherent and aware.

"YES! FINALLY!" Faith shouted to the Heavens, hugging Shaw for all she was worth. When she yelped from the pain of Faith’s strength, Faith let go and stared directly into those glassy eyes. "Hunter, focus! Listen to me! He poisoned you! You got that? He POI-SONED you! You gotta do work your mojo! You gotta stop it! I can’t do it!" She felt a lump forming in her throat as she whimpered, "I can’t do it... Please... I need you to help me help you..."

To Faith’s everlasting joy, she seemed to get the gist. Shaw closed her eyes tight, concentrated, and took some deep breaths while she gathered her energy. Before she could express her joy, a moan drew her attention back to the person responsible for her friend’s predicament.

Again, her fury swelled like the ocean at high tide and energized the distraught Chosen One. She stood and whirled around, clenching her fists and letting a low, wicked growl rumble from her throat.

Josh had finally risen to his feet, but only after Mike had helped him. Seeing the two of them, one who’d been more than willing to rape her, the other who had tried to rape the only sister she had ever known, drove her over the edge.

She saw the look in Mike’s eyes as she approached them. He tried to speak, a look of false bravado on his face. "Look chickie," he said, trying to maintain his brave front, "you just walk away and we won’t tell a soul. Just..."

He didn’t get to say another word; Faith wouldn’t let him. She hit him with a right cross that spun him to the ground. "Kiss my ass, you son of a bitch!" She took pride in shattering his jaw with a single blow. Then she turned on Josh, who looked torn between protecting his roommate and saving his own ass. "Time to die!" she whispered menacingly.

Faith grabbed him by the shirtfront and tossed him through the air with all of her Slayer strength fueled by her rage over the attempted violation of Shaw. Faith’s lips drew back into a sneer when Josh landed on his arm. He cried out in pain and grabbed at a possible separated shoulder. "I’ll get back to you in a minute," she grimly vowed.

Mike staggered to his feet, trying to shake off the cobwebs. Faith walked slowly, letting him see her approach while she enjoyed the growing terror in his pretty blue eyes. He held a hand out as she came within reach, mumbling what she figured was a plea to stop. She cocked her head and pouted, sounding hurt. "But Mikey, we’re just getting starrrrted..."

She grabbed his blocking arm, hands at the wrist and shoulder, and squeezed with all her might. Mike’s broken jaw kept him from screaming when she disintegrated his wristbones, but his mumbled shriek was music to Faith’s ears. She then brought the arm up, let him realize what she was going to do, and just as his eyes begged her not to do it, she brought the arm down. Her knee rose up to meet it at the halfway point between wrist and elbow. Both of his forearm bones snapped, and a spear of white broke through the pink, healthy skin.

Done with her molester, the Slayer turned to the one whose attempted crime was, in her opinion, much worse. < Payback’s a bitch but she’s got NOTHING on me, you sack of shit! > She picked up the limp college student and brought his face up to hers. She snarled, "You’re gonna pray for me to end it before I’m done with you, you pathetic fuck."

She threw him against the wall and gave him a right hook to the breadbasket. As he slumped over, Faith cupped his chin and shoved it aside before giving him a left in the same spot. She immediately followed up and kneed him there. She let him sink to the ground, clutching his stomach. The Slayer grabbed him by the roots of his hair, dragged him back up, and slammed him into the wall again. Then she grabbed a hold of his shirt and sent Josh hurtling into a pile of wooden pallets set out for garbage pickup.

As she started forward, she heard the scuffle of shoes on concrete behind her. She lashed out with a rear kick and in the same perfect move, whirled around with a roundhouse. The punch broke Mike’s cheekbone, forcing him to drop his makeshift club and sending him sprawling. A red haze clouded over Faith’s eyesight now. Her rage now was far beyond what she had experienced when her foster father had tried to molest her. She brought her foot up and drove her heel into one of his ribs, snapping it like a twig. She ignored Mike’s sickening cough and his clawing at the broken bone and returned to the other man who sorely needed her tender ministrations.

Faith marched over to the battered shithead lying on top of the smashed pile of wood. She picked up the injured Josh and held him high in the air with a single arm. She got in his face and shouted, "How many, asshole?!? How many girls?!? How many kids have you ruined so you could wet your whistle? HOW MANY?!?" She fired another hook into his gut and he spat blood; however, Faith didn’t notice or care.

He looked at her, stark raving terror in his eyes. "Please," he mewled.

The Slayer’s wicked smile mimicked the Grinch’s at the word. "Pathetic," she spat, literally. "Do you know how it feels, asshole? Do you know how it feels to be totally helpless? Do you even have a fucking clue how it feels..." She paused and saw the face of her mother lying lifeless and still in a pool of her own vomit; then the scene shifted and she witnessed again the face of Lynda as her eyes bulged in horror when the vampire ripped her throat out. As Josh’s battered face replaced the faces of the ghosts in her mind, her eyes narrowed. "...To see someone you love totally helpless and know in your gut that if you don’t do something, you’re gonna lose her. Well guess what, buddy boy," she nodded her head in Shaw’s direction, "I ain’t losin’ HER. They’d have to plant my dead ass in the ground before I’d let anyone hurt that woman!"

She reached down and picked up a long, jagged piece of wood from the ground. She held it as she dragged Josh and threw him to the ground next to Mike, who was now coughing up blood. She peered down at these pieces of filth, her eyes completely void of any mercy or empathy. Faith had become Death and the battered men whimpered and lost control of all of their bodily functions when they finally, fully realized that they were going to die at the hands the young woman who was, at that moment of time, the embodiment of all the awesome beauty, majesty, and vengeance...of the Slayer.

The Slayer drew her arm back, the sharp edge of the makeshift wooden stake hovering dangerously overhead as she decided which one would die first.

Just as she tensed to drive the stake into Josh’s heart, a shout made her freeze.

"Faith, NO!" an accented voice bleated.

The deep red haze in Faith’s mind’s eye faded just a bit. "Shaw?" she whispered. Had it been anyone else, even B, Alfred, or Mrs. S, she’d have ignored them and staked the bastards with extreme prejudice. But Shaw’s voice had cut through her rage and graced her with a glimmer of reason, allowing the Dark Slayer to stay her hand just long enough for the two would-be rapists to pass out from the immense pain and physical damage she’d dished out.

"Faith, please..." the voice called out again.

Snarling in a mix of disgust and disappointment that they wouldn’t see the deathblows coming, the rabid warrior turned around. She saw her sister standing there, looking disheveled but recovered from the narcotics in her system. Faith noticed the pleading look in Shaw’s eyes but she found it wanting; she still wanted to take these shitheads down.

"I’ll be done in a minute, Hunter," she said with a primal snarl. The Slayer spun around and started to move forward again, rearing back with her improvised weapon and wistfully hoping they’d wake up before she sent them packing. "Sit tight."

The Slayer heard footsteps behind her. She didn’t flinch; she recognized them as Shaw’s sandals. < No prob. > She kneeled over Josh’s body and felt the redness take her again. Using both hands, she lifted the stake above her head. "Say hi to Satan for me, asshole!"

A panicked Shaw shouted, "Faith, don’t do this!"

Faith shot to her feet and fired a look of rage at her fellow vamp killer. "What the Hell do you mean, ‘Don’t do this?!?’"

Shaw slowly walked forward a bit. "Faith, don’t. You do not want to kill them."

"Wroooong! Buzzer says, ‘ennnnnnnnh!’ They’re going down, sister!" Faith whirled around and eyed them again, pure hatred in her eyes. "They tried to rape us, Hunter! They were gonna spread our legs and shove their shitty, itty, bitty dicks into us! For that, they’re gonna DIE!" She tossed her hair around the back of her head to stare at Shaw over her shoulder. "They fucked with the wrong girl, sister. They picked on someone who could fight back." She turned back and took a step forward. "They’re going down," she muttered again, this time to herself.

"Faith, they do not deserve this! They do not deserve to die!"

The Chosen One, fueled by the dark emotions flowing within her, whirled back on her sister. She waved the stake at the prone bodies behind her, shrieking in disbelief. "How Goddamn dare you! How. Fucking. DARE. You!" She started forward. "How fucking dare you stand up for these mother fucking sons of bitches! They rape girls! I know, Hunter! I know what it’s like! It happened to me! Fucker Foster Daddy came after me!"

"They are not him, Faith," Shaw pleaded, standing firm against the Slayer’s awesome rage. "You cannot kill them for what he did."

"For what they did, damn you!" she railed against Shaw’s maddening calm. She got in Shaw’s face and screamed, "Mikey was gonna beat me and dip his frickin’ stick in me! Josh made you high as a kite so he could do you! Do you know what it’s fucking like?!? Do you know how it feels?!? If you did, you wouldn’t lift a Goddamn finger to help them!!!"

Faith watched as Shaw’s eyes became distant. She felt the euphoria of victory because she had apparently won the argument. < Yes! They die! > However, that small, almost insignificant seed of morality still calling out to her made her notice the sadness, regrets, and other emotions in Shaw’s eyes.

Her feelings of superiority faltered and died when Shaw made a short, flat statement while looking into Faith’s eyes, showing her the truth.

"That bastard did something to me when I couldn’t move," she began, quoting something that Faith recognized as her own statement from the previous night, "I fought it and I hated the bastard for it."

Faith’s rage lost a bit of steam, but it was only delayed, not gone.

Shaw’s eyes became misty. "I do know, Faith. I do know," Religion Girl said in that stupid calm voice of hers, "It was not sexual assault as you know it. But there are other forms of rape, forms that are far worse, and so much harder to recover from. Mental. Emotional. Spiritual. I know what they are like. You know this, so you know that I understand." Those hazel eyes pleaded with her. "Faith, don’t do this."

The Dark Slayer’s body trembled, the Slayer spirit inside her urging her to deliver the justice they so richly deserved. Snorting like a bull, Faith pointed the stake toward them. "Why not?!? Why the Hell not, Shaw?!? They’re monsters! They’re worse than the monsters we slay every night! At least they can’t help being evil! These pieces of shit choose to be evil!" Her resolve became firm once again. "They’re monsters and I slay monsters! Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t waste them!"

With haunted eyes, Shaw gently asked, "Do you want to be like them? Do you want to become a monster? They are helpless, Faith; killing them would not be justice; it would be murder."

Faith stared at her, astounded. "ME?!?" she blurted, her eyes going wide. "ME?!? You say I’d become a monster?!?"

Tears started flowing down her cheeks, dripping from those eyes that seemed to be begging her to listen. Shaw whispered, "I almost did, Faith. I almost did." Faith felt the stake-wielding arm waver just the slightest.

"You? Come on! You’re the big bad hero from another dimension!"

"And you are the Slayer," Shaw countered. "You are the Chosen One, the one girl in all the world who shall fight the vampires and the demons." She pointed at Josh and Mike. "Faith, they are not demons. They may be evil, yes. But like you said, they made their choice."

Faith snarled and pointed at them again. "And they’re gonna pay for it!"

"They are human." Shaw took a step forward, and Faith stepped back to keep the space open between them. "Faith, you have been given a special gift, one that I cannot possibly begin to understand. You have the power of the Slayer, given to you by some of the greatest Powers of Good in the multiverse. You are supposed to protect humans, not judge them."

"They were gonna rape us!"

"There are human authorities for that," Shaw replied. "If they were demons or vampires, I would understand. But they are simply men. They are not without at least the hope of redemption. You, or I, do not have the right to take that hope away from them."

Faith felt the slivers of doubt fighting to penetrate her shield of righteous anger, but she continued to struggle against them. "Are you telling me not to punish them?" she asked with tears filling her eyes.

"I am asking you to let others punish them, those who are supposed to do so." Faith started to shout again, this time about worthless cops, but she didn’t get her chance. "I know what you are feeling, Faith. You feel that you have the power of the Slayer, the power to protect others. You are so much more powerful than these two, and you believe that as the Chosen One, you should be the one to punish them for their deeds."

"BINGO! Hunter FINALLY gets the fricking point!!!"

"But how much punishment is too much?" Shaw asked, curious as to the answer. "Do you remember what I did last night? Not making it clean?"

"So?!?"

She inclined her head, indicating the would-be rapists behind her. "Is this any cleaner?"

The Dark Slayer stiffened at that. She turned slowly around and looked at the damage she’d inflicted in response to the danger to her loved one. She saw, finally, exactly what she’d done to them.

She barely heard Shaw’s next question. "Did they deserve this? Faith, I love you too much to see you give up something you cannot replace for these two. They are not worth it."

"What the Hell are you talking about?" Faith whirled back on the half-elf. "We don’t have time for this spirit shit! We’re protectors, Hunter! We protect people!"

"But we also have the responsibility to determine how much is too much." Shaw gave Faith a look of love that made her blink. "At which point do we go from being protectors to become vigilantes, executioners, or...killers?"

Trying to shake off her doubts, Faith’s eyes rolled. She shouted back, "And of course you know the difference! You’re the perfect one!"

"I am further away from perfection than you," Shaw said in denial.

"Then what gives you the right to give me the ‘great power equals great responsibility’ spiel?!" the angry woman blared. "Tell me, Shaw! How do you know the freaking diff?!? What’s too far and what’s not?!?"

Shaw caught her off guard by shaking her head sadly. "You know how I was, Faith. Remember what I was like before I came here." She looked into Faith’s eyes, memories coming forth. "The night I found myself, the night I saved the Gypsies..." She faltered, her lip trembling. "I almost didn’t, I... I... I almost decided not to help them. I wanted to kill the vampire more than I wanted to help them. I was going to leave them, I..." The look in her eyes changed and, for the first time, Faith saw the slightest bit of something beyond Hunter’s temper or her so-called Hulk Mode. For the first time, Faith saw that dark hole Shaw had once had in her soul. "I almost committed myself to evil, Faith." Her jaw clenched as she confessed, and Faith realized, somehow, that she’d NEVER shared this with anyone, not even Madison, her own cousin. She started shaking her head and gripped Faith’s arms, shaking them weakly. "Faith, please... don’t do this... don’t make the mistake I made. If you are my friend, if you... if you love me as a sister, please, listen to me, I beg you!"

Through the total rush of rage, confusion, doubt, and other emotions clouding Faith’s mind, she barely heard the sound of her stake clatter against the pavement. She dully said, "But they..."

"Faith, there is a thin line between good and evil. I know how thin it is, because... I all but crossed it..." She stopped and closed her eyes, not able to meet the Slayer’s shocked gaze. "I lost a piece of my soul when I killed Jazartho, however much an accident it was. But in that moment..."

Faith blinked several times, tendrils of rage still flickered inside her. < Gawd, I’ve heard of baring your soul, but she’s... > "Shaw, I..."

"Please," Hunter begged again, mustering the strength to look into her eyes, "do not lose that part of yourself. I know what that road is like... I know, to my undying shame, what it is like."

Faith looked into Shaw’s eyes and saw how frightened Shaw was. Not about nearly getting raped, but for... < She’s scared for me! She all but got raped, but she doesn’t care, ‘cause she’s scared for me! > She broke away from Shaw, backing up. Shaw looked confused, but the Chosen One turned away from her and fixed her eyes on the men she’d all but killed, unable to turn from the terrible evidence of just how much damage a Slayer could do.

She couldn’t move, she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t tear herself away. She wanted to with all her heart, to turn away and not have to see what she was responsible for. < Responsible... I am responsible. I... I’m the Slayer, I’m the Chosen One... > For the first time, Faith realized that perhaps it wasn’t just the Slayer Ghost who had Chosen her. < They say her ghost’s sleepin’, then who... > Being somewhat a Christian, if not truly spiritual, Faith’s instincts supplied her answer. For the first time, she actually wondered if she was using the power correctly. Looking at the barely breathing bodies in front of her, she thought very hard on that and decided she had come up short. "Oh Gawd.. oh Gawd..."

She felt gentle female hands grip her shoulders as her tears started to flow. < What the Hell did I do... > She croaked out, "Shaw..."

"Let me handle this," Shaw said gently.

Faith nodded, unable to do anything else. She just stared as Shaw walked over and kneeled between the two broken college boys, who she’d been dancing with just an hour ago. That memory made Faith’s heart all but shatter from the guilt. She covered her mouth as she sobbed and watched Shaw pray over them. Hunter’s hands were illuminated by a massive amount of eldritch energy, a sign that she had to call down the big healing spells.

*****

After she had finished her spells, Shaw looked into the eyes of her friend and saw the suffering Faith’s own guilt had imposed on her. Seeing that Faith understood how far she’d gone and how close she’d come to going over the edge, the Mielikkian felt tears sting her own eyes.

< She knows, > she thought, both to herself and to her Goddess. < She knows... as I do. But... therein lies the difference between us. >

Shaw slowly walked back to Faith, who looked as if she wished she could climb into a dark hole. She gently said, "Faith?"

The Slayer jerked her head to look at her. "Hunter...what am I gonna do..."

Shaw felt her heart break and did the first thing that came to mind. She stepped forward and took Faith into her arms, holding her frightened sister and sharing her tears. She allowed Faith to sob on her dress while she cried herself, for different reasons.

*****

Faith’s mind was a chaotic jumble. She flashed back and forth between Shaw’s confession from the heart, how it had made her face her own rage, and the new fear that she hadn’t pulled back in time. < God, please... >

"Shaw, please tell me I’m not..."

"Shhhhh..." Shaw cooed, rocking her back and forth. Faith could tell that Hunter was crying just as hard as she was. "You have not lost your soul, Faith. You still have it."

"But..."

Millie’s kid wouldn’t let her go there. "I know, Faith. I know that if you had lost that part of you...I would have lost another part of mine. I don’t know how I know this, but I know." Faith saw her sister stare into her eyes with a look of wonder. "I also know that you have done what I could not do fifteen years ago, Faith. I know..."

Still frightened, she asked, "Tell me."

A loving smile came to Faith’s face and she realized that her sister also felt that way about her. Shaw told her, with absolute certainty and affection, "You faced the greatest enemy you could ever face, the dark side of yourself... and you won. You fought it and won..." Old regrets flashed across her face. "You won where I lost. I wish I had your strength..."

"No," she protested. "God, Hunter, if you hadn’t been here, I would’ve..."

"’If’ is perhaps the one word in the English language that I hate the most," Shaw said, making a joke about it, "that is, next to Vulcan."

She couldn’t believe her ears; here she’d nearly killed two guys, and Shaw was making jokes! "I can’t believe you’re joking at a time like this!" she snapped.

Redeye’s mouth started to tremble. "Because I know that if I start to cry again, you will join me and we will not be able to stop. I..."

"What?" Faith demanded out of fear and worry for Hunter. "Tell me!"

*****

Shaw trembled at what she was about to say. "Do you believe in the concept of ‘soulmates?’"

Faith jerked in confusion. She frowned but nodded. "Yeah, look at Xena and the Gabbtser. So what?"

"What about... siblings? Those who are so much alike that it seems they are identical?"

"What, like your twinnie cousins?"

She nodded and smiled joyously. "I feel like..." She stumbled over it. "I feel like... we share something like that, I don’t know why..." She hugged Faith close, not wanting to release her. "I meant what I said; anything that happened to your soul would have happened to mine. I cannot bear that thought, I... I love you, somehow, in a way that even Amy and I do not share..."

Faith pushed her back, gently gripping her arms. Through the puzzled look on her face, she asked, "You mean that?"

Shaw, weeping, told her, "I felt it when we met, I felt... I felt like I was looking at a reflection of myself, Faith. Like..." She gulped. "Like I had been given a sister I never knew I had."

*****

Faith tried not to bawl herself, since she couldn’t help but feel the same thing. They were so much alike, it couldn’t be coincidence. < No such animal. Never is, never was, never will be... >

Faith finally dredged up the courage to offer her own opinion. "That’s why, isn’t it?" Shaw shook her head, not understanding. "When I’m thinkin’ bout you, it’s ‘sister’ now, not ‘buds,’ or ‘pals,’ or ‘girlfriend’ in that non-other Will way. I think, ‘sis.’ Gawd, I’ve been callin’ you that all night and I didn’t even get it myself!" She shook her head in disgust at her own denseness. < Bein’ dense is K’s deal, not mine. > Her tears trickled down her cheeks as she swallowed her pride and said, "I love you, too... sis."

Faith looked into Shaw’s eyes one more time and saw just how right they were about the whole "sister" thang; in those goofy "I can’t decide if I’m green or red" eyeballs, she saw someone who knew her in every way. Her pain, her tragedies, her emotions. A friend, a confidant, someone who knew exactly who she was, and would never judge her. Someone who knew her in every way; heart, body, and soul.

< Soul sister. >

The term came unbidden, without conscious action, but she knew it was right.

It felt right.

She saw the same thing in Shaw’s eyes. The Slayerettes hugged again, realizing how close they had come to losing it after last week, rejoicing in the knowledge of what they had just found, and secure in their belief that they would never let that happen again.

*****

Part 5: Will Wonders Never Cease
(The Last Thing You’d Expect To See On The Hellmouth)

Converted Warehouse
Near the Sunnydale Boardwalk
Sunnydale, California
10 April 1999

"Sometimes I really hate my job," Wanda Carstairs muttered under her breath. < It’s bad enough when we have to pick up the vampires’ murder victims, now they’re committing rape. >

The uniformed officer just watched the scenery pass by through the passenger window of her patrol car. She wondered about the victim’s condition, whether she’d be alive or not. She might even be turned into a bloodsucker herself. She tore her tired gaze away from the window and glanced at Stein, wondering why he’d been so adamant about taking the case after hearing it involved a possible rape.

She bit back a disgusted snarl. < Probably hoping it’s the Summers girl or one of her friends. > She turned her gaze again out the window. < Asshole. >

Their cruiser pulled into the nearly deserted parking lot. The officers exited the vehicle and walked straight to the door of the one-time warehouse. Wanda checked her watch. < It’s only nine o’clock! > She furrowed her brow. < The owner must have closed the place down. Didn’t want the cops to scare the kids. >

When she reached for the door, Stein directed, "Wait for me." He checked his gun. "We go in together, Officer."

"Yes, sir," she said with respect barely drudged up from her stomach. < Don’t want your image tarnished, do we? > She sighed. She’d only been an hour away from the end of her shift when the call came in. Since there was a likely female victim involved, she’d been chosen as the female officer to accompany Stein to the scene.

She followed Stein through the front door and into the foyer of the club. Nice enough, she thought. She shrugged off her first impression as the doorman approached.

With a nod of professional courtesy, he asked, "You here for the call?"

Stein stepped in front of Wanda and flashed his badge. "I’m Detective Stein...this is Officer Carstairs. We have two more uniforms arriving, along with a forensics team. They’ll want to use a rape kit for the victim."

"Won’t be necessary," the bouncer said with a grin.

Stein and Carstairs gave him funny looks. "How come?" she asked. What the Hell was going on here, she wondered.

"Come on, I’ll take you to her," the guard said, waving them to follow his lead. He chuckled over his shoulder. "The so-called victims are fine. Bob’s keeping the punks who tried this shit from bolting."

"How? Did he lock them up somewhere?" Stein asked as they entered the main floor.

The bouncer flashed them a grin. "Nah, his 12 gauge shotgun convinced them to be good little boys."

Wanda frowned. < Vampires wouldn’t care about a shotgun. The perps are human. Why doesn’t that comfort me? > "You said, ‘victims.’ Plural. And they’re all right?"

"Yeah. Seems one of the perps slipped one girl a roofie, but it wasn’t enough to put her under. She threw up most of it all over the alley. Drug can’t hurt you if it’s not in your system long enough." He chuckled. "Other girl found her and the boys out back. She tasted the stuff in her OJ and had the boss call you guys. Girl managed to fight the boys off with a couple of nut shots. Now here’s the funny part; the boys are screaming ‘attempted murder,’ saying the undrugged girl tried to kill them!"

"Really?" Stein asked, a hard gleam coming to his eye.

"Detective, these pricks don’t have a single bruise on them," their escort replied with a dry laugh. "They’re claiming these girls broke bones, separated shoulders, and punctured lungs. Now, beyond them looking pretty healthy to me, these girls can’t weigh much more than two hundred pounds put together, and one of them was puking Rohypnol all over the alley."

"We’ll see," Stein muttered.

< God, it has to involve Summers, > Wanda sighed. < I can’t let him pull anything. > She growled, hoping Stein would mistake it for anger at the boys. < Two boys try to assault two girls and you’re hoping the girls are with St. Wolf so you can do something to them. >

Wanda decided to jump in. "Detective, do you want me to interview the girls?"

Stein shook his head. "Let’s see what we have here first, then go from there." He then looked back at the bouncer. "Take us to them."

*****

Wanda took in the scene as the three entered the dining area. She saw six people in all and glossed over each of them.

The one that caught her attention first had to be Bob. < Well, no kidding. Apron, shotgun. > He held it easily, cradling it in his arms, but he was staring down two college-type boys. < Hoo boy. He looks like he’d rather blow them away than let us handle them. >

Another older guy stood behind the bar, dressed in a black t-shirt and blue jeans. Obviously another bouncer. He was wiping down the counter and shooting occasional glances at the boys. He met her gaze and nodded once.

As for the boys, they looked clean enough, but it was their eyes that caught Carstairs' attention. She actually shivered. < Good God, they’re scared shitless. Well, if I had a shotgun shell with my name on it, I’d be wetting my pants, too. > The officer belatedly realized that they weren’t staring at the gun. Following their terrified glares, she saw whom the alleged rapists were frightened of. < The girls. > she deduced with a bit of skepticism. She frowned in doubt, as she looked them over. < The bouncer’s right; they can’t weigh more than a buck ten each. > It wasn’t until she looked the teenagers over that she began to get an idea of why they might be a credible threat to the boys. The girls sitting on the stairway would both be about five-five or five-six if they stood up. Wanda noted their similar builds as well as the differences; the girl sitting higher up on the stairway had darker hair, black and wavy, while the other's hair was deep brown. Her darker eyes and impressive chest more than equalized the difference. But Wanda looked deeper and it was what she saw beneath the surface that convinced her. < It’s the body language and their eyes. > Sure enough, both girls had the look and tension of people who were, in simplest terms, pee-oh’ed. < Geez, I wonder why. > But in those four greenish eyes, Officer Carstairs saw the same thing, and it sparked one word. < Survivor. >

A smile touched her lips as she glanced at the frightened men. < Oh, you really screwed up, didn’t you? Messing with sisters? > She glanced at the girls again and noticed the paler, darker-haired girl was watching her. Wanda realized that she wasn’t just sitting higher up, she was in protective mode. Carstairs smiled approvingly and nodded once. < If they’re not sisters... hell, they might even be fraternal twins. If they’re not related, I’ll eat my badge. >

She started to ask Stein if he wanted her to take statements, but froze when she saw the look Stein gave them.

< Shit, they must be connected to St. Wolf and Summers, > she groaned. < They’re screwed. >

*****

Stein stared at the two dark-haired teenagers sitting on the stairs. A sick feeling gnawed at his guts upon recognizing the two semi-newbie kids involved with the two people he hated most in the world. < What the Hell are they doing here? > He started seething but recalled that unlike St. Wolf, whose record was so squeaky clean Stein knew there had to be some hidden dirty laundry, these two were different; their pasts checked out. He remembered the Hunter girl; she’d tried to help him on a case in November. < Recap; British, orphan, Daddy and Gramps were Brit Black Ops, and it’s in her records. Lives with a priest, Snyder says she shows him some respect. All in all, keeps her nose clean... > He remembered more information he’d heard from Snyder involving St. Wolf’s group. < Related to the Madison girl, but INS sent their people to run a DNA test. So it’s kosher, she’s one person in the bunch who seems legit. > He then considered her companion, calling the name from memory of reports from the Chief. < Pryce, don’t recall her first name off the top of my head. Street kid adopted by Summers’ mother. Supposed to be from Beantown, her last foster mom was killed by the cult in Atlanta. Snyder says she’s a troublemaker, but the Chief says she makes life a living Hell for Summers and St. Wolf. > A tight smile creased his lips. < Can’t be all bad, then. >

He moved over to the bartender. "Would you mind putting the gun away so we can get started?"

"No problem," the man said, putting the gun behind the bar. "I placed the call, Detective."

"Mind telling us what happened?" Stein asked, pulling out a notepad.

"I didn’t see everything," Bob confessed to him, "but what I did see was the girls dancing and talking with the boys for a good hour or so. Eventually, Faith goes out the front door with her boy, comes back in ten minutes later, pissed to High Heaven. Two minutes later, she’s screaming my name and freaking out that the other girl’s drink’s been doctored." He pointed to a glass containing some orange liquid. "That’s it, I saved it for you, just in case."

"Good work," Stein nodded, busy with his notes. "Go on."

"Anyway, I call you. I grab Dave and start looking for the girls. Stupid us went out the front first. We walked out the back door just in time to see the boys clutching their family jewels and Shaw there puking up what was left of her drink." He gave Stein a grin while pointing at the boys. "I closed up and had Fric and Frac here empty all their pockets into Baggies and write their names on them."

Stein looked at Dave, who reached down and pulled out two Ziploc freezer bags. The names "Mike" and "Josh" had been scrawled on them with magic markers. He walked over and picked Josh’s bag up. Besides the typical stuff, like a wallet, keys, and pens, there were a number of pills of varying types and at least six or seven condoms.

"Well," he said, turning to the college boys, "you guys going for a six-pack tonight?"

"But..."

"Shut up, you’ll get your turn," he barked. "Bob, right? Anything else?"

The owner shrugged. "Just Shaw spending ten minutes tossing her cookies again in the ladies’ room and the boys saying they got their sorry butts mauled. They’re sticking to that fairytale, even though they look pretty healthy to me."

Stein gave the boys a cursory examination. He turned to the other bouncer, Dave. "How about you? Anything to add?"

"Just like the boss told it," the large man said easily. "Girl puked all over the alley."

"Fine. We’ll have Forensics take a sample." Stein wrote more down before finally turning to the boys. He chuckled and said, "Do you two have anything to say or do you want to wait until we get downtown and get you boys a lawyer?"

The darker-haired boy stammered, "US?!?" He pointed at the girls. "What about them?!?"

"What did they do?" the Chief of Detectives asked, a confused look on his face.

*****

< Oh God, here it comes, > Wanda moaned inside her head. < He’s going to turn it on the girls. > Her face became grim. < Not this time. >

The boy who’d spoken yelped, "That crazy bitch tried to kill us!"

Stein glanced at the girls before asking, "One of them?"

"Yeah!" the kid said, looking hopeful. He pointed again. "THAT one!!!"

Stein said, "The other girl didn’t do anything to you?"

"Of course not! She was drugged!" the boy said before realizing what he’d let slip.

< Thank you, God! > Carstairs thought gleefully. < I can’t believe Stein set him up so perfectly! >

"She was drugged. Okay," Stein grinned. "Now, for the record, which one of these girls beat you two up?"

Wanda’s jaw clenched. < Oh no. Is he gonna allow these two creeps to get off the hook? Damn you... >

"She did!!!" The other boy pointed at the brown-haired one. "That crazy bitch broke my ribs!!!"

Carstairs watched Stein look at both girls. She could see the smoldering anger in their eyes and approved. < Fuck with one sister, you fuck with them both. >

Stein’s lips curled upward and he turned back to the men. He pointed at the fingered girl. "That one attacked you?"

"Damn straight! Threw me twenty feet!" the first one said with certainty.

Stein nodded. < Here it comes, > Wanda thought. He glanced between the girls and boys before focusing on her. "Officer, I don’t think we need to hear any more until we get downtown."

She bristled. "Sir..."

"You handle the young ladies," he went on without skipping a beat, "take their statements and cut them loose. Catch a ride back with someone from Forensics. I’ll be going back to the station. As for you two," he said, turning on the collegians, "you’re under arrest. You have the right to remain silent..."

"US?!?" one shouted, leaping to his feet. "What the Hell are you arresting us for?!?"

Stein, to the complete and utter shock of Carstairs, got in the young man’s face. With an evil lilt to his voice, he started citing charges. "Possession of a controlled substance. Distribution of a controlled substance. Possession with intent to deliver. Attempted sexual assault. Conspiracy to commit sexual assault. Attempted statutory rape. Conspiracy to commit statutory rape. Assault and battery." He walked over to the bar and noticed a switchblade in Mike’s bag. "Carrying a concealed weapon. I’ll figure out more after I book you."

He turned back to the shocked Carstairs. "Carstairs, call a squad unit to take these pricks downtown." He snapped his fingers. "Oh yeah. Order up the works. Blood, urine... and I want them searched professionally. Full body strip and cavity searches. Since the bartender only had them empty their pockets..."

The second boy stammered, "You can’t DO this!!"

*****

Stein turned around, stalked up to the two boys, and snarled, "Oh yes I can, you sick bastards! First you want to rape these high school girls, then you have the gall to say you couldn’t do it because they beat you up, and you don’t have a scratch on you? Well, guess what, pretty boys! You’ll have all the time in the world to think about what you tried to do tonight when we throw your sorry asses in jail. I also have half a mind to tell all the big, burly inmates who are looking for new bitches that you two are child molesters. I wouldn’t drop any bars of soap during your showers if I were you."

"B-b-b-but..."

"And it gets even better, boys," he sneered, loving this. "Not only do you go to jail, directly to jail, without passing ‘go’ and collecting two hundred dollars; it’s Saturday. Soooo, you won’t be arraigned until MONDAY! You get to spend your weekend as undisturbed guests of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office!" As the looks in their eyes shifted from mere fright to stark raving terror, he drove the knife into their hearts. "And if I know college frats like I do, then no Greek alphabet house is going to want to ever admit that you were their brothers. And I wonder what the Dean of whichever college you go to will say when he reads the arrest report." He pulled out a set of handcuffs. "Spread ‘em, boys."

As the boys’ fear turned to defeat, Stein chuckled. "If I were you, gentlemen, I’d plead this case out. You see, I know one of these girls; she helped me on a case last year. I have to wonder, who’s a jury going to believe; two too-pretty-for-their-own-good college boys, or the seventeen-year-old daughter of a deceased Brit military hero whose foster father is a Catholic priest?"

*****

Twenty minutes later, the two boys were squashed into the seat of a squad car, heading to the station. Forensics had arrived and Carstairs had been the one to show them where the incident had taken place. She was finishing up taking the girls’ statements when Stein walked over to them.

The girls just watched him warily, so Carstairs said, "Detective, I’m almost done. Can I help you?"

"I just wanted to say something to them," he said, indicating the two teenagers. "I’ll make it short and sweet."

She nodded uneasily as he turned to them. He folded his arms and gave them a hard look.

"I’ll make this simple. I know you’re involved with St. Wolf. Somehow," he began. "I hate him. I hate Summers. In my opinion, they’re menaces to society that think themselves above the law. This town’s bad enough with all the crap that goes on here without them making my life miserable." The girls looked grim, but he wasn’t cowed like he’d been by St. Wolf. "But my dislike of St. Wolf pales in comparison for my feelings about sons of bitches who pull shit like this, pardon my French."

The girl named Shaw smiled, "Actually, Detective, my ‘French’ would make you cringe. And in actual French, even."

To Wanda’s shock, Stein actually smirked. "Whatever. What I’m saying is this; this doesn’t change anything between your bosses and me. But you two were having a good time and I don’t have a problem with that. Keep your noses clean, and we’ll get along fine." He glanced at Carstairs. "Carstairs, finish up and let them head home." She nodded but he wasn’t done. "They’ll be arraigned on Monday. But if you want to press any more charges, come down to the station Monday morning. But I think with all the charges we’ve got lined up, they’ll do the smart thing and cop a plea."

"Or have the big boys copping a feel," Faith snickered with her Boston accent.

Wanda still couldn’t believe what she’d found out about the two girls. < I was SO sure they were sisters, and they’re not even related... Hell, they’re not even from the same country! I don’t know where I got the idea in my head... >

"I sure hope so," Stein said in agreement. He shared one more glance with each girl. "Keep your noses clean. People are watching." He turned back to Wanda. "We’ll finish the report tomorrow, Officer. Get done, go home, and get some sleep."

"Yes, sir." Wanda watched Stein leave before turning to the teenagers, who looked just as stunned as she was. "I can’t believe that was Stein."

"THAT’S the Detective Dickhead that B hates so much?" the girl named Faith asked.

The other girl, Hunter, just said, "Perhaps this is proof of what I mentioned earlier, Faith."

Wanda turned to face the Scot, as did her friend, who asked, "How’s that?"

"About having at least the hope of redemption," she said with a smile.

Wanda was lost, but Faith apparently got whatever point the two high school juniors shared between them. She nodded and said, "Point to the Vulcan."

"Faiiith..." Shaw moaned.

"You hate Star Trek?" Wanda asked with a chuckle. She’d never been able to get into it herself.

"With a passion," was her sour response.

"So of course, Scottie here hates Star Trek but looooves watching boys in shorts and tights running around beating up on each other," Faith added gleefully.

"Say what?" Wanda asked, stumped.

"Who does not watch professional wrestling?" Shaw asked, looking offended.

"Okay you smart alecs!" Wanda snapped. "Let’s finish these statements up and get out of here."

*****

By nine forty-five, Officer Carstairs had left, leaving Faith and Shaw alone in the rave with Bob, who was going through the process of shutting down the bar.

"Sorry again, Bobster," Faith sighed, drawing circles on the counter with her finger. "Didn’t mean to ruin your night."

"Kids are more important than money, sweetie," he said with a smile. "Got two little girls of my own, and I’m there for them. Same for anyone who comes in here."

"Thanks for sticking up for us."

He gave her and Sorcery Girl a once over. "Anytime, Faith. But I have to know; how’d you arrange the whole puke thing? I thought the healing spell would’ve wiped the stuff out of her system."

"Oh that?" Faith asked, grinning like the Cheshire cat. "That was nothing. Just broke off the smallest piece of a pill we could, had Redeye swallow it, cast the backwards version of ‘slow bad stuff’ spell, and that itty bit effected her."

"She took more?!?" he blurted, turning on the grimacing half-elf.

"Only enough to make me ill, Bob." She sighed. "And as for the vomiting, I am sad to say... that was quite authentic."

"Bobby, it was a little bit, like a tenth of one pill. Sheesh, not like I’d make her swallow the thing whole!" She shared a glance with Fantasy Babe. "Thing is, it’s enough to make the whole thing look legit. Not that it wasn’t."

"I know, kid. I know," he agreed. He glanced around the club. "I’m closing up. You girls sure you’re okay?"

"Yes, even though our night was ruined," Shaw said with disappointment. "I wanted so much to have a night where nothing extracurricular happened."

"Oh come on!!!" the Slayer Supreme shouted, grabbing Shaw’s arm and shaking it. "It’s not even ten o’clock yet! We got all night and all weekend, Witch Doctor! We’re not stopping our night out, we got way too much Saturday night left to let it go to waste! We’re free tonight, Soul Sis! We will not let this get us down!"

She could see the infectiousness of her spirit working its magic in her sister. Shaw glanced over at her, looking concerned about something. "What about you, Faith? Are you... all right?"

Faith knew what she meant. She felt the tiniest sliver of fear at what she’d seen tonight, but she shot it down with the wisdom she’d gained from it. She knew that she could beat her badder half, and she had been given a new slant on the whole Slayer job. < And I know I won’t be alone in doing it. > She thought about it and decided, yeah, she was all right. "Damn straight, Hunter. Thanks to you."

Shaw’s eyes brightened up at the thanks. "You are welcome. So what shall we do?"

Pursing her lips and tilting her head just so, the Boston Baroness came up with an idea that was so hokey and totally suburbia-ville sweet, she’d normally cringe at the mere thought of it. But still, it seemed like the right idea for some reason. She grinned at her. "How’s about our version of a slumber party?"

"A slumber party? You?" Shaw asked with a raised, doubt-filled eyebrow.

"Yeah," she said, slipping off of her bar stool. "Here’s my idea..." She explained her thoughts, surprised when Shaw loved the idea too, on the condition that they do this alone, not wanting to share their time with anyone else. Faith had to stop from letting her Teflon coated tough girl act drop and start bawling at the sweetness of it all. < Still, I like it. > She glanced at Shaw as they walked toward the entrance. < Thing is, with sis here I don’t have to come out and say it. She knows... just like I do. >

She stopped walking and gripped Shaw’s arm. "Hey, there’s something I gotta ask you about this whole Soul Sister thing."

With a smile and eyes filled with caring and laughter, Redeye asked, "What is that?"

Faith started waving her hands a bit. "Okay. You’re fifty-four and I’m seventeen, right?" Shaw nodded. "Right. The thing is, though, you’re fifty-four, but only seventeen, legally, right? And your birthday’s in November."

"Yes. What is your point?"

She snickered and stared at Shaw, brown-green eyes staring down hazel ones. "Well, here’s the problem I’m having. If you’re fifty-four and I’m only seventeen, but you don’t turn ‘eighteen’ until November, and I turn eighteen in September, two months before you do..." She flashed her most evil smile possible. "Which of us gets to be the big sister?"

"FAITH!"

< I love being me. >

*****

Epilogue: Slumber Party
(Sisters In Spirit. Girl Talk. Bonding. That Kind Of Thing)

Sunnydale Motor Lodge
Sunnydale, California
Early hours
11 April 1999

Faith sat on her bed, pretending to watch TV while she glanced at the bathroom door. She couldn’t stop smiling at getting another one over on Shaw, when Katana Elf hadn’t even expected it.

The water from the shower had been shut off ten minutes ago, when, finally, the bathroom door flew open and Shaw walked out of the bathroom, her hair doing the "corkscrew when wet" act. She wore nothing but the sexy undies Faith had bought her at Viccie’s. < Can’t wait to see The Boss Man’s face when he finds out what I spent B’s money on... >

"Oh, stop moping," Faith snickered. "What’s wrong, you look great!"

Shaw glared at her in frustration. "What is wrong is that I do not have sweat pants or an over shirt to put on over this because of you."

"Hey, Sharri played ‘Shaw’s ride’ all night, she deserves the time off as much as we do. So I told her to hit the Highway and have fun scaring the Smokies. You need to let her cut loose more often." < And we both know that’s a crock. > She knew, as well as Shaw, the elvensteed pretty much had the run of the town when Shaw wasn’t riding on/in her. She also realized that Shaw knew that the whole reason for sending her off and running wild, with their street and exercise clothes in her "trunk," was so Shaw had no chance of going back into "Shy Girl" mode after they left the glare of the public spotlight behind. She grinned at the combo glaring/blushing Religion Girl. "Oh come on, admit it! You just loved the look on Teddy’s face when he delivered the pizza and saw us looking so hot! And hey, with this..." She reached onto the nightstand and held up the disposable camera she’d bought at the Mall. "... we can show the guys exactly what we looked like!" She gushed, "Think about the looks on their faces when they find out! Especially the Wicked Witch of the Hellmouth and the Amazon Cheerleader! They’ll just die! And I promise, I won’t use the ten left to take pics to make into 8x10’s to mail to Beefcake..." She giggled. "Though we both know that if that doesn’t make him switch teams, nothing will."

Shaw sighed. Finally, she started laughing under her breath and couldn’t stop. She had enjoyed it, Faith knew. She also knew they’d both enjoyed the heck out of kicking off their shoes, sitting on the floor in their hottie clothes, discussing their night, other things about their dimension trips, and life in general, all the while stuffing their faces with pizza. Turned out pizza was one of the Earth things Shaw admitted she couldn’t live without.

She turned back to the business of the TV. "Well, I’ve been flippin’ through the channels and there’s nothing on worth watching this late."

"Meaning nothing with bedroom scenes in it?" Smartass asked her with a smirk.

"Bingo," Faith drawled in disgust. She pressed the "off" button and tossed the remote on the nightstand between their beds. "Well, now what? I mean, it’s oh-dark-thirty in the morning, nothing on the tube, we’re stuffed on pizza and crazy bread, we’ve jawed and Honest to God gossiped all we can gossip. I never thought I’d admit it, but I’m pretty much partied out, Hunter." She smiled at Shaw, who returned it. "But even with the dicks who tried to ruin it, I still wouldn’t trade tonight for anything."

Shaw nodded and showed her emotions through her eyes in that way Faith could read so easily. "Nor would I, Faith." She walked over and hugged Faith, never mind the fact they were both nearly nekkid. "We must do this again. Please..."

"We’ll figure out when," the Boston Slayer said cheerfully. "Maybe we’ll even get Jess to join in, huh? That would be fun!"

Shaw broke off, laughing. "I do not think she would survive the shock."

"Of what? Finding out you actually wear real underwear?"

"That, and that you actually sleep with something on," Shaw joked. The half-elf climbed into bed. "Thank Mielikki it is not August."

As Shaw climbed under the covers and turned over, Faith reached to turn off the light. "No kidding." She clicked the switch, engulfing the room in darkness. "I hear those sweat stains just ruin your leather cuffs and whips."

She dove under her bedding and stifled giggles at Shaw’s shouted, "Will you never let me live that down?!?"

< Sorry sis, but not in this lifetime, > she snickered. < All two hundred years of it! >

*****

Faith squirmed, trying to shake herself out of the dream. She knew it was a dream, but couldn’t wake up. Her mind replayed the events at the rave, only this time she acted as judge, jury, and executioner of those who’d violated her loved ones. She whimpered at the sight of the cold, heartless anger in her dream self’s eyes as she drove the wooden stake into Josh’s heart. She cried out to herself, her voice sounding like an echo. "No! Don’t do it! Dammit, don’t do this to us..."

Reality exploded, her eyes snapping open as she felt a weight settle behind her. Darkness surrounded her, frightening her as she twisted and turned under the covers, trying to escape.

"Faith!" Shaw’s voice hissed, penetrating the instinctive fear from her dream. She ceased her struggles and brought the covers up to her chest. It had felt so real, she thought. Shaw switched on the light, making her send thanks that the darkness had been banished. "Faith, it was just a dream."

"Oh Gawd, it..."

"I know. I have been there," she was told. "I had nightmares for weeks after Bordertown. I had them for a month or so after what happened with Ares. You must only remember two things. One, they are only dreams, no matter how real they seem. Two, they shall fade. And something to remember," she added, taking Faith’s hands and holding them, the blanket falling, "you have someone to talk to. I have been there."

"O-okay," Faith said, her trembling fading. < You didn’t do it. You BEAT that thing! You DID it! You took on the Dark Side and kicked the ever lovin’ crap out of it! > Taking courage from that, she felt her fear fade away. Again, she knew she could handle it. After all, she was who she was. She smiled a bit and whispered, "Thanks, sis."

"Of course," Shaw said. She squeezed her hands. "That is what sisters, blood or otherwise, are for. To be there for each other."

"Yeah, I know..." she started before blushing. "Time was, I knew what it was like, y’know. When D and me were at Zuckerman’s, before it went to shit... she helped me out, when I started having the dreams. You know, the ones you get when you’re Chosen?" Shaw nodded. "Well, when I was getting the ‘This Is Your Past Life’ dreams, D would... well, she’d do what kiddies do. She’d sleep with me so I could catch some Z’s, ‘cause I knew she’d wake me up."

"Yet another reason for jealousy. I was an only child. I had sleepovers, but never with relatives or anyone as close as you and she were... or as close as me and Amy, or you and I are."

"Right," she said, laughing a bit. "I know it sounds stupid, but..."

"No, it doesn’t. You had someone to look out for you," Shaw reminded her.

Faith nodded but was startled when Shaw stopped sitting on the edge of her bed and brought herself fully onto it. "What..."

"Go to sleep, Faith." She turned the light off and snuggled close to the Dark Slayer, cradling Faith in her tawny arms. Faith looked into the half-elf’s heat vision while Shaw told her, "If you start to have a nightmare, I will stop it."

Faith nearly wigged. THIS was Uptight Girl...Miss Modesty?!? < But here she is, sharing the same bed with me... Get your mind out of the gutter, Boston! She’s straighter than the Highway between Dallas and Fort Worth and she’s on top of the covers! Gawd, how can I think about her like that after tonight! She’s doing it because... because she loves me. And I love her. We’re as much sisters as sisters can be, dammit! > Her tears started to flow and for once, she was glad for Shaw’s eyes doing their Superman impression, since Shaw couldn’t see her acting like a scared little...

Little sister.

Shaw leaned back and rested her back against the headboard. "Shhh, Faith. It is all right." She paused, and Faith heard her chuckle rumble through Shaw’s chest. "As strange as it sounds coming from someone who was an only child, this is what sisters do. Look out for each other."

Faith choked back her tears, pressed her head between Shaw’s outstretched left arm and her breast, and tried to go to sleep. She drew the blanket up to her bosom, holding it in place with one arm over the blanket and laying on her side; she couldn’t sleep on her back, never could. She felt Shaw shift behind her, lying down so she could sleep, too. She startled a bit when she felt Shaw’s hand rub her arm, trying to be all motherly and maternal to calm her.

"Go to sleep, Faith. I won’t let anything happen to you. Not ever."

Shaw’s soothing voice made her feel safe again. "Okay," she said in a little girl’s voice. Faith closed her eyes, while her mind replayed all the good parts of their night together. "Thanks, Hunter."

"Just promise me one thing," Shaw asked quietly. Faith could hear her own fatigue in the voice.

"Yeah?"

"Promise me you will not change." Shaw’s hand stopped caressing her and Faith felt Shaw’s arm come over her. She felt that lovey, family-type warm embrace that Shaw never gave anyone else, ‘cept Sabrina and maybe Hacker Girl. "Promise me... that you will remain the same as long as you can." Then Shaw leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on Faith’s forehead.

The Dark Slayer gave her Soul Sis the only answer she could. "Deal."

She felt herself drifting off, but managed to remain coherent enough to say two more things, albeit with a drowsy voice. "I love ya, Soul Sis." When she felt Shaw’s protective hug tighten in response, she added the coup de grace. "And don’t hog the blanket."

Any further response was unheard by the softly snoring Slayer.

The End

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