"So much for undercover," Xander sighed as he carefully slid back into the cushions of the chair. "Looked more like Candid Camera out there."
"Yes, quite. At least everyone came out alright," Giles suggested optimistically, maneuvering along with aid from the sturdy furniture.
"No real casualties but your foot." Buffy gave the couch a pat. "How the tides have turned, Watcher-mine. Sit."
"It's nothing. I'll be fine." Giles dismissed her concern with a wave.
"That's not a request, it's an order. Plant your butt!"
"I'd do what she says," Faith warned teasingly, moving to help the Watcher to the couch. "B doesn't take no for an answer."
"I take it that the plan didn't exactly work?" Willow asked.
"Not exactly... more like, not entirely, I'd say," Giles corrected, wincing.
"Everyone else come out okay?" Willow asked, glancing around the room, keeping her look on Carrie for an extended moment. The nurse was wide eyed and fidgeting as she wandered around the room.
"Peachy keen, except I need a new school bag." Dawn slumped down into the Xander crafted chair. "I call mall date this weekend."
"How you doin' there, Carrie?" Willow prompted.
"I'm okay. Kinda buzzed. I hate to admit this but that was kind of exciting." Carrie paced around the living room. "I can see why you guys do this. It's like an extreme sport with the adrenaline rush..."
"Yep, extreme Slayage, minus the 'slay' and emphasis on the 'age', as in I'm too old for this crap!" Xander said, tiredly. "But yeah, it's kinda cool isn't it? So you're not wigged?"
"A little, but at least I'm slug-snot-free this time."
"Slug snot?" Giles looked to Buffy who shrugged, confused.
"I'm gonna step out back and catch a quick smoke." Faith motioned toward the back sliding glass doors of the dining room. "Then we can talk plan B, as in, I hope you have a back up plan, B."
"I could use a spot of tea. Anyone else like some?" Giles moved to stand and Buffy pushed him back into the cushions.
"Nuh-uh... don't make me go Slayer on you," Buffy grumbled. "I'm up. Anyone want anything else?"
"Cookies," Giles added in a childlike tone and an innocent smile.
"Anything for my widdle Watcher," she cooed, gripping his chin and giving it a teasing wiggle.
Giles shook his head. "Not in front of the children, dear."
"Dawn, you finish that homework yet?" Buffy asked as she made her way to the kitchen.
"Not yet on account of being bait tonight. But your warmhearted thankfulness is accepted, by the way. Don't rush to thank me and Carrie all at once."
"Thank you, Carrie," Xander smiled, gesturing for her to take a seat next to him. "You did great tonight."
"What about me?" Dawn objected.
"Thank you for doing your homework, Dawn," Giles said with a coy grin.
"I'll do it... I'll do it."
Three hard, heavy knocks sounded from the front door and Dawn rushed to answer it.
"Is it pizza night already? Or oh... Chinese takeout?" she asked eagerly as she turned the knob and pulled back the door. Standing there on the dark stoop, a young Japanese girl looked up at her, her face hardened with anger. Dawn examined the outfit, all black clothes worn and ragged, and the girl, the fire in her eyes matching her clenched teeth and tightly gripped fists. “Or perhaps we’re having sushi?”
"You will pay for your treachery!" the young woman snarled.
"Buffy, it's for you!" Dawn called, glancing back over her shoulder.
The quick jab connected with Dawn's cheek, sending her flailing backwards and crashing into the small end table behind her. She collapsed unconscious to the ground as Xander struggled to get to his feet. The young Slayer moved swiftly, barging her way into the house, easily pushing Xander out of her path as she searched for the Slayers. Carrie hurried forward to help Xander only to be knocked off balance by a sweeping leg to her ankle. She tipped and fell, managing to catch the nearby chair to soften the fall.
Giles tried to get to his feet but as he stepped forward on his foot, it buckled, sending him falling to the floor, grimacing in pain. Buffy rushed into the living room in time to see Xander land a solid hit which didn’t slow the Japanese Slayer in the slightest.
"Faith!" Buffy called out as she charged after the girl. With a skilled judo hold and follow-through, Xander was sent off balance and headlong into Buffy. They collided roughly, sliding toward the far wall from the power of the Slayer’s throw.
"It's me you want." Faith yelled from the dining room, gesturing with curling finger. "Come get some!"
As the young Slayer bounded over the furniture blocking her way and charged Faith, Giles gripped a fireplace poker and with an awkward throw from his position on the floor, sent it flying across the room. It landed hard, striking the young Slayer in the shin as she made her way towards Faith. Faith capitalized on the moment, attacking the distracted Slayer with a flurry of punches, landing them firmly on the girl’s chin, stomach, brow, and planting an elbow blow to the ear. The shorter Slayer staggered back, trying to regain her balance as Buffy got to her feet and rush back to join in the confrontation.
"My Watcher is dead. He passed on alone as I was drawn away from him by your trickery."
Xander helped Giles upright. Carrie scrambled across the floor to check on a motionless Dawn.
"Keep her busy!" Giles yelled.
"Not a problem!" Buffy responded as she and Faith took turns hitting the adept fighter who easily blocked each strike they threw.
"What are you doing?" Xander called out as Giles hobbled toward the basement.
"Willow, I need you to prepare a barrier spell. Like the one you used to protect the potentials against the Turok-han."
"The what now?" Xander asked, growing more anxious as the smaller Slayer seemed to be gaining the upper hand.
"The Ubervamps." Giles looked to Willow, gripping her hand in his and giving it a reassuring squeeze. "You can do this. I know you can."
"How long do you need?" she asked, suddenly confident.
"Just a minute or two."
"Where are you going?"
"To get an old tool." He disappeared into the dark basement and Willow started the recite the familiar spell, speaking loudly over the battle noises.
The enraged Slayer landed a powerful uppercut to Buffy's chin, sending her flailing backwards to land near Dawn and Carrie.
Dawn slowly sat up, holding her hand to her head. "Anyone get the license plate of that truck?"
"Dawn, are you okay?" Buffy gripped her arm and gave her a gentle shake.
"I would be if you'd stop shaking me. Notice the nice nurse is not shaking me?" Dawn leaned back against Carrie. "Uh Buffy, better help," she said, pointing at Faith expertly dodging a jab but suffering a rigid elbow on the return. The dark Slayer swiveled around, ready to block another punch with a forearm only to misjudge and get hit hard in the stomach. She fell to her knees, gasping for breath.
"Caerimonia Minerva, saepio, saepire, saepsi..." Willow's voice grew in strength.
"You will pay for your crimes against us!" The Japanese Slayer leapt into the air positioning her elbow ready to plant another devastating blow. Buffy reached Faith just as the strike came down, successfully blocking it with a swift kick that knocked the Japanese girl into a spin and fall. She recovered quickly, flipping to her feet and attacking again. With a flash of anger, the young Slayer heaved the older Slayers back, sending them crashing away from her.
"Saepio impedimentum!" Willow finished with a yell and the sparkle and crackle of energy sounded, signaling the activation of the recognizable barrier spell. The young Slayer slammed against the invisible wall and stumbled back, stunned.
"What form of wickedness is this?" She pushed at the air around her. "You would use spells to better me?"
"Way to go Will!" Dawn cheered, getting to her feet.
"It worked. It really worked." Willow smiled, pleased.
"Wow. What is that?" Carrie gasped as she stepped up beside Willow.
"Some of Willow's wacky witch-fu," Dawn said enthusiastically. "I knew you'd get it back."
"This cannot keep me from fulfilling my destiny." The angry girl slammed her fist repeatedly against the invisible barrier. The strikes triggered ripples of waves and light to radiate from a small fissure in the opalescent wall. After a moment, the shimmering air seemed to disintegrate. "Your weak shield will not hold me! I will have revenge for my Watcher's death!" The Slayer erupted in a furry of strikes and the fissure began to spread and splinter from the target.
"How long will it hold, Will?" Xander asked, still trying to catch his breath.
"Long enough," Giles came up from behind them just as the barrier burst. With a furious yell, the Slayer charged them. Giles lifted his tranquilizer rifle and shot. The dart was right on target, striking deep in her neck. She faltered for a second but kept on moving. Buffy and Faith rushed forward to intercept her.
"Uh, Giles?" Willow stepped back, wrangling Dawn and Carrie to follow her. Another shot and the dart struck the Slayer mid torso. Her legs wobbled, her knees buckled and she collapsed to the floor, unconscious.
"When'd you get that toy?" Buffy asked, laboring to catch her breath.
"Shortly after our settling here." Giles breathed a sigh of relief. "Thought it might come in handy if Oz ever dropped in unexpectedly." He grinned at her. "I have chains too."
"Is our second unexpected houseguest comfortable?" Dawn asked nervously, taking a seat on the couch beside Carrie. "Preferably heavily medicated and chained up?"
"Faith and Buffy managed to secure Katako downstairs in the basement with the help of Xander's metalworking skills. Carrie also administered some sedatives." Giles nodded confidently. "We should all be safe for the moment."
"My very own nurse, complete with house calls." Xander took a seat on the other side of Carrie and wrapped his arm around her, drawing her closer in a tender hug.
She flushed and shrugged it off. "Just glad I could help."
"So what will happen now?" Faith asked, pacing anxiously in front of the fireplace.
"In my conversation with Percy some days ago, he informed me that the Council would be arriving shortly to help secure the situation. I assume plans haven't changed."
"Better late than never," Xander grumbled.
"What are you all grumpy for?" Dawn asked.
"Look at all this busted up furniture. I will be working evenings and weekends forever to clean this mess up."
"You love it and you know it," Willow said with a knowing grin.
Some heavy knocks at the door made everyone pause.
"I'll get it, I've had a good life," Dawn sighed and walked over to check it out. With a twist of the knob, she pulled back the door to reveal five hulking, darkly uniformed and weapon clad men all wearing unreceptive glowers.
"Giles, it's for you," Dawn yelled back over her shoulder and walked away without the slightest greeting.
Giles worked to get to his feet and limped over to the door with the aid of Buffy. He quickly examined the stern faced men and offered a polite smile. "Council Special Forces I presume?" He held out hand to greet the closest soldier.
The young man responded with a succinct salute. "Mr. Giles, CWSF thirty third requesting permission to..."
"Oh, enough of that bloody rubbish. Rupert doesn't go for all that military jargon. A hearty handshake is all you'll ever need." A tall, distinguished older gentleman stepped forward and offered Giles his hand.
Giles' face lit up. "Percy, I-I didn't expect you to accompany the Special Forces team."
"I figured it was about time I came across the pond and checked in with our better half here in the states. May we... um..." He gestured past Giles with an expectant smile.
Giles waved them inside in a silent invitation.
As Giles backed away from the door, Percy noticed the limp. "What have you done to yourself now, old man?"
"I think it's broken but he's being all stubborn, macho guy and won't go to the hospital," Buffy grumbled.
"Better to be safe with these things. Hartman..." Percy called and raised with a finger. A young soldier dutifully stepped forward. "See to Mr. Giles' injury, would you."
"Of course, sir," the young man nodded sharply and immediately weaved his arm through Giles' arms and guided him over to a nearby chair.
Giles' face blushed faintly with awkwardness. "This really is unnecessary..."
"Come now, Rupert, it will take but a moment, leaving our lovely Miss Summers to give me the grand tour."
"It would be my pleasure." Buffy smiled and turned back toward Giles, pointing a stern finger at him. "Sit, stay. Good Giles."
"Hey, Mr. P. How's it hanging?" Faith gave a slight nod of greeting to Percy and leaned with studious casualness back against the basement door.
"Faith... I wasn't aware that you were in Whispering Pines. I thought you were on holiday. After your hard work, you should be taking a rest."
"Luckily for us, she just happened to come to town to enjoy the local Slug Festival," Giles said, wincing as the soldier removed his shoe. "Unfortunately, she missed the festivities so we offered her a place to stay in exchange for her talents. We never could have caught this disturbed young Slayer without her."
Faith glanced over at Giles, offering him a grateful smile.
“You have Katako in custody then? What of Takeshi Ito?”
“According to the girl, he died. He was injured several days ago by a Rarkatar demon.” Giles looked at Percy meaningfully. “It has been a difficult few days. If Faith hadn’t been here, there might have been more deaths.”
"Well then, it was certainly fortunate that she choose to vacation here then, wasn’t it, old man?” Percy smiled sweetly at him. "Perhaps we should collect this disturbed Slayer first, then we can discuss happenings over dinner some time later this week."
"Week?" Buffy squeaked, "This isn't just a friendly pop in, have a cup of tea, and then, ‘gee, it’s off on another daring COW adventure?’"
"I've managed to rearrange my schedule. I will be staying in town for about a week." Percy smiled. "Perhaps I can see some of the local color Faith missed out on in her tour of duty here?"
“There’s not a week’s worth of color here!”
“Well, I’m sure we’ll make do. Now, where is young Miss Hojo? We should get her moved quickly.”
"I'll show the Cowboys to the basement," Dawn strolled up to the soldiers and gave one a nudge. "Get it... COW-boys?" The man stared down at her unsmiling. She shrugged and gestured for them to follow her. "This way, guys." She descended the stairs with the team of Council Special Forces close behind.
"You think maybe I can hitch a ride with the black pack back to Cleveland, boss?" Faith asked shyly.
Percy nodded. "I believe we can arrange a slight detour. However, this team must leave immediately with the Slayer in order to get her medical treatment. Can you leave now?”
Faith nodded. She turned to Buffy and stood awkwardly for a second. "Well thanks, B," she said casually. She started to turn away and then looked up seriously. "I mean that. For everything."
Buffy smiled. "Anytime, Faith. You're always welcome here. But next time, leave the psycho Slayers back east."
"It's a deal," Faith answered firmly, and then stiffened as Buffy pulled her into a friendly hug. After a brief moment of shock, Faith apprehensively lifted her arm up and gave Buffy a gentle pat on the back.
"You better go get packed up," Buffy pulled away and motioned toward the guest room.
"Nothin' to pack," Faith shrugged easily. "I travel light. But I better go check just to make sure."
"Ya'll come back now, ya hear?" Willow said in her best southern drawl and giggled.
Faith shook her head. "Take care, guys."
"You too, and say hi to Robin for us," Buffy said encouragingly.
"Will do." Faith started down the hall and stopped, peeking back around the corner to Percy and Buffy. "Oh yeah, almost forgot. When you and G-man finally get around to setting the date, make sure you send the wedding invitation to apartment C204. Later."
Buffy's eyes shot to Giles and then they both looked to Percy.
Percy lifted an eyebrow in amusement. "Well, well, Rupert. It looks as if there will be plenty to talk about during my visit, doesn't it?"
When Faith got to the safety of the guest room, she took one final glance around as she retrieved her cell phone, flipped it open and punched the numbers on the keypad. She put the phone to her ear, listening to it ring.
"I wonder where they got this bed?" Faith wondered aloud to herself as she heard the line click active. At the sound of that sexy and familiar low tone, she smiled and said, "Hey baby, good news. I'm coming home."
Giles shuffled over to his bed, carefully favoring his wounded foot, and took a seat at the edge.
"You okay?" Buffy asked, kneeling down to check the security of the fresh splint and bandages.
"I'm fine, tired mostly after our activities of the last few days. I could use a bit of rest."
"I don't like it when you get hurt," Buffy said in a small, child-like tone. "So stop it, okay."
"Buffy, there's no need to worry. It's not nearly as severe as the injury you suffered earlier in the week."
"But you don't have the benefit of Slayer healing, Giles. It scares me." She took a seat next to him on the bed and folded her hands in her lap, staring at them. "I understand how she felt, Giles. That young Slayer, with the anger and the panic." Buffy spoke in a strained voice. "If anything ever happened to you, I don't know what I'd do."
"You'd find a way to go on," he answered with soft confidence. "As you did before when I left."
"That was then. When I didn't... before I..." She paused, biting back her regrets. "How did you do it, Giles? Dealing with the loss of someone you loved so intimately? With Jenny?"
He took a moment before answering, breathing in a slow breath. "I had good friends to support me. I had a duty to perform, to focus on." He looked sideways over to her, eyes shimmering in the dim evening light. "I had you."
"And when I di... and me?" she asked awkwardly.
Giles' face fell as his gaze shifted to his bandaged foot below. After a long moment, he began to speak slowly and quietly. "I didn't deal at all well. If it hadn't been for..." Buffy could hear his voice choke. "Dawn mostly. She wouldn't let me give up, no matter how badly she wanted to herself. And I had to protect her for you.”
He rubbed his face roughly before continuing. "But they all helped. Willow became a surrogate Watcher, my go-between with the Council. She kept them from knowing what had happened and just how helpless with grief I was right then. Xander was a lifeline to sanity, with his unending jokes, reminding me to laugh even when I could barely breathe. And Anya..." Her memory brought a flicker of a smile to his face. "Dear girl, she was always appointing me duties at the shop to keep me busy." He frowned slightly. "Even Spike helped. He understood. We got drunk the night we buried you and..." Giles paused for a long moment. "Well, he kept me from doing anything rash." Giles finally looked up at her, eyes bright. "Even in death, you inspired such greatness. Is it any wonder I love you so?"
"I love you," Buffy whispered softly and leaned in, giving him a gentle, adoring, kiss. They soon parted and Buffy's gaze returned to Giles' injured foot yet again. "Her Watcher was all she had in this world and now he's gone. I can't even begin to think about what I'd do if I lost you."
"I'll try my best to see to it you don't," Giles said reassuringly, "If you'll promise me the same." He took her hand. "I can't lose you again. It nearly killed me the first time."
Buffy covered his hand with her own. "Looks like we're stuck with each other, then."
"I hope so." He pulled her into a warm hug and they held each other tightly for a long moment.
Finally, Buffy slipped out of his arms and lay back onto the comforter of his bed, pulling his hand with her to coax him to follow. "Can we just lay here for a minute?" she asked softly, almost begging.
With a sympathetic smile, he carefully scooted onto the bed and settled back against the pillows, outstretching his arm in an open invitation to her to join him. Buffy shifted nearer, settling her head to his chest and taking his free hand in hers once more. He began to caress her hair, small strokes and they remained there, quiet. It was a long time before either fell asleep.
"Wow!" Mark tilted Dawn's chin, turning her face more into the light streaming through the cafeteria window. "I've never seen a black-eye that was so green and purple."
She elbowed him in the ribs. "As my boyfriend it's your sworn duty to lie and tell me that it's barely noticeable."
"I'm your boyfriend?" Mark grinned goofily. "That's so cool!"
"Well you are only if you say nice things about my eye."
Mark frowned in mock seriousness. "So I'm not supposed to tell you that if it was any brighter it would glow in the dark."
"Ok." Mark shrugged, and picking up an orange, began to peel it. He looked at her again. "I can't believe you ran into a door."
"I know. It sounds like the kind of story you'd make up when you didn't want to admit that some evil psycho bitch with super strength punched you in the face," Dawn said, taking the section of orange Mark held out to her.
"I just hate it when that happens."
Dawn nodded. "Me, too."
Hearing the car pull in, Buffy hurried to meet Giles at the door. "How'd class go?" she asked, relieving him of his bag and coat and helping him over to the couch.
"It went well, after a brief distraction at the beginning."
Buffy glanced down at his bandaged foot and giggled. "Care to explain what happened there?"
Giles sank down into the couch and let out a relaxed sigh as he propped his injured foot up on the couch cushions. "Some of the students noticed my injury and insisted on signing the bandages. I tried to explain that it isn't a cast and therefore perhaps it would be better left unmarked. Let's just say they can be very insistent."
Buffy examined the array of comical signatures scribbled along the fabric, female and male names alike decorating the otherwise bland covering. A small series of hearts made her smile and she pointed at them. "I'll go out on a limb and say they like you."
"The feeling is mutual," said Giles, craning his neck to see where she pointed. "But, oh! Um, not in that way, I assure you."
"It’s okay. They can have their way with the outside, but I get what's inside all to myself." She sat down beside him and scooted in closer.
"I wouldn't have it any other way." He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her in tight.
"But I do believe an 'I told you so' is in order," Buffy purred as she cuddled in close and nuzzled her face to Giles neck. "Time to face the unbearable truth, Giles. You’re a hottie."
"I respectfully decline your diagnosis on the basis of bias. I think you may be prone toward exaggeration." Giles gave her forehead a gentle kiss. "But thank you, just the same."
Willow smiled contentedly as she passed the cute couple cuddling in the living room and took a seat at the dining room table. She opened her notebook computer and with a swift finger to the space bar, the screen flickered alive before her. Her eyes went wide as she read the instant message sent to her by the Council.
"Package lost in transit. Special Ops alerted. Will be advised upon further information."