Actions

Work Header

Neither Angels, Nor Demons

Work Text:

Certainly this wasn't where she pictured meeting her Slayer. Perhaps some would be put off at the idea of their prospective ward being in such a place but not her. No, Annabel Cooper was intrigued and even a bit proud.

The others, they were now approaching their Slayers. Introducing them to the possible life which could await them. One filled with fighting and dying and everything horrible in the world. While she was inside a local jail house in South Boston, bailing hers out.

All because her Slayer in waiting had already met and defeated the enemy, and in the nude at that. Forming a slight smile, Annabel murmured, "A firecracker."

"You sure you wanna do this, lady?" asked Police Officer Robert Jenkins for the sixth time. For the life of him he couldn't figure out what this woman wanted with the kid. She was dressed in an impeccable dark blue tailored outfit, her jacket sleek and her skirt short but not too short, just enough to show off a pair of almost endless legs. Not to mention a pair of high heels that made him wonder yet again how women could manage to walk around in those things. "We've seen her around the neighborhood plenty. She's nothin' but trouble."

"I'm quite sure," Annabel replied with a hint of warning. "However, I've paid the bail, haven't I now?"

"Yeah, you did," Officer Jenkins replied. Walking into the holding area with Annabel trailing after him, he muttered under his breath, "Foreigners."

Ignoring his comments and sighing in irritation, Annabel released a puff of air, blowing it to one side. It moved away in time for her to lock eyes onto her Slayer in waiting. Faith Spencer was a girl who possessed an instinctively tough exterior but at the same time, to Annabel, looked unbearably vulnerable in the oversized clothes they had given her to wear.

Dark brown eyes were steely and Annabel knew she was trying to intimidate her. It was unfortunate that just wasn't going to be easily done.

"Time to go kid," said Officer Jenkins gruffly as he opened the cell.

Ignoring his words, Faith stayed exactly where she was and bore a cold stare deep into Annabel. "Who the hell are you?" Faith demanded.

Raising an eyebrow, Annabel formed a knowing smile. "Would you be interested in discovering what you battled tonight? You might say I've come to tell you."

On hearing this, Faith's entire demeanor changed to one of curiousity. "You got the 411," she said slowly. "On what those things are?"

"I know everything there is to know about what they are and where they have originated," Annabel replied. "Well?" she tilted her head to one side, causing a few strands of hair to fall into her eyes. "Shall we go?"

"Yeah," said Faith, looking vaguely amused. "I'm thinkin' that we shall." Faith rose to her feet, walking out of the cell and past Officer Jenkins, pausing to smirk even wider. Giving him a hard whap on the shoulder, she then drawled, "Nice seein' you again, Bobby boy. I hope that your memory is damn good because tonight's probably the only time you'll ever see someone as good lookin' as me naked."

"Get outta my sight," Officer Jenkins growled, trying to be threatening but ultimately failing as Faith chuckled at his attempt, walking past.

"Be seein' you!" Faith called out, turning around saucily and blowing him a kiss before disappearing from sight.

Looking at Annabel who remained, watching Faith with a lidded gaze, Officer Jenkins said, "You be careful with her. I don't know what your angle is lady but that kid isn't one to be messed with. That much is for sure."

"I'll do my best to remember that," Annabel murmured, not sparing a glance in his direction as she followed after Faith. "One must always be careful when handling firecrackers, after all."

---

They stood outside the Police Station, ignoring the people coming and going, the sounds of the sirens, and the glare of the lights that aimed their way. They did all that while they stared at each other, matching their gazes.

Finally, Annabel decided to speak. "Vampires," she said simply, her refined features calm and decisive. "Those are what you killed tonight, Faith."

"Vampires?" echoed Faith. She stared at Annabel for a long moment then burst out into incredulous laughter. "I dunno who you are but you're fucking insane," she said through her continued laughs. "Vampires," Faith shook her head then snorted derisively. "Right."

"I assure you, I'm not insane," said Annabel, not looking bothered at all by the reaction Faith just had. "And you know very well what you saw tonight. Their faces... they changed didn't they? One moment they were normal as you or I and the next they were horrible creatures, twisted and evil."

Seeming to withdraw, Faith frowned deeply, staring hard at Annabel. "How do you know that?" she asked harshly. "I never told the cops."

"It's because of my work," said Annabel, moving closer to Faith but in an altogether cautious manner, her body language a calming influence. "I'm meant to battle against them and other creatures that would harm mankind but I can only accomplish this task with your help."

"My help?" Faith scoffed. "What the fuck are you talking about? Just because I fought those things tonight doesn't mean that I'm gonna make a habit of it." Eyeing Annabel skeptically, she demanded, "Who are you anyway?"

"I'm Annabel Cooper and I am your Watcher," said Annabel in firm and decisive tones that left no room for argument. Except where Faith was concerned.

"My what?" Faith said, drawing slowly backwards and away, staring at Annabel like she was some sort of anomaly. "I dunno what a Watcher is but I sure as hell don't need one. I can take care of myself without anyone watching my back."

"I'm quite sure that's true," murmured Annabel. "Nevertheless, I am your Watcher and you are my Slayer in waiting. It's my job to train you so you will be ready to assume your duties in the event that you are chosen as the next Slayer in the line." Her eyes softened and her voice turned gentle as Annabel took the smallest step towards Faith. "We haven't time to waste, Faith," she said. "You know what you saw tonight, what you fought, and I'm quite sure that you are aware it is evil. We need your help to fight against that evil, we need it so very badly. Please," Annabel said softly, hesitantly reaching out to touch Faith's hand which was hidden in the long sleeve to the flannel shirt she wore. "Help us, help me... help yourself."

A long and seemingly endless moment passed before a tiny smile flickered across Faith's features. "I dunno what it is," she said quietly, searching Annabel's features. "But there's somethin' about you that makes me believe what you're saying."

"Then you'll work with me?" asked Annabel, she managed to keep hope restrained from showing on her features but not from appearing in her voice.

"Might as well," Faith shrugged, slowly disengaging her hand from Annabel's, who had still been touching her, and shoved both her hands deep into the pockets of her worn jeans. "Not like I got any other offers comin' my way. Besides," she drawled, forming a jaunty grin. "This could be fun. Being a superhero and all, savin' the helpless, being useful. If that ain't cool crap, I dunno what is."

"Well," Annabel matched Faith's smile with one more reserved in nature. "I'm not sure how cool it will be but you certainly are more than useful. You're important, Faith, terribly important. Not only to me and the Council but to humanity itself. We need you."

Faith blinked and suddenly, everything was at a standstill as she heard this stranger say the one thing that she had wanted to hear for all of her life. Say it so easily and so very naturally that she couldn't help but believe it was the truth.

Turning away from Annabel and coughing roughly, Faith replied, "It's cool." Slowly looking back at the other woman, she grinned. "We're five by five."

As they walked towards Annabel's car, heading into the future uncertain as it was, they both felt a good degree of hope for what was to come. Feeling that somehow bright days would be ahead, helping them leave the dark ones from the past safely behind. Where they couldn't hurt them again.

Several moments passed and Annabel found herself unable to help asking, "What does that mean exactly? Five by five?"

The only response she got was another jaunty grin from Faith. One that didn't answer her question but at the same time, in a strange way did.

---

Faith shifted in the plush leather seat of the Mercedes Benz, trying her best to get used to the fact that she was actually in a car this nice. She had been driving in it for several hours, only stopping briefly for gas and then a short overnight stay in a posh hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee that came with a free breakfast the likes of which Faith had never seen before. In fact, she never even heard of Knoxville, much less imagined it had places as nice as that. This car though, she was amazed how comfortable it was after hours on end of sitting in it. Didn't seem natural. It was probably worth more than the crappy rat and roach infested apartment building she used to live in with her mother and her countless dealer boyfriends.

Then again, Faith directed her gaze at the woman driving the car, it did suit her. She couldn't see someone as fancy as this lady driving around in any other type of car. Annabel screamed class and the idea that she would drive some piece of junk used car didn't fit. No, it was nothing but the best for her. Which left Faith to wonder why exactly she was in the car with her. Annabel said she was a Slayer in waiting and as such, Annabel was supposed to train her so she would be ready in case she was called as the next Slayer.

All right, she got that. The only thing was, she had absolutely no idea what this all meant. Studying Annabel's sculptured features, Faith asked, "What's a Slayer?"

Blinking at this question which, to her, came entirely out of left field, Annabel glanced at Faith. "I'm sorry," she said in slow tones. "What did you say?"

"What's a Slayer?" Faith repeated, her gaze hard. "You said that I'm a Slayer in waiting. I wanna know what I'm doin' waiting around for. Oh yeah, and I wanna know where we're going. I've spent a shit load of hours in this Richie Rich ride of yours but I still have no idea where we're headed."

"A Slayer in waiting is someone who has the chance above all others in the world to be chosen as the next Slayer," murmured Annabel. "Before you ask," she aimed a soft smile at Faith. "A Slayer is the Chosen One, the girl whose destiny is to fight against the evils of this world. She is blessed with incredible abilities an ordinary person could never possess and is a fighter the likes of which few could imagine."

"And you think I could be that girl?" asked Faith with a good degree of shock.

The idea that she could be someone so important just didn't seem possible. She wasn't anyone, she was just some poor girl from South Boston, not some sort of mystical warrior for the forces of good. The entire concept seemed unreal to her.

"Yes," Annabel nodded. She looked at the side of the road, smiling as she saw they had just a few miles until they reached their destination. "You're very special, Faith. You would do well to recall that."

Snorting at this, Faith looked out the car window, trying her best to fight the feelings of hope and pride that ran through her at Annabel's words. She wanted to believe it but she couldn't let herself, she had way too many disappointments in her life to believe in what people said at face value. If this chick was on the level she'd have to prove it.

"Hey, you never said where we're headed in this loped out Benz," said Faith, turning to look at Annabel who, instead of replying, nodded at a passing sign. Faith's eyes went wide and she read it out loud, "New Orleans." She faced Annabel and said excitedly, "You're taking us to New Orleans? Mardi Gras central? Flash your boobs for beads the biggest of big time party towns New Orleans?" Faith appeared to almost begin bouncing around in the car as she formed a huge grin. "No shit?"

"New Orleans is a city with a great deal of supernatural activity," informed Annabel, deciding to ignore that Faith always used a continuing choice of vulgar adjectives. "It's where the Council decided we would be best assigned."

"Kick ass," Faith breathed, whirling around to peer out the car window with excitement. She pressed her face up against the glass, her breath steaming it up as she said, "Girl can have plenty of fun in a place like this."

"I'm quite sure that's true," said Annabel in droll tones. "However, the reason which we are here in the first place is to work, Faith. Do not forget that."

"Yeah, yeah," Faith dismissed, her face still pressed against the window as she took in the lights of the city.

It was surprisingly mellow at night, she noted. Everything about it was old and there was a sense of deep history to the buildings and landmarks. Faith looked at Annabel, realizing the city was like her, echoing of class and things that Faith knew were too good for her. That was when Faith saw several hookers on the corner.

Then she burst out laughing, because nothing was as it seemed. Not even a city as beautiful as New Orleans. Or, she spared another look at Annabel, this woman.

"I'm glad you find streetwalkers so terribly amusing," Annabel commented. "Personally I find their lives and situations entirely sad. It disrespects them and the people who frequent their services. Then again," she sighed, "one supposes they think that's all they can do to earn the money they need to live."

There was a moment of silence then Faith said, "That's bullshit." When Annabel arched an eyebrow and looked at the brunette with surprise, she continued, "They want cash and that's how they get it. Usually it's spent on drugs. We make our choices and we gotta live with it. I don't feel sorry for them." Faith looked back out the window, her expression hard. "They put themselves there."

"A very apt argument," said Annabel softly. She kept her gaze fixed ahead and murmured, "I still find it sad."

They were quiet for a few minutes then Annabel smiled and ducked her head to get a better look at the address on the mansion she was slowing her car in front of. It was at least three stories high with massive pillars and Faith had never seen a building so white, covered entirely with winding vines and flowers of all shapes and colors. Looking at the mansion, Faith was reminded of the fairy tale castles she had dreamed about as a kid.

"Here we are," said Annabel, parking the car in the narrow driveway located on the left side of the mansion. "Lovely, isn't it?"

Faith made no attempt to reply and remained frozen, staring at the mammoth building as Annabel got out of the car. Shaking herself out of this state, Faith followed suit, numbly closing the door to the Mercedes as she kept staring at the mansion. It was shaded and intimidating in its classic beauty that was revealed in the bare light of the street lamps. Tall and proud as it stood before her.

"Damn," Faith breathed. "Damn..." She jumped on hearing the loud slam of the trunk and turned to Annabel who was holding a large leather suitcase in her hand. "We're really gonna live here?"

"Yes," Annabel said with a nod. "We really are."

"Damn," said Faith again, continuing to gape at the mansion. Looking back at Annabel, she confessed almost sheepishly, "I've never been this close to something this nice. Looks like it's out of some kinda story."

"I'm pleased you approve," said Annabel, her gaze soft. "Come now," she touched Faith's elbow lightly to steer her towards the mansion. "Lets go inside. It's late and we ought to get some sleep."

"Yeah," said Faith slowly, allowing Annabel to lead her forward, her eyes still wide as she looked at the building she would now live in. "Sleep's a good thing."

Looking at Faith's features, filled with an innocent and childlike delight, Annabel couldn't help but smile. This would work out, she knew it would.

It simply had to, for both their sakes.

---

Faith woke up to the smell of food being cooked and not just any kind of food. Good food... food that wasn't being burned by a person who was half drunk and hungry in the morning. It wasn't something she was used to happening.

Stretching in the large bed, Faith groaned with satisfaction and smiled as the soft covers brushed against her toes. The sheets were a tangled mess, like always. Faith tended to have nightmares and even if she was granted a peaceful sleep she had a natural tendency to toss and turn. Which usually didn't mean anything good for the state of her sheets.

She waggled her toes and buried herself further underneath the covers, delighting in the softness of the bed and the smell of breakfast. This entire thing seemed like a dream, one of the nice ones she sometimes had where her life was different, she had people who cared and everything was simple, not a daily struggle.

Then again, the lady... Annabel, had said she was a Slayer in waiting and because of that she would be getting trained in the art of battle. Some might think that was the price she had to pay for living the life that was presented here, but not Faith. The idea that she was going to be taught how to fight better, to defend herself and how to protect others, she welcomed it. Because she knew for a fact it was something she could definitely use.

The things people said were important, going to school for that oh so precious idea of improving yourself, served no purpose for her. What was the point of her going to school when all that happened there was drama, people just after her ass for a throw down? Faith couldn't even remember the last time she actually learned anything from her teachers. The entire situation saddened her. When she did go she could see that dead look in their eyes that reminded her of her mother, and that look told her they just didn't care anymore. That they were tired of their jobs, of the kids, and of the world in general.

Faith didn't have anything to learn from people like that. So she simply stopped going. This was right around the same time she had stopped going home as well. There wasn't anything there for her either. Her mother didn't love her. Hell, she wasn't sure if her mother even knew what the word meant. For Faith home was just another word for pain.

She damn well had enough of that to last a lifetime.

Her nights and days were spent in the company of her people. Other runaways who took care of each other by checking out which abandoned buildings were safest from the ever prying eyes of the cops or finding a hook up for free food that maybe, just maybe, wasn't half eaten. It was a hard life, yeah, but it was better than what Faith was used to. At least her people didn't call her a worthless shit and let their boyfriends... no... no she didn't want to think about that now. Faith shivered, instinctively moving even further under the covers, surrounding herself with their warmth. She didn't want to think about that here, where she was safe.

This was her chance to make a fresh start. To leave all that long behind just like she'd left Boston. She was in a new place with a new person and she had a new purpose, something to live for. Something, if Annabel was right, gave a reason for why she had been born into this world and maybe, just maybe, justified her entire shitty existence.

A light rap sounded on the door and startled by the fact that someone would bother being polite enough to knock for her, Faith slowly pushed herself up on her elbows. "Yeah?" she called out almost hesitantly.

"Breakfast is ready," Annabel's voice was muffled through the heavy wooden door. "I wasn't sure what you fancied so I made a bit of everything. Come join me? Or would you perhaps like to shower first?"

Considering her options and trying not to be stunned she had some, Faith frowned thoughtfully. Her stomach rumbled seconds later and Faith smirked. Seems her body had made the choice for her. "I'm eatin'," Faith replied loud enough for Annabel to hear, getting up and out of bed, stretching her naked form. "Lemme get decent and I'll be down in a few."

"As you like," said Annabel pleasantly.

Very soon Faith heard the sound of footsteps descending down the stairs. Grinning widely and feeling truly happy for the first time in a long while, Faith found herself heading over to the large walk in closet, pulling back its doors. But when she did this, she suddenly found herself recalling that she brought no clothes.

When they left Boston all Faith had with her were the clothes on her back. Annabel asked Faith if there was anywhere she wanted to stop first and Faith had shook her head no. All she wanted was to get the hell out of there. It wasn't like she had anything there that would make her feel like staying.

Yeah, she had her people and all but they would understand her leaving without saying goodbye. People left all the time in their circle, either by choice or by death. The latter mostly due to overdoses. Shivering unconsciously, Faith hugged herself for warmth. She'd vowed a long time ago to never touch that crap. Not after seeing what it led to with her mother.

Much to Faith's surprise, the closet wasn't empty. It was filled with an endless row of clothes. An unlimited amount of styles of jeans, leather pants, and even the tank tops and tight half shirts Faith that liked to wear. They were all there in full force. Not to mention the three pairs of Dr. Martens, all steel toed as she preferred. And belts! The over sized belts Faith delighted in wearing when she could manage to swipe them from the right place were here.

Reaching out hesitantly, Faith fingered the soft material of the black leather pants and smiled. It was brand new... she could tell from the feel and smell. She joyfully yanked it from its hook, tossing it onto the bed and quickly shoved through the various tops trying to find the right one.

Finally deciding on a dark red button up shirt, Faith tossed it next to the leather pants and smiled widely at her chosen outfit. Yeah, she'd have some fun tonight. A thought occurred to her and Faith went tearing towards the nearest dresser, opening the top drawer, and laughing on seeing stacks of underwear. All kinds of colors and materials, red cotton, purple silk, white satin. It was like a fucking store was living inside her room. She quickly picked a pair of black satin panties and flung open the second drawer, seeing the same thing but instead with bras. Picking out a bra to match her panties, Faith opened the final drawer and wasn't disappointed, finding it full of socks of all types and colors.

Tossing the socks on the bed, Faith looked at her outfit and laughed long and loud. It was too much... way too much. She'd never had things like this before. Suddenly, despite how hungry she was, Faith had the urge to take a shower, just because she wanted to put on her new clothes and never take them off.

That was when another realization hit Faith. She had her own bathroom. Her own honest to god bathroom. Laughs came longer and louder, echoing with sheer delight as she ran quickly into the large bathroom, taking in the piles of clean towels, the smell of fresh soap, and the shiny colors of the full bottles of expensive shampoo and bubble bath.

Hearing the laughter from her place at the bottom of the stairs where she'd been standing for the past few minutes, Annabel smiled softly. She then turned on her heel and headed into the kitchen, preparing to reheat breakfast.

It being cold when Faith was done just wouldn't do.

---

When Faith emerged in the kitchen, Annabel had just finished reheating the eggs and was setting the plate down on the round oak kitchen table. Like everything else in the house, the kitchen was large and extravagant, echoing of history and a sense of elegance.

"Did you enjoy the shower?" asked Annabel with a smile. She set the large plate full of sausage patties and toast down on the table. "I wasn't quite sure what products you most favored so I chose what I use myself. Was that all right?"

"Yeah," Faith shrugged, not sure how to reply to this question. Never in her life had anyone cared about stuff like that. Hell, Faith wasn't even sure what it would be like to have a favorite shampoo and soap. She just used whatever she got and was happy to have it. "It's cool."

"I'm glad," said Annabel, sounding pleased.

She handed Faith a plate full of food then walked towards the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of orange juice. As she did this, Faith quickly and covertly piled more food onto her plate. When Annabel turned back, the brunette had just finished adding three more huge piles of eggs to her plate. Raising an eyebrow, Annabel didn't comment and instead handed Faith a tall glass of orange juice which the dark brunette accepted eagerly.

Annabel began to pour her own glass but paused on seeing Faith turn on her heel and begin to walk out of the kitchen. Blinking at this, she said, "Where are you going?"

"To my room," said Faith in matter of fact tones, looking at Annabel strangely. "I wanna eat."

"As do I," said Annabel in dry tones. "Which is why I plan on sitting at the kitchen table to do so. Much like you should be doing as well."

Darting her gaze from Annabel to the table then back to Annabel again, Faith said rather sardonically, "You're kiddin', right?"

"Study this face," Annabel said slowly, her expression droll but very much amused as a lock of hair fell into her eyes. "Now tell me, do you honestly believe that I'm kidding?"

"Man," Faith heaved a huge sigh.

She looked down at the plate of food and came to a internal decision. Stomping over to the table, Faith set the plate and glass of juice down, pulling back a heavy wooden chair and sitting with a good degree of huff. Then she proceeded to pick up the fork that was lying on top of a white tailored napkin and began stuffing the food into her mouth at a blinding speed, pausing only to take big gulping drinks of her juice. Annabel watched this go on for several moments, eyeing Faith carefully. Then she picked up her glass and set the carton near Faith for possible refills. Annabel then took her place next to Faith and started eating her own meal but with far more restraint than her companion. She wasn't halfway done when Faith finished her plate off, releasing a slight burp and a great noise of pleasure. Pouring herself a new glass of juice, she looked at Annabel with lidded brown eyes.

"Good food," remarked Faith almost reluctantly. "I haven't had somethin' that good in awhile. Didn't expect you to know how to do stuff like that."

"Let me guess," said Annabel with light humor. "I don't appear to be the type of person who would know such things."

"Yeah," Faith said, looking surprised as she nodded.

Annabel murmured, "I take care of myself. Cooking is all a part of that." She met Faith's gaze. "Wouldn't you agree?"

Faith had a look of quiet respect and replied, "Yeah. I gotta say that I do."

"Things aren't always what they seem, Faith," said Annabel wisely, taking a bite of her eggs. "People are rarely what they appear to be on the surface. I would imagine you'll discover that on your own soon enough." Hazel eyes locked with dark brown and Annabel paused to study Faith for a moment then murmured, "Or perhaps you already have."

Eyeing Annabel quietly, Faith inspected the woman. She wasn't dressed up like yesterday but still, there was a sense of simple elegance to her which intrigued Faith. The soft blue cashmere sweater she wore clung to her willowy frame, as did the black pants which were cut to perfectly accentuate long legs. In fact, to Faith, the only thing about this woman that didn't seem perfect was her pale brownish blonde hair that seemed to perpetually fall into her eyes every few minutes. Which was odd when you considered the fact that she had it pulled back in a ponytail. Not once in her life had Faith met someone like this. Annabel had an understated grace in her movements. Even in how she moved her utensil from the food to her mouth and in the delicate wipe of the napkin, not a snotty gesture as Faith had seen some do, but one of natural born sophistication. It was more than she could fathom that a woman like this could need her for something.

The situation was entirely too strange.

"Yeah," Faith shrugged nonchalantly. "I know some stuff. Seems like you do too."

"Yes," said Annabel with a hint of a smile, rising to her feet and picking up her plate and Faith's. "It would seem that I do." She washed the plates of what little scraps of food that remained, then placed them in the dishwasher. Turning it on, she looked over at Faith and smiled again as she brushed her hands against her black pants. "Well," she tilted her head to one side. "What do you say? Are you ready for a spot of training?"

"Definitely," Faith said with a wide grin.

---

Faith trailed after Annabel as the tall woman walked out of the kitchen and headed towards the small area hidden underneath the massive staircase. There rested a door so innocuous that most people would simply walk past it. Standing in front of the door, Annabel produced some keys from her pocket and unlocked it.

Opening the door wide, she arched an eyebrow at Faith, making a sweeping gesture and bowing just a bit. "After you," she said graciously.

"Funny," Faith snorted, walking past Annabel.

She had only gotten a few steps into the room when she froze at everything she saw. It was gigantic... bigger than any gym she had ever seen. Hell, it was bigger than the place where her ex-boyfriend, Tony the Boxer, used to train for fights. Plus all the equipment and weapons, Faith had only seen stuff like it on TV or in museums and some of it not even in there.

"Holy shit," said Faith in certain shock. She whirled around to look at Annabel with a huge grin. "This is it? I get to train in here?"

Giving a nod, Annabel smiled again. She smoothly walked past Faith and stood in front of the mat, slipping off her shoes and taking the keys from her pocket to place them on a nearby table. Turning to face Faith, she said, "I think we should begin now, don't you?"

"What?" Faith looked altogether shocked, drawing backwards. "You mean you want me to fight you?"

"That is how one tends to train," said Annabel dryly.

"Lady," said Faith as she shook her head and shoved her hands into the pockets of her new leather pants. "That isn't a good idea. I'm grateful and all, for what you've done, the new clothes, fancy house, food..." Faith looked bemused and almost arrogant at the same time. "I don't wanna hurt you, and that's what's gonna happen if we fight."

"I can assure you that won't be the case," Annabel said slowly. "Now come," she moved into a traditional fighting stance with fluid ease. "Fight."

Shrugging her shoulders, Faith untied her boots and kicked them off before standing on the mat across from Annabel. Seeing that the other woman wasn't going to make the first move, Faith narrowed her eyes then made the usual charge that signaled her entry into a new battle.

Except Annabel wasn't like her usual opponents. The fast pace and ferocity of her initial movement didn't throw her off balance. Instead, it was Faith who found herself being thrown as Annabel smoothly grabbed Faith's arm, controlling her lower body and flipping her easily onto the mat. Leaning down, she looked into shocked brown eyes and smiled almost mischievously.

"Well then," Annabel murmured gently, her breath hot on Faith's skin as their faces were inches apart. "Do you still think that you'll be able to hurt me?"

The only response she got was a determined look in Faith's eyes and her chin jutting out in defiance. Seeing this reaction, Annabel smiled again.

She was a firecracker indeed.

---

It was night and at night Faith always got itchy. Part of her supposed it was because of how she grew up. She never had a life where people stayed home at night. No, in her home daytime was for sleeping and night? Night was for going out and having yourself a good time.

Which was exactly what she planned on doing. No matter what Annabel thought. Yeah, the lady had been nice to her so far and yeah, she had managed to keep her on her toes during the training session but still...

It was night and she wanted to go out.

So she walked down the hallway towards the dim light that was shining and paused to stand in the doorway to the library. Annabel was sitting, curled up in a fancy looking red loveseat, busily writing in a book. Sensing Faith's presence, she looked up and smiled softly.

"Yes?" asked Annabel curiously, tilting her head slightly.

"I'm going out," Faith stated, leaving no room for argument, at least where she was concerned.

Annabel arched an eyebrow at this and pursed her lips slightly. With a small sigh, she shut the book and gave Faith a long and decisive study. "Very well," she murmured, rising to her feet, taking the book with her as she went.

She paused to unlock the middle drawer of the desk on the far side of the room. Annabel set the book down then turned around and walked towards Faith. Her stance the very essence of calm, she pressed a wooden stake into Faith's left hand then a cell phone, keys, and some money into her right.

Looking into Faith's dark brown eyes, Annabel said, "You may come and go as you please. Certainly I would like it if you always told me when you did so, but all I really request of you is to have these with you at all times."

"Okay," said Faith slowly, frowning as she looked at the objects. "I get the cell phone, keys, and cash deal. I mean, cell to have a way to keep in contact, keys to get back into the house, and cash is always good..." She held the stake up rather haplessly. "What's this for?"

"Vampires," Annabel smiled. In an elegant and seamless gesture she retrieved the stake from Faith and twirled it in her hand before moving forward swiftly and stopping it an inch before her heart. "Quite the useful weapon."

"Yeah," said Faith breathlessly. Their faces were so close she could feel Annabel's breath on her skin and it caused her body heat rise, making Faith all the more certain she needed to leave for a party soon. She met Annabel's eyes, searching them for several moments, looking doubtful. "So you're cool with this? Me goin' out? You're not going to pitch a shit fit or nothin'?"

Sighing deeply, Annabel closed her eyes and pulled away. When she opened them, her gaze was soothing. "I can't control you, Faith, it would be impossible to try. The best that I can do is hope to influence your actions in some way." Annabel formed a small smile. "I assume that if you want to go out, you'll go out. No matter what I say or think on the matter, am I correct?"

"Yeah," Faith drawled, smiling in return. "You are."

"Then why waste valuable time in a futile effort to stop you?" Annabel replied, shrugging her shoulders. She paused and reached out to touch Faith's hand, looking concerned. "But do be cautious. It is terribly dangerous at night."

Looking surprised at this request, Faith blinked then shook her head and grinned widely. "Tell you what," she said. "If there's any sorta trouble, I'll give you a ring on the trusty new cell phone." Faith frowned suddenly, looking at the phone in her hand then up at Annabel. "Only..."

"Only what?" Annabel broke in quickly.

"Only I dunno the number here," said Faith sheepishly.

"Ah," Annabel breathed a sigh of relief. "It's on speed dial number two." She took the cell phone from Faith, tapered fingers brushing up against the brunette's palm as she did so. Turning it on, she demonstrated how to use the speed dial function. Smiling as she looked at Faith who wore a dazed expression on her features. Frowning at this, Annabel said, "Faith?"

Snapping back into reality and shaking her head, trying her best to rid her mind of that delicious feeling of electricity, Faith looked at Annabel. "Five by five," she reassured. "I'm all cell phone educated now. It'll be cool."

With that, Faith took the cell phone, shoving it into one of the back pockets of her leather pants before shoving the wooden stake in the other. Then she pocketed the keys and money, walking out of the library.

"Later!" she called in farewell.

Staying motionless, Annabel found herself wondering about the feeling she had gotten when they touched. Something quite similar to a very pleasing tickle running throughout her body. Dismissing it, she walked over to the desk and retrieved her diary, going back to her task of recording the second day with her Slayer in waiting.

---

Midnight was when Faith returned and Annabel sat in the window seat of her bedroom, content to read until she arrived home. That's where she was as she watched Faith pull a young man towards the door step, laughing recklessly at whatever he said.

Faith smiled, her full lips curving in a seductive motion, drawing near, her body pressed close. The young man seemed to barely be breathing as her hands began to learn him intimately. Then she paused to lean forward, whispering in his ear and as she moved backwards, her lips brushed against his cheek. This was something that obviously drove him wild because after she did this, he pulled her to him, meeting their lips in a passionate kiss.

They remained like this for several moments, mouths exploring insistently as they walked backwards to the mansion. Finally they stood on the door step, Faith fumbling with her keys, laughing as the young man kissed her neck and ran his hands over her body and under her shirt as she did so. Then they tumbled into the mansion and Annabel lost sight of them.

She heard them clearly though. The husky sound of Faith's laugh, hushed whispers to be quiet, and the stumble of footsteps up the stairs before the click of a door firmly shut.

Sighing deeply, Annabel leaned her head against the wall, peering at the ceiling as she did so. It wasn't her job as a Watcher to lecture Faith on her personal life but still, it didn't seem right to her. Lazily, her gaze moved and rested on her diary, lying next to her bed on the night stand. Rising to retrieve it, Annabel returned to her place on the window seat and did the only thing that her job and duty would allow and approve of.

Write her feelings and opinions regarding her Slayer in waiting down for future generations to read and learn from. Though Annabel wasn't sure she had anything significant to teach.

---

Annabel was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading the paper when she heard the sound of what was supposed to be quiet footsteps. Keeping her eyes focused on the newspaper, she asked, "Have a pleasant sleep?"

In an instant, the footsteps stopped and silence enveloped the general area. Turning her head, Annabel gave the young man from last night a closer study. In the light of day she could see he was a handsome young Creole fellow, his skin a dusky brown, features smiling and round. Dressed in a pair of tailored pants and a rumpled dress shirt that was buttoned halfway up his muscular chest with the sleeves rolled up, he made a very attractive picture.

"Mais, I'd be lyin' if that I told you I did, ma'am," he greeted, forming a crooked smile. "Seein' as I didn't get myself a wink of sleep."

"Is that so?" Annabel arched an eyebrow.

They remained still for a moment then Faith's voice entered the air as she hurriedly said, "T.Paul what are you doin' hanging around here? I--" She paused in her sentence and her step once she noticed Annabel's presence. Blinking in surprise, Faith quickly recovered and slid all the closer to the young man, moving seductively as she hung onto his arm. T.Paul quirked an eyebrow and a smile played on his lips as he looked at Annabel with wry amusement. "Hey."

"Good morning," replied Annabel, smiling softly. "Your friend was just telling me what an enjoyable night he had. Isn't that so... T.Paul, was it?" She wore a thoughtful expression and she tilted her head to one side. "Or is that Tee Do?"

Releasing a rich and delighted chuckle, the young man grinned widely. "Yeah," he drawled. "Mama, bless her, she calls me that. I just ain't grown, she says. I'm always gonna be her little sweet one. Too bad that name don't get me anywhere with the ladies, ne? Gotta shorten it or they'll figure too soon I'm a Mama's boy."

"Quite the dilemma," Annabel said warmly. "Well, it was nice meeting you T.Paul." Looking at Faith, her hazel eyes flickered with humor. "Perhaps I'll see you again."

"Hopin' you just might," T.Paul grinned big. He leaned down to face a stunned Faith and dropped a sensual kiss on her lips and pulled away. "Bye bye, beb. You come on and visit me at work soon. Make you some bouillee."

Having said that, T.Paul ambled out of the mansion whistling a happy tune and closing the door behind him. As he did, Annabel turned and went back to reading the newspaper. Faith, in the meanwhile, remained frozen.

Then a massive scowl passed over her pretty features. Stomping loudly over to Annabel, she pushed down the newspaper in her hands and was rewarded with a fawn colored eyebrow raising speculatively.

"Yes?" asked Annabel politely.

"That's it?" Faith demanded, her gaze narrowing. "You don't got nothing to say to me? Not about bringing T.Paul here or screwin' some guy I just met? Nothin'?"

Annabel regarded Faith calmly and after a moment of silence, they softened. "Did you use protection?" Annabel finally asked, her voice concerned.

"Why do you care?" Faith demanded.

"Faith," murmured Annabel, she heaved a great sigh and rubbed her forehead lightly, dropping her gaze while she did so. After a moment, she looked back up at the brunette. "I do realize we've only just met, but I do care. The chances of contracting a sexual disease are numerous and it isn't safe. Now," her voice was firm. "Did you use protection?"

"Yeah," Faith admitted moodily. She folded her arms across her chest and clenched her jaw. "I'm not stupid. Last thing I want is to test positive or have a kid. I just wanna have some fun, y'know?"

Folding the newspaper on the table, Annabel rose to her feet and smiled at Faith as the girl looked at her with uncertainty. "I know," she said, sounding supportive. "I would ask you a favor though."

"What?" asked Faith, her attitude immediately turning defensive.

"Your personal life is your own," Annabel said softly, ducking her head as she spoke. "I'm well aware of that and I won't argue with you on the issue. However, I would appreciate it if you didn't bring your young men here. This is our home. Not theirs."

Faith seemed to pull back into herself, reeling in shock before a mask fell to conceal her emotions. "That's cool," she allowed. "I can do that."

"Wonderful," Annabel said, pleased. In a smooth movement, she walked over to the pantry and opened it. "What would you like to eat? Pancakes perhaps? Or something else?" She glanced over her shoulder, frowning on being faced with a desolate look from Faith, one that made her emotionally exposed. "Faith?"

"I always use it," said Faith quietly, her eyes searching Annabel's and her voice forceful, wanting with everything in her to convince this woman of her words. The problem was, she didn't know why she felt that way. She never cared what people thought about her. Never. Somehow it was different with Annabel but she didn't know why. "Protection, I mean. You're not sayin' anything about that because you don't wanna get on my case, right?" Annabel didn't reply and simply gave a tiny nod that caused Faith to look relieved. "I figured. You're right, we haven't known each other long but I also figure in the time we have known each other you've done more crap for me than folks I've known since I was a kid." She shrugged, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jeans, directing her gaze across the room. "That's why I might as well tell you. Make you worry less, if that helps."

"It does help. Thank you," said Annabel quietly, holding Faith's gaze.

"Yeah, well," Faith shrugged, looking extremely embarrassed before she strode over to the other woman and inspected the pantry. Looking at the contents, she released a short bark of laughter. Reaching for one of the boxes, she held it in front of Annabel. "Grits? What the hell sorta hick food are you buying, woman?"

Looking ruffled, Annabel said indignantly, "How was I supposed to know which of the foods here you would prefer? I bought what was on the shelf."

"Anna," said Faith slowly, sounding as if she was talking to a small child, her expression humorous. "We don't got weird ass stuff like grits back east."

"I was to know this how?" Annabel replied, deciding to overlook the shortening of her name, rather enjoying how it sounded coming from Faith's lips. She took the box of grits from Faith and poked her lightly in the chest in a teasing gesture. "You Americans are all the same."

"Oh no, you didn't," Faith's eyes sparked with warning though her intentions were anything but dangerous. "That was just askin' for trouble, y'know that right?"

"Who bested who in training?" said Annabel in sing song tones, walking to the pantry and putting the box of grits away. She then gathered the appropriate ingredients to make a quick batch of pancakes, deciding Faith's lack of protest meant they would be an acceptable meal. Darting a look over her shoulder, she smirked on seeing Faith scowling at her. "Don't pout."

"I ain't poutin', I'm being pissed," Faith growled.

"Really?" Annabel arched an eyebrow, setting the ingredients down on the counter. "They look incredibly similar on your face. I imagine that's a lost wonder of the world, having intermingling expressions."

"Smartass chick," grumbled Faith under her breath. She watched Annabel fumble with the lid to the flour and rolled her eyes. Walking over to her, Faith took it from her hands and smoothly yanked back the difficult lid. "If you're not a repressed girly girl, I dunno who is."

Laughing at this comment, Annabel poured the flour into the bowl as Faith retrieved the milk. Handing the milk over, Faith watched as Annabel cracked two eggs over the bowl in a natural movement. She was stirring the batter as a question came into Faith's mind.

"Are you gonna try and make me go to school?" asked Faith in tones that were altogether wary and held some degree warning.

"What do you think?" Annabel questioned as she paused in the middle of her stirring and looked at Faith.

Frowning to give the British woman a long and hard study, Faith finally grinned triumphantly and said, "You won't."

"Correct," said Annabel, going back to her stirring. Blowing a persistent lock of hair from her eye line, she continued, "I'll be frank with you, Faith. While I do place a great deal of value in the traditional educational system, it ultimately serves no purpose for what I'm training you in. Therefore, if you don't wish to attend school, I'm not going to force the issue. All that means is more time for our training."

Mulling over this, Faith observed quietly as Annabel headed towards the oven, preparing to cook the pancakes. Unsure of exactly why, Faith somehow found herself rushing forward, retrieving the frying pan for Annabel and handing it to her. Smiling gently in thanks, Annabel took the frying pan from Faith and their fingers brushed, causing an unfamiliar warmth to spread through the brunette. Then with Faith watching closely, Annabel went about cooking their breakfast. All with the both of them unaware of the soft and fond smile that was spreading across Faith's normally guarded features.

---

Three weeks was how long she'd been living in New Orleans with Annabel and Faith couldn't get used to the life she now had. To it and the strange feeling of happiness she was experiencing more and more often. No matter what she did in the first days to irritate the other woman, to push her away as she had done with so many people before, it never worked.

First there had been T.Paul, someone who had ended up becoming a friendly fuck for Faith. A guy that she could hang out with in her free time as a friend and when they were in the mood, have a good night of sex as well. It was a nice no strings attached relationship they enjoyed. Especially since they both had an unnatural amount of stamina. Annabel hadn't made a fuss about Faith's personal life and no comments were made on her sexual habits.

Then she came home fabulously drunk one night, making such a horrible racket that Annabel came wandering downstairs in her navy blue silk pajamas, the pants too long, pooling around her feet as she walked. It made her look all the more endearing and nonthreatening as she lectured Faith on the foolishness of drinking too much when there are vampires lurking about.

Of course, the lecture didn't have much influence when Faith was too wasted to understand what she was saying and on top of it all, started puking uncontrollably. The memory of Annabel's dry comments as she held back her thick brown hair while she leaned over the toilet was still enough to make even Faith turn red.

Last but not least there was the smoking. This wasn't something Faith did to irritate Annabel, it was something she had to do. Mostly because she had been getting a nicotine fix on and off since she was thirteen and it helped her relax, soothing her usually on edge personality. It was too bad for her that Annabel was one of those people who disliked smoking with a passion.

This led to Faith being banned from smoking in the mansion. Something Faith didn't mind really, being as New Orleans always had a consistent balmy warmth to it that she did enjoy. Whenever she felt the need for a cigarette seize her, she'd wander out into the majestic and sweeping garden in their backyard. Sitting on the thick marble railing, kicking her legs, and studying the hundreds upon hundreds of flowers all around her.

Of course, Faith had been smoking outside in the garden for only a week when Annabel discovered the horrifying sight of multiple cigarette butts scattered simply everywhere. It was a mess Faith had to soon clean up and after that point there was always some sort of ashtray outside for her.

Having felt the urge for a good smoke, Faith was currently outside in the garden, sitting on the marble railing which had become her favorite spot. Ashing her cigarette, she leaned back and grinned carelessly as a cool wind hit her face.

It nice here. Really nice. In fact, everything about her situation in general could be described that way. Just really fucking nice. It wasn't something Faith was used to but it was something she was learning to enjoy quite a bit.

The training sessions were going extremely well and according to Annabel she was a natural fighter. Faith had to hold back the urge to snort sarcastically at that remark. Just because she reasoned it was hard to be anything but a natural when that's what you saw most in your life.

At times it seemed to Faith as if she had been fighting since she was born. Fighting to survive, to prove she was worth something, that her existence was valid. Not being really good with words, she ended up doing this with her fists.

If someone insulted her, hurt her, played her... well, she always made sure they never did it again. Except on those few terrifying occasions when the person who did those things to her was stronger than her. Those were the times Faith didn't want to remember, not ever.

The training was helping though. Before, when she would fight, Faith felt unrestrained... wild, like an animal set free from its cage. Thanks to Annabel she could honestly say it was possible for her to get into a fight and keep her cool. To stay in control and recognize the thin line between right and wrong she'd grown up seeing so horribly blurred.

She heard the creak of the wooden patio doors opening and smiled, knowing it was Annabel. It never failed. Over their time together, Faith noticed that if she stayed outside on a pleasant day more than a half an hour, Annabel would join her sooner or later. Usually sooner.

Not that Faith minded.

Taking a drag of her cigarette, Faith turned to face Annabel and smirked. "You turnin' into a nicotine fiend too, Anna? Bad girl," she drawled mischievously. "All ready to steal the smokes I bought with your cash."

"I'll choose to ignore that last statement for your own well being," Annabel replied in droll tones, closing the patio doors and walking over to Faith. She leaned against the marble railing, resting her arms on it. Breathing deeply, she took in the fresh smell of flowers and smiled warmly. "It is entirely lovely out here, isn't it?"

"Yup," Faith agreed with a nod. She twisted her body around and put out her cigarette in a nearby ashtray. Looking back, she studied Annabel's refined features, her brownish blonde hair blowing in the breeze, causing it to gather around her face. "It's real lovely."

Annabel moved to face Faith, her hair falling into her eyes, making her push it to one side. "Faith," she began in slow, almost hesitant tones.

"Yeah?" Faith frowned as she wasn't used to hearing Annabel sound like that.

The sound was anxious and worried, causing Faith to immediately wonder what happened to make this consistently calm and soothing person feel that way. Had something gone wrong? Was it her? Did she disappoint Annabel somehow? She hadn't been trying to. On the contrary, she had been doing everything in her own strangely timid way to please Annabel. Mostly because she had done more for her in a few weeks than anyone else had done in years. That and Faith honestly liked her. Liked her quite a lot.

"You've been doing extraordinarily well in training," Annabel said, holding Faith's eyes in a steady gaze. "Because of that I was thinking that perhaps, if you're ready," she said this part rather rushed, "we might go on our first patrol tonight."

In seconds, Faith's expression went from nervous to relieved and then a certain smug happiness. She formed a huge smirk and said, "What're you looking worried for, Anna? Of course I'm ready. Lets get out there and kick some vamp ass."

"I should have guessed that would be your reaction," said Annabel, her voice dry once more. She released a rather exaggerated sigh and shook her head, her fawn colored hair swinging to and fro in its ponytail. "Really," Annabel teased, her eyes twinkling. "Never in all my days would I have thought the Council would give me such a barbarian for a Slayer in waiting."

"Ah, ah, ah," Faith wagged her index finger in Annabel's face, wearing an equally playful expression. "Don't forget that I'm an extraordinarily well trained barbarian."

"Heaven forefend I should do that," replied Annabel affectionately, pulling away from the railing and rising to her full and impressive height. Faith looked questioningly at her and she smiled. "It's getting late," she explained. "I thought that we might decide which weapons to take along for our first patrol."

Faith released a hearty whoop, she spun around, bouncing off her sitting place on the marble railing to land next to Annabel. Giving a wide grin, she leaned closer and drawled, "Swords?"

"No swords," said Annabel with forceful good humor. "You nearly cut yourself yesterday. I'll never understand your fascination with them."

"They're cool," Faith argued, trailing after Annabel, the grin still very much present on her features. "Cool and shiny to top it off. You can't argue with shininess, Anna. It's like the key element in makin' the perfect weapon."

"I'll be sure to inform the Council of that," Annabel deadpanned, her voice floating out of the mansion.

Not replying, Faith just kept on grinning happily as she smoothly closed the patio doors. Knowing with everything in her that tonight would be a good night.

---

Annabel covertly studied their surroundings with watchful eyes because while New Orleans was indeed a very beautiful city it was also one with many hidden nooks and crannies in which a vampire could hide. Which made it a hazardous place to live.

This wasn't something Faith cared to think about though, she was so happy to be on her first patrol. Doing as Annabel said, she wasn't making any noise, and instead was displaying her happiness in an unusual bounce in her step that made her look altogether lively. Something that she wasn't even aware she was doing, which just served to add to the overall charm.

Faith was occupied in one such charming bounce when she noticed several shadows move towards them from the alley ahead. She immediately paused in her walk, putting her body in front Annabel's.

"Vamps," Faith hissed, tucking her hand into the pocket of her jacket to clutch at her stake.

"We shall see," murmured Annabel in return. Moving closer to Faith, her slender frame lightly pressed against the brunette's back, granting a reassuring presence. Faith was dimly aware of the scent of lavender that Annabel carried with her as she leaned forward to whisper teasingly, "They could merely be streetwalkers." The brunette was about to reply when Annabel was jerked backwards and whirled around to see a vampire, already in his game face. "Or not," she revised, pulling a stake out of her own jacket before she delivered a hard kick to his midsection. "Faith!" she called, turning to her Slayer in waiting who appeared to be frozen in a state of almost permanent shock. On hearing Annabel's voice, Faith snapped out of this and met their gazes. "You can do this," said Annabel firmly, her voice confident, "it's what you were born to do. Remember our training."

An expression of acceptance then hard determination formed on Faith's features and she turned to face the vampires. Smiling saucily and beckoning them closer, she drawled, "Why dontcha come up and see me sometime, undead boys? I got a present for you."

Pulling out her stake, Faith waited for the vampires to attack her. That had been one of the first things Annabel taught her. Let them move first and watch their body language carefully so she might learn to naturally read her opponents. The best way to defeat someone is to know what they'll do before they know it themselves.

That's what Faith did as she allowed the vampires to rush at her and forming a brash smile of triumph, she soundly and strongly brought her arm down on his lowered neck. He fell to the ground in a loud crash and as he lay there, Faith went into a crouch, staking him in the heart.

"You staked him in the back!" the other vampire cried indignantly. "You know how cowardly--"

He wasn't able to finish the rest of his statement as Annabel proceeded to do to him what Faith had done to his friend. Raising an eyebrow as she watched the dust fall, she offered a quirky smile. "All is far in our undead war," Annabel remarked dryly.

Faith grinned at this and was about to reply when out of nowhere a final vampire appeared, grasping Annabel by the shoulder, slamming her hard into a nearby building. It took mere seconds before Faith flew into action, her dark brown eyes narrowed and steely, she jumped on his back, acting like the proverbial monkey, pulling him off Annabel. The vampire cursed and whirled around in her grasp and Faith snarled at his attempts to lose her. Fumbling with her jacket pocket, she retrieved her second stake. Trying to rid herself of the dizziness his movements caused, Faith brought the stake down to where she hoped his heart was.

Seconds later, she fell flat on her ass, now covered with a thin layer of dust.

"Fuck!" shouted Faith, grousing at the pain that was resonating in her ass. "That sucked."

Quickly moving forward, Annabel arrived at the girl's side with a proud expression on her features. "That was amazing," she announced, beaming widely and looking down into Faith's dark gaze. "You truly are a natural at this, Faith. You did splendidly."

"Yeah?" Faith grumbled. "Tell that to my ass."

"I think I just might do that," said Annabel playfully, giving a delighted laugh as she stood up and pulled Faith gently up with her. Brushing off the brunette's jacket, she gave another smile. "I mean it," she murmured. "I know men twice your age who have years of experience in dealing with the supernatural who can't fight nearly as well."

"I bet they don't go fallin' on their ass though," Faith muttered, averting her gaze.

"Faith," Annabel said softly. When the girl didn't look her way, she reached out to tenderly touch her cheek, moving her face so their eyes met. Her expression flawless in its honesty, Annabel earnestly repeated, "You were amazing."

The dark brunette didn't reply and the only signal that she was affected by these words was the fact that the very tips of her ears were bright red. Smiling fondly on seeing this, Annabel looked away from Faith and dug into the pocket of her tan dress pants. Producing a small white box, she carefully opened it and removed a delicate silver cross on a thin silver chain.

"I bought this for you as a memento of our first patrol," explained Annabel as she presented the necklace to Faith who stared at it with disbelief. "And also because one can never have too much protection," Annabel said the words softly, smiling as she placed the necklace and cross around the brunette's neck, clasping the chain efficiently.

Looking down at the cross with an expression of awe, Faith brushed her fingertips over it lightly, taking in the cool feeling of the fine metal against her skin. Then she looked at Annabel, blinking back the tears she knew were forming. Coughing loudly, Faith moved her gaze across the street, staring at some random buildings.

"Thanks," said Faith in gruff tones. "It's cool."

"I'm pleased you think so," said Annabel. She backed away, giving Faith the personal space she realized the girl needed. "I believe we've patrolled enough for tonight, don't you?"

"Yeah," Faith replied, her voice still thick with emotion, nodding her head so her dark hair obscured her features.

Annabel remained motionless for a moment then she walked to Faith, taking her hand to gently pull the girl along. This went on until they finally reached the mansion. Not once along the way did Faith even consider shaking her hand out of Annabel's soft hold.

---

It was the little things that Faith tended to notice when she was bored. Like the fact that Annabel always cut her food into the tiniest pieces possible. They were eating dinner currently, well, Annabel was eating. While Faith, as always, had long finished her meal since speed eating was her specialty.

Faith couldn't help but smirk on watching Annabel slice her steak into an another incredibly small piece then lift it to her mouth. What amused her most was maybe the fact that Annabel was the complete opposite of her in so many ways. She cut her steak, yeah, but in huge pieces. Probably altogether she took eight huge bites of the meat before finishing it all off.

On the other hand, Annabel, by Faith's estimation, had thirty tiny ass pieces left to go.

Noticing Faith's study, Annabel arched an eyebrow and smiled, setting her fork down on her plate. "Yes?" she asked, her tones lightly teasing.

"You eat slow, Anna," remarked Faith, pushing her plate to one side. She rested her chin in the palm of her hand. "Like snail pace slow."

"Eating fast equals indigestion," Annabel replied, pushing her plate forward as well. It was rare that Faith expressed a desire to talk so when she exhibited the need, Annabel tended to stop whatever she was doing to accommodate her. "Not all of us are Slayers in waiting with iron cased stomachs."

"Poor Anna," Faith drawled, wearing an exaggerated expression of sympathy. "Sucks to be you."

"At times," acknowledged Annabel drolly.

A strangely long moment passed where Faith was grinning at Annabel and Annabel was grinning back then the brunette whapped her hands down hard onto the kitchen table. "I got it," she announced, rising to her feet with certain determination.

"You have what?" asked Annabel in curious tones.

"We," Faith said slowly as she leaned close, their faces a breath apart while she formed a mischievous smile. "Are gonna go out and have some fun."

"We are?" Annabel echoed uncertainly.

"Yep," Faith nodded. "We are. C'mon, Anna," she wheedled. "As long as I've been here you don't go outside except to get food and patrol with me. You deserve some fun and hell," Faith grinned. "I think I'd get a big kick outta seeing you let your hair down."

"And it's always about you, isn't it now?" asked Annabel, her voice filled with dry humor but her expression quietly affectionate.

"Naturally," drawled Faith. They were still for a moment then Faith's eyes softened and she murmured, "I'm serious, Anna. This would be good for us both. Pretend stuff is normal, blow off some steam. It'd be fun." She hesitantly offered her hand to the taller woman and said, "So? What do you say?"

Looking from Faith's face, open and kind, to her hand, Annabel sighed then formed a soft smile of her own. Taking Faith's hand in a gentle hold, she rose to her feet and said, "I say I need to change my clothes."

"Aww, man," Faith released a giant groan. "Why do you gotta do that? You look hot, Anna. I swear that you do. Changing clothes is just gonna waste time."

"You wish me to have fun?" asked Annabel, looking Faith dead in the eyes, her face solemn. When Faith nodded slowly, she smiled. "Let me change my clothes and I promise that I shall have fun."

Looking entirely skeptical, Faith screwed up her face in thought. Finally, she shrugged carelessly, pulling her hand away from Annabel's soft touch which she'd become increasingly more familiar with, and said, "Go change."

"Thank you," Annabel smiled again and paused, studying Faith closely. In an elegant movement she leaned forward, pressing her lips tenderly against the brunette's forehead. "This was a grand idea."

With that, Annabel walked out of the kitchen and towards her bedroom. Leaving Faith in a state of curious disbelief. Then shaking herself out of it, Faith slowly reached up to touch her forehead, tracing the place where soft lips had just been. She did this and she smiled, her entire face lighting up as she did so.

---

Parking the Mercedes in one of the miraculously free lots in New Orleans, Annabel looked over at Faith. "Well?" she began. "Where to?"

"Dunno," Faith grinned, moving to unbuckle her seatbelt. "How about we just walk around and see where our feet end up takin' us?"

"A good plan," Annabel smiled softly, getting out of the car. She closed the door then paused to smooth out her long skirt.

Watching her do this from where she stood, Faith recalled the stilted moment when Annabel walked down the immense staircase at the mansion. Dressed in a v-neck blue blouse and a long gray skirt, both perfectly clinging to her frame, she was a vision of exquisite beauty. One that made Faith feel suddenly plain in her brown leather pants and black tank top.

It was a feeling she got over all too quickly and grabbing Annabel's hand, Faith had dragged her out of the house, her happy mood infectious.

Now here they were. Walking side by side in the streets of New Orleans, intent on having a good time. Faith's eyes darted everywhere, taking in the bright lights with pleasure. No matter how many times she went out she never got over how alive and beautiful the city was.

The entire atmosphere was something she desperately enjoyed. It was how all the locals seemed to always be at ease, a slow charm in their smiles and speech, there was something undeniably soothing about the area that she loved.

And it made her never want to leave.

"De creatures of the night, they live on even now!" a passing man declared with certain over the top enthusiasm, waving his hands for emphasis, talking to a group of wide eyed tourists as they marched through the crowded street. "Vampires 'ave long been a part of N'awlins, its history long an' dark."

Watching them, Faith bumped Annabel with her shoulder and the taller woman raised an eyebrow. "Wanna take the tour?" Faith sniggered. "Maybe he can teach you some stuff you don't know about vamps."

"I rather not," said Annabel smoothly, watching the man as he continued in his story. "Especially not with that company. They simply won't let me be about including the mansion on their haunted house tour."

"What?!" Faith squeaked. When Annabel smiled at this reaction, Faith cleared her throat and said in much more normal tones, "The mansion is haunted?"

"It isn't haunted," reassured Annabel, clasping Faith's arm and squeezing it gently before winding them through the crowd. "The Council wouldn't allow us to reside there if it was. Well," she tilted her head to one side. "Certainly not if the phantasm was violent."

"Ghosts? Phantasm?" Faith squeaked again, unable to help it. Fighting vamps was one thing but ghosts? No one told her ghosts would be a part of the deal.

"There are no ghosts in the mansion," Annabel said, smiling and moving her hand down to clasp Faith's. She rubbed her thumb softly over Faith's skin and expertly led them through the crowd of people. "It simply has a long and rather dramatic history."

"Yeah?" asked Faith, getting over her shock. "Like what?"

"Let me see," Annabel mused, thinking back on what she was told about the mansion. "To start it was originally built by a wealthy land owner who wasn't making most of his riches from the land but rather from supporting a crew of pirates. It came to be that the pirates felt he was keeping them from too much of the booty they had rightfully stolen and well..." Annabel turned to look at Faith. "They lopped his head clean off while he slept." Faith paled at this and Annabel wore a face of concern, facing forward she declared exuberantly, "Well then! That's enough stories for tonight."

"No, wait," Faith insisted, tugging on Annabel's hand which was still holding hers. "They cut his head off and you guys really don't figure he haunts the place? If someone fucking cut my head off I'd damn sure haunt wherever it happened."

"No worries," murmured Annabel, leaning forward to whisper in Faith's ear. "It's been very well documented that he haunts their pirate ship. I rather suppose he felt he was best off bothering the pirates themselves. The legend says that he tormented them so that one night he caused their ship to be led astray, crashing into the rocks, causing them all to drown."

"Kick ass," Faith breathed, a childlike smile spreading on her face. She looked at Annabel with excitement. "Got any other stories?"

"Some other time perhaps," Annabel smiled. "We're here to have fun not to exchange tales about the dead, remember?"

Nodding her head, Faith's eyes were alight as she inspected the neighborhood and finally, they fixed on a club. It was an unassuming place, not at all out of the ordinary when to it appearance. On the other hand, the music that came pouring out of the club was anything but ordinary. Heady and holding a special energetic quality, it drew people inside and proved the age old saying that appearances aren't everything.

Faith was turning towards Annabel to suggest that they check the place out and stopped on seeing the eager expression on the blonde's features. Annabel's eyes were sparkling as she looked at Faith and said, "Jazz club. Want to have a listen?"

"Definitely," Faith nodded and Annabel beamed widely, squeezing Faith's hand again before leading her through the street and towards the club.

If the outside of the club was unassuming, the inside was anything but. Packed with person after person, all drinking, talking, dancing to the music, it was chaos but a very delightful kind that Faith could never get tired of. The band on the tiny stage just ended their number and the singer, a curvaceous woman with ringlets of red brown hair, pushed back a sweat beaded shock of it and grinned widely.

"Y'all like that did you?" the singer called out and the crowd immediately shouted their affirmations. Much to Faith's surprise, Annabel shouted along with them. Nodding her head in exaggerated thought, the singer asked, "I should sing another then?"

The crowd once again answered with a resounding roar of yes and the singer smiled, licking her lips before she turned back to the band, speaking briefly then starting up the next song. Like the one before, it started with a catching beat, the cry of the saxophone and sound of the horns resounding with a low bass. In just seconds, the club seemed to be moving, the floor pounding with people stomping their feet along with the song and the dancers on the floor moving in a frenzied rhythm, losing themselves to the beat.

There was a feather light touch on Faith's shoulder and she turned to look at a beaming Annabel. "I'm going to have a dance," Annabel said. "Would you join me?"

Shaking herself out of her shock, Faith grinned, "Yeah."

Forming a pleased smile, Annabel took Faith's hand and they squeezed through the crowd to make their way onto the dance floor. The people there weren't so much dancing as celebrating life, moving to the sensual and frantic rhythm of the song that swept over them all like a breeze. Now Faith had danced before. She danced so much that it was impossible for her to count the times. Dancing was perhaps her favorite pastime as Faith thought nothing was better than losing yourself in song and movement. She loved the press of a warm body against hers, their hands hot on her, making her forget all of her troubles.

To her, dancing was a special kind of bliss.

But Faith had never once danced like this. The music being played did hold a certain sexual overtone to it but to Faith the dance of the people around her and the song itself wasn't about just getting to score. It was like they were heady on being alive, on being together, on just being human. When she was bumped from behind, an accidental gesture from one of the other dancers, it caused Faith to snap out of her musings and look at Annabel. Something that caused her eyes to go wide and a feeling of amazement to fill her.

She wasn't really sure how Annabel would dance. Certainly not like her, not with a wild sexual rhythm, trying to draw people in with her movements and hoping to attract the best possible partners in bed. She didn't think that Annabel would dance like that but still... she didn't think she would dance like this either.

Fawn colored hair flew about her face as she moved to the music, her eyes closed as if she was seeing it, her head tossed back and hips swaying to the resounding beat, arms drawing high over her head. It wasn't so much a sexual display as one of pure natural sensuality.

And it made Faith's heart stop.

There was just something so beautiful about it. This controlled woman letting go of the confines she put on herself daily and losing herself to the utter joy of the music and dance, allowing others to truly see her without a care.

Hazel eyes opened and met Faith's dark brown ones. Forming a gentle smile, Annabel held her hand out to Faith who smiled on seeing this gesture. Taking her hand once more, Faith slid closer and began dancing to the rhythm, following Annabel's lead as the music grew louder and more heady.

Nothing else in the world mattered but the dance at that moment. Nothing was as important, as wonderful, and they both somehow knew it.

They knew like everyone else in the club did and that's why they celebrated. It was this moment in time that held their happiness. And so they all danced, moving together to the beat. Happier than they'd ever been, wishing that it would never end. Faith and Annabel included.

---

They had a maid.

An honest to god maid. Never in her wildest dreams did Faith think she would ever live somewhere that had a maid. Currently, their maid was vacuuming down the hall and making a great deal of noise as she did.

Her name was Marguerite, that's all Faith knew. That and she obviously knew about her and Annabel's hobbies with slaying. When she walked in the house, she exchanged some pleasantries with Annabel before she shooed the British woman away which left her alone with Faith, who had sat on the steps while this went on, simply watching them. Soon trying to forget the tingles of pleasure that had been created when Annabel ruffled her hair as she passed, walking up the stairs to leave her with Marguerite.

Once they were alone, Marguerite inspected Faith closely, her gaze running up and down her body. "L'enfant," she said solemnly. Heaving a great sigh, she sadly shook her head.

Then she turned on her heel and walked out of the room, leaving Faith puzzled.

She ended up in her bedroom, dully flipping through her collection of comic books, one that kept getting larger thanks to the money Annabel gave her, but couldn't concentrate. Not with that strange scene replaying through her head and the loud sound of the vacuum cleaner.

Tossing the comic onto the floor, not really caring if Marguerite would ruin it with her vacuuming, Faith walked out of her room in search of Annabel. Not to her surprise, she found the woman in the library, sitting in the red loveseat. Per usual, she was busy writing in that book of hers. Sometimes Faith would wonder what was in that book because Annabel was always writing in it so much. Most of the time she would dismiss her curious thoughts almost as soon as they arose. It wasn't her business what Annabel was writing in there. The taller woman let her have privacy she needed and Faith would return the favor.

It was the least she could do, after all.

"Faith," said Annabel fondly, closing her book and smiling.

"That's me," Faith responded in sardonic tones as she closed the library door that always remained open in a vague hope of blocking out the sound of Marguerite and her vacuum. Looking to Annabel, she asked, "What's l'enfant?"

Her smile growing wider, Annabel's gaze twinkled. "Why?" she tilted her head to one side. "Did Marguerite call you that?"

"Yeah," Faith's eyes narrowed. "So what's it mean?"

"The child," answered Annabel, her voice sounding playful. "Which," she gave the smallest chuckle. "I assume Marguerite thinks you are."

"She called me a kid?" Faith scowled, it growing deeper as Annabel kept chuckling. "What're you laughin' at? Why's that so funny anyway?"

"It's not an insult, Faith," Annabel said through her laughs. She rose to her feet, setting her book down on the loveseat. Crossing to Faith, she clasped her by the shoulders and looked down into brown eyes. "She honestly meant it as a sign of respect. Marguerite knows about vampires and the like," she murmured. "All she meant by it was a recognition of you being a Slayer in waiting."

"Yeah?" asked Faith skeptically. "You sure about that?"

"I'm positive," Annabel smiled softly. Taking Faith's hand in a gesture that was more and more natural for her as the days past, she pulled the dark girl over to the loveseat, sitting them both down. Curling her right leg under the left, Annabel reached for her book, resting it the crook of her legs. "Marguerite's great grandmother was a Slayer, you see."

"No shit?" Faith's eyes went wide. She blinked then frowned. "Wait, I thought you said that most Slayers don't really... y'know, live long enough for that stuff."

"That's true," murmured Annabel sadly. "The current Slayer, Buffy, she's lasted the longest in quite the while."

"Buffy," snickered Faith, screwing her face up for a rather comedic moment. "I still can't get over her name, Anna. I dunno care how kick ass you say she is, that just ain't a right name if you ask me. Who does that to their kid anyhow?"

Rolling her eyes, Annabel shoved lightly at Faith's knee. "Be serious," she said, her tones reproving though fond. "I'm trying to educate you on your history."

"Uh hmm," said Faith slowly, smirking at Annabel. She moved in her position on the loveseat, her legs on either side of it so she straddled it. Leaning back on her hands, she drawled, "So educate me already."

Averting her eyes, Annabel's face reddened by a small degree, showing the barest hint of a blush. "It isn't proper but..." she sighed deeply. "At times it does tend to happen with Slayers it's found."

"What happens?" asked Faith, frowning.

"That they will... become involved with their Watchers romantically," said Annabel reluctantly, avoiding Faith's gaze.

"Really?" Faith said, blinking. Noting Annabel's uncomfortable body language, she smirked. Her fingers danced out to tickle Annabel's midsection and when Annabel looked at her with surprise, Faith said, "What's up, Anna? Are you thinkin' naughty thoughts about little ol' me?"

"Certainly not!" Annabel cried out, turning redder and folding her arms protectively over her chest before she pushed Faith's fingers far from her stomach. Looking away from Faith, a lock of hair fell into her eyes, and she huffed, "I don't think I'll be telling you anything more now."

"Awww, that's no fair," Faith pouted, jutting out her lip. "I was just kiddin'."

"It wasn't funny." Annabel leaned back into the loveseat and continued, "That's what happened with Marguerite's great grandmother though. She was involved with her Watcher, eventually becoming pregnant by him. Shortly after she had the child, she was killed in battle. Perhaps not yet recovered from the birth. And because of this, Marguerite knows about Slayers and the like."

"There a lot of stories like that?" asked Faith curiously, kicking her legs to and fro and studying Annabel's features.

"Some," admitted Annabel, tipping her head back to stare at the ceiling. "It isn't a terribly unusual thing to read the histories and find cases of Slayer and Watcher romance. One supposes it's simply caused from the lives they led and spending so much time together." She shrugged lightly and dropped her eyes to lock with Faith's. "It isn't something I think about often though."

"Yeah?" said Faith, her eyes glinting. "What do you think about then? Besides new and nifty training stuff for me to do."

"I think about a great many things," Annabel smiled. "Starting with why we're participating in ask Annabel twenty questions right now."

"I'm bored," muttered Faith, looking off to one side. She reluctantly added, "And I like talkin' with you but if I'm just buggin' you then--"

Faith felt the comforting touch on her leg before she heard Annabel's voice. "Faith," said Annabel quietly. "I enjoy talking with you as well. To answer your question, I think about the same things you do, I imagine. About life, the past, and such."

"Sometimes I think about my mom," Faith said, looking down at the red loveseat, pulling at its material. "She died, y'know? A couple of months before we met. By that time I'd been on the streets for a few weeks. I get to wonderin'... that maybe if I hadn't left, if I'd stayed, kept watchin' her, maybe she wouldn't have died."

Soft and achingly tender hands cupped her face and Faith found herself lifting her gaze to look deeply into Annabel's. Tapered fingers then proceeded to tenderly caress her cheek and the brunette to swallowed the lump in her throat as Annabel said, "There wasn't anything you could do, Faith. It's as you said, she chose that life for herself."

"I know," said Faith roughly. "Still hurts though."

"I imagine it does," Annabel murmured, lying her hand flat against Faith's cheek before she slowly pulled it away, clasping the girl's hand. She gave it a light squeeze then finally said, "I never knew my mother. She died in childbirth. I've seen pictures of her... she was beautiful but somehow cold. As if the smile on her lips never did reach her heart."

"Didn't know my dad," Faith offered wryly, now playing with Annabel's hand, having flipped it over to trace the lines on it with her index finger. "Mostly thanks to my mom sleeping with any guy who moved and had drugs."

Watching Faith as she ran her fingers over her palm, Annabel said, "I was close with my father for quite some time."

"Was?" asked Faith, looking up from her tracing.

"We had a falling out of sorts," said Annabel in a whispered explanation, averting her eyes from Faith. She looked at the huge bookcase that served to remind her so much of him. "It's not something that I'm terribly proud of. The breach that existed between us when he died was entirely my fault. I realize that now but..." she trailed off sadly.

"It's too late to fix it," Faith finished knowingly for her.

"Yes," said Annabel, turning back to look at Faith. She wore a thankful expression and she said, "Exactly that."

Faith smiled and looked back down at Annabel's hand, which was still lying in her hold and delicately tapped at its palm. "Tell me about him?" she requested.

Blinking with surprise, Annabel nevertheless smiled softly, and leaned back, thinking on Faith's words. "He was tall," she said. "Tall and very handsome. So much so that all my life I had to deal with women fluttering after him, desperate for some crumb of attention. I hated them as a child," Annabel chuckled as she remembered. "And did countless horrible things to any woman who dared to become interested in my father. As far as I was concerned, he was mine and no other woman was allowed near him. This perhaps sealed his decision to cease most attempts at dating, not that his heart was really in it. He went out from time to time and it seemed to me he was always reluctant to leave the house and overjoyed to return. Something," Annabel said with comic reflection, "that isn't a wonderful quality to have while on a date with someone."

"What did he do? You know, for a job," asked Faith, honestly enjoying hearing about Annabel's past and her father. There was something about this woman that made her want to know every little piece of her. Just because.

"He was a member of the Council," said Annabel quietly, her mood suddenly somber as she spoke. "As are most in our family. It's carried down," she said, recalling the words spoken to her so long ago. "It is our duty."

"Was he a Watcher too?" Faith studied Annabel closely, realizing that she was perhaps bringing up painful memories but the other woman needed to talk with someone about them. Even if she was the only one around.

"No," Annabel shook her head. "He was a researcher for the most part. In times of dire need, he would go into battle, fight against the darkness, but he had a very distinct distaste for any type of physical confrontation. It wasn't his way." A sad smile of remembrance crossed her refined features. "He loved poetry." She lifted her gaze and looked at Faith humorously. "I was named after a poem."

"Yeah?" Faith smirked, she shook Annabel's hand lightly. "Which one?"

"Annabel Lee, by Edgar Allan Poe," said Annabel with a hint of exasperation. "It's a horribly overdone dramatic piece, full of angst. Rubbish, honestly."

"Somethin' must be good about it if he named you after it," said Faith wisely. She nodded her head and said firmly, "Yep. Somethin' made it good."

"Perhaps," Annabel allowed. "It's far too sad though." She sighed and shook her head. "When I was your age I hated my name... I'm not sure why, I just did. It had to do with my friends perhaps. So I changed it."

"Oh no," Faith grinned big, sensing somehow that this information would open up a whole new realm of teasing for her. "What'd you change it to, Anna?"

Immediately, Annabel turned bright red and snapped her lips shut.

"C'mon," wheedled Faith, tapping her fingers softly over Annabel's palm, ducking her head so wide brown eyes looked up into hazel. "Tell me? I wanna know."

Looking down into those dark orbs that bore into her own, Annabel felt her breath still in her chest. Warm fingertips played over her palm in a reassuring movement that was soothing and mesmerizing at the same time. Even though she really didn't want to say anything, she found herself speaking. "Lee," she said.

"Lee," Faith repeated slowly, a smirk forming.

"Lee Cooper," Annabel added to this, making the situation worse.

"Lee Cooper," Faith repeated again, her smirk growing mammoth. Seconds later, she dissolved into uncontrolled laughter. "You... Lee... Cooper..." she breathed out in ragged tones. "Fucking butch... Anna..."

Watching Faith bend over, holding her sides as she laughed, Annabel snatched her hand back. "It isn't that funny," she said.

"Lee Cooper..." Faith laughed loudly, tears in her eyes. "Is such a butch name and you..." Her laughs were full of humor and sheer delight. "You're so girly and pretty... it's wrong... SO wrong..."

By the time Faith finished laughing, Annabel wore a definite frown on her elegant features and this just made Faith chuckle again. "Are you finally finished?" asked Annabel in droll tones.

"Yeah," said Faith, taking a deep breath, trying to calm her body and stop the shaking laughs from traveling through her system. Wiping at her eyes which were watery from laughing so much, she sighed heavily. "I think so."

"Good," said Annabel, sounding relieved and a bit perturbed. "I'm glad to hear that. I'm not sure how much of your amusement my ego could have withstood."

Faith's lips quirked up and she had to stop herself from laughing once more. Shaking her head, she calmed herself then looked up, offering Annabel a bright smile. "Thanks," said Faith softly. "For tellin' me that stuff... for trusting me enough."

"I do trust you, Faith," murmured Annabel, she reached out, taking Faith's hand and squeezing it in that reassuring way she always had. "Quite a bit."

"Cool," Faith whispered. She averted her gaze, trying to swallow her fear before she said in thick tones, "Because I trust you, Anna. More than anybody. And I..." Dark brown eyes plaintively met gentle hazel ones. "I don't trust a lot of people, y'know? Wasn't safe to, the way I grew up. But you... I dunno," ducking her head, the tips of her ears reddened. "You're different."

"Faith," breathed Annabel, her voice was soft but so clear in the quiet of the room. Once again, she felt impossibly kind hands run over her skin, pushing her chin up so she was looking at her. Blinking back her tears, Faith looked into a face that, to her, always seemed utterly perfect. "Thank you."

"For what?" Faith sniffled, rubbing at her eyes, feeling embarrassed for the unusual bout of emotion from herself. She never used to be like this. What was it about Annabel that she could even inspire this type of scene, anyhow?

"For being yourself," Annabel said affectionately, caressing Faith's cheek before allowing her hand to fall. "A very special and sweet girl."

Releasing a bark of laughter, Faith snorted. "You're crazy, Anna."

"Perhaps," Annabel admitted, giving a wry smile. "But who isn't a wee bit crazy every now and again?"

The only response Faith gave was another short bark of laughter. That's all she could really do at this point anyway, to do anything else would reveal how scared she felt at that moment. Scared of how close she was becoming to the woman across from her and how much Annabel was coming to mean to her.

If there was one thing Faith didn't know how to deal with was caring about someone. Especially caring about someone who cared for her as well. Although with Annabel it seemed she would have to learn how.

---

She was supposed to be having sex with someone.

That's what she had told Annabel. Well, not really, not in so many words but she had used her usual euphemism for sex. Faith remembered the scene well. They were in the living room... well, she thought it was the living room. It was the only room with a television in the mansion anyway.

They were in there, sitting on the large circular couch, aimlessly watching some special about the Renaissance when Faith found herself staring at Annabel. Just staring at her, looking at every little detail of her face, the way her hair, even when left alone, seemed to naturally gravitate into her eyes, the crinkle around her them when she smiled. All the small stuff was what she kept noticing.

It was something entirely new to her. Faith had never done that with anyone before. She never really cared enough about them to notice junk like that. Hell, she barely remembered the eye color of most people she slept with. But with Annabel she noticed everything, no matter how small.

Realizing what she was doing, Faith grew scared. She didn't want to care about someone this much, she didn't want to care period. Caring only got you hurt, she knew this all too well from her childhood. It was better not to care at all, at least that way you could keep yourself safe.

That's why Faith rose to her feet suddenly, giving a lame excuse about seeing some guy she'd met the other night at a club for some fun. As she looked at Annabel, she could see the veiled hurt hidden behind obvious confusion and it scared her.

Swallowing back the emotions that were rising in her, Faith quickly dashed into her room to gather her stake, cell phone, keys, and cash as she always did. Then she ran out of the mansion, barely shouting goodbye to Annabel as she did so.

Once she left, she didn't know what to do. She didn't feel in the mood for a good screw, despite what she had told Annabel. That's how she'd ended up wandering through the streets, lost in her thoughts.

Still, she wasn't lost enough to be unaware of when a vamp was upon her. Forming a jaunty grin, Faith shot her hand out, grabbing the vampire, and then dragging him out of the alley so they were face to face.

"Hiya," Faith said in deceptively friendly tones that didn't go at all with the vicious smile she wore on her features. "Whatcha up to, bloodsucker?" Her laughter was low and throaty. "I hate to tell you, but whatever it is, you're done now."

Springing forward with all of the rage she felt from her emotional confusion, Faith delivered a hard blow to his face, sending him reeling backwards. He fought back with surprising skill, exchanging blow for blow with her until they were both rolling around on the ground, seeking an advantage.

He ended up on top of her, his weight superior, he sat on her midsection, and a flash of triumph went through his eyes as he shifted into his game face. In that moment total fear encompassed Faith. It was like those times before, he was the strong one and she... she was weak, unable to stop him. Only this time he wouldn't just hurt her, he would do the one thing that all the others hadn't been able to do. He would kill her.

That's when a tortured scream entered the air. The vampire pulled back, shrieking with pain and clutching at his hand. In certain shock, Faith looked from him to the broken necklace that had held cross she wore around her neck.

Pushing herself up, Faith moved like quicksilver, pouncing on the vamp while he was dazed, staking him through the heart. On her hands and knees, she looked at the dust that had been her enemy and smiled.

Sitting back on her legs, she reached down to pick up the cross that lay shining like a beacon in the dust, tracing her fingers over it in a gentle pattern. Annabel had saved her. She was sure of it, she was as sure of it as she was alive.

Slowly getting to her feet, Faith felt all the previous fear that had been in her heart leave completely. She wasn't scared of Annabel or what she felt for her, no matter how different it was it couldn't bad, she knew that now.

Because how could anything that made her feel so good, did so much good for her day in and day out, possibly be bad?

------

 

She was in the kitchen, sitting at the table, biting her lip and frowning in concentration, threading the cross onto one of the leather bracelets she always wore, when she heard quiet footsteps.

"Hey Anna," Faith greeted, not looking up from her work.

"Faith," murmured Annabel, unsure of how to approach her after the abrupt departure from earlier.

To her it seemed like they were having a perfectly nice time when suddenly Faith formed a face of complete panic, jumped to her feet and mentioned having to meet some guy for a date. The event was unusually jarring for Annabel and for some reason it... well, it hurt her feelings. She just wasn't sure why.

The more she thought she understood Faith, the more she found out that she didn't. The girl, it seemed, would always be the firecracker she first met. Ready at any given time to be set off and make some sparks.

Pouring herself a drink, Annabel shut the refrigerator and contemplated what to say to Faith, if she really wanted to say anything at all, then noticed what the girl was doing. Frowning as she caught sight of the silver cross she'd given to Faith several weeks earlier, she asked, "What happened?"

"Ran into a vamp," Faith shrugged. "Sorta broke. It's okay though," she formed a happy grin and held up her wrist, the cross now dangling from it. "I fixed it."

In an instant Annabel was at Faith's side, her eyes running over her figure with concern. "Are you all right? You weren't hurt?" she asked quickly.

"Five by five," Faith said, giving a thumbs up. "I kicked his ass good."

Giving a sigh of relief, Annabel set her drink down, and expert fingers softly cupped the underside of Faith's hand, lifting it up for inspection. Studying the fine handy work, the cross neatly entwined with the leather bracelet she gave a wry smile and met dark brown eyes.

"You realize I could have simply bought you a new necklace," said Annabel, her hand moving to hold Faith's, rubbing it in a gentle movement.

"Nah, this is better," Faith said, her voice confident. She hesitated for a moment then squeezed Annabel's hand, smiling up at her. "Leather ain't so dainty, won't break as easy and I don't want it breakin' again..." Her eyes moved down to look at the silver cross now at her wrist. "Might lose it if it does."

Watching Faith carefully, Annabel smiled softly. Then she sat down at the table and said, "I thought you were going to meet a friend of yours. Or did you run into the vampire after you had done that?"

"Yeah, well," Faith blushed a bit, shrugging her shoulders. "Turns out I wasn't really in the mood tonight, y'know?" She turned even redder. "Happens."

"Yes," said Annabel with knowing, a pleased expression forming on her features. "It does."

The only reply she got was another soft look from Faith. One that Annabel was positive she would never tire of seeing. No matter what happened.

---

They were supposed to train at noon but Faith had managed to locate an all day Kung Fu film festival on a local TV channel so that was held off. By the time she walked into the gym, Annabel was well occupied, lying on her back, using one of the many weight lifting machines to do presses.

Faith stood in the doorway, watching her with something akin to awe. She'd fought the tall woman plenty of times over the past months but she had never seen her like this. Somehow, even in training, Annabel always remained cool, completely in control, almost unaffected by the entire process.

Never once did Faith recall seeing her sweat, really sweat, and breathe hard from exhaustion as she always found herself doing. Now Annabel was doing all of those things and it made Faith more than a little irritated that it was a machine, not her, that was doing it to her.

All because she wanted to watch some guys doing high leaps.

Forming a scowl, Faith's expression darkened and she shut the gym door loudly and was rewarded with Annabel stopping her weight lifting. Lowering the weights, she sat up, brushing a lock of of hair from her eyes.

"You decided to make an appearance at training, did you?" she asked dryly.

"Got distracted," was Faith's terse reply. She shrugged her shoulders and tried her best to not stare as Annabel rose to her feet, her shirt askew, revealing the pale but firm skin of her stomach. Closing her eyes tightly, Faith bit out, "So are we gonna train or what?"

Looking at Faith with a careful gaze, Annabel frowned at the girl's unease. "Faith," she began slowly. "Is anything the matter?"

"Nope," said Faith, clenching her jaw, avoiding looking at Annabel. "Nothing's wrong. I'm five by five." Forcing herself to remember her past, everything that had ever gone wrong in it, a cool mask of indifference formed. "Lets go."

"Are you sure?" Annabel pursued, her gaze soft. She hadn't seen Faith act like this in quite some time. Not since they first met, in fact. Nearly three months had passed since then and she thought they were beyond the initial mistrust. If that was so then what was this all about? "Because you can tell me if you like."

"Yeah, but I don't like," Faith growled.

Taking a step backwards, Annabel replied in tones of utter control, "Very well." She slipped off her shoes and stepped onto the mat, standing in the center. "Shall we spar?"

"Yeah," said Faith, nodding curtly, kicking her boots off. "We shall."

Fighting was like a dance, it really was, Faith realized. It was about the people doing it and their emotions as they moved against each other. Sometimes raging against the world or peaceably flowing along with it. This was one of the times that she was raging. Against not just the world but herself, the feelings she kept having for Annabel. They weren't right, they would only get her hurt.

They would only cause problems in the end.

Despite all that, she couldn't stop them and that's why Faith raged. She wanted to stop them and at the same time, she didn't. The loss of control was heady and she enjoyed the breathless way Annabel sometimes made her feel. Just like she enjoyed the dance they were currently participating in.

Punches ducked, kicks blocked, breathing heavy, they pressed against one another, unwilling to give quarter and as soon as they got too close one would bound away and it would all begin again. Faith wasn't sure how long they had been fighting when she found a long leg sweeping out towards her, sending her falling back on the mat.

Unbearably soft skin was on her collarbone, Annabel's arm lying there as she kneeled over her. Faith smiled on seeing Annabel take a deep shuddering breath, her appearance harried but totally beautiful in its lack of control.

She had done that.

"Do you yield?" Annabel asked, her voice hoarse and shaky.

Faith's eyes glinted and suddenly, Annabel found herself being flipped and their positions were reversed. An endlessly dark gaze bore into hers as Faith lowered her face closer, hot breath on breath, her fingers brushing effortlessly over Annabel's lips, learning them intimately. "Do you?" she asked.

Annabel couldn't reply, all she could do was swallow the lump in her throat and try her very best to calm the wild beat of her heart. Squeezing her eyes shut, she moved her head to one side, causing the fingers to fall away from her lips, then she said softly, "This isn't proper, Faith."

There was a moment of absolute silence then Annabel felt Faith's body slide away from hers, the movement like a cat, and the sound of boots being roughly shoved on met her ears. Opening her eyes, Annabel numbly pushed herself into a sitting position, trying to rid her mind of the delicious memory of that body lying against hers.

"Where are you going?" Annabel asked.

"Out," said Faith in brusque tones, tying her boots then leaving the gym.

Annabel remained frozen, staring at the doorway Faith had exited through then she sighed deeply and lay back on the mat, staring up at the ceiling. Looking at it with a troubled expression, she murmured, "I don't think I can do this, Father." She was quiet for a long while then continued, "No one told me I would care this much for her... no one." Resting her arm over her eyes, Annabel released a great wavering breath. "I'm not supposed to care so much. It isn't something you would approve of, nor the Council but I..." Scenes of Faith, her face haunted, gaze wide and uncertain, stance defensive from the life she'd grown up with, played inside of her head. "I don't think I can stop."

Just like Faith, she knew this would mean nothing but problems.

---

When she arrived at the restaurant T.Paul was just getting off his shift. Seeing her walk in, he grinned big and drawled, "Beb... good to see you."

"Hey T.Paul," said Faith, smiling because she couldn't help but doing anything but that while in his presence. There was just something undeniably happy about the guy that she liked. "Wanna hang?"

"With you?" T.Paul quirked an oak brown eyebrow. "Mais," he crossed from behind the counter and tapped her on the nose. "If that ain't a silly thing to ask me then what is? Could I ever turn down the company of a lovely lady?"

Chuckling at this, Faith murmured, "That's true."

"Tee Do! What I tell you about flirtin' with the customers?" a harsh but somehow fond voice demanded as it floated into the air.

"Ne, Mama," T.Paul sighed greatly, turning to face a curvaceous Creole woman, whose rounded features were scrunched up in a frown. "This ain't a customer. It's one of my very best friends." He clucked Faith under her chin, his rough hands tender on her skin. "Isn't that right, beb?"

"That's right," Faith smiled softly. She looked over at his mother and said, "Your son's a real nice guy. You did a great job raisin' him."

T.Paul's mother eyed Faith for a moment, her expression suspicious, then she broke out into a huge smile that made her entire face light up. Wiping her hands on her skirt, she looked over at T.Paul. "I like this one," she said, pointing a finger hard at him. "An' you know I don't like most your ladies, Tee Do. You best treat her right or I'll lay a hand to you."

Having said that, she whirled out of sight, returning to the kitchen most likely. A sigh escaped T.Paul's lips again and he murmured, "Mais. Mama likes you. If she starts yappin' to me about settling down again I'll lose my head."

"Don't gotta worry about that," Faith chuckled once more, bumping her hips against his muscular frame. "I'm not exactly the marrying kind."

Slinging an arm around Faith's shoulder, T.Paul led them to a nearby bench that was placed there for customers waiting for their orders then peered into her dark features. "Somethin' bothering you, beb. I can tell," he said.

Faith clenched her jaw. "I don't wanna talk about it."

Nodding his head slowly, T.Paul played with the collar of Faith's green shirt and murmured, "I figure that. You're not one for talkin'. I notice that, bein' with you. Most times... that's fine for me. I ain't one who wants to spend my time with a pretty lady talkin' the night away. Just ain't fun," he grinned big. "But..." T.Paul's knowing eyes swept over Faith's form. "You're not most ladies, beb."

"What're you tryin' to say, T.Paul?" said Faith sharply. "You ain't falling for me or something are you? I thought we made ourselves clear on that."

"My eye, that happen!" T.Paul burst out into raucous laughter. Calming down after a few seconds, he said, "Bon ami. You're a friend. We might make love... but beb, you an' me, we're podnas." Touching her chin lightly, he murmured, "An' as such, I was thinking you'd wanna tell me what is botherin' you now."

"It's Anna," said Faith finally, her voice low. She stared at her boots, watching the laces move as she shifted her feet uncomfortably. "I was a bitch to her."

"Ahh," said T.Paul wisely, taking in a breath of air. "Fine one, she is." Looking down at Faith's dark head that was ducked, he said, "Why you do that?"

"Dunno," Faith shrugged, still staring at her boots. They were scuffed she noticed. Probably from tussling with vamps on patrol. "Just did."

"Ecoute," T.Paul murmured, shaking his head. Knocking his leg against Faith's lightly, he said, "How am I supposed t'help if you tell me nothin'? I know you got the reason you did that in your pretty head, beb."

"I got scared, okay?" Faith burst out, her voice louder than she would have liked. Darting her eyes around, she found the restaurant was so busy and loud with the people happily talking, no one noticed this. "It scared me," she whispered now.

"Why?" asked T.Paul softly.

"Because," said Faith stubbornly. She felt him nudge her leg again and she laughed, looking into his handsome features. "Damn, man," she breathed. "I bet you got girls fallin' all over you, huh? Sensitive male guy."

"Avoidin' the issue, beb," T.Paul reminded. "Though," his eyes sparkled as he formed a lopsided grin. "You is right, the women… they love me. I'm so pretty, ne?"

"Yeah," Faith laughed some more. "You're real pretty."

"Put onna lacy number, twirl 'round, wear flowers in the hair," T.Paul went on, his face turning oddly fanciful. "Just like a princess at a ball, and my favorite lady in a black tuxedo, lookin' handsome and offerin' me a big fat diamond."

"You're nuts!" accused Faith, laughing loudly at his antics.

"Mais," said T.Paul, looking offended, pressing his hand against his chest. "This the respect I get? I tellin' you one of my secret deep fantasies an' you laugh." He was quiet for a moment then asked, "What scared you, beb?"

"Feelin' her... it was so right, y'know? I never wanted it to end, but I just knew it had to and..." Faith swallowed deeply, clenching her hands, her nails digging into her skin. "She doesn't feel the same way at all."

"Oh beb," murmured T.Paul sadly, his hand dancing over her knee and squeezing it in a tender movement. "I didn't know."

"Know what?" asked Faith roughly, rubbing at her eyes with the back of her hand, afraid of the tears falling in front of him.

Studying Faith for a long moment, T.Paul shook his dark head. "Nothin'," he said. "This somethin' you gotta work out on your own. Me tellin' you ain't going to do a bit of good, that's all I know. But no worries," he smiled softly, clucking at her chin again. "Life, it has a grand plan, you trust in that."

"Yeah, well, if you say so," said Faith, giving a hollow laugh. "Right now the only plan it seems to have is to kick me repeatedly in the ass."

"Mais," T.Paul smiled, leaning back to inspect said ass that sat on the bench. "An' it's such a nice one to keep on kickin'. Such a terrible shame, tis."

Laughing again, Faith rubbed at her eyes once more then stood on her feet, looking decisively down into T.Paul's dark gaze. "Can we go to your place?" she asked with quiet need.

"You need this now, beb?" T.Paul asked, cupping her chin.

"Yeah," Faith nodded, her eyes empty and somehow pleading. "I do."

"All right," T.Paul murmured, he smiled tenderly and pulled his hand from her face in a smooth movement. "We go then." Turning to look at the kitchen of the restaurant, he called out, "I'm leavin' Mama!"

As they left, they both heard her irritated shout as a reply and couldn't help but smile, it somehow making them both feel better. But nearly as much as what they were about to do would.

---

His kisses were always warm, just like his body.

Faith thought that was part of the reason she liked T.Paul so much. In a lot of ways, he was like her. He was hot and hard and he didn't hold anything back in this moment of loving. His hands could be gentle, yes, but that didn't stop the strength in which he pulled her to him, showing his need.

Sex was always about need, she realized. Perhaps that's why she liked it so much. That during it she knew, absolutely, without a doubt, she was needed by someone, that she was of some importance.

It was so easy to lose herself to the sensations, to the feel of skin on skin, and of his fingers unbuttoning her shirt. She pressed up against him, opening her mouth to taste him, their tongues exploring in a slow burn they'd grown accustomed to.

"Beb," he breathed raggedly, pulling his lips from hers, eyes dark as he looked at how swollen they were. "I ain't goin' anywhere. No rush needed."

Shaking her head, Faith's eyes glittered and she grabbed hard at the sleeves of his shirt, pulling them down, ripping the material off of him. "Now," she growled.

Her fingers reached up, tangling in his wavy brown hair, caressing him as she moved him towards her, entangling their bodies as their mouths opened and tasted from one another again. They backed towards the bed and she pulled away on seeing it, freeing her lips and smiling as she gave a hard shove at his muscular chest, sending him falling back onto it.

Crawling on top of him in a sensuous movement, Faith murmured in husky tones, "Are you ready?" Sliding onto him and feeling him jump to life, she laughed softly. "Oh yeah... you're ready."

Expert fingers splayed down, reaching for the button to his pants, when the shrill ring of Faith's cell phone entered the air. They froze, the both of them, eyes wide and uncertain as they gazed at the doorway to his room.

Shaking her head, Faith went back to what she had been doing, unbuttoning the top button to his pants and reaching for the zipper. That's when she felt his hand on top of hers and when she looked into his eyes, they were sad and knowing.

"You go answer that, beb," T.Paul said, his voice thick. "I know you wanna."

"No," said Faith hoarsely, almost tearfully. "I want to stay here. I don't wanna talk to her... I don't wanna..."

In seconds, his arms were around her, holding her close, comforting her and she melted into his body, strong and soft at the same time. "Shhh," he soothed. "You don't gotta tell her nothin' you don't want to, beb. Just talk to her, that's all." He pulled back and smoothed dark locks away from Faith's face, smiling. "Y'know that's what you really wantin' right now, not this." Wiping at her eyes, Faith gave him a watery look of gratitude. "There now," he said. "You best hurry, or that phone'll stop ringing an' then where'll you be? Go on," he encouraged.

Faith nodded then dashed into the living room and T.Paul smiled again as he heard her answer the phone with a restrained excitement. Groaning low in his throat, he plopped a pillow over his head, willing himself to calm down.

If there was one thing he didn't appreciate at times it was the strange sense of gallantry his mother had taught him to always have with women. After all, it did get him nothing but trouble. That and, he smiled wryly, unfulfilled desires.

---

Two hours was as long as Annabel could make herself wait before she called Faith's cell phone. During those two hours, she had wandered about, showered and changed her clothes, eventually going outside in the garden, leaning against the marble railing Faith so often sat on and simply thought.

She thought about herself and her position and duty to Faith as her Watcher but most of all she thought about what was happening between her and Faith. All in a vain attempt to try and understand why the girl was suddenly reverting to her previous behavior. Acting like a skittish horse, refusing to let itself be tamed.

Except Annabel didn't want to tame Faith, she really didn't. All she wanted was to be her friend... to be trusted by her so they could work together and she could do her job the very best that she knew how.

That's all she wanted, ever since that day so long ago. Thinking about it still made her entire body ache with despair while the memories of her father and James ran rampant in her mind, unable and unwilling to leave her in peace.

Her father had disliked him so for his tactless behavior, making him unable to understand why she was with James. To Annabel, his exterior self meant nothing because she could see who James really was and he was beautiful and kind. James loved her, he truly did, and he was one of the few people in her life that didn't treat her like some kind of precious crystalline doll that would break.

James taught her about the things no one else would, took her to the places she had been forbidden to go, listened to her talk about the topics she was never meant to speak of, and she loved him desperately for it. So desperately that she'd left all she had known behind to be at his side when her father demanded she leave him. Duty no longer mattered to her, she said to him tearfully, she would rather have James than any familial duty to the Council. She would make her own life with James at her side and they would be happy, this she swore.

Her father clung onto his hope though, as all parents do, and eventually convinced her to at least remain with the Council in some capacity. Doing some odds and ends, research here and there for various assignments. It was something she did merely to keep him happy, not for any sort of pride in the occupation itself or desire to remain in that line of work.

A life of darkness and servitude to fighting that darkness was no longer what she desired. She had seen what the world could be thanks to James and it was bright and boisterous, full of life and love. Something she wanted to very badly be a part of now and forever. For that to be so, she couldn't stay with the Council.

That wanting for something more ultimately led to her father's death. She was supposed to research that night, to learn about a group of demons her father and some others were going after. Only she didn't, preferring instead to go out on the town with James, thinking it unimportant, and because of that the men went into the assignment with only half of the information available on the enemy.

Which killed them all.

At her father's funeral, watching them lower his casket into the ground, Annabel shrugged away James attempts at comfort and then, that night she left him. It was her fault that her father was dead, after all. What right did she have to live that carefree life of happiness she had dreamed of?

Such a life would be empty if it meant sacrificing the lives of others. She threw herself into her work, becoming one of the most studious and dedicated young people in the Council. Eventually earning the prestigious right to train one of the Slayers in waiting at the age of twenty four, something that rarely happened.

It made her so proud to be chosen as a Watcher and she knew it would make her father proud as well. That's why she couldn't let herself fail at this, she couldn't let Faith pull away from her and ruin everything they worked so hard to achieve.

Make everything she had done be in vain.

So she called Faith on the cell phone, tapping her foot impatiently until she heard that husky voice in her ear saying with a quiet vulnerability, "Anna?"

"Faith," said Annabel, releasing the breath she hadn't known she was holding. "We need to talk," she said after a moment. "Come home?"

"Yeah," Faith said roughly, tears barely apparent in her voice. "Anna... I..."

"Yes?" asked Annabel softly, squeezing the phone in a tight grip.

There was a pause then she could hear Faith shaking her head. "Never mind," she murmured. "I'll be there in a few. Fast as I can, okay?"

"Very well," said Annabel. She pursed her lips then closed her eyes, knowing for whatever reason she simply had to say it. "It will be all right, Faith."

"Hope so," Faith muttered more to herself than Annabel. "See ya."

A dial tone filled Annabel's ear and she hung up the phone. Stiffly, she walked upstairs and into the library, intent on writing in her diary until Faith returned. Which was exactly what she was doing when Faith stood in the doorway a half an hour later, her dark brown eyes boring into to her with some anxiety.

Closing her book with an audible thump, Annabel set it in the crook of her legs and said, "I am your Watcher, Faith."

"I know that," replied Faith, shifting foot to foot, shoving her hands deep into the pockets of her blue jeans.

"As your Watcher I demand a modicum of respect," Annabel continued, her hands and fingers stretching out over her pants, trying to calm herself. "This is a give and take relationship, certainly. I even dare to believe, unlike most in the Council, that we are partners of a sort and as such, I would prefer not to give you orders. All I simply want is to train you to become the best Slayer possible. In order for this to succeed, there must be limits. You have to know who I am." She studied Faith for a moment then sighed, rising to her feet, crossing to stand in front of her. In a smooth movement, she tilted Faith's chin up with her index finger. "I am your Watcher and I rather hope I will always be your Watcher."

"I do too, Anna," whispered Faith, blinking back her tears. "I'm sorry... I didn't mean to be like that before. I just..."

"It's all right," soothed Annabel, smiling softly. Her eyes gentled and she pulled Faith to her for a hug, feeling the normally strong frame collapse, helpless in her warm arms that offered a rare and uncommon comfort. Stroking dark locks as she dipped her head down, Annabel murmured, "Fighting can have odd affects on a person, I know. We simply must realize our limits, is all."

The only reply Faith made was another hoarse sob and she moved her face against Annabel's shirt, clinging to her willowy frame with grasping hands. Breathing in a deep sigh, Annabel closed her eyes and ran her fingers through thick hair, trying to instill a sense of calm in the girl she held close.

It would be several minutes before she did but in those minutes Faith had never felt more loved, more protected, than she had in her entire life.

---

Friday was quickly becoming Faith's favorite day of the week. Mostly because it was the day that she and Annabel had unconsciously chosen to go out dancing on. It was a tradition they both enjoyed, helping them blow off the steam and excess energy from training, and it made them relax.

Plus it was incredibly fun. Especially for Faith who delighted in seeing Annabel cut loose and rid herself of that veneer of ever present control she carried with her. More and more, Faith wanted to strip the layers away and see who Annabel truly was. After all, she found herself doing that for Annabel, showing her the long hidden side of herself that was shy and uncertain... telling her things she'd never told anyone simply because she was Annabel and she wanted to tell her.

Faith wanted to do those same things for Annabel except getting the older woman to open up to her in that way was more difficult than she thought. Which is why she relished dance night, it gave her a chance to see that side of Annabel that was being denied to her in their daily life.

Currently Faith was bouncing up and down on her toes, anxiously waiting at the bottom of the stairs for Annabel to finish dressing so they could go out. The woman took longer than anyone she knew to do that. Sometimes Faith wondered if she tried on every single outfit in her closet before deciding on what to wear.

The ring of a phone pierced the air and raising an eyebrow, Faith looked at the fancy phone that sat in the foyer on an even fancier table. Shrugging, she ran to the phone and called out, "I'll get it!"

She heard Annabel's muffled agreement and smirked before she picked up the phone and drawled, "Yeah?"

There was a moment of silence then a smooth chuckle rumbled over the phone line and a distinctly male and British voice asked, "Lee there?"

"Who's askin'?" asked Faith, narrowing her eyes, clutching the phone tight.

"An old friend, luv," the man chuckled again. "Tell her Jimmy is callin', I guarantee she'll want to have a chat with me."

Faith's eyes narrowed some more and she was contemplating hanging up on the annoying man when she heard Annabel's voice call out, "Faith? Who is it?"

The man, apparently hearing this, chuckled yet again, and Faith scowled then turned to look at Annabel. "You know some jerk named Jimmy?" she asked.

"Jimmy?" echoed Annabel, pausing in her walk down the stairs. "James," she breathed and she smiled widely, rushing down them. "Yes," she said as she did this. "He's a friend from back home... one of my closest."

"Oh," said Faith dully. "Well, here you go," she said, handing the phone over listlessly and backing away to watch Annabel speak into it.

"James?" Annabel began, the smile still on her features.

"Lee," James drawled, chuckling with definite amusement. "S'not true, is it? You leavin' us for that obnoxious brat. 'Cause if that's so you need help, woman. Lots and lots of help."

"James!" cried Annabel with definite displeasure and he chuckled some more at this. Sighing, she looked to Faith who had her gaze averted, looking up at the high chandelier, then back to the phone. "She's a nice girl."

"Right, right," said James humorously. "I trust yer judgement, luv, mostly. After all," his voice was honeyed, "you did date me, didn't you now?"

"Folly of youth," said Annabel dryly.

"Awww, that's jus' mean... really mean, don't be that way. I know you still care about me. I'm so handsome and debonair... remember that time I took you for an honest t'goodness carriage ride?" James murmured softly.

Blushing at this, Annabel shook her head and then said, "You stole it!"

"True," James admitted and Annabel could practically see him shrug his strong and defined shoulders. "But we still had fun."

Sighing deeply, Annabel smiled nevertheless. Talking to James always made her feel better. There was just something comforting about the way he efficiently cut right to the heart of the matter. Despite their falling out after her father's death he remained her friend, trying to coax her back to him for quite some time before he eventually gave up and wound up with a close friend of them both.

"How's Hannah?" asked Annabel mischievously.

Instantly, a mammoth groan met her ears, and James muttered, "Stupid bint. Y'know what she's done now, Lee? Wanna? She took away all my bloody girlie magazines! What's the point in that? S'not like I'm cheatin' on her... hell, those keep me from cheating on her. What's worse? Me getting my jollies alone from lookin' at some pictures or me getting them with some other woman?"

"Well," Annabel murmured in humorous tones, looking over at Faith who was now busy adjusting and readjusting a painting on the wall. "It's found that some women don't enjoy those magazines, James."

"You liked lookin' at them with me," James drawled, his tones low and definitely naughty. "Didntcha, Lee? We used t'look and lookkkkk..."

"James!" Annabel squeaked, turning bright red.

"What?" asked James in overly innocent tones. "Just sayin' the truth. We used to look at them together. Hannah in the same situation as you, don't see why I can't look at them with her as well. Seems stupid, that's all."

Shaking her head, Annabel said, "Hannah isn't like you and I. You should know that very well from our involvement together."

"Got that right," James snorted. "She's a tight arse. I'm datin' a bloody tight arse! And it's all your fault," he muttered. "If you hadn't left me and gone off who knows where for that bloomin' Council we wouldn't have gotten pissed together, boo hoo'ing over losin' you forever, as ex's tend to do, and ended up in bed." There was a moment of silence then he roared again, "All your fault!"

"I never told you to get drunk over me," Annabel said in reproving tones. She focused on Faith who was now picking up the painting, as it had somehow fallen off the wall. "Hold on," she murmured then lowered the phone. "Faith?" she called out and was rewarded with Faith whirling around quickly, offering her brightest smile. Looking apologetic, Annabel held up the phone and said, "This might take some time. If you like, you can go ahead without me."

A veil of cool indifference fell over her face then Faith nodded her head as she said gruffly, "Whatever."

Yanking her jacket from where she'd rested it on the banister, Faith stomped out the door of the mansion before Annabel could reply. Watching her go, the tall woman sighed wearily, rubbing at her forehead then lifting the phone to her ear.

"Brat's upset, is she?" James voice immediately met her.

"She's not a brat," said Annabel tightly. She sighed again and suddenly felt enormously tired, making her sit down in the overly fancy and uncomfortable chair next to the table the downstairs phone rested on. "I've told you that already."

"Gotten attached to her, have ya?" asked James quietly. "I thought the Council wasn't for that sorta thing. Could get you into a spot of trouble, Lee."

"I'm doing my job," said Annabel, closing her eyes and leaning her head back, trying to make the tension leave her body. "Just as I should be. Why would they have a problem with that?"

"Not s'posed to care about the brat though," said James, his voice knowing. "It'll get you hurt... y'know what's going to happen if she's called."

"She's not going to die!" Annabel found herself shouting. There was a moment of pure silence then she sighed deeply and murmured, "I'm sorry."

"It's fine, luv," James chuckled to himself. "I'm used to havin' women yell at me. I think it's a part of their nature when I'm involved. You think on what I said though. It's going to get you hurt an' you matter enough to me t'not want that."

"I can't help caring for her," said Annabel softly, her voice open and wanting. "She's gone through so much in her life and despite that she can be so sweet and open that it's nearly enough to break my heart, James."

There was a pause and she heard the familiar sound of James' lighter then he drawled, "That's what I mean, Lee. You care too much. And I know that you just can't stop it," he went on, speaking before she could interrupt. "But I also know it's going t'hurt you badly one day."

"Perhaps," allowed Annabel. Her gaze gravitated over to the door that had been slammed moments ago. "James, I should..."

"You go after the brat," James chuckled, flicking his cigarette. "I know that's what you want t'do right now, not talk to good ol' Jimmy boy."

Laughing quietly, Annabel murmured, "It was good to hear from you. Call me again soon?" She paused then added, "Let me talk with Hannah?"

"Ohhh, what's this, Lee?" James asked, his tones turning naughty again. "You tryin' to steal my woman from me? S'not enough I converted a lesbian, you want to try an' convert her back? Well, you can have her, she's a pain in my arse."

"Liar," Annabel said with a delighted laugh. "You know you love her."

"Yeah, but she's still a bloody pain," said James obstinately. He was quiet for a moment then said softly, "Good hearin' your voice, Lee. I missed it."

"I missed yours as well, James," said Annabel quietly.

"Go get the brat," James ordered. "I'm gonna spend some time hidin' what's left of my girlie magazines from the insane little woman."

Laughing again, Annabel said her goodbyes then hung up the phone. Only to immediately lift the receiver again, quickly dialing in the digits to the cell phone she had given Faith. Wanting more than anything to simply be with her.

Even if it caused her to be hurt.

---

Faith was in one of her favorite clubs to go to on her own. It being a favorite because the bartenders never carded her, not seeming to care much about the age of anyone in their establishment, and she'd made friends with the bouncers so they simply overlooked her underage status. Tonight was a night she felt like drinking heavily, not getting a little bit tipsy as she usually did, and it wasn't like she had Annabel there to give that look of hers to try and stop her.

The one of silent disappointment that always got to Faith far more than any words ever could. If there was one thing she didn't want to do, it was disappoint Annabel. That was more than Faith could bear, she was sure of it.

That didn't matter now though. She was alone, Annabel was back at the mansion, talking to that guy. Thinking about this, Faith scowled and took a long swig of her beer. Who was that guy anyway? Sounding all arrogant, acting like Annabel would drop what she was doing to talk to him.

Still... it was true, wasn't it? Annabel had abandoned their traditional dance night to talk with him and here she was, alone.

Always alone, Faith realized, taking a deep drink of her beer. No matter what she did that's how things would always be. She kept letting people in and they always burned her... they never lived up to the hopes she put in them.

Maybe she was hoping for too much. It was fast becoming evident to her that to have someone love her, truly love her for herself, wasn't something that she'd be able to achieve in her lifetime. Better to just give up now and go with what she knew best. That low down tickle of lust.

"Hey," a soft voice said in her ear, breath ruffling her hair. Faith turned around and looked into the face of a boyishly handsome blonde guy, his hair falling in his eyes in a way that made her heart clench, it reminded her of Annabel so. "Would you like to dance?" he asked.

Smirking at him, Faith already knew his story. An obvious tourist hoping to live it up in New Orleans and apparently, to him, she was one of the wild local girls.

"Yeah," Faith said, her voice husky as she set her beer down on the bar. She flashed him her widest and sexiest smile. "I think I would."

She took his hand and led him out onto the dance floor. Once there, Faith let the music move over her, freeing her from her worries, letting it take control. Maybe it would help her, maybe she could lose herself here, in the dance and in the oh so hesitant but eager touch of the boy as he slid his hands onto her hips. Maybe, just maybe, it would help her forget about Annabel.

Only that wasn't very likely as her cell phone was currently ringing. Heaving a sigh and shooting the boy a look of apology, Faith pulled it from her back pocket and pushed her way off the dance floor, to one of the quieter corners of the club.

"What?" asked Faith sharply on answering the phone.

There was a moment of silence then Annabel's voice, always so gentle, murmured, "Is everything all right, Faith?"

"Yeah, five by five," Faith said carelessly, tossing her hair back, eyeing the dance floor and locking her gaze with the blonde boy who grinned at her. "I'm cool."

"Where are you?" asked Annabel quietly.

"Why you wanna know?" Faith's eyes narrowed. Now Annabel was going to try and control her? Stop her from having fun even though she, without even knowing it, had probably ruined most chance of that for the night?

"Faith," said Annabel softly, an echoing hurt in her voice as she said her name. One that made Faith freeze in her eye contact flirting with the blonde boy to look at the phone she held in her hand. "I enjoy spending time with you. Our nights out dancing are something I look forward to. I always meant to join you once I'd finished talking with James, I simply didn't want you to have to wait, is all."

As she said this, the tightness, the horrible squeezing feeling that had taken over Faith's chest ever since she had left the mansion went away and she felt a wave of relief fill her. "Yeah?" she asked shyly. "You mean it?"

"Always," replied Annabel and Faith could practically see her gentle smile. "Now," she began again. "Could you tell me where you are so I might join you?"

"735 Club," said Faith with a smile, imagining Annabel's reaction about her being in the club of all clubs for the Big Easy.

"Is that so?" asked Annabel in droll tones, the sound of her shaking her head vaguely entered over the phone line. "Well, have fun until I get there."

"Oh, I will," Faith grinned big. "Hard not to in this place."

The last thing she heard was Annabel's chuckle before the beep of the call being disconnected met her ear. Grinning still, Faith tucked the phone away and gave a happy whistle, settling herself down in a nearby chair to wait for Annabel's arrival.

Because now that she knew Annabel truly wanted to be with her, Faith had a strong desire to dance with her and no one else.

---

She only had a little bit of time. Annabel had just left to get the groceries, like she did every Monday afternoon and Faith knew it would take at least an hour before she returned. That's why Faith only had a little bit of time.

Darting out of her room and down the hallway towards the library, she stood in front of the desk on the far side of the room. Faith realized what she was about to do was wrong and that she shouldn't do it, but she just had to. She had to know what was in that book Annabel was always writing in.

Faith knew what it was. It was one of those diaries Annabel spoke of, the ones that the Watchers had to write in, talking about their Slayers and everything that went on in their lives with them. The diary would have everything Annabel thought about her and the time they spent together, that's why Faith simply had to read it. No matter how hard she tried, she wasn't getting anywhere in her attempts to break through to who Annabel really was.

There were precious glimpses here and there but they would disappear as quickly as they appeared, leaving Faith hungry to know more. Which is why she was now jimmying the lock to the middle drawer of the desk, easily popping it open and removing the diary that lay inside.

Smiling wide, she touched the smooth blue leather binding of the book then quickly ran over to the red loveseat she so often found Annabel sitting on. Faith opened the diary with trembling hands and read the first entry, which was neatly dated, just as Faith had expected it to be.

Faith Spencer is her name, my Slayer in waiting. It's a lovely name, isn't it? Surely a girl with such a lovely name shouldn't be in circumstances as hers. I felt horrid... the idea of pulling a girl into such a life as a Slayer's, but as I watch her now, living on the streets, hungry and alone, I think that perhaps she would be better off with me. That maybe I can make some difference in her life just as she can make one in mine... in everyone's as a Slayer.

Pausing in her reading, Faith blinked, a look of total shock on her features. Annabel had been watching her? She had seen her on the streets with her people and she knew of everything that had gone on? Shaking her head, Faith flipped a few pages in the book, skimming ahead to read some more.

Tonight she came home late again. I don't talk with her about it anymore. It is her life, after all, and I don't have much right to lecture her on it. I am her Watcher, this is true, but I am not her parent. My job is to merely teach her of her duties as a Slayer, to train her to be the best one possible. Not to interfere in private matters that should be none of my concern. Only I cannot rid myself of the image...

I saw her one night, after she had been with one of her young men. Her hair a mess, make up smeared, but she was utterly beautiful in the dim light of the moon. I saw her and I hated whoever had been with her. A man whose breath was most likely raw and stinking of alcohol, with his fumbling hands on her. It simply isn't right. She deserves so much more than that. I want to tell her, I want with all my heart, but I cannot. Watchers don't do such things... it isn't heard of. It's improper, wrong, and still...

I want to tell her that.

"Anna," whispered Faith, tears showing in her eyes, her voice rough with emotion. Wiping at them with the back of her hand, she coughed then forced her gaze back onto the diary, reading even further ahead.

I took her on our first patrol tonight. I'm not sure I can find the words to properly explain how I feel. I can say, however, I've never been prouder than when I saw Faith fighting that vampire, saving me from him. She is a truly exceptional girl... so full of life and spirit. And, though she would deny this until the end of her days, completely adorable in many instances.

When I gave her the cross I had bought, her ears turned red. I chuckle now even when thinking about it, it was that precious. I think because of how she grew up, the little things matter most to her. The small gestures that simply say that you care are what she yearns for. Certainly I will do my best to give those to her because not only does she deserve them, she inspires them in me.

Something I find surprisingly rare.

Flipping ahead further, Faith focused on a passage that gave her a sense of hope that she very seldomly had throughout her life.

She wanted to kiss me.

I'm not sure how to react... but I know that she did. I could see it her eyes as she lay over me, her gaze boring into mine. All I can remember thinking was this is how those men must have felt... with their bodies against hers, and her breath warm and sweet, mixing with their own. I felt jealous of them before and I felt jealous then as well. Because they didn't have to push her away and I did... because I am her Watcher.

It isn't proper. I keep telling myself that. I told her that as well. And it really isn't proper, not at all. I shouldn't care for her so much... certainly I should not look at her as I looked at Hannah... at any of my lovers.

I can't help it though. I find myself looking before I can stop myself and when I make myself finally stop it's the most painful thing I've ever known. It isn't proper though.

Not at all.

Hannah? Faith thought, her mind a complete whirl. Annabel had been with women before? Annabel was gay... bisexual... whatever? Such a thing had never occurred to Faith, she always assumed Annabel was straight and she there was no chance she would return her love in any form but maybe...

Faith read the passage again. She remembered that day all too well. It was the day she thought she'd ruined everything with Annabel forever, that the other woman would go away and she'd be left alone again. Only that didn't happen, they worked things out and Annabel...

Annabel had held her.

Shaking her head, Faith grinned widely. Annabel did care for her, she really did. The only problem was she thought caring for her wasn't 'proper'. Whatever that meant inside her goofy British head. Well, proper didn't matter to Faith, not one bit, especially not if proper was what was keeping her from Annabel.

Looking back at the diary, she read on.

James called me today and Faith took it horribly. I'm not sure what she thought of him ringing me up, but certainly it wasn't anything good. I do miss him at times... it was good to hear his voice. He brought some disturbing points to my attention though. Faith, if she is called, will face horrible danger, far beyond what we face now.

Patrolling nightly and training daily is nothing compared to what a Slayer actually faces in her life. The darkness never ends and even now with two Slayers helping us fight it... well, it is still overwhelming. It troubles me though, thoughts of Faith being called, living that life.

Things have already been so hard for her and I don't wish for them to be any harder. And yet... I know that if she isn't called I most likely will not be able to remain with her. Being called back to the Council for other duties. There is only so much a Slayer in waiting can learn from one Watcher, after all, and if she isn't called there's no point in my remaining.

At least to them. I would choose to stay if they let me but often, in the Council and in life, it isn't about our own choices, but those of others.

Blinking in shock, Faith stared numbly at the diary. It was too much to learn that Annabel did care for her but one day she might leave.

No... no... Faith shook her head fiercely, her hands clenching tight around the diary as she slammed it shut. Annabel couldn't leave her, like all the others, she just couldn't! Annabel meant more to her than anyone ever had and Faith wasn't sure if she could take her leaving.

If she could survive her leaving.

Still in a state of numbness, Faith almost didn't hear the door and Annabel's warm voice floating up to her as she called out, "I'm home!"

Faith snapped herself back to life and crossed over to the desk, putting the diary away inside of it, and fixing the lock so nothing appeared out of place. Then she walked downstairs and into the kitchen, standing frozen in the doorway, watching as Annabel busily put away the groceries.

"Hey," Faith greeted dimly, her voice almost nonexistent.

"I bought you the cookies you fancy," Annabel informed, putting said cookies away in the pantry. "They have a horrible amount of fat in them but it isn't as if it ever shows on your body, is it?" When Faith didn't answer, she paused in her unpacking and turned. Frowning on seeing the brunette look at her with glassy eyes, she said, "Faith?"

Blinking suddenly, Faith shifted out of this state and offered a rather weak lopsided grin. "Sorry," she said. She paused then tapped at the side of her head. "Just got some stuff buzzin' around, that's all."

"Busy bee," murmured Annabel wisely, forming a smile. Turning away from Faith, she went back to putting away the groceries. "Would you tell me?"

"I would," said Faith, moving to stand at Annabel's side, helping with her task. "Except there's nothin' to tell. Least," she looked at refined features, memorizing them in her mind's eye. "Not right now."

"Then you'll tell me when there is?" asked Annabel, putting the juice away in the refrigerator then turning to face Faith with a gentle smile.

"Yeah," Faith nodded, a slow and happy smile spreading, "I will."

---

They were watching a special on the Dark Ages. Well, Annabel was watching a special on the Dark Ages. Faith noticed that about her, if anything history or biography related was on TV, she ended up watching it. Apparently she found reality far more interesting than anything happening in the fictional world.

So Annabel was watching a special on the Dark Ages and Faith was watching Annabel. It was a situation Faith liked very much. She never tired of studying the elegant lines of the British woman's face, the curve of her lips, and that ever present lock of hair that was always in her eyes.

The special turned to commercial and Annabel looked at Faith as she said, "It isn't a wonder they call it the Dark Ages. Nothing much to find that's happy about it, don't you agree?"

"Yeah," Faith murmured, a smile playing on her lips just because she no idea whatsoever what she was agreeing with. "Sucks."

Raising an eyebrow, Annabel's quirked in a smile and she accused, "You weren't watching the show, were you?"

"Nope," said Faith, her lips popping on the p sound. She smiled and rested her chin on top of her arms, her head lying against the back cushion of the couch. "Not watchin' at all."

"Mmm," Annabel murmured, she studied Faith for a moment then reached for the remote control, turning the TV off. Looking back to Faith, she smiled and scooted back onto the couch, stretching her long legs out, the tips of her feet covered in thin blue socks, absently touching Faith's leather clad leg. "Why is that?"

"Got better things to watch," Faith smirked, she tilted her head and looked at Annabel closely. "You used to date that guy, huh?"

Blinking at this question, Annabel said, "What guy?"

"The one who called you," said Faith. She had read about Annabel's personal life, the bits and pieces she put into the diary, but she wanted to hear it from her lips as well. Maybe this was her chance. "The annoying jerk."

"James isn't a jerk," said Annabel, her tones offended. When Faith's smirk merely grew wider, she sighed deeply. "I admit he might be rather rough around the edges but I certainly don't think that qualifies him as a jerk."

"Yeah, sure," Faith chuckled softly, moving her head off of her arms and facing forward as she reached down to lift Annabel's legs up, her feet resting in Faith's lap. Looking at the other woman, she asked, "Why'd you date him? Guy doesn't seem your type, Anna."

Watching Faith absently play with the edges to her black pants, Annabel said quietly, "He treated me like a person." Lifting her gaze, she looked into deep and endlessly dark eyes then went on, "Everyone I knew before James was a friend of my father's. They treated me as he did... like a delicate creature who wasn't meant to know certain facts of the world. That always irritated me, I wanted to know everything there was to know." Annabel chuckled. "I still do, I think. But James," she sighed, remembering it. "He wasn't like that, he took me places I hadn't been before and he never held anything back." Looking at Faith, she said simply, "I loved him for it."

"I get it," said Faith, nodding her head. "Did your dad blow a gasket when you brought him home? I mean, the guy didn't sound classy."

"People can sound classy?" Annabel teased, quirking an eyebrow.

"Hell yeah," Faith grinned, nodding her head, shoving lightly at Annabel's legs. "What do you think you sound like, Anna? A streetwalker?"

"Quite the comedienne, aren't you?" said Annabel. Shaking her head, she replied, "To answer your question, yes, father blew a gasket. He was none too pleased with my relationship with James. Even forbade me to see him."

"So what did you do? Sneak out?" asked Faith, her gaze sparkling with humor, reaching out to lightly grab Annabel's toes, shaking her foot.

"No, I moved out," Annabel said, smiling warmly. "Got a quaint little flat with James and we lived together..." she trailed off sadly. "We were happy for a time. Very happy."

Watching Annabel carefully, Faith asked, "What about before the jerk? Or was he your only jump into the wonderful world of datin'?"

"You're quite the curious one tonight," said Annabel, a smile on her lips but her gaze was nervous, averting from Faith's as she spoke. "Why is that?"

"Uh uh, Anna," Faith shook Annabel's foot again. "You're avoidin' the question. Smart but not smart enough for me. So?" she tipped her head to one side. "You gonna tell me or what?"

"Yes, I dated someone," Annabel said finally, her face red. "There," she heaved a great sigh, arching an eyebrow and looking at Faith, "I've told you."

"No you didn't! That wasn't anything," Faith insisted. She formed a grin and leaning forward, Annabel's legs fell off her lap to lie inert on the couch while Faith crawled closer, stopping only a few inches from her. Ending up, somehow or another, sitting on Annabel's lap. "Well?" Faith demanded, folding her arms over her chest and looking adorably childlike. "You gonna tell me?"

Sighing again, this time far deeper, Annabel shifted in her seat, all too aware of how Faith moved along with her as she did this. Clearing her throat, she looked off to one side then said, "I dated a girl named Hannah while in convent school."

"Convent school?" Faith echoed in humorous disbelief. "I'm hopin' that you're gonna tell me that isn't a school you go to become a nun because if it is then this story is already way too fucked up for even my tastes."

"Faith!" exclaimed Annabel, whapping her shoulder lightly and laughing despite herself. "I can't believe you just said that to me." Shaking her head, she met Faith's amused expression and said dryly, "It's a private school run by nuns. Very religious."

"Sounds fun," replied Faith in droll tones. When Annabel rolled her eyes, she chuckled and said, "I dunno why you're so ticked by it. Sounds like a pretty fun school to be stuck at if you ask me. "

"I'm glad you think so, I rather hated it," Annabel frowned, her lips pursing up in memory of those habit wearing harpies that had tormented her. "Sacred Heart," Annabel went on. "It was a horrid place, a strict all girls school populated by a staff of very bitter nuns," she shuddered now.

Faith moved in Annabel's lap and the tall woman shifted her gaze, looking into dark brown eyes that were suddenly inches away from her own. Then Faith smiled a slow and sweet smile as she drawled, "Hannah?"

"Hannah Palmer," repeated Annabel with a nod, her voice a little too high for her liking. "That's who I dated while I attended school there."

"Swing both ways, huh?" Faith noted with interest. "You never mentioned that before. That because you were trapped in a place with only girls around?"

"Yes and no," murmured Annabel, looking as far away from Faith as she could get. It was bad enough having Faith on her lap, feeling that warm and welcome weight on her body but to look into those dark eyes as well... "At first it was the fact that yes, there were only girls around, although I don't think my attraction to women lends to my schooling background."

"You're bi then," said Faith quietly, her gaze boring into Annabel with such power that the woman felt compelled to look at Faith.

"Yes," said Annabel simply, unable to lie and not really wanting to in the first place. She cleared her throat again then said, "Hannah was more a challenge than an attraction in the beginning. She was the undisputed queen of the school, something my friends rather hated her for. Something quite a lot of people hated her for, actually. I myself was indifferent, I didn't much care what anyone did around me. But..." Annabel trailed off and she smiled mischievously.

"But what?" asked Faith, her voice breaking through the memories.

"But I was something of a troublemaker at your age and the idea of bringing the wind out of her sails was all too appealing," Annabel chuckled. "I wanted her to be human, like the rest of us, and what better way to show that she was then by seducing her?" She shook her head and laughed some more. "It was my hobby for almost a year, teasing and touching Hannah into sheer madness until I'd finally gotten my way with her on a class trip."

A smile spreading across her features, Faith studied Annabel then leaned her head to one side, against the couch, and reached out to hold Annabel's thumb in between her fingers. When Annabel looked to her, she asked, "Why'd you break up anyway? Sounds like you had a fun enough time."

"We did," said Annabel, nodding her head and smiling at Faith. Her face scrunched up in distaste as she remembered. "Until the sisters caught us."

"You mean the nuns?" Faith asked slowly, in obvious disbelief.

"I was young, you realize," Annabel went on, not noticing Faith's state of shock. "A bit adventurous... hormonal... all the like and I wanted to have a go at it in the loo. I thought what's the harm in it? If the sisters were coming we'd hear them by the horrible clack clack of their rosary beads, awful sound... but I hadn't counted on being so involved in what we were doing sound wouldn't be a factor." She looked at Faith and said drolly, "Sister Josephine walked in."

"Holy shit," breathed Faith, a smile spreading across her face, her eyes alight and she shook Annabel's hand excitedly. "What'd she do? Scream? What?"

"She fainted," drawled Annabel with amusement. "Fainted straight away. Fell like a great pile of bricks on the bathroom floor and since she wasn't a dainty woman it got the entire school's attention. Soon there were crowds upon crowds of people at the bathroom, looking at Hannah and I, half dressed and clearly in the middle of activities that weren't at all Christian."

"This gets better and better," Faith commented, moving closer to Annabel, pushing a pillow under her head and running her fingers over the softness of the palm in her hand. "What happened next?"

"Mother Superior came and dragged Hannah and I down to her office, parading us through the school with everyone watching," Annabel chuckled again as she remembered what the old woman had said. "All the time lecturing away and away at me, shaking her finger, saying, 'You're a bold girl, Annabel Cooper!'" Annabel laughed low, deep in her belly, delighted with the memory. "That old bat always hated me, you see, and I knew deep down she was happy to have the perfect excuse to boot me out of school. Then my friend, Megan, she calls out to me, 'Lee! What did you do now, Lee?' so I call back to her, 'I got caught having sex in the loo with Hannah!' and ohhh..." Annabel's laughs were uncontrolled pure joy and Faith began to share them, steadying herself by resting her hands on the tall woman's hips, moving with her. When Annabel calmed, she wiped at her eyes and breathing hard, looked at Faith then said, "Hannah shrieks at the top of her lungs, hitting me, swearing she hates me, I'm an awful girl and how dare I do this to her and her family name. Mother Superior," Annabel let out a gasp, laughing yet again. "She tries to pull her off me and Hannah punches her! Right in the eye!" Once more, Annabel dissolved into laughter and Faith joined in.

Several moments later, when they both calmed down, their breathing finally back to normal, Faith watched Annabel's chest rise and fall, trying to steady herself. A fond smile worked its way across her features and she reached out, pushing away a lock of fawn colored hair, resting her hand on her cheek.

"You were pretty wild back then, weren't you?" said Faith affectionately.

"Pretty," Annabel acknowledged, taking in a scarce breath, trembling as Faith traced her hand down, fingers playing over her skin to rest at her throat.

"Good to know," Faith flashed a smile, her teeth impossibly white.

Despite all the warnings in her heart and mind, the only thing Annabel could do was return the smile with all of her heart.

---

Faith observed quietly as Annabel shrugged on her royal blue jacket and leaned over to pick up her wooden sword, neatly clasping it around her waist, so it hung there, looking rather unobtrusive to a normal person. Turning Faith's way, she smiled gently then said, "Ready to go?"

"No," said Faith softly, though her tones were entirely decisive as she said this.

Blinking in surprise, Annabel said, "I'm sorry... what did you say?"

"I said no," repeated Faith, her tones not at all harsh like her words were. She looked away from Annabel, fixing her gaze on the far wall and said, "I wanna ask you something before we go, Anna. If that's okay."

"You can ask me anything you like, Faith," said Annabel honestly. Faith felt a hand clasp her own and smiled as a tender squeeze touched her. "I mean that."

"It's fine," said Faith in a rough reassurance, her voice hoarse from the thoughts she was having. "I just gotta ask you... what'll happen if I'm not called as a Slayer?"

"Why do you want to know?" asked Annabel all too cautiously.

"What'll happen, Anna?" asked Faith, her eyes narrowing and her voice low. She took a slow step forward then repeated, "What'll happen?"

"They might reassign me," said Annabel, moving her gaze away from Faith and swallowing deeply. "Give you a different Watcher to work with, for variety's sake. To give you the best training possible."

"You'd go away," Faith stated darkly, her voice broken, echoing in the silence of the foyer as Annabel looked at her sadly.

"Most likely," said Annabel, unwilling to tell Faith a lie, even as much as she wanted so very badly to deny the truth. She watched the dark head turn away from her, unruly hair covering proud features in an attempt to hide the pain, but Annabel knew all too well it was there. "Faith," she whispered, stepping closer, her touch feathery light on the brunette's skin, skimming over it until tapered fingers rested on the bottom her chin. "I don't want to go."

"But you would," said Faith stubbornly. "You'd go away," she repeated sharply.

Another hand reached up and together, they cupped Faith's face, their touch tender and soothing on her skin, trying their best to wash away the troubles they felt there and knowing somehow they wouldn't succeed. "Lets not talk of such things," murmured Annabel, running her fingers over the planes of the face she held so dear, the one that tried its best to remain strong for her. "Whatever happens, happens. Just know that I don't want to leave you, Faith."

"You promise?" Faith asked, her veneer of control slipping away into a tearful display of need that only Annabel could satisfy.

"I promise," assured Annabel quietly. She leaned forward, pressing achingly soft lips against Faith's forehead, holding the girl close to her, arms wrapping around tight. "I want to be here." They remained like that for several moments, then Annabel pulled away, giving Faith a small smile as she said, "Shall we go on patrol then?"

"Yeah," said Faith, rubbing at her eyes with the back of her hands, feeling embarrassed at her burst of emotions. For some reason the fear that Annabel might leave had hit her hard and fast as she watched the other woman get ready for their nightly patrol and this is where that fear had led them. When it came to Annabel, she just couldn't control her emotions. It was something Faith wasn't sure was good or bad yet, it just was. "Lets go."

Smiling again, Annabel took Faith's hand in hers and led the way out the door to embark on yet another night of vampire slaying. No matter what changed in their lives that would remain a constant.

---

Tonight's patrol was unusually active, Faith and Annabel having stumbled upon a Grislox demon preparing to devour some of the locals. That's what Annabel said it was anyway, to Faith it was just a big green and ugly human eating demon that they had to kill some way or another.

Watching her wooden sword splinter into pieces, Annabel grimaced, wishing she had brought the real thing. Faith wasn't doing much better with the knife she had brought along, her favorite one, she said, because it shined so brightly. Annabel never quite knew what to make of Faith and her fondness for shiny things, the girl reminded her of a magpie at times, excited by anything that glinted in the sun.

It was exasperating and cute at the same time.

However, Faith and her shiny knife were doing far better than her at the moment, having managed to make a few good swipes at the demon, to cut at his skin. She on the other hand, had her weapon destroyed and was thinking of different ways they might defeat this clear menace to humanity.

Closing her eyes in concentration, Annabel tried to recall the spell her father had taught her. The one that sealed opponents in time, ceasing all motion. It was one of his most preferred, often used in the battles he so disliked, to end them quickly and relatively painlessly as well. Remembering the words, Annabel opened her eyes and began to chant the spell, hoping it would work quickly.

Feeling his mammoth body slow, the demon looked around for the source and saw the tall woman murmuring softly, an aura of magic surrounding her. Low growls came out of his throat and pushing himself against the spell he knew was working itself on him, he crushed the knife in his hold, then pounced at her, his movement accompanied by the tortured scream of the girl he'd been fighting.

Annabel had just finished the final words of the spell when she felt claw like hands around her throat and gasping hoarsely, she gagged from the reeking stink of the demon as he lifted her, holding their faces inches apart. His gaze gleaming dangerously in the dim light of the street lamps and she knew that despite the spell he was fully able to move and because of that it was very possible she was going to die.

That's when she saw it.

A glow, a tremendous glow, coming from behind the demon, and it seemed he sensed it just as she saw it and his grip loosened in surprise, claws dropping her listlessly to the ground where Annabel stared at the figure before them.

"You," Faith began in a deep growl, lifting her head to reveal fierce brown eyes, "don't ever touch her, demon!"

In a seamless movement, Faith leapt towards him, action like a cat, smooth and flawless as she released a great roar of rage, her fists clenched together, giving a massive punch to the side of his face. The demon howled in pain and fell down to the ground, his weight resounding with a shaky rumble.

"No one touches her," Faith continued, stalking towards him, focusing on his fallen figure, she reached to one side, ripping up a parking meter from the concrete and stopping at the foot of his frame. "No one."

The meter came down hard on him and he howled again, raising his arm in defense before growling on his own, pushing himself up to engage himself in battle with this new and suddenly deadlier enemy. Watching all this go on from her dazed position on the ground, Annabel's hazel eyes went wide as she realized what had just happened.

"The Slayer," whispered Annabel, the words barely leaving her lips. Right before her eyes, on the middle of a normal patrol, Faith had been called and because of that, she was safe. Shaking herself out of her shock, Annabel observed the battle going on, realizing that although Faith was doing well in it she had no idea how to defeat the creature. "Faith!" she called out, rewarded with the Slayer darting a glance her way. "His heart is in the lower part of his left leg! Strike there!"

Forming a brash grin, Faith nodded her head and whirled around, easily ducking a punch from the demon and swinging back the meter to stab it deep into the flesh of his left leg. The Grislox gave a last loud bellow of anger and agony before he fell, crashing to the ground with the sound of thunder echoing in their ears.

Panting for breath just slightly, Faith dropped the meter to the ground with a clang then turned to face Annabel who remained where she sat, her face full of pride as she stared at the girl before her. Walking towards her, Faith grinned again, offering her hand to Annabel, who warmly accepted.

Annabel rose to feet, her hand still in Faith's, smiling softly before squeezing it as she said, "Hello Slayer."

"Hey Watcher," Faith echoed, her tones rough but happy.

Tapered fingers released their hold on Faith's hand and whispered their way up to her face, caressing it with a measure of wonder. "You did very well," Annabel said in hushed tones. "Very well indeed."

The smile she received was blinding.

---

They walked home, hand in hand, as they always did, seeming quite average to the unknowing eye, but the happiness Faith held with her was anything but. Even Annabel could see that and it gave her a great deal of pleasure herself.

"Well now," Annabel smiled, shaking Faith's hand lightly with her. "You're in high spirits, aren't you? I hadn't thought you'd enjoy being a Slayer so much."

"It was great, Anna," said Faith excitedly, looking at the other woman, eyes sparkling. "I dunno if I can explain it right but... it was sorta like the world was in black and white before and now," Faith grinned big, "it's all Technicolor."

"Mmm," mused Annabel, thinking on this. "The histories compare it as such. However," she looked at Faith and smiled. "They never used such charming Wizard of Oz analogies."

"That wasn't Wizard of Oz!" Faith cried, indignant, she scowled and squeezed Annabel's hand lightly, careful now of her Slayer strength. "I was just sayin' what it felt like... and now you go comparin' me to Dorothy or something."

"I never did such a thing," said Annabel huffily. "I simply think your analogy is close to what happened in the film, is all."

"Yeah?" Faith quirked an eyebrow. A mischievous smile crossed her features and she leaned closer to Annabel. "That make you Toto then?"

"You," began Annabel in slow tones, raising an eyebrow at Faith, "are a snit."

"But you love me," drawled Faith, batting her eyelashes prettily, standing up on her tippy toes so their faces were close together. "Dontcha?"

Hazel eyes nervously averted from Faith's and Annabel coughed, looking ahead and noticing with some relief they were almost at the mansion. She looked back at Faith then murmured, "You never did say why you're so happy."

"Dunno," Faith shrugged, suddenly feeling as nervous as Annabel and moving her gaze away from the other woman. "Just think it's cool, being a superhero. Plus it's this wicked feeling... the power running through you. Sorta hard to explain."

Nodding her head, Annabel appeared to be pondering Faith's words as they walked up the front steps to the mansion and went inside. "I have to go to the loo," she said absently, walking towards the downstairs bathroom with an unusual speed, leaving Faith alone.

Watching her go, Faith frowned, a lost expression on her features as she whispered, "I'm happy because now I get to stay with you, Anna. That's all I ever wanted, y'know. To stay with you."

Meanwhile, the cold feel of the bathroom tiles met Annabel's body as she shakily collapsed to the floor, heaving sobs of relief tearing out of her as she realized her worst nightmare and sweetest dream had both come true. Faith had been called, she was a Slayer, and they would remain together, fighting the darkness that had no end. They would remain together but Faith...

Faith could die and it was her job to prevent that.

A keening wail escaped her lips and a trembling hand reached for the box of kleenex, wiping at her eyes as her long legs curled close, bunching against her tall frame that rested against the heavy door to the bathroom. Tilting her head back, she took in several gasping breaths, calming herself.

Shutting her eyes, Annabel murmured, "I can do this, I must do this. It is my duty, it's what Father would want."

Yes, she could do this. She would protect Faith, she would take care of her, do everything right where she had once gone so very wrong with her father and the others. It was her duty now and if nothing else, she would do her duty.

Unsteadily rising to her feet, Annabel stared at her tearstained face in the mirror, releasing a weary sigh then began to fix her make up, hoping to at least look like she had a semblance of control over what was happening.

She walked out of the bathroom and into the kitchen to find Faith scouring the refrigerator, wanting to add more food to the already enormous pile on her plate. Those dark eyes turned to her and she smiled gently, as she always did, and in that moment everything seemed the same, but they both knew it had changed.

---

Training wasn't nearly as easy as it had once been. Since Faith had been called Annabel found it harder and harder to defeat the girl in battle. Faith had been a good fighter before and now she was seemingly unbeatable. There was an ease in her movements, a sense of utter knowing as she fought that Annabel found nearly impossible to overcome.

Still, it was her job to train Faith to be better, so she would have to find some way. The Slayer was currently grinning big, something she did a lot of lately, and Annabel sighed deeply and pushed herself to her feet.

Pushing locks of brownish blonde hair out of her eyes, Annabel stared Faith down then beckoned her closer with a curling of her index finger. Faith's grin widened and she stepped back onto the mat.

"Recovered so soon?" Faith teased, her lips quirking into a smile. "I'll just have to try harder to wear you out, Anna."

Annabel's only response was to frown. That was another thing she'd been noticing. Faith and her flirting, it had increased by a surprising amount ever since she'd been called. Certainly Annabel didn't think it was related somehow but it was rather strange.

"Fight," was all Annabel said, her tones decisive.

Faith formed another jaunty grin and she stood, rocking back and forth on her toes, waiting for Annabel to make the first move. When the woman did, she made a quick whirl, grabbing at her midsection, pressing them close, Faith looking down at her, their faces millimeters apart.

"Heya," Faith grinned again.

Ignoring the playfulness of her voice, of her grin, of Faith herself while she pressed up against her, Annabel scowled, pushing herself back, then making a sudden jab at the Slayer's head, finding her hand grasped easily in Faith's hold. Annabel released a growl deep from in her throat, ducking her body down and performing a clean sweep with her leg, to send a shocked Faith falling back onto her butt.

Staring up at Annabel with an almost hurt expression Faith grimaced then demanded, "What was that for?"

"Don't forget who I am," Annabel replied stiffly, before she turned on her heel and walked out of the gym, away from the one person who wanted her to do that.

Sitting motionless, Faith studied her departing figure, reminding herself of the diary and what she had read there. Annabel loved her, she did, all Faith had to do was get her to admit it. Too bad that task was turning out to be far more difficult than she thought.

---

For weeks Annabel had been nervously waiting for the Council's phone call. Knowing that once Faith became a Slayer they would eventually contact her with their decision on the situation. It was now official, she was Faith's Watcher. Apparently although they found her personality and training methods unorthodox they were perfectly matched to Faith in their opinion.

Annabel was to stay exactly where she was, with Faith, in New Orleans. Part of her was relieved beyond all measure to hear this and another part, the one that was hidden away in the secret corner of her mind, was deathly afraid.

What if she did something wrong? What if she cost Faith her life just as she had cost her father's his? Annabel wasn't sure she could bear that. Just the thought of it nearly killed her.

She steeled her reserve though. Faith deserved better than to have a frightened Watcher. She deserved one who knew her place, who did her duty, and made the job easier and safer for her to perform day to day. Which was exactly what Annabel planned on doing.

Sighing wearily, Annabel rubbed at her forehead, walking downstairs, her mind a jumble of thoughts, the least of which was what to make for dinner. That's when the smell of delicious food enveloped her senses.

Pausing in the doorway to the kitchen, she watched as Faith busily flitted about, opening box upon box of take out food, then hurry over to the cabinets to pull out the dishes, setting them on the table. Feeling Annabel's presence, Faith froze in her steps, and formed a rather sheepish smile.

"Hey," said Faith softly, looking adorable, holding up two glasses in her hands.

"Faith," murmured Annabel with something close to awe, walking into the kitchen and eyeing the piles of food, each more appetizing than the last. "What...?"

"T.Paul's restaurant," Faith said shyly. "I ordered it from there. They gave me a deal, y'know... since we're podnas and all. I figured you'd be tired from that call with the big wigs in merry old England so..." she trailed off, embarrassed as she blushed from head to toe. "Got some food."

"Faith," said Annabel again, her voice tender. A slow smile worked its way across her refined features and she whispered, "Thank you."

"No big," Faith shrugged, blushing even more. She coughed abruptly then set the glasses down on the table, turning to rush towards the refrigerator and pulling out a bottle of red wine. "We can drink this." When Annabel looked from the food to her, raising an eyebrow, she snickered. "Aw, c'mon, Anna," she said in rather wheedling tones. "You need to cut loose once in awhile. Besides," Faith then gave Annabel's figure a hard study, her eyes raking up and down. "Are you even legal yourself? Y'know you don't look it."

"I'm twenty four!" said Annabel with some offense. She shook her head then sighed. "Honestly, Faith, you're the only person I know who could make a woman feel bad about being young."

"It's a talent," drawled Faith. She paused to study Annabel then held up the wine and asked, "Well? Wanna cut loose or not? Goes good with jambalaya."

"You're making that up," accused Annabel, her gaze soft.

"Yup," Faith said, lips popping on the word as she smirked. Striding over to the table, she set the bottle of wine down and said, "I'm guessin' your lack of protest is a sign that you agree with me. That's good because, y'know," brown eyes had an infectious light of good humor in them, "I'm always right."

Chuckling deeply, Annabel shook her head then sat down at the table, reaching out to inspect the various boxes of food. "Goodness, Faith," she breathed after a moment. "You certainly ordered a lot, didn't you?"

"Didn't know what you liked," said Faith in reply, reaching for some of the chocolate chess tarts. "I figured I was best off orderin' a little of everything."

"Eating the dessert first," said Annabel fondly, reaching for the ratatouille soup. "You're lucky it appears being a Slayer keeps your teeth in tact or I'm sure we'd have to take you to the dentist by now to prevent them from falling out, with the amount of sweets you consume daily."

Taking a hearty bite of her tart, Faith grinned around the chocolate and said, "You're just jealous I can eat all I want and keep my sexy figure."

"Funny," Annabel rolled her eyes, then took a sip of her soup, smiling at the taste of the spices and the mouth watering aroma of the meal. "This was very nice of you, Faith," she murmured. "I do appreciate it."

"I'm glad you like it," said Faith quietly. "I did it for you."

Their gazes held for a long moment, then Annabel looked away, reaching for the bottle of wine and pouring herself a glass. Her hands trembling just slightly, she held it up to her lips, taking a slow drink before looking at Faith again. As before, an expression of utter solemnity was on the Slayer's face.

Then Faith turned away from her and she returned to her eating with a strange lack of gusto that didn't fit her normal habits at all. Watching her every movement, Annabel pursed her lips and drank from the wine again. Trying her best to calm the wild beat of her heart and the affection clutching at her throat as she thought of what Faith had done for her tonight.

What Faith had done for every night since they had met. Bringing an uncommon joy to her life, filling it with an urgent happiness she hadn't experienced in years.

Taking another drink of her wine, Annabel looked out the long bay windows of the kitchen to stare at the streets of the city outside. She enjoyed the way Faith made her feel, very much, even though she knew she shouldn't.

The situation was dangerous, far more than any demon they had ever faced. Annabel knew that but at the same time she didn't know how to stop it.

---

Things had changed over the past two months, with Faith being a Slayer, but one thing had remained the same. Friday was still dance night and since it was Friday they were out on the town, losing themselves to the sound and feel of the music.

Faith had gone to get a drink some time ago, leaving Annabel alone on the dance floor, lost to the music and beat, swaying with the other dancers but in a place totally her own, one that made most of the club watch her with interest. Including Faith, from where she sat at the bar, swigging at her beer, her brown eyes dark on Annabel as the tall woman moved to the music, her body alive with motion, sensuality in her every tiny gesture.

She watched and she saw the others watching as well. They were focused on Annabel just as she was, looking at her with that same sense of hungry desire, wanting to make her theirs, to take her for their own. Well, Faith thought darkly, dropping her beer onto the bar with an audible clink, they couldn't have her.

Whether Annabel admitted it or not, Faith knew they were meant to be together, that Annabel belonged with her, now and always. That's why Faith strode out on the dance floor with a sense of utter confidence, pushing away the dancers who hovered around Annabel, hoping for the small bit of attention they would never get, even if Faith hadn't been in the club with her.

Faith touched Annabel's arm, running her hands slowly up it, and hazel eyes blinked, slowly opening, as if she had been woken up from a long sleep. Then a tender smile crossed her lips and she murmured, "Faith."

Not replying, Faith pressed her hand down to Annabel's hip, pulling the taller woman against her as they moved to the beat, their bodies pressed close, their curves melting into one another as the music reached its crescendo, falling over them in a turbulent wave. Looking surprised, Annabel nevertheless allowed the touch, falling against Faith easily as they swayed to the music.

Then they closed again and she went back to that world of hers. The one that only existed when she danced. Faith asked once, what she thought about when she was on the dance floor, with that aura of far off happiness surrounding her, making her unbearably desirable to anyone who saw her. Annabel simply smiled and said that she didn't think and perhaps that's why felt so happy in the dance. That lack of thought, of worry, that occurred during it.

Moving with Annabel, her hands resting on those trim hips, Faith closed her eyes as she saw the other woman do so often. She forgot all of her worries... all of her tormented thoughts of Annabel and enjoyed the moment. This wonderful moment of touching her, being near her, loving her.

So they moved together, their eyes closed to each other, but their hearts open, and fully aware of what was happening between them.

---

They tumbled into the mansion, a bit tipsy and giggling. Annabel's arm was wrapped over Faith's shoulder and Faith was leaning against her tall frame as they bumbled about the mansion, finally ending up in the living room, falling onto the softness of the circular couch, more giggles caused from this.

Annabel moved slowly onto her back, releasing a huge groan, and laughed again, a delighted noise, before she blew an errant lock of hair from her eyes to look over at Faith. The Slayer was noisily trying to take off her boots and having little to no luck in her task.

"Bloody hell," Annabel drawled in a teasing sort of insult. She pushed herself up and moved over to Faith, sitting on the floor in front of the couch and in an efficient move, she yanked the boots off. Tossing them to one side, she smirked at Faith then said, "You're so drunk you can't take off your boots."

"Shut up," Faith scowled, her tones anything but threatening in the slurred pronunciation. Annabel laughed at this and Faith scowled more before she let loose a groan and flopped onto the couch, lying sideways, her head tucked under her arm and her gaze fixed on Annabel. "Was fun," Faith said after a minute. "Tonight, y'know... dancin' and all. Was fun," she repeated.

"Mmm," murmured Annabel in a type of agreement, she kicked off her very fashionable heels, and made a noise of relief. Part of her wondered why she wore such uncomfortable shoes then she reminded herself of how nice she always looked in them and she had the answer. Getting the cricks out of her neck, she smiled and said, "It was fun, wasn't it?"

"Yup," said Faith, watching Annabel closely.

Rubbing at her neck absently, Annabel turned to Faith. "You were awfully friendly during the dance," she said.

"Huh?" Faith blinked, not really sure what Annabel was saying, mostly because of the alcohol she'd taken in.

"Then again," Annabel went on, not appearing to notice Faith's confusion. "You seem to be doing that a lot lately." She turned her gaze to Faith and said, "I didn't think you were one for being..." Annabel trailed off with a frown. "What did you call it? Ah, I remember." She looked back at Faith. "Touchy feely."

Brown eyes darkened and Faith turned her back to Annabel, staring at the material of the couch. "Sorry," she muttered. "I won't do it again if it bugs you."

Jerking backwards and into herself, Annabel blinked, surprised at the sudden change in mood in the girl in front of her. Faith's shoulders were tense, stiffened and she seemed to be curling up and away from her.

"Faith," whispered Annabel, moving onto her knees, scooting closer to the couch. "I didn't mean it that way," she said as she hesitantly reached out, clasping those tense shoulders. Faith remained motionless for a moment then she turned onto her back, peering up into Annabel's searching hazel eyes. "I'm sorry."

"I like touching you," Faith said, and her voice so soft that Annabel wondered if she had said anything at all. A trembling hand reached up, tangling in her hair, as fingertips brushed against her neck. "It makes me feel good."

"Faith," said Annabel again, unable to say anything else, unable to even move as those fingers splayed over her neck, tracing some unknown pattern across her skin. They moved up, running over her lips, a thumb softly caressing it and she looked into dark orbs, staring at her with a quiet passion. Shivering on seeing this display, she quickly squeezed her eyes tight. "No," she breathed, pushing herself up, her hands resting on the couch. Looking down at Faith and wincing on seeing that expression of silent need, she said hoarsely, "I'm going to bed."

Turning away, she walked out of the living room at a steady pace, taking it step by step, looking normal as can be but they both knew that on the inside she was running as fast as her feet could take her. Running away from Faith and the feelings that were developing in between them which were fast becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

---

Annabel was writing in her diary when Faith walked into the room, smelling faintly of cigarettes as she plopped down onto the end of the red loveseat, leaning back and staring at Annabel with a lidded gaze. The tall woman allowed this for several moments then, unable to take it any longer, closed her diary and looked at Faith with the barest hint of annoyance.

"Yes?" Annabel raised an eyebrow.

"Yes what?" responded Faith teasingly, a grin tugging at her lips. "I'm just admirin' the view, that's all. Is there something wrong with that?"

Hazel eyes immediately narrowed at this and releasing a great sigh, Annabel closed her diary with a thud and focused a cool gaze on Faith. "Very well," she began. "We're going to have to deal with this, I see."

"Deal with what?" echoed Faith, frowning now.

"This," Annabel made a wide gesture with her hand, moving it from her to Faith in a sign of slight irritation. Rising to her feet, her body was stiff as she walked away from Faith and to the desk, setting the diary down on it. Turning back, she leaned against it and said, "I want you to stop flirting with me."

Faith paled on hearing these words and she swore she could hear the sound of the ocean roaring in her ears. Never in her wildest dreams did she think Annabel would just bring it out in the open like this. She thought it would be like the affairs she had, a cat and mouse game of body and mind, then again... Annabel wasn't like her use them and lose them lovers.

She cared about Annabel.

"I mean it Faith," her voice met Faith's ears again and she dimly lifted her head, staring at Annabel. "This can't go on if I'm to remain as your Watcher. There must be boundaries."

She never expected Annabel to actually bring this discussion to light and that being so, Faith didn't know quite what to do and Annabel... she wasn't being the Annabel that she fell in love with. She had this look of cold control in her eyes, a type of harsh brittleness that Faith would have never associated with her before now. Leaning against the desk, her gaze was severe, inspecting Faith with a sort of detachment. But still, when Faith looked closer she saw a glimmer, the shifting of hazel to brown and she knew, she knew with all of her heart this wasn't really what Annabel wanted.

And so, Faith said in quiet but adamant tones, "No."

"What?" Annabel said in surprise, her voice reflecting what she felt.

"I said no," Faith said, determined as she strode forward, looking Annabel in the eyes and moving with utmost confidence. "I'm not gonna do that, Anna. I'm not because that isn't what you really want."

Withdrawing back, shrinking almost from the idea of what this meant as the Slayer neared her, Annabel frowned and said, "That isn't true. I want you to stop all this flirting. That is what I said and that is what I want."

"Bullshit," pronounced Faith clearly. Her expression remained hard then brown eyes softened and she reached out, hesitating slightly at the wince she saw the other woman give, resting her hand delicately on Annabel's cheek. When hazel eyes looked down into hers, she whispered, "You want me."

"No," Annabel shook her head desperately, fighting the words. "No, I don't. I'm your Watcher and this can't happen, Faith. This is wrong and--"

"You want me," Faith said again, reaching her other hand up, holding Annabel's face in her hands, looking deep into wide hazel eyes. "I know you do." She rose on her toes, pressing her body closer, shivering with joy as she traced her lips on the pale skin she'd admired so long, feeling it pulse under her touch. "This is right for us, Anna," she murmured in husky tones. "You know it."

For a moment she thought she died, the feeling was so intense, Faith's lips on her neck, Faith's body against hers, Faith's words... words she wanted to hear so much but at the same time lived in fear of ever hearing them. Annabel remained where she was, cherishing the moment, knowing it couldn't last because of who she was and the duty that she had to fulfill.

"Perhaps for you," Annabel finally replied, forcing all emotion to leave her face, forcing herself to firmly grab Faith's shoulders and gently push her away. Even forcing herself to say flatly, "No."

"What?" said Faith, tones lost and trembling, unsure of what was happening.

"No," Annabel repeated, moving her body back then turning around to reach for her diary. When she faced Faith, she went on, "This can't happen, won't happen. I haven't any idea of what you think you know but this will not go on. That is the reality of the situation."

Then she moved past Faith, walking out of the library, pausing only when she felt Faith's hand, callused but soft, clutching at her own with an excessive use of force. Turning to her, she saw brown eyes, full of tears and confusion look at her, pleading with her to take it back... to recognize what this really was.

"No, Faith," murmured Annabel decisively, untangling her hand from the Slayer's. "This isn't going to happen. You simply must accept it."

With that, she exited the library, leaving Faith alone.

Alone again, alone always, and she had thought, she had actually thought it would all end, because of Annabel. Because Faith loved Annabel and because Annabel loved Faith. Yet, here she was. Alone and hurting and Annabel...

She had left her.

Collapsing nerveless to the ground, Faith felt the tears stream down her face, sobs racking her body, shaking her frame as she clutched at the rug on the hard wood floor to the library.

Annabel was almost to her room when she heard the scream. An awful scream filled with utter pain and anguish that echoed throughout the mansion. Then came the sounds of crashing, furniture breaking, things being thrown, just the horrible noise of pure rage and torment filling her ears.

Hearing it, she paused in her walk, wanting with everything in her to return to the library, to take Faith into her arms, to soothe that pain, knowing full well she was responsible for it. She wanted this and despite that...

She kept walking, closing the door to her bedroom softly, hiding from the sounds of Faith's hurt, hiding from Faith's love for her, just hiding from the world itself.

---

The next several days were uncomfortable to say the least. Annabel had given Faith her space, perhaps too much space at that, and they hadn't spoken once of that day in the library. Annabel having quietly cleaned up the mess Faith made and gone so far as to buy new furniture to replace what had been destroyed.

Somehow, in just a span of a day, they had turned into strangers. There were no more long and wandering talks, no more comforting touches, no more jokes, and no more of Faith's infectious laughter resounding in the mansion.

Nothing.

There was just pain, this incredible pain in both of them, that wouldn't go away. Perhaps would never go away until this was resolved.

Annabel was making dinner and Faith was watching her... sitting at the kitchen table, her brown eyes lidded. Despite all that had gone on, she still liked to watch Annabel. She loved the ease and grace of her body, how everything she did just seemed natural and perfect. It made Faith happy, watching Annabel.

In watching her something occurred to Faith. Just a little detail, but it made her smile, something rare these days. Annabel's outfit was a pair of tailored dark blue pants and a white v-neck cashmere sweater, and as she studied it, Faith realized with some fondness that Annabel almost always wore a piece of blue clothing.

Smiling slowly, with affectionate humor, Faith couldn't stop the words from tumbling out of her mouth. "Your favorite color is blue, huh, Anna?"

"Yes," Annabel blinked, turning around to look at Faith with some surprise. They had barely spoken in the past few days and Faith was saying this? "It is." Looking at Faith carefully, she asked, "How did you know?"

"You're always wearin' it," Faith shrugged. She paused, unsure if she should say what she was thinking, since things had gone so wrong and she didn't want to make them worse but she didn't want to go on this way either. She couldn't go on this way. "It looks pretty on you." Faith was silent for a long moment then added softly, "Real pretty."

Instantly, Annabel's body language changed, she stiffened and turned back around, returning to her dinner preparations, washing the vegetables. "I told you," she said, her voice brittle, "not to say things like that."

There was nothing but quiet, horrible quiet, then Annabel felt Faith's breath on her neck, hot on her body, as she said, "Too bad. Because I wanna say things like that and we're gonna talk about why."

Shaking terribly, Annabel turned off the faucet, wiping her hands on her pants and turning to face Faith, pulling as far away from that tempting body as she was able. "There's nothing to talk about, Faith. I've already told you that this can't happen."

"So you keep sayin'," Faith murmured, her tones ironic. "But that isn't gettin' us anywhere, Anna. We've barely said a word to each other thanks to that little order of yours and it isn't helping us. We gotta talk."

"Perhaps we do," Annabel admitted, knowing what Faith was saying was true. The mansion had become almost unbearable, the tension so thick from all of their emotions riding high. "Fine," she said, tilting her head as she protectively folded her arms over her chest. "You start."

Brown eyes darkened into black and Faith closed them, trying her very best to find her center, that place of utter calm Annabel had talked about in training, and once she did, she opened them and looked at her. "I love you," said Faith simply, her expression open and honest. "I'm in love with you."

Imagining words, dreaming words, fantasizing words, and then actually hearing them are very different things. For quite some time now, Annabel had done all of this with Faith and the words she had just spoken, but not once did she think they would actually be said to her. Now, as they were, the impact was overwhelming, affecting her entire body, filling it with emotion.

Emotion that she wasn't supposed to have.

"I know you love me too," Faith was saying quietly, apparently not wanting to wait for Annabel's reaction. "I know you do... I read it in your diary."

"You did what?" Annabel hissed.

"I read your diary," repeated Faith calmly. She averted her gaze and looked ashamed as she continued, "I know it was wrong... a crappy thing for me to do but what did you expect?" Faith turned back to Annabel and frowned. "I knew that you'd be like this... not givin' me anything, trying to act like there isn't something between us, like you don't care. Well, I needed proof and I got proof." Faith's eyes glinted. "That diary is proof you love me. You say it in there."

"I... I never..." Annabel stumbled over her words, shaking her head. "I've never said such a thing, Faith. I don't know what you think you read--"

"I stopped havin' one night stands because of that diary," Faith went on, undeterred from Annabel's expected denials. "Because you said you didn't like them in there... that you thought I was better than that. That you wanted to show me more than that, and I stopped havin' them because I figured if I did then maybe one day you'd show me more, like you wrote about. But you won't," Faith stared Annabel down. "You keep lyin' about how you feel."

"This isn't proper," whispered Annabel, managing to push forward with her limbs, heavy on her body, almost like lead, walking dazed out of the kitchen. "It isn't..."

"Fuck proper, Anna!" Faith shouted, her voice ringing indignantly, and Annabel found herself whirled around, being held in Faith's strong hands. "Who cares about proper? Were you proper when you had sex in front of those stupid nuns? Proper isn't who you really are! I love you! You love me! Proper can go burn in hell for all I care!"

"No, no," Annabel shook her head frantically, her hair falling in streaming locks around her face, voice echoing dimly of tears and torment. "I can't do this... it isn't right you see... I'm your Watcher, I have to take care of you."

"You can take care of me," said Faith, softening her tones, ducking her head, peering up into Annabel's eyes and reaching to touch her cheek. "You can take care of me all you want but stop sayin' you don't love me. Not when I already know that you do."

Then there was a wonderful moment of peace. Incredible peace and the faint hope of happiness. It clung to the air, to them, and then it was gone. Faith should have known it wouldn't last.

"No," said Annabel resolutely, squirming out of Faith's hold, away from her with a sudden burst of determination and strength. "No, Faith."

She strode away as fast as her feet would take her, heading into the library only dimly aware of Faith's boots loud and stomping in pursuit. Annabel was in there, about to retrieve her diary when she felt Faith's hands on her again, spinning her around and pressing her against the desk.

"Stop sayin' that," Faith growled darkly. "It ain't the truth, Anna."

Moving with a strange sense of panic, Annabel skittered away from Faith, unsure of how much more she could take of this. Why wouldn't Faith simply give up? If she continued on Annabel wasn't sure how much longer she'd be able to push her away.

Approaching with the sleekness of a cat, Faith looked up at her with dark eyes that were knowing in their gaze. She looked up and she traced her hands across the refined face, running fingertips over the planes she had memorized in their time together and then she pulled Annabel's lips to hers.

Faith's body, her mouth, was as hot as Annabel's was cool. It was something the Slayer had teased her mercilessly about once. The fact that no matter how hot the day was in New Orleans, Annabel's hands and skin were almost always chilly to the touch. But oh... under Faith's mouth, firm and seeking, opening to hers, tongue searching deep, tasting from her with an uncontrolled eagerness and passion, oh in that moment she wasn't cold at all.

Her tapered hands fell down to Faith's waist, pulling her up and into her as she leaned down, deepening the kiss, intimately learning this girl, this person, that she wanted so much... loved so much, but had denied herself of for so long. As she pulled the Slayer to her, Faith rose anxiously, wanting this touch and they went tumbling backwards, Annabel landing on the large leather chair close to them, Faith falling onto her, their kiss somehow uninterrupted.

Sitting herself on Annabel's lap and pressing down into her, Faith entwined her fingers in Annabel's hair, delighting in its softness as she slowly pulled her lips away, recognizing the need to breath. She wasn't lax though as she moved her kisses lower, trailing across pale and cool skin, finding that pulse point she had known earlier, licking it softly, tasting lightly of salt.

"Faith," Annabel murmured in husky tones. She brought her hand up to bury itself in the Slayer's dark locks.

Faith smiled, sweet and unguarded, then leaned in for another kiss and as she did, it suddenly struck her. Annabel remembered who she was, what she was here for, and of her duty. To risk all of that for emotion wasn't right and it wasn't what her father had intended for her. Or the Council.

Abruptly, she pulled away from the girl in front of her, her gaze clouding in disappointment. "No," Annabel said. "I can't do this."

The Slayer released a short laugh, hollow and disbelieving, and she shook her head then said, "Quit it, Anna. It's not funny anymore. You just kissed me."

"That..." Annabel began, squeezing her eyes shut and moving upwards, gently forcing Faith up and off of her as she rose to her feet. "That was a mistake. One that mustn't happen again."

"A mistake?" Faith echoed faintly. She laughed again, this time almost hysteric, shaking her head as she said, "How can it be a mistake? You love me." Annabel flinched at this then began her walk out of the library, all too aware of Faith trailing after her. "You love me!" Faith shouted behind her, yelling at her back, staring down the woman who was keeping her from her happiness. "You know that you do, Anna! I know you do! What the hell was that kiss then?!"

Yet she kept on walking, ignoring the plaintive cries of the girl behind her, ignoring her feelings for her, ignoring the need tearing deep at her heart to turn around and take her into her arms. She ignored all of this and she walked into her bedroom, quietly closing the door behind her. Vaguely hearing Faith's final tortured shout of, "You love me!" And then the banging against her door.

Soon all was silent. Wretchedly silent and Annabel sat on her bed, staring out the window, trying to calm herself, trying to clear her head. What had she done? She kissed Faith... kissed her! She was her Watcher, it was her duty to train Faith, to take care of Faith, not to do such things.

Not only was it a terrible breach of her duty it was wrong. Faith was just a girl. Yes, she was a girl who was older than her physical age, having seen far too many horrible things in her lifetime, but she was still a girl. Only sixteen and for Annabel to do such a thing would be taking advantage of her. And yet, her heart cried out to her, calling her a fool, telling her she'd never felt this way before, not for any of her lovers. Not for Hannah, not for James... no one.

Just Faith, she was the only one who could inspire such depth of emotion in her and it nearly destroyed Annabel to think it was wrong. It didn't feel wrong but everything that she had been taught by the Council said very clearly it was. They said her feelings were wrong, her love was wrong, and in turn that she was wrong.

A hole was gaping inside of her... she felt herself ripping, drowning in a sorrow only imagined by never having that touch again. Never experiencing what she did for a few brief moments, there in that library. She was the one keeping that from her, not Faith, not the Council, not even her father. She and she alone was the one doing this to her, making herself so unhappy.

Slowly rising to her feet, knowing now what she had to do in order to go on, in order to simply live, Annabel opened the door to her bedroom and found Faith standing there, brown eyes teary but expectant. She had been waiting.

"I do love you," Annabel murmured, body trembling, heart beating out of control, as a hand reached out, whispering a gentle touch on Faith's cheek. "I do."

Faith released a wrenching sob from deep in her chest, collapsing into Annabel, clinging to her with frantic hands, unable to believe that after so much pain and effort what she wanted was finally hers. Smiling sadly, feeling shame for having caused this, Annabel soothed her with a quiet murmur, lips pressing against the dark head resting on her chest, holding her closer still.

She was sniffling as Annabel's hands moved down, cupping her face and then wiping the tears away. "I'm sorry," Annabel said, voice laced with a deep regret. "I never meant to do this. I never meant to make you cry, Faith."

"It's okay," said Faith hoarsely, relishing the gentle touch that was traveling across her skin. She reached up, clasping Annabel's hands in hers. "But promise me you won't do that again, Anna. I just want you to tell me the truth."

"I love you," Annabel said again, a smile of pure happiness was on her lips, her hand resting on Faith's cheek. It traveled down to bury itself in dark locks, and with a smooth pull from the other hand at Faith's waist they were against each other, their bodies moving into one. She leaned her head down, breath mixing with Faith's as she murmured once more, "I love you."

Their lips met and it was far better than before. It was life and it was passion and it was love. Everything they had ever wanted was in this kiss and it was so much they wondered if they could die from it. Mouths hot, open, and wanting, taking all that had been denied for so long and savoring it, making it last.

Reluctantly they pulled apart, tiny melting kisses replacing the passionate one that they had just been engaged in, Faith sensually drawing the kiss out before it did end and she formed a blinding smile of joy. Then she sighed, falling into Annabel's arms. Faith's head pillowed on her chest, moving deep into the embrace.

"Should've just given in from the start," said Faith after a minute, her voice definitely teasing, hands playing with the material of Annabel's sweater.

"Hmm?" murmured Annabel, rather lost in a sort of erotic daze, trying to steady herself and not be lost completely to the warmth surrounding her.

"I said," drawled Faith, tilting her head up and grinning big at Annabel, "that you should've just given in from the start. Instead of actin' like you didn't love me and like you had some sorta control over it." Faith snorted derisively. "Yeah, right."

Arching an eyebrow, Annabel said dryly, "You really wish to discuss this?"

"Nah," said Faith, shaking her head and giving a lopsided smile. "I just figured I should point that out." She tickled lightly at Annabel's side. "Y'know, remind you that you're not right ALL the time."

Laughing despite herself, Annabel squirmed under Faith's hands which soon ceased their actions. Looking down into Faith's solemn brown gaze, she said, "This isn't a game for me, Faith. I hope you know that."

"What?" Faith blinked, not expecting the seriousness of Annabel's tone.

"I will always be your Watcher," said Annabel, resting her hands down on Faith's hips, her fingers lightly running up and down, over the small of her back in an all too comforting movement. "Because of that I think it would be best if we continue this slowly... not rush into anything." She paused for a moment and she wore a soft look of undeniable love and affection. "I want you to be ready. For this to be perfect for you and as such, we must take our time."

"You wanna be romantic," Faith realized, delighting in the idea. "Do all that dating junk, don't you?"

"Yes," Annabel smiled slowly, laughing happily. "I suppose that I do."

Nodding with satisfaction, Faith leaned up, standing on her toes, pressing her lips to Annabel's neck and finding the pulse she enjoyed feeling so much then murmur against it, "Fine by me."

"I'm glad," said Annabel, her hands gentle on Faith's hips, pulling the girl unbearably close as her head ducked to meet their lips for another kiss.

Just as before, this one was far better than the last.

------

 

Faith was so happy to be awake and alive she didn't stop to shower and change out of her scant version of pajamas, a pair of plaid boxer shorts and a black tank top, before she bounded downstairs and towards the kitchen.

As expected, Annabel was already wide awake and making breakfast. She was dressed in baggy but elegant black pants that pooled at her feet which were covered in a pair of open toed sandals with a slight heel and last, but hardly least, was the sky blue blouse that rode up slightly, revealing pale skin to the eyes, making her look deliciously sexy.

Well, at least to Faith, and after all, wasn't it her opinion that counted most?

Moving stealthily into the room, not making a sound, and feeling extremely grateful for her newfound talents as a Slayer, Faith crept up behind Annabel, dropping her hands lightly down to hover over her hips. In a sudden move, Faith darted forward, pressing soft lips to the back of Annabel's neck as she lifted the tall woman off the floor, holding her tight.

"Faith!" shrieked Annabel in fright, her hands splaying out, resting on the kitchen counter, trying to steady herself as the Slayer slowly lowered her to her feet.

"How did you know it was me?" Faith murmured, moving closer, her arms wrapping around Annabel's waist as she stood on her tip toes, putting her chin on her shoulder, peering at refined features. "I coulda been someone else."

"Unless I'm sorely mistaken on the current status of my love life, there is only one person I'm in love and living under the same roof with," said Annabel dryly as she relaxed in Faith's arms with a happy sigh. "Thus the suspects in sudden kiss and hugging crimes are limited."

"Damn," chuckled Faith, her fingers stretching out over Annabel's belly, feeling the firm skin warm under her touch, reveling in it. "You caught me."

Annabel turned in Faith's arms, leaning against the counter, a sensual smile quirking on her lips. "Well then," she said in throaty tones. "Whatever shall I do with you now that I've caught you?"

"I've got some suggestions," Faith smirked, her eyes gleaming.

"I would imagine so," Annabel chuckled. Her hazel gaze dark with desire, she slid her hands down to rest on Faith's hips. Then tilting her head to one side, in tender observation, she said quietly, "You make me very happy, Faith." A slow hand left Faith's hip, tracing up her body, over the sleep crumpled material of her clothes, stopping to tangle in her hair, thumb caressing the skin of her neck. "I've never been as happy with someone as I am with you. I want you to know that."

The smile she received was brilliant. Perhaps the most brilliant Annabel had ever seen. While she gave it, Faith moved forward, her body stretching against the tall woman's in a seamless gesture, burying her hands in fawn colored hair and rising up, taking Annabel's lips in her own for a kiss.

It was more each time, Faith thought in amazement. Each kiss, each touch, was more powerful, more electric, filling her with a sense of life she never thought she would have. And to think that she did that for Annabel as well was nearly beyond her scope of understanding. She, Faith, the worthless kid that no one wanted, that everyone said was no good, someone loved her...

Annabel loved her.

Groaning on feeling Annabel's mouth, hot on her, not at all like her hands that were cool, soothing the burn of her skin as they moved closer. Her kisses were gentle but firm and oh so knowing, as if the secrets of the world were in that soft wet demand that pressed Faith to open up to her, but no more than she was willing to give, and Faith felt herself open because she wanted to, had to.

They parted with a gasp from them both and Faith laughed lowly, resting her head on Annabel's shoulder, lightly kissing the base of her neck. She felt tapered hands rest on her back, rubbing it in a comforting gesture.

"What are you laughing at, hmm?" Annabel's voice rumbled in her chest, it rising up, moving Faith with her as the Slayer lay against her.

Faith moved her head back, just slightly, but kept her body as close as possible to Annabel's, and drawled, "You're a real good kisser." She poked Annabel in the side and continued teasingly, "I didn't think you'd be such a good kisser."

"I'm not sure whether or not to be flattered or insulted," said Annabel honestly, feigning a bit of indignation, raising an eyebrow.

"Awww," Faith grinned widely, her hands tickling at Annabel's abdomen, her touch playful. "Don't you get all pouty on me, Anna. It's nice, you knowin' how to kiss real good. Saves me the trouble of having to teach you."

"You realize this isn't helping your situation," pointed out Annabel drolly.

Laughing again, Faith ducked back into Annabel's arms, holding her tight as she rocked them to and fro, loving the feeling of safety those arms leant her. Content in this, they remained there for several moments, before Annabel kissed Faith's dark locks softly. "We should eat," she murmured, in wandering suggestion.

"Yeah," Faith agreed, not really wanting to eat, not really wanting to do anything but hold and be held by Annabel. "We should."

Several more moments passed then Annabel murmured, "We're not going to be eating breakfast anytime soon, are we?"

"Don't think so," Faith chuckled against her shirt, breathing in the light scent of lavender that clung to Annabel like a breeze. "'Sides," she said in a sort of after thought. "Who says we gotta move anyway? If we're fine right where we are why should we go movin' around? Waste of time if you ask me."

"Well," the word drew out of Annabel's lips slowly, "I had made plans for us today." She looked at Faith and smiled. "If you agree to them, of course."

"What sorta plans?" asked Faith curiously.

"A celebration," Annabel said, smiling softly, her hand reaching down to move a unruly lock of brown hair from Faith's eyes. "One for you and I alone. A day and night on the town, if you will. Just the two of us. Not Slayer and Watcher, only you and I, just Faith and Annabel. Well?" She tilted her head to one side. "What do you say? Is it a good idea?"

"It's a great idea," said Faith with a big grin. Her eyes were bright and she darted up, capturing Annabel's lips with her own for a quick kiss. When they parted, she smirked then drawled, "You're a kick ass girlfriend, Anna."

Blushing lightly, despite herself, Annabel replied, "I'm glad you think so." She murmured into Faith's ear, her breath warm on Faith's skin, "Because you're stuck with me for some time."

Tangling her hands in Annabel's hair, pulling her close, opening her mouth for another searing kiss that caused her to see stars the passion was so intense, in all honesty, Faith couldn't think of anything that would make her happier.

---

The French Quarter was bustling with life and excitement. Faith absently bit into the praline cookie that Annabel had bought for her and studied all the people who went about their business with a rare enthusiasm.

"Do you like it?" Annabel's voice murmured in her ear, breath warming her skin, and Faith grinned widely. Seeing this, Annabel returned the grin and said, "I thought you might."

"Good," mumbled Faith through the crumbles of cookie in her mouth, holding up the sweet rather impishly. She swallowed the food then a glint arose in her gaze and she reached out, her hand light on Annabel's waist. Raising the cookie up to rose dusted lips with her other hand she asked, "Wanna taste?"

Arching an eyebrow, Annabel paused, her gaze filled with amusement as she leaned down and carefully bit into the cookie. Pulling away as she chewed at the snack, licking her lips when done, she murmured, "It is good."

"I really wanna kiss you right now," Faith confessed in rough tones. She looked away then sighed deeply. "I really do."

"Then why don't you?" Annabel said, her breath ruffling Faith's hair, hands steady on Faith's hips as the Slayer finished off the cookie.

"Because," said Faith with a bit of exasperation, swallowing the last of the treat and turning to look at Annabel. She agitatedly waved at the passing people who were inspecting the various goods in the market place. "There's people."

"I wouldn't think you'd care of such things," said Annabel in surprise.

"I don't," Faith took in a great breath of air, looking up at Annabel solemnly. "But I figure you do. I don't wanna upset you, Anna."

Blinking at this, a slow smile worked its way across Annabel's lips, her palm moving to rest on Faith's cheek, feeling the Slayer relax under her touch. "Faith," she whispered. "That's very sweet of you but don't worry so. While it's true my days of public spectacles are most likely over and done with, I would hardly be averse to doing something like this with you."

Then, before Faith could say a word, Annabel smoothly leaned down, capturing Faith's lips in a sweet and simple kiss, caressing the Slayer with a quiet desire that clearly expressed the love she felt. Pulling away, she offered a bright smile and rubbed her thumb against the cheek her hand still rested on.

"There now," Annabel said, moving her eyes around the market place, causing Faith to do the same. "It doesn't appear as if anyone noticed, does it? Or," she chuckled on seeing a few women nearby give wide smiles of approval, "even mind us if they did in fact notice."

Snickering at the women, Faith shook her head, then looked up at Annabel with glowing eyes. "You're amazing, y'know?" she said.

"No," said Annabel, shaking her head and her thumb pausing in its caress, "you are." She smiled again then held Faith's hand in her own and said playfully, "Now you must remember, kissing is perfectly acceptable in public but other things..."

"What? No more public sex for Anna?" teased Faith, bumping her body against Annabel's as the taller woman groaned deeply.

"I should have never told you that story," Annabel said in long suffering tones. "I knew it would come back to haunt me some day." She heard the Slayer chuckle again, then turned to see Faith darting her eyes around, taking in the various booths selling goods of all kinds. Smiling at the childlike delight on the normally tough features, Annabel squeezed Faith's hand. "See anything you like?"

"Yeah," said Faith, grinning big. She stood up, her face close to Annabel's, and waggled her eyebrows. "A voodoo doll. I wanna see if I can put a spell on you."

Forming a face of consideration, Annabel dropped a light kiss on Faith's nose then pulled away and said firmly, "No. I don't think so."

"Awww, but voodoo, it's the new thing, all the kids are doin' it," Faith snickered at her own joke as she managed a pair of huge puppy dog eyes. "Please?"

"No voodoo," said Annabel decisively, shaking Faith's hand in her own. "That sort of thing causes more trouble than it is worth. Besides," she arched an eyebrow. "I would think a Slayer wouldn't have use for such things."

"Ouch, hittin' low," said Faith, reaching for her midsection as if she'd been shot, pouting at Annabel as she did so. "That was harsh."

"It was not," said Annabel dryly. She looked away from the Slayer, focusing on a booth on the far end of the market place. Seeing the goods the vendor sold, her eyes widened slightly and she moved forward with curiosity, pulling a baffled Faith along with her.

"Uh... Anna...?" Faith began, rather confused, but totally willing to let Annabel lead her wherever she wanted. "Where are we goin'?"

Annabel didn't reply and merely came to a stop, turning to look back at Faith with a grin, gently moving behind her, hands soft on her shoulders as she pushed her to look at the items on the booth table. Faith frowned for just a moment then looked down in shock to see line upon line of beautifully engraved knives, each more distinctive than the last.

"A Slayer ought to have a favorite weapon in battle," Annabel whispered in her ear, dropping her hands to Faith's waist, softly pressing her body against the girl she held. "Go on... choose whichever one you like."

Moving forward slowly, out of Annabel's hold, Faith kept her gaze fixed on the weapons, her fingertips reaching out to lightly run over the lines of some of them with certain awe. She looked up after a moment and saw the booth owner standing there, an old man, small but smiling, looking at her kindly.

"Made them myself," he informed. "Takes awhile and the fire is damn near as hot as hell but myself? I think it's worth it. More expensive pieces are the ones with jewels imbedded. More pretty than useful," his eyes glinted at her then he went on, "not most people would have use for these."

Nodding her head dimly, Faith concentrated on the merchandise, trying to decide on which one when she saw it. It had a jade handle that curved to the touch, the metal a fine steel, shining in the sunlight, inlayed with some type of wood, perhaps oak, it looked utterly dangerous and beautiful to the eye.

"That one?" the man asked, a smile in his voice. His withered hands picked up the knife and he presented it to Faith, holding it flat in his palms. "That's one of my favorites. Not as pretty as the others but there's something about it."

Holding the knife, testing the weight of it in her hand, Faith grinned widely then looked up at Annabel who smiled down at her. Directing her gaze at the booth owner, Annabel asked, "How much?"

Looking from Faith to Annabel then back again, the old man considered it then smiled and said, "Four hundred."

Arching an eyebrow with surprise, Annabel retrieved her wallet, well aware of Faith's quiet wonder as she deposited the money in his hand. Smiling warmly at the booth owner, she said, "Thank you very much. You do wonderful work."

The man simply nodded his head then turned his attention to the arriving customers at the booth. Annabel pressed her hand gently on the small of Faith's back, leading her through the crowd as the Slayer stared at her.

"Faith," began Annabel after a moment, turning to look at her, "how long are you going to look at me like that?"

"You just paid four hundred bucks for this," Faith said, pointing at the knife that was now safely sheathed and tucked into the front pocket of her leather pants. "I didn't think it was gonna be that much. You didn't have to buy it."

"Oh, I did," Annabel's lips quirked in a smile. She took Faith's hand in her own, squeezing it gently and gazing into brown eyes with affection. "Not only because you wanted it and it would make quite a fine weapon for you on patrol but also because he offered us a very generous deal."

"Deal?" repeated Faith with disbelief. "Four hundred bucks for a knife is a deal? He said it was one of his less fancier ones too. How's that a deal?"

"Because he could have easily charged us the real worth," informed Annabel, a mischevious smile on her lips. "And then I would have spent at least six hundred dollars in order to please you. I'm much happier this way, I think."

"Six hundred?" Faith squeaked, looking over her shoulder and back at the disappearing booth where the old man saw her gaze and waved. "For real? He coulda asked that much and he didn't? Is he crazy?"

"Perhaps he recognizes true love when he sees it," Annabel murmured, her fingertips dropping lightly onto Faith's chin, turning the dark head so their eyes would meet. Looking at the Slayer, she smiled softly. "What do you think?"

Falling out of her daze on how much her new knife cost, Faith slowly formed a smile to match Annabel's. "I think," Faith began in a drawl as she stood on her tip toes, meeting the tall woman's lips for a kiss, "you're one cool chick."

"Only with you," said Annabel in reply, voice quiet with affection.

They parted but remained hand in hand, walking through the market, inspecting the various booths with interest, until they reached the end of the tent. Then Faith released a noise of joy and Annabel found her staring at a man who had set up a temporary food shop, selling his wares to the curious tourists.

"Oh no," Annabel shook her head, "Faith, you're not--"

"Gator on a stick!" Faith whooped, dashing towards the man, turning around to flash Annabel a huge smile. "C'mon, Anna! We gotta try this!"

Pressing tapered fingers to her forehead, Annabel sighed deeply then finished her sentence, murmuring, "Actually going to eat that." Shaking her head, Annabel headed after Faith who had already bought the first piece of food. "Ah well," she smiled on seeing Faith look happily towards her. "You only live once."

---

Parking the car, Annabel frowned and looked to Faith. "Now will you tell me where we're going?" she asked in a sort of plea.

"Nope," Faith popped the word out of her mouth, shaking her head.

They had wandered, shopped, and eaten all day. Just having a peaceful time together in the city and once it reached nightfall, Faith had looked to Annabel with a gleam of desire in her eyes then suggested they go to a different part of the city. More precisely to Bourbon street.

"I still don't understand why," Annabel sighed, getting out of the car. She eyed Faith as the Slayer smoothly crossed over to her, wearing a smile. "What exactly do you have planned in that fascinating mind of yours?"

"Nothing much," Faith drawled, smiling big, linking her hands in Annabel's, walking backwards and peering up at Annabel. "Just some fun, that's all."

Looking at Faith with a lidded gaze, Annabel sighed again then shook her head. "I suppose I'll have to trust you then, won't I?" she smiled.

"C'mon, you can always trust Faith," grinned the Slayer, shaking Annabel's hands in her own, pausing in her backwards walk to move closer, pressing her body into the taller woman's lightly. Tilting her head to one side, she moved closer yet, their faces millimeters apart. "Can't you?"

"Yes," Annabel murmured, her voice throaty with want. "You can."

"Good," said Faith with satisfaction. She dropped a quick kiss on Annabel's lips before bounding away, taking the hand in hers again and leading her through the street and the crowd of people on it. "I want my girlfriend to trust me."

Studying Faith fondly, Annabel tilted her head to one side. "You enjoy calling me that, don't you?" she observed. "Your girlfriend, I mean."

"Well, yeah," Faith shrugged, screwing her face up in thought. She frowned and looked back at Annabel. "Don't you like it?" She looked panicked then went on to say quickly, "Because if you don't--"

"Faith," Annabel soothed, moving fast to stand in front of the Slayer, index finger pressing lightly down onto full lips. "It's fine," she assured with a smile. "I enjoy you calling me that. I just wondered, is all." Moving her gaze away, Annabel was quiet for a moment, then she looked back to Faith. "Hannah never did call me her girlfriend... I suppose I'm not used to it. I do like it though," her hands dropped down to rest on Faith's waist, pulling their bodies close, "I like it very much."

"Good," said Faith with relief, relaxing under Annabel's touch. "Because I like calling you that... I like you bein' that, y'know." She ducked her gaze then looked shyly up at Annabel. "My girlfriend."

Smiling softly, Annabel kissed Faith lightly, opening her mouth just a bit to search out the sweetness of the person she loved, controlling the desire that she felt well up in her, knowing it wasn't the time nor the place for such things. Pulling back, she smiled again, resting her hand on Faith's neck.

"Well?" asked Annabel playfully. "Where are you taking your girlfriend?"

Laughing at this, Faith moved her hand back into Annabel's, leading her further up the street before they stopped in front of a lively club that was bursting with sound and color. Turning to look back at her, wearing a definitely naughty expression, Faith drawled, "Oz -- The Land of Dance."

"And I foolishly thought you didn't enjoy the film," Annabel said dryly, raising an eyebrow as Faith rolled her eyes at this comment.

"Hardy har, Anna," said Faith, putting her hands on leather clad hips. "Don't tell me you've never heard of this place? I thought you knew N'awlins," Faith gave a decent impression of the local pronunciation of the city.

"I know it," said Annabel skeptically, still eyeing the rambunctious club. "I'm just curious as to why you took me to a gay mans dance club, that's all."

"Uh uh," Faith wagged her index finger back and forth in Annabel's face, which caused the British woman to frown down at her. "This is a gay people dance club. All of the brothers and sisters are welcome here. True, it's mostly brothers but I have seen a few sisters comin' in and outta here."

"You have, have you?" Annabel said in droll tones, arching an eyebrow and folding her arms across her slim frame. "And when exactly was this?"

Realizing she might have made an error, Faith smiled nervously and darted her gaze to one side. "Uhm... awhile ago... back when I first noticed that I'd started fallin' for you." Faith looked back at Annabel and looked sheepish as she offered lamely, "I wanted to do research?"

"You didn't..." Annabel began the sentence, half wanting to hear the answer, half dreading it would be the one she didn't expect.

"No way! No, no!" Faith shook her head fiercely, dark locks flying about. She stopped then moved a step closer, reaching down to hold Annabel's hands in her own. "I quit that," she said softly, "when I fell in love with you."

Sighing in relief, Annabel blushed then ducked her head. "I can't believe this," she murmured more to herself than Faith. Lifting her head and to take in Faith's curious features. "I was jealous just then. I've never been jealous but I..." She paused and her hands cupped Faith's face gently. "I was over you."

"I like you jealous," Faith grinned widely, "you look sorta sexy and butch."

Rolling her eyes, Annabel shook her head then said, "Shall we go inside now? Perhaps do a bit of dancing before we head home?" She murmured teasingly, "Or am I wrong in thinking that's what you brought us here for?"

"No, you're right," said Faith warmly. She took Annabel's hand in her own, leading her into the club, well aware of the admiring gazes on them and meeting a few of them with an obvious expression of pride. "So lets dance."

"Yes," said Annabel, watching Faith fondly, also aware of the gazes but only having eyes for the girl in front of her. "Lets."

---

Before they had become a couple, Faith and Annabel spent nearly all of their time together, and since becoming one it seemed as if they hardly spent any time apart. Normally the idea of being with someone that much would irritate Faith. Instead, she found herself dreading not being with Annabel. Something that at the same time exhilarated and scared her. She had never needed anyone so much, she had wanted people, yeah, but that was nothing compared to this.

Then again, did she want to compare her relationship with Annabel to what she'd experienced in her life? Not by any measure. Her life before Annabel was nothing but darkness and disappointments and since Annabel...

Well, Faith had never been happier.

That didn't prevent her from being scared of feeling this way. Faith had been so caught up in the actual act of getting Annabel to admit she returned her feelings that she never considered what it would be like once she finally did. What if she screwed this up like she screwed up everything else? What if she made Annabel leave her or what if the Council found out, as she knew Annabel worried about, and they made someone else her Watcher? What if they sent Annabel away?

All these thoughts and more whirled around in Faith's mind as she sat in the garden on the marble railing, taking a drag of her cigarette. She was scared, yes, this was true but she was also happy, deliriously so.

Right now the happiness far outweighed the fear and because of that Faith supposed she would be all right. After all, she thought with a smile as she heard the patio doors slide open, she had Annabel here with her.

"I do wish you would give up this habit," Annabel remarked idly, leaning against the railing, studying Faith's strong profile. "You needn't make your life as a Slayer even shorter by indulging in those fiery death sticks."

"Fiery death sticks," repeated Faith slowly, turning to gaze to Annabel. She smirked then chuckled lowly as she rubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray. "I gotta say, I thought I heard them all but that's a new one, Anna."

"I try my best to be original," Annabel's lips quirked up in a smile. Moving to look out at the garden, she sighed deeply, then wondered, "Is it ever not lovely here?"

"Yeah," said Faith with a smile, turning on the marble railing, straddling it and smiling at Annabel. "It ain't so lovely when you're not around."

"You're becoming quite skillful at that, aren't you?" remarked Annabel thoughtfully.

"At what?" asked Faith, leaning back on her hands, enjoying the view.

"Flirting with women," supplied Annabel in dry tones. She reached out to prod Faith's blue jean covered leg. "I noticed you doing that the other night when we were out dancing. Got yourself a free drink out of it as well."

"Tch," Faith smirked and shook her finger at Annabel. "I thought we already had this jealous discussion, Anna. I'm your girl and nobody else's. That was just what you saw, me scammin' some sap out of a free drink. No crime in that."

"I'm not being jealous," said Annabel with slight indignation. When Faith gave her a skeptical look, she cried out, "I'm not!" She turned her head, gazing at all of the flowers, and muttered, "I wasn't bloody well jealous."

She heard a slight thump then Faith was against her, leaning into her back, her body pressed close, their frames melding together as Faith calmly rested her chin on Annabel's shoulder. Capable arms wound around her waist, holding her tight as she murmured with humor, "You're so sexy like this."

Turning even redder, Annabel protested, "I'm not--"

"Real sexy," Faith went on, gently turning Annabel around, sliding up and into her, the length of her body resting against Annabel's. Sliding her fingers through Annabel's hair and smiling wickedly. "Damn sexy."

"I don't think so," Annabel breathed. She looked deeply into Faith's dark gaze, losing herself to the love and passion she saw in it. "But if you do say that I am I rather think it must be true. After all," her lips moved into a smile, "you would never lie to me, would you?"

"No," said Faith solemnly. "I never would."

Smiling again, Annabel nodded then tilted her head slightly. "Well?" she began in playful tones. "Are you going to kiss me or not?"

Considering this for a long moment, Faith finally looked into Annabel's eyes then said with complete and total seriousness, "No."

Then she turned on her heel, bursting with laughter as she dashed into the mansion before Annabel could snap out of her shock and chase after her. Once Annabel did though, oh, there was a tickling match the likes of which few have ever seen. One that led to some even more interesting activities.

During of all which Faith felt no fear for the future, for what was to come, because she knew whatever it was, she could face it with Annabel at her side.

---

Faith was training when Annabel received the phone call. Certainly she didn't think she would ever be speaking to Quentin Travers himself and yet, here she was, on the phone with him.

"You're doing spectacularly well," he complimented warmly, as warmly as he could manage anyway. "We've been impressed with your progress. Faith isn't nearly so much a handful as we first thought her to be. Perhaps that has something to do with your special touch?"

Blushing at his words and feeling altogether grateful he couldn't physically see her, Annabel coughed then said, "Yes. It might be that."

"Quite," mused Quentin thoughtfully. "By the by, I wanted to extend an invitation to the retreat." He chuckled then said, "It sounds as if you could use it. What did you fight last week? Eleven Vyni demons? Nasty creatures."

"Fourteen actually," said Annabel dimly, her head spinning. "You want me to attend the annual retreat? But I've only been Faith's Watcher seven months now. That's barely any time, why not invite Mr. Giles? Surely he--"

"Mr. Giles is far too busy," Quentin interrupted. "The Hellmouth is a constant and ever active source of supernatural problems. Besides," he paused and his voice shifted tones. "This is our way of congratulating you for proving us wrong. There were many who didn't think you could handle this assignment, Annabel. That you would forget your duty as you did when you were younger, with your father." He was quiet then asked, "Well? When should we expect you?"

Turning pale, wondering how this had happened, Annabel gazed down at the phone then opened her lips to give an answer.

A few minutes later, Annabel wandered into the gym, still feeling rather dazed. Noticing her entrance, Faith paused in her kata and lowered her sword to gaze at Annabel with concerned brown eyes. Dropping the sword to the floor with a clang, she ran quickly over to the tall woman, clasping her arms.

"Anna?" asked Faith, her voice laced with worry. "What's goin' on? Who was on the phone? What'd they tell you?"

A small smile passed over Annabel's lips and she said, "It was the Council. They've invited me to attend the annual retreat. It's a great honor... given as a reward to those they feel have earned it most."

"Yeah?" asked Faith excitedly. "When we goin' out?"

"We're not," said Annabel simply. Walking past Faith and picking up the sword she had dropped, Annabel crossed the room to replace it on the wall neatly. She turned back to Faith and smiled gently. "I told them no, that I thought it was more important I stay here with you, help you excel in your training. They were rather disappointed but understood my reasoning. And..." she trailed off, the words on the tip of her tongue, wanting so very badly to be spoken to Faith. But she held off, also not wanting to put more of a burden onto the Slayer's shoulders. "I prefer not see them right now, is all."

"But why?" Faith asked with a frown. "If it's such a big to do why don't you wanna go? I mean, it could be cool. I'd get to see England, drive on the wrong side of the road, eat crappy food--"

"That's just it," said Annabel, meeting Faith's eyes. "You wouldn't be allowed to come with me. You would stay here and be given a temporary Watcher who would take over my duties while I'm gone on the retreat." She walked over to Faith, studying the frown as it deepened, marring the Slayer's pretty features. Her soft hands reached out to smooth those lines. "When given the choice of staying with you or going on a stuffy retreat where only middle aged men will be there discussing demonology theory, I will choose you time and time again, Faith."

"Yeah, well," Faith reddened slightly, giving a cough before she turned to look back at Annabel and smiled widely. "I guess I can understand that."

Tenderly brushing back locks of dark hair, Annabel smiled and said, "I thought that you might." She leaned forward to press a soft kiss on Faith's forehead then she pulled back. "Come then," she said after a moment. "I've planned a new aspect of your training. One I think you'll enjoy."

"Is it naked wrestling?" asked Faith mischievously. "Because y'know, I could go for some naked wrestling with you."

"No, it's not naked wrestling," Annabel rolled her eyes, shaking her head as she took Faith's hand in hers and led the Slayer out of the gym. "Sometimes I have to wonder if your hormones are because of being the Slayer. They're too strong to be human, so it must be related back to magic."

"Funny," drawled Faith, jumping quickly up a step, so quickly that Annabel stumbled, falling back only to be caught by Faith, as the girl had intended. Her hands spread over Annabel's waist, fingers stretching over the smooth abdomen to play under the blouse, feeling the soft skin that lay beneath. Kissing Annabel's neck and breathing in the scent of lavender, she said, "Is this magic?"

Taking in a shuddering breath and trying to calm the wild beat of her heart but delighting in the warm touch of Faith's hands on her body, leaving trails of desire everywhere she touched, Annabel murmured, "Yes, the natural sort."

"Gotta say I agree," Faith chuckled, dropping another kiss on Annabel's neck, relishing the shiver of want that ran through the body she held, vibrating back into her. She adored this feeling, this feeling of being loved, of being wanted. It was something that she would never tire of, could never tire of. She stepped up and around Annabel, standing in front of her, a mischievous expression on her face. "You gonna show me this new training deal of yours or not?"

Annabel took Faith's hand in hers and led them into the library. Gently pushing Faith's shoulders so the Slayer would sit down on the new sofa she had bought when replacing most of the furniture for the room. Made of a velvety fabric that was soft to the skin and sank easily under her weight, Faith thought it was a vast improvement to the red loveseat that had been in the library before.

Maybe my rampage against the furniture in here did some good, thought Faith with an impish smile as she watched Annabel cross to stare at one of the long bookcases. Now we can at least sit on stuff that's comfortable.

"I have it," Annabel announced in fairly triumphant tones, pulling a tattered book from the shelf, turning around to face Faith with a wide smile. Holding it up in her hand, she said, "We'll be reading about Lloriana tonight."

"Who?" Faith frowned, instinctively shifting closer to Annabel when the British woman sat down next to her on the sofa. She leaned into her, looking down at the book and she read aloud, "Madrid 1503." Looking up at Annabel, she said, "I hate to tell you, Anna, but that's a sucky name for a book."

"Silly," laughed Annabel quietly. Moving on the sofa, she stretched her legs out, resting them on the nearby ottoman, and kicking off her shoes. Looking over at Faith in an expectant gaze, she patted the cushion next to her. Immediately, the Slayer was at her side again, curled against her. Sighing at this, Annabel smiled then opened the book as she said, "It isn't a title, Faith, it's merely the time and place for the events that are transcribed in the Watcher's diary."

"Ohh," said Faith with realization. She blinked at Annabel then said, "Does that mean your diary is gonna say New Orleans 1998 on it? Can't you make them put something better on it? Like the way cool adventures of Faith and Anna?"

Laughing more, Annabel shook her head then dropped a light kiss on the top of Faith's head. "I don't think that would be terribly popular," she murmured. Looking down at the book, she cleared her throat then began, "Lloriana Galvan was a girl of the cloth. When we found her, she had already taken her rites, becoming a bride of Christ and I wondered if it was right to take her from him. Then I realized our work was, in a way, his. We approached her with speed and seeing the evil we were fighting, she swore that she would help us, saying her powers must be a holy divination, sent from God. I myself wonder at this, little is known of how the Slayer gains her power, or even why it is given to slight girls--"

"Slight girls?" Faith interrupted, scowling. "What's that supposed to mean? This is a guy writin' this, isn't it, Anna?"

"Of course," said Annabel, looking at Faith. "It was 1503, after all. There weren't a great deal of women in the Council back then. Although," she wore a thoughtful expression. "I do believe the first significant female Watcher did arrive around the year 1700. We could read from one of those diaries next time."

"Sounds good," said Faith, nodding her head, liking that idea much better.

Annabel smiled at this then began reading again and as she did, Faith stared at her refined features, losing herself in the beauty she saw there. Then shaking her head, she reminded herself she was supposed to be listening, learning. Annabel was obviously reading the diary to her for some reason. Most likely to give her a sense of history and background about being a Slayer. To help her realize fully just what being one really meant.

Leaning in closer to Annabel, ducking under the arm wrapped over her shoulders, tenderly squeezing her with affection, Faith sighed happily. She let the rich and elegant tones of Annabel's voice wash over her, she closed her eyes and pictured the scene being read to her as her fingers softly played over the firmness of Annabel's thigh.

Utterly content in her situation, Faith smiled softly. If school had been like this back in Boston she might have actually gone. Although, she chuckled to herself, looking up at Annabel, watching rose dusted lips open and close as she kept reading, this probably would've gotten her kicked out.

"Wait," Faith said suddenly, blinking at what Annabel just read.

"Hmm?" murmured Annabel, turning towards Faith with some confusion. Her hand that had been on Faith's shoulder was now tangled in dark hair, massaging the Slayer's scalp. "What is it?"

"That's it?" said Faith a bit incredulously. She peered down at the book, rereading the passage Annabel had just read aloud. "That's all he put down about how she looks? That she was a Spanish girl of means before she went nunly? How am I supposed to picture what she looks like? I mean, a girl of means, I get it... that means money but it's still not sayin' much."

Tilting her head to one side, Annabel mulled over this then said, "You know, I've never much thought about it but I don't think any of the diaries actually have good physical descriptions of the Slayers." She shrugged a bit then looked down at Faith. "It's simply not written about."

"Yeah, well," Faith's eyes darkened and she leaned closer to Annabel, her voice dropping into a low rumble. "You better write about what I look like."

"Or...?" Annabel arched an eyebrow, her tones husky and teasing.

The only reply Annabel received was a slow smile of wickedness before Faith's lips lifted up to hers, mouth hot, open, and wanting as she took what she desired most and made it hers. Then once she was done, she did it again and again.

Somehow or another, the diary, and the subsequent description of the Slayer featured in it, were both forgotten in the pursuit of a different type of training.

---

A month. They had been dating for a month. Probably the happiest month in Faith's life but still... a month. She had never dated anyone that long, had never wanted to date anyone that long. Yet, with Annabel, a month hardly seemed like anytime at all. It passed by like a leaf on the wind.

But a month was a month and didn't people have month long anniversaries? Faith figured they did and because of this, she left the house while Annabel got caught up in the latest research on the local baddies, and headed towards the nearest flower stand. The one they always passed on patrol that had the lilies Annabel paused to look at in their walk.

Purchasing the entire bunch, Faith grinned widely then hurried back to the mansion, careful to not disturb the flowers, marring their beauty. Quietly closing the front door, she bounded up the stairs, and stood in the doorway to the library, observing Annabel as she sat at the desk, a pile of papers in front of her.

Her fawn colored head was tilted to one side, like it usually did when she was occupied in deep thought, and her shoulders had an unusual tense to them that indicated to Faith she was feeling a bit stressed. Well, Faith's grin widened, if flowers from your girlfriend wasn't a stress reliever she didn't know what was.

Tip toeing into the library, she stealthily approached Annabel, stopping behind her then in a smooth move, swooped her hand around to present the bouquet of flowers to her. She heard a soft gasp of surprise, then tapered fingers reached out, taking hold of the lilies as Annabel turned to look up at her in wonder.

"Faith?" began Annabel in questioning tones.

"One month anniversary," supplied Faith with a smile so wide it threatened to split her face. Annabel blinked at this and Faith suddenly realized that maybe she had been the only one to remember. Or worse, she was the only one to care. So quickly ducking her head, she stared at her boots and muttered, "I just, y'know, I've never done this sorta thing so I figured..."

"They're lovely Faith," murmured Annabel, and rising to her feet she breathed in the sweet scent of the lilies before she gently placed them on the desk. Her hand reached out, lightly pushing Faith's chin up so their eyes would meet. Smiling softly, she said, "Would you like to see your gift now?"

Instantly, brown eyes lit up and Faith felt ridiculous for ever doubting the woman in front of her. Of course Annabel remembered and of course Annabel cared. Still it amazed her... that time and time again, she never let her down. Faith wasn't used to that, to having someone be so good to her.

Chuckling with pleasure, Annabel took Faith's hand in her own, leading them towards her bedroom, and noticing this, the Slayer's eyebrows shot up. "Anna," she said in a slow drawl. "Is there somethin' about my gift you're not tellin' me?"

"Faith!" Annabel cried in embarrassment and Faith laughed happily on seeing the skin on her neck redden. "Honestly," she shook her head. "Your hormones really are the ninth wonder of the world." Turning to look at the Slayer she said in droll tones, "It's nothing scandalous. I simply have your gift in my room, is all."

"I bet that's what you say to all the girls," teased Faith, wrapping her arms around Annabel's waist, pressed against her as they walked into her room.

"No, just you," replied Annabel smartly, dropping a light kiss on Faith's lips before she walked over to her nightstand and opened the drawer. Retrieving a small box that was carefully wrapped in red and gold paper, she walked back to Faith then held it out to her, smiling. "I must confess," she started in rather anxious tones, "I wasn't sure what to buy for you. I do hope you'll be pleased though."

Ripping the paper off eagerly, Faith opened the box and stared in awe at the hand crafted bracelet. Made out of sterling steel, it gleamed in the light and in between the strong links, leather was bound into it.

"Since you prefer to wear the cross I gave you around your wrist I thought this might be fitting," Annabel murmured, watching Faith quietly for a reaction. "I think it would take quite a lot for this bracelet to break and I had the jeweler add a hook for you to place the cross in." Her hands turned the bracelet that now rested in Faith's hands over, to reveal the place where the cross belonged. "Right there." No reaction came from Faith, she just kept staring at the bracelet which was beginning to make Annabel more and more anxious. "Faith?"

Hearing the worry in Annabel's voice, Faith lifted her head and blinked back her tears as she said hoarsely, "It's great, Anna." A blinding small formed on her face and she clutched the bracelet in her grip. "You're great."

Looking relieved, Annabel smiled softly then led Faith to the edge of the bed, sitting them down as her tapered fingers reached out, untangling the silver cross from the leather bracelet it was on. Watching Annabel as she worked, Faith ran her mind over the past few days, and she said, "What's buggin' you?"

"What did you say?" Annabel asked with surprise, looking up at Faith, holding the silver cross in her hand.

"Somethin's been bugging you, Anna," said Faith quietly, her expression concerned. "I can tell with you bein' all jumpy lately. What is it?" she questioned. "Y'know I want to hear if anything's wrong so I can help."

Annabel sighed deeply then looked down at the cross before she lifted up the new bracelet she'd purchased, and attached it there. Clasping the bracelet onto Faith's wrist, she murmured, "I worry of what will happen when the Council discovers the nature of our relationship."

"You think they know?" Faith frowned. She couldn't figure how they would. Besides Annabel she had never even met anyone from the Council but then again, from what it sounded they did have some wicked connections.

"No," Annabel shook her head, "not as of yet anyway. But..." She lifted her gaze and looked at Faith. "I'm afraid once they do find out they'll attempt to separate us and..." She shook her head and then gave a short laugh, rubbing at the back of her neck. "It's nothing," she said quickly, darting her gaze to Faith. "Forget I mentioned it."

"Anna," said Faith firmly, reaching out to hold Annabel's hand in her own, squeezing it in a solid reassurance. "We're in this together. You don't have to protect me." She gave a jaunty grin, meant to bring confidence. "I'm the big bad Slayer, remember? I fight and kill demons every day, I can handle it."

Running her fingertips over the lines of the bracelet, Annabel whispered, "It isn't anything really. I just can't bear the thought of not being with you." Laughing ironically, she moved her gaze away from Faith and said, "I never used to be this way. Not with anyone."

"Hey," Faith said softly, a smile in her voice as she caught Annabel's chin in her hand, turning her head and looking into her eyes. "You wanna know somethin'?"

Laughing again, losing herself to the warmth of Faith's voice, her touch, Annabel murmured, "Yes. Always when you're the one saying it."

"I love you," said Faith in tones that were capable and unwavering. Her fingers gently caressed Annabel's face as she continued, "And I'm scared of the same thing you are, Anna. I can't even imagine what it'd be like, wakin' up and you not being here, making breakfast in the morning." She smiled fondly then pulled the tall woman towards her, so she was cradling her in her arms, letting Annabel rest the side of her head on her shoulder. Running her hands over the small of Annabel's back, Faith said, "You and me, we'll be okay. Just as long as we stick together, things will turn out right. You gotta believe that, Anna, because I sure as hell do and that's what keeps me goin'."

Sighing deeply, letting Faith's touch soothe her, Annabel smiled. Realizing in that moment that Faith was right. They would be fine as long as they had one another because that was what kept them both strong and able to go on.

---

She watched with careful eyes as Faith staked them all. One by one, one after another, all in a row, the vampires fell to Faith as she swept through them all with the efficiency and beauty of a deadly hurricane. When she was done, twelve piles of dust lay in the street and Annabel hadn't needed to move a step to help her. That's how much she had improved over their months of training.

"Wussies," Faith breathed, snorting lowly. Shaking the dust off of her suede jacket, she tucked her jade knife into it and looked over at Annabel then quirked an eyebrow. "Well? How'd I do?"

"You were wonderful," Annabel beamed, walking to Faith, her hands reached out, brushing the dust from her shoulders gently. "I have no doubt whatsoever we will both be ready for the night upcoming. The training has done what it must and now we'll be able to face the enemy."

"Night?" echoed Faith, frowning and looking at Annabel who was busy buttoning Faith's shirt, which had somehow found itself open in the heat of the battle and was now revealing a tad too much cleavage. She tried her best hold off on the urge to jump on Annabel as elegant fingers flew over her skin, innocently causing a wake of desire as they did. "What're you talking about, Anna?"

"Mardi Gras," replied Annabel simply. "It's the busiest night of the year for New Orleans in all ways imagined, even for the supernatural. Vampires see it as a type of smorgasbord, I'm afraid. I suppose one can't blame them with the thousands of tourists who flock to the city, drunk and silly from the experience." Annabel gave a small smile and said dryly, "They make quite the tasty meal for hungry vampires."

"And Mardi Gras is next weekend," Faith finished, her gaze darkening. She was silent for a moment then she made her right hand into a fist, punching it into her left palm, and she grinned widely at Annabel. "All right! Bring 'em on, we can take all those suckers out and still have time left to party!"

"Faith," Annabel laughed happily, shaking her head as she walked down the street, full aware of Faith following after her. "It doesn't work that way I'm afraid. We'll be fighting scores of vampires. True, most of them will be as drunk as the humans they're hunting, but their numbers are literally endless. I very much doubt we'll have time to enjoy the festivities."

Strong arms wrapped around her waist and Annabel felt Faith rest her chin on her shoulder and sighed at the feeling. It was quickly becoming her very favorite one, the feeling being held by Faith, it never failed to fill her with a quiet contentment, if not a shivering and burning desire.

The latter she was trying her best to control. They were happy together, yes, but was Faith truly ready for such a thing? Was she? She knew all too well that they wanted each other, but was wanting it enough?

Shaking her head, Annabel lost these thoughts and concentrated on Faith who was murmuring softly in her ear, "We gotta have some fun, Anna. Think of it as our reward for kickin' piles of vamp ass. It's Mardi Gras! How wrong would it be if we, way cool locals, didn't party down on the funnest night of the year?"

"You think that, do you?" said Annabel with a smile.

"Oh yeah," drawled Faith, moving around Annabel, facing her with a huge smile and taking her hands in her own. "C'mon, it'll be a blast. Slay vamps, dance it up, slay vamps, get some beads, slay vamps, dance it up more, slay vamps, maybe have a drink or two, slay vamps, go home and..." Faith waggled her eyebrows suggestively. In a slow, sensuous, movement she pressed her body up against Annabel's, burying her fingers into her hair. Their lips just a breath apart, she said in husky tones, "You know you wanna."

"I suppose that I do," said Annabel in a bare whisper, lowering her lips to Faith's.

The kisses they had before were gentle and they were loving, and they were everything that Faith had never had in her life. This kiss was that but it was oh so more... it was passion and desire, this floodgate of desire being let loose and as Faith felt Annabel's tongue seek tender entrance into her, tasting her deep, with the wet soft caress of her lips insistent on her, she groaned in helpless need.

She wanted this so much... needed this so much... that Faith wondered sometimes if she would die from the wanting and needing. Nothing had ever been like this for her, nothing, and she never wanted it to end.

They parted, breathless and panting, and Faith gave a soft smile, glowing and lopsided as she reached up, pushing a lock of hair out of Annabel's eyes as she looked at her. "That a yes then?" Faith teased, her voice husky.

A sensual smile crossed rose dusted lips and that was the only reply that Faith received and it was the only one she really needed.

-----

In Faith's life things rarely lived up to the initial expectations she put in them but Mardi Gras in the Big Easy? Oh yeah, she grinned big, looking out the large bay windows in the mansion's kitchen, it definitely lived up to the expectations.

Lines upon lines of people were on the street, sitting and standing, chattering away happily as they waited for the parade to enter this part of the city, which was only a few blocks away from the pure naughtiness of the French Quarter. That was where Faith really wanted to be right now, seeing all the whacked out and drunken women exposing their globes of flesh for some cheap beads.

Too bad Annabel was taking forever getting dressed. They had agreed to watch the parade from the front steps of the mansion, which was the easiest and most comfortable place, and then gather up their weapons so they would be ready for nightfall as they enjoyed the daytime activities of Mardi Gras.

"Anna!" shouted Faith, looking away from the window and the crowd which was starting to get active, shouting at something in the distance. "Hurry up! I think the first part of the parade is about to get here!"

She heard a muffled shout of agreement then the shutting of a door and Faith rolled her eyes, muttering, "Finally." Then she walked into the foyer only to freeze when she saw what Annabel was wearing.

Dressed in a pair of hip hugging blue pants made to reveal her every curve and a sleeveless cream colored shirt that was buttoned in such a way she could clearly see an appealing dip of cleavage, it was enough to make Faith stop breathing.

"Is it all right?" she heard Annabel asking. "I wanted something that would fit our patrolling tonight but at the same time was," Annabel's lips easily formed a slow and teasing smile, "something you'd find rather sexy."

"Oh, it's sexy," Faith finally said, her voice rough. Forming a huge smile as she strode over to Annabel, she ran her hand up the side of her body, relishing in the cool feel of the blouse under her touch. "Real sexy."

"I'm glad," Annabel murmured, smiling slowly. "Well then," she tilted her head to one side. "Didn't you say something about the parade approaching?"

"Screw the parade," said Faith absently, still tracing her hands over Annabel's body, now resting on her firm midsection, causing the tall woman to shiver. "Who wants to see some damn parade when you're dressed like this?"

Annabel gently slipped out of Faith's reach, taking the Slayer's hand in her own and leading her out the front door. "You must see the parade," she said firmly. "It's the best part of Mardi Gras in some ways."

"I thought the best part was chicks flashin' themselves," Faith remarked mischievously as she followed Annabel out the door. They settled down on the large and massive front steps to the mansion, smiling at the shouts and cheers of the crowd on the street in front of them, all waiting for the parade to make its approach. Faith bumped Annabel with her shoulder on noticing that she hadn't gotten a reply yet. "Dontcha think, Anna? Chicks flashin' is a key element to having yourself some fun."

Turning to look at Faith, her expression serious, Annabel said, "I would think you flashing yourself would be my key element to fun." When Faith's jaw dropped just a bit, she chuckled warmly then touched her chin, lifting it up as she leaned forward to drop a soft kiss on it. "You're adorable," she murmured.

"Am not," Faith grumbled after she recovered from Annabel's sudden bout of flirting. She leaned forward, peering around the tall woman to gaze at the first float as it moved down the street. She grinned at the bright colors, the wild costumes of the people on the float, and just the scene of pure unadulterated fun as they shouted at the crowd, throwing beads and candy to the people on the street. "Wow," she breathed, "that is pretty cool."

"I told you," said Annabel, sounding quite pleased.

Faith didn't respond though. She was too busy rushing down the front steps to the mansion, standing at the end of it as she bounded up on her booted feet and shouted at the top of her lungs, "Hey! Toss some beads here!"

The man on the float, or at least she thought it was a man, turned his costumed head her way, and she dimly saw him smile wide under his strange chicken like mask that he wore then a shower of beads came flying Faith's way. Some of which were captured by the people on the street in front of her and some by Faith herself. Smiling triumphantly, Faith turned around, holding up her booty to Annabel who returned the smile as Faith bounded towards her.

"Check it out, Anna," said Faith happily, dropping the pile of beads on the concrete in between their bodies. "I got us beads without even havin' to flash."

"So I see," Annabel murmured with a smile. She fingered the beads, beautiful in the shining light of day and picked up several and dropped them around Faith's head, hanging them from her neck. Her hand fell down and rested against the Slayer's cheek as she took in the beauty before her. It was moments like this that she could hardly contain the emotion she felt for Faith. She was so beautiful when like this, open and unguarded, simply being who she truly was, not what people tried to make her into. "They look lovely on you, Faith."

Blushing lightly, Faith coughed then darted her eyes down to the concrete. She lifted the remaining beads, doing the same as Annabel, depositing them around her neck with a smile. "Looks better on you," she said, her voice husky.

They exchanged another smile, then turned back to the parade, watching the rest of the floats come down the street. Only a few scarce moments later, Annabel found herself alone again as Faith decided she not only wanted beads for them but some free candy as well.

Shaking her head, Annabel watched Faith with a quiet happiness. They would have to fight a vast line of foes tonight, perhaps one worse than next, and here Faith was, enjoying herself without a care in the world. Joyful in the moment. It was something Annabel realized they should all do. Herself included.

---

Nightfall had arrived and with it so did the vampires. Endless numbers of vampires descended on New Orleans, each seeking a feast in the hoards of people in the city, all drunk on life, the festivities, and alcohol itself. It made for delightfully easy pickings, which vampires were known to enjoy.

However, they hadn't counted on having a Slayer there to stop them. Only the local vampires knew of her, and they stayed well out of her gaze this night. Not taking the same risks of vampires who traveled long and far to enjoy the banquet that Mardi Gras presented. Those vampires soon found themselves at the end of her inlayed knife, the wood in it piercing their hearts, reducing them to dust.

Wiping the sweat from her forehead, Faith grinned big and tossed the wooden sword back to Annabel who tucked it safely back in the leather satchel she had slung over her shoulder. It was filled with weapon upon weapon, to aid them in their fights tonight, and it was becoming more useful as time passed.

"That's what?" Faith began, wiping her hands on her leather pants. "Fifty? Are we up to fifty yet, Anna?"

"Fifty eight," supplied Annabel with a quiet smile. She walked over to Faith and tenderly pushed dark locks from her forehead, smoothing them out. "You're doing very well," she murmured. Hazel eyes studied her softly then she asked, "Would you like to rest now? Have a drink or two?"

"Yeah," said Faith, taking a huge breath of air. Leaning against Annabel gratefully, relishing in the gentle touch of the arm slung over her shoulder, she said, "This is harder than I thought. I mean, shit... I never figured this many vamps would be comin' here. I knew you were right and all, that they'd see this as some sorta screwed up buffet for them, but man... there's been a lot." She peered at Annabel and grinned impishly. "I've got fifty eight but how many do you got?"

"Twenty three," Annabel blushed, averting her eyes from Faith. "But I'm not a Slayer. I rather think twenty three is a fine number for two hours of patrol."

"It's a great number," Faith assured, wrapping an arm around Annabel's waist, giving it a tender squeeze. She sighed as they neared the crowd of people on the street, whooping and living it up. "Jeez," she laughed with delight. "You weren't kiddin', it does get crazy in the Quarter."

Watching several girls flash themselves from a balcony only to lose the beads thrown to them to the cruel mistress of gravity, Annabel smirked. "Yes," she said dryly. "I would think for the most part it's the tourists. Locals tend to be less fond of this behavior... except when extremely drunk."

"That mean we gotta get blasted to enjoy ourselves tonight?" Faith teased, bumping her hip against Annabel's as the taller woman rolled her eyes as they entered the bar, busy with life.

Waving down the bartender, who looked rather crazed, Annabel ordered their drinks and made sure to pay him a hefty tip, guaranteeing his swift return. Then she turned back to Faith, leaning easily against the bar.

"I would hope not," murmured Annabel, her voice throaty and low as she looked into dark brown eyes. Tapered fingers reached out, sweeping over Faith's cheek, tangling in her hair for a touch that made the Slayer shiver with desire. "I want to remember every little thing about tonight."

"Anna...?" asked Faith in a bare whisper, unable to keep hope from her eyes and voice as she considered just what those words meant.

"I love you, Faith," said Annabel softly. In that moment the noise of the people around them, the craziness of the night, it slipped completely away for Faith and all she heard was Annabel's voice, speaking to her. "And tonight I would like to show you how much, if you wish it."

Closing her eyes tightly to keep the tears from falling, Faith fought to regain control of her emotions, then she opened them, staring up at Annabel. "I can't think of anythin' I wish for more," said Faith, her voice hoarse.

Smiling with quiet pleasure, Annabel nodded. Then Faith lifted herself up, her face shining with happiness, as they drifted together for a kiss. Their bodies and limbs entangled, lips pressed together, open and wanting, desire reflected in their every touch, of the seeking softness of their caress. Then they pulled apart, breathing raggedly and faces flushed.

It was so intense they almost didn't notice the flash of the camera that had occurred during it. Almost, but not quite. Turning towards the jolly looking black man who wore piles upon piles of beads and had a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Faith growled, "What do you think you're doin'?"

People admiring them, wanting them, that was one thing. People taking photographs of them kissing to do who knows what with the photo, that was something else entirely. Something that Faith didn't appreciate at all.

"Ah, boo, no!" the man quickly waved his hands. He scrambled, reaching down for the polaroid photograph hanging out of his camera. Shaking it to dry it off, he held it up for Faith to see. "I jus' doin' business," he said. "Takin' photo of happy couple like you, somethin' I couldn't pass up." Seeing he had Faith's interest he drawled, "Wanna buy? I sell ya cheap."

"How much?" asked Faith slowly, eyeing him with a lidded gaze.

"Ten dollars," the man said and Faith heard Annabel groan.

They both looked over at the British woman who now had their drinks. Handing Faith her beer, she said dryly, "Really. That's altogether too much. I wouldn't pay that much for a polaroid we didn't even ask to be taken."

"Seven dollars," the man revised, giving Annabel a slight glare.

"Faith," said Annabel slowly, reaching out to rest her hand on Faith's neck, rubbing her thumb tenderly over the skin there. "Ignore him. We have far better things to do than barter with some amateur photographer."

Turning red as a lobster, the man declared, "I no amateur! You look at picture? Even with only polaroid it's highest quality!" He thrust the picture in front of the tall woman's face for her to see. "Y'try to say that no good?"

"It suffices," Annabel shrugged. She looked to Faith and said, "I wouldn't pay anything more than five dollars for it."

Smirking as she realized what Annabel was up to, Faith turned back to the man and shrugged with sad resignation. "You heard my lady," she said helplessly. "It's five bucks or nothin'."

"Hand over," the man grumbled, taking the money Faith offered and pocketing it before he handed her the polaroid photograph.

Then he turned on his heel and disappeared into the crowd. Faith watched him go for a moment then turned back to Annabel and grinned. "You," she began with delight, "are one hell of a scammer."

"What?" Annabel asked innocently, raising an eyebrow. "Even if it was worth ten dollars, I only wanted you to pay five for it." She looked down at the photo held in Faith's hand and smiled softly. "It is a good one," she said.

"Yeah," said Faith, looking at Annabel's refined features, enraptured in studying the photograph of them. "It is."

---

This battle was the worst yet. The vampires in this group were not only large in number but they fought well. With a deadly cool efficiency that threw Faith off guard for just a moment, and in that moment, the vampire pounced at her, holding her down on the ground, shifting into his game face.

"For Kakistos we live," he growled deeply, "for Kakistos you die."

Blinking in surprise at his words, usually vamps never said a thing to her other than to curse her existence, Faith kicked her legs up, moving him off of her. Her hands reached down to retrieve her knife and giving him a strong punch to his face, sending him flying back, she forced him against a wall, her knife at his heart and she could see the sudden fear there. The realization he would die.

"Who," Faith began in a ragged breath, "the fuck is Kakistos?"

"Kakistos will deliver your death," the vampire smiled with certain rapture. "He will avenge us all and you will suffer as you have never imagined."

Drawing back in surprise, Faith refused to let the vampire get to her, and scowling she smoothly brought her knife back, stabbing him in the heart, turning him into dust. She turned to see how Annabel was doing and saw the tall woman watching in dim shock while the remaining vampires ran off, disappearing into the darkness.

"They left the battle," said Annabel with surprise, looking to Faith. "I heard one of them say you were the Slayer and they mentioned the Master and left." She then formed a thoughtful frown. "They were far too organized. Nothing at all like the vampires we've fought for most of the evening."

"One I cornered mentioned some guy, Kakistos," offered Faith.

"Kakistos," repeated Annabel slowly. A moment passed, then she formed a horrifed expression. "Oh no."

"Anna?" asked Faith with concern, clasping her arm. "What is it?"

"Kakistos is an ancient vampire, his hands and feet are cloven, he's lived so long," said Annabel quietly. "He lived in Missouri for quite some time. We had heard rumors he moved to a small town in this area." She searched her memory then continued, "Batiste, I believe. He was hoping to escape the throngs of humanity but why would his minions be here?"

"Mardi Gras," Faith shrugged, unsure why Annabel was getting so worked up. So what if this vampire was old and cloven? They'd beaten every bad guy to ever try to bring them down and they would beat him too. No big deal. "They probably got tired of small town life and wanted to live it up like most vamps."

"Yes," said Annabel slowly. "I suppose that makes a sort of sense."

Watching Annabel's still worried features, Faith reached up, touching her chin gently. "Hey," she said tenderly. "Don't get yourself in a twist. We'll take care of this like we always do. It'll be all right."

Relaxing under Faith's touch, she turned her head, holding Faith's hand in hers, kissing the palm softly. "You're right, of course," she murmured. "Shall we head home?"

"Yeah," said Faith, swallowing the lump in her throat, trying to restrain the sudden burst of uncontrolled desire that rose up in her. "We shall."

---

Faith was nervous. She was never nervous about having sex with someone. But this wasn't sex, was it? No, she realized, watching Annabel's back while the taller woman unlocked the front door and entered the mansion, this wasn't sex.

This was making love, this was her making love with someone, with someone she loved, with someone who loved her as well. This was something that Faith had never done, not once in her entire life. This was something that Faith thought she would never do, just because she never expected someone would care for her that way. Yet, here she was. Nervous as hell and about to make love for the first time. Leaving her happy and dazed over the event.

She hadn't noticed Annabel watching her, facing her, until tapered fingers whispered across her cheek, caressing her softly. Looking up into gentle hazel eyes, she said roughly, "Hey."

"One hundred and fifteen," Annabel murmured, a small smile tugging at her lips. "That's how many you slayed tonight." Her eyes twinkled and she went on, "You must be very tired, Faith."

Recognizing that Annabel was teasing her, prodding her out of her daze and pushing away the nerves that surrounded her, Faith smirked. "What about you?" she asked, her hands reaching out to rest on Annabel's waist, pulling the tall woman to her in a smooth movement. "Sixty seven is a lot too."

"Mmm, perhaps," said Annabel softly, running her fingers over the hair at the nape of Faith's neck, smiling at her. "But somehow, I don't feel tired at all."

"Me either," said Faith, her voice husky.

Annabel studied Faith for a moment longer then she met their lips in a sweeping kiss, pulling the Slayer up and into her. This kiss was like the one before, it was a force of nature, lost beyond their control, and as their mouths, wet and wanting, took what they needed most, they felt that boundary crash and crumble. No more holding back, no more denying what they needed most, none of that would be present in their minds because tonight... it was about them. What they needed, what they wanted, and what they desired most.

Being with one another.

They tumbled up the stairs, pausing for kisses and touches, and Annabel felt herself suddenly turned around, pressed with an audible thump against the wall as Faith's capable hands traveled up her body. Buttons popped as her shirt was pulled open and off her body, Faith tossing it carelessly into the air as her dark head dove down, tasting the pale skin she dreamed of. Her hands were firm on Annabel's waist, holding her close, pressing them together as her lips kissed and nipped at her skin, stopping at that pulse point, tasting it sweetly.

"Bedroom," Faith said hoarsely, voice urgent, hands tracing up to unclasp Annabel's bra as she said this, "now."

Nodding her head and allowing the bra to fall forgotten to the floor, Annabel led them into her bedroom where she soon pulled Faith to her. Hands tracing up and underneath the red tank top the Slayer had on. Pulling it over her head, Annabel gazed at the suddenly shy figure who stood before her, eyes lowered.

"Faith," she whispered, tones throaty but tender. She cupped the Slayer's chin, lifting her gaze so their eyes met and once they did, she smiled softly. "You are beautiful," Annabel murmured, leaning forward to capture Faith's lips in a searing kiss that caused a slow burn of desire to run through them. When they parted, she dropped her kisses lower, trailing a path across Faith's neck as her hands reached down to smoothly unclasp the bra under her touch. Moving back and gazing at Faith lovingly, her hands led a light path upward, over her skin, to pull the piece of clothing off her. "So very beautiful."

The Slayer groaned deeply as they kissed again, fumbling backwards, towards Annabel's large bed and she hastily kicked off her boots and socks, leaving her much shorter than the woman before her, who easily slipped out of her leather shoes and stood a head taller than her. Dropping down on the bed, Faith looked up into Annabel's features, full with desire and love for her. She looked up and she running her fingers through fawn colored hair, pulling Annabel down on top of her, causing her to fall lightly on the bed, with the tall woman pressed into her.

Faith's legs parted, and she groaned again as she felt Annabel's weight fall into her, rubbing her, alighting the flame of passion and turning it into a raging fire. Tapered hands reached down, unbuttoning leather pants, pausing in their work, looking for permission before heading further.

"Do it," said Faith roughly, putting her hands on top of Annabel's, helping the British woman push the pants from her body. "I want this," she said in a type of desperation. "I want you, Anna."

Hearing this, the leather pants were yanked off her body with a surprising ferocity and Faith grinned, knowing her words had done that to her. Naked and eager, as she didn't bother with underwear today, perhaps expecting this, it was her turn as she reached out, unbuttoning tailored blue pants, removing them from Annabel.

Then she gently pushed Annabel down, back into the softness of the bed, crouching at her feet, running hands gently upwards, tracing the soft skin of her legs in a bare caress. Seconds later, she repeated the process, pulling white silken panties with her as she did and then they were both naked, wrapped together, Faith's hands exploring the pale skin before her as their mouths met, open and wanting for a deep kiss, tasting from each other.

Elegant hands traveled over her body, learning her intimately, their touch cool and soothing, but at the same time stoking a red hot fire in her belly that caused Faith to moan from her throat. She tossed her head to one side as she felt lips wrap around her nipple, tasting it, teasing it, sucking soft then hard then soft again before moving onto her other breast. And those hands... the hands they hadn't stopped, no not at all. They were moving still, over her body, tracing her every crevice, learning the curves of her until they knew nothing but.

Then they dipped down, to her stomach, resting over the place Faith wanted them to touch the most, and Annabel looked up at her with of love and desire. Faith swallowed deep and gave a small nod, a jerk of her head really, then Annabel rose up, devouring her in a hot demanding kiss of passion and her fingers slipped into Faith.

A gasp sounded in the air and Faith relaxed into that touch. The long fingers slipping inside of her, knowing her, learning her, finding out what she wanted and giving it to her in every way Annabel knew how. Her hips rose, drawing them deeper into her as they moved together in an erotic dance.

"Faith," murmured Annabel, her voice echoing with need, love, desire, and everything Faith had ever wanted to hear from her. "Faith, open your eyes." Brown eyes, lidded heavy with passion, opened to burn into her and once they did, Annabel smiled and whispered, "I love you."

"Anna," was all Faith said, her tones pleading.

The Slayer arched her body up as Annabel slid over her, straddling her thigh, wetness pressed down into her as her fingers searched deeper, finding Faith's clit, circling it lightly, teasing her in a gentle rhythm. Faith lifted her hips, rising to meet Annabel, drawing her in as she added another finger.

Her whole body alive, on fire, Faith had only a semblance of control, but that one bit gave her realization she wanted Annabel to feel what she did. Because of this, her arm snaked down, finding what she sought all too easily, and she slid her fingers into Annabel as the tall woman gasped, quivering against her.

"Faith," said Annabel in low moan, voice hoarse with need. She stretched forward, meeting their lips in a frantic kiss, tongues dueling and tasting deep, losing themselves to the sensations.

Another finger entered Annabel and she pressed into Faith, their hips rocking together in a steady rhythm of increasing pace. Annabel increased the pressure on Faith's clit and the Slayer felt her orgasm upon her and she decided to return Annabel the favor, thumb pressing over her clit.

They came together, moving as one, shouting each others names, feeling with everything they were that this moment was perfection. Then Annabel sank down onto Faith, her taller frame lightly covering her as they regained their breath.

Gentle hands pushed sweat soaked hair from her eyes and Annabel breathed deep, looking at Faith happily, rejoicing in seeing that same emotion reflected in a sparkling brown gaze. Moving her hands down to Annabel's waist, resting them just over her rear, Faith pulled her up, so their faces were close together, now resting inches apart.

"Well," Faith began in a slow drawl.

"Well?" Annabel arched an eyebrow.

"I think that you got yourself a converted lesbian on your hands, Anna," Faith smirked widely, her tones husky and teasing.

Bursting out into laughter, Annabel buried her face in the crook of Faith's neck, falling into the comforting arms that wrapped around her naked frame. When she calmed a few moments later, she tilted her head, gazing at Faith's strong profile. Tapered fingers reached out, tracing her jaw, smiling as the Slayer turned to look at her solemnly.

"I love you," said Annabel quietly.

"I know," Faith smiled softly, her face alive with joy, "I love you too. More than I thought I ever could." She looked up into Annabel's face, that was now hovering over her, watching her with a careful gaze. "You're my world."

Smiling again, Annabel's gaze had a mischievous light and in a sensuous movement, she stretched herself over Faith and said, "I think your world could do with some more rocking. Don't you?"

"Oh," Faith's eyes lit up and she chuckled low in her throat as she felt those delightfully cool hands upon her body once more, "I think I gotta agree."

And so it went on.

---

She was beautiful asleep, Faith thought with a smile. Then again, Annabel was beautiful awake too. Hell, Annabel was just beautiful and Faith was sure that she would never get tired of looking at her.

For the first night in years she didn't have nightmares. Being held in Annabel's arms, hearing the beat of her heart under her ear, Faith had been at peace and when she woke this morning that feeling stayed with her. Contentment was an emotion entirely new to her but one she very much enjoyed.

Running her fingers over Annabel's arm, tracing up her body and smiling as the tall woman shivered in her sleep, curling into Faith's warmth. Then she ran them up to rose dusted lips, thumb gently tracing over the lower lip, feeling the curving softness and delighting in how they parted, releasing a soft sigh.

Hazel eyes blearily opened, blinking with sleep, then they focused on her and Annabel smiled slowly. "Faith," she murmured, voice throaty from sleep.

"Mornin'," Faith grinned widely. She nodded towards the sunlight streaming through the drapes to the window. "Looks like a nice one too."

"Of course it's a nice morning," said Annabel with a smile, her hand reaching up to caress the nape of Faith's neck, pulling the Slayer to her. "You're here and in my bed, aren't you?"

Laughing happily, Faith leaned down and met Annabel's lips for a soft kiss before she buried herself into the taller woman's arms. She draped her body totally across her lover's, melting with ease into the feel of skin on skin. "Sweet talker," she drawled. Her mind flashed back to a previous conversation and she said in her best old biddy impression, "You're a bold girl, Annabel Cooper!"

She felt Annabel's chest rumble in amusement, moving her up as the rich tone of her laughter burst forth and into the air. "Faith," she breathed through her laughs, her voice slightly reproaching. "Don't make me laugh so. It's too early."

"No nun impressions in the morning, got it," said Faith with resolve, nodding her head and tracing a light pattern over Annabel's breasts with her fingertips.

"What," she heard Annabel's voice hitch slightly, "are you up to now?"

"Nothin'," said Faith, grinning, enjoying the power she had over the woman, loving that someone wanted her so much. "Just drawing, that's all."

"Drawing what?" asked Annabel, her tones hoarse as Faith slid against her.

"You," whispered Faith before she leaned forward, capturing Annabel's lips for a passionate kiss. Tapered hands reached up, tangling in dark hair. Faith moved in closer yet, limbs entwined and as they parted, she breathed heavily, gaze dark and filled with lust. "Again?" she asked huskily.

"Again," Annabel agreed, her hands resting on Faith's hips, pulling the Slayer down onto her, groaning at the contact when skin covered skin. Smiling as she felt Faith lean down, lips covering her nipple, she chuckled then gasped, "It is such a nice morning, after all."

Not surprisingly, Faith was too busy to make any reply. Not that Annabel really minded. No, she didn't mind... not one bit.

---

They had showered... together, that mostly being thanks to Faith's insistence that they have an obligatory shower scene. Whatever that meant, Annabel wasn't sure, but they had showered and now Annabel was dried and fluffed, feeling very content, rather like a cat as she made her way downstairs to the kitchen.

That's when her hazel eyes caught sight of something expensive and cream colored and her lips moved into a frown. Putting her hands on her hips, feeling the cool silk of the royal blue robe she had on, Annabel called out, "Faith!"

"Yeah?" the Slayer's voice met her, drifting down from her bedroom where Annabel was pretty sure she was hastily shimmying into a pair of pants and a shirt. "What's up, Anna?"

"You tell me," Annabel answered, turning to look at Faith as she appeared at the top of the stairs. Clad in, as expected, leather pants and a red t-shirt. The Slayer gave her a look of puzzlement then Annabel pointed upwards, at the chandelier. "Do you mind telling me how exactly my shirt got up there?"

Snickering lowly, Faith tried to hold back her laughter as she looked at Annabel who frowned again, but couldn't. After bursting into full on chuckles, Faith calmed then shrugged. "I threw it?" she suggested with a quirky smile.

"Really," Annabel huffed, looking at her shirt with some despair. "I liked that shirt a great deal," she went on, feeling a bit peevish, "it looked nice on me." She peered back at Faith who was now behind her, arms around her waist, chin on her shoulder, looking at her with dark eyes. "You said so as well."

"Everything looks nice on you, Anna," said Faith in low tones of appreciation, her hands playing over the silken material of the robe she wore. "And nothing too."

Sighing, Annabel leaned back into Faith, tilting her head to look into brown eyes, locking their gazes. "You say the loveliest things," she murmured, hand reaching to play with unruly dark locks. She moved her gaze back to the shirt and formed a look of sad resolve. "Goodbye old friend, it seems I won't wear you again."

"Anna," Faith chuckled deeply, shaking her head as she bumped up and into her girlfriend, causing Annabel to jump and look back at her. "Don't get moony eyed. I'll get your shirt down, I promise. Tell you what," said Faith as she moved around the taller woman to stand in front of her. "You cook breakfast and I get the shirt off the stupid chandelier. How's that sound for a plan?"

"That sounds wonderful," said Annabel, smiling softly. She dropped a kiss onto the Slayer's lips, pulling away as she said, "Thank you."

Watching Annabel head down the stairs, Faith forced back the waves of desire running through her and reminded herself they had already made love twice in a span of two hours, she could wait at least another before making it three. Trying to still convince herself of this, she nodded her head and went off in search of a ladder. Because a place as big as the mansion had to have one somewhere.

---

By the time Annabel finished breakfast Faith had located a ladder but unfortunately for the Slayer, it wasn't nearly tall enough to let her reach the chandelier. So when Annabel went to announce that their food was ready, she found Faith standing on the top of the ladder, on her tippy toes, hastily waving around a broom she had found who knows where.

All in all, it was a heart stopping picture that filled her with panic.

"Faith!" shrieked Annabel, dashing towards the ladder which was swaying precariously and holding it still, feeling immensely grateful when Faith stopped in her broom swinging to look down at her. "Please get down?"

Frowning for a moment, Faith leaned on the broom and stared at Annabel. "I thought you wanted me to grab your shirt?" she said slowly. "I almost got it a few times, just give me a little more time to work."

"Honestly, Faith," Annabel breathed shakily, laughing from sheer nerves as she rounded the ladder, standing in front of its steps, holding her hand up in a hope to urge the Slayer down. "When I said that I had no idea you would go to such measures. You're going to injure yourself at this rate."

"Anna," Faith tilted her head to one side and she chuckled. Easily climbing down from the ladder, she landed in front of Annabel with a thump. "You're such a worrywart. Nothing is gonna happen to me and if anything did, I doubt I'd be taken out by somethin' as lame as falling off a ladder."

"That's what you say now," said Annabel dryly, wrapping an arm over Faith's shoulders, holding her close as they walked into the kitchen. She heaved a sigh and shook her head. "That took years off my life, I'm sure of it."

"You were really worried, weren't you?" asked Faith in wonder.

"Of course," said Annabel a bit indignantly, meeting Faith's gaze. "That was a dangerous situation, one I inadvertently put you in. The last thing I want is for you to get hurt for me. Especially over something as petty as a shirt."

"I wouldn't have gotten hurt, Anna," said Faith, her tones reassuring. She smiled and squeezed the taller woman's waist. "Thanks for worryin' though."

Before Annabel could reply there was a loud crash and they looked out of the kitchen to see the rickety ladder had collapsed on the ground, now splintered in several pieces that were scattered about the foyer. The only reaction Annabel gave was to look at Faith and arch an eyebrow significantly.

Laughing nervously at this, Faith shrugged and said, "Thanks again?"

Sighing deeply, Annabel took Faith's hand, leading her to the kitchen table where the Slayer sat down, taking in the piles of food she made. Everything she liked to eat was here. Eggs, hash browns, pancakes, toast, and orange juice to top it off.

"I thought you might be hungry," said Annabel, responding to the curious look Faith gave her. "After all," she said demurely, sitting at the table herself. "You've had a strong workout this past night and day, haven't you?"

Grinning widely at this comment, Faith dove into eating her food, consuming it with certain gusto. She paused in her eating to shift in her seat and she frowned, pulling out the polaroid picture she bought last night from her back pocket. "Huh," she said in thoughtful tones, lying it down on the table. "Must've forgot about it."

Pulling the picture towards her, Annabel smiled and studied it closely. The man was right, it was a quality picture, despite the low level camera that had taken it. He had managed to perfectly capture the happiness and contentment of the moment. She looked at Faith, who was now back to eating, her head ducked low while she speared half a pancake and shoved it into her mouth. Quirking her lips in slight amusement, Annabel shook her head, wondering how in the world Faith didn't end up choking with the way that she ate her food.

Moving her gaze back down to the photograph, Annabel looked at Faith in it. Expression alight, shining happily at her, and she ran her fingers over the lines of her face in the photo as she murmured, "My firecracker."

"Anna, you're not plannin' on dumping me for that photo are you?" Faith's husky drawl met her ears, resounding with playfulness as she spoke.

"Perhaps," said Annabel smoothly, rising to her feet and giving Faith a long look. "The photograph doesn't talk back to me, does it now?"

"Ouch," Faith winced, hand covering her heart. "You got me." She watched curiously as the tall woman walked out of the kitchen only to return moments later with a pen in her hand. "What're you gonna do?"

Annabel didn't reply and Faith frowned, rising to her feet and peering curiously over her girlfriend's shoulder as Annabel leaned down, clicking the pen and then writing on the lower white portion of the polaroid photograph in her neat and formal handwriting: Mardi Gras firecracker.

Pulling back with a smile, she clicked the pen again, and looked at Faith. Hand reaching out, she buried it in dark locks, playing with them as she murmured into Faith's ear, "I wanted to name it, is all. After you."

Winding her arms around Annabel's waist and pressing up against her back, Faith laughed softly. Kissing the side of her neck, feeling the pulse under her lips, she asked, "What if I wanted to do that for you, huh?"

"Too late," Annabel said, turning in Faith's arms, smiling at her. She leaned forward, kissing Faith lightly on the nose. "It's named after you now. Just as it should be. You're the one who makes that photograph so lovely."

Brown eyes darkened with love and desire and suddenly Faith knew all too well they weren't going to make it an hour before the third time. Moving to capture the tall woman's lips with her own, opening Annabel up and seeking entrance deep, moaning as their tongues came in contact, she knew that absolutely.

---

Kakistos wasn't happy.

He hadn't been in favor of the trip to New Orleans. True there would be sweet hunting there and the humans would be ripe for the picking but there was also so many of them. They reproduced like rats, vermin of a like, and in a city like New Orleans it seemed to him as if the humans had no end.

That they would go on forever. Infesting every area of the globe. Perhaps even coming to his little corner... invading Batiste, Louisiana.

Despite his misgivings, he allowed his minions to go to the Mardi Gras celebration. They had wanted it so and who was he to deny them a good time? They did their duty, served him well, surely they deserved a reward. He was, if anything, a kind Master at times.

Reward, he snorted now, his voice echoing deep, a frightful rumble that caused those in his presence to tremble in fear. Good. They should tremble. He was very displeased with the situation. He had wanted to reward them and instead some of his most loyal followers had been slain.

And slain by a Slayer at that. A Slayer in New Orleans. In Louisiana. Only a few slight miles away from where he himself resided. A Slayer so close in his territory, it wouldn't do... no it wouldn't do at all. Especially one that killed his followers. This Slayer would have to learn her place and he would be the one to teach her.

Turning cold eyes to Trick, he said, "We'll be moving our base of operations temporarily." His eyes gleamed now, revealing a deadly light. "We have a great obligation in introducing ourselves properly to the Slayer in New Orleans."

"I see," said Trick slowly, taking in this order, smiling slowly as he did. Giving a low nod, he said, "I'll take care of it, Master."

"I'm sure you will," said Kakistos in a rumble. Trick was not one he would count among the loyal but he was one of the most crafty and intelligent. Something that, at times, he did value far more than mere loyalty. "Oh, and Mr. Trick?" he called as the vampire was almost out the door. "Don't forget to bring my pets as well."

Watching Trick shudder and shake his head, knowing full well of his distinct disliking for the alligators Kakistos delighted in keeping for pets, he laughed low and deep from his belly. A great horrible mammoth sound that echoed in his mansion and throughout the town of Batiste.

The few citizens unlucky enough to hear it shivered and walked on, trying their best to ignore it and the terrible things it meant for whoever he was thinking of. It never was any good, when the Master sounded that way.

---

They made love four more times and then Annabel insisted she do research on Kakistos since he had been mentioned the previous night. Leaving Faith feeling a bit pouty, something she had never been before. She knew very well Annabel was right, that research on this new big bad had to be done but still...

She had wanted to try for a fifth time.

After wandering discontentedly around the mansion for several long minutes, Faith finally ended up in the gym. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and found her center, now calming the raging desire running through her. Well, at least attempting to do that. Once she felt she halfway succeeded, she opened
her eyes and ran through her katas at a blinding pace.

Kicking, punching, sweeping through the air in a deadly poetry in motion, Faith felt herself get lost in the dance of imaginary battle. That was what she loved so much about the fight. She forgot everything else and when that happened and she saw only the fight and the enemy in front of her, she never lost.

They had been reading the Watcher diaries together and Faith wondered about the other Slayers. Some of them died so quickly and she couldn't help but think if they had only tried more... trained more, maybe they would have lived.

Hell, the other Slayer, Buffy, she died and came back to life and that was why Faith was here, as a Slayer herself. The chick fucking died! And she fought back to life then kicked the big bad's ass all over that small town where she lived. That counted for something, right? That if you tried your hardest, you could overcome.

Then again, Buffy was considered to be a loose cannon. Faith thought it was funny, that because she and Annabel did what the Council said for most of the time, they actually liked her more. Seemed to Faith that this Buffy had more to deal with, living over the mouth of hell and all. Plus Annabel had told her this story about her. How Buffy had used a rocket launcher to kill some evil guy.

Anybody who used a rocket launcher had to be cool in Faith's opinion. Then there was that overwhelming fact that she came back from the dead almost by sheer force of will, as it was told in the recollection of the event. Didn't that sort of signal that in some instances, yeah, death could be fought back?

She mentioned this to Annabel once and the woman looked at her sadly and said that sometimes death couldn't be stopped. No matter how hard you train and how well you fight, death will come anyway, claiming you for his own. It was just a part and parcel of their life, depressing as it might be.

Faith didn't want to believe that though. She wanted to think she had some sort of control over her life and how it turned out. That if she did her best, she could keep winning, she could protect people as was her job, and she could end up living that happy ending she never dreamed she would have.

All she had to do was keep on trying.

Her kata finished, Faith paused, breathing deeply and leaning forward, hands on her knees. Standing up after a moment, she popped her neck then shook out her limbs, feeling a bit tired but happy from her hour long exercise. Walking out of the gym, intending on heading to her room for a shower, Faith paused in front of the library. She found Annabel buried in piles of books, busily flipping through their pages, doing her usual speed reading routine. The tall woman was out of her silk robe, unfortunately, fully dressed in a pair of dark brown slacks and a light blue shirt that clung to her frame like a second skin.

Drawn forward, Faith walked into the room, stopping to stand next to Annabel who looked up at her, smiling softly. "You trained?" she asked.

"Yup," Faith nodded. Looking over at the pile of books, she questioned, "How about you? You get the two scoops on Special K?"

Laughing despite herself, Annabel replied, "You shouldn't call him such things. Kakistos is a very old and dangerous vampire. But yes," she went on, looking at the books. "I have discovered some facts that will be of use to us. It seems his disdain for humanity is stronger than most vampires. He can't even stand to be near us, finding us quite like disease of a type, and that is why he moved away to Batiste so long ago. Seeking a refuge from our like. Also..." she trailed off, her face lined with worry. Sighing, knowing that Faith had to be told, she gazed up at the Slayer and said, "He is very good to his followers, it's said. Protective over them, rather like a father figure. I don't think he'll take well to our killing them during the Mardi Gras patrol, Faith."

"Big Daddy vampire, huh?" Faith snorted. She shoved her hands into the back pockets of her leather pants. "That's a first." Noticing the worried expression was still on Annabel's face, she untucked a hand and reached out, cupping Annabel's chin. "Hey," she said softly. "It'll be cool, Anna. You get the info, ready me up for the battle, and then we take him out. Easy, huh?"

"Yes," said Annabel, her tones drifting as her gaze returned to her books. "Hopefully it will be as such."

Faith watched Annabel for a moment longer, wanting to reassure her but honestly having no idea how. She sighed to herself, knowing that Annabel most likely just wanted to get back to her books. That was how the Watcher liked to calm herself, with knowledge and facts, finding them to aid Faith in battle.

"I'm gonna take a shower," informed Faith, leaning down to brush her lips over Annabel's head, her hair an elegant mess as always.

"Good," said Annabel absently, reaching for a book at the edge of her desk. Her lips quirked up in a smile and just as she knew Faith was almost out of the room, she said, "You should shower, you stink a bit."

Seconds later, Annabel released a delighted shriek as she was hugged from behind suddenly, embraced in closely in Faith's arms. However, her delight didn't last all too long, not when the books on the desk went tumbling off of it, falling out of the window and to the ground thanks to their playful antics.

Books simply weren't meant for such activities, you see. Especially ones that were several hundred years old. Faith found that out too well from Annabel's soft moans of the status of her now even more damaged property.

Yet, it wasn't enough to make Faith regret what she'd done. It would take a lot more than old and dusty books taking a fall to make her feel bad about getting a chance to hold Annabel in her arms.

---

They were on patrol and despite the worries Annabel expressed over their involvement with Kakistos' minions during Mardi Gras, patrol was something that had to be done. To allow the vampires in New Orleans to think they were becoming lax in their duties simply wouldn't do.

Which is why they were wandering through one of the cemeteries of the city, ducking in and out of the elegant buildings, looking for their foes. However, there was a strange lack of activity tonight. Annabel frowned, thinking on it, wondering why it was. There had to be some reason behind it. Usually New Orleans was jumping with activity, supernatural and not, at all times.

Tonight, however, it was quiet. Like the entire city was sleeping for once. Hidden safely inside, tucked under their sheets, hiding from what was outside. What she and Faith now sought to find and defeat.

"It's dead, Anna," said Faith. She sighed then sheathed her knife, tucking it in the front pocket of her blue jeans. Looking over at her girlfriend, she asked, "How'd research go today? Got any new info?"

"Nothing important as such," murmured Annabel, looking to Faith. "Just scarce theories on his origins and life before being turned." Frowning, she said, "I don't understand. It's never been like this before. What could be happening?"

"Why does something have to be happening?" Faith asked, nearing Annabel and taking her hand in hers. Rubbing the soft skin with her thumb, she grinned. "I just think the vamps all went on vacation. Y'know," she bumped her hips against the taller woman's. "Went to Costa Rica or somethin', off living it up."

"Faith," said Annabel fondly, resting her palm on Faith's cheek, caressing her gently. "Something has to be happening because something is always happening when it comes to creatures of darkness. This is a sign," she said in quiet tones to herself. She was silent for a moment then shook her head and looked to Faith. "Besides, I rather doubt vampires would go to a more sunny location for their time off."

"Right, right," Faith nodded her head solemnly. She looked up into Annabel's eyes as she dropped her hands down to her waist, pulling her forward and into her. "Might be no vamps, but you do got me," she said in husky tones, her hands moving up and under Annabel's shirt, running her fingers over pale skin. "But the real question is, what're you gonna do with me?"

Laughing quietly, Annabel ducked her head down, their lips just millimeters apart as she said, "I can think of some ideas."

Smiling against Annabel's lips, Faith groaned with need as she opened herself up, drawing Annabel into her as she pulled them closer, their limbs entangled as she went thumping into a nearby crypt. Lost in the sensation, the feeling of this love they had, they didn't notice cold eyes upon them.

Exiting the cemetery, Trick allowed a slow and easy smile of triumph to cross his features as he headed towards their new base of operations. This fit all too well into the Master's plans regarding the Slayer. They knew her weakness now and as such, they could exploit it until the very end.

---

Annabel was feeling uneasy. Things weren't right in New Orleans, they hadn't been for weeks, not since Mardi Gras. She had gone to her sources and found that most of them had skipped town, the few that remained wouldn't talk, their eyes full of fear, and a kind of sympathy for her.

This meant one thing to Annabel in her thinking. That he was here. Kakistos was in New Orleans, seeking them out, wanting revenge for his followers deaths. She had expected as much but for him to arrive so soon worried her to no end.

They were training day and night, lost in a sea of preparation because Annabel knew, she knew with everything in her, one day he would approach them. When he did, they had to be ready, in every way possible. So they trained and read, to learn of him, learn how he thought, how he reacted.

Sometimes falling onto the bed at night so exhausted they barely had the energy to make love. Yet they did, every night and every day. They made love, they touched, and they exchanged the little signs that showed the depth of caring they had for one another. Expressing a passionate love few had known.

Slowly information leaked, coming to them, meeting their ears and they found where he lived. His new headquarters was apparently swarming and full of his followers and the humans he collected. Back in Batiste he bred them, keeping them captive, like ready made meals.

This was a habit he carried over to New Orleans. It enraged Faith, making her want to strike out as soon as possible, to rescue those captive. Annabel held off however, nervous at the idea of attacking Kakistos where he lay. It was never smart to make the first move. Especially on a sleeping viper. Still, were they to wait for him indefinitely? For him to strike first and in any form he chose how?

That wouldn't do at all. Which is why Annabel reluctantly agreed with Faith to at least scope out his headquarters. Inspect it for possible entrances, weaknesses, and ways they might somehow defeat him in the eventual battle.

But in such a place as Kakistos lived, the walls, they had eyes, and once they made that first approach they were forever lost because now they were in his world. One of which there would be no escape.

---

Vampires descended upon them like a swarm of hornets, angry and fierce, buzzing around Faith, covering her sight in a sea of the undead, their fists on her, bringing down blow upon blow. She roared with rage, pushing them from her, moving them back to see Annabel, barely fighting them off herself.

Fighting over to Annabel's side, she unsheathed her knife, standing in front of the tall woman, shielding her with her body, taking the vampires out one by one, but knowing she couldn't take them all. There were so many, too many, and it had never been this bad, not even at Mardi Gras where they seemed endless.

Perhaps because at Mardi Gras they were having fun when she came upon them. Here it was different. Here they were seeking vengeance for their fallen comrades and they would only be calmed with the flow of blood.

The battle went on, long and hard, and Faith was gasping for breath, having defeated almost all of the vampires, a scarce twenty circling around, watching her warily. Knowing that yes, the woman at her side was her weakness but she was also her strength as well. For many times in their fighting, Faith had almost given up, almost lost to one of them, then Annabel would cry out from where she fought, that she could do it, she was a Slayer. Then her determination would resurface and they would be killed.

Over and over again, this had happened, so much that they were cautious of Annabel now, realizing she had far more power than they imagined. So much that perhaps only the Master should be the one to handle her.

They smiled at this, rejoicing in the punishment that he would surely give, and as they did, Faith and Annabel watched them carefully. Unsure of what was going to happen next when the click of hooves sounded and they saw him.

Dressed like a gentlemen, in the finest of clothes, he made a frightening yet dapper picture. His ancient and reddened face moving into a dangerous smile as his eyes glinted, taking them in with interest. Laughing low, his voice rumbling, shaking all in the room, his presence was one of awe inspiring fear.

"Slayer," Kakistos rumbled again, studying Faith. "You are becoming a problem for me. Killing my followers... invading my home." His eyes glinted once more. "Don't you have any manners?"

"No," said Faith through her breaths, narrowing her dark gaze. "Not really, not when it comes to vamps who treat people like some sorta microwave meal."

Bursting out into laughter, Kakistos looked back at one of his followers, a handsome black man in a tailored suit who had avoided most of the fighting, and said, "I do like her, Mr. Trick. Perhaps we should let her play with my pets?"

"Yeah," Trick tilted his head, inspecting Faith with a smile. "I think so." Then he glanced to one side, making a sweeping gesture and suddenly Faith saw several alligators on leashes being led out by vampires, who looked at her with eager faces that spelled nothing good for her. "Well, Slayer," Trick drawled, smiling at her. "Have you ever wrestled a hungry alligator before? It's an experience."

"Faith," whispered Annabel anxiously and the Slayer looked to her. She moved closer, carefully as she could, but keeping a distance, aware of the too watchful eyes upon them. "Faith, we must escape from here. I think I know of a way..."

"The Watcher," Kakistos pronounced, his voice echoing clearly in the air as one of his followers led the hungriest of the alligators, the one with snapping jaws and a shine of death in its eyes, closer to them. "The Watcher in some ways can be more dangerous than the Slayer, for they have the knowledge." Rumbling with a laughter that shook the room, he went on, "Cliche yes but knowledge is power."

Then the alligator was let loose, turning on the first thing it knew was alive, that lived and breathed, with real flesh it could tear into. Not the cold tasteless dead meat of the ones that kept it for a pet, no they would never do for a meal. But the girl before it, the one pinned under its weight, trying her best to force its snapping jaws from her, oh, she would do nicely for a meal indeed.

"Faith!" shrieked Annabel in panic. She saw the alligator manage to bite into the Slayer's shoulder, causing Faith to scream out in pain before tossing it off of her with a sudden bout of strength. Cold clammy hands grabbed her after she called out, holding her close, covering her mouth tightly. "Be quiet," they hissed.

Wheezing with pain, Faith grabbed at her shoulder, wincing at the feel of torn flesh and the ooze of blood under her fingertips. Staring at the alligator who met her eyes, its jaws opening up as it prepared another attack, she let lose a low and primal growl. Then she leapt at it, springing with everything in her as she withdrew her knife, stabbing it into the creature, cutting deep into its belly.

She felt the blood drip onto her, smearing her clothes, and the twitch of the animal as it breathed its last breath then she pulled away. Standing to her feet and sheathing her knife, putting it back into her pocket. Looking over at Annabel, her eyes darkened into black as she saw the vampire holding her.

Nobody touched her... nobody... it wasn't something Faith would allow. Now or ever and trembling with rage, she fixed her stare onto the vampire who seemed to pale under the strength of her gaze and the emotion behind it.

"Don't get so upset, Slayer," Kakistos voice rumbled and she looked to him, seeing he had risen from his seat, clicking his hooves as he walked towards her. He looked down at his dead pet and sighed. "I liked that one too," he said in a sort of after thought. Looking back to Faith, his face shifted in a terrible smile and he said, "We won't hurt your precious Watcher. I merely want to keep her out of harms way while we battle. After all," he clucked his tongue. "It would be a shame if something happened to her while we fought."

"Lets go then," Faith growled.

So the battle began. The fight for supremacy as punches were thrown and kicks were dodged, a beautiful and deadly ballet playing out for those watching and as it went on, none were quite sure who would end up winning, only that one was bound to die before it was all over. Faith landed a strong punch to Kakistos' head that made him growl in pain and anger, hovering over her and reaching a cloven hand down, gripping at her throat. Lifting her up from the ground, choking her in a stranglehold, he growled, "Time to die, Slayer."

Watching this go on with certain fright, Annabel fought in the hold of her captor, finally biting down on his cold hand with the full force of her teeth as she tried to ignore the horrible taste of death in her mouth. Spitting this out, she shouted at the top of her lungs, voice tearful, "Faith! Don't lose hope, Faith! You can win, I know that you can!" The vampire tried very his best to silence her, grabbing for her again, but she pushed at him with a snarl, punching him hard in the midsection. Seeing that brown eyes were on her, she shouted once more, in certain desperation, "Faith... please!"

In that moment, something changed, resolve went back into Faith's features and her gaze gleaming with an unholy light. She could do this, she would do this, she had to do this, and not even the likes of Kakistos would stop her. Struggling in his grip, she reached down for her knife, unsheathing it and drawing it up, only to bring it down moments later, slashing deep into his face.

Kakistos dropped her with a great howl of agony, reaching for his face with cloven hands, his minions wide eyed with shock before they crowded around him, anxious to help their Master. As this went on, Faith rushed to Annabel, overflowing with relief that she was safe.

Together, they hurriedly escaped his headquarters, the place where Kakistos dwelled in pain, where Faith had narrowly defeated him in battle. They left and yet, they knew they would have to return, to help those humans they knew to be trapped in there still, under the awful hold of his control.

They simply didn't know how soon that would be.

---

The door slammed shut and soon as it did, Annabel was against it, deadbolting the locks and praying the protection spells that she did would hold in place. Even as her nerves said that a vampire such as Kakistos could find some way around them. Then she turned to Faith who was wincing, holding her bloody shoulder, and gently moved her into the downstairs bathroom.

Lowering the toilet lid and sitting Faith down on it, she hurriedly pulled out the proper supplies and began cleaning Faith's wound, working quickly and efficiently but with a gentle touch that soothed the girl she worked on. Blood, there was so much blood... the alligator had bitten deep, to the bone, and just looking at the wound made Annabel's heart ache.

It hadn't been over either, no. Kakistos had meant to do far worse to Faith and he'd almost succeeded in that as well. She rather thought it was sheer luck they were able to escape when they did. Wiping the blood clean from Faith's shoulder, she reached for the bottle of alcohol, soaking the towel with it and looking up into brown eyes that did their best to hide the pain from her.

So brave... always so brave was her Faith, her firecracker.

"This is going to hurt," murmured Annabel regretfully, waiting for the nod of approval from Faith before she brought the alcohol down on the wound, cleaning it before she pulled it away. Grabbing the needle and thread, Annabel arranged them, frowning in concentration, before she looked up. Rising, she gently kissed Faith's lips, then whispered in her ear, "I have to stitch you up. It might take some time but I'll work as fast I can."

"I trust you, Anna," said Faith roughly.

Squeezing her eyes shut, feeling a swell of emotion overcome her, Annabel nodded quietly then turned back to the wound and began to sew flesh together. It took several minutes but when it was done, Faith felt better. True her body was throbbing with pain all over, but at least her shoulder was in one piece.

Dropping the bloody towels into the waste basket listlessly, Annabel turned to Faith and gently removed the bloody shirt she wore as well. Faith looked at her with some concern and she said, "We should clean you off."

Moving over to the bath, Annabel turned on the water, testing its temperature before she turned back to Faith and smiled softly. Softly taking Faith's hands, she tenderly pulled the Slayer to her feet and went about the slow task of undressing her, careful not to cause Faith anymore pain.

"Anna?" asked Faith quietly, eyeing her with a dark gaze. She had never seen the taller woman this way. It was like she had lost all sense of life, like something had been destroyed inside of her. "Anna... what's going on?"

Not answering, Annabel moved to the bath, turning off the water and reaching for the Slayer again, gently lowering her into the tub. Faith looked at her with a questioning expression, Annabel avoided looking at her, taking hold of a nearby sponge, dipping it in the water to clean the blood from Faith's body.

"He nearly killed you," whispered Annabel finally. Focusing on Faith's bruised and injured form, gently tracing the sponge over her, as if its soft touch could somehow wipe them all away. "You almost died and I wasn't able to do a thing. I couldn't help you."

"But he didn't," said Faith firmly, hoping her words would raise Annabel's spirits. When she saw Annabel fixating on her left shoulder, bandaged, stitched, and bruised from the alligator bite, she touched Annabel's chin until they were facing one another. "I wouldn't have been able to get away from him if it wasn't for you. Hearin' your voice at the last second, it helped me, Anna. Gave me strength to escape."

"If you ever died..." Annabel began in tones of echoing sorrow and regret, voice laced with a kind of self hatred. "If you ever died... like Father, it would be my fault, because I didn't do my duty as I should have. I've let down so many people in my life, Faith," she whispered hoarsely, her head lowered, unable to meet the Slayer's eyes. "So very many and whenever I do, they die. If I was ever to let you down in the same way..." She released a sudden sob and her hand pressed over her mouth as her shoulders trembled. "I... I couldn't..."

In seconds, Faith was out of the bathtub and her wet form gathered Annabel close, holding her in her arms, rocking the tall woman in her hold, soothing her with a gentle touch and low words. Ignoring the ache resounding in her body and losing herself to the sheer rightness that holding Annabel always gave her, Faith kissed the silken head resting on her good shoulder.

"I'm not gonna die," said Faith in determined tones, "and the reason I'm not is because I finally got somethin' to live for. That's all thanks to you, Anna. I dunno the whole story with your dad but I know you regret what happened. We all make mistakes, y'know. Just because you messed up once doesn't mean you're gonna do it again." She laughed softly, realizing she should take her own advice, then she concentrated back on the tearful figure in her arms. "I love you," she said quietly, voice full of resolve. "That kept me safe tonight, I know it did."

Wiping at her eyes, Annabel pulled away from Faith, looking at her with a sad brownish hazel gaze. "Look at me," she murmured in disparaging tones. "Crying all over you when you're the one who is injured." She sighed deeply then looked at Faith, noticing for the first time the Slayer was totally naked as she sat on the tiled floor of the bathroom with her. "Oh Faith," she shook her head, rising to her feet, pulling the girl up with her, then reaching for a nearby towel. Lightly drying the Slayer off, careful of her injuries, she said, "You're too good to me."

"No," said Faith, sounding husky, her hand cupping Annabel's face and the British woman looked to her. Moving forward, burying herself in tender arms that held her close, Faith continued, "We're good enough for each other."

They slowly paused at the same moment, looking deeply into each others eyes before their lips met in a kiss that went from loving to frantic in the span of just a second. They knew, they both knew, no matter how much they wanted to deny
it that they could have died tonight.

Life passed so quickly, in a blink of an eye, and no one knew that better than those who risked theirs daily. They were alive in this moment, alive and together, and knowing this, they could do nothing other than seize it for all it was worth. So the power, the frantic nature of the kiss took over and their mouths opened, hot and wanting, tongues dueling and tasting deep, making their passion rise to take hold of them both and wash over them like a tidal wave.

They didn't break from their embrace, not once, even as they fumbled their way up the stairs, towards Annabel's room which they had been sharing for over a month now. Faith pulled away, eyes dark as she looked at Annabel's lips, full and swollen from her kisses, making her want to reclaim them all the more. Hands reached out, ripping clothes from the elegant body before her, lithe and lined, a beautiful canvas that Faith wanted to paint her lips across.

A now ripped shirt fell to the floor, soon accompanied by the rest of Annabel's clothes and then they were both naked, on the bed, limbs entangled, hands on each other as mouths opened again, meeting one another. Faith fell forward, her body pressed close, skin covering skin, and her hands tracing the paleness of the form lying under her. Hands trailing over the curves she loved so. Annabel rose up and into her, arching her back as Faith took a nipple into her mouth while her hand slid down, teasing her, lightly entering then pulling back.

"Faith," Annabel moaned, her hand reaching out, seeking Faith's, pressing those fingers more insistently inside of her to feel her growing desire.

Smiling slowly, Faith moved her mouth away from Annabel's breasts, trailing gentle kisses downwards, towards her hand and that of her lover's. Moving them both aside, she gripped birdlike hips, hands caressing them gently before she dipped her head down for a taste of what she enjoyed most.

Annabel bucked her hips up hard as she felt Faith's tongue sweep into her, teasing her, pressing and soothing her, knowing her intimately and because of this, pushing all her buttons, driving her over the edge. She felt callused hands moving upwards, over her body, and fingers covered her lips, gently brushing their texture, feeling them as they opened with ragged gasps. Drawing one in her mouth, Annabel sucked on it, hearing Faith's noise of appreciation as she did.

The climax hit her long and fierce, blinding her with colors and sensations, and when it faded away, she felt Faith press into her, moving over her body. A shaky hand whispered up, cupping Faith's cheek and Annabel returned the smile. Then their lips met for a slow kiss and she tasted herself on Faith's lips as she changed their positions.

Aware of the cuts and bruises, Annabel led a gentle path over Faith's body at first, teasing the Slayer just as she herself had been teased but somehow as this went on, she realized it wasn't what Faith wanted. So she changed, shifting into a passionate frame of mind, her hands and mouth hot on Faith's body. Kissing the Slayer deep, she covered Faith's body with her own, pressing her wetness onto a strong thigh and hearing Faith groan from the feeling. Her hands traced down to find Faith's center.

"I love you, Faith," Annabel whispered, entering her fingers into her.

Jerking her hips up, Faith groaned again with need, pulling Annabel further into her as expert fingers found her clit, circling and teasing it, bringing pressure down and leaving it again, always approaching the climax, but leaving off before she could quite make it all the way there. Strong hands reached down and Faith forced the fingers onto her harder, pushing herself into Annabel.

Cool hands brushed at her forehead, soothing her, chilling the molten heat her body had turned into and Faith shivered from the feeling before she orgasmed, her entire body shaking in Annabel's hold. Screaming Annabel's name to anyone who would hear it, Faith felt the last vestige of control leave her and it was fine. She didn't need control when she was with Annabel because she knew even without it she would be safe while in her arms. She'd always be safe.

Burying herself in Annabel's hold, Faith felt her heart beat out of control, but it was slowly calming as soft lips brushed over her forehead. Then hands pushed her dark locks back as they drew closer together.

"I love you, Anna," Faith told her hoarsely.

"I know," said Annabel softly, her hands rubbing Faith's back, as if trying to rub away the worries they both had with them. "I know you do."

They were silent for a long moment, then Faith leaned up, resting on her elbows to gaze down into Annabel's face. They stared at each other endlessly, or so it seemed, then they met their lips for a searing kiss as the dance began all over again and no more words were spoken.

---

Faith was still sore the next morning. Although she wasn't sure if that was from her fights the previous night or the passionate lovemaking. If it was the latter then she wasn't at all upset for being so sore. It some instances it wasn't so bad being sore, especially if it was caused by Annabel.

Currently Faith was in her room, searching through her closet. She practically lived in Annabel's room these days, true, but her clothes were all still located in her own. Well, except for the pieces that were strewn about Annabel's from a few of their more enthusiastic encounters. Then there were the clothes who were knows where, the ones that would probably never be located. Or, she grinned just thinking about it, the ones stranded in high up places like the chandelier.

Looking at her clothes, Faith tried to decide what to wear and ignored the loud sound of Annabel's shout. It had been like that for almost an hour now. As soon as they had woken up at the late time of eleven a.m. she headed into the library to contact the Council. Faith had watched her with lidded eyes for the first few minutes but unable to stand the serious of frowns and upsetting lines which kept forming on Annabel's face, she left to take a shower.

When she was done, Annabel was still on the phone, explaining their situation and the type of help she felt they required in order to beat Kakistos. As before, Faith had watched her for several minutes before becoming bored and going to her room in order to pick out her clothes.

Precisely what she was doing right now. Finally deciding on a pair of blue jeans and a simple black t-shirt, Faith shimmied into her clothes, doing her best to ignore the ache in her body she felt from just doing this. She was just finishing with tying her boots when she heard soft footsteps at her door.

Looking at Annabel, she smiled, just because Annabel always did that, made her smile. Then she saw the weary look on the woman's face. Rising to her feet, she walked over to her and asked quickly, "Anna?"

"They've agreed to send help," murmured Annabel quietly. "However," she scowled deep, a look of anger crossing her features for the first time since Faith had known her. "They refuse to approve my request to leave the city."

"You wanna leave New Orleans?" asked Faith in shock. Yeah, last night was bad and yeah, Kakistos was way stronger than she thought but leaving New Orleans had never occurred to her as an option. "Why?"

"Because it's dangerous," said Annabel simply. Taking note of Faith's sadness, she reached a gentle hand out, caressing her cheek. "We would come back, of course. When the danger has passed."

"Anna," said Faith slowly. She moved her eyes from Annabel's and looked at the floor, working the words out in her mind before she said them out loud. Once she did, she lifted her gaze and said, "Danger's always gonna be around. No matter where we go, it'll be chasin' after us because of what we do."

"I realize that," Annabel smiled, appreciating what Faith was saying. "And I do agree with you but in some situations, like the one we're in now, running is what is essential to survive. Faith," she murmured, cupping the Slayer's chin. "Living is all that matters in the end. If we need to leave this place in order to live, that is what we'll do." She sighed deeply and a lock of hair fell in her eyes. "The issue is moot though, since the Council feels we're safe where we are. We shall remain in New Orleans until they send the special operatives unit to help us."

"When are they gonna get here?" asked Faith with a frown.

"Tomorrow most likely," said Annabel, pushing back the lock of hair. Looking at Faith for a moment, she reached out, taking the Slayer's hand to lead her from the room. They ended up in the library and Faith frowned again, watching as the tall woman crossed to the bookcase, selecting a text. She turned back to Faith and smiled, holding it up. "Well?" she asked, tilting her head. "What do you say we occupy the time with a spot of reading? This time about Suzette?"

Matching her smile, Faith said, "Sure. That sounds good."

Then Annabel was at her side, sitting on the plush sofa, Faith's head in her lap, her fingers twining in dark hair as she read from the life of the French Slayer who lived in the original Orleans, her life as dark and adventurous as their own. Filled with just as much danger. Perhaps too much.

---

It was reaching dusk as Faith left the mansion to get their food. They hadn't any inside the mansion, it being Monday, the day they usually went grocery shopping. In the end, they ordered from T.Paul's restaurant and Faith was the one to head out and get the food from the nearby locale.

Annabel stayed behind to tidy up the mansion, paranoid over the upcoming visit from the Council's special operatives unit. Faith knew she was afraid they would discover their relationship and strip her of the position as Watcher. Part of Faith was afraid of that too but she knew with everything in her that even if they did do such a thing, Annabel would never leave her.

Yes, it would take far more than losing her job to take Annabel from Faith, she realized with a happy smile, walking into the restaurant. Instantly, she spotted the figure of T.Paul, handsome as always, dressed in a sharply tailored outfit that made him look all the more dashing.

"Beb!" T.Paul cried out happily, clapping his hands together as she walked over to him. He crossed to her, hugging her warmly, and Faith felt her body relax under his touch. Maybe just because he was just one of the nicest guys she'd ever met. Not that she had met a lot of them. He pulled away and grinned big. "Where you been at? Hidin' from me, I think. Or..." His voice dropped low as he drawled, "You have fun wit' that lady of yours?"

Faith turned bright red and she said, "You mean you..."

"Mais," chuckled T.Paul, sounding overjoyed. "It ain't hard to guess, beb. You come t'me, I seen it in your eyes when you talk 'bout her." Faith felt his gentle hand on her cheek and looked up at him. "Tis a good thing," his teeth were white and oh so bright as he grinned at her. "Real good, ne?"

"Yeah," Faith chuckled along with him. "Real good."

"Tee Do! I tol' you not to let this one get away and look! You do!" T.Paul's mother scolded, appearing behind the counter with two large bags of food. She scowled at him then her rounded features softened, looking to Faith. "Here you go, petit. Take it back to the one you love most." She fixed a hard gaze on T.Paul who was wilting under it. "Leave this one t'me, let him boude 'bout losin' a good one."

"Mama!" cried T.Paul in embarrassment as she walked away, her hips swinging as she did. "I tell you quit sayin' things like dat in public!"

They both heard his mother's disgruntled reply and Faith chuckled again, shaking her head as she picked up the bags of food. Handing some money to T.Paul, she said, "I gotta get goin' man. I'll see you later though, okay?"

"For certain," said T.Paul with a nod. "You come visit me anytime y'want, beb. I like it... me and you... being podnas. Nice feelin'," he smiled wide.

"Yeah," Faith replied, giving him a soft smile as well. "It is."

The smile was still on her face when she arrived back at the mansion, fumbling with the door thanks to the food in her hands, too distracted with the task of just getting the door open to notice it was already unlocked, the latch broken. Faith's dark head was ducked low, shifting the bags of food in her hand as she bumped the front door shut with her rear, lifting her gaze to call out dinner.

That's when she noticed it. The mansion, it was a wreck, looking like a hurricane had traveled through it. Furniture tossed everywhere, paintings off the walls, and general path of destruction leading from the foyer and up the stairs.

All at once, her entire world froze, and all Faith could hear was the loud beating her heart, going so fast and loud she thought it would come out of her chest. A cold line of fear shot through her and she whispered brokenly, "No."

Before she got her body to move, before she dropped the bags of food, before she dashed upstairs, before she saw the library utterly destroyed, before looking at the rippped remains of Annabel's clothing on the floor, before she focused on the message written on the wall in blood, before all of this Faith knew, she knew what had happened.

Kakistos had taken Annabel and now it was up to Faith to get her back.

Squeezing down the horrible fear clutching at her throat, restraining the urge to destroy what was left of the library, holding back the sickness as she wondered if that was Annabel's blood on the wall, Faith turned on her heel, walking towards her room with an expression of unbreakable resolve. Jerking open the drawer to her nightstand, she removed the jade knife Annabel had given to her, the one she had cut Kakistos with, and pocketed it smoothly.

Then she walked down the stairs, moving mechanically, in a veil of anger and precision, knowing what she had to do. Pausing at the front door to look back at the one place she had ever considered a home, staring up to the cream blouse that hung from the chandelier, she swallowed back her fear.

She could do this, she would do this, she simply had to.

The door closed behind her with a click that resounded in the dead silence of the air and the mansion was empty once more. Possibly to never be filled again.

---

Annabel wasn't sure what he wanted from her, if he did indeed want anything from her at all. In fact, Annabel rather thought he just enjoyed torturing her. He had been displeased though, until recently she hadn't screamed, not made a sound, simply looked at him with a hard gaze.

Humans with attitude never went over well with Kakistos. He could barely stand the ones who quivered and laid themselves down into submission. Studying her, his eyes flashed yellow and he formed a terrible smile. A cloven hand traced almost gently over her back that was laced with bruises and cuts. Then it came down hard, slamming into her and she cried out hoarsely and the smile widened.

"You have a beautiful voice, Watcher," Kakistos rumbled, his breath reeking and hot, blowing against her ear. His hands fell over her head softly then they yanked on her hair, pulling her head back and he snarled down at her. "You've cried out for your Slayer in that voice, haven't you? I was beginning to fear you would never scream for me." Walking away from her, towards a thick iron plate, he retrieved the branding iron, hot from the coals, and looked at her. Shaking his head, he clucked his tongue then chuckled, low and deep, echoing in the room. "What is the use in a victim that doesn't cry out in pain?" wondered Kakistos, crossing to her, looking down into her eyes, her head having drooped down out of sheer exhaustion from the torture.

It had been going on how long now? She didn't know anymore, having lost track of time during all the tortures. To her mind, it must have not been so long, perhaps an hour? But to Annabel's body and soul, it lasted much longer. And where was Faith? She knew the Slayer would come and the selfish part of her wanted just that, wanted to be rescued. Then her logical mind came into play and she realized coming here would be the worst thing for Faith to do.

She knew full well why he was doing this, she was meant as bait, to lure in Faith so he could repay her for what she did in the previous battle, scarring him. Older vampires like him, they had their ways, often filled with pride, and she knew this wasn't an affront he was likely to forget. As long as Faith didn't come though, as long as she survived whatever he did to her, they would be safe.

After all, the Council was sending their special operatives unit. If Faith could just stay away and keep her cool until then, they would aid in her rescue and help defeat Kakistos once and for all. That was what Annabel's logical mind told her.

Her logical mind also told her that Faith would never wait, not while she was being held captive by a monster like Kakistos. Faith would never wait to rescue someone she loved from danger. She would head out, swift as the wind, to bring them back to her, to return them to safety. That was how she was and Annabel loved her for it, she did, but now... oh now... she wished that wasn't so.

The hot iron burned down into her skin, imprinting her pale stomach, and she bit down on her tongue, tasting the blood in her mouth to stop herself from giving the screams that he wanted to hear. She heard his rumble of displeasure and a low curse for her existence and then the iron came down harder and this time she did scream, letting her teeth up and away from her tongue, afraid if she didn't she might bite it off. As she did, he laughed low and long, filling her with fear.

If he was like this now what would he do when Faith arrived?

"Fear," Kakistos rumbled, his breath hot on her again, cloven hands squeezing her chin hard, cupping it in his grip. Boring his gaze into her, he smiled. "You're afraid, aren't you? Not so much for you, but for your Slayer," he snarled over the word. "As you should," he growled. "She will suffer for scarring me in that battle and I'm sure you know how."

Shutting her eyes tightly, knowing what he meant to do, Annabel tried to block out the fear that was coursing through her for herself and for Faith and for those poor people... her hazel eyes opened, unconsciously flickering over to the people in the cage, huddled together and hanging over a pit of alligators. What would happen to them when this was all over? Would they all die? She moved her gaze slowly back to Kakistos who was no longer looking at her, having risen to his full height, his attention off to one side, staring at the door on the far side of the room.

"Finally," said Kakistos in tones of utmost pleasure, his hand reaching out to bury itself in Annabel's hair, yanking her head in a painful gesture. "She's arrived."

The doors broke open with a shattering noise and then there was Faith. Eyes wild, hair unruly, and expression dark as she surveyed the room. Then that all faded as her gaze locked on Annabel, chained to the back wall, her body beaten and bloody, clothes nothing but scraps barely hanging to her frame, and expression weary but relieved and fearful, telling her silently to be careful, to not lose her head in the battle that was upcoming. Only that was too late, Faith had lost it the moment he had taken Annabel from her.

"Slayer," Kakistos rumbled happily, hooves clicking as he walked forward, dropping his hand down to clutch at Annabel's throat, choking her. "So good of you to come. Had you waited any longer I might have killed your Watcher out of boredom." Watching as her body tensed and began a movement towards him, he released his grip on Annabel. "Then where would we be?"

Growling deep in her throat, Faith said, "Your fight is with me. Not Anna." Her eyes darkening as she looked over at the people in the cage. "Not them either. Let them go and we can play this game all you want."

Releasing a deep sigh, Kakistos shook his head then looked at Faith with a disbelieving stare on his horrific features. "Faithhh," he drawled her name with a chuckle that shook the room. "I hold all the cards here. I have innocent humans, I have your Watcher, I even have you completely surrounded." He tilted his head, acknowledging his followers that slipped out the shadows to reveal themselves to the Slayer. "And you want to make a deal? Not very likely."

"What do you want?" Faith ground out. "You want me dead? Fine, let them go, you can kill me all you want. I won't even fight back. But..." Her gaze darted over to Annabel who watched her in muted horror. "Let them go."

"You're very foolish, Slayer," Kakistos rumbled, his laughter rising up, echoing deep in the room as he stared her down. "More foolish than I estimated, but you do amuse me... so, why don't we play a game?" That terrible smile returned once more and his yellow eyes gleamed brightly. "Pick," he said suddenly, nodding to the people in the cage and then Annabel, "one will live, one will die. Who shall it be? The innocent strangers you know nothing about or your beloved Watcher whom all in my family know of your fondness?"

Dark brown eyes went from one to the other then back again and Faith knew. She knew with everything in her, that even though Annabel was telling her with all that she was to give up on her, to rescue the innocents, Faith could not pick between the two. They both needed to be saved, they both deserved to be saved, and they both would be saved if she had anything to do with it.

That's why she sprung forth, leaping with everything that she was, pouncing on Kakistos, drawing him as far away from Annabel as she could get, pushing him down with a ferocious strength so he lay wobbling over the edge, about to topple into the pit of alligators he kept as pets. She then dashed over to the wrench on the near side of the pit, working hurriedly, knowing the vampires helping Kakistos would soon finish their task and come after to her, she turned it and turned it, pulling the cage from where it hung over the pit and onto solid ground. Running to them, she retrieved her jade knife, unsheathing it and bringing it down hard on the lock, shattering it just enough that she could snap it open with her hands.

Throwing the cage doors back, Faith shouted hoarsely at the stunned people inside, looking at her with wide eyed gratitude and disbelief, she shouted at the top of her lungs, with everything in her, "Run! Get outta here!"

And run they did, they ran quickly, escaping from this place of evil and Faith felt her heart lighten just a bit and she turned, ready to free Annabel. Then she saw it, his massive frame standing over her, the look of deadly rage floating in his gaze, and then she felt his hands upon her.

Once again he held her aloft, his hands squeezing the life out of her and he formed that ever terrible smile. Kakistos laughed, a deep horrible rumbling sound then he said in a ground shaking growl, "First Slayer, then Watcher."

Shaking her head, struggling in his grasp, she kicked at him, fighting to get free and once again, she brought back her knife. Only this time he caught it in his hand, squeezing down on her flesh hard so she dropped it into his hold, making him eye the weapon with a glowing yellow stare. Tossing her down on the ground like a ragdoll, he studied the jade knife for a moment, as if in consideration, then he smiled again, hooves clicking as he walked over to Annabel.

"Or perhaps something else," Kakistos said slowly. He laughed again as he realized just how to kill Faith, just how to hurt her as deep as he wanted, to bring her the endless pain he most desired to cause. He laughed and he grabbed at Annabel's hair in his free hand, jerking her head back, delighting in the look of fear she gave him and the Slayer who was just now pushing herself up from the heap he had put her in. "Perhaps," he began again, "I'll kill the Watcher first."

Blood, blood, blood... there was so much blood, it was everywhere, it never seemed to end, and the knife it sank into her so easily, so smoothly, as if that was what it had been made to do. To sink into the flesh of the only person that Faith had ever loved, who had ever loved her, and kill them.

A scream sounded in the air. Was that her? Faith wondered, barely alive, barely cognizant to what was going on. Was that her fighting Kakistos? Raining punch upon punch down on his body, forcing him backwards, towards the alligator pit, to push him in? Was that her doing that? Was that her killing his followers, the ones who tried to stop her from going back to Annabel, with horrible brutal rage? Was that really her? She didn't know... she didn't know anything anymore...

Blood... there was so much blood...

Annabel's head, it was hanging low, and that blood, it was pouring from her, and her breath it was coming still but in desperate pathetic gasps, ones that told she didn't have much longer before they stopped altogether. She had allowed this to happen... she had done this... she hadn't saved Annabel... she hadn't...

"Faith," she heard her name rasped and she looked up, her hands bloody from pressing a torn piece of Annabel's clothing against her throat. Cut so badly, cut so deep... the blood, it wouldn't stop, why wouldn't it stop? "Run, Faith..." Hazel eyes met hers, pleading with her, full of love, but it was dying out, she could see it dying out, she could see it leaving her, flickering away into nothingness. "You have to run... live..." Annabel managed to say, she knew there wasn't any time left, she knew and she had to say it, and so she did. "I love you."

Then she was dead.

And Faith... Faith... she could feel her whole world crumble and break and split into a million pieces and she wanted to be dead. Why couldn't she be dead? But Annabel told her to run and Annabel... Annabel... and she was running, out of this place, away from the death, away from Annabel... running and running...

Running because Annabel told her to... running from the pain... running from Kakistos... running from the reality of what just happened... she was running and Faith was running so long and so hard she didn't know if she could stop.

So she kept on running.

---

The bus station at Baton Rouge wasn't crowded. Maybe because it was a weekday but Faith didn't know. All she knew was it wasn't crowded and by some miracle they had a cheap ticket available to Sunnydale, California.

She had been running for a week now, running from Kakistos, running from the memory of that night, running for her life... not really wanting to live but feeling in a way that she had to. Simply because Annabel had wanted it.

Faith looked at the silver cross at her wrist and she swallowed back the sorrow that threatened to engulf her. No, she resolved, she could do this. It was her job, it was what Annabel had trained her for, and with Buffy's help maybe she could defeat him and finally avenge Annabel's death.

Hearing her bus number being called out, Faith stiffly rose to her feet, gathering the leather bag she had stolen along the way to Baton Rouge. She dimly went into the back, away from the prying eyes of the other few passengers, and into the relative darkness of the last seat.

Sitting down, she waited for the bus to jerk forward, starting the long and bumpy journey to some small town she had barely heard of. Hoping that there she would find help and maybe someone who would understand like Annabel had. Although she wasn't sure if she would let herself be understood now.

It hurt so much... the pain seemed neverending and yet she never wanted to forget. Never. She reached for her bag, opening it and pulling out the polaroid photograph she had tucked into her wallet some night, one of only three things that she had left of Annabel, of the only person who had loved her.

She pulled it out and looked at the photograph, focusing on their smiling faces, filled with love and happiness, she looked at it and traced her fingers on the surface lightly, holding back the tears she knew wanted to flow.

"I love you, Anna," Faith said roughly, in a bare whisper, her fingers following the refined planes of the face in the photograph. "I'm sorry."

As the bus headed on, driving into the distance, nearing Sunnydale with every mile that passed, Faith kept staring at the photograph, reminding herself of why she was running, of why she had to stay alive. Annabel had told her to.

Tilting her head back, Faith looked up at the ceiling of the bus, and a verse of poetry suddenly entered her mind.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we
Of many far wiser than we
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee

Then it was gone, just as Annabel herself was, just as her happiness was, just as her peace was, and Faith was left alone. Heading towards Sunnydale where she would seek her revenge and perhaps find her destiny.

 

End