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Heroes and Villains

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10 Days, 12 Hours and 53 minutes ago: 

--And the new girl, the short blonde one, was letting it happen! She was just standing there, all aloof and unconcerned, checking her face in a mirrored compact. She was more worried about how she'd maybe bruised her cute little nose when she'd gotten knocked down again than she was about the way the other girl was attacking Xander!

"Xander! Don't!" He didn't listen; he was too busy sneering at the girl, daring her to try and hurt him, and taking wild swings with the metal bar he'd picked up off the ground. Willow looked pleadingly at the little blonde again. "Do something! Stop them!" Buffy barely glanced at her before going back to examining her face. 

"I'm not the boss of her," she said absently. "And he's your friend, not mine." Then, apparently satisfied that she was still pretty to an utterly unfair degree, she put the compact away and watched the two opponents close in on each other. Far from trying to stop the fight from happening, the girl actually looked interested... and even a little pleased at the spectacle! "Besides," Buffy added, "He can't really be hurt, right?" 

Willow, giving up on any help from that quarter, could only bite her lip helplessly as her oldest friend tried his best to be macho and formidable, like his favorite movie actors.

He's so reckless, now that he thinks he's invincible! she lamented to herself. All these years, growing up as the kid everyone picked on, and now he gets to play the tough guy action-hero... only I don't like the looks of that girl at all!

The second girl, the one with the long purple hair, didn't seem the least bit scared of Xander. She watched him advance, she smiled and skipped aside when he swung at her, and she answered his taunts with silence. Even though her hands were empty, there was something disturbing about her confidence... although Willow probably would have been more confident herself if shewere all hot, and cleavagey and effortlessly sexy. Darn it.

What happened next was almost too fast for Willow to follow. Xander swung the bar at the girl, and she did something. Somehow she produced a blazing, violet-hued weapon from empty air, used it to chop the iron bar in half, and then leapt forward and slashed the boy's throat. 

There were other details in there, lost in the shock and tears that blurred Willow's vision, but those were the essentials. The girl took his throat out, and then she produced a second weapon and used it to slice longways up his torso, cutting deeply into his stomach and chest with ghastly ease. 

Willow screamed, and Xander fell back, crashing onto the ground. She ran forward and knelt at his side, drowning in waves of horror and revulsion even as her hands worked frantically to try and push loops of intestines (and other, unidentifiable things) back where they belonged. Blood was everywhere, and Xander convulsed uncontrollably, his eyes wild and unseeing. 

Racked by sobs, trying her best to gather enough concentration to use her healing talent, Willow caught a last glimpse of Buffy and the other girl. They were walking away like nothing had happened, carrying their luggage inside the building without a single backwards glance. 

Her head spinning in an overload of terror and sick disbelief, Willow's powers deserted her. All she could do for Xander was scream for someone to help them. Scream, and scream... and scream.

* * * * *

2 Days, 7 hours and 44 minutes ago: 

"C'mon Jesse! Show her you're da man!"

Xander, long since recovered from his injuries (and some later, equally-serious wounds too) stood beside Willow and shouted encouragement to their new friend. She did her best to join in, though her calls went something like: 

"Yay! Go! Hit her and... um, don't let her hit you back! Or at all, actually; don't let her hit you even if you don't hit her, Jesse!"

Willow couldn't help it, she hated this. The academic aspect of the school was everything that had been promised, absolutely. Only... well, there was also this. A huge training area on the school grounds that was dedicated to helping the students 'master' their special abilities. And somehow, gaining that mastery seemed to include frequent sparring matches between the more physically empowered individuals, and even team vs. team battles complete with simulated weapons and mock environments to make it more realistic.

Willow was very much a non-combatant, so she wasn't required to participate. Still, it worried her, watching the others go at it. Even this, a relatively tame sparring match, scared her. 

Although she had to admit, it would be wonderfully satisfying to see Jesse trounce Buffy Summers.

"Fight smart, Jesse!" Xander shouted from the safety of their elevated vantage point. "Don't let her get close enough to use those tiny fists on you, bro!"

Out on the field, the tall, lanky young man was doing his best to comply. Seconds after the match had begun, he'd already unleashed his power. Crouching to put his palms on the ground at his feet, a blaze of fierce blue-white light flared from the point of contact. He backed quickly away, keeping his hands against the earth as he moved, and in his wake there was... nothing. A gaping trench opened up in the ground, the grass and dirt there simply vanishing, leaving a gap more than ten feet wide and ten feet deep.

Buffy, on the other hand, had simply waited for the signal to begin, and when it came she ran forward.

She ran really, really fast.

They'd started the match about a hundred feet apart, and to the onlookers it seemed as if she crossed the distance in less than three heartbeats. Jesse saw it, and leapt back, abandoning his digging. Willow knew that the plan, worked out with Xander, had been to create a moat, with Jesse left standing on an island of level ground in the center. That way he would be safely out of the girl's reach, and yet still able to attack her at a distance. Now, however, it was clear that it wouldn't happen that way. He wouldn't have time to complete the barrier, so he didn't try. Instead, he waited to see which side of the trench Buffy would take as she ran forward. When she swerved right, and came at him, he sprinted forward and left, to keep the deep ditch between them for a critical few seconds. And, as they came abreast of each other, Jesse raised his hands and opened fire.

Pulses of that blue-white light shot from his hands, flying at the blonde girl like smaller versions of the photon torpedoes from Xander's favorite sci-fi television show. They were fainter than they could have been; this was a pretend fight, after all. Even so, Willow knew that if they were to hit Buffy, they would instantly dissolve their way right through her clothing, and through several layers of skin too, leaving a very painful, burn-type wound. The tiny blonde, however, despite being so girly and feminine in every other way, seemed oddly indifferent to such things. The only concession to safety she made were the streamlined goggles that protected her eyes from a chance hit.

Not that there was likely to be a hit. Jesse's energy spheres were fast, about as fast as a well-thrown baseball... but that simply wasn't fast enough. Buffy leapt, a long, high bound that carried her over the first two spheres, and when she came back down she went instantly into a forward roll, came up and dove forward and under another glowing projectile, leapt high again, spinning and rolling in midair to let another pair pass in front of and behind her, and managed to come down on her feet--still running. The series of moves was so fluid that it looked flatly impossible for anything human, and Xander fell abruptly silent. Not so, the observers clustered to their left.

"Yeah, B! He can't touch you with that shit! Show him he can't touch you! Smash his face in!" Faith's shouts were the loudest, but a dozen other students, male and female both, were cheering right alongside her. Willow noticed that the tall girl's hands were clenched on the railing before her, like she was having to restrain herself from leaping over it and joining in alongside her roommate.

When she looked back at the field, she was shocked to see the fight come to a sudden end. Jesse fired another disintegration sphere, and now that things were at much closer range it looked like it would hit. Then, somehow, at a full sprint, Buffy's body leaned far back, and one heel planted deeply into the grass in front of her. She came to an instant stop that made Willow wince; human bones would have splintered like dry sticks under that kind of stress. Buffy, not being human, didn't even bother watching the glowing orb flash past in front of her. Instead she blurred into motion once again, this time right at the trench... and of course she leapt over it.

Not, however, straight over it, as Jesse had expected. Anticipating her move, he unleashed a two-fisted barrage at where he'd thought she would be... only to miss as she launched herself diagonally, at an ankle-snapping angle to her original path. She landed barely ten feet from him, launched herself forward and upwards, and passed over her taller opponent while fully upside down, her head within inches of his own. Her hands clamped onto his upper arms along the way, and a wrenching, snapping movement of her entire body flipped her groundwards--and right side up--even as it yanked Jesse bodily off his feet, up and over her head. Using his momentum as well as her own metahuman strength, she continued the movement and slammed Jesse facedown on the ground at her feet. Not as hard as she could have, true, but still hard.

Willow winced again; she almost thought she could feel that impact through the ground beneath her. Xander groaned, the sound lost an instant later by the wild victory screams of Faith and the other members of the Buffy fan club. Someone fired three silvery energy bolts skyward in celebration, and a crackling bolt of lightning followed an instant later. Out on the field, a barely-mussed Buffy was prodding Jesse with one foot, her expression insufferably smug. When she spoke, the distance rendered it inaudible, but Willow could read her lips well enough to make it out.

"Wanna go two out of three?" Her fallen foe feebly tried to rise, failed, and shook his head in obvious pain. Buffy toed him again, a little harder. "I didn't think so. Loser." With a cute little smile and a bounce in her step, she walked towards the steps that led up to the observation area. 

"What an incredible bit--ah, incredibly mean person," Willow grumbled, watching as two training assistants with medical training moved to check Jesse. Beside her, Xander nodded dreamily.

"She's incredible all right...." The redhead frowned, ran that back in her head, then turned and shot him an incredulous look.

"What? After everything she's done to us, everything she's done to you, you're still crushing on her?" Xander squirmed uncomfortably under her stare, still sneaking glances at Buffy as she climbed the stairs. The tank top she wore clung to her compact, curvaceous form, and the athletic shorts showed off lots and lots of smooth, golden skin. Pale, gawky, skinny Willow couldn't help being jealous, even more so when 'her' Xander stared at the other girl that way.

"Can't help it, Will," he said, eyes still glued to Buffy's rounded, perfect backside. "I know she's evil--or at the very least unintentionally toxic to carbon-based life forms such as you and I--but I'm still a man. I have the inbuilt man weaknesses to gorgeous girls with blonde hair, and green eyes, and soft... curvy...."

Whatever else he'd been about to say got cut off--literally. Neither of them had taken notice of the other onlookers streaming past behind them, on their way to congratulate (aka: worship at the feet of) their leader. Neither of them noticed Faith walk past just as Xander mentioned the hair and the eyes and the curves. And, unfortunately, neither of them saw her response until it was too late.

The flash of violet light was heartstoppingly familiar, and Willow's mouth was still opening to scream a warning when the blade took Xander low across the back. It cut deeply enough to half-sever his torso from his pelvis, and his spine didn't even slow the blade down as it sliced through him with brutal ease. He collapsed, still unsure of exactly what had happened, his face disbelieving as realization slowly penetrated. Willow, having seen this sort of thing more than once in the recent past, glared hatefully at Faith as she knelt beside him

"That sort of thing's fun for you, isn't it? Isn't it?!" she spat. "You really are as crazy as people say you are!"

Faith smirked back at her, utterly unimpressed.

"Hey, red; I'm not dishing out any more than he can take." She looked down at Xander, and materialized her second dagger, holding them both up so that her face was framed in deadly light. "If I wanted to be mean, if I were to really get pissed, then I'd cut him into little pieces and find some hungry little critters to feed him to--I've been wondering how his 'immortality' would handle that." She leaned forward just a little, staring down at the helpless boy, and her voice went scary-soft. "You're never going to have her, little man. She's out of your league, she's taken, and you're never going to touch her." She straightened, and let the glowing blades vanish. "So get over it, keep your mouth shut, and keep your eyes to yourself. Got it?" Not waiting for an answer, she went to join the others of her clique. 

Buffy and the rest had been watching the confrontation from a short distance away, where the girl had taken a seat on a bench. One member of her court held out a towel, another offered a bottle of chilled water. She ignored them both for a moment, busy slipping off the pink athletic shoes and pink-trimmed white socks, and replacing them with her trademark high heels. Finishing up, the petite blonde gave Faith a questioning look.

"What's all that about?" 

The other girl made a gesture of dismissal.

"Nothin' at all. I think he tripped or something; he's clumsy like that." 

Buffy raised one perfect eyebrow in response.

"He tripped? And somehow this trippage resulted in his kidneys spilling out on the ground?"

Faith grinned, reached out, and carefully smoothed a stray lock of golden hair back into place.

"Well, there might have been some sort of foul play, but so far the authorities have no leads." Buffy smiled back at her, shaking her head in mock dismay.

"You're being excessive again; we've talked about this. Xander sneaking looks at my butt is not an evisceration-worthy offense." She glanced over at where Willow was kneeling, in blood and other things, and made a displeased little moue. "Remember: if he sneaks a look, stab him once. If he tries to take another picture, cut off his hands." That steady, emerald stare made the redhead wince as she remembered the incident that had occurred the previous Friday. "And if you hear him start up again on how much he'd love to 'do' me... that's when you should start pulling out internal organs."

Faith, watching as the girl used the towel to blot away the few small beads of perspiration the sparring session had generated, just shook her head.

"Okay, B; that's a lot for me to try and remember. Could you maybe make a chart, or type out a manual, or have somebody set up a twenty-four hour help line--ow!" Buffy had reached up, eyes glittering, and given the long purple hair a sharp yank. Faith responded by grabbing the sitting girl around the waist with both hands and lifting her high into the air. Willow knew for a fact that the taller girl didn't have any kind of meta strength. Still, she was fit and strong, and Buffy was tiny. Faith therefore had little difficulty in picking the blonde up, walking three steps, and holding her out over the railing that encircled the training arena. It was a drop of nearly twenty feet if she dropped her, but nobody believed for a second that it would happen.

Besides, if she started to fall, Buffy's hand could flash out and clamp onto the railing in far less than an eyeblink.

"Say you're sorry," Faith growled, with only a trace of strain in her voice.

"I'm sorry!" Buffy cried out, giggling uncontrollably all the while. "I'm really, really sorry...." She bit her lip, eyes wide, then went on in a breathless, conspiratorial, little voice: "I was just trying to start up your brain, Faith, so you could remember better," The tall girl's expression shifted to one of uncertainty, and Buffy reached out to again tug--gently--on one of those long purple tresses. "You know," she continued with total earnestness. "Like those starter-cord thingies you yank on to start up a lawn mower or--Eeek!"

Faith gave the girl a little jerk, then let her drop a few inches, as if she were about to let go. Buffy's shriek turned into helpless laugher, and she kicked her dainty little feet and flailed with her delicate little hands, just like she really was a helpless damsel and not a super-powered fighting machine. Everyone watching knew those small fists battering ineffectually (and ever-so-carefully) at Faith could just as easily have snapped bone, or torn the larger girl's arms from their sockets. When Faith swung her back over the railing and set her down, Buffy grabbed some purple hair again, and tugged at it repeatedly before shaking her head sadly.

"It's no use. Her brain won't start, no matter what I do. We'll have to junk this one and buy a new model. These 'Faith's' don't seem very reliable, do they? Maybe a 'Hope' this time, or a 'Patience'; I hear those are good." Faith, for her part, slid her hands up from where they had gripped Buffy's waist, up along her sides, then over her shoulders and down her arms. Just above the elbow she stopped, then used her finger to rub lightly at that pale gold skin.

"Yeah, well; speaking of defective--" She rubbed more vigorously, then gave the smaller girl a look of pity. "--Yeah, this is bad. That fake tan stuff you use must have been way past the expiration date or something, 'cause you've got some wicked huge freckles coming in all over the place." 

Buffy jerked away so abruptly her shoes actually came two feet off the ground. Landing with her usual perfect balance, she was already scanning both arms, turning in place as she tried to see every side of her arms and shoulders at once. 

"You had better be kidding, or I will so kick your ass for making a joke about--"

Faith picked her up again, just long enough to turn and aim her towards the mansion before putting her feet back on the ground.

"Of course I'm kidding; you always look killer, killer. Now lets go get some food, huh? It's victory-dinner time" Buffy scowled ferociously up at her, then relaxed into a smile.

"All right, I'll forgive you this time--provided you get me two double cheese pizzas of my very own."

"It's a deal... freckles."

The others, including the two male students who shared the title of 'boyfriend' and constantly competed for the blonde's affections, had laughed all the way through the byplay. 

Willow, glaring after them through a blur of frustrated tears and helpless rage, was ashamed to find herself wishing she knew some manner of death-inducing spell.

Those two are having so much fun here, aren't they? Everything's a joke to them, unless it involves something they want, and then it's more important than anything or anyone.

Willow and Xander, on the other hand, had not been enjoying their time at the new school as much as they'd hoped... mainly thanks to Faith and Buffy.

They latched onto each other so fast, you'd think they were long-lost sisters or something. It's only been a few days, and I think they're closer to each other than me and Xander; and we've known each other forever. And that's not even counting how I've been completely in love with him all these years--at least the terrible twosome over there won't ever have that kind of connection....

She sent one last hateful stare after the girls, then started to look away. She started to look away, then stopped short, eyes narrowing. 

Wait a second--!

The easy familiarity between Faith and Buffy, all the little touches and looks and smiles.... Even now, as they all walked off towards the Mansion, the body language was glaringly obvious. Faith's arm was across Buffy's shoulders in what might have been a casual, friendly sort of way... and wasn't. As Willow watched, the taller girl intentionally blocked boyfriend number two's attempt to sidle up next to the blonde, and shot him a quick, threatening look that made him back off. Buffy, for her part, had her arm curled loosely around Faith's waist, her hand resting on her leather-clad hip. It looked very much like a tired athlete carelessly leaning on a friend for support... and wasn't.

Oh. My. Gods. When she said Buffy was 'taken', she wasn't talking about the boys, was she? They're--the two of them are actually... together?

She blinked, shook her head, and frowned. 

Maybe they were, maybe not. Probably not, given what she'd heard about Buffy's reluctance to actually do the... sex... thing... with either of her boyfriends so far. Apparently the oh-so-perfect Buffy required a long trial period before she could be certain that someone was worthy of being intimate with her magnificient self. So maybe she and Faith weren't actually doing anything. 


But it was now very obvious that Faith wanted something to happen. And it sure looked like Buffy was seriously consideringletting it happen.

"Uh, Will? Hello, lying here sort of in pieces. How 'bout a little help?" She gave a start, looked down, and gasped in dismay, realizing that she'd been ignoring Xander for a good minute or so now.

"Ack! Sorry! Sorry!" She leaned over and began to awkwardly shift him around so that his upper and lower body weren't twisted apart. The gaping wound gaped a little less once she had him repositioned. The blood that had been gushing out in torrents had already slowed to a trickle, and she knew that he would start healing with amazing speed once his body finally figured out exactly what had happened to it this time around. Then a shadow fell across them both, and they looked up to see Ms. Thurman, one of the school's combat instructors standing over them.

"Need to work on that situational awareness, Mr. Harris," she said, her oddly-marked face grim and unforgiving. "Never give a known enemy a free shot at your back like that, or one day you won't live long enough to regret it." A gesture brought a medical technician hurrying over, and she walked away without another word. Xander closed his eyes, waiting for the regeneration to begin, and Willow put her hand on his forehead. As she gathered her concentration to attempt a healing spell, she stared after the Buffy-led faction through red-rimmed eyes.

"Don't worry, Xander. Everybody gets what they deserve, sooner or later." He gave a short bark of surprised laughter, then winced in renewed pain.

"So, you're saying that maybe Buffy'll accidentally get lobotomized, turn into a normal, affectionate, dim-witted blonde, and become my adoring love slave?"

Willow looked down at him in surprise, then smiled broadly.

"Actually, yes." She looked at the tiny, receding figures of Faith and Buffy, and her smile turned evil. "Yes. I think that's exactlywhat I'm saying."

* * * * *

9 Minutes and 39 Seconds Ago: 

Willow looked around carefully, surveying the space where she would perform the ritual. The lights were dim, as befitted the hushed hour just after midnight. The chamber was cool, the blue waters of the Mansion's indoor pool were as smooth and perfect as glass. The large chamber occupied the basement of the rambling building's western wing, which had only partially been renovated when the mansion was converted to a school. No one was likely to be anywhere nearby, especially since most everyone would be asleep now anyway. All of which meant she should have all the peace and quiet needed to perform some powerful magic.

"Except everybody else looks at me like I'm a crazy person when I use that word," the girl grumbled to herself, the soft words echoing weirdly from both the water and the white tile that covered the floor and walls. "They'd say 'No, not magic, Ms. Rosenberg, telepathy. It's another facet of your remarkable talent, Ms. Rosenberg, don't get muddled up in superstition Ms. Rosenberg." Willow snorted, amused despite herself at her fairly accurate imitation of Tessa. According to her, Willow had a strange, generalized sort of psionic talent, one that altered itself in response to her needs of the moment. 

"Sort of like a computer that's able to run different programs, instead of an appliance that's only able to do one specific thing," she mused to herself. Then she shook her head. "Whatever, using spells and rituals to focus my concentration is what works for me, and that's what I'm here to do. So let's get magicking!"

She set the candles out in the proper order, aligned with her best guess at the cardinal directions of North, South, East and West. Moving carefully, she drew the outline of the magical circle in salt, going clockwise from candle to candle. When it was time to sketch in the mystical symbols needed for this particular sort of spell, she paused to dig two of her reference books out of her bag.

"Umm...." She looked from book to book, squinting in the dim light, and finally heaved an unhappy sigh. The books disagreed on which symbols were needed; in fact, they pretty much exactly contradicted each other. Since they'd both occupied the same shelf at the used bookstore in town, she didn't know which one she should believe... so she decided to play it safe. Using a black marker, she drew in first one ring of symbols, and then the second set too, just inside of those. Straightening, she turned in place, surveyed her work, and nodded happily.

"Looks pretty darn Wiccan to me!"

She pulled the last of the required objects from the bag. A small metal bowl, in which she piled little blocks of incense, and two little folded squares of cloth. A moment's concentration and a brief spate of broken latin produced small flames atop each of the candles, and started the incense smoldering. With fingers that were only slightly trembling, Willow lifted the first little packet-- 

--And hesitated, a faint shadow of uncertainty stealing across her features. This sort of spell, this kind of compulsion and control of another being, was strictly against the rules. It was bad, bad karma to force someone like this, against their will. Threefold return, for good or ill was the saying, which meant she could expect some very bad happenings indeed when the payback for this came back around. Willow looked down at the cloth, considered... and then her features hardened.

"Not going to back out, not this witchy girl. Okay, yes, this is bad, but she's badder--er, more worser... ack! She's a horrible, horrible person, and she has this coming to her!" The echoes bounced back, louder than she'd intended, and she froze until silence returned. Looking anxiously at the door that led to the hallway that led (eventually) to the girl's dorms, she took a few deep breaths, then unwrapped the bundle. Inside, there were half a dozen strands of golden hair. She smiled, determination driving away all uncertainty, and moved to take her place inside the circle.

"And the best part is, this gives everybody what they deserve. Xander gets to spend all day with the uber-snooty b. i. t. c. h. following him around like the typical, bleach-blonde, air-headed cheerleader that she is. Buffy gets the massive humiliation of waking up and finding out she spent a whole day making a total fool of herself with the guy who's supposed to be beneath her. I get... well, hopefully I get a Xander who's gotten the Buffy obsession out of his system. Because I can't believe that being around her all day long won't show him just how awful she is on the inside, once he gets past the skin-deep stuff. And best of all, Faith gets totally crushed when she finds her untouchable Buffy so busy making out with Xander that she doesn't even notice Miss walking, talking, supercleavage." She giggled softly, entranced by the mental image. "The baddest of the bad girls might even break down and cry, right there in front of everybody. I need to make sure I have a camera ready."

Checking her Sesame Street wristwatch, she reluctantly put those happy thoughts aside and sank into a half-lotus within her circle, legs pulled up underneath her. Concentrating on what she required, she began to chant the words of the spell, as outlined in the books. Within moments, she felt the magic stir within her (or maybe she felt the neural pathways in a certain area of her brain realigning themselves into the configuration that manifested a telepathic ability; whatever). Breathing in the scent of the incense, she held the blonde hairs in her hand and sent the call outwards.

Come forth, you mean, pretentious bimbo. Come to me, you arrogant, conceited, condescending... person. This is me overriding the thinking part of your brain, if one of those actually exists somewhere underneath all that blonde hair. This is me filling your obnoxiously pretty head with lots and lots of lusty thoughts, thoughts that make you want to come here. So hurry up! You're consumed with the need to get busy, or be shagged, or, um... otherwise be sexed up... somehow or other.

She scowled, trying to stay focused even as she wished she'd had a script for that part like she did for the Latin. Keeping the blonde hairs clenched tight in one fist, she glanced down to make sure the other packet, with a little of Xander's hair, was close at hand. That was for the second part of the spell, but she'd need to wait until her victim was here, in front of her, for that part. In the meanwhile.....

Come, you... you.... Ah ha! Come, you tawdry strumpet! The new object of your raging and all-encompassing lust and hunger and desire and all that other good stuff is just waiting to meet you!

* * * * *

4 Hours and 13 minutes ago: 

The whispered spell sent tiny, invisible feelers of magical energy (or of telekinetic force) into the lock. A moment later there was a soft click, and the door moved inward at her touch. Taking another quick look back at the door across the hall, she could plainly hear the loud music, and equally-loud laugher from inside--Faith and Buffy were spending the evening with some of their friends. Slipping inside the room, Willow pushed the door closed behind her.

The huge room woke a familiar jab of bitter envy; compared to her dorm, this was practically a luxury suite. Suppressing the angry comments that tried to force their way past her tightly-closed lips, she moved around the room. There were clothes, and clothes, and more clothes; most of them in Buffy's size, and neatly folded or hanging, but some were of the bright, tight, and sexy style that was all Faith. A number of weapons were lying about; swords and knives and even a round metal shield. Some of the items were made of rubber and plastic, and meant to be used in training or sparring matches. Others were the real thing, and looked suitably dangerous. Tiptoeing carefully around a large pile of comic books, and several dumbbells loaded with heavy weights, she searched the area around the dresser and vanity mirror.

There was a row of shoes there, all of them expensive-looking heels in a positively dainty size. Near the bathroom door were two pairs of leather boots, and some battered sneakers. Both computers had been left on, their large monitors glowing. One screensaver showed an image of a bikini-clad Anna Kournikova--the former tennis star (and current centerfold model) all long blonde hair and golden skin, with a beautiful, spoiled, and obviously self-satisfied face.

"Faith has her type all figured out, doesn't she?" Willow whispered to herself with a little scowl. "And she gets to sleep in the same room as one of her fantasy girls; that must make for a swell time." The other screen showed... a graceful-looking figure skater. Willow blinked, leaned forward, and blinked again. The screen changed, showing another image of skaters, this time a man and a woman together, smiling up at a crowd. Not sure what to make of that, the girl moved on.

There were fashion magazines on the dresser, a half-empty pack of cigarettes, lighter and ashtray tucked into a nook in the bookshelf, two boxes of expensive-looking chocolates lying open and nearly empty... and there, a hairbrush. With a feeling of exultation, Willow grabbed it. Apparently the two girls shared it, because there were several strands of purple mixed in with the gold-blonde, but that presented no problem. She quickly teased the blonde strands free, wrapped them in a bit of cloth she'd brought along for the purpose, and tucked it into her pocket.

Feeling extremely competent and brave now that her mission had been successfully accomplished, she went to the door, peeked outside, and nodded to herself. Buffy would have to come back and go to sleep within the next hour or two, since there were classes in the morning. Willow would wait an hour or so past that, to give the girl time to fall deeply asleep, and then she would cast the spell. 

Xander is going to be so surprised when Buffy the Love Slave shows up at his door. And Buffy is going to be even more surprised when her brain switches back on a few hours later, and she finds out she's his new girlfriend! She'll look like a total hypocrite, especially after she's made such a big deal of how he's not even allowed to look at her. Well, he's going to get to do a lot more than that to you tonight, your highness!

The evil smile was back, and it stayed in place as she closed the door behind her, relocked it, and padded off down the hall.

* * * * *

3 Minutes and 27 Seconds Ago: 

After she cast the spell, Willow waited anxiously. She could feel something happening; that place inside her head that housed her magical talent (or the neural mechanism that powered her mutant ability) was exerting itself steadily. What she wasn't sure of, as minutes passed, was whether that talent was exerting itself enough. After all, she'd never done this sort of thing before, so she wasn't sure how much power it would take to make it work--if it worked at all.

"And then there's that strangeness with Buffy," she whispered to herself, eyes never leaving the door through which the girl should enter any second now. "She's supposed to be just a 'Grrrr! Me strong fighter and thug and bully!' type mutant, only I've seen her manage to fight it off sometimes when people use mental powers on her. Nobody's ever said she has some extra-special resistance or something, but I think a few people are pretty sure there is something like that happening." Her brows lowered and her teeth ground together a little at the thought. "Sure, because she doesn't already have enough going for her, with the pretty face and the perfect hair and the curvy body--plus all the friends, all the people lusting after her, and the thing with being the ultimate Ninja-girl piled on top of the rest." She sighed gustily, tried to keep her concentration, looked at her watch, then back to the door. 

I should have timed how long it takes to get from her room to here, so I'd know if it was working or not. Yet another glance at her watch didn't reassure her. I don't think it would take this long, would it? Unless... maybe the spell doesn't guide her here? Ack! Maybe she's trying to sleepwalk through a wall or something, trying to go in a straight line from there to here?

That... was worrisome. And yet, if that was happening, Willow figured she would have heard the sounds of smashing and shouting already. More likely was the possibility that her summons simply wasn't strong enough. What would have been enough for a normal girl's mind wasn't penetrating the (theoretical) defenses of Buffy's mind. 

Well, there was a simple enough solution for that.

"Use a bigger hammer," she whispered, quoting Xander. A little smile flickered across her face and was gone, replaced by a look of pure resolve. With exquisite care she repeated the whole spell, making extra sure to pronounce all the Latin properly this time. At the same time, she concentrated on redoubling her mental call. When she was finished she nodded to herself; the effect didfeel stronger now. After a few seconds, though, she started to doubt herself once more.

So she went through it again, trying to turn the summons into a blazing laser of pure thought, burning deep into her target's mind, filling it with an irresistible desire to reach the source of the call. Willow swayed a little when the third repetition was complete; that unique portion of her brain was straining now, working as hard as it possibly could. She nodded grimly.

"There. I don't care how much of an ice queen she is, there's no way she's not feeling that!"

Watching the door expectantly, she waited.

* * * * *

5 Hours and 40 minutes ago: 

Buffy gently pulled the brush through Faith's long hair, repeating the motion over and over in a steady rhythm. It was nearly dry, finally, and slid through her hands like liquid silk.

"This looks a lot better," she told the other girl. "Those brown roots were really starting to show."

"If you say so," Faith mumbled quietly from her seat before the dresser. "Anything's better than hearing you go on and on about how you wanted to be the one to dye it this time."

Buffy smiled at the top of the girl's head. 

"Exactly. Sooner or later, everyone surrenders to my relentless whining and sulking." She stopped for a moment, pursed her lips into a pout, and sighed. "All right; everyone surrenders except for my mother, which is not only an unfortunate coincidence... it also bites on a fairly epic scale. Hence my presence here, at mutant high."

"Mm hm."

The blonde moved around to Faith's left side, pulled the brush through the hair there, then paused to survey the results.

"You know, this purple is really growing on me. At first I was like 'My god, what's happened to this girl's head? An accident with the vats of day-glo at a paint factory? Chance exposure to some radioactive lightsticks at a rave?'". She walked around to the other side, nudging Faith to lean her head so that she could get clear access with the brush. "But now? It's just you, you know? It's sort of fun, and funky, and edgy... with that whole sleek and sexy, tough-girl predator thing thrown in for a million bonus points."

"Mm hmm."

Buffy set the brush down, and gently ran her fingers through that fall of smooth softness; not for any cosmetic reason, now, but just for the pleasure of the sensation.

"Of course it wasn't perfect; I think my own personal touch makes it look even better than it did before. And you know you've been thinking about it ever since you looked through my suitcases that first day."


The blonde paused, considered the girl sitting there in front of her, and bent down a little to stare into the mirror before them. Faith had been quietly disdainful of the whole process, claiming that there was a good week or two before the root situation would be an actual problem. She'd wanted to go get in a session in the school's gym instead, or a quick five-mile run, or... well, basically anything else at all. Buffy had insisted, though, and like she'd just said, (almost) nobody had enough willpower to keep telling her 'no' for long.

And for the last fifteen minutes, while the smaller girl had been busy with the brushing, Faith had made a show of reading comic books to relieve the immense boredom she suffered during the process. Only now.... Buffy smiled delightedly as she looked into Faith's reflected face and found the other girl's eyes closed. Gently resuming her finger combing of the violet mane, she listened closely.


It was a sub vocalization, so quiet it was hardly a sound at all. Buffy still heard it, and made a pleased little sound of her own.

Okay, I think she's actually purring! Miss Total Badass, and she's putty in my hands--that is of the good in many, many ways. 

A lot had happened in the ten days since she'd first stepped foot on the school grounds. And one of the most... no, the most important thing that had happened, by far, was the relationship that had formed between the two of them. It had taken her by surprise; it had taken her way, way by surprise... and yet it had happened. Not just the friendship thing, either, though that was unlikely enough. No, the big deal was the romance part. Granted, it was an... understated romance. Sort of unstated, actually; with everything totally subtextual, and neither of them putting it into words.

Except we don't have to, not at this point. The subtext is looming awfully large by now; one might even say there is a Godzilla-sized subtext monster who is gleefully riverdancing atop the poor, defenseless text.

So, the only question now was what to do about it? She knew it was entirely up to her to make the first move. Faith was as open and free about her sexuality as it was possible for someone to be, but she also knew that Buffy was more reserved than that. It wasn't like she was homophobic, not at all. It was simply that she'd never considered the possibility that she would be... interested... in another girl.

Okay, sure, I've kissed a girl once before... okay, twice. She considered the matter, then grudgingly amended the thought. All right, three times, but I was halfway out of my mind that night because of all the champagne I'd been drinking. It was in no way my fault that dad had to stay at the office all night, which meant that Carly and Cissy felt free to look all through the apartment and ended up finding that bottle. It was supposed to be a girl's night/sleepover kind of thing, and ended up being sort of... educational.

She blinked, breaking out of her reverie, and looked down to where her fingers were still moving caressingly through Faith's hair.

I like her. A lot. Maybe even enough to experiment a little? She frowned in irritation and shook her head. Come on, Buffy, be honest with yourself. There's no 'maybe' about it, not now. There's only 'when' and 'how'. Which, granted, are huge and scary questions all on their own.

Faith sighed, and moaned again; quite audibly this time. Buffy watched the girl's legs move as she squirmed uncomfortably, then tried to hide the movement by sitting up straighter in the chair as she opened her eyes.

"So, we all done?" she asked. Her gaze found her reflection, and her eyes widened a little. "That... is more than covering up some brown roots, B." 

Buffy smiled at her, running her fingers through the hair in question once more before stepping back.

"And it looks completely amazing on you. Don't even try to pretend you don't love it."

Faith grinned at her, and stood up with that easy grace of hers--which did nothing to hide her flushed face, her quickened breathing, or the way it was suddenly obvious that she was not wearing a bra beneath her blouse.

"C'mon, sexy-haired girl," Buffy told her. "Mira and Mari want us to come across the hall and watch American Idol with them. And remember, they promised you all the popcorn you can eat."

"Ha! Those two have no fucking idea how much that's gonna cost them! I can live on popcorn." She strode over to her bed and began sorting through the clothes heaped on the floor beside it. "Actually, I did live on popcorn, for a few weeks one time. See, I was screwing this guy who worked at the movie concession stand, and he could get these huge plastic bags of--"

Buffy tuned it out, too busy with her own thoughts to follow yet another tale of Faith's sex life.

Thing is, that's a big deal. I mean, I have a sex drive, absolutely. I've been a non-virgin for a few months now, and sex is an incredibly nifty thing. Faith, though, doesn't just have a sex drive--she has a Car Show. She has the entire New-Car Expo, with a few dozen Monster Trucks thrown in for kicks. She's tried to be sneaky, but I know she sneaks out most nights to find somebody to scratch that itch for her. I'm pretty sure she manages it during the day sometimes too, even if I can't figure out where she's going or who she's meeting. So, yes, a little intimidating. If me playing with her hair almost made her orgasm just now--and it did--then I'm going to have my work cut out for me, trying to keep up with her. 

She watched as Faith peeled off her tee shirt, as free of body modesty as a cat, and slipped into a bra. The cranberry blouse went over it, falling several inches short of reaching the waistband of her skintight, low-rise jeans, which left a tantalizing expanse of flat stomach and trim waist on display.

On the other hand, I think it's going to be a lot of fun trying!

* * * * *


The room felt crowded, somehow, the air tingling like it did right before a thunderstorm. Willow stood within her magic circle, the strands of blonde hair clutched in one fist, with every single bit of mental energy she possessed striving to draw Buffy to her. By all accounts the petite girl had a surprising amount of self-control when it came to sexual-type temptations, so it was probably a good thing that Willow was over-charging the spell as much as she could. With this much power concentrated on the primal, lusty portions of the blonde's brain, there was no way she would be able to resist the summons. 

Yep, any second now, and Buffy Summers would come shuffling through that door in a helpless, zombie-like trance, only to find a waiting Willow. A second spell to bind the girl's every thought to Xander, and her revenge would be well on it's way to fruition. She realized now that she'd been foolish to worry about the threefold rule; dark magic or no, this was for the greater good, really, almost a public service. Life would be easier for everyone with Buffy humbled and Faith's unbreakable loyalty to the blonde forever tarnished.

All that remained was for the girl to actually arrive, and then--


Willow shrieked, jumped, and nearly fell out of her circle when the door she'd been watching suddenly slammed open so hard that broken tile clattered to the floor from where it had swung through a half-circle and struck the wall. The figure on the other side was visible only in silhouette for a long moment, which gave the girl time enough to find her voice.

"A--All right, um, Buffy, this is your mistress speaking. Come forward, and I will bind you to your new master." She glanced down at the packet of Xander's hair, and her lips twisted. "You don't deserve him, and I don't want you near him, but if it gets him over you then it'll all... be... worth...?"

When the girl in the doorway stepped forward, Willow's heart seemed to trip over itself, missing a beat, then hammering hard and fast. It wasn't Buffy, walking into the dim blue light of the pool room.

It was Faith.

"Faith!" Willow said, her voice emerging in a strangled squeak. "Hey! What a coincidence, you being here! I, uh, wasn't doing anything sneaky or wrong, in here, late at night... I kinda had this urge to swim, y'know?"

The girl wasn't answering. She wasn't doing anything except walking closer, crossing along the far side of the large pool, then turning to walk along the long side, directly towards Willow. The skinny girl couldn't help noticing that Faith wasn't dressed for a late night stroll; all she was wearing was a babydoll nightgown in purple lace and satin that had to be a gift from Buffy. Also, as she came closer, Willow saw that although her eyes were strangely glassy, they weren't at all vacant. Instead, they were filled with... hunger. And finally, when she passed directly under one of the dim lights mounted in the ceiling, her hair was clearly visible. Her long, purple hair... with brand-new, golden-blonde streaks which set the violet color of the rest off perfectly.

"Oh.... Shit!" Willow threw the blonde hairs she held away with a convulsive motion. The blonde hairs which she had obtained from a brush that also held a few purple hairs. "You guys didn't share that brush? It was all you?" Willow's voice was shaking, and thin with barely-suppressed terror to boot. "Uh, okay, I can fix this, just give me one second here--!" She fumbled through the tools at her feet, looking for, well, she wasn't quite sure. Switching the girl's focus to Xander, as she'd planned, wasn't something she wanted to even consider. On the other hand, it would buy her enough time to reverse what she'd done; hopefully before any real damage was done. She nodded frantically, lifting the hairs she'd obtained from the boy.

"All right, the Latin for this is.... Ah, the Latin is...."

Faith wasn't waiting for her to remember the Latin; Faith was coming for her, and the look in the tall girl's eyes was turning Willow's insides to water.

Because I was trying to break through Buffy's willpower, and Buffy's resistance to mental powers--Faith doesn't have any resistance to mental stuff, and she sure doesn't have any inhibitions where sex is involved!

"Faith, stop! Please stop! Give me just one second, and I can--aaahhh!"

She had to jump back, because the other girl was right there! Faith was in front of her, and she was moving forward even as Willow was stumbling backwards and trying not to trip over her books and incense bowl and bag of supplies. Willow tried to calm her mind, tried to call up some telekinesis, to shove the girl into the pool--and couldn't. She was no good under pressure, and the way Faith was looking at her, and walking faster--!

Willow turned and ran as hard as she could run. She rounded the corner of the pool, sprinted down the short side at this end of the room, and then she had to make a decision. The fourth side of the pool came right up against the wall; there wasn't any floor here for her to run to the door that led out. She could jump in the water and try to swim towards the exit, or she could go through a door right next to her that led only to a locker room and sauna. With the sound of Faith's bare feet echoing off the tiles rightbehind her she chose the door. A leap carried her through, and she slammed it shut with all her might. Fumbling at the handle she tried to find a lock, or latch, or anything at all to hold it shut--and a searingly bright blade of pure energy pushed through the wood like it was nothing. 

With another shriek Willow backpedaled frantically, tripped backwards over a bench, and then turned and scrabbled away on all fours. Behind her she heard the door being sliced into pieces; she had only seconds before Faith would be inside. Reaching the next room as she managed to get herself back up on her feet, Willow looked around desperately. There was the thick, heavy door of the Sauna itself; obviously it wouldn't do more than slow Faith down. And there, in the corner, so inconspicuous that she nearly overlooked it in her panic, was a smaller panel set low in the wall.

She took a second to throw the Sauna door shut, then clawed frantically at the panel. It fell inwards, and she crawled quickly into the space beyond. Twisting around she pushed it closed behind her, just as she saw Faith step into the room, her Psi-Knife blazing. 

Willow shrank back, holding her breath, and waited. 

She's going to find me, I know it! She'll kick this down and drag me out there and rape me before she carves me up! Or she'll carve me up while she rapes me! Oh, gods, she'll probably just rape me over and over until I'm dead, since I sent that massive lust overload into her already lust-overloaded brain!

The sound of the telekinetic blade carving through wood made her flinch, but it wasn't the panel in front of her that was being attacked.

She thinks I'm in the Sauna! I can still get away!

Blinking furiously, trying to see in the total darkness of the low, musty passage, Willow started crawling. Her searching fingers found metal pipes, ancient wires, and a seemingly endless number of clinging cobwebs. After what seemed like twenty or thirty feet she came to a place where the crawlway split, going straight on or right. Pausing, she tried to call up a mental map of where exactly she was in relation to the building overhead... and then her decision was made for her. A crashing sound came from behind her, and a gleam of purple light spilled into the darkness around her. With a frantic lunge, she scrambled into the right-hand passage. Immediately there came a left turn, a right turn, then another intersection, this one offering three choices. Without pausing she chose the one of the left. 

There were sounds from far behind her, almost lost in the rapid pounding of her heart and the pained breaths that came out as choking sobs.

I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry! I know it was wrong, I promise to neverneverEVER do it again, just please help me! 

Small, sharp things, invisible in the darkness, were cutting her hands and knees as she crawled, and there was so much dust in the air that her lungs felt like they were stuffed with dryer lint. Another long series of twists and turns made her despair of ever finding her way out of the passage... and then she saw it: A gleam of light up ahead, faint, and pale, and best of all not any shade of purple. With a whimper of fear turning to relief, she crawled towards it.

Thank you thank you, oh goddess thank you--!

The sound of cracking, splintering wood came just as the floor beneath her gave way, and she fell into utter darkness.

* * * * *

Seven Hours and 57 Minutes From Now: 

"Wake up, sleepyhead! You're going to be late for Civics class unless you start getting ready right now!" 

Buffy kept going with her own preparations for another full minute before she saw that Faith still hadn't stirred. Grumbling under her breath, she crossed the room and prodded the shapeless lump there.

"Hey! Come on, rise and shine!" Finally the form beneath the covers showed signs of life, and the girl pulled the blanket down to reveal a huge yawn. "Nice," Buffy observed wryly, turning back to the serious business of choosing her shoes for the day. 

"What time is it?" Faith asked sleepily, struggling to pull herself upright while squinting at the light streaming in through the open curtains. Seeing the answer for herself on the clock by the bed she cursed, yawned, then cursed again. The blonde smiled at the predictable routine, sat down, and started putting on the shoes she'd selected.

"Regretting that late night now, aren't you?"

Faith stumbled to the bathroom, closed the door, and called her answer back into the room.

"Hey, you were there too, so don't get all preachy at me." 

Buffy stood up, frowned, and turned her head towards the door.

"Huh? I'm not talking about watching 'Idol', I mean later." 

Silence stretched out for several seconds, then: 

"What? I came back with you, went to sleep, and woke up just now. So what the hell are you talkin' about?" The toilet flushed, and the door opened to reveal a very puzzled face. Buffy's matched it, though in her case there was also a considerable degree of certainty.

"Actually, no, you didn't. Yes, you went to bed, only later on I got up and went downstairs to raid the kitchen. You were here when I left, gone when I came back. I figured you went... out...for something, so I went back to sleep."

Faith stared at her, then glanced down at her dirty, rumpled nightgown. A look in the mirror showed her hair to be a tangled mess.

"Huh. Well... I guess I must have... gone out for a smoke or something."

Buffy gave the smudged, dusty girl the maximum-strength version of her skeptically-raised eyebrow.

"'And did this smoke break happen to take place in a coal mine?"

Faith shrugged indifferently.

"Parts of this place are still closed off, and there's a hundred years of dust and crap in those halls. I must have taken a wrong turn or something." An unhappy tug at her dirty nightgown failed to provide any enlightenment. "I don't remember anything else, so... yeah, that must have been it." Then she stopped, looked down at her bare feet, and frowned thoughtfully.

"There was a weird dream, though...."

Buffy watched her, intrigued despite herself. Faith wasn't the sort of person to talk about dreams--not unless they were the pornographic kind.

"Weird how?" she prompted.

"Well.... It was me, on a beach or by a river or something like that; definitely by the water. And I was looking for someone; it was the most important thing in the world to find them... and when I finally got there, and saw them...." She trailed off, looking uncomfortable. Buffy moved to stand beside her, and touched her arm gently.

"Who was it?"

Faith looked up, met Buffy's eyes, and gave her a tiny, uncertain little smile.

"It was you."

"Ah." She tried to find something meaningful to add to that, but it was difficult. It was especially difficult when she realized that they were now standing very close together, with her wondering if this should be the 'when', when she spoke up and admitted what she wanted.... And Faith was right there, with that vulnerability that was usually hidden deep inside her poised to spill right out in the open, and completely sweep Buffy away.

"Uh huh," Faith said, very softly. "And I tried to go to you, only you ran away, and then there was one of those huge maze things, the kind made out of big shrubberies or whatever. I knew you were in there, and I went in, and got lost, and was basically going crazy 'cause I couldn't find you."

Buffy searched those dark eyes, looking for some hint that this was a joke, and found only earnestness. And a faintly desperate sort of hope.

"It was really that important? That you found me, I mean?"

Faith nodded.

"Yeah, it really was. More than anything. Only it never happened." She blinked, and looked away, and took a step back. "Oh, wow, look at that clock. Shit. Gotta hurry up or I'll be late for... whatever class you said that was." Her defenses back in place, that vulnerable side of her safely hidden once more, the girl turned away. "Man, I feel grungy as hell; I gotta grab a shower." Snatching up her leather pants and a towel she hurried across the room. "Hey, B; you done in the bathroom?"

"Hm? Oh, sure, go ahead." She watched the girl go inside the bathroom, and start to close the door behind her, and then called out: 


The girl stuck her head back out.


Buffy walked to her, slowly and carefully, a little scared and a lot unsure and very much knowing it was the right thing to do.

"You know how in the dream you couldn't find me?"

Faith nodded cautiously.

"Uh huh...."

"Well, I think maybe you shouldn't give up quite yet." She stopped by the half-open door, and leaned against the wall, and looked up at the face just inches away. "I think you should keep looking, because that person isn't running away from you. She's trying to figure out a way to reach you. And to... help you find your way out of that maze... assuming we're still stuck in that analogy."

A stunned look and the beginnings of a disbelieving smile came and went, leaving a cautious and guarded expression behind.

"Are you sure? I mean, if it's gonna get weird, and go wrong, and screw up what we've already got, then I don't want to--"

"I'm sure," Buffy told her, all firm and gentle at the same time. "We're most of the way there already, and I--" She smiled, and nodded, more to herself than the other girl. "I want it; all of it. Everything." The smile turned into a mischievous grin. "This should not be a shock; you already know how greedy I am."

Faith grinned back at her.

"You are one spoiled little brat; yeah, I'm aware."

"Pretty, though, right?."

"Oh, absolutely; you're the prettiest spoiled brat I've ever seen."

Buffy nodded happily, eyes sparkling.

"Good answer. Now hurry up and get clean, we've got school stuff to do now. The other stuff--" She lowered her chin and did her best 'seductive stare through eyelashes' thing, and almost laughed when Faith's fingers went white from her grip on the edge of the door. "The other stuff we can try later. Not much later, though."

A long, gusty sigh from Faith, and then the bathroom door slammed shut.

"I hope not," came the muffled voice from the other side. "Cold shower, definitely. Very, very cold shower...."

Buffy regarded the door with satisfaction.

I'm glad we finally got that out in the open. Because if you're going to have lusty dreams about chasing someone, then every one of them had better be about Me. 

Wandering over to the vanity, she picked up the hairbrush and pulled in through her blonde locks a few times.

Those gold streaks I put in with the purple aren't just for show, you know. Those are a sign to everybody else here that I've claimed you, that you're mine. I know I might have to share you, but I come first, always. And if I find anybody trying to mess with that arrangement, they will be very, very sorry.

* * * * *

And elsewhere, at that same moment: 

"Willow? Hey, you in there?"

She looked up from where she was huddled on her bed, wrapped in blankets, and didn't answer. So of course Xander opened the door anyway.

"There you are. So, how about it?"

She stared at him, bleary-eyed and unhappy.

"How about what?" she asked, her voice a pained whisper.

He didn't seem to notice her discomfort. Moving forward, he dropped down to sit on the side of her bed, which made her wince as her aching body was jarred by the motion.

"You know, the thing. The thing you said you were going to do last night, that would make everyone get what they deserved.That what."

She grimaced, and shook her head slowly.

"Never mind. Not going to happen."

Or maybe it already happened, she found herself thinking. Good or ill, deeds return to you threefold. Maybe that really is true.

The shame she felt, and the sore, strained, aching discomfort radiating from basically every single inch of her body seemed to support that theory. After falling down the shaft, she'd lain there, stunned, for what seemed a scary-long time. When she finally mustered the concentration to summon a small light she'd found herself in a long-abandoned wine-cellar, complete with dusty, broken bottles and squeaking, scurrying rats.

It had taken forever for her to find her way back to the upper levels of the old mansion. Especially when she heard Faith's footsteps in every tiny noise, and saw those blazing purple knives in every reflected glint of her own light. Even now she was shaking from the aftereffects of that prolonged terror.

"Threefold return, and what I tried was even worse than what they do," she whispered to herself.

"Say what?" Xander asked, puzzled.

Willow didn't bother explaining.

"Please, leave me alone, okay, Xander? I'm not feeling very well."

The young man stood, obviously at a loss to understand this turn of events.

"Oh, well, okay then. I'll just wander off and do whatever. Out there. Where the crazy women prowl, looking for prey." When she didn't respond he gave her another look, then nodded. "All right, Wil. Rest up, feel better. I'll see you later."

"Later," she said, watching the door close behind him. 

That left her alone again with her thoughts, and with the memories of the previous night. 

Neither made for pleasant company.

* * * * *