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Warnings: Contains a potentially triggering scene related to a canon suicide. Contains violence in the form of multiple fight scenes consistent with canon. Canon character deaths and other canon events.
Categories: Ship, Femslash, Action, Drama, Romance
Pairings: W/K (or Kenlow if you prefer), with mentions of Spuffy and Xanya, as well as one character's brief observation that Dawn might have feelings for Xander.
Characters: Kennedy (primary), Willow, Dawn, Buffy, Andrew, Giles, Anya, Xander, Spike, Faith, Rona, Vi, Amanda, Molly, Chloe.
Spoilers: Bring On The Night through Chosen, particularly The Killer In Me, Get It Done, Empty Places, and Touched.
Summary: Kennedy's something of a spoiled brat, which is a lucky thing for Willow, and, as it turns out, what's lucky for Willow is lucky for the world. A look at Kennedy's unique roll in the fight against The First.
A/N: This is set in the seventh season and sticks fiercely to canon. My goal was not to alter canon, or violate it in any way, but rather to expand upon events from a different viewpoint. If you haven't seen the seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you'll need to do that before reading this fic.
Credits: Thank you to Aria for sounding board services, and to Lizzoid, Anne Rose, Lorcan, and Q for beta services. Research credits include the Buffy Dialogue Database, The Watcher's Guide Volume 3 by Paul Ruditis, Tales of the Slayer Volume 3, "The Code of the Samurai" by Nancy Holder, A Slayer Is Born, transcripts at buffyworld.com, and 40 Years of Amazing Spider-Man. Dialogue in blue taken from the episodes Bring On The Night written by Marti Noxon and Douglas Petrie, and Showtime written by David Fury, then later from the episodes The Killer In Me and Empty Places, both written by Drew Z. Greenberg, the episode Touched, written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner, and finally the episode Chosen, written by the man himself, Joss Whedon. Kennedy's watcher is unnamed in canon. The name Hyatt Fiske was created using The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon. The screencaps and brief audio clips used are my own, although the source material is obviously the property of Mutant Enemy.
Disclaimer: The Buffyverse, where vampire slayers stand against the forces of darkness, belongs to the great and powerful Joss.
New York City. November 29, 2002.
Moving bodies brought the dance floor to life as they followed the beat of a rather good band. Kennedy's eyes followed one body in particular as she toyed with the paper umbrella from her drink. She hadn't the slightest idea if the girl played for her team, but finding out would make the evening interesting.
Either way, this was a heck of a lot more interesting than flying to Paris with the rest of her family for a shopping trip. Not that she had anything against France, but marathon shopping bored her. She failed to understand just what it was about buying dozens of shoes that kept her half sister entertained. They were just shoes, and while she had an appreciation for what the right shoes did for a girl's calves -- her eyes wandered appreciatively for a moment -- she'd long ago learned that shoes were still just shoes, and a dozen new pairs at once equaled waste.
The band took a break. The girl turned Kennedy's direction, her face flushed from dancing. She laughed and moved away from her pack of friends. Kennedy sipped her drink and carefully timed her smile as the girl walked past.
The girl smiled in return and Kennedy's heart beat a little faster at this first small victory. She liked this part. The anticipation, the thrill of discovery -- definitely better than shoes.
A flutter of activity near the bar caught her attention.
Some no-neck seemed pretty focused on something, and from the way his face was turning purple, two guys on barstools were keeping him from it, or at least not providing enough help to appease his temper. Kennedy tensed, but one of the club's bouncers materialized and gently encouraged the troublemaker towards the door.
Kennedy turned in her seat, scanning the crowd for the girl she'd been watching. The girl's friends had gathered around a table, and she wasn't with them. She seemed to be taking an awful long time in the ladies' room, and although it was easy enough to lose track of someone in a club like this, Kennedy's gut told her something wasn't right.
She headed for the restroom, where a quick check came up empty. The back door opened into an alley, and Kennedy headed for it. She heard the scream just as her hand touched the door, and pushed through it to find the purple-faced no-neck holding the struggling girl by her hair.
"Hey!" Kennedy stormed towards him, armed with nothing but her temper. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"None of your business, bitch." He swung a fist at her.
Kennedy dodged the punch easily. She took advantage of the way her opponent's ill-planned blow threw him off balance, coming up between him and his intended victim to land her own fist squarely on his jaw. Her hand hurt like hell, but she had him on the defensive.
He bellowed, forced to let the girl loose to deal with Kennedy. That suited Kennedy just fine. He was bigger than her, but she was sober and knew how to use his size against him.
She ducked another punch, and then broke his nose with a satisfying crunch.
He let out another bellow and reached for something. Kennedy moved back, sparing a glance for the girl, who was cowering against the wall. "Run!"
She watched his hand. A gun would be trouble, but she could work with a knife. She saw a flash of metal.
She spun, kicking his hand hard, and the knife clattered to the ground. She grinned. She'd never actually disarmed a real live bad guy before. "Looks like you're losing," she told him. "You might want to give up."
He went for the knife, but Kennedy was quicker, kicking it out of reach. He panted from the exertion, his face bloody, and she could smell the alcohol on his breath. He'd tire out eventually, but Kennedy preferred sooner to later. She could hear the girl softly sobbing where he'd dropped her. Kennedy feared the girl might be injured, or else she would have run when she had the chance.
She watched him, waiting, and when he made a grab for her, Kennedy was ready. She moved aside and caught his arm, twisting it hard. She used his weight and momentum to propel his face into the brick wall. "This is why you don't beat up girls, jerk."
He mumbled something incoherent that pretty much could have been anything. Kennedy decided to rule out 'apology' as a possibility, and once again smacked his forehead into the brick. This time, he crumpled to the ground.
Kennedy turned her attention to the girl and knelt down beside her. "Did he hurt you?"
"No, I'm okay." The girl still looked pretty shook up. "How did you do that?"
"Training," she answered honestly. "Let's get inside and call the cops before he wakes up."
The girl let Kennedy help her to her feet. "Do we have to call them?"
"The creep tried to mug you." Or worse, Kennedy added silently. "I wouldn't waste your time feeling sorry for him."
"He wasn't trying to mug me."
"Then what the hell was he trying to do?"
"He wanted me to go back to his place. See, he's my ex. Only he hasn't quite caught on to what ex means."
"I think a night in jail and a restraining order might teach him the meaning of ex." Kennedy opened the door and held it for the girl.
"I just want him to leave me alone."
"Yeah, you know what's good for that? A restraining order." Kennedy flipped open her cell phone. "Do you want to call, or should I?"
It took five excruciating minutes and an intervention from the pack of friends to convince the girl to call the police. In the meantime, the club's bouncer helpfully went out to the alley and restrained the no-neck. A police report, an ice pack, and a fruity umbrella drink later, Kennedy hailed a cab for home.
Her fist hurt, but a good scuffle in a New York alley beat the heck out of shopping for shoes in Paris.
Broken glass crunched under Kennedy's feet when she entered the foyer. She tensed, and listened for the sounds of an intruder. A breeze blew through the window beside the front door, ruffling the curtains. Nothing else moved.
She crept down the hallway towards her father's study. If burglars had cracked the safe, they'd be long gone, and she should probably call the police. She heard a crash, and turned toward the noise.
Another crash. It sounded like it came from the kitchen. Then she heard the shout of a familiar voice, and broke into a run. Whatever was happening, the police couldn't handle it. Not if it could make her stodgy British watcher raise his voice.
Kennedy skidded around the corner. The very air around her froze. The unflappable Hyatt Fiske, the least emotional man on Earth, cowered -- the word applied, and her stomach reacted with violence to how well it applied -- beside the big stainless steel fridge as two robed figures with knives advanced on him.
A light from the open pantry door cut through the dark kitchen and gave her watcher's pale face a ghoulish appearance. The urge to run rose in her gut. These robed guys were in an entirely different league than the drunk no-neck. She needed to move, to rescue Hyatt, or at least to run.
She swallowed, her throat burning, and tried to use this ridiculously long moment to analyze the playing field, as Hyatt had taught her. Her eyes settled on a butcher knife, and she forced herself to move. She'd trained for this, she could do this.
Kennedy leapt for the knife, vaulting over the center counter with her attention trained on the robed figures. One turned towards her, and she gasped.
What had happened to his eyes?
Her focus wavered, but her fingers closed around the handle of the knife. She looked away from his grotesque lack of eyes and watched the glinting metal in his hand. She needed to --
He raised his knife and lunged at her.
The spin kick that had so successfully disarmed the no-neck failed. Kennedy fell backwards and scrambled to avoid his knife, unable to use her own. She found herself partially under the big sink, and her attacker's knife almost found its mark. She pulled her knees to her chest and kicked hard, landing both feet squarely on his chest.
The move bought her scant few seconds, and when she tried to extract herself from under the sink, he grabbed her leg. Kennedy struggled, her heart pounding so hard that she couldn't hear over the sound of it. She was about to die.
Her attacker stumbled and released her leg.
For a moment, she lay panting, too startled by the reprieve to move.
"Kennedy!" Hyatt shouted. "Run."
She clambered to her feet, her legs shaking. Her watcher had knocked her would-be murderer to the ground, but the other robed freak was behind him, knife raised. Kennedy threw herself forward, thrusting the butcher knife into the figure's stomach.
The sickening scrape of knife on bone told her she'd hit a rib. Not good. Her assailant knocked the knife from her hand and pinned her back against the stove. She brought her knee up, hard, but he didn't care.
So not human, then, she thought as she struggled. Whatever it was, it was strong, and pain didn't slow it down. The other one had recovered and now had Hyatt at a disadvantage on the floor.
Her hand grasped behind her, searching for anything that might serve as a weapon. She found something metal and swung it into the blind face before her. It hit him, but didn't help much, and she barely ducked in time to avoid the curved knife.
The burner grate clattered to the floor, where Hyatt still struggled with the other freak. He needed help. Kennedy fought harder, telling herself that she could take this guy, and wrenched her arm out of her attacker's grasp.
She landed a punch. His hands closed around her throat. Spots danced before her eyes and her hands flew up to tear at his fingers as she fought to breathe.
Then he dropped her, gasping, to the floor.
Kennedy stared up at Hyatt, who had saved her life for the second time in as many minutes.
"Leave me," he ordered. "Contact Rupert -- "
A curved knife ended the sentence, cutting a scream from Hyatt as it sliced through him, killing him before she could even look away. Shock and a feeling of helplessness kept her immobile a moment longer. Then the two robed freaks turned to her, and with a fresh burst of determination -- and fear -- she scrambled to her feet.
They chased her through the house to the maid's bedroom, where she dove head first into the laundry chute. She barely fit, and for one terrible moment she feared that she'd trapped herself, but with a bit of wiggling and one hard kick, she dropped into the laundry bin.
She could hear footsteps. They'd find the basement stairs any moment. She ran to her training room and bolted the door. That would slow them down. Hyatt's desk stood in the corner. She pocketed his address book, silently apologizing for all of her teasing about joining the modern world and buying a cell phone. Then she shoved her vaulting horse up against the wall, climbed up onto it, and clambered out the narrow basement window.
It turned out that, being British, Hyatt knew a fair number of people named Rupert, not that any of them answered their phones. Kennedy called the Watcher's Council, but the phone just rang. Couldn't they invest in an answering machine? She went through Hyatt's address book in desperation. Percival Bottomley, Kit Bothwell, Kendrick Fletcher, Chadburn Hollister, Alston Paddock, Ainsley Wainwright, Wesley Wydham-Price -- how did these British types make it through grade school?
Kennedy called every watcher in Hyatt's book, and took a chance on a handful of other names as well. The only person in the book who had embraced the modern notion of the answering machine seemed to be his dentist, although something called the Health Care Privacy Act prevented him from confirming whether he had indeed ever cleaned Hyatt's teeth.
She switched hotels each night, and spent her days in crowded public places. Eyeless freaks in robes would stand out a bit, even in Manhattan, but she feared her luck would run out. They had come for her, not for Hyatt. She knew that without being told.
At least her family was out of the country, and she'd given the help the week off. They wouldn't find Hyatt before she gathered up the courage to go back and -- and do what she didn't know, but she couldn't stand the thought of him just laying there dead in the kitchen.
Her coffee had gotten cold, but ordering a new one seemed like too much effort, so she sipped it anyway. She should call the police, but they'd have questions, so she rejected the idea once more. She flipped open her cell phone, and listened to the endless ringing as the Watcher's Council again failed to pick up.
She spun, panic sending her heart into overdrive. It took effort not to bolt from her seat. "Who wants to know?"
"Rupert Giles." The comfortingly British-looking man held out his hand.
"It's all right," a girl's voice said. "We've been with him for days and he hasn't tried to stab us even once."
Kennedy nodded. "Good to know."
Kennedy stayed in the hotel room and listened to the two younger girls bicker over pizza toppings while Giles took care of everything. He promised that Hyatt would receive a proper burial, assured her that they needn't involve the police, and claimed that she'd be safe in California.
Something made her believe him, to a point. Safe seemed unlikely. The robed guys -- Bringers, she'd learned -- had made it their mission to murder as many potential slayers as they could find. They'd also blown up the Watcher's Council, along with its answering machine, which explained plenty. Giles had only found her through the help of some sort of seer, or so he claimed.
Kennedy wasn't sure she believed in all that hocus pocus. The seer story was probably just a cover, meant to save her from worrying that the bringers would find her by calling every hotel in Manhattan, as Giles no doubt had done.
They booked a flight to California.
Kennedy felt a certain curiosity about the slayer, this one girl who wore the mantle of destiny central to so many of her watcher's speeches. The Council, watchers, the training and preparation -- all of it revolved around the Chosen One, and the possibility that she might be next.
Hyatt had always avoided talking about the current slayer. "When you're called," he'd said. "It'll mean she's gone. It's best if you don't know her."
She'd agreed at the time. It did seem a little morbid to wonder about the girl -- at least as a person rather than as an abstract notion -- when she was basically waiting for her to die.
She'd never thought that Hyatt would die first.
Anyhow, the slayer was just a girl. There was no reason to be impressed at the prospect of meeting her, even if she had been singled out by destiny, and even if she had lived a whole lot longer than the last one. Kennedy had been thirteen when India Cohen had died, and when she learned of it, she felt like she'd failed somehow, by not being the next slayer called.
She remembered listening outside the door as Hyatt had argued with Quentin Travers from the Watcher's Council.
"As I said on the telephone," Hyatt had said. "It's not Kennedy."
"Miss Cohen has been dead for three days now." Mr. Travers had said it like he was confirming the tracking information on a late FedEx package, rather than reporting a girl's death. "None of the potential slayers have given a sign -- "
"Neither has mine. Kennedy hasn't had the dreams. I'd know if she'd been called. Have you contacted Mr. Zabuto, perhaps his . . . "
"And you're quite certain that she isn't lying to you? Perhaps the girl is frightened."
"She'd have good reason to be, wouldn't she? But Kennedy possesses a rare courage. She'd face a vampire now, even without slayer strength, if it was asked of her. She won't fail in her duty."
Kennedy would live up to Hyatt's faith in her. He'd taught her to fight, and she'd learned her lessons well. How much of a difference could slayer strength make anyhow? Muscles were just muscles -- they couldn't get that much stronger. Brains and guts mattered more.
Next time she faced bringers, she'd be ready. And armed. The slayer would have a plan, and whatever part she played in it, she'd do Hyatt proud.
They took a puddle jumper from LAX to the small airport in Sunnydale, and Kennedy rented the car, because Giles had let his driver's license expire. His oversight didn't exactly inspire confidence.
The slayer met them at the door. Short, blonde, a touch befuddled looking, and not really her type. She certainly didn't inspire awe of any kind. Kennedy had to admit -- silently at least -- to a bit of relief. Hero worship wasn't attractive on anyone.
So, feeling suitably breezy, at least for someone on the hit list of the world's oldest evil, Kennedy turned the corner into the slayer's living room, where her eyes landed on a redhead who put a complete end to her breeziness.
The woman's expressive green eyes barely glanced Kennedy's direction, so she had time to recover her composure. She looked around at the rest of the inhabitants, which included a nerd tied to a chair.
The boarded up windows gave her a moment's pause. Perhaps the Hellmouth lacked as a place to hide from evil. From the looks of things, evil rather liked it here. As the conversation unfolded, she started to think that maybe they should find a nice monastery on top of a mountain somewhere, preferably someplace remote.
She had to speak up. "That's it? That's the plan? I don't see how one person, even a slayer, could protect us. I saw what those bringer guys can do. They tore apart my watcher." She pushed down the memory and ignored platitudes from Giles. "And if this thing is the root of all evil, isn't the Hellmouth its number one vacation spot? I mean, don't you think we should be hiding our asses on the other side of the globe?" 1
The slayer agreed, at least in theory, but no one called any airlines. Kennedy reluctantly accepted a less outspoken role in the rest of the proceedings, although the slayer's intention to rescue someone named Spike seemed a bit worrisome, based on the description provided.
When the slayer took Giles out hunting for the First, Kennedy took the opportunity to investigate her most pressing questions. For one, she wanted to know if they were likely to survive the night. The worry over burned macaroni and cheese seemed to hint that the household wasn't unduly concerned about impending death. Still, between the plywood on the windows and the nerd tied to a chair, she figured things tended to fall outside the ordinary here.
From Chair-Guy, she learned that Spike was a vampire, a former government lab rat, and romantically involved with the slayer. The windows had met their demise when bringers arrived to drag Spike off somewhere. And the stunning redhead was named Willow.
She pressed for more information, but Chair-Guy went off on a tangent about whether or not someone named Dark Phoenix could defeat Voldemort in a duel. His detailed analysis of the scenario ended unfinished when she replaced his gag.
No matter. It would be more fun to get the rest of her questions answered in person anyway. Apocalypse aside, she might as well enjoy her time in Sunnydale.
"I found more sheets." Willow came into the room with a pile of linens.
No time like the present to get started on those answers.
Kennedy thought about Willow's reaction to her initial overture. She'd definitely caught the other woman off guard. Maybe she'd even overstepped a bit -- banter over sleeping arrangements could make for risky flirting -- yet she sensed something worth pursuing, and taking action beat playing it safe.
She made herself at home in Willow's bedroom, unpacking the clothes Giles had retrieved for her. Since she'd packed a bag for Paris before opting out of the trip, she had spared him the effort of picking anything out, and spared herself the embarrassment of asking a virtual stranger to pack her underwear.
Sometimes things really did work out well.
She joined the others for pizza, tuned out Molly's incessant chatter, and kept Willow on her radar.
The slayer's friends turned to reminiscing, perhaps in an attempt to prove to the new arrivals that they'd survived some bad stuff previously.
"Fighting sewer monsters, staking vampires, burning cursed letterman jackets," Xander said. "Yeah, there's nothing like the night life in Sunnydale."
"Don't forget the regularly scheduled apocalypses." Dawn reached for another slice. "The guidebook makes a big deal out of the haunted crypts, but what you really want to see is the school basement. Way more ghosts down there."
"Oh, and Fraternity Row," Willow said. "At UC Sunnydale. That's so not to be missed. Three cursed Frat houses for the price of one."
"Wait, three?" Something about Willow's math seemed to put Anya on the defensive. "You can't count -- "
"I'm not," Willow said. "I wouldn't. That got . . . fixed."
"There's Lowell House," Xander said. "With the poltergeists."
"As if I could forget," Anya said. "I was almost killed by evil vines." She glared at Xander, holding him personally responsible for evil foliage of all kinds.
Kennedy decided that they definitely had history.
"Oh, and, Halloween," Willow said. "That time with the fear demon. At Alpha Delta."
"Right. And I saved your butts that time," Anya said. "Remember, I'm the one who went and found Giles."
"Which one are we forgetting?" Xander asked Willow.
"Delta Zeta Kappa," Willow said. "You probably blocked it out."
"I had." Xander cringed rather theatrically. "And thanks so much for undoing years of careful forgetting."
Annabelle looked up from her methodical note-taking. "What's at Delta Zeta Kappa?"
"Reptile demon," Willow answered. "Some frat boys were making sacrifices to it, or at least they were until Buffy killed it. Xander did the under cover thing and -- "
"Don't forget Sunday's vampire gang," Xander interrupted. "With all the thieving."
"That's right," Willow said. "Psi Theta. That makes four."
"I always knew frat houses were evil." Kennedy smiled at Willow as she said it, and felt a bit of triumph at the slight smile she earned in return.
After a few hours of sleep, Kennedy went downstairs to find Annabelle and Molly raiding the kitchen. She poured herself a bowl of cereal and took a seat at the counter. A good workout might make her feel a little better, now that she'd finally had some sleep.
The slayer returned looking impressively thrashed, admitted that she had tangled with -- and failed to slay -- something more dangerous than the bringers, and then left for work, of all things.
"Well that was comforting." Kennedy rinsed out her cereal bowl. "Who feels like checking out the slayer's toys?"
"I could do with a spot of training," Annabelle said. "Where do you suppose she keeps her equipment?"
Kennedy shrugged. "Let's ask Chair-Guy."
She marched into the other room and peeled the duct tape from Chair-Guy's lips.
"Ow! Hey, take it easy! That hurts!"
"You know, I'm really getting tired of the way everybody keeps doing that. When Spider-Man captured the Vulture he didn't gag him and he was like way eviler than me. Like, in Spectacular Spider-Man 219 he poisoned Spidey, and this other time, in Amazing Spider-Man 336, he tried to kill Aunt May and instead -- "
"Uh huh. Where does the slayer keep her training equipment?"
"Oh, you mean her Danger Room? Only the real Danger Room is way cooler because the X-Men have these holograms and stuff like on the Enterprise. Only not the one from the show called Enterprise, because everyone knows that's not the real Enterprise, and not the real Enterprise either, because they didn't have a holodeck, I mean like on the Enterprise D with Sherlock Holmes and stuff, and the X-Men can program in all these scenarios, like where the mansion is attacked by sentinels -- "
Kennedy waved her hand in front of his face. "Hello? Reality here. Where's the training room?"
"She has some stuff down in the basement, where she kept Spike chained up after that time he smashed through the wall and tried to kill me."
"Let me guess: You were talking about comic books when that happened?"
The slayer's training room wasn't much. In fact, part of it was still in cardboard boxes under the stairs, so Kennedy suspected that she'd recently relocated it from somewhere. No matter. It had a punching bag, and all Kennedy really wanted was something to hit.
Tonight, the thing that had turned the current slayer into a giant bruise planned to come kill them all. Sitting around waiting for it hardly seemed like a solution. Kennedy pummeled the bag. If she'd stayed home that night, instead of going clubbing, things might have gone differently. Maybe the bringers would have shown up while she was training, and armed. Hyatt would have survived, and maybe he'd listen to her monastery plan.
She knew better, but her mind kept returning to the fact that Hyatt had saved her life twice, and she had failed to return the favor. The bringers wanted her dead, and they had the strength to make it happen, so it was silly to think that if she'd fought them in the basement instead of the kitchen, she might have saved Hyatt. She'd been lucky to escape with her own life.
No, not lucky. Hyatt was the reason she'd lived, and she knew what he'd say to her now. First, he'd give the standard lecture about duty, and the fate of the world. He might even share some statistics on how many slayers had died in monasteries. Then he'd tell her to stay calm and follow orders.
Annabelle sure had that strategy down pat.
Kennedy glanced at her, calmly going through her Tai Chi routine as if she didn't have a care in the world. Molly, on the other hand, paced restlessly. She'd start to stretch, then jump at a slight noise from upstairs, and go back to pacing.
"Control your fear," Annabelle scolded yet again.
Kennedy decided she preferred Molly's restless fear. At least it was honest.
Kennedy took her time getting dressed after her shower. She really didn't have anything else to do. With any luck, she'd get a chance to talk with Willow at some point. She could do with some serious distraction as sunset approached. A smile formed on her lips as she recalled Willow's reaction to her comment the night before.
When she came downstairs, she learned that Willow had gone out to buy groceries. Apparently Annabelle's fussy habits had caught the slayer's household off guard, while Molly had inhaled every cookie in the cupboard.
Kennedy flopped down on the couch and watched Xander add new layers of plywood to the boarded-up windows. Piles of wood in the corner seemed to hint that he planned similar projects in the future, or maybe boarding up the windows was a regular part of life on the Hellmouth.
Eventually Willow returned with the groceries, and Kennedy decided that she might as well help put them away. Asking where to put the macaroni barely passed as an icebreaker, but she'd make it work.
She glanced into the first bag. "Nice cookies."
"What?" Willow stared at her, her green eyes wide and a touch of color rising in her cheeks.
Kennedy held up one of the packages from the bag that seemed to contain every cookie variety possible. "You certainly bought enough."
"Oh, that, well I didn't know what everyone liked, so I kind of went cookie-crazy. Don't worry, I got other stuff, too. Salad, and other healthy things. Like milk." Willow held up a carton. "Milk does a body good."
"I can see that." Kennedy smiled. She liked how Willow rambled, and she really liked the way her flirting brought out Willow's sexy flustered look, but she knew to back off while ahead. "Where do the cookies live?"
"You don't have to -- "
"I know I don't have to," Kennedy said. "But I want to. I might as well do something useful."
"It'll be okay," Willow said. "We face this kind of thing all the time, and we're not dead yet."
But someone was, Kennedy could see it in Willow's eyes. She also didn't miss the 'yet' at the end of that sentence. Sunset wasn't that far off, and the slayer still hadn't returned from work. Hyatt would have told her to stay calm, and she tried. She'd feel better later, with a nice comforting crossbow in her hand.
Annabelle was dead, and the slayer looked pretty close to it. Kennedy filed away her urge to throw up. She'd deal with it later. Right now she needed a realistic plan for her own survival. That meant eliminating the thing that had now twice thrashed the slayer, and she sure hoped that someone here had an offensive that would work. The slayer couldn't be blamed for Annabelle's death -- the girl had snapped and run off -- but they needed a plan that didn't center around waiting.
Kennedy listened to the others discuss whether or not the slayer would live. They weren't unemotional, exactly, but they didn't seem panicked. Giles seemed almost casual. The slayer had probably almost died before.
Then she walked into the dining room, not dead after all, and her trembling voice drew everyone's undivided attention. She spoke with complete honesty, admitting her fear and exhaustion without apologies. Kennedy respected that. Lies wouldn't fix their situation. Then the slayer's voice turned dangerous, and Kennedy knew that she meant every word as she told them that they would defeat this enemy.
Kennedy found that being drafted into the slayer's army -- an oddly comforting word choice -- relieved some of her fear. Actively participating meant that she held at least some of the responsibility for her own fate in her own two hands, and that beat the hell out of waiting for the slayer to save them all.
The so-called ubervamp refrained from attacking them over the next few days, leading Kennedy to believe that the slayer had injured it nearly as seriously as it had injured her.
Two more potential slayers arrived, Vi and Chloe, both younger than Kennedy. Molly seemed to find some comfort in the wide-eyed terror of the new arrivals. Perhaps she felt braver in comparison.
Kennedy propped herself up on one elbow, studying Willow, who lay awake on the floor beside the bed. "What kind of music do you like?"
"Music," Kennedy said. "It's a sort of noise, but you can dance to it."
"Yeah," Willow said. "It's just -- shouldn't we get some sleep?"
"I slept last night," Kennedy answered. "I don't usually sleep two nights in a row, not all night anyway, and I thought maybe we could talk?" She gave a hopeful smile. "Just for a little while."
Willow smiled a little in return. She had a great smile.
"So what do you do for fun? I mean, besides fighting evil?"
"Well, there's the Bronze," Willow said. "And the Espresso Pump, if you like getting sugared up on mochas. But since everything's gotten so hellmouthy, fighting evil is less the extra and more the curricular."
Kennedy liked the way Willow talked. She made everything sound interesting. "Tell me about the Bronze. It's a club?"
"Yep. With cockroaches, frequently broken windows, and a pretty steady stream of not entirely terrible bands. It's the hangout of choice. Then again, Sunnydale is a little thin in the choice of hangouts department. The Fish Tank is pretty rank, and Willy's is full of demons, which makes sense, with it being a demon bar and all."
"This town has an actual demon bar?"
Willow smiled and shrugged. "It is the Hellmouth."
Another day, another scared potential slayer. Eve provided Molly with an eager audience for the umpteenth retelling of Annabelle's death, and Kennedy was glad that she shared Willow's room, instead of the crowded living room floor.
Once again, she tried to convince Willow not to sleep on the floor, and failing that she tried to draw her into conversation. In her eagerness, Kennedy let slip that her family had money, and she cringed. At boarding school, almost everyone had money, but she'd found that in the real world, people automatically assumed that a girl with money was a lazy snob, and also quite possibly an airhead.
Kennedy had to admit, at least to herself, that she had a spoiled streak, but that's where it ended. She had brains. Thanks at least in part to Hyatt, she also knew how to work hard, and unlike her half-sister, she had never looked down her nose at anyone.
She rambled on, trying to pretend that her admission meant nothing, and quite possibly just making it worse. She hoped like hell that she hadn't lost any ground with Willow. Casual attraction was rapidly growing into more, and the last thing she wanted was to spoil things by rambling on like a dork.
She changed the topic to the one that really interested her: Willow. She asked about the witchcraft, hoping that Willow's new-age hobby would lead somewhere, and confirm the vibe she felt, but Willow retreated from the topic, claiming a need to sleep.
Kennedy gave it one more try before she caught herself pushing too hard. Maybe sleep wasn't such a bad idea after all.
The younger girls made it hard to concentrate during training. While Kennedy agreed that it wasn't healthy for them to bottle up their fear, she was getting pretty tired of the way they liked to dwell on it.
She wrapped her hands and tried not to let their feelings of inadequacy rattle her nerves. Hopefully at least one of them had enough training to make a decent sparring partner. If --
The slayer came thundering down the basement stairs, most of the household on her heals. "Get away from them!" 2
As things fell into place, and Eve turned out not to be Eve after all, Kennedy felt her insides go cold with fear. The First had lived among them, taunting them in Eve's charming southern drawl, and she hadn't even realized it. None of them had, and now all the slayer could throw at it was a verbal order to leave.
The First, however, could send the Turok-Han.
Kennedy distracted herself by quizzing Chair-Guy some more. They'd untied him, and thankfully he'd taken the opportunity to shower, although he still tried to talk about comic books at the slightest opening.
"She tried to kill me once," Chair-Guy -- whose name turned out to be Andrew -- said. "The magic took her to the dark side."
"Big scary Willow, huh?"
"She was like Dark Phoenix," Andrew said. "All black-eyed and evil, flying around pulling down walls with her mind." He sighed. "It was so sad when she had to die. Poor Cyclops -- "
"She doesn't look dead to -- you're talking about comic books again, aren't you?"
"Wait, don't go! I'll tell you all about -- "
"Dinner's here." Dawn came in from the kitchen. "And you know what they say. You should never fight evil on an empty stomach."
They ate takeout while standing around in the kitchen. The other potential slayers had let their fear develop into actual panic, but the slayer's friends were confident -- if cautious -- and they were the ones with the actual experience.
Kennedy let the sarcasm in her voice go unchecked as she explained the point of a sword to Rona -- the latest arrival -- and then selected a crossbow for herself. The feel of the weapon in her hands definitely helped.
She peered through the slats in the boarded up windows, scanning the growing darkness for bringers. She almost hoped that she'd get a chance to take out a few, and wondered if the ones that had killed Hyatt had come to Sunnydale.
The memory turned her stomach, but she forced herself to use the strength of her emotions. Anger. Determination to do right by Hyatt's memory. Those were helpful. Fear and grief, not so much.
Her hand tightened on the crossbow.
Willow really could make stuff float. Kennedy had known that vampires were real since she was eight, so why did she find a magic trick impressive? It was pretty cool, though, and she'd caught the fact that the slayer had turned to Willow for help instead of relying on her own power.
Maybe this witchcraft stuff was a little more than just fairy tale crap.
Talking to Willow made Kennedy forget about the coming badness for almost two whole minutes. Then Dawn called them, and it was time to face the Turok-Han. She watched, fascinated, as Willow spoke Latin and her eyes turned black. The pain in Willow's face during her intangible struggle to hold the barrier against the Turok-Han frightened her, even more than the very real and physically present Turok-Han itself.
Buffy ordered them to run so that Willow could drop the barrier. Kennedy raced for the back door with the others, and with some satisfaction fired a crossbow bolt right through a bringer's empty eye socket and into its brain.
They regrouped down the street, and the slayer announced her intention to stay and fight the Turok-Han alone while the others ran and hid. Dawn objected loudly, fear for her sister in her voice, and Kennedy volunteered to stay.
Maybe they could tag-team this thing.
The slayer disagreed. She snagged a bottle of holy water from Andrew as her weapon of choice, and firmly ordered the rest to follow Xander.
Kennedy doubted that a safe location existed, but she did as she was told. Plans were open for debate while sitting around a table, but in the field, orders needed to be followed. Hesitation could cost a life. Hyatt had taught her that.
Xander led them to a construction site. Rona especially seemed displeased with this plan, writing the slayer off for dead, and not holding out much hope for the rest of them. The Turok-Han, however, had bypassed the slayer entirely in favor of easier prey.
Kennedy swallowed and fitted a bolt into the crossbow. Shooting it in the eye might not even slow it down, but it had survived a staking, so --
The slayer appeared, drawing the creature's attention for a moment.
Kennedy scolded herself for getting distracted as well, and raised the crossbow again.
Willow touched her shoulder. "Just watch." 3
She followed the others up into the scaffolding. So the slayer had a deeper plan after all.
The brutal fight seemed to slow time itself, but the slayer kept getting back up, and kept finding ways to snatch the advantage just when things looked grim. In the end, she used a makeshift garrote -- and a fair amount of brute strength -- to behead the thing, and the Turok-Han exploded into dust.
Kennedy had to admit she was impressed, and the slayer's victory speech made sense. They'd get through the coming darkness.
They walked back to the house, while the slayer set off to rescue Spike.
"Does he have to live with us?" Andrew asked. Or, more accurately, whined. "Spike's a way worse killer than me."
"You're not wrong," Xander said.
"Spike has a soul now," Dawn said. "We just have to figure out how to deactivate his trigger and then -- "
"Killer?" Rona interrupted. "Trigger?"
Kennedy glanced at Willow, hoping to get her opinion on the Spike situation.
"A post-hypnotic trigger," Xander said. "Spike was under the control of the First."
"You've said that before," Rona said. "So doesn't that make living with him a bad idea?"
"Might be," Xander said. "But that's why the basement comes equipped with chains."
"No worries," Willow said. "Buffy can keep Spike from going all serial killer."
Kennedy could have sworn she heard a whispered 'probably' at the end of that sentence.
Despite the worrisome 'probably' attached to the vampire in the basement, Kennedy slept well that night. The ubervamp was dead, and without the rocket launcher that Willow and Xander had discussed in hushed -- if only half-serious -- tones the previous morning.
She awoke early. Willow was still asleep on the floor. She wished Willow wouldn't do that -- sacrificing her comfort to what? Maintain some distance between them? That needed to change.
She slipped out of bed, intending to head for the shower, but her movements woke Willow.
"Hey." Willow rubbed her face sleepily but smiled.
Kennedy really liked that smile. "Hey yourself."
The silence whispered with an intimacy far more pleasant than the planned shower and cup of coffee.
A knock at the door broke the moment.
"Scooby meeting in fifteen minutes," Dawn said. "Don't be late."
"I guess that's our cue to find some clothes," Willow said.
Kennedy enjoyed the way the color rose in Willow's cheeks as she misinterpreted her own comment, but she thought better of pushing the issue. If she wanted to put an end to Willow's nights on the floor, she needed to make a connection with her, not scare her away by making her uncomfortable.
"An old joke that kind of stuck," Willow said. "As old jokes do. You see, I had this lunchbox, and -- You know what? There's not so much a story there."
Kennedy shrugged. "I'll listen anyway, if you want to tell it."
"Maybe later. The Scooby meeting awaits."
Molly, Vi, Rona and Chloe were notably absent from the meeting, but since nobody objected to Kennedy's arrival, she pulled up a chair.
"How's Spike?" Willow asked.
"Downstairs," Buffy said. "The First got a little knife-happy, but I think he'll be okay."
"And the trigger?"
"We don't know," Buffy said. "Not yet. Anya, what did you and Giles find out?"
"Nothing," Anya said. "At least not anything that qualifies as useful information. We heard an earful of the other kind. Chosen line, blah blah, here's a little history that you already knew. Nothing helpful at all."
"Admittedly we failed to learn as much as I might have hoped." Giles took off his glasses and cleaned them carefully. "But we did learn something."
"Yes," Anya said. "That it's our fault. Some good that'll do us."
"What do you mean our fault?" Buffy asked.
"Well not yours. You were dead at the time." Anya sighed. "It's because of the spell, the one that brought you back. Beljoxa's Eye said it made the mystical forces of the chosen line unstable."
Kennedy had barely absorbed the fascinating news of the slayer's temporary death when she noticed how Willow suddenly looked like she'd been punched in the gut, and got distracted by her own sudden desire to punch Anya's literal gut for whatever part of that sentence had caused it.
The pain in Willow's eyes came through in her voice as well. "So it's my fault."
"Not yours," Xander said. "Ours."
"Not necessarily anyone's," Giles said. "Beljoxa's Eye wasn't specific, and remember, Buffy has died before. I've given the matter some thought, and I believe it more likely that her first death is responsible. That event triggered Kendra's calling, and in turn Kendra's death brought about Faith's calling. To the best of our knowledge -- and I have checked -- no new slayer was called after Buffy's second death."
"I'd only died the once before the First showed up in Sunnydale and went after Angel," Buffy said. "It almost got him to kill himself."
"But you beat it then," Xander said. "Or at least you made it retreat. Why?"
"I think that quite clearly shows that it needed substantial time to regroup, to build its army of bringers." Giles said. "The First is non-corporeal, and that means it takes time to act."
"Could it be in retreat-mode now?" Dawn asked. "Buffy slayed the Turok-Han, is that enough to buy us some time?"
"Some, perhaps," Giles said.
The others continued to spin theories, but Willow remained silent. Something about the slayer's death -- temporary death -- had sent Willow on an inner guilt trip. Had the slayer died during Willow's stint as the big scary? If so, she'd obviously gotten over it, so Willow needed to move past the self recrimination.
Anya agreed, with theatrical reluctance, to go rub elbows with the demon contacts she apparently had; the meeting broke up; and the slayer left for work. Willow retreated to her bedroom, and Kennedy followed. She didn't know the whole score, but she guessed that hiding out with her guilt was the last thing Willow needed.
"Hey." She crossed the room and sat down beside Willow on the bed.
"Listen, Kennedy, I -- "
"So you gonna tell me why the slayer's death was your fault?"
"It wasn't. She died saving Dawn from a hellgod."
"Then what was your fault?" Kennedy asked. "Downstairs, you said something was your fault."
"I did a spell, to bring Buffy back to life, and -- "
"No, not cool. I mean, yeah, Buffy alive, that part's good, but the spell, it could have had serious repercussions, and maybe the First is one of those."
"Giles doesn't think so." Kennedy studied Willow's face. "But that's not what's bothering you, is it? At least not now."
"Kennedy -- "
"I bet you'll feel better if you talk about it. Hyatt -- my watcher -- always said that if you want to control your emotions, you have to face them."
"Good advice, but -- I'm not in a talking about it kind of place right now."
"You mean you don't want to talk to me," Kennedy said. "Which is cool. I get that. We don't know each other that well. Not yet, anyway, but who else is available? The slayer seems pretty preoccupied with that vampire she's got chained up in the basement, and Anya's gone off to do God knows what at a demon bar. What's her deal, anyway?"
"Anya's a vengeance demon. Or she was. It's kind of a long story."
"I've got time."
Willow sighed. "I should be doing more."
"More than fighting the primordial source of all evil?"
"More in the fight. I have so much power, but I'm not using it."
"You are," Kennedy said. "The plan last night couldn't have gone down without your shield or whatever."
"The barrier was nothing," Willow said.
"You call that nothing? It was incredible."
"It's nothing compared to what I can do," Willow said. "Or could. Everything's different now."
"Since you were the big scary?"
Willow nodded. "It was bad, Kennedy, really bad. And now we know the First is taking advantage of something that's mystically kerfloopey. That might mean that magic fixes it, and what if I'm not ready?"
Kennedy rejected her first thought as useless platitude and went with a solid fact instead. "If Dawn's right about it being in retreat mode, then you have time to get ready."
That night, Kennedy had her own chance to prepare for the apocalypse. The slayer took them out for a training session, and brought Spike along as a living -- or more accurately undead -- visual aid. Since Chloe had the flu, or possibly just an acute case of not wanting to accompany a vampire to the graveyard, the girls faced Spike in teams of two.
She watched impassively as Spike took down Vi and Rona in the first sparring match. Then the slayer staged a little demonstration that erased any doubt Kennedy harbored regarding Chair-Guy's claim that she'd been romantically involved with the vampire.
Dating the undead. And there were people who considered her preferences skewed.
When she faced the vampire her instincts told her not to hold back, and she wondered what the slayer might do if her boyfriend got staked.
Spike went for Molly first. The younger girl ducked his attack and ran back towards the group. Kennedy feigned right, as if to follow, and then threw herself at the attacker, knocking him off his feet with a blow to his knees.
"Oh this one likes to play," Spike said.
She barely had time to roll and come up in a fighting stance before he jumped to his feet, grinning at her in full vamp face.
"I like it when my food plays with me," he said. "Come on now, bring it."
She circled him, fists raised, her stake in one hand, although her instincts told her to run. She doubted that tricking him would work twice, at least outright. She dodged, vaulting a tombstone, and when he caught her from behind, she drove her elbow full-force into his windpipe.
He dropped back.
Kennedy spun, pressing her advantage. A kick forced him back against the tombstone, and in one jump she had the stake against his heart. She grinned.
Spike's hand shot out, bruising her wrist with an iron grasp. With one quick twist of her arm, he had her off balance and facing away from him. Then she felt his breath on her neck as he mock-bit her. "Close," he said. "But you're still dead."
He let her loose and pushed her away.
Buffy jumped down off a tombstone. "And the lesson here -- "
"Hey," Kennedy complained. "I was about to head butt him."
"Not bloody likely," Spike said. "If this were real, you gave me ample time to bite you."
"And if this were real I would have staked you before you grabbed my arm."
"Exactly," Buffy said. "If this were real. Things get easier when it's real. Simpler. When it's real, you really can follow your instincts, without holding back. You can fight dirty. You can even run, and live to fight another day. First rule of slaying: Don't die."
"Didn't you die twice?" Kennedy asked.
Buffy shrugged. "What can I say? I'm a rule breaker."
Tonight she'd finally get to kill something. Between the slayer's quirky yet admittedly effective pep talk in the basement and her comments the night before, Kennedy felt positive that whatever was planned tonight, it included some real action.
In the meantime, she'd just have to find another way to stay amused. "What'cha doing?"
Willow looked up from the pile of books on the dining room table. "Just getting researchy while the First is off doing its remission thing."
"Cool." Kennedy ran her fingers along the back of a dining room chair. "Could I get you a coffee or something?"
"I'm good." Willow looked up, a soft smile warming her face. "Feel free to pull up an ancient tome."
While the invitation itself didn't appeal, Kennedy found the delivery irresistible. She joined Willow at the table and opened the nearest leather-bound book. It smelled musty, and was written in an alphabet she'd never seen before.
"Here," Willow said helpfully. "This one's better."
"Thanks." She smiled and her eyes met Willow's as she took the book.
Funny how the eyes revealed so much of a person. They could only vary so much in color and even less in shape, yet some people had eyes so expressive that you could look into them all day.
And Willow's eyes made those people's eyes look downright boring.
The slayer took them to the demon bar, where she greeted a loose-skinned demon with an enthusiastic bear hug. His concerns about his malfunctioning TiVo stripped some of the foreboding from the atmosphere and Kennedy whispered to Rona, wondering if this guy was yet another example of the slayer's weird dating preferences.
Yet as fascinating as she found a room full of demons drinking pig's blood and yak's urine, the next part had it beat. The slayer took them to a crypt, clearly home to one or more vampires, and when the previous night's dinner rose from the dead to attack them, the slayer locked them in with it.
The vampire came at them, and Vi reacted by shouting, "We're just four helpless girls!"
Molly, frozen with fear only seconds ago, lunged at its legs, knocking it backwards as Rona, its intended target, ducked its blow and punched it in the jaw.
Kennedy landed a fist of her own before he had a chance to recover. She spotted the stake Buffy had dropped out of the corner of her eye. She needed that before she could get the job done, but right now the vamp had his full attention trained on her.
Eyes locked with his, Kennedy circled, waiting for an opening, and noticed Vi preparing to make a move.
Vi's eyes were wide with fear, but she had a weapon clutched in one hand and she seemed almost eager to use it.
Kennedy feigned an attack, drawing the vamp towards her and giving Vi the opportunity she needed to swing a mace full force into its arm. The crack echoed through the crypt, and the now angry vampire turned on Vi.
Rona and Molly attacked from the other side, giving Kennedy the chance to dive for the stake. When she turned back around, they had it up against the wall. She jumped, leading with the stake, and without the need to hold back, drove it into his heart with the force of her leap behind it.
The vampire exploded into dust.
"Man," Kennedy said. "What a rush!"
The others were grinning too. They'd dusted a real vampire, and it felt great.
When Giles announced the field trip, Kennedy decided that skipping it would provide the opportunity she needed. With the other five potentials gone on this spirit quest camping trip thing, she'd have a chance to score some alone time with Willow. She wanted a shot at a relationship with Willow, and Kennedy usually got what she wanted.
People assigned the credit for that to her daddy's money, but fortunately she cared very little about what other people thought. The truth mattered, other people's uninformed guesses did not. Getting what you wanted in life had very little to do with money. It was about knowing that you wanted it, and going after it without hesitation. She understood the value of hard work, and the importance of self awareness. Money was nothing. Money could buy stuff. Objects. Things.
Kennedy didn't care about things, she cared about living life to its fullest, and that meant seizing opportunities, especially when it came to beautiful women with soulful green eyes.
"Chloe gave me her flu," Kennedy said. It wasn't entirely a lie. The success of Chloe's fake illness was the source of this excuse.
"Oh," Buffy said from the other side of the door. "Well, get some rest then, maybe you'll feel better later."
"Apologize to Giles for me." Kennedy pulled her favorite white blouse out of her bag and spread it out on the bed. It needed ironing. Asking to borrow an iron would probably blow her cover. "Maybe I'll be down later."
Buffy agreed, and Kennedy returned to scrutinizing her wardrobe. The tan top would work just fine for this little mission, now as for footwear . . .
Willow came up to check on her about an hour later. "How are you feeling?"
"About the same," Kennedy answered, honestly enough to almost ignore the twinge of guilt.
"It's a shame that you'll miss the field trip," Willow said.
Kennedy shrugged. "I think Buffy summed it up pretty well. Bummer about missing the s'mores, though."
Willow treated her to that smile that made her heart beat faster. "Need anything?"
"Tell them to meditate for me," she said. "Extra hard."
That earned another smile. "Extra hard meditation coming right up."
As soon as Willow headed back downstairs, Kennedy started getting dressed. Eventually Willow would come back, and she needed to be ready, or she'd miss the opportunity. Things would get more complicated if she had to go downstairs and seek Willow out. Then she'd need to avoid the half dozen other people who lived here.
Fortunately, Willow returned before that became necessary, bearing a steaming hot cup of tea and taking immediate notice of Kennedy's boots. Once she got over the idea of making Xander cart Kennedy's truant butt out into the desert to join the group, Willow agreed to come along on the undefined mission.
The Bronze featured an okay band and her favorite fruity umbrella drinks, but it took the flagship of Kennedy's flirting arsenal to convince Willow to stay. She got the big question out of the way first, although she held little doubt about the answer.
Willow squirmed in her seat, shocked at her bluntness, yet clearly interested. Her eyes never left Kennedy's face despite her protest.
Kennedy found herself explaining her feelings with more openness than she'd planned. Her need for a connection between them outweighed even her apocalypse related concerns, so looking a little needy failed to worry her. Much. She felt pretty okay about it, anyway.
This was Willow, after all, and Willow was special.
Willow relaxed, and admitted what Kennedy already knew, as well as the unexpected fact that she'd only dated one woman. That a woman as hot as Willow had dated so little surprised her.
"Tara died last year," Willow said softly. The pain in her eyes looked fresh, making Kennedy's heart constrict in sympathy.
"I'm so sorry," Kennedy said, at a loss for anything else to say. "How?"
Willow looked away, studying the band on the stage. Kennedy wondered if she would answer at all, but somehow couldn't think of anything else to say.
"She was shot." Willow said finally, her eyes still on the stage. "The guy who did it, I killed him. That's when I lost control."
"Well no wonder!"
"That's what happens when it gets bad; when the magic takes control. That's why I have to be careful."
Kennedy blinked at the guilt in Willow's face. The creep had murdered someone. Someone important. He deserved whatever he got, just like the bringers who had gutted Hyatt. She pushed away the bloody memory and focused on Willow. "I'd say he had it coming."
"Maybe, but . . . " Willow shook her head. "That doesn't make it right."
"No," Kennedy said. "Maybe not right, exactly, but -- "
Willow shook her head again. "I can never take back what I did. What it made me. I killed him, a human being, and I just let the magic take over. I almost killed Andrew and Jonathan. Would have, if not for Buffy and Xander. And they weren't -- what happened to Tara wasn't their fault."
"But they were involved?"
"Not in the sense of having a clue." Willow rolled her eyes. "As you may have noticed, Andrew lives in his own little world."
"Yep, noticed that."
"This band's pretty good." Willow stared at the stage for a moment and fiddled with the paper umbrella from her drink.
Kennedy agreed, more with the idea of changing the subject than with the evaluation of the band, although they really weren't too bad.
"So," Willow said. "Tell me about your family. Do they know?"
"That I'm gay or that I might be a vampire slayer?"
Willow shrugged. "Both, actually."
"They don't know about the slayer gig," Kennedy said. "Mostly because even though it's right under their noses, they'd never believe it. But the gay thing, yeah, they know. Life's complicated enough without hiding something like that."
"The telling people, was it hard?"
"My dad thought it was a phase, just something I picked up at boarding school. I don't blame him for that, really, because for a lot of those girls, that's true." She sipped her drink. "He's coming around, though."
"And your mom?"
"She's cool with it. When I told her, she said she'd known all along, which was kind of a letdown, but cool I guess. My sister -- half sister -- was weirded out until she realized it meant I'd never go after any of her boyfriends." Kennedy rolled her eyes. "Like anyone would want to. It was harder telling my watcher. He's just -- was just -- so uptight and British."
"The only thing Giles said was 'bloody hell' but then he was drunk at the time."
"Not generally." She smiled and gestured with her straw. "We were all having an unusual week." She rolled her eyes with playful melodrama. "Demon cyborg, you know how it is."
Kennedy listened as Willow shared some pretty good demon stories. She could listen to Willow talk all night. She found herself mesmerized by that smile, and the clever way Willow played with her words. The topic turned to more personal issues. First Willow's parents, and then Tara again.
Her heart broke at the pain in those gorgeous green eyes.
In a way she wanted to know everything about Tara. She had to know her, to really know Willow. But dwelling on painful memories . . . well that meant pain. And tonight wasn't supposed to be about pain.
They needed a new subject. Something a little bit more trivial. Fun even. She wanted Willow to have fun.
"So," Kennedy said after they lapsed into silence again. "Got a favorite movie? I don't mean the one you think should be your favorite, because it's deep and the cinematography is great. I mean one that always makes you smile."
"A Charlie Brown Christmas." Willow had the greatest smile. "I always went to Xander's to watch it, cause, my parents? Not really big on the whole Christmas thing."
"Makes sense." Kennedy twirled the straw in her drink.
"That was good, though, because Xander always did the Snoopy dance." Willow smiled again as she said that, and the way she said 'Snoopy dance' made Kennedy's heart melt all over again. "How about you?" Willow asked. "Any movie watching traditions?"
"Gone With the Wind," she answered. "I first saw it when I was five years old. I was just getting over the chicken pox and I had to miss this birthday party. My mom just about drove herself crazy trying to cheer me up, and then she turned on this old movie. I forgot all about the party."
Willow smiled wistfully. "Life's so much easier when you're five. No worries about vampires with chips in their heads and corporeal evil trying to end the world. Someone steals your Barbie, and five minutes of the Smurfs takes all the pain away."
"Yeah." Kennedy wished she could recreate that simplicity for Willow. She worried too much.
"Only the easy thing?" Willow said. "Big myth. The whole preschool dating scene . . . the entire time we were together, all Xander wanted to do was play Aquaman, and there's only so many times a girl can be rescued by invisible fish."
Kennedy raised an eyebrow. "You and Xander? Bit of a stretch."
"I'm over him now."
"Besides, what's with the damsel-in-distress gig, anyway? You'd definitely be the one rescuing him."
"Oh, I did," Willow said. "Sometimes I dressed up as Wonder Woman, only not really because my mother had this whole feminist-values inappropriate-cultural-icons riff, so I had to make due with a towel for a cape and tinfoil bracelets -- "
"You'd look hot in a cape." Kennedy smiled and gave her drink a strategic sip. Willow seemed at least a little more relaxed now, and Kennedy noticed the almost supernatural way she nursed that one drink she'd promised to finish before leaving. Definitely time to turn up the flirting.
Willow smiled again, and turned the topic back to Kennedy.
She ate the cherry off her paper umbrella as she answered, enjoying the way her comments about Scarlet O'Hara made Willow smile. "What?"
"I just -- I still don't get it." Willow shrugged. "Why you like me, I mean, you don't even know me." 4
Kennedy explained. It was remarkably easy, really. She pretty much liked everything about Willow.
They headed for home, and Kennedy made up her mind about one thing. Well, two. First of all, spending time with Willow was a thousand times better than camping. Secondly, a goodnight kiss would make this evening perfect, and Kennedy had every intention of achieving that perfection.
The kiss knocked her off her feet. Well, not so much the kiss itself -- although it was a great kiss -- as what the kiss did to Willow. If she even was Willow any more. Kennedy wasn't sure. One minute, she'd been kissing Willow, and the next -- no Willow, and there was suddenly a man in her place.
Warren. The man Willow killed.
They headed downstairs for a brief and confusing encounter with the others. Willow -- it was Willow, although it took a few minutes of adjustment for Kennedy to be sure -- claimed it was a glamour. Something her subconscious cooked up to punish her for killing Warren.
Magic, it seemed, was a little more than fairy tale crap after all.
Willow set off to find help, and made it plain that she was less than thrilled to have Kennedy tagging along. Her rudeness might have stung, except Kennedy was too rattled by the whole thing to work in feeling offended on top of everything else.
The campus wiccans weren't very reassuring, but Amy said she'd give it a try. Kennedy sat down beside Vaughne, not wild about her role as spectator, but accepting it, because as Vaughne pointed out, she lacked a better idea. When Amy failed, and Willow reacted by slapping her, a new fear arose -- that Willow was losing control.
Willow stormed off, and Kennedy found herself on the wrong side of a magical barrier. That trick was not so cool this time. Willow was in danger, and Kennedy didn't have the first clue about how to help her.
Then Amy tipped her hand.
Anger flared. How could anyone think that messing with Willow's life was a game, that it was okay to hex people for entertainment or over some sick jealousy thing?
She argued with Amy, and even after being tossed across the room, she continued to argue, the futility of it irrelevant because she didn't know what else to do. And then, with a snap of her fingers, Amy sent her to the slayer's back yard. And Willow -- still trapped inside of this Warren person -- had a gun.
Kennedy swallowed. Stay calm. She could do that. Willow was still in there, she just had to find a way to reach her.
The things Willow said didn't make sense, but Kennedy tried to follow them. They meant something. Willow's subconscious was the key to all of this.
"I killed her."
Not him. That was significant.
Kennedy questioned her, watching her response. Confusion colored Willow's responses, and then anger.
She swallowed, her eye drawn to the gun aimed at her. Willow's accusation -- that she was involved somehow -- made things click. "Tara."
Okay, probably not the best thing she could have said. Willow's anger was palpable, and in this form it was also dangerous. If Willow lost herself within this Warren facade, if Warren took over . . . then Willow struggled to the surface and asked for help, pleading, fear and grief overcoming the irrational anger, and she dropped to her knees, sobbing and begging Tara's forgiveness.
Kennedy went to her, shaken more by Willow's grief than by the gun. She knelt beside Willow, searching her tear-stained face for . . . something. A flash of insight provided the answer. If a kiss started it, then a kiss could end it.
Kennedy settled down on the couch beside Willow and handed her a cup of tea.
Willow took it, cradling the warm cup in her hands. "How did you know?"
"I just did." Kennedy shrugged. "It felt right."
Willow smiled a little. She looked exhausted. "Thank you."
They sat quietly for a few minutes. Willow needed to talk, but Kennedy didn't want to push her. Not yet. This wasn't about making progress in the usual dating-conquest game. This was about what Willow needed.
"I owe you," Willow said. "Big time. If you hadn't -- "
"No," Kennedy said quickly. "You don't owe me a thing."
"But I do. What I put you through? I was so -- "
"Manly?" Kennedy shrugged. "Forget it."
"Magic run amok. Me with unexpected new body parts. Violence. Most people would have so been out of there."
"I'm not most people."
Willow smiled. "Lucky for me."
Kennedy returned the smile, and decided to plunge ahead with what really needed to be said. "About Tara. You love her, and she's always with you. That hasn't changed. Nobody can change that. Nobody should."
"I know, it's just . . . moving forward. It made everything be the past."
"It's not though," Kennedy said. "She's a part of you, and she'll always be a part of everything you do. The thing is, I really want to know you, and I'd like to get to know her too, if you're willing to share?"
Willow nodded, her smile a little sad. "The others, when I talk about Tara, they sort of get this look. Probably has to do with the whole turning evil thing."
Kennedy shook her head. "I don't think so. They were her friends, too, right?"
"Yeah, of course. We were . . . " Her eyes clouded with tears. "We were family."
"But she was your girlfriend. Maybe they feel uncomfortable because they miss her too, but think you have first claim, or that their grief would hurt you somehow." Kennedy remembered how her classmates had reacted when Sibley Wallace wrapped her convertible around a telephone poll, and everyone had mourned her like a sister, until her real best friend came back to school and things turned awkward. "It can't be the Big Bad Willow thing that they're avoiding. If they didn't forgive you, do you really think you'd be living here?"
"Well yes, because I'm needed, but you're right. Xander's too proud of his yellow-crayon story to be all avoidy, Buffy is totally Big Picture Gal right now, and Anya pretty much blurts out anything that occurs to her."
Kennedy nodded. "I noticed that."
They talked for a while before heading upstairs to catch up on the sleep they'd missed. The rest of the household seemed to have vanished, probably as a result of the vampire-with-a-brain-chip crisis, so Kennedy crashed in Dawn's room and let Willow have her own bed.
Tara would be a hard act to follow, not that Kennedy thought for a moment that she could ever replace her. She had no intention of wasting time fretting that she'd be second best, either. Willow had a big heart, and love wasn't a competition.
She felt damn lucky to be with Willow, because those soulful green eyes were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to what made Willow special. At some point during their incredibly eventful first date, Kennedy had come to realize that this was different than her usual fun-and-games relationships. This was about more than a sexy pout.
This time, Kennedy had gone and fallen in love.
The next few days stayed pretty tame by Hellmouth standards. The slayer divided her time between stalking the high school principal and babysitting the vampire in the basement, the latter of which seemed a tad unnecessary, at least during the time he spent sleeping off the effects of his brain surgery.
After all, it wasn't like he could have complications and die in his sleep. He was already dead.
Giles flew to China to fetch another potential slayer, and Anya developed a renewed enthusiasm for verbally abusing Xander. The only thing that had any real impact on Kennedy was that Andrew successfully completed his first mission and took the new microwave out of its box. For reasons never adequately explained, Dawn had taken an ax to the last one.
Or maybe Kennedy just missed the explanation, because holding hands with Willow under the table was a heck of a lot more interesting than dinnertime conversation, even if a fair number of those conversations did involve the destruction of household appliances using a variety of weapons.
Between her new relationship with Willow and the nightly thrill of patrol, Kennedy decided that the Hellmouth was a pretty good vacation spot after all. With any luck, she'd get to take on another vampire soon, and things with Willow were definitely headed in the right direction.
She came down the stairs, freshly showered and changed following some quality time with the punching bag, and found Willow, Dawn, and Amanda gathered around the table. "What's up?"
"Buffy just left for her date," Willow answered.
Kennedy smiled. "Dates are good."
The smile she got in return sent her pulse into overdrive.
"It's with Principal Wood," Amanda explained. "He might be evil."
"Hence, googling," Dawn said.
"This could take a while," Willow said.
Kennedy leaned over her shoulder to look at the screen. "Results 1 - 10 of about 1,920,000 for Robin M. Wood . . . yeah, I'd say that could take a while."
In the end, they found nothing particularly interesting on Wood, although the lack of information -- at least information specific to him, rather than to Robin Hood of Nottingham Woods and the 1.9 million other people with names similar enough to confuse a search engine -- seemed a bit suspicious.
Giles gave them all a lecture on the frivolities of dating while in the midst of an apocalypse before leaving with Spike and the girls scheduled for the night's patrol. Willow and the others had pretty much abandoned the investigation when Andrew interrupted. "Where's Buffy?"
"She went out," Willow said.
"Okay then, how about Xander?" He glanced at Willow, and crinkled the paper bag in his hands.
"Also out," Kennedy said. "Date night."
Andrew shuffled his feet. "Um, I think I need Buffy."
"It's okay, Andrew," Dawn said. "Just tell us what's wrong."
"It's the First," Andrew said. "Earlier, it . . . it talked to me. It looked like Jonathan and it, it wanted me to do stuff."
"I told it no, but now I'm scared." He fidgeted more with the bag in his hands. "I don't know what to do."
"This is good," Kennedy said. "We can use this somehow -- finally take some direct action."
"I thought . . . " Andrew stared down at the bag. "I thought maybe I could be like a double agent, so I -- "
"Yeah," Dawn said. "You could totally wear a wire."
This sent the household into a flurry of activity as they gathered the necessary surveillance equipment and set up a base of operations in the basement. Dawn attached a microphone to Andrew's chest with a liberal amount of tape.
Kennedy had to hand it to him. Andrew had some courage after all, and for once he actually knew something useful. He even refrained from talking about comic book characters when they tested the equipment.
"So what are we trying to learn?" Amanda asked. "I mean, it's not like it's going to explain its plan, is it?"
"We know squat," Kennedy said. "Anything's better than that."
"We need to know its weaknesses," Dawn said. "Everything has weaknesses."
"That means finding out how it works," Willow added. "If we could find out where it draws its power, then maybe we could shut it down."
"It's old," Dawn said. "That means it must feed off of something just as old, right?"
"The human subconscious, maybe," Willow said. "Or an aspect of it -- a negative aspect, like fear or greed."
Willow and Dawn spun increasingly complex theories, while Andrew started to look a little like a deer caught in headlights.
"Hey," Kennedy said. "Was there a specific time for this meeting? Because it might be a little awkward if the First just popped in here."
"I should go up there." Andrew glanced towards the ceiling as if he fully expected to see straight through the floor and spot an army of vampires gathering in front of the television.
"Just remember," Willow said. "It's non-corporeal. It can't physically attack you."
Kennedy thought maybe it would be a whole lot simpler if it did launch a physical attack, but she kept the thought to herself and settled down at the table.
Catching non-corporeal evil on tape proved a little less helpful than they'd hoped. Not to mention a whole lot scarier. It caught them, and it was pissed. They really didn't have too much time to dwell on the failure, though, because Xander needed rescuing from his date.
"Does anyone ever get a normal night out on the Hellmouth?" Kennedy asked, once the crisis had ended and they headed upstairs to bed.
Willow pretended to think it over for almost two seconds. "Uh, No. Tonight was pretty typical. The Hellmouth dating scene does tend toward the hairy."
"In that case, you and I are honor-bound to clean our plates."
Willow turned from the dresser, an adorable look of confusion on her face.
"It's like when your mother says that thing about starving children to get you to finish your peas." Kennedy smiled and slipped her arms around Willow. "The way I see it, we're pretty lucky, and we should enjoy it, because wasting it would be disrespectful to the less fortunate."
"Yeah." Willow smiled. "Good thinking."
And just as Kennedy started to really enjoy their luck, Vi stuck her head in the bedroom door. "Mind if we crash in here? Rona and Molly are fighting again, and Dawn's room is full."
"The Hellmouth does have a way," Willow said, stepping back from Kennedy as several girls piled into the room and started claiming floor space. "That sound you hear? That's the tummy rumblings from all those uneaten peas."
"Don't worry." Kennedy smiled. "Once I manage to sit down at the table, I'm very good at cleaning my plate. Meticulous, you might even say. The dishwasher never finds so much as a crumb."
Potential slayers arrived almost daily. Some had training, while others had just learned about the whole slayer gig when Giles arrived to spirit them away from their ordinary lives, or if they were a little less lucky, when bringers made attempts on their lives.
The ones with training had all lost their watchers. Some had lost family members. They were all scared.
For her part, Kennedy wanted the fight to move forward. She wanted something to do, preferably something that would put the First on the defensive. The whole catching-it-on-tape plan had flopped, but there had to be some action that they could take. Something other than waiting around for it to attack. Some spell that would render it corporeal so they could kick its ass -- something.
She suggested as much to Willow. "With the power you have -- there has to be a way to use it."
"The power I have . . . " Willow fiddled with the slice of toast in her hand. "The thing is, it's dangerous. Any magic that could threaten the First -- I break out that stuff and the First wouldn't need bringers any more. It would have its very own black-haired baddie, all veiny and murderous. So not a good thing."
"You're underestimating yourself," Kennedy said. "We figured out how to deal with that whole Warren thing."
"This is different."
Kennedy frowned. "Magic is powerful, I get that, but it's still you. How bad -- "
"Bad. Just trust me on this, it could get really -- "
"Good." The slayer appeared in the doorway. "Just the person I needed to see."
Kennedy sighed and pushed her chair back. "I'll be in the basement if -- "
"I actually meant you, Kennedy," Buffy said. "I've got a job for you."
The slayer put Kennedy in charge of the other potentials, at least during the day. As the one with the most training, she could bring the others up to speed. In short, the job rocked.
She liked giving orders, and took satisfaction in how quickly her students mastered the basics. There were obstacles, like the need to translate her lessons into a growing number of foreign languages, but finally she had something important to do.
"The First wants to send its minions after potential slayers?" She walked down the line of girls standing at attention in the back yard. "Fine. Let them come for us. They'll face an army, not a bunch of scared little girls."
Most of the potentials nodded along in agreement, but Kennedy noticed how Chloe avoided her eye. The girl had been in Sunnydale longer than most, yet she'd managed to put in less field time than girls who had arrived only a few days ago. She needed toughening up.
"Eyes front, Potential!" Scenes from a half-dozen army movies played in Kennedy's mind. The tough-as-nails drill sergeant always turned the unlikely cadet into a hero.
Chloe raised her eyes and looked a bit resentful. Good. Maybe a little anger would help her move past the fear.
After a few days, even the least experienced potentials could put on a respectable show when facing the dummy, and the group drills demonstrated just how smoothly things were coming together. All of these girls had a natural aptitude, and it showed.
Only Chloe marred the group's precision. The girl really needed to start taking this whole thing seriously, or it would get her killed.
They started the afternoon with quarterstaffs. Amanda looked like she was born to wield one -- which she was, technically -- and Vi always got a gleam in her eye when she had a weapon in her hands. The girls sparred in pairs as Kennedy moved among them.
"It's okay, Chloe," Amanda said, helping the girl up off the ground. "We all make mistakes."
Terrific, Kennedy thought. Coddling. That's just what Chloe needed. Well maybe she did, they could all use a little support, but not in the middle of the training session that the girl was screwing up so royally. "Well don't just stand there, Potential, do it again! And get it right this time."
She marched down the line, nodding her approval at Rona's technique and correcting a new girl's grip on her quarterstaff. In today's session with crossbows, she planned to test them against a moving target. That would require focus. She blew her whistle. "Listen up, Potentials. Group drill, and this time I want it perfect."
Kennedy had to make an effort not to smile, because the group delivered exactly what she demanded, and the tell-tale creak of the back door told her she had an audience. Her girls put on a good show. They looked ready. They were ready. No helpless victims here, these girls were an army.
Then Chloe confused her right and left again, and Kennedy let her have it with both barrels. Maybe a little humiliation would get her to take things more seriously. In the meantime, Kennedy realized that she should probably at least acknowledge the slayer's presence. The weak link's blunder aside, the girls looked good, and Kennedy's progress report was simple.
They were ready to kick some ass.
"Principal Wood's a hottie," Willow said when Kennedy joined her at the table.
Kennedy raised an eyebrow, laughing. "He really doesn't seem like your type."
"I'm gay, not blind, but I meant for Buffy. I think he would be good for her. Attractive, smart, good in a fight, not evil."
"All good things," Kennedy agreed. "If you go for that type. Personally, I prefer curves to bulging muscles."
"Lucky for me." Willow caught Kennedy's hand under the table and leaned in for a kiss.
"Definitely lucky," Kennedy agreed. "Especially for me."
For a few minutes, the fate of the world took a back seat to more pressing matters. Kissing Willow tended to occupy her full attention, and that definitely qualified as a good thing.
"I hate to interrupt all the important making out." Anya's voice cut through the moment. She stood in the doorway, holding out a telephone and radiating her trademark impatience. "But Althenea's on the phone for you, Willow, and Amanda's looking for Kennedy."
Since the council had failed to identify either of them before the attacks began, neither Amanda nor Rona had trained with a watcher. Kennedy was answering some of their questions about her own experience when they all heard Dawn's shocked squeak, and raced out into the hallway.
Everything just stopped when she saw it.
Her brain fought for a way to expose this as just a trick, but the evidence was right there. Her blue lips, the angle of her neck -- those things proved it. Chloe was dead and it was too late to do a damn thing about it.
The First appeared, and provided a target for Kennedy's fury, but demanding answers from it helped nothing. She'd called the girl a maggot, and liked doing it, and now the girl was dead. Chloe had been her responsibility, and she'd failed her. She couldn't process the slayer's questions, and the grief in the others' voices cut at her.
Dawn went to get a knife, and Kennedy felt the slayer's hand on her shoulder. She had to pull it together. The other potentials needed to be told. That's what the slayer was saying right now, to get everyone together and tell them what happened.
She nodded, and wished the numbness in her body would reach her heart, but that stubbornly continued to ache, just as it had the night she'd mourned Hyatt. And just like on that night, she didn't have time for the luxury of grief. She needed to gather up the others and give them the news, and they all needed to deal with what happened, or it would happen again.
The quiet grief as they waited for the slayer, that was the worst part. Kennedy perched on the arm of Willow's chair, the horrible moment replaying itself in her mind. In trying to toughen Chloe up, she'd done the opposite, making her vulnerable to the First. Or at least helping it exploit the girl's weaknesses. She'd failed Chloe, but the First had murdered her.
When the slayer returned and started insulting Chloe -- well that made the anger boil over anew, bringing Kennedy to her feet to demand it stop. Slayer or not, she didn't have the right to talk to any of them like that. Her power didn't make her so special. Willow had more.
But Kennedy did recognize the grain of truth in the speech, and decided to let the more offensive aspects of the delivery slide on the grounds that she very much liked the plan to open the emergency kit. It was about time they brought the fight to the First.
It had killed one of their own, and they needed to shut it down.
The fate of the world often depended upon the slayer. Hyatt had told her that a thousand times. So if this emergency kit held something that a slayer would only need when things got really bad -- well then it had to contain something pretty powerful.
Puppets weren't actually the last thing Kennedy had expected, but only because her mind hadn't conjured them up in order to discount them in the first place. The last thing she'd expected, officially, was the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man. Andrew bore the blame for that one.
Dawn had done the homework, and she took the shadow casters in stride. It seemed the bag wasn't about the weapons and charms it contained. It was about information. Information conveyed by puppet seemed rather quaint, but they were obviously old, and the instructions were written in Sumerian. All things considered, visual aids might come in handy.
This could reveal the spell that gave the First a corporeal ass to kick.
A creepy drumbeat filled the room, and the story of the first slayer played itself out on the living room wall. Kennedy could hear her own pulse pounding in her ears as the glowing . . . portal -- if that was in fact an actual, real thing that could appear in someone's living room and not just some word made up for the movies -- grew.
The slayer, despite the emphatic protests of the others, leapt into the thing, and disappeared. Impossible, but contemplating the laws of physics would have to take a back seat, because a burly demon arrived by no visible means and threw Xander into the wall.
This at least provided Kennedy with a clear course of action. She got in a pretty good blow with the sword that Dawn threw her, but the demon failed to care. It tossed her back onto the couch, cutting her hand and knocking the air from her lungs.
That the demon tossed Spike through the ceiling helped her wounded pride a bit, and she tried to keep it from worrying her unduly. Brute strength-wise, it held the advantage. She got that. But the demon hadn't won yet. They just needed to try another strategy.
They'd have to use magic.
Kennedy actually liked that option. It meant that Willow would finally get in the game, effectively shutting Anya up and finally taking direct action against the First. All Willow needed was a little push, for the need to outweigh the risk, and they'd turn the tide. Once she got over her issues, and regained her confidence, the First had better look out.
The First had to pay, and Willow was the key to making that happen.
But when Willow did get the magic up and running, it was nothing like the fairy tale that had so recently played out in the back yard. When Willow reached out and magically grabbed her -- Kennedy had never felt pain like that in her life. It went beyond hurting. She felt a burning cold, and an explosion of darkness behind her eyes, and when it ended, after seemingly an eternity of blind pain, Kennedy was surprised to find that she'd survived it.
Willow had done that. Used her as some sort of human battery, and as she gasped for breath she realized that Xander had probably just saved her life, because Willow might not have stopped on her own.
She'd been warned, but somehow she hadn't believed it. A good person just didn't turn evil. People did things that might not be entirely the moral choice -- like Willow killing that Warren freak -- but Kennedy hadn't believed that Willow could be so uncaring while using magic as to suck the life out of her friends.
In the back yard, with the gun, Kennedy had never really felt threatened. It was still Willow. But now that she saw the magic full-force, she realized just how badly she'd underestimated the situation. Willow, under the influence of magic -- actually scary. She needed some space from this.
Perhaps more importantly, she needed about twelve hours of sleep. Having one's life force magically drained required a little more than a power nap and a double espresso.
Kennedy missed Willow at breakfast the next morning, and to be completely honest she was pretty much okay with that. Her thoughts fluctuated between Chloe's death -- specifically her part in it -- and her own narrow escape from Willow's magic. The last thing she wanted to do was talk about either issue.
Willow had warned her repeatedly about the dangers of using magic, but the stark reality of it had still caught her off guard. Not only had it hurt, but last night Willow had only seen her -- if indeed she had seen her at all -- as a commodity. A convenient source of power for the magicks. She felt used.
On the other hand, she'd treated Chloe like a slacker, and the First had used the girl's insecurities in the foulest way possible. Kennedy had failed to protect her, and that was something she'd live with for the rest of her life. For that, she wanted payback, and her thoughts circled back to the somewhat ironic fact that she'd been more than ready to use Willow towards that end.
"What the hell happened last night?"
Kennedy looked up from her cereal to find Rona standing in the doorway. "Willow did a spell."
"Maybe she shouldn't do those indoors. This house is crowded enough without blowing apart floors."
The buzz of a power saw filled the air as Xander got busy with the repairs.
"Oh," Kennedy said. "That was just Spike getting thrown through the ceiling by a demon."
"Demon?" Rona asked. "In the house? You know that's not better, right?"
Kennedy shrugged. "Dead now."
"It's amazing that we're not all dead," Rona said. "Buffy's crazy."
"No, she's the slayer," Kennedy said. "She's just doing her job."
"Not very well, if you ask me. Look at this place! It's practically made of plywood. We're not safe."
"Of course we're not safe," Kennedy said. "We're in the middle of a war. One that I for one plan to help win, then we'll be safe, and for now we're better off standing together than out on our own."
Rona went off to spread discontent elsewhere, and Kennedy realized that she needed to keep an eye on that situation. A little complaining was only natural, but too much would just damage morale. After what happened with Chloe -- and that's probably what really had Rona upset anyway -- she felt a little reluctant about scolding the troops. Maybe she needed to talk to Buffy or --
"Hey." Xander walked into the kitchen. "You got a minute?"
"Listen, about last night, with the magic -- Willow got the job done, but I'm a little worried about the fallout. The last thing she wants is to hurt anyone."
"I get that," Kennedy said quickly. "And I'm fine."
Xander shook his head. "Willow's afraid of herself, of her own power. Until she faces that . . . something's coming, we can all feel it. Willow's the most powerful person here, but only if she can do what needs to be done."
"So I need to tell her I'm okay."
"But you're not. You've just been through something pretty unsettling. Not to pressure you, or anything, but what you need to do is actually be okay, and soon, for Willow's sake."
"But no pressure?"
Xander shrugged. "Okay, there's a little pressure. But you can finish your coffee, if that helps any."
Kennedy worked out before she caught up with Willow. Beating the stuffing out of a punching bag did wonders for her lingering fear. The guilt, on the other hand, planned to stick around for a while. She had failed to save Hyatt because she was overmatched, and because Hyatt cared more for her life than for his own. She could almost deal with that. But Chloe -- she could never take back the things she'd said to the girl, or forget how the First had used those words. By misinterpreting Chloe's needs, she'd given the world's oldest evil a pretty effective non-corporeal murder weapon.
She paused, surprised by the fact that she was actually out of breath, and looked up to find Dawn coming down the stairs.
"I think it's dead," Dawn said.
She followed Dawn's gaze to the punching bag, which was slowly leaking sand all over the basement floor. "Oops."
"That's okay. It happens." Dawn shrugged, then ducked under the stairs and started opening boxes. "There's a new one in here somewhere; that one can find new life as an attack-dummy torso. Although hopefully not literally, because torsos coming to life? No good could come of that."
Kennedy joined her search.
"Chloe or the magic thing?" Dawn asked after a few minutes of silence.
"I guess we all feel like we should have known," Dawn said. "But you can't know. Especially with everything that goes on around here. Right now, pretty much everyone in this house is scared of dying, and who would have guessed that anyone would -- here it is."
Together they hoisted the new punching bag out of the box and hauled it over to where the old one was still hemorrhaging sand.
Dawn handed Kennedy a roll of tape from a hook on the wall, and then started sweeping. "It's nice to see Willow smiling again."
Whether that qualified as a casual welcome-to-the-family or a perfectly cheerful death threat was open to interpretation, but Kennedy decided to accept it as the former, since the latter only applied if she broke Willow's heart, something she definitely intended to avoid.
Last night's incident served as a reality check. Magic had its price. She understood that now. She also knew that Xander was right, and that Willow's self-confidence played a major role in whether or not she could control the magic. It wasn't a matter of whether Willow was good enough to do it. What mattered was that she believed in herself.
As long as Willow feared letting go, the magic had the upper hand.
They just needed a way to beat the fear.
Kennedy finished off her bandaging job on the wounded punching bag. "Willow's special. She deserves to be happy."
Dawn smiled an eloquently wordless welcome-to-the-family smile, yet also managed to convey that the death threat still applied.
Willow had gone out, so Kennedy had to wait until after dinner to talk to her alone. In the meantime, the household continued to show interest in her reaction to the magic incident. Even Andrew had inappropriate questions about their current status, along with a strange compulsion to follow her around and narrate his version of events.
"It's a heart-wrenching tragedy, a budding romance derailed by the darkness lurking within our would-be heroine. Like Gambit and Rogue, lovers torn asunder by power that consumes -- "
"Nothing's torn asunder," Kennedy snapped. "Don't you have baking to do?"
She almost felt guilty as the poor geek scampered off to the kitchen.
The afternoon training session was productive, if uneventful, and by the time she had the weapons safely stowed away, dinner was on the table. Willow arrived late, sat next to Anya, and avoided eye contact.
They definitely needed to talk.
She followed Willow upstairs after the meal and caught the bedroom door as Willow started to close it.
"Kennedy." Willow paused in the doorway. "I, uh, I was just -- "
The awkwardness bordered on painful, and Kennedy had put up with far too much of that sort of thing already today. "Listen." She stepped closer, and skipped all the time-consuming words.
Willow's lips were soft under hers, yielding, and as Kennedy pressed her back against the doorframe, Willow's hands came up to find her waist.
Kennedy ignored the sound of footsteps on the stairs and slipped her tongue past Willow's lips, gently demanding a response. Her insides turned to mush at the small sound Willow made, and she made herself draw back before things went just a little too far for a hallway kiss.
Willow smiled softly. "So we're good? Because I thought -- "
"You think too much." Kennedy reached for an irresistible bit of red hair, tucking it back into place. "I missed you today."
"I had a thing."
"A thing, huh? Well that clears that right up."
Willow let go of Kennedy's waist and looked away, obviously uncomfortable again.
"That's okay, you know," Kennedy said. "If you don't want to tell me." She caught Willow's eye, and the pieces fell into place. "You went to see Tara."
"Yeah, I just . . . " Willow shrugged. "I got in the car, and it just sort of took itself there."
"I understand. Really. You needed to talk to her."
"Yeah," Willow said. "I talk to her all the time, but it felt more real, being there, is that silly?"
"Not at all." For a moment, she thought of Hyatt, and how with everything that had happened, she might really appreciate one of his lectures, even if she had to deliver it herself. "I'd probably feel the same way."
Willow turned and headed into the room. "So, I guess we should talk about the whole thing with the lifesucking?"
Kennedy shrugged. "I'm over it."
"You can do that? Just forgive me?"
"Forgive? I don't think there's anything to forgive -- that's how the magic works, and it's not your fault that I didn't get that before. No harm done, at least not that a good night's sleep couldn't cure."
"Kennedy . . . " Willow caught her eye. "Don't sugar-coat."
"Okay, yeah, it hurt. But it's not like you did it for fun. You needed to help Buffy. Anyway, I'm fine now, and next time I'll be prepared."
"Next time?" Willow asked. "What next time? Because there can't be one, not like that, with the losing control. I could have really hurt you, and Anya. If Xander hadn't -- "
"But Xander did. You're not in this alone, Willow." She caught her hand. "None of us have to do any of this alone."
The slayer's little field trip to wherever the heck someone ended up when they leapt through a magical portal in their living room did reveal something. The First, it turned out, had a few more ubervamps at its disposal. Enough to wipe out the population of Southern California in a matter of hours, if the First managed to reopen the Hellmouth before they found a way to shut it down.
Kennedy wasn't unduly disturbed by this revelation. She'd known that the First must have something pretty big in its arsenal, and at least ubervamps provided a physical target. Besides, for the moment they were safely locked away beneath the seal.
That the seal itself was awake and causing trouble qualified as bigger news. Andrew, it turned out, had woke it up by feeding it blood, and had since stashed his murder weapon in the silverware drawer. Ten minutes with a laptop and some musty books, and Willow had the seal's number, though. No spell required.
Just the tears of a nerd. It lacked the poetry of 'tears of an angel' but hey, whatever worked.
The next crisis arose when Giles returned with an enchanted pebble and announced that he planned to add it to the surprising amount of clutter in Spike's brain. The process itself went about as well as could be expected, and the results screamed for immediate action.
Spike's trigger remained active. The First could pretty much use him to slaughter the household if the whim struck. That it had so far failed to bother spoke volumes as to its strategic superiority.
Then right in the middle of this rather worrisome meeting, Willow got a phone call and bolted upstairs to pack.
"Is something wrong?" Kennedy asked as she closed the door.
"Oh, you could definitely say that." Willow bent down to rummage through a bottom drawer.
Kennedy glanced at the half-packed bag. It seemed rather light on clothing, and rather well stocked in the charms, mysterious bottles, and wooden stakes department. "Should I be going with you?"
"Possibly," Willow said. "But that would tip Buffy off, and Buffy knowing? Definitely not a good."
"Where is it you're going?"
"LA. Some friends need a witch. You can go easy on the worry, though. This is one spell I can do without getting dark roots."
In Willow's absence, Giles and Wood took on the Spike issue, and their non-slayer-approved solution backfired with unexpected success. Wood got his ass handed to him, but lucked into a successful deactivation of Spike's trigger in the process.
The tension between the slayer and her watcher would have made things uncomfortable, but fortunately the household had plenty of distractions. New potentials continued to pour into town, and then Willow returned from Los Angeles with a hot brunette vampire slayer.
There were two, thanks to Buffy's first temporary death. Kennedy hadn't stopped to consider the implications of that before. Since India Cohen had died, and Quentin Travers had considered her the most likely candidate for slayerhood, three other girls had been called.
Kennedy's pride chafed a little at that. Still, she was in this fight, and she had skills even without slayer strength. She had no intention of wasting time with any self-doubt now.
As for the new slayer, Faith radiated power. Kennedy found herself intrigued. Hot chick, super powers, dark past. It would have made for an interesting long weekend, if not for the fact that she already had something far more interesting with Willow.
"Do I have to get jealous here?" Willow asked after what must have finally qualified as one too many questions. "Because if I have to make that sort of effort, I could really use a nap first."
"Of course not. I mean, sure, she's hot, but she couldn't hold a candle to you. It's just -- two slayers, that's interesting."
"Now, it's interesting," Willow said. "Back then -- big mess."
Andrew's comic-book-inspired version of said mess reached whole new levels of inaccuracy, but for entertainment purposes it did beat Anya's briefing regarding her demon contacts, in which she glossed over any tactical information she'd managed to gather on the First in favor of delivering a rather disturbing treatise on her sex life.
"Okay," Buffy said. "Some of this is useful. But when you brief the potentials, you might want to skip that whole bit that features naked Xander."
That night, the slayer announced her intention to attack the faux-preacher who had gutted a potential before dumping her in the road with a cryptic message. Sure, it spelled trap, but Kennedy wanted action.
Besides, this creep probably expected the slayer to go alone, or at most turn up with a few supporters. A full assault might catch him off guard.
The two slayers set off together for some recon, leaving Xander to pass out weapons and deliver a pre-mission briefing of sorts. Kennedy filed away his advice regarding tentacles. Probably best for the others if they skipped needing that little tidbit for the moment, but all Kennedy really wanted was a target for the biggest sword she could lift.
Tentacles, two heads, fictional Japanese reptile -- all that mattered was the chance to drive something sharp straight into the gooey center.
"Kennedy, Rona, Molly, Chao-Ahn, and Spike -- you're with me. Stay alert." Buffy ordered Faith and Xander to set up a perimeter and watch their backs.
A vineyard seemed like an odd place for evil, but the place reeked of more than just old grapes.
The bringers attacked almost immediately.
Kennedy deflected a curved knife with her sword, took a blow to the chin, and then landed two good punches. She took down her attacker before a second tripped her, knocking her to the floor. It raised a knife, and she grabbed the bringer's wrist, fighting with every ounce of strength she had to keep the blade from finding its mark.
She kicked, relying on instinct to find her target, because her eyes were locked on the knife. He fell back, and as she jumped to her feet, the bringers retreated. Kennedy froze, startled by the sudden lack of violence.
The fake priest had something to say.
Buffy stood still and let him say it, in all its stomach-turning glory, at least until he decided to toss her across the room. The slayer crumpled, unconscious or worse, amid a shower of wine as the barrel she struck shattered. The preacher gloated, then bested Spike in a matter of seconds.
Kennedy tabled her common sense and charged. She tangled with another bringer, then even managed to land a punch before Caleb hit her and everything went black.
The next thing she knew, Xander was picking her up off the floor. She confirmed, against all available evidence, that she was okay, and then focused on staying upright despite the speed at which the room seemed to spin.
Spike hurried past her, Rona leaning on him for support, and she followed. Behind them, Xander called again for the retreat.
She was at the door, catching her breath beside Rona and Amanda, when she heard Xander scream. She started to turn, but Amanda caught her arm, and Spike was already out of sight. She could barely help herself right now, charging back in there would just slow down whoever had to carry her back out a second time.
The walk back seemed to take an eternity. The wounded leaned on the less wounded, and they all tried to hurry, fearing a pursuit. The cost of the battle hung over them all. Two dead, including Molly.
Molly, who only minutes ago had fought beside her.
Kennedy couldn't quite wrap her mind around that, and yet again circumstances denied her the luxury of grief.
Buffy and Spike carried Xander between them, his face and shirt soaked with blood. His labored breathing proved . . . well it proved that he could still breathe, at least for now. He'd saved her life. Twice, in fact. She hoped he was spared the price Hyatt had paid.
Willow met them at the front door, fear in her eyes as she took in their wounds and their diminished numbers. "Buffy?"
"She took Xander to the hospital," Kennedy said. "Some of the others, too. Molly's dead." The worst of the news delivered, she sank into a chair.
Other wounded, wine-soaked potentials made their way into the room, and none seemed terribly eager to relate the events of the evening to those who had stayed behind.
Spike paused in the doorway. "I've just come from the hospital. Xander -- it's bad. He's going to live, but I'm not sure the boy's all that happy about that right now. He's hurting."
"Spike?" Dawn set her jaw and stared down the vampire. "What aren't you saying?"
"Tonight's little party cost him an eye."
"Oh God." Anya's hand flew to her mouth, and for a long moment nobody spoke.
Dawn looked pale, and her voice shook as she broke the silence. "I should go get the first aid kit."
Willow already had her car keys in her hand. "I should -- it's Xander. Will you be okay?"
"Go," Kennedy said. "I'll be fine, thanks to Xander, and someone should be with him."
Kennedy knew better than to go to bed with a possible concussion, but the idea of sleep lacked appeal anyway. She'd only dream about the vineyard. Instead she sat on the couch and watched Dawn pace back and forth, cradling the telephone and stopping occasionally to peer out the window.
"They'll keep him overnight," Kennedy said. "And no one's calling here unless it's bad news. Which it won't be, because he'll be fine."
Dawn looked at her like she'd just drooled on herself.
"Okay, so he's not exactly fine. But we've already heard the worst of the news."
"I guess you're right about that." Dawn flopped down on the couch. "So it was a trap?"
"Pretty much. I think he was just playing with us, though. This guy could take us apart at his leisure; he really didn't need to lure us anywhere in order to do it."
"Well that's comforting."
"No, honesty's good." Dawn fiddled with the phone in her hand. "While you were out there, did you maybe notice anything we can look up -- anything he might have said, or special markings, maybe? I mean, since we're awake anyway, we might as well get a jump on tomorrow's research."
"He was pretty talkative. But I'm not sure anything he said qualifies as useful." Kennedy remembered his little sermon on soiled blood all too well. "Creepy, definitely. But not useful."
"Well, there's still the symbol on his ring," Dawn said. "We're still not done with not finding that."
"How do you look up a symbol, anyway?" Kennedy asked, following Dawn into the dining room.
"Various methods," Dawn said. "There's word association, where you google phrases that describe the symbol, and there's looking in old volumes based on vague memories of having seen something like it before. That's Giles's favorite. When those fail, you can always try flipping through books at random and looking at the pictures. That one's actually more successful than you'd think."
As daylight started to filter into the house, Kennedy realized that her eyes had grown so heavy that the engravings in the old books had lost all meaning. That is, if she'd recognized their meanings in the first place. She leaned back and stretched. "Want some coffee?"
"Sure." Dawn looked just as intent as she had hours ago.
Kennedy circled around and peered over her shoulder at the computer screen. "Lost eye dot com?"
"This guy lost an eye three years ago, and his blog has all sorts of advice." Dawn sighed. "I know I should be focused on Caleb, but Xander -- "
"Hey, I'm not complaining. Helping a friend is definitely acceptable. Besides, he saved my ass last night." She left off the part about the research on Caleb being fruitless anyway.
She made the coffee strong, and the smell of it brewing drew inhabitants from all corners of the house. They all looked tired, even Giles.
"Did Buffy come home last night?" Giles asked.
"Only briefly," Kennedy answered. "I think she spent the night at the hospital."
Giles shook his head. "I just spoke with Willow, and she hasn't been there since -- Buffy."
The slayer closed the kitchen door behind her. "Oh good, coffee. The town -- I've never seen it like this. It's like the whole denial thing has gone out of style. I need to get back out there."
Kennedy thought that Buffy looked, and for that matter sounded, like sleep had gone out of style, and would have said so, but Giles beat her to it.
"I think you'd be wise to get some sleep."
"No can do," she answered. "Slayage and nap-time are unmixy things."
Caleb and solid answers started to look like equally incompatible things as the morning wore on. Giles and Dawn went back over each of the previous dead-ends, but eventually had to admit that nothing had gotten overlooked.
Amanda flipped listlessly through the papers Giles had stolen months ago. "I don't know why the First bothered to blow up the Watcher's Council, if this is all they had. There's nothing here. At least nothing that matters."
Kennedy might have snapped at Amanda for her attitude, except she'd been through the same file herself earlier, and recognized the accuracy of the assessment. That Andrew spoke up to disagree only added more weight to it.
"Exciting news!" Anya stood beaming in the doorway, and for a moment Kennedy felt a glimmer of hope. "The shower's free."
"I'm next." Dawn sprang to her feet, apparently cheered by the opportunity for personal hygiene. This house really needed a second bathroom.
Anya swiped Dawn's chair.
The front door opened, and Willow called out the now-standard greeting. "Who's here?"
"In here," Kennedy answered. "How's Xander?"
"About as well as can be expected, I guess." She turned to Giles. "Buffy called. She has an idea about gathering some intel on our perp."
Willow and Giles left to Mulder-and-Scully some info out of the local police, and Anya announced that while facts about Caleb were in short supply, she had plenty to share regarding the First.
Kennedy found that unlikely at best, but dutifully marched down to the basement with the rest of the potentials.
Anya's talk proved fairly useless, fact-wise, and was a big enough downer to officially qualify as the polar opposite of a pep talk. When she really reverted to form and started in on her sex life, Kennedy fled to the kitchen.
She found Faith seated on the counter, munching potato chips. Amanda joined them, and after a few cracks at Anya's expense, Kennedy found herself rattling off a list of issues, all of which came down to the apparent pointlessness of this whole fight.
Practically on cue, Buffy returned with a folder full of fresh new leads.
That should have helped her mood. Kennedy knew that. But instead she continued to feel lousy, and made it even worse by inserting her foot firmly in her mouth.
Great, because Buffy really needed a poke in the ego. Kennedy apologized, repeatedly, but she couldn't take it back. She'd gone and reminded the overtired and stressed-out slayer that her best sorely lacked in effectiveness. Just perfect.
Buffy fled the house, and Kennedy fled to the basement. Maybe a nice long episode of the "Anya and Xander Chronicles" was exactly what she deserved.
They devoted the vast majority of the day to reading up on ten years worth of vandalism at California churches. Kennedy thought she'd scream from the boredom, but they did find a few files that involved more than knocked over tombstones and spraypainted obscenities.
"This one," Dawn said. "Monks gone missing? That says big scary in my book. The rest of these just say bored juvenile delinquents. Or, as we call them in Sunnydale, vamp food."
Giles sent Spike and Andrew off to investigate the lead, and Faith suggested blowing off some steam at the Bronze.
Kennedy would have preferred to blow off her steam with Willow, but Dawn was good company, and going out with a friend sure beat the hell out of sitting around feeling crappy.
"Buffy said people were leaving town in droves." Kennedy gestured to the crowded dance floor.
Dawn grinned. "It takes more than an apocalypse to close down the Bronze. Let's dance."
The upbeat music, coupled with Dawn's genuine enthusiasm, quickly lifted Kennedy's spirits. Dawn knew the score better than anyone, so if she could still cut loose for a party, things couldn't be all bad. They just needed a day or two for regrouping, and then the First had better look out.
Eventually, the cops got wind of Faith's fugitive status, and it turned out that a percolating hellmouth had a distinct effect on the law and order types. No worries. As it happened, disarming a rogue cop and getting into a good old-fashioned back-alley scuffle made for a pretty satisfying end to the evening.
Buffy arrived just as the battle was winding down, and ordered them all to head for home.
"Exactly how mad is your sister?" Kennedy asked Dawn as they walked.
"She'll get over it. There are bigger issues."
"Those are the issues I'm worried about," Kennedy said. "The apocalypse might not be the best time for Buffy and Faith to rehash old conflicts."
"Yeah." Dawn sighed. "It probably won't come to violence, though. Faith seems a lot more . . . responsible now -- way less likely to kill people anyway -- and Buffy's too focused on beating Caleb to waste too much energy on anything else."
"I noticed that, too. She needs to step back and take a breath."
"I know," Dawn said. "And she will."
Kennedy hoped Dawn had that right. Singlemindedness could blind a person to the facts, especially if those facts contradicted a possible solution to the problem in question, and then they got reckless. Hyatt had warned her about that danger more than once. That's when slayers die, he'd told her. When they become so focused on a particular threat that they see it as the one worthy of killing them.
They'd only been home a few minutes when the phone rang. "That was Willow," Anya announced. "They're bringing Xander home."
"We need a banner." Dawn pulled open a drawer and started rummaging. "And balloons. Do we have balloons? We should have made a cake."
Kennedy smiled a little. Dawn was calm and efficient in the face of evil, but at least something could rattle her. The girl definitely had it bad for Xander.
They barely had the hastily-constructed banner hung up before the car pulled into the driveway.
"We didn't have time to do more," Kennedy told Xander. "You have to pretend there's a big party here." 5
He seemed cool with that, and a moment later Dawn wrapped him up in a hug that confirmed Kennedy's earlier suspicion.
"Hey." Willow gave Kennedy a quick kiss. "How's everything here?"
"I'm not really sure," Kennedy answered. "I think we need a couple of days to -- "
Buffy interrupted, turning the party into a meeting. She wanted to order her very own Charge of the Light Brigade and Kennedy had no desire to fall in line with the whole 'do and die' riff.
The slayer had lost sight of the big picture.
One at a time, they tried to make her see that -- some of them more tactfully than others, but plans born of desperation cost lives, and no one was willing to pay that price. If the slayer refused to take a step back, that left them little choice but to stand up against her authority.
In the end, the hard job fell to Dawn. For the sake of the group -- and by extension, the world -- she had to kick her sister out of the house, and leadership fell to Faith.
The argument that followed Buffy's departure almost immediately descended into chaos, and Faith finally put an end to it, ordering them all to bed just as the lights went out. It seemed that the power company had skipped town.
Willow muttered something in Latin, and a small ball of light appeared in mid-air, bathing the room in a soft glow.
"I guess you won't be needing one of these?" Dawn asked. She was passing out flashlights and candles from the desk drawer that earlier had failed to produce balloons.
As the room emptied, Kennedy reached out and touched Dawn's arm. "What you did earlier . . . "
Dawn looked likely to decapitate the next person who said she'd done the right thing, or dared call her brave.
Kennedy gave her arm a squeeze instead, then turned to head up the stairs.
"Come to the kitchen." Willow's voice, only Kennedy hadn't heard it, exactly. The words had arrived in her head without the participation of her ears.
Alert for any sign of a trap, she went to the kitchen. Willow stood there against the counter, a dishtowel in her hand. Dawn, Xander, and Giles filed into the room as well. They all looked at Willow expectantly.
"Act natural," Willow thought at them. "We're waiting for Faith."
This information helped nothing. Primarily because Kennedy wanted to know how the hell it reached her in the first place. She wanted to ask if Willow could hear everything she was thinking.
She'd heard something. "You have to think loud, and aim it at me. It only works on surfacy stuff."
Faith came into the room looking spooked.
"The First can't read minds," Willow explained. "And I have an idea. Or at least the start of one. Kennedy, how's your acting?"
Kennedy gave a rousing performance, successfully depicting a disgruntled minion in order to serve as bringer-bait. That part actually rattled her a bit. She'd felt pretty alone in that alley before the others had sprang into action. Still, she'd taken down one bringer herself -- always good -- and they accomplished their objective.
Too bad the prisoner wasn't talking, thanks to the unexpected absence of his tongue.
Spike, on the other hand, had plenty to say when he returned from his mission and learned what had happened the night before. He and Faith inflicted some collateral damage on the dining room, and then he took off. As a result, Andrew delivered the far too detailed report on their mission. Once they got past the whole bit about the difficulties of playing license plate bingo from the back of a motorcycle, it boiled down to the fact that Buffy was probably right.
Caleb and the bringers were protecting something.
As for the bringer, a little magic did the trick. Once he could communicate, using Andrew as his mouthpiece, a well-placed knife steered his little speech in a useful direction. The bringers were building an arsenal at the vineyard.
This meant they were going in after all, although at least now they had a plan. And before that happened, Kennedy had a little plan of her own.
Kennedy had originally packed her bag for pre-holiday shopping in Paris, not for Southern California during apocalypse season. Still, she'd made due, because the wardrobe requirements were startlingly similar.
In the nightwear department, however, she very seriously lacked anything that qualified as alluring. She had grey flannel pajamas, with long pants. Not a teddy, a chemise, or even a nightgown in sight.
The other obstacle to her seduction plans involved the overcrowding situation. Scoring the necessary alone time presented a challenge in a house with sleeping bags covering eighty percent of the square footage. She went to solicit help.
She found Dawn in the kitchen, helping Andrew stem the tide of cascading dishes and empty cereal boxes.
"Got a minute?" Kennedy asked. "I need a favor."
Dawn shrugged. "Try me."
"I want some one-on-one time with Willow, and maybe it's wrong to use the whole impending death thing as an excuse, but I was hoping that you might have some ideas about where the army could bunk down for tonight. I was thinking maybe someplace that's not Willow's bedroom?"
"I might have some ideas, since the whole town's empty and all." Dawn looked thoughtful. "I'll ask Giles about expanding our base of operations. Solely for strategic purposes, of course. The Robertson's game room just might prove vital to our whole mission."
"Thanks, I owe you one." Kennedy's mind turned to her other stumbling block. "Have you seen Anya?"
Giles not only agreed to occupy the girls with a raid on the neighbor's house, he also inadvertently helped out by keeping Willow busy with an impromptu meeting while they dragged their sleeping bags out of the bedroom, which gave Kennedy time to slip into the appropriately skimpy garment she'd managed to borrow.
Willow certainly enjoyed the surprise.
Yet she held back, and admitted that she feared taking this step. She felt threatened by the loss of control induced by lovemaking. Willow feared her own power, and by extension herself.
Kennedy reassured her, confident that however strong Willow's power, Willow could control it. The magic was powerful, and Willow could tap some dark sources, but nothing evil lived in Willow's heart, waiting to escape the first time she dropped her guard. Her subconscious hadn't caused the Warren incident -- Amy had. If anything like that happened again, they'd deal. Kennedy had Willow's back, and she promised to keep her safe.
"You can float around, and I'll tether you down." Kennedy stroked Willow's cheek and gave her a reassuring smile.
Willow smiled back softly. "You'll be like -- my kite string?"
She nodded. "You be a kite, and I'll be your kite string." 6
Kennedy pressed Willow back against the pillows and kissed her again. She felt the other woman relax, letting her guard down just a little more. That's what Willow needed -- freedom from all of this self-imposed control. She needed joy so intense it made her scream.
No problem, because Kennedy knew exactly how to accomplish that. Slowly. Methodically. And with unfailing attention to detail. But the mechanics merely served as a means. The shared emotions, the trust, the love between them -- those mattered more.
Willow had trouble trusting herself right now, but here she was trusting Kennedy, and what they had together. That faith moved Kennedy beyond words, which was cool, because she had other ways of expressing herself right now, and for the first time in her life, she got how lovemaking could be a sacred experience.
They headed out for the vineyard the next morning. Faith sent Willow, Dawn, and the others to check up on Buffy, and led an army of potentials back to the scene of their recent defeat. They found the promised stash of weapons, fought some bringers for them, and found a rather promising looking box.
Leave it to the bringers to put the First's super-weapon in a dingy looking trunk with a padlock. Faith smashed it easily.
And it was the First's weapon, only the booby trap variety. Everyone dove for cover, and when the dust settled, they had wounded.
Kennedy took charge, but she took no pleasure in it. Faith was badly hurt, as were a number of others, and they had to retreat now. She issued orders, sounding more confident than she felt. She could hear the enemy approaching. Bringers she could handle. Even now, bruised and bleeding, she could take on a few bringers and get these girls to safety. But that growling? Not bringers.
The First had sent more Turok-Han.
Amanda, Caridad, and the others hoisted the wounded over the wall of rubble that blocked their way. She carried Faith over herself, and then turned to help Vi. A Turok-Han followed her, making a grab for the injured girl, and Kennedy pulled her out of the way and back to the group.
Kennedy shouted at everyone to form a circle. One of these things had nearly killed the slayer. Twice. Still, the fight had gone to Buffy in the end. They could handle one. They outnumbered it, after all.
More appeared, and Kennedy's grasp on her confidence slipped a little. She shouted orders at the others and fought to keep her own head clear. She could do this.
The Turok-Han attacked, and one surprised her from behind. She managed to throw it over her shoulder to the ground, and run for a weapon, but she failed to get between the Turok-Han and all of their intended victims in time to stop three of the monsters from cornering a potential.
The poor girl never stood a chance.
The creatures turned back towards the others. Kennedy stood her ground, keeping herself between her comrades and the enemy. One of the Turok-Han snarled at her, its breath hot from the fresh blood that covered its face.
She swung at it, but it overpowered her, lifting her by the throat, and all she could do was fight for breath.
But just as she thought she'd lost, Buffy dropped from above, brandishing a shiny new weapon that turned every last Turok-Han to dust as she swung it almost effortlessly. The one-sided battle appeared almost choreographed. Barely winded, and looking every bit the hero, the slayer ordered them to gather the wounded for the retreat.
Kennedy was sick of having her life saved. By Hyatt, by Xander, by Buffy. Not that she didn't appreciate it, being not-dead was good, but she wanted control of her own fate. She wanted the power.
"How are we going to carry the wounded?" Kennedy asked Buffy. "It's a bit of a haul from here to -- never mind."
As Buffy called Xander for transportation, Kennedy organized the walking wounded and made sure that she accounted for every last potential. The dead could be left, for now, but the almost-dead at least deserved a chance.
Faith's condition -- she tried to sound positive, assuring Amanda that slayers healed fast, but it looked bad. They should never have turned their backs on Buffy. This whole mess had gone down because they followed Faith, when obviously Buffy had found the real weapon without any help at all.
Amanda called this punishment, and Kennedy found it hard to argue.
Buffy, however, was Big Picture Gal once again. No point in the rehash, and Faith's mistake could very well have been her own. Time to move forward.
Kennedy found herself in charge of triage while Anya and Andrew went to the hospital for supplies. This scared her more than facing the Turok-Han. No, that wasn't quite true. Nothing had scared her more than that. But this frightened her in a different way.
Anya had called her tough. Okay, true. But impending death did bother her. These girls needed to live. It mattered.
"Listen up," she said. "None of you are going to die. Got that? We bothered to haul you back here, and we didn't do it for nothing. You're all strong, and these wounds don't look so bad." She looked around at the girls tending to each other on the living room floor. She spotted Shannon. "You. Stand up for a second."
Kennedy waited until all eyes turned to Shannon. "Caleb tried to make this girl a victim. She took a knife in the gut, and he threw her from a moving truck. She survived. Follow her example."
"A lecture," Amanda said. "Interesting technique."
"Yeah," Vi said. "But it still beats Anya's bedside manner."
"So," Kennedy said. "What's Buffy's big idea?"
Dawn bit her lip, apparently stifling a laugh, and looked away.
"What? That bad?"
"No, it's just Willow . . . never mind. I think -- "
"Kennedy." Willow appeared in the doorway. "Meeting time."
"That you're about to find out," Dawn finished.
The whole household crowded into the living room, every eye on Buffy. Kennedy could see the determination on the slayer's face as she started her speech. Of all Buffy's sometimes long-winded speeches, this one ranked at the top of the list, because Kennedy finally heard exactly what she wanted to hear.
She wanted power. And that's exactly what Buffy offered.
The scythe -- they were calling it a scythe now -- was the key to everything. Buffy had its secrets, and Willow had the power to use them. Every girl here would hold her own fate in her own hands, because tomorrow they'd stand as slayers.
Kennedy definitely liked this plan.
Willow sat on the end of the bed, spellbooks and amulets surrounding her. She used her lap as a makeshift desk, and studied her papers by candlelight. Her concentration was palpable.
Kennedy reclined on the bed and watched. She could see the tension in Willow's shoulders, and reached up to play with her hair. She knew exactly why Willow was tense -- tomorrow the fate of the world rested on her. Kennedy wanted to say something reassuring, but waited patiently for an opening.
It didn't take long.
Willow went so far as to say that Kennedy might have to kill her. This spell, Willow claimed, went beyond everything. But Kennedy had no intention of killing the woman she loved, and said so. She pointed out that Buffy had faith in Willow's control, and that she of all people wouldn't blindly support the slayer. Buffy's trust was well placed.
"In fact," Kennedy said. "This may have escaped your keen notice, but I'm kind of a brat. I've always sort of gotten my way. So you're going make it through this, no matter how dark it gets. Because now... you're my way." 7
Willow smiled and leaned in for a kiss before bending over her work once again. Kennedy slid in behind her, looking at the spell stuff herself. Maybe she should have taken Latin in school, instead of Spanish. No matter. Willow had the magic covered. Kennedy just had to be her kite string.
They boarded the schoolbus just as the sun reached the horizon. Kennedy's heart pounded. Today, she'd become a slayer. For a moment, her thoughts turned to Hyatt. He'd always been so sure that she'd be called. She wondered what he'd think about this.
Today the rules changed.
She left Willow to spend a few last minutes with her friends before the battle, and went to unpack the necessary supplies in the principal's office. Some people would die here today. Kennedy tried not to think about that. Her job was to support Willow, fight vampires, and stay alive.
Worrying would have to wait until after the fight.
Willow arrived and let out a shaky sigh. Her hands trembled as she lit the first candle.
"Hey," Kennedy said. "You can do this thing. I feel it."
"Just as long as you promise to -- "
"I'm your kite string," Kennedy said. "I expect you to soar."
Willow smiled. "You are, you know. My kite string. It's because of you that I can face this. You've been there for me in all of this, and I trust you to bring me back from the dark place."
She got through the rest of the preparations with only one more reference to the whole killing thing.
The spell -- it didn't feel dark. Not at all. It hit her, and it felt nothing like that night in the living room. This felt great. Joy and power coursed through her, and she saw flashes from the slayers who had gone before. She felt . . . alive, and strong.
Kennedy laughed. She was ready for anything.
Then she looked at Willow, bathed in white light, smiling. She looked like a goddess.
She was a goddess.
"And you're a slayer," 8 Willow said breathlessly, handing over the scythe.
Now Kennedy's role really began. She ran through the school, weapon in hand, eager for the battle. She almost feared that she'd miss all the fun, and that the other new slayers would dust every last one of the Turok-Han before she got a turn. Sure, that would be a good thing, she knew that. But she wanted her chance to get in this fight.
Kennedy wanted her pound of flesh. Or, more accurately, her pound of dust.
She threw the scythe to Buffy, who cut down a whole line of the enemy with one blow, and turned to face her own attacker.
Oh yeah, this slayer power? This felt great.
She managed to take down half a dozen before Faith called the retreat. A victorious retreat this time. That thing around Spike's neck was finishing the job. Slayers carried the wounded with ease. Kennedy raced up the stairs.
Whatever was happening, she didn't think the principal's office was exactly the best place to be right now. Not with sunlight streaming through the ceiling like that.
She collected Willow, and they ran for the bus. She saw Dawn dragging a reluctant Xander, and Vi helping Rona. One of the girls deposited a shell-shocked Andrew in a seat.
"Where's Buffy?" Dawn asked, fear in her voice.
Willow's eyes snapped to Kennedy's. "Did she . . . "
"She was alive last I saw."
The bus started on Faith's order, and Kennedy looked out the window to watch the ground crumbling behind them. She caught a glimpse of Buffy, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, the scythe in her hand.
She'd make it.
A solid thump against the roof said that she had.
Kennedy turned her attention to the others. They'd done well. They'd saved the world, and most of them had survived doing it.
"I'm glad you're a brat," Willow said softly. "If you hadn't pushed . . . if we hadn't -- it's my kite string that made today's big difference. So yay for you being a brat."
"Yeah." Kennedy grinned and caught Willow's hand. "Who knew that being a spoiled brat could save the world?" She leaned in for a kiss. "Plus there are other benefits I really like."
The bus rumbled to a stop, the town a smoking crater behind them. Kennedy smiled. She'd fallen in love. She'd helped save the world. Hyatt would be proud. Life, she decided, was good.
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