Book One : Circle’s End



Buffy rubbed her hands over her bare arms realising that perhaps the ‘no jacket’ approach had been a little adventurous after all. Despite being the beginning of July, the night temperature was dropping as she walked and growing quite uncomfortable.

‘Then again.’ She thought to herself. ‘It’s the only thing that is adventurous.’

So far this week the Slayer hadn’t even seen a bat out of place, let alone anything that merited her patrol. She slipped her hands into the pocket of her leather pants and trudged on down the empty street.

‘Shouldn’t be complaining about the lull.’ She continued to herself trying to break the boredom. ‘Things have been crazy enough.’

She thought briefly about the recent events and not for the first time felt a brief stab of longing.

‘Riley.’ She missed him. A part of her hated herself for it really as she’d encouraged him to go. It was important for them to get space, find equilibrium in everything that had happened but she was allowed to miss him. ‘Aren’t I?’

A cat jumping out of a garbage can to her left broke her out of her thoughts that were quickly spiralling towards self-pity. The Slayer watched the orange and white tabby scurry across the pavement before her. Instinct drew her eyes to the place between the abandoned industrial buildings just as the group of creatures rounded the corner out of the small alleyway.

The five human formed demons moved into an arrowhead formation as they entered the street and headed towards her.

“We will take this one too.” The tall one in the point of the formation instructed to the others, his smooth greyish skin glowing slightly in the moonlit night.

“Lights, camera, action!” Buffy’s voice was somewhat bland as she watched their approach carefully. In all her patrols she’d never ran into quite anything that looked like these guys. But that was okay, things didn’t have the tendency to be repetitive at the Hellmouth.

Five sets of deep yellow eyes pierced into her as they moved down the street. They didn’t expect much trouble from a lone human girl. The leader moved forward as the others hung back to block the road ahead and Circle her slightly. The leader walked straight at her in long strides.

“You wanna let me go and we all stay friends?” Buffy sneered lightly as she saw the first of them approach.

“Friends?” It questioned as one arm went out at its side and a long bone coloured tube emerged from the palm of its three-fingered hand. “We do not need your friendship, we need food.”

“Thought not.” Buffy responded as she jumped up aiming a kick to the creature’s midsection. It blocked her leg with its unaltered arm, throwing a punch at the end of the movement that caught her sharply across the face. She was slightly surprised at the efficient block and follow up move, consciously notching up her concentration.

A volley of blows was exchanged and blocked in turn. The Slayer landed several successful blows that backed her attacker up slightly but not until it had managed a few well-placed shots of his own.

“She is difficult.” It retracted the extended appendage back into its hand. “Assistance is required.” At the gravely words, two others broke their seeming trance and moved in on her.

“A call for back up.” Buffy grinned. “Nice touch, I should try it one day.”

Without more words the trio descended on her, taxing the Slayer’s ability with their assault. She threw a lot of varied moves at them, finally bringing one momentarily down only to have the last two then decide to join the battle.

‘I take it back.’ Buffy thought silently as she threw herself into the fight. ‘I want quiet again.’

“Hey Drone boys!” Emerging from the alleyway, the sweet voice of a tall slim woman called to the creatures. Dressed in hip hugging jeans, thick-soled black boots and a tight long sleeve black v-neck she cut a distinct figure as she stalked down the road towards the momentarily motionless group. “I told you Seven-Eleven has lots of snacks so lay off the humans.” Reaching them, she placed a firm high kick to one of the creature’s head and sent it to the ground.

“May I suggest you run? I’ll take care of them.” She added tightly to the blonde as she went after another one of the Drones.

“Suggest what you like.” The Slayer replied as she dragged her attention away from the newcomer and kicked one of the assailants down. “But I’d rather be here for the finale.” She stamped down on the one she had floored.

“Damn.” The stranger cursed as a buzzing began in the sky above then. “The Drones called in Transporters.” She snapped her fist out and cracked it into one of the creature’s thick skulls.

“The who called the what?” Buffy asked fixing her efforts on another creature while she glanced skyward trying to pinpoint the noise.

“They’re called Transporters.” The tall girl explained as she continued to attack the hardheaded creature that refused to fall. “Winged versions twice as nasty, with fangs.”

“Oh great.” The Slayer groaned.

“If you won’t run would you do me a favour?” The dark haired woman asked sweetly as she appraised their environment.

“A favour?” Buffy staggered back a little from a well placed blow.

“When the winged ones arrive I need you to get down when the sparks start to fly.” Thrown by a blow from behind the tall girl arched herself up to stand. Above them a small pack of the winged grey creatures arrived and the noise grew louder.

“One girl heading to the ground the second I see a twinkle.” Buffy assured her, willing at this point to take any help. It was obvious from her fighting skills that this stranger knew what she was doing. The Slayer would find out later what exactly her story was.

“The co-operation is greatly appreciated.” The stranger stepped back from the creature she was fighting. She began to murmur under her breath in a language she knew neither the blonde nor the creatures would understand. She held her hands in front of her and stretched them out as she reached the end of the incantation. The power lines lit up like Christmas trees as the blue electricity was pulled out of them in lightening arcs.

“Down now!” A tight voice stated strongly as the blue arcs of energy collected into the tall girl’s outstretched arms.

“Going down!” Buffy called as she threw herself to the tarmac and into a roll to get away from the danger zone.

One last word in the strange language sent a shot out of her hands and into each of the creatures. The winged Transporters fell to meet the Drones on the ground as they all burst into flames and burned down to nothing.

“At least they clean up easy.” She laughed as she shook the last sparks of electricity from her hands and dropped to one knee, breathing hard. “You okay?” She turned to look at Buffy.

Buffy flipped up from the floor. She dusted the dirt from her knees and dabbed at the small ooze of blood from her lip.

“Okay so I’m impressed.” The Slayer looked down at the dark haired girl with a slightly raised eyebrow. She ran an appraising eye over the other woman, noting the tall girl’s long black hair was neatly braided down the sides of her head, straight into a single braid that hung long down to the shallow of her back. She had a thin face and piercing green eyes. On her collar above the dip of her top was a tattoo, though other than that the girl wore no other body adornments.

“No biggie.” The young woman tucked a stray wisp of pitch-black hair behind her ear and stood up stretching to her full height.

“The names Buffy.” The Slayer smiled and extended her hand before she thought about the amazing feat that the girl had just achieved and had the chance to stop herself.

“Hazel.” She smiled and shook it. “Buffy, you got some skills there.”

“You too.” Buffy pulled her hand back after it had been shaken and glanced at it, surprised when a small feeling of warmth travelled up her fingers into her arm.

“Think you could explain why five freaking ugly Drones didn’t scare the hell out of you?” Hazel dusted off the thigh of her jeans as she turned her attention to the agile blonde. The girl’s reaction to the whole situation puzzled her.

“I could but I’d have to kill you afterwards.”

“Oh right.” Hazel laughed. “Well I don’t do dead.”

“It’s not a good style this season.” Buffy agreed with a nod.

“You live around here?” Hazel asked still trying to figure things out.

“What’s the take on the sparks?” The Slayer avoided answering her questions as she had a few that required answers first.

“Conduction spell.” The tall girl walked over to one of the burn spots and picked up the small medallion that sat on the ground.

“You a Wicca?” She asked the question laughing at herself quietly. ‘Okay dumb question Buff, who else does spells?’

“Sorta.” Hazel answered absently as she studied the medal.

“Sorta?” Buffy moved to get closer to the girl and what she held in her hand.

“Yeah sorta.” She repeated. “Buffy, we gotta move. This one was a section leader. We might have another twenty of them coming to dance and I only got one spark a night.”

“Well I got a job to do.” Buffy looked down the alley. If there was more of them coming she couldn’t run away, after all she was the Slayer.

“Job?” Hazel put the medallion in her pocket.

“Job, did I say job?” Buffy laughed wondering why she had made the obvious slip.

“Yeah, you said job.” Hazel studied her.

“Hey you should meet my friend Willow.” Buffy tried to get out of the hole she had nicely dug for herself.

“How about we talk and walk?” The tall girl motioned to the road.

“Great idea.” Buffy turned and began to walk with the other woman pulling in beside her. “So are you new in town?”

“So whose job includes walking deserted parts of town and not being shocked by ugly nasty night creatures?” Hazel asked the question at the same time, though in the interest of getting an answer to her question she answered first. “Yeah, very new too town.”

“Well welcome to Sunnydale.” Buffy threw in a lighthearted welcome, though she knew this wasn’t going to be an easy walk.

“One of the more lovelier Hellmouths.” Hazel laughed lightly as she glanced up into the sky. ‘Oh good one.’ She cursed herself realising the slip.

“What did you say?” Buffy threw the dark haired girl a quick look.


“Nothing important.” She smiled lightly trying to drop it.

“Okay.” Buffy pulled to a stop. “I think it’s time to talk.”

“Talk and walk remember.” Hazel turned and walked slowly backwards. “Need space between us and the burn marks.”

“Yeah okay.” The Slayer reluctantly started walking again.

“So what you want to talk about?” Hazel grinned at her, green eyes sparkling as she saw the blonde pondering what was going on.

“Okay now I know you said Hellmouth, you know you did. So you want to tell me who you are?” She began simply.

“Hard to explain.” Hazel smiled lightly. “Short version, I’m a witch. And you?” Buffy kept herself alert watching for any movements while still giving the dark haired woman her attention. “Before you panic... I’m a good witch.” She did her best Glenda impression.

“Very Wizard of Oz.” Buffy couldn’t help but laugh.

“Thank you, it’s one of the few films that gives us a good name.” Hazel laughed back. “So you would be?” She held Buffy with a serious look suddenly.

“Well short version, I’m a…” Buffy paused and the witch paused with her, sensing the change in their environment.

‘Not a drone, my skin isn’t crawling.’ Hazel thought to herself as the Slayer’s eyes flickered to the bushes just to the left of her.

“Haze, do me a favour?” Buffy slowly moved slightly to the left.

“Sure, I owe you one.” The tall girl nodded softly.

“Remember the hit the floor trick?” Buffy let her hand drift to her waistband where she felt the familiar wooden base of her stake.

“Know it well.” The witch smiled. “Just give the word.” She readied herself.

“Now!” Buffy called as the vampire launched itself out of the bushes at the young witch and she launched to meet it. Her feet connected with its side, sending the vamp flying off course. Hazel dropped and rolled towards where the Slayer had been standing.

Coming up on her knees Hazel turned quickly to see the Slayer descend on the vampire in a second. She hit it hard suffering minimal damage herself. With an effort she forced herself away from the vampire and with a smart quick movement staked it.

Hazel watched the bushes half-heartedly for others as she studied the blonde woman’s moves. She almost smacked herself for not figuring things out before. Buffy stepped back quickly replacing Mr. Pointy with a slight flourish.

“I thought it was more of an ancient prophecy than a job.” Hazel laughed lightly as she stood up and dusted herself off. “The spark trick makes me a bit slow but I still can’t believe I didn’t think of it before.” She shook her head lightly. “Nice to meet you Slayer.”

“You too Witchy.” Buffy grinned at her.

“Odd pair to meet up here at the Hellmouth.” Hazel grinned back at her. “Oh no wait, perfectly normal for a Hellmouth.”

“Just what I was thinking.” Buffy laughed. “So I forgot to ask before.” She dabbed at her lip that had begun to bleed a little again from the latest attack.

“Ask away.” Hazel smiled and began walking again slowly.

“What are you doing out and about at one o’clock in the morning?” The Slayer began walking with her.

“Here.” The witch pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and held it out for the blonde. “Doing the same thing as you.”

“Looking for trouble.” Buffy laughed and took it. “Thanks.”

“Always.” Hazel laughed with her. “I’m trying to find the hive those little french fried baddies came out of.”

“You know what they are?” Buffy questioned. “I have to do the graveyard shift. You wanna join me?” She added nodding toward the cemetery they were approaching.

“Yeah, I’m in.” Hazel moved to follow. “The Drones have got the vamps scared though, you might have noticed a bit of a drought lately. They are the Nukpanable. The walking ones are Drones that collect food for the hive and the flying ones are Transporters that bring the kill back for processing. Funny thing is the uglies eat other demons so it’s sorta a shame to kill them off.”

“Hmmm.” Buffy sorta agreed. “So what are you doing in Sunnydale?”

“Once the hive gets big enough and they get hungry enough they’ll go after normal pop so the Witches Circle sent me to clean them out.” She sidestepped around a tombstone.

“Oh great, just another big demon problem.” Buffy raised her eyebrows.

“Unfortunately, yeah.” Hazel nodded. “Somewhere underground there is a big ugly Queen pumping them out like a fast food joint and she isn’t going to stop till she controls everything.”

“Sounds great. I’m not going to touch another burger for a while!” Buffy shuddered at the idea of the Queen.

“It’s a lovely affair.” Hazel laughed.

“Well if you need a hand, look me up.” The Slayer offered.

“Yeah two Chosen ones are better than one any day right?” The witch made the comment without thinking. She was a little surprised at herself and how relaxed Buffy was making her feel.

“You really should meet my friends.” Buffy noted the comment but deciding not to call her on it.

“Count me in.” She was glad the slip went unnoticed. “You’re about the first person I’ve met in Sunnydale.”

“Really?” Buffy questioned checking tombstones as they passed.

“Well new in town, spending most of my time patrolling deserted parts of town killing uglies.” Hazel laughed at her predicament. “Doesn’t do much for the social aspects of life.”

“Social life?” Buffy laughed. “And that is?”

“No idea.” She laughed with her.

“Well how about we meet up tomorrow?” Buffy suggested, something inside her wanted to keep a close eye on this newcomer.

“Sounds good.” Hazel nodded her tone dropping a bit quieter. “Do your friends know about the slaying job?”

“Oh yeah they know about it.” Buffy smiled.

“Very cool.” Hazel was impressed. “So witchy sparks aren’t going to faze them, I’m glad. It freaks a lot of people out.” She added the last part softly.

“I had better get on with this. I work quicker when I am focused.” The Slayer motioned to the cemetery grounds.

“Yeah, I got a hive to hunt.” Hazel smiled. “Where and when tomorrow?”

“Do you ice skate?” Buffy asked as she started to move away a bit.

“On occasion.” Hazel looked at her confused.

“How about meeting up at the ice rink then?”

“Alrighty.” She began backing away slowly as well. “Time?”

“Eleven?” Buffy suggested figuring it would give her enough time to round up the gang in the morning.

“Be there with bells on.” The witch nodded. “Oh and if you meet anymore Drones. They don’t like fire and they’re weak up top.”

“Great. Nice meeting you and thanks for the life saving thing.” The Slayer waved at her.

“Right back at you.” Hazel turned and walked off into the dark night.

“Later.” Buffy watched her disappear with a smile.

‘Finish the patrol and then back to Giles.’ Buffy continued her duty with an extra spring in her step eager to share the night’s revelations. ‘This will make an interesting report.’

Willow closed her laptop, slipping it off her legs and onto the coffee table.

“I’ve gone through everything I can find.” She stretched her arms up into the air as she stood up. “There are no Hellmouth anniversaries coming up that could explain the lull.” She glanced at Tara who was curled up at the other end of the couch reading. “Any luck?”

“Not a thing.” The timid blonde replied looking up at the red head with a smile.

“It makes no sense for the Hellmouth to be quiet.” Giles came back into the room from the kitchen. “Something is brewing again.” He sat down with the thick leather bound book. “Hopefully Buffy will have had some luck on patrol.”

“Giles, even demon’s take holidays.” Willow looked at him stretching again. “Maybe they all followed Xander and Anya on their camping trip.” She laughed lightly then felt horrible for saying it as if anything happened now she’d be at fault.

“We should hope not.” Giles flipped another page.

“Willow come and sit down.” Tara urged softly. The young woman had been working on the computer for hours and she never took enough time out as far as the young Wicca was concerned. The redhead moved over to the couch and fell into it softly.

“You’d think we’d have these books memorised by now.” Willow laughed lightly reaching one hand out to rest on Tara’s lower calf.

“You want a drink?” Tara asked softly, not really wanting to move.


“No, we should make the popcorn though.” Willow looked up for the time. “Buff will be back soon and we can start the vids.”

“How did I get roped into letting you girls have movie night here?” Giles looked up at them taking off his glasses and scratching the bridge of his nose.

“The Slayer’s back already, and the vids are going to have to wait.” Buffy sauntered into the room closing the door behind her with her foot.

“What’s wrong?” Giles stood up.

“Talk to me about the Nukpanable.” Buffy recalled the name that Hazel had used for the creatures they’d encountered.

“Nukpanable?” Giles repeated the name and looked at her.

“Yep. Big ugly grey things, some of them fly, some of them suck and the big one just makes more little ones.” She listed off the facts she knew.

“Let me look it up in the demon dictionary.” Willow grabbed a small book off the table nearby, smiling at Tara as she leaned over the blonde to get it. Buffy walked into the middle of the room.

“What did you run into?” Giles was surprised by his charge’s detail as usually it stopped with ‘big ugly and grey’ let alone a name.

“Nukpanable are class five demons.” Willow read aloud knowing they’d all listen.

“Class five huh? We’re talking heavy then.” Buffy nodded towards her friend.

“A species that lives primarily underground and in a bee-like hive environment. Propagated by a well-guarded Queen, who is attended by sub-classes that she produces on mass.” Willow added with a little nod to Buffy. “Yeah heavy.”

“Th-th-this isn’t good is it?” Tara glanced at Willow and the Slayer and then at Giles.

“Buffy will take care of it.” Willow patted her leg again and reassured her. “It goes on to say...” She went back to the book. “That they are parasitic and feed on the rest of the demon population of an area until that resource is exhausted and then they will go after full humans for food.”

“Anybody want to venture guess what Sunnydale is running out of!” Buffy interjected cynically.

“This is not particularly good.” Giles paced a bit. “We have a Nukpanable hive. Buffy?” He turned to look at her again. “This does nothing to explain how you came by all this information.” He replaced his glasses. “As usually your report is a few ugly grey baddies.” The Slayer’s slang fell heavy with his accent. “How did you find all this out?”

“Oh yeah.” Buffy looked at him. “Hazel, the New Witch on the Block.”

“New witch on the block?” Willow turned and questioned as she picked up her laptop again.

“H-H-Hazel?” Tara laughed slightly.

“Yeah Hazel.” Buffy confirmed. “About so tall, long black hair, witchy green eyes.” She gave the blonde Wicca details before turning back to Giles.

“I don’t know her, do you Tara?” Willow looked at her.

“N-N-No.” Tara replied meeting Willow’s look.

“I think you better tell us what happened Buffy.” Giles prompted her. “Where did you meet Hazel?”

“I met her in an alley about half way between the graveyard in the woods and the main cemetery.” Buffy filled her watcher in. “I had five of these demon guys getting a little heavy.”

“And she just told you all this?” He asked confused.

“Well yeah, kinda.” Buffy evaded the question knowing that if she explained she would have to tell Giles that she had told Hazel about the Slayer thing.

“Go on Buffy.” Giles prompted.

“She did this great trick with electricity and downed them all.” Buffy offered. “Which kinda meant she had to explain. It was a great spell Will.” She turned to her friend. “You and Tara should learn it.” She added with a smile as she made another little attempt to show her friend she was cool about her and her new revelations.

“With electricity?” Willow looked at her a bit shocked.

“Yeah sucked it straight from the cables. Perhaps you two should try batteries first!” She laughed lightly.

“She pulled electricity from the wires?” Giles rubbed his forehead. “What else did she say?” He felt himself growing very worried.

“I know this sounds kinda crazy.” Buffy turned back to the older man. “But she’s seriously cool.”

“Buffy, you do not know her from Adam.” Giles stated bluntly.

“Yeah but Adam was a part man, part demon part machine thing and we knew him.” Willow added softly into the tension. Tara smiled brightly at her to give her recognition for a nice attempt at brevity.

“She saved my life.” Buffy bit back at her Watcher’s negativity.

“Which I am grateful to her for.” Giles tried to be clam. “But we have to verify her information Buffy. She is obviously not your run of the mill Wicca.”

“Look you’re all going to meet her tomorrow anyway.” Buffy tired to follow Willow’s lead and calm the situation.

“We are?” Willow turned to her.

“Yeah we’re meeting her at the ice rink at eleven.” Buffy moved to sit in the chair by the couch.

“Think she’ll show me how to do the electricity thing?” The redheaded asked softly.

“I-I-don’t skate.” Tara frowned gently.

“I’ll teach you.” Willow smiled at her. “It’s a lot of fun.”

“Okay.” Tara said trustingly.

“I want to know all I can about her before we meet.” Giles began he tapped the cover of the book he held. “Did she give you any other information, any about herself?” The Englishman walked over to the bookcase and pulled out another text.

“She’s a witch and she’s called Hazel.” Buffy went over again. “She mentioned a Circle or something and she threw in a line about the Chosen one.” She reeled off the seemingly unimportant facts.

“Circle.” He looked up at her, trying to keep the book from falling out of his hand. “She didn’t say The Witches Circle did she?”

“Yeah that was it. No popcorn?” Buffy looked at Willow in disappointment.

“Just about to make it.” Willow looked up from the laptop. “You’re early.”

“Did she say why she was here?” He asked trying to not appear too thrown by the statement pulling off his glasses again to rub at the bridge of his nose.

“Giles, she’s just a witch with a mission to rid Sunnydale of the Nukpanable hive.” Buffy leaned back heavy in the chair.

“Buffy, the Witches Circle is not something to be trifled with.” He stated firmly. “They predate the Council.” He tried to show the weight of the situation.

“Okay, okay.” Buffy sighed.

“H-h-he’s right.” Tara interjected softly, causing the Slayer to turn to her slightly surprised.

“Tara, you’ve heard of the Witches Circle?” Willow looked up from the laptop again a little surprised. “I haven’t heard of the Witches Circle.” The redhead added in a quiet tone.

“J-j-just a l-l-little.” Tara’s stutter became noticeably worse as she became the focus of everyone’s attention.

“What do you know?” Giles questioned her. Even he knew very little of them the group as the Circle had distanced itself from the Watcher’s Council a century before.

“W-w-well, aren’t th-they the ones in charge of Breitan witches?” Tara asked feeling increasingly uncomfortable

“Who are they in charge of?” Willow asked softly, her hand again going to the other woman’s leg again. “Did she say she was Wicca?” The hacker asked Buffy without looking at her.

“No, but I asked her.” Buffy replied.

“So is she Wicca?” Giles asked trying to get someone to give him information.

“And she said kinda.” The Slayer looked back at him.

“Well now we are reaching clarity.” He shook his head and went back to his book.

“No wait.” Buffy said thinking hard waiting to see if her Watcher would turn back to her. As she knew he would he looked up at her. “She said sorta not kinda.” She offered with a cheeky grin.

“By the way Miss. Summers.” He looked at her staunchly. “How did she know you were the Chosen one?”

“Tara, what witches are they in charge of?” Willow asked her softly. “And how did you learn about the Circle?”

“Ah yeah well. Tell us more about the Circle Tara.” Buffy picked up on Willow’s line of questioning. Giles shook his head and left it for the moment hoping Tara knew more.

“I-I read about it.” Tara looked at Willow only hoping their relationship might make it easier for her to feel relaxed enough to talk.

“Where?” The redhead asked her softly, her hand still gently rubbed the blonde’s lower leg.

“In a book I got from Dragon’s Cove.” She found some fluidity.

“What did it say?” Willow prompted her gently holding her look.

Buffy looked away from the pair but listened intently.

“It talked about the different types of witches and the ancient times.” Tara felt herself relaxing losing herself in Willow’s eyes.

“What type does the Circle look after?” Willow smiled lightly as she saw Tara relax, fighting the urge to lean in and kiss her.

“Well not us, not Wiccans.” Tara smiled at her forgetting for a moment where they were and whom they were with. “They are in charge of all the Breitan witches, all the ones that inherited their powers rather than learned them.”

“Are they bad witches then?” Willow asked her with a crooked frown.

“Oh no, n-n-not n-n-n-necessarily.” Tara stumbled over the words she always had problems with.

“Nope she’s definitely a ‘good witch’.” Buffy added with a smile and a fake accent to echo Hazel’s.

“Well I hope that we’ll be able to get a little more information tomorrow.” Giles injected. “Tara, do you still have this book?” Tara nodded as Buffy got up and wandered towards the kitchen. “Hopefully it will have references to the ancient texts that it pulled its information from.” He rubbed his forehead. “Buffy you and I have to have another chat about detail sharing.” He looked up at her annoyed slightly.

“Yeah whatever.” She waved a hand at him briefly. “She had the cutest tat.”

“Of what?” Willow piped up.

“A rabbit I think.” Buffy called as she reached the kitchen area. “Where’s the corn?”

“You think?” Giles grew more pained by the moment. “Buffy, a tattoo can be a very important marking of affiliation for witches within the Circle.”

“Yeah well you know a thing with long ears. Its head tilted backwards, upwards looking at something. Popcorn Will?” Buffy hinted again.

“A full moon?” Giles asked her giving his full attention.

“Yeah that was it.” Buffy opened one of the cupboards.

“Already waiting in the micro just hit the button.” Willow called back to her.

“Great a girl doesn’t even get help making popcorn these days. The life of a Slayer is a lonely one.” She made the comment under her breath as she hit the button on the microwave and leaned back waiting for it to finish.

“I am not putting on those dangerous things.” Giles shook his head at the black skates being handed to him.

“It’s an ice rink, you have to wear skates.” Buffy laced hers quickly and glanced up at him.

“Don’t listen to him Tara, they’re not dangerous.” Willow finished lacing up the other girl’s skates.

“Okay.” Tara said somewhat daunted as she reached down to twiddle with Willow’s hair as the redhead worked.

“I am quite sure you will do fine Tara.” Giles tried to back-pedal. “But I also know I can came to get information not skate.”

“Whatever.” Buffy sighed at him as she moved up and adjusted the light sweater she wore.

“Are you sure she’s coming at eleven?” He called out to Buffy.

“Quite sure.” She called back to him as she headed for the rink.

“And I am always on time.” Hazel skated to a stop near the boards and called out to the older gentleman. Buffy looked up to her with a smile as she pushed off onto the ice to make her way down to where the witch stood. Tara twisted her head to the rink just as an older gentleman tentatively stepped onto the ice at the far side of the rink and gingerly made his way towards Hazel.

“Morris, don’t look down or you’ll...” Hazel turned and tried to warn him as the man landed down on his butt next to her. She couldn’t help but laugh, her green eyes sparkling.

“Glad you could make it.” Buffy watched the man fall and tried hard not to laugh.

“Buffy this is Morris, my familiar.” Hazel looked up from him and smiled at the blonde.

“I cannot believe you arranged to meet here.” The man snarled.

“He’s a bit of a grumble.” She rolled her eyes.

“So you’re the Slayer.” Morris spoke without intonation, as he managed to get to his feet and look at Buffy with cold dark eyes.

‘Tell the world why don’t you.’ Buffy sighed heavily.

“He came to have a tête-à-tête with your watcher.” Hazel filled in the blank.

“Come and meet my friends.” Buffy motioned to the gate she’d entered the boards through.

“Yeah can’t wait.” Hazel said honestly skating behind her.

Buffy skated over to where Willow and Tara had just entered at the side of the rink. Giles stood behind them holding lightly onto the barrier.

“Hazel this is Willow.” Buffy pointed to the red head. “And her friend Tara.” She added lamely.

‘She’s gonna hate you for that one.’ The Slayer warned herself.

“Nice to meet you Willow.” Hazel offered her hand, doing a double take between her and Tara as she shook it. “Nice to meet you too Tara.” She offered her hand to the blonde.

“A-a-and you.” Tara stammered shaking the offered hand lightly.

“How long have you two been together?” Hazel asked happily, loving the energy that emanated from the two of them. It had a refreshing purity she hadn’t seen in awhile.

“Oh… um…” Tara glanced at Willow in surprise.

“I read aura’s.” Hazel tried to explain realising her comment was coming out of left field. “You two have a great mixed energy.” She smiled again at them.

Tara nodded again looking between Willow and Hazel hoping the redhead would field the question.

“A little while.” Willow spoke softly completely mesmerised by the tall dark haired girl. She unconsciously reached for Tara’s hand. “We’ll skate while you guys talk.” She added quickly, guiding Tara to let go of the barrier and moved further into the stream of skaters on the ice.

“Great idea Will.” Buffy smiled as the two moved away.

“I just freaked her out didn’t I?” Hazel frowned slightly as she turned to the Slayer.

“Which one?” Buffy laughed lightly.

“Maybe both of them.”

“I kinda get the feeling life in general freaks Tara.” Buff shared the observation with her new friend. “And Willow, well…” She paused. “Will’s just Will.”

“Hope I can make up for it.” She smiled at Buffy. “They both seem really nice.”

“They’re happy.” Buffy answered her honestly.

Hazel nodded, looking back at them and momentarily turning into the energy around them.

“Definitely happy.” The witch repeated softly.

“Hazel.” Morris voice came from behind them.

“Yeah Morris?” She turned to him.

“Have we really come here to do nothing more than pass comment on the Slayer’s friends?” He said sourly and Buffy deliberately did not turn to look at him.

‘Gee this guy is up tight.’ She thought. ‘He and Giles are gonna get along fine.’

“Relax Mory.” Hazel bit back at him. “The biz can get done in time. I happen to want to try and make a few friends this stop if you don’t mind so much.”

“If I can have a word.” Morris dropped his voice lower as he skated backwards a little.

“Sorry, he’s such a grumble.” Hazel skated after him.

“May I remind you, you are not here to ‘make friends’. The Circle’s instructions are quite clear.” He growled at her when they were out of earshot.

“Yeah well we also know what I generally think of the Circle’s instructions.” She folded her arms over her chest. “The Pana’s will be burnt up. I’ll do my job. They know I will.”

Buffy watched the two in silence slowly making her way to Giles.

“Hazel!” Morris snapped a little louder than he meant to and Buffy looked up as she heard the Witch’s name and then looked away again.

“Look Morris!” Hazel barked at him angrily not caring who heard. “I am sick and tired of the Circle thinking I am nothing more than a puppet. I will do my job but this time I plan on a little off time, got me?”

“You cannot afford to take time off. You may not like it Hazel but it is my job to protect you and give you advice. “ Morris shot back at her.

“It’s your job to be a pain in my ass Morris.” She skated away. “Which you are extremely efficient at.”

Morris watched the young woman skate away shaking his head

“A pleasant fellow.” Giles mumbled to Buffy.

“Could win a personality contest for sure.” Buffy whispered back.

“I promise he’s never coming again.” Hazel apologised as she skated back to the Slayer.

“Not a problem.” Buffy shook her head. “What’s got the guy so stuffy?”

“Apparently I’m supposed to be doing the hive hunt 24/7.” Hazel shrugged her shoulders. “A little down time isn’t in my instructions.”

Buffy watched as Morris skated to the other side of the rink and stepped of onto the rubber walkway.

“Everyone needs down time, don’t they Giles.” Buffy glanced at her Watcher with a smile.

“Yes of course.” He nodded at her.

“Hazel, this is Giles.” The Slayer realised she’d missed one introduction.

“Hi Giles.” Hazel reached out and shook his hand.

“If you don’t mind I’m going to go catch up with him. I believe he and I have a few things to discuss.” Giles offered after the introduction.

“Yeah, go catch up with Morris.” She laughed lightly. “And don’t let him push you around with his Circle babble.”

“I am sure I will not.” He nodded to Hazel stiffly before walking away. Buffy watched him leave before looking back at the young witch beside her.

“He seems okay for a Watcher.” Hazel appraised quietly.

“He’s taken work.” Buffy commented quietly back.

“Broke him eh?” She laughed lightly and pushed off a bit from the wall.

“Fancy a skate round?” Buffy asked as she pulled up with her. “I can fill you in with a who’s who of the Scooby gang.”

“Definitely.” Hazel smiled as she turned and began to skate. “So, you get any more vamps last night?”

“No.” Buffy fell in step beside her.

“Not good.” The tall witch shook her head. “The hive must be big.”

“My thoughts exactly. Though I was thinking more that I was going to have to start staking trees and stuff for a living.” The Slayer laughed but caught onto the witch’s seriousness.

“Hey we could open a tree farm. You game?” She laughed back.

“You worried?” The Slayer asked as the skated the rink was not that busy which made avoiding people easy.

“It is a bit worrisome. As I’ve had no luck finding the hive.” The witch shook her head lightly.

“Well could I give you a hand?” Buffy dug a hand into her jeans’ pocket as she skated.

“That would be great.” Hazel tried not to act too excited by the offer though the truth was she was. “Two are better than one.” She remembered to leave out the Chosen one’s part.

“Hey it beat’s staking trees.” Buffy laughed.

“The Circle’s supposed to shipping in some better weapons for me.” Hazel turned to skate backwards for a moment.

“So how come you’re the witch to do the job?” Buffy asked casually.

“Buffy, did your Watcher have info on the Circle?” Hazel answered the question with a question.

“Not as much as Tara did.” Buffy answered honestly slipping into a little zigzagging motion.

“Tara, knew about the Circle?” Hazel raised an eyebrow.

“Oh yeah. Willow and her are into the whole Wicca thing.” Buffy came to a quick stop, spraying ice into the air a little before skating on normally again.

“Ah.” Hazel looked across the rink to where the pair slowly skated. “Tara’s not doing to bad.” She turned to skate forward again, pushing off to go on one foot for a long distance. “Must be why I found them easy to read. Where did she hear about the Circle?”

“How do I read?” Buffy asked skating to catch up to her.

“You don’t.” Hazel shook her head.

“I don’t?” The answer surprised her into momentarily silence.

“You’re blocking me.” The witch smiled lightly.

“Deliberately or not?” Buffy raised an eyebrow.

“My guess is not. It’s probably cause of all the baddies you deal with.” Hazel turned skating backwards on one skate. “It’s good to be non-energy on them.”

“Couldn’t agree more.” Buffy nodded.

“The energy thing is just a parlour trick Buffy.” Hazel shook it away as she turned back to face forward. “One of those things the Circle says I waste valuable focus on.”

“You wanna grab a soda?” Buffy asked her suddenly.

“Yeah.” The tall girl nodded coming to an instant stop. “They got a snack bar?” She glanced around.

“One of the best.” The Slayer smiled. “Well that’s kind of a lie, but they sell some stuff.”

“Still good.” Hazel grinned at her.

They skated to the nearest break in the barrier. Buffy tried to get Willow’s attention as she skated.

“Yeah?” Willow looked up at her suddenly, holding steady to Tara with both hands.

“Going for snacks coming?” Buffy asked her across the ice.

“Be there in a minute.” She gestured for them to go ahead, as she knew it would take them a minute to get back to the exit from the ice.

“Great.” Buffy stepped off the ice and waited for Hazel. The tall witch was close behind. The Slayer bent down and snapped on the blade protectors and nodded towards the short corridor that led to the snack bar. The other girl mimicked the move.

“What do you want?” Buffy asked grabbing a tray when they reached the snack bar area. She glanced around noticing that Morris and Giles sat at a table deep in discussion.

“Orange is good if they got it.” Hazel answered scooping out the table that the older two occupied. “Those two look too serious.”

“Just what I was thinking. Shall we label them untouchable and avoid them at all costs?” Buffy picked up a bottle of orange.

“Totally.” Hazel nodded her agreement.

“This okay?” She asked before placing it on the tray.

“Yeah great.” The witch nodded at the bottle.

“Munchies?” Buffy asked picking up a bottle of water for herself and put it on the tray.

“What you going for?” She laughed to herself knowing Morris would rang on her for what she was eating later.

‘Keep pure the body to focus the spirit.’ She heard his familiar speech ring in her ears.

“Hummm.” Buffy looked at the array of food. “When all else fails go for...” She looked up with a smile. “Ice cream?”

“Chocolate!” Hazel exclaimed.

“Let’s combine the two.” The Slayer nodded happily.

“Best of both worlds.” The witch grinned back.

“You know I think the world can only be a better place with Witch’s and Slayer’s working in harmony!” Buffy grabbed a small tub of chocolate ice cream from the freezer.

“Most definitely.” Hazel nodded firmly.

“This everything?” She held the tray for Hazel to inspect.

“Looks good to me. We can tell Tara and Willow to just get drinks and spoons.”

“You grab us a table for four.” Buffy nodded placing the tray down at the cashier.

“Alrighty.” Hazel moved away. “You need money?” She moved her hand to her pocket.

“Nah.” Buffy dug into her jeans. “I got it covered.”

“My treat next time.” Hazel smiled before turning and heading towards a table far away from their respective older English guys.

The witch settled into a booth far to the back of the snack bar area. Buffy paid for their things quickly and carefully made her way to join Hazel.

“There you go.” The Slayer slid in across from her.

“Thanks.” Hazel took the orange and twisted it open. “Buffy...” Her voice took a serious note.

“That’s me.” Buffy grinned at her.

“I think it’s about time I put us on a little more level playing field.” The witch grinned back briefly.

“Shoot.” Buffy sat back with her water.

“I’m supposed to wait for Circle approval but as I care about as much about the Circle as well...” She laughed to herself. “Nothing I care about less really. You might have figured out I know quite a bit about the whole Slayer thingy.”

“Inside knowledge I figured.” Buffy smiled. “Either that or you’re a supernatural trivia whiz!” She grinned again trying to keep the mood light

“Yeah if only it was a final jeopardy answer, I’d finally get one.” Hazel leaned back relaxing a bit.

“You’re not just an average witch are you?” Buffy helped the conversation along.

“No.” Hazel shook her head. “I’m the witchy equivalent of the Chosen one.” She took a swig of her orange.

“Heavy duty.” Buffy said softly. “The trick with the sparks gave it away.”

“Yeah, that’s my own little creation actually.” Hazel leaned in a bit resting her elbows on the table.

“It’s a good one.” Buffy encouraged.

“You see I come from a very special family line.” Hazel figured it was best to start at the beginning.

“So is there some ancient prophecy about you too then?” Buffy leaned forward on her elbows, strangely happy to find someone who was as ‘odd’ as her.

“In a way yeah.” Hazel laughed lightly. “I’m actually not supposed to be. An impossibilium of sorts.”

“Tell me more.” The Slayer prompted her.

“Well in my line of witches...” She started the explanation in a quiet voice so that only Buffy could hear her. “If a witch bears only a daughter in her lifetime that child not only reaps her own spiritual power but is born with the power that her mother possessed.”

“Turbo charged witch!” Buffy grinned quietly.

“In a way yeah.” Hazel stopped to grin back. “Now if that daughter has only a daughter she carries all of their power and is known as a third degree power. And so on and so forth...” She went back to her explanation happy when the Slayer nodded that she understood. “Well against everything natural and unnatural...” She hesitated for a second smiling sadly. “I am ninth degree.”

“Forgive me for saying this Hazel.” Buffy spoke quietly. “But how the hell did that happen? Surely the powers against you didn’t sit by and watch this happen.”

“No.” She shook her head. “When the line hit the fifth power the Circle stepped in and planted a second child. All the Netherworld interested parties though it was over. At seventh power they did it again. So no one but a very select group really know what level I am. If not I’d have a lot of uglies making special trips out of hell to come find me.” She laughed. “I so love being popular.”

“It’s great huh!” The Slayer nodded understanding what she meant.

“I’m sure you’re like the only one who understands.” The witch nodded back.

“Okay so Morris knows yeah?” Buffy tried to get the full low down.

“Yeah, he’s supposed to protect me.” Hazel rolled her eyes.

“He looks like he’d be really efficient at that.” Buffy glanced at the man and then back at Hazel.

“Good lord, we had a vamp come up on us once and he fainted on me.” Hazel shook her head as the Slayer laughed. “He knows his lore, that’s about it. I think the Circle hopes he’ll make me fly right and start obeying more orders.”

“Is that likely?” Buffy asked looking up at Hazel as a smile spread over her face.

“What you think?” The green-eyed woman raised an eyebrow. “You follow a lot of the Council orders?”

“The Council? Run by me who they are again!” She laughed softly noticing that Willow and Tara had walked into the room.

“I just wanted you to know.” Hazel added quickly as she saw the others.

“You up for company?” Buffy asked her softly, well aware the conversation had been a heavy one.

“Oh yeah.” She nodded as the pair approached. “Here let me switch sides so they can sit together.”

“Thanks for telling me.” Buffy added quietly when the witch settled in beside her.

“Just wanted us to be even.” Hazel finished the conversation.

“You should have seen Tara, she was flying after you two left.” Willow came and slid into the other side.

“D-don’t exaggerate Willow.” Tara looked down slightly embarrassed though her grin was obvious.

“You were, you were.” Willow grinned back.

“Bet you’re a natural.” Hazel offered smiling at their exchange.

“I-I-I doubt it.” Tara stammered not looking up to meet the witch’s eyes.

“OOO, ice cream.” Willow appraised the tray.

“Chocolate ice cream.” Buffy grinned at her new friend.

“We having a serious talk like Giles over there?” Hazel leaned back sipping her soda. “Or a regular girl’s day out?”

“I was just thinking about what we should do tonight.” Buffy pulled the tub lid off holding out a spoon for Willow.

“Yeah definitely need plans.” She took it with a grin. “We haven’t been out in ages and with that hive thing coming an issue we should get out while we can.”

The redhead took a spoonful and offered the spoon to Tara, a little too timid to offer her it as a mouthful. Tara took the spoon and ate the ice cream with a vague smile before she passed the spoon back.

“I have to say it’s so refreshing to have everyone up to speed on stuff like the hive.” Hazel grinned as she took a spoon for herself.

“We should go to the Bronze.” Willow exclaimed suddenly, dipping the spoon in to have a mouthful herself.

“Great idea Will.” Buffy glanced at her friend slightly surprised at the suggestion.

“The Bronze?” Hazel looked at Buffy confused.

“It must be live band night.” The Slayer threw back at Willow.

“That okay?” The redhead turned to her girlfriend.

“I-I-I guess.” Tara replied with a slight shrug.

“The Bronze is a great place, you’ll love it.” Buffy informed Hazel. “Lots of noise, dancing, that kind of thing.”

“Sounds good.” The witch nodded.

“It’s the best thing Sunnydale has to offer.” Buffy added almost as an after thought. “Will Morris be okay about you going?” She glanced over her shoulder at the two men still deep in conversation.

“Morris will cope.” Hazel looked at them as well. “Hopefully him and Giles will be still info swapping so that he won’t have time to freak on me.”

“Here’s hoping.” The Slayer clinked her spoon off the witch’s as she took a mouthful of ice cream.

“Okay Giles, spill.” Buffy waited for him to pull away from the parking lot of Tara’s building before she pinned him down. “We both know it’s easier to drop me off before you drop off them off to head home. So?”

“Well, that is quite true.” The Watcher made a full and complete stop before turning onto the road. “I believe some time for you and I to talk was necessary after my discussion with Morris.”

‘Betcha I found out better stuff then you.’ The Slayer thought to herself as she waited for him to continue.

“As you know, Hazel and Morris are members of the Witches Circle.” Giles puttered through traffic.

“Giles, can we just skip to the new information? This is all well worn.” She prompted him to cut to the chase.

“Well Buffy…” The Watcher glanced at her. “I am not sure how much information Hazel has given you about the Circle but it is not an organisation to be taken lightly.” He looked at her again to see her reaction, continuing when he saw none. “I am concerned that you are forgetting that all the information we are getting about Hazel and Morris are coming from them. The truth is that we know very little about them and their motivation for being here at the Hellmouth and I hope you will proceed cautiously.”

“Giles!” Buffy rolled her eyes, annoyed that he’d make such statements.

“I’m sorry Buffy. I realise that you feel a certain kinship to Hazel as her standing makes her…” He struggled for the right title.

“Witchy Chosen One.” The Slayer offered.

“Well yes. But you mustn’t let that blind you to any possible hostile intentions she or the Circle might have.” The Watcher pushed his glasses up higher on his nose. “On top of possessing strength, skill and stealth close to your own, Hazel is the sixth in a line of inheritable supernatural power.”

“Who told you sixth?” She asked him immediately.

“What? Morris of course.” He glanced at her.

“Right.” The Slayer nodded, remembering that Hazel had mentioned she’d had no Circle approval to reveal her power level. “Giles, I’m only going to tell you this to prove why I know I can trust Hazel.” She stared at him intensely.

“Tell me what?” The Watcher asked flinching under her glare.

“She’s not a sixth, she a ninth power.” Buffy let the news drop bluntly.

“Ninth?” He laughed tightly. “You must be kidding Buffy. There is no possibility that Hazel is a ninth power. It’s unheard of, being a sixth is rare enough. You have no idea the statistical improbability of a witch family line reaching the ninth power.”

“Don’t bore me trying to explain.” Buffy shook her head. “I think I get how rare. But I’ve seen her in action Giles, she is ninth power.”

“Well then that would dictate proceeding with extreme caution Buffy.” He stopped with traffic at a light turning to her.

“Okay Giles.” She rolled her eyes. “Slayer eyes and ears open for all information and anything out of place. But the truth is that we have a distinct lack of demon activity and Hazel is the only one whose come up with any explanation.” She watched him concede the point with a nod. “And with a giant Nukpanable hive somewhere within the city limits, I think everyone is better off if Hazel and I work together.”

“Quite true.” The Watcher conceded. “But just be careful.” He added again softly still having reservations about the young witch’s involvement in the Circle.

The foursome were glad when the large bouncer at the front door finally let them enter. The Bronze was full up and rocking at the rafters. A very popular band was in from L.A. and everyone in Sunnydale seemed to have made the club their destination for the night.

“I-I-It’s busy” Tara noted more anxiously than happily.

“If anyone bugs you Tara just let me know, Buff and I will take care of them.” Hazel smiled at the nervous young woman. She made a mental note to keep a good eye on her and Willow so that no one could even have the chance to bother them. “I think I’m underdressed.” She appraised somewhat reluctantly. Though she’d abandoned her normal jeans and tight trendy shirts for a light silky spring dress in a deep purple the rest of the crowd still seemed to be a notch higher than her.

“You’re fine.” Buffy smiled at Hazel taking the open opportunity to look at the tall dark haired beauty’s outfit.

“You think?” She looked back at the Slayer with a slight grin.

“Positive.” Buffy nodded giving her ears a moment to adjust to the din.

“You could have warned me you were going to wear such a great outfit.” Hazel looked at the Slayer’s outfit. “That you all were.” She tried to cover up her individualised statement.

“Just something I threw on.” Buffy fingered the hem of her silver blue dress, reaching down a little to tug lightly on her high calf boot

“Nice throw.” Hazel commented quietly. “So...” She turned to take in the atmosphere. “You usually sit or dance in this place?” The opening band was on stage tearing up the air with a hard fast song.

“We sit, sometimes dance.” Willow added before Buffy could answer.

“Which shall we do first?” The witch felt herself start to sway softly to the beat.

“Sit?” Tara suggested hopefully.

“Dance.” Buffy threw in at the same time.

“Sit.” Willow’s vote came in.

“Two to one.” Buffy looked at Hazel.

“Sounds like, you guys are going to scout a table while the Slayer and I show the band some gratitude.” The witch smiled as she answered.

“Yeah, we’ll get a table.” Willow nodded at the vote.

“You sure?” Tara asked her softly. “You can dance if you like. I can get us a table.”

“Maybe later.” Willow shook her head. “We can get drinks on the way.” She added brushing Tara’s hand lightly.

“You know…” Buffy watched Tara and Willow melt into the crowd as she and Hazel moved towards the dancing throng. “The more time I spend with Tara the more I get the idea that something major has freaked her out along the line.” She glanced at the young witch.

“Must be.” Hazel agreed as she moved close up behind the Slayer as they worked through the pressed crowd.

“I mean no one is that painfully shy. Are they?” She looked back to ask.

“No way.” The witch shook her head. “She’s sorta like a flower, one day it’ll be to painful to stay a bud and she’ll bloom. Maybe we can get her up dancing.” She raised a mischievous eyebrow.

“Woo, a poetic witch.” Buffy laughed as they pushed through the crowd.

“Have to have a hobby in between the death and carnage.” She laughed with the Slayer.

“Or a philosophical one.” Buffy considered impressed.

“Well it is my minor.” Hazel added quietly.

“Poetry or philosophy?” The Slayer sidestepped to avoid a group of stationary patrons.

“Both actually.” The witch moved around them as well. “I try to pick up whatever I can when I’m in one place long enough.”

“Must be a bind, travelling around all the time.” Buffy began to let herself into the rhythm of the music as they entered the dancing throng.

“Complete pain.” Hazel let the natural separation of the dance floor crowd settle in around her as the thick base coming through the floor seeped up in her feet and she began to dance as well.

“Anyway, work talk is banned.” Buffy looked at her with a wicked glint in her eye. “Girl’s night out.”

“Work lips are sealed.” Hazel pretended to zip up and throw the key away. Buffy nodded in appreciation of the other girl’s move as she threw herself into the dancing. Hazel felt the end of the conversation and let herself fall into the music. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been out dancing with the girls. This was going to be a good night as long as the creatures of the Hellmouth co-operated.

“She seems really nice.” Willow looked out to the dance floor from the couch they had confiscated sipping at her lemonade.

“Who?” Tara asked glancing from her drink to redhead and back.

“Hazel.” Willow continued to watch her and Buffy.

“Y-yeah.” Tara glanced up briefly to where the two girls were dancing.

“I can’t believe she read our energies, that’s so cool.” Willow watched the dancing crowd swell and push the two girls closer together, though both of them seemed lost in the music.

“D-d-don’t you thinking i-i-it’s kind of un-nervy?” Tara asked looking up at the dancing witch.

“Un-nervy?” Willow turned to her girlfriend briefly before going back to watch them dance.

“Y-y-yeah being able to read a person like that.” The blonde clarified.

“Yeah I guess.” Willow secretly wished she could do it once and be able to see for herself. “You might end up figuring out stuff you didn’t want to know about people.”

“Like what?” Tara asked meeting the redhead’s eyes.

“Oh I don’t know.” Willow shrugged. “Figure out if they were planning bad stuff or had cheated on their taxes.” The hacker stopped and smiled. “Buffy says she can do it because she is a super charged witch.”

“Yeah well born witches are more powerful than self taught.” Tara commented on Buffy’s revelation softly.

“Yeah, Buffy said that Hazel explained a bit about that.” Willow studied Tara slightly. “Did the book tell you that too?”

“Y-y-y-y-yes.” Tara stammered severely taking a drink of her lemonade.

“We’ll have to bring the book to Giles tomorrow.” Willow added absently as the song melted into another one without their friends noticing.

“If this is the opener the main gig must rock.” Hazel called to get Buffy’s attention above the music, still fully dancing with the strong rhythm.

“Yeah.” Buffy nodded not missing a beat. In the back of her mind she noted how the swelling crowd had pushed them closer together. The Slayer smiled to herself as her hand accidentally brushed against smooth silk, instantly leaving her mind to try and figure out why the brief contact had filled her with such energy.

“Where do you keep the book? I don’t remember seeing it on your shelf?” Willow turned to ask Tara as she moved up in the couch. Absently she reached her hand up to rest her arm on the back of the couch and played with the blonde locks that spilled onto her girlfriend’s shoulders.

“I-I-I.” Tara gave up the sentence. Willow waited patiently, knowing she just needed time. “My cupboard.” The blonde adjusted her sentence.

“I should have thought of there.” She twirled blonde around her finger memorising the feel of it.

“You can dance anytime.” Tara said softly though she loved the attention that she was getting and didn’t really want to move.

“You wanta?” Willow smiled at her.

“Angel, you know I d-d-don’t d-d-d-dance.” She stammered out the objection.

“Yeah but you could change your mind one day.” Willow moved her hand a little closer so it brushed Tara’s neck as she twirled. Tara looked back into Willow’s eyes to find fluidity in her words again.

“You want to?” She asked softly remembering just how much she loved this girl.

“A bit.” The redhead answered softly back. “Looks fun.”

“Okay then.” Tara offered.

“Really?” Willow beamed as the girl nodded to assure she’d heard what she thought. “Great!” She grabbed the blonde’s hand and pulled her to stand. “We’ll be twice as good as Buff and Hazel.” She whispered into Tara’s ear before pulling her towards the dance floor. Tara wasn’t quite ready for Willow’s exuberance but followed along regardless.

“Well look who’s in bloom.” Hazel commented to Buffy as she saw the two girls approaching.

“Okay, so did you throw a spell their way?” Buffy responded as she turned briefly to watch them.

“Innocent.” The witch held her hands up, making the move look like part of her dancing.

“Do we dance and ignore or interact?” Buffy asked her softly turning towards the witch as a movement of her dance.

“Follow their lead I think.” She moved over a little closer to Buffy as she readied to create an open a space for the two newcomers who worked towards them in the crowd. “Brief smiles to start, we don’t want Tara to bolt.

“Want one of my killer wolf smiles?” Buffy teased.

“Let’s see.” Hazel laughed and slowed her dance up a bit. Concentrating on the slower secondary beat in the electronica, laid under the guitar. Buffy gave Hazel a ‘one step closer and I’ll eat you’ smile.

‘Oh my!’ The single thought struck the witch and made her silent for a second.

“I think maybe more a welcome to Baskin Robins would be good.” Hazel winked back.

“I hear ya.” Buffy nodded and changed her smile accordingly.

“We decided to join you.” Willow called as her and Tara settled into the area Hazel opened to them.

“Great.” Buffy practised her smile making sure only Hazel could see. The witch turned and smiled the pre-decided smile at them before giving a nod to Buffy’s attempt.

“It’s at times like this that you kinda miss Xander isn’t it?” Buffy said more to Willow than anyone else as the redhead settled into a slight rhythm.

“Yeah, he’d be drooling now.” She laughed and blushed. “Four dancing girls, his dreams come true.”

“Wonder how his trip is going?” Buffy mused out loud

“I bet him and Anya are having fun.” Willow answered with a little shrug.

Hazel let them talk without jumping in, concentrating on the dance. She really was having a stellar time.

“Did I miss the announcement or something?” Spike’s thin figure suddenly appeared close to Buffy and all the girls realised that they had completely missed his arrival.

Hazel stopped immediately, turning on him as the sudden presence in the room made her realise what he was. Knowing they had no weapons her instinct fell back on the one thing she did have. Murmuring under her breath in the same language she’d used for the conduction spell she brought her hand up level with Spike’s throat. Slowly in time with her words, she began to closer her finger in the air. The spell worked to cut off the vampire’s flow of blood and effectively a little know way of how to kill them. Buffy looked at Spike and then Hazel as a frown crossed Spike’s face.

“Hey, hey…” He tried to speak but soon found it impossible.

The colour drained out of Hazel’s eyes turning the usually dark green to a very light almost transparent colour. Buffy raised a hand and gently laid it on Hazel’s arm.

“Haze.” She said hastily.

“What?” The witch turned to look at Buffy not moving her hand so she effectively still kept him in her grasp.

“It’s okay. He’s with us.” Buffy stressed that there was no danger.

“Oh.” She let the tension drop from her hand and released him. Hazel blinked hard as she looked at the Slayer, the colour slowing seeping back into her eyes. “Sorry.”

“Wh-wh-who the hell are you?” Spike jerked forward gasping a little. He looked at the tall witch feeling some semblance of power return to his body.

“Hazel.” She answered him simply.

“I think we should sit down.” Buffy suggested noting they made quite a scene on the dance floor.

“Yeah.” Hazel noticed that people were staring.

Buffy led the way, walking confidently though the crowd to the tables. Hazel stopped beside her at one of them, silently cursing herself for overreacting. It had been a stupid move in such a crowded area. She’d agree with Morris’ rant on this one but something inside her had just screamed protect Buffy.

“Okay.” Buffy sat down as the rest of the gang caught up. “Hazel, this is Spike.” She looked at the tall gaunt vampire.

“Sorry about the pinch thing.” Hazel apologised hollowly.

“Hey don’t mention it. I’ve had worse.” Spike said flatly. “Hey I live with worse.” He added glancing at Buffy as the witch laughed dryly.

“I was only halfway through the spell.” She stated back to warn him.

“Do me a favour and never finish it.” He didn’t look back at her.

“Don’t give me a reason.” She glanced towards the Slayer.

“So you a part of their little Wicca thing?” Spike glanced at Willow and Tara and then finally back at Hazel.

“Sorta.” Hazel gave her standard answer.

“What do you want Spike?” Buffy sighed, not liking the instant tension the vampire’s arrival had caused in her new friend.

“Giles wants a word. As soon as possible.” Spike informed her.

“You have a vamp messenger?” Hazel asked slightly amused. “Works more convenient hours then FedEx I gather.”

“I’m not a messenger little witch.” Spike snarled. “And if it weren’t for a cruel twist of fate I’d be feasting off the lot of you.”

“You wish!” Hazel huffed at him.

“Okay, okay.” Buffy interceded. She knew Spike wasn’t about to give up their little battle of insults very easily and it now appeared that Hazel was in for the long run as well. “Did Giles say what it was about?”

“Like I said to your witchy friend, I’m not a messenger. I just happened to run into the guy and he mentioned that if I saw you I should tell you. So I did, and I have and now I can be going.” Spike outlined succinctly.

“We should find him.” Hazel spoke to Buffy ignoring Spike. The vamp was permanently grating both her nerves and her sixth sense.

“He just wants the Slayer witch.” Spike threw the words at her as he bore down on where she sat.

“Okay, you are so pushing it.” She stood up to meet him. “Don’t mess with what you don’t know little vamp. The only reason you’re alive is cause she said so.”

“Oh great a witch on a power kick. I’m outta here.” Spike huffed and turned to disappear into the crowd.

“Is he always that big a pre-Madonna?” Hazel looked down at Buffy and questioned.

“That would be a yes.” The Slayer looked to the redhead for confirmation.

“Oh yeah, big pre-Madonna.” Willow bobbed a quick nod.

“I had better go though.” Buffy added with a slight sigh. There was nothing worse than when Giles sent out feelers to find her. Something big must be going on.

“You want me to come?” Hazel asked hesitant after Spike’s comment.

“No reason for two of us to miss the party.” Buffy replied trying not to ruin the mood.

“Well maybe if we both go we can get whatever Giles needed looked after and get back before the night ends?” The witch tried hopefully.

“We can come too.” Willow piped in. “We’re all in this together.”

“Maybe.” Buffy nodded and glanced towards the door. “Though Hazel…” She let her voice fall lower. “You may have your own problem.”

“What?” The witch followed Buffy’s motion to the door just in time to see Morris walk in. “I’m not here, meet me in the side alley.” She quickly got up and melted back in the crowd.

Morris stopped at the entrance and scanned the heavy crowd. His gaze finally rested on Buffy. He stalked straight to her as best he could, being jostled by the crowd.

“Where is she?” He didn’t bother with niceties.

“Who?” Buffy questioned trying the innocent approach.

“Hazel, you know who.” He shook his head at her.

“Not here.” Buffy replied glancing around.

“Where is she then?” He looked up at Willow and Tara.

“At home?” Buffy offered trying to take the heat off the other two.

“You know she is not at home.” He looked down at her.

“Night waking? It’s a nice night.” The Slayer tried one of her killer smiles.

“I’ve heard things about how unruly you are Miss. Summers and I would appreciate you not filling my charges mind with the same rebellious thoughts. She is supposed to be searching for the hive, as I believe you have also been volunteered to do.” Morris peered down at her.

Buffy wanted to come back with a witty retort but the line had so surprised her that she had none.

“I’ll get to it.” Buffy shook her head slightly. It was bad enough with one Watcher she didn’t need another.

“Might I suggest you go find your Watcher and if you see Hazel, please tell her that night time is work time.” His tone stayed hard and firm.

“I’ll be sure to tell her.” Buffy nodded emphatically.

“Thank you.” He looked briefly between the three of them.

“My pleasure.” She gave him a beaming smile, hopeful he’d slink away.

“Good hunting ladies.” He walked away back into the crowd and disappeared.

“There’s a word that springs to mind that I just can’t catch.” Buffy contemplated as she watched him leave.

“I’m sorry...” Willow started timidly. “But I think it is dumbass.” The redhead blushed as she spoke.

“Yeah I think you’re right Will.” Buffy nodded with a grin. “You two coming?”

“Yep.” Willow turned to Tara, making sure the blonde agreed.

“I’m kinda tired.” Tara offered as she stood up. “But if we need to meet we need to meet.”

“Oh.” Willow let the small sound escape her, berating herself for not realising that Tara was tired.

“You can always go without me.” She turned to Willow.

“We could walk you home first then.” Willow spoke at the same time.

“I could find my own way.” Tara offered not wanting to be a bother. “We know how safe it is right now.”

“No, no.” Willow shook her head. “Buff, how about I meet you and Hazel at Giles.”

“Will…” Buffy spoke softly. “Why don’t you take the night off?” She rested her hand on Willow’s arm.

“You sure?” The redhead tried not to seem too excited by the offer.

“I can bring you up to speed in the morning.” Buffy nodded.

“Okay, you have the number if you need us.” She looked at Tara briefly smiling from ear to ear.

“I do and stroke the cat for me.” Buffy added thinking of their cute little pet.

“One good Buffy loves you session for Miss. Kitty.” Willow nodded adamantly.

“Night guys.” Buffy waved at them before hurrying out

“Night Buff, take care out there.” Willow slipped back to Tara’s side. “Ready to go home?”

Tara nodded and the two moved towards the door and home. From the side of a booth nearby Morris moved and walked towards the exit a little behind the girls.

Hazel followed Buffy up the dimly lit front entrance to the townhouse door. She hung back, arms around herself. The sleeveless dress she wore was not good attire for the surprisingly chilly night air.

“Now remember listen to everything he says and then ignore everything apart from the good bit.” Buffy grinned as she took a hold of the door handle.

“Right.” Hazel nodded. “Just like I do with Morris.”

“What’s up?” Buffy announced loudly as she swung the door open and stepped inside. Hazel followed her in staying silent.

“Buffy, where were you?” Giles stepped out of the kitchen, his nose deep in a book.

“Taking care of the world you know.” Buffy strolled in and let Hazel close the door.

“At the Bronze wasting time.” He looked up at their attire.

“Hazel.” Morris stepped out of the kitchen just behind Giles.

“Hey.” The witch looked at him surprised and tried to cover up. “I hoped I’d find you here. Ran into Buffy on patrol.” She looked at the Slayer and rolled her eyes out of their view.

“Oh please Hazel. Do not treat me like an imbecile.” He stared at Buffy hard.

“Okay Mory, what’s going on?” She stepped into his glare, very unhappy that he would direct it at the Slayer.

“There has been word from the Circle.” He turned his attention back to the tall witch.

“Yeah what they saying?” Hazel couldn’t wait to hear the news.

“Things here may be a little more complicated than we first thought.” Morris shook his head sadly.

“Why?” She asked bluntly. “We have a Nukpanable hive. We seek and destroy.” She turned so she could see the Slayer. “Easy deal.”

“Yes but it seems that they might be seeking something of their own.” The Familiar opened a thin file he held in his hand.

“We’ve gotten combined word from the Council and the Circle.” Giles looked at Buffy.

“Combined?” Buffy looked up “This is heavy isn’t it?” She glanced at Hazel.

“Yes, things are apparently grim enough they have forgone the age old feud to join forces.” Giles answered her question.

‘Must be very heavy.’ Hazel hoped her face told Buffy her thoughts. “Let’s see the file Mory.” The tall witch held out her hand. “What they seeking? An amulet? Sacred book?”

“You can study it later.” He held it close to him, refusing to give it to her.

“Well tell me what it is at least so that Buff and I can go get it first.” She watched him hug the file, a little thrown by the move.

“It’s not a what. It’s a who.” Morris gave up the small shred of information.

“A who?” Hazel glanced at Buffy. “Who’s the who?” She pushed him to keep the information coming.

“Yeah who is the who?” Buffy added her voice to the argument.

“Well I believe this is your area to discuss Mr. Thornhurst.” Giles stepped back slightly.

“Who the hell is the who Morris?” Hazel’s voice was firm, as the Watcher’s move didn’t reassure her.

“We’re not sure.” Morris replied softly.

“You’re not sure?” She looked at him and rolled her eyes. “Could that not have come out with the first line of you’re the world is ending speech. What do we know?”

“Precision and detail huh.” Buffy mocked him.

“Yeah, he seems to lose it when the chips are down.” Hazel turned to comment to the Slayer. “Need details Morris, there are a lot of people in Sunnydale. Giles, did the Council have any ideas?” She asked the Watcher directly.

“Yes, well we are hoping the Slayer can help us narrow it down.” Morris looked at Buffy briefly.

“Hey Buffy, know anyone a hive Queen might need?” Hazel asked the Slayer grinning.

“Now you come to mention it. No.” Buffy laughed shaking her head.

“Well that ends that lead.” She laughed with the Slayer and turned back to Morris.

“Hazel please.” Morris’ voice was firm “The Circle are concerned that an unprotected power is here.” He chose his words carefully.

“Unprotected power?” She stopped her voice growing very serious.

“Unprotected power?” Buffy echoed seeing this meant more to Hazel than it did her.

“What degree?” Hazel felt her blood run cold. “And why is she unprotected?”

“Fourth.” Morris glanced into the file.

“We got an unprotected fourth running around.” She shook her head.

“We’re not sure on that either.” He looked back in the file.

“What the fourth or the unprotected?” She needed things clear. Buffy watched the interchange making herself keep her questions, she could tell this was big news

“The Circle believes there is an unprotected fourth in the area, which is why the Nukpanable have chosen this site. Among the other more obvious reasons.” He recapped the basic facts.

“Why hasn’t the Circle had me tracking her?” Hazel looked at him angry. “We’ve been here a week. Morris, I could have narrowed down if she was practising.”

“You know what it is like Hazel.” Morris replied with a slight shrug.

“Yeah bureaucracy.” She shook her head.

“Excuse me.” Buffy said gently, unable to hold her questions any longer. “Exactly what is happening here?”

“Sorry.” She turned to the Slayer. “The news is we have a fourth power witch running around Sunnydale without a Familiar.”

“Okay. Fine, just a couple of things?” Buffy tried to smile at her new friend.

“Shoot.” Hazel opened up the floor for questions.

“One, wouldn’t we have noticed? Two, why do they want her? Three, how big a deal is this?” The Slayer listed off her major concerns.

“Well if she lost her Familiar and the Council hasn’t kept tabs on her...” The witch thought for a moment. “My guess is she bolted on her own.” She continued through the Slayer’s list. “Two, the Queen is a parasite. Under certain circumstances she will be able to drink a witch’s power. Three, oh it’s big!” She stressed the word big. “Sorta city ending size hive colony big.”

“What do we do about it Giles?” Buffy looked to her Watcher.

“We have to find out if there really is a fourth power alone and then we find her and protect her while we dispose of the hive.” He stated the outline to her bluntly.

“Easy and then all come home for tea.” Buffy rolled her eyes unable to believe anyone could see their laundry list of duties as simple.

“Yeah piece of cake.” Hazel added sarcastically.

“We have nothing more to go on?” Buffy pushed looking at Giles and Morris, who exchanged glances of their own.

“Well no, not too much.” Giles pulled off his glasses.

“Well in theory she should be easy to find.” Morris commented at the same moment. Then he sighed. They had been bickering for a good two hours about this very fact. He couldn’t believe how pessimistic the Watcher was.

“What do we know about her?” Hazel asked her Familiar. “It might help me tune into her if she’s practising.”

“Well obviously as a fourth she will have a mark.” Morris gestured to Hazel’s tattoo.

“What Morris?” She unconsciously ran a hand over her own. “Is it standard or is it family oriented?”

“The mark will be standard. Where it is and what colour it would be would vary. Though it would be a bird of some kind.” He seemed nervous and his fingers clenched the file he held.

“She isn’t of an ancient family.” She turned to Buffy, realising that the Slayer and the Watcher couldn’t know about a tattoo’s significance.

“Oh right, so this witch…” Buffy tried to catch up.

“She’ll have a tattoo to denote her right in the Circle.” Hazel tried to fill before questions could be asked.

“But it could be anywhere?” The Slayer asked not seeing how the tattoo was really any help to then.

“Yes. It’s done on our sixteenth birthdays when we get full standing in the Circle. If she’s not an ancient it won’t have to be prominently displayed. Mine is here because of my family line.” She pointed to the tattoo below her throat.

“You’re an ancient huh?” The Slayer smiled at her.

“Yeah, makes me even more popular.” She winked back out of Mory’s view.

“But as our witch isn’t so old, this isn’t such a great lead is it?” Buffy suggested gently, not feeling too comforted by Hazel’s nod. “Okay, now if she is a fourth power witch is there anyway she could pretend she wasn’t a witch?”

“Easy.” Hazel sighed. “Just needs to blend in and not practice.”

“So not even a slant needs to show?” Buff clarified as she cursed under her breath.

“Without a Familiar she might get a bit more demon attention than she’d want, but she’d be virtually unrecognisable if she’s not practising. If she practising I can narrow in on her as each spell omits a signature.” Hazel tried to explain.

“Is it worth talking to Willow about this?” Buffy looked at Giles and then back at Hazel.

“Couldn’t hurt.” The tall witch nodded.

“Are you sure?” Morris stepped forward a little. “The less people who know is the better.”

“Mory, we don’t know the scene here. I’m an outsider and you know they aren’t going to open the covens to me.” She scolded him. “Willow is already inside. It doesn’t hurt to ask her.”

“Can she be trusted?” Morris continued his question instantly making Buffy’s anger rise.

“Yes.” Hazel flashed him a hard stare. “Completely.”

“Surely the good thing about this.” Buffy tried to keep calm and level despite the Familiar’s obvious insolence. “Is that if we don’t know who she is and the Circle doesn’t know who she is then surely the Nukpanable don’t know either and have no way of finding her.”

“No, they can’t.” Hazel felt a slight bit easier. “They’re as blind as us. Though...” She stopped for a second and met the Slayer’s eyes. “Nothing.” She shook the thought away. “Let’s get to Willow’s and see if she can shake a few witchy trees.”

“Hazel, I think we need to hear that thought.” Buffy prompted her quietly but dropped her press when she got the ‘I’ll tell you outside’ look from the witch.

“Just remembering that our Queen is running out of demon meat so she’s going to start on human soon.” Hazel made up something for the two men’s sake. “Let’s get to Willow.” She moved toward the door glad when the Slayer followed her. “Keep on the Council and the Circle for info.” She pressed them as she moved to the door. “We’ll check in an hour or two.”

“Maybe three.” Buffy drew the door closed behind them and followed the witch as she paced away from the house. “Okay spillage.” She jogged down the path after her.

“Morris is hiding something.” Hazel stated bluntly.

“You’re kidding?” Buffy began looking at the witch, trying not to seem too sarcastic. The way he had hugged the file to his chest for dear life had screamed I have something to hide.

“Yeah, Pana’s come to Hellmouth’s cause of the buffet but they know that power witches avoid them.” Hazel looked at her trying to explain the concern. “This isn’t normal Circle info holding. Something else is going on here. The Pana’s must have known she was here.”

“Like what?” Buffy questioned growing even more worried.

“I’m not sure.” The witch shook her head.

“If the Pana know she’s here, that means they know who she is?” Buffy reached out and brushed the worried witch’s arm softly.

“Yeah.” She admitted. “There’s more though. Morris made a booboo. Fourth’s have birds is right but when he stressed anywhere, any colour. This wasn’t information he needed to give me.” She sighed slightly. “She’s an ancient Buffy. I just have this feeling.”

“An ancient? But you said her mark would be prominent then.” Buffy checked that she was keeping up on the Circle ways correctly.

“It is.” Hazel nodded. “My guess is she’s had it altered. She’s a rogue Buffy. Whatever happened to her Familiar the Circle is not happy and they aren’t taking good care of her.”

“I get it. She’s an outcast.” The Slayer felt some unmatched pieces click together in her head.

“See there were three witches that began the Circle.” Hazel tried to explain. “The lines of those three are considered the ancients. We hold a special place in the Circle because of the power fount we come from. If she’s an ancient fourth she should have a mythical bird tattoo, on most likely upper body or lower legs and it would be in the family colour.” She pointed to her own tat again. “Mine ironically enough is black.” She laughed lightly. “The other two are gold and white. She must be the white, as it’s the easiest to hide or alter.”

“And there’s no chance good old Mory is lying to us and that she’s higher than a fourth is there?” Buffy asked the question quietly, not sure she really wanted an answer.

“Oh yeah quite possible. The Circle is famous for their so called need to know policy.” Hazel tried to stay calm.

“This girls in trouble isn’t she?” She reached out again trying to comfort Hazel.

“Big Buffy as is the whole world if the Queen gets her.” The witch laid her hand over the Slayer’s on her arm.

“Do you think she knows it?” Buffy asked seriously.

“If she’s gone undetected she’s being careful. Though she might not know the Nukpanable’s are in town for her to be the blue plate special. We have one thing on our side.”

“Come on what’s on our side?” Buffy needed to be cheered up.

“When we are born we are given a secret name.” Hazel urged her to start walking so they could get to Willow’s. “It is that name alone that can be used to tap into our power. The Queen can’t possibly know her name, but if she gets her she can torture it out of her.” She added the last part sadly.

“I don’t wanna know details do I?” Buffy asked gently.

“No!” Hazel shook her head. “Not about the torture at any rate. Our names though are given by our mother’s so there is only two people on earth who know it.”

“And you’d never tell anyone else.” Buffy clarified hopeful that the list of possible sources for this rouge witch’s name was small.

“As a rule no.” Hazel smiled softy. “Oh damn.” She stopped walking suddenly.

“What?” Buffy stopped with her.

“The Circle hall. The name is in one other place.”

“The what? You mean there is like a register of this name?” Buffy kept her focus sharp.

“Yes, I can’t believe I forgot.” Hazel shook her head. “No one knows where it is but it’s tended by a chosen ancient each generation. The entire history of the Circle is there. Including everyone’s birth names.” She cursed under her breath.

“But the Circle is as tight as a safe right.” Buffy pressed lightly.

“Yeah it’s supposed to be.” She closed her eyes briefly.

“Then that’s not a worry.” Buffy smiled and with a hand on the tall woman’s arm urged her to keep walking.

“But I got a bad feeling Buffy. Things just don’t add up right.” Hazel tried to smile back at the blonde as she was led away. “You said Willow was big on the computer thing right?”

“Very big.” Buffy nodded setting a quick pace.

“You think she could send out feelers to see if anyone’s been selling or buying Circle info? Or if theirs underground word the Circle hall’s been cracked?” The witch posed the serious questions.

“Sure of it.” The Slayer nodded. “Let’s get going. We got ourselves a mission.” They both increased their pace, anxious to get to Willow’s and see what information the hacker could give them.

Tara propped herself up on one elbow on the bed watching as Willow held the small cat aloft and kissed its head.

“Buffy loves you.” She kissed the cat again. “We love you.”

“S-s-she feels really loved.”

“House full of love Miss. Kitty.” Willow kissed the cat again. “Hey think I could take a peek at that book?” She held the cat to her chest and snuggled down against her girlfriend.

“Aren’t you really tired?” Tara asked moving her hand to play with reddish hair.

“Me, naw.” Willow placed the kitten between them and watched it scamper off as she turned in to face the blonde. “You?”

“I’m not too bad.” She pushed herself of the bed and walked over to play with the door handle of the tall wooden cupboard.

“You are a great dancer angel.” Willow added softly, fondly remembering their time at the Bronze.

“You think?” Tara momentarily forgot about the book and hoped her girlfriend would do the same.

“I’m sure of it.” Willow sat up beaming at her.

“Hey we could tinker around with some spells if you like.” Tara beamed back sure that would keep Willow occupied.

“Too bad Haze didn’t get a chance to show us the conduction one.” Willow pushed off the bed and came over too her, her voice dropping soft. “What you want to tinker with?”

“Yeah, th-th-that would have been great.” Tara’s tone was unconvincing.

“You don’t like her do you?” Willow asked gently rubbing the blonde’s arm lightly.

“Sh-sh-sh.” Tara began a sentence and then gave up.

“I mean it’s okay if you don’t, everybody doesn’t have to like everyone.” Willow offered trying to be supportive.

“Hazel is okay.” The blonde wicca altered her sentence.

“She’s makes you nervous.” Willow toyed with the girl’s hair again. “She’s a bit intimidating. I bet she’s a big teddy bear like Buff when you get to know her.”

“I still can’t see the t-t-teddy b-b-bear in Buffy.” Tara smiled as her lover laughed and she took the chance to lean her head a little into Willow’s hand.

“You’ll see it.” The hacker nodded knowingly. “She likes you a lot.” She leaned her hand into cup Tara’s cheek.

“D-d-do you think?”

“Definitely.” Willow traced light fingertips down pale skin. “She was so glad you knew what you did about the Circle. We would have all been stumped without you.”

“Is Miss. Kitty scratching the wall again?” Tara heard a noise and she looked around for the small cat.

“No, she’s asleep on the chair.” The hacker pointed to the small curled ball of fur. Tara glanced at the cat and then at her lover. “That sounds like it’s outside.” She looked over to the window and then began to walk over to it.

“W-W-Willow, come back from the w-window.” Tara took a step after her to stop her.

“Why angel?” The redhead stopped and turned back. “It could be a bird or something injured.”

“I-I just d-d-don’t think i-i-it is.” Tara reached her hand out for the hacker’s.

“What do you think it is?” Willow moved closer to her girlfriend but looked at the window. “What is it angel?” She took the hand offered to her quickly and moved even closer to hug her.

“Can you hearing a humming?” Within the embrace Tara turned her head a little to the window. She prayed it was just her imagination.

“Yeah, maybe there’s a helicopter or something.” Willow tired to explain the growing noise. “Why don’t I close up the curtains and it’ll drown out the noise?”

“Don’t go near the window.” Tara held her tighter.

“Tara, what’s going on?” She felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up and her words came slowly.

“S-s-s-something bad.” The reply came in a whisper.

“We should call Buffy.” Willow stated somehow knowing it was demon bad. All she felt was a nod of agreement against her. “Duo move to the phone.” She urged Tara to move with her. “Okay got the phone.” She picked it up with one hand and began to dial.

Behind the girls on the chair the little cat yawned and stretched. The movement caught Tara’s attention and she followed the little animal with her eyes. With a happy purr it jumped off the chair and padded across the room towards the window to take its usual place gazing at the sky.

“It’s ringing.” Willow tried to smile at the woman she held.

About three feet from the window the cat stopped arched its back and hissed.

“Come here Miss. Kitty.” Willow turned to urge the cat to come to them. A deep-seated petrified feeling settling inside her. “What is at the window?” She questioned as the answering machine at Giles came on.

Releasing her grip on her lover a little Tara took a step toward the small cat, moving to place herself between the cat and the window.

“Tara, stay away from the window!” The redhead’s panicked voice struggled to be heard over the humming as she lowered the phone.

“Come on baby…” Tara’s sentence ended in a scream as the window behind her shattered. Large talon claws grabbed the blonde witch by the shoulders and pulled her backward out the window frame. “Wi....” She began to call out but her voice was soon lost in the night sky.

“Tara!” Willow screamed as she watched the grey winged creature reach in and snatch the blonde girl in a blink. She tried to think of something, anything she could do but there was nothing.

“This isn’t happening this isn’t happening.” Willow closed her eyes up tight as she dropped to the floor. “You’re having a nightmare. You just need to wake up and you’ll be in bed with Tara all safe and sound.” She counted to ten and then opened her eyes. “Oh no.” The shattered window still loomed before her.

“Will!” Buffy hammered on the door having heard various odd noises coming from within. “Willow!”

“Buffy?” Willow looked from the window to the door, somehow hoping that the Slayer had saved Tara outside. She raced and opened the door. “Tell me you stopped them?” She all but screeched at the Slayer.

“Stopped them?” Buffy took a slight step back. “Stopped who?”

“The things that just stole Tara.” The redhead’s lower lip began to tremble.

“Stole Tara?” She took a step inside noting the broken glass and the distinct absence of girlfriend.

“It came in through the window.” The shaking hacker pointed to the broken glass.

“What was it Will?” Buffy flicked her eyes at Hazel as she moved to hold her friend.

“It could fly, it was grey.” The hacker babbled as she started to cry. “It hummed a lot before it broke the window and it stole her.”

Hazel moved to the window and looked out at the sky with a pained expression. She went to turn her head and ask Willow a question when everything in the room slowed. A sudden overwhelming white energy signature washed into her and as she focused on it the colour drained from her eyes.

“Willow, does Tara have a tattoo?” The question came in a bland voice as each of the spells Tara had done listed off in her mind. All small energy and low level ones that wouldn’t attract attention. ‘Except....’ The realisation of the last spell made her breath shallow. “She did a protection spell. It was like a calling card to them.” Hazel’s voice was a bit pained.

“Will, this is important.” The Slayer encouraged her friend to answer having caught the look on Hazel’s face and the light colour’s of her eyes. “Does Tara have a tattoo?”

“Yes.” Will shook within the arms that held her.

“Where Will?” The Slayer held the redhead tighter. “Where and what is it?”

“A white outline of a phoenix on her neck.”

“Oh no.” Buffy shook her head looking back at Hazel.

“She’s not fourth.” Hazel closed her eyes briefly as she tuned in. Walking over to the cupboard at one end of the room she pulled it open and removing the leather bound book that was tucked inside near the back.

“She knew what was happening. She wanted to keep Willow safe.” Buffy fed the facts the way she was seeing them to Hazel to see if she was right.

“She’s sixth Buffy.” The witch made the observation softly.

“Sixth?” There was hardly any volume to the Slayer’s voice.

“The bird portion of the tat isn’t her designation. It’s the myth of the Phoenix. Sixth power just crosses the threshold of impossibly.” Hazel turned to them to show them the inside page of the book bearing what would be Tara’s tattoo. “The phoenix is a mythical creature, as are sixth power witches. Morris was lying through his teeth.” She seethed as slammed the book closed.

“He knew?” Buffy asked in an angry voice.

“I’m going to find out just what he knew cause I’m going to crack him in half.” Hazel growled back, her mind reeling with all the things she was going to do to him.

“I need to get Willow somewhere safe.” She tried to calm the witch’s anger as she held the young woman in her arms tightly.

“Let’s get her to Giles, we need clothes and weapons.” Hazel started to make more firm plans in her head.

“They took her Buffy, I don’t understand why they took her.” Willow mumbled softly through her tears.

“Come on Will. We’ll get her back. We need to get you to Giles.” Buffy coaxed her to stand and move towards the door.

As a last thought Hazel gathered up the small scared cat, which had only recently crawled out from under the bed.

Hazel didn’t bother to knock, she just swung the door open and waited to make sure that Buffy was able to get Willow out of the cab and inside. The hacker had regained a bit of composure. The witch found it hard to look at her after all she’d let both her and Tara down.

“Where is Morris?” She questioned Giles in a tight voice as she moved to gently place the cat on the couch.

“Ah Hazel. “ Giles looked at the witch and then frowned surprised at her abrupt tone.

“Where is he Giles, I have to break him?” She kept her tone down not meaning to direct it at him. She was sure he’d known nothing.

“He’s gone back to study the papers from the Circle. What’s going on?” He looked up as Buffy and Willow entered.

“Our forth power is a sixth and it was...” The witch’s words stalled.

“Tara.” Buffy interjected sadly.

“A winged thing stole her Giles.” The redhead managed the small bit of information.

“Oh.” Giles managed the soft hurt word.

“The Hive has her.” Hazel moved to hand him the book.

“Yes, right. Well then.” Giles stammered taking the book and looking down shaken by its ancient binding.

“Did the weapons come from the Circle?” Hazel called for his attention as Willow moved to join the cat on the couch.

“Yes, with the paper work.” Giles nodded his glance going from the book to Willow, Buffy and then back to Hazel.

“With Morris I take it?” She shook her head sadly.

“Yes, yes. What do we need to do?” Giles looked at the Slayer unable to completely deal with Willow’s current state and not knowing what exactly to say. “Make her some tea.”

“Giles, I need you to phone whoever you talk to in the Council and get them to get the Circle to phone me ASAP.” Hazel fixed the man with a serious gaze. “It appears my Familiar has switched sides.”

“What?” The stunned question came from Buffy.

“Not even the Circle would let a sixth fall into a hive.” Hazel turned to her.

“I’ll get right on it.” Giles said thoughtfully as he moved to the phone.

“They’ve known who and where she was all along. Morris hid the info.” She moved across the room to talk directly to the Slayer. “He couldn’t keep from bringing me here when the directive came down so he pretended it was just the hive job. My guess is she’s not an outcast. They’ve been allowing her to live separate.”

“And so when he met us at the ice rink. We gave him a positive ID. Damn.” Buffy cursed as she realised it had been her hand that delivered Tara to a madman.

“I’m sorry.” Hazel felt like someone had punched her in the chest.

“It’s not your fault.” Buffy recovered quickly. She knew in her heart that the tall witch had been as much in the dark as they had been.

“Willow, I’ll fix this.” The pained witch looked down at the redhead. “I’ll trade her for me.”

“I don’t think that is a good idea.” Giles spoke up as Hazel made a bold move towards the door.

“I can fight them Giles. There are things you don’t know.” She began focusing her mind.

“Buffy!” He added in a low voice just as the Slayer jumped up and blocked the door causing Hazel too stop just shy of it.

“We do this together Hazel.” The blonde spoke slowly.

“Hazel, it’s not your fault.” Willow spoke loud enough to be heard but still softly. “We just get her back, together.” She gained a bit of volume. “And then there is no worry about fault. Giles, get her that call.” She instructed him realising that freaking out wasn’t helping her girlfriend. “First we have to figure out where the hive is.”

Giles nodded and picked up the phone. Hazel stared at the young woman a bit surprised at her strength. The Slayer on the other hand wasn’t, she knew that given time her Willow would bounce back and do what needed to be done.

“Haze, have you been tracking and plotting all the places you’ve met these creatures?” Buffy asked her moving slightly from her position at the front door.

“Yeah.” She nodded at the Slayer.

“Think you can show us?”

“No problem. You got a map?”

“Let me pull one off the web.” The hacker picked up the spare laptop she left at Giles and punched up a map of Sunnydale within moments.

“Here to here.” Hazel pointed at the map. “With the Transporters they have a wide range.”

“That’s so random.” Buffy looked at the points Hazel had indicated.

“Not exactly.” Giles appeared beside the girls having finished his call.

“He’s right.” Willow narrowed the map down. “They are close to all the major cemeteries but also one other thing.” She put a slender finger to the scene.

“Think of an ant hill Buffy.” Giles began looking up from the screen.

“I’m thinking.” Buffy replied trying to see what they were seeing.

“They’d need a safe place to dig out tunnels and dispose of removed dirt.” Willow tried to explain.

“And have several entrances and exits.” Giles backed the hacker up. “All of which would be equidistant from the main.”

“A place that no one like Hazel would notice the pile and close it in on them and with the new water park going in.” Willow filled in with the Watcher’s appraisal.

“Weatherly Park?” Buffy put forward.

“It has to be the park.” Willow looked up nodding.

“That gives us a where.” Buffy nodded just as the phone began to ring.

“The Pana’s are day sleepers, like vamps.” Hazel instantly moved towards it. “We can take them during the down time.”

“Hello.” She picked up the receiver already knowing who was on the other end.

“Hazel Nine?” The voice enquired.

“Yes, who’s this?” She questioned.

“This is Chanahan child.” Came the soft reply

“What did Morris know? Was the mission the hive or Tara Six?”

“Morris was given the full brief.” The voice sounded vaguely confused by the questions.

“What was the mission? Was it the hive or Tara Six?” She pushed firmly.

“To locate and protect Tara Six was the main purpose.”

“Damn.” Hazel cursed.

“What has happened Hazel Nine?”

“Chanahan child alert the entire Circle, Morris Familiar is a traitor. He has lead the Pana Hive to Tara Six.”

“Has she been taken?” The voice on the end of the phone was chilled.

“Yes, within the hour.” Hazel stated simply.

“Do you have a location?” The conversation went fast and accurate.

“A good idea on one.”

“The hive must be destroyed.” Chanahan stated.

“I’m with the Watchers Council’s chosen. Morris has the weapons with him and he’s gone. I need to know something else and remember this is Hazel Black Nine asking.” She spoke firmly.

“Ask it.”

“Have the name records been breached? I need to know how much time I have.”

“There was no breaching. Hazel Nine, there was no need for breaching.” The response came simply.

“No need?” Hazel didn’t like the sound of this.

“Tara Six’s identification name was released with the papers as a recognition supply. In case of cross questioning.”

“Since when is that protocol?” Hazel spat the question into the phone. “I could have identified her by signature.”

“The orders came from the top Hazel Nine.” Chanahan child had no way of explaining the deviation.

“Does Morris know my ID name Chanahan child?” She felt a chill go up her spine as she thought to ask the question. “Does he know it?”

“All required names and identification involved in the project are detailed in the papers.” The voice on the phone dropped a notch lower.

“Why did my ID name need to be there?” She questioned wishing she could go though the phone and throttle whoever this was.

“I don’t have these answers Hazel Nine.”

“Chanahan child, go to the Circle. There is a high level breach. ID names are not given out, especially mine.” She shook her head. “I need weapons to this number yesterday.”

“Confirmed.” The sound of typing was heard in the background.

“And total Circle alert that Morris is a traitor.” The witch added the last part firmly.

“Hazel nine.”


“If Tara Six’s security and power have been breached by the time she is recovered you know the protocol.” The voice gave the order flatly.

“Yeah, I know the God forsaken protocol.” The witch pulled at the knot in the back of her neck.

“No trace Hazel Nine, all participating parties clean. There can be no trace Hazel Nine.”

“I know the protocol Chanahan child, but I’m not going to let that happen. I need to know Tara’s ID name Chanahan child.” She requested the information turning her back to the others.

“I will need your authorisation code.” Hazel mumbled in a strange dialect. “The ID name for Tara Six is…” The voice dropped a little lower as it answered.

“Thank you.” Hazel listened carefully. “Get those weapons here Chanahan child.” She hung up the phone, though her hand still gripped the receiver. She couldn’t let go as the reality of it all hit her. Buffy saw the agony in the witch’s face and got up, crossing the room.

“That could have been better I take it.” Buffy whispered reaching out to move Hazel’s hand from the phone.

“Much.” The witch whispered back. “Wanta join me in the bathroom.” She wasn’t sure how much of this Willow should hear just yet.

“You need to get out of here and scream a bit?” Buffy asked at the same moment.

“We need fighting clothes.” Hazel glanced at the dresses, figuring it might be a good excuse to get out for a minute and vent.

“Have some upstairs.” Buffy pointed to the stairs. “Shall we?”

“Yeah.” Hazel nodded with a deep sigh.

“Need our combats Giles.” Buffy looked over at the two figures huddled around the laptop.

“Well you know where they are.” Giles sunk down further next to Willow as they examined the map.

“Weapons shipment from the Circle on the way.” Hazel added trying to act normal for the moment.

“How long will they take?” Giles asked briefly looking up.

“I’m going to cross reference with the waterpark building plans.” Willow began banging away at the computer.

“Two hours tops.” She answered him as they reached the stairs.

“Fine, fine.” Giles waved them away.

“Okay, give me the worst.” Buffy turned as Hazel walked into the room.

“The entire Circle’s been breached.” Hazel sat down on the bed fatigued by the news.

“You’re crazy.” Buffy watched her sit regretting her words as she saw the look on the young witch’s face.

“Morris was fed everything. He has our names Buffy.” She looked up at the Slayer sadly. “They sent our names out in the mission file.”

“Your names? Your name names.” She stressed hoping to god she was mistaken.

“Name names.” Hazel shook her head in disbelief.

“I need to ask this.” Buffy began pacing lightly.

“Anything, you’re the only one I trust right now to be honest.” Hazel spoke softly to the pacing Slayer.

“What happens to Tara if the Queen, you know gets her?” Buffy stopped her pacing near the end of the bed.

“She’ll be tapped like a tree Buffy.” Hazel could barely say the words. “The Queen will slowly sap the power out of her as she needs it. This is going to sound self centred.” She looked up to fix the blonde with paling eyes.

“What?” Buffy moved to sit with her.

“I think Tara is bait.” The witch’s words were soft.

“Bait?” Buffy asked slightly thrown.

“There is no reason for Morris to have my secret name Buffy.” She shook her head sadly.

“You mean the Queen really wants you?” The Slayer studied Hazel, fighting the urge to hug her.

“Whoever fed it to him wants me out of the picture. She’ll take both of us I’m sure but she won’t hurt Tara right away.” She took a deep breath. “Tara would help her take over the world but with me she could open up the Hellmouth, walk up to the Devil and tell him she was going to redecorate.”

“Okay focus. Focus.” Buffy whispered softly trying to get her head around the horrible twist of events. “She has Tara, she wants you, but she hasn’t got you.” She recapped the facts.

“No, but she knows I’ll come for Tara.” Hazel stated the already proven fact.

“What I don’t understand is why be so elaborate?” Buffy frowned slightly.

“There must be something were missing.” The witch looked at the Slayer.

“Yeah something that has to do with you and Tara. If who ever wanted you out of the picture could have just loaded Mory with your name and then had you fed you to the wolves or the demons in this case. But this is deliberate to take both of you down.” Buffy stood as she spoke pacing a little more.

“But I don’t get why? I’ve never even met Tara before.” Hazel admitted. “They keep high level ancients separate to avoid just such catastrophes.”

“Oh wait!” Buffy slotted a few unlikely pieces together and came up with a vague theory. “This may be a complete stab in the dark but Tara is a level six ancient yeah?” The witch nodded so far not seeing her theory. “But non active because of whatever reason, which basically means she’s no threat to anything. Right?”

“No, the biggest thing she’s thrown is a protection spell which really is minor on the scale for a sixth.” Hazel tried to follow where the Slayer was going.

“What if she knows something? Something important.” Buffy threw an unknown into the equation. “Why hasn’t she got a familiar Hazel?” She threw the questions that circled her mind out for consideration.

“That could be why the Circle was letting her live independent.” The witch came up with the thought at the same time. “Tara’s been involved in something big. The only reason she’s without a Familiar is her Familiar is dead or the new unprecedented one that he is a traitor.” She laughed tightly. “But I would have heard about any other traitors. Oh Buffy, we got problems.” She massaged her temple.

“Yeah we have.” Buffy agreed with her. “But the main one is that they have Tara and we need Tara whatever the ‘big thing’ is, it can wait.” Hazel nodded her agreement. “We need the hive destroyed and Tara back in Willow’s arms. God...” She shook her head in vague disbelief. “Did I say that?” She added as she looked down though her pacing didn’t stop.

“They’re good together.” Hazel added softly. “You should see their aura.” She patted the bed unable to take the Slayer’s pacing anymore. “Buffy, sit for a second.”

“Will’s happy.” Buffy reflected for a moment looking at Hazel as she sat down.

“Blindingly happy.” Hazel smiled in agreement.

“What did you wanna say?” Buffy brushed a stray black hair that had settled across the witch’s forehead off her cheek.

“We need a backup plan in case things don’t go well.” Hazel switched to a softer more serious tone. The slight brush of the blonde’s hand over her cheek made her next words that much harder.

“Hey wait up, this is sounding heavy all of a sudden.” Buffy flexed her shoulders a little trying to stay relaxed.

“It is Buffy.” She smoothed her hand over the comforter on the bed absently before looking the Slayer straight in the eye. “If we fail then the Circle will send a clean up crew.”

“Why do I hate the sound of that?” Buffy furrowed her brow.

“You have to get yourself and everyone else you care about the hell out of dodge. No hesitation.” Hazel stressed the instruction.

“I can’t leave Sunnydale Haze.” Buffy shook her head.

“They’re won’t be a Sunnydale.” The witch shook her head back.

“You mean clean don’t ya?” She registered what the witch was telling her. “Okay so our best case scenario is that I wake up any minute now to find a large lump on my head and I spend a few days recovering from amnesia and other effects of mass delusion cause if not the worst case is everyone and everything dead.”

“A hive with the power of a six or a nine can’t be allowed to propagate.” Hazel took a deep breath. “One lost city is worth the whole human race.” She held Buffy with sad green eyes. “There might be another way. You might need help with the ceremony but if you can beat him too it.” She mumbled as she tried to figure out the finer points in her head.

“If you have anything up your sleeve. Let’s hear it!” The Slayer tried to grasp onto any other possibility then the entire city being destroyed.

“One of you takes command of my powers first.” Hazel stated it simply.

“Wait a minute!” Buffy held up her hand, suddenly feeling like the situation had gotten very out of her control. “You’re saying that if someone beats the Queen thing to it, they can harness your power?” She watched the witch nod. “And use that power to destroy the hive?”

“Yes.” Hazel nodded again.

“Can they give the power back?” She wanted details, needed details because there was no way this could all be this simple.

“That’s the tiny problem Buffy.” Hazel bit her lip.

“Haze, don’t back out on me now. Talk to me.” The Slayer urged her to keep going.

“The body is left to conduit the power till it is tapped out...” She looked the Slayer in the eye. “But the spirit is obliterated.” The last part came very slowly.

“Okay explain this again, but let’s put in some details. What exactly would happen to me and you, if for example I was to claim your power?” Buffy breathed the words out not wanting to overreact till she was sure she understood exactly what was being proposed.

“I as you know me would be dead. You would have a hollow body that would be like a battery full of witchy power at your disposal.” Hazel answered her sadly. “You’d just be a super charged Slayer.”

“That’s a no go then.” She stood up swiftly, adamantly shaking her head. “Oh no! No, no, no.” She began pacing again as she repeated the firm objection. “I am not ridding the world of its only ninth generation witch. It isn’t gonna happen Haze.”

“Buffy, if there is no other choice.” Hazel tried to reason with her, standing up to block the woman’s pace. “Look you have everything here, people who love you, friends, family.”

“It isn’t going to happen.” Buffy stated calmly as she stopped and grasped the witch lightly by the arms.

“I got nothing Buffy.” She shook her head sadly. “Even my pain in the ass Familiar turned on me.”

“You can have everything you want right here.” Buffy threw in casually, trying to hide the desperation Haze’s suggestion was causing within her. “You’re worth more than this.” She added holding green eyes briefly. “You’re worth more than your role and power.” Her words got quieter as her mind emptied of everything as she looked at Hazel.

“I can’t let them hurt you.” The witch spoke softly.

“What is it about you witches?” The Slayer asked softly changing the grip on the other girl’s arms to a softer gentler hold as her fingertips trailed over Hazel’s bare arms.

“Huh?” Hazel made a curious noise at the question as her hands came up to hold the arms that held her.

Without another thought in her head other than how amazing Hazel’s eyes were Buffy reached up and planted a kiss on the witch’s lips. Totally lost in the sudden heated contact, Hazel kissed the Slayer back. Buffy held the other woman tighter as the kissed deepened. As her conscious mind caught up to what was going on reality hit her again hard. She dropped back off her tiptoes and coughed lightly.

“A tense moment huh.” Buffy moved to the closet and clumsily pulled out two pairs of combat pants.

“Yeah.” Hazel studied the Slayer’s face, her mind trying to catch up.

“You want the black or the green?” She held both pairs up.

“The green look longer.” Hazel moved closer to the closet.

“Yeah you have those long legs.” Buffy said without a thought as she relinquished the requested item, hating herself instantly for the comment.

“I do.” Hazel tried to stop studying the blonde, tried to convince herself that what had just happened had indeed happened. The adrenaline coursing through her made it all seem far too good to be true.

“Top?” Buff asked pulling the second closet door open.

“What are my choices?” The witch slung the pants over her arm and moved closer to the Slayer.

“Anything in the closet.” She stumbled over the words as her mind froze.

“I think we need a second here.” Hazel spoke softly and rested her hand on Buffy’s shoulder lightly. “I know we have a very full agenda at the moment.” She couldn’t believe how nervous she was.

“There are demon eating demons everywhere, my best friend’s girlfriend it about to be sucked to death and the world could end. We have more than a full agenda.” Buffy fought to keep herself focused on the big picture and not get lost in the beautiful eyes that threatened to tear reality away again.

“Talk later then?” Hazel fought to hold her eyes. “If we can manage to create a later.” She grinned at the Slayer slightly.

“Yeah, after all what’s the point of saying something you might regret later if there is no later. Might as well wait and say it later.” Buffy babbled and then stopped.

‘You never babble!’ She thought to herself stunned.

“But if there’s no later…” Hazel contradicted her babbling on herself. “And we wanted to really say the later stuff, shouldn’t we not wait till later cause I don’t think later can be regretted, especially if there is a later and we could have had a now, so no later.”

‘You never babble.’ Hazel thought to herself. ‘What is this girl doing to you?’

“Okay time out.” Buffy tried to still everything as she took a slight breath. “What do you want to say Haze?”

“I’m sorry...” Hazel smiled at her. “You’re really blue right now and it’s so distracting.”

“I’m blue?” Buffy shook her head confused.

“Your energy aura.” The witch used every ounce of self-control to keep from moving to kiss the Slayer again.

“And blue is?” She looked down around herself trying to see her aura.

“Blue is...” Hazel stopped not believing she was blushing slightly as she felt the hotness in her cheeks.

“Come on hit me with it blue is.” The blonde prodded her to speak.

“Blue explains the kiss.” She tried to side step a bit.

“Blue means crazy?” Buffy retorted.

“Okay yeah could be that.” Hazel’s face shadowed a bit as she moved back to lean against the open closet door.

“I think we need Giles to call the Council, we can’t have a crazed Slayer.” Buffy laughed lightly. The sudden shadow on the witch’s face started a slight ache inside her.

“Look as you said wait till later to do later as we might not have a later.” Hazel pulled a top from a hanger.

“Okay.” Buffy mimicked the move. “I want to know what blue means though.” She moved to the stairs to let the witch change in peace.

“It just means you’re hot.” The witch dropped the clothes on the bed. Her movements freezing when she realised the double meaning in her words. ‘Hell triple meaning.’ She berated herself.

“Am I still blue?” Buffy asked glancing down at her arms. She was startled to discover she was cold as she folded her arms around the clothes.

“Yeah sorta.” Hazel glanced at her quickly.

‘Do you really want to go here?’ Buffy asked herself as she stood silently at the first step. The tension in the room was enough that she could feel it sitting heavy in her chest with every breath.

“No hope for boots in the magic closet is there?” Hazel asked trying to give the poor Slayer an out.

“What size?” She shook her head as she focused on the question.

“Ten.” The witch focused on the mundane. The moment had been too much she’d read too much into it. It was all a giant misunderstanding, though she desperately wished it wasn’t.

“You might be in luck. Try the far closet, they might not be the most elegant.” Buffy pointed to the small wardrobe off to one side.

“Just need to stomp some demons.” She smiled at the Slayer. “I can forgo the fashion for the one night.”

“See you downstairs in five.” Buffy called as she went down the stairs.

“In five.” Hazel sat on the bed to undo her dancing shoes.

“Will!” Buffy called her friend’s name from the landing as she jogged down the stairs.

“Yeah Buffy?” The hacker immediately looked up from the laptop. “What’s up? The park is definitely our best bet by the way.”

“Need you pal.” Buffy carried the pile of clothes into the bathroom with Willow following close behind her.

“The Water Park has been digging tunnels for them all year.” Willow filled in the information they’d found while the two girls had been upstairs, closing the door to the bathroom.

“You okay?” Buffy asked looking up at the redhead as she pulled on her pants.

“A bit wigged but coping.” The redhead shrugged. “I’m reassuring myself that you and Haze are going to kick some Queen Pana butt.”

“We will.” The Slayer nodded.

“You two are an unstoppable pair.” Willow added trying to reassure herself more.

“We look good together huh?” Buffy couldn’t believe she had just said. “Work, I mean work well together.” She made the correction quickly, forcing her words just a bit more than necessary.

“Yeah.” Willow raised an eyebrow at her. “Buffy, what’s going on?” She could see the Slayer was off kilter and that was an odd state of affairs.

“Well you see Tara isn’t really who we though she was.” Buffy launched into an explanation of the situation.

“Yeah I skimmed through the book.” Willow pointed absently to the door.

“Then you know what’s going on?” Buffy fastened the pants and pulled off her dress.

“I think so.” The hacker nodded. “The Queen’s trying to biggie size her combo I take it.”

“Then why ask?” Buffy pulled the top on and tucked it in.

“I wasn’t asking about the crisis Buffy.” Willow picked at her hair. “I was asking what’s up with you. You’re all un-slayerish and you called me in here to talk, remember?” She pointed out the obvious fact.

“I called you up to check you were okay. I know what Tara means to you.” Buffy cursed herself as she saw the redhead begin to frown. This wasn’t exactly what she had wanted to happen.

“I’m scared Buffy, I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose her.” Willow’s voice wavered.

“You won’t lose her.” Buffy reached out and smoothed her hand over Willow’s arm. “We won’t let that happen, I promise.”

“Hey reassuring images every second of you and the super witch kicking Pana butt.” The hacker tried to smile.

“I’m sorry Will.” Buffy returned the smile feeling guilty she hadn’t been early enough to save Tara.

“I mean it’s not like the Queen knows her birth name or nothing.” She smiled brighter at the Slayer. “We got lots of time.”

“Yeah plenty of time.” She agreed swallowing down the need to share everything that was going on with her best friend.

“Does Haze need anything to help with her spells?” The Wicca asked seriously.

“I think she’s ready.” The Slayer admitted.

“Good.” Willow nodded. “Are Giles and I doing backup or are you two going alone? What’s the plan?”

“We’re going alone.” Buffy said softly.

“Yeah you too don’t need us cramping your Witchy Slayer style.” Willow tried to sound confident.

“Exactly.” The Slayer grinned at her liking the sound of that combination.

“I wish Xander was here. He’d have a few good wise cracks for us.” The redhead laughed lightly.

“He always had something to say, though it would probably be about the length of Haze’s legs.” Buffy laughed both at the comment and herself. All she’d been doing was appraising the length of the witch’s legs.

“Oh he’s going to be so upset he’s missed all this time gawking at her.” Willow laughed along. “He’d be the only one who didn’t notice her eyes.”

“They’re amazing huh.” Buffy agreed with Willow’s unspoken statement.

“Did you see how they change colour?” The hacker wanted to know if it was only her who had noticed. “It’s mesmerising.”

“Spellbinding.” Buffy agreed thinking of the recent events upstairs and how it had been those eyes that had made her lose her mind only moments before.

“Think since Tara’s a sixth she’ll do the eye things when she’s casting really witchy spells?” Willow looked hopefully amused.

“Spellbinding! Willow that could be it.” Buffy gripped the young hacker tightly and then hurried out of the bathroom.

Hazel was sitting on the bed tying up the combat boots she’d found in the closet. She looked up briefly to see the Slayer arrive before going back to the double knot.

“Two things.” Buffy stood at the top of the stairs leaning on the railing. “Number one, don’t do it again.” She spoke quickly wanting to get this part over with. “I’m impressed but not particularly appreciative.”

“Pardon?” Hazel looked up at her again. “Don’t do what?”

“The old spell thing.” She glossed over it, as this was only being a sub reason for her coming up.

“Old spell thing?” Hazel stood up, her boots finally tied. “Buffy, what old spell thing?”

“The look into my green eyes, wham bang you’re kissing me thing. It’s cute, but not me.” The Slayer stated the events not wanting to make a big deal out of them.

“Oh hold up!” Hazel raised her voice shocked at the words. “First off I do not cast spells to kiss people and secondly you kissed me remember. You think I put a spell on you?” The witch was visibly annoyed and shocked.

“You didn’t?” Buffy stammered, glancing back down the stairs to see if Willow had followed her up.

“Buffy that is not my style.” She shook her head. “Look you want to forget it, forget. But please give me the decency of saying you made a mistake. Don’t accuse me of using you.” She walked over to the closet and pulled a long sleeved shirt off a hanger. This was the last thing she had ever expected, and all out bout of amnesia on the Slayer’s part would have been preferable to this.

“I’m sorry.” The Slayer let go of the railing and walked forward. “It’s just I thought, you see, well it’s just…”

“Forget it.” Hazel paused and pulled the shirt on slowly. “Yeah I know what you thought.” Her voice showed how hurt she was. “No biggie.”

“No, no you don’t know.” Buffy shook her head. “I know you don’t.” She underlined.

“Well then explain it too me Buffy.” The tall woman turned around needing answers.

“I can’t because I don’t know myself.” Buffy admitted weakly. “I don’t ‘do’ girls.”

“Okay, so it was a mistake.” Hazel shrugged trying to bury down the disappointment she was feeling.

“But you’re right.” She followed up her statement. “I did kiss you. We don’t need this right now do we?” She cast a sad smile in the witch’s direction.

“Buffy, what do you want me to say?” Hazel looked back just as sad. “That I regret what you did, because I don’t. But if you want to let it drop and fade into the woodwork I can do that for you.”

“I don’t know what I want.” Buffy shook her head. “Other than I want this mess, the big mess to be over and I want my best friend to have Tara back.”

“Then how about we make a later and figure things out then?” Hazel smiled at her hating to see the Slayer struggling with all of this. She couldn’t be the cause of any more pressure.

“Which leads me to my other point...” Buffy nodded her thanks for letting this stand till later. “Will and I were chatting and I came up with an idea.”

“What? Just for the record I’m going to go with didn’t tell Willow.” Hazel made the statement briefly trying to judge how far into the woodwork this was going to fade. A brief nod told her that no one but them knew about their little need for a talk later.

“As you’re a level nine, is there anyway you can bind Tara’s power? Temporarily even?” The Slayer poised the question hopefully.

“I might just be able to.” Hazel though for a second about the suggestion.

“It might give us time.” Buffy added. “Something we don’t have a whole lot of and are desperately in need of.”

“This is going to sound so forward but how close are her and Willow?” Hazel asked her mind whirling with a plan. Buffy found herself blushing a little. “Close, close right?” She tried to make it easy for the Slayer to answer.

“Oh yeah, close, close.” Buffy nodded.

“Willow can be a conduit. Tara’s natural defence won’t block her.” Hazel grinned as the proper spell formed in her mind.

“It’s not a dumb idea then?” Buffy grinned back, urged on by the witch’s change of mood.

“No, it’s a rocking idea. It’ll take awhile for anyone to stop my binding. “ She walked closer to the Slayer still grinning. “I’m going to need a few things.”

“You name it, we can get it.” Buffy reached out to pat her arm before turning to head down the stairs.

“Let’s get too it!” Hazel felt a renewed hope as she followed the Slayer.

Hazel lit the last candle in the figure eight formation she’d mapped out on the floor after Giles and Buffy had moved back the living room carpet and couch. Various usual ceremonial incenses burned giving the room a heavy scent.

“Willow, I need you to sit there.” She pointed to one of the circles created. “Giles, did you get the white paint?” She turned to the watcher who gotten the fun job of shopping for strange items at this odd hour.

“Yes.” The watcher moved forward.

“And the ribbon?” She took the paint from him and walked over behind Willow. Clipping up the young woman’s red hair and tucking one corner of her top down under her bra strap.

“Ah yes the ribbon.” Giles looked at Buffy and Hazel a little worried.

“Yes Giles ribbon, was there a problem?” She mixed the paint up with her index finger. “Her tattoo is here right Willow?” She asked the redhead who nodded and slowly she began to draw out the ceremonial marking.

“Did it have to be plain white?” Giles’ voice faltered slightly.

“Well preferably.” She didn’t look up from her work. “What did you manage to get?”

“I managed to get this or this.” Giles held up a white ribbon dotted with red hearts and one spotted with black cats.

“And here I thought that was the easiest thing on the list.” Hazel laughed tightly. “Okay so which would Tara be more likely to choose given the choice?” She asked Willow as she finished the tattoo replication.

Buffy paced the floor by the door watching anxiously. It felt very wrong to be inactive when something was so very wrong.

“The cats...” Willow smiled slightly. “Like Miss. Kitty.” The kitten chose that moment to poke its head around the couch.

“Okay cats it is then.” Hazel laid the paint down on the kitchen counter and wiped off her hands. “Okay, everyone ready.” She went to Giles and took the ribbon.

“Let me just clarify.” Buffy spoke up, stopping her pacing and looked at the green-eyed witch.

“Clarity is good.” Hazel smiled as she dropped down to sit cross-legged in the other Circle.

“This can’t hurt Will.” Buffy uttered her first concern.

“Not one bit.” The witch smiled softly.

“And it can’t hurt Tara.” She continued.

“No, not at all.” Hazel shook her head. “Willow is just a conduit for me to reach Tara and all I’m doing to Tara is temporarily turning off her witchy abilities. Which she’ll have to help me do, so no worries of injuries.”

“Or you?” Buffy threw her last concern in with a soft voice.

“No harm to me either.” The witch fixed the Slayer with a soft stare.

“But it will buy us even more time?” Buffy remembered that Willow did not know about the leaked names.

“Yep, Morris will know that I’ve bound her power. So he’ll know it’s pointless to try anything till he makes me release the spell.” She looked at the hacker. “You all ready?”

“Yeah, sure I mean I do the witchy thing. I can do this.” Willow babbled and gave her a crooked smile.

“Perhaps I’ll go and check the weapons that came in.” Buffy stepped towards the back porch where the crates had been dropped.

“Yeah, you can load up the flame packs if you like.” Hazel knew this was so hard on the Slayer, standing around doing nothing or at least what seemed like nothing.

“You know this really is fascinating you should stay.” Giles turned to the Slayer as he studied the arrangement in his front room.

“It’s a simple spell Giles.” Hazel laid the ribbon out in front of her flat.

“Flame packs are more my style.” Buffy didn’t meet anyone’s gaze as she strode to the patio door.

“Though this could help with that other option we sorta discussed.” Hazel made the comment as Buffy left without looking up. The Slayer stopped and turned in the doorway looking at Hazel. “Give you a little feel for how to harness things if necessary.” The witch added softly as her eyes finally glanced up to meet the blonde’s.

“It ain’t gonna happen.” Buffy shook her head firmly as she slipped outside.

“We’ll see.” Hazel responded under her breath and stretched her neck as she tried to relax. It was helpful that the Slayer was a nice unreadable void again. Having all that blue filling the edges of the room would be far too distracting.

“Willow.” She looked up to hold the hacker in an intense serious stare. “I need you to think of the most vivid memory you have of Tara. Remember everything to the minute detail.”

“Well what do we have here?” The front door suddenly swung open.

Hazel snapped her head to the door to see Spike enter. He grinned at the scene before him.

“We don’t have time for you little vamp. Move to the side and be quiet please.” She hissed at him, half wanting to finish her death spell on him.

“Where’s the Slayer?” Spike spoke over the witch’s head to look at Giles.

“She’s er…” The English man blundered trying to find a proper response.

“She’s busy.” Hazel commented blankly.

“Did I ask you Sabrina?” Spike snarled at her.

“Do any of you mind if I send him to hell?” She put up her hand and stared at him ready to finish him off.

“Spike, it would be wise if you just stood to the side.” Giles waved him towards the kitchen. “I think there’s a blood pack left in there for you.”

“Why is he always showing up anyway?” Hazel lowered her hand and asked annoyed. The vampire sighed and shook his head as he stalked towards the kitchen.

“It’s a long story.” Willow looked up at Hazel with a soft smile.

“You can tell it to me later.” She smiled back at the redhead. “You got your memory?”

“Yeah it’s not like anyone else gets to know it though is it?” Willow asked blushing slightly.

“No worries.” Hazel shook her head. “Only you, I don’t even take a peek. I just need you to have a very clear image of her. The way she looks, smells, feels all the good stuff.” She tried to put the hacker at ease.

Willow breathed in through her nose and sat up a little straight as a thin smile spread across her face.

“Now I need you to try and not break eye contact with me.” Hazel sat up straighter as well, stilling her mind as she breathed in deep.

“Okay.” Willow said simply, her mind focusing on the chosen memory of Tara.

“At least not until you can tell I have a connection with Tara. You’ll know it when I do.” The witch’s voice got a bit blander. “Just relax and concentrate on the memory.” She spoke her final words in normal English before she began the incantation. As always she preferred to use the most ancient dialects and she could almost feel Giles sudden curious look from the side. The colour slowly drained out of her eyes as she spoke on.

A slight wind started in the room swirling around enough to make a noticeable breeze. Giles watched in wonder as the slight wind played with the curtains. Hazel kept up the rhythmic incantation, staring deep into Willow’s eyes until she found the line she was looking for and quickly tracked it to the witch she sought.

Tara, I’m going to bind your power so they can’t hurt you. She sent the words with the line as she reached the other woman, hoping she’d be able to tune in enough to hear them. As she felt the other witch give into her, the candles that surrounded them sparked up much brighter. Giles’ eyes grew wider as the candles flared.

Hazel lifted one hand slowly palm up, drawing the ribbon off the ground. It snaked around in the air, slowly making its way over and sliding around the hacker’s throat loosely coming around to encircle her neck and cover the head of the white painted phoenix as it tied up into a neat bow. Willow’s eyes grew wider as she felt the ribbon move round her throat lightly touching her neck.

Hazel finished the incantation and the candles went down to burn normally again. Taking a deep breath she cleared her throat.

“All done.” She smiled at the hacker.

“Did you see her?” Willow asked her hand drifted towards the ribbon at her neck.

“No, it’s not a visual link I’m afraid.” Hazel spoke sadly. “But I did tell her what we were doing and not to worry we’re on our way.”

“Oh.” Willow looked down. “That’s good.” She added not wanting to make the witch feel bad. “Don’t loose the ribbon right?” She asked with a slight smile.

“You have to keep that tied up or the spell breaks.” Hazel instructed softly as she stood up.

“I’ll be careful.” Willow pledged, knowing she’d protect the ribbon at all costs.

“So the hacker gets a ribbon and the Slayer disappears. What else can you do Witchy?” Spike asked as he finished his feed. “Though you managed to silence him.” He motioned to Giles. “So maybe I should be thankful.”

“I can make you go up in a puff of dust, wanna see?” Hazel strode across the room towards him.

“What happens now?” Willow stood up from the Circle and picked up Miss. Kitty who had appeared next to the young woman.

“Now the Slayer and I get our gear together and go get Tara back.” Hazel turned away from Spike.

“What have I missed?” Spike frowned insincerely. “Have we lost the girlfriend?”

“Play nice spike.” She turned back on him. “Or I’ll bring you along as an appetizer for the Hive.”

“And I thought the chip was bad.” Spike tapped his head looking at Hazel.

“I’m assuming the chip is a part of your long story.” She shook her head realising there was a lot to talk about once they made a later.

“Okay Spike maybe you haven’t noticed but there is a Nukpanable hive setting up shop in Sunnydale. Maybe you noticed all your little vamp buddies have been mighty scarce, as they are all food now. I guess the Pana have gotten picky and decided you were expired meat.” She grinned at him.

“Witty.” Spike sneered at her.

“I am.” She sneered back. “I’m going to help Buffy with the flame packs so we can get moving.” She walked away from him to the patio.

Giles car pulled into the water park construction area slowly. The Slayer had the front seat next to him while Hazel, Willow and Spike were crammed in the back. The truck was loaded with weapons of various illegal nature and the Watcher had been more than a bit leery about being stopped by Sunnydale’s finest and trying to explain how they had the fine American made secret weapons.

“Stop here Giles, we don’t want any of you too close to the entrances. The patrol Drones don’t need to alert the hive we’re coming.” Hazel placed a hand on the Slayer’s seat, scanning out the front windows.

“It looks really quiet.” Willow said softly still toying with the ribbon at her throat.

“Yeah.” Buffy agreed with her friend glancing at Hazel.

“Quiets good.” The witch glanced out the back window briefly. “Means we can catch them all underground. Once Tara is safe and the Queen is dead, we set the flame packs and burn it all out at once. You ready to slash and burn Buffy?” She turned her attention to the Slayer.

“Are you sure here is the right place to stay?” Giles asked glancing at the witch.

“Positive. They’ll be holing up for the day soon so we don’t want anyone running into you three accidentally.” Hazel tired to convince herself that having them stay nearby was a good idea. The truth was that good idea or not, there weren’t any other options. Once they blew up the hive they would need a quick getaway or else they’d be answering a lot of questions when the police picked them up for looking like army commandos.

“Your care is touching.” Spike interjected with a snarl, wondering why he was even here. Oh yeah, the promise of money and blood if his services had helped them at all during the battle. Though if the truth be known, he was sure that the Circle witch had convinced the others to bring him along as bait.

“Yeah well, don’t take it personally.” Hazel shot him a momentary cold look.

“I haven’t even tired to kill you and you don’t like me. Why is that?” Spike questioned aggravated and Buffy threw him a warning glance.

“Oh and you’d wait how long to try just that Spike?” She looked back at him seriously. “You going make friends with a Circle witch?”

“Tainted blood, not likely.” He snarled at her roughly.

“So there we go, mutual hate-hate thing.” She smiled at him antagonistically.

“Enough already.” Buffy sighed. “Haze, we have work to do.”

“Let’s go.” She waited for Buffy to get out so that she could.

The Slayer got out of the car and looked at the ground that stretched before them. The low morning sunlight filtered across the park casting long shadows.

“Pop the trunk please Giles.” The witch added as she followed the Slayer out. Taking a moment to assess their surroundings as well.

“I’m sorry.” Hazel spoke softly as she moved around to the trunk. “I’ll try to tone down the Spike animosity crusade I’m on.”

“He asks for it.” Buffy said distractedly as she followed the witch.

“One for you.” She handed the Slayer one of the carry packs. “And one for me.” Hazel slipped it over her shoulder. “And a lovely mini flame thrower.”

On automatic Buffy slipped the pack on her back and smiled as she was handed the small gun like object.

“Great.” She took it, judging the weight in her hands. “Best to treat this like any other hive burn huh?” She shifted the pack into a more comfortable position.

“Yeah.” Hazel nodded thinking how unordinary all of this was. “Though first objective is get to Tara and get her back to the surface. Any Drones we meet go down on the way but we don’t go out of our way to look for them. We can plant flame packs as we go.”

“Where do you think she’ll be?” The Slayer double-checked the setting on her gun.

“My guess is in the centre.” She shook her head sadly. “Probably near or with the Queen and my traitor Familiar I bet.” She added the last bit in a harsh voice as she closed the trunk. Smacking it to signal Giles to hide the car and its occupants somewhere. The car pulled slowly away leaving them alone.

Buffy began the walk towards the area they had narrowed down for the hive to be. She glanced over her shoulder to see if the witch followed. Hazel jogged for a bit to fall into step beside the Slayer.

“What are the chances that they wont have touched her?” Buffy asked with a deep breath.

“If I’m the real goal, very good chance and with the binding there’s no point it hurting her.” Hazel appraised honestly. “When we find Tara, you bring her back to the surface and I’ll stay down to take care of the Queen.” The witch outlined the plan she’d be working out, fully expecting the Slayer to disagree.

“If you’re the real goal…” She contradicted. “Then you should bring Tara back up to the surface.”

“No.” Hazel shook her head. “I’ve taken down two hives before Buffy. I know how Queens act and trust me PMS has nothing on her attitude.”

“If you go to the Queen you’ll be giving her what she wants.” The Slayer argued bluntly.

“I don’t want you anywhere near her.” The witch argued back. “I’ll kill her before they can perform any ceremony.”

“Hate to say this but Slayers are replaceable.” She reminded Hazel of the facts causally, hating herself for waiting to see what the witch’s reaction would be. “I’ve proved that before now. There ain’t too many of you hanging around.”

“You are not replaceable.” Hazel turned to the Slayer and stopped walking her voice forceful.

“Fraid I am. It’s an ancient prophecy thing.” Buffy shrugged. “I die and another pops up.”

“Yeah but that doesn’t mean she’s you.” The witch stated walking again. She couldn’t believe that Buffy was trying to debate this, not at this of all times.

“Oh that’s a granted.” Buffy laughed thinking of her replacements from the past.

“How’s this we get Tara and we both bring her up then we both go back for the Queen?” The witch tried to find a compromise. There was no way she was going to let the Slayer get hurt. “I think that’s one of the entrances.” She flicked on the flame gun.

“Point and burn yeah?” Buffy asked as she followed suit.

“Yep.” Hazel smiled at her. “Sorta like a water gun, longer you hold the trigger longer the flame comes out. Spare charges are in the flap pockets.” She pointed to the pack. “But they last along time I find.”

“I don’t like to bring this up.” Buffy began softly.

“What?” Hazel looked at her not at all sure what the Slayer was going to bring up.

“Your electric trick isn’t gonna be much help to us down there.” She motioned with her head. “Is it?”

“Not unless there’s a power source I can tap.” She shook head. “And even then it’s a one shot deal, so I have to make it count. The spell drains too much out of me. Basically I’m electrocuting myself so it’s not a massively repeatable spell.”

“Good old fashion kick ass then.” Buffy grinned as she pulled some overgrown grass from the tunnel entrance, happy when the witch grinned back.

“Yep good old fashion ass kick. They should be impressed, getting both you and me coming in at them together. You’d think they were special or something.” She laughed lightly.

“Think they’ll give us star treatment?” The Slayer finished completely clearing the entrance.

“I should hope they laid out the red carpet.” Hazel did one last three sixty to check the area before stepping down into the tunnel. She flicked on the flashlight attached to her backpack strap and the one on her gun.

“Here we go again.” Buffy murmured before slipping inside after her. “You look good in green.” She whispered trying to cut the tension as she crept beside the witch but realised the comment just might work to create more.

“You look good in black.” The witch whispered back, smiling at her in the darkness.

“We have to get you new boots though.” She added unhappy with the combat boots.

“I have a whole collection at home, you can pick out your fav’s for the next mission.” Hazel grinned at her. “Or we could shop for new ones.”

“Shopping for sure.” Buffy commented in a whisper. “It’s quite.”

The long dark corridor continued for a short distance before it opened up into a fairly large room with oval lighting fixtures lining the walls.

“All asleep huh?” She checked down the sub corridors briefly.

“Looks like it.” Hazel let her eyes adjust to the new lighting. “This isn’t good.” She hissed looking at the elaborate electrical systems strung into the walls.

“What’s the score?” Buffy pulled up her gun and looked at the witch.

“I’ve never heard of a hive installing track lighting.” She gestured to the walls. “Though it’s an improvement from the dark and dank I’m used to seeing.”

“Throw an idea at me.” Buffy tired to keep her smile.

“Well I can harness the current from these if I need to do the sparky trick you like.” Hazel smiled at the Slayer. “Other than that I say we follow the lights. They should lead to the Queen.”

“That’s good but it’s not what sprung to my mind.” Buffy continued through the room into one of the well-lit passages.

“What’s on your mind?” Hazel followed with her.

“Well there’s this theory isn’t there.” She slowed her pace a little. “That if you’re allergic to pollen, you familiarise yourself to it little by little.” Her Slayer sense slipped into over drive.

“You thinking our little creepy friends are trying to build up a light immunity?” The witch slowed her pace to meet the Slayer’s. Feeling her skin begin to crawl she knew they were closing in on Drones.

“Would it be an odd suggestion?” Buffy looked at her.

“Sounds fair to me.” She whispered. “There’s a crew ahead.”

“They need liberating?” The Slayer gave the witch one of her wolf smiles.

“Let’s start up the barbecue.” The witch winked back at her, pointing and firing at the drone nearest to the entry of the new room. The blast lowered him to the ground as ash.

“They have style you have to give them that.” Buffy fried the next one that came into view.

“Yeah though I bet the Surgeon General wouldn’t like the smoke they create.” Hazel split her next shot between two Drones that bore down on them sending them both to oblivion.

“Must play havoc with the ozone layer too.” Buffy sent two more along the road to eternity with their friends.

“Ready for the next batch?” Hazel moved to the next tunnel entrance, checking it for baddies. “You want to see how the flame packs work?” She reached up over her shoulder and dug out one of the small square boxes.

“It won’t bring the entire drone population on our head will it?” Buffy asked a bit worried.

“Nope, they will think it’s a tunnel cave in.” Hazel grinned at her she’d done this enough to know that at least.

“Demonstration please.” She grinned back anxious to see the high tech toy in action.

“As I said at Giles, yellow is single detonation and purple is group detonation.” She hit the yellow button and threw the box down the tunnel among the dozen Drones that were coming towards them. “Back up Buff.” She put an arm around the Slayer and pushed her to the far wall away from the tunnel.

The entire tunnel erupted in a sudden sharp flair and a loud bang. The flames licked out at them slightly but didn’t come too close.

“Pretty eh? Their great on the Fourth of July.” Hazel let go of the Slayer and smiled.

“You light up my world.” She smiled back dusting down her arms.

“Come on let’s get to Tara.” Hazel moved into the drone dust covered tunnel.

“This is really sorta creepy.” Willow looked out the window at the sky, as it got brighter. “I mean Buffy and Haze are down fighting the hive and we’re all here in car protecting a ribbon. This is weird even for us.”

“Well Willow we must learn that things can always get weirder.” The last word fell oddly from Giles.

“I love the look on you.” Spike jibed at Willow, unable to believe he was stuck here in this tiny car with two mortals he couldn’t stand. That they were so close to a Nukpanable hive made him very edgy. He had no intention of becoming food for a bunch of Drones. The possibility of blood and money was becoming less and less attractive.

“Do you? I thought it was nice.” Willow piped up smiling at him. “Hey at least this time Buffy has help Giles.” She tried to keep the mood reassuring.

“Willow?” A young woman’s voice drifted through the air penetrating the car’s walls.

“Tara?” The young Wicca’s voice was shaky as the unexpected sound came at her and registered in her ears. “That was Tara!” She frantically scrambled out of the front seat and out of the car.

“Help me Willow.” The voice urged.

“Tara, I’m right here!” She stopped for a second as she got out trying to pinpoint where to go. “Where are you?”

“Over here.” The voice came from the tree line.

“Willow!” Giles scrambled out of the car just in time to see the young woman rush off towards the voice.

“I don’t believe this.” Spike sighed as he scrambled out after them. Giles moved back to the trunk and took out one of the flame guns, chasing after her.

“Willow it hurts, Willow.” The voice began to sound pained.

“Tara?” Willow slowed when she reached the trees. “Baby where are you? I’m coming.” She took off the best she could in the direction of the voice.

“Will stop.” The voice was weaker.

“Giles, she’s hurt.” Willow called back when she heard the Watcher come into the trees after her. “Tara, where are you?” The hacker stopped surrounded by the dense forest.

“Willow, where are you?” Giles voice called to her from somewhere.

“You have to stop Buffy.” Tara’s voice was punctuated by sobs.

“But Buffy’s coming to save you.” The hacker was confused.

“No Will, it’s a trap.” The voice continued to cry.

“What kinda trap?” The hacker walked slowly around trees.

“Willow, where is she?” Giles voice called again far enough away that the trees hid him but not too far to sound close.

“The kind of trap that involves a young red head and her immensely dense friends.” Morris’ voice cut through the silence.

“Tara?” Willow stopped where she was stunned by the change in the voice she followed.

Hazel’s ex-Familiar stepped out from the cover of the trees, a gun pointed at Willow’s head.

“You’re not my girlfriend.” The redhead made the obvious statement as she froze under the weight of the gun.

“Observant.” Morris noted to her.

“Willow, did you find her?” Giles came in closer to Morris and the predicament the hacker had gotten herself in. “You!” The Watcher seethed at him.

“As a Watcher you don’t watch too well do you?” Morris mocked him.

“I do a better job than you, you traitor.” Giles pointed the flame gun at him. He knew the weapon was useless with Willow so close but he hoped intimidation might work.

The Familiar gave an almost imperceptible nod as four Drones appeared behind Giles and brought a heavy wooden branch down across his shoulders. The Watcher fell with a heavy groan to the forest floor.

“Giles...” Willow watched him fall with a pained look on her face. “You know you...” She turned to Morris angrily. “Buffy is going to make you pay for that and Haze....” She was so mad she stammered. “Haze is not happy with you at all Mr. Familiar.”

“An eloquent retort.” Morris motioned to the Drones to pick the Watcher up

“Yeah well....” Willow looked at the gun again and found she was out of words.

“Now is this all of you? Or do I have to do a little more violent stuff?” Morris spat the words at her.

“No, this is all of us.” Willow shook her head. Hopeful, though she didn’t know why, that Spike would be able to do something. Remembering the chip in his head, she knew that things were not going to go her way.

“And you are going to come quietly?” Morris motioned for her to start walking.

“Oh yeah, I’m as quiet as a mouse.” Willow babbled. “I mean you got a gun to my head, what exactly am I going to do too you. I’m not the Slayer, she’d just kick you or something.”

“Not even going to have to tie you up?” Morris barked a laugh.

“Oh no, no need to tie me up. I mean I’d prefer if you didn’t.” Willow cringed at the idea.

“This way.” Morris said charmingly as he pushed her forward.

“Sure lead on.” She kept a scared look at the gun and walked where he instructed her. Buffy had taught her along time ago that it was sometimes better to just go along for a bit.

“Great, down to the vampire to save the day.” Spike sighed heavily from his place in the dense undergrowth before backtracking to the car. The sun was getting far to high in the sky for him to do much for a few hours at least.

“I find it amusing how your pitiful race attempts to defy my rightful rule over this planet.” The Nukpanable Queen paced around the small chair that Morris had tied Tara too. She dwarfed the witch by a good five feet. A variation of her Drones, her greyish skin was thick and chalky looking.

“P-p-perhaps we don’t think it’s very rightful.” Tara replied her face expressionless.

“You know I’m going to tap you and your little Circle friend.” She took Tara’s face in her hand and held the blonde’s eyes. “Suck you dry.”

“Why don’t you then?” Tara said simply.

“Because we are missing one little puzzle piece.” The Queen let go and laughed. “But I’ve been informed she’s on her way as we speak.”

“We won’t let it happen.” The witch shook her head.

“We?” The Queen fixed her with dark eyes. “What we do you posses?”

“My friends.” Tara’s voice was soft almost dreamlike. “We will stop you.”

“Oh your washed up Slayer and her useless Watcher. Not to mention your little Wicca playmate.” The Queen sneered.

“They won’t let you win.”

“Foolish witch.” The tall creature laughed long and deep. “I’ve already won. I am one little ceremony away from the world.”

“We have powers that you do not comprehend.” Tara’s voice grew a little deeper.

“I will have every power that you have.” The Queen growled at her. “I will have everything.”

“Do you agree Buffy but is there nothing more pretentious than a Nukpanable Queen?” Hazel asked the Slayer as they came into the room and flanked the large creature.

“Completely, though you could have mentioned the delusional thing.” Buffy flashed a smile at the demon Queen.

“Oh yeah textbook grandeur.” Hazel nodded.

“Oh good, we’re all here now.” The Queen moved back away behind Tara.

“Yeah but we’re just going to take what’s ours and leave.” Buffy moved to take a step forward.

“Back up.” The Queen put a clawed hand by Tara’s throat. “She might be a witch but she dies like the rest of your kind.”

Buffy checked her movements and glanced at Hazel.

“Okay Queeny, let’s cut the charade. We know who you want, let the low level girl go.” She held the Queen with an intense stare.

“Hazel no!” Tara hissed ignoring the claw at her throat.

The tall witch glanced at the Slayer before her look went back to Tara and the Queen. Buffy kept her eyes on Tara, trying to figure out the best way to take this creature down.

“You have nothing to bargain with Hazel.” The creature put a strange slur on her name. “I’m going to enjoy tapping you after I let you watch me kill the Slayer and her friends.”

“Actually we got one thing left.” The tall witch started back at her defiantly. “She’s useless to you or didn’t Morris let you in on the news flash?”

“That would be this news flash?” Morris’ voice entered the chamber moments before he did. One hand held the top of Willow’s arm tightly while the other held a gun to her head. The four Drones dropped Giles on the floor in a heap. The traitor Familiar smiled sweetly at his recent charge.

Hazel tried to keep the pain from her face as she saw the hacker and the Watcher dragged in.

“Hi guys.” Willow gave a little wave. “I’m sorry about this but he’s really sneaky. Tara?” She looked to her girlfriend still held at the hands of the tall Queen.

“Willow.” The worried witch breathed the hacker’s name.

“It’s okay baby, Buff and Haze have a plan.” She smiled at the blonde trying to be positive. “You have a plan right?” She spoke without thinking to the Slayer.

“Always.” Buffy nodded back though she kept her expression bland.

“Oh yeah we got big plans.” Hazel said firmly without blinking.

‘What the hell are we going to do?’ The thought chilled the witch’s blood.

“Well…” Buffy began in a light voice. “It’s a nice place you have here.” She turned to look back to Hazel, whilst deliberately tilting her head up to look at the ceiling and then back at the tall witch.

“Lovely decor.” Hazel added smiling. “Did you recently tap Martha Stewart and get a few tips from her?” She winked at the Slayer and let the gun fall to her side.

“Yeah though a skylight would be good. It would do wonders for your complexion.” Buffy saw that the witch had caught on to her suggestion and turned her attention back to the demon.

“You insolent pup.” The Queen barked at her.

“Buffy, is making her mad really a plan?” Willow asked softly.

“That kinda just happened.” The Slayer smiled sinisterly as she crept up on the balls of her feet ready to strike.

Hazel was glad for the brief group chat as she began to mumble the necessary incantation. With the hand at her side she counted down the time left till ducking for Buffy.

“You know…” Buffy began to inch forward.

Five... four… the lights above them began to glow blue.

“It would be a nice gesture for you to let Will and Tara say their goodbyes.” The Slayer continued as she inched closer.

There was a large crack as the casing broke off the lightly came before the actually electricity split into the air.

Buffy dived down to roll forward as soon as she heard the noise. Willow watched the Slayer go down and knew well enough to follow suit, no matter what pointed was at her head. She dropped limp towards the ground before Morris could react.

Hazel concentrated to aim the sparks into the Queen, Morris and the Drones that hung by their monarch. The Drones went down first, Morris fell but didn’t burn and the Queen backed away from Tara stunned and injured but not dead by a long shot.

Buffy reached out a hand and yanked the leg of the char Tara was strapped too. It toppled slightly and Tara put her weight into upending it completely. Morris gun skidded away from him coming to land up against the still unconscious Watcher.

“Come on guys.” Buffy called as she glanced up at Hazel to check the witch was still standing. She could tell by the buzz in the air of the small cavern that the witch had thrown all she could into the spell. Hazel dropped to one knee trying to find a breath.

“Get them, go, go!” She gasped out the order. “I’m right behind you.”

Buffy sliced through the tie that bound Tara to the chair and pushed her towards Willow. The hacker was on her feet just in time to catch her girlfriend.

“No deal, you come too.” Buffy leapt to the witch’s side in an impressive series of flips. “Wake up time Giles!” She called as she placed a hand across Hazel’s back.

“How can I help you?” Giles looked up rubbing his neck the world dancing in front of his vision.

“The gun Giles, the gun.” Buffy shook her head pointed to the weapon near the Watcher.

“Of course.” He picked up the weapon and staggered to his feet. “I suggest no one move.” He pointed it from one unconscious figure to the next.

“Great heroics. Run Giles.” She instructed as she watched Hazel struggling to breathe.

“Come on.” Willow linked one arm into the Watcher’s and began pulling him and Tara towards the tunnel that Buffy and Hazel had come in from.

“Wanna walk or want to be carried?” Buffy whispered to the exhausted witch.

“I’ll walk.” She breathed heavy pushing herself up.

“Could I push for a run?” Buffy pulled her slightly watching as the Queen shook herself back to consciousness.

“Yeah.” She picked up her gun. “Let’s go.” The witch pulled on every inch of reserve she could find and took off with the Slayer down the tunnel after their friends.

“Right with you.” Buffy grabbed a flame pack from her pack, primed it and tossed it over her shoulder. “Can’t hurt right.”

“Nope. You hit yellow right?” Hazel queried as they ran.


“Good, good.” The witch took another from her pack, priming it and tossing it into the tunnel they tore out of. “Can’t hurt to double dose.” She smiled as she abandoned the empty backpack. The flash of an explosion and the loud crescendo of noise followed a short time later.

“I could really get to like those.” Buffy smiled as she helped Hazel scramble out of the smoking hive.

Buffy handed Hazel a mug of coffee, steam drifted lazily from the top of it. She returned to the kitchen to pick up her own drink.

“Thanks.” The witch took it gratefully, sipping at the hot liquid.

Giles sat still a bit dazed in the armchair, adjusting the ice on his neck.

“I like this.” Tara ran her finger along the ribbon at Willow’s throat. “Looks like Miss. Kitty.” She added softly as she perched on the arm of the chair that the hacker was sat in.

“I knew you’d think that.” Willow smiled back at her. “I told them all you’d like it.”

“Tara, you might want to undo it as you’re bound with it there remember.” Hazel leaned back heavy into the couch and closed her eyes.

“I can but it back on after the binding is broken though yeah?” Tara rested her hand near the bow.

“Whatever you like.” Hazel said softly.

The blonde witch smiled into Willow’s eyes as she gently pulled the bow loose.

“I think you should be laid down.” Buffy studied the black witch, seeing the woman continue to struggle with her exhaustion.

“Wanna slip into the kitchen to put it back on?” Tara asked softly.

“Yeah.” Willow nodded. “We should go in the bathroom there’s a mirror.” She took the blonde’s hand, holding the ribbon lightly between her fingers. “We’re going to go retie this.” She grinned as she made the awkward comment, only then realising the rest of the group wasn’t to concerned with where they disappeared too.

“Hazel, please at least lie down here.” Buffy pressed gently.

“Buffy, take her upstairs.” Giles instructed with a grimace. “You girls get a few hours sleep up there and I’ll take the couch. We will all have a fresher take then.”

“Watcher’s orders.” She softly offered as she put her own mug down and eased the one from Hazel’s hand before she offered the young witch a hand to help her up.

“Watcher’s orders.” Hazel smiled as best she could at the Slayer and took her hand.

Buffy took the stairs slowly with Hazel and gently eased the other woman on to the bed.

“Let me get the boots.” She bobbed down on the floor reaching for the laces.

“I’ll get the next pair.” Hazel looked down at her. “Thanks.”

“They were some great fireworks back there, I think they should have called you Sparky.” Buffy laughed lightly as she removed the first boot.

“I threw everything I could at her Buff.” Hazel was exasperated.

“Like I said you were great.” She removed the second boot and then lifted Hazel’s legs on to the bed.

“So were you.” Hazel leaned back on the bed, happy to no longer be fighting gravity.

“Me?” Buffy flopped inelegantly down on the bed next to her.

“Yeah you.” The witch moved onto her side.

“Well we all got out, so in my mind that gives us a score of one to the Scooby gang and zero to the big ugly.” She put her hands behind her head and stared at the ceiling.

‘Not a bad mornings work.’ The Slayer thought as she caught the time on the clock next to the bed. It’s large red 12:21 hard to miss.

“We need to make it two nil.” Hazel added softly.

“We have some downtime and then reassess our plan. We’ll make it two nil.” She moved her shoulder to assess the aching pain that had started in it.

“You okay?” Hazel asked slipping one arm up under the pillow her head rested on.

“Hit the ground odd on my roll.” Buffy brushed over the matter. “You’re supposed to be asleep already.”

“Here sit up and let me take a look.” The witch pushed herself up. “I can’t sleep till we do first aid.” She smiled at the Slayer telling her not to even try arguing.

Buffy sat up a little reluctantly, taking off the over shirt at the witch’s request.

“Definitely landed weird.” Hazel focused in on the area, a hot spot of pain coming out at her sixth sense.

“Yeah, don’t think I put it out though.” Buffy attempted to roll her shoulder.

“Let me check.” Hazel put her hand over the affected area. “Nope just a big old knot in the muscle.” She began to knead it out.

“That feels good.” She felt her eyes close as the witch began to massage.

‘That does feel good.’ Buffy agreed with herself.

“Can’t have you hurting.” Hazel spoke quietly as she continued to massage.

“Pain is a great way of knowing.” Buffy began with a smile. “That you’re still alive.”

“You’re alive.” Hazel nodded. “So lets nix the pain reminder and if you’re ever questioning just ask me.” One of her hands moved to massage the other shoulder.

“That’s a workable suggestion.” The Slayer yawned lightly.

“I’ll expect the same from you.”

“That I can do.” She agreed. “You know this really does feel good.”

“Yes.” Hazel agreed softly, smiling to herself as the void around the Slayer broke into a faint blue hue.

“We should sleep.” Buffy felt her eyes growing heavy though for some reason her pulse was a little faster than normal.

“Yeah it’s been a long night.” The witch agreed. “Does that mean you want me to stop?” She asked a little reluctant to move her hands.

“You can do that in your sleep?” Buffy joked.

“Nope, not even a ninth has got that kind of power.” Hazel laughed.

“Book me in for a long session when this is over.” The Slayer smiled.

“Consider yourself my only customer.” She smiled back as she urged the blonde to lie down. “Come on Slayer, sleepy time.”

Buffy moved back onto the bed bringing her much closer to the witch when she was horizontal. Hazel moved to her previous position on her side.

“I’ll introduce you to the wonder of aromatherapy baths.” The witch added yawning.

“Great.” She closed her eyes thinking that moving at this moment would be obvious. Though the truth was she didn’t really want too move away anyway.

“Sweet dreams Buffy.” Hazel added softly patting the woman’s back lightly as she drifted further into her own tiredness.

“You too.”

“Everyone’s out for the count.” Willow slipped back into the bathroom. “Looks like they won’t be missing us for awhile if we stay in here. Well unless someone has to go or something.”

“We didn’t get the most comfortable room in the house.” Tara smiled at her.

“No we didn’t.” The Wicca agreed. “Giles has a blow up if you want me to go get that. You must be tired.”

“I just want to hold you.” Tara admitted her eyes never leaving her girlfriend.

“I can cope with that.” Willow moved over to her. “Though can we do a little question and answer during that?”

“Of course.” She moved her arms around Willow’s back tracing her fingertips up and down her side softly.

“I missed you.” Willow held her back.

“I’m sorry.” She whispered holding a bit closer.

“It’s okay, I mean you were going to tell me one day right?” The redhead studied her lover’s face.

“I-I-I…” The blond stammered not sure of her answer.

“How about we forget that part....” The hacker couldn’t bear to cause Tara discomfort. “And you just fill me in now.”

“Who I am…” Tara began, as she looked at Willow, her large eyes soft and her voice gentle. “Is who I have always been Will.”

“I know that.” The redhead nodded. “Just this whole Circle thing is sort of important to discuss.”

“Sure?” Tara pressed.

“Yes I’m sure.” Willow brushed a hand through blonde hair. “You’re my girl. You like ice cream and kitty cats. You are ticklish behind your ears.” She listed off the facts she knew hadn’t change. “And I love you and nothing could ever change that.”

Tara smiled and kissed Willow’s forehead breaking away from her lover to sit on the bathroom floor. She patted the space opposite her and Willow moved down to sit with her.

“I have so much to show you.” Tara’s eyes gleamed with happiness and love.

“Oh wait.” Willow grinned at her. “Do your eyes do the freaky thing that Haze’s do when you’re casting?”

“I am from the white strain, mine sparkle.” She grinned back.

“Cool!” Willow beamed. “I read some of your handbook. The Circle sounds neat.”

“Until this is over I can’t tell you too much. “ Tara raised a hand to play with Willow’s short hair.

“I can cope.” She leaned into the hand. “I know there’s a lot going on. Haze has been bouncing since she talked to the Circle early this morning and Buffy is acting all wiggy. I was just worried bout you.” The hacked added the last part softly.

“I know you were.” Tara ran her fingers through the red locks again.

“You didn’t mind the ribbon thing did you?” Willow asked a bit worried. “Haze said it would buy us time. Which it did, so I hope you’re not mad.”

“Not mad.” Tara shook her head. “Just very, very grateful.” She leaned forward and kissed Willow softly. Willow kissed her back happily, glad all of her reassuring had been successful.

“D-d-d-do you really w-want to talk?” The blonde Wicca purred.

“Nope.” Willow moved slowly to kiss her again.

“Buffy, Hazel!” Giles called up to them from the bottom of the stairs. Not wanting to repeat the embarrassment of blushes he’d gotten when he’d gone to use the bathroom. Though he didn’t have confirmation about the two upstairs and his Slayer was seeing that Riley fellow he wasn’t about too take chances. The new millennium was just too weird.

Buffy opened he eyes as Giles call registered in her ears. A fuzzy blue filled her vision, which was odd as Giles sheets were grey and the material under her hand felt more like combat pants.

“Five more minutes.” Hazel still sleepy voice mumbled as she snuggled in closer to the body than held her and she held onto.

“He gets kinda grouchy if you say that.” Buffy didn’t move an inch.

“I can cope with grouchy.” Hazel opened her eyes slowly, the blue that filled the room making it a bit hard to see till she focused it down.

With slight subtle movements Buffy slid her hand off Hazel’s thigh and rolled more onto her back.

“Four o’clock, good power nap.” She appraised with a yawn.

“Yeah, great.” The witch half rolled herself away trying not to be too obvious. “All witchy batteries fully charged.”

“You sure?” Buffy asked her voice laced with concern.

“Totally.” Hazel smiled at her honestly. “With comfortable sleep it doesn’t take long.”

“Yeah.” Buffy suddenly ran out of things to say.

“How’s the shoulder?” She tried to fill in the sudden silence gap.

“Good.” Buffy flipped out of the bed to land beside it with a flourish. “All working great.”

“Great news.” Hazel pushed herself up to stand and stretched out her arms.

“We have a hive to burn and a world to save.”


“Yep, we do.” She agreed.

“After you.” Buffy gestured with her hand gently.

Hazel just smiled and started down the stairs. As the moment got more politely strained the Slayer’s block had come up again and she knew it was time to just walk away from it for a bit.

“Morning Giles.” Hazel yawned at the older man who was in the kitchen making coffee.

“How’s the neck?” Buffy called as she flopped into the couch.

“Hi everybody.” Willow led Tara out of the bathroom by the hand.

“Took you a while to tie that.” Buffy smiled at her friend, feeling a little jealous of the time they’d obviously spent in the bathroom. Though for the life of her she couldn’t explain to herself why.

“Yeah had to get it perfect.” She looked at her girlfriend giggling. “Next time we draw for sleeping arrangements we do not get the bathroom.” She grinned at Buffy and the two of them sat as they had a few hours earlier in the chair. The Slayer gave them a truly happy smile, she was warming to the idea that Willow had a girlfriend, especially as it made he so happy.

The phone began to ring loudly and Buffy’s look immediately snapped up to stare at her Watcher.

“I’ll get it.” Giles moved away from the coffee maker and stiffly picked up the phone.

“They would like to speak to you Hazel.” He held the phone out for the tall witch. Green eyes looked at the Slayer briefly and rolled. Buffy gave her a warm encouraging smile.

“Hazel Nine, how can I help you?” She spoke with an even tone. “Yes, happy to report Tara Six is happy healthy and untapped.” She smiled across the room at the blonde who was busy toying with Willow’s hair

“Yes I am well aware the hive is still intact.” Her voice became strained. Buffy noticed the edge in Hazel’s voice and got up from the couch.

“Look I need more time than that.” She barked into the phone. She held the receiver down to fill the Slayer in. “They want to call an immediate clean.”

“We can deal with this Hazel.” Buffy encouraged her softly. “Tell them.” She underlined.

“No, that’s not enough time. I can finish this Chanahan child. Give me till the morning.” She spoke back into the phone

“Fine midnight. Not one move on the city till one minute after twelve, if the hive isn’t down.” Hazel made the conditions very clear. “Yeah, whatever.” She slammed down the phone. “We have till midnight. At one minute after the Circle is going to clean the city.” The witch stated the reality.

“Eager aren’t they.” Buffy tried to smile.

“Yeah, very.” She shook her head annoyed. “Somebody’s very motivated to fix their mistakes I bet. Okay so the score is we got one Queen...” The witch leaned heavy against the wall.

“One pissed off Queen.” Buffy interjected.

“Yes pissed off Queen, Morris and a good number of Drones left to deal with. On top of the obvious complications.” She said the last part low for Buffy.

“So what’s our plan?” Buffy made a slight acknowledgement of Hazel’s additional note.

“Well I guess that would depend on Tara.” Green eyes looked across the room at the woman still intently playing with Willow’s hair. The blonde witch’s eyes flickered up to meet the green of Hazel’s before fluttering down again to Willow.

“I have to tell her Buffy.” Hazel looked back at the Slayer. Buffy shrugged slightly this was Hazel’s call to make.

My familiar, our traitor, was fed our ID names. Hazel gave the information in their enchantment dialect so that Tara could decide if Willow was to know. Tara’s hands stilled as the ancient words echoed in her ears. There’s been a breech in the Circle.

I feared this. Tara sent back her concern.

The breech? Hazel moved off the wall as she asked.

Tara nodded her large eyes filled with sadness she willed her hand to start moving through Willow’s hair again before the redhead grew concerned.

Tara, I don’t truly understand why you hid from me. Hazel began. But I do understand in principal, but I need to know what you know.

Not now. Tara shook her head gently. We need to deal with this, then I will tell you everything I know. She fixed her eyes with Hazel.

Tara, we don’t have time. They are going to clean the city at midnight. Hazel pleaded with her slightly.

Flame vortex. Tara sent back.

Most likely method. She nodded.


Let’s do our own. A white spark flared in her eye as she made the suggestion though her face grew more serious.

On the Queen. The green eyed witch caught up.

Buffy noted the change in both witches, distracted by the humming in her ears.

You trust me enough to do that Tara? She asked growing serious herself. They had to be completely together for the spell to work.

I love her. Tara sent back as her response her eyes not moving.

Convinces me. Hazel nodded as a thin smile broke across Tara’s lips.

“We have a plan.” Hazel turned back to the Slayer.

“At last you guys stop humming.” Buffy looked at Hazel with a smidge of annoyance.

“Sorry.” She bit her lip as she saw the Slayer scowl.

“Hey it’s okay, I am sure it goes right over most people.” Buffy tried to show her that she could cope.

“Yeah most people don’t even notice it.” The witch conceded, surprised but not totally shocked that the Slayer could make out that they were saying anything.

“Just another Slayer thing.” She quipped quickly before sitting down again.

“There is a combined spell that Tara and I can do to take down the hive and the Queen. Adore the Slayer thing.” Hazel added low just for her as she went back towards the kitchen.

“A spell, great!” She felt her spirits rise. “What do you need?”

“Giles, you up for another shopping extravaganza?” Hazel asked as she picked up a pad of paper and began scribbling.

“How does it work?” Buffy pushed for details.

“You want to explain Tara or do I?” Hazel looked up from her list.

“Will?” Tara dropped her voice a little.

“Yes love?” The redhead looked up at her totally loving and devoted.

“You think you could go with Giles to get what we need.” Tara smiled softly at her. “I would feel happier if I knew you had had a part in it.”

“Yeah sure.” The hacker perked up happily.

“Here you go then.” Hazel walked across and handed the Wicca the list. “And go with your instinct to substitute if you have too.” She smiled at her. “The ribbon choice was great.”

“Come on Giles, our first stop is Dragon Lair Emporium.” Impulsively kissing Tara on the cheek she dashed over to put on her shoes. “Don’t do any cool witchy stuff before we get back.”

Tara smiled as she watched her girlfriend. Sighing softly as the two left, she turned back to Hazel and Buffy

“You have the Slayer’s attention.” Buffy put her feet up looking at Hazel.

Hazel moved to sit on the couch. Deliberately trying to judge a normal distance, not too close but still not too far from the Slayer.

“It’s a spell called…” Tara glanced at Hazel, checking that she should be talking to the Slayer about this.

“Yeah she’s cool.” Hazel nodded at Tara’s hesitation. “She’s knows most of it.”

“A flame vortex.” The blonde witch continued.

“That sound like a mother of a spell.” The Slayer commented her eyes wide.

“Well mother of a spell would label it.” Hazel smiled at her softly.” The Circle would use a giant one to obliterate the city.” The witch filled in the details.

“So you’re going to use one instead?” Buffy frowned.

“It would be focused.” Tara added. “Confined.”

“Just big enough to take out the park. We’d skimp on power to up our control.” Hazel looked to the other witch.

“So we basically fry the Queen and her hive?” Buffy condensed their plan.

“Totally.” The green-eyed witch looked at her.

“Need me to back up with any flame packs?” The Slayer asked hopeful.

“Tara and I will need to be close and we’ll need time to get it cast. That’s the part where you come in.” Hazel nodded. “Flame packs a must.”

“I think that’s achievable.” Buffy nodded. “One thing.” The Slayer added glancing between Tara and Hazel. “Why did we have to get rid of Willow before you said that?” She fixed Tara with a firm look. Tara’s eyes flickered to meet Hazel’s.

“This is a combined spell Buffy.” Tara began quietly. “With Hazel being so much higher than me, there are risks.”

“Risks?” Buffy switched her look to Hazel.

“Yeah.” Hazel nodded slightly. “If the spell goes haywire and any of my power goes into Tara by accident.” The witch’s exchanged a quick glance. “Well let’s just say Black Nine and White Six aren’t compatible internally.” She spoke softly. “Me being higher the risk is more Tara’s, though in theory the opposite is bad too.”

“Got ya.” Buffy nodded. “This is the only way?”

“Yes.” Hazel nodded. “Saves the city, kills our hive and cleans up anyone floating around who has our ID names. By the way Tara…” She looked at the other witch. “We need to be totally honest here so I have to tell you.”

“Yes?” Tara looked at her and waited.

“I know your name.” Hazel spoke softly and saw the blonde’s eyes widen in natural fear. “So...” She brushed a stray hair off her face hating the deafening silence in the room that had followed this revelation. “You need to know mine, Melanthia Illisia.” She let the words roll out of her mouth slowly.

“Should I have had my ears closed just then?” Buffy asked with a slight smile at the green-eyed witch.

“Oh yeah could you...” Hazel grinned and motioned to the Slayer to cover her ears. “Oh wait too late!”

“You don’t have to kill me now do you? ‘Cause I told you before dead is just not wearable right now.” The Slayer laughed.

“What you think Tara?” She winked at the other power witch. “I think you look much better in blue.” She couldn’t resist making the soft comment to the Slayer.

“Blue?” Tara asked picking up on the reference.

“Inside joke.” Hazel smiled and brushed it off, not wanting the other witch to pick up the aura reference.

“We should sketch out the floor plan.” Tara prompted softly.

“We should.” Hazel agreed.

“Where’s the best place?” Tara asked glancing at Buffy who had become surprisingly quiet.

“You think you, Willow and Giles could cover that while Buffy and I hit my place for necessities?” Hazel asked the other witch.

“Of course.” Tara nodded at her.

“Watch it though.” Buffy put in. “Take the mini flamer’s with you. We don’t want abduction mark two.” She smiled at the blonde who nodded back.

“Do you know the eclipse spell Tara?” Hazel asked equally worried about them going back.

“Yes.” Tara nodded.

“Throw it quick if you get in trouble. It’ll send Buffy and I word to hightail it to you guys.”

“Same to you.” Tara suggested.

“Deal.” The green-eyed witch nodded in agreement.

“Buffy…” Tara looked up at the Slayer for a moment. “Could I have a moment with Hazel.”

Buffy glanced at Hazel for some reason wanting to check it was what the other witch wanted.

“Meet you out front?” Hazel looked back telling her it was okay.

“Sure thing.” Buffy slipped outside feeling a little jealous to be out of the loop.

“What’s on your mind Tara?” Hazel asked the moment the door closed behind the Slayer.

“Lots.” The shy witch replied. “This won’t end here will it? Even when we destroy the Hive.”

“I don’t think so.” Hazel shook her head sadly. “Whoever let our ID names out is still in the Circle.” Tara searched the truth in Hazel’s eyes and found it immediately. “Morris had to have help and we have no way of finding out who yet.”

“And until this we find out who…” Tara interjected. “We’re in danger, again.” She whispered the last word.

“Again?” Hazel questioned her softly.

“As I said before, we don’t have the time to go into this now. It’s not what I wanted to say to you, not really, not yet.” Tara replied.

“Okay, but soon.” Hazel agreed. “What is you wanted to say?”

“Willow.” Tara said looking to the laptop still lying on the couch. “And if anything should happen to me, would you stay?”

“We won’t let anything happen to her Tara.” The green-eyed witch spoke from the heart. “If you want my promise you get it freely.” She reached out her hand to the blonde witch offering it to her. Tara took her hand, not bothering to stop the shake in hers.

“As Willow is the matched heart of your heart. I shall honour her as I would any other of the ancient white. Contrast to my ancient black binding in the Circle of life for all time. Protection for each as the other even if it means my life.” Hazel made the ancient promise to her freely.

“Thank you.” Tara breathed knowing the weight of the words.

“No biggie.” The witch smiled. “There’s something I need you to do for me too Faylinn.” Her voice was even more serious.

“Anything.” The blonde witch replied instantly, not even pausing for a moment at the use of her ancient name.

“If the vortex doesn’t work and Morris is able to go after my power.” She held the blonde in an intense stare. “I know you can’t invoke my name but for everyone’s sake, convince Buffy too. She knows the name now, she’ll only need help with the ceremony.”

“Does Buffy know what that will do?” Tara held the green stare but her eyes were horrified.

“Yeah.” Hazel nodded slightly. “That’s why she’s so far refused.” She laughed lightly. “But you know what will happen if the hive gets my power.”

“But couldn’t I try a binding?” Tara grasped at straws hoping for a way out of this.

“Even if I co-operated Tara you’d never be able to do it.” She shook her head not meaning to be insulting. “Damn ninth power.”

“I’ll convince her.” Tara said after a moment squeezing the hand she still held.

“Thank you.” Hazel whispered suddenly realising just how close that possibility things coming too that was.

“If it does all work out though.”

“Yeah?” She looked up at the blonde trying to quell her fears.

“What are you going to do about Buffy?” Tara looked back into Hazel’s face with a warm smile.

“She’s the Slayer, she’s cool with the whole Circle thing.” Hazel smiled back. “And we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

“Yeah but I meant more about ‘blue’.” Tara released her hand and moved towards Willow’s laptop. “I read auras too.”

Hazel laughed lightly as she stood up and circled the couch.

“She blue often?” The witch asked as she grabbed the long sleeve shirt that she’d worn the night before off the chair.

“Only around Riley and even then it was more of a grey.” Tara picked up the small computer.

“Riley?” Hazel pulled on the shirt slowly.

“It’s another one of those longs stories.” She replied with a smile.

“Ah.” Hazel nodded a very sad feeling creeping into her as the obvious explanation came to her.

“Meet at the park?” Tara put forward.

“Yeah, remember the eclipse.” Hazel reminded as she turned to the door and went out.

“All ready.” Hazel called to the Slayer who was sitting on the curb at the end of the small path to the Watcher’s door.

“Everything all right?” Buffy asked as she got up.

“Oh yeah, she’s just worried about Willow.” Digging her hands into her pockets she walked to where the Slayer stood.

“Crazy little thing called love.” Buffy suggested with a shrug.

“Totally.” Hazel agreed sadly. “We should cab to my house, it’s a bit of a trek.”

“What ever you say.” Buffy smiled at her.

“Let’s flag one.” Hazel started to walk towards the main road.

The sky in the park was fading slowly from the bright summery yellow into darker shades of orange red, purple and blue. Giles had left his car at an obvious park entrance and made it easy for Buffy and Hazel to find the trio.

“We ready to rock?” Hazel asked as they approached the bench Tara and Willow were sitting on as the Watcher paced around. She adjusted the heavy pack she carried ready to swing it down onto the ground.

“I think so.” Tara nodded ahead of them a little just visible were trails of the rope they needed, laid out in a complex pattern.

“The hive’s been all scary silent.” Willow turned to add.

“Looks like they don’t want to play with you Slayer.” Hazel grinned at her as she dropped the heavy pack of explosives.

“Nah they saw Willow’s ribbon and all wanted one. They’re just sulking because the ribbon store is closed.” Buffy joked back.

“Isn’t everyone?” Hazel laughed. “So, love the decorating.” She noted the pattern on the ground.

“Ready with fire vortex when you are.” Tara looked up at Hazel.

“Witchy powder for you.” Hazel smiled and handed her a small flask from out of the pack. “I was born ready.” The tall witch took her own vial. “Everyone else clear on what to do?” She asked as she approached the pattern.

“I get to play with the packs.” Buffy grinned raising her eyebrows wickedly.

“Now no playing nice Slayer baby.” Hazel winked back at her, wagging a finger in mock disapproval.

“I promise that everything I do, I will mean.” Buffy gave a mock salute.

“After you.” Hazel motioned for Tara to take her place.

The blonde witch took a step forward towards the spell board and then stopped as Willow ran up to her suddenly.

“Be careful.” She hugged the blonde tightly.

“I love you.” With a glance at the others Tara swallowed softly expecting to stutter horribly she surprised herself even when her voice came out clear.

“I love you too baby.” Willow whispered back beaming at her.

Hazel couldn’t help but look over at the Slayer. Buffy looked at her feet before looking back up Giles, who had found something very interesting in the sunset suddenly. The ninth power witch stopped just outside of the spell board as Tara had.

“Watch yourself Haze.” Buffy looked at her finally.

“You too.” The witch nodded back softly. She knew that even if all of this did work life wasn’t going to be easy go by any means.

“Any last minute tips?” Buffy asked as the witch turned.

“Stay far away from the big spinning fire thing.” Hazel turned back and winked at her. “Other than that kick ass for the two of us down there.”

“Hitting the deck won’t stop that one huh?” Buffy winked back.

“Unless Slayer’s are fire retardant.” The witch held the Slayer’s look.

“Wrong suit.” She smoothed down the tight silver top.

“Remember…” Her voice dropped a little lower. “You’re not replaceable.”

“Neither are you.” Buffy stepped up to Hazel and fixed her with serious eyes. Her words were clipped, firm and almost silent. Hazel nodded having to turn away from the look after a moment.

“Let’s do this.” She took a firm step into the pattern, careful not to touch the ropes as she moved to her spot right of the centre. Tara had already taken her place Buffy went back to her pack and hoisted it onto her shoulder.

‘I am replaceable Buffy.’ She thought to herself as she widened her stance and took a deep breath. ‘Seems I never had a chance at a place after all.’

“Will screaming be enough if I get in trouble?” Buffy called as she carefully edged her way down the steep slope to the lower level of the park.

“Very workable.” Hazel answered her. “Remember you only have about five minutes for the in and out.”

“I have six on the clock and counting.” Buffy called noticing the read out on the timer strapped to her wrist.

“Tara?” Hazel looked at the blonde witch as she opened the poured the mixture from the vial into her hand. “You ready?”

Tara moved in a mirrored fashion without speaking. With a deep breath, she knew the other witch would synchronise with her as she began the incantation. Tara’s voice came up immediately matching her syllable for syllable. Slowly she moved to let the mixtures sift from one hand to the other and back as they spoke.

Buffy placed the final pack in the fifth tunnel she explored. Quickly she darted to the central chamber to go to the last tunnel her speed was faster now that the pack was lighter and the timer on her wrist told her she was within her final minute and a half.

“We didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to return.” A thick voice mocked her from behind.

“Oh shit.” She cursed as she ground her run to a halt and turned. The Nukpanable Queen stepped out to block the tunnel that led from the central chamber back to the surface.

“Guess you realised I was hungry.” The Queen snapped out sharp large needle like tubes from her hands.

“Do you like fast food?” Buffy asked as she sized up her exits.

“Fast food?” The enormous creature looked her up and down. Moving further into the room as the walls of the underground began to shake and the entire earth shimmed slightly to knock dirt loose on the walls. “I like any food.” She snarled at the Slayer.

Buffy noted the slight gap between the giant Queen’s legs just big enough but she’d have to loose the knapsack. Slipping her hand in to the pack she drew out the final flame pack and slipped it into her waistband. The Queen prepared herself assuming the Slayer was going to attack her.

“Ah you see I’m fast food.” Buffy smiled aware of the growing instability in the tunnels. “To eat me…” She began her run. “You gotta catch me.” She stretched her arms forwards and dived to the floor.

The demon Queen realised her mistake and made a swing at Buffy as she crouched into a roll, forcing herself forward through the beast’s legs. The Slayer felt the rush of air above her back that told her the Queen’s long needle like claws were just millimetres away from her flesh.

Coming out of her roll Buffy found herself at the tunnel entrance. The Slayer scrambled to her feet and ran head long down the tunnel. Growling in a high-pitched squeal the Queen turned and followed the Slayer.

A glance down at her timer told her she had only thirty-five seconds left. She saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

“You can’t run Slayer.” The Queen hissed as she came up in fast pursuit.

“HAZEL!” Buffy threw herself into another roll out of the tunnel landing in the dirt outside. She instantly scrabbled up. “TARA”!” She screamed louder still as she felt her feet slip on the fresh soil at the tunnel entrance.

Hazel ears were pierced by the Slayer’s scream of her name. She wavered only a small amount of concentration as she maintained the swirling mixture between her hands. Pale green eyes looked past the spell in her hands to the sight of Buffy desperately running from the massive Nukpanable Queen, as the Slayer tried to find a way to get up the soft steep slope around the construction zone.

The Queen slowed a bit as she reached the light, but pushed on in the fading sunset to pursue the Slayer.

Buffy used her hands to claw for a better grip. Trying to find something, anything that would take her up the mound.

‘Sweet Goddess, please give me the power.’ Hazel’s eyes went almost white as in amongst the words of the vortex spell she mixed others of an even older language.

Tara resisted ever urge to turn form the spell as she realised she had to maintain the power steam for a moment.

An imaginary force pushed up against her, Buffy suddenly found her feet on solid ground. She didn’t stop to figure out what had helped her, she instantly sprinted across the park running from tree cover to tree cover.

“Buffy, vortex!” It was Willow’s voice that screamed to warn her as the fiery object appeared in the sky and began its descent to the ground.

Tara could feel her power draining as the vortex actualised itself. She closed her eyes as she pushed herself harder. Hazel concentrated fully on the vortex spell again taking the extra strain off of Tara as their creation arrived.

“You can’t hide!” The Queen cracked off the smaller trees in her way as she raced after the Slayer.

Buffy tried to gauge what to do as she looked between the Queen and the fiery pillar that twisted and writhed in the night sky. Even though it was obviously heading for the Queen it was obvious to Buffy she was in suction path.

“I’m just a distraction!” Buffy yelled her voice breathy as she continued her zigzagging.

Hazel put every drop she could find into holding the spell. If they let the vortex go they would never be able to get it again. Tara began to sway and tip forward a little. She righted herself before she toppled only to waiver again. Out of the corner of her eye the other witch saw Tara waiver.

The timer on Buffy’s wrist beeped, the time was gone. The Slayer looked up realising the witch’s were holding back.

Hazel watched as Tara physically began to weaken, her knees buckled slightly and her hand movements were jagged. She had a decision to make it only took her a second to make it.

“Faylinn, give it too me.” She strained to turn with the spell towards Tara. She knew no one would hear the name over the din.

“No, I can hold.” Tara’s voice was almost silently.

“Don’t drain yourself, I need you to lighting smack the Queen.” She tried to make her understand what they needed to do. “Buffy won’t be able to put enough space between them.”

“LET HER HAVE IT HAZE!” Buffy screamed as she ran. She pulled flame pack from her waistband and held it up hoping that Hazel could see what colour it was. It was a crazy idea but it might work. If she could cause a small explosion she would be blown clear with a few scrapes maybe but she would at least be clear.

“Don’t let her blow herself up Tara.” Hazel spoke firmly to the other witch. “At least put a protection around her.”

“Lightning the Q-Q-Q-Queen. P-p-protect B-B-Buffy.” The exhausted witch tried to get things straight.

“Yes.” Hazel gritted her teeth as she pulled every ounce of power she could find from herself and the universe. “Give it to me now.” The pupils of her eyes cleared out completely

Blinking her eyes Tara released the vortex spell into Hazel’s hands. She immediately rambled the incantation to put a protection over Buffy while summoning a lightning strike on the Queen.

As Tara released the vortex, the muscles in Hazel’s arms strained as she got a hold on the extra power being transferred in the herbs she shifted between her hands.

The darkening sky lit up with pure white lightning as a bolt struck the Queen and sent her flying clear to the other side of the hive area.

It also sent the Slayer flying towards the spell board. Buffy expected a flare of pain as she hit the large tree that loomed in her vision but was surprised when she hit the ground lightly without any pain at all.

“Blow it Buffy, you’re protected.” Hazel whispered the words to the Slayer knowing the vortex would project her voice. Beginning the end of the incantation the vortex drove itself into the ground centring on the Nukpanable Queen.

The Slayer hit the blue trigger and as the twisting pillar of fire drove down on the Queen, the flame packs erupted and drove up smoke, dirt and dust from the ground of the hive. She threw herself down as she was showered with soil and grass.

The smoke and debris slowly settled to show an enormous crater in the ground and not one living thing where the vortex had landed. No undead things either, as there was no trace of the Nukpanable Queen. Hazel moved her hands apart letting the spell herbs drop useless to the ground. Tara released her herbs as she fell forwards slightly resting her hands on the ground.

Buffy got up and shook herself free of dirt and raced back towards the spellcasters.

“Told you...” Hazel felt her knees buckling as the Slayer got close enough to hear. “No replacing you.” Her white eyes suddenly shot to a deep dark dilated green as she slumped down.

“You either.” The Slayer was to her in an instant, looking up to see Tara who was wavering badly.

Willow raced to her side, wrapping stronger arms around to hold her tight.

“Wow, you were amazing.” The hacker whispered as she helped her girlfriend down to sit in the grass.

“If these two were Popeye we’d give them spinach.” Buffy watched Willow guide Tara down and laughed.

“Yucky.” Willow screwed up her nose at the suggestion and Buffy grinned at the red head.

“Ladies, might I suggest we retreat to the car.” It was Giles voice that called to them. “As the very large crater is soon going to attract a lot of attention.”

“Now why didn’t we think of that?” The Slayer rolled her eyes.

“Cause we’re more concerned with the people.” The hacker turned to glare at Giles.

“He’s got a point.” Hazel tried to find the strength to sit up.

“Haze, can you walk or do I have to carry you!” Buffy used the phrase with a smile.

“Hummm... tempting.” Hazel smiled back weakly. “Just a lean will do I think.”

“Come on angel.” Willow helped Tara stand up.

“Home time.” Buffy whispered relieved.

“And there are cookies too.” Mrs. Summers stepped up to the front door. “You sure you have everything you need?”

“I’m sure they have more than enough junk food.” Giles looked at the spread the girls were having for breakfast. “Thank you Joyce.” He smiled at her.

“I’ll be back around five.” She waved as she left.

“Have a good day.” Willow called through a mouthful of ice cream.

“Yes bye Mrs. Summers.” Tara called watching Willow eat.

“Bye Mom.” Buffy waved through another mouthful.

“Post slayage ritual.” Willow offered her a spoonful. “Right Buffy?” She looked to the Slayer for confirmation.

“Ice-cream?” Tara questioned.

“You’ll be amazed at how much better it makes you feel.” Buffy nodded conclusively.

“It’s Double Chocolate Meltdown!” Willow swayed the spoon in front of Tara.

“We could always force feed her!” Buffy wiggled her eyebrows getting a spoonful herself.

“Girls if Tara is sensible enough to not want ice cream for breakfast I think you should let her be sensible.” Giles leaned back heavy in his chair sipping his tea.

“Give us a break.” Buffy sighed eating the ice cream happily. “We’re just trying to educate the girl.”

“Yeah you saw that vortex.” Willow grinned. “My girl needs energy.” She swayed the spoon again.

“Okay feed me ice cream.” Tara laughed and gave in to Willow’s taunts. The redhead giggled and fed her the spoonful.

“Hey there’s ice cream and no one woke me?” Hazel shuffled into the living room and dropped on the couch rubbing at her eyes.

Buffy spun round and dashed over presenting the melting messy spoonful to Hazel’s mouth.

“Thank you.” Hazel grinned softly and took the drippy offering.

“Witchy energy food.” Buffy grinned. “When all else fails, combine chocolate and ice-cream.”

“Love witch food.” Her eyebrows went up to show her like of the flavour. “Some things are just meant to be together.” She added softly.

“I guess the vamps will be back.” Buffy dropped onto the couch beside her. “You know I kinda missed them.” She mused for a second before ginning wildly. “No wait, I didn’t!”

“Thank god.” Hazel laughed. “I though maybe you’d smacked your head there for a minute. Shall we start patrol tonight or take a night off?” The witch asked her seriously stressing the ‘we’.

“Think we can have a night off?” Buffy asked looking to Giles.

“Yes, well...” He poked up his glasses. “As long as you’re easily reachable in case of trouble.”

“Hi guys.” The front door swung open and Xander breezed in “Met your mom down the street and she said you were all here.” His eyes instantly fell on Hazel.

“Hi Xander.” Willow turned briefly before offering Tara another mouthful. Giles motioned hello with his cup.

“Well hello.” Xander stepped forward towards the witch on the couch. “I don’t think we have met.”

“Hazel, Xander, Xander this is Hazel.” Buffy did the brief introduction.

Hazel looked at Xander briefly to wave before turning her attention back to the Slayer.

“More ice cream please.” She prompted Buffy pointing to her mouth grinning. “Need witchy power.”

Buffy laughed and playfully swatted her on the leg. Her amusement didn’t keep her from getting up and moving to get more ice cream.

“So guys.” Xander dropped into a chair watched Willow and Tara swap looks over mouthfuls of the chocolate mess as Buffy scooped out some ice cream into a small bowl and brought it back to Hazel. When his presence didn’t get him the attention expected Xander chose to speak again “So did I miss anything?” He asked openly.

Exchanging a brief look around the room everyone started to laugh.

“Just a little.” Giles answered managed to keep his own laughter subdued for a moment.