W&D Banner

The Gift, Take Two

by Dafmeister
Rating: R

Disclaimer: The Buffyverse is owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Fox and a bunch of other people who aren’t me. No infringement of copyright is intended blah blah blah…
Timing: Kicks off in Season 5, between “Forever” and “Intervention”.
Spoilers: Everything up to the end of Season 5.
Author’s Notes: I started writing this after asking myself “What might happen if Faith was involved in the battle against Glory?” The question first arose after I read Wlfgrrl’s “Reflections”. You don’t need to read that story to understand this one, but I’d recommend it anyway just because it’s good.
Thanks: Huge thanks to Kaz, beta extraordinaire, and to Leila, my friend and sounding board. I’m also indebted to everyone at Buffyworld.com – without their episode transcripts writing this chapter would been a hell of a lot more work.
Feedback: Please do, it keeps my morale up when my muse is being difficult.

+1=2=3=4=5=6=7=8=9=10+

CHAPTER 1: Bad Idea

This is a bad idea.

You got a better one?

No.

Then quit complaining.

She won’t want my help.

Probably not, but I’ll have tried.

She’ll probably kill me.

That works too.

I’m not ready.

Will I ever be?

I’m having an actual argument with myself. That can’t be a good sign…

*****

Standing in the twilight gloom of the cemetery, Buffy felt the tears falling softly from her eyes. Every time she visited her mother’s grave it felt a little more real. The initial shock and numbness had lasted for days, and it was only now that she was truly beginning to grieve.

“Hey, B.”

At the sound of that voice, Buffy’s grief disappeared under a tide of other emotions; shock, a flash of fear, and finally, boiling rage.

How DARE she come here!

Buffy spun round on the spot, her foot lashing out. Faith, who had expected exactly this response, didn’t try to defend herself and tumbled to the ground with blood trickling from her nose.

“You shouldn’t have come here, Faith! I knew you were too weak to last in jail, but you should’ve run. Why come to my mother’s grave? To gloat?”

“I came here because I was following you, B! How would I know where she’s buried? Jeez, I only knew she was dead ‘cause Angel told me.”

“Then why? To make my life that little bit less bearable? To try to kill someone else I care about?” Buffy snarled, tears flowing unheeded over her cheeks.

Faith looked up at her old enemy and realized, perhaps for the first time, the depth of Buffy’s sense of betrayal. “Do you want me to answer that?” she whispered.

“YES!” Buffy screamed.

“I’ve been having these dreams, B. I think they’re like those Slayer-prophecy dreams you and Giles used to talk about.” In spite of having thought through what she was going to say on the journey from L.A., Faith could barely get the words out. “I never had one before. Seemed like something bad was going down in Sunnydale…”

“So, what, you thought you’d bust out of jail and try to really screw things up for us?”

Hearing the note of contempt in Buffy’s voice snapped Faith’s control over her temper. Surging to her feet, she grabbed the smaller girl by the shoulders and yelled in her face, “I thought that MAYBE you could use some HELP!”

Instead of fighting back, Buffy simply burst out laughing. ”You thought YOU could help ME? How? By switching sides again?”

“Damn it, B, I don’t know how these dreams work! Maybe this whole thing isn’t as bad as I thought, but I couldn’t just sit there and not try to find out! You look me in the eye and tell me you got it covered, and I’ll go turn myself in again.” Faith half-turned away from her fellow Slayer, trying to hide the fear in her eyes.

“I’ve. Got. It. Covered.”

“Fine!” Faith turned and walked out of the graveyard.

*****

Told you so.

It was the right thing to do.

She’ll never trust me again. Why should she?

I still needed to do it.

Here we go for three months in solitary…

“Faith.”

Yards from the door of the police station, Faith spun around and saw Buffy standing in the shadows of a side alley.

“B! How’d you get here so fast?”

“Car.”

“You drove? Any fatalities?” Faith couldn’t help herself; the idea of Buffy behind the wheel still seemed weird.

“Very funny. You were actually going to turn yourself in, weren’t you?” Buffy couldn’t keep the disbelief from her voice, not that she was trying very hard.

“It’s not like I got anything better to do: my diary’s pretty clear for the next twenty-five to life.” Faith turned back toward the police station, then felt Buffy’s hand on her shoulder.

“Faith, wait.”

“Why? You don’t trust me, you don’t want my help, and the longer I’m missing, the harder they’ll be on me when I go back.”

“Did you expect me to trust you after everything you’ve done?”

“I don’t know… hadn’t thought that far ahead.”

“I can’t take the chance, Faith, there’s too much at stake…”

Faith nodded silently, turning away so Buffy wouldn’t see the tears gathering.

“Come and talk to the others. If they’re willing to let you, you can stay.”

Faith couldn’t help laughing bitterly at that idea. “Might as well turn myself in now, B. Saves time.”

“Lose the self-pity, Faith, you’ve got no right to it. Take the chance or give up, your choice.”

The dark Slayer took a deep breath. “Which way to the car?”

*****

“How’s Dawn doing?” Faith broke the uneasy silence that had settled over the Jeep.

“About as well as can be expected. She’s had a lot to process lately.” Like finding out she didn’t exist a year ago. Buffy wasn’t sure how, or even if, she should let Faith in on that little gem of information.

“And the others? Is Red still with that blonde girl?” Faith wracked her mind to remember the other girl’s name, but came up blank.

“Yes, Willow is still with Tara.”

“Xander?”

“Still with Anya.”

“What about…” Faith trailed off.

“What about what?”

“You and Riley?” Did I screw that up for you?

“We broke up.”

“Why?” Please, please, please not because of me!

“We… just weren’t right for each other.”

“Oh.”

Silence descended for a while.

“I’m sorry about your mom.”

Buffy looked across at Faith, who was staring rigidly ahead. The other woman seemed sincere. Buffy simply didn’t know what to make of what was happening. She couldn’t even say why she hadn’t let Faith turn herself in.

As the Jeep approached 1630 Revello, Buffy was immediately worried. “Something’s wrong.”

“What?”

“Xander and Giles are here.” Buffy pointed out the BMW and Ford.

“Great…” Faith muttered.

“Second thoughts?”

“More like fifth.” Come on, Faith, get it together! “Let’s go.”

As soon as the Jeep stopped, Buffy sprang out, trying to imagine what would have brought Giles and Xander over like this. Flinging the door open, she was confronted by not only Giles and Xander, but the rest of the Scooby Gang as well. Willow and Tara were flipping through what looked like spellbooks. Anya was pacing in circles around Giles, who was assembling the tranq gun, while Xander was comparing axes for weight and reach. The only one sitting still was Dawn, who looked plain scared.

“What’s happened? Is it Glory? Dawn, are you okay?” Buffy was kneeling in front of her sister before Faith had even made it into the house.

Giles cleared his throat. “Shortly after you left, Dawn had a phone call from Angel. It seems Faith has escaped.”

“Just what we need, Psycho-Slayer on the loose again.” Xander said bitterly, finally picking an axe and moving on to crossbows.

Buffy let out a sigh of relief that she didn’t have anything more to deal with that night. “I, uh, already know about Faith…”

Various cries of “What?” and “How?” came from around the room.

“Hi guys.”

Everyone turned to see Faith standing in the doorway.

Faith had known this wasn’t going to be easy, but the wave of fear, hate and disgust directed at her was so intense that she took a step back before she realized what she was doing. She steadied herself against the doorframe and looked over at Buffy. “I told you this was a waste of time, B.”

“Buffy, what the hell is going on?” Xander snapped.

“Guys, just calm down for a second. Hear what she’s got to say, then we’ll decide what to do.”

“What’s there to decide? This is Faith we’re talking about!”

“Xander, just listen for a moment please.” Giles didn’t understand what was happening, but he’d seen Faith’s mask slip a little, caught the defeated look on her face at Xander’s reaction. “Faith?”

Leaning against the wall, never meeting anyone’s gaze, Faith began. “A few days ago, I started have these dreams, nightmares really. I mean, I get nightmares a lot, but these were different, they weren’t about me and the stuff I did. My first Watcher told me that sometimes Slayers get dreams about things they’re going to face, but she didn’t explain much. I heard you guys talking about them sometimes before…”

Willow finished for her. “Before you betrayed us?”

Yeah, thanks Red, really needed to be reminded of that… “Anyway, the first time I figured it was just my fucked-up subconscious screwing with me, but I kept getting the same dream over and over. Seemed like someone was trying to tell me something so I hopped the wall and headed here.”

Xander snorted derisively. “Oh, you ‘hopped the wall’, just like that?”

“You think I’d stay somewhere like that without making sure I could get out if I had to?”

Giles silenced Xander’s next remark with a glare. “Faith, can you tell us something about this dream?”

“Well, it’s all pretty mixed up, but I know I’m in Sunnydale – I can see that huge neon sign on the front of the movie theatre. I’m standing somewhere high, like the top of a building, and there’s this weird light, but I can’t see where it’s coming from. And there’s blood somewhere, I can smell it. And then I’m back on the ground, and the light’s gone, and I can see you guys, and you’re looking down at something on the ground and crying. I couldn’t just sit there and not at least warn you.”

Buffy looked straight into the dark eyes as she asked, “Why not just use the phone?”

Faith’s mouth twitched into a brief, wry smile. “You saying you wouldn’t have hung up on me?”

Everyone was silent for a moment, then Buffy stood up. “If that’s all you’ve got to say, Faith, go wait out back while we talk this over.” Faith looked over the group once, trying to assess the chances of them believing her, and didn’t like what she saw. Closing the back door behind her, she sat on the steps and lit what she expected would be her last cigarette for a long time.

*****

“Anyone believe her?” Buffy sounded skeptical.

“No way. Absolutely no way.” Xander was staring at the door as though he expected Faith to burst through and attack at any second. “How can you even ask that after everything she’s done?”

“He’s got a point, Buffy, Faith doesn’t exactly have a good track record for honesty.” Willow was managing to stay calmer than her old friend, but was still jumpy – she probably wasn’t even aware that she was compulsively straightening up the books and papers on the table.

“On the other hand,” Giles broke in, “she did voluntarily turn herself in and remained in jail for a year, when she clearly could have escaped almost at will.”

Buffy had begun pacing nervously. “Giles, what did you think about the dream she described?”

“Well, it certainly sounded like a prophetic dream…”

“You mean big on the ‘You’re all gonna die!’ and sketchy on the stopping it part?” Buffy knew only too well how vague such dreams were. “Dawn? Tara? Anya? What do you guys think?”

“I don’t like her.” Anya said firmly. “She hurt Xander, stole your body, threatened Willow-”

“We’re all well aware of Faith’s transgressions, Anya.” Giles cut in. “The question is, can we trust her?”

“I-I believe her.”

Everyone turned to look at Tara. “Why, baby?” Willow asked quietly.

“I think she’s scared – of us, that we won’t believe her.”

“Tara, you don’t know Faith like we do, you don’t know the damage she can do.” Xander remained firmly unconvinced.

Tara lowered her head, but refused to back down. “I know she’s not the same person I met last year.”

Buffy sat down beside her sister. “What do you think, Dawn?”

“I don’t know. I mean, if we ignore her, and she’s telling the truth then something really bad happens, but if we trust her and she’s lying I’m stuck between Faith and Glory… I think Tara’s right, though.”

Buffy looked around at her friends. “So, what do we do?”

*****

Sitting on the back steps, Faith had long ago finished her cigarette and was now simply savouring the night air. Occasionally she could hear raised voices from inside the house, but tried to block them out and just enjoy being free. Eventually, she heard the door open. She didn’t need to look to know it was Buffy standing behind her.

“So what’s the verdict?”

Buffy sat down beside Faith, carefully not looking at her. “You’re staying here. Giles and Dawn are setting up a bed in the basement. We need to keep you out of sight; I’m pretty sure the cops won’t be happy if they find out we’re hiding an escaped convict.”

Faith smiled slightly at that. “I didn’t think any of you would believe me…”

“Well, we talked it over, and then I called Angel, and we decided to give you a chance to prove yourself.”

“Got it. Was Angel mad I didn’t call him?”

“He was… worried. I told him you’d call tonight.” Looking at her fellow Slayer for a moment, Buffy wondered what Angel saw in her that the rest of them didn’t. “I suppose I’d better fill you in on what’s happening…”

“Won’t be able to do much if you don’t, B.” Faith’s attempt to lighten the mood fell flat.

“Glory. Her name’s Glory, and she’s a god.”

Faith’s eyes widened at that. “A god, as in… a GOD?”

“Yeah. Seems she’s stuck here in the body of a human, so she doesn’t have much in the way of power – except that she’s stronger than me and seems to be completely invulnerable.”

“Great. So what’s her deal? She just in town to soak up the Hellmouth vibe?”

“She’s looking for something called the Key. We have it. We don’t know what it does, but no-one thinks letting her get it would be a good idea.” I can’t tell her the whole story, I can’t afford to trust her that far… Silence reigned for a moment before Buffy spoke again. “You’re not going to ask what the Key is?”

Faith, with a little help from the darkness, was able to hide her disappointment at Buffy not trusting her completely. Like I have any right to it… “I figure, if you want me to know, you’ll tell me. Asking won’t change that.”

“You’re right. If you show me you can be trusted, I’ll think about telling you.” Buffy stood up. “Mess with us, just once, and I’ll kill you.”

Faith heard the door close behind her, and wondered if she could manage not to screw this up again.

CHAPTER 2: Progress

Disclaimer: The Buffyverse is owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Fox and a bunch of other people who aren’t me. No infringement of copyright is intended blah blah blah… A lot of the dialogue in this chapter is lifted straight from "Intervention". I could have re-written it, but if it ain’t bust, why fix it?

A few days later, Giles sat in the living room of the Summers’ house as Buffy tried to explain how she felt inside, how she thought she was losing her ability to love.

"There is something in the Watchers' diaries. A quest."

Buffy looked at Giles in surprise. "A quest? Like finding a grail or something?"

"Not a grail. Maybe answers. It would take a day, perhaps two."

Shaking her head, Buffy replied, "I’m not leaving Dawn. Not with Glory looking for her."

"Sure you can." Dawn said from the doorway. "What's the deal?"

"Some Slayers before Buffy found it helpful in regaining their focus, learning more about their role." Giles looked hopefully at Buffy "There's a sacred place in the desert. It's not far."

"But I can't go. I'm not leaving you, Dawn."

"If you have to go learn, I mean, if it'll help you out, I think you should do it. I can hang with the gang. I'll be okay."

"What about Faith? I can’t leave her unguarded for two days…" Buffy looked anxiously toward the basement door.

"Has she broken the rules, even bent them?" Giles asked, knowing the answer was no.

"See? Even Caution-Guy thinks I’ll be fine." Dawn ignored Giles’ glare.

Buffy slipped her arm around her sister’s shoulders. "I love you, Dawn. You know that, right?"

"Yeah, I love you too." Dawn replied with a smile.

"I love you... really love you."

"Getting weird…" Dawn’s smile got a little freaked out, but it was clear she appreciated her sister’s declaration.

"Sorry. But it's important that I tell you. Weird love's better than no love."

*****

Faith was putting herself through an exercise routine she’d formulated in jail when Buffy came down the basement stairs. The two girls had barely seen each other since Faith’s arrival – Faith rarely left the basement and Buffy hadn’t tried to make contact, simply looking in every so often to make sure Faith was behaving herself. Usually she found Faith exercising or simply lying on the camp bed they’d set up for her, staring at the ceiling.

"’Sup, B?" Faith asked, not breaking the rhythm of the sit-ups she was doing.

Buffy stood silent for a moment, arms folded across her chest, watching Faith. "I’m going to be out of town for a day or two. Giles and I are going to do a ritual thing, has to be done someplace out in the desert."

Faith stopped her exercises and lay propped up on her elbows. "What about Dawn?"

"Dawn’ll be staying with Xander."

"Right." Faith got to her feet and took position by the punch-bag. "Anything you want me to do while you’re away?"

"Other than not stab me in the back? No." Buffy turned on her heel and ascended the stairs. She didn’t see Faith’s fingers tracing the scar on her stomach.

*****

Faith lurched upright in her bed, gasping for breath. The tiny amount of moonlight filtering in through the basement window was just enough for her to see by.

God damn it, why are they sending me that dream again? I’m here, aren’t I? And it’s not as if I don’t know how it goes. I told them what happens, I can’t MAKE them trust me! Course, I didn’t tell them all of it – even if they believed me it would break them…

She screwed her eyes shut, trying to drive away the image that always lingered after the dream. She’d told everyone that she saw them looking at something on the ground and crying, but she hadn’t mentioned that she knew what it was. No, who it was. Buffy, lying dead on a pile of rubble.

It’s not gonna happen… I won’t let it…

*****

"Whoa. Group hang time?" Fresh from her encounter with the spirit-guide in the form of the First Slayer, Buffy entered her house to find the gang pulling weapons out of the trunk in the lounge. They all looked up at the sound of her voice.

"Th-that was quick," Willow said nervously.

Buffy scoffed. "Didn't seem like it to me. Death is my gift? Ha!"

Xander tried to be reassuring. "Buffy, we need to talk."

The attempt failed, Buffy immediately went on alert. "What's wrong? Is Dawn okay?"

"Dawn's fine," replied Willow.

Xander had another go. "Buffy, we care about you, and we're worried about you. The way you're acting, the things you're doing-"

"It's wrong." Anya interrupted.

Willow immediately tried to calm the moment. "Wait. This shouldn't be about blame."

"Blame? There's blame now?" Buffy was completely at sea.

"No, there's only love. And… some fear." Willow’s assurances weren’t helped by the freaked out expression on her face.

"We’re just kind of thrown by the you having sex with Spike." Blunt as ever, Anya drove right by Willow to the heart of the issue.

"The... who whating how with huh?" Buffy looked at Anya like she’d just given money away.

"Okay, that's denial. That usually comes before anger."

"I am not having sex with Spike!"

Anya nodded. "Anger."

"No one is judging you. It's understandable. Spike is strong and mysterious and sort of compact but well-muscled." Xander tried to sooth the irate Slayer.

Buffy was having none of it. "I am not having sex with Spike! But I'm starting to think that you might be."

"Buffy, I saw you. Anya too." She nodded as Xander continued, "We saw you and Spike... with the straddling."

The BuffyBot chose that moment to return from upstairs. "Spike's mine. Who's straddling Spike?"

Everyone gaped in surprise.

Buffy gasped. "Oh my god."

"And so say all of us." Xander looked from one to the other, trying to understand.

The Bot looked Buffy over. "Say, look at you! You look just like me! We're very pretty."

"Two of them!" Willow squeaked.

Xander promptly leapt to the wrong conclusion. "Hey, I know this! They're both Buffy!"

Buffy glared at him. "No, she’s a robot. She acts just like that girlfriend-bot that Warren guy made. You guys couldn't tell me apart from a robot?" Offended didn’t begin to cover it.

"Oh, I don't think I'm a robot." The Bot said chirpily.

"She's very well done," remarked Anya, prompting a smile from the Bot.

To his credit, Xander caught up quickly. "Spike must have had her built so he could program her to…"

"Oh god." Buffy felt nauseous.

Willow gasped. "Yikes! Imagine the things…"

Buffy cut her off. "No! No, no imagining, any of you!"

"Already got the visual." Xander held up his hand in shame.

The Bot interrupted the flood of disgust. "People. Friends of mine. You're forgetting the most important thing. Glory has Spike, and she's going to harm him."

Buffy paled. "Glory has Spike… FAITH!"

Xander laughed nervously. "We were gonna bring that up."

Anya tried to help out her boyfriend. "We were getting weapons."

"Grab 'em. We're going now. I have to kill him. FAITH!"

Faith, who had deliberately ignored the shouting until Buffy yelled for her, opened the basement door. "Jeez B, what’s the ma- Oh my God!" She caught sight of the two Buffys. "Okay, did I get hit with a two-by-four and no-one bothered to tell me?"

Buffy tossed an axe to her; Faith was so surprised she barely caught it. "Glory has Spike, Spike knows where the Key is. We have to get him out then kill him. A lot."

"Buffy, we don't even know where to look," Willow pointed out.

Buffy thought for a moment. "I know where to start."

*****

Spike, battered, cut and bleeding, hung from the chains on the ceiling of Glory’s apartment. "It's that guy...on TV... what's his name?"

Glory frowned in confusion. "On the television?"

"That show... the prize show... where they guess what stuff cost…"

"The Price Is Right?" Murk offered.

Jinx piped up, "Oh, Bob Barker!"

"We will bring you Bob Barker! We will bring you the limp and beaten body of Bob Bark-"

Glory interrupted Murk impatiently. "It is not Bob Barker, you scabby morons! The Key is new to this world, and Bob Barker is as old as grit." She smiled venomously. "The vampire is lying to me."

Spike’s answering giggle was barely audible. "Yeah, but it was fun. And guess what, bitch - I'm not telling you jack. You're never gonna get your sodding key, 'cause you might be strong, but in our world, you're an idiot."

"I am a god!"

"The god of what, bad home perms?"

"Shut up! I command you, shut up!" Glory’s divine dignity was feeling a little punctured.

"Yeah, okay, sorry, but I just had no idea that gods were such prancing lightweights. Mark my words, the Slayer is going to kick your skanky, lopsided ass back to whatever place would take a cheap, whorish, fashion victim ex-god like you!"

Glory’s extremely short fuse burned out, and she launched a vicious roundhouse kick at Spike’s chest, tearing him free of the chains and sending him through the apartment door to land in a heap at the end of the hall. Getting painfully to his feet he muttered, "Nice plan, Spike…"

*****

The elevator doors opened in the lobby of the apartment building. Spike pulled himself upright just as Murk clattered down the stairs, at the head of a pack of his scabrous brethren. "You do not insult Glory by escaping!"

Just then, the building’s front door crashed open. Buffy and Xander charged in at the head of the Scooby Gang.

The fight that followed was brutal, but brief. Several of Glory’s minions were killed. The Buffybot took the brunt of the damage on the Scooby side, everyone else got away with nothing worse than minor cuts and bruises.

*****

That afternoon, Tara slipped away from the others and went to the basement. Faith was sitting cross-legged on the bed. If Faith was aware of her presence, she didn’t acknowledge it as Tara walked down the stairs. Tara was about to speak when she noticed the tracks of tears on Faith’s cheek, gleaming faintly in the dim light.

"Faith, what’s wrong?" Tara rushed over and knelt in front of the other girl.

Faith finally looked up when she heard her voice. "Nothing, it’s nothing… psycho-murderer stuff, y’know…" She smiled weakly and tried to change the subject. "So, what is it with B and vampires, huh? First Angel, now Spike. What’s next, Dracula?"

"Umm…" Tara wasn’t sure what to say to that.

"You gotta be kidding me!" Faith tried to laugh, but it came out more like a strangled sob.

"Faith, please…" Tara’s heart ached seeing the young Slayer like this.

"I… I forgot how good all this felt. Buffy, the others, fighting beside them… just being around them. I never realized how much I miss it." The tears began to fall silently again.

Tara took one of Faith’s hands in hers. "Is that why you stay down here all the time? So you won’t have to see them?"

"It’s not as if they want to see me. ‘Sides, it feels more dungeony down here. Won’t be as much of a wrench when I go back."

"Back?"

Faith laughed a little at that. "To jail. Murder Two, twenty-five to life, remember?"

Tara couldn’t think of an answer to that, so she just hugged Faith, and then stood up. "Is there anything I can get you?" Faith just shook her head.

As Tara began to climb the stairs again, Faith spoke. "I’m sorry."

"What?"

"I’m sorry. For the shit I said to you last year."

"Thank you." Tara looked over at the young woman on the camp bed. "Why apologise to me, and not the others?"

"’Cause you might accept it."

CHAPTER 3: The Big Scaredy Runaway

Disclaimer: The Buffyverse is owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Fox and a bunch of other people who aren’t me. No infringement of copyright is intended blah blah blah… Some of the dialogue in this chapter has been lifted from “Spiral”, “The Weight of the World” and “The Gift”.

This is all my fault.

Willow sat with her arms around Tara as the Winnebago rumbled along the desert road. Tara was staring out of the window, her face wearing the vacant expression that had become normal after Glory attacked her.

My fault Tara got hurt. My fault Glory knows about Dawn. My fault we’re running away to who knows where. All because I had to be Insecurity-Girl and run away ‘cause we had a fight. Tara shouldn’t have been alone…

All because I couldn’t talk to her about her worries, about the magic, our relationship, why she keeps defending Faith…

Willow looked over bitterly at the dark-haired girl, sitting on the floor in the kitchen area looking blankly into space. Faith was still trying to process what Buffy had told her on the way out of Sunnydale.

Dawn was the Key. She wasn’t really Buffy’s sister. They’d never met before Faith escaped from jail. All those months of memories of the annoying, vivacious pre-teen she’d known two years ago were fake, a cover to protect Dawn from Glory.

A cover that was now well and truly blown.

Faith could hear Dawn and Buffy talking quietly in the rear cabin. Giles was driving, the rest were packed around the small table, with Spike opposite her on the floor. No-one was talking much.

Spike wasn’t sure what to make of Faith. He knew they’d met before, the previous year when Faith had stolen Buffy’s body, but she seemed only a shell of that person now. He knew nothing about her, except that the two of them vying for the title of “Least Wanted Member Of The Group” gave him an odd sense of fellow feeling. Bollocks, I am not getting fuzzy feelings for another sodding Slayer, he told himself, then Dawn’s yelp of fright announced that the Knights of Byzantium had re-entered the game.

Buffy and Dawn burst out of the rear cabin as everyone dropped to the floor. Arrows began to puncture the hull of the Winnebago, then suddenly a sword was driven through the roof. A second stroke followed, then as the sword came down a third time Spike leapt forward and seized the blade.

“Now would be a good time for something heroic…” he said, grimacing as the blade cut into his hands.

Buffy looked around frantically. “Xander, hatch!” She pointed at the opening in the roof. As Xander hoisted her up, they heard the sound of breaking glass from the rear cabin.

“I got it!” Faith yelled, running for the back of the vehicle.

On the roof, Buffy was holding her ground in spite of being outnumbered and outflanked, but for every Knight she dislodged from the vehicle, another climbed aboard. Seizing an axe from one Knight, she spun and threw it into the chest of another, before kicking backwards at the axeman, sending him over the front of the Winnebago to disappear under the wheels.

Faith burst into the rear cabin to be confronted with one of the Knights scrambling through the rear window. Charging in with a kick to the head, Faith knocked him off balance long enough to throw him out of the window, but was then forced to duck as a Knight climbing the ladder to the roof thrust his sword at her. As his arm came forward for a second thrust, she grabbed it at wrist and elbow, jerking him off the ladder to land in the dust behind the vehicle. He was immediately followed by the last of the Knights from the roof. Looking back, Faith could see the remaining mounted Knights dropping behind, their horses blown from the pursuit. One brought up his crossbow for a parting shot. Faith saw the shot a second too late to dodge completely, and the bolt sank into her shoulder, the barbed head emerging from her back in a spray of blood. Then the Winnebago lurched sideways and began to roll over.

*****

Spike smashed through the door of the abandoned gas-station, desperate to get out of the sun. Buffy and Xander followed, supporting the injured Giles, then came Dawn and Faith, who still had the crossbow bolt in her left shoulder. Willow guided Tara inside, and Anya brought up the rear, clutching the first aid kit and weapons bag salvaged from the Winnebago.

Faith flopped down onto an ancient chair while the others got Giles up on the counter. Willow and Xander started to work on his spear-wound, while Buffy checked on the rest of the group. “Dawn, are you ok?”

“I-I’m fine, but Spike and Faith are hurt…” Dawn was hovering between the two, unsure who to try to help first.

Buffy tossed Dawn a couple of dressings for Spike’s lacerated hands before going to inspect Faith’s injury.

Faith had her hand over the wound. “I’m okay, B. Go see to Giles.”

Buffy tried to remove Faith’s hand. “Faith, let me look…”

“Go see to Giles!” Faith yelled, then took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, B… Look, the arrow’s keeping me from bleeding too much, and this’ll take time to fix properly. Help Red with G-man, then we can take care of it…”

Reluctantly, Buffy left Faith where she was and joined Willow and Xander in doing what they could for her Watcher, which wasn’t much. They managed to slow the bleeding somewhat before flaming arrows began to punch through the boarded-up windows.

Everyone frantically dove for cover. Xander scuttled across the floor to a window and peered cautiously outside. “Our friends are back, and they’ve brought a crusade!”

Buffy grabbed Spike’s arm and ran over to a large vending machine in the corner. “Willow?”

“I’m working on it!” Willow snapped from her position crouched behind the counter. She was flipping through a spell book with one hand while using the other to maintain pressure on Giles’ wound.

Buffy and Spike manhandled the vending machine across the room and tipped it on its side to block the main door, then Dawn screamed as an axe smashed through the wooden wall inches from her head. Buffy dashed across the room to help her sister, but was cut off as a Knight burst through the side door and knocked her down. Spike slammed his fist into the side of the Knight’s head and then collapsed screaming as the chip sent a blast of pain through him. Within seconds, Buffy had disabled the Knight, but more were battering at the shuttered windows or coming in through the side door. One, more elaborately dressed than the others, spotted Dawn and moved toward her, sword raised, but was knocked aside as Faith flung a fire extinguisher at him. The impact sent him reeling headfirst into a pillar, and he slumped to the ground, unconscious.

Glancing over at Willow, Faith was shocked to see the witch’s eyes turn completely black as she began to chant. “Enemies, fly and fall! Circling arms, raise a wall!” There was a burst of blue light, and the Knights hammering at the windows were thrown away from the building. In moments, the building was cocooned in a shimmering hemisphere of energy.

Buffy helped Willow to her feet. “How long will it hold?”

“Half a day, maybe.” Willow looked out of the window and saw the clerics examining the barrier. “Or until Heckle and Jeckle punch a hole through it.”

Spike prodded the General with his boot. “So what’s the story with King Arthur here?”

Buffy looked down at the unconscious figure, then at her fellow Slayer. “Let’s get that arrow out of Faith, then we’ll find out.”

*****

“Okay, much of the shaft is showing at the back?” Faith asked. Buffy had already cut away the shoulder of her t-shirt, exposing the entry and exit wounds.

Spike looked at the barbed arrowhead protruding from Faith’s shoulder. “Half an inch, maybe less.”

“Damn! B, you’re gonna need to push it through some more…”

Buffy wiped up a trickle of blood as she asked “Faith, are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

Faith nodded slightly. “My first Watcher was real big on dealing with your own injuries. I need another two, three inches out at the back.”

“Okay…” Buffy gripped the shaft of the arrow and pushed. The shaft slid through the hole, accompanied by a horrid sucking noise and a low moan from Faith.

“Okay, okay, now cut the end off, as close as you can to the arrowhead…” Faith gasped, sweat breaking out on her forehead.

Spike moved back a few steps. “You’d better do it, Buffy, we don’t want the chip kicking in and making me flinch ‘cause I hurt her.”

Buffy picked up the wire-cutters Xander had found in a drawer. Gripping the bloodied wood of the arrow with one hand to steady it, she placed the cutters on the shaft beside the tip and began to squeeze. If Faith felt any pain, she covered it, and moments later the wood gave way and the arrowhead fell to the floor. “What’s next?”

Faith looked around at her. “Clean as much of the blood off the shaft as you can, it needs to be as dry as possible.”

Buffy didn’t understand, but did as she was told, wiping the blood away until the red-stained wood was exposed. “Done.”

Faith closed her eyes as she said. “Okay, Spike, set fire to the shaft.”

“What!” Buffy and Spike exclaimed together.

“Set fire to the shaft. That way, when you pull it back through it’ll cauterize the wound.”

Buffy looked over at Willow, who was tending to Giles. Willow shrugged. “In theory, it should work…”

Spike pulled out his cigarette lighter and put the flame against the arrow. The shaft fizzed for a moment as the remaining blood boiled, then the wood slowly began to burn.

Faith looked up at Buffy, who had her hand on the shaft near the fletching, the other on Faith’s shoulder to hold her steady. “Ready, B?”

“Ready…”

Faith waited until she could feel the flame begin to burn her skin. “NOW!” Buffy pulled, hard. There was a sizzling sound as the flame disappeared into the wound, immediately drowned out as Faith screamed. Buffy dropped the smouldering arrow with a look of horror and went to look at Faith’s back. The skin above the wound was red and beginning to blister, but the bleeding had slowed to almost nothing. Buffy immediately set to work dressing the injuries, pretending not to notice Faith’s tears and quiet whimpers of pain.

A little later, as Buffy was talking to the now-conscious General, Spike went to check on Faith. She was still in the same chair, the bloody t-shirt hanging from one shoulder. He held out the red shirt he’d been wearing over his own black t-shirt. “Thought you might want something a bit more substantial to wear. It’ll be a tad big, but I figured you’d want something loose over…” he trailed off, pointing at the dressings.

Faith smiled weakly at him and allowed him to help her pull the shirt on, wincing as she flexed her injured shoulder. “How’s B doing?”

“She’s trying to reason with a fanatic, and that rarely goes well.” Spike sighed as he sat down beside her. He started to say something, stopped, and turned to face her. “Why are you here?”

“Huh?”

“Why’d you come back? I assume it wasn’t to… how did you put it… ‘make me pop like warm champagne’?”

Faith hung her head, fighting back the memories of that day. “I-” she was cut off as Buffy stormed into the room.

“Willow, open a door.”

*****

“Buffy! Oi, rise and shine, luv!” Spike grabbed the catatonic Slayer by the shoulders and shook her, to no avail. For nearly thirty minutes, ever since Glory had rampaged out of the gas station with Dawn, she’d simply stared blankly into space.

“Spike…” Anya tried to voice the group’s lack of faith in the vampire’s approach.

“Come on, people, the girl’s endowed with Slayer strength,” Spike replied. “It’s hardly the time to get dainty. Buffy!” He shook her harder.

Xander protested, “We tried that!”

Spike backhanded Buffy across the face, then groaned as the chip fired.

Xander dragged him away from Buffy. “Are you insane? We could be dealing with neurological damage here! You want to kill her?”

“We have to do something! I can't just sit here watching. You waste time with kid gloves - I'm willing to wager, when all is said and done, Buffy likes it rough.”

Xander’s arm was pulling back ready to punch the vampire when the sound of splintering wood drew everyone’s attention to the corner of the room. Faith advanced slowly, a broken chair leg in her hand. “You touch her again and I’ll kill you.” Her eyes held a look terrifyingly familiar to Xander and Willow.

Spike, however, was too fearful for Buffy to worry about the other Slayer. “Yeah, trying to kill people who you’re supposed to be on the same side with is what you’re good at, isn’t it?”

With an incoherent cry of pure rage, Faith flung herself at Spike. She was almost on top of him when Willow spoke, barely above a whisper. “Separate.” Spike and Faith were flung across the room in opposite directions, Faith gasping in pain as she bashed her injured shoulder. Willow glared at them, her eyes darkening.

“Buffy's out. Glory has Dawn. Sometime real soon, she's going to use Dawn to tear down the barrier between every dimension there is. So if you two want to fight, do it after the world ends, okay?” She glanced around the room, almost daring the others to challenge her, before speaking again. “All right. First we head back to Sunnydale. Xander'll take Giles to a hospital. Anya's looking after Tara. Faith, Spike, you find Glory. Check her apartment, see if she's still there. Try anything stupid, like payback or killing each other, and I will get very cranky. Everyone clear?”

Anya cautiously raised her hand, waiting for Willow’s acknowledgement before speaking. “Um… what will you do?”

“I’ll help Buffy.” Willow replied simply.

“Okay then.”

“Uh, Will?” She looked over at Spike. “What do we do if we run into Ben?”

*****

The drive back to Sunnydale had been conducted in near silence, in spite of the appallingly cramped conditions in Ben’s car. Since then, things had begun to look more positive: Giles’ injury was properly seen to, Willow broke Buffy out of her catatonia, and Xander and Spike had obtained a volume detailing the ritual Glory intended to perform. Faith began to think they had a chance.

Then Giles told them that, if the ritual began, the only way to end it and keep the world from being overrun by demons was to kill Dawn.

Faith could feel the self-control she’d built up over the previous year slipping away. She was enraged. Ben had walked right into their midst, knowing Dawn was the Key, and brought Glory along for the ride! He hadn’t even tried to warn them. Now she wanted, really wanted to kill him. She almost had killed Spike. Even seeing Buffy walk into the Magic Box hadn’t provided more than a temporary boost.

So she’d retreated to the training room, partly to work off some nervous energy but mainly to get away from the sound of Buffy and Giles yelling at each other. It was ironic – her split from Buffy and her friends had begun when she’d accidentally taken a human life, and now the only way to prevent the end of the world might be to do it deliberately.

Xander’s voice floated in from the front of the shop. “What about Ben? He’s just a regular guy, we can kill a regular guy, right?” He paused, the reality of what he was suggesting sinking in. “Oh God.”

You can’t kill him, Xander, but I can. Faith thought. Maybe that’s why I’m here, to keep the blood off your hands.

Faith tuned out the discussion as Anya began a pep-talk which seemed to involve a hammer and large amounts of “thinking outside the box”. She began gently flexing her injured shoulder, testing the joint to see how much she could still do with the arm. She couldn’t move it without pain, but the wound was holding closed for the moment.

Within a few minutes, the sound of conversation faded as people began doing rather than talking. Buffy appeared in the doorway. For a moment, it felt to Faith like she was looking in a mirror. The face may have been different, but the look in Buffy’s eyes was horribly familiar. Fear, guilt, and an awful, crushing loneliness. After a moment, Buffy’s face hardened, her expression slipping into the mask of resolve she displayed to the others, her eyes almost challenging Faith to say something. Faith lowered her gaze and silently left the room.

*****

A ferocious hand-to-hand fight raged around the base of Glory’s tower. Giles thrust his sword into one of Glory’s minions, then wrenched the blade free barely in time to block the pickaxe being swung by one of the mental patients. Anya was hammering at another patient with her baseball bat. Spike was trying to keep as many of the minions as possible occupied, knowing he was all but helpless against Glory’s brainsuck victims. Faith had become separated from the others, engaged by three of the minions at once and barely managing to stay ahead of them.

Away to one side, they could just hear the sounds of Buffy’s battle with Glory. Willow and Tara were still recovering from the blast of power that had been unleashed when Willow tore Tara’s mind free from the hellgod. That, and exposure to the Dagon sphere, had given Buffy an opening and, armed with the troll-hammer, she wasn’t giving Glory a chance to regain the initiative.

Scrambling over a pile of debris, Faith bought herself a few seconds to catch her breath. Foolishly, one of the minions had raced ahead of his fellows and attacked her alone. He died swiftly, Faith’s short sword slicing through his throat, but his friends were already moving in on her from either side. Weighing up the situation, Faith darted at the one on her right, ducking under the club he swung at her and driving the tip of her sword up behind his ribs. The blade struck bone and stuck, just for a second, but it was enough. The third minion charged in, swinging an axe in an overhead attack. Faith desperately thrust out her injured arm and caught the haft of the axe as it came down. The minion kicked at her, striking her back just below the exit wound. Faith felt something *pop* in her shoulder. She lost her grip on the axe and fell backward onto the ground, groaning in pain as she felt fresh blood seep from the wound. The minion was raising the axe for another blow when an arrow thudded into his back. Struggling to her feet, Faith saw Xander jogging toward her from the crane.

Making their way through the heaps of rubble, they dropped down behind the stack of girders that was sheltering Giles, Anya and Spike. Xander crawled over to Giles and asked, “How’re we doing?”

“It’s a tie, so far. We haven’t been able to get to the tower, but Buffy’s keeping Glory occupied.” The Watcher risked a glance over the girders then ducked again as a brick sailed past.

“There’s someone up there…” Spike pointed at the top of the tower. Something was moving.

Spike, can you hear me?

Spike jumped as Willow’s voice sounded in his mind. “Yeah, loud and clear.”

Is there someone up there with Dawn?

“Yeah, can’t tell who.”

“Are you talking to us?” Xander’s confusion was obvious.

Get up there. Go now.

Spike looked over at the mass of minions and mental patients guarding the base of the tower. “Yeah, but…”

Now!

Spike leapt to his feet and ran. Faith yelled “Spike! What’re you-” then something *clicked* in her mind. With a muttered “Oh, shit!” she took off after him, leaving the others floundering.

Willow, whatever you’ve got up your sleeve, now would be a REALLY good time! Spike thought as he bore down on the mob. A second later, they suddenly flew apart, scattered in all directions. Spike never even broke stride as he pounded up the stairs into the tower. Faith, a few seconds behind him, had to deal with a mental patient who made a grab for her, before she too was climbing frantically.

*****

“Doesn’t a fella stay dead when you kill him?” Spike remarked as he emerged at the top of the tower and saw Doc standing by Dawn with a knife.

“Look who’s talking.”

Spike lunged at the demon, who dodged to the side and plunged his knife into the vampire’s back. Spike gasped as he spun around, the knife falling free and clattering to the floor. “You don’t get near the girl.”

“I don’t smell a soul on you, why do you care?” Doc asked, as though they were chatting over tea.

“I made a promise to a lady.”

“Oh.” Doc’s tongue lashed out. As Spike ducked, the demon yanked his legs from under him. Before Spike could recover, Doc had him on his feet in an arm lock. “Then I’ll pass on your regrets.” Spike had time for one anguished look at Dawn before he was flung off the tower, Dawn’s desperate cry echoing after him.

Doc stooped to retrieve his knife. “Now, where were we?”

“Get the hell away from her!”

*****

Glory fell to her knees under yet another blow from Olaf’s hammer. She looked up at Buffy and whined, “Stop it!”

Buffy returned her gaze with fury burning in her eyes. “You’re a god,” she spat, bringing the hammer down again, “make it stop!” Blow after blow rained down until, finally, Glory lost her hold on her body and Ben re-emerged.

“I’m sorry…” he gasped.

Buffy lowered the hammer. “Tell her it’s over. She missed her shot. She ever, EVER, comes near me and mine again…”

“We won’t, I swear…”

Buffy tossed the hammer aside and ran for the tower. Ben lay on the floor and tried to focus on breathing. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Giles approaching.

*****

Doc turned to face this new interloper, tutting under his breath. Faith stalked onto the platform, glaring at him. “You okay, bite-size?” Dawn nodded, tears rolling down her face.

“These interruptions really are getting tiresome.” Doc said in an aggrieved voice. He looked Faith over, taking in the film of sweat on her forehead, the rapid breathing, and most of all the slowly expanding bloodstain over her shoulder. “But I doubt you’ll keep me for long.”

Again, the tongue flashed out. Faith was taken by surprise and didn’t have time to evade. The stroke hit right on target, in the centre of the bloodstain. Faith cried out in pain and fell to her knees. In a flash, Doc was on her, knife glinting in the glow of the arc-lights, licking his lips as he tasted her blood. Grabbing the weakening Slayer by her right arm, he hoisted her to her feet. As Faith raised her left hand to counterattack, he drove the knife between her ribs. His gloating chuckle died in his throat as he saw the look of triumph in Faith’s eyes.

Her left hand dropped to grip his knife hand. Her right blurred forward to lock around his throat.

“I hate it when people stab me!” she hissed. Then, with a convulsive heave of her legs, she threw them both into the abyss.

*****

Buffy was climbing the tower as fast as her Slayer muscles could propel her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a flash of red fall past and realized it was the shirt Spike had lent to Faith. Then she heard Dawn scream from above her. Flinging herself up the final ladder, Buffy burst onto the platform to find Dawn slumped over, sobbing. “Dawn? Dawn! Are you cut? Are you bleeding?”

At the sound of Buffy’s voice Dawn looked up. For a moment she just sat there, not understanding the question. Then she shook her head. Buffy broke the ropes binding her sister to the platform and pulled Dawn into her arms.

“Th-there was a demon, he had a knife… Spike tried to stop him but the bastard just threw him off the tower!” Dawn wailed against Buffy’s shoulder. “Then Faith arrived… She JUMPED, Buffy! She grabbed hold of him and jumped! She’s dead, and it’s my fault…”

Buffy couldn’t speak. As she picked Dawn up and began to carry her down the tower, she couldn’t get her mouth to work.

Oh God…

Death is my gift.

It was supposed to be me…

CHAPTER 4: Aftermath

Author’s Notes: Huge thanks to Kaz, beta extraordinaire, and to Leila, my friend and sounding board. Also to Gabrielle and Alice, who helped me out of the legal minefield I wrote myself into.

Spike was picking himself up out of the rubble. His knee didn’t seem to be working right, but nothing seemed badly broken. A noise from above made him look up, and he saw Faith and Doc plunge out of the sky and crash through the roof of the warehouse Glory had used as her base that night.

"GILES! GET OVER HERE NOW!" Spike began limping as fast as he could toward the warehouse entrance.

Bursting inside, he saw Doc crawling out from under Faith’s broken form. For the first time that night, Spike’s demonic visage came forth. Snatching up an axe dropped by some minion earlier in the fight, he leapt onto the struggling demon and began hacking him to pieces. "Fucking DIE, you traitorous, murdering son of a…"

Giles and the others arrived to find Spike, covered in Doc’s sticky, blue blood, flinging down the axe as he ran to Faith. "Giles, she’s still breathing!"

"Don’t move her!" Giles yelled as he ran over. Spike looked at him as if he were mad.

"We’ve got to get her to a hospital, you pillock! Buffy, tell him!" Spike replied as Buffy and Dawn appeared in the doorway.

Giles reached down and grabbed Spike by the collar. "Listen to me! If we try to move her ourselves, we’ll probably kill her! Anya, find a phone and call an ambulance." Anya was gone before he finished speaking. "Willow, Dawn, do what you can for Faith. Everyone else, start getting the dead out of sight. Spike, you can clear up… that." He gestured at the remains of Doc.

Buffy’s eyes lingered on the battered Slayer before she turned and led the way out of the warehouse. As they went, Tara asked, "What about the crazy people?"

Buffy, her mind occupied with the events of the night, didn’t seem to hear her, so it was Xander who answered. "They all seemed to start drifting off after Glory went down."

Inside the warehouse, Dawn knelt beside Willow as she tried to assess Faith’s injuries. "Is she going to die?"

"I don’t know." Willow answered without looking up. "She’s breathing, and her pulse is okay, but the knife’s punctured her lung. She’s got a blown pupil too, so there’s probably some bleeding inside the skull."

Dawn began to cry again, silently.

This is all my fault.

Anya ran back in, panting hard. "Ambulance… on the way…" She collapsed on a pile of sacks, wheezing.

*****

The ER doors banged open. Buffy, who’d insisted on riding with Faith, was right on the heels of the paramedics as Faith was wheeled into the trauma room. One of the nurses cut her off. "Ma’am, you have to give us room to work."

"But…" Buffy watched helplessly as Faith was hooked up to monitors and IV’s.

"Please, just let them help her. We’re going to need some details… What’s her name?"

"Uh… Faith." Buffy shook her head, trying to clear it.

"Last name?"

"I don’t know. It never came up."

"You’re not family then?"

"She doesn’t have family on this coast. Boston, maybe."

The nurse frowned at that. "Okay. Is she allergic to any medication?"

When the rest of the gang arrived, barely fifteen minutes later, the interrogation was over, and Buffy was sitting in the waiting area, staring blankly into space.

"Buffy? Buffy?" Xander shook her shoulder gently. When she looked round he asked, "How bad is it?"

"They haven’t said. Where’s Dawn?"

Dawn sat down beside her sister. "I’m right here." She took Buffy’s hand and squeezed gently. The others took seats nearby. Silence hung over them for a few minutes, then the trauma room doors opened, and Faith was being wheeled to the elevators. Buffy sprang up. "What’s happening?"

One of the doctors answered. "We’re moving her to surgery. Third floor."

Everyone headed for the stairs, except Buffy. "You guys go, I have to make a call."

*****

Six hours later, Buffy and Giles were alone in the surgical waiting room. Spike had finally agreed to go back to his crypt and give his injuries some rest. The others had taken Tara and Dawn back to the Summers house; Dawn had almost collapsed from exhaustion and emotional overload, and Tara was feeling shaky as well – the exertion of the spell she had done with Willow, clearing the way to the tower, had been a little too much so soon after everything else that had happened to her.

"It was supposed to be me."

Buffy’s quiet statement broke the silence that had settled over them. Giles turned to her in shock. "What do you mean?"

Buffy kept her eyes on the far wall. "It was supposed to be me, not Faith. I understand now."

"Buffy-"

"When we did that quest, the spirit told me that death was my gift, remember? I was supposed to die tonight. My death to give Dawn life. Faith wasn’t supposed to be there. Now she’s going to die, and it should be me…" Buffy looked up at her Watcher, her eyes laden with unshed tears.

Giles got out of his chair and knelt in front of her, taking her hand in his. "No-one forced her to do what she did, she made the choice. Would you rather it had been you? Would you prefer for Dawn to lose her sister as well as her mother? Faith isn’t dead yet, and that means there’s a chance she’ll pull through. You of all people know how tough she is…" He tailed off as Buffy burst into tears.

"Buffy, listen to me. Someone or something warned Faith about what would happen tonight. It sounds to me like she was meant to be there. We both know how difficult prophecies can be to understand. If you remember, it was foretold that you would die facing the Master, but here you are."

"I did die." Buffy sobbed. "If I hadn’t, Faith wouldn’t even be here. If I hadn’t fallen for Angel’s diversion, Kendra wouldn’t have died, and Faith wouldn’t be dying now. Everyone around me dies or leaves, Giles. Jenny, Kendra, Angel, Cordy, Oz, Riley, Mom… I can’t take it any more."

"I’m still here. Xander and Willow aren’t going anywhere. You’re not alone, Buffy." Giles didn’t hear Buffy’s whispered reply.

"I’m always alone."

*****

It was mid-afternoon when an exhausted surgeon walked through the doors of the operating room. Willow and Xander had returned to the hospital hours before, Anya having volunteered to watch over Dawn and Tara. Buffy was dozing fitfully on Willow’s shoulder, and Willow’s head was nodding. Xander and Giles were staying awake thanks to a steady supply of appalling coffee and, in Giles case, the dull ache of the spear-wound in his stomach. No-one had spoken for over an hour. Both men jumped slightly when they heard the doors open. Xander gently shook Buffy and Willow awake as Giles stood up. "Doctor?"

"Are you the family?"

Giles shook his head slightly. "We’re… old friends. Faith doesn’t have any family near here. Please, how is she?"

The doctor hesitated for a moment, then said, "We were able to deal with the bleeding in her skull and patch the hole in her lung, but she’s taken a serious head trauma and lost a lot of blood, not to mention having a bunch of broken bones. The puncture wound in her shoulder was a pretty easy fix, that shouldn’t cause any problems, but the rest… If she wakes up in the next forty-eight hours, I think she’ll pull through. If not, there’s really no way to tell what will happen. We’re moving her to ICU, I’ll have one of the nurses show you the way." The doctor disappeared in search of a shower and some sleep, and a young nurse led the four of them away.

They found Faith in a corner of the ICU. Her head was swathed in bandages; her skin seemed unnaturally pale except where it had been scraped raw by the fall. Her left arm was in a cast from the elbow almost to the fingertips and bound up in a sling to immobilise the shoulder. The outline of another cast covering her right leg was visible through under the sheets. They could only guess what injuries were covered by the sheets and thin hospital gown. The only sign of life was the almost imperceptible rise and fall of her chest. Buffy took one look at her and burst into tears.

"Can we stay with her?" Giles asked the nurse, unconsciously whispering.

"Yes, but I think you could all use some rest. Whatever happens, she won’t wake up for a few hours after the surgery. You should get some sleep and come back in this evening."

"But-" Buffy began to protest, but Giles interrupted her.

"Buffy, Dawn needs you. I’ll stay here and call if anything happens."

Xander put his arm around Buffy’s shoulders and gently walked her out, followed by Willow.

*****

Tara met them at the door of the Summers' house. Willow immediately flung her arms around her girlfriend, reassuring herself that the woman she loved was really back. Tara hugged her back with equal fervour before turning to Buffy and Xander. "How’s Faith?"

Buffy answered. "She came out of surgery about a half hour ago. She’s in pretty bad shape, but the doctor’s say she has a chance. Is Dawn…?"

Anya appeared behind Tara. "She’s in her room, she said she wanted to be alone for a while."

"I’d better go see her…" Buffy said as she turned toward the stairs. Xander and Anya greeted each other with an unusually chaste kiss, then Xander turned to his best friend and her girlfriend. "It’s really good to have you back, Tara."

Buffy knocked gently on the door of Dawn’s bedroom. Not getting a response she knocked again, and then quietly opened the door.

Dawn was sitting motionless on her bed, staring at the opposite wall. She was still wearing the dress Glory had put on her for the ritual. She didn’t move when Buffy sat down next to her and took her hand, she simply asked, "Is she dead?"

"No, Dawnie, she’s not dead. She’s hurt really bad, but she’s strong. I think she’ll be okay." The lie slipped easily from Buffy’s lips: she was still sure that she would lose someone else close to her. Hope seemed to have died in Buffy Summers.

"I told you…" The words caught in Dawn’s throat as tears fell again from her red-rimmed eyes. "I told you I was evil. I must be…"

Buffy seized Dawn by the shoulders and turned the young girl to face her. "This is not your fault, Dawn! You’re the victim in this! I don’t care what the Key was, or what it was made to do, that all changed when those monks made you. My sister didn’t cause any of this. You want to blame someone, blame Glory! Blame those bastard Knights! Blame the people who wanted to hurt you." Buffy gently pulled her into a hug.

"But it all started after I arrived!" Dawn sobbed against Buffy’s shoulder. "Glory came, and Riley left, and Mom died. It’s all me!"

"Dawn! You think it’s because of you that Mom died? How can you even think that?"

"Oh come on, Buffy! She was never sick, then the big blob of energy turns up, and suddenly she has a brain tumour? You think that’s a coincidence?"

"We don’t know when the tumour started, Dawn." Buffy whispered, the pain of losing her mother suddenly fresh again. "It could have been ages ago. You remember when she last had a CAT scan?"

"Yeah, it was…" Dawn trailed off, realizing she hadn’t really been there at the time.

"It was when she was in the hospital after Darla attacked her." Buffy finished for her. "More than four years ago. The doctors told her it was probably there for months before she felt the symptoms. Before you were sent to us."

"But what if…"

"No what ifs, Dawn. Mom wasn’t your fault. Tara wasn’t your fault. Giles wasn’t your fault. Faith wasn’t your fault." She was mine…

*****

Everyone ended up sleeping at the Summers’ house, returning to the hospital that night. Spike was already there; he had arrived at sunset, sending the exhausted Giles home for the night, and was sitting with Faith when the gang arrived. In spite of Buffy’s best efforts, Dawn insisted on seeing Faith. Buffy expected her sister would break down in tears, but Dawn was feeling too emotionally numb by this point. The hospital would only allow two people to stay in the ICU with Faith, so Spike took her out to the waiting area, along with Xander, Anya and Tara, while Buffy and Willow sat by Faith’s bed.

"Will, I…" Buffy began to ask the question she’d been wanting to ask all day, but couldn’t quite make the words come out.

Willow looked up at her. "What’s the matter, Buffy?"

Buffy’s expression somehow managed to combine hope and guilt. "I need you to do something for me, but I don’t think you’re going to want to." Willow didn’t respond, she just waited patiently until Buffy spoke again. "I’m worried someone’s going to recognise Faith and call the cops. Is there something you and Tara can do, a spell or something, to hide her?"

"I don’t know, I mean maybe, but Buffy…" Willow paused for a moment. "You just want to let her walk after what she did to us?"

"I know, Will, but she saved Dawn’s life last night, not to mention the world. Shouldn’t that count for something?"

"It does, Buffy. It counts for a lot, but she killed people, remember, human people. She murdered that geologist, not to mention helping the Mayor try to eat our whole graduating class."

"None of which would have happened if whoever decides these things hadn’t chosen her to follow Kendra." Buffy’s voice was almost pleading. "Look, I’m not saying we hide her forever, just long enough for her recovery." Or die in peace…

Willow could feel her resolve weakening. "Tara told me she was planning to go back to jail once we finished with Glory. Does it matter if the cops find her here?"

"Yes, it does. She should get some credit for it, not just get caught because she was hurt before she could turn herself in." Buffy reached over and took her friend’s hand. "I just want to give her some peace, Will. I think she’s earned that much."

Willow’s desire to help her friend finally won out over her lingering hatred of Faith. "I’ll talk to Tara. If she agrees, we’ll look for something. Okay?"

"Thanks, Will."

A watch rotation was soon decided and everyone except Buffy and Spike headed off again; Willow and Tara staying over at the house with Dawn while Xander and Anya returned to his apartment. So Buffy watched Faith, looking for some sign of improvement, while Spike watched Buffy. For a long time neither of them spoke.

"I’m sorry." It was after midnight when Spike finally broke the silence. Buffy looked up at him in surprise – truthfully, he’d been so quiet she’d almost forgotten he was there. Her brow furrowed in confusion as she realized what he’d said.

"For what?"

"For this." He waved his hand over Faith’s unconscious form. "I should’ve been able to beat that bastard myself. I should’ve made sure he was dead the first time. If Faith hadn’t followed me…" Spike screwed his eyes shut, not wanting to think about what that would have meant. Buffy wanted to say something comforting, knowing how bad she felt when a self-perceived failure got someone hurt. She remembered standing with Giles by Jenny Calendar’s grave ("I wish I could have killed him for you… for her…"), but some part of her did blame Spike for this. She knew it wasn’t fair, but the angry voice at the back of her mind kept repeating, he promised to protect Dawn, and he failed. Not trusting herself to speak, she reached out and took his hand. They sat like that for a long time.

*****

Xander and Anya came by to relieve them a little before dawn, giving Spike time to get back to his crypt safely. Willow and Tara took over in the early afternoon, and Buffy returned that night, this time with Giles. She’d asked Spike to watch over Dawn that night, allowing Willow and Tara some time alone together, and he’d readily agreed – they were both a little uncomfortable together after the previous night. Through it all, Faith remained in a condition described by the doctors as "serious but stable".

In the small hours of the morning, Buffy was returning to Faith’s bedside from the bathroom when she saw a familiar figure at the nurses’ station asking where Faith was.

"Angel?"

CHAPTER 5: Dreams and Visitations

“Angel?”

A moment later she was running into his arms. The vampire just had time to brace himself before impact. Buffy hugged him ferociously before stepping back a pace. “Where were you? I kept calling, and I just got the machine…” In spite of the circumstances, Buffy couldn’t help smiling at the sight of her ex.

“I know, I’m sorry. We were… uh… out of town, on a case.” Angel wasn’t going to try explaining about Pylea in public. “We got back a few hours ago, and Cordy found your messages.” In spite of her smile, he could see that Buffy had been through the wringer recently. “How are you doing?”

Buffy let out a little laugh. “I wish I knew…” She took Angel’s hand. “Come on, I’ll take you to see Faith.”

Giles rose from his chair as Angel came in. Their greeting was civil but a little awkward; the matter of Jenny Calendar’s death and Giles’ torture still hung between them, in spite of their best efforts. Both were quick to return their focus to Faith.

Angel had known from Buffy’s phone calls that Faith was in bad shape, but seeing her was still a shock. In the near-silence of the ICU, he could hear her heart beating steadily, but he knew that was only part of the picture. The last time Faith had been in this situation, she had stayed unconscious for eight months. There was no telling how long it would be this time. “Has there been any change?”

Giles shook his head. “The doctor came by to check on her while you were away, Buffy. He told me that Faith’s vital signs are stable, she’s just unconscious. If her condition hasn’t deteriorated by morning, they’re going to move her to a regular room. There’s nothing more they can do, we just have to wait.”

“Buffy, what the hell’s been happening here?” Angel asked, keeping his voice low to avoid the possibility of the nurses overhearing.

Buffy was silent for a moment before replying. “Really long story.”

Giles rose from his chair, saying “I’ll leave the two of you alone…” but Buffy interrupted him.

“Actually, I’d kinda like to get some air.” She turned to Angel. “Feel up to a patrol?”

Angel scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to Giles. “My cell phone number. Call me if anything happens?”

*****

Willow lay gasping for breath, her eyes glittering and unfocussed, as Tara moved to snuggle in beside her. They had gone to Willow’s house after Buffy and Giles had relieved them at the hospital at sunset – their dorm room was missing a wall after Glory’s visit. The only thing on their minds had been rest, to recover from the physical and emotional strain of the previous few days, but once the two witches had settled into bed they had found they couldn’t keep their hands off each other, in spite of one of Tara’s being in a cast. If Willow had been thinking clearly, her psychology studies would have told her that sex was a normal life-affirming response to a dangerous and traumatic situation, but Tara’s efforts had virtually reduced her mind to the “fire bad, tree pretty” level.

Tara placed a soft kiss on her girlfriend’s cheek and couldn’t help but giggle at her glazed expression – the combination of codeine for her broken hand and the endorphins flooding her bloodstream after hours of sex had left Tara feeling slightly intoxicated.

Willow turned to her, a slightly indignant expression on her face. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, I-I’m sorry sweetie, it’s just… you looked so spaced out!” Tara replied before giggling again.

Willow managed to pout for a whole two seconds before laughing herself. “Well you know who’s fault that was, don’t you?” she said, wrapping her arms around her girlfriend. She leaned over and kissed Tara gently, then lifted her head again, her expression suddenly serious. “I love you, Tara. I can’t remember the last time I said that…”

Tara silenced her with a swift kiss and said “I love you too, Willow. And you don’t need to say it. You saved me, you brought me back.” She wiped away the tear trembling at the corner of Willow’s eye. “That doesn’t mean it’s not nice to hear,” she finished with a smile.

Willow smiled softly and laid her head on the pillow again. “We should probably get some sleep now.”

Tara’s only response was a sleepy “Mmhmm…”

*****

“This feels weird.”

Angel turned his head to Buffy and looked at her carefully. “What does?”

“Patrolling. With you.” Buffy stopped and leaned against a gravestone. “I thought it would be like back in high school, but it’s not.”

“It’s been two years, Buffy. We’re not the same people we were then.”

Buffy laughed bitterly. “You got that right…”

Angel perched himself on the next gravestone along. “Why didn’t you tell me what was happening? Didn’t you think I’d help you?”

Buffy was slightly taken aback by not completely disguised look of hurt on Angel’s face. “I know you would, but we promised to keep our distance, remember? Besides, it didn’t seem necessary. I mean, I knew Glory was dangerous, but we seemed to be dealing. Even when Faith showed up, I thought we could handle it. Then it all just blew up… God, it’s been less than three days since Tara was attacked! It was all so sudden…”

“I wish I could have been here for you.”

“Sounds to me like you’ve had some stuff of your own going on.” Buffy looked over at him. “They really made Cordy queen? She must’ve loved that.”

Angel laughed quietly. “You have no idea. Except the part where they were going to kill her, of course.”

Buffy looked at her watch. “It’ll be dawn soon. We should get back to the hospital. You got anywhere to stay?”

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I could always go to the mansion…”

“If you want, you could stay at my place. There’s a bed set up in the basement, Faith was sleeping there. It’s not much, but it’s pretty much sun proof.”

Angel smiled gently. “Sounds great. It’ll be good to see Dawn again…” He trailed off, remembering. “I’ve never met her, have I?”

Buffy shook her head ruefully. “Takes a bit of getting used to.”

*****

The branches rustled gently in the warm summer breeze. Faith stood silent, her eyes closed, soaking up the warmth and the mingled scents of the woodland.

“I think one of us is supposed to be in there.”

Faith turned at the sound of the voice, her eyes snapping open. Buffy was standing a few yards away, gazing down into an open grave. Her outfit chilled Faith’s blood: black leather jacket, black t-shirt, red leather pants - the same clothes she had worn the night they fought at Faith’s apartment. Looking down at herself, Faith realised she was wearing her clothes from that night too. The scar on her stomach began to throb slightly.

“We in my head or yours?” Faith asked, trying to control her fear as she walked over to stand beside her.

“Isn’t that my line?” Buffy smiled weakly for a moment, then her face became solemn again. “This is here for a reason.”

“You think? So we don’t even rate a headstone…” Faith snorted in disgust. “How come these scenes always star you and an open grave? You think the PTB’re trying to tell me something?”

“I don’t think it’s here for you, Faith.” Buffy said sadly. “I think I’ve out-stayed my welcome. I’m not supposed to be here any more. You were right, Sunnydale is supposed to be your town.” She took a step toward the edge of the grave, and Faith grabbed her arm.

“Don’t even think it, B! I didn’t do all this just to let you go now!”

“Please stop calling me that…” Buffy tried to step forward again, but Faith pulled her back. “Faith, this is how it’s supposed to be. You’re the Chosen One now…”

“I DON’T WANT TO BE THE CHOSEN ONE!” Faith screamed, spinning Buffy around to face her. “I’m not like you, I can’t do it alone…” Buffy wrenched her arms free of Faith’s grip and pushed the younger girl away. Faith stumbled and fell to the ground.

“The Slayer is always alone, Faith. That’s how it’s always been, ever since-“

“Fuck that! Who cares how it’s always been?” Faith scrambled to her feet, her eyes widening in shock. In the brief moment she’d lost sight of Buffy as she fell, Buffy’s outfit had changed; instead of the clothes from their pre-graduation battle, she was wearing a long, almost funeral black dress. Behind her, Faith could see that a headstone had appeared at the other end of the grave.

Buffy Anne Summers

1981-2001

Beloved Sister, Devoted Friend

She Saved The World A Lot

“We can’t fight our nature, Faith. Take care of the world, okay?” Buffy stepped backward over the edge of the grave. Faith darted forward and grabbed her wrist, but couldn’t keep her balance against their combined momentum and they both tumbled in…

Buffy snapped awake, her eyes darting around as she tried to get her bearings. Realising she was in her bedroom, she sat up slowly, trying to calm the pounding of her heart. She looked over at the clock: 12:42 pm. She’d been asleep for barely four hours. She’d been looking forward to getting Angel settled and being in bed soon after sunrise. In retrospect, she should have foreseen the complication…

Spike. In her house. Alone with her sister. Angel hadn’t been pleased by that revelation, and Spike wasn’t happy about the object of his affections having her ex as a house guest. There had been a lot of glowering and muttered threats before she finally got Spike out of the door and Angel into the basement. The confrontation had woken Dawn from a night of fitful sleep, and she hadn’t felt like going back to bed, so the sisters had shared an early breakfast before Buffy headed upstairs. Once in her bed, however, Buffy had been unable to settle, tossing and turning for hours until exhaustion overcame her.

As her heart-rate returned to normal, Buffy slipped out of bed and headed for the shower. She tried to put the images from her dream out of her mind as she washed off the sheen of sweat it had caused. The sweat washed away easily; the residual disquiet was more persistent.

Buffy’s sense on unease only grew as she went downstairs. There was no sign of Dawn. Her bedroom door had been wide open, showing a clearly empty room, but she wasn’t in the living room or kitchen. Buffy was about to start calling Dawn’s name when the slightly ajar basement door caught her eye. She found Dawn sitting on the camp bed with Angel, talking quietly. Dawn was smiling for the first time in days, and started giggling as she saw Buffy.

“You two getting acquainted?” Buffy asked, wondering what had her sister so amused.

Dawn’s giggles burst into full-fledged laughter as she said, “Angel sang Barry Manilow!”

“Can we please stop dwelling on that?” Angel pleaded, without much hope – he’d been trying unsuccessfully to get Dawn off the topic for nearly an hour.

Buffy did her best, but within seconds she was laughing harder than she had when she heard about Harmony and her “minions”. As much as he wanted to feel put upon, Angel was glad to hear the two Summers girls laughing; he had a feeling that there hadn’t been much laughter in the house recently.

Eventually, lack of air forced an end to Buffy’s laughter, but she still couldn’t look at the vampire with a straight face. “I’m sorry, Angel, but I really needed that.”

“Well, as long as my public humiliation was in a good cause…” Angel said, smiling fondly. Buffy was about to ask for details when they all heard the phone start to ring. Buffy ran up the stairs and into the kitchen, snatching the phone from its cradle on the wall.

“Hello?”

“Buffy, it’s Tara. She’s awake!”

CHAPTER 6: Two By Four

“Buffy, it’s Tara. She’s awake!”

For a moment Buffy just stared at the phone, not quite comprehending what she’d heard. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dawn appear at the basement door, her expression questioning. Shaking herself out of her daze, Buffy replied, “We’re on our way.”

As Buffy hung up, Dawn walked slowly toward her, afraid to ask what the news was. Buffy stepped forward to meet her sister and wrapped her arms around her. “She’s awake, Dawnie. She’s okay…” Neither realized they were crying.

*****

*A few minutes earlier*

“Can you still smell smoke?” Willow asked, sniffing the air.

Tara concentrated for a moment, then replied, “Maybe a little, but only because I know it’s there.”

“All that smoke, just from burning a few herbs…” Willow muttered.

“Do you think we used enough Lethe’s Bramble?”

“I hope so, I didn’t want to use too much and give everyone in the hospital amnesia.” Willow’s nose wrinkled slightly as she sniffed again.

“That probably wouldn’t be a good thing.” Tara agreed. Suddenly, she grabbed Willow’s arm. “Look!” She pointed excitedly at Faith.

Willow looked over and saw why Tara had become so excited. The wounded Slayer was slowly flexing the fingers of her right hand, the one that wasn’t in a plaster cast. A few moments later, her eyelids fluttered briefly, then slowly opened.

*****

Faith blinked several times, trying to focus, before she looked around the room. It took her a moment to spot the two witches sitting by the window. “Hey,” she said, her voice weak and slightly slurred. “Did we win?”

“Well, the world didn’t end, so yeah,” Willow replied, her voice slightly distant as she tried to hide the ambiguity of her feelings at seeing Faith regain consciousness. Tara just smiled shyly and waved her cast.

Faith suddenly jerked up off the pillow, trying to sit upright. “What about B? Is she okay?” The memory of the dreams she’d had, of seeing the gang weeping over Buffy’s body, ran over and over in her mind. They won in the dream, but she still died…

Tara smiled reassuringly. “Everyone’s fine. I-I mean, we were all upset about you getting hurt, but now you’re awake…”

Faith subsided onto the pillow, relief washing over her face. As she lay down again, she finally noticed the casts and bandages covering her. “This looks like it should hurt…”

“There’s morphine in the IV,” Willow said, pointing at the line running into Faith’s arm.

“Oh. So that’s why I sound hammered. It’s good.” Faith’s old crooked smile appeared for the first time since her arrival weeks before, then disappeared again. “How long was I out this time?”

“Uh, not sure. What month is it?” Willow asked Tara, unable to resist having a little fun at Faith’s expense.

“Willow!” Tara gave her girlfriend a playful slap on the arm.

“Sorry, I couldn’t help it.” Willow smiled unrepentantly before turning back to Faith. “It’s been two days.”

“I’d better go tell the nurse you’re awake.” Tara turned toward the door.

“Can you call Buffy, too?” Willow asked. “I think one of us should stay…”

“Sure, sweetie.” Tara kissed Willow briefly and left the room.

As soon as the door closed, Willow’s face hardened. “I want to know what you’re planning, Faith.”

Faith’s eyes, which had been drifting closed, opened again. “Uh, planning?”

“What’re you going to do now that we’ve beaten Glory?”

“Well, I’m guessing sooner or later, someone here’ll recognize me and call the cops, so-”

Willow cut her off, shaking her head. “No, they won’t.”

It took a moment for what Willow had said to register in Faith’s morphine-clouded mind, then confusion registered on her face. “Huh?”

“Tara and I did a spell. No-one’s going to call the cops.”

Faith’s eyes widened in surprise. “You did that for me?”

“I did it for Buffy. She asked me to hide you for a while, while you recover.”

“Oh.” Disappointment flickered across Faith’s face for a moment. Why the hell would Red do anything for me? Damn it, Faith, quit feeling sorry for yourself! “Well, thanks. I’d rather not be healing up in the prison infirmary.”

Willow arched an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing, it’s just…” Faith paused for a moment, wondering how best to explain. “Back when I first went inside, a few people tried to play “pick on the new girl”. I put a couple in the infirmary, and everyone’s left me alone since, but if I’m laid up like this they might try to settle some scores…” And I’ve had enough knives in me to last a lifetime…

Willow’s eyes narrowed. “Get back to the point, Faith. What are you going to do?”

“Go back, I guess.” But I don’t want to… No, I have to.

“Okay, then.” Willow sat down again, the stern expression on her face softening somewhat. After a moment, the door opened, and one of the doctors came in to take a look at Faith. He had just finished when Tara returned.

“I called everyone, they’re on their way.” Tara perched herself on the end of the bed.

Faith smiled weakly at her. “Careful, Blondie, you keep this up and I’m gonna start thinking people like me!” Tara returned the smile shyly. Neither of them saw Willow’s eyes narrow.

*****

When Buffy and Dawn got to Faith’s hospital room, Giles had already arrived and was waiting with Willow and Tara. The bed was empty.

“What’s happened? Where is she?” Buffy asked, panicked.

Giles answered, his voice soothing. “It’s all right, Buffy. The doctor took her up for a CT scan a few minutes ago. She’ll be back soon.”

Buffy visibly relaxed, as did Dawn. The two sisters sat down on the edge of the bed to wait. After a moment, Buffy asked, “Any luck finding a spell?”

Willow smiled slightly. “Found it and cast it. It was pretty easy, really; we’d already looked into using it once before.”

“W-we found it a while ago, when we were looking for some way to hide Dawn from…,” Tara said, breaking off before she uttered Glory’s name. “It sorta masks the person it’s cast upon, makes people see what they expect to see. I-I mean, we’ll all still see Faith ‘cause we know her, but the staff here should just see her as a patient. If a cop saw her we might have a problem, ‘cause watching for escaped prisoners is sorta their job, but…”

“We never cast it on Dawn because Glory had already seen her and didn’t know she was the Key, so we didn’t think it would help – it doesn’t work against mystical senses so anything that could sense the Key would still know it was her.” Willow finished, babbling slightly.

“Thank you, both of you.” Buffy said, smiling at the two witches.

Giles cleared his throat. “Buffy, what are you doing? I know we kept Faith hidden before, but she has done what she came here to do…”

“I know, Giles.” Buffy sighed. “I just want her to have a chance to get well again, before the cuffs go back on.” Giles looked at her curiously for a moment, but remained silent.

Xander and Anya arrived a few minutes later, and soon after that, the group decided to wait outside in the corridor “where the chairs live,” as Xander put it. Half an hour passed, then an hour. Xander was returning from fetching coffee when the elevator doors opened, and Faith was wheeled out, looking tired but a little more alert than before.

Buffy and Dawn ran to meet her, Dawn practically pouncing onto the gurney to hug Faith. Buffy’s greeting was more restrained; she simply squeezed Faith’s uninjured hand once and smiled.

A nurse quickly returned Faith to her room, while a doctor with “Michael Wilson M.D.” embroidered on his lab coat gathered the waiting Scoobies. “I’m sure you’re all anxious to talk to Faith, but what she needs most at the moment is rest. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that you’ve all been watching over her while she was unconscious, but now she’s awake I don’t want her getting disturbed too often. No more twenty-four hour vigils, okay?”

“She’s going to be all right, isn’t she?” Buffy asked anxiously.

Dr. Wilson smiled gently. “I think she’ll be fine. She’s already making excellent progress. I’m going to go over her condition with her now, and then you can see her, but only fifteen minutes. She needs to rest today, so anything else will have to wait until tomorrow.”

“Got it.” Buffy replied, the others nodding and murmuring their agreement.

Wilson nodded once and disappeared into Faith’s room. Buffy sat down again and hugged Dawn. “She's going to be okay…”

Everyone sat in silence for the next few minutes, digesting the news, before Dr. Wilson came back out. “You can go in now. Fifteen minutes, remember?” The various nods seemed to satisfy him, and he left them to it.

Faith was back in her bed looking a little shell-shocked when Buffy led the others into the room. Seeing the expression on the other Slayer’s face, Buffy immediately went back on alert. As the other six tried to arrange themselves around the bed without crowding it, Buffy perched on the side of the bed. “Faith, what happened?”

Faith gave a wry smile before she answered. “The doc was telling how many bones I broke; I never really thought about how many there are before.”

“How are you doing? And if you say ‘five by five’ I’ll break your other arm!” Buffy said, smiling weakly.

Faith laughed briefly, then winced as a jolt of pain penetrated the painkillers in her system. “More like two by four, as in ‘hit with a’, but I’ll live.”

“How bad is it?” Dawn asked quietly.

“Ah, I’ll be fine, Bite-size. Doc says I’ll be here for a few weeks, which means I’ll be out in two max with the whole Slayer healing thing.” Faith’s attempt to laugh off her condition didn’t work.

“Please, Faith, I want to know…” Dawn said. How bad did I get you hurt?

Faith sighed once before acquiescing. “The arm took the worst of it. I broke one of the bones in the forearm and a few little ones with big-ass names in my hand. Dislocated the shoulder, too, which messed up the arrow wound again, but there wasn’t any real nerve damage so it should heal up fine. I cracked my skull, but they took care of the bleeding, and the swelling’s gone down so that’s all good.” She patted her plastered-up right leg. “Broke my shin in two places and cracked the kneecap, but they’ll all heal. Punctured lung’s all stitched up. A few ribs got cracked, but nothing serious. Other than that, it’s just cuts and bruises, nothing I couldn’t have gotten on patrol.”

Tears welled in Dawn’s eyes as Faith ran through the list. As she finished, Faith looked over at the younger Summers and said as sharply as her tiredness would let her, “Hey! Knock it off, Bite-size! We took on a hell-god and we’re all here for the “We Kicked Her Ass” party. Sounds pretty good to me.”

Dawn sniffed a little and nodded. Giles put his hand on her shoulder and said to Faith, “We should probably let you get some sleep. Dr. Wilson was quite emphatic about that.”

Faith chuckled at that. “Yeah, it’s weird. I sleep for two days and wake up wiped, how twisted is that?” Everyone laughed a little awkwardly.

Buffy turned to the others. “I’ll catch up, guys, I just want a minute…”

As the door closed, Faith suddenly remembered something. “Hey, is Spike okay? I remember him going off the tower right before me…”

“He’s a bit beat up, but still in one piece.” Buffy replied. “He twisted his knee pretty badly when he landed but he’s in way better shape than you – he hit that big heap of rubble and rolled down the slope, so he didn’t just slam into the ground.” Silence reigned for a moment, then Buffy spoke again. “Thank you.”

“What for? After what I did to you before, this was the least I could do.” Faith’s eyes dropped at the mention of their past. “I never thought I’d get a chance to start squaring things with you, B, I had to take it.”

“Faith, we are so far past square right now… You saved my sister. She’s all I have now.”

Faith shook her head slightly. “It’s not enough, B. It can’t be enough…”

“It is to me.” Faith was about to object again, but Buffy touched her finger to the dark girl’s lips, silencing her. “I can’t forget what you did, and you really shouldn’t, but I forgive you.”

“Okay.” Faith began to smile, but it turned into a yawn halfway through.

Buffy laughed gently. “Sleep. Now. I’ll be back tomorrow, and Angel will be by after dark tonight.”

Faith perked up at that. “Fang’s in town?”

“Yeah, I called him when you were brought in here, but he only got the message last night, and he came straight here.”

“Cool! I don’t think they’ll let me send him a visitor’s pass for a while after I get back, y’know.”

Buffy nodded slightly and left the drowsy Slayer in peace.

Giles and the others were waiting just down the corridor. Buffy joined them and motioned them into a corner where they wouldn’t be overheard. “Giles, can you take Dawn home? I want to run by Spike’s crypt and let him know Faith’s okay.”

Giles ignored Xander’s eye-rolling as he replied, “Of course.”

Buffy paused for a moment. “I’d like you all to come over tonight, ten o’clock. There’s something I need to talk to you all about. Actually, Giles, can we use the Magic Box? I think we could use some space.”

“Of course, Buffy.” Giles replied, half-suspecting what was on her mind.

“What’s up, Buff?” Xander asked. “Spider-sense tingling?”

Buffy shook her head. “Nothing like that. I’ll explain tonight.” I really don’t want to have this argument more than once.

CHAPTER 7: The Question Before The Court

Author’s Notes: Huge thanks to Kaz, beta extraordinaire, and to Leila, my friend and sounding board. Also to Gabrielle and Alice, who helped me out of the legal minefield I wrote myself into. And just so we’re clear, my description of the structure of the Watchers’ Council has absolutely no basis in canon.

Spike had just switched on the TV and settled into his battered armchair when the door of his crypt opened, the rusty hinges squeaking. With a sigh, he set down his Bloody Mary (real blood) and turned looked around at the visitor. Seeing Buffy silhouetted against the afternoon sky, he relaxed – he really wasn’t in the mood to deal with demons.

“Don’t you ever knock?” he asked, more out of habit than genuine annoyance.

Buffy smiled slightly as she closed the door. “How’s your leg?”

Spike took a sip of his drink and regarded the injured limb, propped up on a footstool. “Sore, but not as much as yesterday. Should be fine in a day or so.”

“Good.” Buffy paused for a moment, feeling a little awkward in Spike’s company. “Faith’s awake.”

Spike looked around at her. “She going to be all right, then?”

Buffy nodded. “It’ll take a while, but everything’s fixable.” Buffy hesitated before bringing up the real reason she was there. “Spike, I’ve asked everyone to meet at the magic shop tonight at ten: there’s something I need to talk about and I’d like you to be there.”

Spike drained his glass before answering. “All right.” For a moment Buffy thought he was going to say something more, but he kept silent – until she opened the door to leave. “Will Angel be there?”

“Yes, he’ll be there.”

There was no reply.

*****

The door opened, creaking slightly. Faith stirred, half awake. Her eyes blearily, but she came full awake quickly as the moonlight shining through the window revealed the face of her visitor.

“Hey, Fang.”

Angel sat down in a chair by the bed. “How’re you doing?” His usual stoic expression masked a mixture of pleasure and concern over seeing Faith and worrying about her condition.

“I’m okay. I got a bed, three meals a day, and morphine on demand. What more does a girl need?” Faith smiled slightly. She shifted a little, trying to find a position where she could face Angel more comfortably, and winced as her broken ribs protested.

Even in the semi-darkness, Angel spotted her reaction. “Are you using the morphine?”

“Just enough to let me sleep,” she admitted.

“Faith…”

“You ever see someone on a morphine crash?” Faith looked him in the eye, a hint of fear showing on her face. “I have. I’m not gonna put myself through that, ‘specially not in solitary.”

Angel tried to reassure her. “They wouldn’t let you take that much, Faith.”

The Slayer just shook her head minutely. “Not gonna take the chance. ‘Sides, I’m a Slayer, got the whole high-pain-tolerance thing.”

Angel wasn’t happy with that, but decided to drop it – he knew how stubborn Faith could be and he didn’t want to upset her while she was healing. “You’re definitely going back to jail, then?”

Faith just looked up at the ceiling for a moment before answering. “I have to. Still got a lot of time to do, and I don’t think my little breakout’s gonna go down well with the parole board.”

“You could try to hide, maybe go for the border,” he suggested.

“No.” But… “No. I can’t stay out, I’m not ready.” Faith tried to fight down the pleading voice in her mind. But I don’t want to go back.

“You don’t sound too sure of yourself.” Angel reached over and took her hand gently.

“I’m sure. When things got bad, I wanted to…” Faith squeezed her eyes tight shut, but a tear still escaped. “I wanted to kill, Angel. When we realized what Ben had done, what he was – did B tell you about him? He was Glory, and he never even tried to warn us... I wanted to cut him open, see his blood pour out…” The tears began to flow freely down her cheeks. Somewhere deep in her heart, she raged at showing such weakness in front of anyone, even Angel.

Unable to hug the crying girl for fear of hurting her, Angel leaned over and gently cradled Faith’s cheek with his hand. “I doubt you were the only one, Faith.”

Faith looked up at him, her eyes glittering in the moonlight. “It’s not the same, Angel. I can’t let myself think like that, I can’t take the chance, and I still-”

Angel finished for her. “You don’t want to go back.”

Faith shook her head once. “No, I don’t, and that’s why I have to.”

*****

As ten o’clock approached, Buffy nervously paced the length of the Magic Box. The atmosphere in the shop was already tense, and they were still waiting for Xander and Anya. Spike was sitting on the counter and glaring at Angel, who was seated on the stairs up to the gallery, seemingly lost in thought. Giles, Willow, Tara and Dawn had taken seats around the table and were talking quietly.

It was a couple of minutes after ten when the bell over the door rang, announcing Xander and Anya’s arrival. Xander was about to offer some lighthearted greeting when he spotted Angel and Spike. His jaw snapped shut, and he wordlessly took a seat beside Dawn so that he could glower at both vampires without moving his head too much. Anya joined him, her silence displaying an unexpected level of tact.

Everyone looked expectantly at Buffy. She stopped pacing beside the steps to the front of the store and turned to face them, her body held stiffly upright, arms crossed over her chest.

“Thank you for coming, all of you. There’s something I need to talk to you all about, and I’d rather get it over with in one go. It’s about Faith, what’s going to happen to her.” Buffy took a deep breath and asked the question. “Do we send her back to jail, or keep her here?”

There was a moment of shocked silence in the room, then Willow spoke. “Buffy, you’re not actually suggesting we let Faith stay free, are you?”

“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting, Will.” Buffy looked over at her, a hint of desperation in her eyes. “Look, I know how you guys feel about her, but I think she’s earned another chance.”

“I guess life really doesn’t mean life any more.” Xander said bitterly.

Giles cleared his throat before he spoke up. “Personal feelings aside, Xander does have a point, Buffy. Faith has been convicted of a crime and sentenced accordingly.”

“I know, Giles, but what she did here should mean something, shouldn’t it?” Buffy cast her eyes over her friends, searching for any sign of support.

Xander shook his head in disbelief. “So, what, she actually does her job for a change, and she can get away with murder?”

“She’ll never get away with it.” Everyone turned to look at Angel. “She’ll be carrying it with her for the rest of her life. They can’t do anything in jail that’s as bad as what that memory will do to her.”

“Oh, big surprise,” Xander snapped. “The bloodsucking demon’s on the side of the murderer. You want to get in on this too, Bleachboy?” He glared at Spike.

“Xander!” Dawn snapped. “How can you talk about her like this? She saved us all! If she hadn’t been there I’d have been sliced open up on that tower!”

No one noticed Spike’s face darken. Was I even there? My sodding knee says I was, but no one else seems to remember…

“You got an answer for that, Xander?” Buffy said harshly.

“Look, I’m as happy as anyone that Dawn’s safe, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna forget about Faith trying to kill half the people in this room.” Xander shoved his chair away from the table and started pacing.

“H-has…” Tara began, her voice faltering. “Has anyone asked Faith what she wants?”

“She doesn’t want to go back.” Angel replied.

“There’s a shock…” Willow muttered sarcastically.

Angel continued, ignoring the redhead’s comment, “The thought of being free scares her. She’s afraid of what she might do if she’s not locked up.”

“Okay, Faith is talking sense.” Xander observed from the corner, a look of surprise on his face. “Giles, isn’t that a sign of the apocalypse?”

Giles just glared at him and said nothing.

Buffy turned to face her friend and asked, “Why are you being like this? Two days ago you were sitting outside the operating room waiting for Faith and now you’re acting like she’s the enemy again.”

“It’s a lot easier to be nice about her when she’s unconscious, and I don’t have to worry about her strangling me again,” Xander retorted, his expression angry, and almost hurt.

“Is being in jail helping her?” Tara asked, partly to distract Buffy and Xander from snapping at each other and partly because no one else seemed to be considering it. “I-I mean, can they help her?”

“I doubt it.” Buffy replied. “They can’t help her deal with being a Slayer, and that’s what this is really all about. If she hadn’t been a Slayer none of it would have happened, she never would have even come to Sunnydale.”

“And you think you can help her?” Giles questioned, his expression neutral.

“Maybe. I don’t know, but I think we’re the only people who can.”

Willow looked at Buffy sceptically, “So you’re saying she’s our responsibility now?”

“Maybe ours.” Buffy allowed. “But definitely mine. I mean, I know she made a lot of mistakes, but I could have tried harder. I could have helped her if I hadn’t been… distracted.” She didn’t look at Angel.

Xander came and stood by her, wanting to draw a line under their argument. “Buff, you can’t blame yourself for what Faith did. You’re the one who stopped her, remember?”

Buffy closed her eyes for a moment as images of that final fight at Faith’s apartment flooded her mind. “I remember, Xander, believe me I remember…”

“I hate to break up the moralising,” Spike interrupted. “But can we keep Faith around? I mean, are you planning to hide her in the basement permanently, and just wheel her out when there’s slaying to be done?”

“Okay, now Spike’s talking sense, this is officially the Twilight Zone!” Xander joked as he returned to his seat, trying to lighten the mood.

“I hadn’t actually thought that far…” Buffy admitted. “Is there some way we can get the cops to stop looking for her?”

“Bribery often works.” Anya offered.

“It also means giving people lots of money we don’t have, Ahn.” Xander reminded her.

“Well, screw that.”

Spike had a thought. “What about Red? Could you mess with their computers, keep them off our backs that way?”

“Guys, we’re not talking about hacking the Sunnydale coroner’s office here.” Willow replied. Her expression wasn’t encouraging. “I’d have to get into the LAPD, the California Department of Corrections, probably some federal databases since she escaped.”

“Can you do it?” Buffy asked, her voice almost a whisper.

“Maybe, with a lot of preparation and some magic thrown in. Or I could end up sharing a cell with Faith for the next twenty years.”

Buffy’s shoulders slumped and she sat down on the steps, defeated.

“What about the Council?” Dawn’s question surprised everyone. “I mean, they’re always going on about how much pull they have with the government, maybe they can do something?”

Xander’s derisive snort left no doubt about his opinion. Anya put her arm around his shoulders and asked, “Do they even know she’s escaped?”

“They know.” Giles replied. “They were monitoring her, from a distance – I don’t they wanted to chance another confrontation with Angel or Buffy. Quentin Travers contacted me the night Faith arrived here. I told him what had happened and convinced him to leave the matter in our hands.”

“Do you think Travers would help?” Buffy asked.

Giles took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “We might be able to convince Quentin, but whether he could persuade the rest of the Council…”

“I-I thought Mr. Travers was head of the Council,” Tara said, confused.

Shaking his head, Giles replied, “Quentin is in charge of the Operations division. He’s responsible for the Slayer, and the various tactical units the Council has scattered around the world. There are three other divisions: Training, Research and Logistics. The Council itself is made up of the four divisional heads and the Chairman – I suppose you could say he’s the head of the Council, but there’s really no one person in charge.”

“But the Council could do it?” Buffy asked, not really interested in the finer points of bureaucracy.

Giles nodded. “Almost certainly. They may be the only people who can, or at least the only ones we have access to. Assuming, of course, we decide to do this. Are you sure you’ve thought this through, Buffy? If Faith turns on us again, I’m not sure there will be any way we can bring her back.”

“I’ve thought about it, Giles, believe me.” Buffy answered. “But what if I die? Can we be sure there’ll be another Slayer called? If not, Faith’ll be all there is. You want to just leave her in a cell until we need her? We might as well just paint “In case of emergency, break glass” on the prison gates!” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Giles, I shouldn’t be shouting at you…”

“It’s all right, Buffy, We’ve all had a rather trying few days, it’s only to be expected that we’re all on a short fuse.” Giles looked over at the staircase. “Angel, you’ve been… monitoring… Faith since she was arrested. What do you think?”

“She wants redemption, and she knows she has to earn it. She thinks she can only do that in jail, but I think, in the end, it’ll just end up hurting her.” Angel took an unnecessary breath, and continued. “She’s a Slayer. She knows that there are things in the world that she was chosen to fight. Sooner or later that’s going to start gnawing at her. I think the only way she can truly redeem herself is by fulfilling that destiny, and I think it should be here, where she can face her past.”

Buffy stood. “So, do we agree? We contact the Council and see if we can make this work?”

Silence reigned for a moment as everyone looked at Willow and Xander. Finally, Xander spoke. “Look, I just want to go on record as saying that I don’t like this, but I’ll give it a shot.”

Anya looked puzzled. “You’re not going to argue any more?”

“Ahn, it wouldn’t help. Besides, if Buffy and Giles think this can work, then I’m willing to believe them.” Xander looked around the group. “Just remember; if this goes wrong, you’re all in for a rousing chorus of ‘I told you so!’ before I bleed to death.”

Buffy smiled her thanks before turning to Willow. “How about you, Will?”

Willow frowned and said “Okay. Just as long as we don’t have to trust her. Or like her.”

“Thanks, guys.” Buffy turned to her Watcher. “Giles, make the call.”

“I think I’ll leave it for a couple of hours, Buffy, it’s not much past six in the morning in London.” Giles said, looking at his watch. “I doubt Quentin will be more likely to help us if we wake him up.”

“Do we tell Faith?” Tara asked.

Buffy shook her head. “Not until we know if we can make it happen or not. I don’t want to get her hopes up.” Everyone nodded, some more enthusiastically than others. Angel’s brow furrowed in thought and Buffy spotted the change immediately. “Something wrong?”

“Maybe. I just thought of a complication, or a possible one. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” Angel stood and walked over to the table. “Willow, if I give you a name could you use it to track down an address on your computer?”

“Yeah, sure.” Willow replied, her tone curious, as Angel wrote something in a notebook, tore the page out and handed it to her. She read the name and asked, “Who is this?”

“He’s… an old acquaintance from L.A. I think he’s in Oklahoma these days. That’s where he was heading last time I saw him.” Angel walked over to Buffy and gave her a quick hug. “Speaking of L.A., I think I’d better be heading back.”

“You sure you can’t stay another day or two?” Buffy asked. “I’m sure Faith would like to see you again.”

“I’m sure. I left Cordy and Wes babysitting a crazy physicist – don’t ask. I should at least drop in before I head for Oklahoma.” Buffy nodded her understanding and walked with him to the door. Angel looked deep into her eyes and whispered, “If you need me, you know I’ll be there for you, right?” She smiled at him and nodded. Another brief hug, and he was gone.

CHAPTER 8: The Proposal

Come on, show yourself, you little bastard… The crossbow pistol was leveled at the corner of the wall, its target still veiled in shadow. She circled to the right, hoping to get a clear shot…

There was a blur of movement from the shadows, a gleam of light from feral eyes and sharp teeth. Her finger tightened on the trigger and the bolt shot forth.

"Damn it!" Cordelia shouted to no one in particular as her shot ricocheted off the marble floor of the Hyperion lobby at least two feet behind the rat, which scuttled off into the shadows by the basement access. Muttering curses, she began to reload.

"Hey, Cordy."

"YAAGH!" Cordelia jumped as Angel’s voice sounded behind her. "God, Angel, didn’t anyone ever to tell you not to sneak up on people with crossbows?"

"Sorry." Angel chuckled at his friend’s look of chagrin. "If the rats really bother you that much, you should just call in an exterminator."

"Oh no, this is personal. I’m gonna get them all, especially that one with half its ear missing." Cordelia turned to glare at the basement door. "Oh yeah, rat-boy, your time is coming." She walked over to the reception desk and put down the crossbow. "Speaking of nasty little rodents, how’s Faith?"

Angel sighed at the venom in Cordelia’s voice. "She’ll live. She has a lot of bones that need healing, but she’ll be okay." He sat down on the circular couch. "She did a lot of good, and she damn near died in the process. Would it kill you to just give her a chance?"

Cordelia looked over at him, her expression unforgiving. "If last time’s anything to go by, it might. In fact, I seem to remember that it almost did get you killed."

"People change, Cordy. I did a lot worse than anything Faith tried."

"Yeah, well, Faith isn’t you." Cordelia replied, before changing the subject. "You should probably go see Fred; she’s been asking when you’re coming back every time we’ve looked in on her."

Angel stood and looked up toward the balcony. "Has she been out of her room at all?"

Cordelia followed his gaze. "No, she just sits up there and writes on the walls. Wes says it’s ‘either some of the most advanced math he’s ever seen, or it’s complete gibberish’."

Angel started up the staircase. A few steps up, he paused and turned back. "I’m going to have to leave again as soon as it gets dark."

"What?" Cordelia asked in shock. "You just got here! Where are you going?"

"Oklahoma. There’s someone I have to see… about Faith." Angel replied as he disappeared up the stairs.

Who the hell’s in Oklahoma? Cordelia wondered before realization sunk in. Oh God, not him!

*****

Quentin Travers was in his office, sipping his tea and leafing through Giles’ report of the final battle with Glory when the call came. He was, to say the least, surprised to hear Giles’ voice. "Is everything all right, Rupert? It must be almost one in the morning over there."

"Nothing untoward has happened, Quentin. Buffy and I want to talk to you about Faith." Giles replied.

"Miss Summers?" Travers’ tone was questioning.

"Hello, Mr. Travers." Buffy’s voice came over the line. "We’ve been discussing what should happen her now, and we think it would be better all round if she stayed in Sunnydale."

Travers’ eyes narrowed. "Miss Summers, I agreed not to move against Faith on the understanding that she would be returned to custody once the situation with Glory was resolved."

"We’re aware of that, Quentin," Giles said, a little sharply. "And if you’ve read my report, you’ll know how important her presence proved to be."

"Yes, Rupert, your account of Faith’s actions makes for interesting reading." Travers flipped open the file and re-read Giles description of Faith’s injuries. "However, this does not alter the fact that Faith is a convicted killer and has shown herself to be dangerously unstable. She is entirely capable of-"

"I know what she’s capable of, Quentin!" Buffy interrupted. "I also know that things could have been a lot different if Wes and your hit squad hadn’t blundered in. And if the Council had told us that Gwendolyn Post had gone crazy, maybe Faith wouldn’t have stopped trusting us in the first place!"

No one spoke for a moment after Buffy’s outburst, then Travers sighed quietly. "What exactly are you proposing, Miss Summers?"

"Faith stays here with us. Being in jail isn’t helping anyone, it’s just punishing her. She’s already made the decision to change, and who better can help her better than people who actually know who and what she is?"

"Think about it, Quentin." Giles added. "Six months ago you didn’t have one Slayer to call on. This way there can be two of them guarding the Hellmouth. You know it makes sense."

"With you acting as Watcher for both of them, I suppose." Travers said dryly.

"You think it’s a good idea to send someone new?" Buffy asked. "Didn’t work out too well last time."

Travers thought for a moment, then asked, "Assuming the Council approves this plan, what will you be wanting from us?"

Buffy replied, "I want you to get the cops off Faith’s back. I don’t care how: parole, pardon, whatever, just so long as she isn’t looking over her shoulder the rest of her life."

"Very well, I’ll put your proposal to the Council." Travers said. "If I were you, though, I wouldn’t get my hopes up. I’ll contact you once a decision has been made." He hung up before they could reply. For a few moments he sat at his desk thinking, before he got up and left the office.

His assistant was at his desk going through a report on vampire activity in Eastern Europe when Travers called to him. "Julian, I’ll need to speak to the head of our North American section and someone from the legal team with a good knowledge of American law. We may have some business to conduct in California."

Julian picked up the phone and began dialing. "The Summers girl, sir?"

"When isn’t it the Summers girl?"

*****

Dawn knocked again on the crypt door. Again, there was no answer, so she pushed open the door and stepped inside, taking a moment to savour the cool air after walking through the afternoon heat. "Spike?" There was no sign of the vampire on the upper level, so Dawn stuck her head through the hole in the floor and called again. "Spike? You here?" Where the hell else would he be?

"Niblet?" Spike appeared in her field of view, shirtless, limping slightly and covered in dirt. "What’re you doing here?"

Dawn put on her best teenage pout. "What, I can’t come visit my guardian vampire? And what the hell are you doing, anyway, mudwrestling?" Ooh, hello lusty wrong thoughts…

"Eh?" Spike looked puzzled for a moment before realising what she was talking about. "Oh, I decided to do some re-modeling down here. Look, if you want to chat, can you come down? I don’t like tackling the ladder while my sodding leg’s acting up."

Dawn nodded and scrambled down the ladder. Looking around, she immediately noticed a pickaxe and a stack of wooden planks beside a hole in what had been a wall. Moving closer, she could see the hole was actually a tunnel, roughly ten feet long and shored up with timber. She turned to the vampire, an unspoken question on her face.

"Decided to put a back door in." Spike said. "After Glory’s little wankers nabbed me, I wanted a way out I can use in daylight, without bursting into flames. If I’m reading the plans right, I should hit that big electrical service tunnel in another twenty feet or so."

"I never knew you could do this kinda stuff." Dawn remarked, gesturing at the tools and timber.

Spike looked a little sheepish. "I picked up a thing or two while I was digging for that Gem of Amara trinket…" Looking around for something to change the subject to, Spike finally noticed the bag hanging from Dawn’s shoulder. "You back at school?"

"Yeah, even world-destroying Keys need an education."

Spike laughed, then picked up his pickaxe again. "Look, Niblet, it’s not that I’m not happy to see you, but I’m a tad busy, so…"

"I just wanted to thank you, for everything you’ve done for me the last few weeks. I know everyone’s been going on about Faith, but I haven’t forgotten about you. Buffy hasn’t either; she’s just been so caught up with worrying about Faith and taking care of me, and then Angel showed up… I came to thank you, for both of us." Dawn stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek. "I’d hug you, but, well, eww…" She indicated his grimy state.

Spike chuckled as he said, "Thanks, Niblet. Now scamper off home before Big Sis starts panicking again."

With a last smile, Dawn climbed the ladder again. Spike hefted his pickaxe and disappeared into the tunnel.

*****

The sun had just set when the phone rang.

"Angel Investigations, we he-"

"Cordy, it’s Willow."

"Oh, hey, Will! How are you?"

"Still a ‘Great Big Lesbo,’" Willow deadpanned.

Cordelia grimaced. "You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?"

"Someday. Probably. Hey, is Angel around? I’ve some info he asked me to find."

"Yeah, he’s in the kitchen packing blood for his little road trip." Cordelia covered the mouthpiece. "ANGEL!" When he emerged from the kitchen, carrying a freezer bag, Cordelia handed him the receiver. "It’s Willow."

Angel placed the bag on the counter and put the receiver to his ear. "Hi, Willow."

"I found him. At least, I think it’s him – the name’s right and he moved in around the right time. He’s in a town called Heyburn, just off I-44, about sixty miles east of Oklahoma City."

Angel jotted down the address. "Thanks, Willow, great work. I really appreciate this."

*****

Buffy quietly opened the door to Faith’s hospital room. The dark Slayer had her eyes closed, and for a moment Buffy thought she was asleep. Then she noticed the earphones, almost invisible under Faith’s dark hair, leading to a small cassette player on the bedside cabinet.

As Buffy sat down on the edge of the bed, Faith opened her eyes. "Hey, B!" Faith smiled her old crooked smile as she stopped the tape.

"How’re you feeling?" Buffy asked.

"Not so bad. I get these dizzy spells once in a while, but the doc says that’s normal after a bad knock to the head. Everything else just aches. By the way, the food in here sucks!"

Buffy laughed at that. "Yeah, I remember." She cast her eye over the small stack of tapes by the cassette player: The Clash, The Ramones, The Jam, The Sex Pistols. "I see Spike’s been by."

"Yeah, he dropped in just after sunset. It’s not my usual thing, but it’s not bad."

"Well, if you get tired of it, I brought you a few things." Buffy held up a carrier bag and took out a bunch of grapes. "You can’t be in hospital and not have grapes, it’s like a rule or something." She pulled out a selection of comic books "Also, a little light reading." Buffy couldn’t help laughing as Faith’s eyes lit up. "I got Xander to pick them out; I wouldn’t even know where to start. And finally…" Buffy took out a small stuffed panther, which she tucked under Faith’s uninjured arm. "From Dawn. She wanted to come with me, but she started back at school today and she’s got a lot to catch up on before finals…"

"It’s okay. Tell her I said thanks – and please don’t tell the others about this, I got a rep to protect!" Faith grinned, idly stroking the stuffed toy.

"My lips are sealed! Slayer’s honour."

*****

Two nights later, Angel walked into a bar in Heyburn. Trying to ignore how out of place he looked, he looked around for his quarry, and finally spotted him sitting at the end of the bar. Angel walked up behind him, grateful that the bar didn’t have one of those long mirrors for him not to show up in.

"Hello, Lindsey."

CHAPTER 9: Asking The Right Questions

The former lawyer’s head jerked up in surprise. He turned on his barstool to face the vampire behind him, a decidedly unfriendly look on his face. "What do you want?"

Angel had the decency to look uncomfortable as he replied, "I was hoping we could talk."

"You think we have something to talk about?" Lindsey tossed a couple of bills onto the bar and turned to walk out. "What was it you said? Oh, yeah, it was ‘Don’t come back.’ Well, that one goes both ways – I stay out of your town, you stay out of mine." He headed for the door.

Angel followed a step behind him. "I need an expert opinion, and you’re the only expert available. Believe me, I’m not happy to be here."

"So you’re going to turn up every time Wolfram and Hart hits you with something you don’t see coming? I told you before, I’m out. It’s not my problem any more." Lindsey pushed through the door, out into the cool night air.

Angel waited for a moment before following. "Actually, this is your problem, seeing as you helped create it."

Lindsey paused, his hand on the door of his truck. "What’re you talking about?"

"Faith."

Surprise passed momentarily over Lindsay’s face before the mask of indifference settled into place again. "I thought she was in Stockton."

"She was. She broke out to help deal with Sunnydale’s annual apocalypse." Angel walked over to the truck and leaned against the side.

"And you want me to find some way to keep her out?"

Angel shook his head. "Actually, we’ve got that covered. I need to know if Wolfram and Hart are going to come after her."

"Which part of ‘not my problem’ don’t you understand?" Lindsey opened the truck door, and barely got his fingers out of the way as Angel slammed it shut again.

"You don’t like me, that’s fine. I don’t like you either." Angel leaned in close, his voice dropping to a threatening whisper. "And let’s face it, we’ve got history. You hurt my friends, I cut off your hand and locked you in a wine cellar with Darla and Dru. You want to walk out on that, be my guest. Hell, I’ll hold the door for you. But you dragged Faith into our little dynamic, and now you’re going to help deal with the fallout."

"As I recall, she didn’t need to be dragged into anything." Lindsey said, refusing to be intimidated. "As soon as she found out you were the target, she couldn’t take the job fast enough."

"So your defence is that you took advantage of a messed-up teenager? Not helping your case, Counselor!"

"You think I’m trying to make a case here?" Lindsey snapped. "You’re the one on the epic journey to redemption. I just want to get on with my life."

"The sooner you give me what I want, the sooner I leave you alone."

"All right." Lindsey fell silent, working the possibilities out in his mind. Finally, he shrugged. "I think she’ll be okay."

"Are you sure? She screwed you guys over pretty badly."

"You’re asking the wrong questions." A hint of irritation entered Lindsey’s voice. "Wolfram and Hart, the firm, the Senior Partners, don’t care about Faith one way or the other. From what I read in her file, they looked at trying to recruit her after she went rogue, but they decided she was too unpredictable to be useful. Beyond that, she’s just a Slayer - killing her would just mean another would pop up somewhere. It would be a waste of effort."

"So, if that’s the wrong question, what’s the right one?"

"You’re confusing the firm with the people in it. You should be thinking about who within Wolfram and Hart has a reason to go after Faith." Lindsey gazed off into the distance, a wry smile on his face. "You keep making the same mistake. You think of Wolfram and Hart as this evil monolith with one goal. That may be true for the Senior Partners, but the rest are just people, and they’ve each got their own agenda. The only people with a reason to go after Faith are the ones who ended up looking stupid after she didn’t kill you. That’s me, Lee Mercer-"

"And Lilah." Angel broke in.

"Exactly. I’m out, Lee’s dead and Lilah’s got enough to deal with. She’s vulnerable, and she knows it. Everyone knows she came off second best at the evaluation, and until she secures her position in Special Projects, she can’t afford to use the firm’s resources to go chasing some private vendetta. If she’s half as smart as I know she is, she’ll be throwing herself into every assignment that they give her, which probably means you. Watch your back."

"Always do." Angel stepped away from the truck. "Thanks, Lindsey. I won’t be back."

"Good." Lindsey opened the door and climbed in. As he put the key in the ignition he turned to face the vampire again. "Lilah probably won’t come at you directly, she’ll go for the people around you." He drove off before Angel could respond.

*****

Buffy had been patrolling for hours without success, and she was just wondering if there were any demons left in Sunnydale when she heard a scream. Finally! She thought, taking off at a run. Rounding a corner into an alley she came upon two vampires closing in on a teenage girl. "Oh, I’m sorry, is this a private party?"

The vampires snarled in rage and charged her. Buffy looked over to the terrified girl and snapped "This is the part where you run!" before darting to one side as the lead vampire threw himself at her, his momentum sending him tumbling into a pile of garbage bags.

The second vampire’s more cautious advance was no more successful. Buffy’s foot lashed out, the toe of her boot catching him just below the kneecap. As the demon stumbled, clutching at his knee, Buffy kicked him smartly in the side of the head, knocking him to the floor.

The first vamp was on his feet and charging in again, arms outstretched to grab her, but Buffy easily ducked under the attack and, seizing his shirt and belt, tossed him headfirst into a wall. The second vamp was picking himself up when Buffy’s knee crashed into his chin and sent him sprawling again, an easy mark for her stake.

The remaining vampire was struggling to get up, shaking his head in an attempt to clear it, when Buffy reached him. As she grabbed him by the collar, the vampire seized the first object that came to hand and lashed out. The broken bottle sliced through Buffy’s lightweight jacket and into her left arm, just below the shoulder.

"Ow! Damn it!" Buffy slammed her fist into the vampire’s face, her blow fuelled by anger and unexpected pain. The dazed vampire collapsed against the wall and was staked a moment later.

Tucking her stake back into her pocket, Buffy shrugged off her jacket and inspected the wound. It hurt, but the cut didn’t look to be a deep one. The vampire’s intended victim had fled, so Buffy decided to call it a night.

*****

Dawn was dozing on the couch when Buffy opened the front door, but woke up as Buffy crossed the living room and switched off the television. The teenager yawned hugely as she sat up, and it was a few seconds before she noticed the bloody tear in Buffy’s sleeve. "You okay?"

Buffy shrugged, immediately wincing as the movement sent pain buzzing along the cut. "It’s just a cut, Dawn, I’ll be fine."

Dawn took her hand and began to lead her toward the stairs. "Come on, let’s get it cleaned up."

"Really, Dawn, I can take care of it. You should be in bed, anyway."

"Buffy!" Dawn glared at her sister, her face set in her version of Willow’s "resolve-face". "Would you stop it? I know you get hurt, and I wanna help. We have to take care of each other now - isn’t that what Mom would want?"

Buffy felt tears form at the mention of their mother, but held them back. "Actually, I think Mom wouldn’t want us to have to deal with stuff like this, but you’re right," she said grudgingly, following Dawn up to the bathroom.

Buffy stripped off her jacket and shirt as Dawn collected the first aid supplies. Having first washed away the congealing blood, Dawn cleaned the cut out with antiseptic, ignoring Buffy’s faint gasps and winces as the stinging liquid cleansed wound.

"You sure it doesn’t need stitches?" Dawn asked, gently dabbing the wound dry and examining it critically.

Buffy shook her head. "It’s not that deep. As long as I don’t pull it about too much it’ll heal in a couple of days."

"Okay." Dawn tore the backing strips from a sterile dressing and carefully positioned it over the wound so that the edges of the cut were held together. "There, all fixed up."

"Thanks, Dawnie." Buffy smiled and used her uninjured arm to wrap her sister in a loving hug. "Dawn, there’s something we need to talk about…"

A little concerned by Buffy’s tone, Dawn stepped back and looked her sister in the eye. "What’s the matter?"

"They’re probably going to let Faith out of the hospital before she’s fully healed, so even if she does end up going back to jail she’ll need somewhere to stay for a while before that…"

"She’s staying with us, isn’t she? I mean, I assumed she would be." Dawn said.

Buffy smiled at her sister. "Yes, Dawnie, she’s staying with us. It’s just, we need to think about where everyone’s going to be sleeping. I mean, we have three bedrooms, but…"

Dawn rolled her eyes. "Buffy, it’s okay for you to move into Mom’s room. I know it’ll be weird, but we can’t just not use the biggest bedroom, right?"

"You just want to get your hands on my room, don’t you?" Buffy teased.

"Hell no!" Dawn replied, smirking at Buffy’s look of shock. "I’ve just got my room set up the way I want it, I’m not moving now. Besides, it’ll be way funnier putting Faith in your ‘shrine to girliness’."

"My what?" Buffy’s eyebrows shot up her forehead.

"Oh, come on Buffy! Your room looks like it came out of a doll house."

"Unlike yours, which was clearly modeled on the city dump!"

"That is so not true!"

"I think that’s why you don’t want to move, you’re afraid you’ll have to clean up!"

"Oh, that’s it! I am never helping to patch you up again, not even if you’re bleeding to death…"

*****

Giles had just finished showering after his morning run when the phone rang. Cursing under his breath, he pulled on a bathrobe and went to answer it. "Hello?"

"Good morning, Rupert." Quentin Travers’ voice came over the line.

"Whether or not it’s a good morning depends entirely on why you’ve called, Quentin." Giles replied dryly.

"The Council has reached a decision."

"Already? It’s only been four days since I called you."

"Sarcasm is not a laudable trait in a Watcher, Rupert, especially one responsible for two Slayers." Travers replied, a touch irritably.

Giles almost dropped the phone in surprise – he hadn’t let himself hope for a positive outcome. "They agreed?"

"Yes. Faith is to be returned to active duty as soon as she recovers, under your charge." Travers said, his voice completely neutral. "The details are being taken care of now. Speaking of which, one of the details is in Sunnydale, and since you and your associates are on the scene, so to speak…"

"Yes, of course." Giles jotted down a few notes as Quentin explained. "That shouldn’t be a problem, we’ll take care of it."

"You’d better be right about Faith, Rupert. I’ve stuck my neck out on this one, don’t make me regret it." Without another word, Travers cut the connection.

*****

When Buffy arrived at the Magic Box for her regular training session, she found Anya re-arranging the candle display, while Giles was going through the order book. "Hi guys!"

"Hi Buffy." Anya replied absently, her attention completely focussed on getting the perfect balance of cedar- and pine-scented candles.

"Hello, Buffy." Giles looked up from his work. "If you’d like to get warmed up, I’ll be with you in a minute." Buffy nodded and was soon limbering up in the back room. After a few minutes Giles appeared in the doorway. He immediately spotted the dressing on her arm. "You’re hurt?"

Buffy paused her exercise and glanced at her arm. "Ran into a vamp with a broken bottle last night. It’s just a cut, my jacket took most of it. It’ll be fine in a day or so."

Relief showed on Giles’ face. "As long as you’re being careful. The fact that you’ve defeated some extraordinary opponents doesn’t make vampires any less dangerous."

"I know, Giles." Buffy began her warm-up sequence again. "I learned that one last year. Got my own stake in the stomach, remember?"

Giles suppressed the memory of the fear he’d felt that day, and changed the subject. "I had a call from Quentin this morning."

Buffy stopped abruptly and turned to face him. "And?"

"The Council has agreed to your proposal, Buffy. Faith can stay here." Giles winced as Buffy leapt over and hugged him harder than his ribs were comfortable with.

"God, I can’t believe it!" Buffy said, releasing her hold on her Watcher and smiling brightly. "Travers actually came through for us!"

Giles smiled slightly at that. "I must confess, I was a little taken aback as well. I don’t know how he persuaded the rest of the Council." Giles sat down on the bench under the windows. "Buffy, there is something we need to do here in order for this plan to work."

Buffy sobered slightly. "What is it?"

"We need to find out if Faith ever had a dental examination here, and if she did then we need to switch the records for another set that the Council will provide. Quentin already has someone dealing with her records in Boston, and it seems she never had an examination while she was in jail. He wants us to get a copy of any records on file, including computerised records, and send them to him. He’ll then send us forged records to put in their place."

"Looks like Will and I are gonna be doing some breaking and entering." Buffy said with a slight frown. "I hope Will’s okay with that. She really isn’t happy about Faith being here."

"She’ll come around, Buffy." Giles said soothingly. "You know as well as I do how passionately Willow holds her views on others. Breaking down her mistrust and anger will take time, but will happen."

"I hope you’re right, Giles."

*****

Faith was sitting up in bed when Dawn poked her head around the door that evening. "Hey, Bitesize!" she called as she saw the younger girl.

Dawn was at the bedside in a flash, hugging the dark Slayer. After a few moments, she took a step back and looked Faith over. The bandage around her head was gone, as was the sling immobilising her left shoulder. "You’re looking so much better!"

Faith broke into her characteristic lopsided smile. "Yeah, they took the stitches out of my head this morning, and my shoulder’s healing great so they say I can use it a bit now. They’re gonna take some more X-rays of my hand and leg in a couple of days to see how they’re healing. The docs keep telling me how amazing my recovery is, but it doesn’t seem to bother them much; I guess Red and Blondie’s spell really works, huh? Hey, is B with you?"

"I’m here." Buffy said as she came through the door. "I stopped off at the nurses station to make sure you’re behaving yourself!" Buffy pulled a chair over to the bed and sat down, while Dawn perched on the bed itself. She held out a small bag to Faith. Faith opened it, a little nervously, and pulled out a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. "I wasn’t sure if they’d given you one, but I didn’t remember seeing one in here so…"

"Thanks, B."

"Please don’t encourage her! She’s so overprotective already, it’s like having three parents at once." Dawn said with a mock scowl.

"You shouldn’t take chances with dental hygiene." Buffy said, glaring at her sister, before looking back at Faith. "I mean, have you even seen a dentist since we first met?"

Faith’s expression clouded as Buffy spoke. "Once. Uh, the Mayor made me see the one he used…" Faith’s voice was barely above a whisper.

"Oh God, please tell me it wasn’t Dr. Fredericks!" Buffy burst out. Faith stared at her in surprise. "What? I’m sorry, but the idea that I sat in the same chair as a wannabe demon snake gives me the wiggins!"

Faith surprised everyone, including herself, by bursting out laughing at that. "You’re safe, B, this guy had a weird name, Russian or something."

Gotcha!

*****

It was after midnight when Buffy and Willow approached the office of Dr. Raymond Laskowski, DDS. A brief incantation from Willow had the lock open, and the two of them slipped inside. Buffy immediately began going through the files while Willow started up the computer.

"I can’t believe I’m actually doing this." Willow grumbled. "Okay, I’ve broken into the morgue a few times, and I’ve spent a lot of time in other people’s computer files, but this…"

"Will, I’ve said thank-you like, a hundred times." Buffy replied. "Besides, we finally found out what Faith’s full name is."

Willow giggled. "Yeah, that was almost worth it."

Buffy pulled out Faith’s file and moved over to the photocopier. By the time she had finished making the copies and returned the file to its rightful place, Willow was into the patient database and pulling up Faith’s records. A few seconds later, the data was copied onto a disk, and Willow was busy erasing any of her intrusion.

*****

Eight days after the break-in, Buffy and Willow were back in the dentist’s office, switching the old files for the new ones Travers had supplied. Six days after that, the doctors finally agreed to release Faith from the hospital.

"Christ, it’s good to be out of there!" Faith exclaimed as the Jeep pulled away from the hospital. She was in the front passenger seat, which was pushed all the way back to accommodate the cast on her leg. The fracture in her kneecap was taking the longest to heal, and the doctors had told her that even with the "extraordinary progress" she was showing it, would be at least another week before the cast could come off.

"How’s your hand?" Buffy asked, without taking her eyes off the road for a change.

Faith flexed her fingers slightly before answering. "Still hurts a bit, but all the bones are back together. I just gotta take it easy for while."

A slightly tense silence settled over the Jeep. Once the emotional turmoil of the battle with Glory had receded, some of the old awkwardness has crept back between the two Slayers. Both felt it, both hated it, but predictably, neither would talk about it.

Finally, Faith broke the silence. "Uh, B…"

"Yeah?"

"What happened about the hospital bill? I mean, I don’t have insurance or anything…"

"Oh." Buffy wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or relieved at the new topic of conversation. "Giles took care of it. He’s charging it to the Council – expenses incurred during world-saveage."

"It feels weird, y’know. You working for them again." Faith’s eyes wandered over the seemingly endless stream of neat, suburban houses. "After all the shit they pulled, I didn’t think you’d ever go near them again."

"Yeah, well, they had the information we needed about Glory. Basically, we agreed to stay out of each other’s way." Buffy glanced over and noticed Faith surveying the view, her expression slightly pained. "Something wrong?"

"I just realised, I’ve hardly ever seen your street in daylight." Faith replied with a bitter smile on her face. "Once when Giles came and got me before we all skipped town ahead of the Bitch God, and…"

"What?"

"Christmas Day." Faith turned her head away, hiding the tear trembling in the corner of her eye. "You were still out with Angel, and your mom and I just sat and watched the snow falling. I never thought snow could be beautiful."

"What’s wrong with snow?" Buffy asked, turning the corner onto Revello Drive. "I mean, I haven’t seen it very often, but I always thought it was pretty."

"Bad memories."

"What do you mean?" Buffy knew she was pushing, but just for once she wanted to get inside Faith’s armour.

"When it got cold in Boston, we had to choose between heat and food. My mom couldn’t pay for both, not without cuttin’ into the liquor budget." Faith laughed briefly, joylessly. "Maybe all the Jack Daniels kept her warm."

"I’m sorry, Faith." The words sounded trite even to Buffy’s ears.

Faith barely even noticed Buffy had spoken, her eyes gazing into a past Buffy still barely knew anything about. "Every Christmas, she’d be passed out by noon. And then, I’m sitting there in your house, and I’m watching the snow, and it’s beautiful. Best Christmas of my life." The dark-haired girl hung her head. "So, of course, I find some way to fuck everything up." And I never got to apologise to her. I never even thanked her.

Buffy pulled up in front of the house. "That’s all over now, Faith. Come on, let’s get you inside."

It took a little while to get Faith settled into Buffy’s old room, and as much as Buffy had objected to Dawn’s ‘shrine to girliness’ comment, she had to admit that Faith did look a little out of place in the midst of the pastel colour scheme. Once Faith was comfortable, Buffy went down to the kitchen to fix them both something to eat. She was searching for something other than peanut butter to put in a sandwich when Dawn got home from school.

As usual, Dawn’s first port of call was the kitchen. "Hi, Buffy! Did they let Faith out?"

Buffy pulled her head out of the cupboard. "Yeah, she’s upstairs." Beckoning Dawn over, she lowered her voice. "Giles got the package this morning."

Excitement flooded Dawn’s face. "Have you told her yet?"

"No, we just got back. Give me a hand with this, and we’ll talk to her together." The two sisters soon put together something resembling lunch. Buffy picked up the tray and said to Dawn, "It’s in Mom’s- my room, on the dresser." Dawn raced off upstairs, as Buffy followed at a more sedate pace.

"Here you go. Hope you’re hungry." Buffy said, setting the tray on the bed beside Faith. "What am I saying? Of course you’re hungry."

"Thanks, B." Faith picked up a sandwich and took a huge bite from it. She ate with obvious pleasure, but her face soon grew solemn again.

"Something wrong?" Buffy asked.

"Look, Buffy, thanks for doing all this for me. I just don’t want to get too comfortable, y’know. Stockton doesn’t have room service."

"I don’t think that’s going to be a problem." Dawn stood in the doorway, holding a large envelope with UPS markings.

Faith replied with her mouth full. "What do you mean?"

Buffy sat down on the bed beside Faith. "They don’t tend to lock up dead people."

Faith’s blood froze. What the hell? She’s gonna kill me? Why now? Why not just let me die?

Buffy, oblivious to what was going through Faith’s mind, took the envelope from Dawn and pulled out a sheet of paper, which she handed to Faith. Quickly scanning the text, Faith saw a lot of Spanish that she couldn’t begin to translate. The only thing she recognised was near the top. Her name. "What’s this?"

"That, Faith Amanda Shaw, is your death certificate, or at least a copy of it." Buffy replied, smiling broadly.

"B, what the hell is going on?"

Buffy giggled at Faith’s agitation. "Well, from what I understand, it began when a tourist driving through Mexico picked up this girl hitchhiking near Ensenada. American, brunette, twentyish, ring any bells? Anyway, they’re driving along, when the girl suddenly goes nuts about something he said and pulls a knife. There’s a struggle, the car swerves off the road and into a ravine. The driver comes to pretty quick and gets out, but she’s still unconscious and trapped when the gas tank goes up. She’s so badly burned up they have to ID her from her dental records. The description the tourist gives the Mexican cops matches an escaped convict from California they’ve heard about, so they pull her records to compare, and they get a match. Which means that Faith Shaw died in a car wreck in Mexico last week, and can’t really be put in a cell."

"What? How?" Faith’s capacity for rational thought was swamped under a tide of conflicting emotions.

Buffy laughed out loud at the look of utter confusion of Faith’s face. "I think I just explained the ‘what’. How? Well, we got in touch with the Council, persuaded them to help, and they set this up. Willow and I switched your dental records here, someone else did it in Boston, and they set up a new identity for you."

The fog of confusion was lifting now, slowly replaced by a single distinct emotion, and not the one Buffy was expecting. "Why?"

"Because you earned a second chance, and we were able to give it to you." Buffy reached out to take Faith’s hand, but the younger Slayer snatched it away, the anger she was feeling pouring out across her face.

"And you never bothered to tell me, to ask me if this is what I wanted? What the hell were you thinking, Buffy? I’m a murderer, remember?" Faith was practically snarling now. "How could you be this stupid?"

Dawn took a faltering step forward, her face ashen. "Faith, what’s wrong?"

"I’m a killer, that’s what’s wrong! You think you can just wave some magic wand and make that go away?" Faith shook her head angrily.

"It’ll be different this time, Faith. We’ll be here to help you if you need it." Buffy tried to make her voice soothing, but it came out with a hint of desperation.

"Damn it, B, it’s not safe! I need to be locked up somewhere, I can’t take the chance that I…" Faith turned her head away from the two sisters, unable to finish the sentence.

"You’re a Slayer, Faith. You have a chance to make a real difference." Buffy stopped trying to soothe the situation and began to fight fire with fire. "Do you want that, or do you want to sit in a cell and hide from what might happen?"

Dawn sat down on the other side of the bed. "You saved my life, Faith. I trust you. I believe in you."

Somehow, the look of faith, for want of a better word, on Dawn’s face cut through the anger and the undercurrent of fear roiling through Faith’s mind. For a few, long moments she was silent, then she slowly turned to face Buffy again. "You sure this is a good idea?"

"I’m sure." Buffy replied. I have to be sure. I need someone else.

Faith forced a slight smile. "So, who am I? You said something about a new ID."

Dawn pulled another sheet of paper out of the envelope. "Your new birth certificate."

As soon as she saw the name on the certificate, Faith’s eye widened in shock, before closing tightly as she fought off a swarm of unwelcome memories.

"What is it?" Buffy asked, totally confused. She already knew the name, having gone through the contents of the envelope as soon as it arrived, but she looked again in any case, wondering if she had missed something. "Faith Emily Harper. So? I mean, Emily isn’t really you, but-"

"Emily Harper was my first Watcher." Faith interrupted, her voice barely above a whisper.

Buffy practically leapt off the bed, her face distorted with fury. "Those bastards! They couldn’t just do what we asked, they had to find some way to make it hurt! I’m gonna-"

Faith cut her off again with a wave of her hand. "It’s okay, B, it was just a shock." A really big, nasty, Kakistos-shaped shock…

Buffy calmed slightly, but her fists were still clenched so hard the knuckles were white. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah." Faith looked up at her with a sad smile on her face. "Miss Harper was… she was more like a mother than my mom ever was. Having her name feels kinda right."

"Okay." Buffy relaxed again. "In that case, pleased to meet you, Faith Harper."

"Welcome to Sunnydale." Dawn added. "It sucks, often literally."

"Speaking of things that suck, don’t you have homework?" Buffy asked, slipping into ‘Mom’ mode. Dawn just rolled her eyes toward Faith and headed for her room, leaving the two Slayers alone.

Buffy sat down again on the bed and looked Faith in the eye. "This must all be a bit… Are you okay?"

Faith nodded, with less than complete conviction. "Yeah, I think so, it’s just…"

"Just?" Buffy prompted.

"I’m scared, B." Faith said in a whisper. "What if I fuck up again? What if I can’t do this?"

Buffy gently laid her hand on Faith’s shoulder and smiled slightly. "Do you want it to be different this time?"

Faith nodded silently.

"Then it’ll be different." Buffy said. "I’m not saying it’ll be easy, you’ll have to put some work into winning over Xander and Willow, but you can do it." You have to. We need you here. I need you here.

CHAPTER 10: A Question Of Xander

"Hi, Anya, thanks for coming." Buffy held open the front door and waved the former demon through to the lounge. "Was Giles okay with you leaving the store in the middle of the day?"

"I told Giles I’d seen a dominatrix outfit in that Goth store on Robson Avenue, and I wanted to get it before Xander finished work. He started stammering and turning that funny purple colour – he couldn’t get me out of the door fast enough." Anya sat down on the couch and cast a slightly apprehensive eye over the pile of folders and paperwork on the coffee table. "Anyway, it’s pretty quiet at the moment. Sunnydale people just don’t seem to understand how the capitalist economy works. So what’s the big mystery, and why didn’t you ask Willow or Xander to help with it?"

Buffy perched herself on the corner of the table, the slightly forced smile with which she had greeted Anya fading away. "I’ve, uh, I’ve got a problem, and I thought you would be the best person to ask about it." She picked up a file.

*****

Giles looked up as the bell over the door jingled. "Welcome to the Ma- oh, hello Willow, I didn’t expect to see you. I thought you and Tara would be enjoying your free time now that college has finished for the summer."

Willow tossed her bag onto the research table as she replied. "She’ll probably be here soon. My mom wanted the two of them to have a ‘getting to know you’ talk while we’re staying at the house. You might want to keep the chamomile tea handy - maybe the scotch too."

"Yes, of course." Giles had only met Sheila Rosenberg a handful of times, but the woman always left him feeling in need of a stiff drink.

"Thanks, Giles." Willow beamed at him. "Hey, do you mind if I have a look through some of the magic books while I’m here?"

Concern washed over Giles’ face as he looked across at the young witch. "Of course not, Willow. Is something wrong?"

"Huh? Oh, no, nothing’s wrong!" Willow said. "It’s just, with no school and no Big Bads on the horizon, I thought I’d dust off a few old projects."

"Oh, well, help yourself to the library. Is there anything in particular you’re looking into?"

Willow’s eyes dropped to the floor, and for a moment she was the nervous sixteen-year-old Giles had first met. "Well, I was, uh, I was kinda hoping to find something I could use to restore Amy. I haven’t really tried anything for months, and now I have the chance…"

"Yes, of course. You might want to start with the Codex Aemellianus. It has a lot to say about the older shape-shifting magics."

"I’ll give it a shot." Willow skipped up the staircase to the balcony, pulled a heavy tome from the shelves and began flipping through it. Restoration, restoration… why couldn’t one of these guys have invented the index?

*****

"So, basically, you’re telling me I’m broke?" Buffy asked, laying the last of the folders back on the coffee table.

"You’re not broke - not yet. But you do have a definite money problem and it’s going to get worse." Anya sat back and looked over the notes she had taken one more time. "Your mom made arrangements so that you and Dawn would be secure, at least until you graduated college, but her medical bills pretty much wiped all that out. With what you’re paying to keep this house running, I figure you’ve got three, maybe four months before…"

"Before I’m completely screwed?" Buffy stood up and began pacing. "God, I never thought I’d miss being in high school."

"What about your dad, could he help you?"

Buffy snorted derisively at the mention of her father. "He still hasn’t replied to the message we sent him when Mom first got sick. I don’t think he even remembers we exist."

Anya easily noticed the pain underlying the venom in Buffy’s tone – she really wasn’t as insensitive as she let on. "Maybe the monks did something to his memory to keep him out of the way while Glory was around."

"Or maybe he doesn’t care about us anymore." Buffy shook herself slightly, forcing herself out of the foul mood she was falling into. "I guess I’m gonna just have to get a job. So much for going back to college next semester…"

The two young women were silent for a few awkward moments, neither knowing what to say. Finally, Anya picked up her bag and stood. "I’d better be getting back."

"Thanks for coming, Anya. At least now I know what I’m up against." Buffy walked with her to the door.

"How’s the evil twin doing?" Anya whispered to her, inclining her head toward the stairs.

"Anya, please…"

Anya sighed melodramatically. "All right, how is your friend and comrade-in-arms?"

"Going quietly stir crazy, I think. She’s stuck upstairs most of the time - the doctors told her to stay off her feet as much as possible."

"Is she going to be like this much longer?"

"She’s having an x-ray in a couple of days. It’s supposed to be just a status check, but I’m hoping she’ll be healed enough for the cast to come off." Buffy lowered her voice. "I think she’s just frustrated. Now that she’s going to be an active Slayer again, I think she just wants to get on with it."

"Good. As long as she leaves Xander alone, we’ll be fine. I may not be a vengeance demon any more, but I still know people."

Buffy smiled slightly at the threat. "I don’t think you need to worry. Faith’s not really interested in return visits."

Anya nodded silently, and opened the door. As she walked away down the road, she began mulling over an idea.

*****

Buffy closed the door and headed up the stairs. The door of what had been her bedroom was wide open, as had become normal since Faith had moved in – whether it was because Faith was trying to show she wasn’t hiding anything or because she simply liked knowing she could leave the room any time she wanted, Buffy didn’t know. The dark Slayer was, as usual, lying on the bed, flipping channels on the small TV in a vain effort to find something that could hold her attention for more than a few seconds.

Faith looked up as she caught sight of Buffy. "Hey, B."

"Hi. I was just gonna make some lunch. What do you feel like?"

"I’ll have whatever you’re having. You know me, I’ll eat anything." Buffy was turning away when Faith spoke again. "B."

"Yeah?"

"I heard you and Demon-girl talking, about the whole cash sitch."

"Don’t worry, I’ll think of something."

"I can help. I’ve got some money put away."

Buffy looked at her in surprise. "How?"

Faith’s eyes dropped as she answered. "The Mayor. He set up an account for me, back when…" She bit her lip and continued. "I blew a bunch of it on stuff I didn’t need, but there should be a few grand left. I wasn’t planning on using it again, but if you need it…"

Buffy stood silent for a moment as the thought of what even a couple of thousand dollars could mean warred with the memory of what Faith had done to gain the money. Finally she opted for the most neutral response she could muster. "I’ll keep it in mind."

"Okay."

*****

"Giles! I’m back!" Anya yelled as she opened the door of the Magic Box.

Giles winced, his ears ringing. "Yes, thank you Anya. I actually hadn’t made the connection when you came through the door."

"Aren’t you going to ask me how my shopping trip went?"

"I think, in this case, ignorance may well be bliss." Giles started cleaning his glasses rather vigourously.

Glancing around the shop, Anya spotted Willow up on the balcony, engrossed in one of the books. "Oh, hey, Willow." No response. "Willow? Willow!" The witch’s head shot up, a surprised expression on her face. Anya glared at her. "I said ‘hey, Willow’. I was trying to be friendly."

"I’m sorry. Hi, Anya." Willow replied, her attention already drifting back to the book in her lap.

"What is it with people?" Anya moaned. "They tell you to be more friendly, they tell you to act more human, then when you make an effort, what do you get? Nothing!"

Giles sighed. "It’s all right, Anya. We’ve all noticed the effort you’ve been making recently. Willow’s just… engrossed in her research."

"Research? There’s research?" Anya looked up at him, worried. "Is something happening? Is there going to be another apocalypse? Because, I’ve told you before, I’m not doing another apocalypse until after Thanksgiving at the earliest."

"It’s nothing like that. Willow’s just looking for a way to help Amy."

Anya’s brow furrowed in confusion. "Who’s Amy?"

"I’m sorry, I thought you knew." Giles gently guided Anya toward the counter. "Amy was a friend of Willow’s in high school, a witch. She turned herself into a rat to avoid being burned at the stake a mob of the townspeople during their senior year, and Willow hasn’t been able to break the spell."

"Wow, I’m sorry I missed that one." Anya smiled for a moment, then her eyes shot wide open. "Wait a minute! Witch-burning, angry townsfolk… was there a demon that appeared like two little kids?"

"Yes, how did y-" Giles didn’t get a chance to finish.

"What happened to it?" Anya snapped, her expression more intense than Giles could ever remember seeing it.

"Well, I-I found a spell to reveal the demon’s true form and Buffy killed it."

"Yes!" Anya pumped her fist in the air. "Hallie is going to freak! I mean, there were rumours, but there’ve been rumours before. No one actually believed…"

Giles was hopelessly lost. "Anya, what are you talking about? Who’s Hallie?"

"Halfreck. Old friend. Vengeance demon, specialises in neglected and abused children. She’s had it in for that thing since it started the Children’s Crusade!"

"A demon was responsible for that?"

Anya rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on, Giles! A bunch of kids march off across Europe to capture Jerusalem? You really think humans are stupid enough to come up with that one by themselves?"

Giles just looked at her, one eyebrow raised questioningly.

"Good point. So Buffy killed it, huh? And now Willow’s trying to fix her friend?"

"Indeed. Now that she has some free time, she decided to make a concerted effort at reversing the spell. I recommended she start with the Codex Aemellianus, and she hasn’t moved from that spot since."

"That’s nice." Anya looked up at Willow, whose fingers were gently tapping the black leather covering the book as she turned a page. I could have sworn the binding on the Codex was red. Oh well…

*****

When Xander arrived at the Magic Box after work, he found the whole of the Scooby Gang (or at least, the people he considered to be the Scooby Gang) already there. Willow and Tara were helping Dawn with a post-final assignment, or ‘big waste of time’ as Dawn was referring to it, Anya and Giles were tidying up the store, and Buffy was just coming out of the back room after a workout session.

"Hey! You’re early!" Anya skipped over and kissed him, before suddenly jerking back. "You didn’t get fired, did you?"

"No, Ahn, I didn’t get fired." Xander replied in his most patient voice. "We had to close down early. There’s been a problem getting some of the structural supports from the supplier, so we’re pretty much stalled until that gets fixed. It could be a week before we can start up again."

"I can’t believe they’re actually building another school on top of the Hellmouth." Buffy grumbled. "I mean, I’m a professional Hellmouth guardian, you’d think my opinion would count for something."

"Well, it might, if you could actually tell anyone about it." Tara offered.

"So, does this mean you get to slack off for a few days?" Dawn asked.

Xander shook his head. "Actually, no. The boss found a quick job we can do while we’re waiting. The city council finally decided Glory’s tower’s a danger to public safety, so we start dismantling it tomorrow." Xander was silent for a moment, thinking his next words over. "Speaking of new beginnings, Anya and I have something to tell you."

Anya looked up at him in surprise; she hadn’t expected this tonight. "Now?"

Xander looked deep into her eyes and nodded. "I think we waited long enough." He turned to face the others. "We’re getting married."

There was a moment of stunned silence, then total pandemonium broke out around the table. Buffy and Willow raced to be the first to hug Xander, nearly knocking him off his feet in the process. Giles settled for slapping the young man on the back as he went to hug Anya. Tara broke into one of her radiant smiles as she, too, embraced the bride-to-be, while Dawn opted to pile in behind Buffy and Willow.

"When did this happen?" Buffy asked as she let go of her old friend.

Xander blushed slightly. "I actually proposed in the basement here, just before we went in against Glory, but with everything that happened that night it didn’t seem like the right time to tell you all, and then we just… kept not telling you. Then I came in tonight, saw you all here together and I thought ‘What the hell are we waiting for?’"

"Quite right, too." Giles remarked, clapping the young man on the back. "We should celebrate. Anywhere but the Bronze."

"Willy’s it is, then!" Xander quipped, laughing at the look of exasperation on Giles’ face.

Buffy looked over at Dawn. "Our place? We don’t have much party stuff, but we could stop off on the way…"

"You don’t think we’d be disturbing Faith?" Tara asked, gathering her things together.

Giles relied, "Actually, I think she might welcome a little disturbance at the moment."

Xander was about to object, but he caught the silent plea in Buffy’s eyes. "Okay, sounds like we have a plan!"

As they all headed out the door, Anya asked, "Does this mean I get to wear the ring now?"

"Yes, Ahn, you get to wear the ring now…"

*****

Faith was reclining on the couch, her injured leg propped up on the coffee table, when the front door opened and Dawn burst in. "Hey, Bitesize! Big sis with you?"

Dawn, who had been about to run up the stairs, turned suddenly at the sound of Faith’s voice, her expression wavering between excitement and annoyance. "What are you doing down here? You know you’re not supposed to use the stairs when there’s no one else in the house. What if you fell? Huh?"

"Dawn, my leg doesn’t even hurt any more. We both know I’m just playing along with the docs to keep B happy, so just ease off, okay?"

"I know, I know, I just don’t want to see you in a heap on the ground again."

Faith’s reply was cut off before it began as Buffy led the others into the house, carrying several bags of drinks, snacks and decorations. "Whoa, did I forget somebody’s birthday?"

Buffy and Xander were both about to answer but Anya beat them to it. "We’re getting married!" she burst out, her engagement ring glittering in the light as she waved her left hand at Faith.

For a moment, Faith was taken completely aback, but she soon rallied. "Okay, you better be talking about you and Xan ‘cause, no offence, but you’re not my type."

"Very funny, Faith." Xander retorted, while Anya just looked confused for a moment.

"Hey, I got to take my laughs where I can get them." Faith smirked. "Seriously, congratulations."

"Uh, guys?" Willow cut in from the back of the group. "Heavy bags, not getting lighter…"

"What? Oh, right." Buffy began moving some of the bags into the kitchen.

An hour later the living room was decked out with streamers. Anya was regaling Buffy, Dawn and Giles with the story of how Xander had proposed (complete with more detail than any of them felt was necessary) and Tara and Willow were dancing together, lost in their own little world.

Xander was in the kitchen microwaving some popcorn when he heard something behind him. Turning around, he realised it had been the sound of Faith’s crutches on the kitchen floor. "You want something?"

"Just needed some air." Faith replied, heading over to the back door.

"Fine." Xander turned back to the microwave.

Faith took hold of the door handle, but stopped short of opening the door. "I meant what I said."

"What?"

Faith kept facing away as she spoke. "I meant it. I’m happy for you."

A humourless laugh escaped Xander’s lips. "Is that supposed to mean something?"

"Maybe. I know you hate me, I know I hurt you, but-"

"What, you’re going to apologise now?" Xander cut in, his voice scathing.

For the first time, Faith turned to face him. "Would it help?"

"Since when does it matter to you, anyway? You’ve never cared what anyone thought of you."

You have no idea what I care about… "I care because Buffy cares. She thinks I’ve got a chance here, but it can’t work if she has to choose between me and you guys. I’ll leave town before I let that happen, but I really don’t want to go, so I have to at least try to make things right here."

"So very noble of you."

Faith pulled the door open. "Go be with your friends, Xander." She was outside and closing the door before he could reply.

Out on the porch, Faith gingerly sat down on the steps. Fumbling in her pocket, she pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a lighter. The acrid flavour of the smoke filled her mouth, but couldn’t drive out the bad taste Xander had left behind.

A few minutes later, she heard the back door open, but ignored it.

"You know those things will kill you." The fact that it was Anya speaking came as a surprise, but Faith still didn’t look at her.

"I started in jail, just for something to do. Besides, I’m a Slayer. You think I’ll live long enough for cancer to get me?"

"You upset Xander." It didn’t take a Slayer’s acute senses to detect the undercurrent of naked hostility on Anya’s voice.

Faith took a long drag on the cigarette before responding. "Yeah, I’m good at that."

Anya sneered. "No, Spike is good at it. You’re an expert."

"What do you want, Anya?"

"Just stay away from him, okay?" Anya’s voice was harsh, almost shrill. "We’re happy together, we’re getting married, you can’t have him!"

Faith finally turned to look at her. "Have him? What are you talking about? You think I want another roll in the sack with him?"

"I’ve been told all about you, Faith! The whole ‘Get some, get gone’ philosophy. Well, you’re not going to be ‘getting some’ from Xander, not this time!"

"Anya, I do not want Xander! And even if I did, do you actually think he’d ever touch me again?"

"No, but… that’s not the point!"

Faith just stared for a moment, then she suddenly burst out laughing. "Oh my God! You actually think every girl that meet’s Xander want’s to get his pants off, don’t you?"

"They do! You had sex with him, Willow and Cordelia were both heading that way… okay Buffy never tried anything, but she wouldn’t notice a good catch if you nailed him to her…"

Faith tossed her cigarette on the ground and stamped it out. "Okay, look, let’s just get this straight now. Yeah, I screwed Xander, and it was fun. And yeah, the only thing I regret about it was kicking him out the door the way I did. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t done that, but it was more than two years ago." She hauled herself to her feet and picked up her crutches. "You can’t change the past. You either deal with it, or you don’t. The most I’m ever going to want from Xander is to be his friend, and I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, so just take a chill pill and go cheer up your fiancée." With that, Faith headed back indoors, leaving a rather confused former vengeance demon behind her.

...continued in chapter 11...

:HOME:BACK TO FANFIC: