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Everything is Different Now: Wake Up Call

by Declan
Rating: PG-13

+1=2+

Wake Up Call (PART 1: Love You And Leave You)

As Buffy’s eyes fluttered awake, she felt warm and contented and a little spacey. She looked across her bed. Faith, lay on her side looking back at her with a knowing smile.

Buffy frowned, more in puzzlement than alarm. “Faith. You’re not supposed to be in my room.”

Faith’s smile widened as she propped herself up on an elbow, and Buffy watched as her t-shirt stretched taut across her chest under the covers. “Since when do I ever do what I’m supposed to? Rule-breaker, that’s me.”

Buffy didn’t answer; her mind was a little swirly with the fog of sleep. She sat up and absently pulled the covers around her, before she looked around, puzzled. Wasn’t she supposed to be doing something?

Faith chuckled and nudged her with a foot under the covers. “Riley. You were doing Riley, B. Took ya long enough. Goody two-shoes.” She said the last part with a little shake of her head.

Buffy remembered and then looked sadly at Faith. “So this...this is a dream.”

“Uh-huh.” Faith said it slowly, like Buffy was being exceptionally dim. Which apparently, dream-Buffy was. “Look at you, all wicked smart. Figured that one out all by yourself. Waking up in your room, with me. And with me all not being in a coma.”

“Is this a slayer dream?” Buffy said, her voice rising a little in hope. They hadn’t shared a slayer dream since before graduation. She dozed off a couple of times in the hospital in the hope of somehow ‘drifting’ into Faith’s dreams, but nothing had ever happened.

Faith sat up in bed with her, arching her back and stretching her arms above her head elaborately, smiling as Buffy shyly looked away. “Well, this is your dream. And y’are a slayer, so...”

“You know what I mean: are you real?” Buffy knew that was a stupid way of phrasing the question but she didn’t care.

“Does it matter? I could be ‘real Faith’ or I could be a manifestation of your repressed guilt about moving on and such. Or I could be the Djinn.”

Buffy looked sharply at the other girl, eyes narrowing.

Faith smirked and swatted Buffy’s arm lightly. “I’m not ‘kay, so chill. But the other stuff sounds like some o’ that psych bullshit you like so much, so... prob’ly not.”

Buffy sagged slightly, a curious mix of relief and disappointment came over her. “Oh.”

Faith smiled at Buffy, and leaned forward a little, her voice wheedling. “So...c’mon, what was he like? Captain Middle-America?”

Buffy felt her lips curl. “You don’t know? If you were me then you’d know.” Although she was teasing, Buffy was back to being confused again. Wasn’t there a rule that if you knew that you were dreaming, you automatically woke up?

Faith shook her head. “You’re over-thinkin’ it. Which for you is really somethin’ t’see.”

Buffy protested, “Are you sassing me? My own mind is giving me dream-sass. That’s just great. I hate my mind.”

Faith nodded sympathetically, scrunching her face. “As you prove every time ya drink one of those over-priced, syrupy iced mochas.”

Buffy ignored the comment and looked over at Faith, taking in her mussed dark curls, fresh face and her smile. “I miss you.”

Faith gave an exaggerated grimace. “Man, he was that bad, huh? You pining for me already?”

Buffy hit Faith with a pillow, or dream-Faith with the representation of a pillow. Stupid dream.

“Shut up. I like him, okay? You’re just trying to undermine my burgeoning self-confidence in this new relationship.”

Faith laughed huskily as she knocked away the pillow. “Okay, quit it, Blondie. I was teasin’.” As she looked over at Buffy, her expression became more serious. “It’s just... ever since the end of the world didn’t happen, y’haven’t even come by the hospital. What gives?”

Buffy looked down sorrowfully. “I just...couldn’t any more, the guilt was killing me, and I was so miserable. I mean, am I not allowed to be happy? Or... to try and be happy, at least for a little while? ‘Cause it’s actually working: it’s starting to. Is that so wrong?”

Faith shrugged as she flopped back down on the bed, hands folded across her stomach. She smiled sadly. “Beats me.” There was another pregnant pause, before her eyes met Buffy’s. “Getting towards that time. You ready?”

Buffy shook her head, not understanding Faith’s sudden change of tone. “What are you…?”

Faith looked away, and stared up at the ceiling, her face blank, smile gone. “No peace, B. No peace.”

*****

Buffy snapped open her eyes. Morning sunlight streamed across her face. She wasn’t in her room, this was Riley’s place, and she was in his bed. She remembered now.

Ignoring the faint flutter of panic across her mind, she turned over and saw Riley, already awake and lying on his side. He smiled at her.

Buffy relaxed. ‘Oh, Riley’s still here. That’s good. Possibly willing to raise that to great except, I’m dreaming about Faith...Bad, bad Buffy. Really have to snap out of my funk, she’s gone and there’s nothing I can do to change that.’

He gave her an affectionate smile. “Hey. What’s the matter? You weren’t expecting to see me?”

She returned his smile. “I never know what to expect.”

They looked at each other for a long moment. Buffy took in his square-cut features, his adorable smile. This was good: real, solid. She leaned forward and kissed him, nice and sweet and long. Not a bad way to start the morning.

After a moment, there was a strange electronic beeping that came from Riley’s bedside table. Buffy sniggered against Riley’s mouth before pulling away. “Your robot bird sounds hungry.”

Riley grinned as he turned over. “It’s just a reminder to take my vitamins.” He reached over, turned off the alarm before opening a bottle of pills.

“You’re kidding?” she asked slightly incredulously.

She watched as he poured out some water and swallowed a capsule. Like a little boy taking his medicine. 'Or a six-foot something, muscle-y boy taking his medicine at any rate’.

She smiled to herself as he turned back and settled down, comfortable.

He sighed. “Sorry.”

She laughed as she reached over and affectionately played with his hair. “Quite the regimental soldier”, she teased.

“I am how they trained me.” He said it lightly, looking more like he wanted to get back to the kissing.

Buffy was curious, she remembered Willow’s questions about the Initiative from last night. If Buffy knew more, that would be good, right? “They? Who’s ‘they’?”

His face was guileless, trusting. “You know, the government. Plucked me out of Special Op training for this.”

Buffy looked pensive, deciding whether to push the issue. A gentle nudge couldn’t hurt, right? She couldn’t imagine ‘monster hunting’ was your typical job opening. “What did they tell you it was for?”

Riley smiled at her question. “Didn’t. In the military you learn to follow orders, not ask questions.”

Buffy shook her head, puzzled. “I don’t understand. Aren’t you curious about all the science and research stuff they’re doing?”

Riley looked at her before just shrugging a little. “I know all I need to know. We’re doing good here. Protecting the public. Removing the sub-terrestrial threat? It’s work worth doing.”

Buffy thought for a moment. She got that Riley was being straight-forward, as honest as he could be, but Willow was right, Buffy needed to test the information that Ethan Rayne had given them on 314, just to see how Riley reacted.

She tensed: she never really liked it when slayer stuff honed in on her personal life.

As she opened her mouth to speak the phone rang, with a grunt Riley picked it up and answered. “Riley.” He sat up, surprised. “Mr. Giles? Uh, yeah sure, she’s here.”

Buffy eyes widened as she sat upright. She looked alarmed as Riley tried to hand her the phone.

She mouthed ‘No’ and shook her head before Riley insisted. He rolled his eyes good-naturedly as he pushed the phone into her hand. “Hi, Giles” she answered sweetly. “You just caught me popping in to get, uh, the psychology assignments for next week. What’s up?”

Giles’ tone was businesslike. “Ah, Buffy. Good, I’ve been trying to reach you. It’s rather urgent and something that is best discussed face to face. Could you come over as quickly as possible?”

Buffy raised her eyebrows at Riley, but nodded. “Oh, sure. Slayer-stuff?”

He didn’t give anything away, just answered brusquely. “Yes and no. Quick as you can if you please. Goodbye.”

Buffy stared at the phone after he hung up. She guessed it was some sort of emergency. Monster-rampage? Nice for him: Giles tended to spend a lot of time spinning his wheels these days, since information on the djinn had dried up.

The djinn...The Faith dream. She looked over at Riley who smiled at her, bemused. “What was all that about?”

Buffy frowned at the phone as she handed it back. “Oh, slayer-stuff. Giles was big with the vague. Looks like I have to get straight over there. Sorry.”

“Well, I deciphered that it was a business call, with my keen brain. I meant the other stuff, when I handed you the phone. I mean, Mr. Giles knows about us, right?”

Buffy shifted uncomfortably. “Uh, yeah. But he knows about the dating, not about... Its fine, y’know, Giles just looks out for me. Um, he always has.”

Riley nodded, then frowned in worry: “Is he going to give me ‘the talk’ later on?”

Buffy smirked and shook her head. “No. But he might make you some tea and ask about your intentions. I think that’s how things are done in England.”

Riley pretended to look relieved as he got out of bed. “Well, a long as I can prepare myself, I think I can manage an interrogation.”

Buffy was looking around for her top as she saw that Riley was pulling on a t-shirt. “What are you doing? I’m the one who has to leave; you don’t need to go running off anywhere. Unless of course it's one of your regimented ‘morning runs’.”

He shot that boyish grin her way. “If you have to get straight over to Mr. Giles, I’ll drive you. Score some boyfriend points.”

“Oh. That’s sweet, thanks. Wasn’t really gonna enjoy that walk.” Buffy shot him a coy look, “For some reason I’m a little tired this morning.”

His smile widened. “Are those more boyfriend points?”

Buffy batted her eyelashes at him. “...Maybe.”

The moment was cut short as the phone rang again. Riley stared at it for a moment then shrugged. “Looks like they just missed us, c’mon.”

*****

Riding with the top down and wind in her hair was a nice way to be refreshed. ‘And the upside being it’s probably way healthier than coffee.’

Buffy liked the way Riley drove. Relaxed and at ease, not reckless, just coolly confident, as he cruised comfortably through traffic that Buffy just knew would freak the hell out of her if she were in his place. He kept one guiding hand on the wheel, and occasionally looked over at her, giving that smile of his, the one that said he couldn’t believe his luck.

Buffy hoped that she could mirror those feelings soon. And she was getting there. She liked Riley a lot: he was funny, sweet, and thoughtful. A bit... earnest sometimes, but that could be nice. Okay, so he wasn’t heart-racingly, blood-pumpingly sexy, but that was also was good, because it was a contrast to...before.

Since her birthday, Buffy had really thrown herself into her relationship with Riley, shutting out thoughts about Faith, and even neglecting her friends to some extent, which was bad, true, but it would only be for a little while. They understood that she’d been alone for a long time now, too long actually.

And if Willow ever found somebody new, or if Xander decided to ditch Anya, (here’s hoping) and find another girl, Buffy hoped that she would be a good friend and understand enough to allow them some space to explore... stuff. To lose themselves in good-time feelings, like Buffy was doing.

Riley looked over at her. “Looks kinda busy up there?”

Buffy blinked slowly before smiling. “Hmn? Oh, just my brain switching modes.” She tapped her temple, “Takes a little time to reboot.”

“Well, times up. We’re here.” He eased the car slowly up onto the curb. They were on the street next to Giles’ apartment block. Buffy looked at her watch. Record time.

“Wow. You’re fast, yet safe. How do you do that?”

“Well, when they talk about ‘manpower’, that’s what they’re usually refer... Wait, you are referring to my driving skills, right?”

She smiled sweetly. “Correct.”

After a quick glance for oncoming traffic, she opened the passenger door and stepped out onto the street, walking around the sidewalk on Riley’s side. She leaned into the car, cupping the back of his head before giving him a long, lingering kiss on the mouth. She moaned softly before pulling back and smiling again. “Thanks for the ride,” she murmured.

“Don’t mention it.” Riley looked into her eyes expectantly, “Y’know, if you want I could come with and help out? If it’s slayer related...”

“Uh-uh. No way. You already heard the call of duty, which you ignored. Now duty is probably wondering why you aren’t returning her calls and is now flirting with...honour or...shooting things, y’know, one of those other military virtues.”

Riley nodded slowly as he got that far away look in his eye. “I do enjoy shooting things.”

Buffy laughed. “So go, someone somewhere needs a shelf putting up. Man-power,” she added in way of explanation.

Riley nodded as he started the car. “I’ll call you later. Be careful.”

“Bye.” She gave a contented wave as the car pulled away and watched as he took off down the street, headed back to the college. Buffy turned to enter the apartment complex before pausing, feeling her hairs suddenly stand on end, as though she were being watched.

She frowned and looked up and down the street. There was hardly anybody around at this time of the morning. Giles’ neighbours were all a bunch of sleepy late-risers anyhow, not many joggers or rat-racers around here. Just a kid riding a skateboard on the other side of the street and a couple further down who had stopped to play with their dog, nothing dangerous.

With a shrug and a bounce, she skipped down the steps and over to his door, and without bothering to knock she walked in. After all, if Giles was phoning her, he was dressed and, ye gods, hopefully alone.

Immediately, Buffy saw Giles standing pensively by the kitchen area, unhappily munching on some sort of health food bar. Xander and Anya sat on the couch looking bored, but Xander brightened when she entered.

Spike was also there, his ‘daytime jogging’ blanket thrown over the table. He gave her his patented dirty look before looking exasperated at Giles. “Great, wonder-britches is here, now can we get down to it?”

Buffy’s good mood soured. “What are you doing here Spike? Apart from standing around, being annoying?”

“He’s being hunted,” Xander piped up, “Your boyfriend’s army buddies have got him hopping about.”

Buffy turned to Giles in disbelief as she gestured at Spike. “This. This is what you thought was an immediate emergency. ‘Cause it’s kind of the opposite.”

“Oi! And what do you think ‘appens to you when your fancy man finds out you’ve been harbouring a known terror of the underworld.”

Xander couldn’t help but chime in. “I’d put the emphasis on ‘former’ there, Spike.”

Buffy turned to Spike and smiled sweetly. “And how will he know any of that after I’ve finished sweeping up your remains?”

Spike took a step back and looked wary. “You’re bluffing.”

As usual when it came to Spike, within minutes Buffy felt like reaching for the nearest weapon. “And you’d be wise not to threaten...”

Giles sighed. “Alright, that’s enough. Buffy, Spike’s arrival is purely coincidental I assure you. My news is far more vital than that. I...had a phone call this morning...”

Anya interrupted. “He won’t say from who. But he’s been crabbier than usual, and he’s eaten four of Xander’s currency bricks.”

“Health food bars, sweetie,” Xander corrected her gently.

Anya replied. “Which you will trade for currency, I don’t care what they do.”

Buffy threw up her arms. “Will somebody please tell me why I’m here before I decide to arm myself?”

Giles rubbed his forehead. “It’s... Faith. She, ah, woke up. Last night. She beat somebody up, took their wallet and disappeared out of the hospital. No one knows where she is.”

Buffy was stunned. “Faith..?” Faith was awake. She was alive and awake and moving around. 'And hitting people?’

Xander’s reaction was immediate agitation. “Hey now, why didn’t you tell us this sooner?”

“Because I only received the phone call this morning, and wanted to tell everybody together,” he said patiently. “I, ah, rang your dorm room earlier but there was no answer. Have you seen Willow this morning?” he asked Buffy.

She shook her head. “I came straight over. But I don’t think Faith would...”

“She might.” Xander replied anxiously, “She might be gunning for any one of us. Probably me.”

Buffy shook her head. “The first thing Faith would do is confront me. She’s not exactly low profile girl.” She hoped she sounded surer than she felt. Faith had been awake for hours and Buffy hadn’t known. She’d been... busy.

‘When am I gonna learn. Bad things happen when I have sex.’

Except she didn’t know that this was a ‘bad thing’ exactly, it didn’t feel bad. It felt... mixed. To see Faith again would be, well, a miracle. To see her, to hear her talk – two things Buffy thought she wouldn’t experience for a very long time – would be wonderful. But there was also the fact that this wasn’t ‘her’ Faith. She wasn’t sure what would happen. And then there was the whole Riley situation...

She shook off those thoughts. “First off, I’ll find Willow, check that she’s okay, then I’ll patrol, let Faith make the first move.”

Xander muttered to himself. “She does like making the first move.”

Anya finally made the connection. “Oh, then this is the girl you had sex with before me?” Xander flinched.

“No she di…!” Buffy cut in, before remembering. She looked contrite, “Actually you’re right, she did.”

Xander looked searchingly at Buffy. “Riley and his pals might come in handy when it comes to the whole ‘dealing with Faith’ thing.”

Buffy didn’t particularly like that idea. The Initiative was equipped to deal with demons, not slayers, and there was stuff she still didn’t know about them. She trusted Riley, but... No. She’d prefer to keep things untangled for now if she could.

Buffy put those thoughts to one side and looked at Giles. “Maybe. But I have to find her first. I mean, we don’t know where she is, or what she feeling... She could be terrified. Maybe she doesn’t even remember stuff. Or she does and she’s sorry, hiding and alone somewhere?”

Giles voice was tentative. “It’s possible.”

Spike chose this moment to speak up. “Judging by the quivering your boy,” he gestured at Xander, “...Is doing, I’m thinking you’re being a bit ‘glass-half full’ about this bint.”

Buffy didn’t appreciate his commentary. “Shut up, Spike.”

Xander protested. “Her ‘boy’? I’m not her ‘boy’!”

Anya put her hand protectively on his shoulder. “He’s my boy.” She nodded at Buffy, “And you be sure to make that clear to this ‘Faith’ woman, he’s moved on.”

Xander grouched. “I’m no one’s boy. I’m a man.”

Spike jeered. “A cowering man if I’m seeing things right.”

Xander jabbed a finger defensively. “Hey! You don’t know this girl, okay. She’s a crazy man-hungry skank, and she’s had a taste of the Xander. I’m not safe.”

Buffy flinched at Xander’s description and snapped. “Then go and cower in your basement.” Ignoring Xander’s hurt, she gestured at the door and then to Spike. “As you can see we have actual important things that we actually care about. So...I think in your culture the phrase goes something like ‘Sod...’”

Spike waved a hand impatiently and jabbed at his back. “I’ve got something in my bleedin’ shoulder woman! And I’m not going anywhere ‘til it’s dealt with. Bunch o’those trigger-happy lunatics are probably on their way here now to do me in.”

Buffy wanted to talk privately with Giles, but there was zero chance of that happening with Spike throwing a cockney tantrum in Giles’ apartment. For all Buffy knew, this was what Riley had been called away for and was now on his way back.

She scowled at Spike. “Fine. Giles? Fetch me a knife, preferably one that you wouldn’t mind losing.”

“Very well” Giles said cautiously.

“You be gentle now,” Spike warned her, growling.

Buffy thought about it. “Well, I’ll be fast, which seems to be your main concern. But don’t worry; only about seventy percent of me is actually going to really enjoy this.”

Spike sneered at her. “You blonde bit...”

Buffy slammed a fist into his face so he went crashing to the floor. “Okay, maybe eighty.” She held out her hand and Giles handed her a knife. With slayer strength, Buffy should be able to dig out any bullet no problem.

She just hoped this was as easy as Faith made it look.

*****

Xander came back from the bathroom still looking queasy. “Okay, the tracer’s flushed. Plus the contents of my stomach...and a chunk of Spike.”

Spike groaned from where he still lay on the floor. “Soddin’ hell.”

Buffy got up from her where she was crouched. “Spike, you’re safe, now shut up and lay still.” She turned to Giles, “We need to talk.” She then looked at Xander. “Listen, Xand. I actually do think it’s a good idea for you to lay low, Faith doesn’t know where you live so you should be safe there. I’ll patrol tonight; see if I can’t draw her out. Tomorrow we’ll see where we are and rethink stuff. Sound good?”

Xander still looked a little wide-eyed at the bloody mess that was Spike’s back. “Hey, I’ll lay so low I’ll technically be underground... Actually, I will be, so... Plus, when did you get so damn scary?”

Buffy shrugged. “What? Oh. He, uh, spoiled my morning.”

Xander looked at Buffy knowingly. “Are you sure you don’t mean Faith?”

‘Oh boy...’ “Faith...I can handle.” She turned to Giles, “Giles, could I get a minute?”

They left Xander and Anya and walked down the corridor, stepping into the privacy of his bathroom. Buffy watched Giles close the door as she tried to manage her growing anxiety. “Is there anything else?”

Giles understood her meaning immediately. “No, you know what I know. First thing this morning, I was contacted by the hospital because, as we discussed, I was to be her emergency contact if Faith’s condition ever... changed. They told me what had happened and asked me if I’d seen her, if she had made any sort of contact. She hadn’t.”

“When did they say she woke up?”

Giles leaned against the sink as he cleaned his glasses. “She disappeared between two and four yesterday morning. It appears as though they were a tad slow in checking on her. When they found that poor fellow the janitor they must have made the connection.”

“But she hasn’t... hurt anybody else?”

“Not so far.” Giles shook his head, “But the police, no doubt, will be out in force looking for her.”

Buffy screwed her determination. “Then we have to find her before they do.”

“Yes, quite. For both their sakes.” Giles hesitated, “Buffy... please bear in mind that Faith...this Faith isn’t...”

Buffy was firm. “I know Giles, I’m clear on this. But I also know... I just know she can be a good person. I just have to give her a chance.”

“Then I hope she takes it,” Giles replied gently, nodding his head in sympathy. “So, what is your plan?”

Buffy gestured to herself. “Firstly, change. Then I might blow off my classes and check out Faith’s old haunts until the sun goes down. Then I’ll patrol and act all bait-y.”

With that she walked out of the kitchen to find not only Xander and Anya had left, but Spike too, without so much as a ‘Thank you for brutally stabbing me in the back several times’.

Some people.

She turned back to Giles. “Look, I know you said things with the Djinn ended in a big, solid roadblock-thing but, with Faith being awake now and me not being able to...explain any kind of sitch to the gang, I think maybe we could uh, review or go... over stuff.” She knew she sounded way too vague about all of this.

Giles sighed. “I’m not sure there are any avenues that I haven’t already tried...”

Buffy interrupted him, nervously. “There’s something else. Last night, I had a dream...about Faith,” she ventured awkwardly. “It wasn’t, she wasn’t real, I don’t think, but she said something to me before I woke up... I think it was...’No peace’.”

“Sounds rather ominous,” Giles mused.

“It was the same thing I heard after the wish was undone. This creepy whispering voice saying it, ‘No peace’. Whatever this thing wants, Faith is a definitely part of its plan. We have to get more information, find out why it wants her.”

“Well,” Giles reasoned, “Faith is technically the slayer, the last in the line of chosen. Or, maybe it’s more than that – perhaps something about her is... unique, special.”

“Like what?”

“Well, some slayers have different abilities: they vary from chosen to chosen, girl to girl. You, for example, have been known to have prophetic dreams, useful ones as it happens, as the recent business with the Gentlemen showed. Not every slayer has that ability.”

“Score one for me”, Buffy said lightly, “but we know this genie has met a slayer before right? Marion, was it?”

“Merewyn. I remember, the Saxon girl who saved the monks from the monastery. But it seems that those accounts were absent from her Watcher’s account of her tales.”

“Well, maybe he forgot to write it down? Maybe, like me, she’s super busy all the time and that was just, like ‘a day in the life’ or something.”

Giles chewed thoughtfully on his glasses as he slipped into Watcher mode. “No. I believe that the, ah, other Giles was correct in his summations that somebody is hiding accounts of the djinn’s activities throughout history.”

Buffy feigned a scowl. “I knew you’d say that. You’re always taking his side. Always agreeing with yourself.”

Giles replied with dry amusement. “Yes, well, ah, it is nice to have an intelligent second opinion to fall back on.”

Suddenly Buffy remembered something. “The First!”

Giles gave her a puzzled look. “Buffy?”

“Ooh, I’m so stupid. That thing you said about second...The First, the second time around said something. It was ranting away in this cave it had trapped me in, and it mention the djinn, not by name, which is why I kinda, well, forgot. But it said...” Buffy racked her memory, “that he had a, um, ‘Hook in my soul’, which I guess was true, with the weakness and dizziness. And that...’the last time he got free, kingdoms fell and thousands died, plus slayers'.” She smiled triumphantly, “So... look for other gaps in the slayer chronicle things... slayers that died under mysterious circumstances. Maybe you can see a pattern, one that Faith fits.”

“Perhaps,” Giles paced, “although it sounds like this thing is... imprisoned, restrained somehow. That could be of vital importance.” He frowned sternly at Buffy, “Why didn’t you mention this before?”

Buffy pouted under his gaze. “Hey, I-I mentioned it to ‘other-Giles’, I just... thought I told you too, okay. You try having two sets of memories! A-and I came up with it now didn’t I?”

Giles let out a long-suffering sigh. “Yes, well it’s something.”

“Good,” Buffy chirped as she headed towards the door, “now I’m going to play to my strengths and go and look for my possibly-psychotic ex. I’ll check in later.”

*****

Buffy returned to her dorm to see Willow in the corridor, obviously just returning from class. She called out to her friend in relief. “Willow!”

Willow turned her head as she opened the door. “Oh. Hey Buffy. You’re running kinda late. Busy?”

Buffy nodded as she followed her inside. “Yep. Feisty demon.”

Willow grinned as she took off her book bag and sat on the bed. “Strange nickname for your boyfriend you got there.”

Buffy smiled in return. “Riley was a perfect gentleman. Or a feisty gentleman anyway. No demony-ness to speak of.” Buffy’s smile slipped as it was replaced with apprehensiveness. “Listen, sorry about bailing on you guys at The Bronze last night.”

Willow looked unhappy. “Yeah...that’s...I’m...Don’t worry about it. So...”

Buffy curled her legs under her as she sat down on her bed opposite Willow, nervously smoothing out the comforter as she settled. “Actually I’m glad I caught you. There’s news...that I need to...Um, Faith’s awake.”

Willow blinked in surprise. “Oh...Oh! That’s...Is that why you were out so late last night?”

“No, I was just at Giles', he called this morning. He, uh, couldn’t reach you to tell you to come over. He was worried...we all were.” Buffy glanced curiously at Willow’s un-slept-in bed. “Where were you anyway?”

Willow gave a tight, awkward smile that Buffy saw too often these days. “Just...uh, studying at the library. So, what are you gonna do, about Faith I mean?”

Buffy nodded determinedly. “The plan, as it stands, is to check out her usual haunts, find her and then... deal with her.” She looked at Willow expectantly, “Still working on the details obviously. Any suggestions?”

“Well, if I have a vote, I’d definitely like to see punching as a key part of the plan.” Willow nodded, “Punching is good.”

What else had Buffy expected?

“Yeah... Good on paper. Punching is an option, there’s no denying it. But the point is; you shouldn’t worry about Faith, okay?”

Willow made a face. “Well, I don’t. Not really. When it comes to Faith I only tend to worry about you... and me, it has to be said. Being held at knifepoint? Kinda sticks in the memory.” She sighed, “It’s a shame. That was the funnest coma ever.”

Buffy pushed down the twinge of hurt at the comment: she knew that Willow was blissfully unaware of Buffy’s many, many hospital visits, and it really wouldn’t do any good to bring them up now.

Putting on her cheery face, Buffy stood up. “Tell you what, give me a little while to freshen up and you can have a slayer escort anywhere on campus. How’s that sound?”

Willow’s smile returned. “That’d be nice. You can tell me all about last night. The Riley bits, not the, eh, oogley demon bits.”

Buffy nodded as she grabbed her towel and bathrobe from her closet and went across the hallway to the bathroom, pondering the situation as she went.

She still so clearly remembered the time when Faith and Willow and Xander had been close friends: when the brunette slayer was just one of the gang, watching their backs, and offering words of encouragement. When Buffy had trusted her to keep them safe.

And now? Both her friends seemed awfully eager for Buffy to stop Faith, by beating the crap out of her or by turning her over to the Initiative. It was understandable, but also just too depressing.

‘Well, in the end they’ll both follow my lead. If I can reach Faith, get her to trust in me, get her on my side again... and then things might not be so bad. And someday...Someday what? We’ll all hang out, big laughs? Yeah, because Xander and Angel had been best buds after Angel lost, then regained his soul...

Buffy frowned as she undressed and stepped into the shower stall.

Faulty analogy, since Xander had always disliked Angel. But Xander and Willow had gotten along fine with Faith to begin with: it was only after Gwendolyn Post that Faith decided to give everybody the cold shoulder and Buffy hadn’t really felt like forcing the issue.

Then, of course there were the things that Buffy had only caught the second time around, such as Willow’s insecurities about Buffy and Faith’s slayer bond, not trusting the strength of their own friendship. Plus there was what Faith did to Xander, both times.

But now?

Buffy poured some shower gel onto her hand as she stepped under the spray, closing her eyes as she ran her hands across her arms and shoulders. Focus on one thing at a time. First, find Faith. So, where would she go? Her old apartment? Buffy was pretty sure somebody new was living there now, so she should go there first. But afterwards...the town hall, the high school, or what was left of it, The Bronze maybe? Or should she focus on the graveyards, crypts and abandoned places that Faith would hide out in?

Buffy pictured herself searching the graveyards, combing the streets, before finding Faith alone somewhere. The brunette would turn, wary of an attack, but Buffy would talk to her and gently tell her that everything would be alright. She would tell Faith she wasn’t alone anymore, that she was safe.

Then Faith would break down, her walls cracking just like before, and Buffy would hug her and hold her close and cradle the shivering, pale girl.

She would smell Faith’s hair as she smoothed it, comforting her; she’d listen to her strong heartbeat; feel the warmth of Faith’s body pressed up against her. Buffy would tilt Faith’s chin up to meet her gaze, look deep into her eyes, now alive and sparkling, but still so sad. She would murmur soft words of sympathy and encouragement and then gently press her lips against Faith’s own, comforting her. In every unspoken way, she would show Faith that she was now protected and loved and cared for as she tenderly stroked her finger down Faith’s face, following the line of her throat as her hand followed the curves of the other girl’s form from memory...

Buffy blinked as she realised what she was doing, jerking her hands away from where they lingered, softly caressing the tops of her thighs. She let out a shameful, shaky breath.

‘What the hell is wrong with me? That...isn’t going to happen, it’s not. I’m with Riley and Faith isn’t even...’

No, Buffy wouldn’t lie to herself. She now knew that, in all likelihood, Faith had always had strong feelings for her. Maybe Faith couldn’t express them properly, but they had been there and on some level Buffy had known that. She’d always known that, but had ignored it.

‘Just...keep it simple. Find Faith, talk to her, reason with her, and explain that things are different. Then...take it from there, see what happens.’

Not daring to remain in the shower any longer, Buffy turned off the water before drying herself off quickly and stepping into her robe.

She had a busy day ahead of her.

*****

After dressing in an outfit that was both stylish and combat ready (just in case), the two of them left the dorm and headed for the centre of campus.

Buffy casually checked out the look she’d settled on: a cute, diaphanous pink blouse over a dark tank top, dark pants and her leather jacket. Her hair was tied back into a loose (but hopefully attractive) arrangement. She hoped that Willow hadn’t noticed Buffy carefully applying fresh lip-gloss and eyeliner to go Faith hunting, because, really, if pressed, Buffy had no answer to that question.

‘I’m just prepared. If I look good, then I feel good. And therefore… ready to fight? Urgh, my self-rationalisation sucks.’

Buffy and Willow now strolled aimlessly across campus, making their way to the quad for lack of a better plan.

Buffy glanced sidelong at Willow. “So...Where were we?”

Willow grinned. “Uh...ooh, Riley bits!”

Buffy scowled in jest. “I’m not discussing Riley’s bits.”

Still grinning, Willow made an impatient face. “No! Not his bits, his parts! I mean, the Riley parts of last night. What happened?”

Buffy beamed. “Well, after we took down the polka demon, we... there might’ve been slight... happenings.”

Willow looked like she was about to burst with excitement. “Ooh, I love this part. Where it’s all new and everything’s a discovery? So, detail? I-I mean, not details, no diagrams for this girl, just...a blurry, out-of-focus photograph is fine?”

Buffy smiled to herself. “It was...nice. It was really nice. And intense.”

“Well, that’s good. Because it’s been a while.” Willow looked sympathetically at her friend, “It’s about time you got some lovin’.”

“You’re telling me. I would’ve liked a little more, maybe, but then Giles called and I had to scramble.”

“Are you going to tell Riley about Faith?”

Buffy shrugged. “I guess I’ll have to eventually. I mean, I managed to edit her out of all the Angel-y parts I told him. Just vagueness, but no flat-out lies.”

Willow looked thrown: “Why did you do that? I mean, Angel was kinda your...well, he was the big vampire in your closet right?”

‘Because retelling it would’ve been way too painful.’ “I figured one morally shades-of-grey person from my past was enough for Riley to cope with. Dating a vampire is one thing, trying to kill somebody...”

Willow, being a good friend, jumped to her defence. “But there were circumstances, Buffy. It wasn’t like, in cold blood or anything.”

Buffy shook her head. “But it was, Will. It was bloody and pre-meditated and all those other bad words you hear on cop shows. I just... I don’t know if Riley would understand.”

“He would if he met her”, Willow grumbled, “but I get it. It’s a strange situation. And at least you’re not alone in this. The police are all over the place. Hey, maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll nab her. With tasers and batons and stuff. Throw Faith in the slammer before you find her.”

Buffy mulled the image in her mind as the two of them walked down the quad steps.

Faith was too smart to just walk around in broad daylight. And besides, Buffy doubted the cops would be any sort of match for the other slayer. They’d just end up getting hurt, or worse, which would fall into the category of very bad news.

Buffy skirted her way past a group of flyer waving students as she and Willow approached the centre of the quad. In front of them people gathered around the campus notice boards, Willow seemed to be content to wander over there and browse.

Buffy nodded thoughtfully as she decided to humour her friend. “I suppose. The pressure is definitely high. Though if I were her, I’d get out of Dodge post-haste.”

The girl facing the notice board in front of her turned around and Faith was standing there, dressed all in black, eyes bright and alive and cold. “You’re not me.”

Buffy froze. ‘Or, could be I underestimated Faith’s smartness.’

Wake Up Call (PART 2: Days Gone Bye)

The nurse hummed to herself as she checked the patient’s catheter for the second time of the night shift. She never liked to remain long in this part of the hospital. Lack of funding had left the basement level in a decrepit state: largely abandoned, it had a decidedly creepy air to it, a place to put overflowing files and damaged hospital equipment and not much else.

Except the occasional patient.

To her knowledge, the girl was the only patient even on this ward, ignored by doctors and efficiently (if coldly) managed by most of the nursing staff.

Of course she’d heard all the rumours: that the girl had been brought in under mysterious circumstances, suffering from all sorts of terrible injuries. The Mayor himself had been seen grieving over her the day she had been admitted. But later there had been rumours of an ‘inappropriate’ relationship of some sort, but after the Mayor’s tragic death it had become swamped by all the other theories that circulated: corruption at the Mayor’s office, police obstructions, and criminal cover-ups.

What was certain was that this girl had done bad things – the way the cops edged around the details with all the doctors only confirmed most people’s suspicions about the girl.

Bad seed. Mental disorders. Violent. Murderous. Killer.

And yet, there was something still so compelling and heartbreaking about how the girl clung to life. Unwanted and uncared for, she lay as if waiting for something – or someone.

At first, the nurse thought it had been the blonde visitor, the young woman who, curiously, has shown obvious affection for the mystery girl. She’d read to her, and talked at length to her about nonsense things. The young woman had even left a box of possessions for her that she’d made sure was kept safe and undisturbed.

But that lone visitor was gone for over a month now and still, the child – Faith – slept on, with no more interest.

The nurse smoothed the bed sheet one last time before turning to leave.

She easily brushed past by the dark hooded figure that lurked at the entrance to the room, breezing by him as she hummed, oblivious to his presence.

With a slight turn of the head the hooded figure watched her depart, observing as she made for other distant parts of the hospital. She would be gone until shift change, hours from now. With a muttered phrase, the cloaking spell was ended and the dark form approached the sleeping girl. These days the figure preferred to concentrate on one spell at a time, and this next one would be difficult.

It was time.

*****

“So, are you going to the Bronze tonight?”

Faith glanced around in her chair. “Huh?”

Buffy leaned over and pulled the lollipop out of her mouth with a smile, exaggerating her next words. “You. Going. Bronze. Tonight.”

Faith blinked blankly as Buffy’s glossy, peach-shaded lips articulated every word. “Uh... probably. Where’s the teacher... think she’s late?”

Buffy was impatient. “C’mon, you’ve so got to be there, right gang?”

“Yeah, sure.” Willow said in a dull voice as she craned to look at the two girls.

“Uh-huh, you gotta see me put my moves on the dance floor.” Xander mimed a slow shimmy in the seat behind Buffy. He was such a dork.

Buffy rolled her eyes and said, with a knowing voice, “You can’t put moves on the dance floor Xand, it’s not gonna date you. It’s... a floor. And if it did then... the club would probably fall down.” She gave Faith a questioning look before shrugging.

Xander slouched in his seat. “Fine, show my moves, whatever. Miss Peta... Pedan... I’m gonna look the word you are up, right after... wherever we are now.”

“Biology.” Willow piped up helpfully; she was still facing the front of the class like a geek, even though Miss Dormer hadn’t arrived yet.

“What are we even doing today?” Buffy asked with a frown as she fiddled busily with a goofy looking sparkly pink pen.

Before Willow could say anything, Faith read aloud what was written on the board. “‘Same sex relationships’.”

Buffy scrunched up her face. “Oh. Totally gross.” For some reason, Faith felt a queasiness settle in her stomach.

Xander seemed to perk up. “Hey, maybe I won’t sleep through this class after all.”

Buffy huffed as she crossed her legs under her desk, showing a lot of smooth, tanned thigh under her short pale blue skirt. “Why can’t we do anything practical to real life, like, girl-vampire relations?” She smirked, her eyes lighting up.

Willow, of course, agreed. “Or girl-werewolf relations.”

Faith tried to look on the bright side. “You don’t know. You might learn somethin’ new.”

Buffy made a sour face, like she wished Faith hadn’t spoken, so Faith looked away hurriedly, just in time to see Miss Dormer enter. Tall, elegant, old, English – pretty nice for a teacher. And, unlike most, she seemed to actually like Faith.

She spoke up in a crisp voice. “Good morning class, and settle down please. Now, today we will be looking at the indefinable qualities that attract one member of the same gender to another. It could be hormonal, a synching of personalities, or a crush, but more often that not it’s a shared bond that goes far deeper than that.”

Faith listened with rapt interest. A small, secret part of her hoped that Buffy was doing the same.

Then the windows came crashing in, sending shards of glass everywhere as three leather-clad, rough looking dudes landed in the middle of class, faces twisted and demonic. The other students started freaking out, scrambling for safety and crying as the men lunged at them randomly, growling threats under their breath.

Faith pushed her chair back on instinct. Unlike most people, she didn’t panic. Slayers always knew what to do in a situation like this. But still...“Vampires. In day time? What gives?”

Buffy sighed. “I don’t care. It’s finally something I can poke.” She stood up, flipped her desk over and snapped off two of the legs like it was nothing. Buffy stalked towards all three of them with a bounce of her pigtails, “Not that I don’t appreciate lesson-critiquing as much as the next girl, but couldn’t you be just a little bit less violent?” She easily blocked a wild swing from a guy twice her size and shoved him backwards, “Dumb mook.”

People were still screaming as Faith reacted. Grunting, she flipped her table over and stomped on one of the legs until it grudgingly snapped in two. She picked up the jagged length and ran after B… uffy to back her up. She saw one of the vampires trying to get a shot at Buffy’s back, and Faith grinned as she grabbed him, swung him around and punched him with all her strength.

Her blow caught him in his ugly mug, but got no reaction. He grabbed her by the wrist, and seized her neck with his free hand, lifting Faith into the air, before slamming her down onto one of the desks like a ragdoll. Pain shot through her back as he bent low over her, baring a row of pointed teeth. Faith struggled but she had no strength: her muscles were weak and she cried out as her body was pushed down with pathetic ease.

The stake dropped from her fingers as the vampire’s vicelike grip tightened. He leered at her. “For Kakistos we live...for Kakistos we...” Then, he exploded into dust. Faith blinked, crying out as she fell off of the table onto the floor, spitting out blood and vampire dust as she landed.

“Faith, what are you doing, you could’ve been hurt?”

Faith looked up to see Buffy standing over her, pale-blue skirt, white cardigan over peach blouse. Her face was twisted in puzzled concern as she looked down at her. The class around was still in chaos, panicked cries filling the air.

Faith still felt breathless as she struggled to her feet. “I was backin’ ya up... but, my strength... I don’t know what happened...”

Buffy blinked in confusion before a slow smile spread across her face. “You think... that you’re the slayer.”

Faith shrugged. “‘S me, here t’help. But... I...” She stopped; the noises around her were changing into something else. Buffy’s smile became colder.

“I’m the slayer, Faith. ‘One girl in all the world’, remember?” Buffy leaned closer, her eyes cold. “There’s a word for people like you. Loser.”

It was then that Faith realised that everybody around her wasn’t screaming anymore. They were laughing, jeering, pointing.

At her.

Faith looked around at all the familiar faces looking her way. Willow and Xander... and others, Tommy and Kenny from Boston, not Sunnydale, because she remembered that she never went to school in Sunnydale. She didn’t belong here.

“You belong in Boston, Faith.” She felt a hand grab her shoulder and spin her around, “With me.”

She saw Miss Dormer, looking like she had at the end, naked and caked in blood standing there talking to her, even though the horrific wounds that Faith could see meant that she couldn’t be doing either.

Diane’s broken, croaking voice continued as her grip on Faith’s arm became cold. “You failed, Faith. That’s why you’re here. You always fail.”

Faith felt her legs give way as she collapsed into blackness.

*****

The figure stood next to the bed, arms outstretched. A reddish black light pulsed between them, enveloping the girl as crackles of energy surged across her form jerking her as she struggled. Her muscles spasmed and clenched as they grew strong. The girl clearly wasn’t ready to awaken – her body was getting stronger but her thoughts, her fears, were keeping her chained to oblivion. By accelerating the healing process, the figure knew it was risking damaging her further. It was a bigger possibility than initially believed.

But the being also sensed a fire there, deep down in her – the reason for all the attention and focus on this girl. Her promise for something greater.

That was what must be tested, trusted in, for the spell to work. The girl would face all her fears, and only then would she be ready to face the world again, and the part she would play in it.

The figure redoubled its efforts.

*****

“I’m glad you came”, Buffy murmured into Faith’s ear. The two of them swayed in time to the music. Some band was playing a moody emo tune up on stage. Faith didn’t care, ‘cause Buffy seemed to like it.

The blonde girl had her arms draped around Faith’s neck, her head dipped close and contented.

She was wearing the dress she’d worn at homecoming, and it left her shoulders and neck bare and smooth. Faith brushed her hand across her satiny skin.

“Don’t usually dance this way” she said awkwardly. She was afraid of treading on Buffy’s dainty feet.

Buffy pulled back so she could look Faith in the eyes. “Well I do. It’s a nice change of pace from all that grinding on the boys.”

Faith realised that they were drawing a lot of attention, people sitting at tables were looking on, and a space had formed around them on the dance floor. Faith wiggled her eyebrows. “Hope the boys don’t get jealous.”

Buffy shook her head sadly. “It’s not the boys I’m worried about.”

“Me? No sweat. Get some, get gone. You can’t trust... anybody, I guess.”

Buffy smirked before leaning forward and affectionately rubbed her nose against Faith’s. “Cynic.”

Faith didn’t know how such a simple gesture could make her heart beat faster. She was such a sap. “That’s me. Tough as they come.”

Buffy grinned and teased. “Apart from your soft, squishy underbelly.”

Faith’s grin widened. “Now you’re just gettin’ dirty. Tryin’ t’turn me on?”

Buffy’s smile faded and that sad look reappeared again. “It’s too late for that. You said I was just like you, remember?”

Faith’s grin faltered; she frowned at Buffy’s tone. “What’s that got to-?”

But Buffy was looking past her to somebody approaching, a shadow drifting through the crowds. The music stopped as people parted. The figure stepped in close to them both and his face caught the light.

Angel – face twisted, forehead bumpy, eyes piercing. “Buffy. Can I cut in?” His voice sounded cold and amused.

He handed something to Buffy.

With the overhead lights glinting in its steel, the knife looked sharper and deadlier and more beautiful than ever.

Faith felt sick, as her stomach grew cold like there was something squirming inside her. She couldn’t move.

Buffy’s voice was sad, but determined. “You’re a killer, Faith. And if I’m just like you... then you’ve got this coming.”

The blade pierced her, slid deep. Easily and cleanly, it didn’t seem to require any strength at all.

Faith let go of Buffy and staggered backwards, fell to her knees. The watery feeling in her stomach spread through her legs, making them weak and numb. She pressed her forehead against the dance floor, felt wetness on her cheek.

The music started up again and Angel took Buffy in his arms and led her away.

“B...”

Faith watched them dance, spinning around elegantly, circling Faith. Buffy gazed up adoringly into Angel’s vamp-face. She didn’t look anywhere else.

Faith felt like she was falling, plummeting through air and space and time. Weightless, she felt nothing but pain.

And then nothing but darkness.

*****

The monitor beeped in alarm as spike after spike appeared on the screen. Faith jerked in her bed, nerves screaming as her mind played nightmares over and over again. The hooded figure struggled to maintain the spell’s energy as it played over the slayer. She was resisting more than any other subject – her demons were strong and fierce things that writhed and snapped. And her life force was... potent.

She was the one. She had to be.

But she was not yet ready. Almost, but not quite. One last push should do it. The figure called on more reserves and black veins of energy flowed through the red-tinged air, disappearing into Faith’s body.

*****

Buffy’s bedroom was bright and cheerful as they undertook the comforting ritual of making the bed. “Clean sheet. Like Summer.” Buffy said with a soft smile.

Faith smiled back in mild reproach. “I wouldn’t know.”

A look of guilt or regret crossed Buffy’s face. “Right. I forgot.”

Faith finished smoothing her end of the sheet down. “I noticed.” Her voice was soft, not accusatory; she didn’t want to spoil the moment. It was too precious.

They smoothed out the bedspread, tucking down the corners as they moved closer together.

Then a bloodstain dripped and spread across the pristine white of the cotton sheets. “Damn. Just when we made it so nice.” Faith looked down at her stomach, which burned with an itchy heat. “Are you ever gonna take this thing out?”

Buffy’s hand is on the jutting handle of the blade. She looks into Faith’s eyes, all warmth gone from her gaze, and twists the blade hard.

...

Faith was wearing her best summer dress. She was lying on her side, enjoying the sun, the picnic and the company. “You think it’s gonna rain?”

The Boss lay across from her, also on his side, dressed in relaxed Sunday best. He wipes his mouth with a napkin. “Nonsense. There’s not a cloud in the sky. Now eat your sandwich.”

Faith gave a little shrug; she knew she was being silly. “I don’t know, it just seems to start raining right about now.”

He gently chided her with a shake of his head. “You’re too young and too pretty a girl to start wearing worry lines on your face.”

Faith smile at that, feels herself start to relax, and enjoys her sandwich. She’s safe here, with all the time in the world.

Then she appears out of nowhere. The Slayer. Cold and menacing and ruthless as she ruins everything. Faith feels powerful tremors of panic seizes hold of her, feels the numbing chill of fear as she sees The Mayor die right in front of her.

“I told you I had things to do.”

Faith scrambles away and runs for her life.

...

A chase through darkness, shadowed shapes loom in the night. Faith runs because she doesn’t know what else to do. Blind panic sets in; she always ends up running.

It would have always come to this, but this is the first time it has happened. Buffy is coming, she’s really coming, even though she’s already taken everything that matters from Faith. She’s relentless, never tiring. Faith trips, hits a gravestone and then plunges into an open grave.

She lands painfully on packed dirt. She tries to get up, even though she’s too scared and hurt to move. But Buffy is already there, walking over, icy calm in her certainty. She tilts her head; her gaze fixed on Faith’s panicked expression.

Buffy drops into the open grave.

Faith can’t run anymore so she fights, she tears into Buffy with all the fear and pain and rage and disappointment and jealousy that she has in her.

Fire against her ice.

Buffy melts away.

And for the first time, Faith doesn’t fall deeper; she climbs, grabbing big handfuls of wet caked dirt as she pulls herself up from darkness and death, bloody, beaten, but unbowed.

The night is torn by a storm and rain pelts down. The world in turmoil, the sky boils in agony.

Faith stands up.

She feels alive; she can feel the pain and triumph and elation flowing through her. She looks up to the sky, takes in a heady breath of cold night air and screams for all she’s worth...

*****

Faith gasped loudly as she opened her eyes. She blinked at the harsh overhead light, its slight electric buzz felt loud to her ears, so that it seemed like it was the only thing she could hear. Faith’s vision was edged all around by dark shadow; she squinted warily as she tried to see beyond the gloom, to see something, anything, to allow her to get her bearings.

‘What the hell..?’

She heard a constant, monotonous beep even through her fuzziness and turned her head just enough to see a monitor next to the bed she’s in. Little wiggly lines and flickering numbers: ECG?

The last thing she remembered clearly is...

Falling.

She becomes aware of herself slowly, the rising and falling of her chest, her back against the soft bed.

Her arms.

Hesitantly, she focused on lifting her arm up and moved her hand in front of her face. She managed it slowly, and made a fist.

She felt strength there but also stiffness, which was weird – it felt like she hadn’t done that for a while. Still, she felt good, all healed up. That’s what mattered, time to see how long she overslept.

She griped the sheets covering her and flung them to the side, sitting up. She knew her body pretty well and it’s throwing out confusing signals, like ‘Whatcha doin’ there, jackass? Moving about?’, like she should be weak. But she’s not.

She sat up and looked around the room. It’s so damn dark and spooky that if that machine wasn’t beeping away, she’d have sworn that this was some kind of morgue. Little light; peeling paint on the walls; no windows. There was a chair and empty gurney stuffed in one corner, dusty and unused.

She couldn’t tell if it’s dark outside. It felt... dead though, no sounds, like it was the middle of the night. She’d been in hospitals a couple of times when she was younger and they’re usually buzzing in the daytime, packed with people walking back and forth, doctors and nurses, wheel-chaired people, visitors.

That’s when she saw the flowers in a vase on the nearby table, yellow wilting things that don’t look too happy to be here. She can relate.

Faith tore a couple of clip things off of her gown as she swung her legs out of bed. Already, she felt the stiffness leaving her legs as her feet touch the cold tile floor.

Then she felt a tug on her arm, and a mild discomfort. She looked and saw a needle and tube sticking out of her wrist. She frowned and brought her hand closer, before pulling the needle and whatever drugs are pumping into her out of her arm.

“Ouch.” She absently rubbed her skin as she walked around the bed to the table, curious now. Who would send her flowers anyways? The boss? Maybe a nurse or someone?

She looked it over, no card nearby. No ‘get well soon, slugger’ from the Mayor. Weird.

That’s when she saw the box, half sticking out from under the chair. Curiously, she crouched and pulled it out. And it’s her stuff, at least most of it is.

Magazines and comics she’d bought, even a half-opened pack of Red Vines. A bag of... clothes. There’s some new stuff here that must’ve been bought for her as a present, something to read while she got better. But she was the slayer; she woke up healthy, ready to play outside again – no weeks of sitting on her ass for this girl.

The boss must’ve left this stuff here for her, for when she got better.

‘Coulda’ sprung for a better room maybe, but this could be some secret part of the hospital. Like a sub-basement or something – keep me all hidden away and safe.’

Grinning to herself, Faith picks up the bag and shakes it out onto the bed. Boots and socks fall out first, followed by leather pants, a black tee and a dark denim jacket. Black bra and panties tumble out last. She quickly strips off her gown and slides the panties up her legs, shakes out the satiny push-up bra and puts that on.

‘Huh, well the girls are still the same size, all nice and snug. Guess I really am all healed up.’

She notices that she’s lost a little bit of weight though, she realised that when she buttoned up her pants and there was a little bit of a gap (just enough to wiggle her fingers through.) Her fingers trace the puckered pale skin where she was stabbed.

‘That’s mine.’

‘You’re getting it back.’

Faith shakes off the thought. Find the boss and see what’s the what she tells herself. Losing weight means she’s been out for a while, right? Weeks probably. Maybe months... Years? Shit, she should find a mirror ASAP to see if she’s all wrinkled up...

Whoa, okay, hold your horses. No way has it been years, she knows enough to know that. She’s up and walking around fine, no little Bambi legs, it’s all good.

Faith relaxes and stretches into her t-shirt, before reaching for her jacket. She hears a bang out in the corridor, a door opening and closing. Could be something. Someone come to visit.

(Buffy holding a knife...)

Faith ducks down quickly behind the bed pulling on her boots as she goes, before she forces herself to stand again, holding her breath. Cocking her head to the side, she listens for the sound of shoes squeaking on linoleum floor, the rustle of clothing as the person gets closer.

Instead, she just hears another dull bang, a door swinging open with a low creak. Nobody’s coming to get her.

Not yet.

Leaving her box of stuff for the moment Faith steps quietly out into the corridor. Her eyes take in the deserted gloom of the hallway as she listens for other sounds of movement.

The cloaked figure watches her go, unseen to even her keen senses. It’s pleased: the slayer is awake and strong, ready to play her role like a good little pawn.

And a very shapely pawn at that. The figure didn’t consider itself human anymore but even so, it did have warm remembrances of women, even a slayer. And until now it had almost forgotten the benefits of being able to observe undetected.

Now to put more pieces into play. The next task would require less raw power, rather finesse, but that did not matter. The hooded form was old enough to be well adept at both.

*****

Faith walked ahead, still tense and on-edge. She didn’t see anybody around here, no cops, no security, no nothing. Walking past empty shelves, stacks of chairs, a few gurneys, she had no clue as to how to get out. She saw a few doors up ahead but not an exit sign. She needed to get her bearings. What did people usually do when this happened? They’d grab a paper, look at the date and be all shocked and bewildered or some dumb shit like that. She might just try finding somebody and asking them, that’s if she could find...

A door banged open in front of her and an old, overweight guy waddled backwards out into the corridor, dragging a cart full of cleaning supplies with him. He was dressed like a janitor in drab green overalls. Faith steps forward into his line of sight. He stopped and turned to her.

“Hey, what are you doing down here. You’re not supposed to be here.” His craggy, ruddy face seemed more annoyed than alarmed.

Faith shrugged easily. “Snuck down here to get busy with my boyfriend but I got all lost. Kids today, huh? Whatcha gonna do.”

Then the janitor seemed to realise just what he was looking at and relaxed a little. “Well...you shouldn’t be sneaking around here. You could get in trouble. Where’s your, uh, friend at?”

Faith feigned hurt. “Left me high and dry to go to the john and I ain’t seen him since. Guess he blew me off.”

The older guy looked her over as he rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “He did, huh? Some guys have got no sense.”

Faith stepped closer so he could see her better. “So help a girl out. How do I get outta here?”

He frowned, brow furrowed as he looked like he was trying to place her. Then his eyes widened suddenly. “Jesus. You’re that coma girl.” He took a startled step back and bumped into his cart.

Faith quickly stepped forward and grabbed his arm not too gently. “Dude, chill. I’m with the Mayor, ‘kay. So just tell me how t’get outta here and we’re square.”

The janitor shook his head, not understanding. “The Mayor? That guy’s dead.”

Faith felt the bottom fall out of her stomach. Her brain seemed to freeze and then get all fuzzy. Her eyes narrowed at him. “What?”

“Listen, maybe I should get somebody...” He cried out as she tightened her grip on his arm.

Faith focused on him like a laser. “Tell me. What. Happened?”

The man gulped. “The guy... he died in some kinda explosion...There was a gas leak at the school during some ceremony. Right in the middle of his speech, just went up... the whole school.”

“Graduation”, Faith muttered.

That meant Buffy had done something, had killed him, killed her... Buffy and all her little loser friends and her pet Watchers. Were any of them dead?

Faith was gonna find out, find them sooner or later.

The old guy stammered. “Yeah, that’s... Not just him. The Principal as well, some of the teachers...”

Faith refocused, snarled at him. “What’s the date? Now, today?”

“F-February 13th. Two thousand.”

Faith let go of the man so he fell back against his cart. Clutching his arm, he stared at her wide-eyed.

Seven months? Seven months and the boss had been dead all that time? That’s what’s with the flowers and clothes and shit, present from some vamp minion second-in-command type? She didn’t know and didn’t have time to find out.

Fuck. The police, everybody, as soon as they realised that she was awake they were gonna freak and get after her.

And she was alone.

She needed options.

The old guy held up his hands to her in a placating gesture. “Look Miss, I should go get a doctor for you, check that you’re okay. Jesus, I mean, you shouldn’t even be walking around. You got really badly hurt.”

Faith looked at him again and smiled slowly as she kept her voice sweet. “Say, you got any money on you?”

*****

Faith used a clean washcloth to wipe the guy’s blood off her knuckles as she left the hospital. Nobody had stopped her or even looked twice at her on the way out. Sure seemed like everybody expected her to lie there a while longer. That was good; she had a little time to think.

She chucked the rag in a nearby trash bin and looked through the guy’s wallet. Twenty-eight dollars and a bit of change. Hell, she’d gotten by on less.

She was free and clear for the moment. And hungry. Getting almost killed can really work up a girl’s appetite. One of the hospital clocks had put the time at two forty-five, which meant that in a crappy dive like Sunnydale everywhere would likely be closed.

But Faith found a gas station not half a block over, bought a burrito, a big bag of chips and some sodas and devoured them all in no time.

Took the edge off.

She also bought a few other things that seemed sensible; a scrunchie to pull her hair back, a touristy baseball cap with ‘Razorbacks’ written on it, and lipstick and eye liner.

One thing her Mom said that always stayed with her was that makeup was important. Make the most of what you’ve got. Faith could sometimes still hear that raspy voice:

‘You put this on it's like armour, it protects you. But it’s also a weapon. Sometimes it’s the only thing you’ve got to use on a guy. Gets ‘em thinkin’ with their junk. Makes ‘em easier to handle.’

Not that it had served Mom all that well in the end. The world used her up, spat her out. Mostly because she let it, she was always the one not thinking straight with guys, always letting someone play her, lapping up the attention. They’d get her drunk or high, take her money with promises and excuses – they played her for all she was worth and she fell for it.

Exhibit one on how the world really works. Stupid bitch.

Whatever the dumb reason behind it, Faith always felt better with a little something on to make her lips and eyes pop. Looking at herself in the grimy mirror of the gas station toilet, she slowly applied it, red lips and blue eye liner. Watch out, fellas.

Of course she was still too pale, the mild tan she’d picked up from travelling cross-country to sunny Cal had mostly washed out.

Still, she’d be way paler if she’d been fed to some mopey-assed vampire. Because, in the world according to Buffy, you were wrong and bad and a murderer if you say, accidentally stabbed a guy, but it was okay to cold-bloodily murder somebody for a fucking vampire.

Faith scowled into the mirror, feeling her temper flare and start to rise. But she had to play this smart, find out where all the players were so many months after, all moving on to bigger and better things.

‘Shoulda watched out ‘cause sometimes life comes around and bites you in the ass. And guess what? It’s my life.’

Faith watched as she smiled coldly at her reflection. That’s better; remember that Klingon proverb-thing.

Next she visited the high school. Keeping her distance, she watched from across the street, taking in the smashed entrance, eyes lingering over the remains, burnt and crumbling and collapsed. Abandoned and forgotten, kinda like she had been.

She wondered if somewhere inside there were dead bodies, all broken and crispy. Was the Mayor still there or did they cart him out and bury him someplace? Or maybe he did his transforming thing but still got blown up, Faith didn’t know.

No point hanging around here, the past is dead, nothing you can do to change it.’

*****

Faith decided that when morning came she’d head over to Giles place, mainly because his was the only last name apart from Buffy’s that she could remember. She found his address in a phone book and tore out the page. Depending on the sitch, maybe they could have a ‘chat’ about the way things were now and do some watcher/slayer bonding… Could be an interesting way to spend the morning.

Figuring that she had time to kill until then, and that the best place to hang out with little chance of running into the cops was a cemetery, she headed for one. There were plenty to choose from, so she made her way to the one nearest to Giles’ place, the one with a whole bunch of stone angels that reminder of the one she used to patrol in back in Boston.... Mount Auburn, very old-y-world-y, just without all them dead poets pushing up the daisies.

Patrolling.

Patrolling with B. Before everything went to shit.

She remembered the feeling she first got when she arrived in this small, pokey little town, so different from Boston or New York with their huge crowds that swallowed you up. A girl could get lost in those crowds. Here, there was just the one dead end club and the quiet you were left with at the end of the night, at whatever motel you’re holed up in.

Still, it had all started out pretty okay, she’d gone to the club to have a good time, dance and then show B her badass slayer-stuff – show the girl that she wasn’t alone. Buffy hadn’t been impressed, but her friends had, mostly. She pulled out her best stories and tried to get B to do the same, but the other girl had just seemed put out that there was another slayer in town. Faith didn’t think much of it at the time, but she should’ve.

So she met Buffy’s watcher, and right off she could tell he liked her – older guys usually did – so she figured that maybe he would talk Buffy round.

Faith should’ve known better.

Then there was Buffy’s mom, who thought that Faith was great too and, sitting there in that nice house, eating actual cooked food, with a supportive Mom-type taking an interest, Faith started wondering what B’s problem was exactly; what was the big burden in her perfect life? So she called her on her bullshit mopiness on patrol and got bitched at in return. But then hey, some fighting, which had been a pretty good workout. And then Buffy, of course, didn’t like the way Faith did things and went whining to her watcher.

So they all found out. Faith had screwed up. Strike one against her as far as they were all concerned.

But things got better after that, Faith really tried hard. She did dull jobs, like watching Oz the dog-faced boy getting all hairy-palmed and licking himself in his cage; like joining in with their little meetings and speaking up and stuff; like picking Buffy up when some loser dumped her and asking to the homecoming dance.

It didn’t last.

Watcher lady shows up and it turns out everybody’s been lying about everything: Buffy’s psycho vampire ex-boyfriend is alive and well and the Scoobies are holding their little, secret club meetings and all the while Mrs Post is acting concerned and giving advice, spending time with her like she gave a damn... like Diana...

Turns out she was lying too, but Faith finds that out too late and so now she’s the bad guy again, even though she always played it straight, just doing her job.

Strike two, Faithy. Better watch yourself.

Then a while goes by, nobody bothers to check on her, nobody gets the short straw at Watcher HQ to come and talk to the slayer. But, hey, the last two got real dead, real fast so what’s the hurry. And, see, they already got one, a regular goody-two shoes, what do they care?

Time passes and then B pops by ‘cause her Mom obviously guilts her into extending the hand of charity to poor, grubby wayward trash. And if it hadn’t been Christmas, Faith would’ve done everybody a favour and told her to shove it, but Christmas was always... tough.

And so she goes and buys a couple of presents, ‘cause that’s what you do right? Be all ‘polite’. Faith shows up and it’s good, the food is anyway. And Joyce is nice enough not to throw her present in the trash the second Faith’s back is turned. Buffy has to go and rescue her boyfriend from some freaky ghost-thing – Faith never really gets the full sitch on that one – but, hey, it snows and there’s eggnog and it all feels pretty darn nice.

So Faith takes off for a little while – not that Giles even notices – and gets some perspective. Can’t go getting used to home cooking and Buffy smiling that smile at you and laughing at all your jokes. Because that’s just not gonna end well.

Except that it almost does.

Faith gets back just in time to actually help out with something big, a showdown with some wicked crazy she-demons who want to do some bad thing; again nobody’s big on the details. But she slays, patrols, pops Xander’s cherry (no need to thank me, loser) and is there with everybody for the big finish. Smiles all round. Good work team.

Then it gets good. Faith’s hanging around so much that she and B are getting into a groove. And she sees – really sees – Buffy give into it and start to have fun and Faith is having the time of her life. Kicking ass, dancing all night, having her pick of any guy she wants and she doesn’t even mind Buffy getting all sexy and intimate with her lover-boy, ‘cause that can never go anywhere. And it’s just a matter of time before Buffy just sees her...

Strike three.

You’re out.

Faith’s a murderer, Faith’s in trouble; Faith ‘how could you?’ Like she’d even meant to kill some guy who was hanging around a pitched fucking battle.

Even though Faith says she did it wrong, says that she messed up, which is progress right? It ain’t enough, and Buffy wants to tell everybody. So Faith thinks ‘sure, you wanna share it so badly, you can take the wrap, how d’ya like that?’

But of course everybody rallies round poor Buffy, and Xander comes round hoping Faith’ll cry on his shoulder and give him another taste. So she shows him how little she thinks of him, gives him a good scare while she’s at it. Makes sure he backs off.

Then it turns everybody knows how ‘bad’ Faith has been. Angel bushwhacks her, ties her up and talks at her for a while, then Buffy’s watcher comes and arrests her, is gonna take Faith off to England, for her own good of course.

Good going, B. Nice one.

But Faith escapes, grabs her stuff and is gonna skip town, screw this noise, and then Buffy comes sniffing after her, acting all concerned. So Faith calls her on her bullshit, again, and Buffy freaks, again. But at least there’s sparks between them, just like before Finch, it gets the blood rising and the skin humming, the Chosen Two. Better than being ignored or taken for granted. It’s something.

Then the vamps attack and everything is clear again. Faith does what she does best, cleans up and saves B by dusting Trick, and so they both head back. Faith’s decided to stay.

Because Faith finally got it. She got what they were trying to do. They didn’t ever care about her, none of them, they didn’t want her around. They just needed Faith to stay so Buffy could go off and do her own thing. Buffy didn’t – never had and never would – see Faith as anything but a slayer, either a threat to her rep, or a way to get out from under. Her watcher would follow her lead of course, like he always did. And her friends, well, Buffy had turned them against Faith long ago. She was always gonna be ‘dangerous’, ‘unstable’, ‘troubled’, ‘loser’ to them now.

Like high school all over again.

So that was her future, crystal clear to her, she was never going to be part of their stupid gang. She’d always be on the outside; the dog on the leash; the muscle; the ‘other one’ they might need in case things ever got serious. She would sit and wait in her crappy motel room for whenever they decided to call. Until the day they didn’t much need her anymore and moved on with their bright, shiny lives without so much as a fuck-you-very-much Faith, because remember when you killed that guy one time, and we think it's best if you don’t come with.

So Faith found another way, she got out, turned the tables. Got herself a job and found somebody who actually wanted her, accepted her, cared about her. Somebody who made her feel like she wasn’t slowly dying inside all the time.

And, weirdly, after that, some of it was still good. She faced off with Buffy a couple of times –after all, Blondie couldn’t ignore her now – and it was pretty sweet. But boy was she mad. Faith wasn’t playing by the Buffy-playbook anymore, she was having fun.

Then Faith had made a big mistake: going after Angel had set Buffy right off. All that corny bullshit about true love and ‘meant to be’ hit B right where she lives; she bought into it so completely that nobody else could compete. Not even Faith.

And then the fun was over. End of the ride.

The black hat gets it. Roll credits.

Well, buckle up kiddies. Time for a sequel.

*****

Faith was so lost in thought that she almost didn’t hear the scream, and jeez whoever was doing it had a pair of lungs on ‘em. Probably a girl by the sound of it or maybe a really scared guy.

And the sound was coming this way.

That’s when she saw them both, a blonde girl running all out and a big guy in a varsity jacket chasing her like she was the fifty-yard line with two minutes to spare. Faith saw the girl stumble badly but keep on running, forced to hobble on a turned ankle as she dodged between tombstones. The guy was picking up pace and was quickly closing the distance.

Faith wasn’t really going to intervene, except that all of that strolling down memory lane had got her really stirred up for a bit of violence.

Also, the guy was a vampire.

She saw the dude leap the last ten feet of distance and shove the woman to the ground. With a helpless cry, the woman scrambled around as he wrestled with her and she beat her fists against his heavy chest.

Sighing, Faith reached up, snapped a branch off a nearby tree and walked over. She vaguely wondered where Buffy was – it was a little late for patrols but, gasp, innocents were in danger.

Yeah, right. No such animal.

The man hauled the girl up in his grip and jammed his mouth against her throat. No foreplay, just going straight for the goodies. Typical guy.

Faith casually grabbed his shoulder as the woman beat feebly at his arms. Faith tightened her grip, yanking down to pull him away from his unhappy meal, and pitched him over. The woman tumbled to the ground and laid there in a daze as he landed heavily beside her, before rolling up on instinct, coming up snarling.

Faith smirked at him, assuming combat stance. “Picking on poor defenceless women: well that really gets my dander up.”

The vampire leered at her, growling: “You’re in for a world of hurt.” He barrelled towards her, lunging in a way she guessed was supposed to be scary.

It wasn’t.

She blocked his fist, stepping into him as she slammed her forehead into his nose, smiling inwardly as she felt something give. But she didn’t linger on it: she moved to one side, bringing her heel down hard on the outside of his knee. Something snapped with a dull crack. The demon’s eyes went wide as he staggered back, dazed by the sudden pain.

“Aw, did that hurt?” Faith said, shifting to the right and jamming the jagged branch into his chest. “How ‘bout now?”

The vampire fell back, stunned, exploding into dust all over a tombstone. An epic battle – and Faith had been worried that she might be rusty. It’d been a while since she’s been in the company of vamps that she actually got around to slaying.

Faith frowned at that wayward thought but shrugged it off. She turned to the girl, who was still sniffling and crying on the ground, holding her neck as she attempted to stand.

Faith took a step closer and nudged the girl with her foot. “Looks like you’re gonna live another day. Congrats.”

The girl was still all weepy; Faith guessed that she was college age, judging by her outfit. The blonde wiped away some tears. “He attacked me... I tried to get away... He was too fast and... He hurt me.”

Faith sighed. “Well, he’s gone now.” She pulled the girl’s hand away from her neck and looked at the wound, “Put some... medicine on that.”

Suddenly the girl grabbed her hand, her trembling fingers clutching at Faith’s sleeve. “Thank you. Y-You saved me.”

Faith frowned and pulled her hand free. “’S cool”, she said softly before turning and quickly walking away.

That was...weird. What the hell is some helpless broad doing walking around at five in the morning anyway? Faith went and saved her just so the chick could go and shoot out some more idiots into the world? Faith shook her head to clear her thoughts and made her way to Giles.

*****

Faith took her sweet time meandering through the cemetery, enjoying the soft glow of the morning sun as it washed over the town. Chirping birds and glistening dew made even the graveyard seem pleasant enough to linger in.

That vamp was cutting it pretty close though; snacking so near to sunrise – maybe Buffy had killed off all the smart, half-decent vampires this town had to offer.

‘Cause that’s what a slayer’s supposed to do. Kill vampires. Not work with them.

Faith frowned at that. Watchers make the rules, right? And no watcher ever gave a fuck about her, so why should she believe that’s what’s supposed to go down? Some humans need killing. Maybe some vampires get to live. Hey, apparently some vampires get to date slayers. So, in that fucked up scenario, who’s to say what’s right and wrong.

Before she stepped out onto the street, Faith pulled her hair back into a high ponytail and tugged her baseball cap down low on her brow. Not exactly the master of disguise but enough to fool anybody from a distance, she figured.

When she got up close, it’d be too late.

Faith hopped over the fence and crossed a couple of streets, glancing at her crumpled sheet and looking out for Giles address on the street signs.

It turned out Giles lived in a nice neighbourhood, one of those sleepy, tree lined suburbs where paper boys roamed and Dads spent Saturday mornings washing their cars and stuff. Without anybody around Faith wandered freely as she tried to get her bearings, hearing the town slowly begin to wake up around her, the sound of the occasional barking dog or passing car punctuated the peace and quiet.

She found his apartment eventually, but it was much later than she’d planned. Maybe Giles would have gone off to work or something by the time she got there. She wondered what Giles was doing now that his former employment got kinda destroyed. Did he work where Buffy went to class, or someplace else?

Faith decided that she’d quietly break into wherever he was at and wait for him to come home, raid his fridge, take a shower, and maybe nab some booze if the guy had any.

Liking her plan, she was completely stunned when a hundred yards up ahead, a car pulled up and Buffy jumped out of the passenger side, her blonde hair shining in the sun. Faith’s mouth went dry. She watched the other slayer bounce her way around to the sidewalk, lean over the driver’s side and...

Kiss some guy. Some guy who clearly wasn’t Angel, since Faith reasoned vampires don’t really dig convertibles with the top down in broad daylight.

Thinking quickly, Faith stooped like she was tying her shoe. She got an eye full of short brownish hair as Buffy stroked the top of the guy’s head as she kissed him. The blonde pulled back, and the two talked and Faith could see the other girl laughing and smiling and happy.

Faith was focusing so hard on Buffy that she didn’t notice the little doggy come sniffing around her heels, tail wagging.

A tall guy with a leash stepped onto the sidewalk and made a shooing motion. “Get away, Henry.” He paused and smiled at her in apology, “Sorry, he’s a friendly little thing.”

Faith didn’t say anything. She was almost frightened at how angry she felt. She barely heard the guy’s voice over the roaring, pounding surf in her ears. Her body felt rigid and tense, but also like it was vibrating, trembling from being held in check.

Buffy and some college frat, getting all cosy. True love my ass.

The guy’s voice was a little concerned. “Miss?”

Faith got a grip of herself and managed to reach out and tickle the cute doggy under his chin; it licked and slobbered all over her wrist. She’d always loved dogs.

She managed a soft laugh. “Sorry, he’s just so darn cute.”

The man relaxed and chuckled. “Yeah, Henry has melted many a maiden’s heart.”

‘Who the fuck calls their dog ‘Henry’? Jackass.’

“So... are you... Do you live around here?” Faith was pretty sure he was checking out her ass as she crouched. She stood up.

She put on her best smile, “Just doing a little house-hunting. And I think I just found the right place.”

Faith approached the window cautiously, taking advantage of whatever little shadow Giles’ porch cast onto the courtyard as she stood one side of it. Her breath was steady as she peered in through the glass on to what looked like a Scooby meeting. Giles was there, talking with Buffy. Xander and… some other chick were sitting on the couch together. The way she was all over him Faith guessed they were a couple. She didn’t see Red anywhere, but maybe she was running late. And there was some other guy, blonde, good-looking, wicked-stupid hair. He was talking to Buffy and the two of them were getting all bitchy with each other.

She heard Giles lay out; tell them he had a phone call about Faith busting out the night before. Faith caught some of Buffy’s reaction – all shocked, by the looks of it.

Faith had seen enough: now they all knew she was out, but they didn’t know where she was. Maybe they expected her to run, get out of town or hide somewhere.

No such luck.

Faith backed away from the window and out of the courtyard. She’d felt a lot of emotions over the past few hours, and walking back out into the world was so confusing. Losing out on all those days, she’d felt sad, and confused, maybe even a little lost.

Now all she felt was angry. And it felt good.

She knew where she needed to go.

*****

Faith enjoyed the campus at first; the place was fairly jumping with people, which made it easier to blend in. Everybody was so busy moving about that they didn’t give her a second glance. Most of them anyway.

She’d ditched her disguise: she really didn’t feel like hiding anymore, so she went looking for some central place where students pass through; somewhere Buffy would end up on her way to class. Maybe Faith would follow her, find out where her dorm was, but her head wasn’t really very clear on the details. Seeing Buffy kissing that prep-y college guy made her lose focus.

So she relaxed. Moved about looking for someplace to settle, giving a little eye contact to a couple of cute guys, smiled at a few girls – hey it's college now – and got lost in the crowds. She found the quadrant between a lot of the buildings, with seating and notice boards and nearby parks where guys and girls sat kissing and studying and kissing.

All real nice stuff. Faith could really dig this – in another life.

She was busy looking over the whole mess of parties and society gatherings and protest groups when she heard Buffy’s light, bubbly voice. It was just too perfect as the blonde babbled away confidently, thinking she was safe out in the open.

She wasn’t.

Dressed in black, armour up, ready to rock, Faith turned around to face her.

“You’re not me.”

...continued in Been A Long Time Since That Last Kiss...

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