W&D Banner

The Rocky Path

by Acheron1848
Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: The shows "Buffy" and "Angel" along with its characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and others that do not include me.
Spoilers: Takes place after "Normal Again," although I don't think I really mention anything specific, but general BtVS/Ats.
Author's Notes: This is my first attempt at fanfic. The original idea for this story came from a challenge I read somewhere months ago. The idea wouldn't go away, so I wrote it down. It evolved and changed enough that I'm pretty sure I followed none of the rules, especially since I don't remember them. Oh, and also the story is unbeta'd. I also know next to nothing about California's (or any other state's) legal/judicial systems, I bent to rules to make my idea work.
Feedback: Please, I would very much appreciate it.

Gravel crunched under her boots as she walked along the familiar streets. The night was cool and she could faintly see her breath as she exhaled and looked up at the sky. She hitched her half-full duffel bag higher onto her shoulder and continued her journey.

This was her first night of freedom. She was let out earlier today, and after checking in with her parole officer and making the obligatory appointment with her assigned shrink, she caught the first bus out of LA and came back here. To Sunnydale.

She hadn't even stopped by to see in Angel, knowing that he probably didn't even have a clue about her release. It had been over a year since he had come and visited her last. She slid her hand in her jacket pocket and touched a piece of paper, and remembered the words from the note she had read over many times on the bus ride.

	**Faith,

	I don't know exactly what to say when a person is released from jail, so I'll
	go with "Congratulations." I'm really proud that you made it this far. 

	I'm leaving you this note, among other things, just in case I'm not there to
	pick you up when you get out. Hopefully, that isn't the case, but to keep on
	the safe side I'm leaving you this so you at least have something to help you
	start your life out here. 

	Remember to believe in yourself. I know you can do it.

	Angel** 

The note was dated not long after she turned herself in. Angel had visited her after that date, so she was at least happy that he hadn't planned on forgetting about her. And the cash he left her did help--the first thing she bought was the bus ticket. She figured she could stop by and thank him when she makes it back to LA. She had business here first.

She sighed and continued down the street, hoping her senses would lead her to the person she was there to find. As she turned the corner she bumped into, and knocked down, another pedestrian.

"Shit! Sorry! Are you okay?"

She was kneeling down to check on the girl when the fallen blonde raised her head and Faith made eye contact with blue eyes she recognized.

"Y-yeah. I'm fine. I guess I wasn't looking where I was going. Sorry."

"No. It was my fault. I should have been paying attention."

It took her a while to identify who this blonde was, and she realized it just as she was helping her up. This was Willow's girl. What was her name...

"Tara." Shit, she said that out loud.

The blonde gave her a quizzical look.

"Um, yeah. I'm sorry, do I know you?"

"No. I mean, yeah... maybe... kinda?"

Faith was panicking. She hadn't expected that she'd run into somebody she recognized so soon. She had planned on finding Buffy alone first, and then maybe seeing the others if it came down to it, but still, she wasn't ready. The blonde continued to stare at her silently, making Faith aware that it was expected of her to clear up the previous muddled statement. She sighed and decided that she'd just go with the truth. That's what she was here for anyway.

"I'm Faith," she offered with a slight smile hoping her name wouldn't cause a violent reaction.

Tara stared at her with a confused expression until her eyes widened in realization. She then backed up a little and quickly scanned her surroundings, which confirmed that indeed the two of them were alone in an empty street.

"W-w-w-what are you doing here? I th-thought you were s-s-supposed to be in jail," the blonde managed to stutter out in mild panic at the apparent doomed situation she was in.

Faith had realized that the blonde was nervous and panicking, and although she was relieved that Tara hadn't passed out or hit her with the nearest solid object, she knew she had to diffuse the situation and ease the blonde.

"Wait. I was in jail. I did my time. They let me go. Please, hear me out."

Tara had stopped trying to inch away, but was still looking at the brunette slayer with apprehension. Faith could tell the only reason the girl hadn't run yet was because of her use of the word "please." She assumed that the Scoobies had told Tara that the word probably wasn't part of her vocabulary. That along with "sorry," which she now recalled was the second word the slayer had said to the blonde.

Faith continued to look into Tara's eyes hoping that she could somehow communicate that way that she indeed was not going to hurt the blonde. She slowly watched the fear drain from the other girl's eyes, but Faith could tell she was still nervous.

"Alright. Talk." Tara said with as much confidence she could muster.

Faith closed her eyes and sighed in relief before thinking of what exactly she was going to say.

"Well... like I said, I was in jail. Was. I got let out. Today. I knew I couldn't leave the shit that went on here unresolved. So I came to apologize. I swear I'm not planning to do anything. Well, okay, so I was 'planning' on finding Buffy so I could talk to her alone first, but that's it. Nothing else. I just knew this was the first thing I had to do when I got out. I know you don't have any reason to trust me. Hell, I wouldn't trust me. But since you've found me out, could you not tell anybody else about me? Or actually, could you help me find B? I know I don't have a right to ask you anything, but I need to talk to her."

Faith had said this looking straight into blue eyes, hoping that if her verbal skills failed to convey her sincerity, her expression would. After she had finished pleading her case, Tara had just continued to stare at her, she assumed in silent contemplation of how to proceed. The longer the silence lasted, the more nervous she was getting about what the blonde's reply would be.

"Fine," Tara finally said quietly, "but before we go anywhere, there's something I have to do."

Faith watched as the blonde slowly approached her and stopped about two feet in front of her. She was confused as Tara raised her right hand, but the confusion didn't last long as said right hand slapped her across her left cheek.

"Fuck!" Faith said and grabbed her face, more out of surprise than pain.

"Ok," Tara said with full confidence and a smile, "now we can go."

Faith had no choice but to follow the blonde as she started to walk away albeit she was slightly confused by the dynamic changes the blonde seemed to have undergone right in front of her. She quickly caught up with the blonde as she continued to rub her cheek still unsure about what had exactly happened.

"Um," Faith said to break the silence as the two were walking, "can I ask you something?"

"Sorry to break it to you, but you just did," answered Tara in a light tone.

Faith frowned again. She really wasn't sure how to read the blonde. She remembered her being shy when she encountered her before, but tonight, although there was evidence that she was still quite shy, she had been assertive and outgoing despite the initial nervousness and panic. She was contemplating how to proceed when the blonde started giggling, which just served to confuse her more.

"I was just kidding you know. You can ask me whatever you want, although I can't guarantee I'll know the answer, or that even if I do I'd give it to you."

"Uh, okay. It's just, well, why'd you agree to help me? I mean, it's not that I'm not grateful or anything. I just really didn't expect it. I only asked 'cause I figured I didn't have anything to lose."

"Because I know you aren't lying to me. At least so far. Call it Witch's intuition. Or you can call it me putting together all the evidence pointing to the fact that you won't hurt me. Again, at least not yet."

"Huh?"

"Faith, the first thing you did to me tonight was apologize. From what I've heard about you, that's not something you do. Then when you saw that I was panicked, you tried to reassure me. Again, not something you're known for. Next, you said 'please.' And the list keeps going. Basically, all you've done tonight has been something the Faith I've heard about would never ever do."

"Oh."

"There's that, but mostly because of your eyes."

"Okay, I'm gonna risk sounding like I've lost all ability to speak coherently, but again, huh?"

"You kept looking at me straight in the eyes tonight when talking to me. Your eyes were full of guilt and pain, which I was surprised at seeing, but mainly they also had fear. You were afraid of me. No matter how good of an actress my friends have told me you are, you can't just fake that look."

Faith just kept nodding and Tara just smirked at her before continuing.

"And finally, Faith, I'm a witch. I can feel you. Read your aura. My gut feeling is rarely ever wrong, and right now it's telling me that I can trust you."

"Oh. Thanks. For trusting me."

Faith gave Tara a shy smile of appreciation while they continued walking. She then frowned in contemplation before she asked another question.

"Then why'd ya hit me?"

"My gut said I could trust you, but my head didn't believe it. Let's just say the fact that you didn't try to kill me after I hit you convinced my head that it could agree with my intuition. That, and for hurting my friends before. I guess we can say we're even now."

"We're far from even, but thanks anyway. So, what's the plan? Where are we going?"

"Well, just because I trust you doesn't mean that the others will. So to stay on the safe side, we're going to go by Buffy's house, and I'll call her up on a pay phone or something and have her come out. And again, just to be on the safe side, I'm going to have to be there when you talk to her. If you can't agree to that I suggest you leave."

"Alright. I can deal with that. Beggars can't be choosers or whatever that saying is. I mean, I'm not even guaranteed that she'd talk with me anyway."

"After that, everything will be up to Buffy. Even though I trust you enough to give you this chance--which until you do something to break my trust you'll have--I'm not going to argue with her or anybody else. Mainly because I wasn't here when everything happened, so it's not really my place."

"I wouldn't ask you to stick up for me. What you're doing is more than I deserve."

"You got that right Faith," interrupted a voice from behind the two.

Faith and Tara turned around to see Buffy with her arms crossed standing behind them. The two slayers stared at each other silently, and out of the corner of her eye Faith saw Tara step a little bit away giving them their space.

"Catching up on your hobby of holding people I care about hostage?"

"No."

"Uh huh, sure, I believe that. What are you doing out of jail? Did you get bored and leave? Decide to catch up with your old friends from Sunnydale and get back to tormenting them?"

"No. I did my time B. I'm just here to apologize."

"I told you what I'd do if you say you're sorry."

"And I'm willing to take that chance. This is something I have to do. I'm just asking that you give me the chance and listen to everything I have to say first."

"Why should I do that Faith?"

"Please."

Faith said the word looking straight into Buffy's eyes and she could see that the blonde slayer hadn't expected to hear that word. She could see Buffy's uncertainty as she was deciding her fate.

"Fine. Talk." Buffy finally said, unknowingly mirroring the blonde witch's words and decision from earlier in the night.

Faith let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. This was it. Her one chance to try to make things right. Or as right as you can make it with a person you've hurt too many times to count.

"I'm sorry. I had a lot of time to think in jail, and I spent most of it thinking about what happened here. And I know 'I'm sorry' doesn't cut it. There isn't a word to describe the remorse I feel, and I know because I looked. I'm sorry for all the shit I did. I'm sorry for all the shit I put you through. And most of all I'm sorry for the pain all that shit caused.

"Basically my time in jail means in society's eyes I've made it up to them, now I have to make it up to you. I came here to tell you everything that happened from my perspective. How I was thinking, or how I wasn't depending on how you wanna see it. I'm willing to do it in front of your friends, but if you don't want me near them, I understand. I'd be glad if I even get to explain it to you. Everything is up to you. You can have me talk to all of you, or just to you, or you can even tell me to get the hell outta your town and I'll leave. I'm on parole for a couple of years, but after that I'll even leave the state if you want me to. I know I don't have a right to ask you anything, but I had to do this. I really am sorry."

Faith had the urge to start pacing after she had started talking, but she fought it and said everything while maintaining her eye contact with Buffy. After she had finished she saw Buffy close her eyes and tilt her head down in thought. She had said what she needed to say, what happened next depended on the powerful blonde in front of her. She sensed movement next to her, and when she looked she saw that Tara was approaching her with a slight smile to offer reassurance. She had forgotten about the other blonde during her speech to Buffy, but smiled back when a reassuring hand was placed on her shoulder. When the blonde witch backed away, she turned her attention back to Buffy, who had opened her eyes while she was looking away.

"Why are you doing this Faith? What's in it for you?"

"Nothing. Well, maybe a sense of closure. And hope that you can tell me how to make everything better. I need to do this before I can start over out here."

"Is that it? It'll help you ease your pain? Make you feel less guilty? Easier for you to forget and move on? Why should I help you with that Faith? What would you do if I said no and told you to leave?"

"I can never forget what happened, Buffy, that's something I've learned. But I needed to at least try this so I can live with it. And if you do ask me to leave, I will. And I won't come back, I promise. You have control B, everything is up to you."

"Okay then, I want you to leave."

Faith closed her eyes at those words. She tried, and she failed. Again. She opened her eyes and looked back at Buffy who was giving her a cold, unreadable stare, and then she nodded in acquiescence. She reached down to pick up her bag she had dropped when she had started talking. She was about to bid the two blondes a final farewell when Tara broke the silence.

"Wait, how are you planning on leaving Faith?"

"The same way I got here. On the bus."

"Faith, Buffy, it's late, and I'm pretty sure the last bus has gone."

"Oh. Well, then I guess my options are spend the night at the stop and catch the first bus out, or leave now on foot. There's another stop about 20 miles or so out of town; I can catch the bus there tomorrow."

Faith and Tara turned and looked at Buffy who hadn't said a word during this exchange.

"So, what'll it be B?"

Faith just stared at Buffy who seemed to be having an internal debate about how to proceed. She wasn't lying when she said she was willing to walk, but she was seriously hoping that it wouldn't come to that. But she didn't dare show Buffy that she had any hope. She saw Buffy sigh and steeled herself for whatever her decided fate would be.

"I'm not going to make you walk Faith. But I don't trust you enough to leave you alone for the night. And since I don't plan on spending the night with you at the bus stop, nor do I expect Tara to, that means you're coming home with me." Buffy paused and drew in a breath before continuing. "And if you're gonna be spending the night we might as well be productive and talk because I doubt I'm going to sleep much anyway, and if you're going to talk in my house where half of us are living right now, I might as well let you talk to all of us. At least that way we can all keep an eye on you. Did you plan it this way Faith? Make it look like I have say in it, but I actually don't?"

"I don't expect you to believe me, but I didn't plan it. I didn't really plan anything except actually coming here."

"Whatever. I'm getting tired of standing out here so we might as well go. Coming Tara?"

With that Faith watched as the blonde slayer turned away and started walking towards the direction towards her house. She then felt a tug at her sleeve which was Tara indicating that they should follow. Faith mouthed "thanks" and followed the two blondes' lead.

The walk to the Summers' home was silent, and Faith felt increasingly nervous as they got closer. Buffy had maintained her position at the lead not once looking back to see if Faith, or Tara, who had held back and was walking by her, was following. Once they had reached the path up to the porch of the house Buffy abruptly turned around and grabbed Faith by the collar.

"Alright, listen to me Faith. I didn't even want this to happen so you better not even THINK about doing anything or I swear to you I will not hesitate in following through with my threat about what I would do if you apologize. And I doubt my friends would stop me. So this is the plan. We're going to go in there, and you're going to sit down in a chair. And you're not going to move or say anything while everybody else comes. Once everybody is there, you can talk, but I won't guarantee that we'll be listening. We'll see what happens after that."

Buffy had said this through clenched teeth, and all Faith could do was nod. Before she knew it Buffy had released her and walked the rest of the way up to the door. Only then had she started breathing again. She then tried to calm herself down before following Tara up the path where Buffy was impatiently waiting for them.

*****

As Faith looked around at eyes that were staring at her, saying she was extremely nervous would have been an understatement. As soon as she had gotten through the door Buffy had grabbed her arm and led her to the living room, where she was promptly shoved down onto the couch.

"Wait here." Buffy said, as she walked up the stairs.

Tara had sat down on the sofa next to her, and smiled, but as soon as Buffy had come back downstairs she had slid a little bit further away from her. Faith watched as Willow stepped into the room behind Buffy, followed by a younger brunette girl she didn't know. She opened her mouth to ask who the girl was when she remembered that Buffy had told her not to talk, so she snapped her mouth shut. Buffy had been watching her and must have noticed her confusion.

"That's Dawn. Don't you remember her?"

Faith just shook her head no, and watched as Buffy's face clouded with confusion. No more talking had gone on after that. Willow and Dawn had taken a seat on the floor while Buffy remained standing, leaning against the wall near the doorway.

Fifteen minutes had gone by before there was a knock on the door. Faith felt the sofa shift as Tara went to answer it, assuming that it was because nobody else seemed to be willing to take their accusatory stares off of her long enough to go. She turned to see who had come in and saw Xander slowly walk into the room with a stern look. His eyes never left hers as he sat down in one of the empty chairs. Faith had shifted her gaze back to Buffy when she felt Tara return to the seat next to her.

"That's all of us Faith, start talking," Buffy said without inflection. Faith was confused for a second, and was about to ask where Giles was when Buffy repeated, "I said that's all of us. Talk. Or we can all leave."

"No! I--" Faith cut herself off as she tried to collect herself. She didn't want to blow this chance. She took a shaky breath before attempting to continue. "Sorry, I'm just a little nervous," she started as she looked around at the people in the room. "I just want to thank you guys now for agreeing to listen to me. I know I don't--"

"Yeah, Faith, we get it. You don't deserve it blah blah blah. Just get on with it." Buffy interrupted.

"Look, the gist of it is, I came here to apologize. I got out of jail today, and not by breaking out, it was all legit. Now that I've 'paid my debt to society' I knew I had to come here where I did all my damage. At least try to make things better. I really am sorry for everything. I can't take back anything I did, no matter how much I want to. The only thing I can do is try to explain myself, if you're willing to listen. After that, I don't know, you guys could do some jury thing and decide what you want to do with me."

Faith stopped there and turned to look at Buffy. She saw the blonde slayer silently communicate with all her friends before returning the gaze to her. She then slowly nodded, and Faith took that as her cue to continue.

"I don't know where exactly to start, so I'm just gonna go with the beginning. I was 15 when I got called as the slayer, and I still was when I first got to Sunnydale--" she was interrupted by a couple of gasps in the room and she looked around before continuing. "Anyway, I was 15 when I got called and told that I was chosen to save the world, 15 when I failed and got my watcher killed, 15 when I ran here for help, and I was still 15 when I killed Allan Finch.

"I know I can't blame everything on the fact that I was still a kid. But everybody acted like I should know better and treated me like I was supposed to know what I was doing, but in all seriousness I didn't. I mean, I know it's partly my fault 'cause I never said anything about it. I never showed that I cared that nobody seemed to care about me. But that's how I grew up. Emotional attachments make you vulnerable. People leave you once you trust them. That was ingrained into me since I could talk.

"So I just kept going like I didn't care. Tried to do my duty as a slayer even though I didn't really know exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Then, I screwed up. I killed Allan Finch. It was an accident. I knew I was in deep shit, and the only person I remotely trusted enough to think about turning to for help just pointed her finger at me and called me a murderer. I didn't know what to do.

"When I went to Giles and lied to him about who did it, I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that if it was Buffy who slipped up everybody would support her and help her. I wasn't sure that anybody would help me. Then Angel tried to convince me that I could trust you guys for help. I don't know if I would've taken him up on that, but before I had a chance to think about it, Wesley was there trying to capture me like I was some escaped rabid zoo animal. That was when I knew. Nobody trusted me, nobody expected me to be good.

"Everybody was waiting for me to screw up, but the thing is, I was trying to be good. Before all the shit happened I genuinely was trying. So I decided that since I can't be good, then I'd have to be evil. And if I was going to be evil, I wasn't going to screw it up like I did with the good. So I turned to the Mayor. I thought I'd do some damage here under him, and move on. But the thing is, he treated me like he cared. Of all the people in the world, he was the only person that ever did. I felt like I belonged.

"At the beginning, I still wasn't sure about the whole evil thing, but once I realized that he cared, it didn't matter anymore. Then all the shit happened between us. And when Buffy came to kill me that night so she could save Angel, I wasn't sure why the Mayor hadn't told me about the cure. I wanted to think that he trusted me enough to come out on top, but I don't know. But that night, as we were fighting, somewhere inside I think I was actually hoping that that would be my end. But no, I screwed up my own death wish.

"When I woke up from my coma I didn't know what was going on. I found out it had been 8 months, and I knew then that the Mayor had lost. That meant I had nobody again. I didn't know what to do, so I came to see what you guys were up to. You guys were meeting in Giles' house, and seemed all comfy and... I dunno, how to explain it, but then I saw Buffy and her new beefstick. That kinda pissed me off."

Faith paused a bit to take a breath, and looked around and saw that everybody was still listening. She then turned her focus on Buffy and continued.

"You were willing to kill me for Angel, the love of your life. But 8 months later, you had already found some new college stud and moved on. That just kinda hurt. I really didn't know before then what I was gonna do, but I decided to play on the only emotions I have an understanding with. Hate and pain. I was just gonna mess around. Cause enough chaos so you wouldn't forget about me this time, and then skip town.

"But then I got a present from the Mayor. Along with a video that basically told me that I'd be lost without him. That I didn't have a place in the world. Guess he didn't have any faith in me after all. But by then it didn't matter, 'cause I already believed it. He said the gadget he left me would let me 'go out with a bang' so I thought, eh, why the hell not.

"I went to your mom because I knew of all the people you cared for, potential harm to her would make you the most pissed off. Increase my chances that you'd actually finish the job this time. That, and somewhere I hoped your mom could see through me and maybe tell me that I could still make things better. I never would have hurt her, I swear.

"Then, you came to the rescue, just like I'd planned it. We had it out, and when I saw my chance to clasp our hands together and use the gadget I took it. I thought that it would finally bring my end. I was just as surprised as you were that it made us switch bodies. And when the cops came and took you away, I just went with it.

"This was my chance at the life I never got. I thought I'd soak it up a little here, and then skip town before people figured out it was actually me in there. But then, something happened. I saved some girl at the Bronze and she thanked me. In all the times I've slayed, I never had anybody show any appreciation for it. I don't know how to describe it, but it made me feel something.

"So when I saw what was goin' on at the church on the news, I knew that I had to go help. I was Buffy, I was the good slayer, and that was what I was supposed to do. So I ditched my plans of skipping town for that moment and went to the church. As the fighting was going on, you came back, but you were me. Looking at me through somebody else's eyes let me see clearly all the things I hated about being me.

"Then we switched back, and I knew everything was over. So I ran. I didn't have a plan or anything. I just hitched a ride. I ended up in LA. I still didn't know what I was going to do, when some lawyers came to talk to me. They offered me cash to off Angel. I knew they were playin' me, but I figured I didn't have anything to lose.

"At first, I think I was actually going to go through with it. But as things kept going and I had to kidnap Wesley to even get Angel to fight me, I realized that my plans weren't to dust Angel. When he came to the rescue that night I begged him to kill me. I didn't want to go on anymore.

"He didn't though. He saw through it. And he tried to help me. Show me that I don't have to be stuck in the darkness. That I can find my redemption. He helped me find my way back and I'll owe him forever for that. Then you came, Buffy, and while we were talking the Council came again to finish the job. I knew that if I wanted to that would have been my chance to run, or let the Council kill me, but that's not what I wanted anymore. Then I remembered what you said when you first saw me at Angel's. You said I had to go to jail, and I figured if I couldn't tell you that I was sorry, by doing that I could at least start showing you how sorry I was.

"So I went and turned myself in. They had wanted me for questioning for the shit that went on down here in Sunnydale. Turned out they didn't have any evidence though. I told them about everything. Minus the slayer type bits. Since they actually didn't have any proof the lawyers made a deal. I had just turned 17 when I turned myself in, so when all the shit happened I was still I minor. That and they said something about my 'questionable sanity' at the time. The deal was, I'd go to real prison instead of juvie, but then I'd be out when I turn 21. Parole opportunity after I turn 18. I'd have to meet with a shrink every week while I was in, and depending on the report he gave, I'd either get out, or they'd send me into an institution.

"So I did my time. It took me a while to adjust to the routine, but I did. About a month ago they told me I could be up for parole soon. They let me out today with the condition that I'd continue to meet with a shrink every week for the first year, and every other week after that until my parole is up. That and I meet with my parole officer regularly. I met with my parole officer today, set up an appointment with my shrink, and I came here."

Faith finished her story and looked around at the occupants in the room. They were still staring at her, but for a second she thought that the looks seemed a little different from before. She didn't ponder it as she made eye contact with everybody in the room before continuing.

"So that's it. That's my story. I know it doesn't make up for anything, but I wanted you guys to hear it. Thanks for listening. I needed you all to know how sorry I am. I know just saying it doesn't really mean anything. Not with what I did to all of you. If there's anything I can do to make it up to you guys, please, tell me."

With that Faith looked down at her lap, signaling that she was done. She was afraid to look back up at them. She could feel them continue to look at her. She didn't look up until she heard somebody clear her throat. When she did, she saw that indeed the stares were different. Everybody's eyes weren't as hostile and accusatory as when she had started. And there was something else in their eyes, but she couldn't tell what it was.

"Well," Buffy said breaking the silence. "You've had your say. Now you listen. I don't know about everybody in this room, but I have stuff to say to you. But I'll let my friends go first."

Faith just nodded and waited for whoever was first to start. She readied herself for any verbal assaults that may come her way. She knew she deserved them.

"I guess I'll start then," said Willow, who hadn't moved from her spot on the floor since she had come in. "Faith, you have to know that I'll never forget what you did, and that I doubt that I could ever forgive you for anything."

Faith closed her eyes and nodded at the words, and the red head continued.

"That said, I have to respect you for what you've done tonight. The old Faith would have never done this. Apologize, share her feelings, or have deep conversations in general. I know it's hard to look into the face of people you've hurt. I also know how tempting the dark side is. All that power, it just calls you and it's hard to fight it. I've had a hard time keeping away from it these past few months. You've done it for almost two years, and you were further into the darkness than I was. So, I can't forget anything, or forgive you, but I'm not going to get in your way of trying to redeem yourself. I don't think I can trust you yet, let alone be in the same room with you when you have a weapon or anything, but just know that the knowledge that you're free won't keep me up at night."

"Thanks Willow." Faith said sincerely.

"I guess I'll go next," said Xander after a while. "I'm pretty sure that if I was in my normal state of mind, I'd be yelling about how you don't deserve another chance and how the prison system really sucks because a psycho like you is already free. But right now, I can't seem to muster up enough feeling to actually care. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to be at the head of the 'I told you so' line when you screw us over again.

"I can't sympathize with you on the same level Will did. But I do remember what it was like to be 15, and everybody messes up and makes bad choices and mistakes at that age. And I can sort of see now that that's what you did. It was just that your mistakes and bad choices were at a different level than a normal kid's, simply because of the fact that you had a hell of a lot of more responsibility thrown at you. But still, the fact is you sided with evil and decided to make our lives a living hell. So yeah, I can't forgive you, but I don't care enough to actually do anything about it."

With that, Faith watched as Xander stood up and looked towards Buffy.

"Well, Buffy, as much fun as I'm having here in this episode of 'Behind the Music-the Faith story,' I do have an early shift tomorrow. I don't care what you decide to do with her, so I'm just gonna head on out now."

"Alright," Buffy nodded, "we'll fill you in later. Good night Xander."

After a chorus of "goodnights," Xander made his way to the door and left. Faith watched Buffy as she looked back towards the remaining occupants of the room.

"Do you want to add anything Dawn? Tara?" asked Buffy.

Faith saw the younger brunette turn to look at her. The girl hesitated, but nodded and started talking.

"Faith, for some reason you don't remember me. But I have memories of you. I just thought I'd share what I remember." Dawn paused and just looked at Faith before taking a breath and continuing. "When you first got here, I thought you were the coolest person around. Way cooler than Buffy anyway. I remember Mom liking you too. You were nice to me, and didn't treat me like I was a kid, but I guess that's because you're not that much older than I am. You never did anything to hurt me personally. Actually, Buffy never told me until afterwards about how you turned bad. And at first I didn't believe her, because when you ran into me once during the time you were supposed to be 'bad' you didn't act any different from the times before.

"I know none of this ever happened, but I have to think that the monks gave me these memories for a reason. Maybe they knew that deep down inside, you'd never hurt a kid like me. I don't know. Just know that you've done nothing to me directly that needs forgiving. And if the gang ever forgives you for what you did to them, I'll forgive you for that too."

Dawn gave Faith a small smile, and Faith smiled back.

"Thanks kid, uh, Dawn."

"You know, you called me kid back then too, but for some reason with you I didn't ever mind."

The small exchange was interrupted by Buffy clearing her throat. Faith stopped smiling and looked up guiltily at the blonde slayer.

"Tara?" asked Buffy.

"I've already told Faith what I needed to. But if you'd like a recap it went like this. She apologized, I hit her, I forgave her, I told her I trust her."

"You hit her?!" Willow blurted out.

"Yes. You didn't think I just gave her a hug and went 'there there it's okay' did you?" Tara replied, smiling at the redhead.

"Well, actually, that scenario seems more probable." Willow smiled back. "I mean you're supposed to be not good with violence."

"Willow--"

"Guys," interrupted Buffy. "As glad as I am to see you two talking like this again, it's not the right time."

"Sorry," the two replied sheepishly.

"Well," Buffy started again, "I guess that just leave me then. But before I start, I want to know something. Faith, what do you plan to do now?"

"I'm not really sure. I mean, besides going to see Angel when I get back to LA. I'll probably talk to him some about it, but I guess I'm just gonna settle down, find a job, and get used to being free for a while. Start training again so I can ease myself back into slaying. See if Angel needs some help sometimes. I don't know."

Faith could only watch as Buffy contemplated what to do next. When the blonde's unwavering gaze met hers, she was curious as to what the other slayer was going to say.

"How long has it been since you last went slaying Faith?"

"Not since the church."

"Alright... come with me."

"Where are you going Buffy?" asked Willow.

"Patrol. I had to cut tonight short because of Faith. Might as well finish it, and in the process check where she's at. At least this way I know that Faith won't die on her first patrol out of prison from a lucky shot by a fledgling vamp. Not good for the image of the rest of us slayers."

With that Buffy grabbed her jacket and walked out the door mumbling a goodnight to the rest of the Scoobies and left in the room. Faith scrambled up to follow her, but she stopped at the doorway and turned around.

"I don't know what to say, or if I'll ever see you guys again, but thanks for tonight. And sorry for everything before. If you ever need me for anything, although I don't know if Buffy would be too keen on help from me, know that I'll be here."

Faith smiled at everyone in the room, turned around and ran out hoping Buffy hadn't gotten far.

*****

"Hey B, wait up!" Faith called when she saw Buffy down the street.

The blonde slayer didn't slow down so she had to run to catch up. Turning to look at her profile, Faith saw that Buffy was again deep in contemplation. She wasn't even sure if the other slayer had registered her presence, so she cautiously touched the blonde's shoulder after having silently walked next to her for a couple of minutes. When Buffy jerked her shoulder in surprise, Faith's suspicions were confirmed.

"Faith! Don't do that!!"

"Do what?"

"Sneak up on people!"

"I wasn't sneaking up on you. I was just catching up to you, because you didn't wait for me. I mean, I thought this outing was to make sure I don't get killed patrolling on my own. How's that supposed to work if I can walk up to you unnoticed without even trying for it, B?"

"I was just a little distracted, F."

"Yeah, whatever. Look, why are you doing this? Why does it matter whether or not I get killed by some newbie vamp one day? And don't give me that shit about a slayer's image, we all know all slayers go eventually."

"Faith, just shut up and follow me. We'll talk later."

Faith was about to say something else when she realized they had reached one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries. She hesitated before walking further in, unsure about the whole thing. She was brought out of her thoughts when she realized Buffy was calling to her from a few yards ahead of her.

"You coming?"

"Yeah, wait up."

Faith shook off her apprehension and again jogged to catch up to Buffy. They were both silent during the patrol. Faith because she didn't know what to say, especially because Buffy had gone into "silent contemplation mode" again.

So far the patrol had been peaceful, they hadn't encountered any vampires or demons. Faith was about to bring up the lack of activity to at least attempt to start a conversation when she felt the familiar tingle indicating the presence of members of the undead faction being nearby.

"Buffy." Faith called out.

"Hmmm?" the blonde replied absentmindedly.

"I think--"

Faith was cut off by a surprise attack by three vampires jumping out from the other side of a mausoleum. Although Buffy had been slightly distracted during the patrol, Faith saw that it didn't effect the blonde slayer's reflexes any. As she was dodging a punch thrown her way by a skanky looking girl vamp with fire engine red hair she saw Buffy kick the large varsity wrestler-esque vampire that was attacking her square in the chest before jumping on the fallen foe and quickly staking him in the chest.

When the other vampire kicked her from behind she realized that although her slaying skills weren't as rusty as she had first worried it probably wasn't a good idea to be sidetracked. She blocked the next kick by the tall skinny vamp as she back-kicked the other. While exchanging blows with the two vamps she noticed that Buffy had stepped away from the action and was just watching her.

"Uh, B?" Faith asked, narrowly avoiding a punch thrown her way.

"You sure this conversation shouldn't wait until after you've staked those two?" Buffy asked with an amused smirk.

"Yeah, uh well," Faith started as she jumped over a leg sweep only to be caught by a high roundhouse that sent her to the ground. She rolled away and got back up as she continued, "I just realized there's a slight problem involving me and said staking."

"And what would that be?"

"I don't have a stake," Faith replied as she used the momentum of the vampire's punch to swing him into the other, causing both to tumble over a headstone.

Faith turned to look at Buffy with a shrug and saw the blonde roll her eyes before tossing a stake at her. Faith caught the stake just as the two vampires had gotten back to their feet and were charging to attack her. She turned towards them with a feral grin and staked one and then the other within seconds.

After the dust had settled, Faith turned and walked back towards Buffy. She handed her back the stake and smiled.

"Thanks B. Couldn't have done it without ya."

"You got that right," Buffy said handing the stake back to Faith. "Why don't you just hold onto that until we're done."

"Oh yeah," Faith replied sheepishly.

"I mean, what were you thinking Faith? Going on patrol without a weapon?"

"Well, if I'm not mistaken this spur of the moment patrol was proposed by you. And being an ex-con on parole, I'm not really allowed to have weapons to begin with."

Faith watched as Buffy frowned and was unable to come up with a reply. They both resumed walking in silence before Buffy spoke up.

"You know, that was what you said to me the first time I watched you stake a vamp."

"Huh?"

"The first time we met. At the alley by the Bronze. Me and my friends were all set to go save you, thinking that you'd be Mr. K.C. and the Sunshine band's dinner. But you had it all under control, except you didn't have a stake. You took mine, staked the vamp, and said the exact same thing."

"You remember?"

"Of course. Don't you?"

"Yeah. But I never thought you would."

"Why not?"

"I mean, I remember because that night was important to me. I really didn't think that night was remarkable for you. I mean, I didn't even think you liked me."

"Faith, contrary to your belief, that night was pretty important to me too. And it wasn't that I didn't like you. Well, okay, maybe I wasn't really fond of you, but it was because all my friends liked you right away. I was still adjusting to being back with them, and there you are the new girl fitting right in. So I didn't really even give you a chance."

Faith wasn't sure how to reply. Her mind was swirling around the fact that Buffy had just said that night was important to her too. She wanted to ask why, but she feared the blonde returning the question. It was one question she wasn't ready to answer. She turned to look at Buffy and realized the blonde had stopped a few paces back.

"Aren't you gonna ask?" inquired the blonde.

"Ask what?" replied a puzzled Faith.

"Why that night was important."

As Buffy had said this Faith noticed a change in the blonde. Buffy was no longer glaring, her gaze holding none of its accusatory edge as it has had all night. Faith hesitated before replying, but then she also realized that since about the time of the encounter with the vampires, Buffy's tone when talking to her had changed also. It was almost like the old times, before everything had happened.

"No," Faith said as she shook her head, "but I do have another question I wanna ask."

Buffy raised her eyebrow in response. The two maintained the distance between them as they talked in the middle of the graveyard.

"Why'd you change your mind about me?" Faith asked. "When did you decide to give me a chance?"

"That night when we fought Kakistos. When we were talking and he came, I saw what I thought was the real you. A scared little girl who didn't know what to do. But you got over that fear and staked him to save me. I know that's not an easy thing to do. I'm not even sure that I could've done that if our roles were reversed. That's when I realized that I wanted to get to know the girl inside the tough girl barriers. I wanted to see you with your walls down. Because I knew that deep down, under the bad-ass attitude and the leather, there was a good person in there."

"Well, I don't know about the good, but you're seeing her now. I'm just sorry that it took this much time and trouble for me to be straight with you."

"Do you want to know why it hurt me so much that you went to the Mayor, Faith? Because I wanted us to be friends. You're the only other person in the world that can understand being me, Faith. The only person I can really relate to. It hurt me because you didn't see that, and sided with him instead of confiding in me. Then it hurt even more because I cared about you, and you were hurting other people that I care about."

"I didn't think I could come to you B. Because when it came down to it, we weren't really friends. We just sometimes patrolled together, and you'd call on me when you needed an extra hand. I didn't feel like you needed me because whenever I tried to get you to talk about stuff, you'd change the subject."

"You weren't really 'miss open about her emotions' yourself, Faith."

"I know that. But it's hard for me to trust people. It always has been, and it always will. But, how could you expect me to be all open about my feelings and thoughts when really the only time we had contact was when we were slaying."

"How hard can it be Faith, you're doing it now."

"Yeah, but look at what happened because I wasn't being all 'honest and open with my emotions.' It led to a bunch of shit that none of us really wanted to happen. So with you, I feel like I have to tell you the truth. I at least owe you that much now. But that doesn't mean I'm gonna be different with other people. This is how I am, Buffy, I can't be open with my emotions, because I don't know how."

With that Faith turned around and started walking away. She didn't want to face Buffy anymore. She can't apologize more than she already has, and if Buffy hasn't forgiven her now, nothing more she says will change anything. She was forcibly stopped and faced with Buffy when the blonde had grabbed her arm and spun her around.

"Faith, wait."

"What else do you want from me B. I can't give you anymore. I understand that you can't forgive me. But unless you're planning on telling me how I can make it up to you, just let me go so I can go grab my stuff and head to the bus stop. The sun'll be up soon. Then, I can be out of your life forever."

Faith had her eyes closed, but when she felt Buffy's hand slide down her arm and hold onto her hand she opened them. She looked questioningly into the blonde's face, and Buffy started talking.

"That's just it Faith. I don't want you out of my life forever."

"Then what do you want B."

"I... don't know exactly what I want."

"Then let me go," Faith said and closed her eyes again.

"That's just it. I can't. You've probably realized by now that the real reason I brought you out here wasn't to check up on your slaying skills. I wanted to talk to you. Alone. And I figured out here, we'd be in a neutral field. But I didn't know exactly what to say yet. I still don't know, to tell you the truth. I just know that I've realized something tonight. Patrolling with you, it's something I've missed. I like having you around. You make this more than something I have to do. You've always made slaying fun.

"One thing I've learned from dying is that life's a bitch. I mean, I knew that before, but even more now. I've realized that I have to appreciate anything that makes life more bearable. You, slaying with you, does that. So I can't not want you in my life."

"But?"

"But I still don't know if I'm ready to have you completely back into my life again. You hurt me, Faith. I think that eventually, I can forgive you. Or at least put it behind me and accept the new you, or the real you. So I have a proposition for you."

Buffy paused to take a breath, and Faith assumed also to make sure that she was paying attention. The blonde continued after Faith nodded.

"You go back to LA. Get your life started, and adjust to the world out here. Go talk to Angel. Work for him, slay on your own, whatever. Once you've gotten into the routine, I'll come and visit you. We'll talk again. And maybe after that you can sometimes come and visit me here. Let the gang and me get used to having you around again. We could write letters or call each other, work it out at a distance. And once your parole's over, we can see about having you back here full time."

"B, I don't think I can come back here permanently. Ever."

"I just want you to agree to think about it. It'll be a while before that'll come up anyway. Can't we just see where it'll take us?"

"You really mean it B? I mean, do you really want this?"

"Yes I do."

Faith thought about Buffy's proposed idea. It was more than she had hoped for, and something that she never thought about when she ran different scenarios about how their first encounter after her being let out would be. She didn't have to think long before reaching an answer.

"Alright, I can agree to your deal. But I can't make any promises about moving back here for good."

The two slayers looked at each other and smiled. Faith was relieved and ecstatic at the same time, but she didn't show it. She realized that Buffy was still holding onto her hand, so she gave it a final squeeze before she let it go. She then looked towards the horizon and saw that it was starting to get brighter.

"Hey B. The sun's gonna be up soon. I should probably grab my stuff and head on out."

"You sure? I mean, I'm not going to hurt you if you rest a little before you go. Or at least eat breakfast. We are working towards reconciliation you know."

"As tempting as that offer sounds, especially the breakfast, I think it'd be best if I head on out. Stuff to do, and all that."

"Okay then, let's go home."

With that, the two slayers left the cemetery and walked towards the house in a comfortable silence. Faith was contemplating what she would do next, when she got back to LA, and decided that she should probably go find Angel.

*****

When the two slayers had made it back into the living room of the Summers' home, they found Dawn, Willow, and Tara sitting on the couch together watching infomercials on TV. The three looked up at the slayers and waved.

"Hey Buffy. Hey Faith. We, uh, waited up for you," Dawn said as she yawned.

"Yeah. N-not that we didn't trust Faith not to attack you, or the other way around, or we were worried that one of you wouldn't make it back in one piece or anything. We just thought, you know, we'd wait around," babbled Willow.

"I take it that you two worked everything out?" asked Tara.

"Yeah," replied Buffy, "we decided to try out a distance thing. And we'll see how that works out."

"Yeah," Faith said as she smiled at Tara. "I was just coming back to grab my stuff. I'm still gonna catch the first bus outta here, but I might come back sometime. So you might see me around again."

"You're leaving already?" asked a disappointed Dawn.

"Yeah, but don't worry kid. I'll be back."

"Do you want company to the bus stop Faith?" offered Tara.

"No Tara, I'll walk her. You stay here, have breakfast. I'll bring something back on the way," Buffy cut in.

"Ooh! Bring back muffins. Or bagels," said Dawn enthusiastically.

The others laughed at the excited Dawn. When the laughter stopped, Faith looked at all of the people in the living room.

"So, I guess I'll see ya guys around. Thanks for everything," smiled Faith as she waved and turned to walk out.

She heard Buffy saying something to them as she stepped out and when she turned around she saw the blonde closing the door behind her.

"You didn't have to walk me you know. I know where the bus stop is," smirked Faith.

"Smart ass. I just thought you'd like the company."

"Yeah, that's why you told Tara to stay put while you came with."

"I just wanted her to spend time with Willow. And Dawn. The three of them don't hang out much together anymore."

"Right B. Sure you're not coming to personally make sure I'm actually leaving?" Faith asked playfully.

"Why yes Faith. You got me. After everything we went through to try to make up, I'm still trying to kick you out of here," Buffy deadpanned.

"I knew it."

"This is nice," Buffy said suddenly.

"Huh? What? Me leaving?"

"No. This. Talking, joking around. I've missed it."

"Oh. Yeah, me too."

The two smiled at each other as they continued walking. They both stopped talking after that. Spending the walk enjoying the presence of each other and appreciating the comfortable silence. Faith never thought she and Buffy could be like this again. She was actually worried that things were going too well, but she didn't want to dwell on it. She'd have enough time to do that later, that moment she'd just be thankful for the way things turned out.

They made it to the stop and Buffy waited as Faith went to purchase her ticket. Faith came back and smiled at Buffy as she waved her ticket.

"Lucked out. The first one leaves in about 20."

"So I guess this is it then."

"Yeah."

The two started walking towards the bus and continued talking.

"You'll call when you get settled right?"

"Sure."

"And you'll write sometime?"

"If you want."

"I do. I'll even write back."

They stopped as they approached the bus and turned to look at each other.

"So, I guess I'll see you around Faith. Uh, good luck."

"Thanks B."

Buffy moved to hug Faith, then hesitated, but decided to go through with it. Faith awkwardly hugged the blonde back. When they broke, they smiled at each other again, before Buffy turned to walk away.

"Buffy," Faith called out to the retreating blonde.

"Yeah," Buffy replied as she turned around.

"Why was that night important?"

Faith watched as Buffy looked down for a second before looking back up and making eye contact.

"Why was that night important to you, Faith?"

"Because that was the night something that I thought could never happen to me happened," Faith started after a slight hesitation, "that was the night I met someone I thought I could fall in love with. Someone I did end up falling in love with."

Faith had started to look down as she replied to Buffy's question. She never intended on being truthful, but it seemed she said it before she could stop and reconsider. Faith looked back up to meet the inquiring gaze of the other slayer.

"That was the night I met you, Buffy," she finished.

Faith turned around before she could see Buffy's reaction. She wasn't ready for it just yet. She slung her bag over her shoulder and walked the rest of the way to the entrance of the bus. As she was pulling out her ticket so she could board she felt a tap on her shoulder, and against her better judgement she turned around.

As expected she turned around to meet the gaze of the other slayer. She looked into Buffy's eyes, but she couldn't read what was in them. She was about to ask her why she was stopped when she noticed Buffy was moving closer. Before she had time to react, the blonde kissed her softly on the corner of her mouth. Buffy smiled at her as she pulled back.

Faith watched as Buffy turned around and silently walked away. She continued watching as the blonde got further and further, and was only broken out of her daze when she heard a somebody clearing his throat behind her after what to her felt like ages later.

She turned to look at the amused expression of the bus driver.

"You coming on?" he asked.

"Yeah," Faith rasped out.

She handed the smirking driver her ticket before walking to an unoccupied seat by the window near the back. As the bus pulled out to begin the drive towards LA, Faith just stared out the window at the passing scenery unsure of how to process what had just happened.

The End

:HOME:BACK TO FANFIC: