Back to the Beginning: Accept
by Amanda
Rating: R

Disclaimer #1: No copyright infringement intended to Joss, ME, FOX, WB, UPN, etc, etc. Just borrowing, no malice intended.
Disclaimer #2: Mention of e-bay is not intended to harm their reputation. I know for a fact they sell EVERYTHING, so I should be in the clear, but want to cover my ass just in case.
Date: 070402- 070602 (thought I should start dating these things)
Spoilers: READ ME!! All of Season Six.
Note #1: This is the third of a series, read the others first.
Note #2: If it is written in italics it is the character’s thoughts. (or dreams, but you can figure those out).
Note #3: Okay, it’s been dark and icky, just stay with me…
Feedback: I am an email freak, so please.

Silence.

There were no cars on the street below, no sounds of frogs, crickets, even fruit bats. All that I could hear was the light humming. It was the connection that had always been between us. The Slayer connection. And I heard it now. Clutching her wrist, looking down at her eyes, looking into them, searching for her answer. What could I do to pull her back from where she was? I could see the pain. Her confusion and loss. And I knew exactly how she felt. I had been right where she was before. No one had reached out for me, but I would for her.

She blinked her eyes, and then her lips slowly parted. “Faith, please.” Was her soft whisper, as tears began rolling down B’s cheeks. She didn’t want to die. That was a start.

I nodded my response to her, and used all of my Slayer strength to raise my arm that clutched her, up and over my head, so she could set her hand on the ledge. I watched her strong, yet deceivingly delicate looking fingers curl over the edge, and then twisted my body so I was behind her, holding her between my body and the wall. Just in case she decided to let go, I could grab her again. Stop her from falling. Just as I always prayed she would stop me.

“I won’t let you go, B.” I whispered beside her ear after I moved myself into position. My arms started to ache, and I knew this position was silly, both of us hanging off of the side of a building, but I still sighed after I spoke, when I felt her start to shudder against me.

“Fai,”

“Shh.” I said so gently, it surprised myself. I looked up, not seeing her, but I could hear Red near by. “Red, some help here.” I called, and heard her steps as she moved over the roof, scurrying over.

*****

Strand was pacing in Buffy’s kitchen. His shirt was wrinkled and his hair was messed from him running his hands through it. Dawn watched him move past her for the fiftieth time when she rolled her eyes over to Giles.

“Why does he do that?” She asked, and Giles grinned.

“Our dear Mr. Strand is not yet accustomed to the time table of a Slayer.” Giles said, setting his hand over Dawn’s.

“They both left two hours ago.” Strand said, looking at Giles as he still walked.

“Duh!” Dawn said quietly, and then turned to Giles, “Should we tell him that they probably won’t be back tonight?”

“I don’t see why. He would not believe us.” Giles answered, conspiratorially.

“Cool.” She laughed. She looked back at the young stranger. He was cute, and had that accent that she loved. But he needed to loosen up some. She was sure Faith would break him down.

Xander groaned, and pushed the book away. He was done researching. Besides he had read through his Spiderman comic twice now, hidden in the dusty tome. “So, new Watcher man, Faith isn’t psycho anymore?”

“What?” Strand stopped pacing, and looked at Xander. “Oh, right. Your past history with Faith. It is understandable that you feel some concern when it comes to her, erm, balance as it were.”

“If all those words mean she scares me, then sure.” Xander crossed his arms, leaning back.

“Well, rest assured, Faith would not hurt any of you, without reason.” He looked over the group.

“Um, hello, reason?” Xander sat forward.

“Quite.” Strand sat at the table. “If you do harm to her, or attempt to harm a human or one of the group, she will probably hurt you in kind.” He tapped his finger on the tabletop. “It is quiet remarkable, her sense of right and wrong, and dedication to improve, based on her history, don’t you think?” He asked looking at Giles.

“Huh?” Dawn asked.

“I second that Huh.” Xander nodded.

“They.” Giles started, but took a breath. “No one here in Sunnydale knows about her history, Mr. Strand.”

“But, I thought that she lived here, and worked with your Slayer some years ago, Mr. Giles.”

“She did. But her past was never mentioned. And you are aware that her records were destroyed and not forwarded to me. Perhaps if we had known.” Giles let his words hang in the room.

“You would have been able to save her.” Strand nodded, the last piece of the puzzle falling into place for him as he stood from the table and began pacing again. “Makes much more sense now. I did not understand you lack of empathy.”

“Okay. Don’t understand the cryptic Watcher speak. So, I will go on the assumption that Faith is safe?” Xander turned to Giles.

“Yes, she is safe.” Giles smiled. “And Holburn, do sit down. The girls will not be back for quite some time, if at all tonight.”

“But the handbook clearly states that she is to check in after each hour.”

“No Slayer in Sunnydale ever uses the handbook.” Dawn laughed and left the room shaking her head.

*****

I pushed and Red pulled, and I heard the sound of them falling down above me. Taking a deep breath I pulled myself over the lip of the roof and was on my hands and knees looking over at the two of them. B seemed frozen until she looked at me, and then she crumbled, sobbing painfully. Red looked from her to me, her eyes worried. I nodded her away, and she looked like she was about to argue, and I stared her down. Slowly she moved away, still looking at us. I wondered what Red was thinking, if she was afraid I would keep the fight up and toss B off the roof.

Part of me wondered that too. Half of me wanted to beat the crap out of B, the other half wanted to pull her into my arms and sooth her. Each side was battling inside of me, as I crawled closer to her. My fingers brushed hers, and the sobbing got louder, and her body coiled into itself.

“B.” I said softly, taking her shoulder in my hand.

“I…. Going…. Kill….you…” She sputtered between sobs. I grabbed her, this time making sure she could feel my fingers on her, digging into her shoulder. I pulled, having to use all of my slayer strength, and felt her body slam against mine. My hands roamed down her back, pressing against her. She froze.

“B.”

“Kill… me…” She whimpered.

“No one is dying today.” I whispered. She shuddered, and then I felt her lean into me. I looked over to Red, who was crying softly. Red nodded to me, and I stood, pulling B up with me. I didn’t think her legs could hold her, so I lifted her into my arms. Her arms snaked around my neck, and we were looking at each other. She took my breath away. It had been so long since I had held her in my arms while feeling something akin to tenderness.

I don’t hate her.

That shocked me. Because I didn’t. I thought I did, and had clung to that for so long, letting it power me. Hazel eyes spilling tears, but they were no longer empty. Just so much pain.

“I almost killed you.” She whispered.

“You didn’t want to, not really, Buffy.”

“Faith,” her bottom lip quivered. I closed my eyes slowly, not sure what I should do. She felt so right in my arms, honestly I never wanted to let her go. But it couldn’t be this easy. Nothing ever was. As if my instinct, I moved my face towards hers, as she did the same. Our foreheads pressed together, and I opened my eyes. “Help me.” She whispered. I nodded, not taking my head off of hers. I carried her through the broken window, and looked to Red.

“We need a little time to talk, Red. Can you, erm, I mean, I know.” I was stammering like an idiot, and it didn’t help when B’s hand gripped the back of my neck.

“I’ll be in the kitchen.” Red said softly, whipping her tears off of her cheeks, and walking away. I watched her go for a second. Everything must have changed in the universe. Red was trusting me to be alone with B after she and I had a drag out brawl. I walked us over to the alcove with the bed, and gently set B down, and then sat beside her.

Looking up at her face again, I now saw the line of blood on the corner of her lip. I reached out my hand and used my thumb to wipe some of it away.

“I am so scared Faith.” She said weakly, leaning into my hand. Her hand came up and clutched mine, keeping it near her, moving it to her cheek. “Is this what it was like for you?”

“I think so.”

“And I never helped you.” I could feel new tears landing on my hand. I shrugged. “But you will help me.”

“Yes.”

“Why?” She asked.

“Because.” She sighed, knowing I would not say anything else, I couldn’t I wasn’t sure why I had to help her.

“I feel like there are two sides of me, fighting inside.”

“Me too.”

“I wish.” I quickly moved my finger to her lip.

“Hellmouth, no wishing.” I whispered. Her eyes rounded, and I realized that I had moved closer. What in the hell was I doing? We had been beating each other just fifteen minutes ago, and now I was wanting to feel her lips on mine. It was too much. I sprung away from her, standing beside the bed.

“Faith?”

"I know you are going through hell right now, Buffy. But we can’t just forget what is going on. I, I am-" I ran my hand through my hair. “You need to understand what is going on inside of you, you need to accept that maybe you weren’t really in heaven. I don’t think you can move past this unless you do.”

“When did you get so smart?”

“I had a lot of time alone to think.”

She laughed, sure it was half hearted, but it was still a laugh. I smiled gently at her. Her eyes roamed over my face, seeming to take me in. I did the same; it was like I was looking at her for the first time in a long while. She looked, different. Her smile dropped and she looked down at her hands.

“I am confused, Faith.” She rubbed her fingers together, and I was as fascinated by it as she was. “Should I kill you,” she looked up, “or kiss you?”

It was cliché, but she meant it. I could see that, no amount of denial would keep me from believing it. It felt like a punch to my chest, and I staggered backward.

"Fai-"

“No.” I held up my hand, taking another step backward.

“I didn’t, I mean,”

I couldn’t see her, because my hair was falling in front of my eyes as my head moved back and forth. I turned away from her and walked toward the kitchen. I heard her heavy sigh behind me, but I had to step away.

How did she know I was thinking the same fucking thing?

*****

Willow looked up from the glass of juice she held in her shaking hand. She hadn’t been able to hear what the Slayers were saying, just the low mumblings and patterns of sound. But the tone was ambiguous at best. She had no idea what was going on.

She had seen them spar before, but never had she ever seen the two of them fighting like they had been just a few minutes before. The power and aggression that she had seen brought back the tremor to her hand. She had been sure that one of them was going to die. The look in Buffy’s eye as she lunged forward with the knife had terrified her.

Willow had lived that one second like it was minutes long. Memories of Faith. How jealous she had been when the dark slayer had first come into town. The fear and the rage she had felt towards her when she had gone bad. But now Faith was different. Faith had come to her. Faith had saved her. Willow had to accept that Faith was a completely different person. And she couldn’t hate Faith anymore, she didn’t want to. And she certainly didn’t want her to die. Willow didn’t want Faith not to be a part of her life, and she didn’t want Faith to die by Buffy’s hand. Buffy could never live with that guilt.

A heavy step on the tiled floor made her head jerk up. Faith was standing there, her arms crossed over her midsection. She was holding herself, just like Tara used to when she was scared or upset. Willow searched Faith’s face. Her eyes were red from crying, her right jaw was already bruising.

“Faith?” Willow set her glass down on the counter and stepped forward.

“Can you, um, can you talk to her?” Faith asked, sounding defeated.

“I don’t know what to say to her.” Willow said.

“You, not knowing what to say?” Faith chuckled. “You are her best friend, I think you know what to say better than me.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Faith. You have a lot to say that Buffy needs to hear.” Willow set her hand on Faith’s arm, and the Slayer flinched, but Willow did not move her hand. “What happened tonight?”

“Willow, I, I can’t talk about this now.” She looked over her shoulder. “She is crying.” Faith’s voice cracked. “Just talk to her, tell her you love her.” Faith shrugged.

"Faith, why can’t-"

“Fuck Willow, get her to stop crying!” Faith snapped, stepping away. She walked to the sink, and set her hands on the basin’s edge. It did not pass Willow’s notice that her hands were shaking.

“Okay, Faith.” She said. "But only for you, and only this once. I won’t let you run away-"

“Not now.” Faith groaned.

Willow shrugged, unseen, and she walked towards the bed.

*****

“How can the Slayer not follow the handbook?” Holburn asked out loud, wondering that himself. He had been training for this assignment for the past five years, diligently preparing to Watcher the next active Slayer. He had been amazed when they sent him to Sunnydale with the duty of guiding Faith. No one had ever thought that Faith would have been rehabilitated enough in the California Penal system to reclaim her birth right. She was truly an amazing girl. Haunted and unpredictable, perhaps too impassioned, but amazing, nonetheless. But she needed rules, she needed a firm hand.

“Simple, they do not use it.” Giles said with a sigh. The old man was jaded, that much was clear, and had been explained to Holburn before he was dispatched. They warned him of Rupert’s personal affections towards his charge, and it was clearly explained that the Council did not look upon this favorably.

“But these girls need rules.”

“Rules are fine, but if you haven’t noticed, Buffy is the oldest Slayer. EVER.” Xander said, crossing his arms. “And she never read the handbook.”

“Quite right, Xander.” Giles stood slowly, stretching his arms over his head.

“Do you suggest that I let Faith move about on her own accord?” Holburn scoffed. That would do no one any good. Rules and discipline, they were the only way. Holburn had learned that himself, first hand from his father, who had been a retired admiral in Her Majesties Service. His father who ruled with an iron fist.

“No! No own accord.” Xander said.

“Holburn, you just need to understand that it takes much more than the handbook to keep a Slayer alive.” Giles said. Holburn knew what Rupert meant. He had watched it in action this afternoon. This rag-tag group of young people where an intrical part to the success of the current slayer. He knew it was unorthodox, but it seemed to work, and they were a family of sorts. It was clear to any outsider that they were close. Faith had mentioned that during their session that morning. How alienated she had felt, held on the outside. It had been one of the rungs in the ladder down to the dark side.

“I understand the dynamic here.” Holburn said, smiling at Xander.

“Why are you smiling?” Xander spun to Giles. “Why is he smiling?”

“He is beginning to understand what is truth and what is not.” Giles answered.

“Oh, he is accepting the Scoobies. Gotcha.”

*****

I sat down at the dining room table, setting my head in my hands. I could hear B sobbing still, and Red as she softly cooed to her. Trying to calm her. I needed to get my shit together. Red couldn’t handle B if she snapped again. Only I was strong enough to keep her back. And only I knew the rage. Rage in a human was one thing; rage in a slayer was something different. Something completely different. It was not just an emotion; it became as much a part of us as an arm, or a toe. But worse, cause the rage needs something. It’s like a stomach, like a kidney, or some other organ inside. You need to feed it, or release it. It is alive and it is deadly.

“Why, Buffy, why did you try and kill her?” Red whispered, but Slayer hearing, I could hear her.

“It wasn’t her, it was never her. God, Wills I blamed her for everything. I blamed her for things she had no control over. God, I almost, I nearly. Oh, God Wills. What did I do?”

I clenched my jaw.

“She is alive, she is okay. No one was really hurt.” Red was being strong.

“Not just, not just now. She won’t look at me. I ruined everything. I am so lost. I can feel it, burning.” She sobbed again. Red couldn’t handle this. Damn.

I stood up, and walked over to the bed. B raised her face from Red’s shoulder and looked up at me, her eyes so round.

Nothing was forgotten, and nothing was perfect. But she needed me right now, and I needed her. I knelt in front of her, taking her into my arms. She sighed and leaned against me heavily, burying her face in my hair.

“Just cry.” I said, hearing the tears in my own voice. “For tonight, it’s just me and you, okay?”

She nodded against me, and then squeezed me tighter.

*****

Her normally sure and confident stride was off tonight. The discomfort was greater than usual. She chastised herself for not being more careful. Jane knew she could really hurt herself if she wasn’t concentrating on the job. He had been rough, and she could still feel the pain was she walked through the street to her corner.

Screw Faith and her orders.

She wanted to be where Buffy could find her, even knowing that if the Slayer found her, Jane would be hurting so much after that she wouldn’t be able to work tomorrow night. But that was insignificant compared to how being in the Slayer’s arms felt. It was like she lost herself completely when basking in the power Buffy wielded on her. Over the months that they had been meeting at night, Jane knew she was dangerously close to the edge. To falling for the blonde. In her line of work developing emotions was bad. It was even worse with Buffy, knowing she was being used as a replacement.

Jane was no fool. She knew from their first time together that Buffy was using her, just like the rest. Jane was the stand in. Meeting Faith in the flesh a week ago had solidified that. The woman was perfect. Beautiful and fiery.

But if she is so perfect, why is Buffy still coming to me?

The back door of the building opened, and she leaned against the brick wall, messing with the shadows. All her thoughts were lost as the figures stepped out. Moonlight danced on their hair and shoulders. Blonde hair mixing with deep brown, as Buffy leaned against Faith. Jane felt her breath catch in her throat. Faith’s arm was protectively around Buffy’s waist, and they moved down the alley, away from her. She stepped out, hands on her hips. She could feel jealousy dancing in her blue eyes. This wasn’t supposed to happen! Buffy was supposed to be hers.

*****

“We're being watched.” Faith whispered, and Buffy held her tighter as they walked. She was exhausted. From the fight, from the emotions, from living. Buffy had never felt so tired. She looked up, to see the smoldering brown eyes meeting hers, and she felt safe. It was odd to equate safety to Faith. But it was there, covering her skin. She knew who was watching them. It pulled at her, the lust, and the need. But why feel it? Buffy sighed.

“It is Jane.” Buffy sighed, smelling the girl on the breeze.

“I know.” Faith said.

And Buffy was positive that on some level Faith understood her need for Jane. Who better than Faith to know exactly what Slayer Lust felt like, and what it could make you do? The question was, did Faith know why Jane?

“Do you?” Buffy asked softly, as they turned onto the street.

“You want to go to her?” Faith asked, slowing their steps.

“Don’t want to.”

“Need to, huh?” Faith chuckled. “Yeah, I know that tune.”

“Just help me home, Faith. Please.” Buffy asked. She squeezed her eyes shut, shoving down the lust inside of her. This was not the time to loose control; this was not the time to nuzzle her lips against Faith’s warm neck. Buffy was to close to slipping, she needed security, she needed compassion. She needed to get back her self.

“Okay.”

Buffy needed to think. To lock herself in her room and think over everything that Faith had said to her today. There was a lot that they had covered, screamed. Some of it, Buffy had never even bothered to consider. She had been so caught up in living, in addressing symptoms, instead of finding the source and stopping it for good.

Feeling horny, she would seek out Spike or Jane. Feeling hungry, she would eat until she had to vomit it all back up. Feeling rage, she would mercilessly beat whatever demon or vampire happened across her path.

Why didn’t I think about why? Why was I feeling hungry, horny, angry? It wasn’t just because I am the Slayer. It wasn’t because this world was bright and hard. It was because, because…

“I am empty.” She sighed. She felt Faith stiffen next to her. “Missing something.” She mumbled. Her footsteps faulted, and she felt Faith tighten her arm around her waist, holding her up, until her feet again found the rhythm of walking. Buffy didn’t even remember before dying, before Glory, before she had given up that day in the Magic Box. When she had resigned herself for the end. Was that why she so readily believed that she had died and gone to heaven? Because she wanted that more than anything at the time?

*****

He jolted awake, and felt immense pain from the back of his skull, down his neck to his shoulder.

“Never a good idea to fall asleep in that chair.”

He opened his eyes to see Faith standing on the other side of the kitchen table, arms crossed. Holburn looked behind her, through the windows. It was still dark outside. Checking his watch he saw that it was approaching three am.

“You where do back hours ago.” He grumbled, running out the kink in his neck. She looked fine, some bruising around her jaw, but no blood. He had feared that she was in danger and that was what was delaying her from checking in. That looked mute now.

“You need to accept something real quick, HS. The handbook? It means shit here. It means shit when it comes to living this life.” She leaned forward, setting her palms on the table. “I know you are fresh from the Watcher farm, green behind the ears and all. But you don’t live with this. You don’t go out there every night, to save the world, knowing that tonight could be it. You might not make it back. When you are fighting for your life, little things like check in times, they don’t matter.”

“Faith, you and I both know that rules are required to function smoothly and within the parameters set forth by the Council.” He stood, stretching.

“You will learn, tweedy.” She sighed, standing fully. Even though he towered over her by six inches, when she stood like that, he was dwarfed and awed by her power. Before him was not a young woman, but a Slayer.

“Did you find anything out on this Langoustino character?”

“No.” She grinned. “Maybe you want to come out with me tomorrow night, get a lay of the land? You know, make sure I am being a good little tool and following orders?” Her tone was malicious, and he stepped back.

"Um, well, perhaps, what I mean-"

“You ever seen a vampire, HS?”

"In a controlled environment, once-"

“Thought so.” She rolled her eyes.

“This discussion should not be about me and my lack of experience Faith. This is about rules, rules that you will need to follow. I know that things in this place have been lax under the direction of Mr. Giles.”

“I don’t know nothing ‘bout that. You forget, I was in JAIL?” She turned away from him. “God this isn’t going to work.” She groaned.

“It will most certainly work. That is my utmost concern.” He stepped forward and set his hand on her shoulder. "I know nothing in your life has been easy, Faith. And I dare say neither will this. Having this responsibility-"

“You forget? I’ve been the Slayer for five fucking years. Remember, at the age of fifteen the girl is called?” She jerked away from him.

“What is it, Faith? Something is troubling you more than this discussion. What happened tonight?” He inquired.

“Nothing. Okay? Forget it. I, it’s been a long day and I need to crash.”

“Right. Well, can I drive you back to your motel?” He lifted his jacket from the chair, noticing for the first time that the other men, Xander and Mr. Giles must have left him to sleep hours ago.

“Normally I would tell you to fuck off, and walk.” She grinned. “But I am wicked tired. So, you promise no head shrinking, and I not to kill you.”

“Right.” He smiled. He was learning how Faith spoke, and what was really laced in with her words. Mr. Giles had informed him to pay attention to the tone of what she said, more than the guttural slang she favored.

Holburn stepped out the back door, hearing her heavy boots following.

*****

Rupert Giles knew that he was tempting a certain death when he opened the bedroom door. By his internal clock it was late in the day, at ten in the morning. By Buffy’s clock, it was early morning.

He knew she had gotten in late last night. He had faked sleep as Faith and Buffy made their way past him and the couch. He had nearly spoken up; afraid that one of the girls were injured, but stopped when he heard Buffy’s soft apologies. He hoped the girls had used last night to have an honest and open discussion. Both girls kept so much of what they were feeling locked away inside. Many people believed that Buffy wore her emotions on her sleeve, but what the world saw was just a fraction of the emotions raging beneath the surface of the girl. If her condition last night was any indication, there had been some vast steps taken between the two girls. He hoped that they would be even closer to at the very least a mutual understanding before he left at the end of the week.

Yet that was of no consequence now. What was at the forefront of his concern, was getting her awake, and dressed, and off to her job interview with the school board.

Braving certain death he approached her bed, and moved his hand out to nudge her shoulder. His fingers were a mere centimeter away when her hand was around his wrist like a vise.

“If you are a demon, grunt, so I can kill you without opening my eyes.”

“Buffy.” He sighed.

“Oh, tweedy-book reading-making me get up when it is too early-demon.” She released his wrist and rolled over onto her back. Cautiously she opened one eye. “You are making me get up aren’t you?”

“I am afraid so.” He grinned.

“Fine.” She flopped her head heavily back into the pillow. “How’s my face?” She asked, snapping both eyes open.

“What? It is fine, Buffy, why wouldn’t it be?” He sat beside her on the bed.

“Faith used it for a punching bag.” She groaned, but then sat up, as shock was coursing through Giles’ body. “No, no, no! That sounded all wrong, and terrible in a Faith’s psycho way! And Faith is not psycho!” Buffy yelped.

“Then care to explain?”

“I, erm, sort of tried to kill her?” Buffy whispered, and Giles leapt from the bed.

“Buffy, you what?” He yelled.

“I was confused, and mad.”

"That gives you no right to-"

“Giles, how can I find out where I really was when I died?” She asked softly, her eyes rounding and her bottom lip jutting out. He wanted to be angry, and was fairly certain that she was adding a little extra to her pout to get him to forgive her flippant response. Giles did not want it to work… DAMNIT. It always worked.

“Well, I am not sure, this late if there is a way. Before, Tara had suggested a tracking spell, to locate you.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“On some level I believe Willow was afraid of where you might be.” He took off his glasses.

“If she knew I was somewhere safe and good, she would have still wanted me to come back.”

“Right.”

“I am glad.” Buffy sighed.

“For?”

“That I am back.” She looked at her hands. “Faith doesn’t think I was in heaven, like THE heaven.”

Well this is quite interesting.

“Really?” He sat back down.

“Faith said that if I was truly dead and in heaven, then nothing Willow could have done would have brought me back. Even if she managed to re-animate my body, my soul would have moved on.” Buffy said, searching his face. She needed confirmation, to hear his thoughts. It amazed him how much trust she placed in him, after the initial betrayals he had been forced into by the Council, and yet Buffy still managed to trust him.

He thought over her words. Was that possible?

“Good Lord!” He exhaled, as he realized, as he remembered. She looked towards him expectantly. “Joyce.” He whispered the woman’s name.

“Faith brought that up too.”

“Why didn’t I realize?” He wondered aloud. When she had been brought back in that state. “She is right Buffy. Amazingly enough, Faith was right. You couldn’t possibly have been in Heaven.” He smiled, as odd as it was, this did seem to be wonderful news. Perhaps now Buffy could stop missing, stop resenting.

“Wow. We never do give her enough credit, do we?”

“No, none of us do. There is so much behind her façade, Buffy. I hope you will soon come to realize that. She, erm, cares for you, I think she cares for all of us. She just needs to accept that we care for her as well.”

“We need to show her first, I think.” Buffy smiled.

“How are you handling the Council’s decision?” he treaded lightly.

“I am not sure how I should handle it. I can’t stop slaying. Faith told me I wouldn’t have to, she said that nothing would have to change.” She smiled sadly. “But it will change. It has to,”

“Buffy?”

“I can’t treat her like she is less than me, that she is second best.” Buffy tossed back the blankets and walked away from him. She stopped at the door, and turned. “She isn’t second best, and I don’t really think she ever was. I was just too stuck up to think anything different.” She sighed, and then left the room.

*****

It stunk. She wondered if it was a he or a she, the Shindu demon that was sitting at the long table, pouring over the scroll. Langoustino had demanded that they review the scroll again, to be certain that they knew exactly what supplies where needed to open Hellmouth. She knew that he was right. Working for him for the past ten years had built her respect. She knew he was thoughtful, if not a little behind in the times. But that was where she came in. To enlighten him.

“What do you see?” She asked the demon, again so very glad that she had no need to breath.

“It is as you believed. You need a powerful witch, this witch will have the power to open the gate of hell.” The demon slurred, its two tongues twisting past its scaled lips.

“And of the time?”

“Oddly enough, there is no specific time,”

“Is that possible? There always is a time, full moon, equinox?” She was confused.

“There is no prophecy associated with the scroll. Think of it as a users guide. All that matters is that the items are in possession and used appropriately.” It said, and she nodded.

“I see. Well thank you for your time.” She pulled the short sword from underneath her coat. “Sorry about the payment.” She finished, bringing her arm and sword across the demon’s neck. Its head rolled across the floor.

*****

I squinted my eyes, the morning sun was blinding behind HS as he stood in the open door. I had been having the most wonderfully erotic dream, involving chocolate and thighs, but more than that I couldn’t remember. Then he bangs on the door. My mood was exceptionally bad.

“What?” I snapped.

“I received the fax this morning.” He said.

“And I care why again?” I asked, turning away from him, walking back into the room, sitting on the end of the bed. He walked in cautiously; I noticed his eyes moving around the room. He actually tisked under his breath. I rolled my eyes, what was with people looking down on the way I lived.

“It is time for you to decide, Faith.”

“Don’t wanna.” I folded my arms and pouted.

“I am sorry that does not work on me. Perhaps if you were five instead of nineteen.” He grinned. I hated that he was happy in the morning. How could anyone be happy in the morning?

“Would you rather I,” I slowly widened my legs, feeling the boxers riding up on my thighs, and leaned back on my arms, pushing out my chest.

“Faith, erm,” he swallowed. Bingo, we have a live one.

“Just messing with you.” I laughed sitting back up.

“Of course.” He straightened his tie. “Faith, this is an important decision, and I truthfully need to respond to the Council. Have you accepted your destiny?”

This guy was a dork, really he was. Did he think I had a choice? That I could go, naw I don’t want to be a slayer anymore? Shit! What a moron.

“Holburn I am a Slayer. I was born to be a Slayer; I was made by some power to do this. With or without the Council, this,” I moved my hand down my body, “is a Slayer.” I stood slowly, and walked over to him, raking my eyes up and down his body. Really he wasn’t that bad. He seemed to be able to put up with my bullshit, and actually might care something about me not getting killed. It was going to be weird, but this is what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to a Slayer. Period. This had nothing to do with me wanting to right the wrongs that I did. There was no way someone could work off killing another human being, that just wasn’t possible. But to stop fighting what I was meant for? That I could do. “We will stay, and I will slay.” He smiled widely. I held up my finger, wagging it back and forth. “One more thing.” I cocked my hip and grinned. “Actually a whole shit load of more things, but one for right now. B is still a slayer. This isn’t about who is better, or who is number one. This is about us. If she wants to stay she can. She wants to stop, she can.”

“I can live with that.” He said, and he nodded, and actually seemed to understand. Wow, I was expecting some kind of fight. Maybe G-Man had talked some sense into him last night.

“Um, okay.” I shrugged and walked over to the bathroom. “Well, if we are done. I need to um, get ready.”

“We are all meeting at the Summers’ home later this morning.” He said.

“Right.” I started closing the bathroom door, “So I will see ya.”

“Faith?” He asked. I turned looking at him, eyebrow raised.

“Can I assist you in obtaining some more, ahem, suitable accommodations?” He looked around the room again.

“I,” I was about to tell him that I liked it here, that this was where I belonged, but I realized that that would have been a lie. I hated it here. “Thanks.”

I closed the door and leaned my back against it, closing my eyes. Wow. Was this really my life? Cause this was intense. I was really waiting to wake up. This had been my dream when I first came to this town. All of it. My own Watcher, people caring about me, friends, being taken seriously as the Slayer. I took a deep breath to fight of crying. No crying, this was just too unbelievable.

I could feel the tremor starting low in my body, and then it took over all of me. I grabbed my shoulders trying to stop myself. But I couldn’t. I was terrified. God, what if I couldn’t do this? What if HS was just messing with me? What if I bonded with him, actually started to trust him and he betrayed me like Post? What if he got hurt, or worse?

Can I do this? What if I can’t do this?

I slipped down the door, bringing my knees up to my chest, burying my face on my knees. There were so many what ifs, possibilities. So much could go wrong. God I was scared.

“Okay, Faith. You can have a fifteen-minute fucking freak out. But then, you will get your shit together!” I groaned, letting go just a little bit.

*****

Anya was sitting on a stool in the corner of the kitchen. Xander had asked her to come and help with the research. She was still confused as to why she had agreed. She had been content watching the workers putting the Magic Box back together, they were handsome and sweaty, and very attentive to what she was wearing each day. So why had she so readily agreed? Why was she stealing glances at Xander?

“Hey Red,” Faith walked into the kitchen, setting her hands on Willow’s shoulders and bending down, whispering something into the redhead’s ear. Anya raised her eyebrows seeing their closeness. She had not realized there was a possible connection between the two. Willow frowned, and turned to Faith.

“I don’t know.” Willow said.

“Okay.” Faith shrugged and looked up, catching Anya watching. The vengeance demon liked the brunette’s forwardness. “What?” Faith asked.

“I didn’t know you liked Willow.” Anya shrugged; it didn’t bother her what was happening between them, as long as they all stayed away from Xander. Not that she wanted Xander for her self; she just wanted to have the choice to decide that was all.

“Um,” Faith frowned. Willow bumped her elbow into Faith’s side.

“Let it go.” Willow whispered. Faith nodded and looked over at Xander.

“You finding anything in that comic?” She asked.

“What? I resent that!” He exclaimed, slamming the book closed, hiding whatever he had actually been reading.

“Xander, this is important, we need to know what this freak is going to do.” Faith said, her tone calm, but stern.

“Who made you the boss of the Scoobies, Faith?” He stressed her name. Anya found that odd. Why was he so angry? Sure she used him for sex years ago, and tried to asphyxiate him. But that was it. She had done much worse on any given day in her years in the vengeance business. How could he forgive her all those murders and tortures? He made no sense.

“If you don’t want to help, you don’t need to be here. No one expects anything from you.” She snapped back. That hurt. Anya knew it did.

“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to help.”

“What, you gonna go get donuts? Carry Buffy’s jacket?” Faith growled. Willow grabbed her arm to stop her.

“Fuck you Faith.”

“What is your problem with me? What is it? Cause you know I can’t figure it out.”

“You didn’t want him.” Anya said, and Faith turned to her, eyes questioning. “You threaten his masculinity. He had sex with you, and you sent him away without first telling him that he performed well.”

“I told him it was great.” Faith shrugged.

“No you didn’t.” He grumbled, looking ashamed.

“Yeah I did. I recall it like a track in my head. I told you it was great, then I kicked your ass out.”

“Why did you?”

“What, kick you out?”

“Yeah!” He stood, slamming his hands on the table.

“Fuck!” Faith rolled her eyes. “Because I was disgusted with myself! You deserved better than me for your first time, Xander. I was using you to hurt B. You got caught in the crossfire. It should have been anyone else but me. But you know what. It wasn’t. It was me, and yeah I used you to get off, and to hurt her. So you know what. Sorry. Sorry I didn’t stroke your ego. I thought letting you fuck me was enough. I let you get inside a Slayer, something you had wanted for years.” She pushed away from Willow and out the back door.

The screen slammed. Anya looked from Willow to Xander. His face was flushed.

“Do you feel better now?” They all turned to see Buffy standing in the door, arms crossed over her chest.

“No.” He sighed.

“She is right, Xander. You either go hard or go home. We need everyone on board for this. Whether it is me, or Faith, or Mr. Strand giving the orders. If you want to be part of the team, you need to work with us.” Buffy came closer. She looked very professional, so un-Buffy like, Anya noticed. Long dark skirt, her hair up, soft makeup. She wanted to ask where she had been, and why she looked so different. But she had learned over the years, that there were times to interrupt, and times not to. With the tension in the room, this was a time to not ask off topic questions. But on topic.

“Sorry, Buffy.” He said, sitting back down. “She just, I mean.”

“She is helping you Xander. Do you think I would even look at you if she hadn’t been nagging me, telling me over and over again how sorry you were, how much you still loved me?” Anya slipped off the stool. “I am sorry you are so distrustful.” She followed Faith’s route out the back door.

The Slayer was sitting on the back lawn, smoking. Anya watched as she blew rings of smoke into the air.

“Hey.” Faith smiled up at her, when Anya stepped in front of the sun, casting the girl in shadow.

“He is scared, and feeling inadequate.” Anya shrugged.

“Yeah well.”

“Not because of the sex. Because you helped Willow. Because you are helping Buffy. He couldn’t. He is the man, he feels the need, instinctually to fix things.” Anya shrugged.

“He should fix what he did between you two.”

“Xander is trying, as best he can.” Anya accepted, saying it out loud to solidify it.

“Will you let him?”

“I am.” Anya smiled. “Faith, I am glad you came back, for what its worth. And I am sure that Tara would be proud of you.” She watched the Slayer’s face fall, her eyes cloud. But then she did what she was famous for. Her walls crashed back down, and she looked cold and emotionless. Anya had so much more she wanted to say, but knew that the young girl would not listen. Instead she sighed, and walked away. She would enjoy the afternoon counting newly arrived inventory.

*****

“You didn’t have to get all dolled up for me, B.” Faith said as Buffy sat down next to her on the grass. “Not complaining mind you.” Faith winked.

“This?” Buffy looked down at herself, still feeling alien, not like herself. But it had seemed worth it. She was cringing already, wondering what Faith’s response would be. “I, well, had a job interview.”

“Really?” Faith asked, leaning back on her hands. “Doing what.”

“Ugh.” Buffy was dreading saying this.

“Come on.”

“At the high school.” Buffy said.

“Lots of different jobs there. What specifically?”

“You are making me tell you, aren’t you?”

“Yes.” Faith grinned.

“Working in the library.” Buffy groaned, and dropped her chin to her chest. There was nothing. No laugh, no groan, no sarcasm. For an instant Buffy was afraid that Faith had passed out. She raised her eyes, and was greeted by a soft thoughtful smile on Faith’s lips. She looked happy, and radiant. Buffy actually felt her gasp. Swallowing she quickly recovered. “Go ahead, make fun.”

“Why would I make fun?” Her voice was husky, and Buffy wondered what she was thinking, and if it was oddly along the same lines of what Buffy had been thinking. That she would give anything to turn back time three years and let the two of them try again.

“You. Faith. Making fun.” Buffy grinned.

“I think it is a great job for you.” Faith shrugged, sitting up, and crossing her legs.

“Shut up.” Buffy pushed her shoulder. “Come on! Where is the Faith I know and love? Make fun!”

“Okay, okay fine!” Faith laughed lightly. “How’s this? You surrounded by books, will you learn how to read?” Buffy groaned. “I know, I am off today. Seriously, my hearts not in it.” Faith shook her head. “It sounds good though. Good hours to work, freedom to keep an eye on the demographic that seems to turn into vamps.”

Buffy burst out laughing, falling back on the grass.

“Okay, what?” Faith asked.

“You said demographic.” She was still laughing. Faith stood up, brushing off her jeans.

“You know what, B, I am tired of everyone thinking I am stupid.” She crossed her arms, glaring down. Faith really was angry.

“I was kidding.” Buffy jumped up, setting her hand on Faith’s arm. “I swear I was just kidding, Faith.” She searched the taller girl’s face. “Thank you.” She whispered, and the atmosphere around both of them froze and changed.

“For what?”

“You know what. Last night.” Buffy looked over her shoulder, seeing the coast was clear. She stepped even closer to Faith, staring into her deep brown eyes. “I, I am going to need you Faith. I hate myself for not being there for you when you needed me. Really, I am still amazed that you offered to help me.”

“I wasn’t going to. I was going to just help them, and then leave.” Faith said. "You hurt me so-" Faith stopped, and took a deep breath. “I told you. I will help you. Period.”

“So you are going to stay?” Buffy asked hating the needy and hopefulness in her voice.

“Yeah. I am staying, and so is the tweed. You okay with that?”

“Very.” Buffy nodded. They locked eyes again. Buffy felt the pull, and she stepped forward.

What is happening here? What do I want to happen here?

“Shit!” Faith stepped back, looking at the watch on her wrist. That struck Buffy. She never knew Faith to be responsible enough to wear a watch. The silver linked band sparkled in the sunlight.

She heard a throat clear behind them, and Buffy looked to see Xander standing there, looking like a little doe eyed puppy.

“I have to go.” Faith said, looking at Buffy in a way that made her wish Xander was not there. “I’ll be back before dark.” She stressed the word dark, and Buffy was thankful. She was dreading nightfall, when she began feeling the pain even more.

“What where do you have to go?” Buffy asked.

“Work.” Faith said, and then turned and walked out of the back yard.

“Did any one know she had a job?” Buffy turned and asked Xander who shrugged. “I wonder what she does?”

*****

The two men walked up the front steps onto the large porch of this house. It was rare in Sunnydale. A traditional Victorian home, with wood shingle siding, painted a lush green. There were even Evergreen trees in the yard. It stood out at the end of the lane in this neighborhood that held Craftsman and the occasional Spanish style home. It was large and regal sitting apart from the other homes.

Holburn looked down again at the paper in his hand.

“This was the farm house, when this area was apricot orchards. Interesting.” He said to Mr. Giles who was beside him. “For the size of the house it is an amazing the price.”

“Well you will find that when the life expectancy of a town is twenty years, you will find many people not staying long here.” Mr. Giles said, opening the front door with the keys that the real estate agent had provided. “It is quite grand and lovely.” He offered stepping over the threshold.

“I did a lot of thinking earlier, about what you had said, and what Faith had said.” Holburn offered following the older man inside.

“And?”

“These erm, well, Scoobies. They are very important to the success of the Slayer. I see that now. I also see that there is much I have to learn, and I am hoping that they will accept me, and teach me.” Mr. Giles stopped and turned to face Holburn. His expression was one of shock.

“That is refreshing. I am impressed.” He set his hand on Holburn’s shoulder. “They have much to share, if you are open to it.”

“I am.” Holburn nodded.

“And does that explain the size of this home?” Giles asked grinning.

“It might have had something to do with it. It appeared cramped in the Summers' home.” Holburn said walking through an archway into a large room to the right of the house. “I believe this place will accommodate us.” He was imagining this room full of books and a large research table. Closing his eyes he could hear the voices of the group ringing through the halls. He could even hear Dawn’s voice from the kitchen. He could not help his smile. Holburn Strand was nervous, but he knew enough to let go some of the ideals of the Council. Not all, he would keep Faith contained to an extent, for her own good. But this felt right. “When will you be leaving, Mr. Giles?” He asked the man as they both walked into the back kitchen.

“Tomorrow.” He replied. “I will tell them all tonight.”

“Why so suddenly?” Holburn asked.

“If I allow Buffy time to consider it, she will find a reason to keep me here.”

“She loves you very much.” Holburn conceded.

“And I her.”

“How can you leave her then?”

“She needs to do this, live her life without me. She is no longer a child, and no longer in need of a Watcher.” Giles smiled sadly. “Her family is all she needs.”

“But you are part of that family.”

“I know, and it really does pain me to leave.” Giles revealed.

“Then why go?”

“For right now it is best. The separation. I know I will return, but right now Buffy needs to, erm, rely on someone else.” Giles stumbled; oddly the man seemed not to know how to say something. And in Holburn’s experience with him that seemed odd indeed.

“Faith?”

“You are observant.” Giles laughed.

“After talking with Faith it was clear that there was something between them once. The level of hurt and anger was quite clear. I am astounded that they seem to have moved beyond that in the past day to be able to work together.” Holburn said.

“The girls have always been able to push down their emotions when there is a danger to the lives of others. Until the situation with Langoustino is resolved, you will see them working together amicably.” Giles removed his glasses and leaned against the tiled counter.

“After?”

“They need to accept what each has done in the past. Faith is not all to blame for what happened, Buffy is quite responsible for hurting her.” Giles grinned. “You do understand the level of the emotional pain?”

“Faith was in love with Buffy. She has not admitted that to me, of course, but it is clear. Quite, actually. As Dawn pointed out, though I was considerably nervous at the time accepting it.”

“Why? The Watcher Diaries make multiple mentions to the voracious sexuality of the Slayer. How they partner with all sexes, even demons.” Giles offered.

“Of that I am aware. It was simply the idea of Faith, who had appeared so heterosexual.” Holburn blushed.

“Just because the girl flirts with you, Holburn, do not take it as an invitation.”

“Of course not!” he exclaimed.

“She flirts with everyone, it seems to be how she expresses her affection. If she does flirt with you, it means she is comfortable, but also, with you being a man, it enables her to have a small amount of power over you. She needs that.” Giles said, putting his glasses back on.

“Based on her past experience, especially with a father figure, that is text book.” Holburn sighed. There where many things that he and Faith still needed to discuss, and he hoped that he would be able to build a strong enough relationship with her that she would allow him to help her. "I feel sorry-"

“Never.” Giles said strongly. “She is adamant to a fault that she never be pitied or that one feels sorry for her. Faith is a warrior, a survivor. For one as strong as her we should lift her up and an example. If she senses that you pity her, she will never let you close. Trust me on that.” Giles looked around the kitchen. “This house is enormous. What do you think?”

“I think there is a perfect room for a library. The basement is nearly complete, just ready to become a training room.” Holburn grinned, and Giles nodded for him to continue. “Five bedrooms, plenty for guests.” He folded the paper in his hands. “Mr. Giles, the attic is unfinished, but I believe that it would make a wonderful apartment for her. Do you think that she would agree, to live here, with me?”

“Ah, Mr. Strand. That is difficult to say. Faith enjoys her freedom, her independence. She will fight you if you attempt to rule her.” Holburn was about to protest, when Giles raised his hand to stop him. “She is no longer a lost teen. She is older, wiser. I dare say harder. Prison was a good thing for her to experience, to a point. She feels like she has paid some of the price for taking a human life. But, she was never just a child. So she will falter, she will rebel.”

“And she should be allowed to.” Holburn understood.

“Yes.” Giles smiled. “Now if you can get the Council to approve this purchase, I would say well done to you, Mr. Strand.” Giles walked out into the back yard.

The young Watcher looked around the room again. It felt right, and it felt safe. The question would be could they make it a home?

*****

B was doing pushups in the back yard. The day had been a hot one, and it showed on her. She was only wearing a sports bra, and those painfully short cutoff sweats she loved. As she moved sweat rolled off of her shoulders, down her arms. I even noticed a drop rolling off of her nose. I opened the back gate, and leaned against it, crossing my arms and ankles. It had been a weird day. Not too bad at work, which was nice for a first day. But my thoughts kept coming back to her. How bad was she really? B always had the power to switch her emotions off and on. From wanting to gut me on the roof, to wanting to die herself, to sobbing uncontrollably for hours. Pinball Buffy, that was what I should call her.

“Must be hard,” I called out to her, and she stopped on the up motion, raising her head and looking at me. Her cheeks were red, and all that sweat.

When did she start looking so damn sexy to me again?

“What?” She asked.

“Having to try so hard to compete with young, supple me.” I grinned devilishly, sauntering across the browning grass.

“Supple?” She asked, pushing back to stand up.

“Mmm Hmm.” I said, licking my bottom lip. Her eyes followed my tongue. Good B, just like old times.

“Don’t know if I have ever seen,” she started as I walked right up to her, letting my right index finger slide across her abdomen. That killed the words in her throat. “I missed this.” She sighed.

“Did you?” my voice was a whisper over her shoulder as I walked behind her. B kept looking forward. She nodded. “Good. Me too.” I set my hands on her shoulders, and squeezed, not too hard, not light little hinting touches, just my skin on her skin. Then I moved back in front of her. “How are you doing?” I asked, all arousal and flirtation gone. That was my Slayer voice.

“Cried a little earlier. Getting very antsy. And,” she tilted her head to the side.

“And?”

“You look nice.” She smiled. I looked down at myself. What? Pants, tight Lycra sleeveless shirt; all black, what else.

“You did dress up for me earlier. Thought I would do the same.” I grinned. “So, and?”

“Oh, and I looked through that book you mentioned. Wills brought it by.”

I nodded to her.

“You may be right, you may be wrong.” She started and I shrugged. It was true, I just told her what I thought. “I decided that it doesn’t matter where I was or why. I am here now.”

“Okay, but what about accepting who you are now. You are not the same Buffy Summers you once were. I can tell you that just by looking.” I said. This was the problem, had been the problem for a while. “You refuse to accept the things about you that you can’t change.” That she liked to fight, that she liked fucking Spike, and that she would have liked fucking me.

Whoa, Faith, back up the Buffy-sex train! No thinking like that. She hurt me way too much to open that can of worms again.

“What things?” She asked huskily, and this time it was her who stepped closer and licked her bottom lip. I wondered if the lip thing was like a mating ritual for slayers. Like a sign. Here I am, sensually licking my bottom lip, maybe even taking it between my teeth, come and get it! Naw, that was fucked, up. Maybe I’ll ask HS.

“FUCK!” Came the loud call from the kitchen. It was Red. Both B and I bolted for the house.

*****

Two breathless Watchers rushed in from the front of the house, two sweaty Slayers from the backyard. Willow’s eyes bounced back and forth between the four of them, then back down to the book. Buffy was the first to touch Willow’s shoulder.

“Wills, what is it?” She asked.

“Oh, wow I found it!”

“What?” Giles sat down at the table, his eyes trying to read the book from where he was sitting.

Faith was beside her other shoulder, and Willow looked up at her.

“You know how you said look for what is needed to open the Hellmouth right?” Willow asked up at Faith.

”Yeah,” Faith replied, drawing it out.

“You had a plan?” Buffy asked Faith, and the brunette shrugged, but Willow noticed a slight color in the bottom of her cheeks.

“Well look at this!” Willow pointed to the laptop screen. The Watchers came around behind Willow as well. They were all looking at a summary page for an item on e-bay. “It is a scroll,” Willow added.

“Hey, I’ve seen that!” Faith tapped the screen.

“Don’t touch the screen.” Willow snapped, moving Faith’s finger away from the LCD screen. Giles audibly gulped, probably expecting Faith to snap, but she only nodded at Willow. “Erm, well, yeah, the Mayor, he kind of used to own it.” Willow added about the scroll softly. Faith winced, but only Buffy noticed.

“Oh, right.” Faith acknowledged, and took a step back.

“Anyway it was sold just last month.” Willow added.

“On the internet?” Buffy asked.

“Yupe.” Willow tapped a few keys, and the picture of the scroll enlarged.

“Wicked cool.” Faith slapped her hands together.

“Faith, really, it’s not.” Giles began.

“Sure it is. We can get Red to trace this stuff when it goes on the market. Oddities, rare items, spell books, that kind of thing. She can write a program or something. Then maybe we can get the Council to buy these type of things, lock them up.” Faith offered.

“Well that is cool.” Giles corrected, and Buffy laughed.

“I will get right on that, Faith. Brilliant idea.” Holburn added, and Faith beamed from ear to ear.

“Good plan. But we should worry that this is out there somewhere, probably in Langoustino’s hands right now.” Willow brought the attention back around, and moved to the book beside her. “This is what I have translated. Giles, maybe you can get some more out of it. My Latin is rusty.”

“I doubt that Willow, but I am sure Holburn will be more than happy to review,”

“Of course.” Holburn leaned closer, looking at the passage in the tome.

“This is what I have. It is not prophetic, it is more like a laundry list.” Willow looked at her notes. “I have here, that when a Hellmouth has been closed, it can be opened when, ‘the mage wields the key.’ That’s the basics.”

“A witch and a key.” Faith mumbled.

“And a wardrobe?” Buffy added, and Faith groaned. “Sorry.”

“Willow, there has to be more.” Giles pressed.

“What I have gotten is that the witch will pull the energy from the key, into herself, and direct it at the seal of the Hellmouth, which will shatter the seal. There may be something else here, and I am sure there is. I am just not seeing it.” Willow sighed, pushing the book towards Holburn.

“I will look.” He mumbled taking the book.

“Okay, wait, so they need a witch, and a key with energy?” Faith asked, and she and Buffy turned to each other.

“Dawn!” Both Slayers exclaimed at the same time.

“Bloody hell.” Giles moaned.

“I’ll go.” Faith said moving towards the door.

“Faith,” Buffy set her arm on Faith’s. Willow tried not to look, but she couldn’t help it. She could see the Slayers communicating between each other, without saying words. Buffy moved her fingers down Faith’s arm, and cupped her hand. “Okay. You go, we’ll stay here.” Buffy finished softly, squeezing Faith’s hand. Faith stepped forward, and whispered into Buffy’s ear. The blonde’s face clouded, but then she blinked and nodded. Faith stepped back, looking over the group.

“We need to try and find out what witches we have around town.” Faith said towards the group. “I’ll be back in an hour with Dawn, even if I have to knock her out.” Faith grinned and slipped out the back door.

It did not pass Willow’s notice that Buffy looked out the door after her.

“It will be okay, Buffy. Faith will protect Dawn with her life.” Willow offered.

“I know.” Buffy smiled and turned back to the group. “Giles, can you get a list of witches and warlocks in the area written up?”

“Actually Buffy, you and I need to talk.” He took off his glasses. Willow knew that was a bad sign. Buffy nodded and the two of them left the room.

*****

We were making progress, and that was good. I needed to know who I could beat the shit out of. That was a good thing. I could imagine Martha Stewart looking over at me and saying, “Faith getting to kick ass, now that is a good thing.” And it was.

But this was the worst possible time for B to have even the slightest possibility of something happening to the Kiddo. I knew B, instead of working on getting herself into a better place she would shove all of it away from the front of her mind, and focus only on protecting her sister. Sure protecting the Kiddo was important, but she needed to work on her, that was what I told her when I left. That she needed to chill, and I would look after Kiddo. It was something that I knew I could do. And I was rushing though the late evening streets, on my way to my least favorite place in the world. The Mall. If that didn’t prove I was changed, then nothing would.

*****

“You are leaving.” Buffy repeated what Giles had just told her, and felt her stomach lurch. “That’s just it, you are just up and leaving!” She rose from the couch. How could he do this to her?

“Buffy, you knew that this was coming. I never told you I was back for good. I was quite clear. I came to stop Willow from ending the world. And I saw to it that your group regained some of its strength.” He grinned.

“She came back, just like we needed her to,” Buffy conceded. “I am going to be mad at you for leaving right now.” He nodded. “But I will get over it, and feel happy for you. Not right now, but eventually.”

“I love you Buffy.” He said squeezing her hand.

“I love you too, Giles.” She grinned it at him, feeling bad inside for being angry with him. Knowing it was for the best. She would accept it, get over it. He deserved to be happy. They all did.

*****

“Oh! There is a book, a register we were keeping, that lists all of the casters in the area! It’s at the Magic Box. I can call Anya, she can bring it over.” Willow offered.

“She and Xander are at the beach today.” Holburn offered, not looking up from the book. Willow shook her head smiling. This new Watcher was fitting in just fine.

“Oh, I can run over and get it then.” Willow sighed, logging off her laptop, and standing with a stretch.

*****

“Where’s Will?” Buffy asked Holburn as she walked into the kitchen.

“She went to the Magic Box. To retrieve a book.” He replied, sitting up watching the Slayer as she sat at the table. “Buffy, may I have a word?”

“Just one?” She asked.

“Caught me. More than one.”

“Sure.”

“I am pleased that you are seemingly agreeable to the current situation.” He closed the book on his finger.

“I never said I was okay with it, but I am dealing.” Buffy crossed her arms and leaned back.

“Trust me when I tell you that I understand your position. You feel like you are being replaced. Let me again assure you that is not the case, and if I made it seem that way, I was completely wrong. At the time I was unsure as to the dynamic of your relationship with Faith, and what her wants would have been.” He smiled, trying to show her that he was sincere. “I am sure she has told you that we will be staying, and we would be so honored to have you with us.”

Buffy nodded.

“She really needs your acceptance and support Buffy.” He confided.

“Mr. Strand. I know what she needs. All that I couldn’t give her before. But I am going to try now.” The phone rang, and she stood. He looked back at the book before him. “Hello? Hi. Yeah. Okay, just get her home. What? No, nothing yet. Willow went to look. Something about a book at the Magic - Faith stop cursing. What? Oh, fuck. Put Dawn in a cab, I am leaving now.” Buffy slammed the phone down.

“Buffy? What is it?” Holburn asked, having stood hearing her side of the conversation.

“You know how we were wondering who the witch could be?” Buffy asked, moving towards the door. “We forgot that Willow is the strongest witch in Sunnydale.” The door slammed behind her.

“Oh, hell.” Holburn moaned, slapping his forehead. How could he have forgotten?

*****

She was arguing with me. Didn’t she know that I could block out the annoying sound of her voice? Hell I was doing it right now. The cab stopped in front of the mall, and in front of us. I opened the back door, and turned to her. Kiddo’s face was red from the exertion of her pout.

“I won’t hear any of it, Kiddo. You are going home.”

“This is so unfair. I can protect myself you know.” She set her hands on her hips. She wanted to play; I’d shut her down. I took her arm in my hand, and pulled her against me, speaking into her ear.

“Dawn, listen to me. There is a vampire out there who probably knows you are the Key. And he figured out that he could use you to open the Hellmouth. I can’t take you home, because this same fucker may be on to Willow, and I need to help get her safe. Don’t fight me on this. Just get in the car, and go home, and stay there.” I let go and took a step away from her. Yeah, that worked. Her blue eyes were huge, and she nodded, slipping into the back of the cab. I leaned forward and gave the driver the address, and then watched them drive away. It was sundown. I took off for the Magic Box, praying that this Vamp was stupid, and had no idea who Willow was, or what Kiddo was.

*****

The bell sounded over the door. Willow spun around. She had thought she locked the door behind her when she had come in a few minutes ago. The book in her hand dropped as she watched Amy walking down the steps.

“Hello, Willow.” She said with a crooked grin.

“Amy, what are you doing here?” Willow asked, hating the shake in her voice. She could feel magic sparking off of Amy, and she didn’t like it one bit.

“Oh, I think you know.” Amy stopped a foot away from her. “You can’t just turn your back on us, not just like that.”

“Us?” Willow squeaked.

“You killed Rack. Do you know what this town is like without someone as strong as him to feed us? Do you?” Amy sneered. “Little Willow, not even giving a shit about anyone but herself. What else is new? I mean, you did leave me as a fucking RAT for years! Too busy sucking off your girlfriend.”

Willow felt that like a slap. “I don’t do magic, I won’t do magic ever again, so you can just leave, Amy.”

“Nope. Don’t think so. I know you are hungry for it, Willow. I know some one who can help you get that power back. You know you loved it, feeling it coursing through you, knowing that no one could stop you.” Amy raised her hand. “Let me show you, just a little taste.”

Willow fell against the counter as the magic surged through her from Amy. It was a throbbing of power moving up and down her body, filling her limbs. Her eyes rolled back into her head, and she moaned deeply.

“Always a moaner.” Amy bit her lip. “Let me hear you scream.” She held out her palms to Willow, green light shooting from her hands, hitting Willow in the chest, and her head fell back as she screamed.

Clapping, caused Amy looked over her shoulder as Langoustino stepped closer to her.

“So this is the one?” he asked.

“Yes, this is her. She’s been off it for a few weeks, but it is still there, the power.” Amy nodded. Willow was panting looking up at them.

“Thank you, Amy.” He smiled, and then pulled her roughly to him, his fangs puncturing her neck. She squirmed against him for a moment, but then stopped fighting as he drained her. His head swam with the added power of the magic in her blood. He dropped her, licking his lips as he turned to the red head that was whimpering on the floor. “I can offer you so many things. But I have the feeling you will turn them down. So how about this. You do this for me, and I won’t kill her.”

“Who?” Willow whispered.

“Her.” He nodded his head towards the door, and two vampires came in, holding Dawn between them.

...continued in Control...

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