Back to the Beginning: Disposable Heroes
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: Title is a line from a song by Front Line Assembly. Love the song. Technically they don't own the line, I've heard it before, but it got me thinking about this thread for the story, so.
Date: 062702- 070402 (thought I should start dating these things)
Spoilers: READ ME!! All of Season Six. If you have not seen Season Six, please don't read this yet. I would really hate to ruin any surprises for anyone, kind of like blurting out the end of a book or movie, and I'd hate myself forever if I ruined it for you. I tried to gloss over some points, just in case, but still a lot is given away. Okay, that out of the way, this starts at the end of Season 6, and is my attempt to work with the mess that they left us with, and bring back the one we all really want - FAITH. Note of importance. No Spike and no talking about what happened in the last episode of Season 6. I just can't even go there, and he needs to stay away....
Note #1: You might want to read the first part first, MOMENTS. That said if it i s written in italics it is the character's thoughts. (or dreams, but you can figure those out).
Note #2: This is going to get pretty dark, NOT all that happy. Just a warning....
Feedback: If you have time, I would love some, all of it, the good the bad and the helpful. It is all about learning for me so, teach me....*wink*

"Where is it?" He stormed around the warehouse. Things had been going so well, he thought. He had seen the little Slayer in action, and was sure that she would be easy to dispatch. Her fighting, though strong, was sloppy. Something was clearly holding her back. That did not concern him. No what had him pacing was coming back to the warehouse, hearing the words she was saying to him, he was livid. The plans had been drawn up, and were to be followed precisely. This little set back was not supposed to happen.

"We don't know. They never came back." His assistant shrugged. He felt his face change, the ridges coming out, his fangs elongating. His anger palpable in the room, and she stepped back from him.

"Well get it!" He howled.

*****

When Buffy arrived the next afternoon at the Magic Box, Faith was sitting on the curb in front. She watched Faith, as she got closer. She noticed first that the younger Slayer was smoking, something she was not aware that she did. Secondly she noticed that she was wearing black slacks, not jeans, not leather, but a nice pair of slacks. Third thing was that her whole demeanor looked different. She did not appear to be the normal, trampy Faith. When she was closer, Faith raised her eyes, and tossed her cigarette away, standing. She walked over to meet Buffy.

"Not sure what we were thinking, but the Box is full of sweaty construction guys." Faith said with a shrug.

"Oh, right." Buffy came to a stop, trying to catch Faith's eyes, but they were looking everywhere else. She was unsure what was going on now. They had bickered, and argued last week. Then Faith had gotten hurt, and since the talk there was this weird tension between them. And it seemed even stronger today. Buffy wasn't sure what it meant, or what she wanted it to mean. "I guess my place then?"

"Whatever." Again with the shrugged response.

Well if Faith wanted to play the moody warrior that was fine with Buffy, she had years of experience ignoring moody brooding people. Case in point, Angel. Though he isn't really a person. Buffy snapped to attention seeing Faith walking away. She trotted after her, and they settled into a walk side by side.

"Did you talk to Dawn?" Faith asked.

"About what?" Buffy wondered, picking at a loose string on her jacket. Maybe she should have gone home last night, but she had been too busy. Busy. There was something seriously wrong with her. Buffy had no idea what had come over her, why she had sought out Jane again, the third time in as many weeks. But it seemed, now that Spike was gone; she needed to quench this rampant lust she felt gnawing away at her. With Spike it had been easy, he was always willing, and eager to help her alleviate the need. And it worked, for a while. But she could not dominate him, and that was what her body was craving now. To be able to complete dominate her partner, who ever they were, to bend them to her will. Take what she wanted and leave. That was what she craved now. Unconsciously she shook her head, she had no idea what was happening to her.

"Sneaking out, getting nearly kidnapped." Faith stopped, turning to look at Buffy. She felt Faith's eyes raking over her. "You didn't even go home last night." She spat, and then began walking away again.

Where did she get off talking to me like that? Buffy stopped her mind, mid-rant.

"Wait, what? Dawn got kidnapped?" her hand went to her throat. What had she done? She was supposed to be there for her sister, watching over her and protecting her. Not out in a filthy alley fucking some whore. What if she was hurt, what if-

"I said nearly." Faith said. "I came across three vamps who had her."

"What did they want?" Buffy asked, putting her arm on Faith's, stopping her from walking.

"Didn't really take the time to ask, B. I was busy dusting them."

"She's okay?" Buffy sighed heavily, relieved. If Dawn was hurt, even Faith would have told her by now.

"She was last night." Faith shrugged.

"Why would someone want Dawn?"

"They looked run of the mill." Faith pulled her arm away and kept walking. "Nothing special about them. She snuck out, so I am guessing that they came across her, thought she looked like a good meal, and took her."

"Oh." Buffy said, as they turned the corner onto the block of decrepit houses that she called home. "Oh!" Faith raised her eyebrow. "I ran into some pretty lame vamps myself, last night. One got away, but he was going on about he was going to kill me, and then how he wanted to see me in action."

"And he got away?"

"I wasn't in the mood to chase him."

"Not in the mood huh?" Faith snapped walking up Buffy's front steps.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Buffy sneered, unlocking the door and pushing past Faith. There was something clearly bothering the brunette, but Buffy didn't have time to deal with that now. "DAWN!"

*****

I went back into the kitchen, not really wanting to get involved with the Summers sister-yelling jamboree that was happening in the front room. The amount of huffs, and pouting lips, I don't know how in the world anything ever got accomplished between the two of them. I let the kitchen door swing closed behind me as I stepped inside. Willow looked up from her laptop and smiled.

"Did you just smile at me?" I asked, pulling out a chair and sitting down.

"Whatever came over me, I am sure it will pass soon." She smirked. I had never had any sort of relationship with Red before, so this, whatever it was between us, was awkward. But it didn't feel too bad.

"Right." I drew out the word and smiled back.

"So Buffy didn't come home last night," she asked, widening her eyes at me.

"Whoa there." I raised my hands and leaned back. "Don't know what you head is thinking, but you just stop."

"I have to be honest with you Faith. I talked to Xander the other night."

"Okay, and I am supposed to care, why again?"

"He told me."

"Again, huh?"

"About you and Buffy." She said, obviously searching my face, looking for me to give something away. Tough luck. I stood up and went to the refrigerator, I waited to answer her, opening a bottle of water and leaning on the counter.

"There is no me and Buffy."

"But."

"Red." I growled. "I hate her, she hates me. We tolerate each other for right now." I took a deep swig. "How are you doing, by the way?"

"Nice segue."

"I thought so." I smirked, hoping she would let it drop.

"Much better I think." She shrugged, and turned back to the computer. "I am thinking about moving into the apartment."

"Great!" I beamed and sat back down; satisfied that she would leave the other conversation where it belonged, dead.

"I am a little nervous." She peaked over the top of the laptop screen.

"About?"

"Being totally on my own."

I shrugged. "Have Kiddo stay with you for a few nights, till you get settled."

"Maybe." She bit her bottom lip. I reached into my pocket and tossed the two keys at her. She missed and they fell to the floor. I giggled. "Did you just-"

"Shut it Red." I finished the water as the door opened behind me.

"Please, Faith, drink all of my water, it isn't like it costs money." B snapped as she went to the fridge. Bitch. I didn't bother to respond, just tossed a twenty-dollar bill on the table.

"Wow, that is some expensive water." Willow grinned at me conspiratorially.

"Faith." B moaned seeing the money.

"What, I am gonna drink another one before I leave." I shrugged, wanted to get out of here and on with my day. Every time I looked at her I pictured her face flushed, her arm thrusting under - WHOA. Stop that right this fucking minute. "So B, tell us about the one that got away."

"Oh, oh, something brewing? I can help, I can help." Red was bouncing in the chair. Man that girl was bored out of her mind.

"I don't know if anything is brewing. I mean," B shrugged dropping down at the table. "He didn't look like a Master Vampire or anything."

"Details, and the research shall commence." Willow clasped her hands.

*****

Buffy rubbed her hands over her face. They had been at this for two hours, and hadn't found anything yet. Faith was leaning back in her chair, staring at the ceiling, that or sleeping, Buffy couldn't tell. She rolled her neck towards Willow, who was flipping through a book with one hand, and typing on a keyboard with the other. She was in her element that was sure. Researching, it made the red head come alive. She seemed engrossed, and content. Buffy wished she had thought of this sooner. Giving Willow something to do to get her mind off of Tara and the magic. Why hadn't she thought of this sooner? Oh that's right, she was too busy working, and slaying, and fucking her brains out with anything and everything in Sunnydale. She rubbed her eyes again. What is wrong with me? She sighed.

"You all right over there, B?" Faith asked, her voice strained with her neck leaning back.

Oh sure, just peachy, just thinking how much longer do I have to sit here, bored out of my mind? Waiting until I can go work my shift slinging meat, and then going to find Jane, because it is building up inside of me again, this hunger, this painful ache, and I just want to get it all out. Can you help me, Faith? Could you help me get rid of this gnawing ache that gets worse and worse every day? "I'm five by five, F." She drawled. Buffy watched as Faith leaned up, and raised an eyebrow.

"Is that so?"

"Oh, yeah, Faith. Always wondered what that meant. Should I show you what I think it means?" She rolled her tongue over her bottom lip, and Faith widened her brown eyes. What am I doing? Am I flirting with Faith? Why am I flirting with Faith? DID SHE WINK AT ME? Is she flirting back?

"Buffy?" Willow looked over at her.

"Hmm?"

"Giles is standing behind you." Buffy sat up straight, all thoughts of teasing Faith wiped from her mind, as she turned to see him standing there, arms crossed.

"Buffy." He nodded at her.

"Hey, Watcher man." Faith grinned, leaning back again.

"Can I see you for a moment, Buffy?" He asked, voice stern. She shrugged and slipped out of the chair, and followed him out into the living room. She wondered what he wanted now, and where he had been all morning.

Straight away she noticed that something was different. And big different. Standing in her living room, next to her fireplace, was a tall man. His back was to her, but she noticed the suit, the jacket with leather patches on the elbows. This guy screamed Council.

"Buffy, this is Holburn Strand." The man turned around, and surprisingly he was not wearing glasses. Buffy tilted her head, sizing him up. Maybe in his late thirties, sandy blonde hair, light brown eyes. His face held the same boyish good looks and naivety that Giles first had when she met him.

"And you must be the infamous Elizabeth Anne Summers." He stepped forward, extending his hand.

"Um, just in case you forgot, or they failed to tell you. Number one; I go by Buffy. Number two; I don't work for the Council anymore." She crossed her arms, hoping he understood the body language she was sending him. It clearly stated, get lost.

"Well, yes, I see." He smiled. Was he an idiot, she pondered? "Buffy. Actually I am not here for you. I am here for Faith." He said, looking behind her.

"So you are her new Watcher?" Buffy asked. He looked strong, that might be a good thing for him.

"That has yet to be determined. There are-"

"Yeah, okay whatever. I don't have time to listen to you pontificate."

"Buffy!" Giles exclaimed.

"Sorry." She snapped, not really meaning it.

"I just didn't know you knew that that word meant." He grinned, and Buffy groaned.

"I will go get your Slayer." Buffy turned, moving back to the kitchen but called back over her shoulder. "I hope you live longer than the rest."

*****

I leaned forward, watching Red. She was just totally going for it, loosing herself in it. But I was a little worried. She hadn't moved for way too long. I reached my arm out, and closed the laptop on her. Her eyes rounded and she looked at me.

"I know you are super humanly strong, and all. But can you not touch the computer. Kind of expensive. Please don't hit me." She ducked sheepishly, and I laughed.

"Not going to hit you, Red. And I will try not to touch the little box thing you love so much. But here's the thing. I want you to go home."

"I am - oh you mean the apartment?"

"Yeah, I mean the apartment. It's still daylight, why don't you run along." I said leaning back.

"But," she leaned forward whispering. "Remember what I said about being alone?"

"Yeah." I grinned. "Go, I will come by later."

"Really?"

"Yeah, Really." I set my hand on hers. "I don't know what is happening between you and me, Red." She blushed. "But me and you, we won't go down that particular road together. Neither one of us really want that. But friendship," I grinned. "Maybe." Her face flashed a few different emotions, before settling on understanding. I didn't know how to make it any clearer for her. She didn't float my boat, but she was kind of cool to hang with. I never had the chance before, but Tara showed me a different side of Red, the good and the bad. And I liked her. Weird.

"Okay." She stood, picking up her laptop, and moving towards the back door. "What about Buffy?"

"I will handle B. Go on. And be careful, okay?"

*****

Buffy walked back into the room, looking at the table. Willow was gone. The books were gone. She had only been gone like five minutes. She turned to look at Faith, questioning her with her eyes.

"Red went home."

"Faith, she lives here." Buffy said, wondering where the red head that had looked so contented went.

"Naw, she's gonna be living over at my old place." Faith shrugged.

"Oh, right. Tara stayed there."

"Ding. We have a winner. So what is the deal with G-man?"

"Well, he brought a friend with him, with an affinity for tweed, and dust."

"New Watcher?"

"New Watcher." Buffy grinned up at Faith, and Faith returned the smile, widely. Buffy felt her breath catch at the brightness of the smile, and the dimple that danced on her cheek. How had she ever forgotten that smile?

"We've had this conversation before, haven't we?" Faith asked, leaning down to pick up one of Buffy's grapes and pop it in her mouth.

"We have."

"But I haven't seen this one, so I can't say if he's cute or not." She crossed her arms. "Wanna fill me in?"

"I don't know your tastes." Buffy smiled.

"Oh, B, I think you do." She winked.

"Alright then." She closed her eyes, pretending to be thinking. "Not your taste."

"Why's that?"

"Doesn't wear a bra." Buffy giggled.

"Doesn't mean I won't be interested." Faith laughed, bending down. "I'm not that selective. People are beautiful, all of them." She whispered in Buffy's ear, and she felt a shiver run down her spine. This is what she had missed, this playfulness between them. It had been give and take, right on the edge, until Buffy had made the mistake; she had gone with what was comfortable. She went for a cold walking corpse instead of the warm body beside her. She sighed, looking up at the brunette beside her. Could they ever get back to being friends? Faith met her glance, and stepped back, her smile falling, but just for an instant. But Buffy saw it fall. "Wait, did you say a man?"

"Yes." Buffy said, still watching Faith's face.

"I have a male Watcher?" Faith walked around the table, tapping her fingers on the oak top. "A fucking male Watcher."

"You said that already Faith." Buffy said, wondering why she was suddenly mumbling and obviously thinking. She turned her eyes to Buffy, and they were wide.

"A guy."

"Faith! I get it." Buffy snapped, standing up. "If you are so fucking amazed that they sent you one with a cock tucked in the tweed, then go out into the living room and say hello." Buffy snapped, watching Faith smirk.

"Hmm. You don't get it, do you B?" Faith walked to the door. "Maybe you need some time to figure it out." She pushed through the door, and Buffy watched it swinging in her wake. What the hell was she talking about?

*****

Giles watched Faith as she slowly walked out of the kitchen. She moved slowly, hesitant steps moving her across the hard wood floor. He wondered what her reaction would be, being faced with a representative of the Watcher's Council again. He knew all too well the last time Faith interacted with the Council, and that had been with them using machine guns. He could only ponder at the many different thoughts that she could be having at this moment. But she seemed relaxed, and he sighed with relief.

"Faith," Giles began, taking a step forward, but she held up her hand.

"I got it. You are the new Watcher? I'm Faith." He watched as she extended her hand, and Strand took it, shaking it firmly.

"Holburn Strand." He said kindly, smiling. Giles had only spent a few hours with the young man, but liked him. He seemed sincerely interested in working with Faith. The young Slayer stood back, her hands on her hips, looking Strand up and down.

"How the hell am I going to shorten a name like that, G-man?" She asked smiling at Giles. He shrugged, smiling.

"Well, Faith. I am glad to meet you finally. I do hope that we can put past grievances aside, and take steps to move forward." He smiled again.

"Lots of water, and most of it's under the bridge." Faith nodded. "But, there are tests G was going on about, and I think there is a lot to talk about, and I would rather not do it here." She looked over her shoulder to the kitchen. "Especially if you being my Watcher means what I think it means."

Giles was impressed. The girl was paying attention. He took off his glasses, and began cleaning them. "If you are thinking that with Mr. Strand as your Watcher it means that-"

"Not here Giles." She stopped him, and took a step towards the front door. "Come on, you Tweed. Let's walk and talk." She walked out. Strand looked at Giles, eyes worried.

"You will be fine, and if not, well it was nice meeting you." Giles laughed, and walked into the kitchen.

*****

I could hear him jogging, trying to catch up. I wondered if I started running, if he would to? And then, how long would it take him to really start sweating under all that wool and starch. Poor kid, I grinned, slowing down and letting him fall into step with me.

"So how should we start all of this?" I asked him.

"Well, back at my hotel I have the documents that I was presented with by-"

"Blah, blah, blah." I waved my hand around. "Let me cut through some of the shit, at least how I am seeing it." I winked at him, "And you tell me if I get it wrong."

He nodded.

"First thing is this. They sent only you, so they must be leaning towards me being just good enough not to kill right off the bat." He smiled, just a little twitch. Score one for me. "You are here to do some head shrinking, is what I am thinking. And if it doesn't look like I am on the path of murder and mayhem, well then you are going to offer me the job."

"Correct. We believe that you have paid for your crimes."

"Not really. We all know I should have been locked up for a hell of a lot longer than I was." I shrugged. "But I think you all know that three years to a Slayer, being in a cage, not being out slaying, is like locking some regular shmuck up for fifty years." I stopped, looking him in the eye. "It was the longest, most painful three years of my life. I could feel it, every night, when the sun went down, the ache in my chest, the pounding of my heart, the thundering of my head. Every muscle in my body screaming for me to get out of that cage, to get out side and slay."

"Are you slaying now?" He asked.

"Yes."

"And how are you feeling?"

"Still hurts, but not so much. Every kill is lessening it, making it a little easier to breath. I still have a long way to go." I shrugged.

"How do you feel slaying?"

"Besides the obvious, which is amazing. I feel like I am doing my job, I feel like I am helping, making a difference."

"And that is good."

"That is very good. But listen HS, there is something else that I have figured out." I started walking again, and he was keeping time with me.

"Please, go on."

"You, male Watcher. Only the chosen gets a male Watcher. And I mean THE chosen." I smiled, but I wasn't completely sure if that made me happy. I mean, this would be a major blow to her. And I mean major.

"Buffy Summers has not worked for the Council for some time. We believe that it is imperative that the Slayer works for, erm, with us. We need each other." He said. "So yes, if you are deemed responsible, acceptable, you will be The Slayer, with the full backing of the Watchers Council, and it will be your duty to protect the Hellmouth."

*****

Giles made a pot of tea, and was preparing to sit down with Buffy and explain to her exactly what the Council had planned for Buffy. She was fidgeting in the chair, tapping her fingers. He set the pot down, and two mugs, and began filling one.

"Buffy, -"

"Buffy!" Dawn exclaimed bursting through the back door, causing Giles to spill the tea on the table, and it rolled quickly across the polished oak to his lap, where it made him jump.

"Bloody hell." He exclaimed, pushing the chair back.

"Dawn, what in the hell is a matter with you?" Buffy asked, looking bored.

"I was just glad I caught you before your shift, I need to borrow twenty dollars." Dawn held out her hand, as Buffy shot out of her chair.

"Shit, work." She ran out of the room.

"Buffy!" Dawn whined.

Buffy, spun on her heel, ran back in the room, took the twenty that Faith had given her out of her pocket, tossed it at Dawn, and then ran back out of the room. She couldn't afford to be late again; she needed this job, no matter how horrible it was.

"You need to get a job!" She yelled back as she took the steps two at a time.

*****

"With that said, Faith, I will need to of course test your strength, your endurance." He was kind of cute, I would give him that. He looked eager too. No baggage, not that I could see just yet, but these guys liked to surprise you. I had been on the end of their surprises enough to know.

"Those will be a walk in the park, HS." I grinned. "Wow me with something else."

"Oh, right. There will be an IQ test. And then what is known as the, erm, Inkblot Test." He looked over at me, and I could tell he was searching my face for recognition. So here I was with a question for myself. Play the dumb slut, the one they all thought I was, or watch his jaw drop.

"Right, The Rorschach Psycho diagnostic Test, also known as the Rorschach Technique and popularly as the "Inkblot Test". It is the most widely used projective psychological test." I grinned.

"You know it then."

"You could say that. See, it is generally administered to teens and adults but can be used with children as young as three years of age." I smirked at him. "That was the first time I took it. When I was about three."

"I had no idea," his jaw had dropped. Score one for the Slayer.

"I guessed that."

"Have you taken it since?" He asked.

"Yeah, I took it in jail." I shrugged.

"And you know what it tests?"

"I know what they believe it tests, what you all will use it to test."

"Don't believe in it?" He actually chuckled.

"Unless you are in my head, then I am not buying it. No one can know exactly what is in here," I tapped my head.

"It has been proven to assess personality structure and identify emotional problems. Also the test provides information about a child's thought processes, perceptions, motivations, and attitude toward their environment, and it can detect internal and external pressures and conflicts as well as illogical or psychotic thought patterns." He was a Watcher, fucking walking dictionary. I could just imagine him and Red in the same room that would be a sight to see.

"You know your stuff there, Watcher-man." I stopped walking. "You a licensed shrink?"

"Actually in England, yes I am."

Cool. Okay, score one for him. "Alright. Where are you staying?"

"I would rather not."

"Right, sorry forgot you might worry that I would come to kill you in your sleep." I laughed, for him, not for me. It always hurt just a little when I was faced with someone who didn't trust me. But I had to admit that I had done nothing to instill trust in anyone. Still it hurt.

"I would like to begin immediately."

"I am sure you would. But, I have an appointment, and then patrol. So I will find you tomorrow morning." I walked away from him, backward, looking him over again. "I still want to know if I have a say in this at all. I mean, what if I don't want to stay here?"

"It is your Duty." He said softly, but I turned, trying to ignore him. I didn't want to stay here. B was The Slayer, not me. This was where she belonged, not me. I was just here to fulfill my promise to Tara, and then I was gone. Let B have her perfect life in this perfect town.

*****

This cannot be happening.

Buffy was standing on the street corner, looking through the full parking lot, to the Doublemeat Palace, watching as the flames leapt into the air at least twenty feet above the roof. The entire place was engulfed in flames. She knew her mouth was open. She was in a complete state of shock. IT WAS BURNING.

"Oh, Buffy, can you believe it?" She turned to see one of the new kids, he was just working during the summer, and she hadn't bothered learning his name, figuring he would be gone soon enough, so she thought of him as pimple kid, for obvious reasons.

"What, what happened?" She asked.

"Grease fire. I guess someone left the fries in, and Boom! The whole place just went up." He seemed elated. "It was amazing really. The whole kitchen just went up, I never guessed how flammable the ketchup was. You should have seen it, Buffy-"

"But, but, where will we work?" Her tone was even, though her head was screaming.

"We won't. Hey don't worry, I am sure you can find something else." He set his hand on her shoulder. Quickly she moved away.

"During the summer? You kidding?" It took me weeks to find this shitty job. This cannot be happening. Wake up Buffy!

"Well, you said it. It's summer, we should enjoy it right?" He nudged her shoulder. "Hey, you don't have to work now, you want to go over to the Pump and get something cold to drink?"

"No." She mumbled turning around and slowly walking back towards home.

*****

Today had been a weird fucking day.

Starting early in the morning, seeing B and that whore in the alley, B touching her in ways that I didn't even figure B knew how to touch a woman. I thought it was all a nightmare, but no that had been real. Too painfully real.

Why did it hurt, Faith? Can you answer that question? Why did it hurt? What did you expect? What do you expect?

Just looking at B earlier I couldn't see past it. And then to have the Watcher show up, and have him being alone, not with a dart gun, or a small army. They wanted me. They wanted me to do my Duty, live up to my Destiny. But could I do it? I was always second best, could I be anything but? And what would B think? What would she do? Did I even want to stay here, in this town?

I must want to stay, I went and asked for a job, and I actually got it. On some level I must have wanted to stay.

I sighed and leaned on the wall, closing my eyes slowly. Time to take stock. I have a job, I have a Watcher, I have a full belly, and I am heading out for patrol.

Yes I wanted to stay here. Yes I wanted to be a Slayer. Yes I wanted to be needed.

Slowly I opened my eyes, and looked up at the night sky. Same sky, same stars. Same Faith.

Who would have thought that this could be my life? Sure there were still a lot of what ifs hanging around in the air, but all in all, life didn't suck for the first time in a long time.

I touched my finger to my lips. I was smiling. Wow. Okay. This is all okay. It'll be fine. No need to freak out, so what if I am walking down the street in the middle of the night smiling. I can be happy right? It is allowed?

I caught sight of a vamp heading into an alley up ahead, and took off running.

Yes, this was going to be a good night.

*****

Giles hung up the phone, after listening to young Mr. Strand prattle on for far too long. That young man's head was filled with so many ideas on how to handle Faith, and the slaying that it gave Giles an immense headache. And he knew it would only get worse. Giles knew that Faith would pass the Council's tests, he could tell, just from interacting with the girl over the past few days that she was much changed from when she went off the deep end. He knew she was a capable slayer, and would be an asset to not only Sunnydale, but also humanity at large. No, what concerned him was Buffy, and how she would respond to the news that she had been replaced. A year ago he would have thought this news to be a blessing for his Slayer. But after her return from the dead, she had been exhibiting signs, clear indicators that she had changed. She was walking a very thin line, and this last bit of news may be what would cause her to tip over that line.

He sighed heavily, hoping that in the morning she would be more approachable on the subject. Giles was not pleased with the Council's stance; they seemed to still believe that these girls were nothing more than, how did Faith put it? Tools, for them to use for the supposedly greater good. They never took into consideration that these girls, granted strong and mystical, were still girls, still human, with human emotions and human faults.

He heard the back porch swing creek, causing his head to turn in that direction. Who could that be? Willow was not staying over tonight, Dawn was out with her friends, Xander and Anya, surprisingly had gone out for dinner. He opened the back door and was shocked. Sitting on the swing was Buffy, holding her uniform hat in her lap. She was gazing at the laughable creature that jutted out from the cap, and there were tears on her cheeks.

"Buffy?" He asked softly, expecting the worse. Had she gotten fired?

"Hey." She mumbled, using the back of her hand to dissipate the tears from her cheeks.

"What is wrong?" He asked, fearing what she would say. Buffy always did manage to surprise him.

"I don't have a job." She sobbed, tears coming again.

"They fired you?" He asked.

"What?" She looked up at him. "No, no. I showed up, and the place was burning to the ground. Hence the no job." She shrugged.

"I am quite sorry to hear that Buffy." He set his hand on her shoulder.

"What am I supposed to do? House payments, food, clothes? I, I can't do this Giles." She looked back down at the hat.

"Of course you can. You will just need to get another job."

"Do you know how long it took me to get this one? No one will hire me. It is not like I can put Slayer on my resume, but that's all I know how to do."

"I doubt that. You are a very intelligent and capable young woman. Oh, what about the new High School? I know that they are opening in the fall, and they are still in need of a librarian." He said gently, watching her face.

"You are kidding right? I mean, hello, I blew up the last library."

"You may not have realized, but the faculty understood your position at the time. Perhaps before I leave I can inquire on your behalf."

"Leave?" She looked up at him, eyes wide.

"Well, erm, yes. I have been meaning to discuss this with you. You see Buffy; this is not my place anymore. As awkward as it is to admit, well, I have a life back in England, separate from all of this." He tried to smile, hoping it would alleviate the shock in her eyes. She knew he had to go, knew that Olivia was waiting for him, as was his life. Buffy just never wanted to admit it to herself or anyone else.

"Can my life get any worse?" She hissed softly, crying again. Yes, it will. Giles said to himself. But that would be for tomorrow. For now, he sat beside her on the swing, setting his arm around her shoulder, and pulling her close. Rocking the two of them on the swing. He would do his best to be for her now, for this little bit of time, but she had grown up, he had grown up, and Buffy needed to move on and be on her own.

*****

It went from being weird to good. So what happened? I dusted three vamps, but then found myself over by the apartment. I told Red I would swing by, check on her. I forgot to remind myself that I would have to walk through the alley to get there. And that was when my mood tanked. From happy-go lucky, to wallowing in shit. But it had happened, and now I am here, in the thick of a deep scowl.

Why am I always drawn to B's sloppy seconds? I watched Jane walking up the alley, the way her hips swayed, barely concealed by her tiny leather skirt. What made her so fucking sexual? Before I thought she was attractive enough for maybe a one-off if I felt the need arise, but watching her slink closer I could not get out of my mind the way she look, her head thrown back as she quivered when B was inside her!

God what was my problem? I hated B, so why was I here, why was I hoping Jane would see me? Why did I want to feel her, just like B had? I am sick. And pathetic.

"Didn't expect to see you here." Jane said standing in front of me, her eyes racking over me. I could feel the look on my skin, it was that intense.

"Is she always so rough with you?" I whispered, and her eyes rounded.

"What?"

"Nothing. Never mind." I stood up straighter. "You need to find a new place to work."

"Excuse me? This has been my alley for-"

"Listen, I don't give a shit." I scowled at her, narrowing my eyes. "All of you are leaving this area. Do I make myself clear?"

"You're a Slayer, not a cop, so you can't tell me-"

I grabbed her arm and slammed her against the brick wall, pressing myself against her.

"I am serious, little girl. You will find somewhere else to work."

"You like it rough too, huh?" She laughed, trying to wiggle away.

"You can't get away. You should know how strong we are." I hissed, pressing harder.

"Jealous?" She snapped.

"Never." I hissed.

"What is your problem, Faith?" She groaned, just wanting to get away from me.

"I want to clean up the area, that's all. For a friend."

"Tara never minded us being here, she made it safe for us."

"Yeah, well Tara isn't coming back here." I pushed off of her. She turned, rubbing her arm.

"What is your problem with me?"

"No problem, girlfriend."

"Buffy doesn't care that we are down here. Likes to know where I am." She leered. I wasn't sure if she knew that I had seen them, but she was trying to rile me. I knew all the games, I invented the games, and I would not be played.

"If you knew what was good for you, you'd stay away from her."

"I don't think so. She needs me. She needs me more than she needs Spike."

"So you know about him?" That was a shocker. But then again he was neutered what was the worst that he could have done?

"I've played with them once or twice." That was like a slap, but I kept my face frozen, not letting her see that effected me. What in the world was B thinking? "You want to know how I met her, Slayer?" She asked.

"No." I turned away. I wanted to turn off my ears.

"For a few weeks she would come and stand over there. Under that lamp, looking up at that apartment. You know, Tara's place. Finally I went over and asked her what she was doing, and she said she was waiting. Waiting for me."

I turned back around facing her, but not saying a word.

"And that night she fucked me for the first time."

"I don't care." I hissed.

"But you should Faith. She cried the whole time." What in the hell was B doing here, hanging around my old place? "That was the only time she let me touch her." I felt that like a slap. Not sure why it hurt, but it did.

"I don't care." I turned around, walking away, this time I would not stop; I would not listen to her.

"She called your name when she came, Faith."

I ran my hand over my face, Jesus B, what are you thinking? What is happening to you? That whore has to be lying. She has to be; there is just no way-

"We aren't done here Slayer." She called after me, but I opened the apartment building door, letting it slam behind me. It wasn't true, none of it was true. Jane was a whore, and whores played upon people to get what they wanted. That was it. She was lying.

*****

"Actually Buffy, we should talk about the Council and Faith, and the ramifications that may have on you." Giles said.

"How could it affect me? I don't work for them." She wondered why they were suddenly talking about Faith. Were they not just discussing how terrible Buffy's life had become? She thought for sure Giles above all the others would know that Buffy did not want to talk about Faith.

"Precisely. You see Buffy, if Faith passes these tests, and the Council of Watchers High Panel agree, then Faith will be the slayer."

"Fine, I can deal with this. I mean, so what if she works for the Council, right? I mean I am still the top Slayer here." She knew what he meant, but she refused to acknowledge it or accept it by saying it out loud. This was her life. Her Job!

"Well, actually."

"No, Giles. I am. This is my town, and my show. She is second string, always has been, always will be. These are my friends, my Hellmouth. And if she wants to fight for it, no problem. I took her out once. I can do it again."

"Buffy, I don't think you quite understand."

"No you don't. I am the Slayer. And now, we are done here." She stood up. "I am going out to Slay, to do my destiny. Mine!"

*****

She opened the door to see Faith standing there, her face looking so drawn and clouded, it made Willow's smile slide away. She stepped aside wordlessly, motioning with her hand. But Faith did not move.

"Faith?" She asked softly, and slowly the Slayer raised her eyes, they looked even more clouded than usual. Willow felt her breath catch in her throat. "Are you alright?"

"Sure, Red." She closed her brown eyes, and when they opened again they looked like to orbs of stone. Nothing seemed alive behind them. The gaze was one Willow remembered well. She had seen those eyes in the Mayor's office, as Faith slinked across the room. "Just making sure you're alright."

"Um, yeah, I am doing pretty good." She cocked her head, wondering if what she was about to do would get her slapped, or worse. "What is wrong? Is it Buffy?"

"Buffy." She sneered. "Always about her, isn't it? Well, you know what?" Her eyes were fiery. "That is all about to change."

*****

"Well we meet again, Slayer." He was very pleased indeed. He had been hoping to see her again. This time he had others with him. Enough this time as well. So she had bested two of his men. How would she fair against ten?

"Looks like." She shrugged, taking the stake from her jacket.

"Must admit to you, the outfit? Not befitting." He smirked, teasing her red striped shirt, her polyester pants.

"No? I used to like it." She couldn't be serious. "I can still dust you all in it. Fashion doesn't affect the slayage." She gave him a wide grin.

"So you can take us all on, can you? That is such a boast, from some one so, shall we say, small?"

"Can we just kill the slayer now, Lango-"

"Silence!" He yelled at the insolent minion beside him. Nearly saying his name, what if the Slayer, by some miracle was able to escape. He would have to kill this insubordinate. But that would come later.

"They all talk back like that?" The Slayer smirked. "So tell me, Lego, why are you in my town?"

"To kill you."

"Please, so not a good reason." She kicked the vampire to her right, who got too close. "Try again?"

"I will not give away my plans."

"Not so confident in your posse huh?" She smirked.

"Kill her now." He waved his hand, bored with the banter. Her heart just didn't seem in it.

*****

"Faith, you are, um, freaking me out." Red said softly, and I tried not to glare at her. It wasn't her fault that my head was spinning. It wasn't her fault that everything I had held onto for three years was slightly skewed. How would she know that B was out there fucking a whore, a whore that looked a hell of a lot like me? But did it mean what Jane alluded to? No, that just wasn't possible. Not in my world, not in my life. Perfect, golden, Buffy would never want me. But then again, would perfect Buffy fuck vampires and whores in alleys?

"Sorry, Willow." I said softly, stepping further into the hall. I needed to think about this. I needed to think about everything that was happening here in Sunnyhell. The day was completely different at the end than it had been at the start. "I need to go."

"But, Faith, if you need to talk." She stepped closer, but I shook my head.

"It's five by five."

*****

The front screen door banged against the peeling frame as Buffy moved inside. Dawn turned to look over her shoulder, missing a few moments of the television show she had been engrossed in for the past hour. She noticed her sister's flushed face first, then her matted hair. Dawn was about to make a comment about proper hygiene, as her sister walked past, when she noticed the puncture wound at the small of her sister's back. She leapt from the couch, grabbing Buffy's hips.

"Oh my God, you're hurt!" Dawn exclaimed.

"Just a nick." Buffy shrugged away, moving into the kitchen. Her voice was hard.

"Are you sure?" Dawn asked, following, eyes moving over her sister, searching for any more injuries.

"I am sure, Dawn. Don't worry." She sat down with a bottle of water.

"What was it?" Dawn sat, still feeling her eyes wide.

"A big old party of vamps. Too many." Buffy sighed.

"What did you do?"

"Dusted a few and then ran like hell." Buffy laughed. "The Slayer ran." She shook her head and drank more.

"Where was Faith?" Dawn asked, surprised. There must have been a lot of them to make Buffy run away.

"Who knows." Buffy said. "But they were organized."

"Oh, no." Dawn knew that that meant. A big bad had come to town.

"We'll need the gang here in the morning. To start researching." Buffy sighed. "Can you make the calls? I want to get washed up."

"Sure. Are you sure you are-"

"I am fine Dawn. Just sore."

"But this is serious?" Dawn stood moving to the phone.

"I don't know. I am getting the wiggins when I think about this guy, so I think finding out anything we can will be good. Just, I would like you to stay close to home, until we figure all of this out." She moved out of the room. Dawn watched her go, still concerned. Even after all this time, Buffy was still not the old Buffy. Dawn wished there was something that she could do, but as always she felt helpless.

*****

He kept stealing glances to his right. She looked good today.

Oh, who am I kidding, she looks good every day. He mumbled in his own mind.

This was different, the courting that he had been attempting over the past two days. It was new, and kind of nice. Xander looked at Anya again, as they moved closer to Buffy's. He had swung by the Magic Box to pick her up for the research fest they were having that afternoon.

"What?" She snapped.

"Um, sorry. You um, you look nice." He stumbled, caught in the act of watching her.

"Of course I am attractive to you. At this point you are not sure that you can have me, and to a male that is very attractive." She glared at him. "The question, Xander Harris, is once you get me will you still find me attractive?"

"Of course." He answered quickly.

"You didn't before."

"That wasn't why I did what I did, An."

"Oh, right. You were afraid." She snapped, walking quicker.

Faith had been right, this was going to be hard, and was going to take a lot out of him. But he wanted Anya back, and he would do what ever it took.

*****

Strand walked into B's living room first, and I let him. This was a place I certainly didn't want to be, not after the morning of tests and questions. He poked and prodded my head for hours, and I actually answered him honestly. He wanted to know about the childhood I had, and I filled him in.

I was still pissed at myself for crying in front of him. But damn, the tweed knew exactly how to push and pull to set me off. The past was painful for me, and some days I prayed it would just go away, but then I would see a scar, or hear a sound, and it would all come back to me. The feel of her fist hitting my jaw, the sound of the bottle breaking. The crack of his belt against the door frame as he pulled it free of the loops on his pants.

Uncontrollably I shivered, and swallowed down the bile in my throat. Not here, not now. I was hoping that my eyes were no longer red, as I followed him inside.

This was going to be hard enough without her being able to sense any weakness in me.

I believe that the Council of Watchers will be in agreement, Faith. I am impressed with you and how far that you have come. You will be fully reinstated as The Recognized Slayer. That was what he had said, and his voice was rattling in my head. Over and Over.

"So nice of you to show up, Faith." B snapped as she came into the living room. She crossed her arms scowling at me, and for an instant I thought about hiding behind the tweed. What is wrong with me? A few tears, a few bad memories and I lost all of my strength? No fucking way.

"Knew you could handle it, B." I replied, setting my hands on my hips, feeling my shoulder muscles flexing as I made it clear that I was just as strong as her, and was not going to take any shit.

"Ah. Buffy. This is quite fortuitous. We all need to discuss the situation." HS said smiling.

"You know about the new baddie in town?" B looked between him and me.

"Oh, well no." He swallowed. "We can get to that. Faith will be handling the situation from here on."

"Excuse me?" She snapped.

"All we are waiting on is written confirmation from London, but that is just a formality really. Faith is the Slayer, and will be staying here in Sunnydale with me to protect the Hellmouth." Where in the hell was Giles? He knew how to talk to her.

"Did I suddenly get struck dumb? You did not just say that." Buffy hissed.

"Actually I did." He responded, not fazed. I watched her face flushing, slowly, but it was happening. "Faith will take over your responsibilities. You will be free of your duty." He said it like it would make her happy. Maybe before it would have, but not now.

"This is still my town." She growled, and I gave HS a stern look.

"She is right. This is her world, we are just guest stars in it."

"No, Faith. You should-"

"You know what? It'd be real helpful if you weren't here right now." I snapped, keeping my jaws clench. "I bet Giles wants some help looking through those books in the basement, HS, so why don't you go and help him." He was going to make her head explode. Either that or she was going to kill him. And I didn't want another dead watcher.

"I am sure that he has this all under-"

"NOW!" Both he and B jumped.

"Right, of course. How silly of me." He turned and left quickly.

She was glaring at me. I wished that she could see that this wasn't my doing; I didn't ask for this. But looking at her face, I could see who she blamed. Me. She spun on her heel and went into the kitchen.

*****

"Here, Buffy is this the guy?" Willow held out the book to Buffy. They had been looking through more books as the afternoon wore on. And that was good, that they were all researching, because the tension in the room was painful. When both slayers had come back in, they were avoiding eye contact, and not speaking. Willow wasn't sure what was going on between them, but there was something, and it wasn't this new threat.

"Yupe, that's him. More droopy in the chin but that's the Lego guy." Buffy said, handing the book back to Willow.

"Lego?" Xander asked.

"Actually his name is Langoustino." Willow read aloud.

"What!" Faith exclaimed moving forward. All eyes looked at her, even Anya who seemed the most uninterested of the group.

"Langoustino." Willow repeated.

"Have you heard of him Faith?" Buffy asked, but Faith was covering her mouth as her eyes widened. Buffy was suddenly more worried, that was clear by the look on her face. "Faith?"

"Faith have you heard of Langoustino?" Willow asked moving forward as well. But a deep laugh burst from behind Faith's hand. She was cracking up; laughing so hard her face was red. Willow couldn't recall ever seeing the dark slayer laugh so strongly.

"Langa - Langa-" She was laughing and could not get the name off of her tongue. She gripped her stomach she was laughing so hard.

"This is so not funny! The end of the world is not funny!" Buffy pouted.

Faith gulped air. "Sorry, sorry. But Langoustino! The guys is named after a Shrimp! Fuckin A. This will be a walk in the park, named after a shrimp." She groaned, tears accompanying her laughter.

"Shrimp?" Willow looked at the text again. "No shrimp." She felt her forehead crinkle, and picked up another book, skimming it.

"Do you guys ever eat anything besides pizza?" Faith snorted.

"There is something other than Pizza?" Xander asked.

"Doublemeat!" Buffy said, and then dropped her head. "That is really the name for shrimp?"

"Actually a prawn." Willow said looking up from the encyclopedia she had opened. "Native to the North Atlantic.

"Whatever. Long suckers, with long pinches. Cook up real nice on the grill." All eyes spun to the Dark Slayer. "What? I'm from Boston. We eat seafood!! Jesus." She stood stretching. "So Red, what's the what on the Shrimp?"

"Well." She swallowed. "It appears that he is young, not even as old as Angel. He first appeared in 1920 in New York City." She skimmed the entry in the Watcher's Diary. "Nothing much about his activities. He seems to have been a lackey. Nothing in here about prophesies or attempts at ending the world."

"Then why is he here?" Buffy wondered aloud.

"He didn't mention anything?" Faith asked.

"No. If he did, don't you think I would have said something?" Buffy snapped.

The kitchen door opened and Giles and the new Watcher Strand entered. Both had their sleeves rolled up, and looked a little dirty and tired. They had been in the basement, moving things around to create a training space for Buffy, and Willow presumed Faith, but no one had mentioned her staying yet. She hoped that Faith would stay.

"Have you found something?" Giles asked.

"Got his name, and a weak bio." Buffy said, standing and walking to the refrigerator. Strand came to stand beside Willow and looked over her shoulder. He "hmmed" under his breath.

"Well this tells us nothing." He stood straighter. "Faith, tonight you will go out and gather information on this new group. From what Giles explained, this vampire is not working alone. Someone must have noticed an influx of new vampires in the area."

"Right." Faith mumbled, and looked sheepishly at Buffy.

"Thank you, all of you for taking the time to assist Faith." Strand looked at the group. "Mr. Giles has explained to me the dynamic that has been here for some time, and that it seems to work and be very beneficial. I am unclear if the Council will be willing to compensate you all for your efforts but-"

"We do it to help the Buffster." Xander interrupted.

"Yes, well, as Buffy is no longer the Slayer-" Strand began.

"What!" Willow exclaimed, shocked. She looked over everyone, seeing Faith looking down at the table.

"I know, Will. They have some crazy notion that Faith is taking over my duty as the Slayer." Buffy growled.

"This is great, Buffy. You can focus on school again," Willow began, seeing that this would be exactly what Buffy wanted, what she complained and wished for. But why did she seem upset.

"Are you serious?" Buffy stepped into the room. "She can't do this? Look at her! She is a psycho! She will never be the Slayer!"

Faith pushed her chair back, and turned facing Buffy.

Oh, no. Willow could see the fire in both of the girls as they stared at each other.

"You don't get it B. This is not your call!" Faith exclaimed. Everyone fell silent, just staring at them. "This is what they want."

"You cannot come back here, after everything you have done and expect me to just say, 'Gee thanks Faith, sure you be the Slayer'. Not going to happen. Do you hear me? You will never be good enough." Buffy stepped closer.

"Always with the superiority complex. If you are so much better, how come I haven't died yet?" Faith snapped.

"Because you were in jail." Buffy yelled. "Where you belonged."

"Really, Buffy, Faith, this is not-" Stand began.

"Shut up." Both Slayers said in unison.

"B, I don't want you to go, I don't want you to not Slay. I know it is what we are, what we BOTH are. No one is telling you that you can't." Faith said glaring at Strand.

"But you get all the glory?"

"I doubt that." Faith grumbled.

"Fuck you Faith. I won't play you game. You can just-" Faith grabbed Buffy's arm in her hand.

"Outside. Now." She pulled Buffy behind her, and Willow was shocked that Buffy didn't seem to protest at all.

*****

"I want something to be very clear - you hate me, I hate you." Faith said to Buffy as she stood in the back yard.

She was fuming. Faith would never replace her. But hate? Did Buffy hate Faith? Inside, deep inside, Buffy knew this wasn't Faith's fault. She was mad, but unsure if she hated the brunette in front of her. Buffy realized that they were no longer talking about what happened in the kitchen. This conversation had nothing to do with the Watchers Council.

"But." She squeaked.

"What but B? You made your feelings for me wickedly clear." Faith sneered.

"I don't think I did," she whispered.

"Knife in the gut, B. How much clearer do you think I needed?" Her tone was filled with hurt, and Buffy flinched.

"I, I - it wasn't about- it was about Angel."

"So you like to think. You knew the cure was our blood - OUR blood- that in the end you gave him. You didn't need to kill me, or try -that was your bonus."

"I didn't want that!"

"When have you ever not gotten what you wanted?" Faith was right, and Buffy knew it. She went to the apartment that night with the intent of hurting Faith. She could have cured Angel all on her own. She had gone out of anger. "The game has changed B, either accept & adapt of go e extinct."

"That a threat?"

"Not from me. We are tools. Get comfy with being used."

"I am no tool." Buffy snapped.

"When are you gonna learn girlfriend? Of course we are tools. Why else would we be chosen to do this? To risk our lives like we do? To be built like this? It is to be used." Faith's tone was cold, but the words were honest.

"I am done being used."

"And that's just it, B. You are done. So be done. You are free. GOD!" She threw her hands into the air, clearly exasperated. "Why can't you be happy about this? You were just handed the key out of this life. Now you can be a normal girl. Isn't that what you always wanted?"

"How can I not do this? You just said it, F. I was built for this."

"Well it isn't your responsibility, you are free."

"No, Faith. I was free. Remember? My gift was death, and I was free, and then they pulled me back here, so I must not be done." Buffy snapped, feeling it inside. If she had been done, truly released from this duty, then she would not have been brought back.

"I know you think you were in heaven-"

"I was in heaven." Buffy glared.

"Nope." Faith crossed her arms.

"And what makes you think you are so fucking smart?" Buffy could feel the rage bubbling inside of her, what did Faith know? She wasn't here then.

"Red."

"Huh?"

"When Tara died, Red called to Osiris asking him to heal Tara, bring her back to life. He told Red that he couldn't because a human killed Tara, in a human way. Hence a natural death. Then Red bitched, saying you were brought back, and the big guy told her that you were not a natural death, you were touched by mystical energy." Faith's tone had changed, she wasn't slinging her words, just telling it like it was, to her. But Buffy wouldn't believe it.

"So? I was still dead."

"You can't bring someone back from the dead, Buffy. That's just it." Faith pinched the bridge of her nose, in a completely un-Faith like manner. She sighed, and then continued. "When Dawn tried with Mrs. S, she was a zombie. You, as fucked up as you are, you are no zombie. You weren't dead. You were sent to another dimension. It felt like heaven to you, but it could have been a hell too. You came back with all of this darkness, all of these cravings. Can you honestly say, before this whole Glory thing, that you would ever have slept with Spike? No. You know why? In the dimension you were in, all of your inhibitions were gone. It was just you and what made you feel good, feel happy. No more Rules. No more control. Just Buffy-Fucking-Summers and all the wants and needs burning inside of you. And now you are back, and you are trying to be the way you were, the, "this is wrong" B. But it ain't working. You have itches to scratch, and it takes a lot more to get them scratched here than it did there."

SLAP. Buffy didn't realize she was moving until her palm connected with Faith's cheek.

"It hurts, cause it is the truth." Faith whispered.

"Fuck you Faith! You are just trying to, trying to..." What was Faith trying to do? What was she playing at this time?

"I can help you."

"Right, with what?" Buffy laughed.

"I know what you are doing, B. Going out, taking on too many vamps at once, hurting inside, going out after a fuck buddy." Faith was talking quietly, her eyes shifted to the back of the house.

"What do you know?" Buffy growled, not caring what the others might hear.

"I've seen you." Faith looked at the ground, almost, was she embarrassed? Then it crashed onto Buffy what Faith must have seen.

"Oh."

"Yeah, oh." Faith took a tentative step closer. "It's all rage, B. You just need to control it."

"Maybe I like it." She snapped. But she was scared. Everything Faith was saying seemed true, felt true. NO! She is playing me, trying to get me to just let her have her way! Not this time! She is nothing. The rage boiled again, pushing away everything else.

"I doubt that. It makes you into me."

"I got it!" Dawn exclaimed rushing up to the two slayers, oblivious to the looks that they were exchanging. She stepped into the middle of the tension, not caring and hugging Faith tightly. Buffy watched Faith's face soften over her sister's shoulder, as she looked down.

"What?" Faith asked.

"The job. You were so right! I just went in there, and told them they had to hire me and they did." Dawn exclaimed.

"Good for you, Kiddo." Buffy watched Faith smile at HER SISTER.

"You got a job?" She asked, and Dawn turned to her.

"Yeah. Faith is the greatest, she found this place in the mall that was hiring and told me about it."

"You got the job yourself, Kiddo." Faith was beaming at Dawn.

Buffy was seeing red, literally. The slap to Faith had just lit the fire of her rage, and she wanted to reach through her sister and slip her fingers around Faith's throat. Instead, she turned and stormed out into the evening.

*****

"What was that?" Dawn asked, watching walk away.

"That was your sister having some problems coming to terms with some changes." Okay, I knew that was an understatement, but it was all the Kiddo was going to get from me.

"Oh?"

"Yeah. Listen I need to get going," I needed to get out of here, clear my head. Maybe I would get lucky and find some demon that I could really wail on.

"Patrol?" She asked.

"Yeah."

"Can I come?" Chalk board whine. Oh, and the pouting lip. But she still had years of practice to develop the trademarked Buffy Summers; Faith will do anything for it, pout.

"Sorry, Kiddo, no can do."

"But Buffy-"

"I am not Buffy." I said softly, and walked away in the opposite direction of B.

I hadn't meant to dump all of that shit on her. But I had looked through some of the books that Tara and Red had, and came up with some theories of why B was acting so weird. She had the death wish for a while there, and clearly it was back, but more than that, she seemed to be out searching for something, like there was this hole in her gut that she kept trying to fill.

I knew that that felt like. I had been a walking block of Swiss cheese, and then I had gone to the Mayor. B needed help, before she went looking to the wrong side to fill her. That was what G-man was afraid of, and what I was too. As much as I wanted to still hate her, and not have anything to do with her, B didn't deserve to be ignored.

Sure the plan had been, help Red and Xander, and then leave. But everything had changed. She would never admit it, so I needed to. Buffy Summers needed me, and I would not let her down.

*****

Who did she think she was, talking to me like that? Thinking she had all the fucking answers. She was a nothing. She didn't know where I was, how could she. She was in jail the whole time. She was a lying, murdering, whore.

Buffy stopped running, setting her hands on her knees breathing deeply.

Then what does that make me?

*****

Giles watched Dawn walk through the kitchen, obviously sulking. He nodded to Holburn that he would handle this.

"Dawn? What is wrong?" He asked.

"Them." She grumbled.

"Pardon?"

"Buffy and Faith." She sat down heavily. "Why are they always fighting?"

"There is quite a bit of unresolved-"

"Sexual tension I get it."

"Excuse me?" Holburn spat his tea.

"Come on. It's all in the subtext. Right there, if you paid attention you would see it." Dawn snapped.

"I believe I have heard enough." Strand stood, moving to the counter to retrieve a tea towel to wipe his face.

"Dawn, there has been a lot of mistrust between them both. It will take time." Giles smiled down at her, again realizing that children view the world in an entirely different light. They see so very much more than they are given credit for.

"I am just afraid one of them will snap first."

*****

Red looked up from her book as I walked in the front door of the apartment.

I had patrolled, kicked the shit out of one pathetic vamp down by the docks. But I needed to see if there was anything else I should be doing. I was fantasizing about a bottle of JD, but there was this nagging in the back of my head. Do your duty. Be a good little tool. So I came over here, to harass the brains of the operation. Plus, something else was worrying me, after what Strand had told the group.

"Anything else?" I asked.

"About the Shrimp? Not yet. Educated guess. He wants to open the Hellmouth." Red said, pushing away the book.

"Don't they all." I grumbled. "Any way to see what would be needed to open it up? Maybe he needs some stuff, and we can get to it first?"

"Wow."

"Um, what?" I narrowed my eyes at her.

"You, leadership role. Again with the wow." She grinned.

"It feels weird." I sighed. "She is really pissed."

"Naw, she will see that this is a good thing."

"What about you, Red? Will you go away now too? Forget all about the darkness here, and the Scoobies." I asked. I was terrified to hear the answer. I had read the Slayer handbook many moons ago, and I knew that was what made Buffy stand out from all the other Slayers in history. She had the support system behind her. They had kept her alive, many times. Literally. From Xander and his CPR, to Willow pulling her out of another dimension.

"Are you asking me to stay and help you, Faith?" She asked, trying to catch my eye.

"Maybe. Depends on your answer. I've had a rough day, and don't feel like more rejection." Honest answer. Man what has happened to me?

"I want to stay and help you fight the fight, Faith. And I think Buffy will too."

*****

Buffy needed something. Her insides were begging for something. She didn't know if it was an action, a thing. But there was something missing inside of her, and usually she could shove the gnawing away, she couldn't now.

Looking around she saw the alley, and her eyes became predatory, searching out Jane. The thoughts swam through her mind, what she would do to the girl, all the while thinking about that bitch Faith.

She didn't see Jane, and maybe that was good. She was thinking about harming her, actually hurting her. And that was not good. Fucking her numb was one thing, actually hurting her, that was another.

Buffy felt the hairs on the back of her neck raise, and looked up. She could see Faith's old apartment. The lights were all on. And she could see two shadows. One was clearly Faith, and that made the other Willow. Her Willow. Her best friend who was now spending time with Faith. She saw the shadows embrace.

Inside her chest the tension snapped.

She took her job
She took her sister
She took her peace of mind
She took her friends
She took her whore
She took her LIFE!

*****

"Okay, no more with the touching." Faith laughed, pushing out of Willow's arms.

"You just looked like you needed something." Willow grinned moving back to the table. "This whole situation really bothers you."

"B is what is bothering me. There is something wrong with her."

"Well, I did, kind of, erm, that is to say, I didn't know at the time, but I pulled her out of heaven. White puffy clouds and happy music. Oh and crème cheese like on the commercial." Willow babbled.

"No you didn't. B thought she was in heaven. She told you guys that." Willow looked up, shocked. "Tara told me. About the singing, and the, 'I think I was in heaven' bit of it." Faith shrugged, and then walked over to the bookshelf and pulled out one of Tara's tomes. She dropped it in front of Willow. "But I read in here about what happens when a human truly dies. Red, you can't bring them back. Their soul is returned, to be used again. No do overs, no second chances. The End." She sighed. "You did the right thing in bringing her back. And yeah, she is broken, and different. And I don't know if I can help her to fix it."

The front door flew open, snapping off its hinges and Buffy stormed into the room. Willow gulped looking at the expression of rage on her face.

"I know what you can do to fix it, F." Buffy hissed, pulling a long knife from the small of her back. Willow looked between the two slayers, and noticed that Faith paled, just before straightening her back and cracking her knuckles. This was not going to be good.

"What's that, B?" Faith titled her head to the side. "You and me, we keep repeating the past, huh? Funny that. Though I notice, you brought your own knife this time."

"Do you have yours?"

"I don't need one." Faith crossed her arms. "And neither do you."

"Oh, I just might." Buffy rolled her eyes. "You think you can just come in here and take everything that was mine? You wanted my life so much that you had to come and steal it; you couldn't make a life of your own. Well guess what Faith; I am taking my life back. And I am starting right now."

Buffy lunged forward with her right leg, but Faith blocked it before it connected with her stomach. Buffy followed up with a solid punch to Faith's shoulder, and she let the momentum throw her back onto the table. Leaning her head back, Faith locked eyes with Willow.

"Kitchen now!" She hissed, and Willow jumped away as Buffy brought the knife down right towards Faith's chest. The brunette rolled away just in time, and the knife was embedded in the table. Willow squeaked and ran into the far room.

*****

"Damn." B grumbled as she left the knife where it was and came at me again. Looking into her hazel eyes I could see that something was wrong, something worse than before. She had really snapped. The emptiness, it was something I was familiar with. But this shouldn't be happening to her. But what could I do to snap her out of it? Did I wait too long to help her?

"We don't need to fight, B." I said, blocking a solid right hook she sent my way.

"Yes we do. You can't have my life Faith." She kicked again, but it was low, and I let her foot connect with my thigh. "You tried it on for size before, don't you remember? You couldn't hack it."

"That was a long time ago. Things change." I shrugged. She kicked again, and I caught her leg in my hands. "What is happening to you?"

"Me?" She laughed, and dropped, using her other leg as she fell to the floor to connect with my chin. My head snapped back and hit the wall. Fuck that hurt. My eyes clouded for a second, but I blinked and everything was five by five again. "What about you, F? You aren't even fighting back. You expect to be me, and you can't even fight back?" She sprung back up, her fist in my gut. How much longer was I going to let her kick my ass?

I threw out my fist, connecting with her jaw, and she stumbled back. Not very long. Her eyes went round.

"So the little girl can still fight. Yeah!" She clapped her hands and moved quickly to strike out again.

"I could always fight, B." I jabbed and she blocked. We moved into the living room, stalking each other, looking for an in. "Don't you remember? I am the only one you can't beat."

"I recall a coma." She laughed.

"But you were trying to kill me, B. You failed."

She growled and jumped forward, punching my face. Okay, not a good idea to touch my face. There had to be some way I could get through to her. I didn't want B dead, or even too hurt. But how could I stop her from doing it to herself.

"I never fail."

"Get used to it." I kicked her, landing the blow, and she flew across the room. "You want to fight, I will give you a fight. But think about it B. What in the hell is all of this about? Why do you want to kill me?" I stalked over to her. "You can't hide behind Angel or the Mayor this time. This is all you and me, and I want you to tell me WHY!" I kicked her again, as she was still on the ground.

"You ruined everything!" She hissed, looking up at me.

"I did not!"

"Then how can you explain how fucked up my life is?"

"You did it yourself, Buffy. This is your life. I have only been back for a week." I dropped my fists, thinking she was finally ready to talk.

*****

I watched her drop her hands, and knew this was my moment. Her words were rolling off of me, meaning nothing. I was barely hearing them. This was her fault. Everything was Faith's fault!

I sprung up, grabbing the knife out of the table and lunged forward. In my rage I knew, if I killed her, then my life would go back to the way it was.

*****

Sneaky bitch!

I grabbed her wrist, and turned the knife away, just in time. It cut my side, but didn't stab me, which was good. I didn't feel like matching scars. Her eyes were so angry, and I knew I wasn't reaching her. Time to try something drastic. I locked my arms around her, pulling her roughly against me. I could feel her heart pounding in her small chest against mine.

"What happened to you? What is wrong inside of you?" I whispered in her ear. She was struggling, but I locked my arms around hers, and I knew she couldn't move. "You want me dead? You think killing me will make everything better? Well it won't Buffy."

*****

"I know what you are feeling inside. This giant hole that is throbbing, always making you know it is there, and you want to do anything and everything you can think of to get it to stop." Faith's voice whispered in Buffy's ear, and she stopped struggling so hard. She didn't relax, but she let herself listen for a moment. "Remember, in the church, when I was beating the hell out of you, when you were in my body? Remember the things I said. You are saying them now to yourself. You may not hear it, but I can. It is clear in your actions. Killing me won't kill that part of you, Buffy." The tension rolled out of Buffy's shoulders, and Faith just tightened her grip. "Accept who you are, the Buffy you are now." Slowly Buffy raised her eyes, locking onto Faith's chocolate gaze.

"Do you actually believe the shit that is coming out of your mouth?" Buffy slammed her head against Faith's face, causing her to drop her arms. Buffy felt her lips tighten in a grin.

*****

Okay, fine.

So I tried to pull a Red and be all sensitive and shit, and clearly it didn't work.

"Fine, B. You want to dance with the devil? Baby, the devil is waiting."

*****

Faith grabbed Buffy's shoulders and threw her across the room, and the window shattered as the blonde slayer went through. She rolled out of the throw, looking around seeing the roof. They had danced here before.

Danced.

Buffy's memory flashed before her. She and Faith, dancing at the Bronze, bodies moving in time, get closer and closer with ever thump of base. She had been so happy then, felt so whole and alive.

Faith jumped through the broken glass, and moved over to her. Memories slipped away, and the rage returned. She wanted Faith on her knees, begging for mercy. Telling Buffy that she was the best, that she was the only one. That Faith would never leave her again.

What?

Faith sent a roundhouse Buffy's way, and she blocked, thinking now only of the fight. She tightened her grip on the knife, and lunged forward, zeroing in on Faith's heart.

*****

There was a battle going on inside of her. That much was obvious in her eyes. Okay, I would defend myself. No killing her.

I don't want to anyway. I never wanted to kill her. No, well what did I want then? Just to be needed. By her.

I was too caught up in my thoughts, missing her twitch. She was coming right at me, knife raised. My heels were pressed against the side of the ledge, there was nowhere to go really but down. Shit. She was going to get me.

*****

Willow slipped out of the kitchen when she heard the glass breaking. She peered through the broken window, to see the slayer's fighting. When Buffy lunged with the knife, she could see that Faith was trapped.

"Buffy no!"

*****

I dropped. I couldn't let her stab me, again. That would be too ridiculous. So I dropped off the edge of the building, using one hand to grab the little ledge to stop my fall.

It happened in an instant. I dropped, I held on, and then I saw her blonde hair move past me. B couldn't stop her momentum, and she had toppled over the edge of the roof. This fall might just kill her if she landed wrong.

I reached out my hand, grabbing her wrist as it moved by me. I felt the jolt through my body as she stopped falling. Wow, for being so small she was heavy. I heard the knife clatter on the asphalt below. I looked down at her, and she turned her head to look up at me.

I think I lost myself for a moment in her wide hazel eyes. They seemed to be pleading with me. B looked down at the ground, six stories below, and then back up at me.

"I, I. Please." Was all she could get out. Were those tears? What could I do?

"Is it all so bad that you want me to let go? You just want to end it all? You are killing yourself. Want me to let go, you just say the fucking word B."

*****

Langoustino was sitting in a soft leather chair. He had brought it with him. The desk was new, but it would do, for now. This was all temporary, after all. Just until the Hellmouth was opened, and then he would have a palace.

The door to his office opened and a young strawberry blonde woman entered with his assistant. She was attractive enough, and he did feel a slight tingling of power in the air as she came closer.

"This is Amy." His assistant said, by way of introduction.

"You are the strongest witch in this town?" he asked, threading his fingers together.

"I am now." She said, crossing her arms.

"That sounds an awful lot like a no."

"Well, I-" She stumbled. He thought so. His reports told him of a witch of unimaginable power had lived in this town. But this girl, though a witch, was not strong enough.

"Kill her." He flicked his hand, and turned away.

"What do you need?" She pleaded. Hmmm, she might be useful. He leaned across the desk.

"I need the strongest witch in Sunnydale." Langoustino said.

"Then you need Willow." She smiled, "And only I can get her for you."

...continued in Accept...

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