Back to the Beginning: This Faith
by Amanda
Rating: R

General Copyright / Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel the syndicated series and all other characters who have appeared in both shows are the sole property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy & UPN. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
Disclaimer #2: Title comes from the song by the same name by FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY, off of their Millennium cd.
Disclaimer #3: This is more a thank you. There is a section down below (noted) that was written by my hero, the goddess herself, Michele. Though it was not written for this story, it was written for me, and she let me use it here, WOO HOO for all of you. Getting a little taste of greatness. *wink* so a big thank you to Michele, and I disclaim the Harley description to her. *bows*
Date: 111102 - 042503
Spoilers: Read the BTTB Series & ONUS first or you will be lost. This has gone away from the show some time ago.
Author's Notes: Thank you to those who have stuck with this, not an easy task, seeing as how I have been known to be ‘bad’ and like to torment the Slayers, and the Reader. This will be the end of the saga, I promise, and I hope you won’t be disappointed.
Note: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent. If it is written in italics it is the character’s thoughts & dreams.

THIS FAITH
Faces of a Thousand People
This Sickness in their Mind is Real
We Fight and Struggle to Survive
This Cultured way of Suicide

This Faith is Real
The Betrayal

[CHORUS]
As We Fall from the Sky
Our Lives Pass By
Emerging from this Vision
Life is Stranger than Death

Abusive Statements from the Ranks

Intimidation has its Way
The Sun Comes Up Another Day
...Just to Fade Away Again

The Strategies of Men Appear
...World Destruction Now is Here

This Faith is Real
The Betrayal

[CHORUS]

Decades Gone By
...Nothing Changed

Mankind Cruelty Is Still the Same
Seeking Shelter From this Day
Tomorrow Victims are here to Stay
Another Lonely Night Appears
You Close Your Eyes with Hardened Tears

This Faith is Real
The Betrayal

[CHORUS]

The World as we Know Destroyed
 
Front line Assembly
Millennium

*****

“Buffy?” Willow asked, kneeling beside her sobbing friend. Willow knew that things were stressed tonight, they all knew that on the other side of the country Faith was all alone, slaying vampires and her own demons. She looked over her shoulder, to see the others standing there looking at her expectantly. With a sigh, Willow set her hand on her best friend’s shoulder and squeezed lightly. “What is it? Is it Faith?”

“I just miss her so much.” Buffy choked out, shaking her head. “I know I just saw her, but still, she’s not here.”

“But she will be, I mean as soon as she can.” Willow offered.

“I know, Wills.” Buffy looked up at all of them, brushing her hair from her reddened eyes. “I know.”

*****

Balch watched as they lifted the unconscious Slayer from the floor of the hall, her head loosely falling back, and a low sad sound coming from her bloodied lips. Two men carried her out, past him.

“Put her in the house.” He instructed and turned back to Unit Leader Osler. “How long will that tranquilizer keep her down?”

“Hard to say really.” Osler offered, keeping his eyes on his clean up crew as they swept up the dust and broken items from the floors. “Maybe two hours, with her metabolism.”

“Indeed. Right then, I had better begin the injections.” Balch decided as he spoke.

“Couldn’t hurt.” Osler grinned. “Thompson, make sure you get that chalice and bag it for the lab mice back at HQ.”

*****

“Sorry for that mini meltdown Wills.” Buffy offered as she leaned against the counter in the kitchen. Content that there was nothing seriously wrong with the Slayer, the others had left for the night, but Willow had stayed, wanting to just make sure. She ran her hand up and down Buffy’s deceptively soft arm.

“You are entitled, Buffy. Honestly. I think we all understand. I know I do.”

“Do you?” Buffy asked her softly, her hazel eyes questioning.

“Sure. You left her to fight a battle all on her own.” Willow shrugged.

“It’s not that.” Buffy sighed.

“What then?”

“Something just feels off… I can’t explain it better than that.” Buffy shrugged, twisting the cap back on the water bottle before tucking her hair behind her ear.

“Well, it’s nearly dawn in Boston, and if you haven’t felt any thing, you know with that whole psychic-Slayer-network-bond, then I am sure she won.” Willow offered.

Buffy grinned. “Well I am feeling nothing so.” But Willow could sense the emptiness in her voice. It was the same lack of emotion that Willow had heard for months, since Faith had left. “I, I need to get out of here for awhile. Too much tension, something.”

“Okay.” Willow shrugged.

“Where did everyone go?” Buffy asked, as if she just realized there was no one else there with them.

“Um, you know, getting late, no major disasters to plan for. I think Giles went to get some sleep. Anya and Xander left together, but,” Willow rolled her eyes, not knowing what was going on between her two friends. They seemed to be taking things pretty slow, Anya was, in her own words, ‘making Xander sweat it out’.

“Right.” Buffy smiled in agreement. “What about Jude?” Buffy asked, a twinkle in her eyes.

“Well, she, um, said that she, well,” Willow stumbled, just the mental image of Jude at the mention of her name was enough to make her cheeks flush.

“You okay there, Wills?” Buffy asked with a wide grin.

“Yeah, fine.” Willow swallowed deeply. “No.”

With a grin and a wiggle of her eyebrows Buffy declared, “She’s hot.”

“Buffy!”

“She is! I was walking around in her body for a week, Wills. I know you are happy.”

“Well,” Willow hedged hesitantly.

“You have seen…” Buffy mock whispered.

“Well.”

“Willow Rosenberg! You have been dating an incredibly sexy woman for months and you have yet to seal the deal?”

“She is not Tara.” Willow shrugged.

“No… no she isn’t. Is that what is…” Again Buffy was just dangling sentences.

“No, maybe… No.” Willow was stuck.

“Just,” Buffy closed her eyes, and then sighed. “If she makes you happy, don’t let fear hold you back.”

Willow bit her bottom lip, nodding, still feeling a little embarrassed talking about lesbian sex with Buffy.

“And you want advice, let me know. Faith and I found a lot of places on that body that seem to be appreciated.”

“Buffy! You did not have sex with Faith when you looked like my girlfriend!”

“Oops.”

*****

“Where have you been?” The voice asked from the darkness.

“I couldn’t get away.”

“Do you know how important-“

“Yes, I do, and I know arguing about it right now is robbing us of valuable time.”

“You have some nerve.”

“I know who is in control here; and that is not you.”

“I could kill you.”

“Right.” She scoffed, tossing her long leather coat onto the back of the couch. “Let’s get this started.”

*****

Out of a conditioned routine, Buffy locked the door to the large house behind her, and then walked slowly down the flagstones to the sidewalk. She threw a quick glance over her shoulder, taking in the Victorian; its turrets and windows, most no longer lit. It seemed like everyone had left for the night. The house was empty most nights now, without Holburn, Dawn, or Faith living inside of it. Just leaving Buffy to the massive place alone. Over the months, since Faith’s departure she tried to convince Giles to move in with her, but he protested, making it clear that though his apartment across town was small, it was what he wanted, and that he needed to have the privacy it afforded. Which Buffy knew meant he wanted to be able to have a social life and not flaunt it in front of the others. Giles always did have a secret side to him, and Buffy was accepting of that now. Now that she understood that for all the darkness and evil baddies they fought, having down time, having something normal like dating was important to ground them. She never really appreciated that aspect of her life. Sure those she dated over the years weren’t all that normal; Two vampires, a drugged up Government agent, a prostitute, and her fellow Slayer, yeah, not all that normal. She thought, in those first few weeks with Riley that she could do normal, that it would be easy to have a double life, but it became impossible, and Buffy had long ago accepted that she wasn’t normal, and could not have a normal relationship. She felt a grin appear on her lips. She didn’t want normal. She wanted the passion, and she got that more from Faith than anyone else before, and possible ever. So if Giles was the only one of them who could have that normalcy, she would not begrudge him that. Not for her own selfishness, just because she was lonely.

The first month had been easy; she had just pretended that Faith was a dream. Her coming back, rebuilding the emotions that had always been between them, bubbling below the surface. The look of utter surrender she had seen reflected in Faith’s brown eyes the first time they made love in that crypt. None of it had happened, or at least that was what Buffy told her self over and over again. It was better to believe it to be a heated hallucination, than to feel the pain of not having it now. So convincing her mind had been that it surprised her, when in the second month it hit her like a truck on the Sunnydale Expressway. It wasn’t a dream, and her body and her soul were aching, needing to feel loved, wanted, and protected. She may not have completely realized it at the time, but Faith made her feel all of those things, and that was something she had never felt before. Angel and Spike were vampires, and no matter how much love or lust, no matter how much she might trust them with her emotions, or in Spike’s case her body, she always knew that they were her sworn enemy. Riley, though strong and assertive, even on the wacky power pills was no match for her on her worst day. Only Faith could protect her, or defeat her. Only Faith was strong enough. Only Faith could make Buffy drop all of her control, all of her fear. Just the memory of giving herself completely to Faith made her body shiver, made her skin erupt in gooseflesh, and her breath pick up.

“God.” Buffy huffed. “Just thinking about her gets me hot.” She rolled her eyes at herself. Nothing good would come of getting so aroused she wouldn’t be able to walk, not when the touch she needed to liberate the building pressure was across the country and she had no idea when, or if she would ever see Faith again.

Buffy had never believed the stories, the fanciful tales of what real true love felt like. She never believed one could miss something so very much after only having it for a short period of time. Now she knew. Love was all consuming, and changing. Faith had given her real love, and taken it from Buffy in return. Those dark eyes told her every time she looked into them. Faith loved her, completely. And knowing that, Buffy had never thought about her Faith even looking at someone else, so Buffy had been taken aback finding her in Boston, in the arms of some other blonde, completely mesmerized as she watch Faith dancing in a smoky club, someone else’s hands on her strong body. Buffy’s heart had swelled with jealousy, that she could not be the owner of those hands. There was no anger at Faith, she understood. There were times in everyone’s life when they just needed to feel. Buffy had repeatedly been with Jane in the past, when she needed to feel, and her subconscious drew her to Jane, Faith’s look alike. That was what Buffy watched Faith do in Boston. Find a woman that looked like her and allowed herself the release of being with her. At the time, when she first saw it, she didn’t know that Faith referred to all of the women with Buffy’s name, but when she did it pulled at her heart. Seeing the deep shadows under Faith’s eyes, seeing her sneer instead of the smile that radiated with happiness. It was like Faith was torturing herself by chasing after Veronica, by chasing her past mistakes. Buffy would have loved Faith just the same if she had stayed in Sunnydale and let Veronica get away. The need for revenge, though understood by Buffy, was not a burden that she felt Faith had to carry.

Buffy kicked at a few random pebbles littering the sidewalk as she walked deeper into Sunnydale; recalling how full her life had been in those months since Faith left. It was as if the vampire population in town had been growing and she had missed it. There seemed to be more and more newbies to slay. Add that to the vagabond groups that appeared from time to time, and she was kept busy at night; her days were filled with checking in and checking out books in the school library. She would wonder, as she looked at the line of students all holding books in their arms, where the hell did they all get their books when she was a student. For all the time she and the others spend in the library with Giles, planning and plotting, there never seemed to be other regular students entering the sanctum. Had there been some unspoken rule that the place was off limits? Or was reading increasing in the town? There never came a real answer, only lines of students, all with their handy yellow and red library cards and books. It filled the hours when the sun was out, which kept her from thinking too much. And there was a lot to think about. Not just Faith and Buffy’s breaking heart, but the piece of her that was slaughtered by Veronica’s hand.

Dawn.

Some one created by monks using magic, something that had never really been, and yet when Dawn was killed, Buffy was still tortured, remembering all of the false moments. Dawn being brought home from the hospital, Dawn taking her first steps, the first time Dawn swiped Buffy’s favorite cashmere sweater and preceded to spill an inhuman amount of ketchup on it. Dawn crying when they moved to Sunnydale, Dawn throwing a tantrum when Buffy got the larger of the two bedrooms in the house. Dawn acting like a Faith Jr. when the Slayer had first come to town. Buffy would wake covered in sweat from having dreams of remembrance, that her head knew were false, but her heart was convinced that they were real. So Buffy had begun sleeping less. Filling the hours of the day with work, nights slaying. When she wasn’t slaying, she was training, waiting until exhaustion, before falling into bed, getting two hours of empty sleep. Keeping the thoughts at bay.

That is until Jude came into their lives. It was as though she wasn’t there one day, and the next she was.

*****

Red hair slipped through her fingers as Willow raked them through it for the second time in as many minutes. Her hands kept trying to fidget, and if they had their way she would be dialing Jude’s telephone number on the cell phone that felt heavy in her jacket pocket.

Why can’t I just call her to say hi? She mused, then answered herself; because you just said goodnight to her an hour ago.

There was something about this woman, a woman who was completely different than Tara, completely different than any woman Willow had even met before. From the first moment she caught sight of her on campus, taking in the strong and powerful gait of her walk, the sparkle in her honey colored eyes, Willow was intrigued. When this petite woman stopped a foot away from Willow, smile gracing her full lips, and quirked an eyebrow at her, the Wicca knew she was hooked.

Granted it was a little disconcerting that she found herself wanting to stand even closer to a stranger, that she wanted to run the back of her hand over the sculpted cheek bones, and feel the very short bleached blonde hairs on her head. That was completely unlike Willow, and she knew it. She would always be the nerdy Willow Rosenberg. Didn’t matter that she was a powerful Witch, if she could harness enough power to end the world, when it came to people she was a nervous-nelly. She thanked the Goddesses on that day when Jude had taken her hand immediately and greeted her with a knowing smile and a rich voice, proclaiming that she had been looking for Willow.

That was another oddity. How many people had girlfriends who could see bits and pieces of the future? Willow grinned, recalling a few nights ago, in Jude’s small apartment as Willow had the smaller woman pressed against the front door, kissing her with such passion that Willow was afraid her heart would leap out of her chest, and Jude had calmly whispered for Willow to relax, that they would not be crossing that line, would not yet become lovers. It was not time, yet. And Willow had relaxed.

Goodness it made being in a relationship and trying to surprise her impossible, but it made indoctrinating Jude into the Scoobies simple. They all agreed, especially Giles, that having someone who could actually see into the future on their side would be remarkably beneficial. Though Xander was the most grumblely out of the family, when Jude refused to give him that night’s winning lotto numbers.

Jude made her smile, made her feel special, and Willow wouldn’t trade that for the world. If she could just get over this feeling that she was betraying Tara by having feelings for someone else, then it would be a near perfect relationship. Well that, Willow chided, and if she could ever seal the deal.

She nearly leapt as her phone vibrated in her pocket as she reached the outside of her apartment building.

“H-h-hello?”

“Hey you.” Jude’s voice purred.

“I was just thinking about you.”

“I know.” Willow could hear the smile in her voice. “It will happen Willow, sooner than you think.”

Willow closed her eyes, setting her forehead against the cold stucco wall.

“Promise?”

“Yes. And it will be worth the wait.”

“Mm.” Willow grinned.

“Now take that bath, and go to sleep, you will see me at 8:06 in the Student Union.”

“Want to save me the thinking and tell me what I will be wearing tomorrow?”

“It will just, um, come to you. Goodnight to you too.”

“You are supposed to let me say it.”

Jude laughed before hanging up. Willow sighed, and opened the door to the building.

*****

Jude was nice, and Buffy was sure from the blush Willow sported in the kitchen that her friend really liked her. Buffy hoped so. Granted it wasn’t like Buffy and Faith were together and in front of Willow all the time, still, Buffy wanted to know that Willow had moved on. Not that she would ever love just as she loved Tara, but she needed love and affection in her life just as much, if not more than the Slayers. Jude seemed, so far, to fit that bill. She was kind, attentive, and Buffy really liked her.

Sighing she stepped into Biltmore Cemetery, one that was rarely used anymore, having become filled to capacity some years before she even arrived in Sunnydale. Buffy knew that if she were looking for a freshly risen vampire, this was not the place, but to walk around amid the tombstones, to hear the wind through the trees, this would be the place. Thinking had helped calm her down slightly, so the need to beat the undead shit out of something was not as strong as it had been, so meandering through this place would be enough tonight.

“Please.” Whispered across the wind that moved some of the maple and oak leaves on the ground; the sound catching her ears, and causing Buffy to turn her head sharply to the left. Someone was here. Taking three sharp, wide steps in that direction, she closed her eyes and inhaled. Earth, stone, grass, leaves, and death. Her nostrils flared, and she felt the low pain below her belly, and the blood in her heart sped up. The muscle pumped twice strongly out of time, raising the rate, and she felt the adrenaline and blood moving down through her legs, back up her chest, and out to her arms. Unconsciously her muscles tightened and released. The Slayer’s eyes opened, looking through the shadows. Pulsing loudly in her ears the sound of one human breathing, and her eyes narrowed in on the figures. One human, one very much not.

With a light hop she was running towards them, her eyes narrowing, taking in the scene. The vampire was dressed simply, blue jeans and a warm looking brown wool sweater. Not the normal attire for a vamp, but after all the years, nothing surprised her anymore. The woman in his grasp was dressed similar, looking every bit the student that Buffy was sure she was. A large school bag was laying on the ground, clearly having been dropped when the vampire came upon her. His dead hands were on her shoulders, and his ghoulish face was leaning closer to his intended victims neck. But not if Buffy had her way. She pulled the stake from her back pocket, using her free hand, grabbed a handful of his hair, wrenching his head back away from the pale, pulsing neck.

“I don’t think so.” She growled out, pulling harder on his hair, her leg behind his, giving the leverage needed to topple him easily to the ground. She watched him fall as if in slow motion, his hands clawing at the air, but there was nothing to stop him from hitting the solid ground with such force that unneeded air was forced from his lungs.

*****

“Where am I?” My voice echoed in the great hall. The tapestries hanging from the stone walls doing nothing to muffle the tin echo.

“Dreaming, Slayer.” I craned my neck to see someone standing in the distance. Guess he was right. There was no way this hall could be real. I mean he was small from where I stood, I could pinch his whole body with my fingers, if I looked through them. From here I could tell he was dressed, head to toe in black. I looked down at myself. ‘Not bad’ I thought, liking very much the tight leathers, and the painted on black tank top. I especially liked the shine to my boots. So far, a good dream.

“Hate when people who I don’t know call me that.”

“I know.” Flash of white teeth as he smiled.

“So, dream huh?” Closing my eyes I was suddenly standing beside him, taking in his expensive suit of black, smelling the low smoke of long ago smoked cigarettes on the skin and clothes. “And the purpose for this dream.” I looked him over. Pretty good sized guy. Wide shoulders, dirty blonde hair.

“To show you, to teach you.”

“Hmm.” I sucked on my bottom teeth, fighting not to roll my eyes.

“All the world could be ours.”

“Like I haven’t heard that before.” No chance, the eyes rolled.

“Not this tale, I assure you.”

*****

Water dripped from the rag he rung in his hands over the plain steal bowl. Shaking it once, Balch leaned back over the unconscious form of the Slayer. Gently he moved the cloth over her right sable brow, clearing the blood that was there from the cut on her forehead. Turning the cloth he moved it over her cheek, removing more dried blood and dust.

“She looks so harmless.” A voice said from the doorway behind him, and Balch turned, while dipping the rag in the water again, turning the warm water a milky red.

“I wouldn’t say harmless.” He offered, taking her arm in his hand, moving to clean the deep gash in her flesh. He noted easily the muscles of her arm, the weight of it. “More young.”

A snort was the reply from Osler. Shrugging Balch continued to clean her off, then he would see to that cut. He would hate for it to scar.

He watched as her eyes began tracking back and forth beneath her closed lids, and the heat of her skin increased, sweat suddenly building up.

*****

Rolling my head back and forth, feeling the tingling in my limbs, vaguely my mind distinguish that they are bound by something. Something wet was on my arm, but I couldn’t pull myself completely from the place where my mind had just been.

A voice in the distance, a dream voice calling me back to it, murmuring through my consciousness.

“She will betray you, they will all betray you, and then what will you be Faith? How will you handle that? Living without her?”

“I’d rather be nothing.” My voice croaked.

*****

“What did she just say?” Osler said coming closer, his hand on the butt of the gun at his side.

“I, I am not sure.” Balch looked down on her in fascination. “I think she is dreaming.”

“I hope so. If not you better get the serum ready. I would so hate to have to put her down again.” The sarcasm in the Unit leader’s voice was scathing.

“It won’t come to that.”

“Darn.” Osler shrugged, and walked out of the room.

The cloth made a pass across her forehead. “I wonder what you dream about, Slayer.” Balch mumbled to himself.

*****

“Nothing… well I’m sure that could be arranged.” He chuckled, as I felt myself reenter the dream world. He was sitting in a larger wooden chair in the center of the hall. Looking around I saw nothing else, no furniture, nothing. I paced five steps and then turned, tilting my head to the side.

“How are you able to bring me here?” I asked. No one had ever brought me into a dream, well accept B. And I knew for sure she wasn’t here.

“Pretty easily.”

“Easy? Then how come I not dream-napped more often?”

“Some people forget to look for the things that they want. Instead they pine away wondering and hoping. All they need to do is look.”

“Uh-huh.” I crossed my arms. “So, big guy, what’s on the agenda for this little dream? What’s this story you plan on telling me? You know, the story that convinces me to join the dark forces?”

“Who said anything about dark forces?” his blonde eyebrow rose over his right blue eye.

“Maybe the whole you in black and in my head thing. Not normal what I would expect from a goodie two shoes.” I snapped.

“Lines are drawn, but who are you to say, Faith, which side is good, and which is evil?”

“Generally if it involves killing, I lean to evil.”

“But you kill demons, don’t you?”

*****

Willow looked at the bathtub, as it was filling with water, and sighed, knowing she wanted to slip into the warm water, feel it heat her from the outside in, but something else was also prickling at the back of her mind. She wasn’t sure what it was exactly that made her lean over and shut off the water, or walk back into the main room.

She found herself sitting at the table, looking at the screen saver on her laptop. Her finger brushed over the touch pad, and the log in box appeared. Still not sure why she was bothering, Willow typed in the password, ‘Miss Kitty’, and blinked as the desktop that came up, and the flashing icon that told her that she had a message. Frowning she maneuvered the mouse and clicked the link. The muscles of her forehead relaxed as her eyes widened as she looked at the message that was displayed. It was from one of the council members she had befriended over the net after she returned from her too short stay in England. Both Giles and Holburn had encouraged her to contact the lower members of the Council, for research and to familiarize herself with the practices of the group.

Willow,
Wanted you to know that something is happening. I don’t have much information, but I know for a fact that T is in America, Boston to be precise. I know you were asking around last week about sightings and power surges there, and thought you might want to know. Everything has gotten pretty quiet here over the past twenty-four hours, and I am beginning to worry a little, I think something is happening, and they don’t want the rest of us to know.
I know, just enough information to freak you out, sorry about that, but it is the best that I can do.
As an aside, that prophecy and ritual you sent me to look over, I did find some information on it. What you sent me was incomplete, well okay, not incomplete, but altered. On what you outlined to me, nothing would happen. The true ritual is slightly varied. So don’t worry about whomever has the one you sent me. Nothing will come of it. Can I ask where you found it? I would like to do some cross checking.
Hope you are well.
Meral

“What the hell?” Willow mumbled sitting back in the chair.

*****

“It’s all ready. We had better wake him up.”

“This will work, I mean are we sure?”

“Of course it will work. Are you kidding?”

“Do you think that we would just let it happen, casually? Please. Veronica was a fool. Always far too driven by her emotions."

"Emotions huh?"

"Lust, Jealousy, you know."

"But the prophecy, the spell. She had everything to do it."

"No she didn't. Didn't you think it was at all odd that suddenly that Buffy and her friends came across this information? Didn't you? Things do not fall into our laps, ever."

"So why then?"

"To get Faith away, to keep her away."

*****

The fist connected with her shoulder rather than her cheek, as Buffy moved back and twisted. It left enough of an opening for her to side kick the vampire, sending him flying across the grounds, stopping only when his body came in contact with a particularly large oak tree. He slipped to the ground, and she sprung at him, arm extended. His face slipped back to human form as she lowered the stake to his heart, and she blinked, recognition sparking inside of her brain. She had seen that face before, but could not place where. Internally shrugging she pushed the stake deeper inside of his chest, and he shattered into a whole host of dust particles.

Buffy stood straight, brushing some of the dust from her sleeves, and turned to face the would-be victim, who was looking on with her mouth open, clearly in shock.

“It’s okay. You are gonna be”- SLAP. Buffy’s head snapped to the side under the surprisingly strong power of the girl’s palm. “Not the normal thank you I get.” Buffy mumbled, looking back at the girl who was red with rage. “Problem? I sort of saved your ass.”

“Saved?” The girl laughed. “Fuck you Buffy Summers. You think you are so great.”

“Whoa. Do I know you?”

“Of course not. You don’t know anybody. You just slink through the night killing.” The girl tossed her brown hair over her shoulder.

“I don’t kill.”

“Jimmy sure as hell ain’t alive.”

“Listen, who ever you are. You obviously know I’m the Slayer, and you know this is what I do. I fight the good fight. I am out here every night slaying the demons so you can live another day of your boring normal life.” Buffy’s voice bit back.

“You think you are doing the right thing? Where were you when they turned him? Where were you to stop that from happening? And now he really is gone from me forever! Who do you think you are? Did you stop and think that maybe I wanted to be turned?”

“You can’t be serious.” Buffy whispered.

“Why not? Why did you decide to save me, but you let them turn Jimmy? What gives you the right to choose who lives or who dies?” The girl lifted her bag and began stomping away. “You aren’t God!”

“But I’m the Slayer.” Buffy countered, but no one was there to hear her.

*****

“Yeah, of course I kill demons.” I tapped my chest. “Faith, Vampire Slayer, ringing any bells for you?”

A soft laugh came from his chest, and I narrowed my eyes. Why did this guy seem so familiar to me?

“I know very well what you do, what you are capable of. I know the power of the Slayer rests in your hands. I know that the line could end with you.”

“Could, but won’t. When I die, another will be called. You can’t stop that. Is this what all of this is about? You plan on getting me to do something?”

“It won’t be me, Faith. It will be Buffy.”

“Yeah, see I am not getting that.” I walked closer to his chair. “Maybe I am a little slow, Mr. Vampire, but I am not getting your point. Maybe you want to tell me where your body is, and I’ll show you a point of my own?”

“Ha! Good for you, Faith. What gave it away?”

“That you’re a fang?” I shrugged. “You are taking way too fucking long to tell me what you want, which is a weird little habit you all have. Why you can’t just come out and tell me what you want, I’ll never know.”

“Ah, I see.” He stood up slowly. “Unfortunately I have to go.”

“And without telling me anything, how nice.” I sneered.

“How about this. What I am about to do, you can’t stop it, and neither can, Buffy.” His face twisted as he said her name. “What you can do is decide what side you are on. Will you let her betray you? Because she will, Faith. She will abandon and betray you just like she has done to the rest of us, and for that she will be punished.”

And then he was gone. No puff of smoke, no lightening bolts. Just gone. I sat down heavily in the chair, tossing my leg over the arm, wondering when I would be let out of this weird dream.

*****

The shadows were long, the four figures in the room standing at the edges, all dressed head to toe in black, just as the specter that stood in the center of the pentagram that was etched in the concrete floor. In each of their hands were held small cups.

Together the four began to speak. “Gathered are we, and from the four corners come gifts for those who will accept them.”

“To those we offer dusted bones of a master,” alone the voice in the north called out in the large warehouse.

“Water from a cursed font,” came from the west.

“Earth from an unholy place,” from the south.

“Herbs cursed,” rang out from the east.

“And to solidify the union, the blood of the Slayer’s child.” The voice in the center added, before lifting the earthenware cup in pale hands. The air in the space began to crackle, unseen but felt was the electricity in the air. Taking one deep swallow of the liquid inside, fighting the urge to retch, the specter began to speak again. “With these offerings I beseech thee, upon taking into me the offering, I will become whole, the morning sun shall fall upon me, and I will feel only the warmth. I will not perish.” The last drink, taking in the rest of the potion, and the electricity around them all arced, glowing tendrils of red and white began snaking around the body of the specter, the pentagram on the floor becoming low flames. “You shall curse me, and with your power I will reign as the day walker. Nothing will harm me. Not the wood, not the cross, not the consecrated waters, and not the sun. Unstoppable I shall be, and nations will fall before me, armies will tremble in my wake, and I will end the reign of the Slayer.”

*****

The girl walking away was getting smaller and smaller, and Buffy just watched her go, with shoulders slumped, a frown on her features. The stake held loosely in her hand was released by tired fingers, and penetrated the ground.

A God?

Did that girl, that stranger really believe that was what she thought? That Buffy was holding herself above everyone else? Slowly she sat down, her hands on the lush grass, feeling the realness of it. She was better, in a way. She has the Chosen One. This was what she did. Fought the darkness. No she couldn’t stop them all, there would be some people that she couldn’t save, and it wasn’t like she ignored that fact. It was there like a neon sign. Every new vampire she dusted was another person that she had been able to save.

“I can’t save them all.”

*****

I ran my hand over the polished wood of the chair, wondering what exactly that vamp had meant. Chose a side? I already played that game, and I lost. I chose wrong and learned my lesson, at the business end of a knife.

I doubted B would just betray me for the hell of it. I knew her, inside and out, and there was no way she would just up and do something, unless;

“Unless I was on the other side.” I mumbled aloud, my voice bouncing around in this place and then coming back.

But why would I be on the other side. I wouldn’t make the mistake I made before when I went to the mayor. There was no reason for me to go against her.

“Buffy, where are you?” I whispered, my mind calling out to her, wishing that she was asleep, so I could see her again, even here, in this weird dream.

The stone walls began to tremble, bits and pieces started falling, a dark black fog began bubbling up from the joints in the floor.

“Oh, Faithy.”

I jumped out of the chair, turning around swiftly, looking to see Him sitting here, a thin switchblade knife in his hand, using it to pick at the nails of his left hand. This was not fucking right, there was no way:

“I dusted you, asshole.” I growled lowly at him.

“Did you?” His eyebrow raised, and he grinned handsomely.

This wasn’t real, this was a dream. I closed my eyes, and saw in flashes my fists raining against his face, I watched the blood bubbling out of his cracked lips from shattered ribs piercing organs that were not really needed, I saw his face vamp, and heard the scream of pain as I forced the stake into his heart.

“Tisk, tisk.” His voice rumbled and I opened one eye, still seeing him sitting there. He stabbed the knife into the arm of the chair. “All those nasty little thoughts.” He frowned. “Here little girl, let me give you something more enjoyable to think about.” He flicked his wrist at me, and I was thrown against the far wall. I felt it shudder under my weight.

I tried to open my eyes, but all I could see were memories. The smell of stale cigarettes, beer. The feel of springs poking through the mattress into my back as the full weight of him pressed down on me. His sweating face dripping onto mine. The pain of him thrusting.

I screamed.

“I can wake up at any fucking time now!”

*****

The sun was coming up on another day that would be like none other. Standing in the open doorway, watching the line as it moved across the ground, the harsh rays of the sun’s light getting closer and closer with each breath that it was not needed for him to take.

He could feel it inside of him the difference in this body, which was now more than ever a vessel for the demon. A demon who was hesitant, but he knew this would work. It had to. The sun moving up his feet, legs. Closing his eyes, the sun hit his face, warming the pale skin. Slowly blue eyes opened, and he was looking into the sun. A sun that he had not seen with his own eyes in four years; because in all the time that he had been forced to walk and feed, and hunt in the dark. Forced to because Buffy was too busy saving her friends, too busy dating and going to college, too busy not being there when HE needed her. Her own father!

Hank turned, smiling to face the others still inside of the warehouse. They could not come closer; they would suffer the pain and death of the sun. He extended his hands to her, and she came closer, allowing herself to lean against his cold frame.

“How does it feel?” She asked softly.

“Amazing.” He smiled brightly, still becoming accustomed to the warmth on his black clothes.

“I’m glad.” She looked up at him. “Did you see the other Slayer?”

“Yes, the spell worked just like you said it would.” He grinned.

“And what did she say?”

“Well, I sort of-”

“You went cryptic, didn’t you?”

“It just felt weird to come out and just say it.” He shrugged.

“I know, though you aren’t making this easy. You know the Council has Faith now.”

“So you told me.” He slipped his arm around her shoulder. “Tomorrow I will turn you, if you are ready.” He offered.

“It isn’t time, you know that.” She smiled, swatting his arm.

“Okay, okay. I just feel so, I don’t know, powerful, like I could take on the world.”

“You can and you will.” She smiled up at him. “I can see it all now.”

*****

She looked up at him, not bothering to hide the adoration in her eyes. It washed over her, the tingling of deja vu, but it was something she was accustomed to. This moment was perfect, just as she knew it would be, as she thought about it again and again over the previous months. It was only a matter of time before all of it came true.

With a sigh she smiled, remembering the day she had stood in the shadowed corridor, watching as the Slayer cried crocodile tears over the corpse covered by the bloody white sheet, her hands gripping it, refusing to let the orderlies take the body away. The powerful and proud Slayer had been shaking and crying, and only the dark one had been able to pry her whitened fingers from the cold body. She remembered again seeing the great Buffy Summers fall into Faith’s arms as the body wheeled away, remembered the squeak of the loose right wheeled on the gurney. It mocked the squeaking sobs from the Slayer.

Yes it was only a matter of time now before she would see the Slayer crying again, before they all taught her a much needed and valuable lesson in humility.

*****

As Balch knotted the thread he used to stitch up the deep gash on the Slayer’s arm, he listened to the noises coming from the hall. Someone was coming. But, as he scrunched his forehead straining to hear, he could not for the life of him make out who was talking on the other side of the oak door.

With a defeated huff he turned his attentions back to the Slayer laying beside him. She looked worse for wear, but he was confident that with a night's sleep she would be healed. That is if they did not use what was in the small wooden box beside the bed.

“No, no, Daddy no.” The Slayer mumbled lowly.

Looking closer, Balch watched as one tear escaped the corner of her right eye, magnifying her pours as it slipped along her cheek, to settle in the curl of her lip. He wanted to wake her, and moved to set his hand on her shoulder, as the doorknob turned, and the door opened behind him.

*****

The burn was worse than the pain, probably because it all felt so familiar. I had thought that the years might have twisted my memories, but this was how it always felt in the nightmares that plagued me since I left Boston. All of it. His stink, the weight of him, the burning inside, and the deadening pounding of my heart. Why was this happening? I knew damn well that I had killed this soulless fucker, so how was this happening?

“Nonononononono.” I groaned as he bit at my neck, and I could feel the fangs pressing against my skin.

“What, Faith? I thought you wanted this?”

I leaned away, staring up at B, who had somehow taken his place. Her skin glistened under a sheen of sweat; her breathing was ragged as she continued to rock her hips into mine, but the pain was still there, the feeling of Him inside me, around me, only he wore her face. What in the hell was happening? My body was still frozen, not moving against her.

“B?” I whispered.

She grinned, “Of course. Who were you expecting?”

“I dunno.” I mumbled as she went back to kissing and biting my neck. Something wasn’t right. Well hell, aside from this being some kind of fucked up dream, still it wasn’t right. “B, stop, okay?”

“You can’t be serious?” She laughed looking at me, her eyes were swirls of yellow, slatted just like a vamps. “You know you want me, Faith. You know you want this.” She hissed the last words as her face vamped out.

“Buffy! NO!”

*****

“What in the world is going on in here?” Quinten Travers asked as he moved closer to the bed. He looked, seeing the Slayer thrashing on the bed, covered in a fevered sweat. Her face showing the signs of the battle she had raged against the vampires was contorted in pain, and something that vaguely resembled fear. He turned to glare at his researcher, Balch, who was sitting looking pale. That was when Quinten spied the closed walnut colored box beside the bed. “Did you begin the injections?” He snapped.

“No sir.” Balch replied softly.

“Oh, and what made you decide to go against the Council’s orders?”

“She won’t heal as quickly with the serum. I am sure she will stay calm and listen.”

“Listen?” Quinten barked. “Do you know what she will do to us, all of us, when she discovers why we are here?”

“I don’t know, sir. Why are we here?”

“Wake her up, Balch.” Quinten snapped.

*****

He set down his finished cup of coffee, feeling a silly smile on his face. He enjoyed moments like this. The two of them, sitting at the kitchen table, having breakfast together. It made all of the past months seem like a terrible nightmare, now that they were here, together again. Sure, Xander knew a lot of the past few months couldn’t be swept under the rug, and there was that little annoying fact that she had yet to allow their relationship move back to being physical, but still, he was happy.

“You seem rather pleased with yourself this morning.” She said as she raised her right brow and sipped her coffee.

“Huh? Oh, no, not pleased.” He stammered, trying to get his head back to the present.

“No? Happy then?”

“Very.” He said softly, letting out all the stops with the thousand-watt grin flashed just for her.

“Really?” She set down her cup. “So, even though you broke my heart, and I’m again a vengeance demon, even though we are still living apart and you are clearly afraid to commit to me, even after that, you are still happy?”

“Sure.” He sighed, “An, you are here, and you are giving me another chance. Of course I am happy.” He sat up stiffly. “Wait, did you said afraid to commit?”

“So when words come out of my mouth you do listen to them. Golly, that is comforting. Can you turn that off and on at will?” She snapped.

“Anya, I love you, and what ever I have to do to prove that.”

“Excluding marriage ceremonies.” She added, standing and gathering her dishes.

“I, I, I..”

“You, you, you. What?” She slammed the dishes into the sink. “You weren’t ready? It was too soon. ‘It isn’t you Anya, it was me’.”

“Exactly!”

“Well that is a copout, and pretty much bullshit. Xander Harris, I am over a thousand years old, I have heard the excuses before. Trust me. This was about me. Something about me made you decide not to marry me. Just admit it.”

“No! That isn’t true.”

“Sure it is.”

“No, it isn’t.” He stood, knowing his tone was slipping into indignant, but unable to stop himself.

“Really?” She crossed her arms, glaring at him. “Then prove it to me.”

*****

“Sir, I think that I have the right to know what is going on here.” Balch said, standing, putting his body between the Slayer and the others in the room.

“You dare-”

“Sir. I have watched this Slayer for quite awhile now, and even though record dictates that I see her as nothing more than a tool in the hand of the Council, I cannot help but find myself concerned that something is clearly happening here that will harm her.” Balch said definitely.

“We want merely what is best for the world, Balch. You have an understanding of how unstable this girl is.”

“Sir, she has done nothing but prove to us all time and again that her heart is in the right place, that she is fighting for the greater good. Whatever it is that you mean to do, if it is in fact true and just, I am sure that Faith will go along with it.” Balch crossed his arms, watching Quinten’s eyes moving around the room, the slight twitch in his lip.

“I will not allow her to refuse. She will survive what we want, and though it won’t be easy, it is for the betterment of all.” Quinten sighed.

“Buffy! NO!” The Slayer called out from behind them.

“Wake her up.” Quinten stiffened, “After giving her an injection.”

Balch turned back around, looking down at the Slayer. “betterment of all”, “She will survive”. He forced down a shiver at the thought that was coming clear in his mind. What he just now understood. If his thoughts were correct, it would not be for the greater good, but it would be another example of the Council attempting to bend fate to its own will. And he knew from research that plans like this always ended badly.

*****

The suede of the long skirt was smooth under her hands as Buffy straightened it while looking into the full-length mirror. She moved her hands up to the white blouse, making sure she looked presentable for a day in the library. With a slight tilt of her head she took in her face, noticing the darker than normal shadows about her eyes. She was getting too thin, and her sleepless nights were beginning to become obvious, even for a Slayer. Cupping the tight bun on the back of her head, making sure it was tight and would not fall out during the course of the day she sighed. Even trying to focus on the mundane thoughts of her real life, she couldn’t. It was like a massive bell, vibrating, sending out the words and ricocheting them back to her. The words of the girl in the cemetery. She had heard them mumbled before, by some of her closest friends, but for some reason they were striking a cord with her now. She could feel the truth in them, and that scared her.

Buffy tried to reason that she was just tired, and that she missed Faith, and all of those things led her to feel depressed, not something some stranger had said to her in the cemetery.

Sighing again, she lifted her purse and jacket from the bed and turned to leave the bedroom. She stopped shortly down the hall. Closing her eyes as she turned to the closed door to her left.

“If I was God, Dawnie would still be here.”

*****

“How can I prove it to you?” He asked, looking at her standing in the kitchen. She looked hurt, and he hadn’t even said anything yet. But Xander knew, what ever she wanted he would do.

“Prove that you would stand by me. Not them. But me, Xander.”

“What do you mean?” He asked, his brow furrowing in confusion.

“It will happen sooner than you think. When I have to carry out a wish that pisses Buffy off. It’s her job to take out things like me, Xander. If she did, or,” she chuckled. “If she tried, would you defend me? Or would you do what you always do and blindly follow your goddess Buffy Summers?”

*****

I felt the sting of her palm on my cheek, and looked up into the face of the other half of my soul. Part of me knew this was still a dream, but seeing her above me, the sneer on her lips, it was hard to tell my heart not to hurt, not to believe what my eyes were seeing. It was so easy for her to hurt me, she didn’t even have to try really, she never did. That was why I fought against loving her so much in the beginning, and why I fought not to allow myself to love her when I first came back to the ‘dale. This one little woman could destroy me without even trying. And seeing her above me, the rage in her eyes, it still cut deep in my soul, even knowing this was a dream.

“Oh, you don’t want it now huh? Well how about this?” She asked, baring her teeth in a smirk as I felt a pinching pain in my guts. Looking down, between our bodies I could see the handle of the knife protruding, could feel the phantom pain that was a companion of mine for years.

“Dreaming of you stabbing me is getting old.” I mumbled and closed my eyes, willing her away, willing it all away. “All of this is getting old.” I said snapping my eyes open, seeing the room now empty. “I’m gonna wake up now.”

*****

There was no way not to do this, with a room full of accusing eyes, glaring at him as he stood over the Slayer. Building in the pit of his stomach was a knot of bile, as the syringe felt heavy in his hand, as he pulled back the plunger, filling it with the yellowish liquid. Balch’s eyes dropped again to the Slayer’s battered face. Just days ago he had watched enrapt at that face, flawlessly blushed as she acted out carnal fantasies that would be with him for the rest of his life. He was painfully amused at the turn of events in such a short amount of time. How she had gone from something to lust after to something, no, someone he wanted to protect with his very life. He knew that Faith was good, that she would fight on the side of light regardless of the consequences to her self. She would fight to the death. She understood and embraced what she was, the Slayer. A warrior for the Powers that Be.

Balch tapped this fingernail against the glass tube, to make the air bubbles rise, and slowly pressed in the plunger, fluid and air squirting out from the tip of the hollow needle. The tension in the room crept up his spine as he reached for her arm, running his thumb over the vein clearly visible in the crook.

“Don’t.” A voice croaked, and his eyes widened, as he looked down into the dark brown of the Slayer’s.

“Faith? Can you hear me?” Balch whispered, and watched as her eyes focused on his.

“Give her the injection now!” Quinten ordered, and there was suddenly a rush of activity in the room behind him.

*****

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was a gigantic needle. That freaked me out, but a calm anger settled when I saw what was inside. I could hear B’s voice in my head, telling me about the time Giles drugged her as part of the Cruciamentum. I knew I was awake, and that the Council was in the room with me, wherever the hell this place was. And if they were about to do what I thought they were going to, I wasn’t going down without a fight.

No way in hell I was going to let them take the Slayer out of me. No fucking way. I wanted to scream, but a pathetic plea came from my lips, and I was pissed that the sound had come from me. I focused on the guy who was holding the needle. He looked familiar, in a Watcher-we-all-shop-at-the-same-discount-tweed-store-way. But he knew me, he said my name, and he looked sort of sad. I heard the commotion, and then felt my arms and legs being forced down against the bed by many sets of hands.

“No.” I groaned, trying to lift my arms, but feeling the throbbing of snapped tendons and broken bones throughout my body I knew I was pretty much at their mercy. A hand twisted my left arm, exposing the thin flesh over the pulsing veins, and I sneered in pain and in the feeling of defeat.

“Don’t hurt her.”

I snapped my eyes to the man holding the syringe. He says that while holding that wicked looking thing? What the hell was going on here? This was all too much to process. Hell in the last twenty four hours I killed Ronnie, killed Him, got my ass kicked, saved the world, had freaky dreams, and woke up in a room surrounded by members of the Watcher’s Council. This was becoming a little much.

“Wait a good god damn minute! If you all didn’t happen to notice, I’m not eighteen.” I snapped finding my voice. “You missed this little ship of opportunity, what a couple of years ago? Besides that, you knew I got out of prison, you even sent me a Watcher who did all the funny shapes tests and gave me a clean bill of health. So clearly you are all confused, or lost the script or something. It’s a little late to be pulling this ritualistic bullshit.”

“Are you quite finished?” I strained my neck to see Quinten Travers sitting off in the corner of the room, holding a cup of tea in his hands. The picture of calm authority huh? How come the cup shook a little when he lifted it to his lips? Why were his eyes moving about the room continually. Did we have a little scardy cat running the show here? Good. About time that they learned who was really in charge.

“Maybe… I mean I could think of something else to bitch about if you really needed me to.” I replied, leaning my head back and taking a breath. I needed to think about what was happening right here right now. If I focused enough then I could figure out a way out of this mess.

“I think your point was taken Faith. We have been, remise perhaps? This should have been done on your birthday, but as you were in prison, well getting you out just to possibly kill you didn’t make the most sense.” He sipped his tea. “And well then you were busy on the Hellmouth, and the reports from Mr. Strand, well, he thought that postponing it would do some good.”

“And then my first Watcher got a little friendly with the locals, HS got gutted, I got this all, I was there remember? No need for the flashy MTV montage to go over what happened.”

“Is she always like this?” The guy pressing down on my shoulder asked. I glared up at him, in his fatigues and cocky attitude. Hell, he wasn’t even using all his strength to hold me down. So he underestimated the Slayer mojo huh? Interesting.

“Afraid so.” That dude with the needle again.

*****

“Because you were aware of the Cruciamentum, and what it means and how it is preformed, well, we decided to up the ante.” Quinten offered glancing over again at the Slayer. He could tell from her position that she was letting her body relax, and in doing so the men holding her had loosen their grips. He hoped, for all their sakes that Balch injected her, and that the men realized the amount of sheer power and will that lay beneath their fingers.

“You can’t just test me, the test has to be harder, so I am more likely to fail. Goody. I know, why don’t you just get those balls back from your wife or who ever has them and kill me? Hmm?”

“Well that wouldn’t be fair, now would it?” Quinten smirked at her insult.

“Please, let me.” Osler smirked, as he pressed his palm harder against her shoulder.

“Down boy.” Balch quipped.

“Like you could even touch me, without your little yellow piss in a needle.”

“My you are a colorful girl. Might I finish?” Quinten quirked his brow, setting the tea cup down. He was afraid to drop the damn thing, the way the Slayer’s eyes seemed to churn with darkness when they settled on him was unnerving to say the least.

“Knock yourself out Jeeves, I do happened to be held down here, not like I am going anywhere fast.”

“Fine.” Quinten snapped. “As I was saying, if you had been paying attention. We WERE going to test you.”

“Were?” She grinned.

“Were.”

“Suspense is really not my thing.”

“The determination and skill you displayed when battling Veronica, though unnecessary, was exemplary, and we have all agreed that you are indeed worthy of being called a Slayer.”

“Ah, gee, thanks.” She rolled her eyes, in a similar manner to Ms. Summers. “You make it sound like you even have a sliver of control over who the PTB decide to call. Nice to know you all are just as delusional as the vamps I slaughter.”

“Interesting choice of words, Faith.”

She cocked her right eyebrow. “How ‘bout these ones? Fuck the hell off?”

“Um,” he stammered hearing the rage in those words. Yes, getting her injected would be for the betterment of them all. There was no way they could hold her, no matter how injured she was, and he knew without a doubt that when he told her what the Council really wanted of her, that she would not accept it lightly.

“So okay then, no test. What’s with the drugs?”

“Would you stayed here and spoken to us if asked?” He was hedging, and knew it. Casting a glance to Balch, Quinten was sure he knew he was skirting the issue as well.

“Naw. Okay I get your point. So are we done here?”

“Not quite. There is something we need to discuss with you.”

The Slayer sighed, closing her eyes. “I’m not gonna like this am I?” she asked.

*****

Willow had a bad feeling. And not her, it’s Monday and I might be late for class because I was busy emailing people this morning, bad feeling. It was something in the back of her mind, tickling at her, telling her that something just wasn’t right. Just the idea of the Council and Quinten Travers being in Boston, where Faith was, and the dark Slayer being alone. Yep, Willow definitely had a bad feeling about this. She was weighing the pros and cons of skipping her morning lecture and heading over to Sunnydale High to tell Buffy, when a hand slipped around her forearm, and with a squeal she was pulled towards the narrow alley between two of the buildings.

Willow allowed some magic to bubble up, as she turned blackened eyes toward whoever had a hold of her. Seeing the short white hair, the golden eyes, she swallowed the power, and relaxed, letting Jude bring her to a stop in the morning shadows.

*****

“I dare say that no, Faith, you will not like this.” The man holding the needle beside me whispered. I looked up at him, the plain face, the worried eyes. Sort of funny that their triggerman was definitely having some doubts. Never a good sign.

“You may not like what we have to say first off, but you will see that it is for the greater good.” Quinten said, and then all eyes turned to the loud knocking on the door. It was like everyone held their breath all of a sudden. Funny, but not in the ha ha sort of way. I dropped my head back to the pillow, and closed my eyes. I could hear the shift in the air as Quinten waved his hand to someone. The shuffling steps as someone went to the door. Flesh slipping on the brass of the doorknob, a faint creak of hinges as the door was opened. I felt myself grin. Got to love Slayer hearing.

“Hey.” I whispered softly, opening one eye and looking up at the man who was still holding a needle that would make a linebacker nervous. His eyes opened a little wider, and slightly he shifted forward, after casting a glance at the uniformed guy on my other side. Luckily everyone was watching some other Tweedy walking towards Quinten with a sheet of paper in his hands. “What’s your name?”

“Balch, um, Robert.”

“Nice ta meet ya, um, Robert. How about you put that needle down. You don’t want to use it, and I don’t want you to either.” I winked.

“Shaddup you.” The uniformed guy pushed harder against my shoulder.

“Osler, leave her alone.” Balch snapped.

“You and what army are going to make me?” So the uniformed guy was Osler. Cool.

“Listen boys, no need to fight over me, we can work something out.” Yeah right. How about I work out kicking in all of your faces. I was totally awake now, and getting more and more pissed off.

“Shut up you bitch.”

“Oh no you just didn’t.” I growled, starting to gather my strength to sit up and shut this fucker up.

“This, this-” Quinten stood up, the paper falling from his hand.

“Someone smack him.” I fell back down on the bed. This was getting old.

“Something is wrong. Worse than we thought.”

*****

“Hey you.”

“Hey.”

Willow shook off the small shiver of pain that lanced through her heart hearing those words. This was different. Jude was different. Tara was gone, and as much as she wanted her back, it wasn’t meant to be this time, and Tara wouldn’t want her to pine away the rest of her life. She swallowed and opened her eyes to see the light brown one’s of Jude. Willow’s arm was taking in deceptively strong hands and she was pulled between the buildings.

“I missed you.”

“Really?” her voice quivered, giving away how much she doubted anyone could miss her. She was just Willow after all, nothing special.

“Willow, do you know how much…” Jude dropped her chin to her chest.

Watching the emotions playing across the expressive face of the blonde before her, Willow unconsciously tucked some hair behind her ear, wondering what Jude wasn’t saying. She watched the normally stoic woman’s forehead scrunch. The shadows between the buildings were playing on the plains of her face, making her appear even harder than she normally looked. This woman, so different than Tara in every way, and yet she still stirred something within Willow, made her crave her company, made her want to loose herself in her arms. Something she never thought she would ever want again. Funny how when you least expect it, someone comes into your life making you want to feel again.

“How much what?” Willow ventured wanting to know, thinking she had an idea of what the what was, yet part of her was insecure and afraid at finding out the what was nothing at all what she thought the what was.

A smirk was Jude’s only reply as she leaned closer, smashing the air between them, her hands cupping the back of Willow’s neck as their lips met. A sigh bubbled from up inside of Willow’s chest, as a firm tongue traced her bottom lip, and her blood began to pump harder through her body, dancing in her stomach. Willow opened to the question, and all thoughts of Slayers, and Councils slipped away.

With a shift of her hips she felt how wet she had become and realized her hips were languidly pressing out a rhythm against Jude’s. Her mouth was full of warm tongue, and her eyes slipped closed as hands moved from her sides to cup her bottom, pressing her even harder against the denim thigh that slipped unnoticed between her legs.

Willow’s entire mind was focused on relieving the throbbing that was taking over between her legs. With every breath, every touch of their tongues she was getting wetter, and harder. She moved her hands up to cup the firm breasts that were against her chest. Jude’s moan filled their mouths, making Willow’s skin twitch. She moved her mouth away with a rough nip to Jude’s upper lip, and pressed their foreheads together. Keeping her eyes closed, not sure she wanted to see as well as feel she pleaded,

“Goddess, tell me it’s time.”

“Oh it’s time.” Jude moaned, as her teeth nip at Willow’s throat.

*****

“Why do people always say that?” I mumbled, giving in for the moment. There seemed to be utter chaos, though comically controlled. A bunch of British guys simultaneously cleaning their glasses. I was convinced now that it was taught in the first weeks of Watcher school. I mean really. How fucking cliché. Rolling my head to the side, hearing movement close to me I watched Balch slip the needle into the drawer of the bedside table. He looked at me a slight twitching smile at the corner of his mouth. I knew I liked this guy.

“Sir, what about,” Osler cleared his throat and then motioned towards me. I felt my eyebrows rise as I looked to Quinten, as did everyone in the room.

“Just, just leave her. She might as well know this too.” He said, setting the paper down on his lap. “Those were the results from the lab. Testing was done on the chalice, simple procedure really. We wanted to ensure that all that we thought Veronica had tried to accomplish was truth, so we could record it in the annals. But, well.” He grinned, but it wasn’t a happy, ‘wow today’s a good day’ sort of grin. More like, ‘I am really pissed off but I can’t yell and scream and kick my feet cause I am a crusty old Watcher’ sort of a grin. “It appears that even if Faith had failed in her valiant efforts,” that grin again, “Nothing would have happened.”

“Sir?” Another nameless one asked.

“It seems the spell, the ingredients, were not what was needed.”

“Seemed to me that she had everything she needed.” I thought out loud.

“How did you know?” Balch asked, and I felt all eyes suddenly turn to me. Which, wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I was trying to figure out a way to get out from under these dumb fucks who still had their hands on me holding me down to the bed. This was not a page in my fantasy book under bondage, I could tell you that right now. Too many tweeds, not enough blonde slayers.

“I had the spell, and the list.” I frowned. “Why the hell does it matter how I know, I know. Is there some rule that the Slayer isn’t supposed to know?”

“Whatever you had was wrong, I assure you. The ingredients were wrong.”

“But they gave me the information, it said exactly what was going to happen.”

“Perhaps this is what they wanted you to believe.”

“I fucking doubt they would have lied to me.” And I knew that was the truth.

“Really Faith? Buffy didn’t even come to you.”

*****

“Yes she did.” The Slayer snapped.

“We were watching you.”

“She used a glamour.” Balch watched as the Slayer rolled her eyes.

“So she gave it to you, that means, she knew. Faith you have to see that Buffy is unstable. Being a Slayer for as long as she has, it is giving her this idea that she is above all things.” Quinten offered.

“No.” It came out sounding like a growl.

“She always says she is the Slayer. She never calls you the Slayer, does she Faith?”

“Who gives a fuck what she says, or what – no why am I still here?” She struggled to sit up, her strength clearly returning, despite the many fractures and torn ligaments she was sure to have. The men holding her were clearly using all of their combined strength to hold her prone.

“My thoughts exactly.” Osler snapped, and the room was filled with the sound of the crack of his dart gun. In a blink one dart was sticking from outside of her shoulder, she squirmed, and he shot another into her neck, and one into her leg.

“Mother fu-“ The Slayer fell back against the bed.

“Was that really necessary?” Balch asked, noting his voice had cracked with fear.

“I think so. Why did you find it necessary to have her awake, have her bloody consent. We are the Council of Watchers, those that come and LEAD the Slayers into battle. Who gives a toss what she thinks or wants? She is a tool. She should have no input into our plans.”

“Still.” Quinten offered, moving to stand.

“What, you think that telling her that we were going to kill her, to activate another, and then kill that one to activate another would have gone over well?”

“We will be bringing her back.” Quinten sighed.

“Doesn’t matter. The fact is, she has no say. And.” He cocked the gun again. “Neither do you.”

*****

The morning seemed to be going on as every morning before it. The electric teakettle whistled, she poured the boiling water into the large blue green mug, which had been a Christmas gift from Dawn a year before. Buffy dunked the tea bag three times, and like always found her forehead creased as she wondered when she had picked up Giles’ fondness for tea. Then a toss of the bag into the small lined trash can, two sugar cubes and a shake of the powered white, well she knew it wasn’t milk, but really didn’t want to look on the back of the container and see what she was actually putting into her body. Ignorance did have its perks. Taking a sip, she hummed softly in contentment and walked out of the small office to the front desk. There were four students milling around behind the back stacks. She couldn’t see them, but knew they were there. Knew that if she closed her eyes and really listened their youthful heats would pound out a cadence, if she sniffed the air the smell of cheap aftershave that wasn’t really needed, and some dime store perfume would mingle in her sinuses, letting her know that there were two boys and one girl in this large room with her.

Buffy gripped the cup with all ten fingers, and rolled her head slightly. When had the changes first started, she wondered? When she had been called, when she woke that morning, laying in her bed in L.A., eyes closed she had smiled, hearing her mother humming a lullaby in the kitchen, as the sound of eggshells being cracked against a steal bowl added to the sounds she heard. Then hearing her father snapping the Sunday paper, and the sound of a hand striking flesh and her mother’s teasing scolding of her father for getting frisky while she was trying to make breakfast. Fifteen-year-old Buffy had smiled at the playful happiness she was hearing from downstairs. Before, of course she jumped out of bed, frightened, knowing without a doubt that there was no way she should be able to hear what she had moments before been grinning about. Since she was turned her senses had all heightened, but it seemed that in the past year it had become even stronger. She made a mental note to talk to Giles about it, as one of the boys emerged from the rows of books, heading her way. Moving away from her mug, and towards the computer to check out the books, she did not look up until the three textbooks were shoved across the Formica counter.

Lifting her head with her smile plastered on, she felt the corner of her lip twitch, and the smile falter slightly. The young man standing in front of her, though completely human, still shook her. He looked exactly like the vampire she had encountered the night before. The one who had been about to turn the girl who had accused her. Maybe this kid was related to the vampire, which would explain the uncanny resemblance.

Buffy took the books, scanned them in, and then the student ID card she was presented with. “Here you go. Um, do you know some one named Jim?” She asked, pushing the books back to him.

“What? You mean my brother Jimmy?”

Internally Buffy sighed. Outwardly, she nodded.

“Yeah, he was murdered.” The boy shoved the books into his backpack.

“Murdered?” She asked.

“Forget already Slayer?” The boy glared at her. “He was murdered by you.” He spat out and then stomped out of the library. The doors swung back twice, in the wake of the force he had used in shoving them open. Buffy was still staring at the doors, wondering.

Is this my fault? Am I a killer? He was a vampire, I had to slay him. It is my job. It is my job. It is my-

“Miss Summers?”

Buffy turned to look at the girl standing on the other side of the counter, holding a book to her chest and looking at Buffy with something close to fear in her eyes.

“What?” Buffy mumbled, rubbing her temple slightly. She closed her eyes, and then opened them again. Taking in the mousy girl in front of her, smelling her fear, watching the pulse in her neck pound faster with every shacking breath she took. Buffy could suddenly feel the frailty of the young girl in front of her; it was like she knew exactly how easily the girl could break.

“Are you okay?” The girl asked hesitatively.

“Um, yeah. Sure.” Buffy looked back at the doors, and then to the girl as she tried to smile, and take the book from her hands. Blinking twice she tried to swallow back the strange sensations coursing through her.

*****

“You don’t have to do this, you know.” Anya said, with an edge to her voice, and she looked both ways before stepping into the street, making her way across.

“I know I don’t have to, I like to.” Xander replied.

“Why?” She asked, stepping up onto the sidewalk and turning south, to continue walking towards the Magic Box.

“Why what?” He asked, and she rolled her eyes at him. He had been doing this now for weeks. Walking her to work. Did he still think she was some meek little human thing that could be hurt walking the streets of Sunnydale? She was a demon again, and Anya knew that there was very little in this world that could hurt her physically. She still found it bothersome that she had this conscious, and emotions. D’Hoffryn never mentioned that she would have human emotions this time. It wasn’t fair at all. She’d like to see someone else burdened with these feelings try to vivisect a cheating husband, or a wayward boyfriend. No, it just wasn’t the same. It was hard work being a vengeance demon sure, but she didn’t need a carpenter to walk her to work. It was sort of demeaning. Aside from being disintegrated by a powerful magic welding demon, or being decapitated by a moody Slayer, there was nothing that could actually kill her. But getting Xander Harris to understand that was becoming impossible. It used to be cute and charming, now it was bordering on smothering. Only a few more feet. She turned to say something snappish to Xander, when she stopped in her tracks. Closing her eyes she felt the air on the street change. Opening her eyes she looked up the street, from where they had just come from. She could not see what was making the ripple. But she knew they were there, somewhere.

“An? Yo An?”

“Did you feel that?” She shivered. Power. But that wasn’t what was getting the reaction from her. No, it was that what she was sensing was new, and mythical, and not something one came across every millennium.

“What?” Xander asked, following her gaze.

“Forgot, you’re normal. Never mind.” She grumbled. She caught him shrugging from the corner of her eyes, and then paid closer attention when his shoulders straightened.

“Wait… naw.”

“What?” She asked. Her eyes settled on the man who stepped out of the Espresso Pump, just as Xander spoke again.

“I thought I just saw Mr. Summers. Weird, he’s in Costa something Spanish.” Xander said, pinching the bridge of his nose. Anya looked at the blonde man who was staring at the both of them, a contented grin on his lips.

“They really did it.” She mumbled.

*****

She ran her hands slowly up Willow’s naked thighs, feeling the pale skin warming under her touch. The softness of her skin made a low moan of need come from Jude’s panting lips. She had wanted this for so long. Months she had followed the redhead around campus, waiting for the perfect time to approach her, waiting for the moment she would have the witch under her hands. Even knowing it would happen, even knowing with the second sight Jude was cursed with how it would happen, and when it would happen, had not prepared her for the reality, for the sizzling power she felt under the surface of Willow’s skin, or the taste of it in the back of her throat. Jude followed her left hand with her mouth, starting at Willow’s knee, her tongue snaking out.

A low grown came from the redhead beneath her, as Jude twirled her tongue on the soft skin beside her glistening sex. Jude’s eyes slam shut as her senses were overwhelmed by the smell of Willow’s arousal, the trembling of her muscles.

*****

“I told you, I didn’t mean anything by it. Now go away. You following me around, raising your voice is certainly going to keep those two from buying those penis enlargement crystals.” Anya exclaimed, after Xander asked what she had meant when she said “they did it” before she rushed into the store.

“You sell crystals that do that?” He gulped.

“Where do you think I got you the ones I slipped in your-“

“Right, I think I should get to work. See you later.” He kissed her cheek and then rushed out the door. Anya smirked. That worked every time with him. Now if she could just find a way to make the customers hurry up, because she had something important to look into.

*****

When the last of the students were out of the library and Buffy slipped into her office, lifted the phone. She dialed a number and after three rings and it was answered in clipped tones.

“Giles, about these senses, you know how I was telling you-“ She started talking without even waiting for him to finish saying Hello. But he interrupted her just as quickly.

“Um, Buffy, this is really not a very good time, call me later.”

Buffy looked at the phone in her hand, after hearing the dial tone. He hung up on her. He had never done that before. Well that wasn’t entirely true. He had done it on occasion. But it still stung.

*****

Warm breath tickled the skin of her naked chest, as she ran her fingers through the short platinum hair of Jude’s head on her shoulder. Neither of them were sleeping as they lay, legs entwined on the double bed in Jude’s dorm room. The sun was blocked by the thick curtains on the window, but the glow around the edges let Willow know that it was about noon, and that she had missed her morning lecture. But her mind wasn’t on missed classes; it was on Tara.

She had promised herself, months ago, sitting in the cemetery that if she was ever offered the chance to feel again, to love again, that she would take it. That Tara would want her to take it. They had even talked about it. Hushed conversations they had shared in the large bed in the Summers’ home, after Buffy had jumped to her death, and none of the Scoobies thought it possible that they could bring their beloved Slayer back from the dead, they had talked about what ifs. Tara had been adamant that Willow promise, that if their time together in this life was cut short, that Willow would not lock her heart away. Tara wanted her Willow to be happy, she had said, with that slightly crooked smile, the twinkle in her eyes, before she lowered her full lips to kiss the skin above Willow’s heart. “There is too much love in here to be denied. Too much passion here to be denied. Too much tenderness here, to be denied.” Tara had said, her voice thick with emotions of love, and lust, and understanding. Looking back, Willow wondered if Tara had known, that there would be a time when she would be doubting herself, wondering if she was betraying the memory, and the love she shared with her blonde angel.

Swallowing away the hint of sadness, Willow massaged the head against her chest, and brought herself into the present. Craning her neck she set a kiss on Jude’s forehead, taking the salty skin, before settling back with a smile. This unusual woman had come into her life and tilted things upside down. Never in a million years would she ever had thought that she would have become attracted to this woman, not because Jude wasn’t interesting, or wonderful. It was, though Willow was sad to admit, Jude wasn’t physically someone she would have found attractive in the past. But there was something in those honey colored eyes that made her want to get to know this woman, and she had allowed herself to do that. And now she was glad that she had. Where Tara had been shy and tentative, Jude was confident, secure, and forward. Even the way she made love was bold. Made love? Willow’s body tightened.

“Hey,” Jude leaned up. “You okay?” She asked, and then kissed the tip of Willow’s nose.

“Yeah.” Willow half smiled.

“Willow.” Jude cupped her cheek. “You are thinking about her, aren’t you?”

“Um,” she looked away, embarrassed that she was so transparent.

“It’s okay. Really.” She used her fingers to turn their eyes to meet again. “I understand. I know how much you loved Tara. When you talked about her, about how she made you feel.” Jude closed her eyes, sighed, and then looked again into Willow’s. “I know that the two of you shared a love that wasn’t just some college fling. You two were meant. Destined. I know you were crushed when she was taken from you. Really. I know I couldn’t have carried on, and there was no way that I would still be friends, never mind.” She sighed again, setting her head back down.

“No.” Willow felt confused. “What do you mean, friends?” She asked, running her hands over the smooth skin of Jude’s back.

“I shouldn’t have said that. I am sorry.”

“Well now I am all interested. You know me, Jude. You can’t just half mention something.”

“I know.” Willow felt her smile against her breast. “My little inquisitive Willow.” She was silent for a moment. “I just meant that if I had been in your place, I don’t think I could ever have forgiven Buffy.”

“Why?”

“It must have hurt you so much, to see Tara die, and all because of a bullet meant for Buffy. If Buffy would have just stopped Warren and the others when she had the chance, instead of thinking they were harmless, Tara wouldn’t have had to die, you wouldn’t have gone crazy, and had the blood of a human on your hands.”

Willow swallowed deeply.

“If I were you, and I lost the one person I loved because of her, I would hate Buffy Summers.”

*****

She was dead weight, and he would have liked nothing more than to just end all of this right now. How easy would it be, Osler wondered, as he dropped the Slayer roughly onto the steel table. A snap of her neck, and it would be over for her. No more redemption, no more betraying orders. They would have one of the other girls, one who had been thoroughly trained by the Watcher’s Council, who would know her place, and know who called the shots. All it would take was a little effort on his part. He slipped his hands around her neck, feeling the pulse beating against his palm, and the sweat on the back of her neck. Easy. But not what they had planned. Not what was the decision of the Council. For all his ambition, Osler knew what he was. A tool. He strapped the Slayer’s arms to the table, and then her legs. Stepping back he noticed that she did not look so good. All of the reference material he had reviewed spoke of the Slayer’s ability to heal rapidly. He turned his head to look at Balch who was fidgeting in the corner.

“Why doesn’t she heal?”

“We believe that natural sleep is required for the body to correct the damage done. The tranquilizers put her into arrest. Not sleep.”

Osler nodded, and then stepped back. He doubted her condition would effect what was to happen tomorrow, but just the same he spoke to the idiot researcher who seemed to care about the condition of the Slayer. “Wake her up then, and get her to sleep to heal. We want her in perfect condition, when we kill her tomorrow.” He ordered, and then stepped out of the door, closing the door behind him.

*****

Willow sat up quickly, and for a moment Jude was worried that she had said too much. But damnit, she thought, she had been waiting for years, planning this perfectly, setting everything in motion, and she was damned if she was going to second guess things now. When she had been gifted with the second sight it had come when she was in the darkest place, when she only had one more breath in her body. She could have died, should have died, that night, laying on the cold wet grass of UC Sunnydale. But she hadn’t. She had sucked in a lungful of air, and had felt with all of her body, had closed her eyes and seen the running figure of Buffy Anne Summers, and had known that something would happen. She would see Buffy pay for her actions.

“Jude?” Willow asked carefully, almost as if she knew the squall of emotions, and visions of the past that were assaulting her. Did this redheaded witch know the true meaning of betrayal? Jude’s eyes locked on to the green, the green that reminded her so much of the ones that used to look at her with love and understanding. The eyes that she had looked into as she held the dying body in her lap, as a group of vampires circled the two of them, laughing about how they had taken the Slayer out of commission and that the campus was once again theirs. That group of vampires who took the only person Jude had ever loved from her, and nearly taken her life as well. Jude hadn’t been saved by the Slayer, she had been saved by the sun. And as she lay there, with dawn exploding around her, holding the dead body of her lover, she had replayed the words of the vampires in her mind. How they had beaten the Slayer, how they had watched her run back to her dorm room to hide, and pout at her loss. Instead of doing her duty, instead of protecting the innocents, she had been too busy feeling sorry for herself, and had gotten ambushed. It was Buffy’s fault that Jude was alone, that her soul had been broken. And Buffy was going to pay. There was no way that Jude would wait. She had played Willow perfectly. All she needed to do was give her a little push.

Those months ago, when she had made damn sure that Willow was still as strong as before, when she had first come to this town and tricked Xander to put a draining talisman on Willow, and Jude had tasted the power that Willow possessed for the first time. She had taken Tara’s form, and had seen in Willow’s eyes that she still hurt over the blonde’s murder. That it was the chink in Willow’s armor.

“Jude?” She asked again.

*****

Maybe Jude would know, Buffy thought. The Seer was just that, and if anyone would be able to tell her why her Slayer powers were growing stronger it would be her. Buffy nodded, knowing that their new friend would be a good place to start getting answers.

What she really wanted to do was to talk to Faith. For many reasons she wanted to talk to Faith, to see her, to smell her. But more than that, she wanted to talk to Faith and know if she was feeling these changes too. Faith was the same, they shared the bond, the same destiny. Faith was younger in Slayer years, but just by a few, and Faith always seemed to be more, well more of a Slayer than Buffy was. Though that was something she had only recently began to accept as a truth.

*****

“Sorry Willow.” She smiled, and then looked up at the Wicca. There was something in that smile that made Willow want to cross her arms over her chest; she was being looked at like a thing, not a person. It certainly was not a look she was expecting to receive after spending the morning making love. No, that look made Willow want to amend her earlier thinking, that they had fucked, not made love.

“How did you do it? How did you forgive her?”

“I, um, well, that is I-“ Willow bit her lip. It was easy, she had never blamed Buffy for Tara’s death. She had blamed Warren, and herself, but never Buffy.

“You do know that if Buffy had never come to Sunnydale that Tara would be in this bed with you right now, not me.”

“We don’t need to be thinking about Buffy not existing. That happened already, and Sunnydale? Not a nice place to visit, let me tell you.”

“Willow.” Jude admonished.

“I never thought about it like that. At the time, when it happened I hated and blamed Warren, the goddesses, myself.”

“But not her?”

“Never.”

“Oh.” Jude sat up, her legs dangling over the side of the bed, shoulder slumped. Willow sat forward, putting her hands on the strong muscled shoulders, running her fingertips over the warm skin. Closing her eyes she felt the tension in the room, and leaned forward, setting her lips on the skin at the base of Jude’s neck, who sighed. “I guess you are a better person than me.”

“No. I just never stopped to consider it being her fault. Sure when I was an evil, veiny witch I kicked her ass.” Willow chuckled. “Man, did I ever kick her ass,” she mumbled. “But I was never one with the blaming.”

“I guess you were just focused on making him pay, on butchering Warren,” Willow stiffened. “That was all you could see, the rage. But after, you never wanted to, you know, confront her? I mean, she killed your girlfriend, and then went and got one of her own. That had to hurt.”

“You mean her and Faith? I, well.” Willow stilled her hands. It had hurt when she had seen the two Slayers together, once they had found the love between them, and accepted it. It had been painful seeing it, and knowing that she had lost that connection. She had lost the one person who just ‘got’ her.

But had she ever blamed Buffy? No. Jude’s argument was making sense though. A little too much sense. Was she in denial over her feelings towards Buffy?

*****

He had set down the phone, shaking his head, wondering, not for the first time what Buffy expected of him. He had things that needed tending to, he was no longer her Watcher and therefore no longer at her beck and call. Giles chuckled, turning pages in the text before him again.

It was always supposed to be the other way around. Guiding her through battles, my leadership.

Buffy was never what was expected of her, that was for sure. Though he was distancing himself from the Slayers as well as the Scoobies, he was still involved in the fight. The battle of good versus evil was still being waged all over the globe, and he was engrossed in finding some clues in this tome of Patagonian Anthologies from the twelfth century, in an attempt to assist a fellow Watcher who was experiencing a rare form of a demonic rash.

A knock sounded loudly in the small apartment and Giles glanced at the clock in the open kitchen. Surely not enough time had past for Buffy to make her way across town from the school. He knew her to be stubborn, but not that fast. Curious and with a frown he tucked a marker in the tome, before rising.

Just as the last series of three knocks sounded, he opened the door, and found himself squinting in the noonday sun. Standing there was a man, dressed casually; his blonde hair seemed to glow under the sunlight. There was something familiar.

“Mr. Giles?” The man asked smiling, blue eyes twinkling as he removed his dark sunglasses.

He felt his lips turning up in a nervous grin. “Oh, I, um, well this is rather odd. I seem, that is. Sorry.” Giles laughed, feeling even more at unease. There was a nagging. “You just seem familiar to me. Have we met?”

“I think only in passing. Hank Summers.” He said extending his hand, and Giles remembered. He had met the man once briefly, years ago. At the school if he was not mistaken. This was Buffy’s ever absent father. With the pieces falling into place, Giles took his hand and they shook. It struck Giles, why would this man be here? Buffy had made no mention of him coming to town. In fact there had been no mention of her Father for years. Giles filled that niche proudly. The hairs on the back of his neck rose up, and he was possessed, albeit briefly, with a wave of jealousy.

“Well, what can I do for you?” Giles asked, chiding himself for his emotions. This man was Buffy’s Father, but in blood alone. He knew that.

“It’s more what I can do for you.”

“Come in.” Giles offered, stepping back to allow the other man inside. He noticed a flash of a smile on Mr. Summers’ lips as he stepped into the room. “What is it you would like to talk about? Buffy?” Giles asked, heading for the kitchen, to put the kettle on.

“I thought, Rupert, we could start with Miss Calendar, actually.”

*****

“Buffy just loves to flaunt that she and Faith are together. The Chosen Two.” Jude said standing up, and Willow watched her hands slip off of Jude’s skin. “Jesus, that is all she talks about, not even caring that you lost Tara.”

She watched as Jude went to the window, standing there, looking out at the bright afternoon. The sunlight highlighted the curves and planes of her body, causing the muscles to be more apparent. Her body, compact and powerful was so different than Tara’s. But Jude was definitely all woman. Willow shook her head. Now was not the time to turn into a walking hormone. Something was going on here. Jude kept harping on Buffy, and it wasn’t making sense.

Willow knew that when the Slayers had first become an item that they made an effort not to be obvious in front of Willow, out of concern for her feelings. Heck, Willow was the one who pulled Faith aside and told her that she was happy for the two of them. And she was. Willow could look into the past, and look into her heart today and say without a shadow of a doubt that she was happy for the two of them. Even without Tara. It was like she never envisioned that it had to be one or the other. Did Jude think that? If Tara was alive today, she knew that Buffy and Faith would still be together. There wasn’t some weird quota on the number of lesbian couples allow in Sunnydale at a time.

“Buffy has the right to be happy.” Willow offered.

“She does? Who said?” Jude spun around. “Why can she have her true love, her soul mate, when ours are butchered because of her?” Her shouted sentence was punctuated by a slapped hand against the wall beside the arched window. Willow knew her eyes were wide, and her mouth open. She never suspected such anger. She stood, to get closer to Jude, to calm her, and figure out what was actually happening here, when the blonde turned on her heel and left the room.

*****

She had paced. She had organized her sock drawer. She had paced more.

I am just spinning my wheels here.

“Literally.” Buffy grumbled, dropping down onto the couch in the living room. Giles was apparently too busy to talk to her. Xander was unreachable, something about being in a basement, too much steel rebar to get a good cellular signal. Willow wasn’t answering her phone – any of them, though Buffy was pretty sure Willow had them switched off because she was in class. This just sucked. She needed to talk, but no one was around.

If Faith were here, she would listen to me… If Faith were here we would not be talking.

An evil glimmer lit Buffy’s eyes as she leaned her head back against the couch, closing her eyes. She envisioned those dark brown eyes looking into her, looking into her soul. She felt the beginnings of arousal in her stomach as she recalled one of the many times Buffy had found herself looking up into those eyes as Faith was suspended over her, both decorated in a sheen of sweat, breath mixing in pants, and those eyes, the way they bore into her when Faith told her with just a look how much she loved Buffy. Never had she felt a look so strongly, knowing with all that she was that the person looking at her would die for her, would be everything she ever needed in a partner. Faith did that for her. She made her want to live forever, as long as they were together.

Summoned touches, fingers tracing the contours of her face, the touch that made Buffy’s heart sing, knowing Faith was memorizing her, even in remembrance it made her breath catch, and eased Buffy into sleep.

*****

Jude’s words were still deafening, even though Willow was standing in silence beside the bed. As she buttoned her blouse she looked over her shoulder towards the bathroom, where Jude had just disappeared behind the door. The water had been turned on, and was drumming against the tile walls. Sitting on the bed she bent to get her boots that had been tossed in the heat of the moment when they had first come back here. She zipped them up and then looked at the bed. Sheets rumpled, pillows some how at the foot of the bed. When had they gotten there she wondered? Looking back to the closed door Willow again felt that something was wrong.

Feeling like an anvil shaped answer was hanging above her head, but she just couldn’t see it, she replayed the conversations they had in her mind. There was something that Jude wasn’t telling her. It made no sense for Jude to keep bringing up Tara. If Tara were alive and well, then Jude would not be in this room, they would not be dating, there would be no ‘them’. So why did it seem like Jude was making a point of getting Willow to think back to that horrible day? Was she trying to push Willow away? To get her to think that Jude wasn’t the right person for her? That made no sense. That made less than no sense, that was just completely wrong. Maybe Jude was disappointed in what had happened? Maybe she was baiting Willow so she would call an end to their relationship? Willow wasn’t very experienced,

Lie. I have NO experience other than Tara.

Was that it? I was so terrible she wants me to dump her so she won’t have to do that again?

She shook her head. No, Jude wasn’t like that. She would have just come out and said it. Willow had known from day one that Jude was not Tara, that she would never be a replacement for Tara. She had been infatuated with the Seer from the moment she had seen her on campus, strutting to class in impossibly tight leather pants, walking like she knew exactly who and what she was, and if you didn’t like it you could fuck off. That was what Jude exuded. Ultimate self-awareness and confidence. It pulled Willow in like honey for a fly. They had become fast friends, with the delicious tension of attraction below the surface. She had known Jude would be strong, passionate, and an attentive lover, and she had been, but it was just.

“Not Tara.” Willow groaned, rubbing her eyes and standing up from the bed. Why was she feeling guilt? She knew Tara would understand. Anyone would understand. Wouldn’t they? There was that attraction between them. So it hadn’t been tingly magic or two souls becoming one, or even cheesy romance novel romantic. It had been nice. Right?

Right… I think… Urgh! I just don’t know.

Willow vowed to think about it more, she needed a little time and space to really see what had happened in a clear light, without orgasm goggles on, clouding everything. From the rough and hot; and boy was it hot; sex, to the deep and angry conversation. Willow was still a little thrown. Without time for her to think all of this through clearly she would just get lost in analyzing every moment. She would get nowhere.

Sighing she stood up and walked over to her computer. Sending some emails to her professors apologizing for missing her morning classes would be a good thing to do before Jude finished up in the shower.

As she logged in she noticed one new unread email. She clicked it open.

Willow,
I have not heard from you, and I can only hope that my earlier message reached you. Something is definitely going on with T and your other Slayer. A group of possible Slayers just left the HQ. I know you didn’t believe me before when I told you we were training some, but it is true. I heard that T sent for them. I don’t want to think the worst, but as we both know that is something I do, and often.
Also, the spell you sent. I heard at the water cooler that T had some samples tested, samples that should have gone along with that spell. Something isn’t right here, and though I don’t have enough to go on, and feel like I am talking in circles, you need to get in touch with the other Slayer.
Please let me know what is happening when you can. You know how I become obsessed with a good mystery.
Meral.

I need to tell Buffy.

“Willow? Who is that?”

Willow spun around in her chair, heart thundering. She hadn’t heard Jude come out of the bathroom, heck she hadn’t heard the shower turn off. How would she explain this? Sure there was a completely logical and harmless explanation why she was reading an email, but the sound of Jude’s voice and the look of hurt, no it wasn’t hurt in those eyes, maybe shock? Yep, Willow was figuring that it was shock that she was seeing.

“Oh, well, this? Just an email from a friend.” Willow offered. She was taken aback by the narrowing of Jude’s eyes. Was she jealous? Of an email from someone Willow had never met?

“Who is Meral?” Jude asked, crossing her arms.

Whoa. Wait a minute.

“You should know better than me.”

“What?”

“You, Seer of all things in the future. You should know that we write back and forth.” Willow clicked off the screen, not liking the look in Jude’s face, but more importantly knowing that fighting about this now was not a good idea. She had to get to Buffy and tell her what Meral had said.

“Right. I know who she is.”

“Meral is a she?” Willow grinned, and then quickly frowned. “I mean I knew that.” She stood up, moving away from the computer and her girlfriend, feeling a little bit uncomfortable. This wasn’t how she was supposed to be feeling. Less than an hour ago they had shared the most intimate act two people could share. She was supposed to be feeling elation and euphoria. That was how it had been with Tara, even with Oz. But she was feeling guilty, dirty and even a little scared. She lifted her purse from the table, and looked over her shoulder at Jude who was pulling on her pants, keeping her eyes on Willow, in a predatory glare. It seemed like everything had changed since they had, well done what they had done; and not in a good way.

“Listen I have got to get to class.”

“You mean get to Buffy.” Jude snapped.

“Right. Forgot. Nothing gets by you.”

“No. It doesn’t.” She grinned, and walked over to Willow, cupping her face in her hands and bringing the Wicca’s gaze to her own. “I know you are feeling a little unsure right now.” She softened her expression. “Being with you, sharing that with you Willow, it was.” She sighed. “It was magical.”

Willow felt the blush creep up her neck, to her cheeks.

“Really?”

“Oh yeah.” Jude leaned forward and nuzzled Willow’s ear. “You taste so good, baby.” Though the line was cheesy and over used, it still made Willow’s stomach tingle. She swallowed. “I don’t want to let you out of my sight. But I know that you feel like you have to see Buffy. So go. But I will see you later.”

Feel like I have to?

“Um, well, if you would rather.” Willow started, but Jude set two fingers on her lips.

“Just go. But come back to me. Soon.”

Willow nodded, before meeting the lips that were searching out her own.

*****

He closed the door behind him, and slipped back on the sunglasses. It had been a few years of not seeing the sun, and it was still painfully bright. But given time, Hank was sure that the pain would fade. Just like given time he had grown accustom to the night.

He wore a contented smile as he walked away from Rupert Giles’ home. To say the British man had been shocked was an understatement. He had been a little surprised at the power and violence the man possessed. The old cliché seemed true. One could not judge a book by its cover.

His cell phone rang, and he reached into his pocket to get it, noticing a few spots of blood on the back of his hand. Smirking he licked them off, before activating the call.

“Yes?”

“We have a problem.” Oh, it was the little schemer.

“If there is a problem, Jude, I think it is yours. That is your job in all this, right? To fix the problems before they happen.”

“Yeah, well.” She faltered.

“Well what?”

“Listen there is a problem. It seems that-“

“YOU!” The voice made Hank jump just as a hand was pressed against his shoulder. Out of nowhere a young woman, was standing in front of him. Well, not a woman. He could clearly tell that she was a demon; had that minty demon smell. The impact of her hand on his shoulder caused him to drop the phone. Didn’t demons today have any respect?

“Do you mind?” He sneered.

“Don’t get all pushy with me. You did it! I don’t know how or why, but you did it.”

“Do I know you?” He bent to pick up the phone. He glanced at her again. She did look familiar. “Oh!” He grinned. She had changed her hair. He liked the brunette color better. “Anyanka.”

“How did you do it? Does Buffy know that you did it?”

“Ah, yes, Buffy. Always about Buffy. Aren’t you helping her? You know, I thought demons were supposed to, oh I don’t know, be evil. Not help a little pathetic Slayer and her loser pals.”

“Listen here, Mister Day Walker.”

“I prefer Hank.” He shrugged.

“Hank? As in, Mr. Summers, Hank.”

He grinned. “Remember me do you?”

“No, Xander mentioned seeing you.”

“Goodie.”

The Vengeance Demon narrowed her eyes.

“You smell like Mr. Giles.”

“Imagine that. He and I just had a little chat. Came to an understanding.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing, dear. I assure you.” He looked at the phone, hearing Jude calling out to him. “I really need to take this.”

“No, you need to tell me what you are planning.”

“Why? So you can run home and tell Buffy?” He laughed, then stopped. Looking at her seriously. “Why do you do it? Why when she says jump, do you ask how high? Why are you the Slayer’s bitch?”

“Actually that is Faith.”

“You know what I mean. Why? You’re a demon. You should be with us, fighting against good. What has she ever done for you?”

“I’m listening.”

“It was because of her you lost your power in the first place.”

“Actually that was Giles.”

“Whatever.” He thought for a second and then sneered. “You know, the reason Xander left you at the alter was because of Buffy.”

“What?”

“He loves her. Always has. That boy drools every time she looks at him. He couldn’t marry you, and settle. Not when he thinks he might have a chance with her. You see how he acts. She just has to ask and he drops everything to help her. Including you.”

He saw the corner of her right eye twitch, and knew he had her.

*****

Jude slammed down the phone, Hank wasn’t talking to her. She had to find him. This was serious. Not only was Willow not going along as easily as she had planned, but the other Slayer was being held in Boston. If they managed to call another Slayer, continuing the Slayer line, then all of their plans were shot to hell. And there was no way Jude was going to let Buffy slip through her fingers. She had come too far.

*****

A long hallway, that was filthy and boxes and other discarded bits of trash lined it. At the end a double door, swinging faintly.

“God, how cliché is this dream.” Buffy mumbled. “Might as well see what is behind door number one.” Her footfalls accompanied the rhythmic squeak of the rusted hinges as the doors continued to move.

As she pushed them open, blinding light seared her eyes, and she raised her hands while turning away. That was unpleasant.

In the center of a filthy room was a chair, tied to which was Faith. She could recognize those shoulders anywhere. Buffy walked around Faith, slowly, taking in the sight of her battered body, a cut on her shoulder that had stopped bleeding, but still looked painful, her head hanging down, chin on her chest. She reached her hands out, and cradled Faith’s cheeks, lifting those brown eyes up to meet her own. Buffy cringed at the painful looking right eye that was swollen shut, cracked lips.

“Oh Faith. What happened to you?” Buffy whispered, and Faith’s eyes snapped open. As they did the room seemed to spin, and Buffy was drawn into those eyes. Seeing inside of Faith. Buffy could feel, as though she were Faith, that she was strapped in this chair waiting to be executed for the crimes of her past. Buffy saw a young Faith beating her weak fists against the chest of a man, saw an older Faith forcing the stake into the chest of the Deputy Mayor, watched a sobbing Faith repeatedly stab the professor all the while hearing the voice of the Mayor talking in Faith’s mind, promising her all the things she never thought she would deserve. Faith shifted, reflecting on killing the two people who warped her the most, Ronnie and her stepfather. In vivid color, even in the dream Buffy knew she was in, she watched amazed as Faith plunged the knife into her step father's heart, feeling it as Faith must have, the freedom that came with watching him turn to dust, and the power he held over her disappear. He would never hurt her or anyone else again, and Faith had made sure of that. With a movement she had taken back nearly all of her self that he had set out to destroy years ago. Then Buffy watched as Faith stalked Veronica, the vampire actually cowering before the dark Slayer. Faith pulling the heart of the demon from her chest, and the elation that Faith felt as Veronica crumbled to nothing. The power of being the Slayer filled every fiber of Faith’s body. Buffy could feel it. Buffy watched as Faith closed her eyes, severing the memories, and she looked at Buffy, seeing her. There were tears sitting in Faith’s eyes. Buffy took Faith’s hand, even though her wrists were tied to the chair. The acceptance of her fate, of dying washed over Buffy. She felt rather than heard Faith’s thoughts.

“I am a killer, and always will be. I have inside of me the need to kill, and it is only a fine line between good and evil that stops me from being called a murderer, even though that is what I am.”

Buffy felt Faith give in to the death sentence she was waiting for, felt the dark Slayer’s determination snap with the realization that her entire life had brought her to this moment, all of the wrongs that she had done. And Faith knew that Buffy was standing there beside her, watching with her, as her crimes were all paraded past her.

The sound of the doors opening, and Buffy looked away from Faith, and watched a line of people coming into the room. The doors were being held open, and more and more people were coming inside. Some looked familiar to Buffy, some didn’t. Most of them looked dead. The moment Buffy thought this, those entering the room began to look decomposed, at various stages of returning to the earth. Some without skin, some missing eyes. The smell of them plunged into Buffy’s sinuses, and she shuddered, as it dawned on her. These were all the lives that she has taken. All the vampires that were once people she knew, that she has had to kill. Over time she began to kill them thinking less and less of who they once were. Seeing Jimmy enter the room, the question came at her again. Why can’t she let some of them go? What would be the harm in that?

“It’s my job.” She snapped at her own question, and watched Faith flinch. “I’m the Slayer.”

Faith shook her head sadly and then disappeared.

What is a Slayer, Buffy wondered. Faith knew what she was, a killer. She never let them get away, no matter what. Faith had embraced that part of being a Slayer years ago. Buffy wondered if she ever would. What was she capable of, in her heart? Was she really fighting the good fight, how much more would she have to sacrifice to be the killing machine the Council always wanted her to be? If she were the only one, would she give up her friends, her family and travel the world hunting and destroying evil? Was that what she was supposed to do, but she rebelled to have a human life as well as her calling?

Spinning around she looked at the empty chair. She wasn’t the only one. There were two Slayers. Was it selfish of her to want Faith with her, beside her on the Hellmouth, when the two of them separate could do more good, save more lives? What about Dawn? Dawn died when she was in the arms of the woman she loved. As she slept at this very moment was someone being hurt? Was there someone she was supposed to be saving?

*****

As she went up the steps of Buffy’s house, Willow looked over her shoulder, feeling something or someone watching her. It made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She wanted to shiver, she wanted to rush into the house and hide. Taking the doorknob in her hand she felt the hum of the protection spell she had placed around the entire house.

Willow wondered when she reverted back to being the shy and unsure wallflower. When it came to Jude, being in her life, she had clearly reverted. She is a badass witch who nearly ended the world. Why is she getting all mousy again?

*****

With a gasp I sat up. The room was dark, but I could feel the bed under me, the blankets around my waist. I ran my hand over my face.

“That was one fucked up dream. No more burritos before bed for me, B.” I turned my head when there was no reply, but I knew someone was there. “Buffy?”

“She isn’t here.”

“Shit!” I crossed my arms over my naked chest, and then realized how utterly lame that was. She had tits too. “Anya, what the hell are you doing in here? Where is B?”

“Did you hit your head again or something?” She came closer, and in the darkness I could see her clear as day. Gotta love Slayer vision.

“Huh?”

“You are in Boston. The Council is holding you here, with grand plans of killing you to start up more Slayers.”

“Huh?”

Slap.

Okay. That hurt.

“Hey! That hurt.” I rubbed my cheek, and my head cleared. She was right. “Damn.” She moved to slap me again and I put up my hand. “Stop! I remember. Shit. I just had a dopey dream, but I remember now. God. You have a strong right hook.”

“Thanks.” She grinned, and then it faltered. “I think.”

I closed my eyes, just to clear my head again. That dream had been trippy as hell. If I didn’t know better I would have swore it was a Slayer dream. Buffy was there, but I couldn’t reach her. But I felt her.

“Where’s B?”

“At work I suppose.” She sighed. “You Slayers, always expecting me to have the answers. It really is tiresome.”

“Well you are the demon here.”

“Uh-huh. So everyone likes to point out recently. I may be a demon, but I have feelings to you know. I am more than the sum of my parts. Granted, I have some pretty good parts. I mean, no one has complained about my parts. Don’t you think these are good parts?” Anya leaned a little closer, and before I knew it I was checking her out.

“Great parts.” I slapped my forehead. “God. No. I mean.”

“Still got it.” Anya grinned, but then scowled. “God, what is that smell?” She leaned even closer to me, and then gagged. “Ugh. It’s you.”

“Hey!” I snapped. “I have been fighting, and stuff. It’s been awhile since I had a shower.”

“No, really? God, Faith.” She backed up. “You know I once came across a carcass of a Wohc demon, and thought that was the worst smell ever. But you, this.” She was looking a little pale. “Much worse.”

I lifted my arm and sniffed. “A little ripe.” I agreed with a smirk. “So aside from telling me about my lack of hygiene, what are you doing here?” I asked, kicking off the blankets and moving to stand. I stretched and twisted, feeling some vertebrae popping back where they belonged. My head was clear now, and I looked around. “Where are the Council guys?”

“So you know they have you?”

“No one has me.” I grinned.

“Hmm.” She raised her brow at me. “Do you know what they are holding you for?”

“Not sure. Something though. They wanted to shoot me full of that anti-slayer serum.”

“They want to kill you.”

“Who doesn’t?” I rolled my eyes. “Why can’t people just shot me with a gun or something? Why all these convoluted plots and shit. I mean really, has no one learned from the Batman comics? The more twisted the plot the easier it is for our hero to escape.” I looked at her, and she was giving me that wide eyed, lost, has no clue what the hell I just said look. I get that look a lot, especially from B when I start talking about comics. “Urgh. Xander would know what I mean.”

She flinched. “Well he isn’t here.” She crossed her arms in a pout. “They want to kill you, activate a new Slayer, and then maybe bring you back.”

Oh, really?

“These guys and thinking that they can control fate.” I mumbled. “Okay then, Anya. Let’s get out of here.” She stared at me. “Come on, do your voodoo. I want a shower, and I want to see B. Maybe not in that order. Maybe you could orb me into the shower, with B in there too?” She was still staring. “Hello? Demon chick? Orb. Me. Home.”

“I can’t.” She said, sitting on the bed.

“Then what the hell are you doing here?”

“I came to save you.”

“Well save me.”

“I am.”

“Take me home.”

“I can’t.”

“Anya.” I growled.

“I can’t.”

“Then why are you here?”

“To save you. Hello?”

“Stop.” I held up my hand and listened. Four sets of walking feet, above us. Gun oil. Not good. “Okay.” I sighed. “You can’t just orb me home. What can you do to save me?” I asked, and she disappeared. “So waking me up was about the gist of it then?” I mumbled, before the door opened to the room, with Anya standing there grinning.

“I can open doors.” She was positively beaming.

“Yippee.” I hopped off the bed. “Then lets open some more.”

*****

When Willow walked into the living room she noticed Buffy immediately. She was sitting, staring forward, her hands in her lap, twisting against each other.

“Buffy?” She asked softly, but did not step any closer. The haunted look in the Slayer’s hazel eyes froze her. Taking what felt like minutes, though it could have been accomplished in seconds Willow’s best friend turned her head, and moved her eyes up her lithe body to peer into the green ones that were watching.

“Willow.” It was hoarse and pained. Just the sound of it made something within Willow ache. She never had imaged she would see Buffy like this. Without her spark.

“Buffy, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“Willow, who am I?”

“Oh shit. This is not good.” Willow mumbled, finding her feet and walking across the room.

*****

Too easy.

At least it seemed that way to me, and I kept thinking that over and over again as I followed Anya out of the large house I had been held inside of for not even two days. Sneaking behind and orbing in and out demon, I tiptoed as best I could in muddy unlaced combat boots. We passed closed doors, and I could hear on the other side British accents talking about everything from their plans for me, to the latest football games, to someone explaining the finer points of cricket. The later conversation had my head spinning, and though I understood each word that was said, the way it was strung together had my foggy brain doing a ‘huh’?

It seemed like this was some great and daring escape, one that I would be part of if I were like getting out of prison; again; not just sneaking past this group of people who collectively were supposed to be THE shit when it came down to all things supernatural. Sort of anti-climatic. No fight scene, not even a chase to speak of. Just me sneaking out, like I was twelve years old and was leaving my parents house to go out to a keg party… not like my parents gave a fuck if I wanted to sneak out when I was twelve, but I knew what I meant.

After the last door was opened I ran. And I mean ran. You know how in that movie, Run Lola Run, she ran? Well fuck that. She was jogging compared to me. I was running like the devil himself was sitting on my back. Which, as I came to a stop, bending at the waist and panting, thought about it, was sort of silly. All those guys wanted to do was kill me. Get in line, that was one long fucking list.

“Well that took longer than I thought.” Anya said as she appeared next to me, stopping my inner babbling.

“Sorry oh demonic one. Us solid fighters of good, are slow.”

“Ok. Well, hurry up. We have to get back to Sunnydale.”

“What’s the fire?”

“There is this, thing… and well…” She looked over my shoulder, and I turned, but didn’t see anything. “Listen, Faith you are the Slayer, and you just need to get there.”

“It’s only been two days since I saw B, how bad could it be?”

“Um, Faith?”

“Right. Sunnydale, Hellmouth, badness abounds. Got it.”

I started walking west, and after a few steps I heard her start to follow. Looking around I guessed dawn to be a few hours away, and the chill was getting to me. Of course I didn’t have a coat to cover my bloody and ripped tank top. Come to think of it, I looked like shit. Not much I could do about it in the middle of the woods in Massachusetts, so I sighed instead.

“So Buffy sent you.”

“Well, sure.”

“Hmm, sounds to me like you just pulled that out of your ass.”

“What do you mean? If Buffy, I mean, we all know nothing happens unless Buffy okays it, I mean, I would never just do something without being told, that would mean I am a sentient being, and we all know that-.”

“Why are you here if B didn’t send you?”

“Can’t a girl look after her friends?”

“Anya, we aren’t really bosom buddies, you know? So how did you know I was in trouble?”

“Demon underground railroad.”

“Huh?”

“No, DUR, actually.”

“What?”

“Are we going to stand out there in the cold all night? Shouldn’t you be in a hurry to get back to your orgasm buddy?”

I shrugged. Don’t get me wrong, the mere thought of seeing B again was enough to make me start running towards California, but I knew thinking about it wouldn’t get me there any sooner.

“Okay. It’s like this. You get on a plane, and then you will be in Sunnydale, and everything will be fine.”

“Problem.”

“What? Money? Steal some. You used to be evil, I am sure you remember how.”

“Not the money, though I have none. The flying thing.”

“What?”

“I don’t fly.”

“Why?”

“Huge steal coffin thousands of feet in the air.” I crossed my arms over my chest and cocked my head, narrowing my eyes and giving her the look. “When was the last time you flew in a plane?”

“Well. I. Um. Never.” She blew out exasperated that I had caught her.

Grinning I asked, “Why?”

“They are scary.”

“Bingo.”

“So it will be awhile before you get back?”

“A few days, yeah. Go ahead and zip on back. Tell B I’ll be there in about a week. Okay?”

She nodded, though she still looked pissed that I wasn’t running to an American Airlines terminal.

“Hey, how come you all gave me with wrong info.” I asked, knowing she was about to poof out of here, and it was still bugging me. With every step I took, more of my head seemed to clear. And along with the aches and pains a lot of confusing shit was starting to rattle around in my head.

“What?”

“The spell Ronnie had, it wasn’t right.”

“Oh, Um, not sure?” She looked over my shoulder again, and I checked, still no one there. “Maybe Willow made a mistake.”

“Maybe.” I offered, and she was gone. “But I doubt it. Red screwing up like that? Naw.” I looked down the road that I had just come upon, and saw a white van coming towards me. I crouched low, watched it pass, and then ran like a mother towards the back, jumping up onto the back step and holding onto the door. Like I said before.

Too easy.

After a few miles I just let go, and fell, feeling myself tolling along the asphalt, then into a ditch. Lovely. Standing up, I grimaced, feeling the pain of the past few days, the grogginess of the drugs, and the funk that seemed to be my new signature smell.

I am fucking nasty.

I checked the road and then ran across, to what made me ditch my ride. One of those no tell motels that peppered with back highways of the country. You could find at least one in every town, no matter how backwater or small. Just like whoring was the world's oldest profession, screwing around was a close second. There was only one car, nice one actually. Cadillac. I felt my self nodding in approval, and the frowning as I watched a porker of a guy decked out in the seventies finest as he slipped into the car. Here was my chance. Just needed to get into a room, and clean up.

*****

From the look on Willow’s face Buffy knew that her words had been a little too vague and too intense. The color had drained from the Wicca’s face. Buffy smiled, lightly.

“Sorry, that was not exactly what I meant.” She offered, and Willow said beside her with a heavy thump. Buffy spun her face all the way to look at Willow, her eyes wide. “Well you little minx.”

“Wh-h-hat?”

Buffy closed her eyes, and inhaled. No mistaking that. She grinned eagerly at Willow. “I can smell a certain Seer all over you.”

“OH!” Willow dropped her head into her hands, as Buffy good-naturedly chuckled.

*****

The pain was pretty bad as I rolled my shoulder in the socket. Them knocking me out and not letting me sleep really took its toll on my body. Didn’t they all know that I was nearing mandatory retirement age for a Slayer? Twenty-one was here, and I was about to drop over the edge of that milestone real quick. I needed my sleep to heal, though, not so much as I used to. I’d have to talk to B about that. Her having been an actual Slayer longer. I wondered if she was going through these changes too.

I stripped and slipped into the shower, wincing as the water hit some of the cuts on my skin. Damn you can be a stoic, but some water gets in a paper thin cut and look out, you are squirming in your own skin.

Taking a deep breath I put my head under the showerhead and felt the hot drops beating down on my skull, washing away the dust, dirt, sweat, blood. Washing away the evidence of being a Slayer. I felt a lump in my throat, as for just a fleeting moment I wondered what it would be like to be Faith. Just Faith.

God. I can’t even imagine being just me.

I wasn’t me without being that. There was no part of me that wasn’t the Slayer, the hunter, the murderer. My whole life I was this thing. Even before that morning when I woke with all this power, I was just waiting before then. I had the temper; I had the desire. I had the dreams of death, and knew about wanting to get even. I had the drive. Did I still? Now that Ronnie was dead, and HE, the man who had created the shadows in my life was no more, what was left? I was just a killer. There was nothing driving me.

Revenge? Done.

So what was I left with, besides this hunger to kill?

Should I return to B? What for?

Did the Council have the right idea about activating more Slayers to pepper the world with them? What would it hurt, me dying once? In the scheme of things, did I really matter? Did anything matter? Was I worth any one else dying by not doing it?

Was I worth anything?

I didn’t even realize that I was no longer standing, but kneeling in the moldy shower, sobbing.

For the first time in a long time, I was confused, and scared.

*****

Willow was hoping the earth would open and swallow her whole. She wasn’t sure how much good natured ribbing she could take from Buffy, especially because she was still feeling unease when it came to what she and Jude had done just a few hours earlier. If she had been elated and basking in the afterglow of a deep physical and spiritual connection then sure, she could take Buffy giving her a hard time. But because she felt pretty damn cheap, she was getting more embarrassed and upset. A scathing comment was on the tip of her tongue, one she was sure would halt the Slayer in her pick-on-Willow-who-didn’t-have-time-to-shower fest, when Buffy stopped laughing. Peeking through her fingers, as her hands were still covering her face, Willow saw that Buffy had placed her hand over her chest.

“No changing the subject, Buffy… Buffy?” Dropping her hands Willow looked at her, and realized the haunted look had returned, though with it a pained expression. Slowly, Buffy stood and walked to the window. Willow watched sensing that the mood had definitely changed. Something was wrong. And the redhead was sure it had something to do with Faith. It wasn’t some witchy sense, just an intuition.

“I had a dream.” Buffy said softly, setting her hand on the stained oak window frame.

“A Slayer dream?”

“Maybe, Faith, no. No, I don’t think so. She was there, but it didn’t feel the same. It didn’t feel like she was there. You know?” Buffy shrugged. “Just now, I felt this impossible weight settle in my chest. This sadness.” Willow heard her best friend sigh, but waited. It was clear to her that Buffy had something to say, and she would allow her the time to get her thoughts together. “I’m changing Will.” She turned around, crossing her arms and giving Willow a sad smile. “Something is happening, that is for sure. Easiest way to describe it is that I am changing.”

“Have you spoken to-“

“No. Giles seems to be busy.” She rolled her eyes, but her tone was forgiving. “I don’t even know what to say to him. Hell, Will, I don’t even know what to say to you. I don’t think anyone but Faith would understand.”

“Do you think it's her? What you feel, what is changing you?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe I am feeling her. I can’t say that this is because of her. She’s been gone almost a year, but these changes are getting stronger now. If it was because of her, it would have happened when she was back, right?” She looked over her shoulder, to the window, and then to Willow, who was still on the couch. “I think this has more to do with me. I need to accept who and what I am. Especially if I am changing like I think I am.”

Willow was trying to understand, but as usual, when Buffy talked it was a little hard to follow right off.

“I’m a Slayer. I have to accept that I can never just be Buffy Summers. I have been lost for years thinking I could be both, but it was a lie. I have always been the Slayer, even before I was called. I have these gifts, these powers, and they’re getting strong and stronger. And that is what makes Faith better than me. Faith accepted it years ago.”

*****

Well that was a great use of hot water.

I stood, teeth chattering under the ice-cold water. I had balled my eyes out like a kid, while all the nice hot water went down the drain. When it turned cold I snapped out of my pity party and got down to business. I needed to be clean, and get all the blood and ick off of me. There wasn’t time to cry like a fucking girl.

If not now, then when?

Shut up.

It felt good though, didn’t it? To let it go?

Shut up.

You are a girl, you are allowed a little weakness.

No. Not now. Not when there was so much.

What? What is happening, right this second… Gotcha! Not a damn thing. So finish washing your hair, and get in that bed, and sleep. You need it. You earned it.

I hate you.

Stepping out I wrapped a towel around my waist, and it was only big enough to cover that much of me. Figures. But it was better than a kick in the teeth. And a million times better than my clothes. I looked at them, the tattered cargo pants, the stained tank top. They would have to do for now. I kneeled down and started the water in the bathtub, still fucking cold, and grabbed the tiny bar of soap, or what was supposed to be soap. Even the cakes of flaky, smelly, white in prison were closer to soap than this. I bent and began scrubbing my clothes.

I felt a light laugh rise up from my gut. Just like the old days. When I trekked across the country the first time. Even when I was in Sunnydale, I would wash my clothes in the tub. Funny how no one ever commented on why my clothes would be hanging around that dingy motel room. Hell, B had Mrs. S doing her whites and darks separate. Folding them and leaving them on her bed. Me, I had the chapped hands from the rough soap from doing it all at once in an icy tub of water.

This was my life. This was the life I knew. It almost felt comfortable, as fucked up as that sounded. What was foreign was living in that massive house with HS and everyone. Having a washer and a dryer. Hell, having a bed that didn’t squeak, that I didn’t have to pat down, scattering bugs from before I laid down in it. That luxury was what felt off to me. Now that was fucked. But did I need the hot and cold running water? I mean, I was a tool, I was created to serve good, to go out and kill evil, night after night. What did I need a microwave for? Blow dryer? All those things were needed by humans.

I am not human.

I am a Slayer.

I squeezed the water out of the pants and tossed them over the shower rod. Was I turning my back on good? Running away from the Council. Because, when you think about it, taking me out, to activate another girl, that made one more fighter for the good side, more dead things on the bad. Wasn’t that how it was supposed to be? Maybe I should think about that before going anywhere.

I turned off the light in the bathroom, and walked over to the bed. My body was screaming, and I needed to sleep. A solid twelve hours, for these torn muscles, cracked bones; it should all be, five by five.

*****

He had been pacing for a good fifteen minutes. Now, he understood that fifteen minutes was not that long to be pacing, but he was getting concerned. Jude was sitting on the couch, finding her boots fascinating.

“I thought you were going to wait and sleep with her later, you know, woo her, build the trust.”

“It was the right time.”

“So if it was the right time, where is she? You promised me that she would join us. It really is important to have everyone betraying her, you know. That was your plan.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Jude shouted as she flew off the couch. “I planned this whole fucking thing, Hank, so stop acting like your shit don’t stink, ok? Something is wrong, something I didn’t foresee.”

“Imagine that.” He huffed. They should just go with his plan, turn all of Buffy’s friends into vampires and then go after the Slayer herself, ripping her limb from limb and drinking her blood from a golden chalice.

Fingers snapped in front of his blue eyes startling him.

“Hank, do not tell me you just had that corny blood drinking fantasy.”

“It’s a good one.”

“It's old and tired, and just played out.”

He crossed his arms and sat heavily on the couch. “Like your plan is even better. I mean, look around Jude. Where is Willow? Where is Faith? All we have is… is… fuck! We don’t have anyone.”

“Well that is being a bit rude. So I was a little late? That Slayer, man does she like to ramble on.” Anya said, as she appeared sitting on the couch next to Hank. He sprung up.

“Don’t do that.” He turned to Jude. “Tell her not to do that. How I am supposed to be imposing and suave and evil when she can scare the crap out of me like that?”

“What the hell happened to him?” Anya asked Jude as if he was not even there.

“He is anemic. Gets weird when he gets low.”

Anya nodded, with a sarcastic smile. She was not planning on respecting him, that much he could see.

“Where is Faith?”

“Outside of Boston.”

“So you…” Jude asked.

“So she is no longer being held by the Council, so she is on her way here.”

“Tomorrow then?” Jude asked.

“Well, see there is this small problem.”

Hank turned to Anya, and then Jude, before asking, “Problem?”

“She won’t fly. So you are looking at a week or more. But hey, more time to plan for the big Buffy meltdown party.” Anya grinned, but Hank was not amused. Jude had said Faith would be there soon. Another thing that wasn’t going right.

“Great.” Jude huffed, sitting down again.

“Did you already know-“ Anya asked.

“No.” Pouting, Jude crossed her arms.

*****

“Do you know what I mean?”

“Honestly?” Willow asked Buffy.

Buffy nodded.

“Honestly, I am on a slow boat to confusion land.” Willow shrugged, and Buffy found it completely endearing. She sat down next to her friend, and took her hand. Buffy felt the redhead tense, and tried to be soothing as she ran two finger tips over the back of her hand.

“I feel you tense. I can hear your heart beating, the whooshing of the blood as it is pushed through the heart out into the veins. I can feel it moving, right here, under my finger. I can feel your muscles, and know, by just knowing how much pressure it would take for me to snap this finger.” Willow eeped, and Buffy smiled. “I won’t Wills. I can smell that you and…” Buffy trailed off, realizing something. She met her friend’s eyes, finding herself looking into the darkening green. “Oh, God. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“What?” Willow gasped, and Buffy pulled her into a fierce hug. “How, what? I mean, huh?” Willow mumbled into Buffy’s shoulder.

“Fear, pain, sadness.” Buffy answered into red hair. “Do you need to talk about it? I thought things were ok between you and Jude.”

“No, I’d rather not.” She sighed, and then moved back, to hold Buffy at arms length. “How did you know? I don’t feel any magic.”

“I am changing Willow. There is so much I never stopped to notice before. And these are just the physical changes. Don’t even get me started on the super sized guilt trips I have been having.”

“Buffy, if what you are saying is true, I am way over my head here. Sure I know I am sort of a Watcher in training, and all. But this is really Giles’ area of expertise, not mine. Now if you wanted to talk wolf bane and rowan berries I would be your girl. But this?” Willow frowned.

“I know. You’re right.” Buffy bit her lip, thinking. “Up for a walk to see a man about a horse?”

“Buffy, I don’t want to watch you pee.”

“Oops.” Buffy laughed, glad the mood seemed a little lightened. She wanted to know what was going on with Willow and her Seer, but that would wait. She could tell her friend was still raw. “Walk with me to see Giles?”

“Sure.”

They stood and moved to the front door.

“What brought you by? Not that I don’t love to get all morose with my Wicca.” Buffy asked.

“Oh shit.”

“Huh?”

“Council stuff. We can talk and walk.” Willow grumbled, a touch of irritation on her face.

“That has yet to be proven. I am blonde you know.”

“Not funny, Slayer.”

“Then lay it on me, Witch.”

Willow mock growled. Then sighed. “So I have this friend, in the Watcher wannabe category.”

“Huh?” Buffy asked, kicking at a pebble on the front walk, like she did every time she left the house.

“You do realize if you keep doing that, eventually there will be no more pebbles on your pebbled walkway. All you will have is dirt, or I am betting in your case, a muddy path leading right up to the front door. And Buff, we all know how much you clean or rather don’t, and as no one knows for certain how long Faith will be gone, leaving it up to you to keep the mud and carnage off the freshly polished wood floors is not-“

“Damn Will. Breathe.”

“Hehe.”

“Council, Watcher, kinda. What’s the scope?”

“Nothing concrete. Oh, you could put down-“

“Willow.”

“Riiight. There is a rumor that Quinten Travers and some Possible Slayers, who they have been training in England made a rushed trip to Boston day before yesterday.”

“Boston.” Buffy stopped and looked at Willow.

“Boston.” Willow confirmed.

“Boston where my Faith is?”

“Yep.”

“Let’s hurry this up. Seems like Giles needs to explain a couple of more important things.”

*****

With his right hand he flipped through the old text, his left hand was pressing a handkerchief to his slip lip. Giles contemplated ranting for a few moments at the incompetence he clearly displayed in choosing to invite someone into his home. But he knew it would be to no avail. What was done was done. A vampire, correction, a day walking vampire had coming into his house, roughed him up a bit, then told him a little story, and then knocked him about the head with his teakettle, effectually knocking him unconscious for a good four hours.

Hank Summers had given him a choice, something that Giles first suspected to be a trick, but now believed to be in fact just that, a choice. He had to admit, with a sad grin, Buffy’s biological father did have a strong argument to believe that the choice Giles would make would be the one he expected him to make.

He ripped out the passage in the text he had been looking for.

“Let her try and solve this one.” He said, moving back towards the door, lifting his coat and leaving in a huff.

*****

“She’s gone!” the door was thrown open and the words shouted, silencing all other discussion in the room.

“That is impossible.” Osler stammered.

“Nothing is impossible.” Quinten stated flexing his authority, now that the tranquilizer gun was no longer pointed at him. In fact, he stood arrogantly and nodded to his body guard, who noticed then too than in a moment of confusion Osler attention was other where, and the gun hung limply at his side. Balch watched all of this with a trained Watcher’s eye, and stepped back as Osler was surrounded and tackled to the ground in a grunt. Balch had known that it would only have been a matter of time before Osler’s take-over was squelched; only he had not guessed it to happen so quickly.

“No!” Came the pitiful cry from the bottom of the heap.

“Slayers, especially this one, are creatures of immense improbability, and therefore must never be taken for granted. Please, restrain the Commander and see to it that he is held until we return to England.” Quinten walked over, and looked up into Osler’s betraying eyes as the other members restrained him. “I do recall warning you of this. Yet you took it upon yourself to ignore me. And now you know why she is gone.”

“This isn’t my fault.”

“Oh, but I dare say it is.” Quinten dismissed him with a flick of his wrist, and turned, seeing that he had Balch’s complete attention. “Did you give her the serum?”

“No.”

“I see.” Men filed out of the room. “Can you find her?”

“I am sure that I can. Given time.”

“And you have all the time you need then, Balch. All plans rely on having the Slayer at our disposal.”

“You still plan to terminate her then?”

“Hmm. Nothing has happened to make me want to change my mind.” He sat back down, like Napoleon. “Perhaps, between you finding her and now, something will?”

Balch nodded, and left the room. He wasn’t sure how long of a head start the Slayer had. But he had a good idea where she was headed.

*****

Buffy turned 360 degrees once more, taking in the sight of Giles’ ransacked apartment. She could smell the blood, and the sweat, and something that was definitely vampire, but there was something else. She walked into the kitchen, and lifted the electric teakettle from the floor. There was a small bit of blood on the bottom corner. There was something familiar about the kettle, Buffy couldn’t place it. Maybe a scent or-

“Hey that is just like the one he got you for school.”

Or that she had one exactly like it. Buffy tossed it down with the rest of the smashed cutlery.

“This is not of the good.”

“I tend to agree.” Willow nodded, still looking at all the damage.

“Thoughts then on what we should do?” Buffy inhaled again. Something, there was definitely something.

“Locator spell, simple and effective. To find Giles at least.”

“Sounds good.” Buffy looked out the window. “Dusk is here. I had better get a quick patrol in.”

“You know where I will be. Down with the sage.” Willow joked, setting her bag down on the desk, and opening it.

“Gotcha.” Buffy winked.

*****

Willow watched Buffy closing the door behind her. Then she surveyed the damage again. If Giles was unaware of the mess, he was going to be very upset when he returned. She set some of the jars down on the desk, and went to move a book that was laying in the way. She lifted it, and then looked more closely, pages were torn from it.

“Oh yeah, he is going to be pissed off. I wonder how hard it would be to replace this book?” She closed it and looked at the cover. It seemed familiar. “Oo.” She wasn’t certain, but thought she might have a copy at home, one of Tara’s old tomes. Tucking the book into her bag, she began to get the spell ready.

*****

Balch stepped out of the abandoned mansion and began walking towards the road. He looked around, trying to see if anything was amiss, any sign of something. In his younger days hunting was something his father attempted to teach him, and though the shooting of animals for sport held no interest, the tracking fascinated him. He was thankful for the skills imparted to him as he spotted some tracks. Boot tracks that were too small to belong to one of the men inside, that appeared to be running away. This was as he expected. Walking and looking, he knew he could follow the trail to the road, and then it would get harder to track the Slayer. Though she did have habits. Slipping his hand into the inside pocket of his trench coat, he removed his mobile phone and dialed a familiar number.

“Archives, Balch speaking.”

“I will never get used to that.” He replied with a smile to the female voice that greeted him.

“Robert, how lovely to hear from you. And how is Boston?”

“Meral, how did you know I was in Boston?”

“Would you believe caller id?”

“You’ve been snooping again.”

“I have not… well possibly.”

“You always did have your finger in the pie, little sister.”

“Did not.”

“I recall walking into the kitchen and seeing just that very thing.”

“That was over twenty years ago, will you please let it go?”

“Mother still blames me, to this day, she says I cannot be trusted with pastry.”

“That is just because she saw that movie on Sky. You know, the American film, with the pie and the young man.”

“I am aware of it. And why are you allowing her to watch such things.”

“Allowing? Have you taken leave of your senses, and forgotten who our mother is?”

“No. Quite right.”

“May I ask why you are calling?”

“I know you have been in communication with Ms. Rosenberg, and I-”

“Is everything alright? Nothing has happened to Willow has it?”

“Meral. Please. I am just making an inquiry. Have you been?”

“Please continue.”

“Avoidance is a sign of-”

“Stuff your psychological degree at the moment. What do you need?”

“Any rumors about Faith returning to Sunnydale?”

“No. Actually I have not heard from Willow this past week, which is most strange for her. Usually she is punctual to the point where I thought she was a computer, not a human. That girl is always on line. Um, yes. Sorry. No. Nothing. Other than the spell she was inquiring about.”

“The Day Walker spell?”

“One and the same.”

“I see.”

“What are you thinking, brother?”

“I am not sure. Faith has excused herself from the Council’s rather stifling accommodations, and I am tasked with finding her. So I was hoping to just travel to Sunnydale to obtain her.”

“She ran off huh? Good for her.”

“Meral, please.”

“Sorry, Robert. But you know how I feel.”

“You have made mention about a thousand times.”

“I have to be sure you understood. You don’t always hear the words I say.”

“Hmm?”

“Bint.”

“What?”

“So you think she may be going back home, to her other Slayer huh? Or she could go anywhere really… you know, I have some concerns about Sunnydale myself.”

“Such as?”

“Just concerns, dear brother. I do have some time coming up. Would you be apposed to me traveling to Sunnydale immediately, and letting you know of any information first hand?”

“I think you will be expensing a personal trip.”

“You say potato I say potato.”

“Call my mobile when you get in?”

“Of course, dear brother. I suggest you try Pittsburg.”

“Why?”

“Good distribution hub. Faith likes to hitch hike.”

“Right.”

He disengaged the phone with a smile. His little sister always had the ability to do that. Make him smile, and hang up without any warning. Pocketing the phone, he looked back at the estate, its sprawling ivy, cracked lead windows, and his smile widened. He was glad Faith had gotten out, though still not sure how she had managed it. It would be something he could ask her. Balch had no doubt he would find her in due time. Right now he had to get a ride to Pittsburg.

*****

The swirling smoke dissipated and Willow looked down at the map, absently tucking some hair behind her ear and frowning. The map was showing her Giles’ location, and it was somewhere she was sure her friend would not be just for an evening stroll.

Digging in her purse, vowing to herself for the hundredth time that she needed a smaller purse, or no purse at all, she found her cell phone, and pressed one for the preprogrammed number.

“Dust makers are us.”

“Buffy?”

“Hey, Wills, did you – umph.”

Willow frowned, looking at the phone, and then putting it back to her ear.

“Um, Buffy? Is this a bad time?”

“Naw, he’s just a little one, hey! Hey! Get back here, chicken.”

Willow laughed, picturing Buffy slaying while talking. She kept having to warn Buffy against the dangers of slaying and talking, it was much more dangerous that driving and talking on the phone. Well, unless you were talking about Buffy, in which case driving was more dangerous, period.

“Buffy, you need to be paying attention. Why did you answer the phone if you were slaying?”

“I was hoping it was you?”

“Funny. You just are one of those people that have to answer when it rings.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am, ok.” Buffy laughed. “You got me. I am. So? Locator spell? Did it work?”

“Aren’t you busy? Should I call back?”

“Naw, he’s poofed. So?”

“Looks like Giles is at the docks.”

“Well that spells bad news like, like, um, b-a-d news. So?”

“Want to meet me over there?”

“I don’t know Wills. You heading over there alone? I am not comfortable with that.”

“I am a big girl Buffy. Remember me? Nearly ended the world?”

“But you were hopped up on stolen magics.”

Willow huffed.

“I worry about you Willow. You know I am only a bitch because I care.”

“Is that what you think.”

“Ouch.”

“Maybe I will call Xander.” Willow said in a resigned tone, still not liking that she was always babied. She wasn’t the same bookworm she had been all those years ago. She was a badass mojo toting mama, well she had been for a while at least, and yes that had ended badly, but still, she wasn’t to be trifled with. She even nodded her point to the empty room.

“If you say you can handle it, Will, then I believe you.”

“Really?” Willow immediately perked up.

“Really. But, I wouldn’t be apposed to oh, I don’t know, meeting you over there in an hour or so?”

“Great! Be safe out there.”

“Always try to be.” Buffy laughed. “See you soon.”

Willow ended the call, and put the phone back in her bag. She could do this. She had a stake, and she had some low level magic that she was comfortable using. This would be a piece of cake.

*****

Buffy was smiling as she put the phone back in her pocket. She needed to let go, to stop protecting her friends so much. They had lasted this long.

I was here watching over them.

“Ah, don’t kid yourself Buffster.” She said to herself as she walked deeper into the cemetery. “They can take care of themselves. No one was killed off when you were dead and buried in the ground. Give them some credit. They don’t really need you.” She smirked. It was true. Maybe when Faith came back the two of them could take a vacation, a nice get away, to Alaska, in the summer.

Her happy train of thought consisting of twenty-four hours of daylight, accompanied by a vision of her and Faith, in the middle of brightly lit woods, scaring the squirrels was interrupted rudely when she was tackled from behind.

Rolling to the right, she sprung back up to her feet, turning to glare at the vampire standing there.

“You always talk to yourself Slayer?” He sneered.

“Fuck off, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.” She was more upset that she had been caught up in her little daydream and had not heard the vampire approach more than anything. Crossing her arms she watched as he stalked around her. “Find anything you’re looking for?” She asked as he completed his circuit, and in that time she was able to sense that there was no other living creatures within fifty yards of them. This vamp smelled like death, thick and fresh. He was young, and weak, and this would take no time at all. Which was good. Buffy wanted to get over to the docks before Willow had a chance to get into any trouble. Not that she didn’t think she could take care of herself, more that she wanted to find Giles and make sure he was alright.

“I guess you will have to do.”

“Have to do? God, you are young.”

“Young and strong, Slayer.”

“At least you know who I am then.”

“Of course. You have the smell, the hunter. But you don’t look like you should. The vision showed you with brown hair.”

“Vision?” Buffy asked, interested.

“You know, visions, before you rise. Sort of like a training school.” He waved his hand in a bored tone, like he thought she should know all about this. She had heard rumors of course, but never thought to ask the vampires who were in her life to share their stories of being born to this darkness. Actually, she never really asked them much. She frowned. She really should have. Sort of self involved of her not to.

The vampire, dressed in a long dark jacket, pulled something from inside, and maneuvered it open. Buffy stopped her mind from rambling and watched.

“Where did you get that?” She snapped.

“Oh this?” He twirled the parasol emphatically. “City dump. Amazing what people throw out.” He grinned, this yellow eyes sparkling.

City dump? When? How?

“That’s mine.”

“If you threw it out, it isn’t any more.” He pouted. “What, you gonna take it from me, Slayer?”

Buffy nodded, and flicked her wrist out towards him. She was no longer in the mood for hand to hand. Not in the mood to play the game. The small stake she had tucked against her wrist zipped through the night air, piercing his heart before he even noticed the movement. He frowned, looked down, and then dust rained on the grass, and the parasol lightly caught the air before it fell too.

“Damn.” She stepped forward and lifted the bent umbrella, looking at the stained fabric, touching the handle reverently. When had she lost this? He said the dump. Had she really been so careless? Sure her life was hectic, but had she been so heartless, and thoughtless to have thrown this out?

Buffy regarded her once sacred Protector award. All her classmates had given her the award. Presented her, Buffy Summers, this as thanks for saving their lives, over and over again during her earlier years in Sunnydale. It had meant so much to her, that Buffy was given the recognition.

“Not Buffy.” She sighed, realizing for the first time. They didn’t give the girl Buffy this award. The children of Sunnydale High School had given the award to the Hunter, the Slayer, they just didn’t know its name. Buffy Summers was the one who had been trying to be just like them. She had tried repeatedly. Going to class, studying when needed, trying out for cheerleading. If she had just been the girl, Buffy, no one would have noticed her. She would have faded into the background, just like Willow had. But she couldn’t even claim to be on the same level as Willow. Everyone knew the redheaded genius. Knew who was the go to girl for help with schoolwork. If Buffy were just the girl she always wanted to be, she would have been invisible. She probably would have faded away too. Her only claim to fame, the only thing that made her different was the one thing for years that she hated about herself. Being the killer, the murderer, the Slayer.

She turned to leave the cemetery, leaving the parasol behind her as well.

*****

“Oh, no. I can do it all by myself.” Willow grumbled under her breath as she walked along the corrugated steel wall of one of the many warehouses here at the docks. It seemed darker than usual, and a light fog was settling around her, coming off of the thick water that enabled the ships to port here. She wasn’t sure why she was feeling more wiggy than normal. Perhaps it was because she had passed the warehouse where they had found Dawn last year, just a few minutes ago, and when she closed her eyes she was treated to the memory vision of all the blood. So much blood. Who knew there could be so much blood in such a thin body? Well vampires knew; their whole thing was blood. What if there were some vampires hanging around here tonight, did she have her stake? Would she be ready for them?

“You’re babbling Willow.” She chastised herself. Even in her head she rambled when she was nervous. And she was certainly nervous. After a day like she had, nervous was an understatement.

“What a day, huh Tara?” Willow grimaced. She had done it again. She found herself still talking to Tara, still thinking about her. The tall blonde had always been her touchstone, her grounding into this world, keeping her thoughts from wandering too much. It still hurt that she was no longer here. Willow was learning to live without her friend, her lover, her confidant, but still, there was so much she had wanted to say and do, and never got the chance. It was haunting her, the incompleteness. Rationally Willow knew there was no way for her to have prepared for Tara’s murder. None of them knew what Warren was planning; even Warren didn’t know he was going to kill Tara. It had been an accident. Accident or no, it left her feeling empty, and incomplete, in a way that she knew would never stop. No matter who was in her life, if she ever fell in love again, there would always be a part of her soul that belonged to Tara. That was made blindingly clear that afternoon, when she had been with Jude.

Her focus should have been on the moment, the culmination of months of flirting and sexual tension. But it had paled in comparison to every time she and Tara had come together, in such a way that left her feeling even more empty.

A movement caught the corner of her eye and she turned, seeing Jude, slipping out of a side door.

“Speak of the devil.” Willow mumbled.

*****

Something wasn’t right. There was too much that she had been missing lately. The visions were spotty at best, and had been so since they preformed the ritual. Could it have been the ritual that drained her? Possibly. Maybe she needed to get more power. And power was Willow. Jude would have to check the crystals she had in Willow’s apartment, to be sure they were still pulling trace amounts of magics into them. She had better do it fast. Hank, she was sure would never notice the changes, but Anya. The demon already knew something was up, had questioned her more than once. Jude didn’t like that. If she could get rid of the demon she would. But at this stage of the game, that didn’t seem like a possibility.

Sighing, Jude lit the cigarette she pulled from her shirt pocket and exhaled, letting her mind relax for a minute. All the planning was getting to her. If one more thing didn’t go as she planned she was going to scream.

“Hey you. Fancy meeting you here.”

Jude jumped and turned, to see Willow looking at her questioning her. She gulped, wondering how in the world the Wicca had found her. And why the hell hadn’t she seen this coming?

“Did you know I was alone and admittedly a little freaked, so you came to keep me company?” Willow asked.

“Um.” Jude dropped the cigarette and ground it out under her boot heel. “No Buffy?” She panned the area behind the redhead.

“She’ll be here eventually.” Willow narrowed her eyes. “Jude, are you okay? I know we need to talk about what happened today.”

Jude decided then, that it was now or never.

“Actually, Willow. There is a lot more than this morning that we need to talk about.”

Twin red eyebrows shot up.

“A whole lot more. I think it is time.”

“Time?”

Jude grinned and nodded, slipping her arm around Willow’s shoulders.

*****

She stopped in front of the open warehouse door, and felt her head drop.

Buffy had been back to this building more times than she had admitted to anyone of the Scoobies. She would come and think about Dawn, think about what she could have done differently. Before Faith left, she had made it clear to Buffy that she blamed herself for Dawn’s death, and Buffy had told her repeatedly that there was nothing Faith could have done. That all the ‘what ifs’ and ‘could haves’ meant nothing. That it was meant to be, and that beating herself up over it would not bring Dawn back. Faith hadn’t heard those words and had left, looking for revenge. Buffy had heard the words, but didn’t completely believe them. She didn’t blame Faith, on the contrary, Buffy could stand outside of the situation and see exactly what had happened and why. Still, it didn’t stop the hopes, the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘could haves’ from springing into Buffy’s mind. She and Faith were alike in so many ways, the way they accepted blame another one. So Buffy would come here, and allow herself to think, to grieve.

Looking inside the warehouse, with her Slayer eyes she could see the large stain on the concrete floor. Slayer smell? The metallic tingle at the back of her throat of blood, familiar blood. Her own blood. It was still there, and Buffy wondered, not for the first time, if she would always be able to smell it here, in this place.

Raising her head and closing her eyes she inhaled the moisture rich air. Her mind taking in all the levels of scent, she was looking for one in particular. Where was her redhead? Tilting her head to the side, she imagined stretching out her mind, covering this entire area.

“Not here.” She mumbled. There was nothing. No trace of Willow. A low growl of disapproval came from her chest, unnoticed, and Buffy pulled her phone out from her pocket. It was turned off. She didn’t remember turning it off. Holding the button it beeped as it turned on, then buzzed. She had a voicemail.

“Buffy, it's me. I didn’t find anything interesting. And it is sort of creepy, so no sign of him, and I decided to head home. And you should too. Get some sleep and we will regroup in the morning. Ok bye.”

Buffy ended the call, looking at the phone. That hadn’t been a normal Willow message. She felt herself frown then willed it away. Maybe Willow had been tired or something. Nothing seemed amiss and Buffy was sure that Willow was nowhere around, so she turned and headed out. Home would be good. A bath, even better.

*****

“Well if you would have brought Faith back with you we wouldn’t have to wait.” Hank exclaimed, his cheeks would have been rosier with anger, if he had eaten anything recently, but he had been cooped up in the warehouse most of the day. He hated loosing face, especially in front of the man who had stolen his daughter’s affections, and he was sure was partly to blame for his untimely demise at the hands of bumbling vampires in L.A. He was tired of excuses from Jude and Anya. They had a plan, a simple plan, and no one seemed to be playing by the rules. And now, for this demon to sit there all indignant like she was better than him, and Mr. Giles cleaning his glasses for the umpteenth time as he sat on the couch in the corner, Hank was at his boiling point.

“Listen, I know you are new at this being evil and all that, so I am cutting you some slack. Thing is, I can teleport, but I can’t take others with me. It doesn’t work like that. You want teleporting you need a Naidan demon, or a really strong witch.”

“She has a point.” Giles offered, and Hank growled at him.

“We don’t have either of those!” Hank exclaimed slamming his fist down on the large conference table set up in what he called the War Room, in the basement of this warehouse.

“Well, I have the witch.”

All eyes in the room turned towards Jude as she stood in the doorway she had left from not an hour before. She stepped aside and the redhead, Willow, stepped into the room. Hank felt his vampire visage slipping away as he smiled in greeting. Well it was about time. Finally, something was going right. He watched the witch step further into the room, and took her in. Wide green eyes looked at the others assembled, her hands still crossed against her stomach. She smelled of fear, but fear was good. Manageable.

“You too.” Willow said looking at Anya, who had stood and walked over to her side.

“Well you have to admit, his benefits package is much better than the one the Buffy has been offering.” Anya said, walking with Willow over to Giles, who was strangely quiet.

“You just know you looked hot in the evil leather pants.” Jude quipped as she sat down heavily in her chair in the corner. She seemed quite pleased with herself.

“I don’t have to be evil to wear leather… do I?” Willow asked.

“It is sort of a prerequisite.” Giles offered, moving slightly as the redhead sat beside him.

“Well phooey.” She shrugged.

Hank watched them all closely, wondering again, what his daughter saw in these people.

*****

Coming home to a dark and empty house. Again. Buffy could feel it on her shoulders, a ghostly pressure. She wanted a home filled with her friends, her family. She wanted crowded rooms, and arguments over washing dishes. She wanted life surrounding her, not cold bricks and mortar. This wasn’t home. This was a cage, a shell.

“Too deep for even me.” She mumbled and made her way to the upstairs apartment, bypassing rooms that she never used.

Faith’s scent was too faint now up here. Only a pair of leather pants, and a stake or two were left really. Buffy hadn’t changed much in the apartment after Faith left; there wasn’t much to change. Faith had always traveled light, she claimed. Owning things didn’t seem practical to the dark Slayer. Another example of the differences between them. Buffy was notorious for having stuff. Meaningless stuff. Like Mr. Gordo sitting on the bed. Why did she need that?

Shrugging off her jacket she moved into the bathroom, leaned over and turned on the spout.

It was time to do some cleaning, she decided. Time to lighten the load. Faith had it right, in so many ways. It had taken years, but Buffy was seeing it now. Seeing her true self, the one she had denied.

“Enough thinking.” Buffy decided, and slipped into the warm bath.

She stretched her right leg out, running the soapy sponge over it, feeling the muscles of her lower back starting to relax from the punch she had received earlier when she was paroling. It felt good to be warm, soothing. Sighing Buffy looked at the clock that was hanging in the bathroom above the toilet, a must have in any young professional’s bathroom.

“Four hours to go. Whoop-tee-do.” Buffy sighed, realizing work was not far off.

This was not how she had planned to spend the evening. She had thought, albeit fleetingly, after sitting with Willow that afternoon and smelling the pungent smell of sex rolling off of her best friend, that a good way for her to top off her night would be a visit to one of the bars down in the bad side of town. Slip in alone, slip out with someone, take care of business and be home with time to spare. But instead she had gotten kicked around by a pack of no name vampires all because she was too busy thinking, and then she spent even more time walking around the docks looking for Willow, but there was no Wicca to be found.

Buffy rolled her head back on the tub ledge. “Looks like it is the old fashioned way for me tonight.” She slipped her fingers through the warm water, between her parted legs, feeling her already aroused clit, and circling it. It felt good, and so she did it again, as the rest of her body settled lower into the water. Closing her eyes she willed all thoughts away, and just pictured ebony hair, dark eyes, and kiss-swollen lips. She tried to conjure up the sound of Faith’s growling and moaning her name, a sound that would always get Buffy more excited. Pumping her digits in and out, running her fingers through her swollen lips. She flexed her legs, feeling the climax getting closer, imagining her Slayer there, touching her. Her hips were moving in time now with her rapidly thrusting fingers, two inside of her. Then three. And she was getting closer. So close she could almost taste it. Biting her bottom lip, Buffy willed herself to relax, to feel the pleasure.

“Fuck!” It was not an exclamation of climax, rather frustration. “Ever since I came back Faith.” She frowned. It was true. Ever since she was with Faith last she couldn’t come, and it was beginning to get tiresome. Buffy knew it had only been a few days, but to a Slayer, to Buffy, that as a few too many moments filled with frustration.

She pulled the drain, and slipped from the tub, wrapping a large towel around her body, making a beeline for the soft bed.

*****

The sun was just making its way over the Sierra Mountains, barely lighting the sky in Sunnydale, but there was a noticeable difference from when Willow had entered the warehouse with Jude earlier. The Seer had a firm grip on her arm, suddenly more possessive it seemed. At the moment, Willow’s mind was swirling so intently, that the hold on her was welcome. Passing out seemed like a possibility.

“A lot to take in huh?” Jude offered as they started walking away.

“What? Yeah it really is. Who knew, I mean well, we knew, but we didn’t know.” Willow tripped over her words, and just stopped talking. What would be the use? After hearing what she did, she couldn’t for sure say the earth was still round.

“I know.”

“So this has been your plan from the beginning?”

“Pretty much.” Jude shrugged.

Planned the whole time. Even our meeting. So really, nothing has been what it seemed.

*****

The face looking back at her from the mirror on the ladies room wall was the same one she had seen for all of her twenty-seven years. Blue eyes, brown hair; pale cheeks with the standard spray of freckles. There was nothing new really to be seen in this busy bathroom mirror at Heathrow Airport. But Meral was sure something was different about her today.

“Why do I have the feeling my life is about to completely change?” She mumbled, and then chuckled, when an elderly woman who had been washing up beside her jumped a little, giving her an odd glance and then rushed from the room. Scaring old ladies was not a pastime for the researcher, on the contrary, she had no pastimes. Since she was old enough to know about the Watcher’s Council, where her father and then brother worked, it had become her life to study and learn about the occult. She wanted what they had. Access to knowledge. The power and resources to do good. It was only after she was accepted that she learned of the truth. Power corrupts. The Council was no different. Centuries of watching had taken its toll and now the ruling hand wanted to control, and actively participate. It was something Meral was very uncomfortable with. She had no allegiance to the group, thankfully her youth and tenacity had ensured that. Perhaps that explained why she had left work, feigning exhaustion yesterday after the call from her brother. Explained why her bags had been packed, her bank account emptied, and tickets purchased all within hours. She believed in the good, fighting on the side of good, and the fight was where she was needed. Where she was headed.

Oh so Willow Rosenberg had nothing to do with it?

Meral smiled, a lazy grin that had been her trademark since birth. To be honest with herself, part of this journey was selfish. Though she knew better, and even chastised herself again, that Willow was merely words on a screen, she was a large reason for this trip.

“You only saw her that once, when Mr. Giles carried her past your desk to the infirmary. Really, you are a silly girl.” Shaking her head, she lifted her pack, walking with sure steps to the boarding gates.

*****

Rolling over, my hands found an empty bed. I was sure that someone had been there, beside me. Well not someone. B. As I drifted off last night I had been thinking about her, about how it used to feel to fall asleep knowing she was right there beside me. Most nights we would just fall to sleep on our separate sides, maybe feet touching, maybe my arm against her back. Cuddling I didn’t do all the time, too many years of sleeping alone maybe. God lover her, B never pushed me to hold her, or anything. It was like we both took enough comfort in knowing the other person was right there, and that was enough. But last night, it had felt like she was there. Like I could feel the warmth of her body under the sheets. So waking up and not feeling her there, it was a little freaky.

I sat up, looking around. Still the same dingy room I had broken into. Nothing looked like it had been disturbed, which was good. If someone or thing had managed to get in here while I was sleeping, I was so far off my game then that the Council should put me down.

I stretched, closing my eyes and feeling my body. Everything seemed okay. I even wiggled my toes. No problems there. Looks like I was back, good as new. I got out of bed, shivering a little at the coldness of the room, and the thin carpet over a cement floor that was equally cold.

Getting dressed and getting out was on tap for this morning. Question was; where was I going to go?

*****

Grimacing, she decided that this would have to do. Cocking her head to the side Buffy took in her image in the floor length mirror in the room. Khaki pants, a white knit sweater. It was drab, it was old, and it was crap.

“This is what happens when I forget to do laundry.” She grumbled, leaving the room and heading down stairs.

The house was still empty. And she knew it would be when she came home tonight too.

“Well, empty means more time for laundry.” She stopped, picking up her brown suede boots from the rack in the hall. “I need to stop talking to myself like this. It is just… creepy.” She frowned and went into the kitchen, sitting in the chair and pulling on her boots. That accomplished she started the coffee maker, and lifted the cordless phone from its cradle.

She dialed Willow’s number.

Ring

“Hi, it's me, and I’m not here right now.”

“Damn, voicemail.” She pressed to off button and then dialed Xander.

Ring

Ring

Ring

“Hi! For those of you just tuning in, I am at work, yes an actual job-”

“Bah.” Buffy hung up again, and cradled the phone. “Where is everyone?” She pouted, before pouring herself a cup of coffee. She tried not to think about being alone, something she was never good with. Even those months she lived in L.A. as Anne, it had been painfully hard to not have anyone to talk to, not having people around her at all times. She wondered, not for the first time, what sort of person that made her if her own company was so intolerable.

Buffy heard the gravel of the front walk shift, and smiled, setting her cup down. She listened and heard heavy steps coming up the porch, and then the front door open. She gave him five seconds to appear.

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

“How are things in quiet town?” Xander asked as he appeared in the kitchen, and she watched him as he went and took a banana off the counter and peeled it. She had never been so glad to see him, even if he was eating her last banana, which he suddenly bit off half of and began to chew.

“Fine. Where were you last night?”

“Mwe? Wahft abwaout wu? Nwa un wasp awaound.”

“Please chew.”

He swallowed, and grinned sheepishly. “Sorry Buff. Everyone was sort of M.I.A. last night. None of my girls could be found.”

“I thought you had a date with Anya.”

“So did I. She wasn’t at her place when I stopped by. I chalk it up to demonic activity that called her away, not any sign that she wasn’t in the mood for some Harris charm.” He grinned again.

“Right.” Buffy smiled, finished her coffee and moved to rinse the cup.

“What were you and Willow up to? Anything menacing I should know about? Big bad looming on the horizon? Broken windows? If it's broken windows, I’m your man.”

“Nothing like that.” She stopped. “I don’t think so. We went to see Giles, and his placed was trashed. And not like I am having a bad day, but frat party trashed.”

“That’s not good Buff.”

“I know. Worse, there was no Giles to be found.” The microwave chirped the change in the hour. “Shit. I have to go, or I will be late for work… again.”

“Need a ride?” Xander offered, tossing the now empty peel into the trash bin under the sink.

“Naw I can walk.”

Suddenly the cadence of sharp tapping was heard, and both looked to the windows.

Rain. Great.

“About that ride to work?”

“Yes please.”

*****

The bar was just a mile down the road. As was the norm when it comes to bars in backwater towns. The morning sun was a little too bright for my liking, but there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot that I could do about that now was there?

I walked up closer, past the rusted out trucks and cars to the row of six motorcycles. This was more like it. If I was going back to Sunny D, and I hadn’t decided if I was or not, I was certainly going to need a ride. And one of these would fit the bill perfectly. On the end one was gleaming. Sparkling chrome against a black drop. It was perfectly clean, despite the dusty dirt parking lot and the pothole-strewn highway beyond. I stepped a little closer, smelling the oil, and leather. I reached out and touched the bike, as I heard someone walk up behind me.

“Nice bike.” I offered, still looking at it, wondering how big the person behind me was, and how I would feel about knocking them out to take this machine.

“Not a bike.” A deep female voice responded. “*She is sleek, smooth, slick and low. Shiny, black, the sunlight reflects off of her almost blindingly. She is wicked, evil, cocky, knows it and flaunts it. You run your fingers along her flanks, liking the firmness of her flesh. It is almost like touching metal-velvet. You follow her silken lines until you find the right switch, the one you know will push all the right buttons.

”As you turn her on, she growls low then starts to purr. You straddle her, feet planted firmly on the ground, legs spread wide. You reach up your hands, squeeze, holding on tight as you pull her upright between your thighs. You stroke her a little with a subtle twist of your right wrist and listen to her purr a little longer, a little louder for you. You tap you foot, release the tight hardness in your left hand and she starts to purr stronger, her volume rising as she begins to move underneath you.

”With care you guide her around the curves, gentling her, she vibrates between your thighs and suddenly you realize that you are purring right along with her, moving to her rhythm as she moves so sweetly beneath you.* She is anything but a bike.”

“Mm. I’d have to agree with you there. Sounds like a hell of a ride.” I licked my bottom lip turning around to face the knockout of a woman standing behind me.

“You have no idea.” She gave me a sparkling grin, looking me over with deep brown eyes just visible over the rims of her sunglasses.

“Care to let me try?” I asked.

“I don’t know about that, little one. I think she might be too much to handle on your own.”

“You might be right. Give me a lift?” I knew I was pushing it. But she was flirting, and why the hell not. To ride that animal, after the way she described it? I’d be a fool to say no.

“How far?”

“Pittsburg?” It was as good a place as any, I figured.

“You got yourself a deal, gorgeous.” She gave me that smile again, and I vowed that I would not be getting more than a ride. She straddled the bike, and for a moment I swallowed, knowing that this woman was my match, and I would be lucky if she let me get away with just a ride.

*****

There she was. Sitting in a truck stop diner, cupping a chipped and stained mug, which appeared to hold coffee, but Balch wasn’t completely convinced. This was the third truck stop he had checked, and he considered himself blessed to find her sitting in this one. Not only that, she looked contemplative. Steeling his resolve, and preparing for the eventuality of her throwing him out, literally, he took the steps needed to place him beside her booth. A silent sigh, and he slipped onto the cracked vinyl seat across from her.

“Where are you headed?” He asked.

“What’s it matter to you?” She mumbled, before looking up. When she did he noticed she rolled her eyes, and gripped the cup tighter.

“A lot. You are at a crossroads here, literally. I know from the look in your eyes you are beating yourself up over something. Is it about leaving Boston? Knowing what we had planned?”

“Fuck you.” She hissed.

“What we had planned, what Osler wanted, to terminate you? Faith, you have to understand, I don’t share his desires.” Balch confessed.

“Can any of you guys speak normal English?”

“You aren’t evil, and you certainly do not deserve to die.”

She released the mug and sat back heavily, glaring at him. “Who the fuck are you to be talking to me like you know something about my life? What the hell does it matter to you where I go, or what I want?”

“Everything you do matters to me. You are my life, as odd as that sounds.”

“What do you mean?”

A matriarch came to the table, halting the words that Balch had been about to say.

“What are you having?” She asked.

“Um, the same as her I suppose.” Balch replied, still looking at Faith, still not convinced that she wouldn’t bolt from the table, and he would be forced to find her all over again.

“Coffee, black.” She poured from a glass carafe that was in her hand, to the unused mug in front of him.

“Thank you.”

“Uh-huh.” She mumbled and left them. The Slayer was still looking at him. She motioned for him to continue.

“The past six years my life has been your life. I have studied you, researched you. Archived your actions, your triumphs and your failures. Faith, the Vampire Slayer has been my world. Your world.”

“I have me my own chronicler, huh?”

“Something like that, yes.” He smiled, sensing her beginning to relax, if ever so slightly. She took her mug and sipped.

“But you aren’t a Watcher?”

“Not yet. Not sure if I ever will be. Seems I am more suited to the library, than the battle field.”

“So you get that this is a war.”

“I do.”

“And you know everything about me, is that what you think Robert?” She cocked her head to the side, regarding him.

“I am confident that I know nearly everything. Granted, there are certain things I will never know, things you keep inside. What you are feeling. Those things, I do not know, nor do I think are my right to know. You are a woman of immense possibilities Faith.”

“No. I am a Slayer.”

“You are more than that.”

“Am I? What makes you so fucking sure, bookworm? You just said it. You don’t know what is inside of me.”

“Then tell me.” She leaned her elbows on the table, but said nothing. “I know many things about you Faith. With that knowledge, I am confused.”

“Why?”

“To find you here sitting, contemplating, not rushing back to Sunnydale, to your Slayer. I thought for sure you would be making your way back as soon as possible. Something is on your mind. I am a good listener.” He offered, expecting her to glare at him and say nothing. He was very surprised when her shoulders slumped and in a hushed voice she began speaking.

*****

It was him. I smelled him when he walked into this diner. Same Council guy that didn’t shoot me up with that junk. I’d give him that. But he came and interrupted me. I was doing fine, sitting here, twisted in knots.

The ride on the back of that Harley was amazing, but after thirty minutes the novelty of being on a hot bike with an even hotter biker between my legs wore off. The wind biting through my tank top, the wind making knots in my hair, shut off my libido, and I was left with my mind. Never a good thing. But thinking I was doing. And I was confused. Still was, sitting here, looking across the table at this guy that I knew nothing about, who claimed to know everything about me.

I don’t know. Why did I even open my mouth and talk?

“Am I even worthy of going back to Sunnydale?” I asked myself more than him. In the year I had been away I have fucked myself across the country, living up to my Want Take Have. I wasn’t thinking, only feeling, only doing what I felt I needed, that driving force to be alive for a few hours at a time. B deserved better. Sure, I never made any promises when I left, but still, how could I tell her I love her? How could I feel what I was pretty sure was love, and still live like I had. Would she still want me when she knew? And she would know, if I ever went back I would tell her. Hell, she could probably see it in my eyes. And after that whole thing with me fucking her brains out when she looked like someone else, she was sure to have more questions. How many women Faith? Could I even remember? They were all a blur of blonde hair. None of them stood out. Sure, when she was there, looking like someone else, I at first had no idea it was her, and when I told her I wasn’t worthy of Buffy’s love, she shut me down, telling me that B would understand. But would she really? Should I even expect her to? That was pretty fucking selfish, to think that she could or would forgive me. How could I even consider asking her to? She could have been faithful to me this whole time.

“Do you really think that?”

“Doesn’t matter if I think it or not.” I snapped. It could be true. Yeah, sure, we are the same, and B knows all about the lust that comes over a Slayer, she told me she accepted it, and lived it before I came back to Sunnydale when I got out of prison. Still, it was fucked up if I thought she would wait, that I was worth her. This was fucking Buffy! She could have anyone. Anyone! Why would she choose me? “What do I have to offer her?” I asked, looking up again meeting his eyes that actually seemed to care.

“Love?”

“That’s just an emotion. A faulty one at that.” It was. It could be mistaken, when it is merely loneliness, or lust. How do I know it’s real, what I feel, what she claims to feel. Could just be that we are the only two that are the same, and our Slayer connection is what we feel, nothing special, not love. My whole life I was told that I was unlovable, what makes me think that they were wrong? I am a tool. I treat women and men as tools. We are all used by each other, to get what we need. To get off. “So I just think I can go back, walk through that door and everything will be perfect? I am still Faith. Still the one who murdered humans, who let Dawn die, who brought Ronnie into town, who kidnapped Willow, and choked Xander, who fucked B’s boyfriend after I stole her body, just because I could. I was still the sum of my actions. Nothing was going to change who I am. So why bother going back. I have nothing she needs.”

“What if she wants you? What if she truly loves you because of all those things, that you did them, lived through them, and still you live everyday to fight the good fight? You strive to make other peoples lives better. Complete strangers are alive today because of you, and they will never know it. And you don’t care. You don’t do this; you aren’t the Slayer for the recognition or the praise. You do it because it is you.”

“Exactly. It is what I am. It doesn’t void out who I am.”

“But you are so more. You are the Faith who taught reading in prison. You are the Faith who worked at St. Michael’s. You are the Faith who loved Dawn like your own, while she was here. You are the Faith who fights and slays in such a way that it is clear your goal is to defeat the evil or die trying. You are the Faith who lived beyond the abuse you suffered as a child, and for all your conquests you never once took something that wasn’t offered. You slew your dragons, and work to slay other peoples’ as well. That says a lot about who you are.”

“Sounds like you are trying to sell me something, Bobby. What gives? Why the ‘you are a good girl’ speech? Aren’t you supposed to call in the guards, shoot me up with the liquid ick, and kill me? You do work for the Council, right?” I growled, trying to keep my voice down.

“Indeed, I do. But I like to think my work for the good of humankind supersedes any loyalty to the Watch’s Council.” He sipped his coffee, grimaced, and pushed it away. No shit it tasted bad, look around buddy.

“Ah, now you are being fucking noble.”

“You are hostile when you are cornered, confused, or wary.”

“Shut up.” This dude thought he was so smart.

“No.”

Maybe he is smart. Ornery, I will give him that. “So why are we here, chatting?”

“Is there somewhere else you would like to go?” He asked.

How the hell could I answer that? Was he not listening to me?

“I can take you back to Boston, we can terminate this life you despise, activate another Slayer, and call it a day. Or.”

“Or?” I asked softly. Damn. Bobby did have my number.

“Or you and I can take a train ride to Sunnydale.”

“Train?” I looked up. Why didn’t I think of that? Right, no money.

“No planes. I know about your fear of heights.” He smiled.

“Don’t let that get around.”

“I am afraid it is written in your chronicle.”

“Am I ever gonna be able to see this book?” I asked. Maybe this guy was okay. And a train ride would certainly let me get to know him more. See how far I could trust him, if at all. Had to be careful though, look what happened to people I trust, especially ones that work for the Council.

“Probably not.”

“Right.” I leaned back in the booth. “So you know so much about me, where am I going to choose?”

“We will be going home.” He slid an envelope across the table. “I took the liberty of getting two tickets. The train leaves in an hour.”

I grinned. I couldn’t help it. “I kind of like you. Don’t get used to it.”

“Of course not.”

*****

“So no word on Giles?” He asked while backing slowly down the driveway.

“No.” She looked out the window as the rain increased, and Xander had to switch on his windshield wiper blades to a higher setting. The heavy rain was uncharacteristic in Sunnydale, and when they first got into the car it took him a few embarrassing moments to find the switch to turn the wipers on. Now they were on, their rhythm the only sound in the car.

“What should we do?”

“I don’t know. It’s like I know that I should be doing something to find him. That me heading into work is the least practical thing at the moment, but.” She sighed heavily.

“Buff, you ok? You’ve seemed, I don’t know, a bit off?”

“I guess you can say I have been.”

“Is it something I can help with? I’m sure missing Faith isn’t helping you out here.”

“It’s that, but not just that. I guess I’ve been depressed.”

“About?”

“All of it. That there doesn’t seem to be enough time.”

“You can't blame yourself for every death in Sunnydale if it wasn’t for you people would be lined up 5 deep waiting to get buried.”

“You’ve said that before.” She turned and smiled at him. “That’s not really all of it. Nothing is it. More like a whole bunch of little things. Vampires; who I kill, who I don’t? Who or what am I.”

“You’re the Buffster.”

“Mm. Am I?”

*****

She knew hate.

She had embraced hate and rage in such a focused way that she had attacked those she loved, she had been focused on handing out what she believed was justice. Even the kill had not satiated her hate, and she had nearly ended the world.

Willow Rosenberg knew hate.

She had tasted it and engulfed it. It became her everything in those minutes, hours, when she was the evil stalking Sunnydale.

With this intimate knowledge of it, she could see through Jude’s eyes. She could see the other girl’s pain. Losing the one she loved, blaming the Slayer.

But Willow could not share. She could never blame Buffy for Tara’s death.

Turning her head slightly she took in Jude’s purposeful strides as they walked towards Willow’s apartment. She noticed the shake in the hand that ran through close-cropped platinum hair. The honeyed eyes she had trusted were pulled in a sneer. Jude had it all figured out. Jude had played Willow. Jude thought she had everything just as she wanted it.

Willow was angry, but afraid. She wasn’t sure why she suddenly feared Jude. Why it felt like she had no power to stop what was coming, what they had planned for Buffy. It was as though invisible chains were holding her to Jude.

Jude opened the back door, motioning Willow to enter first, and she did. As their footfalls echoed in the empty stairwell, it was like a weight was pressing down on her chest, the higher they got. With each breath Willow felt her resolve slipping. Where once she felt powerful and confident, in herself and in her moderate control over magic, the higher they got, the more it all left her, the more she felt like the Willow of old; the shy bookworm who would never raise her voice in defiance to those who were more powerful than herself.

Unlocking the door, she stepped through the threshold, and turned, watching the smaller woman close the door and take a step to her. A fleeting thought,

She is so much smaller than me. I could just push her out of the way.

But it was obliterated as Jude took her shoulders and slammed Willow back against the wall, her lips attacking Willow’s with ferocity of possession. Willow felt the hands on her shirt, ripping the thin blouse open, popping some buttons, and shredding the holes of others. Her shoulders slumped, causing her bag to fall with a crash to the floor. Jude’s lips were nipping against her throat, a throat that was constricting, as a booted foot kicked the bag across the entryway, spilling the contents.

“Jude, wait, what?” Willow stammered out, before a hand was over her mouth, forcing her cheek to press into the wall, holding her immobile.

“We are a couple now, more so than ever. Don’t fight me, Willow. This is your job. This is who you are now. Mine.” Jude growled, before forcing Willow’s mouth back to her own.

*****

In the quiet dark of the room the two of them regarded each other. Hank had left to feed, confident that the two of them would remain. It seemed as though he was correct in his assumption.

“I didn’t know you were capable of this.” Anya said softly, regarding the older man again. No glasses, his clothes no longer posh, more comfortable. He was not the man she used to know.

“No one knows what they’re of capable until they are backed into a corner.” He offered, stretching his arms on the back of the sofa.

“So is this the Ripper I heard about?” And she had heard stories. When she had been forced to live a mortal life, her demon friends still came to visit. Stories were told of the heydays, and insight on the group of people she then called her friends were offered.

“Are you back to being Anyanka? Buffy was certain you had, but with no proof, we decided to ignore it. Perhaps Buffy misjudged you.”

“She misjudged all of us. Guess only we know who we really are, huh?”

*****

I walked back into the large private sleeping car that Bobby had paid for, now dressed in the clothes that he had just happened to have. I thought he was pretty confident in finding me, what with the tickets and the clothes, even a knife and a stake for me. This guy exuded confidence. Which was a little strange. In the mansion I thought he was just a mousy Watcher wanna-be. But out here, in the big bad world, he acted like he was a bad ass. I sort of liked that.

I sat down on the bench; facing him in the chair he was sprawled in, and ran my hands down the legs of my new black jeans.

“Glad to see the size was right.”

“Right as rain.” I grinned, and then a little more quietly added; “Uh, thanks.” I pulled on the red sleeve of the shirt. I was glad he seemed to know me enough to pick clothes I would be comfortable in, and still look good. And I did look good.

“I knew you would need something more appropriate than what you had.”

“Always thinking ahead huh?”

“It is part of my job.” He smiled.

“Right. Watcher’s Council. All knowing and shit.”

He smiled. “Something like that.” He had a leather bound notebook open on his lap and was twirling a silver pen in his fingers, but his attention was out the window, on the scenery passing by rapidly.

“We have a while huh?” I asked.

“Few days.” He said, then turned his brown eyes and pinned me to the seat. “Can I ask you something?”

“Shoot. I’m sort of a captive audience here.” I winked.

“I am curious. How did you escape the mansion undetected?” He was ready to take notes, and I shrugged. Why not?

“Ever heard of Anya?”

“Anyanka, yes. Vengeance Demon. Cast out when her charm, her power was destroyed. Lived and worked with the group in Sunnydale. Last report was that she had gotten back her powers and was on the fence, as it were.”

“Fence? Not sure. You might be right. If she is dealing out the nasty wishes, she is doing it on the down low, keeping it hidden. Good idea too, seeing as how Slayers sort of kill demons.”

“Not all Slayers.”

“What do you mean?” I sat forward.

“Well, it has been documented that Buffy finds some demons useful, and has, on occasion ignored the seeder deeds of her friends?”

What the hell did he mean by that? “Whatever.” I shrugged. “Anya hasn’t done wrong by me.”

“But if she was up to her old ways, you would kill her.”

I leaned back, closing my eyes. “Yeah. I would.” Then I pinned him with my own stare. “But I don’t know that she is. I do know she came and fought with me in Boston. Then she came again and got me out.”

“How?”

“She opened the fucking door. How do you think?” I smirked.

“So simplistic.”

“Sure. Whatever you say. All that matters? I’m out.”

“True.” He shook his head and made a couple of notes. “I should have thought of that. We took precautions, but never imagined an outside influence.”

“You wouldn’t have opened the door for me?” I put my hand on my heart. “I’m crushed.”

“I’ve said it before, and I will keep repeating myself. I am glad you escaped.”

“Got to chase me, had to be fun for you.”

“Hm. Something like that.”

“So you study me huh? Like you have been my peeping tom or something?” I asked. I usually could tell when I was being watched, and was curious myself how long this had been going on.

“Not until recently. When you left Sunnydale I was tasked with finding you.”

“So I have you to thank for the Watcher invasion.”

“Yes.” He looked down. Was he ashamed?

“You were doing your job, no skin off my nose. If not you, then someone else right?”

“Correct.”

“And you are doing your job again. So, should I be expecting the Tweedies to raid the train at the next top?”

“No.” He chuckled. “No ‘Tweedies’ are coming. They know you are in my care, and we are, debating certain matters.” He closed the book, and set it aside.

“Debating huh?”

He nodded, and I felt a little ill. Sort of an out of control feeling, one I don’t think I had felt in a long time. I always had control. Even going to prison. My choice. My call. This was a little different. Or was it?

“Would you like something to eat? Drink perhaps?” He offered.

“Naw. I’m five by five.” I pulled my knees up, setting my feet on the bench and wrapping my arms around my legs. Closing my eyes I set my chin on my knees. This was pretty all right. Moving quickly across the country, not way up in the air. Not too closed in, and not having to go down on a trucker for a hundred mile ride. This train thing was pretty good. I would have to remember this for next time.

Next time?

Where was I planning on going? Was I already thinking about leaving Sunnydale and I wasn’t even back yet? What the hell was I doing? Sitting with a Council guy, who I knew I shouldn’t trust, going back to who the hell knew what. Would she want me back?

“What is it, Faith?” He asked, and I opened my eyes, seeing him watching me with a sad smile.

“I am not too sure about this.”

“What?”

“Going back. I mean if I think about who and what I am, I should be heading back to the Council.” And I would again be in control. I could give myself up to them. What was stopping me?

“You are a Slayer first and foremost, true, but there is a part of you that is Faith as well.”

I just looked at him. Did that mean what I thought he meant.

“You have to live for the woman you are as well. And the woman wants to go home.”

*****

He looked at his watch, then shook his wrist, then looked again. Nothing. Hank slammed his wrist against the wall, shattering the clearly knock-off Rolex he had stolen the night before into a million little pieces of pained metal and glass.

“Giles, the time?”

“Time for?” Giles didn’t even raise his eyes from the book on the table before him.

“What time is it?”

“Why do you want to know, Hank?” He asked, still looking at the book. This was not even remotely amusing to Hank. He had it. No one was respecting him. In fact no one was paying enough attention to him. Did they not understand who he was? What he was capable of? He moved in a whisper and had Giles’ off his feet, holding the other man by the throat as his hands tried to find purchase on Hank's arms. The ex-Watcher’s mouth was gaping, and his eyes were round. Hank had his attention now.

“I asked you the time you fucking idiot. You know. I don’t think you are all that important to the plan anymore. Nope. Not at all.” He tossed Giles across the room where he slammed into the wall, and slid down. He took a step closer, but stopped as Anya appeared before him.

“Well hello there. Didn’t know you were back from dinner yet.” Anya said, looked over her shoulder and then back to Hank. “Problem?”

“He is useless. There is nothing he can do. All of them are useless.”

“Not Willow. You need her to bring Faith to you.”

“This isn’t about Faith. This is about making Buffy suffer.”

“Well, she does love Giles, and Willow, and Xander. But she is in love with Faith. Hurting Faith would mean more. You know, in the romantic sense.”

“What about you?” He grabbed her shoulders. “What can you offer me now, Demon?”

“Well I am evil.” Anya shrugged.

“So am I.”

“Right. Well, if you aren’t going to follow the plan.”

“The plan is fucked. Nothing is working right. It is a stupid plan. Why all the pomp? Why can’t we just kill Buffy?”

“She has this habit of coming back to life.”

“Then I will turn her.” He sneered.

“And have Faith coming after you?” Anya laughed.

“What is so funny?”

“Faith is like THE Slayer. She could care less about who you are. She kills demons. She will kill you, kill all of us if you touch Buffy.”

“I cannot be killed!” Hank exclaimed.

“I beg to differ.” Giles said, as he sat up, rubbing the back of his head.

“Jude said.”

“Clearly Jude has said a lot of things. Whether she told you the truth or not.” Giles shrugged not finishing his sentence.

“What do you mean?” Hank asked, releasing Anya and moving closer to Giles.

“I am just saying, her motives are clearly not the same as your own.”

“She came to me, told me I could become this super vampire that was untouchable.”

“She lied.” Anya offered.

“What? She would dare betray me? No. I am not going to believe you. Up until a day ago you were all goodie two shoes. Especially you.” He pointed to the ex-Watcher.

“About that, why are you here Giles?” Anya asked.

“I reminded him of Buffy’s sense of loyalty.” Hank said with a grin. “Right, Giles?” He asked, before slapping the man upside the head.

“Why are you hitting him? He’s the smart one.”

“Shut up! I am tired of being the butt of all your jokes. Did you all seem to forget who I am?” Hank screamed. He scanned the edges of the room, seeing ten of his new recruits at the ready. He would show them, show all of them exactly who was in charge. “Where are they?”

“What’s with the yelling?” Jude asked as she and Willow came into the room. He noticed the witch’s down cast eyes, and a large bruise on her cheek. What had his Seer been up to?

*****

Willow flinched as Jude grabbed her arm, stopping her from stepping further into the room. She felt the fingers press onto the bruises she knew were already on her arm from earlier. She felt like she was trapped inside of herself. Unable to stop anything from happening around her or to her. Jude walked away, towards Hank who was clearly agitated. She watched Anya go to Giles and help him up from the floor.

“What did you do to her?” Hank asked.

“Mind your own business.” Jude sneered up at him. Willow was amazed at the cockiness Jude displayed. “What did you do to him?”

“Had a little fun. He’s worthless to us.”

“No he isn’t. Having Giles as one of us will be worth it. We need the intelligence he brings to the table.”

Hanks shoulders slumped. “Fine. Can I turn him now?”

“No you can’t. You have to save your strength for Faith. Remember? Without Faith, there are no guarantees.” Jude set her hand on his arm, but he shrugged it off.

“Then get her here NOW!”

Jude turned and walked back to Willow, and set her hand on her shoulder, the other hand, brushing the hair from her face.

“Do it just like I told you. Go and bring her back. Got it? No talking, no babbling, or I will make sure you are punished. Understand me?”

Willow nodded. She looked up, locking eyes with Anya, who smiled sadly. Slowly Willow closed her eyes, and focused herself. Before she and Jude had left her apartment she had done a locator spell and knew where Faith was. Actually she was traveling across the country at a very fast pace. Willow guessed she was on a train, knowing the Slayer was afraid to fly. Swallowing, and feeling her power surge through her limbs, Willow groaned once, and then she was moving through time and space.

*****

“Now on with phase two?” Hank asked Jude after the yellow smoke began to dissipate and Willow was no longer in the room with them.

“We have an hour until she will be strong enough to come back.” Jude nodded, lifting up her long leather coat.

“Phase two?” Giles asked.

“How did you think we would manage to get Buffy here, Mr. Giles?”

“Call her, perhaps?”

Jude laughed. “Where’s the fun in that?” She slipped the ring onto her finger and felt the magic shimmer around her, changing her. The others in the room tensed, seeing her become the Slayer.

*****

“Ow.” Willow groaned as she stopped, her spirit and body slamming into time, somewhere.

“Holy shit.”

Willow opened her eyes and saw Faith, standing in front of her, a toothbrush in her mouth. Looking around they appeared to be inside of a small bathroom.

“Goddamnit Red.” Faith spit and dropped the green brush, reaching for Willow’s shoulders, and gently grabbing a hold of her. It was at that moment Willow realized that she had been swaying. “Are you okay?” Faith asked, trying to meet Willow’s eyes.

“Um.” Willow choked out.

“Damn.” Faith grumbled, and then Willow felt something being pressed against her face. Something soft. She was still a little woozy and out of it. She watched Faith take away the now bloody towel. She had known that teleporting like that, onto a moving train was going to be hard, but taking Faith back was going to be even harder. Something was pushing at her, inside of her, telling her to hurry. “What are you doing here?” Faith asked softly, this time gently running her fingers along the side of Willow’s face.

“I have to take you back.”

“I’ll be there in a couple of days, whatever it is can wait.”

“No.” Willow leaned more heavily against Faith, she just felt so tired.

“Yes, Willow. Nothing is this important. You are really in pain.”

She could close her eyes, just for a minute. Jude would understand. Willow needed just a minute.

“Just a seconds rest, then we have to get back, she needs us back.”

“Who? Willow? Can you hear me? Who needs us back? Is it-”

*****

“Buffy?”

She turned, the tee-shirt that she had been folding falling from her hands. Leaning against the doorframe of the laundry room was a vision in leather and shadow. Uncrossing her arms she stepped into the room.

“Faith?”

“Hey baby. Boy did I miss you.” The husky voice offered, and Buffy launched herself into the waiting arms. Their lips met softly, and Buffy pulled the bottom lip into her mouth.

“Mm. Nobody kisses like my Faith. Nobody.” Buffy hugged her tighter.

Jude smiled, pleased with her glamour. It was working perfectly, fooling Buffy. She wanted to shove the blonde away, wanted to beat her to death with her own hands, it was the same rage she felt every time she was in the blonde Slayer's presence, but knew she had to wait. It would be so much sweeter if she waited.

“When did you get back?” Buffy asked, stepping out of her arms. Jude frowned at this but tried to hide it. Maybe Buffy and Faith weren’t very physically affectionate.

“Just now. Hopped a plane and here I am.”

“Really?” Buffy leaned against the washing machine. “Well it is good to have you back.”

“I didn’t come back just for kicks, B.”

“No?”

“Naw. I heard from Anya that something bad is going down, so here I am. We need to get over to the warehouse district.”

“Anya? Warehouse. What’s going on Faith?”

“A new big bad, from the way I hear it. Something that needs both Slayers.”

“Sounds pretty evil.”

“So we better get going.” Jude stepped towards the back door.

“Ok. Well not ok. Problem.”

“Problem?” Jude squeaked.

“I have my boss coming over. I can’t call and cancel, because I don’t know where he is. But as soon as he gets here I will tell him something.”

“Oh. Well, sure, I know what an asshole he is. Well just hurry. I will case the joint. It’s building G-59.”

“G-59.” Buffy nodded. “Bingo. I mean, sure, I will meet you there in an hour. Thanks for understanding about this.”

“Sure B. No problems.”

*****

He was still worried. Buffy had poo-pooed his concern when he had dropped her off at the school that morning, but he hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that he should have done more, pressed her to talk to him. She always kept so much to herself. There would have to be a parade the day that Buffy Summers didn’t try and keep the world and all its crazy emotions on her shoulders. Because he couldn’t think past her puppy dog eyes that morning, he had nearly sawed off his arm, twice today. He knew, for his own safety that he had to leave work. So after faking food poisoning he had driven over to Buffy’s house. He sat in the car, taping out some annoying pop song on the steering wheel trying to decide on the best way to approach his friend.

“This is so Wills area; emotional lesbians, while sexy and intriguing – not my forte. Why the heck didn’t she return my call?” He mumbled. “Darn that academic obsession she has.” He grinned to himself, and then noticed a shadow at the back of the house. It was walking away from the building, heading towards the cut through at the back. Xander did not like shadows walking around.

Slipping out of the car, he closed the door quietly, and squinted.

Is that? Naw, she is in Boston.

He walked quickly towards the front door, but had to take a step back when Anya was standing in front of him, her hands on her hips.

“Ee!” He squealed, and then frowned. That was so emasculating. Then he froze. Anya looked upset. Had he forgotten to call her? No. Meet her somewhere? Ut-oh.

“An, hi! I am sorry.”

“What did you do?”

“Whatever is making you give me that look, I didn’t mean it. I was, um, being male. You know, only thinks with the little head, hehe.” He was scrambling and he knew it.

“You didn’t do anything.”

“Oh, well then. Hi.” He winked at her. “Missed me huh?”

“I just saw you the other day, not enough time has passed for me to miss you. Besides, I have been busy.”

“About that, where were you the other night, I came by and you weren’t there.”

“I may not play with my wood all day long,” he winced, “but I do have a job you know. Several in fact. I am going every which way at once, and you pressuring me about our relationship isn’t helping.”

“No pressure here.” He held up his hands. “Honest.”

“You are distracting me with your adorable face. Stop it. I don’t have time.”

Xander made his face neutral, but was smiling inside. She said adorable.

“You need to go.”

“Go?”

“Yes go. As in away. From Buffy, from here.” She crossed her arms.

“What are you talking about?”

“If you get in the way you could get hurt, and I don’t want you to get hurt. I still haven’t completely forgiven you, but still, thinking of you getting hurt because I made one or five little mistakes. I couldn’t live with that, so please Xander you must go.”

“An? I am totally lost here. Help a guy out?” And he was, completely lost.

“I can’t tell you, but you just have to stay away from Buffy.”

“Why?” Then he glared at her. “You promised!”

“I am not totally evil.” She mumbled, but he heard her.

“What?”

“Hey! Giles is evil too so don’t just blame me.”

“WHAT?” His voice was at the squeaking pitch again.

“Oops. Hehe. Well. Um. Just go Xander, just go.”

“No. Anya explain.”

“There isn’t time. Please, if you,” she bit her bottom lip, “if you love me, you will just go home and stay there.”

If I love you? Oh no, I love you, and I am going anywhere but home.

*****

“I don’t know what the hell she is doing here.” I paced in front of Bobby and Red. He was holding a cold cloth to her forehead, and she was moaning. At least the blood had stopped. I had been worried when she passed out on me, and her nose just wouldn’t stop bleeding. No matter how much pressure I applied. I didn’t like seeing her like that. I made up my mind, as I held her in my arms for not the first time, seeing what magic had done to her, that I would not let this happen again. Nothing was so important to have her risking her life doing stupid shit like this. Red was too important, too special. If B made her do this, she and I would need to have a serious talk.

“But you said she just appeared?” He looked up at me, his eyes still not believing.

“You have been so intent looking at me that you missed her? Willow? The super Uber witch? Killer of men, near destroyer of the known world?”

His eyes were still not comprehending.

“Do you have any idea who she is?”

“Of course. She is Willow. Confidant and best friend of Buffy, a powerful Wicca, who has gone through some hardships, but is turning her life around, and thinking about joining the Council.”

“Pretty much the nail on the head.” I crossed my arms. “Not counting the killing Warren by ripping his flesh from his body, or beating the crap out of a Slayer, or becoming the most powerful dark witch this side of Kansas.”

“Really?” He swallowed and looked back down at Red.

“Yeah. Why you look so green?”

“My sister never told me.”

“Sister?”

“Um, yes. My sister has been writing to Willow for some time now. They have become, um, friendly.”

“Little bit of old fashioned word lust?”

His head snapped up so he could look at me. “Pardon?”

“Forget it. So your sister wants Red huh? Is she cute?”

“Faith! This is not important.”

“Sure it is. Red is special to me. Your sister better be hot, or she can forget it.”

“Who’s hot?”

I shot my eyes to Red, who was trying to sit up.

“You are, cutie. How you feeling?”

“Like I got run over by a, oo, train?” She put her hand to her head. “How long was I out for?”

I shrugged.

“About an hour.” Bobby offered, looking at his watch.

“Okay.” Red sat up, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Huh.”

“What is it?”

“I feel sort of. Um.” She ran her tongue over her bottom lip. “Normal here.”

“Why wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t know. It’s like I don’t feel right back there. Ouch.” She touched her forehead. “Shit. Okay, okay. Faith we have to get back.”

“What’s going on Red?”

“Something bad.” She said then doubled over. “Have I mentioned I am not liking this getting kicked in the head, from the inside?”

“Mind control spell.” Bobby mumbled.

“What the fuck does that mean?” I snapped.

“It means something is wrong with your friend.”

“No shit, Bobby. Help me out here, what can I do?”

“Nothing Faith.” Red said as she stood up. “There isn’t time really to do anything. But I am sorry.” She grabbed my arms and I felt a burning heat shooting through my entire body.

*****

Waving the smoke out of the way and coughing lightly he looked seeing himself alone in the car.

“Well this is certainly not good.” Balch said as he sat heavily in his chair and draped the cold cloth over his eyes. He was stuck on a fast moving train. Stuck.

*****

It felt like a slap. Not a slap slap, but a really hard Slayer sized slap. Or so Willow thought. The wind was rough too, as the train sped past.

“What the fuck was that?” Faith groaned, rubbing her forehead.

“We needed to get back to Sunnydale.”

“In case you didn’t notice? This is Indiana not California.”

Willow smiled shyly, “I missed you, ya know.”

“Me too, Red.” Faith smiled, but it fell, as she tilted her head. “I thought so. What the hell happened to your face? Or should I say, who happened to your face.”

“Jude.”

“Jude? Like small, sexy Jude?”

“That was Buffy you know. Wearing a glamour so it just looked like Jude’s body.”

“Yeah. I got that at the end. So this Jude person is real?”

“Oh yeah.” Willow nodded, her head fighting itself again. Wanting to be angry, wanting to be happy, wanting to do whatever Jude told her to do.

“And she hit you.”

She worried her bottom lip.

“Don’t worry Willow, I am only going to kill her.”

“Actually that is probably true.” Willow took a step away from the now empty railroad track, down the embankment to a large grassy field. She heard Faith following her.

“What is going on and why the fuck am I here with you and not on the train?”

“Who was that guy?”

“Bobby’s Watcher Council. I have my own archive guy.”

“Really?”

“I know, how choice is that?” Faith grinned proudly.

“Cool. But can you trust him? I heard the Council was going to kill you.”

A shrug was all she got from the Slayer.

“Faith.”

“They were thinking about doing the dead and bring right back thing, just to activate another Slayer.”

“You say that like you are okay with the idea.”

“Had crossed my mind.” Faith was intent on looking at her feet.

“Are you insane? Do you know how fucked up that is?” Willow yelled, throwing her arms in the air. How could everyone be so stupid?

“Huh?”

“Totally messing with the whole balance of nature, good and evil. There has been a shitload of evil with Buffy being brought back to life, with there being two of you. Don’t even think about making another.” She demanded.

“I didn’t think about that.”

“So this Bobby guy, was he in on the plan to kill you.”

“Sort of.” Willow glared at Faith. “Maybe.”

“I don’t trust him.” She crossed her arms.

“Me neither, but he seems like a good guy, so give him a break, would ya?”

Willow sighed, feeling the push in her mind again. “Listen, there isn’t time. I have to take you back, and when I do things are going to be different.”

“How different? If B is fucking Angel again-”

“A world of no,” the Red head exclaimed.

“Then what?”

“You are going to be really mad at me.” Willow frowned. “Really mad probably doesn’t even cover it. Lucky for me you are going to be in so much pain that you won’t be able to really do anything to me for awhile.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Faith took Willow’s arms in her hands. “Did doing this teleporting magic fry your brain?” Brown eyes bore into hers, and Willow felt the pain of regret, and knew she would feel the weight of guilt for sometime. But there seemed to be nothing she could do to fight the command that was getting stronger and stronger in her head.

“We are going back now. Just know Faith. I am sorry. And I love you.”

“Okay, I love you to but wh-”

Willow sent them both back to Sunnydale, in a puff of smoke.

*****

The cab ride was the stuff of modern nightmares. Meral was convinced that she would be having a few in the days if not months to come, all featuring the exuberant driving of Mr. Ibrahim Faqih. With his apparent need to drive as fast as he could, riding the bumper of every car in front of him, making turns so sharply that she was tossed to and fro in the back seat. And she was convinced that he nearly ran over some harmless pedestrians, twice!

She checked the address written hastily on a slip of paper, the address she had obtained illegally from an Internet search before she had left London, then raised her eyes to take in the very seedy neighborhood. In the darkening evening some women of the night were already making an appearance.

“This is the place, Missus.” Mr. Ibrahim Faqih said in his accented English.

“Are you quite certain?”

“The address you gave, this is it. Now please, I have other places I must go.”

“Right, sorry. Just fearing for my safety is all.” Meral grumbled, putting the paper back into her pocket.

“Just do not be out at night, and you will do fine here.”

“Not at night. Vampires I guess you will say next?”

“I would never say any such thing.” He said sounding very nervous. “Fifty-eight dollars please.”

“Right. Fine.” She handed over what she hoped was sixty-five and got out of the back of the car. She heard the trunk pop open, and went to pull out her one large duffle bag.

The taxi was speeding away before she completely closed the trunk.

“Thank you?” She said to the dust that was left in the yellow car’s wake.

Turning she looked up at the building. Now that she was here how was she going to handle this? She had rehearsed a few different opening lines, but they all seemed trite now that she was standing in front of Willow’s apartment building.

“Oh lord. I am here already.”

Was this even a good idea? Should she just find a hotel room, log on the Internet with her laptop and email Willow. What if the young red head were to be angry at her for coming all this way to pop in unannounced? What if she was in fact annoyed with Meral, and that was the reason for her not writing back? Or what if Willow was busy entertaining an intimate friend?

Meral scratched her forehead. She hadn’t thought about the last one. All of this drama, all the determination to get here, to see Willow, what if she was involved?

“Did I really come all this way in hopes that she was both single and gay?” Meral shook her head. “Why did I come here?”

“I can help you find out, if you know what I mean.” An older woman in a much too short skirt said as she ran her hand over Meral’s arm, who jumped. She had not heard the woman approach her.

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Meral replied, moving away. “I don’t pay.”

“No one was asking you to.”

“Oh lord where have I landed?”

“Didn’t you know? This is Sunnydale.”

“Indeed. So cheery, I should have guessed.” Meral moved past the woman and into the building. Stand outside would get her nowhere. Whether she wanted to think about why she was really there or not didn’t matter, getting upstairs and at least seeing if Willow was home would be a first good step. She would worry about everything else later.

Fucking hell, it is later.

The door was suddenly before her, and she felt her heart start to thump louder in her chest, felt her palms beginning to sweat, even holding onto her duffle bag. She dropped it and vigorously rubbed her hands on the legs of her jeans. Meral took three deep breaths in succession, and then froze.

What if she is watching through the spy hole?

Closing her eyes, and praying she didn’t faint, she tried to center herself. She knew why this was so hard. She was used to books and computers, not people. Meral never really had a need for people in her life, aside from Robert, but he didn’t count. She had no choice. He had been around when she was born, couldn’t really avoid him. But everyone else? Avoidance was easy, when one is a bookworm they tend to blend in with the walls, and that was what she had done. She never would have flown half way across the world a year ago. But that changed. It changed because of the woman who was on the other side of this door. A woman, who had sparked something inside of Meral, and she knew, if nothing else, that Willow would be a friend she could have for life. There was nothing else to worry about.

She lifted her hand and knocked on the door, hard.

But the door did something it wasn’t supposed to.

It opened.

“Willow? Hello? Anyone home?” She called out, pushing the door open all the way with the toe of her boot. What she saw made her take three steps into the apartment without thinking. A bag lay at one side of the main room, the contents strewn all over the floor, and the wall beside the open door had fresh blood, just a little, sprayed on it. “Willow?” She called out, looking around. It was a large and modern studio apartment, and it looked like the mess and violence had only touched the entryway, and, the sleeping area. Her chest tightened as she took in the sight of the blankets that were hanging off of the bed. Swallowing, she stepped through the scattered magical items, towards the door she saw on the other side of the bed. “Willow are you here?” She asked softly, opening the door, preparing herself for the worst. Her sigh of relief was short lived, seeing the bathroom empty. Glad that there were no injured witches there, but not so glad that she was clearly alone here.

Backing out beside the bed she noticed an over turned picture frame. Picking it up she smiled.

“There you are.” She mumbled, and before she could stop herself, she touched the redhead’s smiling face. “So happy. That must be Tara.” She looked at the blonde who had one arm around Willow’s waist. They looked so contented. Willow had told Meral the story of meeting Tara, and of their bond. Of course they had also talked at length about the loss Willow felt when Tara was taken from her. They had chatted for hours that time, Meral insistent on making Willow feel a little better after rehashing all of the painful memories. She hoped that one day she would know why a woman would smile that brightly. Sighing she set the picture down. Finding Willow was paramount now, to anything else.

Turning around she caught sight of a flash of light. Looking closer she noticed, on the windowsill, amid prisms and candles were two crystal charms. She had never seen them in real life, but had seen many pictures. They were catching charms. Ones that caught and held low levels of magic. Why would Willow need those?

Keeping an eye out she scanned and saw several more odd charms tucked away here and there. But not just catching charms. There were a few other charms that were much worse. Control charms. Now Meral had a feeling that Willow had not placed them around the apartment. She gathered up the four that she saw, and headed for the kitchen. Under the sink she found what she was looking for, what she was sure no witch would be without. If someone was using Willow’s own magic to control her, there was very little that Willow could have done about it. It was a good idea, clinically thinking, Willow would never feel it controlling her until it was too late.

“Who would do this to you?” Meral wondered as she tossed the gathered the charms into the large cast iron pot she had found. “This will lessen the effect for now. I just hope you are okay. God help whoever did this is if you are not.”

Crouching down amid the herbs and candles strewn across the floor Meral looked for a clue, something as to what might have happened. Willow’s wallet was there, so this wasn’t a robbery, at least she didn’t think that it was. She ignored the things that she knew were useless alone, but reached for a book that was laying open. Glancing at the cover she flinched. She knew this book. She had held a copy of it just last week when she was researching the spell for Willow. Meral flipped through the pages, and stopped breathing. There were two pages ripped out. The two pages that explained the only ways to kill a Day Walker, as well as the prophecy, that a Day Walker was the only vampire who would be able to turn a,

“Slayer.” Meral jumped up, dropping the book and took off running towards the door.

*****

Jude had come back in, and was pacing, seeming to like the added height and features she was wearing. Giles wondered if Buffy had believed the ruse. She might have, the thought, as Jude turned sharply, and he caught sight of the face. The glamour was flawless, and he even found himself staring at the face of the dark Slayer whom he had not seen for quite some time.

The tension in the room was palpable with Hank and his fresh minions on one side, and he and Anya on the other. He cast a glance at her and she shrugged. If something did not happen soon-

But his thought was interrupted as there was a loud snap filling the warehouse, and the smell of singed cloth and skin. Turning around he saw two forms surrounded by smoke. He could easily pick out the Slayer as she dropped to her knees, slapping her palms on the concrete floor and began violently vomiting.

“Oh, yuck!”

“Bloody hell.” Giles covered his mouth with his handkerchief.

“She’s broken, what the hell did you do?” Jude rushed to a visibly shaken Willow’s side, grabbed her and pulled back her arms. The sound of the slap across her face was as loud as Faith’s retching. Giles’ shoulders tensed as he helplessly watched blood coming now from Willow’s mouth as well as her nose.

Faith growled, and moved to lunge at Jude, her twin, but the Seer had seen the sluggish attempt and landed a kick to the side of her face, sending Faith sprawling.

“Stop it!” Giles had seen enough and sprung to his feet.

“What the hell is going on?” Hank demanded coming closer as well.

“A human would have slammed into a coma. Be lucky she is a Slayer and is only puking. It could be much worse. And you? Why are you bullying Willow? She is in a lot of pain. Teleporting would kill a lesser witch.” Anya poked Jude in the shoulder.

“Whatever.”

Giles slowly maneuvered himself towards Faith, kneeling beside her. Feral black eyes locked onto his, and he wished he could find his voice. It seemed only Anya was able to talk.

“I thought you were orgasm buddies.” She glowered at Jude.

“She’s worthless now.”

“Not her power.”

The sneer Jude’s face offered chilled Giles to his core. He had seen that look before, but at that time it was worn by a Slayer who could back it up.

*****

I am officially freaking out.

She was pacing in the kitchen, casting glances at the phone on the table, willing it to ring. No one was returning her phone calls, and Buffy had no clue where to even begin to look for any of them.

“When something goes wrong they are always here. What in the hell is going on?”

Looking at the clock she groaned. She needed to leave, soon, to be at the warehouse when she promised who ever the hell that was who came looking like Faith. Buffy had a suspicion, but it just seemed too silly, too ‘Mission Impossible two’ for it to be true. All she knew was that Giles, Willow, Anya, Xander, and even Jude were missing, and the whole thing smelled like a trap. A stinky cheese trap.

And her pacing wasn’t doing any good. She needed to get out there, be active. She was the action girl not the planning girl. Action it was. Buffy marched through the house, picking up her patroling jacket, with all of its fun toy surprises in the hidden pockets and stomped to the front door. She jerked it open and stopped.

Standing in front of her, with her arm raised was a woman Buffy had never seen before. Her face was drawn and her blue eyes were burning in that ‘I will kill you if you don’t get out of my way’ sort of hue.

“You and I need to talk Slayer.” She said in her thick accent.

“Why is it whenever someone says that with a British accent I get even more worried than usual?”

“Your tough luck I guess?” The woman snapped.

“Years of experience is more like it. Listen, um,”

“Meral.” She nodded, her brown hair moving into her eyes, and she brushed it away with a shaking hand.

“Meral. Okay. Something is going on, and I think a Seer is using a glamour to look like my girlfriend, so now is really not the time for a Council check in. Maybe in a week, if I am still alive and the world is still turning clockwise. Wait. Does the world turn clockwise?” Buffy stopped and thought for a second. Did it? How would that work exactly? She shook her head. “Not important. What is important is you, standing in my way here.”

“Buffy, you need to breathe for a moment. I know for a fact that Faith is fine, she is with my brother as we speak, there is something more pressing.”

“Brother? You call them ‘brothers’ now?”

“My literal brother. Buffy, you are talking me into circles and I won’t stand for it. Not when Willow is in danger, and not when there is a Day Walker on the loose.”

That caught Buffy’s complete attention. “Come inside.”

*****

When she looked up, her eyes, soulful and reminiscent of a child, she asked, “Where should I go?”

Balch reread the last line in his journal, and wasn’t sure that it was accurate. Having spoken to Faith his view was altered slightly, and he wanted to be sure he chronicled this right, especially in light of the fact that she had vanished to only Gods knew where. His mobile phone vibrated, startling him and he reached for it, just as his sleeping car was cast into blackness.

“Hello?”

“Ro..rt?”

“Meral? Is that you? I can barely hear you.”

“No really? Are you in a tunnel?”

“Actually yes I am. Where are you?”

“…Summers’ home…Day Walker… thinks it’s a… and Faith… Willow not.”

“Willow was just here, she teleported in I think, and then she and Faith were gone.”

“Really? Lord that is very… I hope she is… No, Buffy, he doesn’t… right.”

“Meral? What?”

“Is Faith there?”

“No. She disappeared with Willow.”

“Disap… going to kick her fucking ass… right… Robert you need to…”

Click

“Hello?” He looked at the phone and pressed the talk button. “Hello? Meral? Hello?”

“It would be kind of you not to scream in my ear.” A male voice replied as the train shot out of the tunnel. Balch recognized the voice of Quinten Travers immediately.

“Sir, my apologies, I was talking with my sister on the other line.”

“I gathered that, from you screaming her name at me.” Quinten cleared his throat. “Do you have the Slayer?”

“I did.”

“Did? Past tense.”

“Something happened, and well, she disappeared.”

“Balch, people do not simply disappear.”

“She did. I think there may be some trouble in Sunnydale.”

“There always is.” He sighed. “Balch, either you have the Slayer, or you have my report. I cannot wait indefinitely.”

“It's only been a day.” Balch sighed.

“True, but I need to know what to do with these potential slayers.”

“Can I recommend taking them back to HQ, and training them until such time as Faith expires naturally?”

“You can, though I do not have to accept your recommendation.”

“Sir, with all due respect, this is a little too much like our playing God, becoming the hand of fate, as it were. Doesn’t that seem unbalanced to you?” Balch bit his lip, knowing, expecting the explosive response from Mr. Travers.

“How was she, I mean mentally?”

“When I found her? She was introspective and was believing that she should return to the Council and to allow you to do as you all wished.”

“I see. Your rapport with this girl?”

“As well as could be expected I suppose.”

“Hm. Send me a report. And send it to HQ, where I will be come tomorrow. I would like you in Sunnydale, providing status. A decision will be made, but it will be made by a full and fair vote of the Council of Watchers. Perhaps we were being a little, controlling.”

“Sir.”

“That is all.”

Click.

“She’ s free.” He mumbled and tossed the phone to the bench, turning to watch more of America passing him by.

*****

“Fuck.” Meral tossed the phone down on the table, and watched it crack in half. She looked at the Slayer, and then back at the phone. “Sorry.”

“It's okay, I do that about once a week. No one seems to be calling me anyway.” Buffy growled the last bit and Meral watched her closely. “So your brother said that Willow and Faith just disappeared?”

“Right. I am thinking that Willow teleported.”

“That is dangerous.”

“You have that right. Buffy, why would Willow do that? She knows how dangerous it is for her, and anyone else she takes with her.”

“I am in the closet. Dark.”

Meral looked at her raising a brow.

“I have no clue. Everything was been sort of weird lately. I haven’t really seen Willow since yesterday. No one is returning my phone calls. This is really unusual. The usual is for us all to be attached at the hip, here, making with the plans. But as you can see, there is no making of anything.”

“From what I found a Willow’s someone is controlling her.”

“No way. Willow is a bad magic mama. No controlling, she would feel it.”

“Not if someone was using her own magic. It is possible that someone is forcing her to do this, to go and get Faith.”

“Why?”

“I have an idea. Actually the more I think about this the more it is all making sense.”

“How so?” Buffy looked generally interested, so Meral pressed on.

“Well turning your friends against you is a valid and strong defense.”

“Meaning?”

“Before I knocked on your door, what were you doing?”

“Freaking out because no one is here, no one is reachable by phone.”

“You’ve been doing this for years, yes?”

“Make me feel old, go on I dare you.”

“I am still older than you so hush.” Buffy and Meral shared a grin. “You have been doing this a long time, longer than any other Slayer in recorded history. And we know what makes you different, what makes you stronger than all the others before you.”

“My keen fashion sense.”

Meral looked Buffy over from head to toe. She had heard stories and seen pictures of the Slayer, and had known what to expect visually. But her humor was an added bonus, a tension reliever. She wondered if Faith was the same, if all of them were. She grinned, looking at the baggy black track pants, and the tight but not matching spaghetti strap top.

“That would be a no.”

“I haven’t done laundry, I usually look much hipper than this.”

“I am sure you do, love.” Meral patted her arm, noticing that the Slayer did not move, at all. She was like marble and that shocked the humor from Meral. “But to the point. The real one. You have lasted as long as you have because of your friends. Your family. They breathe life and strength into you. Where other Slayers accepted their inhumanity, and their hunger, you fought it and sought out those that hold pure human characteristics, the ones you were afraid of losing. Your heart, your logic, your reason. They are extensions of you, and you love them, You need them as they need you. Without them, you will become what you are afraid to be.”

“Who the hell are you?” Buffy asked seriously and softly.

“A glorified librarian. You?”

“A librarian.” Buffy smiled. “And a Slayer.”

“Right. That you are. I think someone who knows you, who understand your need for your family is behind this. Who else would think to take away what you need? Question is, who knows?”

“A lot of people. Angel, but he is good.” She pursed her lips. “I am still going with the Seer. She’s new to the group, she’s only been dating Wills for a couple of months.”

Her throat clenched. “Oh.”

“Hey, who died? Why so glum chum. Your friends didn’t disappear on you.”

Internally shaking herself out of it, and stopping the impending rage she was beginning to feel if in fact this person, this thing that Willow was dating was the one who was also controlling her. “So this Seer, she is new? What would her motivation be?”

“Not sure. People tend to hate me, even when I try and help.”

*****

She looked around the room once, noticing that the vampires were paying attention, but the others were tending to Willow, she wanted an audience, and seeing as she had it, Jude pulled back her leg and kicked Faith in the gut again.

“That’s for fucking her when she looked like me.”

“Bitter huh? I could have given you a ride, if you really want one that bad.” Faith coughed and spit more blood from her mouth.

“Shut up you fucking dirty whore.”

“Ouch. You kiss your momma with that mouth?”

“Fuck you Slayer. Soon you will see where your place in all this is.” Jude stood straighter and walked two steps back. “We all will. A few more hours and we will all be dead.”

“She sounds so happy about that.” Giles mumbled.

“You will be happy. All of you. When you feel the power that Hank will bestow on us.”

“Are we certain that Faith will not reject the blood. No Slayer has ever been turned. Many have tried, but it has never been successful.” Giles questioned.

“I saw it. It will be so. We will all be turned, and we will all set out from here and change the world.” Jude crossed her arms defiantly, already imagining the power.

“Big plan, big plans. One small wrinkle. I don’t plan on turning into anything. Well maybe a bed, but only after a shower.” Faith snapped from the floor, and Jude stomped closer to her, pulled back her arm and punched Faith, splitting her lip. “You hit like a girl.” Faith grinned. “By the way, when this is all over, I am gonna kick your ass for touching Willow the way you did.”

“Right. You can have her when all this is done, as you put it Faith. I won’t need to steal her magic any more. I will have my own power.”

“If you manage to pull this off, won’t matter. Even as a mindless, soulless vamp I will be just what I am right now.”

“What’s that? Enlighten me.” Jude asked.

“A murderer. And I pick you to be my next victim.”

“Right.” Jude laughed.

“She is quite serious. I assure you. Killed two humans before was it?” Giles asked from behind them.

“You got it G-man, and about a thousand vamps and demons. What’s one more?”

“You’ll change your tune after Hank sucks you dry.” She asserted.

“You talking dirty to me now?” Faith winked up at her.

“God!” Jude fell to her knees and began pummeling Faith’s face, hoping she would just shut up.

*****

He was watching the events unfolding all around him, and not for the first time since he began this charade was wondering if he had been crazy to agree to go along with this.

// He was leaning against the cupboard in his kitchen, blinking trying to get his eyes to come into focus. The last punch that had landed him in the kitchen had really packed a lot of strength. Giles first thought as the front door was slammed closed behind Hank Summers was to get to Buffy, to warn her that her father had been turned and was on the loose. His second thought was how he would like to take Jude and ring her bloody neck.

“Oh no. Blood.” Anya’s voice grated in his mind as she appeared beside him. He groaned. “And moaning? Are you going to not die again? I mean appear to die, but not, just scaring me to death?”

“Anya please.” He mumbled, feeling to see if any of his teeth were now littering the front room instead of their rightful place. It was clear from the violence shown that Mr. Summers held a bit of a grudge against Giles. He wondered how angry the man, rather vampire, would have been if he had know about the relationship between him and Joyce as well.

“I was afraid of this happening. I tried to keep you out of it. But Jude had to open her mouth, again.” Anya took the handkerchief from Giles and stood to run it under the water tap.

“What are you talking about? Do you have something to do with this?” He asked. “What have you been up to?” He winced as she pressed the wet cloth to his mouth.

“I haven’t really done anything.”

“That sounds very much like a little lie.” He snapped, and tried to stand.

“Are you sure you should be moving? He is pretty darn strong. He’s tossed me aside before, and I have to say, Day Walkers, they are strong.”

“Yes they are. Strong and supposed to be a myth.”

“So are Slayers.” Anya shrugged. “Surprise; he’s real.”

“And how did that happen I wonder?” He glared at her. How could she have gone so evil as to help create that creature?

“No way Mr. Watcher guy. I had nothing to do with that. Jude was the one who found the spell, she was the one who found Hank.”

“You just kept it from us?”

“Okay. You do have a point there. But you have to see this from my way.”

“The way of a demon? Oh please, Anya, enlighten me. What was your way?”

“Buffy was going to kill me.”

“She would not.”

“Oh, I beg to differ. If she knew of the little oops I made in San Francisco.” Anya turned away. Giles could tell she was really upset. That did not negate his own anger, but he was willing to listen. “I thought this would help, you know a get out of jail free card.”

“A what?”

“I knew Jude was fishy the minute she showed up. She smelled all wrong. You know of stolen magic and vengeance. So I cornered her. And she told me that if I didn’t keep my mouth shut and help her, she would make sure Buffy knew about a weekend wish I had granted that cost a few people their lives. It was blackmail. I know what I did to those boys was wrong, vivisection looks good on no one, but I thought I could pretend to go along with Jude, and then when I had enough evidence I could take it to Buffy and all would be forgiven.”

“So why didn’t you go to Buffy?”

“Are you kidding? They did the Day Walker thing without me, like two days ago. There has been no time to do anything. And now they want me to go and get Faith.”

“Faith is where?”

“Like you don’t know. I heard you on the phone yesterday. I know that you know that the council has her in Boston and is planning to put her down.” She grinning and clapped her hands together. “When you were you planning on telling Buffy that I wonder?”

“Today, this morning in fact.”

“Mm, hm.”

“Fine. I was working within the Council to change their minds. You know I care for Faith.”

“But you were working on it before telling super blonde who would run off half cocked. See where I am going with this.”

“I do.” He groaned, knowing they were both at fault for different reasons, because they did not trust Buffy enough to tell her sooner.

“So what can we do?”

“The eventual plan is to what?”

“Turn Faith into a Day walker, have her turn all of you, kill Buffy. No more Slayer. Jude rules the world, something like that.”

“And they want me?”

“You are kidding right? All vampires want you. British, a little dark and mysterious.”

“Anya?” He croaked, feeling uncomfortable under her gaze and description.

“You are smart, you know things. You are valuable.”

“So we play their game?”

“I think it is the best bet, to defuse the situation.”

“Should we tell Buffy?”

“Not yet.” //

“I think that is quite enough for now. You want her to be alive when he drains her, otherwise, another Slayer will be activated, and all this will be for nothing.” Giles said, putting his hand on Jude’s shoulder, trying to get her to stop beating Faith.

“Not for nothing. Buffy has been betrayed. Seeing the look on her face when she sees all of you, here, with me. That will be worth it.”

This girl is a fool.

Giles looked across the way at Anya, who shrugged, and then looked around the warehouse. Ten vampires were watching the scene, and they were keeping Giles and Anya from escaping with Faith and Willow. They had planned to get enough information to provide to Buffy to thwart the plan, but had not thought ahead to being surrounded and guarded by so many vampires. They were, in a sense, trapped as well.

Jude brushed her hands off and stood up.

“Won’t be long now.” She stomped off, and Giles bent and lifted Faith to her feet.

“Are you hurt?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” She chuckled. “G, I can’t see, I can barely hear you, and pain, let me tell you something about pain. It hurts.” She groaned. “Yeah, I am hurt.”

“Sorry.” He slipped his arm around her waist.

“Don’t be. Not yet. When this is all over, and you explain to me what the fuck you all were thinking, then say you were sorry. Right now, it means shit to me.”

“Okay. We will get through this.”

“I intend to, and I intend to kick that midgets ass too.” She closed her eyes, and Giles winced, in sympathy for her.

*****

I was leaning on Giles more than I liked. I was in a whole lot of pain, and not happy about it. This body of mine was protesting too. How many times could I get the shit kicked out of me and still heal. I hope I had time to find out. Not being at full strength, and my head still being this foggy was not good. One thing was for certain, when I got all my marbles back, and I figured out that was going on, Red and I were going to have a little chat about that whole moving through space and time when I am not built for that sort of shit.

God. I hurt.

What the hell?

I felt it. I stopped thinking, stopped being in the moment and just felt it. Low rumble, but different than a rumble. A vibration. Moving across the ground, moving to my feet, up my legs, getting stronger, tickling at my stomach, and then turning into a thumping, matching my own heart beat. Matching it beat for beat. My head fell back and my eyes closed, and I felt it all around me, the thumping vibration, the warmth covering all of me.

I moaned. But not because of the pain. This time I moaned feeling filled, caressed, loved, and completed.

“Faith?”

“Buffy is here.” I turned and looked at him, smiling, feeling my split lip crack open again, blood bubbling up. I licked it away and opened my eyes, watching the color drain from his face.

Wow. A year goes by and a whole lot of things change.

*****

“Faith.” Buffy stopped, setting her hand on Meral’s arm.

“Buffy, are you alright? What is it?”

“Wow.”

“Wow? We are about to walk into a trap, with only the two of us here, and you say, wow?”

“Oh yeah.” She closed her eyes and felt it. The vibrating heat that danced up her spine and through her body, almost energizing her, filling her. “Faith is here.”

“We knew that.”

Buffy turned to looked at Meral’s worried blue eyes. “I used to be able to tell when she was around. Like the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up. But this, this is different. Completely. It is wow. Like I feel her beside me, inside me.”

“TMI, Slayer.” Meral blushed.

“Not like that.” Buffy grinned. “There are a lot of vampires in there too. So you stay here.”

“I cannot allow you to”-

“Tell me you just did not use the ‘a’ word.”

“I am afraid I did.”

“Am I really going to have to punch you in the head to knock you out and keep you safe?” Buffy watched the taller woman swallow. “Good. Be a good librarian and wait here.” She started walking towards the building and stopped, looking back over her shoulder. “Scratch that. All the librarians I know get into trouble. Just stay put.”

Buffy knew she would, and didn’t have to look back. She sniffed the air before opening the large bay door. Vampires, and all her friends were on the other side. So was Faith, and she was hurt, bleeding. Buffy’s teeth ground together and she inhaled one more time. Ten vampires, and a strong one added to that. And there was that oldly familiar scent too. Damn, she just couldn’t seem to place it.

Fuck it.

She kicked down the door.

Buffy scanned the room, not seeing the vampires yet, but noticing her friends standing in such away that hurt, the pain of betrayal bubbling up. Even though she knew, she felt that Willow was being controlled, what about the others? Seeing the look in her best friend's eye she asked, “What the hell is going on here? Willow?”

“She doesn’t need to answer to you, Buffy. No one does. How long did you think they would blindly follow you? How many times did you think you could betray them and have them forgiving you, coming back to kiss your ass, put themselves in danger time and time again?”

He walked out of the shadows, and it hit Buffy like a ton of bricks. “Dad?”

“Don’t you even dare. Where the hell were you when they did this to me? When they found me? Never thought to tell your old man about the things that went bump in the night? I could have protected myself Buffy! But no, you never said a word, and look what happened. Take a good look. They came after me knowing who I was. All the time bragging about how they were gonna kill the Slayer’s dad. How it would crush you. You didn’t even know I was GONE!”

“You never were in my life, why was I supposed to care that you weren’t there? How was I supposed to tell the difference?”

“I am your father!”

“You gave up that right a long time ago Hank.”

“You ungrateful”-

“So you are all betraying me, is that it? Willow. What did I ever do?” Buffy was completely convinced that Willow was being controlled. She hadn’t said a word. And Anya and Giles were leaning back, out of the way. The question, where was Jude and Faith? She needed to keep her dear old soon to be dead dad talking, until she could determine who was who and where everyone was. She could feel Faith around her, but if Jude was still wearing the glamour, it would be impossible to tell them apart.

“What didn’t you do, Buffy? You brushed her aside when she was in love with you.” Willow flinched. “You let her get attacked by Angel, and what do you do to Angel for pay back? Nothing. You forgive him like nothing happened. You had a nasty habit of doing that, forgiving vampires you are fucking when they hurt your supposed friends. You let Faith kidnap her, you let her lover, her soul mate die instead of you.”

“Those were not my fault. Willow you know that I never meant for anything to happen to Tara. I loved her too.” Buffy watched Willow blink and one tear slip down her bruised cheek.

“She is tired of believing your lies. We all are. We are all tired of playing your game. Forgiving you everything, when you just use us over and over again. You are selfish, Buffy, and you are going to pay. How does it feel to be betrayed?” The man she once called Father asked smugly, crossing his arms.

Buffy Summers shrugged and said, “I’ll tell you when it happens.”

“Hurt her.” He ordered.

*****

He couldn’t believe that Anya had not only taken his keys, but his car. He had a hell of a time following Buffy and whoever that stranger was with her when they left the house and hailed a cab. His missing wallet didn’t help matters either. But watching the general direction of the yellow car, and knowing that something was very wrong he guessed that if he headed towards the docks he would be doing something right. He was running out of steam though, and still jogging, albeit slower, he rounded a corner and ran smack into someone.

“Damn!” A voice exclaimed. Female. Not someone, she one. Xander looked up from where he was sprawled on the ground. The face looking at him was worried, and attractive. And the same face that was on the body that had been with Buffy earlier.

“Where is she you, you, what are you?” The sun was out so she wasn’t a vamp.

“What am I?” She shook her head and extended her hand. “I am me. Well, Human. Bother. None of that matters. I take it you are Xander?”

“I am. My reputation precedes me.”

“That it does.” She lifted him up, and Xander brushed the dirt off of his pants.

“Was it the falling or the girlish fear in my eyes that gave it away?”

“Neither. The tall handsome man bit covered it I think.”

“Handsome?” he grinned. “Where’s Buffy?”

“Inside, being ambushed I believe.”

“And you are out here just doing nothing?”

“She offered to knock me unconscious if I didn’t.” She shrugged.

“That’s the Buffster alright.”

“I take it you are not part of the evil plan?”

“Evil? What evil?”

“I believe that inside, along with a freshly baked Day Walking vampire are Willow, Giles, and Anya.”

“Damn. She told me she was only sort of evil.”

“Who?”

“Anya.” He punched his palm. “Damn. So they made a Day Walker? I thought with the whole Veronica being dusted by Faith that was all settled.”

“Appearently not.”

“Hm. And you know all this not because you are evil, but because you are British?”

“Somehting like that.”

“Council?”

She nodded.

“Have a name?”

“Meral Balch.” She smiled, and it actually lit up her face nicely.

“Meral? You’re Meral? Willow’s Meral?”

She blushed a little. “Um, I guess you could say that.”

“Harrumph.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“No nothing, Xander what is it?”

He shrugged. “It's nothing important, it’s just, you are.” He looked her up and down and grinned, but stopped quickly. “You’re a female person.”

“Of course I am.” She looked confused.

“She thought you were a guy.”

“What?” She gasped.

“Yep, guy. Wills was bummed about it too.”

“Bummed?” a small crooked smile appeared.

“Said something about it was too bad you were a guy because she really felt a connection to you, but there was no way she would go back to driving stick. But Wills doesn’t drive, so she kind of lost me there. Hey, you’re smiling. Smiling is good. Why are you smiling?”

“You are lucky you have such a good heart Xander Harris. You are clueless when it comes to women on all other counts.”

“Thanks. I think. So, should we make with the diversion?” He rubbed his hands together, his way of attempting to get excited about facing a possible death.

“Why not. I haven’t had a chance to stake anyone yet. Always wanted to try.”

“Goodie. You’ll like it. It’s fun. Just don’t try the getting dead. Willow would be even more disappointed.”

*****

Ten vampires swarmed her. They came from every direction, and were all within striking distance. Buffy caught the sad look in both Anya and Willow’s eyes as the blows began landing on her body. She closed her eyes and began feeling the movements in the air around her, making it easier to block and deflect blows that trying to see them. All part of the technique Giles had instilled in her. Where was Giles? She hoped he was all right.

A solid punch to the back of her neck sent her to her knees, and she focused. Now was not the time for thinking, it was the time for killing.

*****

I could smell the fight. There was vamp dust in the air, and I wanted to hoot and cheer her on. The adrenaline was pumping through me, I could feel it in my blood. There was also a hunger to be standing beside her, moving with her. But Giles was holding me up. I couldn’t even stand on my own. B needed me and I was useless.

Or maybe not.

I tried to imagine her, and I tried to picture myself moving with her, giving her all the strength I could.

Hell, who knew if it would work, but it was worth a shot, right?

More dust, and an echoing laugh that made my lips twitch into a smile. She was feeling it, getting into the kill. She was slaying. I could smell her now, the excitement, the power.

Then her howl of pain.

I flinched, and so did Giles. I tried to open my eyes but they had swelled shut, thanks to my doppelganger and her fists of furry.

“You can do it. Fight through the pain.” I mumbled.

*****

Buffy stood straighter, the last of the vampires disappearing in a cloud of dust around her. She took one step closer to Hank, and even though they had managed to break her leg, she was breathing through it, using the pain, and walking another step closer.

“That all you got, Daddy?” She sneered, spitting blood on the floor. He felt a little of his confidence slip. But then he remembered Jude’s words. Nothing could stop them. She had seen the future. He motioned to the ex-Watcher, who then stepped out of the back room, half carrying Faith with him. With a scowl, Giles pushed Faith towards him, and Hank grabbed her by the throat, turning them both back to Buffy.

Her eyes looked pained, seeing this person. So it was true. Anya was right. Above all of them, Buffy loved Faith the most.

“What are you doing?” His daughter asked.

“Turning her, while you watch.”

“The prophecy states the Day Walker can only turn the true Slayer, what is it that makes you think that’s Faith? Why do you thinking you can turn her?”

“You see Buffy, you go about killing discriminately. Funny that. You haven’t ever been the true slayer, you started off with such promise, and then you folded. Faith has always been the true Slayer. She kills indiscriminately. She knows what she is and she kills demons, all of the demons.”

“But, I don’t.”

“No you don’t.” He cut her off. “Let’s see, did you kill Angel? Why no. Even when he killed innocents around you. Even when he killed Ms Jenny Calendar. Did you kill him? No. But do you know what happened when Faith heard he was in town?”

“She went to kill him.” Buffy said her shoulders slumping slightly.

“Bingo. How about Spike? Your little friend; your lover. Did you kill him?”

“That was different, he had a chip.”

“He killed thousands or more before he ever saw you, he was a vampire, and a killer. You didn’t stake him. But Faith did.” Hank loved watching his daughter squirm. “What about Willow? She was about to end the world.”

“I fought her.”

“You should have killed her.”

“But I didn’t.”

“Bingo. Faith killed Spike. Faith killed her Watcher, someone she once loved, because she is the Slayer. And that is why it is all about her. She is the true Slayer, not you.” He smirked. It was time. Nothing mattered except what he was about to do. “You have a choice, Daughter. You can stand there and watch me turn Faith, ending the Slayer line, and letting her live forever, or you can kill her, making another Slayer somewhere in the world, and stopping me. Your choice.”

Buffy pulled a long knife from her jacket, and Hank felt Faith flinch in his arms.

“Don’t do it Buffy, you and I can be together, forever, I promise. It won’t be so bad. Don’t do this.” Faith pleaded, and then Hank pulled her closer, tilting her neck and allowing his face to change. Fuck the plan. He would drain Faith, and then he would gorge himself on Buffy’s blood.

“You know what side I am on.” Buffy said solumly. Hank bent to bit into Faith’s neck, but stopped, seeing the blade of the knife sticking from her chest. He looked into her shocked brown eyes and then dropped her, turning to glare at Buffy.

“You killed her? You murdered your own lover? She was human?” Hank was shocked. The others stepped away from him. He looked at Giles who was backing away, to Willow who was covering her mouth with her hand.

“I guess I did.” Buffy shrugged. “About time I killed a human. So what were you saying about me not being the real Slayer? I did what Faith would have done. It’s just like she said.” Buffy picked up her discarded stake from the floor and began walking closer to him. “She told me the truth. And I believe it now. In the balance, nobody is going to cry over some random bystander who got caught in the crossfire.”

“You. Can’t.” He choked.

“Yep, she can.” A voice said from behind him, and he watched as Faith limped out of the shadows.

It wasn’t until he saw the blood on Faith’s face, the torn clothes that he realized what had happened. That Jude had betrayed him, pretending to be Faith so he would turn her first.

“B.” Faith said and tossed a broad sword to Buffy, who caught it. Buffy grinned and stepped even closer to him. She stopped, and he tried to remember something good about her, about who his daughter was, who he was. But all he felt was the betrayal, the rage, and the lust for Slayer blood. Hank hissed at her. But Buffy ignored him, looking down at the dead body at his feet.

“I’m sorry for her lover, and I am sorry for her. But it wasn’t my fault. I am better than human, but I am still not a god. I am a Slayer, and killing is what I do. What I will die doing.” And she pulled back the sword in her hands.

*****

EPILOGUE

I had been disappointed.

By the time Xander and I had found a way inside of the warehouse, everything was over. Well, aside from the clean up, which Xander had informed me was part of being in the inner circle. All part of my initiation he had explained. I still was not sure I believed him, thinking it was too convenient that I was left cleaning up blood and vomit while they all left.

But over the past month things had improved. Significantly.

Faith healed quickly, as was expected, and after a few choice words to the Scoobies, she settled down. Moved back into the house with Buffy, and started working again at St. Michael’s. I have nothing to compare it to, but Willow tells me that the Slayers seem happier than she has ever seen them. There is much left to study, the way their connection is seeming to depend, but no one seems in a hurry to ask those questions of them.

Robert had been appointed as Faith’s Watcher, and was still beaming at being able to work side by side with the infamous Rupert Giles. The three of us had done our utmost best in reporting back to the Council initially, and the Board had been convinced that killing Faith isn’t the best idea, for the balance of things.

Xander and Anya had discreetly left for a holiday in New Mexico, in an attempt to lay low from a certain Slayer duo who were still a little less than happy that they had not been informed sooner what was happening. It would have saved everyone a lot of grief, if she would have.

And Willow? Willow…

“What are you doing?”

Meral turned away from the computer to see Willow standing in the doorway, her arms crossed and a stern resolve face in place.

“I was um, well.”

“I see my name there, Meral. What are you up to?”

“I wanted to update my journal is all.”

“With my name?”

“Yes.” Meral looked away, mortified at having been caught.

“I think it’s sweet.”

She gulped. “You do?”

“You know I do. Finish up. We need to head over to Buffy’s for dinner.” Willow smiled, and it was a contented one, before backing away. Meral looked at the computer, and then back to the doorway Willow had exited. Grinning she turned off the machine. She knew where she would rather be.

*****

Dinner was the same. Everyone sitting around the huge table. Sort of nice. B tells me it was what the table was really for, not what she and I had ended up doing on it a few times. Hey, it was a nice big table, just begging to be used. So I did. But I know better than to mention that when Bobby or Giles are around, they tend to get all stuttery. It is sort of funny.

But dinner was good. Just like it always is. Meral’s been making eyes with Red for about a week, and was sort of cocky about it tonight. I have the feeling that when Red is ready, Meral won’t know what hit her. And I think she is pretty damn cool to let Red decide about it. After the fucking bitch Jude, Red needs to feel comfortable being herself before she gets hooked up with any one. Man, talk about rebound. That Jude was lucky B took care of her. And boy did she.

After dinner patrol was becoming a habit. Me and B going out alone. This normalcy was feeling kind of good. New and weird, but good.

I was walking beside B down the front walk, heading to patrol. Same ritual. She even kicked the pebble. I had to smile.

“What a year.” She rolled my head to look at her. “Is it always like this?”

“Actually, this year was a little quiet.”

I groaned as we walked into Restfield Cemetery, under the arch.

“You know you love this.” B said bumping me with her hip.

“I do.” I nodded.

“It fits us.”

“It is our calling.”

“To go out every night.”

“And save those that we can.”

“And cry for those we can’t.”

The End

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