Fitting Punishment
by Anne
Rating: R

Disclaimer: Joss, WB etc etc own them, not me.
Spoilers: General BtVS and AtS.
Author's Notes: An A/U fic, set after Faith was sent to jail.
Thanks: Phil (for betaing and encouragement) and Gareth for continuing coercion :)
For: Tera and Wlfgrrl for being feedbackers extrordinaire!

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PART 1

He came out of nowhere. She didn't have time to stop, she hadn't realised in time. It was an accident. And what was he doing there at that time of night? There had been so many vampires, she had been killing them, one after the other, and then he appeared and she was driving the stake in and it was too late. It had gone too far, she had lost control. She had killed a man. She was alone and she was guilty. It was an accident, she didn't want this to happen. And then the police had arrived and they had taken her into custody. She had blood on her hands, human blood, blood that she could not explain. It was all a blur from the moment she had felt the wood pierce live flesh, all she could see was the red and feel the pain and guilt inside her. And she knew that there was no way that she could get herself out of it, there was no way that anyone would ever understand that she was the slayer and this was one of the risks of the job. She should have known better, should have been able to sense the difference. "Faith, no!" She had been able to tell the difference then, but Faith hadn't. Why had it been so different this time? "Buffy Anne Summers, I sentence you to..." and then it had all been a blur once more, she remembered her mom collapsing and being held by Giles, Xander sobbing on Willow's shoulder. And then it was all grey, all filled with pain and fear and desperation. She had killed a man and she had to live with the consequences. After all that hatred and loathing, she had finally ended up walking along the same road. That she had refused to forgive Faith was something that burned even deeper in her memory now. Two slayers and both of them unable to do their duty. And at least Faith had finally had the decency to hand herself over. To admit her guilt. Whereas she had been blinded by panic and had been caught. She leant over in the back of the police truck that was taking her to the State's secure women's unit, stupidly wondering whether or not she would see more of Angel now that they were going to be so close, then threw up everywhere.

She curled herself up into a ball that first night, unable to see the stars and knowing that she should be walking under them now, on patrol with Giles or Willow, and then going back to her nice room, with nice soft bed and safety and peaceful sleep. Instead she was trying to stifle her sobs so that she did not wake her cellmate, a hardened prostitute inside for killing her pimp. These were not the sort of people that she knew, that she understood. They would be able to tell that she was different, and they would make her life hell. She had faced the creatures of darkness, she had even died already, but she had never felt as afraid and alone as she did now. She had never been this helpless, and she could feel the hard centre of her being that she had constructed to protect herself from the pain of everything she did, day in, day out, crumbling away and leaving her with a painful open wound.

*****

She doused her eyes in cold water, trying hard to bring down the swelling so that no-one would guess that she had cried herself to sleep and had sobbed intermittently throughout the night. She succeeded in taking away the burning sensation but nothing else. The smeared mirror above the washbasin told her all she needed to know. Trying to walk tall she headed down to the serving area ready for breakfast, holding back the tears as she thought of her mother's waffles. Nobody spoke to her, eyeing her suspiciously, guessing that this was not the usual sort of woman that was sent here. This was a place for killers and psychotics, and mainly people who were a bit of both. She looked like neither. She looked like a girl barely out of college, and yes, they were pretty sure that she had been able to afford to go to college. She could feel the cold and curious stares as she walked along, could almost hear the other women trying to guess what she was in here for. She wanted to close her eyes and shut them out, hide from their overt gaze. Buffy was used to fighting evil, not people who had been hardened by life.

The push came from behind and when Buffy turned, she saw a woman who reminded her a little of Adam, something in itself that was not in the slightest bit comforting. She swallowed, knowing that this was part of the routine, that she would have to both stand up for herself and manage to avoid making enemies who would make her life hell. The physical side of the fight she knew she would always be able to handle, but the other things, the isolation and the spiteful pranks were another. The thought ran through her head, her own mind working against her, reminding her that the last time she fought humans, other people, she had lost control and one of them had died. Her stomach started to burn as she fought the urge to throw up, the memory and the guilt physically eating away at her. Holding back against all the fighting instincts that she had, she set her jaw and looked the woman square in the eye. She had watched the prison flicks, she knew what to expect. She swallowed again. She hadn't felt this cold and pained inside since she had run away from killing Angel. It had been so long since she had allowed anything be beyond her control. The woman walked towards her. And stopped. Stopped dead in her tracks. Buffy found that she was holding her breath, waiting for the first blow to fall. And although she knew that she could fight this woman easily, there was a little voice at the back of her brain telling her that she deserved this. That this was her punishment. Then the woman turned away. Buffy turned around to see the reason why. Standing behind her, arms folded across her chest and a no messing look on her face, was Faith.

Sometimes, life gives us blessings sent in ridiculous packaging.

"Long time no see B. You don't call, you don't write..." There was a hint of menace underneath the sarcasm in Faith's voice, and Buffy suddenly realised that maybe Faith hadn't turned up to protect her. It was clear by the other inmates' actions that the other Slayer had already made her mark on prison life. Buffy wondered just what she had done to earn that kind of respect and fear, and guessed that it must mean the redemption trip had worn off after all. Just as she was starting to feel smug about having judged Faith right all along, the look on the brunette's face faded into a warm smile. "Good to see you again B." she said quietly. "Though I have to say I never expected it to be here. With us both on the wrong side of the bars." Her arms uncrossed from their threatening position across her chest, and she put them in the pockets of her regulation trousers. In that single move, Faith went from hardened criminal to looking around fourteen years old again. Just like Buffy had glimpsed on a few occasions in Sunnydale all that time ago. That same look that had tugged on her heartstrings then and as she felt the subtle change in rhythm she knew that it was doing it all over again.

"Faith," she breathed. She noticed that Faith looked around her and everyone was watching them. Faith flicked her head and indicated for Buffy to follow her to the table. Faith tucked into her breakfast and nodded for Buffy to do the same.

"You gotta eat what they give you in here B. It's not enough for you and me. Tastes like shit," she grimaced as she put some unidentifiable piece of meat in her mouth. "Better than nothing though, and I've had worse." She laughed at the look on Buffy's face as she took her first mouthful. "Guess this is as bad as it gets for you though huh?" There was sadness behind the laughter in the voice, and Faith found herself wanting to reach over and take Buffy's hand, to be able to tell her that it would be all right. But she knew that it would not be all right just because she said so, and she was pretty certain that it wasn't her that Buffy wanted reassurance from. "I have to go in a minute, I work in the huh...erm...prison library."

"Library?"

"You wanna make something of it? Coz if you -"

"Shhh Faith, I think that's great." Buffy's voice was sincere as the fear started to ebb away. Suddenly, when she had been thinking that it would always be dark from now on, there came a faint ray of light from the most unexpected source.

"Yeah, well, I never did read too good, what with dropping out of school and all, but I'm getting better. Gives me something to do other than stare at the walls." She stood up and picked up her tray, calling over her shoulder to Buffy as she went. "But later we can meet in the games room and I can whip your ass at pool...."

*****

Buffy was four games down. Out of four. And Faith's taunts were getting worse. It was like when she had first come to Sunnydale. This place, their second meeting, was going much along the same lines as the first time, each girl was trying to beat the other. Slayer competitive spirit. Only this time Faith was well and truly winning and Buffy did not like it one little bit. She found herself wishing she had paid more attention when Spike and Xander had been playing.

"But you've had more practice than I have."

"Tough shit B."

"So I'm being punished for staying out of prison longer."

"You're treading on thin ice there you know." Faith glanced over her shoulder to where a group of women were standing, talking. "You looking for trouble?" Faith walked over to her, voice serious. "Try to remember that you don't exactly have the prison look, and there will be some people in here who will be looking for a piece of you because of that."

"Are you saying I can't handle myself? Because I don't need you to -"

"Buffy, I'm not saying anything. Just shut up and listen to yourself. I don't like being here any more than you do, none of us do. But you got to get used to it and you've got to learn how to get along. It gets better," she added in a whisper, pulling Buffy into her arms as she started to cry. "And you know that I'm here for you." Faith did not know where the words came from, why she finally had the courage to do what she had wanted to do for so long, but the words felt so good, sliding from her mouth. And it also felt good that Buffy did not flinch or pull away when she heard the words, just leant her body into Faith's chest and took the comfort that was being offered.

PART 2

Faith felt an old familiar feeling of warmth spreading through her. Just her and Buffy, limbs entangled, giving each other leverage on the hard floor. She hadn't had it for such a long time, and now it felt so good, pushing herself to the edge and taking the blond with her.

"199, 200. Okay, push-ups. 1, 2, 3," Buffy chanted, a little out of breath now, determined to keep up with Faith's pace. Or make Faith keep up with her own, she wasn't entirely sure which. They had been doing different types of workout for a while now, Faith doing stamina training in the confined gym, and Buffy with the more 'all-round' workout of Slaying. Buffy had noticed that Faith's body was a little more taut, the muscles slightly more defined than when they had last trained together in the library. More toned than she could remember from when she was in that body, needed to use those longer limbs. And the change was not in a butch way either, she reflected as she glanced over at the smooth flat surface of her stomach, it just gave Faith an additional air of confidence now that the cocky swagger had gone. By the time she got to the end of the count she realised that they both had to give up soon. "Okay, stop," she gasped, lying down and trying to relax her overworked muscles. Faith sat up and rested her elbows on her knees, chest heaving as it took it more air, a slightly smug look playing on the edge of her lips that Buffy suspected was the result of not having to say stop first. Even if she had wanted to. Had needed to.

Buffy noticed that the room was empty again. Nobody seemed to want to work out when they were. The two large open doors meant that a well-positioned guard in the social room could keep an eye on them, but for the two Slayers this was a relatively private time. For just two hours a day they could almost feel like there was still a reason for them to exist, that they could still do the job that it was their destiny to fulfill. It was just about the only thing that stopped Buffy from sinking into a deep depression, and the place where Faith could completely loose herself and escape from the guilt taunting her in the back of her mind. "Not bad, B," she said, with a glint of humour lighting her dark eyes.

"Not bad!" Buffy growled with mock menace. Before Faith could respond, Buffy flipped herself up, using her hips for leverage against the hardwood floor, and dropped to her knees across Faith's legs, her fist a fraction of an inch from Faith's nose.

"Watch it prisoner," Faith's face was hard as she grinned at the fist, avoiding Buffy's eyes. "Tylerman's behind you."

"Shit," murmured Buffy, glancing over her shoulder to where the guard in the social room stood poised for action. She realised that despite the way the incident had looked, he still had not come rushing in. The two of them were getting quite a reputation based on their weightlifting alone. None of the prisoners dared to start on either of them, and the screws were wary just being around them. She dropped her arm resting it on Faith's shoulder and leant forward. "Just so you know," she whispered in Faith's ear, "I could have taken you."

"We'll see." Faith turned her head and their eyes locked, suddenly changing the game into something much more menacing, and Buffy knew where she had seen that look before. Putting her hands on Buffy's hips, Faith lifted her up and dumped the blond unceremoniously on the floor by her side. Leaping up, she threw a mock salute at the guard and headed over to the showers, leaving Buffy feeling shocked and more than a little hurt. She had thought that they were playing one of the old games from when they had first met, when they had both loved the banter that flowed easily between them. And now Faith had turned the tables again. Knowing that there was nothing else she could do, she got up from the floor with a sigh and followed Faith into the showers.

When she got there, Faith was already inside, using the shower furthest from the door, her back turned. Buffy saw her body tense momentarily, and she knew that Faith had heard her come into the room. She stripped off quickly, glad to be out of her sweaty clothes, and walked along, deliberately choosing the shower next to Faith. Switching it on, she felt the warmth slowly sooth the muscles that were already beginning to ache. She waited a couple of moments, half watching Faith rub soap vigorously into her skin, working up the courage to talk to the other girl. She could feel the tension emanating from Faith's body.

"Faith, are you going to tell me what that was all about?"

"Or what? You'll beat it out of me?"

"Hey! That wasn't what I meant and you know it." She reached out and gently turned Faith around to face her. She noticed by the redness around the eyes that there were some tears mixed in the water droplets running over her face. "Hey," she repeated, softer this time. "Talk to me. I thought we were having fun?"

"You still don't get it, do you B?" Faith said with a half-hearted snort.

"No Faith, I don't. So how about you explain it to me this time?" Buffy tried her best to keep her tone even, but persuasive.

"I don't ever want to have to fight with you again Buffy. Not even training or playing."

"Why? We were both perfectly safe just now."

"Because it is always there, that's why. All that anger I felt when we were fighting, up on the roof in Sunnydale, it never goes away. And then you jump me and it takes me straight back there yunno?"

"I...I'm sorry. I didn't think. After you, erm, woke up, you came straight after me." It was the first time they had talked about this and Buffy could feel a lump rising in her throat. "Then, at Angel's and you were so different. I never knew what was really going on in that head of yours, and it looks like I still don't."

"I couldn't fight any more Buffy, it was killing me. I couldn't take it any more. That's why I came here. I wanted to be part of the real world, and fucking prison was the closest that I could get." Her body was shaking under Buffy's hands. "And just now, I was scared."

"Scared of me?" Buffy raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

"No. Scared that I could have stopped you B. You know that. I saw you coming and could have moved. Hit back. Something. But I just sat there and let you come for me. I couldn't do it. Couldn't fight back. And then Bam! It was there. For a few seconds it was strong again. That bit of me saying I should kill you. Should kill anything that gets in my way. I thought I was getting there, getting it under control, but I'm not, I can't and I don't want it any more..." it came out then, the sobs that she had been holding in. Buffy suspected that she had been keeping them locked inside for longer than the past ten minutes. She pulled Faith in closer to her, allowing her arms to drop from her shoulders and encircle the shaking body. After a while she heard someone come in behind her, but she did not turn around and whoever it was left almost straight away.

"Haven't we learnt from all of that? Both of us. We don't have to fight each other any more. And when we get out of here, you'll do it again, you'll see. You and me girlfriend. The Chosen Two," she mimicked Faith's voice and felt her smile against her shoulder. Which was followed by another sob.

"But what if I can't. What if we never get out?"

"Listen to me," Buffy, slid her fingers under Faith's chin, tilting her head up so that they could look at each other. "There are enough prophecies with our names in them. We won't be fulfilling them from here will we? Not without Giles' help translating the Latin anyway." They both chuckled. "So we will be getting out of here, I promise. Just let me help you. We can fight all of this together, like we should have done anyway. Agreed?"

"Agreed." Faith pulled away and offered a weak smile. Then they grasped each other in a hug, both knowing that they had been making the breakthrough that should have happened a long time ago.

As Faith was getting dressed and Buffy was washing the rest of the shampoo out of her hair, they both realised that the whole discussion had taken place with them naked. Their eyes met across the shower room, and Faith even had the decency to blush.

PART 3

For some reason, it had been no surprise to Buffy that Faith was one of the best pool players on their block, but poker came as a real surprise. Buffy had played the game with Xander many times, and now was wondering if he had been allowing her to win all along. If they had not started to overcome the differences between them, Buffy would have accused Faith of cheating. She threw her cards down on the table as she realised that she had lost once again, and glared at Faith's knowing smirk.

"Good thing we're not playing for cash huh B?"

"Okay, that's it. I quit. There has to be something to do in this place that I am better at than you." She stood up and they began to the TV area of the room.

"Doubt that very much B. I've been playing these games in bars all my life. Sometimes even played with my Pop when he was getting drunk in the house rather than a bar somewhere." She looked out of the corner of her eye to where Buffy was walking at her side. It was the first time that she had mentioned something from her past out of choice. She had to make the decision now as to whether or not to continue the conversation, and see where it took her. Of course, Buffy might not even be interested. There had been a time, when she had first arrived in Sunnydale, that she was scared that if Buffy and the others had known about her past, that she wasn't in their cosy middle class league, they would have left her out. But then, they ended up doing that anyway. "Only with my dad, I would always let him win anyway." She sat down on one of the comfy-but-bolted-to-the-floor chairs, and placed her right foot on her left knee, trying to look relaxed.

"You've never told me much about your family Faith."

"You never asked."

"Touché." There was a pause as Buffy sat down next to her. "So I'm asking now."

"Not much to know B. Came from a bad part of town, Dad was always drunk and violent." There was a lump in Faith's throat, not from the emotion of what she was telling but because of the fact that she was finally telling it. "Guess that's why you and me fight so differently B. I was the original wild child before the whole slaying gig came along." She smiled a little lopsidedly with a touch of pride, a look that hailed back to those days, when it was all about the image that you projected to the person walking towards you down the street. Buffy found herself smiling at the thought of a gang-style Faith strutting her stuff around the streets of Boston. Faith noticed the look in her eyes and decided that she could continue. This was going better than she had ever hoped that it would. "Eventually he left, that was no great loss." She trailed off, uncertain as to where this was going, and why it was finally happening now.

"What about your mother?"

"She was okay. I mean, she never drank or hit me like dad did, but she was never there. Guess she liked him about as much as I did and so she stayed out of the way. I don't blame her. I would have done the same thing."

"How did she die?" Buffy's voice was low, knowing that she was walking in unfamiliar territory. The picture that Faith had painted in a few short sentences made her fear the worst.

"Car crash. Hit and run. Just another unsolved death. So easy to get away with anything - guess you and me just ain't smart enough B." Faith knew that she was using humour to cover how she felt but somehow couldn't stop herself. It was one of the many defence mechanisms she had used in her life. Another was not letting herself normally get into conversations like these, but she knew that she had gone too far to turn back now. She was in Buffy's hands.

"What about your Father?" Buffy wanted to reach out and take Faith's hands into her own, but some kind of instinct told her that it would be the wrong thing to do.

"Can't answer that one B. When my watcher turned up, she let me go with her. I did the only smart thing I've ever done in my life and walked away from all of that. Guess you think I ran away huh?"

"No. I think you did the right thing."

"That's why I was so fucked up when I met you first. I thought that I finally had something good, yunno. And then that bastard killed her and I had nothing again. Walking away from all that into something that could hurt me more. Started feeling like it wasn't so smart a move after all."

"I think it was the second smartest thing that you've done."

"Oh yeah? What would the first be?"

"Coming to find me."

"Go figure."

*****

The nights were always the worst. Even though she didn't say anything, Buffy knew that it was the same for Faith. The girl who shared her cell frequently complained about the fact that Faith would wake her up in the middle of the night screaming and shouting, throwing her body around in the bed and pounding her fists on the wall. It was night when you were left alone with your thoughts, none of the distractions of the gym or the social room or the voices of the other people there. At night it was just you staring out into the dark thinking about the consequences and wondering how your life had ended up here. When Buffy closed her eyes she thought about the world outside that had been her responsibility now for almost as long as she could remember. That was why the guilt of the killing and the maiming did not stop with the one man that she had watched die directly because of her. Every night there were people dying that she could have saved if she had been a little more careful. The blame seemed to engulf her in the darkness, making her want to cry and she found it difficult to breathe. On those nights she would drift off into a fitful sleep, full of dreams where she never quite made it on time. She was always trying to get somewhere and she never made it, and the world fell down around her and sucked her back into consciousness. She would stumble into the dining area for breakfast, eyes red, sore and itchy to be frequently met by someone who looked so similar. They never discussed it, they never needed to, but Buffy knew by the way that Faith smiled at her, the look that she gave to the others to make sure that they left her alone, told Buffy all that she needed to know. And sometimes Faith would awkwardly slip an arm around her shoulders and give her the briefest of hugs, that somehow managed to be both hesitant and reassuring.

The other prisoners regarded them as the odd couple. Faith was one of them, understood the street slang, the people, what made them tick. Buffy spoke differently, carried herself with just a hint of superiority, and was regarded by all as a snob. They could not understand what someone like her was doing around Faith, and why Faith seemed to be perfectly happy with the arrangement. Admittedly there was something that didn't seem quite right with the blond, something that did not fit in at all with the image she projected. And she seemed to be the only one that could have stood up to Faith anyway. After a while it was generally agreed that they were screwing each other, and that was the only reason that Faith was putting up with the prissy blond. Buffy could tell what they were all thinking. She saw how they treated Faith differently, the way they slapped hands walking down the corridors, the way they chatted to her in the dining room. She was only ever a part of the conversation when Faith drew her in, and even then the others did not seem to be interested in what she had to say. She sometimes allowed herself to wonder what it would have been like if Faith had not been there. If she had been all alone in this place with no escape and no release. And with all that she knew about the world and the way that it worked, she could not help but wonder if there was some kind of master plan, that this chance meeting of fate here was part of some pre-ordained prophecy. Other times, she did not care in the slightest about what it might mean, she was just grateful that Faith was there with her.

Faith was doing her shift in the library, and Buffy was wandering aimlessly around the social room, not even making an attempt to speak to anyone, knowing they would respond with little more than a grunt. She flopped down on the seats and stared at the TV screen high out of reach in the corner of the room. A girl flopped down next to her and stared at the box just as listlessly. After a while she finally turned to Buffy and began to talk. "Buffy, isn't it?"

"Yes. I', sorry I don't know your name." Buffy was startled by the sudden lurch into conversation.

"Yan. Got here about a week before you did. You're Faith's bitch aren't you?" It was said with a smirk and just a hint of innocence covering the malice.

"What?!" If Buffy could have physically spluttered, she would have done. It had seemed to trip so effortlessly off the girl's tongue, a matter of fact statement. "Who said that? I am *no one's* bitch, and you can tell everyone that from me. You understand that?" Buffy allowed her menace to go unchecked for a second, standing up and staring Yan straight in the eyes before flouncing off to her cell. She was certain that all the others were laughing at her as she walked away, and found the tears welling up in her eyes.

It was a couple of hours later when Faith came to find her. She poked her head round the door of her cell to where Buffy was reading on her bunk.

"Hey"

"Don't you hey me!"

"What happened now?" Faith's tone was weary. It was things like this that ground them down, ground everyone in that place down.

"Apparently, I'm your bitch." Buffy spat out the word at Faith. Faith paused for a second and then erupted into hysterical laughter, collapsing onto Buffy's bed next to her. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing," Faith wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "I just thought that it was something important that's all."

"This is important. I am not your bitch!" She paused between each word for emphasis.

"Hold on a minute here B. Is it because you don't like the idea of having sex with me, or the fact that you're my bitch, but I'm not yours?" Faith started to laugh manically again at the expression on Buffy's face. "I'm sorry...it's just funny." Seeing the scowl, she tried valiantly to compose herself. "Look B, there's no point trying to tell them otherwise, and there is even less point getting worked up about it. In case you haven't noticed, there isn't a lot to gossip about in this place, so the girls just take whatever they can to keep them amused." The bell sounded once, indicating that it was time for them to go down for dinner. "Besides," said Faith with a wink as she got up from the bed and headed for the door, "I quite like the idea of you being my bitch." She was out of the door before Buffy could reply, a smirk plastered across her face.

PART 4

Buffy never wanted to look him in the eyes. There had never been even the slightest hint of shame there, no lack of composure as he walked towards her. And yet, irrationally she always doubted herself and wondered if this time would be the last time he came. He sat down and looked her in the eyes, a look that was filled with love, and before picking up the receiver so that he could actually hear her voice, he put his hand up to the glass. The gesture reminded her of how special he was, how lucky she was, despite finding herself here. Just glancing into his eyes, she could see by the look there that this was about more than just her. She had always been able to look into his eyes and know just how he was feeling. Instantly Buffy felt panic begin to rise within her, starting somewhere deep inside, and she just knew. He was visiting her for more than just to check up and make sure that she was okay. This was not a journey across the State because of love. It was something more. And once again it sickened her that it would be something that she could do nothing about from behind these walls. Buffy realised that her hand was trembling as she reached for the receiver, knowing the conversations that they had in here were always overheard in one form or another, and reminded herself that she had to guard her speech. She was well aware that she was on the receiving end of enough psychiatric evaluation already. Albeit less than Faith was.

"Giles?" Buffy's voice was filled with desperation. She was frustrated and anxious and her mind was already going through entire lists of possibilities. She realised that she wished that Faith was here too, so she could give her perception of events and give Buffy that little kick that she needed. Almost as if on cue, her senses went on all alert and she saw Angel walking into the room behind Giles and sitting down at a booth further along the row. She turned her head as Faith walked into the room and realised that this was even bigger than she had first realised. It included both of them, and if Giles was willing to let Faith be part of it, then there was trouble up ahead. The terror that never truly went away any more hit her with full force as she could feel the bile rising up from her stomach.

"It's not good news Buffy." Giles knew better to prolong the agony, and felt genuinely concerned for Buffy's well-being. Each time he came to visit she seemed a little more withdrawn, more depressed, despite to bright façade. "There has been some talk of another hellish uprising for some time now, but the accounts have been vague and somewhat misleading. I have researched it as much as I can, and I seem to have finally found something." He whispered into the mouthpiece, knowing that if nothing else, it would prevent the motherly looking woman in the next booth reporting him as a possible escapee from the psychiatric wing.

"Another apocalypse?" Buffy said it with a light tone, as if it was on a par with breaking a nail, but the tears in the corner of her eye gave her away. In the midst of the frustration she found herself wondering if, after all, she really did get the itch if she didn't get in a good slay.

"I hope it doesn't go as far as an actual apocalypse Buffy, but there are indications that it may be the case. I have informed Angel, and he is going to do all he can."

"Dammit Giles!" she slammed her fist down on the table, leaving the faintest of imprints. "What are we going to do? You need me there, you can't fight this on your own. I have to find a way out of here."

"Buffy," Giles' voice was a low warning as he looked hastily around. He continued in a hushed voice. "If you try to break out of here, you will spend the rest of your life as a fugitive. Then you will always have the police to worry about on top of everything else. Your other 'job' is dangerous enough without the constant worry hampering your efforts. And don't let Faith get any funny ideas either. I know she has the tendency to be a little more reckless than you."

"But I'm no good to anyone here Giles. And neither is Faith for that matter. Why wouldn't it be better on the run?"

"Please Buffy, I need you to trust me." The warning tone was loud and clear as he looked across to one of the guards. "Give me some time. I am trying to find a way around the situation, but it can't all happen now. And yes, you can be of use. I need you to train. Hard. With Faith preferably. Push yourself as far as you can, with the confines of this situation, and should the time come when we require your assistance, then at least we can be confident that you are fully fit. Will you do that for me?" He looked at her as she sighed, knowing that it had gone only a little way towards placating the Slayer.

"Okay Giles. But don't leave it too late. If you need me, if you need us, then let me know. I would rather live with the consequences in the world rather than there being no world at all." She said with a touch of sarcasm.

"I promise Buffy."

The conversation that followed was more along the lines of standard prisoner/visitor talk of family and friends, and what non-demonic activity was taking place in Sunnydale. When they said goodbye, Buffy cried as she always did, and then allowed her frustration and anger to build again as she walked back to the main part of the wing. She saw Faith across the room, her face set and grim. So Angel had given her the low-down when he had visited her. She stood up and walked to the corner of the room where they could talk with relative privacy.

"Shit B, what are we going to do?"

"Giles wants us to train in case it gets to the stage where we have to break out of here."

"I say we bust out anyway. You know that we could do it, especially if we work together."

"I said the same thing to Giles, but he said no. I think he is trying to work on something with a little less in the way of consequences for us if he does." Buffy noticed that Faith's fists were clenched at her sides. "He said he wanted us to train so that we will be ready for when he gets us out." She knew that this was a slightly edited version, but she had a feeling that if she told Faith that he had not promised anything, she might just explode. Things had been going so well, she just wanted to try to keep things under control for Faith.

"That's all?"

"Lets face it Faith, there's not a lot else we can do. And they won't let us train for much longer than they do already, which means that we will just have to push ourselves even harder."

"I just feel so helpless B." The fire left Faith as instantly as it had been put there, and she sank down onto the floor, resting her suddenly tired arms on her knees. "It's times like this that I wish I still didn't give a flying fuck."

"Don't! Don't ever let me hear you talk like that ever again Faith. Do you understand me? Or I swear to God I'll beat caring into you, just as sure I beat it out of you last time." Buffy realised that she was taking her own frustrations out on Faith somewhat, and took a deep breath before sitting down next to her. She took her hand, knowing that it did not matter what any one else in the room thought about it, that they were going through something so much bigger than all of this, extending so far beyond these stone walls. It had done the trick, and Faith's focus snapped back onto her. "I'm sorry. It's just...just...I need you Faith. I don't think that I will be able to do this without you. And I think that you need me too. Because I know that you do care."

"So that is all we have to do for now? Just make sure that we work out and be on call for when Giles gets us out?"

"Fighting fit. We can work on the fighting bit together." Buffy gave Faith's hands another reassuring squeeze. "Feel up to putting in a little practice now?"

"Sure." Faith watched as Buffy stood up and offered her hand.

PART 5

Their bodies were glistening with sweat, their chests heaving as they forced muscles almost beyond endurance. Far, far beyond human endurance. At some point, Faith realised that she has passed through the pain barrier, and was feeling a numbness settling over her limbs. But she knew that this was nothing, that Angel and Giles must be facing something really big if they were prepared for her to be in on it. And something like that would require everything of everything she had. It was almost as if this was the second chance that she had sent herself to prison to find. And there was no way that she was going to blow it this time, she was not going to give it up for anything. And more than that, she had finally realised what she wanted. She had found that someone who was there behind her, someone that she could fall back on, someone that she could make the decisions with. The moment she realised that this was what she had been needing all along, could have had all along if she had been just a little more open with everyone and herself, she felt as if the weight that had settled squarely on her shoulders had somehow halved. There was a new weight as she started to share Buffy's burden alongside her, but it was a load she was more than willing to carry.

They had been doing this intensive training for the past two weeks, and they had both felt their bodies getting stronger where they had imagined it to be impossible. They had casually failed to notice the time on more than one occasion, in order to fit in another couple of hours. On top of that, Faith had managed to wangle a few more hours in the library, and using the prison reward system spent all her extra points on snack foods to try and replace all the lost energy. This she always shared, by some unspoken agreement, with Buffy. It was just another thing that they found they did not have to discuss, it was part of the bond that was forming between them, and a grim awareness of the long road that they both had waiting for them ahead. Then at the end of yet another long day, they would collapse and sleep soundly through the night, only to wake up in pain and aching in the mornings, ready to do it all again.

It was a nice dream for a change. Then the clouds came rolling in, thunder pounding, until Buffy opened her eyes, and realised that it was her cell door being slammed open.

"Summers! Get up!"

"Wha- hmn - uh?" Buffy was confused from sleep and the sudden intrusion.

"You're being transferred. Get your stuff together." He barked at her as she hastily gathered her things from around the room. Transfer? Where to? Why? It all seemed so sudden and none of it made sense. She was trying to figure it out, feeling the panic at the thought of leaving Faith behind and wondering how she would make it on her own, as she was marched down the corridor. As she walked towards the transfer room, she could hear steps behind her falling into time with hers. Feeling the excitement rise up inside her, she realised that Giles had done it. There was a plan. They were getting out of here. And it didn't matter that it might mean that she had a life on the run. She and Faith could do it together and make sure that they stayed safe. She knew that she had to stay focused, or she would never spot the little signs that would tell her that it was time to make a break for it. She took deep breaths as they placed her in the room. She waited for Faith to join her, buzzing with excitement. Two guards marched in through the far door, and handcuffed her securely, before putting their hands on her shoulders and marching her out.

"Shouldn't we wait for..."

"Wait for what Summers?"

"Nothing." With a backwards glance at the unmoving door, she allowed herself to be led out. There was just one van in the yard and she was bundled into it alone. She was sufficiently chained that no-one got into the back with her, and her body waved unsteadily as the vehicle swung into motion.

In the back of the high security van, Buffy struggled with the chains that kept her under control. This was not going the way she expected it, and the whole thing brought back memories of the Council's approach to doing things. Which she wanted to forget as much as possible, as that nearly ended with a bullet with her name on it. Suddenly, the van lurched towards the edge of the road, and Buffy could tell that they were off the freeway. And by the way she was getting jolted around, she thought that they might even be going offroad. Suddenly they lurched to a stop, and then a few minutes later, the back door opened. Buffy was met by a woman who clearly was not happy with the whole scam, and who Buffy remembered very well. She knew something about her now, having been filled in by Cordelia.

"Get out." Kate was every inch the detective as she barked out orders and unclasped the chains. As Buffy slid out of the back, legs wobbly and confused, Giles was there to steady her.

"Buffy." He gripped her in a ferocious hug, bringing tears of happiness to her eyes.

"How?" Buffy needed to know the terms and conditions of her new-found freedom.

"Well, as you know, I spoke to Angel and we decided to pool our resources. Kate here did the official side of things, Willow got on that computer of hers and played around with a few of their facts. You are being transferred today, but according to the next penitentiary, you are not due there until this time next week. So if all goes according to plan..." He trailed off, knowing that either option was not really a good one. Either the world would end, or Buffy would be given a cruel taste of freedom, only to be thrust back into prison life after seven short days. He could see it clouding the excitement in her eyes. Then she visibly pulled herself together again and she was Buffy, the one who could save the world.

"Where's Faith?"

"Cordelia and Wesley are collecting her. We contrived to make the two transfers separate, to avoid suspicion. We are all going to meet in Sunnydale later this evening. She is in the same situation as you. Angel is at my apartment waiting for us all. He is researching with Willow and Tara to try and find out as much as we possibly can."

"About what? Come on Giles. You haven't told me anything yet."

"I know. But I really think that we all ought to be together to discuss it. There's no point telling the same story twice." He smiled as Buffy looked at him cuttingly. She knew that the reason was nothing to do with being repetitive, and that one of the people not with her now needed to be there when Giles did the telling. The fact that Angel was so deeply involved told her that he was crucial to this whole thing.

"Okay then," she sighed wearily. "Lets just start driving and get there as quickly as possible."

*****

Faith looked out of the window as Cordelia and Wesley drove her towards Sunnydale. The place of her downfall and the place where she was to be reunited with Buffy for another showdown with the big evil. Nobody made small talk, and it was clear that even though they had been told that she was back on the good side, it was going to take more than a jailbreak to convince them. It seemed like such a long time since she had seen a blue sky that wasn't caged in by barbed wire and the sounds that were unmistakably prison life. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and yet her thoughts all seemed to lead back to being inside those walls, back to Buffy. Wesley had explained to her what was happening, and she had realised something beyond the seven days of freedom stretched ahead of them. She knew that if they made it, if she made that step towards atonement by saving the world, then she would still be punished. For when they went back to those top security vans after pulling the biggest scam of her life, she and Buffy were going to be moved to separate prisons. And suddenly all the trees looked grey.

PART 6

"Urgh!" Buffy was ambushed before she could say anything as she walked through the door of Giles' apartment, totally muffled by the hugs of Willow and Xander. "God, I missed you guys." Buffy struggled for breath.

"We missed you too Buffy, so much," Buffy knew that Willow was crying even though she was holding her so tight that she could not see her face. Xander pulled back and smiled at her.

"The Buffster returns to save the day. Again."

"That's the plan. Erm, actually, what is the plan?" Buffy extracted herself from Willow and moved on to hug Tara and Anya.

"We'll, erm, tell you when Faith gets here?" Willow looked at Giles who nodded slightly. She smiled over-brightly at Buffy, silently begging her not to put her on the spot.

"Indeed," chipped in Xander, "but now, for your first day of freedom, may I suggest pizza. My treat and all the toppings!"

"Sure," smiled Buffy, knowing that she would have to wait. Besides, there was someone sitting quietly in the corner she wanted to speak to. "Angel. How are you?" She walked over to him and allowed him to put his arms around her. There was something about him holding her that made her feel safe, even after all this time. And right now, being totally unaware of exactly what was going on, she needed to feel safe more than anything else.

*****

Buffy was making her way through the second pizza when Giles answered the door to the L.A. department of the fight against evil. "Wesley," he reached forward, and the two shook hands in a most civilised way. Just then, Faith followed him through the door and Buffy leapt up from her chair and ran over to her, unable to keep the excitement at bay. She threw her arms around Faith.

"We're free!" she shouted, throwing her head back into a laugh and allowing Faith to spin her around. The laughter was infectious, and despite Faith's initial fear of walking into a room that held several people she had once tried to kill, she started laughing too. As she put Buffy down, she noticed the raised eyebrows that were going around the room. Especially as Buffy still hadn't let go of her hand.

"Hey." Faith tried to keep the fear out of her voice, and she knew that the others were still wary of her, no matter what they had been told.

"Hey," Angel walked over and pulled her into a hug, knowing that he was the best one to break the ice and let the others, especially Xander and Willow, know that everything was ok now. Faith was on their side. When he let her go, the others waved at her, well, raised their hands at least, in acknowledgement. As Angel walked away, Faith was pleasantly pleased to find Buffy slipping her hand back into hers, a habit that she didn't appear to want to break now that they were on the outside. Realising that Buffy didn't care, Faith allowed herself to enjoy the warmth of the touch, and smirked at the questioning looks that were being passed back and forth. Especially between Willow and Tara.

"So," Buffy let the determination into her voice for the first time since they got back. "Now that we are all here, will someone tell me what is going on?"

"Um, yes Buffy. We do know who we are fighting, or at least we appear to have a good idea." Giles took off his glasses and started polishing them, a sure sign that this was both serious and uncomfortable. "Buffy, you know when you sent Angel back to Hell?" He paused while the two of them looked at each other, with the remains of unhealed pain in their eyes. "Well, he was killed in this reality, but as you know, he continued to exist within the demon reality. Thus, when it was decided that it was necessary for him to be brought back to our world, it was indeed a possibility. We know of other cases whereby this sort of occurrence has taken place. So we are certain that something similar has happened."

"Giles, are you telling me that something has come back from Hell?" Buffy was running through all of the demons that she had sent there, a familiar chill making its way down her spine at the thought of the Master.

"Yes," chipped in Anya. "And I don't know why we are waiting here and talking about it." She paused to glare at Xander. "Just because you were lucky killing Olvikan the last time doesn't mean that you will be able to do it again."

"Olvikan?" Faith looked puzzled. In all the tales that Buffy had told about the creatures that she had killed in Sunnydale before she had been called, and all the ones that she had managed to rid the world of when she was in her coma, she couldn't remember her ever mentioning a demon called Olvikan. Though it must be bad, because Buffy was staring hard at her, with a mix of fear and something else in her eyes. And then she knew it was really bad, because Buffy took her other hand and held onto it like she was going to stop her from running.

"Um, Faith. Olvikan is the demon name, when he, erm, it, is in demon form. Before that he takes human form. Or he used to have a human form."

"So there's some dude out there aiming to become a super-demon. It's not like..." Faith trailed off as she felt the sickness rise inside her. The only person she knew like that she thought was gone forever. Had hoped he was gone forever because that was another part of the life that she had been working so hard to leave behind. She went to say his name, but no words came out. Buffy nodded anyway, her grip on Faith becoming less as her palms became slick with cold sweat. And then Faith was out the door, needing to feel the cool night air on her skin as all the oxygen in the room seemed to disappear.

She wasn't running far. In fact, she just made it out of the house and leant her forehead against the cold wall as her knees started to go weak. There was a scuffling sound behind her, and then familiar hands turned her round. Buffy tipped Faith's head up so she would have to make eye-contact.

"Buffy..."

"Faith. You can do this." Buffy hoped that Faith could see what she really felt. "I need you. I need you to do this for me."

"I want..." Faith knew that redemption was not meant to be easy, but this was something so much more than that. This was what she had dreamed of over the past years. This was her chance at finding out whether or not she really was good now, whether she could really do all the things that Angel had believed she could, and now Buffy believed as well. But if it was him, then there was a chance he would know her too well. Would find all those weaknesses again, make sure that he killed her for going back to the slayer she had wanted to be friends with all along. He had known how Faith felt, and he had offered her all those things she wanted, things that she wanted from Buffy but never thought she was going to get. "You realise that we might not make it through this. But I want you to know something B, even if there is some way that we will all come out of this alive. I might not get to say this if we don't. Buffy..." Faith trailed off, knowing what it was that she wanted to say, and knowing that she was crossing over the fragile boundary that the two of them had built up over the past few months. "Buffy. I know that there is a good chance that the two of us might not make this. If he comes back and sees that I'm fighting with you, he'll kill me. And I know you can't understand what he meant to me, with him being evil and everything, but he was the first person who made me feel special. If he tries to kill me, I'm not sure I could kill him. Oh God, this isn't making any sense." She paused, taking a deep breath as she ran shaky fingers through her hair. "But, if he tries to kill you, I won't let him. I promise. I know that I'm not good on the whole thinkin' things through, but I think I know why I won't let him kill you. Shit, this is so hard. Erm, Buffy, I love you. Not in a slayer sister type way. I mean that I have, yunno, fallen in love with you. The way that Xander is in love with Anya and that Willow is in love with Tara." The last part came out in a rush and Faith wasn't entirely sure that she meant to say it like that. Or even if she was going to say those words at all.

"I know."

"What....?"

"I know Faith because I feel the same. I think. It's difficult for me." Buffy paused and blew her breath out shakily. "I know that I was in love with Angel, as much as I know that it hurts you to hear that. But what I feel for you is the same. I know that I have fallen in love with you, and if we had been left in that prison, I'm sure I would have become your bitch whether I liked it or not." She smiled, knowing that Faith would see the humour in that comment. "I just don't know where to take it from here. I don't know whether we are going to come out of another apocalypse on the same side and whether we can make this start. I want to-"

"Buffy..." Faith's voice was husky with emotion that she had not known she was carrying before all this happened, and she bent her head down hesitantly, until her lips were on Buffy's. It felt like nothing she had ever felt before, something that went beyond sex, into places that she had never thought she would find. When Buffy didn't pull away, Faith slipped her arms around the blond, and then Buffy's tongue was in her mouth and Faith knew that the two of them really did feel the same way.

"Wow..." Buffy unconsciously touched her lips as she pulled away, amazed at how her feelings had found a physical release.

"Uh-huh," swallowed Faith as the realisation of what had just happened sank in.

"So, we can do this, right? We will both make it. Together. And when all this is over, we can begin properly. In the right place at the right time."

"We seem to have more second-time-round's than anyone else is allowed B."

"As many as it takes to get things perfect," whispered Buffy, standing up on her toes to place the softest of kisses on the other slayer's cheek.

PART 7

Buffy held Faith's hand tight as she led her back into Giles' apartment. Everyone looked up questioningly, wondering whether or not they had been right about Faith all along.

"I'm okay guys," Faith tried to sound cocky, but her heart wasn't quite in it. "Just a bit of a shock there, needed to clear my head a little." Everyone looked over towards Buffy as if she would be able to convince them whether or not Faith was telling the truth. She gave a small nod, indicating that the drama was over for now and everything was back under control.

"Giles, what's the plan?"

"Well, there really isn't that much of a plan as yet. I think that it is safe to assume that the mayor will no longer be, well, the mayor. With that body long since destroyed, we have no idea what to look for. Our only hope was that as he and Faith were so close, they would be able to sense each other, or failing that, he would be able to recognise her when she was out and about."

"That's great in a non-existent plan kind of way, but how are we going to kill him. Do we have the fire power any more to blow him up?"

"That was the other thing. It seems that we may have made a tiny error of judgment last time. We might have accidentally blown up the school for no good reason."

"What?"

"We were pushed for time Buffy. But this time, since we had some idea of what we were dealing with, I have had more time to research. It would appear that he is indeed impervious up until the ascension. However, the precise moment," Giles stuck his finger in the air in an attempt to emphasise his point, "when the ascension begins to take place is before he actually becomes a demon. So from the moment the changes begin, he becomes vulnerable again."

"But," interrupted Wesley, turning to Buffy and Faith, "without knowing exactly where the transformation takes place, there is nothing that we can do. We assume that after the last time, the mayor will be taking an essentially low profile. He will almost certainly have an entourage of followers, but without the prominence of his political position that he had last time, he leaves his trail quite cold."

"Tara and I have tried to do a location spell, but we can never seem to pin him down to anything other than a specific part of town."

Willow sighed, and took Tara's hand. The two of them had been working day and night to try and find something of some use, but in the end it had been no good. And although she was so happy to see Buffy again, she knew that Faith would have to be the key player in the plan. Despite the fact that she seemed to be a changed person, and she and Buffy were really close now, Willow found it disconcerting still to be in the same room as her.

"Okay," nodded Faith. "You pin him down to a part of town now, and I'll go out tonight and see if he spots me. If he recognises me at all, or if my spidery senses start to tingle."

"I'll follow behind you as back up." Buffy was already trying to formulate plans in her head.

"No way B. If he gets wind of you around here with me, then the whole plan'll be shot. You better stay out of the way until the end. It will be better if you are part of the surprise attack."

"But I want to make sure that you are ok."

"I will be. Hey, I'm the slayer, I can handle myself. If he sees you around me, then he'll try to kill us both."

"But-"

"No buts. This is just the way that it has to be done. Red, you wanna start that spell thingy now?"

"Sure." Willow jumped off the table where she had been sitting, and began to get a selection of candles. "Wouldn't it be better to do this at the magic shop?"

"Probably, but it is the focus for demons. If the mayor has some idea that we know he is back, then he would probably try to take us out there, where most of our power is without the slayer around. We are coming up to the crucial time now." Giles also didn't want his shop torn to pieces again. Not this month anyway.

"Okay then, can we use the bedroom?" Willow heard Xander cough as Anya elbowed him in the ribs after seeing the way he raised his eyebrows at the comment. "Less chance that we will be distracted, or other forces will interfere with the spell," Willow said, rolling her eyes. She was glad that all her friends had accepted her relationship with Tara, but she wished Xander had watched less porn movies as a teenager.

*****

"We got a hit," said Willow, bounding down the stairs. "He's downtown, in the factory district."

"Then I'm ready to go." Faith picked up the jacket they had provided her with and shrugged her way into it.

"Faith," Buffy placed a hand on her arm. "Be careful."

"I will." Faith allowed herself to be pulled into a hug. "And I'll be back soon, I promise. You just take care of yourself ok?"

"Ok." Buffy looked up and smiled, hoping that Faith would be able to see just how much she cared, and how scared she was of something happening. Hoping that if Faith saw just how she felt, then she would be less likely to do something rash that would get her killed.

*****

LATER, AT WILLY'S…

Faith sat nursing a scotch on the rocks. The night had been a bum, and now she had managed to clear out the most of the bar. I guess that there were still some people around here who remembered that she was the Slayer. A Grethrock demon came and sat next to her. Boy, that was a bad smell, and just what she needed to finish a not so perfect evening.

"The usual?" asked the bartender.

"Make that two," rasped the demon. "Well Faith, I didn't expect you to be around here. My sources told me that you were in jail." Faith turned to him, as the bartender pushed the glasses across the bar. The demon slid the one closest to her along, indicating that it was for her. She looked at it and smiled.

"You need to get better sources then Boss. I did a good old-fashioned jailbreak and thought I would come here to lay low for a while. But according to my sources you were dead." She took a sip of the milk and grimaced.

"Well, what do you know! Looks like we both have been lied to."

"What's with the body?"

"Just about the only one they would bring me back in. Not my first choice, but beggars can't be choosers. Can they Faithy?"

"Guess not." She picked up the glass again, but put it down favouring her scotch.

"I heard that the pesky little Slayer who killed me the last time got what was coming to her as well. Killing someone. That was a little careless. If you are going to do it, heck, it might as well be for fun! Am I right?" The demon smiled and Faith felt her stomach feeling tight as a sickness washed over her. A sickness because of what she had done, and because she once would have agreed with him. That lust, that desire for the kill, it was all about power. He had given her that power that she had been denied all her life. The power that she did not even have now. She did not pull away when the demon turned to face her and moved a wisp of hair away from her face with a bulky finger. "You should have been there Faith. It was quite fun. A real fight, you would have loved it. I came to see you in the hospital. I knew that you would one day wake up. I could have made a better world for you Faith. You and I, we could have ruled it all. But then that nasty little bitch went and ruined it all."

"Yeah. Bitch," mumbled Faith. "So, you in that body for the long haul?"

"Well, I wouldn't say that," the demon replied with a chuckle. "Just a few more days should do it and then, how shall I say it? I'll be upgrading to something a little bigger. And hopefully a little neater. All these lumps and bumps just look plain messy." As he examined himself, Faith couldn't help but let out a throaty chuckle. He was still the same person, no matter what body he was in. That same person who still gave Faith some respect, and wanted her to be with him. "So, where are you staying? I noticed that the new mayor claimed the apartment that I got for you."

"Nowhere really." Faith suddenly couldn't think of a single motel in Sunnydale, even the name of the one that she had stayed in the last time she was here escaped her.

"Well how about that! I can't have my little girl sleeping out on the streets now, can I? You can come and stay at my place for the next few days. After that, well, we'll be able to stay anywhere we like."

The demon gave her a huge grin.

"Erm, it's not in the…er…sewers is it?" Faith asked doubtfully. Somewhere with plenty of ventilation would be quite nice.

"No! Please, sewers, ergh! Breeding ground for bacteria. Really not my sort of thing. No, I have a nice little place downtown. It's not the Ritz, but it'll do for me and my girl!"

*****

Faith was getting fidgety. She guessed it was something to do with worry and having to watch him eat those spidery things for dinner last night. Now it was the morning of the ascension and she still hadn't been able to get word to Buffy. The Boss just hadn't let her out of his sight; talking about what a hoot it had been last time, and how this time everything was going to go to plan. How she would be there to share it all with him, and how the moment would soon be here. He sounded so much in control, so confident, that if Faith had been truly on his side she would have been easily convinced of his success. In reality, it just made her doubt more and more whether they would be able to stop him, and if she would be able to come through for them in the end. Faith was far from a happy little bunny this morning. "I thought I heard something outside. You sure that nobody knows you're here boss?"

"Well, no-one should. Unless we have some little blabbermouths on board." He stopped and smiled at the vampires standing almost to attention by the doorway. They all gulped. "Though, you can never be too careful. Faith, why don't you go and check? That's my girl." He watched as Faith sauntered out of the room, throwing a cocky look at the vamps as she walked passed. She headed out into the vacant car lot, and glanced over her shoulders. When she was certain that no one had followed her out of the building, she broke into a run, summoning all the strength that she could muster from somewhere deep inside. She was breathing heavily by the time that she reached the payphone on the corner and fished around in her pocket for a quarter.

"Hello?"

"Giles, it's me. Is Buffy ok?" Faith's lungs were aching from the run, and the question came out in a rush.

"Yes, why, is she in danger?" Giles sounded panicked.

"No, No! I just wanted to know. I know where he is. We're in an old factory, second along from Main Street. Used to be Sweetpea's or something like that. It's gonna happen in about 5 hours. He's got an army of vamps here as well."

"How many?"

"Twenty? Thirty? Something like that. Gotta go before he misses me."

"We're on our way."

"Giles?"

"Yes?"

"Tell Buffy to be careful."

"I will." Just then the money ran out, and the line went dead. Faith turned around on slightly shaky legs and ran. When she got outside the building, she faced the walls, bracing herself with both hands. Closing her eyes, she plunged her head forwards, jarring her vision for a second and scraping her skin on mortar. She wiped the beginning of a tear from her right eye and walked through the door, her breathing becoming more even by the second, and the pain in her head too little to notice, even though she could feel the swelling.

"Faith?" the mayor looked at her questioningly as she walked towards him.

"Demon," she shrugged. "Got away. Think I scared him off. Didn't want anything to ruin the big day."

"Again." He chuckled, turning away and continuing to supervise cleaning of the area where the ritual was to take place. Faith exhaled and went to sit in the corner. It had been a long time since anyone had given her comics and she was going to make the most of them. Anything that would make the time pass. She wanted this to be over as soon as possible, wanted to get back to normal. Fear gripped her stomach as she remembered just what she was going back to. A lifetime without Buffy. To have it so close and then to lose it all, even though she was doing the right thing, the thing that was hardest of all for her to do, just made it seem unfair. It made her want to cry and stamp her feet and let that old rage seethe its way out of her body. Instead, she settled down to the latest instalment of the X-Men, and tried to forget that this was her life, where there was no such guarantees of good over evil, and there was almost always an unhappy ending.

*****

"Giles, we have to get moving."

"Buffy, I know that you want to get there as soon as possible, but there really is nothing that we can do until the ritual takes place, and even then, it would be to our advantage if we were adequately prepared."

"Giles is right," chipped in Wesley, looking up from where he and Cordelia were whittling stakes.

"Yeah Buffy, come whittle," said Cordelia with false brightness.

"No thanks guys, I know how much fun that isn't. I think that I might just change into something a bit more killer-ish."

"What about your prison uniform?" quipped Xander. Even Anya had the grace to glare at him and let him know that it wasn't funny. All of them had been avoiding mentioning the whole prison thing the past two days, trying to allow Buffy to feel a little bit free for the short term. Buffy gave him a weak smile and walked upstairs.

She really did not want to think about going back there. Especially now that she had made the connection with Faith, and found someone she genuinely cared about, who gave her the warm feelings like she had when she was with Angel. She didn't think that Faith had realised that after all this was over, they would be going their separate ways, and Buffy didn't want to be the one to have to point it out to her. To take everything that they had realised they had together and rip it apart. Faith had that all her life and now it was going to happen again and break both of them. No, Buffy really didn't want to think about it. She had cried herself to sleep last night, wanting to run away and give it all up, but knowing that there would be nowhere to run to if she didn't do this. She hated the thought of Faith spending all that time with the mayor, surprised at how it felt like a betrayal. Buffy knew that she was not thinking rationally, but she was scared that Faith would remember what he had promised her, all the things he could give her, the position and the power. Buffy knew that Faith was still insecure, and that these were things that Buffy could never give her. And then she would be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt that she doubted Faith, and that a little part of her still could not trust the other girl. It was going to take much longer than this to make those feelings go away, and she just hoped that they would have time to do it.

*****

He grabbed his stomach, and let out a low groan. "Oh, I remember this feeling. It's starting to happen."

"Boss?" Faith looked at him as he hissed in pain. "You ok?"

"This is the first part of the ascension. I think I might have the timing a little better than last time. It was quite unexpected."

"Oh." Faith looked around wondering where the hell they all were. If it was starting to happen, then there was a good chance that it would all be over soon. And she couldn't do a thing with all these vamps standing around. The sound of splintering wood behind her was swiftly followed by the appearance of Buffy and the troops. Only stunned for a second, the vampires lunged forward.

"Not again. Really, this is most inconsiderate. Don't just stand there Faith. Kill her."

"Faith!" yelled Angel, reaching behind him and pulling out a knife as the mayor doubled over in pain again. He threw it to her and she caught it deftly. She looked down at the mayor who was looking back up at her, clutching his stomach.

"Oh no. Faith, I will not tolerate this behaviour." Faith looked into his eyes, the eyes of someone who used to be like a father to her and paused when she saw the disappointment there. Something that she never thought she would see from him, even if she had seen it whenever she looked at anyone else. That fraction of a second was all it took for him to bring his arm up, strong in a demon body, and smash squarely into her face. She stumbled backwards. "You can't do it Faith. You could never kill me. But at least this little exercise has taught me who my enemies really are. I see the whore got to you as well as Angelus." He moved swiftly towards Faith, making the most of the respite in his pain, and lunged at her, claws gauging into her shoulder, loosening her grip on the knife as the muscles and nerves screamed in pain.

Buffy was trying to watch Faith, willing her to kill him, but not being able to get anywhere near them. The vampires were too big in number. One of them grabbed her by the throat, holding out her arm with the other hand so she couldn't get the stake anywhere near him. She was contemplating spitting in his face just for the sake of it when he arched up and dusted. As she felt his release she stumbled forwards slightly, shocked to see that Cordelia was the one holding the stake.

"What? You're not the only one whose job it is to kill demons now Buffy." It was almost said with a victorious smirk before Cordy flounced off to get to grips with the next one. Dammit, they were running out of time. Buffy's eyes darted around as she tried to find Faith, hoping that she would have killed him by now. She spotted them in a corner, exchanging blows and Faith looked like she was coming off worse. Buffy could see the blood soaking through her clothes, and the punch from her left arm was nowhere near as strong as it should be. Buffy landed a punch on the vampire coming towards her, and started to move towards them.

It was getting harder for Faith. She could feel herself weakening, and so much of her did not want to be the one to kill him, but she was still the only one who was anywhere near him. She heard someone call out Buffy's name, and prayed silently as his claws narrowly missed her face, that Buffy was all right. Then the demon in front of her let out a low roar. This was it. This was the moment when he was about to change. Instinctively she knew it. She watched as his knees went weak and he lurched forwards. Closing her eyes, she raised the knife above her head. If she was going to do it, then she didn't want to have to watch as well. She brought her arm down with all the force she could muster, trusting her slayer instincts to help her find the mark. She felt the kickback of the knife piercing flesh, and the loud howl of the demon that used to be the mayor. Without thinking about what she was doing, she pulled her arms back upwards and lunged them back down, over and over, until the moaning stopped. She opened her eyes as he slumped against her, eyes open and fixed. Faith looked at the blood on her hands, most of it hers, and began to shake, she closed her eyes as the room began to feel unsteady, and then everything went black.

PART 8

"Jolly good show everyone." Giles smiled as he sipped from a cup of tea. Since their victory the day before, he seemed intent on continuing to congratulate everyone. Wesley, for some reason, appeared to be doing the same. Faith thought it was something in the tea, Willow thought it was a yet to be discovered watcher gene that was kicking in. Buffy was re-dressing Faith's wounds, surprised at how deep some of them were. The mayor had been fighting for his life, and even with slayer healing, Faith was still weak from the blood loss.

"Yay for us," said Faith feebly.

"You really should be quite proud of yourself Faith. It can't have been easy doing what you, er, did, but you defeated him. Well done."

"Giles?" Buffy got up from her position at Faith's side. "How much time do we have left?"

"Not long I'm afraid. We'll need to begin the drive back in a few hours."

"No! Can't we just have one more day?"

"I'm afraid not. Buffy, you know that if I could change things I would. But there is no way that we can keep you here for much longer without someone noticing." Giles had to turn away from her as tears began to fall down her cheeks. After an apocalypse was always an emotional time for Buffy, but this was so much harder than she thought it would be. She began to sob as Angel put his arm around her.

"Buffy, I have to leave now. There are some things that I really need to sort out in LA. I'll see you soon though, I promise."

"I don't want to go back Angel-"

"I know." He pulled away from her and walked over to where Faith was sitting on the couch. "Are you going to be strong enough for the trip?"

"Yeah, you know, slayer healing and all that crap." She lifted herself up as Angel hugged her awkwardly, trying hard not to hurt her. Buffy felt that age-old pang of jealousy as he whispered something in her ear, and had to turn away. She didn't want any of these kinds of thoughts right now. She had to go through another set of goodbyes that she had thought she would never have to face again. And a goodbye that she had never had to say before. The thought of leaving Faith and going their separate ways was something that she had not found the courage to bring up. Yesterday, after they had got back, she had looked after Faith, feeling the pride run through her, hoping that Faith would understand how much she loved her simply from her touch. They had spent last night together for the first time, lying in each other's arms, contented just to hold each other and be glad they were alive, sharing a few cautious kisses. For the first and last time. Buffy had lost count of the amount of times she had told Faith that she loved her, knowing that there was a chance that she would never be able to say it to her face again. Each time Faith returned the phrase, Buffy tried to commit it to memory, hoping that she would be able to remember it all the nights from now when she was curled up alone in her cell.

*****

They held hands in the car. Anything to be touching each other, trying to reassure themselves that this was for the best. Faith still hadn't said anything about leaving her when they got to the first transport vehicle. Giles, presumably, was then going to drive Faith the rest of the way to the second one, knowing that it would be unfair to make them return separately as they had done on the previous occasion.

"I want to be with you. No matter what Buffy." Faith looked over at Buffy and smiled, before planting a soft kiss on her cheek.

"I want to be with you too. I just don't see how there is any way out of this. I can't bare the thought of never seeing you again. Maybe Kate would be able to do another transfer in a year's time or something, put us in the same place. God, even a year seems like such a long time."

"Would you really do anything to be with me?" Faith hoped, needed, Buffy to feel the same way as she did.

"Anything." Buffy realised that she and Faith had begun to whisper at some point.

"You know how much I love you, don't you B?"

"Yes."

"Well, I wasn't the first person to love you this much. There was someone else who loved you, and he was strong enough to leave you."

Faith was having difficulty talking with the lump that had somehow risen in her throat.

"Faith, why are we talking about this?" Buffy was clearly upset. In their last moments together, Faith was going to push her away, the same as she always had done, to stop herself from getting hurt. Not caring if it would hurt Buffy in the process.

"Maybe he loved you more, coz he could go. I don't love you that much." They were pulling into the clearing, and Faith glanced up to see Kate and the armoured vehicle waiting to take Buffy from her.

"Faith, you don't love me?" the car came to a halt and Giles sat there, trying not to listen to the conversation that was taking place in the back of his car. Buffy had always been like a daughter to him, and he thought she had already had her heart broken too many times. She could feel that anger at Faith, the one that she had felt so many times before, begin to return. She thought that after all they had done, Faith had truly made a turning point. Now she was just trying to hurt Buffy and slipping so easily back into her old ways to make it easy.

"I didn't say that B." Faith opened the door and got out the car. Buffy followed, tears falling freely. She grabbed Faith's arm and spun her round. "I didn't say that I didn't love you. It's just…Hey Kate." Faith could feel the grip on her arm, knowing that she was hurting Buffy, but that if she didn't do it this way, then one of them would have the time to back out. "Kate, I am so sorry for all this."

"Don't be sorry. You saved the world. It's not your fault that you had break out of prison to do it."

"No Kate, not that. This." Faith brought her hand up and connected it squarely with Kate's jaw. She wrenched her other arm out of Buffy's grip, reached through the open window, and banged the driver's head full force against the dashboard. They both watched as the police officer slumped to the floor.

"Faith!" screamed Buffy.

"I meant it. I love you, but not enough to leave you…I could never leave you." She reached into her back pocket and pulled out two small books. "There was someone who loved you enough once to understand. He gave me these. Come with me."

"It's wrong Faith. We shouldn't be doing this. We'll never get away with it."

"Us being apart is wrong!" Faith practically screamed. "You've seen what we've just done. We're slayers. We should be out here, saving the world, not in prison playing pool and taking turns in the exercise yard. Come with me," she whispered pleadingly. "There isn't much time."

"Giles?"

"Is sitting in the car. I think he guessed that something like this would happen. He hasn't tried to stop you, doesn't that tell you something? And Angel has promised me he'll explain everything to Kate. It won't make things easy for her, I know, but this is right for us." Faith grabbed Buffy, holding her close. "Come with me and we can make a new life somewhere else. Together. Always." Faith watched as Buffy glanced to the car where Giles was watching them. He saw the pleading look in Faith's eyes and the fear in Buffy's. It was the wrong thing to do, but he knew that sometimes, every once in a while, the wrong thing was the best thing. The corners of his mouth turned upwards slightly and he gave Buffy a small nod, hoping that Faith knew what she was letting them both in for. It was not going to be an easy road, but he knew that at least the two of them were the most equipped people in the world to survive. And together, he suspected that they could be unstoppable. He watched as a single tear rolled its way down Buffy's cheek and she raised her hand as a small gesture of goodbye. Then he saw Faith take Buffy's other hand in her own and they turned away from him, breaking into a run. Not exactly into the sunset, but heading towards where he suspected a car that just happened to have a set of keys in the ignition would be waiting for them. What Angel had not realised about his carefully thought-out plan, was that he had seen him slyly give Faith the two passports this morning as they hugged goodbye. Giles knew that Faith had the option, and he had never doubted that she would take it. Silently, he thanked Angel for having the strength to do what he could not. Turning the keys in the ignition, he slowly backed out of the clearing, and, humming to himself, headed back towards Sunnydale.

The End

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